Late that night, when the full moon had begun its fall from the sky, came a moment of stillness over the pond. The croaking of the frogs, which had lingered pleasantly since sundown, grew suddenly and strangely quiet. Even the lapping of the water ceased, freezing the reflected stars.
Inside the house of Lady Bremmen, Glenna moaned and sat up in her bed. The dim glow of a red lantern shone on her strained and troubled face.
The scent of some thick, dusty incense seeped into her awareness, from where she did not know. Glenna slid from her bed and walked unsteadily over the rug. A sound filled her mind, a ringing in the ears mingled with a distant, rhythmic chanting. Glenna could not comprehend the meaning of the chant, yet her body moved in nerveless obediance to its prompting. She picked up the garland of rushes she had woven and began to whirl it over her head.
A dull feeling of danger warned her. Something evil would come of this. She must throw down the garland and flee from the room. But somehow she knew that releasing the rushes would mean letting go of Valin, losing her link with his soul. And that she could never do.
Bursts of silver light appeared and vanished, but Glenna scarcely saw them. She spun the garland faster and faster. Her arm began to ache and beads of sweat formed on her brow. The voices droned loudly in her mind now, and Glenna's face contorted with helplessness and pain.
A charge of sorcerous power surged down her arm and entered the fluttering garland. The thing came alive and tore itself from her hand.
With a cry of relief, Glenna sank to the floor. She lay limp on the rug, unable to move. Her glazed eyes watched as the garland broke itself into a long chain and slithered across the room. It climbed the wall, forming an arch of glaring light, a doorway where none had been before.
The last thing Glenna saw before blacking out was a figure that looked like Kerrawyn, stepping through the doorway—to Farrel's room.
Farrel felt a warm, familiar touch on his elbow. He rolled over and opened his eyes.
She sat down beside him, hip pressing his thigh. She was naked, red hair veiling slim shoulders and round, lovely breasts.
“You have arrived,” Farrel said. “I am so glad.”
Her small hands gripped his arms as she bent to kiss him, her mouth urgent and demanding.
His fingers explored the softness of her splendid hair. “How I have missed you,” he whispered.
“And I have missed you, my love,” she purred, soft and beguiling.
Farrel made love to her at once, spurred by the hunger of his body for hers. Yet even as he revelled in the touch and smell of her, uneasiness tugged at the back of his mind. He sensed something out of place—or missing. He wondered about her sudden, unannounced appearance in his room.
Gazing down, he saw sparks of silver flashing amid the swirls of her hair on the pillow. But when he put his fingers there, the hair felt cool and soft as rain.
Of course. That was the answer: he was dreaming. Oh, and such a lovely dream it was, such a princely gift of a dream from some noble spirit of sleep ...
Stranger dreams followed in the night. Farrel envisioned himself a prisoner, marched along the shore of a dull, metallic sea, a chain of woven rushes binding his wrists. And it was Kerrawyn who held the chain. She led him to a silken tent where they lay together amid feathery cushions and shimmering jewels. Later, he dreamed of a dungeon where he and Valin hung back-to-back on an engine of torture that spun around while faceless men interrogated them, but gave them no time to answer.
Near dawn the singing of a lark outside the window woke him. Opening his eyes, he saw Kerrawyn's face, floating amidst a veil of milky light. Her hands were pressed upon his heart. But except for face and hands she seemed to have no fleshy presence, only the insubstantial veil of light that hung on him like a chilling fog.
“You were telling me about Valin's plan,” she whispered.
“Oh …” It seemed he had been telling her something. His head lolled back on the pillow.
Vivid, startling images rose to mind, memories he had not known he possessed. He saw himself as Valin, seated near the edge of the Plain of Teeth, conversing with a massive face upon a pillar of stone. Then he was striding through the sky, supported by an arc of light, stars winking about him, shining worlds passing beneath his feet.
Farrel opened his eyes and stared vacantly at Kerrawyn. “How can I know these things?”
“Because Valin planted a part of himself in you, the seed of his power and his plan. You must bring the plan to mind now, so we can carry it out.”
“Yes.” He sank back, overwhelmed by the force of her will.
The visions loomed up again: He was Valin, walking in the Gray World, carrying his blackthorn staff. Then a blinding mist enwrapped him and a troop of silver warriors appeared. In fleeting moments, Farrel relived the challenge and the combat Valin had fought, and felt the icy stab of the Balorian knife ...
“No!” In the next room, Glenna screamed.
Farrel opened his eyes as the thing atop him shuddered, its power disturbed. Wide awake now, he realized it was not Kerrawyn but some obscene imposter. Its shape dissolved into a storm of darkness, till only crimson eyes remained.
“Human, you are in my power. Obey me. Think of Valin's plan!”
