Anomen burrowed down into the sheets, pulling Surayah into his arms. Her flesh against his only increased his extreme satisfaction with life at that moment. He was exhausted, sweaty, sticky and smugly proud of the glowing smile on his wife’s face.
“Mmmm,” Surayah murmured as she ran her hand down his chest. “How fortunate that I have such an energetic husband.”
“How fortunate that I have a beautiful wife who inspires such energy.”
“My mother and Karima told me many things about motherhood, but the one thing they never mentioned was how enjoyable trying to become a mother can be.”
Anomen grinned as he nuzzled Surayah’s hair. “I certainly have no objection to the steps to fatherhood.”
“I just wish it was not taking so long.”
“We have been in Athkatla for only a matter of months, dearest. Children will come in their own time.”
“Can you blame me for being eager to see a little one following you around the house?”
“Not in the least. But for now, I should get some sleep. I have other little ones to deal with tomorrow.” With laughs and kisses, they settled themselves for the night.
He wandered through the Farrahd mansion, looking for Surayah. He had repeatedly called her name, but the house seemed deserted.
A woman’s scream came from overhead. He dashed up the stairs as fast as he could. When he reached the upper sitting room, he saw his wife being menaced by an armored man.
As he ran towards them, he realized that this was a memory of his greatest sin. The armored man was himself. But where was Saerk or Yusef? Where were the pounding footsteps of his companions trying to reach him before he exacted his revenge?
He ran and ran, but could not get any closer to the pair. To his horror, he saw that Surayah was not the young girl of his past, but the grown woman in his bed. Even worse, her belly swelled with pregnancy.
The second Anomen’s face was purple and twisted, as his had been that terrible day. He struck Surayah with the Flail of Ages, but the weapon did not leave the crushing injuries of a real flail. Streaks of blood and torn flesh appeared everywhere Surayah was struck, as if she was being whipped. She bent over, screaming and crying, trying to protect the baby.
“Stop!” he shrieked. “You’re killing her! You’re killing them both!”
His other self turned to face him. Anomen gasped. There was no rage or grief on the image’s face. A smile had replaced the tears of his memory, a smile of pure sadistic enjoyment.
He tried even harder to run to Surayah, and suddenly realized that someone was holding him from behind. He tried to shake them off, but could not. He looked over his shoulder to see his father.
Lord Cor gave him a cold smile. “You cannot help her. You are not the baby’s father. He is.”
His scream echoed in his ears as Anomen awoke, bolt upright in his bed. He was bathed in cold sweat and tears streamed down his cheeks.
Surayah threw her arms around him and cried out, “Anomen, what is it? What is wrong?”
To his great embarrassment, Karima and Rachle came to the bedroom door. Shirl and Brahn were in the hallway beyond, craning their necks see what the commotion was about.
“Master Anomen, what is it?” Karima said.
He could feel his face reddening. “I am so very sorry. I had a nightmare. Please, do not let me disturb your sleep further.”
After they were alone once more, Surayah said softly, “A nightmare?”
“Yes. A terrible one. I have not had such a dream in... years.” He began to shiver.
Surayah threw a blanket around his shoulders. “You are not well. I will have Karima fix you some tea.”
“No, please, do not keep her from her sleep. Just stay with me. The tremors will soon fade.”
“What was your dream about?”
“There were two of me. The other was hurting you, hurting our child, and I could not stop him. But the most horrific thing of all was that this other self was enjoying it. His smile was... It froze my blood. What if I...”
“Beloved, you could never hurt me.”
“But I have. I have.” Tears came to his eyes.
Gently she pulled his head to her and held him close. The feel of her soft skin against his cheek calmed his trembling. As she stroked his hair, Surayah said, “You are not the man of that day.”
“Am I? Am I truly that different? I still have blackness and rage in my heart. I pray to Helm each and every day to help me bury them so deeply that they cannot surface, but I fear such a thing may be beyond the power of even the Great Watcher.”
“But it is not beyond you. I have faith in you. And Helm does as well, I am sure.” She pulled the rest of the covers over him and huddled close. “You have had this sort of nightmare before?”
“During my exile, I came to understand the terrible wrong that I had committed. Though I had tried to paint myself as an agent of justice for my sister, I was nothing more than a murderer. When I realized just how despicable a man I was, I began to have fearsome dreams.”
“Anomen! Do not say such things!”
“I only speak the truth. You must see that only a monster could do what I did that day. I look at you now and I see the woman I love more than life itself, but I can never banish the memory of your face as you died. I sometimes wonder how you can stand to look at me.” He buried his face in his hands.
Surayah pulled his hands from his face and held them tightly in her own. “Beloved, look at me.” Reluctantly he met her eyes. “You are not a monster. What you did was wrong, but you were trying to do the right thing. Did you come to my home for gold or savagery? No.”
“I came out of hate. Moira was dead, and I wanted everyone responsible dead with her. When I said I came for justice, I was only lying to myself.”
“Not hate. Love. Love for your sister, and grief over her death. In all the time I have known you, Anomen Delryn, I have never seen a hateful man. I have seen a man who protects and helps everyone he can. When you see someone in need of aid, you cannot resist trying to provide it. Those are the emotions of a good man.”
He sighed deeply. “I can only hope you are right.”
“I know I am.” Surayah smiled and gave his hands a squeeze. Then she found a better use for them.
“Ah, dearest, I do not think that is wise. I am still troubled by my dream.”
“Would you rather use your hands in this manner, or to strike me?”
“Surayah,” he hissed. “Do not mock me.”
“I was not. It was an honest question. And your reaction shows me which you would prefer.” She kissed him fiercely.
He tried to pull away. He knew that she was trying to make him forget the terrors of the night, but her urgency made him uncomfortable.
Sensing his reluctance, she stopped. Surayah rearranged the disheveled sheets so that she could curl up next to him. She put her arm around his waist and rested there.
The warmth of her body against his helped him to relax. He pulled her to him and enjoyed the quiet calm of their embrace.
After a time, Surayah’s steady breathing convinced Anomen that his wife had dropped off to sleep. He whispered, “I love you so very much, Surayah. I would die before I let any harm come to you.”
“I know,” she whispered back. “But if you did, I would still die, because I could not live without you.”
Anomen pulled back so that he could look Surayah in the eyes. The love he found there banished the last of his misgivings. The nightmare was nothing more than a bad dream. It was not a prophecy of his future, and it held no power.
He stroked Surayah’s cheek, then softly kissed her. Anomen felt a surge of almost worshipful gratitude that he had such a wife.
And when she put her arms around his neck and returned his kiss, this time Anomen did not pull away.