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The Twins of Sanescid

By

Not for me 😔

A sci fi/fantasy with an excellent premise but let down by some lacklustre writing

Synopsis

Aileen is having very realistic dreams that leave her unsettled, later, with terrible migraines. In the dreams she is a queen in another time or world (she is not sure). In her first dream she is pregnant for the second time. In another, she has twins. The first one is born with a birthmark characteristic of the Ewans (scary humans that don’t belong there), revealing that he cannot be the king’s son. The twin, born soon after doesn’t have the mark so the king recognizes the child as his own. Thinking that his wife has cheated on him, he confines her in a room far by the servants’ wing, forever.

Seven years later, Aileen is with her husband visiting Munich, to a special surrealist exhibition and among the artists is Zigor, the same child with the birthmark, she had dreamed about. How could that be?

Zigor hates his twin brother, Sendoa because he has everything he never had. The last time they saw each other was when they were 4 or 5 years old. One night he has a nightmare where he sees his brother on the verge of death. What can he do when he is planets away?

The Twins of Sanescid is an incredibly imaginative sci-fi/fantasy novella. It is a very cool concept and some strains of Octavia Butler’s Kindred are felt, particularly this connection between apparent strangers across time zones (and, in this case, planets). The plot itself is perhaps more reminiscent of a Shakespearean play, particularly the plot on Sanescid itself and the tragic misunderstandings that arise. I found the events happening here more engaging than the plot on Earth, and would happily read more about the landscape of Sanescid.


Sadly though, the writing in The Twins of Sanescid pulls the reader out of the narrative. Dialogue can be quite clunky and unbelievable. An example of this occurs early on when a group of artists exhibiting in the same gallery are having lunch together. Despite the majority of them being over 30, they still spoke and acted like teenagers in the school canteen. It felt unrealistic and by the end, I wasn’t sure what the point of the exchange was, it was just so bizarre.  There were other lines of dialogue that didn’t flow naturally, and it was jarring to read.


Similarly, the expositions of the different species and worlds affected the flow of the sentence structure. Throughout Guarda will place definitions of names and words in brackets which again felt clunky and drew me out of the story. The whole novella would flow a lot smoother if those explanations were woven naturally into the narrative, rather than being suddenly dropped in. Also, the reader is given information that was unnecessary. We don’t really need to know all that Aileen and Ulrich did on their trip to Munich, nor which artists exhibiting are fictional. Those details don’t add anything to the plot, and whilst it is understandable to include certain points for world-building, these could have been edited out and the plot would still work.


Overall, The Twins of Sanescid has a lot of potential. The premise is brilliant and there is a lot Guarda can explore in further novels. But the writing unfortunately pulled me out of the plot and the reading experience was frustrating. A lot of details were unnecessary, and the dialogue was unrealistic at points. It’s a pity as the plot is definitely intriguing. 

Reviewed by

Lou has been blogging on Random Book Reviews Web for nearly 3 years, reviewing a mixture of books from historical fiction to romance to non-fiction. When not reading she can be found at her local cinema, theatre or in her kitchen attempting to bake.

Synopsis

Aileen is having very realistic dreams that leave her unsettled, later, with terrible migraines. In the dreams she is a queen in another time or world (she is not sure). In her first dream she is pregnant for the second time. In another, she has twins. The first one is born with a birthmark characteristic of the Ewans (scary humans that don’t belong there), revealing that he cannot be the king’s son. The twin, born soon after doesn’t have the mark so the king recognizes the child as his own. Thinking that his wife has cheated on him, he confines her in a room far by the servants’ wing, forever.

Seven years later, Aileen is with her husband visiting Munich, to a special surrealist exhibition and among the artists is Zigor, the same child with the birthmark, she had dreamed about. How could that be?

Zigor hates his twin brother, Sendoa because he has everything he never had. The last time they saw each other was when they were 4 or 5 years old. One night he has a nightmare where he sees his brother on the verge of death. What can he do when he is planets away?

Munich

(The Prologue is very important as an introduction for what comes in Chapter 1. Therefore, I added it here after this chapter. Please, read that first. Thanks)

September 8, 2010. 5pm. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

It was getting dark and people were beginning to leave work to go to their homes. As the offices emptied, the gallery was filling up. There was an outstanding exhibition on different surrealistic artists, with a rare opportunity to see many famous works in the same place. Aileen and Ulrich were running late, which was very frustrating because they knew that it was going to be full. They were appointed to be there at 5:30—if they arrived late they would miss the exhibition altogether.

“Gawd, what was I thinking!” said Aileen. Losing her glasses just before they had to go had been stupid enough. Then, they had gotten lost and were having a hard time figuring out where they were. It was easy to ask for directions. All those phrasal dictionaries were excellent for that. The problem was understanding the directions that the very nice people were saying in German. They understood precisely nil.

