The darkness spread from the palace like a living thing, and even the most careless of the fae paused to take note and hide. But it wasn’t until the darkness trickled down into the hollow the three had claimed for their practices that they took any note of it. They could afford the risk. The spill of inky darkness paused the flurry of strikes and steps. One of the men threw his thick brindled hair out of his eyes as he reared back and scented the air. He growled in disgust. The other man froze still as a midnight statue, lowering his point so slowly it seemed to have always been down. The woman turned to look at the epicenter of the darkness and the lashing anger that drove it outward. They paused for a moment to consider it. To taste it. The woman licked her lips. “That one’s new.”
The man with brindled hair laughed – a sound like hounds baying. “Not as new as all that.” The woman tilted her head in consideration. The second man simply raised the point of his sword in question. They fell to. New or not, this darkness could not turn them from the rush of skilled combat. So onward they fought, and danced, and strove. The darkness covered all the lands visible from the hollow by the time they slowed and stopped. Bowing to each other in appreciation of points well scored, they retired to a nearby bower, noting how the darkness roiled like a thunderstorm that refused to break.
The woman, Thana, Champion of the Lord of Blackstone, sat in the center seat. At her left, the brindle haired Lord of Wilds, Obyas, reclined, removing the deep green glass cover from his meal. On her right, Zarheel, the Keeper sat, swirling wine in a midnight blue glass. Thana dipped her hand into the elegant bowl before her and removed a wriggling eel. She tossed it into her mouth and consumed it contemplatively. “Not new to you then, Obyas.”
“Intensity varies, but many can set their centennial celebrations by thorned tempers. If one cared to watch time that closely.” Obyas snorted. He had hare, roasted with wild greens, and ate it with his hands.
Zarheel placed his glass on the table and turned to the many small pots of brightly colored curries. He took one at a time and ate them slowly. Cleansing his palate with a soft orange paste between each pot. “You running off to check?” he asked Thana.
She cut her eyes at him and he smiled at their withering. “He does take much looking after.”
“You would know, Keeper. Yet, oddly, I earned the place I hold. So perhaps they believe there is cause.”
“There is always cause. But time is such a tricky monster.” His smile faded down to a smirk.
“How long will he be keeping the fields clear of quarry? That’s what I want to know.” Obyas looked to Thana as he asked.
Thana shrugged. “Not my calling. Perhaps the Fool will do his job, perhaps not.” She considered the darkness outside the bower and an odd smile played about her lips. “Perhaps he’ll lose his head for it. Either way. I know better. Time may be tricky, but one can count on it being lazy. All things perish eventually.”
Zarheel acknowledged the hit with a tilt of his current curry pot. “Ah, but it is your job to keep our dear prince from perishing, is it not?”
She laughed, a sound like ships bells washing against rocky shores and oddly compelling. “You misunderstand my role.” She leaned forward capturing the attention of both men. “My job is to perish others, and, failing that, perish before the prince. But never let it be said that I am one who maintains life.” She plucked another eel from the bowl. “I am merely canny about where and when I end it.” The second eel followed the first between her teeth.
“You worry not at all?”
“Only that if the Fool does lose his head, he’ll simply continue bantering until he reattaches it. One does occasionally enjoy silence.”
In mutual understanding, they all enjoyed their meals and ignored the darkness pulsing like a heartbeat under every breath they took.