Chapter 2 - These Restless Dreams

Several days passed, and the king and queen did not return. Although Rogue attempted to go about her daily business as if nothing had changed, she found herself instinctively taking on tasks that belonged to the Lady of the Phoenix, which included spending a fair amount of her time entertaining her guests, despite her previous statement to the contrary. When she could not be there personally, she made sure that games, minstrels, and other diversions were at the ready should her visitors desire them. Even with her newfound responsibilities, she still managed to do a sufficient amount of training, as well as making up her missed appointment with the children. For her part, she was satisfied with the way things were.

Then came the day that her other foster mother arrived with news from the queen. Raven was the queen's personal bodyguard, and Rogue was troubled that she would leave the lady for any reason, even though she claimed that the queen bade her ride ahead. The shieldmaiden held her tongue, however, and spoke only kind words to the older woman. Raven informed her that the Lord and Lady of Órënár would arrive the next day, then excused herself to eat a light supper before retiring.

That night, Rogue awoke to screams. Without hesitation, she leapt out of bed, grabbed the sword that was laying in its sheath on a side table, and flung open her door. She paused to determine the direction from which the sound originated, then hiked up her nightgown over her knees and began to run. Her bare feet slapped against the cold stone floor as she ran down the dimly lit hall to her guardians' door. The screams had stopped by the time she reached her destination, but the fact that no one answered her knocks, and the door was bolted from the inside, was cause for alarm. She was going to have to break the door down, which would not be easy given the strength and thickness of the wood. Rather than ramming into it with her shoulder, she decided to kick it down - a broken arm would affect her ability to wield a weapon or shield, while an injured foot would merely confine her to fighting on horseback. She had struck the door twice when Logan and Remy appeared at the end of the hall, bare-chested and seemingly without weapons.

She continued to pound the door with her foot until the men reached her. Logan moved to stop her, and she recoiled with fright as his hand almost grazed her bare arm. "Don't touch," she hissed, backing away, afraid that he might mistake her reaction for that of a hysterical woman and try to comfort her...but she was relieved to see comprehension in his eyes.

"I won't," he promised.

"We must go through the door," she stated, once again approaching it.

"Allow me," Logan insisted, holding his arm out to prevent her advance. She stopped in her tracks when gleaming metal claws sprung out of the back of his hands with a snikt. He swiped at the door a number of times until it finally swung open.

Rogue slinked past him into the room, while he and Remy lingered in the doorway. Irina was sitting up in the bed, her clouded eyes plagued with visions that made her gift seem like a curse. She looked very old and fragile then, as if her years had come upon her all at once...even her gray-streaked hair seemed to have lost more of its original chestnut hue since that afternoon.

Raven sat directly in front of her, whispering words of comfort as she stroked Irina's withered hand gently. She was in rare form, which is to say, her natural one, with skin as blue as the deepest sea, brilliant red hair that she wore short and straight, contrary to typical woman's fashion, and yellow, catlike eyes. She did not acknowledge the intruders until she was confident that her companion had been placated.

"Who shall I thank for breaking my door down?"

"Why did you not answer my knock?"

Ignoring both her foster daughter's query and her presence, Raven walked past her to inspect the damage that had been done. The length of wood that had been laid horizontally across the door to ensure privacy was cut in half, one piece hanging uselessly from the wall, the other lying on the ground behind the door. Her eyes then fell on the door itself, whose previously smooth outer surface was now marred with splintered claw marks and thin, parallel holes.

She turned to the men in annoyance. "You men have no patience, you are too quick to destroy..."

"If cries in the night do not warrant such destruction, I don't know what does," Logan replied quickly.

"Fools! If you familiar with our ways..."

"I am accustomed to such things, yet it was I who made the first attempt to bring the door down," Rogue said, placing herself between Logan and Raven. "He simply followed my lead."

"And what inspired your sudden loss of sense?"

Refusing to take the bait, Rogue remained calm. "Irina's own words were the source of my concern. While you were away, she warned me of the possibility of strangers walking these halls...and as she often weaves her predictions subtly into conversation, I feared that her prophesy had come true."

Raven stared at her for a few seconds, then returned to Irina. "She needs rest."

Rogue turned to Remy and Logan. "I'd have you wait for me in the great hall," she said in a hushed voice. "There may be much that needs discussing after I learn the details of her vision. If Xavier is awake, and I daresay he is with all this clamor, please have him wait with you." She paused for a moment, and her confidence faltered. "Unless either of you have objections."