So, they said, “Danke schön,” but couldn’t follow the directions. Finally, somebody who had been observing the couple for a while told them in perfect English where they had to go. It was only three blocks away, straight and then to the right.

Getting in was another matter. There were two enormous lines and it was difficult to know what they were for, so Ulrich decided to stay in one of the lines while Aileen went to try and find out which they were supposed to be in. She managed to get to a booth, where they told her that they could get straight in. She waved Ulrich over and they entered the gallery. On the way in, they got a headphone set so that, if they chose, they could listen to the history of some of the pictures in English.

The exhibition had surrealist art from all the greats, such as Dalí, Picasso, André Breton, and Max Ernst, as well as contemporary artists such as Vivienne Wills, Stephan Korbe (all artist names are fictitious, except fort he well known ones) , and others Aileen and Ulrich hadn’t heard of. What was most exciting about the event was that some of the artists exhibiting were right there, talking to the public.

The first section was, of course, dedicated to the fathers of Surrealism. It was an absolute delight to see all of their work together and have a chance to compare them. However, Aileen and Ulrich were also looking forward to seeing the new artists. They had heard so many good things about them that they wanted to see their work with their own eyes. Of course, Vivienne Wills was the first on their list, being the most feted among the new generation. Her main theme was waste: the use of waste in art. There were pieces of plastic and paper bags pasted in such a way that, when watched from far, a beautiful dreamy landscape of nature could be seen, whereas, if standing to one side, something completely different formed, something nightmarish. Ernst Voges (fictitious too) theme, on the other hand, was Germanic myths. He used mainly oils. There were others that were not so interesting.

“In any exhibition, it’s only ten percent good art,” commented Ulrich. Aileen, while not always agreeing on which pieces of art did have merit, agreed on the percentage, though in this exhibition she was definitely finding much more good art than a mere ten percent.

They were walking through the last gallery when she froze. The third picture to her left was an exact copy of the picture she had seen in one of her dreams. It didn’t matter that seven years had passed. That image would never leave her. The picture captured two images—like feathers facing each other as if reflected in a mirror, except that one seemed blurry. Aileen looked as close to the picture as possible and noticed that the blurry image looked more like a leaf. Big drops of red, like rain, fell diagonally on both. Aileen looked at the label. “It was never a reflection.” Artist: Zig Sanescid.

“Sanescid,” she murmured. She had shivers down her back.

“What?” said Ulrich.

“Look at this picture. Remember what I told you about a picture that I dreamt about? The one I’d drawn in that dream?”

“Yeah,” he said, scrutinizing the painting.

“Check the artist’s name,” she said, “Zig Sanescid.”

“Wasn’t that the name of the city you dreamed about?” said Ulrich.

“It is.” She added, “Look at the first name. Zig, maybe for Zigor?”

They looked at the other pictures belonging to the artist. One showed two babies separating as they grew, and their sadness. This was another of the pictures she had dreamed about. Its title was “We were never meant to be.” Aileen realized that the paintings were a sequence. The first had two babies trying desperately to reach each other. The second showed two toddlers, further away again, this time looking at one another with distrust. The third picture showed them still further away, aged probably between five and seven years old. They were looking sideways with clear hatred. In each of the three pictures, between the children there was a red puddle, which grew as they got further apart. The final picture was a big puddle of red taking up most of the frame. There was no sign of the children in this one.

After seeing Sanescid’s pictures, they tried to look at the rest of the artists’ works, but Aileen couldn’t concentrate. She gave up and went back, devoting all her time to those haunting images.

“I think I’d like to meet the creator of these pieces, this Zig,” she said finally.

As they were exiting the exhibition, they saw a room where the artists were gathered. It was full of chairs for the gallery patrons to sit and ask questions. There were a few chairs empty, so Aileen and Ulrich went in and sat. At the front, there were a number of artists sitting behind a table. Behind them on the wall was a sign that said: “Treffen sie die künstler” (‘Meet the artists’). A few of the artists didn’t know German, so there were interpreters to help them as well as the patrons. A microphone was being passed around for visitors to ask questions. When it was Aileen and Ulrich’s turn, she got the microphone.

“This is a question for Zig Sanescid,” she started.

“So sorry, Zig’s already gone.” answered the person in charge, so Aileen had no more to ask. Frustrated, she gave the microphone to Ulrich, and he passed it to the next patron. Aileen couldn’t help but worry that, after seeing these pictures, her dreams were going to return. That time had been an awful period, which she did not want to repeat. Before they left the gallery, they looked at a few more pictures by the great masters.

