Dreamland

I rounded the corner onto the street heading back to Pa’adhe’s pier, having finished arranging in town for supplies and taking care of port fees. Now that we’d delivered our cargo and sold my side cargo, I was happy we’d made a nice profit on this last voyage. I just had to resupply and find a cargo going out. One nice thing about being a free trader was that we never knew where we would be going next. Of course, that also meant we never knew where our next cargo would come from.

We had just finished getting our supplies stored away and I was standing on the pier discussing a job Cook had heard of in town when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a woman standing nearby, waiting.

“How may I be of service, Lady?”

“I need you to take me somewhere.”

I looked her over. “Near or far?” I asked skeptically.

“Far. Eight days journey by your ship.”

It surprised me, that she might know how long it would take Pa’adhe. Still, she didn’t look like she could handle the voyage. She was very thin, almost all bone. Before I could say anything she spoke again.

“I can handle the voyage, and I have the funds. I’m a Dreamer and I have a Dream to deliver.” She brushed her brown, shoulder-length hair away from her face and drew up the sleeve of her embroidered smock, revealing a tattoo entwined around her upper arm.

That gave me pause. Dreamers were an odd lot. Typically, captains would give a Dreamer passage wherever the ship was headed if asked, though at scarce intervals a Dreamer would actually charter a ship. More often, though, they traveled overland. They were considered messengers of the future, the message naturally being the Dreams they had. Time and again it had been shown that if you let the Dream play out unaltered, that Dream would come true. If it were to your advantage that was a good thing and if it were not, the Dream could be your guide to how to avoid your fate. Although Dreamers weren’t rare, neither were they common. They were supported by the nobility once they had proven themselves and attained their tattoo. They usually had free access wherever they needed to go. Even bandits and pirates left them be.

“Why would you pick my ship? There are others far more comfortable that would happily take you where you need to go.”

“True, but the Dream told me to take this ship.”

“To take the Pa’adhe?”

She shrugged. “I knew not the ship’s name, but I know it’s you.” Her clear gaze seemed to see far beyond me as she chanted,

Three the crew and the Captain, four and the ship…
Fair of hair and skin, tall with eyes of coldest blue,
Wild Naryan leads true, his the crew, his the ship;
Long and thick his dark braid, short and wiry,
High Mra’al, he of the Mountains, far from home;
Dark-skinned and hawk-nosed, in height between,
He from the far Southlands, lean is his form;
Sun-dark, dark-haired, dark brown his eyes,
Last-come the Sea Gypsy, born of the sea;
These four the Ship loves, the Naryan above all,
None may bear this Dream, save them and me.”

A chill ran up my spine as she said the last few words, as if a light hand traced my spine. Stubbornly, I resisted the urge to look behind me. The Dreamer stood there, her clear blue eyes seeming to pierce deep into mine. Then she smiled and the effect was gone. “I doubt, Naryan, there exists another ship with such a crew. I see on board a Mra’al, a Southlander, and a Sea Gypsy. This is the ship I must take.”

“Very well. Where are we bound?” I motioned for Cook to join us. “Who travels with you?”

“I travel alone. We sail to the Unknown Islands.”

* * *

Seeing Cook returning from town with the necessary supplies for the voyage, I went to help him get everything on board. As I approached the rail, I saw the Dreamer walking with him and overheard her say, “If I may ask, have any of the High Mra’al been visited by a Dreamer?”

Cook stopped abruptly, not looking at her.

“I apologize! I mean you neither alarm nor harm! Your people are unknown to me and I was merely curious.” The Dreamer was clearly upset.

Cook said nothing, just stood there staring off into the distance. I waited, wondering if I should step in or not. The Dreamer was looking at him, concern on her face. Just as she dropped her gaze and started to turn away to come on board, Cook spoke. His voice took on a rhythmic undertone, as of one seeing far into the past and telling a tale.

“Once only do I know of a Dreamer among the High Mra’al. When he arrived, he bared his arms and the tattoo was alive to the touch. Thus we knew soon enough what he was and accorded him all honor. Abrupt…he was so abrupt as to be rude. He demanded as his right a place to stay. He demanded as his right food and drink. He demanded, rather than asked, to speak to our chief. He demanded what we would have offered through honor and respect. His hair was white and his beard long, so we acquiesced to his demands for the High Mra’al respect their elders.

“When the chief came, the Dreamer ordered everyone gone from the room save the chief. All were reluctant to leave but our chief ordered it and so it was done. Outside the closed room and outside the hut we waited, young and old, man and woman. More came as we waited, until nearly the whole clan was there. We waited until the sun went down and the sconces were lighted. We waited until Lady Moon was high in the sky.”

Cook paused for a few heartbeats, as if gathering courage.

“We could wait no longer, for now the whole clan was nervous. He who came, his tattoo said Dreamer, but we knew not what to expect. He was not Clan, and our chief was well loved. Quietly we knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Again, harder we knocked, and again no answer. Then a third time, insistent. Now we were alarmed, and we knocked no longer. The Underchief gave the word and two warriors threw open the door.

“And the room was empty inside, save for the Chief. He sat on his high chair as he had when we left, but his soul was gone. Alone and unprotected, by his word we left him with one not of the Clan, with one our tales said to trust. And the Dreamer, too, was gone.

“Even as his wives raised their voices in agony, the Underchief gave the order: Ward the hut! All thought it too late, but from the first we had surrounded the place. Surely he could not have left. Yet, though we searched long and hard, throughout the hut, throughout the dwelling given him, throughout the village, the Dreamer was gone. And with him our Chief’s soul.”

Cook finally looked at the Dreamer, his impassive demeanor belying his next words. “I work for the Captain for I like the work and he is who I am meant to work for. For that reason alone, I accept your presence.”

Cook turned to start around the cart and begin loading supplies onto Pa’adhe but before he took a step the Dreamer put her hand on his arm. Reluctantly, he turned to look at her.

