© Charles Vess 2019
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. “Tom, the world that you come from, the one that I saw through this Queen’s eyes, is it always as ugly as that huntsman and his creatures make it seem?”
“No, my Lady, not always. There is danger there of course, always great danger, but also more beauty than will ever be found on this earth. The inhabitants of that land are called the Fae. You would call them fairies and have diminished your terror of them by making them small creatures that inhabit your nursery tales, living at the bottom of your gardens. But, as you’ve seen tonight, they are so much more than that.”
Struggling to understand everything that’d happened in the last few weeks, Janet clasped each hand to the other, hard. She glanced at her father and then tried to relate the events that led them here. “Tom and I met on the stone bridge near Aviemore last week. A troll creature attacked me there. I reacted then just as I did tonight. Spoke that same bloody language. Saw that same totally freaky world.”
Startled, John Ravenscroft remembered his wife insisting that she had seen the same things in the days before she was lost to him. His eyes were haunted by the greatest tragedy of his life as he whispered, “Tonight…when I…I looked into your eyes, daughter, you were not there.”
He looked up, wanting desperately to believe what his daughter and Thomas were telling him was the truth, “I called it madness when I saw that same look in your mother’s eyes.”
Janet nodded her head, “Why wouldn’t you? When that horrible creature is in my head I feel like I’m going to explode. Crazy isn’t even the half of it… Bloody hell, you saw me out there with those horrible creatures cowering at my feet. Why didn’t they just eat me and be done with it?”
Listening to Janet, her father pressed his hands into his eyes trying to block the painful cascade of memories that still haunted him.
After a moment, John quietly commented, “I think we need to know who exactly this spirit woman is, if we’re going to keep her from hurting you.”
“Bloody hell, yes!” Janet turned to Thomas. “So, who is this Queen of yours? What kind of creature can just casually make me do whatever the hell it is she wants? And why did that bloody bitch pick me to be the one to torment like this?”
“It will serve us ill to name Her with such vile epithets as seemingly trip so lightly off your tongue.”
“I don’t fucking care. Just tell me who she is!”
After a startled pause, Thomas began to carefully answer that question.
“She? She is The Queen of the Land of Summer’s Twilight. Her smile brings joy and delight to those who live in Her court and strikes fear into those that do not.
“Mortals have seen Her in their most vivid dreams and named her Titania or Mab, Meave, Gloriana or the Morrigan, Diana and Ishstar. By whatever name they gave Her, She is more glorious than ever they can imagine.
“She is the ruler of all the lands of Faerie, from the broad fields of Morningstar, even unto the impassable mountain called Sorrows Ebb. And to Her, I have sworn my life and my honor to do all that She commands of me.”
Janet tore herself out of Tom’s arms and stood defiant, “You…you’ve sworn yourself to this creature! Why? Do you expect me to just sit here and wait forherto tell you what to do next?”
Staring steadfastly at the young woman he loved, Thomas proclaimed, “I have sworn a solemn oath to obey Her in all things that She asks of me, for She is my Queen. Or was, till madness overthrew Her.”
“That’s just bloody stupid!” Janet crossed her arms across her chest and began to pace across the room, trying to calm her bitter thoughts, making a desperate effort to remember exactly what The Queen was thinking for the brief moments that she occupied her body. Abruptly, she halted in front of Thomas, “Well, my Queen is certainly not crazy. Cruel and inhuman, but not crazy. So, are you sure it’s the same person?”
Quietly, with great dignity, Thomas related The Lady’s recent history as he had come to understand it. “While I was absent, a great evil came upon Her kingdom, trying to force its will upon Her very being. To escape, She cast Her conscious mind far, far away, leaving behind only a hollow husk that even now shrieks madly at the moon.
“Because of this madness, my Queen can no longer maintain the balance of life and death. Now Her kingdom, the eternal Lands of Summer, is slowly fading to nothing and all of its inhabitants as well.
“To preserve that Land, it is essential that I make Her whole once more. Once She is restored, I will have fulfilled my quest and fulfilled my avowed duty to The Queen. Only then will I have the right to beg that She release me from my vow of obedience to Her will.”
Facing skeptical looks from Janet’s father and outright derision from his daughter, Thomas continued, “Through some strange sorcery, Her mind has been lodged within yours, untouched by the madness that has consumed the husk of flesh that remains of Her.”
“That is so utter bullshit!”
Her father, fearing another emotional episode, anxiously got to his feet and reached out to comfort his daughter as he cautioned, “Janet, please calm yourself.” Then looking uncomfortable, he continued, “Shouting at each other won’t make this problem go away. We both should know that by now. There’s so much more that we need to understand before those creatures return.” And turning to Thomas, he asked, “I am right in assuming that that huntsman and his beasts will return, aren’t I?”
“If The Huntsman survives your bullet. Or if not, some other chosen one will continue these attacks until they have accomplished their master’s will, or we are all dead.
“Does this master have a name?”
“Yes. He is known as the Lord of Darkness and of Death. His kingdom is vast, and the creatures that he calls his own bow to no other will but his.
