By Anne Azel (c) 2017
The prequel to this story (Black Shuck and the Betrayal) is posted as
a 2016 Halloween Invitational at
The Royal Academy of Bards.
Joan fine-tuned her car radio turning the volume up against the noise of the storm. Environment Canada had issued a weather warning but it was too late to turn back. She was close now to her farm. Despite the heavy rain and strong wind she would go on. She was on two weeks holiday and needed to get away from the grey monotone of the city. Away from the asphalt fields, soaring concrete homesteads and the miles of bumper to bumper horse power that clogged the freeways. She needed to see setting reds, touch greens, smell blue and feel yellow heat. Battling through an late summer storm was a small price to pay.
‘Her farm' was not exactly accurate. First, the farm had belonged to her great aunt. It had been a northern Ontario homestead passed down through the family since pioneer days. Passed with love but little hope. The place had changed little since her great, great, great uncle had cut the first trees to make a log cabin - a cage of logs whose gaps had been filled in optimistically with clay and moss against the cold winds. The cabin had eventually become a tool shed, replaced with a two storey wooden farm house when the Clayton Sawmill had been built in 1884. A barn had been built around this time too and with the help of three sons, her ancestor had cleared some hundred acres of forest by hand to grow hay, straw and raise cattle.
So it wasn't really Joan's farm. It had come to her simply because she was the last of the Actons left standing: a family tree whose branches had not spread but had fallen one by one. Boys had gone off to war for the Empire, daughters had married and moved away, children had died young of old fashioned illnesses like black throat diphtheria and consumption. Little by little, the Acton tree had been beaten down. Nor had the farm fared much better. A foot below the rough, tough grass was bedrock. It was part of the Precambrian Canadian Shield, some of the oldest rock in the world. Ground by glaciers, cracked by cold, blackened by fire and scratched by animals and man, it remained unmovable. Solid, permanent mass. It was a hard, rough land, buried in snow for five months of the year. For seven months, it was a hearty, beautiful land of evergreen trees, lakes and rock outcrops, but not farm land. Like Joan's family tree, the farm lands slowly gave way to the natural forest, until only a few acres remained of the fields that the Actons once cleared.
It had belonged to Joan for two years now. Her escape place. She had only to get on the highway heading north and gradually the traffic clogged arteries would give way to healthy tree lined roads and eventually to the lane that led to her farm. Her farm. Her place of recovery from
what life slung at her. As she mused on the fickle nature of fate, the deteriorating weather had gone from big drops of rain and black roiling skies to a full scale storm.
Sheet lightning flashed her face back to her, a reflected photograph in her rear view mirror. A face too pretty to suit its owner. Short, pixie-cut blond hair, diamond stud earrings, a face a little too fresh and innocent for a modern age. Her blue eyes shifted back to the road. It was raining so hard now that the windshield wipers were no longer clearing the water. An inside view of a water fall cascaded down the glass. Bolts of lightning, more florescent blue than yellow, sliced the darkness revealing for a brief second a horror film trailer of boiling blackness, trees swiping like dragon tails and shredded leaves swirling down. Not just a storm, a perfect storm. Joan smiled. She was enjoying every minute of the adventure.
She edged the car forward. A flash of lightening revealed her mail box. She used the opportunity to turn into her driveway, now little more than a river of mud between banks holding back surging waves of long grass. Ahead, she could see the silhouette of the farm house back lit by bolts of flame. The car rocked like a boat in the wind. Joan struggled to keep the wheels steady and on course. Not far now to a safe harbour.
Unnatural movement. Black swirling figures highlighted in flashes, the crack of lightning and the howl of wind demons. Joan stared fiercely to see through the rain. Her pragmatic mind turned whimsical imagination into reality. A tall figure stood briefly in front of her house, then collapsed into the mud. The darkness seemed to engulf it, then pulled back as the headlights from Joan's car pierced the storm. Suddenly, right in front of her stood two huge dogs with grey, shaggy coats and eyes the shone blood red in her headlights. Their eyes showed no fear, just hate as they bounded towards her. Joan let out a scream and slammed on her brakes. No sickening bump. Only the sound of the wind howling even louder.
Joan looked around her. No dogs in sight and yet she didn't appear to have hit them. Cautiously, she pushed the car door against the wind and let it slam back into place. No dogs just an awful smell of rot. She ran to the figure that struggled to get up.
“Here let me help you. What are you doing out on a night like this? Are there others or are you alone?”
“Lean on me, I'll get you inside.” Joan wrapped her arms around the woman and as she did the storm intensified. Rain, wind and debris attacked them, forcing them down into the mud. Joan battled back against the wind and pouring rain, half carrying, half dragging the semi-conscious woman. Leaves like razor blades sliced at her. Branches crashed around them. The very air seemed to be suck from her lungs as she fought on through the darkness. The rain felt like physical blows bruising her skin.
More than that, she felt a deep panic that iced her soul and left her sobbing in fear and despair. All she wanted to do was drop the woman and run for the shelter of the house. Crying out in pain, she fought back her fear. Falling, struggling up with her load, she made the porch and then the door. Black clouds whirled above and rain pounded her flesh. The wind grabbed at her, trying to pull her from her feet. She held on. She felt the sting from numerous scratches from debris that sliced past her, as nearly bent double, she struggled to get the door unlocked. Opening it a crack, she pulled the woman up and let her fall into the safety of the house. The wind shrieked and claws seemed to rake her back. For a minute, she thought the door would be torn from her hands and she would fall back into the darkness of the storm. She held on whimpering in terror and then, with her last strength, she squeezed herself between the door and the frame, trying her best to keep the elements out as they fought to make entry. Once through, she threw herself at the door and slammed it shut. Blood streaked down the door as she slid to the floor in exhaustion. With trembling hands she reached up and locked the door. Tears rolled down her face as she sobbed with pain and fear.
The excitement she had felt earlier was gone. Not just a storm, her imagination reasoned, a monster. The storm seemed alive, threatening and deadly. It banged at the door and shook the window shutters trying to get in. Joan was glad that she had left them closed and bolted on her last trip. For the moment, she and her mysterious visitor were safe from the evil outside as they lay in a puddle of rain water and their own blood on the lobby floor, gasping for breath, hearts racing.
Evil. Yes, that was it. Joan wasn't afraid of storms, even bad ones, but this storm was different. Its fury seemed centred on them. It didn't seem like Nature flexing her power. This storm was vicious, almost alive. Joan shuddered. Goose bumps pricked her cold arms. She got to her knees and rubbed warmth into her arms and swore softly, bringing her wild imaginings to a halt. Shaking the worst of the wet off her hair, she reached for the light switch. No power. Whimpering softly, she crawled over to where the woman lay.
A strange woman, taller than most and in good shape. Her face was shaped in strong lines and her hair was dark and straight. She wore a black cloak over black jeans and t-shirt. Her boots and her jeans were caked with mud as if she'd run a long distance. Reaching in her pocket for a damp tissue, Joan tried to wipe some of the blood off the woman's face. A strong hand grabbed her wrist and green eyes looked steadily at her.
“You're safe. I've got you inside. Can you get up? I'll help you to the couch. I can get a fire going and you can strip down and put on a warm housecoat, okay?”
The woman groaned and sat up with difficulty. “I'll get the fire going. Check upstairs that everything is secure. They might try to get in.”
“The storm. Whatever is out there.”
“Oh. If you can manage.”
“I can. Go. Make sure the windows are secure. Hurry.”
Joan nodded. The confidence of the command and the edge of anxiety in the woman's voice was not to be questioned. Joan stumbled upstairs in the near dark. The wind howled around the house, shaking and battering the old farm house. Making the landing, Joan hurried from bedroom to bedroom. Checking each window using the beam form a small penlight she had on her car's keychain and in the flashes of lightning.. The shutters were banging in the wind but were holding in place. Through the shutters Joan could see black rain as it hurtled at the windows. Joan, looked around grabbed pillows off the bed and stuffed them in the window frames to try and stop the glass from shattering. She pulled the curtains closed and tied the curtain ties across to hold things in place. She closed and locked the bedroom door and hurried quickly to the next. Four bedrooms completed, she moved on to the closed door of the bathroom. Opening the door, wind and rain shot out at her. She got a brief glimpse of a room torn to ribbons. Wall paper clawed from the walls, sink cracked and the window broken. A gasp of fear escaped her lips. She forced her way in and jammed towels from the rack into the broken window. Blood ran from her cut hands. Looking around, she grabbed the porcelain cover from the toilet tank and wedged it across the window frame to hold the towels in place. Then she rolled bath towels into pillows and jammed them into the remaining window before using the curtains and ties to hold it all in place.
Gasping for breath, she looked around. The damage to the room was savage. Blood was splattered everywhere. Was it all hers? No storm had caused this. What was going on? Fear crushed her heart. She back out and with trembling fingers locked the door with the old skeleton key.
Suddenly she was aware of soft, even breathing directly behind her. She turned and screamed, slamming back against the bathroom door. The dark woman, blood dripping from her face and arms, stood inches away.
“I didn't mean to startle you. I came to check. You have done well.”
“The bathroom window was broken and the wallpaper's in ribbons. There's blood everywhere. What the hell is going on?”
The woman nodded. “You were just in time. We need to be near the fire. Come.” The woman turned, staggered, regained her balance and slowly and painfully moved down the hall.
Joan remained where she was. “What is going on? Who are you and what are you doing on my farm?”
“I'm Blaine. We are under attack but the worst, I pray, is over. What are you called?”
“I'm Joan Acton. I own this farm.”
“I'm sorry we met under such trying circumstances, Joan. Come. I need to lie down.”
Once downstairs, Joan helped the woman out of her water soaked cloak and lowered her on the couch in her living room. It would have to do. The bedrooms upstairs might not be safe. Satisfied that the woman was breathing normally and her cuts were not deep, she covered her with a comforter and set about getting things under control. The woman, Blaine, had got a good fire going despite the old, temperamental fireplace and the terrible weather conditions. Joan adjusted the draft on the field stone fireplace. The power was out but Joan was prepared. She pumped up several Coleman lanterns and lit them and primed the old hand pump with water she always left in a jar. Joan filled a metal kettle and brought it back to sit in the fireplace. Next, she opened a can of soup and dumped it into a metal pot. Grabbing a package of crackers, she returned to the living room to place the soup to heat by the water.
Blaine was watching her. She lay still and silent, her eyes hooded, but beneath the lids, her eyes followed Joan's every move. Joan got towels and disinfectant. Pouring some of the now warm water into a bowl she turned to the woman on her couch.
“I'm going to treat your wounds, okay?”
Joan knelt by the couch and dipped a soft towel into the water, wrung it out and started to wipe the blood from Blaine's face. The howling outside instantly rose to a roar. Unseen things pounded around the house, scratched at the doors and growled at the windows. “What the hell?”
“Ignore them. They are angry because you are helping me. They can do you no harm now.”
“What are they?”
Joan smiled. “It sure felt that way. It was like we were under attack out there.”
She focussed on her task, whether it was to help Blaine warm or to keep her mind off the darkness around them, she wasn't sure. Hellhounds indeed. Joan shook her head. Now that she had treated both their cuts and bruises and got some hot soup into them, she felt the panic and fear draining away. It was just a bad storm, nothing more. The wind had already died down although a heavy rain still pounded at the house. How silly she'd been to let her imagination run away with her. Still, she was glad to use the excuse of the heavy rain to avoid going outside to unpack the car. Once the power came back on, she'd cleaned up in the half bathroom downstairs rather than go up to the full bathroom that lay in shambles upstairs. What would have caused such damage so quickly? Perhaps wind sheers or a tornado nearby. Whatever the cause, it wasn't hellhounds.
Joan slept curled up in an easy chair by the fire. Several times during the night she had woke to
the sound of Blaine mumbling or tossing about. The mysterious woman seemed to have developed a fever although Joan had checked her cuts and none seemed infected. While Blaine was sweating, she was very cold to touch. Once she had weakly grabbed Joan's hand. “Buried it. Must find. Please.” The desperate plea left Joan feeling uneasy and upset. It wasn't what Blaine had said, it was the despair and desperation in her voice. Joan kept the fire well fed during the night. Whether this was to keep Blaine warm or to ward off the darkness around them, she wasn't sure.
When morning came she rose feeling grotty and stiff. The shuttered house was dark and gloomy and smelt stale and dusty. Joan limped over to the door and looked out the security lens. To her surprise the day was sunny and calm as if nothing had happened. Had it all been a strange dream? She looked over her shoulder. No, Blaine lay sleeping restlessly on the coach. Dried blood still streaked the door and marked the floor. Looking back through the eye piece, Joan could see the trees stood with shattered limbs and debris from broken branches and shredded leaves spread across the ground recording the chaos of the night before. Keeping the chain on, she cautiously opened the door a crack. Sweet, late summer air drifted in. Joan took the chain off and stepped outside. The day was beautiful. She smiled. They had survived a terrible storm and now everything was okay. She stepped off the porch and hummed as she opened the car door and reached in to release the trunk latch. Then she went around to get her two bags out of the trunk. Gathering them up, she awkwardly reached up with a bag in her hand to close the trunk.
Her heart seemed to freeze in her chest and her eyes widened in terror. The painted, wood siding of the old house was clawed and torn around the windows and door. Bloody streaks stained the green shutters, as if a huge animal had fought desperately to get in. The image of the two massive, wild dogs popped into Joan's terrified mind. She looked around her in a panic, then moved as quickly as she could with her burden back to the house.
