The Companion Speaks:
This was the worst dream I’ve ever had. And I wasn’t waking up from it.
The highborn lady fell to the ground and thrashed around and her breathing was all really weird. I got scared and I didn’t know what to do, thought about just running away, then she called to me, asked for my help, called me by name, held out her hands to me.
I took hold of them and that seemed to help her. She tried to talk to me.
You must get rid of the black shadow, she told me, and I had no idea what she was talking about. Use your magic, she said, and I shook my head at her and didn’t know how to tell her that she had the wrong idea somehow.
I have no magic.
She must read my mind because she says, Yes, yes you do, just look! Look real hard – see the shadow! – in between her strange gaspings.
I pretend to look harder at her, I think she’s mad but she tightens up on my hands so much it hurts and she is crying.
Isca, she says, you have the magic, you really do, please I beg of you, help me, you are the only one who can, please. Her eyes close and she is writhing and takes a deep breath then and starts screaming horribly and I can hardly hold on to her hands.
This time I really try to see what she means about shadows and for a moment, I think I can see something, swirling around her stomach and her legs, then it is gone again.
I try harder and blink my eyes, try to shut out her cries which are cutting into my ears and yes, I can see what she calls the shadow.
Once, there was a bad storm. The sky turned really dark and the clouds looked as though they were boiling. This – thing – around her legs and stomach is like that. The more I look at it, the more clearly I can see it and I think I can see how it is tearing up layers of her although if you don’t see the storm, it is just her in her long white dress.
I try to get my hands free from her but she holds on too tight, so I shake her, stand up myself and pull on her, and I shout at her, I can see the shadow, but what must I do? You have to tell me I don’t know what to do with it!
For a single moment, she comes around and looks directly at me, then she shouts, Get it off of me, make it go away! Before I have a chance to say anything, ask her how, she shakes all over and faints clean away.
I lay her down on the sand and find myself patting her hand. She is pale and very beautiful, even though her hair is coming undone and her nose has turned red with the crying. She is wearing such jewels as I never saw, not ever. What she calls the shadow and I see like a boiling storm pulses with every breath she takes and I think it is getting bigger as if her breathing puffs it up somehow.
I wish I could wake up.
I pinch myself and it hurts but I don’t wake up and the boiling storm is growing.
I am really scared now.
I don’t know what this strange lady thinks I can do, why she called me by name and said that I was the only one who could help her. But she was right and I can see the storm. Perhaps she knows more about that, certainly she does, and so perhaps she is not mad but she is right and there really is something I can do for her.
Carefully, I put my hand out and reach towards the storm.
I can feel it, rubbery, hot, and I don’t want to touch it. But where I did, it seems to pull back a bit.
I try it again, putting my hand on top of the storm, right over the centre of it which is somewhere near the bottom of her stomach.
I push on it and it spreads sideways, away from my hand. I push more and get right down to the surface of her silky white dress, the storm flowing away from my hand like it was afraid of it.
I do it with both hands and that covers a bigger area of her but as soon as I move my hands one way or the other, the storm just flows back into the spaces and still, it keeps growing with her breath.
I sit back on my heels and rub my hands together. They feel dirty and sticky and in the end, I pick up some sand and use that to scrub the feeling away. It makes it better but it doesn’t help the lady who is counting on me to do something that I don’t know how to do.
I’ve got to try something else, anything is better than just sitting here.
I start from the top of her stomach and try and push the storm downwards, trying to catch all of it so it must move away and down, the idea being that I can perhaps somehow keep pushing it until it comes off the end of her feet. But it flows too quickly and my hands aren’t big enough to do this. I can feel myself getting near to tears with fright and not knowing what to do.
Oh lady, I think. I can’t help you. If I am the only one who can help you, then you are truly lost now. All my dreams of being a magician, of becoming Serein, but they are just dreams. I’m an impostor and you put your trust in me by mistake.
I can’t help you.
I get up and look around. Those strange ghosts have gone and the desert is empty around me. I can’t see anything or anyone, but I must go and find some help for her, somehow. I don’t know who she is but she has asked my help and she said that I have magic. I must help her.
