Sing, O Muse, of the Dreamscape. Of that fantastical realm between the real and imagined. That space between spaces. Sing of the Gods, who, atop their tall black spire of immortality, assailed by the constant storm of man’s hopes, dreams, fears and desires, fiddle with fate—the indolent deities like immortal felines batting around lives like so much string. Sing, and through me, tell the tale of the Dreamscape, where all things are possible, and of the Dreamweavers and the wonders they work, and of the trickster God, Eleazar, obscured by lies and plots and shadows. Sing, and through me, tell the tale of a king, nearing the end of a long life, beset by grief…
For the 22nd night of the 11th month of the 541st year in a row, the figurehead Godking Jethro Dauphin languished in his castle, dank, dour and empty, waiting to die. The ache in his bones grew more pressing with each passing day of his unnaturally extended life. He would come for him soon, Jethro knew, the specter of mortality reaching for him from the darkness. Jealous of the gift he had stolen for himself. In fact, he longed for the day when the Gods would come for their recompense for his defiance. Immortality was their domain, a ground upon which he had tread far too long.
He sat alone in his chambers, staring out a window that faced the expanse of his kingdom, regarding it with eyes unseeing. He watched, not his lands, largely obscured as they were by darkness and fog, but the past, remembering happier, livelier days. He did not see the dark clouds as they crowded his mountaintop citadel, nor did he hear the ever louder boom of thunder reverberating through the walls and floors, nor did he acknowledge the preceding lightning that cut through the sky like the thin wound of a sharp blade, ominous portents of the night to come.
Reluctantly, he rose, joints protesting under the strain, and raised his cowl against the drafts that whistled through the wide corridors and open halls of his palace. His eyes, pupils of faint hazel and grey, nigh indistinguishable from the rheumy whites that backed them, watered and trembled from the wind and cold. He blinked away the tears and forced himself down the corridor, through a few more open-ended high ceilinged halls, ignoring the glares from the austere portraits of a line of dead kings he had usurped long ago, making his way, slowly, carefully, down a winding staircase. If tonight would indeed be the night, the night he died, the night she died at last, the night Eleazar came to reclaim his slice of Light, he had to see her, one last time. He had to stroke her hair of burnt amber and crimson and apologize once more for being able to preserve himself, but not save her.
…I never can seem to stop failing you, Anna, my love. I am sorry…
Scratching his mostly bare, aside from a few loose strands of wispy white hair—clinging more out of habit than anything else, and mottled scalp, he padded through the dining hall, pausing for a moment to remember its glory days. When his ‘kingdom’ (of which he was now Godking in naught but name) actively courted his favor. Hardly a fortnight went by without some courtly function filling the hall with nobles and commoners, knights and clergymen alike all kowtowing for his favor. Oh how he had so loathed these parties, and despised all the people who so toadied for his favor and yet now, in his protracted convalescence, how he longed for them again. More specifically, how he longed for her, always in her element here, to flourish again. She always knew what to say, how to act, whom to ignore and whom to appease with a coquettish smile.
Everywhere he tread in the castle there were memories of her. In the kitchen, now ruled by cobwebs and spiders and the skeletal corpses of starved mice (it had been many centuries since he cast aside the pretense of needing to eat), she could be found on most days. Despite being Queen, and thus possessing dozens of maidens and other staff working for her, she took delighted in leading the effort from the kitchen, taking on a lion’s share of the planning, preparation and execution of each dinner herself. In the throne room, with the gaudy chairs cast in gold and framed with a wealth of rubies, emeralds and diamonds that still shimmered flawlessly even after centuries of disuse, he stopped to smile, remembering how she would sit by his side as he deliberated over the issues of the day. In the early years of their rule, when the kingdom was still small enough for them to personally oversee most of its day-to-day needs, he served not just as his realm’s king, but also its judge, and she was always there, whispering her thoughts and advice on whatever case lay before them. More often than not he found himself agreeing with her.
Approaching the back wall of the throne room, he closed his eyes and, with a wave of his hand, a section fell away like it had never existed, such illusions were the only use he had for dreamweaving these days. Once entire armies had cowed before his might. Shuffling forward, he entered her nursery, lamps flickering to life as he passed… each time he came here he stumbled backwards into the past, into memories he could not repress, no matter how desperately he wished it, nor how hard he tried…
…he grasped Anna by the hand, so frail, and slight, aged by illness before her time. Her breath rattled, shallow, unsteady, uncertain, as if each one might be the last. At his touch her eyes fluttered, then opened, unfocused and frightened for a moment, before she finally found him and smiled, squinting up at him as if in darkness, though the room was quite well lit.
“Jethro!” She began, racked by wheezes so hard they could snap her in twain, “Is all well? Surely you have something better to do than check up on this sick old fool?”
He tried, in vain, to return her smile. Tears on his cheeks belying any joy it may have held. “Nothing that I could think of. The doctors say that you’re looking much better today. That you could ev-”
“Hush, ‘Phin!” She interrupted using her secret pet name for the king, emphatically, if not unkindly, “Do not lie to the dying. I know my time is near. Frankly I am glad for it.”
“Glad? How can you be glad?”
“Soon I’ll be in the Dreamscape my dear, back with the Gods that made us, back to the Fathers and Mothers. My only regret is that I must leave you behind.”
“The Gods? The Gods that could cure you in an instant? The Gods who were supposed to have ‘blessed’ us? Don’t talk to me about damned Gods!”
She held his gaze, and the sorrow in her eyes was clear for a moment before hardening into resolve. “Promise me something.”
“For you, anything.”
