Upon sight of the lofty spires sinking into the heavens and the stained glass windows, Rhys hastened his already rapid steps, his feet almost flying off the cobblestone pathway snaking to the Glass Fortress.
His lungs working in overdrive, he struggled to gulp in air, each and every inhalation causing a fresh wave of pain to burst from his bleeding wound and spread all over his body. Gritting his teeth, he clasped Hoel more securely against his chest and peered down on him.
A kiss he pressed upon the child’s feverish forehead. ‘’Hush, my soul. Do not let the call of Annwn seduce you. Your lips have yet to drink from my blood.’’
Rhys strode up the staircase to the palace’s entrance, each one of his leaps covering a couple of rungs, until he reached the pair of porters standing watch before the heavyset double gates.
‘’Lord Rhys, is that you?’’ cried out Morcant.
‘’What is the meaning of this?’’ exclaimed Bel. ‘’What is your business here, my lord? What of the child you’re carrying?’’
‘’Please, I must be allowed entrance. It’s a matter between life and death.’’ From the waist of his braccae Rhys fished out Maddox’s note and extended it to Bel. ‘’Deliver this to lady Rosmerta. Tell her Nimue is to administer the antidote for deadly nightshade. Hoel has suffered the sting of its venom.’’
Bel straightened further his spine, his gaze–not unsympathetic–perusing Hoel’s pitiable state. He nodded. ‘’Queen Cariad must be informed about this.’’
‘’Do as you wish, but act swiftly,’’ bit out Rhys as he staggered, almost falling to his knees.
The porters reached out to steady him, Morcant attempting to relieve him of Hoel in vain, for Rhys clutched at him with a death grip, like an ivy around the bole of a sycamore tree.
‘’Cernunnos have mercy, you’re bleeding!’’ Bel made the sign of the silver horns. ‘’Your wound goes deep.’’
Rhys’ hand flew in a dismissive gesture. ‘’Mind this n-not. The child’s wel-welfare is more -’’ An overwhelming weakness swept over him like a tidal wave and he felt himself plummeting into the void’s twilight.
‘’Since your sojourn in Annwn, you have turned quite peaceful in your slumber.’’ Dione flashed a warm smile. ‘’Your sleepwalking habits have ceased entirely. That’s a pleasant change. Your body has been under a lot of strain.’’
A fierce frown settled on Morella’s face. ‘’Your satisfaction couldn’t be more misplaced, sister. Deception doesn’t lie far away from appearances. My nights invite only apprehension where nightmares overflow and take over the reins of my sleep.’’
All sensation and structure of time, Morella had it forfeit. Dawn replaced dusk; the blue, luminous Pleiades gave their place to the sun. Yet, most days coursed away in a swift, dispassionate pattern, each moment appearing to Morella interchangeable. All motions she went through without impact, the affairs of the world failing to move her.
More and more silence was becoming her recourse, her detachment growing in proportion to the absorption in her own troubles and worries. And so rattled Blodwen’s revelations had left her, the past she had been until recently ignorant of and all its significance consumed her thoughts.
Morella chanced a glance behind her shoulder. Like a vigilant warrior the House of the Sun loomed in the horizon, spring from the depths of the island’s highest hill, ready to brandish sword and shield to defend Rumia from the curse of any conquering force.
Long vanished was the sight of the colourful flea market, long dead to their ears the trade between merchants and buyers and all the accompanying clamour of such bustle.
Between the high walls of the lane the sisters walked until its curve ceased. Along its length rivulets of water split it in half with their swelling as they gurgled and streamed to the left. Even more were the waters that rushed down the evergreen slope to their right, an amalgam of fallen tree fragments, broken branches, dirt and dead leaves swept away by the current, swallowed by the ravenous, fresh spume that spilled down the steep ravine.
The end of the lane skirted the edge of the dark woodland where valleys and dales dipped and rose in their silver-green eminence. As Morella and Dione ventured deeper, the shouts and whistles of the farmers herding their cattle and the baying of hounds turned into a faint echo.
The chirping of the birds perched upon the branches of the ancient oaks and beeches lulled the ear beneath a baby blue summer sky sown with a billow of downy clouds; the breeze wafting from the sea bore a scent full of sweetness.
‘’Once there was no longing of yours, no doubt or fear, no concern or uncertainty you didn’t reveal to me.’’ A sigh tumbled from Dione’s lips. ‘’I wish you would confide in me again. Aloofness will only increase the strife. You don’t have to hoist this burden alone. Lean on me and I’ll heave my own share. It’s my trial, too.’’
An excerpt from my mythic fantasy novel currently titled The Fruit of Passion.
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