The Imperial family kept a private shuttle for outings like this and Jules was quiet as he piloted it away from Pallantia. He listened to the sound of running feet as Illian ran from window to window looking to see if he could see a doorway below them. Never mind that they weren’t even certain what they were looking for. This was all one big wild goose chase, of that Jules was certain. Still, Marus had a point; what harm was there in looking? Except… he didn’t want to hear Illian cry when there wasn’t a sister with them upon returning to the Palace.
He wasn’t expecting to hear his mother gasp with surprise. “There it is. The Door in the Earth.” Illian and Marus rushed over to look out the window and then Marus came forward to stand at Jules’ shoulder.
“Is it a door?” Jules asked.
“It’s a land formation and it certainly looks like a door to me. Circle around and I’ll show you.”
It was a plateau. Jules landed the shuttle atop it and they exited to look around. Illian led the way shouting. “Sister? Sister, where are you?” Even Jules had to laugh.
Marus seemed very determined. He looked at his mother. “Next is a tunnel, is that correct?”
Grainne nodded. “Yes.”
Jules shrugged. “If this is the door, where would the keyhole be?”
Just then Illian shouted to them. “Mother! Marus! Jules! I found it!” He had, indeed, found the tunnel, a sloping path dug into the earth itself and hidden by a rocky overhang. It was also, coincidently, in the keyhole position on the plateau door. Jules had begun to feel very strange as his mother’s dream came to life around him.
They walked down the tunnel together, Jules and Marus helping their mother around various obstructions. Illian ran ahead and then back to them several times, impatient with their slow progress. Finally the tunnel opened up into a cavern filled with trees and plants, and illuminated by light reflected off a crystal ceiling. Grainne gasped in surprise, and joy. “It’s the paradise.”
Illian ran off shouting for his sister and Jules frowned. “I hope he doesn’t get lost. This is a pretty big place.”
— — —
She thought she heard voices. It was impossible, hers was the only voice heard in this cavern for as long as she’d been here. More out of terrible loneliness than anything else she raised her voice in song, and then was abruptly silenced as a boy emerged from the brush.
He was a sturdy boy, about five years of age, with dark black hair that curled around his ears and almost to the lace collar of his suit. His clothes were made of fine cotton and velvet with lace accents and the knees of his breeches were dirty. The styling made her think that his was a medieval world, or something close to it, though an odd past/future mix was not impossible. She’d seen stranger worlds. Noble. His clothes, if his was a medieval world, were noble. Common born boys would not have the lace no matter what world he came from and their clothes would be much simpler in cut and design. He grinned when he saw her and she wondered at his simple acceptance of finding a lone girl-child in the middle of a cavern lit by the reflected light of a great crystal. “Hello.”
Her mouth worked for a moment without sound. How long had it been since she had last heard another human voice? When she got her voice back she made herself be as calm as possible. “H-hello.” No sense in frightening the boy.
“You’re the girl my mother dreamed about, aren’t you? Don’t be afraid. I’m going to be your brother, and my mother will be yours, too.” He reached a hand out to her, fearlessly trusting that she wouldn’t resist him. She didn’t have the strength to. Human contact after so long alone sapped her of the will to resist. She followed him easily enough, listening to his sturdy, boyish voice with the strangely formal cast to it. “We’re the same age. We can play together. I know lots of games. Though… do girls play the same games that boys do?” She didn’t have an answer for him. “I don’t know many girls. We can ask Mother. She’ll be so happy.”
She stopped in her tracks. “Wait.”
He looked at her. “What’s wrong?”
“I – I need to get some things.”
He nodded in understanding. “Where?”
“This way.” She led him through the trees to her nest among the roots. He was mightily impressed with the accommodations. She would have preferred something a bit higher up, but as small as she was, and without the ability to shape the trees to create a nest in the branches, this little den was the best she had. She crawled into the nest and gathered up her few belongings, stuffing them into a bag she’d kept all this time and putting it across her back, with both straps across her chest from shoulder to hip. Then she crawled out, taking care not to trip over her shirt hem this time. She stood and looked at the boy. “Okay. Take me to… take me to Mother.” She almost stumbled over the word.
He grinned and took her hand.
— — —
“Illian!” Jules shouted for the fourteenth time. He sighed in frustration and turned back to Marus and their mother. “Where did that boy run off to?”
Grainne smiled through her worry. “He wanted so to find a sister.”
Marus wasn’t ready yet to give up the hope he carried. The dream had held up to the challenges so far. “We all wanted to find a sister here. We have found so much, perhaps she is here somewhere.” He paused, noting that she had become very pale. “Mother? Are you well?”
