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Sandra Leigh Wagner

"Midnight and Amber Chpt 8b" by Sandra Leigh Wagner

SciFi/Fantasy text 25 out of 36 by Sandra Leigh Wagner.      ←Previous - Next→
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Chapter 8: The Warren continued.
The price of Power... or... 'Gotcha'
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Chapter Eight - The Warren part 2

      Lights flashed all around Lark, swirling, attacking, buffeting her about as if she were a mere dandelion puff in the wind. Things began to solidify slowly, the lights to condense and combine until they were a bonfire and scattered, smaller lights became lanterns hanging on hooks outside a ring of brightly painted wagons. There were people all around, watching the dancer in front of the fire. She did not recognize anyone, though the roofs of the wagons were red, marking them as Rushavska. A door opened in one of the wagons, and she noticed, in that last moment, the bird house hanging from the eaves. She saw herself, though much older, leave the wagon and walk out into the woods. She followed herself, curious and confused. Just outside of the wagons’ range, the woman who was Lark turned and started to see herself. The dark eyes narrowed. They were cold and hard, heavy with the weight of being Ranie.
      “Has mother sent you for me?” she asked.
      “I do not know. I… I think I am dead. But I cannot be….”
      The woman shook her head. “No, you cannot be.”
      “Where… where is Landros?”
Lark found herself asking.
      The woman tilted her head curiously, as if trying to put a face to the name. “Oh, the elf. I gave him up,” she said casually. “I had a responsibility to the family, after all,” she added, almost defensively.
      Lark felt herself shrink back into herself, away from this cold, hardened woman who was her. She recoiled from the thought of becoming this creature who lived only for the clan she guarded with nothing left for herself.
      She felt something pulling at her, and gladly yielded. Anything to get away from this dark, unwelcome future. She turned, ready to embrace whatever darkness was there rather than follow this path. She found herself suddenly in the arms of her mother in a field filled with wildflowers and butterflies, partly ringed by a stand of protective birch. She hugged her tightly, held on longer than she knew she should. She was not surprised when her mother gently disentangled herself and pushed her to arm’s length. It was an act which told Lark that she was not dead yet, but hanging somewhere in between, for it is never well for the living to embrace the ghosts of the dead, no matter how well meaning.
       “Daughter,” she said. “What have you seen?
      Lark looked over her shoulder, though the gypsy camp was no where to be seen. “A nightmare,” she answered.
      “And what do you think made that nightmare?” she asked.
      Lark sighed. “I think she gave up something very precious and very rare and has regretted it ever since. But why did I see that?”
      “Because you need to make that choice yourself,
” she said tenderly.
      Lark looked back at her mother, at the face that was just as she remembered it. “What do you mean?”
      “I will show you.”

      Lark looked around, surprised suddenly to find herself in the taproom of a place she could not quite place. It was busy, but not overcrowded. Then she saw Landros enter, with a young elven woman in his arms. “When…?” she began.
      “Now,” her mother answered.
      Landros set the young woman down at the nearest table and left, returned quickly with a goblet of wine which he gave to the woman who seemed quite weak. Lark looked her over carefully. She was bloody and dirty, as if she had fallen in the streets, and Landros was covered in blood. The harpies, no doubt. But Lark saw that, under the muck and grime, the woman was incredibly beautiful. She stared so long, and so hard at this woman who could not take her eyes from Landros, that suddenly she seemed to see through her, saw something odd about her. Coiled in her breast was a viper, a ghostly serpent which unwound itself just enough to strike at Landros, trying to poison him. She looked at Landros, saw after a long moment, a soft, pliant armor surrounding him, and armor of pain it seemed, an old pain. She herself had already encountered this armor, had felt the spike it could sprout if it felt it necessary. She also saw a weakness in its surface, a dent if you would, a worn, patched place. Something had breached it, or was about to…. Her vision was disturbed by the sudden closeness of the woman to him, feigning weakness so that she could get close enough for the serpent to do its work.
      “Are you all right?” he asked her. The cadence of his words had an elven ring to them, but somehow Lark understood them.
      “I am now,” she whispered, and kissed him.
      Lark saw the serpent coil around Landros and rear back to sink its teeth into the back of Landros’s neck. Lark reached out and grabbed for it, hoping it was as much a ghost as she was and therefore solid to her. She managed to make contact, wrestled with the surprised serpent. It managed to free itself, but now she had its attention instead of Landros, which suited her fine.
      Landros, meanwhile, gently untangled himself from the woman, “My lady….” he began with obvious embarrassment.
      “Rocilianesianta,” she purred.
