The hallways were strange, and they smelt. There were rushes on the floor where Gwenhywfar was accustomed to stone, and all was untidy and unfamiliar to her. She felt closed up on herself, drawing in as if to avoid brushing against the walls, against other people, against other minds which were not welcome to her. She felt small and alone, and not a little frightened. She did not let it show - she could not let it show. She could not let her defences down for a moment, yet a most horrible terror was beginning inside her. She began to wonder if she really would ever get out.
She walked down the passage, hoping to find her room and lock herself away for a while. Hengist's house was a maze of confusion with too many people and all their faces crowding round her. The hall, which was empty and should have been relieving, was a long soft tunnel of closing darkness so she felt like something monstrous had swallowed her and was working her down its throat. The cobwebby cling of evil was all around her. She wanted, desperately, so lash it off and run and run until she could not run any more, and pitch down and cry until she could not cry any more, and then die and be quiet and alone at last. But she forced herself to walk steadily, forced herself forward into the dark with the dark welling up behind her.
There was a sudden white glint in the dark before her, and she stopped dead still, hands clenched. A low growl reverberated so deeply that she could feel it, and in a moment she could see a black wildcat straddling the path before her, the single white patch of fur at its chest gleaming mockingly back at her. Oh no! She struggled to rouse her defences. The cat let out a single yowl and leapt straight in the air, and was caught by a figure that moved into the little pool of white light with it. It was a woman, a woman milky as alabaster with a great crown of golden hair, and Gwenhywfar knew she had met her match. The cat yowled and swiped.
All she could do was fight, so Gwenhywfar remembered who she was and what she was, and held her chin up and her hands clenched at her sides. "Stand out of my way," she said coolly.
"But I will not," the witch replied silkily. "I am the woman of the house - and your house, soon."
"Nevertheless - " Gwenhywfar was hating her more and more with every heartbeat " - I am my own house, and you are not mistress over me. So stand aside and let me pass." And thankfully her own cat came up out of the dark just then, having been chasing mice, and began spitting and reaching for the witch's beast. Gwenhywfar caught it up and held it, and felt even with the witch at last.
The witch drew herself back, the cunning coming into those blue, blue eyes, eyes blue as the June heavens on a warm day. "Nevertheless," she countered with quiet venom, "I will be mistress of your house, and I will turn your house back on itself and destroy you, long and slow - for I know who you are, and I hate all you love. Do not underestimate me."
Then she withdrew, and Gwenhywfar was left in the dark hallway feeling shaken and ill, and hot with anger, and wishing to fly into someone's arms and be safe. You are all alone, Gwenhywfar. You are all alone.
Had she not managed to save them, after all?
- ▼ November (9)