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The Princess

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So it begins.

January 3rd, 2014. It is 5 am, the day having not yet begun. I sit to write. I am cold; the room is cold, unheated. Mari sleeps near the kotatsu, under blankets, her dark wavy hair sprawled over the pillow. We still haven't found my wallet. I wonder if it's possible I left it outside the house. Ah, but oh well, this too can be replaced...

Now, where is the tale? What will they say? I wrapped my feet in a blanket. Behind me, on the piano, my son's plush toy cats wait for him to wake up. Shall the tale be for him? Perhaps. Perhaps another one, later. I hear movement in the house. Someone might have gone to the bathroom. Where is the tale? Where are we? What have we done? What evil has befallen the people?

There, like the shadow of a dream, it begins. It takes form, wild, like the pulsing of a heart, or the swift passing of a cold fish in cold murky water. It grows, formless, void, yet there, like an emptiness of thought, like an irrational core. One may, of course, fear it, and one should; I cherish it and welcome it, for it brings me my muse. She hides, inside, unseen, until such time as I summon her. She is a multitude, and she is not always nice, but she always brings fantastic tales. I sense her below the glass of consciousness, below the floor of understanding. I know not what she will reveal, but I do not fear her, for she is me; she is part of me. I know not what secret stairway she climbs to reach the pen, to direct the thought. My guards let her pass, as though with a wave of her hand she could still their drawn swords, as though with the stare of her eyes she could grant herself right of passage. Now she is here, in the antechamber, waiting at last for me to open my last door. In eager anticipation I reach for the handle, turn, and peek. Surrounded by black hair and burly fabric, her snow-white skin, red lips, and brown eyes smile at me. I open the door wider. She steps in, dropping her shawl in my waiting hand. She turns, holds my face, kisses me, then returns to the room, walking effortlessly to the center. Now she stands and looks about, at all that is disorganized, at all that is strewn about. She walks to the desk, standing near the chair. She looks back at me. Inscrutable, her eyes nevertheless radiate understanding. Her shape, invitingly, shifts from resting on one foot, to the other, and she leans her thigh on the heavy wood of the desk. Like a beggar, I slowly advance, then sit, quite uncomfortably, on the chair. Her long hair, so black, so straight, fall near my shoulder as she leans into me and whispers: "Take the pen, take the paper."

Like an automaton, I reach into the drawers, and slowly separate a sheet from the stack. Her delicate hand, slender and warm, rests on my shoulder as I fumble for a pen. It is still dark, in the early morning, and no soul stirs outside, as they either lay asleep in their beds, or go about the menial tasks of civilization.

She kisses my ear, cuddling me in her warm embrace, and begins to push my hand, the hand holding the pen, across the virgin page.

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a beautiful princess who had a dark secret. Each night, at the stroke of midnight, she would have the very same dream. It is not fair to say it was the same, rather, it was a long dream, one that continued night after night. The princess began to have these dreams when she was thirteen. Now in her twentieth year, and with her wedding fast approaching, she began to notice that her dreams became more violent, more bloody, more hopeless. She often, lately, woke up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, her mind suddenly awake and aware of every nuance in the bedroom. Her chambermaid, who slept in the next room, was used to her dreaming, and stirred not.

But this night, the princess did not return to sleep. No. Instead, she stood up and with as little sound as possible, dressed simply and slipped out into the castle. She heard some laughter, but avoided it. She crept past darkened, silent doors. She slithered down marble staircases, and at last, unbidden, she entered a random door. A bed, a chest, chairs and tables. On the bed, the shape of a cat. She approached. The cat stirred, then lept off. Unaware, she crept into the bed, finding it rough. She stilled her mind, under the heavy blankets, and slowly began her slow descent to sleep.