      “I am sorry, Rocilianesianta, I….
      The woman drew back a little ways, obviously hurt, drank sullenly from her wine, stared coyly into its depths. “She must be incredibly beautiful, this elven girl,” she said. The serpent made another strike for Landros, bit into Lark’s hand instead. The bite hurt, but the venom did nothing to her. Lark continued to fence with the snake, keeping it from obtaining any kind of grip on Landros’s armor even when she missed.
      Landros was momentarily confused, then answered, “She is not elven, but yes, she is very beautiful.”
      There was a surge of triumph in the woman, though her mortal face did not show it. “Oh, a mere dalliance then. I may have a chance after all,” she purred, coming closer again, close enough to make fending off the snake difficult for Lark without reaching through people.
      Landros shook his head. “I am not my brother, I do not ‘dally’ with women.”
      She sat up; even Lark found herself paying more attention. “Of course it is. It will last, what? A decade? Two, if you leave once the ‘bloom is off the rose’, depending on her age now. Fifty years at most if you can stomach living with a crone.”
      Lark could feel an anger beginning to burn in Landros at these words, and waited to hear what he might say in response. This, of course, was what the woman wanted, to distract them both. Lark knew the moment she took her eyes off the snake, but she could not help it, she wanted to know the answers herself. The serpent sank its fangs into Landros’s armor and clung there. Lark was helpless to remove it, or to try. All she could do was stand there and listen as Landros stood, moved away from the woman.
      He gave a polite bow. “We are elven, and therefore do not understand the ways of the short lived. That does not make them any less worthy of love because we do not understand them.” With that, he turned and went upstairs, dislodging the serpent without ever noticing it was there.
      Lark laughed as the woman fumed, was surprised when she turned her glowing-coal eyes on her and the serpent raised its head and spoke to her; but she did not stop laughing. “You are dead, gypsssy!” the serpent hissed. “The only way that you will have him isss in the sshadow realm…. and even then….” Then the serpent was laughing, as if it knew a secret Lark did not. But at the moment, Lark did not care.
      “Be that as may be, Longtooth,” she chuckled, “But Love will find Love’s own way.”
      The tavern faded around her, and once more she stood with her mother in the field ringed partly by white birch trees. This time, her grandmother was there, and it was her grandmother who spoke.
      “You must choose, now, Illyana, between your place within our clan, your power as a Ranie, and your gegenta lover.”
      “Why? Why must I choose?! And why now?!”
      “Because you must, my child,
” she said, as gently as she could. “You are dead… and it will take power to bring you back. Power only a Ranie has. You could not elude this choice forever.”
      Lark felt something within her rebelling again. “Are you saying that I must become Ranie or die? Is that it?”
      “No,” her mother said. “There is a time in our lives when we come into our power, usually at a critical time. Before that can occur a choice must be made, a choice of how that power will be used and why, which, in turn, chooses the type of power and its strength.”
      “But I am not ready! I left because I did not want that yet, though you and father both wanted that mantle thrust onto me!”
      “Your father wants you to be what he thinks a Ranie should be, and that is not a man’s place,”
her grandmother said. “That is why I permitted you to leave, to become that which you are destined to become, to find yourself. But the hour of choosing is upon you, Mahril, and so now you must choose.”
      Lark felt the world outside of her reeling, felt her connection to another place slipping slowly, an effect, she guessed, of remaining too long in the realm of shadows. Therefore she would have to choose and soon, or the choice would be irrelevant. She looked left, saw shadowy images of the woman who was supposed to be her and shuddered. No, she would die before she became that cold creature, that heartless being that reminded her too much of her father. But there was still her responsibility to the clan. Self sacrifice was noble enough, but was the price too high? And was she willing to pay it?
      “I have a sister,” she said. “A sister who is young, but who is still growing, who may come into her own power, who may take a gypsy lover and love well and acceptably. If I leave, our clan will not die, will perhaps be even better served by a Ranie who is not dead inside. Therefore I choose Love, whatever pain, agony or hell that brings me to. Mama, I’m sorry,” she said, turning to her. “But I follow your lead, though that leads me away from home. I would rather be a weak gegenta witch than a powerful but hollow gypsy sorceress. I will choose a sedentary love over an empty life on the road. I must trade one love for another.”
      Something happened then, an opening within her. There was a woman there in front of her, of timeless, ageless beauty. Her mother and grandmother stood on either side of Lark, forming a triad. Lark felt suddenly part of a great circle, felt the power that flowed continually in circular, familial motions from old to middle to young. Lark knew then, who the woman in their midst was, knew what was happening and what her place was in all things, and, above all, what she had chosen.
