“Everything OK, Lord Dinwill?” asked King Jory, setting his fork down on the violet tablecloth. “You seem troubled this morning.”
Queen Lissola, having tossed another uneaten chunk of bread down to the dogs in the court yard, had just returned to her seat and begun to pick the seeds out of half of a grapefruit.
Lord Dinwill blinked and gave his head a shake. “I’m fine,” he said with a thin smile. “I didn’t sleep well. But I’ll get over it.”
“Was your bed not comfortable?” asked King Jory. “Were the guest chambers too hot?”
“No, no, it was no fault of yours.” Lord Dinwill bit into an orange wedge. “I had a disturbing dream. That’s all. It’s lingering now, but I’m sure it’ll fade as the day goes on.”
“What sort of dream?” asked Queen Lissola, perking up, her red hair framing her face in a way that King Jory often still found appealing in the right circumstances.
Lord Dinwill waved his hand. “I’m sure it meant nothing. It was just so vivid. More vivid than usual.”
“I never remember my dreams,” said King Jory, feeling superior.
“Perhaps you should consult the seer, Lord Dinwill,” said Queen Lissola.
“Which seer?” asked King Jory. “Our seer? Luden?”
“Of course,” said Queen Lissola.
“Why would Lord Dinwill consult Luden?” asked King Jory. “How would that help him at all?”
“Luden might be able to interpret Lord Dinwill’s dream,” said Queen Lissola. “He’s very talented.”
“Since when does Luden interpret dreams?” asked King Jory. “Is this a new thing?”
“No!” said Queen Lissola. “He’s been interpreting my dreams for years. Where have you been?”
King Jory leaned back in his chair. “Huh. I had no idea.”
“That’s because you’re so proud of the fact that you don’t remember your dreams,” said Queen Lissola.
“Maybe I will consult the seer,” said Lord Dinwill. “If you really think it will help, my Queen.”
“I do,” said Queen Lissola.
“Do you mind if I watch?” asked King Jory. “I’m curious.”
Lord Dinwill looked uncomfortable.
“Perhaps we should give him his privacy,” said Queen Lissola.
“Nonsense,” said King Jory. “You don’t mind, do you Lord Dinwill?”
“I suppose not,” said Lord Dinwill.
“Of course you don’t,” said King Jory. He liked being the King. Was that such a crime?
After breakfast concluded, King Jory, Lord Dinwill, and Queen Lissola went to the royal library to wait for Luden while he was summoned. The three of them sat in plush, high-backed chairs and King Jory talked at Lord Dinwill about falconing strategies while Lord Dinwill picked at the arm of his chair with nervous fingers. After some time, Luden arrived wearing a faded green robe and tarnished bronze rings on each finger of both hands. King Jory was still getting used to seeing Luden without the beard, which he’d had to shave off when it became infested with fleas.
“My king,” said Luden, bowing. “My Queen, My lord. How may I be of service?”
“Queen Lissola tells me you interpret dreams,” said King Jory. “You really do?”
Luden nodded. It was a very slow nod. Irritatingly so. “Dream interpretation is one of the services I offer,” he said. “I apologize for not making that clear to Your Highness before now.”
“I don’t care,” said King Jory. “I don’t remember my dreams. But Lord Dinwill had a bad one last night and it’s bothering him today and Queen Lissola told us that you might be able to help, so I said, well, let’s have him give it a try.”
“And you and the Queen will be present for the interpretation, your Highness?” Luden arched his thin eyebrows. “I ask because the sessions are usually private since the interpretations can be quite personal.”
“Lord Dinwill doesn’t mind,” said King Jory. “Go ahead, Lord Dinwill. Tell the seer your dream.”
Lord Dinwill glanced from King Jory to Queen Lissola, who was failing in her attempts to not appear too interested.
“Go on,” said King Jory. “You don’t want to spend the rest of the day worrying about it, do you?”
“Give me a second to collect my thoughts,” said Lord Dinwill.
