Her sleep, though restful was light, and filled with images of the day. A change in the rhythm of the breeze was enough to interrupt it. She arose and stepped to the open window to gaze at the night. Her room faced west. Two gardens separated the immediate property from the forest to either side. The clearing between them stretched to another garden nested within an orchard. Her eyes were drawn there by a glow low in the sky, a glow that brightened by the minute but not as the rising of the sun.
Soon she realized that what she was watching was not a brightening but an approaching, and that the source of the light was neither on the ground nor in the sky but seemed to hover between, its flickers even illuminating the low drifting gray clouds above. As it settled in the orchard she noticed a faint cry in the distance. She well knew that cats and other creatures whimper with a voice that can be mistaken for that of infants; but somehow she was certain this was a child. And so she followed her instincts downstairs, out the door, and around the house.
The sound became clearer and her certainty even more so as she crossed the ring of trees. Both light and sound emanated from the center of a round rose garden. Rose plants as tall as her waist, in full bloom, framed a manicured hedge six feet tall. Her inspection of its perimeter revealed one entrance and an exit diametrically opposed. The hedge was obviously a small labyrinth.
She was alone, except for the gray mouser that kept slipping in and out of the underbrush in the orchard. The faint cry that had drawn her there was still clear and regular. Taken together, the setting, the sound, her actions, made no logical sense. That realization, of the strangeness of the scene, and of her own behavior, could only be explained by the whole affair being a dream. Yet it was utterly vivid. As vivid as the images Lady Masveh had painted with her words. If dream it was, she would see it through.
She started to step in, when one of the roses beside the entrance drew her attention with its divine scent. It was completely open. She had to feel the softness of its petals. Then she had to have it. With her fingers carefully avoiding the great thorns, she peeled the rose’s long stem off its branch and put it in one of the pockets of her robe. The labyrinth was utterly simple: a spiral passage winding in toward the center where the ancient ruins of an altar, of which Santiago had spoken, resided.
There at the center was the source of the sound, a little African baby, lying on the ground, crying for someone to comfort it. She stepped carefully across the stones that jutted out of the ground and joined the abandoned child on what was left of the ancient slate pavement. At her sight the baby stopped its whimpering. As she picked it up, it started cooing. As she drew it toward her bosom it started making sucking movements with its mouth. “Where is your mother, little one?”
“Don’t you want to be my mother?” Its clear reply should have shocked her into dropping it. The smile that formed across its lips, exposing sharp teeth and glowing with the same blue light that had lit the night, should have made her run. But she found herself transfixed to the spot, almost immobilized. The baby reached to touch her breast, and the revulsion that its thought brought to her mind was enough to loosen her arms. She dropped the infant and took one step back.
“No, you cannot go.” Another voice sounded. The thing she had dropped, bounced off the stone onto its feet and took on the form of a small man, covered in matted black fur. There were three of them. They had leathery faces but not like apes, more like clay caricatures of man. She tried to take another step back but it felt as if the air itself had turned into quicksand.
“You cannot go.” They repeated in unison as their eyes danced like black flames before her. The instinct to close her own eyes came too late. The same paralysis that numbed her body was slowly bringing all her senses to a standstill. She was supposed to say something, call to something, but all her mind could bring up was a dull nothingness. The last vestige of her free will was expended in thrusting her hand into her robe’s pocket; and then she forgot everything.
“We have her.” One said. “I saw her first,” another staked his claim. “I drew her here,” the third’s voice was almost a roar as he established his priority with the force of his presence. And he started to reach for her.
“You will let her go.” The fourth voice, a woman’s voice, was nothing like theirs. It echoed against a distant memory in Bernice’s drifting mind. The Dwarves scattered across the circle in alarm. Every spot within that circle of ruins was illumined with the bluish glow that emanated from their mouths. But they could not find their challenger. “You will let her go.” The voice repeated, and the Dwarves gathered in the center of the ring, back to back, weapons of war materializing onto their hands.
