The hooves of the horse were softened by the soft grass that grew in the prairie. They had long ago crossed the river of Solitude and were now reaching the southern lands of the kingdom.
They had ridden tirelessly for two days –avoiding all the towns on their way- and the horse had no saddle, which caused great discomfort for Lois. She wasn't used to ride that way and her body ached. She only thanked Mrs. Kent had repaired her traveling garments.
But the most uncomfortable part of the journey was the silence coming from her companion. No matter how hard she tried to make him talk, he continued to be quiet, jaw set.
The moon was already high in the sky when they reached a small clearing in a forested area, and only then did Clark stop and jump down from the horse, offering his hand for Lois to descend as well.
"We will camp here. Stay close to the horse while I go gather wood for a fire, see if you find some twigs too," he said without looking at her.
The last thing Lois was used to was being ordered around, but she was tired, troubled and gloomy and had little energy to argue with him, so she did as she was told. Half an hour later they were sitting around a small fire, Clark grilling some meat for dinner. The horse had been left untied so it could graze freely; the animal had been with the Kents ever since a colt and would not venture far without his master.
She observed Clark under the low light. For a second he seemed older, wiser. His handsome features appeared more obvious now. Lois looked away and blushed, not quite understanding her reaction.
Unaware of this, Clark handed her her portion of the meat and she thanked him, yet he didn't answer.
That was it, she had had enough. She took a deep breath.
"Listen Smallville, I have apologized a hundred times! What else do you want me to do? In the first place, you have to know that I had seldom have to apologize to anyone before!"
"I suppose Milady is too high for that," he replied dryly and Lois groaned inwardly. She tried to hide that his words had hurt her deeper than he could imagine.
The flames devoured the wood and the heat made the twigs crack with a ominous sound. An owl hooted somewhere above their heads and the cold wind whispered between the leaves and branches. She brought her green hood closer to her.
"I always detested to be treated that way," she said in a small voice and Clark looked at her face through the flames.
"It made me feel useless and dependent, and it also made my little sister hate me. The other children were forbidden to play with me, for their parents feared they might hurt me and then, their heads would be required as payment for the offense."
She ventured a glance at his face and found him listening attentively. She went on.
"But when I arrived at your home it was all so different… you treated me like a simple girl… I felt so… liberated. You even made me stack hay. Tell me truthfully, would you have treated me in the same way had you known who I am?"
Clark face took on a look of understanding. "I guess not," he said at last.
Somehow, he related to her… he had also felt isolated from everyone else, afraid to play with other kids, having to be careful all the time so he wouldn't hurt anyone by accident. In that moment he felt horrible for being so unforgiving to her.
"Well, that is why I said nothing and I will repeat this only one more time. Clark, I am sorry and I am grateful with you for coming with me." She then raised her gaze to the stars; the sky was clear for now but soon, heavy clouds would cover it and snow would start to fall. She wondered in which part of the intricate cosmic mantle had been written that her life had to be so complicated.
"It's okay, apology accepted." They kept quiet and after some minutes, he asked; "So… you are the Chosen One, then". His stare had softened considerably.
"Against my wishes, yes, I am supposed to be. But please, don't ever call me like that."
She glared at him. "I mean it, I have been living with you, you know I am as normal as yourself; flesh and bones, nothing divine," she said and gave a bite to her meat, which was already cooling.
He preferred to ignore the last part of her statement and said, "a regular girl who holds the fate of Kryptonia, if the prophecy is true. What does it recite? Oh yeah…"
Clark stood up and put a hand to his chest, clearing his throat. Lois rolled her eyes and produced an un-lady like snort.
And the One will be born I say,
and her strength of spirit will light the kingdom,
And she shall wed him, the true heir,
Who'll bring back glory and wisdom."
Lois took a small pebble and threw it at the impromptu bard, but Clark dodged it and kept going.
"Were she to fail her fate
and the royal union took no place,
Kriptonia will fall, by the edge of the blade,
under the rage of men,
amid the heat of the flame."
