Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing several parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or The Mapmaker.
Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, and here to read Part Three.
“I dreamed of you.”
The words cut me to the bones, harder than any chill. What kind of nightmare could that be? Could he have shared my dream? Relived the horrors of that day?
“Bran?” I said the boy’s name again. “Are you alright?”
The boy looked up at me, and the eerie blue of his eyes stared through my flesh and to my soul. He glanced back down at the flames and poked down at it with his foot. His brow furrowed as if he was trying to remember something. At length he spoke:
“Yes. I am Bran.”
I sat down across from him and gawked at the odd sight before me. The sea had rolled back, and left an empty swath of sand behind him.The moon’s light was bearing down ever brighter. It was then that I realized his nakedness, dripping wet hair, and I realized his shivering was becoming more and more violent.
“Bran, what have you been doing?” I asked tentatively.
He shrugged and shook his head. “I’ve been in the sea… trying to drown the voices….”
My mind could not wrap itself around this strange and otherworldly statement. What could he mean? Had he been trying to drown himself? He was freezing, that was obvious. “I’m going to get you a blanket, alright? Stay here.”
Bran nodded. I slowly stood up, and his eyes never ceased to follow me as I walked back to the tent. I could feel them going through my head, and into my nightmare. I noticed his clothes now as I walked back. His breeches first, not far from the fire, and then his shirt, closer to the entrance of our shelter. I didn’t need to ask to know he had taken them off running. His footprints, though windblown, made that clear enough. Picking up his clothes as I went, I ducked into to the darkness, and swiftly grabbed the blanket. Returning to the fireside, I quickly saw the tide of the sea rushing up towards us and our tents.
Not hesitating, I extended my arm and pulled Bran to his feet, and I yanked him back across the flames.
“Ahh! Paul!” His feet were dragged through the burning embers, and I smelt that horrible stench of burning flesh. His screams pierced through the night to a height no boy child should be able to achieve. I knew my ears would never be able to unhear it, such screams as I had heard at the Battle of Serenity. And to hear them coming from my cousin was worse than any nightmare.
The sea had splashed over the fire, extinguishing it. It knocked into the Twins’ tent, bowling it over in a salt filled tide. Spray hit my chest, and the water lapped at my feet. Bran immediately stuck his feet into the icy water, yelping like an injured animal. He buried his feet into the now wet sand as the water retreated away from our now dead campfire. I could hear spluttering and the rustling of material coming from the Twin’s fallen tent as the hapless pair began to awaken. I could hear the frightened bray of the mules at the edge of the dunes. I could hear Beaumont stir in the tent he shared with Smithers. But my only concern was for the young boy in front of me.
“Bran... I’m so sorry,” I threw the blanket over the boy as he danced upon the sands in some irregular pattern and held him close till he began to still. He pressed his head against my chest, crying, his shuddering almost constant. He could catch a fever soon, without warmth. We had to get out of the sea’s grasp and start a new fire.
“The sea! The sea came for us!” Derrick yelled from under the soggy burlap.
Beric tunneled out, shrieking and brandishing his knife. His face was frozen in absolute terror. He saw me holding my cousin, naked but for the blanket, which he held about himself as a cloak. His face twisted into what my face must have been but moments ago. Derrick’s head emerged from under the canvas; wriggling like a fish, he too escaped it.
Beaumont came out of his tent yawning, his sword laid casually over his shoulder. “What’s going on?” he asked sleepily. His sword slipped down his side, nicking his shoulder. He hissed sharply. “What on Ildathore?”
He always had been a horrible soldier, I thought.
“What is going on?” Beric asked. He stared at my cousin and me, his face quizzical, almost disgusted. He mopped his wet face with his hand. His brother had already begun pulling their belongings away from the water as the waves receded. The tide was going back out.
“Bran had a nightmare…” I began.
“Some nightmare,” Beaumont said sleepily as he inspected his wound, more interested in it than in myself and Bran. I was grateful for that. Beaumont turned his nose up at his cut. “Yup, that’s a scar for sure. Lovely.”
