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Authors: Mae Ronan

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BOOK: Anna von Wessen
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Anyway – Adrian Ilo, now, was the last Lumarian head of house remaining in America, who had any capability at all of staving off the wolves. Ephram had told repeatedly on the ship how badly he worried for him. Indeed, with Ephram gone, it would be as little more than a four-pronged vice, pressing in on Adrian Ilo’s house from all sides. That it would fall was not the question. Rather, it was merely
when.

“Then you fear him not at all?” pressed Greyson, renewing the subject of Wolach.

“Of course not!” said Anna. “Rather ask me if I fear Trydon. But then – no, don’t bother. Neither do I fear
him
at all.”

“And the American wolves?”

“They know not even how to govern themselves,” Anna retorted. “Should they ever attempt to wage full-out war against us, they will be far too busy tripping over their own feet, to see even from which direction we strike.”

“You take them too lightly.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well,” said Greyson (who it seemed was growing quickly frustrated with Anna’s stubbornness), “I say that we need to make a move. A significant move – a bold move. The frontlines are too near to one another. Without drastic action, the wolves will triumph. Their numbers grow too rapidly. We cannot keep up.”

“Your own silly sophistry. It matters not how many there are,” disputed Anna (who, we should say, was beginning not even to believe her own words; though she was far too obstinate to admit any such thing to Greyson). “What of our own plans? Do you think so little of them?”

But Greyson was no longer listening to her. He had turned back to the portrait of Vaya, and was staring at it now in a different way. He could not have worn a more profound, solemn countenance.

“Vaya Eleria, you know,” he said suddenly, “was a master warrior. The very best of her time.”

“What of it?” Anna demanded.

Greyson fixed his wide eyes on her face, and scooted forward in his seat. He leant his head down; clutched his knees; and then began to speak, in the very lowest of whispers.

“Now, let me say first that I am merely thinking aloud. I mean nothing in earnest.” He paused, and peered towards the doorway, as if to assure himself that no one was eavesdropping. “But what if – what if she were to be brought back?”

“What if
who
were to be brought back?” Anna asked, growing quickly exasperated. Possibly she was only exasperated, because she already knew very well what Greyson meant.

“Vaya Eleria!” Greyson hissed. He looked round again; and then said, in a voice so soft, his words were nearly lost in the space which separated him from Anna: “What if she were to be brought back from the dead?”

It was rumoured that Ephram could never find it in himself to sever the head of his beloved child – and thereby send her forever to a place where he could not reach her. It was said, rather, that he had only pierced her heart, so as to put her into an eternal sleep. And a Lumarian whose head has not been separated from his body – in the case, and only in the case, that his heart has been cleanly pierced – can be reawakened.

Anna leapt to her feet, and flew to Greyson, so as to clamp her hand full over his mouth. She felt that any lesser action would be inadequate.

But Greyson pried her hand away resolutely, and continued his damning speech. “I told you I did not mean it,” he said. “I only wonder, if she
were
to be revived –”

“Quiet!” Anna ordered, her voice strangled nearly to the point of unintelligibility. “Oh, Greyson, won’t you be quiet? Do you know what such talk will get you? Do you know what would happen, if somehow Ephram learnt of your words?”

“How should he?”

“We are in a castle,” Anna whispered, “filled with hundreds of Lumaria. How do
you
think he should hear?”

“I only meant –”

“You meant nothing! I understand – but Ephram would not. Do you hear me, Greyson? You will speak no more of this!”

Greyson fell back with a sulking face,
and pushed Anna away, this time rather roughly. “Leave me, then,” he said, “if you think me so terrible. You needn’t speak to me.”

“If you wish to act like a child,” Anna rejoined, her voice rising steadily, “then I will not even try to speak reasonably with you. I
will
leave you to yourself – and you shall wish very soon that you had behaved differently.”

She turned on her heel, then, and hurried from the room. Once in the corridor, she quickened her pace still more, and slapped her hands repeatedly over her ears, in an attempt to beat away the blasphemous words so recently spoken into them.

IX:

In the Crypt

 

A
fter this night, Anna spent several very dull days, waiting for an Ephram who did not come. Neither had Byron Evigan shown himself again to his guests, since the feast; and so Ephram’s people were left to amuse themselves as best they could. Valo took a liking to accompanying the guard of the castle on their daily patrol round the perimeter of the grounds, and occupied himself with several very bloody Narkul slayings. He became the idol of the troops, the unofficial Captain of the guard. He tried every day to persuade Anna to go with him; but never would she assent.

She spoke little to Greyson during this time. Still he was cross with her; and still she was fearful that he would renew that dangerous subject. Perhaps, if they had mended their rift sooner, what happened next would never have come to pass. But, alas – the rift was not mended, and Greyson was left to his own devices.

On the third night, then, after the episode in the drawing-room, he went alone to Vaya Eleria’s tomb. Surely such a simple thing was not forbidden, he thought to himself. He waited till darkness had fallen down to cloak the grounds of the castle in its blackest shadow, and then wandered out through a narrow door in the East wall, round about which there was no one at all to notice him.

