Chapter 1- Levi
Levi waited patiently for his father to finish his speech, standing at attention for all the crowd to see. He plastered a smile onto his face when they toasted to his bravery, and then joined his father at the High Table.
"Why are you so quiet today, son?" The king took a sip from his goblet. "This celebration is in your honor after all. Look at your brother, dancing and mingling with the people. Go join him."
Levi shrugged. "It seems kind of pointless, to be eating and dancing when there are people out there who lost everything."
His father hadn't seen it, hadn't left their golden, untouched capital to witness the horrors of the war on their borders. Maybe that's why he found it so easy to waste resources on such trivial matters.
The king shook his head. "Go dance." It was no longer a request. "You need to show people that you are still their Prince."
Levi wanted to do no such thing, but he dragged himself on to the dance floor, offering his arm to the first young lady that crossed his path. He glanced back at his father for a moment, and saw him smiling as he watched the celebrations. Levi breathed a sigh of relief; at least one person was satisfied.
"My Prince, it has been so long since you have attended a ball. How does it feel?" The young lady on his arm was a perfect stranger to him, but he was sure if he thought hard enough he would be able to come up with a name.
"Just the same as ever." He twirled her around and then pulled her back in with practiced ease. "Things have not changed by much while I was away."
She nodded, adopting a wise expression that he was certain she spent hours practicing in front of the mirror. "What was the war like? Did you kill many of our enemies in brave combat?"
He pulled away from her harshly, not caring that the music was still playing and that everyone had their eyes on him tonight. "Do not ask about things you do not want to know, my lady."
He cut his way through the other dancers, trying to get as far away as he could. He could feel a hundred curious eyes on him and it made his heart beat quicker than usual. Nodding at the guards who manned the door to the ballroom, he slipped outside into the empty castle halls.
Levi knew that his father would be furious in the morning, and tell him that duty was above personal feelings. His brother would pester him, and his sister would fuss as soon as she returned from school. It was suffocating.
"Acting like a normal human being too much for you?"
Levi jumped, startled by the sudden female voice that had spoken behind him. He turned around. The lady who he had rather thoughtlessly left on the dance floor had followed him outside.
He bowed slightly. "My lady, forgive me for my earlier actions. They were thoughtless and in poor taste. Your question was merely an innocent one."
"It was not so, really," she said quietly. She was rather lovely, Levi realized, with shining golden hair and bright blue eyes.
He tilted his head a little, curious now as to what she meant. It had sounded like an air headed question he expected from almost any lady of court. But perhaps he was wrong, perhaps he had been away for far too long and ladies at court had changed.
She sighed, not quite meeting his eyes as she spoke. "You may not remember me, for my family does not often visit the castle. I am Lady Inisya Alaris, daughter of Lord Alaris. My brothers all fought in the war as well. They did not return."
Levi felt sympathy tug at his heart. "You have my condolences, my lady, and believe me when I say they come from the heart."
He knew of Lord Alaris' three sons, though he had never met them. The Lord of the North Valley was known for his honor and valor, and Levi had no doubt that his sons shared those traits.
"I must apologize once again now, for accusing you of speaking without knowledge of the subject." He looked her in the eye and smiled as gently as he now remembered. "Is there anything you wish to know?"
Lady Inisya nodded, and Levi felt the fear in the pit of his stomach grow. It was difficult to talk, or even think, about the war willingly. It happened often enough when it was out of control. But he had seen many like her, from whom war had stolen brothers and husbands. And whether it was survivor's guilt or merely his kind heart he did not know, but he wanted to do his best to help them.
"Tis not much I ask, and you need not answer it if you do not wish to, but tell me, do you think they will be remembered?" Her eyes were shining with tears now, and she wiped them with an embarrassed look on her face.
"If they were even half as honorable as your good father my lady, those they commanded will always remember them as heroes." He held out his arm. "Do not spend tonight mourning them, for this victory is what they fought for. Allow me to escort you back to the ballroom for perhaps another dance?"
Lady Inisya shook her head. "You need not go back for my sake when I could tell you wanted nothing to do with those present."
Levi laughed, but it was a harsh and bitter sound. "And do you expect me to want to talk and dance and waste precious resources on frivolities when I've seen how much the people near the borders lack?"
She shook her head. "No. You forget, the North Valley is a harsh and difficult place. We barely have enough to get by. Why do you think my father does not visit the capital often? He may be loyal but it grates on his nerves to see such excess."
