"I don't want to go home..." Nat told a young woman beside him. The sun was setting over the Heart-Lake and the grass was getting cold with the darkness.
"Then don't go home." The woman smiled at his worry and she only took his arm.
Nat didn't want to take the opportunity. While he thought that he loved this woman, he didn't quite understand what the purpose was of staying here. He was expected home, but he had realized the he never failed to go back there.
"Maybe this is a dream," He said plainly. "We never see each other until I sleep."
"And yet we make love by the lakeside every time we meet," She said. "That's good enough for me."
"You never told me your name," Nat pointed out. "You told me that it was better that I didn't know, but I have a feeling that you have a secret that you're not telling me."
The young lady smiled at him with a very sad smile. "It's quite alright, you know."
"How?" He asked. "We've met for nearly two months and made love for half that time."
"And it was all very wonderful," The woman glanced to the lake, watching as the sun's reflection shimmered with the ripples. "The lovemaking, the stolen glances and the embraces filled with love...all wonderful for me..."
"You say that like this isn't the first time I've asked about why we see each other," Nat's eyes looked to the lake with quiet disinterest. "You're telling me that I'm not supposed to know my lover's name?"
"Lover..." The woman said that word almost as if she was disgusted with it. Her mouth tightened a bit and she closed her eyes. She had lived by this lake for all of her life and the first time she had made love was by the lake as well. This young man...no, still a boy in her eyes, was the one lover that she had for this short time. But the sour look turned into a small laugh. She began skirting the waters, her toes getting browned by the mud at the edge of the lake.
Nat thought that the woman looked uneasy. For the two months that they had been meeting, they were both in each other's company. The only thing that either of them had cared about recently was making love. Tonight was different. There was urgency in her lovemaking and that made his breath a little shorter and his eyes a little wider. They had been here for hours, copulating, talking and just holding each other. Sometimes she seemed as if she was going to cry but she had not cried since the first time they actually made love.
He followed her around the lake, watching as she dug the front of her feet into the mud. Each day he had visited her, she had compelled him to keep her company. Perhaps it was because he was young, but he never denied the kind of company that she was seeking from him. When the evening's first wind blew down, the water splashed a little harder. Nat could see some of the water splashing onto the woman's nightshirt. Nat didn't know what it was...but he did have a bad feeling today. It was almost like it was as if a secret was about to be let out.
"When I discovered that I had become a woman," Now that Nat looked at her, she was just as much a girl as he was a boy. Indeed, they were both young...and stupid according to all of Nat's senses. "I knew that my parents would try to betroth me."
"...I don't see the point of you getting married," Nat tried to reason with her. "You've only turned fourteen less than a year ago. I've only turned a couple months ago..."
"But we are a man and woman here," She replied. "Many wanderers pass through my realm...yet you're the only one that was my age and who loved me as such."
"We would still be considered children where I'm from." Nat was the second youngest son in a house full of talented children. He was handsome, eyes were a golden-honey brown and he looked as sharp as the point of an estoc. Nat was somewhat tall for his age, but not overly so. He had the look of an athlete: while he maintained a somewhat slender physique, he also had those muscles that seemed to have clung to a much more supple and lithe frame. In his heart, Nat did not care that they were so young and in love. There were worse where he had come from as far as age was concerned.
"But you're a man in my eyes..." The young woman turned and embraced the young man. The mud that licked at her feet was suddenly on Nat's own toes when she stood in front of him. She stood taller, moving onto her toes to give her partner a kiss on the lips. "You're my mighty warrior."
"I just box..." Nat replied, somewhat ashamed at the mention of being called a 'mighty' anything.
"A sport in your world," She nodded. "I'm sure you'd be excellent at it here."
It was hard to take anything seriously when she kept changing the subject. Nat tried to force her to concentrate on whatever she was implying earlier. "That's not what we're talking about here."
"I know," It was hard for her to speak, Nat could see it. She was studying the transitioning sky while she walked away from him again. Nat knew better than to interrupt her when she looked like that. "I'll remember every detail of these past months..."
"You're talking like I may never see you again." Nat grinned. "I'm going to keep coming here. We'll be like those corny stories that you keep talking about every time we fall asleep together."
"Every time you fall asleep, you mean." She looked over her shoulder, still smiling. "It seems like I'm more interested in my stories of romance and courtly-love than you are."
