“It brings on good dreams?” asked Siana.
“Yes,” said the clerk, “It is a precious gift to some who are sensitive or those who cannot sleep well at night because of nightmares.”
“Does it work?” asked Yulia, appearing beside Siana. The clerk looked immensely happy that two people were interested in the dreamcatcher.
“Of course!” said the clerk, with conviction, “I use it myself. I feel great when I wake up in the morning. It is guaranteed.”
“If I hang it in my room, will it… keep working forever?” asked Siana.
“I think what you are asking is, if the effect will last permanently,” said the clerk, “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work forever.” He moved to the dreamcatcher and took it down from the wall. “Do you see these beads?”
He showed them. Yulia and Siana nodded. “These are powerstones. If you look closely, you will find that there are numbers written down on the inside. That is the number of times the magic is supposed to work.”
“Number of times?” asked Siana.
“Yes,” said the clerk, “Every time a bad dream is driven away, the magic will be invoked, and the number will decrease.”
“So, if the numbers reach zero, it will no longer be effective,” said Siana.
“That is correct,” said the clerk, “I know it is a hassle to buy them again when the number reaches zero, but it is very effective and quite inexpensive for such a magical product. You can buy one and try it.”
Siana nodded. “Please have one packed,” said Siana.
The clerk packed the tea and the dreamcatcher and handed it over to Siana. They left the shop with a ‘Thank you’ from the clerk.
“Are you buying that for Alan?” asked Yulia.
“Yeah. I think it will be helpful,” said Siana. The clerk had said it was inexpensive, but every magical product was expensive by her standards. Magic never came cheap. However, she didn’t regret her purchase if it could help Alan. They walked towards the carriages to head home.
* * *
When they reached the mansion, Yulia prepared to leave for her home in the countryside. It was already getting dark so Siana told her to stay the night but Yulia would have none of it. She bid Siana goodbye, reminded her to send an invitation to her estate for her wedding, and hugged her.
After she was gone, Siana made her way to the bedroom, washed up and looked at the things she had bought earlier. She took out the dreamcatcher and hung it over the headboard. She set the books on the table and stared at them.
So, what is the deal with these books anyway? She couldn’t believe that books that looked this ordinary could ever be vulgar. Her heart was pounding. Yulia told me to read them alone. Just as well, she was alone in her room until Alan returned. I will just read one for now, she decided.
She picked a book and hid the other two in her closet, under her clothes. She lay on the side of the bed and opened the book. It would be very embarrassing if Alan caught her with this book. She resolved to hide it at the corner of the bed if he turned up. The rabbit thing was embarrassing enough, I can’t let him catch me with this book.
She pulled the covers over her head and flipped to the first page. She was even more curious after reading the ‘Table of Contents’. As soon as she turned to the first page, the first few words caught her off guard:
‘Oh, oh, yes! Please, sl-slower, ah!’
Siana gasped in surprise and shut the book. Her heart was racing now. What the hell?! Knowing Yulia, Siana had prepared herself to discover some vulgar content but she hadn’t expected it to be so explicit from the very beginning.
Although she was shocked, her curiosity got the better of her. She eventually opened the book and flipped to the first page. Her heart raced as she read about the woman m*aning in the book. She didn’t shut the book this time, instead she read it very fast, lest Alan arrive. Siana was able to get some sense of the story. The book was about a young woman and an escort knight. The woman, who had a crush on her escort, seduced him finally. The plot was not much to fawn at. The story itself was actually very dull and bland, but every chapter had so many intimate scenes. Siana read as though one possessed.
The particular scene where the female protagonist seduced the male protagonist to relieve him of his desire helped Siana realize the reason for which Yulia had suggested the book. Yulia, how in hell did you find out about such a book?
Siana quickly progressed through the pages until she heard the floorboard creak outside the bedroom door. She panicked and snapped the book shut. She slipped it in a space between the mattress and the wall. She pulled the covers over her head as the door opened.
“Sia? Are you sleeping?” asked Alan.
“What? No, no,” said Siana.
“Oh okay,” said Alan, “I thought I woke you up.”
“No, you didn’t,” said Siana, “I didn’t really fall asleep.” Siana pulled the covers down. Alan didn’t suspect a thing. He told her to wait for a while till he showered. He took a towel and headed to the bathroom.
When she heard him shower, she extracted the book from between the mattress and the wall. She took it to the closet and hid it among the other books under her clothes. She went back to bed. She wanted to keep reading it but didn’t want to be caught.
