Prism gasped for air as Kaeral gripped his bicep, pulling him from the tumultuous waves of the Ilivar Sea and helping him onto the buoy. Storm clouds overhead taunted them, though little pockets of moonlight filtered through now, allowing them some ability to see. Rain assaulting them during their swim had nearly brought them to a suffocating end.
As Prism rested his back against the buoy, he wondered how they’d avoided drowning in the cold water. Not only had he swallowed more sea water than he’d thought possible, but hypothermia threatened to set in at any moment.
“Are you still with me, Prism?” Kaeral asked, placing his hand on Prism’s shoulder. His skin numb from the cold, Prism could barely feel the contact at all.
“Those waves are brutal. If you hadn’t been there, I would’ve drowned,” Prism said.
“I know. But you made it, right?” Kaeral said.
“And I’d do it again, for the chance of seeing Grim,” Prism replied. “Though it’s getting quite cold.”
“Give me just a moment,” Kaeral said. “I can alleviate that a bit, provided you aren’t too squeamish. That nosebleed you gave me with your elbow will come in handy.”
Prism glanced sidelong at Kaeral, watching as the Gor placed his finger to his bloodied nose, using the blood to draw runes on the buoy in a circle large enough to fit two hands. He placed one hand palm down inside the circle and gestured for Prism to do the same.
Heat thrummed from Prism’s palm and into his body, not enough to warm him completely, but enough to steady his temperature and still his shivering. He nodded appreciatively at Kaeral and said, “You know so many tricks, it’s a wonder you ever got caught.”
“They got lucky,” Kaeral replied. “You can avoid capture a thousand times, but statistics eventually get the better of you. A complete idiot caught me, too. He got lost when trying to follow the false trail I left and happened to wander into my safehouse. He had a heat-rifle, and I had a knife and my ‘tricks’. The heat-rifle won, because I’m not stupid.”
Prism chuckled softly and said, “Yeah, but you could still leave at any time. Why do you stay?”
Kaeral smirked and looked away, changing the subject. “Once winter hits, we won’t be able to do this. It’ll be too cold, and the heat transference from the water beneath the buoy won’t be enough to keep us from freezing. But our first year will be up in the Spring, so we may be able to get probation. With that, getting into Kobinaru will be much easier.”
Prism nodded. He’d hoped make these trips regularly, but he could be patient, too. Some things were worth waiting for, after all. But he hoped the boat wouldn’t be one of them. “So, she’ll know to come to the buoy, right?” He asked.
“Yes,” Kaeral said. “If we miss the initial rendezvous, she always comes here. That’s her light there.” He pointed across the waves to a red light moving toward them.
“Good,” Prism said.
They waited in silence as the small fishing boat approached, four human sailors moved on the deck, two men and two women, all wearing thick but loose winter clothing, easy to shed in the event of falling in the water. One man stood on the portside as it came alongside the buoy, and he threw a rope to Kaeral, who caught it with his free hand.
“Ho there! Castaways!” The man shouted as he worked with Kaeral to pull the boat closer to the buoy, allowing Prism to jump on board. Kaeral erased his runic circle and jumped aboard as well.
Despite his nakedness, Kaeral embraced the bearded soldier warmly, and received an equally fond embrace in return. When they parted, they stared at each other for a moment, revealing to Prism the two silver rings in the sailor’s right ear. “You old sea dog, where’s Marhys?” Kaeral said. “I would’ve thought she’d be here to greet us.”
“She’s below deck. The cold was getting to ‘er, what with ‘er condition and all,” the sailor replied. He nodded to Prism without taking his eyes off Kaeral. “Who’s your friend?”
“He’s another pardon,” Kaeral replied. “He’s a rogue, just like us. I vouch for him.”
“Good enough for me,” the sailor said, then turned to Prism at last. He extended his hand in greeting. “Name’s Tala.”
“You’re from Incaria?” Prism said, clasping the man’s arm.
The statement startled Tala, and he glanced at a grinning Kaeral in surprise. “That’s right. ‘Ow’d you know? My accent?”
“My mentor’s from the Dobrag Tundra,” Prism replied. “He talks about his region and its neighbors often. I recognized the earrings. Are these women your two wives then?”
