In my dream, I am Tethra. I am a troubadour, a storyteller, a singer of long songs. I accompany myself with the small lute I carry by a strap across my chest. I am an innocent. I come to the world with a smile on my face and a song at my lips, sometimes for a bed and some food, sometimes just because I feel like it.

I begin the dream by cresting the hill the hill that overlooks the house of Armanth, which produced the hero Gregrich. He has defeated many enemies in his day, but he's older now, settled down to raise a family. He has a beautiful, tall, red-headed wife (I'm not sure of her name, but she's a titaness), a son named Parcefix and a lovely daughter (whose name is also unclear). He has two other daughters as well, and several of his nephews also live with the family. Unfortunately, his two other daughters – twins, with pale skin and dark hair – were kidnapped by the rival house of the Zepherax. Gregrich has not made an attempt to free them by force, and forbids Parcefix from going in his stead. He says it goes against his nature and his morals to do such a thing; he is a man of peace, wishing only to care for the plants and animals that come under his jurisdiction. "Besides," he said with a touch of bitterness, "they're probably dead already anyway." I don't understand his reasoning, but I'm only a bard and it's none of my business.

The castle is made of healthy gray stone, with moss growing in its corners and trees within its walls. It sits in a small valley by the sea, with a little rocky beach nearby. The halls are hung with beautiful tapestries and the sun shines down on the fields and lights the interior of the castle. The great hall is huge and the board is always full of good food from the fields and sea. It's a pleasure for me to do my work there, and I relish the good company of Gregrich's wife and daughter. Still, it's obvious how much they all worry about the missing twins. Their fingers tremble with suppressed emotion as they work their embroidery.

One night, though, there is an argument.

"I can't stand it," Parcefix cries. "I can't bear to think of the Zepherax having their way with them."

"I won't let you go!" says Gregrich. "I don't want to lose my only son."

Parcefix wants to take a few of his cousins and carry out a stealth attack on the Zepherax castle to try to rescue the twins. Gregrich, like I've said, doesn't want to let him. But later that night, Parcefix and his cousins sneak away anyway.

For three days, they're gone. Gregrich storms around the castle, alternately raging at his wife and the walls at Parcefix's stupidity and disobedience, and expressing a little hope that he and his cousins might just be successful. For three days, the tension in the house is palpable; Gregrich's wife and daughter tremble with it. I consider leaving – after all, a good bard isn't supposed to get mixed up in this kind of thing – but don't. I want to see how it plays out. I might – I'm just guessing at my motives – be able to compose a song about the defense of Armanth.

It's one of the younger cousins who finally finds Parcefix. The boy was tending the family's herd of sheep one day when he saw a horseman coming over the hill from the direction of the Zepherax. He thought it must be Parcefix, and he was right.

Parcefix's body had been bound to his horse, the ropes cutting through flesh already beginning to bloat and decay. His head was tied by the hair to his saddle, his hands and feet on strings around the stump of his neck. The horse is bleeding from thrashes on the rump and collapses at the cousin's feet. I got all of this – I guess – from the cousin later.

Anyway, Gregrich's family has hardly any time to mourn, or even to bury their son. Just a few hours later, the black horses of the Zepherax begin to crest the hill, calling for Gregrich to come out and fight for the honor of the house of Armanth.

Gregrich has no choice; he wipes away his tears and puts on his light armor. He takes up his sword and goes to meet the riders of Zepherax. But just guess whom they have with them? It's the twins, in the dark armor that differentiates the house of Zepherax. Gregrich – I assume – is greatly thrown by this, because he is shortly returned to the castle. He is blind and lame from the battle, in no state to fight anyone ever again.

His wife takes him away to tend to him, but the Zepherax still demand a champion from the house of Armanth. No one will go to face them, however. All the cousins are too young, and Gregrich's wife and daughter will only say, their eyes blank with pain, "He wouldn't want it, he wouldn't want it," over and over again.

This touches a nerve in me. I don't know why, but I take up a helmet and a big blade, like a cross between a hacksaw and a sword, and I go forth to face the Zepherax. Me! A bard, and no relative of the family. It seems to be acceptable to the enemy, though, because they come to fight me on foot, the twins at their side.

I don't remember, or have made myself not remember, much of the battle, except that I killed almost every Zepherax soldier, and the others fled before me. I remember blood on my hands and clothes, yes, and on the grass and the hacksaw. It's not much of a weapon. You can do some damage just by swinging it, but it you really want to cut through something, you have to press down on the blunt side like this, and then it'll go through a limb. I killed… I don't know how many, and I don't even remember their faces or screams of pain or anything. It was a strangely silent battle, just as it was a strangely silent dream. But I do remember the last people I fought. The twins from Armanth came up against me. I killed one of them, and came into close combat with the other. I remember she was wrapped around me, but her blade was small or broken, because she just didn't do that much damage. I remember she bit at my back even as I cut through her leg…

And then it all goes black and the dream leaps forward in time. I am in the great hall with Gregrich's wife and daughter and the one surviving twin. I don't know where Gregrich is. Perhaps he's died of his wounds. I am talking and laughing with his wife and daughters. The wife and one daughter are sitting at the table at work on some embroidery or some such, while the twin is propped on pillows and swaddled in blankets against a wall. Often, I catch Gregrich's wife looking over at the twin with sadness in her eyes, a sorrow I can't quite account for.

The twin says that she'd like to come to the table. Since Gregrich's wife and other daughter are engaged in their needlework, I go over to the twin and pick her up. As the blankets fall away, I suddenly see the true extent of her wounds.

One of her arms is missing at the shoulder, the other stopping abruptly in a bandage at her wrist (there is no hand beyond it). Her right leg is cut off just below the knee and her left leg is hardly more than a stump at her hip. She is incredibly light and I carry her with ease. Her face is sweet and she seems to whisper, "I don't blame you." Somehow, this unwarranted forgiveness is more traumatic for me than the battle itself. I can make no reply, but the hacksaw, I notice, is hanging from my belt. Its blade is rusty and clotted with blood still, shiny and viscous in the sunlight. Bright red stains show at the end of the twin's limbs, the hacksaw sits heavily on my hip, the sunlight gleams in Gregrich's wife's hair, sorrow in her eyes…

And then I wake up, gasping, nearly crying. I am no killer; I was not made for dismemberment. So why should I dream of this? Why did I make this horror for myself? And who is Tethra?


Author's Note: Yes, this was an actual dream and yes, the names really were that weird. I'd been reading a lot of Michael Moorcock's "Elric" novels around that time, which might explain some things. Like, say, the massive amounts of violence, and the weird names.