"Jarred! Endon! Pay attention. I don't want to tell you again," Prandine warned. But the boys were behind caring. Endon's father, King Alton, had only yesterday announced that he would be making a diplomatic mission to Tora, Del's sister city. Originally just the King and Queen were to go with a few servants, but after hours of begging the King agreed that Endon and his best friend Jarred will be allowed to go.
Since then the boys, both of whom had turned sixteen not long ago, had talked of nothing else.
Eventually Prandine, their stuffy tutor, gave up on trying to get their attention and dismissed them from their lesson early, with a promise that the next lesson, happening after their visit to Tora, would be twice as long to compensate.
"Ah, Prandine. Doesn't that man know it's impossible to concentrate when something so exciting is about to happen?" Endon said under his breath as he and Jarred left the study hall.
"Perhaps he would, if he has ever experienced any sort of excitement in his dull life," Jarred whispered back, causing both of them to burst into laughter.
Walking through the courtyard they found themselves at the entrance to the kitchen where Endon created a diversion by talking with the guard while Jarred slipped by to steal some apples and a small loaf of bread. He was nearly caught by the cook but just managed to escape. Seeing Jarred leave out the side door with an armful of food, Endon ended the conversation with the guard as abruptly as he started it and left in the direction of his friend.
"Do you think they'll ever catch on, how much we're stealing from the kitchens?" Endon asked, accepting an apple from Jarred as soon as they sat beneath the shade of a nearby oak tree.
"Maybe, but what are they going to do? You're the prince, after all," Jarred said, bowing to Endon the way other palace dwellers do whenever they enter his presence.
"Maybe they can't do anything to me but they sure can do something to you , servant boy!" Endon rebutted, playfully pushing Jarred's bow away.
Though their appearances were different, Endon being fair, taller and slim while Jarred was darker and stockier, an outsider might mistake them for brothers. They spent nearly every day together and had been spending nearly every day together since they were children.
Endon, being the only child of the King and Queen, was given Jarred, son of a palace servant, as a playmate. In the beginning they didn't get along, as Endon tried to stay out of trouble and Jarred doing nothing but start it- but as the years passed their friendship and affection for one another had deepened.
Jarred was happy but surprised that the King had allowed him to go on the visit to Tora. It was understandable that he would let his son go, who needed to become aquainted with the Sister City anyway, but to allow him? Endon must've really begged to allow such a thing. Jarred only hoped that the Toran people had enough time to prepare another room for himself and Endon, their attendance being a last-minute change.
"So what is there to do in Tora?" Jarred asked.
"I hear that architecture is astounding- the whole city looks like it was made from the same stone. Simply exploring the city will be a pleasure," Endon said, looking off into the distance as if he could already see the white spires of the City.
"I hope their food is just as amazing as their buildings."
"Jarred, all you think about is food. Do you ever get full?"
"Never," Jarred said, already halfway through his second apple.
The next morning started early, when the sun had only just risen. The palace, despite the hour, was bustling and full of energy before Jarred had gotten dressed and left his room.
He found Endon looking as blearly-eyed as he felt in the middle of the plaza, sitting on a piece of luggage that Jarred could only assume was his own. Throwing his own bag on the ground next to his friend, Jarred took a seat.
"Are we to walk all the way to Tora?" he said, looking around.
Endon looked at him, confused. "What do you mean?"
"There are no horses or even muddlets here. Tora is a long way, surely it will take days to reach it on foot."
Endon chuckled. "Jarred, my friend, do you not remember this lesson from Prandine? About the relationship between Del and Tora?"
"Of course not, you know paying attention to that old windbag is your job."
" Magic ! We are going to be traveling to Tora by magic. The cities are connected by a bridge of sorts, allowing quick and easy travel."
Jarred eyed him suspiciously. "You're not joking with me, are you? This isn't a trick to make me carry your luggage?"
Endon smiled at Jarred. "I guess you'll just have to see for yourself!"
As if on cue one if the King's personal servants called out, announcing the arrival of the King and Queen to the plaza. Everyone stood and bowed at their entrance, the boys trying hard to keep a straight face. It was always hard for them to be serious together.
