1. Awakening

Emarin did not sleep well again. So she woke up early just before the sun kissed the golden cornfields and spilled over into the small herb garden that was her and Bea's responsibility. No one was awake yet and the garden was still and peaceful, filled with the soft blue hues of dawn. She felt a calm sweep through her and settle comfortably, something that sleep had cruelly withheld. On her hands and knees she sifted through the small sweet herbs that grew in Larissa's garden. It was odd, because as she plucked the weeds away from between the parsley plants and its fresh clean smell hung like a fine mist around her, she remembered her dream. It was vague and just a blur of shapes and colours but there was one thing she could recall clear as day.

As time turns,
Leaves will wilt to grey.
Will you remember me?
When I come your way.

But that was the problem. Remember who? Remember what.
She tried to shake the tune from her mind. It was haunting. It carried forth strange waves of emotions and feelings. A bittersweet sadness crashed over her as the tune kept rolling through her mind. Part of her suddenly yearned for something that felt just out of reach, but at the same time she wanted to cover her ears and scream for it to stop. Perhaps she was going crazy.
Dreams were treated with great importance. Everyone knew they were the link to our past lives. Short fleeting memories that were too significant to be forgotten even with the cycles of life and death, they chased and hounded us as we slumbered. It was how some trueloves found each other, or how others realized why they were never happy in this life and always felt hollow. Other yet went mad and got twisted into a ghost of their past. And thus Emmy always thought it was best to leave dreams to be just dreams. They were just soft haunting whispers of another time, and best to be left there.

Many believed that their current lives reflected all their previous actions of their past existences. And so the poor, sick, weak and unfortunate were always treated with some disdain and pity, for it was their punishment and their fate. That was why Emarin never thought about her past. She reckoned she must have been a cruel and wicked person, for fate had left her orphaned, unloved and carted off to a farm to work.
Not that Larissa, the mistress of the farm, was unkind or nasty. She was mild-tempered and almost motherly toward her. But Emarin knew that she was only here because there was no other place for her in the world. Once orphans were old enough to move out of the orphanage, the kingdom assigned you a life, a place in society. Like slotting a brick into a wall, where an old one had crumbled. But Emarin had always wanted more. She had wanted to go to the University to learn and see all the world had to offer. But the kingdom did not give university places to the orphaned. Those went to the wealthy and fortunate, those whose truenames were permanently written in the enrolment scrolls.

Truenames were those you kept through all your lives, that only the Oracle knew. But often people forgot their truenames or did not want to remember them. But those who knew theirs, always wrote theirs in the scrolls at the University and were automatically granted entrance for their numerous lives to come. But how could you know your truename, if at birth you were not brought to the Oracle? How could an orphan like Emarin find her name if her dead parents never found it for her?

Again Emarin angrily tried to push the tune from her mind and tried to hum something else while watering the sage plants. In about an hour her friend Bina, or Bea as they all called her, would wake too and join her, filling the morning silence with small talk and chatter. Emmy looked forward to it, as her chatter would at least drive away the horrid tune and give her something else to focus on. Bea often said funny little things that were sometimes inappropriate but always had a harsh cutting truth to them. Just the other day when a group of workers from neighbouring farms were pushing a cart of wheat towards the city while the angry land owner whipped them under the midday sun, Bea had gaily said: "I wonder what they did in their past life to deserve that." Emarin had looked towards the ground, a loss at Bea's brash words. The sound of the whip lashing against the bare backs of the men echoed throughout the fields. She felt herself flinch each time a crack resonated through the air.
"Bea, that was unkind."
"They should be glad that their repayment is just manual labour."
Not unending grief and sorrow.
A dark look flickered over Bea's face. Emarin always thought that Bea had either lived far too many lifetimes or far too few. Bea believed in all the superstitions and old ways of one reaping the benefits and punishments of their previous lives, just like everyone else did. But Bea was sometimes either too naïve to know that nobody talked about it or too old and wise to care about propriety. Emarin always felt like she herself might have lived just enough lives to know about pain and loss, and yet not enough to know to let it go and take it as part of the cycles of life.
The small farmhouse slowly started stirring and she could hear Larissa in the kitchen cooking breakfast and fussing Bea around. Larissa truly was good to her. Really, Emarin often scolded herself, she should be grateful that Larissa treated them as equals. She fed and clothed them as well as she did herself even though she could have treated them like the workers Bea had so callously pointed out the other day.

