Moreover, something is or seems,|
That touches me with mystic gleams,
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams --
Of something felt, like something here;
Of something done, I know not where;
Such as no language may declare.
Something was happening somewhere, thought Dreamfinder as she looked out at nothing in particular in an attempt to see exactly what that something was. This feeling had been coming to her for several days now and was causing her to spend more and more time away from the village, lost in thought. Fortunately, no one in Forest of Arden had yet noticed her change in behavior.
"Pondering new and profound insights into Ultimate Truth, O fearless leader? That's supposed to be my job."
Well, almost no one.
She couldn't help but smile as she turned and greeted Wordsworth, whose concern was quite evident beneath his ever-flippant attitude. She found that she wasn't very surprised that he had noticed that something was bothering her and had decided to follow her to the edge of the fields this day because one of Wordsworth's favorite hobbies was observing people just being themselves.
On more than one occasion, people recognized personal details of their lives turning up as parts of the evening stories with which he entertained everyone who cared to listen -- and some who didn't. But he was always careful to do this in a manner that wouldn't offend anyone -- except those who occasionally needed to be offended.
"No, I wouldn't presume to challenge the master in that area," she said with a smile in answer to his question. "I was just trying to sort out my feelings."
"Care to share them?" he offered.
Perhaps Wordsworth was just the person whom she needed to talk to, she thought.
"I'm not really sure what they are," she said. "A few days ago, I just woke up with this strange sense of ... something. I can't shake the feeling that there's something important happening -- or about to happen -- somewhere..." She looked off at nothing in particular again, "...out there."
Wordsworth let out a whistle.
"If there were one thing that I'd trust more than my wit, charm, intelligence, and good looks -- it would be your feelings. This could be serious -- an approaching crisis -- maybe even something that could threaten the very life of every person in Arden," he said with a subtle sparkle in his eyes that had taken him years of watching her to perfect.
"I'd doubt that it's anything quite that serious," she said, slightly amused.
"One can never tell about these things," he continued. "I think we'd better mobilize the village -- store up supplies --"
"Move to higher ground --"
"Put our heads between our knees --"
She knew that he could be somewhat irritating when he wanted to be, and the way that he kept harping on this joke -- when she wanted a serious discussion -- was turning this into one of those times.
"I don't think any of that will be necessary," she said, no longer amused.
"Then if you're so smart," he snapped. "What do you suggest we do?"
There was something in his tone that she found infuriating.
"I suggest," she snapped back, "that we ignore this until --"
"Until what?" he demanded.
"Until we can be sure that something's really wrong," she said with an embarrassed smile.
"Now why didn't I think of that?"
He did the sparkle again. Dreamfinder sometimes worried that he could do it better than she could.
But he was right. She had allowed herself to become obsessed with something that could have been nothing -- or perhaps even a good thing. Now, at least, she had her sense of perspective back. Even though she still felt the something, it was no longer overwhelming her. They talked more about that and other things as they walked back to the village.
When they arrived there, they were immediately attacked.
"There he is!"
"Don't let him get away!"
Before either of them could react, the assailants were upon them. The assault was swift and merciless. Within moments, Wordsworth had been wrestled to the ground -- helpless before their power.
Dreamfinder shook her head sadly, for she knew that she would now never be able to finish her conversation with him.
She knew that the children loved hearing his stories so much that it would be a much of the day before they'd let him up again. As it was, she could barely hear his voice from beneath the giggling pile of human and elfin children that was smothering him.
They refused to climb off of him until he had yielded to their demands.
"Oh, all right," he said, pretending that he didn't greatly enjoy being -- once again -- the center of attention. "Which story would you like to hear?"
A little girl, who was still sitting on him, said, "Tell us the one about the elf who was the daughter of the village chief, but he got killed by her uncle who then became the lifemate of her mother, so she ran away into the forest where she met three weird women who told her that she was going to be the next chief and that nobody who was born of woman could harm her, and so she went back to the village disguised as a boy elf so that no one would recognize her, but then her uncle's daughter fell in love with her -- thinking that she really was a boy elf -- and so she was forced to run away again, and that's when she met a human who knew magic and who used to be the chief of his village before his brother tried to kill him, but he had managed to escape with his baby daughter who was later taken away from him by the chieftess of the --"
"Not that one," interrupted a boy who was not-at-all impressed by his playmate's ability to talk without breathing. "Tell us about the time Calet first came to the village -- when you were little."
Dreamfinder saw Wordsworth's face light up at yet another opportunity to tell his favorite story. (After all, he was the star of it.) But if she knew Wordsworth -- which she did -- he'd tell both stories -- and several others as well.
"You spend too much time alone," Dreamfinder had told her once.
"I know," said Nightfawn. "It's just that ... oh, I don't know." She shook her head in frustration at not being able to verbalize what she felt so clearly. "It's not that I don't like people..."
