Sunday, July 8, 2012
The Ballad of Maude Clare: Part Ten
THE MASKED CREATURES GATHERED around the monstrous yew didn't move as Sarah Morgan gently pulled away from Maude. No one cried out. No one spoke.
Ruby Tiamat slid forward, the train of her gown slithering. "We knew you would come. Our braveheart."
Cold breathed across Maude's skin. She stepped back. Her legs felt boneless.
Sarah Morgan was as white and luminous as the others. Her gown was wet. Ghost light flickered in her black hair that was tangled with water lilies and a glittering dragonfly. Her eyes were the opal hue of a dead thing's.
Jack spoke softly, "You cannot save her, Maude."
"She drowned." Ruby looked at the youth with the plaited red hair. "Because she made Tauren angry."
Maude whispered, "She can't be..."
Ruby Tiamat leaned against Jack, wrapped her fingers around his, around the handle of the scythe. Her black gown blossomed with a serpentine pattern of red.
"If you don't do this, Maude Clare." Ruby cupped Jack's face in one hand. "He will become dust. He bleeds for you. Sluagh don't bleed unless they truly love. Would you forsake him?"
"Maude," Jack's voice tore. "Don't--"
"You need a willing sacrifice." Maude clutched at the yew and didn't look at the boy who had betrayed her. She felt as if her heart was being squeezed into her throat. She wanted to strike out, to scream. She said, "I'm not willing."
Ruby tilted her head. Flames glinted in her eyes. "We are rebels. We are the Dark Court. We are the children of the Dragon. And Jack, my soldier, died quite some time ago, didn't you, my love? You will die, Maude Clare, because you love him."
"And Love," the pale-haired boy with the hobbyhorse stepped forward, "like words, can be sword and shield."
Ruby turned on the boy, teeth bared. "I should have known not to invite one of the Monasty. Bloody trickster--"
Maude breathed the words to Shelley's poem, "'Nothing in the world is single--'"
"'--then hear thy chosen own too late'." Jack whispered, "'his heart most worthy of thy hate.' My sword past your shield, Maude. I am almost flesh and blood. The words work for me as well."
"Jack." She didn't believe in her own death. She held out a hand, spoke to the fragments of the boy he had been. "Come with me."
His eyes were filmed with ghost light. As he stepped forward, the golden scythe glinted.She imagined its sting against her throat, the blood flooding her mouth, her lungs, the terrible pain--
He leaned close and whispered in her ear, "There is one here who can save you..."
The scythe flashed.
Cold flooded her. She heard a buzzing sound, as if every molecule in the air sang. She heard a voice, her name, beneath the cries of the Tiamats. She didn't want to open her eyes. There was that awful sound again...kh...kh...kh...
It was coming from her.
Darkness rose up in the form of a rabbit-headed figure and the world hazed into a landscape of twilit black trees blossoming with crimson tulips, a giant moon silhouetting an ivory tower filled with books and lamplight.
Come, the tall boy removed the rabbit mask, revealing ruby eyes and long black hair. He held a hand toward her. 'Tho they have taken thy life, they shall not receive power from thy death. Not on my land.
She gripped his hand. The pain faded as she breathed. Her heart beat again. Life, an alien, vibrant life, pulsed through her. The world looked more vivid. The air tasted of gasoline and clover, iron and magnolias.
She was not a sluagh, a dead thing...she was one of them.
As Azrael Umare gently led her away, she looked back over her shoulder, saw flailing shadows with vicious silver eyes and the copper-haired corpse of a once-beautiful boy at the foot of the yew.
She thought of another boy, with wheat-gold hair and worried eyes. Ethan Mongoose...
Hand in hand with the darkness that had saved her, she walked away from a world that was no longer hers.