Lois clapped trice with bored expression. "Very nice Smallville, as if I had not listened to that cursed verse a thousand times already."
Pleased, he sat, shrugged and started eating his meat.
"Do you believe it? The prophecy I mean, I assume you don't, otherwise you wouldn't escape at risk to set the kingdom into devastation," he asked.
Every Kryptorian knew about the sacred prophecy and nineteen years ago, one year before the murder of King Jor-El, the Great Oracle had spoken, announcing the birth of the One that the ancient prediction talked about, and that she would be born of the counts of Laneria.
Since he had been a child, Clark learned that according to the prediction, she was responsible for the whole destiny of the realm . Her birth meant that he who would return the kingdom to its former glory, was among them as well.
He remembered feeling scared at the notion of such accountability resting on the shoulders of a lone person and decided in that moment that he didn't believe in such things.
Lois thought for a moment before answering. Did she believe in the words that had been engrained in her mind each single day in her life? It seemed that, for everyone around her; her family, the nobles, the courtesans, she was defined by that couplet. No one took the chance to try to know her beyond that but her mother and her cousin.
She was ready to accept the possibility of it all being false.
She went on; "I… I don't know if it is true, or at least, I don't know if it is to be interpreted as it has… But I do know that without me, Lex will not keep the crown and that is worth the risk."
"Lex? You mean Prince Alexander?"
She drank some water that Clark had collected from the river and continued, "Yes, he used to be a nice child, one of the few who was not forbidden to play with me, but when I was five, his father reached the throne and Lex received the sacred ring and he became a totally different person… even, his hair fell off and he went bald. Did you know he used to have red curls? I think that was what finally drove him to the dark side," she chuckled with little humor.
Clark knew all about how the Luth-Ors obtained the crown; there was a revolt and the magians assassinated King Jor-El and the whole royal family, then a cruel war between the noble houses occurred to see who would be the new king.
Duke Lionel suggested that the one who was to resist the powers of the sacred blue ring, symbol of the loyal house, would be the new ruler and the Council of Elders approved of this.
One by one, the nobles tried the ring on and some lost their minds, others died in that instant and the rest was too afraid to attempt it. Then Lionel offered his only son and Alexander put the ring on, surviving and becoming that way the Prince "chosen by the ring".
Yet, he was only twelve years old and his father reigned in his place. And his first decree was to hunt down the race of magians -Or at least, what was left of them- and kill them for the 'treacherous act of murdering the Els'.
Four years passed from the assassination of Jor-El and the ascension of the Luth-Or house.
"So, Prince Alexander is truly evil, as rumors say," Clark commented.
"He is. I have known him to do unspeakable actions… when I was thirteen, he forced my family to leave our lands and come live in Tehm-El, so I would be safer." She showed discomfort and Clark sensed she didn't wish to speak of it, so he asked instead; "and this cousin of yours, who is she? Why are you so sure she will help you?"
Lois smiled when the face of her beloved cousin loomed in her mind's eye. They hadn't seen each other for almost six years. Then she decided she could trust Clark Kent. "Her name is Chloe Sulleev-An. She escaped from Kryptonia many years ago. Her father was accused of organizing a conspiracy against the Luth-Ors and he and his family ran off the kingdom.
"King Lionel believes Aunt Gabriel died but I know better, they reached Gotharia and were granted protection by Lord Bruce Wayne-Son. Father never speaks of them though, he says they are betrayers."
"Why is that?"
Lois rested her chin on the palm of her hand and spoke with a resigned voice, "For centuries, my family has been under the service of the crown… but enough about me, what can you tell me about yourself?"
Clark smiled and started drawing patterns in the soil with the stick that he had used to eat his meat.
"Oh… there is nothing to say about me, just a simple farmboy, with an ordinary life."
"And adoptive parents," she added.
Clark looked up, surprised. "What? How did you know that?"
"I didn't, you just confirmed it. I only had a hunch, for your mother has red hair and you father is fair-haired. You look like neither of them."
