It was late. Within minutes of Winoc’s game, the wagon circle had quieted down. The animals were tied up or herded, and the caravan’s people had retired to their tents. Silently, the Southern Wolves kept watch. Emile closed the flap on her tent and wrapped herself in warm furs that reminded her of home. She rolled onto her side and held up the jade talisman. Its pale light permeated everything, giving the world a ghostly quality. Strange how no one could see it.
The march had been brutal and exhausting. Her calves ached, and her whole body was sore. She had been anxious on the road, but knowing that Winoc, Sebastian, the Southern Wolves were protecting her helped. She closed her heavy eyes and wiggled deeper into the furs. Still, Emile could still see the stone’s light, shining like a candle through a fog. Something about it was comforting – maybe it was the way it banished the shadows. She wished she could let her parents know she was safe. Were they safe, with her father hurt and Erland free? Bathed in the stone’s light, she drifted asleep.
Emile knew she was dreaming, but there was no hint of the waking world. She was home. The warmth of the hearth fire and the smell of fresh stew seemed so real. The great room where the cooking, eating and sleeping were done was clean – there was no sign of her father’s blood on the wood floors. She found her parents holding each other in bed. Her father had his leg propped up on a mound of linen while her mother curled up beside him. Her black hair fell around his face and she rested an arm across his broad chest.
Emile tried to step towards them but couldn’t feel the ground. She startled, thinking she had missed a step, but she didn’t fall. Her translucent body hovered above the floor. It should have frightened her, but it didn’t. She reached out towards her parents – an invisible force pulled her closer. “Mom?” Her voice was like a layered chorus.
Her parents sat up at the sound of her voice. Her father held an arm protectively in front of her mother. “Emile? Is that you?” he asked.
Her mother jumped out of bed with wide eyes and an open mouth. She tried to take Emile’s hand but passed through her. “Oh gods, what happened? You just left!”
“How are you here?” asked her father, more calmly.
Emile shook her head and smiled. “I don’t know how I’m here. I’m dreaming, I think. I wanted to let you know I’m fine and I’ll come home as soon as I can.”
Tears streamed down her mother’s face. She smiled and crossed her arms. “I love you so much. Be safe.”
“I will. I love you too.” As she spoke the words, a warmth spread through her body. The room vanished into darkness, leaving her exhausted. She drifted into a dreamless sleep.