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Sandra Leigh Wagner

"Midnight and Amber CH5b" by Sandra Leigh Wagner

SciFi/Fantasy text 18 out of 36 by Sandra Leigh Wagner.      ←Previous - Next→
 
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←- Midnight and Amber CH5a | Midnight and Amber Chpt 6a -→
Chapter Five - Conversations part 2


      She stirred. He looked down, prepared to hold on to her should she try to take flight again. He brushed the hair back from her face tenderly. "Shh," he whispered. "It is all right, princess. You are safe now. It was only a terrible nightmare."
      She looked confused for a moment, as if not expecting to see him. She noticed the claw marks that marked his bare chest and neck immediately. "What happened to you?" she asked, her voice raw and hoarse, lifted a finger to trace one long gouge.
      He smiled, took her hand in his, caressing her slim, dusky fingers, showed them to her. There were traces of blood still on her nails. "You happened. But it is all right now," he added, as she moved suddenly, apologizing, horrified as she realized what must have occurred. "It’s all right. You had a bad dream. You walked in your sleep. You saw things.... a vampire, I think. But all that has faded. Nothing will happen to you, I promise. There are still a few more hours of night left. You should rest. You can tell me what happened in the morning, if you feel up to it."
      "You," she began, gazing in complete adoration at him, "are too good to me."
      "Nonsense," he murmured, pulling the pack closer where she could use it for a pillow. She lay down beside him, never taking her eyes off of him. He moved to stoke the fire, but she reached out, touched his arm and held him back.
      "No, please. Just hold me. We will keep each other warm. Just hold me, for now," she pleaded.
      Looking into her midnight eyes, how could he have said no? She lifted the corner of the blanket and cloak covering her to let him in, then lay with her head nestled in the crook of his shoulder, holding tightly to him as he rearranged the coverings over them both. It did not take her long to fall back asleep, and he lay there, listening to the steady, peaceful rhythm of her breathing, watching the fire slowly dying beyond her. His thoughts wandered everywhere, finding no answers, only new questions. He softly stroked the curve and arch of her back where she lay sideways against him, as much for his own comfort as for hers.
      Towards dawn, he heard a soft chittering by the nearest tree. He looked over, saw a raccoon wandering over, stop and sit up, as if asking permission, if it was safe. With as small a motion as he could make, so not to wake her, he waved him away. Sullen, the animal dropped to all fours and meandered off, glancing back once or twice just to be sure.
      