"I could look like my grandparents," he mumbled.
"But you do not, so, how is that you became their son?"
Clark hesitated but decided he could give her some information. "They um… found me down the river of Solitude when I was a baby. I was floating in a basin and the only thing I had with me was a red mantle and a ball of wax. I don't know what that means. We suppose it is some kind of message that would speak of my origin, but it reveals nothing to me. Yet, I always carry it around."
Clark searched into his clothes and produced the yellowish object, grimy and deformed from all the handling along the years. Lois reached for it and studied it.
"Um… I'm not sure what it could mean, have you ever tried to melt it?" she said and neared the ball to the fire.
"No! Give me that back!" Clark took it away from her.
"Calm down Smallville, I was only joking," she smiled.
"We are back to Smallville then? I thought you would consent to call me by my name already."
"No… Where is the fun in that?" she winked.
He was thinking in a smart comeback but then, felt a chill down his spine; several life forces were approaching them, he could feel them. He stood up and in that instant, they heard the sound of dry leaves being crushed surrounding them. The horse reared, restless.
"Soon you won't be able to call him anything, young lady." A husky voice came from the foliage and suddenly, Lois and Clark found themselves surrounded by a dozen men armed with sword and knives.
Clark put Lois behind him protectively as he reached for the old sword his father had lent him. Lois went for her own weapon and cursed at leaving her bow beyond her reach.
"Back off! What do you want?" Clark shouted his question.
"All of what you possess and the pretty lady along," answered one of them with a sneer. His thick beard covered almost his whole face.
Were the thieves less arrogant, they would have jumped on them without further notice, then, perhaps, they would have had a slight chance to overpower the pair, but they had seen only a couple of lonely travelers and an easy booty.
"Well, you are not to obtain either thing!" Lois menaced and turned her back to Clark's, covering that way both fronts.
"Lois, what are you doing?" he whispered to her as the men continued narrowing the circle.
"Listen Clark, I appreciate your gallantry but there is no way you could take all these men by yourself, and I don't carry this heavy sword around like a jewelry piece, so spare me the over protectiveness and cover my back."
"Now stop your stupid babbles and drop those swords, both of you!" Another man spoke, he was bald and chubby and the smell of beer reached their noses even from afar.
"Come and get them!" she shouted, defiant.
"Lois!" But Clark could not complain further because his attention was forced toward the man that let his sword fall over his head. Clark blocked the strike and sent the attacker sprawling against the ground. Behind him, Lois had managed to disarm one of the aggressors and left him unconscious with the hilt of her weapon.
Clark took another two down and then, he would raise an arm and unexplainably, one of the men would go flying against the ground or the near bushes and trees, out cold. Yet Clark tried to be careful to not inflict any mortal wound and to remain in control at the same time. He didn't know what would happen if he didn't…
Lois was managing very well on her own, slashing at her attackers with swift dexterity and keeping them at bay. Despite her extensive training, she had never been in a real combat and didn't wish to kill anyone.
The thieves soon became irritated for not being able to overpower what seemed such easy preys, yet, luck was about to change as Lois observed with alarm that more men came out the woods. There were now twenty al least.
"Clark, look out!" she called and he turned to see their new troubles.
They both defended themselves with all their ability and many men went down with bleeding heads and wounded limbs, but it was no use. Soon Clark found himself trapped between several arms and under many blades, unable to lift his arms to use his abilities. But Lois was under a much worse situation, for the hands holding her would not content with only that, but started looking a way inside her clothes, tearing at the fabric, the faces surrounding her smiling dirtily with anticipation.
"Clark!" she shouted with desperation while hoarse voices would tell her she would pay, that she better stay still. Clark struggled against his oppressors who only laughed at his anguish.
"Lois! No! Let her go you bastards!"
"Clark, Help me!" she asked again before a hand covered her mouth. She felt herself succumbing to sheer terror.
Clark never felt as defenseless as in that moment, looking at her… merely observing as those savages were about to ravage her in front of him.
