A Dream of the Woad
“Corthos…” Lena sat on the edge of his writing desk, trying to choose her words carefully. “You’re under a lot of stress right now. You have to be careful. Take a break, relax, go out drinking with Izzy and her friends. Please?” Her voice raised slightly at the end, and she smiled at him. Corthos returned the smile with a blank stare, his eyes sunken back somewhat, his movements sluggish. Lena handed him a cup of tea, and watched as he wrapped his hands around it to sip at it. For a moment, he looked so much older than his own years – older and much more tired. He sipped deeply and spoke softly. “Lena, I dreamt about it again last night. I was in the woods, I tasted ash. I was climbing something huge, a monolithic peak that seemed to scrape at the heavens themselves. I remember the stone being pitch black and scarred, like it was the sole survivor of some great and terrible tragedy that had coated the entire mountain in the blackness you see in burnt logs. I looked down and saw an entire forest belt beneath me, trees grasping and covering each other, thick and lush and verdant, and I knew it was the Lindenwoad – the one from the myths. And while I climbed, something climbed with me. It stayed just out of my vision, but it spoke to me.” Lena tried her best not to try and correct him, letting him speak.
“It talked to me in a voice that… just was. I mean that in the sense that I could not tell if it was male or female, young or old, just that it was. It seemed to be on one side, then the other, then neither. And it said so many things, Lena….it said that I was fooling myself, that I was delusional. It told me that it was the reason that I would succeed, and that I was the reason for my failures. It told me of Eliza, and of how she had tried to cry out for me while she hung, and how I could not do what was needed. And it promised me that it would be there, and would always do what was needed when I could not. And when I became irate, when I told the voice to leave me be, to stop, to kill me, to do anything but talk – it reminded me that it had been invited. That I had asked an uncaring universe for help, and it had listened. That it gave me the courage to do what I needed, the safety to survive what I did. That if it left, I would be left weak again – powerless and struggling. Lena…” Corthos looked at her, hands shaking the cup that he held. “I think I might be losing my mind.”
Lena wrung her hands slightly, trying again to be careful with her words. “What makes you say that, Cor?” He sipped again before speaking. “I find myself angrier. I am quicker to threaten, more prone to violence as of late. I think a variety of thoughts that are foreign to me. I attack with reckless abandon. And when I am angered, it is a white-hot rage that I must try my hardest to control. I have always thought of myself as greatly in control of my own emotions before.” He sighed deeply. Lena interjected, her voice soft and comforting. “Corthos….you’re under a lot of stress. You’re working in the courts, and the Barzillai meeting, and this whole rebellion….you need to relax. We need you. You’re the tactical mind of the Ravens, the one that can speak for us in the courts. Maxwell looks up to you, as do I. You are not losing your mind – you’re stressed out and concerned, but that’s normal. You’re dreaming of the Woad because you have re-read that book a hundred times, I’d be more surprised if you weren’t.” At the mention of Maxwell, something had crossed Corthos’ face – a look that she had so rarely seen on such a controlled demeanor. She bit her tongue, making a mental note for her own suspicions.
She continued, speaking calmly and softly, her hand reaching out to rest on his shoulder. “You look like you haven’t slept a wink. Maybe you should go out tonight, go and see Merry – “ A look of abject horror crossed his face in an instant, his eyes widening as he cut off her with a very sudden and abrupt “no.” After a moment, he elaborated. “Not yet. Not right now. I’m…not entirely myself at the moment. I need rest. I would not want to burden her with any of my troubles, not at this moment.” He looked and spoke like he was convincing both of them, not just her. There was an odd hesitation to him this evening. She stood, excusing herself for a moment to step into the hall. It took her only a moment to take out a small vial, cracking the top and pouring it into the tea that she brought back. She handed him a new cup, watching and waiting carefully as they discussed his ascension to the upper courts. And when the fine sleeping powder had started to take its root, she watched him fight against it like a man possessed. She grabbed his arm, leading him back to the bed as he blearily asked what was in the tea. With a slightly pained smile, Lena answered him.
“You need to rest, Corthos. We are all with you. There’s no need to fear, or to think you have lost your mind. You carry enough stress for two men at least. Rest, please. That’s all I want you to do.” His eyes appeared bleary, and he fought to focus them, stopping briefly to grab onto Lena’s hand as he started to fall into sleep. He spoke quietly, just above a whisper. “Guinevere…I am so sorry.” Lena said nothing, just stood by him until she was certain that he was asleep. He was brilliant, but hadn’t it always been said that brilliance was only born with a touch of madness? She could not just sit by and watch him destroy himself. He had to slow down sometimes, and he was certainly not going to admit that – so she had seen fit to make certain that he did. With a deep sigh, she turned and walked from the room, blowing out the candle by the doorway as she stepped back out. There was something wrong….she couldn’t tell what, but there was certainly something wrong with Corthos. But it was likely just stress…he had taken on so much lately.