Shadows & Lights
All Rights Reserved; This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part, nor transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy nor otherwise without the express consent of the Publisher.
Valiant Digital © 1995 in Association with Aberdare Multimedia © 2009
Copyright © 2006. Johanez Johnston
This First Edition Published in Canada in 2012 by Valiant Digital.
The author asserts intellectual property rights of all materials contained within.
The sun was well into the morning sky, and the first frost had long been burned off the trees as I finally woke. The familiar smell of brimstone, though it lingered amongst the draperies, was so faint I knew what was the truth. My dearest friend and familiar had been joined to the green dragon I had known as Ferule, and now with his task completed, his human form had been released from the binding holding him to both his longevity and his knowledge as my familiar. I rose from my bed and found my dressing table set as it had been for as long as I could remember. I quickly dressed and found both Annie and Cathie already awake.
“Where’s everyone else?” I asked.
“They’ve all set off with Ferule to lay claim to their own suites. Cathie replied. “Ferule said to remind you that breakfast will not be served this morning, but lunch will be available in the main kitchen around noon.”
“Shall we?” I inquired.
“We’ve been waiting for you to get your butt out of bed, Narissa.” Annie quipped. Together the three of us bounded out of our suite as I noticed a woman dressed in grey robes enter thru a servant’s door into the suite.
“Ill catch up with you in the kitchen.” I mentioned as I bounded back into the suite as though I had forgotten something.
“Oh, forgive me mistress.” The woman spoke.
“You need not beg forgiveness from me.” I casually replied. “This estate is for everyone whose name is related to the clan.
“Thank you, mistress.” She replied. “But my place is to serve you and your sisters.”
“Your task shall be an easy one.” I replied as the chambermaid returned to her duties. I exited the suite thru the servant’s doorway and quickly descended the staircase in the staff corridor to find myself exiting into the main kitchen moments later.
“I thought you were behind us.” Annie spoke as I began collecting some toast from a warmer next to the stove. I propped myself up on a stool next to the counter and began eating.
“The servant’s corridor is faster.” I quipped.
“It is, is it?” Cathie inquired. Moments later Deanna stepped into the kitchen, and joined us.
“Is Chef still serving or are we too close to lunch now?” Deanna asked.
“I think we’re too close to lunch.” Annie quipped back. “But there’s still lots of left over toast in the warmer.”
“Everyone else exploring the estate?” Cathie asked.
“Yea, we’ve been haunting the staff corridors.” Deanna answered back. “I think we can catch up with them in the library.”
“Lead on.” I quipped as we snatched up our toast. Just then several people dressed in yellow accompanied with laughter entered the kitchen from a side door.
“That Ferule takes his job far too seriously.” I heard from one of them before they all noticed us. Our school uniforms gave us a momentary disguise, as we scrounged the chef’s prep table.
“Be careful now, ladies.” I heard a voice from behind me. “Chef is almost as nasty as Ferule can be.”
“If you think Ferule is nasty, just wait ‘til you piss off Mistress.” Annie quipped. Annie’s comment seemed to set the others at ease, as I stepped into full view, with my wand bouncing on the floor behind me.
“Hey!” one of the others interrupted. “I heard Mistress does that with… her… wand.”
“You should really listen to Ferule.” I spoke as they all finally realized who I was. “He knows more than you know.” The silence was golden.
“Forgive us Mistress.” They all stated together almost in fear.
“That’s the second time today someone has asked forgiveness under this roof.” I added while returning to my toast. “I expect you will learn to stop doing that.”
Together, the four of us exited the kitchen and left the others in shocked silence. We found Amelia, Nyssa, Rachel, Tessa, Valerie, Vijay and Zoë lounging in the library.
“Find anything worth noting?” I asked.
“This place is so amazing.” Valerie stated.
“And huge!” Rachel added.
“The estate can house upwards of three hundred.” Zoë mentioned.
“Has anyone seen Principal Marriott today?” I asked. “I saw her briefly last night.” Their replies varied but were essentially, no.
“But enough being truant.” I stated. “I think we better get out butts to school this afternoon.
“You need not worry about being truant, Miss Narissa.” Principal Marriott spoke. “With the chronicles this evening and preparations for the Sabbat, school has been suspended until further notice. Consider it an early holiday.”
“And you ladies have rehearsals to be practicing for the Sabbat.” Uncle Vlad interrupted. “Your presence is requested in the courtyard following lunch, and Miss Amelia has to return to her duties.”
“We’ll be there.” Zoë answered. Amelia briefly paused to say goodbye and departed with Uncle Vlad. The remainder of our morning passed quite quickly, though I spent mine sequestered in the library, as everyone else ran amok throughout the estate. I arrived in a small alcove just off the kitchen long before anyone else. The young woman who I had seen last night was also seated inside the alcove.
“Hello, Mistress.” She greeted me. Her long flowing robes and bright red hair told me exactly who she was.
“Bootee?” I inquired.
“I thank you for releasing me from my prison, Mistress.” She answered. “But that name no longer has any meaning.”
“I understand the layers applied in an attempt to keep the curse at bay, but how is it possible that you were joined with a dragon?” I asked.
