By morning, the skies had cleared, and the sounds of nature cautiously stepped out from the post-storm lull. There was a chill in the air as I made my way from the sleeping chamber to my reception room. Cassinda slept on, warmed by the hearth that contained warm embers glowing slightly. She lay so still and the only signs of life was the soft snoring of her slumber. I could not help but smile at the image of innocence it presented, a rather striking opposite to the distressed and tattered memories of the night before.
I retired to prepare some herbal brews for us both, reviewing the events of the previous night in my mind. Cassinda had been declared missing for several months. No-one had any idea where she had gone, nor why. Her mother had been very distressed and had visited me for my advice on a number of occasions. I had heard a lot about the bright and popular young lady whom now slept silent in the next room, all from a loving mother’s perspective.
A crack from the fireplace paused me in my thoughts, and I heard the subtle moan and shuffling of disturbed sleep. The water bubbled for my attention which I then poured into the mugs I had ready. All the while I could hear Cassinda rising from her slumber.
We exchanged morning pleasantries and then she sat there in silence while I rekindled the fire with fresh wood. Soon warmth flooded the room and I sat quietly at the visitation bench nearby. The waking sounds of birds and the cracking fire were the only sounds for a long time.
Once Cassinda had finished her brew, she quietly rose as like a star-seed on a puff of air. Without looking up, she almost floated across the room to the stool on the other side of the bench. Yet for all the lightness to her step, a cloud hung heavy over her head, which rested down upon her chest. She placed the empty mug on the bench, her hand shaped as a claw lightly gripping the lip. She let her fingers trace the top of the mug, her eyes watching her hand as if it were a distant thing.
“Thank you. For letting me stay.” Her voice was soft and pained. She continued to watch her hand distantly.
“No thanks is needed. You were in need. It was the right thing to do.”
She shuddered with that. Her fingers ceased their wandering dance of the mug. She looked away and I saw a tear drip into her lap.
“What is the right thing to do?” It sounded more as if she were asking herself than me.
“A question that requires context. Maybe I could help if you would tell me what has happened to bring you here.”
She said nothing. The crackling fire popped yet she didn’t move or flinch. With her hair falling, I could not see her face, yet I could tell she silently wept as another tear fell into her lap.
“Does you mother know where you are? She was very…”
Cassinda looked at me sharply with a troubled expression.
“You can’t tell her. She can’t know I’m here. She would only make things worse, and I’m in plenty of trouble as it is.”
“Then I need to know more about what is going on. Why did you come here?”
As Cassinda looked at me, I could see the conflict she had. She wanted desperately to say something yet found it difficult to actually say anything.
“I… can’t… speak the words. He would know.” Her expression then changed and she leaned a little closer. “But you can walk my dreams.”
I sat looking into her pleading eyes. What the villagers called my Dream Walking was the talent of my kind and a rare talent at that. It was not something done on a whim, nor a slight-of-hand trick of a trickster in the markets. It had implications for both the dreamer and the walker, yet had the power to help so many. I took a long look at Cassinda and her tear streaked face, the clear conflict and fears welling in her eyes. Maybe this was the right thing to do.
“I cannot promise it will be comfortable. It may cause you distress and bad dreams for nights to come.” I tried my best to appear stern, hoping to hide the concern I felt for her.
“But he won’t know. He won’t hear. He can’t see dreams. I… can’t speak the words, but I can hear them in my head. You will see when you see my mind.” She reached for my hands, gripping tightly. “Please. I may not be able to do even that soon enough.” I could see that she was convinced of her words, and she was afraid. Genuinely afraid.
“Come with me then.”
I led her to the room I reserved for the more specialised aspects of my services and got her to lay on the cot while I prepared the other essential items. Once she was comfortable, I asked her to inhale the fragrance from a collection of crushed herbs and flowers. The effects were to relax her mind until she rested peacefully in a sleep-like way, releasing tension from the body and the mind. Once I was sure she was fully settled, then I retrieved the most important item for a Dream Walker. A focus crystal. This I placed in a dish not unlike that used to burn scented oils by the villagers, and lit a small candle underneath. I let it warm the crystal on a bench near Cassinda and carefully lifted her nearest hand until it rested next to it. I then sat and held Cassinda’s hand in mine.
Soon the crystal began to glow and a fragrance could be smelt. Using my free hand I wafted this over Cassinda and myself. The fragrance connected us. It was not unpleasant yet tingled slightly. As the crystal glowed more, and I could feel its subtle warmth on my face, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply letting its effect take me.
“Cassinda, I need you to listen to my voice.”I spoke aloud knowing she would hear my voice and respond. I started by helping her to visualise a safe place that she was familiar with and happy to be. She chose an open green meadow not far from the village itself, and filled it flowers of spring. Then it was time to see what she wanted to say.
“I need you to focus on what you wanted to tell me now.” I began to hear the voices in her mind. “Why did you come here? What is you want me to see?” The voices began to thin until I could hear but a few, one above the others but indecipherable.
A vision came into my mind of a man. Tall. Handsome. Enigmatic. He had a brilliant smile of unusually perfect teeth. His hair was sculpted immaculately. Most significantly he carried a silver pipe, and when he pressed one end to his lips, he could play the most angelic music with his dancing fingers down it’s shaft.
This image was wrong. Too perfect and unreal. It is often the way that the memories are a poor reflection of reality. They are warped by impressions and emotions. This was clearly how Cassinda viewed this man.
Then the image changed. His face shifted to something terrible. Angry. Eyes like fire. Teeth sharp and pointed. He was shouting. Words about betrayal and consequences. I heard Cassinda whimper.
“It’s alright Cassinda. He cannot hurt you here. Come back to the meadow.” Her breathing eased and the meadow was there before me.
“Good Cassinda. Very good. Now let’s start from the beginning. When did you met this man?” And so it was I crossed the point of no return.