A/N: So, I've re-worked chapter 1 of the original story. As you can tell, the number of words got smaller. This is because I stopped doing different scenes if you will. If I can, from now on, each chapter will focus on one character's POV. For the most part in this book, it'll be Lucia, but there may be moments when I need to tell the story from someone else's POV. Be sure to check out my new story, The Appendices, to get the full picture. Enjoy, once again.
Chapter I: The Woman on the Balcony
They had recently returned from the wars in Begnion, Queen Elincia, her fighting men and knights, and those who had accompanied her. Peace had come, at long last, to the warring countries of Tellius, and it seemed to follow the royal company on their long march to their homeland. Even now, thirteen days since their arrival and the departure of Ike and his mercenaries into the west, the gentle silence persisted, and the people of Crimea supposed that it might endure for all time.
The winter air was quiet all about the walls of the palace, though it did not yet have its chill even in the midst of the second month of the season and the first of the new year. Except for the crackling of hanging torches, not a sound was heard within the walls. The gardens and courtyards had grown still, for the crickets had gone away. Not even a gust of wind arose to blow the browned grass. It was a night as still as any could wish for.
Yet, it was not a night of peace, though Lucia had wished it were so.
The swordswoman of the realm stood alone in sober and grave contemplations on the balcony where her queen had once greeted her people. Unshod and in her nightly garments, she had crept from her quarters and come into the open places. Her eyes drew themselves upwards upon the full moon, and she had found this preferable to her thoughts drawing her into dark places or her legs leading her in restless walking against her will.
While some would find this rather strange, Lucia did not. She had, by now, grown quite accustomed to such things. For three nights now, she was drawn into the solitary places where none could see her, and she recalled how she had gone from tent or bed during the journey home many more nights before this one. She did not know why, but she found herself drawn to the open places in the darkness of the night. She felt more at ease without such things as walls to cage her, though she could not rid herself of the strange things that often followed her in the night.
At length, Lucia took her eyes away from the single silver eye overhead and leaned over the railing, resting her head upon her arms with a deep sigh. A frown spread across her face as she surveyed the garden below.
"I had hoped that my own bed and my own quarters would bring this to an end," she whispered with a voice heavy with sad dissatisfaction. "How many nights has this happened to me? How many nights have I gone without rest?"
She did not ask as one who expected a reply, for she had kept the count. Still, as if to give an answer, her mouth opened in a wearied yawn, and her eyes, in protest at having remained open longer than they wished, blinked rapidly, pleading for rest against the bright light of the moon, which lingered still upon them.
Lucia could think of no greater pleasure than to oblige her eyes in sleep, but she did not expect that she would do so. For a moment, she allowed them to close, and at that very instant, a host of shapes appeared before her in the darkness. They were shapes of men, men she had not wished to remember, but remember she did nonetheless.
They were those who had followed the traitor, Ludveck, in his rebellion this previous summer, though he was not among them. She saw them as they looked upon her, and a man at their head bore a most unfavorable look. Indeed, he seemed to regard her with a burning hate.
At once, her eyes opened to spare her from the sights and to send them away before they could speak words she had longed to forget. With another heavy sigh, Lucia straightened herself, fixing her eyes once more upon the moon and the starry sky above them.
"Can I endure this?" she wondered aloud. "I have never faced a thing such as this before. If only the faces were real, then my sword might do me some good in this case. Why is it so quiet?" she said, allowing her words and thoughts to venture to another place. "Why is it so mild?"
She had found herself numbed from the many nights spent in such grim reflection upon the same matter. Even the stone underfoot did not chill her, though she did not know why she would have wanted it to do so.
Though the night air was of a peaceful sort, Lucia wished now for some sound. For though it was still, she found no rest, and though silence hung in the air, her ears heard that which she did not wish to hear. Such a distraction, she thought, would please her.
Moments later, a sudden wind from the north blew across the garden, chilling the flesh of Lucia's arms. The lady gasped as she felt it, for her nightdress did not shield her from the gust. And yet, she found herself spreading her arms in a welcoming embrace, even as she quivered. When the wind had passed, she again looked over the garden. The soft earth and brown grass looked back at her, and they seemed to beckon her with gladdened invitations.
Lucia thought she might go out and greet them, for when she was a child, she had often enjoyed their company. She was certain that even a walk upon the grass, stiffened and prickled as it would be, would be better than the idle standing. She admitted only to herself that her thoughts would at least have a new path to walk upon, and the idea of a lengthened stroll sounded preferable than a night indistinguishable from all the others.
But when Lucia turned her gaze downwards upon her feet, bare and pale in the light of the moon, she dismissed such thoughts as foolish and most childish.
