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Do the Gods Weep as Well?

Do the Gods Weep as Well?

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Do the Gods Weep as Well?

Länge:
716 Seiten
9 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jan 29, 2001
ISBN:
9781469717296
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

In a world long ago ravaged by the fires of war, a new empire has been forged. Rising from the ashes of what once was, it serves to enfold the last vestiges of humanity. Now, however, its reigning sovereign declares that all who do not share in his own understanding of faith are to convert, or be put to the stake. From the chaos that ensues, two arise who strike back at their oppressors, and set into motion the wheels of prophecy. Two young women, sisters separated at an early age, raised within the wild as a part of nature herself, find themselves caught in extraordinary circumstances, and drawn ever closer within the web of fate. Together they shall give back to the land its freedom, and its soul.
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jan 29, 2001
ISBN:
9781469717296
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

J. David Watson has authored several metaphysical booklets. This, however, is his first work of fiction - "A story that needed to be told" which has taken over 10 years to complete. He currently resides in California aboard his sailboat with his wife, Kellia, and a hyperactive kitten named Zoey.

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Do the Gods Weep as Well? - J. David Watson

Well?

All Rights Reserved © 1997, 2001 by J. D. Watson

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the publisher.

Writers Club Press

an imprint of iUniverse.com, Inc.

For information address:

iUniverse.com, Inc.

5220 S 16th, Ste. 200

Lincoln, NE 68512

www.iuniverse.com

Cover art by J. David Watson

ISBN: 0-595-16979-1

ISBN: 978-1-4697-1729-6 (eBook)

Printed in the United States of America

For my parents, whose love, patience, understanding and support made possible this work, and for Stan and Phyllis, who gave me the proverbial kick in the pants I so desperately needed. Many blessings!

Contents

Epigraph

Introduction

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

About the Author

Epigraph

We gaze up at the same stars, the universe encompasses us all, what does it matter, therefore, what practical system we adopt in our search for the truth? Not by one avenue only may we arrive at so tremendous a secret.—Symmachus

Introduction

And so it was, in the times of old, that the elves did leave the realm of man for the nether regions. Yet they knew always that one day they would return, for again man would have need of them and of their lore. And it shall be a time of great joy and of great sorrow, of battle and of peace, of courage and of cowardice, of famine and of plenty.

And in the heavens above, the night shall bring terror no longer, and the day shall bring sanctity nevermore. Yet this, too, has method. This, too, has meaning, which the Gods shall make known unto the ears and minds of those who dwelled beneath the stormy skies.

The moon will become as the sun, and the sun the moon, and in the end shall they be joined as one, and the world shall know darkness no longer, for Dark and Light shall become as one, as it was from the Dawning. Though once separated, they shall join again to give back to the land what has been taken at the hands of men who follow a dead king.

Astride a lame horse shall come the one of Light, following pathways in the night told unto her from the lips of the Dead, with clothing torn and silver hair askew, like some nightmare hag haunting the land. War shall come unto those who care for her and death shall follow in her footfalls, yet hers is the way of the Protectress and from her lips shall come peace.

Floating above the heads of men shall come the one of Dark, following pathways in the day told unto her from the land itself, with raiment of the animals of the land and a name befitting Death itself, her milk-white eyes aged far beyond the years of her body. War shall come from those in her care and death shall precede her, for hers is the way of the Warrioress and from her blade shall flow the blood of many to wash clean the corrupted land.

Like a great storm shall their glory manifest, striking at the land and giving it back the breath of life. One the hammer, the other the anvil, and their smith craft shall forge an everlasting peace, and the land shall rejoice and remain within this peace forevermore until time itself ceases to turn the great wheel of the heavens, and the world crumbles to dust at last.

Chapter One

Ahe year had at last drawn to a close with the first snowfalls upon the barren kingdom of Shaelir. With their cooling, cleansing peacefulness came the knowledge that, at last, the wrath humanity had exerted upon itself and nature some three hundred years ago had, with this year, come to an end.

Fewer than eighty-five thousand people remained alive in the known lands, and through the helpfulness of the elves who had left their secure subterranean dwellings some fifty years since, had learned to live and flourish among the charred wastelands.

With the elves came their magick, and through the use of such, life began to emerge anew. This eventually transformed the once desolate surface world into a world capable of sustaining growth. Trees began to grow and blossom; flowers, vegetables and other plants started to appear, and with them emerged the survivors of the animal realm—several mutated into entirely new beings due to the areas that still remained highly unstable.

The elves welcomed the humans as brethren even though their races and beliefs differed, and tolerated them with their Christ and accepting their one God among their own Gods and Goddesses.

