Chapter 15: Hard truths
The sky was starting to lighten, shades of rose and gold were peering out from the deepness of the night sky. The air was still chilled, and Maeve could see small clouds of her breath as the morning edged every close to bursting over the horizon.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d been outside but the gathering cold didn’t do much to ease her temper. It merely made her bones ache as well, which did little to improve her mood. She wondered if her wrist would always hurt in the cold – but the stranger thing was that it didn’t seem to hurt enough.
She’d broken bones before – but this damage felt nearly healed. In fact, the few weeks she had spent recovering under Arzhel’s netting had seemed to speed her healing quicker then any healer ever had. His magick was strong, powerful, and perhaps cruel.
“You brood loudly..” considering his limp, he still managed to walk quietly. Only now did she hear the slow gait as he approached. His tone was soft as he tested the waters. He was using his old worn cane to steady him. “Look, I’m sorry I snapped at you… back there. Not sure yer aware at all, but I’m not the best with people.”
“Yeah, that I noticed.” She turned to glare at him, her cheekbones high and her jaw set as if she were still gritting them tight. Even though he was much taller then her – that gaze made him feel familiar and small in her presence. It ached at his chest.
“Aye.. never realized just how much you looked like her..” he looked down quickly, away from her and cleared his throat. “Even in the dark, you look just like her.”
“Heather.” He wandered over to a large rock and sat down near her. He propped his right knee up and rubbed it while staring out to the colourful sky and resting the cane against his leg. “Your Mother. She was that came to get me, you know? I was avoiding telling you. I wouldna’ have known you were a bloody wreck bleedin’ out in the woods without her.”
Maeve bit her lip. She wanted to shout at him, tell him he was a liar, but how could she argue with him? Yes, her mother was dead… no her mother had never visited her as a spirit. But she knew that the ghost of a person could still visit those still alive.
Afterall, she had visited with Kallen, more then once. But she had her connections with her Kallen – why would her mother seek out this bear of a man? She shook her head as if brushing off the thought and quickly snapped back, “You made that creature your slave? For helping save it’s friend’s life?”
“Oh powers help me. Ye are your Mothers girl! You just can’t let an argument go.” He grinned wide stroking the silver charm in his beard. It was all he could do to keep from laughing. His eyes flickered with mirth, but returned to their dullness quickly.
“My dear Witch, understand that I have not made Greenback a slave. I have no desire for a slave. But my servant? Ye damned right. Have you not asked yourself why I would do that?”
“It is cruel. You may say it was to protect me, but I assure you I can protect myself.” She shifted slightly and hoped the sun would rise quicker. She felt frozen and her temper was losing it’s effect of keeping her warm. The darkness was retreating slowly and the shadows of the trees around them became more and more defined.
The tips of them seemed stiff and she wondered if the dew had gone to frost.
“Aye, you certainly can I suppose. For a while at least.” He breathed out a low breath and looked out to the errant moon still showing in the lightning sky. Soon it would be all but hidden with the bright rays of morning. He still marvelled at the colours that slashed themselves across the sky. “If they serve me, they can’t go runnin’ to our enemies. They can’t do you no more harm. Why else would those two be there at that waterfall, drowning themselves in tainted water? Think about it, girl – why else would they be at Cairn falls if it weren’t to look for you?”
She pondered that for a moment. Her breath left her in a long sigh and she finally grunted and moved over to him, sitting on a smaller rock beside the large man to speak with less temper hedging her words.
“You think they had something to do with…” The train of thought still hurt her. The incident still left her with a dark shadow that she could not shake. Her mind still watched Gaen running blind when she closed them. An old friend taken from her. And the dreams.. the tangled mix of nightmares that nearly took her mind down with him.
“Know it. Already made him tell before he fell off to sleep. He needs time to heal as well. Iron water… to be honest they are both lucky they lived. If Red had not been there, they would have been damned. They were the ones to spell him, Maeve. They were there to make sure you were dead. They are not as innocent as ye think they are.”
He watched her closely, expecting to see those green eyes of her seethe and bubble over with rage. Yet she seemed to ease off. It was almost as if she felt less angry then she was. Is surprised him, but he was grateful this conversation might not digress into a screaming match.
“Well, I am not dead yet. I will miss Gaen much, he was a good friend to me over the years. But I’ve dealt with their kind before. They can be cruel and they can be kind – but none of them are simply all good, or all bad.” she ran her fingers gently over her necklace. “Kallen taught me that although the courts pretend to be one or another – they are a lil’ of both. People are people, no matter where they are or what world they are from.”