      “Mahril, Mahren, Magruma,” she breathed in awed reverence as the woman reached out and touched her forehead.
      “Welcome to your power!” she said.
      Lark felt a surge run through her body yet again, like the lightning but different, wholesome, ecstatic. She felt a tugging begin, pulling her back to her body, a pulling at her body. Lark opened her eyes to find herself staring at the pocked, smoke-stained ceiling of the chamber, being discreetly pulled out of the room between the gap in the walls opened by a fallen column. She tilted her head back; saw Billy tugging at her arm little by little while keeping his eyes on the combatants beyond them.
      Nightingale, sensing her return to consciousness and her desire not to attract attention just yet, gently pecked at Billy's shoulder, on which he was currently perched. Billy looked up at him, annoyed, then felt Lark's hand touch his wrist. He nearly jumped out of his skin.
      Lark rolled onto her side, still trying to be as quiet as possible, and got to her hands and knees. Across the room she saw Rog and the mage locked in mortal combat, Rog having gotten too close too quickly for the mage to cast spells at him, having wasted all his or her concentration upon Lark. Lark stood, feeling strong and confident and fearless. Was she not her clan's Mahril, the Maiden? as her mother had been the Mahren, the Mother, and her grandmother was the Magruma, the Grandmother? Every Ranie was each of the goddess's aspects in her season. Lark knew she was still not ready yet to take over from her gruma, knew that her clan was not ready for her, but she was still a Ranie. She felt the power and the knowledge surge within her, protective.
      She gestured for Billy to step back out of the way and strode fully into the room in spite of his attempt to hold her back. She stood there for a moment, in the center of the pentagram, waited until the mage realized she was not lying on the floor dead, and smiled. Rog looked up, saw Lark and his jaw hit the floor. The mage took advantage of his momentary distraction and kicked him backwards, out of the way.
      Lark said nothing, did nothing as the mage gathered up the energy in the room and prepared to hurl it at her. "You should have stayed dead," the mage growled in a deep voice.
      Lark did not flinch as the ball of eldritch energy shot towards her, nor did she dodge. Instead, she merely lifted her hand and drew a rune in the air, Eolh, a rune which glowed with a warm fire and hung there before her. The energy ball struck the rune and erupted around it, dissipating in a brilliant, but harmless display of light and electricity.
      "My turn," she said sweetly. She turned sideways and began to draw another rune in the air, this one on a horizontal plane, Sigel, the lightning bolt. "Is for Savaren," she said softly, and whipped the last line of the rune towards the mage like a sling. A bolt of lightning formed from the rune and shot straight for the mage, was not completely dodged.
      Rog, very wisely moved backwards out of range.
      Lark fired again, "Is for children you stole," she intoned as the mage scrambled to cast some kind of protective magic.
      A bubble-like shield went up around the black robes, shimmered, but yielded to the incoming lightning. This time the mage was thrown back, toppled a column, though it seemed that the shield had softened the blow some. The mage staggered, tried to cast another, more offensive spell.
      Lark struck again, “Is for Ebastion and all others who died because of you.”
      The bolt again found its mark, some of its potency leached out by the shimmering bubble which seemed to hold and maintain the power for itself. As the mage fell, scrambled to escape, the hood fell back, revealing flat, oily, dark grey hair slicked back close against the head, but a mask remained in place, still obscuring the mage’s gender, the shape of the head was too androgynous.
      Lark drew one last Sigel without noticing the fine traces of dust that were beginning to filter down from a ceiling overstressed by the energies being released beneath it. “And this one…” she said. “This one is for me!”
      This bolt struck the mage full in the chest, caused a backlash within the shield as the mage tried to strengthen it. Before Lark could do anything else, she felt two pairs of hands grab her from behind and pull her from the chamber. Off balance from being dragged backwards by both arms, she stumbled and fell. She found herself quickly buried under the protective bodies of both the dwarf and the boy as an explosion rocked the tunnel and the vile chamber just beyond them collapsed in on itself. When the dust finally settled, they got up, helped Lark to her feet and Billy began to lead them out of the tunnels.
      Lark felt the power which had welled up earlier subside with the need for it. It was still there, though dormant now. A strange high began to possess her, a need, an urge that cried for expression. She yielded to it, dazed and willing for any purpose or guidance. They passed by numerous tunnels and sewer exits, headed no doubt, for the one they had come in through. As Lark brushed wordlessly passed one set of rungs imbedded in the wall, she felt the desire to exit here seize her suddenly, and yielded readily.
