I’m not going to set this scene. You have had to have read my previous books to understand the significance of this particular scene. I have a fondness for psycho-dream scenes.
From the forth-coming fourth installment of the William Fylbrigge Series:
Hours passed unnoticed, as William drifted in and out of sleep, only half aware of the visitors who came and left during the day. The afternoon shadows that fell on the wall softened into gray forms, dissolving into darkness a little more each time he opened his eyes. The sounds of muffled voices from the far corners of the room ebbed and flowed as the day wore on. He was aware of the conversations, but somehow, lacked the wherewithal to join in. Do they know I’m listening?
In and out, he dreamed he was awake, only to awaken again, and again trapped in a space between aware and asleep. Just when he thought he’d broken free of the unconscious world, he would blink only to find that he had slipped back to sleep, losing more hours. It was late when he finally found the strength to force himself to wake up for real to find a damp cloth draped across his eyes.
“Let me wake!” William blinked, brushing cloth from his eyes.
“Oh, ye be awake, aye?”
“Annlise?” He opened his eyes, squinting at the shadow of the woman backlit by the candle. “Is that you?”
“Shh, ye lay back. ‘Tis the wee hours. Ye should be sleeping.”
“No… ” He pushed himself up with the heels of his hands until his back rested against the pillows. It was a small gain, but the effort was exhausting. He sank into the pillow with a sigh. “You should be asleep as well. Why are you sitting with me? It cannot be that after all these years, you’ve chosen to be wicked and run away with me.”
Annlise chuckled quietly, placing the cool cloth back on William’s forehead. “Not likely. You’re far to wild for me.”
He smiled, not protesting the cloth. “That does feel nice.”
“Good. Then ye let me tend you.”
A moment passed and he opened his eyes again. The room seemed lighter somehow, and he was alone. “Annlise?” He looked about, waiting for his eyes to focus on the dim contours of his bed chamber. Someone had drawn the bed draperies closed around him—a thing he never liked, and found suffocating. He reached out a hand toward the drape to pull it, and dropped is arm to his side, finding the simple effort too exhausting to complete. “Annlise?” he called again, “Are you there? Please open the bed curtain.”
A soft footstep approached, and the curtain began to move slowly along the rod. A silver mist spilled in through the window, aglow with the light of the full moon. The light was enough to reveal the contours of the room, however he could not see who had pulled open the curtain. “Annlise?”
The footfalls padded around to the other side of the bed, and began to pull the curtain on that side as well. As before, the curtain seemed to be moving on its own accord across the bar, though clearly someone had to be pulling it. When it was fully open, a form stepped from behind the foot post, and stood aside the bed.
“Annlise?” He whispered, his voice catching in his throat.
A match was struck, and the wick to the oil lamp on the side table flickered into light. It was then William saw, to his alarm, that the person who had opened the curtains was not Annlise, but a young man of about twenty years of age. William caught his breath, and stared. If this man was here to do him harm, there was little he could do to prevent it. He had barely the strength to pull the bed clothes to his chin. He’d been abed for so long now, that even if he could get to his feet, he was sure his legs would not hold him, let alone allow him to run. All he could do was stare, and wait for the man to speak to identify himself.
“Don’t you know me?” The man asked, his voice soft-spoken, and youthful. He held the lamp up at his arm’s length to better show himself. “I know it’s been a frightfully long time since we’ve been together. Still, you should know me.”
He could not be more than twenty years old, and though his clothes were richly embroidered, clearly gentry, they were decades out of date. No gentleman wore the starched ruff at his neck anymore—they favored the wide lace collars that King Charles had made stylish. Yet this young man seemed at home and natural in his old clothing. His hair was long, clubbed in the back of his neck, and his eyes flickered, oddly mirroring the wick of the oil lamp. Something in his face reminded William of himself in younger years. In fact the more he looked, the more the man resembled… “No!” William gasped. “Is it… no, that’s impossible.”
The man smiled. “So you do know me. Go on, say my name and we can be about our business.”
“Say my name first.”
William swallowed hard, his mouth gone dry, so when he spoke, the name was little more than a choked whisper. “Richard.”
A brow shot up, and a grin stretched across the man’s face. “Full name. It’s a silly rule, but rules must be followed.”
“Fylbrigge.” William whispered. “Richard Fylbrigge, son of Thomas—”
“Very good! Yes, you always were good at learning the rules.”
“You can’t be here. You’re long dead.”
Richard shrugged, dismissing the technicality. “So is Sean, and yet you wouldn’t be so surprised to see him now. Would you?”
“But Sean. . .” William’s eyes went wide. “Sean comes when I’m… . Yes, you’re right, I’ve been expecting him.”
“Disappointed that it’s me?”
William shook his head, unsure how to answer the apparition.
“You should be.”
“Why? You’re not really here. You’re … you’re a dream. That’s what you are.” William relaxed at the revelation. Of course, that’s what it is, a simple dream. “And as soon as I awaken, you’ll be gone. I’ll probably not even remember you were here.”
“Wake up?” Richard laughed, long and loud, holding the foot post for support. “Wake up? You expect to wake up? Oh my dear, dear uncle. All these years and you are still so… bloody optimistically stupid.” The laughter ended abruptly as Richard turned to face him. “There is no more waking up, Will. It’s over.”
William had no answer. He raised a hand and raked it through his own hair. He felt the sweat soaked strands between his fingers. He could feel the mist on his skin. He could feel the texture of the bedding around him. He could feel everything. He drew in a long breath and let it out. “I’m still breathing.”
“I didn’t say anything about breathing, I said waking you pathetic dunce!”