“The mistakes of the past, Mistress.” Was her only reply.
“I understand.” I answered back.
“I will one day remember my own name, but until then…” she continued. I reached out with my mind to her, and my projection found her welcoming my intrusion openly. Searching thru her memories, I discovered she had been bound to the Necromancer, and in doing so had given up her own identity. The difference between her and Ferule was that she had been locked in isolation and solitude. I could not imagine how lonely that must have been to endure.
“How about giving yourself a new name?” I asked.
“What name would you suggest, Mistress?” she asked me back.
“Alvida seems to suit you.” I answered quickly. For some strange reason it was that name that leapt out at me.
“Then Alvida it will be, Mistress.” She graciously answered. “I have a gift for Annette, Catherine, and yourself.” Her announcement followed with what appeared to be several small lizards in a basket, but I knew immediately they were anything but.
“Dragons?” I inquired.
“The three of you will be needing a Familiar,” Alvida stated. “And I can think of no reason why each of you should not be united.”
“Then, Ferule, Loire and yourself were never meant to be our Familiars?” I inquired politely.
“No, Mistress. But we were meant to be your guides to be united with them.” Alvida replied. “They hatched only this morning.” I was about to ask more questions, but Alvida rose and quickly left. Before I could ask, and almost as quickly as she departed, the others all arrived for lunch.
“How were your further exploits?” I asked, while my mind still lingered on the occupants of basket Alvida had departed with.
“You should see the empty suites in the north wing!” Vijay answered first.
“And the catacombs underneath us are just amazing.” Zoë added.
“Well, our presence has been requested in the courtyard following lunch today.” I announced. “So we won’t be having any time for more exploring.” The looks on everyone’s faces clearly indicated they had completely forgotten about our commitment this afternoon.
“Lunch is served, Ladies.” Chef announced. “It is my pleasure to be serving the first meal under this roof.”
“Chef?” I asked politely. “Have you prepared a dinner menu for this evening?”
“Yes, Mistress.” Chef responded. “Master Ferule has insisted upon a Beef Rouladen to be served on Portobello Mushrooms, with Fresh Greens, and Sweet Potatoes.”
“Ferule has always been very frugal with his menus.” I replied.
“Master ferule has dictated the week’s menu based upon our available supplies, Mistress.” Chef added. “But not to worry, you will be pleased with aperitifs and deserts served at this evening’s chronicles.”
“Thank you, Chef.” I finished. Lunch consisted of a marvelous cream of leek soup served with a salad garnished with sliced mushroom caps and split cherry tomatoes. The simplicity of this meal reminded me of Ferule’s creations, and how he could often create a gourmet meal centered on a slab of salt pork, and a loaf of fresh bread.
“Does anyone know how long we will be in the courtyard this afternoon?” Valerie inquired.
“I have no idea.” Annie replied. “But I doubt it will be too long, as preparations for the chronicles have to be completed before dinner.” I could tell that everyone was quickly learning that at an estate this size, everything revolved around the available logistics required by the staff to prepare and complete any tasking required for an event.
“This particular event will be upwards of five-hundred people attending.” I interrupted. “So we will need some time to prepare ourselves too.” Everyone seemed to be in complete agreement as we cleared the table and deposited our dishes into the scullery and washed them all before a member of the staff arrived.
“Oh, My!” Was her only reply to finding what we had done, and we departed before she had a chance to either thank us or scold us. We entered the courtyard to find it was completely deserted, except for twelve besoms in a circle, lying on the ground.
“Hello, Ladies.” I heard Alvida’s voice from behind us. “It will be my task this afternoon to familiarize you with what will be expected from you prior to Chronicles this evening. Several of the guests this evening will be teleporting into the estate and this circle will permit them to do so. Some of them may not be used to teleporting and will require some assistance from you so they can finish their transition without injuring themselves.”
“And what will we need to be doing?” Tessa asked.
“And the perfect question from you, Mistress.” Alvida replied. “A helping hand is all you will need to extend.”
“That’s it?” Zoë enquired.
“That’s not quite everything.” Alvida explained further. “There will be some guests who must not know your identities. You will all be dressed in black robes this evening, and are required to act as though you are servants, along with all your schoolmates.” No one protested Alvida’s announcement as together we all understood that this evening’s chronicles were in remembrance of Professor Montay. It was at that moment that James appeared from the end of a hedgerow and gave out a shrill whistle. Seconds later faces appeared around us as all our school mates quickly arrived inside the courtyard along with the school staff and Principal Marriott.
“Everyone is to be here, dressed and ready to receive the guests at 7:00pm.” Alvida finished. “Until then, I believe your school Principal has some other duties for you.” Alvida departed without so much as another word.
“Ladies.” James greeted all of us. “Who was that?”
“Alvida is her name, and she is to be granted the same respect as you would to a Professor.” I answered. Even James understood that to show disrespect to a teacher would mean detention, even if school were not in session.
“Professor, Mistress?” I distinctly heard Alvida’s voice in my head. “I don’t think I advanced beyond where you are now, but thank you for the title, Mistress.”
