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I run down the dark hallway, panting, curved around the cramp in my side. The lights flicker as I approach, but they are dim and only deepen the shadows around me. I am scrambling, tripping over my skirts, my hair in my face, desperately hoping that the next door, the next turn, will lead me to what I so frantically seek.

I would call out, but it feels as if I have been running forever and I have no breath to spare. Please let me not be too late. I know I stayed too long, but it was only a night. Just one night. Part of my mind begs for help and forgiveness from whatever Powers might be listening, but what have they to do with such as we? What good can it do?

The halls have never seemed this long before. I have always had trouble navigating them, and I have never been convinced they do not shift, but it has never been as bad as this. The air smells stale, dusty, as if no one has been here for years.

I trip once again and bruise my hip on the floor. Sobbing, I try to get up, but my legs will no longer hold me. I sprawl helplessly on the ground.

As I lie there, I notice a dim glow from a room several doors up. I cannot walk, but I crawl down the hallway, desperately hoping. Please let the light mean He is there…I have been fooled before by moonlight coming in a window.

It is He. He isn't moving. Slowly, painfully, I reach his side and take his clawed hand. He doesn't seem to be breathing.

"Please," I beg him, "Please…don't be dead. I can't lose you. Please stay with me. I will marry you if only you'll be all right."

And that's when everything changes.

 

I jerk upright, as I so often do now, and curse the dream. I struggle out of my twisted sheets and feel the sweat start to cool in my hair as I wait for my heart to slow down. My remembered exertions always feel real when I wake.

It has been three years since that night, the night I broke the spell. We married almost immediately, and for a time I was so deliriously busy that I was not able to think about anything except the next task. My husband (My Beast, a voice whispers in my head) was a wealthy lord before his enchantment, and his servants and vassals regained their human shapes just as he did. I had to learn not only how to be a wife, but how to be a lady, the mistress of a hall.

In addition, we had to discover a way to feed so many people with the little we had on hand. The land is fertile, but it was hard, backbreaking work to clear it. Since that time, some things have become easier: we have cleared a great deal of farmland and the crops have been good. Other things have become harder: our new neighbors look upon us with suspicion, and much of the land that used to be my husband's has belonged to other people for many years.

I look at my bed, the sweat-stained and twisted sheets, and know that once again I will get no more sleep this night. I cannot risk returning to the dream that haunts me. Judging from the position of the moon, not many hours remain until dawn, and once again my husband has chosen to sleep in the next room. He means to be considerate; so many problems remain to be solved that he is often up long past midnight, and he doesn't want to wake me by coming to bed after I have gone to sleep.

He only means to be considerate, and so he sleeps in another room and does not tell me about the legal and monetary problems that I know we have. I only mean to be considerate, and so I don't tell him about my dreams or that I sit up most nights because I cannot face the memory of the night I said I would marry him. We only mean to be considerate, and so we no longer talk.

Most of all, I fear the whisper I cannot silence. I remember the days and nights before the breaking of the spell, when we spoke openly and often, when we had no one to please but ourselves, when (I thought) we kept no secrets from one another. I remember the hours of discussing books and songs, the art we attempted to create, the laughter that we eventually shared so frequently. I remember these things, but I no longer have them. I try again to stifle the traitorous thought. This is not what I wanted.