“It is near midnight,” she said. “If we wait much longer, you will be too tired to fly. Are you not feeling sleepy at all, my lad?”
“Nay, I’m fine,” he said, although now that she had spoken of it, he realized he had not slept since very early the previous morning.
“You will be soon enough,” she said. “So let us be on our way while you yet have strength. We cannot bide here.”
“What do you do the rest of the night after you have fed?” he asked as they rose into the night once more.
“I have friends,” she replied, “whom you will not meet just yet. Someday, you will, but as of yet, I would have you sleep of nights. Your powers will continue to develop, but if you are about too much in the night, they may be stunted.”
Upon their arrival at the house, he came to find Hyldreth had gone to bed, but she had left the hall light burning for him. After Celirwen had departed once more, he lit a candle and poked about the house, particularly the kitchen, not knowing quite what he was seeking. Perhaps he could find something with which to drug Hyldreth, so that he might be alone with Celirwen. He was almost certain that his mother’s spirit was not in that body.
After steeling up his courage, he went downstairs, only to find the door locked. He slipped back upstairs looking for Hyldreth’s room, thinking to steal the key. Yet her door was locked also. Finally fatigue took him over and he trudged upstairs to the room that had been designated to him.
It was a large room, nicely though sparingly furnished, with several windows, and a bed big enough for two, well curtained in white, and he wondered if Celirwen and Sauron had lain on it together, if he had been conceived upon it. He removed the cloak and hung it on a hook near the door, then began removing his outer clothing, feeling glad he had brought a change of clothes, and wishing he had brought more. Well, at least he would have clean ones to wear while Hyldreth washed the other...if indeed she did wash them. He might well have to wash his own....
Well, she at least had lit the fireplace for him, so the room was not too cold. The bed felt oddly comfortable as he sat on it; yet as he did so, he caught sight of the cloak hanging by the door, looking completely black and malevolent, as though insulted by having been removed and hung up. For a moment he just sat looking at it, thinking of the night’s adventure. He had to chuckle as he remembered Finion’s face when he rose in the air before him, and he could think of some things he wished he might have said…and yet at the same time, he could not help but think that his mother would not have liked his behavior, and wondered what she would have said.
He wondered if she could see him now.
He felt certain she was not in Celirwen’s body now. Yet he still did not know.
Perhaps the cloak would show him, eventually. Then he might make his move. When his full powers came into fruition. For now he should get some sleep, just as his mother had told him.
And as he lay down, he thought he heard something laughing at him. And it occurred to him that he had just thought of Celirwen as his mother.
He lay flat on his back, feeling unable to sleep, hearing things jangling about in his mind, thinking back on the ugliness he had encountered therein…not that he had never encountered them before, of course. He had been in fights before. He had harbored thoughts of malice and revenge against those who had crossed him. None of which he had experienced in the town was truly new to him. The difference was that tonight, he had scored his first real victory.
But the thrill was wearing off, and now the nasty things were wrestling about, naked and bristling.
Had he really claimed Sauron as his father?
Nay, he had done so only to further intimidate Finion...yet, it should not have been necessary. Why had he done it?
It would not happen again, he sternly told himself. He would let Finion beat him to a pulp before he would ever acknowledge Sauron as being even distantly related to him.
Perhaps he should not wear the cloak again. Perhaps it was drawing him to Sauron, enticing him. Did Celirwen really think she could lure him into her affections with presents and promises, make him forget his mother and all thoughts of vengeance? Well, he was wise to her. He knew of her plot. He would simply have to play along, lull her into a sense of false security, until he had her where he wanted her...and then he would strike. How he would do so, remained to be seen. Yet do it he would. He did not care what happened to him after that. He owed it to his true mother.
He squirmed over to his right side, then to his left, then to his back again. Then sat up, groaning, leaning his face into his hands.
At last he rose and took the cloak from the hook, then lay down again, spreading the garment over him.
And fell asleep almost instantly.
It was nearly noon when he awoke the following day.
