Caden stood in an unending surround of darkness. Beyond him existed nothing; no light, or colour, or warmth. Even time itself was gone, and Caden had been waiting there for both a second and a hundred years. He had not been aware of himself, but then suddenly he was, and he struggled against a primordial circumstance of both being and not being.
“Hello?” He asked both a thousand times and not at all.
“Is anyone there?”
The blackness echoed back to him, but he was not sure if he heard it, or if it even happened.
“Can anyone help me?”
The black began to contort into vague delirium and visions, into memories seen half remembered and dreams behind a veil.
He thought he saw his father in the distance, walking away into nothing. He tried to call out, but he realized that he made no sound when he spoke. Then he saw his younger brother in a full suit of armour, reaching out towards him and gesturing for him to follow. He wanted to, but he could not move. There was Sir Anselm next, telling a joke that made him cry. And then Ethelyn, the untrusted woman, watching him sleeping with a knife in her hand.
The visions faded with time and Caden began to realize not only that he could not breathe, but more strangely that he did not need to. “What is happening to me?” He asked.
“You are finally becoming mine.”
Caden heard a feminine voice and turned to find it spoken by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was around his own height and fully unclothed, with smooth, pale skin and lips as dark as her eyes. She was terrible and terrifying, dreadful and dangerous. She was the meaning of seduction and inevitability, and he immediately loved her, and wanted her, and would subject himself to the most horrific torture for her sake. At the sight of her he found his breath again and she began to walk closer to him, her long, white hair falling over her breasts.
“I…” He began, but he stopped speaking when she made a slow shake of her head that demanded and begged for silence.
She reached him, then placed her cold hands upon his bare chest and made him remember that he was as naked as she was. She moved in and kissed him, and his arms were suddenly free to wrap around her hips and draw her as close to him as it was possible for her to be. Her own arms went around him, and he took her to the floor of the blackness and went inside her. She spread herself under him and moaned as he made love to her, their heat and passion growing until finally she reached a crescendo in their release.
Afterwards Caden lay there in the darkness, the woman resting on him. He stroked her hair gently, and despite her coldness she warmed him. “I do not understand what is happening, but I love you,” he said; his voice his own, but his words not. “There is no task too great that I would not complete to make you happy. No measure I would not take for your affection.”
The woman looked at him and smiled, then pushed herself off his chest and climbed onto him. She straddled his hips, sitting there as she raised her arms up into the air and stretched. Caden watched her for a while, then let his eyes close in peace… But as soon as he did, he felt an addicting longing to see her again. His eyes opened once more, and the woman brandished a dagger of bone above him. He looked at her questioningly, but before he could ask or react, she plunged it down into his heart.
Caden gasped and his lungs filled with newfound air, his chest expanding painfully under a weight that he did not recognize. Slowly his eyes began to open to a room of darkness, but that darkness came from the evening, and not the unnatural black he must have dreamt of.
He felt his arms by his sides but couldn’t move them, and it was the same for his legs. His neck too seemed stiff, as though something held his head in place against the pillow that was under him. He lay there in silence, unable to look at anything but the dark wooden rafters high above him, and slowly began to feel rhythmic stabs of pain in his chest with every heartbeat. Slowly more feeling began to return, the pain growing greater as it did so, and he began to realize that he could feel foreign hair pressing against his neck and shoulder. There was someone lying on him, at least partially.
“Hello?” He asked, his voice as soft as it was weak. There was no answer, but he began to feel skin against his body and parts of his limbs.
“Who’s there?” He asked, a little louder this time, and the warmth that covered him moved slightly as though stirring from sleep.
He could move his fingers now and slowly did so, and his knuckles began to push and stroke something soft. The warmth stirred again. “I can’t move,” he complained, and when he took in another breath, he felt an intense desire to cough, with an itch in his throat that he struggled to prevent taking over. Trying not to cough made his chest feel afire, and he grew convinced that if he did not stop it then his heart would break like ceramic. He tried to growl in his throat to clear it, but it was no use, and eventually he was forced to cough as lightly as he would dare. It felt like he had been stabbed.
“Mm…” A voice suddenly mumbled, and Caden began to shift whichever of the muscles he could get to work until the mumbles were repeated, and the warmth atop him began to shift.
He felt a hand press into the bed between his chest and arm, then a mahogany haired figure pushed herself from his body to look down at him. “You’re awake?” She asked, her voice exhausted and her gold eyes gazing into his own. “Good. This is good. It’s worked.”
He tilted his head down a little bit to see her keeping her upper body above his own with her arm, and he could not help but notice they were both naked. “What has happened? Did we?” He asked, the question obvious.
“No,” she replied to him, her own voice as soft and weak as his own. “This was simply necessary. Is necessary.”
He wasn’t sure what she meant at first, but when his eyes began to better adjust to the dark, he noticed something that began to horrify him. Ethelyn’s chest was wounded, with a cut several inches long made downwards between her breasts and where her heart would be. It had been stitched closed, but was clearly new, and a slim piece of red, vein-like thread ran from it and down towards him. He followed it, tilting his head down further as he did so until he realized that he had an identical wound in the same place, and that the thread was connecting them.
“What is this?” He asked, his heart beating faster now, and the pain increasing with it. He suddenly remembered two armies preparing for battle, and a fight against bright blue eyes where steel clashed against steel. He remembered meetings in the dark, he remembered eating around a roaring fire, and he remembered talking to a king who wanted to kill him. His chest throbbed again, a great stabbing sensation, and he remembered how Alaric Laurens had stabbed him in the heart. “What has happened to me?”
“I have given a part of myself to you,” said Ethelyn, wincing. “So that we might both live.”
“No. No, this is sorcery, witchcraft,” Caden told her, a panic growing in him. “You have done evil and made me part of it. The horned beast will come for us, and he will do Zervaith’s work.”
“Hush. Hush now, lord king,” she whispered, placing a hand upon his forehead. “You cannot be ruled by fear or superstition.”
Slowly the panic left him, as did the pain of his wound, but the tiredness didn’t. It stayed with him, grew even, and he knew that Ethelyn was the same. Slowly she lowered herself again, her purpose being to keep their connection intact, and rested against him. After a few seconds his eyes began to feel heavy, and an overwhelming desire to sleep forced them to close. Soon enough he felt Ethelyn’s peaceful breathing and knew she was no longer awake; and guessed that whatever she had done had been far more exhausting for her than it was for him. He didn’t trust her, didn’t understand her, but began to feel like perhaps he should thank her. She was from the Philosopher King, a figure he did not know and had many reasons to be wary of, but it might also be that she was a friend.
So many thoughts began racing through his mind, so many questions he wanted answering but no longer had the strength to ask. Where were his father and brother? How long had he been unconscious? Was the battle over, or yet to begin? If he had been stabbed in the heart, how was he alive? Why did he dream of darkness, and a white-haired woman with black eyes? Where were they, and why were they not in the camp?
Suddenly one more question came to mind, a question that struck him like a hammer with the strength to knock him to the floor. He wanted to shake Ethelyn awake, to force her to look at him and ask it as urgently as possible, but his strength waned with every passing moment and sleep began to overtake him. He opened his eyes one last time to try and fight it, but the desire was too great, and he suddenly found himself adrift in a resting world of strange dreams.
Why did she call him lord king?