Terren, King of Alvanyr, experiences a recurrent dream.
|Terren Cordan, King of Alvanyr, stood at the balcony rail of his apartments, watching lightning play out in the storm clouds that loomed over Averdeny. A gust of wind made the curtains just inside rustle and the iron rings holding them jangle pulling his attention from the stone. Terren felt his flesh prickle as he shivered from the night air, pulling his robes tighter around himself to hold in some warmth. It felt colder than it should have that wind. His mind drew towards what he had seen and felt moments before. That cold had been terrible and probably why he felt so cold now.
No. It was better to stay away from those thoughts till Ketheric arrived. It wasn't like the dream hadn't happened before but Terren's mind lay awash from the pain and sadness and loss he'd felt. His mind kept turning towards those things and Terren refused to let that happen. He wanted the images fresh and clean of introspection for Ketheric.
The city. Focus there. That was what he told himself.
Little lights moving quickly through winding streets drew his attention next as the men holding them finally noticed what approached. From up on the palace balcony, they made for a show not unlike the fireflies that appeared in the gardens in the early evenings this time of year. The guardsmen who patrolled the city at night were moving towards shelter or at least somewhere that would be away from the downpour. He crossed his arms and let out a huff of air.
He ran his right hand across the white marble railing of the balcony, slick from the dew that preceded the oncoming rains. The little veins of gray that shot through the stone entranced Terren. They looked like they were just under the surface, giving the stone a translucency that made it feel not quite real. The rail, balusters, and tiles were all made of it. In fact, he'd had the master builder place tiles of that stone through his personal apartments.
A bright flash illuminated the clouds and drew Terren's attention back to the storm. It was close enough now that he could see lightning strike the ground. The low rumble of the distant thunder slipped overhead along with a momentary gust bringing the smell of rain.
He prayed silently for the storm to pass just a little south and water the fields, vineyards, and orchards of Montsaldan and the Kingsmarch. Ketheric had said the signs pointed towards a dry summer. He'd directed engineers and tradesmen to start building irrigation and diversion canals to help prepare but it would be better to start the summer with some wetness.
Another peal of thunder washed over the city; coming quicker after the lightning flash this time as the storm approached. Terren resigned himself to the fact the storm would hit Averdeny instead and looked down to the courtyard inside the palace. Guards moved less hurriedly inside the grounds as they possessed ample protection from the rain should they desire it unlike their brethren who patroled the city streets.
A sharp deep knock at the door echoed across the marbled room and out to the balcony, announcing that someone (a guard) would enter shortly. That brought him out of his reverie and back to the reason why he was up at the witching hour like this. He'd sent a bodyguard to fetch the Lord Steward shortly after waking but this was quicker than Terren expected.
Terren pulled his nightrobe tighter around himself as he walked inside to receive his visitors. Candles lit well his apartments but he hadn’t lit a fire to dispel the chill of the night in the solar. Terren ran a hand along the highbacked cherrywood chairs that stood around the matching table that he used for Privy Council meetings.
"Enter," Terren called and the door opened and a guardsman entered wearing leather armor with a yellow sergeant's sash. Dark hair and eyes greeted Terren as the Sergeant bowed before him.
The young man had some impressive scars on his left cheek where an arrow had nearly skewed his head. An arrow that had been intended for Terren but the guard had shoved him out of the way. Hence the sash.
"Your Grace," the sergeant announced while bowed, "The Lord Steward has arrived."
"Send him in Earic," Terren replied to him.
Earic rose and backed up slightly before turning and making a slight motion with his left hand. This was part of the ceremony for the King to receive any visitors in his apartments. It was part traditional and partly to monitor for assassins (the old Alvani lords had mostly given up on that but one could never be too cautious as many still resented a southerner sitting on 'their' throne).
"Ketheric, the Lord Steward of Alvanyr, answering the King's Summons. Enter Lord Ketheric," Earic intoned as an older man with silver-gray hair wearing a long black and grey robe in the style of the Nareshi, floor-length with voluminous sleeves that had slightly darker chevrons sewn into the arms that meant something to those learned in the lore of Library of Great Naresh. He had a ruddy open face with prominent cheeks and sharp green eyes that always seemed to know more than Terren did. He kept his hair and beard well groomed and trimmed close.
