The Coven, Part XLIV

 

 

I reached out and touched the mirror.

In response to my touch, the colored lights shifted and coalesced into an array of different shapes and sigils against a light blue background. I tried touching the mirror again, and this time my finger brushed against one of the sigils- an elaborately scrolled letter R. The image on the mirror changed again, this time showing an unfamiliar room.

A white, overstuffed chair stood at the center of the room facing the mirror, and behind it was a beige sofa and a white wall covered in simple but colorful artwork. The art was drawn with bold lines and bold colors, depicting a girl in a floral dress, a bear holding an apple, and a ship with its white sail spread wide against a blue sky.

I looked behind me, and saw that the white room remained unaltered.

“I’m coming- hold on.” A young woman’s voice rang out from the mirror. “I’ll be right there.”

A few moments later, a woman dressed in nothing but a pair of loose breeches and a tight blue chemise ran into view, and threw herself into the overstuffed chair. She had been carrying a cup, which she stowed somewhere below the mirror’s frame, and then she brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and blinked out at me with an expression of surprise that I thought must mirror my own.

She was a beautiful girl, with neat features, wide brown eyes, and hair of an unnaturally bright red hue, which fell in feathery layers to her shoulders. Her skin was so clear that it seemed to almost glow and her lips were such a deep red I thought they must have been painted with rouge.

The girl shook her hair out of her face, and seemed to regain her composure. “Um- hi. Who are you?”

My mouth went dry as I tried to think of how to respond. Was this girl friendly, or hostile? Could she help, or would she hurt me? I considered fleeing the room, but my legs would not move.

“My name is Raven,” she said in a gentler voice. “It’s ok- I won’t hurt you. I’m so far away that I couldn’t hurt you if I wanted. You’re only looking at a picture-”

“How far? Are you on another world? Are you on the red moon?” The words tumbled from my lips before I could think better of it.

“How do you know about that? Who are you?”

I swallowed hard, cursing myself for my foolishness. I felt as though I were trapped by both fear and ignorance, and I could not think of a useful or convincing lie.

“My name is Grace Ainsworth Frey; I am the wife of Lord Hope Uriel Frey,” I said, curtseying deeply.

“There’s no need to bow or anything,” the girl protested. She ducked her head as though in embarrassment and picked up her cup again.

“So, where is Hope?” she continued. “Sorry- I mean Lord Frey. I sometimes forget how formal you are down there.”

“He’s-” I hesitated. Hope was already in enough trouble with the inquisition- if this girl was a demon, could she make things worse for him? Would she curse him for his betrayal, as well?

“It’s ok,” Raven’s voice took on a more soothing cadence, as though she were speaking to a frightened child. “Just breathe. I won’t hurt you- I swear. Lord Frey is my friend.”

“If you are his friend, would you be willing to help him? If you can, I will take any oath, make any promise, do anything to appease your anger.”

“I’m not angry- why would I be? Tell me what happened to Lord Frey.”

“He’s been arrested,” I said. “He’s being held on charges of witchcraft.”

Raven put her cup down again with a loud clatter. “Holy crap. How did this happen? Shouldn’t Pius and Lux be in charge of the inquisition, now? I’ve been trying to contact Pius for days, but-”

“Father Pius is the one behind it. He said that Lord Frey violated coven law when I-”

“You didn’t reveal our secret, did you?”

“I didn’t. I made a promise never to tell. But I kept my discovery a secret from Pius because I was afraid of him.”

“I don’t blame you for that,” Raven said. She stood up and began to pace back and forth  across the room.

Crap- I can’t do anything from here, and there aren’t many of us on Terra that I can contact. What is that idiot doing?”

“Are you the demon with whom Lord Frey formed his contract?”

Raven stopped pacing and looked out of the mirror once more.

“How do you know so much? Even Lord Frey doesn’t know where I am.”

“I’m an astronomer; I was able to deduce your location.”

Raven smirked. “You know, Pius was worried about you, and now I understand why. The damage is already done, though.

“Listen, Lady Frey- you need to be careful of Pius. He’s more powerful than you know, and he’s cut himself off from his friends, which means he’s betrayed us, and we can’t predict what he will do next.”

“He’s already demonstrated his power to me,” I said, “but as long as he has my husband-”

“You don’t get it; he’s not an ordinary witch. He’s a demon, like me, only much, much stronger. If what you say is true, and he had Lord Frey arrested-”

“Not just Lord Frey- Father Pius had everyone in the coven arrested except for Brother Lux and Mrs. Auber.”

Raven put a hand to her forehead. “Damn. He wouldn’t have cut himself off from everyone unless he didn’t think he needed us anymore.”

“But why would he do such a thing?”

“I wish I knew. Lady Frey, the political situation on Terra is nothing compared to the chaos on the Red Moon. On Terra, you are living with the threat of war, but here war has been waging for centuries between the Angels and Demons. In fact, most of the problems on Terra can be traced to our war. We use the humans as our pawns, I’m sorry to say. I don’t think that Pius wants to join the Angels, because he’s never shown any sympathy to their cause, but I know he wants power. He might even try to take your world from the Gods.””

