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Lena Of A Thousand Dreams
by Orakio of the Domes


The sun, sliding low in the sky, beat full in their faces. The afternoon breeze, which had sprung up in earnest, bent the long grasses and tossed the hovering insects so that they danced in the air. Lena stared at the ground while she walked, not caring for any conversation. The tranquility of the entire place belied the struggle of emotions within her.

"Are you feeling okay?" came a hesitant query from behind her. She turned and stared at the concerned face of Lyle, the dashing Layan prince that she both hated and loved at the same time. Her lips quivered as her mind raced with countless possible responses.

But she simply murmured the affirmative. She took another look at the wide stretch of sea in the distance and turned around, walking further down the sloping greensward. The two engaged in no more talk for a long while, both swallowed up in their own ponderances of the recent events.

The sky began to darken as dusk drew near, and Lena realized with a frown that they would not be able to reach the passageway connecting Landen and Aquatica that night. They set up camp when the stars began to twinkle, and the air grew chillier.

She hovered before the fire, warming her calloused hands and trying to forget. But she knew the memories would linger in her mind like a headache for weeks to come.

Lyle did not take much notice of her. He produced a small pouch from within his traveling bag, and drew out some aromatic leaves, browned from the dryness. Wordlessly, he took out two small cups, made from sturdy ceramic and etched with designs all over. He poured some warm water into them, from the makeshift kettle they had set up over the fire, and began to crush the leaves systematically. Lena watched the fragments drifted downwards, propelled by the silent wind, and fell into the cups.

The water became tinted with a pleasant mixture of gold and hazel as the leaves permeated it. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Lyle smiled and handed her a cup. "Try some," he said. "It's a Layan recipe."

Lena put the cup to her lips, and savored the fragrance, before allowing the fluid to enter her mouth. The fluid trickled down her throat, creating a warm feeling within her, and she closed her eyes, trying to get the most out of the moment. "Lena..."

Her eyes fluttered open as she once again turned her gaze towards her companion. "Lena," he began again. "I'm sorry about what happened, and I j-"

"No," she interrupted softly. "I've been a fool." She gave him a bittersweet smile. "I've been living with a veil over my eyes." She saw his quizzical expression, and continued. "I never expected him to say yes. Why would I? I...I guess it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. There's nothing you should feel sorry about."

Lyle looked down, green locks of hair hiding his face in shadow. "Of course," he breathed with a sigh of relief. He returned her smile, this one more genuine. "I was afraid that you felt...angry."

"Angry?" She threw her head back and laughed. "No. Disappointed, yes. But more so at myself than anyone. Let's not fret any more about this. We can't turn the clock back and rewrite history." The Layan prince nodded. The entire world seemed to be locked in stillness, as if everyone and everything were eavesdropping on their conversation. Lena broke the silence. "I do like this drink of yours. What is it called?"

Lyle seemed to be caught off guard by this question. After a moment, he replied, "Calamint tea, it is. Its recipe has been common knowledge in my household, and some legends say that it has certain restorative powers," A pause. "but more for the mind and soul than the physical body."

"Indeed," Lena said, staring down into her own cup. She caught herself wandering away and tried to make some more small talk. "Layans do seem to be more spiritually complete than my people."

"What do you mean?"

"That you're more in touch with the ethereal world. Orakians have so few parables, that sometimes, I feel as if we're all in violation of some higher power." She chuckled inwardly, wondering what her companion might be thinking of her. "But that's just me."

"I...see."

Lena studied his face intently. "Would you mind...telling me a story or two?" She gave him a small smile. "I do love hearing a good tale."

Lyle furrowed his brow, still unable to understand what was going on in her mind. "Sure," he complied. "What do you want to hear about, though? There are thousands of stories in the Layan faith, most of it part of our oral history." Lena thought for a moment, her eyes wandering around like she expected the answer to appear to her in the air.

"Love."

