Authors: Cassandra Golds
âWe'll have to see each other then,' said Gal. âAnd report back. Like foreign correspondents.'
And indeed it was as if they had each discovered a country that was the other; a country that was truly their own, to love and explore and dwell happily in; a living, sentient country, that responded and loved back and enveloped the explorer in joy and shelter and nurturing. They had each found a home, a land of happiness, of safety, of continual discovery, in the other.
So their love was a country. But it was also a language, a form of expression. It was like writing a poem or a story or a letter in an entirely new way; every touch was a word, every kiss was a sentence, every movement was a new chapter. It was communication, but there had never before been these particular things to communicate, never been anyone to communicate them to, never been the mode of expression to communicate them with.
It was a secret code, a language they shared exclusively with one another.
And it was an escape, for when they were with each other in this way it was as if no one, and nothing else, could intrude.
In each other's arms, they were safe. Or so it seemed.
But Death was watching them. Death was patient. But Death eventually swooped.
They had been sixteen when they first kissed. For two years after that they inched towards each other, closer and closer, ardent, urgent, but always stopping.
Perhaps another boy and girl would not have stopped. But it was impossible for either of them to forget the sense of consequence that weighed on their actions. For in the shadow of Corbenic, phrases like
were not confined to the pages of fairytales.
Gal was afraid of what would happen to Deirdre if he was forced to leave her; if Mrs Dark found some way of banishing him for good. Deirdre was afraid, as always, of her grandmother, and of what would happen if she followed in her mother's footsteps. They were afraid and so they waited. They stopped.
But there came a day when they could not stop, when there seemed no reason to stop. Gal was eighteen; he was trying to persuade Deirdre to come away with him; he was beginning to believe her grandmother's power over them was spent. And he was overwhelmed by the need to heal: to heal with his very body, as he knew he could; to claim Deirdre once and for all for life. Deirdre could think of nothing but Gal; her whole mind and every part of her was filled with Gal; she was intoxicated by the warmth, the light, the life within him. She was overwhelmed by her need for him and by a sense of his need for her â for it seemed to her that he needed her so badly, had always needed her, had been starved of her. She was fleeing the cold, the dark, the decay she dwelt among every day, as if she were condemned to live among the dead.
Life called them, life drew them, and its call, its pull, was beautiful and suffused with love.
Perhaps it was the call of life that woke Deirdre's grandmother from her nap. Its voice was unmistakeable, for it was not often heard in Corbenic.
Or perhaps, as with the treasure in the crystal box, Mrs Dark had known all along. Perhaps she was aware that Deirdre visited the cave, had been visiting it, alone, since she was five; perhaps, from the moment Gal started meeting her there, she felt it, for Deirdre had always believed that Mrs Dark could feel everything that happened in Corbenic, as if Corbenic were her own body â or mind. Perhaps Mrs Dark had waited, through the years â seeing Deirdre every day, telling her the stories of her past, over and over again, and yet saying nothing of the guilt Deirdre was accumulating â until the moment they finally sinned against her, as she knew they would.
Perhaps it was all part of her plan.
Either way, as Gal and Deirdre kissed again and again, for the first time without stopping, in the cave three floors below her, she woke, rose from her bed, slipped her shoes back on, took the keys from the hook by the door and began the long descent, down halls and stairways, across vestibules, through doors, through all the many corridors of her memory and remembered betrayal, until she came to the entrance of the cave.
There, for a moment, she stood watching them.
Then she said, âDeirdre, come out here immediately.'
Her voice at that moment was the most terrible sound either of them had ever heard.
It sounded to Deirdre like death itself. It sounded to Gal like defeat.
âYou don't understand,' Deirdre kept sobbing, as they stood before her, like condemned prisoners, in the laneway outside the cave. âYou don't understand. I have nothing. I have nothing. I can't stop seeing him. I can't go on without him. There's not enough, not enough to live for. Without him, there's nothing.'
But neither Gal nor Deirdre's grandmother were looking at her. For, in the end, it was not the love between Gal and Deirdre that counted. What counted â what would decide all of their fates â was the hostility between Gal and Mrs Dark. And so they were looking at each other.
Deirdre's grandmother had an expression on her face of such pure hatred, that it seemed almost impossible to believe her face was human. It was utterly savage; it was as if she had access to no faculty of mercy or self-restraint. She was a cruel child pulling the wings off a butterfly, too young to be held accountable for her actions.
Gal's face had no hatred; only anger. Or at least, as always, it was strangely still on the surface, and so angry underneath it was as if everything inside him was made of white heat.
âYou have no right,' he said remotely.
âI have no right?' she repeated. âOn my own property? With my own granddaughter?'
âYou don't own her. She's not yours to use as you please. She belongs to nobody but herself. And that's
. You don't understand sacred. You wouldn't know it if you fell over it. What you're doing to her is evil. In fact, what you are doing to her is blasphemous.'
âYou will regret this, my boy. You don't even know what you're playing against. You can't win.'
And just at that moment Gal's anger almost broke its banks. He felt it surging through him like a swollen river, almost blinding him, almost drowning him, and he almost let go of it; and if he had let go the consequence would have been far more dire than knocking an opponent to the ground and being expelled for it. He knew what would happen instinctively even though he could barely put a shape to it in his imagination.
For a moment, he knew that he could kill her.
And it stopped him. The nameless, shapeless, inevitable consequence stopped him. He was so certain that he was more powerful than her â that if he let go he would obliterate her, that she would be swept away and drowned and heard of no more â and he was so sure that on some profound level that would be wrong, no matter how justified it might seem, he couldn't do it. He was too afraid of his own strength. He always had been.