“That is true enough.”
“You said my mother had found you. Showed you where I was?”
“Aye. An there ain’t a way of ignoring that woman.” He grinned again, but it was more pained then it was playful.
“She has not come to see me. In all the years she’s gone over – not once. I thought perhaps she had nothing left to hold her here. So why you? Why did she come to you? Yes I could assume it was just because you were a healer. I could also simply be grateful. But I am just not that stupid.
I’ve seen you use magick like it’s second nature. I’ve watched how the animals react to you. The way the plants seem to speak to you. The way you mend bones and wounds? There is being a Witch, then there.. is something more.”
“I suspected it for a while I guess, but after that stunt with a formal Life Debt? That magick is beyond normal. It is beyond this world. So that leaves a few options – either I have simply never run across anyone of your skill before. Or you are not nearly who you appear to be.”
He rubbed his large fingers over a few of his rings. They were chunky heavy things that he tended to play with often while lost in thought. He nodded carefully and cleared his throat.
“Aye, you are of course right. You are far from stupid, Maeve. Perhaps too bright for your own good though.” He cracked a small grin. “That is part of what gets you into so much trouble. I never thought you would be so sharp and so wise. I think you are brilliant.”
“Flattery does not give me answers…”
“Alright, alright… truth is I ain’t exactly normal. I stayed around this area too long I guess; should’a moved on elsewhere to get away from the past but I am an ol’ sentimental fool. This area felt like home, kept me hidden, and I could still do good work. Who else would take care of the wee forest ones? I have been here for a long time, hidden in this lil’ glen. Keeping to myself.
It was a good life. Better then I deserved, save for a few heartaches I have carried. The honesty of it is there is no magick that is truly without price. Startin’ over meant losin’ the life I had before. It meant losin’ everyone and everything I was connected to.
It was for the best, I know that. I was not safe for anyone to be around, ‘specially those I came to care for. But did I know your mother would come callin’ for me? Never. Broke my heart when she first showed up. When she told me why? Well. I had no choice. Maeve, they know who you are now. You are in real danger, not jus’ dealing with rogue troubles.”
“I spent years helping to protect those I care for. I spent years teaching myself how to. Why does everyone lately seem to think I am a child that needs to be lied to or coddled?” Her voice was sharp, but low. She was hurt and frustrated, and it showed. “Why would she come to you and never show one flicker to me? Not even a goodbye?”
“It was not easy for her you know! It ain’t so easy as you think it is. It woulda’ broke her heart to see you and have to say goodbye all over again. Knowing all the things she wanted to tell ya, but could not.
You are a strong Witch, Maeve. That is true all in itself. When I saw you lyin’ broken and bloodied I knew. You just.. glowed. I knew then that it was foolish to think you could just hide in this world. You are strong yes, that can not be hidden anymore, but because of that you are gonna need to be much stronger. I down right think you will need to be the strongest you have ever been.
You may have learned some things – your Ma and Kallen. Yes, they taught ye some and you were strong and wise enough to teach yourself some. But you have not learned everything. They died before teaching you everythin’ they knew. Damned well thought they were protectin’ you by keeping you from everythin’. I am the final option none of them wanted to use, myself included! It is not safe to be in this deep.”
“So that is why she found you? She knew you were around, and figured you could just teach me? How did she even know you were here?”
“Bah, you are not listening. She has always known where I was. We have a long history, Heather and I. She saved me from myself, helped me escape a few nasty situations. She was a good woman, Maeve. Still love her with all my bloody heart.”
“Wait.. are you telling me that you and my mother.. she had.. you loved her?” and then the true realization hit her. “She said my father had died soon after I was born. She didn’t speak of him often…”
“No lass. He did not. He was just in hidin’. Trying to save you both from the world you fell into anyway.” His grey eyes were clouded again, but this time with tears. “She knew at the time it was the best thing to do. It was too dangerous, even then. More so now. That is why yer mother came to the likes of me. It was not because I was more in her favour. It was not just ’cause I was in the right place at the right time. It was not just because I can teach ya. It was because I may be the only family ye had left to go to. It was her last way of being able to say goodbye.”
The bright sky was cascaded with sheets of colour and light. The birds in the distance was chirping and the air was warming. It was still cool, edging towards the cold time of the year – but the flush on her cheeks and the fever in her bones kept her warm.
“You are telling me.. that you are my father?”
“Aye lass.” Arzhel spoke quietly. “Indeed I am.”