King Tmalion sat beside Gideone's bed. It was by the light of but a few flickering candles that he watched the prince tossing and turning upon his bed. When the king first learned he had not the power to save Gideone, he felt something akin to relief, for he had not wanted to heal him, but now, as he looked upon the prince burning with fever and writhing in agony, the king could feel only pity. No man deserved to suffer that way.
Gideone cried out so loudly and furiously it made Tmalion start. It seemed to the king that at times Gideone cried out in pain and at others in anger–against whom though, Tmalion could not tell.
* * *
With a snarling cry, Gideone lunged forward. The clang of steel filled the air. All around him fire raged, and his body seemed to burn with the heat of it. He cried out again and sent his sword arcing once more through the air toward his opponent. At times he fought Orion, and at others he battled Abiel or Tnaka, but, no matter whom he fought, his enemy always looked out at him with cold, spectral blue eyes.
Their swords clashed, and Gideone found himself gazing on the twisted face of Abiel.
"Murderer!" he snarled as he lunged toward the dark prince. They slammed into each other and were thrown back to the ground. Gideone cried in pain and struggled to rise.
Abiel knelt upon the ground only a short distance away. His back was turned, and the prince could not see his face, but he could hear the low growl of anger that escaped him as slowly he began to rise. The dark prince's growl turned into a snarling cry of rage as he spun to face Gideone, and the prince found himself gazing now upon the fury-filled face of Tnaka.
He looked desperately around for his sword. He had dropped it when he fell, and it was nowhere to be found. Tnaka drew his own sword, and his lip curled up in a cold, cruel sneer as he began to slowly walk forward. Gideone scrambled back in a desperate attempt to escape, but Tnaka continued to walk toward him.
Gideone found himself unable to move further. The elven king's sneer grew as he approached until suddenly he was no longer smiling but laughing wickedly. As the prince watched, he found himself looking up not at Tnaka but at Orion. Strength returned to him. In his hand he found his sword, and he jumped to his feet and ran forward.
"Coward!" he snarled as he sliced his sword toward the warrior. Orion managed to block the blow and tried attack, but Gideone struck him again. The warrior howled as he reeled beneath the force of the blow.
"Lying coward!" Gideone screamed as he struck him again. "'Tis all your fault!" He rained blow after blow down upon Orion. "If you had stayed the Sorcerer would never have defeated us! My father would never have died! My sister would not be dishonored! Abiel would never have chased us! And, Stavros would not be dead!" He sent one final blow crashing down upon Orion, and the blue-eyed warrior’s sword went flying from his hands.
The prince opened his mouth in a cry of triumph and brought his sword down toward Orion. He could see the look of frozen terror upon Orion's face, and he could hear the thumping of Orion's heart. He could hear his own cry, which seemed to stretch on for minute upon minute, and he could see Orion make a last desperate attempt to escape.
Then, he heard a rich deep voice, speaking from where he knew not. It seemed to fill the air and echo in his mind. "Why do you hate my son? And why do you accuse him?"
Orion and the raging fire surrounding him disappeared, and Gideone found himself standing in an enormous cavern. It was an amazing place–formed entirely of the purest crystal which glowed and pulsated with an inner fire–but the prince did not notice; he spun around, desperately searching for Orion.
"Where is he?" he demanded.
Behind him he heard a low, rumbling growl. He spun, then found himself unable to move. He could only stand and look up in terrified amazement at the huge dragon towering over him.
"My son, whom you wish to kill," growled the dragon, baring his crystal teeth, "is far from here in the city of Leilaora where he lies broken and beaten and utterly defeated." The dragon gave another low growl and turned away.
Gideone stumbled back.
"Who are you?" he finally managed to cry.
The dragon snarled as he turned back to Gideone. "Are you such a fool you do not know me? I who was the first of Joretham's creations? I who have existed since the beginning of time?" His voice was rising. "I who was one of the three greatest creatures in the whole of Deithanara. I who was the ruler of the Realm of Magic. I who have seen every war ever waged! I who stood upon the Plains of Adalrick and saw Vallendar and Balor battle! And you know me not?" His thundering voice echoed off the walls of the cavern.
Gideone hesitated, but knew he had to say something. He spoke quietly. "From your words, Your Majesty, I must assume you are Lyght, King of the Realm of Magic."
"My name is Lyght," answered the dragon softly, "but I am King of Keiliornare no longer."
Gideone remained silent.
"I gave up my crown and the power that went with it so that my son might live," continued the dragon, "and now what do you wish to do? Kill him. And take even him from me so that I would have nothing left."
Gideone crossed his arms, and his expression grew dark. "Orion ran like a coward. Had he stayed and fought the Dark Sorcerer, Nor would not have been defeated, my father would not have been murdered, I would not have been wounded or pursued by Abiel, and Stavros would not be dead."
Lyght growled. "Orion was ever your friend, since the moment he stepped foot in Nor, and how do you repay him? Not only do you accuse him of cowardice, but you blame him for all the problems you have faced."
