Zaaeraiah, like most of the nobility in the Realm, is a Gifted One. She has the beginnings of the gift of healing and psychic communication. Korbin is a telluric—a mere human being who has no special powers. Th Ancient Rule says that Gifted Ones can only marry among themselves, to keep the bloodline pure and to keep the special powers from dying out.
Chapter 1—In the Realm of Bast
“Shhhh….” told Korbin, motioning him to keep quiet. They were in the woods just north of the castle of the Jondell, the Lord of Bast. Zaeraiah’s father.
Korbin gave her a quizzical look. “Just get your arrow ready,” she said quietly. They were hunting for wild pheasant, to make a soup for Lady Sonaly, Zaeraiah’s mother, who had woken up with one of her frequent severe headaches.
Zaeraiah, who knew such things, was aware that the bones of the wild pheasant in a soup would make Lady Sonaly feel better.
Zaeraiah put her head up all of a sudden, and pointed to a nearby bush. “It’s coming, Korbin,” she said softly, “right about…now!”
Korbin saw the bright red feathers on the head of the pheasant emerge from the bush, took aim, and shot. The bird fell to the ground.
“Wonderful,” Zaeraiah said, pleased. She ran to the bird and picked it up from where it had fallen under a bush.
“Good shot,” she told Korbin, holding the bird and starting to walk back to the castle.
“You shouldn’t be carrying that,” he told her, taking the bird from her.
“And why is that?” She asked him, tossing back her head of dark brown curls, fire glinting from her green eyes. At nearly nineteen, she still looked a little like the girl he had played with and protected in the woods, but now her body was far more womanly, of course.
They had known each other practically since birth. She—the Lord’s daughter, and he, the son of the Lord’s right hand, his steward.
“Because you’re a the daughter of the Lord of Bast, and it would be unseemly.”
“Since when have I cared about being seemly?” She stood in front of him, arms akimbo.
“You may not care, Lady Zeraiah. And as much as I don’t want to, I do. And I rightly should. Because how would it look if one of the lordsmen came and saw the Lord’s daughter carrying a burden, and I, beside her, carrying nothing? It would bring me shame. Maybe even a beating.”
Her face fell, and she was instantly repentant. “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry, Korbin.”
He shrugged. “Nothing to be sorry about,” he said gently.
“I hate this,” she said, suddenly, violently.
She stopped and stood face to face with him again. “You know. Having to pretend around you. Having to pretend that I don’t feel the way I do about you.”
He looked around nervously. The woods were thick, and they were in a secluded area, but there was always a chance that someone could see them. A lordsman, perhaps, or one of the castle’s many servants if they were near enough.
He looked up at the location of the sun, and decided that they had a little bit more time before the pheasant was needed in the kitchen for Lady Somaly’s dinner.
Korbin took Zaeraiah’s hand and led her off to a thicket, to a path so narrow they had to go through one by one, and even then, had to go sideways to avoid the tall bushes on either side.
“Look, Raiah,” Korbin whispered. They had come upon a tiny creek, completely surrounded by trees on every side. Korbin knew from many hours spent in the woods that nobody could possibly see them, or even hear them.
“Ohhh,” Zaeraiah breathed, delighted.
Korbin smiled at her. “I was saving this for your birthday, but today is a good day to bring you here.”
She laughed, and threw her arms around him, making him smile. Then she started taking off her shoes and stockings.
“What are you doing?”
“Dipping my feet in the creek. Come on, we can sit on the big rock by the edge, it’s such a warm day.”
They sat side by side, feet in the water. Zaeraiah leaned her head against Korbin’s shoulder and closed her eyes.
“I wish we could always be like this,” she murmured.
He put his arm around her, and kissed the top of her head. “I do, too,” he said softly.
“I hate hiding. I’ve never had to hide anything in my life. And how I feel about you is important, Korbin.”
“I know that, Raiah. But this is impossible and you know it. Two great things keep us apart. Three, if we count Lord Jarrad.”
“I don’t want to talk about Jarrad, or even think about him.”
“Well, we’ll have to, sooner rather than later. Your nineteenth birthday is coming up.”
“I’m aware of that,” she said, a small frown appearing on her forehead. “They’ve already delayed my wedding to Jarrad for a year because Mother is so ill.”
“But they don’t want to wait anymore, my father told me. He heard your father say so at the Elders’ Council.”
She shivered. “No, please. I can’t bear it.”
Korbin put his arm around her tighter.
“He will be coming soon,” she said. “I can feel it.”
“This is one of your knowings?”
“Yes,” she replied quietly. “Just like I knew the pheasant was coming around the bush earlier. I just know things. Not everything that will happen, but some things.”
“Your Gift,” he said flatly.
“My Gift,” she repeated, “or my curse. It’s because of this gift that I cannot marry you. My cousin Arielley, the daughter of my father’s sister is not one of the Gifted Ones. So she was allowed to marry the man of her choice. A merchant.”
“A telluric like me?” Korbin asked her.
“I wish I had never discovered my Gift. Or I wish that I knew how I felt about you so I could have hidden my Gift!”
“Shhhh…” he said, putting his arm around her again. “Don’t say that. Your Gift is not just a Gift to you, it’s for the whole community,” Korbin reminded her, quoting the Ancient Rule they had both learned by heart as children. “Your gift of knowing and healing is for the good of all.”
She looked up at him. “I know that, Korbin. I really do. But it means we cannot be together, and it’s tearing my heart apart.”
He could see tears welling up in her eyes, and he kissed her eyelids quickly, one after another. She lifted her face to him, and he kissed her on the lips, slowly, tenderly, until the sadness in her heart was gone.