To Sleep, Perchance to Dream & Lemon Sails Part 2 - Ulthar
CoC 1-6e Dreamlands Jazz Age
Milo James stopped and looked around. He could see the people working in the fields and a refreshingly cool breeze blew.
“I wonder if these people are real,” Miss Edington whispered.
Captain Ferguson came up the bank once again.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said. “I can’t stay out of the water too long. Especially with this old skin.”
“He’s like a fish!” Billy said.
“I am like a fish. You like a crab.”
“No! I’m like a shrimp! You told me.”
“You is a shrimp.”
“I’m gonna get bigger than you.”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
As they crossed the great bridge, Captain Ferguson, James, and Miss Edington all thought they heard a faint scratching noise from below near the center pier. Miss Edington stopped to listen.
“I bet that’s a troll under the bridge,” Captain Ferguson said.
“He’s going to ask us riddles,” Captain Ferguson went on.
“Oh no!” Billy said. “I’m terrible at riddles.”
“What are you talking about?” Johnson asked.
“You don’t have to answer ‘em,” Captain Ferguson said. “It only takes one answer. Ain’t y’all ever heard of the troll under the bridge?”
“We are dreaming,” Fontaine said. “That could be something. I don’t remember any riddles though.”
James went to the edge of the bridge and peered over. He could see they were standing over one of the piers. The waters of the River Skai babbled below and it was shadowy under the bridge but not so shadowy as to be dark. He saw nothing there. He thought the noise sounded like it was coming from inside the actual pier itself, which appeared solid and without openings.
“Seven people eat chocolate and go into a dream and you think a troll under the bridge is just … impossible,” Captain Ferguson said.
“No no no no no,” Fontaine said. “Just the riddle part sounds weird.”
“You have a problem with the riddles?”
“Yes, the riddles that a troll would ask us.”
Billy watched them both as they spoke, his head going back and forth from one to the other.
“So, we can all agree there is probably a troll, but it will not ask us riddles,” Fontaine said.
Johnson and Miss Fairfield looked at them confused.
“Did y’all not hear the scratching under the bridge?” Captain Ferguson asked.
“No,” Miss Fairfield said.
“I didn’t either but …” Fontaine said. “It could be a troll.”
James leaned further under the bridge.
“I don’t see anything,” he said.
“Keep going,” Miss Edington said. “Keep going.”
She continued walking quickly across the bridge. Captain Ferguson stopped Billy.
“Let’s see if she makes it across first,” he said.
Billy looked shocked, his mouth open. He seemed ready to run to her rescue. Miss Fairfield followed after the other woman.
“Billy, what did I tell you?” Captain Ferguson said. “You cannot get in the way of a white woman that is in a hurry.”
“Okay,” Billy said.
The two women reached the opposite side without incident and the rest of them followed along after them and soon caught up to them.
Once across the bridge, the road make a couple of turns and the dreamers found themselves in Ulthar. Many small farms surrounded the village, dozens of cottages dotting the rolling hills around the town. The village itself was feudal-looking and large with red slate roofs with peaked roofs and overhanging second stories. The narrow streets were cobblestone and well worn.
However, the first thing they really noticed about the town were the plentitude of cats. All sizes and breeds swarmed through the city. Most were sleek and well-mannered. The people of the village wore clothing that would not have looked out of place in medieval Europe, most of linen or wool, but some of silk.
As they entered the town, the cats crowded around the dreamers, slinking against their legs and setting up a melodious purring. Miss Edington looked for the black kitten of her dreams.
“Remember, nobody kill a cat here,” she said.
“Why?” Captain Ferguson said.
“Who’s going to kill a cat?” Fontaine asked.
“I’m not really interested anyways,” Johnson said.
Miss Fairfield covered her mouth with the collar of her dress. She was allergic to cats.
James ran towards a group of cats, kneeling and petting as many of them as he could. Miss Edington picked up one of the cats and cuddled it. Billy petted as many cats as he could reach, his hands still very full.
“Don’t you give them cats no bread!” Captain Ferguson said.
“Cats don’t eat bread!” Billy said. “They eat fish!”
“You woulda tried, I bet.”
“They eat fish!”
“Well, don’t you use the bread to catch a fish and then give it to the cats.”
“I don’t have a pole.”
“Well … all right.”
