Repost: SG: The Dreamstrom #2
frobozz at eyrie.org
Sat Nov 3 12:47:25 PDT 2007
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
"A Dream Within A Dream"
-Edgar Allan Poe
Author's Note: For the new reader, it's suggested that Spotlight On... #16
('To Sleep') be read before this issue. This issue can be found at the
Superguy Autocollector <http://www.eyrie.org/cgi-bin/autocollect.cgi>, or
direct at the Superguy archives <ftp://ftp.eyrie.org/pub/superguy/>.
A restless woman wandered aimlessly through the Castle in the Clouds,
wishing with her every step for inspiration to strike -- or failing that,
for the ground to open up underfoot and swallow her whole. Either would do
nicely. In another time and another place, the woman would have found it
very fitting to be looking for inspiration in the Castle in the Clouds;
for it was one of the few fixed points in the Realm Nocturne -- the land
of Dreams -- much like trying to find a disgruntled employee at Wall-Mart,
much of the time it was actually harder to avoid finding inspiration here
than to locate it. However, also like Wall-Mart employees, you often
discovered that you couldn't find that for which you searched precisely
when you wanted it, which was why Samantha -- Dreamqueen of the Land of
the Sandmen -- wandered her castle at an hour in which the Weavers weaved
dreams and the Nightmares pranced amongst tired heads, spreading their
nocturnal images and doing their level best not to leave any hoofprints as
they passed... it had been *so* much easier to explain that away during
the Middle Ages.
Eventually, Samantha reached the library. Perhaps in there, she could
find what she needed. It couldn't hurt to try at least; hah, came her
mental reply. It could very easily hurt when one tried. Case in point...
she had just managed to break up her sister's marriage by *trying*. By
trying to help someone do the right thing. By...
Sigh. By convincing her sister to admit something to her husband that
might have been best kept secret. Or should have been kept secret, to see
how things had turned out.
Samantha glanced at a shelf, keeping her attention fixed on the books
there rather than the memories which waited to spring, given half the
chance. She reached out for one of them at random, deciding that if the
whole of this land's law were chance and random whimsy, then it was high
time that either one started working for her. A Bookwyrm shot from the
volume, startling Samantha as it dropped to the floor. The pale thing
glared up at her, wiped a misplaced modifier from its lips, and slithered
away for the 'Books Ne'er Writ By Proust' section, wearing a hurt look.
The dreamqueen laughed lightly at the break in tension. She looked
around, feeling easy enough to find a book... hm. Her hand moved one
volume to the right and settled on a large, blackbound tome which she
hadn't noticed until just now. Samantha examined the book for a moment,
trying to figure out why it struck her as being so strange; then she
shrugged and took it from its shelf. True, she hadn't seen it a moment
ago; but she'd been distracted by a rampaging wyrm denied its traditional
feeding grounds! No jury in the land would convict her for criminal
inattention, mm? The book felt cool and good under her hands, and the
Corinthian leather -- which was much more than a joke in this land beyond
imagination -- was very rough to the touch and beautifully tooled,
pleasing the eye. Samantha took a few moments to admire its workmanship,
exploring the hand-wrought metal hinges which bound the volume while
running a finger across the gilt letters that embossed the tome's front.
"'Thee Dream of Reconciliation'," read Samantha aloud, finding the
sound of her own voice preferable to the stark silence of the library.
Several Wyrms poked their heads from where they feasted to put fingers to
lips, commanding their Queen to 'shhh'.
"Soooorrry," replied Samantha, rolling her eyes and taking the book to
a table. Pay-dirt, she figured. Or if not, then perhaps she could pass a
few hours reading this until her subconscious worried at her problems for
a while without her micro-managing it.
Samantha sat down at a hand-carved wooden table which had been built
from the dreams of a Native American elder who had dreamed of the forest
primeval which he had never seen, but about which he had heard tale after
tale until it had become as real to him as had the reserve on which he had
lived. The dreamqueen rubbed a hand against still-living dreamwood,
feeling the warmth of the Amerind's belief flowing through it even as she
flipped open her find.
Strange, she thought, scanning the first page -- or at least trying to
do so. The words written here were as incomprehensible as the Math
elective that Elizabeth had suggested she take. Perhaps Enigma might know
what it all meant, but this was just Greek to her. She should find her
nightmare advisor, thought the girl, finding herself yawning. She should,
but she was getting so tired. This book was so hard to read, reasoned
Samantha, it must be boring her to sleep. Sleeping in a dream, thought
Samantha with a little laugh as she pillowed her head on the book and let
consciousness fade. That was one to run by... Tim... he'd get a chuckle
out... of it, she was... sure...
Samantha drifted off and felt herself floating in the arms of a sleep
deeper than dreams. Gentle hands brushed her eyes, keeping them closed. A
pair of lips kissed her brow.
"Sleep, sweet Queen and liege," whispered a voice which had no locus,
except perhaps everywhere there was guilt and sundering. "Lay down your
cares for a little while and I will weave what you seek..."