The walk was a long one; for after the Princess’s death, Ephram had faced something of a self-made conundrum. He could not bear for Vaya to lie solitary, and away from the sepulchre of her ancestors – but neither did he want her resting place so near as to be often visible to him. If he wished to visit her, then he wished to walk many miles to do so, so that he might better prepare himself along the way. Therefore he had the entire mausoleum moved, to a spot in the heart of the surrounding forest, where there should be no chance at all of his seeing it, if he did not expressly desire to do so. Granted, he left Drelho not long after all this precaution had been taken in the first place; but that is another matter.

Now, certainly Greyson would rather have been able to shift to the spot; but of course he did not know exactly where it lay, and though he shifted many times through the forest in search of it, he found eventually that this method was only making the thing more difficult. So he transposed himself back to the forest-line, and began on his way through the trees, his eyes ever peeled for the building he sought.

In this way he finally found it, lying some fifteen miles into the dense Southern forest. That he approached it was obvious enough; for it seemed that the trees within a half-mile radius had been cleared away, to reveal a spot of slightly raised ground, that stood like a pedestal in the midst of the dark wood. Greyson ascended the little hill, his boots crunching over dead leaves and twigs, till the mausoleum came in sight.

He halted some thirty yards from the place, and simply looked upon it for a long while. There were several soft moonbeams that fell down between the high overhead branches, sifting through the darkness like weak rays of sun through deep water. They illumined the great structure like a grey halo, lighting up intermittent patches of thick ivy and vine, which clung to walls, roof and door as would a hungry leech.

This building was very different from all those low ramshackle ones which surrounded the castle. It was clear that this one had been tended, maintained, and seen to frequently by a careful hand, no doubt by the orders of Ephram himself. The walls did not
cave, the roof did not slump, and not a stone dared to crumble. The frozen ivy held up the ancient foundation like a strong arm, fibrous and tenacious enough, no doubt, to wring one’s neck like the very most formidable python.

Greyson stepped cautiously towards the wide doorway, almost as if the mere act of drawing nigh to the place could possibly warrant mortal punishment. He mounted the long, thick steps, and took them one by one, till twenty paces later, he had reached the deep portico. Here there were four cylindrical pillars, separated each by approximately thirty feet. In the cavernous slots betwixt the first and second, and the third and fourth pillars, there was only a wall of stone, carved intricately with the seal of the Lumaria. This seal depicted an immense raven with wings extended, swathed in the imperial robe, and capped with the crown of the sovereigns. Between the folds of the robe, and across the raven’s feathered chest, there was branded a great
“L.”

Betwixt the second and third pillars, however, there lay a shadowed, empty space. Greyson approached this place slowly, so very slowly that if he had slackened his place yet a fraction more, he would not have been moving at all. It is one of the many gifts of the Lumaria, you see, to fly when one should fly, and to crawl when one should crawl – and to understand always which speed one should employ.

He took the last, and the broadest of his strides thus far, into the crypt – and of course it was black as the Pit. Still he could see all around him, but desiring to view the place bathed in light, he extracted the matches from his pocket which he had brought for just such a purpose. He went to a long-armed torch nearby, and lit the candle it held. Then he stepped back, and surveyed the crypt afresh, with the new light from the torch glittering in his eyes.

The chamber was a vast one. From the left-hand wall to the right, it must have been at least a five-hundred-yard distance; and from the front wall to the back, at least three hundred. The light of the torch died away, and collided with a wall of impenetrable shadow, in all four directions. Ranged in rows all up and down the room, there were narrow platforms, atop which lay identical stone coffins. Row after row, column after column, these coffins went on; but in the very centre of the mausoleum, just before the doorway, there stood a beautiful casket wrought all in marble. Greyson was drawn to this structure as if it were a magnet, and he a powerless lump of metal. Before he knew what he was about, he was walking all around it, and running his hand over the lid. He read the name of Vaya Eleria inscribed upon it, carven in pure gold across the hard marble. Below these two words, again, there was the Lumarian crest.

The caskets to either side were covered in a thick layer of dirt, dust and mould; but the marble coffin was clean to the touch, with its gold carvings shining brilliantly in the torchlight. It seemed that Ephram’s tormented love had managed, somehow, to reach across the sea that parted him from his daughter, and to manifest itself by the usually careless hand of Filipovic, who somehow could not bring himself to exercise his wonted indifference upon the tomb of the sleeping Princess. Perhaps he would have told you, if you had asked him very nicely, that the care of the Princess’s resting place was his most prized and honoured employment – and that, rather than as a chore, he considered it a supreme accomplishment. It made him, as he thought, very different from the rest of his peers: the
distingué
aide of Byron Evigan, and the right hand of King Ephram’s distant devotion.

There was even a little chair tucked up neatly by the side of the casket, where Filipovic liked sometimes to sit, after he had finished with the ritual of revitalising the tomb. Greyson wondered at its strange placement there; but he thought about it very little, before he sat down in it himself.

