A Bridge From Balor

by

CorbinJay

Chapter 12 - At the House of Lady Bremmen

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Farrel, Sontoral, and Glenna hastened on through the now thinning forest. The eerie brightening of the twilight continued, so that a rosy sunset lit the sky as the travelers approached the mysterious cottage.

The well-tended lawn sparkled green as though in June. A path of polished white flagstones curled down to the pond. Graceful pear and apple trees lined the path, still decked in golden leaves and the last of their autumn fruit.

“It would surely be bad manners to lead our horses over so lovely a path,” Sontoral declared. “We had better go around to the back.”

But just then the front door flew open and a black-haired woman dressed in green and gold waved to them.

“Greetings, friends,” she called, stepping down the path. “I am Lady Bremmen. My dear Kerrawyn whispered to me in a dream that I should expect your visit.”

So striking was the lady in appearance and movements that the three travelers could only stare as she approached. A wealth of raven hair curled down past her shoulders, swept back from her forehead by a fillet of emeralds and gold. Her exquisite gown was of silk and brocade. She wore a jeweled girdle tight at her waist and beaded slippers of white satin. All about her hovered an air of nobility and power. But Farrel also sensed qualities of wildness and merriment that reminded him strongly of Kerrawyn. The bewildering magic of the hidden cottage and the brightening twilight all seemed embodied in the Lady’s person.

Only when she drew close did Farrel realize how tiny she stood—barely as high as his breastbone. She smiled warmly as Farrel introduced himself and his companions. Her calm, dark eyes met each of their glances, but lingered longest on Sontoral's glittery stare.

“I know you are weary after your journey,” she said. “Please, come inside.”

“Gladly,” Farrel replied, “as soon as we've seen to our horses.”

“My grooms will take them to the stables,” the Lady said. “I've already summoned the lads and they will be here momentarily. Come now.”

Farrel could see no sign of grooms, nor any stables either. But the woman spoke with such kindness and certainty that he willingly dropped his reins. Glenna and Sontoral did likewise, the Welshman stopping only long enough to retrieve his harp from the saddle before following the others up the path.

Through the red, round-arched door the Lady led them into an airy, panelled entry hall. Splendid blue and gold tapestries adorned the walls, while a wide stair gave access to the second story. The travelers sat on a long bench and removed their wet boots and stockings. Warm towels and fresh stockings of lamb's wool lay near at hand.

As they dried their feet, the mistress gestured toward the stairs. “Hot baths and clean garments await you above,” she said. “Or will you come to supper at once?”

“Something hot to eat would be most welcome.” Glenna's voice bespoke her weariness.

“Of course,” Lady Bremmen said. “This way then.”

They followed her through a sumptuous carpeted parlor to a cheery kitchen at the rear of the cottage. A stone hearth crackled with a wood fire and a fine meal was laid out on the long table.

But Farrel and his friends hesitated, gazing dumbly through the tall, glass-panelled windows. Outside, sparkling in the rays of an orange sun, lay the lawn, the forest, and the pond.

“Good Lady, I am bewildered,” Sontoral said. “I know for a fact that the front of your house faces that pond. But I am equally certain that we are now standing in the rear of the house.”

Their hostess smiled charmingly. “I find it pleasant to have all sides face the pond. Lovely this time of day, is it not?”

“Undeniably.” Sontoral's face showed his astonishment.

In a kind of numb trance, the three guests sat down at table. Lady Bremmen poured heated wine into delicate porcelain cups.

“I find at least one more reason for bewilderment,” Farrel said, after swallowing a draught of the sweet wine. “I swear the sun set an hour ago, and shortly thereafter, as expected, the night was coming on. But as we neared your house the sky turned lighter instead of darker. And now the sun shines beyond the trees again.”

“Oh, that.” Lady Bremmen gave a small laugh. “I spun time backward a bit. This will help refresh you after your journey. The sun will set again in an hour or so.”

“Noble hostess, you are most thoughtful,” Sontoral chuckled with wonderment. “I hope this turning round of time did not cause you much trouble.”

“Not at all. The least I could do for such estimable guests, and ones dear to my beloved Kerrawyn.”

“Kerrawyn told me you were her mentor,” Farrel said. “But that is all I know of your relationship. She did not say how or when she came to know you.”

“Ones such as I are best spoken of with discretion in your world,” Lady Bremmen replied. “But as we are in my house now, I can speak freely. Kerrawyn was my fosterling, I helped raise her from a child.”

Farrel swallowed hard, his suspicions confirmed. “Then you are the Countess of faeries she once told me of.”

