Sunday, 24 October 2010

Rosamund escapes from Simon's clutches

 Rosamund, trapped in the remote and desolate  Frith Hall,  has come to realise that Simon is a heartless megalomaniac, who now has her in his power. If she is to escape, she has to find her way across the wild fell country alone at night. However, the greatest danger is from Simon himself who sends out his spirit to fetch her back. He does this three times, posing first as her brother, then as her father, and finally he appears as himself. Each time he makes a mistake and she sees through the illusion.  

After the first steep climb the road had led her across a wide stretch of featureless moorland that seemed to last for ever. It was now going across the side of a long hill, rising all the time. This was the ridge that had bounded her horizon when she had first turned on to the road; it led to a saddle between two peaks. She knew too much about hill-walking to believe that when she reached the top, she would have nothing to do but stroll down the other side to Coniston. What lay beyond the ridge was probably steeper and worse.
She let herself look up and was startled to see how much thicker the mist had grown. It stretched like a curtain across the road a little way ahead. She glanced back; the land behind was still clear. She looked at the mist-curtain again. She could not even be sure that it was really there, not one of Simon's illusions to send her back towards Dunnerdale a second time.
That memory was enough to drive her forward into the mist. It closed round her but was not dense enough to blot out the few yards in front of her feet; she could still see the road. Even so, the cold blankness all around put an extra burden on her spirits. She felt as if she were being wrapped in a wet shroud. She dreaded she was walking into a trap.
Nothing in her education had prepared her to face such an ordeal. She was an alchemist, not a magician. Her father had indeed challenged and defeated an occult attack; but he had great power and knowledge. Yet he had died at the moment of victory.
She wished she could speak to him just once more, to ask his advice, though she would never have deliberately tried to call him. Her family had never practised necromancy. They had always believed, her father had impressed upon her, that when a spirit leaves its mortal body, it has a long journey to go, new worlds to discover. It was selfishness or heartless cruelty to force it to stay earthbound. Still, she trusted that John Windham had been allowed to come back and help his wretched lover. Something had broken the obsession that had beset Anne so long. If only her father could come back, now she needed him so desperately!
The mist swayed, thinned, brightened for a moment as a glimmer of moonlight shone through. In the swirl of light and darkness, she caught a glimpse of her father's face, his silver hair and beard, the long sleeves and folds of his scholar's gown stirring in a breeze. She never saw him clearly; knowing he was dead, she did not expect to. He was only making a shadow form in the mist to help her mortal senses accept that he was there. She knew that the voice she heard was talking to her mind.
"My dear child."
"Oh father, please help me!"
"My poor girl. I was taken from you too soon, before I had finished teaching you. That is why I have been permitted to come back, but only for a little while."
"Tell me what to do. I feel lost. I seem to be wandering with no purpose, no use to myself or anyone else."
"No wonder. I told you the alchemist's work was hard and very dangerous without a partner. You should not attempt it alone."
"But you've gone, and I've lost Stephen. I am alone."
"And do you believe there is no one else with a mind and spirit to match yours? Nobody with the power and the will to partner you in your work?"
"I met someone - I thought he was the King. But his will's evil"
"Nothing is evil, daughter. There are only things that are incomplete and flawed. If everything were perfect, there would be no need for alchemy. But if you must use the word 'evil', then there is evil in everything and everyone - even you, child,"
She remembered her jealousy of Lucia, her resentment at Stephen's delight in the glories of the Roman church. She had gone out on May Eve meaning to draw her brother's mind and feelings back under her influence by enchantment. Was she so different from Simon?
"But he uses his power to destroy -"
"You have to destroy in order to create. What is the first step in the Work?"
"Calcination of the material."
"Yes. It has to be purged by fire. And how many times after that must it be distilled, dissolved in acid, broken into its elements before it reaches perfection? If we gave up the first time we made a miscalculation, or broke a crucible, how could we ever hope to achieve the Stone? Do you remember the first time you got the Peacock's Tail? You were so excited you overheated the flask and destroyed the colours -"
"Yes, I was just thinking about that myself -"
"If you can see flaws in this partner of yours, perhaps he can see flaws in you,"
"Yes, father."
"It's for you to help him transform himself, just as he will help you if you let him. You have to make him your King, so that he can make you his Queen."
"Yes, father."
"In alchemy, the workers are part of the Work. You need enough courage and faith to put yourself in the furnace with your partner, not cling to your petty separate self."
"Yes father."
"Go back to him. Submit your mind to him in faith, just as you did to me -"
This was the one thing her father had never let her do. She had never heard him speak so harshly as when he had refused her offer to make herself his tool. He had even been unwilling to work with her as a partner  because his greater experience and knowledge would have made equality impossible between them.
When she remembered him as he really had been in life, with his own words coming back to her, the voice inside her mind rang false. It was the voice of her own weakness telling her what she wanted to hear - or what Simon wanted her to think. The rising wind broke up the shadowy form in front of herand blew the mist to tatters. For a moment she imagined she saw Simon's face staring at her in fury, then the air around her cleared.
Simon slumped forward, resting his forehead on the cool marble altar. His body was limp; he was dizzy almost to fainting. After a few moments he sat up, deliberately straightening his back, forcing his head erect. Waldeve and Gerard would have recognized the expression on his face: the look of a rider who has just taken a bad toss in the hunting-field, staggering to his feet bruised and half-stunned, finding his horse standing near-by uninjured and dragging himself back into the saddle, blind to everything but the flagging quarry ahead.
He knew that he should have given up his pursuit of Rosamund at that moment. He had poured his own vitality into the presence that had waylaid her in the form of her father. When she shattered the vision, part of himself had been blown away into the waste land. He needed time to gather his lost strength and regain full command of himself. A Magus should have risen above emotion. But the love-hate of a huntsman now possessed him. He had felt her weakening; his only desire was to go after her and bring her down.
The sudden gust of air had thinned the mist. She found herself at the edge of a tarn. It was so dark and still that it might have been the Lake of Memory in the land of the dead. With the image of her father so vivid in her mind, still shaken by Simon's attack, she wondered for a moment if she had crossed the frontier between the worlds without noticing that her body had died.

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