Henry and the Dragon: Chapter Three
Kai’s hands shook as he peered down the road in the direction of Innernook. He couldn’t believe how nervous he was waiting to see if Henry would show up. He fretted when Henry had disappeared from sight the night before. He was uncertain why he had such protective instincts where Henry was concerned, but from what little they’d talked, it seemed clear that Henry was unhappy.
Not that Kai could blame him, of course. To be told he would suffer eternal torment, simply being who he was? That was sheer insanity. No one in Kai’s life believed in higher powers. He had no problems with others if they did, but it simply never occurred to him that people would allow an unseen force to dictate their lives.
Kai’s people believed in helping each other to reach their fullest potential. Each of them had a duty they would grow into, and the whole lot of them had learned that working together benefitted everyone, and that they made far greater progress than doing individual things. Not that they didn’t have their own passions they pursued. Kai loved his job of collecting rare artifacts, but he also enjoyed sitting with the children and explaining to them what made each piece special.
A niggle in Kai’s mind reminded him he’d been away from home for far too long. He missed his siblings, and his parents. His favorite of the children, Elassa, would no longer be seven. Now she would be fifteen. Had it really been eight years since Kai had gone on this trip?
Well, at least he’d made a friend. Henry was—Henry? A lone figure struggled to move in the cold air, and Kai knew it was Henry, even though the gait was wrong. He moved as an elder would, hunched over, arm cradling his stomach. Kai rushed down the road, and with each step his fear grew. Henry’s face was bloodied, his eyes were darkened, and his nose…Oh, Henry.
It took everything in Kai not to grab Henry into an embrace, but he had no idea how badly hurt Henry was.
“I made it,” he croaked out. “I wasn’t sure—“
Henry shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. The fault was mine.”
Rage coursed through Kai. He wanted to grab Henry, to shake some sense into him, but he’d never do Henry harm. “Henry, no one has ever been responsible for their injuries done by another person. Who did this?”
“Master Neron.” Henry choked out a sob. “He found out that I had given some salves I made to a woman in the town, and it angered him.”
A possessiveness Kai had never known before swept through him. He held fast to Henry, as if letting him go would allow worse to befall him. “I don’t…. I won’t….” he choked out. “Shall I go to him? I could take you from him, force him to release you.”
“No!” Henry winced, clutching Kai’s arm. “You cannot. Neron provides medicines for my family, so that my sister can be healthy. Without them, we believe she will die.”
Everything made more sense now. Henry was an intelligent man; far too smart to stay where he was being mistreated. Neron seemed to have Henry on a hook, and toyed with him as a fish would a worm, before it finally devoured the creature.
“There must be something I can do. Please, anything.”
Henry nodded. “You could hold me.”
Kai moved quickly, taking Henry into his arms. He smothered Henry in his embrace, daring anyone or anything to try and touch him. All too soon, Henry drew away.
“I had to come and see you,” Henry said. “Neron insisted I return to the woods to gather more moss, since what I brought was, he said, useless, because of the water damage.”
“That is ridiculous!” Kai snapped. “Ghost moss is hardly delicate. All he need do is allow it to dry for a day, and it would have been fine. No, better than fine. In the forest, the moss gets only the water provided by the tree. Rain would make it far more potent.”
Henry laughed, then coughed. “It seems as though you know and understand so much. It’s clear you’re educated. I mean, you understood the Virbolg.”
“Not by language,” Kai said. “By intent. I’ve been in this forest many times, and have studied them.” He pulled Henry to him again, and nuzzled his hair. “Shall I tell you about them?”
“Share anything you’d like with me,” Henry replied. “I would hear your voice to remind me I’m safe. For now.”
“What if I paid Neron to release you, and to continue to care for your sister?”
He wanted desperately to care for Henry. To shower him with praise, with love, and to show him his worth.
“No.” He leaned up and kissed Kai’s chin. “I would want nothing more than to belong to you—“
“No! Not to me. You would be free to choose your own path, but it would not be under Neron’s eye. You could be free, Henry.”
Henry sighed and slumped against Kai. “’Tis a wonderful dream you weave, but only a dream. A person of my station is lucky to be apprenticed to a master. Too many are poor, despite what our king says. They struggle to provide for their families now. If I left, there would be no one to provide them medicines without Neron knowing.”