“Ah, you’re a sharp one, aren’t ya?” Tala said, grinning wide. Turning his head, he showed Prism the single gold band there. “And the young man at the bow is ma son. Incarian fishermen work as a family, in all respects.”
Kaeral stepped between them, gathering Prism under his arm as he passed. “Come on, Prism, I need to introduce you to someone.” He glanced back at Tala and said, “I hope you brought my clothes?”
“Yep, though with’n the chill you shoulda use the blankets first,” Tala said.
“Can you clothe Prism, too?”
“Aye, we’ll figure somethin’ fer yer boy,” Tala said, nodding with his lips pursed in thought. “Got an extra blanket fer sure.”
“Thank you,” Kaeral said, then led Prism into the ship’s hold. He stopped by a small cupboard, pulling out two thick, wool blankets and handing one to Prism before wrapping one around his body.
“Here, wrap this around your shoulders. It should be warmer below deck, but we don’t want to put on any clothes until we’re completely dry,” Kaeral explained.
“Understood,” Prism replied, complying with the instructions. Though itchy, the blanket immediately warmed him, measurably improving his condition by the time Kaeral led him into the cabin.
The cabin consisted of little more than a cot and a small desk bolted to the bulkhead. A lit lantern hung from a hook on the wall. A young woman occupied the cot, laying on her back, displaying her distended belly. By Prism’s best estimation, she was well into her final months of pregnancy, and she did not look well. Dark lesions covered most of her visible skin, including her face and belly. Sweat matted her dark hair, and her labored breathing tugged at Prism’s heart. Kaeral affectionately smoothed back that hair and kissed her forehead, revealing her slightly-pointed ears.
“Marhys, how are you feeling?” Kaeral asked.
“Kae!” Marhys said with surprising energy. “You made it. When you didn’t make the rendezvous, I was afraid you’d drowned.”
“I had to pull this one out of the salt a few times,” Kaeral said, waving Prism forward. “Marhys, I’d like you to meet Prism, my dear friend from the Temple.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Marhys said, extending her arm in greeting. “I’m sure you’ve heard nothing about me.”
Prism took her hand, amazed at how pale it appeared in the dim light, but found her grip surprisingly firm. “No, I haven’t.”
“Kae’s a private man. He loves to be mysterious,” Marhys said, chuckling.
“Are you . . .” Prism had several questions on his mind but couldn’t decide on one and let the sentence dwindle into nothing.
“Pregnant?” Marhys asked, grinning at his confusion. “Yes. Despite the state of the world and our circumstances, we decided to have a child. We wanted to while we still had a chance.”
“We might be able to get a Fedain to heal you,” Kaeral muttered.
Marhys’ eyes could cut steel. “I told you, I don’t want them to touch me. I won’t betray the natural order. As a Gor, you shouldn’t, either.”
“You’re a Gor, too, aren’t you?” Prism asked.
“Half. Half human, half Gor. My father was Tala’s brother,” Marhys said.
Prism nodded and addressed the other strange comment she’d made. “You don’t care for the Fedain?”
“Do you?” Marhys scoffed. “They’ve oppressed humans for centuries—the better part of a thousand years, even. All they do is manipulate humans into worshipping them simply because they can heal their wounds. Why would you like them?”
Kaeral patted Marhys’ arm and said, “He’s sweet on one.”
“Kaeral!” Prism hissed.
Kaeral ignored Prism’s anger and said, “Lord Grim, to be precise.”
“Oh, well that’s different,” Marhys conceded. “He’s a Fedain of the people. Duke Selfaeth isn’t so bad, either. He at least makes an effort, but that’s one family out of millions, and the rest can’t be bothered.”
“I didn’t bring you two together to have a political argument,” Kaeral muttered.
“We’ll behave,” Prism said, smiling as he glanced at his friend, then returned his attention to Marhys. “What are you sick with?”
“It’s an auto-immune disorder. My body is destroying itself,” she explained.
“You speak like you’ve had some schooling,” Prism observed. “Compared to your uncle, anyway.”