“You’re Welcome, Professor.” I softly projected back. I immediately felt Alvida break contact with me, and it slightly alarmed me. When I tried to re-establish a link with her, I found I could not.
“So this is the family estate, huh?” James stated.
“Yes, James.” I answered. “And I expect you won’t need a map to find your quarters?”
“Quarters?” James replied.
“Of course.” Annie interrupted. “We can’t be having the Sergeant-Major of Legion One living anywhere else now, can we?”
“And everyone else should also be properly quartered as well.” I added. “Assignments are listed on the notice board in the main foyer.”
“You heard her.” James addressed everyone with a booming voice. “Go find your bunks!” Everyone quickly disappeared and with the assistance of several staff members, all the rooms on the North Wing were filled with shouts and laughter.
“It has been a long time since I have heard the sound of so many voices inside these walls, Mistress.” Alvida spoke, now standing beside me. “The empty hallways have been quiet for far too long.”
“I agree, Professor.” I answered. “I think you should be the one to govern them while they are under this roof.”
“Ferule did mention you are wise beyond your years, Mistress.” Alvida answered. “I accept.”
“And Governess sounds even better than Professor,” I added. “Don’t you think?”
“For some reason, I think you are right, Mistress.” Alvida replied. With a quick flick of my wand, Alvida’s robe had the Shield belonging to the Grey House embroidered in grey thread.
“That’s much better.” I stated, as Alvida noticed the embroidery.
“Thank you, Mistress.” Alvida replied. “But I think this insignia belongs to Master Ferule, not to me.”
“While that may be true,” I added. “I don’t think he’d mind. Besides, Ferule has his hands full with being the Master at Arms for Gris Maison, and you will find your quarters waiting for you near the base of the North Wing.”
“I would prefer the lodgings I have in the catacombs, Mistress.” Alvida replied in protest.
“Your new quarters have a direct passage to the catacombs,” I discretely replied. “That way you can easily transit between them with ease.”
“As you wish, Mistress.” Alvida accepted. Alvida slipped quietly down the hallway and ascended the staircase leading to the North Wing, where I lost sight of her. I retired to my own suite to prepare myself early. The mayhem that greeted me in the sitting room was quite funny.
“Don’t just stand there, Narissa!” Annie shouted. “Get your butt in here and help out.” Flittering around the sitting room was three very young dragons. By virtue of being so young and undisciplined, the smell of brimstone hung heavy in the air and scorch marks spotted the walls in several places.
“Destructive little beasts.” Cathie wept. I giggled as I noticed her robe had been scorched. I projected a very warm feeling that enveloped the sitting room and the young dragons instantly settled down. Much like affectionate puppies they seemed to be seeking the same in return. I simply knelt on the floor and waited patiently as the three of them all sniffed the air. Moments later I had one of the dragons playfully bounding and jumping directly in front of me, just out of reach. Both Annie and Cathie followed my lead and were rewarded with the same playful display from the other two dragons. Following our introductions, the dragons calmly sat on the floor.
“Whoa.” Annie spoke. “That was way too simple.”
“You just aren’t used to dragons.” I added. “Simple things make them happy. Just let them know, they’re loved and they look after themselves.”
“But they can be destructive little beasts.” Cathie added. Her robe was so heavily scorched that it was now ruined. She took off her outer robe and tossed it on the floor. I noted one of the dragons eyeing it mischievously and we found one of them curl up in a ball on top of Cathie’s discarded robe and promptly went to sleep. Annie and I followed suit and did the same. The other two quickly curled up on top of our robes and also went to sleep. Their deep breaths and an occasional snort of brimstone was the only sounds indicating the dragons were in the sitting room.
“There.” I spoke. “Order restored.”
“Ah, I see you have all met.” Ferule spoke, referring to the dragons asleep on top of our robes, standing in the doorway of our suite.
“Yes, Ferule.” Annie quipped. “How many more of these little ones are there?”
“Quite a few, Mistress.” Ferule replied. “And it will be many years before they will be mature enough to serve as a familiar.”
“Ferule.” I softly spoke. “How is your other half?”
“Resting comfortably, Mistress.” Ferule replied. “He is waiting to see you.”
“And Bootee?” Cathie asked.
“And Loire?” Annie added.
“All resting comfortably.” Ferule replied. “They will be happy to meet you all again, but not today. Four hundred years has been a very long burden for all of them.”
“So, Alvida and Gaff and you were bound to them?” Annie asked.
“Yes we were, Miss Annie.” Ferule answered. “It was the only way to prevent the curse from killing them.”
“I think I understand all the facets of the curse, and how some mistakes compounded the problem.” I added.
“One curse, one mind, one love.” Ferule stated. “We accepted our fates with open hearts.”
“And now I understand, Ferule.” I answered.
“I know you do, Mistress.” Ferule replied. “Dinner will be served early, but you ladies have to be getting ready for this evening.”
Ferule departed, closing the sitting room door closed behind him. Annie Cathie and I, found our private bath to be quite luxurious. I did not linger long in the hot shower spray, and was dressed in no time. I sat on the chair next to my dressing table after I finished lacing my shoes. I noted the robes that were set out for me were devoid of any decoration or accents. The only decoration I would allow myself this evening would be my ring. I waited impatiently for Annie and Cathie to finish dressing.
