This is the current prologue of a book I’ve been working on for ages. It’s very near and dear to my heart and, like most of my work, it was written for a friend of mine. I hope you like it!
In her dream the little boy stares at her and smiles.
Nine, maybe ten years old. Nameless. A lanky build with long, wind-beaten black hair. Eyes the color of the sea, bright and happy and full of love.
“Come sit with me,” the little boy says.
He’s sitting on the top of a worn stone wall that sprawls on both sides to the horizon line. Jiang considers the invitation, accepts, goes to climb the wall. The little boy reaches out a hand to help her up, and they grimace and strain for a moment. He’s not physically strong, and neither is she. Together they manage.
She gets herself into a sitting position, settles there, looks at the boy. He says, “This is my hiding spot. Do you like it?”
Jiang nods. When she looks out, the world is only a fuzzy gray blur. A wild, empty, nothingness.
“Do y’wanna see my future?” he asks. He sounds excited, cheerful. He is just a kid, after all.
Jiang says, “Sure.”
He points at a spot in the sea of nothingness, then waves his hand. A flurry of painted images start to come into focus. First she sees the boy sitting with his mother; then, there he is as a teenager, chasing his brother across the sand. He shows her the time when he first learns to ride a horse, and the time when he wins his first horse race. He shows her the years he spends training to become a great warrior. He shows her the time when he first takes a name. He shows her his great victories on the battlefield, and the respect and admiration he wins from those around him. And he shows her a few simple, pure moments of intimacy between himself and those he comes to love.
Jiang watches it all and smiles a little enviously.
“It’s a good life, right?” the little boy says to her. He lets the images fade.
“Yes,” Jiang replies. “I’m jealous.”
“You shouldn’t be,” the boy says.
You shouldn’t be, because I haven’t shown you everything.
He doesn’t show her the time when he’s exiled from his homeland for saving someone’s life. The years he spends wandering, looking for a home he never finds. The time when he’s raped and beaten beyond healing. The time when he walks into a forest on a journey of hope, and leaves it with a broken body. The time when he lays unconscious for four days straight and wakes up in somebody else’s skin, with somebody else’s soul.
The boy is destined for a life of tragedy. Destined to murder his brother, and to die by his brother’s hand. Destined to grapple with pain and suffering that most people cannot even begin to comprehend. He will become a great warrior, but it will come at a great price. And he didn’t even want it in the first place.
Jiang, of course, doesn’t know about any of this.
The little boy does. He ponders his future as he sits here on the wall, straddling the border between two worlds. Which worlds, he’s not too sure. Life and death, love and hatred, peace and suffering. The magical and the real. The moral and immoral. Revenge and forgiveness. Responsibility and guilt. All of the sprawling worlds that blur into each other and then pull apart — he sits on the wall between them all. And he can only sit, because the wall isn’t wide enough for both his feet, and he can’t balance on one leg for very long. But that’s the point. His whole life is destined to be exactly that — a delicate, tragic balancing act. And he knows that one day soon, he will fall over into the depths of a world he can never return from.
But still the boy says, “It’s a pretty good life, right?”
He says, “Don’t be jealous. What if something amazing happens in your life? Say, if you could, would you look into your future?”
Jiang considers it for a while. “Probably not,” she replies finally. “Life wouldn’t be the same if I did.”
“That’s true,” the boy says. “I wasn’t as brave as you. I looked.”
“Are you real?” Jiang asks.
The nameless boy throws his head back and laughs. “Real? Well, I guess not. Are you?”
“I’m real. At least, I think so. I’m dreaming.”
“I’m dreaming, too,” the boy says. “I don’t sleep very much, so I appreciate a good dream now and then.”
“How old are you?” Jiang asks. “You look nine, but you don’t sound like it.”
He grins. “Time in dreams doesn’t work the same way it does in real life. But you already know that, right? Right now, in this dream, I’m nine and you’re fourteen. But our timelines aren’t in sync — I’m not having this dream the same time that you’re having it. So if you ever meet me in real life, I’m not going to be nine years old. You understand?”
“Yes,” Jiang says. She’s surprised she understands. “Am I ever going to meet you?”
“Of course,” the boy says. “It would be absurd if we didn’t. What’d be the point of sharing a dream if we never meet in real life? But it wouldn’t really matter anyway. Even if it was pointless, I’d still talk to you.”
She smiles and nods. “Me, too. Do you always share dreams with other people?”
“Not always,” he says. “Sometimes I just sit here alone all night. Not that it’s bad to be alone — I’m not saying that. But sharing the world with someone just makes it more interesting, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Jiang says. “But you really just sit here all night? In every dream? Why?”
He shrugs. “I have no idea. But I’ve come to kind of like this place. It’s familiar, and that’s comforting. Besides, I have more control here than I do in real life. For instance, I can show you my future.” The boy grins at her again, holding up his hands. “Strange, right? It’s just a dream, but it’s not.”
It’s just a dream, but it’s not, he said.
Of course not. It never was.