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A tender hand touched his forehead. Farrel stirred and opened his eyes. Glenna leaned over him, watching with affection and mild concern.

“Good morning.” She smiled. “I had troubled dreams about you. I am glad to see you are well.”

Farrel's heart swelled with love of her—his own, and perhaps some of Valin's too. He caught her hand and squeezed it. “All is well, dear Rowan maid.”

She was startled, but pleasure rather than pain brightened her eyes. “Valin sometimes called me that.”

“I know.”

They walked downstairs arm in arm to find Sontoral and Lady Bremmen enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Farrel and Glenna were about to sit down when the Lady suddenly jumped to her feet.

“Come, my friends,” she exclaimed. “Your dear ones have arrived at last.”

She hurried to the front door, Farrel and the others trailing behind. The countess swung the door wide and there stood Kerrawyn and Aidan, cloaked and hooded against the cool, misty rain that filled the morning.

Cries of joy and laughter ensued, everyone speaking at once. Kerrawyn danced into Lady Bremmen's embrace, then whirled and hugged Farrel, moaning with pleasure as she kissed him.

The memory of the shadow woman's kiss returned to Farrel, sending a shiver down his spine.

“Sweet love, what troubles you at so glad a moment?” Kerrawyn asked.

Farrel shook his head and hugged her fiercely, breathing the scent of the wet forest in her hair. For a moment, he forgot everything save the joy of holding her again.

Sontoral presented Aidan to Lady Bremmen, who took the girl's hands cordially. “Dear child, be welcome.”

The Lady took the womens' cloaks and hung them on pegs on the wall. “I am so happy you have arrived,” she said. “Come. There is food and drink to refresh you.”

On the way to the kitchen, Kerrawyn walked between Farrel and Lady Bremmen, each of them with an arm around her.

“How you have grown, sweet child,” the countess said to her. “Both in flesh and spirit, I perceive.”

“There is work I have put my mind to,” Kerrawyn answered.

The party returned to the table to find places set for everyone, with cider and honey-cakes in abundance. The meal was taken in a strange blend of merriment and melancholy that Farrel thought matched the shimmering dreariness of the rainy morning.

Kerrawyn and Aidan recounted their adventures since the night before Samhain Eve: how the Balorians’ first crossing of the bridge had been thwarted by Kerrawyn’s magic, and how Kerrawyn had brought the poisoned land in the Wormwell Marsh to bloom again.”

“Truly, it was a miracle,” Aidan said with awe. “I wish you all could have seen it.”

“It is not a permanent change,” Kerrawyn responded. “With the power lent to me by Valin's master I was able to delay the progress of the bridge and bring back the earthly life. How long it will last, I cannot say.”

Lady Bremmen spoke to fill the gloomy silence that followed. “But now you are reunited. Plans are unfolding and help is at hand. Take heart, for soon you will be able to take action.”

“What of Valin?” Glenna asked Kerrawyn. “Have you had ... any sense of him, since that night?”

Grieved and weary, Kerrawyn shook her head. “No contact of voice or mind, dear friend. But I feel in my heart he is living still.”

“So does Farrel,” Glenna answered distantly. “And I also believe it is true. I felt Valin near me last night, in my dreams.”

A glance full of meaning passed between Lady Bremmen and Kerrawyn. Farrel noticed it, and saw that Aidan did also. He sensed her curiosity at what it could mean.

Lady Bremmen rose from her chair. “Kerrawyn, dear, come with me to my sewing room. The rest of you, please stay seated and finish your meal.”

Sontoral sighed eloquently and rolled his eyes at the ceiling. “Sweet mistress, so often you wander off for private talks, but not often enough with me.”

She smiled and her tiny hand carressed his chin. “Dear harper, never fear. In this house where time does my bidding, I shall make ample time for us.”

The mistress and Kerrawyn walked from the room, leaving Sontoral with hands cupping his jaw, a dreamy smile on his lips.

Aidan fixed him with a stern and pointed stare. “Brother, I can scarcely believe what I see. Are you in love?”

“In love. Enchanted. Bewildered. Bewitched. Aye, all of these. And most wondrous of all, the Lady returns my interest. Think of it, Aidan, a countess of faeries enamoured of Sontoral. Think of the songs I will write of this!”

“I would rather think of our present difficulties, and of how we may find a way to rescue Valin and destroy the bridge. I would hope you also might spare some thought to these matters, brother.”