"It seems as though I've become the lady my mother had always hoped I would be," she mused to herself. "I would not dare to step outside the palace without proper clothes and shoes. If not for the fact that the whole castle is asleep, I would not even venture outside my quarters in such a state of dress. All the same, how I would like to be a girl again and not care about such things, even though my mother wished I did." The thought did amuse her, even in the slightest. "Those days were better than the days I live now," she added with a saddened sigh.
Her eyes, still marked from the moonlight, again called for rest, and as her thoughts turned anew to the nights before now, Lucia shook her head wearily, even as her mouth opened in another drowsy yawn. She had grown weary of the sleepless nights spent in her grim reflections, hoping to make sense of what followed her in sleep. She was equally wearied of the days that seemed without end as her spies brought her much news of late, and all of it amounted to mere rumor and idle talk of the Crimean Civil War as the people had grown to call the uprising of Felirae.
Most of all, Lucia was wearied of the many questions asked of her concerning her welfare. From the lowliest of servants to the highest of officers and even the queen herself, questions had come, asking if she were well. While Lucia counted herself as skillful in the art of deception, the milk-sister of the queen knew only her enemies numbered the limits of such a talent. Those whom she called friends saw every betrayal in her face, her eyes, and her very posture. She was certain of this, and it displeased her that they persisted in asking the same questions of her.
She had often asked those very things of herself, yet she knew she had not the need to do so.
In her body, deep within her mind, and deeper within her soul, Lucia was quite exhausted, and though she wished that a better lot were cast upon her, on this night, she wished for it all the more.
Upon the arrival of the royal entourage in Melior, Elincia had set her nobles and her armies loose upon her people to destroy the last of the usurpers who had once threatened her rule. Now, she had called them back to her side as her councilors, and they had arrived earlier just this day.
Lucia had not wished to see them, for they would surely have noticed her. She did not wish for the nobles to see her, and she wished for her brother, who had gone with his riders into the east on the charge of his queen, to see her least of all. Of all the people she knew, her own flesh and blood did not know of her troubles, and she wished it to remain so. She recalled how she had left the side of Elincia when the queen had waited to greet them under the guise of an ache in her head. It had seemed strange to her milk-sister, this Lucia knew, but the queen had dismissed her.
"I should not have lied to her," Lucia said sadly with a feeble shake of her head at the remembrance, "but what could I say to my queen? Could I tell her of what I see? I suppose it does not matter. I had hoped to avoid the nobles, but I will see them tomorrow nevertheless. If only I could sleep tonight, then I might avoid the questions they would surely ask of me. But would I sleep now when I have not for so long? I'd be a fool if I thought so."
The winds continued to fall upon the palace, and they seemed to grow colder by the moment. Lucia found herself shivering, and she frowned as she ran her palms across the bumpy flesh of her arms. She knew well what this wind would bring with it. The snows of winter would come at last to Crimea, and they would come soon. Though the winters of her homeland were not at all harsh, Lucia found herself thinking that on this year, it would be as the bitter storms of Daein as she stood still, listening to the blowing howls of the night.
"If I would be a fool, then a fool I will be," she said when she could no longer bear the chill upon her skin. "Perhaps, the warmth of my own bed will ease the night, now that I've stood here in the cold."
She turned and walked the lonely way back to her chambers, hoping that she might gain some moment of peace in sleep, though Lucia did not hold to any great hope for such a thing. When she had returned to her room, Lucia laid herself beneath her thick bedcovers, though she felt the chill of the winter air lingering upon her still.
Lucia stood alone upon a stool below the hangman's noose. Two men, clothed in silver armor, stood at each side, and one awaited only the order to pull the stool out from beneath their prisoner and let the rope do its terrible work.
The woman soon to die surveyed the crowd gathering around the gallows, looking upon them with her eyes and listening intently with her ears, for soon her eyes would darken and her ears would deafen forever. A great many among the people shouted names such as 'murderers' or 'traitors' at the rebel soldiers and shook their fists at the men, but a few shook their fists at Lucia, for they now revealed themselves as supporters of Felirae. Lucia cared not.
Her eyes fell upon a single man standing before the scaffold with his back to her. He was the head of these men in the stead of their lord, and it was his order that would see her hanged. It was not long before he gave it.
As Lucia felt the rope bite into the flesh of her neck and tighten around her throat, she saw her executioner turn slowly around. Her lungs burned for air, and the world was growing dark. The man was, by now, facing her. The world was fading all too fast, but she could still see the face of he who would end her life. The face was hard, pitiless, and even excited to see her die, but it was not the face she expected to see.
