So first the poem….
I set pen to paper
The keys are before me, waiting for my touch
But once again inspiration is denied
I see your face, I hear your voice
Ma belle enchanteresse, I miss you so much
I cannot forget, though I have tried
It seems, in turn, this ghost now is haunted
My Sorceress has me in thrall
Even the ancient memory is daunted
As before my Witch, my heart falls
I think of nothing else, nowhere to turn to
There is no music without you
My choice to leave you, lying there alone
My choice to love you from afar
I long to hold you, but it cannot be
I still remember your sweet caress
And I yearn for you again, ma etoile, my star
my heart was locked away…you hold the only key
Could you ever forgive me, I wonder nightly
Would I find an open door if I were to come again?
I yearn to come to you, to tap upon that door
Just in case it opened
Would you give me just one last chance to explain?
Or would I be left alone once more?
There is no music without you…
And now the scene I cut for everyone’s own good. It’s a great scene, but it just does NOT fit the rest of the tone of the book or what I did with Sara’s Craft.
Erik settled himself, then turned to Susanna. “Madame Morris, I ask for the hand of your daughter in marriage,” he said, his tone perfectly calm and contained, the only inkling of his rage at what he had learned of Sara’s past the deep green hue of his eyes.
Susanna smiled. “I had thought that was why you were so insistent that I come,” she said. “Sara is her own person, Monsieur; she has accepted your offer already, it is evident. Though you have wounded her, though you have abandoned her, more than once, with your child, though you have tried to buy her off, you just can’t be rid of her, can you, and so at last, you’re making legitimate what she gave you so freely.”
In less than a second, he was on his feet and before her, the table between them gone, the fine bone china shattered against the wall, milk, tea, lemon, all staining the carpet now.
Downstairs, Sara and Amy shot anguished looks at each other. “Did you feel that?” Sara asked at last, and Amy nodded. “Mother’s raising power,” she said. “Erik,” Sara breathed, and began to rise, when Angelika began to squirm uncomfortably. “Damn,” Sara said. “I can’t leave the baby, I can’t — Amy, get Max. Get him now.”
“Madame, you are my lady’s mother, and for that I forgive much,” Erik said upstairs, his anger overtaking him, “but I will not have you impugn my honor or hers in such a way. Were you a man, I would demand satisfaction. As it is, in my time, those words deserved horsewhipping. At the least. But I shall not be the one to do so. It would hurt Sara too much.”
Susanna, to be fair, did not flinch, did not move, but held his gaze. “She is my Sara, Monsieur, my daughter, my eldest, my child. And she will do as her mother bids her. She always has; she always will. A word in her ear against you, a tear or two, a bad omen, a bad dream, and she’ll be on her way home with me.”
Max came in, nodded. “You wanted me, ma’am?” Sara nodded. Her eyes were wild, and she kept looking upstairs. “Max, I need the twins to come watch Angelika for a few minutes. Both of them. Amy and I have to go upstairs.” Max scratched his chin. “I can watch her for a few –” Sara shook her head. “I need the twins. I don’t have time to explain. Please, Max.” He touched his earpiece, asked Sam and Grace to come to the suite.
Erik shook his head. “Not anymore, Madame. She and I have been through too much together. Those days of your influence are over, and have been for a very long time.” His smile was cold. “How quickly you forget where she bore my child, and where she stayed, in faith that I would return. And see how her faith is repaid. She shall want for nothing, ever; all the days of her life, she will be in the very lap of luxury, her every wish, her every desire, fulfilled as soon as it is uttered to me. Believe me when I tell you, Madame, that your daughter could be married to a man much worse than myself.”
Amy and Sara raced to the elevators. “You get him out, Amy, you get him out and get back downstairs to Angelika, do you hear me?” Sara was already raising Power, pacing as the elevator went up the three stories. “Sissy, I can’t –” Sara turned on her. “You must. No one else can protect them. I am putting my family in your hands, and you must be the Maiden for me. You must. I’m going to challenge.” Amy looked at Sara as if she had lost her mind. “Sara, you can’t. You can’t. She’s too strong.” Out of the elevator and down the hall they went, walking quickly, not quite running. “I have to, Amy. I have to.”