      When Lark woke the next morning, she felt very warm and secure. The arms that were wrapped around her were strong and comforting. She opened her eyes, saw a long scratch across his chest and felt a sudden pang of remorse. She kissed it. He felt her stirring, felt the feather light touch of her lips and looked down.
      “Good morning,” he said. There was a touch of pain and regret in her dark eyes as she gazed up at him. “Not going to tear off into the woods again are we?”
      She did not answer. He allowed her to sit up, remained lying down with his head propped up on his fist, just watching her. She stretched first, folding herself in half and grabbing her feet. She let loose a long, groaned breath, hurting in so many little places. She looked down at the state of her clothes. There was nothing left but rags. Her arms were black and blue and red as if from severe rope burns, and there were similar marks on her legs amid thousands of scratches and scrapes. She combed her hair back out of her face with her fingers, tugging out twigs and leaves as she did. She tried to straighten out the tangled mess, but it was hopeless.
      Landros pulled a flask of wine from his pack, filled a cup and passed it silently to her. He could be patient when he desired to. That was another thing about this girl, he suddenly realized. She inspired patience in him. For her he was willing to wait for just about anything, however long, or so it felt. Because time never seemed to move around her, or, at least, its passing went unnoticed.
      She took the wine, sipping quietly, gathering her thoughts before trying to speak them. What she had done last night was foremost on her mind. She knew what she had dreamed, but what had she actually done? She remembered she had broken, begged, openly wept. Had Landros been witness to that, too? It was obvious that she had fought him physically; the marks on his half naked body told her that. He was waiting. He had been gentle with her, obviously trying to protect her from herself and the dreams that had been haunting her. He had not slept, had just held her closely the rest of the night. She was beginning to feel deeply for this man, and that feeling, she knew, would head her into trouble, especially, when it was becoming obvious to even the casual eye that he was beginning to more than care.
      “Yes, I dreamed last night. But is not first time. ...They started just after Evandair, nearly month ago.” She shivered, remembering, wrapped her arms around herself. He sat up and draped the cloak about her. She merely nodded her acknowledgment, and continued. “First time was on boat returning. I... fell out of hammock trying to escape. But, still this dream pursues me, night after night.”
      He put his arm around her, pulling her close to him. “But why this dream? Why do you keep having it? What... what is the dream about?”
      “As you guessed, vampire. But not just any vampire. We were sent to Evandair, as I told you, to help people there with ‘plague’. Was vampire we fought. I... looked into window, to try find woman we thought was working with monster. I saw only his eyes.” She shivered. “Was so handsome, so ... charming,” she said wistfully, shuddered. Landros held her tighter. “I went inside. Could hear and see nothing but him, and then suddenly he reached for me. At first wanted nothing more in whole world than that touch; then, was as if blindfold had been torn away and I saw what was I was so enamored of. I jumped out of way, hid behind Keltree. By then I knew what he was. I threw bottle of holy water on him. He was furious. He vanished. I knew would hunt me down. I could feel in bones, like ice.”
      She just stared at her hands, trying not to think about what she was saying. “He lured me into barn, and, when could not capture me, tried to burn me alive. Keltree was caught with me. We managed to break a way out through back, but… was close. Still he was laughing, luring me, in my mind. I could not get him out. We tracked him to cliff above town, fought him. Is where Keltree was hurt. Vampire broke his wrist and put fist through stomach. Rue managed to hold him off long enough for me to soak my net in holy water. We caught him in it and oh, how he screamed! Rog beheaded him. Then he just vanished. Poof! Nothing left but ash and sound of his raging scream in my ear and mind. I still cannot forget that sound. Raw hatred. Like nothing I have ever known. In that last moment, he stared into my eyes, full of fury and hate."
      She sat silent for a while. Landros did not break the silence, feeling somehow that there was more. He knew the difficulty of speaking of such deep rooted terrors. He had a few of those himself, buried away. She drew a long ragged breath, trying to control the need to sob again. "I see those eyes in my sleep. They haunt me. The last thought and emotion he had was hatred of me and desire for vengeance. Was like dark promise. Last night... I heard him calling me. I could not resist. I felt so ...helpless."
      'Ah,' he thought, 'the root of it.' He understood this feeling on the deepest levels, this helplessness.
