Jasen slowly swam upward through the layers of darkness enshrouding him toward the light above. Coming to full wakefulness, he blinked and gazed in confusion at his strange surroundings. Where was he? How had he come to this place?And why did he feel so weak? The last thing he remembered clearly was sighting the brightly colored forest. What had happened?
Jasen studied the room carefully. It reminded him of pictures depicting Terra’s Middle Ages he had seen in books. There was a cheery fire crackling in a huge stone fireplace to his right and, beyond the foot of the bed on the far wall, golden sunlight streamed through a high window. There were doors on either side of the room, possibly leading to other chambers. To his left, placed in the wall against which his bed rested, was a third door leading probably to an outside corridor. Bright tapestries decorated the walls and the desk, tables and chairs dotted around the room were skillfully crafted of richly polished wood.
Jasen’s musings were broken as a sound came from the door beside his bed. Turning his head, he watched as the door opened and an auburn‑haired woman carrying a large tray entered the room. The tray held a teapot, cups and a covered bowl. Placing the tray on the bedside table, the young woman turned to him and smiled.
“Good morning. I’m glad to see you’re finally awake. You had us worried. Do you think you could eat something? I brought some broth and tea.”
“Who are you? Where am I?” Jasen was even more confused. The girl spoke Galactic Standard. Where had she learned it?
“I am Tivonna. You are in my father’s castle in the kingdom of Aquilla, on the planet Mystra. Your friend Hawk and I brought you here. You have been very sick. Now you must try and eat. It’s the only way to regain your strength. Hawk can explain everything to you later.”
Placing her arm behind Jasen’s back, Tivonna raised him up and rearranged the pillows behind him so that he could sit up. Then, she began feeding him the broth. She refused to answer any questions or to let him see Hawk until he had finished the broth.
Looking at the man before her, Tivonna’s heart beat wildly. His eyes were the color of burnished gold. They seemed to look into her very soul and weigh what was hidden there. Suddenly, she felt shy. For some reason, it was very important that he think well of her. At that instant, Tivonna knew that she loved this strange man. She was bonded far closer than she had ever suspected. No matter who or what he may be, she was his for life; no other would do for her.
Tivonna felt the waves of confusion coming from him. It was the same emotion she had sensed when he first discovered his surroundings; that was how she had known he was awake. How she knew these things she did not know, but it seemed perfectly natural for her to do so. Yet would Jasen accept her as a mate? He might not return her love. She would have to go slow and give him time to accept her. That he would eventually be her husband, she did not doubt. Her task was to get him to recognize it too.
Jasen studied the vision before him and struggled with memory. He should know her, but the memory stayed tantalizingly just out of reach. He felt a wave of acceptance and, was that affection, coming from the woman? He should not be able to feel the girl’s emotions so strongly. He was weak, true, but his shields were firm enough that he should be able to block stray emotions. Why was she different? And why did he feel so attracted to her? Who was this mysterious woman and how were they connected? Thinking was too great an effort; he was too tired to deal with this now.
Jasen had eaten only half the broth, when he had to stop. Even the simple act of swallowing, took more energy than he could spare.
“That’s OK. It’s a start. What you need now is rest. Sleep is the best healer.” Tivonna set the bowl aside and rearranged the bedding to make Jasen as comfortable as she could.
“Where is Hawk? I must talk to him.” Jasen needed answers. From what the girl had said, Hawk was safe and had the run of the castle. He had to find out what was going on.
“Not another word. You can barely keep your eyes open. Go to sleep. I will tell Hawk that you were awake. You can see him after you rest. All you have to know now is that you are safe. Concentrate on getting well.”
Jasen started to protest when a wave of lethargy engulfed him and he drifted off to sleep. Tivonna stood smiling at her oblivious bondmate. She had a feeling that disagreements in the future would be much harder to win. He did not seem the type to let others order him around. Leaning over, she gave the sleeping man a light kiss on the forehead. “Sleep well, my love.” Picking up the tray, Tivonna quietly left the room. She would dispose of the tray and then go searching for Hawk. He would be glad to hear of his friend’s recovery.
When next he awoke, Jasen looked up into the smiling face of Hawk.
“Well, Sleeping Beauty awakes. How are you feeling?”
“Better.” Propping himself up in bed, Jasen studied the Filidae with interest. Hawk was dressed all in leather. Tunic, pants and boots were all made of soft high quality leather dyed a deep sapphire blue. A short blue cape and a hunting cap, complete with feather, finished the outfit. Shaking his head, Jasen indicated his friend’s new regalia. “What’s all this? Going to a costume party? I can’t decide if you’re supposed to be Puss N’ Boots or Robin Hood?”
“You can’t expect me to run around in off world clothing can you? When in Rome you know. Just wait ’til you see yours.”