Prominent in the town was a tower set on a hill in the center of the city. Circular, it was covered in ivy growths. Ulthar otherwise appeared to be typical of a medieval or Renaissance city, with people moving to and fro in their various businesses or chores, waving to the dreamers, or petting the cats. A little girl sat on one curb with a half dozen kittens around her, playing with them. When Miss Edington saw the kittens, she carefully put down the cat she’d been cuddling and walked over. The cat walked away as if he owned the town and had, himself, decided he was ready to be let down.
Miss Edington played with the kittens, petting them. They climbed on her and the little girl made a game of seeing how many of the kittens she could get on the woman’s shoulders and head.
“Put this one on your head!” the little girl said.
Miss Edington was so happy. She wanted to stay there forever.
Three old men sat in rocking chairs on the porch of a nearby tavern. They had steins in their hands and two had cats in their laps. The last and oldest had a cat curled around his shoulder.
Fontaine stopped a man in silks who didn’t seem to pay any attention to the cats.
“Yes?” the man said.
“Why are there so many cats here?” Fontaine asked.
The man made a grunted laugh.
“Why, because in Ulthar, no man may kill a cat,” the man said. “It is the law. Passed … some time ago … a hundred years? Perhaps. Maybe not. But none may kill a cat. There was some incident that happened in this city and, since then, all cats are welcome here. And of course, some of the people here, I understand, even speak the language of cats.”
“Interesting,” Fontaine said.
“Well, usually a law gets passed when something happens,” Captain Ferguson said. “So, I’m guessing a hundred years ago … somebody killed a cat.”
“Something did happen,” the man in silks said. “I couldn’t tell you what. Perhaps Atal could tell you.”
“He’s the priest in the temple above,” the man said, pointing to the prevalent tower on the hill. “I believe he … he was alive when it happened. Yes, he was. I remember hearing that. But I don’t remember much more about the incident. I’m not from around here. I’m from Celephaïs.”
“You seen somebody who’s out of place?” Captain Ferguson asked the man. “Maybe goes by the name of Robert?”
“Uh … there are several Roberts that I know in this town.”
“Well, show me all of ‘em.”
“I could give you some time, my good sir.”
“Well, his last name is Ramsden,” Fontaine said.
“Ramsden,” the man rubbed his chin. “Ramsden. No. But I’m not from around here. You might want to ask the locals. I’m a merchant.”
“And you said you were from?”
“What is your name?” Captain Ferguson said.
“I am Terolan,” the man said. “Terolan the Merchant of Celephaïs.”
“Are you telling me in a world where there’s a Terolan and a Billian, that you got multiple Roberts?”
“Only here in this city. It’s a common name.”
“I hate this place.”
“But it’s such a beautiful day.”
“The water’s nice. That’s about it.”
He turned back to the other dreamers.
“We came here to find Robert,” he said. “Let’s find Robert.”
“I would suggest you ask some of the locals,” Terolan said. “This Robert Ramsden, they could probably tell you.”
“You are a local. I’m asking you. Where are the Roberts?”
“I’m from Celephaïs. I’m merely here trading my wares.”
“All right, Terolan, I’ll go ask somebody else.”
“It’s so nice to meet you!”
“It was a pleasure.”
“And who are you?”
“That’s Captain Ferguson!” Billy told the man as Captain Ferguson walked away. “He’s a famous captain! He’s got his own ship!”
Billy weaved a story of how the captain was a heroic rescuer and protector, of how his ship, the Maria, was the very best ship on the seven seas, and how someday he would grow up to be a great fisherman just like him.
“Weaving stories to a man that’s weaving silk,” Captain Ferguson muttered.
“I would like to find out why we can’t kill cats,” Fontaine said.
“Well, why would you want to?” Miss Edington said.
“Well … I don’t.”
“Look at this face!”
She took the kitten off her head, a little tiger striped feline that mewled plaintively, and put it on his shoulder. He looked at the tower and then headed in that direction. The kitten walked back and forth from shoulder to shoulder, digging in his claws.
Captain Ferguson walked over to the old men sitting in front of the inn. They eyed him as he approached.
“Robert Ramsden,” he simply said. “Have you seen him? Do you know him?”
“Why, they say …” one of the men said, leaning over to look at the next.
“I heard told too!” the other replied with a wide, toothless grin.
“… that there is a Robert Ramsden at the temple upon the hill,” the first finished. “He is the guest of Atal at the Temple of the Elder Ones.”