      "The harder I fought the worse became. I should have known I could not run from him. I tried to climb wall to escape. I remember falling, the vines coming to life, turning to chains, holding me prisoner to wait his pleasure. He kept promising me I would hurt, long and deep. I could not escape those eyes..., I knew he meant every word. Knew as he touched me so tenderly that I had only begun to know fear and pain. Cold iron and stone is death to gypsy. I was wrapped in death, caressed by death. When he touch my neck, I could feel his breath as he hovered, about to sink those needle teeth..... I wept," she whispered, unwilling to admit it. She stared down at her hands, picking unseen splinters out of her wrist. She did not look up at Landros, did not want him to see the tears that were falling again. She hated that he had seen her so weak, and she was terribly afraid of what he must think of her now. He had heard her beg! "I feel so ashamed. Do not know why. He made me feel so... weak, so out of control of myself. When he forced me to look into his eyes again, I.... I do not remember what happened. I expected to die, to become his slave as he had done to Erridine and rest of town. But instead I woke to you."
      She could not hide her tears any longer. He held her, stroked her soothingly, fighting tears of rage and compassion of his own, and not yet willing to let her see them. She needed his strength, not his weakness. It burned him, to think that everything he had said to her had been somehow turned in her mind, promises of love and protection turned to threats of agony and hate. She buried herself in his embrace, openly sobbing now, filled with frustration and rage at her own helpless fear. "He's dead, dang it!" she screamed, the sound muffled against his body and her own hair. "Why can't he just let me go!! Why won't he just DIE!?!"
      She clung to him desperately. It was a long time before she could breathe normally again, before her tears had subsided and she felt once more in control of herself.
      Weakly, she untangled herself form his grasp, tried to stand. He resisted, not wanting her to overtax herself or to leave again. But she was insistent. He relented, watched as she stood shakily and took a deep, steadying breath of the crisp morning air. Drying her face on what remained of her sleeve, she walked to the edge of the small clearing in which they had camped. She paused, one hand on the trunk of a massive oak, and looked back at him. "Well, Kestrel, it seems that we give gift for gift. Secret for secret. Lunasa, but all things always seem equal between us!" she sighed. It was a sign, and she knew it. But she was unwilling yet to face its consequence. She turned, walking into the forest. Before he could protest, or ask her where she was going, he heard her laugh, a dry, cracked sound, but a genuine laugh none the less. "Do not panic, my heart. I will be back."
      He sat there, thinking, trying to understand. He picked up the small brown bottle, turning it in his hands. It was empty, obviously some sort of drug. What exactly had happened to her on that island? And what kind of hold could a vampire have over a victim even after its own demise. And where did this drug fit it?
      He heard her behind him, did not look up. "Did he bite you?" he asked. Maybe, if he had, that would explain how he could haunt her, if that is what he was doing. When she did not respond, he looked up. She was staring at the bottle in his hand. "I found this last night, after I brought you back," he said, holding it up. "I thought it was a rock," he added lamely.
      She took it from him, rolled it over in her hand. "No," she finally said. "He did not bite me. There was no time." She put the empty bottle in her bag, sat with her back to him.
      "What was it?" he asked softly.
      She did not move for a minute, then, "Laud'num," she said, pulling her brush out and trying to untangle her hair.
      He watched her for a few minutes. Laudanum was a powerful drug, a useful painkiller and a sleep aid; but there were side effects. "Were you taking this while we were...."
      "Yes,” she cut him off, ashamed enough without him rubbing it in, even if he did not intend to, “Is why I slept so sound, could not wake that morning. I took very little, and did not think would keep me out so long."
      "Lark, this stuff makes you almost comatose!"
      "I stopped!" she snapped, testily. "Besides, there is no more.... And I do not know where to get...." She drifted off, dropped the brush in frustration.
      He came over, put his hands on her arms, leaned his forehead against the back of her head. "Illyana, I'm sorry. ...I'm just concerned. You could have gotten yourself killed, or captured or... or worse."
      "I could have become slave girl Adrick present me as?" she suggested.
      "Easily," he replied. He took the brush from her, began dragging it gently through her hair, flinched every time it hit a tangle.
      "I needed it. You can't understand how I needed it," she whispered. "…Harder."
      "Huh?"
      "You can brush harder," she said. "Am not a tender-headed little girl anymore. You won't hurt me, not with that."
      "Oh." He firmed his strokes, felt the tangles finally starting to yield. "I do understand, wanting an escape from the nightmares." He DID understand, had fought with nightmares of his own for many years after his parents died, the helplessness, the pain, without the benefit of being able to break down and cry because he had to be strong for Portholus.
      "No, you don't," she insisted. "Was exhausted. Could not sleep but for these dreams which woke me all hours of night. What little sleep could get was wasted running through dreams, trying to escape. These not childhood nightmares. Not mere bad dreams plaguing a mind who has seen too much. There is something different about. Something powerful.... Something primal," she said, drifting off again. “With drug he could not reach me. I was safe.”