Frobozz Magic Productions
In Association With
*The* Mason Kramer
The Second Volume (of Six)
"Awake in a Dreamland"
During her childhood, Amanda had grown used to getting little to no
rest during a typical night, knowing as she did that her dreams would be
plagued by nightmares and the fury of a Nightmare gone rogue. She had
resigned herself to tossing and turning like a dervish on speed and
generally waking up with the customary scream of horror. Amanda had loved
university - there, her sleeping habits were the norm, and no one had
thought anything of someone wandering the halls at two in the morning,
looking for a floating card game to keep herself awake. But several years
ago all of her problems had come to an end with the banishment of Boogie,
her tormentor and jailor. She'd finally managed to get a good night's rest
and had immediately sworn off coffee, Jolt and Mountain-Dew forever.
Everything had suddenly gone right, and Amanda's life could be - if not
normal, as those who are touched by extraordinary experiences tend to
never become mundane - peaceful or at the very least, happy.
So the princess had thought. But then, life had always been ready to
throw a curveball at Amanda when she was least prepared, and the one thing
that she had not yet learned was that each challenge seemed only meant to
prepare her to meet the next. There had been so many more challenges for
Amanda to face, both alone and at Ray's side, and together they had
managed to solve them all. All, that is, save one that Amanda had had to
take alone, and it was one which she had never been able to talk about.
That challenge had gnawed and bored at Amanda's subconscious, as she was
at core an honest person who was only terribly good at duplicity by
chance, or at least by genetics. Finally she had taken her problems to her
newly-found sister Samantha, Queen of the Dreaming, who had proved to be a
very sympathetic listener. Samantha had thought about the problem at
length, and in the end had urged Amanda to tell Ray everything that had
happened. Surely there would be strife; but just as surely, there would be
understanding and reconciliation.
Let it never be said that when Samantha goofed up, she didn't do it in
the most spectacular way imaginable.
Amanda found the Holiday Inn's bed lumpy and hard; but those were the
least of what kept her awake. She could have simply taken another room in
the Manor where she and Ray lived - except she had gone running from it in
tears and just couldn't go back. Not yet. Pride tended to be a
double-edged weapon, and what had once seen her through her trials now
kept Amanda from going back to her home.
Not ever? whispered a demon-voice from a part of Amanda she wished
would just keep its peace.
Something would have to change, she mulled. Something *had* to. She had
faith -- perhaps not much and perhaps that faith dwindled a little bit
more every day - but that faith was what would see her through this. She
hoped. She prayed. She turned on the television to see if it could get her
through the night. It couldn't; but the dull monotony of its late-night
fare finally managed to drive her into a bored, emotionally-exhausted
Gently, very gently, something brushed her dreams, entering.
"Trust me," whispered a voice in the sleeping Amanda's ear, as another
Late-night jogs through city parks tended to be the province of three
kinds of people: the suicidal, the uncaring, and those who knew that they
were upset enough that a mugging would only be a refreshing chance to let
off a little steam. Currently, Ray fell squarely into the third category,
and though there weren't many muggers to begin with in Austin's Ziller
park, any of those would-be muggers who saw his face as he pelted through
the preserve decided to go and do something a little more conducive to
their healths. Something like drinking liquids all night and finding a
handy electrical fence against which to relieve themselves.
Ray had always been a man of action, but to his credit, he'd always
tried to be a thinking man of action. However, despite wanting to give
thought to what he did, Ray tended to approach problems with the same
methodology: find the roadblock and remove the roadblock. If the roadblock
was insurmountable, he'd find someone who knew more and... well, together,
they'd surmount anyway. Or whatever.
So what did a person do when he was used to approaching problem-solving
with a direct method and had no one to go to when he couldn't do it?
Some might decide to go into real-estate: the better to screw someone
else over so they were suffering too. Misery loved company after all. For
this same reason, some others went into both law-enforcement and
Others would decide that they'd had enough and give up on whatever it
was that was deviling them. They'd just walk away and never look back.
Still others would show a stiff upper-lip and grin through their
problems, happily ignoring every trial and meeting every difficulty with a
song and a smile... until they finally snapped and unloaded an uzi into a
And finally, there were the lucky few like Ray, who found out the hard
way that they weren't going to go through things alone. As he jogged, Ray
found himself yawning, and began to hope that his run had worked his magic
so he could finally get a little sack-time. The man ran towards the van
which he had rented, casually kicked aside the young man who had been
trying to pick its lock, and slipped inside. He set the locks and alarms
and then lay down on the foam padding he used for bedding to hopefully get
in a little serious dreamless sleep.
"Sleep easy," whispered a voice in Ray's dreams, as two fingers brushed
his eyes. The tapestry was complete.
The sound of a child laughing is the sound of freedom in its purest
form. Once-upon-a-time in her dreams, Julie Pearson cried. But now she
laughed, laughed and played in the meadows and streams of her dreamscape,
learning that there was no savour sweeter than that of provender long
since denied, as Julie had been for long years while a figment of a dream
within a dream.
