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Gates of Horn and Ivory | Tuesday 20th September, all day [CD]

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The migraine had struck late Monday afternoon. Charles had had warning, if one could call it that — the tell-tale aura had overwhelmed his vision perhaps half an hour before the first stab of searing agony had signalled the beginning of his torment.

And torment it had been, the most intense and most prolonged attack he had suffered since coming to court. He had vomited up what had felt like everything he had ever eaten and an ocean's worth of bile besides, and even that had been scarcely worth mentioning next to the pain. It had been like a flaming spike being driven through his right eye and out the back of his skull, a quite literally blinding agony. He had had no recourse but laudanum, and had dosed himself to blissful insensibility.

But with the laudanum, of course, came the dreams, and with the dreams came the dead.

"Your play is unfocused young man," the Comte d'Artagnan chided him gently over cards, the Frenchman magnificent in his white, black, and burgundy livery, "Play the game on the table, not the one in your head." 

His voice, Charles mused fuzzily, was commendably strong and clear for a man whose throat had been torn open by a Dutch musket ball.

"You have given me similar advice before, when you emptied my purse at Maastricht," he said, deciding it would be impolite to call attention to the other man's death wound. It was far from the most horrific or distracting among the card players in any case.

"And I have told you much the same, though you paid me no more heed than you did the Comte," his uncle William said, and pushed his stake into the middle of the table, though Charles knew him only by his voice. The horse had made an unrecognisable ruin of his skull after it threw him. (Charles had been abroad when his uncle died, and had never seen the body, but he had seen more than enough similar injuries to know what it must have looked like.)

A Moor, his head dangling and attached by no more than an inch of flesh and sinew, somehow managed to laugh, his eyes flashing mockingly. Turenne, his torso an open horror of gore, shook his head in silent disappointment. (It was very decent of the French marshal to have come at all. He had been much more fond of John, after all, though Charles would concede that he had nonetheless always been generous with his time and advice.)

"You counselled me against being reckless, too, and look where recklessness has brought me," Charles said after a moment, compelled to offer some defence of himself.

"No further than birth alone would have, whether you were reckless or cautious," his uncle riposted," and had you been more of the latter then your footing might well now be a great deal more sure."

There were arguments to be made against his uncle's words, Charles knew, but they slid away from his thoughts as he groped for them, and his mind could no more grasp them than his hands could mist. He looked at his cards instead, to buy a little time, but could make no sense of them. They swam and blurred and changed before his eye, a sea of familiar faces painting themselves across the cards in an eyeblink and being replaced just as quickly. John, Wodehouse, Henrietta, Juliana, Lord Grey, Ormonde, the King, Sophia, Kingston and a myriad of others appearing and disappearing in rapid succession, the cards impossible to interpret. Not that it mattered what his cards were, really, given that he had no idea what game they were playing.

A horrendous, rattling laugh distracted him and Charles looked to his left to meet the contemptuous, bloodshot eyes of his father.

"You've never known the game being played, and so you've always prated of playing your own," the old wretch croaked, "But what prizes are there to be won in such a game? Who else cares if you win?" He leaned in, close enough that Charles could smell the brandy on his breath, almost enough to cover the corpse reek.

"Nothing and no one, boy. Nothing and no one," Henry Audley hissed, and laughed again.

The familiar urge was there, to treat his father as he had when the man had been alive and simply ignore him, but Charles resisted. The card players were not the only corpses to have come to visit, and Charles would happily bear the sting of his father's contempt a thousand times over rather than confront the accusing eyes lurking in the fringes.

"What, then, should I do?" Charles asked.

"Learn what games are being played," d'Artagnan said.

"Learn the rules," the Moor whispered, and Charles at last placed him. The man had ambushed him, the first time he had been officer of the watch in Tangiers, and nearly slit his throat. It had been an exemplary lesson in how they fought in Tangiers.

"Learn what cards you hold, and play to them," Turenne told him.

"Commit to the game, Charles. Play in deadly earnest or not at all," his uncle advised.

"Be a man," his father spat.

Mary said nothing, but she had no need to. Her eyes said enough.


Charles opened his eye and sat up, blinking blearily in the dull evening light. He felt awful, strung out and used up, but that was irrelevant for the moment. He had never put much stock in dreams, had thought them all come through the gate of ivory as the Greeks would have put it, but that one had felt different. 

"I only had one eye," he said aloud. "I always have two eyes in my dreams."

But does that mean that it came through the gate of horn?

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