*This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge*
A small detour in the trail was leading him west when he saw something move in a shadow ahead. He shushed the horses and drew his sword from its sheath. He narrowed his eyes and silently invoked his foresight.
The dark of night shimmered, like water rippling with a light breeze, as he felt the gift take hold of his eyes. His body reacted with calm readiness. Where dark once settled and shadows loomed, the earth now looked as if day to him. Through what would have been dark shadows between broken wheat stalks, he caught a glimpse of brown fabric, then flowing gray, darting quickly but unsteady.
Breathing a great sigh of relief, he sheathed his sword and yelled her name. The ripples slowly ceased as light faded to night and shadow once again took its place.
“Edward?” Her voice was full of fear.
“Stay where you are, sister.”
Keeping his gift steady, he made his way to her. He used his sword to shear the stalks as he walked. As he drew closer, he could see her dress was torn, but she seemed otherwise intact. He reached her, arms out as she fell into him, collapsing from the pressure still pounding in her head.
She slept, slumped over but sitting in front of him on Regal, Whicker tagging behind, for the rest of the journey home. He kept the horses at a gallop far longer than he would have liked but he couldn’t risk another ambush. ReAnne still had not been able to tell him what had happened and where she had been, nor how she got back into the field. Though focused on his task, his heart churned with dread of relaying their journey home to find what the consequences of his failure to protect her might mean.
Dawn finally broke through the still hovering clouds as they approached Mirias. The horses were weary and so was Edward, but as they approached the western gate, he grew increasingly aware of the Blessing. It calmed the anxiousness and dread within, leaving a much needed peace.
Not everyone within the kingdom boundaries could feel it as readily as Edward. The Spirit of Blessings flowed through all who enter their borders at varying levels, dependent upon age, gifting, and depth of fealty to the Great King. Since Edward not only wielded Foresight in Shadow but was also next in line to the thrown, he felt it with great intensity.
ReAnne began to stir.
“Are you awake, sister?”
“Edward…shouldn’t I…feel better here?”
“Hmmm…” was all Edward said. He made a mental note to speak with the Lady Kaelah about what sort of strong potion would withstand the Blessing. It certainly would not cure her, but it should have lessened its effects.
As they reached the inner gates that would open to them through small levers and pulls operated on the other side by the gatekeeper, he motioned to a noble standing ready to greet them.
“Take Whicker to the stable hand. I must ride up to Dritan with the Lady ReAnne. Quickly!”
The nobleman nodded, readily taking Whicker’s reins, though the job was beneath him. The horse whinnied, stomping its front hoof and nodding its head as if he understood.
A loud voice called out to the horse from Edward’s left. “My friend!”
The sound of horse hooves galloping followed. It was Benjamin with Dennis close behind, Edward’s younger brothers.
“My friend, why is there nervousness within you?” Hopping off his own horse in one motion, Benjamin spoke to Whicker as if he would speak back, not yet noticing nor acknowledging his siblings.
“Benjamin! I need you to take care of Whicker. ReAnne…”
It was then that Benjamin turned his attention from the horse to see his sister, dress torn and muddied, cradled in the saddle with Edward. She had slumped over in his arms, her face pale and her breathing labored.
“I can see. Go! I will follow you shortly.”
“Peace to you, brother,” Dennis hurried him in the familiar words of parting as he leaned over to pat Regal’s neck. “We will be only a moment behind you.”
Regal carried them swiftly to the hilltop where Dritan Citadel overlooked the kingdom. Edward dismounted, carefully cradling ReAnne in his arms and rushed through the doors to the great welcoming hall.
“My King!” The slam of the heavy double doors leading to the main hall and Edward’s shout echoed off the marble walls and floors. Startled, the whole room of Elders, peasants and nobility alike turned towards him. He stood there, not able to form anymore words.
The crowd of peoples parted as the Great King strode towards Edward. Taking ReAnne’s head in his hands, he felt of her forehead and assessed her bloodshot eyes.
