Perchance to Dream

Part One

“We have to do something, chieftess,” Dewshine insisted. “This cannot continue!”

Venka sat cross-legged on her daybed, hands resting on her ankles. Her expression was one of mingled concern and skepticism. “And what would you have me do?” she asked her chief huntress.

“Talk to her,” Dewshine begged. “Tell her she cannot just hide in there forever–”

Venka held up her hand. “I compel no one, Dewshine. You know that. You know the rules of the Holt.”

A momentarily flash of anger blazed in her cousin’s eyes, a wolf’s desire to challenge, though Dewshine had given up her wolfblood long ago. But then the huntress regained control of herself. “‘No harm, no judgment,’” she quoted. “But she is doing harm – to herself.”

“What does Tyldak think?” Venka asked gently.

Dewshine hung her head. “He…. We do not agree on this. He doesn’t see the danger I do.”


“The way she is isolating herself. Neglecting her duties, her friends, her family. Hiding inside the Palace–”

“I understand she is learning a great deal.”

Dewshine bared her teeth in a sneer, quite out-of-place on her delicate face. “She’s not doing anything! She lies in bed all morning, and then she wanders about the Palace like a sleepwalker all night. She sits watching Sunstream turn the Scroll, and mumbling about the beautiful colors. This is the child who used to be up in the trees from dusk to dawn, racing the treewees across the canopy! Who’d only come home for a daysleep after her muscles screamed for mercy. Now she sleeps more time than she spends awake. She used to pride herself on catching and dressing her own kills. Now she only eats what others bring to her!”

 “My brother doesn’t hunt or howl,” Venka pointed out evenly. “He eats what others bring him. Does that make him worthy of scorn?”

Abashed, Dewshine flushed. “No, of course not, chieftess. But Sunstream is… Sunstream! He’s Master of the Palace! Tamsin is a Wolfrider huntress. Her place is out in the world.”

“She’s not a child anymore. She has a right to find her own path.”

“And if she was choosing from her heart, I’d support her,” Dewshine insisted, perhaps a little too vehemently. “I would. But she hasn’t chosen the Palace out of any desire to become a magic-user. She’s running from her grief!”

Venka nodded. “Russet’s death was a great blow to her.”

“And she needs to heal. But what comfort can she find by forsaking the Way? You remember how she walked away from the howl!”

Venka did. It had been a hard day for them all. The first rains of the wet season had pattered down on the Holt as they gathered in a circle to bid farewell to the beloved old wolf.

Wolf-friends came and went, their lives burned out so quickly by an elf’s reckoning. Yet each death was a little wound on the heart of their elf-friends. Time healed them, but could never quite banish the scars, even after so many wolves had come and gone that most elves would be hard-pressed to remember all their names.

Russet had been different. Born the season before Tamsin, in the bleak aftermath of the Year of Ashes, he had been, like her, a symbol of rebirth.

The immortal wolf Starjumper seldom mated with his mortal kin anymore. He spent all his time in the Palace with Skywise, and after hundreds of generations, the red wolves of the Great Holt held little appeal to Timmorn’s brother. But after the Holt had burned down, the wolf pack had taken refuge in the Palace for months, and a meek female had caught Starjumper’s eye.

She’d given birth to a litter of five pups – two of them stillborn, three larger and quicker than their red-coated cousins. One had left the pack after a lost challenge, and another had fallen afoul of some forest predator. But Russet had grown to adulthood, and though he had never permitted any elf to ride him, he had chosen to follow little Tamsin as she explored the newborn forest. She had never known another wolf-friend.

Starjumper’s children were always long-lived, but never immortal. Rain the Healer had learned how to heal almost every wound, but not old age. From visitors to the Holt, Tamsin had heard whispers of a healer in Oasis who could create beasts who never died, but those were only constructs, Windkin insisted, not real beasts with real souls.

Everyone agreed Russet had been blessed with a long, full life. His death had been long anticipated and quietly accepted, by all but one.

“It’s all part of the Way,” Dewshine had tried to comfort her daughter, the day of the howl. “Life, death – everything comes full circle.”

But Tamsin had pulled away. “Then what is the point of it all?”

She’d walked away from the tribe that day, seeking refuge inside the Palace. Now the rains had receded, and she had yet to re-emerge.