A flash of gold in the sunlight. Joan hesitated and then kept moving. Getting back to the safety of the house was more important. What had happened last night? Her rational mind struggled to make sense of the contradictory images.
Blaine moved restlessly on the couch. “Joan?” Joan went to her, tucking the afghan her mother had made more firmly around the cold form. She leaned close to hear what Blaine was trying to say. “Buried. Mud. Must have. Please.”
Cold fear swept through Joan. “Was it gold?”
A weak nod. “Must have. Help me up. Please.”
The last thing Joan wanted to do was go back outside where those fierce dogs might be. Yet, she has seen something. “Rest. You're weak. It's okay.”
Once again, Joan found herself looking out the crack of the door. She watched for shadows in the grass and beyond the trees. She listened for soft paws and low growls and she sniffed for traces of that awful smell that had permeated everything the night before. Nothing. Gathering up her courage she stepped outside. Warm sunlight fell on her and a gentle breeze carrying the smell of sweet grass ruffled her hair. Everything seemed wholesome and good yet her spine tingled with fear. Were cold eyes, filled with hate, watching her from the shadows?
Cautiously, she stepped down off the porch and, keeping a sharp eye out, she made her way to the muddy area where she had found Blaine lying. There, buried in the mud as if it had been driven into the ground like a dagger, was a gold cross about four cm long. It was a few links of the gold chain that it was attached to that Joan had seen flashing in the sun. Joan grabbed it and ran back into the house, locking and bolting the door behind her.
She carried her find into the kitchen and washed it off with warm water. It was simply beautiful, the sort of work one saw in art history books of finds like Sutton Hoo. The cross was gold with a jewelled inlay and the design was intricate woven patterns, light and beautiful. It looked like gold but it didn't feel like gold. Rather than cold and heavy, the piece felt warm in her hand as if it was giving off its own gentle heat and it was so light it felt as if it could almost lift from her hand and drift away on the air. Joan dried the piece carefully and carried it into where Blaine lay. She slipped the chain over the woman's head and laid the cross on her chest.
“Here. I think this belongs to you.”
Blaine's hand came up and touched the cross. Then she slept.
Blaine slept. Joan filled in her time dusting and cleaning downstairs. She feared taking the shutters down and had no intention of going outside if she could avoid it. The power was back on anyway and so the well pump worked in the kitchen and the electric lights could be used. She kept the fire stoked in the living room even though it was turning into a warm late summer day. She wasn't sure what had happened last night but it was more than just a storm. There were those dogs - like mastiffs only more shaggy and massive. Something out there was dangerous and until she knew more, she wasn't spending any length of time outside. Once the downstairs was tidy, she steeled herself to go upstairs.
Slowly and cautiously she mounted the stairs, keeping her back to the wall. One step at a time, slowly, listening, sniffing the air. She halted. She could hear a soft bumping. A blind blowing or something more sinister? She waited. The sound came and went. Rhythmic.
Probably not animal then. Slowly, she continued up the stairs. When her head was above the railing, she stopped again. The hall was dark. Each of the bedroom doors still closed. The noise was coming from the end of the hall behind the bathroom door. The flash of images in her mind made her shiver with fright. A shattered window, ripped wall paper, blood. Something had tried to get in last night and had almost succeeded.
Swallowing back her fear, she stepped up into the hall. Softly, making as little noise as she could, she walked to the first bedroom door. She listened and then unlocked and opened the door a crack. The bedroom was dark. The pillows still tied in place over the windows. Joan let out the breath she had been holding, closed the door, locked it and moved on to repeat the process for the remaining bedrooms. Now all that remained was the bathroom. Should she open the door? If she did, would something horrible leap out at her?
She listened at the door. A soft banging. Like blinds on the window frame. Had she not stuffed the hole in the glass with towels and covered the window? She thought she had. Could the blind still bang? She turned the knob.
Immediately, something wet and cold dropped on her face. She screamed and covered her face in horror. Her heart pounded painfully and as she turned to run, she slipped and fell. Whimpering in fright she struggled to back away on her backside feet flailing to get traction on the wet floor. Her hand grasped something cold and wet and gasping she looked down. Wet leaves. She looked at the back of the bathroom door. It was covered with wet leaves, now slowly peeling off as they dried.
Joan felt the heat of blood rising again into her shock-whitened face. Leaves had dropped on her from the door frame. There was nothing to fear. Getting shakily to her feet, she moved cautiously forward and stood again in the doorway. The window was still barred. The wall paper was clawed and ripped. Blood streaks showed up dark red against the white sink and tub. The rhythmic banging was outside, probably a broken shutter. What had happened here? What had got in and where was it now? Fear exploded in her chest again. Where was it now? She looked around wildly. Then backed out and quickly locked the door again. Could something have got past her? Was it in the house now? She didn't think so but she wasn't positive. Whimpering with fear, she looked frantically around her while she made her way back down the stairs.
The front door stood open. She stopped in her tracks, her hand white as she clung to the banister. Voices. Slowly, she forced herself forward. Blaine was standing on the porch, one arm braced against the pillar for support. In the yard was a van that had pulled up beside her car. Three men and a woman had got out and stood looking about. Some wore jeans and t-shirts and others slacks and shirts. Although casually dressed they had an air of authority about them. The oldest man, tall still and his hair thick and white seemed to be the leader.
“God be praised. We feared the worst. Are you hurt?”
“Yes. It was Gwyllgi and Black Shuck. I ran, but they gave chase and downed me here.”
The four faces looked shocked. “Your cross?”
“I wear it still.”
The older man closed his eyes and sighed, mumbling a prayer before crossing himself. The others prayed too. “I see the scorch marks of the devil's finger prints on this dwelling. Gwyllgi and Black Shuck left the stain of their blood. They were desperate to get to you.”
Joan walked out on the porch. “Who are you people? Some sort of religious cult? I'm Joan Acton and this is my farm. I don't want any trouble.”
One of the younger men, handsome and confident moved a step forward. “Nor do we, my lady. We want only to do right by you. It is unfortunate that Blaine brought such darkness to your doorstep. We are here now and you are safe.”
“Ah, huh. Safe from what?”
All eyes turned to the older man. “I am Jermaine of Lindisfarne. They call me Jerry Lind these days. You are safe from our enemies who ambushed Blaine and almost killed her. I assume you have met Blaine of Mons Badonicus, who is now known as Blaine Badon. ” He gestured to the handsome man. “This is Pierre St. Jacques of the Knights Templar. Who we call Peter Jacques.”
Behind him stood a shorter man with red hair and stocky muscles. “He is Gordon Campbell of Ben Nevis.” The woman now stepped forward. She was blond as Pierre was dark. Her eyes were blue and intense, her body firm and graceful like a gymnast. “This is the Honorable Claire Von Holst of Mainz. Claire Holtz to most.” He looked up at Joan as if he could read her mind and smiled. “You do not need to fear. We are not some modern day cult of weirdos. We are a small elite group. I like to think we are professionals in our field. We mean you no harm. We have just come to pick up our colleague.”
Blaine sighed. “There are, I fear, complications. I was in dire straits until this woman came to my aid. So dire that I removed my cross and buried it in the mud so it would not be taken. Yet, I woke with it on.”
All eyes turned to look at Joan. “I found it. Washed it off and gave it back to you this morning. You'd been mumbling in your sleep that you'd lost something.”
Gerry frowned. “This is more than a complication. Most interesting. I'm sorry, Joan, I fear we must impose on your hospitality and courage a while longer. Come, we'll go in. It's not wise to stand here.”
“Hold it. This is my place. I was glad to help Blaine out but I think you guys should be getting on your way now.”
Gerry smiled softly. He raised his hand and the scratches, tears, dirt and blood disappeared off the farm house. Blaine raised her hand and the torn trees stood anew and the debris of the storm was gone.
Joan tried to form words but none would come. She stood, her eyes wide with terror. The four mounted the stairs and entered the house without another word. Blaine turned to face Joan. “You're not drugged or dreaming. You're safe. Come.” She took Joan by the arm and led her into the house, closing the door behind them.
They were all standing around the living room when the two entered. Jerry handed out instructions. “Claire, please check upstairs. Gordon and Peter, you'll need to check the perimeters. Please be careful. Blaine, you will need to stay with me until we have considered this issue and come to some understanding.”
Joan pulled away from Blaine and stood her ground in the archway. “Wait a minute here! This is my house. You are NOT just taking over and doing what you want.”
Blaine stepped forward, wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her aside. “Don't be stupid. You saw Gwyllgi and Black Shuck. If we leave, they will return immediately and tear you slowly from limb to limb while you beg for death. Your only hope of survival is with our protection.”
Claire had moved past Joan and was heading upstairs while Blaine talked. Gordon and Peter followed, Peter chuckling as he did so. “Always so subtle. Excuse her bluntness, Joan. She is a simple warrior.”
Joan felt Blaine stiffen with anger.
Jerry had sat down. Now he defused the situation before it could get worse. “Peter, enough! Blaine, Joan, please come and join me. We have much to discuss.”
The tension went out of Blaine. She took Joan by the shoulder and led her over to a chair by the fire, then sank gratefully into a seat near the archway.
Jerry looked at Joan. “It is hard to know where to begin. Do you believe in evil, Joan?”
“I'm not sure. There are individuals in the world who have done terrible things without remorse. Yet, as a paramedic, I realize that such individuals are not always emotionally accountable for their actions.”
Jerry smiled and leaned back in his chair. He steepled his finger tips and considered. “Ah yes, that is the paradox isn't it? What is insanity and what is evil? In this day and age, it has become harder to tell. Perhaps that is just as well. We don't burn witches on the stake anymore. That is a great relief to Blaine and Claire.” He chuckled and Blaine frowned. “Tell me then, do you believe in God?”
“As an old, wise guy floating on a puff of cloud? Hardly. I do believe though that there is some greater purpose. I'm not a church goer, but I can tell you, last night, I made all sorts of promises to God to save my bacon.”
Jerry laughed. He laughed easily. He was one of those rare individuals who was comfortable no matter where he found himself. “That is a start then. You see, Joan, our role is to track down and fight evil. Not the rare insanity of a few, but true evil, the forces of the devil. You are thinking now that we are after all some strange cult that has invaded your house. We are not. I will make a promise to you. If you will hear me out, with an open mind, I will let you decide if we stay or go. Fair enough?”
“You'll go if I damn well tell you to go or I'll call the police.”
“They won't come and you are one against five warriors. It would be best to accept my proposal.”
Joan leaped to her feet, as did Blaine. For a minute she stood undecided, then she sank back into her seat. “Are those dogs really after me or was that a scare technique?”
“Sadly, they have tasted your blood. If we leave, they will come and you will die. I'm sorry Blaine has brought this evil to your doorstep. It wasn't intentional. It appears she was ambushed.”
“I'll hear you out, but I have to warn you that I think you are all nuts.”
Jerry leaned forward and looked steadily into Joan's eyes. “And was it a parlour trick when the siding on the house repaired, the damaged trees healed and the debris disappeared?”
“I...I... have no idea. It might be, but I don't know how.”
“It's best to be sceptical. You have a good analytical mind. Let me tell you about Blaine.”
Blaine stirred. “Master, is that wise?”
“No, not wise, but she has touched your cross so there is no other choice. We know what happened last time a woman saved you.” Blaine scowled and fell silent. Jery went on. “Blaine is thirty-four. She has been thirty-four for the last 1 512 years. You see at the battle of Mons Badonicus, Blaine was mortally wounded but before she died her soul was claimed by the True One. She, like all of us, is immortal unless her soul are taken by the devil. Blaine came very close to that happening to her last night. You, in your innocence, saved Blaine from a horrible fate.”
Joan laughed. “If you think this fairy tale is winning my confidence you would be wrong. Mons Badonicus, isn't that the legend of King Arthur? It's a musical, Jerry, not history.”
“True, and a very silly history indeed. The musical is good, though, don't you think? A myth it is, but based on truth. The truth is that a warrior, Ambrosius Aurelianus, called together the chieftains of Britain and together they made a stand at Mons Badonicus against the Anglo Saxons. You understand that there were no knights, no round table or any of the other nonsense that appears in the French romance of King Arthur. The stronghold at Badon was a wood structure on a hill, not a fairytale castle. The warriors wore leather and fought on foot with sword and spears. There were no armoured knights on chargers and there wouldn't be for another six hundred years.
Ambrosius Aurelianus was born a Briton but had earned Roman citizenship and wore the purple of a commander. He was a brave and strong leader. One of the chieftains who had come to stand by Ambrosius brought the warriors of Tintagel. It was a town that had done well with trade with the Romans before the fall of the Empire. Blaine here was the daughter of Uther Pendragon, chief of Tintagel and the surrounding area. She was also sister to Arturius.”
Joan rolled her eyes. “The legendary King Arthur.”
Blaine stirred. “My brother was no king but a good warrior.”
“Arturius led the men of Tintagel and one woman who stole away from her father's castle and refused to go home.” Jerry looked at Blaine and smiled. Then his gaze returned to Joan. “It was a glorious victory. Thanks to the leadership of Ambrosius and the warriors of Tintagel the day was saved. Arturius was the hero of the battle and went on to fight many more. Blaine was not so lucky. She fought well killing many, but threw herself between her brother and a spear that would have killed him. She was taken from the field and lived for days on the edge of death.”
