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For all of the oracle's dire predictions, nothing terrible happened in Aneron over the course of the week. If anything, the days following the Empress's conversation with Jaime were more peaceful than usual. Still Adela did not sleep. If she had learned anything from her years of experience on the throne, it was that Jaime's word was true. Whatever he foretold, be it a summer shower or civil war, came to pass.
More than this, Adela trusted her own vague feelings of unrest. Call it a leader's intuition, but her feelings had rarely steered her wrong in the past. Fear, joy, envy: all of her emotions guided her, though she rarely allowed it to show. This feeling of approaching danger would surely set her course for the weeks to come.
Nightly she communed with the moons. The palace gardens were tranquil by night, allowing her the clarity of mind that she so desperately needed. Jasmine and hyacinth grew in abundance, unchecked by the tenders. Vines grew up around the marble colonnades and over the low-hanging arches. Half a dozen walkways merged in the center of the garden on a raised dais that had a clear view of the ocean. It was there that Adela stood, her face turned to the sky.
Tonight, the moons were cast in shadow. Only two thin, bright silver crescents stood out against the inky sky, surrounded by innumerable stars. It was nights like these that Adela felt most alone. When the moons shone bright and large, they served as a bulwark for her flagging spirits. When their radiance was missing in the midnight sky, she had nothing to soothe her troubled mind.
Nothing, that is, except Jaime.
For the past week he had made a habit of joining her in the gardens each night. As always, he appeared silently, seemingly from nowhere. He rarely spoke, but he never needed to. The serenity in his expression would make Adela feel that she, too, could be peaceful.
Jaime watched the Empress from a respectful distance. Her expression was, even to him, difficult to read. She did not wear the royal veil, but habit kept her features so impassive that she might as well have been.
"My lady not been sleeping," he said softly. Adela glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, but otherwise offered no acknowledgement.
"Every night you come here, Blessed Daughter," continued Jaime, undeterred. He stepped forward with his hands clasped beneath the folds of his robes. "But by day, you rule your country. When do you dream?"
Adela smiled mirthlessly. "I leave that to you."
"Weariness surely must find you, Empress," Jaime said simply.
Slowly, Adela's smile faded. Something in his words seemed to unsettle her. Perhaps her posture was not quite so erect; perhaps her features were not quite so composed. "It does," she said in clipped tones. Her eyes narrowed; clearly she did not appreciate being pressed to the admission.
"My lady cannot lead properly when she does not sleep."
Adela turned fully to face him. "You have found something amiss in my actions?"
Jaime offered a placating smile that looked strange on his smooth countenance. "I have not," he said quietly, "But my lady must allow me to worry; it is my place. It would be a shame to me if any ill befell the Empress."
"Worry, then, but that will not help me sleep."
"Allow me," he said, the calm smile still in place. Jaime offered his hand. "Just as when you were a child."
Too tired to remain stubborn, Adela placed her hand in his own and followed him out of the gardens. The two went past guards, down long corridors, through door after door. Jaime said nothing as he led her, perhaps enjoying the mystery of it all.
At last they arrived in a small, square chamber. Its walls were bare, its ceiling low, and the one small window painted black. A bed with no blankets was set in the exact middle of the chamber, serving as the room's only furnishing. A cursory glance told Adela that she had never been there before, which did prick her curiosity. When one lived in a palace that had more rooms than days of the year, one did not always know what lay in each.
Adela perched uneasily on the edge of the bed. The flickering torchlight from the hall cast Jaime's features into sharp relief, making him look more stern than usual. His hand, seeming both cold and warm at once, remained on hers. Jaime pressed her gently back on the bed before moving away and whispering sacred words. There was a subtle rhythm to his words, a gentle rising and falling of pitch.
Jaime paced the room as he chanted, his footfalls ringing mutedly off the stone floor. Adela's eyes followed him as he paced. His words were soon too quiet to make out, and her eyelids too heavy to remain open. Soon she was aware of only the distant murmurs and the slow, steady beat of her own heart.
And then, there was only the sweet comfort of sleep.
Adela awoke to find herself alone. It was colder in the room, though not so dark as it had been. Thin rays of light shone faintly through the peeling paint on the window to create a blurry pattern on the opposite wall. The room was not quite so bare as she had previously thought. Ash was heaped up in the corners and scattered across the floor, mingled with charred scraps of paper. Something glinted on the windowsill.
The sagging bed frame protested as Adela rose to investigate. Brushing aside the dust on the sill revealed a tarnished golden necklace. It was lovely, even though the thin chain was dull and its pendant was chipped. Encrusted diamonds, one of them missing, made the shape of a crescent moon. Set around this were sapphires in a swirling sort of pattern, like mist rising from the waves.
Adela pocketed it on impulse before turning to leave. The hallway was empty and dark; the torches looked to have sputtered and died hours ago. She made her way cautiously down the corridor with one hand trailing along the wall. "Jaime?"
There was no answer. She continued on, gathering her robes about her ankles and inwardly cursing Jaime for leaving her alone in a foreign part of the palace. The man was supposed to look out for her, after all. Adela called out several more times, each to no effect. Her voice seemed oddly muted.
The hall curved, revealing a long, straight flight of stairs. A murky sort of light filtered down from above. Adela set her foot on the lowest step, hardly caring if this was the right way; she had long since lost all sense of direction. A great heaviness weighed on her. Resting in that cold little chamber had apparently done little to ease her weariness.
Harsh sounds greeted her when she reached the top step. For so long she had only been aware of her soft footsteps and shallow breathing that it took her ears some time to realize what they were hearing. The clashing of swords. Men and women shouting. Battle.
Waves of all-too-familiar fear rippled through her body. Every instinct told her to run, told her to hide, told her to protect herself.
Steeling herself, Adela forced down the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. It was familiar enough, this closing off of one's mind. As Empress it was something she had to do daily: ignore thoughts and emotions to focus on what must be done.
The cacophony of strangled cries and metal upon metal drew louder, closer. Adela, now familiar with her surroundings, set course for the nearest balcony. She crept to the edge of the railing, keeping her head low. The sight that greeted her from below dispelled all rational thought.
Red and silver flashed in the moonlight. Aneron was attacking its own.
The courtyard was a teeming mass of both men and women, soldiers and nobles. Some held spears or swords, others carried torches. Each was pitted against his or her fellow countrymen; there were no obvious sides in the battle. There was no reason…
Adela turned to run to her council chambers but stopped short when she saw two figures making their way down the hallway. Both moved slowly, as though unaware that there was a battle raging outside. There was something about their movements, however, a certain deliberateness…
Adela's gaze fixed on the smaller of the two figures. Lavish robes clearly outlined a woman's figure, but her face was hidden behind a veil. The royal veil. Adela's veil; the one she should have been wearing at that moment.
As her mind raged with questions, she forced herself to look away from the imposter. Walking beside the woman was Jaime himself.
The Dreamer's face was beautiful and serene, as always. His lips moved but Adela could not make out the words. She longed to run to him, to force him to explain, but her legs refused to move. Jaime.
Suddenly, he looked towards her. Their eyes met.
Then she awoke.