It was still dark, it was very bitter, and I was shivering under my cloak in spite of the magical protection I was wearing. I wish I didn’t have to be here. I wish I was still in bed, asleep, warm, unknowing, unacting. I wish there were no demands of me to stand straight and be contained when all I wanted to do was to curl up into a tight ball and just disappear into nothing at all.
I felt a mental embrace about me and looked up to see Lucian, dressed in his demon outfit, standing straight and unconcerned as ever, slightly in front and to the right of me, it being not safe to be very close to him on account of the battle studs on his elbows and his shoulders.
It won’t be long now, he sent me soothingly. The Lord of Darkness, being so soothing, concerned and considerate. No-one could see it and no-one but me could know of it.
I wished I was not here. I wished he would not make me see those men again, not make me have to face Thoran of Thelein again. And his uncle. I wished I wasn’t so tired and sick in heart and mind for if I had not been, this would not appear as terrifying an ordeal to me as it now did.
I wished he wouldn’t make me do this.
Isca, my lady, my love. I understand that this is hard for you. But how can you come to a resolution on these matters if you hide away from them?
I had to suppress a bitter snort. Thus spoke the man who had hidden away from his own moments of defeat for six hundred and sixty years.
It has taught me the value of such things, he chided me gently and started to walk forward, his imaginary arms about me moving me forward in time with him, as we approached the dungeons where the 12 were held.
This was a different part of the palace, this was a different doorway, different stairs to a different dungeon, everything was different yet when the smell hit me on the top of the stairs, I crumbled.
I couldn’t think and I just couldn’t be there and all I could know to do was to hold on to Lucian and wrap my fingers hard around the cold armour and with the other hand, try to get a grip on the breastplate beneath his arm.
Isca, love, be steady! Careful, you will hurt yourself! Lucian was disconcerted and unbalanced for a moment and simply didn’t know what to do with me. I half climbed under his arm and tried to hold on to his chest for if I did not, I would be swept away, down those stairs, into that smell and into that darkness and I would not return.
Very clearly, very sharply, Lucian spoke into my mind.
Steady. Breathe, just keep breathing. It is alright. You can return to our quarters, I apologise. I thought it would be for the best. You can go, or I will take you.
Don’t want to go, don’t want anything just hold me, hold me
I cannot hold you. I will hurt you with this armour. Let me take you back.
No, not back. Don’t leave me. Hold me hold me hold me …
Isca, would you have me strip to my underwear in front of these people?
Shh, shh now. I will hold you.
A strangeness swept across and over both of us and finally, he put his arm about me and drew me close into him. There was no pain nor discomfort from the armour, it was giving and soft. For a moment, he hesitated, then drew me into a full embrace, painfully mindful of the watching soldiers by the gates, the various figures that were assembling at a respectful distance for this coming morning’s sport.
He held me and I began to regain my bearings and find a sort of centre in him that was missing in me entirely. With him holding me and me holding on to him like you would if there was a tempest and you found a tree to cling to, slowly the ground returned to me, became steady under my feet. Slowly the night came back to me, the cold and the sounds of voices, hushed. Slowly, very slowly, minds came back and first and foremost, there was his, and his totality, the shield between me and all of it, and slowly and at last, my own thoughts began to return to me.
Simultaneously, we sent to each other:
I am so sorry.
The thoughts crossed and spun, became meaningless and cancelled itself out in doing so, and I felt him fighting for composure and not to reveal his instant amusement in case I would become upset again.
I took a deep, long, reviving breath of cool air that carried nothing but the scent of old iron.
(Non-understanding) Shall I take you back now?
I want to see them.
(Confusion) You want to see them?
If I go back now, and they die, they will have gained yet another victory.
(Confusion, acknowledgement) It is what I thought, originally?
I need you to physically have your arm about my shoulder. I need your strength this night, here, in the hard. Of the hard. Where the damage was done.
I will try and give you what you need. Anything. You know that.
His sincere intention swept at my resolve and calm and created a resonance of terrible sadness. I don’t know about me. I don’t know who I am. I can not have a one, even this one I love and trust more than anyone in this world, be kind to me and not want to cry and cry until the world itself is filled with my tears and I can drown in it.
He tightens his embrace of me and sends me a small tentacle of careful soothing.
Tell me when you are ready to go where you want to go.
It occurs to me that he must have changed the structure of his armour so it would be soft and I open my eyes to look at the plates on his upper arms. They look a little duller than before but otherwise it would be impossible to tell. Cautiously, I slide my hand out and touch a stud. It is soft and pliable, like the nose of a dog.
That was a very nice piece of material transformation, I send him and to my relief, there is a tiny, tiny resonance of a smile attached to that statement.
Cautiously, he responds, It was better than to have to take it off.
The smile is there now, real, between both of us. It strengthens me and strangely, it clears my head.
I am ready to go now (but keep your arm about me)
Are you sure?
I check inside and yes, I am. If he just stays by my side and I can feel him there, I will be able to face the devil himself, or even the creator, although it isn’t sure which one would be the scarier one by far.
