THE BINDING THREAD by Lynda Coker
Trayjan crossed the last two moss covered stones at the edge of the wide creek and planted his feet on the solid earthen bank. Shivering from the effects of his clumsiness and subsequent dunking, he did what he could to shake the water from his clothes. The dawn's amber light slashed through the forest's canopy and pooled around him, exposing him to further humiliation as he swiped at the frigid water dripping from his hair.
"Trayjan, you are the most inept boy of my acquaintance. Why I choose to share my adventures with one of so little skill...Oh well, it can't be helped. Please try to keep your footing. If you fall into the water again you'll surely freeze before we reach the cave and I'll have to waste my afternoon burying you."
Her laughter, as she extolled his incompetence to every woodland creature, filled his soul with a deeper chill, one that penetrated his heart.
Princess Veela, youngest daughter of King Ryman of Chylar, jumped easily over the moss-covered stones traversing the wide stream, bounding safely up the slope to stand with imperial impatience.
Trayjan followed with measured steps, wondering how he was going to manage the next hour without freezing and incurring more of Veela's disdain. Though winter hadn't yet blanketed the land with snow, it's early frost layered everything, causing his foot to slip more than once on the path.
The reason why he'd left the warmth of the kitchen hearth and the book on metallurgy he'd been reading brought to question his good sense. Worse still, it revealed the pitiable condition of his manhood. Real men didn't allow themselves to be commanded by women, much less, a highly strung maiden of noble birth, who on more than one occasion, had landed him in difficult circumstances.
He was four years older than the bossy, flaxen-haired sprite, but she ordered him as easily as a seasoned general directed his troops. In truth, he was not the boy she labeled him. Nineteen years constituted him two years past manhood. But he'd been her slave since his eighth year, when the four-year-old princess demanded he be her beast of burden and allow her to ride on his back.
No one objected to the inordinate attachment between a stableman's son and the princess, probably because he was in some way useful, keeping the mischief-seeking child occupied. When had the precocious toddler budded into the most beautiful of the King's daughters? Even traipsing through the forest with her clothes spattered with mud, streaks of green dotting her cheeks, and a twig or two hanging in the rebellious curls escaping her cap, no girl in the kingdom could be more beautiful.
"Stop gawking and hurry up, Trayjan, we're almost there. Don't forget to gather some sticks so you can make a fire. We both need some hot tea before we explore more of the cave."
"Princess, you need to return to the safety of your father's house." Trajan implored without real strength of purpose, knowing full well he'd be ignored. Was he really so lacking in manly strength that he could not direct one small girl to do his bidding.
"Don't be a slug brain, Trayjan! You know I want to explore that box of old papers we found. There is some reason why it was hidden there and I intend to solve the mystery, with or without your help."
adventure, or misadventure, depending on who told the story. Trayjan set the pot of water on the small fire he'd managed to build with damp twigs and some dry straw he found inside the cave. Veela, having lost patience with his fire-making attempts, rummaged in the back of the cave. He couldn't see her, but by the sound of her labors, she was probably digging around to see if she could unearth another buried treasure.
He covered his fingers with the edge of his shirt, picked up the pot of hot water and filled two cups, adding a few dry tea leaves to the top. "Princess, your tea."
Surprisingly, she responded immediately, coming over to take a seat on the blanket he'd spread by the fire. He scooped the tea leaves from the cups and extended one in her direction.
"Princess," he queried with a nudge to her shoulder.
She ceased turning pages in the small book in her lap and took the tea from his hand. Her countenance gave him pause. The spark of daredevilry in her eyes struck his gut with trepidation, twisting it painfully.
Her sweet, low tone caused his hands to tremble. He knew that tenor, a precursor to every dangerous stunt she'd sweet-talked him into supporting.
He stood and gulped down a hot mouthful of tea, parting his legs and planting them firmly in place. "Not this time, Princess."
"Whatever do you mean, Trajan?' She lowered her eyes and smoothed one hand across the open page of the book. "Don't you want to see what I've found?"
Her eyes, orbs of feminine sweetness, pulled on the strings of his well-worn resolve.
"Trajan, won't you please help me? I would do it myself, but it says that only a male may cross the barrier. You wouldn't want me to perish, would you?" She tugged on the hem of his pants, urging him to sit beside her, which he reluctantly did.
She patted his arm and then stroked one delicate finger across the back of his hand where it lay on his knee. "All you have to do is repeat the words written here four times and it says you can cross over. Think of the adventure you'll have. And when you go across, you can find a way for me to follow."
He jumped back to his feet and turned his back on her. "That's a bunch of rubbish. Probably a story written to entertain children, which it's obviously doing."
"Pleeease, Trayjan." Her voice broke with a pitiable sob.
He spun around, determined to win this battle of wills. "My answer is no, Princess. Now let's get you home before your father sends his guards again. You don't want to be confined to your chambers like last time, do you?"
With the dexterity of a leaping spider, she stood toe-to-toe with him and stomped one foot on the ground. Her creamy complexion turned rosy as anger heated her cheeks.
"If you're serious, this changes everything. Who needs you anyway! I can do this on my own. I'm not a quivering coward like some people." She grabbed the book from the ground and holding it to her breast, began to chant. "In Him, the barrier be broken. In Him, the barrier be broken."
He didn't believe in her nonsense, but the sheer possibility of danger forced Trayjan to move forward. Grasping the book, he pulled, jerking her and the book close to his body.
She continued to retain her grasp despite his efforts. He didn't want to hurt her, but he wasn't giving in either. He pushed his hand further under the book and felt the fingers on her right hand give way to the pressure he exerted.
"In Him, the barrier be broken."
She continued to chant while at the same time landing a swift kick to the shin of his right leg. The unexpected attack nearly caused him to drop his hold on the book.
In the deep corridors of his mind, Trajan felt something shift uncontrollably. He sensed her essence slipping from him as softly as twilight succumbs to darkness.
"In Him, the barrier be broken."
Her last chant sliced through him like an arrow. It tore from her throat and pierced his spirit, leaving a last flickering thought, he'd lost her.
Veela kept her eyes squeezed shut. She wasn't ready to face the reality of what she'd done, or where she'd gone. Silence, a testament to her aloneness, twisted what was left of her bravado into knots. A deep, unexpected sorrow tainted her excitement. Would she ever see Trayjan again? Would he forgive her for this reckless escapade, as he'd always done? Her fingers, still locked around the book in her hands, ached from their death grip. At least, without the book, Trayjan couldn't follow her, perhaps putting his own life at risk. Someday--someday she'd go back. Her hand fisted the fabric over her heart.
It was time, time to face the truth of her decision, be it good or... Her eyelids lifted, closed, and lifted again, and again. She spun in a circle, taking in the whole of her surroundings in one heart stopping twirl. A touch of madness scratched at her mind's door. She twirled again, this time losing her balance and landing heavily on one leg. A jagged rock cut into her calf. Blood dripped onto the gravel beneath her. The same gravel she'd sat on many times before. The same cave she'd drug Trayjan to over and over again. The same cave except for one thing.
The yellow-tailed swallows sang in the Elm trees of the forest, but none answered her demented call. Noonday gave way to afternoon, and still she cried. Evening stole its way into the forest unnoticed by the girl chanting the same words again and again, as if in repetition she could undo the undoable, put right the unforgivable.
What do you think? Should I expand on this story?