The Witch of Dreams

Long ago, in a green pastured land where cows bellowed and buttercups danced, when there were castles and kingdoms and dreams could come true, there lived a king and queen who had a very curious daughter. The princess was beautiful in both heart and face, and all the people that the king commanded loved her- but her mind was very far away indeed.

The princess was often seen wandering the paths and corridors of the castle, pursuing her idle pleasures and whims. Although she was good at painting and dancing, her fondest joy was making up stories. She conceived wild adventures to be had in the kitchens, and deep into the dark dungeon depths she crawled in pursuit of some half-thought of treasure. The people of the kingdom became her companions and her foes, her obstacles and her allies in the many games of her unending fancy. But always she was alone.

The king looked upon his daughter and smiled in pride, while the queen looked upon her and frowned in worry. She was beautiful, kind, smart and her subjects loved her- but never had she found a friend to play with. Soon the friendship the princess lacked was the greatest worry on the queen’s mind, and she resolved that something must be done.

The queen took her idea to the king and though they argued night and day for weeks it was at last decided that the princess must be found a friend.

The land was scoured for a suitable playmate. The queen couldn’t settle for just any little girl or boy- the best was the only choice! She looked for years, finding and discarding children from all over.

“This one is too small,” said the queen, “he would resent my daughter’s height- and then how could he love her?

“This one is too vain, and this one too vulgar and this one much too smart.”

Finally, riding in her carriage in the furthest corner of the kingdom, the queen happened upon a tiny, derelict house. Standing on the doorstep, dressed all in blue, was a little girl most perfect for the princess. Upon finding that her father was poverty-stricken the queen paid at once for their fortunes to turn and in return whisked the girl away.

A stranger to beauty, privilege and honor, the girl was yet kind and loyal. She was introduced to her lady on the princess’ fifteenth birthday.

Over the years the princess’ condition had worsened, her mind gone for hours at a time, only to snap back suddenly with a smile and kind word for whoever was present. The queen was dismayed, for although the princess greeted the girl kindly, she immediately wandered away down a corridor quite alone.

The girl, Fidele, who had never once seen true beauty, nor understood the meaning of words like trust and love, was at once entranced by the princess. She felt a yearning to help the princess, whose daydreaming was stealing her away. The queen’s plan to find the perfect companion had succeeded. Fidele would be her servant, and maybe one day a friend too.

Days slipped into nights, and the princess still wandered her castle home, lost in imaginings of duels and flying. Following behind her, however, a shadowy figure could now be seen.

The princess had become a young woman, and more often the king and queen would call her from her wanderings to attend the court. Although Fidele tried and tried, and sometimes tricked the princess into attending, the princess had become used to her absent wanderings and would dismiss the summons. In the hours where she was meant to pass judgements and talk with her subjects, the princess could instead be seen shoving Fidele into fairy dresses and flirting with the flowers.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” she asked the servant girl, “if the dreams were really real? That would be best thing I could imagine.”

The people, who had once so loved and rejoiced in the princess, now began to mutter. Their displeasure at being ignored resulted in cold soup for the king, and dirty laundry for the queen- and the princess day dreamed on through it all.

Soon the king became angry, the queen furious, and the courtiers even worse. There was unrest in the kingdom, many people calling for a new heir or demanding the king step down from the throne. And at last, when the princess had commandeered the castle fountains for an epic sea battle (Fidele as first mate, of course) the king’s patience wore thin and he’d had enough. The guards were ordered to drag the princess before him, and at once they did.

The princess, once the source of so much love, was now at the heart of so much hate. She was exiled from the kingdom and the king’s heart both, until such time as she would no longer dream. The princess cried and begged, screamed and- at the last- ran off into the night with only the clothes on her back and her sole companion trailing behind.

* * *

The princess, determined to keep her kingdom, tried at once to follow her father’s will. While she and Fidele trudged through swamps, she focused with all her might- but still the shadowy forms of dark knights and marsh dragons assaulted her. While traversing desert nations and hiding from the baking sun she meditated to stave off mirages- but visions of treasure way-laid her once more. Fidele tried to help, in her small way, keeping the princess awake at night and feeding her herbal teas recommended by the shaman and magicians alike- but to no great effect did their efforts come.

It was a curious sight to see, the princess trying to stop the daydreams, but as addicted to their stories as ever before. Secretly she stole moments to herself to dwell on a particular one or two, and so she could never stop dreaming- even during the day.

