Then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions
The darkness pressed in on her, smothering her face, choking her. In the forest night, she was alone. Faces appeared out of the gloom; frightening, cruel, merciless. Dark, twisted forms gathered around her. Muted sounds reached her ears. They were whispering, chanting, casting their spells. She struggled and turned but they had her fast. They pulled at her clothes, tugged at her hair. A branch trapped her foot and she went down. The demons swarmed and covered her completely. She screamed.
Something worried at her shoulder.
She shook her head groggily and sat up. All she saw was darkness.
“Sambeth, wake up!”
Realisation flooded her and with relief she realised that she was not in the forest but in her chamber in Tetrahin. It was Rija, not demons, that shook her shoulder.
“I was having a horrible nightmare,” she whispered, “but I’m okay now.”
She wiped the sweat off her brow with the back of her arm and lay back down to sleep. In moments she was drowsing again.
A small open plain lay before her. She could see it below and then at once she was lying in the middle of it, on the ground looking up. The head of a great, black horse filled her vision. It snorted and shook its head and she glimpsed the face of the bloodied figure on its back. Altor. He raised his arm and let it fall pointing forward, pointing toward Tetrahin and a black-clad group of men rushed with him.
‘Warn them!’ a voice shrieked in her ear.
She screamed once again. This time she came out of the dream on her own, panting and trembling, the echo of an urgent whisper lingering in her mind, ‘Warn them.’
She tried to see through the dark of the room. Everything was still. She hadn’t woken Rija. She smothered a shriek as something warm and heavy landed on her thigh. It was Agnor. He’d dropped his head on her lap. His hairs tickled her bare leg. She was grateful for his comforting presence. She patted him and heard rather than saw him settle down beside her bed. She lay back down herself. With one hand resting on the solid back of the hound, she slept once more.
This time she woke early, before Rija and lay quietly enjoying the peace. She smiled at the heavy breathing coming from the floor beside her bed. Agnor was still there. She slid into her forest clothes, slung her pack over her shoulder and went to wash.
When she returned from the bathing room, refreshed by the cold water, Rija was up and dressed and Agnor was slumbering in the middle of Sambeth’s bed. Her mouth curled in a smile at his innocent and blissful content. She envied the peace he had, free of threats and machinations and especially frightening dreams.
“How did you sleep for the rest of the night?” Rija spoke.
When Sambeth didn’t answer Rija stopped getting dressed and came over to where she was standing, staring blindly into space.
“What is it, Sambeth?”
Sambeth turned wide, frightened eyes toward her, the visions of the night playing out in her mind’s eye.
“We must leave,” she told Rija.
“Okay,” Rija agreed, “I’m quite prepared to come to Aresisia with you.”
“No, I mean we all must leave Tetrahin. Now. Today. A terrible danger is coming.”
A crease appeared between Rija’s eyebrows, “What do you mean?”
“My dreams last night were dark and terrible. I saw Altor. He was coming. He’s coming here, Rija, with a band of fighting men. We have to leave at once. I have to warn Noesh.”
Rija had paled at Sambeth’s words.
Sambeth moved to the door, “Come on. Let’s not wait for someone to come and get us. I know the way to the library and I’m pretty sure I can get us to the dining room. We’ve got to find people and tell them.”
Rija followed her out of the door, Agnor looming at her heels.
“Don’t do that,” she said slowly, “I mean don’t tell anybody but the family first. The people may panic if we just blurt it out.”
Outside the library they ran into Jaffith and Sem walking fast the other way. Sambeth coloured, wishing she could flee. Sem’s words, his horrified face at the revelation of Sambeth’s heritage, burned like a fire of shame in her stomach.
She stopped abruptly but he came right up to her.
“Sambeth, I’d like a word.”
She opened her mouth to refuse but Jaffith held out his arm to Rija.
“I’ll take her to the dining room and meet you there shortly.”
Rija looked at her sombrely, “I think you’d better hear what he has to say. We’ll do the other thing when you’ve had your talk.”
And she was left alone, to face a Tetrahin person and talk openly about her dreadful secret. Sem held open the library door and she had no option but to walk meekly in.
Sem ran a hand through his hair and down the back of his neck. He didn’t look quite so scary now, with some of his thick hair still standing on end.