There was a brief flash of anger across Luden’s face as he reached up to stroke his beard and, finding nothing there, remembered its plight.
“Whenever you’re ready,” said King Jory. “But hurry up.”
Lord Dinwill took a deep breath. “I don’t know why it bothered me so much. It isn’t going to sound that bad when I say it. I just can’t shake it.”
“That is often the way with important dreams,” said Luden. “Tell me what you remember.”
“I was standing at the edge of a shallow pond,” said Lord Dinwill. “It was dusk. Just after sunset. There were crickets chirping. Then the water level in the pond began to go down. The water was draining out of the pond. I watched it get lower and lower. Then the last of the water was gone and all that was left in the mud at the bottom was…um…a big tooth. A man’s tooth, a molar, but about the size of a tree stump. And then I woke up.”
Luden , eyes closed, made a futile effort to stroke his beard again. “Give me a moment,” he said. Lord Dinwill wouldn’t look at King Jory, who didn’t understand what the big deal was. King Jory looked at Queen Lissola, who was tapping her forefinger on her chin and watching Luden think with an expression of reverence on her face. King Jory didn’t know what was taking Luden so long. The interpretation seemed obvious to him.
Finally, after clearing his throat at a volume that King Jory thought excessive, Luden spoke. “My Lord,” he said. “Your dream means nothing. Do not let it disturb you.”
“But it feels important,” said Lord Dinwill. “It feels like it’s trying to tell me something.”
“It isn’t,” said Luden. “Let it go.”
“Are you joking?” asked King Jory. “You seriously don’t think that dream means anything?”
Luden did an admirable job of keeping his face blank. “My King, that is my honest assessment. I would offer no less.”
“But the meaning of the dream seems clear to me,” said King Jory. He turned to Lord Dinwill. “Tell me what you think of this, Lord Dinwill. The tooth represents a small problem in your life, a small concern of some kind, one that seems insignificant, but one that will overwhelm everything and drain your energy and resources if you don’t take care of it right away. See? Doesn’t that make sense?”
“But the tooth in my dream wasn’t draining the water,” said Lord Dinwill. He looked skeptical. “It was just the only thing left once the water had drained.”
King Jory frowned. “I’m telling you that the tooth was responsible. That’s my interpretation. You asked for an interpretation.”
“I asked Luden for an interpretation,” said Lord Dinwill.
“And he didn’t give you one,” said King Jory. “I did. And I think you would be wise to heed it.”
Everyone was quiet. Luden looked at the floor. Queen Lissola got up from her chair and pretended to peruse some of the books on the shelves that lined the walls.
“You know what?” said King Jory. “Luden, you are relieved of your dream interpretation duties. From now on, any nobles who want their dreams interpreted will consult with me first. If I need some help, I’ll let you know.”
“Yes, your Highness,” said Luden. He sounded less insulted than King Jory had expected. His delight at having his workload lessened was probably overriding any resentment he felt at having his dream interpretation abilities called into question. As soon as Luden left the room, Queen Lissola turned from the bookshelves and glared at King Jory. He could tell that she was not going to let the fact that Lord Dinwill was still in the room keep her from saying what she wanted to say.
“Why did you do that?”
“Because,” said King Jory. “I’m better at it than he is.”
“He helps me,” said Queen Lissola. “He really helps me! He’s helped me to understand so much about the way I dream! I trust him!”
“I’ll be interpreting your dreams now,” said King Jory. “Think how convenient it’ll be to have your dream interpreter in bed with you. I can interpret them for you mere seconds after you wake from them.”
Queen Lissola muttered something that King Jory couldn’t hear.
“I think I’ll head for home this afternoon,” said Lord Dinwill, shifting in his chair.
“Kind of abrupt,” said King Jory. “But do as you will. Just don’t forget to nip any small problems you have in the bud before they drain you.”
“I won’t forget,” said Lord Dinwill.
King Jory didn’t let the mood in the room get him down.