He gestured towards the tower on the hill in the center of town.
Miss Edington quickly returned the kittens to the little girl.
“C’mon Billy!” Captain Ferguson said. “We gotta go up there to the priest’s temple.”
“Okay!” Billy, still talking to Terolan the Merchant, said. “So, if you find a ship, it’s probably Captain Ferguson’s so … get it to him, okay? Okay!”
He ran after the captain.
“Why someone should get that young boy a sack,” one of the old men said as he ran past.
“A sack would be good for holding bread,” another man replied.
“That’s what I use!” the first said.
Milo James sat up from where he’d been laying while dozens of cats clustered around him. He wondered if any of it was truly real and felt suspicious of the entire situation, feeling like he was too happy. He stood, pushed various cats gently off him.
“I need to go now,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
The cats wandered away as if they didn’t care.
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
A few mewed at him and some followed him as he ran to catch up with the others. A single tear fell from his eye.
Miss Fairfield asked the old men if she could buy a sack somewhere.
“I’m sure you could buy a sack in the marketplace,” one of the old men said
“Why, I bought one there just some days ago,” another said.
“That would be the place to go,” the third said.
She followed the rest of them to the temple.
Captain Ferguson reached Fontaine first.
“How do you play into all this Frank?” he said as the others approached. “What have you gotten us into this time?”
“All I know is that Robert gave me some chocolate,” Fontaine said. “Ate a chocolate. Now I’m here.”
“So this has nothing to do with the Mafia?”
“No. They’re not interested in peasants, I don’t believe.”
Billy looked at Captain Ferguson like he was silly.
Fontaine’s kitten was restless so it let it down and it hopped away as kittens tend to do. He saw it stop at a group of larger cats and they seemed to almost be talking to each other.
They all arrived at the temple and were greeted by an acolyte.
“Welcome to the Temple of the Elder Ones,” he said. “How might we help you?”
“We’re looking for a Robert Ramsden,” Johnson said.
“Ah,” the acolyte said. “If you could come with me. Come with me.”
He led them into the temple to a small room. He asked them to wait and returned a few moments later with a bowl of fruit and a carafe of wine and cups. He left again. Captain Ferguson tried the wine and found it a light, watered down wine which was very refreshing. He gave a glass to Billy.
“Not too much now, Billy,” Captain Ferguson said.
The youth sipped at the wine.
“Don’t give that to Billy,” James said.
“What?” Billy said. “Why? Don’t give it to Mr. Milo!”
“Well I don’t want any but you shouldn’t be drinking.”
“Have you tasted this?”
“I don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to.”
“It’s like water!”
“Billy’s had moonshine before,” Captain Ferguson said. “He can handle wine.”
“That was awful!” Billy said. “That was awful!”
“He thought was water! It’s a good thing you weren’t that thirsty, you’d have gotten real messed up.”
“I thought it was water until I …” Billy said.
James looked at Captain Ferguson, silently judging him.
“Those jokes are not … I don’t like that joke,” Billy said.
“Speaking of which, that was the same night you forgot to throw the anchor out,” Captain Ferguson said. “Was the moonshine night. Now I remember why.”
“And who gave me the moonshine?”
“You found it!”
“No, I didn’t it. Yeah, I found it when you were ‘Hey. Try this water, Billy. It’s really good.’”
“All right,” Captain Ferguson said quietly.
“It was pretty funny,” Billy said. “It was pretty funny.”
“But I don’t never want none again.”
“That’s why you gotta give it to the kids: so they don’t wanna drink it when they get older.”
“I don’t want to drink that again. No way. No how.”
“See? I’m a good parent.”
The others helped themselves to the fruit before the acolyte returned and took them to an inner shrine where, atop an ivory dais sat an old man dressed in flowing robes. He seemed ancient, yet his eyes were young and bright.
“Are you the friends of Robert Ramsden,” he murmured.
“Yes,” Fontaine said.
“Indeed, it must be so,” the old man said.
He turned to the acolyte.
“Call for Robert,” he said.
The acolyte returned with Robert Ramsden dressed in satin and cloth-of-gold. The sad look in his eyes they all remembered was gone and he smiled at them all with great appreciation. He shook each of their hands.
“Mr. Ramsden, you’re looking better for your experience,” Frank said.
“Oh goodness!” he said. “Oh goodness!”
He gave Miss Edington a peck on the cheek.
