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WIND TALES BY FREEWIND GINGERBLAZE Page of Contents THE SEA-WIND .rtf

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					     WIND TALES

        BY

FREEWIND GINGERBLAZE
 Page of Contents:

 THE SEA-WIND

   ILLUSION

  THE 10 TO 6

CRYSTAL PASSION
THE SEA-WIND


CHAPTER ONE

The witch, Jessica Newcomb, sat upon her hearth, staring deeply into the snapping
contents of the fire. She was beyond herself; lost in thought and memories. The
contemplation had its source deep within her heart and soul. She was thinking of her
captain, Isaac Trent, master of the Sea-Wind Lady.

It had been many months since he had been back to the tiny thatched cottage that Jessica
called home. Its name being the Sea-Cliff Cottage. Some of the villagers at Whale's
Mouth felt the witch gave herself airs with giving such a humble abode a name but
neither Jessica or Isaac cared. The Sea-Cliff Cottage was hers and his when the Sea-Wind
Lady, that sleek tea clipper, lay at anchor in the bay below the barren cliff for which the
cottage had been named.

She missed him with a raw aching need, not only physically but internally as well. He
was so much a part of her very life weave. Since she had met him, nigh on a year ago, he
had consumed her almost every thought. It was as if he were the other half of her eternal
self, her soul. She believed completely in the process of reincarnation and she felt that
they had shared lifetimes before together. Yet, but in this life, he could never truly belong
to her as he belonged to the first loves of his life, the sea, his ship, and his family in
Spain.

The world and the sea was his home and the cottage, the virgin wood and the barren sea
cliff were hers. The time was 1873 and the place was Maine. The season was winter.

Yet within the confines of the Sea-Cliff Cottage, there was no other world but that of her
life, the Craft and mementoes of the part life she shared with Isaac.

The cottage was filled with the wooden furniture he had made by hand, china he had
brought to her from abroad, earthenware dishes and mugs she made at her own kiln and
pottery wheel, and his other multiple gifts from around the world. His scent filled her
mind and overrode the scents of jasmine, lavender, bayberry, and garlic that filled the
cottage. That musky, masculine smell of him as she lowered her head on his shoulder. Or
as he smelled when they made love.

She continued to stare into the flames, lost in her own thoughts, when her reverie was
interrupted by a muffled nasal sound and then a distinct thump against the cottage's
wooden door. It snapped her to awareness but not alarm. She knew who had paid her a
visit.

She stood up to her full height, one of medium size, not too tall and not too short. A
buxom woman with long dark hair, intertwined with streaks of white running through it.
In the winter, she wore it down and in the warmer months, braided away from her face
except when Isaac was home when she wore it pulled back with satin ribbons he had
given her.

The muffled noise came again and the soft thump at the door as well. Jessica smiled as
she said softly to the empty room, "Coming, old friend." Her blue-gray eyes flashed as
she glanced at the clock on the stone mantle above the hearth. The hands were straight at
midnight...the door between yesterday and today. Epona never missed the time...he was
always right on the spot.

The witch stepped from the hearth, across the wooden floor to the corner where she
removed a long black voluminous cloak from a peg in the wall. She flung it over her
shoulders, closed the top of the cloak by pulling the strings, and then she placed the hood
over her head. Her face was lost into shadows. With her right hand, she reached for the
slide bolt of the door and stepped into the cold night.

The moon was in a waning stage, positioned low in the sky even though it neared the mid
of the darkness. The sky had the hue of dark blue, almost black, with patches of pewter
gray clouds drifting abstractly. There seemed to be a curious absence of stars but she
knew from her knowledge that it was only the earth's outward revolution. It was winter
when the planet was the most distant from the sun.

Once she stepped away from the protective walls of the cottage, she felt a chill run
through her. The wind was blowing from the east off the Atlantic and it had the teeth of
ice. She tightened the cloak around her just as she turned to face the horse waiting for
her.
The tall stallion thrust his head into her chest in greeting, blowing softly through his
nostrils. She stroked the smooth skin between his large deep brown eyes, absently tracing
the small star marking there.

***

"Well, Epona, it is time, isn't it?" she said softly.

She swung easily upon the horse's soft coated back. His summer sleek coat had been
replaced by a thicker, coarser hair to keep his body warm against the cold Maine and sea
winds. It was still early winter so the snow had not yet come. His luxuriant coat felt warm
against her bare skin as she straddled him with her dress pulled high on her thighs. She
draped the cloak firmly around her and the stallion turned to the pathway that led to the
cliff.

She knew as she rode to the cliff crown that she would only find empty sea. Yet always
she hoped that the sea would bear her love home once more. It had been so very long.

The chestnut tree rose starkly naked against the midnight sky. The branches were bare,
leafless, and raised to an uncaring heaven. The sea wind rattled the limbs, causing the tree
to shiver as a nude soul.

Moments before, there had been only the sound of the ricocheting wind and the trembling
tree but soon, it was interrupted by the ringing sound of Epona's shod hooves. A harsh,
haunting sound that reverberated with the loneliness of the time and space.

Horse and rider came to a halt beneath the tree. Jessica pushed the hood back, lifted her
face to the pale moonlight; even the weakened light could not conceal the traces of tears
on her lashes as she stared at the empty sea. No clipper with full sail broke the horizon's
perfect line. Where ever the Sea-Wind Lady was this night, she was not headed for the
cove below the barren rock cliff and the single chestnut tree.

Knowing yet another long and lonely night awaited her, Jessica began to turn with one
last look, she spoke the words her heart was already whispering.

"My love, I wait for thee
And until thou returns home to me,
I will keep my faithful watch
And hold thy love in my heart."
The watch had been kept.

When morning came, it was with a sullen, gray face. A storm approached from the
Atlantic, bearing with it masses of dark clouds and a biting wind with the promise of
snow. It came in from the sea but the air it carried was from the cold landscapes far north
above Canada. The wind's banshee voice cried about the eaves of the cottage.
Inside the cottage, the hearth fire burned warmly with a thin layer of peat moss over two
thick logs. The hearth cauldron simmered with a rabbit stew and dried vegetables from
the witch's larder. Every few days, Jessica would cook a soup or stew, placing portions of
it in ocher earthenware pots. She then stored the pots against the cottage in a wooden box
that stayed cold in winter from the icy stream that ran just below it, sectioned away from
the foundation of the cottage. As well as keeping her perishables, frozen to be eaten later,
it was also her fresh supply of water. The rich-smelling stew would provide meals for
three to four days.

She sat on one bench of the hand-hewed table that dominated a good portion of the center
of the one room cottage. A narrow alcove or loft sat atop Sea-Cliff Cottage, which was
where she stored her linens, trunks of other sundries including clothing and important
documents; leaving just enough space to make a pallet on the floor. The pallet had been
Isaac's idea as more than once she had awakened in the middle of the night to find him
gone from their bed. The front door still latched, she knew he had left her side and slept
in the loft above her. The man at times had a great need for solitude and the quest for
aloneness also meant leaving her company. It had frightened her at first that he was tiring
of her but within time, she learned it was simply his manner.

This cold morning the loft was empty of him as was the four-poster burnished oak bed.
He had slept the night somewhere out to sea or in port, in his cabin's berth. She had slept
alone as she did most nights. She had a cup of steaming tea in front of her and a plate of
flat sea biscuits lay untouched to the side. She sipped occasionally from the tea but had
not partaken of any of the sea biscuits.

As she listened to the wind moan about her home, her mind drifted back to the time she
had first met Isaac Trent. It was in February, not yet a year gone, that she had ridden
Epona into Whale's Mouth for supplies. It was a chore she very much disliked but she
needed the flour, tea, sugar, salt and other essentials that were almost depleted at the
cottage. The three months had passed since her last trip had netted a small amount of coin
from her "gifts" and she prayed it was enough to provide what she needed.

CHAPTER TWO

Whale's Mouth was a small fishing village and port in the rugged terrain of Maine's
shoreline. It had been given its odd name from the way the bay was almost a perfect half
oval giving way to the shore. The village had been built in the crescent. The bay, deep
and clear of reef or stone, appeared to be as if a gigantic whale had bitten off a piece of
the land.

When Jessica went to Whale's Mouth, she bought at the general mercantile. This trip she
bought sparingly, forfeiting her luxury of coffee, as the money was not enough. The Craft
always provided but at times, not as abundantly as she wished. She did not see it fit to
complain, as she was grateful for what she received. It had been her choice to do without
the coffee for the two bottles of brandy she purchase from the bar keep at the near by
tavern and inn, the North Gale.
The main reason for Jessica's dislike of her town visits were due to the disdain and fear
she was treated with by many of the villagers. Most all of them knew she was a witch but
were convinced she practiced a Dark Craft, not the one of White Magick. Her strong
intuitive sense had allowed her often to foresee and warn the townspeople of severe
storms or other dangers that could cause them great harm or mishap. These predictions
had proved almost unerringly to be true.

Her powers had aided those who had listened from suffering any real harm. It soon
became apparent that she was accurate so the dissenters had begun to pay heed. Yet, it
had earned her no gratitude but mostly suspicion, fear and dislike. Some believed that she
called upon her Dark Master, Satan, to cause these events and therefore, making her
appear to be a "seer" or a recipient of "second sight". While they found her forewarnings
of useful and beneficial content, they still scorned her as someone tainted and evil.

The majority of the people saw no reason to bother her if she did not bother them. The
rest of them knew her to be a kind, gentle and shy woman who had a way with animals
and plant life and a lover of nature. Her chosen solitude suited her and them perfectly.

It was from those who believed in her "gifts' and found her mild healing abilities to be of
good that gave her the "tokens" of coinage for her potions and some magic amulets or
mojos. Those who could afford left money; others left clothe or staples or occasionally,
fresh meat. They left these with in the raised roots of the chestnut tree or the crook of the
roots. The tree's lonely solitary existence found an answering note within her own soul
but also its refusal to die or wilt but instead flourished and grew in the bareness of its cliff
soil, also echoed a resilience within her to survive in her own environment. She left the
requested gifts in the tree's crook and in turn retrieved her "donations" from the same
place. It was not acceptable within "white magick" to charge for her services but she was
allowed the donations for her survival in exchange.

Jessica was the sole child of Jenna Newcomb and her sea-faring husband, Herbert
Newcomb. Herbert had been lost at sea before Jessica's first birthday and Jenna had never
married again but practiced her "craft" has had all the women of her Celtic ancestry. The
Widow Newcomb raised her daughter alone in the tiny cottage built close to the remote
barren cliff so Herbert could always see the sea when he was home. The chestnut tree,
then just a sprig, had sprung up from its wind-blown seed in the crack of the rock of the
cliff and was nourished by the layers of rich soil that wind and rain had washed into the
crack. As the child grew so did the tree.

The "witch" taint had kept suitors from the lovely young Jessica and now, three years
after her mother's passing and into her late thirties; almost forty, the bloom of youth was
gone and an "old maid" her station in life but Jessica did not mind. She had her quiet life
and Epona.

The horse had been the offspring of an aging mare that Jenna had nursed through colic
and saved from death. She also had helped ease the wife of the mare's owner, a
fisherman, of a "grievous bowel disposition" and he had given the pregnant mare to Jenna
in gratitude for the return of his wife's health and her normal loving nature. The old mare,
weakened from the colic and the pregnancy, had died shortly after the tiny colt's foaling
and Jessica had raised the foal by hand. He had grown into a magnificent strong stallion
who was her protector, constant companion and transportation. Jessica had named the
horse for the Celtic Goddess of Horses, Epona. Though a male, the name still suited the
horse well. Those that feared her claimed the horse was her "familiar".

Jessica liked to have a touch of warming brandy in her tea or coffee in the cold winter
evenings and it also added flavor to some of her stews or pies as well as being a most
useful ingredient in some of her spells that called for something of a alcohol content. As
she had tea, she sacrificed the coffee in favor of the two bottles of the tavern's cheapest
brandy. Both bottles would do her through the remaining stretch of winter as it was now
February.

With even greater reluctance to enter the tavern than the goods store, she forced herself to
endure it. As soon as she stepped into the main room of the tavern, all conversation
stopped and all eyes were focused on her. She froze at the door in trepidation but after
awhile, stepped forward at the gentle urging of McDermott, the bar keep and the owner
of the North Gale. As a beneficiary of more than one of her helpful elixirs, McDermott
was one of her supporters in the village.

When she had almost reached the bar, she was suddenly blocked by the burly form of a
nasty-tempered local named Rafe White. White, as usual, had had too much to drink and
being in a mood to torment someone, he chose Jessica.

"Well now, if it ain't the witch come to git her spirits. I 'ave a better idea, witch, how's
'bout I take ye to bed and drive that evilness right out of your devil-spawned soul." White
snarled.

Always choosing a demure, eyes downcast attitude if possible, Jessica, now challenged,
raised her own unwavering stare into White's blood shot eyes.

"Do you think that would be the proper thing to do?" she ask softly. Her stance was proud
and erect. She shifted her basket further up her right arm and dropped her left hand into
her apron's pocket. There was only the slightest trace of movement of her fingers.

She stepped back slowly, putting a few feet's distance between her and White. He got a
sneering smirk on his face as he mumbled through whiskey slurred speech.

"Maybe not a good thing for ye but a fine thing for me." With these words said, he lunged
for her. She did not see McDermott start to come from behind the bar or hear the sound
of a chair scraping in the corner as a stranger pushed back from a table and rose to his
feet. All she saw was the confident look on White's face and his staggering grab at her.

Before he reached her, she withdrew her hand from her pocket and with a quick flick of
her wrist, she threw a yellow powder in his face. The big man suddenly emitted a
agonizing cry and reached for his eyes with both hands as he came to an abrupt halt.

As he was jumping around and roaring like a wounded bull, Jessica quickly side-stepped
him and walked quietly up to the bar where McDermott had halted. McDermott glanced
from her to the ailing White and grinning knowingly, he turned and returned to where she
stood mid-bar.


He set two medium sized bottles of brandy on the bar for her but when she reached in her
pocket to pay him, McDermott said, "Nay, lass, no cost to ye. "Bout time someone taught
that dumb ox a lesson. What did ye do to him?"

"Just a small bit of sulphur. The effects are only momentary but enough to keep him from
hurting himself or me." Jessica answered quietly and then continued, "Just wash his eyes
with water and in a couple of hours, he will be fine."

"Thank you, sir, for the free offer of the brandy but I will pay." With that statement, she
placed two coins on the bar's polished mahogany top. Turning on her heel, she quickly
left the tavern after tucking the two bottles of brandy in her basket.

As she went to go through the door, she noticed a man standing in the corner. She took
little notice of him except that he had the most amazing blue eyes she had ever seen.
They seemed to mesmerize her for a very long moment. Then remembering the howling
White, she broke the stare and hurried quickly out of the tavern.

She was still lingering in thoughts of Isaac's blue eyes when she heard Epona's shrill
whinny which she knew was a warning. There would never be a better guard dog than the
stallion was.

The stallion shrieked again and then she heard a loud screaming of foul utterances
coming from a human throat. Jessica rose quickly from the table and crossed the floor in
quick strides to one of two latticed windows in the front wall of the cottage. She pulled
back one of the blue cotton curtains and peered through the frosted panes. The scene that
greeted her eyes brought both admiration and fear into her heart.

Admiration for Epona as she saw the stallion standing less than one hundred yards from
the entrance to the cottage, his four legs splayed wide apart with his head lowered on a
snaking neck line. His ears were laid flat against his skull, the large eyes bulging with
fury and wariness, and his lips drawn back to expose blunt but strong white teeth. The
beautiful horse looked totally menacing and fierce as he stood his ground. She knew that
he would defend her to his last breath.

It was what Epona faced that filled Jessica's heart with fear. Two men had come to a
complete halt just twenty feet from the angry stallion and though trying to look unafraid,
she could see the pasty pallor of both of their faces. She knew both men. One on the left
being her long time tormentor, Rafe White and the smaller man on the right was the
Reverend Wilkes Filos, the village's most fervent "fire and brimstone" preacher. He had
long sought to exorcise the "devil" from Jessica's unfortunate soul. His attempts had met
with gentle but firm rebuffs each time. Only his vengeful God existed; not Jessica's
loving and giving God, the Creator, in his opinion.

"Be gone, ye devil of a horse, I tell ye!" Filos was screaming at Epona, waving his hands
frantically in the air, trying to spook the determined horse. His almost comical
movements did nothing to discourage Epona but only re-enforced the stallion's protective
stance. Jessica wondered how long it would be before the stallion lost his patience and
lunged at the two men, threatening to either run them down or rear on his hind legs,
trying to crush them beneath his powerful front hooves.

"Come out that den, witch, or so help me, I will shoot this miserable beast where he
stands." White screamed, his threat aimed towards the cottage. That tightened the fear in
Jessica's chest, fear not for herself but for her beloved Epona. Without even grabbing her
cloak, she threw open the front door and stepped out onto the cobbled stone walk path.
Issuing a soft clucking sound, she called the horse to her side.

Epona pricked his ears when he heard the sound but for a long moment did not move. She
called again and very reluctantly, the horse released his wary stance, and turning in a
quick movement, he cantered to his mistress's side. He moved close to her and tried to
position his body between hers and the men. She stepped under his tall neck and faced
her unwelcome visitors.

"Good morn to you, gentleman. Why have you come so far from town to this lonely
place?" she said in a voice as soft and calm as she could possibly muster. It belied the
fear and anger cruising through her brain and veins.

Filos was the first to speak.

"Witch, ye are an abomination to God!", his shrill nasal twang trilled along the edges of
her already tense nerves. "Git ye from this place and leave these good people free of your
evil practices and Satan, your Master. Each day your presence fouls the sea and the
fisherman can't catch their fill. The children suffer with stomach pains and Mrs. Haisley
saw a two headed chicken hatch, which is one more sign of the Devil's workings here.
Go, witch, or we will send ye away!"

Jessica drew a deep breath, her heart catching at the violence in the angry man's words,
but she fought only to maintain an outer composure of calmness and no fear. She leaned
against the stallion for support, drawing strength from his powerful body and his loving
nature.

"Reverend Filos, surely, you are laying blame for natural ill happenings at my feet.
Countless times, I have stated that I do not worship the Devil. You see none of his signs
near my home; only the abundant beauty that God Himself has endowed this land with.
The fisherman fish the sea too frequently in the same area, fearing to go out further as the
winter weather has made it perilous. The children eat too many late fell apples, causing
the stomach pain. The two headed chicken is just a freak that occurs occasionally. The
poor thing did not live, did it? Instead it died of its own sad malady." Jessica replied to
his accusations, her tone sedate.

Then both men saw her blue-gray eyes narrow as she straightened to her natural stance
and said firmly, "This is my home. I was born here and I shall die here. My parents came
before you did, Reverend, and have been here as long as Mr. White's family. I will not be
run from my home by you or anyone else. I bother no one; it seems to be certain ones
choice to plague me. Return to Whale's Mouth and let me be." She balled her fists but did
not raise them from her sides. It was the last sign of her controlled anger.

To appear undaunted by his natural fear of her "powers", White then sneered.

"Well, brave now, ain't ye? T'is odd for ye to be so since your Captain ain't about. What
are ye to speak of Godliness, witch, when ye lay as a common whore with a married
man!"

It was only a small sign but one Epona recognized when Jessica made a short sweep with
her right hand. The stallion back away from her quickly and breaking into a short dash,
he barreled down on the two startled men. Having no time to protect themselves, they
turned and fled quickly towards the wooded trail that led to the village. Once satisfied of
their departure, Epona drew an abrupt halt, wheeled, and returned to his mistress.

Jessica leaned against the horse once again but this time, burying her face in his silky
mane and weeping. She was trembling from anger and fear, drawing solace from her
friend. Epona wrapped his head around her shoulders, nuzzling her tear-stained cheek.
The horse understood nothing of what had occurred but only that the woman was upset
and he had sensed a strong sense of danger.

After a few moments of weeping, Jessica leaned her head back and stared at the horse.
She gave him a tremulous smile she did not feel and stroked the soft warm fur of his
neck. She knew in her heart and mind that the first serious warning had come!

CHAPTER THREE

Jessica gave the stallion one last affectionate pat on his neck before she turned and
stepped back through the doorway of the cottage. Though her mind still lingered on the
frightening encounter with Filos and White, she still had a new day ahead of her and
things to prepare.

The rabbit stew was in need of water as it had nearly simmered to an almost thick paste
and she could not afford to waste the food. Drawing water from a large crockery urn, she
added several ladles to the thickened stew until the gravy once again was thinner and
before long, it would begin to slowly boil, cooking to a rich concoction.
She glanced at her now cold tea and the uneaten sea biscuits, her appetite lost but she felt
in the need for the consoling warmth of a fresh cup of tea. She threw out the cold tea and
adding fresh leaves to the strainer, she poured hot water from the tea pot hanging on a
separate hook. As she did this, she smiled, thinking to herself of how Isaac had said that
he would buy them a pot-belly warming stove and install the flue in the cottage so it
would give added warmth in the winter and also keep water hot for tea or coffee. She was
sure the cottage lacked many amenities that he was accustomed to aboard his ship or his
estate in Spain. Yet, Sea-Cliff Cottage had been her home all of her life and she felt that it
wanted for nothing. The only thing it lacked was Isaac but he would return and this she
knew without question.

Once the tea had stepped to a decent strength, she returned to sitting at the table. She
added a small amount of sugar and a thin serving of cream, skimmed from the fresh pail
of milk that Mr. Tyler had brought to her just before dawn after his milking. He was a
good man, Mr. Tyler and always kept her in milk and cream and eggs from his hens when
he could spare them and ask no payment in return. She had tried but he refused. Her skill
at delivering his wife's breech baby last year that was now a very cute and active toddler
was all that he had required. He knew he could have lost both his wife and child.

With these thoughts, she reminded herself that there were many more good people in and
around Whale's Mouth than there were those like Filos and White. With that gentle
thought bringing a soft smile to her lips, she reached for the cup of tea and began to
consider the coming of Winter Solstice in a fortnight.

She enjoyed the Solstices, though minor Sabbats, they were the celebrations of the
arriving seasons. They had been so much more when Jenna was still alive but now as she
alone remained, she still greeted each one with a true ceremony. Her altar was festooned
in the bounties that the woods bestowed upon her, pine cones, holly, thistle, evergreen
branches, sweet chamomile tea, moss, precious quantities of rosemary and sage. It bore a
strange resemblance to those very things used by the most devout God-fearing people to
celebrate Christmas, but of course, one belief had crossed into another through the
ancient corridors of history, the more "paganistic" of the practices having come many
years before the birth of Jesus.

She had petitioned the "powers" in hopes that Isaac could be home for Winter Solstice or
the Christmas celebration that followed four days later. She had not heard from him in
over two months and his last letter had mentioned no plans of being able to return to the
cottage by then. It had been only her secret wish that she would not see these holidays
pass without him. Yet, she knew the wiles of the sea and the precarious nature of
shipping schedules and weather. She took heart though that many of the crew that sailed
under Isaac were from Whale's Mouth, nearby Bridgesport, and Boston. Many would
wish to be home for the season.

It would be their first Christmas together, seeing as the Captain still honored his Catholic
upbringing, though scornful of the practices of the Church. He had indicated that his trips
would not bring him close to Spain this year and she knew he grieved not to see his wife
and children. The thought of his family brought back the ugly words that White had spat
at her.

Perhaps in a more moral upbringing, such as the teachings of church, Jessica would have
been abhorred by the idea of being a man's "mistress" but within the Craft, love was love
and if given in genuine and true depth, then it was sacred. Jessica also knew that the
human heart was capable of many different capacities of love. His love for her did not
lessen his devotion to his family and neither was she less in his heart. He owed her no
obligation but what he gave was by his free choice. She wished to have love no other
way.

Jessica finished her tea and returned the uneaten sea biscuits to the metal tin on the
cupboard. She glanced at the clock once again on the mantle and realized that much of
the morning had slipped from her. She still had many things to gather from the woods
before the first deep snows of winter came. Checking her stew, she saw that it had
finished simmering so she removed it from the fire, allowing it to cool on the hearth
before she placed it in the crockery to be kept near the stream.

Shortly after mid-day, she rode Epona into the wooded dale just below the rise of the
barren cliff. Part of its first line of brush disguised a large building. The building sat on a
decline not far from the shore, being necessary for the purpose. Inside the building was
something very special. The ribs and hull of a new clipper that Isaac had been building on
his rare times on shore. She never questioned his need for the new ship as he seemed to
almost one with the graceful Sea-Wind Lady but he felt the desire to bring to life a new
craft, which he had informed Jessica he would name the Serene Lady.

As she gathered her list of desired plants, ferns, herbs, some acorns, pine cones, and
holly, Jessica noticed a grouping of black clouds in the sky. The mass of heavy
leaden-gray clouds warned of an impending storm. A chilling wind blew up through the
trees from the sea, rattling the naked oaks, beech, and maple trees, now stripped of the
autumn foliage. The spruce, evergreen and pine trees stood in stark relief against the fast
darkening sky. She felt the wind's cold icy grip steal through the thick layers of her cloak.
Sensing the storm's near arrival, she mounted Epona and returned to the safety of the
cottage. She knew the stallion would seek the shelter of his stable, built behind the
cottage.

The wild storm wind blew that night upon her cottage, shaking the window panes and
moaning like a lost soul in the upper area of the chimney, undeterred by the bright hearth
fire burning. She had dressed a small Yule log with holly, myrtle, and cranberry beads,
placing a large white, pine-scented candle in the hole of it. Its cheerful flame and
appearance lightened her heart against the sadness of the early morning events. She ate a
small serving of the stew for supper, enjoyed a cup of tea, laced with brandy, and then
retired for the night.

The booming sound of thunder awakened Jessica near two in the morning. The bright
flash of close lightening suddenly lit the dark interior of the house almost as if it were
daylight. She felt a searing fear grip her heart as the rain began to pelt against the sides of
the cottage. Coming in angry waves, like a wild tossing sea. The old cottage shuddered
under the assault of the high wind, blowing with streaking force. A Northeaster had
invaded the night and swept up the barren cliff.

Disturbed, she found that she could not return to sleep so she rose out of bed. Stirring the
low flames of the banked night fire, she placed the tea kettle on the spittle and waited,
shivering, as the rekindled fire warmed the chill of the room and the water came to a slow
boil. It seemed to take forever but finally, she was able to fill a pewter mug with the hot
water and sip the reviving warm liquid of the tea. She sat upon the now warm stone edge
of the hearth, staring into the fire, reflecting when she realized that it had become silent.
There was no sound from the storm.

She waited with breath held, her every nerve tingling. She did not have long to wait
before there was a spectacular flash of white and then a vivid spray of sparks. Within
seconds of counting, the deep rumbling sound of thunder seemed to resound just above
the thatched, soaked roof of Sea-Cliff Cottage. Then the wind began to wail like a
demented spirit once more. The rain returned and the Northeaster gave one last shriek of
its fury before it became just a mass of rain clouds.

Lulled by the now comforting sound of steady rain, Jessica soon returned to the comfort
of her bed. She passed into a dreamless sleep, no longer visited by the feeling of great
disquiet that had gripped her earlier. She slept deeply, blissfully unaware of the long
black scorched mark upon the stony surface of the cliff, just inches from the lone
silhouette of the chestnut tree. A calling card of the Northeaster's close visit of powerful
lightning that had barely missed the tree. It seemed to be almost an ominous warning of
evil to come!

In contrast to the fury of the storm the night before, the dawn came in soft, pale, pastel
and cold but with a glow of gold over the Atlantic. As the rising sun peeked in through
the blue cotton curtains of the cottage, Jessica had already awakened and was up and
about her morning routine. She had eaten her sea biscuits this morning along with a
fragrant steeped cup of true tea. It warmed her and invigorated her.

As she went about her work, she opened the curtains of both of the windows so she could
watch the sun's ascent towards noon. She felt encouraged this day instead of beset with
the gloomy feelings she had felt for the last few days. As was usual, her first thought that
morning had been of Isaac and his whereabouts but she had no "feeling" from him so she
knew he was still far away from Sea-Cliff Cottage and Whale's Mouth. As each day
passed and it drew closer to Winter's Solstice, her hopes of seeing him for that time
dwindled. She felt that this season would pass without him and it would be has it had
been before she had met him in the tavern that day.

As she sat and stitched upon the patterned quilt she was making, she let her mind wander
to the time of their next meeting. She relished those memories and the calming task of
sewing eased the thoughts into her mind gently. It happened early one snowy morning
about a week after her trip into the village.

She had gone to the leafless chestnut tree to see if there were any requests there for her
services. There had been only one and then also a small packet of ginger and cinnamon
left by another as a "gift" for whatever she had done for them. Most of those who
requested her help never identified themselves, satisfied to leave their note and return
later and retrieve the desired object while also placing a "gift" in return. It was a
comfortable system for both Jessica and the people she helped.

Epona, who was patiently waiting for her a short distance from the chestnut tree, had
snorted suddenly and she heard the sound of his rapid hoof beats on the bare gray cliff
stone. She raised to turn to see the reason for his action when she saw a man walking up
the path from the shore of the bay to the cliff.

He strode with purpose and ease, his eyes focused downward on the narrow,
pebble-strewn path where he knew he could slip easily. He was so intent on watching
what he was doing that he did not see either the woman or the stallion who stood
defiantly at the top of the path. Epona snorted again and his small ears laid back. He was
trying to block the man's way from reaching the cliff where Jessica stood.

Jessica suddenly got a warm feeling that seemed to fill her inside and she knew that it
came from the man. Without knowing why, she called softly to the stallion to return to
her side and though Epona did it reluctantly, he stood near his mistress and together they
waited for the man to reach the end of the path and the crown of the cliff.

Within moments, the man reached the end of the path and the top of the cliff. He raised
his eyes, saw the woman and the horse waiting for him, and came abruptly to a halt. He
paused for a moment, studying them as well and then, he smiled. When Jessica did not
speak, he did.

"Are you the witch of Sea-Cliff Cottage?" he ask quietly.

"Yes." she replied softly. She knew instantly who he was as she recognized his
remarkable blue eyes and his proud stance. She did not know his name but she knew him
to be the man from the tavern who had risen to his feet as if he had intended to come to
her aid in her confrontation with Rafe White.

"Good, I have been looking for you. I seek your help." he stated.

"What kind of help?" she ask, her manner that of a person carefully on guard.

"Seems I have a very ill seaman whose had digested a bit too much of shore life, namely
wine, women and food. He is as sick as any landlubber put to sea for the first time.
McDermott, the barkeep, said that I could acquire a potion from you to remedy the man's
ills." the man answered and then continued, "I am Isaac Trent and the captain of the
clipper, the Sea-Wind Lady. She lies at anchor in the bay below your cliff."

Jessica felt a surprised expression cross her face as she had not noticed that a ship was
riding in the waters of the small bay. It was an unusual thing as most ships put into harbor
at Whale's Mouth instead the obscure bay below her home, ten miles from the village.
Yet, she knew that she did not often go to the end of the cliff to survey the beach and
water below it. She could not help but wonder of how long the clipper had been moored
there without her knowledge.

"And why have you not taken dock at Whale's Mouth?" she questioned.

Captain Trent gave a deep, warm chuckle and in turn ask, "Does the bay belong to you?"

"Indeed it does, Captain. All of the land and water within two miles of circumference of
this cottage belong to me. You did not know this?" Jessica said firmly.

CHAPTER FOUR

"Actually, dear lady, I did not. I chose to weigh anchor in this bay as I dislike having my
ship in a crowded port where she could be the likely victim of vandalism or mischief. As
she is also my home, I like to sleep my nights in quiet and that is not usually possible in a
crowded port. It has always been my choice to anchor out of port if possible." the captain
informed her. Then he again ask another question, "Do you have an objection to my ship
being there?"

"No, I do not as long as no one bothers me or comes near my cottage uninvited or they do
not befoul the woods and land on my property." Jessica answered

"As I have been there almost a fortnight now and my men have caused no damage or
disruption to your property, then I believe you can feel fairly safe that we mean no harm."
Isaac said.

"Well, this is true." she said more to herself than him and then speaking in a louder tone,
she went on, "My name is Jessica Newcomb and I am called by many as the Witch of
Sea-Cliff Cottage. I believe that I know just the potion to give you for your man's
ailment. If you will come with me to the cottage, I will give it to you."

"Agreed but what of your rather large "watchdog" there. It appears that he is not well
pleased at my presence." Isaac said, indicating the stallion who had retained a rather
controlled ominous stance. It was very evident that he was wary of the strange man
around Jessica.

"Epona? Oh, do not worry about him. He is truly a "lamb" at heart but he will obey me
and not hurt you. You have my word." Jessica said laughingly and her soft laughter
sounded most pleasant to the captain.
Then in a seemingly gesture of goodwill, she invited.

"It is a long walk back down the cliff and a tedious row to your ship. Perhaps you would
care to stay for a hot meal and a cup of tea before returning to your ship."

The captain seemed to consider this invitation only briefly before he answered easily.
"Yes, that would be most welcome."

As Jessica continued to stitch on the quilt, her thoughts returned from the past to the
present and she knew that meeting on the cliff had truly been the beginning for her and
Isaac.
It slid past noon and into the quickly darkening early evening when Jessica heard Epona
whinny and then the sound of shod hooves approaching her door. She knew by the sound
that it was not Epona.

She ceased the kneading of the bread dough on the table, wiped her sticky hands on a
hand towel, and then crossed the room to peer out the window on the north side of the
cottage front. Epona was standing quietly in the front of the house where he had been
absently picking at some hay she had strewn out for him but now, his head was up and
his ears pricked forward. His stance was not one of animosity but more of interest, so she
knew that the horse knew the visitor.

Placing her face closer to the window, she strained harder to see who approached. When
she saw the familiar dull brown coated mule and the floppy hat and thick wool cloak, she
felt a warmth fill her. Her visitor was McDermott, the bar keep. It was also a sign that
perhaps he had a letter from Isaac. McDermott's tavern was also the local post station and
that made the bar keep the post master. Knowing that Jessica's trips were few into the
village, McDermott often brought the mail to her. His reward was usually a hot and tasty
meal.

"Eh, to the house, be anybody there?" the man called out.

Quickly, disregardful of the cold, Jessica opened the door and stepped out onto the stoop.
She waved enthusiastically to her visitor, saying "Good evening, Mr. McDermott, and
what brings you to my home upon such a cold night?"

"I have a post for ye, Jessica, from the Captain!" McDermott stated as he halted his old
jenny mule and dismounted, allowing her to roam as she would. She quickly made for
Epona's hay which the stallion allowed her to have. McDermott hurried to the door and
stepped inside, waving the yellow wax-sealed envelope in his hand excitedly. Jessica
could hardly contain herself from snatching it out of his hand but instead, she closed the
door on the chill from the outside and after indicating a place on one of the table's
benches, she ask.

"Would you care for some tea, Mr. McDermott, with perhaps a bit of brandy to chase the
chill from you?"
McDermott's face broke into a smile as he agreed, "T'would be nice, Jessica, for it is a
long ride up here. And a cold one at that!"

She soon had McDermott settled comfortably at the bench with a cup of tea generously
laced with brandy and a large piece of fruit cake that had been soaked in some fine
Jamaican Rum that Isaac had brought her on his last visit. McDermott seemed quite
content to enjoy the cake and tea, gazing into the bright fire so Jessica refreshed her own
cup of tea, minus the brandy. Now, she was ready for what she had anticipated for so
long; Isaac's letter.

She traced her finger loving over the sealed wax before she broke it open. She knew that
Isaac's hand had sealed it and it gave her a feeling of momentarily being close to him.
Then she opened the envelope and removed the one sheet of paper within. Instantly,
recognizing Isaac's neat script, she began to read, she could just envision it.

CHAPTER FIVE

A lone piper played on the lower deck, sheltered away from the westerly gale that drove
the Clipper Ship, Sea-Wind Lady, eastwards from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town. Captain
Isaac Trent sat at his writing desk pen in hand, writing paper lay before him. His mind
distracted by the piper and the tune he played.

"If I were a minstrel
I'd sing you six love songs
To tell the whole world
Of the love we share"

He wrote

'My love'

'A mariner is never truly at ease close to shore, like his ship he is destined for the open
ocean where far from the sight of land he feels safe from the rocky shores that may
destroy him. Walking up the winding track to Sea Cliff Cottage I ceased to be the master
and you ceased to be my mistress. To see your stately figure standing on the cliff, long
dress and hair billowing in the wind waiting as you had all these months by the old
chestnut tree. With you I cease to be the mariner and the master, we are but one in quiet
contentment. I surveyed the cottage with its simple furniture, the soft bed of down built
with oak where we lay together and explored each others bodies, and the smell of
lavender that remains with me still. The luxury of fresh vegetables and herbs growing
outside the door and the aroma of some stew simmering in the cauldron on the open fire,
and the wild pleasure with your horse. In your arms of peaceful contentment, time stood
still, stilled in me was the need to wonder. I had no past memory or needed one and the
future lie in the comfort of your arms, the pleasure to see you gracefully move through
your garden and along the cliff's walk. Daily walking up to the chestnut tree as if still
waiting for me to come and stay, you knew the time would be all too brief. Although you
know that I had a wife in Spain who bore my children you had no wish to take away from
me all these things but were content to share our time together.

While you busied yourself in our garden, my days were spent in the boatshed tucked
away in the dale beneath the cliffs, the ribs of "Serene Lady" forming a promise of my
return to you. Ribs of oak steam bent, shaped and set into the keel like a beautiful
sculpture which one will be our clipper ship, our stay sail schooner to sail the islands of
the tropics together.'

***

At this point, Jessica paused and stared silently ahead of her as she continued to form a
mental image of Isaac and the time at sea when this letter was written.


***

The pipers lilting sound rose above the cacophony of wind, creaking hull and helmsman's
constant correction of the tiller working on the ropes and blocks.

"So be not afraid, love
I'd sing you six songs of love
To tell the whole world
Of the love we share."

In the fading light, the Captain paused, lighting an oil lamp and continued to write.

'My love, with you I don't always find the words to say, to express the feelings of love I
have for you. I am stilled in your company like the Sea Wind Lady is stilled at anchor in
the harbor, content for a time to be so. The songs of our love are carried on the wind to
you in all of its moods, they whistle through the rocks lonely and haunting in the spirit of
the night. They may shine for you to give a star to fix a course upon, and in the restless
energy of the sea crashing on shore bringing with it treasure carried from mystic islands
that I have only seen and you can dream of. When you feel the wind on your face, you
know it has kissed mine and when you see the stars at night you know they guide me
back to you.

Dearest, you wonder of the parts I sail into, the charms that are on offer there, don't let
your heart hold fear or the seeds of doubt grow in your mind. I am content in my ship. I
am content in you. I feel no need to wander down Bugis St. or explore the delights of
Mandalay. I sit in my library or go ashore and explore the crowded Bazaars to search for
a special gift for you, something to grace the walls of Sea Cliff Cottage.'

Light no longer shown through the glass hatch over the writing desk and a chill wind
blew through the companion way leading to the chart room and the wheel, the Captain
put some coal on the small pot bellied stove that gave warmth and allowed a kettle to
boil. The cook brought in his evening meal and placed it on the dining table which was
made of birds eye maple. The captain's cabin was spacious with room for a library of
books along the wall lined with teak paneling, a porcelain basin set in a wash stand and a
pitcher of water for washing and a comfortable bed. Compared to his crew who bunked in
the forecastle in narrow bunks with the only furniture being their sea chests, their head
room was minimal and they had no heating below decks except in the galley.

The Sea Wind Lady rushed on towards the Southern Ocean and the Roaring Forties, her
fine bows slicing through the swell driven on at eighteen knots. Her mast stood at one
hundred and fifty-two feet carried a full set of canvas, the topsail ropes taunt under the
strain. The masts quivered at almost breaking point, though the first mate knew only too
well not to suggest to the captain to reduce sail. The Captain knew instinctively by the
sound of the wind and feel in the ship when to reduce sail and he would drive it right to
the edge of breaking before his perverse pride would allow canvas to be furled.

"Too ra lee Too ra Lie
All I can share
Is six ribbons
To tie back your hair."

The second watch had started and the Captain had finished his meal, the words of the
piper's song lay gently on his mind.

He picked up his pen again and wrote.

'For a time when the first mate had taken the Sea Wind Lady to Bridge Port, instead of
Boston, for provisioning, we were alone. The stillness of the night away from the noisy
confusion of life aboard allowed to forget who I am, allowed me to immerse myself in
your charms and to savor your quiet beauty. When mast and sails appeared around the
point from Whale's Mouth I was torn in two, with the love I have for you and the love I
have for the sea. Misty eyes and a quiet look of acceptance came over you as you baked a
final loaf of herb bread and wrapped it in a cotton towel, the scent of the bread still
lingers in the cloth as if a sweet reminder and a constant invitation to return.

I remain your Captain in love.

Isaac'

Although the night had quieted the piper, his tune still sang sweetly in the Captain's head
as he sipped a glass of Fine Spanish Port taken from the cellar of his country estate.

***

"Yes, he is well. I hope that I can see him in mid-January" she explained to the bar keep.
"Aye, I knew as much. He sent me a short post as well as the one for ye. He has engaged
me to be of what service I can to ye and this I will be. Ye are so alone here, Jessica, do
not ye fear the grumbling in the village?" the man ask.

"Yes, Mr. McDermott, I am afraid and worried but I will not run and I will continue to
place my faith in what has kept me safe all these years, the Creator and the Craft. This,
too, will pass." Jessica answered with conviction and McDermott knew she believed in
what she said.

The weeks began to pass slowly by for Jessica. Winter Solstice came and went as well as
Christmas. The winter snows arrived with a vengeance, locking the world in a frozen
state of white. Jessica felt her fear ease as she knew that she was safe for awhile as the
snow-laden trail and blanketed forest would keep her safe from her tormentors; as not
even mean-spirited Filos or the drunken Rafe White would attempt to brave the freezing
temperatures to disturb her.

On the clearer days, she would find Epona outside playing in the snow but when the
weather was foul, he stayed within his stable at the back of the house. She lived off her
stored winter supplies and he was well fed with the grain and hay she had stored for him.
Life took on an almost hibernating quality as the days quietly passed one into the other.

As mid-January approached, Jessica and Epona kept their watch on the cliff by the
chestnut tree as often as weather allowed. It always found the bay empty but she kept the
watch none-the-less. She worried for Isaac sailing in the icy seas but she knew he knew
what he was about.

Finally early on a Wednesday morning in the third week of January, she heard Epona
neighing excitedly and she left the hearth to see what he was disturbed by. As she pulled
back the curtain, she saw someone walking towards the cottage from the cliff. She knew
instantly it was Isaac. Her heart filled with joy and happiness as she hurried to tidy
herself before he stepped through the door.

She heard the latch open and he stepped once more into her arms. If there was ever a
moment of sheer endless happiness in the world, it was the moment when he first kissed
her after having been away for so long. She clung to him as if he were the very essence of
life and she knew that for that time, that short time that he was there, he was the deepest
essence of her life.

