A City in Dreams

A City in Dreams

Belraina is a city. A beautiful renaissance city in which two ducal families struggle for power. It is this mist of silver spires and deadly politics that Helen Morning, a 21st Century London teenager, finds herself in, in her dreams and in her pajamas. She is soon caught up in a wave of events she barely understands, torn between her own, mundane world and the friendship, love and danger she finds under the Belrainan sun. --feedback seriously appreciated--

Chapter 1

One or Two Ships

by: Hatty
Helen shut her book with the rest of the class as they dragged their bags from under the desks. She looked up at the classroom clock, which signalled that it was lunch time, and then at her watch, which also did. Of course. As she stood up Ms Tonder called out hopefully over the scuffling chairs, "For homework, read pages 31-35 of your textbook and make a table of the key points, please." Helen made an obliging mental note whilst already half-acknowledging that she would forget. Most of the class were already through the door and she joined them, glad to be outside and away from the empty chair.

She felt a yawn creep over her and tried to stifle it with her hand, not that anyone cared. One of the joys of being a teenager was everyone's dull acceptance of being constantly tired, though it wasn't something that Helen was used to. She didn't like going to bed these days. It brought thoughts into her mind that were never far away, had not been far away for several months now; thoughts about Roxanne Peters. Not that Helen was scared, she knew that what happened with Roxy wouldn't happen with her, but it was hard to get her best friend out of her head when she turned off the light. Her late best friend. She was always late. Helen looked at her watch again. It was still lunch time. Of course.

She followed the others into the dinner hall and sat down five minutes later with some pizza and an apple, not feeling particularly hungry. She took a chair at a table with some of the girls who had also just come out of Ms Tonder's Geography class and politely listened to their conversation without much interest.

She had always got on reasonably well with the other students at Parkers Road Community College, but they had never been very close. Although she and Roxy had hardly been outcasts and had attended a fair few social events, for the most part Helen and the others did not have anything that really interested them in common. She had only ever been close to Roxy and that had been enough for her, but now, drifting impersonally into groups of classmates who accepted her quietly, she wasn't just alone. She was intolerably bored.

It was boring to feel so subdued. Helen and Roxy had been loud together. Loud and bold and funny and clever and, she had a good idea, fairly annoying to boot. She still had doodles covering her pencil case, and none of them were hers. Drawing anything, even the silly faces that were -- had been -- Roxy's doodling speciality, was a bit beyond Helen. She could do numbers, words and facts and she could do them very well indeed. Roxy could too, of course, almost as well and always at the last possible moment. She could do art too, and drama and one day she was going to learn to play the guitar. Except that she wasn't, not any more.

"Party, Helen. Next Saturday, yes?" She jumped and looked round as the chair beside her was unexpectedly but decisively filled. The owner of the chair-occupying backside in question was a girl who had been to the same primary school as Helen and Roxy. Zoe Tinsley was a small girl with exceptionally long eyelashes and very short hair, and someone who deserved better than to be referred to as a chair-occupying backside. Helen was very grateful for Zoe; she was genuinely likeable and fun and quite insistent that the dead girl's friend would not mope her last year of school away. There wasn't long left here now. After she had finished her A levels, most of the year group would head off to into jobs or universities and life, in a sense, could start over again. Parkers Road was small and empty and Helen was weary of it --sad, useless and sick of life but terrified, nonetheless, at its terminal transience, every time she lay down to sleep.

"Helen?"

"Oh, erm," she brought her attention back to the group. They were used to her being distant, but not silent. She had never had it in her to be silent for long. Helen was well-known in the school for being quite a 'Lisa Simpson' when it came to the megaphone. She had an unusually developed political spirit for an eighteen-year-old and, with Roxy's help, had started up an Amnesty International society at the school, as well as an environmental concern committee. Not that it was good for anything -- Parkers Road Community College was unusually small for a London comprehensive. She was looking forward to voting for the first time in the next election though, and realised as she thought it that Roxy never would. Disgusted by her pitiful thought-track, she answered Zoe.

"Yeah, sounds great. Where?"

"My place, seven o'clock," she smiled and leaned around Helen to tap her friend Nina on the shoulder.

The rest of lunch dragged on slowly with some mundane conversation about a television show she had heard of but never watched.

