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Grace dreamed of them, found them lurking in her sleeping mind as if they were part of her deepest primal self. They peered at her with their red eyes, black heads cocked inquisitively, their soft, feathered bodies low in the water. She danced on the water with them, small, strong wings flapping while her body lifted up, her voice raised in a shrill call to match those around her. Other nights, she felt her broken body drifting, the sensation of sliding along on the glass-smooth surface of a living lake filling her dreams.
She had awoken from the dream again tonight and pulled herself into the wheelchair, moving to the lone window of her small room. Sometimes she could hear one call out in the night, mournful and sad, its voice echoing across the sprawling waters of the dead lake.
Grace sighed in the dark. The local eldersReverend Coswell, Mayor Stuttgar, Sheriff Wilson and all the otherswould well she wasn't sure what they would do if they knew the loons, long fled or dead except for the last known pair living on Bay Lake, spoke to her at night, found new life in her dreams. She doubted they would actually harm her, even if they did not approve of her eccentric personality.
It was the approaching spring festival that was making her restless and brought the loons to her dreams this night. In the morning, her family would load up their wagon and, with the rest of the community, make the annual pilgrimage to Bay Lake and to the loons. She wondered who among the young men and women would be chosen to receive the giftor cursethe loons would bestow when their lonely cry rose across the lake.
She smiled at the thought of the exasperation she would cause in the morning, having used the last of her blue hair coloring that night after her family had retired. It was such a little thing, but it gave her an illusion of control, allowed a tenuous connection to a better time in her life. Grace sighed and turned her wheelchair back to her narrow bed. She needed to rest before the wagon ride from the farm to the lake.
David will be there, she thought. Seeing the young trader would be the highlight of her trip.
Transferring from the chair into the bed, Grace drew the sheet and heavy quilt over her shoulders and turned to rest on her side, facing away from her door. When sleep claimed her, she did not dream, or at least did not remember dreaming.
They glided across the calm waters, moving slowly in the waning daylight. The female called out, soft and sad. Her mate dived, vanishing beneath the surface for several minutes before reappearing several feet ahead of the female. He waited while she swam up to him. The female called again, waiting in vain for an answer. The male gave a soft, chirping warble and rubbed his head against hers.
They were old, older than the waters they swam in, older than any of their species and most of their kind. They were not the First Pair, but could easily remember when the First Pair held sway, watching over all of their children while the new world settled, took form, began.
They would build the nest again, as they had every season since being entrusted with the essence. They would wait for the humans to come, study the one brought to them. If they found the spirit the First Pair promised, they would fill the nest. If not, they would try to entice the humans to return next season.