Lucia let out a great cry as she awoke. Beads of cold sweat formed on her brow, and within her chest, a lingering fear pounded violently, as did her heart. Each breath she took was taken as a fitful gasp. With trembling hands, she felt her neck, grateful to find the biting coil had faded. Her hands found the locks of her hair. Though her hair was considerably longer before the rebellion, it was longer than it had been on that day, and these things brought strange comforts to the frightened lady.
When her breath had stilled and her heart had calmed, Lucia climbed out of bed, glad as the unclad floors of her chambers met her feet, for it seemed to chase away what remained of the dream, the same accursed dream from every night.
Lucia walked in a fitful pace, back and forth across the floor, muttering to herself. "This has never happened twice," she said quietly. "What is the cause of all this?" she would also add.
While she had relived that terrible scene night after night, the lady had often later drifted off to sleep when she could no longer abide the thought of another moment spent in idle activity. But now, it had come to her twice in one night, and this thought was most disturbing to Lucia, as she continued her restless walking. All the while, it seemed that her legs once again wished her to go, but she knew not where.
When she, at length, ceased her uneasy steps, Lucia again left her quarters. She had not bothered to dress, for she was certain that, by this late hour, the castle slept in undisturbed slumber, which she had long envied. She did not know where she might go. She only knew that she could not stay in her chambers.
Lucia walked slowly through the darkened halls and passages lit only by the soft light of the hanging torches, ever awake as their stations demanded. Despite their presence, the palace truly seemed darker to the lady than the balcony lit by the silvery moon. The fires at her sides appeared harsh to the fearful woman, for they carried the flames of a memory she had not the desire to recall. And so, she did not allow her gaze to fall upon them.
The lady went along her way without any thought or purpose, putting her trust in only the memory of the queen's house. As she idly walked, she had hoped to gather her wits and tame her thoughts, though they seemed to flee from her. It was quiet, she noted, except for the crackling of the torches and every breath she took. Aside from that, Lucia thought she could hear every beat of her heart and even the noiseless falls of her steps.
While she had often enjoyed the silent company of herself, on this night, Lucia did not find it at all pleasing, though she could not say why it was so. It was yet another matter for her to ponder as she continued up and down every hall and staircase when she found herself at one.
In her wanderings, she happened to find herself before her brother's chamber. Lucia paused as she stood before the door, and she dared to press an ear to the solid door. Behind the wood, she thought she could hear the rather loud sounds of Geoffrey in the midst of sleep. Lucia might have found it amusing that he should sleep so loudly when he conducted himself with such poise and dignity, as many a man of stature. Yet, she found herself oddly displeased.
"How can he find it easy to sleep?" she wondered with discontent in her voice. She stifled another yawn as she withdrew from his door. "How can he sleep so soundly when I cannot?" For many nights, even while he was away on his queen's behalf, she often wondered how the same nightmares that plagued her did not, to her knowledge, slip into the dreams of her younger sibling. Though she knew better, she could not help but think it unjust that Geoffrey should sleep this night, and she furrowed her brow.
Lucia did not linger at her brother's door for long, for she found herself wondering if such envious thoughts might prompt her to enter, and then she would reveal herself to the only one who did not know of her troubles. And so again, she walked the halls, though now, she wore an unpleasant scowl upon her face.
She soon came upon the royal quarters, entirely unaware of where she had come. When she stood before the grand twin doors that marked Elincia's room, Lucia supposed that it was only the familiarity she and her queen held that brought her to this place, for the lady had often come to her when the need arose and even when it did not.
Lucia stood still and gazed upon the doors, one lit well by the soft light of the torch and the other darkened for its light had gone out, and she wondered if the queen herself lingered awake. She tilted her head as she looked down at the base, hoping to see some sign of activity. Did the lamps still burn? She could not say, but she knew Elincia would often labor with concern into the night upon the many cases her subjects would bring before her throne.
The lady reached out and ran her hand across the wood, letting her palm rise and fall as the carved patterns did. She did not know why she did this, though as her hand went on its way, she smiled as if her hand might have rested upon her milk-sister's face, as it often did when Elincia was in need of comfort.
If the queen were still astir, Lucia wondered if she would be glad of her company should she enter. Would Elincia question her sudden arrival? She might indeed, for a nightly visit from her milk-sister at such a late hour was most unusual. As her hand slowed in its idle coursing, Lucia thought briefly of entering nevertheless and laying her troubles before the queen. She had thought of it before, and many a time, she had considered that it would do her and the queen a greater good, for she knew the queen did not think her at all well.
