“I’m sorry, dear. I know it’s late.” He gave a small sigh and then lied, “I’m sorry I’ve had so little time for you in the past few days. There’s been a great deal to do to get ready for our cousin, and it has made me realize how far behind I am on the upkeep of the house. But tomorrow is the day that Shun will arrive. So I wanted to talk to you tonight, to see if you had any questions.”
I studied his face for a moment in the flickering light from the hearth fire. I dared myself. I spoke. “Actually, I do. I wondered what about my dream made you so angry.”
For a short time, he just looked at me. His eyes weren’t angry, I saw, but full of pain. Was that why he had been avoiding me? I could almost feel him thinking about whether he would lie or not. Then he said quietly, “Your dream made me think of someone I knew a long time ago. He was a very pale man, and he often had peculiar dreams. And when he was a child, he wrote his dreams down, just as you said you would do.”
I watched his face, waiting. He lifted his hand, covering his mouth as he rubbed his bearded cheeks. Perhaps he was thinking, but to me he looked as if he were holding words in. He sighed again, heavily. “We were very good friends for a long, long time. We did hard things for each other. Risked our lives. Gave up our lives and faced death, and then faced life again. You might be surprised to find that facing life can be much harder than facing death.” He stopped talking and was silent for a time, thinking about something. When he blinked and looked back at me, he seemed almost surprised to see me. He took a deep breath. “Well. So when you said you had a dream with a pale man in it, and that he was dead, well … it was alarming.” He looked away from me, to a shadowy corner of the room. “I was a bit silly to take it so seriously, I admit. So. Let’s talk about your cousin coming, shall we?”
I shrugged. I was still mulling over his answer. “I don’t think I’ll have any questions about her until I’ve met her. Except … what is she going to help you do?”
“Oh, well, that isn’t quite decided yet.” He smiled evasively. I think the smile would have fooled anyone who did not know him as well as I did. “We’ll get to know her, and see what she’s good at doing, and then give those sorts of things to her to do,” he added brightly.
“Does she do beekeeping?” I asked in sudden alarm. When spring came, I did not want anyone except myself to touch my mother’s dormant hives.
“No. I’m quite sure of that.” My father sounded as emphatic in his response as I had been. I felt a sense of relief. He came and sat on the foot of my bed. It was a very large bed; it still felt as if he were across the room. My mother would have sat down beside me, close enough to touch me. Gone. The thought blew cold through me again. My father looked as if he felt that same chill wind, but he did not move closer to me.
“What happened to your pale friend?”
He flinched and then pasted a casual smile on his face. He shrugged stiffly. “He went away.”
“Back to the place where he had first come from. A land far to the south of here. Clerres, he called it. I don’t know exactly where. He never told me.”
I thought for a time. “Did you send him a message to say you missed him?”
He laughed. “Moppet, you have to know where a letter must go in order to send it.”
I hadn’t meant a letter. I meant that other kind of reaching out that he and my sister did. Since he had started holding himself inside his own mind, I heard far less of it than I once had. And ever since I had felt it tug at me and try to shred me away into nothing, I’d always hung back from trying to understand it. I’d felt him do it a dozen times at least in the last few days, but hadn’t really known to whom he reached or what he conveyed. Not his pale friend, though.
“Will he come back someday?” I wondered out loud. Would he come and take my father away from me?
My father fell into that stillness again. Then he slowly shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think if he was going to come back or send me a letter, he would have done it by now. He told me before he left that the work he and I were to do was done, and that if he stayed near me, we might accidentally undo it. And that would mean that all we had gone through would have been for naught.”
I tried to put this together in my mind. “Like the puppeteers’ mistake.”
“That time the puppeteers came in the storm and Mother let them in. Remember? They set up a little stage in the Great Hall and even though they were very tired, they put on a show for us.”