“I cannot take away your pain, or what happened to you.” The Dreamer’s voice became formal as she continued, “Hear me, please, I ask of you. I beg a boon of you, Son of the Terut, Son of the High Mra’al.”

A slight coldness entered Cook’s voice as he replied just as formally. “You ask a boon, Dreamer, of one that likes not Dreamers. Yet, Son of the Terut I am, Son of the High Mra’al I am, and so I must listen. Speak, then, Dreamer, and state your boon, but I give you no assurances.”

“I ask no assurances, I ask only for an open mind.” The Dreamer raised her sleeves, revealing the tattoos on her upper arms. “This I ask of you, O Son of the Terut, O Son of the High Mra’al. I ask that you examine my tattoos, I ask that you touch my tattoos. I ask that you compare mine against the False Dreamer’s and tell me true: Did his look like these? Did his feel like this to the touch?”

Cook stared coldly at the Dreamer now. “I was but a child when the Dreamer came to the High Mra’al. Yet, I was one that touched his tattoos. How did you know that?”

For the first time the Dreamer looked unsure of herself. Her voice was almost reluctant when she answered his challenge, though there was no lack of confidence in her tone. “I knew it not, but the same Dream that told me to take this ship told me this:

He of the High Mra’al, he holds his people true…
Their Soul is his, and his is theirs, but there is rue;
His Soul is self-set, darkened by a blow….
He saw, he felt, him that cast that Shadow,
That False Dreamer, tool of an evil scheme.
Take you that ship, and deliver your Dream;
Sail upon the sea, and a Shade remove.

“So, I ask you, Son of the High Mountains, check my tattoos.”

Reluctantly, Cook reached out and touched her tattoos. Surprise was evident on his face the instant his fingers touched her tattoos. He looked closer, gently stroking the entwined lines on her arms. Finally, he straightened up, his face impassive again. When he spoke, his voice was just as neutral.

“Lines like that he had, but darker somehow. Not so much in shade of ink, but something more felt than seen, as if there was a dark veil over them. Nor did his…feel like yours, but more slippery like oil. How do I know that’s not just you?”

“All True Dreamers’ tattoos will feel like mine: alive and offering no threat. Some may feel harder, some softer, and all will look like mine, for our tattoos become identical regardless where we get them. But know this: By your words I know this to be true, he who visited the High Mra’al that day was no True Dreamer.”

“As you say, perhaps it is. I do not know.” With those words, Cook deliberately turned his back on the Dreamer and set to work passing the supplies to me. I said nothing, working with Cook in silence. The Dreamer watched Cook’s back for a short time then went to the plank to board Pa’adhe and entered the small after cabin I’d turned over to her use.

* * *

We were half a day at sea before the Dreamer came out of the cabin. For a while she just stood there, leaning against the door studying Cook though she made no attempt to catch his eye or to approach him. Looking around, she saw me on the steering oar and came to join me, standing by the rail. Neither of us said anything for a while, I was enjoying the sailing and she was obviously thinking.

When she finally spoke, it startled me out of my own reverie; I’d almost forgotten she was there.

“I apologize, Captain, for disturbing your crew.”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Finally I just said, “It hasn’t affected his work.”

“I’m sure it hasn’t, he is a strong man.” She glanced at me to be sure I understood her. I simply nodded. “But it has affected him, my bringing up his past. And bothering him, it has also impacted the rest of the crew.”

Not knowing where she was going with this, I merely shrugged.

She smiled faintly. “You don’t like me, do you, Captain?”

I glanced at her before I spoke. “Neither like nor dislike. I’m not sure how I feel about Dreamers.” I looked into her eyes then away. “You are the first Dreamer I’ve met, so I only have other people’s word about you, about Dreamers, to go by. But it’s not an auspicious start.”

“No, I suppose it isn’t. Captain, I have to tell you, I have a Dream for Cook, also. It came to me last night.”

Now I turned to glare at her. “Haven’t you done enough already?”

She didn’t flinch. Perhaps she was used to being accused or perhaps she knew more than I, and I didn’t like that when it came to my ship or crew. “I do not select my Dreams, Captain, nor who they are for. I tell you true, when I first sought you and your ship out, I had only the one Dream for a Lady of the Unknown Islands.” Her voice became troubled. “It is extremely rare for a Dreamer to have more than one Dream until that first Dream is delivered or the person it is intended for passes the point of the Dream or dies.” She turned to face me, her eyes seeking mine. “I have never had this happen to me before. I do not know what will happen, Captain, but I do know the Dream I have for Cook, he of the High Mra’al, will benefit him.” She turned to look at Cook trimming a line and I barely heard her say, “If I can get him to listen to me long enough.”

I knew a Dream was meant for the person alone, but I had to ask anyway. “What can you tell me?”

She looked at me but said nothing. I didn’t pursue the issue. Instead, I went back to enjoying my sailing. Eventually she left to talk to Xinu and I idly wondered what she had for him. Or for the rest of us. Sourly, I looked around, no longer enjoying the open sea and Pa’adhe running across the wind. Was this a mistake, accepting this job from the Dreamer?

* * *

The wild weather had been raging more violently than I had ever known it to. I felt no fear for myself or Pa’adhe or her crew, but I felt a sadness mixed in with the exhilaration of sailing in the storm. The spume was being blown every which way, as if the winds couldn’t make up their minds where to blow. This was the strangest storm I’d ever been in, full of lightning and thunder and wild winds and wilder seas. Then I saw him. Striding across the water towards me came a giant. He seemed—

The sudden shock felt like I had been struck by lightning when Scarle touched me. He barely managed to pull his hand back before I could grab it. Scarle and Xinu were staring at me and behind them I could see the Dreamer, concern etched across her face. A quick look around showed Cook on the steering oar with Pa’adhe running before a gentle breeze under a clear night sky. Lady Moon was low in the sky, playing in the ship’s wake. Half the night gone. I started to rise as I asked, “What’s going on?”

