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“An heir?” Clearfalls’ countenance constricted. He panted and pushed a breathy word out from between uneasy teeth, “Con, gratu, lations.”
“Oh Celisity, how wonderful!” Irene hugged the blushing Baroness.
A multitude of squeakings and growls mixed with shouts, roiled, neared, and intensified. Rounding the keep Howler and Sniffer ran from the rusted guardsmen recently “blessed” by Reade’s handful of dust.
“C’mere Wolfie, I’s going to skin… Oh? Your Lordship, Ladyship, Canon, Majesty.” Squeaky bows abounded.
“Don’t drool on the floor,” Reade grimaced at the three wolves clustered about her and blushed. “You can’t eat until the Baron begins the meal.”
“Couldn’t I sneak a bite while he’s blessing the food; praying? They won’t miss…” Treadlighter recoiled from Tomlin’s gaze. Howler and Sniffer put their chins on the floor and forefeet on their heads.
Reade leaned and whispered next to Tomlin’s cheek, “They’ve never been to a formal human banquet before,” she paused, “And neither have I. I’ll watch thou and they," she turned and stared down the wolves, “will, watch, me.
“As we all left the ship Throwby talked of war. Dost thou know why?” Reade smiled at Tomlin and asked, “Are all of these utensils for eating?”
“Yes, for the different foods that will all be served in their turn. As for discontent, disturbance, and war, they may all have a turn in The Realm now that our basis for civility and love, The Book, is changed with the copy we brought from the Gray Tower.”
“That Book is the only one I knew existed until I met thee,” said Reade.
“Throwby finally said it to me. What The Council of Seven teach is just wrong. We must bring it back to the scholars at Martyr’s Cavern. As Providence willed, it seems to be the only complete copy.” Tomlin sighed.
“Indeed; dark wizards spreading lies. Surprised? No. War; I can see war now,” Reade sighed too.
Peckmyre, stood next to his mount, a stout bay mare, and prayed facing the valley, “Mystera, Our Mother, Keep this Tomlin under thy sleepless eye. Still his journey. Let Martyr’s Cavern never see his like again. Make the word of Clearfalls free to undertake thy bidding. Return the Seven to full strength and power; by thy heart, hear us, Oh Mother of Harltos.”
The Council of Seven, being but five present, chanted to their goddess. “Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos.”
Peckmyre set the tone, “Make the ways of Tomlin lightless and slippery.”
“Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos,” sang the four,
“Make our ways magic. And tragic for our enemies.”
“Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos.”
Watheburn joined the chant:
Mystera, Our Mother, Give Tomblin dark sky and dry rain.
“Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos,” sang the four,
Cigam! Magic-cigam, magic-cigam
“Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos,” sang the four
Chemokept raised his hands,
“Oh revenger of we wise, hear us.
“Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos,” sang the four.
Cigart! Tragic-cigart, Tragic-cigart
Cigam! Magic-cigam, magic-cigam
“Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos,” sang the four.
Brendlepurr screaked a call; high pitched and throaty dominated by lull-lull-lull, then she chanted:
“Hear your daughter, oh Mother of Harltos, oh Mystera Our Mother,
“Birth-less be the mother of Tomlin
“Hear us, oh Mother of Harltos,” sang the four.
Weaverhurst danced flopping his feet flat and wide of his shoulders.
He pulled bits of hair and fuzz from his beard and head, calling
He drew his dagger and cut his forearm shake-sprinkling the results as an offering.
“Mystera-era rah-rah eara,
“Mystera-era rah-rah eara.
“Mystera-era rah-rah eara.
The curse/prayer continued. The evil chant spread death as it departed. Two birds, a bright red cardinal and his brownish red mate, fell dead from a pine that soon dropped browned needles and shortly fell over the precipice breaking in the air as it fell.
“Soon scholars will scour the newly acquired copy of The Book. Tomlin’s ordination celebration will be held at Martyrs Cavern a week less a day after the new moon. We are pleased and will be there. Perhaps we can all travel together,” Baron Brightmoor smiled richly, and continued: “Arch Canon Clearfalls would normally be invited to pray before our feast. Our apologies to Arch Canon Clearfalls,” he nodded. “But in light of the fabulous treasure so recently rescued by soon-to-be Father Tomlin...” He smiled more deeply, if possible, and lifted an open hand to Tomlin.
Tomlin prayed for wisdom, protection, and of course blessed the meal. Reade watched his face and consumed little. But the wolves ate heartily.
“What you say is not necessarily my concern,” Redondo flicked his rejoined tail left and right. He winced too but the four just stared and took no notice.