The lovers did not think of food, or words or undone chores but only of the need to touch,
to feel, to love. Lifting her as if she were nothing, he carried her to the four-poster and
after they both hastily disrobed, there began many hours of lovemaking, trying to make
up for all the lonely empty nights that both had known. The morning passed into noon,
which passed into evening and it was early night, when the need for food and drink
brought the lovers once more back to the world of reality. They dressed and Jessica began
to set out about preparing a small meal while Isaac stepped out to the stable to give
Epona his nightly feeding. The big stallion greeted the man with warmth and affection,
proving that time had no bearing on the horse's ability to remember. Isaac covered the
stallion with his thick blanket and latched the stable door which usually stayed unlatched.
He was home once again and the stallion could be spared his nightly vigil of guarding the
cottage and Jessica.

When Isaac returned to the cottage, Jessica had the meal prepared and she awaited her
lover. They ate in warm, companionable silence, sitting side by side but well aware of
each other. Finally, Jessica ask the question that they both dreaded.

"How long will you be here this time, Isaac?" She felt the heavy silence between them
and it felt as someone had cast a lead weight around her heart. At last after the long
moments, he answered.

"Three days."

CHAPTER SIX

Jessica turned an ashen face to him, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Only three days?" she
whispered. Her mind was reeling with the impact of this knowledge as his usual visit was
at least a fortnight or longer. Knowing that she would not see him again until fall, she felt
wretched and saddened by so little time with him. He could see in her face the thought
that had passed through her mind so many times before. Why had she allowed herself to
become part of such a wondrous but painful love. His blue eyes reflected his misery of
this thought but he also knew that there was nothing else he could do about it. He himself
wondered if the day would come when he would return to Sea-Cliff cottage and no longer
be welcome there. Jessica had not the reasons to be loyal or devoted to him that his wife
did in Madrid. Yet, for nearly a year now, each time he had come back, she had
welcomed him with open arms and a loving heart.

The lovers once again dropped into silence and continued their meal. Once that had been
done, while Jessica tidied up the cottage and prepared for bed, Isaac braved the chilling
cold and icy wind to step to the cliff to where he could see his ship anchored below in the
bay. He had brought a large glass enclosed lantern with him for light and also his signal
to the clipper in the bay. He swung the lantern widely three times and then after a few
moments pause, he did it again. He soon saw an answering signal from the ship. It meant
all was well and now satisfied, he returned to the cottage and Jessica's bed.

Having satisfied their immediate needs through the day, the lovers curled closely together
and sleep soon claimed them. It was as if no time had passed since they had last slept
together for their curling together was as natural to them as breath. Yet in the very early
hours of morning; not long before dawn, Jessica began to toss and turn and murmur in
her sleep. She dreamed.

In the dream, she could see a bright sunny day with the grass vivid green and the chestnut
tree fully leafed out in the late spring attire. A warming breeze blew up from the sea and
she felt within herself a sense of happiness that the rebirth of Beltane always invoked.
The land was coming back to life after the long, cold winter.

She then found herself on Epona riding away from the cottage and the cliff. She knew
that they were off to the woods to seek out some of the newly budded flowers and herbs
that grew wild there. It was the first escape of spring that she always looked forward to.
Yet, they had hardly gotten very deep into the woods when she felt an intense sense of
alarm. Not questioning it, she turned Epona back towards home; back to the cottage and
the cliff.

The sight that met her eyes was horrifying. The cottage was alight with a raging fire and
the chestnut tree had been nearly cut clean through and was itself burning like the house.
Black, choking smoke filled the air and Epona reared in instinctive fear of the fire. She
barely quieted him and for the ease of his distress, she urged him farther back into the
woods, putting distance between themselves and the fire. Then helpless and
dumbfounded, she sat and watched her family home, her way of life and the beloved
chestnut tree burn and knew she could do nothing to stop it. In agony and grief, she cried
out!

This cry of pain awakened her from the dream and also awakened Isaac. He immediately
reached for her, asking frantically what had upset her so. She could not answer him but
only weep in deep strong sobs within his arms. In time, the weeping stopped and a visual
scan of the cottage assured her that it had only been a dream but she knew deep within
her, the dream was a warning and she was filled with a desperate sense of fear and
foreboding!

The three days passed all too quickly for both Isaac and Jessica. He checked over the
skeleton of the Serene Lady, the schooner that he had been building in the dale
boathouse. The wood seemed still in good condition and he felt it would weather well
until the fall when he could return. He hoped for a longer time on shore at that time. The
Serene Lady was his prize project and he longed to see her completed and at sea.

Jessica enjoyed the gifts he had brought her, including a heavy woolen cloak from
England and a spool of fine silk from China. She loved the gifts that he brought but they
were of little consolation to the sadness deep within her when the morning arrived that he
would sail once again. Yet, it came!

She walked him to the cliff path as the sun was climbing in the east over the Atlantic. At
the shore where the path met the beach, was a skiff waiting to carry Isaac back to the
Sea-Wind Lady. They kept the parting light as Jessica would not speak of the utter misery
in her heart with his leaving. Isaac, himself, remained silent as if he too were too moved
to speak. As he turned to walk down the path, her last words to him were "Come back to
me, my love." He turned and smiled at her gently but did not reply, his eyes saying what
he could not say.

The first night was a misery, just as she knew it would be. It was the first in a very long
time and she wondered why she had never gotten used to them. She knew that with
routine and the passing of time, she would be more accepting of his absence but still deep
within her would always be a longing for him and the dream of his return. He was a man
of his own choices and his own ways and she had discovered that it was futile to fight
them. Yet, she was happy that she had known his love none-the-less.

The cold, bitter winter seemed to hang on forever as the cottage became even more
snowbound. The winter of the year before had been gentler and kinder. As February
arrived and the day came that she marked a year of having met Isaac, she lingered that
whole day in those luxuriant memories. She saw the passing of Candlemas, in the still,
lonely silence of the white winter. She longed for Beltane and the arrival of Spring.

Spring Solstice arrived in the third week of March and she saw a beginning of the
thawing of the land. It seemed to grow with each day. Epona was delighted as each new
green sprig popped up from the awakening earth. She was anticipating planting the new
vegetable garden and added more to her differing varieties of flowers. She also knew that
a trip to Whale's Mouth was becoming a very necessary fact. It was a task that she did not
relish, and now, it seemed even less so. Not a procrastinator, she, however, decided she
would wait till the road had improved without so much melting snow to impede her
travel. That would not occur until the first part of April.

For days before All Fool's Day, she had experienced an ominous feeling deep within the
pit of her stomach but she played it off to all of the warnings from the autumn before by
Filos and White and she feared that with the spring thaw, the winter would no longer be
her protector from their evil intentions. Even Epona seemed to be edgy and skittish in
those days. He still came to the house at midnight, though, Jessica no longer kept her
watch for Isaac as he had said he would not return until in the early fall. So when
midnight arrived, the door separating March thirty-first from April first, the stallion made
his routine visit. This night he did not knock upon the door as usual but she was
awakened by his shrill scream of fear and anger.

Leaping quickly from the bed, she hurried to the door and opened it. She was only
allowed a moment, just enough time to see the chestnut tree burning wildly on the cliff,
its once straight frame leaning crookedly to the south as it had been nearly chopped in
half at the base of its trunk. She had only that moment before her sight was blinded by a
thick, smelly coarse blanket being thrown over her head and she felt a pair of massive
arms wrap around her, pinning her arms to her side. She struggled but it was useless!

For what seemed forever, she was held captive this way, unable to barely breath: let alone
see. She heard shouts of directions, spurts of foul language as she could hear Epona being
driven away from her over and over again. Through the blanket, she could detect the
waving of a flaming torch and the shadowy figure of the big stallion as he reared and
raced about in anxiety and maddened hate. Then she heard things landing in great thuds
by her and her captor, who said not a word but she knew by his whiskey reeked body
odor that it was Rafe White. If this had not told her, his wandering hands that took
liberties with her helplessness, would have identified him to her anyway.
Then suddenly there was a complete silence and stillness except for a shaking sound as
liquid spewed all over the something and a very recognizable and pungent smell drifted
to her nostrils. The smell of kerosene!! She screamed out in desperation "No!!!". It did no
good because she soon heard a crackle and swooshing sound as someone tossed a torch
onto the cottage and it caught afire. At this point, she stopped struggling and for lack of
proper air and also shock, she fainted.

Hours later, she awakened on the cold ground, oddly covered by the same blanket that
hidden her view. Epona's worried nudges and wuffling against her chest and cheek
aroused her. She could see his large frame in the weak light of the breaking dawn. That
was not all she could see and her heart shattered within her!

What had once been her home, the Sea-Cliff Cottage, was now only a pile of rubble and
smoldering ruins. It had not taken long for the old thatched cottage to succumb to the
jaws of a massive fire. Her eyes, filled with tears, turned towards the cliff and the
chestnut tree, which now also was only a charred, leaning ruin of a once vibrant life.
They were both gone...gone forever! It was April Fool's Day and she was homeless and
cast out!

She did not know how long she sat upon that cold ground and wept. She saw heaps of her
clothing, packets of food she had stored and the athame from her altar lying around her
with one small pouch that seemed filled with coins. It was her purse but she had not had
that much money in it. Did someone have a bit of conscience? Small consolation for what
had been taken from her!

When dawn had fully come to light, she dressed in a woolen dress and her cloak. She
packed what meager possessions she had left in a bundle and finding Epona's saddle and
bridle thrown about as the stable had been burned as well, she placed the tack on him.
Her tears were gone and her face a hard mask of determination.

She had rode quickly to the dale to see if the boathouse had also been burned but was
grateful to see that it and the Serene Lady were undamaged. Maybe fearful of the Craft
and ways they did not understand, her enemies respected the sea and would not willingly
destroy even a partially finished boat. She knew they disdained her but her life had been
spared.

She returned once more to the cliff and the ruins of her home and the chestnut tree.
Though her eyes were filled with pain and despair, her mouth was set hard with
resolution. She rode Epona to the edge of the cliff, facing out over the oddly calm bay
and the huge Atlantic beyond. A warm wind blew up from the sea and rattled the
blackened limbs of the burned tree. She felt her heart twist with grief but with each
moment, she knew her course of action stronger.

There were friends and people she could seek shelter with. She had been told this many
times. She also knew that there were many hands of friendship that would aid in the
rebuilding of Sea-Cliff Cottage. She, herself, would replace the lost chestnut tree with a
new saplings once the trunk and roots were removed. A new tree would stand as well!

She was not a coward nor a person of vengeance. She would not call upon Dark Powers
in seeking vindication for what had been done to her. The Power of Three (Karma Law)
would see to that in just time. Not for even this indiscretion, would she go against her
Creed of:

"An it harm none,
Do what ye will."

She knew all of this would come to pass! She stared far out to sea and thought of Isaac so
far away. She knew he fared well and she would not write him of what had occurred. It
was her life and she must be the one to rectify it. She would not be forced from her land
and she would not run!

She knew with all her heart it was the truth!

CHAPTER SEVEN

Spring had come once again to the cliff cottage of Jessica Newcomb. It was little more
than a thatched shell now but with time and her friends help, the cottage would grow into
a home once more. The flooring had been laid and the window lattices put in place. The
barkeep, McDermott , had himself built her the window boxes for her pansies and
geraniums. The little truck garden in the back produced her vegetables and herbs and
from the newly-redone hearth, stews and soups simmered. It was a time of renewal and
peace.

In the back of Sea-Cliff Cottage, stood the new stable for Epona. The stallion relished the
warmth of a home after months of outside exposure. The burning and destruction of the
cottage and stable had been a long hard obstacle to by-pass as Jessica had to wait for
winter to end before the completion could be done.

Many of the citizens of Whale's Mouth, had rallied behind Jessica and her tormentors,
White and Filos, had been run out of the small fishing community. The heretic group that
had been the mob that night, had sulked away into their homes and denied any
involvement in it. It was not the greatest time of enlightenment but people were
beginning to come to a better understanding of the difference in people. Jessica and the
Craft had brought kindness to too many people in the village and surrounding areas.

The young chestnut tree was growing, aided by broken rock and widened spaces so its
roots had more room and the tree could prosper in the eastward facing of the Atlantic
Ocean. The bay below was no longer empty. The Sea-Wind Lady rode at her moorings
and the sound of hammers and rebuilding came from the once beautiful clipper. She had
gone aground in a violent hurricane just off the North Carolina shore and been abandoned
as unable to be repaired. Now, she was forever home, welcomed by a people who valued
her.
As for her former master, he had taken his own schooner to sea and not returned since to
Sea-Cliff Cottage or Whale’s Mouth. Captain Isaac Trent had other trade winds to follow
and a home in Spain that he had too long been without.

Jessica stood in the spindly shade of the chestnut tree and stared down at the beloved ship
below her. The sale of her land in Louisiana had procured the damaged clipper and she
now belonged to Jessica alone.

The elegant Sea-Wind Lady would once again see the sea as the patron ship of Whale’s
Mouth, Maine and Jessica would once again see her sails in the wind.

Love had come to her on that ship and it had sailed away on that ship. But now that ship
had come back to her as her Sea-Wind Lady once again.

***
A change in time.
***

Isaac:

The rhythm of the sea is still, the constant motion of the waves against the ships hull now
have given way to gentle lapping on the rocky shore below your cottage.

The smell of canvas and unwashed men now replaced by the herbs and lavender in your
garden, the delicate perfume you wear and the evening meal cooking on the open hearth.

Having so long now become accustomed to showing my affection for you through the
letters I have written on my long voyage I can now put touch to the memories of you that
I carried through these long months.

Running my hands through your hair and down the nape of your neck, to feel the
involuntary shiver in your body as I trace down your back to firmly settle on your hips.
Kissing you slowly working around your ear with my tongue I can smell the oils with
which you have anointed your body and the sensual undertone of you, the woman that I
love.

In distant ports I had seen many beauties but none that compared with you. My coming
home is filled with excitement as it is with trepidation. I want you so badly I could rip off
you clothes now and satisfy myself as I would satisfy you.

But with that wanting, longing comes a desire to feel you for as long as I can, to hold
onto this moment of love forever because forever is ours to hold.

I sat here this afternoon and rested whilst you busied yourself making me comfortable
and preparing the evening meal, gathering herbs from you garden and vegetables from
your larder.

I watched each gentle movement, the way you hold you head, traced the outline of your
body through the loose fitting cheesecloth dress, pleasured myself at the sight of you
breasts rising and falling with each breath and lingered on the bareness of your ankle
adorned with the bracelets of gold I brought you from the East.

Now, as the fire dies down to a bed of coals it casts an amber light over your face. The
worry of your waiting for me is evident in your eyes as is the love you have in your heart.
Now I am able to hold you near, feel the comfort and warmth of you body next to mine.
But my dear I cannot keep this moment with you for long as I feel the flush of excitement
rising in my body that I cant contain, now this moment, here before the fire on the soft
woolen rug and embroidered cushions I gently lift your dress to admire your body before
I plunge into you and I'm lost in love's embrace.

***
Jessica:

I awakened this morning with a feeling of great excitement. I could feel you thinking of
me and my heart beat faster with each beat, each tick of the mantle clock. I knew you
were coming home! So did Epona. Very shortly after first light, I heard his metal shod
hooves upon the flagstones of the walk just beyond the cottage door. I could hear him
wuffling in eagerness for us to be away and to the cliff.

Grabbing my cloak from the wooden peg on the wall, I slid back the bolt and opened the
door to find the stallion waiting for me. With one quick clean gesture I was astride and he
quickly set pace for the cliff and the spreading new chestnut tree. As we topped the cliff
and came to rest under the tree's branches, I could see the bay below and the horizon
beyond. There she was! The Serene Lady making her way into the bay.

She came in as gracefully as the lady she was and as you, her master, had built her to be.
One by one, you had the crew trim the sails as she glided as a settling swan into the
gentle morning tide of the bay. She would soon come to rest in the middle of the bay,
anchor down, and with the skiff lowered over her side, you would make your way to the
shore and the foot of the cliff path. With a heart filled with unleashed joy, I turned Epona
back in the direction of the cottage, the new one built upon the ruins of the burned one,
and to make ready for your arrival.

With water boiling for tea on the hearth spit, fresh biscuits warming in the outside coals,
and jams and marmalade laid upon the table and butter fresh churned, I washed myself,
scenting myself with the bayberry and the delicate spiced toilet water you had brought
me. I draped only the thin cheesecloth dress over me, leaving all else bare beneath. As the
soft material slid across my breasts, the nipples hardened in longing at the thought of
your beloved touch once again. Not a moment too soon, I heard your familiar step at the
door and you came into your home at last.
I could only stand frozen, filling my eyes with the solid view of you. Still slender, just the
right height, your muscular body encased in the woolen blue of your uniform, the gold
and brass proclaiming your rank Captain. You had removed your hat, leaving the hair
smooth and you smiled happily at me, a smile that lit up your tanned face from its gentle
mouth to the Irish blue eyes that twinkled with merriment and delight. Then with a soft
whimper of joy, I rushed to you and felt myself wrapped at last in the strength and loving
haven of your arms. As you lowered your face to kiss me, I closed my eyes slowly
savoring each view of your face and then gave up my mouth to the joy of your kiss.

The day passed gently, happily and contentedly as you watched me go about my work
and making you comfortably at home once again. Each time I moved, I could feel your
eyes upon me and I could feel the love and longing in each gaze. It was an echo of each
stolen glance I had of you. At last, my world was complete and my life fulfilled to its
greatest capacity. The love of my heart once again sat within these humble walls.

Finally evening has come and the necessities of the day once again finished. Now, as you
sit and sip your glass of Madeira port and watch the brightly-burning fire in the hearth, I
come to you. All through the day, I have felt you touch me in affection and gentle
caresses but knew they were just the placid overlay of intense want laying just the surface
but also were tender gifts of the deep love within you. As I step to the bench where you
sit among the downy embroidered cushions lining the back and handled sides, you set
down your glass and rise to face me.

The lacing in your fine silk shirt is undone and hanging loosely from the waist band of
your fitted trousers. I can see the curve of your breast bone and the supple muscles of
your upper chest. My heart quickens and the heat between my legs intensifies. I see the
evident bulge in the front of the trousers and I long for the joy it means. Slowly and
deliberately and gently you pull my dress over my head until I stand nude before you. I
quickly help you disrobe. As I feel myself being gently lowered to the rug and once
reclined, I part my legs and wait in eager anticipation for you to enter me and lift me into
the heavens of your love's embrace.

***

And so ends the story of the Sea-Wind.

***

SONGS OF THE SEA-WIND

Songs of The Sea-Wind

The Watch

The waning moon rode in low quarter,
Occasionally obscured by a scuttling cloud,
Her light just barely visible in the brunette-blue of the night sky.
A chilling wind blew up from the sea,
Encountering first the cliff's rock face
And then undeterred, change its direction
To a zigzag course.
Having reached the pinnacle of rock,
It circled around the barren chestnut tree,
Its naked arms raised in supplication
To the silent, ebony sky,
Pleading for the return of spring.
The tree's answers were months away,
As the silver trumpet of Father Winter
Blew its soundless gusts.
The eerie silence was altered
By the wind's low moan.
Then Nature was intruded,
As sound echoed in the night's stillness,
The sound of metal upon stone.
Etched starkly against the backdrop
Of vast blackness and pale watery light,
There appeared the figure of a horse,
Bearing a rider.
Mount and passenger moved to the edge
Of the jutted cliff,
And stood in silence beneath the chestnut tree.
The rider was a woman draped in a voluminous cloak,
The hood concealing her face.
She sat easily upon the bay stallion,
As he fussed with the snaffle bit
And pawed the gray stone,
Striking sparks as his metal shod hooves,
Grazed the drab gray rock.
The woman said nothing
But stared silently out to sea.
The unbroken horizon scored her heart
With unutterable despair.
No mast with sails unfurled,
Rising like saluting fingers to the sky.
No wood bound lady ship,
Bowed and rose in a dance with the waves.
There was no ship, homeward bound this night,
No sign from the beyond eye's view sea,
That the captain had set his course
To a homeward star.
The woman knew her love lived
As her heart still beat within that breast.
If he did not still stand proud
At the helm of his lady ship,
She knew her life would have left
Her earthly frame
Flying to whatever unknown
To connect to his spirit.
Sadly, she turned the stallion,
Back in the direction of the thatched cottage
And face one more lonely night alone at the hearth.
There was still the morrow,
That love could return to light her way.
Until then as she and the stallion turned from the sea,
She could be heard to say
"My love, I wait for thee
And until thou returns home to me,
I will keep my faithful watch
And hold thy love in my heart."

The Captain's Witch

Inside the tiny cottage,
The harsh chill of early morning
Had retreated from the breath of the stoked fire.
The one room contained all that was needed.
The large bed made of burnished oak,
Each post turned by hand, adorned as scrolls
With fluted ribbons at the top.
The soft mattress filled with ducks down,
A cradle for the lovers to lie.
The hand hewed table, graced by pottery plates
Spun on a wheel in the back of the house.
Two arts dedicated to the nourishment of life.
She made the earthenware with loving hands
And in his leave of the sea, he turned carpenter
And built her furniture to last three lifetimes.
The room was fragranced with dried lavender
Lying in precious glass bowls,
Another gift from her love,
Purchased at precious expense in a foreign port.
The small iron cauldron simmered a stew
Of fish and vegetables grown in a truck patch.
A fine cut glass decanter filled with sweet wine,
Such luxury for a humble abode.
Water in china teapot stood hot and waiting
So he might have tea to ease the chill
From bones soaked in salt and wet wind.
In the cove below the naked cliff,
The graceful schooner, the Sea-Wind Lady,
Rode easily at her anchoring.
She had carried her cargo well
And a tidy sum had filled her master's wallet.
That same lean, graceful master
That now climbed the steep, twisted path
From the shore to the cottage on the cliff.
His heart was full and a smile upon his face,
A face chiseled in wisdom and strength.
He was home once again, to the thatched cottage,
To his love, the Witch of Sea-Cliff Cottage
He failed to understand why everyone
In the tiny fishing village to the north,
Feared the gentle woman whom he loved.
What if she made potions to heal?
What if she gave out amulets for luck
Or ward the evil wishes of a envious neighbor
Who might covet the petitioner’s cow or wife?
What if she gave away her loving handiwork
To ease someone's blighted way?
Did this make her something to fear?
Superstition begets stupidity!
They all shunned her and scorned her
In their prattling tongues,
But beneath the chestnut tree,
Tiny notes in a crook of the roots,
Requests for her special gifts,
Given freely in love and concern.
None ventured near the house,
In fear of the free-roaming stallion,
Who guarded his mistress as a faithful dog.
Don't most witches have a familiar of a cat,
But this one chose an evil-tempered beast,
A very devil of a horse,
Who tolerated no one but her and the Captain.
Did the Captain care?
No, he did not as she was his love
And whether witch or not,
He had come home from the sea,
For a day or a fortnight,
To cherish this woman who loved him so.
He was king of all he surveyed,
Whether land or water,
He had the Sea-Wind Lady
And the Captain's Witch!
Wind-Swept Love

In the eve, the captain and the witch,
Had stood on the barren precipice cliff,
Beneath the chestnut tree
That had claimed life against nature's odds.
When spring would come,
The ancient one would shelter the cliff
With its wondrous foliage
And shade a spot where the lovers
Could carry a meal and eat in serenity
To watch the sun descend into a watery bed
As the cliff faced east,
This element and power of peace.
But this eve, the tree offered no shelter,
This Candlemas eve, they stood as one,
Entwined in each other's arms;
Bodies pressed tightly together
To seal against separation.
In the morning, he would sail again,
Taking her heart and her joy with him.
Neither shivered as the sea spared them
A chill wind. His mistress, the sea,
Allowed the witch this night,
To possess the one both feminine powers loved.
Spread upon the gray rock,
Was a coverlet of thickest material,
Borne home to her from the land of the Norsemen,
To warm her singular self when he was away.
He stepped back from her,
Staring intently in her face,
That smiling face that he knew hid her grief.
Into blue eyes, caught in the moonlight
As the Lady had slowly waxed to half her full body,
And She filled the heavens with a gentle subdued light.
Traces of tears shimmered on her lashes
And her lips trembled at the edges to hold the smile.
With the most tender of touches,
He pushed her cloak's hood back,
Revealing the cascading gold hair.
He combed the mass with his slender fingers
And then pulled her face upwards
As he lowered his head to join their lips.
It was a long, slow melancholy kiss,
A silent farewell that mourned in both their hearts.
The gentleness slowly moved from a caress
To a deepening passion as he savored the salty taste
Of her mouth where the trickling tears
Had moistened the edges.
As his fervor increased, he pushed back the cloak,
Revealing a body no longer in the bloom of youth,
But firm and molded of a mature woman.
She was naked beneath the cloak,
Allowing him unhindered access to her.
He cupped her breasts as his kiss intensified,
Teasing and arousing until he heard her moan
With suppressed need and desire.
He left his persistent arousal,
Only long enough to fling back his own cloak.
He lifted her and cradled her at his waist
As she wrapped her strong legs
Around his muscled lean hips.
Without thought and direction,
He entered her and impaled her upon him.
With strength from a lifetime of hard work,
He lowered them both to the coverlet.
The rhythm, the timeless rhythm and ritual,
Began until he and she merged into one being,
One soul...one love that no time or distance
Could tear asunder.
Love peaked to the height,
Her cries of joy and release,
Heard only by the sharp ears
Of the bay stallion, Epona,
Who stood guard near his mistress and master.
The Sea-Wind Lady rocked gently
In the bay below, resting before dawn,
When sea-bird, that she was, would take flight
Upon the ocean to ports of everywhere.
Her crew heard not a sound on the rock-faced cliff
As the lovers melted into each other,
Locked in a union of completeness.
Only the Lady Moon and the chestnut tree
Saw their wind-swept love!
The Loss of Leaving

The witch watched him sail away,
In the dawning of the day.
She had smiled for him
And not shed a tear
As she knew it tore his heart out
To see her weep.
She had wondered more than once
While she was cursed to love a man of the sea.
Yet, quite on chance, they had found each other
And the rest was history!
As the Sea-Wind Lady grew smaller
And finally out of sight,
She felt her knees buckle
And she leaned against the chestnut tree,
Drawing comfort from its ancient strength.
But the tree was not the captain,
It had no arms to support her grief.
She collapsed upon the ground,
Her anguished cry lost to the wind!
How could she live without him?
He was the very breath she breathed,
He was the beat between each beat of her heart,
He was the laughter in her voice,
He was the light in her eyes,
And the world was so empty without him.
It was little comfort that she knew he
Thought about her everyday,
That when he slept,
His mind was filled with dreams of her.
She knew the sea was all he knew
And he provided for them both.
He allowed her to hide from the world,
To nurture the earth,
And to heal those who let her.
She was a witch of white magic power,
That could be used to harm none.
She was not allowed to wish for herself
But use all of the bounty to give away.
When it came to the captain,
In this, she was selfish.
She loved him with every fiber of her life
And knew she was loved in return.
Yet for days after he left, she was no use
She could only function of each duty
A routine to mark the time
Until he came back again!

Candlemas

The witch returned from the cliff,
Her head bowed and her step weary.
She clutched in one hand a scrap of clothe,
It had been hidden in the chestnut tree's roots
During the night and she knew what it was.
There was a lovely young farmer's daughter
In a dale to the east, who needed aid.
Penelope, pretty thing that she was,
Madly loved a young fisherman in the village
But the farmer father would not allow.
Penelope wanted actually two amulets,
One, a love packet and the other, a banishing.
The witch knew that Penelope did not want
To banish her father but his objections.
The love packet was to assure that the young man
Did not let his affections stray elsewhere.
Even with her heart shattering inside of her,
It was not in the witch's nature to refuse help.
This was also Candlemas or Lady Day, a Sabbat,
And she would rejoice in the eve at sunset.
She prayed unto the Powers that Be,
That her negativity would not bleed over.
As she drew closer to the thatched cottage,
She was met by Epona, the bay stallion.
In his wondrous face was concern and love
As he knew his mistress grieved.
The master had gone away again
And his mistress would always withdraw within.
Even her love for the beautiful horse
Seemed more melancholy and reserved.
Epona butted the witch in the chest,
Causing her to halt.
She felt the stallion run his velvet muzzle
Against her tear-stained cheek
And he waffled through his nostrils,
Causing golden tendrils of her hair
To fluff about her face.
She smiled a gentle, sad smile
At Epona's attempts to cheer her.
She looked into his limpid brown eyes
And some of the pain in her heart eased.
She had Epona and the Craft.
There was things to do
And the celebration to prepare for.
Nothing could ease her need of the Captain,
But the work helped.

The Burning
Spring Equinox had passed,
Bringing winds of gentle birth.
The chestnut tree prospered in the eastward wind,
Growing green and long.
The night sky stretched endlessly
Over cliff and tree
As they faced out on a without a ship sea.
The witch had been brewing
And preserving vegetables and potions alike.
She had kept herself busy,
As she waited for the ship to return.
She had faltered at the news of his wife
And the words of women in every port,
But she knew her captain
So judge she not till he set it right.
The unfinished ship lay in bones
In the boatshed a distance afar.
She would be the "Serene Lady",
And carry them to islands of tropic beauty
That the captain had seen.
The witch had magic to give her strength
That the love she felt would guide him home.
There was a blazing star in the heavens,
That the Powers that Be had destined
For he and she.
She was humming a soft gentle tune,
When Epona's clarion call predicted impending doom.
She ceased her stirring
And placed hand upon on athame of ceremonial right.
No blood had this special knife ever known
But the witch feared this night.
Their voices were loud and full of brew,
They chanted "Burn her down..the witch..the shrew".
She could hear the stallion's hoof beats
On the flagstones at the back of the house.
He whinnied in urgency and reared against the sky,
He called to his mistress to mount and to safety fly.
She grabbed the book of shadows,
The athame in her skirt band,
A small black cloth pouch embroidered by hand,
Within its contents, every herb she knew,
Seedlings to grow more,
And chicory for a protective brew.
She grabbed the coverlet of thickest clothe,
Where they were going was not warm,
Even in this gentle spring night.
She heard the mob on the cliff's path,
Rising from the sea.
Their torches were burning,
Their voices were hurling,
"Burn her at the stake,
A witch, a evil witch is she."
She fled through the back door,
With just a moment's grieving glance,
Her home, the Sea-Cliff Cottage,
Would soon be no more.
The home of their love and happiness,
And with a sob, deep in her throat, she bolted out the door.
Hours later, if the Sea-Wind Lady had been within sight,
The captain would have the Burning on the cliff,
That took place that night!

In Hiding

The stone walls of the cave
Were filled with dancing images,
Magnified by the fire's leaping light.
The images of stalagmites
Or free-standing stones.
Beyond the cave's entrance,
Obscured by natural and false foliage,
The sounds of the sea,
Rising to kiss the cliff's lower body,
And then retreating back like a teasing wench.
Upon a thick pallet of rushes,
Epona reclined in the folding position,
Typical of horses' reclining pose.
He slumbered not but watched the doorway,
Warily and occasionally, glancing right
To where his mistress sat huddled
Upon the coverlet of thickest clothe.
Her tear-stained face was reflected
In the wavering light of the fire.
Her shoulders were drooped in dejection,
Heartbreak worn upon her as a drab cloak.
The horse listened the muted keening sound,
Issuing from her pursed lips.
Not truly understanding loss,
The stallion knew she grieved.
The witch grieved for the home
That she had lost.
She had given thanks for their escape
And cast the protective circle.
The Rune of Thor
Had been painted above the cave door.
From a small pile of provisions,
Formerly stashed for just such an event,
She had brewed some soothing tea,
And baked loaves of herbal bread,
On the fire-heated flat rocks.
Now she allowed her heart to mourn,
For Sea-Cliff Cottage,
That was no more,
Its simple beauty lost in the burn.
A silent stealthy check,
Hidden by night,
Assured that the "Serene Lady",
In her unborn form,
Had missed the heretics' wrath,
And lay still waiting
Her completed creation at the captain's hands.
On the morrow, she and Epona would ride
To another port nearby
And visit the barkeep,
A sailor of the sea himself once,
And leave word of her safety.
She prayed that a post would arrive soon
And she would know how the captain fared.
How she dreaded his first sight,
Of his land home destroyed,
This sad, gentle spring night.

The Watch Must Be Kept

Into the wild of the storm,
They rode, hidden in the driving rain.
The watch must be kept,
It kept her heart alive.
The very Devil filled the stallion's pace,
Across the sparse grass.
They rode from the cave,
Left its warmth and safety.
The watch must be kept!
The Lady Moon had been kidnapped,
By the ominous storm clouds.
The wind howled in a banshee shriek,
Pushing against them to keep them away.
The watch must be kept!
They rode past the ruins of the cottage,
Her heart twisting in pain.
She feared no heretic this night,
As three days hence,
They had to seal her plight.
The watch must be kept!
At last, to the cliff,
They found their way.
The chestnut tree was trembling
In the storm's wrath.
The ancient one's roots were shorn
And cracked from a heretic's axe.
The guarantee that no notes for aid,
Would be delivered to the tree.
The watch must be kept!
The witch cried out her rage,
Burn the cottage, destroy the garden,
But why the chestnut tree?
It had stood in singular strength
Against the fury of the wind,
The cold of winter,
And the restless sea,
The ancient one had kept its watch faithfully.
The watch must be kept!
Epona and the witch came to a halt,
Facing eastward to the sea.
Out there a ship sailed bearing her love,
Did he too fight fury this howling night?
As a immense jagged flash of lighting,
Split the whirling, wailing night,
The stallion reared against the sky,
And the witch issued her cry.
"My love...my life"
The wind gathered the words
And hurled them into the hellish night.
The watch had been kept.

With Hope

Three months had passed,
Since that wild love-forsaken night
When the witch had kept her watch.
The chestnut tree was dying
And no spell of binding,
Could hold its life to it.
The witch had left roses of love
On its mangled roots,
And her tears of grief had christened it
With a gentle goodbye.
The meadow where Sea-Cliff Cottage once stood,
Had wildflowers growing in the remains
Of the gone home of the witch and her captain.
All of Nature's wild beauty
Had claimed the place as her own once again.
All life bloomed and thrived,
Except for the withering chestnut tree.
The ancient one could stand no more.
The boatshed had been spared,
Where the "Serene Lady" lay waiting
For her creator to return once more.
And of the witch?
She had stayed safe in her hiding place,
Aided and protected by those many
She had in turn helped.
They brought her supplies
And fresh hay for the stallion.
A secret line of help
Flowing from grateful hearts.
With in a month from the burning,
A letter had arrived.
The barkeep, a friend of long standing,
And himself delivered the post.
With trembling fingers,
The witch had opened the letter.
When she read the words "My Love",
The twisting despair in her heart
Silenced its mournful cry.
The captain had heard her cry that stormy night
And his arms, though in a far distance,
Were still wrapped around her in love.
She thanked the barkeep,
Giving him an amulet of bayberry and St. John's Wort,
For luck and peaceful thoughts.
In the last fortnight,
The captain's gamesman had arrived.
He brought money and good tidings.
He procured her a quaint little cottage,
Hidden deep within concealing woods,
Where she and the stallion would be safe.
He took back with him a letter of love,
Signed with hope, "Your Love"
The Light in the Dark

Beneath the spreading oak tree,
The witch stood in silent repose.
Autumn had come,
Dressing the forest in auburn and gold.
She had left an offering of milk and honey,
To the spirit of this ancient tree.
She reveled in the tree's glory
And health abound,
But her heart mourned in sadness
For yet another tree,
A once loving friend,
That had died in sadness.
This night she would set
The chestnut tree's spirit free.
It had been her beloved guardian
And kept its faithful watch to the sea.
It waited for the ship to come home,
But this joyous event,
The chestnut tree would not see.
As the comforting, protective darkness
Settled into the forest,
Epona came to the witch,
His own demeanor somber
As he too knew
What they, this night, must do.
They rode quietly in the stillness,
Making hardly a sound.
As Epona's hooves hit the stone,
The echoes were silenced in grief.
Hardly a moon shown in the brooding sky,
And the captain's sea lay still.
The witch stood by the tree,
Its withered frame, a mere shadow
Of its former glory.
The witch stared out to sea,
Her heart filled with love for her captain
And said in a broken voice,
"My love, this is your beacon
To see your way home.
If you can feel me in your mind,
Then with me bid our friend goodbye."
Turning with a heart torn in pain,
She lifted the torch to the dead tree
And the flames lit the night
On that barren cliff
Above the empty cove.
Yet far out to sea,
The captain stood at his ladyship's bow,
And knowing there was no land for miles,
He saw a roaring fire in the east,
In the direction of his home and his witch,
And as a profound sense
Of sadness over came him,
He knew not what this light or fire he saw,
He only felt that something of beauty
Had departed his life forever.
He knew his witch still loved him
And somehow she was behind this light,
But something had gone into history.
He feared more for his love,
But he then felt a sense of peace
As something of magic and wonder
Was set free.
It had come from the Keeper of the Light!

The Serene Lady

A waning moon rode in low quarter,
Hidden by a scuttling cloud.
The Winter Wind blew cold and harsh,
Playing tag upon the sheer rock face.
The barren cliff, with no chestnut tree,
Faced out over a smooth sea.
Against a backdrop of blackest night
And pale watery moonlight,
Came the figure of a horse,
Bearing a rider.
The woman, draped in voluminous cloak,
Rode easily upon the bay stallion.
His shod hooves ringing on lifeless stone
And rivaling the mourning wind.
They rode to the edge of the jutting cliff
And stared out into the cove below.
A ship was on the horizon
But she was leaving instead of going home.
So much time had passed,
So much grief seen,
From Maine to Louisiana,
The witch and Epona had been.
Tucked in her shanty in the hushed swamp
She had heard a cry of pain.
Her captain had returned
And found his home empty again.
Without thought or ability to know why,
She took her meager things
And left headed for Maine.
A long, arduous trek,
Fraught with fear and pain,
The witch went home again to Maine.
When she arrived, she found
The Serene Lady gone from her cradle
And it filled her with fear.
Had the heretics burned this ship so dear?
Then through the barkeep,
She was to learn,
The captain had lost the Sea-Wind Lady
And here he had returned.
He finished his ship,
And to water she went.
He set his course to sea,
But leaving word he would back in any event.
The witch waited in the cave,
Praying to see her love.
Then on a bright summer's day,
He sailed into the cove.
They talked and loved
But both knew things had changed.
He had to deal with his life
And the home and wife he had in Spain.
There was no question to which must come first,
The witch or the captain's family,
There could never be any choice.
When this sad, chilled night came,
And he left to do what he must do.
The witch knew she might not see him again
But she had learned that his love would never end.
She would build the cottage back
And there she would stay.
Maybe he would be able to come home some day.
This was where her heart lay,
And the home of her dream,
She would always be there for him,
Because like he, she knew her love would never end.
So, as the Serene Lady sailed out to the world,
From the place of her birth.
She carried the witch's captain
And the witch's heart that went with him.

Sails In The Wind

A summer evening, warm and soft,
Wrapped the scene in delicate shadow,
The newly re-built cottage with flagstone walk,
A truck garden yielding food with a stalk.
The setting sun lingered beyond the house,
Blazing its last glowing rays in silent defiance.
Within the thatched cottage's walls,
The humble abode was less grand than before.
No, multiple gifts from foreign shore.
No handmade table or chairs of finest wood,
The carver had not in this house stood.
A few chickens pecked listlessly at the stoop,
Soon to flock in a sleeping group.
The witch had finished her last meal of the day
And put her earthen ware of one quietly away.
The bay stallion, Epona, grazed upon the sweet grass,
Relishing a bounty he hoped would last.
Gathering a watering pitcher in her hand,
The witch stepped out into the evening-kissed land.
She walked the path so long worn now
And wondered of what and how
She would be able to continue to believe
That someday he would come and never leave.
She knew this would not happen
As his blood was free and always to the sea.
But deep within her she knew he would come
When or what day was a riddle undone.
She carried the little pitcher
To the flat part of the barren cliff.
Growing in a space of dirt, not encroached by rock,
Was a tiny sapling of a chestnut tree.
Little as it was, it had sunk its roots deep,
And its place it intended to keep.
She raised and stared at an empty horizon,
Knowing that was what she would see
But with eternal hope, she knew her vigil would end,
That someday she would see sails once again in the wind.
ILLUSION



CHAPTER ONE

Waking to the harsh realities of daylight did not rank as one of her favorite things. The
subdued shadows of the night always seemed to soften focus, streets and worn paint that
glared in ugliness. She had always wished that she could do daylight like a three-way
bulb where she could dim or brighten the light at will with the turn of a knob. But that
was exactly what is a wish and not feasible.

Daytime realities were especially worse when she woke up from a night of work. When
she worked, she never knew where she would wake up or with whom. This morning was
no exception because there was someone in bed with her and from the color of his hair
and the shape of his shoulders, it was not someone she knew.

As the fog of sleep began to dissipate from her brain, she remembered who this "john"
was and where she had found him. Wearied of the endless tourists of the inner city, she
had found herself in some small dive on Airline Highway. She had no idea of why a
comfortable, late middle-aged male had been at the Renault but he had gone there
looking for a fifty dollar "hooker" and instead found himself a three-hundred dollar
whore, which was her.
After congratulating himself for two hours that he was still attractive enough to a lure a
classy young woman and after a full view of the joys she possessed, his balloon had burst
when he realized he had to pay for it. Disappointed that she would not give it up for free,
he had considered physical force until a correctly placed blow to a hotel night table had
split it neatly on the top shelf. Her expertise in martial arts had halted any consideration
of force.

He still had choices; either pay and enjoy the benefits or refuse and she would simply
dress and leave. As she expected, he chose to pay after he had see what she had to offer.
She always gave her "johns" their money's worth as long as it was reasonable.

However, that was last night and this was now. This night's work was over and she had
other things to tend to.

As she slid out of bed, she felt the "john" stir and wake up. He cracked open one eye and
gave her a bleary look.

"Call me a cab, will you please, sweetie? I'm going to take a shower. It should be here by
the time, I am done,” she said in her softest persuasive voice.

"Won't you stay awhile longer, Raven? We could have a go at it for a second time. If
money is the issue, I'll pay for it again." the man ask, his bloodshot eyes beginning to
focus.

"Sorry, sweetie, I don't do seconds...money or no money." Raven answered sweetly. As
she looked into the man's face, she had to admit to herself that this daylight reality was
really harsh. Nice car, plenty of money but a face, as her mama would say, that had been
hit with an ugly stick.

Raven always called her "johns" "sweetie" as it was a polite term and no names were
required in her business. The men always told her their first names and she knew a lot of
them lied as to their real identity but she could care less. They were told that she was
Raven and all of them thought it was not her real name.

They thought and believed it to be a fake name but felt that it fit her with her long
cascading ebony hair. They thought the hair was real. They were wrong on both counts.
The name was real and the hair was not or that the color was not. The blue-black hair
color dye turned her chocolate brown hair into a soft shining wonder. The name was her
suicidal mother's perverse sense of humor. Raven Lenore. Edgar Allen Poe had infiltrated
her mother's views as much as the bourbon whiskey had. Shelly Menee's beauty had hung
around like a fossilized flower until just a year before her death.

Raven was a second-generation whore and she was as good as her mother had ever been
thought to be. Each Menee' woman had their own form of defenses...where Raven's was
martial arts, Shelly's had been a lethal but small '38. But alcohol weakens the nerves and
a once crack shot can't fire straight with a shaky hand. Yet if you hold a gun with both
hands and clamp your teeth around the muzzle, your chances will succeed in blowing
your brains out.