Over the next few weeks, King Jory interpreted dreams for more than a dozen lords and ladies. Less than a month before, he would have scoffed at them, but now, as he sat on his throne and listened to the strange details of his noble subjects’ dreams, King Jory began to realize how important dream interpretation was to these people. They depended on him. They were powerless to decipher the messages sent to them through their dreams, tormented by the idea that they were missing something crucial, something that would make all the difference to their futures. They needed someone to intervene, someone to translate the terrifying confusion of their dreams into words they could understand, warnings they could heed, commands they could obey, assurances on which they could rely.
In the past, King Jory had always been bored by peoples’ accounts of their dreams, but now, having taken on the responsibility of making sense of them, he was fascinated by them. He started asking his guards and servants about their dreams, eager for more opportunities to interpret. He was interested in every detail the dreamers could recall about their dreams, every element, every sensation, the more convoluted and baffling the better. The meanings of some dreams were certainly more immediately apparent than others, but he could always come up with something, even if he had to stretch a little, even if he had to improvise a little, even if he had to get a little creative. The dreamers were almost always grateful, no matter how King Jory interpreted their dreams. Even dire interpretations were better than not knowing. King Jory got the impression that Luden had often been as vague and unhelpful with everyone else as he had been with Lord Dinwill, and the dreamers seemed to appreciate King Jory’s clear, confident interpretations even if he hadn’t received any formal training in dream interpretation or spent any time studying it or shown any interest in it at all until recently. And if they didn’t appreciate it, that was too bad, because King Jory was the king and he was the only option for dream interpretation unless someone wanted to hazard a trip to one of the seers outside the palace among the common folk, which no right-minded lord or lady would ever attempt.
Lord Immins had a dream wherein his left hand got married to his right hand. The ceremony was held in an enormous cathedral and the guest list was in the thousands. Lord Immins tried to protest the marriage on the grounds that his hands were too closely related to get married, but the priest presiding over the wedding told him to shut his mouth or a wasp would build a nest in it. King Jory interpreted this dream to mean that Lord Immins should strive to be a more balanced, well-rounded person.
Lady Hunish dreamt that she was kneeling in a snowdrift at night wearing only her nightgown and gazing heavenward while a pack of hounds serenaded her. The sun showed up just for a moment to see what was going on with all the howling, the snow melted, and Lady Hunish’s nightgown was soaked, causing it to become somewhat indecent. The hounds, embarrassed, stopped their song and looked away until one of them, blushing under his fur, brought her a robe with which to cover up. Lady Hunish had a feeling the robe was made of unwashed opossum hide, but she put it on anyway. King Jory interpreted this dream to mean that Lady Hunish should refuse no well-intended assistance.
A squire named Billwayne dreamt that the world had already ended and that all he thought of as his life was actually just the fading echo of the melting planet’s final cry of despair. King Jory interpreted this dream to mean that Billwayne should rededicate himself to the core principles of squiredom.
The only thing that kept King Jory’s satisfaction from being complete was the fact that Queen Lissola would not share her dreams with him. Every morning King Jory asked Queen Lissola what she had dreamt about and every morning she told him that she hadn’t dreamed at all, or if she had, that she couldn’t remember them.
“You’re lying to me,” said King Jory one morning, sitting up in bed with his arms folded across his bare chest. Queen Lissola was lying on her back next to him with one arm over her eyes.
“You always say you don’t remember your dreams,” said Queen Lissola. “But when I say it, you assume I must be lying.”
“But it’s only since I started interpreting dreams that you can’t remember them,” said King Jory. “Kind of strange timing, isn’t it? Before, you always remembered your dreams.”
“And you never wanted to hear about them,” said Queen Lissola. “You hated hearing about them.”
“But now I want to,” said King Jory.
“That’s fine,” said Queen Lissola. “But I can’t remember them.”
“What are you afraid of?” asked King Jory. “I’m a better interpreter than Luden. Everyone thinks so.”
“Good for you,” said Queen Lissola. “But I can’t remember my dreams. I can just make something up, if you want. That would probably be more appropriate anyway.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked King Jory.
