Part 10

Love’s palace of alabaster stone gleamed in the setting sun, and the golden light from inside shone out its windows, so that it seemed a beacon of warmth and brightness against the coming night.

Muse and Dream alighted from the backs of the dreamravens, and Dream, with a wave of her hand, made them shrink to a more normal bird-like size.  They perched on her shoulders and looked about with keen, gimlet-eyed interest.  With another wave she dismissed the human porters, who had approached carefully and asked if her birds were to be stabled with the other guests’ horses.

Dream swept up the stairs leading to the entryway, the skirt of her dress fluttering in the night breeze, leaving a smoky feather or two in her wake.  Muse followed, assured now that Dream was determined to make them the center of attention all night.

Inside, they were led by more human servants to the Great Room, where most of the revelers were gathered.  A group of musicians played in the corner, and Muse recognized her cousin Song among them.  A few people were paying attention to his singing, and their music, but for most it was just background noise.  No one was dancing.  Yet.

She looked around for Love, and spotted him seated behind a table at the back of the room.  He did not wear his wire-rimmed glasses, and she felt a sudden urge to leave, or hide, before this stranger noticed her.  She turned — someone handed her a drink — Dream grabbed her arm, gave her a look — she sighed.

“This party seems rather dull,” Dream observed, still holding her sister’s arm.

“I suppose when there’s a party every night, it’s bound to get dull,” said Muse.

“It’s not every night that Dream and Muse show up to a party, though.”

“Then you will have to liven it up.  I—”  Muse stopped short.  As she spoke to Dream, her eyes had been on Love.  She saw a goddess walk up and take the chair next to him —  he gave her a welcome look, she smiled.  It was Beauty, of course; there was an Immortal that, once you saw her, you never forgot her.

That might seem strange, given that she changed her appearance completely from day to day.  Sometimes more often than that.  But more than her appearance, she radiated the kind of “true” beauty that marked her as Beauty, no matter color of eyes or style of hair.  She was everything that people saw as beautiful, changing to meet the eye of the beholder, yet remaining, somehow, ever the same.

Tonight Muse saw her with a cascade of chestnut hair, reaching down past her waist, and eyes of chocolate brown.

“Ah, there’s Chameleon,” said Dream.  “Shall we go say hello?”

Muse would have, at any other time, smiled at the derisive nickname given to Beauty.  But not now.  “No!” she said hastily, digging her heels in as Dream tried to pull her along.  It was an unfortunate and unfair irony, she thought, that tonight Beauty should look like a far more glamourous version of her own self.

“Don’t be silly,” insisted Dream.  “And you must greet Love, as well — it’s his party after all.  It would be rude to neglect the host.”

“As the host it’s his duty to seek out his guests,” Muse protested, even as Dream dragged her along, the birds giving her mocking red looks from their shoulder perch.

“Nonsense.”

Immortals and humans parted for them as they made their way to the back of the room.  Love’s table was raised on a platform, so that he and his special guests could look down over the rest of the room, and surely he saw them coming.  But he made no indication of it, glancing their way and turning back to Beauty as if he saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Dream swept up the steps to stand at the end of the table.  One bird jumped down and began pecking at a roll of bread.  Muse tried to stand behind her sister, who would not let her.

Beauty turned to look at them first.  Her eyes, almond shaped, flitted to the nightmare helping itself to their dinner, then up at the sisters.  “Dream!” she exclaimed.  “It has been too long since I saw you last.  Love, look who has come.”

Love smiled, and stood.  “Dream,” he said courteously, “and Muse.  Welcome; I’m so glad you came.”

Dream snapped her fingers, and the hungry bird flew back up to land on her head.  “Even I need to get out of the woods every now and then,” she replied.  “And Muse told me she was wanting, for the longest time, to come visit you here.”

Muse gave her the look of one who has suffered the utmost betrayal.

“Oh, Muse, you must sing for us,” said Beauty, before Love could respond.  “Song is here — a duet between Muse and Song!  It would make this night perfect.”

“I would love to,” said Muse, jumping on the chance to cut short this awkward conversation.  She pulled free of Dream and scurried over to the corner where Song and his musicians were.  Love nodded to her once before sitting down again.

Song was happy to see her; not in the detached polite way that Love was, but genuinely happy to see his cousin out and about, and he welcomed her to his group.  Once in the safety of her own kind, Muse did not let Dream draw her out again, and spent the rest of the evening singing and playing with the musicians.  She would have enjoyed this, and wondered why she did not venture out to join them more often, if she did not so often notice how Beauty and Love never left each others’ side.

That’s what came of laying aside your preconceptions of a person, she thought.  You only had what you knew before reinforced, and felt like a fool, besides.

When she finally left, it was late at night.  There was no worry of awaking midafternoon in her other life; it seemed whenever she went to bed she still woke up at the crack of dawn.  Love stood at the doorway, Beauty to his right, bidding guests good night.  Dream and Muse passed by them, receiving a polite and formal farewell.

Dream had spent a pleasant enough night telling stories of mortal dreams to eager Immortals, and her eyes carried the glow of too much drink.  As soon as they were out of Love’s house, she turned to Muse.  “You are completely and utterly hopeless,” she said.  “I cannot help you if you insist on behaving like a frightened mouse.”

Her birds jumped from her shoulders and grew in size as they spread their wings in the air.  They circled round and landed on the ground, waiting for their riders.  Muse mounted one and lay down on it back.  “Let’s fly through the night, Dream,” she said.  “I don’t want to change worlds just yet.”

Dream said nothing more in reproach, but silently mounted the other bird.  Up, up, up into the air they flew, and glided above the slumbering world of dreaming mortal and sleepless immortal.  In the dark, under the shroud of night, all was formless and soft.  The gentle flapping of the dreamraven’s wings below her and the rush of night air around her was soothing, freeing.  It was almost like sleeping, almost like dreaming, almost like rest.

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