The Benighted

By: A. M. Dunnewin

Chapter One

She had the dream again that night.

The balcony lay before her unchanged, the high vaulted fresco ceiling casting a reflection on the cool pink marble floor. The city was sprawled across the coast, stretching for miles until the royal blue of the ocean met it halfway. Steam ships were sailing against the open waters and on one of them was the ambassador.

And Harlin.

"It was wise of you to send your personal knight to accompany Ambassador Paleo," the King's Advisor was saying, still speaking despite her silence. "The reports so far foretold a safe and prosperous journey. Nothing but good things can come from it."

His voice still sounded young, even in her dream. He was young for a man who was advising a King. But that's what the King of Correnth had wanted; the eyes and ears of a younger generation, believing that his advisor would be passed down to his heir, and that the transition from one generation to the other would be smoother and less hostile. The responsibility had been granted to the man whose black hair was slicked back away from his pronounced features; whose vivid green eyes stood out against his interchangeable expressions, dazzling and eloquent. The well kept attire and elegant pose was what made Cross Lutherus the attractive image of advisory in Correnth.

It was an image that looked ever more flawed the more she remembered him. He knew how to use his attractiveness to distract, a handsome mask over an ugly personality. The over-expressive demeanor, the lying wit, and the calculating underhandedness all played under the skin of Cross Lutherus. Even as he remained out of sight behind her, his footsteps and the sweeping sounds of his cream coat foretold that he was pacing. Black and cream. He never dressed outside of those colors.

She had made no comment to his previous conversation, only drawing her eyes down to look at her hands, at the white delicate lace that wrapped around the middle fingers and crawled up to her shoulders, meeting the lace collar that lay against her neck. The lace formed around her frame and draped to the floor while it split in the front of her bodice, exposing the wisteria silk that lay underneath. The diamonds in her earrings and crown glistened in the afternoon light, along with her hair that shined like metallic bronze. Her locks had been gathered to the back of her head and pinned up, keeping her hair free from the lace collar despite the few strands that hung down in rebellion.

When she finally drew her amethyst eyes to meet his pacing form, she tried to remind him. "My father is dying—"

"And worrying won't save him," he flippantly responded with a sigh. He had stopped then, his head tilted back to admire the fresco paintings on the ceiling, his slithering smile creasing the side of his face. "We must let the order of things take their course," he mused.

She leveled her smoldering gaze on him before turning back to the view outside the balcony. The annoyance of him only persisted until she caught sight of one of the docked ships. In anticipation, she folded her hands tighter together, ignoring the ramblings of the Advisor who had turned the conversation to his own liking.

"The decisions that will need to be made in His Majesty's favor rests on your shoulders," he was starting in, just before the loud groan of the doors moaned across the open space and drowned him out.

She tried to remain still, to keep her eyes on the distant rooftops, and it wasn't until she heard Ambassador Paleo's crackling voice that she finally turned her head to witness the Ambassador's pudgy build strutting towards them, followed by her own knight. The minute she saw Harlin, she knew he was already judging the environment around him. There was something in his gaze that she caught, even as he stood at attention next to the Ambassador, towering over the older man and never showing that something was on his mind. She turned back to the outside world, not remembering what she was staring at as she heard the Advisor exchange pleasantries with the two men.

"Glad to see you've safely returned," the Advisor was proclaiming, flashing his charisma at the tired travelers.

"As are we, Cross Lutherus," Ambassador Paleo's crackling voice answered as he bowed. "It was indeed a most hopeful trip."

"And you, Sir Brien," Cross Lutherus sneered. "How did you fare in the strange land?"

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