On the shore of a dark, forbidden kingdom in the middle of a fierce blizzard, the princess cried her frustration and bitterly gave up. The two were huddled against the chill beneath the canopy of a squat, dark forest. The princess sobbed while Fidele held her, and together they thought of home.

“My name is Reveur,” the princess whispered to her servant, “for I am a princess no more.”

The dark little corner of the world they’ d found themselves in lurked in resentful shadows and murderous smog. The two girls, barely surviving the night, struggled through the bracken and mist until, without warning, they stumbled upon a cottage. It was old and moss covered, and the wood was half rotted away, but inside was an old woman who invited them in.

“You’ve found the witches, girl,” she told Reveur, directing Fidele to stir a cauldron full of slop, “if there is anywhere in the world a person might start over, it’s here.”

Despite its poisonous ugliness the land called to Reveur’s soul. They lived with the old woman, who was herself a witch, and Reveur dedicated herself to learning the harsh magic of the witch’s land.

Years passed in her frenzied learning, and Reveur allowed her mind to soak up the magic, until she was filled with only that and her dreams- each as inescapable as the last. She boiled potions, cast curses and read spell books for hours. Even as she learned, she neglected her body- sleep was a waste of time, and magic could cure any of her pains. Reveur would even have starved to death had not Fidele, still her servant girl after all those years, force fed her through the hours. Deeper and deeper Reveur delved, and finally she found something that would tempt her beyond anything.

The witch, who had cared for them until Reveur acquired a cottage of her own, was dying. As her final breaths left her body she passed a tome filled with all the knowledge of Dream Magic into Reveur’s possession.

“Be careful,” she warned the girl. And with a final shuddering sigh, she died.

Reveur devoured the words of the book, practicing the spells and incantations until word-perfect. In one little book the answer to her long quest might at last be found!

“Maybe it could teach me to control my visions,” she told Fidele one evening, “maybe it can even give me the power to shape them for myself.”

If there was one thing Reveur wanted, even beyond controlling the dreams, it was to bring them to life. Finally, after days of reading and practicing the spells in the book of Dream Magic, Reveur found one on the very last page. Quickly she recited the spell, and to Fidele’s dismay fell at once into a deep sleep.

In her dream Reveur opened her eyes to discover herself deep in a cavern, covered all about with spider webs.

“Who goes there?” A voice in the darkness called.

“It is I, your most devoted servant, the Witch Reveur.”

“Witch? You have learned much of dream magic, little human, to be here.” A strange clicking filled the cage and Reveur peered into the darkness.

“Are you not the Lord of Dreams?” She asked the voice.

“We are.”

“Then I demand the power I have come to seek! All the power of dreams must be mine!” A dry laugh echoed around her, making the webs tremble.

“First you must give us something in return. You require dreams? We require life. Give us a home in the waking world and we will give you what you seek.”

Reveur felt herself being forced awake, seeing only images of a familiar land behind her eyelids. The cave faded into darkness, with the sight hundreds of tiny black eyes peering out at her.

Upon waking, with Fidele still rejoicing at her mistress’ return, Reveur gathered their few possessions and set out to return to her father’s kingdom.

* * *

The years had passed quietly for the king and queen. Once he’d calmed the king had begun to regret his decision and was assailed with grief at the loss of his daughter. The kingdom fell into disrepair. With no heir in the castle the people lost their joy for life. The fields ran dry and the pastures bare, while in the castle the princess’ room was the only one kept free of dust, awaiting her return. The clock turned and the kingdom waited, and with a suddenness not at all remarked upon, every living soul fell asleep.

Reveur surveyed the land before her, smiling in triumph. There was almost no recognizable feature left of the princess, not under the bitter expression and hollow features of the witch she’d become. Before her all the servants and all the livestock and even the land slept. Nodding in satisfaction, Reveur walked through the castle and entered her old room. She lay on her bed, folded her hands, and descended into sleep.

The cavernous dream world was filled with a strange, constant chattering. Reveur stood in the center of the space, aware that the webs were thicker than she’d last seen them, and strangely metallic.

“Lord Dream,” she announced, leaning forward expectantly. Her lips curved into a smile. “I’ve come to claim what is mine. The land you’ve requested is yours to do with as you will.”

In a shadowy alcove something moved, a strange chattering rustle, and the witch began to lose her smile.

