She heard the scream of terror and looked up in time to see the winged beast descending upon her. “Run!” she shouted to the two women.
One of them turned as if to fight back. “No! I’m not leaving you!”
“Lenne! Run! I told you what to do!” She crumpled to the ground as a blow threw her against a rock wall in the brown wasteland.
Rina screamed again in sheer terror as the beast turned to advance on the two women.
She struggled to her feet, determined to defend them to her last breath. “Leave them alone, you sonovabitch!!!” She launched a globe of blue-white power at the beast, causing him to turn his attention back to her. “Melanie! Run! I told you what to do, now do it!”
She could hear the low rumble of an engine approaching even as she fought for her life. He was coming for her, she knew it. She saw the machine approaching, saw the figure riding atop his mechanical mount and knew that no matter what happened, they would find each other again.
The beast struck and there was a flash of light.
The Knight came thundering across the drawbridge of the castle on his horse, his armor glinting in the sunlight. She stood on a parapet above him, and grinned at his arrival, her heart soaring. “Let me out of here! See, my Knight is here! Nothing can keep him away from me!”
From an archway below her another Knight emerged, sword in hand. “I’m afraid I cannot allow that, your Highness.” His armor was dark, absorbing the light, swallowing it in shadow.
The bright Knight dismounted from his horse, holding out an empty hand. “Please, my brother, we don’t have to fight. She has placed her choice upon me. What you are doing is wrong!”
“It does not matter,” the dark Knight said, bringing his sword up threateningly. “She is precious beyond value. You, my brother, my twin, are lower than swine and I will not see her sullied by the likes of you!” He swung his sword and the bright one drew his sword and blocked the blow.
Above them she sighed in exasperation. “Oh, will you come to your senses?” she shouted above the clamor of their duel. “This isn’t even about me. I’m just an excuse, Gabriel! I am sick and tired of being an excuse for you to take out your frustrations on your brother!” But they did not stop. There were no stairs for her to climb down, so she stepped to the ledge and jumped.
She landed on the dirt below, her knees bending until her hands touched down beside her. After a moment she stood and ran over to where the two knights still dueled, one to wed her and the other to keep her from being wed. She rushed up to them as the dark twin thrust his sword towards his brother, and she put herself between them, taking the blow in her side.
Instantly the courtyard was silent. The dark twin dropped his sword in horror. He shook his head, as if by sheer will he could undo his act. The bright twin tore off his helmet and threw it down, along with his sword, and reached out to catch her in his arms as she wavered and fell, one hand trying to stem the blood that had started to soak through her gown. “My Lady, my Princess.” His voice was broken and she looked up into his face, the bright blond hair, the neatly trimmed beard, and the scar across his forehead. She reached up to run her fingertips across the scar. He took hold of the hand and softly kissed her fingers. She smiled.
The dark twin, Gabriel, removed his helmet and let it fall with a dull thud. He fell to his knees beside them, overcome with remorse and shame. “No, I never wished to harm you.”
“See what happens, Gabriel, when you hate? When you hate your own brother?” she said. “Other people get hurt, too.” She smiled at both twins, who looked so much alike that the only difference was the scar on her beloved. “I’ll be all right. I can still Heal.” She concentrated and there was a flash of light.
— — —
In a sheltered nook beneath a tree’s roots in a paradisaical garden enwombed in a cavern, a golden-eyed girl with gold-blonde hair streaked by white woke with a sudden gasp from a deep sleep. For a moment all she did was lay still, her chest heaving with deep breaths as if she had suddenly woken from death. Then she rolled over with a sob of grief. She had dreamed of him again and woken to find herself alone.
Every night. Every night she dreamed of him. Sometimes a Knight, sometimes a Pirate, sometimes a Prince, the role he played changed from dream to dream. He was always a twin, though, with a brother named Gabriel who was always fighting with him and she always got hurt trying to stop him. There were days she wished that she could just give up dreaming altogether. It hurt so much to wake alone again. But every night, when she dreamed, he was with her. And that was something at least.
At least it wasn’t madness. That was the constant fear that haunted her every thought. The specter of madness and how much damage she could do if she surrendered to it. She was sure that she’d lost the battle more than once, but she couldn’t be certain. She’d been in this cavern so long that she wasn’t sure anymore which memories were real and which had been dream-fragments. She was terrified of going mad, not that she was much of a threat anymore.
Not only could she not Heal, she couldn’t Teleport, or Create, or Duplicate, or Hear, communicate Telempathically, summon SoulFire, Music Box, or anything. The powers and gifts that had cost her her own Name to gain were sealed away from her and she was trapped in this prison of a cavern with no way out.
Well, she had one way out, but that was not a positive solution.