Levi felt his cheeks burn. He needed to stop lashing out at her for no reason at all. "My sincerest apologies, my lady. I meant not to offend, I am simply in a troubled mood."
She took his offered arm then and smiled gently at him. "Think nothing of it. Perhaps a walk in the gardens will make you feel better?"
Levi shook his head. This was pity, and he did not want pity. Besides he was not so far removed from court etiquette to not realize that a lonely walk in the gardens at night would only cause scandal.
"I am going to retire to my rooms." He pulled his arm away from her. "I hope the rest of your evening is wonderful, my lady. Perhaps we will see each other again."
She nodded, turning away from him, the perfect picture of grace. Levi felt something from her, something powerful and raw deep inside her. He had learned a long time ago to not ignore such feelings, and he resolved to keep a closer eye on her while she was in the capital.
He returned to his rooms quickly, not wanting to be caught up by some other wandering noble in conversation.
As he settled in to sleep, he sent a quick prayer up to whatever god watched over them that he would be able to sleep peacefully. The fact that he did not only proved to him that there was no one watching.
Levi stood in a barren field, fallen soldiers and dying horses all around. Screams and gunfire echoed in his ears and there was no way to block it out. He was chained to his spot somehow, unable to run to the rescue of his people. They rushed right past him - no right through him - as though he wasn't even there.
"Help!" His throat was raw from screaming. "Someone help, please."
As though in answer to his plea, suddenly a girl stood before him, but she looked just as afraid and confused as she felt. She looked at the ground, trying to puzzle out her location.
When she looked up at him, Levi barely had time to notice her startling mismatched eyes, before he was pulled out of his dream...
He jolted awake, disoriented for a moment by the thick mattress underneath him and the fine decorations in the roof. Reminding himself that this was no longer a battlefield and that no enemy lay in wait at every moment, he slipped out of bed and opened the window.
The fresh air cleared his head enough for him to piece together his dream. It had been no usual nightmare and while Levi considered himself no expert, he could gather that the dream had at least in part been due to magic.
But that made little sense, for he knew of no mages in the near vicinity powerful enough to invade a mind as closed off from the world as his own.
The rest of the dream had blurred together into one large memory of a battlefield he did not recognize - almost as though his mind did not want him to remember - but one detail still stood out.
The girl. Her startlingly pale skin, and dark hair that had been hanging loose in wild waves around her. But most of all- her eyes. They had been the most unusual color- one a deep purple flecked with grey and the other a pale green flecked with gold. He did not know who she was, but from his whirlwind nightmare, she was the only one that made sense.
Levi knew he had responsibilities, that he could not simply stop being a Prince and look for a girl based on a mere nightmare. His father never would approve. But Levi resolved that he would make time to go into the city and ask around to at least try to find out the identity of the girl with the mesmerizing eyes- and ask her what she had been doing in his dream.
Chapter 2- Aneira
Aneira peeked around the corner of the street, taking in the colorful marketplace. It had not been this lively for some time. She pulled the hood of her cloak low over her eyes, stepping carefully closer to the market stalls. There were a lot of guards about today, and Aneira had heard whispers of the royal retinue arriving sometime later today.
She noticed one of the rich merchants finish setting up their fruit and wine stall. Her stomach growled at the sight. She could use fresh food, the strange dream she had had the previous night had left her drained and afraid for some strange reason. Perhaps the wine would dull the edge of her fear.
She edged closer to the stall, her pale hand reaching out from beneath its cloak for the fresh apples that rested on the corner of the stall.
She grabbed one apple deftly, slipping it into the pockets she had sewn into her cloak. Then she moved a few steps forward and reached out for the smallest wine flask she saw.
She almost cried for joy when no one immediately yelled at her for being a thief. Slowly and steadily, she navigated her way towards the edge of the square, aiming to slip away unnoticed in the crowd of the peasants.
But the hood over her eyes had obstructed her view and she ran head-on into a large man, stumbling backward and falling over. The hood fell off and she scrambled away in horror, but it was too late. One look at her foreign, mismatched eyes and the man screamed at the top of his lungs.
"Witch! Devil child! She tried to attack me, she was going to possess me!" He waved his hands frantically, trying to attract as much attention as possible. Aneira knew what would happen next, it had happened to her often enough. People gathered up a mob, ready to beat her out of their village or town.
She had been called a monster countless times now, accused of practicing magic in ways that were no longer considered lawful. She could only pray that there were more civilized guards in the capital city who might help save her.
