By Shahnaz Radjy
Leo’s brow furrowed in concentration as his field of vision narrowed, focusing on the tip of Sam’s finger. The splinter was under a few layers of skin, angry red on otherwise unblemished perfection. He knew it would hurt, but if he managed to get the splinter out, the pain would be over in a few seconds.
His heart hammered, at odds with the focus of his hands and eyes. Each beat spread heat through his chest, then up the back of his neck. His doubts about whether or not to shorten his hair was laid to rest. His dark locks were the only thing shielding him from bare mortification. His scarlet cheeks would be visible as soon as he lifted his head, but he hoped against reason that the blush would dissipate as quickly as it had laid claim to him.
Taking a deep breath, he went for it. He pressed his two thumbs towards each other, and the splinter resisted for an instant before rushing out. A cry of victory caught in his throat as a ruby red drop of blood appeared. Without thinking, he put the finger to his lips.
His mind filled with a song of longing and treachery. Before he could sing its first note—for the desire to share it with the world felt like his sole purpose—another tale of duplicity bloomed alongside the song. A heartbeat later, a third legend nestled into his mind, about a Queen willing to die for her actions, knowing they would be misinterpreted as disloyalty by most, but worth it to keep her love safe.
These were lost stories and legends that the people whispered about, in hushed, secret conversations. They were all suddenly there, in his mind, clear as the distant Mountains of Scorn on a cold sunny day. Leo blinked and looked up at Sam.
Pale, delicate, clever, funny, quiet Sam. He’d known her his whole life and loved for as long as he could remember. His blush was gone, transposed onto her face.
She must have seen the doubt flash in his eyes, for she lifted her finger ever so slightly back toward his lips. Leo was both paralyzed with the enormity of what he was experiencing and on fire.
Had he ever felt more alive? As though in a dream, he used the thumb and index finger of his left hand to coax another drop of blood from that tiny hole that had spilled out such an unthinkable secret.
Not taking his eyes off Sam, Leo put her finger to his lips again.
Words and images bubbled up in his mind about the young knight who rode a dragon and was left deaf after urging it to go faster than the wind itself. Then there was the ballad about Farlea, a dancer so swift she was as lethal as she was graceful.
It was true. Sam was a Bloodteller.
As far as Leo knew, there hadn’t been a Bloodteller in generations. He could not even begin to think of the implications.
It changed everything. It also changed nothing.
She looked at him, fragile yet defiant. A whisper danced from her lips. “Now, you know.”
At that moment, Leo had never loved Sam more. Perhaps they could run away together, to find somewhere safe. A place where Bloodtellers weren’t hunted. They could build a life together. But he knew the truth.
The Kingdom would not just accept two of its kind disappearing. Orphans or not, they had to be accounted for every fortnight, and any discrepancies were punishable by death – or worse. A shiver ran down Leo’s spine. He couldn’t bring that fate to anyone.
A new plan formed in his mind. It was more than a little crazy, but if it meant Sam had a chance at escape, it was worth it.
Putting aside his fears, he embraced her and murmured in her ear. “You need to leave. Forever. As soon as we figure out a plan. If you don’t, I’ll… I’ll turn you in.”
He saw confusion replace the blush on Sam’s face. He gave her the best smile he could muster, and – ignoring the adrenaline rush, the surge of fear that started in the pit of his belly and threatened to overwhelm his senses – he did what he had always wanted to do.
He had pictured this moment a thousand times. The fact that he was simultaneously plotting a way to drive Sam away felt like a betrayal to his very self. And yet, if he wanted her to live, it was the only way.
It was nothing short of a miracle that one of the Crown’s agents had not discovered Sam’s nature yet. They tried to be discreet, but everyone knew about them.
Spyders, always listening and spying; weaving nets that were able to catch any sound and send it back to the Castle were particularly tricky to spot as some were as small as peppercorns and could be hiding almost anywhere.
Although they couldn’t catch sounds, the Crow Observers had shiny metallic eyes that recorded everything and sent their shrill cry back to the Castle as well.
So, Leo did what he had to do. Loud enough for any lurking agent – be it a Crow Observer in a branch or a Spyder weaving a net nearby.
He forced himself to say the words, hoping that it was the beginning of something wondrous.
“Can I kiss you?”
Something like relief flooded Sam’s face. She probably misunderstood and thought this meant they would be leaving together. Good. Let her. Her small nod was all it took for Leo to know that no matter what, he would sell his soul to keep her safe.
When their lips touched, Leo felt like he finally had come home. He was whole, a beautiful being whose last missing piece had just clicked into place.
This must be what happiness feels like, he thought, as a tingly feeling coursed through his veins. It would give him strength for what was to come—an untouchable and perfect memory he could lock up in the recesses of his mind, a safe place to escape to when his body fell into the hands of the King’s Guard.
But that would be later. For now, all he wanted to do was breathe Sam in, commit every last piece of her to memory.
Tomorrow, he would figure out how to get her out of the Kingdom – because here, it wasn’t a question of whether she would get caught, but when.
Shahnaz is an adventurer, foodie, bookworm, and horse-lover. She is a freelance writer based in Portugal as well as the co-founder of an eco-tourism project. Alumni of the World Economic Forum and the University of Pennsylvania. Shahnaz has lived in Geneva/Switzerland, Philadelphia/USA, La Paz/Bolivia, and New York/USA.
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