The dragon's voice rose. "'Twas the Dark Sorcerer who killed your father and defeated your country. 'Twas some nameless Delovachian who struck you with his arrow. And 'twas Abiel who chased you and Abiel who killed your friend; not Orion.
"Yet do you blame those who have truly wronged you? No!" The cavern shook with his cry. "You hate a poor, innocent man–a man who’s never done anything save help you, and a man who did nothing more than run to save your sister who was in mortal danger."
Gideone drew back in surprise, and guilt began to form in the pit of his stomach.
"Yes, fool!" Lyght spat. "He risked his life–you know not how great a price that is–to save your sister from Phyre, and you seek to murder him for it. You’re no different than every other Shallean vagabond who roams the Three Realms–a despicable fool who hasn’t the courage to battle those who’ve wronged you but instead take your revenge upon the innocent who cannot defend themselves."
Gideone opened his mouth to protest, but the dragon cut him off.
"Be quiet, Shallean wretch," he hissed as he turned his back on the prince.
At that, all shame left Gideone and he was once more filled with anger.
"And what does it matter if I am a Shallean?" he demanded. "'Tis not my fault. I didn’t ask to be one. You, who were the king of the Realm of Magic, ought to speak with more justice than that."
The dragon roared in fury and spun to again face Gideone. He crouched low to the ground and his teeth were bared in rage as his blue eyes sparked.
"Have your wife ravished and murdered by Shallean vermin," he snarled, "and your young son sacrificed to your worst enemy, then speak to me of justice!"
He began to draw closer, raising a great, crystal foreclaw as he did so. Gideone stood still, his jaw clenched. He looked up and waited for his death, but just when Lyght was about to send his claw crashing down upon the prince, he stopped and spun around.
For a long moment he sat with his great head bowed and the whole of his body trembling. He made not a sound, yet the sorrow that filled him was unmistakable. And as Gideone looked upon him, he was filled once more with shame. He had had no right to grow angry at the dragon. He was just about to speak when Lyght groaned.
"Forgive me," the great dragon whispered. With a trembling voice he continued, "I brought you here that I might heal you, but instead I almost killed you."
Gideone took a step toward Lyght. "There is no need for you to apologize."
The dragon slowly turned. "I’ve not spoken of that to anyone–not even Orion whom I hold most dear. 'Tis ironic that I would first speak of it to you who are of that people which I’ve hated these many centuries." He paused. "There was a time I would have killed you upon sight but now not only have I brought you here to heal you, but I also tell you my deepest secret."
Gideone was silent for a moment, but as he looked upon the crystal dragon, he finally spoke. "And why is it you now will heal me, seeing that you’ve hated the Shallee for so long?"
Lyght remained quite for a moment as if lost deep in thought.
"I loved my wife and my son with all my heart," he finally said. "They were my world, my all, and when they were taken from me I had nothing left." His voice began to tremble. "I was consumed with fury and sorrow, and my hatred only grew as the centuries passed and I found no other to love.
“But then I found Orion. He became my son and I his father. Many a time did he break my heart, but never more so than when I learned he loved a Shallean maid. I was furious, but as I watched him and saw how much he loved her, I was put to shame. He served her and honored her and protected her. He had once been a wicked man, but because of her he learned humility and nobility. He who had never lived for anyone save himself was suddenly willing to risk his life to save hers." The great dragon struggled to convey all that he felt and thought. "If he can love a Shallean that much, can I not at least leave behind my hatred?" He took a deep breath. "That’s why I save you–because of you sister and the love my son holds for her."
Gideone said nothing and bowed his head and stared at the floor as shame rose even stronger within him. He could feel Lyght's unwavering gaze upon him. He heard the dragon sigh–a rich deep sound–and he sensed a large, crystal claw above him. Suddenly he could feel a great warmth rising up within his chest. It grew greater and greater until it no longer remained in his chest but spread out through the whole of his body. He began to feel a strength and a life that he had not felt for many a day. He took a slow, deep breath. All pain had left him.
The dragon cocked his head to one side as he regarded Gideone.
"Your wounds are healed," Lyght said with his rich, low voice, "but there shall be scars. Let them serve a purpose–to remind you of that which has taken place here this day and that which you have learned."
"Thank you," said Gideone. "I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me." He hesitated for a moment. "And I pray you can forgive me for the hatred I bore Orion."
"I accept your apology, and forgive you I do. And I pray that one day you shall meet my son again and be able to receive his forgiveness."
"As do I," replied Gideone.
"Now,” the great dragon rumbled, “'tis time for you to awaken and return to the Realm of Earth."
* * *
Tmalion leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He had sat there for he knew not how long, and he was ready to fall asleep. Slowly, his breathing began to match the slow, steady breathing of the prince who lay before him.
The king awoke suddenly and sat up. He shook his head and looked down intently upon Gideone, for it seemed that the prince was beginning to stir. For a moment Tmalion knew not what to do. True, he had not wanted Gideone to die, but he balked at the thought of having to speak face to face with the man who had forsaken Eagle and had not dared oppose the Powers until Nor was threatened. He rose to his feet. Wavering, he looked down upon the face of the slowly awakening prince.
