The Coven- Part IX

DSC01005

“Five daemons, give us the power to destroy our enemies. Teach us how to dominate those who oppose us,” Hope’s voice rang out over the hill. “We summon and stir thee.”

Hope raised his arms toward the moon. For a time, everything was silent, and then the fire cracked and swirled in a spiral toward the sky.

Hope turned his face toward me. His eyes gleamed crimson in the moonlight.

I stumbled back and fell. My head landed on the rocky path with a sickening crack, and for a few moments, all I could see was blood red light.

Then, slowly, the red light faded away, and I saw black cloaked figures standing all around me.

“…should have been there to keep her still,” Hope was saying as he knelt beside me. “Where is Mercy?”

I blinked up at Hope. For a moment, I thought I was seeing double, but then I realized his brother had knelt beside him.

“This is a disaster,” Brother Lux said in his softer voice. “If our secret is revealed-”

“It won’t be; I will make certain it won’t.”

Another figure moved closer and removed its cowl, revealing Chastity’s face.

“Can you? None of us can reach her.”

“I’ve had more success than any of you, and I’m at my full power, tonight,” Hope said. “I can do it.”

While the others spoke, I tried to sit up, tried to move, tried to even draw a breath, but I couldn’t. I felt as though I was bound by ropes that constricted around my chest and my arms the more I struggled.

Brother Lux put his hand on my head and closed his eyes for a moment. “She isn’t seriously hurt- just stunned. If you are going to do it, now would be the best time.”

Hope nodded and leaned closer to me- his eyes were still shining red in the moonlight-though…how could they be? The moon was behind him.

“Look into my eyes, Grace. Listen to my voice.”

Hope stared into my eyes, breathing slowly, and I realized that I was breathing again. A red haze filled my vision as I breathed- in and out- a rhythm not my own.

“Keep breathing with me, Grace. You are safe and relaxed. You can trust me.”

And with those words, the red haze disappeared, and my breath jerked out of rhythm.

No, I thought, I cannot trust you. You’re lying.

Hope didn’t seem to notice anything amiss- he merely continued to stare into my eyes. I realized then that he was trying to mesmerize me.

“When I give you the command, you will go with Lux back to the house,” Hope continued. “You will allow him to examine your head, and then you will go to sleep.”

I tried to breathe in rhythm with Hope once more, so he wouldn’t know that he’d failed, but it felt more unnatural than before. With each slow breath, I wanted to either cry or scream.

“In the morning, you will awaken feeling happy and refreshed. You will forget all of the distressing things you witnessed tonight. There is no need to remember. Forget… forget… be happy.”

Hope’s voice trailed off, and we breathed together in the silence.

“When I snap my fingers, that is my command. You will stand and take my brother’s hand- now.”

Hope snapped his fingers as he spoke the last word, but I felt little compulsion to stand. I had to force myself up to my knees, and then onto each foot. I reached out to take Lux’s hand, shuddering slightly at his icy touch.

“She’s cold,” Hope said. He removed his horrible black cloak and draped it over my shoulders. My throat constricted, but I was grateful that I could not scream.

 

#

 

I struggled to hold back tears on the way back to the manor. One or two tears broke through and ran down my cheeks, but Brother Lux didn’t see them. It was dark, and Brother Lux walked a little ways ahead of me- pulling me after him as though I were a child.

As we walked, I thought about Hope, and about his strange power. I’d read about mesmerism in storybooks, but even so, It had taken me too long to recognize the power. I could now recognize that Hope had mesmerized me twice- earlier that evening when he’d put me to sleep, and once on the day of our engagement, to make me feel more comfortable. On the day of our engagement, however, I had broken free from his power, much as I had tonight.

I’d seen him use his powers the first time we met, as well- on the High Priest, but that time the effect had been instantaneous. He had spoken, and the High Priest had obeyed.

Hope had taken control of my mind more slowly and methodically, and for some reason, I’d been able to resist.

Of course, even though I felt clear- headed at the moment, and I hadn’t obeyed Hope’s command to trust him, I was still doing everything else he’d ordered. What difference did it make, I wondered, whether I obeyed because of hypnosis or fear? In the end, I still obeyed.

Brother Lux didn’t speak to me until we were back in the manor, in my bedroom. He lay me on the bed, and then placed his two hands on my forehead.

“Let’s see- no internal damage, and no concussion. Good- good,” he muttered. “I don’t know if I would be able to heal you, if there was damage. None of us are as strong as Hope.”