She wore a faint smile as she poured him more wine. “Your people would call me that. Though what you deem the faery folk are as multitudinous and varied as your own human kind.”

The three mortals gazed at her for several moments as if enspelled.

At last Sontoral found his voice. “You hardly seem a faery. And yet it does explain—”

“How should a faery seem?” she inquired with mirth.

Sontoral answered gallantly: “Beautiful, which you are, and enchanting, which you are, but—if you will forgive me— also menacing and heartless, which plainly you are not.”

“Some of us are kind, dear harper.”

“Faery or not,” he said, “I find it hard to believe you are old enough to have fostered Kerrawyn.”

The lady laughed. “No doubt I am older than you think.”

“Older then than you appear, sweet Lady.” Sontoral's eyes shone like moons. “For your aspect is fresh and new as as a morning in April. But tell me, do you live in this house alone? You mentioned grooms who would care for our horses, but I've seen no sign of household servants.”

“My servants come and go quietly,” she answered. “I prefer it so.”

Though somewhat unnerved to find themselves seated at a faery's table, the travelers’ hunger soon prompted them to eat. They munched bread and jam and cheeses and sipped a delicious chowder brewed of wild roots and … lamb's milk, Farrel decided it must be.

The warm, plentiful wine eased the young lord's spirits, and soon all his apprehensions faded. Smiling, he slumped in his chair and listened while Sontoral made gay and lively conversation with their hostess. Only Glenna still seemed tense and grim. Farrel guessed her thoughts were on Valin.

When they had finished eating Lady Bremmen stood. “Go now and rest, my friends. You have much to plan and decide, I know. But first you must sleep and dream on what has happened thus far. Dreams in this house can heal the spirit and offer instruction on what is to come.”

Farrel and Sontoral agreed that they could sleep. But Glenna gazed forlornly out the window.

“The pond looks so lovely in this light,” she murmured. “I'd like to walk along the shore before I sleep.”

“As you wish, my child,” Lady Bremmen answered. “The door will be open when you return. Only be sure to keep the cottage in sight, or you could easily become lost.”

Glenna nodded, wearing a dreamy expression that made Farrel faintly uneasy. He glanced at Sontoral and the countess, but their eyes were all for one another. A string of bells jangled as Glenna opened the outside door, then closed it behind her. Farrel watched through the window as she wandered down toward the pond.

Lady Bremmen told Farrel and Sontoral how to find their rooms upstairs, then bade them both good evening. With a smile she walked off through another door than the one they had entered. Farrel could plainly sense Sontoral's impulse to follow her.

The two friends walked back through the parlor to the entry hall and climbed the wide stairs. At the top, they found a long corridor lit by candles in glass globes. The ornaments, the lighting, the scent of the air—Farrel found them all comforting and somehow familiar, almost as if designed solely for his benefit.

He and Sontoral entered a small room with a blazing fire and two spacious wooden tubs filled with steamy, scented water. Quickly they removed their clothes and settled into the baths, smiling at one another with satisfaction. For the first time in many days, Farrel felt completely warm and at ease.

Sontoral grinned blissfully. “A cozy fire and a solid roof at last. What a splendid house! What a splendid lady ...”

Farrel experienced a flash of awareness akin to his sensing of the spirits in the forest. But now it was Sontoral's feelings that appeared plainly in his mind. To the harper, Farrel saw, there was no weariness from the past days, no apprehensions about the future, only the faery countess with her splendid looks and her house of enchantments.

“I tell you, friend Farrel,” Sontoral cried enthusiastically. “With an ally such as Lady Bremmen, I feel our troubles are all but done, our victory assured!”

Ripples flowed across the water, moving the rushes on the shore of the pond. Wrapped in twilight, Glenna knelt on the bank, idly pulling rushes and binding them together. She hummed to herself a slow and mournful tune.

Her thoughts flowed vague and aimless, as they had on occasion these past three days. In such moments as this she felt not quite herself, not quite in control.

Why, for instance, had she taken this walk by the pond, when what she really wanted was to sleep? Why this dreary, monotonous tune that she could not silence in her throat?

And why did she feel this inescapable compulsion to stay here in the twilight and bind together these rushes? Already she had woven a chain that trailed from her feet down to the edge of the water. There the woven rings undulated with the rippling of the pond—and seemed to flicker, now and then, with tiny red flames like serpents' tongues.

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About the author

CorbinJay

Bio: Wandering scribe washed ashore in this strange and wondrous land.
Published in other places under the name "Jack Massa."

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