Marhys laughed and replied, “Incaria may be remote, but not everyone avoids proper schooling. I was apprenticed to my town’s doctor until I decided to follow Tala up here. I wanted to get away after my father died. Two years ago, I met Kaeral, and couldn’t imagine leaving. Not until the baby is born, anyway.”
“Gor often go on pilgrimage during the months after childbirth, to pay homage to Ghayle, the mother of the Gor people,” Marhys explained. “It’s a spiritual matter, and since I became ill I’ve found religion to be more . . . pure than the secular life.”
“I’ve never heard of Ghayle,” Prism said.
Kaeral chuckled and interjected, “Most humans haven’t, in my experience.”
“Where would you find Ghayle?” Prism asked.
“I don’t know,” Marhys replied. “Possibly nowhere. I’m not sure she exists, but I have some faith. Legend says if you give into your primal instincts, you can follow them to her.”
“Then I wish you luck in finding her. What will happen with your child?” Prism asked.
“Tala and his wife will take care of him while I’m gone. If I never make it back,” Marhys paused, adjusting her hold on Kaeral’s hand to intertwine their fingers, “Kaeral will assume his parental role as soon as he’s freed from the Order.”
“Marhys, I’m afraid I won’t be spending most of my time with you tonight. Once we arrive in Kobinaru, I have to take Prism somewhere,” Kaeral said.
Marhys’ eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to steal anything, are you?”
Kaeral chuckled and replied, “No, much as I’d love to find something nice for the baby’s nameday, I’ll keep my promise to you. Prism just wants to see where Grim lives. We’ll be careful, don’t worry.”
“You better be,” Marhys said, then turned to Prism. “And take care of my love, will you? He doesn’t know how to be careful.”
“I will,” Prism said.
He remained silent for the rest of the trip to Kobinaru, observing the lovers and their soft, teasing banter. He’d never seen this side of Kaeral before and was honored to witness the love in his best friend’s eyes.
He vowed to do everything in his power to ease the sadness which accompanied it.
Without warning, Ghayle directed the vision to Grim, and Prism let her take him where she wanted to go. He remembered this night well, though he’d welcome any window into how Grim had perceived it.
The palace life had chafed at Grim for the past few months. Ever since the riots following Master Janlynd’s death, Duke Selfaeth had kept his children practically under house arrest, never letting them leave without a significant escort. Grim hated confinement more than anything, and he needed some time to breathe.
After his nightly session with Sharis, he slipped from his balcony, using a rope he’d concealed behind his headboard for opportunities like this. Shimmying down to the palace gardens, he encountered his next obstacle—getting past the palace wall.
His usual approach wouldn’t work. He knew a place to scale the wall, but with the rain from earlier in the evening, he would find no purchase on the slick stone. As inconvenient as it was, rain offered other opportunities.
Perimeter checks occurred with greater frequency during inclement weather, and several soldiers would take one of the palace trucks and drive around the outer wall every quarter hour.
He cautiously approached the garage, waiting for an opportunity to sneak past the soldiers while their backs were turned to climb into the bed of the truck. He needed enough time to do it quietly, which required him to perch on the edge of the bed unnoticed long enough to lower himself lightly to the metal inside.
It only took a few minutes before such an opportunity presented itself, the two soldiers stepping out, to smoke at the edge of the garage, before they began their next circuit. Grim slipped into the truck and hid under a pile of sodden branches. This truck doubled as a grounds-keeping vehicle, and the groundskeeper used it every morning as part of his autumnal pruning.
The soldiers didn’t bother to check the bed before they drove off into the night. Grim breathed a sigh of relief when the truck passed through the large iron gate and it creaked shut after him. He was out now. One last trick remained.
Grim waited for a particularly bumpy stretch of road and timed his vault over the edge of the truck bed with one of the bumps, using the jolt to mask the sound of his movement. He rolled to cancel his momentum, glad he retained at least some of his self-defense training.
He hastened away from the palace, glancing over his shoulder as he headed straight toward an alley between a spice shop and an accountant’s office. The slapping of his footfalls on the wet cobblestones reduced his ability to hear the two people standing in the alleyway, otherwise he might’ve gone the other way and missed them.
Instead, he nearly walked right into them, and found himself face to face with a Gor a few years his senior. Fear gripped him as he considered the Gor’s tattooed ears and violet eyes. Was this an assassin, like those the military warned about since the border conflicts with the Gor began a decade earlier?
