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The dream

Tarquin knew he dreamed, but he knew the irrational fear of the dream. He did not know if he was afraid of the woman, or afraid for her, because he had no information about her additional to her glaring eyes and black hair whipping in the wind like a tattered standard. The dream, which might be a vision, centered around her face and her voice, which spoke only two words: “Save me.”

The dreams came nearly every night now, similar, but increasingly explicable, and he was beginning to believe the woman was real.

He lay for a moment staring at the ceiling, turning the facts over in his mind. Her words indicated helplessness. Her eyes did not. The contradiction spearheaded his confusion. He did not recognize the gray beach, which appeared to surround a barren wasteland.

Sunlight filtered through the blinds from his window, covering the bed with pale bands of light.

Tarquin rose and reached for his shirt, buttoned it, then opened the blinds to reveal smooth hills dotted with leafless trees. Sunlight dazzled the frost on brown, shorn grass.

He could hear his father shuffling around upstairs, muttering to himself. Tarquin made toast and coffee in the kitchen, feeling more detached from his surroundings after the dream, a feeling he had experienced before.

Crane shuffled down the stairs, and Tarquin offered him a half-hearted smile. "Coffee?"

"Thank you. You slept in this morning." Crane took a seat at the kitchen table and accepted a cup, then drank it slowly.

"It's my day off." Usually Tarquin was by this time gone to any part of Chary's wide, flat countryside, surveying the new territory in service to the queen. With Chary's chilly, forbidding climate, the job dictated a resistance to elements which Tarquin had acquired through years of experience.

He added to the court's map as he went, documenting rivers, caves and cliffs. The queen, Electra, wanted to access the small continent's resources as soon as they could be discovered.

Tarquin opened the blinds in the kitchen, spilling white light over the table and sink. Crane squinted and looked out over the land. "It's a cold day," he commented. "I can't believe Gemi's gone riding. She'd better get it out of her system before the winter storms hit."

"That won't stop her," Tarquin returned. "She'd rather suffer frostbite than stay indoors with the likes of us."

Crane studied Tarquin thoughtfully. "You don’t look like yourself."

"I'm not." Not meeting his father's eyes, he studied his coffee cup. His eyes locked on the black pool there, where a shape was beginning to form. Crane was saying something but Tarquin wasn't listening.

He could see her there, hovering just beneath the surface, her angular face and long black hair.

He returned to reality with a gasp, feeling drained. Crane was staring at him with interest.

"Is there an insect in your coffee?" he asked with a chuckle.

Tarquin tossed the dregs into the sink and left the cup to clatter there. "I'm going out. Want anything?"

"Tell Gelin to open the rookery. The birds will want fresh air this morning. Going toward the palace?"

"Not if I can help it."

"If you see Gemi tell her to let out Steban. I haven't ridden him in over two weeks."

"Will do."

"Confound it, you're distracted, Tarquin. What is wrong with you?"

Tarquin's lips narrowed to a thin line. He paused briefly, but no words would come, and quickly stepped from the kitchen, into the backyard toward the rookery.

Tarquin unlatched the wire-enclosed gate and the birds sprang toward the opening eagerly. The cold air was invigorating, carrying the smell of burning wood. One white lorynx sailed down to him and he lifted a gloved hand.

“Jacus.”

“Good morning, master. How are you?”

He stroked the bird's soft white plumage. “I could be better,” he said ruefully.

“You look tired. Your dreams were disturbed again,” the bird guessed.

“What if I told you I were going on a journey?”

“Then I would make plans to accompany you,” Jacus answered promptly.

Tarquin smiled at the creature's answer. “I believe I’ve lost my reason.”

“You're the sanest of them.” The lorynx's gold-colored eyes met his own reassuringly.

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