On the outside, Mayr seems to have it all: a successful career as Head of the Guard for a prominent politician, family and friends who adore him, and the attention of beautiful women. But appearances are a good way to bury secrets, including the fact that while Mayr is a romantic at heart, searching for the one person to share his life with, his lovers keep leaving him.
When his last girlfriend takes him back and suggests an intimate night with Tash, one of her lovers, Mayr reluctantly agrees. The last thing he expects is to fall hard for Tash, who is nothing like Mayr’s previous lovers—and about to undertake the Uldana Trials. If Tash fails, he’ll likely die. If he succeeds, he must give up Mayr, and become the latest to leave Mayr standing alone with a broken heart.
This time, it would work out. This time, he would not let Sarene slip from his life. Even if it meant destroying what remained of his fractured pride.
Not that it’s anything new. Mayr tossed his worn, brown leather saddle onto the chair in the corner of his horse’s cleaned stall, staring at the fresh hay covering the floor. Some people get wealth and family and everything they could possibly want. And the luckiest get a life they truly need. I’m just lucky enough to be one of the cursed idiots who gets to watch everyone else be happy. Thank you, oh, Reverent Goddesses, for your soured kindness. You didn’t have anything better to do the day I was born, did you?
Grumbling, he swept dirt off his black pants and turned up the sleeves of his black tunic. In the corridor behind him, Hetlan scraped the dark wood floor with one hoof. Mayr spun around to grasp the reins hanging loosely from Hetlan’s bridle.
“More like I lost a bet,” Mayr crooned, pulling Hetlan’s black nose to his. The thick scent of horse overpowered all other smells of the stable.
Hetlan stomped the floorboards. His large, black body shifted backwards a half step.
“What? That’s something that’d happen to me. You can’t honestly tell me it wouldn’t.” When Hetlan lowered his head with a subtle shake, Mayr frowned. “Yeah, of course you’d say that. Thanks for having my back, friend. Next time I gamble and lose, I won’t be looking for sympathy from you. And you can forget the extra helpings of ferat berries. I’m keeping them.”
Hetlan raised his head to sniff Mayr’s black hair, his chin jerking the long strands.
“Yeah, now you go for the sympathy.” Mayr held Hetlan’s head still. “Nice try. You just keep thinking like that, traitor.” He caressed Hetlan’s forehead. “Don’t think I don’t know you’ve been goosing Lira into feeding you sweets. She’ll spoil you rotten more than you already are, you pretentious mongrel.”
Whinnying, Hetlan stepped back and waited as Mayr picked up the brush from the bench beside the stall. Around them, the other horses made quiet noises, waiting for the stablehands to return and release them into the grassy field behind the Dahe estate.
Lost in the soothing motions of grooming Hetlan, Mayr thought of Sarene. The way she styled her blonde hair fashionably as though she were a prim heiress of one of the Grand Families instead of a woodcutter’s daughter. The bright light in her dark green eyes whenever she found an object she desired, sharing her infectious delight with others. The unpredictable times she would launch into a fit of giggles without a care about how ridiculous she sounded to passersby, combating ridicule with confidence.
The selfish way she had broken his emotionally-battered heart and kicked him aside.
The presumptuous attitude as she approached him twenty days later, saying she wanted him back.
The pathetic manner in which he had told her “yes,” betraying the fact he had not yet finished pining for her.
This won’t end well. Mayr sighed and brushed the dip in Hetlan’s back. But she says we can work it out. Try it again. Maybe find what we were missing the first time ’round. That’s worth something, right? The fact she came back and admitted she was wrong—that’s a good thing, isn’t it? She hates saying she was wrong about anything. It has to mean something.
“I hope,” he whispered, trying to forget the odd gleam in her eye when she had ended their relationship six weeks before. After being with him for eight months, Sarene had announced they were finished, citing vague reasons. Mostly that she was not getting what she needed and he deserved a different kind of woman.
Whatever that really means. Mayr snorted. More than one woman had claimed similar excuses before leaving him. The pattern was enough to make him think the words were code for a truth he could never know. Sarene was no different.
Except she had come back. No one else had. Her return meant a second chance. A second chance meant hope. Hope meant he could patch up the holes drilled into his life by loneliness.
Whoa, there, a voice nagged from behind his thoughts, resembling his father’s scolding tone. Before you start dancing naked through the streets and throwing flowers to the Goddesses, think about Sarene’s proposal. She’s come back, sure, but for what? Don’t you think her plan to fix things is a little much?
Mayr studied the brush, resting his other hand on Hetlan’s side. His doubts had a fair point. Three days after he had agreed to take her back, Sarene suggested they spend a night together with another man. A man she had slept with while separated from Mayr. “It’ll be good for us, you’ll see,” Sarene had said. “It’ll be exciting! Something new. We’ll have so much fun, and we’ll be doing it together, you and me. Isn’t that romantic? Not everyone can, you know. It’ll be special, just like us. And he’s a real sweetheart. Don’t you worry about a thing.”
But he did worry. It was never a good sign when the proposed solution to fix a shattered relationship and wounded trust was another man. Especially if it was the same man Sarene had left him for.
“Why am I so stupid?” Mayr asked Hetlan. “I mean completely, walk-into-a-wall-until-it-kills-me stupid? You’d think after the third time, I’d have smartened up.”
Hetlan did not respond, staring out the open doors of the stable.
“Great, you’ve got nothing, either.” Mayr brushed Hetlan’s mane. “I still haven’t given her an answer. It’s ridiculous how no and yes are equally excruciating to say. I choke every time I go to tell her my decision. Do you know how frustrating that is? And for a Head Guard, no less?”
Eye on Mayr, Hetlan turned his head.
“Yeah, guess that’s a stupid question, for more than one reason.” Mayr flicked his dark hair over his shoulder and tightened the thin tie holding it back. “We can stick you with a dozen mares for half a day and you’d have mated with most of them by sunset without arguments or fits. They just gravitate to you; even the ones I think will kick you. That’s it. Next life, I’m a horse.”
“Good idea, since you’re always talking to Hesalfemmer there like you expect him to talk back,” a woman’s voice teased from the other end of the corridor.
Mayr whirled toward Aeley Dahe, smiling as she sauntered up to him. Her dark blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders and embroidered green tunic in a lightly tangled mass. “He listens better than most people I know. The fact you still can’t remember his name’s Hetlan says it all.”
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Archer Kay Leah was raised in Canada, growing up in a port town at a time when it was starting to become more diverse, both visibly and vocally. Combined with the variety of interests found in Archer’s family and the never-ending need to be creative, this diversity inspired a love for toying with characters and their relationships, exploring new experiences and difficult situations.
Archer most enjoys writing speculative fiction and is engaged in a very particular love affair with fantasy, especially when it is dark and emotionally charged. When not reading and writing for work or play, Archer is a geek with too many hobbies and keeps busy with other creative endeavors, a music addiction, and whatever else comes along. Archer lives in London, Ontario with a same-sex partner and their cat.