Crossroads of Frozen Eternity – Chapter 3

Crossroads of Frozen Eternity – Chapter 3

The soft creak of the door, followed by the familiar patter of small feet, roused her from a deep sleep. As soon as a child could walk, they would wander wherever they could, and Catilen made it clear Morulin was welcome whenever something troubled her.

“Mommy…” the pitiful wail and its accompanying sob constricted her heart. Shrugging the blankets from her shoulders, Catilen propped herself on one elbow, beckoning her daughter close.

“What is it, dearheart?” she whispered, as Mourlin pulled herself onto the bed.

The lamp on the opposite nightstand flared to life, a beacon in the night. Sitting up, Sentomoru turned to face them. “What’s wrong?” he echoed. He never slept through his daughter’s late-night upsets. Given his connection with the island, he must be able to sense her distress. Strong emotions were difficult to ignore.

Sniffling, Morulin rubbed her eyes. Several tears snaked down her cheeks, dripping on her mother’s arm. Catilen grabbed a tissue from her bedside table and pressed it into her daughter’s hand. Awkwardly, Morulin blew her nose while Catilen used a fresh tissue to dab the tears from her cheeks.

“It was terrible.” Morulin shivered, making a valiant effort to contain her tears. Her lower lip quivered as she drew a tremulous breath.

“What was, sweetheart?” Catilen cooed, murmuring soft, soothing sounds in her daughter’s ear. “Did you have a nightmare?”

Morulin nodded.

Leaning forward, Sentomoru laid a hand on her shoulder. “Do you want to talk about it?”

With a choked sob, Morulin threw herself against her father’s chest, apparently overwhelmed by his simple act of support. He arched an eyebrow over her shoulder, concern etched into his features. Catilen shifted so that Morulin sat between them, rubbing her daughter’s back in an attempt to calm her. She shook her head, unable to answer her husband’s silent question.

This was unusual behavior for their daughter. Morulin threw tantrums, every child did, but she was normally vocal about things which upset her. Growing up on the island, Morulin was acclimated to supernatural things that would have terrified Catilen at her age. It had given her an edge dealing with monsters and nightmares. Until tonight.

“Daddy…” Morulin repeated between sniffles, unable to get further.

Sentomoru ran his fingers through Morulin’s wild hair until her sobs subsided. It still stunned Catilen that such a poised, proper man would allow his daughter to smear him with tears and snot. But it’s different when it’s your child.

“I’m here,” Sentomoru reassured every time his daughter cried out for him. “Won’t you tell me what troubles you?”

Sniffles turned to hiccups. Sentomoru wiped Morulin’s face again while Catilen fetched her a glass of water. After she sipped from it, Morulin seemed subdued.

“A bad man tried to kill you,” she said at last. Her voice wavered with each word. Tears brimmed in her wide, blood-shot eyes. She scrubbed them away before they could fall.

“In your dream?” Sentomoru asked, surprised. Again, Morulin nodded. “But I’m right here, aren’t I? I don’t think you have to worry about anyone trying to hurt me. I’m much stronger than I look.” He pulled some of the tear-matted black hair from her face as he stroked her cheeks.

Finally convinced her father remained solid, the tension leaked from Morulin’s muscles and she sagged. Sentomoru fluffed his pillow, indicating she should lay her head on it.

Catilen wondered if her daughter understood the concept of death. It was a bit abstract for a seven-year-old. She’d been the same age when her father died in a horrific car accident and it had taken her a few years to figure it out. All that talk of death after the grave visit might have caused this.

Morulin rubbed her eyes to ward off fatigue. Normally, her father’s comment would have mollified her, but tonight she shook her head.

“There was more,” she protested, though her voice sounded stronger and steadier. “After the bad man attacked, I looked all over the island, but I couldn’t find you. And the bad man stayed with Mommy. It was like she didn’t know he was bad, or that he tried to hurt you.”

She hesitated, swallowing hard. Sentomoru nodded encouragement and she rushed on, her voice barely more than a whisper. “He acted like he was my father instead.”

Now she understood the intensity of her daughter’s reaction. The idea of someone supplanting a member of their family disturbed her. It called to mind the myth of changelings, who stole human children and replaced them with their own.

