Briar Moss knew he was only dreaming, but he didn’t care. He sat in a giant oak tree, the heart of a great forest. A leather bag brimming with emeralds filled his lap, and the oak whispered the secrets of trees into his ears. He was running the gems through his fingers, admiring their color and size, when they evaporated.  The tree vanished. Now two large, unkind-looking men in black leather hustled him down a wet, dark corridor. They shoved him into an open cell and slammed the thick door behind him. It boomed so loudly that it set up a string of echoes, each as loud as the first.           

He opened his eyes. He was in the back of a wagon, tucked among an assortment of parcels and covered against the day’s cold drizzle by an oiled canvas sheet. Something boomed repeatedly, like the cell door in his dream.       

He thrust up the canvas to glare at the rider who kicked the wagon with such determination. “Leave off, Sandry!” he growled. “I was having the best dream ever and you woke me!”

Lady Sandrilene fa Toren, a girl of Briar’s age, shrugged. The movement sent droplets rolling from her waterproof cloak and broad-brimmed hat. “Sorry.” There was a trace of sorrow in her bright blue eyes.        

“What’s so important it couldn’t wait, then?” Briar demanded. There was no use scolding her. Hard words rolled off Sandry the way rain poured off her cloak.        

“I’ve been thinking,” she said firmly. “Tris has a birthday—Daja has a birthday.” She had named the other girls who lived with her and Briar. “I have one. That leaves you.”      

“You woke me to talk about birthdays?” he yelped.           

“You said you don’t remember yours—"          

“I don’t!”         

“So pick one,” Sandry ordered him. “It’s not right, you having no birthday.”           

“I don’t need one. What I need is sleep! Summer’s coming, and that means weeding. I got to rest whilst I can, and  you ain’t helping.”          

She sighed sharply. Her pony looked at Briar with reproach in his eye, as though it were Briar’s fault that Sandry bounced impatiently in the saddle. “Tell me you’ll think about it, or I’ll keep bothering you,” the girl insisted.           

She would, too. Sandry’s determination awed Briar, though he would die rather than tell her that.           

“I’ll think about it,” he said wearily. “Can I sleep now?”  

"Why? We’re almost to the Mire. I’ll see you at home tonight.” She clucked to her pony and trotted down the road.