Heart's DesireCandice Raquel Lee / Fantasy / Romance & Love
Copyright © 2015 Candice R. Lee
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Cover created by: Candice Raquel Lee
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It was dawn when Conraydin staggered into a back alley and dropped down to the warm embrace of a refuse pile. He was ready for a nap, a little dream of another time, another place, a dream of another self. He had almost captured oblivion, left life far behind, when he felt an ungentle tug. Conraydin didn’t mind being robbed--he didn’t mind much anymore--but being awakened when he had finally found oblivion was unforgivable. He stumbled to his feet ready for a fight, but she was smiling.
“Conraydin,” Evangel said, and the alley, the filth, and smoke of five charred years disappeared. The terrible white sword was still lashed to her hip. She was not like other women: her skin was not pale and full but dark and lean from fighting under the sun, battling in the heat with death. She turned, and her blood-red hair swirled as she walked away. He could not help but follow.
Everything in Conraydin warned that she was an illusion, drink induced or magic born. Yet, his heart would not allow him to stop hoping against hope that she was alive. She led him out of the alley into the silent morning. She crossed the threshold of a swirling maw of gray mist that hung across the road. It was a boundary into another world, another place to which he would not go except for her. The mist was cold as he entered it and hot as it deposited him in a green room with seven black windows and a single glorious bed made for an enchantress. She lay down before him on red furs and golden silks, still smiling.
“Evangel,” he whispered, crawling to her on his hands and knees that soiled the rich bedclothes. He almost had her when she shook a finger at him. His ankles were suddenly bound by chains, and he was jerked toward the ceiling. Below him she sat impassively, peering up at him, watching as he struggled and spun, still trying to reach her. Then Conraydin’s sword, Gaynor, slipped from its scabbard and fell.
He shouted as it struck the bed blade first. It would have impaled her had she not simply disappeared.
“So this is the famed Conraydin.”
Conraydin swung around. A still man, draped and hooded in a black robe, came into view. A wizard.
“I cannot believe you come so highly recommended. You’re little more than an animal,” he said.
So, it was all an illusion. Evangel was dead. All hope left him again, and Conraydin swore to himself that he would find a way to make the wizard pay dearly for this trick though it might cost him his life. “Let me down!”
“Get yourself down,” the wizard said. “I didn’t create this illusion--you did. This room is simply a bedroom, a room of dreams and desires. It gave you what you wanted.”
“No!” Conraydin shook his head. He had not wanted a lie.
“Let’s not quibble. I brought you here because I wanted to discuss a business matter. I need someone to ferry to me a piece of property that I have given to an old friend. It is not much of an adventure, but it requires the skill of a . . . warrior.” The wizard waved at him, filling the last word with as much derision as he could.
This was insult on top of injury. Conraydin clutched at the shackles about his ankles. He hung by one arm while his other hand worked to free his legs. He bent the links of chain in his hand, twisting them open slowly.
“Evangel Armantia recommended you,” the wizard said quietly and allowed the name to work its own brand of magic.
Conraydin stilled. “She’s alive?”
“She said you were the best fighter she had ever known,” the Wizard continued, “and requested your company on this little trip.”
Conryadin knew he was falling for the wizard’s lies again but could not help it. If there was the slightest hope....
“Where is she?” he asked.
The wizard tossed a heavy bag of gold onto the bed, and the illusion shattered. Opulent no more, the room became a small dark bedroom, blanketed by skins and dust. Conraydin’s sword lay on the cold grey stone floor, and he plummeted toward it.
“This amount now,” the wizard said, once Conraydin had hit the ground, “and a reward that encompasses your heart’s desire if you return my talisman to me.”
Conraydin rose. He bent for his sword, but the weapon jumped out of his reach, stood on end and danced on the dark stone pavement before his eyes.
“Do we have an agreement?” the wizard asked.
Conraydin nodded then put out his hand out for the weapon. There was an instant of hesitation, but Gaynor stilled. Conraydin caught it and sheathed it.
“Is Evangel here?” he asked again, not hiding his desire. “I want to see her and god help you if you are lying to me.”
“Yes, she is in my castle. But you will not see her until tomorrow. I do not believe you would want to appear before her the way you are.”
Conraydin looked down at himself. He brushed some dirt from his lapel.
“I’m fine. I want to see her now,” he said as a potion appeared before his face.
“To kill the stench of your breath and the vermin on your body,” the wizard advised, gliding to the door, “You’ll find clean clothes in the trunk and a basin with which to bathe on the table.”
Conraydin took the floating vial, ready to throw it at the wizard, but it would not cooperate. It held its place in the air where he released it.
“Drink it,” the wizard advised, “you’ll thank me later.”
The door to Conraydin’s room opened of itself and the wizard was gone.
Conraydin did not sleep well after taking the draught or his bath. He rose early in the morning to await the arrival of the wizard to release the bolt on his door. He had been locked in like a prisoner or he would already have gone searching for Evangel and exposed the lie.
He paced noisily in his new brown suede boots. He shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably and pulled at his ill-fitting clean clothes. At least he would get something out of this.
He had thought about it all night and had come to the conclusion that Evangel was dead many years and that all this was another lie, a trick, a trap. She could not be alive. It was impossible.
The bolt grated in its latch. Conraydin stopped, slid his palm toward Gaynor’s hilt. A lovely woman entered the room, and for a second he thought it was another phantom Evangel, but no. She was gentler, more graceful, shaped by a life filled with contemplation instead of massacre though her eyes were just as green.
“My brother has sent me to fetch you and bring you to him,” she said.
She looked Conraydin over, and her curiosity made sparks fly in him. He wondered if this woman could, if she cared to, erase Evangel’s memory from his mind after so many years of loneliness. She smiled at him shyly, but there was nothing in those leaf-bright eyes or soft earthen lips that spoke any promises to him, and he was oddly glad of it.
She beckoned him to follow her into the stone hall. He dropped his hand, walked behind her. Outside his room the walls were hung with tapestries the size of a man. Battles were knitted with such skill that their horrors lay frozen for all time. Conraydin thought no more on the young woman. As he walked on, his mind was consumed once more with death.
“You go too far, wizard!” a woman shouted. Her voice came from deep in the castle. But Conraydin knew it, that rich timbre. He tried to hurry ahead, but the young woman would not lead him any faster.
“He helped you!” the wizard sneered, “healed you. And how did you repay him? By sneaking off in the middle of the night.”
At the far end of the corridor there was a flash of light and hissing.
“Do not speak of what you do not know!” the woman threatened.
“I know you left him wondering whether you were dead or alive until he found forgetfulness in flagons of mead! And you think me cruel! I am simply trying to raise him out of the mire; anger is better than despair.”
“It would have been best if you let him be! Ignorance is best of all. From what you tell me he has suffered enough.”
“That is until today,” the wizard replied. “What can you say to him, my dear Evangel, that will not seem utterly cruel?”
Conraydin pushed the young woman aside, ran to the end of the hall and into a large room fierce with light. It took him a moment to see clearly, but he was soon able to make out the draped wizard. He was standing beside a table in the center of a dining room, a burn mark smoking over his heart. Before him was Evangel, with her white sword in her hands.
“Conraydin,” she stammered, stumbling back into a chair.
He crossed the room in huge strides. His heart broke and mended in an ever-transforming storm. He touched her hair, her face, as she looked down like a scolded child. He clutched her, his fingers gouging the flesh of her arms, discovering how real she was. He had never felt so