She was not there yet when the door opened and a soldier entered. He took off his arms, laid them on the chest, then, weary, entered the bed. She had watched, wordless, his approach; sleepy-eyed, dulled, yet not asleep. He lifted the blanket before sliding his body under and gasped: "Oh, what is this? A wench, in my bed!" And he swiftly entered the bed and wrapped the heavy blankets around them. She had stayed silent up to that point, but as his hands raced across her form, rushing below the covers, she yelped in suprise. His mouth met hers, and kissed her feverishly. His body moved over her and her muffled protests fell silent, and she yielded herself to the stranger's touch. He entered her, as a man enters a woman, but he recoiled, horrified: "You are a virgin!" he stammered. "Who are you?"

He lifted a candle, lit it, then brought the flame closer. She blinked against the light. His hand covered his mouth as he said: "The Princess!"

She saw his face. The same face that moments before was crushing hers with passionate lips now stared at her with horror. She lost all color and her body fell silent. She wrapped her nakedness in the blanket, then dressed, her eyes never leaving his. She stood, stepped briskly to the door, turned to the soldier, held her hand at her breast and whispered hoarsely: "The Princess is a woman."

She returned, unseen, to her room, leaving the soldier be. Her chambermaid was up, frantically pacing the bedroom. When the princess entered, she rushed to her, anguish in her face. She was about to ask her where she had been, but one look of her face told her more than enough. "Ohhh, Your Majesty! What devilry is this?"

The princess smiled sweetly, then eagerly: "It was, oh! It was heavenly!"

The chambermaid stood very still, holding the princess's hands, and whispered: "Tell me everything."

The princess looked into the chambermaid's eyes and replied: "On one condition: the night is chill. Come into my bed."

And so the chambermaid entered the bed of the princess, and the princess told her everything, and the chambermaid was relieved that the princess was still a virgin, and they too kissed feverishly and the princess discovered pleasures and words and motions that night that dramatically altered the content of her dreams.

At first, fearing for his life, the soldier lived in anguish. As days, weeks, then months passed, he realized his act had been harmless, and he began to live with the joy of having held a princess in his arms, a princess who kissed back most deliciously.

A full year after his encounter with the princess, a war flared up to the North, near the sea, where another kingdom was embroiled against pirates and requested help. Volunteers were being collected, and he chose to go. A parade was held to honor these brave men, and the king, the queen, and the princess attended. As the marching troops went by, the king noticed that his daughter sought out a soldier in the crowd, and he made a note of this.

The king had known about his daughter's uneasy sleep, having questioned the chambermaid over the years. He also knew that word had spread among the nearby kingdoms, who, like him, maintained spies everywhere. Now that the princess's first marriage proposal had fallen through, sadly because the would-be groom had injured himself most gorily during a hunting accident, it seemed to others that the princess perhaps no longer was a prime candidate for marriage, as she obviously carried a curse. The princess herself, having heeded the advice of her chambermaid, had refrained from further nightly explorations, and being relieved that no pregnancy had occured, had constrained herself to nightly games with her chambermaids and other such court ladies.

Upon the return of the volunteer force, the king, now past his fighting prime, enquired of his spies of the conduct and demeanor of the soldier. It seemed, they reported, that he had distinguished himself, having earned the respect of his commander, as well as medals of valor from the harried king, who, upon discovering the pirate threat finally vanquished, had heaped honors and rewards upon the volunteer force, as well as proclaimed throughout his kingdom that they were safe because of the friendship and valor of King Francis and his brave officers.

This gladdened the old king, and he held a banquet in their honor. The queen, ever so graceful, organized a great feast where each soldier would be personally attended to, and every food and drink and merriment would be served until every guest was thoroughly replete.

On the day of the feast, very early in the morning, before the rooster call, before the changing of the night guards, even, the princess had another dream. This time, however, it was of such violence, gore, and dread, that even in the warm embrace of two young and eager ladies she was unable to lift the veil of horror that had fallen on her, and despite their practiced ministrations, she remained gripped by the thought that perhaps she was truly cursed, ultimately dismissing her two helpers, to their puzzlement and great disappointment.

At two that afternoon, in the castle's great hall, the commander of the volunteer force appeared in full formal uniform of beige and brown with golden trim. His chest, heavy with medals, was lifted high as he strode confidently, followed by the men under his command, up to the great chair where the king was sitting. The commander bowed low, a few feet from the king, and said: "Your Majesty, we have returned from war, victorious!"