“She recovered apparently to live to a ripe old age,” Joan commented.
“No, she died while Guinevere, wife of Arturius, tended her. Yes, there was a Guinevere although hardly the woman that is portrayed in the musical. She'd had three children by then and was rather stout and worn from labour. A woman's role was not easy in those days. Guinevere was Welsh and it is said that there was fairy blood in her family. Silly of course, but there was something unreal about Guinevere. She was probably a Druid priestess, although we have no proof. On her marriage, she had brought with her a scholar called Merlin.”
Jerry chuckled. “Merlin would be so annoyed to be referred to as a wizard. He was a True Believer. History can have a cruel, ironic turn in its interpretation. It was Merlin and Guinevere who brought Blaine back as an immortal.”
“Ah huh. And where are they now?”
“Merlin, was never an immortal. Why, I'm not sure. Guinevere made the choice to die with Arturius. That is why he has always been called the once and future king. It was hoped that he would return with Guinevere at his side. We had hoped. It was the wishful thinking of a people who desperately needed a great and honourable leader. Having made the choice to pass on, one does not come back.”
“Blaine did, so you say.”
“Blaine was not allowed to go. Instead, she was made immortal. It is her fate as it is for the rest of us. As it is for you now.”
“What? Listen, I'm not joining your merry little band. Forget it. I heard you out, but I don't believe a word of it. I'm sorry, you will have to go.”
Jerry sighed. “Very well.” He got to his feet. “Come Blaine. We will gather the others.”
“But Master, she has touched my cross.” Blaine objected with a worried frown.
“I have given my word. Come.”
Joan watched as they left the room and then went to the window as the others returned from their assignments and joined Jerry and Blaine by their van. They talked for a minute and Blaine seemed to argue. Then reluctantly, they got into their van, turned around carefully in the lot and bumped down the driveway to the highway.
Joan sighed. The last twelve hours had been pretty scary and confusing but everything was alright now. She had her farm house back and it was a lovely day outside. How had they repaired the damage to the house and yard? The question came uninvited to Joan's mind. She
mentally brushed it aside. She'd take her car into the village and pick up some groceries.
Grabbing her purse and keys she locked the house carefully and headed for her car. A cloud suddenly covered the sun. Joan looked up. It would pass over soon. The sky around was blue.
She backed the car around and headed down the muddy driveway humming to herself.
Half way down, the long grass of the field started to blow frantically on either side of the driveway. The sky darkened and hail and debris slammed against her car. Joan slammed on the breaks and gasped. The car was shaking as if there was an earthquake. What was that? A darker shadow within the storm. Howling. Something smashed against her door and she screamed, turning to see red, hunger eyes only a glass width away from her own.
“Blaine! Help!” Joan yelled and then curled up on the floor of the car.
The car shook as the gigantic animals hurled themselves at her vehicle. The growls and howls surrounded her as wide eyed she looked up to see sharp teeth and red tongues only feet away from her. Drool and blood mixed with rain and ran down the glass, then a window cracked and Joan screamed again in terror.
Battle cries. The flash of blades through the darkness, the howl of the beasts and then nothing but the patter of rain on the roof of her car. A door opened and Blaine slid in. Joan clawed her way off the floor and threw herself into Blaine's arms crying hysterically.
“It's over. They are dead for now.” Blaine stated holding the woman with surprising gentleness.
“For now?” Joan wailed, shaking with fear. “They're not immortal too are they?”
“They are the hounds of hell. Driven for eternity to do the Dark Lord's bidding,” Blaine
responded matter- of- factly.
Joan struggled against Blaine's arms. “Get me out of here! Get me away from them!”
Blaine's hands grabbed her arms painfully. “They will not be back for some time. You are safe. Do you hear me, Joan? You are safe.”
Joan bit her lip and fought for control. “Take me back to the house, Blaine. Please. I…I don't know what to believe anymore. Am I going mad?” Blaine nodded and slipped behind the wheel to start the car. Driving it to the end of the driveway, she turned the car around and headed back to the house. They passed two bloody, shaggy heaps by the side of the road. Claire and Gordon were covering them with scrap wood to burn them. Peter and Jerry waited on the porch for them.
Blaine stopped the car and turned to face Joan. “No, you are not going mad. It will just take you time to come to terms with what has happened. It's always that way it seems.”
“This has happened to someone before?”
“Once. Many years ago.” Blaine answered abruptly, then opened her door and stepped out closing the door behind her.
Joan hesitated then opened her own car door and got out cautiously. Jerry came down the porch stairs and took her hand in his. “I'm sorry.”
“You knew it was going to happen. You warned me.” Tears rolled down Joan's face. “It's a terrible dream.”
Jerry nodded. “A nightmare,” he sighed, “but sadly a real one rather than the wanderings of our sleeping minds. Evil exists and it has followed us here.”
Joan looked around, sobs raking her body. “This was my safe place. Where I came to escape all the stress of life. I don't want this to be happening.” Down the driveway a flame leapt up and black smoke rose in a column into the sky. “This can't be happening.”
Jerry took her arm and led her up the porch stairs. “Come inside. You need a hot cup of tea, I think, and then I will try to answer all your questions.” Joan nodded dully, stumbling alongside of him in shock.
The tea in Joan's cup vibrated in her shaking hands. Jerry had been talking but she hadn't taken much in. Hellhounds! They were real. They were after her. Or was she going mad?
“So you will need to be trained,” Jerry said getting to his feet.
“What?” Joan looked up from where she sat on the sofa. Jerry was taller than she originally had thought and although his hair was white he seemed remarkably fit and distinguished in his light blue jeans, runners and white t-shirt.
Jerry gave a sympathetic smile. “Blaine will explain.”
Now Blaine looked up in surprise from where she had been sitting on a straight back chair in the far corner of the room. “Me?”
Jerry sighed. “It must be so, Blaine. You are not like us. Your path is different and so now is Joan's.”
“But last time…”
Jerry raised his hand and stopped Blaine's protest. “It must be. I will leave you to explain.” Jerry walked from the room. It seemed to Joan that the room grew darker with his leaving. Joan turned to look at Blaine. Where Jerry was light, Blaine was darkness. Her hair was a chestnut colour and pulled back in a ponytail that was held in place with a string of leather. She wore a plain black t-shirt, black jeans and running shoes. The shoes and clothing were no longer stained with mud, Claire noticed. More magic. “Explain what?”
Blaine sighed and got up to walk over and sit in the chair opposite Joan where Jerry had sat minutes before. “This is against my wishes, but you have held my cross and that changes everything. If you had taken it for evil it could have killed my soul. Instead, you cared for it and returned it to me. When you did that you also gave who you are to the cross.”
Joan put down her cup. “I don't understand.”
Blaine frowned with impatience and got up and paced. She turned to look down at Joan. “You are an immortal now. Like me.”
“What? That's stupid.”
“I could stab you to death and you would not die. That would prove it, but the pain would be terrible and it would be weeks before you recovered. Immortals do feel pain. They do suffer. They just don't die. So how can I prove it to you? How can I prove any of this to you?”
Joan looked up into a face etched with pain and frustration. She wasn't beautiful but she was stunningly attractive with clear, sharp features. Androgynous. What had this woman lived through? Or was this all an elaborate deception? “I don't know how you can prove it to me. I really don't. This…all of this,” said Joan, waving her arm around, “It makes no sense. None.”
Blaine sank back into her chair. “What then?”
Joan shook her head. “I don't know. Start by telling me about you. Jerry said you are different from them. Why?”
Red rose up Baire's neck. She squirmed trying to get more comfortable in the chair. Joan watched her closely. Waiting.
“Jemaine of Lindisfarne, Jerry, was a devoted monk. In 793 CE, the Vikings raided for the first time. The monastery was ill prepared. Jermaine could have run. Many did. Instead, he stood by the altar and tried to push the raiders back while the priest tried to escape with the holy cross from the altar. It was an act of faith and sacrifice from a deeply religious man. He prayed that he would live long enough to defeat evil and bring others to the Light and God granted him immortality to do just that.
“Pierre St. Jacques of the Knights Templar, Peter, fought to save others. At dawn on Friday the 13 th of October 1307 King Philip had ordered that all of the knights be killed. Pierre stayed behind, allowing others to escape. It took three arrows and four sword cuts to bring him down. He prayed as he fought that his soul would go before God pure having done all he could to defeat evil. With infinite wisdom, God granted Pierre immortality to achieve that goal.”
Blaine swallowed and looked down at her feet. “Go on,” Joan ordered.
“The Honorable Claire Von Holst, realized that Johannes Gutenburg's press could bring the written word of God to every corner of the Earth. When she was left a widow at only eighteen, she sold everything she owned and secretly helped finance Johannes' work. She lived on the streets but before she died of cold and starvation in 1454, she saw the first printed Bible produced. She died praying that her efforts would help to defeat the Prince of Darkness. God made her immortal so she could fight on.”
“And Gordon?” Joan asked leaning forward in her seat to better hear Blaine's quiet voice.
“Gordon Campbell had been converted to Protestantism by John Knox in 1560. He worked hard as a lay preacher to convert his fellow Scots to the faith, but while preaching to lepers he contracted the disease. Rather than inflict others, he climbed Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, to die alone. By the time he reached the top his toes had been worn away and his feet were frozen. He thanked God for allowing him to die away from others and for giving him the opportunity to defeat evil with God's Word. He lay down in the snow to die, but instead he lived. God had made him an immortal.”
Joan leaned back in her seat and steepled her fingers in front of her. “They all made amazing sacrifices for their faith, but so have many others. Why them?”
Blaine shook her head. “We don't know. They were just chosen. Who can understand God's plan?”
“You left yourself out. Wasn't King Arthur supposed to have lived in the years after the Romans pulled out of Britain? In the late 400s or early 500s, I would guess. I know Jerry explained but I think I want to hear your story again with some more detail, please.” Joan leaned back in her seat again and watched Blaine closely.
“My past is different from the others. I was born in Cornwall at Tintagel. My father Uther was the regional Chief and our town had prospered under the Romans through trade. My father sent to Wales for a wife for my older brother, Artorius. She was the enchantress, Gwenhwyfar. My brother was devoted to her. Gwenhwyfar's father had sent a Celtic wizard to watch over the wellbeing of his daughter. His name was Myrddin of Ambrosius.”
“Merlin?” Joan asked in surprise.
Blaine nodded her head. “That is what he came to be called and her Guinevere. My brother is known as Arthur, The Once and Future King.”
“But the legend of King Arthur is all a myth!”
Blaine shrugged. “Most of it, yes, but not all. My brother did unite and lead our people against the invading Anglo-Saxons. He was a skilled warrior and had many victories. Against my family's wishes, Gwenhwyfar and Myrddin followed him to a fort on a hill called Mons Badonicus where a deciding battle was to take place. Wanting to be like my brother, I cut my hair and dressed as a warrior in leather jerkins and rode with Gwenhwyfar and Myrddin acting as their body guard. When Artorius found out he was furious, but Gwenhwyfar soon won him over. I suspect it was their power, whatever it was, that protected him. I fought by my brother's side until I stopped a spear meant for him with my own body. I should have died. I thought I had, but Gwenhwyfar had given me this cross that Myrddin had filled with magic. So I live. Not by the grace of God, but by some force of nature.”
Joan sighed. “I'm not finding all this easier to believe. Are there only the five of you?”
Blaine shook her head. “There are many immortals of all different cultures, faiths and beliefs throughout the world fighting evil. Our Father sees no religious dogma boundaries, only the power of faith.” Blaine bit her lip and blushed deeply. “There was another of us. Matilda of Parma. She became immortal in 1098 CE when she saved me from a flood and took my cross giving it back to me when I breathed again.” Blaine blushed a deep red but continued in her blunt manner. “She was first with me and then became Peter's partner. It caused – tension.”
“What happened to her?” Joan asked gently.
Blaine shallowed hard then slowly rose to her feet. “She betrayed all of us and became a follower of the Dark One.” Turning on her heel, Blaine left the room. Joan sat in stunned silence. The only sound the ticking of the old mantel clock.
After leaving Joan, Blaine stomped into the kitchen to find Jerry getting out pots and pans. “Blaine, just the woman I need to see. Could you rustle-up a bit of a kitchen garden for me? I need fresh herbs and vegetables.”
“I sense – It's what I felt in London in the 1800s. Gwyllgi and Black Shuck didn't just run across me. They had to know I was on a mission and alone. How did the Dark Lord know if that information didn't come from one of us?”
Jermaine frowned and busied himself measuring out sticks of spaghetti. “I too have realized this, Blaine, but this time I pray it is not one of our number.”
“St. Jacques –“
“Call him Peter,” Jerry interrupted sharply.
Blaine mouth tightened, but she went on calmer. “Peter, was not hurt that night. He said he'd been knocked out. The rest of us suffered.”
Jermaine put down a measuring cup and looked at Blaine, frustration evident on his face. “We've been through this many times before. Peter's heart and soul had been frozen by the devil's disciple. He suffered too in his own way. I worked with him for months.” Jermaine smiled softly to take the sting out of his reprimand. “Now go and create us a garden. It will be much appreciated by us all.”
Blaine nodded but she looked moody and concerned as she headed out the kitchen door to the backyard.
Jermaine watched her go. She was right of course. He could feel it too. The Dark Lord's
Warriors were not far away. They had killed the Hellhounds once again, but they would be back and stronger because their mistress, Matilda, would be with them. This time, they must right a wrong. There was no choice. The alternative, the loss of their very souls, was unthinkable.