“Could she? Have you told her, Monsieur Destler, of the blood that stains those fine lily white hands? Have you told her of the Khunum, of the Sultan, of the strange deaths that happened in Paris during the Occupation? Of the Geist that the Nazis feared so much? I have been doing my research, Monsieur. And my sources say you have been the death of at least a hundred men in this century alone. Have you dared to tell her? Or does she think of you as poor, put upon Erik, who wouldn’t hurt anyone he didn’t have to?”
Amy stopped at the door, slid her key card into the slot. Sara kissed her, whispered, “Protect my family, Maiden. You are charged.”
A moment later, Sara’s voice ringing through the room startled Erik and Susanna both. “Mother, that is enough, and more than enough. Sheathe that blade you call a tongue, before I do it for you.”
Two faces turned to her standing there in the doorway, both expressions full of fear. She walked to Erik’s side, took his left hand and kissed it. “God and Goddess be my witness, here and now, by earth, air, fire and water, by mountain, sea, cave and star, I take this man as mine. Do you gainsay me, Crone?”
He had never seen Sara like this before. She was — like us, his Shadow whispered, and he had to agree. Her Power was all but visible as she challenged her mother, radiating from her in waves.
“You do not have the right to call me Crone, Sara. I have yet to take up that mantle.” But Sara shook her head; “You have been the Crone, physically, for nine years, mother. And your refusal to take your place is killing the pack.”
He was confused, but apparently Susanna knew exactly what Sara was talking about. “How dare you?” she screeched, “You who ran away, how dare you accuse me of harming the family?”
“There is a difference between running away and being driven forth,” Sara answered, “and well you know it. You forced me out, forced your own daughter to leave, out of your fear and jealousy that I was coming into my Motherhood and yours was stolen from you too soon.”
Amy ran into the room and grabbed Erik’s hand, pulling him off balance, forcing him to stumble after her. “Come on, please,” she said, her voice desperate. “What — ” Amy shook her head. “Sara told me to get you safe,” she said, and tugged him to the elevators.
“Why, Amy? What is going on?” Amy ducked into the elevator and he followed. Only after the door closed did she turn to him and say, “Witch’s duel. Mother has held her place as the Mother past her time and past her prime. Sara is challenging her for it. You can’t see it. It’s not safe for you.”
“Is Sara in danger?” Amy nodded. “Oh, yes,” she said solemnly. “If Sara loses, Mother has the right to claim her life. But you would be a distraction; you can’t protect yourself from Mother. And she was hitting you with both barrels when we came through the door. Sara was really worried.”
“What do you mean? Would she kill her own daughter?” He stood stock still as Amy tried to pull him out of the elevator. “No, no, I don’t think so,” Amy said, “but she can banish her from the family, please, Erik, please, I have to protect you and Angelika, please!”
At the mention of Angelika, he moved, running down the hall to his suite, wolf fast, and Amy was beside him, running just as fast. Max was at the door, and he opened it for them. Inside, the twins, Grace and Sam, were watching Angelika.
“Thank you,” Amy said to them, “but I’m back now. You can leave.” The twins looked at each other, shrugged. “If you say so,” Sam said. Angelika began to scream. Amy picked her up, and she quieted, some. “Don’t let my mother in here,” she said. “Not unless Sara’s with her. I’m not strong enough to face her yet.”
“What do we do, then, Amy?” She looked at him with eyes that mirrored Sara’s in so many ways. “We wait,” she said, “and pray. If Sara can’t take her, there is nothing I can do.”
Upstairs, the two Witches faced one another, measuring each other. “You tried to force him to hurt you,” Sara said, “thinking I would believe your word against his. I’m surprised you didn’t try to seduce him, Mother. Or have you finally realized you’re too old for that?”
Susanna recoiled as if slapped. “You stole my child’s heart,” she retorted. “You took Amy from me.” Sara shook her head. “You lost Amy all by yourself,” she replied. “You turned away from her first. She turned to the only female she could.”
Sara was prepared for the first wave of emotion; anger, hurt, pain, it washed over her shields and walls without affecting her at all. She smiled mirthlessly at her mother. “Is that all you’ve got, Ma?” She said, before attacking with her own wave of hopelessness, cold, hunger, despair, helplessness. She saw Susanna stagger, then stand.