Now – a useful nugget of wisdom for the uninformed. The act of reviving a Lumarian is strictly unlawful, and is looked upon as pure heresy, in a manner almost akin to the human belief that it is unholy to raise the dead. For, when it was first learnt that to pierce the heart caused death, it was
not
known that such death could be undone. Therefore, when criminals were executed by that method, sometimes they were raised whole hundreds of years later by those they left behind. After the Lumarian traitor Cusil was raised, and went thereafter upon a rampage in which he killed some three scores of his old enemies, the act of waking a sleeping Lumarian was ruled to warrant the punishment of death. When Cusil was finally returned to his tomb, then (this time with his head removed), his son Husil went with him.

There have been no examples of such an awakening, since the alleged revival in 1467 of Tarus Elin – who, we should note, was beheaded only one month after the event was said to occur, without ever having made record of it.  

It should be said, too, that it was never Greyson’s true intention to wake Vaya. He wished only, infatuated as he had always been with her portrait, to sit for a while beside her coffin. Perhaps we might argue that his subconscious had urged him towards it, right from the start – for he had gone to the great and illicit lengths beforehand of sneaking into Vaya’s old chamber. That place where she had lived was very different from the one where she presently slept. Nothing had been touched, nothing had been moved from it after her death. Ephram only ordered the room locked and sealed, and never gone into again.

No one else had ever been mad enough to even think of breaking this most strict of the King’s laws. But it seemed that Greyson was driven by a force outside himself, an external power which had little to do with him, and which did not even originate with him. Call this power fate, if you like. Call it whatever you wish – only understand that it dwelt not in Greyson’s own heart, but in a place very far from him, where all truth is unequivocal, but unknown.

Anyway – after entering the chamber, Greyson sought for a possession, a personal article of Vaya Eleria’s, which could serve as the central implement of the raising ritual. He did not mean to use it, he told himself; but he thought that his long affection for Vaya’s wordless, unconscious, oil-based gaze upon a strip of old canvas was certainly enough to warrant him a little treasure of his own. So he went to the dusty dressing table by the bed, and looked all through its drawers, till he found one locked. To be locked, he thought, was to contain something worth finding – and so he forced the drawer. Inside it lay a single item, which he took up in his hand.

He found himself looking upon a fine gold chain, with a small and beautiful ring of the same metal hanging from it. Of course he did not know (but we do, so we shall tell you) that it was the very ring given Vaya by Krestyin the year of her death. 

Greyson slipped the ring into his pocket, and then went to great pains to ensure that quite everything in the chamber was as it had been when he entered. Then he shifted away.

He stole that same evening into Byron Evigan’s personal library, where he searched the shelves for the rare and ancient book of lore which would tell him what he wished to know. When he had found it, and located the chapter which he desired, he assiduously copied all its contents onto several sheets of paper.

Now he sat alone in the crypt, with that same ring in the palm of his hand, and those same papers lying upon his knees. He stared for a little at these objects; and then looked to the coffin of Vaya Eleria. He felt almost as if he were slipping away from himself, and into a sort of trance. Had he been able to think clearly, surely he would not have gone through with the thing; but it seemed as if a low and silken voice were whispering into his ear, and instructing him as to how he ought to proceed. The part of him which was still conscious, and which spoke the voice of Greyson, was painfully curious. This part of him did not honestly think that anything would happen; and at most, he thought it would make an amusing subject for conversation with Anna, perhaps serving to bridge the gap that had recently formed between them. Why he would have thought that such a thing – the very thing over which she had separated herself from him in the first place – would assuage Anna’s ire, probably we shall never know. But in the end it matters little.

Halfheartedly, and with a hand heavy as lead, Greyson laid the ring upon the lid of the coffin. He then spent many minutes poring over his pages of handwriting. It was almost as if he had to force them from his sore and parched throat – though in a way they flowed easily as water – but finally he spoke those five secret words, which were written in large capital letters, in the very oldest form of the Lumarian tongue, at the very bottom of the last sheet of paper. So very dark, and so very dangerous are those words, that we shall not write them here. Be satisfied only with their effect.

Eerily silent were those long moments after Greyson spoke the words. With no sound arriving from without, his ears began to hum, louder and louder, till finally the vibration made him clap his hands to the sides of his head. When he lowered them, he registered a noise he had not heard before: the whistling of the winter wind through the tops of the great trees. Its song was soothing, at first; but soon it began to unnerve him, as would the cries of a score of whirling dervishes. Or perhaps it could have been likened to the spinning of a top, round and round, with the noise of its orbits growing louder as it spins faster – faster and faster, until it falls to the floor with a clatter.

The top was spinning; and Greyson was awaiting the clatter.

If he had been accustomed to breathing, surely his breath would have stopped, all during those eternal minutes of angst – and he would have fallen dead from his chair, never to worry more about what may or mayn’t have happened. But he was not so privileged as to be able to asphyxiate himself, and so he remained upright and rigid, staring with aching eyes at the coffin.

And then, all in an instant – there came the sound of harsh, heavy grating, like stone against stone. At first there was no sight to accompany the sound; but soon Greyson’s vigilant eyes caught their very first glimpse, of the infinitesimal movement of the coffin lid. There started up a slow pounding from within the coffin, that grew gradually quicker and steadier, and stronger, till it could not be mistaken that two fists were banging frantically against the underside of the lid.

BOOK: Anna von Wessen
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