Light cannot always illuminate— sometimes the truth lies in Darkness...
Prince Theryn and his loyal knight, Sir Atrum, are both bound by duty: Theryn serves the kingdom of Glinden, and Atrum serves his prince. Although they harbor a secret love, a relationship between a prince and his servant is forbidden. Things change when the king promises Theryn’s hand in an arranged marriage to the volatile Prince Lyar of the Soltaran Empire, who needs Theryn’s Light magic for some sinister religious rite. Theryn and Atrum's struggle to discover Lyar’s scheme brings them together at last, but there is more at stake than their happiness. Atrum discovers Dark magic of his own, but neither his love nor his power may be enough to save Theryn from Lyar's dangerously seductive pull. And if Atrum loses Theryn, the world as they know it may be lost as well.
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Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Arranged Pairing, Bodyguard/Guardian Angel, Friends to Lovers, Love Triangle, Magic Sword, Rescue
Word Count: 73001
Languages Available: English
The banners of Soltara flickered through the Glin forest like flames.
A delegation from Soltara had arrived that morning, for “negotiations.” This was highly suspicious, because Soltarans as a general rule did not negotiate. They conquered. They had unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Glinden several times over the past century, but the Soltarans had never breached their borders. The Glin’s defense was aided by their forest’s magic, which gave them advantage as long as they stayed within its borders. The Glin would not leave their forest, and the forest wouldn’t let Soltara in, and thus they were at an eternal stalemate.READ MORE
Atrum stared at those banners as Theryn contemplated his next move in their game of strachet. Atrum wasn’t sure why he had chosen that game to play, since Theryn was rather poor at it. He always complained that it took too long, and Atrum always won. Both of these things were true. It was, however, a game that required a great deal of concentration, so perhaps it wasn’t such a strange choice after all. They could both use the distraction.
Theryn bit his lip and reached for his soldier piece, then seemed to think better of it and sat back again, tugging on his hair in the way he did when he was concentrating. Atrum didn’t mind. He was patient, and he always appreciated the opportunity to gaze at Theryn, who rarely sat still long enough to allow it. Even though they had known each other since they were children, Atrum would never tire of looking upon him. Theryn was all angles: his facial features sharp, his frame lean, and his brown hair always sticking out in unruly spikes. His hazel eyes seemed to shift subtly to a new color every day, as variable as the leaves of the Glin forest— a mix between the brightest green and the warmest brown.
Theryn at last made up his mind and picked up his general, moving it into Atrum’s grid. “Aha! What do you think about that?”
In response, Atrum moved his defender. “I think that I have won.”
“You most certainly haven’t. My archer is still in play,” Theryn said, gesturing to the piece in question.
“No, it isn’t, because I captured it half an hour ago.”
Theryn gave him a sheepish grin and waved his hand. The illusion of the archer vanished.
“It’s not very princely to cheat, you know.”
“Does it really count as cheating if I know you’ll always catch me?”
Atrum just shook his head with pretend exasperation. He gathered the pieces up. “Another game?”
“I don’t think so,” Theryn said. He wandered over to the window, gazing at the Soltarans’ caravan camped out in front of the castle. “What do you think they want?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“I don’t know why Father agreed to receive them at all. They can’t win against us. Surely the last century has taught them as much. And they have nothing that we want.”
“That you know of.”
“Our army is strong,” Theyrn said. “And besides, the forest won’t permit them to pass.”
“The world is changing,” Atrum said. “That might not always be the case.”
Theryn snorted. “Their world, perhaps. But not ours.”
“Your father is a shrewd man. I’m sure he has a good reason for receiving them.”
“I wish he would share it with me. Just because I’m not the heir doesn’t mean I should be kept in the dark.”
“Have some patience.”
Theryn flashed him a grin. “You and I both know that the only way that’s going to happen is if you lend me some of yours.”
Before Atrum could respond, there was a knock on the door. Theryn called at whomever it was to enter. It was one of the king’s valets. “His Majesty wishes to see you in his chambers,” the man said with a bow.
“There, you see?” Atrum said.
