© Charles Vess 2019
Later that morning, within a small circle of standing stones, far out on the heather covered moor, Thomas leaned back against the rough granite surface of the tallest of those dolmens. His face creased in thought as he stared at the heavy, black motorcycle leaning against the stone opposite him.
With practice I’ve grown accustomed to riding that strange construction of metal as I ever had any living steed. And, for cert, it gathers far less attention here in this world than any stomping warhorse would.
Though, if I were not truly human, the metal that fashions it would burn my flesh and diminish my strength till I counted death a rare blessing.
Above Thomas and the vast moor that surrounded him the wind howls in fury, sending heavy, ominous clouds scuttling before it. Those clouds were filled with the promise of heavy rain that wouldn’t be long in coming. But inside the ring of stones the air is warm and still, as it has always been for those that knew the way of it.
When first I stepped through this door of stone back into the mortal realms of my birth the heat of its sun welcomed me like a long-forgotten friend.
The simple joy of walking this once familiar landscape, one that had nourished my people for hundreds of years, stirred such longing in me that I am eager to linger among its wonders.
Thomas had been so consumed then by that curiosity that he’d briefly considered stealing a horse to ease his exploration. But the thought of so base an act had twisted darkly at his mind. So, when Thomas had found the motorcycle left at his family’s estate and the young lads who had been so eager to show him how to use it, he’d been pleasantly surprised. The discovery had felt like a gift, left there especially for him.
I could not have asked for a better one.
The thoughtfulness of that unknown and unnamed family member had eased the darkness that had all but drowned his thoughts after seeing the elaborate stone markers rising above the graves of his mother and father, indeed, his entire family. The casual neglect that time and weather had had on the outlines of the lettering on each of their head stones had given him some vague idea of the passage of time since last, he had walked these hills.
Abruptly, the memory of Janet’s vivid features brightened his somber thoughts.
When not consumed by anger the warmth of her eyes… the rich color of her skin… offer such contrast to the stark beauty of my Queen…
His hands plucked guiltily at the heather that gathered at the base of the largest of the great standing stones.
“Perhaps I should not have put the mortal girl through such an ordeal and instead brought her to the Summer Lands this very night? After all, quickest done is soonest mended.”
Looking up into the windblown sky that hurtled, twisting and turning above him, Thomas heard again the old witch’s words when he had found her there in the midst of the rank devastation that now laid claim to the palace that had once been sacred to his Queen.
“So, Thomas Lynn, Knight o’ the Rose, why have you cast aside your sworn duty and strayed from Her presence for sae long? Why were you not here ta prevent the destruction that you now see all around us? ”
Sudden shame filled his heart as he pleaded his long absence.
“Is it not also my duty to be a steward of Her realm, to keep safe its far flung borders, to cast down any malice or wrong doing that I find there?”
Silently the witch stared back at him. Gesturing round about them both, he had cried out, “Crone, know you how this pestilence came to be? What savage will has brought such utter ruin to my Queen’s city?”
The crone had laughed softly at his outcry, “Sir Knight, still speaks o’ Her as his Queen, even after he had abandoned Her and their love bower so very lang ago.”
Brow knit in consternation, Thomas continued, “But I have been gone only a short time…” The ancient witch smiled slyly back at him, “Surely you kin that time flows differently along th’ border twixt this Land o’ Summer’s Twilight and any other.”
Fixing him with her cold gaze she continued, “Flowing, slipping, from one side ta th’ other. Aye, but a single hour there could be repeated here in this land again and again o’er the slow passing o’ this land’s moon into its fullness. A moment there, can last an eternity here.”
Thomas was silent then, remembering how often this creature had stood beside his Queen, offering Her advice and the wisdom that only great age can bring with it. In the end his choice had been a simple one: to put his trust in her words. Remembering the crone’s name, he called her by it, “Mother Hainter, bottle witch, you who are said to be a keeper of the old wisdoms, where then will I find my Queen? If she were taken against Her will, then I will go to Her wherever She may be and deliver Her from that place of evil. For, has She not named me Her champion?”
The wizened crone continued to stare silently at him for so long that Thomas began to wonder what he might have said that had made her angry. When she did speak again he was horrified by what she said.
