A quest of Heroes - S01 E50

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Read Story: SEASON 1 EPISODE 50

Thor felt a foot nudging him in his ribs and slowly peeled opened his eyes. He lay face down on a m---d of straw, and for a moment had no idea where he was. His head felt like it weighed a million pounds, his throat was drier than it had ever been, and his eyes and head were killing him. He felt as if he’d fallen off a horse.

He was nudged again, and as he sat up, the room spun violently. He leaned over and threw up, gagging again and again.

A chorus of laughter erupted all around him, and he looked up to see Reece, O’Connor, Elden, and the twins hovering close by, looking down.

“Finally, sleeping beauty wakes!” Reece called out, smiling.

“We didn’t think you’d ever rise,” O’Connor said.

“Are you okay?” Elden asked.

Thor sat up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, trying to process it all. As he did, Krohn, lying a few feet away, whimpered and ran over to him, jumping into his arms and burying his head in his shirt. Thor was relieved to see him, and happy to have him at his side. He tried to remember.

“Where am I?” Thor asked. “What happened last night?”

The three of them laughed.

“I’m afraid you had one drink too many, my friend. Someone can’t hold his ale. Don’t you remember? The alehouse?”

Thor closed his eyes, rubbed his temples, and tried to bring it all back. It came in flashes. He remembered the hunt…entering the alehouse…the drinks. He remembered being led upstairs…the brothel. After that, it was all black.

His heart quickened as he thought of Gwendolyn. Had he done anything stupid with that girl? Had he ruined his chances with Gwen?

“What happened?” he pressed Reece, serious, as he clasped his wrist. “Please, tell me. Tell me I didn’t do anything with that woman.”

The others laughed, but Reece stared back at his friend earnestly, realizing how upset he was.

“Don’t worry, friend,” he answered. “You did nothing at all. Except for throw up and collapse on her floor!”

The others laughed again.

“So much for your first time,” Elden said.

But Thor felt deeply relieved. He had not alienated Gwen.

“Last time I buy you a woman!” said Conval.

“Perfectly good waste of money,” said Conven. “She wouldn’t even return it!”

The boys laughed again. Thor was humiliated, but relieved he had not ruined anything.

He took Reece’s arm and pulled him aside.

“Your sister,” he whispered, urgently. “She doesn’t know about any of this, does she?”

Reece broke into a slow smile as he put an arm around Thor’s shoulder.

“Your secret is safe with me, even though you didn’t do anything. She doesn’t know. And I can see how deeply you care for her, and I appreciate that,” he said, his face morphing into a serious expression. “I can see now that you really do care for her. If you had gone whoring, that would not be the kind of brother-in-law I would want. In fact, I have been asked to deliver you this message.”

Reece shoved a small scroll into Thor’s palm, and Thor looked down, confused. He saw the royal stamp on it, the pink paper, and he knew. His heart quickened.

“From my sister,” Reece added.

“Whoa!” came a chorus of voices.

“Someone’s got a love letter!” O’Connor said.

“Read it to us!” Elden yelled.

The others chimed in with laughter.

But Thor, wanting privacy, hurried off to the side of the barracks, away from the others. His head was splitting, and the room still spun—but he didn’t care anymore. He unrolled the delicate parchment and read the note with trembling hands.

“Meet me at Forest Ridge at midday. Don’t be late. And don’t call attention to yourself.”

Thor stuffed the note into his pocket.

“What does it say, lover boy?” Conven called out.

Thor hurried over to Reece, knowing he could trust him.

“The Legion has no exercises today, right?” Thor asked.

Reece shook his head. “Of course not. It’s a holiday.”

“Where is Forest Ridge?” Thor asked.

Reece smiled. “Ah, Gwen’s favorite place,” he said. “Take the eastern road out of the court and stay right. Climb the hill, and it begins after the second knoll.”

Thor looked at Reece.

“Please, I don’t want anyone to know.”

Reece smiled.

“I’m sure she does not either. If my mother found out, she would kill you both. She would lock my sister in her room, and exile you to the southern end of the kingdom.”

Thor gulped at the thought of it.

“Really?” he asked

Reece nodded back.