"We will follow your instructions with pleasure," Logan replied. The men left Rogue to discuss the matter with her guardians, and headed for the great hall. On the way, they stopped at Xavier's room; indeed, he was awake and dressed, and he accompanied the others to the throne room, where they waited for the lady in silence. Many questions beleaguered their minds, though Xavier's thoughts were far less troubled, since he was acquainted with these incidents.

Rogue entered the hall a short time later. With the previous chaos was behind them, Logan and Remy took note of her appearance. She wore a sleeveless long white nightgown that dragged along the floor as she walked...it was plain but elegant, with tiny white embroidered flowers scattered across it. Her hair was disheveled and hung loose down her back, and for the first time since they arrived, they saw her hands bare, her right still carrying the sword she had long since forgotten.

They waited for her to speak, but she said nothing. "Bad news?" Xavier ventured cautiously.

"A shadow shall fall across this land, and darkness will once again thrust itself upon the world." She closed her eyes as if she was trying to visualize the horrors her mother had seen. "It will destroy everything that openly opposes it, and force anything left into submission. The fate of the world will depend on the actions of a few..."

"What must we do?" Logan asked.

"I must go to the forest-dwellers and ask for their aide."

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Xavier spoke up.

"Good idea or not, it must be done."

Raven entered then, carrying a deep purple robe that she tried to drape over Rogue's shoulders. "It is not proper for a woman to be in her nightclothes in mixed company," she chided softly.

Rogue moved away before the fabric touched her shoulders. "And it is not proper for them to be in such a state of dress before me," she replied angrily, motioning to Logan and Remy, whose muscular torsos were still exposed, "but now is not the time to worry about such things. I've taken little notice of their appearance, and I'm sure it is the same for them."

Raven glanced at the men. "Yet you noticed enough that you knew their attire was lacking."

This was an argument Rogue knew that she could not win, so she dropped it. "I told you to stay with Irina, why have you come?"

"I am here to dissuade you from leaving the city...you are the queen..."

"And as such I answer to no one. I will go and speak to the Lady of the Forest."

Rogue's defiance clearly infuriated Raven; she realized that the younger woman would not be so easily swayed. She had her own personal reasons why she wanted Rogue to remain where she was, but she did not want to reveal them. There were other, more general grounds that could be used to convince Rogue to remain, so Raven looked for an ally to persuade her daughter from venturing out into the wild...and found an unlikely one in the man she despised.

"It is true that you answer to no one, but everyone here answers to you; you cannot leave Rámaurúva without a ruler. At the very least, you should wait for the queen to return." Xavier paused, then added. "She should be back in the morrow."

"I will continue to serve my people until my lady relieves me. Only then will I venture west."

"The roads are not safe..." Raven argued.

"I have made the trip many times, and have yet to come across trouble."

It was obvious that some kind of compromise had to be made, and Xavier knew he was the person best qualified to negotiate. "But the times grow dark, lady, you have said so yourself. The roads have become perilous, with whispers of shaded specters riding the land with some unknown purpose. Perhaps you should consider taking an escort."

"You are wise, my lord, and your counsel is always steeped in logic. I cannot deny the points you have made." She looked from Logan to Remy, weighing her options. Remy was about to volunteer when she made her decision. "I would have Lord Logan accompany me, if he is agreeable."

"I have no objections," Logan stated.

"No wrong decision could be made when choosing between such men....but I would prefer Lord Remy take this journey with you."

Xavier's words made her suddenly aware of the sword in her hand. Her grip tightened around its hilt as she spoke. "Whatever you think is best."

"It would be an honor to travel in such beautiful company," he said carefully, fully aware of the fact that she was not overly fond of him. But as usual, his words only served to provoke her.

"If only my beauty were enough to keep me from harm...then I might travel alone."

Rather than risking offending her again, Remy simply bowed to her and left. The others parted company and returned to their rooms shortly thereafter.

~

"Your turn."

Remy tore his attention from the ongoing training session and focused on the girl sitting beside him on the two foot high stone wall that encircled the large, open courtyard. She was a few years younger than he, with long brown hair that was braided down her back, a fairly pretty face, and deep brown eyes that typically regarded him shyly, with a touch of flirtation...though now he detected a hint of impatience in them.

"I'm sorry, petite," he said, looking down at his cards in confusion. He hadn't been paying close enough attention to what he was doing, and didn't have the slightest idea how he had come to have the hand he was holding. He studied the cards for several seconds, but the steady clang of metal on metal once again drew his attention away from the game.

