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The year 1733 of the Third Age
Rhyden Fabhcun awoke, drenched in sweat, wide-eyed and gasping, his mind seized, his body frozen with blind and inexplicable terror. Whatever dream had manifested itself in his mind to cause such frantic fear was abruptly forgotten, and he lay in the dark, blinking up at an unfamiliar ceiling, struggling to reclaim his wind and wits.
Gloucester, he thought. I am in Gloucester, some little piss-rot village on the west end of I'lar County. I stopped for the night and rented a room on my way from Iarnrod to Edenvale.
These thoughts, coming to mind in a calm, cool voice, immediately soothed his anxiety, and Rhyden closed his eyes. His breath escaped him in a huff and his pressed the heel of his hand against his brow. He remembered clearly now, and felt somewhat foolish for his momentary fright. He had spent the last two days trekking nearly non-stop by horseback from the Abhacan province of Tirurnua toward the midrealm of Tiralainn. He was a royal ambassador for the King and Queen of Tiralainn to Tirurnua; at twenty-one years of age, he was the youngest such appointed delegate in the history of the realm. It was a post he had held for the past five years--so long, that he was no longer even aware of the diminutive status of his Abhacan constituents--or Dwarves, as they were often called in the crude vernacular. In fact, back among the menfolk and Elves of Tiralainn, Rhyden had found himself the past two days more acutely aware of their heights in proportion to his own lean, six-foot-two frame than any of the Abhacan.
He heard a woman's soft, sleepy murmur beside him, and felt thestraw-filled mattress beneath him shift as someone moved, snuggling near. A hand draped out from beneath the coverlets, falling lightly against the flat, muscled plain of his stomach. Rhyden opened one eye and glanced to his right, all at once remembering something else about the night before.
What is her name? Maiwen? Meghan? It started with an M, of that Rhyden was fairly certain. He had been well into his cups when he had struck up a conversation with the woman at the Gloucester village pub, and drunker than this besides several hours later, when he had invited her back to his room at the inn. She had seemed pretty to him at the time, her body appealing enough for his immediate needs--thick, soft, meaty hips, enormous breasts, talented hands, an eager mouth and an enthusiastic stamina that had left him exhausted and spent several times over.
Maeve? Maire? What in the duchan is her name?
He hated it when he could not remember their names.
Although he traveled frequently between the Tiralainn capital of Belgaeran, and the Tirurnuan royal city of Iarnrod, it had been at least a year since Rhyden had last taken a woman of menfolk or Elfin height to his bed; his tendency to overlook the small stature of the Abhacans in Tirurnua extended toward their women, as well, and he had found, much to his delight, that being short in no way proved them unsatisfactory lovers. Quite the contrary, in fact. They straddle you quite comfortably, he thought, as he considered that the woman beside him
What is her name, damn it?
had also had neither reservations nor inability in that respect.
Rhyden looked up at the ceiling, watching the pale play of moonlight wafting in through the window in splayed geometric patterns against the plaster. He struggled to remember the dream that had roused him, because one thing he clearly recalled was that it had not felt like a dream at all. It had felt vividly, starkly real to him, more like something witnessed or remembered, and that is what had terrified him the most.
The anam'cladh, he thought, a fleeting image darting through his mind of a sword hilt, silver and unadorned, no blade rising from the tang. It had something to do with the anam'cladh. I dreamed I was in Belgaeran, at the palace, trying to steal the anam'cladh.
Why he would have dreamed of taking the weapon was beyond him. The anam'cladh, the fabled sword of the soul belonged to Qynhelein Mailp, the Queen of Tiralainn. Its blade was magically forged, a spear of fire that would spring to life only in certain hands--those directly descended from the ancient and one-time immortal beings who had originally forged it.
And there are only two people alive who can claim that ancestry, Rhyden thought. The Queen, Qynh was one of them.
Her twin brother, Trejaeran, was the other.
Rhyden was a Gaeilge Elf, blessed like his entire race with preternaturally accelerated reflexes and healing abilities, a modicum of mental telepathy known as the sight and the inherent inability to lie or steal. His intrinsic honesty made him a naturally effective negotiator in ambassadorial negotiations. It also made his dream about trying to steal Qynh's sword even more peculiar.
Because I could not bloody steal if I wanted to.
He might have wondered about it, worried further, had the woman--Mena, Moira, Merewin, whatever the duchan her name is--not murmured again, her voice decidedly less sleepy this time. Her hand moved, sliding down his belly, stealing beneath the edge of blankets swathed around his hips. She moved lower yet, and Rhyden closed his eyes, drawing in a hissing breath between his teeth as she found her mark, her fingers curling about him with firm and sudden promise. She ducked her head beneath the blankets, following her hand, and he moaned, closing his hands into helpless fists in the bed-clothes. For the better part of the next hour thereafter, the dream--and everything else in the world, for that matter--was fairly well forgotten.