"Perhaps, I would be glad to speak with her," Lucia whispered, but as she spoke, she sighed and shook her head. "It would not be right," she added sadly as she came upon the same realizations that often accompanied such thoughts. "My burden is heavy, but I'm sure if Elincia were to carry it, she would find it lighter than her own. She carries the burden of an entire kingdom. What do I carry? It's nothing that concerns her; I know that much."
At once, Lucia withdrew her hand as she felt a small barb, likely from a rough place in the wood, prick the skin of her palm. She held her hand in the light, for it had ventured away from it in its wandering. It relieved Lucia to see that she did not bleed. The barb did not even pierce her hand, though it had pained her.
As when she stood before the room of her brother, she did not linger before the chambers of her queen for long after, for she did not wish Elincia to hear her if she were indeed asleep.
Though the pain subsided quickly, Lucia found herself in a most unfavorable disposition towards the queen and even her brother, as she found the earlier thoughts of envy returning, and the sharp pain and her weariness had only served to anger her. Through clenched teeth, Lucia breathed heavily, and her scratched hand tightened into a fist.
"How can they sleep as though nothing has happened," she asked of the silent halls. "How can Geoffrey sleep as if he was still a child? How can Elincia sleep so soundly? Why must I be the one to suffer through this? Is this fair? I should say not."
The lady shivered as she walked as her heated thoughts of envy and ire turned cold. Her pace slowed as she found her heart saddened by what she had said. Without speaking, Lucia chastised herself for such harsh words and wicked notions. She knew she should not think ill of her queen, for she had sworn an oath of fealty to Elincia. It was her duty, she knew, to watch over her queen. It was her duty, she knew, to allow the blows meant for the queen to fall upon her. It was her duty, she knew, to suffer for the sake of her queen.
Lucia knew well that she should not hold such selfish thoughts, and yet she found that they came to her with such ease of late. She supposed that it was so, for it was easy to be weak after many years of strength.
Lucia stopped for a moment, wondering what she might do.
"I cannot go back to my quarters," the lady said. "I would surely go mad if I were to only lie awake and hope for sleep. And I cannot go before the queen or my brother. He has only just arrived, and I cannot allow Elincia to see me in this state. But there must be some reason for these dreams. If I knew that, then perhaps it would ease me. But what reason could it be?"
A thought of a rather different nature came to the lady. Setting her eyes forward, Lucia started once more down the halls, though now her strides carried a sense of purpose. She knew now where she would go, and she hoped that this deed would not be done in vain.
Lucia pondered what she had intended to do as she continued to walk with a decided pace towards the chamber for which Melior was known best, the grand library of Crimea. Lucia knew not what she might find, for she much preferred the training hall and the sword to the archives and the book. She did, however, know well what she hoped to find, and such a hope prompted her to make haste, though her feet, unaccustomed to striding bare upon stone, did not find her pace preferable. Lucia did not think much of the striking of the hardened floor, for she resolved to see this affair through for her sake and the sake of her queen.
The unsavory dream remained at the forefront of her thoughts. While she had seen that dreadful scene night after night, she had never seen it before her eyes more than the count of one. She recalled the many other nights when she had slipped away from the queen's camp to the physicians of Begnion.
Each night, they had given her some strong potion either to ease her body or thoughts, and none had done her any good. Lucia's face soured when she recalled the bitter elixirs of the empire and then, upon their return to Crimea, the sharp herbal brews of the country healers, some to be drunk and others to breathe. The lady had thought her nose might bleed when she inhaled deeply of some of those remedies.
She also recalled the words of one man in Begnion, one who had once been a grand magician in the service of the Imperial court and then had spent his declining years as a physician.
"It may very well be a matter of the body, my dear lady," he had said to her. "But perhaps it is not. Perhaps it is a matter of warning. Perhaps this dream you have is a vision. Do not scoff at this, my lady, for I have seen such things, though I am not an interpreter of them. However, I do know of many mages who are. I would tell you to go to them."
Lucia had scoffed at him nevertheless, for she did not hold to such a belief. Yet, now she wondered if she had thought in fault, and the lady was sure she would soon learn if she had. She did not care for the practice of magic, for she was not a magician. However, if she could find an answer from those who had studied the art, she would accept it with gladness.
When she had come to the doors of the library, Lucia slowly opened them. With every creak of the wood upon its hinge, the lady bit her lip, though she did not draw blood. She did not know why she feared the sound. She was certain that no one would come this way, and least of all at this late hour. Yet, Lucia began to think again on what she might do.
She might have gone to Count Bastian since he had arrived at the palace only earlier that day, but she would not indulge him nor encourage him in his attempts to woo her. And so, Lucia pulled upon the door, hoping that none would hear.
