On the rare occasions when Maxim slept, he always had the same dream. In the dream, his skin was the color of strong tea, his hair, spilling forward over his shoulders, was black and that seemed wrong, though he couldn't say why. All of the Romany had black hair and black eyes and skin far darker than that of the people in the towns and cities who shunned Maxim's kind. Of late, that shunning had turned to terrible violence, but the Romany were supposed to be safe in Heterodyne lands.
In the dream Maxim cradled his brother's dead body in his arms and wondered why. When had Europa gone mad? Why had that madness all come crashing down on the Romany? The Romany had never harmed anyone, so why was he hugging his brother's corpse?
"All my fault," Maxim whispered though he didn't know why. In the dream, he doesn't know yet, but he's known this thing forever.
In the dream, Maxim remembered drawing his rapier when the townspeople descended on the wagons, drawing it and then just standing there watching helplessly as the townspeople slashed and stabbed and blood sprayed and Romany screamed and fell.
Romany didn't kill, they didn't slash with steel or rain arrows upon men. The Romany didn't even eat meat. In the dream, Maxim doesn't know what meat tastes like or why anyone would want to eat dead flesh.
Maxim had only picked up the rapier because wielding it was like dancing. Among a people said to be born dancing, Maxim was noted for his grace. Wearing the rapier, his fluid walk was mistaken for danger and attracted more women than even he could juggle. Lucky for him, Romany wagons always moved on sooner rather than later.
His brother, older by four minutes and so doomed to lead the wagons, had been married these ten years while Maxim danced and played the warrior for every gadji with pretty eyes and a well-turned ankle. Twins were considered unlucky among the Romany, so the elders were content to let Maxim play. They had had enough trouble with a twin wagon leader.
In the dream, Maxim looked up to see a mechanical horse pick its way through the bodies and was unable to react. Dimly, he noticed the protective ring of Jägermonsters. Despite their terrible reputations, the Romany had a friendly relationship with the Heterodynes' most infamous constructs. Some Romany had done a service for a Heterodyne in the past, earning all of the Romany safe passage through Heterodyne lands along with a Jägermonster escort, which the Romany accepted if the Jägermonsters happened upon them, but did not seek out for obvious reasons. The Jägermonsters were considered Romany rye, accepted as being almost as good as Romany. Maxim had heard townspeople heap as much scorn on constructs as they did on the Romany, but to the Romany constructs were the same as anyone not Romany.
In the dream, Maxim knew that the man on the mechanical horse was a Heterodyne. Madness danced behind black eyes half hidden by wild black hair. Skin as dark as his own made Maxim wonder exactly what service would earn generations of kindness from Europa's most infamous sparks.
In the dream, no one spoke, even as the ring of Jägermonsters opened to allow a blond, human-colored Jägermonster with a single, curled ram's horn forward, a triple poleaxe in one hand, the other clutching the collar of a bound man.
Ognian. Maxim had never seen the Jägermonster so grim. Indeed, in Maxim's experience, Oggie was always happy, quick to laugh, quicker to find a pretty girl and a cup of brandy, always ready to dance with the black-eyed Romany girls, never caring this his big feet couldn't help tripping themselves up. Despite the fact that the two shared nothing but a love of pretty girls, Maxim and Oggie had been friends from their first meeting a decade ago. They really couldn't be more dissimilar. Maxim was as pacificistic as any of the Romany, Oggie looked forward to battle with unrestrained glee. Maxim read every philosophical text he could get his hands on, delighting in the metaphysical flights of fancy even if he didn't always understand them. Oggie had only learned to read in order to understand the occasional written order. Maxim lived to dance, Oggie only danced long enough to find a girl sympathetic to a big-footed construct's plight. There was always at least one.
"Maxim." Oggie's tortured voice, cracked and oddly pitched, shared by all Jägermonsters, broke the silence. He looked at the body Maxim was still cradling carefully, as if his brother had any need of a gentle hand now. "Hyu brodder?"
In the dream, Maxim could feel the tears finally begin, hot against his cold cheeks. "Yaz. Dat von-" he pointed at the bound man, "dat von keeled my brodder. Und his vife." Maxim's voice cracked. Sweet, plump Jana always ready with a smile and a kind word, her pockets filled with candy for the caravan's children. "Und dere cheeldren. Fleur chust turned von . . ."
The Heterodyne remained silent, face impassive save for his eyes where shadows shifted darkly. He moved slightly, allowing Maxim to see the girl behind him on the mechanical horse. Elise. When Maxim had seen her last, she had been sweaty, naked and happy. Now she was covered in torn clothing and bruises. She shook her head mutely and closed her eyes against the sight of all the dead.
"Dis man," Oggie shook the bound man like a terrier with a rat, "say hyu forced youself on his vife. He say he kem to bring hyu to justice und de caravan attacked him und his men."
Maxim found himself standing, his rapier out, his brother's body forgotten on the ground. "Den he lies," he hissed, sounding eerily like a Jägermonster to his own ears.
In the dream, time slowed down, allowing Maxim to note every detail in the rising dawn light. A grin played across the Heterodyne's lips as the bound man, a very wealthy man by his coat, shrank away from whatever he saw on Maxim's face. The light glinted along the steel of his rapier and not one Jägermonster so much as blinked as Maxim buried the blade deep into the other man's chest with perfect, graceful form.
In the dream, Maxim heard whispers of marimé- polluted, impure, defiled- all around him, as if his people had risen from the dead at the enormity of what he had done.
In the dream, it took hours for Elise's husband- Maxim never learned his name- to die, but in truth he had died before Elise's cry of protest left her lips, well before the Heterodyne leaned forward and said, "Zo, my dear Maxim, it seems Hy heff failed to protect de Romany. Hy din't speak de vords, but as de Heterodyne, de vow vas mine to fulfill und now hyu heff de right to esk ov me vhatever hyu vish."
Maxim could only stare at the Heterodyne for a moment, so like his own people, so filled with a violence no Romany ever held in his heart. The Heterodyne, the greatest of sparks! "Ken hyu bring me my brodder beck? Zep him beck?" He thought that was it. The Romany had no use for sparks and their miracles, but surely they would understand Maxim's lapse in faith, his refusal to accept life, and death, as it came. Surely they would understand that their beliefs would be meaningless if there no Romany left to believe them.
The Heterodyne shook his head, mournful face at odds with what burned in his eyes. "Dot rarely vorks vell vit hoomans, Maxim. Hy'm not sure it vould vork on de Romany at all. Hy'm sorry."
In the dream, Maxim's skin turns purple as he says, "Den I vish to be a Jägermonster," but that didn't happen until later, at the Castle.
Even the Heterodyne was surprised at Maxim's request. The Jägermonsters remained still, but with a new wide-eyed stiffness that seemed appropriate in this caravan of the dead.
"A Romany Jägermonster? Vhy?"
Maxim wiped his rapier on his blood soaked pants and sheathed the blade. "Hy am de only Romany left, Master. Ve vere de last caravan. If Hy am a Jägermonster, I vill neffer grow old und never get sick und maybe neffer die. As long as Hy am alive, den de Romany iz alive." He got down on one knee before the Heterodyne, one hand on the hilt of his rapier, the other clenched in a fist over his heart. "Giff me dis und Hy vill serve hyu and yours foreffer."
In the dream, two humans argued over the rules of a Hat Fight.
Maxim opened his eyes and saw the Old Man arguing with his lovely granddaughter. What an arm on that one! Surreptitiously, Maxim pulled out his Official Jägermonster Rule Book, Let's Fight!, and tried to find a loophole to allow for the girl's intervention. The past was the past and right now, he needed to get the hat and the girl.