It was then I remembered Chastity’s words- “None of us can reach her.” Did Brother Lux and Chastity have powers, as well? Why couldn’t they reach me?

I shut my eyes.

“Yes- that’s right. Just rest, now. I’ll go find Mercy- she was supposed to watch you.”

I heard Brother Lux walk across the room and shut the door, and when I was sure he had gone, I let myself cry.

 

The Coven, Part X

The Reading Nook- Book 1

I’ve had so much fun reading this summer, that I’ve decided to post a few recommendations. I also have a few standalone posts I’ve been working on, as well. I will continue to post regular serial updates, but every once in a while, it’s good to break up the monotony.

Surely you're joking

Surely You’re Joking, Mr, Feynman

 

The title Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman comes from a story of Richard Feynman’s days at Princeton. When he first arrived, any social faux pas he made would be met with this phrase and some nervous laughter. Feynman, whose brash nonconformist attitude is written in every page of this book, must have heard this phrase repeated often.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman isn’t a comprehensive biography, but rather, a series of stories that give glimpses into his unique genius and experiences.

Most of my favorite stories in this book take place in Los Alamos, where Feynman worked with some of the most brilliant minds of the day on the Manhattan Project. He was barely out of school when he worked on the project, and indeed, began work before he’d even finished his dissertation. Feynman describes himself as being fairly low on the hierarchy when he began in Los Alamos, and this perspective seems to have allowed him to view a lot of the nitty-gritty. When I think of the Manhattan Project,I always get a very lofty mental image of a tightly-run, top-secret facility filled with the best and brightest.  Feynman, however, describes a very rushed project plagued with construction issues, security that was full of holes, and one barely averted major disaster. Feynman’s antics at the facility were amazingly irreverent and entertaining to read.

Another chapter focused on Feynman’s time in Brazil, and the fun he had performing in a samba band. This section of the book featured a prescient address that he gave at the end of his stay- a scathing assessment on the state of science education in Brazil. His words described the current state of science education in the US with chilling accuracy. When Feynman later recounts the time he spent on a US school board curriculum committee, his criticism is equally scathing, but ends on a much more hopeless note. The school where he spoke in Brazil seemed to heed his words, but the US curriculum committee did not.

There was a great deal of levity in this book, but there was one chapter in particular that made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Feynman described lessons he was given in how to pick up girls in bars, and even though this must have taken place before the modern “pick up artist” movement began, his technique would best be described as “negging.” Even though, at the end of the chapter, Feynman mentions that he didn’t like using this technique, he states later on that he “had learned in New Mexico many years before not to be a gentleman.”

Feynman also expresses disdain toward the humanities and those who study them. However, he would often reach out to artists, and in doing so to created a dialogue with people who have different points of view. In fact, in trying to understand art, he became an accomplished artist in his own right.

Despite its negative aspects, I greatly enjoyed this book. Feynman’s approach to problems, and his way of breaking them down and understanding them in a concrete way- even though he was a theoretical physicist- was brilliant. He had a way of cutting through sophistry that so many brilliant people get caught up in, and approaching things in a practical way. Feynman’s passion for empiricism, coupled with his sense of fun, made up his unique genius.

The Coven- Part VIII

 

At the end of the week, on the night the red moon was full, an unusually somber party gathered for dinner.

Mrs. Auber, who lived in the nearby village, had returned to join our party, along with Lord and Lady Willingham, who were still staying at the manor. A new guest, Brother Lux, joined the party as well.

I was startled the first time I saw Brother Lux. He and Hope had been standing side by side, talking, when I arrived in the drawing room before dinner. Hope was dressed simply, in a black suit with few embellishments, so  at first I saw no difference between the two men. Their wavy brown hair, the dimples on their right cheeks, and even the lopsided way they grinned was exactly the same.  

After a moment of staring, I noticed that even though they were both wearing black, one of them was clad in the loose robes of a monk’s habit.

“Welcome to the hill country,” Brother Lux said to me once the introductions were done, and he  shook my hand. “I’m glad you came at such a fine time of year. How do you like it, so far?”

“It’s beautiful,” I said, “especially the view from the star-watching hill.”

“The star-watching hill?”

“She means bluebell hill, near the cabin. It’s where we spent our wedding night.”

Brother Lux’s face went red, and several of the party laughed.

“Should I- should I not call it the star-watching hill?” I asked.

