Slaves Don't Dance
Dreamed 1999/8/1 by Chris Wayan
We met in a bookstore, of course, in the fantasy section--where else? A silent dance of eyes, and at last of hands, as we reached for the same authors.
"Say," she said at last, "you're not just flirting, are you? You're reading me. You have the gift."
"Well... yes. How'd you know?"
"I have it too. Only stronger. Come with me."
"Okay." I feel dizzy, a bit drunk on the sweetness of her energy--on our compatibility. I can tell just by looking in her eyes. What big eyes you have...
"Okay or not, I think you will."
And then I'm in a sunny room looking out on a walled garden. A suburban ranch home. Her ears are pointed and delicate and very beautiful, and her aura gleams with gentle humor as she adds "You're bound. Don't fret. Watch." She kneels, and assembles bits of plastic, wood and cloth into a monkeyish doll the size of a newborn child. The limbs and head and face were already prepared; she merely ties the limbs and head to the torso, loosely enough to serve as joints.
She closes those great eyes, and spreads her long slender fingers around the doll, how many? Eight, ten, twelve? They seem to multiply a moment, and then are still.
They're still. It's the doll that moves.
It bites her.
It scurries like a squirrel across the rug, up the drapes. She leaps like a cat and snatches it. From the air she pulls a silver cord, binds it round the creature's neck, and sinks the free end into my belly. I gawk as she roots it in my navel. An umbilical cord of light.
"Care for the child," she says. "Love it. Make it real."
The doll starts gnawing the furniture.
The doorbell rings. The maid comes in and says "My Lady, your client is here."
She leaves us there, in that room. In between fending off monkey-attacks, I peek through the drapes and see her in the garden with an aristocratic elf-woman. My captor studies her client's aura, then giving her a burst of power in the right spot to heal her. I can tell, for I have the eye, if not the raw power. She's a healer then, and a leader: that woman, clearly rich and accustomed to power, deferred deeply to my captor.
"Elf-Queens shouldn't live in suburbia" I think, vaguely scandalized. Her binding allows me my feelings. How generous! Or maybe she wants me to be emotionally genuine with the baby.
Which I am. It bites me. I hate it.
Two weeks later, I'm still there, bound to a mad pink monkey. My material needs are met--her maid Deirdre is genuinely kind, indeed apologetic, though I was wary of her a long time, for she was a kinswoman by her ears and golden eyes. Deirdre had a kind aura too, which I now mistrusted. That was the worst; to mistrust what I've always relied on.
The Elf-Queen, for of course she was, dropped in twice a day to review the monster's progress. Not much to show for two weeks. A bad-tempered plastic baby it remained. Plastic won't grow.
Once it leapt in her face from the highest bookshelf, knocking her down, a nasty fall if not for the rug--the only time I ever saw her awkward. She'd blamed me till then, but I see my chance and say flatly "Face it. It has no empathy. To it, we're all just things. I'm something of an expert these days on creatures with that attitude."
"Oh, certainly, my lady. Be careful. I'd like to see you care, for a change." I hate that she's turning me bitter. That I'm letting her turn me bitter.
Over the next week, as she adjusted this spell or that, the little monster did get easier to care for: no more biting, no more broken glass. It just climbs around. Nearly indestructible, it remains unfeeling and not very bright. It needs no real supervision, now. So I ignore it almost entirely and just live my imprisoned life... I have hopes she'll free me soon, as I'm really not needed any more. Her project has failed.
But she can't bear to admit it.
"Face it!" I say on the fifteenth day. "It'll NEVER be a person. If you want a kid you'll have to do it the traditional way."
She glances sidelong at me and smiles "Are you offering to help?"
"Do you even KNOW how hurtful that is? You're not stupid. You can sense how lonely I am--I'm so desperate, it's hard to push away even someone as evil as YOU!"
"No wonder you don't have any friends!"
Hours later, she's still there, sitting silent on the balcony, watching the moon with haunted eyes. I finally fall asleep on the bed, the listless monkey-child by me, bound to me still.
At dawn, she speaks. "You were right. It's been weeks. No change... unless you've hid the signs from me, to end my little venture, so you'll go free."
"You mean hide signs it's become a person, so you'll kill it? I wouldn't kill a baby to be free, not if I had the slightest hope it was truly coming to life." I pause a while, then say it. "You, maybe. I might kill you." I look down, oddly ashamed, though I'm talking to my kidnapper.
For a couple of days I see only Deirdre, the maid. The doll climbs the walls, as always. It doesn't need food, and cares nothing for me, or anyone.
In the end, Deirdre announces "My Lady wishes you to meet a guest, and perhaps dance with her." She pauses and in a low, warm voice says "Look your best for her." Her? Her lady, or this guest?
Deirdre may just mean "Don't embarrass us", but I think she likes this guest, or thinks I will.
I say "Forgive me, if I oppose your mistress. Deirdre, you... you have been kind." Thanks, and goodbye. One way or another it ends now.
I take a moment to touch my toes, then the ceiling; then smooth my aura of rage and summon my full alertness. Energy matters most, among the Fair Folk.