“Depends how you interpret it,” said Queen Lissola.
Two days later, King Jory got up early and went out to hunt boar in the royal forest with a small group of nobles and guards. He had intended to be out until sundown, but by noon he had already slain three huge boars and the appeal had worn off. He decided that he’d hunted enough boar for at least another couple of months. What he really wanted to do was get back to the palace to see if anyone had any dreams for him to interpret. He had asked his companions and their guards if they’d had any recent dreams that needed interpreting, but none of them had been forthcoming and King Jory had stopped pestering them.
When he got back to the palace, dusty and sweaty, King Jory strolled into the royal chambers to find Queen Lissola having a serious conversation with Luden. When Queen Lissola saw King Jory, he could tell by the guilty expression on her face that he had caught her doing something she hadn’t wanted him to know about.
“What’s going on?” asked King Jory.
“Why are you back already?” asked Queen Lissola, rising from her chair.
“I killed all the boars in the forest,” said King Jory. “What are you and Luden talking about?”
Queen Lissola said nothing.
“Luden,” said King Jory. “Tell me the truth. You cannot lie to your king. What were you talking about with the Queen?”
“The Queen asked me to interpret a dream for her, your Highness.” Luden’s beard was growing back patchy and ugly.
“And is this the first time you’ve interpreted a dream for her since I officially took over your dream interpretation duties?”
“No, your highness.”
King Jory put his hands on his hips and looked up at the ceiling. Then he looked at Queen Lissola. She did not look ashamed.
“Well, guess what,” said King Jory. “You just earned yourself a banishment, Luden. A permanent banishment. Never set foot in my kingdom again or I’ll send you to the headsman. Now go.” He pointed at the door. Luden didn’t look too broken up about his banishment as he left the royal chambers. Maybe he already had some good leads on a gig in another kingdom. Well, more power to him. The important thing was to keep him away from the Queen, who was seething.
“How could you do this to me?” asked Queen Lissola.
“I’m the only dream interpreter now,” said King Jory. “So you might as well tell me your dream. Or did you forget it?”
“I didn’t forget it,” said Queen Lissola. “But I will never tell it to you.”
That night, King Jory awoke in bed with a jerk. His body was covered in cold sweat. The room was as dark as a dungeon.
“Lissola,” he said, reaching over to shake his wife by the arm. “Lissola, wake up.”
His wife’s voice, groggy and faint, came out of the darkness. “I’m awake. What’s wrong?”
“I had a dream,” said King Jory. “I had a dream and I remember every detail.”
Queen Lissola said nothing but King Jory could tell she was listening.
“I dreamt I was here in bed. I was alone, I don’t know where you were. And then a figure appeared at the foot of the bed. The figure was glowing a brilliant white and was as tall as the ceiling. But somehow, even though the figure glowed so brightly, it didn’t illuminate the room. ‘What do you want?’ I asked. And the figure, in a voice that shook the bed, said, ‘Stop interpreting dreams.’ And I said, ‘But I’m good at it. I’m helping people.’ And the figure said, ‘You’re not good at it. You’re not helping people. Your interpretations are all wrong. You don’t have any idea what you’re doing. In many cases, you’re actually hurting people. So cut it out.”
King Jory paused. He could hear Queen Lissola breathing.
“And then what happened?” asked Queen Lissola.
“I woke up,” said King Jory. “I woke up and then I woke you up.”
“So now what?” asked Queen Lissola.
“I need to speak to Luden,” said King Jory. “I need to speak to the seer right away.”
“You banished him,” said Queen Lissola. “Remember? He’s long gone.”
King Jory groaned, struck by the enormity of his own shortsighted foolishness. “Now I’ll never know,” he said.
“You’ll never know what?” asked Queen Lissola.
“What my dream means,” said King Jory. “Oh, what could it mean?”
There was no answer. Luden was gone forever, Queen Lissola was rigid and silent, and even with his eyes wide open, all King Jory could see was the black blank of night all around. There would be no answer.