      Below her, she heard Rog call to Billy, “Where the hell does this one go?”
      “Pops out near th’ temples I fink,” Billy answered. “Hey, Lark!” he exclaimed, looking back and realizing why he had been asked the question.
      “Let ‘er go,” Rog said. “She probably needs the healing.”
      She was only vaguely aware of footsteps on the rungs below her as she moved the sewer lid and climbed out onto the street. People swarmed out of the way, leery of anything coming up out of the sewers. Lark found herself facing the steps to the temple of the Old One. She climbed the steps without hesitation, noticing very little on her way to the main altar. No one tried to stop her, though one or two tried to offer assistance which she ignored. She stopped at the offering plate, just under the statue of the goddess, offered forth a small, reverently bold prayer and, having no money, laid one of her rings in the plate.
      Without a word or an acknowledgment of an approaching priest’s stunned murmur of thanks, she walked away, letting her newly awakened urge lead her to a side passage connecting this hall of offering to that of the Matron. Again she laid a ring in the plate, offered her thanks and left without waiting for question, thanks or offer of aid, short-cutting again to the Maiden’s hall to repeat the process. Then, again without word or warning, she left the temple through the Maiden's gate.
      She was manic, bordering on madness as she moved through the crowds. She headed purposefully towards her destination, though she had no real idea where she was going.
      Landros was sitting in the taproom of the Golden Cygnet, drinking from a deep mug of wine and trying to fathom why this unknown, drop dead gorgeous elven woman had suddenly come on to him, and why in the whole of the Abyss had he brushed her off, especially when the reasons he gave were not guaranteed to remain with him, nor even certain if they were returned. He heard someone push violently through the doors, looked up and saw Lark glance about, wild-eyed. He stood. She saw him and crossed immediately to him, seized his head in both hands and pulled him into a deep and hungry kiss. The elven woman vanished from his mind completely.
      The few people in the taproom began to cheer, giving shouts of encouragement, especially when Landros found himself sitting in his chair again and Lark had yet to let go. There was a desperation in the embrace that felt wrong somehow. And he smelled ozone. He disentangled himself with difficulty, saw the scorch marks on her blouse, the charred and frayed edges of her vest laces, the dirt and other smudges on her face and hands and the wildness in her eyes. She smelled like a lightning struck tree. He stood, ignoring the jeers of the taproom's denizen's, held her at arm's length long enough to assess how badly she had been hurt. "Goddess!" he swore. "What in the nine hells happened to you?!" he demanded, feeling a panic beginning deep in his chest.
      She just smiled, looked into his eyes as the mania slowly began to ebb and she was once again her own master. Her voice was a bit hoarse as she answered, "I got religion," and reached for another kiss.
      A wave of dizziness swept over her as he picked her up in his arms. "No, am fine," she protested.
      He turned to the nearest employee, a young scullery boy who doubled on errands. "You, go straight to the temple and get Sister Rue! Tell her to bring her herbs and be quick!" He turned to the bartender who had come out from behind the bar to investigate. "Ben, send me up a bath, a stew and a bottle of strong wine."
      With that, he turned and trotted up the stairs to his room two at a time, completely ignoring Lark's weak protests.
      He opened the door, whisked her into the bedroom, ripped the covers back with one hand and set her onto the bed without a word. Scraps, who had been asleep between the pillows, chattered his protests and waddled away to find a quieter place to sleep. Nightingale arrived on the window, watching Landros with amusement even as Lark watched him with love. That he was fussing over her so desperately told her everything she needed to know about how he felt about her, that and his earlier resistance to the succubus.
      "Am fine, love. Am Mahril now. All is well."
      Landros started at the word Mahril. It was very similar to an elven word for maiden, usually used only when refering to THE Maiden. She must have hit her head, he thought, began tucking her in.
      Rue called from the door, "Landros? Lark?"
      Landros came to the bedroom door, surprised. "That was fast! What'd you do? Teleport?"
      She shook her head. "No, I followed her from the temple."
      Landros felt his fear shift to anger, "She was at the temple?"
      "Yes. She came in without a word, dropped a ring into the offering plate and left. Word is she left one in everyone's plate, one on each altar."
      Landros crossed the room and seized Rue by the shoulders. "And YOU LET HER GO!?"
      "Landros!" she exclaimed. "Let go and calm yourself!" Landros released his grip immediately, took a step back. "She seemed out of it, but otherwise healthy, and she did not ask for healing," she answered, straightening out her robes. "Besides, Mother Mylenai would not let us stop her. She told me to follow her, but not to interfere. The goddess has her own plan for that one," she snapped, pointing to the other room. "It is not for me to second guess that, nor for you! Now if you will get out of my way I will go and see what, if anything, is wrong with her!"