“Look,” Ulrich said. “I want this one for my birthday.” He was trying to raise her spirits.

She smiled, “I’ll give it to you for Christmas, but only if you give me Zig’s collection.”

“You sure?” He shot her a worried look.

“No!” she said.

At the exit there was a guestbook for the visitors to make comments, and a basket where people were leaving their business cards. Aileen had no card, so she decided to leave Zig a note.

Once they left the gallery, they were exhausted so they went straight back to their hotel.

They had decided to come to Munich together. Ulrich had meetings to attend the week before. The surrealist exhibition had been a very good excuse to vacation together, after the meetings were over. Aileen had planned the week’s activities. The Pinakothek had been the first one. The next day, they were planning to visit the Nymphenburg Palace. This was the main summer residence of the Bavarian rulers. It had been built at the birth of Maximilian II Emanuel, in the seventeenth century. The photos she had seen in the brochure showed a beautiful stone building and a view worthy of making the trip. The day after that, they were taking the train to Paris.

Aileen had a hard time going to sleep that night, terrorized that she could have another one of those dreams. She wondered how it was that those pictures were there at all. In the dream, she had made them. How was it that “Zig” had them? Did he make them? The same pictures, for God’s sake! How could that be?

When she woke up, Ulrich had already got up. I guess I did sleep after all. I never felt him getting out of bed, thought Aileen. He was probably reading the newspaper he’d found in front of the door the night before. She got up, showered, grabbed her e-book and went to meet him in the Lobby. The newspaper was tossed on the floor beside him.

“How long have you been out here?” she said.

“Not long. I slept a lot!”

“Huh! But you finished the newspaper already?”

“It wasn’t very interesting,” he said.

“Would you like to come for breakfast with me?”

Ulrich usually didn’t like to have breakfast, but this time he liked the idea of having a fruit juice.

***

PROLOGUE


Have you ever imagined waking up one day in a completely different world and time that you don’t even recognize? Then you wake up again in your everyday world and you are the same person you’ve always been, but now, you are not sure which one is the real you?

It all starts when I begin having very strange dreams. I’m not much of a writer, but if I didn’t record this period of my life I thought I would go crazy. It is September 3rd, 2003. I’m not sure if the dreams are set long ago or in a parallel world. There are different types of humans that do not seem to mix with each other, and if they do, their babies are cursed, seen as aberrations, and not acknowledged by society. Worse, they mean trouble. For instance, if there is a flood, an earthquake, or any disaster, it is blamed on these poor creatures, and therefore, they are punished. At the same time, though, they would never dare kill them. They fear to be cursed by the Oksaleb for the rest of their lives. Who are the Oksaleb? Everybody believes that they are delegates of the Gods. So, these poor hybrids survive as they can, usually hiding in the streets of a city or in the wild. Many are taken as slaves. Luckily, there are very few of them.

The dreams are so real that I wake up remembering everything, even the details. I dream I’m a queen (they call me “My Anier”) of a place named Sanescid. In the first dream, I’m pregnant with my second child. My first is a beautiful five-year-old daughter, Ariadne. We are going to the Naming Ceremony, which all pregnant women have to attend. It’s a very simple ritual where we have to drink a concoction in the presence of a few chosen members of our family or friends. The ceremony is held in a temple. I choose Nekane, my companion and best friend, because my family lives too far away. I let my husband Kuiril choose the other person. He chooses Daedalus, his best friend, King of Heinne. Daedalus is a very charming man, but for some reason I don’t trust him. He seems false and the kind of person that never grows up: very selfish, as if everything was created for him.

The concoction is hallucinatory, but it usually doesn’t harm the mother, nor the child. If it does, we believe that it was meant to be. We sit in a circle and make a little prayer: “Oh, Oracle, tell us the truth. Please let it be good news, oh God of gods!” I drink; it has a bitter taste. It takes some time to take effect, so we make small talk.

“Are you scared?” says Daedalus, with a smirk on his face.

“No,” I say. “This is my second time.” I had done it when pregnant with Ariadne and had had a good experience. The Oracle then had stated that Ariadne was going to be a queen, and a very good one at that.

“Have you dreamed of our baby?” says Kuiril.

I haven’t. I’m five months pregnant, so it is strange that it hasn’t happened yet. “No. Let’s hope that it’s not a bad omen,” I say.

I start feeling dizzy and start hearing a voice in my head, “Close your eyes and focus on your arima,” it says. I know this is the word for ‘soul.’ “Nothing is under your control.” Then I have a vision of red rain falling on two babies. They have their backs to each other, almost touching. They grow to be toddlers as the red rain showers them. One is richly clothed, and the other in rags. Both seem desolate, looking at each other over their shoulders as if they are separated by invisible forces. Then they look angrily at each other as if hatred was seeping through them.

