by Bruce Holland Rogers
Sleeper, sleep well. Sleep until
morning. And listen.
I am a dream. Once I
was a man. Once I dreamed as you now dream, woke as you will
awaken. I used to walk the world between earth and sky. Now I am a
memory. If you wake to memories of a life you never lived, it is
because you have let me enter your dreams. Threads of my life will
be woven with your own.
Sleeper, I bring you a
story. In the time of the Empire, the people of my village lived
simply. We were happy. In our valley, we were at peace. The
Emperor's armies were vast and we were his people.
People in the village of
the next valley over were happy, too, as far as we could tell. Like
us, they tended their flocks, sheared and traded wool. Like us,
they planted wheat, ground flour, baked bread. For their feasts,
they too roasted mutton.
But instead of proper
houses, they built round huts, like mounds of stone. Instead of
putting icons on their walls, they hung cut branches over their
doors. The men tied bands of blue cloth on their heads, and the
women wore metal bells on their wrists. They feasted much as we did
on holy days, but for them, different days were holy.
We rarely met. From our
farthest pastures, we saw them in their own farthest fields. In
springtime, we sometimes passed them on the road to the market.
When they spoke, we understood them, though some of their words were
We had been separate
like that for generations. We might have gone on, separate, for
generations more if the Emperor and his army had not come to our
mountains on their way to conquer the east. But come they did.
More men than we had ever seen, men with swords and banners, camped
on our hillsides. Their horses outnumbered our sheep. We saw the
Emperor's square black tent in the distance. His general came among
us, commanding the soldiers to carry off our biggest rams, to empty
the fullest granaries. "Do not be afraid," he told us. "You are
the Emperor's own people. We will leave enough to sustain you."
With the next dawn, the
army was on the march again, over the pass into the next valley. At
first, we did not think of the people there. We thought of the hard
winter ahead, of the smaller harvest of wool for spring.
When we saw a great
smoke, we knew from what distant fires it was rising. Then we did
think of the other village. We remembered the general's words.
"You are the Emperor's own people." When we took our flocks to our
most distant pastures, we saw no other flocks, no other herders. I
went into their valley. I saw the ruins of their round houses, the
ashes of their granaries. Of the people themselves, there was no
As the days grew short,
though, those people came to us in dreams. My widowed mother
dreamed of a woman her own age who was a widow also. My daughter
dreamed of a little girl who wore bells on her wrist. In my own
dreams I met a man whose favorite ram was black, like my own. In
our dreams they said to us, "We are lost. We were driven from our
homes and from this world. We are a memory only. Give us refuge.
Give us a place here in your dreams."
Had they come to us
alive, strangers fleeing before soldiers, we would have turned them
away. They were not like us. We built our houses square and true.
Icons blessed us from our walls. We spoke the Emperor's own tongue,
feasted on the proper holy days.
But they came one by
one, an old man to an old man so that they both remembered the same
droughts and floods. They came one by one, a young mother to a
young mother so that they knew the same weariness of waking
throughout the night, and the same joy. They came one by one, a
child as another child's playmate.
In dreams, I tended my
flocks with the man who had a black ram. He taught me a song that I
remembered when I awoke, and I sang it as I took my flock to pasture
under the waking sun. In dreams, my daughter learned a game that
she played with the other children when their chores were done. In
dreams, my wife learned to make a yellow tea that she poured when I
returned hungry and tired. It was good. I sang her the song,
explained the words that were strange. Some of them she already
Asleep, I asked the man
why he hung a green branch over his door. Asleep, I asked him how
he dyed wool blue. Asleep, I asked him who the traders were who
would trade for tiny bells. My daughter wanted some to tie at her
In the spring, our
village smelled sweeter for the branches over our doors. In the
summer, our daughters jingled wherever they went.
The Emperor's campaign
in the east was long. When the soldiers finally returned to our
valley, there were not so many of them as before. They looked
harder and bigger. Their general rode among us. He told the men to
take everything‑‑‑every lamb, every grain of wheat.
"But we are the
Emperor's own people!" we said.
"Are you indeed?" said
the general, and the way he shaped the words was strange in our
We brought icons from
our houses to show him.
Soldiers lit torches
from our cook fires.
I tore the green branch
from my house and flung it to the ground. Women wept and clawed at
the bells on their daughters' wrists. The general drew his sword.
The soldiers drew theirs.
Sleeper, I am a dream.
Once I dreamed as you now dream, woke as you will awaken. Now I am
a shadow of memory‑‑‑your memory, if you will give me refuge. And
here is my brother, who once tended a flock as I tended mine, who
had a black ram, who was a stranger to me, but no longer. We were
driven from our homes and from this world. Take us in. Give us a
place here in your dreams.
This story was first published simultaneously in “The Sun” and
“Realms of Fantasy”. Reprinted by permission of the author.