“You ready, Narissa?” Annie asked.
“Yes.” I answered and also asked. “Cathie almost ready?”
“Ready.” Cathie stated. Together we snuck into the servant’s passage and headed towards the North Wing. We entered very near to Alvida’s new quarters and found the hallway deserted, but the sound of laughter and voices echoed from above us. The stairwells climbing upwards into the tower dominating the North Wing were clearly segregated, indicating one side for the boys and another for the girls. It reminded me of the rear entrances of Linwood School and how the doorways were meant specifically for either sex, as they were also closest to communal lavatories meant for their respective uses.
“Does this give either of you any ideas?” I asked.
“It reminds me of a boarding school.” Annie quipped.
“I have to agree.” Cathie added.
“Are the other wings the same as this?” I enquired.
“They are indeed, Mistress.” Alvida spoke softly from behind us. Her entrance had been both silent and seemingly invisible, but I distinctly hear the click of a lock catch from what must have been a hidden panel.
“Oh, You startled us, Alvida” Cathie stated.
“Pardon my intrusion, Mistress.” Alvida answered. “There are some passages that have other purposes.”
“We shall have to learn their purpose, and make use of them.” I added.
“In time, I am sure you shall.” Alvida answered. I noticed Alvida was carrying the same basket she had with her earlier, and it appears to be occupied.
“More hatchlings?” I enquire.
“Yes, Mistress.” Alvida answers. “They are ready to choose a witch or wizard and there are so many for them to meet.”
“I must ask for you to be discrete, so as not to disrupt this evening’s Chronicles.” I mention.
“I understand, Mistress.” Alvida replied. “I had no doubt your introductions would not need my assistance, but I fear the others will need a more formal meeting.”
“Yes, please do, Alvida.” I added. “I fear another fire could be disastrous.”
“I believe that is best, Mistress.” Alvida answered. Alvida excused herself and ascended the girl’s staircase into the tower followed moments later with shrieks and running feet. One of our classmates came running down the stairs with a hatchling following close behind her, nipping at the tails of her robe.
“Looks like you have a new friend.” Annie quipped. Just then she stopped dead on her heels, and the young dragon chasing her ran into the back of her calves, almost knocking her over.
“This little one seems to have chosen you.” Cathie concluded.
“What should I do?” Our classmate asked.
“He’s just looking for some affection in return.” Annie stated. The young dragon scratched and bounded on our classmate like a puppy. She reached down and gently scratched the hatchling’s head, which in turn quickly settled down next to her feet.
“You will want to leave something that belongs to you, for him to sleep on.” I mentioned. She quickly ascended the stairs and the young dragon followed close behind her. We followed behind the new pair and Alvida passed us on the staircase with a now empty basket.
“I wonder how many hatchlings there will be?” Annie asked.
“According to Ferule,” I answered. “There are quite a few of them.”
“I remember reading some history that the 1st Legion was mounted.” Annie stated.
“They were indeed.” I answered back. “Members of the 1st Legion rode dragons, while the other houses segregated themselves based upon the familiars that chose them.”
“So, if the hatchlings all choose our classmates,” Cathie mentioned. Then everyone will be in the 1st Legion?”
“They could be, but they could also be future officers of one of the other houses.” I answered.
“How will we know?” Annie asked.
“Only time will tell.” I answered back. The entrance into the girl’s dormitory was punctuated with sounds of snorts and scratching claws on the polished stone floor. Hatchlings were busy running from room to room, some following one of our classmates, while others seemed to be sniffing the floor as though trying to find a scent that would lead them. The smell of brimstone hung heavy in the air, but I sensed that each hatchling’s snorts were unique. Several hatchlings bounded upon the three of us, but quickly scurried off in search of someone else. Almost immediately the hatchlings must have sensed we’d already been chosen. We walked further into the dormitory and counted no less than two-dozen young dragons sleeping on someone’s cloak or robe. Just then one very frightened hatchling skirted around my robes.
“Hello, little one.” I softly projected. “Are you lost?” The hatchling remained very close to me as I rounded another corner and found a locked gate. The hatchling sniffed the air and scratched the floor as though wanting the barrier to be opened. With a flick of my wand, the gate opened and the hatchling scratched the floor impatiently. I opened the gate and along with Annie and Cathie, we passed the gate and locked it behind us. The young dragon stayed close to me as we headed down a short corridor. Moments later the hatchling sniffed the air.
”Did you find something, little one?” I softly projected. The young dragon seemed a little excited, but also apprehensive. There appeared to be no one present, but I knew a dragon’s sense of smell was comparable to a well-trained hound. Whoever the dragon was seeking, must also be a member of the staff, as the corridor we were in, led us directly into a staff corridor. After descending a spiral staircase, we emerged in the laundry room, directly underneath the North Tower. The hatchling sniffed the air once again and proceeded towards the only staff present in the laundry room. One young woman appeared very nervous as the young dragon approached her.