When I wake up I’m back on my bed. Kuiril, the king, is holding my hand. I get up to see what I’ve done while under the drug’s effects. It is a picture of two feathers facing each other, like in a mirror, except that one is blurry. When seen closer this one looks more like a leaf. Big drops of red, like rain, fall diagonally on both.

“What do you think it means?” he says. “What did the voice tell you?” He seems worried.

I repeat what it said and describe the images to him. I start wondering whether I’m expecting twins. After all, I am a little bigger than expected, but not so big as when a woman is carrying twins… or am I? I feel that something bad is going to happen to my baby, or babies. I’m very worried, but I don’t trust my husband in these matters, so I don’t elaborate.

“Common sense tells me that we should give our child our best. We shouldn’t be too strict, nor too lenient,” I say.

“What about the powers?” he asks. “Did you get any sense?”

I definitely had. “Yes,” I say, “the prince seems to be very powerful,” but I hadn’t been able to see what kind of powers they were. “What did you perceive while we were there?”

“I felt a lot of power surrounding us,” he says. “He will be a great king, I’m sure.” With that he relaxes, hugs me, and kisses my head. Then he is gone, probably to celebrate with Daedalus. There’s always a good reason to celebrate when that man’s visiting.

That is the first of these strange events that I’ll call dreams.

I never know when one of these dreams will come. Suddenly, there I am in that strange world (though while I’m dreaming, it’s so natural and familiar). When they come, some time has elapsed since the last—in the next one, I am in labor. I am in a spacious, but quite barren and sterile room. I am in a big bed in the center around which there’s a group of people gathered. To my right, Nekane, my maid of honor, is holding my hand; besides her, there is Tzelina the royal midwife with her assistant, who this time is someone I have never seen before. She is all covered, including her face. I can only see her eyes. I don’t trust her. Kuiril is standing to my left with Ariadne, my little girl, who looks very scared. I can’t understand why little girls have to be present at a birth. It’s true that they’ll be mothers eventually, but why do they have to face their mother’s pains, and so young? Probably someone has told her horror stories about giving birth. I swear to myself that I’ll find out and punish drastically whoever it was.

“Ahhh!” It hurts so much. Does it always have to be this way? I swear that it’s like tasting a little bit of death.

“Push! Time to push, My Anier! Now, now!”

“Get my daughter out, please!” I scream. Then I push as hard as I can. Still looking at my baby girl, wishing she hadn’t been there. Gods! Why do we have to bring our children to this? It’s such a stupid law! I close my eyes and push one more time.

“Aaaaah!” I see someone taking Ariadne out. I feel better. I push again, seeing black blotches dance across my vision, and there he comes. I hear his cry. A very strong and healthy cry, thank the gods. Then I get out of my body and I see everything from above. There is my baby coming out of my body. Strong lungs, eyes shut, like all newborns. Beautiful. My baby!

Suddenly I see the mark by his right eye and all the happiness drains away in a second: the mark is like a tiny feather. It doesn’t belong to either Kuiril’s or my family, for we wear no mark. It belongs to the Oksalebs.

I don’t understand, I’ve never met an Oksaleb! I didn’t even believe they existed, except in the stories of my maids! How could this happen? Some people call them gods, but they are so evil. The baby opens his eyes and looks intensely at each of the people present. A slight smile curves his lips—I know that newborns don’t smile, but that’s what I see. The midwife is holding him. When he looks at her, she almost drops him. Then her assistant grabs the baby and uncovers herself. I see the feather mark beside her right eye and realize that she is no midwife’s assistant. She emanates power like I have never felt before.

“Hear all,” she says, “I am a messenger of the Oksaleb. This child is a present for the King and Queen from Ewan, therefore, you will take care of him because he is your son.”

Even though she’s an enemy to us, everybody is frozen in shock. Nobody attempts to even touch her.

Suddenly I feel labor pain coming again as if I hadn’t given birth yet. Everybody turns to me and realizes that another child is on the way. I’m exhausted, but nature pushes me to keep on. Luckily, it is not too much later that another boy is born. As he cries, I can see that there’s no mark beside either of his eyes, though he’s identical in every other way to the first baby. He therefore belongs to our clan, which makes it very bizarre. How can one belong and the other not when the children are clearly identical twins? Worse, how can either of them have that mark at all? I realize that I’m beginning to faint because I feel out of breath and start seeing black. I hear the king declare, “This is my only son. I see that you are a…” He stops. I open my eyes and see him. He’s looking at me. “You betrayed me! How could you? With some monster!” Then he’s about to hit me, but contains himself.

“Kill that bastard,” he says, looking at the midwife, “and you, wife…” He looks at me with such hate. “I’ll see that you are far away from me and my children forever.”