There was no denying the pain in Dewshine’s voice. Venka learned forward, touching her arm lightly. “What do you fear, cousin?” she asked. “Something weighs on you, but you won’t speak it plainly.”

“I… I think of the stories Windkin’s told me. Of Haken’s followers – the ones who left for Homestead: how they’d built a world without death, and bought up children set so above the world that they didn’t even need to kill to eat. How these children – some older than Tamsin – think death is nothing but a curse-word to taunt their elders. And how empty their lives were… how dissatisfied they were, and how terrified they were when death struck in their midst. I think of Scouter’s boy, and how he could never reconcile himself to the worldsong, how it drove him mad. He’s dead now. You must have heard. Killed himself – High Ones, what would Scouter have made of that? And I think…” her throat closed in a sudden spasm of emotion. “I shouldn’t, I know – it’s been so long, but the memories come back to me when I sleep – and I think–”

“Blue Mountain That Was,” Venka finished.

“She looks so much like me in head and hand,” Dewshine allowed. “But in her heart… she’s always been Tyldak’s daughter. Always dreaming. Always with her head half in the clouds…. Strange that she never learned how to float. She’s always been more a Glider than Windkin. And I fear for her. I see her dreaming in the Palace and I shudder, because it makes me think of all those Gliders I saw sleeping in Winnowill’s thrall!”

“The Winnowill you feared is long gone–”

“At least she could be killed. But Tamsin’s in thrall to her own dreams! She’s… drowning her sorrows in starstone visions, and it’s washing out every spark in her. Please, chieftess. Go see her. You’ll understand what I mean. She’s… fading away ”

Venka nodded. “I will see her. But I cannot promise anything.”

* * *

Though the Palace remained hidden under its illusory camouflage of creepers and flowers, its great doors were cast open, revealing its crystal interior. Venka met her twin brother in the atrium, having sent ahead for his council.

“Come see,” he told her. “I was going to send to you myself. This will make you smile, Venka.”

He led her to the Scroll Chamber, motioning her to be silent. The two scroll ends were rotating a few fingerspans above their holder. Vague swirls of pastel colors danced between the two halves. Venka could not make out a pattern in them. But that hardly mattered. Her gaze turned swiftly to her father, standing in front of the Scroll, his brow furrowed in concentration, and slick with perspiration, as he manipulated the strands of magic.

Venka tried to step forward, but Sunstream held her back. **Don’t break his concentration,** he locksent. **He’s been at it all day. This is the first time he’s managed to coax the colors from the Scroll.**

Venka clasped her hands in front of her mouth, holding back the cry of joy. **This is just the good news I needed! Oh, look at him, Malin! Doesn’t he even seem a little taller to you?**

**He’s standing proud again,** Sunstream confirmed. **The only question is: can he pace himself now?**

Venka smiled. **I think we know the answer there. What good is walking to one who can fly? You and Mother will have your hands full keeping him grounded. I’m rather glad I only have the Wolfriders to worry about.**

**He still has a long road ahead of him,** Sunstream agreed.

**Don’t we all?**

Sunstream led his sister down a side corridor, away from the practicing Rayek.  “So, Tamsin. You say Dewshine worries for her?”

Venka summarized the conversation she’d had with their cousin. Sunstream listened pensively.

 “She seems happier now than she did when she first came here,” he said, when Venka had finished her tale. “She’s been learning dreamwalking.”

“To what end? Does she mean to walk the astral plane?”

“I think she wants to dive into the spirit pool… or she did, when she first came here.”

Venka winced. “Poor child. You’ve told her she has no hope of finding Russet’s soul, yes?”

Sunstream flashed her an enigmatic smile. “I told her the souls of beasts burn too faintly for any of us to find them in the spirit pool. At present. But I’ll take no one’s hope from them, sister.”

“Do you think Dewshine speaks true? Does she mean to hide from her pain in dreams?”

Sunstream shrugged. “What does that mean, ‘hiding from pain?’ Avoiding it? I’ve always thought that a good thing. Denying it? You praise the wolf that pushes the pain aside to keep fighting. At its simplest, pain is a warning: a sign something needs to change. And Tamsin is changing.”