The king stood, casting a smaller shadow than the commander, but his voice still carried.

"Welcome warriors!" He began, raising both arms, extending them toward the soldiers. "It brings joy to my heart to see you again! You have covered yourselves with glory in battle! Please sit, dine and feast with us!"

The commander raised his arm and shouted "Long live the King!" His men, in unison, along with the rest of the hall, echoed: "Long live the King!"

The queen then spoke: "Please, take your seats, we will serve you!"

The men sat down at tables. They were perhaps three hundred, and the king's kitchens and suppliers had been very busy. The wine flowed, the meats and fruits and varied dishes buried the tables. The queen herself went along, serving food and wine to the men.

The king sat next to the commander and asked about the soldier, pointing him out in the hall.

"Ah, Magnus Jarlen," the commander smiled. "A very capable man!"

The king looked on at the commander, smiling. The commander continued. "He is a squad leader. He leads his men well. They follow him into danger. He is careful and prepares well, not taking reckless risks."

"What deeds has he accomplished?" The king enquired.

The commander drew back, and upon thought, commented: "When we arrived, the army of King Jerrod was in disarray. They had just been driven back from the port city of Gar, a very important supply route that had fallen to the pirates. Magnus and his men had gone ahead, and they met up with the king's third regiment. They were withdrawing, carrying their wounded away from Gar. Magnus convinced their commander to give him ten archers, and along with his own ten swordmen, they protected the regiment's withdrawal from a pursuit by a large pirate force. Three days later, the pirates gave up the pursuit, Magnus had not lost a single man, and the regiment was able to reach the fortified city of Krunn."

"I remember Krunn," the king said. "I traveled there when I was a child. Lovely city."

The commander smiled, then continued: "The commander of the third regiment later told me that Magnus had broken the pirate's advance, and likely saved the lives of his thousand men."

"Wonderful!" The king exclaimed.

"Later, when King Jerrod heard of this, he sought to meet Magnus to thank him in person. Magnus respecfully declined, sending a letter of refusal to the king that pleased the king most, for Magnus explained that he could no so quickly leave the fight, while the enemy regrouped."

"Then we sent a third of our men to scout Gar, Magnus among them. They harrassed the pirates, sinking one of their ships at harbor one night and capturing a high-ranking captain. Magnus himself broke into their treasure house and captured a cartful of gold, which was used to re-equip the third regiment."

"Such a great soldier!" The king exclaimed. "Have you rewarded him appropriately?"

The commander continued: "There is more to this tale, Sire." A slight frown appeared on his face. "One of my men, having been mortally wounded, and being of the sort that needs a clear conscience before entering the afterlife, confessed to me that Magnus had, perchance in the castle, and with all due respect, Your Majesty, spent some time alone in his room, at night, with, hum..."

"Well, speak plainly," the king said.

"With the princess, Sire." The commander hung his head.

The king placed his hand on the commander's and asked: "Who else knows of this?"

The commander looked up: "My lord, I swear, no other knows."

The king patted his hand warmly. "Then do not fret, old friend, I will take care of this matter." The commander looked relieved.

"Tell me more about this Magnus."

"Well, Sire, after this, the pirates were disorganized. They seemed to never regain their war footing. It was not long before they were all captured or killed. Magnus was once more asked to go before King Jerrod, so he went, with his squad, because I gave them leave to go. The king, most graciously, gave each of them one hundred gold coins, and medals. Also, Your Majesty, King Jerrod granted him an estate, near Gar, with four hundred serfs. The estate is near the shore and produces oysters, mussels, and fish. It also contains a shipyard and docks. It is already well administered by an able manager, so Magnus doesn't need to be there."

"That was a very generous gift."

"Well, Your Majesty, Magnus said he had to ask your permission before accepting the king's reward."

"Indeed?" The king said, straightening. "One last question, Commander. Would he make an able military leader?"