Terren admired how the man always bore himself with an air of nobility and almost regal dignity. Yet, he was humble,showing respect even to minor knights who came to petition before him. There was a certainty and worth in the man that Terren had envied when younger and had learned to first emulate and then inhabit as he grew into his kingship.
Terren nodded to Earic saying, "You may leave us Earic. Have Bleasand run to the butlery for mulled wine. I would have some at this hour to help me sleep."
"Of course, your Grace," Earic saluted, his right hand making a fist that he brought to his heart in a sharp motion. He withdrew from the room backing up to the doors and closed them with a woody glong, leaving Terren alone with Ketheric.
Even in private, Ketheric was respectful. The old man was one of the few that Terren would have permitted to speak before being spoken to in these private audiences but Ketheric said nothing. A long moment passed before Terren spoke.
"I had the Dream," Terren noted, "again. That's twice this month."
Ketheric only nodded and gestured towards the fireplace. His voice had a slight woody resonance.
"May I light the fire, your Grace. These old bones feel the chill more acutely these days and I will have need of the flames if we are to ascertain more about the nature of your dream."
"Of course, my friend. Please," Terren waved to the man and retired to a more intimate section of the solar that had a cushioned sofa and chairs meant for the closest of his advisors and confidants to share time with him.
Meanwhile, Ketheric had bent over the empty hearth and placed some wood inside. Ketheric rose from his crouch slightly and placed his hand on the mantle and leaned over while his right hand sought the striker to ignite the fire.
Terren's right eyebrow lifted in confusion at this unexpected turn. Sparks shot from in front of Ketheric as he worked the striker and lit the fire. The old man's knees creaked as he stood with a low grunt of effort. Ketheric replaced the striker on its hook and joined Terren, sitting in his customary chair.
"The fire will be ready for us in a few moments, your Grace. Now..." Ketheric slide a hand into his robes and withdrew a small leather pouch.
"And that is...?" Terren interjected.
"Something new...from the Aarumothie shamans in the lands of the far South. It will help you remember more clearly. That's why I lit the fire with the striker. Any extra flux can interfere with its effect."
"Ah, I see," Terren said flatly.
This was an aspect of Ketheric's service that Terren never pretended to fully understand. Even after 28 years, he couldn't fathom the depths of Ketheric's knowledge and skill. Ketheric had tried to explain a few times to Terren (and Terren thought he grasped the basics) but the specifics and details still eluded him. Ketheric brought out a small brass bowl and emptied the contents of the pouch into it. He then held it out to Terren.
"Please hold this, your Grace."
A fragrance entered Terren's nose as he took the proferred bowl with its content; earthy and fruity at the same time with something else he couldn't name. His head felt a little lighter upon smelling it. An echo of voice, a woman's, flitted into his hearing. He got a sense it was important to hear what she was saying but the voice was too far away to be heard clearly. That too was a frequent feature of the Dream. And, of late had come at other times. His eyes flicked over to where his sword stood in its rack.
"A moment if it please you, Your Grace," Ketheric said as he stood and walked over to the fire with a thick splinter of wood.
Unlike Earic, Ketheric let his back face his King. Terren smiled at the impertinence. He'd long ago told Ketheric to dispense with much of the formality in his presence during these private moments. The old man bent over and thrust the splinter deeply into the fire.
Sheltering the flame with his hand, Ketheric walked back over, and sat back down. He gestured towards Terren and with a small start of realization, Terren extended his hands and the bowl towards the Lord Steward who then placed the burning splinter into the very dry herbs. The flames almost seemed to be sucked into the herbs as they began to smoke and the fragrance became far stronger.
"Breathe deep, your Grace," Ketheric instructed, miming for Terren to bring the bowl to his face and hunch over it to let the smoke fill his nostrils.
And though Terren had long surrendered any hope or effort at understanding Ketheric true vocation, he'd always followed the man's instructions when participating in it. In short, Terren hunched over the bowl and breathed deeply. And promptly fell forward.
Terren fell towards the floor and for long seconds kept falling. He knew he tumbled over and could feel himself falling like he'd slipped on an errant pebble. The floor moved towards him but it kept getting farther away at the same time while he fell faster and faster. He felt a slight pressure on the sides of his head as his fall deepened.
