7. The Place Where Earth and Sky Kiss (Page 3)

Like a child anticipating a bedtime story, the princess leaned closer, waiting for an explanation, and she scrutinized him under a unwavering, expectant gaze until he finally relented. He just couldn’t say no to those eyes.

“I was thirteen years old,” he grumbled, “and my father, Captain Abbott Spry, took me out for what was meant to be a quick camping trip in the forest. We caught fish for our lunch and squirrels for our dinner and slept out under the stars. Everything was great. But on the second day, I made the stupid decision to go off exploring on my own and got myself lost.

“I tried to retrace my steps, but I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Finally, I sat down, scared and exhausted, and just as I was about to start calling out for help, the bush behind me rustled, and an enormous black nose rose out of the shrub, followed by a hairy snout, and a mangled maw with the most frightening set of teeth I have ever seen. I had been cornered by a grizzly.

“Like an idiot, I attacked the bear, sword drawn. Stab. Slash. Growl. Scream. I aimed for its heart, but remarkably intelligent, it swiped at my sword hand and tore it apart. I blacked out from the pain, and I remember thinking it was the end.

“But it wasn’t. My father and his men stormed the area, frightening the bear away. A week later, I woke up from my coma in a bed at a local inn. My hand was gone, and in its place, a silver claw. My father had designed it himself and spent a fortune turning it into a reality. In fact, the final cost of creating the mechanical hand and the surgery to connect it to my arm left his pockets emptier than a fool’s noggin for quite some time after that.

“While I was in recovery, my father finally expressed how disappointed he was in me, and spoke the words I will never forget, ‘I choose to punish you for your foolishness by giving you a gift; it will be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is a tool that can help you if you learn how to use it correctly. A curse, because it is a constant reminder of that day, a day that will haunt you for the rest of your life. When you look at these claws, I want you to remember why they are there; not just because the bear took your hand from you, but because you chose to fight when there was no need.’

    “Over the years since then, we designed different models together, like this one,” Levi gestured to his right hand, “and since my father’s unexpected death, it’s become not only a reminder of that fateful day in the woods, but a living testament to his life as an inventor, a captain, a father, and a man who will forever be my hero.”

Levi’s words hung in the air as the princess processed his story. “Your father sounds like a wonderful man,” she asserted, “I wish I had gotten the chance to meet him.”

“I do, too, Hataru. I do too.” The captain continued pumping the oars, and the rhythmic sound of the rowing putting him into a calm, hypnotic trance. Despite the fact that his crossness had simmered out, however, Hataru noticed a bead of sweat break out on his brow and watched it slide down his face, followed by another and another. Soon, she too, was sweating and unbearably sticky. She swore to herself that the first thing she’d do when they returned to the ship would be to take a nice, long bath.

“I thought it was supposed to be cooler the further we traveled up. Why am I so hot?” she exclaimed, pushing up her sleeves and fanning her face.

The End

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