“Well whatever happened, put some clothes on your cousin and help us with our tent before the tide returns.” Beric shook his head. Turning, he leaned over and began rooting about with his brother, seeing what could be saved.
“And help me with Smitty while you’re at it,” Beaumont added. “He sleeps like a log and weighs about as much as one too. And with the tide how it is, our tent could go next. Wouldn’t want him to be waterlogged now would we?” He chuckled at his own joke, and plunging his sword into the sands, he began to take down his tent.
Bran was still huddled against me, his shivering had not slowed. The Twins and Beaumont were right though; we had to move our belongings before the sea came even closer in. I grabbed Bran’s shoulder’s and he looked upwards. His blue eyes were still fading, and the wind blew the blanket out behind him like some cloak of darkness as it rippled.
“I have to help the Twins and Beaumont,” I said, extended his clothes. “Put these on and see to the mules. When we’re finished and have a fire started again, then we can talk.”
Bran lowered his face again.
“Hey, are you alright?” I asked, shaking him a bit. He seemed so far away, I wondered if any of my words reached him. I must get him warm, and soon, I thought. If only the Boy in the Sun would rise. Or is it the Young Man in the Sun as the Tajmalani priesthood teaches? A boy child the Sun must be for certain, in order to wed the Pale Maiden every year. Either way, he would do us better than any fire, I knew.
Bran nodded stiffly, and took the clothes from my hands.
“Come on, Paul,” Derrick called as he and his brother attempted to pull their fallen shelter from the icy grip of the soaking sands. “Help us out!”
“Yeah, I’m coming,” I called out, my words echoing off the grains of the shore. I turned my attention back to my shivering cousin. “Be safe. Call me if you need me.”
When he nodded again, I moved past him, brushing against the blowing blanket. I skirted the now cold fire, and made to help the Twins in their endeavors. We pulled their tent away from the shore, and then moving quickly we grabbed up all their mail and clothes, along with their other possessions. We swiftly deposited small brass figures of the Lions of Night, some candles and a pair of spears farther inland and away from the oncoming tide.
Once their items were sufficiently protected, I moved to help Beaumont wake a still snoring Smithers. I looked back up the shore for Bran then. He was walking towards a dark round door, and nearby a pair of snickering shadows stamped and snorted. The blanket billowed as a cloak, and a long line of footprints trailed behind him in an uneven line. The moonlight from the Man in the Mirror Shield shone upon him in the dark, and I never knew a human being could seem so alone.
Bran rode the mules away from the camp and over the dunes at the sun’s first gleaming, and I wondered when or if he would return. I would have gone after him, but Beaumont’s waking of Smithers caused such a raucous that it woke the girls. It was a miracle that they hadn’t awoken before.
As they came out of their dugout and rubbed their eyes, the first sight they saw was we boys running back and forth, spreading canvas on the sand. The place of our bonfire was nowhere to be seen, lost beneath the waves.
Brianna groaned, disgusted by our bad luck. It seemed that she had entrusted two rusted spearheads and a buckle to Smithers for the polishing, which had been washed out to sea in the night. Suffice to say that Smithers received a duly deserved clout on the ear, and a pat on the back by means of apology for five of his cobbler nails been washed away as well. Emily merely laughed at our fortunes, and kissed Beaumont’s cut, wiping the boy’s long face into a beaming smile. What problems he once had quickly faded when the pretty girl sidled into his arms once more.
Laza however, was a different story. The sea had risen. Nagodoroth had been rumbling the night before. It portended something. She demanded an exact account of all the night’s occurrences. She had deduce the reason for the rising of the waves. She pontificated to us in great and sweeping gestures the modes of the gods, and the possible outcomes and reasonings behind the world. Was it judgement for a deed done? It would be ill to warrant the wrath of the sea. Was it for one of us? Or was it merely Nagodoroth’s war with the land, and his attempts to drown all green things beneath his waves, and gather all souls to his watery halls?
None could answer, for none knew the ways of Nagodoroth, and thus did not know if any offence had been given.
At last Beric broke the silence in a hushed voice. “Bran had dreamed a nightmare. He was awake with Paul when the waters came.”