In panic, Farrel tried to struggle free. But he felt so weak, the strength drained from his limbs. Before he knew it, he was staring into those eyes again. And the one that owned the eyes had changed.
A wraithlike being straddled his thighs, a shrivelled creature of bones and white, translucent skin. Claw-like hands pressed down on his chest. Worst of all, the wraith had no face, only a shadow on the front of its head, pierced by those two red eyes.
A woman of Balor, Farrel realized.
He felt her mind probing his—with desperate haste now, for she feared that Glenna's scream would rouse the household. Thoughts of Valin swelled into Farrel's mind, though he strained to hold them back. It came to him that he knew Valin's plan, and the intended use of the stone.
But before the plan itself crystalized in his thoughts, he heard Valin's voice, echoing from a distance, warning him to look away.
With a wild effort, Farrel swung his face aside. Twisting the upper part of his body, he saw Valin's wand on the bedside table.
“Look at my eyes!” the Balorian hissed.
Instead, Farrel lunged for the wand. Stretching, his fingers closed on it.
“Obey me,” his captor cried.
Roaring with rage and disgust, Farrel stabbed the wand into her middle. The blunt, silver tip pierced her side. The shadow-woman gasped, her grip loosening on his legs. The wand shuddered violently and Farrel used both hands to drive it deeper.
“By the power of Oak,” he commanded, “Begone!”
The wraith screamed, a piteous howl of pain and defeat. Then a gush of light and heat erupted from the wand, and the woman of Balor disappeared.
Faint and sickened, Farrel dragged himself from the bed. A smear of black ashes clung to his thighs and groin. He brushed at them and shivered with loathing.
Sontoral burst into the room, followed by Lady Bremmen.
“What happened?” Sontoral cried. “First Glenna screams, we run to her room and she babbles something about you being in danger. Then we hear a scream in here ...”
“Farrel.” From the doorway, Glenna lurched toward him, a tearful look of madness on her face. “Our enemies deceived us! They used our loves against us.”
Farrel received her into his arms, despite an instinctive urge to push her away.
Then Lady Bremmen was at their side, whispering something in Glenna's ear. At once, the girl stopped sobbing, gave a deep sigh and swooned. Farrel caught her or she would have fallen to the floor.
“Bring her to her room,” the countess said. “Sontoral, please help him.”
“What is wrong with her?” the harper asked.
“I put her under a sleeping charm,” the Lady hastened to the door. “Come.”
Assisted by Sontoral, Farrel carried Glenna to the next room and stretched her out on the bed. They stepped quietly to the hallway and the Lady closed the door.
“She will wake tomorrow,” Lady Bremmen explained, “never knowing that she lost a day or remembering what has happened.”
“And what has happened?” Sontoral muttered. “Since, as usual, I am in the dark.”
“Your enemies used Glenna's mind to strike at Farrel,” the countess answered. “And, as I perceive it, Farrel used Valin's wand to defend himself.” She brushed the black hair back from her forehead. “Glenna is safe so long as she sleeps. But the protection of my house has been breached. I must go and travel the boundaries, to make certain no intruders remain.”
“We will assist you,” Sontoral offered.
“No, my friend. I will do it better alone.”
“Wait,” Sontoral said as she started to leave them. “What about Farrel? He looks ... not himself.”
The faery countess paused to gaze appraisingly at Farrel. Then she laid a reassuring hand on Sontoral's shoulder.
“Your friend is not quite as you think him, but he is well. He has defended himself most ably in a struggle of spells. Go down to the kitchen and you will find food and drink. I will speak with you both, later in the day.”
She turned with a whisper of silk and walked quickly down the long corridor.
Farrel's self-possession was beginning to return. He went back to his room and dressed, keeping Valin's wand within reach at all times. He slipped the wand inside his surcoat before going downstairs.
In the sunny kitchen he found Sontoral making a meal of warm muffins, hot wine, and honey. Farrel had no appetite, but he gratefully downed a full goblet of wine and immediately refilled the cup.
The drink slowly eased his nerves. In response to Sontoral's persistent questions, Farrel described his encounter with the sending from Balor—though he was still not sure how much had truly happened and how much had been a dream.
Toward mid-morning, a small child came to them in the kitchen. The two men clambered to their feet, taken aback by her appearance. She had the full face, chubby limbs, and toddling gait of a three-year-old. But her solemn eyes and tutored speech belied her childish appearance.
“You two would be the gentlemen of Ireland, known as Lord Farrel and Sontoral the harper?”
“Only one of us hails from Ireland,” Sontoral said. “But otherwise you surmise correctly.”
“The one that is Lord Farrel will kindly follow me. The mistress will see you in her sewing room.”
