Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rosemary, Chapter 16

It was still raining by the time they went downstairs, a steady deep rain. There were puddles of standing water amid the wreckage of the front lawn. Rills and sheets of water were running off the roof.
Peter stood at the open front door. They joined him there, just under the roof ledge that jutted out over the step, looking with awe at the damage done to his property.
“It’s a good rain,” Peter said.
“Yes,” said Cederic, glancing up at the gray sky. “Stay here, you two, and don’t move. I have to clean up and I want you out of the way.”
Peter glanced at Letha. “Very nice to have met you,” he said shyly. “Impromptu as it was and all. Have to come back again sometime, do it up properly.”
“Oh!” she said, pleased, equally shy. “That’s very kind of you.”
Behind them the house shuddered. Things began to lift from the ground, hundreds of things, shards of wood and glass, shreds of fabric. Pieces outside the house were drawn back to into it as though they were iron filings, draw by a magnet. The house began to shimmer, inside and out, as hundreds and hundreds of its pieces began to fit together.
Then there was a rush of wind and sand, gravel, branches all were swept up and out the front door, over Letha’s head. When she turned back to the house, her mouth dropped open.
Cederic stood in the same hallway that had been there when they had first arrived, as though nothing had happened between then and now. The polished wooden staircase curved up, the windows sparkled with clean glass and everything smelled faintly of sandalwood and cloves.
“I can’t do much about the outside just now,” Cederic said, walking back to them. Letha took his hand, feeling very proud of him. He laced his fingers through hers and smiled down at her.
“Never mind that,” said Peter. “It’ll grow back.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” Cederic said, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Well, come to think of it,” said Peter, “I might have owed you a favor or two. I don’t mind evening the score. I wish you a good journey back home.”
“Oh,” cried Letha, from Cederic’s other side. “Are you going to turn me into a mouse again?”
“I was. Why?”
“Well, couldn’t I be something different this time?”
Cederic grinned. “What? A mouse isn’t good enough for you now? No, my sweet, you must be small enough that I can fly and carry you at the same time.”
“The swan carried me just fine,” Letha dared to tease.
“You'll have to forgive me, then, for not being the messenger of a god,” retorted Cederic, his eyes dancing. “I'm afraid you'll have to content yourself with a mere magician this time around.”
“Cederic," said Letha grinning. She hugged him shyly. ‘I am. You know I am.”
“Fair warning,” came Cederic’s voice.
Letha found herself so close to the great block of granite that she could see all the shades of gray and green it held. The sweet smell of the rain was everywhere, which reminded her to wash her nose. She saw a crack between the stone and the foundation and was about to dart in it when a horned talon closed on her.
She felt an instinctive rush of terror, though she dimly remembered that for some reason, something like that was supposed to happen. She was lifted up into the air and the soft rain.
Cederic flew all that day and the wind favored them. As evening fell, Cederic passed over the lights and smoke of the town and began to descend over the trees, their branches misted over in green and purple with spring buds. The clearing appeared; he flew down into it and landed on his feet. He put Letha down gently and changed her.
She put her hands up to her head for a moment and swayed.
“Steady now,” said Cederic, gently, taking hold of her arm.
When she could stand on her own, he started hunting around in the packed dirt and ragged grass of the clearing.
“What are you doing?” Letha asked, curious.
He picked up a stone and tossed it to her. “Try to find more this size.”
“Could you be a mouse too, if you wanted?” Letha asked, stooping to pick up a likely rock.
“I could.”
“But you have only certain relics.”
“Relics are different,” explained Cederic. “They’re personal, they’re woven into myself. I’m not restricted just to the animal’s power alone.”
“Why did you choose the animals you did?”
Cederic looked at her. “That would take some time to explain. Why all the questions?”
“Because you're answering me,” confessed Letha, with a little grin.
“I knew there was a good reason for keeping you in the dark. Come back, I think we have enough.”
They poured their stones into one small heap at the center of the clearing. Taking one stone, he pressed it into the ground. Beside it the rosemary bush grew, giving off a sweet scent.
Cederic began to mark out rings radiating from the center stone. No one looking at it would have seen any pattern on the muddy ground, half hidden in the grass. Even Letha lost sight of it by the time Cederic was finished.
He walked back up to her, and took a small knife from the top of his boot. He cut himself across the palm of his hand and kneeling, let the blood drip thickly down onto the center stone.
“What are you doing?” breathed Letha, hugging her knees beside him.
“Building the tower again.” He looked up at her. “Do you want to change anything?”
The long light of the setting sun touched his face; he squinted against the light. Across his cheekbone was a raw, red scar, his jaws were bristling from two days without shaving. Some of his thick, brown hair had fallen into his face and he brushed it back impatiently.
“You can do that? You can make it different?” asked Letha.
“I can make as I like.”
“I liked it the way it was,” admitted Letha. “But I don’t see why you still need your own bedchamber.”