I’m completely numb. What has just happened? I’ve never cheated on him! What on earth occurred? I can see my destiny as it is mapped out from now on. I will be locked up far away from my children. If I’m lucky, I will have the chance to see my daughter, maybe once a year. I haven’t done anything wrong but I see immediately that my life, as it was, is gone.

Tselina, the midwife, has the first child. He’s crying, throwing his lungs out, and she is about to twist his neck when the messenger talks again. “You, Aniero of Sanescid, do not want to hurt that child. If you kill him, the Oksalebs will destroy all you hold dear. Your country will become barren and you will wish you had never existed,” she says. “You will raise him as your son. We will be watching you.” Then she turns and leaves.

“Take it away! I don’t want it near.” Then, the king gives the child he has in his arms to Nekane. “Look for the best nursemaid, since his mother is not to see him ever again.”

I see myself in another barren room, crying out of rage and desperation, my breasts tender and painful, about to burst with milk.

Then I’m wide awake. What a nightmare! I touch the left side of the bed. Ulrich is already up, probably in his office working. I look at the clock: 6am, time to get up for work. I feel so depressed, as if this has really been happening. It’s a good thing that I have to work today, for I’ll not have time to dwell on this horrible nightmare.

We live in Victoria, B.C., in a very nice neighborhood. Our house is not too big. Nor is it small, but just right, a Goldilocks hous beautiful and full of sunlight. I love it. I stretch and try to shake away those horrible events I’ve just dreamed, so incredibly real, as if I were living a double life. It reminds me of a short story by Julio Cortazar I’d read in my teen years. What was its name? I bring the title to mind: The Night Face Up. It was about a motorcyclist who has an accident and ends up in the hospital. Whenever he falls asleep or unconscious, he’s a “Motec”, running from the Aztecs who are hunting him for their sacrifice rituals. By the end of the story, you are not sure who is real, the motorcyclist or the Motec. Maybe both.

Why don’t these dreams dissolve into thin air like any normal dream? Now I can see what the Oracle meant to say: that she, the queen, was not going to have any power. After that, who knows how the story might end? The first son won’t have any chance of happiness. The second might, but only if Kuiril believes that he is his son. One of them is supposed to be the powerful son. If it’s the one with the mark, and he is hated as I imagine he will be, he might end up destroying Sanescid. He might kill everyone and turn it barren with the help of the Oksaleb, like the Oracle said. The legends told that the Oksaleb killed everyone who could see and recognize them, which was the reason why nobody had ever seen them. Until now. The baby just born from the queen is one.

I muse on how this dream should go. The poor Oksaleb printze will suffer all kinds of abuse and hate. People will accuse him of being a bad omen and his life will be a living hell. If I can, through my dreams I’ll change that. I have to be able to do something. Otherwise…

Suddenly I feel irritated with myself. Why the hell am I thinking about this? It’s all a dream, for God’s sake! It’s all in my head, it’s not happening. Maybe I’m having episodes of schizophrenia. This is obviously not real. Or is it? If any of this is real, it’s something from the past or from another world. Does the place even exist? I decide to do some research. I think about what I know. The place is called Sanescid, but I have no idea what year the dreams take place in. We speak a language I wouldn’t understand in my real life, but maybe I can look for the sound of it. I must get to the bottom of it. What if I’m having these dreams because I have a tumor? I tell myself that this is not normal. I’ll do the research first. Then I’ll get a doctor’s appointment.

Work does help me forget about the dream, but when I get back home, I begin my research. Sanescid, Sanecid, Sanesid. Any which way I try and spell it, it doesn’t exist. I look for that strange name Oksaleb. I can’t find anything about that either. I also try to listen to different languages. I can’t figure out that either, though I could recognize a few sounds from Basque, such as printze or a few names. Even though the internet is an incredible tool, I can’t find much. Finally, after many hours of research, I decide to quit. It all seems to come from my imagination and I should let it go.

A week has passed when I decide to ask for a doctor’s appointment. By the time I have the appointment I’ve had another dream, and it’s getting worse: I’m living in the left wing of the gaztelu, separated from my children and my husband, who hates me more every day. The rooms of all the servants are in between us. Even Nekane treats me without respect. I always thought of her as my best friend. Now I see that her friendship was not real. I will not stand for it anymore. I’ll ask her to leave. She’ll probably try to take my place, luring my husband. That will be funny. Kuiril is not the kind to fall in love. That’s never going to happen. The king of Sanescid is very caste-oriented. I was the noblest of the nobles. He will never go for something less. I bet that he’ll stick with me no matter what, even if we never see each other again. I can’t even imagine him telling my family about this. It seems that we will have to make a deal, but the love between us will never come back. I feel the unfairness of it like a pain in my heart. Why did that freak baby have to be born? Why am I accused of something I never did? How can I prove my innocence? Oh gods! I can only calm my pain with wine.

