Seoc MacInnes awoke with a start from a nightmare—the same nightmare through which he had suffered almost every night for just over ten years. Thankfully, this time at least, it was only a dream. That hadn’t always been the case.
He lay motionless in bed for a while, staring up at the ceiling, his heart beating so fast that it was physically painful. For a moment, he was terrified that he had wet himself, but the damp he felt was only sweat.
The room was extremely dark, the only light being that which pooled beneath the strangely shaped window, sent from the starry sky. Seoc sat up with his back to the wall, huddling in a pile of blankets and pelts. Anything could be lurking in those impenetrable shadows. He had had enough experience with the dark to know that.
Far too much.
He could stand it no longer. He had not slept a full night alone since Simon had joined him in his cell in Waelyngar, and it wasn’t looking as if he would break that streak tonight. He would have to spend the night with Simon, or else he would remain awake, cowering in the bed, until daybreak.
Shaking like a leaf in a breeze, Seoc crawled out of bed, abandoning the warmth and relative safety of his blankets. He couldn’t see a thing, but he knew the general direction of the opening leading to the adjoining room, and so he shuffled that way until he encountered a wall. This he used as a navigation tool.
By the time he found himself in Seymour’s chamber, his knees were knocking together, and he was almost certain that someone or something of malevolent intent was creeping after him. His heart was in his throat, and he felt nauseous with fear. The shadow of the recent nightmare darkened in his mind, threatening to pull him back in.
He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t make it the rest of the way. He would have a mental breakdown before he even reached the entrance to Simon’s room. But he couldn’t go back, either. The nightmare was waiting for him there.
Seoc felt his way along the wall until he could make out the shape of Seymour’s bed by the faint starlight filtering through the window. As quietly as possible, he padded within a few paces of the frame and stopped, suddenly overcome by a new fear. Would Seymour be angry at Seoc for waking him? And how would he interpret Seoc’s proposition to share a bed?
A cold wind snaked in through the window, crawling down Seoc’s bare back. He hugged himself, shivering and shifting his weight from foot to foot. He could hear Seymour’s deep, even breathing, and he could smell the peculiar minty aroma that the Aechyed always had about him. It seemed wrong to wake someone sleeping so peacefully.
But Seoc could sense the nightmare, and it was right behind him. If he turned to leave, he would walk right into it.
“Seymour?” he whispered, so softly that he could scarcely hear himself.
Seymour didn’t respond.
“Seymour?” he repeated, louder, this time gently shaking the Aechyed by the shoulder.
“What…?” Seymour rasped, rolling over to face him and squinting as if slightly disoriented. His green eyes caught the dim light and glowed like those of a cat. “Seoc? Is that you?”
“Is something wrong? Are you ill?”
Seoc shook his head. “No…I’m…I’m just afeared.”
“Afraid of what?”
“I dinna know,” Seoc mumbled. “I…I had a nightmare, an’…weel, I…” He trailed off, feeling pathetic. “I’m sorry. I shouldna ha’e bothered you.”
“No, no, it’s all right.” With a tremendous yawn, Seymour sat up on the edge of his bed and patted the mattress beside him. “Sit down, little fish. You’re shaking like you’ve looked Death in the eyes.”
Seoc sat, and Seymour put an arm around him. With the warmth and security of another living being so near, Seoc felt the nightmare trickle away into the lower reaches of his consciousness. He leaned his head against Seymour’s chest and let the Aechyed gently rock him back and forth, and gradually, he began to calm.
“Better?” Seymour asked him after a few minutes.
“Much,” Seoc replied. “Thank you.”
“Would you like me to escort you back to your room?”
Seoc thought about it. Perhaps he could drift back asleep again without company, but he knew there would be a nightmare waiting to meet him. Perhaps it would be the usual one, or perhaps it would be some other vision, but there would certainly be one there.
Seoc looked up into his mirror-like eyes. “When ye’re small-statured an’ damaged like me, it is difficult ta sleep alone. My body willna let me drift off for long, for it knows that the only means I ha’e o’ protectin’ myself is ta run like hell.”
“Would you be more comfortable sleeping here, with me?”
“You wouldna mind?”
“Of course not. The bed’s big e…e-enough for two,” Seymour reasoned, yawning widely again without bothering to cover his mouth. “Anyway, it’s my duty to protect you, isn’t it? Can do a m…much better job of it when y…y-you aren’t so far a…a-away. Come,” he continued, swinging his legs back onto the mattress and scooting over to make room for Seoc. “It’s late. L…let’s get some sleep so that we’re b-both fully functional in the m…m-morning.”