The tale of one finding little happiness in dreams was not a new one,
having been seen in the Kingdom of Dreams many a time before. As like
called to like in the kingdom of night, these stories resonated to one
another, calling and moving closer. But these resonances did not begin in
the known dreamlands ruled by the Dreamqueen, a place mysterious and
strange but ultimately comprehensible to those Dreamers willing to forgo
all else and spend lifetimes teasing and prying hidden nuggets of meaning
and bizarre logic from the fabric of the land. Rather, these strange
attractors emanated from the fringes of the Dreaming: aspects of the
kingdom so twisted and lacking in logic that only those who Walked the
Fringes could even begin to exist there, and possibly then only as a
The Fringe Marches were not ruled. They always took for themselves a
regent; but there was doubt as to whether or not the regent ruled the
Fringes or the Fringes ruled their regent. Some said that both were true.
Others said neither. But one thing was certain about the Fringes of the
Dreaming: they were the aspect of freedom in its purest form. It rippled
and roiled free like the water, impossible to pin down though like the
water it too could transmit resonances... and it did.
Julie laughed and in the Dreaming, a laugh means so much more than
simple happiness. A laugh is a story; it tells of where one has been and
where one shall be or at least where one's heart soars. It is, after all,
just another expression of the soul in a place where one's soul is often
lain bare and examined in the minutest detail. She scampered towards a
small garden, kneeling to tend to the wild roses which grew there.
A shadow also grew there; but its blooming was swift and unnoticed.
>From behind Julie, a hand lowered to clasp her shoulder. Startled, she
turned and gasped...
The streets were still and quiet, undisturbed tonight by the passage of
peasants and serfs going about their business. Not a rat scampered from
door to door; not a dog raised a howl to the moon. Cats still yowled to
each other, but that's because cats are cats and almost never followed the
same rules as anyone else. But in spite of the feline ne'er do wells, the
city seemed to hold its breath, waiting for something momentous to happen.
The something which was to happen could be found where all of the men,
women and children of the city had gathered, silent as very silent people
could be in large gatherings, waiting for one of two things to happen.
Either they would watch their queen burn to cinders at a stake, or else
they would watch as the kingdom was plunged into an irrevocable and total
war that would likely devastate the lands and plunge them into barbarism
for their lifetimes and the lifetimes of their children.
No matter what happened, things were certainly more interesting *here*
than over at the well where the most juicy gossip available centred around
whether or not Sir Petrol was going to raise the prices of his Terrible
Lizard Oil this season.
Torches flickered against the walls of the castle which overlooked the
queen's execution grounds. The queen herself has been allowed to maintain
her dignity and go to death in her ceremonial robes of office, further
keeping her dignity by refusing to speak or scream for clemency of the
The king. All eyes eventually fell on him; few eyes lingered there for
long. The dark-eyed man stared down at the scene below, haunted and
bone-weary. All knew - or were sure that they knew - why the king had
sentenced the queen to burn at the stake: it gave his betrayer time to
race in and save her.
Plunging the kingdom into war, as said betrayer represented a foreign
So went the rumour. Which begged the question: what business did a king
have loving a woman so much that he was willing to smash his people to
flinders for her? But the wise remembered to keep that question to
themselves, lest their loyalty come into question.
A cry split the silence of the night, causing more than one man of
stout heart to jump, and a woman or three to faint dead away. The town
crier called five minutes to five in the morning. The time of execution.
When five on the dot rolled around, the queen's executioners would have no
choice but to put the torch to their beloved ruler. And the king could not
call off what he'd decreed for risk losing face and weakening the crown
forevermore. It was a situation that sucked for everyone all around, but
it was the sort of thing that happened when you mingled romance with
politics. In the end, both led to tears, and in this case, a rather grisly
BBQ after the tears were done being shed.
Pulses raced... had it been five minutes yet? The waiting was
intolerable. It had to have been an hour, surely, and yet the crier was
silent. As the seconds ticked past, impossible to retrieve, all eyes slid
to the queen's face. The brave woman stood, tied to her stake, staring
straight out across the courtyard, looking at no one, seeing nothing.
Everyone mistook her posture for bravery, when in fact they needed to look
at nothing more mundane than sheer depression as the cause of her
stoicism. Everyone held their breaths, crossed themselves; or just waited
and observed the moment with their silence...
The first gong of five was struck... more goodfolk jumped at the sudden
sound. Still more tightened their grips on children or loved ones, as
though they could all transcend this waking dream together.
The queen closed her eyes.
The king gazed to his faithful advisor, Lord Janus, who could offer
nothing but a stolid look and a whispered apology.
The queen's eyes opened, clear.
The king took a deep breath, praying that he would fall dead at that
moment so he need never exhale. But God heard none of his prayers that
"Light the fire."
The torch-holder didn't move at first -- he had been certain that this
moment would never come. The king's voice rang down again...
"Light the fire!"
The torchbearer waited another, treasonous heartbeat and then
approached the pyre, meeting the Queen's eyes with his own filled with
regret. She turned her gaze on him and, without needing a word, forgave
him what he was about to do. This did little to lighten the torchman's
burden as he prepared to light the pyre.
