A Moment of Darkness

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A History Lesson

The next few days were calm considering that preparations for the ball were in full swing. The manor was full of servants Tristan had hired for the event. I tried my best to stay in the areas of the manor that were restricted to the servants. Tristan set up parameters for the servants, closing off certain rooms and passageways. He claimed it was because they were under construction, but it was to allow me space to move about the manor.

We didn’t want to risk any chance of something happening with my ability. Outbursts didn’t happen as often as they had when I was younger, but that still didn’t mean they weren’t a possibility.

It also didn’t help that a mountain of a man was shadowing me around the manor. I hadn’t thought how frustrating it would be to have Oryn trail me everywhere I went. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to acknowledge Oryn’s presence. I wasn’t used to the proper etiquette of having a guard follow you everywhere, so I decided that pretending he wasn’t there was the best reaction to the scenario.

It was hard to ignore him though. His presence was very commanding and I couldn’t seem to stop noticing where he was at all times. It made reading and going about my day very difficult, which was infuriating to me. I had been perfectly fine before he arrived, but now I had trouble even focusing on the simplest of tasks. His eyes trailed me everywhere I went, always watching, always waiting for something to happen.

Even now as I sat reading The History of a Dying Kingdom, I couldn’t focus on any single word I read. I just knew I was reading letters, but none of them made any sense.

I risked a glance at Oryn, who sat in the chair of the library like he had the day he first arrived. Frustration bubbled up in my stomach as his gaze snapped to mine, forcing me to look back at my book. I didn’t need him to be here. I didn’t need him. This entire idea was ridiculous to begin with. I looked back at Oryn, who was slouched down in his chair, his eyes closed. His chest fell in a slow steady rhythm as if he was perfectly content to sleep the day away in that chair.

Sleeping on the job.

I closed my book, about ready to snap, but hesitated.

He looked so young when he slept, his face relaxed. I hadn’t realized how much tension he carried in his body, but now I could see the lack of weight that rested on his shoulders. Shadows played across his face, making it difficult to see him. I reached out with my power and brushed the shadows away as if I was swatting at cobwebs. He truly couldn’t be older than me by more than a year, although it seemed as if he had lived a longer life than I had. There were various scars across his face, most too small to detect unless you look close.

It was obvious he had been through a lot, yet it was still a mystery to me what he had gone through. I had no idea about his past, his history, what or who gave him those scars. I really knew nothing about Oryn and it was a little terrifying to think I was trusting him so much.

Could I trust him? If it came down to life or death, would he still have my back in the end?

Trust him.

I jumped at the whisper, looking around the room to see where it came from. The shadows slithered behind the bookshelves.

My heart hammered as I set my book down, trying to calm my breathing.

My skin crawled, feeling as if someone were watching me.

I looked back over at Oryn, whose eyes were now open, watching me closely. I put the ever-indifferent mask on my face, hiding my panic at what just happened.

“You are aware that I can see you, right?” I say, trying to get his attention away from me. “Tristan wouldn’t be happy to find you sleeping on the job.” For a moment, Oryn didn’t respond. He just watched me with that intense stare, deciphering what to say, what to do. Had he seen my moment of panic? Had he heard the whisper just like I had? Yet after a moment, he just smiled like he knew something I didn’t.

“I do hope you are enjoying the view.” He said with an arrogant grin.

“Excuse me?”

“The view? You know...” He motioned to himself. “I have been told I am rather dashing.”

“And who would have told you that?”

“Carena, for one.” He said, “But there have been others.”

“Carena has said that to any boy who looked her way.” I looked down at my book, “Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not dashing.” The next thing I knew, the book I had been holding was out my hands, and replaced by it, were those blue eyes that now held a glint of mischief, and curiosity. He sat next to me on the windowsill, his shoulder touching mine. A sharp tingling sensation shot through me starting at the point of contact between our shoulders.

It was warm and inviting.

I tried to move away from him, but I was already next to the wall. Unless I miraculously developed the ability to walk through walls, there was no other escape except to stand. Which I almost did, but the way he looked at me as if he was challenging me to flee, made me stay rooted to the spot.

“You don’t think so?”

“I know so,” I muttered. “Can you give me back my book?” He glanced down to the cover he held, the blue binding dull with age.

“A History of a Dying Kingdom?” He looked at me, the corner of his mouth quirked up in a knowing smile, his dimple showing. “What a dull read. You know it’s all fake, right?”