He turned and strode out of the room. In the adjoining room several servants stood ready to wait upon the king.
"Call a healer," Tmalion ordered. "The prince is awakening."
Then, without even waiting for them to reply, he passed out of Gideone's chambers and into the corridor beyond.
* * *
Gideone stood alone in his chambers and quickly pulled on a blue tunic. He turned and looked at his reflection in a nearby mirror. The web of black lines had faded slightly, but they still reached up the left side of his neck, and a few lone lines stretched all the way to his cheek. Those marks would remain with him for the rest of his life.
"Your Highness?" he heard a voice behind him say.
He started then turned to see who had spoken. It was a servant-boy.
"King Tmalion wishes to speak with you," the boy said.
"Very well," answered Gideone, suddenly growing nervous. "Just a moment."
He pulled his hair back quickly and fastened it tightly behind his head. Then he turned to go with the boy.
* * *
King Tmalion sat upon his throne waiting for Gideone to arrive. The throne room was empty, for he wished to meet Gideone alone. The doors opened, and a servant walked in.
"Prince Gideone of Nor," he announced, then stepped aside to allow Gideone to pass through the door. Once the prince had entered, the servant left, and the doors were once more closed.
Gideone walked slowly across the long, empty room toward the throne and the king who sat upon it. His footsteps echoed loudly off the hard, stone floor.
Tmalion looked down upon the prince. It had been three years since he had last seen Gideone. Gideone had grown a beard, but little else had changed. As far as Tmalion could see, he was still little more than the carefree rogue he had always been.
Gideone finished the long walk from the door to the foot of the throne where he bowed low and said, "Your Majesty."
Tmalion rose stiffly. "Welcome, Gideone. What brings you to Scalavori?"
Gideone looked up at him and after a pause answered, "I came here to seek your help. As you no doubt know by now, I was wounded by an arrow of the Dark Sorcerer, and I came in hopes that you’d be able to heal me."
"And why sought you succor of me?"
"Because you’re the most powerful of the arch-mages, and because you seemed the one least likely to give me over to the Powers."
Tmalion crossed his arms. "And why thought you that I’d not turn you over to the Powers?" His eyes narrowed. "Is not my daughter the wife of a Power?"
Gideone's whole body tensed, and he licked his lips nervously before answering, "I came here because you were the only hope I could see. I knew that there was a chance you would hand me over to the Powers, but I hoped otherwise. If I’m wrong, then so be it." He bowed his head. "Do with me as you will."
Tmalion's features darkened as he took a step toward Gideone, drew back his fist and sent it slamming into the prince's jaw. Gideone stumbled back and fell to the floor. His dark eyes flashed as he rose, and his hands tightened into fists, but he caught himself and stood still, looking at the king.
Tmalion drew himself up and returned to his throne.
“I did not save your life,” the king stated when he had sat down. “Therefore, I don’t think it my right to now take it away. You‘re free to go.”
Gideone was taken aback. “You don’t want anything? There’s nothing I can do to thank you for your help?”
“I will be frank.” The king could not hide the scorn in his voice. “When you first asked for my daughter’s hand, there was little about you I found impressive, and, after the affair with Tnaka, I find even less I like. There is nothing I want or need that a man such as yourself could provide.”
Gideone took a step forward and looked intently up at the king. “I’m aware you dislike me, Your Majesty, and I know I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I’m not the completely worthless man you take me for, and I would not like you to think that, on top of all my other faults, I’m an ungrateful wretch as well.”
Tmalion regarded him, unmoving, disgust and scorn battling his better nature.
“Very well,” he finally said. “If you wish to repay my hospitality than who am I to argue?” He glanced away. “I suppose, in a way, I ought to thank you. If any good has come from my daughter's marriage to Tnaka, it is that I have been able to give the semblance of being completely aligned with the Powers. But, even as outwardly I have followed them, silently I have worked toward their destruction.
"There are few in Lairannare who love them, but because of the Powers' great strength, there are also few who are willing to rise up against them. But I have finally managed to raise an army that I believe is strong enough to destroy them.
“I also believe that now is the perfect time to strike. My spies tell me they are hopelessly divided. Kozan is positioning himself to take Provenna's place and is becoming more insolent by the day. Provenna seems to have no idea how to deal with him, and Tnaka is so weary of the wars waged by Provenna that he is pushing desperately for peace.
"On top of that, Provenna's long lost son has suddenly reappeared and been declared Prince of Lairannare and her heir, further separating her and Kozan. If my spies are right, he is even driving a wedge between her and Tnaka. If we strike now, we can surprise them while they’re still divided and before any one of them triumphs. Freedom could be ours within the month."
His eyes narrowed as he looked at the prince. “I will let you fight in my army, but I warn you: if you don’t prove yourself a man you’ll wish you had left when I gave the opportunity.”
“I will fight, Your Majesty,” Gideone stated, eyes flashing, “and I’ll not show myself weak.”