He found the black cloak still lying over him, looking strangely harmless in the morning light. There was a pitcher of water on the chest of drawers, sitting in the bowl, along with a sponge and towel. It was cold by now, but he managed to warm it by holding the pitcher to the fire.
As he washed and combed his hair, he realized that there was no mirror in the room.
There were comforts aplenty: a thick fur rug by the bed, a stuffed chair, a small round table, a pleasant-smelling wooden chest containing several blankets, a wardrobe attractively carved, several sconces on the walls, beautifully wrought of bronze, a desk, and some rather gorgeous vases, one of which was half as high as himself.
And yet there was no mirror.
He was rather glad he was not shaving yet. Thorodon was the only one of his friends who shaved. Gaergath and the others had some body hair, but as of yet, they had only a light soft down on their cheeks. They were outwardly scornful of the fact that Thorodon had to remove the hair from his face with a razor, making weak jokes behind his back, and secretly envious.
But: Thorodon had no black cloak.
After Gaergath had dressed, he ventured out into the hallway, and went to inspect the other rooms. There were several salons, starkly furnished, a trifle dusty—apparently Hyldreth had not considered them worth the trouble of keeping up much, or else she just hadn’t much time to fuss with them.
And none of them had a mirror.
None in the hallway either, nor downstairs. Not even in the room he used to occupy as a small child.
It was creepy. With no reflection, it was almost as though he were missing his soul.
“Good morning, my lad,” Hyldreth’s voice startled him. She was dressed much the same as the previous day, her braids pinned up at the nape of her neck. “Did you pass an interesting night?”
He realized he was alone with her once more. And that likely, she had an eye on him, and he would not get around her so easily as all that. He did not see the key hanging from her belt this time, and had a sinking feeling.
“Most interesting,” he answered, wishing he could have come up with something wittier, but she had caught him off guard. “I don’t suppose I could get a bite to eat?”
“I suppose you could,” she replied. “You were sleeping soundly when I fixed breakfast, so I did not see fit to awaken you. There is aught on the kitchen table, which you will have to warm yourself, if you wish it so. I have things to do.”
I’ll just bet you have, he thought. “There are no mirrors in the house,” he said.
“She had them all taken down years ago,” Hyldreth replied quietly.
“Why so?” he asked when no explanation seemed forthcoming.
“You will have to ask her,” Hyldreth said. “I am sure she would have a better explanation than I would.”
“Does she tell you naught?” he asked a bit haughtily.
“Only as much as I need know. Are you going to eat, or shall I toss it all out?”
“You have dogs you can toss it to?”
“Not dogs. But it will be eaten,” she said enigmatically. He narrowed his eyes.
And he ate the food. It stopped the pangs of hunger, at least. Which was about as much as he could say for it.
He did not suppose there was any chance of getting it out of Hyldreth where Celirwen slept. Next time, he would watch, and see for himself.
In the meantime, he would play with his new toy.
He found Hyldreth out in the garden. Her back was turned toward him as he paused at the back doorway, the cloak under his arm, watching her. He could hear her voice, singing or murmuring to the plants as she mulched them, and he was about to startle her with some bright remark, then thought better of it. He could see fog outside the walls once more, and it occurred to him that if he were nice enough to her, she might lift the fog so he could see where he was going. He did not fancy the thought of staying at the house with no one else about, and he was not sure the cloak would work in the fog. But how to go about it? Should he strike up a nice chat with her, get her to tell him about her background? Yet he had a feeling she had already told him as much as she cared to. Maybe he could get her to tell him of Sauron…save that he did not truly wish to hear it. Dark thoughts congregated beneath his skull, and at last he simply shrugged and walked out, and stood beside Hyldreth, who looked up at him.
“Is this what you do all day?” he asked her. “Do you not get bored here? What did you do to deserve to be stuck in this place? Why are you not of her kind?”
She looked up at him for a long moment. “Do you ask so many questions of others?” she asked.
“When I wish to know something, I do,” he said. “I’ve found it’s the quickest way of finding out things. Where does she sleep? Beneath the house?”