“Sambeth, I just wanted to say sorry about last night.”
He took a few steps and glanced down at her, looking uncomfortable.
“I wanted to explain something. You see the whole topic is a bit of an…how shall I put it, an obsession in this family. It’s one that I understand must be taken seriously even if I’m not sure about it myself.”
Thanks to Jaffith, Sambeth had some understanding of where he was headed. Still, her face was a picture of wary confusion.
“Arrrggh,” he exclaimed, frustrated, “I’m not explaining this at all well. I guess I just want say sorry for what I said. I was surprised and I overreacted and just keep it to yourself. I won’t say anything.”
Sambeth couldn’t quite believe what he was saying.
“You mean, you haven’t told Jaffith or anyone else?”
He shook his head.
“Why should I? Earthborns are everywhere and my cousin Amis says we need to remember the human in them, to live side-by-side. Not fight it. It’s just–”
He broke off and looked uncomfortable again.
“Thank you but I think Jaffith knows,” she said briefly and the silence stretched between them.
His hands rested on lean hips and he faced her squarely.
“My parents are intense about preserving the purity of the human bloodline and whatever you decide about remaining here or going to Aresisia, I will support.”
He searched her face, a troubled frown resting on his brow.
“Sambeth, I brought you here and I have to make sure you don’t suffer for that.”
She struggled to breathe evenly, the full impact of her tainted blood an unbearable burden.
It burst out of her, unbidden.
“They say I am the daughter of Proximus himself – a direct Earthborn.”
Sem stepped back sharply, turning white and she hurried on.
“But I really don’t know if it is true or not. My mother never confirmed nor denied the accusations but she taught me to loathe Proximus and all earthborn; direct or indirect.”
She stopped speaking, shaking so badly she could hardly stand. There was relief and yet terror. She had just made herself vulnerable and it could be the worst mistake of her life.
She closed her eyes bracing herself. No angry words met her ears. Her eyes flew open .
To her surprise Sem was looking at her with a funny expression on his face.
“You are brave,” he said quietly and her mouth dropped open in surprise.
His eyes slid across her hair and he peered at her face. He shook his head.
“I don’t know either,” he said finally, “I guess you’ll just have to be yourself.”
She looked blank.
“What will you do about it?” she said in confusion.
“Me? Nothing. I think we should go and eat something.”
He moved to the door and looked back at her. The hint of a smile appeared at the corner of his mouth.
“I think we’ll let others worry about that for now.”
She allowed herself a brief, small smile in return but she was much taken aback. It occurred to her that he was brave.
She remembered her dreams and alarm coursed through her.
“Yes, we must get to the others. There’s something very important I need to tell Noesh.”
He nodded and didn’t enquire further. He now seemed to be in a hurry.
“Tell him at breakfast,” he said and gestured for her to follow him out the door.
He put a hand under her arm with the courtesy she had observed in Noesh and all his sons both with their mother and with Rija. She stepped back, shaking her arm free.
“I’m okay,” she faltered, unable to explain her reluctance to have anyone that close to her, “I don’t need any help.”
He shrugged looking at her face, his brows raised.
“Have it your way,” he said briefly and strode on. Sambeth hurried at his heels to keep up.
When they arrived at the dining hall, she saw straight away that Noesh was absent. Rija gave her a small, encouraging wave. T’ajar was in her usual seat, conversing with Ajalon. He laughed at something she said as Sem and Sambeth walked in.
Sem held back the chair for Sambeth.
“I hope that’s acceptable,” his expression was tight, the tone slightly mocking. She coloured and sat down with a murmured thank you.
“Ah, it’s our surprise guest,” Ajalon drawled.
The inference was clear – surprise guest meaning uninvited guest. She coloured again, this time in fury. That obnoxious man! How dare he put that back on her when it had been Amis and Sem’s decision to bring Rija and herself here.
“Stop being rude, Ajalon,” Sem said bluntly.
He gave his brother an unloving glance and threw himself down in the chair beside him. Ajalon raised his eyebrows and gave his mother and Jaffith an ironic look.
“How did you sleep, Sambeth?” T’ajar asked politely.
Sambeth opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t think of an offhand answer quick enough. She earnestly willed Noesh to appear, but he didn’t and T’ajar was looking expectantly at her.
