So many questions. Kira considered whether to tell him how restlessly she had slept and decided against it. She glanced at the bed to see if the bed coverings would reveal her tossing and noticed for the first time that someone, probably the tender who brought and took away the food, had smoothed everything so that there was no sign that the bed had been used at all.
"Yes," she told Jamison. "Thank you. And I met Thomas the Carver. He ate his lunch with me. It was nice to have someone to talk to.
"And the tender explained things I needed to know," she added. "I thought the hot water was for cooking. I never used hot water just for washing before."
He wasn't paying attention to her embarrassed explanation about the bathroom. He was looking carefully at the robe, sliding his hand across the fabric. "Your mother made minor repairs each year. But now it must all be restored. This is your job."
Kira nodded. "I understand," she said, though she didn't, not really.
"This is the entire story of our world. We must keep it intact. More than intact." She saw that his hand had moved and was stroking the wide unadorned section of fabric, the section of the cloth that fell across the Singer's shoulders. "The future will be told here," he said. "Our world depends upon the telling.
"Your supplies? They are adequate? There is much to be done here."
Supplies? Kira remembered that she had brought a basket of her own threads. Looking now at the magnificent robe, she knew that her sparse collection, a few leftover colored threads that her mother had allowed her to use for her own, was not adequate at all. Even if she had the skill — and she was not at all certain that she did — she could never restore the robe with what she had brought. Then she remembered the drawers that she had not yet opened.
"I haven't looked yet," she confessed. She went to the shallow drawers that he had pointed out to her yesterday. They were filled with rolled white threads in many different widths and textures. There were needles of all sizes and cutting tools laid neatly in a row.
Kira's heart sank. She had hoped that perhaps the threads would already be dyed. Glancing back at the robe on the table, at its wide array of hues, she felt overwhelmed. If only her mother's threads had been saved! But they were gone, all burned.
She bit her lip and looked nervously at Jamison. "They're not colored," she murmured.
"You said your mother had been teaching you to dye," he reminded her.
Kira nodded. She had implied that, but it had not been completely true. Her mother had planned to teach her. "I still have much to learn," she confessed. "I learn quickly," she added, hoping that it didn't sound vain.
Jamison looked at her with a slight frown. "I will send you to Annabella," he told her. "She is far in the woods, but the path is safe, and she can finish the teaching that your mother started.
"The Ruin Song is not until autumn-start," he pointed out. "That's still several months away. The Singer won't need the robe until then. You'll have plenty of time."
Kira nodded uncertainly. Jamison had been her defender. Now it seemed he was her adviser. Kira was grateful for his help. Still, she sensed an edge, an urgency, to his voice that had not been there before.
When he left her room, after pointing out a cord on the wall that she could pull if she needed anything, Kira looked again at the robe displayed on the table. So many colors! So many shades of each color! Despite his reassurance, autumn-start was not that far away.
Today, Kira decided, she would examine the robe and plan. Tomorrow, first thing, she would find Annabella and plead for help.
Matt wanted to come.
"You be needing me and Branch for protectors," he said. "Them woods is full of fierce creatures."
Kira laughed. "Protectors? You?"
"Me and Branchie, us is tough," Matt said. He flexed what passed for muscles in his scrawny arms. "I only look wee."
"Jamison said it was safe as long as we stay on the path," Kira reminded the boy. Secretly, she thought it would be fun to have both of them, boy and dog, for company.
"But suppose you was to get lost," Matt said. "Me and Branch can find our way out of anywheres. You be needing us for certain iffen you get lost."
"But I'll be gone all day. You'll get hungry."
Triumphantly Matt pulled a thick wad of bread from the voluminous pocket of his baggy shorts. "Filched this crustie from the baker," he announced with pride.
So the boy won, to Kira's delight, and she had company for the journey into the forest.
It was about an hour's walk. Jamison was correct; there seemed to be no danger. Although thick trees shaded the path and they could hear rustling in the undergrowth and unfamiliar cries of strange forest birds, nothing seemed threatening. Now and then Branch chased a small rodent or nosed about an opening in the earth, frightening whatever small animal made its home there.
"Probably there be snakies all in here," Matt told her with a mischievous smile.
"I'm not afraid of snakes."
"Most girls be."
"Not me. There were always small snakes in my mother's garden. She said they were friends to the plants. They ate bugs."
"Like Branchie. Look, he catched him one now." Matt pointed. His dog had pounced upon an unlucky creature with long thin legs. "That be called a daddy longlegs."
"Daddy longlegs?" Kira laughed. She'd not heard the name before. "Do you have a father?" she asked the boy curiously.
"Nah. Did onct. But now, me mum is all I got."
"What happened to your father?"
He shrugged. "Dunno.
"In the Fen," he added, "things is different. Many gots no pa. And them that gots them, they be scairt of them, 'cause they hit something horrid.
