My eyes snapped wide open and I was here, on his bed in his room and I reached for him, praying that it had been a dream, just a bad dream, Lucian ….
Beside me lay the embers of what had been Lucian, all but extinguished and now the stench of charred flesh struck my throat and nostrils with horror.
I desperately reached to him, deeply linking into all of it, the assault of pain indescribable, and far away, I could hear my own voice screaming, screaming, and yet, he was alive, there was still the spark of what he was, flickering in the darkness, barely aglow.
I rushed to the ember and encircled it oh! so gently and with such love, shutting out my fear and terror and focussing entirely on the small weak glow in front of me, seeking to nourish it, strengthen it, feed it with everything I had to give, everything I have I will give to you, come on, you are so strong, you can fight this with me, live damn you, God damn you, live! I command you, Lord Lucian, you damn coward, I command you! Fight!
Slowly, the ember began to stabilise. Oh so slowly it began to glow a little more brightly, and I redoubled my efforts, calling on everything I had ever known, he had ever know, everything of Dareon’s that was inside us and could help, the stone, the stars, the past and the future - live, please Lucian, just live.
Everything else will be alright if you just live.
His life’s flame began to flicker then and burned a little more brightly and with it, the beginning of an awareness returned (pain, such pain, please let me go back into the blessed darkness, I cannot take this pain).
I soothed him best I could and he calmed and leaned on me, and then I created a small sanctuary space for him where he could remain until I had repaired his body.
I opened my eyes with a shuddering breath to see a lamp, and behind it, Marani staring at us in absolute horror, too stunned even to ward off evil with her signs any longer.
“I heard screaming,” she whispered and her voice was shaking.
“It’s the Serein’s doing,” I said back and my voice wasn’t much better either. “He is still alive but only just. I must heal him and it’s going to take all my strength. Bring me wine and some small pieces of fruit and cake if there is any. There’s not much time, they’re bound to come back for us.”
Marani just nodded with wide open fearful eyes and hurried from the room and out of my awareness.
I lit the fireplace for comfort and had to force myself to look at Lucian, or rather, what remained of him. It was indistinguishable what had been skin or clothes, he was twisted into fetal position and entirely black. A small flash of red caught my eye and there was his ring, entire and intact, on the blackened claws. With shaking hands, I took the singing stone from the pouch and held it in both hands, gratefully closing my eyes as to not have to see the reality of how bad this was, gratefully submitting myself to the sensation of gentle throbbing and gentle power.
Stone, I thought, we have to do something that I cannot know if we can do, but you must give me all you have tonight, if never again.
As in response, the stone hummed harder and I went and reached for that place of blue in which healing patterns are the most easily done, and slipped into it easily and as though I had done it a thousand times before.
His pattern was almost entirely destroyed, warped, twisted out of all recognition, and I had to force myself to dive deeper and deeper into the devastation that was his body on every level to try and find that which was still whole and remained, and upon which I could build.
All was still and silent, his heart was no longer beating and really nothing was working, every aspect lost in shock, in destruction. I nearly lost faith then because I didn’t know where to start or what to do, but in the end controlled myself and began to remove the irretrievably broken patterns, clearing away great swathes of the charred material and have it disseminate into its lithest structures and blow away. When this was done, I was left with way too little and even at this level where things were abstracted to complex patterns and intersections, movements and colours, it was a horror to behold.
I tried experimentally re-growing some of the closest surface structures but the truth was that I just did not know how they should look, how they worked or what to connect where. In the meantime, the exposed surface began to decay and disintegrate as well. I was feeling a real panic rising then – this task is entirely beyond me, I don’t have what it takes to make this work, this is too much! I felt myself losing the link to the healing realm and forced the thought – Lucian. I must help him. I must save him. There is no-one else to turn to, no-one else here, it is either me or nothing.
I cast around wildly for any information, ideas, knowledge, understanding, from wherever they might come, as to what to do to restore him when I did not know the patterns. Slowly, slowly, the insight unfolded that there must be some part somewhere that did know all the patterns of his body, that would remember how to heal scars and wounds and keep his hair from growing a different colour, or his skin turning brown like the travellers wore.