“Why do I get the feeling I’ve just woke up in Wonderland?Well, it’s obvious you’ve been getting along with the natives. What’s going on? What happened?”
“What do you remember?”
“Not much, I remember climbing the hillside and sighting this beautiful wildly colored forest. Then things get hazy.”
Hawk sighed. “I see. Things got a little complicated after that.” Choosing his words carefully, Hawk filled Jasen in on what had been taking place while the telepath had been unconscious.
At the end of Hawk’s tale, Jasen sat stunned staring at him in disbelief. “I’ve got a what! I can’t believe this!”
“Sorry, old boy, but it’s true. When you run around saving powerful elementals from madness, you have to take the consequences. It’s not really so bad. All you have to do is let her tag along with us. We could use someone with a firsthand knowledge of the planet.”
“Are you sure that’s all there is to it. She just has to stay near me, nothing more. There’s not something you’re forgetting to tell me is there?”
“Positive. All you have to do is make sure she doesn’t wreck the planet. Outside of that, you’re a free man.”
“What about when we leave this world? What happens then?”
“Well, I’m not quite sure. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“All right. I don’t like it, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it now. We’ll deal with it when we have to. The important thing now is the Firehawks. What have you been able to find out about the energy fields?”
Hawk gave an inward sigh of relief. Jasen had taken the news better than he had hoped. At least he was prepared to tolerate Tivonna near him. Nature would take care of the rest. “Not much. The king and queen have been very helpful. The city has an extensive library and Tivonna is well versed in historical lore. When you’re up to it, we can start a search of the records. To be honest, I’ve been too worried about you to think of the Firehawks.”
“I’m sorry to have put you through so much trouble. Now that I’m fully awake, I can speed up the healing process. I’ll be good as new in a few days. Meanwhile, you can start gathering records for us to study. We don’t have any time to waste.”
Hawk gave a mock bow. “Yes master, I’ll begin at once. Your wish is my command, master.”
Jasen laughed.“The day you bow to anyone’s will, hell will definitely have frozen over. Now get out of here, you scamp, and let me rest. I have to get well in a hurry. Someone has to save Mystra from you.”
Chuckling, Hawk left the room. It was good to have Jasen back. He had sorely missed his friend. With Jasen awake and joking the future didn’t look so bleak.
Over the next few days, Jasen’s strength slowly returned. Four days after his talk with Hawk, he was able to stand and walk around the room. Two days later Tivonna entered the sitting room of Jasen’s suite and dropped a number of old records on the table. Hearing no sound from the bedroom, she walked over, opened the connecting door and froze.
Jasen, seated in a lotus position, was hovering a few inches above the floor in the center of the room. His eyes were closed and he was breathing slowly. Sensing the girl’s presence, he stirred and opened his eyes.
Lowering himself to the ground, he stood up and eyed the girl warily. This was usually when the fear and hate began. “I’m sorry if I frightened you. I was just taking an internal inventory. Making sure everything is in order.”
Tivonna shook her head and met the telepath’s eyes. “I wasn’t frightened, just startled. It’s not every day that I find a flying man in the bedroom. Jasen, I know about your abilities. I admit I was scared of you at first, but you are my kiosan. I know that you are a good man; you would never intentionally hurt others. I trust you completely. You have no need to hide who you are from me, not now or ever.”
Jasen studied Tivonna closely. There was no fear or revulsion in her. She showed none of the usual reactions he had come to expect from people when they learned of his powers. Slowly he relaxed, she accepted him. It didn’t matter that he was different. She trusted him and cared for him. She saw past the powers, to the man behind them.
“Thank you.” It was a simple statement but it carried a world of meaning.
Suddenly the bond between them sprang fully to life. For an instant they were one soul. They had no need for words. Each saw and knew the other completely. There was no shame or fear, only acceptance.
Realizing what was happening, Jasen wrenched his mind from Tivonna’s and severed the link. They stood staring at each other in stunned silence as their minds adjusted to what had just taken place.
Finally, Jasen rallied himself. “I’m sorry.I...”
Shaking her head, Tivonna reached out and gently pressed the fingers of one hand to his lips. “No, no apologies, I have no regrets. We have been joined since that night in the forest. It has just taken us this long to realize it.”
“But Tivonna, this is impossible. It can never work. We are from two different worlds.”
“It doesn’t matter. You are my bondmate. Where you go, I go. I am yours, now and forever. I can wait. In time, you will see that my words are true.” Turning, she walked back into the sitting room. They had taken the first step. She knew now that he loved her as well. But he would need time to admit it to himself. Others had hurt him; he would not trust his heart easily. But that was fine; he was hers, she could afford to wait. Now she must ease the tension between them, give him room. “I believe we have some records to study. Are you coming?”
