The Darkest Night

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Love is the bane of honor, the death of duty. What is honor compared to a woman's love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms?

George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones


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THE DARKEST NIGHT


                  Eimerado, 13th of 3rd, 1392 ANS

There was beauty in the Darkest Night.

A river of stars sparkled across the sky, like the hair of a woman dusted with diamonds. A beautiful woman who enthralled a man's mind with the seduction of her smiles and the languor of her body.

There was beauty in the Darkest Night, yet the Free Men of Vernolia refused to acknowledge or admire it. They were all holed up in their houses and temples, from the most craven of the cravens to the bravest of the braves—from the last drunkard in the dirtiest back street by the harbour to His Most High, Potent and Serene Majesty seated on his throne. Even the brothels' doors were locked; even the whores would spend the night praying the Saint Elanne to watch over Her Children until the three moons would shine again over Ostala.

If he looked at the city, he would see thousands of lights flickering at each window of each building of Eimerado, trying to keep the Darkness and its Terrors away.

There was beauty in the Darkest Night. The beauty of an expensive whore clothed in nothing but her jewelled hair and gems. A cruel and rapacious whore who asked a blood price for her services.

Darina had to die.

Darina, who was sleeping at his side, petals of asphodels and poppies from the warm North, and rain lilies spread on her bare bosom and intertwined in her hair. Her chalk-smooth skin marred only by the marks of his passion.

Darina had to die and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. Only give her a mercy.

No, there was still something else he could do.

There was still time. All he had to do was wake her up, pack her jewels and leave before it was too late. Leave Eimerado, leave Vernolia, their families—everything behind them. Yes, there was still time to steal a ship, head North to reach Madoda, travel West across the Cimmerean Mountains to Dalibaï or the Free Cities or anywhere in the world where no one knew them. Anywhere in the world where they could be together! Anywhere—

The sudden toll of nearby bells woke Darina, her lovely dark eyes wide in dread and the roses of her cheeks withering.

"What was that? Is there a fire?"

It had begun.

Darina curled at his side, hiding her face in his chest and wrapping her arms around him. A soft sob escaped her lips.

"They will find out!" she whispered in terror. "They will find out!"

How he wished to reassure her that no, neither her father nor her brothers would know about their liason, but what then? Tell her that it wasn't the Cloister that waited for her but a cold grave? He nestled her head in the crock of his neck, just like he had done so many times in the tenderness that followed the pleasure. His right fingers brushed against her check, cupping her chin; his left hand ran up through the silk of her walnut brown hair, resting on the back of her head. He pulled back just enough to stare at her lips, still swollen from his kisses; at her eyes, pleading at him for comfort.

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