So I thought it was time you met Prince Sorran.
Tanish is expecting to meet the daughter of King Beron and Queen Vasha, so he is in for a surprise - in more ways than one...
Sorran looked out of the window of their carriage at the passing scenery. “Are we out of Vancor yet, mother?” He could see fields dotted with wild flowers, a river in the distance, and farther off, blue-gray mountains capped with white. It was the first time he had left the kingdom and everything was so new. The rumble of the carriage as it was pulled along by eight horses had faded into the background, as had the thunder of hooves of the accompanying guard.
His mother chuckled. “We crossed the border last night while you slept, my son. We will make camp tonight, and tomorrow we will be arrive in Teruna’s capital. All you see out there is Teruna, although the capital is yet a great distance from here.”
He stared at her. “Then it is a vast kingdom.”
She nodded. Then she peered at him intently. “You slept fitfully.”
Damn. Little got past his mother. He sank down into the nest of cushions that he had made for himself and closed his eyes. He’d always intended on telling her, but had thought to do so when the dream had lost its intensity.
He opened his eyes to find her gazing at him, brow wrinkled.
Sorran sighed and sat upright, his hands teasing the soft fabric of his robe. “Where is Father?”
“He rides in the carriage ahead of us, consulting with his advisers,” she told him. She held out her arms. “Come sit with me and we shall speak of what troubles you.”
He chuckled as he crawled across the cushions to sit by her side. “Mother, I am nineteen, nearly twenty. Surely I am too old to be embraced by my mother.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Do not forget. I may be your mother, but I am also your Queen.” Then she smiled. “And this Queen wants to hold her son before he grows too old to be doing such things.”
Sorran grinned. “Far be it from me to deny Your Majesty.” He sat beside her and leaned, head against her arm with a sigh. “I…I had a dream last night.”
She stiffened and then relaxed. “Did it have import?”
Sorran drew in a deep breath. “I think it had significance, yes, though I could not divine its meaning.”
She made a low clucking noise in her throat. “And we have no one with us gifted in Dreamspeak.” She straightened. “Can you tell me of your dream? I know I have no such skill, but perhaps in telling it, the meaning may become clear.”
He pulled himself upright and faced her, hands in his lap. He closed his eyes to concentrate. Even now the dream had left a strange echo within him, as did all those dreams which needed to be translated. He always knew which ones were important and which could be ignored.
“I stood in a lake, up to my waist in water that churned around me, sending waves crashing into me. I feared that at any moment a wave would lift me off my feet and drop me, sending me to the depths.” He shivered as the memory rolled through him. The water had been icy cold, the fear of drowning very real. “My hands began to tingle, to grow hot. I stretched out my arms and placed my hands on the surface of the water to cool them. The heat did not leave them, but then the strangest thing occurred. The waves lessened instantly, until the surface of the lake was as calm as the reflecting pool outside my bedchamber at home.” He opened his eyes and gazed at his mother. “That was all.”
Queen Vasha regarded him in silence. “I fear you are correct. That dream has significance, though what it foretells, I cannot say.” She tilted her head. “Have you had many such dreams lately?” He bowed his head and she sighed. “Sorran, you have not been truthful with me.”
Sorran got to his feet and walked carefully over to the carriage window to gaze out at the landscape beyond. There were times when he wanted simply to be a young man, free of cares and troubles, but this was not to be. Each day brought the growing realization that there were expectations of him as the royal prince. It had taken Sorran a few years to accept that he had a future mapped out for him as the only heir to Vancor’s throne. He was growing accustomed to that reality, little by little. What was more difficult to accept was that he was…different.
Even as a child he had known this. He had not understood the looks which had passed between his parents when he would share knowledge with them, of things he could not possibly have known but somehow did. He’d only known that when he told them about his dreams, they had listened intently. After the first three or four tellings of such dreams, they had brought in several advisers who had sat there and listened in silence to an eight-year-old boy sharing his dreams. He had not known at the time why they were there, but with the passing years had come understanding.
Sorran saw things in his dreams. Things which usually came to pass soon after.
His parents loved him. He knew this with every fiber of his being. But he would often catch his father watching him when he thought Sorran was not looking. The expression on the King’s face was careful, neutral, as though his father deliberately hid his emotions. His mother, bless her, was less guarded. As a result, he had grown used to sharing with her. She’d once told him that her father had shown evidence of the same gifts, though in lesser measure than Sorran.
Then there were the markings on his skin.