      As Rue brushed past him, he grabbed her arm, looked up into her eyes, just slightly above his. "When I asked her what had happened, she said she had ‘got religion’. I will want to talk with you about this... religion business when you are done," he ground.
      Rue jerked her arm free without taking her eyes from him and went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
      "There is nothing wrong with me," Lark croaked.
      "Except maybe your voice?" she said with a raised brow. "Let me be the judge of that."
      “Nightingale flew,” she cracked with a smile.
      Rue smiled back and nodded as she would to a child. “Yes, I know. Billy handed him to me outside the temple. I spared a little spell for him. It’s getting too dangerous for him to be grounded. Now be quiet and look at me.”
      Landros paced the room outside. Water bearers arrived with the bath water, filled the tub silently and left. The scullery left a tray with a bowl of steaming stew, a bottle of old, red wine and a pair of goblets. He kept thinking, getting nowhere, wondering what in hell’s name Mother Mylenai could have had to do with all of this.
      Rue finally came into the room and sank down onto the sofa just as Landros was closing the front door.
      "Is she....?"
      "Fine," she sighed.
      "Fine? She thinks she is a goddess! What do you mean fine?!"
      "Goddess?" Rue asked, leaning forward. "What makes you think she thinks that?"
      “She said she was Mahril now, Mahril...."
      "Is the Maiden, I know," she nodded. "It is not uncommon for the more loose formed/primitive cultures to refer to their priestesses by a derivative form of the goddess's name. Actually it is a common practice, and not very far fetched. The high priestess is in a way the earthly representative. A minor avatar if you will."
      Landros could not shake a sense of foreboding that the explanation suddenly evoked. He began to pace again. "What happened to her, did she say?"
      "Apparently she was struck by a magical lightning bolt," she said, propping her elbow up on the back of the sofa and resting her head on her hand.
      "Lightning," he repeated.
      "Yes, lightning. Several times."
      She got up, tired, stood in front of him with her hands on her hips. "Why don't you go ask her? Instead of standing here yelling at me?" With that, she snatched up her small medical bag and headed out the door. She paused in the doorway, "Let her take a long hot bath, let her soak awhile. Feed her and let her rest. She'll be fine in the morning. How I don't know. She took two lightning bolts to the chest," she added as she closed the door.
      Landros, regaining his composure, went into the other room. To his irritation, Lark was standing at the window entertaining a pretty little bluebird which Nightingale seemed to be trying to impress. The bird flew off as he approached, snatched Lark up and put her back onto the bed. Nightingale complained vociferously and flew off after the bluebird.
      "Landros...." Lark complained in a tired voice.
      "Do you want food first or a bath first?" he asked. His tone told her nothing she said would be heard until both events had occurred to his satisfaction.
      "Will you join?" she asked.
      He thought a moment, picturing her and him in a hot steamy bath, "Food, yes. Bath, no," he said sternly.
      Lark sighed, the beast she had met on the Aurora was back. She got up, or tried to.... Landros put his arm out and stopped her. "Bath," she growled, waited until he picked her up and carried her into the bathing room.
      She insisted on standing to undress herself, tossing her singed, dirty, sewer mucked clothes at him, managing to get her skirt onto his head and slipped into the steaming water before he could get it off. Landros took the clothes into the other room, dropped them into a corner to be dealt with later. He pulled a shirt out of his chest of drawers and brought it back into the bath room. Lark was nowhere to be seen.
      "Lark?" he called.
      Just as the panic was beginning to rise up in his throat again, she came up out of the water, pushing her wet hair back out of her face. "Hmmm?" she mumbled, looking up at him. "You say something?"
      Landros sighed, sat down on the bath stool beside the tub, "No," he said.
      Lark shrugged and sank back in the water, savoring the clean heat after the cold stink of the sewers. Landros just watched her bathe, calming himself as she soothed her own tired muscles.
      "Mmmm," she murmured. "Should have eaten first. Now am sleepy."
      Landros moved the stool to the head of the tub, began to wash her hair for her, gently massaging the muscles of her neck and shoulders. She began to relax even farther. After a few minutes of this, Lark jumped. "What?"! " Landros cried, afraid perhaps he had hurt her without realizing it, or something had bitten her in the tub.
      "Was... fell asleep," she admitted, half turning to look back at him, her cheeks rosy from the steam. She quickly slipped under the water, rinsing herself completely and stood in the tub. "Should get out. Stay too long and will pickle."
