Tyger, tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes!

On what wings dare he aspire!

What the hand that dare maze the fire?

 

And what shoulder and what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

 

What the hammer?  what the chain,

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the hammer?  what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

 

When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

 

Tyger, tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake

 

***

 

They returned like conquering heroes.  Neal paraded in at the head of the army, waving to the cheering crowd.  In his mind they were happy, though in reality they were there because they knew that if they didn’t come then the army would soon be after them.  Jason was horrified to see the slaves arriving in chains, first marched across the mountains and then treated like animals.  He had tried not to think about what they were doing, but now they had brought back spoils of war and that was hard to ignore.  He almost fell over when he saw them from the balcony.  Jay leaned against the wall, badly shaken, his thoughts and heart racing.  He felt sharp stabbing pains inside his chest and fought to breathe.

            By the time the others had arrived he had regained his composure.  To show weakness like that, well, it seemed unwise.  Jay hated what they had done, but to show them his fear would be the end of him.  He joined them at the feast in the Hall of Elders, toasted their success, and felt like dying.  Simon had the battle-hardened army resting, recuperating from the Outlander War, and he had slaves from that crushed city serve their needs, fetching them food and drink.  The fortress-city had fallen rather quickly after the death of Alex Rothrock, and its survivors were dejected, a conquered people in body and in spirit.  Human cattle to be used.  Jay had little appetite at that meal, but still raised his glass in every toast.

            That night he had a great deal of trouble sleeping.  His sheets were dishevelled as he fought to find a comfortable spot, but he could find no peace.  The dark silence of the night seemed like an accusation, reminding him that he had remained quiet while his friends had descended into darkness, bringing the country with them.  He had done nothing to stop any of it.

            Jason remembered his childhood, being afraid of the dark.  Alex would tell him there was a monster under his bed or in the closet, the way older brothers do, but Jay used to believe the stories.  Most children turn the lights on, or get their parents.  Jason would lie in his bed and shake in fear, every night-sound amplified by his imagination into monsters.  Slobbering beasts and hungry wolves, creatures with fur and claws.  Now, years later, he was again a frightened child, shivering in the dark.

            Only now, the darkness was alive.

            “Hello Jason.”  A voice hissed from the void.

            Jason would have screamed, but only let out a very tiny yelp.  Little boys who don’t have the courage to hit a light switch a foot away apparently grow up to be men who cannot even get up the strength to scream.  The boogeyman was real, and Jay felt his insides shrivel up into a cold little ball, tight in his chest.  His heartbeat was like a frightened rabbit, so fast he thought he might explode.

            “‘Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.’  And yes, Jason, there are things that go bump in the night.”  The voice (that terrible, terrible voice!) told Jason, and it seemed amused, as if death could sound like it was laughing.  As if a cold winter wind was happy that it was covering flowers in a killing frost.  Jason’s weakened fingers clutched at the edge of his blanket.  Like a child, he had this irrational hope that if he could pull it over his head the voice would go away.

            “I… I don’t b-b-believe in you…” He whispered, but with no real strength.

            The voice in the darkness laughed.  “Oh yes you do.  You have always believed in me.  That’s always been your weakness Jason.  That the darkness scared you more than you loved the light.  It seemed so much closer, so much more real.”

            The voice was like a dagger, piercing him.  He had known his faith wasn’t strong enough, and the frightened thoughts that came to him at night when his conscience had awakened had now returned with the night’s voice.  But the source of that voice seemed to have no conscience.  It was blacker than midnight, it was the source of darkness; it was here for him, to drag him down where no light could find him ever again…

            “I’m not here for you yet,” the voice said.  “But soon.  Perhaps I’ll poison your food.  Or maybe I’ll creep up behind you some dark night in the corridor.  Or sit beside you at a banquet and slide my knife between your ribs.  Mayhap I’ll startle your horse when you go riding, or push you down the stairs.  If I can reach you here, safe in your room, I can reach you anywhere, now can’t I?  Be seeing you, little Jason.”

            Jason lay there, sleepless, knowing that the voice was never gone.  The darkness never really left.  It might recede when the sun came back, but you could not escape the darkness that was in your mind.  It followed you like your shadow, everywhere you went.

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