An Old World Dream
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During their courtship, Faahvrigüo and Tekneea traveled through almost all of Meganeea, perhaps missing the odd spot here or there, given that the more time they spent together, the less they cared about the landscape or the elves. But there came one morning when Tekneea asked, “Have you been to the land below this one?” and Faahvrigüo said “The what?” and so Tekneea took him there, terribly pleased as she always was to know of something that he somehow didn’t (which invariably made Faahvrigüo slightly disgruntled, for, as you might have gathered, he was rather vain.)
This “Land Below” was quite large, so Tekneea and Faahvrigüo spent a considerable amount of time traveling through it, and I cannot tell you where exactly they went or what they saw, because this book is about the Land Above, and none of the elves in that realm knew of any other place, so for the time being, we all have to pretend we don’t know anything either, since it is neither here nor there.
So I will take you somewhere else in Meganeea, somewhere that Faahvrigüo and Tekneea had not in their travels yet visited.
This was not a small city, but Meganeea was so, so very big, that it should not be all that surprising that the two had not yet come upon the area, especially as it was rather well hidden. This was Lion-Elf City, and other than the odd traveling merchant or entertainer, lion-elves were all that lived within its walls, for they kept to themselves.
Now, lion-elves, they were peculiar among all other Meganeean elves. They knew that they were, too. It was said among them that a very long time ago, when the Earth Dragon had been a hatchling, lion-elves had been her first intelligent creation, and she always tried to recreate this race in its original form whenever she made a new world.
They were not perfect creatures. They were, you could even say, quite ugly compared to other elven species. They had big bulbous noses, thick eyebrows, very furry feet and hands, and lion tails. They were very tall, among the tallest elves in Meganeea, though I suppose average sized in your own world. Their height did not make them more handsome, as they were rather oddly proportioned. They could not shape-shift into lions. But from the very beginning, they’d had a connection with the Earth Dragon that other elves didn’t have. And just between you and I, this connection, while real, was a complete fluke.
There was a lot about her creation that the Earth Dragon couldn’t control or do on purpose —most things, actually. But elves (and other sentient creatures) have a tendency to look for meaning in anything and everything, especially if they can use it to give themselves any level of self-importance over their peers. And no elven species ever thought more of itself than lion-elves.
There was one particular little lion-elf boy living in this city with his mother, who, while good hearted, thought about as much of himself, or more, as most other lion elves did of themselves. Which is: highly, and destined to great things.
His name was Gideon.
Gideon had visions, but this, in and of itself, was nothing so remarkable. You see, the dreams of lion-elves were quite particular, in that they could show the past, or a glimpse into one of the Earth Dragon’s own dreams. This is how lion-elves knew that they’d existed in other worlds that the Earth Dragon had made before Meganeea. They could try to understand the feelings and emotions of the Earth Dragon by some of these visions, or what she feared might happen, or had happened, by her nightmares. Sometimes they were right, and they generally ignored most of the times when things did not come to pass or make sense as expected, since this was an inconvenience.
When thoughts or dreams from the Earth Dragon’s mind bled into a lion-elf’s dream, the result could be as foggy and incomprehensible as any dream of yours or mine, or very vivid, but generally, it was the former. It could be from the point of view of any elf that had lived in an Old World. Or it could be from the point of view of the Earth Dragon herself. Or it could be a figment of that elf’s imagination altogether, a regular dream. There was no way to know, so lion-elves were compelled to write them all down and take them to the Elders and Eldresses at the temple, who would then look for patterns, and record them. Some elves only had a few in their whole lives, and others had them more often.
But Gideon was unusual: he had them every single night.
He had very vivid dreams, with images and events that he couldn’t understand. He would dream of one specific Old World, dreams which were so clear, that they felt as though he were living through them. Sometimes he would laugh in his sleep while he dreamed, or he would punch the air, and very often he would cry, or wake up screaming. And, to be sure, this was distressing, but above all, Gideon was proud in spite of his distress. No one else he knew —none of the elders, seers or priests, none of his friends— had visions like he had. Among an already blessed race, he, Gideon, was special.
Gideon had been five years old when his mother first took him to the temple to see the Head Seer. He told the Head Seer of a dream in which he broke free from a dark place, where he had been hungry and dirty for months, with iron digging into his flesh, chained to a cold wall, and of how he shifted into his animal form and ran, with energy that he didn’t know he had, and ran, and ran, with the body of a rat in his jaws, until they’d both got away.