“It’s okay,” Catilen murmured, laying a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. She’d never been fond of the litany ‘it’s just a dream.’ Morulin obviously regarded it as more. “Your father’s magic keeps us safe. If a bad man ever came to the island, we’d identify him and keep him far away from you.”

“Now,” Sentomoru said in the story time voice that often lulled his daughter to sleep. “Why don’t you tell us about this bad man so that we can avoid him, just in case.” He brushed more black hair from his daughter’s face.

Morulin relaxed in the circle of their warmth, her eyes beginning to sag. She yawned, smacking her lips together as she settled down to sleep. “I don’t know,” she murmured. “He looked human. He was sort of tall and strong with blond hair that kept falling in his face.”

Any number of people might have matched that description, including several current guests. It was the part about his hair that turned her blood to ice. That conjured a vision of a tan hand brushing unruly locks aside moments before they slid back across his face. But how could she dream of him? A terrible ache filled her chest. He died before she was born.

Either the words summoned the same image in her husband’s mind, or something in her expression alarmed him. She couldn’t dispel the desolation that accompanied the memory. When she met her husband’s gaze, she found concern in his eyes despite the thin press of his lips.

“Are you certain you can’t tell us more?” he demanded, startling Morulin awake. Catilen hoped he hadn’t intended to bark like that. Glancing between them, Morulin’s brows furrowed. How could she understand the grim set of her father’s jaw or the deep lines of sorrow beside her mother’s eyes?

She sat for a few moments in contemplative silence. She must have been thinking hard because her lips moved, though they formed no words. Finally, she rolled to her knees, bracing against Catilen’s arm to keep her balance. She laid a hand on either side of her mother’s face, leaning close. Catilen expected a kiss, the kind Morulin gave her before she went to bed.

Instead, Morulin pressed her forehead to Catilen’s as she initiated telepathic contact. It was awkward and halting, the work of a novice, but Catilen caught it easily enough, reinforcing the link with silent encouragement.

That her daughter telepathically imprinted the image from her dream into Catilen’s mind made perfect sense. She was born with magical talent; no great revelation considering her father. Sentomoru had nurtured that ability from the time Morulin was old enough to follow his guidance. With the frequency her parents used the island to communicate, it was no wonder she picked up the process.

It was the dream figure’s face that shocked her. The startling green eyes, like two polished emeralds, glinting with barely contained mischief. The bronze tint of his skin from long hours spent in the sun. The short-cropped, ruddy blond hair. The rogue lock that obscured his eyes no matter how many times he brushed it aside. Even the playful tilt of his lips in an all too familiar smile. It drove the breath from her lungs.

Her husband’s gentle touch startled her back to the moment. Though her head spun, she smiled and laid a kiss on her daughter’s cheek. “What a wonderful idea, dearheart. Now I can point him out if he appears.” Not that he ever could.

“That was very brave,” Sentomoru added, kissing Morulin’s other cheek. She beamed to receive such praise.

“Are you ready to go back to bed?” Catilen asked, swinging her legs out from under the covers. She fumbled to find the wool slippers that protected her feet from the cold floor.

Sentomoru narrowed his eyes, but Morulin had her back to him and didn’t notice. Catilen met his gaze but tried to give nothing away. Normally, they would have let Morulin sleep with them. Normally she’d have been asleep by now anyway. But they needed privacy to discuss her dream. She won’t understand.

Her husband knew her well enough to trust she would explain when she had time. As always, their daughter came first. He bowed his head and bid his daughter good night.

Cheered by her parents’ reassurances, Morulin sprang from the bed, grabbed Catilen’s arm and tugged her out of the room. She was awake enough now to want a story. Catilen intended to oblige her. After all, children noticed the slightest deviation from routine. Morulin’s parents granted her mid-night stories, if the bad dream warranted one. This one did.

Besides, her husband wasn’t going to sleep until he received an explanation.

* * * * * *

The lord of the island had a book in his lap when she returned. Had he been reading? Or had he stared at the words on one page the whole time she was gone? He set it aside as she crawled into bed. He didn’t rush her, waiting as she slid beneath the covers and curled against his side. Shifting lower, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close.