      He put the brush into her bag, “That settles it.”
      “Settles what?” she asked, confused.
      Landros got up, shook out the blankets and folded them up.
      “Settles what?” she insisted, stopping him.
      “I am taking you to the temple.”
      “Why?”
      “Because you are in need of healing and I think you need to speak to Rue about these danged nightmares.”
      Lark stood her ground. “Rue is busy enough.”
      “She’ll make the time. This could be serious. What I witnessed last night was serious.” He set the blankets aside, put his hands on her arms, trying to be tender and forceful at the same time. “Lark, you saw me as something else, twisted every word I said. You were hallucinating and hysterical. If you had not gotten tangled in the ivy I might not have been able to catch you before you got seriously hurt. You might even have fallen into the river and drowned, and one thing I am not is a strong swimmer.” He tilted her chin to look up at him, smiled gently. “Besides, how do you expect to make any money looking like you’ve been tied into a sack with a pair of alley cats?”
      She smiled, in spite of herself, but she remained defiant. “All right,” she said. “If you make me go for healing, you too, have to sit for,” she said, giving his ribs a poke.
      He pulled away, not in the mood for tickling. “Now that is not part of the bargain. Hells, this isn’t a bargain I’m making here…..”
      “Is now. You let priests heal you and I tell Rue all about nightmares.”
      He sighed, “All right, if it will make you happy I’ll do it. But you have to promise me you’ll tell her!”
      “I promise,” she sighed, her eyes not wavering from his. She moved away from him, began to help him clean up the camp.
      He opened up his pack to put the blankets inside and saw the package sitting on the bottom of it, forgotten. He looked over at Lark, bustling about, deciding against putting her bracelets on. Her skirt had seen better days, but the blouse was hopeless. It was bloody and ripped, and he could see the silk starting to give at the back seams. He pulled the package out and brought it over to her. “Here. It might be better than what you have on.”
      She looked up at him, saw the rose on the top of the package and stood. “What is?” she asked, taking it.
      He shrugged, “Just a little something I picked up in the market yesterday. I saw it and thought of you, and as a way to apologize for …well, being such an@$$ the past couple of weeks.”
      She smiled coyly, brushing the rose against her cheek. She carefully unwrapped the dress and her eyes grew big as it unfolded. She gasped. “Is lovely.”
      He shrugged, “A trifle. You might want to put it on now, though. Rue is liable to panic if she sees you in your present state. I… I hope it fits,” he added, and went back to packing up.
      Lark held it to her chest for a moment, watching him. And so generous, she thought. She smiled. “Will certainly look better than your clothes on me,” she laughed.
      He held up a finger, contradicting her, “No. Different. It will look Different on you than my clothes. Not better. There is something to be said for the sight of you wearing my shirt….” he mused.
      Lark started to untie her blouse and change right there, but changed her mind. ‘Mamma always said never to change clothes in front of a man,’ she thought. ‘Entrances make for better impact.’ She drifted off into the woods to change.
      Landros looked after her, wondering why she had left. Had she suddenly turned shy on him? After her dance last night…. He shook his head and bent to removing all traces of the fire that he could.
      A few minutes later, he heard her scream. He grabbed his sword and ran after her, pulled up short when he saw her standing a few feet away, wearing the new dress with a most curious accessory: a raccoon.
      “Scraps!” he growled, sheathed his sword and stalked over, untangling the animal from her hair.
      She laughed, still somewhat startled, but delighted.
      “I hope he didn’t frighten you,” Landros began.
      “Well that he certainly did!” she laughed. “He came out of tree, and landed in arms. Was quite a fright, thank you,” she said to the raccoon who chittered in her direction as he clung to Landros’ shirt.
      “Jumping on her from out of a tree is no way to introduce yourself to a lady,” he chastised.
      Lark put her hands on her hips, leaned over to say hello, “I take is friend of yours?”
      “Sort of,” he apologized. “I caught him raiding my pack one night and well,… he just followed me out of the woods. He hangs around,” he shrugged. “When he isn’t being lured away by beautiful women.” He admired her as she took the raccoon from him, the creature going to her eagerly. “It looks good on you,” he said.
      “Thank you,” she said, giving a little turn, then began dancing off with the animal. She returned after a moment, set the beast down. “But I think we had best be going,” she said, collecting her discarded clothes. She paused in front of him, tucked the rose behind her ear, said breathlessly, “Before we are here another few hours.”
      She sauntered back towards the camp. Scraps chattered something. Landros looked down at him, saw him sitting up, waving a paw in her direction. “Yeah, tell me about it,” he said, and followed her. The raccoon raced after him, climbed into the back pack and curled up for a nap.
      