Even in the darkness, Lucia stood in awe at the vastness of the chamber. It was said very often that the royal library of Crimea could easily equal the archives of Begnion. This room held all manner of subjects for all manner of pupils. From the beginning of the history of the country when King Caradock broke away from his motherland and the farthest reaches of the royal family to the many works of the writer and the poet, the royal library held them all and much more.
Upon the numerous shelves, many works of magic and other such arts of learning waited like flowers to the bees for those who would take such pursuits upon themselves.
It was these very tomes that Lucia sought.
A hushed cry of surprise escaped her lips as Lucia stepped inside. At one of the tables before her, the soft glow of lit candles shined through the blackness, and in the light, she could see a number of books stacked upon each other. Someone was here; she was certain of it. Lucia wondered who might have come at such an hour aside from her.
She considered simply returning to her quarters and trying to endure what this night would surely send to her again, but the images still remained fresh upon her thoughts, as did the counsel she had received those days ago in the lands of the empire. The knowledge she sought now seemed to Lucia as one of the ripened, sweet berries she had reached for when she was but a child. It was near, so very near, if she would only reach out and take it. And so, she did not leave.
She took one of the candlesticks from the table, for there were several, and she began to roam the aisles of shelves. At first, Lucia did not know where she might find the tomes that could speak of dreams, and she feared also that she might encounter whatever young student had also come here. Yet, she knew the patterns in which the many shelves sat, and so she searched where she knew the books of magic waited.
She found a rather large tome that bore the title, The Observances of Signs and Portents in Everyday Life, and she found it promising. She took it and hurried back to the table. She returned moments later with second, and considerably smaller, book, A Discourse of the Unseen, and set it on the table. She then went and returned with a third, The Timing of the Seasons. Lucia did not know if any of these books might hold that which she sought, but she did not dwell on such a notion for long. Sitting down, Lucia opened the first of the books she had brought.
It was a book of many subjects, grouped by letters. Lucia found herself turning page after page hoping to find what she sought quickly, but she did find herself reading from time to time.
"I don't care what day I sneeze on. I also don't care if the day comes with dry grass or not," she muttered as she read. She turned the pages again, seeking council on dreams. For if her dreams were truly a foretelling of matters to come, she would wish to know it now so that she might take action upon them.
Aside from the great length of the tome and her own frustration, Lucia grew tired of reading. The words seemed to run together on the pages, and other times, her sight seemed to fade and then renew itself. It was a trick of her eyes, wearied as they were. The soft glow of the candles aided her not. In fact, they seemed to only worsen the tricks played upon her. Yet her eyes were not the only thing to cheat her, for her mind did the same.
Simple matters were at the forefront of her thoughts. Lucia pondered the dimness of the candles and the darkness of the vast chamber beyond, swallowing the light with ease. She even found herself thinking upon the pace of her breathing and the persistent chill of the floor underfoot.
Lucia frowned as she read on, hoping to put such distractions aside, if only for a moment.
When, at last, she found the pages turning to matters of dreams, Lucia smiled with gratitude, though she hardly knew why or towards what she should feel grateful. Perhaps it was, to the lady, the ending of a long journey and one that was hardly wanted. She paid little heed to anything around her, except for the written words. Had she, Lucia might have heard the sounds of footsteps coming from before her. She did, however, hear a rather youthful voice calling to her.
"My lady?" it asked. "What are you doing here at this hour?"
Lucia cried in surprise, and she raised her head swiftly to see who it was that had spoken to her. When she saw a young face and hazel eyes staring back at her, she greeted her visitor, "Lord Percival."
Indeed it was Percival, the new duke of Felirae, with a book tucked under his arm. Though he was counted as the son of Ludveck, the former duke, the lad bore little resemblance to his predecessor, for he was only a cousin of his. Percival was a youth of thin stature. His hair was a lighter color as well. It looked as though someone had mingled milk into the hair of his forerunner. His eyes were likewise lighter and a size bigger.
The duke and the lady regarded each other, for they had become friends during the brief time he had claimed his right. He had spent a good deal of time in Melior when the rebellion had come to its timely end and even before that when Ludveck had named the youth his heir. At his request, Lucia had even agreed to take him as her apprentice in the ways of the sword, and it had pleased her greatly.
Despite their familiarity, the two only stared upon the other with uncertainty. Neither he nor she knew what words they might have or if they should have words at all.
"Did I wake you?" Lucia asked, at length. She had not passed his chambers on her walks, and she was certain her steps were light and would not stir any. Yet, she did not know what she might say.