New cities began to form, structured from the ashen remains of what once was. Every citizen thrived within their walls as each had purpose—whether as simple as tending to the animals or as complex as organizing the societies within the cities.

Among the seven cities that emerged, Shaelir was the largest and most respected. It stood out among the others as a shining paradise—a city of cities. Almost half of the existing population of the Isles dwelled within its lands and the laws that governed all of the kingdoms emanated from its ruler.

Now, as the snows fell, the people rejoiced. Long had it been that the sun did not dry up the crops and threaten the lives of all. Though the snows fell late in the year, they were heartily welcomed.

The Midwinter festivals were in full commencement as the moon shone through the patchwork of clouds above a rocky outcropping whereupon stood the castle of Shaelir. Within the castle, a man walked about his room, agitation emphasizing every step. He would stop every now and again to look out upon the people in the courtyards below—most that he spied were engaged in some sort of drunken revelry. Still others sought the alcoves for more physical pleasures. This was their celebration under the eyes of their Gods and Goddesses—enjoyment of the life that was given them and of the death and rebirth of the land.

I do not like this! Look at the way they lust after one another! There should be a law against such blatant display…and in front of children!

Should you make such a law, surely would it be broken, my husband. They are enjoying themselves. These past years have been hard on us all, and these people are celebrating life. Surely no harm can come of it! They merely want their Gods to know that they want only peace and give themselves over to their most basic selves—

Ah, but they should not! They follow not the teachings of Christ and commit acts of sin under His own eyes! The harshness of King Damius’ voice echoed throughout the room.

Still lying on the bed that stretched about the center of the vast, ornate room, the drowsy form of a woman beneath richly embroidered blankets stirred and said to the man in a voice meant to be comforting, Come to bed, my dear. You’ve slept not a wink since the festivities began. All will be made well come morning—

I cannot sleep whilst my subjects dwell in sin amongst the belligerent acts of Pagan worship! The elves who brought these fiendish methods and their evil Gods should be driven from the very face of this earth, to burn in the fires of hell with the rest of their demon-folk!

If you take away the elves, what then, my lord? They showed us all that indeed we can survive in this world. Is it such a thing of evil to return the kindness they have given us when so many of us, and them, have died to bring about life and peace in this land? Would you rather continue to dwell in the barren world as did your father before you were even born?

Damius crossed the room in several quick strides and slapped the woman across the cheek. Silence that blasphemous tongue, Serina, lest I banish you as well! Mark my words, wife: I shall one day see to the destruction of the ways of these heathens within this land, so that it remains pure under the sanctity of God and His holy Son! Serina rubbed at the spot where Damius had struck her and blinked away the tears as he continued. I shall not be betrayed by my own people! It is I and I alone who decides the fate of my kingdom, and I rule strongly over all other lands! Christ shall be able to set foot upon His earth without soiling His feet in the dung of satanic brainwashing!

How do you dare! Serina hissed. How do you dare to speak about the ways of my people in this manner? I, too, was brought up to worship the Goddess, yet you seem to allow me, in all your gracious dignity, to dwell beneath your roof! You seem quite content in making love with your so-called ‘demon worshipper’! Or do you think me a succubus, luring you into my grasp whilst I have you under my power—

Damius angrily swept his arm across the small table alongside the bed, chaotically scattering its contents and sending a small, brass candleholder smashing into Serina’s skull, splitting her temple and sending her reeling. Seeing her collapse, he raced to the bedside and pressed a cloth to her wound. Ah, my Serina, my queen, I meant not to strike you so.

As you have said before, and as you shall say again, Serina whispered.

You still cannot find it in your heart to love me? He asked gently. Serina remained silent. Sighing heavily, he continued, One day…one day you shall be with me at the bosom of Christ. This I shall see to. Forget your ways, my love. They are not the right path for you—

Serina grasped Damius’ wrist and threw it from her as though it were something vile. Forget my ways? Never! Shakily she stood and glared at the astonished king before her. For all the years I remain in this life, never shall I relinquish my faith for Luuna—

Do not say that! There is but one God and He shall—

Do not speak to me of your one true God and your one-andonly way! Ah, Goddess, why did I not answer Your call to dwell as a priestess—

You shall not blaspheme in my house!

Then I shall leave!

You cannot leave, you are queen—and my wife! I say you stay!

Oh, do you? You expect me to obey your commands unfailingly like one of your man-soldiers obeying his troop leader? Ha! Never! I shall come and go as I choose! I, too, have a mind with which to think and reason!

Enraged, Damius threw her down to the floor and held her arms tightly, bruises immediately surfacing upon Serina’s tender flesh. She cried out with pain and struggled to break his ferocious grasp, but to no avail.

