Then We Shall Die
Zane wasn’t the only one beginning to sleep restlessly. Every soldier had started to see the truth -- time was running out. A last stand had to be made, and soon. Thunderbolt’s army had nearly won, even with the death of their important general. Morale was falling as the people of the kingdom, soldier and civilian alike, faced the unthinkable reality that they might soon live under a new and wicked rule.
Indigo tossed and turned, attempting to sleep. She had managed to keep away the anxiety since the beginning of the war, but she couldn’t do so forever. Unfortunately, anxiety tends to strike, and strike hard, when it was least wanted, during periods of rest, particularly right before sleep. And it had come upon her all at once, flooding her the moment she put her head down on the pillow. Zane was worried about her, she could tell that. He hadn’t said so, and he wouldn’t say so, but it showed, showed in the way his face clouded when he looked at her.
She was worried for him, too, and that in itself troubled her. With every day she spent beside him, her heart grew more affectionate towards him, longing more for him. She was falling in love with him.
“I can’t,” she murmured quietly. “I cannot fall in love with him.” But she was, and hadn’t done much to stop it either. She’d almost kissed him in the forest, and stopped herself. She had kissed him when they were imprisoned. Admittedly, she thought she was going to die, but did that make it okay?
Indigo gritted her teeth. Fine, she thought to herself, fine! If things were to be that way, they would be that way. I am the daughter of a star, she told herself, and I will not spend my days languishing like some stupid maiden in a children’s fairy tale when there’s a war to be won out there.
I’ve spent too long languishing, really, she realized. Complaining about my lack of control in my life, never actually getting off my spoilt, entitled posterior to do anything about it.
Now she’d begun talking aloud to herself. “If you love Zane, and don’t love Raj, tell him so. Tell them both so. Do something about your feelings, instead of just lying in bed angsting over them.”
But what would that mean for Zane, her mind immediately contradicted her? Raj was still hopelessly, childishly, in love with her. He would be angry, but he would never dream of lashing out at her, no! He would lash out at Zane instead -- strip him of his position as King’s Hand and Yarah knew what else.
Indigo rolled over onto her back, letting out a small sigh. “I’ll figure something out,” she said. “Something will happen.” The words were that of a promise, however her tone was anything but. It sounded like a prayer, an unfinished query -- something will happen, won’t it? I will figure something out, won’t I? Won’t we?
Yes, of course we will, she reassured herself. Then, she fell asleep.
Orion Avary was sitting, back to a tall oak tree, in the short space between the Elves’ and Citymen’s camps. His mind wandered down several winding pathways as he went through his nightly routines, praying, singing or humming to himself, fixing his bow and arrows.
He looked up in the middle of attaching an arrowhead to a new shaft, after the old shaft had been bent. He wasn’t the only one sleepless, it seemed. “N’vené, Zane.”
Zane looked up. “Evening,” he sighed, too tired to bother speaking Elvish.
“Another sleepless night?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
Orion went back to reattaching his arrowhead. “I worry for you, my friend. This fighting is exhausting, and it will only get worse. You need rest while you can have it.”
“I will,” Zane said, none too convincingly, “eventually. I’ve tried. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll get too tired to dream, and then I’ll sleep.”
“That is not healthy, Zane,” Orion said matter-of-factly.
“I know it’s unhealthy,” Zane groaned. “But it’s all I can do. When the war’s over, I’m sure I’ll sleep again. When there isn’t a dangerous future for me to foresee.”
“Do not talk like that!” Orion exclaimed, strangely vehement. “When you talk such, you sound defeated. You sound as if you think there is no future. No hope.”
Zane looked down at his feet, biting his lower lip. “Do you believe there’s hope, Orion? Do you believe in a bright future?”
“I have to,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “If I don’t believe that we can win, what’s the point of fighting at all?” He looked closely at Zane’s tired face. “Have the dreams worsened?”
“It’s not just that they’ve worsened,” Zane said. “I’m frustrated. The king wants to use my dreams as a weapon. He doesn’t understand what he’s playing with. These visions are dangerous. They drove me to insanity once, and I’m constantly afraid they will drive me there again.”
Orion nodded sympathetically. “He doesn’t care for your interests, no?”
“Not at all. He doesn’t give a damn about my best interests. No bloody wonder Koris hated the guy so much.” He watched Orion working carefully, meticulously, on his weapon. “Another golden arrow?”
“Aya. The shaft broke, I saved the tip. Golden tips are two valuable to waste. Anything strong enough to shatter a sword’s blade with a single strike is a great asset in battle.” He finished reattaching the arrowhead, and looked proudly at his handiwork. “There. Finished.”
He slipped the arrow back into his quiver, and began to work on stringing a new bowstring. Zane shrugged his shoulders, and sat down beside Orion. Without talking, he began to polish his knife. Orion hummed softly, finishing the final knot. Then, he stood up, nocked an arrow from his quiver, and shot. With a thud, the arrow hit a tree several yards away.
“Nice shot,” Zane said casually.
“Thank you,” Orion replied, leaning back against the tree. They stayed there for the rest of the night. Orion eventually nodded off, and even Zane managed an hour or two of difficult sleep.
They both woke at around five-forty in the morning, as the rising sun painted the sky red and violet. “Morena,” Orion muttered.
“Mm...morning,” Zane replied, struggling to keep his head up. He stood up, fixing his rumpled clothes. “I should go.”
“I will go with you.” As they walked, Orion pulled another gold arrowhead from the bottom of his quiver, and handed it to Zane. “Keep it.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” Zane quickly refused. “I’ve no use for it anyway. I couldn’t shoot the broad side of a barn.”