Scarle glanced at Xinu then back at me. Standing on the deck, I looked from one to the other. Tiring of the silence, I asked as I looked around again, “It’s not watch change yet, why did you wake me?” Impatiently, I added, “One of you, speak!”

Xinu spoke. “Captain?”

I looked at him, frustrated. “Yes?”

Both of them relaxed but the Dreamer still seemed concerned. Scarle spoke this time: “Captain, the Dreamer told us to wake you. She said you were in danger. We didn’t believe her but Cook flat out ordered us to check on you.”

I glanced at Cook but said nothing.

Xinu said, “You were still and cool to the touch, as if you were all but dead. The Dreamer said you were in a Death Dream.”

Confused, I looked at the Dreamer for an explanation. She looked at me carefully before she began to explain.

“A Death Dream is a Dream that can result in your death. It can be any of several things…. It could be a glimpse into the future, a glimpse of your fate. Or it could be a simple Dream like any other. The thing is that it is so real a dream that you will die from it if you believe it to be real and were to die in the Dream. Only a Dreamer is supposed to have such Dreams of Power. A Dreamer near such a Dream will become aware of it and thus able to intercede if necessary.” Her voice changed, suddenly uncertain, her confidence clearly shaken. “Only a Dreamer has those Dreams! You are definitely not a Dreamer, Captain! I don’t understand it at all!”

“You mean, if I had dreamed that dream all the way I’d have died?”

“I believe so,” said the Dreamer, “but I’ve never known anyone other than a Dreamer to have a Death Dream. Those Dreamers that dare dream to the end have usually died. Do you remember any of it?”

I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it. Finally, I shook my head. “There was a storm.” I looked at everyone. “Whatever it was, it’s done with. I’m awake now. Get back to sleep or to work.”

Xinu and Scarle looked at me then turned, one to return to watch and the other to sleep. The Dreamer stood there a bit longer before turning to go to the cabin. I went to stand by Cook. For a while we sailed along in silence. Cook spoke, just loud enough for me to hear him.

“She came running out of the cabin in a panic, looking all around as if lost and having to find her bearings. Then she came running to me. I told her to calm down and talk to Xinu. That only seemed to make her more frantic, but what was I to do?”

“You did right. Pa’adhe comes first.”

“Yet, there was…something. Pa’adhe was…different.”

“How so?”

“Shortly before she came running out of the cabin, Pa’adhe became stiffer. That’s the only way I know to describe it. She’s more lively than any other ship, but at that moment it was as if she became just like any other ship.”

Cook looked at me to see if I understood. Believing it couldn’t be what I thought, I simply shook my head. “It was as if…,” he was quiet for a bit, obviously thinking how to explain. “As if I was no longer on Pa’adhe but instead was on any other ship.”

This time I knew without a doubt. Pa’adhe handled differently than any other ship I’d ever been on, and had since she’d been launched. It was more than just how she handled, it was as if she were almost alive. It wasn’t something I’d ever been able to pin down and I had thought I was the only one that felt that. Apparently Cook had noticed it as well. I wondered yet again what it was about Pa’adhe. It had to be more than just the way she was built. But what?

I nodded. “I had thought I was the only one.”

“No, even Xinu has mentioned it. Scarle mentioned once a day or two ago that it was you but also Pa’adhe that drew him to sail with you. A Sea Gypsy has a feel for such things, or so he says.”

I snorted. “Don’t believe everything a Sea Gypsy says. You can trust Scarle, but he IS a Sea Gypsy.”

Cook chuckled. I left to walk around the ship, ostensibly to check on everything but I knew all would be in order. In truth, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. And my memories of the dream I’d had. I remembered every detail of that dream. Was that my fate, somehow? If so, what was it? To die in a storm?

* * *

The four of us, Cook, Scarle, the Dreamer, and myself were sitting on the foredeck enjoying dinner and conversation. I could tell the Dreamer was preoccupied even though she participated quite readily in the discussion about the legends of the stars. We were arguing about the reason the Warrior had been put in the sky when the Dreamer asked if she could sing a song about the Warrior and if anyone had a way to make music. Reluctantly, Cook admitted to having a mountain ocarina and went to fetch it. When he returned and sat back down, the Dreamer gave him the name of a High Mra’al tune. Cook’s face revealed nothing as he began to play the notes on his ocarina. The haunting opening notes floated out over the sea as the Dreamer began humming along. Eventually she closed her eyes and began to sing, her clear voice enveloping the ship and the world, drawing us all into her song.

Hearken to me, O my listeners, as I sing the Song of a Warrior!
Bold was he! Fearless was he! Skilled was he! He was a Warrior!
Strong in honor, kind to all save those who deserved it not…
True to family, true to Clan, true to his people to the end!

Cook’s notes faltered on that last line but the Dreamer’s voice never stopped, leaving Cook with no choice but to keep on playing. She vocalized until her voice was weaving in and out and over and under the notes from Cook’s ocarina, guiding and cajoling his playing until it satisfied her. Then she began singing again and this time there was no hesitation on Cook’s part. As she sang, gradually her words enveloped us and we were transported by music and song to another land, high in the mountains…

Hearken to me, O my listeners, as I sing the Song of a Warrior!
Bold was he! Fearless was he! Skilled was he! He was a Warrior!
Strong in honor, kind to all save those who deserved it not…
True to family, true to Clan, true to his people to the end!

Hear, O my listeners, his story, hear a tale of honor lost,
For he was tricked, he was fooled, and so he paid the cost!
His honor made him see his was the failure, that was his doom!
Hear my song as I sing of a Warrior caught in a web of honor!

Came one day a thief, to the Warrior’s village he came,
Of high honor, one to be trusted, but he wasn’t the same!
Honor’s due was he given, slyly stealing what was not his.
Demanding their trust, demanding their honor, to their doom!

