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The Stuff of Nightmares

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There was an eerie darkness to the land now, for the light of the sun no longer touched its soil nor shone down upon its inhabitants.

Once bustling towns were now rendered silent, as those who had survived tried to scratch out a living in whatever ways they could. The sight of beggars became commonplace, and dirty children weaved through the listless crowds that trudged through Sacor City.

The only individuals who prospered now were the foreign traders who dealt in human flesh and all too eagerly would snatch a lone person from the darkened streets. For some though, it was preferably to die young as a slave in another’s fields or mines, than to slowly rot away in what was left of their old lives.

Sacoridia’s self appointed monarch, sat in the castle’s dilapidated halls amongst sycophantic nobles. These were men who had sought survival over loyalty to their formal king. Their ruler was now a wraith, a creature who fed upon their fears and partook of their misery. His final victory was to destroy the remnants of the loyal guard of the Sacoridian royalty with the unholy powers that he had accumulated with his resurrection.

Their bodies were on display on the castle ramparts for months before the creature tired of them, and the reactions they garnered, and thus ordered them tossed into refuse pits. The Rider Corps had either been killed in the scourge following the final defeat or had scattered to neighboring nations they had been visiting. Laren Mapstone was one of the handfuls of Riders in the castle who met their end in an unexpected maelstrom of fire, for the improvised barracks were again a victim of flame.

The man who had once worn the crown with dignity and honor, was now kept as a sort of pet to the conqueror of Sacoridia. He was permanently chained to the dais with a few scraps of clothing that covered an emaciated and battered body, serving as a reminder to his once loyal retainers of the consequences that came from defying the creature’s will.

The almond shaped amber eyes were now dull and lifeless as he raised his gaze to the ceiling, unperturbed that there was a room of people who carefully avoided looking at the miserable being, lest he see the guilt and horror reflected in their pitying gazes. For truly, there was nothing anyone could do, unless they wished for their corpse to become the next plaything of the mad King.

The creature smiled, baring carefully filed teeth as he reached down to pat his pet’s head. “Perhaps dearest, we could visit the dungeons this afternoon, for it seems ages since we visited our friends.”

The man said nothing, only continued to stare at the faded murals that depicted the legendary Lil Ambroidhe upon her mount, her expression fierce and her sword raised high. A true warrior, so like his Kari, but Lil had ultimately met a more honorable end than his Rider.

He had learned that showing any vestiges of emotion would trigger the awareness of his captor and thus swallowed the dry lump that now lodged in his throat, hiding the sheen of tears as he ducked his head down . . . .


 

Karigan sat straight up in bed with an audible cry, throwing back the covers and raising her shaking hands to her mused hair. She gave a shudder and wiped at her face, bringing her knees to her chest as she fought to control her breathing. The summer night had been warm enough to leave the doors to the balcony open, permitting a soft summer breeze to enter with the faint light of the moon.

It had all seemed so real, down to the sight of her beloved’s face, and the charred ruins of her home.

A figure, still wrapped in the bedclothes, stirred and groaned with her erratic movements. She turned her head and regarded him quietly, her eyes traveling over his features as he slept peacefully on.

“Love, why are you awake?”

His cracked one eye open wearily, giving her a look tinged with confusion and affection. “Bad dream?”

Karigan gave a short chuckle and wiped at her nose, “The worst.”

Zachary Hillander, King of Sacoridia, sighed and shifted onto his back, reaching behind him to stuff his pillow more securely underneath his head. He squinted in the moonlight and took one of her hands in his. “Marriage to Timas Mirwell?”

Karigan cracked a small smile but shook her loose tresses, “No, I think I would have awoken angry rather than in tears.”

He yawned, “A nightmare of being married to Timas would make me cry.”

With a roll of her eyes, she unwound her limbs and lay down in the circle of his arms, her head against his chest as he pulled the covers back over them.

Immediately, her body relaxed. The steady thud of his heartbeat gave a sort of comfort as he idly traced circles on her shoulder. Several minutes passed by before he gently prodded again, “Nightmares are often the fears of our subconscious, perhaps I can help lay them to rest?”

She closed her eyes for a moment, then re-opened them to stare outside into the night, “He had won,” she said simply.

Zachary pressed his lips to her hair, “Who won?”

“Mornhavon. He had taken Sacoridia and . . .” she trailed off hesitantly.

“What else?”

She bit her lip, “I saw everything that had occurred prior to that point. I saw your marriage to Estora, the expedition to Blackveil, then the fall of the D’Yer Wall. It all had just gone terribly wrong . . .”

Zachary was wide awake at this point, his brow furrowed in slight derision. “Clearly I am not now married to the Lady Estora,” he said dryly.

Karigan blushed and hid her face.

He grinned, “You managed to come out of Blackveil in mostly one piece.”

She scoffed and her eyes flitted to the faint scars that were visible on the hand upon his chest.

He gathered her up tightly, smacked a noisy kiss on her nose, and relaxed back against the mattress. “AND we repaired the Wall-“

“After the battle,’ she grumbled.

Zachary continued on, “-with the defeat of Mornhavon. So really, your dreams have no foundation.”

Karigan raised her head to look at his darkly, “And Estora?”

“Is very happily installed as the Lady-Governor of Coutre with her consort, Master Coyle,” he replied pithily, placing another kiss upon her frowning mouth. She harrumphed and laid her head back down, trying mightily to forget the brief time that Estora had reined as Queen. Before Zachary had lain the evidence down in front of his council of the manipulated circumstances. Estora had been permitted to return to Coutre, but rarely visited the capital now.

It was only through her actions in the final battle, which led the nobles of the King’s council to grant her a noble title that would pass down to her heirs. A title that she had adamantly tried to refuse until a rather smug Zachary had very publicly proposed marriage to the Lady Karigan with her father’s begrudging assent.

Queen Karigan still answered the call when she heard the sound of galloping hooves, but her time was now equally divided between her roles as Rider, Queen, and wife.

Zachary yawned widely once more and asked tiredly, “Any other deep topics we want to cover before we return to our rest?”

Karigan’s eyes sparkled as she lifted herself up and poised her face just above his, “What do you think of Kariny for a name?”

His startled eyes flew open as he looked up incredulously into her joyful countenance. She squealed and giggled as he tugged her down to rain kisses over her flushed face.

Their laughter echoed in the stillness of the night, a promise of many good things to come in the future.


 

Outside, a young Weapon looked both ways down the hallway before allowing a small grin to escape.