“You ate the chocolates and you came!” he said. “I’m so glad.”
He reached Captain Ferguson.
“I’d like to go home now,” the man said.
“Well, you can send yourself home any time that you wish,” Ramsden said, frowning.
“How do I do it?”
“But, my God man, look at this place! All these years that I’ve been having these dreams, I’ve been coming here. This is a real place! It is the Dreamlands. It … I don’t know how it exists but some few dreamers are able to come here. For many a year I’ve come here and always regretted having to return. You can stay here as long as you wish and, when you want to go back, it will simply be tomorrow morning in Providence.”
“I don’t want to stay. Too many cats. Not enough sea. Let me go home.”
“Oh, if you want the sea than you might want to go on a little journey for me because I need some help with something. But I would like to tell you about the place first, if you’re willing to listen.”
“Please!” Fontaine said.
“C’mon!” Billy said.
“Fine,” Captain Ferguson said.
“Mr. Ramsden, you could have at least told us before you brought us into something strange,” Miss Edington said.
“I’m sorry,” Ramsden said. “If one doubts they can get here, then it can cause one not to be able to come. So I felt it best to give you the chocolates, they had a drug in them that would help you quickly. You found the stairway, obviously, that led you down and you met the priests … they worship Nasht here …”
“They worship Nasht? Who is Nasht?”
“He is one of the two priests that met you when you came down the stairs. Two priests in the Egyptian garb. Old men. They’ve always been here. And they help people to find their way to the Dreamlands, but you have to look. You have to find. You may have noticed staircases in your dreams before, leading down, and never pursued them, so you never found your way here. This is the deeper dreaming. It’s a real place. It’s as solid as the real world.”
“Wait,” James said. “What do you mean this is a real place? You mean it’s solid as the real world so it’s … it’s not a part of the real world obviously.”
“It is and it isn’t,” Ramsden said. “I’m not sure of how it actually works. It might be a gestalt mind created by all of the dreamers of the world.”
“So, is this a different world? A different reality?”
“Yes. Perhaps? I’m not sure. It’s … it’s … I can tell it’s real.”
He took James’ arm and squeezed it. The other man felt it.
“It’s real,” Ramsden said. “But you’re also dreaming right now. You’re lying in your bed at home, dreaming. But you’re also here. You brought yourself here through the help of the chocolates and down the Seventy Steps of Light Slumber to the Cavern of Fire and from thence to the Seven Hundred Steps to the Gate of Deeper Slumber to the Enchanted Wood. Now, if you go to sleep, you’ll come here if you wish to wherever you were when last you slept. Or perhaps you’ll come down the stairs again to the vault of deeper dreamer. It’s different every time. It’s what you want it to be. It’s hard to describe.”
“So, everything you told me was actually happening here?” Fontaine asked.
“Yes,” Ramsden said. “Yes. Indeed. There are lands and … different places, some of them quite fantastic, some of them quite dangerous. But I wanted you all to have the opportunity to come if you want. Let’s go back to town. Let’s go down to town and we’ll talk there.”
They followed his gaze up to old Atal on his throne and saw that the man had fallen asleep.
“Wait a minute,” Miss Edington said. “Do you know why nobody is supposed to kill cats?”
“I can tell you that story,” Ramsden said. “It’s a great story. Come, we’ll go down to the inn. We’ll have a great feast.”
“Yea!” Billy said.
Ramsden escorted them back to the main part of town and treated them to a feast at the local public house. There was game, chicken, vegetables, meat, stew, soup, and all kinds of food. Wine was also available or sweet water from the River Skai. When miss Edington asked, he sent for men to procure satchels for the items they had acquired at the Cavern of Flame.
As they ate and drank, he told them there were many tales in the Dreamlands. He first told them of the Cats of Ulthar. He noted there were, once upon a time, a cotter and his wife in the village. They delighted in trapping and slaying the cats of their neighbors and were terrible people.
“Why they did, I do not know,” he said. “Save that many hate the voice of the cat in the night, and take it ill that cats should run stealthily about yards and gardens at twilight. But whatever the reason, they would trap cats. So, one day a caravan of strange people from other lands came through the village. They were dark wanderers, roving folk who passed through the village every once in a while. They told fortunes for silver in the market-places, they bought gay beads from the merchants.