"I was awake already," Percival replied dully. "It's difficult for me to sleep here or even in my own bed. I thought I might read, but I see I'm not the only one. I have to say, Lucia," he added, now with a cheered voice, "I thought, at first, I would be sitting next to Count Bastian when I saw those tomes. I didn't think anyone but him would have an interest in such things. But, I'm glad to see you rather than him. Of all my peers, I would rather see you. I expected to be alone here tonight, but I would be glad of some company. I hope you don't mind if I sit with you."
Before he could sit, Lucia quickly slid her feet further under the table. She now wished she had shod herself and brought a wrap to cover her shoulders. The young lord had entered fully dressed, and Lucia felt exposed in the company of one of her peers, even in the presence of a friend. She also instinctively hid her sword arm and the mark, the lasting symbol of her captivity, she bore upon it.
"If I'm bothering you, I can leave," Percival added, noting what he believed was apprehension in her face.
Lucia only shook her head. "You are no bother," said she. "Please sit." Though she was fond of him, Lucia was displeased when he took the seat at her right hand and so near.
"If you don't mind my asking, Lucia," he answered when he had taken his chair, "why are you reading books such as these? I didn't think you held an interest in magic or anything like it. What would you want reading about it?"
"I thought I would find it dull, and then it would help me sleep," the lady replied. She did not speak again, and Percival gave no answer. Instead, the two turned their eyes to the pages before them. She was glad that he had only arrived this day, for he readily accepted the answer.
Though she desired the solitude now robbed of her, Lucia did not find it odd that the duke had come here, nor did she find it odd that he, too, could not sleep. She had heard of rumors that he slept with a knife tucked under his pillow and Cybele, his faithful rapier, at his side. Indeed, she could see its scabbard hanging from his waist at the moment. Percival had confided in only a few, Lucia being one of them, that he suspected many a plot against him. The other was the queen herself, who provided much support for the lad.
Lucia continued reading, hoping that her companion would not question her further. Yet, she could not help but cast her eyes upon him. He seemed only one thing more to divert her eyes and her mind from what she sought. She began to notice his face twisting into looks of displeasure and even illness. At once, she wondered what might prompt such a look.
"What are you reading about?" Lucia asked.
"Anatomy," Percival answered rather sickly. "I can't even understand how physicians can learn their own practice."
Lucia only nodded as he returned to his book, though he seemed loath to do so. In his efforts to repent for the treachery now upon his shoulders, Percival took up many an honorable calling, yet he was a master of none of them. He had neither the heart of a physician nor the strength of a laborer or a warrior. The only thing within his reach was to take up the life of the clergy, and he had not the desire or even the ability to do so. Yet, even these things could not redeem him in the eyes of the queen's court.
For a time, silence lingered between the two. Though Lucia made every effort to read, she found herself growing most uneasy. She became slowly aware that her companion was looking at her, and when she glanced upon him again, he was indeed doing just that. To look at him, any other would guess he was merely absorbed in his studies, but Lucia could see his gaze falling away from the pages and onto her.
She knew not why he watched her. Perhaps, he looked at her face for some purpose, though she knew not what it was. She noticed a slight smile appear on his face, a smile which he tried to hide with his hand. She doubted he had seen her mark. He would have no doubt given her a look of pity or remorse. Why did he smile when he looked at her? Was it that he looked at her with desire as his cousin had? She found it most unlikely, for she was certain that Percival was not that sort of man.
Yet, she could not abide his gaze.
Her unease grew by the moment. Though Lucia kept her eyes fixed on the pages of the tome, she could not read. While she would have gladly kept his company, she did not wish to do so now. At length, Lucia loudly slammed the book shut and sharply rose.
"I have to go," she declared, leaving the book upon the table. Percival looked up at her and similarly rose, looking quite unsettled.
"No," he said quickly. "I'm sorry, please forgive me. I didn't mean to stare."
Lucia was utterly shocked at his admission. "Why did you stare?" she asked, though it bore the sound of an accusation.
The duke stood in an equal shock at the question, for he had not known Lucia to speak to him in such a way. He gave no answer, and he appeared to search for one.
"Can I not admire my instructor?" he asked, his tone uncertain of the words he had spoken. "You are the only member of the court who treats me as an equal. When your peers reject you, but one accepts you, it's hard not to admire it."
"Was it admiration?"
"Whatever do you mean, Lucia? I did not even realize I was staring at you. Please forgive my offense. I do not wish you to leave me in anger."
"I am not angry with you, Percival. But I can't bear to have you staring at me. I must go. Please see to it that these books are returned to their place."
Without another word, Lucia departed, leaving the books where she had laid them, and her friend standing alone pondering what he might have done.
