Author's Note: I wrote this (almost in its entirety) late at night, before I'd even read the third book. I'd read the excerpt on Karen Hancock's website before the book came out, and so knew about Maddie's dream, and while I waited for the book to take its own sweet time getting to me I tried to imagine how things would be. This was something that would not leave me alone until I finally scrawled it down, and then I spent the next several days waiting for the book and worrying that something in canon had invalidated my little ficlet. Fortunately, it was not so, and therefore I present this to you. By the way, do I really need to spell out for you lot that I am not Karen Hancock? If I was, I might actually have a decent bit of money.

Of A Morning

She woke from the dream because she was startled, and disturbed, and disgusted, but when reality became her fingers gripping the bedclothes, a horrible hidden part of her was sorry to open her eyes. And then she felt sick, all over and everywhere, and horrified, and ashamed. Her face was burning—her whole body burned with shame and embarrassment, and a curious fear that somehow, he'd see the inner workings of her mind.

Well, why not? She shared his dreams, occasionally.

She shuddered and buried her face in her hands. She only realised now that she'd sat up, blankets in a vicious tangle about her waist, nightdress turned and twisted by the thrashings she suspected had accompanied her dream. She'd thrashed through those other dreams, too—his—but that had been fear, and the heavy since of an oncoming doom. This was different. This was—wrong.

She felt tainted now, her (yes, she'd admit the word; she'd have to, now) love for Abramm felt tainted and mauled. Something unholy had touched it. And for a moment, the dream's echoes went on in her mind.

She was seized with a sudden, fierce desire to explain, to defend, to rationalise. She hadn't meant—her conscious mind would never call up such thoughts—this wasn't—

Oh, blast it. Blast it all.

Somewhere inside her, that horrible part was relishing, trying to push up new and worse thoughts—images—

She squeezed her eyes tighter, already shut against her pressing palms, until starfields exploded behind her lids. This hot, nauseating pleasure that insisted on remaining was disturbingly titillating. With further effort, she shoved it down. She couldn't stand to see her own honest affection twisted this way, but—why was her mind doing this to her?

Maddie, you silly, silly, foolish little girl. He's a Kiriathan. And a king.

But even that thought provoked a memory—she'd said that, reminded him (and herself) of what he was, in an effort to dispel any inkling of, well, that. "Yes," he'd said, smiling as his eyes roved over the distance stretching before them. "That is what I am." And she found herself, occasionally, melting with delight over that smile, and the solemn devotion in his voice. She usually berated herself, with slight good nature, because she liked her independence, had boldly declared it to would-be suitors, had revelled in her position as Eidon-dedicated Second Daughter, and this sort of thing was entirely unlike her. Sometimes at night, or in more sober moments, she'd attempt to further discard of these confounded emotions—because face it, Maddie, they're dangerous; and he's marrying your sister, for goodness sake, and after all of those wretched rumours, would you really want—?

Well, yes, actually, she did, with a fierceness that started her sometimes. And of course he didn't care, or wouldn't, because he was marrying Bree—for purely political reasons, something whispered—and even if he wasn't, she was nosy, and headstrong, and forward, and plain, and all those other horrible things he'd said about her at the camp in the Tuk-Rhaal (and she was nosy, because she'd listened to every word). But her prayers had saved him.

And her dreams were defiling him.

She didn't cry. Madeleine rarely cried: tears were too sentimental, and she hated the way her face screwed up and her eyes felt heavy and her voice rose to the breaking point and snapped, and how she always felt infinitely vulnerable and slightly ridiculous after such rare spells, and she didn't need to feel any worse on top of all of this. So she didn't cry, even though she was confused and distraught and disturbed. She breathed in and out, slowly, trying to calm the burning, and those horrible, tantalising images her mind kept creating.

And she thought of Abramm, as ridiculous as it might have seemed. She thought of him because he was comforting, when he wasn't confusing her with his flash of a smile, or brooding despondently, or shouting at her, or appearing in her dreams in sickeningly inappropriate ways. Or when she caught a sudden glimpse of Abramm the king, and he became so earth-shatteringly remote that her reserve almost died. She didn't know why she found him comforting, because trying to find reasons only made it seem that much more ridiculous.

She thought of Abramm because she was trying to replace the impure thoughts with pure ones. She thought of him because, in the end, he was impossible to avoid, so she might as well give in now. She thought of him because he was Abramm, and that in itself was somehow comforting.

She thought of him, Abramm the man, casting aside all the other Abramms in her mind, so intensely that she almost expected him to show up in the doorway, looking wryly concerned with his dark blonde hair mussed from sleep—"Lady Madeleine? Are you weeping?"

"No," she would answer, truthfully, unlike last time, and she'd lift her head from her hands and make up some excuse. And he would nod, with that serious smile of his (Maddie had realised that he had a lot of different smiles for various occasions and situations), and he might even do something ridiculous, such as kiss her—but you would be very, very silly to even think that, now, Maddie—and someone would be sure to see, of course, and the court would be buzzing with the gossip of a royal affair before she even got down to breakfast—and how Bree would shout—

The burning feeling was back, and she had not taken her head out of her hands.

Oh, Eidon, Eidon, I think I'm going mad— Even her prayers sounded like whimpers in her mind: she, Madeleine, the sensible one, the unflappable... Eidon, what is the use of all this?

Her head shook against her palms—no, this was not weeping, there were no sobs, nor tears—and she felt sick, and bewildered, and very little, and hopelessly grown up. She wanted out, to crawl away somewhere where there was no court, no politics, no approaching Army of the Black Moon, no Abramm; although she was beginning to find the thought of a world without him unthinkable. She just wanted silence. And escape. And room. Madeleine Donavan, unto herself, without all of this madness making herself suddenly impossibly muddled.

"Lady Madeleine!" She heard her name from the doorway, and her head jerked up out of her hands, and she honestly expected, for one mad moment, tousled hair and wry blue eyes. But it was Liza, her maid, looking worried in an entirely different way than Abramm would. "You're still abed!"

Maddie drew her hands across her face, trying somehow to brush away the worry as one might brush away tears. She did not want to get out of bed, she did not want to eat, she did not want to get dressed, and especially and most desperately of all, she did not want to attend Abramm's coronation. Or drop in on his morning routine, as they were both accustomed to. She was certain he'd see everything in her face, and the mere sight of him was sure to bring everything to the forefront of her mind. She moaned into the hands covering her mouth.

"My lady! Are you ill? What is wrong?"

Maddie thought she said something consoling; she might have made an excuse about something she'd eaten the night before, or stress, and here was Liza helping her out of bed, although she felt momentarily like struggling—I could plead the grippe!—and flinging a dressing gown over her pale silken bedgown, and pressing her to eat something, drink something—

Oh, Eidon, help me!