      Landros wrapped her in a thick towel, dried her off himself. Lark leaned languidly into the caresses, savoring the attention and the tiny expressions of caring. She did not know if he realized them as such, but they were endearments nonetheless.
      When she was dry, he handed her the shirt, which she coyly slipped over her head and pulled down to cover her naked body. She made no moves to lace up the front however, let it hang tantalizingly open. Landros did not say anything about it, but tried to keep his eyes away from it. He carried her back into the bedroom, laid her on the bed and tucked her in, propping up the pillows so she could sit up. He then went back out to the front room and brought back the tray of food.
      Scraps was sitting politely on the bed next to her, leaning back against the pillows as if waiting for his supper to be brought to him as well. Landros laughed, which made Lark looked over to see what was amusing him. She tickled the furry little thief, chasing him off the bed long enough to eat her food in peace.
      Landros sat down on the edge of the bed, drank a glass of the wine as he watched her eat. At least she had a good appetite, he noticed. When she was done, she shared the heel of her bread between the bird and the raccoon and Landros took the tray, but insisted she finish the wine.
      He set the tray outside the door and returned to tuck her in.
      "Am fine," she protested.
      "Rue said you needed rest," he insisted, "so you might as well get comfortable. When you are feeling better, and are up to the task, you can tell me what happened. Perhaps in the morning."
      "Perhaps now," she said firmly, grabbing his wrist and pulling him down to sit beside her. "You get comfortable. Is story should hear, not that Billy will not give full report later, and will wish to hear his side. Only remember so much."
      "What was Billy doing in the fight?"
      "Don’t know. Did not see all fight. Only saw him dragging me out of way when came to."
      "What was Billy doing with you in the first place?"
      "He led us through tunnels. Was supposed to hold familiar and stay back, run if was trouble and get bigger help." She shrugged, "Guess did not listen to orders well. Now are you going to listen or no?"
      Landros sighed, sat down beside her, rubbed the back of her hand tenderly.
      "Had gone wandering this morning, out in marketplace when Billy came to fetch. Said Rog was in sewer and asking for me and only me. So went with him." Lark filled him in quickly, and the closer she came to her experience beyond, the more excited she became.
      Landros found it disturbing. She was describing being struck by lightning with the excitement of a fanatic.
      Lark felt the tension in his hand, pulled it to her lips and kissed it, looked deep into his dark, honey-golden eyes. "Yes, think came close to dying, but not dead. …Had my initiation, might say. Am now Ranie! Cannot deny it anymore!"
      Landros felt his heart slam against his ribs and stop beating. Being Ranie meant she would leave now, that she would go away and lead her clan as she had always been intended to.
      "Have no caravan, true," she went on, oblivious to his pain, "but Ranie no less! Know what is mean now, 'Ranie', what Power means and is, where is come from!"
      "I suppose I shall have to find a way to get you back to your clan," he said, feeling himself grow very cold inside.
      She kissed him suddenly, surprised him by laughing. "Silly, Kestrel. If desire to leave this place, could walk out of bedroom door and be outside of city. All ever needed was to ask mother to come home and Gruma would send gate. No, is not mean am going to lead Rushavska clan. Not yet. That am still not ready to do. Not while Father runs things, or Gruma remains even partly in this world. There would be more conflict than is good for a caravan. So, for now, am without caravan, like prince without kingdom, but who is no less prince, but, like that prince, subjects equal power. No, am not leaving. For moment, this is my caravan," she purred, and, taking his face gently in hand, kissed him.
      He felt suddenly comforted by those words, though ‘for the moment’ seemed to deny everything else, but, at least for that ‘moment’ he was content. Maybe with enough time….
      He got up and went back into the bathing room, got his brother’s oils from the small cabinet they were kept in. He went back into the bedroom with the bottle in hand. “I think it is time you rested,” he said and tugged the shirt off over her head.
      “Thought you said rest?” she grinned as she looked up at him from underneath static charged hair.
      “I did,” he said and gently but insistently rolled her onto her stomach. She gave a tiny yelp as he poured a small amount of oil into the small of her back. “Sorry, I did not have time to warm it.”
      She looked over her shoulder at him, her nose twitching with the sharp aroma of the juniper oil. As he began to rub the oil into her skin she felt a sudden, forced relaxation overcome her. She dropped her head down onto the bed, her hands under the pillow as she moaned.
      Scraps trotted up onto the bed, sat down on Lark’s pillow and watched curiously. After a few minutes, he began to mimic Landros, rubbing his tiny fingers through Lark’s hair, massaging her scalp. She suppressed a giggle, and Landros chuckled. After a few more minutes of this, Scraps became bored with the exercise and wandered off in search of leftovers.
