Tink, tink, the goldsmith’s hammer works diligently for the king …
~ Orley’s Fairy Tales
The land was inhospitable; huge, windswept boulders, barren sand, stunted trees, grey and dun.
A land swept by fierce winds and baked by hot sun. Averroes was convinced it was Tor Island. She knew her geography, and it fit. She discovered the occasional bright stream, pretty desert flowers growing in the shade of rocks and stumps and, astonishingly, fruit trees in tiny verdant valleys, the latter like fairy habitats. Behind her in minutes, nevertheless there she found birds, rock rabbits and shiny lizards. How surprising, how magical.
No people, but the small orchards were well tended - she assumed they lived further a-field. It was inspiring, those pockets of green, like a gift over yuletide, and she learned not to judge, not places and, by extension, not people either.
Who could tell what lay beneath the most forbidding exterior? She learned to rely on and trust herself, and that was the greatest gift.
Late on the second day she spied rising columns of smoke in the distance. Cooking fires. It would be dark before she reached that hopeful sight, too dark to continue. She continued on to the tiny green area she set as target earlier.
That night she dreamed.
The Maghdim held her dreams at bay for a long time; she hated dreaming - she dreamed of people she had never known, places never seen, alien and weird and frightening. The coin protected her from those.
That night, unprotected, she dreamed.
She was in a circular chamber, windowless and almost airless. It was stuffy, with a strange smell about it. Ancient. The rounded walls met in a dome-like ceiling, lost in the obscure light. Wall sconces were lit at intervals, reflecting off thousands upon thousands of gems inlaid forever in the stone.
From brilliant white diamonds through every hue imaginable and more to impenetrable ebony, the gems sent sparks of light skittering across the chamber. It was a priceless fortune a host of worlds could not spend in centuries.
In the flickering torchlight colours danced along the domed ceiling, vanishing into higher gloom, along the stone floor, while not shedding the kind of light to aid clarity.
The dancing hues distracted and she only noticed it when she concentrated long enough to see beyond skittering sparks.
It. A throne. Throne? The sight arrested her.
In her dream it took on majesty and sent thoughts of befuddling light dancing away. It was huge, crafted in plain gold, a simple chair style with high back and rounded armrests.
Set above floor level on a raised dais of matt black stone, a solid carved circle. Millions of lively light beams skipped upon the golden seat, but nothing penetrated the darkness of the dais. Had she not known better, she would have said the throne was alive while the dais was lifeless, a barrier to shy away from.
She drew breath. She should know this strange place, like a legend told and retold until it was as close to reality as a tale could be and yet remain apart. She did not know the legend, and still it resonated within.
The throne was unoccupied, and she had the uncomfortable feeling if she concentrated harder she would see the ghostly form of its final occupant. Ancient. And new, as if it awaited the breath of life. A dreamscape, real.
Would it not be interesting to see who sat there last? Anything was possible in a dream and this one was intriguing and no longer alarming. All she had to do was wish it, just as she could turn her back if it scared her anew. Besides, a chamber as exotic and otherworldly as this would not reveal a monster.
Did it not deserve an occupant, if only in imagination?
Try! Try! Try! The walls encouraged, as if they were the life remaining, the source of her over-active imagination.
That scared her.
It was a titillating feeling, and seemed to spur her on. In addition, she was curious, about the occupant and her ability to imagine one into being. A kind of magic.
We have waited long; many eons have passed. The dais contains us. Try!
She was afraid. Too real, this.
However, the will, the voice in her mind, it sounded like a soul in pain, a deep suffering, and it awakened an answering compassion in her. She could not bear the thought of anyone imprisoned; she knew the feeling too well. Prison was not always about bars and punishment.
She stepped forward, heart racing, breathing shallow, mouth dry, bending her will, her over-active imagination, to forming the invisible occupant. Never mind if it were dream or nightmare, something needed to be set free.
Very good. Concentrate.
She faltered. What am I doing? This is a stupid dream; do not make it a crusade.
In that one word was a universe of need, of waiting and of hope. She thought no more. She concentrated hard and gradually, magically, the sparks of gem-light were replaced by shifting, opaque air.
She hissed through her teeth.
Help us BE! The silent voice willed. It begged.
The royal us and we. A king? How could she deny a king?
She emptied her mind of all but her own will, how do I know to do that, and sent it at the throne over the lifeless dais.
Ever faster, the air solidified.