“But if she truly will not allow herself to grieve properly…”

“Who’s to decide what’s proper? If you ask me if Tamsin is unhappy, I’d say ‘no.’”

“Is it true she sleeps most of the time? And complains of weariness when she’s awake?”

“I sleep most of the time. I just do it standing up.”

Venka felt herself blush. “You know what I mean. There’s a difference between meditation and… being too tired to face the world.”

“The difference is smaller than you might think. Either way, you’ll have to ask her for yourself.”

Tamsin had made her room at the top of one of the Palace’s spires. Her room lay open to the world, a latticework of simulated creepers and vines in place of a solid ceiling. The large nest-like bed occupied the bulk of the space in the little cubicle. The long-limbed huntress lay on the bed, clothed in a scanty costume of moth-fabric, her eyes closed, her hands clasped over her breast.

“Tamsin,” Sunstream called softly.

Her nose twitched. She mumbled something, then slowly opened her eyes. She blinked in the direction of the door for several moments before she recovered her wits.

“Oh, Sunstream. Chieftess.” She propped herself up on her elbows, then her hands.

Venka tried to keep her expression neutral, though she felt her brows knitting against her will. Tamsin had changed. The rich Palace food had put curves on her once-lean figure, yet her face seemed drawn, leaner somehow. Dark circles ringed her blue eyes.

“Good dream?” Sunstream asked.

She nodded. “I was running with Dart and Kimo along the Greenwall.”

Wolf dreams, Venka thought, feeling a shudder despite herself. Was it a true spirit-seeing, or just a wishful dream? Kimo’s spirit still visited the Great Holt regularly, but to her knowledge only to speak to his parents, Teru and Newstar.  Even Sunstream had a hard time speaking to him directly.

“They must have enjoyed your company on their run,” Venka said. “High Ones know, you are much missed in the hunt.”

Tamsin looked away. “Mother sent you.”

“She did. She worries for you. She misses the time you used to spend together.”

Tamsin pulled herself onto the lip of her bed. “She could come visit me.”

“You know she’s never been very comfortable in the Palace.”

“I’m not very comfortable out there, anymore.”

Sunstream tactfully withdrew. Venka sat down opposite Tamsin, on the edge of the bed. “Why is that? Because of Russet’s passing?”

A moment of intense, heartrending grief flittered across her face. “It’s not fair…” she mumbled.

“What isn’t? His death?”

“All of it,” Tamsin said. “This whole unending circle. Life and death feeding more life and death. Over and over and nothing changes, not really! What did Russet do in his life? Kill the weak and the sick and keep himself stronger, but for what? To sire cubs who dead long before he did? To die and feed other beasts who will only die in their turn? By now his bones must be cleaned and scattered. In another few years they’ll be buried under moss. A few eights of years and I’ll need to look in the Scroll of Colors to remember his face. In another few centuries I might even forget his name.”

“I doubt that–”

“Mother forgot her first wolf-friend’s name!” Tamsin snapped. “She forgets things that happened when I was a cub. We’ve argued about memories before – she’ll insist I was somewhere I wasn’t.”

“It happens to those of us who live in the Now. It happens to all of us, if we live long enough. That’s why we have the Scroll of Colors, and the written howls. To help us remember.”

“We live our life in memories,” Tamsin said. “I tried to tell Mother that. She couldn’t hear me. She lives in the Now… but that’s only an instant. The Now is dying every second. Now. Now. Now,” she repeated the word dully. “It’s already ‘Then.’ And what’s the point of it all? What does any of it achieve? What did Russet matter? What do I matter? What have I done in my life that will endure?”

“You’ve helped the forest. As Russet did. You said it yourself: he culled the weak and sickly, and he sired new life to replace those he had taken. He felt joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, and he inspired those feelings in others. We are all richer for having known him. And that now he is gone, he has fed the forest. The spark of his life lives on in countless other creatures, forever changing, forever growing. I know that is small comfort when your heart longs for his company, but–”

“That’s all they can say about any of us, isn’t it? We took life to prolong our own. And in death we gave life to others. Links in a chain. Spokes in a wheel. I wonder, if all those creatures I shot in hunts could reason, would they be comforted knowing that?”

