The Most Beautiful Girl Who Had Never Been

Thursday October 06, 2005 @ 01:26 PM (UTC)

In a tall tower of soft stone at the edge of one of the quieter seas lived Eishlin, who was the daughter of one of the greatest of the Dreamers. During the day, she went to endless classes, honing her Dreamcraft and cementing the history of the Dreamers in her mind until she was sick as well as bored. At night, she lay down by her window and rested her head on the sill, and watched the great pearl of the moon, and thought how much she was wronged by her elders.

One day, after hours spent in the halls of Dream-nets tracing every fluffy frill of a single feather, she stomped back to her room in the seaward tower, too angry to be tired by the day. “A feather!” she said to the room, which started at the unexpected noise. “I could Dream a feather with my eyes closed when I was six. And six hours they’d have me spend on one! When shall I have a challenge?” And it was true, for all her bluster; Eishlin’s skills far outstripped her years.

She looked out the window, and saw no moon hanging over the ocean. If she bit her tongue and narrowed her eyes, she could see the dreams of merchantmen plying the far waters; a troupe of merry children carrying fish lanterns appeared and were gone, and a captain wandered in a garden maze whose secret he could no longer remember. She shut the window and the curtains against the scent of the sea and the sight of the dreams, and lay down in bed, but her anger still plucked at her, and she could not sleep. She lit a candle and muttered again, “I will not be treated like a child anymore. I will show them what a Dreamer is. I will Dream…” and she caught, in the soft glimmer of the candlelight, a flash of her tousled hair and frowning face in the tall mirror. “I will Dream the most beautiful girl that has ever been!”

And so Eishlin rose from her bed, pulled back the curtains, and sat on the windowseat so the soft light of the stars would touch her Dream, and said, “Let me see. She shall have dark hair like a shade of mystery, and skin both pale and rosy, like the sky at dawn. Her eyes will hold all love’s secrets, and her lips all of them that can be spoken or felt.” And, as if merely speaking it had Dreamt the Dream for her, the girl formed from her breath in the starlight, each feature swimming out of the vague brightness of her when Eishlin spoke its praises.

Eishlin looked at the girl, and gasped at her own powers. “You ARE the most beautiful girl who has ever been!” she stammered, and if anything, the face she saw was more beautiful for the words she had spoken. Eishlin tried to say something else, perhaps tell her her voice, or speak her dress into less nebulous effulgence. But she found she was so tired, she could not catch the words and make them follow each other, let alone force them from her lips. Perhaps Dreaming was work, after all. She stood, leaning on a chair, and led the girl away from the starlight. She showed her to a large soft chair in her dressing room, for she felt uneasy sleeping under the luminous gaze, and closed the dressing room door before falling into her sleep and her bed.

But you cannot shut away a dream so easily. The lovely hand found the doorhandle in the dark, and the lovely form fled gracefully to the sweet soft light at the window. There, across the glinting darkness of the sea, there were lights and music, voices and shapes, and she lifted the latch and floated out into the night.

It was past three when Eishlin woke, teased by the tapping of the open window against the walls. She was confused at first, but then the window and the dressing room door told their tale, and she hurried to the windowseat with less grace, if more purpose, than had her dulcet Dream. There was no sign of her. A mist of dreams was gliding through the night, the old, disused dreams of grown children and lost sailors. No matter how far she strained her tired eyes, Eishlin could not see her Dream, or even any vibrant dreamland walked by a drowsing soul.

What would the Dream do, out there in the world? Here the Dreamers kept each creation close, tethered to the nets until it was ready to fly free. Would her mother know what she had done? If the Dream were shattered, would Eishlin feel it? None of this did she know. And so, as the curling paleness of the mist passed, drawing with it the faded flotsam of years, she leapt from her window, and caught hold of a long-forgotten row-boat which flapped solemn, silver wings.

She was tired, it was true, but she was young and strong, and she lent the old planks substance and strength, ‘til they creaked under her as she clambered in, and the blue paint on the prow once again appeared: The Right Bartholomew. She set her course by the distant murmur of sleepers, and the Bartholomew answered, and after many hours in which the stars did not move, the boat’s prow brushed softly to rest in a windrow of forgotten oddments, becalmed against the buttress of a beautiful old dream. Eishlin stepped out, and patted the boat goodbye, and it flew off, its vigor restored, towards the bright colors of a little child’s dreams in the offing.

The stone halls of the dream were not real enough for footfalls to sound, but they held her, and she noticed a trail of shimmering glamour in the air ahead, which she followed hopefully. The corridor’s pillars abruptly changed to bamboo trees, and when she looked behind her all was green, while above and below were both bright, sun-touched tree-tops. She shook her confusion away and fixed her eyes on a few motes glimmering like dust in sunlight. She forced her way through the leaves, which clung like lint instead of rustling before her, and continued through the limbo between dreams.

