“I mean this one’s my favorite,” he revised. “I promise not to smoosh it.”
“Be sure that you don’t.”
They were both smiling like fools. They were so full of happiness, and Dreamer’s Weep was colored by it. If only real Weep could be so easily set right. “It was probably for the best, though,” Lazlo ventured.
“Mm. I wouldn’t have been able to stop kissing you otherwise. I’m sure I’d be kissing you still.”
“That would be terrible,” she said, and took a prowling step closer, reaching up to trace a line down the center of his chest.
“Wretched,” he agreed. She was lifting her face to his, ready to pick up where they’d left off, and he wanted to melt right back into her, breathe the nectar and rosemary of her, tease her neck with his teeth, and make her mouth curve into its feline curl.
It thrilled him that he could make her smile, but he had the gallant notion that he should make best efforts, now, to do so in other ways. “I have a surprise for you,” he said before she could kiss him and undermine his good intentions.
“A surprise?” she asked, skeptical. In Sarai’s experience, surprises were bad.
“You’ll like it. I promise.”
He took her hand and curled it through his arm, and they walked through the marketplace of Dreamer’s Weep, where mixed among the commonplace items were wonderful ones like witch’s honey, supposed to give you a fine singing voice. They sampled it, and it did, but only for a few seconds. And there were beetles that could chew gemstones better than any jeweler could cut them, and silence trumpets that, when blown, blasted a blanket of quiet loud enough to smother thunder. There were mirrors that reflected the viewer’s aura, and they came with little cards to tell what the colors meant. Sarai’s and Lazlo’s auras were a matching shade of fuchsia that fell smack between pink for “lust” and red for “love,” and when they read it, Lazlo blushed almost the same hue, whereas Sarai went more to violet.
They glimpsed the centaur and his lady; she held a parasol and he a string market bag, and they were just another couple out for a stroll, buying vegetables for their supper.
And they saw the moon’s reflection displayed in a pail of water—never mind that it was daytime—and it wasn’t for sale but “free” for whoever was able to catch it. There were sugared flowers and ijji bones, trinkets of gold and carvings of lys. There was even a sly old woman with a barrel full of threave eggs. “To bury in your enemy’s garden,” she told them with a cackle.
Lazlo shuddered. He told Sarai how he’d seen one in the desert. They stopped for sorbet, served in stemmed glasses, and she told him about Feral’s storms, and how they would eat the snow with spoonfuls of jam.
They talked, walking along. She told him about Orchid Witch and Bonfire, who were like her younger sisters, and he told her of the abbey, and the orchard, where once he’d played Tizerkane warriors. He paused before a market stall that did not strike her as especially wonderful, but the way he beamed at it made her take a second look. “Fish?” she inquired. “That’s not my surprise, is it?”
“No,” he said. “I just love fish. Do you know why?”
“Because they’re delicious?” she hazarded. “If they are. I’ve never tasted fish.”
“Sky fish being hard to come by.”
“Yes,” said Sarai.
“They can be tasty,” he said, “but it’s actually spoiled fish to which I am indebted.”
“Spoiled fish. You mean . . . rotten?”
“Not quite rotten. Just gone off, so you wouldn’t yet notice, but eat it and get sick.”
Sarai was bemused. “I see.”
“You probably don’t,” said Lazlo, grinning.
“Not in the slightest,” Sarai agreed.
“If it weren’t for spoiled fish,” he said, like the telling of a secret, “I would be a monk.” Even though he’d been leading up to this disclosure in the spirit of silliness, when he got to it, it didn’t feel silly. It felt like the narrowest of escapes, being sent to the library that day so long ago. It felt like the moment the silk sleigh crossed some invisible barrier and the ghosts began to dissolve. “I would be a monk,” he said with deepening horror. He took Sarai by the shoulders and said, with resonant conviction, “I’m glad I’m not a monk.”
She still didn’t know what he was talking about, but she sensed the shape of it. “I’m glad, too,” she said, hardly knowing whether to laugh, and if ever there was a status—non-monk—worth celebrating with a kiss, this was it.
It was a good kiss, but not so fully committal as to require reconjuring the leaning tree. Sarai opened her eyes again, feeling dreamy and obscure, like a sentence half translated into a beautiful new language. The fish stall was gone, she saw. Something else was in its place. A black tent with gold lettering.
why not fly? she read. Why not fly? No reason she could think of.
Why not fly?
