Hope is a waking nightmare.
— HANNA ITO, FAMOUS LAST WORDS
A look of horror flashed across Hanna’s face like the shadow of a dark cloud on a bright day, and then it was gone like dead weeds buried beneath the grey of turned soil. It was a surprise that her face revealed that much at all, even if it was only for a moment.
Erik’s hands shuddered, and his eyes focused on her face. “Why?” His voice was brittle with hurt. “Tell me why.” He whispered as he squeezed the wine pitcher in his hand. Deformed silver warped and twisted in his grip. “Please, you owe me that much.” He opened his hand and the ruined pitcher clattered to the carpeted floor.
Hanna tried to speak past the gag in her mouth. She gave an irritated scowl when her words came out jumbled. Erik rushed over as she once again tried to speak. This time, her utterings sounded even less like words, they were more like the sounds a wounded animal would make.
Kneeling down in front Hanna, Erik removed her gag. “What did you say?” He asked in a more hurried tone.
With a voice tainted by annoyance, Hanna finally responded, “I said okay!” She blew on a lock of blonde hair that had fallen across her eye. The band of golden threads moved away from her face before falling back in the exact same position. “How are you—”
“No”—he touched her lips lightly with a soft fingertip—“you go first. I need to understand why you did what you did. Was it something I have done?” Suddenly his voice rose. “Tell me”—his hand wrapped around her throat—“or I swear I’ll rip your head from your fucking neck!”
Hanna watched him from behind her fine long eyelashes, studying him like someone might a curious insect. The ends of her eyebrows almost touched. Finally, his hand dropped from her neck as the silence grew too unbearable.
Erik slumped with his head against her lap, squeezing his eyes shut. “It’s only now that I understand what my father meant,” he whispered. “He told me once, ‘Love is a fortress whose gates are barred behind you after you enter. Even when you need a way out, it won’t let you pass.’”
“I made a promise to myself,” Hanna said slowly. “After your father invaded my country, butchered my parents…” Her voice turned cold. “Scooped my brother’s eyes out with a hot spoon, and took us both as hostages while he seized the kingdom that my family had run for centuries.” Her eyes moistened and her voice turned fragile like a thin layer of ice atop a lake, ready to crack at any moment. “I promised myself that I would never forget. That one day I would have revenge for the memory of the kingdom that was once named Ógilt… For my parents.”
Erik opened his eyes as a single tear ran down Hanna’s cheek. “Your father had my mother poisoned. That’s the reason why Ógilt is no more. We’ve both lost people who we loved.” He said, straightening up out of the soft comfort of Hanna’s thighs. Erik shook his head in denial. “No, that’s not the reason why. You could’ve killed me a hundred different times before. Something changed between today and yesterday.”
“Yes, you died,” Hanna said with a humorless laugh. Unconsciously she flinched away from the hand raised to wipe away her tear, and Erik winced. Hanna and Erik had never consummated their marriage. Erik had allowed her to keep her maidenhood on their wedding night as an odd act of affection. He had wanted her to feel comfortable and ever since then they had laid next to each other at night not touching. Before today his plan had seemed to be working: every morning she was a little less distant. “I cried when I found out.” She added as though that explained everything. A wry snort from Erik indicated that it did not.
“I still don’t understand.” He explained, halfway through the act of freeing her left hand from bondage. There was a current of growing anticipation moving beneath their conversation.
“Walls can’t stop love,” Hanna muttered. “Not when it’s already inside.” She did not sound like someone who only half a year before had said true love was only found in bards’ tales. “When I saw your lifeless body I wept like a drunken whore at a low melodrama. It was like all the light had gone out of the world.”
Erik began, “Hanna—”
Hanna touched Erik’s face with her free hand and cut him off. “Let me finish. That’s when I knew that…” She took a calming breath. “I loved you.”
“You tried to kill me because you love me?” Erik asked, hoping it would make more sense if he said it out loud. It did not. All his confusion was there on his face for her to see.
Hanna gripped the back of his neck, desperate to be understood. “I made a promise to my ancestors. That means something to me.” Bright spots of color blossomed on her cheeks. “When Súla ran in here with news of your resurrection I knew I didn’t have the strength to do what I must. So I made a compromise. I decided we would die together.”
The sight of her inflamed him. She’s insane! But that did not change what he was feeling. His blood boiled and seethed with a want that went beyond the physical. He needed to…
Erik leaned forward and their lips joined in a kiss. His tongue flashed passed Hanna’s parted lips and flickered against her wet tongue. Pleasure blazed in him, he groaned, a groan that rose from his depths, a groan he could not stop even if he wanted to. His heart pounded, doing its best to smash its way out of his chest, and every pulse stoked the flames of the inferno raging in the area between his abdomen and thigh. The taste of her filled his head as more heat travelled down his spine. It was sinful how sweet her mouth tasted. Only two other women had ever made him feel this way.
