By Lizzie Meddler
This story was purely a whim inspiration. In trying to think of an inanimate object which would have the most thrilling story to tell, it entered into my mind to, perhaps, write from the perspective of a very important inanimate object in my “bigger” story project The Freelance Chronicles. For anyone who’s reading that series, they’ll remember that the protagonist, Myka Grayshield, wears a scarf, enchanted to protect her from nightmares (for she’s being hunted by creatures that can only find her through her dreams). I started to wonder: who wove this scarf? And what does the scarf see when it protects its mistress from the demons that hunt her in her sleeping hours? In writing this short story, I have to say that Myka’s valiant scarf has become one of my absolute favorite characters in The Freelance Chronicles world.
My birth was a gradual event. And as my beginning was gradual, so, too, is my death. Threads of spider silk were collected and dyed a gray as soft as clouds, and then these threads were put onto a loom and crafted into a length of cloth the finest one could conceive. As the cloth was formed, pearlescent blue and silver threads were woven into a complex pattern of symbols, completely unnoticeable save by those who looked.
This is when I became aware of my existence. With each symbol, each pass of the shuttle, the threads coursed with power - a power that awakened me. The first thing I perceived from my loom was the room, which was as sparsely furnished as any poor hovel - and dark, save for the golden light which emanated from the tips of my weaver’s fingers.
The second thing I became aware of was that my weaver was a djinn. And one whose life was coming to an end. With each silver thread, The Djinn’s remaining power ebbed from his form and into me. His fingers trembled the closer he came to completing my weave, but he did not cease. Not once, in those long nights, did he get up from his work.
“You will have the grace of a butterfly’s velvet wings,” he sang softly, pushing the shuttle through. “You will have the strength of a dragon’s hide. You will have the warmth of a thousand hearth fires.”
I felt his blessings settle into the symbols hidden within my weave, bestowing upon me just as what he spoke. The Djinn sang other things to me as well; old tales of his land and other far away ones. He told me of the past and of the future - what little his fading second sight could still perceive. I could not answer My Djinn, but he knew my thoughts as if they were his own, for a weaver knows their cloth better than anyone can.
When My Djinn completed his weaving, he was frail and empty of all power, save one final blessing. His once blue-black skin was as pale as powder and the red-black runes once so deeply burned into his body were faded to mere ghostly scars. Slowly, carefully, The Djinn freed me from his loom and carefully folded me up.
“Protect her, Keeper of Dreams,” he whispered. “When the Demons come for her in her sleeping hours, weave great labyrinths and speak beguiling lies so they may not find her.”
I am hardly aware of what happened after that. I felt the last reserves of My Djinn’s power pass into me and then. . . .I could sense My Djinn no longer. How I came to travel from his weaving house to a silk merchant’s caravan, I cannot say, for it is all a muddle. The symbols, those things which kept my power safe, slept and I with them. I was vaguely aware of being loaded into a crate with many of my brethren, who were all silent and unaware of their existence. This crate was put onto a ship, which took me far away from My Djinn’s land of hot sand and spiced air.
However, the port city in which I found myself was no less enchanting. I and my silent brethren were immediately taken to a merchant’s stall in an open market as vibrant and loud as any in My Djinn’s homeland. We were housed beside jewelers and rug merchants and perfumeries. But not far away, I could detect the sweet tang of fruit merchants, the pungent saltiness of fishmongers, and the beautiful heady scent of exotic spices, some which even I did not recognize. It was warm in this port city, but it was a pleasant heat, with a cooling sea breeze carrying the smell of adventure.
My silent brethren were arrayed in an eye-catching rainbow, but I was set aside for a special purpose. The merchant draped me over a latticed sandalwood box fixed with bronze and mother-of-pearl. By this I knew that I was, indeed, quite different from my silent brethren.
For days, I sat wrapped around my beguiling box, as passersby paused to look at my merchant’s wares. Women and young lads looking for a gift regarded my silent brethren with keen eyes, some tinted with longing and others with consideration. A few ran curious fingers along my cloth, gasping in wonder when they beheld how light and soft I was. But they all walked away shaking their heads when my merchant named my price.
I soon lost any sense of anticipation when customers showed interest in me. I instead turned my attention to the strange glow which seemed to emit from mortals. My Djinn had had a glow, but it had been quite different from theirs. Mortals’ glows were mere echoes of what My Djinn had possessed, and its color changed from person to person. I knew, from the wisdom My Djinn had woven into me, that I was seeing the power hidden deep inside them.
I became fascinated with these glows. There were four basic kinds, identifying them as children of the winds or the earth or the waters. There were even some who could lay claim to the powers of fire. But there was so much more to these mortal glows than their relation to the great elements. I had no name for most of what I saw, but I found that I knew things about these people because of what I saw.