Then I’m back to the present. I don’t even know the babies’ names.

My doctor, as I anticipated, does not take my worry seriously. After my last dream, I’d woken up with a bad headache, so I try to convince him that there must be something wrong.

“What if I have a tumor?” I say.

“If so, I would be able to see it just through the regular examination we’ve already done.” He adds, “I think this has more to do with stress or perhaps your menopause, Mrs. Blight.”

“Please,” I say. “This one time!”

Canada has a medical insurance system where the family doctor is the one that decides whether you need a specialist or any special exam. Otherwise you have to pay, which can be very expensive. I’m trying to convince him to let me get a CAT scan. Luckily, he consents, since I hadn’t had any exams for years.

Ulrich, my real husband, recommends that I write about the dreams. “You could track down the connection between them and your migraines. On the other hand, if they are as interesting as what you’ve been telling me, you could write them as a story. Worst case scenario, it’ll be for your personal benefit,” he says.

It’s great advice. Why not?

A month has passed and I dream again. The CAT scan results are negative, which is good news. I prefer to have a loose screw, but be perfectly healthy, than be crazy and sick. The next time I dream I learn the names of the babies, who are toddlers by then. They have named the first one, the Oksaleb, Zigor, which means punishment, and the second is Sendoa, meaning strong. I learn this from the servants, for I have no access to them (I might have been allowed to see Zigor, but I don’t care to). Actually, I don’t care to see anybody. I’m in a permanent state of semiconsciousness because of my drinking. I see two, no, three empty jugs rolling on the floor. I look under the bed, my head feeling like it is going to split in two. Either I’m seeing things or there are two more jugs under the bed. Damn, I want to die! I hear what sounds like a pounding noise at the door, though it’s probably a mere rap.

“Who’s that?” I say, in a rasping voice, I don’t think anybody can hear me. My headache is so intense that I can barely speak. I know that the solution is more wine, but I’ve emptied every single jug. This must be hell. “Please, come in,” I say with an effort, hoping that whoever it is will be the last living creature I see. Then I throw up, though nothing comes out, just one gag after another.

It’s Erlea, the maid who’s been given the job of taking care of me. She enters. “My Anier, please stop drinking, you’re killing yourself! Please, do it for your Ariadne!” she says beseechingly.

“What for, Erlea? I don’t ever see my Ariadne. I don’t ever see anybody I ever loved. What’s the use, tell me!” I say.

“Aniero Kuiril will forgive you, I know he will, as I am here!” she says and starts to clean my face with care. She cleans my tears, and the vomit stuck around my chin. She sends for another servant to pick up the jugs on the floor and to clean. My headache is so bad, and I start gagging again.

“No, no, no, My Anier!” She gives me a cup of water, makes me drink it little by little, one sip at a time, and it works, at least for a while.

She takes me to the baths and cleans me. As she’s rubbing my skin, I leave my body and float. It’s a medium-sized room with a pool in the center. It’s not as beautiful as the one I used to bath in with my husband before. It’s simpler. The murals are mosaics portraying common people doing domestic jobs, like cleaning, taking care of children, and cooking. An apprentice beside the cook, a young girl watching the work, other girls and young lads carrying buckets of water or milk. All these activities are decorated with trees and hills in a very naïve style, but very beautiful in their way. The floor is of polished stone. There are a few chairs and a table where all the clothes are placed. On one chair is something like a sheet that will be used to dry my body. I drift away from that room to the other spaces in the castle. I can see the kitchen, people rushing to and fro, anxious to be ready on time. I wonder why they are in such a hurry. Is there a special event? Somebody visiting? I hear a thud, then a loud cry, and somebody yelling and beating somebody. I drift in that direction and see what all the fuss is. It’s a child. He must have been in the way. He has been pushed to the floor and the poor thing is crying in pain. Without any consideration for the child a man is yelling, “Why are you always in the way, you stupid bastard!” He keeps on beating him. It’s shocking and I wish I could do something.

“Stop, you brute!” I shout angrily, but he can’t hear me. It’s as if I weren’t there, as if I were a ghost. I float back to myself, frustrated, desperately trying to express my anger and pain.

Back inside my body I feel bothered by that annoying cry. “Oh, for the gods’ sake, who’s making that child cry? My head’s going to burst! Make him shut up!” I implore.

“Yes, My Anier,” says Erlea, and she rushes out. I’m floating again and see how hard she is on the man who’s hurting the child, “Stupid ass! Do you want to kill him? You’ll see what’ll happen to you and all your descendants!”

