Authors: Elizabeth Delana Rosa
The King lay in the large, downy bed inhaling his last, sallow breaths. Self-reflection was all he had left in his weakened state; he contemplated his kingdom’s future that hung in the balance. The lives of his people would be destroyed and his kingdom would meet their disaster if his lost heir was not brought home soon.
The kingdom was already showing signs of his illness. He could hide it no longer. There was no need to make any edicts or long speeches. His people already knew there dire situation. The King was failing and taking the land with him. The Loch suffered with the King in the throes of a deadly infirmity.
The King could see out the open bay window shrouded in bright red velvet and golden cords. It contrasted to his decaying lands. His thoughts were punctuated with a sour wind and the distinct odor of putrid compost. What would his kingdom do without him?
The King was a good leader. He was well-loved by his people and in return he always put them before his own needs. The King would prevent his people’s demise at all costs, even if meant breaking the laws that he himself wrote in the Scroll of Decree 29 years ago during the Year of Light Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Three.
The King knew he must send his fastest messengers to the far reaches of his kingdom, riding past the borders of the Kingdom of the
lands. The journey would take the messengers further than anyone had ridden in the last years of King’s rule.
Only one, whose very name was outlawed in the land, had made the arduous trek that had
through all the lands of many allies, as the messengers were about to do now. The exiled one’s journey had blazed a trail of tears and sadness to the
borders that bled out into Outlands. Lands that distanced far beyond the pale, pink, rising sun and the blue rain clouds of the Loch. However, these messengers’ journeys would be bringing hope and light to a barren land. It was time to gather the allies. Dark times were ahead and the enemies of the Loch would use it to their full advantage.
Even now, the King felt the people’s pain as acutely as his own. The King squeezed his almond shaped eyes tight against the physical pain. He was so ravaged by the illness that no one would recognize him. He was a ghost of his former self. Now, only his amber eyes were a distinguishable sign of his pure royal line.
The bevy of relatives had already gathered fighting for what was left of his kingdom. He heard their disappointed thoughts from time to time. They hated him for his tenuous grip on life. Their ochre shaded eyes were a variety of colors with only undertones and shadows, showing their royal lineage were of the distant past, which could only be verified by a scroll of lineages. Though they warred and plotted against each other to be the chosen heir, they would never do. The land would not replenish with their hard hearts and diluted blood lines. They held no love or bond to the land, not like a true “child of the Loch.”
The King had a direct heir. His mind drifted to the one whose veins were filled with the unpolluted blood of the first Queen. A gentle woman who bore curse of a connection to the land for imagined wrongs against the magic that governed the land. No one knew the full histories not even the King himself. It was of little importance because the curse was a blessing to her descendants.
The heir would heal the land and hold proof that none other would do.
The kingdom would know the heir upon its arrival. The entire line was blessed with unnatural beauty and gifts that were not apparent in any other clan of the Loch. The land would begin to heal itself, growing stronger as they drew closer. New growth bloomed in small sections at the corner of the castle due to the King’s momentary joy.
Other gardens died in the same breath, when the King rolled to his side in agony. The King’s pale, lined face contorted as seizures took him. His face turned purple from lack of breath and his hands curled into balls. He cursed his murderer again from bloody, foam covered lips.
The land suffered with him. An earthquake shook knocking vases off pedestals and pictures from their places on the stone walls. The King’s clumps of salt and pepper hair fell from his inflamed pink scalp. The land responded with pustules of rot that spoiled the crops leaving nothing edible. While the fever blisters popped oozing water and lymph into his jaundiced eyes, shut tight; flakes of pasty skin peeled from his dry lips and the trees withered bearing bitterly poisonous fruit.
Even now he knew that these final hours were passing with prejudice. The slow, steady decline of the once strong King was highly unexpected in the view of the long lives of his predecessors. They flourished for many lifetimes as stewards of the land.
Rumors flew about the kingdom blaming the loss of the Loch’s only heir, though it was many years ago for some. It was only a moment in the life of the King. It was common knowledge that the King’s broken heart still bore the weight of the Queen’s death by the hand of the General of the
, the greatest enemy of the Loch.
The true nature of the King’s illness could not be fathomed until it was too late. Test after test from the chief physicians to the peasant apothecaries drew the answers needed. It was not grief that had stolen the spry King’s health. It was poison from magic of darkness or herb of the vine that took its hateful vengeance upon the King’s body.
There was no antidote to either herb or spell. The cure for one could cause another to slaughter him more rapidly and excruciatingly. It was well known in the land that the long list of poisons or black
in the Loch that caused the King’s symptoms would all end horribly with the much-loved King cold and maimed in his grave. He would be unrecognizable to all who knew him. There would be no hope of recovery. The King’s death warrant was signed, sealed and awaiting its hour of designation. He was a slave in his own body, mastered by the unnamed venom that flowed throughout his skeletal body.
The King endured every moment of the physical pain of his illness without complaint, but it was the heartache that was unbearable and made him cry out to the God of his forefathers. He longed for the days when he ruled with his beloved Queen and his son, a shadow of them both.
The King could not escape the thoughts of his beloved son, a mirror of himself when he was healthy. Both men were hard-headed, amber-eyed and so unforgiving of each other, that it seemed that there never could be reconciliation. What transpired could not be undone and the Prince was far away in presence, mind and spirit. For this, the King waited, begged, and prayed for death to come and sweetly end his pain. He needed it to release him from his bonds, but not before he brought mercy to the Loch and her people.