Back down the halls, Lucia walked briskly, hoping to get away from the library. She was certain Percival was sitting at the table, holding himself at fault. While he was at fault for staring at her, the fault was hers for leaving so quickly. Before she left, she'd glanced up at him, and she was certain she saw Ludveck staring back at her in place of her friend. She had seen the former noble's face as clear as her reflection in water, and the sight frightened her. She knew of no other place to go, so Lucia decided she would return to her room, even though she knew there would be no comfort or rest for her there.
Still, she needed sleep; that much she knew for certain. And so she walked, breathing deeply as she did, hoping it would still her heart.
She stopped in the middle of a hall. She didn't know why. Her eyes were drawn to a torch hanging on the wall. Her eyes grew heavier as she stared at the light, as they had when she read by candlelight. At once, Lucia's eyes widened in astonishment. She saw another face staring back at her in the flames. It was the face of a man she knew and a face she wished not to know or recall, yet one she had not shown fear to. Just then, the face began to change into one she both knew and loved, yet its expression did not. It looked on still with ill-intent.
Lucia tore herself away from the fiery phantom and fled. She ran as fast as she could even after she realized no one pursued. She ran and ran without thought or care. In her haste, her feet entwined with each other and she fell forward. Her hands and arms took the brunt of the fall as they instinctively sprang up. Lucia lay curled up in the hall as though she was a frightened child listening to a raging storm. Her arms stung from the fall, her feet felt sore from her flight, and her heart threatened to cast itself from her chest.
Not a single tear fell from Lucia's eye, for she had long held such a thing as a weakness. Yet, she continued to lay there sobbing, not from any sort of wound but from the persisting fear.
"Get a hold of yourself," she whispered. "You're acting as if you're altogether mad. This is nothing." She sounded as though she did not believe her own words, but she thought to force herself to do so. She continued to speak the same words over and over until she felt the fear subside, just as the pain of the fall did.
She rose from where she had fallen, wincing as she did as the pains returned and faded. Thinking that she might fare better in the attempt to sleep, Lucia did not linger for long where she stood.
Once again, she started back towards her quarters. Once again, she strode to her bed and crawled tiredly into it. Once again, she closed her eyes and hoped that the dreams would not come to her again.
When the dream did come again, Lucia awoke once more in fear and great distress, but she was glad she had done so now before the images could reach their conclusion. She had dreamed of worse, far, worse things that had often followed. When the fear and all thoughts of the rebel men and the noose had faded, Lucia buried her face within the palms of her hands.
"Why is this happening to me?" she whispered to her silent bedchamber. "Why now, of all times, when the rebellion has ended? Why do I relive it night after night? My brother does not, and Queen Elincia does not. Why do I relive it?"
Lucia rose from her bed, and she felt her way to the small table that rested in the center of her chambers. She knew that a small candlestick rested upon it, and she took it when her hand had reached it. She left her room only long enough to light the candles with one of the hanging torches. She then returned from where she had come and returned the candlestick to its previous resting was hardly a great light, but it was enough for the lady.
Lucia paced with unease back and forth across her room as she had done earlier, still pondering the same matters. She spoke to herself of them, for she had not spoken a word to any other.
"Why is this happening to me?" she asked. "I could endure the dreams, at least I believe I could. But why does it happen now, and why does sleep stamp the faces of those I know, trust, and even love over the faces of enemies?" She wondered if she would find her answers were she able to read the tome she had taken. She knew not if these things were merely the tricks of her mind or if, by chance, the old sage of the empire had spoken rightly. At the moment, she wondered if she would know for certain at all.
Lucia had also heard stories among the fighting men of their former-comrades who could no longer bear the memories of battle. She had heard that many had suffered as she did. Often would these soldiers dream of the days when cries of pain filled the air in a maddening chorus and the blood of both foe and friend flowed freely as wine upon the night of victory.
They would see faces. Faces of their friends as they fell, and faces of fear as the thought of death became real. And worst of all, she had heard that the dreamers could no longer keep such terrible things in the darkness of the night.
Yes, Lucia had heard much of the "soldier's sickness" as the men had come to call it. However, she did not think it likely of her, for she was still young even at twenty and two years of age. When she heard the soldiers speak of this affliction, she had known it spoken of the older ones or those who had seen far too much far too soon. For that matter, she had raised her blade and seen the deaths of many while she was yet seventeen, when Elincia, still but a princess, had returned to her homeland. Yet, Lucia would have preferred such an answer, for she had none.
The thought saddened the lady as she continued to walk the floor, hoping to make sense of these dreams. When the weariness of the night came upon her again, Lucia ceased her restless steps, and she stood still. Her shoulders fell as though she counted herself defeated, and with a sigh, she again buried her face within her hands.