“Nice,” Susanna said, regaining herself. “I may have taught you something after all.” Spiders. Thousands of spiders, Sara saw them skittle in the corners of her mind, eating at her shields, thrusting hairy fangs at her walls. She stepped back, shook her head, saw them still. “Oh, you don’t fight fair, Ma,” she said, “so I guess I don’t have to either.”
Her father, tall and bronzed and strong, swept the spiders away before turning on Susanna. “What are you doing, Susanna?” She saw her mother quail, then snap, “What I have to, David,” before the image she had sent dissipated. “Not fair, Sara,” she said.
“You started it,” Sara replied. “Did you really think I wouldn’t have something for spiders by now?” They circled each other, never taking their eyes away from one another. “Oh, Sara,” Susanna cried, “how can you do this to me? How? To me?”
Her voice almost persuaded Sara. Almost. And the wave of motherlove that washed over her would have been her undoing, as she fell to her knees, but for the memory of Amy, asking her, at four years old, if there were anything to eat. The memory of running old pancake mix through a sieve to get the mouse shit out of it, to feed her sister.
She threw that memory at her mother with all the force she could, along with memories of skinny little boys with bruises, shrinking at loud voices, of taking food from dog scraps because they were hungry, of nights when ice formed on the windows and huge rats scuttled behind walls.
Now was Susanna’s turn to fall, and when she rose, tears streaked her cheeks.
“I cry your mercy, Mother,” she said. “I cry your mercy.”
“Mercy is the greatest gift of all,” Sara replied, fulfilling the ritual, ending and winning the battle. “What do you offer me for your life?”
“I will take my rightful place,” Susanna said after a long time. “I will turn from the Mother to the Crone.”
Sara came now to her side to help her up. “You will be happier when you do,” Sara said. “Clinging to the past is what has caused your pain. Let go. Live for today. That is the only way to heal.”
“You are worthy,” Susanna said after a long while. “You are in your element, now. In the height of your strength.” Sara shook her head. “There is strength in all aspects of the Goddess,” she replied, “and I’m just sorry you’re not seeing it.”
She tucked her mother into her bed, made sure she was safe, before pulling her phone out of her pocket and calling Erik. She was literally crawling to the door when he answered. “Sara? Sara, are you all right?”
“I won, love,” she whispered. “Come get me. Please.”
He shot out the door, and Max barely caught up to him at the elevator. “What’s goin’ on, sir?” Max asked. Forrest was standing guard at the elevators, and he stepped in with them. Erik couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, he just needed Sara to be all right. He was out the door of the elevator before it was even open all the way, and got to Susanna’s rooms only to be met with a locked door. “Sara,” he called, “Sara, open the door. Open the door, Sara.”
Max reached around him and slid Amy’s key card into the slot. “Baby girl caught me and gave me this,” he said, as the light flashed green. He opened the door, and they walked in to find Sara on the floor, unconscious. “Damn,” Max said, about to check the rooms, when Forrest stopped him, shaking his head. “No,” he said. “It’s not what you think.” Erik knelt by her, calling her name, and Forrest knelt across from him.
He took her pulse, checked her respiration, pulled her eyelid up and checked the pupil. “She’s exhausted. That’s all. Take her back to your rooms.” Erik picked her up, carrying her back, whispering to her in her sleep. Max stood there, trying to comprehend it all.
“What the hell, Forrest? She was fine ten minutes ago,” he said, and Forrest glared at him, his brown eyes turning black. “Witches,” he said, and then went to check on her mother. He came back out a few minutes later. “The old lady’ll be fine. Nothing hurt but her pride, I think. Got took down a notch or two.”
When Sara opened her eyes again, she was in their bed and he was beside her, stroking her head with a cold washcloth. “Backlash again?” He asked her, and she shook her head. “No,” she said, “just took everything I had to take her down. Where are Amy and Angelika?”
“In the sitting room,” he replied. “They are safe. Your mother? She lives?” Sara nodded. “It’s not my place to take her life,” she said. “She has to face the Goddess and be rebuked for what she did. That is not something I would wish to do.” She reached for his hand, and he took hers and kissed it. “Je t’adore, Erik,” she whispered. “I love you. I’m sorry.”
“For what?” He was still in shock. He’d had no idea that her family was so primitive, for lack of a better term. “I should have told you. Should have warned you. I didn’t think. I didn’t think that she would try anything with you. I’m sorry.”