“What will happen, Erlea?” he says, fixing an icy look on her.

“If you kill that child you’re angering the Oksaleb gods…” she says. Everybody knows the threat.

He spits at the child, who is now hugging his own knees, rocking himself back and forth as he tries not to cry. It’s Zigor! I have no idea why, but I recognize him, even though he’s probably three years old now, such a skinny little child, naked and dirty. He’s full of scabs and bruises. You can see a stain where the tears are falling from his eyes to his cheeks and chin. It is the infamous mark of the Oksaleb, and I feel the shock of his birth all over again. “Maybe you should send him to his sister Ariadne. She might hide him from more punishment,” I say in Erlea’s ear, hoping that she can listen to me, a ghost.

“Go to your sister,” she tells Zigor. “Stop bothering in the kitchen.”

I’m back in my body. I don’t always have control of myself. I realize that some time has passed. So, here I am, a wretched woman trying to enjoy the moment with Erlea. She’s looking for a nice dress I might like to wear and I let her do it. I let her pamper me like no one has done in a lifetime. She really thinks I’m dying! I hope she is right, but I know it’s not happening because I’ll never get away from this hell.

“I’ll talk to My Aniero. I can’t believe the gossip I hear!” she says. “I know you have never looked at any other but your husband. This is ludicrous!”

“No, sweet Erlea! He will dismiss you! What would I do without you? Give me at least the comfort of having you with me! You are my eyes and ears…” I don’t care what the world thinks about me anymore. I’m a drunk, for the gods’ sake!

“What use is that? The news I bring you is always so bad and you end up drinking like a vulgar person, My Anier. I love you and I’m sick of seeing how you’re wasting yourself away! If not by talking to My Aniero, how can I help you?” she asks.

“He will fire you and you won’t find a job ever again. Trust me, I know him well enough. He will feel insulted by your comments and you’ll regret it the rest of your life. Don’t you see that it’s him who’s spreading the rumors? Who else wants me in hell with a good excuse? Also, remember what happened to Nekane. She thought she could take my place, poor devil. I told her…”

“But she deserved it,” Erlea says. “How could she compare herself to you? She was too ambitious.”

“Please, please don’t do it!” I say. “I know my husband. He has no patience for this. Don’t hurt yourself, my dear Erlea.” So, there was more gossip about me, I thought bitterly. As if I could get out of this jail or some magical creature could come and visit me to do bad things. I don’t care anymore, my friend. But I was lying to myself. Otherwise, why was I drinking so much?

I land back in my real life with a horrible headache. No Erlea to take care of me here, I thought wryly. I’ll have to call in sick. I think that these dreams and my headaches have something in common after all. Do I wake with a headache every time I’ve had any of these specific dreams? Not really. I look back and realize that it’s after I’ve had one of the dreams where I’ve been drinking. So, I begin to see a connection: When I have a hangover inside the dream, I wake up with the worst headaches.

Next thought: Does this happen because I’ve dreamt about having a hangover, or am I having a splitting headache while I’m dreaming, and therefore my brain recreates it as a hangover in the dream?

It’s March 2004 and I wake again with a terrible headache. I get up to throw up, and drag myself back to bed. Passing by Ulrich’s office, I ask, “What time is it, love?”

He looks at me. “Only seven. You ok?” He has been reading one of the papers he’s working on, which has given him the other type of headache, the one where he knows that something is not right, but he can’t put a finger on where yet.

“No. Feel like crap, again! Had another of those horrible dreams! Erlea has told me that the freak son I’ve told you about was taken away, given to a king in a province called Heinne. I find it so unfair! Poor kid! What on earth is going to happen to that little soul? So, in my dream, I continue to drink, even more than before if that was possible,” I say. “That’s why I can barely stand. I wonder if I’m going crazy! I think it’s time to go to a shrink.”

He laughs, “You are not going crazy. Your dreams are clearly weird, but everything you do on a regular basis is normal. I don’t see you talking to the air or doing weird stuff. But if it would make you feel better…” He reaches out and caresses me. I’m so lucky to have such a sweet guy by me.

“By the way, how’s your paper coming up?” I say.

“Much better. Seems that I’ve finally found the problem.”

I go back to bed. Luckily this time it’s Sunday. I sleep for at least four more hours, and wake up much better, which is perfect because, I have to correct my students’ language arts tests and plan for the week.