"What is the commotion?" A guard's harsh voice broke through the din soon enough, and a middle-aged man dressed in the royal guards' uniform broke through the mob of people that had gathered.
"The devil child tried to attack me!" The man whom she had run into was red in the face from yelling now, and Aneira wished that he would just stop.
No sooner had the thought come to her mind that the man simply froze on the spot, trying to open his mouth only to have no words come out. Aneira scrambled away even further when the guard headed towards her, but she was encircled by a group of angry peasants now.
The guard grabbed her arm, pulling her to her feet harshly, his fingers digging into her skin even through the fabric of her cloak. "Undo it," he ordered.
Aneira shook her head, her colorful eyes shining with tears. "I can't." Her voice was a choked whisper. "I did not mean to do that, I swear. You must believe me when I say that I wanted nothing like this to happen."
"Of course you would say that now that your victim cannot even speak against you, you witch," said the guard harshly. He pulled her along, and she stumbled over the hem of her dress.
The people in the square cleared a path quickly, spitting at her from a distance, their stares following her as she was dragged away. She felt sick, more than ever before. Could these people not accept others for what they were, and show kindness instead of hate?
Once they were out of the square, the guard started to lead the way up the to the castle and the streets became quieter. The sharp stones cut through Aneira's thin slippers and she whimpered in pain. Her breath came in short, sharp gasps, and her vision was blurred with tears.
"Can we stop for a mere moment?" she begged. "Please. I only need time enough to catch my breath."
The guard did not even pause, talking to her without even turning his head to look at her pitiful state. "So you can curse me into becoming a mute as well? I think not. You're coming with me, witch, to the castle dungeons, where you belong."
Aneira knew there was no point in begging. They would do whatever they liked with her, just as everyone had always done, so she gave in, allowing him to pull her along into the castle through the servants' entrance and into the dungeons.
As they started to descend the dungeon steps, the tiniest of whimpers escaped her. "P-please," she begged, a final effort. Her dignity was shattered already, what more had she to lose? Tears dripped down her cheeks without shame now. "D-don't do this to me. I'm innocent, I swear I'm innocent."
The guard stopped then, and turned around to really face her for the first time. Perhaps for the briefest moment, Aneira saw pity flicker in his eyes. "You are a devil's child. And had you not been caught for magic you would have been caught for theft. There is no changing your fate."
He did not drag Aneira anymore, and she followed as slowly as she could without incurring the man's wrath. The dungeons were dark and dirty. Most of the cells were empty, at least on the level the guard had brought Aneira to. He opened the nearest cell and pointed to it.
"Get inside." Any final shred of hope that he might have shown mercy was wiped away.
Aneira shook her head. She would not accept her fate lying down, not after surviving so many years. It appeared that the guard had expected that, for in a single fluid movement, he grabbed hold of her shoulders, shoving her into the cell and slamming the door shut.
"Will I get a trial?" she whispered. "Or is there not even that much mercy left in this kingdom of yours?"
"Of course there will be a trial. What do you take us for, barbarians? But the trial may take days. Until then, you will remain down here, where you cannot hurt anyone else." The guard turned away and started to move up the stairs.
"Wait!" yelled Aneira, and he stopped suddenly, almost unwillingly. She gasped when she realized she had somehow used magic again. "No, no, no, I did not mean to do that. I merely wished to ask for a candle. The darkness is overwhelming."
The guard shook his head. "Perhaps being stuck in the darkness will teach you a lesson or two then, witch." And then he left her alone with her thoughts in the suffocating darkness of the castle dungeon.
Aneira had not wanted to sleep, for she had known that sleep would only bring nightmares, and in the light of her recent humiliation in the market square, those nightmares would be nothing pleasant.
She was standing in the market square again, in the very centre, and people surrounded her. They were yelling, but she could not understand the words, and they were throwing stones. She tried to duck out of the way, but it was no use. They hit her over and over, yet never quite seemed to leave a mark. Her dress was torn, exposing skin to almost the very top of her chest. Young men in the crowd leered at her and reached forward as though they were going to grab hold of her shoulders and drag her away...
A scream was ripped from her throat, visceral and desperate. "Help! Please, I beg you, someone stop this!"
And suddenly, she was not alone anymore. A boy stood before her, dressed in a soldier's uniform. He looked around at the crowd, and then at her, and she was startled by the sheer sadness in his eyes. He opened his mouth, as though he was about to say something, but suddenly Aneira was jolted from the dream...
