GEMINI: Fantasy Romance Edition
Two dreams ... one path
Fantasy Romance by L.J. Longo
Read time: 10 minutes
The Wilds was well-regarded as the most dangerous place in the country. You didn’t name something The Wilds because it was tame. It might have been called the The Everything-Wants-To-Eat-Us or The Those-Who-Go-Do-Not-Return.
“Miss Achael.” Rubea kept her sword drawn and the faint light of it cast a glow on the white stone path. “This strikes me as a very poor idea.”
“Nonsense. As long as we don’t stray from the moonpath, there’s nothing can harm us,” Achael answered, flightily. “Besides, you’re here to protect me.”
“Always and forever, ma’am,” Rubea answered as she was accustomed to. She was distracted by the darkness, the rustle of the leaves, the entire forest seemed ready to swallow the path and them on it.
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“I simply have to walk this path, tonight,” Achael made a little twirl. “After all, that old fortune teller said I am to meet my first love walking the moonpath into The Wilds or lose the chance forever.”
Rubea grumbled a bit under her breath. “The old bag was talking about me.”
“What did you say?” Achael turned brightly, and the floating torch moved with her illuminating her pale blue hair and the starlight in her eyes.
“Nothing.” Rubea felt a knot tie in her throat and a sharp pain radiated from her sword arm. “You must have heard the wind.”
Earlier this evening, when by all rights Achael should’ve been dancing naked in the moonlight around the bonfire with the other witwitch princesses, Achael had pulled Rubea with her—again—into the tent of Madam Lacha, a visiting fortune teller. The old woman had groaned when she saw them—again—but Achael, with the obliviousness of the truly wealthy and powerful, pestered the crone with questions and demands for clarification. Then Rubea, cringing and apologetic had—again—paid the old witch for her wisdom.
“Speak what fate as already told you,” the fortune teller interrupted Achael.
Achael had momentarily been aghast. Very few women interrupted even a princess of her caliber, but then she regained her grace and her smile. “Of course, I remember it all.”
Rubea stood off to the side, hand on her sword, listening as Achael rattled through the list of qualities her fated lover would possess …
Familiar to her and yet a mystery. A powerful warrior who would father no witches but would raise three. Taller than Jas of Barad, and shorter the Ristopher of the North, and stronger than both.
Rubea hadn’t liked that description. She’d rather hoped Achael’s fated lover would be one of the silly fops around town. Someone as cunning and pretty as Achael. Also, Rubea had sparred with Jas and Ristopher—they were not easy men to beat.
Something burst out of the woods and onto the path. Rubea lurched in front of Achael to shield her … from the fox-griffin. It was about the size of a cat and chattered at them both as it flew overhead. Harmless.
The movement made Rubea’s muscles cramp and scream, but she did not react to her pain.
“You’re very slow tonight, Rubea,” Achael said gently, curled close to Rubea’s tall body and only half-hidden by the shielding magic. “And much too antsy. Are you feeling all right?”
“I …” Rubea looked down, startled by the nearness of her mistress, by the beauty of her face and her inquisitive eyes. “I am not well.”
“Well damn it, Rubealla!” Achael moved away from her. “Why didn’t you say so back at the party? I would never have dragged you—”
“Do you think I would have let you go without me?”
Achael would’ve scowled at anyone else who talked to her with so gentle and leading a tone, but because it was Rubea, she smiled. Her pleasure was radiant as the Moon Herself and Rubea felt a pit in her throat when such loveliness was directed at her.
“But when did you get hurt? Not in the fight with Jaz or Ristopher. You swept the floor with them.”
“Let’s just—” Rubea wasn’t certain she was going to survive the night if the beating of her heart and the ache in her muscles didn’t subside. “Keep going.”
Rubea had her first glimpse of the curse—that was now clenching her muscles—in the old woman’s tent while Alchea was going through her list detailing how the one who would fill Acheal’s lover’s alcove would have dark hair as tangled as a briar and filled with flowers and that her future lover’s lips were not unknown to her.
“This has vexed me particularly.” Acheal had pushed for answers. “I have always been fond of kiss-and-tell and catch-and-kiss and spinning-scroll and I should like some clarity. Is it any kiss? Like lip to lip, lip to cheek. Did it have to involve tongue?”
Rubea had felt the tingle of magic around her eyes and touched her curse-catcher until the chilling itch went away.
The old woman leaned on her hand, trying to stay awake. “Does that narrow it down, considerably?”
“Considerably!” Achael pretended to be offended “Though, I ought to ask, does it involve my tongue or just his?”
And Rubea had the terrible—and somewhat wonderful—realization that Achael had kissed her during the games of kiss-and-tell and catch-and-kiss when it had always seemed like a silly accident. The memory of each kiss made Rubea’s cheeks flush with heat; she could nearly taste the honey of Acheal’s lips for hours afterward.