Peckmyre, Magician of Mystera, stroked his beard with a gray, red laced, gloved hand. Under his hat he passed it through his gray hair and then absently stroked his gray mount’s mane. It passed over his heart, over his heart, over his heart and beckoned Redondo with a gray mind-fog. “We can and will gladly make it all worth your while. What is the pleasure of the Cat’s king?”
Redondo followed each movement of the gloved hand and then fist. He began to softly purr, “Reade Beryl as my minion, murrr… minion, minion.
Peckmyre’s magic sales pitch thickened, “Perhaps. Perhaps Tomlin as…”
But the Priest’s name nailed Redondo’s heart into reality, “He’s quick, cat-quick and faster still. His eye is power. He is your problem, not mine. Take care of the Tomlin creature yourselves and I will join your plan soon after. After the werewolf is absent, her kingdom may fall easily.”
The five muttered behind Peckmyre’s back, “Werewolf? Who is he speaking about?”
“I thought you knew,” said Redondo. “Reade Beryl is she-wolf and she-man. She is Queen of Wolves; and now Queen of the Werewolves s too. They may be few. But the wolves are many. I can match them tooth for tooth. The Werewolves are an uncounted power; their number unknown.”
Weaverhurst, usually silent, spoke below a quivering moustache and above a shaky chin, “That’s because enchanted canines, hyenas, wolves, or dogs, are a fable. A void is easily miscounted simply because it doesn’t exist.”
“Surely you have noticed the scar on my companion’s flank, slash then bite? Fenre, King of the Werewolves, gave him that before and just after transforming. Sword slash as a man, and bite as…?” Redondo licked a fore paw and preened his whiskers. “I expect an answer.”
A mumbled “Yes.”
Genuine puzzlement constricted Redondo’s face. “Unless you show a little sense, how can we expect to work together? Now tell me what sort of creature made that scar on Helion? There is only one right answer. Don’t you see scars of cut and bite?”
Skubalon made his way along pulling low branches out of the way. Something fouled the air that filled his nostrils; a someone no doubt. Shadows lengthened with his every stride. A short gentle climb before him just past the wood, the trail narrowed but Fortress Brightmoor shone in the last rays of the setting sun.
“Halt! Empty that bag and I’ll sees what yer’ve got for me,” The assailant raised and brandished a rusty, but actually rather sharp sword.
Thus progressed his last living act on earth, “Die!” hollered Skubalon. In a heartbeat the magician’s raised staff produced a blue flame that leapt onto the hapless robber.
The bandit’s sword glowed white hot, while his body blistered and his hair flashed to ash. His weapon soon fell though his blackened torso racing his smoking head to the ground. Both sizzled on the top of the burnt meaty heap; fashioning a somewhat orderly pile of remains with crossed legs on the bottom, and a smoking skull, cleaved by the rusty sabre, on top.
Skubalon chuckled in his mirthless way, “Oh pile of worthless ash, winds will scatter thee. Rain will melt thee but t’is my bag. And I will not share at all.
Those without magic
Those meet a tragic
Smoky and ashy end
Those without magic
Suffer a tragic
Foul and ghostly end
Old and ashy end
Mold doesn’t ask,
His cold spectral laughter insulted the trees and the first of the night bugs stopped their songs.
Reade and Irene had retired to a guest’s chamber near Lake’s Gate for ‘contemplation,’ “Royals seem to need lots of rest,” said Reade.
“Contemplation after a feast and before dancing is customary in The Realm,” said Irene. “Your sorcery; how is it done? What do you,” her voice trailed away.
Lamp’s light played on the stone walls of the small dressing chamber. “It’s not something learned; not taught exactly. But once I began to see that the order of all things is immersed in a fabric. Not unlike this.” Reade stopped and squeezed a handful of her own skirt and then smoothed it out again.
Irene spoke, “Clearfalls says that all that we hear or see or smell or taste or touch is part of God.”
Reade continued, “The Earth, the sky, and the Cosmos are all hung on a…,” she paused, “a lattice. A fabric of ponderous power holds it fast. It can be wrenched, squeezed, or divided. Things: people, animals, birds are surrounded and supported by this lattice, and mingled in it. This fabric is the canvas. We are the paint. There are other paints. This knowledge is a step towards use. Control is impossible. Ah; use; Use it we can, but at our peril,” Reade smiled at Irene.
“Look here and see more. There is more to this flower than touching, smelling, seeing, tasting or hearing, but the fabric that holds it is much more than all the flowers. Watch,” Reade squeezed the blossom in her fist, moved the result to a point just before Irene’s lips. She spoke softly, “Stay.”
And stay it did glowing a frigid blue. Reade smothered the lamp with a quick pinch. The fire of the lamp stayed on her hand until she clothed the blue rose with its yellow flame. Green flickering to yellow to blue blending back to green, “A song of light,” she said.