And then he was standing on the Fossen-Mont, the great tower of the old castle at Montsaldan the overlooked the Fossenren, the river the formed the northern boundary of the city. The river lay some 800 feet below him thanks to the height of the tower and the bluffs upon which the castle was built. It glittered orange and black in darkness of the night.
Orange...Terren's heart raced in his chest and his stomach threatened to purge its contents. He'd seen this before...in a dream. He turned and saw Montsaldan...burning. His home. His family's home. The city his father had ruled. The city Terren had fought so hard for. All engulfed in a massive conflagration, the flames danced along the streets and in homes in a macabre carola.
Terren's breath came faster as the pit into which his stomach was falling fought with the terrible inertia of despair and flames of rage at this atrocity. He knew where his anger should be directly and he looked to the mountains of the Spine still further to the South. They were there. The Shadowed Riders with their pale cloaks and darkling eyes. Their indistinct faces filled with gloating pleasure. They had won and they knew it. A shadow crept from them reaching for Terren. He knew if touched him he would die.
Too slow, Terren began to draw his sword, the diamond in the pommel began to glow brightly. Its Light slowed the shadow and stopped it. Thick gooey relief filled Terren now as the power of the Sword blocked the Shadow as it twisted and jerked, looking for a way to reach its target. But this is also when the Voice came...and sometimes even when he was awake and holding Joyance...yes...that was the name of the sword.
A whisper...it is well Terren...let go...be at peace...let go.
A woman's voice...just barely audible...familiar to Terren but not Timueth's voice. But one he knew once.
His hands became weak and the Sword fell from his grasp, its Light died. The Shadow roared in triumph and the black fear rose again in Terren as the Shadow rushed at him headlong. Unable to move, Terren's fear were stakes driven through his boots into the stones of the tower.
Terren was flat on his back and unable to move. His arms and legs responded not to his desire to sit up let alone stand. A part of him knew that he was greviously wounded in a way no man lived through. He could smell the water of the Fossenren and finally he saw the orange fairy lights of sparks of the burning city. His eyes filled with water and it ran down his cheeks. He'd failed completely. His home. His city. His people. His sons. It was all gone. Everything he'd loved and fought for was gone. Even his...sword?
Somehow he managed to turn his head. A boy stood there, holding the Sword and the pommel gem glowed its pristine white. A twin of the Sword's Light blossomed on the boy's chest. The same but separate. The boy's eyes widen and his mouth gaped in shock. He was looking at his hands seemingly afraid and confused. Terren's head lolled back up and saw the white motes of the stars mixed with the orange ones of the burning embers of Montsaldan.
Let go Terren.
The world began to come apart for Terren. He felt pieces of himself fall away and melt into the aether. Any lingering pain was first to go. And then any sense of his body. He floated, a mind and consciousness separated from physical form yet still present. The starfield above was breaking apart into a deeper blackness and Terren felt himself empty into it.
As the last bits of Terren's consciousness melted into that emptiness, something snapped inside him. His head cracked on the wood of the chair's back, leaving a sharp pain in Terren's skull. It took a moment of effort for Terren to remember who he was and where he was. He opened his eyes to Ketheric withdrawing from him. A sense of lingering warmth told Terren that Ketheric had had his hands on the sides of his head.
Ketheric sat back in the cushioned chair he favored. From within his robes, he withdrew a small flask and pressed it into Terren's hands.
"Drink, Terren. The herbs are strong and this will help clear your head."
Terren drank deeply, the potion was strong, bitter, and sharp on his tongue. He coughed as it burned its way down his throat.
"What is this!" he wheezed at Ketheric, who only snickered at Terren's reaction.
"It's an uiswegg from the Dan. They age it in burnt oak barrels for 20 years. Good yes?" Terren heard more than a small note of amusement in the old man's voice.
"Strong would be a better word, Ketheric. Far stronger than the mulled wine I ordered."
And Terren coughed again but took another much smaller drink.
"You seem to have taken to it, my king," Ketheric noted on seeing him take a second swig.
"It grows on me," he replied as he wiped some spittle from his chin, "Tell me..did you..."
"See your Dream?" Ketheric interjected, "Yes...very clearly. I heard tale of the herbs from a trader at the Fall Faire. They arrived last week when the trader returned for the Greentide Faire. He had been able to procure a small amount for me."