As he inched backward, a form stepped between them, throwing back his hood to reveal a familiar face, though his now-shaved head didn’t quite match the image frequenting Grim’s memories.
“Prism?” Grim said, dumbfounded at his luck.
“Grim?” Prism said excitedly.
“What are you doing here?” They said together, then smiled and embraced as if old friends.
Kaeral chuckled at the exchange and said, “Well . . . looks like my job is done.”
“Who are you?” Grim asked. “And what do you mean by ‘job’?”
Prism pulled Grim closer to Kaeral and said, “This is my friend, Kaeral. It would be in our best interest if you pretended you never saw either of us.”
“It would be in my best interest, too. No one can know I’m out here,” Grim replied. “I don’t think I’d ever be allowed to leave again if my Father learned I sneaked out.”
“Then I think we should go somewhere private, so we don’t draw attention,” Prism suggested.
“Do you think you could make it back to Marhys’ place on your own?” Kaeral asked.
As Prism nodded, Grim asked, “Where is it?”
“Docks, Egtar street.”
“I’ll make sure he gets there,” Grim said.
Kaeral nodded his appreciation. “Thank you.” He bowed to Prism and turned on his heel, sprinting toward a nearby intersection. A streetcar pulled up just as he reached the corner, and Kaeral climbed aboard, disappearing into the night.
Grim shook his head, amazed by his luck but still concerned about the state of things. “By the blood, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be confined at the Temple?”
“I came to see you, a-actually,” Prism said, coughing to cover the stutter in his answer.
“How’d you get out of the Temple?”
Prism shrugged. “I sneaked out. Kaeral does regularly, and I finally decided to join him.”
Thunder rumbled overhead. “Come with me,” Grim said, taking Prism’s hand and pulling him into the night.
They sprinted down the street just as the clouds burst and the autumnal rains resumed. Rain gave them the perfect cover to explain their urgency; no one looked twice at two young men trying to escape a downpour.
A few blocks away from the palace, they caught a streetcar traveling away from the richer part of town, leaving it after a few stops in front of a humble but well-illuminated building. Grim waved him toward the building as Prism read the sign.
“A hotel?” He asked. “Grim, I’m not sure that’s appropriate. What if we’re seen together?”
“I’ll give you money for a room, one with two beds, for you and your business partner,” Grim explained, pulling several paper bills from his pocket and sliding them into Prism’s hand. “You’ll pay for it, so they don’t see my face, and then we can speak in private. I have no ulterior motives.”
“Okay,” Prism said, smiling with false confidence. “Let’s go.”
He stepped inside as Grim hung back, keeping his head down and his hood bunched up against the cold. Prism stepped to the counter and met the receptionist, a young and plump Fedain woman with piercing yellow eyes. She had darker skin for a Fedain, the color of dull hematite instead of diamond like Grim’s.
Prism stared at her, clearly having never seen an Eastern Fedain before. The woman mistook his surprised stare as flirtatious, batting her eyes as she asked him what he needed. He hastily asked for the room Grim had suggested, left his payment, and took his key without another word. Grim caught the receptionist staring after Prism and noted the bewilderment in her eyes. She wasn’t used to a human ignoring her beauty.
Grim chuckled to himself as he followed Prism up the stairs to the second floor, down the hall to the room matching the number on their key tag. Prism unlocked the door and stepped inside, searching for a lamp to light. He jumped when Grim pulled the chain next to the door, activating the power lights above them. Grim smiled and closed the door behind him.
“All right, we’re alone now. And safe,” Prism said, awkwardly sitting on the edge of one of the beds, facing the aisle between the two. He folded his hands in his lap, fidgeting with his thumbs. “What do you want to talk about?”
Grim removed his jacket and hung it from a hook beside the door before sitting opposite Prism on the other bed. Their knees almost touched, only an inch separating them. “How are you doing at the Temple? I heard Master Vinh is your mentor,” he said, placing his hands on his thighs. Court etiquette taught him how to behave in public, and he managed to keep his hands steady, though he wanted to fidget just as much as the boy sitting across from him.
