Chapter 10: A Vision of Death
Table of Contents|
Chapter 9, part 3 appeared
in issue 131.
Renson knew it was coming. He reached over and brushed the hair away from Andina’s face. He felt his face heat at her touch, but pushed the sensation away. Was this a sign? he asked himself. He was doubtful. Visions were infrequent and not easy to come when summoned. But then he saw it. Andina’s eyelids fluttered momentarily and her fists clenched. It was time. Andina still slept and he prepared himself to do what he had to. He was eager to See what the future held in store.
He relaxed back into his cushions and took several breaths. He needed to be calm and steady when the time came. He looked at his charge carefully. It would not be wise to intrude upon her dreams before the vision started. He closed his eyes and slowly felt for the telepathic link he had with his future Seer-Queen.
He concentrated on a certain spot on his forehead, a place right between his eyes. His energy focused there, gathered into a force beyond magic’s grasp, and burst into a million tiny dots. His body fell formless for an instant and then channeled itself to her. He approached Andina Lerouse with a third eye, feeling her aura. The mage consciously probed her mind. She was no longer a body, but a mental barrier with cracks to seep through undetected.
After a moment of searching, Renson learned her shape. Her mental form was different every time, and every time he had to search for a way in. He probed her energy with unseen tentacles. He needed to find a break in her dream. Suddenly, the mage fell through what seemed like a valley of endless space. He fell into an empty bowl of unused space where memories had yet to grow. Then he saw what she was dreaming.
“What’s your name?” asked the tall, handsome man.
Andina Lerouse looked up angrily from her stool. She was a respectable woman, and she wasn’t going to let this lout treat her differently.
“I’m not a tavern wench,” she said testily, “so go bother somebody else.” She regarded the man’s large sword that stuck out from beneath his cloak. “I don’t care who you think you are. The blade does not make the man, sir.” She said the last with icy sarcasm.
The tall man stepped back a little uncertainly. He looked up at his friends, who sat at a table in a corner, a little nervously. At least he looked nervous, she thought silently. Everybody inside the Fallen Crown Tavern had stopped doing their business and were looking at the commotion caused by the young man and girl.
The Fallen Crown Tavern was a classy place. It was known throughout Geamehn for its fine wine and expensive ale. Tables filled the room with little candles placed in the center for light. Stools lined all three walls from the entrance to the bar. A stage graced the northern corner of the bar where entertainers performed.
The bar covered the whole side of the last wall. Above it hung axes, swords, pikes, daggers, and shields that were used in the Conquest. It was rumored those weapons started the Conquest. The Fallen Crown Tavern claimed to have stood since then. They claimed to be the beginners of every revolt that had ever taken place for the last three hundred years. Andina didn’t doubt it. Each weapon hung on a peg, rusted and decayed with time. Several of the blades still had noticeable bloodstains.
The young man was about to walk away, but to her dismay, thought better of it. He turned to her again with some urging from his friends, who called out to him to speak with her. He pulled his cloak around to cover the pommel of his sword. He cleared his throat and then bowed.
“Forgive my rudeness, my lady.” His voice was that of someone used to being obeyed. The uncertainty of a moment before was gone and now he proceeded, confident and sure of where he had suddenly stepped.
“The blade never makes a man,” he continued, “but it does command armies.” She noticed his eyes for the first time. They were a stunning crystal clear blue. She could lose herself in those eyes.
“Well,” she retorted, “your blade cannot command me. So go away! I’m tired of you ruffians coming up to me and showing off your false bravado.” She waved him away.
“If asking for your name has bothered you so much,” he shrugged, straightening himself, “then I’ll leave you be.” His calm demeanor took her aback. Too many times she had told that to someone else, only to enrage that person.
One of his friends yelled behind her. “Just take her, my prince. Show the wench who is her lord!”
He looked at her embarrassingly. “Forgive my friends, lady. It’s the drink that speaks.”
In the dimness of the tavern, Andina Lerouse had failed to recognize the imposing young man. She took a sip from her wine to soothe her suddenly dry throat. She examined the young man’s attire for the first time.
Palance Demondread wore black, satin gloves. His hands were large and the black cloak they held about him was made of silk. He wore black riding boots. It didn’t bother her that he was completely dressed in black. She wouldn’t be surprised if his shirt and pants were black, too. Black was a color for rogues. But then, black made him look extremely regal. This was no lout speaking to her.