He grinned. “I will, when we have a wailing child or two. I may want my own bedchamber then. Go on, now, go right to the edge of the clearing, well under the trees.”
Letha ran across to the trees and waiting, holding her breath. The ground began to rumble, she grabbed hold of the tree next to her. Cracks began to appear in the ground and then the ground began to rise up in a shower of dirt and rock.
Great, dirt slicked stones rose up right before Letha’s face, lichen covered and ancient. It formed one part of the thick courtyard wall. Above the stone wall, Letha saw the rest of the tower still rising. When it stood as it had before, all the lights came on in the windows.

Letha ran around to the back door. It was there, though there were no longer any gardens in back of it. She pulled it open and stepped onto the silvery stone of the courtyard. She ducked into the buttery and on into the kitchen.
It was deserted. All the tools, the table, the roaring fire were there, but no servants and no food. She came up the few steps to the main floor hall, turned and ran up the stairs. There was the solar, the open arch to the chapel and the library.
“Cederic!” she called.
His voice sounded distant, from farther above her. Letha raced up the stairs to the third floor.
She saw him, standing in the open doorway to the fourth floor and for a moment, the sight struck her to the heart. Her own dear Cederic of the last few days was gone. In his place was the great lord that had beckoned to her through the woods.
His face was distant, pale; gone was the loose hair that had sometimes fallen into his eyes. It was close cropped now, shaved up the back of his neck, increasing the arrogant tilt of his smooth jaw and the stern set of his mouth.
He wore a heavy, flat shouldered jacket, edged with fur, buttoned close down the front with copper, gleaming boots, his heavy gold ring caught the candlelight.
“I’m here,” he said, and moved.
The illusion was shattered, he moved like an old man. Letha watched in horror as he made his slow, fumbling way down a few steps, his hand trailing against the near wall.
His face was white. Even his eyes looked drained, the iris having the impossible color of shaded snow. His eyes seemed to have sunk into his face, and dark grey shadows were drawn under them.
His knees buckled. He sank down suddenly, soundlessly, onto the stairs, a look of mild surprise on his face.
Letha flew up the stairs to him.
“Cederic, what should I do?” cried Letha. “What can I do?”
“I must have overdone it slightly, these last few days,” he murmured, half to himself. “Hate to admit to it.”
“What should I do?” she repeated. “Oh, this is all my fault. I did this.”
“Letha, the fault is mine.”
“No, it’s not!” breathed the girl, looking at him in amazement.
“It is. I brought my tower down through my own sheer arrogance. I can’t imagine what I was thinking of, giving you those keys, a responsibility greater than you could have possibly carried by yourself.
“The fact of the matter is," he continued, "I should have given you the truth the night I married you. But I had no experience in sharing my life, only in hiding it. I was arrogant enough to think that I could hold you through my will alone.”
“Cederic,” said Letha, in a wondering voice.
“So there you have it,” he said, with a ghost of a smile. “And here we are on the stairs.”
She looked up, beyond him the door still stood open. “The keys were in the bundle,” she said, uncertain.
“Never mind the keys, the door won’t be locked anymore.”
“Then anything could happen!”
“No, no. I fixed it. The thing about the door, sweet Letha, is that any fabrication of magic this large must have a weakness in it. Since it's my tower, I can choose the weakness. Long before I‘d met you, I’d chosen the locked door. Now I’ve chosen something different.”
Letha’s heart sank.
“Something you couldn’t possibly harm if you tried,” Cederic added.
“Are you sure?” asked Letha, looking up at him with just a glint of humor.
“No damn it, I’m not,” he breathed, and kissed her hard. “You could get in anywhere you wanted to and you damn well know it.”
She grinned and lowered her eyelashes. “But seriously, Cederic,” she pleaded, looking at him again.
“No, you couldn’t,” he assured. “I promise you.”
“What are you going to do to Marta?”
“Marta?” He was startled for a moment. “I forgot you didn’t know. The servants were animals. Marta was a field mouse, and at her age, she most likely didn’t survive the winter without the tower.”
Letha’s hand flew to her mouth. “Then Coll…and good Ellen?”
“Oh, the horses were real enough, they’ve probably wondered off back into town. We might be able to get them back. Coll was a horned owl. He might come back.”
“But they seemed so real,” she said in wonder. “Like real people.”
“Well, they’d been like that a long time, and they began to believe in it themselves. Belief is one of the most powerful acts of magic possible.”
“How old are you?” asked Letha suddenly.
“Well, that’s hardly a fair question,” retorted Cederic, drawing back a little.
“You already know more of my secrets than any mortal on earth. Aren’t you satisfied yet or is your appetite endless?"
“Endless,” Letha dared to say, since it was only the truth.
The tightness left his face and he laughed. He drew her closed and kissed her.
“If you must, then,” he whispered. “But one thing at a time.”
“I’m very patient,” said Letha confidently.
“You dreamed once of flying, didn’t you?” he asked softly. “I can teach you to do that in waking life, if you like.”