I drifted in and out of dreams. In one, I tried to make it through high school without remembering the order of my classes, all while leading around a hapless, freshman Gus. In another, I dodged through a department store from my ex-husband, even though he didn’t care to look at me, and I hated myself for wanting him to. In yet another I stumbled into him in an ambiguous home, begging him to make love to me just one more time so I could be rid of the fire of want. Even as he smiled and reached out to me, though, I rejected him, wishing I’d never married him to begin with–wishing I was still an innocent virgin who knew nothing of love. Life would be so much easier then.
A cold hand on my forehead brought me back to the gray, chilly dawn in my bedroom. Gus looked down at me softly. Milly’s bed was empty.
For a minute we just looked at each other. Though I didn’t feel the tickle of his mind magic, I had a feeling he could read the emotions percolating in my heart. The feeling was encouraged when his fingertips moved down to the top of my cheeks, as though to wipe away tears.
“We need to get you new clothes soon,” I said, tugging on the sleeve of his tunic which had already retreated a few inches above his wrist. “I shouldn’t have bought you a coat so soon.”
“Yeah, that probably should have waited.” His fingers traced to the other side. “Bad dreams?”
“I’d rather they not so often.”
“Well, if you ever learn how to make a dreamcatcher, let me know.”
He stepped back as I sat up, grumbling at how stiff my dress felt on me, since I hadn’t been able to take it off before going to bed. Passing out cold and leaving your body to the whims of others could do that.
Before the question in his eyes could be asked, I said, “A dream catcher is a totem of sorts made by a tribe of people back where I’m from. It has a circle, usually made of wood, with strings weaved over it to look like a spider’s web to ‘catch’ the dreams. Sometimes they weave beads with it too, and there are also strings hanging from the circle as well with feathers and beads. I bet they have significance too, but I never looked much into them. And no, I don’t think they actually caught dreams. It was a superstition. Magic doesn’t exist where I’m from, remember?”
I said this all quietly, so even if Milly were listening in at the door, which I doubted, she wouldn’t have heard.
Gus looked thoughtful, even though I had never heard of divine magic being able to attach itself to outside objects. According to what I had read and experienced in the world so far, enchantment could only be done by elemental magic, since it had to do with the manipulation of energies on subjects outside of the body. Even then, enchantment was a very high level of magic that took a lot of finesse, for it involved knowing how to create magical/energy bonds that would remain in an object and then be released by the appropriate catalyst. The book hadn’t said that divine magic couldn’t be enchanted into objects, but it had been heavily implied since the magic couldn’t affect subjects outside of the body.
As I sadly felt out the state of my tangled hair, Gus moved on to the real reason he had come to get me up.
“Do you know why you keep passing out when we go to the temple?”
“I’ve only passed out twice there,” I said irritably. “That hardly counts as ‘keep.’ Could you hand me my brush?”
He got up to fetch it off the small, mirrorless vanity Milly and I shared. It was a smooth, carved wood handle with stiff boar bristles. Hal had insisted on getting it for me after seeing Milly and I sharing a brush and shuddering.
“But do you know why? Each time you were fine before we went in. And once I got thinking about it, you often leave the temple tired when all you’ve done is sit there.”
“It’s not a big deal.” I undid the tie of my ruined braid and picked out the first knot to tackle.
Gus’s cold fingers took my wrist. The tingle of his mind magic was hot in contrast.
“Don’t shrug this off. You scared me.”
The dropping of his tone showed didn’t allow any more of my dodging. His magic would let him see any of my lies.
Being cornered first thing in the morning did not a happy Lilly make.
“I have a right to my own secrets,” I said. “I’ve allowed you to see everything else, you have no right to demand this.”
He flinched back, letting go of my wrist.
“At least tell me it isn’t something that will hurt you,” he said.
“It won’t. You can even make sure if I’m lying, if you want.”
“No. I believe you.”
“Good. Because I need to fix your eyes today and I’d rather not be tempted to break anything in the process because you’re being a jerk.”
Despite having come on full of indignation, Gus followed after me into the kitchen looking properly chastised. We had breakfast together while Milly fussed over me and tried to get me to eat extra helpings of bacon for energy. Hal came in from where he was cleaning up front to inquire to my well being as well before offering me an herbal infusion with honey and water, insisting it helped with energy. It tasted surprisingly like cola without the bubbles. Gus’s bowed figured turned to a pout, probably because he had nothing to contribute in the ‘pump up Lilly with fuel’ party.
Once I’d fed the chickens (and pet them, of course) and he’d seen cleaning the excess ashes out of the fireplaces, I sat him down in the kitchen and saw to his eyes. When I’d pulled back, they had once more turned a proper brown.
“Such a pity,” I said, mostly to myself. “Their original color is so pretty.”
“Tch, you’re the only one that thinks so.”
The regular routine of inn work worked me into a warm sense of stability and comfort. Even though I had to deal with the stinky sheets of a patron, I wondered if I’d regret leaving this normalcy once I had accepted Romanian’s offer of becoming the ducal’s healer. But I had little to argue otherwise, even if Nehcor had sounded lenient in all the times he’d given me ‘advice,’ as though it all came down to what I thought was best for Gus.
But this was best for Gus. I could send him off to the duchy for an education and training, but he wouldn’t be happy, and he’d be constantly trying to get back here. Not to mention I couldn’t do much ‘raising’ or watching over him back here. And I couldn’t get the education I might need to help him in the future staying here either.
It was a good life, though.
I broached the subject with Hal and Milly during our lunch break. Gus listened from the corner, looking neither happy or sad about my decision. But, then, emotionally constipated was his usual state of being.
The father and daughter were happy for me. I insisted I’d be back for busy season and during the weekends, which were usually the busiest time of the weeks, as well as whenever they needed healing. By the time I realized I was blubbering, my eyes were already getting wet. I didn’t just want to come back for work. I wanted to come back for Hal’s warm smiles and girl time with Milly. I even wanted to come back to just sit and watch my fluffy velociraptors.
They seemed to understand, however, and insisted I come whenever I wanted, not because I felt obligated.
I liked to believe it was quietly agreed upon that Hal and Milly really had become my foundation in this world.
Probably moved upon by these unspoken, friendly feelings, Milly redid my braid as I wrote a letter to Romanian. He had left me with a few sheets of paper and a charcoal pencil, which I hoped wouldn’t smear too much.
Gus watched on as long as he could before quietly leaving to get back to his share of the chores.