Damn you, woman! I am your king and you are subject to my govern! It is I who decides your fate! I could order you killed had I a wish to do so! This excitement quickly became a lustful vengeance. In a fury, he tore Serina’s garments from her and brutally massaged her breasts, his kisses bruising her mouth. Too weak with the struggle, Serina had no choice but to let him do as he willed.

Besides, she thought amid the flood of agony, who would believe that the king had raped his own wife? Who would care even did they believe? It would not be the first time either…nor, undoubtedly, the last—

Intense pain raced through her as Damius forcefully penetrated her. She let out a cry of pain, but this seemed to drive him on even further. The pain was so severe that she wanted to scream…but she shook her head and choked back the tears.

No, thought Serina, never again will I show weakness to this animal that I was forced to marry. I am stronger than he…in mind and in spirit. He cannot take these from me…

* * *

During the next three nights, Damius had locked Serina in her chambers and posted a guard at the door, giving orders that no one but he should enter and no one but he should leave. He forced himself upon Serina when he chose, saying that he would show her who commanded this realm, not to be taken aback by a mere woman.

At nights, when Damius had finally gone to his bed, Serina would lie awake, weeping softly to herself and praying for the Goddess to take her life. Once, when Damius entered the room, he found her holding a shard of glass from a broken mirror at her wrist. Again he beat her and had the room emptied of all except her gowns and the linen upon the bed.

She was granted access to the priests, whom she utterly ignored, turning away from their prattling and staring out of her window toward the solitude of the sea. Once, during such a visit, she threatened that if the priest did not leave her be, she would introduce him to his God by wringing his head from his shoulders. Upon learning of this, Damius beat her yet again, saying, He is a man of God! You shall never speak such words to him nor ever lay hands upon him, you heathenous bitch!

That evening, Queen Serina readied a simple riding gown and winter cloak for her morning clothing. When one of the priests came in with her food, she took the tray from him with mock gratitude and suddenly hurled the tray and its contents with all of her might at his head. The priest tried to dodge the unexpected attack, but found himself pinned between the wall and the semi-open door. The tray slammed against his forehead and he fell to the floor unconscious, leaving the clattering of the tray to echo throughout the room and the hall. Serina hoped against hope that the noise would not bring any inquiring guardsmen as she proceeded to bind and gag the priest with some of her own clothing, stuff him into the adjoining boudoir and conceal the evidence of the struggle. When a guard did appear at the door, she composed herself as best she could and met his gaze with one of an embarrassed grin.

My lady, what was that noise? Are you all right?

I do apologize, I just dropped the tray that Father Thelmis had brought me.

Has he left yet?

Why, yes. Did you not see him? He was heading back toward the kitchens to fetch me some of the honeyed wine—

My lady, forgive my interruption, but why do you have your riding clothing laid out so?

Serina bit her lip. He’s becoming suspicious, she thought. What can I say? I am no good at lying, but I must say something…Oh, just a fantasy daydream to break the monotony. A dream of riding off into the countryside on a moonlit night, she blurted out. Though this dream will come true before the night is out!

The guard seemed to be satisfied with the answer and excused himself from the room. Once she was again alone, Serina withdrew an herbal sachet that she had composed years ago and had hidden under a loose floorboard that one of the maids had stumbled across. Carefully she split it open and withdrew a small root; the root of a plant that rarely grew anymore, save in the most secluded of areas. This she ground into a fine powder with her eating utensils.

Next, she took her pewter mug and filled it with snow from her windowsill. Pulling the window closed, she silently cursed herself for having to go through this much trouble. I am attractive enough, she thought. I could entice the guard…no, he fears his king too much. Oh, if only the window were wide enough for one to pass through…

Shaking aside the thoughts of what could be possible if only, she returned to the task at hand. Taking the mug to the small hearth fire in her room, she began melting the snow within it and placed it beneath the bed for later use, the powdered herb she wrapped in a veil and placed beside it. Carefully, she concealed her clothing beneath her mattress and laid down on the bed to await the inevitable. Soon, as expected, Damius entered the room and walked over to her, raising a hand as if to strike her.

Do not, my husband! I apologize for my misconduct and have sought counsel with Father Themlis. I confessed my sins unto him and have asked for God’s forgiveness. Do you forgive me, my husband and my king? She lowered her eyes in mock humiliation, though actually to conceal the well of hatred that burned hot behind them.

Ah, my wife, I cannot truly forgive you this moment, but I will leave you to your rest this eve. In the morrow we shall talk. Sleep well.

When he had left the room, it was all Serina could do to keep from screaming in rage. Still seething in anger, she ensured that the priest was still unconscious by grasping a handful of his hair and slamming his head against the floor until his forehead split open and bled freely, then she went to the bed and lay back down even though sleep was the farthest thing from her mind.