But I keep my grubby, two-week-old clothes, torn and gummed to death by the monster baby, for a prince in rags I am and will not hide.
In the garden, on a brick terrace enfolded in roses and the odd Mexican succulents she loves to breed and tinker with, stands the Queen in a blue gown, her pale hair pinned up, to bare the sweep of slender neck and feline ears, the signs of her folk.
She wears the nearest admission to a crown I've seen: a silver circlet with a curling insect feeler rising from her forehead, ending in a small crystal globe, like an eye on a stalk. It's not even a tiara, but... that eye is real, I can feel it; a lens for all her formidable will.
And vision; and vision. I must not forget. She's no lightweight fairy. She's created life.
Her client, or friend, clearly came from the mortal world, for though she wears a dress it's modern in style, short and clinging, plain white, to complement her bronze skin and night-black hair. She has the great eyes of her folk, blue-green pools with black cat-wedges, and those eyes look at me. Look at me, and widen.
"Who... is... THIS?"
A chord of meanings in that "Who is this?" Shock at my tatters, surprise at my race, appreciation of my aura, indignation at what my mood tells of my treament, and, yes, attraction.
The Queen answers "Wayan... aids me in a magical endeavor." Her green eyes turn to me as she adds "But soon his work is done, and he will fly. 'Twill be hard to lose him."
The Guest hears the brittleness in it. What lies under the ice? She's silent, looks to the roses a moment, pondering, then raises her hand and clasps mine like an old friend, or a lover. This girl I trust! Elves touch few mortals, and never lightly--she too feels love at first sight, or very near.
She says "Wayan, will you dance with me?"
"I would right gladly, for I feel an affinity with thee..." and I use the lost familiar, thee, not to be courtly, but to seal the intimacy we both feel, "such as I never will, with Queen Maire."
Yes--I name her openly! Of course it's no revelation to this girl, but casting free with an elf's right name is not done lightly. A declaration of war.
And now that I've declared, I fire my one shot. "For I'm her prisoner, not her guest."
She blinks at that, then smiles wryly. "Oft mortals by a reckless word are bound. But be not sour; our Lady bargains dear, but her word is sound. I see thou hast our power, in measure full--Fear not! She'll well reward thine aid magical."
She wants to believe it; I came to the Queen, lured by power, or desire, and serve her a time in payment for wizardry taught, willingly or not. It's an old story.
But not mine!
"I'm bound not by words. By raw force am I enslaved! I'll not lull her conscience--if such she have--" and my eyes do not even stray to see if this dart pierces her armor, "--by donning a mask of ease. So I... I must decline, my lady, 'til I am free. Slaves don't dance."
The Queen snaps "He li-" and checks herself.
"Aye, swear, it, Faerie Queene! Name me liar. 'Our lady's word is sound.' Your dearest coin--debase it now, before a witness fair." And fair you are, in both senses, I say to her silently, and let the message trickle, a golden wavelet of love, through my hand in hers.
Then I steel myself to look away, look the Queen in the eyes for the first time since my binding. "Prove it now but fairy gold, fading like fallen leaves. Slavery will be your fall, O fading Queen."
I turn back to this my nameless soulmate, and add "Yet I may forgive you, for one good deed: through you have I met heart-kin. Though winter rules this house... spring's sun I see."
Her blue-green eyes soften. Her lids flutter down, and she murmurs low, "I am Silky." She raises my hand and kisses it. Open-eyed again, in a firm voice, she says "Until we meet, on freedom's hill--my friend, fare well."
She turns and stalks out, passing the Fairy Queen in cold silence. The Queen's eyes widen.
SLAM! goes the gate.
I murmur "Live THAT down, if you can."
The Queen paces the bricks. "How long will you rail, and turn the knife? Bitterness becomes you not."
"Yet I do become it, due to thee. You mock my scars when the cuts were thine." Alone, I'll thou and thee her, admit to intimacy--the bond of slave and jailer!
"You blame all on me?"
"Rightly. It was, and is, your deed alone, Maire." I turn my back on her, sit on a bench. "And let the monster die. Give it up. You don't have enough heart, or something."
"Wayan, it can be done." Oh, NOW I'm a colleague?
"Not by thee. One can't give what one lacks." And that's that. It's time. "Good-bye, my lady." Look me in the eye and stop me, my lady. You can.
Of course, friends will come asking, eventually.
I rise and head for the garden gate.
She leaps before me and opens her eyes to me, green-gold pools. So deep, so deep. How could they be so shallow, in this one dimension?
She whispers "Forgive me."
Well, well. I too can be wrong!
I think it over a long while. I could justly demand payment, reparations, a certain phone number. No, let her stew, and owe me, and start to change. High time.
Instead I take her by the shoulders and find myself saying "Maire... it's all right."
And I step to the gate and walk out--
--onto a shady suburban street in Silicon Valley!
First, I'll look for a bus home, and then... then for a certain girl with blue-green eyes.
NOTES ON WAKING UP
I want true freedom, full freedom, not pseudo-life--not just a longer leash. Staying at home and doing art, magical though it can be... it's not enough. The doll's not quite alive. And I want life. Real life.
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