“She doesn’t like you. I don’t know why, but her mind is set. Go quickly, and don’t tell a soul. And don’t worry,” he said, clasping his hand. “I won’t either.”

*

Thor walked quickly in the early morning, Krohn scampering beside him, trying his best not to be seen. He followed Reece’s directions as best he could, repeating them in his head as he hurried past the outskirts of the royal court, up a small hill, and along the edge of a thick forest. To his left, the ground fell off below him, leaving him walking on a narrow trail on the edge of a steep ridge, a cliff to his left, and the forest to his right. Forest Ridge. She had told him to meet her there. Was she serious? Or was she just playing with him?

Was that prissy royal, Alton, right? Was Thor just entertainment for her? Would she tire of him soon? He hoped, more than anything, that that was not the case. He wanted to believe her feelings for him were genuine; yet he still had a hard time conceiving how that could be the case. She barely knew him. And she was royalty. What interest could she possibly have in him? Not to mention that she was a year or two older, and he had never had an older girl take an interest in him; in fact, he had never had any girl take an interest in him. Not that there were many girls to choose from in his small village.

Thor had never thought about girls that much. He hadn’t been raised with any sisters, and there were few girls his age in his village. At his age, none of the other boys seemed too concerned. Most of the boys seemed to wed around their eighteenth year, in arranged marriages—really, more like business arrangements. Men of high rank who weren’t married off by their twenty-fifth year reached their Selection Day: they were obligated to either choose a bride or go out and find one. But that did not apply to Thor. He was of poor means, and people of his rank usually were just married off in ways that benefited the families. It was like trading cattle.

But when Thor had seen Gwendolyn, all that had changed. For the first time, he had been struck by something, a feeling so deep and strong and urgent it allowed him to think of nothing else. Each time he’d seen her, that feeling deepened. He hardly understood it, but it pained him to be away from her.

Thor doubled his pace along the ridge, looking for her everywhere, wondering exactly where she would meet him—or if she would meet him at all. The first sun grew higher and the first bead of sweat formed on his forehead. He still felt ill and queasy from the effects of the night before. As the sun grew even higher, and his search for her was proving futile, he began to wonder if she was really going to meet him at all. He also began to wonder just how much danger he was putting them in. If her mother, the Queen, really was so against this, would she truly have him deported from the kingdom? From the Legion? From everything he’d come to know and love? Then what would he do?

As he thought about it, he decided it was still all worth it, for the chance to be with her. He was willing to risk it all for that chance. He only hoped he wasn’t being made a fool of, or rushing to any premature conclusions about how strong her feelings were for him.

“Were you just going to walk right by me?” came a voice, followed by a giggle.

Thor jumped, caught off guard, then stopped and turned. Standing in the shade of a huge pine tree, smiling back, was Gwendolyn. His heart lifted at that smile. He could see the love in her eyes, and all his worries and fears instantly melted away. He chided himself for how he could have been so stupid to ever second-guess her intentions.

Krohn squeaked at the sight of her.

“And what do have we here?!” she cried out in delight.

She knelt down and Krohn came running to her, leaping into her arms with a whimper; she picked him up and held him, caressing him.

“He’s so cute!” she said, hugging him tightly. He licked her face. She giggled and kissed him back.

“And what’s your name, little fellow?” she asked.

“Krohn,” Thor said. Finally, this time, he was not as tongue-tied as before.

“Krohn,” she echoed, looking into the cub’s eyes. “And is it every day that you travel with a leopard friend?” she asked Thor with a laugh.

“I found him,” Thor said, feeling self-conscious beside her, as he always did. “In the wood—on the hunt. Your brother said I should keep him, because I found him. That it was destined.”

She looked at him, and her expression became serious.

“Well, he is right. Animals are very sacred things. You don’t find them. They find you.”

“I hope you don’t mind if he joins us,” Thor said.

She giggled.

“I would be sad if he didn’t,” she answered.

She looked both ways, as if to make sure no one was watching, then reached out, grabbed Thor’s hand, and pulled him into the wood.

“Let’s go,” she whispered. “Before someone spots us.”

Thor was exhilarated at the feel of her touch, as she guided him onto the forest trail. They headed quickly into the woods, the path twisting and turning amidst the huge pines. She let go of his hand, but he did not forget the feel of it.