      Rue brought the two of them into a small cell, sat them down at the small table and began working on their wounds. Scraps crawled out of the backpack and made himself right at home, but stayed out of the way of the foul smelling concoctions Rue was working with. Rue listened quietly as Lark related her nightmares and the problems she had been having since they sailed from Evandair. She put a salve on Lark’s wrists, bandaged them snugly. “Just leave this on until tomorrow,” she said. “There should not be any scarring.”
       “But what about these dreams?” Landros asked as she gestured for him to remove his shirt that she might minister to his wounds.
      “I really wish you had let me take a look at these before you left,” she chided. “There will more than likely be scars now. Some of these could have been serious.”
      “Rue,” he said, holding her still. “I know you. You do not avoid questions unless you are afraid of the answers. Now sit and talk.”
      She sat down. She propped her chin on her fist and sighed. “I don’t know. I have no explanation for it. To the best of my knowledge the Evandair vampire is dead, gone, kaput. No longer the living dead but the dead dead. I saw Lark cast the ashes over the cliff myself.”
      Landros growled to himself in frustration. Lark sank back in her chair. “I told you, Landros. Is nothing she can do.”
      Rue turned to her, “That is not true.”
      “You’re not going to give her any more of this!” he said, holding up the bottle on the table.
      "No, I am not. That is no more than a temporary solution. That will not make this... specter go away." Scraps, curious, climbed up Rue’s robes and settled into her lap, playing with the medallion hanging around her neck. Rue scratched him idly.
      "Specter? As in ghost?" Lark asked. "But my emerald protects me against ghost," she protested.
      "Do you wear this emerald to bed?" Rue asked.
      "No," she answered slowly. "I wear no jewelry to bed."
      "Then it cannot protect you when you need it most, when you are most vulnerable."
      "So you believe she is being haunted?" Landros asked.
      "It is quite possible. That vampire, ...you are certain it was THAT one, the same man?" she asked.
      Lark nodded, sighed, "Yes, when... last night when I saw him, for first time, really, I saw Landros, but he looked like Eridinne's vampire. Trust me, Rue, I know what this man looks like, and was him."
      Landros could see the fear in her eyes as she spoke of him, reached out and squeezed her hand reassuringly.
      "Then he has somehow managed to latch his spirit on to you, and it seems he is slowly building power. For what though, I do not know."
      "But how? Why her?"
      Rue made a generic 'who knows' gesture with her hand. "He was pretty pissed off at her. Lark, are you certain he did not bite you?"
      "Yes," Lark growled, frustrated. "Have answered this before."
      "Then he has to have a focus of some sort, something to cling to. I've checked her out thoroughly and she is not currently possessed."
      "You mean like an amulet, or a talisman?" Landros asked.
      "Yes, something like that."
      "How about a ring?" he asked, holding up Lark's hand.
      Rue took Lark's hand, examined the sparkling black opal. "Hmm, Isn't this the ring from Evandair?" she asked.
      "Evandair?" Landros asked, looking over at Lark.
      Lark looked confused. "Yes. Keltree gave to me on boat, said was my share. Why? Is only ring."
      "Is only ring?" Landros echoed. He held out his hand. "Give it to me."
      Lark, even more confused, obliged. The ring did not come off. She looked down, startled. "Won't...."
      Rue looked at Landros, a new worry in her eyes. "You've been able to take it off before?"
      "Yes. I always take off. I said I take all rings off, every night," Lark said, starting to panic as she tugged on the ring.
      Landros took her hands, held them still. "On the ship, when you gave me your rings to put away, I noticed you left that one on."
      "No," she insisted, shaking her dark head. "I took ALL off. I remember!"
      "So do I, and you left that one on, just like last night," he softly insisted. 'Keep her calm,' he thought. 'Keep yourself calm. There is a reasonable explanation and a simple solution. There has to be.'
       Rue got up. "You two wait here." Without another word, she left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
      They waited without a word passing between them. Landros sat next to her, holding her hands, gently stroking the bandages and minor scratches that were quickly fading under the glistening salves. He kept her quiet, touching her cheek, stroking her hair, keeping her calm. Panic was threatening to overwhelm her. About ten minutes later, Rue returned, with a middle aged woman in dark blue robes in tow.
      The woman was elegant, had a regal bearing and held herself tall and straight, but there was nothing imperious about her. She was gentle and somewhat sad of face, her long, straight black hair was wrapped into a braided cap, partially hiding her half elven heritage. She took the seat Rue had vacated and the younger priestess took up station behind her. "Mother," Rue said. "This is Lark, the gypsy I told you of. Lark, Landros, this is Mother Mylenai, our local Matron."
      The woman looked Lark over carefully, with a stare that Lark was familiar with. She was looking with an inner eye, as she had known her gruma to do when checking a person for magic or supernatural influence. She had even seen her mother do it once or twice. It did not bode well. She felt cold suddenly, completely washed out and devoid of strength.
      The Matron held out her long, thin hand. "Give me your rings. All of them." Her voice was strong and firm, but tender in a motherly sort of way.
      Lark obeyed without question, unable to shake this sinking feeling. She placed all five rings into the woman's hand.
      "Is this all of them?" she asked.
      "Yes," Lark answered, confused. She followed the priestess's gaze down to her hand, saw the opal ring still on her finger and thought for a moment that she might faint.
      Landros saw her grow suddenly pale and put his hand out to steady her. She looked into his eyes, her own gone black and wide with fear. Without taking her eyes from his, she held her hand out to the priestess, unable to still its trembling. Landros took her other hand, kissed it reassuringly.
      "Husband?" the priestess asked, startling both of them as she examined the ring carefully.
      "Lover," Lark said, looking at her at last.
      "Mmmm," she murmured. She turned her hand over, turned the ring on the finger. "As I thought," she said, letting Lark's hand go.
      "What?" they asked simultaneously.
      "This is an ancient item. I've only seen one other of these, and it is on the left hand of King Feremon. It is known as a Soul Trap, and it is an ancient and rare necromantic item."
      Lark felt her heart grow weak, her breathing quick and short. Her whole body stiffened as she listened.
      "The ring, once placed upon the hand cannot be removed until the body wearing it dies. It cannot be cut off, magically preventing the severance of the finger, hand or limb bearing it. Once the wearer dies, their soul becomes trapped in the ring until such time as the body is restored, or it is placed upon the hand of an empty body. It was created several hundreds of thousands of years ago as a means of.... well, vengeful assassination, among other things. It was sent first, as a gift, to Sultan Theisodanus the Fiftieth, shortly after which he was assassinated and the ring disappeared. The ring, now occupied by the soul of Theisodanus, was worn by his hated rival, who, knowing the secrets of the ring, used it to control the soul of the sultan, effectively enslaving him."
      As if it were possible, Lark paled even farther, sinking into herself. Landros held her, pulling her to him. "There has to be something...." he began.
      The Matron went on as if he had said nothing. "There are many uses for these rings, as were discovered through the ages. The most benevolent of which was for the protection of the life of the wearer. There were only ten of these known to exist and all of these were lost, or simply vanished into antiquity and disaster. It is speculated that no one still alive knows the secrets to these rings, preventing their uses for the control and enslavement of others."
      "So vampire is in my ring," Lark summarized weakly.
      Rue nodded, hesitant. "It was part of the treasure recovered from the vampire and the witch. It is probably safe to assume that Ebastion got that ring from the vampire's pile of ash," she said quietly.
      "Then it should enable her to control the vampire," Landros said, "not allow him to haunt her."
      "It should," the Matron nodded. "If she knew the secrets of the ring. Which she does not. There is little doubt in my mind that the vampire knew them, and is now using them along with his own unique abilities to try and gain control of her, or to get her hurt or killed in such a way that she can be healed easily, and he can take her body. But that is speculation. What is not speculation is that he is asserting himself to keep you from noticing the ring, from remembering to take it off, clouding your mind to subjugate you. The laudanum you have been taking has kept him at bay, prevented him from growing in power by allowing you to rest. The dreams and lack of sleep were weakening you. The dreams are worse the more tired you are, am I right?" Lark only nodded. "He is also exerting himself to keep you from removing the ring."
      "So, I am trapped with this monster in my mind," she whispered, drew a sobbing breath, although she did not weep. She was beyond tears at the moment.
      "No, you are not." The woman stood. "Rue, tend your patient. Young lady, you will come with me," she said, holding her hand out to Lark.
      She hesitated, looked over at Landros. "But..."
      "Do not be afraid, child. Where we are going no man is allowed."
      Lark took her hand, still looked back at Landros nervously. He half rose, ready to insist, but she shook her head, gestured him to stay put. She put on a brave face and left with the priestess.
      Landros looked at Rue as he removed his shirt and gloves, making certain that his hawk's ring remained covertly inside the gauntlet. "What is going to happen to her?" he asked tightly, as she began to tend to his wounds. "Where are they going?"
      "The inner sanctum, and I do not know. I... I have never been there myself. Don't worry. Mother Mylenai will take care of her."
      "She had better," thought Landros as he finally submitted to the healing he knew he needed.
      
