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The Dream Catcher

Dream Catcher

It is said she was of the Oneida sachem, but the legend of her strong magic was later told by old ones in other tribes as well. For magic and hope, when it is powerful, will cross tribal and sachem boundaries, even when man can not.

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Shielding her eyes from the sun, she frowned against the rippling heat radiating from the warmed earth. She searched the shadows that danced under the trees edging the dense forest. The old one was there, somewhere, blending into the forest's shadows in her long deerskin tunic. She felt her, but could not see her.

"So, let her follow. I do not care," and she turned her back on the trees and their shadows and headed down the steep embankment toward the stream that sang below her.

When she had reached the water she knelt down, splashing her face with its icy liquid, and then drank her fill. She heard nothing over the water sounds, but she sensed the footfalls of the one called Walks-With-Shadows and turned to face her.

"Old one, I do not fear you. I have completed my dream fast and know the magic to keep my child safe from the dark dreams."

"If you speak a truth, your child will be grateful to his mother for a magic strong enough to protect him from night's terror when it walks." She reached out and touched the girl's protruding belly lightly with her gnarled, leathery fingers and then vanished like morning mist at dawn.

Sky Eyes awoke with a start. Her heart was beating fast and her brow was wet.  Looking around she saw that she had fallen asleep by the stream that ran along the forest's edge. She sat up, leaning back against the big pine that shaded her, remembering her dream as though it were real enough to touch.  She glanced around her, almost expecting to see such a woman as spoke to her in her sleep, but there was no one.  Gradually, her heart slowed, and she smiled, patting her large belly protectively.

"Just a dream, that is all."  Her words sounded false, though she spoke them aloud to reassure her waking self.

"There you are, Sky Eyes.  Didn't you hear us calling for you?" said Dancing Elk, her closest friend. "Your time is too close; you should not wander so far alone. You know the dangers."

"I'm sorry, Dancing Elk. I fell asleep here in the shade of the trees and did not hear your call. I did not mean to worry you."

"I came to get you for the gathering. It will begin as the sun sets, don't you want to look your best. Thunder Cloud will be with them."

"I know. I was making ready."

"What, in your sleep? Ha! You speak nonsense words, daughter of a Shaman.  How is this?"

"It is a dream that I follow. I search for its meaning."

"Go ask your father. He knows the dream signs."

When the two girls returned to the village it was bustling with activity in preparation for the return of the hunters. Sky Eyes knew she would not ask the Shaman the meaning of the dream, she already knew its significance. The spirit of the child she carried would be weakened, or might choose to return to the land of spirits if she could not prevent the evil that walks at night from reaching him. In her dream, she had told Walks-With-Shadows that she knew such a magic, but she did not. The dream had always shown her nothing but this old wandering woman that seemed both familiar and frightening. That is why she slept here in the middle of the day, but again her dream spirit had failed to find the answer she sought.

She forced her thoughts to the preparation of meeting Thunder Cloud at setting sun. It had been many moons since the hunters had left and she was anxious to see him.  Her mother had been generous in her selection of Thunder Cloud as her mate. He was older but not as old as many of the warriors selected for young maidens. His chest was broad, his face lean, and his hands kind. It was the sachem's custom that an experienced mate be selected for the maidens. Her mother chose Thunder Cloud who was over thirty.  She was sixteen. Some of her friends were joined to men who were more than sixty.

It was unheard of to reject a mother's choice, as this gift of mate was her right in the sachem. And like the other maidens before her, she had taken corn bread and berries to Thunder Cloud's teepee as a symbol of her ability to provide her portion to the union.  In return, he gave her a freshly killed elk as evidence of his hunting ability.  So ended the ceremony. Now, less than a full season's cycle, she was with child and had made Thunder Cloud very proud. 

"I hope this child has his mother's strange eyes," he told her that evening when he had returned from the hunt with the others. He held her gently, cradling her back against his chest under the bear skins. She could tell he was content to be here with her, though he could do no more than hold her as she was close to her time.

"I hope it does not. I want it to have your dark eyes. It would be easier for the child."

"Your eyes are like a winter sky. The eyes of one who dreams. That is a good thing for the sachem."

"Gray eyes. They frighten people. I was teased by those outside the sachem when I was a child. It was not pleasant."

"Yes. But it made you strong. It made you look bravely upward. It will make our child do the same. It is a good thing to be brave."

Sky Eyes had been very happy with Thunder Cloud, until the dreams came. Now she was consumed by the panic of their likely truth. Her husband was more right than he knew. She did have the eyes of one who dreamed, and she feared those dreams.

When she slept, held close by Thunder Cloud, the dreams returned. This time Walks-With-Shadows walked ahead of her and she followed, reluctantly. They entered the shadows of the trees; they walked deep into them until the sky was blotted out and it became as dark as though the sun had set. The old one turned toward her and pointed to a cave. "It is time." Again, she was gone.

Sky Eyes entered the cave, crouching on all fours to enter the small opening in the rocks. The air smelt musty and damp, she felt its coolness clinging to her face and hands. At the far end of the small cleft in the rock, she saw a spot of light and headed toward it. The cave opened up as she reached the light and realized it was coming from above her. The ceiling of the cave was very high and at the top, the sun-streaked down through a dozen small openings. A small stream trickled through the center of the cave and ran out the far side, disappearing underground once again.

She was alone, and she waited. When her legs became weary and her back began to ache, she sat cross-legged near the stream looking up at the light that streamed into the cavern.

"So you come at last?"

"Walks-With-Shadows?" Looking around, she saw no one.  

The voice continued, "The sun shall show you what you seek Sky Eyes. Listen with your heart," and silence filled the cave again.