I am ready, my lord.
In the hard, he looked down upon me and waited for me to show him what I would want with his limbs. I snuggled myself beneath his heavy arm and held his gloved hand cautiously, and put the other arm about his waist, holding on to his sword belt beneath his great cloak.
So entwined thus, we began to make our way into these new dungeons, and this time, the smell did not frighten me anymore. Quite in the contrary, I drew it in through flared nostrils and said to it, I escaped from you. I fought clear of you and I have already defeated you. I come here today as the jailor, not as the jailed; and I could wipe you clear off this plane of existence if I chose to do so.
Lucian tracked me cautiously and sent a small approval and an admiration. I found that hard to take as I was so ashamed of my own weaknesses and the performances I put him through, but the corridor with the thick wooden doors below, with two soldiers to each door receding into a smoke filled endlesslessness, focussed me back on the now.
The soldiers of the palace guards saluted us most mightily and stood to rigid attention at our entrance.
Which one shall we see first? Corranor or Thoran? I asked him.
He was surprised. Why Corranor? What is he to you? I thought you might like to have a revenge of sorts on that hook armed bastard? (who was the one who had my woman …)
I stopped his thoughts. It was not Thoran I was trying to kill in the Abbey, I reminded him.
He considered this and sent me a small acknowledgement, as well as turning his head towards me and looking down on me quizzically. Indeed, it was not. Although it should have been.
Corranor. I want to see Corranor.
So shall it be.
Lucian addressed the headman in charge.
“Corranor of Thelein,” he said simply and the man, a grey haired veteran whose face was as hard as Lucian’s could be, saluted sharply and led the way down the corridor of wooden doors.
We stopped before the second to last one which had guards placed in front, and on a nod from his headman, the guard lifted the heavy bar from the iron racks and pulled on a coarse round iron handle to open the door.
It creaked dryly and there was a blackness inside that recoiled me in an instant.
Lucian steadied me physically and that was enough. He was here, he was real and this is what was different this time. This time, the blackness cannot hurt or frighten me anymore. I am with him and he is my strength.
The headman took a torch from the wall, ducked under the low archway and led the way into the cell, taking an island of light with him that revealed aspects of its interior I was only too familiar with.
The stench, of course. I ordered it to be shut out and it disappeared as rightfully as if a mountain breeze had sprung from the very seeping stones themselves.
The dirt floor with the remnants of mouldy straw.
As your eyes adjusted, you could also see the man in irons on the far wall. He had been hanging, slumped, with his wrists red and brown, and was now trying to blink into the torch and get his feet under himself somehow.
There were another set of chains on either one of the other two walls, but they were empty.
Together, we ducked through the doorway with some difficulty and squeezed our way into the cell. Lucian straightened up with cautious care and found he could just about stand upright here.
Corranor of Thelein was attempting a mental posture of disdain.
To achieve this, he was remembering Lucian’s residence as Trant's chosen pet.
He was remembering how he had enjoyed playing with so called Lord of Darkness, and how good it had felt.
Unfortunately for his disdain, and in a way, fortunately for him, he got to remembering how it ceased to be such fun as time went on, and how it became uncomfortable. And how …
Lucian reached towards the mans mind and I stayed him.
No, love. I want to hear/see/experience this. Let him have his say. There is no need for you to listen if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
(Consternation, conflict) I am not setting a good example of facing your torturers, am I.
This is not about setting good examples.
What is this about?
I can’t remember. You had a good reason to have me come here, at the time. Something about facing your demons?
(Deep sigh. Resignation) Proceed.
Then, it became uncomfortable to watch Trant. Tremain had nothing left to give. He had no screams left in him. He was decomposing and it was enough. Or should have been enough. But it wasn’t enough for Trant. Perhaps if Tremain had stopped fighting at some point, given up at some point, asked for mercy at some point, it would have ended a lot sooner, but he did not, and in not doing so, began to offset Trant’s insanity more and more with each painful day that passed. In the end, General Bodier had refused to take part in this travesty and Trant had turned on him and beaten him to death. He had blinded and deafened Tremain or what was left of him, yet the man – could he be a man? – did not die, hung on with a tenacity that caused some to experience fear, others respect, and Corranor, he began to admire the Lord of Darkness.
Lucian was shocked and horrified when this thought transmitted to us. The man was not attempting to deceive us. We were hearing the truth. Corranor of Thelein had realised at some point that he had made the wrong choice when he put the kingdoms into Trant’s hands. He had entirely underestimated how insane the new king really was.
Can you stand alone for a time? Lucian asked me, and I sent my agreement.
He let go of me, took off his helmet and approached the man in chains.
“Why, Thelein? Why did you do it?” he asked, direct eye contact and with a direct link into the mans mind that I shared at the edges as not to interfere.
And the information we received in return made both of us gasp as one and I took two steps back until I collided with the door frame behind me.
Corranor had followed the orders given to him by the White Serein.