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He pressed his hand to his forehead, grimacing as he poured a cup of water from the ewer on the bedside table. It never worked when he attempted to rub away the dull ache between his eyes, but he tried anyway as the lukewarm water slid down his dry throat. He had a full day’s work ahead of him, whether he felt like performing it or not, and he’d already wasted an hour.

Not that he’d done so out of slothfulness – it had been a miserable hour, and he’d have risen before dawn if he’d been able. But some mornings, dreams held him captive, so intense he couldn’t wake up even though the time to rise had come. The last vestiges of those nightmares clung to him now, shrouding his mind in a fog like gunsmoke. He finished the water in a hurry, not caring that some had spilled down his chin, dripping onto his chest and beading on his skin. His mouth still felt like cotton, but at least the drink would help with the headache. Perhaps he would have been able to avoid it altogether if he’d risen during the night for water, as he usually did, but the night’s dream had been inescapable.

Setting down the cup, he pulled open the bedside table’s drawer.

It was empty, save for one small object. It was a length of ribbon, and he picked it up, threading it through his fingers. It was cool to the touch, and though he remembered when it had been a rich emerald green, it had faded to a paler shade despite his efforts to preserve it. He clutched it for a few brief moments before throwing it back into the drawer and swiftly shutting it, turning his back on the table and beginning to dress. Within minutes he’d left the house, eager to escape its emptiness even if it meant skipping breakfast. Outside, he traded its shadows for the light of the springtime sun.

It was a beautiful day, and as he strode toward the barn by his farmhouse, the vividness of his dreams began to fade, little by little. He went about saddling his best horse, waiting for the familiar task to dispel the lingering grief, as it usually did.

By the time he’d haltered a second horse, he felt the same – as if he were still walking partially in the dream, physically in the present but mentally ensnared in the past. Shaking his head, he left the horses in their stalls and walked to the end of the barn aisle, barely pausing to grimace as he stepped out into a shaft of sunshine that seemed all the brighter for his having just spent the past twenty minutes in the cool shadows of the stable. Bracing himself with one arm against the weathered boards, he leaned over and vomited.

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