“In a manner She is safe, for She now bides within th’ bleak halls o’ Th’ Lord o’ Death and o’ Darkness.”
Thomas had sprung to his feet, reflexively gripping his sword hilt.
“Calm yourself, Sir Knight. It is Her body only that is his prisoner. Rescuing Her now would nae offer any o’ us any comfort, for She is moon-mad, her mind lost ta all rhyme and reason. Her mind borne away on terrible winds ta bide in some other’s body.”
Although Thomas had never suffered under that Lord’s cruelty, he remembered clearly all that his Queen had told him of the evil heart that held sway over that empire. Clenching the hilt of his sword harder, the Knight pledged an oath, “Then with all speed I must find Her true self, wherever She may be gone, and speed the healing of Her mind and spirit!”
The crone had again smiled to herself, pleased with her own secret thoughts, before she answered, “Well, Knight o’the Rose, then you must return ta the land o’ yer birth and find there th’ human who now possesses th’ mind o’ your broken Queen. And, once found it needs be brought here into Her land and in th’ presence o’ Her physical form for th’ healing ta begin.”
Vivid memories flew then through Thomas’ thoughts. “The mortal realms… it has been long and long since ever I ever thought of the simple life that I once lived there.”
Ignoring his discomfort, the witch woman’s brows furrowed in thought, “Sir Knight, I also have it in mind that I have watched this tale o’ love and war played out twixt your Queen and this Lord far, far ta many times in my lifetime, and that is a very lang time indeed. Always it ends in despair and loneliness for them both as well as their lands. So, Thomas, I think that between us, we must write another, more natural ending ta their eternal tale o’ woe. Would you also make that your quest, Knight o’ the Rose, as dangerous as it may well prove ta be?”
Thomas had struggled then and now to understand the witch’s words but, finally, he asked only, “Who are you creature? How do you know of such matters?”
“Ah Thomas, it’s old I am, older even than the Fae.
“I have walked through th’ world’s stories since before there were mountains. Since before there were oceans. Before even th’ winds that blew between th’ stars.”
Then her strange slanted eye stared straight at the knight, “Indeed, it was my song that birthed this world out o’ black chaos. My stories that made every creature that walks this circle round, whether they be from th’ mortal lands or o’ Faerie.
Thomas rose then to his feet, “Truly, I understand little of what you say, and yet you also spoke of a quest that will restore my Queen and heal all that is Hers and that, with all my heart, I do willingly accept.” Unsheathing his sword, he grasped its hilt with both hands and kissed its blade before intoning, “Here I do swear as the Knight of the Rose to accept this quest and only my death will keep me from the fulfilling of it.”
With those words a pleased smile spread across the bottle witch’s lined face, “So be it then.”
“And after I have brought that which you ask into the presence of my Queen, what must I do then with this mortal who has played host to Her spirit?”
“As ye will, Sir Knight. As ye will.”
Thomas had nodded grimly and turned to leave but the witch woman had grasped his arm and so he turned again to face her.
“Thomas, I fear th’ Queen’s mind is too powerful ta be contained in a single mortal shell. If that were ta happen then that person would become as mad as she and no use ta either o’ us. So, be mindful that there may be more than one mortal that you must find.”
I have no other choice but to accept the little mother’s words to be true so there is at least one more piece to this puzzle that I must find in order to make the Queen whole. For I am cert that Janet is of sound mind even though her anger causes her to lash out at all that come near.
Securing all who are needed to complete this queer tangle is necessary if I am to make any attempt to restore The Lady’s wits.
His features twisted with guilt as he considered what he had done that night.
The witch’s pendant will tell me where young Janet bides or if she is in danger. So, my quest for this other mind will not be hindered on her account…
Later that same morning, Janet jolts frantically awake, throwing her head from side-to-side trying to dislodge the nightmare memory of the pig beast’s fetid breath as well as the presence of the woman that had so completely violated her mind. Then, when Janet felt the familiar weight of the padded restraining straps that crisscross her chest and legs she tried to calm her wildly beating heart.
Those bloody creatures wouldn’t have the nerve to come knocking on my father’s door.