He put a gloved hand on her shoulder. “If you will excuse me, my lady.” He walked away from her towards his friends. On the backside of his cloak lay the insignia to seal the truth of her mistake. Engraved in white was the serpent-claw, the skeletal remains of the jaw from a rock python: the prince of Acrene Tarrynth’s insignia.
“Coran,” she heard him start, as he approached the table with his comrades. A chair had already been pulled out for the prince and he took it without a word. “Coran, a woman is not just taken. Right, Eliath?”
Another man, one she couldn’t quite make out, voiced his agreement. “Of course.”
On second thought, she really couldn’t make out any of the men with the prince clearly. They seemed to melt into the shadows. There were five men, in all, gathered around the table with the prince. All of the men wore black, except the prince wore a cloak.
Andina felt the center of the attention in the tavern. People stared at her openly, sensing her mistake. She felt conscious of the fact that she had insulted her lord. She had spoken to a future king as if he were no more that a scullery boy. She had to gulp to get the lump in her throat down.
“Coran,” she heard the prince continue. “A lady needs to be courted and not just taken. If I wanted a wench, I’d ask my father to find me one. I’m sure I could find a harlot in court if I wished. But what for?” She had the distinct feeling he was deliberately talking out loud so she could hear him.
“I want a woman who isn’t afraid of being a woman,” he went on. “Those types of women are rare, indeed.”
She couldn’t help but feel he was talking directly to her. The people, what few there were, of the Fallen Crown stared at her between drinks. The men looked at her as if noticing her for the first time. A woman wanted by the prince was a hefty prize. Some of the women grinned at her. It wasn’t everyday that the prince actively sought the company of a woman in a tavern, at least not for the kind of company that required nothing more than conversation. For this very reason, the rest of the women in the tavern looked at her disdainfully.
She gave them all a blank stare. The Fallen Crown Tavern was a respectable place, but she didn’t put it beyond anyone to try something foolish.
“Come, Eliath,” she heard the prince say, “let us make our way home.” She was amazed how noiselessly the men rose from their seats. Palance Demondread walked away from the table towards the door with the same grace of his men. His men watched everyone in the tavern intently. He opened the door and each man filed out into the street. She could feel his stare on her.
“Good-bye, my lady.” He was looking at her. “Geamehn is a big city, but I don’t doubt we will meet again.” He closed the door softly behind him as he left the Fallen Crown Tavern.
She stared dumbly at the wooden door. She felt self-conscious that everyone in the tavern was still looking at her. Their expressions let her know they thought she was a fool. Some of the people shook their heads in disbelief.
“You should go out there, woman,” said a man dressed in a blue shirt and brown breeches, pointing towards the door. “If anything, so the rest of us can sleep easy tonight. Say you want to pay your proper respects.”
She knew he was right. He had given her an excuse as well. Now she didn’t have to worry about looking foolish if she went after the prince. Without wasting anymore time, she rose from her seat and made for the door. As it opened, she felt a cool breeze greet her face. Winter was still a few months away, but already the nights were growing chilly. This far north, winter sometimes came early. She gathered her green coat about her and felt its warmth and softness press against her.
Outside, the street lay unlit and empty. There was no sign of the prince or his men. A breeze came again and swirled dirt across the way from her. She could see most of Geamehn stretch away from where she stood. She could see from here to the south the one tall building that her father owned. It was three stories high made of solid stone. A light was on, she could see. Someone was burning the midnight oil.
Damn, she thought. She had missed her chance with the prince. She debated going back inside, and then decided against it. It would not be good to let the night slip away. It was still fairly early and she could be home before midnight. She was well aware of the dangers of the night, but in Geamehn the threats were not so close, only if you lived near the edge of the city. Regardless, she would have to be careful. She would have to hurry.
Andina stepped out of the foyer of the Fallen Crown Tavern and stepped out on to the street. She would make her way south. She hadn’t taken more than three steps when she saw the cloaked figure standing at the corner of the tavern. She cursed herself for not paying closer attention. There was a dark alley to the figure’s right that ran parallel to the tavern.
She started to cross the street, moving away from the unknown person.
“A lady should never walk alone,” came a voice. She thought she recognized it.
The figure pulled away from the wall and made his way towards her. “If I may?”
