Short Story: The Daydream Eater

Lady Ashlynn rarely slept. During the day she would wander the halls of the Ardon Castle, of which she was its lovely Princess. She wasn’t boastful of her place in the world, nor did her parents lavish her with gold trimmed jewels or stuff her with pastries and sweet cakes. That was the commoner’s doing. Lady Ashlynn walked amongst her people as if she were one of them.

They would admire her sun kissed skin and her hazel eyes and signature curly pigtails. Not her. She stared up at the sky during one of her early morning strolls, escorted of course by a heavily clad guard trained not to speak without command. Ashlynn was only thirteen, rarely did she see anyone her age that had the pure red robes she wore or even the shiny lustered shoes. None were clean, yet she didn’t care. They had carried smiles with them, smiles that she had before she knew that she would someday be Queen. 

She sought to break the silence between her and the guard.

“Sir, may we go out to see the archery performance? I hear that Lady Coralene has gotten very good.”

The guard shook his head. “The King forbids you from being anywhere near anything that might endanger your life. The archers could misfire or something could disturb the event.”

Ashlynn sighed, pulling out her wand. People saw the Princess, but they stayed when the wand came out to play. The guard sighed his own frustration. 

“Again, my lady?” 

She closed her eyes. “It’s okay. You don’t have to watch. I’ll be right here in the town square.” 

The guard sauntered off elsewhere as Ashlynn breathed deep. The common folk, merchants and traders, poor farmers and scrawny children came. The cheering of her name didn’t drive her, nor the number of eyes watching. It was all in her mind.

A wisp of golden light seeps from the tip of the wand. It whirls and twirls with sparks like topaz, then settles onto the ground. Forming from the pool of light emerges a golden fox, flowers blooming around its paws. All the while, Ashlynn’s eyes are closed, she does not think about the imagery being painted before all. She sees other.

She has friends, tall and mighty, short and spirited. She knows not their names or where they come from, for they do magic and unspeakable things no human can do. One young woman standing before her with long black hair and piercing platinum eyes smiles.

The image ripples. Lady Ashlynn’s golden fox dissolves. The flowers wither. 

“Aaaaahhh!” 

A pang, pang, pang in her head ripped. The people stepped back in whispers and in cowers. What was happening to their beloved Princess? Her glorious display was cut short and the guard was summoned by her cry.

“My lady!” he scooped her up into his arms and whisked her away. 

“I don’t know what happened my Queen,” said the guard. 

Ashlynn lay in her long canopy bed with her eyes as bright half moons. She saw her mother as her older self standing beside her, with the guard in a prone and very nervous kneel. 

“She was doing one of her displays again, and I missed what she was showing but then I heard the most blood-curdling scream. I thought someone may have attacked her.”

Her mother glazed over her body. Ashlynn could feel nor see anything out of the ordinary. No blood or bruises, no singes from miscasting of her spells. Her head however, held the shots of a thousand tiny needles. Reaching for her head, she tried to convey this to her mother. 

“Ashlynn…” her mother whispered. 

“Here,” said the Princess. She touched her forehead. 

The Queen’s eyes lit up, and she lifted her dizzy daughter upright. “Are you sure?”Ashlynn nodded. “Leave us for a moment.” 

The guard bowed before making his exit. Just as Ashlynn’s head simmered down, her mother had pulled down the top of her dress collar. The small bit of her chest was exposed. 

“Mother! What are you doing?”

“Shhh,” the Queen put her hand over her daughter’s mouth. “I needed to see if you were…branded.”

“Branded?”

“It’s nothing you need to know yet. Things are peaceful now, at least at the moment. Try not to drift off into the dream world, Ashlynn. The people need you to focus, your future as Queen depends on it.”

A familiar pout came to Ashlynn. Her role as the future Queen of Suhemede always shaded her, yet she also lacked a much needed warmth from the world beyond. It was for this simple reason that Ashlynn held onto dreams. They were her only escape.

When it was time for her training she looked forward to seeing him. Him being Sir Kota, who was far from the rest of the brave knights who served her. He knew magic too, and a magic that was once forbidden by her people. His pointed ears and hair whiter than the stones by the sea set him apart in a blend of sameness. 

He came without his helmet, so that all could see that he was not one of them, but among them all the same. 

“Are you up for a little practice today? Your mother told me what happened.”

Ashlynn nodded. “Yes, I should be okay.”

It began as it always had. Sir Kota would give her a command of emotion and she was to imitate it into the real world. Today it was ‘a new beginning’. 

Ashlynn closed her eyes and concentrated hard. A new beginning. She had always wanted a younger sibling or friends, friends that she got to pick from, not those that were sent to her from wealthy corners of the region. 

A baby emerged from the void of her mind. 

“Have you figured out what you can see?” he asked.

Ashlynn nodded. 

“Then let me see it too.”

With a twitch of her wand the round, smooth form of a clean newborn child rested in front of the two of them. It was hard to tell if it was a boy or girl, Ashlynn didn’t mind if it was either one. Then, came a circle of cheering onlookers behind her. It was the same group of strange folk as before, with the same young woman. This time, her mother stood before them as well. What was she to make of the appearances? She had never seen these kinds of people other than in illustrations and illusions.

Her answer roared against her. Something, somebody reached in. Her images, the young woman, the newborn, all spilled out of her brain and dissolved into a pulpy mush from her wand. Her voice was lost as she merely collapsed onto the ground. She coughed and wheezed feeling Sir Kota’s hands grab her firmly in a dire and heated fear. Again, through a simple act of thought she was forced to experience agony.