I turn slowly on the spot, but there is really nothing, just the endless desert. There is no road, no houses, no lights. No-one and nothing.
What am I going to do?
It seems a silly thing but I open my mouth and I call out.
It isn’t very loud and it sounds as scared as I am. I take a deep breath and I shout again, louder this time.
Help us! Help!
My voice seems to flood across the desert, blue and grey and purple, and far, far in the distance, I think I can see a light flashing in response, like a star? I blink real hard and look again, and the light is really there, and it is coming closer, fast.
It rushes across the hills of the desert so fast that I only blink once more, and it is right in front of me, bright white and round, and I hold up my hands to protect myself from it if it will rush all over me, through me but it doesn’t and it stops and it divides and there are three Serein, not blue but white, hovering right in front of me.
I am so astonished that I forget to be afraid.
I called and Serein came!
They hover in front of me and they are so bright I can hardly look at them and certainly, I couldn’t speak so I just step aside and point to the lady who lies in the sand. The white light from the Serein makes the storm more apparent somehow. It is huge and boiling more furiously than ever.
The Serein flow around me. One goes to hover behind her head, and the other two by her feet. They move apart a bit further and between the two at her legs, it is like a corridor opens up or a small funnel, and the storm gets pulled in that direction, a thin piece coming out of it and going into that corridor.
They are sucking the storm away! Three Serein are here, they are making the lady better, and I get to stand right here and watch them do it! I don’t know if I am more relived, or excited, or just glad for the lady as the storm gets smaller as more and more of it disappears. It doesn’t take very long and the last little bit of it is being sucked away and the doorway closes. They move in on her and put light on her. I swear I see her lifting off the sand and floating, just like they do, and light goes all around her and makes her look incredibly beautiful, like a fairy tale queen. Then it fades away and she sinks back down into the sand. The three Serein float away a little distance, then they move close together, become that star again and it rushes away into the distance and it is gone.
I run to the lady then, and touch her stomach and look as hard as I can, but there is no more of the storm or shadow remaining. She seems to be sleeping easily, breathing deeply and I think there may be a small smile there although I can’t be absolutely sure. I carefully pick up her hand and stroke it. It is warm in mine and she takes a deep breath and then opens her eyes.
They are brown, like mine.
Oh, thank you, she whispers. Thank you. Thank you, thank you! Oh! Thank you!
I shake my head and keep stroking her hand.
I didn’t do it, I say to her, it was the Serein. They came and took the storm away, the shadow.
She crunches up her eyes and her brows.
Yes, Serein. Weird ones, not blue but white. I called for help and they came and they helped you. They sucked the shadow away.
She closes her eyes and shakes her head, again and then again. She uses my hand to help her sit up and then lets go of it. I watch her brush some sand from her arms and pushing at her complicated hair which is mostly all undone now.
What is your name? I ask her, because I want to always remember this dream and when I wake up, I want to think that I was here, with her, and I called and Serein came. I want to remember this dream when I must scrub the floor, when I must carry water and break my back in the kitchen field.
She looks at me slowly under half closed lids and seems to think about it. Perhaps I should not have asked her, but I figure I deserve it, because I did get help for her.
I am the Lady Tremain, she says and I shiver, because I can’t imagine that she is speaking the truth, I can’t imagine that such a one as she is would know my name.
She lifts the hand with that big greeny diamond ring and makes a weird gesture in the air, in front of my face. Her fingers make a trail of blue-green fire in the air that stays, and she paints a pattern out of light. It is very beautiful and I stare at it and wish I could do something as wonderful as that.
The shapes start to drift apart like steam, slowly. And then the lady gets up on her knees, and she puts her arms around me and holds me closely, her face in my hair. She is warm and smells so clean, and her soft breasts are against my flat chest. I don’t know what to think but I can feel that she is perhaps trying to show her gratitude for me helping her with the storm. It really must have hurt her bad. A great lady or no, she had cried and her nose had turned red. I put my arms about her carefully and then I hug her back.
It is a strange feeling.