All turned at the sudden, sharp sound of hoofbeats clomping like a
driving rain against cobbles. Moving like a comet, a knight on horseback
flashed into the courtyard, sword swinging and singing in a mad fury of
metal and sinew. The torchbearer breathed a silent thank-you to the gods
above and dove for a haystack to avoid a terminal haircut. No one could
fault him his cowardice in this.
Stout knights raced against the intruder who was more noise and nerve
than man -- and as they approached, they fell like reaped wheat. None
could stop him.... none could hope to stand before this man's fury. He
reached the queen, and with a heave of his sword, split the ropes which
bound her to her stake.
A gasp went up from the crowd. This was the moment for which they had
all hoped and prayed, and not a man, woman or child there was disappointed
with the show put on. T'was a fitting and terribly violent display too,
from which few could turn their gazes, and one which presaged things to
come. The knight looped his arm around the unresisting queen and lifted
her onto his horse, spurring it about and racing back the way he came.
Above all heads, the King turned and wiped a tear from his eyes, unsure
whether to praise God above or curse the Devil below for what had just
transpired. Either way, however, he knew that many of his men would go to
meet both before all of this was done. He only hoped that he could follow
them into an eternal rest.
In a verdant glen, a troubled queen might hope to find some peace,
surrounded by the beaut and splendor of nature. She might seek solace in
the myth that there are no conflicts or wars in the natural world, only
peaceful, eternal green. But Queen Amanda today saw the lie of that as she
and her savior Power rested by a brook. Soon they would make the long and
perilous journey to keep Power, but for the moment, the world's cares
could be kept at bay. Or so Amanda had wished...
"What are you thinking?"
Amanda looked up at Lord Power. A helmet hid his features; his armour
gleamed in the sun. He must have been very warm, but made no move to
remove his outer shell.
"I'm thinking how much I wish the world would just... go away. All of
it... how much I wish it would just fade into nothing and leave me alone,
in the centre of it."
Powers' gauntlet took hold of Amanda's soft hand.
"You don't mean that," replied Power, softly. "You aren't meant to be
alone. Not you..."
"I don't know what I mean," replied Amanda, her voice quavering. "I
just know what I feel."
"Feelings pass... all things pass."
Power looked to Amanda. "Bitter words..."
"For a bitter time."
"Do you wish that you'd... left me?"
Amanda looked up at him. She looked down again. "I did what I had to
"But not what you wanted."
"Do you regret it?"
"What do you think?"
"I think I've asked a question too complicated to be answered."
"Then let that be your answer."
Power nodded, rising. "They'll be coming soon," he said, gazing at the
sun. "We have to move."
"All right," sighed Amanda, rising. "How much longer must the trail
"Only a little while to the keep, my dear..."
"That isn't what I asked."
"Perhaps if we were to make some sort of show of force, sire, we might
receive concessions from the French," Sir Periwinkle suggested, rising
from his position of Picese on the Table Round. "Then we could claim a
victory of morals and lose not a scrap of face."
"Well said," nodded Sir Janus, who was seated at the Gemini. Both
raised their eyes to look at the King, who merely stroked his chin deep in
"Sire?" prompted Sir Ulther, whose gut seemed poised to dominate the
crabby Cancer. "There is a proposal up for discussion... on the topic
which you raised.... sire?" The elderly knight, the King's most trusted
confidant, leaned forward to whisper now. "Raymond, do pay attention when
your Circle tries to help you avoid war."
"There is no avoiding war, Philomon," the king murmured, still stroking
his chin. "If we did as Sir Periwinkle suggested, the question would be
raised: what do we trade for a life? What 'concession' is worth the taking
of a Queen? If we signed this deal with the devil, the peasants would
begin to ask themselves this, and then they would begin to ask us this,
and sooner or later, we would run out of ways to avoid the answer. And
then, of course, there would be no war. There would merely be a
disintegration of the kingdom from within -- without even the warning and
cleansing and fresh start which a good war would give. No, sir... no,
trusted friend, I fear I cannot take your council today."
"But you've rejected everything out of *hand*," complained Sir Ulther.
"Is there no solution which satisfies you? Is there nothing which will
The king looked at them all, his gaze sweeping the table. Finally he
folded his hands.
"No. There is not."
"But if we don't find something, Camelot *will* fall in this war!"
"Then it shall fall. It has lived out its span. Perhaps it was never
meant to be. Perhaps building something like this has angered God... and
we, who heeded not his command to cease building our kingdom as prideful
as Babel's Tower, are to be cast to the ground, forgotten by scholar and
"Or perhaps this is man's arrogance dooming all!" Ulther roared,
slamming his fist to the table. "Are you blind, Raymond? Are you touched?
You have a duty to the people first -- a duty to the weak who cannot
protect themselves! Would you throw it all away for a woman?"
"That woman is one of the people," said the king, quietly. "As a man, I
had a duty to send her where she was happiest and could escape death. As a
king... it's my responsibility to bring her back." The king looked up at
them all. "I have divided myself in twain, my loyal, loyal knights... and
in doing so, have divided my kingdom as well. Perhaps... perhaps things
would have been different had I remembered that the king oft cannot afford
to be a man. But the decision is made and what is wrought cannot be
unmade. That is all. Go, ready your troops."
