The week was spent commiserating with our new guests, though I hadn’t paid much mind to anyone but Friedrich. I was fascinated, bewitched by his masculinity. Everything from the angle of his jaw to the veins on his hands made me stare.
What has you so riled up?
Reigniel was a welcome distraction from my newest fixation. A boy, I answered him.
I smiled when he laughed.
Let me in.
From my safety at the end of the table, I allowed the door to open fully.
Wow. He must be impressive.
Are you jealous?
Of whom? You? Or him?
I covered my mouth with a hand to hide my laughter.
When I looked up again, Friedrich was looking my way. I felt my heart patter inside my chest and a sigh from Reigniel.
Go talk to him, you wag.
“Princess Iphigeneia,” he said without issue. “Are you often this quiet?”
Reigniel let out uproarious laughter, a giggle bubbling over through me. “No,” I answered him. “Quite the opposite.”
He is in for a treat, isn’t he?
He looked at me with curiosity. “What makes you look away like that?”
“My link, of course.” I need you to hush, love, I told Reigniel and pushed the door closed to the sounds of his protest.
“Apologies,” Friedrich said, “I’m not familiar with the phenomenon.”
I looked at him curiously. “You don’t have a link?”
“No,” he answered. “I was born alone.”
I had heard of it happening, though never met one myself. The scholars said one in ten thousand babies were born unlinked—and odd exception to what was otherwise the rule. The alternative condition—Splits—were adults who went through the nearly always fatal process known as Splitting.
The books taught us that some viewed splitting as a necessity. Two souls that felt incorrectly matched, two adverse sides of the same soul intent on torturing or harming the other as much as possible. Death, or disenchantment from the realm, was the lesser of two evils. To the scholars it was blasphemy. Thus, it was always important to clarify which you were.
“What is it like?” I asked him. “Being alone.”
“I wouldn’t know how to explain it to you, but I doubt it is much different. I always have myself to talk to in my head,” he stated. I could barely imagine. Even when Reigniel did not answer me in words, I felt him in some way. “Your link. Tell me about them.”
My smile returned. “His name is Reigniel. He is strong and bullheaded, much like myself.”
“It is.” I laughed. “We are very close, our connection stronger than most, we’ve been told.”
He leaned forward with curiosity, but I did not get the sense of an ulterior motive. “Can I trust you?”
“Trust me? Yes, of course, Your Majesty.”
“I’ve seen him.”
“Where? Does he live here?”
“No. I’ve manifested his aura into a solid form.”
He looked flabbergasted. “That’s possible?”
“Apparently so. What I’ve seen is still what I want to see, to some extent. But I know we could take it further. I’m just unsure whether or not that would be blasphemous.”
A slow grin curved up the corner of his mouth. “I’m not a good reference for what is in the teachings. I only understand what brings harm and what does not, and I do not believe strengthening your connection to the other half of your soul harms anyone. However,” he said. “Not exploring this connection seems like it may hurt you.”
“Then I believe you must. For the good of the church, if nothing else.”
A smile found my lips. “For the good of the church.”
Later that night I became desperate for Reigniel’s company. I pushed through the door and ran into his conscious space. When I opened my eyes, his aura stood before me. The shimmering specs of dust ebbing and flowing into a masculine silhouette. His arm reached above him as if he was peering through a bookshelf. He stopped and turned to me.
Greetings, my love.
I draped my arms around his aura, nuzzling my head against him. Though I could not feel his physical body, his aura shed a warmth that calmed me. I was unsure if it was truly his, or just the echo of my own. I want to be closer still.
I want that as well.
Then why do we abide by the teachings? Why do we not explore our gift?
I was simply respecting your wishes.
I wish to be closer to you. I wish to know what you look like. I wish to touch you.
His aura manifested before me. The pale-haired boy smiled back at me. “Then we shall.”
He held his hand out to me, his fingers unfolding in invitation. I placed my physical hand within the space and imagined what it would feel like to touch him.
“With him,” he said, “what did it feel like?”
I looked at the boy with confusion. “I don’t know. I haven’t touched him.”
“What do you wish he felt like?”
I closed my eyes to imagine it, but all that came to my mind’s eye was Reigniel. If he looked nothing like the boy before me, would he feel different, sound different? “I wish he felt like you.”
“And what do I feel like?”
The fluttering in my chest grew worse, but then, a fluttering tickled against my palm. I opened my physical eyes and watched as Reigniel’s fingers curved beneath my palm.
In disbelief, I turned my palm to face upward. He lifted his hand and traced a fingertip ever so slowly down my wrist. The cold caress followed down to my palm and further down to the tip of my middle finger.
I looked up at him and smiled.
The next morning, I searched out Friedrich and found him alone in the loggia. I took his hands and pulled him with me into the recess between the columns. “I did it!”
“Pushed my connection with Reigniel further.”
“How much further?”
I smiled, still buzzing about it. “I felt him. More than my own perception of what he would feel like. He actually touched me.”
The impress on his face was noticeable and appreciated. “Is he here?”
“Not right now.”
“Good.” He leaned closer to me, and out of instinct, I leaned away before realizing what he was after. He leaned away from me quickly. “My apologies.”
“No, I’m sorry. It’s simply a habit,” I told him in earnest.
A handsome smile parted his lips. “You have a habit of refusing the advances of paltry men?” he asked me with a laugh.
I ran my hands against his armored chest plate, hoping to hide my intimidation. “If you are paltry,” I teased him, “I’d be afraid to see the audacity of a real man.”
I turned back to him and accepted his advance. He leaned closer, and with a hand at my cheek, kissed me.
His lips on mine felt like an overwhelming rush. The delicate pull, the tickle of his breath against my skin, the slide of his thumb against my jaw. A kiss.
Now, I finally knew what it felt like.
My arms draped atop his shoulders, his wrapped around my waist pulling me closer. My body longed for him, for anything more he could give me.
He pulled away suddenly, to my dismay. “What’s the matter?” I asked him.
“Nothing. Which is in itself a problem.”
He looked at me with disbelief. “You are the princess,” he reminded me. “I have no stature, no claim to be in your presence, let alone . . . touch you.”
The warmth spread through my body, bring a flush to my cheeks and a sense of longing deep in my belly. “And do you have the stature to refuse my will?” I asked him.
His eyes looked into mine with surprise. “No, Your Majesty, but—”
“I fear I cannot be trusted to contain myself.”
I ran my palms against the stubble on his cheeks. “And what if I don’t want you to contain yourself?”