“No; it has a very good view of the sky,” Hope said.

The party fell into silence once again; even Lady Willoughby, who often gossiped or sang, was silent. I sat on the sofa near the door, and Brother Lux sat beside me.

“It is my family’s tradition to dedicate the youngest son to the church,” he said, “while the eldest remains the heir. It just so happens that I was born three minutes earlier than my esteemed brother. However-”

“However, I threw a tantrum when the time came for me to join the church, and you offered to take my place in order to keep the peace,” Hope finished for him.

Brother Lux chuckled. “Those are your words- not mine. I only meant to say that you had no desire to serve.”

“You’re still striving to keep the peace, after all of these years,” Hope said.

“But you are right. I would rather die than serve.”

I cast my eyes back toward Brother Lux, but his face didn’t show any sign of shock or condemnation. Instead, he simply serenely at his twin, and said nothing. Silence fell back over the whole party.

When we entered the dining room, I noticed that the foot of the table, where I usually sat as Lady Frey, was set differently than the other places. The dishes were all black, the linens were black, and there was a bouquet of red moon lilies set in the glass. Hope took me gently by the hand, and led me toward an extra place that was set next to his.

I realized that the place must have been set in remembrance of the former mistress of the manor. Today, I thought, must be the anniversary of her death. Suddenly, the somber clothing, the silent party, and Brother Lux’s introduction made sense. I wondered why no one had told me – even Lady Willoughby had only given me a vague warning that Hope may be unhappy on the night of the full moon. I felt out of place in my light blue frock, and I hadn’t offered Lord Frey or Brother Lux any condolences.

The meal proceeded silently. More than once I felt the urge to check the clock. The full moon would rise at 9:30, and I had been looking forward to an opportunity to view it through my telescope. I couldn’t bring myself to show such disrespect, however. The moon would be up all night, and if the dinner party ran late, then I might view the moon the next night. Besides, the moon would be full next month, and the month after that.

I kept my peace and ate my dinner.

Hope ordered the servants with silent gestures to fill glasses and serve the other guests. He waved his hand more than once for the footmen to bring wine, and he mixed my wine with water himself. I usually did not drink much wine, but after he’d taken such pains, and on such a sad night, I could not refuse. The wine was bitter, even after being mixed with water, but I drank as much as I could to show my gratitude. Before I’d finished my first glass, he refilled it.

I continued to drink the bitter wine in careful sips, but my stomach clenched in protest. I dropped my glass and placed my hand over my mouth.

“Are you unwell?” Hope whispered in my ear.

I took a deep breath, removed my hand and tried to speak, but all I could manage was a small groan.

Hope took my hand and stood. “I beg your pardon- the lady is unwell,” he announced.

“Do you need any assistance?” Brother Lux asked.

“No, I can escort her to her room. Please stay and enjoy the meal.”

Hope led me from the room, and when my knees gave way, he caught me, and carried me up the stairs to my room.

“There,” he muttered, placing me on my bed. “Don’t fight it- you need to rest. Close your eyes.”

My eyes closed.

He placed his hand on my feverish brow- and then ran his fingers through my hair. When he spoke again, I could feel his warm breath in my ear.

“You shouldn’t be so feverish from the drug. You’re fighting it. Relax- let go of whatever you’re holding inside.”

I could feel my heart’s pounding subside, and Hope’s voice grew muffled, as though from far away.

“That’s right, just sleep. Forget your constant worry- let go of your unrelenting fears and doubts. Let me tear down these walls you’ve built around yourself- my strange little wife.”

And so he continued, until his rhythmic words were little more than waves on the sea, and I slept.

 

#

 

I woke with a start, as though from a nightmare. My face was covered in sweat- my hair stuck to my face in wet ropes. I slid out of bed and went to my toilette, where I washed the sweat away. I was fully awake, now. My stomach no longer pained me, and I found I was hungry.

I was still wearing my clothes, so I brushed my hair back, took a candle, and left the room.

The hallways were empty, and the laps unlit, but pink light streamed through the windows, setting the halls aglow. I looked out and saw the red moon hanging in the sky high above the hills.

I gazed at it for a while, tracing the familiar streaks of white, the ‘Tears of Chastity’ that marred the otherwise smooth red surface. Then I turned and dashed toward the stairs.

The house was quieter than usual. Hope was always up at night, working in his study or in the library, and usually one or two servants were up to attend him. Tonight, however, the house seemed empty.

