Читать онлайн "A Midsummer Tempest" автора Андерсон Пол Уильям - RuLit - Страница 10

 
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She wrenched her glance from side to side and answered wretchedly, “Save in mine honor.”

“Not one of us will touch you other than as a brother.” Will made a chuckle. “We’ll be too chased.”

“I mean the duty that I owe my guardian… and my religion—”

“Rupert has his own.”

“And I have Rupert, if he does not me…” Jennifer flung back shoulders and head. Light flashed along her hair. “So be it, Will Fairweather, blessed man!” Her words clanged. “Quick, tell me how I may fulfill thy plan.”

“Let’s go inzide tha church to talk o’ this, that none may zee us an’ think aught amiss,” he suggested. “At best, tha road we tread be dangerous to England an’ to Rupert an’ to us.”

She nodded and led him through the arched doorway.

VI

Outside the manor. Night.

A full moon frosted darkness of house, town, and ruins. More brightly it covered river, trees, grass that had begun to sheen and glimmer with dew, cropped fields, forest crowning the northern hills. The sky arched less black than gray-blue; the stars therein were shy. Air beneath was cool, barely astir, hushed save for the purling water.

Jennifer, stooped to keep a hold on the neck of either hound, saw a thing like a thin serpent writhe from under the battlements of the left tower, forth across Andromeda before it fell and was lost in the murk. She drew an uneven breath. The dogs sensed her dread. One whined, one rattled his chain. “Hush, ye,” she whispered frantically. “Repay what ruth I’ve shown with silence.”

A new blackness thrust out. Rupert slid from his window to earth. Crouched, he hauled on one of the twin strands down which he had come until the entire rope—which he had passed around some piece of furniture—lay at his feet. He moved toward Jennifer cautiously, not to alarm the hounds. Meanwhile he coiled the line around his shoulder like a bandoleer. Once more he was clad in the rough garments and high boots of war.

Moonlight made the girl and him silver and shadow. She cast herself into his arms. He hugged her hastily.

A dog growled. She broke free, though her fingers stroked his hair as she did, and spent a minute bent, soothing the animals. Rupert stood above, his whole body aquiver. Eyes and teeth gleamed in the face he turned heavenward, horizon-ward. “Free, free,” he breathed in glory. “The padlock taken off the world.

God’s death, I’ll suffer mine ere caged again.”

Jennifer rose, took his hand, led him over the drawbridge. None troubled to raise it at night or post human sentries, after the Cavaliers were driven off. The weed-darkened moat lay like a pit beneath. They had gone a few hundred yards when Rupert deemed it safe to speak. “Thus far I’ve heeded every word… thou… wrote,” he said slowly. “But’tis not right to further hazard thee. Go back within. I’ll fare on overland and think no prayer that does not hold thy name.”

Under the hood of her cloak, he could barely see her head shake. “Thou canst not go alone, afoot, unarmed.

I am to take thee to a place I know from household pleasure trips, off in the wood. There we will find the helpers that await thee.”

“What helpers?”

“Save for him I scrawled about, I do not know—am more than half afraid to guess their nature—Oh, but’tis thy life!” Beseechingly: “And Rupert, if thou owest me any thanks, grant me these few more hours to be by thee.”

The colorless luminance could not show whether he flushed; but he stared at the ground. “Thou’rt being very reckless, Jennifer,” he warned, “in more than one way.”

Her answer was firm. “Nay, my dearest dear. Since I have taken this resolve to risk not only life but maybe hell for thee, my recklessness would lie in hanging back from word as deed.” She drew breath. “We’ve miles to go. Let’s stride.”

The forest.

Moonlight splashed silently on leaves, streamed down white flanks of birch trees, flowed undergroundishly in the gloom of oaks but fell at last from it to dapple the earth. There mushrooms and anemones peeped through those blankets the years had drawn over themselves when they grew old. A fallen trunk glowed blue. The air was warm, heavy with odors of soil and growth.

Oberon trod forth. A spider-woven cloak swirled from his shoulders; crystals flashed across his tunic, or were they dewdrops? He raised a horn to his lips and winded it. The call went searching down the corridors.

Again he blew, and again. Firefly twinkles came bobbing among bough and boles. They shone every tint in the rainbow, and as soft. When they were near, it could be seen how each was a gleam in the upraised palm of one who bore the shape of a tiny human—though too beautiful to be truly human—flying on moth-wings.

Oberon lowered the horn. “Ho, Faerie folk!” he cried. “Where’s Queen Titania?”

The swarm flickered and weaved about him. After a while the breeze-voice of a female answered: “I lately flitted past, Lord Oberon, and heard her say to Puck she’d fain begone, if he would be her company and guide and saddle two swift night-winds for to ride southward and south, in flight from poisoned town, blowing through goodfolks’ dreams like thistledown, to seek our loved, abandoned home in Greece and scout if we might there at last find peace from Turkish curses—not be driven forth again to this now likewise wretched North—”

“My Petal,” Oberon sighed, “if I let thee have thy way, till dawn thou wouldst rehearse what we well know.” His tone grew urgent. “I’ve instant need of Queen Titania. Go, everyone, disperse in search of her, till she’s been overtaken and fetched back to meet me at the ancient standing stone.” Grimly: “There is no hope in Greece, or anywhere, if we forsake this sorely stricken isle, for the disease will gnaw behind our heels, ail ways around the globe, and meet itself. Nay, we must make a stand while it is small. Our chance of victory seems smaller yet—but I have taken omens and cast spells, and sensed a destiny within two men whom I’ve contrived to bring here.… Be you off!”

He shouted the last words, and waved his staff on high. The starfire at its tip flashed briefly brilliant. On a sudden wind, which moaned among the branches, his elven subjects scattered from sight.

The Observatory tower.

A trapdoor swung back and Sir Malachi Shelgrave climbed out onto the roof. Beneath the moon, he scarcely needed his lantern. Perhaps its yellowness tempered for his vision the icy lucency around.

Shelving it on a wall of his instrument shack, he opened the door to that and piece by piece brought forth telescope, quadrant, astrolabe, bronze-and-crystal celestial sphere, worktable, calipers, books, charts, notepaper, inkhorn, quills… Last was a pendulum clock, always kept going. Before he wound up the weights, he put spectacles on his nose in order to compare the time shown on a watch he took from the wallet at his belt.

Nigh midnight. Witching hour, he thought, and shuddered. / almost envy the superstitious Papist with his cross. But nay. A sign or idol is no shield.’Tis grace of God, conferred on righteousness, holds off the prowling demons of the dark.

He dropped to his knees, raised face and folded hands, and spoke in a voice made shrill by pain: “God of my fathers, I, a stumbling sinner, implore Thy mercy. Thou, omniscient Only, seest hell’s corruption roiling in my breast. Such filthy things as snigger in my sleep, to bring me gasping wakeful and… still haunted—” His neck bent downward, his fists punished the stone roof. “Why can I not forget those youthful years I spent astray in hell’s dank, stinking wilds, drank, gambled, swore, poked into hairy caves, until that night my dying father’s curse blasted away the scales upon mine eyes? Did not the Lamb’s pure blood then drown old Adam? Why has that corpse so often left its tomb, these past few years, to smirch with rotten fingers my thoughts—aye, even when my niece sways by—”

     

 

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