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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross



I walked through town, holding the book of nightmares on my hip like it was a child, smiling and waving to the people I passed. All who I knew well, by name and by dream alike. I hurried when I reached the market, the heart of Hereswith, where both gossip and activity thrived. I didn’t have time to be ensnared by either one, and I followed the eastern road to the lower edge of town, where the cottages became more distant from each other, melting into verdant patches of farms marked by low stone walls.

I smelled the Fieldings’ sheep before I reached their gate. A black-and-white collie barked as I approached the front door, which sat ajar. I hesitated on the stoop; I could hear a faint argument, just within the cottage. . . .

“We can’t afford it, Jane. Our daughters need bread more than they need dreamless sleep.”

“Look at her, Spruce. Will you do nothing? She won’t even speak!”

“The girls have brought this on themselves. I’ve said this time and time again, and those cards need to be—”

“Those were my grandfather’s cards!”

Spruce sighed. “I’ve summoned the magician. If you won’t see the cards burned . . . what more do you want me to do, woman?”

I didn’t like Spruce Fielding’s tone. I knocked on the door, and it creaked open farther, exposing the central room of the cottage. Jane Fielding, a woman whose blond hair was lank and streaked with gray, sat on a threadbare couch with a bundle of blankets—which was probably her youngest daughter—cradled on her lap. Spruce, a ruddy-faced man with a thick brown beard who was so tall he had to stoop to avoid banging his head on the timber beams, was pacing until he saw me.

“Miss Clem!” he said, surprised as he moved to greet me. “Thank you for coming. We were expecting—”

“My father,” I concluded. “Yes, I know. But he’s in bed fighting a fever. I’ve come in his stead.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Spruce said, removing his cap to twist it in his hands.

“Sorry that I’m here, or that my father is ill?” I jested, hoping to lighten the mood as well as the dread the Fieldings were expressing upon the realization that I, and not my esteemed father, had come to divine the nightmare.

Spruce was speechless. Sometimes the men of Hereswith didn’t know how to take my wit. I stepped into the room, my eyes adjusting to the dim interior light.

All five of the Fielding daughters were present. Two were in the loft, peering down at me like roosted birds, and the other three were on the main level. The eldest was chopping carrots in the kitchen; the second-eldest, by the hearth, was trying to make a quilt out of scraps; and the youngest, the one whose dream I had come to glean, was indeed wrapped in her mother’s arms. All the girls’ names began with an E, to my distress. I could never keep any of them straight—Enya, Esther, Elizabeth, Edith—save for little Elle, who had a palindrome name, something I had always wanted.

Elle, who was around seven and far too thin and small for her age, blinked at me from the edge of her blanket.

“Hello, Elle,” I greeted her. “May I come sit next to you?”

The little girl gave a curt nod, and I sat beside her and her mother on the lumpy couch, easing the book of nightmares down to rest on my thighs. I detested having an audience, how both parents watched me with wide, dubious eyes, and how the sisters froze like statues, soaking in my every move. Even the collie, who had snuck into the house, sat in a patch of sun, one blue eye and one brown eye pinned on me.

I hated resorting to stagecraft. The sort of magic my mother reveled in. The art of enchanted performance that provoked emotions in observers, whether it was horror, delight, or wonder.

But this was a moment for stagecraft if there ever was one. I could feel it call to me as the tension and worry began to overpower the room. And I was thankful for those early years, for my oldest memories. Memories I refrained from rousing too often, for fear they would crack me. A time long ago, when my parents had still been together in the city. All those evenings I had sat on my father’s lap in the theater, watching Mama perform magic on the stage.

“I have something for you, Elle.”

The little girl said nothing, only watched me with large, frightened eyes.

I held up my palms, to prove they were empty, before cupping my hands together. I silently called forth the cherry galette from my pocket, lifting one of my hands up in the air to reveal the pastry.

Jane Fielding gasped in delight—stagecraft did have its perks—and the wonder captured her youngest daughter. The blanket lowered a fraction, then a little more, until Elle’s arms were free. She smiled and accepted the galette, and I suddenly wished I had brought more, to feed the four longing stares of the older girls.

The silence was awkward as Elle began to munch on the pastry. I decided this was a good time to prepare for the divination.

“Mr. Fielding? Do you mind bringing one of your kitchen chairs over here? I need to use it as a makeshift table.”

He quickly obliged, shooing his daughter Elizabeth, who had been sewing by the hearth, out of the way.

Elizabeth left her scattering of quilt and stood near me. That was when I noticed one of the cards on the floor, nearly hidden beneath a square of fabric. Its illustration caught the light, even as the card itself was tattered. I discreetly studied it, unable to quell my interest as an artist.

The painting depicted a svelte man with a shock of long white hair, dressed in colorful, ornate raiment. A top hat sat on his head, spilling a shadow across his face. Only his crooked smile and his eyes could be discerned, glinting like two emeralds. His title was hand-lettered beneath his feet. The Master of Coin.

I wanted to reach for the card. I wanted to hold it and study its illustration, to learn from whoever had painted it, long ago. A story caught in time on paper.

And then I remembered myself. I was visiting as a magician, not a pining artist. But I now understood the conversation I had overheard on the stoop. The Fielding girls must have played a round of Seven Wraiths, and little Elle must have lost, ending up with one of the seven illustrated cards in her hand. While I had never played this game, as my father and Imonie both detested and forbade it, I knew there was great enchantment within its rules. To lose with one of the seven wraiths in your possession meant you would experience a nightmare the next time you lay down to sleep.

I withdrew my attention from the card and prepared for the divination. I called forth the trinkets from my pocket, speaking the reverse spell. They returned to their normal sizes without qualm: the silver bowl, which I filled with water from my pitcher, and the jars of salt and gardenia, the octopus inkstand and quill and the iron spoon with the emerald chip.

“Did you have to go to school to learn how to cast magic, Miss Clem?” Elizabeth asked.