“What are you talking about, Sara? She didn’t do anything.” Sara shook her head. “Amy and I felt it here. Felt her raising her Power. You got angry, didn’t you? Too angry, too quickly?”
“What does that have to do with — dear God,” he said a moment later. “She was using her empathy? She was making me lose my temper?” Sara nodded. “She wanted to make you hurt her,” Sara explained, “So that she could turn to me later and say, this happened, and this happened, and how can you marry a man who would hurt your mother? To manipulate us both. That way, she gets me back, and then manipulates me into giving her the money you send for support. See how devious she is? She gets everything she wants, and all it costs her is her daughter’s happiness.”
“Does she have any idea how dangerous that could have been for her? Sara, I could have –” he stopped. “Go on. Finish it,” Sara said. “Finish your sentence.”
“I could have killed her,” he whispered. “She was driving me to the point that I could not have held back. I could have killed her, and been sorry later, yes, but at that moment, I was so angry…” his voice trailed off.
Sara laid both hands on his face and made him look at her. “But you didn’t,” she said. “You didn’t. You had yet to lay a finger on her, and she was pushing you, my love, pushing you hard. You did very well to stand for five minutes against that, untrained and unknowing that you were entering a trap. I should never have let you alone with her. I will not, ever again. I am so sorry for not seeing the danger, Erik. I am so very, very sorry.”
“You fought her. Fought her how?” Sara shook her head. “It is of the Mysteries,” she said. “I cannot tell you. I will not be forsworn.”
“Amy got me out,” he said, “but she would not explain, either. Only that you were battling each other. That you had challenged her.” Sara could barely keep her eyes open now. She nodded. “She kept you and our child safe,” she said. “Brave little Amy. I owe her one.”
“No, you don’t,” Amy said from the doorway, Angelika on her hip. She crawled up onto the bed next to Sara, laid Angelika next to her. “Sleep now. I will watch until you wake. Your family is safe, Mother. Let the Maiden stand guard.”
Sara nodded, closed her eyes. Erik stroked her hair back from her forehead. “How close was it?” he whispered. “How close –” Amy shook her head. “I don’t know. I know our mother is asleep upstairs, and that she’s going to sleep for probably the next twenty-four hours or so. I know that Sara is at the very edge of her strength, and that her shields, her walls, are all crumbly. There are holes. Big ones.”
Amy touched Sara’s forehead, lightly, with two fingers, and shook her head. “Keep her away from people for at least a day or two. That’s my advice. Keep thinking about how much you love her and Angelika. That’s what will help her most.”
She touched his hand, and he looked at her, unthinking. “You’re not in very good shape, either,” she said after a moment. “Go eat something, and then come rest with her. She needs you.”
“She dreams,” he whispered. “Will her dreams be worse now?” Amy shrugged. “I’m not a dream walker,” she said. “So I don’t know. But I know that if you’re not here holding her when she wakes up, it will be bad. Don’t worry about the baby. I’ve got her, and there are bottles in the refrigerator. Eat and rest with Sara. Please.”
He was tired, he admitted to himself, more tired than he had been in years. Amy picked Angelika up, started to leave the room, before turning back and saying, “Erik?” He looked up.
“Don’t blame yourself, and don’t feel bad. Mother’s won a dozen Witch’s duels against fully trained Witches who knew what to expect. Sara’s right. You did very well.”
She slipped from the room, closing the door softly behind her, leaving him with his sleeping Enchantresse. He pulled off the mask, slipped into bed behind her, holding her.
If she had warned me, if she had thought to, perhaps this might not have happened, he thought. Perhaps she would not be so exhausted now, even if it had. But how could she expect that her mother would do such a thing? On the other hand, how could she not?
He did not understand all of this. But he would. He would have Sara explain all when she woke, all that she could, at any rate. “It is of the Mysteries; I will not be forsworn,” she had said, so apparently some of it was some sort of sacred rite. But he had never heard of such a thing. He had never read — but then, would he have? If it was sacred? And she had said she was not a Wiccan, nor was her family. Some sort of family tradition, perhaps?