Struggling to understand, John Ravenscroft simply said, “Well, whatever he calls himself, we must prepare ourselves…”
Thomas, calmly leaned back into the sofa and looked up at both father and daughter before replying, “Indeed, that is so, but I believe that we have an advantage there.”
Then, what Tom asked next visibly startled the older man. “Master Ravenscroft, who built your estate?”
“What…what has that got to do with any of this?”
Thomas smiled at the older man, “It is a mystery to me who could have woven into the building of it as many subtle safeguards, enabling it to withstand all the creatures of the Fae that have come against it.”
Before answering, John Ravenscroft lowered his head in thought, forcing aside the horror of what happened to his daughter and to the scene of violence that still lay just outside his gates “Well then… this estate was built by the first to lay claim to the Ravenscroft name. As it happens, his name too was John. Our family has lived here ever since his time.”
He looked up at Thomas then. “There has always been a family rumor that he possessed the second sight.”
Startled by her father’s words, Janet opened her mouth to ask a question. But Tom’s grip on her hand tightened, and one quick look into his eyes convinced her to remain silent and listen quietly as the older Ravenscroft continued to speak, “By that I mean, he could sometimes see into the future. The sight was once claimed as a common heritage amongst those of Highland decent. Family legend says that he used that ability to guide all of his business dealings and because of it, they always prospered.
“After he had amassed a great fortune, even for those times, the first Ravenscroft began to construct this estate. Overseeing every detail himself.
“My family has always said that he saw some future doom that would come to either himself or one of his descendants and prepared for it in his own inexplicable way.”
Tom studied both Janet and her father before replying,“Your ancestor did do just that. If I was not truly human, I could not stand here beside you now. The wards that he wove into the making of this place are strong and deadly to the creatures of Faerie.”
“This house is built on one of the great Meridians, on a conjunction of two Ley lines that gives the estate a powerful protection all by itself.”
This time Janet couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Ley lines. Really? Aren’t they just some kind of new age joke? You know, totally spiritually radical. Now, you’re telling me that they’re real?”
“Yes my lady. All my years spent in Faerie have attuned me to the presence of true magic. And at this very moment, I feel the vibrations of those lines of power weave their way through my body as clearly as I now hear your words.” Thomas smiled reassuringly at Janet and her father before he continued, “But it is the hedge of rowan that is your ancestor’s true masterpiece. I have never seen the it’s like before. No creature from the lands of faerie could ever cross such a barrier.”
Thomas stood for a moment, lost deep in thought, before he spoke again, “And behind its protection both of you mustremain, until I’ve dealt with these creatures of the Fae.”
John Ravenscroft looked incredulously at Tom for a moment before he thundered, “Do you really expect me to hide behind these walls and do nothing?”
Thomas, the Knight of the Rose, had commanded vast armies and was as used to issuing commands as the man that stood before him. He suggested coolly, “John, would you send someone into one of your meetings knowing nothing about either the business at hand or the men who sit across the table from him?”
“Then please allow someone who understands the Fae to be about their business. Your presence would only hinder my quest.”
A palatable tension filled the room as both men looked warily at one another. Before either could say anything to escalate that tension, Janet reached out and to rest her hand on Thomas’ shoulder as her look of dread deepened, “Why me? What have I done to attract this horrible Queen’s attention anyway?”
As Thomas began to explain what Mother Hainter had told him, they were interrupted by the shrill, insistent beeping of John Ravenscroft’s mobile. Janet was visibly annoyed when her father took the call, but Thomas watched the older man curiously as John talked into the small metal object he held in his hand. When a dark frown spread across his brow, he grew concerned.
After Ravenscroft ended the call, he looked at them and smiled grimly, “It seems that there are two detectives at my front gates, or at least what’s left of those gates. These gentlemen expect me to come down to my security office in ten minutes and answer all their questions about what happened tonight. Afterwards, I expect they will ask to search the estate.”
His eyes hardened as he said, “And I am going to give them that permission.” Janet’s eyes widened, and she reached out for Tom’s arm again as her father continued, “Really, it’s the only way to avert the outright disaster of a horde of police camping out here for the foreseeable future.” Thomas’ body stiffened at the thought. Ravenscroft looked carefully at them both, “It would be so much easier for all of us if the both of you could just vanish into that invisible world of yours.”
His daughter’s hold on Tom’s arm tightened, “Not on your life.” Janet looked at her father, “I’ll think of some place to hide us, okay? I haven’t lived in this house all my life without finding a few secrete lairs.”
Ravenscroft held up his hand, “It would be better if you didn’t tell me exactly where.” Then he smiled again, “Good luck, I’ll see you both in the morning, yes?”
After they left John Ravenscroft’s somber face settled into an impenetrable mask, almost as if he was preparing to go into battle. And he was. Ravenscroft was certain that the detectives would grill him for answers to the bloody mess that still lay out on the tarmac under the front gates of the estate. Those detectives would consume many hours tonight, and he knew that he’d be lucky if he saw his bed before first light.