Reaper of Dreams (The Gods' Dream Trilogy), page 1
THE GODS’ DREAM TRILOGY
REAPER OF DREAMS
THE GODS’ DREAM TRILOGY
REAPER OF DREAMS
Copyright © 2011 by Debra Holland
All other reserved by author. The reproduction or other use of any part of this publication without the prior written consent of the rights holder is an infringement of the copyright law.
Indaran, crown prince of Seagem, lay immobilized on a vast altar-like slab in the center of Ontarem’s temple, the Evil God’s mental tentacles enmeshed with his mind. Ontarem fed on Indaran’s memories, greedily gnawing off chunks of emotion. Then He cracked them apart like a bone, sucking out the marrow of the prince’s life essence. When the God had slurped up every shred of feelings, He carelessly tossed aside the remains, leaving only black-and-white facts, devoid of color, absent of sensation.
I don’t have many memories left for Him to ravish.
Indaran didn’t fight Him. Over the long years of imprisonment, he’d discovered the futility of struggle. The Evil One would easily overpower him, and then use whips of pain to force compliance, a torment that seared through his head and burned through the muscles of his paralyzed body.
With a jolt that radiated agony through Indaran’s brain, the Evil One withdrew. Although his head throbbed, Indaran’s mind sagged with relief. He closed his eyes, the only part of his body he could control, and took a deep breath of air, foul with the reek of geserat incense that burned day and night—a smell he’d also learned to bear. After all the years of his captivity, he couldn’t even remember the briny scent of the breeze blowing through his native Seagem.
One more loss among many.
Indaran didn’t know how long he had before Ontarem returned to the torture of draining him. Sometimes long periods of time seemed to pass, at others only a few minutes. But he needed to use the reprieve to strengthen his resolve…to hold on…to never give up.
He tested the memories Ontarem had just wrested from him…the farewell scene with his family at the palace…the ride to the harbor, waving to the people who’d gathered to see him off. He knew the day had sparkled with sunshine and vivid hues, but he could no longer picture anything but shades of gray. And although Indaran remembered riding with impatience and excitement, he could no longer feel those long-ago emotions.
Sometimes, he occupied himself by taking his current knowledge of color and emotion and going back in time, trying to paint in the scene. With enough concentration, the exercise almost worked.
What will happen when all my memories are taken? Will I even know color? Emotion? Perhaps it won’t matter. We will be of no use to the Evil One, and He’ll kill us.
With a vague brush of his othersense—his psychic power—Indaran could feel the presence of his fellow captives, each cocooned in his or her own prison. But he couldn’t turn his head to look at them. He slid his awareness out to those around him, trying to penetrate the blankness of their minds. He touched each one, counting.
Two hundred and twenty-four.
He groped for the memory of the last count he’d taken, trying to separate the number from all the other head counts he’d done between times of physical and mental torture. Finally, he settled on the number.
Two hundred and twenty five. Three fewer. Three more good men or women who would never return to their families. The anguish of their deaths swelled in his heart until that organ battered against his chest.
Three more people he’d killed in his reckless desire to explore the long forgotten home of their ancestors. Three who’d trusted him…whom he’d led into this trap.
Familiar guilt flooded him. Every one of his people had died because he’d had a desire for glory and excitement as well as a restless longing to shrug off his royal role.
Indaran began the death chant, the cadence thrumming through his mind. He hoped, as he’d done through the other ninety-five deaths, the souls of the departed would find their way to Yadarius, and the SeaGod would lead them to the Hall of the Dead. He prayed their souls would not be trapped in the Realm of Ontarem like their minds and bodies had been….
That they would finally be free.
When he’d finished with the death chant, once again he made the rounds with his othersense, extending to each individual a message of hope. Hold. Don’t give up. I am here. I care.
Hours passed. Indaran had no idea if the others ever heard his sendings. But he had to keep trying. He was their prince. He couldn’t abandon them. The need to sustain his people was the only thing that kept him from letting go and joining the others in the release of death.
He drifted into sleep, a temporary escape. But he wasn’t allowed to remain in oblivion for long.
A painful contraction in his mind jolted him awake, like a giant fist squeezing his brain. Ontarem’s usual greeting flickered despair through Indaran’s body. He quickly suppressed his reaction. The Evil God delighted over every emotion, especially the dark ones, gloating as He sucked up every last bit of energy. Indaran wasn’t about to surrender to Ontarem any more of his essence than the Evil One could wrest away.
Ontarem took them to the point in time where the Evil God had previously left off—the departure from Seagem. With a snap of disorientation, He thrust Indaran into the memory, forcing him to relive it for His pleasure.
Indaran stood beside the pilot who navigated Seagem’s Treasure through the rock-studded girdle of turquoise ocean, surrounding the peninsula city. Too full of excitement to remain still, he paced to the railing, his cloak flapping in the wind, and checked over the side to make sure they’d have enough leeway when they passed the Needle, a rocky spire of barnacle-encrusted stone that marked the secret channel to the open sea. Not that he needed to monitor the pilot’s work. The man had been guiding ships through these waters longer than Indaran had been alive.