"Why?" she asked again with the toil of her efforts and the sorrow of their fruitlessness in her voice. "Why?"
Walking slowly to the bed, Lucia sat down upon it, still pondering the burden she carried and one she would find herself glad to lay down. She began to think of any possibility, beyond the thoughts she had previously considered. The woman even wondered if she was altogether mad. Lucia found it strange that such an idea would bring any satisfaction to her, but it seemed to do just that. Yet as quickly as it came, it faded away, for Lucia doubted that she was entirely in a wrong mind. All the same, she wondered if it might have given her a suitable answer.
Her eyes felt heavy once more. A weary breath escaped her lips once again. She wished anew for sleep, but Lucia knew sleep would not come. She could ponder no longer, for her mind could not bear it just as her body could not bear the deprivations done upon it. She longed for sleep, a deep and dreamless sleep. Yet, for all the elixirs and sleeping potions she had tried, Lucia knew she would not find it.
A new thought came to her just then. She remembered that Geoffrey had not arrived in Melior alone. She had heard that he had returned with Makalov on foot and bound behind the steed of the general, and she was certain it was to have the rogue of a knight chastised for some foolish deed. Despite her best efforts, she had not managed to avoid either of them. After he had handed over Makalov to the queen, Geoffrey had sought her out and found her. She had not spoken to him when he called out to her, and she was certain that he suspected that all was not well with her.
She recalled later that a lesser misfortune had come upon her, for, by chance, Makalov had seen her as well. He had, likewise, noted that she was not herself, and he would not leave her until she spoke of it. She had only admitted that she could not sleep. The knight had come to her in secret later that day with a bottle in his hand. He spoke favorably of the drink, saying it often aided him when he could not sleep. After his insistence and a good deal of pitiful mewling, Lucia had accepted it, though she had made sure to hide it.
Lucia knelt down by her bed and reached her hand beneath it until she felt the cool touch of glass brush against her fingertips. Indeed the bottle had not left its place. Her tongue dared to venture beyond her lip as she carefully wrapped her fingers around the vessel and pulled it from its hiding place.
She sat back upon the bed. She sat and stared at the dark liquid within and the candlelight turned a shade of amber as well through the glass and the brew. She idly turned the bottle this way and that and watched the drink flow back and forth in turn. All the while, a rather different confusion arouse within her mind.
She would not approve of this thing. She considered this strong drink a vile companion for one who partook of its company. She had often said it could dull the best of men and make the worst of them all the more poor in thought. Just as often, she had pointed her finger at Makalov himself, and few would dispute her words. And yet, she did not entirely turn aside from a strong brew. When the battles had come to their end, she could recall the wounds inflicted upon her and the pain they brought with them. She had gladly accepted such a drink if only to relieve it until the healers could take charge of her. She had the need for a dulled mind then, and surely she needed it now, though she felt a great fear at the thought of this deed.
Lucia sighed again.
"I cannot continue like this," she whispered, hoping to still her unfavorable thoughts. "My brother, the other nobles, and Elincia herself will all see me, if they have not already. I cannot stand by my queen's side as I am. And if I worry her, I may drive her to illness if I can't put an end to this. Nothing has helped me; the potions of Begnion and Crimea have failed me. What else can I do when everything else has not helped?"
Lucia pulled the cork from the bottle and carefully walked from the bed to put out the candlestick. Perhaps, she reasoned, it would come with ease in the dark. She returned to her bed and laid herself down, though she did not cover herself. She held the bottle beneath her nose and breathed the strong scent. Her mind pleaded with her in earnest protest, but she heeded it not.
Lucia drank quickly. It was stronger than the wine she was accustomed to, and it burned like fire, which she knew all too well. She fought every urge to spit it out as it coursed down her throat.
Lucia pulled the bottle away as she took the last mouthful. She surprised herself as she did it, and she coughed up what was in her mouth at the time. The foul stream fell upon her nightdress, wetting it and branding its harsh scent into the cloth. A fit of coughing seized her for some time, and she already felt sick.
She could not speak, but she found herself wondering how a man as weak as Makalov could drink something so strong with ease. When the fit subsided, Lucia began to feel ill. Despite the sickly feeling within her belly and the strong scent of liquor burning her nose, the lady found her mind lingering on her dreams no longer.
Instead, she considered finding Makalov and giving him the cause to feel far more ill than she did at present. She continued to lie there, gleefully thinking of the poorly face of the slothful fool, until exhaustion overtook her, and she could withstand it no longer.
A/N: Hope that was a little more bearable than the last chapter. It was shorter anyway, although I did add some new bits to try and fill the spots my scene breaks left.