Rogue and Logan had begun fighting shortly after they broke fast, a late start by both their accounts, but the delay had allowed them to make up for sleep lost the night before. Remy had wisely remained silent during the early morning meal, acknowledging the lady's presence with nothing more than a nod, since his words always seemed to arouse her anger. But she was so eager to engage in combat against a man-beast that she barely even noticed him. For the first time in days, she allowed herself the luxury of wearing more comfortable, less confining work clothes - a gray-green cotton dress with a dark brown overdress that laced up her sides, and men's work boots. Logan also dressed appropriately for the occasion, donning brown pants, brown boots, and a plain white shirt. He chose not to wear a tunic over his shirt as much to keep it out of his way as to allow Rogue to study his movements. She made it no secret that she wished to learn from him, and he intended on making that task as easy as possible.

Perplexed and captivated by the shieldmaiden's ability to consistently brush him off, Remy enjoyed observing her whenever possible. Even though he had a good idea of her character and personality in general, he was still mystified by her. So, today, under the guise of teaching one of the young women of court how to play a card game, he had come to the courtyard...and "accidentally" stumbled upon the exercise already in progress. He suggested they stay in spite of the training session, and as the lady had no objections, they did. Unfortunately, while she tried to play, Remy's mind wandered.

Lady Katherine, a member of the Pryde family and the next in line to inherit the throne should both the queen and Rogue fall, felt a combination of annoyance and excitement as she slowly gathered the cards that were laid out between them. She did not like being ignored, but was secretly pleased that this handsome stranger was seemingly attracted to Rogue.

It wasn't until she plucked the cards from his hand that Remy's attention returned to her. "What are you doing?"

"You are in no condition to play this game," she said softly, a sly smile sneaking across her face. "Perhaps we should try again when you are not so...easily distracted."

"I'm simply enjoying the show."

"If I may be so bold, my lord, I have seen you watching the lady when you think no one is looking at you."

"Really?" he asked with a playful grin. "And why would you be looking at me?"

"I...I...it is...my job to make sure Lady Rogue is safe," she stammered, blushing slightly.

"And you think I have designs on her?"

"I think you spend a good amount of your free time staring at her...and you would not do so if you were not interested in her."

"I own that I am fascinated by her, but that is all." He stopped, then decided to elaborate. "She does not behave like any lady of court I have ever met. Her manner is very different from anything I've ever seen...is the queen anything like her?"

Katherine laughed at the idea. "Oh no...the Lady of the Phoenix is not at all like Rogue...they are like night and day. Wait until you meet her...you'll see how different they are."

The sound of Rogue's sword against Logan's claws stopped as Rogue backed up a few feet and wiped the sweat off her brow with the back of her hand. "You're holding back," she complained, tucking several stray hairs behind her ear.

She was right, he was holding back. In truth, she was no match for him...he'd been alive and fighting since before her grandparents were born, and would probably continue long after she herself had died. But he was impressed with her skill, and even more with her passion; he would readily put his life in her hands. "Why do you wear a dress to train?" he asked, retracting his claws. "It makes no sense."

"If it were up to me, I would be dressed like you, but I must abide by the laws of the land...and the queen must wear the clothes of a woman. Besides, it is good practice. One never knows when she will be forced into battle. It's best I'm prepared to fight under any circumstances."

"A valid point...now, shall we stop for today?"

"Not until you stop holding back!" she exclaimed, suddenly charging him at full speed.

His claws came out just in time to ward off a blow, and the two returned to their intense session...but it was not long before another entered the courtyard and put an end to it.

Logan saw her first, over Rogue's shoulder, and froze. Confused by the mixture of despair and delight on his face, she lowered her sword. "What is it?"

"I bet the king 50 gold pieces that you would be here training when we returned," the gentle voice said behind her. "And here you are."

Rogue sheathed her sword and turned to the other woman. After giving her a slight curtsy, she held out her hands towards the lady, who took them firmly in her own as they leaned forward and appeared to kiss each other on both cheeks.

"You know me well, milady."

The two separated, and Remy studied the other woman. Katherine was right - Rogue and the Lady of the Phoenix were total opposites. The queen's long hair burned red like morning sky, still perfectly arranged despite her travels. She carried herself with a natural air of nobility, yet there was not a trace of arrogance. Her physical beauty was accentuated by the warmth that emanated from within...one that was friendly and accepting, that made people feel like she cared deeply for them, from the lowliest servant to the highest lord. And then there was Rogue, with her frost-kissed hair, icy green eyes, and inner resolve to protect her heart in a frozen fortress. Summer and winter. Day and night.

"We have guests," Rogue informed her, motioning to Logan, who knelt before them.

"Lord Logan," the queen began softly, bringing him to his feet with a mere look. "It has been a long time."

"Far too long...it is unfortunate that we must meet again under such circumstances."

"I am glad that you're here, in any case."

Logan nodded in response, then averted his eyes from her clear green orbs.

