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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

Ghostlight (10 page)

BOOK: Ghostlight
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It was just like a Shakespeare comedy, Truth mused to herself. She wondered if the tangled affections at Shadow's Gate would sort out as easily and neatly as the ending of an Elizabethan play, with all these various sets of mismatched lovers finding their proper mates. Meanwhile, Gareth loved Fiona, Fiona loved Julian … .
And who did Julian love? Light?
No
, Truth decided upon careful consideration. Julian's feelings for Light were not those of a would-be lover. She glanced across the table to where Michael was deep in a soft-pitched conversation with the silver-haired girl. Maybe it was Michael who loved Light; oddly, Truth had the feeling that Julian disapproved of that relationship. Why, if he didn't want to take Michael's place? Surely, if
he disliked Michael Archangel so much, he would not have him as a guest in his home.
The cook and his assistant came in again just as the last diners were finishing—Truth, who had been watching for it, saw Julian surreptitiously push a button with his foot—and began to clear away. When Truth saw Gareth and Donner get up to help she started to rise also, and was stopped by Julian's hand on her arm.
“Rank hath its privileges,” he said. “Hoskins likes to leave as soon as the dessert course is ready, so we tend to give him a hand. But it's out of the question to ask an honored guest to work.”
“Dessert?” said Truth weakly. She couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten this much: clear soup, roast beef and roast potatoes, vegetables glazed and poached and broiled, and half a dozen different hot breads had only been the beginning.
In a few moments the table was cleared and Hoskins's assistant came out wheeling a cart that held new glasses, plates, and silver. Behind Davies came Hoskins himself, carrying a huge tray that proved to contain several different kinds of pastry.
“Irene told me you have reservations at a place in town. Now that you've had a chance to assess the collection, do you think I might persuade you to stay here instead?” Julian asked as the tray was being carried around.
Truth hesitated. In her experience, so generous an offer rarely came without strings, even though she hadn't seen any yet. And despite the convenience of such an arrangement, and the enticing proximity of Julian Pilgrim, Truth still felt that Shadow's Gate was somehow a challenge to her that she wanted to assess before accepting. It would be easier to think the matter over somewhere outside the overwhelming presence of the house.
“While I don't think I could do my book without what you've gathered here,” she began, tactfully.
“Then it's settled,” Julian said. “You'll—”
Whatever he was about to say was drowned out by a whip-crack of thunder. The lights gave a moth-wing flutter.
“Here we go again,” said Gareth, slipping back into his seat.
“What he means is,” Hereward said, reaching for his own dessert as the tray passed him, “is that sitting in the Storm King's backyard, you've got to expect the occasional storm.”
“I just wish it
were
occasional,” Caradoc said. “At least the power failures provide good practice at getting around by candlelight.”
The tray was presented to Truth. Urged on by Julian, she selected a poached pear, which seemed to be the least caloric of the offerings.
“Do you lose power often?” Truth asked. Storm King, she recalled, was the name of one of the local mountain peaks.
“Usually just a matter of flipping a circuit breaker,” Caradoc said, “which is our resident technojunkie's purview”—Gareth bowed where he sat, grinning—“but sometimes the whole area goes.”
“If you can't see the lights down in Shadowkill when you look out the third-floor window, give up,” Gareth said. “It means the power's out all over Shadowkill Township and probably northern Dutchess County as well.”
Light giggled, a silvery, elfin sound. “I like storms,” she confided shyly. Truth smiled back.
“So do—” she began, but broke off as the lights flickered again to the accompaniment. Truth put down her fork.
“I've really enjoyed the evening, but I think if it's going to storm I'd really better get going,” Truth said firmly. She'd have enough trouble finding the Bed-and-Breakfast in the dark without having to find it in the dark during a storm.
“But Truth! Surely you're staying?” Irene said incredulously.
“There's plenty of room,” Gareth added.
“I was hoping you'd accept my invitation to write your book here,” Julian said, “but even if you will not, surely a night's hospitality would not be too much? I'd hate to send someone out to find an unfamiliar destination in weather like this.”
“He's right. You wouldn't send a knight out on a dog like this,” Caradoc said, smiling his crooked smile.
At that moment the lights went completely out, and there was a deafening slap of thunder, followed by a spatter of raindrops flung like pebbles at the dining room windows. After a moment's pause there was laughter and scattered applause, led by Julian.
“You see, Truth, the Old Gods smile on our wish that you remain,” Julian said out of the darkness. There was a scuffling and a scrambling, and then Truth heard the sound of a match being struck.
By the light of both candelabra—some two dozen candles—the dining room was surprisingly bright.
“The lights are
all
out,” Light said, marvelingly.
“Who wants to go check?” Gareth asked.
“You do,” Donner told him, crossing to the sideboard and handing Gareth a single candlestick. Grinning in good-natured defeat, Gareth lit the candle from one of the candelabra and walked out, shielding the flame with his free hand.
“More wine?” Ellis asked, filling his own glass. Truth shook her head and he shrugged.
“Why doesn't he use a flashlight?” Truth asked Julian.
“Batteries have a way of going dead at Shadow's Gate,” Julian said. “It's easier to use candles than to struggle with them. I'm afraid that your watch's battery will require replacing rather soon as well.”
Well, that's something I can check
, Truth thought determinedly.
“I think you would be wise to accept Julian's invitation,” Michael said to Truth. “Your luggage is already inside, is it not?”
“Yes. Certainly,” Truth said. It was an odd question, though—why had Michael thought she'd come with luggage?—and Michael had been one of the last to appear in the parlor tonight. Had his absence been spent searching her room?
Any more paranoia and you're going to start believing in UFOs and assassination conspiracies too
, Truth scolded herself.
“Let's call it settled,” Julian said firmly. “I can't possibly let you leave tonight; it would be far too dangerous. Irene, dear, I think the coffee must have brewed, but you'd probably better use a thermal carafe instead of the silver tonight to keep it warm.”
“Just like old times,” Irene said happily, going off to the kitchen in a swirl of candlelit spangles.
“I'll help,” Truth said, jumping up this time before Julian could stop her.
 
