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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

“No. My father taught me most of what I know,” I replied. “My mother also taught me a few spells.”

Elle had finished devouring her galette. I took my time opening the book of nightmares, leafing through the fragile pages until I found the latest entry, which Papa had penned four days ago. One of Lucy Norrin’s nightmares, which I often found to be ridiculous on the spectrum of dreams.

“Do you want to tell me your dream, Elle?” I asked.

Elle shook her head, her curls bobbing.

“She hasn’t spoken one word today,” Spruce said, hovering. “I’ve tried to get her to describe it, but it was that game . . . that bloody game!” He pointed upward, to the two daughters in the loft. “You should have known better than to let your little sister play.”

“Mr. Fielding,” I said coldly, drawing his attention. “It’s paramount that the dreamer be calm when I cast a divination. If you can’t be quiet, I’ll have to ask you to step outside.”

He was thunderstruck that I had spoken to him in such a way, but he swallowed his retort and silently stewed.

I smiled at Elle. “Then I must cast a spell, so I can see your dream. Is that okay, Elle?”

Elle clung to her mother, fearful.

“You won’t have to see it again, Elle. Only I will. Okay?”

The child buried her face into Jane’s chest, and Jane sighed. “Please do, Miss Clem. I know the evening is coming, and we mustn’t keep you here much longer.”

But I waited for Elle to glance at me again, more curious than afraid now.

I poured a few crystals of salt in one palm. Next, I gathered some dried gardenia petals in my other hand, extending my palms out to Elle.

“Which one do you like more?” I asked, coaxing the opposing fragrances to rise.

Elle studied them both but pointed to the clean rainstorm fragrance of the salt.

A girl after my own heart, I thought as I dropped the crystals into the bowl of water, returning the flowers to their jar. I took my spoon and began to hum my father’s divination spell, stirring the water until the salt had dissolved and the emerald in the handle cast a green pallor on the surface.

The nightmare still lingered in the cottage.

As soon as I found the dream’s door, etched in shadows in the center of the room, the Fielding family froze, as if I had stopped time. I knew they were experiencing the opposite from their vantage point; they were waiting with suspended breath, watching a glazed-eyed, entranced version of myself as I inwardly located the lurking threshold of the dream.

Focusing on the door, I rose and opened it.

I stepped into Elle’s dream.

Elle is in the market of Hereswith, accompanied by two of her sisters and her father. Things feel normal but the light is gray, and distress ripples at the edges of the dream, like the pounding of a distant drum. The mountains are dark shadows in the distance, but fires burn along their slopes, marking the fortress in the clouds. Night falls, sudden and nonsensical, and the crowd in the market vanishes in a blink. Elle is alone, searching for her father, her sisters. A cold mountain wind blows, rattling shop signs and scattering loose papers on the street as Elle runs from door to door, knocking, begging to be let in. They are all locked, the windows darkened, shuttered. And then comes a different noise. One that pierces Elle’s heart with fear.

Heavy footsteps. They meet the cobblestones slowly, deliberately, clinking like strange music.

At once, Elle’s thoughts race.

Hide, hide. Whatever it is, don’t let it find you. Hide . . .

She runs through the streets but there is nowhere to hide, and the heavy footsteps faithfully follow her. They grow louder—closing the distance between them—and Elle whimpers as she tumbles back into the market green. She crawls toward a wagon and cowers beneath its bed, crying, although no matter how hard she tries to scream for her father, no sound emerges from her mouth.

She finally sees a glimpse of the one who is hounding her, whose tread makes that strange music.

A knight is walking to her, as if he knows exactly where she hides. She sees him from the knees down as he approaches the wagon in those measured, heavy steps. His armored legs and feet gleam silver in the darkness. Plated steel and rusted with blood.

He unsheathes a sword, but he lets the tip of it drag along the cobblestones at his side, as if he wants to hear the tempered steel screech and spark against the rock.

He comes to a stop, directly before the wagon. Elle trembles, stares at his steel boots, the edge of his sword. And then she hears the creak of his armor as he begins to bend, to crouch, reaching for her . . .

I jolted.

The dream had broken, spitting me back into reality, and I drew in a deep breath.

I was sitting in the Fieldings’ cottage. The afternoon was warm, the light golden as the family gazed at me, and yet I felt the chill of Elle’s nightmare. I could still hear the echo of those strange, armored feet that had followed her. The ring of the sword dragging on the stones.

Who was he? I wondered, glancing at Elle.

But I couldn’t ask the girl. Not now, with the dream lingering like smoke in the air, choking us both with fear.

I took up my quill and ink and recorded the nightmare swiftly in the book. My hand trembled; my penmanship was slanted and riddled with blots. Papa would no doubt notice later when he read it and asked me why this nightmare bothered me so badly.

“Well?” Spruce Fielding prodded when I had finished the recording, shutting the tome.

I looked up. “Well what?”

“What was the dream? Why won’t she speak? Was it truly so frightening?”

I didn’t reply. I began to gather my things, shrinking them back into my pocket until I remembered the remedies. I had brought five, and I withdrew the glass vials as I stood from the couch.

A swallowed remedy kept dreams at bay for an entire day. The good ones as well as the frightening ones. If drunk before bed, a person would experience a tranquil sleep. An inner fog, culled of dreams. Like my sleep, every single night.

I handed the first one to Elle. Then I moved to Elizabeth and gave her a vial. Next, the oldest sister in the kitchen. And lastly, I enchanted the remaining two remedies to float up to the loft, where the roosted sisters continued to observe. They reached out in awe when the vials hovered before them.

“I didn’t ask for any remedies,” Spruce said, wringing his hat again. “I can’t pay for them. Why did you—”

“I know you didn’t ask for them,” I cut him off, weary. I smiled one last time at Elle and Jane Fielding before turning to leave. “I give them to your daughters freely, but I would like a word with you, sir.”

Spruce followed me outside into the yard. The sun had already set behind the mountains and the shadows were long and cool. Dusk was coming, and I felt the urge to get home as quickly as I could.

“I know what you’re going to say, Miss Clem,” he said.