I made a silly mistake this week. I helped do the prompts but painted myself into a corner given none of the prompts could apply to my story. My princes would have no idea what a kipper or a radiator was for example. I did the best I could under the circumstances, and to be honest I'm quite glad because Garfield gave me the idea of giving Castien a pet fire cat, which is not going to please anyone.
We emerge from the cave into chaos. I had not realized how silent it was within the fire, until we leave it. The Druid stands close, so close we almost walk into him. I immediately place myself between him and Castien, who laughs, a musical sound. Instinctively I know he is amused by my belief that I still need to protect him. He is so much more than he was, but he is still the other half of my soul, and I would die before I let harm come to him.
“What have you done?” Mother screams. “My son. You have killed my son.”
King Aleric roars and breaks free of Father’s hold, rushing toward us with sword raised. He halts as if walking into an invisible wall and stares at us. “Castien? You…. But I saw you walk into the fire. I thought….”
I have never yet seen Castien’s father lost for words.
“What sorcery is this?” the Druid hisses. “You were lost to the flame.”
I notice he holds my boot in his hand and it suddenly hits me that no time has passed since we left the cave.
“Not lost,” Castien says. His words are soft, but they carry throughout the cave. “It is you who are lost. We never were.”
“It is impossible,” the Druid repeats, his face blank with shock.
“Tian.” My mother’s call draws my attention from the Druid and when she embraces me it feels like home. “Oh my Tian,” she repeats as she weeps into my hair.
“Don’t cry, Mother, we are safe.”
Mother draws back and takes my face between her hands. “You are bonded,” she says, her voice trembling, and her eyes wide.
“Yes. It is complete.”
“There is much I don’t understand,” I admit, “but what I do understand is that Castien is part of my soul and I of his. Whatever happened within the flames remade us. It strengthened our bond and completed is. I don’t know how better to explain.”
“Do you have an explanation of this,” King Aleric demands of the Druid.
For the first time, I see the Druid uncertain. “I must consult my books. This has never happened within my lifetimes, nor have I come across it in any of the books I have studied. I-I have no explanation.”
“Then you had better find one,” King Aleric grumbles. “And do not think I have forgotten what you did to my son, when you compelled him to come here.”
“I did no more or less than was necessary,” the Druid says. “He is Druach and must enter the flame.”
“You can’t be certain,” Mother says. “You made that mistake once before.”
The Druid starts as if she had struck him, and indeed her words were barbed.
“I will return when I have consulted,” the Druid says then walks stiffly away.
“I’m sorry, Kai,” Mother calls. “He is my son. I thought I had lost him. Let us not part again with angry words between us.”
The Druid pauses, stiff-backed, then proceeds to stride from the cave.
Mother sighs. “Come,” she said. “This is no place to talk, and you must be cold. Let us return to the palace and talk.”
“That sounds good.”
I am surprised when King Aleric takes off his cloak and throws it around Castien’s shoulders. Until then, I hadn’t realized we are naked. It makes sense that when we were remade our clothes were not.
Strangely, I am not cold, and Castien I think accepts the cloak for the sake of modesty rather than need. I accept Father’s coat for the same reason.
Outside, the air hits me with a wave of sight, sound and sensation. Has the sun always been so bright, the grass green? Surely the breeze has never tasted of crystal water before, and the sound sounds of the forest so clear. I recognize the animas by their sounds and smells. I had not been so talented before.
Castien’s face is rapt and I assume he experiences the same sharpening of his senses.
“What’s wrong?” Mother asks, sensitive to our state.
“Nothing. It’s just…just….” I can’t find words to explain how I feel.
“Everything is more,” Castien whispers.
“I understand,” Mother says. “It is how I feel when I have communed with The Mother. She has touched you and you will never be the same. It will settle and fade with time. Come, let us hurry home as soon as possible. It will not be as acute there.”
As we head down the slope toward the horses, I hear something approach through the forest. Castien hears to as he stops, sniffing the air. “Wait,” he says and hurries forward. There is such command in his voice that all, including I, comply.
I sense it before I see it. A fire cat, almost as large as a hound, its orange fur standing on end. I start forward but Castien raises a hand and a find myself wading through air as thick as treacle. I do not have to look to know the others are frozen by his effortless spell.
“Castien, don’t. You are unarmed.”
Castien ignores me and approached the spitting animal. My heart all but stops. For all our new power, we are still men, and as far as I know, can still feel pain and die. Should the cat’s claws or teeth pierce Castien’s skin I doubt even our skilled healers could save him.
“It’s alright,” Castien says softly and I do not know if it is to me or the cat.
I continue to fight through the thickened air and by the time I reach Castien, the cat is purring like a kitten, allowing Castien to run his fingers through its sleek fur.
“It will not hurt you now,” he says and I know he’s right.
The others unfreeze behind us, their calls freed with them. But their warnings are unnecessary as the cat appears entirely subdued and suffers my caresses without rancour.