I was standing in the middle of the village square. Something was trying to tell me that was impossible, but I ignored it.  I watched as an old man demanded the chief be brought to him then had to settle for going to the chief’s audience chamber. I followed the people into the chamber, managing to work my way to the front. There I heard the old man demand to speak to the chief alone. No! That is not right! Guest or no, don’t! ran through my head, but I couldn’t make myself heard. I knew something was going to go badly wrong, I knew that thief was here for some foul reason.

Unhappily, I saw the old man whisper in the chief’s ear. The chief thought briefly then nodded and ordered everyone out of the room. Various people present objected, some strenuously, but the chief’s word was inviolate and eventually people began to leave. Stubbornly, I remained where I was and the two, the old man and the chief, seemed not to see me, though the thief looked carefully in my direction then shook his head as if doubting himself. Dimly, it seemed to me I heard a clear, high voice singing. Barely able to make out the words, something forced me to listen to it.

In the chief’s chambers, there was trust broke,
Dark taught, foul betrayal, two in one stroke…
One a soul stolen brazenly, one yet to doom…
Proud honor torn asunder, for this he came!

The thief leaned forward and I pushed away the singing. Something was going to happen now, I was sure of it. I started forward, but found that I was unable to get any closer. I tried to call out, but though I heard my alarm, neither the thief nor the chief seemed to hear me.

The thief muttered something inaudible and I saw the chief’s eyes widen in surprise. The chief grabbed his knife but the thief was faster, stabbing a long thin needle of mottled metal into very base of the chief’s skull. The chief stiffened instantly. A thin, clear liquid ran down the small bit of needle still sticking out. The thief straightened up but before he could do anything else, his eyes went blank. He then began to speak in a strange, guttural language that made my skin crawl. I could not hear the words spoken, and instinctively I was extremely grateful of that fact.

The needle began to glow faintly with a sickly green light. I struggled to get to the thief and stop him, but it was like there was a wall between us. The old man went quiet and waited for the needle’s glow to change to an even sicker yellow color before pulling it out and putting it in a leather case. As soon as the case was closed the old man seemed to regain his senses. Glancing around hurriedly, he put the case into a pocket in his robe as he made his way to a blank wall. Tapping around briefly, he sprung a trapdoor in the floor and dropped down into it. No sooner had he pulled the trapdoor shut than there was a knock on the door.

It wasn’t long before there was a louder knock followed shortly after by a brief and even more insistent pounding. When even that elicited no response, there was quiet for a few heartbeats before the door was thrown open and people came rushing in. With a start, I saw the warrior leading the charge through the doorway was Cook. I tried to tell him about the trapdoor and even as I did so I realized that it wasn’t Cook but rather someone very much like him. The warriors milled around searching for the old man as the Warrior and another man examined the chief. The two men discussed the situation then began issuing orders for the hut and the surroundings to be searched. At that point, three women pushed their way into the room. When the people in the room stepped back to give them a clear path to the chief, they took a few steps then broke into wails. Looking around in frustration at my inability to help, I saw a young boy peering into the room around the doorway. Though I couldn’t place him he seemed familiar.

My attention was drawn back to the Warrior as he began giving orders to expand the search. Within heartbeats, I knew the entire village was being thoroughly searched. My hope they would find the old man thief was quickly dashed as word began filtering back from the various search parties. When it was obvious the thief was not to be found in the village, the Warrior issued a call for the best hunters to meet him outside the village. As he headed out of the room, he paused to tousle the boy’s hair before leaving. The boy turned to follow the Warrior but was directed to go to his mother instead. Curiosity made me start to follow the boy for some reason but once again I heard the high, clear song.

Round village, ranging ever outward,
Searching, searching for aught untoward,
Short the time ere the spoor was found!
Gathered there, then, three for the hunt.

Out they set, following thief’s faint track
Fen and  hill, deep dale, high ridge and wrack…
Ever onward ran the three, keen on the hunt.
Further, ever further, following the slightest spoor.

Night fell, still they ran, by Lady Moon’s Light
Never faltering, hunting through the long night.
Came the dawning, and still they pursued,
Beginning to know, no ordinary thief this!

Willing but drained, one falls by the side,
A chance rock, cruel fate, breaks the other’s stride,
By chance or by curse, two no longer hunt.
Onward forged the Warrior, onward alone.

Abruptly, a glint of light drew me back to the scene before me. The Warrior was standing before a footbridge slung across a deep gorge, the sun flashing from his drawn knife. I knew without being told that this was the Bridge of the Gods, high up in the mountains. A short way onto the bridge stood the thief. He looked at the Warrior and laughed before turning and running across the bridge. The Warrior charged in pursuit, the bridge twisting and lurching as the two ran over it.

Midway across the thief suddenly stopped and turned to face the Warrior, in his hand the slim case with the Soul Needle. He smiled at the oncoming Warrior and held his hand over the side of the bridge. The Warrior came to a stop ten paces away. When he took another step forward, the thief waggled a finger at him. “Ah, Gailie! Come no closer or I drop this and his soul is lost forever!”

The Warrior stopped, suddenly wary. “I’ve not heard that name in a long time. Who are you to know that name?”

The thief smiled evilly. Scorn seemed to drip from his voice when he replied. “Remember you Dyima? There you served in the Lord’s Guard.”

The Warrior nodded.

“Remember the foiled assassination attempt? When you, mere mercenary that you were, killed the assassin?” Again, the Warrior nodded. “Remember when you tracked down who was behind the attempt?” Seeing the Warrior’s sudden surprise, the thief nodded. “I told you one day I would repay you for that interference of yours. You ruin my plans, I will ruin your life.” The hand holding the case opened all but two fingers. “Your chief was just the bait, you were who I wanted. And now I have you! You will never get this back. You lose!” The thief lurched far over the rope handrails, trying to throw himself over the side.