He wanted to rescue Deirdre more than anything else in the world. And yet he knew that, finally, he could not rescue Deirdre by doing wrong. Doing right was the only way open to him. But there seemed no way of doing right that was strong enough to defeat the force that was Mrs Dark.
Mrs Dark saw it. She saw his power, and she saw him contain it. She smiled.
âI never said you didn't have it in you,' she said oddly. âYou're a strong personality â you always have been. You're the only one I have ever met who was my match. But you will never win, not against me, because you have a fatal flaw. Do you know what it is?'
They both stared back at her dumbly.
âA conscience,' she answered herself. âYou have a conscience. And people without one always win. It's the law of nature.' Then she smiled and recited mockingly:
âMy good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.'
She laughed. âBut you're not. Very. Pure, I mean. Are you? You're just an ordinary boy. Bold Sir Galahad at the very gates of Corbenic,' she mused. âHave you found the Holy Grail yet? Or have you fallen in the moat?'
Gal turned to Deirdre.
âDeedee,' he said, âplease. Come with me. Now. Don't stay here. It can't be right. If you come with me we'll manage, we'll work out something. But you can't stay here. She's killing you. She's killing your soul.'
Deirdre looked at him wildly, as if she didn't know him. She looked like an animal, some white creature from a land of icy wastes and glaciers, with black eyes and a lonely cavern for a mouth, wounded and trapped and chained on the blood-smeared snow. He longed to put his arms around her â he longed to wind back history. They had been in the Garden of Eden, they had found it again, against all the odds, and yet now, again, they were being expelled.
âI can't!' she said desperately. âI can't come with you â not without her blessing! I can't disobey her! She owns me!'
âShe doesn't own you.
She's not God.
âShe does own me. You don't know! She does, Gal. And she owns you too.'
For a moment Gal felt a thick black despair, a feeling like suffocating. He had no idea how to go on, how to get through the next minute.
Then something strange happened.
Suddenly, without a word, and to his own confusion and surprise, he felt himself turning to go.
He walked jerkily down the little alley, out across the building site, and into the dark laneway that led up to the main street. He didn't seem to be thinking about anything; he barely seemed to be present in his own body. It was as if something outside him were making the decisions.
Just before he got to the street, he felt a searing pain in his chest, a pain so bad he sank to his knees with it, and then to the ground, his body curled around his torso like a foetus. It felt like his chest was being opened up with a great dagger, it felt like his ribs were being parted by force and a cruel hand was reaching in towards his heart.
And that was when, at last, he knew. Now â too late! â he understood for the first time the nature of his enemy.
For it was
will that had subsumed his own and caused him to walk away just then. It was
hand, from long ago, he felt in his rib cage. He recognised them both, as he would recognise her voice or face. He was possessed, at this moment, by a foreign will, and it was Mrs Dark's.
She was a witch indeed.
Galahad writhed on the ground in agony.
He had known she was wrong. He had known she was cruel. He had known she was mad, disturbed, insane.
But he had not known Mrs Dark had power, superÂnatural power, over others. He had not believed in witches. But that was because he had not known what a witch was.
A witch, he saw at last, was not one who had studied arcane books or adopted familiars or been apprenticed to an older witch or played around with cauldrons or broomsticks. A witch was a witch because of the intensity of her emotion. It wasn't a question of what had happened to her. It wasn't because her father had abandoned her, or because she had lost a two-year-old son. What mattered was how deeply she had felt it.
Mrs Dark had experienced her life so intensely that her emotions had become a force she could use to harm as she chose. That was how powerful emotion could be.
And she had chosen him.
Now, too late, he knew what he had been fighting.
Gal believed he was going to die. He began to crawl, moaning and retching, towards the street, and when he reached it, and the sight of passers-by, he lost consciousness.
Many people walked past him before anyone stopped. They assumed he was an addict or a homeless youth and they did not even pause. But finally a woman hesitated and bent over him and called an ambulance. They took him to a hospital where, strangely, although he stayed several days floating in and out of consciousness, they could find nothing wrong.
Gal knew what was wrong, and in his delirium he talked of it incessantly. But of course no one took any notice.
Deirdre had no idea that Gal was in hospital. She had no idea what had happened in the laneway just around the corner from where she stood, despairing and defeated, and now alone, forever, with her grandmother. She thought he had abandoned her at last, and she thought there was no other way. The bond they had had, in all its beauty and purity, and with all its saving power, had been cut forever, just as it was about to be fulfilled.
She was desolate. She hardly knew how she would go on living. But there was more to bear, even, than this.
Deirdre had expected consequences. She had expected to be ignored, unforgiven for weeks, perhaps longer, perhaps forever. She expected to be, not only deprived of Gal, but punished by her grandmother.
But after he left that afternoon, Deirdre's grandmother did not refer to the incident again, or even behave as if anything of importance had happened. It was as if, the moment Gal left, he had never existed.
Deirdre began to feel as if she was losing her mind.
She went back with her grandmother to her grandÂmother's flat, and, like a ghost, went through the motions of her normal life. She had once seen a television production of the ballet
; she felt like one of the dancers in it, the shades of girls who had died before their wedding night. She felt neither alive nor dead, suspended in a grey twilight that would never change or grow or advance, that would never become either truly night, or truly day.
But she was wrong. That night, things changed forever.
Later, as Deirdre sat in a state of miserable stupefaction in the overcrowded living room of No. 4, her grandmother did a strange thing, stranger than anything she ever remembered her doing before.
On this night Deirdre's grandmother did not tell, as usual, the bitter story of her unhappy life. She did not tell of her mother's death and her father's neglect, of the loss of her little son and the failure and disgrace of her daughter. She did not tell the usual story of how all the people she had known in her life had disappointed and betrayed her.