There were no more arguments; there was no more space in which to
argue. The knights rose, bowed to their king, and walked from the room to
give news to their men that what they had trained for, in the hopes that
it would never come, had finally arrived. Meanwhile, the king walked to
the mirror which hung on the far wall of the room. It was a gilt-edged
gold device which had never known a smudge or smear in its long existence.
The mirror had been a gift to him from his advisor of so long ago... he
sighed, staring deeply into the image of his own face, wishing that she
could be here to advise him one, last time.
Odd... hadn't he had a beard a few moments ago, thought the king,
rubbing his chin. Rough bristles met his hand, giving him pause. The
clean-shaved figure in the mirror matched Raymond's puzzled look, staring
back. It was his twin in all senses but for the beard... the king leaned
closer... no, the face seemed softer and more feminine than was his own
rough, angular visage. His eyes searched the silvered picture, tracing
more differences as they seemed to form just in the corner of his eyes.
Blond hair? Beautif ul, sparkling eyes... he stared at the picture which
had formed in total while he had been looking for the tiny details.
"Samantha..." breathed the king, stunned. He wasn't sure whether to
turn away and pray that his sanity was still salvageable or leap for joy
at this miracle. His finger traced the face on the mirror in wonderment...
"Hey, quit that," laughed the reflection, giving the king a mock-glare.
"That really tickles."
"Samantha? Is it you?"
"No, it's the tooth fairy and you've been holding out on me. Of
*course* it's me, Wart. Who else do you know who could reasonably be
expected to appear in a mirror years after she left your court for a
really lousy position as prisoner of the dreamlands?"
"Well, I admit, the list there is narrow indeed."
"Good, you're actually swiftening up. Now we'd better make this fast,
Wart -- I don't have much time. It's taking everything I have and am to
appear to you this last time. What... what's gone wrong?"
"You mean that you don't know?"
"I only know that the dreams of the future are very bleak," Samantha
admitted. "And I'm afraid, Wart. Afraid that I caused it all."
"I came to the queen in a dream," Samantha continued, her eyes casting
down. "She had a secret she held from you. I... advised her..."
King Raymond looked up. His voice was quiet, level and controlled.
"What did you advise..."
"I told her that she should tell you what was going on. Before you
found out the hard way and was even more hurt."
"That's hardly possible..."
"I thought you'd react differently..."
"You mean better. Don't you?"
The question was met by silence, and that was enough of an answer for
the king. He continued on.
"She was the light of my life, Samantha. She was the reason I slew
ogres, brought peace to a troubled land, founded Camelot... it was all for
her, Samantha. Camelot *was* our love, given form..."
"And now," whispered Samantha, "you'll destroy it for her."
"THIS HAS TO BE DONE!"
"Camelot will fall, Raymond." Samantha's eyes bored into Raymond's,
almost flashing. "Unless you destroy it. And then it will live forever."
"Is it, Wart? Do you truly know what Camelot is?"
"Yes. I've said. And now you taunt me with riddles while it burns..."
"Wart? Listen to me. This is important stuff and I know that you
usually take three or four tries to get anything through your head. You
and the queen must stand together the day that the highest ideal is
besieged or else all will be lost."
"But Camelot *is* lost!"
"Would you goddamn listen to me, Wart? Then listen to what I'm saying
instead of the words? Would you? Yes? Good. Camelot is a corpse, waiting
for the crows to come and pick it over, Raymond. The fact that it's died
is my fault, but we can all make amends by learning for ourselves what it
really is and raising it to a higher ideal."
"But what is..."
"No, I don't know what the higher ideal is. Yes, I know that I'm a poor
excuse for an advisor. And yes, I know that you're perpetually hard of
thinking, Wart. But this dream is done... and now you have to protect the
dream beyond it."
"How, Samantha? HOW?"
"All that we see and seem..." began his advisor, her image already
fading from view... "Is but a dream... within a dream..."
"Samantha, come back... please, *come back*... I need you... I need
The mirror cracked sharply, flaws running across its surface crazily
before its glass dimmed to a tarnished grey. The king turned and walked
from his room, feeling as though he had much to mourn and would soon have
No matter what he did to escape it, the pounding found the king's ears,
even in his sleep. It had begun as a low, regular thud, easily mistaken
for his pulse; but as the night wore on and his dreams grew closer to his
heart, the king realised that what he heard came not from within, but from
The pounded would not stop.
It refused to stop.
He could clap his hands over his ears and still it would go on.
He could scream at the top of his lungs and *still* it would go on.
The king was trapped, surrounded by din... the constant pounding
drowned out his thoughts, his dreams, everything save the need to flee,
but the noise was so loud that when he tried to move his legs, he found
himself knocked akimbo to the ground...
Stop he he tried to scream, but his voice wouldn't work, or couldn't be
heard over the noise, and it didn't matter which because there was no one
left to hear, they had all been wiped away, knocked aside by the pounding,
the never-ceasing pounding that just rang on and on in his ears until
finally he would be knocked away too, like all he cared for, like all his
subjects, like his queen and then as the king fell screaming into an
eternal void in which there was nothing but the pounding, not even him...