“It’s not dull, and how would you know that it’s fake,” I asked. Before I could stop myself, I reached for the book. He only stood, moving out of my way as my fingers grasped at nothing but air.

“The King banned any book on the Krations and their history. If you happen to find any book on it at all, it’s usually a lie.” He said. He stood in the middle of the room, holding the book out towards me. “But, if you want to read a book of lies, then that’s fine.”

I only watched him from the windowsill, not wanting to move closer to him or encourage this line of conversation.

I didn’t want to talk to him at all.

As childish as it is, I crossed my arms over my chest and looked out the window, content to sit here all day long if need be. But he broke the silence after a few moments.

“Or I could just tell you a few true stories that I know.” I shot my gaze over to him, interested but frustrated by my peaked curiosity.

“How would you know? You’re just a guard.” He chuckled, “And a lousy one at that.”

“Is that so?” He folded his arms making the muscles in his bicep stand out even more than usual.

“You don’t think I can see you every day just sitting in the chair, staring at me, following me around all hours of the day? What about Carena? It’s in the job description to keep an eye out for her too.”

“Last time I checked, Tristan told me to keep an eye on you. So that’s what I’m doing.”

“He didn’t mean literally,” I mumbled. “I don’t need your protection.” I looked out the window of the library. It was a dreary day, the gray clouds spat rain onto the misty pine trees below. Days like this made me feel particularly trapped.

“So you keep reminding me.” He said. He set the book down on a nearby table, the soft thud echoing the hammering of my heart in my chest. We fell into an awkward silence. When he took a seat opposite me on the windowsill, I was ready to head back to my room to try to get a break from him. The window was hardly large enough to fit the bulk of him, but he didn’t seem to mind that. “Did you know the Kration’s were ruled by five families?”

“Everyone knows that.” I retort, not meeting his gaze. “I don’t want to talk to you.” I focus on the pine trees, spotting a bird soaring above them.

“How about the great tragedy that was their downfall?” He said. I risked a glance over, his knowing smirk sending sparks of anger into my stomach.

“I’d rather not know.”

“Even if I said it was forbidden to be told by King Fero himself?” He leaned forward, his voice sing-songy.

“And when did he forbid that?” I say, turning my attention fully to him.

“When he killed the story masters that knew it by heart.”

“So then why aren’t you dead?”

“Because my father was a story master and I escaped before the Guards caught up to me.” He said it with such ease that I wasn’t sure how to respond. I fell into silence, both of us watching one another.

“What’s a story master?” I ask instead. Oryn looks out the window.

“In the Aelfrund mountains, where I call home, there are men and women who hold the stories of our past. The libraries you have here pale in comparison to the knowledge these men and women hold in their minds. They usually serve as advisors to the village leaders, using their knowledge of the past to help guide the leader’s decision.”

“And your father was a story master?” I ask. Oryn only nods, that light in his eye seeming to become distant. I felt a pang of sympathy, unexpected and unwanted. I put it in place, not wanting to feel anything for Oryn. He was to leave in a week and a half, there was no point in discovering anything about his past. It was best to keep it as professional as possible, but what was the harm in gaining some new information? Especially if it would finally answer some of the questions I had been searching for over the past years. “What’s the story then?”

“I knew you’d be interested,” Oryn says with a grin, that light returning.

“Just tell me quickly before I decide I’d rather not hear your self-righteous tone.” Oryn sit’s up straight, clearing his throat for dramatic purposes.

“As I said, there were five ruling families when the Kration’s reigned the land. Most of their names were lost to time.”

“But the Kration’s could harness all magic, making it bend to whatever they wanted,” I say, already interrupting his story. Oryn gave me a pointed look, acknowledging my interruption, but answering me anyway.

“You are correct, but they still had to harness their magic. Each family had preferences of what type of magic they liked to use best.” He paused, “If you’ll let me continue....”

I nod, glancing back out the window as I listened to the low timbre of his voice.

“Two of the minor families picked elemental magic to claim as their own - fire and water - I believe one claimed healing as their power. However, the two most powerful families will never be forgotten because the consequences of their actions are still felt today. The Sunweavers were able to harness the ability of the sun, of the light it provided. Their lands were always full of light and warmth. It was an endless realm of summer and day, the light they harnessed never dying. The other family was known as the Nightbearers. They were able to harness the dark of the night, commanding the shadows to bend to their will.”