They shouted obscenities at the unseen. It did not reply. Only a low murmur that seemed to come from everywhere, unmistakable to one who had heard the breathing of a lion, confirmed that there was someone else in the darkness. In that pause they had a chance to taste their own fear. “Impossible.” One said. “A trick”, the other responded. “It is veiled.” The leader’s judgment froze them in place. “From our eyes? That’s not poss –”
That Dwarf’s protest was cut short as the point of a bronze sword brushed its throat. He screamed and swung his axe across empty space, sending the others to the ground to escape its edge. “You fool! A sea witch!” the leader pinned the axe to the ground with his own weapon.
“This far from shore? It cannot be.”
“No?” the gleaming sword appeared at the leader’s throat. Like snow falling off branches under the Spring sun, an arm clad in silver armor took shape before their eyes. It was soon followed by the rest of its form, clad in a gray cloak that smoothly blended into the mist filling that labyrinth.
“Gammadim,” at that word the other two held their weapons tight and cowered behind their leader. “You have no authority here.”
“What do you fear, Hirval of the caves? There’s only one of me?” The eyes within the gray hood glistened thirstily and a red smile sliced its darkness.
“Masveh llryl Llwroan, I know you.” He raised his weapon.
“Masveh?” There was a lilt of nostalgia in the way the mist repeated that name. “We are not Masveh,” the hooded one’s voice took on a silky quality. “I am… Memeth.”
The Dwarf’s black eyes grew wide. “You have no authority here. It is our ancient place.” He leaned on his desperate protest as a fainting man leans on a staff. “The law of the air and of the land and of the sea is on my side.”
“Since when does Hirval care about the law? Since when can Dwarves walk clockwise into human property? Since when is your voice audible in the world of man?” The accusing figure melted away and suddenly reformed at the Dwarf’s right. Its sword swinging across his belly, sliced off an invisible sack and spilled its magical contents onto the pavement.
The three objects that fell, twisted and tumbled on the ground like leeches out of water. “Who have you been dealing with, Hirval?” She roared, and her sword cut one of the things into the stone. Her foot crushed the second; but the Dwarf snatched the third and cried out. In response the ground swelled upwards at the foot of the hedge, raising the manmade labyrinth out of the way and opening a door into the world below. His command brought in seven more Dwarves armed with axe and mace, charging in battle cry.
But the creature in the mist was impossibly fast. Her sword felled the two that tried to shield their lord. At almost the same instant, she was behind the others. In one motion she tossed three of them out of the labyrinth. Four screaming furies converged on her. Bronze clashed on bronze, sword against mace, blocking, deflecting and ringing with the shattering of stone whenever her blade dug into those hairy bodies. Two fell down, two hesitated and stepped back. “Hirval!”
The leader had struck no blow; he had slipped outside the carnage and circled back to his prize. “I will take what is mine.” He grasped Bernice’s left hand, and at that touch she felt the world slip away from under her feet. The earth rose all around. It became everything, a bowl, a hearth, a womb, into which she was falling. But that same motion that drew her forward, momentarily set her free from the paralysis.
She clenched the rose in her pocket until the thorns pierced her flesh. The pain cut through the mists in her mind like a flash of lightning. She knew what she had to do. With that same hand she clenched the Dwarf’s hand and plied his fingers off her flesh.
The creature’s shriek dissolved every vestige of the Dwarves’ hold on her consciousness. The earth under her became flat and solid again. She tightened her grip until the convulsing creature fell to the ground screaming for mercy, and then she let go. It scampered away on all fours, howling and pounding what was left of its hand against the rocks. Dropping its axe, one of his underlings seized him while the other clawed a pit in the ground with hands and feet. Together they plunged their leader into the earth, piling dirt and rocks over him until the fits subsided.
When the Dwarf re-emerged from the ground, his right arm ended at the elbow, the rest was gone. “Witch.” His wounded minions gathered around him.