Stung by the rebuke, Sontoral started to answer, then clenched his mouth and gazed out the window with a sullen frown.

After perhaps an hour, Kerrawyn and Lady Bremmen returned to the others. Kerrawyn immediately requested that Farrel walk with her in the forest. The faint drizzle had ceased, leaving cool, moist weather beneath a white sky. Kerrawyn chose a path that curved gently upward from the pond, through stands of birch and yew that grew among the dominant oaks. A slick carpet of fallen leaves covered the ground, and bare branches twisted overhead. Farrel thought back to the early summer walks he and Kerrawyn had taken through the green hills of Tronwall. How different from June was this withered season; how sad to compare those joyful times to this.

Holding his hand, Kerrawyn remained silent as they walked. Farrel sensed her groping for a way to begin, dreading what she must say.

Finally, he broke the quiet. “We must think of what to do next.”

“Yes.” She paused on the path, turning troubled eyes on him. “Valin named you leader in his place. Have you accepted that role, Farrel?”

“I've accepted that I must try. How I am to lead is not exactly clear ... Except that Valin supposedly planted a bit of himself in me,”—He gave a dry chuckle—“and I am waiting for the seed to bloom.”

Kerrawyn tugged his hand and began to walk again. “That is the thing we must speak of, your being joined with Valin. As Lady Bremmen told you, Glenna is possessed. A portion of her soul clung to Valin when he was captured, and clings to him still. So part of her remains in the Gray World, as part of Valin remains here with her. We must free her, both to keep the Balorians from using her again, and to give her back to herself.”

“Can you free her?” Farrel asked.

Kerrawyn nodded. “Here in Lady Bremmen's realm, I can do it with ease. But to set Glenna free, I must break her connection with Valin. That would likely mean Valin would be lost to us—lost forever, unless someone else receives him. Since you are Valin's chosen, it is for you to receive him, if you are willing.”

“I understand,” Farrel said.

“No you don't, my love. Not entirely.” Kerrawyn kept her eyes on the path ahead, her voice shaking with emotion. “Till now you have received only an inkling of Valin's mind, a small part of himself he was able to send through Glenna to you. But now you would have to accept him fully, yet not be overwhelmed by his presence. Failure could mean you would both be lost.”

Farrel halted, forcing her to look into his face. “But … This talk of presences and portions of souls is baffling to me. Has not Glenna carried this same part of Valin you say I must accept?”

“These mysteries are abstruse,” Kerrawyn admitted in a frail voice. She raked fiery hair back from her forehead with both hands. “Glenna too has been in danger, but not so much as you will face. She has more training than you have in spiritual disciplines, and through her love she was bound in soul to Valin already. But mostly her danger was lessened by the very other danger of her own entrappment in Balor. This struck a balance between the two worlds—the balance we must now upset. You will have to keep the balance in yourself, Farrel, and that is no easy thing.”

She stared at him with glistening eyes. Farrel glanced about the forest, dim and mournful with the birth of winter. He gave a faint shrug of his shoulders.

“What choice is there?” he asked.

Kerrawyn stepped close and rested her head on his breast. “There is none,” she whispered, “for our friends, and for all the spirits of this land. But, Farrel, even if we succeed in this, I dread what must come after.”

Farrel attempted no other answer but to hold her in his arms.

Aidan and Sontoral stood before the hearth, the harper playing a solemn air, his sister's sweet voice singing. Glenna and the countess sat together on the cushioned swing, rocking gently as they listened. The parlor glowed with the flame of numerous candles, lit against the dingy afternoon.

Kerrawyn and Farrel walked in from the hallway, hand in hand. A silvery veil of rain shone on Kerrawyn's hair, for a drizzle had started up again as they walked back through the woods.

“Welcome,” Sontoral said. “You are in time to join our singing.”

“We cannot for now,” Kerrawyn answered. “We've only stopped to ask Glenna to come with us. We must speak with her alone.”

“Then you've decided,” Lady Bremmen said.

“Yes.”

Sontoral strummed a loud, dissonant chord and flung wide his arms. “What have you decided? First Kerrawyn confers with the countess alone, then she and Farrel sneak off to the woods, now Glenna is to join them! What happened to our pledges of unity and trust? When can Aidan and Sontoral hope to be informed of your secret decisions?”

“When any are made that pertain to you,” Kerrawyn replied, anxiety sharpening her tone.