The prince took a while to think of a legend suitable for the occasion, while Lena stared into her cup of calamint tea again, watching the leaves drift leisurely around in their fresh brown sea. "There once was a man called Pavrel," he began all of a sudden. "He was heir to a sizable kingdom whose name has been lost in the mists of time." His voice grew stronger as the recollection of the story distincted itself in his mind. "As he grew older, his father's urges for him to choose a bride became ever more frequent."

"However, his eyes held no lady with their gaze for very long at all. The prince could not seem to find the right bride for himself. Then one day, Pavrel was visiting one of the towns his father ruled, when his eyes fell upon an extraordinary young woman. He thought that she was the most beautiful thing that he had laid eyes on, and he seemed to be oblivious to her requests for a few coins."

Lena waited for him to go on. "He was dressed in commoners' clothes, you see, and the woman was a beggar. She had no home, nor family, and if she had known that it was the prince before her, she would have never have asked him for money. Pavrel stood there before her, dumbfounded and awestruck, and when the woman finally noticed the royal insignia he wore on his chest -- a requirement back in those days -- she ran off, scared."

"'Wait!' the prince had called out. But she was already out of sight. When he returned to his palace, he told his father, the king, of his encounter, and said that he wanted to seek out the woman and make her his wife. The king would absolutely not allow it, though, because of the woman's low status in society, and forbade him to do anything of the sort. The two got into an argument, and the prince finally stomped off, too exasperated to do anything else."

"He went back to that town where he had first seen the woman, and combed through the streets for her, searching every suspicious tavern and every narrow alleyway. He never found her, though."

"Pavrel returned to his palace, forlorn, and tried to forget the woman's image. He could not, however, and he began to imagine seeing her in the oddest places -- in his dinnerplate, behind a tree, upon his mother's throne. His hallucinations drove him mad, and he had to be locked away in his room, much to the despair of many."

"They found him dead one early morning. He had hung himself with his bedsheets. The entire kingdom grieved for a loss of a son, and a future ruler. And up to this day, nobody has seen that woman, the beggar, the one that, in essence, killed him."

The night air seemed to grow colder, and the darkness seemed to envelop them. Lena shivered. "Is that the end of the story?" she asked in a wavery voice. It was not what she had expected, but she was grateful for anything.

"No," replied Lyle. He sipped at his tea some more before going on. "The prince hung himself on a midsummer's eve. It is said that on the anniversary of his death, you can see one star in the sky that is brighter than the others. For the prince was reincarnated as a star, and shines with fervor; even in the afterlife, he continues to search for the woman. And every fifty years or so -- at least that's what I was told -- another star shines just as bright as he, and that star is the spirit of the woman he longed for, beckoning for him to come." He said the last words with a smile.

Reaching out, Lyle took Lena's hand, in a firm, but comfortable grip, and pointed at a bright light in the heavens above that matched the words that had come out of his mouth moments earlier. The princess of Satera said nothing. He then guided her hand towards the east a little more, and showed her an equally bright light, whispering, "Never lose faith in the human soul. It knows no limits."

*     *     *     *     *

The hidden sun peeled away only a single layer of night's darkness, leaving the world suspended in a neutral gray light. Thy sky was tin-colored and full of treacherous-looking clouds. Lena rose from her thin, uncomfortably rigid pallet made from a pile of thick weeds and grasses, and rubbed her eyes. Although she couldn't remember it, she knew that the dream she was having was unpleasant, and was thankful that the sounds of wildlife pushed her out of unreality.

As she sat cross-legged, she felt the remnants of the dream lift like a morning mist. A thin stream of smoke curled sinuously in the wind, originating from the pile of ashes that was leftover from last night's fire. Lyle, who was sleeping nearby, did not seem to be anywhere near wakefulness, a soft but perpetual snore hanging in the air above him. Lena took the time she had to herself to reminisce, something she had been doing disturbingly often recently.

She stared dumbly at nothing as her mind escaped into the past, and happier times.