Jules became very concerned as well. Grainne tried to reassure her sons, but could not catch her breath for a moment, wavering on her feet. Marus immediately took her hand, helping her to sit on a nearby rock and watching her face in concern until she regained color and breath. She gave a shaky laugh. “It is nothing. I am well.”
“Are you certain, Mother?” Jules sounded doubtful.
She nodded, breathing deeply. “I am certain.”
“Nonetheless,” Marus said, “when we return to Pallantia, I would like to call the physicians for you.”
She smiled, trying to sound stronger than she felt. “Truly, it is nothing. My sons, you worry for nothing.”
“Mother!” They all turned at the sound of the boyish voice. “Mother! I found her!” Illian came running towards them holding the hand of a little girl with golden blonde hair streaked on one side by white. She looked to be Illian’s age, a tender five years, and she wore only a shirt that seemed to have been made to fit loosely on a grown woman. Across her chest were the straps to a bag that hung on her back. The girl also had golden eyes.
Jules stared at the child his mind had told him could not be. She truly was. His mother had dreamed of a child, and here she was. He was stunned silent.
Marus felt a strange gratification at the proof of his mother’s dreaming. He had tested the dream and it had held true. He knew without a doubt that this girl-child was his sister. His mother had dreamed; they had found her; their father would approve. The dreams of Castellan’s royal daughters would not be denied.
Grainne felt her heart leap into her throat at the sight of the child with her sorrow-haunted golden eyes. Where had she come from? Why was she all alone in this place? What secrets lay behind the eyes that seemed too old for her face? She started to reach out her arms to the child.
The girl saw the woman first; saw her face turn tender and her arms reach out. Mother. So this was the woman who would be her mother. It had been a long time since she had last had a mother. She started to run to her, then stopped, stopping the boy with her. There were two others, older than the boy, younger than the woman. All were dressed in clothing of similar quality. Older sons. Brothers. She looked from one to the other and felt her heart sink. Sinister. Both were sinister. The boy was innocent, as was the woman. She started to growl. She had to protect them. It was who she was. It was what she was. Even if it put her at odds with yet another brother. She ran forward, putting the boy beside his mother and putting herself between the innocent and the sinister. She couldn’t reach her knife; it was in the bag. No time. She growled again.
“You can’t have them. I won’t let you hurt them. If you try, I’ll kill you.” Her child’s voice didn’t sound near as threatening as she would have liked. No help for it. She had been in the cavern too long.
The elder sinister stared at her in disbelief. The younger grinned wide, then wider, then opened his mouth and laughed in sheer delight. The elder now stared at the younger.
“Are you mad, Marus?” So the younger sinister was named Marus.
His voice still laughed, even in speech. “Such a valiant barbarian child you have dreamed us for a sister, Mother.”
She straightened; her eyes wide and shocked. Some part of her mind noted his use of the word “barbarian”, creating connections to cultural preconceptions that were likely with such a use. But most of her mind… was silent in surprise. “Dreamed?” Her voice was awestruck and she turned to look at the woman. “You… dreamed of me?” That was right; a scrap of memory came back, a comment that she had lost in the shock of seeing the boy after so many years alone. He had said something about dreams when he found her.
The woman nodded. “Yes, little child, I dreamed that you would be my daughter and a sister to my sons.”
“Dreams… come true in your world?” Her eyes started to fill with tears.
Marus looked at her with growing curiosity. What dreams did this child have at her young age that would cause this reaction to even the hope of fulfillment? Was she, in fact, more than simply a foundling through his mother’s Castellan dream and descended from the royal blood of Castellan herself? Could she be his sister in truth and heir to Castellan dreams of her own?
The boy nodded vehemently at the girl. “Mother is from Castellan. She dreamed of you, and here you are.” For a child of his age, perhaps things really were that simple. Belief was sometimes more powerful and more real than fact. She should know that by now, her powers depended upon belief, upon faith. Well, they did when she still had them.
The girl looked carefully at the two sinisters. Their darkness was not so strong, perhaps… And the younger, Marus, still smiled at her with affection. They had come into the cavern seeking her. Doubtless they could find the way out. At least she wouldn’t be alone with her dreams. And maybe… if dreams could come true… She turned and bowed to the woman, to her mother. “I will be your daughter, and a sister to your sons, Mother, but I… I will need a name.” Her voice wavered as she took the first steps to alter herself to fit their world. It was her only hope and she had to hope. She had to believe that someone, somewhere, was looking for her and the only way they’d find her was if she stepped out of that deadly cavern.