As she continued to stare at the florid face of the man, she thought sarcastically to herself,
" Raven Lenore, you will do almost anything to make a buck." It was not a pleasant
thought, at all.

The "john" groaned with disappointment and a first class hangover. He laid his aching
head back down on the pillow and was soon loudly asleep again. He still had a few hours
left until the twelve o'clock check out time, and now that the cab had been called, he only
wanted to sleep but Raven had other business to tend to.

Predictable as possible, the taxi arrived just at the time that Raven was ready to leave the
hotel. She settled into the back of the cab, ignored the non-smoking sign and lit a
cigarette. The older cab driver started to open his mouth to object so she smiled sweetly
but determinedly at him as she said.

"Remember, precious, the customer is always right. Don't blow your tip! Take me to 512
Chastity as quickly and safely as possible."

The cabbie glared at her but kept his mouth shut as he put the car in gear and headed for
their destination.

A short time later, they arrived at the big duplex on Chastity Street. The beautiful old
house always filled Raven's heart with tenderness. It was expensive and huge for one
person but she knew that she could never have enough room after having to grow in the
cramped three room apartment on Antonine Street where she had lived with Shelly until
she was sixteen years old and smart enough to turn her own "tricks", making the most of
it. It had been a long hard road but she was still a long way from her goal. However, she
believed this lovely old apartment was one goal in which she had aimed for and she was
content to let it stay as it was.

Raven paid the fare with a generous ten-dollar tip as she slid slowly and elegantly out of
the back seat of the cab. She left the cab driver with one small bit of parting advice.

"Contradictory to common belief, smokers are not always cheap or trash."

The man flashed her a smile, displaying a row of bad teeth. "How ironic", she thought to
herself, "that he is worried about his lungs when he really should be worrying about
going to a dentist. Maybe false teeth will help." Then, she snickered softly to herself.

She swung her gym bag across her right shoulder after she had dug her keys out a zipped
side pocket. The sexy, clinging outfits she wore when she was working were always in
the bag when she left home or came home. Her rather snooty neighbors never knew how
she earned her living, only that she worked nights and she always left and came home in
the soft blouses or sweaters and designer jeans she now had on. She knew that they
resented her beloved old pickup sitting in the driveway enough without them knowing
that a prostitute was living in their prestigious neighborhood. She had seen them glare
enough when she drove the twenty odd year old pickup with its cherry bomb mufflers
and dinged and nicked body and paint job through their streets.

They always seemed to think its looks would rub off on their BMW's, Mercedes,
Lincolns, Cadillacs or Infinities if it came to close. Ignorant of the fact that the truck ran
better than most of their high priced vehicles and there were very few of them that would
outrun it.

Raven loved being a paradox to them and hopefully, a thorn in their blue-blooded asses.
They just did not know that in her blood ran the genes of a family as old and aristocratic
to New Orleans history as any of theirs. Just because Shelly had been an alcoholic and a
harlot did not mean she had not come from good stock. The Ambrose family was old and
well-respected in the status conscious city but a wild Cajun boy, dead too early and
leaving behind a young widow and a baby girl, had erased Shelly Ambrose from her
family's records and Raven's birth had never been acknowledged.

Raven knew all of this but she did not care. She wanted to set her own style that neither
followed her mother's path in her maternal relatives' choices or her father's freewheeling
ways. She felt that she was the best of both of her parents, Shelly's beauty and inherent
class and her father's love of adventure and scorn of the conventional. Raven Lenore
Menee' was her own person and lived life her own way.

Raven never turned to look back as the taxi pulled away since she was so intent on
entering the house. Once she stepped through the paneled oak door and into the foyer of
the apartment, she disarmed the security system. She released an audible sigh as if of
relief. As always, coming home was a pleasure to her. She glanced lovingly around the
bright white walls, decorated tastefully with paintings and prints. The large plush Persian
Rug that dominated the polished wood floors felt soft and warm to her bare feet as she
crossed it. She had discarded her slip-on flats in a small compartment at the front door.
Only two matched Queen Anne chairs graced the large hall but the ornate fireplace and
mahogany mantle as well as the antique brass chandelier and intricate carved ceiling
medallion compensated the sparse but tasteful furnishing.

As she opened the closed French doors into the living room, an excited barking greeted
her. She was soon assaulted by all squirming twelve pounds of her wire-haired fox terrier,
Etienne. As she knelt and caressed his warm cuddly body, she murmured "Je t'aime,
Etienne." She had named the dog for the main male character in the classic novel, THE
FOXES OF HARROW and she felt it appropriate. For food and care, the devoted little
animal endowed her with boundless adoration. It seemed more than a fair trade to Raven.

The bouncing terrier followed Raven as she left the elegantly furnished living room and
proceeded down a short hallway, past the bathroom and into her bedroom. She looked
longingly at the freshly made four-poster bed but with a rueful sigh, she had to
acknowledge that she could not sleep yet.
"But, I can have a decent cup of coffee before I get started." she told the dog, who
wagged his stub of a tail with enthusiasm.

Raven tossed the gym bag onto a nearby cedar trunk, slipped her feet into some soft
house shoes and left the bedroom. She came to the kitchen, which was the last large room
in her half of the duplex shotgun. She opened the back door, leaving only the screen shut
and allowed the pleasant scents from her potted ferns and flowers on the narrow wooden
back porch to fill the kitchen with their fragrances.

A few moments later as she sipped a cup of rich Chicory coffee, she sat and contemplated
how perfect her little world within her home was. Spacious, calm, filled with her favorite
things, it was her oasis. It had not been a feat easily accomplished but earned by the sale
of her body and at times, bits of her precious soul!

***
As Raven relaxed at home, a homicide detective received a call in his office at the main
precinct at Tulane and South Broad. Samuel Henderson glanced at the shrilling phone
with a baleful expression on his angular tanned face. His brown eyes narrowed at the
interruption in his badly needed coffee break. Emitting a resigned sigh, he picked up the
receiver and replied, "Yeah, Henderson here." The longer he listened, the more interested
his look became. After the period of listening, he stated.

"A second murder at the Royal Palace Hotel. Another middle-aged white male. This one
is a local, huh? Windpipe snapped. Some sort of martial arts blow. Same M.O., right?
Well, we'll be there shortly." Henderson hung up the phone and spun around in his swivel
chair, yelling as he went.

"Hey, Faciane, let's go. We got another dead "john" at the Royal Palace. He found
himself a hooker who has a black belt to match her leather skirt." His partner, Paul
Faciane, smiled at Henderson's humor. Never a dull day with Henderson.

When Henderson viewed the corpse's face, he noted that the eyes bulged and mouth wide
open since the last gasp had been uttered before his windpipe had been crushed. There
seemed to be no apparent struggle so the "john" had been killed while he was still asleep.

Henderson looked at the man's bloated body, not from rigor mortis but just plain fatty
blubber from too much rich food. His stomach soured that much more when he stared at
the limp, tiny penis with its full condom still in place. The man had to have been drunk to
go to sleep wearing the damn thing or so Henderson thought.

His wallet with his license, identifying him as Amos Roberts of Metairie, Louisiana, still
lay on the nightstand with an excessive amount of cash in it and all of his credit cards
seemed to be there. It was easy to assume that robbery was not the motive.

The pillow next to him still smelled of expensive perfume and one cigarette butt; one of
the skinny kind that resembled a cocktail straw more than a cigarette; lay in the ash tray
on the same side, with a trace of red cinnamon lipstick on it. It was all too similar to the
murder that had occurred in the same hotel just four months before.

Henderson felt that by living in a city, with the highest murder rate in the country, that he
had seen it all but he had never seen a prostitute kill for no reason. Why would she go
through the whole procedure and then kill her "trick". It made no sense but he had long
before made the decision that a lot of things in homicide made no sense. Motives for
murder were as varied and odd as the people, themselves, who committed them.

Henderson mulled over these thoughts as he stared at the late Amos Roberts. "She was
not cheap!" a voice spoke just over his right shoulder. He turned to face his partner, Paul
Faciane, and raised one eyebrow quizzically.

"How did you determine that?" Henderson ask, knowing the answers all ready as he had
come to the same conclusion. The price of the hotel, the essence of her perfume, and the
almost total lack of trace of her true identity there.

"Same way you did, Sam, but I do know that she has long black hair. Look at this!" Paul
started as he held up nearly a twelve-inch strand of dark hair.

"She's clean, too!" he announced. "Pretty hair, clean and a killer. What a woman!" Paul
whispered almost to himself.

CHAPTER TWO


Raven's reverie was broken by the sharp ring of the telephone. She sighed wearily and
put down her coffee, rose from her chair and picked up the wall phone receiver when she
reached it.

"Hello." she said softly.

"Raven, it's Ramona. Have you been home long? I tried to call earlier in this morning but
got only the machine. You didn't check your messages?" the voice at the other end of the
line fired off, its sexy tones unmistakable. Ramona Charbonnet was Raven's contact and
boss. She was the sole owner and majority stockholder of the Sweet Company, an escort
service camouflaged by a small specialty candy store. Most people of importance or the
right contacts knew about the candy store's sideline business but it was still a
well-guarded secret.

"No, Ramona, I didn't check the messages yet. I have not been home that long. What's
up?" Raven answered, trying to hide the irritation in her voice.

"Were we moonlighting, darlin'!?" Ramona inquired, her voice almost a purr.
"What if I was? We agreed that as long as I never mess with your schedule that what I did
on my own time was my own business." Raven stated, her tone icy.

"No problem, sweetie, just concerned, that's all. I always want you to look your best for
our clients, especially as important as this one is. He's very special, darlin', and as added
bonus, he is handsome. That ought to make the work easier!" Ramona cooed.

"At this stage of the game, Ramona, one "john" is the same as another." Raven said flatly.

"Must you always us those crude terms, dear. "Client" is so much better than "john" and
"appointment" is better than "trick". This one should be a pleasure, Raven, but he
explicitly ask for our very best, which is you, love." Ramona chided gently.

"If he is so special, Ramona, why don't you do him? I'm tired and I have personal things I
need to tend to!" Raven replied.

"Raven, you know that I don't handle "clients" anymore. What a ridiculous thing to say!"
Ramona snapped, her sultry voice laced with barely concealed contempt.

"I don't know why not, dear, you certainly are beautiful enough to surpass anyone who
works for you, including me." Raven murmured but there was no false innuendo in her
voice. Everyone knew Ramona Charbonnet was very aware of her exquisite beauty. Her
true age was not known but she was not old.

"What a generous and sweet thing to say, Raven, but compliment or not, I don't work that
way anymore. Since we have had our little tiff now, shall we get down to business."
Ramona said in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Yes, boss, when and where and who?" Raven acquiesced as she reached for the pencil
attached to the tablet on the wall by the phone. As she wrote down the information, she
thought to herself, "No rest for the weary!"

***

A couple of hours passed and Raven found herself entering one of the most exclusive
hotels in the French Quarter. She wore a stylish but conservative black suit. Its rather
short skirt revealed her shapely, long legs, encased in sheer silk stockings. Six-inch
stiletto heels graced her small feet and well-turned ankles, the simple black leather style
of the shoes spoke of expensive but modest taste. The top of the three-button jacket only
revealed a hint of cleavage of the generous bust concealed beneath the jacket's folds.

Raven's glistening tresses were pulled back behind the nape of her neck with a gold beret,
giving even her beautiful hair a business look. Large frame glasses perched on her nose
and the deep green of her eyes was heightened and flattered by the lenses.

To anyone who saw Raven, she appeared to be a beautiful but successful businesswoman.
In her expensive attaché case, she carried all of the tools of her trade. For upon first sight,
she would never have appeared to be a high-price prostitute. The clerk at the desk knew,
as did the bellboy and the room service people and the maids. They all knew Raven and
who she was as she walked slowly and gracefully through the hotel lobby to the
elevators. At the elevator, she pressed the button for the hotel's top floor and the most
expensive suite in the gorgeous old building. The men in the car admired her and the
women envied her but she gave them all a cool but absent smile. She was mentally
preparing herself for the job ahead of her. She was, after all, a businesswoman and in her
business, she had to be the best.

***

Sam Henderson walked slowly to his car in the station's parking lot. He noticed the
deepening twilight with a bit of odd surprise. It was late September and after the long five
months of New Orleans' prolonged summer; it seemed out of place for it to be growing
dark at seven o'clock in the evening. He had grown use to the daylight lingering until well
past 8:00 pm.

The weather had a pleasant crispness to it, a refreshing change from the still and humid
heat of the semi-tropical climate. He wondered if the heat wave was actually over but he
hoped that it would not be as wet, rainy, cold winter as the last one had been.

As he drew near his late model Toyota, he flicked the remote switch on his key ring. The
car beeped back and flashed its parking lights. The installation of the alarm system not
only gave the vehicle some protection but also seemed to give it some personality. When
it answered his signal, it seemed to be saying "Hi, Sam, where have you been all day?"

When Sam Henderson realized what he was thinking, he frowned dismally to himself.
"Henderson, you are really over the edge. When you think the damn car is talking to you,
then you are in serious need of a life! You better get your act in gear, man, before you are
totally over the hill."

As he contemplated his life with a pessimistic aspect, the veteran cop opened the Toyota's
door and crawled into the driver's seat. Glancing quickly around to make sure that no one
was looking, he put both of his large hands on the steering wheel and laid his forehead on
them. He let out a weary sigh and remained in the position for a few moments.

His stomach's rumbling brought his attention to the fact that he had not eaten all day. Cup
on top of cup of coffee could possibly account for the fact that he felt really tired and
weak. When his stomach growled again, he felt his mouth fill with sour bile. He needed
food and he needed it fast.

Henderson cranked the Toyota and after various turns, he entered the traffic flow onto to
Tulane Avenue. He drove with out thought as he maneuvered the streets until he found
himself on Decatur Street at the river edge of the Vieux Carre. He parked the Toyota in
the closest available spot, locked it up and set the alarm. He had already removed the tie
and jacket and thrown them carelessly over the back seat of his car. He opened the shirt
collar of his white shirt and rolled up the sleeves. It was cool but not cold and the light
breeze blowing off the Mississippi River felt good on his skin.
Henderson was a tall man at six foot and two inches. His well proportioned chest spoke
of work outs at the police gymnasium and the strong presence of Irish blood in his veins.
Ten years in the military had toughened him inside and out but he still retained his natural
sense of humor and the ever present mischievous twist about his lips. His brownish blond
hair lightened and darkened with the amount of exposure he had to the sun. Only at times
did his brown eyes seem weary and life-worn.

Like most men of good stature and bulk, Sam Henderson had a good appetite. As he
walked down Decatur, his hunger was reaching a ravenous point. He turned down into a
side street and after four or five of blocks, he stood in front of a “hole in the wall” diner
called “Bread For The Soul.” Mama Zerinque owned the place and had for twenty-five
years. No one knew how she kept her prices so reasonable in an area known for
exorbitant but succulent restaurants but Mama Z had always catered to the locals and
been known to feed more than one poor soul down on their luck. However, in the present
day problems of a small multitude of homeless people, Mama Z’s generosity had been
sorely tested and almost ceased. No matter how much she liked you, you didn’t eat unless
you could pay. Yet, it didn’t take a lot of money to get a good meal at “Bread’s”.

Sam contemplated that as he stepped into the small and oddly furnished café. N.O.P.D.
was not known for being a police force that paid well and when a bachelor couldn’t boil
water, let alone cook, he needed all the places he could find with reasonable prices and
enough food to satisfy his healthy appetite.

He seated himself on one of the stools at the counter and Lakeisha, Mama Z’s daughter,
brought him a cup of thick of café au lait. As she placed the cup in front of him, she
smiled and said, “ Hi, Sam.” Smiling back at her, he could not help thinking of how
attractive she was. Her smile was a flash of beautiful white teeth, glowing in the warm
golden tones of her face. Her praline-colored eyes, huge and framed in thick curling
lashes, extended a silent invitation to him. Never a racist, Sam smiled back warmly and
stated.

“You look great today, Lakeisha!” Her beautiful smile became brighter!

Half-white, half-black, a “mulatto” in New Orleans’ less “enlightened “ days, Lakeisha
Zerinque possessed all the best qualities of both races. Not only a beautiful woman, but a
beautiful person as well.

“She could thaw a glacier with that smile” Henderson thought ruefully to himself. He
admired her but had no desire to wind up castrated by Mama Z, who was fiercely
protective of Lakeisha.

“What are you having today, Sam?” Lakeisha ask, his distance telling her as always that
he knew she was off-limits.
“What’s good?” he ask.

“Everything. Mama’s the best cook in N’Awlins. You know that.” Lakeisha bantered in
the game that they always played.

“U’mm, let me see.” Sam pondered but Lakeisha was already walking away, writing on
her pad. It was an order for Sam’s usual, a bowl of seafood gumbo, a plate of sausage
jambalaya, sliced French bread, a big scoop of Mama Z’s famous rum doused bread
pudding. He would sit and eat his food with relish and mentally bemoan the forbidden
sweets in life.

***

Now inside the luxurious suite, Raven faced Ramona’s “special” client. True to course,
the madam had not lied to Raven. This man was handsome almost to the extent of being
called “beautiful.” At six foot even and a slender 160 pounds, ashen blond hair, deep set
blue eyes, and facial features carved from some beauty worshiping Ancient Greek
sculptor’s imagination, he was indeed special!

Yet, an uneasy feeling crawled up Raven’s spine. Gorgeous and rich, what did this guy
need to pay a hooker for? One walk anywhere where women were, and this man could
take his pick of countless “free” offers of companionship.

“He had to be a pervert!” she thought to herself. “Better not be too perverted or he’ll play
by himself.” she decided mentally. Money or no money, she never took a client that was
a “sicko”. Ramona knew this fact better than anyone and that was the only sliver of doubt
in Raven’s distrustful attitude. That uncertainty and knowing that Ramona always
carefully screened the clients persuaded Raven to continue with the job. She had already
introduced herself to the “client” and he had in turn replied that his name was Ryan.
Raven glanced over Ryan and decided that if this guy was legitimate, it could be a
pleasure for once.

Ryan was leaning against the padded bar of the suite, quietly examining her. His look
was one of definite appreciation.

“Could you let your hair down first, please?” he ask in a sensual voice.

“If you like.” she answered quietly. She released the beret from her hair and felt the dark
tresses flow around her shoulders like a midnight waterfall. He cocked one eyebrow in
delight and then requested. “The glasses next?” Raven obliged him by removing the
glasses and then silently waited.

“The jacket?”

She unbuttoned the tailored jacket and removed it slowly from her shoulders, revealing
her full, firm breasts pressing against the restraints of the black lace brassiere. Their
creamy tops threatened to overflow at any given moment.

“The skirt?”

Slowly practiced ease, she removed the short skirt that molded to her hips. As it slid
down her tapered calves and thighs, she stepped softly out of the stilettos. Now, she stood
in her brassiere and half silk slip covering the black lace panties below them.

“The rest, please?” he ask politely as if he were asking for something to eat.

She smiled sweetly at him as she removed the rest of her attire. Finally, she stood
completely nude in front of him but she stood proudly and well-aware of her beauty, not
with conceit but with confidence.

“Yes, Ramona was right. You are indeed most beautiful. I wonder if she might
exaggerate from being biased but she really did speak the truth. Why would such a
lovely, graceful woman as yourself be named after such an ugly bird?” Ryan queried in
the same soothing but desire-filled tone.

Raven cocked her head back so that her sparkling green eyes came to a level line with his
intense blue ones. When she spoke, her voice was silky and sultry.

“I like my name and it truly suits me in more ways than one.” she stated point-to-fact.

“I am sure it does, Raven. I am sure it does.” he remarked and then without the slightest
change of facial expression, he ask. “Would you care for a drink? I have anything you
could want but if not, room service will get it. What would you like?”

“Bourbon neat.” Raven answered as she crossed from where her discarded clothes lay to
a plush love seat. She lowered herself with a fluid smoothness that was natural and not
taught.

“Bourbon! Well, bourbon it shall be.” He said, his charming smile enhancing his features
strikingly. Ryan made a slow, relaxed turn, seemingly without any wasted effort, to the
bar he leaned upon and reaching for a bottle of thirty-five year vintage, one of
Kentucky’s finest, he poured her a glass of bourbon. He crossed over the distance
between them and handed her the crystal glass, meanwhile admiring her nude reclining
form. As she reached to accept it, he said, his tone never changing.

“Bourbon, huh? Just like your beautiful mother, Shelly. Let me truly introduce myself,
Raven. I am Ryan deLesseps Ambrose, your first cousin!”

CHAPTER THREE

Sam Henderson had just taken his last bite of bread pudding when his pager went off. He
groaned inwardly as he reached for the little black culprit. He knew before he punched
the button that it was his job. For the millionth time, he told himself how crazy he had
been to accept the assignment to Homicide. Didn’t the people in this city ever stop killing
each other?

He removed his cell phone from his trouser pocket and dialed the number. He could
never understand why his partner, Paul Faciane, would not used the cell phone instead of
the pager. He guessed that perhaps Paul wanted him to have a moment to think before he
called in. It seemed that Paul forgot that Sam did not have a family like he did. Sam’s
almost always first priority was work.

As he expected, Paul answered the phone and after a short and to the point conversation,
Sam found out that he had a meeting with their captain, Jack Dabdoub the next morning
concerning the Royal Palace murders. He released a sigh of relief that he did not have to
return to work tonight but his chest tightened with apprehension at the subject matter of
the meeting next morning.

Sam decided to drink another cup of café au lait before he went back to his empty
apartment. He could savor the rich creamy coffee beverage and stare appreciatively at
Lakeisha. Instead, though, he found his mind wandering to think about the prostitute who
seemed guilty of these killings. He wondered what she looked like. It seemed only logical
that she would be gorgeous since he knew her fee had to be high. A room at the Royal
Palace was an easy two hundred dollars a night and the latest victim had been well-off.
Yet, he could not understand why she felt compelled to kill her “john.” If she were a true
man hater, then why would she go through the sex part. It made no sense to him and he
felt there had to be something more to this than he could see at the moment. When the
first murder had occurred, it had puzzled the police but it was considered an isolated
incident. Now though, there were two murders and both proved to be the work of one
killer. This had caused the murders to move up several notches in context because it had
become the work of a “serial.” By morning, this murder would be in the paper and it
would be on tonight’s news at five. He pitied Roberts’ widow and family because they
had to deal with the media as well as the fact that Roberts had been unfaithful to his wife.
A nice little scandal to an otherwise respected family.

Henderson knew in his gut that this public notice would be the main part of the meeting
that Dabdoub wanted. The captain would want immediate results or else he and Paul
would find themselves back in a cruiser on the streets of New Orleans. As far as Sam was
concerned, he had seen too much of New Orleans through the windshield of a police unit.

***

At Ryan’s startling words, Raven felt her cover herself instinctively with her hands. She
felt herself flush, first with embarrassment and then total outrage. Her first thought “I am
going to kill Ramona for this!” Then it dawned on her that Ramona did not know about
the fact that she was related to the Ambrose family. It was something that she had never
told anyone. Oddly enough, it had been the Menee’ family’s decision as much as the
Ambrose’s to keep the connection unknown. So why was her “cousin” here if he really
was who he said he was?

Raven’s face twisted in an ugly mask of fury as she flung the contents of the glass into
Ryan’s face. The sudden move caught him off guard and he automatically stepped back
as he sought to clear his eyes of the burning sensation that the bourbon had caused. No
longer concerned about her nudity, Raven leaped to her feet and assumed a defense
stance.

“You whoring bitch!” Ryan spat and he started for her. A well-placed kick in his mid-riff
halted his advance and he slumped to his knees. Taking advantage of his momentary
downfall, Raven quickly skirted the love seat and raced to where her clothes were lying
on the carpet. While he fought to get his breath and muttering barely audible oaths,
Raven pulled on her skirt and jacket. Once covered, she felt less vulnerable and more in
control of the situation.

Making a quick exit entered her mind but her need to know the truth and how he had
found her overcame her desire to flee. She felt that he would think twice before he
attempted to attack her again. She gathered her underwear and stepped into the stilettos.
Never taking her eyes from him, she put the loose objects in the attaché case and then
faced him defiantly.

“Who the hell are you really?” she demanded between clenched teeth.

Her “cousin” was rising painfully to his feet and glaring at her with unconcealed
contempt. He straightened to his full height and she watched a masterful display of will
power as he fought for self control and a look of bemused surprise over shadowed the
before raw emotional expression on his face.

“I am who I say I am, cousin dear!” he said, his tone once more smooth and suave. “If
you doubt me, I will show my driver’s license.” He went to reach for his wallet in the
pocket of his tailor-cut jacket and she warned him quickly.

“Don’t do anything stupid! I can defend myself very well if you have not already
noticed.”

“Oh, Raven, dear, I noticed…believe me, I noticed. That was one thing I failed to find
out in my research of you. The person who skipped that little bit of information will wish
that they never had!” Ryan stated.

“Don’t call me dear, asshole.” she snapped at him.

“Well, aren’t we crude. I call you something nice and you return the compliment with
gutter language.” Ryan quipped, trying to laugh but his breath was still coming in too
ragged gulps. He removed his wallet and taking out the plastic enclosed license, he
stepped forward gingerly to hand it to her.
“Lay it on the table, Ryan, and back away or when I put you down this time, you will stay
down.” she warned him.

Throwing his hands up in mock surrender, he slowly laid the identification down on the
end table by the love seat. Then making exaggerated large steps, he stepped backwards
away from the table. Once she felt that he was at a safe distance and no threat that she
could not handle, she advanced forward to retrieve the driver’s license. True to what he
said, the license identified him Ryan deLesseps Ambrose, St. Charles Avenue, New
Orleans, Louisiana. She had seen enough fake identifications to know that this one was
genuine but she could not resist saying. “This could be fake.”

“I think not. I am who I say I am.” Ryan once again stated, his anger barely concealed in
the tone of his voice.

“Fine. Hand me your wallet or rather toss it to me.” Raven ordered.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Just do it, Ryan or so help me, I will knock those beautiful teeth straight down your
throat.” she said, her tone flat but her face full of purpose.

Puzzled but curious, Ryan tossed her the wallet. She deftly caught it and never taking her
eyes from him, she opened the expensive leather case. She returned his license to the first
convenient place and then opened the middle fold. As he gawked, she removed five one
hundred dollar bills from the layer of money.

“What are you doing?” he ask sharply.

“Taking my fee, sweetie. Now, we can talk to your heart’s content.” she answered him
with a smile and tossed his wallet back to him.

Ryan’s face was almost scarlet with open rage at this point. His suave manners and firm
self control seemed to be failing him. He was sputtering like an angry child when he
demanded.

“Why should I pay your fee?”

“Because I never take an assignment from Ramona unless I get paid. She takes her share
and I have to make money to cover my expenses. When I work for Ramona, I make $300
no matter what. Even if nothing sexual occurs and excuse me, my dear, but I am not into
incest. I don’t do “family.” Raven stated in a derisively.

“What do you want from me, Ryan? I assumed that your family preferred to know that I
never existed and my mother and I were more than agreeable to those terms. I don’t want
anything from the Ambroses and I want you to stay away from me. Do you understand?”
Raven announced emphatically.

“Now, aren’t you some smug white trash.” Ryan snarled, somehow offended that Raven
scorned his illustrious family. Raven gritted her teeth and fought down the impulse to
plant the heel of one of her stilettos in her cousin’s handsome face.

“At least, I provide a service that is requested and my money does not come from the
blood of slaves and later, children worn down in sweatbox factories. Don’t think that you
can wipe the shit from your shoes, cousin and the smell won’t stay. Get your damn nose
of the air before I break it for you.” she jeered him.

“Raven, if you weren’t so beautiful and obviously very feminine, I would swear you were
some bull neck thug by the way you constantly threaten me. “Ryan answered, his tone
more controlled but still angry.

“Whatever! Let’s stop this chit chat. If you don’t tell me what you want from me, I am
walking right out that door in ten seconds flat.” Raven informed him.

Ryan studied her for a brief second before he finally ask in a far more composed attitude.
“Do you remember the statement you made that you wanted nothing from my family? Do
you really mean that?”

“Yes, but why?” Raven returned, her curiosity peaked.

“Would you sign a document stating that fact?” Ryan queried, his eyes searching her
face.

“I don’t know because I want to know why I should.” she parried, more than distrustful
of him.

“But you said you wanted nothing.” he whined and the look of anger was returning to his
face. He looked hard at him and decided that it was time to leave.

“Tell you what, Ryan, why don’t you forget I exist. I am going to leave now and I would
advice you to not to try to follow me or attempt to contact me or else there may be a nice
little article in the paper tomorrow about one of New Orleans’ most eligible bachelors
having to contact a “lady of the night” for sexual satisfaction. I don’t think your family
would really be appreciative of that, do you?” She told him and her look was deadly
serious so that he knew that she meant it. With the end of her statement, she turned on her
heel and strode out the suite, leaving the frustrated and blustering young man staring after
her in total surprise.

CHAPTER FOUR

In a large shopping mall on the outskirts of New Orleans, there was a busy little shop
called the Sweet Company. Its specialty of imported candies and chocolates were very
popular among local residents and tourists alike. Ramona Charbonnet had been totally
surprised when her candy store started turning a handsome profit and she had to increase
the amount of employees over the original group that she had started with when the shop
opened ten years earlier. Hiding her escort business behind the candy store as a cover, she
had not been very concerned if the shop made that much money or not. Yet, she had
stocked the little store with sweet delicacies and hard to find candy from all over the
world. She loved fine chocolate and on rare occasion indulged herself in a piece or two
but always conscious of her weight, she rode tight rein on her taste for sweets. She soon
discovered, though, that there were plenty of wealthy, overweight people that bought her
candy pound by expensive pound. The store’s sales had skyrocketed beyond her wildest
dreams.

Ramona was a very wealthy woman but she was always happy to have more. She had
long ago discovered that money could buy most anything. Almost anything except for
one thing that she very badly wanted. Money could buy that as well but it could not buy
back the time that had passed when Ramona could have achieved her desire and had it go
unnoticed. To do it now would call too much attention to herself. When she could have
had it done, she could not afford it. Now that she could financially afford it, she could not
afford the scrutiny that it would cause. Since it was no longer an option for her, she had
learned to live without it.

For the most part, Ramona led a very happy and secure life. She lived well and at least
once a year, took a month off to travel and indulge her love of beautiful art, fine food and
unusual places. She had done well for herself and she was more than pleased.

Ramona never mixed business with pleasure and despite her many clients’ offers to pay
whatever fee she requested, she never provided a service to her customers personally. Her
late “sugar-daddy”, Alton Barth, had left her well off and she had opened the Sweet
Company. She now lived with a beautiful young man named Sinclair that saw to her
sexual and companionship needs more than sufficiently.

The front of the Sweet Company was active with three clerks and several customers
while in the back office, Ramona worked on the books for the store. The private books
she kept for the escort service were locked tightly away in the safe, secure from
scrutinizing eyes. She was in deep concentration with the numbers when the elegant
French phone rang. It was a separate, private line from the fax phone machine and store
phone. When it rang, it was either one of her “girls” or a client. She picked up the
receiver and replied sweetly.

“Hello.”

“Ramona, it’s Raven” an irritated voice came across the other end of the line.

“Where are you, darlin?” her cultured voice masking the dislike on her face.

“I’m at home.” Raven answered.
“You are done so quickly. I would have surely thought with this client, you would have
taken an extra amount of time.” Ramona chided, the surprise evident in her voice.

“Scratch him from your list, Ramona or if you won’t do that, don’t ever set me up with
him again!” Raven snapped.

“But why?” Ramona ask puzzled.

“Because, damn it, he is my first cousin!” Raven snarled and rudely hung up in the
madam’s ear.

***

Ryan Anderson remained standing for several moments after he heard the store slam
behind Raven. He felt rattled and vulnerable and absolutely feeling like a complete idiot.
He knew that he had handled it all wrong but his cousin turned out to be nothing like he
pictured her except for the beauty. “God, she was beautiful,” he thought to himself, “not
only beautiful but intelligent, strong, extremely self-confident and gutsy.”

Whether or not she would ever admit for some strange reason, or not want to
acknowledge the fact, she was still all Ambrose except for the gorgeous hair and those
amazing green eyes. He had never met Reme Menee but he had seen a photograph of the
Cajun and Irish mixed young man. He had been quite handsome in a roughneck kind of
way and it did not seem unreasonable that the spoiled and willful Shelly would have
fallen for him. Raven was more attractive than either of her parents. Unlike them, though,
she did not appear to be weak. And that damn martial art skill! Ryan swore to himself
that his assistant would rue that mistake. Ryan regretfully admitted to himself that he had
badly underestimated his cousin.

Yet, he found himself right back in the same quandary that he had been in except now, it
was worse. Since Raven was aware of who he was and had adamantly stated that she
wanted nothing to do with him or his family. However, this issue had to be resolved and
it could not be done without her. He would find her again and he would get the matter
straight but next time, he would be better prepared.

***

Sam Henderson jerked awake when he heard his phone ringing. At first, he was totally
disoriented and his brain was foggy. The sound of the television penetrated the fog and a
stiffness in his neck brought his awareness to a clarity with a sharp stab of pain. He
realized that he was at home and he had fallen asleep in the lounge chair watching
television. The phone on the end table was ringing and his pager was vibrating beside it.
The cell phone was on the charger. He reached for them both at the same time. He
pressed the message button on the digital beeper and the number that flashed across the
screen was Paul’s home number. Meanwhile, he had the receiver to his ear, saying hello
and knowing very well it would be Paul who answered him back.

“Sam, you awake?” Paul ask quickly.

“I am now. What’s up?” Henderson replied groggily.

“H.Q. just called and said that there may be a lead on the Roberts murder. It seems the
hotel security camera had a brief shot of a woman walking in with the victim. There is
only a quick scan of her. You can’t see her face but you can see all that black hair
hanging down past her waist. We might have our first lead on Lady Deliverance.” Paul
stated, his voice excited and pleased.

“On who?” Sam questioned, confused.

“Lady Deliverance! That’s what the people downtown have nicknamed her since she
screws them and then sends them on their way for deliverance to Hell. I think that it is
kind of catchy, don’t you?” Paul quipped.

“I suppose.” Sam returned dryly.

“That’s your problem, Henderson. You only appreciate humor when it comes from you. “
Paul remarked, obviously disappointed that his pun had fell flat.

“Don’t be so damn touchy, Paul. Gimme a break, won’t cha? I just woke up.” Sam said,
trying to smooth his partner’s ruffled feathers.

“That’s okay, pal. We will at least have something positive to show Captain Dabdoub in
the morning.” Paul said, his mood normal once again.

“Yeah, that’s right. The Captain won’t be as pissed off if we have a good lead.” Sam
mumbled, trying sound more hopeful than he felt.

***

Captain Dabdoub was not that pleased. The frozen frame of the woman who had been
with Roberts at the elevator did not give away very much except that she had very long
black hair and a nice figure. It could be any one of the hookers in New Orleans, perhaps
wearing a wig. It made no difference if she was high-priced or not. He wanted a better
lead than they had. The hotel staff just seem to have cloudy memories or they just paid
little attention to their guests’ guests for the sake of business.

“You can bet on that! They don’t want to lose business.” Jack Dabdoub sneered as he
stared at Henderson and Faciane. Both men sat quietly, knowing from experience that it
was best to let the Captain speak his mind.

When murder got the word “serial”, then the police chief passed it onto whatever precinct
captain whose jurisdiction the murders had occurred. The mayor and city council were
hot on the police chief’s ass to bring the murder rate down. The police chief was then hot
on that precinct captain's ass to solve it immediately!

“I want this woman found and soon… like yesterday!” Dabdoub insisted.

Paul just nodded but Sam raised one finger and made a motion that he wanted to speak.
The Captain frowned and snapped “What now, Henderson?”

“Well, sir, I would like to say that I don’t believe the killer is the prostitute. I think it is
someone who is trying to set her up.” Sam stated.

“And why would you come to that conclusion?” Dabdoub questioned.

“It just does not make much sense, sir? Why would she have sex with him and then kill
him? Also why didn’t all the money disappear from both victims, sir? It looks like to me
that she only took her fee and then left and someone else did the killing. It just all looks
too easy. Plus the DNA evidence as well off the cigarette butt and the hair strand.” Sam
explained.

Sam glanced at his partner and saw that look on Paul’s face that was often there when
Faciane disapproved of Sam’s actions. They had been together long enough to read each
other like books and Sam knew Paul thought that Sam should keep his thoughts to
himself until he had more proof for his theory.

Both men glanced back at Dabdoub when the captain said, “Hmm--. Sounds like gut
instinct to me that you are evaluating, Henderson.”

“Well, yeah, Captain, but sometimes that really works.” Sam defended his theory.

“Well, either way, find out who it is but for now, find that hooker!” Dabdoub ordered and
both Faciane and Henderson nodded as they rose from their chairs and left their
superior’s office.

Once the door was closed, Paul turned to Sam and said, “He ain’t happy, is he?”

“Nope, he sure ain’t.” Henderson returned.

***

CHAPTER FIVE

Raven deposited the fee money to her account and also the revenue from her silent
partnership in a small chain of novelty shops in the French Quarter. Her partner was her
childhood friend, Gloria Mason. Her participation as Gloria’s partner was the perfect
cover to hide her actual working profession. She kept accurate and honest financial
reports with her accountant and her broker had a small portfolio of stocks for her. She
wanted no trouble with the IRS so every year she reported every dime she earned and
paid her taxes accordingly. The result had been good to never have been selected for an
audit but she was prepared to show physical proof to explain her income. It was a good
camouflage and she felt safe. With the money deposited, she kept enough back to drop
Ramona’s share of Ryan’s money off in cash. The cash was untraceable and it was
Ramona’s problem of how she explained it.

On the way back from a rather tense meeting with Ramona, Raven decided it was time to
take a couple of days off. She needed to think about the sudden appearance of her cousin
and that was not really possible while she was at work. She and Etienne could use a
couple of days in Mississippi and the odd-looking but perfectly restored truck would get a
nice run on the seventy mile drive to Biloxi.

When she reached home, she was in a far happier mood. She began to pack immediately
and once that was accomplished, she dialed Ramona’s machine, left a message that she
would be out of pocket, and then closing the apartment up, she gathered up the terrier and
her small amount of luggage. Putting everything in the truck’s cab, she walked back to
the apartment, set the alarm, and then returned to the truck. She was smiling when she
cranked the engine and with an enthusiastic “We’re off, Etienne!”, she put the vehicle in
reverse and backed out onto Chastity Street.

***

Ramona Charbonnet was not pleased at all when she listened to Raven’s message about
taking two days off for a trip, destination left unsaid. Her meeting with Raven had been
rushed and unfriendly as she sensed that Raven was keeping a tight rein on a bad mood.
All it basically had been was for Raven to walk in the office, hand Ramona the fee money
and then leave. There had been nothing said about taking time off. Then to add insult to
injury, she had just briefly stepped out of her office for just the right moment for Raven
to call and leave her message. She still needed to settle this issue about Ryan Ambrose
with Raven and now it was shoved even farther on the back burner like a simmering pot
almost ready to boil over.

As the answering machine’s message finished, Ramona wished for the hundredth time
that Raven would consent to buy a cell phone or let Ramona give her one. Raven was
very popular among Ramona’s “clients” and when she was not available, many of them
chose to wait until she was. When “requests” were denied, it was not good for business.

Irritated, Ramona opened the outer door to the candy shop and told Marissa, her store
manager, to bring her a cup of cappuccino from the shop’s newest addition of gourmet
coffees. She needed to wake up and release the foul mood that Raven’s little getaway had
created.

A few moments later, Marissa knocked on the office door and then once verbally invited
in, she appeared with the cappuccino. Smiling quietly, Marissa left the office.
Ramona seated herself in the plush swivel chair and sipped delicately on the cappuccino.
The rich sweet coffee soothed her and to add to loosing the irritation, she began to
remember the night of passion with Sinclair.

Their beautiful romantic dinner, prepared by Garland, her chef and served so exquisitely
by Carey, her maid. The gorgeous French Provincial dining room was glorious with the
antique chandelier and the two dozen long stem roses decorating its center, soft pink for
Ramona and a vivid, vibrant red for Sinclair. They dined on delightful Cornish hen, rice
dressing, Caesar salad, and vermouth laced pudding for dessert. Enhanced by the cold
vintage Chablis. They danced to slow music on the patio of her restored Garden District
home and then fell blissfully asleep after passionate and satisfying sex.

Ramona was now well relaxed!

***

Henderson sat at his desk once again, mulling over the recent events of the Lady
Deliverance murders. He was tired of thinking about the whole subject but it was still his
job. Paul was totally absorbed by it but, of course, Paul had not been in this business as
long as Sam had. Paul did not yet have Sam’s instincts but he was developing them.

Sam felt that he really needed some other help so he considered a decision that had
occurred to him earlier in the morning. He then decided it was a good decision. Acting
upon it, he picked up his phone, punched in a familiar number and waited for an answer
on the other end. Three rings later, he heard a male voice say. “Kenault here.”

“Hi, Dan. How are you?” Sam spoke.

“Well, hell, if it isn’t old Henderson himself. How’s things?” Dan Kenault answered.

“Read the paper lately?” Sam ask.

“You mean the murders at the Royal Palace?” Kenault replied.

“Yep,”

“Your case?”

“Yep.”

“Need some help?”

“Yep.”

“Do what I can. What do you need?” Kenault questioned and Sam felt a sense of relief
that he would also have some added help from his old friend, a detective on the Jefferson
Parish police department. The old adage “two heads are better than one” really applied
here as well as the access of two police departments.

***

The Gulf was at low tide as Raven and Etienne walked the brown sandy beach of the
Mississippi Gulf coast. She was thinking of her arrival in Biloxi. She had smiled to
herself when she had pulled up in the old truck and after shutting off the engine, she
waited.

The hotel parking valet, a young man in his early twenties, appeared. He frowned when
he first saw the truck but knowing to follow hotel policy, he stepped forward to the
driver’s side as she stepped out. She felt him appraisingly look her up and down and she
smiled sweetly at him as she reached back inside the cab for Etienne’s leash. The little
terrier hopped out but upon seeing the valet, he wagged his stubby tail.

“Will you be staying with us long, ma’am?” he ask, still acting skeptical of the truck.

“Yes, for a couple of days. I have a reservation so you can send my luggage to that room
after you park my truck. Please be careful with it. It is almost an antique.” Raven stated.

“It sure is.” he said mockingly before he thought and his face went white with
embarrassment. The negative look he had given to the truck gave away his whole
opinion.

Raven let the remark pass without any comment and handed him a ten dollar tip. His
happy smile was instantaneous. She could almost guess what he was thinking such as “If
the broad wants to drive this old thing and act like she is somebody with a big tip, then
why not?”

The valet took the tip with pleasure and stepped past her to climb behind the steering
wheel. He turned the key and the truck’s powerful engine sprang to life. It was then that
he noticed the total restoration of the interior with nothing original changed. As he
listened to the glass pack mufflers purr, his smirk changed to an expression of delight.
She could tell he liked the sound of a strong engine. He gave Raven a beaming smile and
said.

“Yes, ma’am! Don’t worry I will be very careful with your truck.” With that statement,
he closed the driver’s door, put the truck in gear and slowly pulled away but as she stood
listening, she heard him gun the truck just to listen to its pipes talks. He apparently felt he
was out of sight enough from her that he could play a little. She did not mind as she knew
her own pleasure in the old pickup. “Never judge a book by its cover.” Raven thought to
herself as she and Etienne headed for the main entrance doors of the hotel.

