Prophecy begins with a child's nightmare.
Keleios did not know the dream was prophetic; she only knew it felt different from other dreams.
Mother, Elwine the Gentle, stood at the top of a stairway. She smiled and beckoned with a slender white hand. Keleios, the child, ran to her. Keleios saw her as very tall and very beautiful, as only a mother can be. A blemish appeared on the woman's face, a mere darkening of the skin, but it grew. The blackness burst the skin in an oozing sore. A second blackness raised on her forehead, and another, and another. Keleios held the white hand, saying, "Mother what's wrong?"
The woman screamed and fell to her knees, jerking her hand free from Keleios. Her mother whispered, "Run."
Keleios ran. The hallways were dark with flickering torches sending twisted shadows in her path. And from one shadow stepped a woman. Harque the Witch formed from the darkness. Keleios knew Harque did not like her mother, and the child had always been afraid of the witch without knowing why. Harque said, "Where is the fair Elwine the Gentle? Where is she now?"
Keleios screamed and ran back the way she had come. She ran, but the voice kept asking, "Where is the fair Elwine the Gentle? Where is she now?"
Harque came from every shadow, she was always there. Keleios ran into a wall -- a dead end, nowhere to go. Harque stood behind her, tall and severe. "Do you want to see your mother?"
Keleios stared at her, too frightened to speak, too tired to move.
The witch repeated her question. "Do you want to see your mother?"
Keleios nodded and couldn't stop herself from taking the woman's hand. The witch's hand was cool to her sweating flesh. Harque led her up a narrow-walled stairway. At the top there was a narrow landing and one door. Harque smiled down at Keleios, smiled with her vision-befuddled eyes, and the child shrank back. She dragged Keleios to the door. "Don't you want to see your mother?"
There was an odor now, faint but growing stronger. The stench of sickness and uncleaned clothes soured with sweat. Keleios tried to pull away, but the grip was like iron. The door opened so slowly. The smell washed over the child, and she vomited on the stones. Harque held her forehead, gently, and helped her stand afterwards.
Keleios balked, not wanting to enter the room. Harque dragged her along the floor, screaming, dragged her over the doorsill into the stinking room. She was jerked to her feet and told, "Look."
The room was narrow with only a rickety bed in it. Something was tied to that bed. It was black, and pus oozed from it. The skin was cracked and bleeding as if the sickness were too much for the skin to hold. Keleios stared at the thing for a time, not understanding. Her eyes wouldn't make sense of it.
The small girl realized a person was tied to the bed. Keleios began to cry. There was no hint of who it had been, only that it had been a person.
The black face turned toward them and opened its eyes -- brown eyes, her mother's eyes.
Keleios screamed.
Harque's voice came. "Where is the fair Elwine the Gentle? Where is she now?"
The nightmare faded to the sounds of her own screams.
She woke, panting and sweat drenched. Magda, her nursemaid, was there, brought by her screams. "Keleios, child, what is it?"
Keleios cried into Magda's plump bosom, sobbing, unable to talk. The fear was still there, horrible and complete. She could not breathe around the terror of it. She could not think for the sight of her mother's eyes, her mother's death.
There was a soft footstep and the rustling of silk in the reeds that covered the floor. Elwine was there, tall and slender, dressed in white. Keleios fought free of the nurse and scrambled for her mother.
Elwine held her and stroked her hair until her breathing calmed and her sobs quieted. "Now, little one, what has happened to upset you so?"
Keleios whispered, "I dreamed."
"But we've talked before, Keleios; dreams cannot hurt you."
Keleios prided herself on being brave and would not look at her mother, but stared at the silver thread worked into her mother's bodice. It formed a silver line of leaves and common flowers, the sort of things that went into an herb spell. Mother smelled like peppermint and faded apple blossoms. She had been working a spell when Keleios screamed.
Elwine forced the child away from her and said, "Look at me, Keleios."
The child did, half-afraid.
"Are you still afraid?"
Keleios nodded. "It isn't gone, Mother."
"What isn't gone?"
"The dream, the bad dream. It's still here," She touched her forehead, "It's still here."
Elwine motioned the nurse to leave and crawled up on the bed with Keleios, She snuggled the child to her and said, "Now tell me about this dream that won't leave."
Keleios told her everything. Her mother listened and nodded and made all the comforting noises she was supposed to. There had never been a dream prophet on either side of Keleios' bloodline; magic talents just didn't appear by themselves.
Elwine comforted her child, and Keleios felt better. With the telling of the dream, a weight seemed to have moved. She could breathe again, and that horrible fear was gone.
"'Mother, why does Harque not like you?"
Elwine sighed and hugged the child. "Do you understand what it means to be challenged to walk the sands?"
Keleios frowned. "It means you fight with someone and you win."
Elwine smiled. "Not always, but you have the idea. Harque challenged me years ago, when you were very small. She lost and felt humiliated. Do you understand what humiliated means?"
"It means when you're embarrassed."
"Very good. Harque feels I humiliated her, and that is why she doesn't like me."
"She scares me, Mother."
Elwine stiffened. "Has she ever hurt you or frightened you in any way?"
It wasn't anything Harque had done, but Keleios had no word for it. "No, mother."
Elwine hugged the child. "You must always speak freely to me, Keleios. If anything frightens you, you must tell me about it."
"I will."
"Good. Do you feel better now?"
Keleios smiled and nodded.
At five, Keleios was easily comforted by her beloved mother. Elwine tucked the child into the large four-poster bed. She kissed Keleios on the forehead and said, "Would you like to have a lamp?"
Keleios was a brave little girl. "No, I'm fine."
Elwine smiled, pleased. "Sleep tight, little one."
"Good night, Mother. I hope I didn't spoil your spell."
Elwine laughed, a rich throaty sound. "No, little one, the spell keeps well." With that she was gone. Keleios was left alone with the wind moaning round the castle, but she slept because Mother had said there was nothing to fear.
Three days later Harque the Witch kidnapped Elwine and her daughters, Keleios and Methia. Five days after that Harque forced Keleios to make the walk of her nightmare to the room where her mother lay. What the dream had withheld had been the horror in her mother's eyes, the madness that the disease had forced upon her. She died that way, the life slipping from her eyes without knowing that Keleios was there to see and to remember.
Two days after that, Harque's keep was raided; Keleios and her sister were rescued. Harque the Witch escaped. And Keleios found that true nightmares had their horrors, also.