“There was one little child, a little child named Menes, whose parents had died. He was all alone in the world but had found a tiny little black kitten that he loved above everything else in the world. One night, as they were staying here, the kitten disappeared. Menes searched everywhere but could not find it. Then the people of Ulthar told him about the cotter and his wife and feared the kitten had fallen into their hands.
“So Menes, very upset, when he heard these things his sobbing gave place to meditation, and finally to prayer. He stretched out his arms toward the sun and prayed in a tongue no villager could understand; though indeed the villagers did not try very hard to understand, since their attention was mostly taken up by the sky and the odd shapes the clouds were assuming. It was very peculiar, but as the little boy uttered his petition there seemed to form overhead the shadowy, nebulous figures of exotic things; of hybrid creatures crowned with horn-flanked discs. Nature is full of such illusions to impress the imaginative.
“That night the wanderers left Ulthar, and were never seen again. And the householders were troubled when they noticed that in all the village there was not a cat to be found. From each hearth the familiar cat had vanished; cats large and small, black, grey, striped, yellow, and white. Old Kranon, the burgomaster, swore that the dark folk had taken the cats away in revenge for the killing of Menes’ kitten; and cursed the caravan and the little boy. But Nith, the lean notary, declared that the old cotter and his wife were more likely persons to suspect; for their hatred of cats was notorious and increasingly bold. Still, no one durst complain to the sinister couple; even when little Atal, the innkeeper’s son, vowed that he had at twilight seen all the cats of Ulthar in that accursed yard of the cotter and his wife under the trees, pacing very slowly and solemnly in a circle around the cottage, two abreast, as if in performance of some unheard-of rite of beasts. Nobody believed him. He was a child. And though they feared that the evil pair had charmed the cats, they preferred not to chide the old cotter till they met him outside his dark and repellent yard.
“So Ulthar went to sleep in vain anger; and when the people awaked at dawn—behold! every cat was back at his accustomed hearth! Large and small, black, grey, striped, yellow, and white, none was missing. Very sleek and fat did the cats appear, and sonorous with purring content. The citizens talked with one another of the affair, and marveled not a little. Old Kranon again insisted that it was the dark folk who had taken them, since cats did not return alive from the cottage of the ancient man and his wife. But all agreed on one thing: that the refusal of all the cats to eat their portions of meat or drink their saucers of milk was exceedingly curious. And for two whole days the sleek, lazy cats of Ulthar would touch no food, but only doze by the fire or in the sun.”
A gray cat leaped gracefully up onto the table and sat in the very center of it, watching Ramsden tell the story.
“It was fully a week before the villagers noticed that no lights were appearing at dusk in the windows of the cottage under the trees. Then the lean Nith remarked that no one had seen the old man or his wife since the night the cats were away. In another week the burgomaster decided to overcome his fears and call at the strangely silent dwelling as a matter of duty, though in so doing he was careful to take with him Shang the blacksmith and Thul the cutter of stone as witnesses. And when they had broken down the frail door they found only this: two cleanly picked human skeletons on the earthen floor, and a number of singular beetles crawling in the shadowy corners.
“There was subsequently much talk among the burgesses of Ulthar. Zath, the coroner, disputed at length with Nith, the lean notary; and Kranon and Shang and Thul were overwhelmed with questions. Even little Atal, the innkeeper’s son, was closely questioned and given a sweetmeat as reward. They talked of the old cotter and his wife, of the caravan of dark wanderers, of small Menes and his black kitten, of the prayer of Menes and of the sky during that prayer, of the doings of the cats on the night the caravan left, and of what was later found in the cottage under the dark trees in the repellent yard.
“And in the end the burgesses passed that remarkable law which is told of by traders in Hatheg and discussed by travelers in Nir; namely, that in Ulthar no man may kill a cat.”
Ramsden noted he loved cats and Ulthar. He said he wanted them all to be able to enjoy the place as much as he had. He told them however long they stayed, months or even years, they could before waking up in the morning explore or adventure or simply see marvelous sights that were not in the Waking World. He said he wanted to share that with all of them.
“Are there books here?” Fontaine asked.
“Books?” Ramsden asked. “Yes. You’d have to go find them. Possibly in Celephaïs.”
“Not in the temple?” Miss Edington asked.
“Or a larger town,” Ramsden said. “There probably are some at the temple, yes. I’ve been staying there as a guest of Atal for some time, waiting for your arrival.”
“You said you had a job?” Captain Ferguson said.