“She’s asleep now,” Catilen said with a sigh. “I think the experience disturbed me more than her.” She pressed her face to her husband’s chest, seeking reassurance from his warmth.

“I can see that.” Sentomoru kissed the top of her head. “What did she show you, Moon Flower?”

Swallowing hard, Catilen closed her eyes. The image her daughter projected into her mind was as crisp and clear as the bedroom when she opened her eyes. As fresh and substantial as the summer days they spent on the island together eight years ago. The familiar lopsided smile. The errant lock of hair that never stayed where he put it. The gentle kindness in his eyes.

“Damian,” her voice cracked. She hesitated to look at her husband, fearing what she might find on his face.

Sentomoru focused on the wall, or some distant point in the past. He narrowed his eyes and sighed with resignation. “How could she dream of him?”

“I don’t know, Midnight Star. She’s never even seen a picture of him.” She had no photos of her first love. Before their arrival on the island, Catilen had been friends with Damian Cooke, but not wallet picture friends. He left precious little behind when he passed. His driver’s license. His birth certificate and passport. Journals full of notes on his arcane studies. She’d given them all to Atil’awr, the library archivist, to squirrel away in her storeroom so she wouldn’t be tempted to leaf through them. The sight of his handwriting might have broken her in the early years.

She doubted her husband understood the void Damian’s death left in her life. He was the first man she opened her heart to, lowered her defenses and welcomed. It took years for Damian to overcome her long-fostered resistance toward serious relationships. He’d done it with kindness, compassion and patience. Only after his passing had she realized how long she loved him, a revelation she now regretted withholding.

Despair and depression were beasts of darkness to everyone. But for an Empath, they were poison, feeding and growing off each other until they became a storm too powerful to weather. Had she not conceived Morulin, she might have lost herself to the torrent. Having an innocent child to nurture and protect forced her to come to terms with reality. After all, Damian had died so that she could live.

But she never spoke of that anguish.

“Perhaps because we visited his grave,” she suggested into the silence.

“Perhaps. Or might we be overcomplicating things? Our daughter has the Gift. If she can telepathically imprint an image on your mind, she could also intercept telepathic projections.”

She hadn’t thought of that. Developing abilities could be sharper than honed skills because they were unfocused and, thus, unhindered. “That’s a fair point. We both thought about him today.” But would that allow their daughter to catch a glimpse of him through their shields?

Sentomoru shook his head. “It may not have happened today. Our minds store images forever. She could have picked it up months, or years ago, from anyone. She may have recalled it because of our discussion, but it’s more likely her mind regurgitated the image at random.”

There were few people left on the island who remembered Damian Cooke, but when Morulin was an infant there had been many. And Catilen often dreamed of her former lover. Dreams similar to Morulin’s nightmare, featuring the world as it might have been had Damian lived. Could Morulin have shared one of those dreams while they slept side-by-side? The close bond between mother and daughter would make it easier for Morulin’s unrefined skills to penetrate her shields.

I have to be more careful. I don’t like the idea I’m inadvertently traumatizing my child.

“I think I smoothed things over tonight, Kenjiro, but I’m worried. She might keep having these dreams. Sooner or later she’s going to notice our distress. We can’t just mutter between ourselves whenever his name comes up in conversation.”

Sentomoru sucked a deep breath, releasing it as one long sigh. Catilen wrapped her arms around his waist, trying to offer the same comfort he’d given her. She hadn’t seen him this distraught in eight years.

“Perhaps it’s time to tell her the truth about how you came to the island, instead of the faerie-tale version we use as a bedtime story.”

“Knowing about the man in her dreams might make them less frightening.” Though Catilen hoped this wouldn’t be a reoccurring nightmare. “And we have to tell her sometime.”

Sentomoru shifted, curling closer against her. Catilen laid her head on his chest, listening to the steady thump of his heart.

“I’ll take care of it, Moon Flower. At the very least, it’s my responsibility. I can’t run from it forever.”

“It happened eight years ago.” She emphasized the statement with a gentle elbow to his abdomen. “Besides, you’re her father, the hero in all her tales.”

Her husband made a soft, whimsical sound. “How much longer do you think that will last?”

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