“Dear harper,” Lady Bremmen glided to him, clasped his hand and shoulder. “No one mistrusts you or conspires against you. There is good reason why silence has been kept.”

“Well, I do not understand the reason,” he retorted. “Aidan reproaches me for not giving thought to our plans. But how can I, when all plans are made without me?”

“What these three must do together,” the countess explained, “is better done with no others present—no matter how close or dear they be.”

“And what is it that must be done?” Glenna asked with a note of suspicion.

“A dance, a circle, and a song,” Kerrawyn said. “Enchantments well-suited to Lady Bremmen’s domain. If successful, they will bring Valin closer to our ken.”

Glenna got to her feet at once. “Then I am ready.”

“Well spoken, dear sister.” Kerrawyn smiled at her lovingly.

She took hold of Glenna's hand and led her from the parlor, Farrel trailing after. They walked out to a wide stretch of lawn bordered on one side by forest and on the other by the curving path lined with fruit trees. The light rain had dissipated once more, leaving a chill mist drifting on the breeze.

Kerrawyn removed her shoes and stockings, her jacket and outer dress. Clad only in a sleeveless linen shift, she walked over the grass, tracing out a circle several paces in diameter. Next she directed Farrel to stand at the edge of this circle, and led Glenna to the center.

Gripping both of Glenna's hands and staring into her eyes, Kerrawyn said: “Trust me. For you know I love you and Valin well.”

“Of course,” Glenna answered.

Kerrawyn stood on her toes and whispered something into the other girl's ear. Immediately Glenna closed her eyes. Her head sagged forward and her body went limp. Gently, Kerrawyn lowered her to the grass where Glenna stretched out her limbs, then lay still.

Kerrawyn moved to where Farrel stood. “Are you ready?”

He nodded.

The sorceress lifted a hand to brush the hair from his forehead. “Remember this, my dear: Breathe in each breath for Valin, but breathe out knowing you are Farrel.”

With a last squeeze of his hand she turned and stepped away. Farrel watched as she stood with eyes closed, composing herself. Suddenly, she threw her arms high, then gracefully bowed till her outstretched fingers brushed the blades of grass.

In a leaping, lightfooted dance, Kerrawyn began to retrace the circle. She sang, a wild, rending song with no words Farrel knew. Instead the notes were faery cries, banshee wailings.

As Farrel listened, a burning started in his ears, then a humming inside his skull. Kerrawyn danced faster and higher, limbs and bright hair flying. Now part of her song could no longer be heard, only felt as vibrations of the earth.

Farrel blinked, disbelieving what he saw next. Amidst a quivering of light, Kerrawyn the woman disappeared. In her place leaped some faery creature made of fog and white fire. As he watched, the creature grew, stretching higher and higher. Soon she was tall as the tallest tree, and still she leaped and whirled, hands piercing the low-drifting clouds, feet plunging like roots into the earth.

Then all at once she was gone and Farrel stood within a whirlwind. He felt his mind opening, dizzying his senses. He struggled to do as Kerrawyn had warned: open himself to Valin, yet remember his own self.

The whirlwind lasted a few more moments, then faded away. Now Farrel found himself ... nowhere.

Blackness surrounded him—cold, lifeless, and hard. He could not see, nor hear, nor move. How long this lasted he could not say, but it weighed on his soul like unending torment.

Abruptly, he realized this was what Valin was feeling, this very moment, trapped in Balor.

Then a charge of tingling warmth rushed from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, filling him with radiant strength. And inside his mind he heard Valin's voice, whispering.

Farrel.

“Yes,” Farrel answered softly. “Welcome back to the world.”

He opened his eyes. He stood on the green lawn, in the cool and mild mist. Kerrawyn stood some distance away, watching him with an anxious mixture of hope and fear. Between them lay Glenna, sleeping peacefully in the grass.

Elated, Valin spoke within him: Thank you, lad. Oh, it is good to see the Earth again, to smell the air of Ireland and feel it on my skin.

“Yes,” Farrel murmured. “I understand. I understand... everything now.”

He glanced down, and with his mind's eye looked beneath the surface of the earth. He turned his gaze upward and peered beyond the clouds to the starry heavens and the sun.

Sun and Moon, light and dark: with supreme comprehension, Farrel pondered their balance. The Spirits, the Forces, the Elements, the Laws. How perfectly all fit together. How plainly all was written, even on a single blade of grass.

 

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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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