She dreamed she stood on the widow’s walk of a castle that dwarfed any she had ever seen. It spread into a city so large she could not see the end of it. Sunlight kissed her face and warmed her skin. A fresh breeze blew in off the bay, a great expanse of water that stretched to the horizon. The ocean, she thought as it carried with it the scent of salt and spray. She reached behind her and pulled the pin in her hair, letting it tumble around her shoulders, thick and dark. It was warm and she let the shawl fall off her shoulders and rest in the crook of her elbows. Her dress was light, made of silk and soft linen. She wore no shoes and let her feet feel the warming stone pathway. The sun was setting ahead of her, sinking below the endless horizon of the sea.
A great drumming beat out a rhythm that drowned the ocean’s crashes. A dark shadow eclipsed the sun and when she looked up, she saw only a great, dark shape clouding the sky. It was serpentine and yet formless, like a memory just before dawn. It spoke in her mind and she knew this was a True Dream, a Dragon Dream.
“The Path of Kings is long and full of pain,” the shadow said. “This is what is. What could be. What will be.”
And behind her, Peter slid his arms around her waist and hugged her from behind. She leaned back against him, let her eyes close, felt him there against her. This felt safe, just like her mother had always said it would be.
“You’re beautiful,” he told her, his voice a whisper in her ear. “And brave.” She turned in his arms and drew him down, kissing his lips until they parted and she drew him down against her. They lay together on the stone, high above world as the salt and spray caressed them.
She sat on a throne, her hand on Peter’s as he lounged on his own. A crown sat amidst his dark hair and a child ran about, clutching at her skirts. She lifted her, cradling her in her arms. Skyah saw eyes so blue they resembled a summer sky. The girl’s hair was red as flame, and she was so pale, so much like her that she dared to hope. But the face was not hers, she kissed her, wished her to be, but she knew. This is not my daughter.
“The Path of Kings is long and full of pain,” the shadow roared.
She stood on a mountain top, the snow blistering her exposed skin. Peter stood there, his sword shoved deep in her chest. A child with hair as red as flame lay crying, but she was not her daughter. Peter was crying, and so was she. He touched her cheek, his forehead lay against her own. “I’m so sorry,” he said, sobbing. “But I had to.”
Her heart’s blood ran thick and hot down her chest. She wiped at it, even as she slumped in Peter’s arms. “The Path of Kings…” she whispered to him. He kissed her, and she let him. She felt love in that kiss, and sorrow, and regret.
“Long and full of pain,” Peter said and then she dreamed no more.
She woke to the feel of blood snaking hot against her thigh. Shaking, Skyah shifted, reached between her legs, tried to stop it. She kicked and scrambled but there was no one there. Not Peter. Not a shadow. Only Nightsong. The horse nudged at her, stamped a hoof and shook his mane. Skyah shook, wiping the blood on her pants and wincing at the twisting pain in her back. The moon’s blood came hard and burning this time.
It took her a moment longer to realize she heard voices. Her breath caught but soon she accepted that the voices she heard was not the shadow’s. They were male, and they were inside the stable. Slapping a hand over her mouth, she shifted so the hay all but covered her. It tickled her nose, making her allergies threatened a sneeze. She squeezed her eyes shut, forcing it away as fear gripped her even tighter than the pain in her back.
“Quiet, you want to wake the whole bloody inn?”
“I be quiet, ain’t no one awake this hour, eh? What ya say you can’t say back at the Peaks?”
She heard hay shifting and a door moved. The voices came closer. She squeezed her hand over her mouth so tight her jaw hurt. Don’t make a sound, be invisible. Sir Henric had told her that the night they’d left Gray Town. Don’t let them see the girl. No one will know. They’d left on a moonless night, riding off the road and evading the patrols. The Shaking Disease had come and no one was to leave, especially the dragon-blooded girl. Barbarians from the north all carried the disease. It was the Witch Queen’s curse. They had found her mother instead. Be invisible. No one will know.
Shapes moved past the stall. One stopped in front of Nightsong and she saw a pair of eyes flash in a faint light, a candle perhaps. He was staring at Nightsong and she saw a mouth full of broken teeth.
“Now there’s a beaut. Think we take her?”
“Touch that horse and this is done.” The voice sounded familiar, but her fear kept her mind from knowing it. She couldn’t think, she kept seeing Gray Town, and the smoke and fire that had consumed her mother.
“Yeah,” the man, Dob, continued to look at the black destrier, who bared his teeth. Skyah didn’t move, didn’t even breath. Be invisible. The man looked over her hiding spot then and she shut her eyes. They would take her back to Gray Town and burn her too. She heard her mother’s screams the night they took her. She saw her arms, handing her to Sir Henric, telling him to go, to leave her. The blood, she remembered the blood most. And the fire after, when they were running. She heard her mother’s screams as she burned. They’ll burn me too if they know. They’ll burn me!
But the man did not see her and turned away.
“Aye, I’ll do it,” the broken-toothed man said. “Bitch ain’t like to marry me eh?”
“On her Crowning Day.”
“Aye, her bloody crowning day I get it. Kill the bloody whore, Canton gives me a bloody keep, I get it.”
Skyah listened, breathing slowly through her fingers. The two men were contemplating murder! Of who? Some whore? Lana? She thought of the whore from the brothel but, no that wasn’t right. Why kill a whore for taking you to bed?”
“One gold ain’t going to get you near her tomorrow. Two, or I’ll point you out to the rest of the guard.” It was the broken-toothed man again. She could not make out the other, he was whispering and they were moving away.
The men talking lower, their voices growing only slightly more heated. It sounded more like a negotiation for a night’s room than a killing. So the target had a guard? She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach then, and knew who they meant. She listened with all her ability, straining to pick out every word.
There were none. Instead, a clink of metal. Coins passed from hand to hand with a grunt, then a chuckle. She stayed silent, shut her eyes, opened her ears. She knew then. Only the Lady Inara would have a Crowning Day in Shield Port. Two men were going to murder Lady Inara and no one would know, but her. She had to know, had to understand. She forgot Peter, forgot the shadow. She forgot the blood that trickled down her leg. She forgot her fear. Be made a man. A knight knows no fear.
There was only silence, and then the slide of a door latch. The stable door opened. Footsteps and then more silence. She waited a moment longer, then peered around the stall’s wall. She saw a man huddled against the door, his cloak pulled tight. He was looking down at his hands. He glanced over his shoulder and Skyah froze. A big man with broken-teeth. In the moonlight she saw his face, scarred with a nose broken half a dozen times. He was the man Peter was talking to at the Peaks.
He left then. She’d been invisible and nothing at all.