Jenny: Elemental Power

Strange how paper-thin one could feel, battered and worn as if by a long storm or illness, just surfacing and too tired, too worn, to beaten, to care if one had survived or not. Gwenhywfar felt remarkably light; she was not sure what held her down in her chair other than sheer lack of will. Where her mind wandered, she was never sure. She stared into the heart of the fire beside her, silent, lost, thin and tired. So tired! A flicker of a thought came into her mind: so tired of fighting every day, so tired of being Andromeda on the rocks, lashed with the unceasing, hungry waves. She wanted to ebb away into leviathan's mouth and not have to fight any more. The fire, curiously bright, blurred at the edges, sharp and stinging in the middle, seemed to reach out and beckon to her comfortingly, though she had no strength or will to answer even if she had wanted to. She let it mingle with her and felt the elemental warmth glow inside her, but too tired to take the strength from its blue-white core. So tired of fighting, so tired, so tired...

Ship-bap! Ship-ship-ship-bap-bap-BAP! Crackacrackcrackacrackcrack!

She turned her head, in dream or waking she was not sure then, to see a dark blur of a figure in one of the hall windows, so drenched in the far shadows that she could not pick out its nature. A faint, detached sense of panic came to her from somewhere. She watched it, listened to it, unable just then to move or think much.

A boy's figure broke from the shadows among the pillars and moved to the window, running on silent bare feet. He was thin and growing to be tall; he reached up easily and unlatched the window, swinging it open. The fires flickered and writhed in the draught of the windy, stormy night. Gwenhywfar barely stifled a shiver. There was a blustery flapping of wings between the casements, and the boy pulled in a sodden owl, furious and protesting. He hushed it by clamping his hand firmly over its beak.

"Hush, son of Ahriman - child of the devil!" the boy said angrily. He stepped away from the window, still handling the bird as one might handle a pup, shutting the window as he did so. Then, crouching by one of the pillars, he said in a gentler tone, "Ah - ah! You have it. Good, good boy. Mm...!" He ruffled the creature's feathers round its head, crooning to it, taking from its talons a long sharp object. The firelight, weak among the shadows, managed to catch it and flash off in steely blue. Seeing it, Gwenhywfar felt as though it had rammed her through the breast, and she could not stifle the noise which lunged out of her throat. In a moment the boy was on his feet, the owl crying loudly. From her own feet where it had until now been sleeping, the cat rose in a flurry of claws. The bird shrieked, the cat screamed, the world seemed a hollow bubble of light sharply divided from the shadows. The boy ran at her faster than she thought possible, the knife poised to kill. At the last moment she jerked out her hand to arrest his advance.

The bracelet on her wrist, made of gold and hanging with filigreed rowan leaves, clinked and chimed with her violent movement.

Only his eyes and chest moved to show that he was not frozen in his place. The cat drummed angrily by her skirts; the owl sat fluffed to twice its size on his shoulder. But she looked only at the boy, and his big uncanny black eyes flickered from the thing on her wrist to her face, the firelight reflecting in them, yet never illuminating them. A tiny flame of triumph burned in her unpierced breast.

"There are Laws, Mordred," she said firmly. The fine rowans leaves were tinged crimson at their tips, veined in silver light. "You are bound by them."

"Were that I a man!" he said, voice swift and low and warm; "older and strong: I would break your little bauble - and then I would break you."

"Go back to the haunts of your wildcats, boy."

He turned his head, as the owl would do, his body stationary, and looked at her out of one fierce large eye. "This knife is old, and it has slept for long and long, and not once tasted blood. Yours would be sweet to it tonight - aye, tonight! with the east wind gathering with the wolves on the moor: a potent night, a potent blood, amber princess."

Her taffeta skirts rustled loudly in the hall as she rose, the bracelet and the knife between them still, crescent moon and golden circle of sun at elemental odds. "By deep heaven, boy," she murmured, as swift and low and warm as his own tone, "you are a little foolish frog to be playing with the war-horses."

"So?" The boy had to tip back his head to see her face, one half of his countenance in shadow, the other uncannily pale and ghostly in the light. And still there was no fear in those eyes, eyes from which it seemed an immortal and tangible hatred looked out on her. "But the foolish frog is small and hard to kill, and I will not always be too small to run among the war-horses. Let your deep heaven be 'ware of that, amber princess! Heaven is deep, ah - but so is hell."

To him she had no answer. She sensed in him a bloodthirst she had never seen matched, and he stood upon the brink of whipping up the east wind and the wolves and the shadows of wolves, things which a man could not see, but could feel always watching, formless forms upon the edges of one's vision. Foolish frog! did he not know he was too small to hold such shadows in his own leash? So she kept her peace, and let the hatred and the lightless lit eyes smoulder, and suffered the crawling feeling of the shadows against her skin. And when the silence stretched out long enuogh for him to know she would make no answer, he stood a step back, mocking her with a gesture of palm to forehead, and quit the hall on his silent feet. The owl continued to look at her, turning its head with its eyes fixed upon her own countenance. She looked at it, knowing she would hate herself should she look away.

"Mraw!" said the cat, and leapt into her arms. She held it close, finding comfort in the harsh prick of its heedless claws on her skin. She noticed then that the hall had fallen dark, and the fire had become a sullen wolfish sprawl of pulsing ruby light in the hearth. Dark, so dark! Darker still the night - darker still the future. You were formerly in darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.

She sat down, tired, but not so tired as before. The prospect of journeying south to Saxonland was at once bitter and sweet to her mind.

"Artos!" she murmured huskily. "Artos, I need you now..." She dropped her head in her hands, and the cat gently licked her cheek.

1 comment:

Lilly said...

Mordred has the knife? O.O *hopes Gwenhywfar was able to wrest it from him*

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