“Where is Bran?” Laza’s head snapped up in alertness, eyes roving this way and that. “What has become of him? Is he gathering wood? Speak! You have tongues do you not?”
“He’s taking the mules for a ride through the dunes,” I answered, withering under Laza’s gaze. “He should be back soon.”
“M’lady,” Smithers interjected, bobbing his head towards Laza. Now that the gods were moving around us, Smithers had seen fit to refer to our priestess as her birth allowed. “We have yet to prepare a fire, or get a meal together. Like Paul said, Bran’ll be back soon. Please be patient with the boy, while we get your breakfast ready, and provide warmth to dry our things.”
“Do so,” came the curt reply. “Break into the bread. I’ll not have us remove anything from the sea this morn, and thus incite Nagodoroth’s anger.” Laza raised her hand in blessing. “Go, and to each serve his tasks.”
“To each his tasks, to each his gods,” we all intoned, and we bowed towards her. I turned my back to the doorway where she stood in her red stained robes, and my eyes roved up and down the sands for driftwood, with which to start a fire.
“Not you Paul,” I heard her voice cut the salt air. “Come with me. It would appear that we have matters to discuss. The rest of you, keep watch out for Bran. Send him to me the instant he returns hither.”
I turned, and saw her standing under the lintels of the short door, leaning against the beams. Following Smithers example I spoke to her as befit her rank. “As mi’lady commands,” I said softly, bowing. The others were looking at me as they nodded their compliance with Laza’s orders. I could feel their questions as their eyes bore into me, as hers did. I will not lie, their questions did not matter to me. For she held my gaze.
Her eyes roved over me for a moment, resting on my face, and then she turned with a sweep of her robes and entered into the dugout. Gathering a deep breath, I walked forward, past the well, and to the door of the darkness.
The smell of dead fish was overpowering. Death in general really. The place reeked of it. It took all of my power not to wretch. How could anyone sleep in this place? I wondered. As my foot moved over the threshold and into the old shelter, by boot came down on something soft. Brianna and Emily’s blankets, I thought. So that’s how they must have coped with this place. Sleep by the door so you can still get the air.
Peering into the darkness, I could see Laza’s bedding in the far back of the dugout, the furthest possible place from the door. Her form glided through the dark recesses of the dugout, and I could barely discern her motion to me. “The door Paul, close it.”
I blinked, not understanding.
“The door Paul. Lions of Night, you are slow. The door, close it,” she sighed in annoyance as she sat down on her bedding.
Slowly, I closed the door. The creak of those rusted hinges was like no sound I had ever heard, and they filled me with dread. What does she want of me? I wondered.
When the door was closed and the darkness was all about me in a way that made my head spin, I heard a snapping, crackling sound. Light filled the room again. But it was not from the doorway. Flames coated Laza’s palm, the way slime covers a sea creature’s scales. It played over and over her fingers, as she raised her hand to look at it.
As the room around us was illumined, I saw the Twin’s catch laying on the ground next to her resting place. It’s stomach was exhumed, and a slab of its flesh removed so that one could see it’s innards. Circles, triangles, and strange symbols and shapes that my mind could not comprehend were worked into the dirt around the dead fish, and into its flesh as well. This was the way of the gods and those who read their words. As the fire from her beautifully perfect hand made the shadows along the wall move as men do, the holiness of the moment overwhelmed me.
I fell to my knees and prostrated myself before her. “Laza… Priestess, I am your humble servant. Tell me what you’d have of me, and I will follow whatever you command.”
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, ignoring me as her eyes followed the dancing of the fire. “This is what the Boy in the Sun gives to humanity, to guard his bride from the Lions of Night.” Her face hardened, and she closed her fist. The flame went out, and darkness covered the room again. As the light disappeared, the last thing I saw was her fist opening widely as her eyes stared at it. “It’s a pity beauty is a lie. The ‘gift’ that the Sun gave to humanity burns us, kills us, and all things around us. It’s heat and warmth has killed many men and beasts. But the Night has never hurt anyone. The Lions that prowl in the darkness are our protectors, not our destroyers. They simply take those from the flock whom whilst keeping the others safe from those threats who’s power is too great for us to imagine.”
