The ancients used to say that bad dreams were the memories of your past lives attempting to break through. So that when nightmares happened, you had to shut out the past.
Arianna was never convinced by this explanation. Although she didn't have her own reason for why she experienced such horrors when she shut her eyes.
Her dreams were mostly shapes and screams. Bright colours, flashing, red and green flames. The smell of singeing flesh. The shouts of men and women, searching, desperate.
That's how they would begin.
Until the shapes came into focus; a sharp contrast to the blurs she'd been used to seeing.
There was a man who held her. The hold wasn’t tight and she didn’t understand why, with all the previous pandemonium, she didn’t feel threatened by him. But there was little relief in these images. More flames chased after them both, licked at their heels and burned the pain into her consciousness. All the while there were two distinct voices, a woman and a man, calling out for someone with the kind of longing a person could easily die from.
And try as she might to pick out individual faces - to give the man she ran with an identity, or understand who that other man and woman were - she never could.
Instead she woke up drenched in sweat, shivering right down to her bones, a mess around her where she’d been thrashing out
“Still having nightmares?” a soft voice sang to her in the dark.
Arianna sniffed back tears.
Even though Mags had seen her cry many, many times, shame still flooded her whenever they fell from her eyes. That was just how she had been brought up. Never to show weakness.
And it had been Mag’s husband who had taught her that.
Mags couldn’t have been more different from The Tiger Lord.
She was short in stature and every bit of her petite. Her hair was an auburn colour and flowed around her oval shaped face in untamed curls. She smiled regularly, her cheeks touching her eyes. Every movement of hers was graceful, and soothing.
When Arianna had first arrived at The Ship it had been Mags who had befriended her. She’d stayed up every night that Arianna failed to sleep, and lay next to her whenever Arianna experienced one of her nightmares - of which there were many.
When Arianna had come back from her training battered and bruised, Mags had cleaned up her wounds and given her herbs to soothe the aches and pains of the next day. The two were as close as Arianna imagined she could ever be to another human being. Mags had even taught her how to cook - from seasoning a chicken to compiling a sweet and sour tasting stew, which the Tiger Lord drooled over. Although Arianna never managed to get the tastes right and always preferred Mags version. Still, mags was just too darn nice to tell her that her food was shit.
So hearing Mag’s voice in her tent was understandably comforting to Arianna.
“I don’t think they will ever stop tormenting me.”
Mags laid a warm hand on Arianna’s wet forehead.
“You’re burning up. Come back to our tent.”
“What about the tiger lord?”
“He’s at a council meeting.”
“This late?” Arianna frowned. That was weird. She wondered what they were discussing, curiosity overriding the shakiness brought on by her bad dreams.
Mags just shrugged her shoulders. She wasn't one to get involved in politics. Another stark difference between her and her husband. She was much too practical to enjoy all the bargaining and backstabbing in the council.
She followed Mags back to their tent.
The tiger lord’s quarters were much like everybody else’s, except they had a tent with segmented sections. There was the living area, with a wooden table and the tiger lord’s maps sprawled across the surface; the washing area with the only large metal tub in the ship and their sleeping area. The sleeping area was just a big square mattress, but for some reason it was infinitely more comfortable than Arianna’s own bed.
Mag didn’t push her to talk about her dreams; she already knew every single detail from when Arianna described them all those years ago. And they hadn’t changed one bit during that time.
She did however, make her a hot cocoa with added cinnamon - Arianna’s favourite.
Shortly after she finished her cup, she became drowsy.
Ah Mags, she thought. Mag’s kind nature meant she didn’t want anyone to suffer, and so she had started putting sleeping herbs into Arianna’s cocoa. Arianna knew, but it was an unspoken thing between the two of them. Arianna gave silent thanks as a wave of stillness took over her.
In her half-state of sleep, she heard low voices conversing. The familiarity made her relax even more. There was a light touch on the side of her cheek by a rough finger. It was still gentle though.
"She's only just fallen asleep," one murmured.
"Then we shall leave her there. I will have to go at first light anyway," was the response.
"Do you have to go?" There was obvious concern causing the voice to crack a little at the edges.
"My brother insists that this will be the best time to go. And the rewards we can bring back for the community will be worth it."
"Will you take her with you?"
"No. Let her stay and rest."
"She won't forgive you."
"Then it will be one more thing that I have to atone for."
The rest of their sounds were polluted by the sleeping tonic Mags had given her. More of it surged through her veins and before she could make sense of what she had heard, she was taken over by that silent darkness once more.
Arianna felt the cool autumn morning air rush over her. The chill was refreshing and it didn't take her long to open her eyes and see the waking world in sharp detail.
The sleep of last night had left her body feeling very good about itself. This she knew because most mornings she would have to fight with herself to awaken and unwind. Yet now it was easy to straighten herself up and out of bed.
The smell of sizzling bacon helped too. It made her stomach grumble and her mouth fill with anticipation. There were parts of heaven scattered on earth, and bacon was one of them. One way the goddess liked to make their hard lives a little less hard.
Mags was plating the bacon up by the time Arianna joined her at the stove.
"You have a sixth sense when it comes to food you know," Mags tutted but with good humour.
Arianna giggled - a sound she only ever made with Mags. "Your cooking could raise the dead!"
"I hope that's a good thing!"
"It most definitely is," Arianna said as she dived for the crispiest bit of bacon on the plate nearest to her.
Eight rashes of bacon and four slices of stoneground bread later, she was finally full.
"Saints above, has your stomach no end?"
"No," Arianna replied with a gob full of freshly squeezed orange juice that rang sweet and tangy on her tongue and sent her taste buds into overdrive. Out on the hunt you survived on dried bread and cheese and whatever else you could scavenge when that ran out - which was the case if your target was far away from the ship, or delayed reaching the striking point.
So after nearly a week away, this was the first proper meal she had eaten apart from berries and conspicuous looking fungi that hadn't poisoned her, luckily.
She helped Mags clear up the breakfast stuff and give the tent a clean. Without needing to be asked and because of the habit over the years, Arianna went out to milk their cow Elly, who was in a foul mood she realised. Yet even her resistance and near kick in the stomach couldn't dampen Arianna's spirit after a dreamless nights sleep and delicious breakfast.