"I'm more interested in being in your arms." Nat had just discovered the joys of loving a woman two months ago. His wet dreams and discovering what sex is wasn't that far off from having made love to the woman he was following. But still, despite what he thought about the current situation, he had discovered a talent in love making. At least, making love to this girl. "You're still not telling me anything."
"Do I need to?"
"Not really, no." Nat admitted.
"Then you should probably just love me."
"I've loved you since we've met," He sighed. "Are you certain that you can't tell me your name or why you're acting so scared?"
"I'm not scared..." She stopped and shrugged, almost as if she didn't know what to make of the question. "I'm just worried."
The woman stopped and looked into the forest that surrounded their Heart-Lake. "I'm worried about never getting to see you again."
"Is someone going to take me away from you?" The young man asked, almost amused that she was thinking about such a thing. "I'm not really afraid of anyone, even if they're older and stronger."
"So you'd get hurt for me?"
She couldn't help but break into another smile. The young woman's mouth twisted from being happy to being upset to being happy again. She couldn't help herself except to turn around and blow a kiss to him before turning and walking deeper into the woods. The petals of a blooming tree fell between them, forming a pink and orange barrier of leaves.
"You're wonderful," The young woman said with incredible warmth. "Men come and go, trying to be heroes. They want to betrothed to a young woman who'd bear them many children. They all want someone who'd grow up beautiful. But you...you just love me. You told me that you thought this was a dream, but you've filled me with your love. I can go to sleep easier and you make me feel at ease whenever I'm awake."
"Don't worry about how much we can love each other," Nat said as he entered the storm of petals. "Just tell me what I can do to help you feel better about all of this."
"Then," She replied, walking into the shower of falling petals. Her hands reached out to his so that she can hold them. "Don't leave."
"You know that I can't control that."
"Don't leave..." She punctuated both words this time.
"I'll try not to," He clutched her hands, bringing them up to where his chin was. Nat leaned in a little and kissed the top of her knuckles. "But we'll see how long I can stay this time. You know that I always come back to you anyway."
"We don't know that..." She began, suddenly finding herself embracing him and clutching at the back of his shirt. He dressed sparingly: a simple shirt and some pants that seemed to have been made out of some canvas material. It was easy enough to feel him through it.
"Why would I lie?"
The young lady frowned when he pointed out that he had no reason to be dishonest with her. She nodded to him, trying to convince herself that he would, indeed, come back if he was suddenly taken away. "Yes, you'll come back if you left. You always have."
Nothing could be said but that. Why would she doubt him? This young man whom had taken her love and her thoughts; why would she doubt him at all?
They walked carefully through the wooded area now. Every step was to navigate over a tough root, an overturned stone, a big piece of something that just rolled in the path. Even a peaceful forest was dangerous when you did not know how to navigate the area. Nat had very patiently followed his lover through the place. Even if she was only dressed in a nightshirt and trotted through the path in her bare feet, Nat didn't say a word. He knew that she was his lifeline in this place.
It grew darker. The sky turned into that beautiful mix of black, blue and twilight's purple. The gray clouds were illuminated on one side by a beautiful moon: black outlined by a magnificent, shining gold and white.
"What if I was already betrothed, my love?" The woman suddenly asked.
"You're too young," Nat replied. "I'd much rather you wouldn't be. But I don't think you can be if you're with me, right?"
"You're right..." She stepped over a tangled knot of roots. "I wouldn't be able to."
"Even if you were," Nat leapt over the roots to keep up with her. "Wouldn't you just run away with me? I know there are people with swords and horses that would follow you. But wouldn't you just come with me?"
"As long as it's you that comes for me," She replied, happy as she reflected on those magnificent words. "I'd always wait for you."
"I really don't care for the titles you've kept talking about," Nat shrugged. "I don't know anything about Lords and Generals. All I know is that I'd much rather ignore that stuff."
"That's good..." She carefully slid down a grassy hill, sitting down and letting her body's weight move her down. Nat jumped down, skipping any form of safety that she took. "I care not for titles as well. It's something annoying that I've dealt with for most of my life."
"We've only learned to make love in the past month," Nat pointed out. "I'd think that you've dealt with titles and lordships a little less than you'd think."
The young woman pouted. "I hate it, though."
She walked up to Nat and carefully placed her face into his chest and gave a long, heaving sigh. Nat didn't know what to do. He looked around, carefully gauging the air of the situation before he placed a hand on top of the woman's head and patted it.
"We're still just kids," The young man gave her what he thought was a reasonable explanation. "Still too young to understand politics and make big decisions..."