Would she expect Angelika to do what she had done, when Angelika reached her time of Motherhood, if she followed in her mother’s footsteps? Would there be war between them? He shook his head, pulled Sara onto his chest. She snuggled there in her sleep, her head fitting so perfectly onto his shoulder. He would ask her when she woke, when she was stronger. She would have to explain.
The cage again, the crowd, throwing things. Screaming, shouting, God, he hated this, he hated it, please, God, just let me die, let me die here and now, he begged silently, wanting nothing more than the sweet touch of death to take him from this torture. Dung, half rotted vegetables, being flung at him, the crowd mocking him as he stood, helpless, tied to the post. The tears flowed, and he could not stop them. The gag stank of something he could not name, and he could not turn away, could not move, tied there, unable to run, unable to hide from them all.
“Oh, my love,” he heard her. “Oh, my love. Why didn’t you tell me?” The crowd shimmered, screamed, and then was gone. He was in his secret garden, the moon half-full, the jasmine blooming in full summer. Sara stood leaning against the wall, one booted foot propped up, her knee bent, tee-shirt and faded jeans. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she said again. “I could have taken that from you months ago.”
He went to her, kissed her deeply, and she wrapped her arms around him, holding him, comforting him, soothing his soul. “I love you, Erik,” she whispered, “with all that is within me. Those dreams shall never return.”
“There are others,” he stammered, and felt her nod. “And when they come, tell me. And I will take them, as well. Dreams spring from emotion, Erik, emotion that brings back the memory. I can stop them. I promise you I will. I’m so sorry. I should have looked, should have known. There was no need for you to suffer.”
“Am I dreaming now?” he asked, and she pulled her head back and nodded again. “Yes,” she said, “but this is what we call a true dream. I’m in your dream. It’s the first time since you returned to me that I’ve had my defenses down enough to be pulled into your dreams. I don’t walk in dreams often, because dreams are private. No one should ever have to apologize for a dream, or explain one to a lover. It’s not fair. The mind wanders where it will in the dream world.”
She kissed his cheek, laid her hand on the unmarked side of his face. “I won’t stay. This is your dream, your world. I didn’t mean to intrude. I love you. We’ll talk about this when we wake.” She slipped out of his arms, took three steps, shimmered, and was gone.
She woke in his arms, the sun long gone, and she shivered as she sat up. He slept still, slept peacefully, and she smiled as she watched him sleep. “Mienne, Sara,” he murmured, and her smile widened. “Always,” she whispered in the dark. “Always.”
She got up, her legs a little weak, and went to the closet to pull out a nightgown and dressing gown. He had laid her in bed in her clothing, and while she had slept in her clothes before, her jeans were chafing a bit.
She stepped out of their bedroom, easing the door shut behind her. Amy looked up at her from her Macbook. “Eat, and then go back to bed,” she said. “Angelika’s fine, she’s been asleep the last two hours. I’m going to sleep in her room, if that’s okay?” Sara nodded, went to the mini-fridge and pulled out a Coke before picking up the hotel phone and ordering room service. Medium steak, fries, cottage cheese. She needed the energy meat would bring her.
“You shouldn’t dream walk when you’re this down,” Amy said. Sara shook her head. “I couldn’t help it. Still can’t.” She took a long drink of soda. “What time is it?” Amy looked at the computer. “Not quite midnight,” she answered. “What are you doing?” Sara asked her. Amy grinned. “Ordering stuff for the house,” she said. “Erik said that card was mine, right?” Sara nodded. “So I’m using it to order stuff for the boys and Dad, too. He really did put half a million on it. I’m having lots of fun.”
The bell rang, signaling that Sara’s food was there. She got it from the hutch and started to eat. “Oh, God, that’s good,” she said, savoring the first bite of steak. “Sara?” Amy asked after a minute. “What would you have done if you had lost?” Sara shook her head. “I wasn’t going to lose,” she said. “Even if it killed me. I’d have taken her with me.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. “Is she gonna straighten up now, do you think?” Amy asked. Sara shrugged. “I’m not sure. We can but hope.” She finished, sent the plates back in the hutch. “He hasn’t eaten,” Amy said. Sara thought about it, shook her head. “He’s still sleeping,” she said finally, “and I don’t want to wake him. Good night, Amy.”
She went back into the bedroom, took off the dressing gown, and slipped into bed beside him. He shifted, pulled her closer, and she smiled as she drifted back off to sleep.