Looking up into Rubea’s eyes, the old woman said, “You have to tell her.”
Rubea had been distracted and saw, with a start, that the room was filled with a black fog. Achael continued reciting the list as if she did not notice.
In a flash, Rubea corrected her mistake and drew her sword. The metal shone as it soaked up most of the fog, but it was not enough to dispel the magic. “Remove your curse or—"
“Relax, sugarpuff.” The wandering witch waved her hands dismissively. “I took an oath to cause no harm at this festival. Princess, here, doesn’t even notice.”
“I am no sugarpuff.” Rubea did not waver. “Remove the fog you’ve placed over my mistress at once.”
Madame Lacha raised her brows, impressed. “You’ve studied your magics. Most warriors would assume they were the enchanted one.”
It was about that time Achael finally took a breath and sighed, “And of course, my first lover is well studied in the defensive magics. Highest marks all across, which will make him very dull and no fun to play tricks on.”
Rubea swallowed the knot in her throat.
“Rubea!” Achael cried out in fear.
The warrior stifled her coughing and cleared her head. She was in The Wilds, alone with Achael. Not in the tent, gaging on cheap parlor tricks. She lifted her sword to shield them both and could not find any danger.
No beast on the path. No demon in the air. No mysterious prince come to take away her precious Achael.
Only the magic wand in Achael’s hand. The tip of it flared with a clear power, looking for foreign and evil magics.
“You’ve been cursed!” Achael said, hysteria rising with terror.
“Yes,” Rubea admitted and flicked at the overwhelmed and broken curse-catcher.
The sword grew impossibly heavy, and Rubea couldn’t manage to lift it anymore. So she tried to put it away, missed the scabbard, and watched as her most precious possession clattered to the white stone of the path. “Well … in the witch’s tent.”
Achael grabbed up the sword and it took both her hands to lift it and press it back into Rubea’s hand. “Don’t tease me, Rubea, my dear! That witch was under the strongest oaths not to harm anyone.”
Rubea didn’t know what to make of the panic staining Achael’s beauty. It seemed excessive for a witch princess to look so distressed over a knight. “Call it a deal you made with her, then. You made her swear you’d meet your first love walking the moonpath into The Wilds or lose the chance forever. I suppose he’ll be the one sent to come and rescue you when it becomes apparent that I’ve abandoned you.”
“You’re not—you shall not abandon me,” Achael command. “You shall protect me always and forever.”
Rubea smiled. Her father, who had died defending his witch queen, had told her there was one oath every protector eventually broke. And this was it.
“Now, don’t be ludicrous. We will—” Achael looked around, her silvery blue hair whipping in the moonlight. “We shall return at once and you shall receive healing and to hell with whatever man I was supposed to meet tonight.”
“To hell with true love, Miss Achael?” Rubea felt lightheaded enough to feel smug. When Achael took her arm to drag her back to civilization, she stumbled. “You’ve talked of nothing else, the whole time I’ve known you.”
“I say to hell with true love and I mean it.” Acheal tugged at the scabbard on Rubea’s belt. “Here, take that thing off and use it as a crutch.”
“I’d rather die,” Rubea said and promptly lost feeling in her knees. After she’d crumbled to the middle of the path, she snorted. “Quick curse.”
“Rubea!” Achael stepped nearer, then stepped away and looked around the dark forest. Then came nearer again. “Rubea, stay here. I’ll run back to the town … or … I’ll go into the woods and find some sort of curse cleanser.”
Rubea found the strength to raise her hand and grab Achael’s wrist, anchoring the princess to the spot.
Achael protested, “No!” The lady was crying now; a witchling’s tears are very potent. “Rubea, you must let me go on my own. I can find you help, I’m sure—”
“Please, it’s too late.” Rubea struggled to take off her helmet and found she had not the strength to lift it.
Achael helped her and then took the warrior’s face in her hands to look into her eyes. Probably to diagnose how deeply the curse had gone.
“Yes, Miss Achael.”
“Your hair is tangled as a briar.” A new realization for the princess.
The numbness in Rubea’s limbs flickered and sparked into a little vine of pain. A dull healthy ache, like training.
“Yes, ma’am, it’s a common braid.”
“And are those flowers in your hair?”
“No. Throwing stars, but we must give the spirits some room for poetics,” Rubea smiled faintly up at the princess, grateful she was here stroking her cheek.
“I … but I—” Even in the silver light of the moon, Acheal’s cheeks burned pinker. “I … never kissed—”
Rubea raised her brow to call out a lie. One of the curse-catchers on her hips puffed and wheezed and began to spin slowly again to fight the fading curse.
“Well—I …” Achael looked adorable when she was caught in a lie. “Alright, but in games and … well, you are rather stronger than Jaz or Ristopher, aren’t you?”
