And there, leaking in around the peephole’s cover, was a tiny gleam of flickering light, illuminating the stub of my mother’s candle. The light caressed it, yellow and warm and welcoming. I knelt and took the candle and held it to my breast, breathing the fragrance that had led me to safety. I pushed the peephole cover aside and peered into the dimly lit study. “It’s going to be all right,” I said to Wolf-Father. I turned to look back at him, but he was gone, leaving only a cooler place in the air behind me.
“Father?” I said, but there was no reply. My heart sank and then I heard the rapping.
“Bee. Unlatch the door. Right now.” His voice was low and I could not tell if he was afraid or angry.
The rapping came again, louder, and I saw the doors shake. Then they leapt at a blow.
It took me a moment to get my bearings. I seized my courage tight and left the peephole’s comforting light. Dragging my fingertips on the wall as I went down the narrow corridor, around a corner, and then another sharp corner and out of the panel. The rapping and shaking were louder now. “I’m coming!” I called back as I pushed the panel closed. I had to work the catches on it, and then I went to unbolt the study door. My father pushed it open so suddenly that he knocked me off my feet.
“Bee!” he exclaimed in a breathless shout and dropped to his knees to seize me. He hugged me so tightly that I couldn’t breathe. He had forgotten to hold himself in. His fear drenched me. I stiffened in his grip. Abruptly it was gone, leaving me to wonder if I had truly felt that wave of love beneath it. He released me but his dark staring eyes held me. They were full of hurt. “What were you thinking? Why aren’t you in your bed?” he demanded of me.
“I wanted to—”
“You are not allowed. Do you understand me? You are not allowed!” He wasn’t shouting. The voice he was using was more frightening than shouting would have been. It was as low and intense as a snarl.
“Not allowed what?” I trembled out.
He looked at me with wild eyes. “Not allowed to be gone from where I left you. Not allowed to make me think I’ve lost you.” He gathered me in again and held me close against his cold coat. I became aware that his hair was dripping wet and he still wore his outer garments. He must have come in and gone straight to my room to check on me. And instantly panicked when I wasn’t there. I felt an odd little lift to my heart. I was important to him. Very important.
“Next time you tell me to stay in the den, I will,” I promised him.
“Good,” he said fiercely. Then, “What were you doing in here with the door latched?”
“Waiting for you to come home.” Not quite a lie, and I couldn’t have said why I evaded his question.
“And that’s how you come to be covered in cobwebs with a dirty face.” He touched my cheek with a cold finger. “You’ve been crying. There are two clean streaks on your face.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a less-than-clean kerchief, and reached for my face. I drew back from it. He looked at the cloth in his hand and laughed ruefully. “I wasn’t thinking. Come. Let’s go to the kitchen and see if we can get a bit of warm water and a clean cloth. And you can tell me exactly where you were waiting for me to return.”
He did not put me down but carried me, as if he did not trust me beyond his arm’s reach. I felt the power thrumming through him, battering to breach his walls and engulf me. It was a frightening, contained storm inside him. But I did not struggle against him. I think I decided that night that the discomfort of being close to him was preferable to standing away from the only person in the world who I knew loved me. I suspect that at some point he had made the same decision.
In the kitchen he ladled water from the warming pot always kept there and found a clean rag for me to use to wash my face. I told him that I had been curious to explore the spy-warren and had gone in, but then lost my way when my candle went out and became frightened. He didn’t ask me how I had found my way out; I am sure he did not imagine how far I had traveled in the hidden corridors, and at that time I chose to keep it that way. Of Wolf-Father, I said nothing.
He took me up to my room and found me a clean nightdress. The one I had been wearing was dirtied all round the hem, and the socks were thicker with cobwebs and dust than they were with wool. He watched over me as I got into bed and then sat in silence by my bed until he believed I was asleep. Then he blew out the candle and left the room.
I had almost been asleep, but held myself back from it for two reasons. The first was to find the peephole that had looked into my room. That took longer than I had expected. It was very well concealed in the paneling of one wall, and up high, so the viewer could see almost the entire room. I felt round the nearby woodwork and paneling to see if perhaps I could find an entrance to the spy-maze, to no avail. And I was chilly, weary, and my warm bed was tempting.