Irene had brought only a single candlestick into the kitchen, and in the leaping shadows of its wavering flame the kitchen was a spooky place. The storm had worsened in the few moments it had taken Truth to cross the room, and the howling wind flung rain at the kitchen windows with force enough to make the panes rattle in their casements. The sound made Truth think better of her determination to leave. Julian was right; this was no night to try to find a place she'd never been before, and it
had
been a long day.
“It's a wild night,” Irene said happily. “Thorne used to do his best work on nights like this—when the Wild Hunt rode.” She bustled about the kitchen with the ease of long familiarity, taking down a pair of thermal carafes from the cupboard and decanting the coffee from the silent chrome percolator into them. “Oh, I do miss
him. And it's no night to be out on the road if you don't have to,” she added, changing the subject to practical matters with what Truth was learning was Irene's customary quickness.
“Irene,” Truth said. “That girl—Light—where did she come from?”
“Oh, Julian found her. When he got Shadow's Gate back last year—it's almost a year this month that he sent for me—he did one of the minor Workings, and here she was.”
Drat Irene's fuzzy occultism, providing a magickal explanation for everything
, Truth thought with annoyance.
“Yes,” she said patiently. “But where did she
come
from?”
“I think she must have been in hospital somewhere,” Irene said vaguely, stacking cups and saucers on another tray. “She hasn't any family, poor dear, and sometimes those with the greatest Gifts are the least able to deal with Malkut—the Sphere of Manifestation.”
Or with the real world, either
, Truth added mentally. It was odd, though—if Light really didn't have any family, how had Julian gotten her out of the institution?
Assuming she'd really been in one
, Truth added conscientiously.
“But now that you're staying, we'll have plenty of time to chat,” Irene added in her brisk English fashion. “Do take these out to the dining room for me, there's a dear,” she said, handing Truth a tray full of coffee cups.
 
“It's all black, as far as the river—phone's out too,” Gareth announced with satisfaction as Truth reached the dining room. “I took a look outside,” he added—unnecessarily, as his hair and shirt were plastered to his skin as if he'd been standing under a showerhead. “It's really wild. A good night for—things,” he finished stifledly, with a glance at Truth.
Truth carefully set down her tray, and Michael rose from his seat to help hand its contents around. He seemed to be studying her as if seeking the answer to a question. Truth smiled automatically. Irene followed Truth out of the kitchen, sans candlestick, to set the carafes on the table.
“There's a bit more in the kitchen,” she said, “getting cold.”
“We'll be wanting it,” Hereward said. “Even if it's cold. Long night tonight, eh, Julian?”
Julian smiled anticipatorily. “You're welcome to join us, Truth,” he said. “As an observer, or … what you will.”
Truth recoiled inwardly, finally realizing what the hints and the sideways looks were about. Julian meant to do magick tonight—from her reading of
Venus Afflicted
she'd gathered the hazy impression that Blackburn preferred his rites to be enacted during storms.
As a scientist and psychic researcher, Truth felt she should be able to regard any peculiar manifestation with perfect calm, and she certainly didn't believe in magick, but the thought of being anywhere near a Blackburn-style magickal rite filled her with suffocating dread.
He killed my mother. Here, in this house, on a night like this. He killed her—
“Truth?”
Julian touched her arm and she startled and gasped, slopping coffee onto her hands and the tablecloth and then flinching at the touch of the hot liquid. She stared at him wide-eyed, heart racing.
“Are you all right?” he demanded.
She set her cup back in its saucer and swabbed at her hands. Fortunately, she didn't seem to be badly burned; the tablecloth had taken the worst of it. “I'm sorry, Julian. I hope the stains will come out; I don't know where my mind was … .”
“It's all right,” he soothed. “This house can have that sort of effect on people, especially during a storm.”
“Thanks,” Truth said, not quite knowing what she meant.
No one else seemed to be paying attention to the small accident. She sipped at the coffee left in her cup. She had loaded it with cream and sugar in hopes that between the caffeine and the sugar she could stay awake. The day's events, on top of the long drive, had caught up with her, and the candlelit dimness served only to underscore how tired she felt.
“There are a number of observances—the Smoothing of the Path—that precede the Opening of the Way,” Julian amplified, “and night is a good time for them. It's a time when the psychic interference, both of sunlight and of waking minds, is minimized.”
Truth found herself nodding in reluctant agreement. Most of her “professional” psychics—those who believed in and acknowledged their psychic powers—felt that their Sixth Sense was strongest during the night hours.
But to participate in one of Blackburn's rituals … ?
Julian was watching her, obviously awaiting her response.
No!
some inward part of her mind screamed.
“Uh, I really don't think—I'm really tired; perhaps some other time,” Truth floundered.
BOOK: Ghostlight
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