"Are we?" She looked up and leaned in to steal a kiss from Nat. "I made that decision. How was that?"
"It was nice." Nat smiled. He was about to say something until he made a different type of face. He was concerned, almost as if he had heard something from the woods that shouldn't be there. His eyes were brought up, scanning the body of trees.
"What's wrong?" She asked him, concerned at the look of disdain he had.
"Something..." Nat muttered. "I can't quite put my finger on it."
"I don't feel anything." If you're familiar enough with a place, you'd be able to feel if something was wrong. But the woman felt no such thing. Nat pushed the young lady a bit, hoping that she'd move so that they'd be able to get away from here.
Nat had boxed, fought with larger and faster men and had come out victorious. But there was something wrong here. Something was scaring him to the point that he wanted to run. They hurried off down the path.
"There's something wrong." He began to dash down the path, taking the woman's hand and suddenly moving to the front to hasten their pace.
"If there are enemies," She said. "We need only to yell. My village will come to help us."
"But how soon?"
"Seconds, minutes," The woman replied. "People here can move quite well depending on who hears."
"What if it's the wrong person who hears it?" Nat questioned hard. "What if the person who can get here in seconds was that same person that wants to get you?"
"I never thought of that before..." She stopped in her tracks, Nat suddenly stopping when he couldn't get her to budge from the spot. "That's frightening, Nat..."
Nat could see her eyes darting from tree to tree. He felt her calm down once she saw something. Or someone. Nat looked. There was someone in a hood there. He didn't approach. He only stayed there, watching as the two walked hand in hand. When Nat tensed, the woman pulled. She shook her head at him.
He looked from her then back to the hooded man. His hood shielded his face, but Nat could make out a perplexing shine in the man's eyes as he stared at them. For a moment, Nat was afraid that the person would cast a spell or unsheathe a sword, but he did none of that and stayed still. That was just fine. At this point, Nat wouldn't care if the hooded man would attack or not. He just wanted to get over this feeling of dread in his chest.
The woman took the lead again. She held Nat's hand through the trek around the hill. The ground here was still moist and treacherous. Anything near lakes and swamps were always wet, but this place was especially so. She made sure that Nat would take his time whenever there was slick footing to be cautious of. There was another sound as they began to move around the hill. Nat looked back and saw that the man in the hood had moved.
He was about twenty feet behind them. It didn't seem like he had moved: he was standing there with his arms crossed, just like when he originally had spotted him. It almost felt like he teleported. Now that was quite unnerving to Nat.
But he continued to follow the woman. She just smiled when she saw the new person, allowing Nat to come and follow behind her. The woman jumped through the woods like it was second-hand nature and she had eventually stopped right on the path. Nat thought his heart would leap out of his throat. The path had no obstruction to block them.
But there was now a tall, brown haired man that just watched them with steely eyes. Every time he shifted his head to look at them, his eyes seemed to have changed shape or color. He thought he had seen the long pupils of a reptile turn into the short dots of a wolf. It absolutely terrified him.
"Hey-" Nat grabbed the girl in front of him, sliding to the front.
"No," The girl tried to reassure him. "That's Rastus. We'll be fine."
Rastus did not move from the path. He stood there, still as a statue.
"Something's wrong," Nat said with some urgency. "He's not moving."
The girl's face still bore a smile, until she realized something. Her eyes were wide when her thoughts finally came together and the smile slowly sank into a more terrified look. "Gods!"
"What, hey-!" She took his hand and started run off the path. Nat struggled to keep up. He didn't have time to figure out where his footing was. He stumbled and tripped, trying to navigate the bushes and sudden dips in the landscape.
"Oh Gods," She pulled on his arm to urge him to keep up. "Nat, they're trying to take you away!"
"What?!" Nat looked back and there was the hooded one. He only saw his mouth beneath the shade of the hood. The man didn't say anything, his arms still folded. But what truly scared Nat was the simplicity of the intimidation. He only mouthed the word 'hello' before the sides of his lips curved up into a toothy smile.
She pulled him on his feet and they kept running. Nat didn't know what unnerved him about a man in a hood and a taller one who didn't seem like he touched a razor for the whiskers on his face. They looked like silly little hermits. When Nat was about to open his mouth, the young woman had already opened hers.
"That's the Wanderer of Faytana," She explained with panic creeping up her spine. "And that's one of his companions...I knew they wouldn't let you stay here!"