In that instant a scream ripped from the thief’s throat. “No! This was not the plan!” The old man stiffened then contorted in agony, dropping back onto the footbridge in a crouch. The thief’s hand clenched convulsively around the case and his arm came back over the bridge. A black miasma seemed to flow around the old man, suddenly disappearing into the thief as he snapped upright, his eyes rolling back in his head to reveal only the whites. The Warrior leapt forward, his knife flying from his hand to bury itself in the old man’s chest. Just before the Warrior crashed into the old man the thief dropped the case, screaming with laughter. Horrified, the Warrior watched the case disappear into the thread of river far below.

A gasp brought the Warrior’s attention back to the old man laying on the footbridge. Gesturing weakly, the old man bid the Warrior closer. Already, the old Dreamer’s tattoos were subtly changing, as were his eyes. The Warrior noticed all this in passing as he knelt by the man.

“I’m sorry! I… I… thank you for my release.”

The Warrior looked sadly at the old man. The old man looked away from the Warrior’s face, unable to bear what he saw, dying even as he turned away.

The Warrior stood up, looking down at the body. Without a word, he picked up the old man and dropped him over the side, watching him fall to the same river that claimed his chief’s soul. When he turned around, I was startled by the change in him. His face was lined with weariness, his eyes had lost their fire. He had all but become an old man in that instant.

Assassination thwarted; a slight perceived…
A cold plan, a Warrior’s honor to be deceived!
A Dreamer doomed to death, never meant to live,
A beloved chief’s soul, stolen for mere bait!

By one dark of soul, twisted and bent,
All to steal a Warrior’s honor, leave him rent!
All to strip the Warrior’s pride, his prowess, his honor…
Twisting others to his need for a Warrior’s shame!

Alas, though so evident, presented so true,
Warrior’s spirit broke, bent by honor’s rue!
Failed his beloved chief, failed his beloved clan!
Worthless now he saw himself, be it true or no!

Step by painful step, back to his village he went,
With each slow step, ever more was his heart rent.
Until arriving home and seeing his people waiting…
A final rent, and his heart broke asunder!

Unable was he, to face his clan, self-wracked;
Another’s target, by stealth his honor wrecked.
His failure he announced, each word striking deep…
His lament given, he bade clan and family fare well.

No longer a proud Warrior, with broken heart,
Now roams the warrior, by trails of the hart
Through hill and dale, roaming the high crags,
Never knowing, never accepting the fault not his!

Time now for son to save the father’s honor!
Time now for son to restore  family’s honor!
Time now the true tale be told, for clan’s honor!
Time now for father and son to be at peace!

With a start, I realized the song and music had stopped. A quick look around showed Pa’adhe sailing into the dawning day. Alarmed, I looked around to see Xinu still at the steering oar, himself looking dazedly around. Leaping to my feet, I scanned the ship, relieved to see everything was safe. The sails were drawing, though no longer set perfectly.  Either Xinu or Pa’adhe herself had instinctively sailed through the entire night. I looked down at Scarle, who was now getting to his feet and looking around, and at the Dreamer who merely looked back at me, her face impassive. It was when I looked at Cook that I became alarmed.

Cook sat there, his eyes unfocused, his ocarina loose in his hands. As I moved to touch him, the Dreamer’s voice cut through the air like a whip.

“Touch him not, Captain, if you would have him back.”

I hesitated, uncertain whether to trust her or not. I looked from one to the other and back, trying to decide. Before I could do or say anything, Cook began to cry softly. Alarmed, I knelt by Cook and reached out, but again before I could make contact the Dreamer spoke, and her voice demanded I listen.

“He must come through this himself, none can help him. If we try, he could be lost forever.”

Reluctantly taking my eyes off Cook, I looked over at her. She started at the anger evident on my face, but didn’t back down.

“Scarle, Xinu, myself, and you, we returned from Dreamland. But Cook, he remains there.” Compassion entered her voice, but the steel never left. “I do not know what happened, exactly. I fully intended to sing of the Sky Warrior, but as the music began, a woman appeared before me and I could not resist her. She bade me sing Cook’s Dream then and there, and her power joined with mine. That is why we all of us went into Dreamland. I have never heard of such a thing where any other than the one for whom the Dream is meant goes into Dreamland, but somehow we all went. How that happened, I do not know. All of us returned, save Cook. Before she left, the Lady said he would return in his own time and we must let him do so.”

I glared at her. “There was no woman anywhere here, save you!”

Calmly, the Dreamer said, “Perhaps, but she presented herself to me. She was no-one that I’ve ever met, yet I felt I knew her.” A strange look came over the Dreamer’s face and she stared at me, a wondering look on her face, before continuing. “Before she bade me sing Cook’s Dream, I would have sworn she looked at you with fondness, as if she knew…no, as if she loved you.” The Dreamer shook her head. “I know without a doubt she loves you all and will never harm you, but I have no idea who she is or where she came from. Her final words when she left were, ‘Cook is strong, he will survive this. Let him be, for he must return on his own with what he gains.’ So, I say to you…Leave him be.”

Frustrated, I glared at the Dreamer, willing myself to see into her very soul. As if I could do so and see anything useful! Frustrated, I studied Cook instead. He had stopped crying and sat there like a statue. Rubbing my eyes with my fists, I stood up and walked away to the far railing and stood there staring out over the sea. I pounded on the railing with both fists. By all the gods, why did I ever accept this job? I swear, by my life, she will die if he does. The savage thought made me feel no better. I turned to look at the two of them sitting there. With nothing else to do, I gave it up and went to relieve Xinu on the steering oar.

Using the angle of the rising sun, my memory of where we were when all this started, and where I guessed we were, I changed our course slightly. I had Scarle and Xinu trim the sails to my satisfaction before sending them off watch. Sourly, I noticed they both gave the spot where Cook and the Dreamer sat a wide berth.