Irene withdrew a step. The rose changed hue to grays, to oranges, and dimmed.
“The presence of a Dark One,” said Reade.
The flame thinned to a thread, “It points the way,” said Reade. She gathered her skirts, and stood, “Pray.”
Outside, Reade ran up the long wall-stair towards the battlements. Not an enchantment, not a chant, nor even a prayer but she spoke what some say is a proverb,
who can tell the power of Love and Light?
all is well when Power and Love will fight
Who calls hell,
and cowers to prove the night Black?
who can sell the power of Love and Light?
call to me. Cower, and prove your heart’s
Touched by the last glow of sunset, a pale green rose stood in the air before Reade when she opened her clenched fist. A moving shadow just leaving the wood to the west caught her eye. Following a nod of her head the flower flew westwards igniting into a pale fire as it went.
“There he is. Darkness-on-the-hoof,” Reade laughed. ”It’s that fool, Skubalon.” She loosed hands full of flowers that bloomed into light: yellow, blue and red. A full dozen and more followed the green one down and down to wood’s edge and swam a circuit about the dark magician just out of his reach: waist high, head high, and too high.
Skubalon stood under a full circle of magic rainbow. The blue flame that shot from his staff into the eerie bouquet only intensified their lights. He winced and shielded his eyes. His image faded; bleached even of its pale polluted color.
From such a distance the voice of Skubalon none-the-less came through a single red blossom balanced in Reade’s palm, “Who challenges a Wizard of the First Order?” He blinked and dodged but flowers’ light found him wherever he stood; or ducked; or hid.
He yelled helplessly towards the battlements of Brightmoor’s Castle. “Who? Who? Come forth to combat.”
Reade kneeled and picked up a pebble. She whispered to it, and tossed it towards Skubalon. It shouted in her voice, “Surely a downed owl complains of the light. Viscana is dead, owl Skubalon. We no longer serve the same mistress. I owe you nothing.
“No reply? No; who-whoo? Fenre is dead. I am Queen of the Wolves and the Werewolves now. Wait, I’ll make of you a chew toy for our pups. Hold still.” Reade raised her hands.
Skubalon ran back into the woods. The glowing flowers followed but soon disappeared. “Evil is afraid in light,” said Reade.
“What an incredible victory,” said Irene. Her deep blue eyes gleamed admiration.
“The fight hasn’t started yet,” said Reade. “Skubalon is a semi-master; ha, semi-student; of the ‘one trick and boast’ philosophy of wizard-hood.”
“One trick, Philosophy; aren’t wizards powerful and such?” Irene looked at Reade awestruck. She glanced to the forest and gave a shudder. “Ah, yes. You insult him.”
Reade gripped Irene’s upper arm and looked eye to eye. “His trick is he throws fire: a burning stick, a burning branch, perhaps a whole tree ablaze. Then he will boast. He’s quite desirous of murder. But don’t fear; just don’t get hit.
New footfalls and a strange voice joined them, “What’s about? Fire falls from the sky,”
“Oh, here comes one. That’s a bigger log than… duck!” Reade pushed Irene against the battlement and lay over her. They were joined by a man at arms, Baron Brightmoor himself, and Tomlin. The fiery missile struck and splintered into blazing fagots raining onto the wall-walk and into the courtyard. Much of the missile fell outside the walls.
One, and then another, followed by a third uncommonly large blazing tree, spun at three rates and flew each a different speed towards Brightmoor Castle. Reade stood on tip-toe and waved as if to draw their attention:
Woodland of the air; where, just where, dost thou fly?
Bad man full of care; there, just there, wilt thou try?
Reade put out a spark in Irene’s hair. Tomlin put out a blaze in Reade’s, and the man at arms extinguished one igniting the Baron’s cloak.
Sky-fire, retire. Go back from whence thou came
Sky-fire, I require. No crime to blame, Skubalon.
Trees afire, less I tire, go back and there remain.
No more fire, I require: Go fall upon Skubalon.
Spread out against the darkening sky, the flying trees shattered into a cloud of fire and became a flock of light sculpted birds. They formed up into a blazing flock and flew back towards Skubalon.
“He’s never seen THAT done. The fight may be over,” Reade sighed and leaned against Tomlin. She clutched his hand with hers and looked up into his shadowed face, “Kiss me?”
Irene’s eyes flashed, but Tomlin put his hand behind Reade’s head, and drew close to her. When their lips touched the whole castle shook under the impact of a dozen blazing trees splintering into a dusting of fiery rain that lasted but a moment. All about little fires flared up from even more splintered smoking green wood. But they soon dimmed.
“Get up. A man approaches the fortress,” Irene tugged Tomlin by his hair.
They struggled to their feet. “Look! Two together,” shouted Baron Brightmoor.