She gasped, disbelieving. A trick of her eyes, her imagination?
There are no rules in dreams. She became a witness to what came next.
Her part was completed.
The form of a tall man manifested slowly. Then detail; his hands clenched around the armrests, his eyes closed and concentrating. He was naked but for a leather loincloth, and simple bands adorned his wrists and upper arms.
His skin was pale gold and hairless, his head smoothly shaven.
She drew a steadying breath. She could smell him. A clean smell; manly. Real.
The tattoo on his chest riveted her attention. It was an intricate work of a flying, fire-breathing dragon, the tail flicking over one shoulder as if it were a living entity.
Her mind wobbled and voices assailed her, voices she knew but forgot; voices from her impenetrable past, voices she suppressed even in dreams. She knew this person, she knew this legend, she knew this dragon, yet she had never seen it, only heard it told.
Who? What manner of a dream was this? How was she cognisant and interactive?
She closed her eyes to will the voices and images away. The voices fell silent one-by-one, but when she opened her eyes, the chamber, the throne and its occupant remained in place. She breathed out. Fine.
I did it, accept it. I will soon wake and it will be over. Take it a step at a time.
He was beautiful. This man could absolutely be described as beautiful. She waited for him to open his eyes and see her, not daring to speak in case she woke up at the sound of her voice.
Dear god, did she not want exactly that? To wake up? No, not yet, not quite yet.
He was like a god, every part of him perfect, and the dragon entranced. Why was he imprisoned by the dais? What foulness had befallen this beauty?
“We thank you, little one. Come closer. Reach out and allow me the privilege of your hand.”
This time she heard his voice. Warm, even, deep. She moved closer, drawn to it and to him.
He opened his eyes.
Yellow eyes, wolf’s eyes, dragon’s eyes, powerful, feral.
She fell back in renewed fear. What had she done?
His eyes changed from yellow to green. She stared at them transfixed as he said, “Fear not, little one; my eyes are but an accident of birth. Please, do come closer.” He smiled, his lips curving without showing his teeth, and held his hand out. His right hand, long fingers.
Hesitantly she stepped closer. He studied her face. There was a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, as if something had proven to his liking against all odds.
What could that be?
He wiggled his fingers playfully and she reached out before she lost her nerve. He enclosed her hand with his own and it was warm, full of life. Never had imagination been this tangible.
Then he gripped her hand hard to lean forward intently. “The dais is breached. I am free of it.”
She snatched her hand away, scuttled backward, but he merely smiled.
Then the smile was gone, and he rose. He stamped his feet experimentally and nodded. He stepped off the platform and was about six feet tall. He stood, studied her and then stalked the circular chamber.
A dragon in its lair.
Averroes was petrified, and made a tiny mewling noise of fear.
He arrested his movements on hearing her, and was motionless for a few eternal moments. Then, surprisingly, he pinched the bridge of his nose.
Her stomach jolted. It was a gesture familiar to her, although she could not recall how.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I mean not to frighten you.” His tone was controlled and conciliatory.
She nodded, sensing he was not lying. “Who are you?”
He approached carefully, seeking to instil calm, and reached out to take both her hands in his. A gentle grip; fatherly. His head bent for him to see her eyes.
“I am Vannis, Vallorin of the Valleur, and you, little one, are the Changeling. It was foretold one of both human and Valleur blood would be born with dark eyes - you, little one - and she would be the one to set me free. You are my prophecy in fulfilment. An auspicious moment, would you not agree?”
She stammered, confused. “I-I d-do not understand.”
There was a loaded pause. “You do not know. I did not envision that. Well.” He released her hands and stepped back. “And yet here you are. You will understand soon enough, but first. Where is the Medaillon? Why are you not wearing it?”
His voice changed from the soft timber to a harsh, threatening tone.
“I require it to release myself from this tomb! I am whole again! I shall not remain here! I need the Medaillon! Now!”
His eyes were pitch-black.
She sat up, shaking. She reached for the Medaillon … it was not there! No, wait. Rayne had it now. Thank universe for that. If she had it, that, that whatever, would be loose on Valaris even now …
Averroes laughed, rubbing her face with trembling hands. Come on, girl, real as it felt, it was a dream.
It disturbed her more than she was willing to admit, and she knew she would not get more sleep that night. She wished she had walked on in the dark to where she suspected people were. Safety lay there.
She proceeded to stir up the embers of the fire.
I will brew tea and wait for the dawn.