Three days has passed since Parnika’s baby sister, Kulfi, has been taken by the Marshmallow Monarch.
It starts off dark, and all I hear is a low, subtle pulsing. Not as rhythmic and steady as a heartbeat, but more like, the whooshing and sloshing of a washing machine. Then I can make out the clicking. Click, click, click. Multiplied. Click, click, clickclickclickclickclickclick. I see myself. And I am myself at the same time. My shoulders are drooped. I can hardly keep my eyes open. My skin feels warm, too warm. I see myself noticing the sound and raising his—my—head. My eyes move to the left and my head turns slightly, but then stops. I need to see. But I don’t want to see.
It figures, she thought.
One of the containers was full of sand. A kind of pretty black glittery sand. And not the crispy savory steamy dumplings that Alora had dreamt of since leaving work that evening with the smallest of coffee stains on her collar.
“You know, your eyes are lovely. So blue. It’s like they’re made of sapphires.”
Clara smiled. “And my heart is made of diamond.”
The tavern-keeper leaned an elbow on the bar table and laughed. Likely he thought she was flirting back at him. She was not. Her heart was indeed made of diamond. A creature cursed she was. Like the king of myth whose touch turned all to gold, Clara could transform all to diamond. Her curse was more merciful in some ways. She could only harm who and what she loved, and only if her bare skin were to touch. A curse afflicted half the members in her family, each in different ways. Her sister lay in eternal sleep. Her husband had been transformed into a bear. She had thus far failed to find the wicked creature who had cursed them.
Clara was weary from her hunting and heartsick from missing her family. Now that the first snows of winter had fallen, she was weary too from cold. She could not even enjoy a hot bowl of tomato soup with crusty bread, for she loved that meal and it would likely turn to diamond. So she settled for porridge and bitter ale. And she dreamed that the tavern’s beds were soft and warm, for it seemed sleep would be her only pleasure.
But as she ate, she listened to people telling tales to each other, and she realized that a good tale was another pleasure she could enjoy. The keeper of the tavern seemed a fair storyteller. She’d heard the end of one he’d been telling a nearby group of mill-workers. And he seemed to want an excuse to linger by her “sapphire” eyes. So when he came to check if her ale cup needed filling, she asked for a story instead.
“A true story or a mystical one?”
Clara narrowed her eyes. “A bit of both.”
“Have you yet heard the tale of kingdom Callimoray and its sovereign queen?” the tavern-keeper asked.
Clara took a sip of ale and shook her head.
“Rumor has it she’s a dream-walker.”