Far below and a good distance from the wood a voice called to the castle. The Arch Canon of Clearfalls waved and shouted for entrance, “A mistake has occurred. Friend Skubalon is here. Open the gate,”
“Look,” said Reade. The two dark wizards have found each other.
From a red face, Irene bit off her words, “You try my patience, she-wolf. My Lord Clearfalls is a great and noble man; godly and my uncle.”
Reade released Tomlin’s hand, “Lady Irene, I offer thee my apology.” She curtseyed. “Be not offended when I say, ‘Truth has the quality to remain, because t’is reality of itself. I read thy heart, fair friend. Love covers a multitude of sin.”
The three wolves raced up the wall-stair onto the wall-walk, “Where did all the little fires come from?” panted Treadlighter.
Skubalon spoke from the inner ward below, “I thought someone attacked me. Lights accosted me. I cast a spell of fire. I uh, I mean I called defensive, yes defensive fire into being. No; no they were not pulled from thy forest, M’Lord.”
Up on the wall-walk: “Thou knowest he lies,” Reade’s eyes darted from Tomlin to Irene and back. She kicked a toe’s worth of sandy pebbles. Becoming bits of pale green light they descended towards the spot where Clearfalls and Skubalon hobnobbed to which Baron Brightmoor trotted.
“Glowy bug-flies,” The Dark One batted the floating light-jewels with flattened hands. He popped them between his palms. They stilled at his touch and hung in the air as if tiny lanterns illuminating the conversation. But he could not deter them further.
“Lady Beryl, cease and desist,” The Baron frowned richly and sighed, “Return to contemplation, “Leave us.”
Reade put her hands on her knees and casually called down; quoting from The Book:
“I lift my words towards the hills.
“My eye follows. Where is my help?
“My help comes from The Book
“For The Word resides there.
“Behold The Word watches and neither slumbers nor sleeps.
“For The Word is eternal.
“The sun does not strike me by day nor the moon by night.
“For The Word becomes a Lantern to my feet and The Light of my path.”
She laughed saying, “Does light trouble the Dark?” She paused, “Wizard?” She paused again, “Skubalon?”
He clenched his teeth and spat words not spittle, “You trouble even the air with fair lies and dark light, oh werewolf of the Three Failures.”
“The Word watches over me. He makes shade for my right hand; watching my comings and my goings without ceasing; The Endless Love,” said Reade.
Skubalon winced, “The sweet words of The Book become squalor on your tongue.”
“And then, does luxury seep through thy mild parted lips?” Reade laughed but her mirth ended with a gag. “That cataract of noisome dribbles and faint prophesy shows rot abounds within.
“I lift up my eye unto the hills. From where is my help to come? The Word of The Book is my answer. What is your answer, Skubalon of the many kills, red handed witch-man?” Reade’s face pinked and she frowned.
“So, you take The Accuser’s place do you?” said Skubalon.
“No. Just one who sees. You killed a man in the wood,” said Reade.
“He tried to rob me.”
“Self-defense is the première excuse,” said Clearfalls.
“Première excuse? Or favorite lie?” Reade did not smile.
Moon’s glow began to show from behind a distant hilltop.
Three shadowed forms sat on the main deck of the schooner, The Martyr’s Wife. Three lay piled within a great coiled rope.
“Locked in Lake’s Gate Watchtower. Locked!” said Irene.
“It didn’t take long to get out,” said Tomlin. “Clearfalls may have wanted us to flee. No guard at the door; no one watched the gate, and no one followed.”
“Oh and I lied friend Reade. I am fifteen and my fifteenth birthday is two moon cycles past,” said Irene.
“That explains a lot,” said Reade. Her forehead rested on her palm; her elbows on her knees.
“Is there really that much difference between fifteen and nineteen?” said Irene.
“A full day’s experience can make a difference,” said Tomlin.
“What sort of day?” said Irene.
“Today,” said Reade and Tomlin together.
Reade’s mild brown eyes stared past Tomlin to the sky. The moon soon reflected its image in her mud colored eyes. Hair stiffened. Eyes sat moon held wooden and unmoving. Ears sharpened. Bits of blue-white moon fire embedded themselves in the rock-hard bronzed crystal of her eyes.
An almost-smile became a show of teeth lengthening and gaping. A blackened wolf’s nose moved forward to lead a brown wolf’s muzzle. Read’s green dress loosened from the she wolf’s shrinking girth. Roils of stiff brown hair flowed from her shoulders curling along her back. A long bushy brown tail fought then wagged from a maiden’s clothes.
Grayed by moon’s light the brown wolf growled even as she wiggled free of Reade’s dress. It bared teeth and barked, slobbering a growl directly at Tomlin. He kneeled even though sharp fangs snapped a hand’s breadth from his face, and moved the Rose Crux and the black opal talisman from about his own neck onto Wolf-Reade’s.
