01. Just a Dream
Nick walked along a stone wall high above the ground, mindful of his balance and confident of his stride. If either failed him he would not survive. Wind whispered through tall pines around his perch. Sparse grass dotted the landscape. A faint sliver of the moon was hidden in the bright blue sky above a mountain which towered over him so close he could see individual rocks at its pinnacle. He had been there before, he thought. It felt as if he had lived there all his life.
His feeling of comfort didn’t matter so much. He didn’t really think about it until later. Nick’s attention was riveted to the courtyard below where two men, two knights, were fighting with wooden swords. He had walked out on the wall to gain a better vantage point. He knew them, he thought, one better than the other, but he did not think of their names at the time.
They were good, experienced in their art of sword craft. Their moves dance-like in their precision. Neither man able to gain a clear advantage. Faint sounds of their conflict, and of those cheering them on, barely rose as far as the height of the wall where Nick knelt down to steady himself and watch. The contest would not be decided quickly, not between those two.
There was a commotion behind him. Nick ignored it at first, his attention on the knights below, but then there was a scream. He reacted, pulling his sword out he turned to face–a terrible evil darkness looming over him like a cliff face. It was the kind of thing old soldiers would shudder about as they whispered around a campfire.
He yelled a challenge. The creature glared at him with ebony eyes full of hate, its cold breath full of evil and cinder. With a speed which belied its mass, foot long talons came at him in a wide arc. Nick braced himself, his sword was out, but across his body from the approaching claw. Worse, he stood with a heel on the edge of the wall. He would not get his sword over in time to block…
Nick woke with a start, covered with sweat. He had been falling from somewhere high.
Once he realized he was awake, and alive, he sat up and put his feet on the floor, then tried to wipe the perspiration from his face with the damp sleeve of his shirt.
It was the middle of the day. He had dozed off on the couch, Jenny was sitting in front of it, doing classwork. The air-conditioner rattled and complained from its window in the corner of the room. It made little headway against the heat, as usual. Through the window the view opposite the mountains above Boulder, from the right place one could see a little of the plains around the side of a dingy brown building.
“Nicholas,” she said, adjusting her black rimmed glasses, the ones she used for studying. “Are you alright?”
Her voice was sweet with the remnant of her Midwestern accent. Her hair never stayed like she wanted it. Some of it was tied up, but more than a few chocolate brown strands lay scattered around her face and neck. She’s dressed in her usual faded jeans and a t-shirt with some popular logo on the front. Nick sighed, one look at her jade green eyes and he was in love again. We‘re married five and a half months. Everyone had told them to wait until after college, but he was glad they hadn’t.
“Just a dream Jenny May.”
Calling her Jenny May was his retaliation for her calling him Nicholas. Except his grandmother, she was the only one who called him that name. It bothered her at first, but she was used to it. So was he.
He should have known better than to say anything about a dream.
“What did you dream?”
Dreams meant more to Jenny than they did to him.
“It was really hot there too,” he laughed. “Their air-conditioner was worse than ours.”
“Come on,” She put a hand on his shoulder and gave his muscle a squeeze. “I always tell you my dreams.”
She did. She told her dreams in supernatural detail. Nick tried to listen, but usually ended up confused by the many details. He never told anyone about his dreams, and certainly not the way she did. He usually couldn’t remember.
“I dreamed I was a knight,” Nick said, but decided Jenny May would have to live without knowing about the other knights, his lifelong friends, and a great banquet where the King had knighted him. One of the other knights had told him stories about fields full of buffalo, in the dream he hadn’t thought it was a strange thing for a knight to talk about. Two of the knights had been fighting, more of a contest than a war. He remembered placing a bet.
The dream ended before he found out if he’d won.
He also remembered one of the squires was a girl he knew from school, a foreign student named T.J. Short and blonde, he had noticed her because she was amazingly cute. At the time it hadn’t registered at all that she was a squire, and a woman. He elected to leave that detail out as well. Dreaming about other women might not be a bad thing, but telling your new wife about it was.
He remembered more about this dream than usual.
“I had a full suit of armor and a big sword. There was a big black flying thing which attacked, um, the Queen. I jumped in to help her.”
“You were fighting a dragon?” She asked, looking at him with some kind of awe. “My hero.”
“I couldn’t tell what it was,” Nick continued. “It was really really black, and big. The thing knocked me over the edge of a wall. It was a long way down. Then I woke up.”
“Nicholas,” She said. “You just died in a parallel world. Isn’t that terrible?” He wanted to laugh, but she really believed it. It was not a good thing to laugh at your new wife’s crazy ideas.
“Yeah, right. I’m glad I didn’t tell you about the beautiful Queen.”
“Was she a blonde?” Jenny asked, grabbing his arm.
“Actually,” he said. He looked at her and realized who the Queen looked like. “Her hair was almost the same color as yours, except a lot longer. It looked really good.”
“You’re sweet,” she said, giving his arm a squeeze. “I’m not growing my hair out. It’s too hot.”
Jenny must have thought he was making up that part to get on her good side, but it was true. The Queen was Jenny. His mind had found a way to put her in his dream, and in a pretty good place. Good, except for the part where she was being attacked by a dark, angry, dragon like creature.
Nick got up and headed to the bedroom.
“Nicholas, would you like to go shopping with me?” She called. Jenny always wanted to go to the mall. He had gone with her many times, but she always spent her time in the wrong stores.
“Hockey practice,” Nick said. It was a perfect for a hot afternoon. The ice rink was a perfect dodge for the heat, and extra time on the ice never hurt.
Jenny had gone with him to practice at first, but she did not get along with the girls who were with the other guys on the team. It was not a surprise to Nick, Jenny had more class than all of them put together.
“Besides, I’ve already seen everything in all the stores. Go without me.”
“Maybe next week,” she said. Jenny was not one to give up. That was another thing he liked about her. Maybe in a few days, he would let her talk him into going with her. What would it hurt?
As he pulled a hockey shirt out of a plastic crate Nick let his mind wander. How cool would it be if he was a knight? Would he have great battles? Who would his enemies be? What would he do, that is, when he wasn’t causing the women of the court to swoon?
That could be some epic tale…