It was well past dark when Fiona awoke in the arm chair, and for a moment, she was incredibly disoriented, as she couldn’t recall falling asleep there. For some reason, she had been expecting to awaken back home in Iliathor.
Henry was sitting, cross-legged, by the hearth, reading a book by the light of the fire. He looked up when she stirred.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “You looked so very peaceful. I did not want to wake you.”
“That’s alright,” she replied, yawning. “Are you feelin’ better?”
The Lord of Carvil nodded his head, then shrugged. “A bit. But…” he bit his lip. “I’m terribly nervous, Fiona.”
“About the assassin?”
“The assassin, and my brother, and…other things. I…I just…want everything to turn out well, of course…everything to go as planned.”
“It will,” she assured him.
But Henry shook his head. “It won’t. I just know it won’t.”
Fiona noticed that the young man had something clenched in his fist. Whatever it was, it was round and made of metal. “Why is that?”
He sighed, transferring the round metal object to his other hand. “It’s a long story, and you’ll think I’m mad for it. As a matter of fact, I’m not entirely sure I didn’t dream the whole thing.”
“I…I can’t,” he stammered. “Seymour will have to tell you, when he gets here…”
“Seymour de Winter, the Aechyed we hired to…” he trailed off at her confused expression. “Your uncle told you absolutely nothing about the plan, did he?”
“Nary a word.”
“It goes to figure.” Henry sighed, closing his book and placing it beside him on the floor. “Well, anyway, Seymour is…Rezyn, I don’t know where to start. In fact, I don’t even know where I was going with this to begin with.”
Fiona smiled gently. “Seymour will have ta tell me somethin’?” she reminded him.
“Yes, yes, we had quite the adventure in Waelyngar…damn well thought I was going to die, that we both were.” Henry’s features had gone distant, and judging by the strange, pensive manner in which he was talking, Fiona got the impression that he had forgotten he was talking to her—or perhaps he didn’t even realize he was speaking aloud. “But now it all seems like a dream…if not for the pocket watch, I would think that that is all it was. A dream. A wicked, terrible dream.”
“Henry, are you alright?”
He didn’t seem to hear her. “If not for the watch…” The Lord of Carvil unclenched his fist, exposing the object in his palm. Fiona saw that it was a small, weathered pocket watch, the kind with a lid that its user would flip up to check the time. Henry held it aloft, staring, transfixed by it. “If not for the watch, I could forget…open my eyes, and watch it fade into nothing…but I cannot forget. It torments me. ‘Six shall go, three men, three not’…the words have been seared into the insides of my eyelids…whenever I blink, they are there. ‘All in masks of falsehood wrought’…”
“Henry?” she repeated, trying to keep the fear out of her voice. “Are you alright?”
“’Bearing a piece for every queen, into the land of light unseen…make the three of dreams align, Worm shall fall at three, six, nine…’” His voice dropped to a terrifying whisper, a sound Fiona might have expected from a reanimated corpse. “Three, six, nine. Three, six, nine…three times it will chime for the three queens of time,” he chanted in that same, horrible whisper. “Six times it will toll for the six mortal souls…three, six, nine…”
By now, Fiona was on her feet, backing slowly towards the door, ready to run if she had to. Raif, too, had risen, eyes fixed on Henry, hackles raised, growling lowly.
“Stop it, Henry!” Fiona pleaded. “Ye’re frightenin’ me!”
“And nine, nine times will it ring for the end of all things…ALL THINGS!”
His sudden shout made Fiona scream, but she didn’t sprint for the door, like every fiber of her being so desperately wanted her to. Instead, she stood her ground, waiting for him to make the first move, if there was a move to be made. Fiona MacInnes wouldn’t be made a coward.
But Henry’s only action was to close his fingers once more about the pocket watch and grip it tightly, turning his knuckles white. “If not for this, at least I could pretend I imagined it…but here it is, proof of its reality…but proof it is, only to me…to everyone else, a rusted old timepiece.”
He dropped the watch, and it clattered to the ground between his crossed legs.
“Three, six, nine. Three, six, nine.”
Fiona found that the urge to run had left her. Her fear was still there, but suddenly it didn’t feel particularly important. She looked into Henry’s eyes. There was no threat in them, only vulnerability. He was just as scared and confused as she was.
And so she did something that anyone with an ounce of common sense would have told her was a bad idea—she returned to his side, sat down on the floor next to him, and put an arm around him. She half expected him to draw away at the least, if not lash out at her, but he did neither, and so she hugged him closer, holding him the same way she had always held her little brothers when they had come to her, hurt or sick or scared.
“It’s goina be alright, Henry,” she assured him. “Y’ ken? It’s all goina be alright.”
Henry’s only response was to bury his face in her shoulder and weep.