The commander too straightened. "Yes Sire. He is most qualified." After a moment of silence, the commander added: "Perhaps I think I would like to serve under him, if I were but a few years younger."

The king rose, and the commander too rose. The king bowed slightly, then said: "Commander, you may rejoin the feast. I've kept you talking too long. There won't be any wine left!"

The commander bowed, lower, longer. Placing his hand over his heart, and taking a step back he said: "Thank you Your Majesty," before turning away.

The king sent for his daughter. The princess seemed to be in a foul mood, but she followed decorum well enough to come promptly and curtsy.

"Sit by me, my daughter." A cloud covered her face as she sat, yet holding her head straight, facing her father.

He patted her knee and asked: "A nightmare haunts your dreams still, my sweet?" He knew the answer before she spoke, as fear splashed in her eyes. She is so beautiful, he thought, such a prize for any man; but her fear, this curse that haunts her nights, makes the joy of childhood flee and the worry of old age appear all too often. She will be old too soon!

"Father, smile!" She chided him, "the court expects happiness today." And she stretched her lips upward to reveal her teeth in a dazzling smile. But the king saw her eyes were not smiling.

"You're right, dear daughter." He put a smile on his face as well. Almost as an afterthought, he said: "The men fought well, especially that one over there. Why don't you go pour him some wine and ask him to join us?"

She followed his finger to see the man whose room she had been in, that night so long ago. Her face immediately lost her color, and she faltered. Then the king knew this man was the man whom the chambermaid had spoken of.

"Come, daughter, go serve him wine and bid him come speak with me." The king said, smiling yet stern.

The princess rose without a word. Slowly she approached the man's table. Without a word still, she poured wine, filling his cup ever slowly while the admirative stares of the men at the table beheld the princess serving wine to their leader. He, however, bore a different look, one she could barely stand, for it was equally intense in his desire and fearful of their secret's discovery. When she had filled the cup and brought the wine bottle back to her bosom, she stood very straight, and without apparent emotion save a slight trembling of her voice, she said simply: "The King invites you to his table."

The men looked at the squad leader incredulously. "The King's table?" one exclaimed. Another added: "Invited by the Princess!" A third: "Such honor!"

But as he rose, he remembered the night long ago, and began to wonder whether a trap had been set for him at the large table. Followed by the princess, he made his way to the table, where the king rose and greeted him with open arms.

"Magnus Jarlen! Hero of Gar! Savior of the Third Regiment! Plunderer of pirate treasure! Come! Come sit by me!"

Thus bidden, Magnus had no choice but to sit next to the king. The princess stood behind him, holding in each hand the wood on each side of the chair. She was livid. Her nightmare was unfolding before her very eyes. The man in the chair would, in short order, be taken outside under guard, and beheaded in front of her, his blood splashing in all directions in great jets as his body convulsed. Screaming, she would too feel the executioner's blade sever her own head, and as in the dream, she would see the earth and sky spin in a rain of blood and settle, eyes open in death, at the base of her father's leg. She held on to the chair as her pulse quickened and her blood ran cold, fear gripping her body.

But the king began to speak gently, and while her body sensed and replayed the dreadful nightmare, the gentle voice of her father began reaching her, even in the depth of despair.

"I have deemed it fitting, Lord Jarlen, that to strengthen the bonds between our kingdoms, that you should accept King Jerrod's offer and receive this estate as reward for your service to him. As I cannot simply have a squad leader be a lord in another kindgom, you are promoted to Commander of the Verianne fortress, and appointed Earl of Salerne, in which the fortress lies. This way, should King Jerrod's lands, including your own lands, fear attack from pirates, you shall be able to come to their aid swiftly, by land and by sea."

The king paused, amused by the incredulous look on Magnus's face, by the now gaping mouth.

"Furthermore, as you are now an earl in my kingdom, I would not have your lack of noble blood cause other lords to think you without power, or without the king's favor. You shall ask for my daughter's hand in marriage and I shall grant it."

Magnus was dumbfounded. He found no word to say. The princess, too, stared at her father, thinking that she must be in another dream, and remained thus until at last the king stood and announced: "I need some fresh air. I shall go for a walk." And he with that he left the room, followed by a couple of guards.