Another wave of panic, though, crashed through her as she remembered collapsing out on the drive earlier that morning. For a moment, Janet again struggled with her restraints, humiliation, frustration and then anger replacing her panic. Craning her neck, Janet was relieved to see that she was in her bedroom, if not in her own bed. Then, looking directly up at the ever-present surveillance camera mounted over the door, she successfully kept her emotions sufficiently in check to call out in a reasonable tone, “Hey. Hey! I’m awake… get me out of these straps. Please!”
Her bedroom door immediately door swung open and a familiar male nurse hurried into the room, a concerned look on his face. Still, Janet gritted her teeth, straining against the straps that held her down, “Colin, please, please, please get me out of these damned things.”
“Hold on, miss…we only strapped you in because the doc and your father were worried that you might begin sleepwalking again…” Ruefully Colin pointed to the carefully bandaged abrasions on both her elbows. Then, seeing the look of resentment that was etched on Janet’s face, the nurse continued. “You know you could really injure yourself during one of your spells.”
As he moved to unhook the restraints, Janet wearily responded, “Yes, I know. But it’s just so freaky waking up strapped to a bed.” Then, managing a strained smile she asked, “You ever tried it, Colin?”
“No, Ms. Ravenscroft, I haven’t.”
“It’s not any bloody fun, you know.”
Once her arms were free, Janet pulled her robe tight against her body and looked up at the nurse, “Its okay, you can leave now, I’ll dress myself.”
When he hesitated, Janet did her best to smile and speak as calmly as possible, “Colin, I’m okay. Really. I just need a bit of privacy that’s all. Please.” She paused, then looking up again at the security camera, added “Well, as much privacy as I’ll ever get in this bloody place.”
Colin’s eyes followed her gaze and then looked back at her. “ Now, miss, you know that it’s there for your own good. Imagine if you were to have one of these episodes and you were in here where we might not find you for hours maybe.”
Janet’s shoulders sank wearily in on themselves, “Okay. Okay…”
After the nurse shut the door softly behind him, Janet slipped into fresh clothes and walked over to the bay window. Cautiously, she looked out over the grounds below to the city just over the hedgerow that ordered the her father’s estate. Even though the sun was shining high overhead warming the autumn day, she shivered.
Does it even matter how bloody sick I am if those fucking monsters are out there waiting for me?
Janet’s thoughts were interrupted by the soft swish of her bedroom door opening once again. With a weary sigh, she turned to greet the man who had been hired four years ago to be her personal physician. Janet tried not to let her impatience or any residual terror get the best of her because she knew from far too many past episodes that Doctor Nehran had to make an official, but seemingly useless, examination as soon after each incident as possible.
Accordingly, the good doctor patiently conducted a thorough checkup, which he performed as efficiently and with as much good humor as possible. And Janet, with every bit of good grace that she could summon, did her best to cooperate with him. The test were soon finished and Doctor Nehran once again declared her well, or recovered,or at the very least, as healthy as he and his colleagues have ever been able to determine she was. No medicine that they ever prescribed or grueling series of tests that they conducted had done anything to identify, much less fix, whatever might be wrong with her.
Janet gave him a quick, forced smile, “Doc, don’t you ever get frustrated never knowing what the problem actually is? I know I bloody do!”
The soft-spoken Indian man looked down at her, frowning, “My dear, I wish that there was something new to report, but unhappily there is not. Your blackouts continue to be as erratic as they’ve always been. I certainly hope that this new tendency toward greater length and severity won’t continue, because if it does, your condition will begin to severely disrupt your life.
“If you were to ever have one of these attacks when you were driving or even if you were by yourself somewhere, you would simply collapse. What would happen then? Who would help you?”
At the door, he turned back, a worried smile played across his kind face, “I’m afraid that there will always be unexplained mysteries in our lives and it looks like you, Miss Ravenscroft, will continue to be one of them. You really should thank your father for providing you with the care that you need. He’s doing the best that he can.”
Janet eyes hardened, “Right, Doc. And thanks for doing whatever you can to help me.”
Living for so long, though, with an illness that had done its best to reshape her life had left her deeply frustrated as well as angry. But when she noticed some of that same frustration etched on the doctor’s dark brown face she dampened her impatience and tried to pay attention to what he said. Immediately she was sorry she had.
