Chapter 1: In The Name of Love

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"Just keep running," he panted, the feeling of the cold, dew-covered grass scrape against their feet. With hands clasped tighter than ironclad, they ran for the forest and headed for safety.

She was silent as they ran. He wasn't sure if it was because she was out of breath or otherwise, but he wasn't focused on that now. He led her, lungs on fire, and only one mission in mind: get to the only place he knows where they could have a moment's peace together, even if it only lasts until the sun has just risen out of the grass-covered hills. Once they made it into a fair clearing within the forest, they stopped to take in much-needed breaths of air.

"We may only have an hour together--" he stopped to take a breath, "but, finally, we can be alone." He held both of her hands in his, looking into her deep brown eyes. That's when he saw it: the fear, the anger.

"What's wrong?"

"Everything," she blurted. In exasperation, she sighed, "Everything is wrong. Everything about this, about what's going on--about us," she let his hands fall to the ground along with his heart. "We could get killed!"

"Irena," he attempted to hold her precious yet strong hands again, but she crossed her arms.

"No," she growled. "You're Aera--my people hate you. I believed it for so long that your kind knew nothing but destruction and selfishness. Arhiin--" he awed at her African-like pronunciation, "--are the enemy. As a child, they've told me stories of your barbaric plunders, the countless lives you've stolen. Careless! And when I met you...you showed me something I've never thought I'd see in the heart of a Ram: compassion. A true trait of the Lion," her arms relaxed. "And then you had to make me smile. You had to make me blush. You had to make me laugh--and I fell for you, Lenarte." Almost as if her anger wasn't there in the first place, she kissed his lips once, her arms wrapped around his shoulders. "You were different. My people will never understand that. If they realized I was with an Arhiin, they will burn me to ash."

 He knew her anger. Believe him, he did. He wanted to tell her the same thing, tell her that his people hated the Ekaheer just as much, perhaps even more. He wanted to say how even if you touched the tip of a hair of the lion's mane, you will engulf into flames. Lenarte has touched her hair, more than once--and the only thing that caught fire was the passion he felt for her. He didn't care about what they thought--he knew he loved her.

"I will never let that happen, my dear," he held her close to him, the smell of intoxicating oil from her thick hair overwhelming him in a good way. "We have to run away from them if we should ever be together. I've only known my clan to stick to something more important than worry about me being with a girl of fire. I have a plan," he kissed her forehead. "There is an island far from here. I discovered it during the fishing season. I scavenged and searched, and there was no one there; no sign of any sort of established civilization. We can start over there--we can make our own nation, one where no one would be judged by their ancestry. We will live as queen and king, together."

Irena looked up at him, the burning anger once flickering in her eyes fading to something he's never seen: a glimmer of hope. "An island?"

"Yes, my love. An island--fertile soils, warm air, and a sea that can reach as far as the sky is wide."

"But, my land, my kingdom--"

"We can leave them behind," Lenarte interlaced his fingers through hers, tenderly kissing her index finger. "As you said, they will never understand our love. They will never let us be happy. Why should we hide every time we want to see each other--why should we run to the hills at dawn just to be able to look at each other? It's torture to the heart. We're not as different as they think, and we deserve a life without fear."

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