Some time later, Damius re-entered the room, as Serina feared he would. She accepted him in a forced embrace and allowed him to make love to her again, praying silently that he would not get her with child. When he finally left, she readied her plan and waited until just before dawn before putting it into action. Once the sky began to show the telltale signs of a forthcoming day, she gently poured some of the water into a crack along the floorboards and watched as it trickled beneath the door near to its hinged side. In her hand she held the powder and waited impatiently for the guard to take notice of the liquid, made dark by the floor, seeping in a thin trickle beneath his chair.

Watching through the crack between the door and the jamb, Serina watched with satisfaction as the guard, on his hands and knees, traced the liquid to the crack. At this point, Serina blew the powdered root through the crack and into the face of the guard just as he was beginning to inhale. He backed away as though he had been struck a blow, sneezed once, twice, then sat down in the hall and stared at the door.

Serina relaxed visibly as the root worked its wonders on the mind of the guard. Open the door, she whispered through the crack. The guard didn’t move. Open the door! This time he stirred and approached, gently sliding back the lock and opening the heavy oaken portal.

Serina, dressed in her gown and cloak, moved quickly to the guard and shoved him down upon his chair. Now then, listen carefully. You fell asleep and noticed nothing, understand? The guard tried to speak and relinquished himself to a nod of acquiescence.

Knowing that daybreak was not far off, Serina moved down the stairs and silently stole past the awakening maids and kitchen workers. Once outside, she hurried toward the stables and gave three gold coins to the stable boy to ensure his silence, then saddled the fastest steed—the king’s own; a white stallion named Silverlake. Mounting the animal, she dug her heels into his flanks and rode at a full gallop out past the city walls toward yet another city a day’s ride away—the city of Chaldis wherein dwelled her sister.

* * *

Andreal lay back upon the huge bed, looking like a child lost amongst an open field. Pain gnawed at her swollen belly and she winced with it. Her face was as pale as the simple bedclothes she wore.

You must eat something, my lady. It is not good for the child that you starve yourself so.

Andreal looked up into the face of the elderly chambermaid standing at the side of the bed. It seemed, now more than ever, that the other woman was imposing—even frightening. The thought of food makes me ill, Madelein. I shall eat later, when my stomach does not churn so.

But the child, it must be nourished—

Andreal smiled, and then winced as yet another pain passed through her. It fares well enough, I fear, for it tears at me with the talons of something wild.

Madelein smiled pitifully at the small, slight woman who lay before her. Setting the bowl of hot ninekt broth down, she said, I shall leave this with you, then. Is there anything that I may bring for you?

No, not for now. But do see that the remmits are tended to, for I feel a cold wind coming on and two of the remmits froze the other night when the snows fell. Meat is scarce this time of season—I’d rather not risk losing what little of the animals we have left.

At once, my lady. Madelein bowed out of the room.

A short time later, a small girl with curious platinum hair streaked with ebony entered the room. Her small eyes magnificently blue beneath long, dark lashes, seemed to stare into a person’s very soul. Mother, is something wrong? she asked with precise enunciation.

Why, no, Lenaris. Why do you ask? Everything is fine. Your sibling grows well within me, and I am recovering quite well from—

No, not that. I mean that I have seen Aunt Serina—I am sorry, I had forgotten that you bade me not to tell you of my dreams.

Andreal smiled at her daughter. Such intelligence, she thought. Would that I were as intelligent as this child when I was but eleven years of age. Lord Jesus, you have truly blessed me with such a child as this. Come here, my love. Sit beside me and tell me of your dream. Dreams are not always the doings of devils, child, regardless of what Madelein says to the contrary. I bade you not to discuss your dreams in front of her, for you know how she can get—everything that is out of the ordinary is evil or some such nonsense. Besides, sometimes we might dream of the greatness of heaven or of the beautiful angels. Now, those aren’t evil, are they? You say you saw my sister in a dream? She drew Lenaris close and held her hand.

Yes, but…it was not a dream I had this night past. I had this dream while fully awake, working in the gardens yesterday. Madelein saw me and told me that I should do penance, saying that such mindlessness in the work invited the devil’s work into the mind—

Do you feel ashamed of your dream?

Why, of course not, Mother.

Then I doubt very seriously that it was the devil’s doing. Tell me of this so-called demonic dream’," she said and smiled warmly at her daughter, then wincing again with another movement of the child within.

"I saw the king’s stallion, Silverlake is his name? Aunt Serina was riding atop him…that’s odd, Mother, I thought that the queen was forbidden to ride a stallion of the king. Especially without escorts! Oh, she was riding fast, as if she were riding from her own death! Her temple was bruised, and she was weeping somewhat.

