ALL MY NIGHTLY DREAMS

Joan Stephens

Perfume from the newly awakened lilias bush wafting through the open window gently teased Elliass from his latest dream. He was a Dreamer who belonged to a race that valued their Dreamers. His people were of little imagination, and they honored their Dreamers above all things: be they storytellers or inventors. The dreams were turned into stories, and they became their stories.

But he was troubled.

Arising, he donned his clothing and strolled, pensively, into the breakfast room. His father, Farmand, and his wife, Shereen, were already ending their nightly fast. A plateful of misa cakes sat waiting for him.

"The blessings of the Sun on you, Father." He paused to smile at his wife of fifteen yarns. "And you too, wife."

Placing a small piece of lira meat on his plate, she returned his smile. "And the blessings of the Moon on you, my husband."

Farmand mumbled something around the misa cake he had in his mouth. Elliass assumed it was the answering reply to his greeting. Taking his place at the table, he asked, "Where are the children this morning?"

Shereen answered, "Theyíve gone swimming with the neighborhood children."

"Ah good, they need their exercise." He lapsed into an uncharacteristic silence. Normally he was excited to tell them of his latest dream, but today he seemed disturbed.

At last Farmand said, "You seem concerned, son. Trouble with the dream?"

Elliass nodded. "It is going in a direction that I do not like."

"What do you see happenings?" Shereen asked.

"Misery and death."

"You dream such romantic stories. Your dream buyers will be very upset, I think. It will be your least popular story," Farmand said, reaching for another misa cake.

"I know," Elliass said, releasing a heavy sigh.

"I was talking with your old dream teacher, Lovis, just the other day, and he happened to mention that a few of the old masters altered a dream when it was in danger of getting out of control. Is it possible for you to do the same?" the old man inquired.

"I donít know, Father. I have never tried; Iím not sure if I remember how he told me to do it, but you have given me something to think about." Cheering up, he began to eat.

During the morning hours, he put his dream into words and worked in his garden in the afternoon. Working with the earth quieted the tumultuous thoughts that his dream had brought him. He decided to try what his father had recommended; he would visit his old teacher after the midday meal and have him reacquaint him with the method for altering dreams. It would be good to see Lovis once again.

***

That night as he lay beside his peacefully sleeping wife, he made a conscious effort to enter the dream at what he considered the most critical point. The strange leonine man appeared to be dead, lying on the floor of the cold, dark cavern. The young woman was leaning over him imploring him not to go, telling him he couldnít leave her behind.

Elliass could hear her thoughts; she was his creation, after all. She was afraid that he was dying, that she would be left behind, and she didnít know if she could survive his loss. In fact, she knew she couldnít. But she couldnít just let him go without fighting for his life. He had so much to give to his father, his friends, and to her. He was the light of her life, the being who shaped her life as if he were Pygmalion. He was her rock, her compass, her life; and she wanted to live, but only if he was beside her. Desperately, she sought some way to keep him with her, and she could think of only one way. She kissed him with all the passion and love that she had withheld from him, fearing that it would drive him away from her.

As she began to unlace the torn and ragged shirt of the man she adored, Elliass cried out, "Stop. Do not do what you are contemplating. It will only lead to your death and his agony."

Too worried to be frightened, she could only stare at him as she sat back on her heels. "Who are you? How did you get down here?" she demanded, looking frantically around the cavern.

"I am a Dreamer, and I have dreamed what will happen if you continue as you are doing."

He didnít seem at all threatening. In fact, he had a very kind face with friendly eyes, and he never approached her. Throwing aside her fear, she said, "But heís dying, and I canít let him. He is too important to me and to others."

"No, you canít, but you must find another way to bring him back."

In frustration she held up her hands. "I donít know what else to do."

"Think," he replied, "What is the most important thing to him? What does he care the most about in this world?"

Placing her hands lovingly on the unresponsive chest, she thought carefully. "Me," she answered truthfully. "I am the most important person in his life, and he fears causing me any pain."

"Then you have your answer, Catherine. Use that to bring Vincent back to you. It will work; I promise you."

Then he stepped out of the dream and watched it unfold.

She leaned over the unconscious man and kissed him again, but this kiss, while it was passionate and loving, was nothing like the first kiss. Then she began to speak softly into his ear. "Vincent, you canít leave me behind; it will cause me great pain. I cannot live without you, my love; you are my one and only love." She repeated over and again that it would cause her so much pain to lose him that she didnít think she could continue without him. She was so engrossed in what she was doing that she didnít feel the first faint rise of his chest.

Then his hand slowly rose to encompass hers, and she looked up to find him smiling gently at her. "I wonít . . . leave you . . . Catherine . . . ever. You must live . . . and if my penance . . . is to live to keep . . . you alive . . ." He paused to draw a painful breath. ". . . then I accept it gladly."

"Oh Vincent," she cried, as she hugged him to her, careful of his self-inflicted wounds. "I was so frightened. Donít ever do that to me again. I love you, I love you, I love you."

