Tajik: Хонаи суруди хафтум – Xonai surudi xaftum
We arrived in a village large enough to actually have an inn well after sunset. I would have been fine with camping out, but Tobias had said something to Brom and Jean-Marc that convinced them to rest in proper beds. I had a feeling I knew why after they paid for the rooms and and gave out room assignments.
“Why are you giving Killian and Larsa their own room when the rest of us are bunking four or five to a room?”
“It shouldn’t be that hard to understand,” Aubré told me, “even for you.”
“Because they’re a couple?! Do we really have to cater to them? Those two would spend all day in bed together if they could.”
“And why shouldn’t they?” Aubré retorted. “They’re in love, and if you understood the importance of it, you’d be bedding the woman you love just as often.”
“Excuse me?!” I snapped. “What the fuck do you think you’re talking about?”
The elf shrugged. “Keep denying it, and you’re going to lose her to someone else.”
“Who the hell–“
“I’m not blind, Stefan!” Aubré shouted. “And none of us are so stupid as to believe that you’re not madly in love with the woman you just killed — what was it? Six? Seven werewolves? — and almost a vampire for.”
“You’re fucking insane,” I growled.
“Heh, at least I have that. You’re not even fu–“
Nikolai shut him up by patting him on the back. “Take it easy on him, Aubré,” he said in a gravely, almost fatherly tone. “You know it’s hard to admit stuff like that when it could mean losing a friendship.”
Then he turned to me. “Come on, Stefan, let’s go practice with those axes.” Nikolai took my arm and led me outside.
“There’s nothing to admit,” I muttered as I walked with him to a field beyond the stables.
“I didn’t bring you out here to argue,” he told me. “I just want to blow off some steam.”
We practiced with the throwing axes for quite a while, until my aim got even better, and I felt more focused, and less angry. By the end of it, I went from annoyed at Nikolai to thankful that he’d pulled me out of the argument with Aubré and given me a better way to channel my energy. I was still irritated that they thought they had any right to say anything about my friendship with Leila, but I wasn’t going to bring it up again.
Once I felt better, Nikolai walked with me to the tavern so that we could get something to eat. Everyone else was nearly done, and Killian and Larsa looked more interested in devouring one another than their dinner. Aubré wouldn’t talk to me, but Tobias said that the more we let them be together romantically, the better it was for Larsa’s Magic. I thought that seemed pretty stupid, but Tobias just asked that I let them be, and to trust in them. This was a different world, and love and magic were just as intertwined as music and magic were.
After dinner, I went back to the inn and laid down on the bedroll Evander had laid out for me. It seemed to take forever to get to sleep. Larsa was in the room next to the one I shared with some of the men, and he tended to get loud when he was excited. I had no way to let out my own frustrations, and even the mead I’d drunk wasn’t helping me doze off. I was considering going over there to yell at them when they finally finished.
My dream that night didn’t make any sense. I showered in a waterfall high up in a mountain, somewhere isolated and forested. When I went back ‘home,’ it was a stone tower on a mountain peak. The place was old and dusty, and I didn’t believe that my dream self was stationed there in any official capacity. There was a fireplace in the main room, and I stoked the fire before heading upstairs to pick out some clothes; apparently I was so alone up there that I walked to and from the waterfall with only a towel and simple shoes.
The bedroom was just as run down as the rest of the tower. The bed was worn and unmade, and the wood was probably cracked here and there. The table and chair looked ancient, too. Really, the only thing not worn-out in the tower was a tall mirror in an ornate frame. It was clean and polished to a high shine, reflecting everything clearly and perfectly. Once I was dressed, I sat in front of it to brush my hair.
My clothing looked… medieval? Viking? I couldn’t be sure; it might have been post-Renaissance for all I knew. But the pale linen shirt and brown leather pants certainly weren’t modern. They were soft and well-worn, but not quite thread-bare. Better off than the tower, but not as treasured as the mirror; I didn’t even know if that signified anything.
After a while of smoothing out my golden lock with an old comb, the room darkened, and my image in the mirror faded. Then, like a figure stepping out of the shadows, a woman appeared. She was dressed in a green velvet gown, and her hair floated around her head in copper ringlets. She placed her pale palm on the glass and looked at me through emerald eyes that looked as though they’d seen weeks of sorrow. She was worried– or maybe scared– but I didn’t know how to help her. I got up and placed my hand on the glass, too, whishing that we weren’t separated by it, that it wasn’t only magic allowing me to see her. She had to look up to meet my eyes then.