Then I saw King Damius having one of his own guards beheaded! It was horrible! The blood—Mother, I am frightened. Would the king threaten to have my aunt killed? Has he gone mad? The child looked terrified and tears stained her cheeks.

Andreal stared blankly at her daughter, knowing that at times the girl actually saw glimpses of what could, or had happened, and that they were almost always accurate. She drew in a long, shaking breath and said as calmly as she could, What you saw, there in the garden, might’ve been just a remembrance of a nightmare. She patted the girl’s hand and melted into a smile. You shouldn’t let it concern you. I’m quite sure that your aunt is safe in Shaelir. Besides, it takes more than that wardragon of a king to cause Serina’s stubbornness to crack!

The child smiled and kissed her mother, then ran off to her room when she was dismissed. Was Serina safe? This question repeated itself through Andreal’s mind for some time until at last she fell asleep.

* * *

The sound of hoof beats startled Andreal awake with her sister’s name on her lips, but when she listened again, she heard nothing. It was dark outside now, and her bowl of ninekt broth had grown quite cold. She started to lie back down to resume her sleep when Madelein suddenly burst into the room. Andreal rose at the unexpected intrusion and stood, wide-eyed, as she faced the elderly woman.

My lady, your sister arrives—the queen! she cried.

The queen? Here? Andreal then fully remembered what Lenaris had seen and suddenly felt quite faint, taking hold of the bedpost for support. Show her in at once. Bid her welcome—no, wait! I shall tend her. Prepare some hot mead and some of that broth. She is undoubtedly chilled through in this weather.

At once, my lady.

Why, she thought, should Serina visit me unannounced like this? Is there some truth to what Lenaris told me? Has Damius threatened her? Has he indeed gone mad with some illness? Perhaps the badlands; my husband became ill from them, but he had not gone mad. For years it seemed he would be sterile, but he…she thought for a moment, then smiled, placing her hands on her belly…he seems to have fully recovered.

Andreal quickly dressed herself in a rich gown and golden necklace upon which hung a crystal crucifix, and about her waist she tied a belt made from strands of platinum adorned with an ancient symbol of protection—a five-pointed star with one point up, surrounded by symbols of the elements; air, earth, fire, water, and a fifth element—spirit. This had been a gift from her mother when Andreal was but three years old, and it was something that she cherished as sacred.

She carefully laced her sandals and left the room. There, seated before the fire, clad only in simple riding garb with a plain brown cloak wrapped tightly about her was the queen of the Isles, now looking more like a peasant-girl, bartering some skill for a night under a roof.

My queen— Andreal began, giving a small curtsy.

Serina recoiled at this and interrupted sharply. Do not address me as such! I am no queen, nor did I ever desire to be one! It is only by the law which Damius enacted that when the reigning queen died, that the eldest sister, if any, should marry to carry on in her place, lest his royal bedchambers become lonely! When our sister, Kayla, died of that animal wound three autumns ago, I was next in line to play harlot and slave to that fiend!

Andreal blinked, unsure how to react. I am sorry if I offended—

No, it is I who am sorry, my sister. I should not have reproached you so. But, please, do not address me as queen. Here, or anywhere else.

But what happened, Serina, that brings you here so?

Serina motioned Andreal to a chair. Drawing a long breath, she began telling her of the occurrences of the past few days. She left out only her feelings of the annoying priest, what she was forced to do to him and her lies to Damius regarding seeking holy counsel. My sister is Christian, she reminded herself. Undoubtedly she would disapprove of such actions.

So he cast you out because of differences in your beliefs?

No…he locked me away in my chambers. He… she could feel the hot, fat tears dribbling down her cheeks, "…he ravished me as some sort of…of prize of battle! He raped me and beat me…he said that he could have me killed if he wanted…oh,

Andreal… Serina broke into fitful sobbing on her sister’s breast, arms wrapped tightly about her shoulders. Andreal gently stroked her sister’s long, dark hair and tried to ease her. Finally, Serina looked up, eyes dark and cheeks red with her distress, her face drawn tight with a mixture of anger and hatred. I ran, Andreal! I ran away! I drugged one of the guards and sneaked out…why? Why does Damius do this to me? Why does he think me so evil? Why?" Further words caught in her throat as she again began sobbing profusely. Andreal felt her own hatred welling within her for the man who would do this to her sister—king or no king. A hatred she had never known before. So intense was the emotion that she did not even notice that now she was crying as fiercely as her sister.