“Shoo, go away!” the woman hushed while trying to fold the linens sitting in a large pile in front of her. The dragon sat patiently at her feet and looked at her as though they were old friends.
“I see you have found each other.” I spoke, startling the young woman.
“Please forgive me, Mistress.” The woman replied to my greeting.
“There is nothing to forgive.” I added. “And that’s the third time today someone has asked forgiveness under this roof.”
“I know I should not have befriended this little one.” The young woman replied.
“Why would that be a problem?” I asked. “This little one has chosen you.”
“I am not permitted a familiar,” She replied. “At least not a dragon.”
“Nonsense.” I quickly responded. “This little one has chosen you, and by virtue of her decision, you must accept.”
“But I am a member of Jaune Maison, Mistress.” She replied. “Not even our Domus has a dragon as her familiar.”
“Then I suspect they will be very excited to know their future Domus does.” I stated.
“But…” She tried to protest.
“No buts.” I interrupted. “I suggest you start carrying your wand with you, and never let this little one have to come looking for you again.”
“Yes, Mistress.” The young woman replied.
“And I expect to see you dressed for this evening.” I stated openly.
“This evening, Mistress?” She asked.
“Yes, of course.” Annie interceded. “All the houses must be represented.” Cathie, Annie and I exited the laundry room into another servant’s corridor with who we now knew to be the new Domus of Jaune Maison, and her new familiar. The last ring in the box must belong to her, now that we’d found her. Professor Montay’s last legacy had been discovered and I was not going to be letting her out of my sight until we’d properly attended to her appointment. We soon found ourselves exiting into a small alcove adjacent to the kitchen.
“Ferule!” I projected strongly, and moments later Ferule entered the alcove.
“Yes, Mistress.” Ferule announced.
“This absolutely adorable creature has chosen her witch.’ I stated to Ferule, as the hatchling lay quietly curled up on the floor. “And since it is our tradition that witch’s whose familiar’s are dragons are either Domus of their house, or members of the 1st Legion, then this young lady is destined to be the leader of her house. The Domus are all required to be here this evening, so I believe we will also have a retirement announcement. As the Master at Arms governing this household, I expect you will be advising the present Domus of Jaune Maison of her impending retirement.”
“It shall be as you command, Mistress.” Ferule responded. “And you, Miss Julian are relieved of your duties until further notice.”
Annie, Cathie and I exited the alcove leaving Julian under Ferule’s immediate supervision, and we entered the dining hall. After gathering our dinner plates from the serving line, we found Deanna, Nyssa, Rachel, Tessa, Valerie, Vijay and Zoë seated together. We quickly took our seats at the table.
“We have officially filled all the top appointments in the family.” I whispered to Cathie.
“Any idea when we will be making our announcements?” Cathie replied.
“During the Sabbat.” I responded. “Until then, we will blend in with our classmates and keep our secrets to ourselves.” I noticed Alvida enter the dining hall and approach our table.
“I beg your pardon, Mistress.” Alvida spoke softly to me. “Master Ferule wished a message passed that Miss Julian has been temporarily relocated to quarters near yours.”
“Thank you, Alvida.” I reply. “Please see to it that Miss Julian is properly attired for this evening.”
“Master Ferule is seeing to her wardrobe as we speak, Mistress.” Alvida responds. Alvida excused herself and exited the dining hall. Dinner proceeded without any further disruptions, and after depositing our finished dinner plates in the scullery; we proceeded directly into the terrace area overlooking the courtyard. The preparations for this evening were well underway which included the lone gilded chair meant for our present Rector Regina. This was to be the last time I would see this chair used for this purpose as I resolved myself to bear my announcement of ascension at the Sabbat in three days time. Ferule escorted Julian onto the terrace as the first of the guests for this evening began to arrive.
“Miss Julian, Mistress.” Ferule introduced with as much formality as he dared use with so many prying eyes close to us.
“Thank you, Ferule” I answered. “Please return to your duties.” Annie produced the box containing the last ring and handed it to me.
“With the authority invested to me by our late Congressus,” I stated openly, but still quietly. “I present you, Miss Julian, with the relic of your station.” I removed the last ring from the box, and offered the ring to Julian.
“I accept, Mistress.” Julian replied and placed the ring on her own hand. “Master Ferule has informed me of the dilemma Professor Montay’s passing has imposed. My only hope is that the trust you have bestowed upon me is reflected in how well I can lead my house and serve you.”
“You serve your house first, before my station, Miss Julian.” I stated. “You would be wise to remember that.”
“I beg your pardon, Mistress.” Julian replied. I noted Julian was not used to being in the position she had been thrust into, but was definitely showing the signs of being a quick learner. I knew that with Ferule’s supervision she would become a devoted Domus to those belonging to her house.
I gathered everyone around me for one last set of instructions before we would retire to the courtyard.
“Each of you will be escorting the house Domus. Annie, you will remain behind our Rector Regina during tonight’s ceremony. Cathie and I will be escorting Uncle Vlad and Karl.” I stated. “Trust no one.”
“We know, Narissa.” Nyssa stated. “But why be so secretive?”