“Probably not. A reasoning mind is inherently selfish. Perhaps the lack of it is a mercy.”

“There is no mercy out there,” Tamsin said bleakly. “There’s no room for it. The world is unending struggle and harshness. I’ve always accepted that because Mother taught me that was the Way. But no more. Not when there’s another choice.”

“And what choice is that?”

A dreamy smile crossed Tamsin’s face, as her gaze turned inward. “I’ve found my Now. And I’m learning to hold onto it. A moment that lasts forever… or longer than I can fathom, anyway. When I’m in a deep dream I can be gone for years and years – seeing everything, feeling everything. Did you know there’s life in every drop of water? Tiny, watery worlds filled with creatures stranger than any they’ve ever grown in Oasis! Have you ever felt what it’s like to be struck by skyfire? To feel your very cells turn into light, yet know no fear? Or to feel a joy so all-consuming you cannot even imagine that sorrow exists. Oh, he’s shown me so much, chieftess! You can’t imagine.”

Venka felt herself mirroring Tamsin’s smile. “I think I can. I did my share of dreamwalks with Skywise in my day, you know. It’s easy to lose yourself in sensation. But I’ve made the choice to embrace the life I was born into, not seek another.”

Tamsin blinked. “Then you don’t approve.”

“I did not say that. If you wish to embrace the spirit realm, then I think you could not have better teachers than the Masters of the Palace. Though perhaps you would like to go to the College, to train with Aurek. He has the greatest experience with dreamwalking. I daresay your mother will not approve, but she must learn to overcome her own fears.

“But Tamsin, I do worry. Because I know how intoxicating it can be. Because I’ve seen those dearest to me struggle to find a balance between the seen and unseen world. I know the Firstcomers spent untold ages living in spirit… but even they ultimately chose the flesh – and all the pain it can bring. And though I haven’t lived nearly as long as Timmain, I’ve lived long enough to know: those who refuse to embrace the flesh tend to lose it. And I don’t want to lose you, Tamsin. None of us do.”

Tamsin laughed lightly, dismissively. “What harm can come to me in the Palace?”

Again Venka felt a shiver. The elves of Blue Mountain That Was said the same thing, she thought grimly.

* * *

“Do you think she’s really communing with Kimo and Dart?” Venka asked Sunstream.

“You think she’s lying?”

“I think she might only be dreaming them.”

Sunstream tsked. “You know the line between dream and vision is never clear. Even if their spirits aren’t actually running with hers on the astral plane, they must have brushed against her to inspire a dream. Or else she drew them to her by dreaming of them. And even if she did imagine it completely – well, who is to say it is not real to her?”

Venka raised an eyebrow. “And if I dreamt last night that our father Recognized Leetah? That doesn’t make it real.”

“Not in this world. But in your mind, at that moment it – wait. Did you actually–?”

“That’s not the point. I wonder… if it might not be better for her in the College. Aurek has more experience fighting the pull of dreams. He knows how easy it is to become trapped in one’s own spirit world.”

“You saw how quickly Tamsin awoke. I don’t think she’s in any danger of becoming lost into a deep dream.”

“It’s not that I fear. Not exactly. But I think Dewshine might be right. She doesn’t speak of the joys of learning, only of sensation. She is chasing one new experience after another - and I fear it’s to distract her from her grief. When we spoke of Russet… the anger in her, the unresolved grief…”

“She’s young. It’s the first loss she’s felt. It’s only natural. And she’s hardly the only elf who’s cursed the harshness of life. Who hasn’t asked themselves, at their lowest ebb, ‘what’s the point of it all?’ You can’t blame her for looking for meaning… even if she has to invent it herself.”

“I…” Venka felt a pain in her jaw, and realized she had been clenching her teeth. “I cannot explain it. But… when I looked into her eyes… I could have sworn I was looking at a much older elf. I think Dewshine was right to think of Blue Mountain. No one should sleep that much and still look so tired.”

On to Part Two

 Elfquest copyright 2016 Warp Graphics, Inc. Elfquest, its logos, characters, situations, all related indicia, and their distinctive likenesses are trademarks of Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Some dialogue taken from Elfquest comics. All such dialogue copyright 2016 Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Alternaverse characters and insanity copyright 2016 Jane Senese and Erin Roberts.