“That’s correct. You’re keeping tabs on me?” Prism said.
“Is that so strange?” Grim asked, barely keeping his voice from quivering.
“Grim . . .” Prism said awkwardly. He stared at his lap, his knees shaking, “is it wrong in Fedain culture to . . . to love another man?”
“No. It’s quite normal, actually,” Grim replied, steadying his breath. “It’s considered normal in most places in the world. Only Ultakan human law forbids it.”
“So . . . if I told you I’ve been thinking about you ever since the day we danced together, that would be okay?” Prism said. His whole body shook now. Grim wanted to reach out and comfort him, to show him it was all right to feel the way he did, but he needed to address one pertinent question first.
“Have you taken your monk oaths?” he asked.
Prism shook his head, still avoiding Grim’s gaze. “No. I haven’t decided ye—”
Grim darted forward, his hand leading to lift Prism’s chin as he pressed in, kissing Prism on the lips. With both hands, he pushed Prism’s hood back, letting his fingers drift down his scalp and onto his neck where they intertwined behind his head.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about you, too. Every day,” Grim said, placing his forehead against Prism’s to keep their gazes locked together.
“Every day?” Prism echoed, his eyes filled with surprise at first, but then sadness took over them, and he pulled away from Grim.
Grim reluctantly let him go, sliding back into his place on the opposite bed. “I can see I’ve made you uncomfortable. I’m sorry, this was a bad idea and—”
This time Prism darted forward and met Grim with a kiss. An urgent, questioning kiss. Grim reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Prism’s back and neck again, pulling their bodies together as he fell backward onto the bed, taking Prism with him. They kissed for nearly a minute until Prism stopped, staring into Grim’s eyes with pure adoration. “No. No . . . it wasn’t a bad idea at all,” he said softly. “I’m just confused. Why have you been thinking about me?”
Grim rotated, guiding Prism onto his side so they could stare into each other’s eyes. “Fedain develop physical attraction instantly if they develop it at all. It’s a biological trigger. The moment I met you, I wanted you physically.” Questions formed in Prism’s eyes and Grim hastened to add, “But from the little I got to know about you, I want you completely. You’re an enigma in all the best ways, a puzzle for me to figure out. I haven’t stopped wondering what became of you, and the little I hear from the temple triggers a thousand fantasies of what could be.”
Prism laughed and said, “I couldn’t say anything as powerful as that, but I do know you’ve filled my thoughts often, too.” He sighed and rolled onto his back. “I’ve tried not to think about it, since what future could we have? I’m a human commoner, and you’re a Fedain nobleman. It’s not even lawful for me to want you.”
“Then we’ll run away to some far-off land together,” Grim replied, only half-joking. “We could even go tonight, if you’d like.”
“You’d leave your people?” Prism asked, his eyes wide.
Grim’s own eyes widened as he considered his own statement. Could he run away with Prism? The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’. But could he do it now, in the face of all the problems his family and kingdom currently had at their doorstep?
“No. I couldn’t do that. Not even for you,” Grim said, sighing heavily. “I wish I could, but I have responsibilities.”
“And I have more to learn,” Prism said. “Master Vinh says if I commit to the monk’s way of life for the duration of my sentence, I could possibly get my sentence reduced by half.”
“Ten years instead of twenty,” Grim said. “That’s only nine and a half to go. Plenty of time to figure out how we’d solve the other issue.”
“If I do that, take the oaths, I mean . . . I wouldn’t be able to touch you. If I met you again like this, I couldn’t kiss you again,” Prism said.
“You could . . .” Grim said, stroking Prism’s cheek. “No one would know.”
“I couldn’t do it any more than you could leave your people,” Prism replied, rotating back onto his side and mirroring Grim’s hand placement and stroking.
“Compelled by duty,” Grim sighed.
“Grim, I’m a thief. I spent my childhood stealing and taking advantage of people. For the past seven months I’ve learned a different way of life, and good people have invested in my education. I can’t say I fully understand honor and integrity yet, but I know I could never take those oaths in public then break them in private.”
“But you could take the oaths, the temporary ones?” Grim asked, trying to get a feel for Prism’s position on the issue.
