The House of the Seventh Minuet XVIII

“Sweet dreams,” Stefan had said.

What a way to start the night. I don’t think I mentioned it before, but Stefan’s voice… well, I’m singing his praises again, but this is true: his voice is amazing. Blessed by Apollo– no, I should refer to a Norse god. Bragi. He can play oboe and mix music, sure, but he can also sing. If his parents were the type to push their kids into certain careers, they’d have tried to get him to sing professionally, even opera. He has range, sure, but so do other people. Stefan’s voice is pure and smooth, like velvet and silk and– well, he doesn’t show it off, but when he does sing, it’s a real treat.

That being said, when he wished me dreams of music and enchantment, it was like he’d cast a spell. His voice was like magic. I say that because of what I dreamt that night.

I was in some sort of castle… Or maybe it was a palace or a noble’s manor house. It certainly wasn’t the house I’d just moved into. There was something other-worldly about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Things looked mostly normal, but they didn’t feel normal.

It was dark outside, but the hallway I was in was decently-lit for a place without electricity. There was a window taller than me to my left, and I could see the moon and stars through the vine-framed grass. Make that moons. Wherever I was had two moons. the gray in one had a slight hint of purple in it, while the other was chalky and pale.

I found myself turning around and chasing the sound of music. At the end of the hall, a pair of immense golden doors glimmered. They were each carved with a unicorn rearing up and facing an owl. I had no time to contemplate the designs, for the doors soon opened into a vast and gleaming ballroom. There were no people in it, even though the music was louder here.

The music changed, and all I could hear was a harpsichord. I turned and found it near one wall, but there was no person there. What I did see was an owl. It was hopping along the keys. It couldn’t have been hitting the keys the would play the song I was hearing, but then again I’m just an oboe-player.

“Are you…” I whispered. “You look just like the owl I saw at my house…”

As soon as the owl heard me, it stopped and crouched low. It hooted at me several times, then took off across the ballroom. I felt compelled to follow it. As we approached a pair of silver doors, I could hear a lilting tune coming from a viola.

“Jean-Marc?”

I don’t know why my dream-self assumed it was him. Plenty of people play viola, right? The silver door opened and followed the owl down a long corridor. A cello joined the viola, then a timpani… French horn… violin… and a bassoon.

“Killian?” I whispered. But I had this inexplicable sense that it wasn’t Killian playing his instrument.

The air had grown dim and misty. The owl hooted at me again. I stopped near a door where the bassoon seemed to come loudest. It was a simple wooden door. Stained, not painted, the grain of the wood revealing its age. I reached for the handle, but before I could even touch it, the owl was hooting loudly, as though it wanted to scream. It clawed at my shirt– no, at my gown. It was trying to pull me back along the hall. I decided not to resist the dream-owl.

The corridor led out to something like a greenhouse or a garden. I’m not completely sure. It was gorgeous, though. A dome of glass panes above, and plenty of space for trees and fountains and benches and walking paths. Amidst the burbling of water, I could hear an oboe being played. It was an older tune at first, something Baroque and noble, but it soon changed to something more… experimental.

“So, owl, should I be wor–” I stopped mid-sentence. The owl was nowhere to be seen.

I followed the sound of the oboe through the garden. It started getting darker. Then colder. So cold that a gentleman would have offered his lady his jacket. I normally don’t mind a bit of cool air, but it was getting outright frosty. I looked up at the dome. I was right below the center, the apex, of it. The Aurora Borealis shone in the sky above, the colors undulating as I watched. I don’t know how I ended up so entranced by the waves of light, but I must have been like that for a while; by the time I turned around to locate the sound of hoofbeats, my breath was frosting in the air.

The oboe music had stopped. It had probably ended a while ago, maybe while I was staring up, maybe earlier. I can’t pinpoint it. I just know that in the cold air, all I could hear was hoofbeats. It sounded like so many of them, but by the time I could see any animal, I found that it was only one.

And it was Sleipnir, its pale gray coat gleaming, its mane and tail long and flowing. It stopped beside me, and it radiated such warmth that I couldn’t help but hold onto its neck for a moment.

Then I heard something in the distance. Something breaking. Sleipnir, so calm and welcoming before, became agitated. Then we heard glass shattering. The earth seemed to shake with the approach of something terrible. Sleipnir knelt down so that I could climb onto its back– somehow I had the sense deep inside myself that this was what it needed me to do– and I clung onto its mane. It whinnied as it rose back up.

We took off at a run as soon as something else crashed, wood splintering somewhere far off. I didn’t want to know what it was. I’m not sure whether Sleipnir knew what it was, or if the sounds alone were enough to upset it. All the mattered was that it was carrying me away. Away from the noise and the shaking and the haze and the terrible, terrible cold.

We passed through an iron gate, out of the greenhouse and onto rolling hills. We were bathed in the light of moons and stars and auroras. I was grateful that we avoided the dark, thorny forest I noticed in the distance. We stayed on the path, out in the open, far from shadows and cold. The only music was that of nature. There was still no owl.

I don’t know how much time passed, but we eventually came to a wide, tall hill. Atop it was a single tree, ancient and immense, branching out countless times. Sleipnir stopped at the base of the tree and knelt again so that I could descend. The ground was soft and somehow warm. I noticed then that the tree was encircled by mushrooms. I looked up at Sleipnir, who seemed content to munch the grass and clover nearby.

I heard rustling near one of the roots. I looked over and could only catch a momentary glimpse at what had made the sound. I want to say that it was a gnome, its tiny hat just barely visible, but… well, who was I to doubt anything anymore? There was a stack of blankets there, and I was as grateful for them as I was exhausted.

My fingers brushed over the wool. It was warm, and it smelled fresh and clean. there was also a large fur that I could spread out and lie down on. I wanted to sleep. I needed to, really. Right there, under the stars, at the base of this tree. I would be safe here; that much I was certain of.

“Thank you for getting me this far,” I told Sleipnir as I curled up and pulled the blankets over myself.

The eight-legged horse made a sort of snuffling sound, and I fell asleep knowing that it would take me much further, and that it would always look after me.


A playful harpsichord song for you to enjoy:

About Legends of Lorata

Eleanor Willow is the author of the high fantasy series Legends of Lorata, which takes place on a medieval-style world filled with elves, dragons, and faeries. There is also a fourth race, one that is rare and magical: the angelic Starr. Lorata is a planet where four gods are known: good, evil, elemental and celestial-- and there are plenty of legends about them all! One of the most important ones is the prophecy of Jenh's champion, Loracaz, who is promised to return to the land whenever evil threatens to take hold. There are currently three books completed, and the first one can be read online. Book four is currently being written, and a fifth will most likely be in the future. Any news I have on about publishing will be shared as it comes in!
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