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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

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BOOK: Ghostlight
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“How quick you are to say that. Perhaps I should have—but there's no time now for vain regrets. You did not know him.”
And never wanted to!
Truth cried out silently. There was an odd tone in Aunt Caroline's voice that frightened her.
“There is a legacy …” Aunt Caroline's voice trailed off, and her head drooped for a moment as the narcotic relief of the pills took hold.
“Aunt Caroline?” Truth said anxiously.
The old woman roused with an effort. “I tire so easily these days; I'm still not used to it. And I shall die before I am.” She grimaced, impatient with her body's failing. “There is something I have been keeping for you, some of Thorne's possessions. I know that you won't understand
why; I'd hoped to wait until I could … But I have run out of time.”
I have run out of time.
That calm statement of fact roused Truth's pity as no more dramatic statement could.
“Time for what, Aunt Caroline?” Truth asked gently.
“I didn't wish to give them to you until it wouldn't—I never wanted you to hate him,” Aunt Caroline said, “I just couldn't bear … But there is no more time. These things cannot be left around for just anyone to stumble upon once I'm dead; no matter your feelings you'll have to take them now, and I pray that—” Once more Caroline Jourdemayne broke off in the middle of a sentence, as if there were still things that could not be said. “Call it Thorne's legacy to you, and I wish you could understand what he … They're in a box in the bedroom—go get them. And then we must talk about the others.”
What others?
Truth wondered, rising to her feet. But Aunt Caroline's eyes were closed and Truth could not bear to trouble her further.
 
Aunt Caroline's bedroom was at the back of the house. It, too, was filled with the falsely modern furniture that seemed to belong to a vision of some happier tomorrow. The low dresser with its close-grained teak finish—who, in those more fortunate days, had ever heard of an endangered rain forest?—the chaste double bed with the bookcase headboard and bright cotton bedspread, even the pictures on the walls could have come straight out of—
Out of 1969
, Truth thought with a cold pang of realization.
It is as though Time itself stopped here when Mother died.
She did not want to think about that, to add one more crime to the list of Blackburn's villainies. She had never before considered how the house looked, but now the knowledge was inescapable. Nothing had changed here since Aunt Caroline's twin had died. It was as if Aunt Caroline and all the house were … waiting.
For what?
Truth walked over to the dresser. There was a photograph on it in a silver frame—a faded head-and-shoulders shot of a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman who was the image of Caroline Jourdemayne at twenty.
But no one would keep a photo of herself on display in that way—and Caroline Jourdemayne had never in all her life worn her hair in that long, coltish tangle, or those gypsyish hoops of Mexican silver sparkling in her ears.
Mexican … Blackburn had taken his little coven to Mexico the summer before they'd moved into Shadow's Gate—the summer before Katherine had died.
This must be Katherine Jourdemayne.
Truth had never seen a picture of her mother. If she had thought about it at all, she'd assumed there weren't any. She picked up the frame, wondering why Aunt Caroline had never shared this with her.
As Truth moved the photo, another picture—loose, this time—slipped free from its concealment behind the frame and spiraled to the floor. Truth stooped down to pick it up.
It was a Polaroid of as ancient a vintage as the framed photo, this time a full-figure shot of a slender, laughing, blond-haired man, his long golden hair spilling down his back as he lifted a dark-haired baby high above his head. He was shirtless and barefoot, wearing only bell-bottoms and some kind of bead necklace.
Her father.
She was entirely certain, even though there were few photos of Thorne Blackburn available today and certainly nothing like this candid shot. The one most people used was Blackburn's publicity photo that showed him in full mystic regalia.
But there was no doubt. This was him. This casual, laughing stranger was her father.
And the child must be—her.
A fury so strong it could only be hatred possessed
Truth Jourdemayne's consciousness with the force of an onrushing train. How dared the man in the picture seem so normal, as if he were any young father happily playing with his infant daughter? Didn't he know what he'd done—what he was going to do?
Truth's skin crawled as though Blackburn were here with her in the room, and the fact that he had once held her tenderly in his arms seemed unforgivable. She set the photograph back on the dresser top gingerly, and set the framed picture of her mother on top of it as if she could hold down thoughts of Blackburn as easily.
Why would Aunt Caroline keep a picture like this?
Truth wondered.
“I never wanted you to hate him,”
Aunt Caroline had said. An ugly suspicion was growing in the back of Truth's mind, waiting patiently but with gathering momentum for the moment it could break through into her consciousness; the prerational certainty that psychics called
clairsentience
—the ability to know what you couldn't possibly know, a perception that baffled the restraints of space and time.
Oh, knock it off!
Truth told herself fiercely. Ten minutes more and she'd be seeing ghosts.
Now where's that damned whatever-it-is?
The box was on the bed.
It was a white cardboard box—the old, heavy, glazed kind that good stores used to use—and stamped on the lid in silver was the logo of the now-defunct Lucky-Platt Department Store.
Hesitantly, Truth raised the lid. The box was filled with crisp, white tissue paper—and with more. Truth wondered what grisly legacy Thorne Blackburn could have bequeathed her.
No, not Thorne Blackburn.
“Something I have been keeping for you; some of Thorne's possessions … These things cannot be left
around for just anyone to stumble upon once I'm dead; no matter your feelings you'll have to take them now … . Call it Thorne's legacy to you … .
“I never wanted you to hate him.
“But there is no more time … .”
A ring, a necklace, and a book.
