Finally, we’re on to Chapter III! A big thank you to everyone who’s been following and reading these so far, and sorry for the big gap in posting a while back… “I got lazy” is the only excuse I have. Because c&p is easy. Anyway, here you go!
Bound to the Flame
Rowan sobbed painfully for breath, drawing in shallow, agonized gasps of sweet air as he sank to the floor, completely spent by the wild outburst. He sprawled on the floor, tears running down his face. Beyond his small bedchamber, doors slammed and feet ran, thundering down the hallways of the castle. The corridors and passages echoed to the banging of doors and the rumble of people dashing this way and that. Fists banged on his door. “Rowan!” “Your highness, are you all right?” “Rowan!”
Rowan slowly lifted his head, not knowing where he found the energy to do it. The air was oppressive in the room, weighing heavily on him. The guttering fire in the hearth gave up the ghost, plunging the room into deep gloom. Still clutching the bed post, Rowan gazed, half-stunned and dazed, across the room, at the door. A heavy bench had been knocked down and hurled across the room by the maelstrom. It was set hard against the door, preventing anyone from opening it, and blocking the entrance. He lifted his hand, distantly, wearily, attempting to summon the strands of loose magic that were still reverberating around the room, but they evaded his grasp. An upsurge of vital, instinctive, animalistic panic welled up in his stomach, but he suppressed it savagely. It didn’t go away entirely, however, and churned nauseatingly, tying his insides into knots, despite his best efforts to control it. He reached down into the magical undercurrent that under-ran the entire visible world, but it, too, was unresponsive, and eluded his grip. Taking a deep breath, Rowan called, “There’s a bench blocking the door on this side. I can’t move it.”
“Don’t try to, then. Don’t over-exert yourself, Rowan!” came Fortaine’s voice from the other side of the door. “Stay where you are. We’ll unblock the door from this side. Don’t try to help. Don’t move, Rowan. Don’t move.” The young knight shouted out a word in a strange language—Rowan recognized it, distantly, vaguely, as a telekinesis spell—and there was a soft but assertive thud as the door shuddered slightly. Tremors radiated outward through the room as pale bluish sparks flickered through the air in myriad bright, yet soft, radials. Rowan shuddered as he felt the magical energy pass through him, as if he wasn’t even there, touching him, but not affecting him. And he was as good as blind to it. He could not touch or manipulate it. With a soft sob, the boy curled up on the floor, withdrawing into himself. He was lost, beyond hope. He was broken.
Ponderously, the hefty bench slowly rolled—rather than floated—over, back into its own right place in the correct corner, righted itself, and thudded down, perfectly still. Melilana and Fortaine rushed in. “Rowan, are you all right? What happened?” Fortaine asked.
“Rowan?” Melilana whispered. Rowan drew his one good leg up under himself, wishing he could hide. His slender form shook. Melilana rushed forward in alarm. She lifted him gently from the floor. “Rowan? What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Are you ill?”
“I can’t touch it,” Rowan whispered, shaking. “I lost control, and now I can’t even touch it!” He sobbed silently, head bent and shoulders shaking. Melilana almost gasped, but by a supreme act of will, she retained her composure.
“Oh, Rowan,” she whispered, softly, desperately wishing she could take the pain away, make it better, with the same ease that she had when he was smaller.
Never again. She could no longer kiss it and make it better. Melilana could feel the tears running down her face. Her sweet son was, for all intents and purposes, crippled, and possibly magic-blind for the rest of his days, as well.
There was no way in the ways of the Wielder or healer that she could fix this.
Rowan snapped awake, fighting for breath, sitting up, his dark hair falling lankly about his face. Rowan gasped, momentarily panicking as he realized that he wasn’t in his room. Then he remembered that they were at the kingdoms’ accord. He lay back on the mat, exhausted. It was only a dream. Only a dream.
Whirling like the storm within, confused, muddy eddies whipped past him. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, didn’t know what to say or do. He was held immobile, as if viewing a far-off battle on some broad scrying pool.
Ships washed up against ghostly shores, broken, their gutted hulls burned, charred. Ancient kingdoms grew and fell, cities were built, and atrophied. It was almost as if all of history was playing out on that unlikely stage. And faster—faster—the tales rushed by at a breakneck pace. The world was spinning far too fast. Rowan’s grip on reality was slipping. Then, the vision stilled, steadied, balanced. Rowan found that he could breathe again. Cautiously, he looked down once more.