Indaran glanced over at the rotting hull of a trader from Ocean’s Glory, resting ancient spars between the rocky breasts of the Maiden. A warning for all voyagers foolish enough to attempt to sail to or from the city without one of the official pilots. The ship had gone aground in his great-great grandfather’s reign—the last time anyone had dared defy the law.
Three steps took him back to the helm.
At the hail from the lookout leaning over the bow, the pilot turned the wheel precisely eight degrees, then flashed Indaran a wink. A wide grin split his white-bearded face. “Can’t be much more adventure out there than sailing through our very own waters.”
“I want to know more than our own waters.”
“Best to leave stingfish alone in their reefs.”
Almost everyone else agreed with the man. A familiar surge of restlessness sent Indaran striding back toward the rail. For generations, the people of Seagem had been content to stay home. Obeying some long-forgotten injunction to remain close to the safe haven they’d found in the SeaGod Yadarius’s realm, they sailed no farther than neighboring Ocean’s Glory.
No one had ever returned to the far-off, fabled land of their ancestors, tried to connect with the TwinGods who ruled there. The very idea brought a miasma of fear to the othersense of any person Indaran spoke with. Except his loyal sailors. Those men and women might be afraid, but they willingly followed their prince into his grand adventure.
He clenched his fist. “I will find the lost land.” He threw the words at the distant horizon.
The snap of the royal flag flying in the breeze caught his a
Behind the Treasure, the two other ships composing his small fleet, Wind Chaser and Katerine, began their journey out of the harbor. Wind Chaser approached the channel, and Katerine had pulled away from the quay. Several minutes later, Indaran nodded in approval as Wind Chaser cleared the Needle. The other captains, Busale and Suz were good men, with years of experience.
The Treasure navigated the rest of the way through the shoals. Indaran barely contained his impatience, mentally marking their course as if he had the helm. Finally, the ship reached Pilot’s Point, the ancient tower built on a rocky reef that guarded the secret channel to Seagem. The greenstone tower glistened in the sunlight; a pennant similar to the ship’s flew in the wind.
No other vessels rode the waters beyond the point. Only three small rowboats floated near the circular dock, each manned by two rowers, who would approach and ferry the departing pilots to the tower; then the fleet would be underway. As soon as the lookout had seen the royal flag, soldiers had lowered the chain that usually blocked the entrance to the channel.
The Treasure hove to, and the pilot relinquished the helm.
“Well done, Rees.” Indaran unknotted a small leather pouch containing the traditional pilot’s fee from his belt and tossed it to the man.
The pilot caught the pouch with ease. “Fair sailing, my lord. May Yadarius guide you safely back to us.” With a jerky bow, he departed.
Indaran nodded at the younger red-haired man taking Rees’s place at the helm. “Mastin.”
“My Lord Prince.” The new pilot squinted into the distance, then turned to smile at Indaran. Sunlines crinkled around his pale blue eyes. One of Indaran’s friends, Mastin always had a ready laugh, and an even quicker temper. “Quite an adventure we are about, eh?” His grin showed pointed eyeteeth.
Indaran clapped a hand on Mastin’s shoulder. “That we are.”
“I thought we’d never leave. My mother and sisters have been crying all morning. I think only the fact that you visited them last week, giving your personal pledge for my safety allowed me to escape their clutches. Something about your princely charm must have reassured them.”
Indaran gave him a mocking smile. “Princely charm comes in handy, sometimes.”
“More than sometimes,” Mastin muttered under his breath, turning his attention to his job.
Indaran dropped his hand from his friend’s shoulder and looked behind him at Seagem, the greenstone walls of the palace dominating the city. The many balconies spread across the structure held colorful dots of people. He didn’t doubt his parents and siblings stood among them.
A thread of yellow from his little sister’s balcony caused him to pull up the case of a gold telescope that dangled from a thick chain around his neck, a replica of the one his father, King Iceros, wore. He slid the scope open and held the lens to his eye.
Sure enough, his little sister, Daria, focused into view, her tiny figure waving a yellow scarf. Little imp. From this far away, he couldn’t see the tearstains on her face. The worst part of leaving had been unpeeling her arms from around his waist.
Indaran bit down on the regret that spiraled up his chest and pressed into his throat. Farewell, little bird. I’ll miss you. He touched his othersense, sending Daria one last emotion of love. He could tell she caught his message because her arm flapped in frantic circles, the scarf fluttering around her.
Many months would pass before he’d return. His three younger brothers and Daria would change a great deal in that time. He dropped the telescope, collapsing it into the case.
Uneasiness began to churn in his stomach. With resolution, he ignored the feeling, turning to the open ocean. He gave the order that sped the ships on their way. The sooner they left, the sooner they’d return, with tales of adventure and holds full of trade goods.
~ ~ ~
Indaran stood on the king’s deck of the Treasure, looking out to sea and wondering if the interminable voyage would ever end. Three long months had passed since they’d left Seagem, with no sign of the country for which they searched. They’d run low on supplies. If they didn’t find land soon, they’d be forced to head home.
