I sighed, nodding slightly at Christophe's look of sympathtic understanding for Jero's plight. I would have spoken to my offending cousin on the matter, but I feared it would just incite further torment for my old friend. This Jero would have to deal with on his own terms, whether he liked it or not.
I made my excuses a short time later, pleased at having learned a bit more about another of my cousins, and as part of that, his experiences with the test of family birthright. But I pushed such thoughts to the back of my mind so as not to be disracted during the morning weapons courses.
But with those completed, my thoughts strayed again to the mysterious Pattern upon my return to my rooms. Jero was nowhere about, at least not easily found, and I decided I wold let him hide out from Joaquim for a while. Besides, from what I had learned of the Pattern from my various sources, he would be unable to assist me should I fall to difficulty, and the knowledge of my deed would only cause him worry. Not, likely, that he will understand or accept this logic when he does find out...
It was all I'd heard, and worse.
Within my first few steps I realized that Christophe's description of "It was hell" spoke volumes in its elegant simplicity. I was not far in, passing around one of the first curves, when a flicker of movement caught my eye, pulling a bit of my attention away as I realized I was no longer alone.. There was a figure standing in the doorway. Tall, with black hair, he wore a long dark cloak that flared about him as he took two long strides and stepped onto the the Pattern.
I felt a cold knot start to tighten in the pit of my stomach, and for a moment, cursed myself for my independent willfullness.
I juggled my focus, attempting a careful balance of mindfullness on the pattern and watchfullness on my walking companion. But that balance became harder to maintain when I realized with a sharp thrill of fear that he was moving far too quickly for the arduous promenade. So quickly, I suddenly thought, that I would not reach the end before he had overtaken me.
My heart, already fast from exertion, felt to trebled in beat, and my hand, of their own volition, began to shake. The Bright Lady hold me close, for I was utterly helpless.
I glanced over my shoulder. Lady Bright, he was only 10 feet behind me, and he showed no sign he even noted my presence! He was going to run me dow-
Then he passed right through me.
It was through sheer force of will I managed to stop hyperventilating and force myself ahead, as the spectral form completed his circuit with unearthly aclarity, and upon reaching the center, vanished.
I know not how long I spent professing words of thanks to the Bright Lady, but by the time I had finally regathered my quite scattered wits, I was more than halfway through the design.
Then the memories began.
It was late summer, and through the window, open against the opressive heat, the sudden clamor of excited and angry voices drifted in jumbled cacaphony. The chatter pulled her from sleep, and padding to the window on silent feet, she was met with a scene of the gardens blazing as daylight from the torches that were being lit. Too many voices cried out at once for her to make any sense of their words, but somthing in their tones sent a dark thrill of dread down her back.
Pulling a wrap about her slight form, she padded down the grand staircase, slipping quietly through the deserted halls, into the sunroom, and out the door that led to the garden paths.
She wove her way though the milling throng of guardsmen and housestaff, her heart fluttering from the sharp tension in the air and the sudden, overpowering scent that assailed her - a dark tang of iron.
She was almost through to the center of the gathering when Fadien's sharp tone cut through the babble. "These wild accustations will not answer what has befallen his Lordship, and increasing your volume will only awaken Elaine!"
Befallen his Lordship? A sudden cold sang through her, and she could feel an edge of panic began to rise. She pushed her way past the last few guardsmen that blocked her path and stumbled forward. Her bare feet splashed into a wide pooling of something warm and wet and she went still as she looked down into the shallow puddle of reddish - Blood, commented an ever analytical corner of her mind, it is blood...
The throng had fallen still as well at her appearance, though she heard a strangled gasp, and Jero's voice swear into the sudden quiet. The his arm was about her shoulders, pulling her away from the light. "Elaine, just come away..."
But she caught in the grip of the gruesome scene, and pulled away from him. Pacing forward, heedless of the blood that splashed onto her nightgown as she stepped, she approached the source of the still pool, a crumpled form at the base of the fountain.
Befallen his Lorship... Open, empty eyes met hers, eyes that had once danced in merriment, eyes that has smiled upon her so many times. She fell to her knees over her father's body, the sharp scent of the blood turning her stomach. Her hand clutched at his shirt, shifting him enough that his head lolled loosely, revealing the gaping wound where his throat had once been.
Again, an arm wrapped about her and pulled at her. But she held to her father's form with grim determination, still lost in the moment, the full realization of what lay before her still not breaking through the detached calm of shock.
"Elaine, Elaine, please... Let go, Elaine." Frantic horror made Jero's voice rise. "Lady's sake, Elaine, let him go!"
As he wrenched her away from the body, she caught sight, suddenly, of the blood on her hands, watching in dazed fascination as it ran in tiny rivulets along her arms...
It was then that the scene fully ingrained itself in her conscious mind with a tremendous effect, as if the moments preceeding has stretched endlessly, then with a quick release, snapped back into her in a instant of blinding comprehension.
As the welcoming darkness rose to meet her, she realized, with some consternation, that the ragged screams that broke the quiet were her own...
I stumbled into the center, collapsing as my knees gave out. I don't remember how long I lay there before I willed myself back to my rooms, and fell into tears and sleep.
By the next morning I had recovered fully from my adventure, though my sleep was haunted by the dreams of my father's murder, and I will periodically feel a cold shiver when I think, even in passing, of my spectral encounter on the Pattern. I declined to tell Jero of it, considering how badly he reacted to my going off on my own for this venture, nor am I sure who I could approach with this incident. Perhaps I hsall take the king up on his offer of advice...
But for now, it seems the focus should on the upon the upcoming gala event tomorrow. Aunt Flora has fortunately seen fit to allow me a modicum of choice in making plans for attire, so I was able, after some window shopping with Eve, to conceive of a proper gown. Sometimes, these mundanities of Court life are a comfort to me, as trying and tiring as they can be, for they are a familiar pattern into which my thoughts can fall, allowing me to shy away from things more disturbing. Moreso, Conjuring the attire for myself and Jero kept my thoughts on task, and not wandering off into memories or speculations on ghostly hikers.
But eventually even that was done, and I shooed Jero off with his acouterments, and hung my own in the wardrobe. I was quite pleased with the result - having gotten quite adept at garbing myself through magical means over the years. It followed the simple lines of current Court styles, which should please Aunt Flora (and continue to allow me freedom in such decisions in the future), but held just a touch of my favorite flourishes. The heavy indigo brocade draped nicely from the high waistline that was popular here, over an underskirt of ivory silk. A scoop neckline, just to the edge of the shoulders, and sleeves to just above the elbow, gathered by an ivory ribbon just above a fall of deep blue lace.
I shut the wardrobe door and readied myself for bed. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.