Tomlin spoke quoting The Book, “’her light goeth not out by night. Strength and honor are her clothing. Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who lives The Word of The Book shall be praised.’ Do what thou must, beloved.”
A tiny spark of whitest light pinked by Tomlin’s living cross left the opal and seated itself just above and between She-wolf-Reade’s eyes. She blinked. Life returned to her countenance. Sighing deeply she jumped over the side and swam away followed by Howler and Sniffer. All three made the bank and ran.
“Hide The Book. The Moon’s call is to protect The Book.” called Treadlighter and he jumped too. The powerful Treadlighter soon caught up to the others and they all faded into the dark.
“Come, help free the ship,” said Throwby tugging at the moorings.
Tomlin joined him and two sailors, “What now?” He said.
“With the ship untied, we can pull her from the wharf by the anchor chain. It’s out there some distance,” Throwby pointed and waved. “I watched these two row it over just after we docked.” The four shortened the anchor-line. The capstan creaked. There was no chant. Irene stared at Throwby. The schooner slipped through moonlit water out into the lake.
“Lady Irene, the current flows towards Martyr’s Cavern. What could be better than a moon lit cruise?” Throwby spoke kindly but he stared into the darkness not looking at the queen-to-be.
“What will happen? The whole world hates us,” sobbed Irene.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: keep the words of The Book, for that is the whole matter,” said Throwby.
Irene quoted The Book too: “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.”
“It’s not over,” said Tomlin.
Irene hugged Tomlin and said, “I am afraid.”
“Thou art wise.” he wrapped his arms about her.
Running, where are we running? Why are we running? What? Where? How? Something or someone needs a thorough gnawing. The moon called but she wanted protection. Not for herself, but for, for, for… What? The Book, that’s it for The Book.
She-wolf Reade slowed; to a trot, to a walk, to a stroll. A welcome difference in this night’s transmutation: a cool fire burned just above and between her eyes, coherent thought, yes, and self-control. Her talisman, her black opal, dangled from her neck on its iron chain and another jewel, a rose colored crystalline cross. Cool clear thought; whatever transpired this night could be worth the doing, and not require days of undoing. Reade howled and her pack joined her.
“What was that?” Skubalon stared into the night from Lake’s Gate. He trembled and searched the moon lit lake’s banks, for the wolves and werewolves howled a second and a third time. Something moved in the grass and along the stone stair that led back to the wharf, but his eye caught a ship on the water, “The boat’s loose from the dock. What awakened them?”
The pack howled yet again. “I think that is our answer. Close the gate,” said Clearfalls.
“Wait! Leave it open,” said Skubalon. We’ll meet them outside and leave them carrion for the morning’s birds.
Wolves moved in dark ripples and darker waves before Brightmoor Castle and along the moat. In and out of the glow of the castle’s watch fires. Their forms disappeared only to reappear reinforced further up or down stair and along the moat by more of their kind.
Sniffing and growling the Queen of the Werewolves perused her pack with ear, nose, and eye; uncounted wolves and three other werewolves. Uncommon clear thought settled she-wolf Reade’s mind, Skubalon the shit wizard; how may I sink teeth into him and not foul innocent mouths? He’s still in Brightmoor Castle. I smell the courtyard through the open gate; the remainder of the stink council no doubt.
Brendlepurr the Sorceress, one of the Council of Seven, grabbed Clearfalls’ cape, pointed with her free hand, and spat, “It’s her. I can see the talisman around her neck. A rose crux hangs with it and from her forehead a jewel burns. She’s taken a mate or is betrothed. His power joins hers through the second talisman. Love’s light, and werewolves’ might. Close the cursed gate.” She waved her arms up to Lake’s Gatehouse.
“You, You, and you follow me,” Skubalon motioned and strode out through the gate muttering a curse through his staff.
Brendlepurr turned to Clearfalls, “Scabby’s about to get bit. All those fools follow. Thus culls the ruling class,” she called then abruptly turned muttering, “Twenty years of plotting, a dozen murders, and decades of study come down to an ego show from that one? I think not.” She busied herself walking to and fro and chanting.
Woe be gone and stray so long
Woe belong and go so wrong
The agitated Clearfalls grabbed his companion by the shoulder thus stilling the walk-writing and her curse-chant, “My Lady, Brendlepurr, that’s an outright curse.”
The full moon’s light softened the shadows here and there about Brightmoor Castle. Wolf-Reade’s howl drew her pack more tightly about her. They all howled. The moon responded. Her beams fell on the she-wolf. Her black opal and the rose crux burned with dark fire about her neck and from the jewel between and above her eyes a hazel-green flame shown. She seemed a smoky-dark unicorn.