It started raining halfway through fourth lesson which made the trigonometry practice feel even more monotonous and droned on all through German so loudly that they could barely hear the tape. When she finally got home at about four o'clock she was soaked through, despite having used her little blue umbrella that fitted so neatly into her school bag. It had white and grey stars decorating the surface, but from a distance just looked speckled. She tried not to remember who had bought it for her. Leaving the speckled umbrella on the radiator, she dripped quietly into the living room and found her dad and sister playing a game of snap with her old deck of cards. He had taken the day off work to look after Kate, who had remained at home complaining of a cold, although in fairness to the seven year-old she had not complained much. Sometimes Helen thought that her little sister was tougher than she was. She joined in for a couple of hands and then spent the next couple of hours reading a book by the same author who had written the set text for her English coursework. Victorian authors were all pretty much as miserable as each other, in her opinion, though, Thomas Hardy would come out top in that respect.

They ate earlier than usual, as soon as the girls' mother Gloria was home from the office, so that Kate could go to bed.

"Is your book any good?" Gloria asked her over pasta and garlic bread and Helen replied wearily, "They all die." Her parents exchanged anxious looks and suddenly it seemed like a stupid thing to have said. It was just a dark and dull read, was all she had been trying to say.

She spent the rest of the evening mindlessly surfing the internet, and ended up on Wikipedia as she so often did. But the little clock in the corner of the screen was winking accusingly at her, and so at last she swivelled out off her computer chair, yawning and ordering the last page to print. She stumbled into the bathroom with worn-out eyes. She really had to stop staying up this late on a school night. It wasn't affecting her grades yet, but there was something demoralizing about waking up not just sleepy but tired. Tonight she had been reading about the early life of Henry VIII's second wife. History was her intense interest, politics seeming more of a duty to her mind, though she wasn't actually sure why she liked it so much. She had a very modern outlook on life, but she did have a kind of fascination with the way the world had once been and the people who had lived there then.

She brushed her teeth and applied about three different face washes to her skin, hazel eyes blinking back at her. That was when she remembered that she had not even started Ms Tonder's geography homework, but never mind that now. She dragged a comb through her long, black hair, which immediately lost some of its curl and became thicker and a little frizzier. No matter, as she was just going to bed. Knowing that the rest of her family were already asleep, she tiptoed out of the bathroom and pushed open her bedroom door quietly. The door had a key ring blue tacked onto it.

"Name: Helen," it said, "Gender: female. Origin: Greek. Meaning: ray of light." Followed by some vague, complimentary description about girls named Helen that no-one would disagree with about themselves. It was all rubbish really, it was only on her door because it had always been there, ever since she was ten and Roxy had brought it back from York for her. The only bit that really interested her was the 'origin'. 'Greek' it said, and she knew who it was referring to. Helen of Troy, that was the original Helen. The first of note, at least, and it wasn't a person she would have elected as her own namesake. The woman whose fickle vanity had led to the deaths of hundreds in the Trojan wars; the face that sailed a thousand ships, she'd heard. That beautiful, bloodstained bride. It was probably unfair, and most probably very untrue. As a woman she should think better of Helen, since some accounts claimed she had been forced anyhow.

A thousand ships. She took a quick glance in the mirror as she pulled the duvet back from her bed. She had pretty eyes, prominent cheekbones and a strong jaw. When framed by her, sometimes tamed, mass of dark hair she looked quite striking if not classically beautiful, but it satisfied her and her teenage vanity. She could get away with one or two ships at least.

She sighed and lay back in bed, her thoughts turning automatically to Roxy, who had done the same one month ago, for the very last time. The seventeenth of September, then. A couple of tears leaked from her scrunched up eyes and she turned over in frustration.

But twenty minutes after she had lain down in her light blue winter pajamas and closed her eyes, she sat up on a cobbled stone floor in the light blue summer sunlight. She looked around her wildly, and appeared to be in a very small alleyway. Bemused, she stood up and ran a hand along the rough stone wall. The sound of passers-by reached her ears and she followed it into a wider and busy street where people dressed like Shakespearean actors bustled by, talking loudly and carrying bundles and baskets. What a strange dream, Helen told herself, she really must stop web browsing this late into the night. A horse and carriage trundled passed, revealing behind it the view of a harbour just a few metres away, where one or two ships came and went through a small forest of white sails.

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