When Sorran had been old enough to voice his feelings, he’d asked about the birthmark on his chest that lay above his heart. The blemish was red, dark against his olive skin, and it had a distinct shape, that of three hands in a circle, each clasping the next around the wrist. It was obvious even to him that this was no ordinary mark. It was clear enough to make out the fingers of each hand, the wrists fading to nothing below where each one was grasped.
As he became a young man, there had been several occasions when he would awaken in the middle of the night, feverish, his head full of a vision of yet more markings. He would rise from his bed immediately, light a lamp and draw them out on parchment before the memory faded. The following morning he would go out into the city to find the woman who he knew was skilled in body art. She etched the designs onto his skin, exactly as he had foreseen. He had no clue as to their meaning. He simply knew that they needed to be on his body. His parents noted them but said nothing.
And finally there was something so strange that Sorran had never spoken of it to another living soul. The colors.
Sometimes when he looked at those around him, he saw them enveloped in a colorful haze, almost like a gauzy, translucent covering. And the colors were never the same. When he shared moments with his mother, her color was a rich gold. It comforted and warmed him, though he knew not why. His father’s color was a deep blue, occasionally turning brown in moments when he was beset with many problems. And Aroman was surrounded by a thin film of darkest green, morphing at times into red.
Sorran did not know what to make of the colors, but instinct told him to say nothing of them. He was a learned young man, but he had never read of anyone seeing the same phenomenon.
Sorran listened to the cheerful comments shouted between the guards who rode beside them as protection. It was still a mystery to him why they should be in need of such a thing, even though it had been explained to him that another kingdom sought to overthrow Teruna and that they might be in danger. His dreams showed nothing of this. He watched the men on their horses and longed to ride with them. He knew even as the thought passed through his mind that his father would not allow it. Lately his father had seemed overwrought. Sorran wished he would share his preoccupations, but so far the King had kept his own counsel.
He sighed. There was nothing for it but to tell his mother everything.
“I have had several dreams. At first, they were infrequent, but in recent days they have occurred every two or three nights. Then Father announced that we were to visit Teruna.” He fell silent, letting his mother make the connection.
“Oh.” She stared at him, wide-eyed, and then shivered. “Something is coming.”
He nodded. Then he let out a gasp as fire spread across his chest, radiating out from his birthmark. He clutched his hand over his heart, pressing his palm against the heated flesh through the thin silky fabric of his robe.
Before his mother could react, a voice reached them from outside the carriage.
“Your Majesty, we are in sight of Teruna.”
Sorran stiffened at the sound of Aroman’s voice, the memory still painful.
“Thank you, Aroman,” the Queen called out. She turned to him, her brow creased. “Tell me. What ails you?”
Sorran pulled at his robes to reveal his bare chest. “Does it look…different?”
His mother gazed at his body, frowning. “No, my son. Why do you ask?”
He shook his head. “It is probably nothing.” The heat was fading from it even now.
She didn’t break eye contact with him. “And why did you react when Aroman called out to me?”
Sorran could not speak of it. He had no idea if his mother was aware of what had passed between him and Aroman, the chief of the palace guard and a member of one of the oldest Houses of Vancor.
His mother relaxed. “If it eases your mind, you should know that your father told me of Aroman’s proposal.” She patted the cushion beside her. “Sit, my son. Talk to me.”
With reluctance he knelt on the cushion and she laid a hand upon his arm, connecting the two of them. Such contact always seemed to ease him.
“So,” she began, “Aroman wants to wed you and your father refused him.” Her eyes bored into him. “Are you vexed because he refused? Or is it something else?”
Sorran bit his lip, uncertain of how much he wished to reveal. “Aroman had already made it clear that he wants me,” he admitted. “I refused him.”
Her eyes grew wide. “And so he approached your father, knowing this?”
Sorran nodded, his heart heavy. “Aroman is a fine warrior. But…” He struggled to find the words. “He is not my destiny.” He knew this with all his heart. “Unfortunately, Aroman does not want to take no for an answer.”
His mother flushed. “We have never spoken of this, I know. Are you…are you attracted to males?” She smiled. “You know it matters not to me if this is so. Whoever you choose to love, I will welcome him—or her—with open arms, simply because they are your choice.”
Impulsively Sorran leaned across and kissed his mother on the cheek. “I love you.”
His mother’s beautiful, dark brown eyes glowed. “And I you.”