      As his hands caressed the back of her neck and shoulders and arms in long, powerful strokes, Lark found it harder and harder to remain awake enough to enjoy the massage. Apparently Landros realized this, for he suddenly growled, “Stop trying to fight it and just sleep.”
      “But is feels so good. Don’t,” she moaned, “want to miss… every… moment….”
      “The whole point of this is to put you to sleep,” he replied.
      “Oh,” she murmured. That was the last thing Landros heard from her. Before he had reached her feet, she was asleep. Not wanting to leave the job unfinished, he completed the massage as he would have had she remained awake before covering her up with the blankets and seating himself in the nearby rocker.
      Landros sat in the chair by the fireplace long after Lark had drifted off to sleep, listening to the crack and pop of the fire. He watched her intently, her face turned slightly towards him. She had a different kind of beauty when she slept, something that made you not wish to disturb her peace, a childlike innocence.
      “I have to be crazy,” he said to himself. “Lying there is a human who has begun to enchant a heart I thought would never feel again. Why?”
      His more suspicious side answered, playing the devil’s advocate, trying to find logical, though pessimistic answers. “Could be any reason. Could be a ruse. You could be no more than a source of protection. She is a gypsy after all, and to a gypsy any non-gypsy is merely someone to use.”
      “Then why is she here?” he asked that niggling side of himself. “She came asking for nothing, just to be here? Rue gave me the impression she thought Lark had been led here. Look at her, she sleeps so peacefully, she has to be content.”
      “Content that she has the best of you?” he asked himself. “Ahhh, be wary of falling for her. Loving her could be a tragic mistake. She is not only a gypsy, she is human. They have short lifespans and do not take love as seriously as elves do.”
      “But, perhaps because of that short lifespan they take it more seriously?”
      “Letting the girl in could be a mistake,” his mind insisted, tried to tighten the armor against the sleeping angel.
      “Not letting her in could also be one. She has managed to stir up feelings that have been dormant for too long. Maybe it is simply time to start feeling again?”
      “How do you know?” he argued. “What is she feeling? Do you know that? She may feel nothing at all for you. You could very well be just another mark, or someone to enjoy for the moment and forget as soon as she is gone.”
      He sighed. “Maybe, but maybe as well I can win her heart. She chose me over others more powerful and more wealthy. After introducing her to Lord Colwyn she still comes to me, not to him. If I were just a source of security and wealth she would have turned to Colwyn as soon as my back was turned. Obviously I provide her with something other than wealth and security, something hopefully, only I can give.”
      Landros sat back, brooding, covered his mouth thoughtfully as he leaned on the arm of the chair. “She is so beautiful lying there,” he thought, as if that one thought outweighed everything else in the world.
      He looked up out the window, realized that he had been watching her purely by firelight. He did not want to go, to leave her, but night had fallen and he wanted some answers from Billy. He steeled himself, made himself get up and walk out the bedroom door.
      Once the inn was behind him it was somewhat easier. He strode out into the night, a bag of food slung over his shoulder, feeling strangely good about the world in general. She had been hurt and she came to him, not seeking healing, not seeking help, but because she wanted to see him and had not wanted to wait for aid. If she were elven he would have an inkling as to what that meant, but, being human and a gypsy, it could mean anything, everything or nothing.
      It was a pleasant night, in spite of the distant rattle of combat. He kept his eyes open for possible attacks, or more wandering monsters, even though he had a feeling that Lark had unwittingly destroyed the source of those monsters, or at least had buried the means to make them. He shuddered thinking of those five women who had been transformed and murdered. He felt that the mage had murdered them as if his hand had held those swords. Or was that her hand? He shook off that train of thought as he opened the gate to the orphanage and slipped quietly into the kitchen.
      He was quite surprised by the number of candles that were lit in the house. It was late, but it seemed that there were quite a few people up and more adults than this house normally held. Billy slipped into the kitchen as Landros was trading sacks. He put his fingers to his lips and, taking a candle from a drawer, led him down into the root cellar to report.
      No sooner than the door was securely closed and the candle lit, Landros laid into him.
      "Do you want to explain to me what the hell happened down there this afternoon?!"
      "Sir?" Billy asked, startled.
      "You were in the sewers this afternoon. There was a fight. Lark came straight to me after getting out and I want to know what happened down there!"