“Because I believe, just as Professor Montay believed, the time for our ascension is ordained for the Sabbat.” I answered. “Until then, we blend in.” I looked around at everyone and I knew instantly they understood.
“Welcome.” Uncle Vlad greets the first of our guests. Following short introductions the guests are led towards the courtyard area. That was our queue to make our way towards the courtyard and mingle with the arriving guests. Many of the faces I recognized from the church service and quite a few from Ferule’s dedication dinner, but so many more I did not recognize at all, though I suspected they knew who I was.
“Bienvennue, Sir, Madam.” I warmly greeted one elderly couple that had just transported into the estate. Their well-tailored robes and polite manners indicate they were from the upper class of our society.
“Thank you.” They reply in turn. “Professor Montay’s sudden passing shocked us all.”
“Thank you, for your condolences.” I answer back. “Please let me show you to you seats.” Ironically, they had absolutely no idea who I am.
“Thank you, my dear.” The elderly woman replied. “That is a lovely ring you’re wearing. Is it a family heirloom?”
“It was a gift from my mother.” I responded. “Will you be attending the Sabbat this year?”
“We will be attending the celebrations at the Capital this year,” she retorted. “As we’ve done every year, my dear.”
“Ah, well I hear the celebrations will be of special interest this year.” I added. “Please, take your seats.” Having arrived finally at the spot secluded for guests from the Capital, I offered them their seats.
“I do hope Vladimir remembers us.” The woman retorted to her husband as I turned to leave. “The last time we were invited to a chronicle, the…” Her words were lost in the gentle breeze blowing against my face as I headed down the isle back towards the next wave of guests. The process repeated itself several more times as I had to endure an endless stream of dribble from people who’s only reason for attending was to display themselves as the hierarchy of the family. It amused me that their future in the family would soon be relegated to the wings, as a new generation would soon be ascending to fill the ranks of the Family’s leadership. I found my uncle equally annoyed by having to endure the same endless streams of forced conversation and pleasantries.
“I had no idea I am related to some of these people.” I mused.
“Some you are, but so many others you are not.” My uncle replied.
“Acquaintances of Professor Montay’s?” I enquired.
“That is a most polite way of describing them, Narissa.” My uncle added. “And speaking of acquaintances, the Chamberlain himself sent an RSVP.”
“He will respect the sanctity of a Chronicle gathering?” I asked.
“Of course I will, Mistress.” The Chamberlain himself softly spoke from behind me. The Chamberlain’s presence definitely unnerved me, but instead of feeling anger towards the man who orchestrated her untimely passing, I rose above it.
“Your compassion is refreshing, Lord Chamberlain.” I replied. “May I escort you to your seat?” I tried my very best not to show my swelling emotions, as I began leading the Chamberlain down into the courtyard.
“My previous offer still stands, Mistress.” The Chamberlain quietly spoke as we entered the courtyard, with everyone clearly able to see our most feared enemy, openly welcomed amongst us.
“Am I to conclude you will wish to make a contribution this evening, Lord Chamberlain?” I offered sweetly.
“I cherish the opportunity, Mistress.” The Chamberlain heartily replied. “And I offer you my wand as a gesture of my sincerity, Mistress.” The Chamberlain made a display of offering his wand, clearly and openly, as though he was offering an olive branch. I offered the Chamberlain his seat, prominently positioned front and centre row. My devious mind raced thru several scenarios, but I had to concede to myself that to act in any manner against the Chamberlain would violate the sanctity of the Chronicles we had all gathered together for.
“I accept your wand, Lord Chamberlain. Your experience and deceit may overcome my youth and wisdom,” I returned politely. “But while I may forgive, I shall never forget.” I added equally as quietly, knowing full well the simple binding the Chamberlain had accepted upon himself.
“Professor Montay taught you well, Mistress.” The Chamberlain replied back. I immediately sensed fear from the Chamberlain, like I had never before experienced from anyone. The Chamberlain’s compliment to Professor Montay told me he had accepted failure to achieve what his office had tried to prevent. I wasted no time in passing this information to my uncle.
“His offer is binding, Narissa.” Uncle Vlad replied. “And while it means he will not oppose you openly against the Council, but it may also mean he has a personal agenda.”
“True.” I responded. I now realized the Chamberlain had played me. By accepting his wand, I had unwittingly accepted the truce he had offered following our duel, and I would also be bound to honor it.
“He knows he is beaten, and is fearful he will be deposed by the Council, unless he can show them you support his appointment.”
Uncle Vlad whispered. “But we have a Chronicle to begin shortly, Narissa.”
The final procession began with the Domus all being escorted to the centre of the courtyard. I noted the faces of our House Leaders and knew full well, in the absence of my ascension as Primus Regina, they would meet following the Chronicles to name a successor to Professor Montay as Congressus. Uncle Vlad paced his way to the centre, carrying Professor Montay’s Portrait, with Annie, Cathie and myself following close behind. I could hear the whispers clearly as I passed. Silence fell upon the entire courtyard as Professor Montay’s portrait was placed next to the stone plinth dominating the centre of the courtyard.