Now, as she and the dog stood on the sunset-cast beach, she thought of her grand
entrance to her getaway holiday.

***

Dan Kenault and Sam Henderson met at a small Starbucks Coffee shop off of Veterans
Memorial Boulevard in Metairie. Sam reached the place first, parking his car in the
catty-corned parking lot. He locked the Toyota up, set the alarm and entered the
Starbucks. He noted the cleanliness of the chain shop and ordered regular coffee with
cream. He found a small table by the window and stared out at the traffic on the wide six
lane boulevard. Veterans was the most trafficked and widest street in Jefferson Parish
suburb of New Orleans. The cars whizzed by and the buildings everywhere were either
old, rundown, new or modern or just commercial. There were no real neighborhoods and
it reminded Sam of the stretch of Tulane from the Parish courthouse to Canal Street that
was just ugly, too much traffic, and all business.

He did not have long to wait before Dan Kenault arrived. Sam had not seen his friend for
almost two months if his memory served him right. The two men shook hands as Sam
rose to stand and Dan moved to set down at the table. Sam ask what Dan wanted to drink,
but knew it would be Dan’s usual of black coffee. Sam went to order and within a few
minutes, he returned.

When he came back to the table, he noticed that Dan had pulled two folders out of his
brief case. Sam surmised that they were concerned with the material that Sam had ask
about. Both folders were stamped in red ink “Vice Department.”

Sam leaned back in his chair, leveled his gaze on his friend, and ask in a calm voice,
trying to disguise the hope in it. “Anything interesting?”

“Well, that is all in how you look at it. I brought every folder or file I could find on upper
class hookers. However, I would have thought that you would have the same files in your
precinct.” Dan answered.

“I probably do so, Dan, but I wanted to go over what you had with you and see if maybe
you could give me a new perspective somehow. You know what I mean. I put a lot of
stock in your viewpoints.” Sam explained.

“I know you do, Sam, and I feel the same about you.” Kenault replied, smiling.

“You don’t think this is a cut and dry case, do you, Sam?” Kenault ask.

“Nope, sure don’t. It really all looks too easy and it doesn’t feel right. I think there is
more to it.” Sam stated.

“What does Dabdoub think?” Dan probed.

“He isn’t thinking to tell you the truth. He just wants her found, arrested and the case to
be solved. The Chief wants the publicity to be shut down, especially with bad “P.R.” We
already have enough of that as it is.” Sam said, his tone reflecting his unhappiness about
the subject.

Dan nodded without saying anything as he drank his coffee but Henderson knew that his
friend agreed.

***

CHAPTER SIX


Ramona was back working on her accounts when Marissa knocked on the door once
again. Then without hearing an answer, she opened it gently and said.

“Ramona, Mr. Ambrose is here to see you.”

Ramona frowned and then said. “Send him in, please.”

While she waited, she made a quick check of herself in a small vanity mirror before the
handsome Ambrose stepped into her plush office.

“Ryan, how good to see you.” Ramona said sweetly and her emotion was genuine as she
truly liked Ryan Ambrose and she found him appealing to the eye. It was a guaranteed
fact that Ramona treasured about New Orleans. The city had some of the most handsome
men in the world.

An hour later, Ramona and Ryan sat at an elegant restaurant on St. Charles Avenue. They
were sipping an expensive Chardonnay while they waited for their food to be delivered.
Ramona had been to the five star restaurant many times before, especially with her divine
Sinclair, but Ryan Ambrose’s charm, looks and money were almost as superb as the
beautiful surroundings of Commander’s Palace. Palmettos decorated everywhere along
with a multitude of potted plants and flowers. Many of the blossoms sent a delicious
aroma in the air mingling with the luscious smells coming from the restaurant’s food.
Through the restaurant’s large glass plate window, Ramona could see the streetcars
lumber by on their tracks and the people waiting to board them. The traffic was busy for
that time of day as St. Charles was a four lane street.

“Beautiful place, isn’t it?’ Ryan ask, his tall body lounging back in the stuffed chair. He
sipped his wine from the fine crystal glass and observed Ramona through half closed
eyes. She was indeed attractive, he decided to himself.

“Oh, yes! I have been here many times and yet, I never tire of it. It is especially nice
today with your company.” she answered, her voice soft and expressive.

“Well, maybe…” he remarked.
Ramona raised her eyebrows and glanced at him quizzically.

“Ramona, I did want to talk to you about Raven Menee'.” Ryan continued.

Ramona felt herself tense, but being who she was, she hid it well. The softness left her
and the business woman stepped in. She sat up straight and said clearly.

“You did not tell me you were her first cousin.”

“That was a small detail I left out. I wanted to meet her and that was the only safe way.”
Ryan said, his attitude not perplexed.

“She was furious and she made herself clear on that!” Ramona stated hotly.

“Well, I paid well for that, believe me.” he almost snarled.

“None of my girls work for nothing…no matter what.”

“So I have heard and also found out first hand.”

“How did you know she was your cousin?” Ramona demanded.

“I have my ways, my dear. You know the old saying, don’t you? Bullshit walks but
money talks.” Ryan dropped to a silky tone, enjoying Ramona’s frustration.

“And your point?” she snapped.

“Well, I just wonder how many people know about your strange past.” he almost purred.

It seemed to be an appropriate moment that the waiter chose then to deliver their food.
Ramona sat quietly while her entrée was placed in front of her. She had lowered her eyes
but if Ryan could have seen them, he would not have enjoyed the look she had for him.

As soon as it was safe after their waiter left, Ramona stared at Ryan and said in a deep
tone laced with barely controlled anger.

“What are you talking about?”

He smiled derisively and answered. “I think you know exactly what I am talking about!”

Ramona stared at her finely prepared shrimp etoufee and suddenly, lost her appetite.

***

Raven returned to New Orleans two days later, after what she had felt was a badly needed
break. Etienne had enjoyed himself thoroughly by wallowing in the sand on the beach,
playing in the waves and totally unknown to him, irritating the management of the hotel
by tracking his dirty self across their plush lobby. Raven knew it was frowned upon but
she really did not care as she had paid well for her stay there.

“Besides” she thought to herself “a nice bath in the room’s large bathtub had gotten him
clean. A good towel drying and currying had made him look great. Hell, I cleaned the tub
so the maid had nothing to do anyway.”

She arrived at Chastity Street around nine am on the third day and parked the truck in the
driveway. As she retrieved her things from the cab, she considered what she could do
with the five hundred dollars she had won by playing slots at the Grand Casino. She
could have the truck’s body redone with it, but then she laughed softly to herself as she
felt it might make her truck lose its “Charm”.

She let herself and Etienne in the through the back door of the apartment, disarmed the
security system and then put her things on the cedar chest in her bedroom. She took a
Diet Coke from the refrigerator and picked up her house phone to retrieve the messages
left in her absence.

There were three from Ramona, one expressing displeasure at Raven’s time off, the
second one asking for a call as soon as possible and the third one, a strange one of
apology about Ryan Ambrose. It ended with a reassurance that Raven could have as
much time off as she needed and to only please check in when she arrived home.

There was only one other message and that was from Gloria to advise Raven of a check
being deposited to Raven’s account from the shops and a gentler reminder that Gloria
would like to see Raven sometime soon in a personal capacity as they were friends and
their interaction with each other had been too limited as of late due to work.

At this message, Raven smiled and decided to herself that she would make it a priority to
spend some time with her friend very soon. She and Gloria had grown up together and
had stayed close friends through the years.

After listening to the messages and changing her clothes, she put fresh food in Etienne’s
bowl and also fresh water. She had changed into a T-shirt and jean cutoffs as she went to
her side of the front porch and picked up three days of the Times-Picayune that had
accumulated there.

As she was not going to work that day as well, she decided to catch up on the local news
while she ate a light meal that she set about preparing. As she worked, she realized that
the next day would be when her once-a-week cleaning lady came and thoroughly cleaned
the large apartment but for today, there was no one to bother her.

She read through the first paper, just scanning as it was the one from that very day. It
seemed to just be the usual news and events in a very prolific city. The second paper or
the day before was much the same. She dawdled over it while she relaxed and settled
back. She was pleased with her life until she opened the front page of the newspaper of
the day she had left for Mississippi. The large headlines leaped out at her.

“SERIAL KILLER, LADY DELIVERANCE, STRIKES AGAIN!”

In smaller letters below the headline were the words.

“Prostitute kills her second victim at the Royal Palace Hotel.”

As Raven read on, she could feel herself grow quiet and her face ashen. Suddenly, she
knew something of terror and very real fear as the two men that had been murdered were
her own “johns”. All she could say to herself was “Oh, My God!”

***

CHAPTER SEVEN


As Sam Henderson drove back from Metairie, his thoughts focused on information that
Dan had shared with him. They had looked at the profiles of several prostitutes but none
really seemed to fit his said “killer”. The one thing that stayed with him the most was the
file that Dan had left laying on the table while he excused himself to use the restroom. To
Sam that meant that it was a “classified” file or in layman’s terms, “off limits”. It was a
file on Ramona Charbonnet.

Sam knew about the New Orleans business woman as she was very good friends with
many of the upper class society in the city. She had never been arrested or charged with
anything but for some reason a file had been created on her. She owned a very popular
candy store in Metairie and was rumored to have investments with others in New Orleans
in real estate or profitable businesses. Yet, their nature had not been disclosed in the file.
It had puzzled Sam as to the reason for Dan leaving it but as he knew Dan, he felt that his
friend wanted him to look at the file. It was often a silent understanding between the men
for as long as they had been friends and in the same line of work.

Wearied of the case, he found that by the time he reached New Orleans that he had begun
to put the visit behind him and turn his thoughts to more personal matters. He wondered
if he approached Mama Z and ask her permission, he would be permitted to ask Lakeisha
out. He really liked the young woman.

***

Ramona Charbonnet sat in her plush boudoir, suffering insomnia. Occasionally, she
would glance over at the sleeping form of Sinclair. To her, he looked like an angel asleep,
his young features relaxed and composed from their lovemaking. He had fallen asleep
almost immediately afterward but she had not been so fortunate. Her usually composed
attitude was troubled by the meeting with Ryan Ambrose.

The man knew too much and she could not afford for that to happen. She had made some
inquiries about him and was most unhappy to find out that his money and position
excelled hers. She could not buy him off and having him quieted was next to impossible.
She was not adverse to proposition he had given her for her dilemma but she preferred to
keep it from him that they were acting on the same side of the issue.

***

Gloria Mason and Raven met at the restaurant, Casey’s, on Decatur Street in the French
Quarter. Raven had called Gloria within minutes after she had read the headlines about
Amos Roberts. She did not tell her friend why a meeting was so urgent but Gloria knew
Raven well enough to not question the sudden request. Gloria was waiting at the bar/grill
when Raven arrived after parking her truck on Governor Nichols Street.

As Raven stepped through the door, she saw her friend sitting at the small table closest to
the window. As always, she could only feel that Gloria Mason just seemed to become
more appealing the older she got. Half Hispanic and half African-American, Gloria had
the charm of both sides. He skin was almost a dark gold with shoulder length black hair.
Almond shaped brown eyes were always serious behind a pair of gold wire frames.
Shorter and heavier than Raven, she wore a chic casual outfit of slacks and blouse. Her
jewelry was light, kept mostly to a lovely wedding set and a Rolex watch.

Gloria had married her childhood sweetheart, William Mason and was the proud mother
of a set of twin six-year old boys. Bill and Gloria had always been good to Raven and
when they had a chance to invest or purchase a novelty shop on Canal Street, Raven had
helped them out with money. That one shop had grown into three, one on Bourbon Street
and one on Decatur. The Masons were well-off now and gave generous annuities to their
friend for her silent partnership. All three had grown up in the back streets of Irish Bayou
between Magazine Street and River Road and done well for themselves in a city where
money talked.

Upon seeing Raven, Gloria waved and motioned her friend over to the table. The two
women hugged each other but when they released each other, Gloria’s eyes narrowed as
she examined Raven’s face and the reflection on her own face said clearly that she did
not like what she saw.

“What’s wrong, Raven?” she ask, worried.

Raven shuddered as she stood facing her friend and Gloria could see that she was fighting
tears. Gloria gestured for Raven to sit down and the barmaid/waitress approached the
table. Both women ordered coffee but Raven’s was Irish coffee, the brew invigorated by
the shot of Irish whiskey. Gloria raised an eyebrow and remarked after the server left.

“Now, I know something is really wrong for you to want Irish coffee.”
Raven settled back in the hard-backed chair and said in an almost whisper.

“Gloria, I am in trouble and I may need a good criminal lawyer!” Without waiting for
Gloria to ask why, Raven launched into her story and all that she knew that had
happened. At its end, Gloria looked absolutely dumbfounded.

Raven was thoroughly confused as to why the first killing had never led to her but she
could only suppose that the change in the staff members at the Royal Palace had caused
that. As she continued to talk, Raven knew that she was involving her friend in a felony
and that she knew the only way to clear herself was to talk to a lawyer. Having
confidence that she had a good alibi in the taxi driver, she was truly upset that she was
probably the next to last person to see Amos Roberts alive.

Gloria listened intently to everything and then without hesitation, she called her husband.
She only told Bill that she needed the name of a good criminal lawyer. Bill’s instant reply
was the name, Terrence Marcel. When he probed to know the reason, Gloria sweetly told
him she would tell him later but only reassured him that the lawyer was not for herself.
Apparently less upset after hearing this news, Bill informed Gloria to advise her friend
that Marcel was not cheap but this was something that Raven already understood. The
Masons hung up from each other after Bill told Raven to be reassured that a meeting with
Marcel would be arranged as soon as possible.

The women sat in silence, Gloria drinking almost cold coffee and Raven drinking
nothing. When Gloria’s cell phone rang again, it was Bill with the news that an
appointment with Marcel had been arranged at ten the next morning. Raven released an
audible sigh of relief.

Three hours later at home, Raven received a phone call from Ramona. Ramona had a
client who insisted on seeing Raven but when Raven declined, Ramona turned icy and
distant. It was a far different attitude than what she had sounded in the last phone
message earlier in the day. The madam’s calm was completely shattered when Raven
informed her that she would be unavailable for work for an indeterminable amount of
time. She would give Ramona no specific reason and in a rage, Ramona informed Raven
that her services were no longer required. With that termination of work, Ramona
slammed her end of the line down in Raven’s ear.

The reaction that Raven felt was the exact opposite of what Ramona would have hoped
for. She felt as if a great pressure had been lifted off of her shoulders. With what she
knew she had facing her, work was the last thing she need…at least, that “kind” of work.
Money was not a problem as she had more than enough stashed away to take care her
needs for a long while.

With these objects decided and achieved, she laid down on her large bed, called Etienne
to her and cried herself to sleep. For the first time since she was very young, she was
terrified.
***

CHAPTER EIGHT

Terence Marcel sat in his office which was actually his home and office as well. The
restored one family shotgun on Napoleon Avenue had been a pet project of his as well as
his wife, Shelia. He was proud of not only what he had achieved with his career and now
his house.

He finished with top honors at Loyola University ten years before, interned with a
prestigious law firm in Baton Rouge and had after successful cases as a defense criminal
lawyer, he and Shelia had moved back to New Orleans with their two small daughters
and opened his law practice there. In the four years that he had been practicing in Orleans
Parish, he had done well for himself. He had a come a long way from his upbringing in
the lower Ninth Ward and his mother, a hard working, God-fearing woman, now shared
the four bedroom house on Napoleon Avenue.

In a city with a high crime rate, he had a heavy case load and he had won freedom for
several of his clients. Terry, as his wife called him, refused to take a case unless he
believed in the plausible fact of his client’s innocence. He was proud of his court record
of more wins than losses but most of all, the feeling that he had a hand in persuading
Lady Justice to do the right thing. His retainer was high but he also donated his time and
expertise pro bono when the case warranted it.

He had been mildly surprised to receive a call from Bill Mason whom Terry considered a
friend and also shared a coveted membership with the Mid-City Indians, a black oriented
group who paraded at Mardi Gras in beautiful and elaborate costumes suggestive of
Native American dress. He knew Bill to be a law-abiding citizen and his urgent request
for an appointment for legal counsel for a friend brought Shelia quickly to consult with
Terry. She returned to Bill with the news that Terry would adjust his schedule to
accommodate Raven.

Marcel noted that the time was 10:10 and his perspective client was sitting in his waiting
room. The fact that the woman was white somewhat surprised Terry but Bill had also said
that Miss Menee' was a silent business partner with the Masons. From the woman’s
tasteful dress, Marcel was inclined to be skeptical of why Raven would need a criminal
lawyer. Satisfied that he had kept her waiting long enough, Marcel clicked the intercom
and informed Shelia to send Raven in.

Five minutes later, the door to his office opened and one of the most beautiful white
women he had seen walked in and she was, he noted silently to himself, the most
frightened one he also had ever seen!

Raven and Marcel sat in his office for over two hours. She told him all that she knew
about both of her “johns” at the Royal Palace Hotel and she had taken a cab each time
back to her home on Chastity Street. Just as she hoped he would, Marcel agreed with her
that she had a possible strong alibi in the taxi drivers if they could locate them both but he
still told he would have to obtain the approximate time of death of both victims from the
parish coroner’s office.

Raven knew that Marcel believed in her innocence but whether she could convince the
police or not was something neither of them could state for sure. At the end of interview,
he offered to take her case but also informed her that she would have to turn herself in
voluntarily to the police as a possible suspect since she had been with both victims. He
suggested that she go home and clear matters up as much as possible and then together
they would go to the station that afternoon.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Raven was still frightened but not to the extent she had
been before. With Marcel’s counsel, she no longer felt so alone or so helpless. She wrote
him a check for a thousand dollars as a retainer, handed to him and then left his office to
do as he instructed. He told he would call her later in the day.

Raven knew she was in for a bad ordeal but she felt she would be guided by capable
hands. She did know several police officers but she also knew that when murder was
involved, there were no such things as friends among the police because it then became
business. Raven could only pray that Marcel was her best ally.

***

Sam Henderson leaned against the stainless steel counter in Mama Z’s kitchen. He
watched the older black woman preparing her renowned gumbo while Ahid, her youngest
son, cleaned the pots and pans in the double stainless steel sinks and the old dishwashing
machine moaned and groaned as it washed the rest of the dishes, cups, saucers, glasses
and silverware.

Sam had known Mama Z many years, even before she had saved enough money to buy
the small café. A diligent, intelligent, no nonsense woman, she had raised three children
as a single mother and stuck to her old-school values that had kept her family out of the
drug-infected, crime-riddled projects on Desire Street.

Sam had come to do what he had decided. He had to ask Mama Z if he could ask
Lakeisha out. He had met with disappointment when Mama Z glanced sadly at him and
delivered her bad news. “I’m sorry, Sam, but Lakeisha is engaged to be married. Didn’t
she tell you?”

“No, she didn’t but then I didn’t ask either.” Sam answered glumly.

“Doesn’t matter. Shame on her anyway. She’s been seeing Michael Guidry for about a
year now. He ask her about a month ago and the wedding is set for Christmas. I am going
to talk to that girl, honestly, she should not be such a big flirt. Guess she takes after me
when I was younger.” Mama Z fussed but she was smiling and her pride in her daughter
showed in her face.

Sam just nodded but as he turned to leave, Mama Z spoke again. “Sam?”

“Yes.” Sam answered as he paused in his step to look at her.

“I would have been proud to have you date my daughter.” Mama Z said softly.

Sam smiled back at her, despite his blue funk mood. He was lonely and he really liked
Lakeisha but it was out of the question now.

***

Raven received a visit around noon at home. It was from the last person she wanted to
see, her cousin. She could hear the light tapping on the front door of the apartment and
Etienne’s excited barking. She was in the back of the house, preparing some tea when
Ryan arrived. When she opened the door, saw him, she then almost closed it as promptly
as she opened it.

Ryan started to stick his foot in the door but then thought better of it, not knowing for
sure what Raven would do. He chose to speak instead and this time in a very polite tone.

“Raven, please let me come in. I promise I will leave instantly if you will just give me a
few minutes to talk.”

Raven stared at him and considered it. She felt she could take care of herself. It also
seemed that Etienne could sense his mistress’ feelings because his hackles were raised
and he was growling at Ryan. Raven signaled the dog to quiet down as she allowed Ryan
to enter her home.

She led him to her living room and motioned to a place at the sofa for him to sit. She ask
if he would like something to drink.

“Coffee?” was his reply.

Raven nodded quietly and calling the still bristled terrier after her, she headed for the
kitchen for his coffee and her ice tea. When she returned to the living room, she found
her handsome cousin draped comfortably on the expensive over stuffed sofa. As she
handed him his coffee, he remarked.

“You seem to have done well for yourself, cuz. Whoring must really be profitable.”
There was the sarcastic sneer to his voice but if it rankled Raven, she never let it show.

“You never know.” she stated with a false saccharin smile. She sat down in the chair to
his right and sipped her tea while Etienne sat protectively by her chair.
“Okay, Ryan, what do you want?” she ask flatly.

“We need to talk about the reason why I found you in the first place.” he said.

“And that would be?”

“It involves my family’s good name and reputation and also money.” He stated straight
out.

“I want nothing to with your family. I told you that already.”

“I gather that, cuz, but it really isn’t that easy.” Ryan went on.

“Why not?” she said.

“Because it seems there was someone in my family who chose not to forget about your
mother or you. That person had a lot of power in my family.” Ryan explained but Raven
could tell that the subject really irritated him.

“And who would that be?” she probed.

“Our great grandmother.” he unwilling informed her.

***

After Ryan left, Raven sat in stunned silence. She could barely conceive the idea that she
was the heir to a quarter of a million dollars from her mother’s fraternal grandmother,
Eloise Ducote Ambrose. Shelly’s father had been one of the two Ambrose sons and
Ryan’s grandfather had been the oldest of those two sons. The money had actually come
from the Ducote estate, Eloise’s family and she had in her will gone past the Ambrose’s
banishment and left the money to Raven. Ryan wanted Raven to sign away her rights to it
and also a statement that she had no right to any inheritance from the Ambrose or Ducote
families. He had seen no reason for this to be a problem but to compensate her, he would
give her a hundred thousand dollars of his own for her co-operation.

Raven had laughed at him and ordered him out of her home. After he left, she made an
immediate call to Terence Marcel and informed him of this development since it might
have some basis to her case. She also ask him for his legal advice about the inheritance.
He said that estate legalities and trust funds were not his strong suit or part of his practice
but he had a colleague who was a respected advisor in such matters. Marcel would obtain
his services to aid Raven. Terry then told her to relax and he would pick her up later in
the afternoon to go to the police station.

After she hung up from her lawyer, Raven sat in her chair sipping her ice tea and petting
Etienne for comfort. “Of all the rotten luck, Etienne.” she told the dog, “ With this
windfall, I can retire completely now but what good is it if I face possible charges for
murders I did not commit!”

***

Sam Henderson, once more at work, sat studying the photograph in front of him. He was
far from the happiest man at the moment as he carefully studied the woman in the
photograph. She was one of the listed prostitutes of Ramona Charbonnet. She fit the
profile perfectly, the DNA on the hair strand and the cigarette butt matched her file in
Vice and she had been reluctantly identified by the personnel at the Royal Palace Hotel.

Her name was Raven Menee'.

***

CHAPTER NINE

That evening after Ryan’s visit, Raven faced one of the hardest tasks she had ever had to
do. In the company of her lawyer, Terence Marcel, she walked into the precinct and
asked for the detectives assigned to the Lady Deliverance investigation. The cop at the
front desk instructed them to the Homicide Department and once there to the desk of Sam
Henderson.

Henderson was just preparing to leave for the day, having decided to find and talk to his
suspect the next day, when in she walked with her lawyer. His eyes widened when they
stepped up to his desk but he fought to maintain an impassive professional attitude. He
invited them to sit down and excused himself to find his partner, Paul Faciane.

Paul was nearly as incredulous when Sam informed him of the happening events but
followed Sam back to his desk, where Raven and Marcel waited. The fact that the woman
had come in voluntarily tweaked Sam’s cop instincts and he had a strong suspicion that
his thought of her innocence was playing out to be more and more correct.

Two hours later, Sam allowed Raven and Marcel to leave without Raven being arrested.
He had instructed her not to leave town. After Sam and Marcel had a visit with Captain
Dabdoub, Raven was released on her own reconnaissance. Sam advised Raven that she
was still a strong suspect but Marcel had produced two affidavits signed by both cab
drivers and also copies of the taxi company’s pick up records for those days, which gave
as obvious a proof from the dates and times of the pick ups and the coroner’s records of
the victims’ time of death that Raven had left them alive. Marcel had been through and
much to the disgruntlement of Captain Dabdoub, there was still no arrest in the
investigation. Raven agreed willingly to the terms of her release and as they walked out
of the precinct, she decided that Terence Marcel was worth every penny of that thousand
dollar retainer and more!

Sam dropped one other little bombshell which almost unnerved Raven. There would be
an ongoing investigation from the Vice Squad concerning her activities as a prostitute
which meant she had to co-operate at all levels, especially about Ramona Charbonnet!

***

Ramona Charbonnet sat in her silver Lexus outside the Ambrose House on Magazine
Street. She studied the simple structure and compared it to the magnificent mansion of
Ryan’s family on St. Charles Avenue. There was no connection outside of the same last
name as Ryan’s family had generated from other areas. The Ambrose House on
Magazine was a Historical Society house and the non-ostentatious beauty of the two story
dwelling failed to impress her.

She turned her gaze from the house to the small po-boy shop on the corner where she was
scheduled to meet with Sinclair. There was still no sign of her lover’s Corvette. They
were to have lunch once he had completed the errand she had sent him to take care of.
The po-boy shop had been his choice and she was puzzled as to why he would have
picked it.

She did not have to wait long before she saw the red Corvette pull in behind her car. As
Sinclair got out of the car, she watched him with lust. She had never ceased to marvel at
how handsome he was. Six foot tall, slender but muscular, dressed in casual nonchalance
and moved with the lithe grace of a big cat. She felt the stirring of want within her and
frowned at its bad timing.

Sinclair did not smile when he reached to open the door for her as he always did. He had,
instead, a strong look of concern on his face. He handed her out of the luxury car but
when she reached to kiss him, he drew away. That alarmed her more because Sinclair had
always been receptive to her.

“What’s wrong, Sinclair?’ she ask, trying not to sound anxious.

“Everything, Ramona!” he stated and his tone sent a chill down her spine.

“I will tell you about it while we eat. I am starved.” he continued.

Taking her hand, he led her into the po-boy shop. They ordered a seafood platter to share
and two imported beers. He then indicated that he wanted to sit outside at one of the
sidewalk tables and she knew that it was because he did not want anyone to overhear
what he had to say.

Once the waitress had brought the food and the beer, they divided the seafood platter. He
had taken a couple bites of food when he realized she was not eating. Sighing with
resignation, he began. “Okay, Ramona, here it goes. Our friend at the precinct told me
that Raven was under investigation for the Lady Deliverance murders but the bad part is
they are investigating you as well.”

Sinclair watched Ramona’s beautifully made up complexion turn pale and he heard her
suck in her breath. He went on eating, waiting for her to speak.

“Can’t our friend stop it?” she ask hopefully.

“Nope.” was his only answer.

“Why not? Does he want more money?” she demanded.

“He says that the case is too big. He did say though that as long as you are only involved
as her madam, then you really would not have that big of a problem. He is hopeful that he
can deter any mention of you in the investigation. He says that there is no need for any
more money as he does not want to be indicated in it.” Sinclair answered. Then he
coaxed. “Come on, baby, eat something. The food is really good.”

Ramona stared at her lover and then lowered her eyes. She began to eat but the food was
tasteless to her. She knew things that Sinclair did not but she could not tell him. In that
moment, her sweet world turned bitter and dark.

***

It was not really one of Raven’s best days, even though all of the news had not been bad.
She received a call Marcel’s associate, the estate lawyer, Carson Wilson, who expressed
strong interest in the perusal of Raven’s inheritance from her great grandmother. She had
told him only what little she knew but Wilson had been fairly confident that he could
obtain the necessary information from the Ambrose lawyers. He requested that she
schedule an appointment as quickly as she was able to and retain his services.
Meanwhile, he would act in her behalf in dealing with the matter. Raven suspected that
Wilson, like Marcel, was an up and coming attorney and the thought of besting the
Ambrose family and their hired elite law firm whet his appetite.

Instead of being encouraged by his confidence that she would receive her inheritance,
Raven longed only for her past life where she had little or no worries about legalities or
attorneys. To add to distress, she had received another message from Ramona that was a
mixture threatening and pleading. Raven knew she was popular among Ramona’s
clientele but she had lost her taste for the work. She ignored the message. She had been
advised by Marcel to keep a low profile and she intended to follow his instructions to the
letter.

She felt restless but could think of nowhere to go. She was not allowed to leave town.
She had cleaned the apartment until there was nothing left to clean. She had walked
Etienne until the small dog seemed wore out. Television bored her and she had little
interest in reading. Sleep was not an escape so she paced the apartment in frustration.

Muddled with thought, she heard Etienne barking at someone knocking on the front door.
She checked her appearance in one of the bedroom mirrors and then went to answer the
door. It surprised her when she opened the door and found Sam Henderson standing there
alone.

“Good evening, Miss Menee'. May I come in and talk with you?" Sam questioned.

“Are you here to arrest me?” Raven ask, masking her concern under an air of
nonchalance.

“No, ma’am, but I would like to ask you some questions.” the detective stated.

“Come in, Detective.” Raven invited and stepped aside to let him in the door.

Sam took a drink of the ice tea that Raven had given him. He put it down on the kitchen
table in front of him and raised his eyes to stare into Raven’s hooded ones. If she was
nervous at him being there, she hid it well. They had been sitting the same way for fifteen
minutes, waiting for Raven to hear from her lawyer before she would talk to Sam. Marcel
had just called and after he spoke to both of them, he gave Raven permission to talk with
the detective.

Sam smiled at her, trying to persuade her to relax and then seeing no success, he removed
a small tape recorder from his jacket pocket. He had already informed her that for both of
their protection, he needed to record the interview. She nodded and waited for him to
begin.

Meanwhile, Etienne nosed Sam’s hand and Raven wondered if it was a good or bad sign.

“Actually, Miss Menee', I want to talk to you about Ramona Charbonnet.” Sam began.

“Ramona?” Raven returned, her voice full of surprise.

“She was your employer, wasn’t she?”

“That depends on what you mean by employer, Detective.” Raven countered, this
conversation not at all to her liking.

“You worked for her as a prostitute, didn’t you?” Sam questioned. The only answer he
received was silence.

“Okay, I know that is a sensitive area, full of implications so I will try to approach it from
another direction.” he said and then continued . “We checked out your alibis and they
check out just as your lawyer said they would. It does not mean that you are home free
yet from being a suspect but it does go in your favor.” If Sam hoped that the last remarks
would relax Raven, he saw no visible change in her tenseness.

“Let me try another thought on you. I am aware that you are concerned about any
admission to the police of any activity as a prostitute but under the consideration that this
is a murder investigation, the crime of prostitution is far less important. As it stands now,
we have no formal charges against you for that. However, I can offer you immunity from
those charges if you are willing to co-operate.” Sam explained, meanwhile thinking to
himself if he could count on his captain’s sway with the district attorney to grant the
approval for Raven’s immunity.

“Before I say anything more, Detective Henderson, I want a verbal statement on this tape
that a copy of this interview will be given to my attorney.” Raven stated, coldly.

“Of course.” Sam answered.

***

Epilogue

***

Three weeks passed. Raven worked closely with Sam as he continued his investigation.
She found she really liked the big cop and his partner, Paul Faciane. Something of the old
flavor of New Orleans seeped back into her long starved feelings for the city. The two
police detectives were deep into a political plot that could have severe consequences on
them if they proved to be wrong.

There were many sensitive layers to sort through because of the investigation. No finger
could be pointed without triple checking and absolutely having proof beyond any doubt.

In the end, a few people went to jail, a few were publicly embarrassed, lost their positions
in the city’s always questionable political government. The FBI entered the case and it
was actually removed after that point from the local police which meant Henderson and
Faciane.

There was still the murderer to charge and it was not Raven Menee' or Ryan Ambrose but
the ever seductive and well-connected Ramona Charbonnet. Ramona Charbonnet with
her hate for Raven. Raven for her beauty, for her family bloodlines and her sex.

Henderson and Faciane went with the FBI agents when they drove to Ramona’s posh
house with a warrant for Ramona’s arrest. The warrant read Ramon Charbonnet. The
beautiful madam was a man. According to Ramona, a woman born wrongly into the body
of a man. Her late lover’s refusal to allow her to undergo the transsexual operation to
change genders until at the time of his death, the risk factor of the surgery was too
dangerous to her health and she forever doomed to be a man. An “illusion.”

A “drag queen” beyond approach and style, Ramona had appeared at the Royal Palace
Hotel each time Raven moonlighted. She waited until Raven left and then killed the
“johns” with the same expert martial arts blows that Raven knew. Ramona knew that
Raven’s alibis would clear her but the fear of moonlighting outside of Ramona’s
protection would stop Raven’s side line business.
Ramona wanted that “bitch” to be forever grateful to her. It was a matter of business,
money and the desire to quell Raven’s arrogance. Finally, it was Ramona who lost the
money, the business and the protection. She was convicted for first degree murder and a
small part of New Orleans’ crooked politics were cleared up, including one “well-paid
detective” in Henderson’s jurisdiction. The scales of Lady Justice once again tipped
against the guilty.

Ryan Ambrose saw his cousin take her rightful inheritance but shun his family none the
less. He forgot to count himself as lucky that Ramona had not taken him up on his "little
offer" to bring Raven "to heel". He was left to stew over the fact that his cousin could
acknowledge her family ancestry to anyone and he could not do anything about it!

In the end, Marcel had a nice retainer and Wilson a victory over old established lawyers.

Is a romance possible between an underpaid police detective like Sam Henderson and a
wealthy heiress with a slightly shady background like Raven Menee'? In New Orleans,
the Crescent Lady, anything is possible, because sometimes the “illusion” turns out to be
very real!

The End




THE 10 TO 6

Wren)

Dear Journal,

It was a clear, unseasonably warm October day when I arrived in Wichita. I had left New
Orleans five days before. It had taken six hours to drive the almost four hundred miles
between New Orleans and Houston. Interstate 10 was not always in the best of shape and
the construction delays had cost me time. Yet, my eagerness to see my children and the
reliability of my new blue Chevrolet had over come the obstacles.

I had left my husband, Peter at eight that morning. It was near two in the afternoon when
I drove across the San Jacinto River. Channelview was only a few miles away. My heart
quickened its beat at seeing Sean, my oldest son and Shelly, my daughter. Sean, his wife,
Mickey, Sean's step-daughter, Cassie and her new half-sister, Lisa lived just off of
Sheldon Road. Shelly and her husband, Denton, and their son, Sean II lived not much
farther away on Dell Dale. I knew that Sean and Shelly would be disappointed that I had
not brought my youngest son, Shane with me. Shane was a student at Loyola University
and could not get away until the Thanksgiving holidays. It gave me five weeks to make
my pilgrimage to Wichita, write my story and then return to my normal life.

My reunion with my oldest children was as happy as I had anticipated. I spent three
glorious days with them, enjoying grandchildren and catching up on everything that had
occurred since I had last seen them on the fourth of July.

When it came time to leave, my children moaned but hiding my excitement, I bid them a
tearful farewell. I was sorry to leave them but once I maneuvered into the traffic flow on
Interstate 45, going north, the wonder of the future adventure struck me.

I pressed harder on the accelerator and the speedometer lurched forward as the Chevy
leveled out at 65. Over 200 miles of 45 to Interstate 35 stretched out in front of me and
then 400 miles up 35 to Wichita. There was so much to see on the way. The wondrous
display of Dallas at night; the majestic modest heights of the Arbuckle Mountains; the
twists and turns of Oklahoma City and then, the golden flatness of Kansas.

My children had considered me off balance when I insisted on leaving at midnight from
Houston. They did not realize that I had carefully planned every mile of this trip for
multiple years. My schedule allowed me to enjoy each aspect of the journey and still
arrive in Wichita at one o'clock. The daylight would help me rekindle memories of street
routes and also appreciate the growth of Wichita since I had last seen it ten years before
when I had come to funeral of my strange friend, Lana Dailey.

When I saw the exit of Kellogg, K54, I felt exhilarated. I had counted each Wichita sign
since Oklahoma City. Each mileage sign that brought me closer to the laid-back
Mid-Western city of my youth. Mentally I could feel the swift caress of the Kansas wind
and the sweet pungent smell of unpolluted air memorably twitched my nostrils. After
years of the smell of seawater, foreign ships, bustling docks, the salty tang of the
marshes, and spicy Creole food, I knew New Orleans in great clarity from the total
accumulation of her odors. Forever implanted on my memory was the heavy smells of oil
refineries, paper mills, factory pollution, pine-scented hills and San Jacinto swamp
ground. I knew Houston well even if I had not possessed sight.

Wichita, a city of over 300,000 people, contained little pollution and from new
developments to old neighborhoods, to fields of America's amber waves of grain, her
smell greeted my nostrils like a long lost but beloved friend.

I exited I-35, paid my $1.20 toll, and came to the intersection of Kansas Highway 54
(locally dubbed as Kellogg.) I turned west on Kellogg and headed for downtown. I was
amazed at how much the east side of Kellogg had grown. When I had left ten years
before after my brief visit, that had still seemed to be a respectable distance between
Wichita's city limits and those of the small town of Andover. Now, Wichita's expansion
seemed to be quickly encroaching upon the smaller community.

As I headed for Broadway, my mind began to focus on my reason for being here. I was
going to find a reasonable motel room, preferably a kitchenette, and then get myself
organized. I felt myself still drifting back to the past and all that had gone before but I
knew there was a time and place for that and now was not the time. I was here and I had
immediate needs that needed to be tended to.

Perhaps there were motels in better areas but I knew that I had five weeks to spend in
Wichita and I was not rich. I found a nice kitchenette on the far side of Broadway. The
weekly rates were reasonable so I paid a week in advance.

I went to the largest local grocery store and purchased a modest amount of groceries. It
was more than sufficient to feed me and I could eat out once in awhile as well.

I returned to the motel at almost 3:00 o'clock. After I had unloaded the groceries and
clothes from the car, I was beginning to realize that I was totally exhausted. I put
everything away, making the small kitchenette seem homier. I grabbed my robe and
treated myself to a long overdue hot shower.

I finished my shower by toweling my short brown hair almost dry. I combed it out, letting
it dry naturally. Once clean, I decided what to do next.

I found myself standing in the middle of the room, my stare focused on the desk. I shook
myself out of my reverie of thoughts of Peter and home that had seeped in once I had
settled in. I missed him. I then realized that it was four-thirty.

The rest of the evening passed quietly. I prepared a light meal accompanied by a cup of
hot chocolate. After dinner, I cleaned up the tiny kitchen. I watched the local news. At
six-thirty, I called Peter to let him know that I had arrived safely. Afterwards, I called the
children as well.

At eight o'clock in the evening, after twelve hours of driving and being awake for twenty
hours, I went soundly and peacefully asleep.


(Wren)

Dear Journal,

The next morning, I awakened rested but still muscle sore from driving so much, I fixed
myself another cup of hot chocolate and began the slow process of trying to wake up. It
irritated me that I did not move as quickly as I once did. It was a cruel irony that my body
had grown older with the years but it did not seem that my mind and spirit had. It never
failed to surprise me that I was forty-five years old because in my perspective point or
frame of mind, I should still be young.

After I finished the hot chocolate, I set about getting dressed. The stereo was on with the
morning news. The weather gave that the day was going to be another gorgeous Indian
Summer day. A mild 75 degrees was the predicted high. It told me to dress lightly and
comfortably.

I went into the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. I stared at my reflection in
the mirror with an accepting attitude. I smiled and enjoyed the fact that I knew that Peter
liked the way that I looked. As long as I had that, what else mattered.

He called me "Wren" as a nickname for my given name of Corrine. The only other person
who had ever called me that was my strange friend, Lana Dailey. I remembered what a
pair we had made when we were young as Lana and Wren! Two unusual names for two
unusual friends.

The thought of Lana brought me right back to my purpose of being in Wichita and I knew
I had a certain "date" to keep this morning. I began to dress.

An hour later after breakfast and taking care of the car, I turned off of North Broadway
onto East 13th Street. I headed down East 13th to Hillside Avenue and then left to Maple
Cemetery.

When I drove through the front gates, the weight of time seemed to descend on me. This
cemetery was so old and the multiple statues and stones showed the wear and tear of the
years.

I could see her face from the distance even before I reached that section of the cemetery.
In actuality, only her form was visible but I knew her face so well. No amount of time
and years could erase the carved image of her expression from my memory. I had stood
and gazed upon that stony but poignant countenance so many times that I knew as long as
I lived that I would never forget her.

I stopped the Chevy on the side of the road, several yards from where she stood. I got out
slowly because I was in no hurry. I was not afraid to face her but instead I put it off,
anticipating the moment of the first encounter after ten years.

I walked criss-cross through the other graves, reading the stones and the dates of each
with a sense of amazement. The latest burial date that I found was at least ten to twelve
years prior to the current date.

Finally, I came to her section and I stood face to face with her once again. I stared
straight into her stone eyes, then my gaze dropped to the half smile upon her lips; down
to her folded arms with bouquet of molded flowers; down to the hem of her old fashioned
dress and the gray stone lamb at her tiny feet. My gaze continued on downward to the
inscription of her name and the dates. I read them again despite the fact that I knew them
by heart.

"Joanie T. Honaker
Born: 1909 - Died: 1916
Our little angel and beloved daughter"

Was this stone little statue of a little girl an honest resemblance of the child that lay
beneath it? I had never seem a real photograph of Joanie but once and that was a long
time before in my early teens. I could not remember it that well. Yet, I felt that I knew her
so well as if I had actually once met her.

She had died over thirty years before I was born. If she had lived out a full life cycle, she
would have been old enough to have been my grandmother. However, here we stood or
here I stood, in truth, facing the stone memorial to her. In the annuals of Eternity, I was a
middle-aged woman and she would forever be a child. Strangely though, I had met her, or
learned about her as a twelve-year old child, and she, a dead seven-year old, had her spirit
caught up in a terrible way. That had been twenty-three years ago and in my heart, I
wondered if this eternal child would ever truly find peace.

***

(Sidney)

"God, what bloody strange weather for this time of year." Sidney Jones said aloud to
himself. He wiped the sweat from his face with a damp handkerchief as he pondered the
thought of how a modestly comfortable day in October could turn into some kind of
humid heat bath by the time the night had come.

"God, I hate being fifty and fat!" he stated, once more only to himself as he continued to
trudge along the sidewalk, his stride clearly showing his annoyance with the heat and
himself.

It was a hot, windless night which was unusual for Lilydale, Kansas. Not just the heat but
the lack of any wind. The wind always blew in Kansas every one knew that, but not this
night. It should not be this hot for this time of year.

The still, hot air worried Sidney and he kept glancing apprehensively upwards. The
cloudless, ebony sky did little to reassure him. "Seen those damn twisters form too fast."
He made another verbal observation to himself.

