by Rachael Haring


Kelsey dreamed of fire. It surrounded him, flickering with demonic light, inescapable and cruel. It burned his skin and choked his lungs, stealing away everything he had ever known. He struggled to pull his mind from its consuming heat and tried to tell himself that it was only a memory, but still it burned...

Kelsey's eyes slid open, and he stared at the shadowed ceiling. His own pulse pounded in his ears with unnatural weight, forcefully keeping time with the frightened, hitching rhythm of his lungs.

He turned his head to the side, searching for the one comfort which always banished the fiery nightmares from his mind. His eyes adjusted to the night's silvery dimness, and he focused on the bed on the other side of the room. A blanket-shrouded lump lay there, unmoving and indistinct, and Kelsey stared at it for a long moment, his small fingers tightly gripping the edge of his quilt.

Kelsey gradually disengaged himself from his twisted bedclothes and placed his bared feet on the floor. He hissed softly at the wood's smooth chill, but he nonetheless braved the discomfort and padded his way to the other bed.

"Kemri?" he whispered tentatively. The lump on the bed shifted but did not reply, and Kelsey repeated his older cousin's name, unable to keep a tiny tremor out of his voice. "Kemri, wake up."

After a moment, the blanket lowered, and a very sleepy face appeared. Eyes of moonlit silver and sea blue blinked slowly, then focused.

"Nyl tey, Kelsey?" Kemri mumbled. He rubbed at his eyes and pushed himself up in bed. "What's wrong?"

Kelsey could feel his lower lip trembling.

"I...I had another nightmare," he whispered. "About the fire."

Kemri regarded his little cousin with sympathy. After a moment, he let a sigh escape his lungs, and he pushed aside his blanket.

"Come here," he said. He barely had enough time to move over before Kelsey enthusiastically hopped into the bed with him.

Kelsey snuggled tight against his cousin's side, his ear resting near Kemri's heart. He felt his cousin's arms wrap securely around his body, and he breathed Kemri's scents deep into his lungs.

"It's all right, Kel," Kemri assured him, and he stroked the back of Kelsey's head. "They're only dreams. That's all."

"Tell me about them, Kemri," Kelsey murmured, sniffing. "Tell me about...our family."

Kemri breathed in and began to speak, and Kelsey listened to the soft words emanate through the solidity of his cousin's chest.

"Our house is known for many great things, Kelsey. We are writers and clerics, poets and musicians. Our grandmother Lilea was a famous poet, and her books are read by Dreyan scholars in every heymotae. My father used to write lawbooks and treatises for the Elder Councils. And your mother, Pryphia, had a voice to rival any songbird in the forest. Do you remember when she sang to you, Kel?"

Kelsey thought back to his earliest days, to the days before fire haunted his dreams. Memories of his mother flashed over his mind—the smell of lavender, the touch of graceful fingers, the light of green and blue eyes—but the recollections were frustratingly disjointed and fuzzy.

"A little," Kelsey mumbled.

"Well, once when I was really scared, she sang a lullaby to me, Kel. She told me that I should remember her song whenever I needed comfort. Would you like to hear that song?"

Kelsey nodded, wrapping his little fingers around Kemri's solid grip. Kemri began to sing the Dreyan lullaby, and Kelsey listened with rapt attention. Kemri's voice was rich and soothing, each note hanging in the still air with quiet delicacy, each gentle word easing the tension from Kelsey's body.

"Tei centh a jio, jio sunenth yierna lyn ni, yierna dolret, yierna kocar sen..."

After a few moments, Kelsey noticed that his older cousin's voice grew softer, and the words of his song slowed. Eventually, the melody faded into sweet, contented silence.

Slowly, without moving any other part of his body, Kelsey raised his eyes to his cousin's face. Kemri's eyes were closed, and his face had relaxed in slumber.

Kelsey smiled and happily cuddled his cheek against Kemri's chest. The warmth of his cousin surrounded him, secured him, filled him with a love so intense that it erased every bit of flame from Kelsey's mind.

Kelsey closed his eyes and joined his cousin in fearless sleep.

© 2001 Rachael M. Haring