Hovering over a yellowed parchment map of all the lands Rowan knew—Ertraia, Elruun, Arethwyne, even Savenera and the wild realm of the northern crags—was a dark pall, something like a cloud, something like a heavy veil, part mist and part phantom. The darkness grew until it was overwhelming. He could feel empty, blank shapes, darker than mere shadow, stalking in the dark, the cold breath of wraiths echoing down the darkened corridors of his mind. He shuddered and pulled away. Distantly, he could see himself walking a narrow, dangerous path along a Cliffside, above a yawning void, along the edge of a precipice. He followed the narrow path through trees that seemed to be closing in; fleshless hands caught and clawed at his clothing and hair, ripping the soft, worn green cloak. Suddenly a net dropped upon him, unimpeded somehow by the thick brush of the woodlands, which seemed to draw away fearfully from its touch. The net weighed him to the ground, and thousands of black crows descended on his head, pecking, attacking, clawing at his face, his eyes…
A black snowstorm of bats whirled up, obscuring his vision, and he fell, his head hitting something hard, painfully hard—stars exploded in his skull, pain roaring behind his eyes…
Rowan snapped upright, panting, startled awake for the second time that night. He was lying on the floor, tangled in the bedclothes, having tumbled off his cot while still in the throes of his nightmare. Rowan swallowed hard, willing his racing heart to slow. The first pale fingers of dawn had not yet begun to drift over the horizon—at least, not just yet—but the night was late, and growing old. The moon had already set, melding its burnished after-glow with the bare gray predawn light of the unborn sun that had not quite begun to peep over the horizon, herald to its glorious source. Rowan took his staff from the place where it had leaned against the tent’s cloth walls in a trembling hand, and went to find Melilana.
He found her sitting by the tiny waterfall at the head of the stream that ran through the camping grounds, praying, before anyone else could get up and the day begin. Rowan often did the same himself. He loved the soft light that shone out just before dawn, the coolness of the air, the soft movements of the wind, the beautiful sweet smells, the hushed twitter of the birds. It was peaceful, and one could pray without having to worry about the day’s interruptions. Before dawn, the world was a whole other place.
Rowan advanced to his mother’s side. Taryn, one of the royal family’s attendants, moved forward to keep him from disturbing her mistress, but he shot her a pleading look and she subsided, letting him go to Melilana’s side.
Laying his staff down on the sward beside him, Rowan knelt by his mother’s side to wait, and silently began his own prayers, closing his eyes and at least attempting to relax. Finally, after some time, Melilana opened her eyes. Rowan, sensing it, did the same. Melilana looked down at her son, concern in her eyes. “What is it, Rowan? Are you unwell?” Rowan sighed and shook his head. Melilana wrapped one arm—unexpectedly strong—about the boy’s slim shoulders. “You’re troubled, sweetheart,” she observed, voice quiet, and charged with faint alarm. Rowan sighed. Melilana bent her head to look him in the eeys. “What is it, love?” Rowan took a deep breath.
“I had… a dream.” he began, his voice disconcerted—and disconcerting, even to his own ears. “A strange dream,” he continued, his voice growing stronger as he spoke. “A vision? Maybe? I don’t know.” He wrapped his arms around himself in an unconscious gesture that, he realized a moment later, must have made him seem much younger than his seventeen years.
“What did you see?” Melilana prompted. Rowan shook his head.
“I don’t know. I didn’t understand most of it. A pall—a dark pall—sinking over the kingdoms. A snare—a net? And crows, or bats. I don’t know which.” Melilana exhaled, slowly.
“If only I could have spared you this,” she murmured, sorrowfully. “I have feared it for a long time, but I prayed that you would not have to bear this burden.”
“Mother?” Rowan asked, uncomprehending, his voice faintly distressed. Melilana drew in a long, deep breath.
“You are a seer,” she said softly. “A prophet. One to whom our good God reveals parts of the future in dreams and visions. He sends them to us as His gift in times of danger and impending doom. They are our bulwark against attack. They are His messengers, His warning.”
“Then there is danger in the future,” Rowan said, half to himself. “But what… what did I see?” he murmured softly. Melilana sighed.
“I do not know,” she admitted softly. “Whether your visions are past, present or future, or a future that will never come to pass, I do not know. God sends us visions for two reasons—to avert a future that should not happen, or to prepare for one that must.”
Rowan would not have admitted it, except, perhaps, to himself, but these words were more ominous to him than he would have allowed any living creature—or person—to think.