The year 1748 of the Third Age
Rhyden Fabhcun stirred from sleep at the sound of heavy, urgent knocking. His eyelids fluttered open and he blinked groggily at the ceiling above his bed. Dawn had yet to grace the horizon, and the waning moon’s pale illumination cast misshapen shadows of heavy tree boughs waving in faint breeze over his head.
The rapping continued, growing louder and more insistent with each passing breath. It came from beyond his bed chamber, from the main threshold of his flat, and the noise carried through the spacious rooms, amplified between the vaulted ceilings and polished floors until it resounded like strikes against a drum.
Rhyden groaned, sitting up in bed. His blond hair fell in thick sheafs over his shoulders and draped down his back, spilling in a heavy tumble against the mattress. He tucked wayward strands behind the tapered points of his ears. He was a full-blooded Gaeilge Elf, and to his preternaturally sensitive hearing, the beating against the door sounded all the more resonant and thunderous.
He wondered why Peymus had not answered the door. Like Rhyden, Peymus Beith was Gaeilge, and his room, a modest antechamber adjoining Rhyden’s, was closer to the main parlor. If the clamor had roused Rhyden from sound slumber, surely it had disturbed Peymus as well, and it was unlike the steward to let such matters go unattended.
Rhyden swung his legs from beneath folds of blankets and coverlets, letting his feet settle against the floor. He stood, taking his dressing robe in hand and slipping his arms into it as he shuffled toward his chamber door.
He opened the door and peered out across the spread of shadow and moonlight that filled his parlor. To his left, he could see Peymus? door standing partially ajar, but of the steward, there was no sign.
"Pey?" Rhyden called out in a hoarse, quiet voice. The knocking continued in unabated and persistent earnest. Tree limbs brushed against the towering windows framing the parlor, their leafy crowns whispering against the glass panes in a sudden gust of wind. Rhyden’s shadow pooled beneath his feet, spreading slightly before him as he stepped toward the front door, walking across a splayed corner of moonbeam.
"Pey?" Rhyden said again. He paused in Peymus? doorway, peering beyond the threshold. He saw Peymus? bed was empty, his blankets folded to one side in a rumpled, hasty pile, as though Peymus had clambered out of bed, abandoning them. There was no sign of the Elf in the chamber, or in the parlor besides, and puzzled, Rhyden frowned.
He went to the front door. As he settled his palm against the brass handle, the heavy, resounding knocking abruptly ceased. He arched his brow and canted his cheek toward the door, listening through the wood.
"Who is there?" he said.
He heard a shuddering, hitching breath issue from the other side of the wood; a woman’s fluttering voice, struggling to contain sobs.
"Rhyden?" he heard the woman say, and his heart seized suddenly within his chest, his breath tangling against the back of his throat. He recognized the voice, and he jerked the door open wide in startled, bewildered alarm.
"Qynh...?" he gasped in utter disbelief.
"Oh... Oh, Rhyden..." the woman, Qynh, said, staring at him. She was nearly as tall as he was, her beautiful face most familiar to him. She gazed at him with enormous, tear-filled eyes the cerulean hue of a calm sea at midmorrow, her long black hair spilling nearly to her waist in a cascade of glossy waves. Her pale complexion and cream-hued flesh were nearly luminescent in the moonlight and her bottom lip trembled as she tried not to weep.
"Qynh," Rhyden whispered again, reaching for her. She stepped toward him, her arms sliding beneath the edges of his robe, encircling his waist. She pressed herself against him, clutching at him, her cheek against his chest, her face turned toward his shoulder, as she burst into tears.
"Qynh," Rhyden breathed again, folding his arm about her narrow shoulders and pressing his palm against her hair. "My Queen..."
He closed the door and led her to a chair in the parlor. She sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap, her fingers twining anxiously together as he struck flints to a lamp, offering a dim, golden glow to the room. Only then did Rhyden realize that the Queen of Tiralainn somehow paid call to him in naught save her linen nightgown; she sat before him as though she herself had only just risen from her bed at the royal palace, with her hair somewhat askew, her feet bare.