Peter looked into the living room and saw Joan sitting alone. “I sense your confusion. I can only assume our Arthurian maiden has been trying to explain her existence to you. Forgive her. She has a warrior's bluntness.”
Joan looked up to see Peter in the doorway. Peter too was tall but where Blaine was dark, Peter was blond and blue eyed and handsome. Very handsome. He wore loafers, navy dress slacks neatly pressed and a white shirt with a fine blue pin stripe. Joan smiled, “Yes, she was trying.”
Peter rolled his eyes and sauntered over to Joan's chair. “My advice is to be cautious. Very cautious. She trained Matilda and now that beautiful woman is the servant of the Dark Lord, corrupt, ugly and evil. Her soul twisted and tortured. She was once a beautiful, caring, intelligent woman. I loved her. Her loss to the Dark Lord still grieves me after all these years. If you need help, I'm near.” He touched her shoulder and walked out.
A shiver ran through Joan's body. She had to take Peter's warning seriously. Even Blaine admitted that her ex-partner had turned to the Darkness. Yet there was something she couldn't put her finger on. Something she didn't like. Blaine was angry and hurt of course. Peter had won Matilda from her. She had every reason not to trust him. Yet, there had to be reasons why Matilda had rejected Blaine's love. And why had she turned to evil? And why was she taking any of this madness seriously?
She got up with a sigh and followed the smell of fresh basil to the kitchen. There she found Jerry happily cutting up the ingredients for a spaghetti dinner.
“Where did you get the fresh herbs?” Joan asked, as she slid onto a stool by the table.
“From your kitchen garden,” Jerry smiled.
“I don't have a kitchen garden.”
Jerry chuckled. “You do now.”
Curious, Joan got up and looked out the kitchen window. Sure enough a beautiful vegetable garden now existed in her backyard. It was heavy with the produce of late summer. She turned and looked questioningly at Jerry.
“Blaine has an in with Mother Nature. There are some perks with the job,” he explained, now busily slicing fresh, fragrant tomatoes.
“So it would seem.” Joan returned to her perch and reached out to take a slice of tomato to pop into her mouth.
“Did talking to Blaine help?”
“We didn't get very far. She got upset when she told me about Matilda and walked out.”
Jerry's knife froze for a second before slicing a wedge of tomato and offering Joan a second piece. “Hmmm, she did seem moody when I asked her to see if she could create a bit of a garden. It has been difficult. To be betrayed by one you love is painful. It caused problems for all of us. Do you believe us now?”
“Frankly, no one in their right mind could believe what you have told me. Yet, I can't make myself reject completely what I've seen and experienced over the last twenty-four hours.”
Jerry smiled. “That's a start then. We aren't such a bad lot. If you give us a chance you might find you like us very much.”
Joan used a fingertip to make a pattern on the damp table top. “Will I like being immortal?”
Jerry sighed and put the knife down before he sat on the stool opposite Joan. “It is a terrible burden that can never be lifted, yet it comes with the great satisfaction of knowing one is fighting for what is right. And as well as being immortal, we all seem to have a unique talent. Like Blaine's ability to make things grow. Claire can understand most languages and even read and write them. Gordon can generate heat and can start a fire out of nothing, Peter has a way with animals even wild ones, and I seem to have the ability to fix damage like that done to your house.”
While Jermaine explained, Joan got out place mats and utensils and started setting a table for dinner. She considered what Jermaine had said as she worked. “I don't think I have any special talent and I don't feel any different so I don't think I can be immortal.”
Jermaine chuckled. “It's way too early to tell. You will need training and guidance. As for any special ability, it will be revealed when it's needed. Somethings can't be forced. Let me assure you, you will be a warrior for Goodness.”
“I'm not a fighter. I'm a paramedic.”
“Really? That's wonderful news. We sometimes have a need for medical aid. Actually quite frequently,” Jerry admitted with a shy grin. “It's not like we can walk into an Emergency and say one of us has been stabbed by the Prince of Darkness and needs stitches.” Jerry chuckled at his own joke and Joan laughed with him. Jerry was special. You couldn't help but feel good when you were near him. But was he who he seemed to be? Or was this all an elaborate hoax?
Once Joan had finished her task, Jermaine asked her to find Gordon and tell him that dinner would be in an hour. Joan walked outside and stopped to admire the beautiful kitchen garden.
She'd love to have a talent like that, but somehow she knew that she didn't. Shrugging she moved on, hiking across the back field to where Gordon was setting up a perimeter.
“Hi, Lass,” Gordon smiled as he wiped dirt from his hands.
“Jermaine says to tell you that dinner will be in an hour. He's making spaghetti.”
Gordon pulled a face. “That's a popular meal with most of them, but I've never got the hang of spaghetti. It messes up a man's beard.”
Joan laughed. “Well, I promise not to notice. What are you doing out here?”
“Setting motion detectors that will help us to be aware of anything that might be lurking out here,” he explained. “Electronics is one of my skills. Now you wouldn't want to be asking the others about such things. Most of them still canna use the apps on our smartphone.”
Joan shook her head in amazement. “I sort of thought you lot would be using spells and charms and stuff like that. I mean who has ever heard of a high tech immortal.”
“Yes, well, TV and movies have got it a bit wrong, Lass. We deal with the power of Our Lord and Saviour not with magic and witchcraft. I'm afraid God has been a might slow in accepting the electron into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Joan giggled. She couldn't help herself. Gordon looked like a little gnome and his grey eyes sparkled with merriment.
They walked back across the field together. “Jermaine was telling me about the special powers that you all have, like your ability to make a fire anywhere.”
Gordon nodded and smiled. “In past ages that was an excellent skill to have, but central heating and electric ranges have made me a bit obsolete.”
“What was Matilda's skill?””
The humour left Gordon's eyes. “Forgetfulness. She could make those who had seen things that they shouldn't have forget.”
Joan frowned. “That's a dangerous skill for a follower of the Dark Lord to have.”
“Aye, I worry about that. All these years we haven't seen sight or light of her, or have we?”
“She caused a lot of tension in the group, didn't she?” Joan picked wild daisies as they walked to make a bouquet for the table.
“She did that. She could have made Blaine forget they'd ever been lovers but she didn't. I wonder now if she enjoyed watching her suffer. At the time, I thought she was being open and truthful that she preferred to be with Peter. I don't know, Lass. Jermaine, Claire and I took vows of chastity so we're not very good at understanding the affairs of the heart. Blaine, Peter and Matilda, well, they were different, high spirited and hot blooded. Our faith was based on study and contemplation, theirs on passion. Each finds their own path to the Lord.”
Joan stopped and looked at Gordon. “And me?”
“Now I worry about you, Lass. If you are one of us, you'll be changing everything.” Gordon moved on and after a second, Joan followed him.
Dinner was a happy affair. The meal was delicious and Jermaine carefully led conversations into lighter topics. They argued, with a good deal of humour, about the best innovations over the years they'd been immortal.
“The steam engine and central heating,” rumbled Gordon. For a small man he had a remarkably deep, strong voice. “It was a blessing to these old bones.”
“The printing press, of course!” declared Claire, looking shocked that anyone would think otherwise.
“The rule of law,” Peter stated. “Unless, I choose to break it,” he amended and the others laughed.
“The bathtub with running hot and cold water,” sighed Jerry, as he passed more freshly baked bread around. “Forgive me Lord for my weakness but a hot tub and a rubber ducky is next to godliness itself.”
“The flush toilet,” Blaine added practically, and the others nodded in agreement that she'd hit on one they could all agree would be near the top of the list.
Once the dishes were cleared they took turns singing songs from their own era and Joan sat mesmerised. What a treasure trove these people were and yet their existence must always be kept secret just by the nature of who they were.
Suddenly, Blaine's head snapped up and she was on her feet running for the door. “Matilda!”
The others were not far behind her. Joan followed cautiously. She hadn't forgotten the despair, fear and pain the night she and Blaine were attacked by the Hellhounds. No way was she going there again. Let the immortals do their thing if it wasn't all just a silly joke. She peeked out the back door and saw the five running up the hill. Each reached across their bodies and pulled from thin air long broadswords. Each glowed a different colour. Jerry's shone, yellow, Peter's green, Claire's pink, Gordon's purple and Blaine's pale blue. They charged at a massive brown serpent that hissed on the hill top. Gigantic in size, it rolled down the hill towards them, more like a bank of mist than a solid entity. The swords clashed against scale, and the deadly battle had begun.
Joan watched in horror as the five immortals fought for their lives, slashing and stabbing at a monster that seemed solid one moment and simply brown vapour in another. Slowly the five were pushed back. As she watched, Jerry fell to his knees. The brown cloud seemed to engulf him and the hideous head of the serpent turned in his direction. Blaine leapt in front of her leader and slashed out wildly. The others ran forward and attacked from all directions. Momentarily, distracted, the monster snapped at the warriors in turn and then turned again towards her prey.
“No!” Joan charged out the door and reaching across her chest like she'd seen the others do and her hand grasped a leather bound hilt. She pulled her hand back and saw a massive sword in her grasp. It should be as heavy as sin, yet it felt as light as a feather. She charged forward,
ran past the others and raised her sword over her head. “No! I won't let you!”
The serpent pulled back and rose up, towering over her head. All thoughts of the others were gone as it focused on the small woman with the big sword. Joan didn't take her eyes off the monster. She had no idea what she was doing, but somehow she knew if she believed, she would succeed. Legs planted wide and sword raised, she looked into the red flashing eyes of evil without fear and waited.
A power seemed to flow through her from the ground, traveling up her legs and body and into her arm and to her sword. Silver light shot out and the slave of the Dark Lord howled in anger.
Above Joan a silver shield of light spread out as energy flowed from the ground through her. The shield now protected her and the others. The monster attacked over and over, but where it bit and clawed, golden sparks shot out and the serpent cried in pain. The dark form started to dissipate and Joan concentrated with all her might. The monster grew smaller and turned to a muddy vapour that rose into the blue sky and vanished on the breeze. The incredible power that had run through Joan stopped suddenly and she lowered the sword in wonder.
She turned to look at the others. They stood in disbelief staring at her in shock.
“Marie, Mother of Jesus,” whispered Peter and crossed himself. Claire and Jerry did the same.
Blaine limped forward and looked down on Joan. “How did you do that?”
Joan shrugged. “I don't know. I saw you guys draw swords from nowhere and so I did the same. Suddenly there was this sword and I just charged behind it. I just knew if I believed and never wavered that I could defeat the monster. Then all this energy came up my legs and the sword started to shoot a silver dome into the air. It felt …empowering. B…but I don't feel so good now,” Joan ended and threw up on the grass at Blaine's feet. She was shaky and pale and Blaine, having tossed her sword and Joan's to Gordon, picked the small woman up and carried her back to the house. The others followed.
“Is she okay?” asked Claire, bringing in a shot of warm whiskey for Joan to sip.
Jerry nodded. “I think so. I think it was just the shock and the suddenly loss of energy.”
Joan smiled weakly. “I'm fine – really. I just scared myself half to death.”
Jerry chuckled. “Quite understandable, I would say. This has been an eventful evening. I'm afraid I don't really understand what is going on. Blaine?”
The warrior had placed Joan on the couch in the living room and had sat in a far corner, leaving the others to fuss over her. Gordon had made a fire in the fireplace. Claire had heated some whiskey and Peter had got her a blanket while Jerry checked to make sure she hadn't been hurt. Now Blaine stood and walked over. “She's wearing a cross. One like I have never seen before.”
Joan looked down in surprise and with a shaky hand she lifted a delicate metal cross from inside her shirt. It was made of fine woven silver and caught within was a bead of gold. “This isn't mine.”
Jerry rubbed his chin. “Blaine?”
“It's hers. It came just as mine did.”
“It can't be,” rumbled Gordon. “Merlin is gone.”
“Him, yes,” mused Jerry. “But the power of Nature and of Our Dear Lord are eternal. Well, Joan, you have been gifted. Welcome to our number. You certainly put on quite a show of faith today.”
“I don't really understand,” Joan said in bewilderment. “I really don't. I'm not much of a believer.”
Jerry patted her arm lightly and offered her the whisky. “It would appear that's not true. Give it time, child. Sip on this and when you are feeling a bit stronger perhaps you could help us with some of our injuries.”
“Injuries!” Joan took a quick gulp of whiskey, tried to sit up and had to grab the back of the couch for support. She steadied herself and looked around. The group had each made make shift bandages out of what appeared to be Joan's drawer full of dish towels. But blood was still oozing out and some looked in real pain.
“Okay, one at a time into the kitchen and I'll do repairs. The most seriously hurt first,” Joan commanded as she wobbled towards the kitchen.
“Are you sure you are alright?” Jerry called after her.
“Claire, bring the whiskey when you come,” Joan answered and steadied herself to get her medical kit out of the hall cupboard. To be truthful she felt very queasy and totally exhausted but at least she wasn't bleeding which was more than one could say for the rest of them. She swallowed hard and turned to face Claire, who held out her glass of whiskey before taking a seat and lifting her slashed arm to the table.