      Lark was led through tangled, spiral hallways to a distance chamber deep in the heart of the temple complex. There were no windows to the room, but there seemed to be a natural light source from somewhere. There were three doors in the curved walls, each equidistant from the other. Between each door was a panel of a large mural each depicting the goddess in one of her three aspects. In the center of the room was a carved stone altar, simple and ancient; it was nowhere near as ornate or beautiful as the one they had broken open a few months before to rescue the priestess within it, but it seemed to hold more power, more significance. Mother Mylenai stopped just inside the doorway, held Lark in place in front of her, her hands firmly upon her shoulders. Lark was not entirely comfortable in here. There was a presence pressing in around her at once familiar and alien. This was a holy of holy places, and she was far from devout.
      "Perhaps I should not...." she whispered, taking a step back.
      "Be here?" the Matron asked softly, with a raised brow. She held her in place. Lark looked up at her. "Why not?"
      "Because.... I do not worship...." she began, sheepishly.
      The Matron looked hard at her. Lark stopped fidgeting. "Respect without devotion? Is that not right, Gypsy?" she said. "That is what you believe, is it not? Well, girl, you could not set foot in this room if you did not believe somewhere in your heart in what the Lady stands for. Every society that reveres its women and the power that only they can wield, worships the Mother Of All Things."
      "Then.... then why do I feel I should not be here?" she whispered, strangely on the verge of tears.
      "Have you yet run from the room?"
      She looked up at the woman's face, so unlike her mother, yet so motherly. "No," she replied, feeling very much like a child again.
      "Then you belong. It is the spirit in the ring which does not wish to be here, but he has no power here."
      The door to the left of them opened and a young woman, younger than Lark, stepped forward. She looked over at them, smiled, but waited just inside the door even as the Matron did. Lark studied her, a pale slip of a girl, elven, with long silky blond hair and flowing pale blue robes. On closer examination, the girl had to be much older; she certainly did not hold herself as the sixteen year old girl she appeared to be. Lark guessed her to be at least eighty or so in elven years.
      Finally, the last door opened and an old, human woman shuffled in. She was bent and weathered, with thin, flyaway hair of various shades of silver and grey, and walked with the aid of a gnarled stick. She too hesitated just inside the doorway. The two other women waited for her to catch her breath, and then they began to intone a chanted prayer in a language that was ancient when the Rune tongue was young.
      Lark realized suddenly, that she was looking at the true power of the tri-temple, not the 'High Lord of the Mysteries' Demeysen. That position was purely cosmetic. This was the true power, and the essence of everything her gruma represented. She saw as well, in this strange tryptych, the true place of the ranie in the clans and the part she was expected, eventually to play. The thought awed her, overwhelmed her to the point that she was not aware she was being led forward until she felt the altar against her body.
      Startled, she looked up at the Matron, who only gestured for her to lie upon the altar. It took Lark several minutes before she could push herself past her fear and obey. They waited patiently, as they had waited before for the old woman. She convinced herself that it was the spirit in the ring trying to keep her from this. She lay down on the warm stone and closed her eyes, trying to surrender herself to whatever it was that needed to be done. She felt three pairs of hands upon her suddenly, stroking her, arranging her hair and dress and hands carefully. She smelled the strong scent of attar of roses and felt the kiss of soft petals about her cheeks and eyes. The women continued to chant, lower, softer this time, and the steady rhythm combined with the smells around her, began to lull Lark into a deep slumber, the sleep of the innocent.
      