Alasdair paced nervously about his rooms, wearing a small path into the rich blue carpet. Something which he absently noted would irritate his mother queen. But at that moment, pleasing his mother was the least of his worries. He had been dreading this day for months. Hell, for years. His bloody 22nd birthday; the day of his accursed Awakening. The day that all those who wanted, could access their past.
Except him, of course. He had no choice. As the only son to King Hollard and Queen Ariana, he had the duty to his people to access his history and use the knowledge for when he was the future monarch. His tutors and mentors had been preparing him for this day for years. An unprepared mind could deform and collapse on itself from all the memories. And so they had thought him how to remember himself and cling on to his sanity amidst the oceans of his past. The herb that he would have to drink to unlock his past was bitter and sweet at the same time, much like the memories he was likely to expose. Personally he thought the whole business was absurd. Ignorance was bliss. Why unlock a door potentially leading to a world of pain and regret when it could be left closed. But he had no choice.

As his tutors lead him down to the bottom of the palace gardens where the Oracle was going to give him the herb to guide him into his dreams, he clenched onto his anchor to the real world. It was a small silver-cast bird, a swan, perhaps from a lady's necklace or part of an ornament. He had found it outside his window the day that his tutors had started preparing him for his little trip down memory lane. The small metal bird was cool to his touch and its wings dug into the flesh of his palm, painful but reassuring. His tutors said to hold onto something from this present life while he waded through his past. Something that was random and unique to this life. Dair had laughed at this silliness. Without knowing his past lives, how did he know whether it was unique? It was such roundabout nonsense. To this his oldest tutor had sighed exasperatedly and told him just to pick something random and discarded. He always seemed to be wearing on his tutors' nerves these past few years. They were kind and he respected their wisdom, but they were also stuffy and rigid when it came to tradition and propriety.

As Dair stepped into the Oracle's garden he felt the air grow quiet and all the noise from the palace behind him became muted, as if a whole world away. There was a sweet scent of herbs that distinctly reminded him of the potpourri his mother so loved. Though the garden had always seemed small from the castle ground itself, as he walked further down the path he could see it stretch on further than he could see. Everywhere there grew short bushes of flowers that perfumed the air with a soft sweet smell and he could hear the gurgling sound of a fountain somewhere yonder. The Oracle herself stepped silently out from behind a small mandarin tree and gestured him to come forward. Dair sighed and followed her. He had always wondered about the Oracle. He barely saw her, only on a rare occasion did she come up to the castle to advise his father. He knew he been brought to her when he was born, when his parents asked her to name him. Or rather to tell them his truename. Rumour had it that she did not age, and that time in her gardens simply did not follow the normal laws, which was why she could remember everyone and everything.

Approaching the Oracle was supposed to be a great honour. Many who wanted to ask her questions and visit her found her garden absent of her presence or simply could not find the garden.
Dair somehow did not feel like this was an honour at all. The Oracle actually frightened him a little and he had no desire to open up his past. But like many other aspects of his life he had little choice. Not that he resented being his father's son. He loved his people and the thought of taking his place as king one day did not repulse him terribly. But what if he had been a murderer in his past life, or some low-life scum? How could he face his own convicted subjects and judge them when he himself was potentially not much better? But he did not have time to ponder over such matters anymore, as the Oracle beckoned him.

"Are you ready your Highness?" the Oracle asked softly, her voice just floating above the gurgling of the fountain, as she led him to a small reclining chair. "Remember that it is a great gift and privilege to be able to visit your past lives with the clarity and awareness that the nightshade will give you." Dair wanted to scoff and tell the Oracle where to shove this particular birthday gift but he only nodded and dug the small swan further into his hand, almost drawing blood. He sat down and gulped down the sap of bitter nightshade in one go.

He was standing in the bottom of a dark pit or cavern and looked down to his hand. There the small swan rested in his palm and along with two small beads of blood. He sighed with relief; at least he was going to keep his mind whole. He glanced around him and saw nothing but a soft glow coming from the end of the cave. Whatever his past held, Dair thought to himself, this was not what he expected. Just as he was beginning to wonder whether he was some sort of deranged hermit, a soft pad of footsteps and light came bobbing towards him.
"Oh thank the Oracle you are here too, Alec." A girl said. Her hair was the colour of honey and her light blue eyes peered at him through the orange glow of the torch. "I thought I had lost you." Her voice was soft and had a melodic ring to it. It reminded him of the crystal chimes his father had once bought for his mother from another kingdom. Her voice made something inside him ache and his stomach flipped in the most unfamiliar way.