Alan finished showering. He toweled his hair as he sat next to Siana in a simple shirt and pants. The smell of the lavender soap floated off him. Siana felt herself relax. Alan put his arm around her.
“Did you have fun with your friend?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Siana, “It felt really nice since we hadn’t met for the longest time.”
“But why did she leave so soon?” he asked, “I thought she would be staying here today.”
“Me too!” she said, “I told her she was welcome to stay but she said she needed to hurry back because she had put aside her work. She only came here because she was worried about me.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, before everything happened with you, I wrote a letter to her about my situation. I forgot to write to her again to inform her that everything was alright now,” said Siana, “She was so worried and came in search of me. She said she isn’t worried about me anymore so she headed back.”
“She must have been exhausted, coming all this way to meet you,” he said, “It would have been better if she had stayed over.”
“I did tell her that,” she said, “but… she said she didn’t want to disturb us since we were newlyweds.”
“That was considerate of her,” said Alan and smiled.
“You aren’t going to say she could have stayed anyway?” she asked.
“Well… yes, she is welcome here,” he said, “But it is also nice for the two of us to be together.”
Siana could feel the heat rising to her face. Alan was never one to say things like that. The smell of scented essential oil tickled the tip of her nose and she could feel his arms around her. Suddenly, the content of the book that she had read came unbidden into her mind. It was night and they were alone in the room. Her heart raced.
I shouldn’t have read it! I should have waited until tomorrow. Now I can think about nothing else! Siana tried to brush it off. She tried not to think about it but the more she tried, the more she could remember the scenes in the book vividly. She felt embarrassed and annoyed at Yulia. I just wanted to read something to gain more knowledge and Yulia had to buy me such a juicy novel and make me suffer. Siana tugged at her blanket nervously.
“What else did you do today?” asked Alan, “Primo said you two left the mansion.”
“We just talked and visited the town,” she said, “We went to a bookstore to look around. We went to another store… oh! I bought a magical dreamcatcher.”
“A magical dreamcatcher?” he asked.
“Yes!” She wriggled out of his arms and gestured to the decoration that hung from over the headboard. “It drives nightmares away and leaves only pleasant dreams.”
Alan frowned. “Are you having nightmares?” he asked.
“No, silly,” she said, “It is for you. I wanted to help you. I bought it with my own money.”
“You should have let me pay for it,” he said.
“But it was quite expensive,” she said, “And I didn’t want to always use your money…”
“Sia, what is mine is yours,” he said, “You don’t have to think of it as using my money.”
“What if we go bankrupt over such wild and crazy purchases?” said Siana jokingly.
“That won’t happen,” said Alan with a smirk, “And even if it does, I can always head to the battlefield to snag another title. They have enough wars going on as it is.”
Siana froze. Her face was stiff. “I was only joking,” said Alan, hurriedly, noticing her unhappiness. “In retrospect, it was a very bad joke.”
“Don’t joke around about that, Alan,” said Siana, sadly. “I am already worried about your curse. How can you joke about it?”
“I am sorry,” said Alan, pulling her in an embrace, “I am so sorry. It was a very bad joke. I won’t do it again.”
She could never be angry in the face of his sincere apology. But it left a bitterness in her heart because she didn’t know if he would need to go back to the battlefield in the future. It didn’t make her feel good. She didn’t know how she would live being apart from him if he left.
The Emperor had already succeeded in reuniting the continent. So, maybe there won’t be big wars anymore. But the future was never certain. And it tore at her heart when she imagined him suffering in the battlefield again. She could never laugh at it even if it was a joke.
“Please don’t ever say that again,” said Siana, hugging him back.
“I won’t,” he said, “I promise.”
Siana relaxed in his arms. Alan caressed her. Siana’s gaze fell on the thyme tea that Yulia had bought for her. She had forgotten to put that away. She recalled the conversation she had had with Yulia.
“Alan,” she said, “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” he said, “Anything.”
Siana hesitated. “What do you think about children?” she asked.
“Children?” he asked, surprised.
“Yeah,” she said.
“What is this about children all of a sudden?” he asked, smiling.
Siana blurted everything out. “I haven’t been using birth control,” said Siana, “I don’t mind having your babies but if it is something you don’t want at the moment, I think we need to find ways to prevent that.”
“Oh,” said Alan, thinking.
Siana, with much embarrassment, realized that just like her, Alan had never thought about the matter before. He looked as lost as her at that moment.