The tower shook under their feet. The window hurled itself open and wind howled through, sending books flying off the shelves and cups crashing to the floor. Screaming, the child dropped to the floor and covered his head.
Theodore held his ground. Taking one careful step after another, he pushed against the squall until he reached the window and battened it shut. The shutters rattled on their hinges and the tower swayed around them until Zither ran out of breath.
“It’s okay,” Theodore said, in part to himself. “We’re safe.”
The boy peeked out from under the bed, snot dribbling down his terrified face. Although he was younger, his face chubbier and his hair unkempt, there was no question that this was the duke. He appeared to be maybe eight years old, dressed in a fine vest with buttons mismatched. “Get away!” He said.
Theodore knelt down, as if he were coaxing a stray cat. “Felix Ambergrail?”
“What do you want?” He said. “Leave me alone!”
“Your lordship, I want to help you,” Theodore said. “This is a dream, and we’re trapped here. I can get you out of here, but we need to work together.” A rubber ball smacked Theodore in the eye and bounced away.
“You’re one of them! You’re trying to take me away, just like father!” The duke said. “I won’t let you!”
Theodore sighed and readjusted his glasses. Not only did the duke look like a child, he was acting like one. He wondered how anyone dealt with children. “You’re scared,” he said, trying to find the right words. “You’re alone up here. It’s dangerous, and there’s no way out. You don’t seem to remember me, but I know you. I can help, but you need to trust me.”
“You’re lying! You don’t know anything about me!” He said.
Another windstorm hit. The whole room teetered, the iron tower groaning and threatening to topple. Felix retreated farther under the bed, and whimpered.
Sitting on the floor, Theodore waiting for the noise to subside. It was clear this hiding spot wouldn’t last forever. What would happen once it fell? He wanted to grab the duke, carry him down the stairs and get out of there before it did. But would that work? Theodore touched the toy soldier in his breast pocket. Thistle and Oboe told him they needed to confront what the dream was using to scare them. He couldn’t force the duke to do that. He had to convince him. But how?
Theodore’s thought about his own fairy dreams, about how it used his father. The wind died down and there was quiet.
“I get it,” Theodore said. “You told me before, about what it was like when your dad disappeared.” His throat tightened. Why was this still so hard? “Things changed after that happened. …Everyone has expectations for you, and he’s not around anymore to help you. Even if you wanted to be like him, you aren’t. That’s hard.”
Felix stared, saying nothing.
“I can’t bring your father back,” Theodore said. “But that doesn’t mean you should stay here. I don’t know how or why your father disappeared, but this is different. That thing outside isn’t as scary as you think it is. He made a stupid decision because he was angry and scared. It’s a mess. That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.”
Creeping out from under the bed, Felix got up. The tower rumbled again, and he winced.
“I want to go home,” he said.
Theodore took Felix by the hand. Together, they descended the long well of stairs carefully. The boy cried out whenever the tower shook and the stairs leaned, but Theodore urged him all the way to the bottom. There, they stepped out to see the city leveled.
“We need to walk toward that face,” Theodore said, pointing. “Keep hold of my hand, alright? I promise we’ll be safe.”
They crossed the dunes, hunkering down as the face in the sky blew to stop them. They pushed on, and the further they went the more Zither’s head began to twist and warp. Cracks formed, splitting him into crude shapes that squeezed together. Then, with a noise louder than anything Theodore had ever heard before, the shapes broke apart and fell like shooting stars. They pulled the world of the dream down like a stage curtain. Their vision blurred and they fell, reality hurtling back to seize them with one waking slap.