      Landros paced the cell like a rabid animal, ignoring Rue's protests that he needed to calm down. It was not until she threatened him with physical restraint that he sat in the chair, crossed legs and arms and scowled. Scraps climbed out of Rue's lap and onto Landros's, tugging on his ear playfully, trying in his own way to cheer him. Nightingale appeared in the window, fluttered drunkenly to the table and sat down, blinked up at Landros, then at Rue.
      At the sight of the rather unwell familiar, Landros started to panic again. "Rue, What the heck are they doing to her?!" he demanded.
      "I don't know!" she snapped, finally losing her patience. "Mother Mylenai did not say! They could be in there for days! Hours! I don't know! I may be a good surgeon and a high ranking healer, but I am no more than that! I have not been initiated in the higher mysteries! The Tryptych keeps certain things to themselves, and rightly so!"
      Scraps put his paws over his ears to block out the shouting.
      
      Lark woke to silence in the chamber. There was an emptiness that bothered her. She opened her eyes, saw only a palely diffused pink light. Her limbs felt like lead and she had not the strength to move. Something moved near her, something silk brushed her cheek as the pink light was lifted away to reveal only a dim room and pink rose petals in the hands of the elven Maiden. The girl smiled, kissed her cheek ever so softly and vanished from her line of sight. She felt older hands upon her, looked up to see the old woman smiling gently down on her, crossed Lark's hands upon her breast as one does a corpse or a sleeping child. She paused to stroke her brow tenderly, then she, too, vanished. Lark found she could not even move her head, to turn and see where they went, but she felt the change in the room as the stone doors silently closed behind them.
      Finally the Matron appeared, took Lark's hands in hers and pulled her into a sitting position. She pressed a kiss to her forehead and helped her from the altar. Lark was surprised at how weak she was and allowed the woman to help her from the room, back through the door they had come. Once again in the twisting hallways, she found the strength to speak. "Mother," she began, calling her simply as Rue had called her.
      "Yes, daughter?" she murmured, pressing her cheek tenderly to her head.
      "Is he gone? Will nightmares come no more?"
      "He is gone forever, Illyana," she said.
      Lark stopped, looked up, startled. "I did not tell you...."
      "I am a Matron, a physical representation of the goddess in her middle aspect. It is a position not without certain powers. To free you, we needed a true name. It was not hard to find. Now come, your lover is waiting, and no doubt losing his patience," she smiled, picked a rose petal out of her hair.
      Lark sighed, sank back into the comforting arms of the Matron and allowed herself to be led back to the cell.
      They heard the argument before the door was opened. "Sounds like we have taken too long," the woman sighed, and opened the door.
      Scraps ran for the open door, pulled up short when he saw Lark and the priestess, sat up inquisitively. Landros left off his argument in mid-sentence, took in Lark's weakened condition and went to her in a second. He took her from the woman, picked her up. "Are you all right?"
      "I will be fine," she sighed, sinking gratefully into his embrace, breathing deeply of him.
      "Is she...?" Rue began, hesitated to finish.
      The Matron nodded and Rue sank thankfully into the nearest chair. "Take her home," she told Landros. "Let her rest. He had a strong hold on her and the fight has taken a lot out of her." From the table, Nightingale peeped an emphatic 'me too!' agreement, which provoked a laugh from the priestess. "You are a very lucky young woman," she said. "Had you waited much longer he may have been too strong."
      Landros noticed the ring on her hand as she put her arms around his neck. "Why is she still wearing that danged ring?" he demanded.
      "Because, it is clean now, and will do much to protect her life. With it, as I said before, all her body needs is healing and her soul will return to her body."
      "But, what if body cannot be healed?" Lark asked. "What then?"
      "Or if the ring is stolen from her body?" Landros added.
      The Matron nodded patiently. "If the body cannot be healed, then return the ring to the Hall of the Dead. The Crone will know how to release her spirit from the ring. As for it being stolen, as no one alive knows how to use its more malign powers, you should be able to assert yourself as our vampire opponent did, and alert someone with knowledge of the problem. Fear not. The ring is far more a blessing than a curse, and, as I said, it will not come off until you have died. You are tuned to that ring now. It will guard your life and protect your soul. ...I... I must go now," she said with sudden weariness. "My reserves are exhausted and I must rest, as must you. Farewell," she sighed and drifted from the room.
      “Landros, please, put me down,” Lark asked quietly. She touched her hand to his lips when he started to protest. “I will be fine,” she smiled. “Am just… tired. I can walk. Is not my feet this time.” He sighed, set her down. “Just help me home.”
      “You are not sleeping in that wagon, not in this condition,” he said stubbornly.
      She felt her ire rising, she was too tired for anger. “I have not slept in wagon since left for children. No mattress, remember?" she said firmly but gently. “Take me to Lily’s. She will take care of me, as she has been. I will deal with finding new place for wagon when am… up to it. I do not know why so tired. I slept through whole thing.”
      Lark reached for her bag, but Landros picked it up first. He slung it over his shoulder with his own pack and put his arm around her to support her. “All right. I promise, not another word or complaint until you’ve rested.”
      She nodded, clasped Rue's hand in gratitude. “Thank you for everything," she said.
      "Next time, come to me sooner," she complained, "and bring him with you. Don't let him go traipsing around bleeding all over the place."
      Lark smiled weakly.
      Scraps climbed up Landros’s shirt and disappeared into the pack.
      “I hope that was your pack and not mine,” Lark sighed, letting Landros finally lead her out of the room.
←- Midnight and Amber CH5a | Midnight and Amber Chpt 6a -→

