Authors: Mae Ronan
Now, it goes without saying that the Lumaria had not much care for human life – but still, they disliked the Narken spoiling their home territory. It was obvious that the wolves (who far outnumbered them) were trying to frighten them into leaving. But the Lumaria did not frighten easily. No – they would not leave. They would remain, and continue the war which had begun so long ago.
They would kill each and every last Narkul that breathed.
The Portrait of Vaya Eleria
fter a prolonged game, broken intermittently by scraps of attention paid to the news broadcast, Anna and Greyson went to sit in their armchairs by the television. Having grown by then very tired of the anchorman’s yammering, Anna asked that Greyson (who was never one to relinquish his hold upon the remote control) change the channel. Shortly thereafter, she found herself looking at a very brightly-coloured cartoon, wherein a little yellow sponge with brown trousers was prancing through a large pineapple, with a pink starfish clad in flower-pattern Bermuda shorts.
“What exactly are we watching?” Anna asked.
“SpongeBob SquarePants,” answered Greyson.
“Fitting title, I suppose,” Anna muttered. “But
“Because I like it.” He looked seriously to Anna, and asked, “Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to live underwater?”
“Are you sure? Because we could, you know – so long as it wasn’t too deep. And there would be no Narken.”
“Please give me that remote, you crackpot.”
Greyson tucked it into his pocket with a grin, and got up out of his chair. Then, without another word, he began on his way to the wall behind the billiard table.
“Oh, Greyson,” said Anna. “You really should stop that. What if someone sees you?”
“And if they do?”
“I won’t much care.”
“You say that now,” Anna muttered. But nevertheless she was curious to watch, and so switched off the television. She then went to stand beside the billiard table.
“You realise this makes you my accomplice?” said Greyson.
“Oh, just shut up and get on with it.”
He stopped before a narrow crack in the wall – hardly noticeable if one was not aware of its presence. But Greyson was aware, and Anna was aware, because Greyson had made the crack himself. Presently he dug his fingernails into it, and pulled until a portion of the wall separated from the rest. In the hole there was a large object covered in old oilcloth, which he brought out into the light. He took a corner of the cloth between his fingers, and whipped it away.
They were looking suddenly upon a great portrait of Ephram’s daughter. She stood before a wide stone hearth, with a noble and haughty countenance, and both her arms folded across the front of her black gown. In her was blended both the feminine and the warlike; the Princess and the commander. Her raven-black hair fell down over her shoulders, soft and long, while a ferocious beauty glinted in her dark eye. She seemed almost to smoulder, even more hotly than the fire behind her.
Since the very first day he laid eyes upon the portrait, Greyson had been enamoured with it. He found it locked away in the attics; and decided that he must have it for his own. Anna reminded him constantly, that it could only have been Ephram who hid it – and that, when he discovered it was missing, there would be a price to pay. But it
seemed that he had not been in the habit of visiting it, after entrusting it to the care of the dust and mould; for he never noticed its absence, and Greyson’s foolishness went without reprimand.
So Greyson scarcely ever lost an opportunity to enjoy his treasure; and now he merely stared at it, with his blue eyes wide and shining, and his mouth hanging slightly open. The copper shock of hair atop his head capped it all, looking almost as if it had been electrified.
“Perhaps we should put it away,” Anna suggested; though her eyes were quite as tightly fastened to it as Greyson’s own.
“Perhaps,” he echoed. But neither of them moved. Greyson’s fascination was infectious; and Anna seemed unable to break with the thing, so long as he himself was unable. They stood for long moments in silent absorption.
Soon, though, there came the sound of footsteps in the corridor without. Quicker than lightning, Greyson threw the cloth over the heavy frame, and shoved it back into its shadowy nook. The hole had only just been sealed, when the door to the billiard room was opened.
The perpetrators looked round to see nothing less than Ephram’s own head, protruding through the doorway. “Anna!” he exclaimed. “Still awake, my dear?”
“We were just heading to bed,” Anna replied.
“As you should,” said Ephram. “But come along for a moment, won’t you? I’d like to have a word.”
So Anna left Greyson to himself, and followed Ephram into the corridor. They went together to the third floor, where the door of his study stood open to the hall, and firelight from the hearth cast flickering shadows across the wall.
“Sit down, my dear, sit down,” said Ephram, as he settled himself behind his desk. So Anna sat in the chair before him.
“Valo told me of last night’s accomplishment,” he said with a smile. “I should congratulate you.”
“Oh, no,” said Anna. “There’s no need. There were hardly more than twenty wolves, after all.”
Ephram loosed a hearty guffaw, and slapped his knee. His face, then, showed an emotion that it hardly ever did – and this was happiness. Anna loved him best this way, with the small wrinkles round his eyes that his smile produced, and a warm glow in his cheeks that trumped, for just a moment, their deathly pallor. For when the smile vanished, and the face returned to its full state of gravity, it was sometimes a fearsome thing to look upon.
“Oh, Anna!” he said. “You always amuse me so. Hardly more than twenty! Well, if anyone will, my dear – you will show the wolves who is strongest. You will show them who is master!”
Anna smiled in return, but made no reply.
“You and Valo together,” Ephram went on. “You will show them all – won’t you, my dear?”
Ephram sat back in his chair, and turned his head to look into the fire. His face became much more serious; and at the same time much more serene. “You make such a very good team,” he said. “You and Valo.”
“I suppose so.”
“You suppose! Ah, it matters not whether you suppose. I am certain enough for the both of us. For all three of us, if need be – but it seems that Valo shares my sentiments.”