“I welcome you all, and thank you for your compassion.” Uncle Vlad began. “Let us begin the Celebration of Chronicles for Professor Jutta Kriemhilde Liselotte Montay. I ask our Lord Chamberlain to say a few words.” The Chamberlain rose from his chair and stood straight and tall, as he seemed to carefully meter his words before speaking.
”Greetings to you all, and welcome to this, a most solemn occasion.” The Chamberlain began.
“I first met Jutta, on the occasion of her wedding to my late cousin, Captain Alexander Montay, who was killed in action during the Great War. Jutta never failed nor permitted those around her, to not excel in their ambitions and dreams. Her attitude towards ensuring the young minds entrusted to her teaching never wavered from her appointment as a Professor. This dedication is evident around you as you gaze upon the faces of the students who escorted you into the courtyard this evening. It is with pride that I share with you the knowledge of her contributions to our youth, and those who have restored this place we stand amongst now. Her legacy lives locked within the minds whose destiny is to lead us into the future. Professor Montay considered this her most sacred duty. “
“I offer this memory of her to live long beyond the celebrations we have gathered for this evening.” The Chamberlain concluded. He had indeed carefully metered his words and though it pained me to do so, I had to openly accept his condolences at face value and remain silent. His performance only enforced my suspicions of his underlying agenda. The Chamberlain, without anything further, turned his back to everyone and once again took his seat.
The endless stream of Chronicles continued as the light from the moon streamed down upon us. Each and every speaker kept their Chronicle brief, and after more than an hour, my uncle finally bade everyone to share in the lavish hors d'oeuvres being served. As everyone mingled, occasionally someone would stand next to the plinth and relate another Chronicle. I took note of the Chamberlain’s conversations with the Domus, and several times his advances were met with angry retorts.
“Pardon my intrusion.” I spoke, interrupting the latest bantering between the Chamberlain and our Rector Regina. “I bid you good evening, Lord Chamberlain.” I escorted the Chamberlain to the circle of besoms and once inside the circle ringed with salt, he teleported himself out. I resisted the temptation to follow along his string, as there was too much at stake to be so foolish, this close to the Sabbat. The Chamberlain’s conversations with our Domus and Rector troubled me as to why their reactions had been so angry. The Chamberlain was definitely hiding something, otherwise he would not have been so bold as to have come to the Chronicles, and even less likely to offer his wand and allow me to accept it.
“Lost in thought, Narissa?” Cathie asked, now standing beside me.
“The Chamberlain is up to something, I know it.” I answered.
“I have to agree with you.” Cathie replied.
“Hey, I’ve been looking for you two.” Annie quipped. “Our Rector just called a meeting of the Domus in the library, and she sounded really worried about something.”
“Ok, let’s got listen in on them.” I stated. “There’s that hidden passage under the gallery.”
“Ok, let’s go.” Annie motioned for us to move quickly. The remaining guests were still in the courtyard as we bounded towards the entrance to the kitchen. We quickly filed into the servant’s passage and Annie flipped a lever opening another passage. We soon heard loud voices on the other side of the wall.
“The Chamberlain has every right to collect the back taxes owing!” I heard a voice shout.
“But those taxes were always paid!” I heard another raised voice return.
“The Chamberlain managed to convince several members of the Royalties and Assessments Inspectors, that the estate had been secretly rebuilt long ago and we’ve been keeping it hidden.”
“They should know there are very few creatures with abilities in the craft, and even fewer witches or wizards capable of casting a powerful enough shield to completely envelope this estate.” I heard another voice, this time very calmly answer.
“There was only one of us powerful enough to have accomplished this, and she is no longer with us.” I heard another voice add to the already heated discussion, as we continued to listen. Suddenly the panel we were hiding behind slid open and we tumbled out of our hiding place.
“Well now.” Our Rector stated after our undignified entrance. “And how long have you three been listening.”
“Long enough to know now what the Chamberlain is up to.” I answered.
“So, can you offer any solutions to our present dilemma?” Our Rector asked.
“The Chamberlain, along with everyone else, was allowed to transport themselves into the estate this evening.” I answered. “You above everyone else should know that it is impossible to hide an estate of this size, and least of all make it appear as it has looked for the past 53 years as ruins destroyed by fire.”
“Professor Montay did say you were most astute with your powers of observation.” Our Rector answered. The other nine ladies present concurred, but remained silent.
“If all we have to do is hide the estate, then that should be easy enough to do.” I concluded.
“But we don’t have the power to do that.” One of the Domus interrupted.
“Sure you do.” If you willingly retire, you won’t be needing the services of your familiar’s to assist you in your duties.”
“You are simply devious, Mistress.” I now heard our Rector Regina admit.
“I take that as a compliment.” I answered back.
“Now I understand why Professor Montay collected our rings from us before her meeting with the Chamberlain. It was so she could present them to you.” Our soon to be retired Rector replies.
“And in doing so, we could accomplish what the ten of you have not been able to do.” I added.
“Now you’ve figured it out.” Annie answered. “Good job, Narissa.”
“And with the Sabbat celebrations taking place…” One of the Domus began.