He was beginning to feel more confident that she actually liked him, and it was obvious she did not want to be spotted, either, probably by her mother. Clearly she took this seriously, because she had something to risk by seeing him, too.Then again, Thor thought, maybe she just didn’t want to be spotted by Alton—or by any other boys she might be with. Maybe Alton had been right. Maybe she was ashamed to be seen with Thor.

Thor felt all these mixed emotions swirl within him.

“Cat has your tongue, does it?” she asked, finally breaking the silence.

Thor felt torn; he didn’t want to risk messing things up by telling her what was on his mind—but at the same time he felt like he needed to put all his worries to rest. He needed to know where she really stood. He could contain it no longer.

“When I left you last time, I ran into Alton. He confronted me.”

Gwendolyn’s expression darkened, her high spirits suddenly ruined—and Thor immediately felt guilty he had brought it up. He cherished her good nature, her joy, and wished he could take it back. He wanted to stop, but it was too late. There was no turning back now.

“And what did he say?” she said, her voice dropping.

“He told me to stay away from you. He told me you didn’t really care about me. He told me I was just amusement for you. That you would tire of me in a day or two. He also said you and he were set to be wed, and that your marriage was already arranged.”

Gwendolyn let out an angry, mocking laugh.

“Did he then?” she snorted. “That boy is the most arrogant, unbearable little pip,” she added, angry. “He’s been a thorn in my side since the time I could walk. Just because our parents are cousins, he thinks he’s part of the royal family. I’ve never met anyone so entitled who deserved it less. Making things worse, he’s got it into his head somehow that the two of us are destined to wed. As if I would just go along with whatever my parents forced me to do. Never. And certainly not with him. I can’t stand the sight of him.”

Thor felt so relieved at her words, he felt a million pounds lighter; he felt like singing from the treetops. It was exactly what he had needed to hear. Now he felt sorry he had darkened their mood all over nothing. But he wasn’t completely satisfied yet; he noticed she still hadn’t said anything about whether she truly liked him, Thor.

“As far as you are concerned,” she said, stealing a glance him, then looking away. “I barely know you. I hardly need to be pressed to commit my feelings now. But I would say that I don’t think I would be spending time with you if I hated you that much. Of course it is my right to change my mind as I wish, and I can be fickle—but not when it comes to love.”

That was all Thor needed. He was impressed by her seriousness, and even more impressed by her choice of word: “love.” He felt restored.

“And incidentally, I might also ask the same of you,” she said, turning the tables. “In fact, I think I have a lot more to lose than you do. After all, I am royalty, and you are commoner. I am older and you are younger. Don’t you think I should be the one who is more guarded? Whispers come to me in the court of your agenda, your social climbing, of your just using me, being hungry for rank. Your wanting favor with the King. Should I believe all this?”

Thor was horrified.

“No, my lady! Never. These things never even entered my mind. I’m with you only because I cannot think of being anywhere else. Only because I want to be. Only because when I’m not with you, I think of nothing else.”

A small smile played at the corner of her mouth, and he could see her expression starting to lighten.

“You are new here,” she said. “You are new to King’s Court, to royal life. You need time to see how things really work. Here, nobody means what they say. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone is angling for power—or rank or wealth or riches or titles. No one can ever be taken for face value. Everyone has their own spies, and factions, and agendas. When Alton told you that my marriage has already been arranged, for instance, what he was really doing was trying to find out how close you and I are. He is threatened. And he might be reporting to someone. For him, marriage doesn’t mean love. It means a union. Purely for financial gain, for rank. For property. In our royal court, nothing is what it seems.”

Suddenly, Krohn sprinted past them, down the forest trail and into a clearing.

Gwen looked at Thor and giggled; she reached out, grabbed his hand, and ran with him.

“Come on!” she yelled, excited.

The two of them ran down the trail and burst into the huge clearing, laughing. Thor was taken aback by the sight: it was a beautiful forest meadow filled with wildflowers of every possible color up to their knees. Birds and butterflies of every color and size danced and flew in the air, and the meadow was alive with the sound of chirping. The sun shone down brilliantly, and it felt like a secret place, hidden here in the midst of this tall dark wood.

“Have you ever played Hangman’s Blind?” she asked with a laugh.