Anna only nodded.
“You care for him – don’t you, my dear?” asked Ephram.
“For Valo. You care for him, do you not?”
“He’s a fine fellow,” Anna answered simply.
“Yes! A very fine fellow. And you, my dear – you are a very fine woman. Such a fine fellow, and such a fine woman – oh! The likes of you both are not seen so often as they should be.”
“I’m sure there are more to be found.”
“More to be found! Oh, probably. At least – I know there are many more like Valo! Really he is not as exceptional as I make him out to be; but still he is my son, and that must be the reason I exaggerate. Doubtless you could find another like Valo. But it wouldn’t be the same.”
“What wouldn’t be the same?”
“Nothing would be the same! Not the same as
Anna had not the audacity to rebuff him outright; but all the same she remained silent, and made her face blank. She watched his expression closely, to see whether he succeeded in what he was attempting to do.
It is easy, you see, for a Lumarian to see into the thoughts of a wolf, or a human; but with other Lumaria it is different. The older a Lumarian grows, the more adept he becomes at shielding his thoughts. Therefore it is often impossible for a Lumarian to see into the mind of one of their own race, if that one does not expressly wish him to do so.
And so it seemed it was impossible for Ephram, on this night. So he merely went on, gently and with a sweet smile, “You are my child, Anna. And Valo is my child. Why should my children not love one another, just as I love them?”
“I do care for Valo, Ephram. He is a brother to me.”
“Ah, yes – yes. In a way, my dear. But would he not make a better husband?”
“I don’t believe I would make a very good wife,” said Anna, with a forced laugh.
“Nonsense! You would be the perfect wife. The perfect Queen.”
“Queen? There will be no Queen, so long as we live here.”
“Of course you’re right,” said Ephram. He turned his face away, and looked back to the fire. “But if we should ever return . . .”
He shook his head, and did not complete his thought.
“Return where?” asked Anna.
“Nowhere, my dear. I’m only a silly old man, talking of silly things. Yet if we
return to England – well, again I would be King. But I am too tired, my child, to be a King. It is Valo who should be King – and you who should be his Queen.”
Anna evaded response to the latter part of this statement, and said merely, “Why should we ever return to England?”
“These are hard times,” said Ephram. “Hard times, my child – you know that. There is no telling what might happen.”
“Have you thought more of speaking with the Endai?”
A dark cloud entered Ephram’s eye, and his expression soured. “No, my dear,” he said. “I have not thought more of it. But if we should wish to rejoin our brothers and sisters, where we are strongest . . .”
Anna hesitated a moment before speaking; but finally said, very softly, “I thought you would not return to Drelho?”
Now, had anyone else said this – and so very blatantly alluded to the old patriarch’s heartache for his dead child – Ephram would most likely have beheaded them on the spot. But, although his countenance became even darker, and more embittered, he made no move – because it was Anna.
“I said I would not,” he answered. “I vowed never to do so, a very long time ago – but these are hard times, Anna.”
He fell silent, then, and it was clear that he meant to say no more. So Anna rose respectfully, made him a small bow, and departed from the dim chamber.
Locked away in her own quarters, Anna gazed for a long while into the looking-glass. She stared at herself for many minutes; saw what she saw each and every other time she had ever looked into the glass; but saw not at all what others saw, when
looked upon her. She saw not the soft brown eyes that so melted the icy heart of Valo; she saw not the long, shining curls that Ephram so loved to wrap round his fingers. She did not see beauty, supremacy or strength. She saw only pale white skin; and eyes that turned black when she was angry, and teeth that grew sharp when she was hungry.
For what was it, to be a Lumarian? It was the very state of being dead, and yet not; of being old, and yet young; of being wise, on account of the oldness, and yet sometimes naïve, on account of the youth. It was the state of being quick in body, yet slow in their passage through the world; of being strong enough to conquer any human army, yet powerless to change the conditions of their existence. It was to be cold, always cold; to eat of soft flesh and warm blood, but to have neither of these things for themselves.
Lately, each glance in the mirror – each glance at her blank, unchanging, marble-like face – inspired within Anna a strange sensation. She looked very hard at this face; but could never wholly convince herself that it was her own.
She thought of the portrait of Vaya Eleria; and in an instant, she had shifted from her own chamber, to the room where the portrait was tucked safely away. She did not turn on the light; for her eyes did not need it. She merely reached to displace the bit of wall that Greyson had once carved away; dragged out the portrait, removed its cloth, and looked hard at its beautiful occupant. She was so perfect, so proud. Her hair was black as Anna’s, and her eyes were just as dark – but her skin was not pale and cold-seeming. Rather it was a warm olive-colour, bestowed upon her by the poor Clarisa Bartoli. The steel in her gaze, and the fearlessness in her bearing, however, were surely all Ephram’s.
Princess Vaya Eleria – Ephram’s true daughter. Anna looked long upon the portrait, but could not seem to change her own opinion, that she herself was a poor substitute. She knew, as did most others, why Ephram loved her so – and she knew that it was not for herself.
She sighed heavily (a thing, for a Lumarian, which has
only to do with the expelling of a sound of mighty discontent, and nothing at all to do with the breath that it does not have to give; though certainly this does not mean that Anna’s sigh was any less mournful than a human’s would have been), and replaced the portrait in the wall. A moment later, and she was back in her chamber, lying upon her great cold bed. Blackness filled the room, and was interrupted only by a bit of silver light streaming between the curtains. This light, however, did nothing to relieve the darkness. It only showed that it was there.