Looking for previous episodes of “A Cold Spring?” Start HERE with a pdf of episodes 1-8 and a post of episodes 9 and 10.
In the ensuing years, Aunt Clarissa and I discovered many of our kin whose wits had not been so muddled with wine or so shocked with disbelief that they could not escape the carnage of Old Highmoor Castle. Still and all, better than two thirds of both the Darkmores and the La Croixs perished that night. The survivors scattered to the four winds, animosities forgotten in the struggle to stay alive without the strength of numbers in a hostile, witch-hating world.
Slowly but surely, Aunt Clarissa gathered the Darkmore survivors together in an organized but widely-scattered family once again. Lucia’s curse spun a web of fear and mistrust. We did not meet in large numbers; we did not seek out the La Croix survivors who, like the Darkmores, gradually reconnected; we concealed our true natures; and we did not returned to Highmoor Province, the scene of the massacre.
I can’t say exactly when I fell in love with him. . .
I didn’t meet a La Croix in person again for over nine hundred years when Maddock approached Aunt Clarissa and me in broad daylight at a Parisian bistro. Though he’d grown from a mischievous scrawny boy to a tall, devilishly attractive man, his sparkling blue eyes, raven-black hair, and the shimmer of magic marked him as a La Croix.
I can’t say exactly when I fell in love with him, or if I’d been in love with him for all those long centuries since the Time Before. At first, I didn’t dare tell Aunt Clarissa, but Maddock said he wouldn’t add intrigue to an already overly-dramatic family history. So he formally asked for my hand while I stood by feeling like a hunk of meat on the chopping block. Aunt Clarissa knew I would do as I pleased—she expected no less of me, in fact—but she seemed to appreciate the gesture.
They did not intend to be caught unawares again.
Maddock and I dreamed we could salvage the old alliance and begin anew. We returned to Highmoor Province and built New Castle Highmoor. After months of planning, we sent invitations to Darkmores who lived in every corner of Europe and La Croixs who tended to congregate in the West. To our relief, replies were quick and abundant.
The culmination of our efforts at last came to pass. I looked across the throng of guests, listened to scattered bits of conversation. Accents and inflections, manners and gestures—familiar but now remote images in a half-forgotten dream. I recall how happy I felt and how confident in the future.
“To think,” I squeezed Maddock’s hand, “this all started because we chose to visit the same restaurant on the same day.”
Maddock, knowing my thoughts better than I, kissed my cheek. “It was fate, my dear. Even if I hadn’t recognized Aunt Clarissa, I would have known who you were. Your green eyes marked you as a Darkmore as did your imperial manner. I watched you both for the longest time, getting up my courage to speak.”
“We’ve all been looking over our shoulders for a thousand years. . .”
“She knew you were there. She went on point exactly like Uncle Osran’s spaniels and told me a La Croix was watching us. All I felt was a prickle on the back of my neck, but Aunt Clarissa . . . “
He chuckled and sipped his wine. “We’ve all been looking over our shoulders for a thousand years, jumping at shadows, expecting Lucia to pop out of a trap and finish us off. Look at them. They’re putting on a brave front, but they’re frightened out of their wits to be here together.”
The older members of our families hid behind ceremony and manners. A flutter of oriental fans, a tilt of perfectly coifed hair, an elegant eyebrow lifted here, a polite smile there. But I felt their wariness. Some wore iron rings and bracelets—pure protection and grounding. I sniffed the scents of amaranth and asphodel, benzoin and burdock root used as protective perfumes. Many a gown sparkled with amethyst and hematite. The entire gathering glowed with protective witchery. They did not intend to be caught unawares again.
The younger guests eyed each other furtively and drank copious amounts of liquor. To them, the legend was a bed time story. Finding themselves so close to the reality of the event made them nervous.
That’s all it is, I told myself.
Just a residual tremor, a memory of horrible deeds—nothing more.
High above the castle, a waning moon rose in the indigo sky. The silver bell announced dinner, but Maddock and I trailed behind the chattering laughing crowd as they moved toward the grand dining room.
Maddock pressed a small smooth object into my hand. “I found it along the shore this morning. It reminded me of you.”
“A witch stone.” A cold, black sphere perched on my palm, perfectly round with a hole completely through the center. I held the bauble to my eye, winking at him through the chink. “But you know many witches besides me.”
He wrapped my fingers around the orb. “It’s a lodestone, a natural magnet. At least one element finds it absolutely irresistible. You draw me to you like this stone draws iron.”
“Then this stone will ensure you always find your way to me––no matter what.”
“No matter what.” He kissed me chastely as befits an occasion when a number of skeptical relatives look on, but the strength of his hands, the warmth of his arms, the smell of the sea in his black hair, and the taste of his lips promised something more once dinner was over and our guests departed.
His hand in mine, we followed the crowd into the dining room.