Imminent death has a way of boomeranging the thoughts of a life once lived and regrets harp like old women. The King again reflected on the hard truths that brought him here. He dwelled on the perpetrator of this horrific act of treason that would leave his kingdom heirless and without a future in its wake.
“My heir is gone and I’m to blame,” galloped through his departing mind.
Where had the time gone? It had been far too long since he last saw his boy, a man now, with a grown child of his own. A grandchild he had never seen face to face or held in his arms. How much had he missed in his arrogance and how could he get the rightful heir home in time to take the crown before the Loch was through?
Again, he stole a hard look outside his door that was flanked by relatives. The King laughed bitterly at their pettiness. Only a true heir would do.
He fingered the photos in his ashen right hand and stroked the cheek of the young, dark-haired woman with his thumb. Another spasm grabbed him rigidly. In his left hand, his grip tightened on the scroll marked in the family seal pressed into black wax crushing and crinkling the paper written in a shaky hand. The King was fading and he felt the last of himself disappearing into obscurity, soon he would see his ancestors and his God. No magic good or bad could touch him in the Land of Light.
The King called for another page, one who would go to his most trusted and truest friend,
, the Sovereign of the Ogres in the Western Wood. There was no time for single journeys to be made. They would all travel through the Western Wood, but death waited by his side, so he sent his riders to the lands of the Elves, Dragons and
. They would guide his heir when he could not.
The King pressed the photo and the scroll into the final page’s solid, strong hand and his grasp fell weakly from the page’s wrist. The young man gathered his bounty, bowed low and ran for the door. He mounted the waiting horse and set off for the Western Wood at a dash.
Barely conscious the King urged himself on, garnering the final bits of his strength. He only needed to be strong enough for his son and the hope he carried with him to make it back to the Loch. The King would set it right, even if he never lived to see the outcome. The race for the crown was on.
“Come quickly, my son, for you hold the key to the future of the Loch,” he thought as he faded into the black, praying for his trusted pages’ safe journey and quick return. The King’s gurgling breaths could be heard throughout the castle and every subject loyal to the kingdom wept for the King’s impending death, mourning without hope for their dying land.
I awoke with a start. I bit down hard on my mouth guard nearly biting it in two. My heart beat as though it would pound its way out of my ample chest while my lungs were bursting with pressure. My mouth was cotton and I had clenched my white-knuckled fists until they hurt. Half moon shapes marked my sweaty palms and my dark wet hair was plastered to my head. It was another seizure that accompanied visions of someplace I had never been.
I was haunted by what I saw. Not only, was I somewhere else. I was someone else. I checked my skin and hair for any sign of my dream illness. This was my new life, both gifted and cursed by night madness.
My dreams were always clear and I remembered them with vivid details of smells, colors and other nuances of life. Tonight they were nightmarish and sad. I felt like the victim of a plague and shadows moved all around me shouting for my death. I could feel my heart slowing and my strength waning, but something stopped me from completely succumbing. I had never felt a death in my dreams and prayed that I would never feel it again.
Sweat poured off me and into my eyes but even in my distress and fear I gave thanks. I did not have the fire dream. I’d only had it twice but it was enough to leave me scarred. It burned fear into my bones and left the copper stench of blood in my nostrils. The rage and heat was stifling. I felt not a heart in my chest but lava threatening to consume anything in my path. I shivered at the thought and longed for the innocent dreams I had as a child. They held joy that had me laughing in my sleep and adventure that rivaled any epic fantasy novel.
In those days, I wished and prayed that my days would hold the joy of my nights. The times have changed. Where there was once a fortified castle of stone, strong healthy people and a land full of mythical animals, there is nothing but starving people and dank lands.
A gaunt amber-eyed old man stares back at me from an ornate, gold plated mirror. My breathing shallows and my heart clumps slowly. I feel as though I am choking.
The old man reaches out for a moment and caresses the mirror with one long finger. A sad smile forms on his sallow face and he whispers my name. I don’t know him but I am him in every way possible. It is through him that I experienced the land and the events.
When the dreams changed so did I. In the black midnight of my dreams I feel something dark growing and coming for me. Something is reaching out to me from beyond the veil. A veil I can’t identify or breach when I am not in the deepest of sleeps.
I panic as I struggle to remember my dream's events. I could feel and see that he was stronger and much better looking the last time I’d dreamed of him. He was dying now, in the most horrific fashion.
Tears stung my eyes as I remembered everything. I experienced the suffering his burning skin, and his slowing pulse. I passed through his physical discomfort on more than one occasion to find his worry as he sent out a page, a messenger, on a mission. I saw through his eyes and drank in every detail. There was no mirror in the room. So much had changed in the few months since I’d last been given a vision.
I scanned the rooms every corner and felt paper in my left hand. I picked up in a skeletal hand. It was my picture. I did not know what it meant and had no time to think about it. I felt a stifling wave of grief for him that endangered my sanity.
Something new happened as the man fainted. I saw through someone else’s eyes. I blinked twice and saw the scroll and reigns. I knew that for the moment I was experiencing the page. We rode swiftly to carry out the orders of his king at all costs. I felt and admired his determination until it turned to fear and darkness enveloped him. All I knew was that the young page was no more and I had sensed the last of his fight leave him. I felt sick to my stomach. He was gone and I was still here. I grieved for the old man and the page, only figments of my dream, but so real I could almost touch them outside my dreams.
The dreams have stopped. I feel bereft. I have cried and grieved for the old man. I do not know who I am anymore or even if I am sane.