"And Remy, son of Jean-Luc," Rogue continued, leading her over to Remy and Katherine, who slid off the wall and bowed and curtsied respectively.

"If I am not mistaken, you are known by another name," the queen said to Remy after he had returned to a standing position. "You are Gambit, are you not?"

"So my reputation has proceeded me," he replied with pleasure, taking her hand and bringing it to his lips.

"Indeed it has." She glanced at Katherine, then shot him a curious, protective look. "I only hope Lady Katherine has been able to keep you entertained."

His reputation with the ladies had preceded him. "The young lady Katherine has been good enough to indulge me in a card game or two," he said carefully, trying dispel the queen's concerns without hurting the girl's feelings. He could have left it at that, but could not resist adding, "But in truth, it is Lady Rogue who has diligently looked after my comfort during our stay."

The Lady of the Phoenix's eyes flickered with understanding, and as their attention fell on Rogue, she felt her cheeks flush. She did not like secret codes and guessing games, and knew that the queen and her guest were making a joke at her expense. "I did my duty in your stead, hopefully to your satisfaction."

The queen was well aware that Rogue was not one who enjoyed being teased, so she left the unspoken accusation hanging in the air as she hooked arms with her and began to exit the courtyard. "I have already spoken to many of our servants, as well as Xavier, and they have done nothing but sing your praises...you have acted well, as I knew you would." Glancing behind them, she called back to the others. "Come, it is time for the midday meal. We will eat our fill, then discuss the pressing matters at hand..."

~

Rogue walked the empty halls without a sound. Despite the workout she had endured that morning, and the late hour, she could not sleep. Her mind raced with many thoughts all at once, an absent choir muttering ideas that she couldn't quite grasp. This was not an altogether unusual occurrence, and her penchant for wandering Naira in the dead of night in an attempt to quiet the voices had lead to rumors...as if the people of Órënár didn't have enough to gossip about. As if they didn't already have enough gossip about her. Rogue was unsure how this particular rumor had started - at night, Naira was guarded from the outside only, no soldiers were allowed within its walls. There was too much at risk if certain secrets were not hidden from the general population. So she did not know who, aside from others who enjoyed the royal confidence, could possibly know what hours she kept.

As she passed one of the few private balconies that jutted out from the second floor hallway, something caught her eye. A figure with her back towards Rogue pondered the city below, lit by a sliver of the moon. In the dimness, the world had been reduced to black, white, and innumerable shades of gray, making the woman somewhat difficult to identify. Rogue waited in the shadows for her eyes to adjust to the lack of light before speaking to her.

"My lady?"

The queen turned, startled, but greeted Rogue with a warm smile. "It seems I am not the only one who was unable to sleep."

Rogue joined her on the balcony, her bare fingers brushing the smooth stone railing in front of her. "I am not tired."

"And I am very much so...but I dare not close my eyes."

Alone for the first time in many days, Rogue was suddenly aware of the queen's uneasiness, and it frightened her. "Jeanne, what troubles you?"

The Lady of the Phoenix so rarely heard her given name spoken that Rogue's use of it made her open up without hesitation. "My dreams have been dark as of late."

"How so?"

"I have had...visions..."

Rogue was taken aback. "This cannot be...it is unusual for such a gift to come to one so late in life..."

"My visions are not of the future," Jeanne interrupted. "They are of the past."

"Are you sure that they are not merely dreams?"

"At first, I thought they were...but they are too consistent, and the story is always continued with each one."

"Have you told anyone about this?" she asked, but Jeanne did not answer. "Xavier? The king?"

"I have not spoken of this at all, save right now."

"Why not?"

The queen paused, as if she didn't know herself. "Because there is something wrong with this, because these visions feel like memories from a past life, yet I am loathe to believe them."

"Tell me."

"I cannot." Jeanne turned away from her friend and headed indoors.

"Milady..."

"Do not speak of this to anyone," she said, not turning around. "I should not have said anything."

Rogue stood on the balcony for several minutes before returning to her previous course. She was heading towards a small courtyard near the back of the building. Unlike the one she used to hone her fighting skills, which was a large, plain, open space, this one housed a garden of sweet smelling flowers, bushes, and a tree. Descending the stairs to the ground floor, she entered the courtyard without ceremony, walking directly to the white marble fountain in the middle. Closing her eyes, she listened to the bubbling water, which began to wash away the excess voices in her head.

All of a sudden she felt uncomfortable, as if unseen eyes were witnessing her private ritual. Making no indication that she was aware of anyone else's presence, she calmly sat on the rim of the fountain and feigned looking around at the surrounding plants. She was unarmed, but unconcerned with the idea of hand to hand combat - one touch would render the intruder harmless. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a tiny flash of flame, which grew into a glow that was bright enough to highlight the face of the man sitting in the shadows.