He had seen a bright afternoon clear sky grow quickly cloudy and those black clouds
bunch together in a foot ball hurdle. When the foot came down, the surrounding land got
kicked for one hell of a touchdown. These were the thoughts that Sidney mused over to
himself as he walked to work.

"Work! The fucking last place I want to be tonight." he spat into the empty air. He had
left his television with the wonderful old Bette Davis movie and his comfortable bed
where his well-satisfied stomach wanted to rest for the night. "Just so I can put up with
the night hawkers." Those who invaded Lilydale's quiet streets after the sun went down.

On a normal basis, Sidney Jones was a jovial, philosophic man. He had a very laid-back
attitude about life in general and there were very few who ever encountered him who did
not immediately like him.

Sidney was a not a tall man nor a short one either but more in the middle. He stood five
feet ten and his weight reached around 220 pounds... not a fat man but not a skinny one
either. His abundant hair had turned white prematurely. Its white curls stuck out with a
wild abandon under the baseball cap he always wore. It often caused younger people to
think that he was far older than what he was. In fact since he had just turned fifty
recently, his morose moods seemed to come more frequently.

His brisk stride began to slow as he approached the White Lily Motel. It was on the
opposite side of the street from him but he still believed he would get a peek at its strange
guests if he walked a little slower. The whole "company", as they called themselves,
occupied almost all of the twelve rooms of the tiny motel.

In all of the eight years that he had lived in Lilydale, he had never seen the motel almost
full to its capacity. Yet four days ago, the "company" had moved in and settled down for
what they said would be a pretty long stay. Sidney had heard that they were movie people
and they were going to film a horror flick on location at the old Honaker Mansion. It was
a big deal for the citizens of Lilydale. No one special had ever really come to the little
town and certainly not anything as big as a movie production company had ever crossed
this town's way. This was, indeed, something special.

Lilydale had only recently begun to deal with what seemed to be a universal plague;
drugs. Located in the gentle rolling hills and wheat fields, fourteen miles from Wichita,
the town survived mostly from farming and a small glass plant, the Mincher Brothers
Glass Company, that had started in Lilydale eighty years ago. The town had been named
for Lily Mincher, the brothers' long deceased mother. Yet, the actual beginning of
Lilydale had been older than that with a more less appropriate name of Grassflats. Money
from the Minchers had brought prosperity and a different name.

Sidney slowed his pace, benefiting him a little, as he came parallel with the motel and its
small accompanying diner, Kansas Eats. No one was stirring around the courtyard with
its flower beds of shrubbery and its empty' covered swimming pool on the side. Sidney
could see a couple of people sitting at the counter in the diner. He knew they had to be
from the "company" because almost none of the locals or at least, the more fastidious
ones, avoided the diner for certain reasons.

He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly because he knew he would see some of the
"company" at work tonight. Thinking of work, he lifted the heavy pocket watch from his
trousers’ pocket. He touched the latch and the gold filigreed cover popped up. The hands
on the watch showed him that it was 9:36 pm and he was due at the Quik Run in
twenty-four minutes. He still had about a half a mile to go. He was never late and he did
not intend for this to be the first time. His step became more determined and reaching.

"Damn the bloody, fucking hell!" he grumbled to himself.

***

(Delsie)

Delsie Connors leaned her nylon-clad rear end against the stainless steel lining of the
counter and stared at her only two customers. Their chicken-fried steak dinners were
sitting half eaten in front of them as they were immersed deep in conversation about
lighting and angles. She glanced at the wall clock. It was 9:40.

Delsie sighed resignedly and turning from the customers, she took a long drag off of her
cigarette she had just lit. It was going to go past ten.

This was a new experience for Delsie since what business the diner did do was always
finished by 9:30 pm. It had been that way for as long as she had worked there and in her
opinion, that was three years too long. On a usual night, Delsie had all the side work done
and sitting the rest of the last half-hour, drinking coffee and smoking.

She put down the cigarette and stepped up to the half window to the kitchen. Karl Heinz,
the diner's owner, cook and dishwasher, was bricking his blackened grill.

"Karl?" Delsie called softly. The big man went right on grinding the brick against the
metal. He was so intent on his work that he did not hear her.

Irritated, Delsie raised her voice louder. She had a high-pitched voice with a trace of
nasal twang and when it gained volume, it ran up and down Karl's nerves like fingernails
on a chalkboard.

"Karl?" she whined.

He whirled around, his flesh crawling and his pale blue eyes narrowed through his horn
rim glasses. His once ashen blond hair was lost to baldness and gray. His face was puffy
and florid where once his blond German looks had been becoming. Now, they had settled
down to sag and pouch from age.

"What, woman?" he snapped.

Delsie made a quick "shush" motion with her red-tipped fingernail as she glanced at him
through heavily-made up brown eyes.

Understanding the motion, he placed his hands on his hips and glared at her, waiting.
"Karl, can I ask them to pay their bill? It is almost ten and I got a date." Delsie requested
in a lowered voice.

Karl glanced up at the kitchen clock; frowning. He hated to bother them in case they
wanted some pie or cake. The upswing in his business for the last four days had brought
him further out of the red. Yet, he knew Delsie and he knew her well. Her patience was
as limited as her intelligence. He knew she would leave with all the work. He also knew
his lack of business was mostly due to her and not the quality of his food but who else
would be lazy enough to work for the wages he paid?

With a more pronounced frown, Karl leveled Delsie with a look of chagrin.

"I guess so, but you know, your tips would be better if you had more patience and paid
more attention to your customers." he chided.

Delsie gave a flippant toss to her head, the stiff hair sprayed blond curls never moving.
"The money them two would leave ain't nothing compared to what my date's going to
spend." she smirked and strode off.

***

(Sidney)

Sidney was relieved when the Ouik Run came into sight. O.R., short for Quik Run, was
one of three convenience stores that stayed open all night in Lilydale. The other two were
on the opposite end of town. He was busy most of the night on his 10 to 6 shift and he
liked that. He saw things at night that the day and evening cashiers did not see. It added
spice to his rather "quiet and uneventful" life as he saw it.

He glanced at the pocket watch again and it was 9:50. He frowned and swore softly under
his breath. Mary Lee would think something had happened to him because he was never
late coming. She would go on and on about it! Even though he knew it was out of
concern, he did not feel like listening to Mary Lee drone on and on.

He braced himself as he opened the door. The tall, skinny woman behind the register
looked up at him and narrowed her eyes as she said "You're late, Sidney!"

***

Sidney lowered himself wearily down onto the stool. The clock on the wall read "3:30"
and he had two and a half more hours to go. It had been a busy night, much more so than
usual. The change had not made him happy either. It was not the extra work but the
strange customers.

The "company" had run him ragged buying their snacks and beer before the midnight
deadline. Kansas law was law and he strictly enforced it. Sidney had lived many places in
his life, including his native England and known many different laws. No lover of
trouble, he chose to abide by the rules and adjusted to wherever he lived. He broke the
law for no one, which had earned him the respect and dislike of many Lilydale's younger
citizens.

The "company" bothered Sidney but not to the extent that the slick strangers with their
flashy expensive automobiles and mega jewelry did. They haunted the poorer sections of
town. It seemed to Sidney that a horde of human locus had flown into this town and
nothing could seem to rid Lilydale of them. Sidney had his feelings that the new police
chief was just conveniently looking the other way.

"Sidney, you old fart, you pay too much attention to things best left be." the man
mumbled to himself. He felt irritated that he was in such a sour mood. It just seemed to
make the night longer. Apparently even the "locus" had decided to make it night as well
as the "company". Apparently even weird people did sleep some of the night. Well, there
was more work to be done before Donald came to work and relieved Sidney at 6:00 am.

He was just about to get off the stool when he hear the bell from the front door clang.
"Now, who in the bloody hell is that?" Sidney mumbled to himself in an almost whisper
and then stated in a clearer voice. "I'm coming!"

When he returned to the counter front, he found there was no one there!

***

(Delsie)

Delsie and her date, Beryl found their way to the Kettle Pot, a twenty-four hour restaurant
in Wichita. It was one of the few places that stayed open all night, even in a town of
Wichita's size. It was also one of the most popular places in the city for the people who
found the nightlife their choice way.

They arrived at the Kettle Pot around eleven-thirty in Delsie's worn out-old Ford. She did
not like to think about the comparison between her car and Beryl's shining new
Kenilworth diesel, now sitting at the truck terminal where she had picked him up after
Karl had finally closed the diner.

At the thought of the diner, Delsie's thoughts darkened. It was about the "company"! She
had tried every enticement she knew to attract one of those assholes to her good looks.
She was accustomed, in her world, to men with money paying attention to her.

They had looked right through her like she was not even there! It was not right in her
opinion. "Didn't they know a good thing when they saw it?" she thought strongly to her
self.
Always one to be bright and chipper, she quickly averted to her thoughts to the business
at hand...Beryl. As they sat in their booth, waiting for the waitress to come, he slid his
hand up her nylon-hosed leg, lingering on the inner flesh of her left thigh. She scooted
closer to him and sighed; letting her own hand drop under the table and caress him in
return. She felt him jump, and then give her a knowing look, as she felt him swell beneath
his jeans. She felt a hot rush flow through her.

They stayed that way while they ordered their food of steak and eggs and beer. Delsie
had savored the thought of this date all evening while she had been at work. Beryl was a
great deal better looking than her last trucker boyfriend, plus he had a nicer rig and more
money. Beryl would pay for a motel while Billy had always used the sleeper when he
wanted to make love to her.

When their food arrived, Delsie looked away as Beryl ate his very rare steak and
well-done eggs. She picked lightly at her own smaller sirloin and its soft-scrambled eggs.
She had her figure to think of, after all. She enjoyed the food and the Budweiser beer but
still lingered more on the fun yet to come.

Delsie clung to him while he paid the bill, every ounce of her body humming with the
thought of the sex to come. Plus she knew she would get a beautiful little gift of
something expensive from him before he returned to the road tomorrow after his truck
was loaded.

"Heck," she thought to herself, "Billy paid a month's rent for her when he was last here.
He would not be back for at least three more months as his route had changed." Delsie
would pay her own rent this time but get something more personal out of Beryl besides
just a good time. "God!" she continued to think, "I love men!"

Later to moans and grunts, squeals, and enthusiastic thumping, she knew Beryl was one
of her best. She intended to keep him a long time if she could. They made love with more
enthusiasm and pleasure than the dinner they had eaten.

When a foggy, cold dawn cracked over the small motel on Broadway, Delsie got out of
bed and dressed. She desperately needed some coffee and knew there would be some in
the motel's office. She stepped out into the dank, wet air and stared at the car next to her
Ford. It was a new Chevrolet, blue in color, and shining even in the dim light. What
caught her attention was the Louisiana plates. The thought of Louisiana brought thoughts
of New Orleans and also memories of a wonderful weekend she had spent their with one
of her ex's. She could barely remember him but she remembered the wild city clearly.
She sighed until it turned to a gasp and a uttering of "Oh, fuck!" when she looked at her
own car and saw both front tires were flat!

She threw her cigarette down, swearing to herself as she strode angrily off towards the
office, first to cuss out the clerk and second for coffee. "Somebody has been screwing
around with my car" she thought with vicious anger "because those tires are almost brand
new!"
***

(Wren and Lana)

Dear Journal,

The trip to Maple Grove Cemetery left me feeling strangely out of place and time. It had
altered my excitement at being back in Wichita. It brought back memories of my parents,
both gone now. I had grown up as a gypsy life in the fifties in early sixties when my
construction-careered father moved us from place to place before we had settled in my
now hometown of New Orleans. Our stay had only been two years in Wichita.

The whole atmosphere and attitude of the Kansas city had been so different to the more
reclusive and vibrant people of New Orleans. It had also been very different from most of
the other southern cities that we had lived in. The pronounced change of seasons were
startlingly different. I was used to short mild winters and long hot summers with only
brief tastes of spring and fall. Yet in Kansas, each season had its own measured length
and its normalcy seemed abnormal to me.

At first, the children in elementary and junior high had remarked about my southern
accent but they had accepted me easily enough. It may have stemmed from the fact that
the city, once a thriving cattle town, had become a military and aeronautics vital spot so
several people who resided there were military. The locals were used to having outsiders
among them.

Though my peers had been friendly, I had formed no lasting friendships until I met the
strange young girl, Lana Dailey. To say that Lana was "strange" was to use the word
lightly.

A dark child who preferred somber colors to brighter ones most girls her age wore. Lana
had almost waist-length raven black hair, almond-shaped Spanish eyes, a warm deep
brown. Her pert nose and small mouth and willowy figure were strong indications of
promised great beauty.

Lana had been a confirmed loner. Her choice of solitude and overly mature outlook on
life had guaranteed her being ostracized from others her age. Perhaps sensing a kindred
spirit in my shy, withdrawn self, she allowed herself to become my friend but friendship
with Lana was always on her terms.

She spoke of things that fascinated my curious and imaginative mind. Tarot cards, white
and black magic, and spirits. She had been a talented artist and a voracious reader but her
drawings were often of a dark nature and her choice of books were far different from
mine. Through her, I learned to love to read science fantasy but, not space ships and alien
beings but instead magic and the sorcery of witches and warlocks. She claimed to be a
born white witch and a medium. I scoffed at her until it proved true with the appearance
of Joanie Honaker in my life.

Lana's family lived in a nice house in a modest neighborhood. Her parents should have
really been her grandparents because Lana had been what her mother termed as a "change
of life" baby. She was an only child and an extremely spoiled one. It was a likely reason
that she was so self confident. She lived not far from the old cemetery and when on one
of my rare visits to her house, she suggested we go to the cemetery, I felt very
apprehensive. Even though I had heard the phrase "The dead can't hurt you only the
living will." most of my life, I still felt a very natural aversion to the spooky solitude of a
graveyard. Lana gave me the mystical little smile she had and promised me an experience
I would never forget. She was right!

The phone is ringing and I am sure it is Peter. I will get the phone and continue more of
this later.


(Wren)

Dear Journal,

Later this morning, I decided after I had eaten breakfast that I had been to cemetery
enough to re-acquaint my self with Joanie Honaker again. I knew the time had come to
go to the house. The Honaker Mansion. That meant a fourteen mile drive to Lilydale. It
was an experience that I was not looking forward to.

Peter was getting edgy with me being gone. His voice on the phone last night had been
withdrawn and sad. I knew that this time come as the days of preparation lengthened.
Peter had not been happy about the trip but he felt that I had my reasons for doing this. It
was something that had haunted me for too long. We had argued over it but he had finally
given in and I was able to leave on my trip without any real anxiety.

As I had eaten breakfast, I thought more about Lana and Joanie. How does one crowd so
much in two years from the age of twelve to fourteen?

***

(Sidney)

Sidney was frustrated at the absence of a customer to call him out of the cooler. "Bloody
fucking hell!" he swore once again to himself at having his routine changed and not being
totally on precise time to have everything ready when Donald came in. At this time, all he
usually had left to do was the shift paperwork.

Sidney pushed a little harder to fill the gaps in the soft drink and beer spaces in the cooler
because of sales to the "company" and he did not want to not look the buffoon. Everyone
knew Sidney's reputation for preciseness and being a perfectionist. Feeling like an even
older man than he was, Sidney stocked all that much faster.

Right at 5:50 am, Donald drove into the O.R.'s parking lot and entered the store through
the front door. Sidney studied him through tired eyes.

A tall young man with slicked back black hair and expressive gray eyes. As usual, he
looked a bit sloppy though Sidney wondered if it was not just Donald's natural state. As
usual also, he had some weird novel that he had read during the night and enthusiasm for
it grated on Sidney's nerves.

"You really should read this, Sid!" Donald flashed the book at Sidney. The older man
looked at the book and its title "Past Lives of Yours". Sidney grunted in response but
thought to himself that it was just some more of Donald's "metaphysical bullshit."

"I really have to tell Andre about this book. He and Brenda will love it. It's right up their
alley." Donald remarked on as he began to count the cigarettes to see if it matched
Sidney's count. The reply he got from Sidney was another grunt and nothing of Sidney's
thoughts.

"Of course, those two! Them and their bloody Gothicism. Andre and Brenda...all spooks,
spiders and bullshit."

Sidney, of course, did not say anything but continued with his paperwork while Donald
went on counting.

***

(Delsie)

Delsie was really grateful that Beryl had a great auto club account and it was just a short
while before her car was the proud owner of two brand new tires. It was not the "pretty"
she had been hoping from him but in all reality it was a nice gift. On her salary, tires were
a hard-put item to have.

While they waited for the tow truck and the new tires, they decided to liven up the
morning with a bit more of pleasure. They played "switcheroos", up and down, and it did
nothing but whet their appetites for food and more sex. Sadly, though, Beryl had to get
back to the truck terminal for his trailer load and she had to go home and get showered,
dressed, run a couple of errands and then show up for work on the evening shift at Kansas
Eats.

After the tow truck left, they left the motel and drove back to the Kettle Pot for
breakfast...once again, steak and eggs. A few feels and "touchies", as Delsie liked to call
them, under the table added spice to the meal.

Uncaring of the seatbelt law, he slid next to her as she drove, running his hand up under
her dress and giving her something that was far from a minor distraction while she
handled traffic. It was actually a relief when she dropped him off where his truck was and
he gave her a deep, intense kiss and promised to see her in a week. She was properly sad
and reassuring that she would miss him but as he turned his back to her and walked
towards his truck, she drove off and never looked back.

She was acutely aware of being tired on the drive back to Lilydale when she felt the
inside of the car go instantly cold. She felt a strange crawling in her skin and she
suddenly felt an intense sense of terror. The radio had been blaring and now without
reason, went silent.

The day looked bright and sunny now that morning fog had passed but in her eyes, it
totally appeared to be cloudy and hazed. She pushed hard on the gas pedal and the old
Ford shot up past the speed limit. It took several minutes before she heard the shrill bump
of the police siren behind her and then saw the rotating lights in her rearview mirror.

With a groan and an out loud statement of "What else can happen now?", she pulled over,
disgusted and knowing yet another expense was coming. It was then that she realized that
whatever had frightened her before was gone!

***


(Sidney)

Sidney walked down the street headed home but as he found himself once again directly
across from Kansas Eats and its parking lot full of cars with California plates, he decided
to have breakfast. The diner was full of the "company" and Sidney was curious.

"Never had time to get to California." he thought to himself. "I might learn something."
He pushed the thought of the bad food away as it really did not override his curiosity.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside the diner.

Gertrude, the morning waitress, was busy filling up coffee cups and Karl was sweating
and swearing at the grill with eggs, bacon and pancakes. The little diner was humming
with the sounds of multiple voices. It sounded like an uproarious din to Sidney after the
quiet of the convenience store.

He found a stool at the end of the counter and let out a loud "harumpth" to let Gertrude
know that he was there and he wanted something to eat. She ignored him.

When his grunt failed to catch Gertrude's attention, Sidney picked up the glass salt shaker
and began to thump against the Formica-topped counter. He knew that Gertrude had
heard him because she had glanced his way but then returned her attention to her other
customers. She, apparently unlike Delsie, was utterly fascinated by the "company".
Tired of being ignored, Sidney finally spoke. "Gertie, would you mind? I would like to
eat!"

Gertrude looked at him in a sarcastic way and said, "Be there in a minute, Sidney."

"Now, Gertie!" Sidney snapped.

Gertrude leveled him with a look of pure anger and Sidney knew it would be a cold day
in Hell before he would get anything to eat very fast today! Sidney just sighed and
waited.

By having said no more, he eventually got a cup of hot tea and an order of eggs and toast.
While he ate, Sidney watched the members of the "company". He found them an odd lot
at best. In all the years he had been in the States, he had kept most of his time in small
places like Lilydale, more reminiscent of his home in England, a quiet hamlet. He
pondered the fact that so many of the citizens of Lilydale were overwhelmed by the
"said" sophistication of the "company." They seemed so far away from the townspeople
as if they had come from another planet.

"Hell," Sidney thought to himself, "I had a bloody hard enough time just to get accepted
here." That was a fact that Sidney knew well.

"All this fuss and bother over the old haunting legend of the Honaker Mansion. Damn
blokes always looking for some thriller to appeal to the public." He continued to think to
himself.

"Probably make something wicked and evil out a gentle child's ghost. Not that I believe
in such tripe as it is."

"Bloody mess, it is!"

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

I joined one of the tourist groups at the Honaker Mansion once more. It certainly wasn't
one of the guides or the guide of so long ago. She had to be an old woman now.

The red brick, sprawling Victorian mansion stood on five acres of land, beautifully and
intricately landscaped. Perfect lines of trees followed the curve of the winding drive
which ended in a circular driveway but was blocked off to visitors who were instructed
by signs to park in the lot on the right side of the house, near the garage and what once
appeared to be the stables.
The air had turned nippy with an overcast day but it still maintained a distance of
showing any chance of an early snow. I had known it to snow as early as Halloween. I
was prepared to drive in the snow but I hoped I would be out of Kansas and back in New
Orleans by then. As always in Kansas, the wind was brisk and I was grateful for the light
jacket that I had brought.

The portico of the old mansion was filled with a few people and I simply joined them.
While we waited for out guide, I admired the old house that I had not seen in years.

We were gathered into a group and led through the twenty-room house. It was like
passing through different phases of time from the late 19th century to the 1950's art deco.
Each room seemed to have almost a different time theme, but from some knowledge, I
saw the historical society had arranged it that way...actually differently than it had been
when the Honaker family had lived in it. As all historical houses, the house was
immaculately clean and had the ever present appearance of just waiting for the family to
appear to eat, sleep or live within its spacious rooms.

When we finally reached Joanie's room, I felt the slowly creeping coldness that had often
bothered me when I thought of her. Thoughts of her brought thoughts of Lana and those
were the most pained thoughts of all.

Lana had suspected that there something far more evil in the house than Joanie's ghost
because whatever it was had caused her to commit suicide.

After my parents and I had moved from Wichita, Lana and I had corresponded through
letters and phone calls when our parents would permit it. The years passed and a
childhood friendship had continued to thrive.

All through high school, Lana had remained in her preferred "different status" which I
knew to some degree from being quieter and shy. Lana truly believed in her pursuit of the
supernatural and her passion for the Honaker Mansion remained a strong priority.

Despite the fact that Wichita was a very laid-back but theological, mid-western town,
Lana found the right elements and people to avail herself of the knowledge of the
paranormal. she studied it with an avidity that bypassed her desire for relationships or
romance. She felt that she was a "medium" and she anything to clarify that "talent" within
herself. She had called me after graduation and she was very thrilled that she had
procured a job as a guide at the Honaker house.

***


(Sidney)

The "company" all left at once and headed for the day's work, leaving only Karl,
Gertrude and Sidney in the diner. Sidney sat, nursing a second cup of hot tea. Karl
gathered all the dishes and began to run them through the dishwasher while Gertrude
counted her tips after having restocked the counter. She counted carefully and then
mumbled loudly. "For Hollywood people, they sure are cheap."

Always one to have something off-the-wall to say, Sidney piped up. "What did you
expect, Gertie? They spend the big money at the fancy places in Wichita and the
Garden."

Sidney thought about the Garden, the finest restaurant in Lilydale. It had been a long time
since he had been able to afford to eat there. He remembered many places at many times;
ones in London, ones in New York and ones in Europe but that was years ago. Now here
he was in this little town, living on modest means and fine dining was a thing of the past.

Sidney was really tired and there was still the walk to home. He had been up way too
long and he had to work tonight. He reached for the bill and counted out the money to
pay for his breakfast.

"Did they say where they were filming today?" he ask Gertrude as an after-thought.

"They are still filming in Wichita before they start at the mansion." Gertrude replied,
almost absently.

Sidney just nodded his acknowledgment and gathering his constant companion, his
umbrella, he slid stiffly off the red-plastic topped stool. His back and legs ached but he
knew he had pushed too hard physically last night. Bidding Gertrude and Karl "good
morning" but for him "goodnight", he left the diner and set out for his walk home.

As he crossed the street to the opposite side, he noticed that traffic had begun to flow
heavier. He pulled out the pocket watch again, puzzled by the clear sunshine and brisk
air. The time was eight-forty-five. "Where had the morning gone?" he pondered.

He thought to himself of how fatigued he felt and now he knew why. He also wondered
why he was always in such a bad mood. Life has just seemed to be such a "drag" lately.
He was standing contemplating all of this when he saw the new blue Chevrolet with
Louisiana plates stop at the red light. He stared at the car with interest and examined the
faraway plates on it and then watched its driver, a middle-aged woman, release the brake
and speed on towards some unknown destination.

He wondered where she was from. "Perhaps New Orleans." Someplace Sidney had never
seen and was not really sure that he wanted to.

Shaking his head, he crossed to his side of the intersection and continued his walk home.
To add to his weariness, the fried eggs began to rumble around in his stomach and he felt
that he had been swimming in a sea of hot tea. The hot night before and the cool morning
did not help either.
***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

It is evening now and I am back at the kitchenette. The trip to the house seemed pretty
useless, even in Joanie's room. It was a sad place to me and I could see almost the same
feeling in other people's faces in the tour. As this guide told the story of the ghost of the
child and her tragic death, I saw how much people are moved by the unnecessary death of
a small little girl.

It was not until we were leaving the house and I stopped on the portico that I felt
something evil crawl up my back. It was the merest reflection of being unseen and filled
with malice. As instantly as it was there, I felt the thought of Lana come into my mind. It
was a sad, appealing thought that did not linger for very long. I felt the presence of evil
leave just as quickly. I knew it was not Joanie.

Suddenly I felt the need to talk to Peter!

***

(Sidney)

Once again, Sidney found himself walking back to the Quik Run. It seemed to him, at
times, that he had hardly gone to sleep before it was time to go back to work. Sleep and
work...that seemed to be all that there was.

As he walked, the displeased man looked up at the wide Kansas night sky and saw the
cold clearness of an early winter night. The stars seemed a thousand light years away, but
then, Sidney had never had much of a taste for astronomy, so how could he measure the
right amount of light years in distance.

Sidney passed the motel and also the diner, noting that tonight, it was closed. Apparently,
the "company" had eaten earlier and Karl and Delsie had gone home. He sighed in
resignation as he realized the "company" would be up to the Quik Run several times
before they slept. They rose early and stayed up late. "Damn Hollywooders!"

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

I have stayed at the kitchenette all morning and until this afternoon. I felt tired today as
the weather was clear and cold but I just seem to feel so off beat after yesterday. I am
beginning to question the necessity of this trip.

I could never really come to a closure with Lana's suicide. Of course, like most people
never do have the ability to understand why a friend or a loved one commits suicide but
there was the lingering feeling that it just did not feel like something Lana would do
willingly.

It has haunted me for ten years of why my long-time friend would do such a thing. All of
her last letters were full of Joanie and the house plus something not quite revealed
underneath it; almost written in between the words.

Peter had been supportive last night but argumentative that he wanted me to come home
sooner. I can not leave before this is finished but I miss home.

***

(Sidney)

A strange wind blew up that night while Sidney was work. He had locked the kiosk's
front door and settled down to watch a small television when he felt of the store's roof
begin to rattle. The temperature in the store dropped dramatically and he felt himself
reaching for his jacket. There was a sudden sour/sweet smell in the air and the hairs on
his arms began to rise. He shivered and for the first time in a very long time in his life,
Sidney was afraid.

The wind blew stronger and he glanced out the window to see once again a cloudless
night sky. It was almost the end of tornado season so he discounted the possibility of a
twister causing the sudden change.

It was not until he felt someone staring at him that he turned and saw a blur of a face at
the front window. For a moment, he froze and then swore "What the fuck is that?"

The face immediately disappeared and the wind seemed to be gone almost at once. It
returned once again to normal room temperature in the kiosk. Sidney slowly felt his heart
start to beat normally and the blood return to his face. He was still frightened and still
jumpy when he sat down. Never in all of his life had he ever felt such a freaky thing. He
was still trying to gather his wits when he heard a light knocking at the window. He
started again and whirled around to see. It was one of the "company".

He stood up and walked to the window, trying to show some composure in his face. He
slid open the drawer and spoke into the window microphone.

"Morning. What can I do for you?" he ask the man standing outside the window.

"I forgot to gas up the film truck last night so I need to fill up. Got any coffee made? We
have to go through the cuts before morning comes." the tall slim young man said.
"Okay. I'll turn on the pump and make some fresh coffee." Sidney answered and the man
nodded as he walked away from the window to begin to fuel the film camera truck.

Grateful for the normalcy of the moment, Sidney flipped the switch on the Bunn
coffeemaker and then found a fresh roll of paper cups. He knew the man would bring him
the large coffee thermos to fill and the cups would be used back at the motel. The film
clip RV was still parked at the back of the motel.

By the time the coffee had finished brewing, the truck was full of gasoline and the man
was waiting at the window. Sidney had laid out an assortment of chips, candy bars, gum
and three packs of Marlboros, which was the "company's" usual order. It saved time and
the "company" appreciated his efficiency with a little extra of five dollars slipped in with
the payment.

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

I am awake after a long fretful night’s sleep. Each day I feel the sunshine in myself fade
more and more as the gray winter skies seem to only come now. With each passing day, I
miss Peter more and I constantly question myself if in fact I made the right decision in
wanting to dig into the mystery of Lana’s death. I wonder but I also know that I have to
probe into this and discover the reason for it.

I felt such a drawing to it and I could not put it behind me no matter what I tried to do. I
loved Lana like a sister and to watch her bright light slowly fade and disappear
completely was something I could not ignore. It was something that was the hardest for
me to convince Peter about.

The dreams that had gone through my mind last night about ones of a red mist that
lingered too close to me and at one point when I saw Lana standing with her hand
outstretched to me, the mist just seemed to swallow her. I had awakened frightened and
disoriented. I had started to call Peter but it was so early in the morning and I knew
exactly what he would have said.

“Wren, come home now!”

I would have had to tell him “no” because I knew that I could not go home now. I had
come too far and gone too deep to stop.

***

(Sidney)
It seemed no time before Sidney realized it was morning. There had been no
re-occurrence of the weird face or odd wind or any more of the “company” to come to the
Q.R. The morning brought the regulars looking for hot coffee and also to fill up their
vehicles on their way to work. He kept himself busy until it was Andre’s time to relief
him and once again, the day became his night and the call of food and sleep beckoned
Sidney. He wondered what this day would bring.

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

I found myself in the oddest position this morning. After my earlier entry, I decided to
return to the Honaker house once again as I wanted to talk to the director there. I had a
feeling that she might have some memory of Lana. It seemed worth taking the chance.

When I arrived in Lilydale, it was still very early so I decided to have some breakfast
before I went to the mansion. The only place that I could find open was a small diner
named Kansas Eats.

As I entered the diner, I saw that all of the counter stools were full except for one and that
was right next to a man a few years older than I am. I ask him if the stool was taken and
turning to answer, he spoke with a distinct British accent. Thanking him, I sat down and
waited for the waitress when I realized that he was still staring at me.

After I gave the waitress my order, I turned and smiled at him. He returned the smile and
then said amiably.

“You are not from here, miss?”

“No, I am not. Just here on a vacation.” I answered him.

“Well, my name is Sidney Jones and I suppose that you can tell from my accent that I am
not from here either but not on holiday as I live here now.” he remarked cheerfully and
extended his right hand.

I shook hands with him as I said. “My name is Corrine Benoit.”

“Where do you live?” Sidney Jones ask me.

“Louisiana. New Orleans to be exact.”

“I knew it!” he suddenly stated.
“Excuse me?” I was startled by his reaction.

“I saw you yesterday morning in your car. I knew that you looked familiar.” he
explained.

***

(Sidney)

Sidney felt unnerved after Corrine left. She had not said much but he suspected that there
was something far below the surface of what he had seen and that he could not quite
pinpoint. The “company” left but Sidney also had not failed to notice that they were a lot
quieter than usual that morning.

He was still quite amazed at himself but not perhaps more than Gertrude, that he had
become almost a regular at Kansas Eats. The food was actually better that he remembered
but no one could truly appreciate Gertrude or Delsie unless they happened to be a
stranger just passing through or for a brief visit. If they were a local, then both women
treated them like some plague that drifted through the door.

Gertrude found her morbid fascination in the various customers of the motel and Delsie
found men willing to sate her sexual appetite. As for Karl, he cared only if the dollar
found its way to his register.

Sidney, as usual, kept his thought to himself and finished his now cold breakfast. He felt
a sudden deeper weariness and longed for the comfort of his bed.

***

(1994)

Something shifted in the night at the Honaker Mansion. A ripple in the air, a disturbance
in the quiet of the empty house. There was a subtle sound of weeping, a child
whimpering, hurried footsteps up the long staircase, a balcony door shutting and a sigh of
deep satisfaction. The night watchman at the front guardhouse heard nothing.

Yet, farther away, a breeze turned to cold wind rustling branches almost gone bare in the
last days of fall and a leaf drifted across the face of Joanie Honaker’s statue and fell front
side up on the top of her grave. There was a keening sound in the wind and no one heard
it.

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,
I was pleased to see that the director at the mansion was able to meet with me. Her name
was Mrs. Abernathy and she had for many years been with the foundation from the
Historical Society that preserved the various older buildings in Lilydale, Wichita, and
other places. It had been twenty years since Lana had worked at the mansion and Mrs.
Abernathy had not been the director at the time.

She invited me into her small office that had originally been one of the servants quarters
in the old house and offered me some coffee, tea or a soft drink. I had told her on the
phone that I was writing a book about the Honakers and the house so she was most
willing to be co-operative with me.

We chatted politely for a few moments as I explained my background to her. She had
pulled several pamphlets out to help me with some research on the house as well as
excitedly explaining to me that within the next two weeks that the mansion would be
closed due to a three week filming schedule from one of the movie production companies
from California. She was elated that not only was “her house” going to be the subject of a
movie but now also a book. I was not as happy about the movie people as I made myself
appear but I very much needed her co-operation.

After a long pause, I also told her my deepest reason for researching the house and of my
friend, Lana. At first, the name did not seem to register and then slowly, I saw a hesitant
but distressed look cross her face. I took a deep breath as I knew instinctively that I was
now treading on very precarious ground. Lana’s death was a subject that very sensitive to
Mrs. Abernathy and anyone who was associated with the Honaker house.

It had been just a little over ten years that Lana broken into the house and for no known
reason, leaped to her death from a balcony.

***

(Sidney)

Sidney awakened in mid-afternoon disturbed by a weird feeling. Not one to usually
dream, he had suddenly had a bad nightmare. It had been a jumble of things that he could
not really sort out. It had disturbed him enough that he sat up on the side of the bed and
rested his head in his hands. He had a low throb of a headache.

Fussing to himself, he got up and went to the tiny bathroom of his apartment and found
the bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. He drank a swallow of water to wash the two
tablets down.

Just as he was returning to be, he felt a sudden chill come over the room. It brought
goosebumps to his skin and the hair on the back of his neck prickled. He noticed an odd
odor but dismissed it as only something from his sleepy, groggy mind. He glanced at the
bedside clock and it read 4:30 pm. Shrugging, he crawled back in bed and returned to
sleep.

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

After the interview with Mrs. Abernathy, I ate a light meal in Wichita and then returned
to the kitchenette. I called Peter to let him know that I was okay and that I felt that my
business would be concluded soon so I could return home.

After I hung up, I thought about Lana and her last letters. Lana had worked for four
summers as a guide at the mansion while she continued her college education. She had
graduated with a bachelor’s in Science. She found working as a science teacher more
than enough reward to make up for her lack of marriage and children. She had traveled to
Europe, the British Isles and India where she sought appease her insatiable interest in the
paranormal. It was in the last two years of her middle thirties that her letters had begun to
change.

She had returned to Wichita to settle down and for the most part, her life seemed to be as
normal as possible. Joanie Honaker’s statue had continued to fascinate her and sometimes
her letters would be full of despondency as she just could not seem to ever completely
resolve the riddle of why she could not put away the thought that Joanie’s gentle haunting
had something far deeper in it. Her letters became filled with it and the suggestions of a
darker mood settling on her.

I grew more and more concerned with each letter but still I did not see what was coming
until late one night, I received a phone call from Lana’s father. He told me that Lana was
dead and they had deemed it a suicide.

I found myself lost in grief and disbelief!

***

(Sidney)

Sidney left for work early that evening as he decided to eat dinner at Kansas Eats before
he went to work. He had not slept well and he felt a lethargy through his whole system.
He found himself looking forward to his day off the next day. He had some errands to do
and it was a usual distraction from his daily routine.

As he walked, he felt the cold chill in the air and the low banked clouds on the far
horizon. It could be a sign of snow. Lilydale did not usually get snow until early
November but there was always the possibility of it. It would not be odd if it turned out to
be a white Halloween which was very near now.
He arrived at Kansas Eats, bemused to find himself still eating there, just about nine and
he knew that Karl would close the place at ten. Delsie also was not one his favorite
pastimes because she had as little liking for him as he did her. It was all too evident in the
way she frowned when she heard the front door bell jingle and he came in. The
expression on her face was all too clear in saying “You are the last thing I need tonight!”
It was unspoken but both people understood it.

Sidney seated himself at the counter, this time directly in front of Delsie. He folded his
hands together and stared straight into her face. He loved to intimidate her if he could.

“What do you want to order, Sid?” the brown-eyed woman demanded as she tried to stare
back at him. He said nothing but made a downward curve on the left side of his mouth
and she lost her composure. She placed her hands on her hip and began to tap her foot.
Suspecting that he had gotten to her, he smiled sweetly and said,

“Guess one of the sorry things that you call “fish and chips.”

“Go to hell, Sidney!” Delsie snarled but turned away to the window into the kitchen and
tapped the bell to get Karl’s attention.

“Sidney, ‘is Majesty, wants fish and chips, Karl.” Delsie said, mocking Sidney’s accent.

Sidney kept his face impassive at Delsie’s jib. Karl said nothing but dropped a fish filet in
one side of the deep fryer and an ounce and a half of fries in the other side. Delsie turned
and walked away to get Sidney’s ice tea and having prepared it, she sat it down in front
of him with a loud thump. He continued to stare at her silently. It was not long before the
food was ready to serve and Delsie brought that to Sidney.

He had just started to eat whey they all heard the explosion and the large plate glass
windows of Kansas Eats rattled almost to the point of breaking. Delsie shrieked, Karl
dropped a new grill brick on his foot and Sidney fell off of his stool!

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

Peter really was considerate about the fact that Lana’s family ask me to fly up for the
funeral. I booked the quickest flight to Wichita that I could. I packed as little as possible
because I knew I would not be there but a few days. I really hated to fly but it was the
fastest way to get there.

I arrived in Wichita the next afternoon and Lana’s father met me at the airport. I knew he
was hoping that I could offer some condolence to Lana’s mother that would help ease her
grief. I knew that they really did not know how badly Lana’s death had affected me.
When I saw how grief struck they were, I kept it to myself.

It was a closed casket funereal as the fall from the balcony had caused horrible facial and
neck damage to Lana. I touched the deep brown mahogany casket with a great deal of
tenderness and sadness for the loss of my friend.

The two nights that stayed with Lana’s family, I found myself lying awake and trying to
understand why she would end such a promising life. As always, the answer that came
back made absolutely no sense.

***

(Sidney)

Slowly, the impact of the explosion settled in the diner and the three people inside of it
tried to gather their wits. Sidney picked himself up off the floor and sat down on the stool
again. His plate of food was also on the floor. Delsie began to cry and Karl began to curse
as he checked out his diner. In between tight sobs, Delsie whimpered.

“What was that?”

Before anyone could answer, one of the “company” employees rushed into the diner and
yelled at Karl.

“Call the damn fire department! One of the rooms at the motel is on fire and there are two
people still in there!”

“Oh, my God!” Delsie shrieked again and Sidney felt faint as he struggled to keep his
balance on the stool.

***

A few hours later when Sidney was at work and the earlier business of the night had
passed, he thought about the fire at the motel. He, along with others, had watched with
concern while the fire department put out the flames. The blaze had been contained to the
one room and the two people reported to have been within the room had gotten out
safely. Only that one room had been damaged due to the quick response time of the fire
department. As routine, there would be an investigation into the cause of the fire but for
Sidney, he felt that something was really out of place about the fire. Sidney wondered if
perhaps he should ask Andre about it as the boy knew a great deal about odd happenings.

In truth, Sidney really did not know what to make of it and all he really wanted to do was
not think about it. He just wanted things to return to normal or the way they had been on
his 10 to 6 shift at the Quik Run before the “company” had come to Lilydale.
***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

I could see that the Dailey’s were reluctant for me to leave. I had to go home and I knew
they understood but I hated to leave them alone with their grief. However, once the plane
bound for New Orleans took off, I had never felt happier that I was to go home.

Now, ten years later, both of Lana’s parents had moved to Florida and I have returned on
my own to solve a long, perplexing puzzle that has remained a clouded mystery for far
too long.

Peter can sense the disturbance in me and he keeps urging me to come home but I just
can’t. Lana deserves to have someone know what happened to her.

Mrs. Abernathy has been very little help but there are other ways to find out. I know how
to put them to use as well and I intend to do that before the movie company starts filming
at the Honaker Mansion.

***

Dear Journal,

Today I find myself at the cemetery where Lana is buried. It is a different one than the
one where Joanie Honaker is laid to rest. I am sitting on a bench nearby and staring at the
fresh flowers I have brought for Lana. I miss my friend, I miss her letters, and I miss
most of all her wonderful enthusiasm for life and its mysteries.

There is a car coming now and it is stopping behind mine. As I sit here, I can see that
there are two men in it and the driver has glanced at my car. They have stopped now to
talk and I can not make out their words. Now, they are coming towards me, looking at
me.

I wonder who they are?

***

Dear Journal,

It is now evening and I am back at the kitchenette. It truly has been a day of discovery! I
think that I am finally on to something that could have caused Lana’s death.

The two men at the cemetery, who sat and talked with me, were from the movie
company. They were interested in Lana because of the way she died at the Honaker
Mansion. They simply believed that she committed suicide and I told them that I felt that
she did not. They were drawn to make this movie because of the local legend of it but
knew nothing of Lana until they arrived here. I told them about her and when they
walked away, I had the feeling that they were inclined to agree with me that her
self-inflicted suicide made no sense.

They will be filming at the house soon.

Meanwhile, a trip to the library and local newspaper archives produced several articles
for me to study about the legend of Joanie’s ghost and also about Lana’s death. I will stay
here tomorrow and research what I found.

***

(Sidney)

Sidney was once again at the Kansas Eats as his shift was over and time to go home. He
was off this day and the idea of breakfast appealed to him, though his choice of eating at
the diner still surprised him. When he walked into the diner, he found that Gertrude was
on duty and she was visibly excited.

When she sat his hot tea down in front of him, she said.

“I heard from one of the “company” that the fire chief said the fire started from an
aerosol canister that was too close to a heater in that room. Honestly, they really should
update that old motel and put in central heating before someone really gets hurt.”

“It was an accident and all but this time, they just were lucky.” she summarized just
before she walked off to tend another customer. Watching her go, Sidney wondered to
himself if it really was an accident or a warning!

***

(1916)

Mr. Honaker sat almost not moving in his plush wing-back chair in his study. He stared at
the empty snifter and tried to remember how many brandies he had. The house was too
quiet after all the flurry this afternoon. He thought of his sedated wife, now asleep in her
room and the rest of the household all at rest except for his poor little baby.