He told of how later he was standing on something long, very long, and black, something like an enormous metal snake that shook and rattled, and that ran like the wind, faster than any elf or animal could go, and giving off a great smoke and a roar. And the rat was with him too, and also a lady, a very pretty young lady, whom he held in his arms and kissed. And they both laughed and laughed, because they were free. That was one of the good Old World dreams, and Gideon had it often, at first, and every time he told it a little better.
At first, the Head Seer and the elders who worked in the temple were interested. They told Gideon to come see them at the temple whenever he had a new vision, so they could write it down and try to put the history of the Before Times together with them.
The problem, you see, is that Gideon did just that.
So three years later, on a day on which dawn had barely broken and the streets were still fogged in cold, white mist, the fervent little rap that began on the Lion-Elves’ temple door was not welcome by the elders who were still at their studies. The call reverberated on the temple’s cavernous insides, and one could not ignore its persistent echoing. They all sighed at well-known sign of their nearly-daily visitor.
Rap, rap, rap.
“Eldress Aghummin, Elder Erkestenne,” a little voice called. Like the knocking, it was small, but insistent.
Rap, rap, rap, rap.
“Eldress Aghummin, I saw the candle from the window, I know you are all awake. Please, open the doors.”
“How did he reach the windowsill?” one of the elders hissed at the aforementioned lady Aghummin. The latter shrugged helplessly.
Rap, rap, rap. RAP, RAP.
“I had a vision again, Eldress Aghummin. You’re there, aren’t you? Pray open the door, and hear me. I want to study with you.”
Every eye in the room was glaring heavily upon Eldress Aghummin, who had stood up. She had a soft spot for the little voice’s persistent owner.
“Oh, let the child speak,” she said in a tired tone, “We all need our rest, so let him speak and then we can retire for a few hours. Our duties include hearing all visions.”
“It’s all very well to hear visions,” said one of the elders to the others, “but I have no patience nor interest in an infant’s tall tales.”
The iron lock echoed as Eldress Aghummin unlocked it. Promptly, a small child ran in, nearly tripping over his own big feet. He had a spectacular, messy mop of orange hair, and big, blue eyes. His red robe came up to his ankles, unlike the longer, trailing ones that the adults present wore, and he had a little green hood. A leather and blue stone pendant hung at his neck, and his a thick golden cord tied around his stout belly held his robe in place. He was the son of a prominent member of the lion-elf community, and looked it.
“May the Earth Dragon dream of you, Eldress Aghummin,” said the little boy in greeting, with a well-practiced bow.
“And of you, Gideon. Why don’t you come inside?” said the eldress. There was a pointed tone to this, no doubt due to the fact that the little boy had practically burst through the doors.
“Thank you, I am inside,” said he, already walking toward the gathered seers.
“Yes, indeed you are,” said she, with a mix of weariness and amusement. She closed the heavy door behind them.
“Good morning, elders,” said Gideon approaching the wide table where all the elders congregated, among books, scrolls, and many empty cups of coffee. He repeated his little bow, blissfully unaware of the irritation this added to his visit. “May the Earth Dragon —”
“Yes, yes,” one of the elders interrupted, “Forgive us for doing away with pleasantries, but dreaming is something all of us want to be doing soon. So tell your little made-up story, and then be on your way.”
“Oh, Elder Erkestenne, do be kind.”
“It’s not made up,” the little lion-elf said passionately, for it was a sore subject.
“Listen, boy,” said another of the elders, not unkindly, “We don’t know why you are tormented by so many very special visions and dreams, but we cannot hear them all. You have too many, we have not the time, and frankly, we are not sure if they are visions, or figments of your overactive little mind. Listen,” he repeated firmly, raising his hand to silence Gideon’s impending outburst, for his little chest had heaved and his mouth become a perfect circle of indignation, obviously preceding an aggrieved retort. “We shall give you one of our blank volumes —a real record keeping tome. You can write it all there, and once a month, you can come, for two hours and not a minute more, to discuss your records with the Council.”
Gideon did not seem at all delighted at this suggestion, but it was what it was. He was thus given a very heavy volume with thick leather covers, all blank inside, and unceremoniously deposited on the other side of the door.
The book was really quite a fancy thing, and I think he would have been delighted to have it, were it not for the drawback of the situation. It was just like the ones that the elders themselves used to write down their understanding of the Before Times, and their guesses about the Future Times. It was very thick, and an effort for a small child to carry. Gideon sat on the temple steps, with the huge book covering his small lap, and he put his head down on it, and cried. You might think crying about it was a bit much, but, you must remember that Gideon was barely eight years old, and he’d just been told that the one thing he most looked forward to every day was no longer allowed, so he was really rather put off.