She sat up with a sigh and wiped the tears from her face, leaving smudges behind. Lying here crying her eyes out wasn’t going to change anything. Might as well start her day. She started to crawl out of her den and caught her knees on the hem of the shirt she wore. She was struck again by how short she had grown. The shirt was way too big for her, but it was the only part of her clothing that she could still wear and even all alone she wasn’t running around nude. Child’s unformed body or not. She extricated the shirt from below her knees and slowly managed to half-crawl, half- slide herself out of her den.
Once in the open she stood and brushed off as much of the dirt as she could. Then she stretched and yawned and then started walking towards a calm pool rubbing her eyes, humming a tune to herself. It was a song she’d heard, oh, lifetimes ago, when she’d been a child for real, with only possibilities before her. At least it was upbeat and she could dance a bit to the music in her head. She reached the pool and paused to kneel beside it for a moment. She looked at her reflection with a sigh. A child’s face with too-large eyes looked back at her. She touched the streaks and smudges on her cheeks. Yes, it was truly her face. She must be somewhere between six and five. Too much more of this and she’d be too small to take care of herself. She had to find a way out of this paradise of a prison soon or the whole issue would be moot, and no one would ever know what happened to her.
She could still remember the attack that had left her locked in this too-pretty cavern, remember the screams of fear, and her shout of command that sent the two women she called family running for safety elsewhere. She remembered the low thrum of an engine in those last moments, the voice shouting a name she hadn’t heard in forever… and then she was blasted into this place. Even in her dreams she could remember the attack and the hope that the rider would reach her in time.
The tears started up again as she pulled the shirt off and dropped it beside her before slipping into the pool. She let herself sink into the water, burying herself below the surface before she had to come up for air as she sobs broke loose of her.
Why? That was all she wanted to know. Why is this happening to me? Why am I being made to suffer? What purpose is there in this? There was no answer. But then, she never directed prayers to the one who might actually have answers.
After a while she scrubbed her face clean and then floated a bit before crawling out of the pond to air dry before putting back on the shirt and starting her search for breakfast.
— — —
Grainne, Empress of the Northlands, woke slowly to the morning light filtering into her sheltered bower in the Imperial Palace of Pallantia. She blinked and smiled at the dream she had woken from. Such an odd dream, too – a child hidden in a treasure chest, a daughter when she had borne her Emperor-husband only sons and one of those a surprise and the joy of their silver years.
She was still absently smiling to herself when her sons entered to greet her over breakfast as was their custom. The youngest, little Illian, ran up to her joyfully to climb into her lap and help himself to a jam-covered biscuit. He was barely five years of age and such a delight, at once boyish and manly. He had also only recently left the bower to a chamber of his own near his brothers. Close behind Illian, and smiling at the younger’s antics, was nineteen-year-old Marus. He paused to place a kiss on his mother’s cheek before accepting a biscuit of his own from Illian, ever helpful and generous.
The eldest, twenty-one-year-old Jules, leaned against the doorframe, watching all of them. “Good morning, Mother,” he said, bowing slightly, “you seem happy today.”
She started when she realized that she still wore the smile. “I had… a most unusual dream.” She looked at her sons and felt a swell of pride. They were all so handsome, so similar with their dark hair and noble features, and yet so different from each other.
“Dream, Mother?” Illian asked, looking up at her. “What did you dream?”
She hugged her son close. “I dreamed that I found a door hidden in the earth. The door opened to a tunnel that led to a paradise. And in that paradise there was a treasure chest that shook and cried. In the dream I opened the chest and found a little girl inside and I knew that she was a daughter for me.” She paused, remembering the sorrow in the child’s voice when she looked at her with tears in her eyes, calling her Mother and reaching up to be held. “She had golden eyes.”
Illian bounced in her lap. “A sister? You dreamed me a sister? Where is she?” He looked around, as if to spot her hiding in a corner.
Jules smiled, but it was slightly mocking. “It was just a dream, Little Brother. Dreams do not come true.”
Marus, though, shook his head. “But Mother is from Castellan, and the dreams of Castellan’s royal daughters… are sometimes more than mere dreams. Mother,” he put a hand on her shoulder, gently, “do you want a daughter?”
Grainne smiled at her sons, the delight of her life. “I am proud of my sons and would not give them up for anything, but… ” she paused, “but yes, I wish I had a daughter to teach them more gentleness, to be their heart, and to be protected by their strength. And… I wish I had a daughter for me, to share all it means to be a woman.”
Marus smiled. A thought occurred to him that it would be interesting to test this dream, to test the unquestioned belief that even he shared in the power of the dreams of Castellan’s royal daughters. “Then let us search for this doorway. If we find it, and find a girl-child all alone, then she can be a daughter to you, and a sister to us. If not, then we have not truly lost anything in searching. An afternoon with our mother? What loss is there in that?”
Jules lifted a single eyebrow in doubt. “What about Father? Does he not have a say?”
Illian stretched out his arms. “I’ll ask Father. He’ll give me anything and I want a sister! Let’s find her quick!”
Laughter filled the bower, and even Jules smiled.