In a blur of magic and wonder, the party found themselves at the gates of Tora. The giant white spires rose, visible beyond the wall surrounding the cities. They were met by two noble Torans, who led them through the gate. Jarred was told about the effects of the gate, how it "cleansed" you from all negative emotions and feelings, but he was still amazed at the effects. It felt his soul was receiving a cleansing bath after a long day of getting dirty.
Finally they were in the city itself. Everywhere Jarred and Endon looked was clean and tidy. Even the dirt that held the flowers was somehow cleaner than the dirt they had back in Del. On every pole and spire flew the a purple flag, a symbol of the Toran gem, the amethyst.
After the formalities and greetings between the Del and Tora royals were finished (which took well over an hour), Endon and Jarred were finally free to explore the city. Endon was right, the entire city appeared to have been carved out of a single stone as a seam nor a crack could be found, despite how hard they looked.
They were disappointed in learning that there were no shops in Tora ("Magic, not money, provides," a Toran elder cryptically explained to them after they asked where the bazaar was), they soon found that they were able to have enough amusement without the need to spend.
Finally the sun had set and the boys were exhausted. Earlier that day a Toran had shown them their rooms and Jarred was disappointed to find out he would be sleeping with the servants in the servants quarters instead of his own room, or at least sharing a room with Endon. Endon had interpreted the look on Jarred's face correctly and asked if arrangements could be made for him and Endon to share a room. The Toran assured them that the message would be passed on.
However when they entered the room they found that the message had not been passed on. For, in the middle of the room, there was only one bed. Looking around for a chair, a sofa, anything, all they could see was another door that led to the small bathroom.
"I'll use some of the extra blankets to make myself a spot on the floor," Jarred said at once, before Endon himself could make the offer.
"Nonsense, I'll take the floor. I've always had the best of everything anyway, it's time you took a turn," he said.
"You get the 'best of everything' for good reason- you're the prince! And you are not sleeping on the floor."
"Alright then, we'll both just sleep on the floor."
"That's the worst idea I've heard so far."
"Okay, well, how about we take turns? Tonight you're on the floor, tomorrow I'm on the floor. Fair?"
Jarred looked his friend in the eye, to make sure he wasn't lying. "Fair," he said, thinking to himself that tomorrow he'll just force Endon to sleep on the bed again while he sleeps on the floor.
After helping him make his spot on the floor with a few spare blankets, Endon and Jarred went to bed in their respective places. Their window was curtainless, allowing a sliver on moonlight to fill the room. The air temperature was perfect, not too hot or cold like the palace back at Del often was. The floor temperature, however, was not.
As beautiful as all this stone is, Jarred thought, I wish there was a rug covering this spot up. I'm freezing.
He turned on his side and curled into a ball. It doesn't help that these silk Toran pajamas don't offer much protection against the cold either.
He wondered how Endon was doing on the feather-filled mattress, guessing he was already asleep. The only thing that comforted Jarred was that Endon wasn't the one that was going to freeze tonight.
An hour, or what felt like an hour, passed and Jarred was no closer to sleep. Suddenly Endon's voice called in the darkness.
"Jarred, you've been curled into a ball this whole time. Either come up here in bed with me or I'm throwing all my blankets on you."
Jarred didn't respond, hoping Endon would think he was asleep.
"Jarred, I can practically see you shivering. Come up here- and that's an order from the Prince of Deltora."
Finally Jarred could take the cold no longer. He sighed and stood up, bringing the blankets with him to Endon's bed.
"Anything for you, Your Highness," Jarred said with a bow. He couldn't see it but was sure that Endon rolled his eyes in response.
"You would freeze to death for your pride."
"Better me than you."
Endon lifted the blankets, allowing Jarred to crawl in beside him. Warmth seeped into Jarred's grateful body.
"Goodnight," Endon said, turning away onto his side.
"Goodnight", Jarred responded, turning away himself so they were back to back.
Although he was finally comfortable (and warm), Jarred couldn't find himself drifting off. Endon's presence, only a few inches away, was the only thing he could think about. It wasn't as if they had shared a bed before- when they were younger they did it all the time at the palace, when their nursemaid allowed them to have a sleepover. But for some reason tonight felt different. Being this close to Endon made Jarred feel… different. He lifted his head to push his pillow in a different position before lying back down again.