“I could take the permanent ones,” Prism declared, “If you weren’t part of this, I could spend my whole life in the Order.”
“That only makes me like you even more.” Grim leaned forward and pecked Prism on the cheek. “The Order of the Mountain has long been one of the few organizations who protect the people without asking for anything in return. They work hard, for little thanks, though I’ve always done my best to show respect to them.”
“What do you want me to do?” Prism asked, raising onto his elbow and supporting his head with his hand. “There are three potential paths I see for me. I could keep sneaking out, we’ll find a way to meet like this, and find out what this is. You and I will meet in secret every time, every kiss in the shadows, every touch behind closed doors. I could do that as soon as I’ve completed my first year, without fear of breaking any oaths.”
Grim shook his head and replied, “A life spent in secret, always running the risk of discovery and grave consequences. Even though my father supports my love for you—”
“Love?” Prism cut him off, his eyes filled with delight at the mention of the word. Anxiety quickly replaced that delight. “Wait, your father knows about me?”
“Oh yes . . .” Grim chuckled. “He could tell when he saw me the day we met.”
Prism’s mouth twitched wordlessly for a moment before he replied, “I wouldn’t have expected him to be okay with it.”
“My father is a complicated man. He’s always been a bit of a rogue nobleman. He married a Fedain commoner, for starters,” Grim said, grinning. “It’s one of the reasons the people in general like him, compared to other Fedain nobles, anyway.” He grimaced and went on, “That’s part of the issue with us acting in secret, though. I have no shame about my attraction to you, but the people would. At this time of political unrest, it would ruin our integrity to hide our relationship.”
“So, you’re not comfortable with that?” Prism surmised.
“No. I get the feeling you’re not, either.”
“If they found me and you couldn’t protect me, I’d be executed under Ultakan law for loving you,” Prism said. “Human cultural matters are resolved in human courts, as I understand.”
“That’s correct, and would be a fate I’d rather avoid, too,” Grim said dryly.
Prism grinned and said. “I’m glad you agree.”
“So, that means we’re not going to meet in secret, so we probably won’t be meeting at all until your sentence is up,” Grim said, growling at the unpleasant thought. “You’ll have to choose whether to swear your oaths or not, depending entirely upon yourself.”
“If I can’t be with you anyway, I see no reason not to swear my vows for life,” Prism said.
Grim bolted into a sitting position, placing his hand firmly on Prism’s thigh to get his full attention. “Who said we couldn’t be together in the future?”
Prism regarded him with complete confusion. “But I thought we just—”
“I said meeting in secret would be dangerous,” Grim clarified. “Once you’re a free man, the risk to you would be significantly reduced. You could live in the palace, completely under my protection. I can’t interfere with your sentencing, but sure as the blood I could keep you safe once you’re outside the legal system. Not to mention, for the duration of your sentence I can use what influence I have, to try to make it easier for humans to love whomever they wish. It will take time to change minds, but it’s a worthy cause on its own, even without our relationship.”
“Would you be invested in changing things if you didn’t love me?” Prism asked.
“Just because you brought it to my mind, doesn’t mean I’m only pursuing it selfishly now,” Grim answered. “I care about my people, Prism. All of them.”
“So, I should swear my oaths temporarily, obey them completely, and apply to renegotiate my sentence. And, in ten years, we’ll be together,” Prism said.
“Nine and a half,” Grim amended with a sly smile. “It’s worth waiting for.”
Prism kissed him again, which led to several more minutes of kissing. Grim wanted to press for more, was about to undo Prism’s jacket, when Prism pulled away and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to last without seeing you.”
Grim sighed, Prism wasn’t in the mood to explore their physical relationship further, and he had to accept that. Lying back down, he contemplated the issue facing them. Even ten years would be a considerable wait, and there had to be some way to reduce it for both their sakes.
He wracked his brain for every legal loophole he knew, making a mental note to ask Sharis for a refresher on Ultakan law. Memories returned of his time spent with the Order of the Mountain, learning the self-defense techniques he still practiced, though they’d grown a bit rusty from lack of use.
That was it.
“I have an idea!” Grim said, shooting back to a sitting position. “I’m not sure if it’ll work, though.”
