Henry and the Dragon: Chapter Two
When Kai saw Henry kneeling beside the Virbolg, his first thought was he’d given Henry too much credit. As he riffled through his bag, it seemed as though Henry was going to kill the Virbolg, just as the others from his town had done. He was about to step in, when Henry did the most amazing thing. He helped a creature that, to him, probably seemed like a monster. And he did it without any prompting.
Who did that? What kind of person went against their very nature, and helped another that was in trouble? Well, Henry, obviously. And while he was afraid, he didn’t let that innate terror stop him. Kai could understand. The Virbolg were rather frightening, but they were, for the most part, gentle creatures who only attacked to defend themselves. Henry had no way of knowing that, and still he helped.
Because Henry had surprised him, Kai took him deeper into the woods, and to a spot where the ghost moss was easily located. He helped Henry to fill the basket he’d brought, and it was obvious Henry appreciated the assistance.
“Let me walk you to the edge of the forest,” Kai said, not wanting to separate from Henry just yet.
“But what about you? Where do you live? I could find a room for you in town.”
“And if you can’t afford it, the innkeeper will allow you to work off the room. You could chop wood for him, or offer to do the dishes.” Henry shuddered dramatically. “Personally, I would go with the wood, because the people aren’t exactly known for cleanliness, and you never know what you’ll find on—“
Kai reached for Henry, taking his hand. It was warm and pleasant, with the callused skin of someone who worked hard, which irked Kai. Henry called the man master, and no man should be the owner of another.
His name on Henry’s lips was sweet, and said with a bit of reverence. No one else had ever said Kai’s name in that manner.
“It wouldn’t be a good idea for me to stay in the town. I’m not comfortable around people, and if truth be told, I find the majority of them to be smelly, ill mannered, and generally unpleasant.” That was only a partial truth. They were also prone to violence, as Kai discovered when he saw a man tearing apart one of the Virbolg adolescents. The act revulsed Kai, and he swore to stay as far away from the people as he could. Except… “You, my friend, are the first person I’ve met that I haven’t thought that about.”
Henry’s lips parted slightly, and his tongue darted out to moisten them. The flush of his skin let Kai know his words had an effect on Henry. The man was stunning, and Kai enjoyed looking at him. His hair, the color of wheat, and those eyes, which reminded Kai of the sky just before the sun rose high. A blue, but also nearly black. And he had freckles, which grew more pronounced when Henry’s skin darkened. And for all the beauty before him, it paled in comparison to holding Henry’s hand.
It surprised Kai when Henry didn’t pull away, so he decided to be bold, and laced their fingers together as he led Henry to the edge of the woods. His heart ached at the thought Henry would be leaving, and that the two of them would never again see each other.
“If you stayed in town, we could see each other. Maybe become…friends.”
The words released the shackles around Kai’s heart, and it soared skyward until it touched the sun. It was a mistake, and Kai knew that, but this was Henry.
“I would like to see you again, but I cannot be in the town.” The risk was far too great. Kai was likely to say something about the horrid way Kai’s master treated him, and about the loutish behavior of the others.
“No, I understand. What if…. Well, what if I snuck out and we met together alone?”
Alone? “You…trust me not to harm you?”
Henry turned, a solemn expression on his face. “I’ve never known anyone I could trust the way I do you.”
There was hope in Henry’s eyes, but also a need that Kai had seen, but wasn’t sure if he was seeing what he wanted. He reached up and put a hand on Henry’s cheek, delighted when Henry closed his eyes and pressed into the touch.
“Know you now my secret, Kai,” Henry said, his voice broken. “I am entrusting you with my life.”
“With your… I don’t understand.”
Henry straightened. “You know that to be with another, to touch a man in a carnal way, is to invite death and eternal damnation.”
Kai’s head spun with the sheer insanity of what Henry was telling him. “Please explain this to me. Are you saying they would kill you if they saw me touching you?”
Henry nodded. “’Tis a sin, an evil lusting that leads a man’s soul to hell, where he will languish for his appetites.”
“What cockery!” Kai spat. “I have been to many places in this world, and the ignorance of men never ceases to confound me.” He gripped Henry’s hand. “There is no greater joy than love. No power higher than to find one you wish to be with. Though this may speak ill of your beliefs, your people are ignorant, and they use these fabrications to control others, nothing more.”
“Oh. Have you… No, never mind.”
“You must tell me what’s on your mind, Henry. Have I what?”
“No, it is none of my business.”