Off in the shadows, a small girl looked silently on. Her eyes grew wide as she suddenly saw a shadow loom over her mother and her aunt, faces on the shadows drawn in agony and blood running from numerous wounds. She hurriedly backed away, not wanting to see the Death-Crone who would surely follow such a vision. She went into her room and drew herself tightly into the bedsheets as if to draw comfort from them. Try as she might, she could not sleep and lay awake trembling. She could see again and again the wraith-like images, hear in her mind the screams of torment assailing from them until at last morning came—the images fleeing as if ghosts, abhorred by the light of the sun.

She quietly rose, dressed herself and stole into her mother’s room. There, wrapped in a large blanket, her mother and her aunt slept in each other’s arms. She crawled in between them and felt the warmth of their bodies enveloping her, cleansing away the haunting images she had seen the night before. At last she slept, nestled into the softness of her mother’s chest while her aunt’s arm wrapped itself about her waist, drawing her close.

* * *

It was early afternoon when they awakened. Madelein had left some bread and cheese and some warmed, spiced cider. They all partook of the meal in Andreal’s room, speaking every now and again about the weather, the animal tending, the best ways that silks could be dyed—anything to get their minds off of what had been discussed the night before.

Only Lenaris remained silent, remembering what she had heard and what visions later followed. Andreal felt that the girl’s silence was somewhat disquieting, but she did not voice this concern. Nor did she remember Lenaris climbing into bed with them. Ah well, she thought, perhaps she had another nightmare, or perhaps she just longed for comforting—who knows what goes on in the minds of children…especially a child such as this?

When they had finished eating, Serina took Lenaris upon her lap and began to comb and braid the girl’s hair. So, Andreal, how fares Lana’s new brother or sister? Lenaris smiled at that. Long had she wanted a sibling to care for and Serina knew that this would stop whatever thoughts were troubling the girl.

Aside from its constantly reminding me of its presence with teeth and nails not unlike an overly-friendly muesin-cat, quite well! I think that perhaps this time next month, Lana shall have her hands full! At this Lenaris laughed. She enjoyed it when she was called Lana and she cherished the trust of her loving mother with the caring of so delicate and fragile a thing as a newborn infant.

Well, my dear, Serina said to the child, your hair gleams like newly-spun platinum, and you are getting far too big to sit upon my lap. Run along now, and we shall be with you later. I need to speak with your mother for a bit. Perhaps later I could teach you a new song or two, or we—

Oh, would you, Aunt? I love to listen to your voice—like that of a creenagell!

Serina laughed. A dornabird, perhaps, but definitely not a creenagell. My voice has hardened over the years to the point where I sound more like an apprentice bard than a choir girl. Lenaris smiled and ran out of the room. Serina’s own smile faded as she turned to the now stolid Andreal.

Andreal asked, Where will you go?

I don’t know, she said, shaking her head. Just far enough from here to avoid further confrontations with the king. I came here to warn you though—Damius threatened to impose a law that will banish…no, destroy all acts of magick and the practitioners of what he terms, ‘Pagan hypocrisy’!

What has this to do with me? I am no Pagan, and I worship the one true God—which, I feel, should you! I mean, after all, Jesus Christ died on the cross so that—

Please, we’ve been over this hundreds of times. I care not to argue theology with you. It is Lenaris that I am worried about.

Lana? She doesn’t practice magick in any form—

But she is a mutant. Have you not looked at her hair nor experienced her advanced level of learning? Damius once proposed that all mutants were the work of Satan. He’s begun to drive them off already—Jason, your own husband, is currently driving them from the Isles, is he not? Andreal nodded. "A time will come when Damius will have become so fanatically involved in this that he will destroy anything…yes, anything, and anyone from simple hill people to his own royal subjects who even so much as gives question to Christianity or its ways, or has an appearance that is other than the accepted norm. He would say that such people are ‘rejected by God and thus they lose their likeness unto Him’ or some such nonsense. Hell, he’s already put into works a plan to rid the land of the elves!

Andreal, I am really afraid of what he’s become. If he does pass his law against magick and its practitioners, he’ll… Serina tried to force back the tears, but it was no use. If he passes law he’ll have me killed. Dammit all, Andie, I’ve done nothing wrong! I know that I’m being selfish, thinking of myself first in this but…but I’ve committed no crime! And Lenaris is completely innocent as—

You keep saying that! Why is Lana in danger? Why?

Have you blinded yourself to the obvious? For the love of God, Andie, Lenaris has mutations! Can you deny it? You yourself may even be threatened by the implications of this law!

Me? Why? Why should he seek to harm me? Andreal asked, her face drawn with sorrow.

Because of this! Serina snatched up the belt that Andreal had worn.