She stared into the shadows but saw nothing. She listened to her own heart, pounding in her ears and heard nothing but its familiar rhythm. Slowly the slivers of light streaming down from the cave's high ceiling began to crawl across the sandy floor.  One by one they faded away and the cave grew dim. Sky Eyes knew that the sun was setting and without light, she would find it difficult to get out of the cave, and impossible to find her way out of the thick forest that surrounded her. She began to crawl toward the low entrance of the cave, but something to her left startled her and she turned toward it, half expecting to see Walks-With-Shadows there.

It was nothing, just a delicate spider web, sparkling with moisture as the final ray of sunlight caught it. That was all. Only a busy spider's web. She started for the opening again, but stopped, remembering the words that came from nowhere. Was this what the sun meant to show her?  

She stood and walked over to the web, reaching it just as the sliver of light disappeared and the cave grayed into shadow. Bending closer to the web she saw that it was stretched across some roots that had pushed through the soil and into the moist cave, forming a perfect circle that framed the spider's work.  

The grayness became blackness while she stared into the web, waiting for her heart to speak. Finally, discouraged she sat down in front of the web and cried, resting her face in her hands. The cave was soon plunged into blackness and she became chilled to her very bones. She knew she could not find her way out of the forest and decided she preferred this cave to the animals that would roam at night, outside. She slept and she dreamed.

She watched as her dreams came to her as thin mists, trailing through the fabric of the web that hung above her head. The strands of mist were the colors of life, pale blue that floated toward her, bright yellow that swirled and danced. Then came a gray mist toward her and she became frightened, but it could not penetrate the web and soon evaporated as though the sun had warmed it away. More colors, green like new maize sparkled off of the drops of dew that had beaded on the waxen web; red ocher streaked through, warming her like the flames of a cooking fire.

"Sky Eyes, wake up. What is it?" Thunder Cloud was shaking her gently, frowning down at her and she was again in their tepee. "You're crying. What is it? Are you alright?"

"Yes, I am fine. It was just a dream," but she was smiling up at him through her moist eyes. She knew the magic.

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The young girl glanced over at the old woman in her long deerskin tunic and her gray hair and eyes. She knew the woman watched her and it made her feel uneasy, yet comforted at the same time. The woman's brown, gnarled fingers worked the large, softened root into a large circle and fastened the ends together deftly. Then she wrapped the worked strips of leather around and around the bent root. When she had covered the white wood, she began her spider's work, as the young girls called it. She tied the white gut strips to the leather covered circle and began the web, occasionally tying the small fetishes to the web. When it was complete she strung tiny beads onto leather strips tied with feathers to the lower edge of the circle. The girl had seen such work many times, but this time it was different. This one would be for the child she carried, and she felt honored and a little frightened.  

"Come, little one. It is time," the one called Walks-With-Shadows said, and she patted the skin spread next to her where she worked.

The girl sat next to the old one and looked into the strange gray eyes nested deeply within folds of weathered wrinkles. Being so close to the old woman she could see the pale sky reflected there.

"Are you ready? I have your child's dream catcher."


"Do you understand its purpose?"

"Yes. It shall hang at the head of my child's cradleboard."

"Yes. But later, you will add to it. Watch your child as she grows. You will see what is needed to make her strong, what will help her overcome a weakness or catch the dreams that she is in need of."

"So tell me. What are these that you have placed here," and the young girl pointed to the small turquoise stone tied near one edge of the delicate web.

"To bring her happiness and good fortune. Should it turn from blue to green you must replace it, for it has become drained by worrisome people." The girl smiled at the reference to her child being a girl. A few months earlier she had done what many curious mothers before her had done when she wanted to know if her unborn baby would be a girl or a boy. She took a small bow and a burden strap to a child still too young to speak and offered them both to the child. The child had chosen the strap, so her baby was a girl. But Walks-With-Shadows now confirmed what the child had shown her, and Walks-With-Shadows knew great magic.

The girl pointed to a small silver bead. "What is its meaning?"

"It is the moonstone. It will strengthen and support the other fetishes you place upon the dream catcher, like a mother supports her child's strengths."

"And the bone bead? What of it?"

"To soothe her, she will have need of such a gift in times to come. She can rub it for comfort as well."

The girl's eyes betrayed her fear at the woman's words, but braved the next question without hesitation, "And the arrowhead? Is not the child I carry a girl?"

"Yes. This is to help her stay on her course. Just as a well-made arrow tip points true, she will also need direction."

"Do the beads and feathers have a meaning?"

"Yes. Her beads are of amber and quartz, the amber for health and the quartz to calm. These are always good. The feathers are from the pheasant, a bird that is cautious and proud--like your child—qualities to be encouraged."

The old woman handed the girl the dream catcher and she took it lovingly. "I value this gift above all others Walks-With-Shadows."

"Be sure that you add to it wisely, for all that filters through will be brushed by the spirit of the fetish that is caught within the web."

The girl, clutching the ornament to her chest returned to her tepee to tie the dream catcher to the cradleboard of her yet unborn. Bad dreams, an evil that plants seeds of fear within so pure a spirit, would not harm her child.  She now possessed the dream catcher.

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Walks-With-Shadows watched the girl go and felt the familiar peace in her old heart. Again the magic would work, like it had many hundreds of times since that first time. After gathering her tools into her basket, she arose slowly and with great effort, for she was very old now. She headed toward the place where the sun would sleep. Her gifts were needed soon in a village to the west. When she slept that night, alone, under a broad, clear sky, she dreamed again of the girl she once was. Again she was the girl in the cave, the one called Sky Eyes before she had learned to walk with the shadows of dreams and bring strong magic to her people.

by B.L. Golden

Published in Lost Worlds, Science Fiction and Fantasy Forum

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