* * *

The sun was well up in the sky before I lost my foul mood. I had noticed the Dreamer move to shade Cook as the sun rose, so I was starting to think maybe she wasn’t as evil as I’d feared. But to pull a stunt like that…. Resolutely, I put that out of my mind and strove to remain calm. Scarle brought some water and cold cuts and we stood there eating breakfast, neither of us saying anything. Xinu joined us after a bit and finished off the meal. When Scarle finally left to take the utensils back to where Cook kept them, Xinu asked, “What was that?”

I knew what he meant. “I don’t know. She called it Dreamland.”

“So, it was all a dream?”

I shook my head. “More than just a dream.”

“It felt real.” Xinu looked at the sky and around at the sea. “As real as this.” We were quiet for a while then he said what was really on his mind. “The warrior in that was Cook’s father, wasn’t it? And that boy was Cook.”

“Aye.” There wasn’t much else to say to that.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Xinu fingering his knife. Finally, he just said, “That’s not right.” Glancing at me, he nodded. “Not right,” he repeated before going forward to sit in the shade.

* * *

We sailed on through the day and well into the next before there was any change.

As far as I could tell, the Dreamer never left Cook’s side except to take care of any necessities. I noticed she was also careful not to touch him or to let anything touch him. She kept him shaded from the sun as best she could until Xinu set up a small tarp to shade them both during the main part of the day. Xinu said nothing when the Dreamer thanked him and with the weariness in her face I couldn’t tell if that bothered her or not. Every time I looked for more than a few heartbeats at them sitting there my frustration began to build so I avoided looking at them any more than necessary. Still, I couldn’t help checking on them every so often.

The sudden scream, when it came, froze the blood of everyone on board. It took me a few heartbeats to realize the unearthly scream was actually coming from Cook. I yelled for Scarle to take the steering oar, my voice breaking the frozen tableau. Even as I hurried to Cook, I could see he was staring around, trying to get his bearings.

As I crouched near him, he looked at me, his face blank. Before I could say anything, he spoke, “Sorry, Captain. I think I had a nightmare….” His voice trailed off as memories flooded into his eyes. Looking around again, he said, haltingly, “I seem to have lost time. It was evening but…I was young….” He shook his head, rubbing his hand over his face, as if trying to clear cobwebs from it, then just sat there looking at me, confusion evident in his eyes.

“Two nights and most of another day. You’ve been sitting there the whole time, since two evenings ago,” I said.

“Seems longer than that, a month at least.” He tried to rise but his legs wouldn’t cooperate.

“I’ll have Xinu bring you some food and water. Get that into you then work your way up and about.”

He nodded and I saw Xinu hurrying off to get the food and water. Both of us looked at the Dreamer, to see her staring intently at Cook. When Cook looked away, I asked, “Well?”

She understood my question but didn’t answer immediately. Finally she gave a little shrug and when Xinu came back with the light meal she motioned to the other side of the ship. When we were at the far rail, she looked at me before answering my question. Her voice was troubled as she spoke,“I think he’ll be fine. I don’t know what’s happening. There are several things about all this that I’ve never encountered.”

She looked back at Cook as I asked, “Such as?”

She shrugged before facing me again. “Going into Dreamland is what happens when I deliver a Dream, but usually I have to touch the other person. What is unusual here is it pulled in others than the Dreamer and the person the Dream is for. I’ve never known that to happen before, though I have read of it happening once, long ago. It even pulled in Xinu and he wasn’t near us.” She shook her head. “As is normal, after the Dream was delivered we all returned…except Cook. He should have returned when we all did. Never have I ever heard or read of anyone remaining in Dreamland after the Dream was delivered. I don’t know what happened.” The frustration was clear in her voice, as was the concern. “I wish that Lady had remained so I could ask her about all this.”

“You were the only one to see the Lady, so excuse me if I have my doubts about that part.”

She scoffed. “You went into Dreamland and you doubt the Lady?”

I shrugged, watching Cook carefully eating and drinking, a little at a time. “I’ve no doubt it’s possible, I know. But without seeing her myself and after what happened, I find it hard to trust you. So, how do I know if you’re just using the Lady as an excuse, or to hide what your agenda was?”

The anger was clear in her face and voice. “You think I am a False Dreamer? Think what you will.”

She left me and went to sit by Cook, saying nothing to him. He couldn’t seem to look at her but didn’t ask her to leave either. I rubbed my chin, thinking. Her anger was genuine, as was her concern and worry. That’s in her favor, but…. I leaned there against the railing for a long time, trying to remember everything I’d ever heard or read about Dreamers. There was precious little known and a lot of conjecture. Finally, I quit trying to make sense of it and went to take over the steering oar again. I’d just have to be on my guard and let it play out.

* * *

The next day Cook seemed fully recovered, taking care of his work and for the most part interacting with Scarle and Xinu as usual. Though at times he appeared lost in his thoughts it didn’t interfere with whatever he was doing. Towards the end of the day, after his shift was over and before he started on the evening meal, he sought out the Dreamer. For a long time they stood talking by the bow. Several times the Dreamer shook her head and once she held up her hand to stop whatever it was Cook was saying. Keeping one eye on Pa’adhe and the other on the two in the bow, I thought I saw tension gradually leave Cook but from where I was I couldn’t tell for sure. Finally, he hugged her and left to prepare dinner.

I spent the rest of my shift on the steering oar thinking about what I’d seen. If Cook was willing to accept what happened, I guess I would have to as well. Acceptance doesn’t mean I have to like it. Or her, I reminded myself. When the shift was over, I joined Scarle for our meal. After the meal was done and Scarle left, Cook joined me, sitting on the deck and leaning back against the rail.

We sat in silence until Cook said, “May I speak with you about what happened?”

I nodded. “Please do.”

He leaned his head back and stared at the emerging stars overhead. After a while, he began to talk. “When I was a boy, my father was what I wanted to be. He was our clan’s best warrior, best hunter, best tracker. He was next after the Underchief in clan rank. You were there in Dreamland, you saw what happened with the False Dreamer.”