Where is this knowing to be found?
I dropped into the remnants of his body, deeper and deeper still, seeking for what I don’t know, how will I even know when I’ve found it if I cannot recognise it, help me! Deeper into the patterns I dived, and deeper still until they were all around me, and then I saw it – the finest, thinnest strands of something, weaving a web of their own around all the structures, and when I rose through the outer layers of his remnants, I could see the web extended out beyond what was actually still there, a perfect model of all that should have been there but now was not and had been burned away.
The fine strands were the guideline, they were the mould, and if I followed their paths precisely, I would be able to place the patterns into the correct order.
I began in a central place and called upon the stone to channel through me the energy required to feed the structures so they could grow and my intent shaped them to follow the paths of the spider strands and they did, being drawn ever so lightly in the right direction by themselves if I just placed them close enough. If I did not place them closely enough or wasn’t careful enough, the new structures would collapse in on themselves and chaos would reign again.
Oh but it was hard.
Oh but it was hard. I could have never done it at all had it not been for the stone shoring me up, providing extra energy, soothing me, stopping me from falling, patterns, more and still more, never ending, weaving upwards, so much, so vast, so many, I can’t do this but I must and I will for you, my love, you are in my hands now and as long as I draw one breath I will not give in. Then I stopped thinking altogether and the world became the patterns, and I the shuttle for the threads, and I thought no more at all and was no more.
A blinding light jarred me back to awareness. Instantly I knew what it was – the Serein had overcome their shock and were re-calling us back to their burning plane.
I pushed at the light, twisted it and shoved it, and finally reached down into the layers of Lucian’s memories and into the blue white ice, formed it into a huge sword and stabbed it into the light channel as hard and as violently as I could. The light collapsed into itself and all was still once again.
Slowly and painfully, I opened my eyes. Even this tiny movement was too much effort, I did not have any strength left at all. I glanced across to Lucian and he lay, naked and pale pink, by my side, his face quite restored but he had no hair, no eyebrows, no lashes and down the left side of his neck, like a snake, there was a hand’s width band of deepest blackened groove, a scar running down over his shoulder, down his chest and curling around his back.
Through his too-thin skin, I could clearly see the veins in his neck pulsing purple blue and his chest was rising and falling steadily.
All of this would be in vain, in absolute vain, they would pull us back in moments and simply finished what they had started. How to protect you, how to protect us, I don’t have the strength left, I don’t know what to do …
From somewhere, the memory of the old circle of standing stones rose into my mind. They could not get us there. We could rest there, and I could finish healing him, if only we could get there somehow. If only we could get there somehow.
“Marani,” I whispered, my lips dry and cracked and there wasn’t the air in my lungs to make a louder noise. To my surprise, I head her voice in return, “Young one, I’m here.” With painful effort I turned my head and saw her crouching in a corner across from the bed, now rising and hesitantly coming towards me.
“Marani, we need to …” I couldn’t speak further. Marani went to fetch a goblet from washstand and put it to my lips, after some hesitation she put her arm under my head and lifted it so I could let the liquid run into my mouth and I swallowed painfully. I reached out and called to the stone. Please, I know I am asking too much, but we MUST find it somewhere, help me. The stone hummed weakly in return but the energy built up and a pale, washed out green came to my aid. I sat up with difficulty.
“Marani,” I said again, and this time my voice was working well enough although rougher and stranger than I remembered it to be mine at all, “we need to go to the standing stones. We will be safe there. Quickly, before they come back. I don’t know how.”
The old woman stared down at me, and something passed between me and her, a small love, an understanding, an I need you that touched her heart and she slowly nodded, took a deep breath and said, “I can take you in the cart, but how we gonna get him down?” and quickly glanced at Lucian’s form, then away again. She hesitated then said, “It’s for you, understand? Not for – him. For you alone.”