...he sat bolt upright, covered in a sheen of sweat, his heart beating
like a triphammer. The king experienced a moment of panic as he heard the
pounding from his dream, but calmed a moment later upon recognizing it as
his own siege engines hammering relentlessly at the adamantine walls of
the lord Power. King Ray knew that the pounding was his to cause, and
could be his to order to stop any time he chose. But he also knew that he
would no more give that order than offer his head on a platter to those
within the castle walls.
No. No, he shook his head and rose from the pallet on which he slept.
Brushing aside the flimsy canvas of his tent, he nodded to the guards who
stood at its entrance and strolled out to view the going-ons of the war.
He stared, not for the first time, at the remains of the cairns which had
consigned far too many of his men to the earth as their spirits wafted
Heaven-ward on wings of smoke. In his mind, Ray saw the faces of those
with whom he'd laughed and drank and planned and fought... Sir Rider, who
would never again best him in cards... Sir Perivale, whose loud voice
would never again be raised in drunken song on a Friday's wassail... Sir
Benteved, who would never again display his prowess with the machete for
the entertainment of the courts... so much had been lost over this siege.
All of it had been lost over a womanand the pride of a king. The crown
upon Ray's head never felt so heavy as it did now, but there was nothing
else which could be done. The code of the King and of all Camelot demanded
this. There was no backing down without destroying the foundation upon
which his kingdom rested...
And yet you do that now, whispered a nagging voice that came from
within. You do that with every knight you send to be skewered, with every
page who is cut down by a lucky archer; your kingdom may survive, but it
will survive on the bones of the dead who will sleep, never knowing of the
'splendor' which they had fallen to preserve.
But what can I do, Ray thought, in answer to his boggit of the mind.
Trapped between solitudes, all that I can do is lead and pray that some
fleeting whisp of glory that is Camelot survives.
Or is it...
The king gazed up at the walls that surrounded Power's keep. They were
good, strong stone, the sort that he could batter at for a fortnight and
only achieve holes through which to slip skirmish groups. But in even the
most perfect defense, there were flaws. Powers' walls were plagued by
shadows cast by trees which grew so large and tall that neither side's men
had had the heart to cut them down. The king had considered attempting to
exploit these, but only a few lone men could make it to the top, and once
done those spots would be guarded against another incursion. It was
something that had to be timed perfectly to grant the king's forces an
advantage, and so it had been put off and forgotten as that opportunity
had never arisen.
Until now. The king had climbed worse in his days as a page -- he had
scrumped for apples more than once to supplement his meager diet. He could
make the climb with ease, and if God was upon his side, make his way to
Powers' inner sanctum and end this. It was a mad risk, one doomed to
failure. It would lead to a dead king, scattered forces, and who knew what
The king reached up to test a branch. Nice, solid... he grasped it and
hauled himself until he perched within the tree. There wasn't much room
for error, and not much room to avoid being seen -- he would have to wait
for the next skirmish and slip inside while the keep's defenders were
occupied with something more terrifying than a lone man with a single
sword. He hadn't long to wait, as his men were as anxious for this to end
as he, and soon the cry of battle touched Ray's ears. Quick as a squirrel
fleeing a wolf, the king scurried up the tree and leaped from its
branches, onto the wall. He balanced precariously above the courtyard
below, his heart thumping as he realised that one lone page waited below,
apart from the counter-incursion force. Ray knew that he could drop down,
eliminate him with one fast sword-thrust -- but there'd been far too much
killing this siege for Ray to put to death one young boy not even of age
to shave. The king dropped from above as he'd planned, but only his
sword's pommel struck the boy's head, rather than its blade. The young
page went down with a sigh of pain. After a moment to check that the youth
would live, Ray pressed on towards the keep, hiding amidst its shadows.
The way was long and treacherous, and more than once the king feared
that he would be discovered before he reached his goal. But for reasons
known only to His Glorious Self, that day God seemed to be on the side of
the monarch, concealing his faithful lamb from the eyes of his enemies.
Soon, the stone walls and iron door of the keep were within touching
distance, if Ray had been possessed of the urge to stretch out his arm.
The walls recalled to the man his younger days, before Camelot, before
Samantha... before even Amanda... back to the days when everything was a
venture to be won, or a prize to be taken... when danger was something to
be sought, and death courted but never won... back to the days before the
crown which now rested quietly on the ground, amidst the branches of the
oak which had given him access to this keep. He recalled those days so
clearly that for a moment, the king nearly felt that nostalgia had by some
power of its own returned him to those days... and then the moment passed,
the world returned to how it was, and the sounds and smells and sighs of
war surrounded the king once more like a noisome rabble, pressing from all
sides but one, herding him inevitably towards a doom that he could clearly
see but do nothing to avoid.
The solid door caught the king's eyes for a moment, but he dismissed it
after due consideration. There were better ways to be caught than storming
a lord's keep by the front way. The shenanigans of the past recalled to
the king ways into buildings which required the spryness of youth, and so
the king drew his daggers, seeking cracks into which to thrust them.
