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Night Mare

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Night Mare

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Author: Piers Anthony
Publisher: Del Rey, 1983
Series: Xanth Series: Book 6
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Comic Fantasy
Avg Member Rating:
(71 reads / 21 ratings)


Although the Nextwave of barbarian warriors was invading Xanth, Mare Imbrium discovered that ever since she had gained the half soul, the night mare had begun to mishandle her job of delivering bad dreams. Exiled to the day world with a message for King Trent, Mare met the relentless, unforgiving Horseman. For the night mare, it began to be all a horrible nightmare!


Chapter 1. To See the Rainbow

The stork glided to a landing before Stunk's residence and squawked for attention.

"No, it can't be!" the goblin cried in panic. "I'm not even married!"

"'Snot that," the stork said through his long bill. "In the off-season I deliver mail." He produced an official-looking letter.

"Off-season for what?" the goblin demanded.

"You wouldn't understand. Take the missive. I have other idiots to bug."

"But I can't read!" Stunk protested, his panic shifting to embarrassment. Few goblins could read, but like most illiterates, they didn't like this advertised.

"I will read it to you, bulbnose." The stork opened the envelope and oriented an eye on the document inside. "Greetings."

"Same to you, birdbrain," Stunk said politely. Goblins had excellent manners, though for some reason other creatures seemed unable to appreciate them.

"Don't answer back, dolt," the stork said. "I'm reading the letter, not talking to you. Don't you know what 'Greetings' means?"

Stunk didn't answer.

"Hey, stupid, I asked you a question," the stork said, irritated.

"I thought you were reading the letter, needlebeak, so I didn't answer back. I'm trying to be polite to one not worth the effort. Of course I know what it means. It's an ungoblinish salutation."

"Salutation, ha! You dope, it means you have been drafted!"

"What? I wasn't aware of any draft. It's a very quiet day; no breeze at all."

"Abducted into the army, moron! Caught by the official press gang. Your happy civilian life is over."

"No!" Stunk cried, applied. "I don't want to fight. Not that way, with weapons and rules and things. Tell me it isn't true!"

"I'll bet you wish you'd had the baby instead, huh, goblin!" the stork gloated, cradling the letter with his wings.

"Why would I be summoned to war? We're at relative peace with the dragons and the griffins!"

"It's the Mundane invasion, oaf. The Nextwave of conquest. The horrible Mundanes are coming to make dragon stew and goblins too."

"No! No!" Stunk screamed, his horror growing by stumbles and lurches and faltering footsteps. "I don't want to be goblin stew! I'm only a young, ignorant lout! I have my whole ornery life ahead of me! I won't go!"

"Then you are a draft evader or a deserter," the stork said, licking his beak with an orange tongue. "Do you know what they do to deserters?"

"I don't want to know!"

"They feed them to dragons." The stork was gloating; waves of gloat radiated out from him like ripples on a greasy puddle. Behind him a dragon loomed, snorting up little warm-up snorts of purple smoke.

"They'll never get me alive!" Stunk cried, working up to a superior degree of cowardice. He charged out of his hole in the wall, fleeing the draft notice. But already the dragon was pursuing him hungrily, pumping up extra-purple smoke, the kind that not only roasted goblins, but smelled pretty bad, too. Salivary smoke.

Stunk fled screaming, feeling the monster's fire hot at his back. He paid no attention to where his feet were going. He was beginning to outdistance the dragon, but knew he was not yet out of its range; that tongue of flame could reach him any time.

Suddenly he was at the brink of a ledge, unable to stop. His horror doubled as he fell off. He saw the hard rock of the bottom of a canyon rushing up at him as his stubby arms windmilled futilely. Better the dragon than this, and better the draft than the dragon--but now it was too late for either.

It was too much. Bawling out his terror, he woke.

Imbri leaped through the wall, phasing into intangibility. She had misjudged the client's reaction to the dream and had almost been caught visible. It was very bad form for any night mare to be seen by a waking person, even one as insignificant as a goblin. She galloped out into the night, leaving only a single hoofprint behind as a signature. That signature was important; Imbri was a perfectionist, and liked to put her personal stamp on every bad dream she delivered.

Dawn was threatening. Fortunately, this was her last call; now she could go home and relax and graze for the day. She galloped across the land, passing through trees and bushes, until she came to a patch of hypnogourds. Without pause she dived into a ripe gourd--a feat that would have surprised anyone who was not conversant with magic, as horses were much larger than gourds--and was instantly in an alternate world.