“Will give us the perfect opportunity to defeat the Chamberlain at his own game.” I concluded. “Hide in strength, not with fear. The Chamberlain has long kept us in exile because we were led to believe we did not have the power to defeat him. When the simple fact is we do.”
“And just when are we supposed to retire?” Our Rector asked politely.
“Following the final toll of the bells chiming our New Year, the Domus dressed in yellow robes stated openly.
“There is no way we can appoint and train the lot of you to ascend to our stations.” Our Rector replied.
“She has been groomed since her star chart was written.” My uncle stood stating defiantly. ”To deny what is her birthright is to deny what the Oraculum has foretold. None of you have the right to prevent her ascension, nor remain as the Leaders of our Family’s Houses. It is ordained, you must submit!” I had never heard my uncle raise his voice in anger, nor raise a wand. But there he stood, defiantly facing the one witch who held our family together in the absence of a Primus Regina.
“This child is not yet of age.” I heard her reply.
“Oh, shut that festering hole you call a mouth.” I heard the Domus dressed in yellow state openly. “I support her ascension, and my grand daughter as my own delegate.”
“I also support her ascension.” Another voice rang out.
“As do I.” Still another voice concurred.
“I accept my retirement.” A fourth voice spoke.
“My daughter is more than ready to succeed me.” I heard a fifth voice toll. Then a sixth, seventh, and eighth voice also announce their support.
“Mistress, I have witnessed the young woman who stands before us travel thru the fabric of time itself.” I heard one last voice announce.
“I believed I had seen the ghost of Lady Narissa herself as I reported to my post inside these very halls the night this estate burned to the ground. She is ready, and she has my support.”
I now recognized the look upon the face of a then young woman who had passed me to lock the main door behind me, that night more than fifty years ago.
I am the twenty-seventh of my line. I am Narissa Beatitus Laurifer DeWitte, and your station delegates are also my classmates.” I spoke clearly. “I can only ascend if your support is unanimous.”
“And just who will be my station delegate?” She asked.
“I am Catherine Anastasia Ianthe Van Swieten.” Cathie spoke clearly and proudly. “And I accept your support as your station delegate.” The look of absolute disbelief from our reigning Rector Regina told me all I needed to know.
“But you are not any older than she is.” Our Rector stated.
“Why don’t you just accept it?” The Domus in yellow spoke clearly.
“That is a question I have been trying to figure out since the Chamberlain arrived this evening. Annie spoke aloud. “The only way he could have transported himself into this estate, is if he held a valid invitation to attend.”
“So, my question is, how did the Chamberlain come to have your invitation?” I asked following Annie’s statement. Now cornered, she had no choice but to answer.
“The Chamberlain promised my house clemency from prosecution.” She answered.
“You should know more than anyone else here, the Chamberlain is not to be trusted.” Annie concluded. “Even I know that.”
“He was holding my daughter prisoner!” she finally conceded. “I had no choice!”
“I know.” I calmly stated. “She was my second at my duel with the Chamberlain, and as such protected by the formalities.”
“I should have known it was more of his trickery.” She finally conceded. “I give my support for your ascension and endorse any choices you make for delegates to the houses.”
“Well, since that is done,” My uncle offered. “I suggest we return to our guests.” I remained with Annie and Cathie as the ladies shuffled out of the library.
“If the Chamberlain can bully the Leaders of the Houses…” Annie started.
“…Then he must be holding a large number of dissidents.” Cathie finished.
“That has been my thought.” I answered. “Holding them must be his way of ensuring he can manipulate the Houses and the Council.”
“P-s-s-t! Narissa!” I heard James’ voice from inside the wall. “How do you open this?”
“The lock is next to your left foot, and be…” I replied. James tumbled out onto the floor in the same manner as we did earlier. “… Careful.”
“So, how long were you hiding in there?” Annie asked, while the three of us couldn’t help ourselves but giggle.
“Long enough to hear the House Leaders are all going to be retiring.” James answered.
“James, did you finish that flight plan I asked you about first week of school?” I asked.
“Of course, and after Principal Marriott had mentioned some of you had flight lessons, I figured you might need the rest of us to be ready to implement it.” James answered back. “So we’ve been busy making sure we have everything we need.”
“Are the besoms all completed?” I asked.
“Everyone has a new besom of their own, and we have an additional one hundred fifty.” James answered.
“Well done.” I decreed. “Let’s see to the rest of our guests and we can discuss everything later.”
“A very good idea.” Cathie quipped. “But don’t leave it to the last minute.”
“The Sabbat is more important, and the Chamberlain knows it.” Annie added.
“I’m counting on that.” I added, as I thought of everything Professor Montay had instructed. It was her last legacy, and the price of my Coronation as Matriarch. Everything to this point was a prelude to reuniting the Family, and removing the final anthology of the curse.
We returned to the Chronicles and the celebration of my teacher’s life, and stayed until the first rays of light announced the arrival of a new day. The few of us remaining dismantled the transportation portal and returned the courtyard to order as the staff set the last few tables and chairs onto the terrace. The chiming of the bells from the clock tower was beckoning me to sleep.