Slowly, moving with little more speed than that of a cripple, the king
bought his way higher and higher with care and painful motion. By and by a
window came into reach, and knifing his way past it, Ray managed to secure
a boot on its sill, to drop within.
The king's arms cried out in relief and the king nearly did the same,
but strength and courage were his watchwords, and with great will Ray kept
"Scream if you want," said a voice behind the king, which by touch of
sharpened steel to his neck, proved to Ray that silence was unnecessary.
"You are already discovered."
Does time pass in a dream? Is it all of a moment, or is it an eternity?
Julie stepped back involuntarily and then wished that she hadn't. The
man who stood before her had startled her but was no threat. Dressed head
to toe in laminated armour, the knight who had placed his hand upon
Julie's shoulder cut an impressive figure. A yellow rose twined in the
figure's vizard completed the ensemble and told Julie that there was
nothing to fear from this silent man.
For this was the knight of the yellow rose, who had given Amanda
strength and helped chase off her dragon when it had threatened them both.
He had proven that he was something a frightened little child could trust
and so, she grinned happily, holding out a hand to him.
The knight accepted Julie's hand and raised it to his helmet as though
to kiss it, though he did not lift his visor. Julie giggled, delighted and
described a curtsy.
"Hello..." she began as she rose. "Why're you in my dream?"
The knight remained as silent as he ever was, though Julie would swear
that he smiled under his helmet. Children often require little proof
beyond their own feelings and so she took that as canon. His only response
was to hold out his own hand, offering to take hers. Julie blinked for a
moment and then curtsied again, accepting his gauntleted hand in hers.
It should have been uncomfortable, but the metal in Julie's hands was
warm and lifelike and very easy to hold. With the logic of a young girl
she decided that if this was as things were, then all was well and there
was no reason to continue worrying about them. There was a reason that
youngsters often did so much better than adults in the Dreaming. The
knight held Julie's hand tenderly, comfortably and began to lead her
towards a tall pole that had become a fixture in her dream when she had
not been looking. The other children in Julie's dreamscape paused to watch
the pair as they approached the majestic maypole which was festooned with
gaily coloured ribbons that hung loosely from its top. Julie knew what a
maypole was; she came from a much earlier time in which such things were
used and quickly grasped a streamer, letting out a giggle of delight.
Solemnly, like all things which he did, the yellow-rose knight took hold
of another streamer and began to skip about the pole. Julie followed
happily, winking at the children who watched. Shrugging to one another,
the observers dashed ahead and claimed ribbons of their own, until there
were none left. The dance had begun.
"Sire," began lord Power, helmet covering his face as he knelt before
Ray, drawing his sword's point away from the king's neck. Behind him,
Queen Amanda stood watching, as heartbreakingly beautiful and ethereal as
the day the king had met her. She stayed silent, eyes carefully turned
away from Ray, though he longed to meet them one last time. "Though we are
now at war, I do not forget that I have sworn to serve you in all things."
"The deuce you say," replied the king, turning his attention
reluctantly from the Queen to Power. "After all of this... you have the
audacity to claim that?"
"Men have *died*, Power. The land will lie in ruins. Our nations will
both fall, and the dream of Camelot will lie trodden underfoot like
unripened grain. Good people will die! Boys will fall too, rather than
fleeing for the hills as any sane person would do, because this is to them
a rite of manhood! All of this is your fault, and you *dare* to say that
you serve me in all things? Do you? Answer me, man!"
Power regarded the king for a moment, then rose, leaving his sword upon
the ground. He spoke only after a moment's deliberation.
"What have you come here to seek, my liege?" Power asked. "When you
answer that question truthfully, you will see truth in my words."
"Liar. I have come here..."
Ray looked up to see Amanda looking at him. It had been her voice which
had questioned him, not Power's. Ashamed, he found himself questioning his
motivations once more, being true with himself before speaking.
"I have come here seeking death."
"Then my liege," said Power softly, "You have found it."
"No, damn your eyes, not yours! My... my own." He raised his head,
staring at Amanda, seeing the pain in her eyes and feeling his heart break
at the sight. He spoke, but his words were for her, not Power. "Since the
day that you betrayed me, I have been a man dead. The world has held no
meaning for me... my dream has been but ashes. I have plunged all of my
energies into following after it... I have destroyed all of my works... my
men... oh God, forgive, please forgive... "
"Raymond..." whispered Amanda, closing the distance between them,
though they still did not touch. "God's heart is infinite, but it is not
for want of His forgiveness that we have found ruin. Will you listen to my
words? Will you hear and perhaps forgive?"
"I... I cannot, Amanda. I cannot. There is no room left for anything
save death. Perhaps by mine, some lives may still be spared. Your own.
"You came here seeking death," whispered Power, drawing the king's
attention. His sword rose and slid into its scabbard. "I say that you have
"I said that I did not come seeking yours!"
"Nay, but that is precisely what you have found," replied Power,
beginning to lift his visor. Ray's hand fell to the knight's, stopping the
"Whatever you do, I call enough. Hold. There is nothing under your
visor which I have not already seen. There is nothing of interest to me
there. Only the Reaper calls to me now. I..."
