Dark Times
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Live in slavery is about to end. The gods are awakening. The hunter prophecy appears. And the boy must to grow up. TO THE DARK TIMES.

Zakrivea hurried about her task of preparing the Queen’s bedchamber for the evening. The night was cold so she had to see to it that the little coal stove in the corner was well stoked and that the foot warmer would be ready, for the Queen hated it when her bed sheets were cold. It was one of the few things that would earn Zakrivea any form of reprimand at this point, especially now. Though the Queen was ignorant of Raithea’s plan, it was as though she could sense that dire was happening and though she could not be certain, she had her suspicions. Perhaps she believed that if she were to treat Zakrivea well enough she would put some kind word in for her to stop Raithea, as though that were possible. Once Raithea got the germ of an idea nothing could stop him from bringing it to fruition unless he chose to abandon it in favor of some more promising pursuit. Truthfully, Zakrivea wished that the Queen’s misplaced hope was grounded in some semblance of truth. If only she had that kind of relationship with the mysterious, cursed Lord Advisor, but as her mother had said ‘if wishes were horses then even beggars would ride fine steeds’.

That was the situation she was in, one where half formed wishes far outweighed any actual hope. There was no need for it to be this way, she came from a far away land and knew enough of the world to escape from the castle and the human controlled lands if she truly wanted to. She could return to her family and they would welcome her. If she wanted to she could leave it all behind, forget the sadness and horror of this dreary place and all the misery it held. Yet she was unable to bring herself to do so. She held no illusions that she alone would be able to do anything to help the tragic situation of the Elves of this land, not all of them when there were so many humans all so set in their terrible ways, yet there was one Elf whose state moved her beyond all logic and reason. One singular Elf whose plight was nowhere near the suffering of the majority of their people, yet it was him and him alone that kept her from leaving it all behind.

Poor Raithea. Was she the only one who saw how wounded he was? See beyond the harshness and the countless layers of masks and deceptions he had woven about himself? There were times when she doubted that he even knew, so complete were his lies. He had fooled them all, the humans, his fellow Elves, even himself, but she could see through it, or so she told herself.

There were times when she felt that love had blinded her, left her unable to recognize that Raithea was hopeless, beyond saving, but then, just when she was ready to admit defeat, there would be a single, unguarded instant where she could see who he truly was. A kind word, a fleeting smile, even an almost-apology and she would know that she was wrong for doubting.

Normally her work was enough to distract her from thinking about Raithea, but today as she aired out the room, replaced the sheets and checked the coal stove for what felt like the hundredth time, all she could think about was him. It had been several days since they had last had the chance to speak and she knew from experience that the longer he went without talking to her the worse he got. There had been a time when his duties to the human King had kept him away for nearly a month and in that time all the progress she had made in getting him to open up and relax had been undone. He had returned as the same cruel shell of a man he had been when she first met him and regaining the progress they had made together had been a hard fought battle.

The time apart was torture for her as well, causing her to wonder about the rightness of her concern for him. He looked like an innocent young boy, at least until one looked in his eyes, there could be seen more than a lifetime’s worth of anger and pain. Raithea may have been trapped in the body of a child, but his eyes were those of a man old beyond his years, nearly broken from a lifetime of struggle against unknowable forces. It was so hard for Zakrivea to understand her feelings for him when they spent any length of time apart. Did she care for him as she would for the young boy he appeared to be or the man she knew he was? It was a question she wrestled with on a daily basis.

“Oh Raithea,” she sighed to the empty room as though the shadows might provide her some answer and in a way they did.

“Zakrivea.”

She froze at the sound of her own name spoken in the all too familiar voice.

“Raithea!” joy and fear fought within her, “What are you doing here?”

Anyone other than the Queen and her most trusted servants were supposed to be forbidden to enter her chambers, yet it was at this point an open secret that there was a single exception. Raithea was not that exception, meaning that his presence put the two of them in grave danger.

He smiled bitterly, “I needed a break from my studies so I decided to take a walk.”

“And your walk brought you here of all places,” she returned his smile with a similar one of her own.

“Why not?” he sat down on the Queen’s bed, undoing the past half hour’s work. His feet dangled over the edge and for a moment he seemed very much the boy he appeared to be, “I go where I wish.”

“And if the guards saw you they would-”

“Never recall a thing of it,” he laughed merrily, “I know how to travel unseen when I wish to and none of the magical wards in place can detect me. I was the one who set most of them after all.”

That he had, though it did nothing to explain why he was here of all places.

She sat down next to him on the bed and for the briefest of instants he tensed, turning away from her slightly as though even eye contact was too much for him.

“And your walk simply took you here,” Zakrivea said finally when it became apparent that he had no intention of breaking the silence.

“Yes.”

That single word was said with such finality that she had no idea how to respond. She knew what she wished to have heard, that he had come there because he had wanted her company, that he needed someone to talk to, but knowing Raithea it was far easier to believe that it truly was a matter of him going where he wanted without a thought to consequences. With Raithea consequences were what happened to other people, most often people who displeased him. Not even the human King and Queen were safe, she had come to realize, and perhaps his arrival here was his way of showing that to her, wordlessly boasting to the only person who would give him audience.

After what felt like a safe length of time she spoke, “Other than research and walking what hade you been doing with your time?”

“Working on my plans, some of which are falling nicely into place,” he smiled, his expression full of dark contentment, “None of which I can speak of to you.”

“Why do you even bother telling me then?” Zakrivea started to complain, only to realize that he was teasing her, “Are you making a joke?”

“My plans are never jokes,” Raithea looked at her with a mildly irritated expression before abruptly changing the subject, “Have you been avoiding me lately?”

The question caught her off guard. There was a trick to it, she was certain of that, but she had no idea what the trick was or what the right answer was supposed to be if there even was one. It was true that she had been busy lately and the last time she had sought out Raithea he had scolded her for interrupting his work, but maybe it had been one of his strange little tests.

“Well, have you?” he leaned in close, his expression unreadable.

“No,” she crossed her arms over her chest defensively, “I’ve been busy lately. The Queen has been giving me more and more work to do every day.”

“Do you know why she’s been doing that?” Raithea gently coaxed as though he was a teacher and she a particularly slow student. Zakrivea hated it when he did that to her, but it was such a part of his nature that she doubted he even noticed.

“Because she’s afraid?” Zakrivea was frustrated at herself for letting the answer come out as a question, but things were always so uncertain when Raithea was involved.

“Good,” he reached out as though he was going to put a hand on her shoulder, then, realizing what he was doing, he stopped, “Do you know what she’s afraid of?”

“You?” Because that was the obvious answer.

“No.”

“The King?” It was still a safe guess, their relationship has started to grow slightly strained over the years as suspicion crept in.

“No.”

Zakrivea’s voice dropped to a whisper, “Her deception being discovered?”

“Maybe.”

“What is it then,” she blurted out, unable to help herself.

Raithea shrugged, “I don’t know, but I want you to find out. When you do see me at once. It’s vital.”

Having accomplished what he wanted Raithea got up from the bed and left.

Zakrivea watched him go in silence, noticing the way he hesitated for just a moment at the door. He didn’t exactly look back, but he did pause as though there was something he wished to say. Then he was gone, leaving Zakrivea alone with her work and all that he had given her to think about.

//   Article written by skekMal  //