Aeneas sat alone in his chambers. He tried to pour himself a goblet of wine, but his hands were trembling and he dropped the pitcher. It tumbled back to the table, then rolled off onto the floor spilling red liquid all over the carpet. He stared down at the mess and cursed himself silently.
He reached up and held a shaking hand to his throat. He could still feel Orion's hands around his neck; they were tightening, cutting off all air, and though he struggled against them they were as strong as iron. Whenever he closed his eyes, he found himself looking up into Orion's terrifying, beast-like gaze.
Why had Orion not killed him? There was no way Aeneas could have escaped. He had been completely at Orion's mercy, and Orion could have snapped his neck as easily as a dry twig. But he had not done so.
Aeneas held his hands tightly together and breathed deeply, trying to slow his racing heart.
Why Orion had spared his life he did not know, but of one thing he was certain: he would never set foot in the dungeon again.
* * *
Provenna sat upon her crystal throne and looked down upon Zenas. The old man stood before her, his head bowed. He held tightly to his staff, and his shoulders were bent as though beneath a heavy load.
"Well?" demanded Provenna coldly. "My servants tell me you’ve learned that which I desire to know."
Zenas took a deep, trembling breath and whispered plaintively, "Do I have t' tell ye?"
"I’m the ruler of Lairannare," Provenna answered imperiously. "That alone is reason enough to tell me what I wish to know. You, however, must also take into account the fact that, were it not for me, you would have died at the hand of Kozan."
Zenas raised his head and looked at her. His wrinkled features were twisted in a look of anguish, and his voice rose. "Ye never saw! Ye never felt! Ye never gave up th' most innocent, goodly lass in all o’ Deithanara t’ an evil fate. Ye never had her look up at ye with anger and terror...." He could not finish. His legs would not uphold him, and he sank to the floor, his shoulders shaking with sobs.
He took another ragged breath and with a trembling voice continued in despair, "Ye never had t' look up into Orion's eyes when he learned tha’ she’d been taken from him. Now ye want me t' betray him again. How can I?" He clutched his head with his trembling hands and with a groaning voice continued, "He has nothin' left, ‘cept tha' which ye want t' take from him. Please, don't make me tell ye."
Provenna was silent for a long moment, as she looked down in contempt upon him.
When she spoke her words were like ice, piercing him through the heart. "You owe me a great debt. If you refuse to pay me, then I’ll have to do what I kept Kozan from doing those many years ago."
For a long moment Zenas, still with head bowed and shoulders bent, sat unmoving upon the floor. Finally, he whispered so softly Provenna could scarcely hear him, "Very well."
He took a deep breath then continued in a somewhat louder voice, "'Tis th' power o’ Lyght which flows through Orion an’ which must be overcome if y’are t' use magic upon him. So, t' touch Orion with magic ye must find someone with strength a' least equal t’ that o' Lyght. Th’ Powers, as ye know, are no’ as strong as th’ original rulers o’ th’ separate Realms. So, as far as I know, th' only ones capable o' usin' power upon him are Lyght himself, Nyght–the queen o' th' Heavens–and..." His voice wavered.
"And...?" Queen Provenna asked.
"And perhaps if ye found a Shallean; their power, like themselves, is outside th' Three Realms. But I don't know tha' f’r certain.
"Now, please," he begged, "le’ me leave. Le’ me go home."
"What?" Provenna cried as she rose to her feet. Zenas started at her sudden outburst.
"Do you actually think that pitiful bit of information is worth enough to set you free?" she demanded. "I told you to tell me how I could use magic on Orion, not how Lyght or Nyght or a High Elf could!"
"But I don't know..."
"Then learn, you fool!" Provenna screamed. "Because you’re not leaving this city or this palace until you tell me how!"
"But, Y’r Majest..."
"No," Zenas moaned pitifully. "No."
"Guards!" Provenna cried. The doors to the throne room were flung open and two guards ran in.
The chief of the two saluted. "Yes, Your Majesty?"
Provenna looked down at Zenas. "Take this pig back to his chambers, and make certain he cannot leave."
"Yes, Your Majesty," said the guard as he began to walk toward Zenas. The old man could only sit there, too overcome by anguish to say or do anything.
* * *
Abiel glared at his magicians. The sun shone brightly overhead, and the wind rushed freely over the plateaus, but he cared nothing for that.
"Do you mean to tell me you simply watched him as he struggled across the river, reached the other side, then turned around, and struggled back to the middle of the river so that he could help Gideone…and you shot not one arrow at him?" he demanded. "Idiots! What did you think you were doing?"
The magicians did not answer. They knew it would do little good to point out they had shot arrows at Gideone's companion.
"Are you not warriors?" Abiel continued. "Don’t you know if Gideone came this far he came this far for a reason? Gideone may now be dead, but that doesn’t mean his servant won’t continue their mission–whatever it is. Now go! Find him. And kill him!"