"Lois! LOIS! NO!"
He felt a heat emanating from his chest, he knew what it meant, and knew of the consequences, but in that instant he didn't care. He let himself go.
He had to save her.
A bright light emerged from his body and made the bandits stop their foul actions and cover their eyes, then they were forced to release him because his skin burned, and after that, they felt how their ears started to bleed and their heads seemed to explode while they screamed in agony. A moment later, all of them were on the ground, unmoving.
Clark fell on his knees, afraid to watch, afraid to have killed them all, afraid to have killed Lois in the process.
And she was on the ground curled into a tight ball, trembling. She had stopped feeling the hands on her body when a heat engulfed her and then, the assault had come to an end. She had raised her eyes to see the brightest light she had ever seen and while it seemed to hurt the thieves, for her, it felt warm and comforting. Then the light diminished a little and she distinguished the silhouette of a man amid it. It was Clark.
Lois held her somewhat torn clothes to her and stood up, walking toward him with insecure steps. Clark was now on his knees, smoke rising from his body.
She avoided one body and then another, surprised at the blood and their painful expressions -though not sorry- and crouched next to Clark, who was shuddering as badly as she was, or even more. He was still surrounded by the fire.
"C—Clark?" she called. He looked at her and retreated.
"D—don't touch me… I will hurt you… go away!" He was afraid, he had never released his power like that, he couldn't control it, he couldn't turn it off.
But Lois didn't do such thing. Instead she felt pulled to him and extending a shivering hand, touched his shoulder. At once, the fire lessened and after a few moments it was extinguished completely. Clark raised his eyes, astonished, and locked his gaze with hers.
She threw herself into his arms, burying her face in his neck as she started to cry. Clark hugged her tightly to him and rocked her back and forth. He, as well, allowed his fear to dissipate with a few tears of his own.
"What happened?" she asked; it was the first time either of them spoke since the incident.
They had stood up, tired and numb and walked away of the damned place. The horse, scared, had run away.
They then advanced into the wood and found a small cave that would suffice as a refuge. Clark had crawled inside and rested his back against the wall covered with dry mildew and Lois entered after, and searching instinctively for protection, she had hugged him and rested her head against his wide chest. The girl was shivering still and Clark tried to comfort her surrounding her slim shoulders with his arms, and so they remained.
"What was that, Clark? Why were you on fire?" she asked again but he kept quiet.
"It was magic, wasn't it? You are a magian… you forgot to mention that little detail," she said with a slight tone of complaint. Even in that situation, she managed to sound bossy, Clark though absently.
"I… I didn't know how you would take it… my race is cursed and I might be the last one of them. I am so used to hide it that I couldn't help it," he finally confessed.
"I told you all about me…" she said, yet her tone was not accusatory.
"I know, I am sorry," he offered.
"It would be only divine justice if I were the one who will not accept your apologies now. Don't you think?" she said, attempting to sound cheery, but the truth was that she was still shaken; she had never faced real danger, always cared and protected by everyone -despite her own wishes- and that night it had been different… those men almost…
When she closed her eyes, she could still feel their hands. Lois shuddered again.
Clark held her tighter to him and felt strangely relieved to be able to look after her. "Are you cold?" he asked.
She nodded, so he took her green hood and covered them both with it.
"Better?" he said but received no answer. He looked down at her and saw that Lois had fallen asleep.
He kept awake for a long time though, wondering many things. Had he killed those men? How long would it be until they reached Gotharia? How could Lois seem so wild a moment, and then, as innocent and sweet as a child at the other? How had she managed to touch him without getting hurt?
Clark brushed some auburn strands away from her face and contemplated her.
She hadn't showed any fear when he told her about his secret. He had dreamed of telling Lana about it so many times, but he was fearful that she would reject him, that she would turn him over the sentinels and he and his parents would be hunted down.
He never thought that Lois Lane… no, Lois Lane-Eh would be the one he would share such a thing with.