“Yes, yes,” Theryn said with a wave of his hand. “You were right, as always. Shall we?”
Atrum rose from his seat and strapped on his sword. They were both dressed in their best clothes. Theryn wore a green tunic decorated with subtle patterns of leaves. His fine silk shirt was embroidered down the sleeves with small flowers and vines. He wore a surcoat of green brocade, lined with ermine, which was belted at his waist with a band decorated with jade. Atrum was dressed in a similar fashion, albeit more simply. He favored blacks and grays of more humble materials. Atrum served as Theryn’s higard— a highborn servant bound to his prince at the age of fourteen to serve him in all things.
Atrum and Theryn made their way down the hallway to the king’s chambers. There were new flowers peeking in through the cracks of the walls. The people of the Glin had built the stone part of Glinrock Castle, but the forest had played an equal part in its construction, winding into every part of it. Ever since their people had retreated to the magic wood, they had protected each other, living in symbiotic harmony. No one had breached their borders in hundreds of years, but in spite of what Theryn thought, the world had changed. The Soltaran Empire controlled the entire continent of Erara now. Glinden was the last kingdom to escape its clutches. It seemed unlikely the Soltarans would be content to leave them be forever.
They soon reached the king’s chambers. When they entered, they were greeted not only by the king, but also Queen Claudina and Belvar, Theryn’s brother and heir to the throne. The king was sitting hunched in his chair with the Queen and Belvar on either side of him. They all looked very grim.
Theryn bowed. “You wished to see me, Father?”
King Olan looked away from his son for a long moment, twisting a ring on his finger. This was uncharacteristic; the king was a fierce man, not given to dithering. At last, he spoke. “I have reached an agreement with the Crown Prince of Soltara.”
“An agreement?” Theryn said. “I didn’t know there was anything to agree about, other than them staying out of our borders.”
“Which they will,” the king said. “There will be no further attempts at conquest. We will be left in peace.”
Theryn snorted. “And you trust them?”
“Do you dare question my judgment?”
“No, of course not,” Theryn said quickly. “I am merely curious as to why they would bother to inform us. It seems suspicious.”
The king looked away again. “We have something they want.”
“And what would that be?”
The king stood and looked his son directly in the eye. “You, son. They want you.”
Theryn blinked. “I don’t understand.”
“Their priests have determined that you are the ordained match for Prince Lyar— it’s something to do with that religion of theirs. It is important enough for them to trade their attempts at conquest for your hand. And I have given it to them.”
The news hit Atrum like a punch to the gut. Prince Lyar was the Crown Prince of the Soltaran Empire. He had led the army that had brutally conquered their northern neighbor, Norum, ten years previously. He had relinquished his command when his father became too ill to rule; he now served as Regent.
Theryn must have felt similarly shocked, for he stumbled back a few steps. “My hand? In marriage?”
“But—” Theryn stuttered, trying to form a response. “They can’t win against us. They have never breached our borders— not once!”
“The Noorish could claim the same for their country, and yet they fell to Prince Lyar’s armies not ten years ago, and it was not five years after that Taives fell.” Taives was a small seaside kingdom and the closest seaport to Glinden; while Glinden was mostly self-sufficient, the loss of that ally had been deeply felt. “We are surrounded on three sides by the Empire now. Even if they cannot attack us directly, they have the ability to cut off all trade routes.”
“I told you that we should have come to Taives’s defense!” Theryn said.
“You were fifteen then— barely more than a child,” the king said sharply. “You are a child still. You have never seen a battle. I imagine you have a great desire to play at it. Well, I do not share your eagerness for wars, especially for ones we cannot win.”
Theryn flushed a little at his father’s words. It was true that he often boasted of the skills he’d gained on the training grounds, but he had yet to bloody his sword. “You don’t have any guarantee that giving me to them will slake their thirst for conquest!”
The king held up his hand to silence him. “The deal has been made,” he said. “I have made my oath to the Prince Lyar.”
“You will not defy me in this!” the king roared. “You are a prince. Your duty is to your kingdom. You have made an oath of sacrifice for your people. Would you break that oath?”