"Lady Rogue," Remy greeted her, taking a puff from his long pipe. She had entered the courtyard like a snowflake - gliding silently on an invisible wind before landing gently on the ground before the fountain. She was in the same white nightgown she wore the night before, this time covered by a thin, liquid silver robe with bell sleeves and a train that dragged behind her...it shone in the light from the white crescent in the sky and looked as if it were made of moonbeams. Her hair was hastily pulled into a makeshift bun, her face framed by the thin wisps of wavy white hair that hung from her head like delicate icicles.

His presence there was mere coincidence - unable to sleep himself, he came to the garden courtyard in an attempt to find peace. Sitting on the retaining wall with his back against a square corner column, he was about to light his pipe when the Steel Magnolia of Órënár appeared. He had not wanted to startle her, as she was obviously deep in thought, so he held his tongue at her arrival. Now that he had spoken, he expected her to lash out him again, but was surprised to find her serene.

"You should be asleep."

"As should you."

She approached him slowly, almost floating above ground. "I am a creature of the night, my lord, I often walk the grounds long after everyone else has retired."

"Perhaps I am a creature of the night as well."

Rogue was standing a few feet away, leaning on the wall upon which he sat. She peered through the darkness between them before responding. "Somehow I do not think so."

Remy grinned. "You are right, I am not one by choice...but I find myself wide awake despite the hour, and came here in an attempt to calm my nerves."

"I must admit that I am in the same predicament...with our long day ahead of us tomorrow, I would normally forgo my nocturnal tendencies, but I have been unable to relax."

He nodded, then invited her to join him with a wave of his hand. She hoisted herself up on the wall, leaned back against the column facing him, then closed her eyes and again listened to the soothing sound of trickling water. Remy watched her for several minutes, thoughtfully smoking his pipe. Now in the shadows, her face, sculpted by winter winds, held an unmistakable expression of concern. And if she was concerned about something enough that her face gave it away, Remy was concerned as well. After allowing her some time to absorb their peaceful surroundings, he decided to address these concerns.

"Something troubles you, my lady?"

Rogue opened her eyes slowly and eyed him curiously. By all accounts, this was the first real conversation they had ever had...and despite whatever differences they'd had in the past few days, she felt like he was someone who could be trusted. "The queen is troubled, and so I am troubled as well."

"Because of your mother's visions?"

"No...because of her own."

Remy was confused. "The Lady of the Phoenix has visions? I had no idea."

"No, she doesn't." Rogue scolded herself for saying this much about a topic her lady told her to keep secret...but it was one less burden for her to carry alone, and for that she was thankful. "Her visions are not like Irinia's...Irina has two gifts - one of foresight, and one simply known as 'the sight.' Foresight allows her to see a variety of possible futures...these are distant futures, they will not come to pass for a long time. 'The sight' is the gift you have recently witnessed; as time passes, a particular future she has previously predicted becomes more and more likely to be the true future, and this is the one she has visions of, usually while sleeping."

"And the queen?"

"The queen believes her visions are of the past...a terrible past. Though it is already finished, the past also contributes to our future, and I think she is worried that this specific past will help shape our near-future."

"And she is helpless to stop it."

Rogue rested her head back against the stone column. "We cannot change the past, my lord, we can only change the present."

"Like now?"

"I do not know what you mean," she replied hastily.

He smiled slowly, but carefully, at the comprehension he clearly heard in her voice. "I am pleased that the animosity between us has finally dissipated."

"And I am pleased that you have yet to try to flatter me with pretty words tonight."

"Is that what bothers you, my compliments?"

"Your compliments are little more than thinly veiled attempts to impress me, perhaps even seduce me, and that is something I do not take kindly to."

Her response had been honest, without a trace of anger, spoken matter-of-factly. Remy liked that. "In my experience, ladies enjoy the kinds of attention I have attempted to shower on you...and I am sorry if they have only served to perplex and annoy you. But in recent days I have come to realize that you are like no other woman I have ever known, so I cannot claim that this revelation is a complete surprise."

Rogue hated to admit it, but she also thought his response was a good one...and she found herself liking him just a little bit. "Perhaps it was my imagination, but was there a compliment hidden in there somewhere?" she asked a bit playfully.

"If there was, only a lady such as yourself would consider it one."

She felt her mouth spreading into a grin despite herself as she slid off the wall. "I believe that is an answer I can live with."

"Until tomorrow morning, my lady."

"Until tomorrow," she agreed, leaving him in a flash of silver and white.

 

Chapter 3