This? But, Serina, this was a gift from Mother—

Who was a high priestess of Luuna, She interrupted. This symbol is known as a pentagram. It is used extensively in magickal workings as well as being the symbol of the Old Ways. It is enough to cause Damius to believe that you are a practitioner! I implore you, hide it or dispose of it—

I will not! Mother gave this to me to protect me while I was a babe. I’ll wear it always and think of her always as I wear it! Surely Damius cannot believe that I practice any form of magick while I wear it, because I also wear this! She held the crystal crucifix up so that her sister could see it.

Serina narrowed her eyes and looked upon her younger sister with an almost distasteful expression on her face. How naïve you are! Do you not think that Christians practice magick as well? I have witnessed their workings with my own eyes! In fact, the very symbol that you have on that belt has, in times long past, been utilized in certain sects of Christianity! Andreal, Christian or no, Damius believes all workings of magick to be evil!

But, my sister, how can I convince Damius that I practice no workings—

You believe that this belt, she said, again holding up the belt, will protect you from any negativity that could find you? Both women were silent for a moment.

I-I’m not sure, Andreal finally said, lowering her eyes to the floor.

That questioning, that hesitation, is enough to cost you your life!

Andreal sat bolt upright, tears streaming down her cheeks. Why should you concern yourself with me? You should be more concerned about yourself! You could be killed—

Mother? Lenaris stepped into the room. Andreal hid her face in a veil, not wanting her daughter to see her sobbing like a child. Is everything all right? I heard you and Aunt Serina crying.

Serina looked at Andreal intently. Andreal finally met her eyes and saw, though not wanting to, what must follow. No, Serina said in a low, steady voice, everything is not all right, Lana. I’m sorry, but I am unable to explain it to you…but perhaps your mother should. I must tend to my horse. She placed a hand on Andreal’s shoulder. Andreal looked up into her soft eyes. She has a right to know. I will leave you in privacy. Do not deprive her of this knowledge, but do not say anything in such a manner that she might misinterpret, either. She slowly walked out of the room and closed the door behind her.

Mother, what is happening—have you and Aunt Serina been quarreling—

No…no, nothing like that. Sit here beside me and I shall explain. The girl propped herself on an overstuffed pillow and listened intently as Andreal spoke, never once interrupting to ask a question.

When she had finished speaking, the child carefully wiped away her mother’s tears with a small handkerchief. Such courage, thought Andreal. I tell her of impending doom and she listens, does not cower, or run and hide—she doesn’t even show emotion over it! Either she is too young to understand or she accepts her fate…that or she already knew…

Andreal felt a sharp, growing pain. She winced, then drew in her breath sharply as the pain increased.

Mother? Mother, what is wrong?

Go and get— she cried out with the pain. Then, when it had finished…or at least subsided, thought Andreal…she continued. Serina. Get me my sister. At once, child, go now!

Lenaris rose and hurried out to do as she was told. Serina was tending to Silverlake when Lenaris caught up to her. Breathless, she tried to speak. My lady…Mother asks that you…that you…

What is it, child? What about your mother?

She…she’s in…

SERINA! The scream echoed over the landscape, causing peasant folk and merchants to look toward the house, wondering what had gone wrong. Serina wondered this as well as she raced toward the house.

She burst into the room to see Andreal sitting in a small pool of blood, sobbing profusely and hunched over in agony. The girl! Take her out and bring my bags to me at once! she commanded of Madelein who stood in the doorway with mouth agape.

Y-Yes, my lady! Madelein stammered and hurried out, dragging along the wondering Lenaris.

Serina eased Andreal back onto the bed. Relax, I’m here. I’ll care for you.

Something’s gone wrong—my child…

Shh, the child is fine. You are ill, my sister. I will care for you now—

But the blood! My baby is bleeding to death!

No, my dear, the blood is a small amount…and it is not the baby’s.

Not the…Serina, will I live through—

Still your mind, Andreal. Empty your mind of thought. Just relax. I will care for you as best I can. You shall live, my sister. Serina bent down and kissed her on the brow.

Madelein returned with two small bags and a midwife who hearkened to the screams of Andreal, taking over for Serina who went at once to her bags.

Do you have any raspberry leaves? she demanded of Madelein.

Yes, we have a bush out back—

Damn! I prefer fresh leaves, not frostbitten! No matter. Gather the freshest that you can find from the plant. Brew an infusion of the leaves and water at once and bring it to me.

But—

At once!

Yes, my lady.

Letting all but the berry go to waste in the winter weather, I can only hope that there’s still some semi-fresh leaves left on the vines.

My lady? asked the midwife.

Nothing. Ignore me for now and continue your ministrations.

Opening the first bag, Serina pulled out the small bundle of cloth with which she had tied her broken sachet. Opening it, she withdrew a small stem studded with twenty-one small, bell-shaped flowers. Holding it in the palm of her hand, she gazed into the flower and said under her breath, I gather thee, Hyacinth, of the element of water, governed by the dawn star, that thee shouldst ease the pains created by the unborn child within my sister’s womb.

