Thief of Dreams

by Will Shetterly

A tiger dreamed of gazelles running free across the plains. Then the tiger woke, its dream gone. It saw a gazelle and leaped upon it tomake the gazelle its breakfast.

A serpent dreamed of a city overgrown by the jungle. Its walls were strong, and its wells were full of cool, clear water. A child came.The serpent told it, "I guard this city for you and your people. Take it, grow strong, and help others."

Then the serpent woke, its dream gone. A child passed nearby, walking toward the city. The serpent sank its fangs into the child’s ankle.

A king dreamed of a leader who lived like her people in a simple home with simple food and helped them build schools and hospitals.

Then the king woke, his dream gone. A servant brought his breakfast on a tray of gold. As his ministers advised him to raise the taxes to keepthe army strong, he told them, "I had a dream. It’s gone now."

"It was stolen," said the servant.

Everyone looked at her, but the king only said, "By whom?"

"The Thief of Dreams," said the servant.

"I must catch this thief to get back my dream," said the king. "I will post a reward. I will send out my troops. I will have my wisestcounselors learn who steals dreams."

The servant said, "Only you will know your dream. You must seek it yourself."

So the king, alone and on foot, set out on his quest.

On the plain, a tiger leaped upon him. As its jaws closed around his throat, the king cried, "Tell me, before you kill me, did you steal my dream?"

The tiger said, "No. But I have had a dream stolen."

"Our dreams were taken by the Thief of Dreams," said the king.

"Let’s seek the thief together."

"Agreed," said the tiger, so they set out side by side.

In the jungle, a serpent struck at the king. As its fangs touched his skin, the king cried, "Tell me, before you kill me, did you steal my dream?"

The serpent said, "No. But I have had a dream stolen."

"I have also had a dream stolen," said the tiger at the king’s side.

"Our dreams were taken by the Thief of Dreams," said the king.

"Let’s seek the thief together."

So the king, the tiger, and the serpent searched the world.

Years passed, and the tiger died.

More years passed, and the serpent died.

Even more years passed. The king, old and ill, met a stranger. After telling his story, the king said, "The serpent, the tiger, and Iwasted our lives pursuing the Thief of Dreams. What did we leave behind?"

The stranger said, "In the plains, the gazelles run free. In the jungle, a child found a city with strong walls and good wells thathas been brought alive again. And in your land, the people made your servant their leader. She helped them build hospitals and schools."

The king knew the stranger then. "You stole our dreams!"

The stranger touched the king’s hand and, as the king died, said, "No. I gave them."