That was a statement, not a question, so I just nodded. “From when the False Dreamer demanded to see the Chief until your father dropped his body off the bridge.”

Cook nodded in turn. “The Dreamer says she sang the rest of the song after you all were out of Dreamland. I was given to see more of what happened, after a fashion. After my father dropped the False Dreamer’s body, he returned to the clan and told all that he had failed. You saw how he changed at the bridge, he never recovered. He distanced himself from everyone and eventually changed his name to Walker of the High Mountains and cast himself out from the clan. Everyone said it was not his fault, but even so there were looks and questions never asked. Eventually I couldn’t stand it any longer and I, too, ran away.”

Cook was silent for a while before resuming. “The Dreamer says she doesn’t know how or what happened, but you all left Dreamland and I was left behind.” There was no accusation in his voice. “What the Dreamer didn’t know was that there was a Lady that came to the clan village…no, not to the village but to Dreamland. I saw her and for some reason she knew me. I saw her turn each of you about and push you from Dreamland, though it seemed to me you didn’t see her at all. Then she said to me that there was something I had to see and she took my hand.

“We…traveled…I guess, into the past. I saw my father’s history that he rarely spoke of. I saw him thwart an assassination. I saw the man who swore revenge. I followed that man through time and saw him hunt out a specific Dreamer, an old man who couldn’t easily resist what he had in mind, watched him gradually subvert the old Dreamer, and in the end possess him. Then I saw how he used that False Dreamer to steal the Chief’s soul. What I also saw at the bridge that no-one else saw, was that Shadow Man standing there, not in the flesh but in spirit. You saw the black miasma…that was him. When my father watched, horrified, as the old man dropped the Soul Needle into the waters far below, he did not know there was anyone else there and dropped his guard. In that moment of anguish, my father was open and the Shadow Man struck. He struck to the core of my father, wounding him deep in his honor. The Shadow Man planted false memories, leading my father to believe that he and he alone was responsible for dropping the Chief’s soul into the waters, that my father was the only one that knew how to restore the Chief’s soul to him, that my father was the only one that could have even had a chance to give the Chief back his soul.. Defenseless, my father didn’t even know he had been attacked.

“I followed my father home, saw him unable to deal with anything, not knowing he had been struck, not even knowing he had been attacked. I watched as he cast himself out and began wandering the Spine of the World. Then the Lady appeared again and once more took my hand.

“This time we went to some city. I saw the Shadow Man in his own house…I won’t call it a home. He was as cruel to the people living there as he was to everyone else. He threw a party for a few close members of his group he thought he could trust. He no sooner told the tale of how he managed to take over the Dreamer and strike down the Warrior than he sat down gasping for breath. He had been poisoned by one of those attending, who wanted his position.

“Having heard the true tale from the Shadow Man and seen his death, the Lady now told me it was time to return from Dreamland.” He looked at me and grinned slightly. “Let me tell you, that long in Dreamland, it hurts to return.” He turned his gaze back to the stars overhead.

I sat there in silence, thinking about all this. So, he, too, saw the Lady. Maybe it was her and not the Dreamer, that caused all this. I wasn’t sure what to make of what Cook had told me. Thinking Cook was done, I put my hands down to the deck, preparing to rise, when Cook spoke again.

“I need to tell my father, my mother, and my clan about all this. They need to know what happened. The Lady also told me what needs to be done to let my father see the truth of it all. That is what I was talking to the Dreamer about, before the evening meal. She was helping me understand just what needed to be done and how to do it. When we reach land, I have to take care of this, Captain.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. “You’ll be leaving Pa’adhe, then?”

“Maybe.” Cook didn’t sound too happy about it, but at least he was being honest with me.

“Maybe,” I echoed.

* * *

Two nights out from the Unknown Islands, I woke with the feeling something was happening. Quietly, I lay on my bedding at the railing across from the steering oar, my usual sleeping spot when carrying passengers. Carefully, I sought to find what had awakened me, listening to everything and feeling Pa’adhe’s motion. Nothing struck me as needing attention, but something just didn’t feel normal. Something was definitely different. Unable to go back to sleep, I joined Scarle at the steering oar, leaning against the railing. Neither of us said anything, there was no need. Looking around, I saw the Dreamer standing by the prow, talking to a lady. Surprised, I quickly looked away and back, but the lady was still there. My first thought was that she was a stowaway, but something held me back from going forward to accost her. Eventually, I quietly asked, “What do you see forward?”

Scarle looked carefully, clearly wondering what had caught my eye that might need attention. Seeing nothing out of place, he finally said, “Just the Dreamer up by the prow.”

That gave me pause. If she’s pulling us into Dreamland again, I’m going to…what? It occurred to me that if the Dreamer was taking us to Dreamland again, there wasn’t going to be much I could do about it. I pushed myself off the railing and went forward to talk to the Dreamer and whoever that lady was.

As I approached them, both women turned to look at me. With a start, I realized I knew the Lady. I didn’t know who she was, and would swear I never met her before, yet at the same time I knew she was no stranger, somehow. She was beautiful: Tall and slim with waist-length flowing hair, so pale as to be nearly white. She was wearing a billowing ankle-length red dress with long open sleeves. I also noticed she was barefoot and stood on the deck with a sailor’s easy familiarity. Then I looked into her sea-green eyes.

Standing an arm’s length away, I realized I could easily drown in those eyes, as if falling into the sea. It took a deliberate effort to look away and she laughed as I did so. Averting my gaze I looked at the Dreamer, and saw surprise on her face.

“You can see her?”

I nodded. This time when I looked back at the Lady again, she smiled and I somehow felt like I’d pleased her though I had no idea how. But at least now I could look at her without drowning in those eyes.

“Then you know I didn’t make her up,” said the Dreamer.

Before I could say anything, the Lady spoke. “Oh, he never truly doubted you.” To hear her voice was to listen to a Sea-Siren’s song. “Did you, O my Captain?”

