Stonegard Fortress loomed above on the mountain's edge, waiting for Williard and his gift with a stalwart patience. However, it was the temple at the peak of the mountain that beckoned him most. As they took a break to sit down, the lure of prophecy whispered to him far more seductively than the Order Belendar.
"Follow me," it whispered in his ear and then took him by the arm.
He followed her away from the others, unable to nap amidst the gruff snoring of Axbrand. Minutes passed, as she took him back the way they had come and then off the edge of the trail.
"Look," she said, pointing.
They stood in a clearing. And all around them, the trees were marked with golden symbols that seemed to melt into the bark.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she asked.
"Yes, Noira," he said. "It is." But he wasn't looking at them anymore. As he said it, he was looking into her eyes. And then, putting a hand to the back of her neck, he felt a sharp poke from the collar. Hadn't all the spikes been pointed inward? Closing his eyes, he pulled her close.
"Kiss me," she whispered.
His index finger ran along a ridge of the collar, its thorny metal artistry embedded in her neck. And as he ran it along the ridge, the metal seemed to move.
His lips brushed against her lips, and then as she smiled, her teeth.
And then, in a quick and fluid movement, she moved her face into the crook of his muscular neck and nipped at him playfully. He groaned, and looked into the treetops, still running a finger along the collar. One by one, the protruding spikes inverted and erect, out of her skin.
Oblivious, she kissed his cheek and then locked her lips loosely with his, not daring to share her tongue with him.
The rest of his fingers danced caressively upon her skin, one hand on her lower back under her tunic, and the other circling her neck.
"You make the pain go away," she whispered.
He grinned, as he drew upon her affection and conducted it down his right arm, into his finger that ran along the collar, dancing between the spikes. His thumb grazed her collarbone lightly, and she pressed her face against his, assuming a slow rhythm.
A brief wind passed through the trees, and was quickly gone. Nothing, not even the animals, wanted to invade the tranquil privacy that surrounded them.
Her nails dug into his back, pulling down in long scratches that made his eyes roll into the back of his head. It was a pain that didn't hurt, but that thrilled him in ways he'd never known before. Then, beneath his shirt, her hands circled around his ribs, fingers clawing and palms smoothly polishing, until her left hand clenched one nipple and her right hand felt the beating of his heart. And she lifted it off him, to admire the rugged beauty of his chest.
She lifted it off him, and then sat back down in his lap as he sat upon a smooth gray rock. Sunlight filled Noira's hair, casting a pale shadow upon his face.
His eyes met hers, as his fingers fit right between her scarred skin and the realigned spikes of the collar, bristling outward. And as it thinned outward, expanding in his hands, he lifted the collar off Noira's neck and around her head.
For Noira, who had not seen any of it coming, this moment was a long gasp, met with the closing of her eyes as the Crown of Belendar passed in front of it. Silver no more, the golden crown descended onto her calmly. At the front of the diadem, a purple jewel surfaced from the gold surface of the old collar.
In that moment, staring into the amethyst at his own reflection, Williard realized that he might one day become King of Skathain. And that, in a few hours' time, the lost Princess of that kingdom would walk amongst its streets with a familiar symbol of power upon her.
When they finally drew breath again, it was wild and frantic. Her wait pushed him against the flat of the rock and she kissed him with an unbridled passion and gratitude from within. Williard felt weak against her as she pinned down his arms and began to tease her way into his mouth with her tongue.
Meanwhile, the wind passed once more through the forest, this time stronger. Autumn leaves fell amidst shuddering conifers. And a golden prophecy faded from the bark of the trees. Each glyph blinked out, surface contorting, as if each were a candle's flame being blown out by the wind. The only fire that remained was that of their hearts.