She tied it up into a small square of blue cloth and fashioned about it a long string of red thread. Handing it to the midwife, she said, Tie this about her waist at once, so that the ball rests on her stomach.

The midwife, looking confused, said, My lady, what you ask does not make sense—

Do it! Now! The midwife obeyed, still looking curiously at the small bundle of herbs.

As Serina began sorting through her other herbs, Madelein returned with a cup of steaming, fragrant water. Give my sister the draught, Serina said. See to it that she drinks it all.

Serina then produced another small plant with numerous three-pointed leaves and a multitude of small, dainty flowers. Again she gazed into the herb as she intoned, I gather thee, Angelica, of the element of fire, governed by the day star, the herb of the beautiful Goddess of Love, that thee shouldst bring about protection and healing from thy fiery smoke.

Setting this herb aside, Serina produced another leafy herb, quite aromatic, and called this one elf leaf, then an odd-looking, blunt-leafed plant she called hoodwort. From these she beckoned restful sleep and peace. Taking up the three herbs, she crushed them in her hands and threw them onto the fire after first shutting the flue.

As the herbs were consumed by the hungry fire, Serina said, Let the properties of these three be released by the smoke. Let there be peace, protection and serenity! Gone are the difficulties, gone are the evils! Let them burn as the fire, vanish as the smoke!

Serina fanned the pungent smoke from the fire toward her sister, and then re-opened the flue. Time passed, too slowly it seemed, but Andreal’s pains began to subside and her breathing became less laborious.

Incredible! How did you do that? asked Madelein who was standing in the doorway with Lenaris peering around her legs.

Serina took a deep breath and let it soothe her tired body. That, dear lady, is the evil, demonic magick that your priests proclaim to be the workings of Satan.

* * *

The child was born late that evening; a beautiful girl with white skin and silky, blue-black hair. Andreal lay unconscious, totally spent with the delivery. It was feared that she would not survive childbed, but the bleeding had stopped and she was breathing easily once again.

However, the child was indeed a mutant. This was evident in the fact that her eyes lacked color in the iris, save for a milky-white ring with slightly darker edges. At first she appeared to have been born blind, but she followed movement with those strange eyes, seeming to focus upon objects already. This mutation troubled Serina greatly, though the midwife was reassuring. Madelein had retired for the evening, taking with her the small Lenaris.

My lady, a word with you if I may, the midwife, whose name was Renee, said to Serina.

You may speak, Serina replied.

Do you know of the prophecy of the elves?

Serina thought a moment. No, I’m afraid I know of no prophecy…wait—I have heard, but only mere rumors told by a troupe of players—

Oh, it’s much more than rumors, my lady. Much more indeed. You see, the prophecy of the elves foretold of this event—and of an event to come.

Surely you jest. What could you possibly know of prophecies and foretellings? You aren’t even involved with the art.

One need not be involved in the ways of the Ancients to know of prophecies. Besides, I am one who deals in the ways of the Mysteries.

But you…you looked so questioningly upon my sachet—

A deception, my lady. I apologize. I do not wish it known what I profess, for I, too, know of the king’s law that he is threatening to impose. But hear the prophecy, then judge my wisdom. ‘Dark and Light shall become as one, as it was from the Dawning. Though once separated, they shall join again to give back to the land what has been taken at the hands of men who follow a dead king.’ There is much more, but it is of little importance as of yet. This child, what did Andreal name her before she slept?

Dimerea, replied Serina, wondering where all of this was leading.

Fitting. Most fitting indeed. You see, ‘Dimerea’ is an elven word meaning ‘dark one’ or ‘darkling’. Dimerea shall fulfill the destiny of the Dark whereas Lenaris, beautiful child, is the Light. It’s a pity that this child who is so blessed by the Goddess Herself will not retain the knowledge she has now.

What are you saying?

I am saying, Lady, that Lenaris has quite a future in store for her. Almost as tedious as her sister’s, I’m afraid. Moreso in certain ways.

How do you know all of this? Serina asked of the seemingly senile woman.

Ah, I see that you do not believe me. Go then, and see for yourself.

What do you mean? Scrying? I see only symbols and am not learned in interpreting them—

Do you not see things that come to pass?

Serina frowned. It has been so long, she thought. I may have forgotten…

The midwife, as if hearing Serina’s own mind, said, "It is not something that one forgets, child. It has been given for you to know. It cannot be taken away unless you will it to leave you. Let it flow through you as naturally as the sun’s warmth, or the peaceful glow of the moon through the trees. The Goddess is strong within you, Serina. Go now to a place of seclusion, for the moon has almost set

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