“When I die-“
“Let’s be honest with each other, ‘Phin. When I die, do not take it out on the Gods. No good will come of it. We all have our time. Mine has come”
She sat up, and shouted with a strength and clarity he did not know she still possessed. “PROMISE. ME!”
He sighed, seeing that she would not be swayed, and resignedly nodded his assent, wincing at the lie in it. They had grown old together and now, at the last, it was too hard to let her go. He could not bear the thought of her dying, and leaving him alone on a throne of blood and bones. Later that night, she slipped into a coma, from which she would never wake…
…Jethro’s hands trembled as he approached the bed, though whether it was from age, or sadness, or remembered rage, he could not say. She lay alone in the chamber, not a large space, though, empty as it was, it seemed much larger. Unchanged for hundreds of years, still frail and slight, still with hair of fire to match her once indomitable will, still (he assumed for they were closed) with clear sky blue eyes that lit up a room when she smiled, that could hold the rapt attention of any man—and most women, still with an ageless grace even in sleep. He stumbled towards her like a drunk, stroked her hair, and let the tears fall freely, as they did every visit.
I’m sorry Anna, my love. He thought, once more. I failed you. I failed you. I f-
Suddenly, the lights flickered, leaving the room in darkness, before coming back on, and he knew he was not alone. A smell like incense choked the air and his breath seized in his chest. Even after all this time, even after tiring of life. Now that his destiny was here, Jethro, Conqueror and King of half the world, was still afraid.
“Eleazar.” He trembled, a statement not a question.
“Jethro,” Came the reply, a low rumble, a chorus of deep, dark voices as if shouted from over a great distance. “It’s been too long.”
Jethro turned around, painfully slowly, and faced the God of Shadows. By all appearances he seemed to be a nondescript man, average in height and build, except for one key difference. No matter the light, even in the bright torch-light of his comatose wife’s infirmary, Eleazar’s face remained obscured by shadow. All except for his eyes, pinpricks of cobalt in seas of glowing white. And his teeth, gleaming in the light, carved into a rictus of a grin.
“So you’ve come for me at last…”
“For you? In part, I suppose. One must tie up loose ends. I’ve come for what is mine!”
Jethro’s mouth went dry in terror, and in confusion. “In part? After what I took from you, the secret to extending my life and, I hoped, saving my Anna’s.” At her name, his voice caught in his throat. “…The desperate lies. You were furious! You swore vengeance!”
Eleazar yawned, waving off. “Yes, yes I remember it all very well, I was there.” He paused and looked past Jethro to his sickly, comatose wife. “Saiin? This charade has gone on long enough, no?”
Jethro’s blood went cold at the sound of stirring behind him, and only through a sheer force of will could he turn back around to face… Anna, eyes open, awake, the years falling away like grime in the bath. Her hair regained the fullness and vibrancy of her youth, her eyes, clear and blue, her smile, open and knowing, the very same as the one that captivated him when they first met nigh six centuries ago. He stammered senselessly, at a loss for words.
“A-Ann.. Anna? How? What is this? What is going on?”
She strode past him with hardly a glance, suddenly wearing an emerald gown, with long tassels dragging silently along the castle’s cold stones, instead of the shawl of the dying that had cloaked her ever since she lapsed into the coma long ago. Finally she knelt before Eleazar, smile still on her lips.
“I hope I served you well, my Lord.”
“Rise my sweet Saiin. You need not bow, not anymore.” The god of tricks said, not unkindly, though the mocking smile never left his lips. Annoyance flashed in his eyes as he looked over the risen Anna/Saiin’s shoulder to the shocked, elderly king. “We don’t have much time. You know what to do.” With those words, he disappeared, leaving Jethro to his wife.
“I… I don’t understand. For years, for centuries, I held on to hope after slender hope you would come back to me. Anna? Who are you?” His knees buckled, there was no strength left in him, all hope chased away by confusion and a nascent sense of betrayal. Only by some miracle, perhaps some hidden reserve of resolve, did he remain standing.
She walked up to him, and put a pitying hand to his lips. “There is no time to explain, ‘Phin.” The usual tenderness was gone from her voice, replaced by resolve, hardness, and a note of sad resignation, “Only for this.” With that, she took her hand from his lips and gently caressed the back of his patchy, translucent scalp, pulling him in for a kiss.
His eyes went wide as a flash of golden light, passed through him from her and then back by way of their lips, tied together by an unimaginable force. Suddenly he felt tired, very tired, and older than he ever had in his great many years of life. His hands trembled, growing even more gnarled, sprouting wrinkles by the dozen. His eyes grew even more cloudy and opaque, and the room in turn dimmed and grew more distant. Slowly, time slipping away from him, at last, he sank to the floor, a heap of shivering skin and bones. She took Eleazar’s Gift. Finally, he thought, with a combination of fear, sadness, and yes, even relief, I am dying. As his wife, if ever she was his in truth, broke off the kiss, there was sadness plain in her eyes. “I really did love you, at least towards the end I think I started to.” She sighed, “I regret that it came to this. Goodbye ‘Phin.” She turned, and disappeared. Though if she truly left the room, ushered away by some unknown force, or if she just stepped out of view of his rapidly diminishing vision. He did not know.
“Anna? Anna? Anna?” He repeated hoarsely, until he could no longer speak. His lips shriveling, skin stretching tighter over an increasingly brittle frame.
I loved you Anna, I still love. I always will. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sor-
…and so passed the King, immortal no longer, God no more, gone from life to wind-swept dust and broken ossein. Alone, forgotten, unmoored.