Magnus finally turned around and saw the princess had not moved. She was still trying to understand what had just happened. He looked up at her face, looking straight into her eyes.

"I would be a fool to refuse, for you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and surely I could give you what you want..."

She had never dreamed of this. She stared down at his face. He was a bit older than she remembered, and he seemed stronger, more sure of himself, yet also more worried. She knew so little of him, only that her body desired above all else to resume the night, long ago now, that still haunted her dreams. She held his gaze, and did not avert her eyes.

"I have to ask your father a question, my Lady."

"Please, lord, call me Matilde, for I am to be your wife, your lover, the mother of your heir." She bore no smile, but her voice was warm.

His eyes pierced hers, searching. "Matilde, only if it pleases you. I cannot ask you to give what you would not give freely."

He stood, turned to her, then held her hands in his. Of course, all eyes turned to him and the room fell silent, eight hundred ears stretching to hear.

She held his gaze, but said nothing. She did not withdraw her hands.

"Princess Matilde, " he began, "if you will have me as your husband, I swear to cherish you, protect you, take care of you, and give you whatsoever is in my power to give, as long as I shall draw breath."

She held his gaze, and the entire room held its collective breath. For many long moments she stayed silent, so that none could presume to know which answer she would yield.

"If you will have me," she began, to shocked gasps from the crowd, "as your wife, I promise to cherish you, give you an heir, love you every day of my life, and give you what you desire, as much as I am able."

As the king walked back in the hall, he saw them embracing, to great applause. When Magnus saw him, he quickly stepped up to him, bowed, then stiffened straight up. "Your majesty, I formally ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."

The king looked around. Everyone, even the queen, was beaming with glee. He looked back at Magnus and said: "It seems a bit late for that, Magnus Jarlen, Earl of Salerne, for it seems you have already taken it!"

Magnus bowed lower still. "My apologies, Your Majesty, the day's event rush past me like the whirlwind..."

The king raised his hand to stop him. "It was but a formality, as you already knew my mind on the matter." Then he turned to the assembled guests: "Let it be known throughout all the lands, that Magnus Jarlen, Earl of Salerne, has married my daughter Matilde, and, as of today, she shall live at his house!"

The queen, a cup of wine in each hand, offered one to her husband. She whispered: "A toast to their union, my Lord?"

The king smiled sweetly to his queen, then, turning again toward the guests, raised his hand holding the cup and said: "A toast! A toast for the volunteers! A toast for Magnus! A toast for King Jerrod! A toast for the Princess! And a toast," he turned to the commander of the volunteer force, "to my good friend the Duke of Treime, your commander!"

The people drank. Other toasts were offered and drunken to, and Matilde did not leave Magnus' side even once for the rest of the evening. His men, overjoyed, congratulated her husband with cheer and kind words, the sort soldiers know: "You lucky bastard!", "You looted the big prize now!", and "You'll sleep in fine linen tonight!" She felt an undercurrent of envy and tinge of jealousy in their words, but she did not take offense, for she, too, in their place, might feel likewise.

At last it came time for the evening to end. The guests departed, and Magnus and Matilde prepared to leave. Servants brought her heavy coat, and two chambermaids came, bearing large bags.

The queen took her daughter aside for a moment. She gave her a purse heavy with coin. "For household expenses. Hire only the best, and none prettier than you."

"Thank you mother," Matilde said.

"The King and I despaired of finding you a husband. We waited, always hopeful, but the choices were either dour old men or irresponsible young princes."

The queen held her daughter in a tight hug, then whispered: "But on your own you found a strong man, a young man, that you can love with all your heart!"

"Mother!" Matilde whispered back.

"We are so very proud of you, your father and I."

Almost, Matilde felt tears welling up.

"Now go, and be with the man you love."

