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The Price Of Love – Part 3

 

“Why?” My shout reverberated around the hall. I glanced up, but Chenoth didn’t react.

“Because what I give life to, you must lead,” Barh said. The profound sadness I saw robbed his beautiful eyes of life.

“Me?”

“Please forgive me, Jacks. I didn’t know.” His voice trailed off into a whisper and he began to cry again.

I was so numb I couldn’t speak. He must have mistaken my silence for a refusal to forgive him. His body stiffened, and he struggled to compose himself.

“In times of crisis, a Magi may marry and keep his powers because his spouse is necessary to aid the Elementals.” The deep breath he drew came out in a ragged exhale. “We were meant to be together so that we could be parted today.”

What cruel twist was this, that we were allowed to love only so we could be ripped apart?

“I didn’t know.” Barh turned away. He sounded like a man resigned to his fate. “If I knew loving you would cause you such pain, I would have pushed you away at the start. Even if you can’t forgive me, please believe that I never meant to hurt you.”

Barh started to walk away and my mind screamed at me to do something. I grabbed his arm and he stopped. “I do.”

My voice was so soft I wondered if he heard me. I expected him to pull away, but he kept still. “I forgive you, Barh.”

He turned to face me and it broke my heart to see him so sad. Tears ran down my cheeks and I tried to focus my eyes. He’d agreed to give up everything to save the world. Though my heart lay broken in my chest, I tried to find the strength to ease his pain.

“You gave me a reason to live when I wanted to die, Barh. You gave me someone to love when all the love was taken from me.” My forced smile probably made me look crazy, but I refused to fail him. “All you did was make me happy. If we die today, I’m content. There is nothing to forgive.”

Gently, Barh used the thumbs of his scarred hands to wipe the tears from my cheeks. “Oh Jacks. I’m not coming back, but you can’t come with me. One of us has to stay behind and live with a broken heart.”

Barh had always placed me above all other things, but this time he couldn’t and it must have been destroying him. Seeing him in such pain lent me a measure of strength.

“I forgive you, Barh,” I said again, and pulled him in to me so I could feel him in my arms one last time. The sound of the medallion around his chest striking my armor reverberated against the wall.

“Please don’t hate me, Jacks. Please don’t hate me for leaving you.” He sobbed on my shoulder. “I’ve searched for another way, any way, but there is none.”

“Barh,” I pulled his face up so I could stare into his eyes. “I will never hate you. Not now: not ever. You are the finest person I know. It was my… my privilege to sh..sh..share my life with you.”

It was all I could manage before my throat closed. I couldn’t hold back the wave of grief that reduced me to a weeping mess. Through my tears, I kissed him, saying my goodbye with such voice as I had left.

That I couldn’t remember how long we kissed bothered me. Was it over quickly? Did we linger? I couldn’t recall. All I remembered was the feel of his lips on mine, and how his hands held my face tight, as if afraid to let go.

Barh finally stepped back, and we each gulped for air. He pulled the chain from his neck and stared at it.

“I won’t need this anymore.” He struggled to get the words out. Carefully he spread the chain wide and slid it over my head. With shaking hands, he laid the symbol of his position gently against my chest. “Keep this to remind you of my love. Our love. Know that I’ve loved only you, Jackson.”

My weeping had sapped the moisture from my mouth, preventing me from responding right away. I placed my hands over his and tilted the gold pendant so I could see it. “I will.”

Barh slowly removed his fingers from under mine and using his free hand, raised my chin until our gazes locked. “Promise me you will love again.”

“Barh—” I shook my head. My heart was being ripped apart. It would never love again.

“Promise me, Jackson.” The ragged intake of air through his clogged nostrils spoke to me of how much our parting broke his heart, too. “Do not let my death stop you from finding joy in the world.”

He sniffed twice and I watched new rivulets of tears spill down his cheeks. I saw his struggle clearly. Did he follow his heart, or his duty? The reason a Magi lost his gift when he married was so he’d never have to choose. The exception was in the darkest of times. Then our gods forced the one upon whose shoulders the fate of all rested to choose. Their cruelty hardened my resolve.

“I will.” I nodded, more to steady myself than to reinforce my answer. “Because of you I’ll cherish every day I have left.”

That I wouldn’t be able to keep my promise didn’t matter. Barh needed to hear me say I understood his sacrifice, and wouldn’t waste it. He smiled and stood a little straighter. The meager morsel of joy brought a spark of life back to his brilliant blue eyes.

Knowing I was able to give him a measure of peace in our last moments together caused the corners of my lips to twitch upward. Barh’s smile grew, which added to mine. Soon we were laughing, despite our pain, to celebrate the joy we gave each other during our too brief time together.

He shuffled his boots toward me and I knew this was the end. When our lips met, the truth hit me like a giant rock. This was our last kiss and it would have to last me a lifetime.

Too soon, he pulled back and the kiss—like our time together— ended. Uncertain I could refrain from flinging myself at his feet and begging him not to go, I turned away. I wanted my last image of him to be the proud, honorable man, about to give everything so the world would endure. Fingering Barh’s amulet, I stumbled toward the entrance, refusing to look back.

Barh voice was loud enough for me to hear him say, “Thank you, Chenoth. I’m ready.”

There was no sound or flash of light to tell me it was over, but I knew Barh was gone the moment it happened. It felt as if someone had blown out the candle that lit my soul, leaving a void I could never fill again.

A solitary tear rolled slowly down my right cheek. He deserved so much more than one, but it was all I had left. When I reached the tunnel that led to the exit, a ray of sunshine peaked above the rim of the cave entrance. It bathed me in its warmth, as if trying to rekindle my spirit. I wanted to believe it was Barh’s way of reminding me not to let darkness consume me.

The light also brought home something neither of us had considered. Without Barh, I had no way back. How could I lead whatever help Barh’s sacrifice secured if I was trapped on the island? If I didn’t return, the Degari would overrun the world and Barh would have died in vain. Panic threatened to sever the tentative threads that held my sanity together.

I leaned back against the wall, closed my eyes and summoned Barh’s face to my mind. He’d given too much for me to let despair overtake me. There had to be some way off the island. It fell to me to find it.

 

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