Hours later, Aylan found himself in much the same position he had the night before. He was in his own quarters now, but there were guards posted outside this door in stead of a lock and iron bars. He had finally washed himself and found some more suitable clothing, but it did little to lift his spirits. No matter how hard he scrubbed, he couldn’t wash away the guilt he felt over his best friend’s death. He had asked the guards if they knew anything about what had happened to Jonbryl during the battle or even to Kiana before the siege broke through. Whether they knew nothing or were instructed to keep silent, one thing was for certain; Aylan got no information of substance from them whatsoever.
As Aylan lay back on a considerably softer bed this night, his thoughts wandered to the past once again. He remembered Kiana as she once was, floating around in her favorite green silk dress, and laughing at all of his terrible jokes. She had been so beautiful. Aylan could lose himself in those deep blue eyes and soft blond hair, and he almost had on more than one occasion. His thoughts immediately went back to an evening he had spent with her just two months back, when they had attended a dance in the ballroom together. After a long night of dancing and flirting, they had snuck away to her maid’s quarters; a place she assured him was safe from prying castle eyes and eventual rumors. They were betrothed anyway, she had reasoned, why not?
No, I’ll not dwell on such thoughts. Aylan pried his mind away from the painful memory with some difficulty. He sat up and reached for the bottle of summer wine he had pilfered from the kitchen some time ago and kept hidden in his room. Aylan imbibed a good third of the bottle in one long draft. It was a pleasant wine, his favorite. Repriora was the name on the label, local wine aged just minutes from the castle. This particular bottle dated about twenty years back. I wonder how much I’ll need to drink to sleep dreamlessly. I doubt I even have enough, he mused regretfully. So Aylan sat up in his bed for a while, drinking his summer wine and struggling with his memories bitterly.
Sleep came unexpectedly, and with it dreams. He was suddenly in the castle courtyard, circling Jonbryl in a practice duel. The sun was out and shining magnificently down on them, undeterred by a single cloud. The prince was in full armor, wearing his gold-tinted plate that his father had crafted for him on his last nameday. That’s odd, Aylan thought. He’s never worn his armor for a sparring session before. Aylan looked down at himself and noticed that he too was wearing full battle gear. His sword and board were real as well, and his blade was not dulled for practice. His green and brown tinted armor clinked lightly as he continued to circle his friend, dismayed. Weaving his sword in and out of his well rehearsed defense routine, he tightened his grip on his shield and braced for Jonbryl’s inevitable attack.
The first attack came with the prince’s shining golden sword crashing down on Aylan’s shield, biting deep into the tree sigil and jolting his arm. Aylan countered quickly, forcing Jonbryl to turn his hefty two handed sword to parry.
“What the hell is going on, Jonbryl?” he grunted as they fought. “This is a little cutthroat for a spar!”
“What? Why would I spar with a traitor?” Jonbryl yelled back fiercely, rushing in to strike again. His dark blue eyes flashed with hate as he drew back his greatsword.
“It was not I who brought this injustice upon your family,” Aylan danced deftly to the side as Jonbryl wildly cut at him again. He’s not even planning defense into his attacks, Aylan thought. He’s lost his mind. I could wear him down in five minutes this way.
“You wear that damned sigil on your shield don’t you?” Jonbryl was already panting from exertion. “That is the very banner that flew over the army that sacked my city!”
Aylan could not answer that no more than he could explain how he had gotten into this fight in the first place. He just continued to evade Jonbryl’s attacks, dodging what he could and blocking what he couldn’t. Despite what he thought earlier, Jonbryl did not seem to be tiring. Maybe he isn't panting from exertion, only anger, Aylan thought.
Their battle raged on, Aylan still on the defensive. He did not want to kill Jonbryl, but he was quickly running out of options. His battered shield could not bear the brunt of many more of the prince’s savage blows, and his energy would not last forever. Jonbryls was leaving openings with almost every attack, and Aylan would have to start capitalizing on them soon.
“Fight back, turncoat!” Jonbryl snarled wildly. His eyes shone madly, no longer their normal blue, but oddly black. Aylan could no longer even see the whites of his eyes. As he turned aside another attack from Jonbryl, he noticed the sky had begun to darken. So much for a beautiful day, he thought wryly.
“I don’t know why you are doing this,” Aylan pleaded. “We were friends!”
“In life, maybe,” Jonbryl uttered cryptically. As if on cue, rain began to pour from the skies in torrents, turning the practice yard to a bubbling mud almost instantly. Aylan gave one last look at his friend, enjoying a momentarily lull in the fight as they both regarded each other. Jonbryl’s gaze held nothing for Aylan but disdain, he noticed.
With a heavy heart, Aylan went on the attack.
For what seemed like hours, the two whirled about in a deadly dance as they had dozens of times before, but the stakes were never quite so high. Aylan had never seen the hate in Jonbryl’s eyes as he did now, and it shook him to the core. Yet still he fought on, now striking back at every apparent opening in Jonbryl’s offensive maneuvers. But Jonbryl always danced back with surprising speed or brought his sword back to deflect the blow at the last possible split second. Aylan could not believe it. Soon his sword arm refused to react as quickly as before, and his shield arm was completely numb.
The fight ended in a blink of an eye. Aylan brought his sword up to block another of Jonbryl’s unyielding attacks too slow, and the prince’s greatsword cut straight into Aylan’s right shoulder. He cried out in surprise more than pain, as his shield arm had been beyond feeling for quite some time. Jonbryl quickly swept his sword back across and disarmed Aylan effortlessly. With a look of sheer hatred he planted a boot in his stunned opponent’s chest, driving him to the ground.
Jonbryl knelt beside the helpless Aylan, his sword point resting just underneath his fallen foes ribcage menacingly. The rain ran down Jonbryl’s golden armor and onto Aylan as it beat down on them unmercifully. The prince leaned forward, his face twisted in disgust. He spoke, his face only inches from Aylan’s, with his grip still solidly on his ill-positioned sword.
“Why, why would you kill her?” Jonbryl whispered, his face betraying a hint of sadness through his horrifying visage. On his breath was the stink of death, Aylan noticed, and to his horror he saw something moving inside the prince’s mouth besides his tongue. Maggots! What has he become?
“ANSWER ME!” Jonbryl screamed viciously, pushing his sword into Aylan’s abdomen slowly. Her? Surely he can’t think I would ever hurt Kiana….
“I would never, I loved-” Aylan croaked, wracked with pain and coughing up blood.
“LIAR!” The sword dove up under Aylan’s ribcage and pierced his heart, and everything faded away. Jonbryl, the practice yard, and the angry sky all melted into nothingness.
Aylan awoke in his quarters, shaking and soaked in a cold sweat