"Me mum hits too," he added, with a sigh.
"I had a father. He was a fine hunter," Kira told him proudly. "Even Jamison said so. But my father was taken by beasts," she explained.
"Aye, I heared that." She could see that Matt was trying to look sad for her benefit, but it was difficult for a boy whose temperament was so merry. Already he was pointing at a butterfly, gleeful at the bright spotted orange of its wings in the dim forest light.
"See this? You brought it with my mother's things, remember?" She lifted the rock pendant from the neck of her shift.
Matt nodded. "It be all purply. And shiny-like."
Kira dropped it back gently inside her clothing. "My father made it as a gift for my mother."
Matt wrinkled his face, thinking that over. "Gift?" he asked.
Kira was startled that he didn't understand. "When you care about someone and give them something special. Something that they treasure. That's a gift."
Matt laughed. "In the Fen, they don't have that," he said. "In the Fen, iffen they give you something special, it be a kick in your buttie.
"But that's a pretty thing you got," he added politely. "You be lucky I saved it."
It was a long journey for Kira, dragging her twisted leg. Her stick caught at roots knotted under the earth of the path, and she stumbled from time to time. But she was accustomed to the awkwardness and the ache. They had always been with her.
Matt had run ahead with Branch, and they returned to her, excited, announcing that the destination was just around the next curve.
"A wee cott it is!" he called. "And there's the crone outside in the garden, with her crookedy hands full of rainbow!"
Kira hurried along, rounded the curve, and understood what he meant. In front of the tiny hut, a bent and white-haired old woman was working near a lush flower garden. She leaned toward a basket on the ground, lifted handfuls of bright-colored yarns — yellow of various shades, from the palest lemon to a deep tawny gold — and hung them across a rope that was strung from one tree to another. Deeper shades of rust and red were already hanging there.
The woman's hands were gnarled and stained. She lifted one in greeting. She had few teeth and her skin was folded into wrinkles, but her eyes were unclouded. She walked nearer to them, gripping a cane made of wood and seeming unsurprised by the sudden visitors. She peered intently at Kira's face. "You liken your mum," she said.
"You know who I am?" Kira asked, puzzled. The old woman nodded.
"My mother has died."
"Aye. I knowed it."
How? How did you know? But Kira didn't ask.
"I'm called Kira. This is my friend. His name is Matt."
Matt stepped forward, suddenly a little shy. "I brung my own crustie," he said. "Me and my doggie, we be no trouble to you."
"Sit," the woman named Annabella said to Kira, ignoring Matt and Branch, who was busily sniffing the garden, looking for the right place to lift his stubby leg. "Doubtless you be weary and pained." She gestured toward a low flattened tree stump, and Kira sank down gratefully, rubbing her aching leg. She unlaced her sandals and emptied them of pebbles.
"You must learn the dyes," the old woman said. "You come for that, aye? Your mum did, and she was to teach you."
"There wasn't time." Kira sighed. "And now they want me to know it all, and do the work — the repairing of the Singer's Robe? You know about that?"
Annabella nodded. She returned to the drying-rope and finished hanging the yellow strands. "I can give you some threads," she said, "to start the repair. But you must learn the dyes. There are other things they'll want of you."
Kira thought again of the untouched expanse across the back and shoulders of the robe. It was what they would want of her, to fill that space with future.
"You must come here each day. You must learn all the plants. Look —" The woman gestured at the garden plot, thick with thriving plants, many in summer-start bloom.
"Bedstraw," she said, pointing to a tall plant massed with golden blossoms. "The roots give good red. Madder's better for reds, though. There's my madder over behind." She pointed again, and Kira saw a sprawling, weedy plant in a raised bed. "Tis the wrong time to take the madder roots now. Fallstart's better, when it lies dormant."
Bedstraw. Madder. I must remember these. I must know these.
"Dyer's greenweed," the woman announced, poking with her cane at a shrub with small flowers. "Use the shoots for a fine yellow. Don't move it, though, lessen you must. Greenweed don't want to transplant."
Greenweed. For yellow.
Kira followed the woman as she rounded a corner of the garden. Annabella stopped and poked at a clumped plant with stiff stems and small oval leaves. "Here's a tough fellow," she said, almost affectionately. "Saint Johnswort, he's called. No blooms yet; it's too early for him. But when he blooms, you can get a lovely brown from his blossoms. Stain your hands though." She held her own up and cackled with laughter.
Then: "You'll be needing greens. Chamomile can give you that. Water it good. But take just the leaves for your green color. Save the blossoms for tea."
Kira's head was already spinning with the effort to remember the names of the plants and the colors they would create, and only a small corner of the lavish garden had been described. Now at the sound of the word water and also tea she realized that she was thirsty.