Every night, Helen Harte dreams of a lion.
She dreams of other things too, the simple mundane dreams everyone has — dreams of flying, dreams of falling, dreams of turning up in school wearing no clothes — but the lion dream comes to her every night. A giant golden lion with eyes so dark and deep, eyes that are all-knowing, eyes that see into her soul.
Helen wakes up every morning, and she thinks of the lion all day long, and almost thinks she can feel the soft fur under her fingertips.
Helen's favorite game is to play at being a princess. She tells her older sister and mother and father to call her Princess Elayn. Her sister laughs and teases her, and mockingly calls Helen "your highness."
But her parents remembers the terrible illness that almost took their youngest daughter's life, and how grateful they were when Helen woke from her fever, and they think a little indulgence can't hurt.
Helen is always the princess of her family.
Helen wakes some mornings with images in her head so real she thinks they must be memories. But she has never walked through a castle with gleaming white walls, never rode on the back of a talking horse, never stood on a balcony that overlooked the sea, never played with an older brother in front of a throne.
Helen doesn't have an older brother. She wonders why when she wakes, she feels like one has been missing her whole life.
When Helen gets older, she stops playing at being Princess Elayn. But the dreams don't stop, not the dreams of the lion, nor the dreams of the castle and the sea and the older brother.
Sometimes Helen wonders if she is a little mad, like her sister Alberta often says. "That fever turned your brain," Alberta hisses when their parents can't hear, when Helen asks if Alberta can't hear the wind talking as it whistles through the trees, or when Alberta catches her talking to the bunny that lives behind their barn.
Helen goes outside on summer nights, lies on her back on the soft grass of the hillside, and stares up at the sky. She remembers staring up at different stars, and her older brother pointing each constellation out. "That's the Leopard, Elayn." His voice echoes in her ears, and she thinks she'd know it, know him, if she heard that voice in this place.
Helen never forgets being Princess Elayn, but she grows up, and the memories become harder to recall. Sometimes she's convinced it was all a dream, just something she made up — after all, she's always had a vivid imagination. But then she dreams of the lion, and even though she only has fleeting images when she wakes, she knows that somehow, it was real.
Helen marries Graham Pevensie when she leaves school, and they go live in London, where Graham has found a job. Within a year, she is a mother for the first time, and the other children follow soon after. Four beautiful children, two boys and two girls, and they are the delight of her life. Helen is too busy to think of Princess Elayn and her older brother and their castle by the sea, and she can't remember the last time she dreamed of the lion.
But at night, when all is quiet, she watches her children sleep, and wonders if they have dreams of people and places they don't remember.
When the Blitz comes, Helen has to make the decision to keep her children safe. So she packs them up and sends them off to the countryside, and her heart breaks as she stands at the station and waves goodbye when their train pulls away.
That night, when she finally falls into a restless sleep, Helen dreams of the lion for the first time in years. And for the first time, he speaks to her in her dream, and when she wakes, she can still hear his "thank you" echoing in her ears.
Helen dreams of the lion every night her children are gone, and her overwhelming worry is replaced by a calm acceptance. She knows the lion will keep her children safe until they are returned to her.