DateNameComment 
3 Oct 2003:-) Emily Rose Radulescu
Wow! What a great story! You would seriously be nuts not to finish this. I really hope you do. Thank you for telling me that it was up. Good luck on getting Love in Ruins published, it really deserves it. Emily

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: "thank you. I'm trying. Slowly getting motivated. And Clio (my muse) is seriously threatening me with a brand NEW story... sigh...."
9 Oct 2003:-) Carla Demich
**tries to bribe Clio**

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: ""And just what are you offering? And what would it be for? THe new piece, more art (my current buzz) or more of the unfinished ones?""
9 Oct 2003:-) Carla Demich
MOREmoremoremoremoremoremore!!!!!!!! GAH!

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: "gimme two weeks. going on holiday and have no time to proof and prep chapter 6 before I leave"
13 Oct 200345 Yang Dai
Tsk tsk. You should know that you've just distracted me from French homework because I absolutely had to read this. I'm glad I did though! Have a good holiday, and post some more!

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: "lol glad you've enjoyed it. Well, I've been out of town for a week, so, even if I finish the edits tonight (fat chance) you'll get chapter 6 in another week. So you've got time to catch up on your French! Right now my cats are demanding I make my absense up to them!"
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'Midnight and Amber CH5b':
 • Created by: :-) Sandra Leigh Wagner
 • Copyright: ©Sandra Leigh Wagner. All rights reserved!

 • Keywords: Adventure, Adventurer, Fight, Gypsy, Highfantasy, Seige, Stubbornelves, Vampire, War
 • Categories: Elf / Elves, Magic and Sorcery, Spells, etc., Romance, Emotion, Love, Vampires, Zombies, Undeads, Dark, Gothic, Wizards, Priests, Druids, Sorcerers...
 • Views: 502

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