"Are they.." Terren began.
Again, Ketheric finished the thought.
"Magic? No. They are only herbs but strongly affect the mind and open one who breathes in their smoke to a shared experience in the Arts of the mind. The effect is subtle and if I had used my power to ignite the fire, the lingering flux of the Art would have interfered with the herb's smoke."
That explained Ketheric's odd behavior at the fire to Terren, who then asked, "I died this time, Ketheric, didn't I."
"Yes," was Ketheric's initially terse reply, "that was what you felt there...at the end."
"How do you know?" Terren looked for a hopeful answer that maybe this wasn't what Terren thought.
"Not everyone learned in the Art is a good man, Terren," Ketheric lapsed into a much less formal approach, "you know this from experience. Death magic while a dark and dangerous Art can be found in many a grimoire."
"If you are certain then," Terren said while Ketheric nodded, "how you know is irrelevant. There was other new thing. The boy. Were you able to sense anything about them?"
"Unfortunately no, except that perhaps they are important but not why or how they are."
Terren leaned back into the sofa and sighed.
"You are little help tonight, wizard," his voice carried a fragment of annoyance.
Ketheric reached forward and took the flask from Terren and getting a drink himself. He too leaned back with his legs coming forward.
"Dreaming is not my strongest ability in the Art. It is among the haziest areas of mystic knowledge in general. No one learned in the Art pays a great deal of attention to it and much of what has been written has been lost to time. But I know this...it's one of the few things that are known; when a Dreamer has the same Dream for years and death appears in it after multiple iterations, it means the time of the Dream approaches."
Terren swallowed hard. So...it would soon be time. He'd been afraid for some years now about this. The Dream varied slightly over the years with details coming and going. He remembered some better than others. He'd never died in the Dream before.
"Ketheric," Terren felt hardpressed to keep worry from his voice, "how long?"
"It's hard to say. Dreaming as prophecy is unstable; subject to the Dreamer's own perceptions. Death's appearance suggests soon. You've had this Dream now for what...over a score of years? Since before you took the throne. It makes me wonder why now. What has changed?"
Ketheric took another drink and passed the flask back to Terren who also took a drink. Terren really didn't have answers either. It could be anything. But the danger always came from the south...that had meant Caladra in the earliest dreams but the First Lords had been peaceful, mostly concerned with the stability of their ancient land and keeping the old line Kyrie placated.
"The dream always has me looking south," Terren finally admitted, "Does that mean the Empire?"
Ketheric remained silent a moment and then replied, "You tell me Your Grace."
Terren drank a mouthful of the firey uiswegg and continued, "Something is happening in the south. I don't trust the Nareshi Emperor. He's ambitious..."
"Not unlike another ruler I know," Ketheric interrupted.
Terren frowned, "Yes...yes," he added irritably, "I'm aware."
He took another draught from the flask.
"Be careful with that, my king," Ketheric warned, "The uiswegg is very strong...stronger than that brandy the Esquire of Greenhill makes."
"Ha!" Terren retorted, his tongue not quite working correctly, "It definitely cannot be drunk like beer. Perhaps you would be willing to share?"
Ketheric smiled and hedged, "I might have a spare cask that I acquired for such a purpose for a certain old friend's day of birthing."
Terren laughed and took another drink. Yes...he tongue definitely felt heavy and lazy.
"This will have me in my cups even before Bleasand comes with the mulled wine."
"Indeed, Terren, indeed. And it will give you a great massive headache on the morrow," Ketheric noted as he took the flask from Terren.
A deep-sounding knock came from the door, interrupting Terren's reply as he opened his mouth and instead, Terren called out, "Enter!"
Earic opened the door for the second time that night, announcing Bleasand had come with the mulled wine. The page in his silver and red tunic with matching breeches brought the wine with two crystal goblets to Terren and withdrew.
"And with that," Ketheric said, "I will leave you to your wine. With your Grace's leave?"
Terren waved a dismissal and Ketheric bowed. Earic had not been dismissed either but left with Ketheric. Terren eyes the mulled wine in the pitcher and poured himself a measure of it. He drank deeply, wondering just what the voice and the boy in his Dream meant.