"What?!" Nat was much more talented than this...he wouldn't let something like a little running deter him from doing what he did best. He suddenly turned around. The one in the hood didn't seem like he expected it. The sudden turn and the momentum (plus the hooded person's own forward momentum) caused something amazing to happen: the pursuer was suddenly sent hurling backwards after crashing into an overhand right from the young man.
"...Nat?!" The young woman turned around, extremely surprised. Rastus' companion was floored, groaning and holding the front of his face. She noticed movement coming from the other side, a shadow skulking in the woods. She clenched her teeth as the fear washed over her mind. It gripped her like a strangler's choke. She knew it was Rastus, stalking them and getting ready to attack. When she opened her mouth to scream a warning to Nat, nothing came out.
Rastus was already pinning down Nat. It didn't look like a tall, brown haired man. Instead, there was a large, feline-looking creature with black and gray stripes. The skin in between the stripes were large swaths of orange, probably thin lines of fur. The overall size of the creature seemed to be double that of a normal person. She could see it: Rastus was being unfair with this gigantic, fanged feline.
She ran up. "Let him go!"
"Come no further..." The animal seemed to have roared but the translation of the language reverberated in her mind. Nat's eyes widened when he heard Rastus' voice when he could swear that he heard this tiger roar. "Lest I drive a claw into your arm, girl."
"Get off of me!" He pushed hard at bottom of the tiger's jaw. Rastus only growled while he tried to open his mouth. Nat landed a short, looping hook on Rastus, causing the tiger-formed man to roll off of him. Before Nat could even get up, the tiger tackled him to the ground again.
When he looked over to the woman, seeing if she had ran (he had expected her to), he found her standing there with a look of dull surprise in her eyes. She couldn't find the exact feeling, but she seemed to have conveyed a sense of... "You...you opportunistic traitor!"
"...What?" Rastus looked over to the girl.
"Why would you take him away?!" She stepped up to them once more. "He did nothing to you..."
"I've seen it," Rastus growled at her once more, the girl shifting back half a step from the intimidation. "His bloodline is destined to participate in horrible things here..."
"What?!" Nat looked over to the girl who seemed to be shocked at this revelation. "What is he talking about?!"
"He doesn't belong here," The hooded man finally stood back up. "I don't want him here anyway after he nearly took off my jaw."
"The spell," Rastus checked. "Are you ready, Al?"
"As ready as I can be," Al responded. "I've never sealed off someone's mind before. You're lucky you found that old spell book."
"Seal off his mind?" The woman seemed a bit calmer now. "So you're not going to kill him?"
"No," Rastus said. "But you're probably never going to see him again."
"What?" Nat's eyes widened. "No wait, hey!"
Nat's hand shot out, reaching for the woman. He couldn't get out from beneath the weight of the tiger. Al began to chant something, a language that Nat couldn't understand. He drew a glowing circle in the air with his fingers. Strange symbols suddenly started to illuminate in different colors, a new rune appearing every time he pointed at a different part of the circle.
"Nat," She tried to go to him, but another pair of hands restrained her. Nat saw brown hair on the man, transitioning into white when she struck the man in the stomach with her elbow. He didn't let go. "Nat - Lynn! Promise me that you'll love that name wherever you go!"
"Lynn?" So she finally told him. Happiness swelled in Nat's chest. "...I'll remember! I won't forget that name!"
The jewel on the necklace around Rastus' tiger neck started to glow purple.
"It's a beautiful name," The woman looked at him with tears welling in her eyes. Rastus finally stepped off of Nat. "I hope you think it is..."
"...I do." Nat just nodded while his mind suddenly went blank. He could hear the crying from the girl and his vision just suddenly went white.
The alarm went off. An eighteen year old Nat rolled out of bed, groaning with the aches of the previous day. He had a match the day before, boxing with a self-proclaimed 'knock-out' artist and his body was hurting from all the blows. He had won of course, but that didn't stop him from being in pain. His hand reached down the blanket, grabbing at a remote. He turned on his television, an old tube TV, to see if his name would show up on any of the sports news. No such luck yet.
"Son," His mother called from downstairs. "Your father cooked breakfast!"
"Because mom burnt the pancakes again!" His sister added.
"Enough out of you!" The admonishment came with some laughing from his siblings downstairs.
Nat went to the bathroom first. It was the morning and he'd have to at least wash his face and brush his teeth before enjoying anything. He got to the sink and saw himself in the mirror. Handsome as ever...but bruised like a week old banana that's still in the produce stands.