“I’m going to kiss him.”
“Like in the fairy tales. It’s worth a try, right?”
“You know, enchanted princess sleeping, the prince comes along and has to kiss her to wake her up — or is it a knight? Happily ever after, yada yada.”
“He’s not a princess?”
“It’s worth a try.”
“And you’re not a prince, or a knight.”
“I was in the army.”
“It’s not going to work.”
“It’s worth a try.”
“If anyone is going to kiss this wizard, it will be me.”
“You’re too short.”
“I am not short!”
“Well you’re not tall enough to kiss him! I’m going to have to stand on tiptoes as it is and I top you by close to a foot.”
“Fine. Just do it, then.”
Guthrie hesitated, put off by the cold shoulder Li had turned toward him. Finally, he shrugged and cleared his throat, ready to do the deed.
He stood on tiptoes. He closed his eyes, then changed his mind and opened them. He stood back flat on his feet, wondering how much of a kiss was necessary to break a sleeping enchantment. He would have asked Li, who seemed to know more about magic in general, but the look of him standing there, back turned and arms folded, did not invite conversation. He decided to try a peck, and if that didn’t work, he could embellish on a second attempt. He cleared his throat again, got back up on his toes, and leaned in with pursed lips.
His face flattened in the air, smushed against something hard, cold, and invisible. Moving only his eyes, he glanced at Li, who had turned around to face him and now chuckled behind his fist. Guthrie raised his eyebrows in mute inquiry. What, he thought, is the joke?
“You look like you’re kissing a window pane.” When Guthrie backed away, unpursing his lips, Li realized it wasn’t really all that funny. “It’s a force field,” he said, straightening his face. “I stopped you because he’s waking up.”
Guthrie looked at the wizard, who hadn’t twitched. “How do you know that?”
“He’s making tiny noises in his throat. He does that before he wakes up.”
In the next instant, Jedrek did wake up, with fireworks. Li heard a crack, saw a flash and a vanishing wizard, and then they became engulfed in dust and smoke. The two men had no time to discuss the event, because a millisecond later they were blown away on an aftershock. The secondary blast took them skyward and then down over the same cliff from which the dragon had leapt.
They came to rest, covering heads with hands against falling debris, on a narrow ledge about fifteen feet down the cliff face.
The first thing that Guthrie saw when the dust cleared was Li brushing himself off in a brisk, businesslike manner. He glanced Guthrie’s way, turned toward the cliff face, squatted down, and said, “Climb up.”
Guthrie understood what Li intended, but he was reluctant. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Li stood up, sighing. “And I don’t have time to argue—”
“We,” Guthrie said. “We don’t have time.”
“—so I’ll say this only once. These are the choices, you can climb on my shoulders, and I’ll stand up, and you can get up on the ridge from there—”
“How are you going to stand up with all my weight on you?”
“—or I can grab you by the belt and simply toss you.”
“Whoa!” The thought left Guthrie breathlessly intrigued. He decided not to remind Li that he could fly.
“Choose: climb or toss.”
“Well, for now…” he smiled, “climb.” Once he was atop the ridge, he lay down, slithered up to the edge, and beckoned to Li with an outstretched arm. “Can you reach?”
“Of course not,” Li answered. “I’m too short.”
That might have been sarcasm, but Guthrie tried to be encouraging. “Are you sure? I can go find a branch or something to drop down to you, but that might take a while. Why don’t we just try it?”
Li’s look could have frozen a volcano. With a finger-wagging gesture, he said, “Move.”
“Over. Move over.” Bewildered, Guthrie obeyed the wagging finger and scooted a few feet to the right.
Li paced off the length of the ledge, and then returned to where he’d started.
He dropped into a forward roll, ended the motion with feet planted at the very edge, sprang up on momentum, gripped both hands on a thick root protruding three feet from the crest of the ridge, swung all the way around, let go on the second upswing, back-flipped in the air, twisted, mule-kicked, and came down two-footed next to the still-prone Guthrie.
Sadly, he bounced once on the landing.
Li stared back, offering a hand to help Guthrie stand.
When Guthrie could speak, he asked, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?”
Guthrie stared in silence some more, for so long that Li started to pull his hand back. Just in time, Guthrie took hold of it and pulled himself smoothly upright, his muscles rippling with the motion. A smile of appreciation fled across Li’s features—just for a second, but Guthrie caught it. Straight-faced, they walked side-by-side away from the ridge.
They kept silent, except that twice Li muttered, “Kiss him… that’s just brilliant.”
They undertook a search for Li’s pack, weapons, gear, and supplies, which had been scattered in the shock wave. It was slow work, but the pile of found things grew. After a time, while bending to pick up an empty, leather-sleeved canteen, Guthrie cleared his throat. “You’re in love with him.”
If Li had never read a thought in his life, he would have known immediately that Guthrie’s statement referred to Jedrek. He thought about denying it, but finally he said, “Hopelessly… At least I used to think so.”
They continued their chore, stooping or reaching here or there to pick up an arrow, gather candy wrappers, pluck a pouch of trail food from a branch. They enjoyed surprising success, and soon they had gathered nearly everything. Guthrie cleared his throat again. He made a couple of false, guppy-like starts, and Li smiled.
“Look,” Guthrie said. “I know this hasn’t been the best of circumstances, but… well I’ve enjoyed this… with you… this….”
Li let himself follow Guthrie’s thoughts. He could actually see the words queuing up and Guthrie dismissing them, one at a time.
Bickering…no. Frolicking… no. Foolishness, heroism, folderol… no. Mayhem, perhaps insanity…
Li decided to be kind. “Let’s call it flirting,” he suggested.
“Yeah,” Guthrie smiled. “Let’s.”
Loretta Sylvestre lives and writes on the rainy side of Washington State, assisted by three cats and some talkative, pushy characters. Her short fiction — most of it fantastical in one way or another—has appeared in a number of online and print publications, and she’s proudly authored one longish love poem, which appears in Love Notes: A Collection of Romantic Poetry. Her romantic suspense novels are published by Dreamspinner Press under pen name Lou Sylvre, and Harmony Ink Press has published her YA fantasy novels, which she writes as Lou Hoffmann. When she isn’t writing under one name or another, she loves to spend time with family and friends. She also loves things like wild roses, music, and sunshine, and believes in love, universal light, and you.
Featured image via Tim Green.