“Well, I…” she began and stopped.
Everyone looked at her and she turned red.
“I had a couple of…er…dreams.”
Ajalon sat up and leaned forward expectantly. She saw him out of the corner of her eye. His gaze reminded her of a snake about to strike.
Sem’s face lost its hard look. His gaze sharpened.
“What sort of dreams?” he asked keenly.
She looked over at Rija who nodded. Taking a deep breath she began.
“They were terrible. Terrifying. In one of them, Altor was coming here bringing dozen armed men. I was told to warn you all of the danger.”
Her words seem to fall flat.
“Thank you so much for sharing,” Ajalon drawled sarcastically, “but forgive me if I don’t appear terrified.”
Although Sambeth had intended to wait for Noesh it all spilled out almost without her permission as if an unseen force tumbled the words from her mouth.
“We all must leave,” she said stubbornly.
Ajalon’s sceptical face and sneering eyes made her falter.
“We must go,” she finished, “we all must leave.”
She looked around earnestly, hands outstretched in appeal. Sem’s face was unreadable.
“Go and find Father,” he told Ajalon.
He turned back to Sambeth, “He will know what to do. He also has dreams and visions.”
He smiled reassuringly at her but Ajalon scowled.
“Can you believe this?” he said, looking around at the others.
Jaffith shrugged noncommittally and T’ajar was plainly uncomfortable.
“I believe Sambeth,” Rija said firmly.
Sambeth tried again.
“Terrible danger is coming,” she said, “In my dream I saw a small plain, a massive olive tree and Altor. And although I didn’t see him, somehow I knew that Proximus, the Fallen One was there too.”
At the mention of the plain, Sem sucked in a sudden breath and when she spoke of Proximus he leaped up.
He looked meaningfully at his brothers.
“I’ll go and get Noesh,” he shot Ajalon a dark look, “he needs to hear this.”
There was a small silence after he left.
“Sambeth, we appreciate that you are trying to warn us of a danger,” T’ajar spoke carefully, “we will consider your words.”
Ajalon snorted at this.
“You don’t understand,” Sambeth urged, “we must leave as soon as possible.”
“I’m just not sure I trust your motives, Sambeth,” Ajalon said coldly, “last night we spoke of your leaving and lo and behold, this morning you are urging us all to leave.”
Sambeth was stunned speechless and he continued, “Why don’t you tell us who sent you here.”
“That’s not true,” she cried and Rija protested also.
“No one sent her!”
“Aj,” Jaffith’s voice arrested his younger brother, “you should leave it to Father to find out what is going on here.”
“What is going on?” Rija echoed, “You people are unbelievable.”
“We have our own story, Princess,” Ajalon retorted, “particularly when it comes to Earthborns.”
Sambeth saw Jaffith change colour. He leaned forward and put a restraining hand on Ajalon’s arm.
“Leave it, brother,” he bit out but Ajalon kept going.
He sat back, sprawled in his chair, his face hard.
“Let’s just be honest, shall we. But for that Earthborn Altor, you’d be a married man by now, Jaf.”
“Ajalon!” T’ajar smacked her hand down flat on the table, “You have been repeatedly asked to restrain yourself. Now be quiet or leave this room.”
Ajalon scowled darkly.
“Forgive me, Mother,” he stood up, “I’ll go.”
His hand dropped on Jaffith’s shoulder briefly and squeezed.
He started for the door but paused beside Sambeth’s chair. He leaned down, his lips close to her ear and spoke so only she could hear.
“The Earthborn always bring sorrow to this family.”
Then he was gone.
Sambeth’s stomach rebelled against the tiny amount of food it contained and the room spun a little.
“I…I think I’ll go too,” she faltered, “I feel a little unwell.”
Rija pushed back her chair, “I’ll come.”
Sambeth waved her back.
“I’ll be okay. Finish your meal, Rija.”
She scooped up her pack from under her chair and slipped out of the door before anyone could stop her. The air in the corridor was cooler. The heat in her cheeks subsided as she walked. Soon she began to feel better. It was the first time she had walked through Tetrahin alone.
Pip was on her mind. In the time she had been at the hidden fortress she had been outside only once, when Sem and Jaffith walked herself and Rija around the entire outside of the unseen fortress.
