I fear that battle is about to be joined and I am not permitted to play my part. Lord Maric is most determined to keep me away from the battles he has pledged to fight with Vedis and Galyanna, even though I have known them longer and might reasonably have more cause. It feels as if he is being over-protective, but then, there are probably good reasons. I am his second in command and it would not do to have both of us away from the town and in peril. It gripes me to stand idle when my friends are engaged in combat, but, I have to accept that he is right. I have a duty to perform here.
This time, though, I am less than happy. He would not even tell me directly what he was doing, perhaps to help me maintain the illusion that he is occupied with some great experiment in the lab. That seemed to be his wish. He even asked me also to conceive some reason that half the guard are not to be seen around the town. I said that I would be sure to publicly berate Kustav for not telling me that he had sent the men on survival training. That seemed to satisfy him.
He would not speak of his mission, but I fear it is the big one, the last push to reclaim Vedis’ throne. I do not know, for he would not say. All I know is that he came to me in the office, and gave me some very specific, and somewhat alarming, instructions.
I had been researching blood magic, trying to work out some way I could teach the roses to detect the approach of demons, and communicate that to me. I had the idea that I could wear one of the roses as a buttonhole, so that it would be able to alert me immediately its brethren detected demonic blood. My problem was that I had never tasted demonic blood, so could not think how to teach the roses what it was like. Maric contacted me through the mental link and asked if I was busy. I could tell that he was anxious and that the matter was urgent, so I told him to come to the office.
He greeted me in the normal manner and declined the offer of tea. I told him what I had been doing and he offered to teach me, through our mental link, the taste of demonic blood. He seemed more tense than normal and this was readily apparent when he produced an envelope from his jacket and handed it to me. It was made of parchment, very thick, and closed with his seal. I was to keep it somewhere safe and not open it or, or read the contents, unless I felt significant distress from the castle. And, I was to mention it to nobody. He was deadly serious and wanted to know if I could do this for him.
I took the envelope and assured him that of course I could, he shouldn’t even need to ask. Much as I wanted to know more, I could tell he didn’t wish to speak of it, so I squelched my curiosity and asked instead about the castle sense. I had always assumed that I got it second-hand through him, although I might have been wrong on that. It was, like the roses, an alien sense to me.
He told me he could teach me to sense the castle more directly. He told me to go to the walls and place a drop of my own blood on it. Then he could show me how to sense the castle. He would also be able to demonstrate the demon taste.
I went to the wall, but before I applied the blood, I wondered what my wyld sense could tell me. I blocked the senses from Maric for a moment, and rested my hand against those ancient walls. The wyld told me of life. There echoes of the fast, busy life of the insects and rodents that lived within the walls, the slower lives of the castle residents, and the slower still lives of the creepers and vines and roses that grew on the walls. And underneath it all, something so slow, slow on a geological scale, perhaps the life of the stone itself. I was reminded of a saying I had read once that “all that is, lives”. Maric agreed with my sentiment and indicated I should try the blood. I opened the link to him again, bit my thumb, squeezed out a drop of blood and pressed it against the wall.
Sensation hit me in a rush, as though I had been swimming in the sea had been swamped by a wave. I was overwhelmed at first, until I stopped trying to analyse it and just let it wash over me until I bobbed to the surface again. I just let it find its own way as my mind rationalised the sensations into something I could understand – feeling the press of the wind against the walls as I might feel it blow my hair, for example. Most of all, there was the sense that the castle was an extension of Maric himself, something real and solid. Could this be what the blood magic could do? It seemed staggering, but then, so was the idea that Janus and Gwyneth could join their bodies and build an entirely new Summerlands. I just stood for a few minutes, leaning against the wall, letting the sensations settle down, letting them be for now. I knew that I would soon have to evaluate and integrate them, but for now, they just were. I stepped away from the wall and sat down for a while, regaining my equilibrium.
Maric came closer, apologising, as he has several times before, for having to teach me this way, but he did not have the luxury of time to so it more gradually. Such has been the nature of my education in the ways of blood magic. I seem to be coping, and sometimes wonder if school would have been easier if the teachers could just have dumped, say, the entire first year Latin course into my brain in one go, without all that tedious amo, amas, amat stuff. He then touched my face and through that, I suddenly knew the taste and temper of demon blood. Then, rather strangely, he bent and kissed my forehead. He was placing his trust and faith in me, he said. And now, he had some very difficult and important experiment to deal with in the lab and I was to let nobody in until I heard from him or the castle. There was more to it than was in his words, and in his eyes, I could see the care he had for the castle, its people, Aoibheann, the Darlings, myself there. Perhaps, I thought, he feared that the outcome of this mission was more uncertain than any he had been on before. With that, he executed a quick about face, and was gone, almost before I could wish him luck.
I sat for a few minutes, letting myself settle and then decided to go for some fresh air. As I exited the castle, I saw that Maric, Galyanna and Vedis were heading to the Vaults, which somewhat confirmed my suspicions about his so-called experiment. As I wandered, I spied Dyisi and Wren across the green and went to join them. I do not know what the conversation had been about, but Wren was speculating on the nature of Purgatory, believing it to be the place where you go while waiting to find out of you are going to Heaven or Hell.
It seemed an unlikely subject, but then, she was talking with Dyisi, who does not shy away from weighty subjects, even when conversing with young people. I offered my opinion, trying to remember what I had learned of the doctrine of Purgatory etc from my discussions with the Rev. Elverson in my younger years. We chatted for a while about the concept of Purgatory and of Limbo, and I did offer to include theology in my lessons for Wren, but she was not overly impressed with the idea. Dyisi quoted part of Hamlet’s “heaven and earth” speech to Horatio. That caused the discussion to veer onto the subject of Shakespeare, which seemed much more agreeable, even to Wren. She had studied Richard the Third at school. Dyisi expressed a fondness for The Tempest, which seemed somewhat appropriate to our own situation, being cast upon this place and meeting fantastical beings. I mentioned my fascination with Macbeth. That surprised Dyisi; that I had not referred to it as “The Scottish Play”. I shrugged, saying that I had always thought it was only bad luck to refer to it by name while you were in a theatre. I explained the superstition to Wren, including what I remembered about lifting the curse by going outside, turning round three times and spitting.
I left them after that, as I had business back in the castle. It was a strange night, getting used to the senses of the castle. It was part of Maric, yet separate, and the more I delved into the senses, the more alien it became, even more so than the senses of communing with the roses, but then, they were at least, living creatures with some sentience. There were strange energies about. I could tell that the castle was drawing from the Wyld energies, not very much, perhaps enough to sustain itself, I could not really tell. There were other energies too, I could tell where the connection to Hell was, through the vaults and that was an uncomfortable feeling. There were other consideration, mostly learning to shut myself off from the castle’s senses, otherwise I was too aware of what was going on as the staff and residents went about their business and leisure. It would be all too easy to pry this way, and that is something I do not want. Eventually, I managed to tune it out at will, and was finally able to sleep.