Halfling – Chapter Sixteen

Zaria awoke before Gareth did. Emotions swirled inside as she stretched her body in some yoga poses. She took another dip in the spring and watched him sleep. She needed to be more cautious about what she said to him. She had weaknesses around him, and didn’t know how to handle it. She let things slip that she didn’t mean to. She walked out the water, grateful for its warmth on her sore muscles. Being a fae one with the universe and magic didn’t make her infallible to soreness, but she still had an abundance of energy.

She dressed and sat on a log to wait for him. He finally stirred and looked around for her in a panic. Zaria was amused at his reaction that she wasn’t at his side. He sat up and saw her there. Relief spread across his face. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you ready?”

Gareth rubbed the sleep out of his eyes before replying in the affirmative. He put on his trousers and left his chest bare. Zaria tried to not let herself be distracted by the morning light shining on his darker chest. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’m going to grab you some more comfortable clothes to move around in. I love that dress on you, but we need free movement to train.”

“Okay,” she smiled. The dress was travel worn and fraying at the hems. Not suitable for a princess. She shook her head. It was difficult to imagine herself a princess. She didn’t feel like one. What did princesses do? She wasn’t sure of the answers. She plucked some flowers and started weaving them together to create a crown. She placed the colorful headpiece over her hair and wondered how it looked. The birds chirped to her and the butterflies kissed her arms as she waited. She closed her eyes and opened herself up to the nature in this space. It was so peaceful to become one with every creature, every creation, every atom. She reached out to feel the souls surrounding her, touching them with her energy. The spider web of connections grew with each spirit she felt. Even the atoms that seemed chaotic found order in their fervor of collusion. She felt it all. At first it had seemed overwhelming. But now, she felt like she had some semblance of control. She knew she didn’t have complete control, and she wondered what Gareth could teach her.

 

Gareth walked back into his shield and stopped short. The light sack he carried fell to the ground. Zaria sat there on the grass, surrounded by butterflies. A golden glow emitted from her body, a concentration of the power and magic she was using. He barely felt the tremors in the universe. Indeed, she was special, and she didn’t even realize it. He didn’t want to interrupt. He stood there, but she must have sensed him, because she smiled and opened her eyes. The golden glow disappeared from her as she carefully released the atoms from her control. She still held an incredible amount of energy inside of her, and he wondered how she wasn’t going insane.

She stood and walked towards him, stopping just in front of him. Whenever Zaria was around, he felt like he couldn’t breathe properly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I brought you an outfit in here,” he said, bending down to pick up the drawstring sack. He pulled out a loose tunic and trousers and handed them to her, lingering magic in her touch when her finger brushed against his. She quickly disrobed and pulled on the white, loose fitting clothes. He nodded his approval at the freedom with which she could now move.

“First, I want to work with you on some movements that will help you with your spell casting. They can also be doubled as self-defense with close proximity to your opponent. Obviously, the point is to keep your enemies at bay before it gets to that point, but it never hurts to learn.”

 

Zaria bit her lip as she concentrated on mimicking his movements. He stood with his legs spread apart, bent at the knees, his torso twisted to the left. He held his arms straight in front of his torso, palms faced outward so his wrists were bent 90 degrees. He moved only at his waist, swiveling from left to right; slowly sweeping back and forth. He started moving other parts, blocking with an arm and sweeping a leg outward. Even though their movements were slow, they were labor intensive and Zaria’s muscles soon ached. They kept working until the sun was directly above them and Gareth’s bare, sweaty chest was a distraction.

They ate berries and nuts for sustenance. It was a wonderful handpicked meal and Gareth laughed when she had juice running down her chin from a ripe raspberry, barely missing the tunic she wore. The soft cotton rubbed against her skin in the light breeze that cooled their sweat under the shade giving tree. Zaria loved the way a raspberry tasted on her tongue, and only wished she had some white chocolate to go with it.

She got up and stretched her muscles, sore after sitting for a while to eat. They worked to stretch their muscles together, and went back to working on her movements. Zaria lifted her with her hands in a prayer pose, holding them high above her head, maintaining tightness in her core. She slowly brought her leg up so her toes were pointing towards the sky, concentrating her power on balancing on one foot. She was mirroring Gareth’s movements. They held the stretch for a few minutes before slowly bringing the leg down to touch upon the earth and brought the other leg up to repeat the process. She was sweating in the heat and power. She could smell his masculinity oozing from his pores.