“Can he do it?”

“Who knows? He’s certainly strong enough to cause chaos. I think that you should lay low. Pius already had his eye on you, so whatever you do, don’t piss him off.”

“If Pius is as dangerous as you say, then I must try to fight him- not only to save my husband and his friends, but to stop him from seizing even more power. This is partially my fault. I must take responsibility.”

“Stop it,” Raven said. “I’ve been helping him from the beginning, so I’m the one who should take responsibility. I wanted to weaken the Gods’ power and loosen their grip on Terra, and I assumed that Pius had the same goals. You seem very brave, Lady Frey, but you need to let me and the other demons handle Pius. I swear that I’ll do what I can to stop him and save your husband.”

I did not trust her words, but all I could say was, “thank you.”

The combination of fatigue and fear had produced a strange state of mind. As I spoke to the girl through the magic mirror, a feat as strange as it was impossible, I felt as though I had drifted into a dream.

Wake up, Grace, I urged myself. Remember why you are here.

“I cannot destroy the mirror,” I said. “If the inquisitors find it, they may use it as evidence against my husband.”

Raven nodded. “I’ll deactivate it from this side. Have the inquisitors found anything else?”

“I don’t think so. Lord Frey’s library was destroyed.”

Raven sighed. “That’s something, at least. Thank you for telling me what happened, Lady Frey. I’ll contact you again if I can find a way.”

“But if you destroy the mirror…”

“There are other points of contact with Terra. But-” Raven paused and gave a small, sad smile. “If I can’t contact you again, tell Lord Frey that I’m sorry, and that it’s been an honor to work with him.”

I nodded. “Goodbye.”

And then the image in the mirror vanished, but I could not see my reflection. The mirror was now a lifeless piece of glass, as black as slate.

 

 

 

#

 

 

Had it all been a dream?

I walked back through the tunnel with only candlelight to guide me. The magic baubles

still hung overhead, but now they were useless glass balls that only reflected the weak light of my candle as I passed.

Speaking to a demon who dwelt on the red moon, learning that Father Pius was a demon, and using magic devices crafted by the demons themselves- how many more strange things would I encounter before I no longer trusted my own senses? Hope’s witchcraft had been difficult to accept at first, but Hope and his friends had eventually confirmed what I saw. Reality was something I could share with others. Now I was alone, and I was certain I had gone mad.

The more I tried to unravel the mysteries around me, the stranger and more mysterious the world appeared.

I paused to compose myself before ascending the ladder to the cottage. I knew that I must not let Brother Lux see that anything strange had occurred, but my resolve to hand him the Frey family writ was wavering.

Before Brother Lux had asked me to help him retrieve the writ, I had predicted that it  would be able to save Hope’s life. Brother Lux and Father Pius were many steps ahead of me in the game, though, and I realized that the writ may have implications I hadn’t anticipated. However, Brother Lux already knew everything about the writ, so I was giving him no new information by handing it to him.

A new thought occurred to me; Raven had warned me not to underestimate Father Pius’s powers. Only the power of a God could break the High Priest’s seal, as far as I knew, but a demon’s power was something beyond my knowledge. If Father Pius could break the seal, he might destroy whatever protection the writ gave Hope.

But if he breaks the seal, it will save Celeste’s soul. Hope would gladly give his life for that.

I took a deep breath and ascended the ladder.

Brother Lux was sitting in a wicker chair by the window. The heavy curtains were pulled back, but Brother Lux was sitting in a shadow beside the patch of soft, pink morning light that filtered inside.

When he saw me, he stood. “Did you get the writ?”

“Yes.” I held it out to him.

Brother Lux stepped into the patch of light and snatched the paper from me. He examined it for so long that I could see the light grow brighter around him as the sun rose. He even tried to tear the corner of the page, as though trying to detect a forgery.

“Thank you, Lady Frey,” he finally said. He clutched the document to his chest and raised his eyes toward the ceiling. “I hope that you will soon know how much good you’ve done. Come- the sun is rising, and we must leave before we are spotted. Take the candle with you; I don’t want to leave any evidence we’ve been here.

Brother Lux carefully closed and locked the cellar door, rolled back the rug, and we departed.

 

 

#

 

 

Abbess Joy met us on the road as we approached del Sol. She took my hand and helped me down from the chaise so we could walk to the abbey together.

“You’re weary and half-frozen,” she said, rubbing my hands. “Please come rest, and promise me you won’t have any adventures for a long while.

“I promise,” I said, too weary to protest.

We walked past the cathedral just as the sisters exited from their morning prayers. Three veiled sisters accompanied by Mercy, Miss Taris, and Celeste, stepped onto our path.

“Aunt Grace! You came back,” Celeste cried.

“A promise is a promise,” I said.

“What in the world are you wearing, Lady Frey?” the second sister said, throwing back her veil.