A week later I have probably, or I should better say, hopefully, the last dream. I think and hope so because in the dream I die. It’s clear that many years have passed. Even though I can’t see myself in a mirror, I can see and recognize Erlea, by then my best and only friend. She’s grown thinner, her face has many more wrinkles, and her beautiful red hair is mixed with gray. I still find her beautiful and as sweet as always. She’s trying to give me something to drink. I think my head is about to explode, but I try not to show it. She has tried so hard all these years to save me from myself. I know that this time I will win, but I want to show her my respect. I know I’m dying, but I try to make her feel that she’s healing me. I try to drink her concoction, I really do, but my throat doesn’t respond. I lose consciousness and suddenly I see myself from above. Ah, I’m floating again. Floating out of my body has come to be my only pleasure during all these years. It is as if I have wings to fly me to freedom. It would be good to check what’s going on today, since it’s maybe my last one, so I float out of the room straight to where my family is supposed to be. I look for Ariadne. She’s the only child I have ever been given the chance to see, at least for her birthdays. She was always a very sweet girl and the only one that ever sent me her love. I can’t find her inside the gaztelu. Since I feel so free to go anywhere, I leave the building and start roaming around, trying to find my child. I let my instinct go through me and suddenly I see her. I’ve floated to the market, quite a few miles away. She’s all grown now. I wonder why Kuiril hasn’t married her off yet. Maybe the most powerful kings are not available yet? Such an ambitious, stupid man. She’ll end up wasting herself away because of him. What a wretched family we are!

She looks towards me and I wonder if she can see me. Probably not. She advances towards me and calls, but not my name. She’s saying, “Zigor! Is it you?” I turn around, trying to figure out what she’s looking at, and then I see. It is Zigor, dressed in rags, with a huge basket on his head. Beside him, a woman buying fruit. The woman tells him something. He sees me, no, Ariadne, and he moves away very fast, as if trying to disappear. My God, what did they do to that poor boy! Ariadne tries to follow, passing directly through me. She stops, looks around and then continues after Zigor. I wonder if she felt anything. I also wonder what Zigor is doing there. Those huge baskets are the type servants carry to help their masters with very heavy loads. He was given away years ago. Was he a slave, or did he work independently in the market? What is he doing in Sanescid? Isn’t he supposed to be in Heinne? So many questions that will never be answered. My daughter, apparently, is trying to contact him, but he doesn’t seem interested. Why should he? What did his own family ever give him, but grief? What have we given him? Nothing.

I wonder what’s become of his twin, Sendoa. I float back to the palace towards the possible places he could be. I’ve haven’t seen him since he was born, but I’m sure he must look very much like Zigor. On the way, I see one of the royal carriages entering. I wonder who’s in it. It’s clearly someone important because it’s surrounded by soldiers. I follow. It stops by the fencing grounds. And there I can see my other son, dressed in the finest warrior’s clothes. He looks very proud, but very bitter at the same time. I wonder what kind of life Kuiril gave him. The Prince and the Pauper. What a contrast between the brothers!

I’ve seen my three children. I’d like to have said goodbye. Ariadne seemed interested in taking care of Zigor, who has had no option but to do what others make him do. A prince sold as a slave, and what did I do? Nothing. Zigor was the reason for all my drinking. Blaming him, I invited hell, and hell was what he and I got, except that he was an innocent creature, born in the wrong place and time, and didn’t deserve my evil wishes. My gods! I’m the worst mother in the world! Why didn’t I fight for his rights as a child prince? Not even as a normal child would he deserve what he has to put up with. Oh gods, I didn’t even try! What is going to happen to me now? I know I’m dying. Who’s going to come to my funeral? I hope nobody. How could I neglect that child so much? Gods, gods, gods, I’m dying and haven’t been able to lessen his life’s burden! “Ariadne!” I hear my voice croak. I’m back in my wasted body. I never thought a body could hurt so much. I REALLY WANT TO DIE.

Erlea runs to my side. “We are looking for her!” she says, tears rolling down her cheeks.

She has no idea where Ariadne is. They won’t find her on time and it doesn’t matter.

My dearest daughter, I know I don’t have to tell you this: Take care, as much as you can, of your pauper little brother. But how tall and handsome he looks, even with the scars! He was clearly from another world, from the Oksalebs, so hated, but so beautiful at the same time. Maybe, if I pray for him, he will have at least a better life than what I have seen so far.

I see myself out of my body again; I float towards it, trying to get in, as I had done many times, but this time I bounce back. I struggle back to myself, yet bounce back again. I float up and I see my dearest Erlea, crying and hugging my body. Up, and I see the gaztelu with all its splendor. Up, and I can see the city of Sanescid, its market full of people, the temples, rich houses, poor houses, the streets with children playing.

About the author

I love to dream, invent stories and write, I am a substitute teacher with an endorsement in English language learners, language arts, and special education. I was born in Santiago, Chile, but now I live in Seattle. I'm the mother of two awesome adult children, married to a scientist Sci-Fi lover. view profile

Published on March 04, 2020

Published by

5000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by

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