Farrel followed the golden-haired child down a long, dim hallway, to a part of the house he had not seen before. His tiny guide paused and pressed a panel on the wall. The panel swung inward, revealing an alcove and a dark, cramped stair.
The chieftain had to bend at the waist and hunch his shoulders as he climbed the steps, taking three at a time. The girl preceded him, passing two landings before coming to the top. There she opened a low door of ebony wood inlaid with silver, and stood back so Farrel could crawl through.
He entered a large chamber faintly illuminated by candles. Farrel gladly assumed his full height, glancing up as he did. He could barely discern the high ceiling, slanting far above sturdy wooden rafters. The room smelled like the open forest on a balmy night in spring.
“Come forward.” The dry and urgent whisper startled him. It did not sound like Lady Bremmen.
But, peering toward the far end of the room, Farrel saw the mistress, dim and tiny in the shadows. As he walked toward her across the wide chamber, she almost seemed to hover in the air, seated on a cushion of black mist.
Farrel decided it must be a trick of the light. He glanced at the candles nearest the Lady.
But they were not candles at all, only reflections of candles in small, silver-framed mirrors. These mirrors stood everywhere about the sewing room, on shelves, chests, and tables. Each reflected the flame of a candle that did not exist—at least not in this room, not in this world.
Wonderstruck, Farrel noticed other details in the phantom candlelight: an open jewel-box on an ivory table, a vase of night-blooming flowers, a bolt of silk, gray-white and sheer as rain.
Lady Bremmen sat at a large loom, a magic loom that worked of its own accord. Farrel gazed for some moments at the moving shuttle, strung with threads of black and gold. Then he stared at the lady. She sat with hands in her lap, looking far tinier than she ought, and seeming still to float in the air like a will-o'-the-wisp.
“Be not alarmed, young lord,” she whispered. “You are but seeing me in a different aspect, one closer to my true being.”
Farrel's knees felt a little weak. He took advantage of a velvet-seated chair set before the loom.
“I have walked with my mind round all the barriers of this place,” the countess said. “They are sealed and nothing of evil remains within.”
“Can you tell how your defenses were breached?” Farrel asked. “Might it happen again?”
“Not in the same way. Glenna spoke the truth of this. The longing both of you feel for your absent loved ones made you vulnerable, despite the protections of my house.”
“I do not understand,” Farrel said.
“As you know, Glenna's attachment to Valin keeps part of her a prisoner in Balor. So she was easily enspelled by the shadow folk and forced to open a doorway to their world. But it was your yearning for Kerrawyn that allowed the intruder to pass through the doorway. Had she meant you violence, she could not have materialized within my walls. But she came intending only your seduction, and your own longing helped draw her to your side.”
Farrel shivered at the memory of the shadow woman's touch. “She came near to learning Valin's plan from me,” he muttered. “Her visit was only a bit premature. Valin's intent is not yet clear, though I feel it drawing closer, like a friend approaching through a fog.”
“Open yourself to that which Valin has placed within you,” the Lady advised. “I will give you what help I can. Though you must understand this, young lord: my power is drawn from the Earth. I cannot promise much help if you choose to cross the border into the Gray World.”
Frowning, Farrel rubbed his beard. Inside he had known, ever since taking up Valin's wand, that he must follow the druid's steps into Balor. Untutored in magic, doubtful of his abilities, he would hardly have chosen such a path: to leave Kerrawyn and all that he loved on the Earth, to go marching off to the shadow world to meet some dubious fate. But there seemed to be no choice, no other path that offered any hope of saving Valin, of saving the land. The relentless, creaking movements of the loom seemed to bind together the strands of his fate.
“That much already seems clear,” Farrel said. “I mean, that I must follow Valin into Balor. The problem is finding a way.”
“That help I can offer,” Lady Bremmen replied. She bowed her head for a moment, then spoke again. “Around your neck I have placed a stone of power. Know this as the Talorbeck. It will serve to open the gate that you must pass.”
Glancing down, Farrel saw a polished black stone set in a gold bird's claw, hung on a cord at his chest. He fingered the stone's smoothness and sensed in his soul its power.
“I am grateful for this gift,” he said.
“It is no gift,” the faery replied. “The Talorbeck is yours by right of blood. It belonged of old to the chieftains of Ulster, of whose line you are descended. My people but hold it in trust, for moments of need such as this. Keep the Talorbeck and the stone Valin passed to you always on your person. Guard them well. Much depends on these two stones.”
“I understand.” Farrel answered. “I realize they possess great power. But even with their magic, I confess I feel small confidence that I can win where Valin failed.”
“Open yourself to Valin's spirit,” Lady Bremmen said, “and your confidence will grow. Go now and rest. You lost your proper sleep last night, and you must be ready. Kerrawyn will be arriving soon.”