“You can’t continue to do that!” Kai spat. “Next time he could kill you.”
“Aye, he could. It’s his choice to do with me as he sees fit. I thought last night that I ought not tempt his wrath any further, but he doesn’t care about the people. He would see them unable to pay his fee, because then he could take whatever he wanted from them.”
“He sounds more monster than what they imagine the Virbolg to be,” Kai said into Henry’s silky hair.
“He is most unkind and odious,” came the soft reply. “But he makes the medicines, so none will speak against him.”
Kai would. He would stand in the town square, and vilify the man.
“You cannot,” Henry said.
“It seems odd, but I feel as though I know you. You are imagining speaking out against Neron, trying to turn the people away from him.”
It startled Kai that Henry did indeed see into his heart. He was most intuitive, and worth far more than Neron ever could be. Kai had only a few months left for this excursion before he would need to return home. The thought he would leave Henry with someone like Neron plagued Kai with anger and doubts.
“I know you can’t stay forever,” Henry said. “Whilst you are here though, I would continue meeting with you, if you would be open to doing so.” He sighed. “I know you shouldn’t want to be involved—“
“Be quiet,” Kai demanded. “Speak not against yourself in that manner. Would that I could spend every moment with you, both waking and asleep.” He kissed Henry’s hair. “I would have you in my bed, Henry Cabot. I would hold you in my arms, shield you from any who would do you harm. You are worth so much more than you believe.”
“’Tis a nice dream,” Henry admitted, relaxing further into Kai’s embrace. “I have long thought that I would never be able to share a life with someone without danger to our mortal souls.”
Before Kai could speak, Henry continued on.
“But your words have raised hope in my chest that one day, I might find a person who would be willing to take that risk.”
Jealously burbled inside Kai. He didn’t want Henry with anyone else, and he knew how selfish that was. When he returned home, Henry couldn’t wait for him. He would have to go out and live his life. Without Kai. That knowledge gnawed at his stomach.
“Please, Henry. Let me speak to Neron. I’m certain I could—“
“No, don’t.” He leaned back and stared into Kai’s eyes. “I would do this for my family. They are not wealthy by any means, but they are good, honest people, and deserve a son who would care for them.”
“You care. This I know to be fact.”
“You must understand. My father is a farmer. He and my mother used to grow vegetables and sell them at market, but several years ago, my father was conscripted to fight in a war. When he returned, he was….not the man who’d left. His body was broken, and so too was his mind. He would cry out at night, claiming phantoms were trying to drag him away. My sister, Meredith, tried to run the farm, to keep us warm and fed, but then she took ill. With no money, and crops rotting in the field, Neron offered my parents a way out of debt.”
“You. He wanted you.”
“Aye. They refused, told Neron that they would never allow it.”
“So you stepped in and did what you thought was best.
Henry nodded, but Kai already knew. Henry was a nurturer. He took care of others. The fact he’d taken a beating because he dared to ensure people were provided for spoke volumes, as did the fact he willingly sold himself to another to protect his family. It gave Kai hope for the people of Henry’s village. He wished they could find their voice, but with an uncaring king, what would change?
He held just a bit tighter, because there was little he could do to change Henry’s lot, and he hated feeling powerless, especially when it could mean Henry’s life.
The strength in Kai’s arms surprised Henry. For someone whose body was only slightly larger than Henry’s, Kai’s possessed an extraordinary amount of power. And he was allowing Henry to partake of it. He had never felt so safe, nor cared for.
“Shhh. Let me hold you a while longer, dear Henry. I promise to give you a bounty of ghost moss, if you’ll allow me to linger here with you.”
The words, so beautiful, touched Henry’s heart. He relaxed into Kai’s embrace, hearing the thudding of his heart. It was a strong, steady rhythm that actually calmed Henry’s nerves, though his body still ached.
“Would that I could take away your pain,” Kai murmured.
“That is exactly what I was thinking.”
Kai chuckled, and it vibrated through Henry. “We are apparently far more synchronized than I suspected.” He kissed Henry’s temple. “Have you any of the salve you made with you?”
