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Chapter 1

Roan flew high over the Dreamland, his arms outstretched on the wind. He enjoyed the feeling of the cool wind in his face and enveloping his long body like a soft feather pillow. Roan reveled in the ease of high flight. Thousands of feet below him, the landscape spread out in glorious panorama. It made him feel like an angel or a demigod to be able to look down upon the rolling green headlands. He breathed in the clear air, light as light, heady as moonglow.

Streaks of gray-brown woods gave way to the sweet, pale gold of cropland. Roan felt the cold tickle him like a feather as he passed over the Catalept Mountains, second highest massif in the Dreamland after the great Mysteries that ringed the continent. The Catalepts were tricolored from their white snowcaps, down sable slopes that turned brighter and brighter green as they descended toward the protected plain in the central province of Celestia where the capital city of Mnemosyne lay. The Catalepts parted to allow passage of the Lullay River, the imperious stream that refused to permit obstructions in its course. Both sides of the wide, straight, silver band were jeweled with clusters of villages. Fifteen hundred leagues behind him to the south was the border of the nearest province, Somnus. Having slogged that way on foot on the outward journey—indeed, on many outward and inward journeys across the Dreamland on behalf of the king—he was delighted to be able to fly over it as easily as any bird. Roan turned and followed the Lullay, rejoicing when he saw the curved serif foot of the S in Celestia, his home province. He was back at the center of the world. He was nearly home.

The Lullay formed part of the boundary between Celestia and the provinces that surrounded it. The great river spiraled in from its source in the mountain ridge at the far north border of the Dreamland, making one and one half turns until it wound tightly around Celestia, the central province and capital, entering it along a straight path from the south. In the distance the river pointed toward a bright spot like a diamond in the exact center of the Dreamland. It was the Night Lily Lake, which lay just north of the Castle of Dreams.

On both sides of the Lullay, here and at the border of Somnus, plenty of bridges of every description spanned the deep chasm. They were used daily by travelers, but had been built chiefly as means to escape from province to province in case of natural disaster or Changeover. Such bridges also spanned the deep ravines that marked the borders between each of the other provinces in the Dreamland, where each of the seven individual realms was dreamed by a different Sleeper. The great Collective Unconscious, like the railway bridges, bound them all together.

Of all the Creative Ones whose influences were felt in the Dreamland, the seven Sleepers were the most important. Roan had learned his history lessons in school. The Sleepers’ dreams formed the foundation of the Dreamland’s seven provinces in which all other dreaming minds interacted. No one knew the Seven’s names. All that could be gleaned about the physical world in which They lived their waking lives was through the images and objects reflected and made real in the Dreamland, and even those were colored by each Sleeper’s individual perception. Over the centuries, Dreamish philosophers and academicians had speculated about what was real and what hallucination, fantasy, or hope. Conventional wisdom suggested that anything that appeared in all seven provinces probably existed in the Waking World. Bicycles, horses, and trains were real. Clothes and shoes and houses were matters of fact. Television seemed too far unlikely to be real, although Roan saw more aerials sprout from roofs every day. Like all other innovations in the Waking World, such things only became common to the Dreamland when they were common to the Collective Unconscious.

The great Seven had not remained the same throughout history, that he knew. Periodically, an enormous upheaval occurred, known as a Changeover, heralding the departure of one Sleeper and the advent of one who would take its place. Roan didn’t know if Changeovers happened because the Sleepers died, or if they awoke, or if they felt it was time to let another influence shape the Dreamland. Even the royal ministries of History and Continuity had not made their minds up about it. In the past, Roan knew, there had been provinces that seemed distorted when compared with others. The current Seven had minds that imbued their dreams with beauty and proportion.

A gust of wind hit him in the face, and his stomach lurched up into his throat as the air supporting him parted and dropped him toward the ground. Roan clutched for a handhold. He shot out spokes of his own influence into the stuff of the air to steady him on its surface. In a breathless moment, he stabilized his flight again, and lay flat, panting. He’d only fallen a few hundred feet. How long this glorious flight would last he didn’t know, but he hoped he could get most of the way to the capital before he landed. Flight dreams were a rare treat, but so chancy. He gazed down, determined to enjoy himself while it lasted, and to get his bearings in case he was forced to land.

