Chapter Six: Ada dreams every night now about the strange girl. She never sees the girl’s face in her dreams, however. She sees the dream girl with the stable boy, and a caravan arriving at the inn. Lora begins slowly and secretly to truly care for Ada.
Ada was running, running, running. She had to catch the girl before it was too late. She had to warn her. She was not sure about what. The air pulsed with urgent alarm, spurring her on. She had to catch the shadow child, catch the shadow child, the shadow child!
She ran through a forest, crashing blindly through the underbrush. It caught at her dress, snagged her hair, pulled at her face. She slowed. But she could not stop! She had to find the girl…but the child was nowhere to be found. She tore free of the grasping branches of the bushes that reached up to her, clawing. She ran and ran, forever.
Suddenly the forest went up in a whirling cloud of smoke and flames, sparks flying through the air and landing on her skin, burning her. She screamed, and suddenly she could not move at all. The bushes held her fast, forcing her to remain motionless amidst the flashing fire. It swept around her, past her, lashing in fury, roaring. She screamed, and threw her burning arms up over her face.
Silence. Frozen silence. Suddenly, everything was cold as blue ice. Shivering furiously, Ada could not open her eyes. Her arms, still held cringing over her head, shook, and she lowered them. Fighting against the creeping chill of the ice, she opened her eyes. Everything was blue and black and wavery, as though she stood thousands of miles beneath the sea. Suddenly she was flying, shooting out of the depths. She shut her eyes again, silent in her terror.
When she opened them again, soft sunlight met her eyes. Ada shook her head, brushing her tangled mass of hair out of her eyes. She stood…in the inn yard. It looked different though, somehow. Different than before…she could not understand why. Something had changed. She did not know what.
All was peace, warmth, quiet, perfect…for only a moment. Then suddenly the screaming urgency came rushing back, almost sweeping Ada off her feet. She jumped, and whirled around, eyes scanning the grounds for the girl. She had to find the shadow child and warn her. Now.
She turned toward the inn, making to walk inside and search for the child, but something pulled her feet away from it. She realized she was walking up towards the stable on the hill. She tried to turn back but found she could not.
Suddenly she was there. She stood before the door and felt the warm sun on her back. She could smell hay, dusty and golden dry. She heard the quiet nickering of horses, and the mewing of a kitten. As she reached out and pushed gently against the rough wooden door, all the urgency melted away. She crept into the stable, blinking in the dim light. As her eyes adjusted, Ada turned slowly around. She found herself in a long hall, light shining through a few cloudy windowpanes and setting the dust motes that drifted there alive with golden fire. A few horses stood in stalls at the far end, nosing softly through the hay that filled their mangers. A kitten slept in a square of sunlight, cozy in a nest of hay.
Puzzled at why she had come here, Ada turned and walked the other way down the hall. A ladder went up the wall at the far end, disappearing into what Ada assumed was the hayloft. She walked to it and set her hands on the rungs, climbing slowly up. Ash she reached the level of the floor above, she stepped back off the ladder, steadying herself before turning. The noise of soft voices came from behind the pile of hay in the center of the loft, and she crept slowly around towards the noise.
She gasped at the sight before her. The shadow child, many years older now, about fifteen or sixteen, probably sat ensconced in a drift of hay, smiling happily up at the young man sitting beside her. The fog that enveloped her form was thinner, and Ada could just make out her expression, filled with peace. Her face was pale, however, and she breathed roughly, coughing every few minutes, as though she had never fully recovered from the illness she had had in Ada’s last dream.
As Ada watched, the young man looked down at the girl, eyes filled with love. His fingers twined through her hair, gently caressing her. She recognized him as the stable boy, now years older. Suddenly he glanced up, and his eyes seemed to pass straight through Ada where she stood half hidden. Ada gasped. His gaze was piercingly blue and so familiar that she took a step back in shock. Then he blinked, and the sudden recognition vanished.
Suddenly the scene faded, and Ada was again in the inn courtyard. A caravan was arriving, with six exhausted looking ponies and a band of men. The stable boy was again at his post, taking the lines to the ponies and leading the tired beasts away to the stable. The leader of the band walked with his men towards the inn.
As the men stepped through the door into to common room, the building went up in flames that burned silently and quickly. The whole scene turned to ashes before Ada’s eyes. They drifted away, wafting on the smoke into Ada’s face. She coughed…
Ada sat up. The raiders were sitting around a fire, and the wind blew in her direction. Smoke tickled the back of her throat, and she rolled out of the way, coughing. Shaking her head, she stood up.
Lora sat near by on the ground eating a breakfast of hard bread. She passed some to Ada, saying, “You’re awake. I heard you talking in your sleep again last night…something about fire and ice, and horses. What were you dreaming?”
Ada sat next to her, glad for the added warmth in the late fall morning. “I was talking? …I had the strangest dream…I’ve dreamed about almost the same thing for the past week. Ever since the brooch…” Ada reached unconsciously into her pocket, running her fingers for the hundredth time over the cold scalloped edges of the golden thing. Glancing at the raiders, she saw they were deep in debater over the distance left to travel to Mandor. With a puzzled sigh, she turned back to Lora and began to relate her dream to her in a low voice.
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When she finished Ada sat quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the stillness before the raiders forced them up and on the march again. When she turned to Lora again to say something else about her dream, she stopped. Lora had her head bent, but Ada could see her expression of slightly shaken confusion. Later that day, as they walked mile after mile after the raiders, Ada caught Lora looking back at her from where she was chained near the front of the string of ponies. Her eyes seemed to have lost their cold, unfeeling glint.