Totally bewildered at the strange turn of events, Jasen followed her into the room. She was an exceptional woman. Where their futures led he still wasn’t sure, but they were irrevocably joined. There was no escaping that. Truthfully, he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to escape. But why couldn’t she see that a relationship between them was impossible? The universe could be a cold place for one who was different. How could he ask her to give up her life here and face a future of fear and secrecy? If they exterminated telepaths on sight, what would they do to an elemental? He would have to monitor the link carefully from now on. It was a subtle bond that was easy for him to forget. This trip to Mystra was turning out to be much more than he had bargained for.
Three hours later, Hawk entered the sitting room and paused, studying the scene before him. Seated at the table, raven and auburn heads pressed close together, Jasen and Tivonna were poring over an old weathered book. There was an air of camaraderie about the two. Something had happened and Hawk was dying to know what.
“Well, what do we have here?”
The two jumped, startled. They had been so engrossed in the book that they failed to hear the Filidae approach.
“Hawk, we’ve found the diary of the leader of the original colonist. He chronicles the trip and initial settling of Mystra. This could be the clue we’re looking for.” Jasen was ecstatic.
“It also tells of the great cataclysm and how Mystra was almost destroyed. Jasen thinks that was when the curtain of lights came into existence.” Tivonna’s green eyes sparkled with excitement.
“Great. So fill me in.”
Before Jasen could speak, Tivonna intervened. “It is almost time for the evening meal. My parents have requested that you both dine with us in the Great Hall. Why don’t we discuss this afterwards? It will save having to repeat everything twice. That is, if you are planning to tell my parents.
Smiling, Jasen reached over and gently squeezed Tivonna’s hand. “I think that’s a fine idea. The king and queen may have knowledge we can use. Besides, I can’t just kidnap you without telling them. Hawk will just have to suffer till then. However, there is just one problem; I can’t appear before your people in off-world clothing.”
“That is no problem at all; just check your wardrobe. You’ll find everything you need. I took the liberty of having some things made for you when we were outfitting Hawk. I think you will find them a perfect fit.”
Rising, Tivonna walked toward the chamber door. “Now, I’ll leave you gentlemen to get ready. A servant will come to escort you to the Hall. I will see you at dinner.” With that, she was out the door and gone, leaving the two friends alone.
“Well? Are you going to tell me?” Hawk propped himself on the edge of the table and regarded his friend with interest. Something had definitely taken place and he was not letting Jasen out of this room until he spilled it.
Seeing the resolve in Hawk’s eyes, Jasen sighed. He might as well get it over with. The Filidae was tenacious; he wouldn’t give up until his curiosity was satisfied. “I don’t know quite how to explain this. It seems that Tivonna and I are bonded in more ways than one. When I was in her mind, I established a link between us. Hawk, she says that she’s in love with me.”
“I see, and what about you? How do you feel?”
“I don’t know. It’s impossible. It can’t possibly work. She could never be happy with me.” Jasen rose and began pacing agitatedly around the room.
Hawk smiled to himself. It was as he suspected; Jasen loved the girl but he couldn’t accept the fact that she loved him as well. All the women in Jasen’s life had met him with fear and loathing once they had seen his abilities. Jasen could not accept that Tivonna was different. Oh, Tivonna had powers of her own, but it wasn’t the same. The abilities of other races were guardedly accepted and sometimes even respected in the galaxy…all that is except for telepaths. Hawk remembered the one planet of telepaths that had been discovered. The planet had been blown to dust rather than risk the possibility of its people learning space flight and contaminating the galaxy. Jasen couldn’t allow himself to hope; the pain of disappointment would be too great. Tivonna had her work cut out for her, but Hawk had great faith in the elemental; in time, Jasen would see the truth.
“Why don’t you give it a chance? She may just surprise you. Come on, let’s check out your wardrobe. We don’t want to be late to our first royal banquet.”
Entering the bathing chamber, Hawk opened the huge wardrobe built into one wall, and gave a low whistle. Tivonna had not been idle. Inside the closet, hung a number of beautifully made garments. Reaching in, Hawk pulled out one, which caught his eye. The silk‑like material of the tunic was black edged with an intricate pattern of gold and silver threads. The matching pants and boots were unadorned.
“How about this one. You’ll take all the palace ladies by storm.”
“And what, pray tell, are you wearing?”
“Oh, you’re not the only one who’s been given new threads. Wait and see.” With a cheery wave, Hawk left the room and headed for his own chambers across the hall.
Jasen watched his friend with resignation. Hawk would never change and that was fine with him. At least life with the Filidae was never boring. Dismissing his friend from his thoughts, Jasen set about getting ready for dinner. Hawk was right in one respect; it wouldn’t do to keep the king and queen waiting.