The magicians bowed silently then mounted their horses and rode away across the wide, open plateaus.
* * *
The banquet hall of Kozan's palace was filled with the smells and sounds and revelries of yet another feast. It seemed that all the people of Nolhol did was feast the closer the Day of Chanar drew. Mystia feared the feasts with all her heart, and her fear grew only greater with each passing one, for she was terrified of Kozan and of his looks and his touches. She longed for Orion to rush through the door of the banquet hall, kill Kozan, and carry her away from that dreadful place. But he was held captive far away. Perhaps he was dead; she knew not. Tears sprang to her eyes at the thought of him.
"Wench!" She started as a voice broke into her thoughts, and she turned to look upon Rolfaren.
"More wine," he ordered, not looking up at her.
As she looked down at him anger and contempt filled her. Kozan may have been someone to fear, but Rolfaren was nothing more than a powerless worm who thought himself a mighty king because Kozan enjoyed his company.
When she did not immediately pour, Rolfaren looked up at her, indignation in his eyes.
"I told you to pour my wine," he said, his voice dark and menacing.
She held the pitcher tightly to her breast, and looked down with flashing, defiant black eyes at him. She could feel Kozan's gaze upon her back.
"Wench!" Rolfaren roared. "Pour my wine!"
With one swift movement, Mystia reached out and tipped over the pitcher, sending the ruby liquid pouring down over Rolfaren's head. The king snarled in rage as he jumped to his feet and pulled back his hand to strike her, but, before he could, Kozan grabbed her and pulled her back. With a sharp cry of surprise, she fell onto his lap, and there he held her.
"Leave her alone," Kozan growled.
"How dare she!" Rolfaren cried, his face red with fury. "How can you simply let her...!" He was so angry his words got choked in his mouth. "Who does she think she is?" Then he screamed at Mystia, "Who are you?"
Kozan held her tighter. Mystia sat with her head bowed, her eyes shut, and her body tensed as she tried not to hear Rolfaren's screams or feel Kozan's touch.
"Who are you?" Kozan repeated Rolfaren's words in Mystia's ear. He laughed again, the bitterness in his voice unmistakable. He pushed her off of him, and she jumped away, but she did not run for fear of rousing his anger. She stood, wide-eyed, looking down at him, silently cursing herself for her foolish actions.
Kozan spoke in a low, commanding tone, a dark, bitter look in his eyes.
"Stand there in the middle of the hall," he said as he motioned with his hand.
Mystia turned her eyes to the place he motioned to, then hesitated. She suddenly realized that the hall had grown silent, and as she looked around she saw the eyes of all the guests turned toward her.
"I said stand there!" Kozan cried when she did not move.
She started and quickly ran around the long table at which Kozan feasted. The soft tapping of her feet against the floor was the only sound that could be heard. She took her place in the center of the banquet hall and looked at Kozan. Her breast rose and fell with quick, frightened breaths.
"Rolfaren wishes to know," the dark king said softly, "so tell him: who are you?"
"I..." Mystia began, but faltered as she looked into Kozan's cold brown eyes.
"Well?" demanded Kozan.
"My name is Mystia," she said softly as her gaze dropped to the floor; she had not the strength to look at the dark king further. She felt sick and weak.
"And what was your country and what was your rank?" Kozan's voice was still soft, but it carried throughout the whole of the hall.
Mystia squeezed her eyes shut and struggled against the nausea taking hold of her.
"I was the princess of Nor," she whispered. There was not another sound in the room so her answer could be heard by all.
"Now what are you?"
She was so weak that her legs would no longer hold her, and she sank slowly to the floor.
"What are you?" Kozan demanded.
"Your captive," she answered before he finished speaking.
"My slave," he corrected.
"And what is to become of you?"
"I am..." she began with a quivering voice, but her words were choked off with a sob, "...to be sac..." The word caught in her throat. The mere thought of being sacrificed upon Balor's bloody altar made her sick beyond measure. How could she bring herself to say the word aloud?
"You are to be sacrificed to Balor," Kozan said, when she did not continue. Mystia burst into tears.
"Get up, woman," Kozan said in disgust, but the princess had not the strength to do so. She sat in the middle of the banquet hall in the sight of all and sobbed like a terrified child.
* * *
Orion sat chained to the wall of the dungeon. His whole body was shivering with a coldness that seemed to pierce to his very heart. He did not cry out. He did not weep. He did not beg for Mystia. He strained against his bonds, but the fury which had taken him before did not return. Fighting only made his wounds burn more. He wanted to stop and lie still, but there was something within him that would not allow freedom to escape him. So he struggled as one who had to escape and yet who knew escape was hopeless.
He looked up as the door to his cell was thrown open. He closed his eyes and groaned in pain as the dark room was suddenly filled with torch-light.
"Leave us," he heard his mother order. He heard somebody walk from the cell and the sound of the door as it boomed shut.