The broad green plains of Celestia divided below him into forests and fields, hills and marshes, towns and lakes. A network of narrow white roads lay etched upon the terrain, curling lovingly around the foot of hills then dashing boldly up and down rolling green meadows. The twin silver streaks of railway tracks followed the curve of the land at some thirty paces distance from the roads. Roan guessed that he wasn’t far from Nod, a small town to the south of Mnemosyne. He held his arms out on the wind, pleading with the Sleepers to let the influence carry him all the way home.

At last, he could see the tall, white spires of the Castle of Dreams, symbol of the collective unconscious of all beings. The palace gleamed in the sun above the sprawling, busy mosaic of color that was Mnemosyne. Roan felt a surge of affection for his city. He loved exploring the wilderness of the Dreamland, but he was always glad to return home to the bustle and business of a million people living side by side. He had good news for the king. He had only to cross the Nightmare Forest, and he’d be home to tell it. Roan felt the familiar uneasiness as the green land beneath him slowly turned a sickly gray.

Roan overflew scrubby, stunted trees, shuddering a little as if the nearly palpable miasma of darkness the forest exuded could reach so high. He’d been terrified of the Nightmare since he was a child. The forest was as much a state of mind as a physical entity. A Sleeper created the main structure of a province, but the land was affected throughout by the dreams of countless other minds from the Waking World, as if they added embroidery to that vast tapestry. The lesser sleepers created people, animals, and things that interacted with one another in the Collective Unconscious. Their fears seemed to congregate in gray places like this, filling it with dread even for the actual inhabitants of the Dreamland. As children, Roan and his friends had dared one another to enter the Nightmare and face its shadowy menaces. He remembered a long-ago moonless night when he and two equally small friends had made their nervous way in—and how quickly they’d emerged, running with the frights of a million troubled minds howling at their heels. Roan had never looked behind him then. The anticipation of pursuit had been enough to scare the pants off him. Looking down from on high now, the Nightmare Forest seemed as huge and frightening as it ever did when he was small. It might be still larger and more menacing. Roan willed whatever benevolent agency that was carrying him through the air to hurry him over it and away. He didn’t want to encounter any of the nightmares of his childhood.

As if reading his thoughts, a clawed, skeletal hand made of murky green mist stretched upward a thousand feet from the forest, straining toward him. His heart in his throat, Roan rolled to one side on the air, away from the clasp of the bony fingers. Who knew what mischief they could cause if they touched him? The swirling plume soared up like a fountain, missing him by a handspan. With a hiss, the empty claw closed in on itself, lost its shape and fell back in dribbles of ugly gray-green steam. Roan let out the breath he had been holding, and flew straight into an influence he’d failed to sense in the air just ahead of him.

In no time at all, he was in the midst of a flock of chattering worry birds. Their shrill calls filled his ears, adding to the doubts he already had about his nebulous mode of transport.

“Ooh, isn’t it high up here?” the plump gray birds complained. “We’re late!” “It’s going to rain, I just know it.” “I wonder if we’re getting enough air.” “The air’s so polluted anyhow, it’ll kill us for sure.” “The water’s full of germs.” “Oh! Look out!”

The last cry, coming from behind him, startled Roan into breaking his concentration. The invisible platform of air that had carried him safely a thousand miles dropped out from beneath him for good. Roan sought a solid handhold, but his hands closed on nothingness. Worry birds scattered, avoiding him as he fell out of their midst.

Don’t panic! he ordered himself as the wind rushed past him. His heart leaped into his throat and he had trouble swallowing as the wind stole his breath. Think! His high hat flew off and his silk necktie flatted upward over his nose and mouth. He clawed the tie away. Roan forced himself to concentrate, but that was difficult with the broad back of the land zooming up toward him at a distressing rate of speed. Lighter than air, he thought desperately, gulping in oxygen. I’m lighter than air. He flattened himself out, parallel to that landscape, and attempted to regain some altitude. Roan possessed considerable natural influence of his own, and he drew on everything he had to save his life.

It was no use. The local cloud of influence prevented him from climbing up again, and the sleeper dreaming him must be looking the other way. If he hit the ground from such a height the fall was bound to be fatal.

“Wake up!” he shouted over the whistling wind, praying for any sleeper to hear him. “Wake up! I’m falling!”

He plummeted down through the clear blue sky, whirling like a leaf, tumbling end over end. This is preventable, Roan thought, gritting his teeth against nausea. Be resourceful. The Sleepers aided those who helped themselves.

He attempted to create a parachute, picturing the white canopy over his head, but no comforting straps appeared around his chest to secure his flapping coat to his body. Think! Rescue by some kind of benevolent winged creatures? Angels, feathered serpents, rocs, even harpies! But the sky remained empty of any winged beast. Even the worry birds had fled into the next province when he had cried out.

Skyhooks? he thought, now desperately. He pulled at nearby influences and felt them resist like steel bands. The toylike buildings of the castle and surrounding city grew larger and larger. Could anyone there see him? But no one was near enough to save him. He’d be splattered all over the landscape.

Roan had only yards left to fall now. He couldn’t hope for rescue. The very air felt different close to the ground: heavier, with a smell of earth and stone. Roan concentrated on those sensations, even tried to enjoy them. They’d be the last he’d ever experience.

Suddenly, he felt the resistance give, and the influences rushed in around him in an almost tangible sensation. Wonderingly, he watched as two vast, insubstantial hands of pale gray smoke coalesced and formed a cup beneath him. Less than ten yards above the ground, Roan plummeted into the giant, spongy palms, and braked to a gentle halt. He swallowed to clear his ears, and lay back gasping, staring up at the pillowy mass of fog as the hands lowered him to earth. This was more than a fortunate circumstance. It spoke of intervention by one of the great Sleepers themselves. He was not meant to die after all. He panted, feeling his heart banging inside his chest.

As he landed, the hands set him upright on his feet, patted him on the head, and brushed down his clothes with careful fingertips. One hand picked up his hat delicately between thumb and forefinger and offered it to him.

“Thank you,” Roan said sincerely, as the clouds valeted him. He had no idea whether they could hear or understand him. “Thank the Sleepers.”

One hand put thumb and forefinger together in an “okay” sign, and the other offered him a very high five. Instead of jumping for the fingertips several feet above his head, Roan bowed deeply. Both hands dislimned.

In years to come, Roan would never be able to decide if the Sleeper had relented, or if he had saved himself by a desperate act of will. His first steps toward the castle were shaky, but he recovered his usual jauntiness quickly. The May air was fresh and full of the scent of flowers. He’d landed in the middle of a green meadow bounded by a white fence. A nearby herd of odd-looking black-and-white cows stared at him dispassionately while they chewed their cud. He looked around for a gate, but there wasn’t one. Well, what was a mere fence after the height he’d just fallen? Roan swung himself over the white boards, and headed toward the castle.

Under the warm spring sun, shadow pooled around the base of the high stone curtain wall surrounding the Castle of Dreams. Roan guessed the time to be about noon. Just inside the moat, between a pair of narrow, battlemented towers of the gatehouse was the high, arched entrance. When Roan got a little closer, he could see the sentries standing on either side of the gate, their fierce, toothy, green-scaled faces jutting out over their supple ring-mail shirts. They were crocodiles. They watched dispassionately as Roan advanced over the drawbridge, until he was within spear’s reach.

The first crocodile leveled the point of his halberd until it touched the center of Roan’s chest. The other guard stood stiffly erect beside the iron portcullis.

“Stand and be recognized,” the first guard growled.