Night. Joan sat looking out her bedroom window. A full moon had risen and the outside world was bathed in pearly light. She could hear footsteps below. Despite their wounds and pain, the warriors were taking turns on guard duty. Surely, evil could not be about on such a beautiful night as this. She leaned forward – movement in the darkness. Then she sighed in relief as she realized that it was Blaine. The warrior stepped out of the shadows and drew her sword. It glowed a soft blue creating an island of light around Blaine. Blaine turned her sword over and stuck it in the Earth then knelt and prayed, the sword handle forming a makeshift cross.
Joan got up and quietly went down stairs. Jerry stood in the archway of the living room. “I'm joining Blaine,” she explained and Jerry nodded.
The night air smelt earthy and fresh. Joan breathed in deeply and then walked over to where Blaine knelt in prayer. She made sure that Blaine could see and hear her. She had seen how fast and powerful Blaine was with a sword.
“Can I join you? I want to learn.”
Blaine looked up and smiled. She had a lovely smile although it was rarely seen. “Yes. It's wise to use our swords to worship Good. Sadly, they are too often used to fight Evil.”
Joan nodded. And after hesitating, she reached across, grasped the invisible hilt and drew out the powerful sword, glowing silver even in the moonlight. She turned it over and stuck it in the ground as Blaine had done, then knelt.
At first she felt rather silly. She bowed her head and stared at the ground. Should she pray? Thanks God for helping us today , she thought but it really didn't feel like a prayer. She waited. Slowly a calmness seeped through her and she no longer felt exhausted. She felt empowered, in tune with all that was around her. She knew without seeing that a little bunny munched on some grass not far away and that several birds hid under the boughs of an evergreen for warmth and protection. She could almost sense the grass growing under her.
Blaine said nothing, yet Joan could sense her too. Sense that she cared and would be there for her. And behind that knowledge was a wall of pain made of bricks of insecurity, betrayal, memories of past battles and guilt. Lots of guilt. Blaine's pain was physical and emotional but not spiritual. Her faith was unbreakable. Joan concentrated on that and felt it giving her strength.
Later, they sat on the porch enjoying the warm night. “You have a power like we have not seen before but you will still need to train to be a warrior.”
“Will you train me?”
Blaine looked out into the night. “I was responsible for Matilda becoming immortal. She grabbed my cross and pulled me out of the way of a flash flood. I would have drowned and my cross would have been lost. She saved me and I trained her. I'm not sure I'm the one who should train you when I failed so badly.”
Joan suddenly saw things clearly, as if information had been downloaded into her consciousness. “No you didn't. Why do you think that flash flood happened? Why do you think Matilda just happened to be there to reach for you? Why do you think she could call hellhounds? It was probably your training that kept her away from the Dark Lord's influence as long as it did. Don't you see? Matilda was already a slave of Evil. She was meant to be your partner and to betray you. Her job was to break up your group. And she would have too if Jerry hadn't been such a strong leader.”
Blaine turned to look at her in shock. “What are you saying? How could you know this? Don't talk nonsense. You weren't there!”
“No, I wasn't, but I know. I was surrounded by that thing today and I just know.” Joan got up in frustration and paced about. “I can't explain it. I can't explain anything that's happened to me over the last few days. What I do know is that I'm right.”
Eyes flashed at her. “Or maybe you are under the Dark One's spell.”
“No, I'm not. I'm sure of that. I felt its power but I wasn't tempted. Evil has nothing I want.
Blaine, listen to me, Matilda was a pawn in the Dark Lord's plans. I can't explain how I know this. Somehow I saw what should not have been open to me. Stop, feeling guilty for what happened. It wasn't your fault.”
Blaine swallowed. “I wish I could believe that. To be responsibly in some way for the loss of a soul weighs heavily on me. More than that, I…I loved Matilda.”
Joan stood in front of Blaine and looked down on her where she sat on the steps. “You were meant to fall in love with her and so was Peter. Don't you see that?”
“I can see it.” They turned to see Jerry standing in the doorway. “I should have seen it six hundred years ago. Blaine, I believe she is right.”
Blaine shook her head in confusion, stood up and pushed past Jerry to disappear into the house.
“Pigheaded warrior,” sighed Jerry. He turned to look at Joan. “What happened today will change everything. I don't know what powers you have, but they are great. Our Lord has sent you for a reason. You are our salvation in this our most dangerous hour.”
“I don't understand.”
“Neither do I, yet.”
Joan bit her lip. “I sensed something else too. A monster. Not a hellhound or the Matilda serpent, something far more evil and deadly. It will come. They all will.”
Jerry frowned and looked into the night with fear in his eyes. “Come inside. It's not safe for you to be out here alone.”
The house was quiet when Joan went back in. Jerry locked the door behind her. She said good night and headed up to her bedroom. A chill ran through her as she remembered how she fought to barricade the windows against the hellhounds and the destruction of the bathroom. She stopped for a minute, took a deep breath and fought for control. Her head just couldn't get around what was happening, yet it was getting harder and harder not to believe the impossible. She reached across her body and felt the hilt of the sword. Yes, she could be strong. Yes, there was evil and she had fought with the others to keep it at bay. Somehow she knew this. Just as she knew she must be strong physically, mentally and spiritually. Belief had given her strength, doubt would destroy her.
Claire's light was still on and her door open. Claire sat reading her Bible by the window.
“Can I come in?”
“I was just thinking some company would be nice,” Claire smiled, marking her place and placing her Bible carefully on the side table.
Joan came in and sat on the other chair. “It's a beautiful night.”
“Yes, peaceful. In legends, full autumn moons seem always to be associated with demons, but in our line of work we've found they prefer dark night's with poor visibility.”
Joan nodded. She had a lot to learn. “I guess people are more likely to be about at night on a full moon and are therefore more likely to scare themselves when leaves rustle or branches cast shadows.”
“Yes, the human imagination is amazing and frightening,” Claire chuckled. “That's not to say that people haven't seen terrifying things they were not meant to see.”
“I didn't know if you'd want company. You seem to keep very much to yourself.” Joan observed.
“Jerry and I would both have been happy in prayer, him at his old monastery and me in a convent somewhere. It's our nature, but God had other plans for us.”
Joan frowned. “Why did you not join a convent after you gave your money away instead of living on the streets?”
Claire blushed. “The sin of pride, I'm afraid. I wanted to see the Bible in print before I left the outside world for a convent and when I did it was too late. I died very soon after, or at least I would have, if God had not seen to make me immortal.”
“Not pride,” Joan protested. “Not you. I think you just had to be sure your mission was completed before you put your needs first.”
Claire looked up searching Joan's face. “Do you think so?”
“It's strange but since I used that sword, I just seem to know things. Maybe I'm deluding myself, but the knowledge seems to leave my mouth of its own and then I'm certain it's true. Best take everything I say with a grain of salt until we know for sure how often I'm right,” Joan joked. “Still, I'm sure about you. You gave up everything, money, security, prestige, comfort, everything and you needed to be sure that the task was finished. I bet seeing that first printed Bible was a wonderful moment.”
Claire's face lit up. “It was joyous!”
Joan smiled, then leaned forward. “Claire, I'm not the least prepared for the responsibilities that seem to have fallen on my shoulders. I need help. Would you teach me about the Bible? I know only the children's stories I was told in Sunday school years ago.”
Without hesitation, Claire reached for her Bible. “The first rule, and one that took me many years to learn, is read the words but search for the Word of our Dear Lord behind them.”
“I don't understand.”
Claire patted Joan's knee. “You will. Have patience. You see the Bible is a collection of stories related to the works and prophesies of God. Some of the chapters are simply the history of the chosen people, the Jews. Others are genealogy or family history. One is a book of poetry, others parables and others still hearsay about events. What holds them all together is the underling seam of Truth. God's Word.”
Sometime later, Joan lay in her own bed thinking over what Claire had taught her. Claire had given her some readings as well that she would do during the week, but for now she just needed to think. So much had happened and she was still struggling to come to terms with it all. She didn't think she could sleep, but physically and mentally exhausted, she drifted off, her thoughts not completely worked through.
It was the smell that woke her: a permeating smell of rot and decay. She scrunched up her nose in disgust. Getting out of bed, she looked out the window. There, something in the shadows. What was it? A sort of brown mist in the weak moonlight.
The next minute she was outside surrounded by darkness. She could hear something breathing as if its lungs weren't working right and each breath was drowned in blood. She moved stealthily forward. Whatever it was, was lurking just the other side of the bushes. In the dim moon light she could see its trail in the loose dirt. They were big, deep prints, filled now with mud and water. A metallic odor like old iron reached her senses. Squatting down she sniffed. Not water. Blood!
She swallowed back her revulsion and slipped forward to look through the branches. A massive vapoury, bloated, human figure stood over a body. While she watched it reached down and tore off a limb and chewed on it. Its form became clearer. She looked closer, horrified. The shield it carried over its back moved and agonized faces would appear as if crying out for help: they were the trapped souls of the monster's victims. The innocent trapped forever by their killer.
The creature stopped chewing on the limb and turned to look directly at her. There was no hiding now. She stood and reached for her sword but it wasn't there. Frantically, she grasped the air beside her hip. Nothing. The monster smiled, threw the gnawed limb aside and walked towards her. An over powering stench of rot came with it.
She woke screaming: grasping her chest to keep her soul within. Her door crashed open and she screamed again before she realized it was Blaine.
“Blaine! Blaine! Help me!” Joan reached out to the woman who hesitated at her door. In two strides Blaine was at her side and Joan had wrapped herself around the startled warrior.
A second later, the others gathered at the door.
“What has happened?” Jerry asked quietly.
Blaine looked up from where she sat on the edge of the bed holding on to Joan. “I don't know.”
“Monster! A terrible monster! It was eating a body. I…It had captured the souls of its victims and they were screaming out for help on its shield. My sword had gone! I couldn't fight it.”
Jerry frowned. “A human like creature, in rags, a wraith but massive in size?”
Joan nodded between sobs as she continued to cling to Blaine in panic.
“It's the Draugar, I fear. Gordon, go light a fire in the living room. Claire, could you please make us some tea. A warm drink will help Joan. Peter, check that all the doors and windows are secure. Blaine, carry Joan down to the living room. I will follow with a pillow and some blankets.”
No one questioned. Each silently left to do their assigned task. Blaine lifted Joan into her arms and carried her down the stairs to the living room. Already a roaring fire was warming the room. Blaine lowered Joan's feet to the floor. “You have to let go now. I'll be right here. You're safe.”
“No, I'm not. I know I'm not,” Joan mumbled, but she reluctantly let go of Blaine. Then she reached down and pulled her sword partly out of its sheath. “It's there now. It wasn't in my dream.”
“The Daugar will try to play games with your mind. You must not believe him. If you truly believe the sword is there it will be. Come, you've had a shock and need to rest and get warm.” Jerry stated, as he fussed like a mother hen, fluffing a pillow for Joan and covering her with a pink blanket he'd found in the linen closet.
Claire and Gordon came in from the kitchen with mugs of steaming tea and chairs were pulled up around Joan's couch.
“All secure,” Peter reported as he came in sheathing his sword. “It seems quiet outside as well.”
“Perhaps not,” Jerry mused. “Joan, when you are calm I want you to tell me all you saw. You were dreaming but your dream seemed so terribly real because the monster was there. It entered your dreams. The Draugar has that ability. In visiting you, it has given us a vital bit of information as to what we will be up against. The Dark Lord will not be pleased with it. We knew from what you sensed before that we wouldn't just be facing the hellhounds and the monster that was once Matilda. The Dark Lord has conjured up a Nordic undead with great magical powers. A soul sucked from its resting place and turned to evil.” Jerry looked around at the others. “We must protect our Joan. If it can move from her dreams into her mind it could cause insanity. We will not allow that to happen.”
“A Draugar,” Claire whispered and crossed herself. Peter did the same.
“There is much we will have to accomplish in the next few months. Joan has had one shock after another and her nerves are frayed, but we will have to ask of her that she commit completely to preparing for what is coming. Joan is both our strength and our greatest weakness.” Jerry looked at Joan with concern on his face. “Do you understand, Joan?”
“Yes. It's all over whelming, but with everyone's help, I will do my best not to let you down.”
Jerry sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I'm afraid Joan, I have another shock coming your way. You are an immortal now. You can't go on living your former life. You will have to join us and travel to wherever we are needed.”
“B—but can't I be an immortal and still live my old life. I mean Superman has a normal life a---and Batman.”
Jerry chuckled. “Comic book heroes have certain literary advantages that real life doesn't afford us. We must travel where the danger is. Besides, your friends would begin to wonder why you were taking time off and coming back looking like you'd been in a fight. Of course, you might have been in a terrible fight. They will most of all wonder why you are not aging.”
Joan's jaw tightened determinedly. “I like being a paramedic.”
“Yes, I'm sure you do and sadly we will afford you lots of business. Joan, we all live within society from day to day, but we must all move on as well. Ours is a life very much like gypsies.”
“But how do you support yourselves if you don't have jobs?”
Jerry straightened his back and looked affronted. “I like to think I have the most important job in the world. We immortals stand between good and evil. For thousands of years we have kept the Dark Lord at bay. As for our money source, there are many grateful individuals, organizations and indeed nations who provide the resources we need. Our needs are simple and our cause great.”
Joan bit her lip. “Can I keep this property?”
Jerry smiled. “For now anyway. It will make a good place for us to return when we need to rest from our toils. How do the rest of you feel about making Joan's place our headquarters?”
Gordon nodded. “We haven't had a place of our own since that U2 took out Carden House in 1944. A place to call our own would be useful.”
