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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

Imonie was pouring ginger beer in our glasses when Lennox sniffed his napkin, studied the water stains on his fork, and then cleared his throat.

“Do you mind if I cast a cantrip, Mr. Madigan?”

My father sounded wary. “What sort of spell is necessary during dinner?”

“To see what ingredients are in the food. I have a delicate disposition.”

I snorted, only to draw everyone’s attention. I raised my glass to them and drank, to hide the curl of my lips.

“Just eat the food, Lee,” Phelan murmured with a twinge of mortification.

“You should cast too, you know,” Lennox whispered in return, and that was when I realized why the magician wanted to sift through the food. He thought we had poisoned it, which was irrational, since my father and I were also eating from the same platters.

Papa came to a similar conclusion. “If you fear an upset stomach, don’t worry. We have plenty of herbs to calm it. If you fear poison . . . then let me reassure you, Mr. Lennox. It’s bad fortune to harm a guest under one’s roof, and I don’t intend on bringing terrible luck upon my household.”

“What a reassurance,” Lennox said, and he continued with his cantrip, searching the food on his plate and the ginger beer in his cup.

Imonie stood beside the china cabinet and watched with a flat expression. But her eyes shone like obsidian.

I forced myself to eat. I was sitting across from Phelan, and I noticed how he cut his meat into proper bites, how he handled his fork and knife. I made a point to be his opposite. My cutlery screeched against my plate, provoking winces from the men, and I put a hunk of meat in my mouth, my fork upside down.

Phelan watched in shock, as if he couldn’t believe my manners. Lennox looked disgusted.

I smiled as I chewed, close lipped and full of terrible thoughts.

My father cleared his throat. “May I ask how long the two of you plan to stay in Hereswith?”

“It could be a short visit,” Lennox said, dragging his disbelieving gaze from me. “But then again, we might decide to stay for a while.”

“Could you please provide me with the date you’ll be departing, then?” Papa continued, and from the corner of my eye, I saw his hand was trembling as he speared a potato with his fork.

“We have no definite date as of yet.” Lennox sounded smug. “But as it is the new moon . . . I was wondering what sort of nightmares haunt your town, Mr. Madigan. Are they indeed vicious, since you dwell so near the mountains and the accursed Seren Duchy? What sort of terrors stalk the streets on the darkest of nights?”

My father was silent. But he stared across the table at Lennox Vesper, and I felt the chill in the air. A chill that expressed how angry my father was, even as he secretly smoldered with a fever beneath the glamour.

“The nightmares are mine to keep, Mr. Lennox,” Papa said. “I’m the warden of Hereswith. These streets are mine to guard, these people mine to honor and protect. Despite your education and polished upbringing, you seem to have forgotten the most basic of laws and respect when it comes to the magic of dreams and guardianship.”

Lennox chuckled, reaching for his ginger beer. “I’ve not forgotten at all, Mr. Madigan. My memory is rather sharp, and I do nothing without thought.”

“Then let’s not dance around the bear,” I said, impatient. “What do you want?”

Lennox glanced at me, fair brow arched. “I believe that is something I need to discuss with your father, since he is the magician of Hereswith.”

Despite my confidence, I felt my cheeks flush from the way he made me sound of little consequence. As if I were no one and nothing important.

For one brief, terrifying moment, I imagined Lennox had come to ask my father for a partnership. To have the opportunity to be warden of Hereswith alongside Papa. To uproot and replace me. I knew from my brief upbringing in the capital that nearly all warden magicians took partners, because the collection of dreams was a cumbersome task and nightmares had the capability of being anything. It was always best to have someone guarding your back on the new moon, to grant you aid if a violent dream unfolded.

“My daughter is my partner and has vast knowledge of magic,” my father replied, as if he shared the same worry. My posture softened, relieved. Although I was not his partner yet. Only his apprentice. “Whatever you have to say to me can also be said to her.”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Madigan,” said Lennox with a forced smile and a graceful motion of his hand. “I suppose there is no sense in delaying, since night has fallen.” But he glanced at his brother, as if seeking reassurance. Phelan was silent, staring into his goblet. He eventually lifted his eyes and nodded, and my dread rose, threatening to drown me.

Lennox stood.

He set his gaze on my father, and it seemed like the firelight dimmed and the shadows deepened around us. He withdrew a red silk handkerchief from the inner pocket of his jacket and dropped it onto the table. I watched the fabric flutter down, resting on the wood like a patch of blood.

“Sever occisio loredania. I have come to challenge you, Mr. Madigan. I have come on this new moon in the month of September to win the right of guardianship and the title of warden for Hereswith.”

Lennox’s announcement rang in the chamber, reverberating off the walls and the windows and the roof of my childhood, sundering my peace. The challenge teemed about us, shimmered in the air like rain in sun. I breathed it in, felt the incantation lock about my heart like an iron cage.

Sever occisio loredania.

My father and I sat frozen, staring up at the young magician. Lennox waited, shifting his weight as the heavy silence continued.

“Did you hear me, Mr. Madigan? I said I challenge you—”

My father rose. The chair nearly overturned in his haste, and my heart was pounding, my hands shaking as I also stood. Papa had not won the wardenship of Hereswith; it had been passed down to him when the previous magician had retired, nine years ago. He had never stood in the place of Lennox Vesper. He had never stolen territory from another magician.

“I heard you, Mr. Lennox,” said Papa, and his voice was hoarse, his distress making my glamour waver on him for a breath. “I accept your challenge. You have an hour to make it to the market green of Hereswith, where Clementine and I will meet you for the challenge of the new moon.”

Lennox bowed. He left his red handkerchief on the table as a mark of contract, and retrieved his cloak and weapon, Phelan following him. I held my breath as I watched them depart. Even Imonie seemed unable to breathe as she stood in the kitchen, staring at the table, the dinner half eaten on the plates.

The cottage was quiet again. A quiet that wanted to crush my heart.

I turned to look at Papa, my glamour melting away from him. It should have held for at least another hour, but my magic turned brittle in that moment.

“Here, Papa. Sit.”

He allowed me to ease him back into the chair, and he sat with a groan.

“Imonie?” I glanced at her. “Some warm wine with clove and honey for Papa?”

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