But such infantile outbursts are rarely long-lasting. He was soon wiping his nose on his sleeve and admiring the thick leather covers, running his handpaw over them with awe. Then, with newfound determination, he got to his feet and made for home.
He had to stop quite a few times on the way because the book was so heavy. He did not consider this a great inconvenience, as it earned him looks from both adults as well as the similarly aged peers he encountered, filling the little lion-elf with such feelings of importance that he could have burst from the pleasure. So he would wipe his sweat with a very exaggerated flourish and grunt even louder as he picked up his heavy burden once more.
Once home and in his own private chambers, Gideon brought the book to his little desk by the window. It hit the surface with a hard thud, being too bulky for Gideon to put it down with the care it merited. The morning sun was well on its way up now and streaming down the window, and little flecks of white dust displaced by the book danced in the warm rays.
Gideon climbed up his chair, and, having opened the blank volume, took out his ink-pot and quill, ready to write down his last vision, which he had been so keen to share to the Council of Seers earlier. It had been a very unusual vision, because —Gideon knew this instinctively— he’d seen it from different eyes. Simply put, it wasn’t the same viewpoint of all his other visions to date. With it still fresh in his mind, he put pen to paper, slowly at first, but increasing to a frantic pace as he went on:
Gideon, who was remembering details as he wrote, found that his handpaw was trembling. This hadn’t been a good dream. It had filled him with awe, but all throughout he’d felt very afraid. Now, as he remembered, pearls of sweat dotted his forehead and he felt a little sick to his stomach. But he wrote on.
The little boy put down his quill with trembling handpaw. His visions did, quite often, distress him. His mother would tell him that they were not real, they were things that had happened long ago, to someone else, and couldn’t hurt him, so he wasn’t afraid of having them. But once in a while, they were intense enough to make him feel ill. Yet the more deeply emotional or shaken they caused him to feel, the greater his feeling of importance once he’d recovered. And her eyes —he’d seen the Earth Dragon’s eyes! No one he knew had seen them in Meganeea, or at least her eye color had never been written down by anyone. It was terribly exciting, and very frustrating that he wouldn’t be able to share this with the Council for an entire month. But perhaps he’d have had an even more important dream or vision by that time.
Gideon looked down at the pages. Though his writing was on the large side, not even a full page had been filled. He sighed. Would it be okay to write his past dreams? Maybe not. After all, the Council had written those down already.
The day dragged on slowly, endlessly, but finally the sun went down. Gideon went to bed early, eager for his next vision. He lay the book by his side, over the blanket, right in his little bed, “for safekeeping” as he put it, or “in case he wanted to write a vision as soon as it happened” (although his mother refused to allow him to have the quill and ink-pot on his nightstand). In reality, he simply wanted it near, and not long after he’d fallen asleep, his arms were wrapped around it, not unlike the way a less-precocious child would have held on to a teddy bear.
The break of morning found Gideon bleary-eyed after a frustratingly dreamless night. He shut his eyes tightly as he heard his mother moving about in the kitchen, and shut them tighter still when the sun tickled his eyelids, trying his hardest to catch a few more winks of sleep that might grant him a special dream to write about. But no dreams or visions visited him, and so, hungry and annoyed, he washed his face, had his breakfast (the precious, mostly blank volume on a chair next to his own, as his mother would not allow the enormous book at the table) and went to school, book and all.
At school, Gideon hardly heard his lessons. During the midday break, he sat under a tree, with the massive open book resting heavily on his small knees, quill in hand, brow furrowed, desperate for something of value to come to him, something he could write.
But nothing came to him.
As the days passed, his schoolmates tried unsuccessfully to coax him into joining their play, but Gideon, stewing with as frustration and with even more self-importance than was the norm for him, brushed them off rather rudely. Couldn’t they see he had serious work to do? Didn’t the book make it obvious? He’d sigh heavily to show his discontent at the interruptions, and soon everyone left him quite alone.
Two weeks went by, and three, and then an entire month. It came time to visit the Council of Seers to share any new dreams or visions he might have had, so, though chagrined by the recent lack of progress, Gideon went.
Eldress Aghummin let him in. Gideon took in the empty chamber with surprise.
“No one’s here,” he said to Eldress Aghummin in a somewhat wounded tone. He realized he had been had, so to speak.