Her lips moved, but I couldn’t hear anything. I sighed and started to turn away, but that only upset her. She looked ready to cry as her fit pounded on the glass. What was I supposed to do, though? I couldn’t break through the glass to get to her. I hate to admit it, but my dream self walked away from the mirror. I tied my hair back, pulled on socks and then boots, and then headed out of the room. The last thing I saw in the mirror was a crimson stain and a spider-web of cracks, Other than that, it was completely dark.
I woke to Larsa shaking my shoulders. Killian was next to him trying to tell him to calm down, but Larsa didn’t listen to him. I groaned and shoved his hand off of me, then rolled over and pulled the blanket over my head. The curtains were open and daylight was streaming in through the window.
“No,” I complained in Swedish. “No, you don’t get to keep me up late and then wake me up early.”
“It’s not early!” Larsa replied, also in Swedish. He was acting like an excited puppy, and I wasn’t interested in it. “Evander said to let you sleep in, and we did, but the innkeeper says it’s time to go if you don’t wanna pay for another day.”
Had someone given him coffee? Did Tierney Ríocht even have coffee? He was way too energetic, and was talking way too fast. I decided that I was going to camp out the next night even if the village we ended up in had an inn. I needed to be able to sleep.
“Get up, get up!” he urged. “Brom was going to toss you in one of the wagons, but Sleipnir won’t let anyone ride him besides you and Leila, and we don’t want him to wander off.”
“He could wander off any damn time he wanted,” I groaned. “If he didn’t take off in the middle of the night, why do you think he wouldn’t follow our caravan?”
Larsa shrugged. “I dunno. Just get up, okay? You gotta eat breakfast so we can get going and make it to where we need to be tonight.”
“Let’s make it a little easier on him, lad,” Killian said. The light dimmed a little, and I peeked out from under the blanket to see that he’d closed the curtains.
I turned to look up at Larsa. “What is that thing you’re wearing?”
He looked down at the new pendant he had dangling from a thick leather cord. It was a blue shell, something like what a nautilus might have, but I couldn’t tell whether it was real or clay. “Isn’t it pretty?” he asked, holding it out so I could see it better. “Tobias and Aubré took us to the market while you were sleeping. We traded some of the silver-pears for this and some coins. Those things are so valuable! Oh, but we kept a couple of them. Want one?”
“Wait… slow down. You bought a necklace using pears?”
“The special ones!” Larsa practically shouted. He nudged my shoulder. “Come on, wake up, pay attention.”
I looked up at Killian. “What is going on?”
“Did ye forget about those rare pears we found yesterday?”
“I… No, I just…” I shook my head. “I just had some weird dreams last night.”
“All right,” Killian replied. “Well, they’re really rare around these parts, and they’re just shy of bein’ magic so they’re really valuable. That pendant Larsa traded for is actually magical.”
“I can breathe underwater!” Larsa announced before I even had a chance to ask. “I mean, I can’t breathe water, but it’s like having a big bubble around me.”
“Hey, woah, you’re just going to believe some random shopkeeper?”
“Nae Stefan, it’s real. Tobias could tell it was magic before we made the trade, and Larsa’s already tested it out. It’s a handy pendant tae have.”
I narrowed my eyes at Larsa. “You had time to have breakfast, go to the market, and go for a swim?” He didn’t even look wet anymore.
Larsa nodded excitedly. “It’s so cool!”
Evander appeared in the doorway then. “Good morning, Stefan. I see Larsa was able to rouse you.”
“Yeah, Evander couldn’t budge you at all,” Larsa added.
I sighed and go up from the bedroll. “Do we have many more nights to go?” I asked the faun. “I can’t sleep if these two are in the next room, free to do whatever they want.”
I noticed Killian’s cheeks flush and he realized what I was referring to. He flashed Larsa a dissatisfied look, but Larsa only grinned proudly and held his hand.
“If we make good time today,” Evander told me, “we should be able to get to Rosenthal Village tonight.”
I nodded. “Okay… and how far is our destination from there?”
“Not far at all,” he replied. “Rosenthal Village is the last one before the gates that bar the way to the vampire lord’s castle. If we can make it there tonight, we can send an envoy to request his hospitality.”
“R-request? And there’s gates?” I was having a hard time processing all of this. “Is he likely to just let us invite ourselves over like that?”
“He may,” Evander replied. “He’ll likely need your assurance that you won’t harm anyone in his castle, and that you’ll respect his home, but it’s not as though he’d refuse us without any thought.”
“And that’s where Leila is now?”
Evander nodded. “I doubt that Erik and the others stopped as often as we have. Xanthus can be out in the daylight, meaning that he can drive the carriage while the vampires sleep. The werewolves, too, need not avoid the day. In all likelihood, Miss Moss is in the castle, already enjoying the vampire lord’s hospitality.”