Theodora was having The Dream again, but this time, instead of her own family’s humble allotment, the scene was K’markor. And instead of simply cutting her family down, the baron’s men were killing them slowly. The screams were horrible. Theodora couldn’t wake yet: she never woke until the pikeman lunged, until the spear sliced through her own neck: then she’d awaken. As she watched, three brawny men at arms lifted her father up high onto a T-shaped sort of frame. As they drew back laughing, she realized her father had been gutted and hung by his own entrails. Horrified, she could not wrench her gaze away. Why were things different this time? Why so much worse? Were the gods torturing her more for living on after her entire family was wiped out? Her father lifted his head and stared at her through bulging, dying eyes, and gargled rather than gasped:
“You should have gone west, you silly bitch.”
Now Theodora really wanted to wake up. She waited for the moment when the pikeman would slice into her neck and leave her for dead. A clumsy blow. She often day-dreamed herself side-stepping inside the man’s point and sliding a knife into him. But at the time, the young Theodora had stood frozen, rooted to the spot by fear. She looked around, trying to spot her man. But again, things were different: she realized she was lying down on her back, and her arm hurt. Had the pikeman already wounded her? Why couldn’t she wake up?
Children were being dragged out of the K’markor hovels. Villagers laughed, cried, struck out at each other or the empty air: none seemed to even notice their children, who were being herded together. Though she did not know the exact purpose, the foreknowledge granted in dreams told Theodora that the children were doomed. She struggled and cried out:
“Let me up! I have to help! Someone has to save them!”
“Keep still, Theodora,” Edric said, leaning close so that his warm, honest eyes could meet hers. “It has to come off, or you’ll die.”
Twisting her head frantically towards the pain, Theodora realized her entire arm was gangrenous. Smiling warmly, Edric brought the hatchet up.
“You OK, girl?”
Sweating and shivering, Theodora reared up to a sitting position: looked around. Quinn had shaken her awake: he still had hold of her shoulder: looked concerned. She must have been sleeping on her arm: it had gotten pins and needles. Unable to speak, she stared back up at him, grabbed her wineskin, bit the top off and took a long pull: and gasped:
“Don’t call me girl!”
“It’s just about your watch – m’lady,” Quinn replied in halting Aquilonian, stepping back with a bow. Theodora felt shame for snapping at him: he’d obviously decided to wake her from her nightmare. Characteristically, her tongue tied up and instead of apologizing, she merely grunted, gathered her sword and stood. Although the sun was high in the sky, the shade under the pines was so deep that a bow-shot was almost a random chance.
Darius and Kilp were sitting a little proud of the trees, up on sun-warmed rocks where they could see both the Tower and the camp. Kilp had a tiny, smokeless fire going and Theodora could smell meat broth simmering. She shivered: it had been a cold camp, her sweat was clammy on her skin, and a hot broth would be more than welcome. Nodding grudgingly to Quinn she walked up to Kilp’s position.
“Kilp. Smells good.”
“It’ll be ready soon,” Kilp replied, meticulously flicking a tiny fleck of white ash off the broth. “Then Quinn can sleep, if they’re not back yet.”
“Any sign of them?”
“They reached the top: I saw a few heads moving around. The moaning and wailing while they were climbing seems to have eased off.”
Moaning and wailing? Theodora wondered if that was what had changed her dream. Then whatever she was about to ask was swept away by Darius’ cry:
“Movement in the forest!”
Quinn cried a rally-cry: they all rushed down, to stand, weapons at guard, around the horses, which were nickering in alarm and rolling their eyes.
“Boars – a sounder of them!” Kilp called. The others had grown to trust the little Nemedian’s wilderness nous. They edged back, closer to the horses: none wanted to be gored open by vicious boar tusks.
“What are boars doing in a pine forest?” Quinn muttered nervously.
“What’s a sorcerer’s tower doing out in the mountains?” Darius rejoined curtly. “Just be ready for anything!”