“We seem to spend most of our time now in North America. It seems a reasonable idea. I'm for supporting Joan in this matter.” Peter gave Joan a warm smile and Blaine immediately took a protective step closer to the coach where Joan inclined.
“I would like a place where we could come to meditate and recover from our trials. This place is as good as any.” Claire smiled.
Jerry looked at Joan. “If you could agree to allow your place to be, well, a sort of club house for immortals, I think we can find ways to keep this place.”
“A club house for immortals.” Joan giggled. “Are you sure we are not living inside a comic book?”
Jerry laughed. “I think I'm fairly safe in saying that we are very much a part of the real world and of course the spiritual one.”
Joan opened a sleepy eye and saw Blaine lying on the cot across the room from her. At Joan's insistence, Blaine had been sleeping in her room since the Draugar had entered her dream. There had been no recurrences but no one was willing to take any chances.
As always, Blaine was awake and looking at her. She had never caught the woman asleep. “Good morning, Blaine. Don't you ever sleep?”
“I sleep lightly. Did you sleep well?” Blaine slipped from her bed and stretched. She had a magnificent body. She was strong and yet moved with a subtle grace. With a tread so light that Joan could barely hear the old floor boards creak she came to stand by Joan's bed.
“Yes, I slept okay. No dreams.”
Blaine nodded and turned and left the room without another word. Joan shook her head . What a strange person the ancient warrior is. At times so caring and at others so aloof. She slipped from her bed, got into her slippers and housecoat and gathered her things together. As soon as Blaine came back from the washroom, she'd get dressed. Today was going to be hard. Blaine was going with her back to the city. The last two weeks had been a whirlwind of training and learning and Joan knew that she had barely learned the basics of what she would need to know to face the challenges ahead.
There was still doubt. Self-doubt that she could live up to what the others expected of her and doubt that any of this was real. In a way, it would be good to go back. Back to being a part of what she knew to be real, to her friends, job and her apartment. Claire and Jerry had seen to all the details. Joan suddenly had acquired a long lost great aunt who had left her a small fortune. Joan was leaving her job and the city to run a small training centre for those interested in organic farming. It all made sense. Anyone investigating would find all the evidence they needed. It was, of course, all an elaborate cover-up to remove Joan from her former life and help her to establish who she was now. Joan Walker was about to become Joan of the Silver Shield. It had been Jerry who had coined the title one night while they all sat around the fire after a hard day of training.
“You all have titles,” Joan had teased. “Jermaine of Lindisfarne, Blaine of Mons Badonicus, Sir Pierre St. Jacques of the Knights Templar, Gordon Campbell of Ben Nevis and the Honourable Claire Von Holst of Mainz. It's unfair. Joan Acton of Ontario just doesn't have the same ring to it!”
The others had laughed but Jerry had frowned in thought. “I know you were joking, Joan, but I feel you have made a good point. You are too close to your present history to go by your current name. And I feel somehow that your name could become rather famous in the years to come. We will call you Joan of the Silver Shield.”
Joan smiled. “Ahhh, it's nice but I haven't been able to conjure up another dome since. I might have to be Joan of the Lost Silver Shield.”
“It will come when it's needed,” Jerry shrugged.
“I don't have a useful skill either,” Joan pointed out with a pout.
“Oh but you do!” protested Jerry. “Have you not realized yet?”
“You see into the future.”
Joan frowned in thought. “I guess I did.”
“Not just did but will whenever it is needed. Yes, you will be Joan of the Silver Shield and protect us all.” Jerry smiled confidently. With the exception of the smiling Jerry, the others looked dubiously at Joan where she sat curled up in an easy chair by the fire.
Joan laughed. “I think I'm Joan of the Need to Be Protected by Everyone Else!”
Jerry relented a bit and with a sheepish smile had added. “Well, maybe for now.”
Joan drove. Blaine sat silently next to her looking with interest out the window.
“You must have seen incredible things over the years,” Joan stated, trying to get some conversation going with her silent companion.
Joan rolled her eyes. They drove along again in silence until they had passed Barrie and were heading into the urban spread of the Toronto region.
“I'm going to stop at the headquarters of the ambulance service I work for first. They are not going to like me quitting without giving them notice. I guess I could put in a few weeks on duty if I have to…”
Blaine sighed. “You know why not. You'd endanger others. Forget it. We'll be lucky if we get through today without an incident. They might be watching.”
“You've been watching all this time. Looking for trouble?” Joan asked in surprise. “Have you seen anything?”
“No. That doesn't mean evil isn't there. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Joan chewed on her lip and focussed on her driving, leaving Blaine to guard her.
“What other stops do you need to make?” Blaine asked after a few minutes.
“Two. My apartment. I'll have to clear out my stuff and arrange for a sublet.”
“We'll handle that. Just pick up what you feel you don't want movers handling. A company will come in and pack for you and move everything to the farm. Our – associates – will see to the subletting for you.”
“Okay. I need to see my girlfriend too.” Joan added casually.
“Girlfriend?!” Blaine turned to look at Joan for the first time.
“Yes. It's just casual. After Chris, well I wasn't ready for a serious relationship. Still I think I owe it to Barb to say good bye.”
“Will she be a problem?”
“No. I don't think so. When she finds out I'm living in the country that will be it. She's very much a city gal. She considers park pigeons dangerous wildlife and two trees together is a forest to her.”
“She's not your type,” Blaine stated firmly, looking out the window again.
“Oh and what is my type?”
Blaine avoided the question. “Who was Chris?”
Joan's jaw tightened. She wasn't sure she was ready to be so open with Blaine yet Blaine had reluctantly shared with her. “Chris Hemmings. She was my partner when I joined the paramedic service and my first experience as a lesbian. We lived together for eighteen months. She was killed two years ago in an accident. A drunk driver hit her while she was attending a car accident on the side of the road.” Tears dripped down Joan's face and she wiped them away.
“Why couldn't she have become immortal? Why do the good people die?”
Blaine sighed sadly. “I've been pondering that universal mystery for the last two thousand years. I can only tell you that God sees an infinite pattern and we see only the second we live in.”
Joan swallowed hard and tried to get the subject off herself. “You must have seen so many deaths.”
“Millions, but I have also seen incredible beauty, sacrifice and nobility. In the end it's balanced out. We and the others have done what we can to keep the real evil at bay.”
Still hurting, Joan got a jab in. “You really messed up in World War II.”
Blaine nodded sadly. “Yes. We did too little too late. We deal with evil that comes from the Dark Lord, but sometimes evil comes from the very souls of men.”
Joan pulled into a strip mall and parked in front of a store front building with the sign TM Paramedic Service. “Wait here. I'll be back as soon as I can.”
Blaine got out of the car. “Where you go, so do I.”
“No. You'll know if I need help.”
Blaine nodded but she didn't get back into the car. She stood close to the door, eyes searching into shadows.
It was a good hour before Joan returned. Blaine looked up in relief. “How did it go?'
Joan sniffled and responded as briefly and as honestly as possible. “Administration annoyed, but understanding about my sudden good fortune. Colleagues happy for me, but sad to see me go. I'm sad too. I loved my job.”
Blaine nodded in understanding. “Let's get back into the car.”
They drove silently to Joan's apartment which was one of four in a renovated home from the early 1900s. Blaine poked around, taking a great interest in things that Joan took for granted. She was particularly fascinated by Joan's remote control truck which she played with for some time while Joan packed her valuables, papers and some practical clothes. When Joan finished, she had two large garbage bags filled having used her suitcase and knapsack already to take her holiday things to the farm.
“Ready?” Joan asked, coming out of her bedroom. Blaine nodded and picked up the truck and remote. Joan looked at her and smiled. Blaine blushed, shrugged and held the door open for Joan.
Once they had Joan's things stuffed in the truck, and the remote car safely wedged on the floor of the back seat Joan looked at her watch. “I'm meeting Barb at five when she gets off work. I phoned her while I was at the apartment. So would you like to stop for a late lunch?
“Sure that would be good.”
They went to a small Greek restaurant close to where Joan had lived. Blaine seemed lost in thought but became more talkative as the meal went on.
‘You are not eating very much,” Blaine observed, looking up from her plate of Moussaka.
Joan pushed her Greek salad around her plate. “It's hard. I'm giving up my life, everything I am, to become someone I'm not sure I am.”
Blaine put her fork down and sat back. “I thought you were past that point. This is your destiny. It is not something forced on you, it came from within. Do not think we don't understand. Good byes are never easy and we've had to say so many. Do not question your future nor mourn your past. Joan, people change. You would have changed over time. The world you just said good bye to will be a very different place if you went back in only a few years. People move on. They change. Change is not evil but good, despite the fact that the process can sometimes be painful for us.”
Joan swallowed hard. “Being immortal is one very big change, Blaine.”
“Yes. And I won't tell you that it isn't hard. It often is, but it is also an extraordinary life fighting for Good. You have left friends behind, but you have also gained friends, Joan. And we will never leave your side.”
“I think that's the most you've said since I met you. You are an eloquent speaker when you want to be,” Joan teased.
Blaine blushed. “I only speak the truth.”
Joan searched Blaine's eyes. “Yes, I believe you do. I guess we should get moving.”
Blaine reached out and picked up the bill that had been sitting on the table for some time while they talked over coffee. “I would like to pay.”
Joan looked at her in surprise but then smiled. “Thank you.”
It wasn't a pleasant experience. Joan had met Barb at a coffee shop and told her she wasn't coming back to the city. Barb wasn't happy. Not that she had seen a lasting relationship with Joan, she just resented Joan ending it.
“No one has walked out on me. I do the walking out,” Barb snapped.
Joan tried to reason with her. “I got a rare opportunity, thanks to a gift, to live a life that is really meaningful for me. It's not about us. It's about being given a chance to start over.”
“Yeah, whatever. I hope it works out for you because you sure burnt your bridges with me.” Barb got up and walked out.
Joan sat back with a sigh then jumped in surprise as Blaine slid in the seat beside her. “She's gone. I like these coffee shops. I'm going to get a chocolate-walnut cruller and a coffee.”
Joan looked up from her own coffee that had gone cold. “We just had lunch!”
“Yeah, but not dessert. There's no coffee shop near you and I really like chocolate walnut crullers.”
Blaine looked so earnest that Joan couldn't help but laugh. “Okay. I'll have a fresh coffee please and an old-fashioned plain donut.”
They sat over their coffees and Joan told her about the conversation with Barb. “You are better without her,” Blaine reinforced. “She's not your type.”
Joan cocked her head and looked at Blaine with a smile. “So who is my type?” Joan asked again.
Blaine blushed scarlet. “Well, someone else.”
It was late in the afternoon when they returned to the homestead. The others had been busy while they were away. Clare and Peter had gone to buy groceries. Jerry and Gordon had worked cleaning the house. Jerry was making a dinner now and the others were all in the process of doing laundry when the two returned.
Blaine helped Joan carry in her basic belongings to her room. “Thanks, Blaine. I'll just get this stuff sorted. I'm not sure where it's all going to go.”
“I can move back to my room.”
“No! No, you have to stay with me. Please!”
Blaine nodded. “Okay. Then use my room to store some of your stuff.”
Joan smiled and gave Blaine a hug. “Thanks.” Blushing deeply, Blaine made a fast retreat downstairs.
When Joan followed sometime later she was met with the wonderful smell of beef stroganoff and the sight of all her new friends in the hall racing her remote truck through an obstacle course with considerable enjoyment and grim concentration.
Jerry came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a tea towel and stood by Joan. “What wonderful toys your generation has.” He smiled and then raised his voice to speak to the others. “Dinner is served, if you can drag yourselves away from that toy.”
Guiltily, the truck was parked by the side of the hall wall and everyone filed into the kitchen. Clare said grace and they all dug in to another excellent meal. Joan had a small proportion having eaten quite a bit during the day, but Blaine tucked in like she hadn't consumed a big lunch and two chocolate-walnut crullers. Joan looked at her now empty plate and then went for seconds.
Jerry watched and smiled. “Our metabolisms work very quickly, Joan. It takes a lot of energy to be an immortal.”
“So I'm learning,” Joan said, grabbing a piece of garlic bread.
After the dinner was over and the dishes washed, everyone gathered in the hall again to race the truck. Jerry looked on with an amused grin. “We don't get to enjoy the wonderful toys of this century very often,” he explained, as he reached for the remote that was presently being used by Gordon. “Can I have a go?”
Sometime later, Blaine, having had her turn controlling the truck, went looking for Joan. Instead, she found Peter in the living room looking through the novels on the bookcase.
Peter looked up. “You were gone a long time today, warrior.”
“Why was that?”
Blaine's smile was almost a smirk as she sauntered into the room. “It took Joan time to say good bye to her co-workers, gather the things she wanted from her apartment and of course, end her relationship with her girlfriend.”
Peter's head snapped up from the book he was looking at. “Girlfriend?”
“Yes. Joan is a lesbian.” Blaine rocked back and forth on her heals enjoying the moment.
Peter laughed. “Well, we all know how my charm can soon end that interest,” he gloated.
Blaine's face went white and she reached for her sword a second before Peter. Their blades crashed together in a battle that had been brewing ever since Matilda had left Blaine for Peter over two century before. Their blows were powerful and meant to hurt.
“Stop!” Jerry stood at the door with the others trapped behind him. The entire room seemed to vibrate with his anger. “Sheathe your swords!”