Such circumstances were not possible and her presence completely baffled him. Qynh was many long, hundreds of miles hence, across the Muir Fuar sea in Belgaeran, the island of Tiralainn’s royal city. Rhyden served as ambassador to the Torachan empire, on the mainland continent of the Morthir for Qynh’s husband, Kierken, the King of Tiralainn, and their neighboring territory, the Abhacan realm of Tirurnua. His flat was in the bustling heart of Torach, the capital city of Cneas, and Rhyden had called this his home for thirteen years. It had been nearly five years in full since he had last been able to visit his homeland and visit with Qynh in person.
Rhyden knelt before Qynh, reaching out and drawing her hands between his own. "Qynh," he said, drawing her gaze from the nest of her lap. "How did you get here?"
"I followed the moon," Qynh said softly, closing her eyes as more tears spilled. "He... he is going to kill Kierken, Rhyden."
"What? No, Qynh. No one is going to kill Kierken."
"I heard him," she said, opening her eyes and meeting his gaze. "He thinks I do not listen, but I do."
Her face was so filled with sorrow and fear that Rhyden’s heart nearly cleaved. "Who, Qynh?" he whispered, caressing her cheek, brushing his fingertips through her dark hair.
Qynh’s head jerked, her eyes darting over her shoulder and flying wide in sudden, desperate fright. Her breath caught in a quiet gasp and her hands latched against his wrist. "Oh, someone is coming...!" she whimpered.
Rhyden followed her gaze across the parlor, but found only his bookshelves, his desk with its top laden with ink vials and quills, opened tomes and strewn papers and parchments to greet his regard. "My lady, there is no one here but us --" he began, his voice soft as he tried to soothe her, to assuage her fear.
"You must go to Iarnrod," Qynh said, cutting off his proffered words of comfort. She stared at him, desperate. "You must leave, Rhyden, at once. There is not much time. They will find it soon -- it stirs once more. It is awakening and it wants to be found."
"Qynh," he said, bewildered. "I cannot leave. You know this. I have my duties here, my lady, to Kierken and the Crown. I --"
"There will be no Crown if you do not," she said. Her gaze danced over her shoulder once again, and when she looked back at him, she spoke in a tremulous hush. "You must go to Iarnrod and warn them. If they find it... when they find it... he will know of it. You must keep it from him."
"Qynh," he said, helplessly. "I do not understand."
"Do you love your King, Rhyden?" Qynh asked.
He blinked at her, startled. "Of... of course I do, Qynh. I serve Kierken loyally. I always have -- "
"And your Queen?"
"My Queen?" he whispered. He was an Elf, and by such birthright, he could not lie, no matter how fervently he might have wished for such ability. He could not lie, yet he could not bear to admit the truth, not even to Qynh. "I... I have never known a love that is greater, my lady," he said softly, "than that I hold for my Queen."
"Then help us, Rhyden," she whispered to him. "Please... by that love... help me..." Her voice faded. His fingers passed through hers as if through smoke and then Qynh was gone. Rhyden looked up in dismay.
"Qynh!" he gasped.
He sat up in bed, the sound of his own breathless lament waking him. He blinked in absolute bewilderment, disoriented and dazed, his covers drooped about his waist. He was in his bed chamber, alone in the room save for the first dim glow of the new morrow’s sunrise seeping through his window. He looked all about him, confused, as though he had roused to find himself someplace new and unfamiliar.
"Hoah," he whispered, and he pressed the heels of his palms against his eyelids, spreading his fingers through the thick crown of his hair. "It was only a dream."
He shoved aside the blankets and rose from the bed. He stumbled over to his washbasin and splashed water against his face. He closed his eyes, feeling water run in thin, cool rivulets along the contours of his forehead and temples, following the long line of his nose, the arches of his cheeks. "A dream," he murmured again to no one in particular.
Despite this quiet assertion, Rhyden could not disspell the peculiar sensation that what he had seen and felt within his mind was far more than invented fancy, some articulation of his heart’s most guarded -- and shameful -- secret.
You must go to Iarnrod, Qynh had told him in the dream. You must leave, Rhyden, at once. There is not much time. They will find it soon -- it stirs once more. It is awakening and it wants to be found.
There had been a time not so long ago when the race of Elves had been able to communicate with one another with their minds through dreams and telepathy, rapports and intuition. It was an ability called the sight, one that was gone from the Elves now, stripped from them, though whether by magic or inevitable divine purpose remained to be debated. It had been fifteen years since Rhyden had felt the presence of another within his mind, and the dream had reminded him poignantly of that delicate sensation. More so than any dream, it had felt to him as though his Queen had reached out to him, her mind finding his somehow --
I followed the moon
-- and beseeching him for aid.