She nodded. She didn’t know if he could make out her movements, but she didn’t care. She was too stunned. With rising elation, she realized the prince for who he was. He reached her and took both her hands in his. He bowed and tenderly kissed the back of her right hand. The prince loomed over her at least a foot when he wasn’t bowing or dipping. She hadn’t known he was so tall.
“Palance Demondread,” he announced smoothly.
She could hardly suppress a smile. The excitement she felt at being courted by the Prince of Acrene Tarrynth caroused its way through her body. Andina Lerouse was a cloth merchant’s daughter. She had enough money in her family not to claim poverty, but never enough to advance into nobility.
It was a wonder to her why the prince would ever talk with her with such interest in mind. she knew nothing could ever happen between them. She was only a citizen, a mere commoner. She chided herself. Wasn’t she assuming too much?
Nevertheless, she didn’t see any reason why she couldn’t enjoy the ride.
“Andina Lerouse, my lord.” she introduced sweetly. She would not bow, though. She would not let him think she was awed by his title and power. Never that.
Renson, who watched all this with some measure of amusement, began to wonder if he had been mistaken. He had felt a vision coming, not a dream. He considered withdrawing. He could not intrude upon Andina’s dreams. He was torn by indecision for a moment, and then pushed all doubts aside. He would trust in his instincts. He would wait and be patient.
“Ah, Andina Lerouse,” said the prince, almost savoring the sound of her name, “if you may. Shall we?” He extended his arm and she took it. They started walking down the street in the direction she was headed.
She could feel his strength in those arms. The man was lean and every ounce of him proved to her he was a strong man. There was no harshness in this one, just a genuine ability to lead. He would make a fine king one day, she thought without a doubt.
He slowed his pace so she could keep up with him. She thanked him for his consideration. They walked for blocks, passing empty warehouses and vacant lots. This area was mainly a business section. Merchants and cargo carriers owned half these buildings. Around them, at least a mile from the Fallen Crown Tavern, they crossed the market square. Soon after they began to come across housing streets.
They walked in silence the whole time. It was the kind of walk lovers took after knowing each other for years. The kind of walk where each one took comfort in the other and words were not needed. Words would only ruin the moment.
The street gave way to cobblestone paths. The market area gave way to neighborhoods. Trees lined the curb at the edge of the street to each side of them, tall pines that stood like guardians over the street. The area grew quieter and Andina could hear the distinct chirping of insects. Their natural chorus rang loudly in her ears. The pines rustled softly and she wrapped her arms around herself. The night was cool, if not cold. She should’ve brought something heavier to wear.
“Oh,” said the prince at her side. It was the first words he had uttered since leaving the tavern. He took off his black cloak to reveal a blue satin shirt underneath. His brown leather pants were tight, revealing a toned body. The blade still hung at his hip. The sword’s large, glossy, pommel glinted in the moonlight. He draped his cloak over her shoulders.
“Forgive my manners. I pray you don’t catch a cold.” There was a sincerity in his voice that pleased her very much. His gloved hands were large and they guided her down the street as he moved her along, walking slightly behind her.
“Do you always court young ladies at night, my lord?” The question was a gamble, but she couldn’t act completely like a fool.
“Uh, no,” he hesitated. “Actually, it’s not very often that a lady catches my attention like you did tonight.”
“I see,” was all she said. She couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was obvious that he was saying what she wanted to hear. She would not ruin this night by pursuing the truth.
The houses steadily grew in size and lavishness as they continued walking. The streets here were darker: for light here was spread about randomly. This was a private section, and people liked their privacy. The city of Geamehn did anything to satisfy its citizens.
The houses here looked like manors with several small buildings that acted as out houses. More than several had extra buildings in the back for visiting guests. These were used for their comfort. If a guest of a patron needed to stay for whatever reason, they could sleep in their own private home for the night.
“Tell me something,” he began, “why are you so far from home?” He looked down at her inquiringly. “Geamehn is a beautiful city, indeed, and, yes, it’s safe from whatever lurks up on Raven’s Reach and the surrounding countryside, but it is not without its dangers.”
“But I’m not alone, my lord.” she countered. “As a matter of fact, I believe I’m in the best company in all of Acrene Tarrynth.”
“Of course, you are,” he assured, moving closer to her, protectively.
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler