This story will eventually be in a collection tentatively named “The Dreamweaver’s Tales.” I have several of them done; this is the first.
by Robin Wood
Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived in a mostly-forgotten house at the edge of a mostly-forgotten village tucked away in a mostly-forgotten corner of a great kingdom.
It wasn’t mostly-forgotten by the people who actually lived there, you understand. They saw it every day, and called it home, and everyone they loved lived there. They weren’t about to forget it.
But the mapmakers, carefully drawing towns on parchment under the watchful eye of the King’s Master Cartographer, mostly forgot to put it in among the little triangles that showed the Great Eastern Forest.
The historians, recording Incidents of Interest on snowy paper in their careful round hands mostly forgot it, because things they considered Incidents of Interest tended not to happen there.
Even the Traveling Merchants, with their brightly painted wagons and bolts of exotic cloth and expensive spices from Distant Lands mostly forgot it, because the people who lived there would come to the see the displays and marvel; but they didn’t have coin to actually buy.
So Dorie, for that was her name, lived alone in a tiny cottage on the outskirts of Little Hambleton with her papa.
Her papa was a kind man, and he worked hard, but they had very little because the plot of land that had been left to him by his father and his grandfather before him backed up into the mountain. There was a bit of level land in front of the cottage, about the size of your living room, and from there it rose in leaps and slides and cliffs with hillocks on them mostly straight up into the clear air.
It was so steep that if you went into the front door of the cottage, took seven steps across the room to the ladder, climbed up into the loft, and scrambled out of the window next to Dorie’s bed, you would be standing on the ground.
It was land fit only for raising goats. So that’s what Dorie’s papa did. But so did most of the other people who lived in Little Hambleton, so there wasn’t much call for milk, cheese, or wool; and Dorie and her Papa were quite poor.
That didn’t bother them so much. Everyone they knew was poor.
But there was something else that bothered Dorie’s papa quite a lot. You see, Dorie was very pretty, with soft black hair, a winning smile, and a laugh like the chiming of silver bells. But her eyes were as white as the snow that fell on the mountains in the frosty winter. For Dorie was quite blind, and always had been.
Which is where the problem lay. Not because she was blind, although that did pose certain difficulties. But because when she was very small her papa, who sometimes had more imagination than good sense, had started lying to her. And now he couldn’t stop.
He hadn’t meant to lie. He had only meant to make her smile. But now he was stuck.
It had started innocently enough. She had been very glum one day, when she was about three years old. She had been sitting at the table, kicking her heels and scowling, and her papa had been at his wit’s end trying to cheer her up. At that moment, the sun had broken through the clouds, and a ray of light lit the table right next to Dorie’s little hand.
“Oh, Dorie-my-dear,” her Papa had said softly, “if you open your hand and move it just a little, you can catch a sunbeam!”
She did, and felt the warmth against her palm. “Oh Papa!” she whispered, enchanted, all gloom forgotten, “I caught a sunbeam!”
Her papa had been delighted, and so encouraged to see a smile on her little face that he couldn’t help but embellish it, just a bit.
“A sunbeam with a rainbow in it!” he agreed.
“A rainbow!” breathed little Dorie. “Where did the rainbow come from, Papa?”
Her papa, at a loss, found himself telling a bigger lie to prop up the first one, as usually happens.
“Oh, from the stained glass in the window.” he replied.
“We have stained glass?! I never knew that! What is stained glass, Papa?”
Her papa could not disappoint that little face, turned so eagerly towards him. So he invented a beautiful stained glass window, with roses and lilies, and a cloud breaking over a mountain and sending fingers of light down to caress the crystal stream that was so realistic you could almost hear it chuckling over its bed, tucked tenderly in its little valley.
That’s where it started. But that’s not where it stopped.
As time went on, he invented more and more.
The faded curtains, worn nearly threadbare, became iridescent drapes of the softest gauze. The ancient quilt on Dorie’s bed became a marvel of pattern, color and design. The newspapers pasted on the walls to cover the bare boards became rich wallpaper.
He invented carvings all over the beams, where Dorie could not reach, and described them so well that all the flowers, leaves, squirrels, butterflies, and strange, capering forest gnomes were alive in Dorie’s mind. She knew their names, and exactly which ones were above her at any moment.
In Dorie’s sightless eyes, the cottage glowed with light and color. The bare rocks behind the house, which she was forbidden to climb because they were too steep and dangerous, were covered with wild roses, climbing in her place. She ate off of plates with a delicate glaze, that changed colors as the light hit them. The thatched roof was patterned with different colored straw, and had straw animals marching along the ridgepole. The house itself was painted glowing white, as pure as driven snow, with green shutters where painted birds frolicked among curling vines.
In short, Dorie thought that she lived in a kind of fairy cottage, tucked against the most picturesque of mountain sides.
This caused some confusion in Little Hambleton.
For instance, once young Dorie stroked the calico in the Mercantile, and asked what color it was. When Se Flourie, the kind woman who ran the store, told her it was red and white, she sighed and said, “that would never go with the iridescent gauze we have in the windows.”
Se Flourie thought about the gray rags hanging in the cracked windows that faced the street, and was totally confused.
When little Geoff handed her a bouquet of flowers, she asked, “Are they as pretty as the roses that grow behind my lovely cottage?” Geoff looked at the cottage, gray with age, and spotted with peeling paint, its shutters hanging askew and the thatch in need of repair. He stared at the bare bones of the mountain, with never a rose in sight, and shrugged, completely confused. Then he ran off without a word, because he couldn’t find a single one to say. (Which, truthfully, confused Dorie in her turn.)
When Bobbin Hamsin offered to give her a kitten, and she told him she had to reluctantly refuse his kind offer, because she was afraid kitty would tear the silks of their coverlets, he was very confused, and not a little hurt that she would mock him so.
Eventually, they all decided that young Dorie was not only blind, but “not quite right.”
Her papa heard the whispers, but was too ashamed to tell them what was really happening. He couldn’t face the thought of his neighbors disapproval, or of Dorie’s reaction if she learned she really lived in a hovel. So he went on telling lies to everyone, hoping he would not be found out, and growing more unhappy as the years went by.
Things continued like this until the summer that Dorie was 12.
One bright day in late June, when Dorie happened to be at the Mercantile trading goat cheese for sugar, Vonnie Merlsin burst through the door, red faced and panting.
“Se Flourie! Se Flourie!” he cried, gasping for breath. “There is a Healer come to Greater Hambleton!”
Se Flourie gave a little yip, and dropped the sugar scoop, nearly spilling the precious grains all over the counter. (She was lucky, and it all landed on the brown paper she was going to use to wrap it.)
“A Healer, you say? Just down in Greater Hambleton?”
“A Healer?” Dorie whispered, clasping her hands tightly together, just above her heart.
She didn’t need to ask what a Healer was. Everyone knew.
But you might not, so I’ll tell you.
In that country, there were sometimes, very rarely, children born with the Gift of Healing. As babies in their cradles they could touch a bruise or cut, and it would heal instantly. When they were old enough, another Healer would come to their homes, and take them to the legendary Hospice. No one knew where the Hospice was; but everyone knew that was where the children would be taught all the anatomy and physiology they needed to develop their Gift. When they were old enough, they would leave the Hospice and wander all over the Kingdom, going from city to town to village to outpost, healing everyone who came to them.
They could heal practically anything but old age and heartbreak. Any wound. Any illness. Any deformity.
There hadn’t been a Healer anywhere near their nearly forgotten corner of the kingdom in almost 20 years.
But now there was.
Word spread through the village like a hot summer wind. By nightfall, Dorie and her papa had been outfitted by their neighbors, with better clothes and a borrowed wagon so as not to shame Little Hambleton in front of the Healer.
They spent a restless night, Dorie in a maze of anticipation, her Papa in despair as he knew his lies were about to be revealed.
The next morning, when the mountain peaks blushed pink with dawn while night clung to the valleys like a sleeper reluctant to roll out of bed, they set off.
Greater Hambleton was nearly 17 miles from Little Hambleton, in a wider, and therefore richer, fold of the valley. By the time they reached it, the sun was well up in the sky, and the lines of people waiting to see the Healer snaked around the Headman’s house, into the Village Square, around the well a couple of times, and then meandered down a side street. There was a boy with a hand cart doing a brisk business selling sweet buns, and several girls with buckets and dippers earning pennies refreshing the thirsty crowd.
By the time they finally were ushered into the room where the Healer sat, Dorie and her papa were both nearly sick with excitement and fear.
“Good afternoon,” said the Healer. She sounded very tired to Dorie. “Ah, you are the patient,” and she took Dorie’s hands. Her grip was soft yet firm, and her hands felt very hot. “Blind since birth?”
Dorie’s Papa cleared his throat. “Yes. Her mama had a hard pregnancy, and a long labor. She didn’t survive. And when my precious daughter opened her eyes for the first time, they were as you see them.”
The Healer drew a long breath. “Close your eyes, my dear,” she said, “and sit here on this stool.” And she guided Dorie to a low stool and helped her sit down. Then she moved behind her, and covered both Dorie’s eyes with her hands. Slowly her hands grew hotter, until Dorie was afraid they would burn her. Then there was a sharp, short pain, and something in her eyes moved. And then, for the first time, Dorie’s world was flooded with light!
The healer moved her hands, and Dorie’s papa started to cry. “Your eyes are the color of walnuts!” he sobbed. “Just like your Mama’s.”
Dorie blinked, and looked at the Healer. She looked kind, but tired, and she was older than Dorie had expected. Her hair was streaked with silver, and there were lines in her face.
“Oh, thank you!” cried Dorie, and tears filled her eyes as well. “How can I ever repay you!?”
The Healer gave her a tired smile. “Just be kind to everyone you meet.” She said.
She turned to Dorie’s papa. “You should stay in the village tonight. It will take your daughter some little while to adjust to her vision. I believe there are several barns that have been opened to travelers, or you can camp in the meadow if you would prefer. The weather will be fine all night.”
Dorie’s papa bowed to her. “Thank you. Thank you. I have no words to thank you.”
Then he took Dorie’s hand and led her away. Behind them, the young mother who was next in line, holding her ailing baby, slipped into the room.
Dorie’s papa dropped the coin the village had given him to give to the healer into the pot by the door, and added the fine cheese he had prepared as a gift the night before, and then they were back in the street, where the shadows were lengthening into twilight. The whole thing had taken less than five minutes.
There was still a line, but now the people in it were getting ready to settle into their places for the night. The Healer would not work after sundown, as everyone knew, but she would start again at dawn.
Dorie’s heart was as light as a hummingbird that night. She kept pointing things out to her papa, all joyous and excited. “What is that color? Is that what clouds look like!? What kind of flower is that? Look! That’s a bird, isn’t it? Listen to it sing! I never knew they were that small! Oh! Oh! Is this a sunset? It’s more glorious than I ever imagined!”
But over and over, she would tell him that she could not wait to see their pretty little cottage for herself! And she would describe it to him, in loving detail, just as he had described it to her.
His heart grew heavier with each word. He started, several times, to explain. But he simply could not bring himself to do it. He was afraid to quench her joy, and see the light go out of those beautiful brown eyes. Eyes that were so very like her mother’s.
So he said nothing. He smiled, as well as he could, and tried to share in her delight. He told her which names went with what colors, and answered her eager questions, and dreaded their eventual homecoming.
She was still just as excited the next morning, as they set out on the return journey. And he was just as reluctant to break her happiness.
Finally, about a mile from their village, he made one final attempt. “Dorie,” he began.
She turned to him, eyes sparkling. “Yes Papa? Oh, Papa, why do you look so unhappy? Is something wrong?”
For the first time, her brow grew troubled, and he could not go on. He told himself he could not deprive her of a single moment of joy; she would know the truth soon enough.
So he smiled. “It’s nothing. Just that Little Hambleton is right around this next curve in the road.”
“Oh! At last!” She breathed. And in her excitement she stood up in the wagon, impatient to see her village, and her fairy cottage, for the first time.
And then they were there, and the whole village turned out to welcome them, and the children were jumping with joy, because pretty Dorie could see!
She laughed her silver laugh, and looked all around. “But where is our cottage?” she asked.
Little Geoff (though he was not so little now, being the same age as Dorie,) flung a careless hand towards an aging hovel huddled into the mountain, as if it was too weak and tired to stand on its own.
“It’s that one, there.” he laughed, “hard against the mountain! See it?”
Dorie turned pale, and sat down very suddenly. “Yes,” she whispered. “I see it.”
Se Flourie looked at her shaken face, and her father’s unhappy one, and her shrewd mind suddenly put all the pieces together.
She grabbed the horse’s bridle, and led the wagon to the door. “Go home, you lot,” she said. “Can’t you see the child is tired? It’s all a bit much for her. She can see all of you tomorrow. She’ll be seeing everything for the rest of her life. Now give her some space, and let her rest.”
And she lifted Dorie off the wagon seat and whisked her into the house.
Inside, Dorie shrank into herself as she looked at the gray, ragged curtains. The cracked, dirty glass in the window. The newspapers on the walls. The threadbare quilts. The house beams adorned with nothing but cobwebs. The bleak and cheerless house that was her home.