Blinking against the light, he managed to open his eyes and look up at his mother. He knew not what to feel or say or do so he simply sat and looked at her, waiting for her to speak.
For a long moment she stood and gazed coldly down upon him.
"Look at you," she suddenly spat, her lip curled in scorn. "Here you lie beaten, broken, hopeless, doomed to die a slow, painful death unless you turn. Escape is hopeless; you know that now. You’ll lie chained here in the darkness until death takes you."
"You lie," Orion whispered as he pulled at his chains.
"I do not lie!" Provenna shouted as she struck him across the face. "And you know it!"
He looked away.
She grew more calm. "Orion, listen to me. I don’t want you as an enemy. I don’t want you to be treated as you are now treated." She looked deep into his eyes. "I want you to return to me. I want to be your mother, and I want you to be my son. I want you to be a great man and a happy man and a man at peace."
Orion laughed bitterly.
"Orion," she said as she knelt down before him, "I speak the truth. How could I who am your mother want anything other than your peace and happiness?"
Orion did not have the strength to reply. He shuddered as the pain gripping his body suddenly grew stronger. He felt as though he were being pierced by a hundred daggers.
For a long moment Provenna remained silent as she waited for him to answer. When she saw he would not, she spoke again. "Orion, have you nothing to say?"
He took a deep breath. Even that motion filled him with pain. He opened his mouth and with a voice so soft and hoarse Provenna could barely understand him said, "I swore to serve Mystia."
Provenna clenched her fists and fought to keep her voice low and even as she said, "What has Mystia ever brought you?"
Orion said nothing. The pain that filled him was unbearable.
"You see," Provenna said coldly, "you cannot answer because she has brought you nothing. Before you met her you were a free man–a prince–but now you’re nothing more than her slave. Before you swore yourself to her you could have taken her as your wife, but slaves don’t subject their mistresses. Before her, you were free to follow your own path, but now you, a prince and a warrior and man, must follow the path of a seventeen-year-old girl who has spent her few years cloistered from the world and knows nothing about life and truth and responsibility or how to meet the needs of other people."
"But..." he began. He searched for something to contradict her, but he could find nothing so he simply said again, "I swore to serve her."
"Fool!" Provenna cried as she stood up. "Look at what following her has brought you! You could have been the greatest man in all of Lairannare. Now what do you have? Pain, suffering, nothing."
Orion's shoulders shook with a sob of pain and sorrow. "But Mystia..." He had not the strength to finish.
Provenna’s face was white with fury. But as she stood regarding him her color slowly returned, and she could not keep her lip from curling slightly.
"Do you actually think Mystia wants you to serve her?" she hissed.
Orion looked up at her.
"Mystia is a child of the Shallee, and Mystia is a follower of Joretham." Provenna's voice was soft yet deadly. It cut Orion to his heart. "You, however, are Norenroth‘s son. Do you forget what it is he did? He was the one who first turned against Mystia's god, and he was the one who almost destroyed Mystia's race. Did you ever tell her that?"
Orion let his head fall forward, but Provenna did not stop speaking.
"Did you ever tell her that Phyre is your father?" she continued. "And did you ever tell her that all the evil which fills him also fills you? Deny it not, for you know it to be true."
"But..." he began again, a look of despair upon his face.
"You were born a creature of darkness," Provenna hissed. "Do you actually think a woman who walks in the light will want you to serve her?"
"No," Orion moaned. "No." Over and over he said it as his body shook with sobs.
"All that you suffered because of her was for naught. Mystia will not accept it, and Joretham will not accept it. No one will accept it," Provenna spat. "You’ve suffered for nothing."
"Yes! Nothing! Your father is Norenroth. No matter what you do Mystia won’t accept you because you’re cursed even as Norenroth is cursed, and you’re evil even as he’s evil."
Orion’s chest heaved with silent sobs of anguish and despair.
"Come," Provenna pleaded softly. "Return to us. We don’t hate or fear you; we love you. We’ll not thrust upon you ideals too high for you to meet; we’ll accept you exactly as you are. We’ll not demand you serve, for you were meant to lead. You were meant to live in peace not in the torment Mystia's way has brought you. Return to us, Orion."
Orion’s chains dug into his wrists and only added to the agony which filled him. The slightest movement caused pain to shoot through his body. He could feel his dried blood covering his back and his arms and his legs and his chest. He did not know if there was one place it did not touch. He could smell the stench of the dungeon, and he shivered in the damp coldness. The terror of the dungeon and the hours and the days of torture all melted into one, and he could barely remember a time when he had been free.
He wanted to stand in an open field with the sun shining down upon him and the cool breeze upon his face. He wanted to be able to leave when he willed, and stay if he chose. He wanted to be able to lie down upon the soft grass and sleep. He wanted the pain to end. He wanted to live.
He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak.
Provenna looked intently down upon him.
"Yes," Orion whispered, too overcome with pain to care about anything save ending the agony. "I‘ll help you. Just make it stop."