“I do need a small package taken to the nearby town of Drinen,” Ramsden said. “It’s two or three days journey.”
“By land or by sea?”
“By land. Sorry captain.”
“But it’s not far and it’s not a bad town.”
“Could I take the river?”
“Before I tell you anything else, I need to tell you that you can shape this world.”
He told them that, as dreamers, they had the ability to create things out of nothing though it was easier to create one thing out of another, creating something similar to another thing. He used the example of creating a bench out of a tree being easier as it was the same material. He noted it cost essence to make use of the ability to dream things into existence. In order to make something that would last forever, it required one’s actual living soul, something that could not be replaced. Ramsden also warned them if they used enough of their essence, it would begin to physically harm them.
He told them, also, that most people of the Dreamlands were natives: they were born there, lived there, and died there.
Miss Edington tried to change a grape into a rose but nothing happened. Fontaine tried to change the water in his jug into something flammable without luck.
“It’s not easy,” Ramsden said.
When Miss Fairfield asked if she could make a camera, he told her she couldn’t. He noted that things of the world could not be things one wouldn’t have found in the Waking World some four to five hundred years before. The city of Serannian, he said, had cannons, but there were no pistols or modern-day weapons. He gestured at the knife of Captain Ferguson’s belt.
“Knives, swords, clubs,” he said. “Those are the only weaponry. Bows and arrows as well. There are no crossbows here. Until things are established solidly in the real world, they cannot exist here yet.”
“Can you do it?” Captain Ferguson said, taking out the dagger and holding it towards him. “Can you make this into a sword?”
“A sword?” Ramsden said.
“Yes. I’m a simple man. I would rather see than try. At least for the first time.”
“It’s not easy.”
“But you’ve been here before.”
“Let me try something simpler.”
He picked up an apple from the table and looked at it intently. It shivered and then he was suddenly holding an orange.
“Like that,” he said. “That took very little of my essence. And your essence comes back after a time. I feel winded by this.”
Miss Edington held out her hand and he gave her the orange. She peeled it and tasted it. It was sweet and delicious.
Captain Ferguson asked about being harmed in the world. Ramsden told him that physical injuries did not transfer over to the Waking World but, if one of them died there, they would be expelled from the Dreamlands and would never be able to return. He also noted that madness and injuries to the psyche stayed with them even into the Waking World. He said one could heal oneself with the ability to dream as well. He was unsure if they would return to the Cavern of Flame when they next sought to enter the Dreamlands or if they would appear where they had last dreamt.
“What’s the package?” Captain Ferguson asked.
“Oh, it is some precious stones that Atal wishes to have sent to a priest in Drinen,” Ramsden said.
“Why don’t you take it?”
“Because I … the road can be dangerous and I’m no warrior.”
“You summoned me here to be a mailman?”
“No! I summoned you here so you can come back here and experience this any time you want. Now that you’ve come to the dreamlands, you can come here any time you want that you wish to. This is a gift. This is my gift to you. This place has been a wonderful thing for me. My whole life was sitting behind a desk and writing numbers down and trying to help people take what little money they have and make a little bit more. It’s been completely unfulfilling but here, there are so many lands to see and so many wonders of this world that I wanted to share that with all of you.”
“Robert, you are a true friend for this gift,” Fontaine said.
“Well, thank you,” Ramsden said. “I ask nothing for it. I just wanted to help people who have meant much in my life. And Willie, you’ve been a good friend to me since we were in school. I wanted to give you this. I’m sorry. If you don’t like it, I’m sorry.”
“It is a good gift,” Captain Ferguson said. “I just … was not expecting this. I’m taken aback and I do not understand the purpose of this mission.”
“I simply need a package taken to Drinen,” Ramsden said. “It’s a few days walk and it would give you an opportunity to see a few other places in the Dreamlands. There’s no hurry. You could stay here in Ulthar a week or two before you go, if you wish.”
“I like Ulthar,” Miss Edington said, petting the cat that still sat on the table.
“What do you want to do, Billy?” Captain Ferguson said. “You want to go back home or do you want to deliver this package?”
“Let’s deliver the package!” Billy said. “Let’s see this … Drinen.”
“Robert, did you ever happen to know a Howard Phillips?” Johnson asked.
“No,” Ramsden said. “I don’t know that name.”
“Hm. He was another person who talked about the Dreamlands.”