William started at the suddenly sharp tone. Richard grinned, and casually pulled up the wooden chair and took a seat, propping his heels up on the edge of the bed. He sat picking at his fingernails, just smirking at William. William found he could not bring himself to look at the reflected flicker that still danced in Richard’s eyes.
“You… you said you had business. What kind of business.”
“Ah, good, then you accept that I’m here, and I am who I am.”
“I’ve little choice.”
“So, what is your business with me?”
Richard lowered his feet and leaned forward, bringing his face within inches of William. William shuddered at the wave of cold that emanated from Richard’s face. “Atonement.”
“You may choose to call it enlightenment, if you wish, but it is all the same in the end.”
“What do you mean?”
Richard backed away, and stood tall, then walked forward through the bed to the other side. William felt a chill to his marrow as the apparition passed through his legs. It stopped near the window and stood with its back toward William, as it spoke. “Everyone is responsible for the life they are given. No one life is worth more than any other in the grand scheme. Do you agree?”
“Yes… I believe that.”
“The nobleman and the peasant? Equal?”
“The beggar and the prince?”
“The good, and the evil?”
William paused. He found he had to think for a moment. “What are you getting at?”
“What, in your opinion, is a proper payment for a life that is stolen?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Debt!” Richard whirled on his heel, the mist wrapping around him as he did so. “If a man takes the life of another, what should his debt be?”
“The law is clear for murder—”
“Not the human law, dunce!”
William swallowed hard, thinking. “Well then… I’m sure… I suppose it is fair that a life for a life.”
“Ah,” Richard smiled, pointing a finger in the air. “A life for a life. So if a man should take a life, then he should be prepared to pay with his own. And that, as it were, should settle the debt then?”
William pushed himself against the pillows, drawing the sheet to his chin. “Doesn’t it?”
“Oh, if only it would.” Richard took a step toward the corner of the room, and raised a hand. It was then William felt, more than saw, the other figure in the room. A taller man, older, dressed in the same manner as Richard—twenty years out of date. The figure stayed silent yet seemed to move in tandem with every movement and gesture that Richard made, though they were tied together, limb for limb.
“Do you know who this is? My constant companion? Do you hazard a guess?”
William stared, straining to make out the features of the shadowy figure. “No.”
“Oh, really?” Richard took a step toward the mist, his companion sticking to him like a shadow until the light played across his features. The piercing green eyes were unmistakable. The snakelike sneer spreading across its face, accentuated by a long gash that traveled diagonally from one cheek to his the opposite side of his neck. When the light fell upon him again, to William’s horror, he could see light through the gash—the head was not completely connected. “No! You’re not here!”
“Tsk, tsk,” Richard sighed. “I thought we had an understanding. You believe and I enlighten.”
“He is NOT here! YOU are not here. BE GONE.”
“Say his name.”
“I can’t help you unless you say his name!”
“Help me? You’re not here to help me. You’re here… to drive me mad.”
“Say his name.”
“Thomas Fylbrigge!” William heard himself shouting. The breath seemed to drain from his body as the name left his lips.
The apparition seemed to deflate at the sound of his name. It took a step back from Richard, and turned its back. Richard turned slowly to face William. “Thank you.”
“Why are you here?”
“A life for a life. . .”
“I don’t understand.”
“I took his life. He is now my constant burden.”
William shook his head. He had only heard second hand how Thomas had met his end. He had never really heard the full story, but something didn’t seem right. “A life for a life? Then you should be paid in full. Did you not give up your own life then and there?”
A slow smile crossed Richard’s face. “Indeed I did. My debt on Earth is paid in full. But I’m not part of the earth anymore. Oh, no I still have my burden to bear. And I shall until it is made right with powers far beyond my own.” Richard chuckled, and waved a hand, banishing the apparition of Thomas back into the shadows. “Don’t worry, dear uncle. He has no interest in you anymore. In fact, he is not even aware of you. He sees only me, now.”
“Then why was he here?”
“To help you understand the burden I carry. The constant reminder of grief for my act… for you to see why I have the easier burden between you and I.”
“A life taken, is a life taken. We are all equal. Beggar or prince… good or evil… all lives taken must be paid!” Richard pointed toward the opposite side of the room.
William did not want to look, but could not resist, an unknown force pulling his face toward the place where Richard wanted him to look. The door to his chamber stood open now, and the same silvery mist spilled in from the corridor. Two figures, a man and a woman, stood together hand in hand, looking toward him.
“No. . .Richard surely they … are not who. . .Bryndah? Adrian?”
“You led a remarkable life, my dear uncle. You helped a lot of people. But the fact remains. A life for a life. You took two with your own hand. You best become accustomed to their company, for they will be with you for a long, long, time—”
* * *
The scream echoed for a long moment after he opened his eyes, his vision obscured by the fabric of the damp cloth that covered them. He whipped it away and squinted into the morning light and into the face of the frightened woman standing next to him.
“Will, Will, settle. ‘Tis well, ’tis well.”
“Aye… ye awake, now?”
“Well I would think so.”
“Blessed Mother I’m awake!”
“Aye well ye best settle.” She stood and drew the cloth away from his eyes. The morning light was just filling the room, though the far side was still in shadows. Annlise went to the side table and picked up the oil lamp and looked at the wick. “Well now, tha’ be a curious thing.”
“I were certain I filled this oil last eve, and yet it be gone, and the wick were new, and yet it be black. And where did this chair come from? Did ye have a visitor come sit wi’ ye?”
© Lorrieann Russell 2014 – All rights reserved