I shifted my gaze to him, my heart hammering in my chest. Was this a joke? A coincidence of some sort?

“Is something wrong?” He asks, his brow arching. He smiled as if he had made the same connection I had awhile ago. Flashes from our first meeting flew through my mind; the way I held him to the door with a tendril of darkest night. I looked back out the window, not wanting to draw more attention to myself.

“No. Continue,” I demand.

“It’s important to understand that the families did not get along. Each land was self-sufficient and stayed within its boundaries. It was rare that any subject, or family member, would switch from one family to another. If you were born in the Nightbearer territory, you would not switch over to the Sunweaver territory. It was also not common for people to visit one another from different realms unless specifically invited by the ruling family.”

“I fail to see how this is the downfall of the families,” I say.

“If you would quit interrupting me, then maybe you would understand,” Oryn says, his tone laced with a touch of frustration. I leaned back against the window, trying to hurry him to the point of the story. “The story starts with the young prince of the Sunweavers who had a bad habit of exploring new territories. One night, while he was out exploring a forest that separated his home from the Nightbearer’s territory, he got himself into a brawl with a creature of the night. These things were wicked beasts that were difficult to kill, crafted out of the nightmares of the people in the land, and the prince was discovering this to be true for himself. Right as the beast had him pinned against the ground, its great maw open to crush his head; a spear of darkness shot through the beast, killing it with a single blow.

“When the Prince looked to see who his savior was, he found a girl standing in the forest. She rushed over to him, not caring that it was evident he was from a different family and began to assess his injuries. She reached into a bag, pulling out supplies, and bandaged his wounds. The Prince watched as she cared for him, enraptured by the girl that saved his life yet also terrified by what she would do to him.

“You see, he was raised to believe that Nightbearers were a part of a vicious family and was told horror stories of the sadistic people. After the girl had cared for him, he wanted to flee, but something kept him in place. Some of the Story Masters say the Great Light forced him to look upon his destiny - upon his family’s arch-nemesis. When he tried to ask for her name, she said nothing. She only smiled and then vanished into thin air.”

“That’s a bit dramatic,” I say, the images of the story flittering through my mind as if they were playing out before me. Oryn chuckles as he says,

“The prince thought the same thing. He thought so much about it that for days he wondered about that girl; who she was, where she was, what she was doing in the forest that night. Until one day, he couldn’t stand the wondering anymore. The Prince headed back out into the forest to look for the girl, and sure enough, he found her wandering the woods again with a satchel full of supplies and her spears of darkness. He asked her what she was doing wandering the woods at night, and why she didn’t have anyone with her to help protect her. She said that it was her responsibility to keep the creatures of the night at bay. This was strange to the Prince as the Sunbearers did not have such a responsibility in their realm. The girl explained that every night she had to prowl the woods, searching for the creatures so she can send them back to the darkness they belonged in. It was her job and responsibility to make sure the creatures never left the forest to harm those who lived in her lands, and beyond. It was at this moment that he decided he was going to help the girl.

“Every night the Prince rode to the forest and helped the girl fight off the creatures of the night and right as the sun began to rise, she would disappear into thin air. He began to think that maybe she was a ghost that haunted the forest, until one day during the Celebration of Gifts - the only celebration when all the royal families gathered- he saw the girl.”

“Who was she?” I ask, leaning forward.

“She was the daughter of the Nightbearer King. She was Princess of the Nightbearers and heir to the throne.”

“So what happened next?”

“The boy decided he would never go back to the forest. When they made eye contact at the celebration and realized who the other was, they both knew it would be impossible to continue a friendship or see each other. After the Celebration of Gifts, they went their separate ways and never saw one another again.”

“That’s it?” I say, “How is that the downfall?”

“Two years later,” Oryn says dramatically. “The prince had never forgotten about the princess in the forest. He began to head back to that forest, finding any reason to be near. One evening, as he was riding by, he heard a scream. Rushing in, he found the girl in a similar position he had been in two years ago. His arrival had sacred off the creature of the night, but when he knelt next to the girl, he realized her wounds were far more fatal than his. Scooping her up, he rushed her back to the castle, forcing the healers to help her. They took her in, and while she recovered, the prince took her place in the forest fighting off the creatures of the night. When she woke up, she was returned to her father, who almost killed the prince on sight. The princess told her father what had happened and the generosity of the Sunweavers. Out of appreciation, the King of the Nightbearers invited the Sunweavers over for a ball signaling years of peace. It was at this ball the Sunweaver realized his feelings for the Nightbearer, thus beginning a scandalous romance that transformed into a heartbreaking love.”