I understood perfectly well. And was more grateful in this moment than I ever remembered having been, and it would be many, many years until I was as grateful again, and never again to another living person.
I gathered myself and stood up. But my, I was so weak. The stone was doing what it could but it too, had little left to give and what it did give to me was of its very own substance, life essence.
We rolled the tapestry spread over Lucian then, Marani overcoming her fear and disgust and hatred when she saw that I could not do it alone, and with him in the roll, dragged him off the bed, out into the corridor and down the stairs. Lucian was a very big man, very heavy, and I was not much help at all. I concentrated on steadying his head as best I could as we clomped him down from one stair to the other. I nearly fainted by the time we reached the bottom.
“I’ll get the pony,” said Marani and hurried out through the front door, leaving me kneeling on the flagstones, my hands and my body shaking, my mind terrified in case the light came back. I was too exhausted now, I was sure I couldn’t fight them back if they were to strike now. My stone was humming feebly, just a pulse here and there of faded palest green, and I whispered to it in gratitude whilst we waited in the dark. Crunching sounds outside, and Marani re-appeared, holding a traveller’s lamp in one hand. Outside, the merest hint of light was beginning to creep into the sky above and a dark shaggy pony stood in harness to a rough and ready cart.
How we ever dragged him across the stone floor which snagged in the tapestry and seemed to hold on to his weight I really don’t know, and getting him up onto the back of the cart which was not much higher than my waist was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Between the two of us, we finally managed to get his head and chest up, and I climbed up into the cart and pulled on the tapestry whilst dear Marani lifted in spite of the screaming agony in her back which I felt as much as it was my own, and which I had no power to alleviate. Somehow, we got most of him up onto the platform, with half his legs hanging off the back. I wanted to just lay across him and die, but the fear of the light returning was stronger still than my desperate exhaustion.
“Hurry, Marani,” I whispered to her, “please hurry or it will all have been in vain.”
Painfully, the old woman dragged herself up to the driver’s box and shook the reins and the cart began to trundle in slow motion down the drive, into the cold damp night-morning. Behind us, the house began soon to recede into the shadows and then I could not see it anymore as the cart rattled and lurched and bounced and creaked as Marani urged the pony into a trot, then a ragged canter.
I leaned against the rough wooden back and pulled Lucian’s lifeless head onto my lap, drew the tapestry around him more to protect his new vulnerable skin against the penetrating cold. I was so afraid. I was so afraid the draw of the light would return and I would not be able to protect us again. With every stride the pony took in the dark, my fear grew until I was shaking all over. I tightened my hold on Lucian and reached down inside myself for the blue ice that now belonged to both of us.
Oh but it was a welcome thing. I touched it and its furious clarity cut away my fear, my tiredness, everything became still and white. Lovingly and in slowest motion, I shaped a sword afresh from the ice and held it in my hands that were not my hands, ruby red ring glistening amongst the blue and white around me. Holding the sword steady I sat ready, guarding my love, unknowing of the passage of time, unknowing of the passage of the cart off the road and out into the shrub land, unknowing of Marani’s cursing and swearing at the pony when the cart got stuck amongst the rocks and bushes, unknowing of her pulling the pony up the sharp incline to the plateau on which the stones waited for us, unknowing until the sword in my hand wavered and disappeared, until I fell from the place of blue white ice back into my own body and mind and I was crushed into blackness immediately.
Why did I do it? Why would I help them, why would I right cripple myself helping them, why?
I can’t rightly say or know, sometimes I wonder if there was more witchery afoot, but I don’t think there was. It was for her. There was something about that young one, something you can’t tell about or explain, she just had a way about her.
When we got to them heathen’s stones, I thought they’d be both dead and gone.
Whatever there was happening, I don’t know and I don’t care, but by the sisters! I pulled them both off and laid them out side by side on the grass in side the circle. She was hardly breathing by then, and I put the tapestry over them both as best I could.
There was nothing more I could do for them. I had done as I promised to her. I got them to the stones.
And of course, tomorrow I would return with food and to see if they had made it through the night.
If she had made it through the night.