“Oh, will you?” my father asked me indulgently. He smiled at me but I actually felt Mild and Tavia exchange startled looks behind us. They were finding out too much about me too fast but I found I didn’t care. Perhaps it would make my life easier if they didn’t think me simple anymore.
“Yes. I will.” I said it firmly. He had spoken as if this were just a sudden fancy of mine rather than an important matter. Did he not grasp what a special dream was? I decided to explain it.
“The dream came to me all edged in black and gold. The colors of the dream were very bright and everything in it seemed very large, so that the smallest details could not be ignored. It began in my mother’s garden. The lavenders were heavy with bees and the sweet scent hung in the air. I was there. Then I saw the long carriageway that leads to the house. Four wolves were coming up the drive, trotting two by two. A white, a gray, and two red ones. But they were not wolves.” I stopped a moment, struggling to name creatures I had only seen in a dream. “They were not beautiful like wolves, nor did they have the honor of wolves. They slunk with their hind haunches low and their scrawny tails down. Their ears were round and their red mouths hung open and they slavered as they came. They were wicked … no, that’s not right. They were the servants of wickedness. And they came hunting for the one who served the right.”
My father’s smile had grown puzzled. “This is quite a detailed dream,” he said. I turned to Tavia. “I think the bacon is burning,” I said, and she startled as if I’d poked her with a pin. She turned back to the pan where the sizzling strips had begun to smoke and pulled it away from the heat.
“So it is,” she muttered, and busied herself with it.
I turned back to my father and my toast. I ate two bites of it and drank some of the milk before I said, “I told you it’s a special dream. It goes on and on, and it is my duty to remember it all and keep it safe.”
The smile was beginning to fade from his face. “Why?”
I shrugged. “I’m just supposed to. There’s a lot more to it. After the false wolves go past, I find a butterfly wing on the ground. I pick it up, but as I do the wing becomes larger and larger and under it is a pale man, white as chalk and cold as a fish. I think he is dead, but then he opens his eyes. They have no color. He does not speak with his mouth but opens his hand to talk. He dies with rubies falling from his eyes …”
My father set his cup back down on the edge of his saucer. It tipped and his cup spilled, rolling across the table and leaving a trail of tea. “Damn!” he cried in a voice I didn’t know, and stood suddenly, nearly overturning the bench.
“Oh, sir, never mind, I’ll clean that up,” Tavia exclaimed and came right away with a rag.
My father backed away from the table, shaking hot tea from his hand. I ate the last bite of my toasted bread and butter. The dreaming had left me very hungry. “Is there going to be bacon soon?” I asked.
Mild brought the platter to the table. It was only scorched a little, and as I’ve always liked it crispy, I didn’t mind.
“I need to go out for a bit,” my father said. He had gone to the door, opened it, and was staring out at the muddy kitchen yard. He was drawing deep breaths of the chill winter air and cooling the kitchen as well.
“Sir, the bread sponge!” Tavia objected to his open door.
He said nothing but walked out with no cloak or coat. “I’ll need paper!” I cried, distressed that he would dismiss my request and my dream so carelessly.
“Take what you need from my desk,” he said without looking back at me, and shut the door behind him.
For the rest of that day, I saw little of my father. He was busy, I knew, and he put Withywoods into an uproar with his business. A set of rooms was chosen for my cousin, bedding taken out of the cedar chests and aired; the flues of the hearth in the room must be cleared, for it was discovered that some creature had completely blocked it with a nest. Over the next two days the chaos increased. Our steward, Revel, was completely delighted with the activity, and dashed hither and thither in the house, thinking of more and more tasks that the servants must undertake. A stream of strangers came to our door and met with my father and Revel in the manor study. They chose artisans and laborers, maids and lads from among those who came, and some of them came back the next day with their tools to begin work. And others came with handcarts full of their possessions, to move into the servants’ wing of the house.
It seemed that no matter where I went the house was full of business. People were scrubbing floors and polishing woodwork and bringing furniture out of storage. A carpenter and his helpers came to repair a leaking roof in one of the plant rooms. In so much noise and activity, I went back to my silence and stealthy ways. No one noticed. Whenever I glimpsed my father, he was talking to someone or studying a paper or walking about scowling with Revel at his elbow pointing at things and complaining. When he looked at me, he smiled, but there was something sad in his eyes and sick about his mouth that made me want to go and hide myself.