“Heartbreaking? How can love be heartbreaking?”

“Kration’s don’t experience love the same way we mortals do,” Oryn says, completely wrapped up in his own story. “Our love is simple, basic. When two Kration’s fall in love, there is nothing in the universe that can separate the two of them. My father used to say the love of two Kration’s was strong enough to weather the fiercest of storms, to shatter the most unbreakable chains, to cleave through the strongest materials.”

“I get the point.”

“These two fell so deeply in love that it was felt to their very souls. It was only a few short months later that the two were wed to be married. The first that it has happened since the Kration’s reign. Yet with love always comes pain, and when the Kration’s experience betrayal from their lover, pain always comes with a price. The night before their wedding, it was custom for the bride to stay with her betrothed’s family to celebrate her joining the family and carrying on the future lineage of the royal line. Yet, what the family did not know, was that the Nightbearer was already successfully carrying the royal line.”

“She was pregnant?”

“She was pregnant,” Oryn confirmed with a sad gleam in his eye. “She hadn’t had a chance to reveal the news to her prince, and decided that night to seek him out and reveal her secret. Yet when she found him, she also found him with another woman. It is said that when her heart broke, the crack could be felt throughout the entire land. Darkness descended upon the Sunweaver territory, plummeting them into an eternal night that is still there to this day.” Oryn leaned his head back against the frame of the window wearing a satisfied smile.

“That’s it?” I say incredulously. “That’s the end of the story?”

“I mean there is more, but it’s all rumor.” He says dismissively, standing as if he were about to leave. I stand with him, reaching out and grabbing his sleeve.

“That can’t be it.” I say, “What’s the rumor then?”

“I was told to never lie,” Oryn says, his eyes light with mischief. My hold on his wrist becomes stronger, my need to know the end overpowering my senses.

“There has to be a better ending than that.” Oryn looks down to where my hand wrapped around his wrist. Tantalizing warmth seeped into my fingers, rushing up my arm. My cheeks reddened as I quickly let go of his hand, taking a seat on the windowsill. Oryn continues,

“The rumor is that the princess returned to the Nightbearer territory. I wasn’t lying when I said some felt the breaking of her heart. When Kration love is betrayed, it quite literally breaks the heart of the victim - usually ending in their death or demise. Yet the princess did not die. Instead, great rage and anger rooted themselves in a heart that was once full of love. War broke out between the Sunweavers and the Nightbearers because of the events. This was the war that eventually led to the Battle of Sorrows and the creation of Vrunadia. The princess fought with everything she had to bring down the Sunbearers, to exact revenge upon the one who had broken her heart. Yet on the night she gave birth, and she looked at her child, she couldn’t help but remember the love she once had. As she cradled her baby in her arms, tears on her cheeks and death at her door, she cursed the Prince of the Sunweavers. With her dying breath, she cursed him to live an eternal life without love or hope, to never feel the warmth of the sun on his back or the comforts of his home. She cursed him to be a wanderer of the land, always searching but never finding the love he once had. But because half of her heart still loved him, she added a way out. For him to be able to return to her, to his home, he must first find love that is betrayed or denied.”

Oryn fell silent, watching me with interest as I soaked it all up. I had never heard anything like the story. No book had any indication of something like that ever happening.

“How do you know this story to be true?” I ask.

“The story is a common one amongst the tribes in the mountains. Most parents use it to warn the children of wandering too far from home or else they may encounter the deranged Sunweaver Prince searching but never finding.”

“Did it work?”

“When I was a boy, yes. Some of the Story Masters say he went mad during his search and that he now spends his time stealing away young girls trying to make them hate him. Yet he was a dashing prince, and most found their way into some form of Stockholm syndrome. How difficult the young Prince’s life must be to be that dashing.” Oryn sighed, giving me a wink. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I relate with his plight.”

“That...” I pause, “There are so many things wrong with that statement.” Oryn chuckles, pushing off the wall and starting towards the door.

“You would be right.” Oryn says, “But they are just childish stories to scare children into staying near their parents.”

“Where are you going?” I ask before I realized how it sounded. I sat still, Oryn’s brow arching.

“Sorry to disappoint you sunshine, but I have to report to Tristan.” Then with a wink, he says, “Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.”

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