In this way, I wiled my hours as my silent brethren were bought and I still remained around my box. But things changed when The Boy came.
His glow was like no other I had seen before. It was deep gold, shot through with undulating greens and bronze and burnt-orange. A boy blessed tenfold by the earth, a boy whose gold-green eyes sparkled with the power he possessed. I thought that I perceived an earth mage of legend, and indeed I later came to understand that his lineage stretched far back to one such person.
Next to The Boy was a tall man with piercing ice-green eyes. His glow crackled with the vibrant red-orange and smoky-black of fire, stronger even than The Boy’s cool earth-toned glow. I was in awe of these two mortals and of what they were.
I do not know what caused the man to stop, but he did, eyeing me as if he had at last found something for which he had long been searching. He beckoned The Boy over, asked my merchant what he wanted for me, and pulled out the requested amount. The man didn’t even hesitate once. My merchant bowed low several times, heaping praise upon the man. The man ignored him and took me from my box.
“For you,” he said to The Boy. “You’ve been sleeping poorly. I think you’ll find that this scarf will help.”
The Boy thanked the man and tied me securely about his neck. A curious thing happened then: I began to understand The Boy’s emotions and thoughts. I understood the past that had led to his present - and of his future I could only gather mere shadows. But I immediately liked him, this boy who had defied all of his family’s preconceived expectations and made his destiny his own. I was pained for the loss of his eldest brother and I admired his quiet resolve to continue on the path he had chosen.
I would spend a mere year in the company of The Boy, before I would be asked to protect another. But even in that one year, I became very fond of The Boy. I had not, up to this point, entirely understood why My Djinn had created me; only that I was meant to protect someone someday. But that night, The Boy wore me to bed and I then knew my purpose.
The nightmares came on silent feet as The Boy slept, eager to disrupt the pleasant dreams he now entertained. The symbols within my weave came alive with The Djinn’s power, and I built a wall around The Boy, barring the nightmares from his sleep. But the nightmares would not be deterred and I began to weave a labyrinth outside of the wall for the nightmares to become lost in until the waking hour. Nightmares cannot live in the waking hours.
The Boy was not visited by nightmares often. And the ones which crept in at night were those of his brother and what their father had done to him. I was a Keeper of Dreams, tasked with weaving labyrinths every night to keep the nightmares away from The Boy. But to weave strong labyrinths I had to understand the nightmares and so I looked at them whenever they came knocking.
The nightmare of The Boy’s cruel father beating his brother half to death was a violent, wailing thing, with sharp edges to cut The Boy’s sleep to ribbons. It was a nightmare made up of not one, but several reoccurring instances in The Boy’s previous life. The Boy had witnessed these willfully malicious beatings at a very young age and he had seen his eldest brother bear them with excruciating silence, for the sake of their mother.
The other nightmare which habitually wandered into my labyrinths was of being forced to return home, to be beaten by his father as his brother had been, to lose the life he now had. This nightmare was as black and suffocating as a wool blanket.
And then there was the nightmare which was not, I discovered, a nightmare at all. The Boy’s death visited him quite often, almost nightly. Mortals are often visited by the foretelling of their death, but they rarely remember it. I knew The Boy would and so, I kept his death from him. But I looked at it every time it visited and I wept for The Boy. His death would be in the noble pursuit of saving those he loved, but it would be a violent death and it would be alone.
When My Mistress came, I knew there was something different about her the moment I saw her. She arrived with a snow storm, a half frozen shadow as wary as a stray cat. Her glow was like a sheet of volcanic glass, deceivingly brittle until one touched it and cut one’s finger against its glittering edges. But buried deep in that volcanic glass was pure light, such as I had never seen, and I knew what she was and who had blessed My Mistress. I knew why My Djinn had told me to protect her. And I did not question how he had known, for beings such as he knew these things.
The man, my boy’s master, fed the shadowy girl and cured her fever. But The Boy was who showed her the sort of kindness she needed most. The Boy healed her wounds with a touch of his gentle hands and watched over her as she slept against the hound.
My Mistress was only a small girl, only a year younger than The Boy, but the horrors she had seen invited a whole host of nightmares. The Boy had tied me around the shadowy girl’s neck that night and the power woven within me immediately came to life. I could sense them even before she fell completely asleep.
The Demons held the nightmares on leashes, like dogs baying for the rabbit. The Demons themselves were blurred at the edges, like wafting smoke from a heretic’s pyre, and they wore silver masks weeping black and crimson tears. They sought my shadowy girl and her nightmares would lead them straight to her, if I permitted them to enter.