      Billy began to fidget nervously. "I seen th' dwarf crawl outta one huv th' tunnels. 'E was too close to th' warren, so's I was gonna leads 'im away. 'E tells me ta go gets Lark and be quick abou' it! I went an' gotter. 'E'd foun' this place huv magic an' wanted 'er to tell 'im what its for. Tha' masked person, th' mage? was there an weavin' a spell, like, see? When 'e was done, was these 'arpies an' then they's all vanished. We went in to take a look see. Lark foun' 'is book on makin' monsters, i' looked like, then suddenly tha' mage was back and shoots Lark wif a bolt a' lightnin' from 'is 'and! She knocked over a column when she fell, an' th' mage 'it 'er again! Rog was able ta get close enough ta fight 'and ta 'and. I snuck aroun' back a' th' wall an' tried ta drag Lark outta th' fight while Rog 'ad th' magician occupied."
      "Why didn't you leave immediately to go for help?!" he growled. "You could have gotten yourself killed and no one would have known one way or another what had happened!"
      "Wha' an' leave th' lady down in th' fight ta git killed if she weren't all ready? Wha' you take me for?! A coward?" he exclaimed indignantly. "I wa'n' about ta take on tha' mage, I h’ain't stupid! But I wa'n' gonna leave a lady 'urt!"
      Landros looked at him, still angry, but controlling himself. “No, you are not a coward, but if the lady and you and the dwarf had been trapped, then we would not know how to find any of you. From now on, all soldiers of the underground will travel in pairs. That way, one can go and get help if needed. Understood?”
      Billy nodded, though sullenly, "Besides,” he added, “she sudd'nly gets up and goes after th' mage, throwin' lightnin' a' 'er own! Brought tha bloody roof in! Rog an' I barely gots 'er out in time! I don' fink she even noticed th' cave in! But," he added, changing his tone and reaching into his shirt, "I gots this while she was beatin' up onna mage." He opened up a large piece of paper, showing it to Landros against the candle. "It was inna small back corna' near where's I was trying ta get Lark out through."
      Landros turned the paper over, recognized it as a rough map of the city. On it, in various places, were deliberate ink marks. "I'll take this to Lord Colwyn, see if he can make out quite what these may correspond to," he mused. "It is obvious these are marking something. Is this all you recovered?"
      Billy shrugged with a grin. "No, sir, but tha's already been divvied up, your gen'ralship, sir! I'll be gettin' Lark 'er share sometime soon!"
      "How about my place tomorrow morning," he said. "I don't want her disturbed tonight. She needs her rest."
      Billy just grinned, saluted and disappeared into the shadows of the cellar. When Landros raised the candle to see where he had gone, he saw a barrel board swing back into place and no other signs of the boy.
      Landros just growled to himself and tucked the map away. He went back upstairs, returned the candle to its drawer and left for Colwyn's.
      As it turned out, Colwyn had already gone to bed after a very long and tiring series of meetings of the Lord's Council. Landros decided that what he had to tell his lord could wait until morning. Besides, there was a gorgeous, nubile young woman asleep in his bed.
←- Midnight and Amber Chpt 8a | Midnight and Amber Chpt 9a -→

14 Dec 200345 Yang Dai
Yay! More! More!

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: "soon soon soon Real Life first!"
14 Dec 2003:-) Emily Rose Radulescu
Argh! Cliff-hangers! More, please, please, please!

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: "oh, something they always taught me in acting class... always leave them wanting more!"
17 Dec 200345 Mandi L. Creguer
So, does this mean that by choosing love, that shes not kicked out of her clan, but can return when she feels the time is right?? nice twist, that. i am soo loving this story, its too bad there's only 2 more chapters. GRRR hehe

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: "forgive me a cruel chuckle.... keep theorizing.... I'll let you know when I get there if you're right or not. After all, you guys had a HUGE hand in the fate of Ulysses in LIR."
20 Dec 200345 Anonymous
MORE MORE MORE. loved it. very good. bad ending, it left me wanting more ;(

:-) Sandra Leigh Wagner replies: "then it was a very GOOD ending. I'll put more up shortly. Though you need to leave me an email address so I can email you when I have posted more"
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'Midnight and Amber Chpt 8b':
 • Created by: :-) Sandra Leigh Wagner
 • Copyright: ©Sandra Leigh Wagner. All rights reserved!

 • Keywords: Adventure, Adventurer, Gypsy, Highfantasy, Seige, War
 • Categories: Elf / Elves, Fights, Duels, Battles, Magic and Sorcery, Spells, etc., Mythical Creatures & Assorted Monsters, Romance, Emotion, Love, Wizards, Priests, Druids, Sorcerers..., Dwarf, Dwarves
 • Views: 587

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