Cry Melusine

Monday, July 02, 2007

Cry Melusine
Book 2 in the River of Time series (book 1 – Lord Carabas)
by James Buchanan
July 2, 2007Work Safe

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Jules LaRousse’s adventures continue in this sequel to Lord Carabas. Every child wants to believe their family can be salvaged. Family secrets, adulterous liaisons and long born grudges threaten to destroy them all. Jules has to use his wits and burgeoning abilities to save himself and his son when he follows Keiko to the seat of her Scottish Clan.


"Come, Père, come." Jean-Paul was leading me by the hand through one of the myriad of passages. My son had insisted upon showing me a secret place this morning. Secret places to children his age could be anything, a recess behind a curtain, an empty cabinet, a hollow at the base of a tree. I loved his secret places. I loved that he wanted to share them with me. We would discuss all sorts of things of import while we hid; why dog's noses were cold, whether angels cried rain drops, and if bees liked the taste of honey as much as he.

I was entertaining him this day as his nurse was otherwise occupied. Really it was an excuse for the other adults who thought it odd I attended my son so much. He'd had a small mishap during the night. Not that it was unusual for a child his age, but still the bed had to be righted. Given everything that had happened recently I couldn't believe it hadn't been happening more often. And I felt for him. I had suffered the embarrassment of that problem long after I should have grown out of it. That may have been due to the fathers' supposed cure for my lack of control. They beat me each and every time it happened.

So we'd taken breakfast together. After a game of hide and seek, in which we'd managed to distress practically every servant in the manse, the floor of my room had become a battle ground for an army of chess men. We must have captured the high ground of the bed half a dozen times before Jean-Paul had wearied of that game. Once we quitted the war he had taken me into his confidence about the secret place. Confederates, you understand, share things like that.

Stopping before a large wooden door, he giggled. What wondrous things his giggles were. Bright, eager eyes looked up at me. With both hands he beckoned and I leaned down close. Conspiring with me he whispered, "It's in there."

I knelt beside him and put my arm around his shoulder, drawing him into my body. "What is in there?" I whispered back as I tickled his belly through his vented doublet. We were conspiring after all.

He brushed my hand away. Tickles were not meant for Chevaliers on such important business as secret places. "A maze." Awe dripped in his voice. I was not sure he knew what a maze was, but he was certainly impressed by the thought of it.

"Really? Shall we see it?" He nodded. "Okay then." I stood and grasped the latch. It was one of those heavy iron pieces, the type that took keys the size of a normal man's cock to lock them. Old and cranky as it was, I had to put most of my weight on the lever before it gave.

A few seconds were wasted while I determined that the door opened outwards instead of into the room. Had I but looked at the hinges…thankfully only my son was there to see that. He'd forgive me most any idiocy. Odd, there were brackets for a bar on this side of the door. Why would someone need to bar an interior door in that manner? My palm itched and I rubbed it against my leg. Iron always affects me so. No matter, old buildings such as this were not built to any plan.

A cavernous, empty, circular hall greeted us. It was a dim place of dancing shadows. Indistinct shapes flitted around the darker recesses. A mosaic of red stone tiles wound in and out of the debris littering the floor. A shame the Laird let a room like this go to waste. I supposed it would be hard to heat. It was chill enough now in the midst of summer. With such little windows, up so high, the only light would have to be brought in by torch or candle. I'd become accustomed to the brighter, airier spaces of La Florida.

"Père," Jean-Paul pulled at my sleeve, "Where is it, where is the maze?"

I went down on one knee and swept away some of the dirt and grime. There'd been a floor like this in the Abbaye where I was raised. "See here, on the floor. The labyrinth should start somewhere here, by the door." I pointed to the paving at our feet. "You follow the pattern. When you are all the way through you should be back where you started."

Only a four-year-old could look that disappointed. There was precious little for him to do in this dismal keep. The rain kept him indoors most days. There were no children of his age to play with. The Tacksmen's sons were all young men and his mother claimed it was unseemly to mingle with the crofters' broods, even when they had time away from their chores. At home he often ran wild with Temecuas boys. Adults just weren't much company.

"No, truly, it is fun." I tried to put some enthusiasm in my voice. Taking him by the hand, "Now don't step off the line," I began to walk the pattern, then I turned and caught him by the waist, "don't fall!" He screeched in delight.

We were halfway across the room when I caught the whiff of something not right. Something evil and wrong slid its unseen hands up the back of my legs. A sickly sweet, charnel house smell rose from the tessellate pavement. The room turned bitterly cold.

Jean-Paul whimpered. He'd caught it, too, the sense that we were where we shouldn't have been. A whisper rose in my mind. Disembodied voices engaged in an indecipherable conversation surrounded me. I swept my son into my arms, crushing him against my chest. No words to understand, but the whispers were hateful. They did not want us here. Frozen in fear I could move neither forward nor back. A movement at the limits of my vision caught my attention.

In the fringes of the grey light the shadow of a skeleton slunk up the wall. The outlines of bony fingers and toes sought holds in the stone. Like a bloated spider crawling along its web it crept out onto the ceiling, clinging to the beams radiating from the center. Jean-Paul hissed, "Père?" and I shushed him. Maybe if we didn't move it wouldn't notice we were here.

When it reached the center of the room the foul thing whitened, solidified. I could see the bones and count its ribs. Hours of moments went by as it dangled by its hands and feet above us. With a hideous shriek, echoed in the screams of Jean-Paul and I, it burst into pieces. First the skull, then the other bits of bones rained down upon us. The ossified downpour vanished as it touched the stone.

Stillness, absolute stillness reigned. My son was too scared to cry. His breath came in dry little hiccups. Putain, I was too scared to cry. Speaking more for my own comfort than his, "Shhh, Jean-Paul, it just wanted to frighten us." I began to back towards the door. My boot heels echoed in the empty hall.

And then something else echoed. The heavy sound of the door as it shut behind us. I swung around. A grinding crunch as a key turned the lock. We were locked in. Someone had locked us in. Mon Dieu! Why?

Two breaths and then a low groaning answered me. The whimpers and whines of starving children echoed unseen. Whispered prayers floated about the room. Moans and coughs and vows of revenge, the last solace of the condemned, slipped about me as eager and as deadly as any viper. The invisible dying host pressed against us, robbing the breath from our lungs. Ailpein's ghost story, it wasn't a story. Mère Marie, it wasn't a story.

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