The Moon’s Maiden in her blue-gray way stood before her, “What is thy fight, O Queen, and what is thy might, O Serf, and what is thy right O Wolf-Maiden? I Am would know. But how is it so? A fight? Tonight? Hate or Fate?
Wolf Reade in great surprise said, “I speak? I speak, I say: they worship Mystera. That is enough for combat, death, and destruction. They worship the mother of confusion, war, and death.”
“So, thou wouldst fight with the Nether’s tools. What of Love?” The Moon’s Maiden in her gray-way sighted into mist and a slight bluish fog lingered.
Treadlighter managed to close his sagging jaw enough to mutter, “I thought Moon Maid a fable. Reade never spoke when a werewolf before. My Lady stands transfixed and the Shit Wizard sallies from the castle leading some of his ilk. Rally! Rally! Follow me.” When he howled, wolves, werewolves, and Reade herself, followed.
Treadlighter trailed out the whole pack and encircled Skubalon and his meagre skirmishers. Two and then three circles of seething canine intimidation orbited their opponents. Skubalon raised his wand but the moon lit mist squelched its fire and ice dripped into water from Skubalon’s fire-stick. The Moon’s Maiden appeared for an instant; laughing.
Darting in and sprinting out wolves in twos and threes snapped at and bit on Skubalon’s sally force. Weapons, clothing and even bits of armor were torn loose by their attacks.
The lone bowman twisted left then right and then left again. He loosed arrows at every turn, but none found its mark. In terrified frustration and confusion he broke from the group. He ran towards the Castle. Howler and Sniffer gave chase but quickly circled back; an attempt to peel off others.
The cowardice of the bowman elongated and muted the sally; thinning, bending and scattering. No longer a fighting force, no longer in courage, they ran like sheep bumping each other. The cried out too, “The gate! Open the gate!”
Neither the wolves nor the werewolves followed their prey into the castle or onto the drawbridge. Their surge slowed and rolled back like sea surf; more will come.
She-wolf Reade, covered with hair rather than fur, lead Treadlighter and the others in a long rather than sleek flow. Wolves and werewolves followed her moves more like a flock of sparrows than a wolf pack.
Reade walked a line parallel West Moat. There Treadlighter and the werewolves ran and beat the line into a visible cut on the turf. Moon’s light filled the path and the Moon’s Maiden walked slowly along stirring its liquid here and there with an oaken staff.
Near and across the center of the parallel Reade circled, circled in larger arcs, and circled in diminishing arcs. Her beaten area soon glowed with liquid moonlight. She breathed on the result. It cooled into a huge crystal as might, if a thousand-fold smaller, be a glass plate or the bottom of a mug.
Six gray wolves pulled it into the moat. It tilted edgewise and moat’s water hissed into cool steam.
She-wolf Reade spoke and Treadlighter echoed her speech, “Light of night,” the Moon crystal slid further down in the moat and stood mostly on edge
“Moon so bright,” moving further down it tipped over and fell against the castle’s wall.
“White of light,” coalescing from the moonlight the lens burned with a cold blue-white fire onto the wall.
“Moon’s so tight,” a white circle shrank to a dot on the castle’s wall and construction stones backed out and fell, after an unorderly fashion, into the water.
In a few heart’s beats the whole pack followed Reade over the moat on a stone rubble causeway and flowed through the breach in the wall. The Moon’s Maiden formed an orb from the remnant liquid light, the melted moon dish, and hurled the result over the castle wall. She laughed,
In arrogance some leave
In humility some stay
In ignorance none will stray
Of the Children of the Gray Tower
Word rules. Lies fool. Love the tool
Of the Children of the Gray Tower
Truth too, Life who Loves
The Children of the Gray Tower
Irene leaned on the rail of The Martyr’s Wife and pointed towards Brightmoor Castle, “Look,” Eruptions of pale blue light reached for the sky from behind its walls.
Throwby climbed up the shrouds his full height and stood on the ratlines, “There’s quite an assortment running away from Brightmoor; some towards the docks. Pull up the anchor and let her drift with the current. I’ll pray and decide if we need to set sail as well.”
Tomlin too ascended shroud and ratline past Throwby until he grasped the ship’s mast to steady himself, “I wonder what’s going on in the castle?”
Fire’s light from the baron’s massive granite hearth bathed his bedchamber with red-orange swaths and ink-like shadows. The baron’s wife, alone and in prayer, turned to the opening door.
She-wolf Reade stood in the baron’s private chamber, “The courtyard fills with strange warriors and stranger gentry. Follow me, Lady Celisity.”
