Queen Eilinor of Reis-Bohnen quietly wiped a tear from her cheek before it could drop onto her needlework. She wasn’t making much progress on the piece. In all likelihood it would remain forever unfinished, but it gave her something to focus on, other than her worries about her nation, her people, and her family. And she was very worried. Armies from the Empire, led by Emperor Marus, were only days away from the city. Marus had proven to be an able commander and she had no doubt that the soldiers her husband led would not be able to stand against him for long. There was no longer any doubt in her mind that the city, and the kingdom, would fall before the Empire’s military might.
Her eyes started to cloud with another tear and she smothered a sob of fear. What would happen to her son? She knew her husband; he would give his life with his men in the field. He would die with the land they both loved so much, but her son, he was only a child. What would happen to her son at the hands of Emperor Marus? Would Marus make him a puppet Ruling Prince? Would he simply kill the boy so that no true leader of Reis-Bohnen could ever rise up against him? If she could purchase his survival with her own life, she would do so. He was the only child she had borne her husband who had survived this long.
She looked up from the needlework to give her eyes a chance to clear and saw the stranger standing in her bower and started to scream.
He raised his hand, as if to comfort her. “Please, please don’t be afraid of me. I’m not here to hurt you.” There was something pleadingly kind in his manner and she fell silent.
Several guardsmen rushed to her door. “Majesty? Are you well?” They glanced at the stranger and grew concerned.
“Yes,” she called out, “I am well.” They bowed to her and then left and she took a good look at the stranger. He was tall, with an ethereal air that made her think of trees and the dryads. His face was kind, and vaguely roguish. He smiled at her and she found that she smiled back. His hair was reddish gold, like autumn leaves, with a streak of white running through it.
He bowed to her. “To be completely honest, Majesty, I could not harm you even if I wished it. I am not truly here.” He passed his hand through a table to show her. She watched, fascinated, as his fingers moved through table and vase without disturbing anything. He paused, with his hand half in the table and half out, and wiggled his fingers in a small wave of greeting.
Her eyes widened slightly. “Are you a spirit?” Her voice was just this side of a whisper, an awestricken sound. A brief memory came to mind, Lord Gryphon in his bodiless state, and she wondered if History truly could repeat itself. She wondered what this stranger needed from her, that she could see him.
He smiled as if to a private jest. “No, Majesty, I am not a spirit, though I am very like one at the moment. I needed to see you, to speak to you and to your son.”
“Who are you?” Curiosity won out over fear.
“I am called Dramsol, Majesty. If you please, I do not have long. On the morrow a woman will arrive here, a Castellan knight and her companion. Put your son into her care, she comes here to guard him.”
“What of my guards? We are not without protection.” She protested from habit. Her soul, though, cried out in relief that there was a path for her son, a path of freedom where he would survive. She prayed that this woman, this Knight, would love her son as much as she did. He deserved the love and devotion that a parent could give.
“Majesty, Reis-Bohnen is doomed. Your guardsmen will not be able to protect you and your son. The woman will take him to Castellan and he will survive. If you wish to go with them then that is your choice. Your son is not like other boys. The lady Knight, she will understand him.”
She knew that her son was different, even from other boys who had been born of nobility, born to lead and to rule. He had been odd even from the moment of his birth in the way he would look at her with an expression that was so much older than his years. Still, she made the protestations that were expected. She needed reassurance. “Why should I trust you? Or her?”
Dramsol sighed. “Majesty, she is a Castellan dreamer. She wears Lady Grainne’s bracelet.” The Queen’s eyes widened in surprised understanding. There was only one Castellan dreamer who would wear that bracelet, and she had been told about the secret that Castellan hid, the secret her husband had agreed to keep as well. “As for me, I am a kinsman of hers, after a fashion. I helped her escape Pallantia.”
Slowly the Queen nodded. She had heard the stories of the young Imperial Princess, her oddness, her old-seeming expressions. Perhaps she would be just the woman to guard her son. Perhaps she would understand him in a way that even she, his own mother, was hard-pressed to manage. Just then a young boy entered the room. “Mother? Did you hear something?” He looked at Dramsol and his eyes widened. “Who are you?”
Dramsol knelt and looked at the boy, slim but sturdy, with wavy dark blond hair and a serious face. For a moment the resemblance was very strong and Dramsol had to restrain a laugh. Oh, his kinswoman was going to throw a fit when she finally understood who this Princeling was. “I’m a friend. We’ll meet again someday, but I had to see you with my own eyes.”
The Princeling cocked his head to the side curiously. “You sound strange.”
Dramsol grinned. “I know. That’s because I’m reaching into the past to be here tonight, and I’m not really here at all. Listen closely to those around you, it might be all the warning that you get. I need you to do me a favor, if you will.”
“What is it?” He sounded somewhere between curious and suspicious. All to the better, Dramsol thought. It wouldn’t be easy, but at least he would survive.
“Someone important to me will take you away from here. She will say that she is to guard you. I need you to guard her for me.” He wanted to ask the boy to keep an eye out for his Princess as well, but that would only confuse matters. Best to keep things simple for now. If all this worked there would be time enough for his Princess later.
The boy frowned in confusion. “How am I to do that?”
“You will know.” Dramsol sighed and let his head hang for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. “Something terrible is going to happen to her and you need to help keep her from doing anything supremely stupid in the process. She tends to do things big when she does them and I’d rather not have her charging headlong into any onrushing armies if we can help it. As much as she hates obligation, she is bound by it as well.”
“And I will be able to do this?” He sounded doubtful. Dramsol didn’t blame him for doubting. Sometimes he doubted promised matters himself, and he was the one who saw that they were promised.
Dramsol nodded. “Yes. She will need you very much. She will need for you to need her, if that makes any sense to you at all.”
The Princeling nodded. “Very well, I will do my best.”
Dramsol grinned at the boy. “I will warn you now, youngling, she has a tendency to be very annoying and know-it-all. She will be the most frustrating person you will ever meet, and I’m one of those who truly like and understand her.”
The boy frowned and tilted his head slightly to the side. “You like this person and you say that she is annoying?”
“She is very annoying, trust me. She thinks that she knows everything and the most annoying thing is that sometimes . . .” he lowered his voice conspiratorially, “she’s right.” He grinned at the boy’s laugh in response and then let his voice return to normal volume. “She means well, though, and she has survived when many others have not. She can teach you a great deal, if you let her.”
After a moment of consideration, the boy Prince nodded his acceptance.
Dramsol stood and looked at the Queen again. “It would probably be best, Majesty, if you found a way to get the relic of King Daneil, of four hundred years past, out of the city as well. I would rather not have it fall into unfriendly hands. But I don’t know that I would let anyone know that it got away, at least until it is safe, and then only in great need. The survival of all involved might depend on it being even more hidden than the Dreamer who comes for your son.”
She nodded. “I will make arrangements.”
“Thank you, Majesty.” Then Dramsol’s image wavered and disappeared, and he was gone.