She turned to Lazlo, thrilled. Here was his surprise. “The wingsmiths!” she cried, kissing him again. Arm in arm, they entered the tent. In the way of dreams, they walked into a black tent but entered a large bright courtyard, open to the sky. There were balconies on all four sides, and everywhere were mannequins clad in outlandish garbs—feather suits, and dresses made of smoke and fog and glass. All were complete with goggles—like Soulzeren’s, but weirder, with luminous yellow lenses and mysterious clockwork gears. One even had a butterfly proboscis, curled up like a fiddlehead.
And each mannequin, of course, was crowned by a glorious pair of wings.
There were butterfly wings, to go with the proboscis. One pair was sunset orange, swallow-tailed, and scalloped in black. Another, an iridescent marvel of viridian and indigo with tawny spots like cats’ eyes. There were even moth wings, but they were pale as the moon, not dusk-dark like Sarai’s moths. Bird wings, bat wings, even flying fish wings. Sarai paused before a pair that was covered in soft orange fur. “What kind are these?” she asked, stroking them.
“Fox wings,” Lazlo told her, as though she might have known.
“Fox wings. Of course.” She lifted her chin and said with decision, “I’ll take the fox wings, please, good sir.”
“An excellent choice, my lady,” said Lazlo. “Here, let’s try them on and see if they fit.”
The harness was just like the ones in the silk sleigh. Lazlo buckled it for her, and picked out his own pair. “Dragon wings,” he said, and slipped into them like sleeves.
why not fly? the gold letters asked. No reason in the world. Or if there were ample reasons in the world—physics and anatomy and so on—there was at least no reason here.
And so they flew.
Sarai knew flying dreams, and this was better. It had been her wish when she was little, before her gift manifested and stole her last hope of it. Flying was freedom.
But it was also fun—ridiculous, marvelous fun. And if there had been sunlight just moments ago, it suited them now to have stars, so they did. They were low enough to pick like berries from a branch, and string onto the bracelet with her moon.
Everything was extraordinary.
Lazlo caught Sarai’s hand in flight. Remembered the first time he’d caught it and felt the same unmistakable shock of the real. “Come down over here,” he said. “Onto the anchor.”
“Not the anchor,” she demurred. It loomed suddenly below them, jutting up from the city. “Rasalas is there.”
“I know,” said Lazlo. “I think we should go and visit him.”
“Because he’s turned over a new leaf,” he said. “He was tired of being a half-rotted monster, you know. He practically begged me for lips and eyeballs.”
Sarai gave a laugh. “He did, did he?”
“I solemnly swear,” said Lazlo, and they hooked their fingers together and descended to the anchor. Sarai alighted before the beast and stared. Lips and eyeballs indeed. It was still recognizably Skathis’s beast, but only just. It was Skathis’s beast as remade in Lazlo’s mind, and so what had been ugly was made beautiful. Gone was the carrion head with its knife-fang grin. The flesh that had been falling from the bones—mesarthium flesh, mesarthium bones—covered the skull now, and not just with flesh but fur, and the face had the delicate grace of a spectral mingled with the power of a ravid. Its horns were a more refined version of what they’d been, fluting out to tight spirals, and the eyes that filled the empty sockets were large and shining. The hump of its great shoulders had shrunk. All its proportions were made finer. Skathis might have been an artist, but he’d been a vile one. Strange the dreamer was an artist, too, and he was the antidote to vile.
“What do you think?” Lazlo asked her.
“He’s actually lovely,” she marveled. “He would be out of place in a nightmare now.”
“I’m glad you like him.”
“You do good work, dreamsmith.”
“Dreamsmith. I like the sound of that. And you’re one, too, of course. We should set up a tent in the marketplace.”
“Why not dream?” Sarai said, painting a logo onto the air. The letters glimmered gold, then faded, and she imagined a fairy-tale life in which she and Lazlo worked magic out of a striped market tent and kissed when there were no customers. She turned to him, shrugged the broad flare of her fox wings back from her shoulders, and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Have I told you that the moment I first stepped into your dreams I knew there was something special about you?”
“I don’t believe you have, no,” said Lazlo, finding a place for his arms about her shoulders, wild windswept hair and wings and all. “Please go on.”
“Even before you looked at me. Saw me, I mean, the first person who ever did. After that, of course I knew there was something, but even before, just seeing Weep in your mind’s eyes. It was so magical. I wanted it to be real, and I wanted to come down and bring Sparrow and Ruby and Feral and Minya and live in it, just the way you dreamed it.”
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