“Human, the deal is sealed. All the power of dreams shall be yours, and so too the power to wield it.” From the dark a mass emerged, mandibles clicking horrendously. Reveur screamed as the swarm of spiders rushed at her, and the webs fell to seal her into sleep.

* * *

At first the darkness overwhelmed her eyes. There was a feeling as though all she’d ever known was the empty space around her, and the physical world  was as unreal as the dreams once were. Then, with a blinding spark, a candle appeared. Reveur only vaguely recognized her own power in its creation. It looked like a dream, only very real to the touch.

Through trial and error she began to imagine a room, then furniture, then people, and soon came to realize that the Lord of Dreams had kept his promise, giving her power over her daydreams- but had also trapped her in her mind in order to use it. She practiced and dreamed, and although captive in her thoughts she soon was lost in all the dreams she’d ever imagined. Her body was a distant memory as the spinning abyss flowered with her dreams. Anything she could imagine came into being and was just as easily swept away. Across worlds she raced, once a beggar and once a pirate. She lived and died, as both animal and man, as a dragon, then a rose, then a star. Her control was absolute. But, although a dreamer by nature, her imagination was not endless. Eventually the dreams began to die, and in desperation Reveur plundered her memories.

Following the paths of her childhood, Reveur watched her memories unfold, and slowly began to feel shame. She’d become used to thinking of her daydreaming as an affliction set upon her by outside sources. Now, however, she watched the girl she’d been wall herself in by the visions and hide herself away from reality- until, at last, she could no longer surface. She watched the stubborn child as her father raged, and cried as the peasants cried to see their princess so lost. And, as she grew older, she watched as another little girl appeared, and she too was consumed by the princess’ obsession.

There was a set of eyes on the girl, though Reveur hadn’t bothered to look in years, and hands and lips too. At first these things were hazy. Reveur continued to follow her younger self, watched as she ran off into the night. But more and more often she paid attention to the figure trailing behind. As she explored the memories these details sharpened, and soon the memory-girl was nearly whole. She saw hair, and a nose, toes and feet and elbows and knees. In so many memories the figure was cloaked in shadows or hunched. The dream memory was imperfect, but with every glimpse Reveur came steps closer to realizing that this was Fidele. This was what her mother wanted her to have- the most perfect companion one could ask for. And once a person has a real friend, what need is there for imagined ones?

Gathering all her power, Reveur focused all her thoughts on that one beloved face, and forced herself awake.

* * *

The room was white, and the bed comfortable, were Reveur’s first thoughts. The next was to identify the voice humming lightly.

Reveur’s heart leaped.

“Fidele,” she burst out, a smile filling her face. She turned her head, seeing the figure she’d come to love in her long sleep. Fidele was still with her.

The girl gasped and spun around, her body silhouetted by the light of the window.

“My princess, you’re awake!”

“Yes, yes,” Reveur struggled to sit up, feeling a warmth in her body she could barely recognize. Was this happiness? “Now I must put that to greater use. I need to break a spell.” Fidele rushed to kneel beside her.

“The one on the kingdom, my lady? Almost ten years have passed since the spell you placed on it, and the Lord of Dreams has ravaged the land with his nightmares. I was the only one not taken by sleep.” Fidele’s eyes streamed with tears of joy, even as she spoke in sorrow.

Ten years. Ten years of dreams walking the land of her birth, disturbing it, and all her own fault. Reveur had never despised herself so much. “Indeed, that is the spell that I speak of.”

“But how, princess?” Fidele wondered, reaching out. Reveur gripped a hand in her own and smiled.

“I am no princess, my dear. I’m just a woman who has finally realized that the reality I had before me was better than any dream. Now, as to breaking a spell- why, I believe a true love’s kiss might just do it.”

And Reveur pulled Fidele forward.

* * *

The day dawned bright and new, and away the nightmares dissolved as though they’d never been. All over the land the sun shone on the idle bodies of the people, and they woke with a strange new gladness in their hearts that they’d thought was long gone. The king and queen might try for a new heir, they thought, and wherever she was the princess was fine.

Away in the forest, walking side by side, Reveur and Fidele wandered. This time they’d try to really see where they went, and not follow whim or fancy beyond the world they could touch.  Neither would ever again walk behind the other, and both rejoiced at finally having had a dream come true.

By Danielle K. Day

* * *

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