Stretching these muscles felt great and would come in handy once Gareth started showing her movements to flow with power. The power that came from both mind and body, when manipulating such energy had been unimaginable for her in the past. As the days moved forward, she felt her strength growing. It became easier to control her power and energy as time went on. Zaria found herself trusting Gareth more every day that he opened his soul to her. He shared his entire history, including the loss he felt when his mentor had died. He had taken it really hard and had gone astray for a time, angry.

He’d taken a few years to find himself again, after becoming antagonistic and starting fights, alienating those close to him. He had lost friendships, and had to work on rebuilding those once he found himself again. Even his mother had been affected from his raging. He had cried at this part of his story, Zaria had wrapped her arms around him and held him for a while. She didn’t bare her soul, and was careful about sharing too much. She felt like he knew she was holding back from him, but didn’t pry and seemed content whenever she shared a part of herself. She started sleeping in his house with him instead of with her mother.

It had been a couple of months since Zaria and Gareth started working together. Most of the time, no one went outside the bubble that was their small village unless it was for reconnaissance. Jasmine felt confident in her powers thus far, and Gareth was pleased with her progress. They practiced spindling magic together and sharing energy and the amount they could hold was enormous. They hadn’t heard any whispers of halflings finding their encampment, so they decided a nice walk through the woods would be a nice affair.

Aria, Zaria’s sister, Gabriella, Gareth, and his mother prepared a picnic lunch. It was a beautiful day with a warm, light breeze and sunshine. The leaves whispered to each other as the group walked through the trees talking and laughing, unaware their movements were being tracked through watchful and beady eyes. They found a small clearing to lay down their blankets and spread out. Aria spoke about her wedding with excitement, though slightly disappointed her fiancé, Manuel, couldn’t make it to the picnic.

“He had a business meeting with his silver supplier. He said the quality of the silver has been lacking lately, and he’s not very pleased,” she lamented, pulling small tufts of grass up from the earth. She played with the blades, manipulating them to create a small nest, placing it off the edge of the blanket. Zaria sported the garnet necklace that Gareth had bought her, made from Manuel’s hands. She was very happy with the quality of the jewelry, and wanted more even though she wasn’t even too keen on jewelry.

“He’s very good at what he does,” Zaria complimented, fingering the necklace. Gareth smiled and kissed the top of her head.

“When are YOU two going to get married?” Gabriella asked, making Zaria gasp and turn red.

“Mom!”

Gabriella had the grace to look embarrassed, while Gareth’s mom, Rhea, giggled and covered her mouth with the back of her hand. “You two do look glorious together,” Rhea said, still smiling.

Zaria pursed her lips, annoyed. She was trusting Gareth more now, but she was still careful. She didn’t want to be hurt by him again. She wasn’t sure what it would take for her to feel comfortable. He hadn’t mentioned love again, but she could feel its presence. They were physically close, and Zaria felt herself losing her heart to him. She was frustrated by it, but he hadn’t shown anything that would make her doubt him. She settled against his solid chest as she ate strawberries and blueberries. He kissed the top of her head, making her smile.

Aria smiled and shook her head. “You guys are totally smitten. I’m sure it won’t be long before there’s a marriage in the works. But, mine is first! The arches are nearly finished being carved. I checked in with Nivaro yesterday and it’s exactly what I want.” Zaria was content to listen to her sister babble on about wedding plans. Manuel and Aria looked perfect with each other, her red hair setting against his dark hair nicely. Zaria liked Manuel well enough, from what she knew about him, which admittedly wasn’t much.

Gareth rubbed his thumbs on her bare arms, and she sighed at the small feeling of intimacy. She got lost in the feeling of nature and company until the sun was at an angle in the sky. “We should probably get back,” Zaria whispered to him.

“Yep, I think you’re right.” They packed up the blankets and once again set out to walk through the woods. They had been without incident, but no one saw the bright blue bird above their heads run into a tree trunk on purpose, clipping its wing.

Ahead on the path, Aria cried out. “Oh no!!” Zaria panicked and ran ahead to her, prepared for a battle. Aria was kneeling in the dirt, petting something blue. Zaria took a deep breath when she realized it was just a bird, laying in a crumpled heap. It belatedly chirped, and she knew it was injured. Aria took the bird carefully in her hands, her eyes worried. “It’s got a broken wing! I have to nurse this beautiful thing back to health!” Zaria felt compassion in her heart for the poor thing, and nodded her head yes.

“You should,” she said, drawing a small amount of energy to mend the broken wing, but thought her sister should still care for it at least a little while. They walked the rest of the way slowly, the sun nearly setting before they reached the shield again. It slightly shimmered as they walked through, and they went their separate ways after saying goodbyes, agreeing it had been a wonderful day. Aria walked off, cradling the bird in her arms. She had named him Buster. Zaria chuckled at the name.

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