It blurred together almost immediately, and she found herself shivering on the floor of the cell. She could not piece together much of the dream, only that it circled around the very same humiliation that had followed her in the market square today. But one thing stood out, just like it had from her dream the previous night- the boy with grey eyes that were so filled with sadness it hurt Aneira's heart.
She yearned to find him, to understand why she had seen him in her dreams for two nights in a row. She did not believe in coincidences or happenstance. Everything that happened was for a reason, one of the many paths that destiny had laid out for them to choose from.
Aneira knew she had made many wrong choices, and that was what had perhaps led her to her current situation. But she could do naught to undo them now, and it shattered her to have her past be her undoing.
The silence was slowly eating away at her, even though she knew it had barely been a few hours since her confinement had begun. She started to hum under her breath, and old and simple lullaby. But her humming faded away into the heavy silence and so she started to talk to herself.
"Who are you, I wonder, and why did you show yourself in my dreams not once but twice? Are you a sign that I should anticipate or dread? Are you even real, or just a desperate figment of my imagination, designed to keep me company in these dark times? I know not who or what you are, or why you appeared to me, but I hope that I get out of this place someday and that I am able to find you." She hoped that if she said it with enough conviction, it might even be true.
Chapter 3- Levi
Levi was going to kill someone. His head hurt from lack of sleep- which was his own fault, he knew - but surely his father could stop talking for just a little bit. They had been in a meeting for five hours now, discussing the merits of the new tax system the Lord of the West Mountains had proposed.
Levi thought that the Lord of the West Mountain was a corrupt man and did not understand why his father and brother were even bothering to entertain the man. He leaned forward, ready to yell at them to stop being foolish when suddenly his head hit the table with a loud crash, and he was pulled away from reality.
The market square was crowded but Levi could not understand why he was there. He had not visited this place in years, nor did he have any plans too. It was crowded and noisy and Levi most certainly knew he was going to hate it.
People were pressing in on him from all directions and there she stood- the girl with the mesmerizing eyes- her scream for help splitting his ears. But he was afraid too. He knew deep down that it was a dream but the clamor was real. He tried to say something, to tell the girl that it was only a dream, but before he could speak he was pulled back to reality...
Someone was shaking him roughly, and it took a few moments for Levi to understand that he was no longer in the dream, and it was his brother who was shaking him.
"Roland? What happened?" Levi looked around to see the council room was empty now. Where was everyone? How long had it been? Why did his brother look as though he was ready to bash Levi's head into the table?
"You went quite mad." Roland started pacing, looking at Levi as though he expected his brother to fall over that very second. "Started screaming about needing to get out, and then you dropped unconscious on the table. Father ordered everyone out immediately of course, but he is furious."
Levi shook his head. Of course, his father would be furious that the meeting had been postponed instead of worried that his youngest child had collapsed on the table seemingly without reason.
"Where is Father? I will go speak to him." Levi pushed his chair back, rising to his feet. But he swayed slightly, and collapsed back down before he threw up his breakfast all over the polished wooden table.
Roland stopped pacing and glanced at him worriedly. "You stay right where you are. You're in no state to move. Now explain, what happened to you? Father may not say it but you frightened him, and you most certainly frightened me."
Levi shook his head. "I do not know what happened, Roland. One moment I merely wanted to scream at the Lord of the West Mountain to take his most corrupt system elsewhere and the next moment I did not have the slightest clue as to where I was."
Roland took a few steps forward, touching Levi's forehead to check for a fever. Levi knew he would find none. He had been perfectly lucid the whole time. He sighed, pulling back from his brother. "When is the meeting rescheduled for?"
Roland chuckled. "It is not. Father dismissed the idea proposed as difficult to implement and thus a waste of our time."
But not as corrupt, Levi noted. He slowly tried to get up again, and this time he was able to take a few steps forward before he had to lean against one of the chairs for support. "I have to go talk to him."
"Perhaps," Roland agreed. "But you must speak to me as well. We have not spoken since your return from the war front. Our sister returns from her husband's home for a visit on the morrow. Were you even aware? You have been lost in a world of your own making since your return."
He had not known that Rowena was going to return, and the thought of seeing his elder sister again gladdened his heart. But Roland had no understanding of what he spoke of, and that irked Levi.
"It is not a world of my own making, brother." He moved towards the door as he spoke, his back to Roland but his shoulders tense and his voice tight. "It is a world shared by every single soldier, and let me tell that you this- it was our dearest Father that created that world, not I."