I shook my head. The Lady laughed again, but the Dreamer looked troubled. “I’m glad, Captain, but I don’t understand how or why you can see her now, but not before.”

“Because I wished it.” The Lady smiled at the Dreamer. “Have no fear, my Dreamer. It is a rare gift you have granted me. You will become one of the most renowned Dreamers, I have no doubt, for your power is strong.” She looked at me. “Captain, know you not who I am yet?”

When I shook my head, she smiled. “Before I leave you will. But now I need to tell you something.” I felt a faint disappointment that she was going to leave, but I had no doubt that even here in the middle of the sea she could do so. She continued, “Bear no ill will towards this Dreamer, O Captain. Her Dream for Cook and her power combined with my own let me send you into Dreamland. Yes, I sent you into Dreamland, not the Dreamer. I wanted you to see Cook’s story, even as the Dreamer needed to tell him the whole of the events that transpired. What was done to his father and him needed righting.” She looked at the Dreamer. “I apologize, Dreamer, for using your power in that way without your consent.”

“So, that’s how it happened,” the Dreamer said.

“Yes, that’s how it happened. I have my reasons for what I did. It’s not often someone such as I am allowed to interact like this, and I would gladly do it again.” Her voice briefly seemed wistful.

“OH!”

The startled exclamation from the Dreamer made the Lady smile. “I see you have realized who I am.”

The Dreamer nodded, amazement evident on her face. “Yes. I just remembered what I told the Captain…

“These four the Ship loves, the Naryan above all,
None may bear this Dream, save them and me.

“And I thought ‘them’ referred to just the four people.”

The Lady laughed delightedly. “So, Captain, have you yet discovered who I am?”

Slowly, I nodded. “Storm-runner. Pa’adhe.” I smiled, knowing I had the right of it. “Must you leave?”

Pa’adhe smiled sadly. “I must. I am always here, though,” she said as she gestured at the ship with both arms. “Perhaps someday we’ll meet like this again. Take care of my Dreamer, my Captain, as I bid you fare thee well for now.”

With that she was gone. As bemused as I was, I still managed to catch the Dreamer before she hit the deck as she collapsed.  As I carried her aft to the cabin, I wondered whether it was the shock of what happened or her power being drawn on that caused her to faint. And whether I’d ever see Pa’adhe like that again.

* * *

The thing about these seven islands is they’re unnamed, and thus their name, Unknown Islands. Mariners have their own names for some of the individual islands, but there’s no real common naming, not on any maps I’ve ever seen, other than being listed as ‘the Unknown Islands’. Even the people that live there seem to use no common names, unless they’re keeping them to themselves. As I stood by the prow watching the southwestern-most island, commonly referred to as the main island, come up out of the sea, I heard the light footsteps of the Dreamer approaching.

Still looking at the mountains now half-risen over the horizon, I asked, “The Unknown Islands…where do we go?”

She was silent until she stood beside me. Then she said, as if from memory, “Right of the main island, between the two, around the bottom of the next and left, last on the right.”

“Anything to identify the one we’re looking for?”

I turned to look at her when there was no reply. Her gaze was distant, as if she was seeing something beyond the horizon. Finally, she said, “All cliffs, save for a small bay on the northwest. We go to that bay.”

I shrugged. It was as good directions as I’d ever had in this area. It’d have to do.

* * *

I escorted the Dreamer onto the quay and stood there looking around. There were two fishing boats, like those we’d passed on our way to the island, drawn up on the hard, but not much else in the bay. The village was quiet, you could hear a group of children playing somewhere and there were a few people walking around. No-one gave us any attention. It was clear not many ships stopped here, but it was also clear the people here wanted to be left alone to their lives. I turned to look at the Dreamer.

“Well, we’re here, where you said to go.”

“That we are.” She dug around in the pouch tied to her belt for a bit then handed me my fee plus a little extra. “For what I’ve put you through.”

I nodded acceptance. “Thank you.”

Before I could say anything else, she added, “I would hire you for the journey back to the mainland.” When I didn’t reply immediately, she gestured around, “I can’t stay here, and I don’t see any other way back. You don’t have to take me back to where we started, anywhere on the mainland will do.”

“I….” I hesitated. I didn’t know if I wanted to go through anything like this last voyage again. Nothing like what we’d been through should happen again, but…. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard a gentle laugh, as if borne on the wind. I looked at the furled ivory-colored sails and gleaming red wood of Pa’adhe, remembering her as a Lady. I shook my head to clear it. “I’ll be here. Same fee, regardless where we go?”

“Same fee,” she agreed, “and a silver for the wait. I’ll be back on the morrow.” She handed me the silver coin and turned to head into the village. As I watched her walk into the village, I heard Cook calling to Xinu as he approached the gangplank.

As Cook came down the plank to the pier, I was happy to see he didn’t have his bag with him. At least he would be coming back, if only to get his gear. I couldn’t see him leaving us here, but I wondered about when we got back to the mainland. I didn’t want to ask but as close a crew as we’d become, Cook must have sensed something for he said, “Captain, I’ll be a little while. I need to send a message to my Clan, to let them know about the False Dreamer. And to let my father know he didn’t kill the Chief. It might take some time to find someone going that way.”

“I don’t know where we’re going next yet, but I’m thinking Port of the Cascades. If you can’t send a message from here, you can from there. We’re not leaving until the morrow so you’ve got plenty of time to get supplies later.”

Cook nodded, saying, “That’ll work better.” As he walked down the quay, he called over his shoulder, “Going to be seasoned beef for dinner tonight. Got a family recipe I want to try for the evening meal!”

“Better bring some mead back, then, to wash down those spices of yours!”

Cook just waved, not slowing his stride. I grinned at his back, knowing he was staying on as crew. Feeling much better about the situation, I went to talk to Xinu about what supplies we needed for Pa’adhe herself.

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