“Your father did ask me to tell you that he’d like to speak with you this afternoon… as soon as you felt strong enough.”
“That would be now, wouldn’t it? The King mustn’t be kept waiting too long.”
“Miss Ravenscroft, please don’t judge your father so harshly, he really is very concerned about your well-being.”
Biting back a reply, Janet waited for the doctor to close the door before this time sinking back into her real bed and trying her best to not let the black depression that wanted to smother her win.
She let a long hour crawl by trying to keep her disordered thoughts from spiraling back into the remembered depths of Thomas’ dark eyes. When Janet left her bedroom, it was more to escape those thoughts than to comply with her father’s order.
Bloody damned if I do and bloody damned if I don’t.
Then, she quickly made her way down the long hallway to his office and without even knocking on the door, slipped inside.
Her father looked up at her from an expansive desk covered in neat piles of paper, “Good afternoon. Slept well, I hope?”
“Certainly. Weren’t you watching me?”
Ignoring the sarcasm in her voice, John Ravenscroft reply was as soft as silk, “No distraught dreams brought on by your most recent prank?”
“I slept very well, thank you.”
Looking defiantly back at her father she watched him attempt to contain his own anger. “And I suppose you’re not going to tell me where you went after leaving my security guard sprawled behind you on the street last night? Or who, exactly, the young man on the motorcycle was?”
There were grown men and women in boardrooms all over the world that trembled when they heard the same edge of anger in John Ravenscroft’s voice. Janet, though, continued to stare silently back at her father, stubbornly refusing to explain any of last night’s supposed indiscretions.
If I tell him about the monster out on that bridge he’ll say I’m mental and bloody lock me up and throw away the key.
“Well, I thought that you’d like to know that we’ve already located your, shall we say, abandoned motor. I had it brought back and parked in the garage, just in case you might be needing it again.”
Without taking his eyes off Janet he reached into a drawer on the side of his desk and held out a shiny object that appeared tiny in his enormous hand. It is Janet’s stolen mobile phone. “You left this behind in your hurry to get away last night. Hamish asked me to tell you that the man who found it said that he was grateful for the loan before returning it to you.”
“Really?” Janet delicately plucked the mobile from her father’s hand and slid it into her back pocket, “Please thank your Mr. Hamish for me, okay?”
I’ll bet that creep with the dreads got his face smashed in.
They stared stonily at each other for a moment until Janet, swept her hand over her freshly shorn hair and broke the hard silence. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a child any longer. I had a birthday last month. Remember? I’m 18. I can drive. I can drink if I want to. I don’t even have to get your permission to go on a date anymore. And I swear, if you keep trying to manipulate every bloody second of my life, I will find some way to escape this damned prison of yours, and you’ll never see me again. Ever!”
Janet was surprised to see the sudden fear reflected deep in her father’s eyes and was almost shocked by his reply. “I… I simply want to do what’s best for you… to protect you, as I always have. I know that sometimes it might not look like that to you, but I do love you Janet.“ His wide shoulders sank for a moment before he continued, “You have some very serious health issues that I’ve done all I can to resolve, but…. well, it would be a great help to us all if you could just follow a few basic rules.”
Ignoring her father’s concern, she spat, “Don’t you mean it’d help you? It certainly wouldn’t bloody well do to have John Ravenscroft’s daughter sprawled out on some floor, looking unseemly in public. That would make all the news feeds, wouldn’t it? And thatwould make you look like a right enough twit!”
The venom in his daughter’s words left Ravenscroft momentarily speechless. Guiltily, he looked down at his desk just as Janet asked coyly, “Okay, do I have your permission to leave now?”
With a curt nod of permission Ravenscroft replied. “Yes, of course. Please remember that in this house I can easily keep you safe. But outside its gates there is more danger than I hope you will ever know. I simply can’t let you just wander off without all the protection that I can provide.“
Suddenly the sour lines momentarily etched on John Ravenscroft’s face softened and his voice hovered just above a whisper, “From now on, I must insist that two of my men accompany you wherever you wish to go.”
“Janet, you should be pleased, this way you’ll always have someone to carry your shopping bags for you.”