Thor shook his head, and before he could respond, she took a handkerchief from her neck, reached up, and wrapped it over Thor’s eyes, tying it behind him. He couldn’t see, and she giggled loudly in his ear.

“You’re it!” she said.

Then he heard her run away in the grass

He smiled.

“But what do I do?” he called out.

“Find me!” she called back.

Her voice was already far away.

Thor, blindfolded, began to run after her, tripping as he went. He listened carefully to the rustle of her dress, trying to follow her direction. It was hard, and he ran with his hands out before him, thinking always that he might run into a tree, even though he knew it was an open meadow. Within moments, he was disoriented, and felt as if he were running in circles.

But he continued to listen, hearing the sound of her giggle far away, and kept adjusting, running for it. Sometimes it seemed to get closer, then farther. He was beginning to feel dizzy.

He heard Krohn running beside him, yelping, and he listened instead to Krohn, following his footsteps. As he did, Gwyn’s giggle got louder, and Thor realized that Krohn was leading him to her. He was amazed at how smart Krohn was, to join in their game.

Soon, he could hear her just feet away from him; he chased her, zigzagging every which way through the field. He reached out, and she screamed in delight as he caught the corner of her dress. As he grabbed her, he tripped, and the two of them went crashing down into the soft field. He spun at the last second, so that he would fall first and she on top of him, cushioning her fall.

As Thor landed on the ground, Gwen on top of him, she screamed out in surprise. She was still giggling as she reached up and pulled back the kerchief.

Thor’s heart was pounding as he saw her face just inches from his. He felt the weight of her body on his, in her thin summer dress, felt every contour of her body. The full weight of her pressed down on him, and she made no move to resist. She was staring into his eyes, their breathing shallow, and she did not look away. He did not either. Thor’s heart pounded so fast, he was having a hard time focusing.

Suddenly, she leaned in and planted her lips on his. They were softer than he could possibly imagine, and as they met, for the first time in his life, he felt truly alive.

He closed his eyes, and she closed hers, and they did not move, their lips meeting for he did not know how long. He wanted to freeze this time.

Finally, slowly, she pulled away. She still smiled, as she slowly opened her eyes, and she still lay there, her body on his.

They lay like that for a long time, staring into each other’s eyes.

“Where did you come from?” she asked, softly, smiling.

He smiled back. He did not know how to answer.

“I’m just a regular boy,” he said.

She shook her head and smiled

“No you are not. I can sense it. I suspect you are far, far more than that.”

She leaned in and kissed him again, and his lips met hers, this time, for a much longer time. He reached up and ran his hand through her hair, and she ran hers through his. He could not stop his mind from racing.

He already wondered how this would end. Could they possibly be together, with all the forces between them? Was it possible for them to really be a couple?

Thor hoped, more than anything in his life, that they could. He wanted to be with her now, even more than he wanted to be in the Legion.

As he was thinking these thoughts, there came a sudden rustling in the grass, and the two of them, startled, turned. Krohn leapt through the grass, just feet away, and there came another rustling noise. Krohn yelped, then growled—then there came a hissing noise. Finally, it was quiet.

Gwen rolled off Thor as they both sat up and looked. Thor jumped to his feet, protective of Gwen, wondering what it could be. He didn’t see anyone. But someone—or something—must be there, just feet away, in the tall grass.

Krohn appeared before them, and in his mouth, in his small, razor-sharp teeth, there dangled a huge, limp white snake. It must have been ten feet long, its skin a brilliant, shining white, as thick as a large tree branch.

Thor realized in an instant what had happened: Krohn had spared the two of them from an attack by this deadly reptile. His heart rushed with gratitude for the cub.

Gwen gasped.

“A Whiteback,” she said. “The most lethal reptile in the entire kingdom.”

Thor stared at it in awe.

“I thought this snake did not exist. I thought it was just a legend.”

“It is very rare,” Gwen said. “I’ve only see one in my lifetime. The day my father’s father was killed. It is an omen.”

She turned and looked at Thor.

“It means death is coming. The death of someone very close.”

Thor felt a chill on his spine. A sudden cold breeze ran through the meadow on this summer day, and he knew, with absolute certainty, that she was right.

To Be Continued..

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