To his surprise he found it easy to say the words, "I love you . . . more than you know. I . . . will until my dying day."

Looking at him crossly, she stated, "And that better not be for many, many years either."

Uttering a short, light laugh, he agreed. "Not for many, many years, my love."

"Oh, I love it when you call me your love. Do it again? Please?"

"My love."

She burrowed her head into the angle where his neck joined his shoulders and cried as she had not let herself cry before.

Murmuring words of apology and comfort, he clumsily patted her back until the tears stopped. "Iím sorry, Catherine . . . for all the pain Iíve caused you. I thought it would be my claws that would . . . damage you, but it seems that it was my actions . . . that caused you the most pain." He drew in another deep breath. Speaking made him a little breathless, and he was so tired. He wanted to close his eyes and sleep; but she needed him, so he would do his best to comfort her.

"It wasnít really your fault; it was Paracelsus and his poisonous words." She paused and looked at him speculatively. "Also, I think it was the fact that we were denying the sexual attraction between us. I donít want to do that anymore, Vincent. I know itís much too soon to act on this, but will you, at least, think about it as you recuperate?"

Uncomfortable with the thought, he glanced away, but she put a finger under his chin and turned his head back to look into his eyes.

"Will you promise me that you will think about it?"

He could see in her eyes how important it was to her. "Yes, Catherine, I will think about it."

"Thatís all I ask, my love. That, and that you love me forever and never try to leave me again."

"I promise."

The silence that followed as they allowed themselves to hold each other as they never had before, fully and completely, was broken by Fatherís hesitant voice, quavering with emotion. "Catherine?"

"Come in, Father." She sat up and took Vincentís head into her lap.

"How is he?" the tired looking old man asked.

Vincent had closed his eyes as Catherine ran her hands soothingly over his mane but opened them to smile faintly at his father. "Iím all right, Father, just very tired."

The older man clasped his hands to his heart and bowed his head. "Thank god, youíre all right. We were so frightened."

With tears in his eyes, the tunnel patriarch raised his eyes to her and said, "How can I ever thank you?"

She shook her head. "I did this for myself. I was being totally selfish."

Turning his attention back to Vincent, he asked him if he thought he could walk back to his chamber.

"I think so . . . with some help from my friends." Vincent attempted to rise but Catherine restrained him.

"Wait awhile . . . rest . . . gather your strength. Let Father get Mouse and John to help you."

Vincent nodded and relaxed back into her arms. Father left the cave and returned shortly with John and Mouse in tow, followed by Jamie, Pascal, Ho, and a few others. The two young men helped him to his feet; he stood there swaying gently until they positioned themselves on either side of him. With their assistance, Vincent stumbled to his chamber, leaning heavily on their shoulders.

When they reached his chamber, Catherine and Father put him to bed and fussed over him until he was asleep.

"Iíll stay with him, Father. Get some rest; I know this has been a harrowing time for you." She gave him a quick hug and turned him toward the entrance.

Before he left, he turned back to look at her. She was tenderly brushing strands of hair from Vincentís face. Then she bent down and kissed him, softly running her hands over his hair. Pulling a chair up beside the bed, she sat down and took one of his hands in hers.

"Catherine."

She looked up at him.

"Itís been a harrowing time for you also," the old man said. "Try to get some rest yourself."

Smiling wearily at him, she nodded and turned her attention back to the man deeply asleep and motionless in the bed.

Father returned to his chamber and, with every bone in his body aching, climbed into bed and was instantly deep asleep.

Leaning back in the chair, Catherine contemplated the events in the cave. Who was that man who had suddenly appeared? She had the feeling that that question would never be answered to her satisfaction. He had called himself a Dreamer and said that he had dreamed their story. What a fantastic story. And then he had simply disappeared. Whoever he was; he had helped her to save Vincent, and she would always be grateful to the Dreamer; but it was her secret. When Vincent was strong and well, she would tell him about it; but for now, she would keep her peace.

* * * * *

Elliass awoke with a sense of accomplishment. He had done something that very few dreamers had attempted, only the ones they called the Masters, and he had succeeded. He had put his dream back on the track he wanted the dream to take. Bounding out of bed, he threw on his clothes and hurried into the breakfast room.

"Well," Farmand commented, "you look much cheerier this morning."

Ignoring the usual morningís blessings, he sat down at the table, beaming at his father. As Shereen placed a bowl of misa gruel in front of him, he smiled at her and, rising, kissed her. "Blessed morning, wife."

Taken aback by his chipper demeanor, she returned his smile and asked, "Did the dream go well last night?"

He leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head. "Well? It went better than well. I think this will be the best story I have ever dreamed."

"Why?" his father asked.

"I have a feeling that they will work out all their problems and have a happy life. There is no joy greater in life than dreaming this kind of story, combining all the elements: action, love, and romance. I am blessed to be a dreamer."

~