He pulled back and gazed at her. The bright spots of color had completely consumed her cheeks and the warmth in her eyes looked hot enough to char flesh. Like him, she appeared half-consumed by passion. Those eyes held him captive in a world of endless blue. He could not escape from them; they held him tight, drawing out his animal instinct. Helplessly he reached down, ripping the strips of cloth that still bound her legs to the cushioned chair. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she melted in into his arms as he stood.
For an instant, Hanna and Erik stumbled around the room, hands fumbling on each others’ clothes, legs thrashing backwards and forwards. The air of grace and command that usually hung from Hanna’s shoulder like a mantle was gone. She seemed almost awkward as if she was unsure of what exactly came next. She broke away from Erik’s lips, inches away from the foot of the bed. “How are you still alive?” She asked breathless, giving herself a chance to collect her thoughts.
“I can’t die.” He whispered, leaning in for another kiss. He did not want to keep the truth from her. She had finally let him in and he could not bring himself to lie in that moment. Later on, he might regret it, but in this moment it felt like the right decision.
Hanna turned her head to the side, avoiding his kiss and pushed her palms against his chest. The back of Erik’s legs bumped into the bed. “Tell me.” She said, peering up at him. She was tall for a woman; her head came up just past his chin.
“I’m serious,” Erik responded staring down at his open palms. “I think I’ve become immortal.” His gaze rose to meet her eyes. “Do you believe me?”
Hanna’s eyes, as big as saucers, looked surprised and confused. Slowly a smile replaced the look of bewilderment. “I do.” She replied while gradually lifting the hem of her dress with her right hand. Erik could not help but stare.
He blinked, refocusing his eyes away from her legs. “You do?” He asked a little-taken aback.
“Yes,” Hanna said easily. She gripped the back of Erik’s head with her left hand and pulled him into a kiss. Erik did not think it could be. How could she believe it when he did not really believe it himself?
Before their lips could touch, a point of pure agony erupted in Erik’s torso. His hoarse grunt reverberated through the room. She… she, he could not complete the thought. Shocked, he stumbled backwards, falling onto the bed. A crimson flower bloomed, leaking out from around the dagger sticking out of his chest.
“I trust you,” Hanna said, climbing on top of Erik. “I know you wouldn’t lie me.”
Numbly he looked up at her. More golden locks had escaped the confines of her black shawl. Pain ripped through him, urging him to action. It would be so easy to reach up and tear Hanna’s throat out, but he stubbornly refused to even think about it. Instead, he concentrated on finding a safe place away from the pain, seeking his inner void. The blood filling his lungs would not allow the calmness he sought. With every ragged breath, he could feel the presence of the Celestial Dragon grow more demanding.
Straddling Erik, Hanna leaned over him and yanked the dagger out of his chest. “Show me what you can do.” She whispered in his ear as red fluid stained her dress. She sat back, her hips grinding against his, with a pensive smile.
Her words suddenly made him angry. He was a grown man, not a trained bear performing tricks for her amusement. If she wants to see, he thought with a growl, then I will show her!
The wound on Erik’s chest healed before Hanna’s eyes, even the hole in his silk robe repaired itself as though a knife had not stabbed through it. The horror that Erik expected to see on her face was absent. Instead, a look of arousal and pleasure pinked her cheeks, leaving Erik feeling a little perplexed.
For some reason this angered Erik more, it was like the wind had been stolen from his sails. Brow wrinkled in a frown, he focused on what he was wearing. His blue robe rippled, becoming an amalgamation of silk and flesh for a moment before the robe completely sank beneath the surface of his pale skin. He shivered; the sensation still felt odd, it was only his second time performing this trick.
“How is that…” Hanna paused and tried again. “How is that possible?” She touched Erik’s bare chest, circling a fingertip around his dark nipple. “Do it again,” she said, thrusting the dagger towards Erik’s throat.
“No,” Erik growled ripping the dagger from her hand. He flung the dagger away and flipped her onto her back. She landed with a small puff, displacing a number of feather filled pillows. Erik gazed down at her while he held her hands trapped against the bed. She looked up at him the way he had always wanted her to look at him.
A gentle throbbing filled him as the situation became clear. He was lying naked on top of Hanna and he knew she could feel him aching against her thigh. The throbbing turned violent; it struck Erik with the force of thunder, causing his body to shake with need. He could feel the Celestial Dragon’s arousal mixing with his own, turning the pulsing pangs even more turbulent.