"No Arin, I just woke up a bit further from you." Dair found himself replying, "I think we're trapped. Where did you get that torch?"
"It was hanging on the wall when I woke up. I was scared I would never see you again." The girl replied and she placed the torch in a bracket on the wall. Dair looked around him and realized he was in a dungeon of some sort, with no windows or doors.
"They're going to kill us, Alec." Arin said softly with a certain sureness, her voice trembling ever so slightly, as if trying not to believe her own words. Dair found himself make a comforting noise and surprised himself when he wrapped his arms around the girl. Really, he was never so friendly with any women. Perhaps he was a flirt in his past life, he mused to himself. But Arin's hair smelled familiar and nice, like thyme, and her small frame fit perfectly in his arms, as if it was her habit to lean into him for comfort.

"We must remember what we saw, what we heard." Arin continued, now almost sobbing into his shoulders. "Even after we die. Even after we are born again." Dair looked down at Arin's large blue eyes and felt a great sense of sadness and longing overwhelm him. They really were going to die. How wonderful, he thought detachedly. All he was going to gain from this little trip down memory lane was about how he died in his past life. But Arin's fear touched him in a gut wrenching way that he could barely understand. He must be remembering something. But what?
Arin whipped her eyes and sat down on the floor and Dair found himself joining her.

"I will remember, and so will you." Dair or Alec, - it was getting confusing – found himself saying firmly. "We will remember what we saw, and I will always remember you Arin. I will always find you again. Death cannot stop that." To this Arin smiled and brought her hand to brush against his forehead. Something in his chest wound even tighter and stung painfully. "Look at you," she said through tears, her breath softly tingling his face, "always so sure and brave even when we are bound to leave this life."
"Of course, for you are here with me" he replied, "and we will sing a song. The one our tutor taught us, the one that binds people together. We will remember it in our next lives. And I will remember you and I will find you again." Arin nodded, "And when we see each other again, we will remember, and we will warn them." Alec slowly started humming. Soon Arin did too and leaned her head on his shoulder, her hands entwined in his, her small fingers wrapping around the silver swan.

As time turns,
Leaves will wilt to grey.
Will you remember me?
When I come your way.

Dair bolted up straight, the air gushing from his lungs and icy sweat trickled down his forehead. The Oracle rushed towards him and handed him a small bowl to drink from. He felt like he should cry or scream out but no sound came. His chest hurt and he felt like he should heave. The Oracle brought the bowl to his mouth and poured its contents down his throat. The fluid was fresh and slightly sour, calming him and slowing his breathing.
"Your Highness-" The Oracle began as he handed her back the bowl. "How long was I out?" He asked hoarsely, clutching at his swan, mildly aware of the dried blood that now covered it.
"Three days, your highness. But don't worry, your father slept for four days." Dair's heart raced and he looked frantically around him. The garden was still bright, it must have been mid afternoon, yet three days had passed. This was just ridiculous.

"It felt like only a few minutes went by." He muttered, much to himself.
"Nightshade works differently for everyone. It bends time. " the Oracle stated, "You went through all your past lives. You relived them all. You just may not consciously remember them now. But the memories are there in your mind, for you to use when you are king." Dair looked up at this, remembering why he had to even go through this in the first place. For once in his life he was truly irritated to be born the heir of the royal family. But he had no idea how his past lives could help him. He could only remember one short moment and it certainly did not help him in any way.
Silently Alasdair made his way back to the castle. The palace gardens were already being prepared and decorated for his birthday and Awakening celebration, an affair that the entire capital of Alsmere was invited to. Everyone wanted to celebrate the crown prince's Awakening and for him to officially claim his right to the throne. Rich lords and merchants would come to shower him with lavish gifts to try and curry his favour. Nobles would parade their daughters in front of him, each girl trying to outdo the other with the hopes of becoming his queen. It made Alasdair feel like heaving again.
Servants stopped their work as he walked past them and bowed and smiled at him. Dair felt worn and tired as he stumbled up towards to his rooms. Luckily Hans, his closest friend and guard met him halfway and helped him up the stairs. Three days of reliving your entire past had made Dair feel drained and exhausted.