The two warriors stood blade to blade eyes locked on each other.
“Now!” Jerry snapped.
Reluctantly, the two stepped back and slowly did as they were told.
“How did this disgrace happen?” Jerry growled coming to stand between them.
Blaine hung her head. “It's my fault. I drew my sword in anger.”
“This is our greatest test and you have let evil enter your heart. Go and consider your actions in prayer. I will come to you later.”
Blaine turned on her heel and, face white as chalk, she headed for the door. The others parted like the Red Sea and let her pass, watching as she ran upstairs. Then they turned back to look at Peter. Had they not, they might have seen a faint brown mist trailing up the stairs.
Peter, still shaking with the exertion, swallowed twice. “Master, it was my fault. I said something that galled her.”
Jerry nodded. “That is no excuse for her behaviour, but you too are equally wrong. Go. Meditate on your actions and ask for forgiveness. We must stand united, Peter. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Master.” Looking shaken and sick, Peter left the room heading not upstairs but towards the back porch.
Jerry turned to look at the others. “I will handle this. You are not to interfere.” The others nodded and whispered their consent as Jerry left the room. He followed Peter to the back porch.
Joan went to follow Blaine upstairs, knowing she was suffering, but Claire took her gently by the arm and led them all into the kitchen. “I will make tea. Joan will get out the mugs. Gordon, you can set a fire in the living room for us and we will join you in a minute.” Claire always talked in a soft, gentle voice, but her word was law. Everyone did as they were told.
It was hours later that the group broke up to head for bed. They had not seen Blaine, Peter or Jerry since the fight. Joan went to their bedroom first, but Blaine was not there. She found her back in her own room knelt in prayer by the window. There was no sign of her sword.
Joan knelt down beside her. “The fight had to do with me, didn't it?”
“Only indirectly.” Blaine's voice was rough from crying and her eyes red. “It was a fight brewing for hundreds of years.”
“Peter is attracted to me?”
“And you are too?”
Joan leaned forward and bent slightly to kiss Blaine gently on the lips. “I'm attracted to you, not Peter. There is so much I have to deal with that romance is way down the list. I've just ended one relationship. I have no desire to start another one. I just want you to know that I am not Matilda. She was sent to cause trouble in your group and she still is. You must harden your heart, Blaine. There are difficult times and great temptations ahead. More than that, there could never be an “us” if Matilda is always in your heart.”
Blaine swallowed and nodded but she didn't look at Joan. Joan sighed. “I know you need your space but I need you too. I can't sleep in a room by myself.”
“Claire would stay with you,” Blaine mumbled.
“No. It must be you. I don't know why, but it must be you.” Joan got up and waited. Reluctantly, Blaine stood and followed her, head down and embarrassed.
Joan changed in the bathroom and slipped into bed while the warrior took her turn down the hall. Joan pretended to be asleep when Blaine returned, but she was well aware of Blaine kneeling in prayer well into the night.
The next morning she woke late, yet she found Blaine asleep on the floor. She quietly gathered her things and washed and changed in the bathroom before heading downstairs for breakfast. Jerry was cleaning up in the kitchen. He'd made porridge and there was also bacon, fresh fruit and baked bread. No one else was around, having already eaten and left on various errands.
“She sleeps?” Jerry asked placing a bowl of porridge in front of Joan.
“Yes, but she prayed for most of the night.”
“Good. It was hard on her. Blaine feels things very deeply and broods. Peter repents his sins, learns his lesson and moves on. You must be careful, Joan, not to unintentionally hurt her.”
Joan nodded, playing with her porridge more than eating it. “I know. I talked to her. I told her I was attracted to her not Peter, but I had enough on my plate at the moment.” Joan dropped her spoon in frustration. “Jerry, I'm so confused!”
The old priest came over and sat beside Joan, taking her hand in his. “Don't be afraid to show your affection for Blaine. You will need her love and loyalty in the days ahead and Peter will understand. In fact, I think things will work out very well. I've had word from two others who will be joining our ranks in a few days. One is a woman that Peter has met before. It is difficult but not impossible that a relationship could develop. We'll see.”
Joan smiled through her tears. “Why Jerry, are you playing match maker?”
Jerry giggled softly but didn't look the least bit repentant. “It is my one big weakness. Now eat up or I won't have my kitchen cleaned before I have to make lunch.” Jerry got up and started wiping the counters. A few minutes later Blaine ran down the stairs and bounded into the kitchen. “It's okay Blaine, she is right here and quite safe. I imagine she is looking forward to having breakfast with you.” The old man's eyes sparkled with mischievousness.
Joan got up and kissed Blaine lightly on the cheek. “Come and eat,” she said and taking a stunned Blaine's hand she pulled her to the table.
“One, two three, four. One, two, three, four. Sharp now, don't get lazy,” Peter commanded.
“I…!'m tired,” Joan puffed, bending forward and leaning on her sword.
Peter shook his head. “You might have to fight for hours against a resilient enemy. You'll need to push to build up stamina.
“I'm counting on an adrenalin rush of fear to get me through,” Joan responded sarcastically.
“Don't. I know it's not fair to push you so hard, but there might be little time and you must be prepared. We'll stop for today but tomorrow at sunrise we'll meet again.”
“Why sunrise!” grumbled Joan, sheathing her sword until it disappeared from sight.
“It's cooler then to work and disciplining the body and the mind are essential in a warrior. Tomorrow at six.” Peter smiled and patted Joan's sweaty back. “It's for your own good.”
Joan smiled weakly. “My mother used to tell me that too and I never believed her either.”
Peter laughed. “Not believing your dear mother. Shame on you, Joan.” He walked away chuckling to himself. Peter had been friendly and supportive since the big fight with Blaine but all the flirting had disappeared. Jerry must have really read him the riot act. That was okay with Joan. She felt a lot more comfortable around him now. With a groan, she straightened her back and went to shower and change. She'd have a quick breakfast and then meet Gordon.
Each day she rose at dawn and worked out for two hours with Peter. Then she had two hours with Gordon, learning about their defences and the worldwide network of immortals that quietly protected the world from evil. Safe houses, codes, history, traditions, there was so much to learn and remember. After lunch Blaine took her for two hours to learn about nature and to find the peace and awareness that reconnected her soul to the world around her. Lastly, Claire would help with her religious studies. Evenings were spent either on guard, doing chores or in comfortable companionship with her new friends. She went to bed exhausted each night and as long as Blaine was close she didn't have nightmares.
It was several weeks later that the others arrived. Jerry had been busy for days, establishing an extra bedroom in what had been Joan's small den down stairs, and preparing all sorts of exotic and wonderfully smelling foods. They arrived in a modest gray sedan, just before dinner. Jerry rushed outside and embraced the man, kissing him on both cheeks and then shook the women's hand politely. “Welcome, welcome, Burhan and Rasha. We are delighted to have you join us.”
The others came off the porch and greeted the two newcomers as old friends too. Jerry placed his hand on Joan's shoulder, “Joan this is Burhan Faheem and his sister Rasha of the Heart. They're from Burlington, outside Toronto. Burhan, Rasha this is our new recruit, Joan Acton or as we like to call her, Joan of the Silver Shield”
“Nice to meet you, Rasha and Burhan,” Joan said shyly. Rasha was a beauty with smooth olive skin and huge brown, liquid eyes. Burhan was good looking too, but his faced was marred by a deep scar that ran down his right cheek to his chin.
Rasha took her hand. “We have heard of you, Joan. It is always exciting news when a new immortal joins our ranks.”
“How long have you and Burhan been immortals?” Joan asked.
“I for only three years. My brother is not an immortal. I hope he will become one when Allah calls him, but for now he is my protector.”
“And she mine,” laughed Burhan.
Jerry stepped forward. “Come in. Come in. Why are we standing outside like this? There is much for us to catch up on. Gordon, Peter, please see to their bags. This way you two. I have made all your special dishes.”
Dinner and the evening was a light-hearted, companionable affair. Rasha and Burhan had excused themselves at dusk to say their prayers, but had joined the others before Claire had said grace. “We share a common God,” Rasha explained to Joan. “The Old and New Testaments are some of our holy books and Jesus is a great prophet to us. So many of our teachings are the same as yours. We are all people of the Book.”
Joan nodded. “It is a shame that so many people are afraid of other faiths and cultures. There is so much hate and misunderstanding that is based not on truth but ignorance.”
“Yes, and faults on all sides,” Rasha sighed. “Still we will do our part in fighting for Good. That's why we are here. Jerry called for support but there are few who could come. There is trouble brewing in so many places at the moment.”
Joan nodded sadly. “Gordon has been teaching me of what we face in the world. Yet I fear our greatest test might be right here. There is a tear in the fabric between good and evil. And one of us has caused this to happen.”
The room had gone silent and everyone was looking at Joan. Joan looked around in surprise. “I…I'm sorry. I don't know where that came from. It's like I knew, but I must have just made it up.” Joan blushed deeply.
Deep in though, Jerry stared at her. “At first I thought, Joan, that you had the gift to see the future, but now I don't think that is the case. I think you are a true Seer. One who is in tune with space/time and can see moments along that endless line.”
“Me? I…I don't think so. I mean… why me?” Joan squirmed under the close scrutiny of the others. She didn't like being the centre of attention and she especially didn't like not understanding or being able to control her thoughts.
“Is there anything else you see, Joan?” Jerry asked.
“Not really, well maybe something. I don't know. It might just be my imagination.”
“What?” Jerry asked sharply.
“Brown mist. Brown mist,” Joan blurted out.
“Mist?” Jerry asked in surprise.
“Yes. Wispy, almost transparent, yet having an awareness of its own.”
Jerry rubbed a hand over his worried face. “Have you see it lately?”
Joan shook her head. She was really feeling very confused now. Words just seemed to pop from her mouth with no control. “I've never seen it in real life. It was in my dream that night though. I don't know why I know about the mist really.”
The others stirred uneasily. This was something none of them had experienced before. Was Joan mad or a remarkable Seer?”
Claire came and sat beside Joan, taking her hand. “Don't be afraid. You have been given a great gift but you haven't learned yet how to control it. That will come in time. Maybe this brown mist is a foreshadowing, a warning that Evil is near.”
“Oh no. It hangs around Blaine.” Joan put her hand over her mouth in horror. What had she done?
“So after all it's Blaine who is the traitor in our midst,” growled Peter, his hand going to his sword.
Blaine looked at Joan in shock. The pain of betrayal was obvious in her eyes. “I don't know what I'm saying! Blaine is no traitor!” Joan protested. The others had backed away from Blaine leaving her in a small, isolated circle.
“How interesting,” Jerry mused, as he rubbed his chin with his knuckle. “Blaine, do you remember telling me about seeing brown on the stairs in that London house. The night Black Shuck came.”
“A rat. I was going to put out poison.”
“Was it a rat?”
“I don't know. I just saw brown move out the corner of my eye and when I looked nothing was there.”
“And when Matilda disappeared?”
Gordon started. “Blaine, do ya not remember? She became a brown mist and whirled around the room like a hurricane.”
Claire gasped. “And when Joan defeated her on the hill, she disappeared into a muddy mist!”
Blaine nodded. She was pale with shock.
“So Matilda is keeping an eye on us through Blaine?” Peter demanded.
“I'm no traitor!” Blaine backed into the corner.
“No you're not,” Jerry said calmly. “I would trust you with our lives. Still, I fear we must be on guard. Joan's revelation explains a lot of what has happened over the years. How did the hellhounds know that Blaine was alone in this area if one of us was not in the grip of the Dark Lord?”
“Because Matilda can track Blaine!” Claire exclaimed.
Jerry nodded. “It also explains how Blaine knew before the rest of us that Matilda was attacking the other month. This bond goes both ways.”
“There is no bond!” snapped Blaine.
Jerry waved his hand for calm. “Yes, there is a bond,” he stated quietly. “And now we know, we can use it to our advantage. “Joan, why did you pick Blaine to stay with you? Was it just because you like her?”
Joan blushed. “No. I need to keep her safe. She's in danger. The monster will try to eat her and capture her soul. I didn't know that until now. I didn't know who the monster in my dream had killed.” Joan got up and went to stand by Blaine, taking her cold hand in her own. “I don't understand any of this. Things just seem to come to me for no reason. I think you need to accept what I say, but also I think it would be wise to not trust what I say as well. Am I making sense?”
“Not really,” Burhan smiled. “Rasha, what do you think? My sister has the gift of seeing into the hearts and souls of people,” he explained to Joan.
“Blaine is true in her heart and I believe that what Joan has said is also true. She believes it anyway. I suppose the Dark One could send her false ideas, but I don't think so. Joan's heart and soul are pure.”
Jerry smiled. “That's good enough for me. We need to think how we can use this information to our benefit and we must look around corners and check continually for any signs of a brown mist.”
“What do we do if we see it?” Claire asked.
“Strike and pray. I think it will take all our powers to defeat Matilda and her friends.”
Claire looked at Burhan. “Jerry, I worry for Burhan. His risk is so much greater than ours.”
Burhan raised his hand for her to stop. “Claire, I appreciate your concern, but my sister and I have agreed that I will live my life at her side so that she may fight for what is Good. I know all too well that could cost me my life. If Allah blesses me in making me immortal I will continue to fight at my sister's side. If not, I will die with honour and my sister will not begrudge me that fate.”
“A Draugar can do more than kill you,” Gordon stated practically. “It kin trap your soul.”