“It appears the Gammadim are the least of your worries, Hirval.” The terrible smile again cut through the darkness within the hood. “The Gibborim are back. You know what that means. Whose side will you take this time?”
The Dwarves slipped out of the place, dragging their dead and wounded through a distorted ground under the hedge. Their exit elicited a sigh from the mist. It stopped swirling and presently coalesced into a single tall figure enveloped in a tangible cloak. Its eyes regarded the doctor from within the shadows of the hood. In seconds the ruins and the labyrinth had been returned to the natural darkness of the night. Bernice started toward the figure. “Lady Masveh?”
The figure put the sword away and slowly took off her silver glove. The hand and arm of a woman reflected the moonlight like rosy marble. In appearance it was a human limb, and yet the smooth dark hair that adorned it from the back of the hand to the elbow that vanished in the folds of the cloak, flowed upon it like fur.
“I am Memeth,” she said. Reaching forward, that hand stroked the Doctor’s face. It was a gentle touch, and then there was a momentary sharp sting on her ear, and the night folded around Bernice.
When she looked up again, she found herself in the house, standing at the foot of the stairs gazing at the lightening sky outside through the windows above the entrance to the mansion. The tenuous light of the coming dawn also shone far to her left into the corridor, through an open door. It was the opposite side of the house, not where meetings and supper and conversation had taken place the night before. All night she had seen no servants enter or leave that wing of the mansion.
Still thinking it was a dream, Bernice sought out that light. The open door led to a room half the size of the piano room. All the bookcases on the wall had glass doors. Delicate porcelain figures stood on the shelves here and there, between bookends, wherever there were gaps in the collection of books. Before her, one medium couch with ornate napkins on the armrests, and two deep chairs, surrounded an Italian table with exquisite carvings. There was a strange feeling of calmness in that place, made even stronger by the smell of tobacco and something else. She noticed the pipe on the table and a tea cup on a dish.
As she turned to leave, she saw the great painting above the door. It was a portrait of the man and the lady of the house. The couch the man sat at was the one with the woven Indian napkins on its armrests. The lady stood beside him, approximately where the table now was, her head held high, gazing at the painter of the portrait. In her hand she held a bulbous glass vessel, perhaps a symbol of her pastime or her former profession.
The pinkish glow of nearing dawn made it easier to discern the figures and the expressions on their faces. The lady’s face shone with a mixture of pride and amusement. Her hair was a light blonde and straight like the flax of the field. Her features were fine, her cheekbones and chin well defined. From the view of the bookcase behind her, Bernice could estimate her stature; she was no taller than herself.
The man sat with complete ease on the couch, his bearing lending it the appearance of a throne. His ample white hair and beard and thick moustache reminded her of the lions that adorned the stairs outside. Soon there was enough light to see that his eyes were clear. The line of his nose, as captured by the painter, made it obvious that here was a portrait of the Spaniard’s ancestor, the first Lord Hallowstone.
The thought that she might be intruding in a private room arose at the same time she realized that this was no dream. She had never walked in her sleep before. She wondered how far she had wandered.
“Doctor?” His voice had a gentleness in it that she had not heard before; he was as surprised as she.
Bernice turned toward him, voiceless in her embarrassment. The Spaniard had entered the room through a narrow door in the back that was hidden behind a curtain. He was dressed in riding clothes, wearing a dark silk vest over a light muslin shirt; no tie at his neck. She was wearing only her nightshirt under an untied flannel robe.
“I, I’m sorry, Señor… I seem to have been sleepwalking.”
“Indeed,” his eyes lingered too long on her bare feet. “Are you alright?” He set the books he was carrying down on the table
“Yes.” She curtsied, clutching with one hand the trimmed edges of her robe, and then she hurried toward the stairs. A few servants were already outside but no one else was about in the house to see her in that unpresentable state.