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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

“Of course.” Lennox’s gaze drifted to the kitchen, where Imonie was banging pots in her fury. “And the housekeeper? Will she remain behind?”

“No,” my father replied swiftly. “Imonie will be going with us. If you want a cook or a housekeeper, you will have to find one on your own.”

Imonie pretended she had not heard as she began to knead dough, but I felt the indignation for her. That this upstart would assume she would stay and work for him.

“And what of the dream tax?” Lennox asked. “How much does the town pay you for your services?”

“They pay us what they can, Mr. Lennox,” I said, unable to remain silent a moment longer. “Sometimes with bread, sometimes with coin, sometimes nothing at all if their crop or craft has suffered a bad year.”

“Nothing at all!” Incredulous, Lennox looked at my father, as if he was fervently hoping I was jesting. “And you still guard them from their nightmares, despite the fact they cannot even pay you a penny in gratitude?”

“We do,” I said.

“Then how do you pay your dream tax to the duke?” Lennox asked, glancing between my father and me. “You do pay it, I hope?”

My father nodded. He looked tired, so weary. My heart ached.

“We pay what the duke requires,” I said. And I thought of Mazarine and her trickle of coins, which had kept us afloat more times than I could count. “But this is a rural town, Mr. Lennox. This is not the pampered city life you know and are accustomed to. All of us work and pull our weight. Sometimes, a person cannot pay in coin, but we still record their nightmares and we still protect them. Now that you’ve been informed, you’ll have to figure out a way to ensure the duke gets his taxes on time. And if you can’t . . . then perhaps your mother can pay them for you.”

“Mr. Madigan,” Phelan said in a desperate tone, purposefully interrupting Lennox and me, sensing that we were about to strike up another duel. “Please don’t feel as if you and Clementine and Imonie must rush away. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need.”

“We’ll be gone tomorrow,” my father reiterated, and he set his glassy-eyed stare on me. “It would be a good idea to begin packing, Clem.”

But where are we going to go?

I left my tea on the counter and ascended the stairs. Dwindle was curled up on my bed, purring, and I sat beside her, my hand stroking her calico fur.

Eventually, my damp gown drove me to the wardrobe. I shed the black silk and changed into a simple blue gown. I set to work packing my things, only to realize I had far too many books. I needed to give some of them away, and I began to make piles.

I was halfway through my endeavor when Papa stepped into the chamber, instantly casting a protective charm on the walls, the window, and the door. To keep our voices from being overheard.

“Make sure you pack everything, Clementine,” he said. “Leave no trace of yourself behind in this house. No hair ribbon, no letters, no drawings. Not even an old pair of shoes.”

I gaped up at my father. “You’re worried. . . .”

“I’m not worried,” he insisted. But I knew when he lied. His nostrils tended to flare when he spoke falsely. “But nor do I want to give anyone the chance to track where we go, or even summon us, if they were so bold to do so.”

I tried to imagine Lennox taking an old ribbon of mine months from now and using it to cast the spell of summoning. It was a dangerous enchantment, one that would draw me into his presence whether I wanted to answer him or not. And I almost laughed at the absurdity until my father’s scowl deepened.

“You need to take this seriously, Clem.”

“I am taking this seriously!” I snapped, and indicated the scars on my neck. “I never wanted to leave this place. Our home, Papa!”

He flinched, as if I had struck him. At once, my temper faded.

“It’s a great misfortune, and I’m sorry, daughter. I’m sorry I was not strong enough to help you last night.”

I glanced away, unable to bear the sorrow in his eyes. My guilt flared again. If I had been craftier, bolder . . . I wouldn’t have lost. “Where are we going?”

“I’m still considering our options. The most important thing at the moment is that you pack everything.”

“I was planning to give some of my books away to the town girls. Could I still do that?”

His eyes flickered to the piles of books I had made on the floor. I read his mind: books were heavy and cumbersome to move with, even if one enchanted them into tiny charms.

“That would be fine,” he replied. “So long as you erase your name on the cover and any notes you may have written in the margins and ensure none of your bookmarks are in the pages.”

I nodded and watched him leave. And while I wanted to act as if I was not rattled by his worry, I was. My hands shook as I went through the books I planned to donate, uttering a charm to vanish my handwriting. Because—of course—I was the sort of person who marked every book I owned. And as Papa knew well, I made my own bookmarks. I ended up recovering three of them, lost in the leaves of thick novels. By the end of my scouring, there were eleven volumes that I wanted to give to the Fielding girls.

I gathered the books into my arms and decided I would deliver them now.

The main level of the cottage was quiet. The Vesper brothers were gone, to my immense relief, and my father was in his own bedchamber, packing. Imonie was at the china cabinet, wrapping the porcelain in newspaper, but she didn’t stop me when I slipped out the door into the warmth of late morning.

The last thing I desired was to be seen and stopped on the streets. I cast a simple avertana charm, one that would make me unnoticeable. And I walked the streets of Hereswith. Everyone was speaking of my father’s displacement, because rumors traveled like wildfire here, and everyone had seen the Vesper brothers wandering about the evening before.

Most of the talk was hinged on disbelief and devastation, for my father was sincerely loved in this town. But there were a few conversations I heard, words that were hopeful for the new warden. My father was getting old, anyway. It was good to change magicians every now and then.

I reached the Fieldings’ cottage.

With a deep sigh, I loosened my charm so I could be noticed again, and was approaching the door, preparing to knock, when a sweet voice called my name from above.

“Miss Clem!”

I glanced up at the apple tree that flourished in the front yard. Elle was perched in its branches, harvesting the fruit, and I walked to stand among the roots, gazing up at her.

“Have you come to see my papa?” the girl asked as she began to descend the tree.

“No,” I replied. “I’ve actually come to see you and your sisters.”

“Me?” She dropped to the grass and set her basket of apples down. “What for?”