Darkest Night

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! I’m celebrating the day with a bit of extra flash fiction. I hope you all enjoy the story and have a wonderful day.

The sky burned. Pausing in the postern gate, Bethon Haley’s eyes widened as she drank in the sight. She wasn’t the only one noticing. Servants had paused in their evening preparations to stare at the sky pointing, whispering, and a handful of voices broke with panic. She didn’t share in the current of panic pushing again her. No, her worry was that even a blind fool wouldn’t miss this. Which assured her that King Gauwill, even cloistered within the court hall, would notice shortly.

“Bethon!” the king hollered as if summoned by her thought. She winced before turning toward the man dropping into a courtesy. The king pointed to the sky. “How can we give thanks to Wyneue with this… this…” He stumbled to a halt his hand waving at the sky in a lame attempt to cover his lack grandiloquence.

“One of course could not give proper thanks to the Lady of Stars on this darkest of nights with such a display.” Bethon rose and clasped her hands behind her back to prevent herself from making a rude gesture, or at a minimum one Gauwill would take that way. Not that he didn’t take most anything as a slight with his nerves wound so tight. She pressed on before he could say a word. “Which is why I was just on my way to take care of it.”

She turned away, careful to move her hands so the king still wouldn’t see them. “But the main gate is closed any must remain so.” His voice broke as prettily as a servant’s.

Bethon restrained a sigh. “Hence why I am exiting through the postern gate.” She raised a hand and waved at the small arch above her.

“Bethon!” His voice thundered louder. Smoke. She’s used her hands. “Let me ready a trope to ride with you, we cannot have incompetency or disrespect disrupt–”

“Not needed. I shan’t be but an hour.” She yanked the doorway open as she spoke and slipped through. King Gauwill’s face nearly matched the sky when she caught a glimpse of him before slamming the door shut.

Falling back against the door she let her head slump wearily against the thick wood and closed her eyes. Stars and dirt.

A loud chortle sounded nearby. “Stepped in it didn’t you?”

Opening her eyes, Bethon glowered at Erix. Even with his face cast in shadows she caught his amusement. “You’re one to talk hiding out beyond the walls and Gauwill’s…” She waved her hand and winced realized it mimicked their king’s movement. “Gauwill’s trepidation at the nights success.”

“First, one can hardly blame the king for fearing Wyneue’s wrath should he fail to appease her this night. Second, if I did hide beyond the walls, I couldn’t have Wine ready for you.” Erix stepped forward and the horse following him stamped the ground loudly.

Bethon pushed away from the gate and strode forward, greeting her mount. The beast’s breath was warm on her hand as it nipped her before she stroked its neck. She caught the reins from Erix and nodded. The man moved aside allowing her to mount without another word, but his face twisted with concern when she glanced down to him. Her thanks changed quickly to a question wrapped within a single word “Erix?”

He kicked the dirt. “You are going to right this?” he asked.

Letting out a huff, Bethon tried to set aside her annoyance. The Lady of Stars was a jealous goddess, and none wanted to spend a year living under her displeasure. She shuddered recalling the last year they’d failed. Thunderstorms with little rain in late summer. Nightly deluge just after planting and every bit of other foul weather the Lady had dreamed of. And being a goddess of night, dreams where something of a specialty for her.

“I can handle Glatur’s distemper.” She leaned over and clasped his hand. “Just be less efficient with the trope he’ll inevitably shuffle out after me. I don’t need more complications.” Erix nodded and stepped backward Bethon settle Wine into a quick canter.

The ground thudded beneath the horse’s gait moved from cobbles to packed dirt and finally to the crunch of old snow as they moved into the wilds and toward the source of the light. The air likewise changed marking their passage further. The familiar smoke of hearths blew away in the cold breeze, turning the air fresh and clear before another breeze carried a new scent to her.

The air reeked of char. Of fire that was kindled by no man’s hand nor by wood burning. Raising the scarf from her neck she wrapped it about her face, covering her nose and mouth as she tried to breath more cleanly.

Likewise, the air glimmered ever brighter in defiance to the setting sun as she neared the scent’s source. Wine stopped at the base to a hill, legs locking and refusing to carry her further. Sliding of the horse, she patted his neck, using the gesture to sink a spell into her mind. She didn’t fancy walking back to the castle.

Bethon climbed the hill. She paused at the crest standing next to a great boulder. The high part of the rock was nearly at eye level, while the forward part came below her knees. She glowered down into the deeper hollow on the other side. Glatur sat in the center of the hollow, wings tucked tightly about him with his head raised to poor a ceaseless stream of fire into the sky, illuminating the gloom. Any another night he would have looked casually bored.

“Glatur!” she hollered placing her hands on her hips.

The dragon turned his head slowly toward her. She watched as his eye locked on her before sweeping over the hillside and investigating that it was thoroughly empty. The flame caught off and Glatur shook his head, relieving the tension Bethon was certain built from his display. The shiver ran through his body.

Glancing at the sky, Bethon nodded at the clouds faded from flame red, to white, to grey, and deeper. Finally reflexing the gloom that should have been. Yes, less than the hour she’d promised Gauwill.

Glatur rose and the ground trembled as he stepped toward her. Scree trickled in rivers down his clearing walls, no doubt he would be complaining about that before morning. He stopped when he reached the incline up to her ridge and sat, back legs folding beneath him. “I see I successfully extracted you from the castle.”

Bethon snorted and took her seat on the boulder. “While I appreciate the rescue from another night of inane obsequence, next year can we not try to spoil the year for everyone?”

Glatur’s laughter rumbled through the valley. “Well perhaps next time you can assist me with planning an emergency that demands your attention?”

Bethon grinned. “And lose my deniability?” Leaning back against the rock she settled in for a pleasant darkest night.

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