I pulled on my least smelly nightshirt. I looked at my feet, and used what water was left in my ewer to wash my face, hands, and feet. I built up my fire and clambered into my bed. There was so much to think about that I thought I would never be able to fall asleep.
But I did because I woke to the colorless girl standing over my bed. Ruby tears were on her cheeks. Pink blood was frothing on her lips. She stared at me. “The message,” she said, spitting blood with the words, and then she fell upon me.
I shrieked and struggled out from under her. She clutched at me but I was off the bed and heading for the door in less than a breath. I was screaming but no sound was coming out. The door latch jiggled in my fumbling panic and then it swung open and I raced out into the dark hall. My bare feet slapped the floor and I was making little shrieks now. What if my father’s bedroom door was latched, what if he wasn’t there but down in his study or somewhere else in the house?
“Pa-pa-pa-pa,” I heard myself stuttering, but I could not get any volume from my voice. His door opened at my touch and to my shock he was on his feet, a knife in his hand before I could even reach his bed. He was barefoot and his shirt was half-open, as if he’d been getting ready for bed. He snatched me up in his free arm, then twisted his body so that I was almost behind him and his knife menaced the open doorway. He spoke without taking his eyes from it.
“Are you hurt? What is it, where?”
“My room. The girl.” My teeth were chattering with such terror that I do not imagine I spoke clearly. He still seemed to understand. He dropped me almost gently to the floor and began to move.
“Behind me. Close behind me, Bee.”
He didn’t look back to see if I obeyed. He went, running, knife in hand, and I had to race after him, going back to the last place in the world I wished to be. With no knife in my hand. If I lived through tonight, I promised myself that would never happen again. I’d steal a knife for myself from the kitchen and keep it under my pillow. I would.
We reached my room and he angrily gestured me back from the door. His lips were pulled back from his teeth, and his eyes were dark and wild. Wolf-Father was in them, and his anger was a killing anger that anything would threaten his cub. He halted at the threshold, and stared into the room that was lit only by the dying flames of the hearth. His nostrils were flared and he moved his head from side to side. Then he went very still. He advanced so slowly on the sprawled figure on my bed that it was as if only one small part of him moved at a time. He glanced back at me. “You defended yourself? You killed her?”
I shook my head. My throat was still dry with terror but I managed to say, “I ran.”
A terse nod. “Good.” He drew closer to my bed and stared down at her.
He stiffened suddenly, lifting his knife to the ready, and I heard her dry whisper. “The message. You must hear the message. Before I die.”
His face changed. “Bee. Bring water.”
There was only a bit left in my ewer. I went into the room where we had left her and found the tray with the untouched food. There was water for tea in a pot, gone cold. I brought it to my father. He had arranged her on my bed. “Drink a little,” he urged her, and held the cup to her lips. She opened her mouth but could not seem to swallow what she took. It ran out of her mouth and over her chin, washing the pink even paler. “Where did you go?” my father demanded of her. “We could not find you.”
Her eyes were opened to slits. The lids looked dry and crusty. “I was … there. In the bed. Oh.” She suddenly looked even sadder. “Oh. The cloak. It was the cloak. I was cold and pulled the cloak over me. It vanished me.”
I had ventured closer to the bed. I did not think she was aware of me; I thought perhaps she was blind now. My father and I exchanged skeptical looks. She moved her hand in a vague gesture. It reminded me of a slender willow leaf moving in the wind. “It takes on the colors and shadows. Don’t lose it … very old, you know.” Her chest rose slowly and then fell. She was so still I thought she was dead. Then she cried out as if pained by the words, “The message.”
“I’m here. I’m listening.” My father took her narrow hand in his. “Too warm,” he murmured. “Much too warm.”
“So hard to think. To focus. He made it … a pattern. Easier to remember. Not safe to write it down.”
She sniffed in a breath. When she breathed out, little pink bubbles formed along her lip. I didn’t want to look at them and couldn’t look away.