“Keep it anyway,” Orion insisted. “For luck.”
Zane reluctantly accepted his friend’s gift. “Well, if you insist. Thank you.” He strung the piece on a leather string, and tied it around his neck, lightly fingering the tip. The thing was unbelievably sharp, and shone like a candle flame in the sunlight.
There was another battle meeting that day. Everyone looked tired -- it seemed no one had slept well. Zane was struggling, harder than ever, to stay cognizant of what was going on around him. He’d been awake for hours, and his body was feeling the constant exertion. Slowly, the voices around him faded into meaningless droning, and then the world turned red, then black.
And then fire.
Shouts, clashes, the overwhelming noise and stench of war....
“Ah!” His head jerked up from the table, so abruptly he nearly fell over. Looking around, he turned red when he saw that everyone was staring. “Sorry,” he muttered. “How long was I out?”
“Two hours,” Indigo said softly. “The meeting unofficially ended fifteen minutes ago.”
“It is not over,” Krista objected.
“Well, it’s going nowhere,” Indigo snapped back. She looked back to Zane, ignoring any further comment from Krista. “We decided to let you sleep.”
“No, you insisted we let him sleep,” Raj corrected.
“Yes, I did,” Indigo said coolly, irritated at the constant interruptions. “I did insist we let you sleep. You were so beaten you looked like a dead man walking. But, then you started screaming. Are you alright?”
Zane groaned. “Maybe.” He put his head in his hands.
“Zane,” Indigo said, quietly but firmly, “I don’t want to pry, but we need to know. What did you see?”
“Nothing new. More war. More attacks. But....”
“What worries me is, I think it’s going to happen soon. Very soon.”
Everyone’s faces grew sober -- or, rather, even more so -- at that statement. “So that is it, then,” Krista said. “We must fight.”
“I suppose we must.” Raj laughed, a forced and mirthless laugh. “Nearly three hours spent debating what to do, and in the end we all look to him for our guidance.” There was a hard edge to his voice, bitterness or resentment. “Are we sure we can trust this instinct of yours, Lukas?”
Indigo answered for him. “Perhaps, perhaps not, but what choice do we have? Better to be listen and be wrong than ignore and be dead.”
“I agree with you, kaska,” Krista said approvingly.
Zane broke into the conversation. “Just be warned, if we do go off to a battle of this scale, some of us....” He looked momentarily at Indigo before tearing his gaze away. “Some of us, many of us, will die.”
Krista stood up, her bow in her hand. “Then we shall die,” she proclaimed, “and by each other’s sides.”
“Aya,” Orion agreed, standing as well.
“Aye,” Zane said, softly, “together.”
“Raj, I have something to talk to you about.” It was inconvenient, she knew. The battle, the decisive battle, could begin before nightfall tomorrow. That meant preparations had to be completed. It also meant, however, that this was possibly her last chance to speak to him -- a frightening thought.
He looked up at her. “What is it, love?” His voice was tense, on edge.
Indigo sighed, nervously twisting the necklace she wore. It was a long silver chain with a small blue stone that seemed to twinkle even when the light wasn’t hitting it. A gift from her father. “Oh, maybe now isn’t the time.”
“No,” he said curtly, “maybe it isn’t.”
He’d changed since the war. Before, Raj never would have ignored her. Not that she cared -- his almost clingy devotion was possibly more bothersome than his silence. But it was beginning to concern her. “Are you alright, Raj?”
He stopped, crossing his arms. “I’m fine.”
Indigo put her hands on his shoulders, attempting to comfort him, and felt his tense body relax beneath her touch. “You’re angry. I can tell. You’ve been acting this way every time we leave a war meeting.”
It was his turn to sigh. “I don’t trust them, Indigo.”
“Any of them,” he answered. “Not the Elves, and certainly not Lukas. I don’t trust them.”
“Zane isn’t a bad man, Raj,” Indigo said softly.
He turned, touching her hands. “Why would you defend him, after what he did to Nori? What he did to you?”
Indigo took a deep breath. “That’s what I have to say, Raj. He never did anything to me. The day I met him, I was...I was running away.”
“Running away,” Raj repeated.
She nodded. “In the forest, I fell into the river and nearly drowned. He saved my life. Yes, what happened with Nori was inexcusable, but he’s done good, too.”
His brows drew together in disbelief. “Why would a fugitive murderer save anyone’s life? I’m sorry, Indigo, but I cannot believe that Lukas had no ulterior motives.”
Indigo let go of his hands. “Well,” she said, “I trust him.”
“Why were you running away?”
She looked at her feet. “I was nervous, Raj.”
“You didn’t want to marry me.” Hurt, as much as he tried to hide it, was very apparent in his voice.
Indigo took his hands again. “I love you, Raj.” She wasn’t even sure how true that was anymore. “I just don’t know how I feel yet. I don’t know if I want...all of this.”
“‘This’? What is ‘this’?”
“I don’t know if I want to be queen. I don’t know if I want to be married to you just yet.”
Raj turned away. “Okay,” he said softly. “Okay. I’ll let you think about that.” He walked off, going to make battle preparations, leaving her alone.
It was true, Indigo thought, what she’d said to him. She did love him. They had been close since they were both children, and she still held a deep affection for him. But there were different ways to love someone, and Indigo was sure she did not love Raj the way he loved her.
The way she loved Zane.
I will find the courage to tell him, she told herself, to tell both of them.
But the more she made that promise, the less sure she was that she’d be able to keep it.