“And you’ve known me most of your life and all those other stupid things on your list,” Rubea agreed, finding her legs were less weak. She could probably stand again if she wanted, but with Achael stroking her cheek and standing so near, she did not want to.
Achael laughed. “How long have you known? From the first reading?”
Rubea shrugged and her armor clinked.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Achael leaned nearer.
“I’m a coward,” Rubea smiled and lifted her face.
“You’re a moron,” and the princess kissed her knight.
Strength returned to the warrior’s limbs and her heart swelled with joy. Rubea swept to her feet, bringing the princess with her … lifting and spinning her over the shimmer of the moonpath.
Achael laughed. “Do you really love me?”
“Yes, ma’am. Always and forever.”
In the 2022 Gemini issue of Dharma Direction, LJ wrote “Twin Liars” … a romantic story that examines the hidden, positive power of the little white lies we tell ourselves and the ones we love.
L.J. Longo is an award-winning Romance author, a queer geek, and feminist writing a medley of dark romance (which can be found through Evernight Publishing), magical realism, weird sci-fi/fantasy, and very implausible creative non-fiction. She recently received Third Place recognition for her submission to the Writer’s Digest Annual Short Story Fiction Contest with her entry titled, "To Harvest Lavender." Coming Soon: LJs queer fiction, “The Stranded Sky Castle” will be featured in the Alpha Male anthologies from Evernight Publishing.
Scenes for the Senses… audio/visual art
Each month, Read Gallo treats us to a mesmerizing few minutes in the dreamy world of a free-flowing watercolor brush. Relax and let your mind wander as our artist-in-residence captures a moment from “Moon Walk,” this edition’s Fantasy Romance by LJ Longo.
Dharma Direction welcomes back our Substack neighbor, Hattie Jean Hayes, for the Gemini Romance edition. Furthering the philosophy behind our Humor edition’s monthly advice column by Colleen Markley, Hattie’s poem in free verse ponders the idea of self-exploration not through laughs (which, BTW, work really well), but through the mirror. Who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.
Read time: Under 2 minutes
“The One With All The Answers”
Desperate in Delaware: I agree with the assertions in your letter: that you are the reasonable one, and all this could have been prevented with tenderness and honesty and all the emotional vitamins we neglect to take on schedule. But I think you knew this when you wrote me. So though I have been through this exactly, though these feelings were once mine and you found them, secondhand somehow, even though I have all the answers, you get nothing. If you want to know what I know you must make the same mistakes, and I will let you. I give the same advice week after week: you will not silence the voice in your head by ignoring her. When she says go, when she says love, when she says wait wait wait, she knows you’ve heard. So answer by doing. I know you will not listen to me. Let her tell you how you feel. Tell her what you wish you felt. Tell her what you just told me, and tell me if it works. If I were you (and once I was), I would attune myself to the needs of the person you’re trying to be. But no amount of asking is the same as an answer, so tell yourself yes. Tell yourself leave. Tell her start over and hold her hand. Desperate, save yourself and you’ll save us all. Save yourself and you’ll be forgiven. You have one thing to give this world, and it is you.
~ Original poem by Hattie Jean Hayes
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Next up: Cancer, the Crab
June 21 - July 23
Coming Thursday, 6/22… The Angel Edition by Debbie Abbott
Overseeing Cancer, the Crab - Muriel, Angel of Peace, assists people in need of healing negative emotional energy, especially anxiety (which is rooted in fear). As an angel of sentiment, Muriel is here to bear the weight of your burdens if you ask earnestly. Because of the nurturing qualities of this angel, Muriel is most often felt as a feminine presence.
(Modified excerpt from “Crab Calling,” Debbie’s Angel essay for the 2022 Cancer issue of Dharma Direction.)
Summer Is Here …
We’ve been lucky out here in the Arizona desert where I live. With minimal 100-degree-days … our low this morning was 62 degrees! I’m drinking the coolness in like a water-starved camel because this time next month we’ll be lucky to get below 80.
Just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean it cools down out here. For a solid three months we’re plagued with something I call ‘dark heat.’ It emanates from concrete blocks, bricks, and streets that cover our sprawling metropolis.
Any dewy moisture that tries to accumulate in the wee hours of the morning will evaporate right before your eyes. Surrounding all the cookie-cutter tract homes, block fencing appears to ‘smoke’ as the sun rises. If the hot desert sun can pull moisture out of concrete and turn it into vapor, imagine what it can do to your body.
The expression “It’s a dry heat” is no joke.
So, if you find yourself in any kind of desert environment, stay hydrated and avoid alcohol. In fact, stay indoors and read … we’ve got some fun stuff coming all summer long!
Watch for our contributors’ posts on their social media platforms throughout Gemini season as they share their stories and visions of the Dharma motto:
~ Debbie Abbott, publisher/editor