by M. D. Taylor
Copyright ©Michael D. Taylor 2015
In a country far, far away, in a time long, long ago—or perhaps a time that has not yet come round—two brothers named Arkin and Pavlik lived with their families in a high, narrow house on a busy street in the city of Mirberg. They built toys and amusing automata for the rich and thus made their living.
Arkin was tall, broad, and erect, with a white beard to his chest. When he went abroad, he strode the streets like a bull, and his voice was as a trumpet. Pavlik was bent and crippled. His head was bald, his beard a fringe of gray, and he sat always at home on his chair. Arkin it was who sold their wares, but Pavlik it was whose clever hands and eyes fashioned the amusements and mechanisms they sold.
A rumor crept one day through Mirberg of a marvelous place hidden below the underground railway stations. Silverlorn was its name. For one thing, the stars shone ever in the sky above Silverlorn whether it was night or day aboveground. But the most wonderful thing was that the shops there sold nothing so gross as cakes or clothes or parrots. Instead they sold dreams.
Yet few found their way there, for only a child, the rumors said, could discover the side tunnel that led from the underground stations down, further, to this wonderful place. The eyes of adults were too dull and scale-covered.
Pavlik heard this with wonder and great interest, for, being a cripple and yet an artist with his hands and mind, what lived in his heart were his dreams.
Arkin however knew too well that the world was filled with dreams that were not real and with men and women who would, if they could, like spiders, suck money and life from the dreamers.
He snorted and poured scorn on tales of Silverlorn. He told his brother how the men who were learned and well-spoken dismissed the rumors as being fickle as the wind and no more solid. “How,” he said, “can one see the stars down underground, below even the railway stations?” Then he would add, “There is nothing to these tales, nothing at all, I am certain! ”
But Pavlik sighed and neglected his work. Had he not been a cripple, he would have gone looking for Silverlorn.
This will never do, Arkin told himself. Poor Pavlik, I must do something to save him. And to save our business!
So he told Pavlik, “Dear brother, don’t sigh for Silverlorn anymore. I fear it’s only a mirage, but I myself will look for it. When I find it, I will tell you what I have seen.”
Mindful of the report that only a child could see the correct turning for the way to Silverlorn, he took with him his granddaughter Gilraine, a sweet child of seven with golden hair. She secretly placed coins in her purse to buy dreams when they found Silverlorn.
They made their way to the sunken railway station in the center of the city and wandered past a myriad of puffing trains, through the surging crowds, and past vendors crying their wares.
Now Arkin was doubtful they would find any way at all, but to his surprise, Gilraine drew him to a narrow door in the shadows beside which was painted the faded name Silverlorn
Then they went down many stairs and followed winding tunnels, dimly lit and silent except for their footsteps, till they came to a black signpost, ancient and worn, on which was an arrow and the word Silverlorn. When they had gone a ways past it, they saw a faint light ahead, and a sound like the ghost of music came to their ears.
Arkin stopped and sweat sprang out on his forehead. Silverlorn, he knew, was an illusion. He had said that and knew it. What then was that gleam ahead of him? Were his brains so weak they could be brought to see what was not there? How then, would he save his brother? What was that light? What was that sound?
Gilraine almost danced with impatience. “Come on, Grandfather. Why do you wait? There it is, there it is! ”
Arkin pulled a large handkerchief from his pocket, wrapped it round his eyes, and bent down to Gilraine. “Tie it. Tightly! Make sure it will hold.”
Astonished, she did as told, then Arkin gave her his hand and said, “Lead on.”
The young girl drew the blindfolded man down the tunnel till it opened into a circular plaza. Gilraine said, “Oh, Grandfather’s, it’s—”
“Shush!” Arkin cut her off. “Say no more.”
Faint lights glowed all round the plaza. They were globes filled with glowworms and fireflies, and they hung in front of little shops with signs outside. Yet when Gilraine looked up, she saw high above the plaza a night sky filled with stars. This was very strange because it had been daylight when they came down the stairs. Stranger still, the stars were brighter than any Gilraine had ever seen before and easily visible despite the glowworm lights in front of the shops. The sound they had heard was that of water trickling and tinkling out of channels and spouts in fountains round the plaza. Flowers grew round the fountains, golden and silver in the shop lights, and their perfume filled the air.
Arkin turned slowly round and round, head erect, and as he did so, he began to laugh.
Then one of the shop doors silently opened and a little old woman came out. She was dressed all in silver and her face shone as if by moonlight. She hobbled quietly to Gilraine and was no taller than the girl. Arkin, behind his blindfold, neither saw nor heard the old woman. He continued to turn round and round and from time to time gave another laugh.
The old woman put her finger to her lips in a way that said, Quiet. Then she held out two items to Gilraine and tilted her head sideways with a quizzical look.
One of the items was a small cut crystal bottle with a tag on which was written, in ornate and beautiful cursive, Elixir of Dreams. For Those Who Are Old, Yet Their Hearts Are Young. The other item was a chain necklace to which was attached a small red gem in whose depths a star seemed to gleam. The tag said, Ruby of Hope. For Young Girls Whose Dreams Are Still Growing.
Gilraine thought, Oh, one for Pavilk, one for me, and gave the old woman two coins. The lady smiled, handed over the items, put her finger to her lips again, then vanished into her shop. Gilraine hastily slipped her purchases into her purse.
“Well,” said Arkin, completely unaware of what had just happened, “that’s enough of that. Now for home again.”
After they had gone a little ways, Arkin pulled off his blindfold and said, “When we get back, young lady, remember, you’re only a child and are not to go prattling of what we’ve done here. I’ll do all the talking.”
When they reached home again, Arkin went in to his brother. “I’m sorry to tell you this,” he said solemnly, “but I found Silverlorn and had a good look around. I saw nothing like the claims of the rumors. Nothing at all.”
Gilraine heard his voice from outside the door. She reached in her purse and touched the dreams she had for Pavlik. And she smiled.