The pregnant baroness pulled a sword from its place over the mantel. Even with a mother-to-be’s strength she only slowed its undirected plunge to the floor. The steel rang and twisted from her hand, “You, sorceress, what is your demand? I’ll yet part your head from…” she reached for the sword.
Reade pounced and stood on the baroness’s hand breathing into her nostrils, “My Lady, if I wanted thee dead, thou wouldst have already joined the disembodied. I pray thee, accept my help. The un-Worded gentry in thy courtyard are loyal only to themselves. But my pack holds thy castle at bay and Lake’s Gate will open for our escape. The Moon’s Maid joined us.”
“Such drivel; why? Why lie? Tear my throat. Do not torture a Child of the Book. It will bring a deeper evil,” Celisity began to cry.
Reade looked to the door.
In her gray way a form filled the doorway, “Why tarry thou?” said the Moon’s Maid. The cool blue vapor of her breath filled the bed chamber with a heavy translucent mist. “Follow the werewolves’ queen. She will lead thee to safety.”
With the return of Skubalon and his party chaos followed and overwhelmed the courtyard of Brightmoor Castle. Those loyal to the Council of Seven fought the wolves, werewolves, and those loyal to Baron Brightmoor. Human foe was not easily discerned. The Council of Seven and their minions fought each other too. Only Beryl’s Pack did not fight their own. Even so; everyone was losing. The wounded, the maimed, and the dying lay strewn about unevenly among the dead, along each stair and walkway.
Brendlepurr turned to Clearfalls, “My, my; Scabby’s back. The wolf pack chased him away but still arrived in the castle before he did. My, my; how is such possible? Quick wolves and a slow fire wizard, eh? Skubalon, the ember ender, eh?”
“He went out to fight wolves. They chased him and got here first. How is such magic practiced? I don’t want to find out. What foolishness did he accomplish out there in the moon light? Perhaps the wolves will rid us of his loathsome presence.” Brendlepurr grabbed hands full, of air it seemed, and standing above Lakes Gate on the wall walk of Brightmoor Castle threw them into her spell boiling in the caldron at her feet. It popped and hissed. The deep sky-lavender of a hurricane swirled inside the huge black wrought iron pot. The spirit-soup made the lip and raised itself above the rim.
She spat in it. Bits of earth joined the mess. After she pulled a tuft of fur from the tail of a dead wolf, she grabbed a faggot from the fire beneath it all and kneeling, she stirred them into her potion with her hands, “What else? The corpse of an enemy.” She pulled the dead wolf to her caldron. Clearfalls in a burst of polite camaraderie helped her lift. They both heaved and grunted until the wolf-carrion splashed into the pot.
An unearthly lavender-blue whirlwind stood forth. Five paces, ten paces, thirty paces tall it left the pot and wreaked havoc about the courtyard. Animals, soldiers, even Clearfalls and Brendlepurr thrown twelve paces skywards, screaked in fear, in hate, and for relief.
At the rebuke of Brendlepurr the pocket tornado calmed some, sending everything in its path only three or five paces heavenward. Landings delivered, damaged, or destroyed at chance; some to the good; some to the bad.
As if in fear, the magic tornado followed the pack at a distance. Like a gentle breeze, a wave of the Moon’s Maid dismissed the small spell-storm. It skulked towards the castle.
She clasped Celistity’s hand and led her to Lake’s Gate. The drawbridge fell and the portcullis rose like two ocean waves passing each other on the beach, one in and one out parting to expose a tentative path. Two women on an evening’s stroll left the castle. Soon wolves and werewolves, the whole pack spewed from Lake’s Gate swirling about Lady Celisity, The Moon’s Maid, and She-wolf-Reade.
Throwby descended the shroud lines, lingered upon the rail, and stepped onto the deck. He hollered, “Prepare to set sail.”
Tomlin swung from the shroud lines to the deck, “Some go east and some run west. A third group enters the lake. They swim.”
Irene gripped the ship’s rail and stared across the water. “How can she return? T’is a fair swim rested. After a fight, a run, and whatever else befell them… They could drown.” She raised both hands over her head, “Holy Word, sustain, strengthen and deliver Lady Reade and those who follow her.”
“The Martyr’s Wife has slipped her mooring. Must we swim; and without the moon as well?” Lady Celisity Raised a hand to her mouth and watched the Moon’s Maid fade away as the moon’s light disappeared beyond the horizon leaving a much darker night. Two nude women pulled at her dress.
A blood splattered face unknown to Celisity hissed in her left ear, “You’ll die if you don’t pull that off before you get in the water.”
From her right a familiar, if blood smeared, person unlaced her bodice, “My Lady Celisity, Tomlin, Padre Throwby, and Lady Irene are on that boat.” Reade would have said more but Treadlighter ran up.
He put his forepaws on their backs and growled in their midst, “Get in the water.”