I walked down the stairs, placed my candle on the table, and slipped out of the door. I didn’t need a lantern to find my way; the moonlight was my guide. The path was softly illuminated- a ribbon of light through the hills.

I followed the path and made the slow climb up the star-watching hill on foot. It was a fine night, with only a slight breeze that rustled the bluebells that grew on the eastern slope. The stars shone steadily above, with hardly a quiver or a twinkle.

I looked toward the crest of the hill and saw the familiar glow of a campfire that flickered in the night, casting dancing shadows of the bushes and rocks below. I paused in my walk to consider this. I seemed unlikely that bandits or poachers would intrude on Lord Frey’s land, only to take refuge on the highest hill- visible to all. Perhaps, I thought, Hope had come out to the cabin, and was enjoying the fine night.

I started forward again, but at that moment the flames at the top of the hill suddenly leapt higher, throwing sparks into the air. I jumped back in fright, and then thought that it would be better to take the safer path to the cabin, away from the eyes of whoever camped at the top of the hill.

I turned onto the other path and moved slowly. As I neared the cabin I heard music. It was nothing like the cheerful airs that were usually accompanied by Lady Willoughby’s lute, but rather a slow, mournful chorus of voices. The voices grew stronger as I approached, swelling in a rhythmic chant.

Red royt itsah cecne rever,

Red royt itsah cecne rever,

We summon thee ,

We summon thee,

Five daemons from beyond,

We channel thee into our spell,

Red royt itsah cecne rever,

Red royt itsah cecne rever,

 

I moved around the side of the cabin, clinging to the shadows under the eaves. At the crest of the hill, six figures stood hand in hand around the campfire, all shrouded in black cloaks. Their chant continued, gaining speed and fury, as they raised their clasped hands to the sky. When the chant reached its peak, the fire flared up, blazing bright blue. The chanting stopped, and five of the figures fell to the ground in genuflection as one remained standing.

The last figure pulled back the hood of his cloak, and wavy brown hair tumbled from underneath.

“Five daemons, give us the power to destroy our enemies. Teach us how to dominate those who oppose us,” Hope’s voice rang out over the hill. “We summon and stir thee.”

 

The Coven, Part IX

The Coven, Part VII

Celeste bent over her book, furrowing her small brow.

“Above, the bright and bril- brilliant stars,

The pe-a-ceful … peaceful world below,

In sum… sum-mer, sunlight gives us life,

In winter, only snow.”

 

Celeste looked back up at me, and I gave her an encouraging nod.  She sighed, and turned back to the book.

After Celeste had been at Rowan Heights a week, Hope expressed his intention to engage a governess for Celeste.

“Oh no- there’s no need. I can teach Celeste,” I said quickly.

Hope looked at me in surprise. “I don’t doubt your accomplishments. In the short time I’ve known you, you’ve struck me as an unusually well-educated young woman. However, you don’t have any obligation to oversee Celeste’s education.”

“I’m not doing this out of a sense of obligation,” I said. “I like Celeste, and I wish to teach her. Besides…”

“Yes?”

“Well,” I began a little more reluctantly. “I’ve had many governesses, though none of them stayed long. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been educated in spite of their efforts, and not because of them. Perhaps Celeste will be better off with someone who likes her, and wishes to help her learn, instead of someone who may- who may try to beat knowledge into her.”

Hope continued to regard me coolly, and the longer he stared, the more my confidence seemed to leak out of me. Soon, I stood completely deflated before him.

“Well,” he finally said, “if you truly wish, you may each Celeste. I admit that I would like for the girl to have some education in the sciences, and I doubt a governess would be able to do as well as you. If you tire of your charge, let me know, and I’ll make other arrangements.”

And so I gained a student, who I found to be willing to work. She had been given little education so far, and was still struggling with one of my oldest primers.

“You’ve improved since the beginning of the week,” I said when she’d finished reading the poem. “You’re sounding out the more difficult words. Do you like the poem?”

Celeste sighed again. “The poem is alright, but I don’t like to read. It makes my head ache.”

“Have you ever been fitted for spectacles?”

Celeste dropped her book and looked at me in dismay. “Spectacles? Oh, Lady Frey!”

“You may need them,” I said gently. “I noticed that you held the book quite close.”

“I’ll hold it further away,” Celeste promised quickly. She held the book out at arm’s length, and squinted at it.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Surely, Celeste, a pair of spectacles isn’t as bad as a headache.”