In the last few days, the blue-green waters of the ocean had darkened to a murky olive-gray. The once-vivid lavender sky had taken on the color of a pale storm cloud, although the weather remained clear. The changes in their surroundings shadowed an ebbing of Indaran’s othersense bond with Yadarius.
With an absentminded mental gesture, he touched his othersense.
He shuddered away from the emptiness. He’d have to get used to being without it. But how can I?
Queen Iselde had bequeathed her strong gift of othersense to her oldest son, and for the first two months, he and his mother had spoken nightly during his dreamtime. But several weeks ago, the ships had sailed beyond even the faintest trace of connection. He missed the contact with home. So did his crew. He’d been in the habit of passing on the news from Seagem and the tidings from loved ones.
Uneasiness had spread through the crew. The sailors had taken to touching their hearts with their index and center fingers spread apart, the ancient sign of communication with Yadarius, usually only used in the yah-dar-sae and yar-dar-net, the morning and evening prayer and exercise ritual. The faint othersense bond that connected the people of Seagem, even though only apparent to his stronger power, magnified their fears
Standing alone on the small, high deck, Indaran watched his crew move about their tasks. They, too, felt the absence of the SeaGod’s presence. Although no one dared speak their fears, Indaran knew they’d lost their resolve and wanted to turn back.
I want to go home, too. He suppressed the cowardly thought. The idea of returning to Seagem with his curiosity and the holds of his vessels unfilled shamed him into staying his course.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t foolish. Tonight, he’d enter into the deep trance necessary to reach Yadarius, even from this distance. If the SeaGod advised them to return, then Indaran would very willingly give the order to come about.
A yell from aloft yanked his attention upward. A sentry, perched on the platform built around the top of the tallest mast, waved so wildly he almost overbalanced. “Land! Land!”
Excitement purged Indaran’s dark spirits. He gripped the case of his telescope, snapped it open, and peered through the lens. A distant smudge of gray wavered into view.
With their goal in sight, he would order the cook to break out the bottles of wine he’d set aside for this day. Tonight at dinner, they’d celebrate. A special dinner should raise everyone’s spirits.
Within a day or two, the ships from Seagem would reach their long-sought destination, and he’d finally have the answers to his questions.
* * *
In his cabin aboard the Treasure, Indaran pulled on his worn blue sleepclothes and loosened his braid, combing his fingers through the long hair. The flame in the single lantern hanging by his narrow bed cast eerie flickers of orange light around the room, illuminating the simple furnishings—bed, desk, bookshelf stuffed with volumes, and a huge trunk holding his wardrobe and some special trading goods.
He yawned, exhausted from the strain of the evening. While everyone had pretended to have a good time, with his othersense, he could feel the tension underneath the crew’s apparent good cheer. At least in this area, his ability still worked.
He tossed back the covers, slid inside the clammy bedding, and wrinkled his nose at the musty smell of the linen and blankets. Tomorrow, he’d make sure his steward spread them out in the sun to air. If there is sun.
Closing his eyes, he began the breathing and mind-clearing meditation that would send him into a deep dreamstate. There, even at this distance from Seagem, he should be able to reach Yadarius.
The wind whipped his hair around his face. He pushed the flying strands out of his eyes, and reached for his telescope, only to remember he’d left the case in his cabin.
He heard his name called in a familiar piping voice. Daria? He spun around.
His little sister sped over the deck to him, her arms outstretched, blond braids bouncing, her face beaming with a smile as big as Reescue, the golden crescent moon.
Overjoyed, he bounded two steps toward her.
She jumped into his arms, wrapping her arms and legs around him like a suckervine.
He squeezed her tight, twirling her in a circle. When their momentum stopped, he kissed both her soft, round cheeks, inhaling her little girl scent. He couldn’t believe how his baby sister’s othersense had blossomed. With a flash of pride, he realized she’d probably grow up to be the most gifted woman in generations.
“Daria, little bird. Look how strong you’ve become to appear like this in our dreamtime. Even mother’s othersense can no longer reach me when I sleep. Now she’s just the faintest voice, like a breeze.”
A band of tension tightened around his head. Another vision wavered before him. “Not here,” a voice soothed. “Here is only a happy reunion with your sister.”
“I miss you so much, Indaran. I wanted to see you. You’ve been gone sooo long.”
Much too long. He’d forgotten how her clinging to him warmed his heart.
He carried her to the prow, relishing the feel of her childish body in his arms.
She wrinkled her nose at the sight of the changes in the water and sky.
He pointed. “Look, little bird, the land of our ancestors, unseen by any of our people for generations.” She’ll be able to tell everyone that we made it.
DEBRA HOLLAND SERIES:
Other author's books:
- A Late-Blooming Rose: A Montana Sky Series NovelMystic Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series Book 6)Harvest of Dreams (The Gods' Dream Trilogy)Healing Montana SkyBeneath Montana's Sky: A Montana Sky Novella (The Montana Sky Series Book 0)Wild Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series)Grace: Bride of Montana (American Mail-Order Bride 41)Sower of Dreams (The Gods' Dream Trilogy)An Irish Blessing: The Irish Sisters Trilogy (Montana Sky Series)Mail-Order Brides of the West: Trudy (A Montana Sky Series Novel)
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