"Watch your words around him, Levi." Roland sounded hurt, but not overly angry, and despite his temper, Levi was glad that his brother was patient on most days. "If you do not, you will find yourself saying something you regret. The court is no longer the place you remember. War changed you, and it changed us also, more than you understand."
Levi knocked on the door to his father's study a few hours later. He was dressed in a fresh shirt and jacket now, and had managed to doze off for a few hours undisturbed. The summons from his father before their family met for dinner were unsurprising.
"Come in," called his father, voice muffled through the door.
Levi entered, shutting the heavy door behind him with a soft click. He saluted his father in proper military fashion. He wanted to set himself apart, to show to his father that he was more than just the youngest son who had been a disappointment at everything.
"What happened this afternoon?" his father demanded, cutting straight to the heart of the matter without any preamble. Levi appreciated that, but he was also afraid. A small instinct deep down told him that now was not the time to reveal his dreams.
"My apologies for frightening everyone, father." He stared straight ahead, keeping his tone even. "I dozed off and a sudden night terror overwhelmed me. I have been unable to properly rest since my return from the war front."
"Princes do not make excuses," his father snapped. "And what is this nonsense about nightmares? We won the war, there is no good reason for you to still be dwelling on it. I do not want to hear any more of this on nightmares, is that clear? And there will be no shirking your duties."
Levi nodded, not trusting his voice. He knew not what he would say, for even before the girl had appeared in his dreams he had been unable to sleep restfully.
His father raised an eyebrow, clearly expecting a spoken answer. So Levi cleared his throat, willing his voice not to shake. "Yes father. May I be excused?"
The King gave a sharp nod of his head, starting to read through the stack of reports on his desk.
Levi left the room as quickly as he could, shutting the door quietly behind him. He knew not what to say to his father. There was no changing his mind on something as simple as night terrors, Levi knew, but it still made him loathe his father for it.
He passed by his brother's room, and heard the echoes of a conversation. He hesitated for a mere moment he pushed open the door. Roland stood near the window and Rowena sat on the bed.
Levi jumped forward, tackling his sister into a tight embrace. He buried his face into the crook of her slender neck, taking comfort in her presence.
"Rowena," he breathed, almost afraid that if he let go she would disappear. "Roland said you were not coming until tomorrow."
"It was meant to be a surprise," Roland grumbled. But he too joined their embrace, and for a moment it felt like they were children again.
"Get off Roland," Rowena complained after a few moments of blissful silence. She shoved at both Levi and Roland gently.
Roland had been rather precariously balanced, and so while Levi merely rolled over to sit beside Rowena, Roland tumbled off the bed, causing his sister's cup of tea to crash to the ground.
The loud and sudden sound of fine porclaein shattering made Levi jump visibly. He felt his heart beat faster, and his throat closed up as though someone was stepping on it. He gasped for air desperately, trying to call out for help in a choked voice but failing.
Rowena rubbed his back slowly with one hand, and took his hand with the other, squeezing it gently. "Hush, brother." Her hand moved from his back to his forehead, brushing his hair now off his clammy skin. "You are safe, I promise."
Levi knew he was safe deep down, but the sound had been so sharp and sudden it had brought back unwitting memories. He fought to bring his breathing back under control, and curled up against his sister, uncaring of the fact that Roland was watching.
"Sorry." He tried to say it loudly, to both of them, but his voice seemed to have been stolen.
He looked up to see that Roland looked just as concerned as Rowena. Perhaps his brother was not as much like their father as he thought.
Rowena leaned forward and kissed his brow, placing a slender finger against his lips. "Do not talk." She started to brush her hands through his hair. "Rest. Roland and I are watching over you."
Although he was dazed, hurting and half asleep, Levi heard just a little more of their conversation as he closed his eyes.
"Roland, how long has he been this way?" Rowena asked.
Roland sighed. "This is the first I have ever seen of it. I regret being so harsh on him know. I would have thought to be kinder, had I known that he was truly so troubled."
Rowena scoffed. "Did you expect him to return unaffected from a battle? I do not know what he has seen but he is younger than us both and it does haunt him still. It will haunt him for a very long time. All you can do for him is protect him from father's wrath."
"Father does not mince his words, what am I to do?" Roland sounded a little helpless.
"You will find a way, little brother, I know you will." Rowena's hands in his hair stopped their movement and Levi groaned.
"Hush a moment," she scolded. "And cease your habit of listening to the conversations of your elders."
The gentle hands returned a moment later nevertheless, and as Levi drifted off to sleep Rowena started to sing, her gentle voice keeping him away from the calling nightmares.