Rhyden walked back toward his bedside, patting his face dry with a square of linen. He drew against the bellpull to beckon Peymus and then lifted his robe from the folds of coverlets, drawing it over his shoulders.
It took Peymus a few moments to respond to the bell; it was early yet, and Rhyden had roused him from his bed. When the steward poked his head into Rhyden’s room, his long, dark hair was disheveled, his countenance drawn and bleary with drowsiness. His expression shifted into befuddlement as he observed Rhyden sifting through his wardrobe, pulling out clothes and laying them aside upon his bed.
"What are you doing?" Peymus asked, running his hand through his hair, mopping it back along the cleaved planes of his widow’s peak from his high forehead.
"Did you not say that Captain Liam Murtagh and his ship came to port two days ago, Pey?" Rhyden asked, glancing toward his steward as he draped a justicoat across the crook of his arm, meaning to add it to the clothes he gathered on his mattress.
Peymus scratched his scalp and regarded Rhyden curiously. "Yes, the Urraim," he said. "Forgive me, I did not expect you would be up so early this morrow." He turned, meaning to go to the kitchen. "Let me fetch you some tea."
"No, Pey, do not worry for it," Rhyden told him, dropping three leines atop the justicoat on his arm. "You could pen me a quick bidding, if you would not mind. Have it couriered post haste to Captain Murtagh. I need him to take me to Tiralainn -- to leave this morning if it can be arranged."
Peymus blinked in surprise. "Tiralainn?"
"Yes," Rhyden said, nodding. He gazed into his wardrobe, his brows drawn thoughtfully. "Where is my traveling trunk, Pey?"
"Beneath your bed," Peymus replied. "Is your mother unwell?"
Rhyden dropped the clothes against the foot of his bed. He knelt and wrestled with the cumbersome trunk. "No, she is fine as far as I know."
"Your father? Your brother and sister?"
Rhyden looked at him, puzzled. "What? No, Pey, they are all well, the last I heard."
"Yet you would depart for Tiralainn this morrow?" Peymus asked. "Forgive my intrigue, but this marks the first mention I have heard of such plans."
"You will have to wake Calatin, too," Rhyden told him as at last, he drew the trunk out from beneath his bed, pulling it between his legs as he sat upon the floor. Calatin Nagealai was an Abhac -- a Dwarf from Tirurnua -- and Rhyden’s ambassadorial assistant. "Tell him I am sorry -- he will need offer my apologies to the emperor and Senate for leaving so abruptly."
"I will pack my bag and make ready to accompany you when I am finished rousing my Lord Nagealai, then," Peymus said, again pivoting to leave.
"No, Pey," Rhyden shook his head, staying the steward. "It is a three-week voyage by sea to Tiralainn, and I do not know how long I will remain once there. My calendar is in my desk, the top left drawer. You and Calatin will need to go through it. Whatever he cannot attend, would you offer my regrets and reschedule? Say I will be back in three months. That should be time enough, I think."
"Time enough for what, my lord?"
Rhyden met his gaze. "I do not know," he murmured, his eyes troubled.
"I will send dispatch to his Majesty, Kierken, to let him know you are coming."
"No," Rhyden shook his head, holding out his hand. "I am not going to Belgaeran, Pey... at least not straight away. I must go to Iarnrod."
"Grave business?" Pey asked.
Rhyden looked up from the trunk and found the steward regarding him with concern apparent in his eyes. He was worrying Peymus, frightening him, and Rhyden’s expression softened.
"I... I do not know, Pey," he said. "I would tell you if I did. You know that. I cannot explain it, and it may be for naught. I will not know until I get there -- and the sooner I get there, the better."
He thought of Qynh’s words.
You must go to Iarnrod. You must leave, Rhyden, at once. There is not much time. They will find it soon -- it stirs once more. It is awakening and it wants to be found.
Help us... please... by that love... help me
He drew his legs beneath him and stood, lugging the heavy trunk with him. "Come now, Pey, send word to Captain Murtagh. I do not have much time. I only hope I am not already too late."