"May you dream with apprehension and vigilance."
-- Blessing of the Argent Temple
The hay was coarse and soft at once. Asleep, both sought rest, up in the loft, above the animals in their gated, wooden pens. And as had happened many times in the four and a half years since its marking, the blemish upon the young woman's neck shone lightly as she slept.
It was not but three quarters a circling of the moon since her mother had first seen that glow. Fearful with superstition, she proclaimed her daughter to be a witching whore, and thus had her firstborn banished.
However, what was more peculiar and unnatural, was what took place inside the young girl's mind. It happened always, in those deep sleeps, yet it was seldom remembered upon her waking. As a normal dream, awareness of it was hazy and ephemeral at best.
Training is required to remember one's dreams, so as to interpret them. However, on occasion, they creep fully into their bearer's conscious mind due to poignancy. And so, as if it was a haunting nightmare, she retained the remnants of her afternoon nap.
It was a seaside forest of mixed greenery; both flat leaves and sharp needles. The trees were tall. Conifers stood the highest, like robed sentinels against the cold wind. Meanwhile, the broad-leaves formed a thick panoply.
And below, there were no animals, nor creatures of any kind. There was no trace of woman, man or child; human or other. And in their absence, were timeworn rocks. They threatened to cover the ground, so that the greenery was hard-pressed to take root. Nevertheless, their trunks remained thick and their roots dug deep. Moss, too, clung to the aged rocks.
It all seemed, somehow, familiar.
The earth was warm, and the air was cold. The water was salty, and devoid of life. It frightened her. The circle of life, as she saw it here, was an impossibility.
All this, she saw and knew with a glance, as if she had a sight that obliquely transcended the boundaries of shape and light. In this dream, Modesty saw heat and warmth with her eyes. Her awareness thrived at frequencies she did not understand. As if she was a lodestone, she could feel a tug towards the north.
The vividness of the dream struck her as surreal. Alarmed, she spun around in the trees and the water, seeking answers.
And then it came, from the northeast. It was colourless. Neither black, white nor gray. Something akin to static, there was nothingness in the forefront of her awareness. It bordered upon her forest and sea, and frightened her in such a way that she dove away from her deep sleep.
Waunn stood over her as she tossed and turned. His eyes were entranced by the glowing at her neck. Worried, he drew his right hand to her forehead.
She was warm, as if fevered. And then, as she tensed and drew a quick breath, he saw the mark upon her neck flicker.
With his left hand, Waunn felt Modesty's silver mark. An odd feeling fell over him, and he knew he was feeling it with his mind rather than his nerves, though it was placed at the fingertips of his left hand.
Her closed eyes cried. The tears sparkled in what little of the waning afternoon sunlight that had managed to enter the barn.
As he saw this, Waunn was struck by her beauty and his own longing to be more than just her friend. And so, he moved his right hand to caress the side of her face.
Still asleep, her upper lip trembled.
Drawing his right hand to her lips, feeling their softness, Waunn now had one hand upon her blemish and one upon her lips. And so, he felt the magic of the mark rise in intensity. Then, with a slow rush, he felt it move through him. From arm to arm, it passed up into his mind and rejected what it saw there, only to pass back into her through his right hand.
Her lips ceased to shake, though years continued to fall.
Feeling only the warmth of her breath upon his right hand, he was now the one who trembled with fear. And as he backed away, Waunn saw the change that he had provoked.
The mark from her neck had finally vanished. However, Modesty's lips now scintillated with the same bright and arcane silver of the harpist who'd marked her. Their glow flickered and then went out as her eyes opened. She coughed, as if afflicted, and then looked up at Waunn with relief.
"A-a-are you alright, Mod?"
Her voice, for a brief moment, was hoarse, "I'm f-fine now. Just a nightmare."
"Good," Waunn told her, as he nervously picked up the wooden blades with which they'd been sparing.
And as she got to her feet, both of them turned around as someone slid open the barn door. They looked down from the loft at the silhouette who stood in the doorway. From its height, they both recognized it to be one of Waunn's nephews, though they were not yet sure which.
The little boy hollered up at them, "Come on down and wash for dinner. We've got a guest, something about your apprenticeship, Uncle Waunn. Then we're going into the town square for something special."
Modesty and Waunn exchanged a look of surprise.
Fleeting sunlight reflected brightly off the short, dirty blond hair of the boy's head, "Is Moddy staying over for dinner? I bet she's welcome."
"Yup," Waunn said, before Modesty could decline. "Thanks Tud."
Tudfry skipped off toward the farmhouse, leaving the door open.
And as they climbed down the ladder, Waunn felt unable to say anything. He was ashamed to have caressed her in her sleep, and thus felt unable to even mention the sudden change in her appearance. Also, he was overcome with apprehension about the mysterious guest.
Modesty, too, remained silent as she wondered if little Tudfry's news had anything to do with the inn being full for the night.