Joanie’s tiny body lay completely covered on her bed. The undertaker would come as
soon as it was safe to take her away and then the nightmare of the laying out in the parlor
and then the funereal would begin.

His heart twisted with grief as he thought of his deceased daughter. The quarantine would
be lifted in two days from the house and then the people would come since Joanie had
been the only one to contact the contagious diphtheria. His gentle and sweet Joanie was
gone. What kind of God would let that happen?

The days afterwards passed within the Honaker house as the family went about their lives
as well as possible. The three remaining children were very subdued and their mother full
of silent grief. Mr. Honaker tended to business even through the ordeal of Joanie’s
funereal. The viewing had been quiet as people came all times of the day to pay their
respects to the child once the fear of the disease had been eliminated. When at last, she
had been transported to Wichita and laid to rest at Maple Grove in the family plot, things
should have partially returned to normal, but they didn’t.

***

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

I have uncovered a lot of information and it seems that so has the movie company. They
are after a different goal than I am though. I want the answer to a question and they want
a legend.

What I have been able to discover is that the mysteries at the Honaker Mansion began in
a time long before Joanie’s death. The house was reported to be the scene of strange
happenings for years before that. No one said or wrote much about it except when the
stories of Joanie’s haunting began to surface. I had not known about any except for one
and that had come from Lana in one of her letters. When I came across the mention of it
in one of the old articles, I called Peter. I told him where to find her letters and the one I
wanted. I then ask him to fax it to the motel office. If I remember right, that letter should
have a very valuable clue in it. Peter said he would send it tomorrow.

I wondered at all of the questions that the two men had ask me and especially the ones
about Lana’s research and study about the house. I really believe that I am very, very
close to finding out the real truth and I will stay here as long as I have to until that is
accomplished. Things have to set to right.

***

(1916)

The first real sign that something odd was happening came two weeks after Joanie’s
death. The youngest child, a girl now aged three, woke in the night with fretful crying.
The nanny hearing her first went to her as her mother still slept mostly in a sedated state.

As the nanny entered the room, she felt a bone-chilling cold with the little girl sitting in
the middle of her bed, weeping in deep sobs.
The nanny quickly wrapped the thick comforter around the shivering child and then
snuggled against her to comfort her. Finally the tears subsided enough for the child to try
and speak.

“They scared me!” she whimpered, clinging to her nanny.

“What scared you? Who scared you?” the nanny questioned, more in response than
putting weight on the child’s words.

“Joanie and the other one.” the girl said. With these words, the nanny immediately
surmised that the little girl had a bad dream.

“Honey, Joanie is at peace. She went to Heaven to be with the angels.” the nanny gave
the proper response.

“No! No! She was here and she was crying. She wanted Mommy! She was afraid! She
wanted Mommy! She was afraid of the other one!” Joanie’s sister decried.

“What other one?” the nanny ask, perplexed at this point.

“The mean one. She keeps hurting Joanie. I want Mommy. Where is Mommy?” the child
began to sob again.

“She is asleep, honey. The doctor said your mommy needs lots of sleep. Here…I’ll hold
you.” the woman comforted.

The room was beginning to finally warm and her little charge’s sobs stopped but the
nanny felt she could hear someone else crying. It was the voice of Joanie, who was now
dead.

***
(Wren)

Dear Journal,

The fax arrived from this morning and I will record the letter or at least parts of it in the
so others can read it. It is as follows:

“Dearest Wren,

The summer has come once again to Kansas. A hot, dry summer when temperatures
sometimes 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. The sky is wide and seems so huge
because of the flat open land. Most days are without rain so it seems that a lingering
drought has hit this area. But when the rain does come, the sky grows black and angry
and we worry for the always threat of tornadoes. I have seen too many of them myself not
to fear them. It reminds of the sudden storm when I was visiting a village on the
Serengeti in Africa a few years ago. One hour there is nothing but endless sky of hot blue
and then with a soaring wind, the rain comes as a monsoon. It fills the rivers, mostly dry
and the dry dirt washes like a river of mud, sometimes smashing small brushes or young
trees in its onslaught.

I am doing as well as possible with the research for the paper on the Honaker house that I
have been trying to write for several years now. I have come much closer to uncovering
the reason not only of why the Honaker child is believed to haunt the house but also the
scattered and less documented sightings of something else paranormal about the house.

It is my belief that there is another child. Another child who has been there much longer
than Joanie. It was long ago and very little of it was recorded but I did find one rare
newspaper clipping of a time in Wichita’s early history around 1832 of a family
massacred by the Wichita tribe because there were settlers near where Lilydale now
stands. I felt quite amazed at the thought.

I will write more of this in my next letter when I have more to tell.

Love, Lana”

There was very little else said about the settlers after that in Lana’s following letters.
The fascination intensified and then came letters that I now know as paranoia. Something
had affected Lana and she was growing steadily more despondent with each letter as if
writing did little to help.

I tried to talk to her about it on the phone but she just seemed evasive. Then, suddenly,
the “said” suicide. I just found that I could not let it go.

Yet, I really wish more each day just to leave this behind me and go home. It has become
far more complex than I imagined and I only long for home but there is something here
now and I do not want to bring it home with me.

I have to stay but I have to have some help. Where do I turn? I will find a way to resolve
this and I think that the answer and the help will come when I need it. I will never be
content until this is finished.

***

(1916)

The nanny spoke with her employer later in the day after the youngest child’s frightening
nightmare. The father was concerned for his only surviving daughter but they both agreed
that it was probably a direct result of Joanie’s death. Mr. Honaker also informed the
nanny that he did wish for any of it to be mentioned to his very distraught wife. She was
already lost in her grief.
A few nights later, another occurrence happened. This time it came in the second son’s
room, just a feeling of deep sadness and fury in the air. He found himself almost crying
his deceased sister’s name out loud but whatever had caused the problem soon seemed to
dissipate and being of a braver nature, the boy just returned to an untroubled sleep.

***

(Sidney)

His first night at work, Sidney had completed his work except for last minute stocking
and the cigarette and money count at the end of the 10 to 6 shift. He had a gas shipment
due around three in the morning and before he received that, he had to stick the gas tanks
to gauge the fuel level before the new shipment was placed inside.

He took the red paste that was used to check for water in the tanks and the long wooden
stick. He had three tanks to stick, the supreme, the unleaded regular and the plus
unleaded. He had already done the unleaded tank, dusted the stick with baby powder for a
correct gas level mark, and pried the lid off of the supreme with a flathead screwdriver.
He was in the progress of lowering the drying, white-smudged stick, when the red mist
appeared again.

Already cool in the October night, the air temperature dropped once again. Suddenly
spooked, Sidney raised to an erect stance and stood quietly watching the swirling mist.
He blinked several times when he realized that he was seeing a figure inside the red mist.
It was a small figure of a child.

***

(Wren)

Wren sat quietly at Mrs. Abernathy’s desk, her mind full of pain and sadness. Outside the
director’s office, she could hear the movie company moving their equipment into the
house. They would begin to film soon, despite the strange warnings they had been given
not to do so.

In front of Wren lay a thin paperback volume on the Honaker Mansion’s history. It
tracked the house back all the way to the time before there was a house or a Lilydale. It
was when there had just been wide open plains and only sod or log houses dotting the
landscape ever so many miles.

The book had been written by the director before Mrs. Abernathy but had been published
after Lana Dailey’s death. It contained the gleaning of facts after a long exhaustive study
over several months. This very book was the basis of why Hollywood had taken an
interest in the house but Lana’s tragic death had been part of their motivation as well.

As Wren read the book’s earliest part, she read of the Miller’s homestead and the horrific
circumstances of the family’s fate. She came to a part that re-printed a letter written by a
neighbor of the Miller family to his brother.

“_ _, 1837,

Dear Joe,

The site of the massacre of the Miller family was bloodcurdling. I had been warning Zeke
Miller that the Indians were on the up rise. I told him he needed to move his family closer
to the settlement or one of his neighbors. I offered my place despite my Hannah’s
objections that our place was too small. He kept claiming that he could look out for his
family himself. Well, Joe, he didn’t do a very damn good job of it.

The Wichita hit them in the middle of the night. They killed Zeke and the boys
immediately but took their time with Candace Miller right there at the house before they
killed her. They raped her with no mercy and then tortured her as they had done her
husband and sons.

The worst was poor little Ginny Miller, age nine. After they killed her family in front of
her and burned the house and barn, they took her and all the livestock and loot into their
camp five miles away.

Over a matter of two days, they raped that child and finally on the third day put an end to
her misery. They left her poor little body lying there as a warning. The horror of it still
haunts me!

We have appealed to the Army but the nearest fort is too far away. I have taken Hannah
and the children to the settlement and will stay there until the uprising is stopped.

Your brother,
Nathaniel”

Wren closed the book and shuddered. It was the answer she had been looking for but now
that she had it, she was not sure what to do with it.

She knew this was somehow the key to Lana’s suicide and she just had to figure out how
bring it to the surface. Somehow, the double haunting had to stop.

***

(1984)

Lana Dailey felt so out of herself. She had not really slept but in fitful spurts. Her mind
was full of images that she knew had nothing to do with her. Terrible images of
something horrible from the past. She wanted them to go away but they seemed to pursue
her.
She had wandered into her kitchen when the impact hit. There was such a terrible
screaming going on in her mind. She was almost frozen to the place where she stood. The
child’s cries were unbearable.

Suddenly she knew she had to end this torment. She forgot her reason in the kitchen and
rushed from it into the living room. She grabbed her car keys and headed for her car,
leaving the house’s front door standing wide-open.

The small compact quickly started and with a squeal of tires, Lana backed it out of the
driveway. She turned the car to the left and when she cleared the driveway, she shoved
the gear shift into drive and slammed the accelerator to the floorboard.

Without conscious thought, she maneuvered the car through the familiar streets until she
found the intersection to Kellogg. She turned right onto the highway and quickly gained
speed. Lilydale and the house were not far from her now.

Twenty-five minutes later, she pulled up to the locked front gates of the mansion. Seeing
that the guard was on rounds, she turned the car off and went around to the trunk to get a
crowbar. She slammed the trunk shut and headed for the side gate, leaving her keys still
hanging in the trunk lock.

When she reached the side, padlocked gate, she placed the crowbar in the iron gate’s
closed latch. With a strength far beyond her own slight weight, she pushed the gate with
the crowbar and it snapped open. She ran through it, still carrying the crowbar.

Where she found the strength to run the quarter mile driveway towards the old mansion
never seemed to occur to her. When she finally reached the house, she went around to
side doors that opened into the house’s sun room. Using the end of the crowbar, she
broke a window in the left French door, reaching through the shattered glass, still
unmindful of the cuts it inflicted on her hand, she found the lock, released it and pushed
the door open.

Somewhere in a fading rational mind, she knew the silent alarm had gone off and the
police and grounds guard would be on their way. She did not have long!

She found her way to the director’s office and once again pried open the door. She
searched for the book. She turned it quickly to Nathaniel’s letter which she knew by
heart.

Tossing the book to the floor, she ran from the room and headed for the staircase. She
climbed to the third floor and then up the half case to the attic. Once again, the crowbar
pried open another door.

A light switch to the left on the wall gave power to a single bulb in the ceiling. She
walked with purpose and direction to a large wooden trunk in the right hand corner of the
room that she knew would be there. She could hear the sirens coming.

Heedless of the warnings of the police, she opened the trunk and withdrew a small old
time black and white photograph of Joanie Honaker. Turning it to the light, she saw the
small filmy shadow beside Joanie. She knew who it was. She knew it was the angry, sad
spirit of Ginny Miller.

She heard the police calling to her, demanding that she show herself but she saw nothing
but a blood red, violent red mist coming straight at her. Screaming, she backed away
from it to the one long window that opened to the attic’s small balcony. She felt herself
finally pressed against the rickety railing on a balcony barely large enough for a child.

With the mist still advancing, she pressed hard against the rail, it gave and she fell.

***

(Sidney)

Sidney had a strange compulsion the next morning to tell Mary Lee about the red mist.
He waited for her to laugh at him but she narrowed her eyes instead. She was already not
in the best of moods with having to work the morning shift instead of Donald or Andre
but he figured this would put her in a worse mood.

She listened to him almost avidly and then let out a very loud sigh as she said. “Not
again.”

Sidney instantly recognized that something was out of whack. This reaction from her was
the total opposite of what he had expected.

“What does that mean? Not again.” he demanded.

Mary Lee took another deep breath and then began to explain.

“Well, you know that I have worked here for many years, right?”

Sidney nodded.

“About ten years ago, another man who worked here at night started seeing something
like what you saw last night. Well, he thought he was crazy, but, Sid, he wasn’t. This
place is haunted.”

Sidney looked at Mary Lee as if she was the one who was crazy but he knew better. She
may not have always had the best outlook on life but there was not a saner or more honest
person that Sidney knew other than Mary Lee.

“Okay, so it is haunted.” he said, almost disbelieving that he heard himself saying the
words.

“But by whom?” he continued.

“By a child, Sidney, by the ghost of a child.” Mary Lee explained.

“Joanie Honaker?” he questioned.

“Oh, Lord, no. That poor baby is a gentle ghost but this one is not. She died too violent a
death right here on this very ground where the Quik Run stands. Her name was Ginny
Miller and she was brutally murdered by the raiding Wichita Indians over a hundred and
fifty years ago. She has haunted here and the Honaker house ever since. They built that
house in the same place as that her family homestead was. The Indians murdered her
whole family there but waited to kill Ginny until they got to their camp here. She is a
really angry ghost and quite violent if she can get to you.” Mary Lee went on to further
explain.

“Does the “company” know about her?” Sidney ask.

“Well, of course, they do. They know the whole story about the Honaker house and that
is why they are making that movie.” Mary Lee answered.

“How come I have never heard about it before?” Sidney mused.

“Because most of us don’t want to talk about it. There has been some really weird things
that have happened over the years. As long as things stay quiet, then Ginny seems to stay
quiet but the more things get stirred up, the more she gets stirred up. It’s only going to get
worse once that movie comes out and people come from everywhere to here to gawk at
us.” Mary Lee stated with the true nature of local native who did not want to see her
community to become a side show for the curious and sensationalism seekers.

Sidney thought about it for a few minutes and then queried.

“Is there a way to stop her from haunting?”

“Heck, I don’t know, Sidney, but I wish there was so that poor child could rest in peace.”
Mary Lee reflected.

Later at home, Sidney thought about all that he had heard and see. If he had not seen it
himself, he would not have believed it. He had no intention of giving up his job but
having an angry child’s ghost to share it with was one fringe benefit that he did not
particularly care for. It had not come in the job description.

He also knew he would always have to wonder if Ginny Miller’s spirit did not have
something to do with the explosion at the motel. There was no way to prove it but he
would always wonder.
***

EPILOGUE

(Wren)

Dear Journal,

It is now spring and I am home with Peter once again. I have not written in you for
several months now simply because I was not ready to.

I found my answers in Wichita of why Lana died and now, I feel that it was not a suicide.
I believe that she was simply overwhelmed by the spirit of Ginny Miller. She delved too
deep into the past and the “presence” she encountered was too overpowering.

Once I discovered the source of the problem, I had a long talk with Mrs. Abernathy and
the producer of the movie. It was a strange conversation among three mature adults who
truly do not want to admit that they believe in ghosts or paranormal activity.

The producer was the one who took action, if you want to call it that. He, in fact, wrote
the end of the movie himself. He called in a group of psychics and they did what they
called a housecleaning. I watched them go from place to place in the house, using all
kinds of strange equipment.

One of them began to do what she called a “channeling” and she connected with both
Ginny and Joanie. Soothing each child as she felt that she could do, she was convinced
that she was able to direct them both “home” to a place of peace and to stop their
haunting.

The “cleansing” of the house took a whole day and then to the relief of Mrs. Abernathy, a
priest came and blessed the old mansion. He would never agree to say that the house was
haunted but I could see it in his eyes that he felt the house was now just a house only and
nothing more.

Before I left Wichita, I visited the graves of both Lana and Joanie. I really felt a sense of
well being coming from them. I chose to believe that my friend is finally serene knowing
that I know that she did not kill herself.

Two months after I got home and awhile after the movie company finished the
production, I called Mrs. Abernathy at the Honaker Mansion to see how things were. She
sounded very bright and cheerful as she said that there seemed to be no more occurrences
from any ghost. I ask her if it bothered her losing her house’s haunted history and she was
quick to say no. The house was a tribute to its own history and that would have to be
enough for the ones who tour it. It was an honest statement but when I read what she did
not say, I knew she was as glad as I was for the tormented spirits of those two little girls.
As for me, I am just glad to be home and to know I will never have to go back.

Corrine Benoit
1995

***

(Sidney)

Spring also found Sidney still at the Quik Run. Still cantankerous and still agitating both
Delsie and Gertrude at Kansas Eats any chance he could. Things were back to normal
since the “company” was gone and a man had to keep things lively if he could.

Occasionally, he would think of the strange happenings at the Quik Run. He had been
waiting for days after his talk with Mary Lee to see the red mist again. It never came.

The only out of place event he saw after that was a sole priest walking around the station
one night, sprinkling holy water and chanting prayers. The oddest part was that as he did
it, there were tears streaming down the priest's face.

The End




CRYSTAL PASSION

CHAPTER ONE

Jenevieve stood on the stone balcony of her second story quarters, with her gaze focused
on the activity in the courtyard below. The group of men had gathered into a milling
throng near the entrance of the stables. They were in no set order as they checked saddles
and weapons while they waited in the frosted early dawn air for their leader, Dexter to
appear and give the order to form ranks. They did not have long to wait.

A tall slender man with red hair and a stone faced expression emerged from the small
stone building that sat directly next to the stables and faced the parade ground where the
small army of Fademist practiced their sword play and other weaponry exercises. Dexter
said nothing to anyone as he strode to the gray gelding being held by a young groom.
Nodding quietly to the groom, he gathered the gray’s reins and mounted the horse. The
groom stepped aside, and then turning, he walked to the smaller piebald mare behind the
gray, and mounted her. He fell in directly behind Dexter. Without only a nod of his head,
Dexter signaled the sergeant at arms and the man bellowed out the order to mount. The
near hundred men did as instructed and then fell into a line of two until at the very end,
they wrapped around the complete courtyard and on into the middle. The sergeant at arms
took his place at the head of the column, behind Dexter’s groom and valet, Mercer, and
with a wave of Dexter’s hand, the army began to move forward.

Jenevieve noted with a coldness in her heart that Dexter never raised his head to look at
her, though she was sure he knew she was there to see him off. He just held a very
straight posture as he rode through the keep’s gates at the head of his men. She watched
them go until the last of the troop had ridden through the heavy wood and iron gates and
the keep’s gatemen closed the gates behind them. Like an invisible winged bird, a gust of
wind blew over the balcony and tugged at the blue hood of her long cloak. It was a
chilled wind.

Sighing to herself, she turned from the balcony and returned to through the double doors
to the warmth of her compartments. She pulled at the strings of the long blue woolen
cloak and then let it slide from her shoulders, revealing the neck to ankle cotton
nightgown beneath it. She removed the cloak from her shoulders and tossed it to a
high-backed wooden chair near her bed. The room was warmer than the outside but not
by much as the fire had died low in the hearth and Polly, the chambermaid, had not come
yet to stoke it back into burning. Jenevieve shivered and quickly crawled beneath the
heavy coverlet of the huge four poster bed. Only one side of it had an indention in it and
that was hers. It had been the same for three months now as Dexter had abandoned her
bed once again in favor of Nancy, his mistress.

Dexter would be away for several months now as he waged war against the intruders
from the north. Jenevieve and the household had been left, guarded by a small garrison,
and the keep and its surrounding lands in the capable hands of Yancy, Dexter’s overseer.
Jenevieve was left to run the house, hear Yancy’s reports of crops and yields, rents and
tariffs, and to spend her imposed spouseless time as befitting her station. In the five years
of their union, there had been no child. Dexter’s son by Nancy was doted upon by his sire
but he would not inherit Fademist.

Jenevieve willed herself back to sleep for the short remaining time before Polly arrived
with her morning meal and then once more, her daily routine of mistress of Fademist
would begin again. Today was the supervision of the last harvested apples and the
dispensing of which went to drying, which went to preserves and which went to cider. A
tedious chore it wasn’t as it took Cook and her small kitchen staff with Jenevieve’s
assistance to set up the week long process of the apple harvest. Jenevieve promised
herself that once apple week was done, she would take the new little lively black filly she
had purchased for a nice leisurely ride through Fademist’s expansive lands.

Jenevieve preformed her duties with a well trained knowledge of what was expected of
the mistress of Fademist. She had long ago grown conditioned to the mutterings and
mumblings among the household each time she passed by. She was beloved for her
kindness by many but despite the size of the keep, there was no business that was private.
All of them knew of the rift between her and Dexter and some knew that he wished to be
rid of her in favor of the comely Nancy. Childless, Jenevieve was useless as a wife. If she
could not produce an heir, then she was of little value. A barren wife was the worst
marriage possible for an overlord.

***

Finally feeling nearly suffocated by the confines of the keep, Jenevieve found a beautiful
day that granted her complete freedom. After her breakfast, she donned a warm woolen
riding habit and sent word through Polly to the stable master that she wished the filly to
be saddled for a morning ride. When she arrived at the stable, the stable master, Malcolm,
had the feisty horse saddled. There was no roll of white eye in the filly, just an eagerness
to stretch her superb young legs and the chill in the winter air beckoned her to invigorate
herself. It was a feeling she shared with her mistress.

As Malcolm helped her mount, he ask, “Would ye like young Tom to go with ye, m'lady?
This l’il gurl is a bit excited this morn. Per’aps, ye best not venture out alone with her.
‘Sides, there mighten be some of them raiders about.”

“Not necessary, Malcolm. Spin and I are well acquainted with each other. I do carry the
small sword the master gave me for protection and I doubt there is a much faster horse in
all of Fademist than Spin. I shall be fine.” Jenevieve replied.

Malcolm made an acknowledging grunt in acquiescence but the disapproving look on his
face spoke his disagreeing thoughts. He held Spin while Jenevieve adjusted herself to the
saddle and positioned the slender sword she wore at her wide girth belt. She knew she
had no real expertise with it but it could be a deterrent if someone tried to attack her. She
glanced up at the cloudless sky and gloried in the far away beauty of the cold sun. It was
late February and it would yet be months before the warming days of Spring would
arrive.

Spin fought her bit for a faster pace as she literally bounced through the gates in a
restrained canter. Jenevieve kept a light hand on the filly as she settled herself to the
gentle swaying motion of the horse’s gait. She let out a deep sigh of pleasure to be free of
the confines of the keep. Out alone with the horse and all of the vastness of the land, she
could breath easily and be filled with a gladness that she was where she was. She left her
duty-bound life behind and relaxed her carefully composed expression as there was no
one to see her now but the wildlife and Spin.

She made the filly keep her slower canter, unwilling to let the young horse have her head
and stretch out her long legs…at least, not yet. Jenevieve had another place in mind for
that outside of the visibility of the keep. She wanted far, far away from the place and for
all of the day to be hers and no one else’s. She felt herself slowly once again become the
naturally happy and optimistic girl that had first come to Fademist five years ago. When
she had not yet been the wife of Dexter, Lord of Fademist, but just simply Jenevieve,
daughter of Shamus of Narrow. Though the marriage had been an arranged betrothal,
Jenevieve had come with an open heart and great hopes. She had met Dexter when he had
come to call at her father’s house and she found she liked his easy confidence in himself
and his passion for his home. She had believed then that she could be happy as his wife
and the mother of his heirs. In the decline of the last five years, her hopes had died and
she had simply accepted her life for what it was. Dexter could not disavow her by the
laws of binding marriage bonds so he contented himself with Nancy and she filled her
life with work and the needs of the household. Her real joy came to life in these rare but
very special days of escape. As Spin cantered on, Jenevieve turned to look behind her and
saw to her utter delight that the silhouette of the keep had faded from sight, lost on the
horizon.

A half hour later, the filly and woman walked into a large copse of trees, a glade often
shaded deeply in the spring but now filled with pale sunlight that spilled through the
naked branches of the trees. Jenevieve knew this place well as it was her favorite retreat.
She wondered if the small spring that ran through here was still frozen over as it had been
last month when she had ridden here. As she reached near the spring’s mouth, she was
happy to see that there was a thin trickle through the thawing ice. She closed her eyes and
shaped a mental image of the memory of this glade with brilliant wildflowers growing
along the banks of the stream. Though the grass was faded winter brown and no flowers
to decorate the spring, the woman was still happy for the serenity of the copse.

In the coolness of the shaded area, Jenevieve pulled her cloak tighter about her. She was
trying to decided if she wanted to dismount when she felt the filly make an unexpected
jump. A covey of birds suddenly were airborne from a small bushy area and their flight
had startled the horse. A few soothing words and a firm pressure on the reins and Spin
settled partially down until the staggering figure of a man appeared in front of her. Then
the horse reared. It caught Jenevieve off guard and as she fought the horse to bring her
down, she saw the face of the man. One minute, he had looked to be stunned and near
fainting, but then as the realization hit him that he had a frightened black horse rearing,
with her hooves just scant feet above his head. He threw his arms up to protect himself as
his bloodied face paled deeper at the near danger of being trampled.

Jenevieve brought a strong downward right pull on the filly’s bit while at the same time,
she threw her own weight forward on Spin’s neck, forcing the horse to swivel in the air
and come down on all fours, a few precious feet from the man. Once down, the horse
fought to run but her mistress kept a tight grip on the reins and slowly soothed the
dancing filly until she became quiet. When the horse was settled, Jenevieve turned her
attention to the man, who had fainted and lay in a collapsed heap upon the ground.

She dismounted cautiously, drawing the slender sword from its sheath. She held tightly to
Spin’s reins just in case the man moved and spooked the nervous filly. As she approached
him, he was still prone on the ground, unmoving. Jenevieve watched his face carefully,
looking for any sign of consciousness. When she was close enough to see his face, her
heart twisted with pity. There were several scratch marks on his face and hands as if he
had run through thistles or brambles. A one inch long jagged cut was just below the right
hairline. It had stopped bleeding but the thin trail of blood from it down his temple and
unto his cheek had already dried.

His tunic and trousers were rent in several places and Jenevieve suspected that if she
peered beneath them that she would other scratches of the same kind that were on his face
and hands. The left sleeve of his tunic was torn away from the shoulder and a nasty deep
wound lay revealed on his upper forearm. His pallor under the dried blood and abrasions
derived from his apparent loss of blood. Whatever this man had encountered had left him
badly wounded and extremely weak.

Despite his obvious helpless state, Jenevieve prodded at him with her left hand, all the
while holding the sword close to his throat in her right. When she touched him, he did not
move but only moaned softly. Spin had lost her nervousness, now exchanged by
curiosity, and she brought her soft muzzle down to his face and gently nudged him. He
never aroused. Finally, Jenevieve felt safe enough to return the sword to its slim scabbard
as she raised once again to full height.

She glanced upward through the leafless tree branches at the sky to determine the
position of the sun. She decided it was near mid-morning and though the daylight was
short, she still had enough time to do what she could to cleanse this man’s wounds and
see if she could awaken him from his fainting.

She tied Spin to a nearby low tree branch and then removed her small pack of food from
its place behind her side saddle. She had not examined its contents but was happy to find
some fresh bread, cheese, and a flask of lukewarm tea. Perhaps some nourishment would
help him. Taking the linen napkin from the pouch, she stepped to the small stream and
dipped into the cold but clear stream of water coming from the mouth of the spring. With
the wet cloth and the food pouch, she returned to the man’s side and knelt once again
beside him. She was still wary enough to once again remove the sword and lay it at her
side as she knelt to cleanse his wounds. A quarter of an hour later, she had managed to
wipe most of the blood from his injuries and saw that he was going to need a stronger
medical help than she was able to give with her cloth and water. As she forced some of
the tea through his lips, she came to a decision. When she had done all that she could do,
she laid everything aside and went to fetch Spin.
Before she untied the filly, she unsaddled her and laid the saddle in a nearby clump of
bushes. She then returned to the stranger and picked up the food pouch, placing it with
the saddle. She took the bloodied cloth, made another trip to the spring and re-wet it.
Once she had accomplished that, she tied the wet cloth around the worst wound on him
which was the arm cut. Satisfied that she had done all she could, she fetched the
unsaddled horse. Now, she thought to herself, begins the hard part.

She brought Spin along side the unconscious man and gently began to coax the filly
down into a lying position. It was a tactic taught to all of Dexter’s horses as part of war
training, including the pretty little filly of the mistress of Fademist. Then with an uttered
prayer that she had enough strength, she began to turn the stranger over and then pull and
push him across the horse’s bare back. Once he was draped like a lumpy sack of wheat on
Spin, she coaxed the filly up on all fours. She was delighted when she saw the horse’s
limp passenger did not fall off. She just needed to secure him somehow.

She left the filly standing, and taking the sword, she cut loose a extremely long length of
wild grapevine, still supple with life and not dried dead from the winter. With the vine,
she looped it across his shoulders, tied it, and pulled it beneath the horse’s belly and tied
it securely to his dangling feet. Delighted and thrilled with the calmness of her young
horse, she patted Spin’s sleek neck and then said.

“Come, my beauty, we have a long walk to Mistress Abigail’s house. She is the only one
who can nurse him now and she is the only one I can trust.”

The five mile trek to her destination took Jenevieve late into the afternoon. Her pace was
slowed by her own unaccustomed walking and the skittishness of Spin when the weight
of her passenger shifted on her bare back. Jenevieve paid little attention to the mire and
muck that clung to bottom of her skirt or the smudges across her own face from hands
dirtied in their journey. Her usually neat light brown braids were in disarray but she only
trudged forward, mindful of each step and worried if the man’s wounds should begin to
bleed again. He still had not awakened from his unconscious state but one quick check of
his face told her he had begun to run a fever, though not yet high. She prayed that his
normal constitution was a healthy one.

She entered the yard of Abigail Jens to the sounds of scattering, squawking chickens and
the baying of the farm dog from his tied place near the lean-to where the small group of
two cows and four goats were kept. As soon as the commotion began, Jenevieve saw the
front door of the stone cottage open and a middle-aged rotund woman stepped into the
weakening sunlight and peered at the strange entourage that had come calling. Abigail
instantly recognized the mistress of Fademist and wiping her hands on her apron, she
hurried forward to assist the younger woman.

When she reached the trio, she stopped just a few feet before them and glancing in
surprise at the position and condition of the filly’s bound passenger, she turned her head
back towards the house and called out in a loud voice.
“Marcus, come here quickly. I have need of ye!” With that said, she covered the last few
steps to the obviously weary woman and the jumpy horse. At her beckoning, a young tall
man emerged from the cottage still wearing a sort of plaid bib from where he had been
eating dinner. He raised his hand over his eyes and squinted into the west where the
figures were standing. His face went slack when he realized that he and his mother had a
very unusual special guest and some strange companions. He pulled the bib from his
collarless under shirt and started towards them, saying

“Right to ye, Mum!”

Moments later, Marcus had the wounded man flung across his wide shoulder and was
following his chattering mother into the cottage, leaving Jenevieve standing wearily by
her horse and murmuring soothing praise to the filly. As quickly as he had brought the
stranger to his own cot, he returned to the woman and horse and took charge of the filly,
who seemed glad to be relieved of her odd passenger. Jenevieve gratefully handed him
the reins and made her own slow progress to the cottage.

As she entered the one main room of the house, she found Mistress Abigail already
stripping the clothes from the man. Without turning around to see that it was Jenevieve,
she said. “Take off ye wet clothing, m’lady. In that trunk by the wall, ye will find a dry
night gown. Put it on before Marcus returns. Then I will have the clothes to wash and put
dry.”

“Thank you, Mistress Abigail, but I must go back to Fademist. My saddle and other
things are at the glade. Yancy will have men out by nightfall looking for me if I do not
return. They must not find the man. I fear the stranger is one of Dexter’s raiders.”
Jenevieve stated as she sought to warm herself by Abigail’s hearth.

“Not to worry, m’lady. I will send Marcus to the keep and tell them that ye are safe and
well. He can get the things from the glade upon his return. Off with those wet clothing
before ye take a chill and I have two sick’uns on me hands.”

Before Jenevieve could even raise a word of protest, Marcus re-entered the room and
stopped, taking in the whole scene before him. His mother raised up and faced him as she
instructed. “Son, take Tobias and go to the keep. Tell them the mistress is well but her
horse has drawn up lame. She will return home on the morrow if the horse is fit. The
mistress left her saddle in that glade by the spring and grapevines. Fetch them and bring
them here without being seen.”

“But, Mum, me food?” Marcus half-protested.

“Are ye daft, boy? It will be here when ye return. Now go! T’is a long ride and old Toby
is not fast seeing as he is a plow horse.”

Marcus argued no more but gathering his worn woolen cloak, he turned and removed his
wide brimmed hat from its peg on the wall. He turned and gave a waning smile to
Jenevieve and then went out the door. He tossed the words over his shoulder as he
walked back towards the lean-to. “M’lady, the filly if fit as fiddle and she is put away
nicely in one of the cow stalls. I gave her a bit of corn and hay. She will be fine until
morning.”

Abigail crossed over to the cottage door and closed it behind him. She turned to Abigail
and said. “Now, mistress, there is no reason to stay in those wet things. Rid yeself of
them and take the gown. There is some hot stew on the hearth but ye will have to serve
yeself, meaning no disrespect, but this man needs me now.”

“I totally understand, Mistress Abigail. I can fend for myself and be most grateful for
your kindness. Just tend to him and know that I am most appreciative.” Jenevieve replied
as she began to pull at the strings of her muddy cloak and to relieve herself of the wet
clothing. A fire, hot food and dry clothing seemed like a taste of heaven just at that
moment.

Abigail had totally stripped the stranger by this time and covered his nakedness with a
coarse goat hair blanket. She left him to draw a iron kettle of water and place it on the
hearth spit to boil. She said nothing to Jenevieve until she saw that the other woman had
changed into the oversized nightgown and had sat down in one of the two chairs at the
rough wooden table to eat the stew and sip at some tea she had found also. As Abigail
passed her, she commented to Jenevieve.

“Don’t worry, m’lady, Marcus will tell no one at the keep of the stranger. He is safe
here.”

When Abigail insisted that Jenevieve that she rest in her own bed, it was not long before
she fell asleep, feeling for the first time in a long time oddly very safe. She knew she was
exhausted and weary from the trek but not enough to make her sleep so soundly. When
she awakened, it was very near dawn. She suddenly felt a great wave of shame because
she knew that she had denied Abigail her bed and her stranger had taken Marcus’ bed.
She had no idea where the woman of the house had slept because of what little Jenevieve
could see in the gray darkness of early morning, was Abigail remove a cup of something
from the kettle on the hearth and then carry it to the cot where the injured man slept.
Jenevieve watched her briefly and then felt herself lulled back to sleep. She felt almost as
unaware of the world as the stranger was.

The sound of metal banging awakened Jenevieve a few hours later and once again as she
turned her eyes, she saw that Mistress Abigail was preparing food. When Jenevieve
moved in the bed, the older woman turned to her and smiled as she said.

“Morning, m’lady.”

“Morning, Mistress Abigail. I am afraid that I have slept quite late.” Jenevieve
reprimanded herself.
“Ye were fair worn out, m’lady. The rest did ye good.” Abigail answered as she poured
the mistress of Fademist a cup of tea and brought it to her. Jenevieve quickly raised to a
sitting position and as her hostess reached the bed and handed her the tea, she questioned.

“How is he?”

“He is biding. Not awake yet but soon.” Abigail answered.

“Any idea who he is?” Jenevieve continued to ask as she sipped the hot unsweetened tea.

“T’is not from here, m’lady, but Marcus says there would be a skirmish just four days
hence and we believe he is from that. Three days of wandering, wounded and bleeding,
has made him weak. He sleeps from exhaustion and that weakness. When he awakes, we
will find from where he comes.” Abigail stated.

“You are right, I am sure, mistress. I had hoped to know who he was before I left to
return home today. It will have to wait until I come back. I will see to all of his needs,
Mistress Abigail, just nurse him and you will be well paid for it.” Jenevieve said.

“The money will be welcome, m’lady, but I would have nursed him anyway had we
found him first.”

“I know but I do also know that I have put you and your son in some jeopardy if he might
be one of the enemy and were anyone to find out. Secrecy is of the highest importance for
his sake and ours.” Jenevieve explained and the older woman only nodded her agreement.

Jenevieve lingered longer than she knew she should have but in the end she felt it was
well rewarded. She ate breakfast with Abigail and Marcus and then was profusely
grateful to her hostess that her riding habit and cloak had been cleaned so nicely. Marcus
had taken great care with Spin so the horse was fresh for the seven mile ride back to the
keep.

Abigail had hardly left her patient’s side so Jenevieve had to wonder how the older
woman had managed to cook, clean her clothes and tend to her normal chores and still
care for the man. Jenevieve had a small purse of coins in her girdle and she insisted that
Abigail take them until she could return with more to help the farmwife with monetary
needs. When the sun was near noon, Jenevieve knew that it was time to leave. Without
the hindrance of her on foot or the unconscious stranger, the filly could cover the ride
back to Fademist at a far quicker pace.

Just as Jenevieve was preparing to leave, the wounded man began to moan and to the
delight of both women, he opened his eyes. Abigail stepped quickly to the side of the cot
and laid a weathered hand on his brow. His eyes were fluttering as he seemed to be
striving to fully gain consciousness. Abigail turned to Jenevieve who had also come to
the side of the cot and spoke softly.
“It appears that his fever has broken, m’lady. I believe he is on the mend.”

Before Jenevieve could answer, both women heard a soft slurred voice say, “Where am
I?”

“Shush now,” Abigail crooned, “ye must not tax yeself. Ye have been hurt and brought to
my house.”

The man, his face still pale from blood loss, turned wary eyes to Abigail and then to
Jenevieve. His focus seemed sharper as he stared at her.

“I know you or I remember you. I am not sure which. Everything is so unclear. But I
must know. Where am I?” His voice, though weak, was insistent.

“You are in the holdings of Fademist. I am the mistress of Fademist. You were nearly
crushed beneath the hooves of my horse when you startled her. You fainted then and I
brought you to the home of one of my tenants, Mistress Abigail. This is she. She has
nursed you this last day.” Jenevieve answered him. Then she questioned. “Who are you?
Where do you come from? You are not of Fademist.”

“My name is Wyeth. No, I am not of this part of the country. There was a battle and I was
wounded but other than that I remember very little.” the man who had named himself
Wyeth replied but both women could see that he was already beginning to drift in and out
of consciousness.

“Rest now, Wyeth, ye are too weak for this much talk. We can speak when ye are
stronger.” Abigail spoke, silencing both Jenevieve and Wyeth. Her soft tone seemed to
soothe him so he was soon asleep once again. Abigail rechecked his brow and with a
grunt of satisfaction, she noted that the fever was still gone. She drew the coverlet upon
him and then turned Jenevieve.

“He will probably naught wake, mistress, until the night or the morrow. Ye need head
back to the keep before they come here seeking ye. Go now and I will tend to him. Come
back when ye can and he will be better. As ye said, it is best for now that no one knows
that he is here.” she advised.

“You are right, Mistress Abigail. Care for him but do not trust him. I want no harm to
come to you or Marcus.” Jenevieve stated.

“Fear not, m’lady, this one is still too puny to cause anyone any harm. Besides, it would
take a great more than he to cause me any harm when he will have to deal me Marcus
first. He is a strong man. We will be fine.” Abigail reassured Jenevieve and the younger
woman knew that Abigail was right. Feeling more at ease, she hugged Abigail, pulled on
her riding gloves and went out to the farmyard where Marcus stood holding Spin. Next to
her horse, stood the sturdy old gelding, Toby, so Jenevieve knew that Marcus intended to
escort her back to the keep. She regretted taking him from his work but she knew it was
Abigail’s wish and it was far wiser if the men at the keep saw her accompanied home.
She let Marcus help her onto Spin’s back and after he mounted Toby, the pair set off for
the ride back to Fademist.

CHAPTER TWO

Jenevieve’s heart sank as she and Marcus crossed through the huge gates of the keep.
Malcolm came immediately from the stable to retrieve Spin. As he helped Jenevieve
down, he said in a warm tone.

“We have been fraught worried about ye, m’lady. Cook (who was his wife and her own
real name had been lost over time) has been beside herself. T’is not like ye to ride out and
not come back. Marcus here said the wee filly drew up lame. I’d best check her out.”

“She is fine, Malcolm. Marcus took good care of her. It was really nothing.” Jenevieve
replied, grateful, despite the fact that it was not all the truth but still it was the truth. She
hated to lie and she was always afraid she would give herself away by the looks on her
face or the insincerity of her voice.

“Nary do, m’lady, but still for me own piece of mind, I will check her anyway.” Malcolm
stated, and Jenevieve knew he took his job very seriously. It was best that he did as
Dexter was no kind master when it came to his workers or his horses. Spin may have
been termed her horse but she belonged, like all things in Fademist including Jenevieve,
to Dexter.

Once she was dismounted, she turned to Marcus and bade him farewell with the
expressed wish that he thank his mother once again for her kindness. Marcus beamed like
a child with this praise in front of the rest of the house of Fademist. In his opinion, those
who resided at the keep were too uppity about themselves. How would they survive
without the tenant farmers such as himself and his mother? He turned old Toby with as
quick a move as the horse could make and rode back out towards home with his head
high. He was not worried about their strange guest as he knew his mother would do
nothing to cause any harm to Lady Jenevieve.

Later in the evening, Cook herself brought Jenevieve’s supper up to her chambers. The
mistress of the house always ate in her own rooms while the master was away. It seemed
to deepen the sense of solitude that Jenevieve had felt close around her once Dexter had
made it plain that he no longer desired her company except for appearance’s sake. She
found herself longing more and more for the comfort of home, of Narrow, and of her
father. A landlord with far less land and power than Dexter of Fademist, Shamus and his
house, Narrow, were warm and welcoming compared the size and coldness of Fademist.

When Cook entered her mistress’ room, she found Jenevieve sitting in a small wooden
chair before the hearth. There was some linen in her lap, waiting for the embroidery to be
finished but the young woman’s hands were unmoving. She seemed lost in thought.
“Here’s the food, m’lady. Some warm soup and some of me freshest bread. I brought ye a
bit of cheese, too. I made a custard if ye would like some of that as well.” Cook said as
she set the tray on food on a small low table near where Jenevieve was seated.

Jenevieve turned her face from the fire and gazed at Cook with a wan smile upon her
face. She let out a weary sigh as she said.

“Thank you, Cook. I am not really hungry but perhaps I should eat something. It was a
long day.”

“That’s the spirit, m’lady. Malcolm said that ye were looking a bit poorly.” Cook
answered, cheered that Jenevieve agreed to eat. Cook, whose own ampleness was strong
testimony to her skill with food, worried about the thinness of the young woman. Not in
the many years that she and Malcolm had served at Fademist, from the time Dexter was a
youngster, had Cook known a kinder person that Jenevieve of Narrow.

Jenevieve laid the linen aside and rose to her feet. She picked up the small chair, almost a
child’s size, and brought with her to the table while Cook removed the lid from the
crockery soup bowl and the napkin covering the sliced bread on a saucer. Jenevieve
placed the chair in front of the table and sat down to eat. As she lifted a spoon of the soup
to her mouth, she realized that Cook had not yet left the room. She raised her head once
again and smiled at her servant.

