It may or may not have been the middle of the night. It felt like four in the morning, but my cell in the dungeon was deep underground and let in no light, so I couldn’t have known for sure. I was asleep when the door swung open and two guards grabbed me. I screamed, startled. For a moment I had no idea where I was or what was happening, and when I remembered where I was a second later, it was no comfort. I still had no idea what was going on.
Being dragged out of your bed--even if it's a mat in a cell--in what’s probably the middle of the night is terrifying, and I don’t remember clearly where they brought me, until I was dragged through two great doors, into the throne room.
Not the middle of the night, then, my muddled brain told me. The king wouldn’t be here in the middle of the night, would he? And he was there, sitting on his throne on a platform at the end of the hall, looking down at the room. The guards dragged me towards him, and stopped before the throne. “Here’s the prisoner,” one of the guards said, unnecessarily.
“Unhand her,” the king ordered.
“Your majesty, she’s a thief, she’ll just run.”
The king’s voice went cold. “Unhand her,” he ordered. He said to me, in a softer but no less commanding tone, “Don’t try to run.”
“No, majesty.” My voice trembled, and my knees trembled more. It was a miracle I didn’t collapse to the ground when the guards released me.
“Are you Arlica?”
“I’m King Torenth, I’m sure you know. Arlica, have you heard the rumor that I’m mad?”
“No, sir. Majesty, I mean. I don’t hear much, locked up and all.”
“It’s an old rumor. The truth behind it is that the kings of Durthia are guided by the gods. They send us dreams, and if we are wise, we act on them.”
I wondered whether he was crazy after all, but of course I didn’t say anything.
“You must be wondering what any of this has to do with you. I just had one of the dreams.” He paused. “The gods want me to marry you.”
“What the hell?” I demanded. Of course I knew better than to speak to the king like that, but I was utterly shocked.
“That was my first reaction as well,” King Torenth admitted. “But I’ve never been misguided before, and the dream was… emphatic, and urgent. I would never force you to marry me, but if you agree you’ll be doing a great service to your country, and to me.”
And to myself, I thought. The king didn’t seem like a bad person, whether or not he was crazy, and being a queen would beat being stuck in a prison cell by far. “Yes.”
“We should be married as soon as possible. I think I mentioned the dream seemed urgent. That’s why I had you brought here at this hour, as soon as I woke up from the dream.”
“So it is the middle of the night!” I couldn’t help but say.
Torenth looked at me, probably wondering about my intelligence as much as I was worrying about his sanity. “That’s why it’s dark out.” And there were windows in this room, and it was dark outside, the room only dimly lit by torches.
“I’m used to it; I didn’t notice. When are we going to be married?”
“Is next Tuesday too soon for you? Some of the court ladies will help you arrange for your dress and… I don’t know, whatever else, and my staff will arrange the ceremony.”
“I don’t have any plans.”
Torenth had the guards escort me to an empty suite in the castle, where despite everything I slept soundly. The next week was nonstop preparations.
The wedding was larger than I expected, though I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course people wanted to see their king get married and get a glimpse of the mysterious bride. It was outdoors, so there was plenty of room, and apparently Torenth, or more likely, his staff, had expected such crowds, because there was more than enough food. I didn’t trip as I walked down the aisle, I didn’t fumble over my vows, and the kiss was breathtaking.
I was surprised at how well things were turning out. My only expectations had been that this would be better than the dungeon, but now I began to think that I could actually be happy. I still wasn’t quite sure about a man who would get married based on a dream, but everyone has their quirks.
Nothing in the next few months spoiled my happiness. Though my new position took a lot of getting used to, I liked being queen. Not just being free and having everything I could want, but helping rule a kingdom as well. I liked judging problems and making political decisions. I liked my husband as well. My life was a dream come true, and not just literally.
Torenth and I had been married for three months when I found out for sure that he wasn’t crazy, or even, as I’d thought was probably the case, seeing his inner self in the dreams.
I’d gone to sleep, and then there was a light, very bright but not at all blinding. Everything was very clear, not only clearer than dreams usually are, but clearer than life, even. I sensed a presence, and after trying to observe whatever it was, sensed it pushing me towards something, so I allowed it to. I looked where I was guided, and saw my bedroom. Torenth was asleep. The door swung open and two men came in, then three more, guards who had been stationed outside our room, but I couldn’t see their faces. They were all armed, and very quickly they went to the bed and killed Torenth. And then I could see outside, a dark swirl of fighting and blood and destruction and death. “No!” I screamed.
“No!” I woke screaming, repeating, “No!” But Torenth was next to me, alive, wakened by my screams. “It can’t happen!” Torenth tried to comfort me, but all I could see was the dream. I knew in my mind and my heart that it was no ordinary dream, that it was true, or would be, or maybe, hopefully, would be only if I couldn’t prevent it.
I wondered if you’d have them,” Torenth said after a while.
“The dreams. They’re not hereditary, they come to the ruler of Durthia.”
“Can they… be stopped?”
I told him what I saw. We stayed up the rest of the night, discussing how to prevent what I’d seen. Have only the most trusted guards, keep weapons at our bedside…. The best thing, we agreed, would be to find and stop the plot before it got that far.
We kept our eyes peeled for an hint of anything, and we found it. Nothing solid, but there was an ominous undercurrent to the normal rumors and gossip. The chaos I’d seen at the end of the dream would come, if Torenth and I couldn’t prevent it. And we’d have to be alive to prevent it.
We did everything we could, but there really wasn’t much we could do. And then, one night, the dream came again, or rather, the dream light came, and a voice saying urgently, “Go! Now!” and then I was awake.
Though everything seemed as normal, I knew that they were coming, would burst into the room with swords at any moment. Torenth must have had the same dream, because he was also awake and looking around frantically. I grabbed a knife, jumped out of bed, and ran to the darkest corner of the room. Torenth started to do the same, but just as he’d stood up the door burst open and they came in, just as in my dream. Except that in the dream he’d been laying down, so at least something had changed.
Queens don’t usually act as bodyguards for their husbands, but then, most queens don’t grow up fighting in the streets. I pounced, stabbing the man closest to Torenth in the back. Torenth grabbed a weapon and was fighting one, one was still in the doorway, blocked by the others, and the other two went for me. I tried to fight them with my knife, but they both had swords. Desperately, I grabbed for any thing, and came up with a vase that had been on the nightstand. I swung it over the guard’s head. He hadn’t been expecting it and fell to the ground covered in shards of broken pottery. Torenth stabbed at the other one, who spun around, giving me the chance to stab him in the back as well. And that was all of them; Torenth had gotten two while I was busy. We weren’t dead. I couldn’t muster up much more feeling than mild surprise.
“That’s not the end, you know,” I told Torenth.
“You think there’ll be more of them?”
I shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. But that wasn’t… the main point, I guess. I’m not sure how to say it, but our lives are just… incidental. Not to me, I mean, but… you know what I mean. The whole country’s going to go up in flames, metaphorically and quite possibly physically, unless we can stop it.”
“Then we’ll stop it.”