Nightmares everywhere you look

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Wyll's Gate

We awoke to a scream.

“Noooo! Leave her – don’t…” the rest was intelligible, but it was coming from Wyll’s bedroll.

I stood and looked around. No threats in sight. Astarion must have been off hunting. Gale sat up and blinked owlishly at me.

Wyll screamed again. 

“Shit,” I muttered, and crawled around to his bedroll. I crouched at the foot end of his area and placed a hand on his leg, pushing up his trouser leg to get a skin-to-skin connection. “Wyll?” I said, quietly. A gentle waking was recommended in our books for people having nightmares, because –

Wyll sat up, clearly perceiving a threat and not quite awake yet, and kicked out at me. Lucky for me, I’d had the sense to stay out of full-extension range, so he couldn’t reach me without moving more, and that should snap him out of the dream. I let go of his leg, though.

“Wyll!” I said, still softly, and he shook his head as though trying to dislodge something. In the low firelight, I could see his eye clear and sharpen. “Just a nightmare,” I told him.

“Oh. Was I shouting?” he asked. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should sleep further away from the fire.”

I shook my head. “It’s fine. Are you OK? Do you need to talk?”

“Just sleep, I think. Thank you, though.”

He rolled himself back up in his bedroll, and seemed to go straight back to sleep. I laid down but stayed awake, staring at his motionless form with troubled eyes. Maybe this newest group member would be a little more trouble than I’d expected. But then, Astarion bit me on the first night. In comparison, Wyll was still ahead. 

So far.

When it came to camp, I had a morning ritual that I liked to follow. Wake at sunrise, or a little before. Check the perimeter for visitors, wanted or otherwise. We rarely bothered setting an official watch, because usually someone was awake regardless, and protections around the camp were usually rock-solid – but it didn’t hurt to look. Prepare something for breakfast that I could leave in coals or next to the fire to heat itself slowly. Then find a quiet, conducive place to meditate.

Today was damper, since the bandits who (ambitiously) ambushed us the previous day had had multiple bags of flour with them, and I had doubts about how long it would last. Butter and jam would have been a perfect addition, but I had managed to find a beehive and scavenged some honeycomb. That and a few berries would be almost as good. Certainly better than the hardtack and cheese we were reduced to last week. Ugh. If you have no idea what that combination will do to your bowels in time, thank all the gods and the stars themselves.

I felt… heartsick. The conflicts and despair throughout the druids grove tore at me. So many in the grove had turned on each other in fear and anger and lack of viable enemies they  actually had a hope of fighting. Children were trying to learn how to defend themselves against goblins – the sheer idea was so appalling, so terrifying, and so wrong, that those children should have to face life-or-death fights just to maybe survive until adulthood. The tieflings were so scared, and they had no one strong to stand up and look after them. Frightened rabbits. I couldn’t fight well, feeling like this.

While the damper baked under coals, I walked away to find somewhere to meditate. I found a cliffside perch under a tree and sat down, letting the events of the past few days wash back over me. The blood. The pain. The fear of the tieflings and druids in the grove at the inexorable march of the forces threatening to raze their refuge. The in-fighting. Wyll, doing his best to help with the younglings. His face, determined but with a touch of despair. “Just disengage and run…”

Through it all, I breathed. I invited in the sunlight with every inhale, and with every exhale I returned all my hopelessness and grief over what I was witnessing. My faith in my god might have gone – no, that’s not quite right. My faith in the gods to be any better or more worthy than mortals might be gone, but light and truth were still constants that I could call on. I could still utilise them to bring more good into the world. I didn’t need a god’s ineffable guidance for that. The darkness wasn’t inevitable. Nothing was. 

When I felt more relaxed and less conflicted, I opened my eyes and sighed. I started. Wyll was kneeling nearby, sitting on his heels, eyes closed, breathing slowly. How in all the gods’ names did he get there without me hearing him? I shrugged, thought about getting up, and decided that I’d rather not attempt the silent stalk that Wyll had apparently mastered. I’d rather not disturb him, no one else would be awake yet, and the damper wouldn’t be ready. There was no pressing reason to leave, except for an odd discomfort that I’d been sharing my meditation space all unawares. So I stayed.

A few minutes later, Wyll opened his eyes and met my gaze. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said, looking uncertain. “I came out here looking for some quiet, and inspiration on what to do next. It seems the same place called to us both, and I thought… meditation seems to bring you such calm and certainty.”

I quirked a half-smile. “I suppose… it helps me review how I feel about things, and gain some perspective. Sometimes that’s the closest I can come.”

Wyll nodded thoughtfully. “I always heard it was about emptying your mind and connecting to the gods.”

“Mmm… some doubtless do. I was trained more as a way to be a more effective person and fighter. There are prayer meditations as well, but I rarely use those.”

“Because you don’t need to?”

“Because I don’t really trust the gods.”

Wyll looked… surprised but not shocked. “From personal experience?”

“Mmm.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “I want tea, and food. Hungry?” I stood, and offered him a hand up. He took it, and used me more as an anchor to push himself upright than something to pull against. Lucky, because he was a lot taller than I.

We went back to camp, and I busied myself making an energising tea with herbs I found by the road, and digging the damper out of the coals. It was black on the outside and soft and fragrant hot inside, so I broke it open, suspended the honeycomb over it to drip sweetness over it while it cooled, and washed berries in a bowl.

“Why do you make breakfast yourself?” Wyll asked. “Aren’t you the leader of this group? Is delegation not a strong point?”

Oof. I laughed. “I think the most important part of being a leader is serving and looking after those I lead. They’re a responsibility; not servants or slaves. I like to make sure everyone gets a nourishing breakfast, from whatever we can scrounge together. Someone else handles dinner, and I think Gale might have devised a magic latrine – he was complaining about the smell, and then suddenly it smelt like roses and never seemed to need redigging if we stayed in one place too long.”

Wyll looked down, his face sombre. “You sound like my father,” he said quietly. 

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.

“Best man I’ve ever known. I just wish I could live up to him.”

“Mmm. Parental expectations are hard. So I hear.”

“Not a problem for you?”

“Not so much, no. Are you feeling better?”

He looked confused, then his face cleared. “Oh. Last night. Yes, thanks. I don’t know what I dreamt about. I don’t think I want to. I’m happy enough for my dreams to stay in the night-time.”

“Mmm. Can I offer a bit of advice?”

“Can I stop you?”

“Sure. Say the word and I’ll stop talking,” I said and smiled. If there was one thing I’d learnt the hard way, it was that I actually didn’t have all the answers. Just occasionally a signpost that helped someone grope the way through the darkness to their own answer.

“Hmm. I actually believe you. Very well – what’s your advice?”

“Dreams often come to us when we’re worried or afraid. It’s like… our heart is trying to tell us something. When we ignore them, things often get worse; not better. Our bad dreams chase us harder.”

Wyll’s mouth twisted. “And if we can’t fix what we dream about?”

“Then perhaps we need to accept that they exist and cannot be changed.”

His shoulders slumped. “I’m a monster-slayer. Not a monster… negotiator.”

I nodded, neutral. He could take the learning or leave it; the only way it would affect me would be a few sleepless hours. 

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