This place was both shapeless and full of shape, for as she walked, dreams tried to form around her, to give and take meaning and form. But she would not look at the shadows or listen to the whispers, and would not turn her head from the trail, and so whatever beauties, whimsies, or horrors she might have beheld, we know none.

The Beautiful Girl had passed through the nothing untouched and unshifted, and stepped into the dreams of a great town. She little understood what she saw, but she walked through the dreams of a mason’s son, and he forsook his trade for paint and tried to capture her glory. She passed by the dance in a young lawyer’s dream, and he awoke and looked at his wife discontentedly. She left her shimmering trail in a little girl’s dream, who went searching for mica the next day and found an orphaned kitten instead. She turned her smile on a village belle, who woke certain of her own ugliness. Her face appeared in the sleep of an elder whose eyes had seen nothing, dreaming or waking, in twenty years, and in the morning he bade the townsfolk to seek the witch who had tried to touch his slumber with her spells.

Her light broke the gloom in the dreams of a young nobleman, who had been in a blood-stained oubliette until she wandered by. The darkness fell apart and he stood, gazing after the vision, but he did not wake. Dimly, he knew something had changed, and as one raised to expect obedience, he began to reorder his dreams that she might return, his angel.

Eishlin had followed the skein of her Dream through a boiling bog, through a market where the animals spoke and the humans had no tongue, through a cramped house and a store where a little old woman sold chipped marbles. Sometimes it nearly disappeared as a dream collapsed, too fragile to survive its dreamer’s waking, but she caught onto it, and pulled herself through the wreck of a village fair, clawed out of a rich tidepool, and marched resolutely through a graveyard where the dead had been buried alive. Soon, she reached a polished checkerboard floor, and saw the distant lights of a party commencing; but the path led to her left, across the burgeoning dreamscapes of two childhood rivals, now hundreds of miles apart, and through a shiver in the air that left her feeling somehow drenched.

She looked around. There was no ground, no sky, and yet no walls. It was all the shade inside your eyelids, and somehow just as close, for all the lack of walls. She felt suffocated. Far off, she could hear someone crying out in pain, and nearer, the sound of a sleeper churning, his breath, body and mind flailing for a truer rest. There was a dripping, insistent and dank, and a smell she did not like. She tried to force her eyes open, but they thought they already were.

And they were. There, there was a scintilla once more…and beyond it, as if she were also a mote, was the Beautiful Girl, held close by the folds of the nightmare. Eishlin reached out with the hands and voice that made her, and called. The light rushed towards her. She turned, and together they fled, matching each other’s fleetness, until they could barely run more, and they fell through the coldness.

They were on a checkerboard again, smooth…but this was not the party. It was some older dream, fixing itself to the life of the new by this tenuous thread of similarity. For it was a checkerboard in truth, a marble checkerboard, huge upon a huge desk. Bottles of ink loomed like hitching posts, and quills, pencils, fountain pens, lay in untidy piles like lumber. Eishlin, rolling on her back and catching her breath, saw the checkerboard again above her, and every pen and giant blotter mirrored there, looming near like academic stalactites. She rolled back up to her knees, and saw the Dream fading from her again, wafting towards the light of the party.

The music started up, soft and sweet; a waltz. The young nobleman turned from the scene, from the flowers of women dancing in the arms of faceless, dark-clad men. She was coming, as he knew she would. She was drawn to him, to the gaiety and power of him, and he caught his breath as she came nearer. Her eyes could hold a man more surely than the velvet of night held sleep, her hair was finer than gossamer, and her lips inspired a thousand metaphors and adjectives each more fanciful than the last, each discarded in its turn until he formed the one word, ‘indescribable’. Her graceful arms reached for him, and he cried out…

For her gracefulness ebbed with a stumble, and she fell towards him with her ineffable lips parted in a silent scream. The sharp point of a solid, well-defined fountain pen, as big as a spear, broached her luminous breast. From it, ink flowed, but there was no blood, and as he caught her, she faded and passed over his hands with the swish of falling silk.

He looked up through his tears, and saw Eishlin, and she saw him, not as he had been, but as he was in the world, a nobleman’s son in a dark blue suit, of about her age. “Why did you do that?” he said.

“Because she wasn’t real,” explained Eishlin. “She was a Dream. It had power, but no substance. It had no potential, no will. It would have taken all you offered to it, and you would have given yourself to no purpose, wasted something on nothing. You cannot love a thing which does not exist. Dreams should enrich the waking, not rob and shame it.”

Eishlin reached out her hand, but the young man turned away, and she walked alone through the dreams and the mist to her window, and, shutting it, climbed into her bed.

And while Eishlin rose to great honor among the Dreamers, they often remarked how queer it was that she never Dreamt a human form. And while she sometimes wondered, she never again heard of the noble boy in the blue suit.


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