I'm just tired. And this Toran magic has been making me feel a little off all day.
Despite his justifications, the feeling wouldn't leave and sleep wouldn't come. The more he thought about it, the more he felt the urge to reach out, to wrap his arm around Endon, to hold his hand…
"Jarred?" Endon's voice called again in the darkness, this time a whisper. "Are you awake?"
Jarred's breath caught in his chest before responding. He didn't realize Endon was still awake. "Yes, I'm awake," he whispered back.
"Do you… do you ever think about the future?"
"The future? What do you mean?"
Endon shifted so he was laying on his back to stare at the ceiling. "Just, where you're going in life. What's going to happen."
"You'll be the King of Deltora, that's what's going to happen."
"Yes, of course, but… what about you? What about your future?"
Jarred also turned to stare at the ceiling, trying to ignore that their shoulders were almost touching now.
"Me? Well I suppose that I'll continue to be your friend, I'll continue to be there for you." In truth Jarred had never really put much thought into his future. Why should he? A servant's past is often no different from his future.
"You will? Continue to be there for me, I mean?"
"Yes, of course. Of course I'll be there for you."
Endon drew his breath, as if he was about to say something, but stopped.
"That is, if you want me to be there for you," Jarred said, growing concerned. Where was all this talk about the future coming from anyway?
"Yes, I want you to be there. I- I need you to be there," he responded hurriedly.
Jarred breathed out a sigh of relief. To not have Endon in his life would be a sad life indeed.
They laid in silence for a few moments longer, staring at the ceiling with their arms at their sides.
"Jarred?" Endon whispered again.
"I'm glad you'll always be there for me."
Endon had already been the one more in tune with his emotions, but he had never been as open with Jarred as he was being now. The electricity between their almost-touching shoulders, almost-touching arms and almost-touching hands became somehow almost audible in Jarred's ears. Any thought of sleep was now far from him.
Suddenly he could resist no longer. He had to reach out, to touch Endon somehow, some way. Jarred slowly reached out his pinky, searching for Endon's own. He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. Their pinkies touched, then intertwined. The electricity was louder. Jarred moved a few more fingers, which then also became intertwined with Endon's. Endon then moved his hand so that it was clasped with Jarred's completely.
They laid there, hand in hand, for what felt like an eternity and a few seconds all at once.
"Jarred," Endon said, barely audible. "You are my best and only true friend."
Then, moving their interlocked hands up to his chest Jarred turned on to his side, Endon copying his motions until they played facing each other.
"And you are mine," Jarred whispered back.
The electricity was deafening. The sliver of moonlight fell into Endon's eyes and Jarred could see that Endon could hear the electricity too. Jarred lifted the hand that wasn't holding Endon's and placed it gently on Endon's cheek. Jarred could feel his heart crashing in his chest and wondered if Endon could feel it too, with his hand pressed against Jarred's chest.
Jarred began to stoke Jendon's cheek with his thumb, staring into his eyes, his beautiful pale eyes which looked like gray crystals in the moonlight.
Jarred's eyes flitted down to Endon's partially opened lips.
"Endon," he murmured, "can I kiss you?"
"Please," he replied, his eyes having trailed to Jarred's own mouth.
Jarred moved his hand from Endon's cheek to the back of his head where he pulled him in slowly. Their noses bumped, making each of them smile.
Then their lips met. Endon's mouth felt like warm satin on Jarred's and they remained there in their soft embrace before pulling apart.
Endon pressed his forehead to Jarred's, closing his eyes as Jarred returned his hand to Endon's cheek and resumed stroking his cheek.
The electricity, though still present, was quieter now, softer, as if happy that the connection between the two boys was finally made.
Chest to chest they continued to lay, Jarred stroking Endon's cheek and Endon kissing Jarred's forehead between their kisses on the mouth.
Eventually they agreed that they had better get to sleep, agreeing to not tell the Toran's they needed another bed for tomorrow night.
After one final kiss goodnight Endon turned to his other side and Jarred wrapped his arms around him, pulling Endon close. Both went to sleep happy knowing the other was to remain in their future.