“I always carry a bit, just in case I meet someone who needs it.”
“I think at the moment, that someone is you. May I please have it?”
Henry reached into the pocket of his cloak, and withdrew a small glass vial that he handed to Kai.
“Take off your tunic, please.”
Henry tried to twist to remove the garment, but pain shot through him, causing him to cry out.
“Henry!” Kai shouted, lurching toward him. He put a hand on Henry’s arm. “No, still your movements. Allow me.”
Kai lifted the back of Henry’s cloak and tunic, then took the vial and poured a bit of the liniment in his hands. The smell of feverfew, cloves, and other things Henry had gathered, then ground with the mortar and pestle until they released their precious unguents, wafted on the breeze.
“Oh, Henry,” Kai said, his voice steeped in sadness as he traced a finger over the marks Neron had left. “You ought not be traveling. You should have stayed in bed.”
“I could not. Neron demanded I come gather the ghost moss.”
That morning he’d made Henry get on his hands and knees to scrub the floors. He’d reminded Henry how worthless he was, both as an assistant and an apprentice, and how his family was blessed to be rid of him, and how angry they would be if they knew how Henry was embarrassing them. After he’d stormed out, Henry had cried, because he’d tried to do good, but Neron’s words cut him deeply. If possible, the pain was worse than the beating he’d received the night prior.
“I’ve tried so hard to be a good person.”
A gentle hand swept through Henry’s hair. “What? You are the best of them. I’ve never met anyone who is equal to you in kindness, in heart, and in passion. Believe me when I tell you, the honor of meeting you? It has made my entire journey worthwhile. Not simply for the kisses, though those were incredible.”
Kai removed the cloak he had around his shoulders. It was thicker than what Henry wore by quite a bit. He lay it on the ground, then bade Henry to lie upon it. When Henry did, Kai slid a hand over his back. Henry hissed at the touch, because the bruises were many, but Kai continued his ministrations. His hand was warm, soft, but again, that strength shone through.
“This salve is brilliant. It practically clings to the affected areas. What have you put in it?”
A flush of pride went through Henry. He told Kai what he’d added, then whispered, “I also put in barkwillow.”
“I’ve not heard of that. Please, explain.”
“It’s a plant that grows at the edge of a lake. Neron said it was useless, but I watched creatures who seemed to be ill partaking of the leaves. I studied them for weeks, and I believed that they knew of the healing properties. I took it and some of the leaves and the stalk, ground them up, and added them to my tinctures. They added viscosity, and, at least to my way of thinking, helped heal things that otherwise would have taken longer. When I tried to explain to Neron, he dismissed me.”
“Of course he did. The man is a fool. You are twice—no, thrice—as clever as he, and he should listen when you speak.”
When Kai finished putting on the salve, Henry found it easier to breathe, and the ache wasn’t as pronounced.
“Thank you. I feel much better.”
Kai lifted his head and seemed to be searching the area. “Henry, there are none about. Would you allow me to lie beside you and hold you for a time?”
“You sound rather happy about my suggestion.”
“I…thought of it when I was on my way back to town yesterday. Being in your arms sounds heavenly.”
Kai shuffled down and lay next to Henry. Even over the fragrance of the salve, Henry could smell Kai’s earthy scent. It filled his nose, his mind, and…lower.
“Kai, I—“ Heat rushed through him. He didn’t want Kai to think poorly of him. But when Kai was behind him, he could feel Kai’s nether region poking into Henry’s buttocks.
“I must apologize, Henry. Your body has an effect on mine, and I find I am unable to control it.”
So Kai wasn’t unaffected by Henry’s closeness. That sent shivers through him. He wished Kai would reach down and take Henry’s member into his warm hand, but when he shifted slightly, pain pulsed through his body, and he whimpered. Kai tightened his grip slightly.
“Rest, Henry. Know that I have you.” He kissed Henry’s neck. “And I shall do my best to care for you.”
The warmth rolling off Kai chased away the chill of the day, and Henry allowed his mind to do something it rarely did. Be still. He was with Kai, who’d promised to care for him, and so absolute was Henry’s trust, he closed his eyes and fell fast asleep.