Eldress Aghummin opened her mouth, perhaps about to share some prepared explanation for the absence of the entire council. Her expression softened, and she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Gideon,” she said to him as she shut the door, “Duty aside, I suppose the Council doesn’t have much patience for a little boy. I have no idea where they all decided to go, but my guess is that each one of them found something different to occupy themselves with today.”
Gideon’s face showed his contempt for this behavior quite clearly. But he sighed, and sat at the large table usually occupied by the conspicuously absent council. Carefully and with difficulty he lay his heavy book upon it, and nodded when Eldress Aghummin placed a cup of tea in front of him.
“I care about what you have to say, Gideon,” said she, joining him at the table with a cup of her own, “I know you take everything, including yourself, perhaps more seriously than you ought, but I know your visions have value and I want to hear about them.”
Gideon shifted on his seat, uncharacteristically quiet. He was still quite upset, and in spite of Eldress Aghummin’s words, he could not quite shake the feeling that she was humoring him in the way an old woman does with a very small child, rather than as another lion-elf with genuine value to the council.
“Did you write anything in your book?” Eldress Aghummin prompted him, so kindly, that Gideon cringed inwardly and felt even more annoyed. But he opened the book to his first recorded vision, the one in which he’d seen the Earth Dragon’s open eyes, and carefully moved the book towards the Eldress. He didn’t say anything and maintained what he thought was a serious and dour expression, but really, he was just a little boy, and so it came off as nothing but pouting.
Eldress Aghummin was quiet for some time as she read the few paragraphs that Gideon had put to paper. In spite of himself, Gideon stole a curious look towards her face, trying to catch a glimpse of her reaction. To his surprise, she didn’t appear shocked as he had expected. Quite the contrary. She nodded, sighed, and then closed the volume.
“So, you could fly in this dream, I see,” she observed. Gideon nodded. He felt suddenly uncomfortable. “And you saw the Earth Dragon’s eyes, something which no one in the history of this land has yet recorded.”
“I did too see them,” Gideon said. He could not help his defensive tone. He swallowed hard.
Eldress Aghummin stroked his head. “Gideon,” she said, “interpreting visions is very difficult. Sometimes, it’s hard for even us grown-ups to know what is a simple dream and what is a vision of the past. That is why we convene to study different noteworthy visions and decide which have that potential.”
Gideon was quiet, a hard lump at his throat.
“In my experience,” continued Eldress Aghummin, running her handpaw over the tome’s leather cover, “real visions come rarely, often visiting lion-elves who have never had them, who are not necessarily learned or studious, and who do not generally dwell constantly about having them.”
I did too see them, I did too see them! Gideon repeated to himself, feeling hot tears at the corners of his eyes.
“I don’t think you are telling any lies, my dear child,” said the Eldress, “in fact, I don’t think anyone in the Council actually thinks that.”
“Elder Erkestenne does,” mumbled Gideon. He felt absolutely miserable.
Eldress Aghummin waved this comment off, though not unkindly. “He’s just a grumpy old elf, don’t mind him. Listen, Gideon. I fear that, in your zeal, you’re causing yourself to have certain dreams, very vivid dreams, upsetting dreams, that are only that. And we are all very busy. We cannot continually analyze a little boy’s daily dreams. That is not what we do here.”
“Elder Erkestenne said I could have two hours every month, with the whole council,” Gideon protested, but feebly. He was trying so hard not to cry.
“I am a member of the council,” said Eldress Aghummin, “and I am giving you my valuable time. But I do not think this…” Here she trailed off, waving her hand over the tome. “Well, I’m not certain of whether this benefits you. I’m not sure giving you this book was a very good idea, but —here she held up a handpaw to stop Gideon’s tearful protest, as he had raised his head in anguished alarm— I shall not take it from you. However, I think you need to think about other things for a while. Write your dreams if it pleases you, and study them on your own if you must. But please, do try to spend time with your little friends, play outside, take in some sun. You are far too young to be upsetting yourself so much with nightmares. Growing little boys need to be well-rested, and this obsession may come to do you harm if it gets in the way of your a restful night’s sleep. You don’t want to worry your parents, now, do you?”
Gideon was beyond arguing. He mumbled something in agreement and took his book back. He walked towards the door, and Eldress Aghummin, with a concerned look on her face, opened it for him.
“Don’t be so glum, little one,” she said, “I’m sure someday you will be a part of this council yourself —an important part, even. You’re a very precocious child, but you must enjoy being a child while you can.”
As the slumped pair of little shoulders and the wild-haired red head descended the front steps in utter dejection, Eldress Aghummin felt only compassion for the boy. She could not know how prophetic her words of comfort would be.
And, alas, neither could Gideon.
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