© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Twenty-Two With a hard, satisfied smile, The Huntsman clutched Mairi’s arm as she screamed and screamed again, her worst nightmare come true. With his other hand, he cast a hunting-net over the heads of both Janet and Thomas. Lunging forward, Tom pulled it away before it had settled on the mortal girl but was himself immediately caught in the fine mesh of its weaving. Struggling, he cried out, “Janet. Run!” She hesitated, though. “Mother! Tom! I can’t leave you both!” The Huntsman laughed, “No, stay with us, I will have all those that I seek this time.” At his command, the foul beasts stalked toward Janet. Desperately, Thomas tipped his tightly-bound body in front of the creatures, tangling himself and the net in their legs, slowing their charge. He shouted once more, “If he binds us all, we are truly lost!” “I’m not going to bloody run away, again!” But four, red-eyed beasts, mouths full of enormous, razor-sharp teeth continued to move toward her, offering no alternative. Jumping back into the hall, she slammed the door and wedged a nearby chair under its handle. Adding her weight against it, she screamed, “Security! Help!” Returning with Mairi
Notes from the Studio
Category: The Queen of Summer’s Twilight
© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Twenty-One An hour’s drive from Inverness, on the southern shore of the Beauly Firth, there was a sprawling, single-story building with extensive grounds enclosed by high hedge of yew. A discreet sign just off the motorway, at the entrance to a small parking lot, informed Janet that she and Tom had arrived at their destination: “Greenhaven, a rest for those weary of the world”. Thomas cut the engine, and they sat quietly for a moment. Janet breathed in and out, trying to calm her nerves, preparing for whatever she would find inside the institution. The air around them was fragrant with the nearby sea, and the sky above was thick with heavy clouds that threatened an early afternoon rain. Just before she climbed off the bike, Tom put a gentle hand on her arm before speaking. “Janet, I do not know what will happen within this place…” “You mean in what condition I’ll find my mother?” “I hope she will be responsive to you. But even if she is not, we must get both herself and you back within the protection of your father’s estate as soon as possible. You are in great danger outside
© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Twenty After a dreamless night Janet slowly opened her eyes, squinting at the dim room around her. Languidly stretching under the heavy, hand-made quilts as a cascade of memories from last night swirled through her thoughts: Thomas stroking her hair, her body. Her fingers brushed across slightly swollen lips, remembering the endlessly slow, intense kisses that only made her want more. Soon, though, she was aware that the blissful cocoon of warmth generated by their two bodies was melting away, and suddenly she was wide awake. Clutching the quilt around her, she remembered how their bodies had fit together as if they had been made for each other, each arm and leg shaping comfortably over the other’s. They had slept, still clothed, tightly wrapped in each other’s arms for the rest of the night. And now he was gone. Pushing the tangle of quilts aside, Janet shivered in the cool air of the cellar room. Must be upstairs… with my father. Better go make sure there’s no serious joisting going on… ******* Minutes later, Janet stepped into the hallway above, and hearing the murmur of voices, followed them into the great room, where she found
© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Nineteen Janet took Thomas’ hand and led him along the long, carpeted hallway that ran down the length of the west wing of the house. Part way, she pushed open what looked like a simple closet door leading into a small room filled with cleaning supplies and boxes stacked against every wall. For a moment, Janet fumbled with a catch set almost invisibly in the elaborate wood railing that followed the length of all four walls. From the floor beneath their feet came a sudden hum of an electric motor as a narrow entranceway slid back to reveal a metal stairway that descended into total darkness. With one foot on the stairs, Janet turned back, and noticing the quizzical expression on Tom’s face, she grinned, “Never underestimate the stubborn curiosity of a young girl.” Moments later, they stood in midst of complete darkness, their feet on a solid stone floor. Before she flicked a switch to illuminate the windowless room, Janet whispered, “I was twelve years old when I discovered this room and immediately claimed it for my own.” At one end of the long, narrow space was a plush chair that sat beside a
© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Eighteen Resplendent, even wearing cast off clothing, Thomas, The Knight of the Rose looked intently down at Janet. Meeting his ardent gaze, she felt a pleasant shiver prickle the flesh of her arms and neck. Beside his daughter, John Ravenscroft considered the meaning behind that deeply intimate look and uncomfortably shifted his considerable bulk on the couch. “Well, yes…of course, but we have other matters to discuss, don’t we? All my life I’ve discounted anything that smacked of the imagination or fantasy. It was all nothing to me, fit only for weak minds or young children. Now, I find that I must throw away the rules that have always determined my life and accept that a vast unseen world exists as a matter of hard fact.” He grasped his daughter’s hand more firmly and looked seriously up at the young man who had just pledged himself to her. “It will be difficult, so please have patience with me?” After a moment, John Ravenscroft moved back into his own chair, leaving the sofa for Tom to sit beside his daughter. Janet whispered a question, then, that was so soft that both men almost didn’t hear it.