“They are worse,” Celeste said. “I don’t want to look like an ugly old maid. I want to be pretty, like you.”

I blushed at Celeste’s innocent complement, which meant far more than Hope’s artful flattery.

“Don’t worry yet, Celeste. It may turn out that you don’t need spectacles. But if you do, I will get a pair as well.”

“But you don’t need them.”

“No, but I can get a pair with plain glass lenses. I’ve always thought spectacles were quite handsome. We can get spectacles to match.”

Celeste smiled, a dimple dancing in her round cheek, and she leaned over to give me a kiss. Then the clock on the wall chimed 3:00, and without another word, Celeste jumped up and ran to the door. The door opened, and Hope entered the nursery.

“You really came!” Celeste said as she jumped, laughing, into Hope’s waiting arms.

“A gentleman always keeps his word,” Hope said, picking Celeste up and laughing with her. He wore a smile more natural than any I’d ever seen as Celeste pressed her face against his- dimpled cheek against dimpled cheek.

“If you always keep your word, does that mean I shall have the white pony? You promised!”

“The white pony is yours, my girl. How could I teach you to ride with no pony?” Hope turned back to me and said, “Were you finished with your lesson?”

“If I wasn’t before, I certainly am now,” I said. “I cannot compete with a pony.”

Celeste cheered, and Hope carried her from the room.

 

#

 

That morning Lady Willoughby had come into the drawing room, where I was instructing Celeste in piano, and announced that she would take her tea with me, alone, at four. True to her word, she entered the sitting room at 4:00 sharp.

“The first week I was here, it was one tedious party after another,” she said as I poured, “and this week, you’ve been with the child every waking moment. I never thought we’d have a chance for a tete a tete.”

My apologies. I didn’t realize-”

Lady Willoughby cut me off with a wave of her hand. “No matter- you’re here now. I must admit, I find you to be quite fascinating. You’re a complete mystery.”

“Me? Surely not.”

“You are such a quiet girl that you must have some secrets- a lost lover, perhaps?”

I sighed. “Please don’t tease me. I assure you; I’m very dull.”

Lady Willoughby said nothing, but she raised her eyebrows in expectation.

“ My mother died when I was a child, I have no siblings, and I’ve lived with my father all my life. He left me in the care of my governess.”

“Yes, and I’m sure she was very strict. But once you came out, the unaccustomed freedom must have been intoxicating.”

“I- I never had a coming out,” I said. “I wasn’t allowed to attend balls.”

Lady Willoughby put her cup down with a clatter. “You were never introduced into society?”

I had the sudden impression I’d done something wrong. “I- It’s just that-”

Lady Willoughby put her hand on my shoulder. “You poor child- sold away in marriage before you had any fun at all! We must have a ball in your honor.”

“Oh no, please!”

“We shall invite everyone- all the best families in the neighborhood, so you may be properly introduced. Of course, we shall have to wait…” Lady Willoughby stopped speaking and bit her lip, as though struggling with something.

“Wait? For what?”

“For the red moon to wane,” she said in a strangled voice.

“Are you well, Lady Willoughby? I could get you more tea- or perhaps some wine.”

“I am well,” she said, and took another sip of tea.

“Did Lord Frey tell you that I wish to observe the red moon when it is full?” I asked. I hadn’t remembered telling him, but it seemed a natural guess for him to make.

“No, he did not.” Lady Willoughby helped herself to another piece of cake. “I like you, Lady Frey. In many ways, I’m glad that you’ve come here. You are quiet, and I get precious little quiet in my life. I simply wish that you will not cause trouble.”

“I assure you-”

“Oh yes, I know you have no intentions of causing trouble. You’re a good girl. Unfortunately, you’re too curious, and too strange, for your own good.”

Lady Willoughby ate the rest of her cake in silence, and then dabbed her painted mouth primly with her napkin.

“One word of advice- when the moon is full, Lord Frey will be in low spirits. Take care not to vex him. Also, please continue to be kind to little Celeste.”

Then Lady Willoughby stood without ceremony, and turned to leave the room.

“Lady Willoughby, what is the connection between Lord Frey and Celeste?”

Lady Willoughby laughed a little, and then turned around.

“You must see the connection, or else you wouldn’t ask.”

Before I could work out an answer, Lady Willoughby turned back, and left the room.

 

The Coven, Part VIII