This seemed to encourage Cook because she drew herself up which was not high as she
only stood at five feet and spoke out firmly.

“Mighten I have a word with ye, m’lady.”

“Of course, Cook. May I go on eating or do you need my full attention?”

“Eat, m’lady, as to what I have to say to ye is about ye.”

“Go on then.” Jenevieve said as she spooned some of the warm broth into her mouth.
Then realizing that the other woman was still standing, she indicated the other chair at the
table and requested. “Please sit down so we can talk. I would rather talk with you at eye
level.”

“Yes, m’lady.” Cook answered and crossed over to the other chair, and as she went, she
reached into her voluminous apron pocket and pulled something from it. As she sat down,
she placed the object on the table surface and when she removed her hand from it,
Jenevieve could see that it was a large shard of crystal.

Jenevieve studied the small tower of clear stone. It was shaped into a four-cornered point
at the top with the body being unclouded and reflective of light as it came to its uneven
base where the stone had been separated from the original crystal mass. It was about four
inches tall and two inches wide. It was one of the biggest pieces of crystal that Jenevieve
had seen. Cook turned it and the stone glowed brilliantly as it caught the image of the
hearth fire. Colors of gold and orange-red filled its mirroring depths.

“For ye, m’lady.” Cook said softly.

Jenevieve raised surprised eyes to her servant and a refusal was quick on her tongue; not
because she did not desire the crystal but she knew how precious few objects of beauty
that Cook had. It was an extraordinary gift. The objection found no voice but was only
expressed in the shaking of her head side to side.

“Yes, m’lady. Ye could use this crystal. I don’t need it. Please take it.” Cook insisted.

“It is beautiful, Cook, but whatever use would I have for it. The keep is full of wonderful
things.” Jenevieve countered.

“Not for the keep, Lady Jenevieve, but for ye. Keep it with ye and never be without it. It
will show ye what its purpose be.” Cook continued to insist and then before her mistress
could say anymore, she rose and walked out of the room. Jenevieve stared silently after
her and then turned to study the crystal once again. She was befuddled as to what purpose
the crystal could possibly have but a gift was a gift. She began to eat again while she
admired the light show the stone was displaying.

***

For the following three days, Jenevieve stayed at the keep, busily occupied with her
duties there. She did as Cook ask by keeping the crystal close to her at all times with it
tucked in her apron or girdle. When she was alone, she spent time holding the rock and
watch the wonderful fragments of light that the crystal brilliantly reflected. It was a
totally natural thing but its beauty rivaled any of the tapestries or other works of art in the
keep. Dexter liked fine things and had filled his home with them. That also made them all
his but this crystal was hers alone, given to her for just her.

In the late winter, fine days were few and far between so both Spin and her mistress
chafed to set free of the confines of Fademist. By the fourth day, a blessing was granted
to Jenevieve by a clear but cold day. There were no warning of storm clouds on the
horizon, so Jenevieve bundled up as warmly as she could while remaining flexible
enough to ride. She sent orders to Malcolm that she would be out riding alone again that
day and to saddle her horse. Once the message was dispatched, she let herself into her
husband’s study, knowing that Yancy was away from the keep tending to estate business.
She went directly to the money box and removed a small amount of coins. She knew that
if she took too much that Yancy would bring it to Dexter’s attention when he returned so
she took only what she could safely say was for the house’s expenses. This money would
go to Abigail for the stranger’s upkeep. Between what she had given before and this
amount, Jenevieve knew that the stranger would cause no hardship on her tenant’s
meager existence. Abigail and her son were but one of many families who struggled to
pay their rent to Dexter and her husband seemed to feel no remorse of how poorly they
lived compared to his own well-being. In truth, Jenevieve did not really blame Dexter for
his attitude as he had been raised to think that. It seemed the norm of life that the wealthy
stayed wealthy and the poor stayed poor.

Jenevieve bypassed her usual stop at the glade and continued straight to the farm of
Mistress Abigail. As she rode across land beginning to turn green as Spring neared, she
saw Marcus cutting down some overgrowth in one field. He had Toby hooked to a sleigh
on sturdy runners and on this he piled the severed bushes and limbs. In the middle of the
field, there was a large fire burning where Marcus got rid of the brush. She waved at him
as she rode down the narrow lane towards the farmhouse. She was well-pleased with the
shortness of time that the trip had taken since she was not walking and Spin was not
encumbered by an unconscious passenger. Within minutes after passing Marcus, she
drew up rein in the small farmyard. She had hardly dismounted when the door of the
house opened and Abigail stepped out. At the sight of the gentle older woman,
Jenevieve’s heart took the first lift it had in days.

“Welcome, m’lady! I thought I would see ye soon.” Abigail hailed.

“Good day, Mistress Abigail. I am glad to see you as well.” Jenevieve enthusiastically
returned the greeting.

She tethered Spin to a small hitching pole and reached up behind her saddle. She had told
Cook that she was going to visit an ailing tenant and she wanted to bring some of Cook’s
fresh pastries and a roll of good cheese. A gift to the house was always appreciated by the
tenants from their landlord or in this case, landlady. She removed the large package and
carried it in her hands as she headed for the door of the house. She wanted to ask after the
injured stranger first thing but she knew it best to keep it until later when Abigail would
say. The women met at the door and then entered the house together.

Jenevieve had hardly gone three steps over the threshold when she stared directly into a
pair of wary blue eyes in a pale but clean-shaven face. Her stranger was seated at the
table in the middle of the main one room and he was drinking a cup of tea. He had a shirt
draped over his shoulders but his chest was bare except for a wide bandage that
completely encircled his left forearm. He leaned back in the wicker back chair and placed
the cup back on the table in front of him. He said nothing but the leery look on his face
said enough. She could tell he was very uncomfortable with her presence there.

Abigail sensing the tension between the two quickly moved to speak.

“M’lady, our guest here has told me that his name be Wyeth. Wyeth, this is Lady
Jenevieve of Fademist.”

“I remember the Lady, Mistress Abigail. She has known of my name. Yet, does she know
that she has offered refuge through you to an enemy of her lord?” Wyeth said, a bit of a
mocking tone in his voice.
Jenevieve was instantly given the reason for his discomfort with her when he professed to
be an enemy. This man expected retaliation to come at any given time.

“She knows, Wyeth. She knew before but still she brought ye to me for help. Have ye no
manners for her kindness?” Abigail retorted.

“That depends on the extent of her kindness.” he answered in a flat tone but was clearly
filled with animosity.

Abigail started to speak but a raise of Jenevieve’s right hand silenced her as she said. “I
can speak for myself, Abigail.”

She in turn resumed a distant attitude as she stared straight at Wyeth and replied.

“I am most fully aware of who you are, sir. It is fortunate for you that my husband and
lord is away doing battle with those whom I suppose are of your countrymen. If you are
expecting reprisal, it will not come as yet as no one knows of your being here except for
Mistress Abigail, her son and I. I do intend to try and keep it so.”

Jenevieve had begun walking once again as she was speaking. She came to stand on the
opposite side of the table from Wyeth and she stood straight, her only movement being to
place the bundle of bread and cheese on the table. Behind her, Abigail closed the door
and then crossed the room to the hearth for hot water to prepare some tea for Jenevieve.
She was almost there when Wyeth spoke and what he said halted her in mid-step.

“Not of a different country, Lady Jenevieve, but of the same. My home is part of this
country just in lands to the north that your lord seeks to conquer. Same country, you and
I, but still enemies.”

Silence descended on the room.

CHAPTER THREE

Jenevieve drew herself up proudly as she met Wyeth’s glare without flinching or showing
that her composure had been disturbed. Abigail was soon also at the table. The older
woman’s face had shadowed with agitation and she did not mince words when she stated
to Wyeth. “M’lady has shown ye naught but kindness. T’is Lord Dexter than is ye enemy,
not Lady Jenevieve. If she had not rescued ye, then surely ye would be dead. Have ye no
gratitude?”

Wyeth seemed to almost wince under the harshest words that Jenevieve had ever heard
Abigail speak. The hardness in his eyes softened and the wariness slightly left his face.
He took a quiet breath and then said in a softer tone.

“I am sorry, m’lady, and also to you, Abigail. It is the truth. In my position, I should not
be so quick to judge. I know where I would be if it had not been for both of you and
Marcus as well. I hope you will accept my apology, Lady Jenevieve.”

Abigail beamed brightly as if all had been put right while Jenevieve let a slip of a smile
cross her lips and she nodded her acceptance for his apology. She then watched him rise
to his feet and stand. His impressive height made her feel small standing so near him. He
stared down at her out of eyes that had hidden whatever thoughts he had and she was not
aware that he had once again fully taken in her quiet beauty. Her long light brown hair
was piled neatly, though somewhat windblown from the long ride. Her gray eyes were
sad. It was the best word he could think of to describe them. There was a deep sadness in
their depths. She possessed a childlike face that matched the slender frame and short
height. She was as lovely a fawn and he waited for her to bolt away at any moment. She
stood her place.

He reached to slip his good right arm through the sleeve of his shirt and pulled the left
side tighter around him. He walked away from the table quickly and removed a frayed
cloak from a peg on the wall. Swinging it around his shoulders, he turned to the women
and said, “I am going to the lean-to. There is some work I can do there to help Marcus.
You may have your time of women talk with no interruption.” Then with an almost
mocking bow to Jenevieve, he turned and walked out of the door before either woman
could say a word.

“Never mind him, m’lady, he still be a bit sore from his injury and he feels out of place
here. To him, he is among enemies even though we have been kind to him. Feeling odd
makes a man edgy. Always did in me Harry, may he rest in peace, and at times, I see it in
Marcus as well.” Abigail said to comfort Jenevieve. Then before the younger woman
could reply, Abigail continued.

“Come, Lady Jenevieve, we’ll have some tea now.”

“Of course, you are right, Abigail, but…” Jenevieve began to speak and then broke the
sentence abruptly. Then she smiled, her face reflecting genuine warmth, as she remarked.
“That tea would be most welcome now. Besides, I have something that I want to show
you.”

“Then we had best be about it, hadn’t we?” Abigail returned, a warm smile given back.

“I have brought you some fresh pastries from Cook and a roll of good cheese. As well as
this.” Jenevieve said indicating her package on the table and then retrieving the purse of
coins from beneath her cape.

“T’is not necessary, m’lady! The food is most welcome but I have yet not spent the coins
that ye left last time.” Abigail objected.

“They will come into good use in the spring, Abigail, to buy seed for planting and also to
pay Yancy. An added mouth is a strain, though I suspect your unwilling guest would
prefer not to be here. Take the money, good woman, and say no more.” Jenevieve
insisted.

Jenevieve stayed at Abigail’s farm until after the mid-day meal was served. Marcus came
in from the field to eat and so did Wyeth. The four people sat at the table eating
scrambled eggs that were complimented by the cheese and warm bread baked that
morning. For dessert, Abigail served them some of Cook’s pastries though Jenevieve and
Wyeth both declined. Wyeth appeared as if he had overtaxed his fragile strength with the
stall mucking he had done but Marcus had a hearty appetite. Wyeth said little through the
meal but soon returned to the bunk to rest. Jenevieve chose then to ride for home while
there were still four hours before sundown. Abigail’s homey atmosphere seemed tense
with the strain that existed between Wyeth and Jenevieve. Yet, Jenevieve was encouraged
to see him healing and knowing that he could leave as soon as he was healed enough,
therefore removing the danger from them all. What he chose to do after he left Abigail’s
care, was his own decision.

Marcus assisted Jenevieve to mount Spin, and promising Abigail to return in a few days,
Jenevieve set off for home. She allowed the filly to canter lightly on the way back but it
also gave her time to think. She had several things on her mind, not the least being of
how she was going to be able to return to the farm alone. Malcolm had expressed strong
dislike of the idea of Jenevieve riding by herself without an armed escort. News of the
skirmish a few days before had reached Fademist quickly and the stable master was not
comfortable with Lady Jenevieve riding unescorted while there might be enemies still
hiding on Fademist’s lands. She had only managed to escape this morning under the
insistence that she had to see to this tenant, as far unnamed. Jenevieve did not think she
would be able to leave as easily the next time she needed to visit Abigail.

Her thoughts then turned to the discussion with Abigail earlier in the day when she had
shown the older woman the crystal. Jenevieve knew that Abigail was wise in old lore and
she hoped that Abigail could give her some idea of why Cook felt that she needed the
stone. Perhaps someone else might have scoffed at the thought of a rock being useful to
her but Abigail hadn’t. She said very little other than Cook had been wise to give it to
Jenevieve and the crystal would serve its purpose when it was needed. Abigail would say
no more.

As she neared the keep, her thoughts drifted back to Wyeth. His disdain had put her off
though she knew she should have expected it. His animosity towards her was
unwarranted in her opinion but not apparently, his. She could only do what her
conscience dictated to her and that was to help him. There was no guarantee that gratitude
would be given for that help. She sympathized with him at feeling out of place in
Fademist and she, too, longed for her home but their reasons for being there were very
different.

She was almost to the gate when young Tom raced out to meet her on foot.

“M’lady, please come quick. There has been a message sent from Lord Dexter. The
messenger is still waiting for ye. He will speak to no one but Mr. Yancy or ye.” Tom
stated has he reached her. Feeling that familiar tenseness building again, Jenevieve
touched Spin’s flank with her heel and the horse sped up.

When she reached the front of the stable, Jenevieve dismounted immediately. She began
to almost run as she headed for the greeting hall of the house where she was met by
Polly. There was a great look of concern on her maid’s face as she fell in behind her
mistress, gathering the riding cloak and gloves as Jenevieve discarded them. When she
reached the doors that led into Dexter’s study, she sent Polly off to the kitchen to bring
her some hot tea. She opened the two oak doors and stepped inside without waiting for
any summons since Dexter was still gone. Once she was through the door way, she saw
Yancy and another man, dusty and bedraggled from a long ride, standing in front of
Dexter’s desk. Without thinking twice, she felt herself assume the role as mistress of the
house when Yancy turned to her and nodded his head briefly as he said, “Lady
Jenevieve.”

Yancy was a man far older than either Dexter or herself. He was of medium height, a
somewhat portly stomach, and a thick shock of graying hair which included his beard. He
had been the overseer of Fademist for forty years, serving first under Dexter’s father,
Lord Faldor. He was a dedicated man to the family of the house but his opinion of what
his rank entitled him to was far too excessive to suit Jenevieve. Dexter treated him with a
fondness due an uncle though there was no relation. He was given to mimic Dexter’s
distant but polite attitude when it came to Jenevieve.

Having been raised around servants and men all her life, Jenevieve was well versed on
how to deal with such a man as Yancy. In her father’s house, she had been treated with
more warmth and respect among her father’s servants. Her mother died when Jenevieve
was ten after contacting pneumonia through one of the longest and coldest winters in the
land. Jenevieve had been the only surviving child of four miscarriages, two infant deaths
and remained the only one to live. Shamus of Narrow doted upon her but never spoiled
her enough to give herself airs above the rest of the household. She knew who she was
and they knew who they were but it had always been a happy household. When she
married Dexter, she dreamed of Fademist being the same type of household. It wasn’t and
she was not the same person that she once was at Narrow.

The courier from Dexter looked wearily at Jenevieve and then back to Yancy as he spoke
respectively “M’lady.”

Yancy spoke at this point as he stared impassively at Jenevieve. He motioned for her to
sit down, knowing that Jenevieve had already decided that the message from Dexter was
not of good tidings. She seated herself on a chair nearest the two men and then looked
expectantly at them.

“I am sorry, Lady Jenevieve, but Lord Dexter has sent this man with the news that your
father, Lord Shamus has died. There is not much known of how but only the confirmation
of his death. The lord sends his saddest condolences on your loss and has asked for you to
forgive him that he could not bring the news himself but his duties in battle are as such as
to prevent his return to Fademist at this time.”

Jenevieve could feel herself growing pale and slightly faint but she fought for composure
and with a wave of her hand, dismissed both men. For a moment, it seemed as if Yancy
was going to object but then decided the better of it. They both bowed to her and left the
room with Yancy giving a quick nod of his head to Polly who had returned to stand
outside the open doors. She went immediately to her mistress who was sitting on the edge
of the chair, stone still and silent.

CHAPTER FOUR

Over a fortnight passed before Jenevieve would think to return to the Jens farm or of the
injured stranger named Wyeth. With the death of her beloved father, she felt as if all of
the light had gone out of her world. She could not journey to Narrow as there were
random battles between the men of the south and the men of the north of the country.
Dexter had made himself very clear that he feared for her safety for her to make the
journey so Shamus of Narrow was mourned and buried without his daughter there.
Dexter had sent some of his own men to Narrow to secure the house and to make sure all
stayed in good order. He, through his wife, was now the master of Narrow as well as
Fademist. In her grief, it meant little to Jenevieve that she was someone of far more value
now to her husband since he had inherited a second holding through her. All that
mattered of Narrow to her was her father and he was gone.

Word traveled quickly through Fademist of the mistress’ loss. Jenevieve knew that
Abigail would know what had happened and not worry that she did not see Jenevieve for
some time. A year of mourning was accustomed and in the first month of that time, the
bereaved never left the house. No one had to remind Jenevieve of the custom for she had
no desire to venture beyond the keep. Her thoughts stayed with her father.

Yet even a wounded bird will with time long for the flight of freedom. Denied that, the
bird will die more from a broken heart that the injury. Jenevieve’s heart was truly broken
but her will to live was far from snuffed out. Within those first two to three weeks,
Jenevieve felt the all too familiar suffocation of Fademist closing in on her once again.
She began to long for the freedom of the open air and the comfort of love she seemed to
feel from Abigail. She soon decided that she cared little for what custom demanded of her
and she bucked the propriety of that when she sent word once again to Malcolm that she
wanted Spin readied and she would ride out alone.

She had hardly donned her riding habit, conveniently black, when she and Polly heard a
loud pounding on her bedroom door. Both women stared at each other but Jenevieve said
nothing more than to send Polly to open the door. As she expected, Yancy stood in the
doorway and from the agitation in his face, both women knew he was not there for a
friendly conversation. Polly stepped back to allow him entrance and Jenevieve steeled
herself to face him.

He was speaking before he reached her.
“Lady Jenevieve, I must protest this foolish venture of yours. You must not go riding
with the death of your father so recent. It does not present a good image to the people. As
to you riding out alone, that is absolutely not allowable!” the overseer stated, his words
carefully chosen but his implication clear that she was not going to be allowed to leave
the keep.

Jenevieve’s back stiffened and a hot angry flush filled her otherwise pale cheeks. The
evidence of her grief was plain in the puffiness of her eyes and the wan look about her.
No one who was aware of her could not help but instantly see the depth of her sorrow.
The real Jenevieve still was there though. Indignation filled her and she drew herself up
with all the pride she possessed. She was still the mistress of Fademist!

“Yancy, you will not forbid me to do anything! I am still the Lady of this keep and I do
not take orders from you. You overstep your boundaries!" Jenevieve stated adamantly.

Her clear refusal to adhere to his advice caused Yancy to suddenly seem taken aback. He
obviously had not expected her behavior. He started to bluster out something but then
thought the wiser of it. He replied in a more calming tone.

“My lady, I did not mean it to sound as if it were orders. I am having to act in Lord
Dexter’s stead while he is away and I know that he would forbid this. Surely, you
understand?”

“I understand, Yancy, but I still intend to go out. As Lord Dexter is not here, I am the one
in charge here…not you! I am the one who gives orders…not you! I have given orders
for my horse to be saddled so I may go for a ride and it shall be done. Is there anything
else?” Jenevieve demanded.

“You must be reasonable, Lady Jenevieve, because Lord Dexter will see this as a failure
on my part to be of good counsel to you and also delinquent in my duties to persuade you
not to pursue this ride. It would be best to wait awhile longer, my lady, but if you must
insist on going, then at least take an escort.” Yancy protested.

“No on both counts, Yancy. Never fear that if the Lord Dexter has grievance with you
about this, then I shall tell him of your advice and also tell him that it was solely my
decision! Now, good morning to you, Mr. Yancy.” Jenevieve dismissed him.

Yancy once again appeared to try and protest but then withdrew the objection. Bowing to
her, he answered sardonically. “As you wish, my lady.”

Before any more problems could arise, Jenevieve was out of the keep, onto Spin and
traveling a quick pace to the Jens farm. She let Spin have more rein and the filly stretched
out in a ground eating gallop. The wind, still cold, streaked through Jenevieve’s hair and
whipped around her. Its chilly caress was welcome to cool the heat of her too long
suppressed anger. The horse and rider, both young, flung caution aside and released pent
up frustration in the pleasure of motion and speed.

Two miles later, Jenevieve began to pull back on the rein to slow Spin down. The horse
was lightly sweaty but not blowing hard but Jenevieve feared the filly would have kept
running till she dropped or foundered. Spin fought to hold the pace but as always,
Jenevieve’s gentle persistence won. Spin reluctantly settled down into an easy canter. At
the slower pace, Jenevieve began to allow herself to think.

She did not know how she would do it but she intended to return to Narrow and take up
residence in her rightful home. She was wedded to Dexter but in name only. She
preferred to live where she could once again find some happiness. She intended to ask the
Jens to come with her if they would. At Narrow, they would have a better and easier life.
If they accepted, the only remaining problem was the wounded stranger, Wyeth. If Dexter
would not give her proper escort to return home, then she felt safe with Marcus and
Abigail. She had come to the decision that with the time that had passed and what time it
would take to prepare for the journey that Wyeth would have mended and could return to
battle or to home, which ever was his choice.

With that decision made, her heart became lighter than it had in many days. She was
smiling when she cantered into the yard of Abigail’s farm.

CHAPTER FIVE

When Jenevieve brought Spin to a halt, she glanced around herself from the house to the
lean-to. There seemed to be no one in sight. She was not surprised that she saw nothing
of Marcus but usually, Abigail was always there to greet her. She also wondered of the
whereabouts of Wyeth.

Feeling an uneasiness in her rider, the filly began to mince sideways and then to spin
around. She did it repeatedly and it was the action by which she had been given her
name. Jenevieve fought her agitation with the horse as she called out to the house.

“Mistress Abigail, are you there?”

There was no answer nor any movement that she could see until she noticed that the front
door eased open a crack as if she were being viewed by someone but that someone did
not wish to be seen themselves. She focused on making the horse stand still and paid less
attention to whomever had opened the door. Once the filly stopped acting as if she were
spooked, Jenevieve returned her attention to the door of the house.

“Abigail Jens, is that you?”

“No, it is not.” A definite male voice answered and Jenevieve knew it was not the voice
of Marcus Jens.

“Are you alone, Lady Jenevieve?” the voice ask. Jenevieve realized at that point that the
voice belonged to Wyeth.

“Yes, I am. It is safe to come out.” Jenevieve answered.

There came no reply but the door swung completely opened and Wyeth stepped into the
sunlight. As she watched him walk towards her, she saw that he was a different man than
the one she had last seen. He walked with a strong stride and he wore a new shirt. His
wounds seemed to have totally healed, the scratches were gone from his face and hands,
and the man that stared at her as he crossed the short distance between the house and her
was a man who was once again totally himself. Jenevieve felt a sudden, unexpected flip
in her stomach and she was totally surprised with herself when she realized that she was
thinking how handsome Wyeth was. She felt something that she had long thought of as
forever dead stir within her, she felt desire!

With this unexpected surge of emotion, Jenevieve fought herself to stay calm and
completely in control. She tightened the rein on the filly which caused Spin to protest by
pulling at her bit but she did not move. Jenevieve stared down at Wyeth’s face as he
finally strode up to her. He raised his face and to her disconcertion, she saw that he was
smiling. As he took the reins dangling under the horse’s neck, he focused all of his
attention on the woman astride the filly. Feeling compelled to break the silence,
Jenevieve spoke.

“Good morning, Wyeth. Are you alone here?” She quickly glanced around her as to be
searching for either Marcus or Abigail but it also gave her the opportunity to look away
from the man’s probing stare.

“Yes, Lady Jenevieve. All alone.” he said in a husky tone, meanwhile, he was thoroughly
enjoying her discomfort.

“Where is Mistress Abigail or Marcus?” she queried.

“Marcus is in the north fields and Abigail has gone to tend to a sick neighbor to the south.
She should be returning soon but she told me it was a long walk. Pity that she could not
ride Toby but Marcus has need of him since Spring planting is so close.” Wyeth
answered and then continued, “Let me help you down, my lady. I will secure the horse
and then make us a cup of tea. There is still yet some mush from this morning if you are
hungry. I have become quite good at making tea but sadly, cooking is an accomplishment
that I lack in.”

“Well, perhaps, I should return another day as it would not look seemly to Abigail for us
to be alone here.” Jenevieve spoke, fidgety at the idea of being alone with Wyeth.

“Absolutely not, Lady Jenevieve. Abigail would have me spitted for roasting if I let you
leave during her absence when she should return very soon.” Wyeth adamantly stated and
without asking permission or not, he reached up and grasped Jenevieve around the waist.
He slowly lowered her down from the horse, feeling her body slide just inches from his
own. The feeling of intimacy stirred up in his own fires and he was able to get a closer
look to his rescuer. She was indeed most becoming in her way. Not the sultry beauty of
Megan, his former betrothed, but a quieter beauty that seemed deeper and more genuine.
Her body was small but in his opinion, artistically carved to please any man from her
firm full breasts to her nicely rounded hips. Her mouth, trembling with indignation at
being handled without permission, was pleading for a kiss. Without considering
consequences or logic, that mouth got exactly what it so invitingly deserved. He kissed
her soundly and deeply.

Caution to the wind and filled with a long subdued need, Jenevieve returned the kiss,
immersing herself in the sensual pleasure that had been almost forgotten. They held to
each other in that brief moment and molded together as if they were two perfect parts to
one whole that had been separated far too long.

It took a movement from the horse to finally bring reality back to both people. Jenevieve
quickly disengaged herself from Wyeth, not allowing herself much time to recover her
composure. Wyeth, by far the bolder of the two, seemed to reluctant to let go but then a
mischievous trace of a smile crossed his lips. He said nothing but stood waiting patiently,
staring down at her with an inquisitive look in his blue eyes. The retort that had risen to
her tongue was instantly squelched as she chose to meet his silence with the same. From
kiss to stare contest, they stood but their attention was once again diverted by a
movement from Spin and a familiar voice heralding.

“Lady Jenevieve, how good to see ye!”

They both turned to see Abigail standing in front of her house. Jenevieve moved to step
to the right side of Wyeth as he went the opposite direction to retake the reins of Spin’s
bridle. Jenevieve rallied and stepped forward towards Abigail. She smiled brightly but
her thoughts did not match her expression. At that moment, Abigail was not as a
welcome sight as she usually was. Abigail’s appearance had saved her from any further
contact with Wyeth, but Jenevieve was not really sure that she wanted to be saved.

It also appeared that if Abigail had seen the couple’s embrace, then she was not going to
say anything about it. She gave Jenevieve a warm hug and then motioned for them to
enter the house. Obviously, she would be drinking Abigail’s tea making and not Wyeth’s.

A short time later, both women were sitting at the table drinking tea when Jenevieve,
realizing that Wyeth had opted to remain outside of the house, approached the subject of
the Jens coming with her to Narrow. She unashamedly explained her reasons for the
return to her family home and also why she wanted the Jens to come with her and leave
the rented farm that Abigail’s deceased husband’s family tended for over two
generations. All of this was not met with the enthusiasm from Abigail that Jenevieve
hoped for.

CHAPTER SIX
The two women were still deep into their discussion when both Wyeth and Marcus
entered the house. Abigail immediately stood up and began preparations for the midday
meal. Marcus went first to the small table where a pitcher of water and an empty basin
stood so he could wash the dirt of the fields from his face and hands. Wyeth stood
patiently beside him, waiting to do the same after some unknown task he had performed
outside while the women had talked. Jenevieve forced her gaze from him and dropped it
to watch the spirals created by her spoon stirring the already cooled tea in its cup.

Each person had dropped to silence while they waited for the meal to be laid out. Abigail
placed a plate of already sliced bread beside a portion of a round of cheese. She sat a
small iron pot of reheated mush in the middle of the table and a large teapot of hot water
accompanied by a battered tin of ground tea. Some fresh churned cream and a small
precious amount of sugar were placed as well as the crockery dishes and two new cups.
All three joined the already seated Jenevieve at the table and after a quick grace, they
began to serve themselves. Jenevieve’s plate remained empty as hunger had fled her but
she refilled her tea. Abigail eyed her with disapproval but said nothing.

Marcus, sensing a heavy tension in the air, broke it when he said “Looks like it could be a
good crop, Mum, if the weather is fair.”

“Not if we are not here to bring it in.” his mother replied in a flat tone.

Both men looked straight at Abigail and Jenevieve stared down.

“What’s that mean, Mum?” Marcus questioned.

“Just exactly what I said, son.” Abigail answered, turning her gaze to Jenevieve as if
waiting for the younger woman to speak. Unsure what to really do, Jenevieve remained
silent. Abigail sighed and then stated.

“Lady Jenevieve wants for us to go with her to her birth home, Marcus.”

“What?” Marcus said, even more befuddled.

This time Abigail stared harder at Jenevieve, saying “Ye tell him, Lady Jenevieve.”

Jenevieve squirmed under Abigail’s demand but she spoke straight forward.

“Marcus, I have ask your mother to agree for both of you to accompany me to Narrow. I
intend to leave Fademist very soon and return to live at the estate that my father left me
when he died. It is my true home and I want to live there. Narrow has a great deal of land,
though not as large as Fademist, and I can offer you and your mother a section of that
land to live on and farm and pay no rent. It has good soil and will produce fine crops.”

“But, why would ye do that, m’lady?” Marcus continued to question, still puzzled.
“Because I want to and also because it would be a better life for you and your mother.”
she answered him. Her answer did little to dispel his confusion but if Marcus had not
understood, Wyeth had. He had stopped eating and was staring intently at Jenevieve.
There was a hooded look about his face as if he sought to mask his thoughts.

Marcus shook his head and looked entreatingly at his mother. Abigail looked to
Jenevieve and so did Wyeth, but oddly it was Wyeth that spoke first.

“I hope you know what you are asking of these people, Lady Jenevieve.”

“I do.” she answered quietly.

“I don’t think you do. There is many miles between here and Narrow if I am not mistaken
which is to the east. Correct?” he continued.

“Yes. It is at least a day and a half journey.” Jenevieve confirmed.

“Yes, and filled with different battle zones, both from your people and the enemy.
Marcus is not skilled in the ways of war, my lady, and so how do you propose to get them
and yourself through those battle zones?” Wyeth probed.

“I do not know exactly for sure, sir, but I am sure we will find a way, even if I have to
resort to bribery.” Jenevieve stated, her tone showing a strong sense of irritation. She
disliked being questioned so intensely in front of the Jens.

“And who would you be bribing, pray tell?” Wyeth asked.

“Guards, people, whomever, or whatever it took to get us thoroughly safely.” she nearly
snapped.

“And it would be just the three of you?”

“Yes!”

“Wrong!”

“What? The Jens and I only make three in a company, Wyeth.” Jenevieve reminded him.

“No, Lady Jenevieve, there will be four. I intend to go with you. I know my way through
those battle zones and even with me along, your chances of getting through are not that
favorable but the odds are better with me accompanying.” Wyeth informed her. All three
other people stared at him in utter amazement.

Before anyone else could say anything, he then questioned one more thing of her.

“How do intend to get out of Fademist without being stopped?”
Her answer was quick and simple.

“The only way I know to get out, Wyeth, and that is to sneak out!”

***

Jenevieve returned to Fademist later in the afternoon. She was filled with the thought that
she had made a nearly impossible decision but one she intended to act upon. There was
no one at the keep that she could trust with her secret and if she wanted to keep the
attention off of her, she needed to seem more co-operative with Yancy. There was little
or nothing that she wished to take with her except for some money and Spin. All that she
could want and need would still be at Narrow.

She was still trying to absorb the idea that Wyeth was determined to go with them. It
would in one way put the journey at greater peril if they were caught because he was one
of the enemy but his knowledge and experience would also give the trip at better chance.
She was also concerned about Abigail’s misgivings about leaving her home and all that
she and Marcus had but the good woman seemed willing to put her faith in Jenevieve.
Then, of course, there was always the matter of Dexter and his reaction if they actually
did reach Narrow.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jenevieve began to plan her escape carefully. She took note of the goings and comings of
people from outside the keep. She observed the changing of the guard. She paid closer
attention to Yancy’s absences from the keep. When he was gone, she was able to move
more freely about the house and she used this time wisely to study Dexter’s maps of the
surrounding countryside, particularly the route that would take them to Narrow. She was
for a while mystified at how to obtain larger sums of money without Yancy missing it.
She however devised a plan to not only secure the money but also to obtain more time
with Abigail. She became suddenly and profoundly ill.

Abigail was well known in the area as a healer and a midwife. Cook had some knowledge
of herbs and medicines but when anyone was truly sick, then they consulted Abigail.
When the mistress of Fademist refused to get out of bed one morning, refused to eat and
complained constantly of a headache and pain in her back, a message was sent to Abigail
that she was needed at the keep. Jenevieve worried that it was risky in case that
messenger, being young Tom, might spot Wyeth at the Jens farm but when Tom returned
with the news that Mistress Abigail would be there as quickly as possible because of
Jenevieve’s illness but she had no transportation other than foot. Jenevieve had a wagon
and team taken to her with the instructions, unchallenged by Yancy, that Mistress Abigail
may keep the wagon and team for however long she needed them. The message had
relieved Jenevieve of any fear of Wyeth’s detection by Tom.

Yancy was only too glad to cater to Jenevieve’s wants and needs as his rather headstrong
mistress seemed to have finally come to her senses and was willing to follow his good
advice to stay at the keep and not venture out alone anymore. He was very unsettled
about the fact she had become ill and he feared that its cause was the rides in the dank
late winter weather. He convinced himself and prayed he could convince Lord Dexter
that Jenevieve’s malady only stemmed from the grief of her father’s death.

It was near late in the evening when Abigail arrived at the keep, driven by her son,
Marcus. Abigail went immediately to Jenevieve’s chambers, after dispatching Marcus
with the wagon back to the farm. Her parting words “Ye will have to fend for yeself for
awhile, son.” told everyone that the healer would be a guest at Fademist for some time.

It did not take long for Abigail to discern that Jenevieve was not actually sick. To give
the mistress of Fademist some relief from her faked illness, Abigail informed everyone
that she and she alone would caring for Jenevieve. Polly was dismissed to other duties.
Within the privacy of her rooms, Jenevieve began to make serious plans with Abigail’s
help.

She wrote a letter to Thomas Woodbridge after insisting that Yancy prepare a voucher to
give as well. Tom Woodbridge was her father’s oldest and strongest friend and she knew
she would understand her reasons for wanting to return to Narrow. Shamus had been well
aware of his daughter’s unhappiness with her marriage to Dexter. There had been little
that he could do about it since the marriage contract was legal and binding. Jenevieve
knew that he had confided these thoughts to Tom. The Woodbridge farm, a small, family
tended place, neighbored Narrow and the two men had grown up together as friends.
Yancy had been skeptical about the voucher but acquiesced anyway. He had been
informed that the money was to be used to keep Narrow in good shape. Dexter’s men
were only there to guard it but the war preempted everything and so if the estate fell into
disrepair since Shamus was gone and there was no overseer, it would have done so. Tom
was to make sure that did not happen while the truth lay in the letter for Tom to hold the
money in trust for when Jenevieve arrived. She truly believed that Dexter would cut off
all funding once he found out she did not intend to return to Fademist. Narrow would
support her after she had time to reach there and settle in enough to run the estate.

In the two weeks that Abigail stayed at Fademist, Marcus came three times to visit his
mother and bring her medicines that she requested. Each time he went back home but
with carefully squirreled away funds to outfit the wagon with supplies for the journey.
His coming also brought news that Wyeth still remained and had not changed his plans to
join them on the trek to Narrow.

At the end of the two weeks, Jenevieve was once again healthy, but still retained a
quietness about her. It was not faked. Her grief for her father was still a very predominant
thing in her life. Abigail returned to the Jens farm and now all that remained to do was
wait for the night, two days ahead, when they would begin. The most dangerous part had
to remain totally on Jenevieve as it was only she that could find her way to the stables,
saddle and mount Spin and leave the keep undetected.
Yancy’s relief because of Jenevieve’s recovery and her amenity to take his advice caused
the tension between them to relax and Jenevieve was able to move about with less
observance. She maintained a placid attitude all day of the night she planned to leave.
She went about her normal routine and smiled gently at everyone. She was somewhat sad
as she knew that she would miss Cook, Polly, Malcolm and young Tom but she knew
they were all of Fademist and therefore, in allegiance with Dexter.

She waited to the hour of one when she was positive that all of household was asleep and
most of the garrison, except the guards posted at all four corners of the keep’s outer wall.
She knew there was one door out that they did not watch. It was the thick double wood
gate of her personal garden. It would be a tight squeeze to bring Spin through it but it
could be done. As she stood waiting by the low burning fire of her mantle, she turned the
crystal shard over and over in her hands, as if almost willing its said mystical powers to
give her aid in her escape. With a prayer for success, she gathered her cloak, her purse of
coins, and the crystal. She snuffed out all of the candles still burning in her chamber and
with one last look around, she let herself quietly out of her door.

She crept slowly and silently down the stone hall, down the main staircase and out
through the kitchen’s back door which would bring her in direct line with the stables. She
was once again thankful that Spin and Dexter’s favorite horse were stabled in a separate
building than the main one. It gave her a better chance to keep Spin quiet and bring her
through the garden undetected.

When she entered the stable, the filly only snuffled softly as her mistress approached. She
took the soft piece of bread that Jenevieve offered her and stood quietly as the saddle was
placed on her back. Jenevieve then bridled her and then with a caressing hand on the
horse’s soft muzzle to keep the horse quiet, the woman and filly entered the stable yard
and made a fast distance to the garden. Spin followed docilely and quietly as if totally
putting her trust in Jenevieve, who had feared that the filly might spook some by being
led in places she had never been. It was a tight squeeze through the gate and then they
were out! Filled with the sudden joy of her success, Jenevieve whirled around only to run
straight into the hard body of a man blocking her way.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Jenevieve would have screamed if the hand of that very same man had not covered her
mouth. Just as she was silenced, she stared hard into the face of her aggressor. Once she
recognized that it was Wyeth, she relaxed and willingly quieted herself. Then she felt a
sudden surge of indignation and fear cruise through her.

“You can remove your hand, sir, I will not scream!” she said emphatically but it came out
a garbled mumble. Wyeth’s blue eyes peered hard into her own and his mouth formed
words that were nearly inaudible. “What are you saying?”

Jenevieve reached up and pulled at his hand with both of her own, not realizing that she
had dropped Spin’s reins in the process. The filly, spooked, went to step away and Wyeth
released Jenevieve to grasp the reins himself. He caught the reins in his left hand and
formed a “quiet” signal with the middle finger of his right hand as he turned to face
Jenevieve. Instead of ignoring it, she chose to heed it. She nodded in ascent.

Satisfied, Wyeth took a firmer grip on the filly by placing the reins in his right hand and
using his left hand to press down on the horse’s nose to keep her from whinnying. He
made a jerking gesture with his head and Jenevieve knew that he wanted her to follow
him. She once again nodded and then turned to shut the garden door so it was be less
noticeable. As she turned back, the figures of the man and the horse were almost
swallowed by the darkness as they moved ahead of her. She went as quickly but also as
quietly as possible to catch up with them.

She followed them through some outlying underbrush of the keep’s walls until they
finally had moved nearly a quarter of a mile from Fademist and into a small stand of
trees. They had not walked far when they came up on Toby tethered to a slender sapling.
The draft horse was wearing a frayed saddle and tack that looked small on him but he
was obviously going to be Wyeth’s mount of the journey to Narrow.

When they reached the second horse, Wyeth drew the reins over Spin’s neck and then
walking around to her left side, he cupped his hands to help Jenevieve mount. Once she
was up, he mounted Toby himself and the four of them turned away from the distant dark
silhouette of Fademist and headed in the opposite direction.

They rode for a short while in silence until they came to a rutted road that Jenevieve
knew to be one of the main passages out of Fademist. Expecting Wyeth to turn onto it,
she started to speak a protest until she realized he was crossing it and still moving
towards the black outline of the woods in front of them. Spin began to bob and bounce in
feistiness as if she clearly did not like the slow pace they were at, while Toby moved
along calmly and undisturbed. Jenevieve wanted to let the filly run for awhile to get rid of
her access energy but she knew it was not the time nor place for it. She forced the antsy
young horse to follow Toby at a sedate walk. That walk along with long hours of high
stressed out nerves, waiting for the time to escape, filled Jenevieve with a weariness that
she did not need. She yawned in spite of herself and was rewarded with a scathing look
from Wyeth. His expression said clearly “Stay alert.” and she complied the best way she
could by sitting erect in her saddle and staring angrily into his back.

If this action bothered him, he never revealed it.

What wan moonlight there was, brightened as some of the cloudiness of the night sky
parted and the quartered orb filtered through. They were now deeper into the woods but
Jenevieve could see a clearing ahead. And in that clearing sat the wagon and team with
Abigail and Marcus aboard. It hit Jenevieve then full impact that her plan was coming to
actual reality and there was no turning back as all the Jens’ possessions that could fit in
the back of the wagon was there. The journey home to Narrow was underway.

***
By the time that dawn arrived, the little travel party was miles beyond the borders of
Fademist. Wyeth was a relentless driver, pushing people and animals to cover the
distance as fast as possible. He had told them that he preferred to travel at night so their
movement could be less detectable. Jenevieve was not sure that it was the best idea but
having no experience of her own to fall back on, she, like the Jens, decided to leave it up
to him.

She had given the small sketched map she had made up the landscape on the route to
Narrow to Abigail before the older woman left Fademist. If Wyeth had used it, he had not
yet revealed that to her. She, in truth, could not really know. She only knew she had
never seen the place that Wyeth had chosen to spend the daylight at. It was at the base of
a craggy mountain.

Wyeth had stopped his small group a short time before they reached what was to be their
resting place. Without explaining why, he had Marcus drive the wagon into a meadow
and make several circles through the wet brown grass. Once he was satisfied, he halted
them and then asking Abigail to stand down and hold Toby, he instructed Marcus that
they were going to cover the wagon’s wheels with burlap. It answered one question for
Abigail of why she had been requested to save all the feed, flour and seed bags she could
locate. Yet, she had no idea as to their purpose, no more than why Wyeth had insisted
that she “give” her two cows to her favorite neighbor along with the goats and chickens
by secretly leaving them there in the late evening hours of the journey. When she
inquired why, Wyeth said “They will only hinder us, Mistress Abigail. Leave them.”

Once the wagon wheels were covered with burlap and tied on with leather strings, Wyeth
handed Abigail back up into the wagon beside her son. He then remounted Toby and
began to lead the group towards the mountain.

Jenevieve soon noticed the grass gave way to stone and as they came to the base of the
mountain, she found that it was actually two. The main body of the mountain rose to the
right and a smaller buttress rose to the left. The shorter mass of stone seemed to almost be
an extended branch of the mount. There was a narrow pass between the mountain and its
offspring.