“That presents no difficulty,” Roan said. He stopped and raised his arms until his hands were level with his shoulders. He knew what the guards saw. Before them was a tall, slenderly-built man with wavy, dark hair. His deep gray eyes wore an untroubled expression, and when he smiled, two lines drew from the corners of his narrow nose down the sides of his well-shaped mouth to his square chin.

“You know me, gentlemen,” he said. “I’m Roan.”

The scales of the crocodiles’ faces melted away until more human characteristics became visible.

“O’ course we know it’s you, Mr. Roan,” the first guard said, lowering the spear until its butt rested on the ground. “But we’ve got to ask, you know. It’s our job. You . . . haven’t changed at all since we saw you last, sir.” He shook his head in wonder.

“No,” Roan said, pleasantly. “I haven’t. I never do.”

“Are you all right, sir?” the second guard asked, his brow drawing down in concern. “That was quite a drop!”

“I’m fine,” Roan said, shivering a little. “I hate falling dreams.”

“Same as us, sir,” the second guard said. The first one nodded vigorous agreement, then they both looked around with guilty expressions. “Uh, o’ course, it’s the Sleeper’s will.”

“Their will and whim,” Roan said, with a sympathetic grin. “But it was a handy rescue, wasn’t it?” The guards grinned back. Their teeth were still very sharp. “May I go through?”

“Right you are, sir,” the second guard agreed. His brown hands, now fully human, set aside the spear and reached for the chain bellpull hanging against the stone wall. The bell clanged loudly inside the castle demesne, battling with squawking, clucking, neighing, clattering, and the hubbub of dozens of voices Roan heard through the portcullis. “Nice weather today, eh? Mighty changeable, it is.”

“Always is. Busy morning?” Roan asked pleasantly, as he waited for the iron gate to be raised high enough to accommodate his unusual height.

“Oh, garn, sir, you can’t believe it,” the first guard said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. The air was hot, drying the beads of sweat almost as soon as they appeared on his skin. “Comings and goings! All them scientific types, you can’t keep up. All as curious as cats, and twice as bad as cats around doors.”

“Some of ’em even look like cats,” put in the second guard. “Right, sir,” the first guard said. “They want in, then, they want out. Begging your father’s pardon, sir,” he added with an expression of shocked embarrassment.

“No offense taken,” Roan said, amiably. His father, Thomasen, was a prominent historian of the court, and indeed, rather like a cat around doors. Thomasen was an active man who liked to take a close look at things, and was always on the move. Unlike the “scientific types” of the Ministry of Science, the historians were observers only, not interfering with the events they were meant to record. Quite likely the guards didn’t distinguish between one Ministry and another. And the guards might well take Roan for one of the “scientific types,” too, since it was his job as the King’s Investigator to observe phenomena, but he was passive as he could be in this activity.

“Look out there!” the first guard cried.

Roan spun just in time to see his bicycle, Cruiser, fall out of the sky. He ran to catch it, but long before he could leap over the fence into the pasture, the silver racer hit the ground with a tremendous bang.

“No!” Roan shouted. “Cruiser!”

The frame lay still, and the front wheel spun loosely. Then, as Roan watched with concern, the bicycle heaved itself up unsteadily onto both its wheels. Roan put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. The bicycle turned its handlebars until it was facing him, and wheeled slowly over, its gears squeaking pathetically.

“I wondered where you’d gotten to, old fellow,” Roan said, giving him a pat on the frame. “All right?” The handlebars turned slightly under his palm as if responding to the caress. He swung the steed up and over the fence onto the road. The bicycle creaked unsteadily beside him back to the castle.

“Aw, there’s lucky, then,” the second guard said, eyeing the bike critically. “Barely a scratch or a dent.”

“The stablemaster’ll see to that squeak,” the first guard suggested. “No trouble.”

The guards were already beginning to alter again as Roan passed into the courtyard. Their clanking mail unkinked and flowed into long silk robes and head coverings, and their spears became curved swords. The first guard touched his forehead in a polite salaam as his skin and hair darkened, and a mustache sprouted on his upper lip. With the Lullay, fount of the Sleepers’ influence, running right through the castle demesne, things changed here almost constantly.

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