Nightseer - By Laurell K. Hamilton

Prophecy begins with a child's nightmare.

Keleios did not know the dream was prophetic; she only knew it felt different from other dreams.

Mother, Elwine the Gentle, stood at the top of a stairway. She smiled and beckoned with a slender white hand. Keleios, the child, ran to her. Keleios saw her as very tall and very beautiful, as only a mother can be. A blemish appeared on the woman's face, a mere darkening of the skin, but it grew. The blackness burst the skin in an oozing sore. A second blackness raised on her forehead, and another, and another. Keleios held the white hand, saying, "Mother what's wrong?"

The woman screamed and fell to her knees, jerking her hand free from Keleios. Her mother whispered, "Run."

Keleios ran. The hallways were dark with flickering torches sending twisted shadows in her path. And from one shadow stepped a woman. Harque the Witch formed from the darkness. Keleios knew Harque did not like her mother, and the child had always been afraid of the witch without knowing why. Harque said, "Where is the fair Elwine the Gentle? Where is she now?"

Keleios screamed and ran back the way she had come. She ran, but the voice kept asking, "Where is the fair Elwine the Gentle? Where is she now?"

Harque came from every shadow, she was always there. Keleios ran into a wall -- a dead end, nowhere to go. Harque stood behind her, tall and severe. "Do you want to see your mother?"

Keleios stared at her, too frightened to speak, too tired to move.

The witch repeated her question. "Do you want to see your mother?"

Keleios nodded and couldn't stop herself from taking the woman's hand. The witch's hand was cool to her sweating flesh. Harque led her up a narrow-walled stairway. At the top there was a narrow landing and one door. Harque smiled down at Keleios, smiled with her vision-befuddled eyes, and the child shrank back. She dragged Keleios to the door. "Don't you want to see your mother?"

There was an odor now, faint but growing stronger. The stench of sickness and uncleaned clothes soured with sweat. Keleios tried to pull away, but the grip was like iron. The door opened so slowly. The smell washed over the child, and she vomited on the stones. Harque held her forehead, gently, and helped her stand afterwards.

Keleios balked, not wanting to enter the room. Harque dragged her along the floor, screaming, dragged her over the doorsill into the stinking room. She was jerked to her feet and told, "Look."

The room was narrow with only a rickety bed in it. Something was tied to that bed. It was black, and pus oozed from it. The skin was cracked and bleeding as if the sickness were too much for the skin to hold. Keleios stared at the thing for a time, not understanding. Her eyes wouldn't make sense of it.

The small girl realized a person was tied to the bed. Keleios began to cry. There was no hint of who it had been, only that it had been a person.

The black face turned toward them and opened its eyes -- brown eyes, her mother's eyes.

Keleios screamed.

Harque's voice came. "Where is the fair Elwine the Gentle? Where is she now?"

The nightmare faded to the sounds of her own screams.

She woke, panting and sweat drenched. Magda, her nursemaid, was there, brought by her screams. "Keleios, child, what is it?"

Keleios cried into Magda's plump bosom, sobbing, unable to talk. The fear was still there, horrible and complete. She could not breathe around the terror of it. She could not think for the sight of her mother's eyes, her mother's death.

There was a soft footstep and the rustling of silk in the reeds that covered the floor. Elwine was there, tall and slender, dressed in white. Keleios fought free of the nurse and scrambled for her mother.

Elwine held her and stroked her hair until her breathing calmed and her sobs quieted. "Now, little one, what has happened to upset you so?"

Keleios whispered, "I dreamed."

"But we've talked before, Keleios; dreams cannot hurt you."

Keleios prided herself on being brave and would not look at her mother, but stared at the silver thread worked into her mother's bodice. It formed a silver line of leaves and common flowers, the sort of things that went into an herb spell. Mother smelled like peppermint and faded apple blossoms. She had been working a spell when Keleios screamed.

Elwine forced the child away from her and said, "Look at me, Keleios."