“Tell me about it!” Prism said.
“I don’t want to get your hopes up,” Grim replied.
Prism laughed and said, “Getting my hopes up is how I’ll survive ten years—nine and a half years—of not being able to see you.”
Grim took both Prism’s hands in his own. “I’ll make a formal request of the Temple, requesting they assign me a training partner to live in the palace with me. I’ll speak to Grandmaster Valkean in private and tell him I want you to be that partner.”
“Do you really believe that will work?” Prism asked.
Grim nodded. “It will require approval by the Council of Masters, but I think so.”
“Maybe they won’t even require me to swear my oath that way,” Prism suggested, his eyes brimming with hope. “We may not be able to do everything we’d like to do, but at least I could touch you on occasion.”
“You could touch me a lot. Sparring would be part of your monk training duties,” Grim said suggestively. He let go of Prism’s hands to rest his fingers against Prism’s thighs and leaned in for a slow and passionate kiss. When they parted, Grim whispered sweetly, “Can you stay with me tonight?”
Prism returned the kiss, guiding Grim back to the bed and climbing on top of him, but after a moment he pulled away, growling in frustration. “No,” he said bitterly. “Kaeral and I need to return to the Temple before morning. I’m sure the monks will know I haven’t slept.” He turned back to Grim and said, “But at least I had a chance to dream. That’s enough, I think.”
Grim tried to laugh but his breath caught in his throat, so he smiled instead. “And you said you couldn’t say anything powerful,” he said, groaning in delighted frustration that he wouldn’t be able to spend the rest of the night with this beautiful boy. “I love you,” he said, taking Prism’s hand one more time and squeezing it.
“I love you,” Prism replied. “But I do have to go.” Grim nodded. They stood and embraced, kissing one final time before parting.
“Do you need any help getting to the docks?” Grim asked.
“I’ll find my way,” Prism replied. He placed his hand against Grim’s cheek, stroking it with his thumb. “Good night, Grim.”
Grim’s eyes welled up with tears, and he took Prism’s hand in his, clasping it firmly between his own. “Good night, Prism. I’ll see you soon.”
Prism opened the door, leaving the key on the hook next to Grim’s jacket. He paused there, lifting a loose strand of Grim’s platinum hair from the fabric before wrapping it around his finger and tying it off. He looked back at Grim once, his smile breaking as tears streamed down his face.
The door closed, and they made good use of one of the beds, thankful for the pounding rain concealing their lovemaking. Both would have explaining to do in the morning, but that night together mattered more than any punishment ever would.
Prism headed toward the shore to retrieve his real clothing. He’d left through the gate, not caring that the soldiers saw him and would report back to the Temple about his whereabouts. He expected them to stop him, but it soon became clear why they did not. Shortly down the road stood an old Gor in Master’s robes, who fell into step beside Prism without a word.
Master Vinh and Prism walked to the shore in silence. If the master didn’t want to speak, Prism didn’t want to either. The monks would punish him when he returned to the Temple, for breaking their trust and disobeying the conditions of his pardon. Addressing that now served no purpose.
Instead, he thumbed the hair tied around his index finger, his thoughts filled with the pleasurable memory of the night before. How had he ever thought he could give up the chance of being with Grim?
When they reached the shore, Prism discarded his clothes in favor of the monk’s robes he’d left behind there. Kaeral’s had already vanished, meaning his friend had returned to the Temple without him.
Now dressed the part, it seemed the proper time to address the silent master attending him. “I had to decide some things. The apple tree helped me sort it out,” he stated, hoping the cryptic nature of his answer would please the usually cryptic master.
“Is that so?” Master Vinh replied. “And what did you determine?”
“Master Vinh . . .” Prism said, bowing low to his mentor. “I’d like to learn more about the oaths.”
“The branch broke, didn’t it?” Master Vinh asked. “Those branches are as sturdy as peach pits. Be careful where you leave the broken branches, lest they be used as weapons against you.” He sighed, turning toward the Temple on the hill. “We’ll begin training you to take the oaths this afternoon. I suggest you get what little sleep you can in your free time. You’ll be working much harder than usual to make up for the time you’ve lost. You must learn that a monk’s robes are not so easily discarded.”
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