“You must take her to Lady Kaelah, Edward. Now. You can tell me about it after she has been seen to.”
Edward ran out of the great hall, still cradling ReAnne in his arms, and down a small corridor on his right. White marble walls with oversized paintings depicting the history of Mirias and the Great Confrontation framed in ornate gold and busts of past kings on columns gave way to dark wood walls with more pictures, carved into the wood wall itself, worn by many years of hands rubbing them. As he neared her chambers, words of blessings for protection and prayers from the Order were also carved.
ReAnne lay still limp in his arms by the time he reached Lady Kaelah’s door. It was marked with scroll works in each corner, the strongest of blessings and curses for friends or enemies, and a wooden latch carved with the likeness of a great oak tree.
He grabbed the carving of the tree and it gave readily under the pressure. Lady Kaelah gasped at the intrusion, for no one was permitted to enter her chambers without invitation or permission.
“Lady Kaelah, I beg of you to forgive me. My sister…” Edward spoke as he carefully laid ReAnne onto the four poster bed centered in the room.
“What happened?” Lady Kaelah went straight to her, not looking in his direction. Her eyes were fixated on ReAnne and already, she was turning her head, feeling for fever, and lifting her eyelids. She held up ReAnne’s hand, examining her fingertips and palm.
With ReAnne finally out of his arms, he realized how tiring it had been to carry her through the citadel and down the long hallway to Lady Kaelah’s chambers. He slumped into a chair next to the bed and glanced around the brightly lit room. Only then did he notice that her gown was still draped over her dressing curtain. Blood rushed into his cheeks when he realized Lady Kaelah was only dressed in her undergarments.
“Is it not yet time to break fast?” He muttered to himself, confused.
“Edward!” Lady Kaelah wrapped a dressing robe around her and tied it taut at her waist.
“Um, yes…sorry…” Edward kept his head low, but his voice clear, so as to limit the time he’d have to repeat himself. “We were on the journey home when we were attacked in the fields. I saw two shadows grab her before I passed out from a rather untimely kick from Regal’s hoof. When I came to, I found her wandering in the field, stumbling and disoriented.”
Kaelah eyed him with one eyebrow raised. He knew the question she was asking. “They were human, I’m sure.”
She nodded. “But they let her go?” Lady Kaelah did not have to ask Edward how he came to find his sister late at night in the fields. She was already painfully aware of his gifting. He sat still as she searched his eyes. For what, he didn’t know. Maybe a sign that he was still the same person who brought her flowers when they first began to bloom in the spring. Or maybe a hint of the boy who ran carefree through the marketplace and raced horses through neighboring fields with her. Perhaps, she searched for the gift within him that kept them forever apart.
“I am unsure of how she escaped. It was only by the Provider that she made her way in my direction.” Whatever she was doing, Edward matched her stare as he answered.
She broke eye contact first, walking over to the heavy gold curtains and sweeping them shut. Instantly, the room was black but Edward forced himself to see what he already knew was lurking in the shadows.
In the ceiling corner of her chambers it sat, hunched over, perched on the wall, with leathery, brown wings wrapped around its crouching body. The tail, long and spiked at the end, swung back and forth underneath it, as a clock pendulum. As so many times before, Edward was drawn to the risk of making eye contact with it. Orange eyes with black pupils in tiny slits through the center stared back at him, unafraid, and unconcerned at his presence. Almost taunting him, begging him to make the first move. It did not make any sense to Edward why the Great King allowed its presence within Mirias. With one word he could overcome it and all the others like it. Yet when Edward asked the Great King, he had refused to do so.
“Edward, there is much to do. Please leave my chambers.” Lady Kaelah broke through his thoughts.
“But it’s here…”
“You think I do not know when it’s here? I can feel it, Edward. I need you to go.”
“I can’t leave you here with it –“
“You will leave your sister here, now. Or she will die.”