Everyday since, the pain had eaten away at Ashlynn. She lay in her room for days only coming out for food and to stretch her legs. It didn’t matter where she went or when though. Just as she daydreamed of other lands and their people, magic and peaceful days they were torn from her psyche and discarded like trash. She cried and sobbed, fearful of what was happening and scared of the fact that no one knew what was going on.

On an ending day her mother came with her own pitted eyes, aching even further as she watched her daughter deteriorate. 

“I’m sorry my child,” said the Queen. “I fear I should tell you why I’ve been so scared for you and your troubles.”

“Mother, why can’t I simply imagine happy things anymore?”

The Queen lay beside Ashlynn. “You have a gift, a gift of dreams. Yet you were not meant to carry this burden. It shouldn’t be yours to bear. I’m not entirely sure of it myself, but there is a beast I have met who is meant to carry the gift of dreaming alone. You are meant for something other.”

“But, I like these dreams. None of them are bad, confusing yes. But not nightmares.” 

“Mistakes have been made before when it comes to these marks,” said the Queen. She pointed to the half-formed heart on her collarbone. “but there is no mistake that soon the Gods will need us to carry their will. Maybe your dreams show those who you will meet someday.”

“Who is this beast?” asked Ashlynn. “is he an ugly monster with big, mean fangs?”

The Queen shook her head. “We will summon him, and see what this beast truly is.”

Because she couldn’t sleep herself, Ashlynn’s mother blew a strange silver dust into her daughter’s eyes and she was finally able to slumber.

The Queen and Ashlynn were taken to the outskirts of Suhemede, a long ride but would be more than worth it to Ashlynn if she could confront the monster. She wondered why her mother would allow a creature with such power near her. What if the beast ate more than daydreams? It could’ve been a trap so that he could feast on her!

“This should be far enough,” said the Queen.

The mother and daughter let themselves out of the carriage, where dozens of guards and knights had formed a perimeter around them. The Queen then lifted her arms with her wand in her right hand and spoke of a name Ashlynn had never heard of. 

“Come, Cheveyo!”

The guards made an opening and there was silence. A yipping noise broke through. Dust from the path which the beast gathered followed a trail from where no one knew. It was not long, and he had not been far. As the knights armed their blades and prepared for the creature, it slid into its greeting with a golden flare.

Massive for its size, a coyote with a green neckerchief and golden eyes stood before the entourage. He looked no further than to Ashlynn and her shaking body. He could in fact swallow her with those giant jaws, if he so chose. 

“You wanted to know who was stealing your daydreams…here he is.” 

What to make of it, wondered Ashlynn. How and why were the obvious questions, but who Cheveyo was rose to the top of her list.

“Cheveyo has only been around for a few hundred years, that seems like eons to us but to the Borderland races that is mere moments. All I know is that they say Cheveyo was once a member of one of those other races, and that he had the gift of foresight and other psychic powers. Perhaps they had been scattered when he’d been changed.”

Cheveyo howled, high and long. He was agreeing. 

Ashlynn approached with a cautionary curiousity. The guards and the knights readied their stances, yet the Queen remained unfazed. With soft hands the Princess dared to touch the creature’s golden yet matted fur. 

“You don’t want to eat me…do you?”

Cheveyo yawned. No.

“But my dreams are not my own. Why is that so?”

The coyote snorted, then scratched furiously at the dirt beneath him until he found a jagged stone. He picked the stone up with power and slammed his jaws down hard. Bits and pieces fell from his mouth, but only one remained. It dropped at Ashlynn’s feet.

Crystalline and dirty red, Ashlynn was unsure if it was a precious gem or a bit of rock with the coyote’s blood on it. His jowls seemed sore. 

The Queen smiled. “You must make your own dream, Ashlynn. Make it come true on your own. Do not worry about the desires of others, or what things should be. I feel, that is what Cheveyo is saying.” 

The Princess held the strange jewel in her hand. “I can’t just forget about my dreams, even if they aren’t mine. I want friends and a big family, I want to see the world!”

‘You will.’

Ashlynn turned to face Cheveyo, though she didn’t know why. The beast could no more talk than she could cast a spell without a wand.

‘But these dreams are of the future, you need only concern yourself with the present…and yourself only. Though you had the spark to carry the dreams I alone must bear this task. Someday you will be Queen, and the people will need you to be clear of mind and strong. Let me ease your mind.’

Before Ashlynn could manage a gasp, Cheveyo’s mouth opened wide. Her eyes caught the golden glimmers and the flowers. They followed the flowing hair of the strange woman and the shape of the newborn. Dozens of faces she’d never met, of people and creatures she’d never seen, where leaving her all at once. The pain surged deep, but over the run of the feasting on her mind she felt light. The questions plaguing her, the wonder and worry, the puzzles and past all went with her. So too, did her strength. 

She collapsed before the beast and went to sleep without fail.

The morning thereafter, Ashlynn walked the streets of the town with Sir Kota in toe. She would frequent the sky with her eyes and just examine the cloudlessness. The sun was at its highest and she breathed deeply. No such memory of her frequent daydreams or of the Daydream Eater came to her. She hardly remembered what the beast was called. She did not seem to care.

A small boy called out to her, “Princess, will you do another display for us?”

Princess Ashlynn smiled and looked over to Sir Kota. He nodded, more than happy to watch her play. She took out her wand and went out to the central fountain, stepping on its surface and nicking lily pads. Sparks and dancing lights poured out of her and into the stones, and the people clapped away. There was no need to dream for the moment, or any moment thereafter. She lived those thoughts from now on, no longer burdened by their weight. Thanks could’ve been given to the Daydream Eater, if she could’ve remembered him.