“And I do not have an answer for you,” he said quietly. “I only know that I have yet to meet the one who is meant for me.” He was not being entirely honest with her. He found Aroman attractive, there was no doubt of that. And for the first time, something had stirred within him, a deep longing to be held, caressed, kissed. But not by the handsome warrior, that was certain.
Aroman had taken rejection badly. The tall, bearded guard would not leave him alone. And as for him going to the King to ask for Sorran’s hand, that was underhanded. If his father had decided in Aroman’s favor, Sorran would have had little choice but to marry him. Thank the Maker he had refused. Unfortunately, Aroman had not accepted his father’s decision with good grace. Each time that they met, Sorran had felt ill at ease.
He put thoughts of Aroman aside. There were more pressing things concerning him at this time.
Every mile draws us closer to Teruna.
With that thought came another, one that made him quiver with barely suppressed excitement.
My destiny lies there.
The heat of the day had given way to the blessed coolness of the night, which brought with it the heady fragrance of flowers carried on the light breeze. Sorran let the scent fill his senses. Lamps burned at various intervals around the camp, set between the tents of his parents and the guards. A solitary guard watched over him. It was late enough that everyone had retired to their tents.
He stood at a distance from the tent which had been erected for him, inside which burned sweet oils to help him sleep.
They were not working.
Sorran had dined lightly on fruit, and had even accepted a glass of Merrova, a sweet liquor well known for its soporific qualities. So far sleep was eluding him, but he knew that as soon as sleep overtook him, the dreams would come. They grew more frequent as each mile drew the visitors closer to Teruna’s capital.
He stared at the moon in all its fullness, low on the horizon, and shuddered.
What awaits me in Teruna? He knew without a doubt that whatever it was, it would change his life.
“Are you cold, my prince? Shall I fetch you a cloak?”
Sorran froze at the sound of Aroman’s rich voice from behind him. He took a deep breath. “No, thank you.” He held himself still, waiting for the warrior to take his leave.
He bit back a groan when Aroman appeared at his side. Several inches taller than Sorran, he gazed down at him, undisguised lust burning in those blue eyes. “I could keep you warm tonight, Your Highness. I could enfold you in my arms beneath your blankets and your body would know no cold all night long.” He leered. “And I could bring you such pleasure that you would wish for me never to leave your bed.” He kept his voice low.
Sorran turned slowly to face the warrior. “And if His Majesty were to learn of the words that have just passed your lips, I wonder how he would react.” He stared at him, unblinking.
Aroman grew still. “You…you will not tell him?” Below his tan, his pallor increased. “I meant no harm, Sorran. Please, forgive me. I have known you for many years. You know how I feel about you.”
“Indeed.” Sorran didn’t break eye contact. “So much that you would ignore my wishes and go to the King to ask for my hand.” He pressed his lips together, biting back the words that begged to be set free. Aroman’s suggestions left him cold.
Aroman straightened, shoulders back. “I am a member of the aristocracy. I had every right to ask for your hand in marriage.” His eyes glinted. “Did you tell your father? Did you get him to refuse me?”
Sorran bristled with anger. “I said nothing. Whatever my father said to you was entirely his decision.” He narrowed his gaze. “And you would do well to remember that the next time you choose to suggest sharing my bed.”
Aroman shrugged. “Think of it as part of your education. You have not known the pleasures of the flesh yet, have you?” Sorran’s cheeks blossomed with heat and Aroman smiled. “Oh yes, the virgin prince. But you wanted me, do not deny it. I felt the heat between us.”
Sorran had had enough.
“One more word and I go to my father, right now. Even if he is slumbering.” He set his jaw and met Aroman’s gaze head on.
For a moment Aroman stared at him in silence. Sorran could almost hear the thoughts tumbling around inside the warrior’s head as he debated internally whether Sorran spoke in truth. Something in his expression must have decided Aroman, for he gave a low bow.
“Forgive me, Your Highness. I meant no insult. And be sure I will not approach you in such a manner again.” Aroman backed away, back stiff, gazing at the ground. He disappeared behind Sorran’s tent, his cloak flapping behind him in the breeze.
Sorran expelled a long, shuddering breath and sank to his knees on the grass beneath him. He drew in several deep breaths as he tried to regain his composure.
The breeze caught the flaps of his tent and the scent of the sweet aromatic oil wafted out to him, tugging at him with invisible fingers, calling him to sleep.
With a sigh, Sorran took one last look at the black velvet night sky, dusted with stars, and then retreated into his tent.
Ready to dream.