“Oh. There are some dreamers here. If you find someone of our stature, dreamers tend to be a bit larger. But the Dreamlands is large. It’s a huge place.”
“Samuel Endecott?” Miss Edington said.
“Samuel Endecott?” Ramsden said. “I’ve heard stories of a Samuel Endecott who has traveled the Dreamlands. But I couldn’t tell you any of them specifically.”
Ramsden also told them there were certain magical spells known by sorcerers of the Dreamlands that could be learned but not used in the real world, at least to his understanding. When Captain Ferguson asked him about how to get home, Ramsden told him there were ways to concentrate, much like creating things in the Dreamlands, to send oneself back home. When asked, he also told them weeks, months, or even years could pass before they woke and it would still simply be the next morning in the Waking World. He noted there were lands were time didn’t pass, such as Celephaïs, where nothing aged or grew and everything was new.
“What was in that chocolate?” Captain Ferguson asked.
Ramsden told him he had found a formula in the Dreamlands and mixed it with the rum of the chocolates, noting they would not need the chocolate to get to the Dreamlands again. They’d be able to come there whenever they wished.
“Why don’t we sell that in the real world and make millions?” Captain Ferguson asked.
Ramsden said he wouldn’t advise it. He noted that most wouldn’t believe it. When Captain Ferguson told him “Seeing is believing” he pointed out many people couldn’t or wouldn’t come there as they were too entrenched in the real world. He asked what would happen when those people claimed the seller was a charlatan and a fake. Captain Ferguson nodded but pointed out if Ramsden ever did want to sell the formula or the chocolates, it was his idea.
“Fair enough,” Ramsden said. “Fair enough.”
“We gonna be rich, Billy,” Captain Ferguson said. “Just you wait.”
“Yea!” Billy said.
“Do we age here, Robert?” Captain Ferguson said.
“Very slowly,” Ramsden said.
“So Atal is … how old?”
“Uh … Atal is a native.”
“But how old?”
“He’s probably nearing a hundred.”
“But he’s also seen … things. A lot of things.”
“How long have you stayed here?”
“I’ve been coming and going for years.”
“You’ve been in this world for years?”
“This really is a magical place.”
Ramsden just nodded.
When Miss Fairfield asked if they would need money, he noted that, as dreamers, they could probably make it. He told them gems were good and mostly barter was used there. They could also create coins though they would not last for a great deal of time. When Johnson asked about dangers on the road, Ramsden pointed out there might be bandits or creature native to the dreamlands.
“Like the zoogs in the Enchanted Wood,” Ramsden said.
“The what?” Miss Edington said.
“Did you hear them?” Ramsden said. “They’re small but when they swarm they can be very dangerous. If you are not friends with them or have some connection to them, they can be very dangerous.”
“Oh, so they can be reasoned with?” Fontaine said.
“It’s not easy. I understand Randolph Carter, he’s a great dreamer, he became friends with the zoogs. Some time ago, he helped the cats of Ulthar, whom the zoogs were planning a war against. The cats preemptively struck and captured several of the zoog leaders and they actually made a pact that they would leave the cats alone.”
The gray cat that Miss Edington was petting gave her a smug look.
“Oh,” she said. “You’re a little more intelligent than I first perceived.”
“Oh yes, the cats here are very intelligent,” Ramsden said. “They speak their own language. Some people speak the language of cats.”
“Will you teach me?” Miss Edington whispered to the gray cat.
The cat just looked at her smugly. She was unsure what that might mean.
“So, we can talk to the … we can talk to the cats and … the zoogs?” Fontaine asked.
“Yes, you can talk to the zoogs as well,” Ramsden said. “They have their own language. It’s a strange one. There are all kinds of other things here. There is danger. There is beauty. There are some fantastic realms you do not want to visit.”
“And where are those so we can steer clear of those?”
“The coastline to the west. You do not want to enter any of those lands. There are terrible stories of the Fantastic Realms. They can be very dangerous. There are also some great, wonderful places there but … telling the difference can sometimes be … impossible.”
“Well, Robert, you’ve given us all a great gift,” Captain Ferguson said. “For that, I am thankful and I, for one, will deliver this package for you on the morrow.”
“Thank you Willie,” Ramsden said. “I appreciate it.”
“Yes,” Fontaine said.
“And I am assuming that these fine young people are going to assist me,” Captain Ferguson went on.