She picked up the ring first. Its weight almost made Truth drop it again; it was far too large for her, big enough to cover her longest finger from knuckle to knuckle. It was set with a flat oval of lapis lazuli as big as a peach pit, deeply and intricately carved with some sort of design Truth couldn't quite make out. The stone was set in what must be a full Troy ounce of yellow gold, soft enough to be pure, cast in the shape of a coiled serpent that had red-enameled letters cut into its scaly flesh and tiny winking rubies for its eyes. There were other rubies studded about the ring's bezel—not cabochons, but whole, dark red spheres like beads of blood. The ring had a Greek inscription on the inside of the band, along with a date. Both were meaningless to Truth.
The necklace was a magnificient thing: dark golden amber beads the size of walnuts, long enough to hang halfway down her torso.
It's the one he's wearing in the picture …
A symbol dangled from it, a thick, heavy pendant of enameled gold in an eye-bewildering tangle of curves and circles and peculiar symbols. Both the ring and the necklace seemed theatrical, ceremonial, as though freighted with the weight of a vast store of purpose and intention.
Blackburn's ring. Blackburn's necklace. His legacy to her—as preserved by Aunt Caroline. For her.
Why had Aunt Caroline kept these things for her? Why had she brought her here to give them to her now?
It wasn't what she'd expected from Aunt Caroline, no, not at all … .
Truth realized with an unfolding sense of dismay that
she'd never really known her aunt. Not what she'd expected. No. Not what a woman who blamed Thorne Blackburn for her sister's murder would have done.
“I never wanted you to hate him … .”
But what else could Aunt Caroline have expected?
Could
she have expected anything else?
Truth closed her hands tightly over the serpentine length of the necklace, half-hoping the force would crack the amber beads. All these years she'd just assumed that Aunt Caroline was as disgusted with Blackburn as Truth was, when the reality …
She could see it so clearly now.
Aunt Caroline and the house had been waiting since Katherine died in 1969. Frozen in time. Waiting—
How could she ever have been so blind? It was so obvious. All you had to do was look … .
Waiting.
Waiting until Caroline could join Katherine in death.
Waiting until Caroline could join Thorne Blackburn.
Caroline Jourdemayne had
loved
Thorne Blackburn.
It was as if the world had suddenly tilted 180 degrees. All the unexamined facts of Truth's past, carefully buried and unquestioned, rose up as if embodying another's will and assembled themselves to form an unwelcome and bitterly plausible history.
Hadn't Caroline Jourdemayne also been at Shadow's Gate the night Katherine Jourdemayne had died and Blackburn had vanished? She had, and all these years Truth had never wondered why—but Caroline Jourdemayne couldn't have known how necessary her presence would be. She must simply have been—visiting.
Her sister and her friend.
Her
lover
?
The past suddenly seemed real, here in this room—Truth could see them all together; Katherine, trusting and helplessly fond; Caroline, skeptical and seeing danger
ahead, trying to be the practical one but powerless to avert the tragedy that claimed the two people she loved most. And Thorne Blackburn.
Truth closed her eyes tightly.
No—no—no … This isn't true. It can't be true!
But it made so much sense. Why keep a photograph of a man you hated? Why save his things for his daughter if you didn't think his memory was worth preserving?
Caroline had loved him.
Truth sat down slowly on the bed. Her jaws ached with the force of the denial she would not give voice to. Everything she'd ever believed had been a lie, and all this, all the rest of Caroline Jourdemayne's life, had been spent behind the veil of withdrawn nunlike asceticism that Truth had tried to pierce in vain, spent as though Caroline Jourdemayne had dedicated herself to the chaste worship of Thorne Blackburn down through all the lonely years she had spent raising his daughter.
And she'd thought it had all been done for love of Katherine, Truth mocked herself bleakly. Wrong.
She didn't love me. She loved
him. Truth heard the cheated little-girl voice inside her mind and could not force it down. Aunt Caroline had loved Thorne Blackburn. Still. Now. Always. If she had hated him she would not have been there, always there—and there the one night the two of them—the three of them—had needed her most.
And when, in her teens, Truth had begun to know who he had been and to speak out against Thorne Blackburn, Aunt Caroline had never said a word.
Hoping I'd change my mind? There'll be blizzards in Hell first,
Truth thought grimly. The grief growing in her was too deep for words.
He's taken everything. He left me nothing.
Not her mother, not her mother's love—not even, in the end, her aunt's. It had all, all, all been for Thorne Blackburn, and nothing for his daughter.
Nothing. Nothing left. No time …
There was one more thing in the box.
A book.
She lifted it out carefully. It was about nine inches by twelve—a little larger than a modern hardcover book—and about two inches thick. There was no dust jacket, and it was bound in smooth black leather, with the sort of hubbed spine that Truth associated with the antique books in the Taghkanic College library.
But this was not an antique book—nor, as she discovered when she opened it, a printed book at all.
The title page was handwritten in black ink in a sweeping hand. It said:
Venus Afflicted: Being a Discourse on the True Rite for the Opening of the Way and Other Matters. Thorne Blackburn.
Truth flipped through it quickly. The pages were covered with writing in a neat, modern hand, occasionally interspersed with elaborate drawings by the same hand.
It must be some kind of spellbook,
Truth thought numbly. She dropped it back into the box, rubbing her hands together as if she'd touched something dirty. To foster a belief in magic in this modern day and age seemed too much to Truth like a deliberate turning away from rationalism into the dark ignorance of the past. If magic, then why not faith healing and infant sacrifice as well?
BOOK: Ghostlight
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