“Once more, you will have to ask her,” Hyldreth said turning back to her plants. “I am not authorized to tell you such.”
“Oh, you are excellent company,” he snapped. “I can see we are going to get on famously. Have you ever used a cloak such as this?”
“I prefer to keep my feet on the ground,” she replied without looking at him.
He stood silent, watching her, observing the dark gown, the white apron tied over it, the coiled graying braids. He remembered the previous day when he stood behind her with the stake in his hand…. Would he have truly done such a thing?
“Is there aught you can do about the fog?” he asked a little more softly. “I want to look for my horse.”
She looked up at him. “You’ve your cloak, have you not? What need you with a horse?”
“He is my horse,” Gaergath said simply. “I am fond of him.”
It occurred to him that he could not bring Russandol here, simply because the horse would not come near the place. Not even while She was sleeping. But perhaps the old farmer would take and keep him.
Provided that he could find the farmer to begin with.
Hyldreth got to her feet.
“Have you tried shifting your shape?” she asked, looking him straight in the eye.
“What?” He looked blankly at her.
“With your cloak,” she said. “Did she not tell you that you could shift your shape?”
“Nay, she did not. Can I truly?”
“Try it and see,” she said with lifted eyebrows. “Perhaps you can be a falcon, or an eagle, and fly high above the fog, until you find your horse. You could not find him within the fog anyway.”
He quickly put the cloak over his shoulders and tied it into place. “How do I do it?” he asked, feeling a flutter of excitement.
“Close your eyes,” she said, “and concentrate. Think of the creature you would be, and meditate upon it. Then…just be.”
A rat, he thought, so I can get under the house and find where She sleeps.
“Wait,” Hyldreth said, “you are wearing your silver buckle. The cloak will not work with it on.”
Wonderful. Then I’ll have no protection when I find her. Then again, she will not awaken, I suppose….
He grinned sheepishly, and he hoped engagingly, at her. She did not grin back.
He hoped he would not have to take drastic measures after all. Although he did not like her, he did not wish any more blood on his hands than necessary.
“Very well then, I shall just have to go and fetch my everyday belt,” he said. He certainly did not trust her with this one.
He went indoors, removed the belt, then went upstairs to his room, fuming and muttering to himself. He opened the wardrobe, which he had not done previously…and gasped, stepping backward.
The wardrobe was full of clothes…in his size.
How long had they been there, and where did they come from?
Quite well made they appeared to be. One had a black velvet doublet with gold trim and white fur. There was even a pair of boots….
Then on a hunch he sniffed at one of the suits. It smelled of a previous owner. Just as he had suspected.
He slammed the wardrobe door shut, then looked about for a good place to hide the belt. Trust her to come up looking for it. He went downstairs once more, and then into his old room, where he hid the belt beneath the chair cushion. Likely she wouldn’t think to look there. Then he went out the back door.
“Falcon,” he said grinning once more.
Gaergath breathed a sigh from up in the branches of the tree where he watched the old farmer’s son take Russandol to his home, where he spoke to a young boy who looked to be about thirteen or so. The lad ran to the horse and touched his nose, neck and flank in wonderment. The garden looked well tended, and soon a woman who was presumably the boy’s mother emerged from a pretty cottage and caressed the animal’s muzzle and mane admiringly.
“I’ll come back for you, Russi,” Gaergath whispered although he knew the horse could not hear him, “now that I know where you’ll be. I’m so glad I managed to find you, and I’m sure they will be good to you. I would never have taken you to his pasture if I thought they would not. I will come by from time to time to check on you, and after I have done what I must, I’ll come take you away with me. I don’t know how long it will take. But I will come back, I swear it.”
For a long moment he was tempted to do just that there and then, and let revenge go hang, and leave the cloak behind. He wanted nothing She or Sauron had touched. He would simply take his horse, go home and live his life….
If he could manage to do so now that he had seen what was on the other side….
And what if there were a chance he could set his mother’s spirit free?
When he returned to the House, he found Hyldreth had gone from the garden. He grinned to himself as he reassumed his human form.
“Rat,” he whispered.