The Volunteer

      "What is 'women's day' in the kitchen?" asked Jane of Mother Dimble.
      "There are no servants here," said Mother Dimble, "and we all do the work. The women do it one day and the men the next. What? No, it's a very sensible arrangement. The Director's idea is that men and women can't do housework together without quarreling. There's something in it. Of course, it doesn't do to look at the cups too closely on the men's day, but on the whole we get along pretty well."

      "If you mean they have fleas," said Ivy, "you know as well as anyone that they have no such thing." She had reason on her side, for it was Macphee himself who put on overalls once a month and solemnly lathered Mr. Bultitude front rump to snout in the wash-house and poured buckets of tepid water over him, and finally dried him - a day's work in which he allowed no one to assist him.

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

It was women's day in the kitchen. (They had kept the previous Director's old custom.) At the moment, Jane was alone there, washing dishes. The window over the sink gave an excellent view of the vegetable garden. It was men's day in the garden, and Jane entertained herself by watching MacPhee teach Mark how to wash bears. MacPhee was working away on Mr. Bultitude and Mark on Mrs. Bultitude. Neither Mark nor Bultitude's new bride were used to the procedure, though both had been through it a few times.

She was distracted by the sound of quick footsteps over the kitchen's old stone floor. It was Camilla. "Jane, I need your advice."

Jane blinked, surprised. Ever since she had met Camilla and the company of Logres, she had been getting advice, it seemed, never giving it. Advice she badly needed, certainly, but that made her feel all the less prepared to give any. "Of course," she answered, "if I can offer any. About what?"


Jane smiled. "If you like. But I'm no expert on dreams. I just got them."

"No longer?" Camilla's voice held a note of worry.

"Oh, I dream as anyone might. And, after our ... recent adventure, I've become good at remembering them. But what's your dream?"

"I've had it four times, now. Maybe five. I'm riding a horse in a big stone courtyard. I'm in some kind of uniform. Arthur is riding with me. We're riding in front of a crowd of people. They're all dressed differently, and they come in all ages, but they're in neat, quiet lines, like troops on parade. They all stare at me, and some are smiling. And you are there, in the front line. I think other people I know are also in the crowd, but I'm sure about you. And then I say, "I need a volunteer for some intelligence work." And then I wake up."

Jane stood very still for several seconds, then put down the dish she was holding and sat on a nearby kitchen chair. "Well. As it happens, I can tell you some things about your dream:

"The uniform you wear is navy blue. It includes jodhpurs, a short cape, an officer's hat, and a cavalry sabre. The cape and the hat have little red, heraldic dragons on them. Arthur is wearing something similar, without the dragons. He carries a clipboard. You ride a grey horse; his is brown. He rides a little behind you. Mark is standing on one side of me and Mother Dimble on the other. I think the others are about. Last night, you dreamed this about 4.30 in the morning."

There was another short silence. Then: "I– I didn't know about the embroidered dragons–"

"You wouldn't be able to see them while wearing the uniform."

"–but the rest of it is spot-on. I even remember Mother Dimble now. What do you think it means?"

Jane smiled. "You don't really need me to play Joseph to your Pharaoh for this. I'm being invited to resume being a seer for Logres."

Camilla nodded. "That was my first thought. Then I wondered if it was just my wish for some clairvoyant help. I do feel so inadequate. The Director always seemed so confident! But I'm no veteran of heavenly wars; angels don't come advising me."

Jane nodded. "I understand." Indeed, she and Mark had been reinventing themselves ever since the day of Ransom's departure and Camilla's accession to the chair of the Pendragon. She could sympathize with Camilla very readily. "But the fact that I've dreamed this with you, five times, from my own perspective, shows there's more than just your own wishes behind the dream."

"But I thought the Director said you were to have no more visions."

"Was it in his power to blot them out or foresee that they would never return?"

Camilla shook her head. "He could do some remarkable things–" She looked out at the two tame bears in the garden. "–but not things like that." She looked back at Jane. "On the other hand, it does sound like the visions won't be inflicted on you, without your will."

"You mean, they could be voluntary now?"

Camilla shrugged. "I did ask for a volunteer. In the dream."

"And in waking?"

Camilla stood silently. Slowly, her face took on an expression of determination mixed with caution – a resolve to act, but carefully, correctly. Jane knew she would see that expression many times in the future. "I know the visions were horrible, frightening. I would not ask you to go back to that just to relieve my insecurity. But if you can– and if you will – it will be an enormous advantage to Logres. And I think, from what the Director said, that you will be protected, now. Though I'm not sure in what ways."

Jane nodded again. "I've thought about this myself. Asked myself if I missed the visions. After all, it was exciting, too, and not all the visions were awful. I've ask myself if I missed them from vanity, wanting to feel important." She smiled. "But maybe I don't need to worry about my feelings and motives. I'm being asked to help. I accept."

The determination did not pass from Camilla's face, but the caution faded away, replaced by satisfaction. "Thank you! Not that I have any great mysteries for you to pry into. There's plenty to do – What about Curry's efforts to restore Bracton College and the Wood? What's Hell planning for Britain now that the N.I.C.E. is gone? What about those other national companies we've heard hints about? What do we do with all these animals, in Heaven's name? – but they don't seem like things we should just refer to an oracle."

"No. I'm sure you shouldn't use me as a fortune-teller, to make your decisions for you. The Pendragon must make her own choices. I'll just–" She broke off and laughed.

"What is it?"

"That bloodthirsty old man! Wherever he is, I hope he learns of this! You're the Pendragon, you inherit Dr. Ransom's place. And I– I've just volunteered to be your court wizard! Merlin wanted to cut my head off, and now I take his place! Someone, somewhere, has a sense of humor."

Camilla chuckled too, all the stern responsibility washed from her face. "A good beginning," she said. "Thank you." She walked out of the kitchen.

Jane sighed, still smiling, and stood again. She must have closed her eyes for a fraction of a second. When she opened them, all was changed. She still stood in the kitchen, and not a particle had moved, but it was all flooded with light. The pile of vegetables on the counter glowed with color, every curve of root and leaf a wonder of design. Each bubble in the sink was a pearl of rainbows. Even the stones of the floor were compact masses of tiny gems. Light streamed through the window. It was not sunlight; it was too white, too brilliant, and at quite the wrong angle. And, despite the brilliance, it did not dazzle her eyes. She knew that, if she looked out that window, she would not see her husband washing a bear. She could look or not. It was voluntary. From now on, it would always be voluntary, her own choice.

She stepped to the window.

Pendragon LXXX

The Seer of Britain

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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010