The shod hooves of the four horses rang on the stone, causing echoes to vibrate off the
towering stone walls of the natural ravine. Yet, the wagon rolled quietly and left no
tracing on the rock. They were to the middle of the pass when Wyeth called a halt. He
glanced about him as if looking for something but whatever it was, he soon found and
grunted in satisfaction.

“We are here now.” he stated simply and motioned for them to move forward. One short
turn around a bend and Jenevieve saw the massive opening of a cave appear to the right, a
hole in the mountain. It appeared to be huge but she did not realize how large until Wyeth
rode Toby straight into the opening, she followed him with Spin, and the Jens brought up
the rear with the wagon and team. They moved several yards into the mouth of the cave
and then stopped. Wyeth motioned for all them to dismount.

“This is where we will spend the day. Come, Marcus, help me to tend to the horses and
Mistress Abigail we could all use some food. Several feet forward is a path that leads to a
lower level of the cave. There is a place where a fire has been laid before. It has a small
opening above it to release the smoke but since it is several feet to the ceiling of the cave
most of it will dissipate before it reaches that opening, therefore not giving away our
location to our pursuers, in case, there is any following. There is an ample stockpile of
dry wood there.” he explained.

“How do you know all this, Wyeth?” Jenevieve questioned, all the more puzzled.

He turned to stare at her, his eyes intense and thoughtful. He was silent for a moment as if
weighing the thought in his mind or not of whether, he wanted to answer her. Then he
relaxed and stated. “I stayed here with my fellows before we were involved in the
skirmish that I was wounded in, Lady Jenevieve. We camped here for several days to rest
and get our bearings. We left the wood supplies in the event we would need them again.
It is a perfect place of defense. There is no other way into the cave and the rock pass
gives an alert by sound if there is enemies coming by horse.”

“Where are the rest of your fellows?” she probed.

“Either dead or prisoners of your people, my lady. We were badly outnumbered.” he
informed in a sharp retort and she remained silent after hearing his statement since there
seemed to be no suitable reply. She could have said “I’m sorry.” but even that had the
emptiness of no condolence in it.

Wyeth noted her discomfort and seeing a genuine distress in her, his hardened expression
softened and he said in a gentler tone.

“It matters not, my lady. It is done and now in the past.”

She nodded her head in response and turned to follow Abigail to where the “said” fire pit
lay. The men would bring up the necessary cooking utensils once they had a fire going.
Hunger gnawed at her stomach and she suddenly realized how weary she was.

***

Two hours later, found the foursome full from a not very fancy breakfast of scrambled
eggs, slightly heated day old muffins and some hot tea. Abigail seemed to be especially
tired as she was not used to traveling and the wagon’s uncaring jolting on her spine and
hips had caused a familiar aching to rise in her lower limps. The cave was airy and cold,
despite the heat generated from the fire. She cleaned the dishes with a bit of white sand
inside the cave and a small portion from their barrel of drinking water. They had one to
themselves and one for the livestock. It had to last the journey unless they found a stream
to accommodate them otherwise. She and Marcus then rolled themselves snugly into
several blankets Abigail had brought for bedding and both were sleeping as soundly as
possible on the hard cold floor.

Jenevieve longed for sleep as well but her mind was still filled with all the possibilities
that her plan could go wrong with. She was more alarmed by the fact that if she and the
Jens had tried on their own, they would most certainly have been captured before they
ever reached Narrow. The truth that Wyeth’s knowledge was the one strong asset they
had did little to comfort her. They were just four against many, directed by a very angry
husband who would use all of his resources to find them and return her to Fademist. If
Dexter were to succeed at that very act, the plight of the Jens and Wyeth was too horrible
to consider. The thought hurt her so as she sat beside Wyeth, close to the fire, she rubbed
her brow as if almost in pain.

Wyeth also lost in his own thoughts. She could tell by the intense expression on his face
that those thoughts were also troubling. She sipped her cooled tea quietly while he made
several pulls on a small flask from the pocket of his jacket. She knew the flask contained
whiskey. She was accustomed to being around men who drank, since Dexter often
entertained when in residence at Fademist. During those feastings, the mead and ale
would flow.

Her own father had entertained but not as lavishly but the meal always contained some
wine or other strong drink. Yet, she did know that a man drinking heavily alone and silent
was a man who was not in an entertaining mood. She considered excusing herself and
retiring but she longed to heat some more water to at least wash herself before doing so.
She felt grimy and disarrayed from the journey. Despite, Wyeth’s brooding mood, she
decided to risk asking him for that very small privilege. She was just about to speak when
he spoke first.

“Well, my noble lady,” he began, his voice slurred just a bit from the whiskey, “I must
say you are nothing like my former betrothed , Megan. That good lady would have never
ventured such a trek as you have undertaken.”

Jenevieve felt a small surge of energy come to her as she realized that Wyeth might be
willing to reveal some of his mysterious past. She questioned softly. “Former, Wyeth?
You will not marry her when you return home?”

“There is no home to return to. It is all gone. Besieged, conquered, and stolen from my
family by lords of the south. My family is all dead and Megan became the wife of the
new lord. I wish I could say she did it with great regret but she didn’t. Megan only
considers her comforts and position. She would not have wed such as I, with no land
holdings or property. That is why I came here to fight because this war cost me
everything I valued and one of those things was not Megan!”

The vehemence in his voice startled Jenevieve but she tried not to show it.

“I am sorry, Wyeth, I truly am. I suspected you came from some affluent family but I did
not realize you had lost everything. I hate this war and the avarice of the men who fight
it.” she spoke, her voice filled with sincerity.

“Yes, that would be you, Lady Jenevieve. Fair even unto the enemy!” he snarled but she
suspected the anger in his voice was not truly directed at her.

“When I first began to heal, I was so grateful for the kindness of Abigail and Marcus. I
could only vaguely remember a beautiful woman kneeling over me when I passed out. At
first, I thought it was just a delusion brought on by the blood loss and fever of the
wounds. But then…. When I saw you with enough clarity to know you were real, I was
filled with rage. I wanted to ravage you, despite the fact that you had saved my life, in
retaliation against your husband and all he stood for.”

He had raised his eyes to stare hard at her and seemed to be waiting for his admission to
register to her and for her to be scornful of him for having such violent and hateful
thoughts of her. She was amazed at the confession but having learned what she had of
Wyeth, she dismissed it, knowing it was only thoughts of revenge. She no longer feared
him as she had in the beginning.

“I apologize, my lady, for my drunkenness and my inexcusable statement.” he then said,
the regret and pain clear in the smoky blue depths of his eyes.

CHAPTER NINE

“Perhaps you should try to get some sleep, Lady Jenevieve. It will not be that long to
sundown.” Wyeth stated, turning his face away from her.

“But what of you, Wyeth?” she inquired.

“I am to wake Marcus in a couple of hours so he may keep watch, though there is little
necessity for it since we are well concealed and have the benefit of a natural warning
system.” he remarked.

Jenevieve could feel that Wyeth had decided the discussion was ended but she still
needed to ask her request for a small bath.

“Wyeth, is there any possibility that I might use some of the water to at least wash with? I
feel so dirty.” she requested.

“Wash? Why, of course, my lady, but it is not necessary to use our drinking and cooking
water. There is water nearby suited perfectly for bathing, just not drinking. Come, I will
show you.” Wyeth answered, the glum expression leaving his face and replaced with an
expression that Jenevieve almost could have called mischievous.

He rose to his feet, a bit unsteadily, and then extended his right hand to help her rise to
her own. Once she had stood up, he released her hand and stooped to gather one of the
blankets they were seated upon. Then without requesting her permission, he took her
hand again and began to lead her away from the fire and the sleeping people beside it.
They ascended the stone path and then went quietly by the resting horses and the
unhitched wagon. They were almost to the entrance of the cave.

He let go of her hand and made a silent signal for her to stop. She waited while he
stepped quietly and slowly through the entrance of the cave and into the pale winter
daylight. She knew he was checking the pass for any sign of danger. Once he was
satisfied that it was safe, he motioned for her to follow him. She did as he wanted.

When the pair of them stepped in the sunlight, they both blinked as their eyes adjusted to
the light after the dim interior of the cave. Once their pupils had accepted the change, he
took her hand once again and began to lead to the left away from the cave. They walked
silently for about an eighth of a mile when he turned to the right and went past some
small bushes into the smaller knoll of stone, the upshot of the mountain. Behind the bare
limbs of the scraggly bushes was a narrow opening. She started to stop but he pulled her
on.

They passed through a very narrow low chamber before stepping into a widened passage
that turned out to be a circular stone room. There was some thin cracks at the ceiling of
the enclosure in which the sunlight filtered through. Despite the weakness of that winter
sunlight, the room was ablaze with a myriad of reflecting colors as the walls and ceilings
were lined with hundreds of crystals! The ever changing pattern of colors was enhanced
by the rippling of a small pool of water in which a thin film was arising. It was the end of
an underground mineral pool, coming from deep within the bowels of the earth, coming
up warm from the planet’s hotter layers. It was almost ethereal in appearance. Now, she
knew why Wyeth had said it was perfect for bathing but not drinking. As she did not
thirst, the pool, reflecting the ricocheted colors of the crystals, was a heaven sent dream
come true.

All she could say was “Oh, Wyeth!”

“Your bath, my lady.” he answered in mock subservience. Then without asking or
indicating, he turned her into his arms and kissed her. It was a fierce kiss, full of pain,
longing and need. The drink had made him lose his natural reserve and all he saw was a
place of respite and a beautiful lonely woman that he desired and had since he had first
seen her. It never registered to him that she might refuse him. And she didn’t!

She met him need for need, longing for longing and pain for pain. Her weariness, her fear
worked on her as his whiskey had him. She felt him begin to untie her bodice and she
clung to him in a expectant, joyous stupor.

When he had accomplished freeing her bodice, he slipped it and her chemise from her
shoulders until she was naked from the waist up. Her pert breasts had hardened nipples as
she felt the still cold air within the tiny cave. It only intensified her desire. She began to
tug at his jacket and shirt. She wanted him naked. He aided her with his own hands while
still in full possession of her mouth.

They then broke apart and both began to shed themselves of the cumbersome clothes.
Jenevieve could feel the flush of her body as she momentarily realized what she was
doing but she soon cast it aside. It did not take long before they were both totally nude.
He felt her pause suddenly as she viewed his extended hardened member but the look in
her eyes was not disgust but of delight and anticipation. He stepped forward to kiss her
again, his erection rubbing enticingly along the soft brown curly pubic hair. She was
heady with want. She told him in well-known silent language what she wanted and
needed of him. In eager willingness to grant her wish, he lifted her into his arms and
headed for the heated pool.

She felt a dimpling of her skin as the warm waters of the pool made contact with her after
the chill of the outer air. She clung harder to him, this time kissing him on her own
violation.

He took them until they reached the middle of the pool which did not seem to be very
deep. Then bending his knees, he lowered them into the water and released her to let her
float in the weightlessness of buoyancy. While she floated just within his arms, his
hungry mouth found those beautiful breasts begging. As his lips closed on the first one
and his tongue began to tease the pimpled nipple, she sighed in ecstatic joy. She felt an
almost forgotten fire begin to burn deep within her vagina. She ran her hands to his
shoulders, trying to push herself down so that she could take him within her. He thwarted
her attempt!

Wyeth had every intention of pleasing her but he wanted it to last. He was far from done
with her breasts but he inserted two fingertips in the water and sexually wet lips of her
vagina, spreading it slightly apart and beginning a long slow exquisite torture to her
clitoris. She shuddered and surrendered to the sensations filling her mind and body. She
was his willing captive!

They circled in the water as a pair of perfectly matched dancers with his legs being the
only support and she floated. They kissed, touched, explored and delighted until they
were both on the brink of near insatiable desire. Then spreading her legs, he entered her
roughly and totally. She writhed as she impaled upon him and her body adjusted to
accepted him. She moaned softly but soon was writhing again as he began a steady
rhythm of thrusts. She climaxed over again and again where her cries of delight
reverberated off the crystallized glimmering walls. On and on it went until she felt him
stiffen and then release his ejaculation. She was filled with him but he no sooner relieved
his pain than it rose again to demand more. They continued to make love in the
rainbow-mirrored depths of the pool until they were both sated and exhausted.

Now, Jenevieve knew the meaning of crystal passion!

CHAPTER TEN
Jenevieve became aware of her face feeling hot and an unpleasant odor drifting into her
nostrils. She began to cough and suddenly she was awake. When she went to move, her
body screamed in protest. She ached all over and was sore, especially in places that she
had forgotten existed. She groaned and then heard a soft voice behind her say, “So you
are finally awake.” She knew it was Wyeth’s voice.

She opened her eyes warily and glanced around her. There was nothing but darkness
except for the bright flames of a leaping fire. She could barely make out at the edge of a
smoky distance, the figure of Abigail stirring something in a iron kettle over the fire. She
also felt a sudden swoosh of cold air against her back when she felt Wyeth pull away
from her as he rolled over and then began to rise to his feet, shedding their common
blankets as he went.

“Get up, Jenevieve, it is almost time to leave. The sun has gone down and it is time to
travel.” He said quietly, as if everything in the world was perfectly normal. Normal? How
could it be normal? How could it ever be normal again after what had occurred in the
crystal cave? And his sleeping next to her, under the same blankets was anything but
normal. Yet, he acted like it was all an everyday occurrence.

The oddity of the whole thing struck her but not with unhappiness but exactly the
opposite. When she thought of them making love in the heated mineral pool, she felt an
inner glow that spread all the way through her body, centered on the tenderness of her
private area. She had never known that making love could be such an invigorating but
exhausting experience. Dexter had enjoyed her and not cared whether she enjoyed it or
not. It had never been rushed as he had taken full advantage of his husbandly rights!
What had been between her and Wyeth in the crystal cave had gone far beyond the
mating ritual she had with her husband which had brought some pleasure but nothing
compared to the feelings with her now lover.

She felt herself flush deeper with the pleasant thoughts and the secret knowledge between
her and Wyeth. Or was it secret? She could not see any expression on Abigail’s face and
Marcus was no where to be seen. She heard Wyeth’s footsteps as he walked away from
her and around the fire pit to where Abigail was. She heard his warm tone as he said,
“The food smells good, Mistress Abigail.”

“Then come and ease ye hunger, Wyeth, has we should be on the move soon. Me son
tells me there is still a night’s journey to Narrow. True?”
Abigail spoke.

“Yes, Marcus is right. I hope to be within the boundaries of Narrow by dawn.” Wyeth
answered.

After a steaming cup of tea and a quick change of clothes, Jenevieve found herself ready
to begin the last part of their trek to Narrow. When they went to finally leave the cave,
she found that her place in the group had been ousted. Wyeth told her she was to ride in
the wagon with Abigail as he intended to ride Spin the last part. When she started to
protest, he took her to the side and explained quietly.

“Jenevieve, I need to ride ahead and make sure the way is clear. Toby is too slow for that.
I need your horse’s swiftness for that. I will take care with her as I know she has a soft
mouth. We had fine horses at my home as well.”

He saw a stubborn storm brewing in Jenevieve’s eyes. It told him of many things, not the
least being, that she did not completely trust him. He knew she had walked away from
five years of her life with little or nothing more than her clothes and that one horse. To
surrender her beloved Spin was asking a great deal of her, even though he had done all he
knew to do to gain her trust and confidence.

It did not take long though before he saw the evidence of her generous and caring nature
as she quietly nodded her agreement. Wyeth was once again touched by her compassion
for other people as she had chosen to the put welfare of the Jens and the trip over her own
needs. She loved the Jens and sought only to make a better home for them as well as
herself at Narrow. He felt a pang of remorse that it did not seem that she had considered
him in that. She was wanton and in need enough to allow him the intimacy of her body
but not the trust of her thoughts or feelings. Her cold husband had done his job well!

As he handed her up beside Abigail, he could feel his jaw tighten in anger and also regret.
He, too, had treated her coldly and distantly where he had not the Jens because of her
station in life. She had shown him nothing but kindness from the beginning. His thoughts
were heavy when he swung up in the tattered saddle on the black filly’s back, being that
Jenevieve’s was a side saddle and even if not, far too small. Marcus had mounted Toby
bareback.

The capricious filly stood stock still at first at the feel of heavier weight on her back and
then reared. She was unaccustomed to anyone riding her but Jenevieve. With the
expertise of a man raised around spirited horses, Wyeth soon gently brought her under
control. Then with only the motion of his hand, he began to lead them into the misting
night and away from the safety of the caves. There were many miles yet ahead of them as
they headed for Narrow.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Hours had passed and miles of rough traveling. Abigail had grown weary of dealing with
the constant fighting of the reluctant team so Jenevieve had taken over. She found driving
the two horses was a far harder task than just actually riding Spin. She focused on the
figure ahead of Marcus on Toby.

They had not seen Wyeth or her horse for over a hour. All kinds of things went through
her mind, not the least of which was that the enemy may have found him and he was
dead. The day before she might have considered if he had taken Spin and deserted them
but after what she had learned of him and about him, she did not really believe he would
leave them anymore.
She was lost in thought when she suddenly realized that Marcus had come to an abrupt
halt. She was already pulling on the double reins when Marcus raised his hand in the air
to signal her to stop. The jarring motion of the wagon caused a jolt to Abigail and she
moaned involuntarily from the pain.

Marcus whirled quickly around and let out an insistent “shish” with his mouth. His
mother immediately silenced herself.

They sat hushed and stiff in the past midnight darkness. Jenevieve knew that they were
waiting for something but she did not know what. Then she heard the sound that had
caused Marcus to draw up. It was the sound of a horse moving quickly through the trees.
Her heart grew tight with fear. She prayed it was Wyeth but acknowledged her worst fear
that it could be an enemy. She did not have long to wait.

Within seconds the figure of a horse and rider broke through the trees to their left and she
knew instantly by the movement of the horse, it was Wyeth on Spin. She let out a
relieved held breath at the same time the others also exhaled. They waited for Wyeth to
reach them.

Wyeth had brought Spin to a sliding stop and the filly danced in a hyper mood. He came
along side the wagon as did Marcus. His voice was a raw whisper when he said.

“Quickly, Jenevieve, turn the wagon towards that line of trees. We have to hide! There is
a patrol coming at a fast canter about a half mile back. They must no see us!”

Even as Jenevieve was jerking on the reins to the right, Marcus and Wyeth each took the
side of each team horse and began to lead them forward at a quick trot. The team picked
up speed and the two women in the wagon were tossed about roughly. Jenevieve held
tightly onto the reins, guiding where she could and Abigail clung to the wooden back of
the wagon seat. They were hurrying but were given no aid by the cloud cover over the
moon’s face sliding away and they became more visible in the night.

Wyeth saw the light expose them and he pushed the team harder. He could hear the sound
of the patrol growing closer. They passed through a wider opening in the trees and then
went as deep into the trees as they could maneuver the wagon. Once they brought it all to
a halt, he released his hold on the team horse’s reins and whirled Spin to return to the
edge of the trees.

Marcus had dismounted and quieted the horses with soft soothing sounds while the
women tried to climb down and help him. No one uttered a sound.

Jenevieve could not see anything although she heard the sound of the horses. She stole
quickly from the wagon and the people to hurry as quietly as possible to the tree line. She
wanted to see the patrol.
She chose a place down from where Wyeth had dismounted from Spin and he, too, was
holding the filly’s muzzle to keep her quiet but his hard stare was focused totally on the
men and mounts passing in front of them. It was not a large patrol but only about twenty
but more than enough to capture them if they were discovered. He did not see or hear
Jenevieve take cover in a clump of underbrush about ten yards to his right but he did hear
her swift intake of breath. That was all that he heard as the patrol passed completely by
and Jenevieve never made another sound.

Once the group was safely beyond eyesight and sound, he heard her rise from her place in
the brush and come towards him. Her footsteps were hurried and deliberate. When he
could see her face, he saw that she had an expression that was a mixture of fear and
excitement. She quickly came up to him.

Her words came tumbling out.

“We are near the borders of Narrow and in the lands of Thomas. We are almost home!”

“How do you know that?” he demanded.

“Among that patrol is Dexter’s sergeant at arms. The last time I saw him was the day
Dexter left Fademist. He would be Dexter’s choice to put in charge of men dispatched to
guard Narrow.” Jenevieve answered.

“Makes sense.” Wyeth stated.

“Best of all, I know exactly now where we can go and be safe without showing ourselves
directly at Narrow.” she continued.

Wyeth stood quietly this time, staring at her but she could tell that he was deep in
thought. She was elated with the knowledge that she was almost home but she knew the
risks of danger that they still could be exposed to. Yet, at that moment, she wondered if
Wyeth would be like all men that she had encountered by not giving her any credit for
having a mind capable of knowing that. She could lead them all to safety if he would only
listen to her.

The clouds slid back over the moon’s face and just before the light disappeared, she saw
a look of resolve on Wyeth’s face. When he spoke, his voice was firm.

“Lead on, my lady!”

CHAPTER TWELVE

Since Jenevieve was the one on familiar ground now, the small group found themselves
back in their original order, with the exception that Jenevieve was the one leading. She
knew the area well enough that she skirted the main track and began to lead the band of
travelers deeper into the woods. Wyeth followed her with some questions in his mind but
he kept his thoughts to himself. Abigail was grateful to once again give the control of the
team to Marcus but she found no outlet to ease the pain in her back. She sent a silent
prayer upwards that this miserable trek would soon be over with and that Jenevieve
would find them something of a more hospitable habitat than that cold cave with its hard
stone floors.

The weary team of horses seemed to move slower as the wagon’s occupants realized they
were on a twisting upgrade. They were climbing and all of them, except Jenevieve,
suspected that they were going farther away from Narrow than near it. The thin line of
breaking dawn on the horizon gave Wyeth ill ease but he said nothing to anyone.
Questioning Jenevieve would only make a bad situation even worse. He put his faith in
the fact that she knew where she was going.

Just as a pale light overrode the darkness, the group broke out of the trees and entered a
wide, high meadow. The wildflowers and thick luxuriant grass that the Spring would
bring had not yet arrived because there was mounds of melting snow with wilted tufts of
brown grass sticking through them. The meadow was not totally level but filled with
rolling rises and small dips. The air was sharp and clean, if a bit thin to them after the air
in the lower lying lands from whence they had come. Wyeth realized they were entering a
foothill meadow as the sharp outline of a mountain range rose far to the west of them.

Marcus pushed the exhausted team even harder to pull the heavy laden wagon through
the mushy soil of the meadow, wet with melting snow. The farther they crossed the
meadow, the more light came as the crown of the sun began to peak over the eastern
horizon. It was then they saw the building.

It was a large stone cottage with a thatched roof. It seemed to blur in the weak light as its
stone walls had turned pale gray with many years of exposure to raw weather at the
meadow’s elevated height. It latticed windows were shuttered closed and the cottage had
a lonely air about it as it sat in its isolated location. As they drew closer to the cottage,
Jenevieve turned Spin back and came along side of the wagon to speak to her weary
companions.

“We are here, Abigail. I think we will have to stay here for awhile until it is safe for me
to go ahead to Narrow and straighten things out but for now, it is a roof over our heads
and a place to rest. I am sorry it is not what I wanted for us just yet but it will have to do.
At least, we are on my land now and this place is our summer shepherd’s hut. No one
really knows it is here except for those well familiar with Narrow. Dexter nor his men
know anything about it. We will safe here for awhile.” Jenevieve explained softly.

Abigail turned a weary but brightened face to the other woman as she said, “It is beautiful
here, m’lady! That ‘hut’ is much bigger than me house at home in Fademist. So much
pretty land. I think we can abide here well.”

Jenevieve smiled with relief back at Abigail and gave silent thanks for having such good
hearted and optimistic friends as the Jens. She glanced ahead as they drew closer to the
hut and then realized that Wyeth and Toby were no longer in front of them but were
gone!

She was suddenly besieged by the fear that he might have left them now that they had
reached a safe destination. But within moments, she cautioned herself to remain trusting
that he had simply left them to scout the surrounding area. The thought of him totally
leaving her life dismayed her more than she wanted to admit.

By the time the wagon and its occupants along with Jenevieve and Spin had reached the
cottage, Wyeth joined them. He looked worn and tired but he smiled at them. Only
Marcus seemed to be apprehensive as he said, “ I dunno, m’lady, but the place seems so
wide open. Seems to me that we be a sitting target here. Ye agree, Wyeth?”

Wyeth was easing his saddle sore body off of Toby’s wide back when he answered
Marcus.

“Actually not, Marcus. We have a good view of all the area. There is little chance of a
sneak attack without us knowing. The Lady Jenevieve has picked well.”

“But won’t we give ourselves away with smoke from the chimney? Sorry, Mum, but I
don’t like being so easy seen.” Marcus continued.

“Oh, shush yeself, boy. If Wyeth thinks its good and m’lady thinks will be not be found
so easy, then stop being such a doubting Thomas. As for meself, all I want is soft place to
lay me tired bones down and a roof over me head.” Abigail reprimanded.

“Hear, hear!” Wyeth seconded her as he helped Jenevieve dismount from the filly, an act
that Jenevieve felt she did not require as her horse was too tired to dance now. The young
horse had never known such long and arduous rides as she had done in the last two days
and even her feisty spirit was becalmed with exhaustion.

Marcus helped his mother down and then set about finding a place to secure all four
horses. Meanwhile Abigail had forged ahead to pull open the hut’s unlocked door and
take a survey of their new temporary home. As she stepped into the dimness of the
interior, Jenevieve heard her give a sigh of pleasure. Then in a strong voice, Abigail
called out to them.

“It is a well stocked hut, m’lady. A place for cooking, wood to supply and even bits of
ugly furniture. There is water nearby?”

Before Jenevieve could answer, Wyeth stated. “There is a well in the back and the water
is not frozen.”

“Then we best set to work. I will clean this place up with Lady Jenevieve’s help, fix some
food, and the men will tend to the horses and the wagon. We are all in need of a meal and
some rest. It is now at hand.”
Everyone nodded and set about their given tasks.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

A week had passed since their arrival at the shepherd’s hut in its high meadow. Much to
everyone surprise, Abigail had turned the cottage into a new home. She had cleaned,
discarded and added her own furniture to the house and Jenevieve could tell by the way
the older woman looked about her with satisfaction and happiness that Abigail had
decided this was her new home. It was not the one that Jenevieve had in mind for her and
Marcus but she kept her thoughts to herself and felt it would be better to wait until a
future time to approach the subject.

The weather had begun to turn warmer and all of the snow in the high meadow had
melted. There were some tiny green sprouts beginning to push up through the ground
which was a true sign that Spring was on its way. They were hard pressed at first to find
enough hay to sustain the four horses but a bit of foraging and sickle cutting from Marcus
and Wyeth had produced enough fodder to keep the animals fed until the grass began to
grow in earnest. Long hunts in the surrounding area with Wyeth’s newly made cross bow
netted them food along with rabbit traps and Marcus’ improvised fishing in the now
thawed stream in the upper part of the high meadow. Yet, their supply of staples was
extremely low and Jenevieve knew the time had come to visit Thomas, her father’s old
friend.

Donning a makeshift garment from Abigail’s handiwork on some of her own old dresses
and a faded out bonnet, Jenevieve decided to make the trip. She rode Spin as far as it was
safe while Wyeth accompanied her on Toby. Requiring Wyeth to stay behind for
secrecy’s sake, she exchanged mounts with him and rode the rest of the way alone on
Toby as the fineness of her own horse would have given away her disguise.

She rode quietly and unnoticed into the barnyard of her neighbor. She had chosen a good
time as all of the men who worked Thomas’ farm were out beginning to tend to his fields.
She rode to the back kitchen door and tied Toby to a slender sapling. Then with a
trembling fear, she knocked tentatively at the door. It was greatly to her relief that
Thomas himself opened the door and the look of surprise on his face told her that it had
not yet spread that she had escaped Fademist.

Thomas Woodbridge quickly grabbed her by her arm and pulled her inside the cozy
warmth of the kitchen. There she came face to face with his wife, Jane, who was
preparing a meal. The three people stood in silence as Jenevieve pulled the bonnet from
her head and stared with joy at two faces she had not seen in a very long time. She knew
now that she was almost truly home.

Thomas was the first to break the silence when he spoke.

“Jenevieve, what are you doing here? I thought you were ill and would not arrive until
spring had come. Surely Lord Dexter is mad now with not knowing what has become of
you? Have you just arrived?” He hardly took a breath as he fired off this series of
questions. He had given Jenevieve no chance to answer.

“Can’t ye invite the girl to at least sit, Tom? She looks like she could use a chair and
some tea. I am sorry for me husband’s lack of manners, Lady Jenevieve, but won’t ye sit
at the table and have some hot tea and maybe a bit of something to eat.” Jane spoke up,
overriding her husband’s probing.

Jenevieve gave Jane a beaming smile and replied, “Thank you so much, Mrs.
Woodbridge. I will have that seat and some tea, thank you.” She removed the faded shawl
from her shoulders and laying the bonnet on the glistening walnut dining table, she seated
herself in one of the matching chairs.

The Woodbridge’s were something a novelty among the gentry and common folk alike.
Thomas had been born to a wealthy landlord but as one of three sons and he was the
middle son. His older brother had inherited the main part of the estate, while Thomas was
given his inheritance in money and with that he took himself far from his home, bought a
formerly thought unproductive farm and began to live the life of a farmer. Within the first
year, he met Jane Wainscot, the butcher’s youngest daughter, wooed her, courted her and
then married her. They had been married nigh on thirty-five years and the Woodbridge
farm was very successful with its production of wool from its sheep, barley crops and
dairy cows. Jane had borne him one son and one daughter who had in their time taken up
residence nearby and presented the couple with eight healthy grandchildren. It was proof
that love needs no special status to be born and survive in happiness.


“Please, Thomas, Jane, share a cup of tea with me and I will explain all that has
happened.” Jenevieve ask and her request was granted as the Woodbridges sat down to
listen to her tale.

An hour after she had left Wyeth in the copse of trees with Spin, she returned and she
was smiling. He gave her an inquisitive look and all she said was. “It has all been
arranged.”

***

The next morning, shortly after dawn, the foursome were up and having breakfast when
they heard one of the horses whinny and then the sound of someone approaching the hut.
Everyone grew quiet, though Jenevieve felt sure she knew who it was, but the men went
quickly to see if it was danger. The women waited quietly until Marcus re-entered the
cottage and said, “Lady Jenevieve’s neighbor has come, Mum. He has a wagon loaded
with things!”

Abigail lifted her eyes upward as if in a silent prayer of thanks and Jenevieve was once
again grateful for the steadfastness she had found in Thomas Woodbridge. He had kept
his word and brought them the badly needed supplies. He had come alone so no one
would know of their hideaway.

Wyeth met the wagon and as Thomas brought his team to a halt, he eyed the younger
man skeptically. Jenevieve had withheld nothing from him, including the fact that Wyeth
had come from enemy territory but she had expounded on all that Wyeth had done. She
had not missed either the questioning look that had passed between Jane and Thomas as
she spoke of Wyeth with such enthusiasm. She knew what they were thinking and that
they had detected a note of deep fondness in her voice when she spoke of Wyeth. She did
not remark upon it and neither did the couple but she knew her countrymen’s old values
about the sanctity of marriage, despite the fact that they knew that Dexter had all but
abandoned her for Nancy since it had seemed that Jenevieve was barren. It rankled
Jenevieve that men were allowed so much more liberation than were women. No one had
ever bothered to ask her if she wanted to live the rest of her life in a loveless marriage.
For generations, women of noble standing had taken lovers but it was always looked
upon as scandal while their husbands’ same behavior had been overlooked as simply the
ways of men. She did not want a lover…she wanted a marriage and children. She was not
yet ready to accept the fact either that she would always remain childless. Yet, she knew
that she could have Wyeth in no other way if he chose to stay. She was bound to Dexter
legally until one of them died. Women were chattel in a way and men were the ones that
set the rules. As women before her and she suspected women after her, that such a plight
for the female sex would not always be so.

Yet, with Thomas’ agreement to help, she could not help but admire the love between
himself and his wife and she dismissed her dark thoughts and focused on the positive that
so far her plans were still working.

After the men had unloaded the wagon of the badly needed staples plus hay and feed for
the horses and Thomas had set out on his journey to return to home, the fugitive
foursome let out a sigh of relief and settled in to wait for the coming of Spring and the
next change of events.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Spring crept slowly in as if in an almost silent struggle against the winter’s refusal to let
go of the land. The snow had melted but its brown evidence lingered on the grass that had
lain under it. There were more green shoots sticking through and the few trees in the high
meadow slowly began to leaf out. It remained a quiet haven for the group but when
Thomas paid his weekly visits, he brought news of the war as it raged on.

Each time, he advised Jenevieve from yet trying to show herself at Narrow. He did tell
her that though it was a hushed whisper, there had been some news that Dexter was
looking for her. Those words alone were enough to make Jenevieve willing to continue to
wait until it was safer to reclaim her home.

They waited but not always easily or quietly, only Abigail seemed content. Marcus was
frustrated by his inactivity since he was accustomed to tilling his fields and bringing in
his harvest. His mother tried to occupy his time by having him repair and spruce up the
shepherd’s hut until the old thatched cottage took on a whole new appearance. That
worried Jenevieve for fear that a patrol might happen upon the high meadow and realize
that someone was in residence there. As yet, that had not happened.

Jenevieve also watched Wyeth with an anxiousness because she knew that he longed to
return to his homeland. Whatever ones of his part of the country had been near Narrow
had been routed out and either slain or forced to retreat closer to the south where they
came from. There had been stolen moments for them but Jenevieve suspected that
Abigail knew of the closeness that she and Wyeth had developed between them. Once
such incident had occurred recently.

Spin was filling out and growing fat along with Toby and the team horses as Jenevieve
did not ride as much. She had all of the high meadow to wander in by foot and she often
took long walks to alleviate the constant feeling of being confined in the house with
Abigail while the men hunted or searched for firewood. Abigail sewed and cleaned and
cooked but the Lady Jenevieve of Fademist had little to do. With her new wardrobe of
homespun and hand-me-downs, she did little to appear as a lady of means and property.
This was one thing that she really did not mind.

On one such long walk, she found a fallen log lying directly almost on the top of one high
rise. She sat down upon it, wrapping her cloak about her and pulling up the hood to cut
off the draft of the still chilly wind. The wind could blow at stronger speed across the
openness of the meadow and it still had enough bite to fill her with cold.

She sat there in silence, twirling a dry bush limb around in her long fingers. She had
found it lying upon the ground, blown from the bush because the green had left and only
brown remained. Her thoughts were intermixed with the now and the past. They were a
jumbled mess. Like her young filly, she chaffed at the bit to be about her business and to
reclaim Narrow. She longed to stand in defiance on her home territory against her
husband. She wanted him to feel the coldness he had shown her.

“To think so hard makes the brow furrow. It can wrinkle such a lovely, young face.” a
voice behind her spoke. She started, but not from fear.
She knew the voice as she knew Wyeth was behind her. She turned quickly to look up at
him.

At that moment, the cloud cover broke and the sun’s bright but distant rays escaped to
bath the meadow in gold, including Wyeth’s face. It hid his feelings from her but she did
not need to see his expression to know that the gaze that fell upon her from him was
warm and caring.

“Wyeth, you gave me a start.” she said, her voice full of greeting.

“The thick grasses disguise my footfall well, Jenevieve. I could have been one of the
patrols. You must show greater care in wandering so far from the house.” he chided and
she nodded silently in agreement.

Satisfied that his warning had been understood, he stepped closer to her, swung one leg
over the log and then the other, and seated himself next to her…very close, next to her
and his presence filled her mind with enticing memories.

Terrified within, Jenevieve finally asked the question that had been on her mind for so
long.

“Wyeth, what will you do once the Jens and I are settled at Narrow?”

“Jenevieve, I am not so sure that your husband will allow you to do that. This whole
journey may have been for nothing. Don’t you understand that?” he answered.

“I refuse to believe that! What is he going to do? Carry me screaming and kicking
through the countryside, forcing me to return to Fademist?” she replied, not pleased that
he had evaded her question and also touched upon another unwanted subject.

“If he has to, I suppose he would. You are his wife!” Wyeth reminded her.

“In name only, in name only!” she snapped back at him, saddened that her moment of
sweetness had been lost by his frankness.

He just stared silently at her, the pain in his eyes clearly identifying his own secret fears.
She looked back at him but he began to swim in a blur of tears.
So long had she held her resolve that once she gained Narrow, she would be able to defy
Dexter and find some happiness in her life once again. She had refused to believe that it
could not be accomplished but now in the face of his doubts, her resolve broke and the
tears came. Her weeping filled him with a sense of stricken helplessness that he knew no
words to soothe. Instead, he reached to hold her.

She felt his strong arms close around her and she reacted with a deep need. She needed
this man, she needed him for so many reasons, far too many to count. She knew she loved
him as she could love no one else. Without thinking of what she was saying, the words
came out.

“I love you, Wyeth.”

When he heard the words, she felt him suck in his breath and hold her tighter. She also
realized that he was trembling the same as she was. Then in a low whisper, he said.

“And I you, my brave love.”

Reminiscent of the earlier breaking of the sun through the clouds, Jenevieve felt all the
sadness leave her and only joy replace it.
“He loves me!” she thought!

Before she could say anything else, he raised her tear-streaked face and kissed her. She
knew their kisses would never be light but always filled with the want, the longing and
the passion that they felt for each other but now, cemented with the fact that they had
acknowledged the love they felt!

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

A fortnight later, Spring had arrived in full. The high meadow had turned green and the
bushes and trees leafed out to a wonderful fullness. Flowers began to bloom in profusion
and the horses were shedding their winter coats. Marcus brought Abigail pails of new
berries which became succulent pies and fresh butter from the cow that Thomas had
brought his last trip. The older woman hummed with a happiness that seemed to infect
the rest of the group. When Jenevieve ask her about it, Abigail explained.

“No disrespect to ye, m’lady, but in ye don’t mind, I would like to keep this place as me
new home. There is plenty of land to plow and grow small crops. There are the upper
steppes where ye shepherds can graze their flocks in the summer. I have not had a home
so large in all me life and this is a fresh start for Marcus and I. I have a cow now, and
perhaps with time, we can have a small flock of sheep of our own. The high meadow is a
beautiful place and unless ye say nay, I would like to abide here with me son and
someday, a bride and young ones to call me “Granny”.”

“But, Abigail, I had a much better farm picked for you. It already has a barn, fields, and a
large house, plus closer to the main house.” Jenevieve protested.

“I know, m’lady, but this place welcomed me when I first saw it. Make an old woman
happy and grant me this wish. Besides, it will be a fine ride for ye on that pretty little
mare ye horse has become and in the years to come, on her colts and such.” Abigail
continued.

“Abigail, the winter is so bitter here in the highlands and it is hard to get down to Narrow
or the village in the worst of it.” Jenevieve offered another hopeful reason. It fell on deaf
ears.

“I know, m’lady, but if all goes well, I want to live the rest of me days here.” Abigail
implored and she knew success in the smile from Jenevieve. The older woman hugged
her young friend and then turned once again to preparing their evening meal.

“There are many plans to make yet. Marcus is going to be a very busy man but perhaps
not too busy to go a’ courting seeing as Farmer Thomas told me of many marriageable
women in these parts.” Then she began once again to hum happily.

That night the Jens began to plan for their new home. Abigail’s unshakable faith in divine
providence was her guide that all would turn out for the best for all of them, including
Wyeth and Jenevieve.

Spring continued and while the Jens worked, Wyeth found himself facing truth. He had
accomplished his goal. He had repaid Jenevieve and the Jens for their kindness and aid in
his time of need. As soon as summer began, he planned to leave and return to the north
where his home had once been. He had seen enough death and destruction to last him
always. He would welcome the warm breezes by sea and if he could make a home for
himself among his own people. Having lived for months among his enemies, he knew
that this war was nothing but the horror born of rich landlords’ greed and avarice.
Perhaps someday this small island country would be united under one king and become
one land, where all of its people were of one country.

Yet as he would leave the south to return to the north, he would leave half of his life
behind. He would leave it with Jenevieve. Lady Jenevieve of Narrow, wife of Lord
Dexter of Fademist. Jenevieve with her gentle ways and her caring heart. Jenevieve, the
woman he loved and longed to spend the rest of his life with. His beautiful Jenevieve
which he could not have.

The end would not be long in coming to their quiet, idyllic life in the high meadow. Late
one night, the four horses began to whinny from their makeshift shelter that the men had
built until a proper barn could be constructed. On the heels of that warning sound came a
far more dreaded sound. The hoof beats of a large group of horses meant that they had
been found out.

Wyeth drew his sword and Marcus an axe, which presented poor defense against a full
battalion of men. The women crouched together and wept. At last the hoof beats stopped
and there came a loud banging on the door. Wyeth met the knock with a challenge.

“Who goes there?”

There was an ominous weighted silence and then came Thomas’s voice.

“It is I, Wyeth, and I have need to speak with Lady Jenevieve.”

“It is a trick!” Marcus spat out to Wyeth but before either men could stop her, Jenevieve
rose from her place and opened the door. She faced Thomas and Dexter’s sergeant at
arms. Both men bowed to her in respect, ignoring the tattered gown that she wore.

“Lady Jenevieve, I am afraid I have bad news.” Thomas spoke softly.

“Then tell me, Thomas, and be done with it.” Jenevieve answered, drawing herself to a
full stance with all the dignity she possessed, though her heart was quaking with fear.

Thomas seemed to be trying to put on a proper face of grief but it seemed to be failing as
he fought back a smile when he said, “My lady, your husband, Lord Dexter, has been
slain in battle and died a most heroic death.”

“Aye, m’lady, it is so!” the sergeant at arms echoed, having failed to notice the quickly
concealed smirk on Thomas’ broad face.

“You are needed at once at Narrow, my lady. I would suggest you and your companion
come with us now.” Thomas stated.

Jenevieve drew in a breath and began to shake her head in refusal. Wyeth had done too
much for their survival to be handed over to his enemies.

“The gentleman has been assured safe passage, m’lady. Thomas has made me swear to
that and I am a man of me word. He had told me of how good this man has been to ye.”
Dexter’s soldier stated.

“Then I will come. Let us go, Wyeth. I will return as quickly as possible, Abigail.”
Jenevieve agreed and she went with her hand in Wyeth’s into the night.

***

Two months later, in the beautiful bloom of summer, Lady Jenevieve of Narrow had
taken up her rightful place. She was now Mistress and sole charge of both Narrow and
Fademist. She had remained Dexter’s only survivor and as his wife, all that he possessed
became hers.

Fademist was hers only until Dexter’s illegitimate son by Nancy came of age. Through
Yancy’s begrudged co-operation, the boy was sent away to school and his mother cared
for in a financial arrangement for the rest of her life as long as she did not seek any of her
son’s fortune. Until he was properly educated and old enough, Fademist stayed under the
control of Jenevieve.

Her late husband was buried at Fademist with full honors and not one single slant of his
cruelty and coldness to her and others was allowed to stain his family’s honor. It would
perhaps always be enough that his true sole heir had been born out of wedlock.

Wyeth returned to his home in the north since the war had at last ended. He left with the
promise to return in one year, to allow his love the proper time of mourning and to also
straighten up his affairs there before he returned in the following spring to become the
new master of Narrow and the forever love of Lady Jenevieve.

***

Two years later found the Lord and Lady of Narrow the proud parents of a fine young
son they named Thomas.

***

				
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