“No, but—” Theryn turned to his brother. “Belvar, surely you don’t agree with this?”
“I’m sorry, Theryn, but this is the wisest course of action.”
Theryn looked to the queen. “Mother, please, say something. Talk sense into them!”
His mother shook her head, unable to speak. She held a kerchief to her face and tried to suppress a sob.
The king crossed the room and put a hand on Theryn’s shoulder. “It was not a decision I made lightly,” he said, more gently now. “There is no other way.”
Now it was Theryn who couldn’t meet his father’s gaze.
The king removed his hand. “Prince Lyar is waiting to meet you in the Great Hall.”
“Yes, son. Now.”
The queen approached Theryn and kissed him on the cheek. Her face was wet with tears. “I would save you from this if I could,” she said. “Be brave.” The queen touched her son’s face one more time before stepping back. Her ladies escorted her into the inner chambers, their hands on her shoulder, murmuring words of comfort. Atrum wished he could do the same for Theryn.
The four of them made a solemn procession to the Great Hall. More flowers bloomed along the high ceiling, which was made by the branches of living trees laced so tightly together that not an inch of light nor rain ever seeped in. The Soltaran delegation sat at the table on the dais at the far side of the hall. They were like a light in the room, adorned in a mix of golds, whites, and reds. They all rose when Theryn and the rest entered the room.
King Olan nudged Theryn forward. “May I present my son, Theryn, and Sir Atrum, his higard,” he said.
One man stepped forward. He was dressed the most richly of all, adorned in gold and red silks in the style of Soltara, with great puffed sleeves and breeches. On his hands, he wore a pair of brilliant white gloves. He was fair of face, although his neat goatee gave a masculine strength to his features. His hair was like a flame, looking gold one minute and red the next depending on how the light hit it. Although Atrum knew him to be at least forty years of age, he looked no more than thirty.
He crossed the room, his piercing blue eyes never leaving Theryn for even a moment, as if he was afraid he’d disappear if he looked away. He arrived at Theryn’s side, his gaze traveling up and down Theryn’s body as he considered him. Without looking away, he beckoned to his entourage. One man stepped forward: an older gentleman with a black beard and eyes as dark as tar pits. He was dressed in a long red robe, over which he wore a fur-trimmed black coat. On his head he wore a tall, square black hat.
“It appears we’ve found him, my prince,” the man said.
“Yes,” Lyar answered without taking his eyes off Theryn. Atrum disliked the way he was looking at Theryn; his gaze conveyed a hunger that Atrum found disturbing. But what could he do?
“We should confirm it,” the old man said.
“Is there really any need?” Lyar replied.
“We must be exact in these things.”
“Fine, fine.” Lyar waved his hand in assent. The man produced a thin black wand and a clear crystal from inside his robes.
“This will only take a moment, Your Majesty,” the old man said to Theryn. “If you would hold this, please.” He pressed the crystal into Theryn’s hand, who accepted it with bewilderment. The old man waved the stick over his head, and the crystal glowed a brilliant white.
Lyar and the old man smiled at each other, then at Theryn. “Perhaps we could see a demonstration, just to put all doubts to rest?” the old man said.
“Would you mind, then?” Lyar asked Theryn. Theryn simply stared at him, unmoving. “I’m sorry,” Lyar said after a moment. “Perhaps I was unclear. I would like to see a demonstration of your Light ability.”
Theryn shook his head, as if coming out of a stupor. “No,” he said.
Lyar cocked his head. “No? Why ever not?”
“Because I am not a dog, brought here to do tricks for you,” Theryn said, his voice rising. “Nor am I a cut of meat at the market, to be poked and inspected before purchase!”
“Theryn!” King Olan roared. “Apologize to the prince!”
Lyar waved his hand. “No, he’s quite right,” he said. “Forgive me. I have been unconscionably rude. Perhaps we can start again?” He gave Theryn a little bow. “I am Lyar, Crown Prince of Soltara.” He nodded toward the old man. “And this is Father Plinius, my personal avower. He came into my service about ten years ago, and ever since then we have been looking for you.”