Arrows hit randomly about. The four splashed their way into the lake.
Reade bobbed and spoke, “Look, our enemies stop short of the water.”
The mostly bare Lady Celisity floated like a great bulbous white leaf “If they stay ashore, all we have to do is swim with the current. Any speed will do. The Martyr’s Wife is not under sail.”
Treadlighter sneezed water, “Follow me. I can smell the boat.”
“Uh,” Irene sucked in an abrupt breath for two nudists helped a third, a pregnant one at that, crawl over the rail from the cargo net onto the main deck. Rather than help, Tomlin, Throwby, and the few crew stared.
“Help,” a weak call from over the side.
Followed by a weaker, “Hel...”
And a weakest, “Hep.”
Tomlin ran to the cargo net and pulled Howler, then Sniffer, and Treadlighter board. They flopped upon each other becoming a wet pile of wolf. He turned back and saw Reade and her companion helping Lady Celisity to a large coil of rope where she sat and breathed robustly; gulping air in full chest heaving breaths. The vision reflected labors to come but was not.
“You three haul up the cargo net,” said Padre Throwby.
“Wait,” called Reade. “More follow.”
Irene’s voice quivered, “The men all stare. The three are so beautiful. Tomlin, I covet thy gaze.”
Fatigue flowed with Reade’s speech. Hoarse, she croaked her words, “The Lady Irene must speak of thee, Fair Natalie, for I am a butcher’s rag, dripping bloody water.”
“So beautiful, and all stare in admiration, so beautiful,” said Irene.
Even as more of ship’s company crawled on board over the cargo net and even as Tomlin wrapped his cape about Reade and embraced her kissing her forehead, “I am a woman too,” said Irene and methodically stripped herself bare, “Who is Natalie? Will the world fill itself with more rivals for me?”
Reade hugged Tomlin close and called to Natalie past his shoulder, “T’is the child queen I told thee about.”
“Perfect skin; she is flawless,” Lady Celisity arose quivering.
“Legs as pillars of ivory,” said Natalie touching Irene’s finger tips with her own.
Baron Brightmoor came over the rail and immediately embraced Celisity, “My Love, My Life.” He kissed her and wrapped his arms about her.
Blankets, blankets,” Called Padre Throwby.
Irene began to weep. Natalie placed her arm around Irene’s shoulder and said, “Do not weep My Lady for we, your allies, have won.”
“But what does any of this mean?” said Irene.
Near amidships soft moonlight swelled from a singularity, to the size of a melon, glowed, and elongated into the Moon’s Maiden. She touched Tomlin and Reade, “They will see.” Still within their embrace they slowly knelt for the Moon’s trance held them.
“When Father Tomlin and Reade of the Gray Tower awaken, they will share the vision,” said the Moon’s Maiden and was gone. A gauzy blue haze remained for a time.
“…and a curly coated lioness carried a blue egg that grew as large as a horse, but she bore the load without complaint or misstep,” concluded Reade.
Throwby did not contemplate nor hesitate, but spoke, “The interpretation of the vision is this: Lady Celistity’s unborn son is represented by the sky blue egg and will rule the eastern portion of The Realm from Brightmoor, for the lioness brought the egg to the East.
“The curly coated lioness is Lady Irene who will rule the western portion of The Realm from Clearfalls. The two-headed rampaging reptile is Priest Tomlin and Reade of the Gray Tower who will...” Throwby grasped his chest with both hands, “So soon?” he muttered and fell to the deck.
“Is he dead? Is this what it all means? All our struggles and events and things?” asked Irene.
“All life ends in death, My Lady,” Brightmoor knelt and touched Throwby’s throat, “His life’s beat is gone. There is no breath.”
“What of the prophesy?” tears stood in Irene’s eyes.
Tomlin Drew Reade and Irene away from Throwby’s body to himself, “We three will make the prophecy by our action; either true or false. If our choice is Truth and life, then the way is sure. One fact is clear above the others. Our copy of The Book, the one that came from The Gray Tower, is the oldest in The Realm and is different from the copies with which we all are familiar.”
“I want Life,” said Irene and held out her hand.
“I add Truth,” said Reade and grasped Irene’s hand. “What will come?”
Tears dripped from Tomlin, “My Pastor, my mentor, and my friend, this is what it all has come to; another quest. We three become the way because together we choose The Book and agree to fulfill the prophecy,” Tomlin covered their clasped hands with his.
Throwby’s Voice called though his lips remained still in death:
In arrogance the table’s set
Fabled kings whose rule is yet
Will be a parable of yesterday
Truth will rule and come what may
Tomorrow will be yesterday
But The Book remains.
T’is a fantasy. Make of it what ye will.
|The Greer Agency|
|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|
Timothy O. Goyette