She’d whistled a couple of times but the shimerith hadn’t showed up. Pip had always shown an uncanny ability to locate her. Ever since he had been old enough to release into the forest, all she had to do was whistle and he would show up. She thought of the Fallen One and shivered. Had Pip escaped? She really needed him now, needed to get away and think. Those dreams had been so real.
So deep was she in thought that she didn’t see the girl watching from the shadows.
Sambeth started violently when Bethe stepped out in front of her. Sambeth halted. She quickly recognised who it was and looked guardedly at the girl in front of her.
“It’s Bethe, isn’t it?” she queried.
The girl’s face became strangely malevolent. She almost hissed at Sambeth.
Involuntarily, Sambeth shrank back.
“You!” the girls voice was full of venom, “we don’t need your kind here.”
Sambeth looked at her in blank astonishment.
“What do you mean?” she asked quietly and arranged herself in a defensive position.
“Filthy half-bloods,” Bethe spat, “we don’t tolerate them.”
The colour rose in Sambeth’s cheeks as she caught the girl’s meaning.
“That’s a lie,” she said flatly, “are you with Ajalon on this matter?”
Bethe’s eyes narrowed in an triumphant smirk.
“No,” she said meaningfully, “It’s not Ajalon that I’m with.”
At once Sambeth remembered seeing Bethe when Sem and Amis first brought them into Tetrahin through the kitchens. She had wondered at the time why the girl glared at them so.
Now she caught the meaning of Bethe’s insinuation.
“Oh,” she said and the girl nodded.
“Yes, so you see why we don’t need you here.”
Sambeth paused, shrugged and made to move past the sly creature. Bethe laid a hand on her arm. For a brief moment her hand looked like a taloned claw. Sambeth blinked to dispel the vision.
“Not that way,” Bethe said, “follow me. I’ll show you a way out.”
The girl led the way, moving swiftly through darkened passages. Sambeth hoped she wasn’t acting with reckless foolishness by following Bethe without informing anyone of her whereabouts. Then she thought of the painful scenes she had endured at the meal table with those people and set her lips firmly.
Although Bethe clearly was not enamoured with her, Sambeth was sure it was not in her power to harm her. If she tried, she was confident that she could defend herself against the girl. Even so, she braced herself for what lay waiting at the end of this tunnel. Clearly, there was a lot more to Tetrahin than she had been shown.
“Here it is,” Bethe spoke over her shoulder. A round door lay in front of them, “no one ever comes through this one.”
The door swung inward. Sambeth peered out but could only see a rocky ceiling dropping down into a small narrow way leading out into the forest.
“You’ll have to stoop through the end part. I’ll go first.”
Sambeth was surprised. She expected Bethe to push her out, slam the door and be glad to see the back of her.
A prickle of warning tingled between her shoulder blades.
Be very careful, Sambeth.
She had to stoop for barely a span or two when the tunnel ended and opened out into deep, forest vegetation.
“Thank you,” she said and straightened up, glancing around swiftly.
All her senses were focused outward, gauging the direction of the breeze, listening to the birds, looking into the shadowy places.
“You can return this way,” Bethe said softly, “if you think coming back is wise.”
Sambeth gave her a steady look but said nothing. She swung past Bethe, stepping confidently forward into the forest. She failed to see a sly look of triumph cross Bethe’s face. The amber eyes gleamed and changed colour briefly. Her fingers flexed, the hands opening and shutting.
She gazed after Sambeth’s disappearing figure and drew out the thin length of a wicked knife. She took a step after Sambeth.
A snapping twig startled her. She flinched and whirled around.
“Why did you bring her out here, Bethe?”
Sem stood behind her. He studied her face narrowly. The murderous light vanished from her eyes, the thin shoulders slackened as the tension drained from her.
She looked at him coyly.
“My lord Sem,” she dropped her eyes and bobbed a brief curtsy but he stepped around her, glancing after Sambeth.
He paused and gave her another brief, searching look, “Go back inside, Bethe.”
The command was sharp and then he too was gone. Bethe stood for a long time staring after them, straining to see into the depths of the forest. Her face was dark now, twisted and tight. That interloper would never know how lucky she had been.
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