BREED, it urged. Yes, breed, Erik agreed. This was the first time that the Celestial Dragon’s wants and Erik’s wants had ever been in alignment.
Hanna’s breathing quickened, coming in fast shorts bursts. “Be gentle,” she whispered.
“No,” Erik said. He grabbed the front of her dress with both hands, pulled on the material, and watched as her breasts exposed to the air. Hanna’s pink nipples stood erected, enticing him with their appetizing allure. Heart pounding, he took her breast into his mouth like a greedy child at feeding time, sucking and flicking his tongue along her hardened nab. Hanna’s soft moans echoed through the room and her body trembled against Erik’s.
“You’re not even breathing hard,” Hanna muttered, panting like a race horse after its last lap around the track. Her body dripped with sweat and her eyes drooped with exhaustion.
Erik lay on his back uneasily staring at the blackness above while the last rays of dusk fell into the room through the narrow arrowslits that acted as windows. He felt like he existed in some little hollow of non-time, thick with the enthralling musk of fornication. It felt to him as though something precious had been lost, stripped away from him like the pink and white sand slipping through his fingers.
“Erik!” Hanna yelled, trying to recapture his attention.
Erik blinked and looked away from the darkness hanging above. He turned onto his side and ran two fingers down Hanna sweat slicked chest. He paused at her navel causing her to shudder with anticipation. Her panting turned desperate as he looked deeply into her eyes with a mischievous smirk.
“Where were you?” She asked, controlling her breathing.
The two fingers at Hanna’s navel began inching lower with the creeping slowness of a caterpillar. Erik’s smile turned perverted. He could feel enchantment damp in between her thighs. “Here—”
“No, you weren’t,” Hanna said, putting a stop to Erik’s nomadic fingers with her own. “Even now your eyes have an element of remoteness in them.” Her voice became gentle and beseeching. “What’s wrong?”
He kissed the middle of her chest and whispered, “I’m afraid.” Why did I say that? Because I am. There was something restless inside of him. He wanted someone else to understand, but there were so few people he could trust.
“Of what? Of what you’re becoming?” Hanna asked with a frown. “Whatever is happening to you we will face it together.” Listening to her, Erik could not help believing she meant what she said.
He stared at her, then burst out, “No, of what I’ve always been. I’m not like everyone else. There is something broken inside me. I’m afraid I’ll break your heart.” I’m afraid you’ll bore me.
“What do you mean?” She said stiffly. “Why would you break my heart?”
“I’m not good for you. I need to be inflamed. I’m afraid that now that I have you that I won’t want you anymore.”
Hanna hugged Erik’s head to her bosom. “I know what you are. When the rabbit dies, the fox grieves.” She said, holding him tighter to her chest. “We’re different, but the same. I’m afraid too. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to let my revenge go.” Her voice suddenly fell to a tragic whisper. “That one day I will destroy you and everything you love.”
“What a pair we make,” he laughed. “The Cult of Night believes that all of this, that all of us are just a part of a fiction brought to life in the mind of a poet.” Erik lifted his head and stared into Hanna’s eyes. “I can’t seem to get that idea out of my head. Who would create characters as tragic us?”
Hanna’s eyes looked luminous in the dim light. Her smile was warm as she quietly ran her hand through Erik’s hair. “Someone with real problems. Probably one of those goat fuckers from Eldur.” She added to their mutual delight.
Erik and Hanna laughed together in the shroud of some unspoken agreement. Their inner turmoil was the core of their new found understanding. “I can’t promise how I will feel tomorrow, but at this moment I love you.” He said inches away from her lips.
“I love you too, but one day I might raze Vetur to the ground, and then sow the earth with salt so nothing will grow there ever again.”
The sound of a ringing bell drifted into the room on a gust of wind past the brocaded curtains that covered the arrowslits. The extraneous noise disturbed the quiet of the room, setting a chill into the budding warmth between Erik and Hanna. Hjörtur’s bells were used to alert its inhabitants of danger. After a brief pause, bells all over the citadel took up the call to arms, ringing with a panic-inducing clamor.
Erik rolled off the bed, searching for his sword. He found it against the wall next to the bed. His skin itched with the feeling of a ten thousand pin pricks as his robe rose to the surface. Not slowing even for a moment, he secured his weapon to the sash tied around his middle and rushed towards the door. He paused uneasily, turning back towards the bed with his hand on the thick wooden door.
“It’s okay. Go.” she said, but she sounded troubled, and she added, “I will be here when you come back.”
Erik looked from her to the door and back again. He felt torn. Hjörtur was possibly under attack, but he could not bring himself to leave her. For some reason, he felt like if he walked out that door he might never see her again.