Elaine 9: "Shadows of Betrayal"

We walked through the misted gardens in an eerie parody of times when she was still only Annaleine Madaari and I only an innocent child with no idea how dark the world could be. But as we spoke, both defensive, both hiding and holding back, both filled with anger and hurt, though for different reasons, the mirror reflection of those past times shattered in my mind. It was as if the last true link to my past was now gone, my last memory of a brighter time distorted by shadows of betrayal and lies.

Even the sword I now bore at my side, the symbol of my father's life and accomplishments and integrity was shadowed by the life accomplishments of the man who bore it before. I gripped the hilt of the Betrayer's blade as my mother bemoaned my less than trusting air regarding her. "My father taught me well." I could not keep the bitterness from my voice.

She looked saddened at my sharp words, and I curtailed my tongue.

We returned from the garden, my personal questions answered, though with little satisfaction, and I let Desire query on the issues closer to Amber. Let my mother think my mind was lost on the details of my past. It would be easier to work around her later if she did not regard me as an immediate threat to her plans.

Desire gleaned enough to give us an idea of what might be happening, and left to find Mica when Mirelle stated he was downstairs. Harlan and Christoph followed, leaving me alone again with the woman who had been my mother. I returned again to the table, tracing my name. Christoph's inquiry into the nature of the object had been met with cold silence. Hopefully I could play on her guilt.

She told me it was a record, of those who would play a part inthe battles to come, those who held the swords. And then she withdrew again, but not before she produced a Trump. "Now that you have found me... I cannot guarantee I will answer, but at least you will have a way."

I turned and took it, prepared to tell her, quite truthfully, that despite it all, I still loved her, when she lifted her hand, regret and anger shadowing her eyes, and all went dark.

I awoke with a start. Stone walls and ceiling greeted me. The figure by the fire turned when I made a sound. Backlit by the flames, I could make out nothing of the features, but a masculine tenor said softly, "So you're awake."

"Yes," I replied somewhat drolly as I took in the spartan surroundings of what appeared to be a monastery cell.

"I hope you are not angry with me for your arrival," he said, his tone filled with consternation and perhaps frustration.

"As I doubt you had anything to do with it, I can hold no blame against you for it." I sat up, letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. I could not fathom my mother's reasoning for bringing me here.

The man looked at me and sighed, the halo of firelight casting a warm aura about his still shadowed features. "I have no idea where to begin."

"Your name perhaps," I pointed out dryly, shifting Weirwindl to a more comfortable position on my hip.

"Raphael," he replied simply.

"Do you know Mirelle?" I asked, hoping he would shed some light on why she had deposited me in his care.

"She is my mother."

We stepped into the garden, and for the first time I saw my brother's face. His features, like mine, bore the mark of our mother. Side by side, I believed our relation would be obvious to the astute observer. And there were enough of those amongst my cousins.

Cousins, it seemed, Raphael was less than enthusiastic about meeting. So we spoke of other things. Rapahel spoke of a lonely childhood, and I silently thanked the Lady for Jero and Randy. And we found that if anything, we had in common Mirelle's lies and deceit, and our roles as pawns in whatever schemes she may have had.

After a call from Desire to ascertain that I was indeed intact, Raphael and I made a plan to meet in Sifre in a week to try and capture something of what we may have foudn had we grown up as siblings. And maybe to give each other some solace on the 'loss' of our mother.

Harlan's face was as still as stone when the contact opened, and with no word he held out his hand. But he said nothing, only brought me through into his arms, where he held me tightly for a long while, murmuring into my hair.

"He loves you..."
Mirelle's words echoed in my mind, and I held him tightly back.

We talked though, only of events outside of us, and when he mentioned Raphael I made sure to keep my thoughts to myself. I felt somewhat like my mother at that moment, and the comparison nauseated me, but I needed to know more of my brother's heart and mind before I could let the family after him, as I knew they would be.

He let me the copy of the Book of Saints, and after we parted ways, I curled up in a chair by the fire in my room and wound my way through my brother's words.

The room was dark, the only light the faint glow from the Betrayer's sword at my side, falling like water from the traced filigree down the blade. My footsteps made no sound on the marble floor, dampened by the pools of blood. Ahead I saw a darkened figure walking catlike about Christoph, laughing with hateful glee as she buried the dagger she held in his back. I drew the blade at my side and it began to blaze as nine faceless figures strode through the pools of blood and huddled bodies on the floor, their own drawn blades as bright as day. The darkened figure vanished with the shadows, and the nine strode out the arched doorway...

I stood behind his chair, hand settled on his shoulder as he wrote. I watched him scribe, in blood, a thousand questions I could not read. And then he stopped and tried to wipe the words away, but the bright blood defied his efforts. He looked up at me, with eyes so like my own...

She stood over me, smiling down in maternal protectiveness while holding the tip of Brand's blade to my heart...

He stood at the end of the mirrored hall, watching me with dark, sad eyes. And though I called to him that I did love him, he turned away from me a thousand times, in a thousand mirrors...

I awoke with a start, the book sliding off my lap with a thud, and the muddled dream images fading into the light of the dawn. Pulling the my wrap tight around me, I eventually stopped shivering.

Still somewhat unsettled by the previous days events and revelations and my broken sleep, I cornered Christoph after breakfast and related to him what my mother had told me of Claudia. Talk with Christophe next morning. He seemed quite grateful for my circumspection in the matter, and I realized I had gained another ally among the cousins.

The rest of the day passed much as the last few have. I related the incident with Mirelle to Kier, and sat in on another coucil. This one though, caught my attention closely, when they mentioned Raphael. And as talk progressed, I relaized just how much danger my brother might be in...

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