Oh, now Kai understood. “Have I lain with others? Is that what you wished to ask me?”
Henry bit his lip and nodded. “Yes,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper.
“No, I have not. I learned from my parents, who taught me that if you have love, you are in possession of the truest power.” He leaned in, and Henry’s breath hitched. “May I kiss you?”
Henry’s eyes widened, and his gaze darted around. Then he gave a sharp nod, and with permission granted, Kai moved closer until his lips brushed against Henry’s, who let loose a whimper. Kai’s first kiss was amazing. Remarkable. Incredible. And the fact it was with someone he genuinely liked made it all the more special. He hated breaking the kiss, but he still stayed with his forehead touching Henry’s. In this moment, this exact second, Kai knew true perfection, and it shocked him that it was with someone whose people Kai’s parents had proclaimed dangerous.
The majority of them might be, but not Henry. Not the man Kai so desperately wanted to hold in his arms. He was everything good, all wrapped up in one package.
“Must go,” Henry said, sounding breathless. “Lest I plead for more.”
“More kisses?” Kai teased.
Henry shook his head. “More of everything. Never in my life had I thought I could touch another, and now that I have, I do not wish to stop. I want to lay beneath the stars with you, hold your hand, and have you tell me stories of far off shores, where people are different than the ones in my town. I want…. I want to remove our clothes and hold each other next to the crackling fire. And yes, I want many more kisses, because they enchant me so.”
“I would have that as well,” Kai assured him. “Nothing would please me more.”
“But I have to hurry. Master Neron will be quite cross if I tarry in returning with the ghost moss.”
“May I see you again? Soon?” Kai asked, aware of his own desperation.
Henry’s lips parted, and Kai was caught in the dazzling radiance of Henry’s smile. He would offer anything if only Henry would give him that smile always.
“I could come tomorrow, after I’ve completed my chores. Only… What if you’re unable to be here? How would I know?”
“I could ask the same of you, my dear Henry. Your master seems a most vexing man, and he might forbid you, just for spite.”
Henry scowled. “He might at that. What if we agree to a time, and if one of us is unable to show, the other won’t wait but a point after Vespers.”
“In my land, we call them minutes. And I agree. If we’re unable to arrive at the designated time, the other person should not wait more than fifteen minutes.” He caressed Henry’s cheek. “I look forward to tomorrow, Henry Cabot.”
“As do I, Kai…” Henry lurched forward and snatched another kiss, this one more lingering than the last. He clutched at Kai’s back, and pressed their mouths together even more. When Kai parted his lips, Henry startled, but when Kai brushed his tongue over Henry’s own lips, Henry opened for him. Even if they were new to kisses, one couldn’t tell. Henry was an apt pupil, his lips closing around Kai’s tongue. When they drew away, Henry’s eyes were wide and dark.
“What was that?” he asked, his voice full of awe.
“Where I’m from, that is how lovers kiss. And before you ask, no, this was my first kiss as well. I learned from watching my parents.”
Henry grinned. “I can’t wait to see what other things they’ve taught you.”
When Henry turned to leave, Kai wanted to call after him. Plead for Henry to stay with him. Instead, he stood and watched Henry as he made his way down the road that would lead him to Innernook. And out of Kai’s life.
Henry ran his tongue across his lips, still able to taste Kai on them. For a treat such as that, Henry would forever be happy to delve into the forest. He hummed to himself, delighted to have met Kai, but also feeling lighter of heart since he’d been told there was nothing wrong with his attraction. He thought about it as he walked, and Kai was right. The people in the town, though not all bad, were being led astray by hatred of things they did not—could not—understand.
It seemed to Henry, deep down, as if his eyes had been opened. He’d never thought of himself as foolish, but now? Perhaps a bit. He’d been like everyone else, and believed that he was doomed for his feelings, and that made no sense. His parents had taught their children that the god they worshipped believed in love and forgiveness, but the people of the town thought their deity to be vengeful and cruel. It made no sense.
The first droplets of rain let Henry know he’d better hurry. He quickened his pace, if for no other reason than he didn’t want Neron to punish him so he’d miss out on seeing Kai once more. Why now did he think of Kai? It hadn’t simply been the kiss, though that had been remarkable. It was Kai’s kindness, but also the underlying ferocity. Henry knew, down to his very being, that he’d be safe with Kai.
Long legs cut the distance as Henry loped toward the town. Henry could just make out the steeple of the church before him, when the heavens opened up, and a deluge started in earnest. This would not bode well. He wondered if Neron knew this would occur, and was setting him up to fail. Henry certainly wouldn’t be surprised.