"Some of your best friends are people?" smiled Dreamfinder, trying to cheer the human up with a very old joke. She wished that Wordsworth were there; he was so much better at this kind of thing.
"You know that I don't have any friends," said Nightfawn unemotionally.
"That's not true. I'm your friend."
"But no one else."
"If you'd just spend time with the rest of us once in a while --"
"No, you don't."
"I used too."
"I didn't know what to do."
"That's the problem," said Nightfawn. "I can't. I'm not like other people."
"No, just different ... too different. I can't explain it. When I'm alone, I have all these wonderful thoughts, so many exciting things to say -- I often say them even though there's no one to hear. But, when I'm around other people and listen to what they talk about -- such ordinary things..."
"There's much virtue in ordinary things," said Dreamfinder.
"I know," said Nightfawn, growing frustrated again. "But there's so much more too -- things that are more important, more meaningful -- to me, at least -- dreams and things."
"I'm a big believer in dreams."
"But no one else is. They don't even bother to think that there might be something beyond their day to day lives, and they make all the things I care about suddenly seem so ... I don't know ... it's like the whole world is divided into two groups -- me and them -- and either they're wrong or I am. I can feel in my heart that I'm not, but, when other people are around, I'm so outnumbered that I'm afraid to speak. I begin to worry that maybe I'm the one who's.... Can the whole world really be wrong?"
"Sometimes," mused Dreamfinder as her mind drifted back in time.
"Always the optimist?" said Nightfawn with an ironic smile.
"Not always," said Dreamfinder. "I know what it's like to be a misfit -- an outcast -- to be constantly ridiculed for what you believe in or, at best, merely tolerated -- even by your own parents." She looked at Nightfawn. "But you can't let that make you withdraw from the world. You have to stand tall for what you believe in -- regardless of the consequences."
"You're not talking about me anymore."
"Sometimes I wish I could bring Spearshaker back," Dreamfinder continued. "Just to show him how wrong he was -- how wrong everyone was -- to see his face when he has to tell me I was right." She paused and looked at the ground. "Maybe even to hear him say that he was proud of me."
"Then you do care what people think of you, after all," said Nightfawn.
"Everyone does, to some extent," confided Dreamfinder with a smile.
"For what it's worth," said Nightfawn, "I envy you so much for what you've accomplished. You had a vision of a better world that guided your life, and you spent every day of your life striving toward it -- no matter how impossible it seemed -- until, finally, that vision and the reality became one." She grew wistful. "I wish I could do something glorious like that. I sometimes even wish that I'd been born back in the old days even though they were so horrible." She paused. "Maybe because they were so horrible. Then I could try to make them better like you did. That's what I'd really like -- something to strive toward -- to quest after -- something that would give my life a purpose -- that would have an impact on the world and be remembered for--"
She stopped in midsentence as she realized that she had just allowed herself to reveal her most secret dream to another person -- something she had sworn never to do. She was embarrassed even though that person was the one being who might understand. She looked at the ground.
"It's what I dream for," she finished in a very small voice. Dreamfinder placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Something will come along someday," she said.
And her eyes sparkled.
"Are you sure that this is what you really want?"
"More sure than I've ever been of anything," said Nightfawn as Dreamfinder tightened the last strap on her backpack. They both looked out to where the great plain that bordered the far side of Arden disappeared beyond the horizon.
"I still don't know what it is," said Dreamfinder. "But there's definitely something calling from that direction -- something that wants me to follow it."
"Maybe I'm the one who should be asking if you're sure about this," said Nightfawn. "If you're the one who's being called, maybe you're the one who should go."
"My place is here," said Dreamfinder. "It's like you said -- my role here is what I was born for. This call is a quest for the untried."
"And I will find it," said Nightfawn. "I may not be able to hear this call that you do, but I do hear my destiny calling from that direction, and I won't let anything stop me from reaching it."
"That's a corny thing to say," said Dreamfinder impishly.
"I don't care," said Nightfawn, and she realized that she didn't. "I don't care what you or anyone else thinks about me. I know that what I feel -- that what I'm doing is right."
The finder of dreams smiled.
"Do you think the world has enough room in it for another dream chaser?" she asked.
"I'll make room," said Nightfawn.
It was to be many years before Nightfawn returned to Arden, and, during that time, Wordsworth filled the imaginations of those who had noticed her absence and were saddened by it (and there were more of these than Nightfawn ever would have dreamed) with so many tales of the grand adventures that she was undoubtedly having that her existence soon passed from history into legend -- especially among the newborn generations who grew up listening raptly to the tale-spinner's words.
In the fullness of time, they too were inspired to seek their destinies in the outlands just as she had done, and, when they encountered other civilizations, they always found that the name of Nightfawn the Dreamchaser had preceded them.
And the legend grew.
Next story: The Quiet and Fertile Plain
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