Soon she was on the dusky plain, with the other mares of the night mare herd converging, all returning from duty. Their hoofprints bore maps of the moon, with its green cheese and holes, and the names of the individual mares highlighted thereon. MARE HUMERUM, MARE NUBIUM, MARE FRIGORIS, MARE NECTARIS, MARE AUSTRALE--all her old immortal friends, all with seas of the moon named after them, in honor of their nocturnal performance over the centuries.

Another mare galloped up to intercept Imbri. It was Crisium, serving as temporary liaison to the Night Stallion. She projected a dreamlet the moment she came within range. It was the scene of an elf, waving his arms in animated speech. "Imbri!" the elf exclaimed. "Report to Trojan right away!" The brief dream faded.

A summons from the Dark Horse himself? That was not to be ignored! Imbri whirled on a hoof and charged across the plain, heading for the stable. Her relaxation would have to wait.

The Night Stallion was awaiting her. He stood huge and handsome, midnight black of hide and mane and tail and hoof in the same fashion as all the mares, but on him it was more impressive. Any male was impressive in the realm of equus, for the real power lay with the few stallions.

Trojan projected a dream set in a lush human edifice chamber, in which Imbri took the form of an elegant human person lady, and he was a gray-haired human creature King.

"You are not doing well, Mare Imbrium!" the Horse King said. "You have lost that special spark that truly terrifies. I am dissatisfied."

"But I just drove a goblin to distraction!" Imbri-Lady protested.

"After hauling in the dragon and the unforeshadowed cliff," Trojan retorted. "You should have had him terrified into oblivion before he ever left the house. Dream dragons must not be brought in promiscuously, or the dreamers will become acclimated to them and desensitized. That ruins it for the other mares. You must avoid overexposure of emergency elements."

Imbri realized it was true. The nucleus of the dream had been the horror of the draft that was supposed to chill the spine of the client and make him shiver. She had lost her competitive edge and made clumsy what should have been precise. "I will try to do better," her lady form said penitently.

"That is not enough," he replied. "The edge is not entirely a matter of trying. It is inherent. Once you lose it, it's gone. I'm going to have to trade you, Mare Imbrium."

"But this is the only work I know!" she protested, stricken. She felt as the goblin had when receiving a dread notice. After more than a century of dream duty, during which time she had earned and held her designated moon sea, she wasn't ready for anything else.

"You can learn new work. There are daydreams--"

"Daydreams!" she repeated with contempt.

"I believe you have the inclination."

"Inclination?" She was stunned. "I never--"

"You were recently caught and ridden by a client," he said firmly. "No night mare can be caught unless she tacitly acquiesces."


"Why would you accede to being caught by a client?" The King held up a hand to forestall her protest. "I will tell you why. You saw, in the memory of another client long ago, the image of a rainbow. You were fascinated by this vision; you wanted to see the reality for yourself. But you knew you could never do that as a night mare, for the rainbow shuns the night. It is a phenomenon of day."

"Yes..." she agreed, realizing it was true. The vision of the multicolored rainbow had haunted her for years. But no night mare could go abroad by day; the radiation of the sun caused her kind to fade rapidly. So it had always been a futile notion, and she had been quite foolish to let it distract her.

"As it happens, you possess half a soul," the Stallion continued. "You carried an ogre out of the fringe of the Void and accepted in payment half the soul of a centaur, when all you really wanted was the chance to see a rainbow. Logic has never been the strong point of females."

She remembered it well. The ogre had wanted to do her a return favor, but she had not felt free to converse with him in dreamlet fashion and had been unable to convey her interest in the rainbow to him otherwise. He had been a decent sort, for an ogre and for a male. The two concepts overlapped significantly.

"As it happens," the Dream King continued, "that soul has further dulled your edge, interfering with your dream performance. It is difficult to be truly brutal when you have a soul; that is contrary to the nature of souls."

"But it's only a half soul," Imbri protested. "A mere fillet of soul. I thought it wouldn't hurt."

"Any portion of a soul hurts in this business," he said. "Are you ready to give it up now?"

"Give up my soul?" she asked, appalled for a reason she could not define.

Copyright © 1983 by Piers Anthony


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