He worried after Kai. If he was safe, warm, secure. Henry would be sleeping under a roof for the evening. Would Kai? Or would he stay in the forest? Henry’s heart seized at the thought. Kai had said the forest was dangerous for Henry, but would it not be so for Kai as well? He stopped and turned, straining to see the forest, but the pelting rain obscured everything but the road Henry traveled.
“I should go back,” he said. “Kai might need me.”
But if he didn’t return to Neron, he might be considered a runaway, and that would bring swift retribution. That could put Kai in even more jeopardy, as the king’s men were not known for their mercy.
He sighed and sent a plea to the sky. “Please, Kai. Be safe. I promise to return on the morrow, and if you are not there, I shall be bereft of your company.”
A loud peal of thunder caused Henry to cry out. He had to hurry back to the shop, lest he find himself in more trouble. He set out at a full run, slipping on the now muddy roads. By the time he reached the town square, Henry’s leggings were covered in mud, and his hair knotted by the wind and rain. He went to the rear of the shop, and opened the door. He was met by his master, who stood with a scowl on his weathered face.
“Why are you so late?” Neron demanded.
“Master, I had to walk to the forest, then find enough moss to fill the basket,” Henry lied. Kai had given him enough moss to finish his task in mere moments. Henry didn’t even know there was that much ghost moss anywhere.
Neron shuffled close, then peered down into the basket on Henry’s arm.
“These are useless!” he ranted. He yanked the basket from Henry and threw it across the room, where the contents spilled onto the wooden floor. “You know full well how delicate the moss is, yet you let it be ruined by allowing it to be soaked.”
Allowed? “Master, I cannot control the weather.”
Henry didn’t know that Neron could move so fast, but he learned quickly when Neron drew back his hand and let it fly across Henry’s face. He wasn’t sure what startled him more. That Neron had struck him, or that he stood there and allowed it to happen.
“You are a worthless apprentice,” Neron sniped. “And one who wouldst stab your master in the back. Oh, I know all about your sojourns into the village. Where you poison the minds of the people against me. Mrs. Abernathy came to the shop one day, seeking a salve for her skin which had been blistered by the forge. I gave her a jar, and she shook her head, and told me she wanted what you’d given her. She said what Henry gave her was the only thing that helped. I know true that I did not give you salve, so it must be something you crafted.”
Oh. This did not bode well. “Master, I—“
Neron lashed out again, catching Henry on the side of his head. His ear was ringing, and his face ached.
“Master Neron, please—“ Henry pleaded, but it was for naught. Neron rained blows onto Henry’s body, and after Henry fell to the floor and curled into a ball, Neron kicked him in his side.
“You would do well to remember your place, Henry!” Neron screamed. “The King’s law allows me to punish you as I see fit. I could lop off your hand, or I could castrate you. I could even have you killed, for acting in such defiance of me.” He leaned down and grabbed Henry’s hair, then yanked his head up. “You are more trouble than you’re worth.”
He slammed Henry’s face against the wood, and Henry whimpered as the blood streamed from his nose and across the same lips that had been kissed for the first time. Now the taste of Kai was filled with iron and copper, a dark flavor that corrupted the tenderness of the moment. Neron stood and ran a hand over the front of his apron, then brushed thick fingers through the few wispy strands of hair that remained on his head.
“Clean this place up,” he spat. “Tomorrow you will go back to the forest and gather me another basket of moss.”
He turned to leave, and Henry did his best to be still as to not draw his master’s ire further. When the door slammed shut, Henry groaned as he pushed up from the floor. Fire rushed through his body where Neron had kicked him. Henry chuckled ruefully. Who would have guessed that kind of strength lay in such a corpulent body?
He shuffled to the basket, and proceeded to pick up the ghost moss. Neron had lied. The stuff was damp, true, but it could have been easily dried and not lost at all. So Neron was sending Henry back into the forest for what purpose? In hopes that he would die? That wouldn’t surprise Henry now, especially after this. He realized it was a good thing he hadn’t brought Kai back with him. If he’d been there, Neron might have killed him simply for being a friend of Henry’s.
“This is your own fault, you know,” he grumbled. “You couldn’t keep from giving people your salves. He would have been even angrier if he’d heard you allowed them to have it free of charge.”
He was stupid, and now Henry knew that beyond a doubt. He had to simply do as his master bade, and not think of trying to be more than he was meant to. If he didn’t, next time Neron might follow through on his threat, and kill Henry.