"Let him show," whispered Amanda, almost directly behind Ray. Her voice
was urgent, pleading and sent a surge of jealousy through the king.
"Please, for all our sakes, let him show."
"Let me," replied Power, hand breaking from Ray's gentle grip to lift
his visor. "And see what has destroyed Camelot." The king paused, then
nodded and drew his hand away. Slowly, Power lifted his visor again.
Ray took a step back as Powers' face was revealed. Where once the man's
visage was a handsome one: moustached, easy, though not overly
memorable... now what stared back at the horrified king was a death's head
skull, empty sockets staring past Ray at some sight which the living would
never see. Ray felt himself paralyzed by the sight, his heart beating like
"Sorcery," he whispered. "What... foul sorcery..."
"There is no wizard or witch behind this, my liege," replied Power, his
jaw-bone working up and down mechanically as he spoke. "Save for the sort
by which all men are separated from their warm lives by the reaper's
"Then what means this... speak! I must know!"
"This... is what I gave to him," said Amanda, softly, regret in her
eyes. "When you thought I gave to him the little death, I gave him instead
the ultimate one. Oh, Raymond... t'was all that I could do, my troubled
love... he lay struck down, undying, unable to die. T'was against all I
held dear to finish the job, but t'was what I had to do. And yet..."
"And yet she saw that my life had been half-lived," continued Power,
mercifully lowering his visor. "And seeing this, her heart bled. Not for
my love but for my life, and how it had been squandered, like a fruit left
to rot only tasted but once."
"How could I let him pass... how could I call such a death a mercy,
"She gave to me life before she gave to me death." Power turned away
from both, to stare from his room's window at the court below. "She gave
me a reason for my death to be a joyous passage rather than the whimper at
the end of a midden's burble. But in giving this to me.. she took from
"Unfairly," Amanda whispered, her eyes glistening with tears.
"And in giving me life... she has consigned Camelot to death."
"She has consigned me to death," replied Ray, stunned by all that he
"No," said Power, shaking his head. Bone grated against bone deep
within his armour, sending shivers down the king's spine. "No, only... the
kingdom has fallen. Only Eden has been taken away. But a new Camelot can
"Do you know what Camelot's true purpose is? Do you? It isn't to
rule... it isn't to be the perfect system of governance. It is most useful
when finally fallen, when all that it is are memories. When Camelot is
gone, its meaning remains to inspire all those who come after. You have
its foundations in both of you. Rebuild. As my twice-dying wish I beg of
you both, rebuild!"
"It will be hard," said Amanda, finally taking Raymond's hand. "But
must it be impossible?"
"That which has fallen... all of those who have fallen... cannot be
restored," Power whispered. "But they can be raised. In tale and heart and
song. You came seeking death, and it would have been so easy to grant such
to you. To accept it. Are you strong enough to carry life away from this
Amanda looked at Raymond, then threw her arms around him. Gradually,
the king returned his Queen's embrace, rocking her. "T'will be hard," he
whispered. "But not impossible."
"Then take this," Power commanded, turning to offer to Raymond a cup.
"Take this, your Holy Grail, by which to rebuild what was lost. And this
time, build it stronger."
Power's last word vanished as the man collapsed to dust, only a second
after the king's fingers closed around the proffered vessel. Both he and
Amanda stared down at the scattered armour which lay at their feet.
"Was he... a good man?" Raymond asked, staring at the Grail.
"Aye," replied Amanda, touching the Grail. Both felt the world begin to
spin, as a dream ended. "They are the only kind for whom I care..."
Samantha stretched and yawned, cat-like. What a nap, she muttered,
rising from where she had slumped. Then the Dreamqueen paused as something
permeated her sleep-fog. She'd fallen asleep in the Dreaming, but she was
visiting here while asleep in the waking world...
That tiny, rational portion of Samantha's brain managed to lodge two
commands in its stack: 'hunh?' and 'save to ask Enigma later'. She rose,
feeling less burdened than she had when she had sat down to read. There
were things for a Queen to do, so many things... and maybe rent a copy of
_Camelot_ when she woke up. She had the strangest urge to see that
The book remained open where the Dreamqueen had left it. A page turned,
then another, as though blown by a wind that could not possibly blow in
such a room -- but in the Dreaming, all things were possible.
Any who wandered in would wonder at the siege depicted upon its page,
as well as its strange legend: 'Siege of the Reel'. Those who cared to
look more closely might spot a familiar face embossed on the page.
The librarian's assistant, having ice where his soul of poetry should
reside, merely closed the book with a resounding thump and shelved it,
alongside countless other tomes that sat upon their shelves, languishing
until the next reader came along, seeking reconciliation.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
"A Dream Within A Dream"
-Edgar Allan Poe
This issue is mine, mine, mine and you can't have it. Except for the parts
that belong to Mason Kramer, but you can't have those either. Nyah and
copyright 1999, and if you mess with our legal rights, we do know one F.
Kruger who'll be willing to visit to discuss 'fair use' with you. Bleem!
frobozz at eyrie.org
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