And the queen's charming smile drove back the tears, and Matilde too broke into a smile, the happiest smile she had ever smiled, and her face radiated with joy, to the dazzlement of everyone who saw her, including Magnus. He, too, smiled broadly, eyes sparkling with happiness, finally taking in his incredibly good fortune. He reached under her knees, lifted her up, holding her in his arms, then, smiling, under cheers and applause, carried her out of the hall, out past the guard house, and out of the castle gates.

With them marched Magnus' squad, promptly reformed as an honor guard, and the two youngest chambermaids.

Matilde held on, her right arm over Magnus' shoulders behind his head, her left hand crossed over to hold his neck, and her face pointed toward his, alternatively smiling at him and kissing his lips.

One of his men came to him. "Magnus, perhaps our quarters aren't the best place for you both to spend the night. My uncle runs an inn not far from here, the Purple Violin."

Magnus replied: "You can get us a room at the Purple Violin? That place is always booked!"

The man laughed: "Magnus, I think you'll find you will have no difficulty getting rooms or tables in the future."

Magnus laughed back: "Lead the way then!"

Two of the soldiers offered to carry the heavy bags for the chambermaids, who readily agreed, smiling.

When they arrived at the inn, the man went to see his uncle. Magically, the largest suite opened up. An opulent merchant came forward, his purple and gold suit hanging over his heavy frame. "Earl of Salerne? My Lord, I am Angen Bart, owner of Bart's Manufacture. It is with pleasure I yield my suite to you and your lovely bride."

Magnus recognized Bart Manufacturing. They supplied gunpowder and other military supplies to the king's garrisons. "We don't mean to inconvenience you, Angen. We will find somewhere else to spend the night."

Angen protested: "Nonsense, my Lord! I will go to my sister's house. You stay here!"

Magnus agreed. "You are most gracious, Angen. Perhaps you could visit me once my office is set up in Verianne."

Angen smiled broadly and bowed aside. "That, I will, my Lord. Thank you kindly." And with that he was gone.

The two chambermaids hurriedly went up to their suite to prepare the room, while Magnus and Matilde said goodnight to his men. Paulus and Frenck decided to stay, both because they could guard the door, and could, perchance, distract the chambermaids.

Then, they had dinner in the main hall, and the inn's staff outdid themselves. The drink and fare were varied and excellent, and the princess felt the effect of the wine, and danced with Magnus, and laughed and talked and ate with many men and women. She felt so happy that her countrymen were cheery and good-natured, for she had been mostly confined at the castle except for special events. Now, at last, she felt free, and her uneasiness was gone, replaced by joy and contentment.

Finally near midnight, Magnus brought her up to their suite. He dismissed the giggling chambermaids, who rejoined the fun in the main hall.

Closing the door behind them, Magnus took Matilde in his arms and kissed her. Quite suddenly, forcefully, her mind spun, her skin burned, her senses flared like the light of a thousand suns. Gone was the gloom of anonymity, the dread of discovery, the angst of the forbidden act. As he pressed her to his chest in his steel embrace, she relished in the crushing, wishing he could press her harder. He lifted her to the bed, not letting his mouth off her own. As he peeled off her clothes, uncovering skin, his mouth, his tongue, his teeth, kissed, licked, raked each newly exposed patch of skin. Where buttons resisted, he pulled until they flew across the room, clattering on the polished hardwood floor. Like a strategist in war, he exposed the enemy's weakness, only to shift the battle elsewhere, to keep the foe off balance. In the inside of her elbow, he left a row of kisses. On her left shoulder, the stubble of his chin scrubbed her skin. On the bare spot behind her right ear, his tongue left a warm trail. On the back of her left knee, his fingers danced a slow dance, back and forth, now barely touching, now pressing firmly the muscles of her thigh.