“Yes m’lady,” I said, bowing lower. She was speaking of the gods here, a matter in which I saw nothing, but where she could provide light.
“Don’t pretend to say ‘yes’ as though you understand what I say, Paul Farms,” her tone was direct and biting, yet somehow it was sad too. “The Lions of Night are the gods. Those they take from their flocks are their priests and priestesses, their chosen harlots and sorcerers, their oracles and their augers. These they take, and these they consume, so that the rest of humanity may lie down in pastures of the shadow and be undisturbed from… other beings. Demons, gods, call them what you will. There are more things out there in the darkness of the world that even we, the emissaries of the gods to humanity do not see. The gods see all but… we here on earth, even whom they have chosen, know nothing of all that they perceive. We can only serve as the gods have allowed each.”
“M’lady,” I began. Every word she said confused me more. With each sentence her voice had grown more sad, weaker even. I could not comprehend the matters of the gods if I tried, why should she try to speak of them to me? “If there is something I could do to help you see what the gods would have of us…”
“Paul,” she breathed. The exasperation in her voice was evident. “What I’m saying is, there are things at work here. I cannot tell you everything of what is happening.” Her hand on my shoulder made me flinch. It was the hand the fire had been on. Even through my tunic I could feel its heat. What is she saying? She’s the priestess, is she saying she’s as blind as we are?
Her breath became uneasy, almost a pant. She swallowed and continued. “We are mortals, and we cannot see everything. But I think your cousin saw something too. I think it’s no accident that the sea came against us on the night that Bran Nong Chang dreamed a nightmare. And I think you dreamed something too…”
The door opened. The sun’s light flooded in. Flinching, I turned my head to see Bran in the doorway. “Laza,” he said boldly. “Your hand is burnt.”
I rose from my prostration as Laza’s hand fell from my shoulder. She pushed her hand into the folds of robe quickly, but I could see in the light what I could not see in the darkness. The perfect white skin of Laza’s right hand was a bright crimson, raw to the point of bloody. I could feel my eyes widen as Laza shifted uncomfortably.
“Bran,” she said quietly, seemingly suddenly smaller and younger. “Close the door.”
“It would seem you enjoyed the fish,” Bran didn’t acknowledge her request, but nodded toward the dead creature lying beside her. I shuddered, the sea smell in the room becoming more pungent as a breeze blew in the door.”
“Bran,” Laza repeated. “Close the door.”
“You wish to hear my dream,” Bran asked softly.
Laza leaned forward, and with an expression both of fear and excitement intoned, “More than anything this world can offer.”
“The fish’s stomach can only tell you so much,” Bran said. He said it as if he knew. “Promise me light, and I’ll tell you of my dreams.”
Laza’s eyes were fixed on Bran, but she waved aside, “Paul, you will find an oil lamp in a recess against the wall. Light it.”
“Yes m’lady,” I said. I scrambled to my feet to do her bidding. I retrieved the lamp, but there was nothing to light it with. “M’lady,” I whispered turning around. “There’s naught to light it with.”
“Bring it here Paul, and close the door. Once you close the door, stand by it. Ensure no one enters,” Laza reached out from the lamp which I gave to her. Bran had moved across the room so silently I hadn’t noticed his advancement. Now he was sitting cross legged across from Laza, his blanket cloak wrapped around his middle like a skirt. The two stared at each other, studying one another’s eyes. Bran’s face was a calm sea, resolute and deeper than any man I had known. Laza’s face was a picture of a cornered lion, roving back and forward, looking for a place to strike, twitching out of the feeling it was meeting with a being outside of its control.
I closed the green door. Darkness covered us all, and I felt the black about me. I heard the rustling of fabric, and brightness emanated from Laza in a swirl, and the lamp’s light’s soft glow pushed back some of the atramentous air around the pair.
“Now, Bran,” Laza’s eyes glowed like a tiger’s. “There is a dream you would relate to me, that we might divine a glimpse of the doings of the gods.”
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room
Welcome to The Flabbit Blog! Here you will find writings by the many members of The Flabbit Room, most of which will be set in the world of Ildathore.