Burhan smiled. “If it does, I know my sister will find it and set my soul free. I know you all worry about me, but my sister and I have resolved this issue a long time ago. I might be only human, but I'm a good fighter and my sister's protector.”
Jerry smiled. “You are a brave man, Burhan. And we are very lucky to have you fighting at our side. Come, enough of this. Gordon is our road champion, let's see how our new arrivals do with Joan's remote truck.”
Some hours later, Blaine came in from changing in the bathroom to find Joan already in bed reading.
“Are you angry with me?” Joan asked.
Blaine shook her head but said nothing.
“You are, aren't you?”
“I'm not a traitor. I would have killed Matilda if I'd had the chance.”
Joan slipped out of bed and wrapped her arms are Blaine but Blaine remained stiff and distant. “I know that. I know and so do the others that Matilda does not have a hold on you. But Blaine, she is using you and she will hand you over to the Draugar without a second thought.”
“I'm a warrior. I've taken care of myself for fifteen hundred years.”
“I know, but this time is different. First, because you specifically are being targeted. You are Matilda's weak spot. Not Peter, you. If she can get rid of you then she becomes so much more powerful. Second, because having failed twice to get you, she has brought in other evil things to support her. And last, because I care about you. Do you think you can hold me?”
Blaine's arms wrapped slowly around Joan, first tentatively and then in a deep embrace. Joan reached up and planted a gentle kiss on Blaine's lips. They held on to each other for a long time, sharing gentle kisses and the release of being close. Blaine kissed Joan again. This time the kiss was deeper and more demanding. Joan stood on her tiptoes and whispered into Blaine's ear. “Help me push both beds together.”
The day dawned stormy. Brown tinged clouds rolled low across the horizon and the trees lashed in the wind. Jerry stood at the window watching. They'd had a hasty breakfast and now stood about, warming their muscles in exercise or mentally going over their battle plan. Joan went to the bathroom and threw up. Only a few months ago her work was saving lives. Now she was going into battle against immense forces and fighting for all that was good in her world against the forces of evil. How could this have happened?
“You okay?” Blaine's voice asked from the other side of the bathroom door.
“Okay,” Joan responded before brushing her teeth and straightening her shoulders. She opened the door and Blaine wrapped her in her arms. “I'm just terrified. It's not just the fear of being hurt or having my soul ripped out, it's the fear of failing. Of what might happen to this part of the world if evil wins.”
“It is a great responsibility,” Blaine stated in her blunt manner. “It weighs heavy on all of us, but for thousands of years we've fought on, losing the occasional battle, but always winning the war. We will again. You must believe that without question.” Joan nodded and snuggled deeper into Blaine's arms.
“It's time!” Jerry called. “Remember, we hold the hill and make them come to us. Gordon, Peter, Burhan, you are to take the Hellhounds, Black Shuck and Gwyllgi. Watch Gwyllgi, he is brighter than Black Shuck and unpredictable. Joan and Blaine, you will focus on killing Matilda. There can be no mercy this time. We have tried to save her soul, but it was too late. Matilda is a link to us and to the living world. She must go and hopefully in doing so her tortured soul will be released from the clutches of the Dark One. The Draugar belongs to Rasha, Claire and I. Again, it is our job to release his tortured soul and those individuals whose souls he has captured and holds on his shield. Remember, maintain your positions no matter what. Our weakness will be in breaking our wall of defense. God be with us all.”
Several of the warriors crossed themselves, others bent their head in prayer. “God be with us. Allah Ma'ak,” the others whispered. They trooped out of the house and across the field to the high ground, drawing their swords as they went. On the hill, they took their positions to form a loose circle. Rasha hugged her brother. He looked down at her and smiled. “Insha Allah.”
Joan looked at Blaine and their eyes held for a beat. Yes, God willing.
The rain lashed at them and the wind whirled around them. The brown clouds unrolled themselves like mist across the landscape. They strained their eyes and ears for the first hint of the enemy. The howl of the wind, the tearing of leaves, the lashing of the tall grass around them and the crack of branches filled the air. Then, suddenly, came the first whiff or sulfur and rot.
“They're coming,” called Jerry. “Rotate! Hellhounds to the north, the Draugar to the south. Matilda will come over the ridge. To arms!”
Jerry charged forward and met the Draugar with a crash of swords. Claire and Rasha were right behind him. The undead, surprised by the intensity of the attack, swung madly with his sword. It was a massive blade sweeping like a propeller over their heads. As the blade swiped over him, Jerry ran forward and swung his blade to knock the shield, which imprisoned so many souls within it, from the monster's grasp. The Draugar howled and brought the shield around with such force that Jerry was sent flying. His limp body lay broken on the uneven ground. Without hesitation, Claire moved forward and tried again to knock the shield free while Rasha stood in front of Peter's prone body and blocked the sword swipes of the enraged Draugar. Distracted by Rasha, the monster was not prepared for Claire's attack. She sliced through the tendons of the monster's wrists and the massive shield fell with a clang to the ground. Claire scrambled away so not to be caught beneath it. She struggled to regain her footing on the mangled, wet ground and slid. The massive sword fell across her legs. She watched in horror as the Draugar roared in pain, dropped his sword and reached out for Rasha. Rasha dived to the side but not quick enough. The monster grabbed her by the foot and dragged her to him. Claire struggled to get free but then another ran past her to come to Rasha's aid.
On the northern slope, Peter met the attack of Gwyllgi with a flash of green blade. The monster backed up growling, blood dripping from a slice in his snout. Gordon and Burhan had blocked Black Shuck's first leap with sharp blades. They now moved towards him from opposite sides, dividing the hellhound's attention. Rasha screamed, and Burhan turned to see his sister kicking and twisting as she was lifted to the mouth of the Draugar. “No!” he yelled and ran across the hill past Claire to reach his sister before her soul was devoured. Black Shuck turned on Gordon, his foul teeth burying deep into the Scot's shoulder. Gordon gasped in pain and blackness washed over him, but he thrust up with his sword and knew with satisfaction that the blade had gone deep into the Hellhound before he fell.
Blaine and Joan waited. They could hear the battles raging on each side of them but they kept their focus on the dark, brown cloud surging up the hill towards them. Suddenly, there she was, dressed in blood red, her raven locks blowing in the wind and her sword a blade of hot fire. A gorgeous temptress, sensual and lethal.
“Blaine, it's been so long. Has your body hungered for me? Have you forgotten our passionate nights? I haven't. Come here my lover. Let me do wonderful things to you until you cry out for mercy.”
Joan stepped in front of Blaine. “You take one step towards that she-devil and I'll kill you both,” she joked.
Blaine chuckled despite the emotion that churned inside her. “Matilda, you are the Dark Lord's slave and nothing else. I have no use for you. Repent or die, Matilda!”
They charged forward, swords meeting Matilda's with sparks of flame and the flash of silver and blue. The battle raged and Joan found herself weakening. Blaine moved closer taking more of the blows than were her share until Matilda saw an opening, and slammed Blaine with the broad side of her sword, tossing her towards the Draugar. Joan screamed in anger and fear and charged forward, slashing blindly at Matilda, forcing her back. Joan knew she was hurt, knew she was working on borrowed energy but she fought on. Matilda had to be defeated. Suddenly Claire was there at her side. “Take heart. We are winning,” she called and with a swing of her sword brought Matilda to her knees.
Burhan used one hand to grasp his sister and the other to sink his blade into the Draugar's side. The monster reeled in pain and dropped Rasha. The two of them rolled away from the stench and horror but the monster recovered quickly and grabbed his sword and stabbed it through Burhan's chest, impaling him to the ground.
Peter battled on. He's been clawed and bitten numerous times but had inflected equal wounds on Gwyllyi. The massive helldog leaped forward and this time Peter dropped to his knees and thrusted his sword up into the belly of the hellhound. He felt the canine's teeth wrap around his neck and sink in. Then the jaw went slack and the beast fell beside Peter's exhausted body.
On the other side of the hill, the Draugar lumbered forward to where Rasha lay, trying to protect her brother's soul despite her broken legs. Just then, Blaine's broken body fell beside Jerry's with a sickening thump. The monster stopped, turned and lumbered over to where two fresh kills offered easier access to souls. He bent over and grabbed for Blaine but Jerry's yellow blade swung up and across with one mighty stroke, cutting through the monster's neck and sending its head rolled down the slope. Jerry reached over and shook Blaine's shoulder. “Blaine? Blaine?” The warrior moaned and Jerry fell back to the ground exhausted but relieved.
Joan's sword felt warm in her hand. Energy from the ground seemed to course through her just at the point when she thought she had nothing left to give. Silver light exploded from her sword's tip and wrapped around Matilda's body like chains. “Repent!” Joan cried. “Repent before it's too late!” But Matilda just laughed until the hideous sound was cut off in a ghastly gurgle. A brown mist evaporated in a shrill scream and Matilda was no more.
Joan staggered up off her knees with Claire's help and limped over to where Jerry and Blaine lay.
Claire laid the exhausted Joan down beside Blaine. “Jerry?”
“I will live and so will Blaine. Rasha?” he called out.
“My legs are broken. Burhan is dead,” she sobbed out. “He came to save me.”
“He died well. Ra Hemahu Allah,” prayed Peter and then repeated himself in English. “May God have Mercy on him.”
Jerry looked over to the other side of the hill. He could see Peter, soaked in blood, but struggling to pull Gordon free from the heavy body of Black Shuck. “Peter?”
“Gordon is alive. We'll both be alright.”
“Then despite our grieving at losing a great man, we can celebrate that once again evil has been defeated here today.”
Silence fell on the hill, torn apart by sword blades and claws and drenched in blood. With Matilda's death, the brown clouds and rain had dissipated to be replaced by a watery blue sky and a strengthening sun. As they lay, trying to staunch the flow of blood and regroup their energies, a sound rose that at first was the sobbing of despair and then the whimpering of hope. The Draugar's shield cracked and from it drifted the souls of so many who had been lost but were now saved. They drifted up into the heavens and the air once filled with the stench of sulphur and decay was suddenly clean and fresh.
After a time Claire, struggled to her feet and went to help Peter in carrying Gordon back to the house. Joan, dizzy and exhausted, managed to pull a dazed Blaine to her feet. Between them, they were able to help Jerry back to the house. While Joan did what she could to ease the suffering of her friends, Blaine stepped outside again and in the wild flower meadow that she and Joan had created in their training sessions, she caused a grave to form. Peter and Claire arrived back at the house again, having gone to bring Rasha back. Blaine reached out to the grieving woman. “I'll get him.” She hiked slowly and painfully up the hill and looked around at the carnage. They had won but as always the price of standing up for what was right had a heavy price. She pulled the sword from Burhan's chest and threw it aside, then lifting him on her shoulder, she struggled back down the hill. Behind her, the ground closed its farrows and tall grass grew to cover the tramped plants and pools of blood.
Later, after the living had been tended to, Claire and Rasha washed and bound Burhan's body. That evening all managed to make it to the grave side. Peter dropped into the grave and reached up to take Burhan's body from Gordon and Blaine. He gently settled it on the ground and made sure that Burhan's body was safely propped on its side and facing east. Joan and Blaine pulled Peter out and Jerry, leaning heavily on the chair that Rasha sat on, recited the Islamic words of prayer for the dead. Blaine caused the grave to close over and as they all turned away to return to the house, Joan saw poppies rising and blooming over the grave. She took Blaine's hand and gave it a squeeze. The poppies would spread with each season as would the legend of Burhan the Mortal.
They sat around the fire too tired to go to bed. Jerry had opened some cans of soup and they sat trying to warm their stomachs and hearts with the meal. There was little talk. Rasha had been brave and despite her broken legs had worked through the pain to see that her beloved brother was properly buried according to their custom. She now lay on the couch, legs in make-shift casts, watching the fire as tears formed streams down her cheeks.
Jerry sighed and leaned forward in his chair. “Rasha, the name of your brother will live on
in the hearts of the immortals. His bravery was tenfold and his heart and faith unbreakably
“He enjoys now the rewards of paradise. I know it is early for you to decide, but I want you to
know that Claire, Blaine and Joan see you as their sister and will provide the female support you
need. Peter, Gordon and I, will be honoured to take your brother's place as your protector. You
might wish to be among your own faith and people but know that we are your family and we will
respect and honour your beliefs. We hope that you will stay and be one of us.”
Rasha looked up with eyes full of sorrow and yet hope. “If you will allow me to be part of your family, I will be honoured. Burhan had the greatest respect for you all. We were raised here in North America. I am a Canadian Moslem and it is here where I belong.”
Jerry smiled. “Then that is settled.” He looked at Peter and winked mischievously and the warrior blushed deeply.
Claire got up. “Rasha can't sleep with you lot sitting about. Off you go to bed and I don't want to hear from any of you until late morning. Rasha, I will sleep down here with you until such time that your legs are healed well enough for you to climb the stairs to the bedroom we will share.”
Slowly they all drifted off, leaving their soup mugs where they sat. Things would get cleared up in the morning when they all had had time to rest. Joan and Blaine went to stand on the front porch. The night air was fresh and the scent of sweet grass was on the breeze. “This is where it all started for me,” Joan said. “Right here when I saw you and the hellhounds in my headlights. We were meant to be.”
Joan turned and smiled at Blaine. “And that is for eternity and don't you forget it, warrior!”
Blaine wrapped Joan in her arms. “I wouldn't have it any other way.”
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