And what nightmares they were. Terrifying, writhing, sightless wyrms with blood dripping from their black talons. Every single one of them was soaked in the horrors of what her father had done, not only to her mother and brother, but to his people and other neighboring warlords. Hordes of blood riders massacred thousands, eating the marrow of their strongest enemies and setting the old and weak to the fire. All others were bound into slavery, to be used at their new masters’ whims. Still other nightmares contained the personal atrocities My Mistress had suffered within her father’s keep. Small, dark spaces became the only safe places My Mistress knew, to escape her father’s rages and later his personal guards’ unwanted attentions when she became a little older (and yet still a child). In these dark places, she witnessed the brutal punishments her father eked to traitors and whores who displeased him, and here also she saw her brother take whippings meant for her.
I recoiled at these monstrous things, and I burned bright with My Djinn’s power. This was my purpose. I would not let these Demons find My Mistress and take her back to a living hell such as that. I wove a labyrinth as I had never once wove before. But the Demons were clever and they were always one step behind me. It took all of my power to keep the Demons out. They shrieked and hissed their anger, but I only wove faster. By morning, the power My Djinn had blessed me with was exhausted and I would wait silently until the next night, when I would gather my renewed strength and fend the Demons off again.
I confess that I took my duty as Keeper of Dreams further than I was probably meant to. But My Mistress was important - to me and to the rest of the world, though she did not yet know it. And I kept out not only the Demons and their enslaved nightmares, but any dreams which might make My Mistress unhappy. These included any dreams of her brother and his sword-sworn, who had been as a second brother to her. These dreams were pleasant ones, but I knew that they would cause her to miss them to a point that would give her pain, so these I swept up in a golden net and cast back into the ether. The dreams did not understand; they only wanted to give My Mistress happy memories. But I was unrelenting.
With this careful guarding, My Mistress only ever dreamt of her new family: of The Boy and their master. And, on a very frequent occasion, she would dream of ravens. I could not bring myself to cast these out, though I worried at their significance. But these were not dreams even I, Keeper of Dreams, was meant to touch. The ravens brought her no pain, no fear; only confusion. She often dreamt of a vast snowy plain, the azure sky covered in soundless ravens, and far in the distance a figure she could not make out.
Even then he watched over her, though he could do nothing. I liked to believe that somehow he had told My Djinn to make me, so that I could do for My Mistress what he could not.
This was my life for more years than I can recall. My Mistress took to only ever taking me off when she needed to bathe. I did not mind. I wanted to be close to her at all times, so I could protect her from the Demons. The Boy became her champion, defending her against those dangers which can be seen by mortals, and slowly my shadowy girl opened like a shy clam and became his champion, too. In this way, they grew together at their master’s house, ready to take on the world for one another.
And their master watched with quiet pride. Only I saw his eyes darken with unspoken sorrow. Only I knew what that sorrow meant. Only I saw all of the secret preparations he made - preparations for when he would no longer be there to keep My Mistress hidden from a threat worse than the Demons. Only I saw him come up to their little loft and watch them sleep, My Mistress often having abandoned her bed to curl up next to The Boy. I found that his power gave my own strength, as if he were subconsciously lending it to me so that I might better fight the Demons off.
I witnessed the many adventures My Mistress and The Boy went on. I was there when the spectre wolves attacked and My Mistress fought them off with her untapped power. I saw their first contract without their master, when once again My Mistress’s powers awakened. And I feared for her, for with every use of her powers the Demons became harder to deceive with my labyrinths. And the closer the danger their master feared crept in.
My Mistress allowed me to see the world and I saw her strengthen with each new adventure. My fear for her lessened as I saw her bond with The Boy intensify to something far deeper and far stronger than anything I had ever witnessed. When I could not protect her in the realm of the immortals, The Boy shielded her. I breathed a sigh of relief when the Mark of the Raven appeared on her brow and I knew, now, that the immortals could never touch her.
All of these things I witnessed. But as My Mistress grew stronger, I grew weaker. The Djinn had poured every last bit of his power into me, so that I, Keeper of Dreams, could have one purpose: to protect My Mistress until she became strong enough to step into her fated role. It was in My Mistress’s seventeenth year that fighting the Demons became too much and I could not always keep the unhappy memories at bay as well. I could feel the pearlescent blue and silver threads weakening. Not even being close to The Boy’s glow helped.
And now, I am afraid that the end comes. I have seen My Mistress through the immortals’ trials and I have seen her to the doorstep of her past. It is there that I must leave her. I weave one final labyrinth, to buy My Mistress time before the Demons come for her. My threads are as dulled as My Djinn once was when he gave me my purpose. It will not take much for the Demons to unravel this labyrinth. Already several of their nightmares have slipped through and I weep for My Mistress as she is tormented by their horror.
But even as I feel the final threads slipping, I smile. The Demons once hunted a faded shadow of a little girl, frightened by her own abilities. But now - now they will face The Raven’s chosen, his beloved daughter in name. I do not leave My Mistress unprotected. I leave her with the strength of a thousand warriors and with the earth’s own blessed by her side.
Copyright© 2017 by Lizzie Meddler