“How could he?” She whispered.
“What did he tell you?” asked Se Flourie.
“He said there was stained glass. Iridescent gauze at the windows. Carved beams.” Her voice rose as she went on. “He said it was white with painted shutters. He said there were roses! He said it was beautiful!! It’s a dump! I’ve wanted to see it all my life, and there is nothing to see!”
She turned to her Papa, where he stood miserably in the doorway, with his hat in his hands.
“How could you!?” she yelled. “You lied to me! You made me look like a fool!”
“I….” He coughed, and then looked up, tears streaming unnoticed down his worn cheeks. “I don’t know. I’m so sorry. It made you smile. It made you happy. Watching you believing it, I could almost believe it myself. I had so little to give you. I..” He shrugged. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Se Flourie watched them, and her kind heart broke a little, and then firmed in resolve.
“Don’t you see, Dorie? He gave you a beautiful place to live, your whole childhood.”
“He gave me a lie!”
“Yes. And it was wrong to lie. He should have told you your beautiful cottage was only in your imagination. It would have saved some confusion and hurt feelings. But don’t you see? He imagined beauty for you, and he gave you that gift.”
“But it was so real to me! I could draw that window now!”
“Sweet girl, you are very smart,” said Se Flourie. “You must have known at some level.”
“I didn’t! How could I?”
“Think, child. Did you ever smell roses? Did you feel the patterns in the glass? Did you feel silk under your fingers when you touched your quilt?”
Dorie covered her eyes, and sat very still. She loved her father dearly, but this was betrayal of the deepest order!
But as she sat there, she knew she could hear the wind whispering through the cracks in the wall, as it had whispered her whole life. She could remember lying at night and listening to the slow drip where the roof leaked. She could smell the dust and decay all around her. She knew she had never smelled roses. She sighed, as she realized that she had known.
“But I wanted so badly for it all to be true,” she whispered. “I believed it with my whole heart, to make it true. But it doesn’t work that way, does it?”
“No,” said Se Flourie. “It takes more than just believing and wanting to make our dreams and wishes come true. It takes a lot of hard work.”
Dorie dropped her hands, and stared at Se Flourie. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, my dear, that you can make it real. You said you can draw that window? So draw it! We’ll have to start with a good scrub, but unless I miss my guess, you can live in a pretty cottage. Oh, maybe not the exact one your papa imagined for you, with stained glass and silk coverlets and iridescent gauze at the windows. But anything a good cleaning, new paint, and honest calico can do for you, you can have! I need help at the Mercantile. I’m not as agile as I once was. And I’ll pay you with cotton and paint.”
So Dorie wound up living in the prettiest cottage in the village after all. Although most of them are prettier than they were. It turned out that she had quite a talent as a painter. So many of the village homes have painted shutters, and paintings on the walls.
Dorie’s, though, is the one there, with all the roses and lilies in the yard, and the cat curled up on the window sill. The white one, with the green shutters that have painted birds frolicking among the flowering vines. You can tell it by the fancy thatching. She got that in trade for painting flowers and squirrels on the thatcher’s shutters.
If you go inside, you’ll see pretty calico curtains hanging at the shining window. There are all kinds of fanciful things painted on the beams. They may not be carved, but Dorie knows all their names, and can tell you their stories. On the beds are the prettiest patchwork quilts you have ever seen.
And hanging on the wall, just where it catches the evening sun, is the most exquisite painting with roses and lilies, and a cloud breaking over a mountain and sending fingers of light down to caress the crystal stream that is so realistic you can almost hear it chuckling over its bed, tucked tenderly in its little valley.
It might not be as splendid as the fairy cottage that existed in Dorie’s imagination when she was growing up. But as she would tell you, it’s much cozier!
These days, her papa walks around whistling all the time. He is also much in demand as a storyteller, although he is careful to make sure his listeners know the stories spring from his imagination, and nowhere else.
Of course, it took a few years to make all this happen. It takes time, as well as hard work, to pull something from the Realm of Imagination into the Real World.
These days, when Geoff comes courting, Dorie can see the beautiful bouquets he brings for her. And she never compares them to her roses, although she could, because she loves Geoff nearly as much as he has always loved her; so his flowers are dearer to her than any others. Not even the fairy roses of her imagination can compare.
Because his flowers, like his love, are real.
Hope you liked it! As always, I welcome any comments or feedback. Thanks!