Her pulse pounded her head, filling her mind with the desire to touch, to hold, to scratch, too, and she yielded to her desire, and kissed, touched, pressed, and left white uneven lines on his skin as she ran her nails roughly across his massive muscles, as though she could drive him further by just her thoughts. His response was electrifying, and he too became frantic, fingers shaking, unable to calm his overwhelmed senses. He entered her unlike the first time: without reserve, without apprehension. His body, taunt with the fierceness of his desire, speared his way to her very soul, and she cried her unbridled pleasure, the rushing overlapping waves of pure bliss that bound her to her lover, that hid the pain and turned it into more pleasure. She could barely breathe, yet each breath brought her closer. She could barely move, her body suddenly ignoring her mind to follow another's motions, yet every move brought her closer. She hid his face in her hands, pressing his face to hers, trying to fully yield to this awesome, powerful force over her, and then it happened, something no chambermaid could achieve: her body broke and her mind broke and suddenly there was nothing but pure ecstasy exploding behind her shut eyelids, and nothing but heat and sweat and her delicious body yielding to his delicious body, and she remembered to breathe, and she remembered to open her eyes, and she saw his staring into hers as he jolted over her and inside the embrace of her arms and inside her, quite still for a brief moment, his breath caught midway up his throat, and his face stretched and stiffened. Then she held him tight in her naked arms as he slowly descended from the pinnacle and melted in her arms, softly, tenderly, his kisses more lazy, less hungry, and her breath and his synchronized as they lengthened. He caressed her hair, her cheeks, her neck and shoulders. Slowly they drifted downward, through layers of consciousness, until, at last, the chill of the room tightened their skin, and Magnus covered them both with the heavy blankets and sheets. There they lay, in each other's arms, whispering tender words of love and undying affection into each other's ear, until at last, entwined, they fell into contented sleep.

It was not morning, but it was not midnight, when, unbidden, a dream entered her peaceful sleep. She felt something touch her, and she looked, and a beast was touching her leg. The beast, covered in bloody, slick fur, looked angrily with two black eyes. Its nose was long and narrow, pointed downward to the rows of teeth inside a wild animal's mouth. Row upon row of dreadful fangs, and a white tongue that slithered like a snake's, and eyes that stared at her, right into her soul. She felt a warmth rise in her chest, in her mind, and the beast lunged at her, its great paws digging their claws into her chest, down to the bones of her ribcage, and the feral mouth opened over hers, teeth ready to swallow her whole, her stomach reeling from the foul smell of its breath. As the pain spread instantly when the beast closed its mouth on hers, mauling her flesh like a butcher, she sprang up in bed, quite awake, quite frightened, and shaking like a leaf. She lifted her hand to her mouth, expecting shredded shards of flesh, but, finding just her normal mouth, she began to feel better, began to let her bad memory recede. Something stirred next to her. A face with black eyes and dark wavy hair fixed hers. She recoiled with a shout, having, for an instant, juxtaposed the dream and the reality.

"It's me, Magnus," the face said. "Your husband."

She returned her gaze to his face, and this time, his cheekbone, his nose, his lips left no doubt to his true identity.

"Oh, Love, hold me," she whispered.

He moved, gently, to hold her against him, side by side, facing her, her face just below his so she could kiss his chest if she wanted to, and where he could kiss her forehead, which he did, her head resting on his right arm.

"Are you well?" He asked gently, between kisses.

"I am now." She took a deep breath, exhaling it softly, quietly. "It was just a nightmare."

Now the muse tells me the reader is left to their own imagination, for the tale is ended. She now drifts away, ethereal, floating within until she blends quite exactly with my own self, her voice and form hidden, stilled. It is now January 7th at 12:20 am, which, in America, is still late morning on the 6th. My wallet was found, still full of money. Mari just left, having spent the last two hours speaking Japanese, laughing, and drinking with my wife, her sister, while I wrote from the giggling chambermaids to here, sitting at the kitchen table, my feet getting cold. I too shall go to sleep soon, and perchance I will dream.

Written in Fukuoka, Japan, at 1:30 am on January 7th, 2014.

I did sleep, and I had a very, very strange nightmare, about an aggressive spider bat that was still coming after me even though I crushed her under a large wooden block, and despite having lost most of her wings. I woke up after three and a half hours of sleep, and while troubled by the nightmare, I attributed my wakefulness the caffeine taken the prior afternoon. January 7th, 7:48 am.

© 2014 Christopher Mahan