Chapter 7: Nightmares

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All around her, Riders were bursting from their tents, trying to pinpoint the source of the noise. Jane pushed past them and ducked through the flap to Kir's tent.

Kir lay on his bed roll, thrashing and whimpering and shouting and flailing. Jane's initial fear—that he was being attacked—quickly gave way to relief.

Ignoring Drazan, who had burst into the tent behind her, Jane reached forward and shook Kir's shoulder. "Kir!" she said. "Kir, wake up."

He gasped into wakefulness, tears streaming down his face. "Kanach," he gasped. "Dalnushka—the protection spell—"

"Shh," said Jane. Despite her soothing tone, her gut churned with unease. Other Riders had surrounded the tent, poking their heads in sleepily to check on their prince, and she was sure it couldn't be doing any good for the company's tenuous morale for them to see Kir in this state. "It was only a nightmare," she called out to the crowd. "It was just a nightmare—everything's fine—"

"C'mon," she told a still-sniffling Kir in an undertone. "Let's get some fresh air; it'll do you good. Up we go—"

With a reassuring nod toward Drazan, she pulled Kir up and then half-led, half-carried him past the forest of tents, through the battered great hall doors, and onto the balcony that overlooked Dalnushka's ruins. Once she was certain they were out of the other Riders' range of hearing, she sat Kir down in a crevice near the rustling wyverns and perched on the rock beside him.

"What happened?" she said.

In the silvery moonlight, Kir's face was wan. Sweat clung to his brow, and shadows haunted the spaces beneath his eyes.

"I was dreaming," Kir gasped. "I saw them all. All the people, the men and women and children, the ones whose bodies we burned today. They looked at me—they asked me why—"

He dissolved once again into sobs.

"I can't bear it anymore." He lifted his tear-streaked face to her. "I have to tell the others. Tell them it was me, let them punish me as they will."

"You can't."

"I have to—"

"Kir!" Jane put her hands on his shoulders. "You're an honest person, and that's a good thing. Honesty is one of the most important qualities you can have. But right now, we're in the middle of a war, and you're the Prince of Somita, and they're looking to you to set a good example. I don't care how awful you feel, you can't tell them."

He shook his head.

"Listen." She grabbed his hands. "Telling them might make you feel better, but it won't help anyone else. Right now, the people need to trust their leader. Keeping silent is your punishment, and it's a worse punishment than if you were to be honest and beg for forgiveness."

"But they need to—to know the truth—"

"And they will. Eventually, when the time is right. After we figure out the real truth behind why you did what you did. I know you, Kir—you're a good person. You would never willingly endanger so many lives."

At this, Kir's face crumpled even further. He buried his face in his hands. "But I d-did, though! That's what's so awful! Zakhar sent Nikolay a message; he said he'd cure Nikolay in exchange for the key to breaking the protection spell on Dalnushka. Nikolay w-wanted nothing to do with it, he knew n-not to trust Zakhar, but I s-saw the message and I couldn't stop thinking about it. It's like from that moment on, an—an obsession filled my head, and I j-just couldn't stop mulling over how Nikolay might be s-saved so easily, by doing such a little thing, and if I didn't do this Nikolay would d-die. The thought just played over and over. It was all I c-could think about.

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