“Of course,” Fontaine said.
“Of course!” Billy echoed. “Yes! They’re heroes.”
“We should probably rest here for the night,” James said.
“And if it is dangerous, I want more than this little … teeth picker,” Captain Ferguson said.
Over the next few days, Fontaine created oil and filled several small bottles as bombs. He also got a bandoleer of daggers for throwing. He asked Robert about armor though the man told him not many people wore it and there was none available in Ulthar. Fontaine ended up dreaming up a steel breastplate to wear.
Captain Ferguson asked Ramsden about the zoogs and he told them the marsupial creatures could be dangerous. He described them as having small forelegs with opposable thumbs though they walked on larger back legs. They had tentacles around their mouths and were small but sometimes swarmed their prey.
They ended up staying in Ulthar a week or so before they went onto Drinen. Ramsden arranged for places for them to stay in Ulthar. In that time, they practiced being able to dream things into existence. Miss Edington searched Ulthar high and low for the black kitten from her dream but, though she found many black kittens in that village, she never found the correct one.
Captain Ferguson spent the week fishing in the River Skai, following the river a little ways just to explore. He taught the locals \ how to fish better, showing them some techniques he had learned in his long years of fishing.
* * *
* * *
It was a week after the dreamers arrived in the Dreamlands when they set out for Drinen, only a few days travel via road. They passed through the village of Hatheg on the way, connected to Ulthar by the road that ran across the bridge at Nir. The farming village boasted some 900 inhabitants and one good inn, The Orchard, known for its quality food and drink.
They finally arrived at Drinen, a city inhabited by dusky-skinned folk famous for their eerie music, played on flutes, drums, and accompanied by wailing wordless singing. It stood between the mountains and the desert. They had learned in Hatheg that one portion of the city was called the Pleasure Quarter and widely condemned as thoroughly decadent by many people while envied by others.
They were quickly able to find the priest they were taking the package to. He rewarded each of them with a small ruby. Captain Ferguson took Billy’s so he wouldn’t lose it.
There was a great deal of activity in the town as a caravan had just arrived. The long string of painted wagons bore dark-skinned strangers, led by a man wearing a headdress with two horns and a golden disk thereon. They traded beads and a crowd gathered to watch them sing of distance places and play joyous tunes on tiny silver pipes. Dancers in emerald-bedecked attire performed for the crowd.
Amidst the activity, a lean figured stalked away through the crowd to sit in the shade of a nearby wall. His pallid skin and dark hair showed him to be a stranger to that part of the Dreamlands. His eyes had neither pupil nor iris, just a glistening expanse of yellow. He carried a long ceramic jug wrapped in straw and slung over his back. And the ebony cat that slinked behind him was almost as queer: its eyes were too large and green for any normal cat, and its unreflecting fur seemed more mole-like than cat-like. The stranger’s clothes were sailor-fashion but he obviously had no ship.
Miss Edington looked at the cat, which caught her gaze. His ears perked up and he looked at the strange man. The stranger’s woeful gaze fell upon them with a touch of interest for the dreamers were also different to normal Dreamlands folk. He climbed to his feet and approached them, his step unfaltering, his curiosity clearly aroused.
“Are you the one that led me here?” Miss Edington said to the cat.
The black cat walked to her and rubbed itself against her leg.
“Greetings,” the man said. “I am Mironim-Mer of Sarrub.”
He sat close by them and asked if any of them had ever heard of it.
“Nope,” Johnson said.
“Where is that?” James asked.
“Where are you from?” Mironim-Mer asked.
“Providence,” Miss Edington said. “Not here.”
“The Earth?” James said.
“You know Earth?” Miss Edington said.
“This is Earth’s Dreamlands,” Mironim-Mer said.
“Okay,” James said.
“And you are from the Earth,” Mironim-Mer said. “What are you doing in Drinen?”
“We were invited to the Dreamlands,” Miss Edington said.
“We were delivering a package,” Johnson said.
“Ah,” Mironim-Mer asked. “You were crossing the lands. From whence have you come?”
“We came in near Ulthar.”
“Ah. I’ve heard of Ulthar. Yes. I was there. Most importantly … have you ever seen anyone like me?”
“No,” Miss Edington said.
“Are you talking about your eyes?” James asked.
“My eyes, my skin, myself,” Mironim-Mer said.
“We’ve only been here for so long,” Miss Edington said.