“Lady Dupuy! You made it here safely.”

“I told you to call me Innocence,” she chided. “And yes, I’m safe. I’m glad that you’re here. When I heard what had happened-”

“Don’t speak of it,” the third veiled sister said in Sister Purity’s high, sweet voice.

“Well, I’m sorry for what happened,” Innocence said, and then smiled more cheerfully. “I found Purity, and here is Miss Taris, even. It looks like all of the ladies are safe, now.”

“Not all,” I said, remembering Lady Willoughby and Chastity. “I wish they were. I wish everyone were safe.”

“Please, Lady Frey,” Abbess Joy said gently. “Excuse us, but Lady Frey really must rest.”

“Of course.” Innocence put her veil back down. “I have to wear this veil if I’m to stay hidden, but I wanted to let you see I am well.”

The other sisters turned to go, but the first, whom I guessed was sister Jubilee, stepped forward.

“Thank you, Lady Frey. I’m glad you’re safe.”

“Leave her alone- she needs to sleep,” Mercy said. She stepped forward and took her quarterstaff from my hands. “Go rest, Lady Frey, and welcome back.”

Abbess Joy smiled, took my hand, and led me away from my friends.

 

Abbess Joy and I walked through the gently rolling dunes in silence. I stumbled once or twice from exhaustion, but each time Abbess Joy helped me back to my feet, and waited for me to regain my balance before we continued.

She led me up to the abbey, and we took a shortcut between two buildings and through the stately, white cloisters to the dormitory. Even so, the walk seemed miles further than it had the previous night. As I walked down the dormitory hallway, toward the cell where I’d stowed my things the night before, time almost seemed to slow.

When we finally arrived, I opened the door and approached the cot. I could not lie down, however. Something seemed, though. The bed was too small, and the room too empty. I did not have a hand to hold while I slept.

“Lady Frey? Are you alright?”

“He cannot-” I started to speak, but my voice broke, and I had to begin again. “He cannot sleep without me.”

And finally, too weary to stand any longer, I collapsed to my knees by the bed. Abbess Joy reached out to hold me as tears escaped from my eyes.

“Let yourself cry,” she soothed. “You’ve held your feelings inside for too long.”

A sob broke through, and I felt as though a dam burst in my heart. I wept and wept; I thought I would weep forever. My face grew slick with tears, and my throat was sore from sobbing, but still the weeping continued. Abbess Joy continued to hold me.

After a few minutes, my sobs subsided a little so that I could breathe, but then I saw Hope’s bruised and beaten face in my mind’s eye, and the sobs continued again.

Abbess Joy rocked me in her arms a little as though I were a child, and started to sing a gentle, hauntingly familiar tune.

 

Steady burn the evening stars,

Brilliant as the noonday sun,

Be we near or be we far,

We are one. We are one.

 

When I recognized the song, I was overcome by a fresh wave of tears. It was a song she had sung me as a child- the litany of peace. Abbess Joy’s holy magic failed to calm me, but within the tears, the song, and Abbess Joy’s tenderness, I felt something begin to knit and heal inside of me.

 

Steady fly the birds above,

Here, below, our worries cease,

Listen to my words of love:

Give us peace. Give us peace.

 

Part XLV

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7 thoughts on “The Coven, Part XLIV

  1. Did I miss the part where we were told the Willoughbys and Chastity were arrested as well? I’d been wondering what happened to them but I don’t recall them being mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Part XXXX- Brother Lux to Lord Frey:

      “Mrs. Auber provided one piece of material evidence- a blood oath entered into by you, Captain Goode, Lord and Lady Willoughby, and Miss Chastity. The oath states your intent to murder High Priest Sauris and Prince Hadrian as vengeance for Prudence Goode’s life, and as vengeance for the Frey and Goode family curses. The document states that you intend to use any arts, magical or mundane, to achieve your goal.”

      And from part XXXIX
      “You can make things worse for him, if you keep trying,” Father Pius said. He took a quill and paper from his desk, and continued to speak as he began some work. “In fact, I had meant to thank you. If not for your assistance, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to arrest Lord Frey and the others.
      A feeling of dread washed over me. “What do you mean?”
      Father Pius smiled. “Perhaps Lord Frey never told you, but when he took the blood oath instead of bringing you to me, it was a violation of our coven’s laws. Everyone who willingly submitted to Lord Frey’s hypnosis, except for Brother Lux, was complicit in this violation. Brother Lux was able to bring the violation to my attention.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aha, I did miss it. Of course, Pius’s explanation for why he had the “opportunity” to arrest the other coven members is blatant BS – if it’s illegal to be a witch in a coven in the first place why would the authorities care if you had broken this illegal organization’s internal rules or not. Pius is just as guilty of being a witch himself, so the reason he has this “opportunity” is he was just elected High Priest and so can accuse whoever he sees fit and counter-accusations will look preposterous. Not sure why he is bothering with this charade except to make Grace feel bad, but I hope she soon sees through it. 🙂

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