“What do you mean?” Theryn asked. “Why were you looking for me?”
In response, he removed one of his gloves. “There are two elements to Our Lord of Light and Life, Soltar: that of the Light of the sun, and that of the heat of Life.” Lyar said. He put his hand on the table beside them. A moment later, the smell of smoke began to waft through the air. When he pulled his hand away, a dark mark was left in the wood. “I have control of the Life. You have control of the Light. Each generation, two are born with exceptional gifts in each of these aspects. While there are others who share some small part of these gifts, there are none as strong as you and I.”
“And that’s what you want me for,” Theryn said. “My ability.”
“It’s more than that,” Lyar said. “Soltar Himself has decreed we should be one.”
“Your god is not mine,” Theryn said. “I will marry you because my father made an oath, and I made an oath to him. It has nothing to do with destiny.”
“In time, you will realize you are mistaken,” Lyar said mildly. “Now, a demonstration, please.”
Theryn threw up his hand. A blinding light flashed directly in Lyar’s eyes, who stumbled backward with a cry. “There you are,” Theryn snarled. “Are you satisfied?”
He turned to walk away, but Lyar caught him by the arm. Theryn let out a cry of pain; the smell of smoke wafted through the air.
Atrum lunged forward, grabbing Lyar’s arm and wrenching it away from Theryn. The moment he touched Lyar, something very strange happened. He couldn’t quite explain it. It was as if he were momentarily… negated. The world fell away; there was nothing but him and Lyar standing there, gazes locked. He seemed just as stunned as Atrum.
Atrum couldn’t say how long it lasted. He let go of Lyar’s arm. As soon as he did, he became aware of the commotion surrounding them— Lyar’s own guards had rushed forward, weapons drawn. King Olan was screaming for Atrum to stand down. The priest and Belvar’s voices also sounded as they tried to keep the peace.
“Stop!” Lyar shouted. “Everyone stop!” The commotion died down. His guards sheathed their swords and stepped back.
Atrum looked back at Theryn. He was cradling his arm, his chest heaving.
“Are you well, my lord?” Atrum said in a low voice.
Theryn looked down at his arm as he slowly released his grip. A hole had been burned in his sleeve, and his skin was red and blistered. “I’m fine,” he managed to say through clenched teeth.
“Prince Lyar, I beg your forgiveness—” King Olan began.
“No, it’s not necessary,” Lyar said. He was staring at Atrum now with the same scrutiny as he had given Theryn earlier. The anger in his expression had been replaced by curiosity.
“If Sir Atrum has offended you, he can easily be dismissed,” Olan said.
The reality of what he had just done hit Atrum. He felt a roaring in his ears as the blood rushed from his face. He had attacked a prince— a prince who was here as the king’s guest. It was an unpardonable breach of etiquette. He would be lucky if a dismissal was all he received, although any other fate that might befall him seemed just as dire. He would be taken from Theryn. Theryn would leave with this monster, and Atrum would never see him again. No other punishment could be as cruel.
“No, that will not be necessary,” Lyar said. “He has not offended me. In truth, he has paid me a great deal of respect by protecting my betrothed with such little thought to the consequences to himself.” Lyar picked up his discarded glove from the table and put it back on. “My powers can be somewhat… volatile, especially when I am taken by surprise.” His gaze returned to Atrum; he felt pinned in place by it. “You have served your prince well, Sir Atrum. It would please me very much if you continued to do so. Although if you could perhaps drop your guard long enough to allow me to speak to my betrothed, I would appreciate that as well.”
Atrum didn’t know what to make of that. He bowed. “Yes, Your Highness,” he murmured and stepped aside.
“I am truly sorry for injuring you,” Lyar said. He reached out. “Here, I can help—”
Theryn cradled his arm more tightly and took a step backward. “I can see to it myself,” Theryn said.
Lyar dropped his hand. “Of course.” Lyar directed his attention back to King Olan. “I think that we’ve all had enough excitement for one day. Perhaps we can start again tomorrow.”
The king used a kerchief to wipe some sweat from his brow. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I think that would be wise.”COLLAPSE