In death and in sleep


Each day is a little life:
every waking and rising a little birth,
every fresh morning a little youth,
every going to rest and sleep a little death.

Arthur Schopenhauer

“Would you be cross with me if I told you…” said Janver as he gently touched Marion’s cheek.
“I can’t be cross with you,” Marion replied. She looked him right in the eye; a disarming glance.
“I must…” he stopped mid-sentence, “must leave you for a while. I’m needed in the far reaches where the embers of Aridian war smoulder still.”
“Then go, my love,” said Marion without a single sigh, a single tear, “and remember: I’m always with you.”

Janver left his homeland and went to Arid. In the following days, he forgot a lot of good things amid the horrors of war, but not Marion’s words.

His soldiers wondered what was their commander’s secret, how Janver managed to always keep his hopes high, his will strong, his wit sharp. He had a single weakness: even a small lack of sleep took its heavy toll on his ability to recover.

Sleep meant so much for Janver that he willingly sacrificed a lot for a few minutes of it: a dinner, a rare chance of entertainment, sometimes even a tactical advantage if pursuing it would have taken all night. The commander’s strange attachment to dreams soon became fuel for all kinds of rumours and legends. What did he do in his dreams? What, really?

He just met his beloved Marion every time. With her light hand, she waved his exhaustion and worries away. She sang him enchanting, cosmic songs, one after the other, making the ghostly figures made of pure light dance to the music of her voice.

The wonderful dreams were the source of Janver’s remarkable strength and willpower, they helped him endure all the hardships of war, win his battles, and encourage his soldiers.

Once, one of Janver’s men betrayed him. In the night, he opened the gate to the enemy, letting the Aridian horde in. The defenders of the fortress fought valiantly but, caught by surprise, they couldn’t win. Almost all of them died, some were taken as prisoners, Commander Janver included.

He spent uncounted days and nights in the darkness of the dungeon, below the ground, where sunlight never reached. The only sounds he could hear were the screams of his men dying in the torture chamber one by one, bravely, without telling the enemy anything. They ascended to the world of sun, light, and rain in the end, all dead, all deaf and blind to the wonders of life forever, and he, Janver, remained where he was, helpless and trapped, waiting for his turn.

Eventually, his turn had come. The torturer dragged Janver to the chamber where his men had died and tied him up to a bloody pole there. The Aridian leader, a mage, came to take a look at the fabled warrior himself. The traitor, the man that had opened the gates to the enemy, stood by the mage’s right hand, his head bowed in the most obsequious manner.

“So you are Janver the Resilient?” the mage laughed, “Your men died under the torture without telling us anything useful. It’s a pity. I don’t think we’ll have more luck with you, unless... “ he turned to the traitor, “Tell me, does your commander have a weakness?”
“He does, oh great mage!” the traitor nodded eagerly. “All the strength he spends in his battles he restores in his dreams.”
“Is that so?” the mage laughed again. “Then you won’t have your dreams, Janver the Resilient. We’ll see how you’ll sing in a week!”

The torturer threw Janver in the deepest dungeon cast in irons so he wouldn’t be able to kill himself before the torture was over. The little evil demon summoned by the mage was to watch the warrior night and day to make sure he wouldn’t sleep. If Janver tried so much as to close his eyes for more than a few moments the demon started to scream and claw at his face. The drowsiness stepped away, frightened and shaken, but it came back shortly for no man can do without sleep for a week. As to the demon, that devious creature did not need sleep at all and always jumped at the chance to torture the prisoner again.

Janver faded away with each passing day. Soon, he was feverish and delirious, a mere shadow of his former self. Flames and battles flashed before his barely blinking eyes, he could no longer distinguish between dreams and reality anymore, he became numb to fear and pain, he felt nothing when he saw Marion’s face amid the fiery madness of his dungeon.

Marion struck her staff on the floor and Janver’s demon died in a flash of red light. Marion waved her hand and Janver’s chains turned to dust. By the time he sprawled on the floor he had already been fast asleep. Marion kneeled beside him.

“My poor Janver,” she whispered stroking the sleeping man’s hair.

She called for her servants and ordered them to carry Janver into a warm bedroom, wash him up with fragrant soap and warm water, treat his wounds, and put him into a soft bed to sleep as long as he wanted. The servants obeyed.

Marion left the dungeon and the heavy door closed behind her.

The mage awaited her in his tower clad in his best black robe. The old villain beamed at the sudden stroke of luck. He had just wanted to make a stubborn warrior spill his guts but ended up getting his runaway apprentice back. So strong was his sense of triumph and justice it made the top of his staff burn green in the tower’s eternal darkness.

“Your man is safe and sound,” he told the girl. “Now you must fulfil your promise, the one you ran away from years ago. Give the oath to serve me forever and bind it with blood!” that said, he pointed at the traitor huddled up in a corner where, terrified out of his mind, he muttered his useless prayers to all the gods he knew.
“It’s not why I came here with a battle staff,” replied Marion in a steel voice. “You taught me the Death magic. Now you’ll see to what use I’ve put your lessons. You tortured my beloved. For that, you’ll pay.”

A battle of two dark mages is a horrible thing. What makes it worse is that neither side can win for when two similar forces clash with each other the destruction goes both ways: the weak dies, the strong gets crippled for life. No sane person would start such a duel. So the Aridian mage laughed at his former apprentice, the one who had ran away from him as a little girl, the one who was stupid enough to return just when he had almost forgotten about her…

But his laughter died soon. The girl had learned something new, way more powerful and horrible, after leaving Arid…


...A swarm of nightmare creatures surrounded the mage. They crowded beside him on the ground, they slithered under the floor, they buzzed in the air above his head. Neither of them was afraid of the green light of his staff. Every one of them looked familiar. The creatures were his fears that used to lurk in the dark corners of his soul during the day and reign over his dreams at night. Fears of his childhood, youth, and old age… By way of some unimaginable sorcery, Marion let all of them free at once! Screaming and kicking, the cruel mage drowned in the monster swarm…

Marion approached the mage curled up on the stone floor. He had dropped his staff and was fast asleep.

“Sleep, my former master,” said the girl in a tired, sad whisper. “You will wake up, yes, but not before my Janver will, and he is so tired that he will sleep for days. Know this: I’ve added nothing from myself. All that you are seeing now you’ve raised and nurtured on your own.”

Marion walked to the exit. The traitor lay sprawled on the floor on her way, fast asleep as well, facing his own nightmares.

Back in the fortress, Marion went straight to the chambers where Janver had been taken. She found her beloved peacefully asleep, his stern face peaceful and beautiful despite the fresh claw marks on his cheeks. The wounds, properly treated, would heal leaving no scars.

Marion undressed, glad to be out of the dirty clothes that had been her prison for days as she travelled, and lay beside her beloved. She hadn’t slept for a long time too.

They will wake up together. They will enter a new life together and everything will be all right…

Nobody knows how the magic of dream originated from the magic of death. The legends say that only one person had walked this way: Marion, an apprentice of a forgotten Aridian mage. But who believes in legends nowadays?

One thing we know for sure: there are powers in the world that are neither good nor evil but give everyone exactly what they deserve. One of these powers is the magic of dream.

(April 19, 2006)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.