"I'll help you escape. Follow me."

The words had come almost without her realizing it. She had crept down in the dungeon, with half a mind to free Rhys from his imprisonment, because she was a firm believer in true love. Others would've called her a hopeless romantic. She never thought that she would actually go through with it, though. However, puppy love had overridden her logical mind, and she could not resist.

"Arm yourself well and go find Maia!"

As she watched him disappear down the passage, she had a sudden urge to fling herself at him, to beg of him to take her along with him. But why would he do that? After all, his betrothed was the lady Maia, and not her, a torn Orakian princess.

"You've come a long way since we last met."

Stupid girl! she had chided herself. Is that all you have to say? Her eyes filled with happiness and the world made sense for the briefest of moments, as she saw Rhys standing before her. He was still alive, after a series of harrowing events, and it made her feel...proud.

"Lena?"

A voice shook her out of her reverie. "Let's break our fast before setting off again, okay?" She nodded. Lyle looked worriedly at the distant gaze in her eyes, but turned his attention to food. They ate quietly, occasionally trying to spark up another conversation with a passing remark about the weather, but Lena did not seem to be in the mood to talk.

About an hour later, the two of them were traveling again, heading northwest. "Do you think we'll be able to get to the tunnel to Landen today?" Lena asked.

"I think so. It shouldn't be much farther. We might even make it to the other side."

"That's good. I dearly miss home. Home, sweet home..." But what will they think of me? she wondered silently. Rhys is not coming back, and it's my fault. After all, I freed him. Am I a traitor? There was no answer to her anguished thoughts. A buzzgull hopped up from her path, not hungry for their carcasses, and into the convoluted branches of a rosewood tree where he trilled disputatiously.

It sounded like a siren that was calling out her doom. Doom. The ominous word rattled in her head like a pebble. How am I going to face them, and not feel shame?

When the sun was high in the sky, and their stomachs were grumbling for food once more, they sat down and had lunch -- a small, but rejuvenating meal consisting of bread smeared with delectable Sateran butter, tangy wildberries, and some more calamint tea.

After a few hours had passed, and many more drains of their water canteens, they finally saw it. In the distance, a massive, craggy mountain face loomed, and it only seemed to grow bigger as they gained more proximity. The darkness at the foot of the mountain that led into the passageway seemed to be the mouth of some horrible beast, and Lena felt as if she were staring at her own demise.

They reached the entrance as the sun was slowly drifting down towards the horizon. Lyle stepped into the shade of the overhanging cliff, and fumbled for the sapphire that was needed to unlock the tunnel. Lena stood apart, still not daring to get any closer. She felt as if she was staring at the perpetuation of her unhappiness, just a dark hole in front of her. Traitor. Did that one word sum up all the tragedies and triumphs of her life?

"Though I sought Maia, I choose you."

Where had those words come from? They echoed in her mind, as if they were spoken right next to her, although she was sure Lyle had said nothing. As she searched for their origin, she realized that Rhys did say something like that to her once. He had found some solace in her as a confidante, and they had spent sleepless nights together in ramshackle inns just talking. "I always thought that my wife would be my best friend as well as lover." he said, rubbing the insomniac circles beneath his eyes. "Though I sought Maia, I choose you as my best friend, Lena." He smiled, and nothing mattered anymore to her. "You."

The tunnel opened up with a hiss of escaping air, and eerie lights that shifted from one color to the next illuminated the Layan prince. He turned to face Lena, sucking in a deep breath. "Coming?"

Lena felt an unexpected boost of inner strength from an unknown reservoir within her. She swatted her fear away as mercilessly as she would a hovering gnat, and stepped forward.

What mystery lies beyond her eyes;
Secrets buried deep.
What horror hides behind the mask;
Only time shall keep.
The burning pits of frost aflame
Gnaw at jaded soul,
While mem'ries full of mourn and grief
Begin to take their toll.
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