1 January 2009 and yesterday I promised to pledge to my beautiful Maria, who has been my partner for 23 years. Today, in the cold hard light of day, there is doubt in my heart. I dreamt of another woman last night, and her face was not framed by dark curls and bejewelled with light brown eyes.
She was dressed in a burgundy dress that I bought her in Paris in the 1810s. Her rich ginger hair was tied up elaborately and she looked into the world with defiant grey eyes. In my dream she was dancing through the Hall to music only she could hear, joy on face and magic in her movements. My eyes feasted on her lovely figure, her wide hips, her narrow waist. The dress showed little flesh, but suggested so much. I longed to have her. I went towards her, but she danced away, a radiant smile on her spirited face. I chased her, but was never able to capture her. She kept dancing away from me. She suddenly stopped at the drawing room window, her gaze fixed into the distance. I approached her quietly, afraid to frighten her away again. I stood next to her in silence and she looked at me with those beautiful grey eyes, so deep and so clear that I could see myself reflected in them. She smiled and her lips looked so soft and tempting. When I finally kissed her my soul sighed as my lips met hers.
I woke with my heart pounding in my chest. I looked at Maria next to me, but she was still asleep and unaware of my turmoil. Why had I dreamt of her, who I had not thought of consciously for a long time? Yet now, when I should be the happiest man alive, she had come into my dreams to steal my happiness. The longing I had felt for her in my dream belonged to a far distant past that I thought I had left behind. An edge of that longing still remained and left me feeling restless. I slipped out of bed. I needed to see her to make sure that it had been her in my dreams, though I knew very well that it was. I needed to know how accurate my memories still were.
I crept down the stairs. They creaked beneath my feet, complaining that it was the middle of the night. I knew this house like the back of my hand and I navigated the corridor in darkness until I got where I wanted to be, in the hallway that lead to my study. I turned on the light and there she was, astride a sleek brown horse in a grey riding coat that hid the breeches she had worn underneath. The painting had been there for almost two hundred years, but I could still remember how impatient Dusk had been, a horse made for running, not for standing still. It had taken her rider all of her skills to keep her from bolting. I looked at the rider’s face. The artist had done a remarkable job catching her likeness. I remember thinking that at the time. Even that glint in her eye underneath her feathered hat was all her. But then, the painter had known her quite well.
I leant against the opposite wall, staring at it for what seemed like hours, but were merely minutes, or even seconds.
“Dyran,” I whispered to her image, “Why the hell did you disturb my peace.”
The image did not answer and just went on looking at me in that mysterious way that she did, that only she did. I continued to my study and poured myself a good measure of whiskey. I let the single malt slide down down my throat and as usual it had a calming effect. My eyes went to the large painting of a hunting scene and I hesitated only for a moment. I removed it from the wall, revealing the large safe hidden behind it. Only I had the code. I was not even sure whether Maria knew it was there.
In the safe there were piles of papers to do with my duties as Elder, but next to that, on their sides, was a stack of framed paintings, carefully protected in cloth covers. I very gently pulled at a cloth cover that read ‘Four Friends’. It came out easier that I expected and once out I removed the cover and stood the painting on the floor against one of the walls. I had almost forgotten about the painting. Now I saw it again I remembered how much I had loved it when it was finished, though I had removed it from its prominent place in the staircase when the memories it evoked became to bitter.
There were four people in the picture; Dyran, myself and two Southern European men; Carlos and Daniel. Carlos sat astride his grey Iberian mare, Bruma, Daniel was leaning against her silver flank, hands in his pockets, a characteristically lazy smile on his handsome face. Dyran held Bruma’s bridle, her hand resting on the mare’s nose, while I stood next and slightly behind her. It was a most unusual painting for that time period, rather informal, but I had always been fond of it. It looked natural, the subjects looked relaxed. It was a snapshot of a moment in time. All had been well in the world, well, almost.
Once again my eyes drifted to Dyran and my heart skipped a beat when I realised she was wearing that dress The dark red dress that she had worn in my dream, the one I had made for her in Paris. Why had I not remembered that she had worn it for the painting, the day after the ball? I was reminded how careful she had been to keep it clean, how daintily she had avoided the puddles that had remained from the previous night’s rain. It worried me how much detail I could recollect from my dream, even the feel of the fabric seemed to linger on my fingers. That feeling of longing returned as I had studied her painted face. I grabbed the cloth cover and after meticulously covering the painting put it away in the safe. I locked the safe and picked up the large painting that had hid it.
I cursed myself silently as I rehung the hunting scene. How could a painting have such an effect on me? But I knew it was my memories of her, not her image, that had awakened that most masculine of feelings within me.
I drank the last of my whiskey and went back upstairs and into our bedroom. Maria was still asleep. I study her in the dark; I could make out her dark curls spread out on her pillow around her beautiful face. She was an amazing woman. I slipped back in bed, but lay facing the window, my back to my betrothed. For a time I stared at the windows, the soft moonlight filtering through the curtains, but I finally drifted off into a deep dreamless sleep.
Now I stand staring out of the drawing room window on the spot where I finally captured her in my dream, looking out over the rolling hills of the Downs. I still feel uneasy, the dream too clear in my mind. Dyran? Why now? I know the answer in my heart. I promised Maria yesterday that we would pledge in a year’s time and now the romance of the night had evaporated I am suddenly second guessing my decision and my subconscious had thrown up the only other woman I have ever loved.
The cold landscape before me touches my soul. The pale sky and watery sunshine barely manages to brighten the day, but there is something so pure and beautiful about it. Ethereal is the word I suppose. The silence is a blessing. It is why I love being here. In the years I spend away from the Hall I miss it terribly. It is my home.
Heels tick on the wooden floors behind me and I suppress the annoyance I feel at the invasion of my precious silence.
Her arms wrap around my waist as her body presses against my back. I close my eyes and for a moment I imagine she is someone else, but I refuse to indulge the fantasy. Maria’s familiar perfume reaches my senses and I take it in, reminding me that I love her.
“You look like you’re dreaming,” her lullaby voice sounds softly by my ear.
I smile at the irony and mutter dryly: “Not anymore…”
I turn to her. Her bright hazel eyes look at me warmly, her red lips form that beautiful smile that I love so much. Yet, in the back of my mind I see a different face from a different time, whether I want to or not.