First she loses her parents, and then she loses everything else. Eleanor, a timid orphan, has no clue to her real purpose, no idea of the true power of her songs and she is horrified to discover she must defeat and inter-dimensional being with nothing but wits and instincts or become his accomplice in the destruction of all she loves.
With extra straw for the floor and a few candles slipped to her by Sister Elizabeth, Eleanor made the small broom closet that now served as her bedroom as comfortable as possible.
A soft knock sounded on the door, and Eleanor quickly wiped her eyes. She felt as though they were full of grit, and her throat hurt.
She drew the door open a crack and saw Audrey’s stern face before her. Audrey pushed her way in and flopped down on the straw mattress. Eleanor propped herself against the stone wall, not caring that the cold damp burrowed into her back.
The candles burned low, but Eleanor could see that Audrey was still angry with her. Her lips were tight, and there were two red spot on her otherwise pale cheeks. But she also knew that Audrey was dying to find out what happened.
“I couldn’t believe it when Elizabeth told me,” Audrey said. “To suffer such humiliation in front of everyone must have been awful.”
Eleanor had a sneaking suspicion that Audrey was enjoying this. “Those two are curs,” she continued, shaking her head. “Edward is a prince?”
Eleanor grabbed a lock of hair. She twisted it around her finger until it hurt. She did not feel she could speak of it without wailing uncontrollably. She deflected Audrey’s question. “Are you still angry with me?”
Audrey nodded vigorously. “I am, but I shall put that aside. Tell me every- thing that happened. In order and leave nothing out.”
Eleanor felt like an old woman, used up and tired. She sighed and tears threatened
again. “It was awful. I cannot tell you. All this time, why did he say nothing?” Audrey leaned against the wall. “I don’t know. But, of course, it explains why they could not go with us.” Eleanor’s head snapped up. She hadn’t thought of that. “Perhaps he does
love me, then?” Audrey grabbed Eleanor by the shoulders. “Eleanor, he’s a prince. He cannot love you. It would not be allowed.” Eleanor dropped her face into her hands and moaned. She felt Audrey’s arm around her shoulder, but it gave it her no comfort. She had not wanted to face this truth. She had fantasized that it was some elaborate joke, and he re- ally was just Edward, the boy from the forest, her best friend. The idea that she would never see Edward again paralyzed her.
“John is no better.” Audrey paused and her voice held no taunt when she continued. “I do not wish to say, I told you so.”
“Then do not.” Eleanor sat up straight and brushed her tangled hair from her eyes. “How could he do this to me?”
Audrey shrugged. “Lies roll off the tongues of men as easily as kisses. Well, they didn’t actually lie, but they didn’t say anything either, which is just as bad.”
Eleanor gripped Audrey’s hand. “Has John kissed you?” Audrey shrugged. “Maybe.” Eleanor released Audrey’s hand and slapped her arm, her pain momentarily
forgotten. “When? Where? How? Where was I? Why did you not tell me?” Audrey blushed a deep red and could not meet Eleanor’s gaze. “It only happened once behind the apple tree. We’d been playing with Bella, and she got tangled in my legs. I tripped and John caught me. He just did it. Quick like.”
Eleanor hit her again. “What did you do?”
Audrey slapped Eleanor’s hand away. “I slugged him and pretended it never happened.”
“Oh, Audrey. That is so romantic.” Eleanor inhaled sharply and stopped. Her face crumpled. “I suppose that is why Edward has never kissed me.”
“John has loved you always. There is nothing to stop him from marrying you. But Edward knew we could never be together. He behaved properly in that respect.”
Audrey jumped up and flapped her arms about. “Are you mad?” Eleanor’s cheeks stiffened. “Edward didn’t want to give me false hope.” “No,” Audrey said, “you did that for yourself.”
Eleanor drew a sharp breath. Perhaps Edward’s father has ordered him to marry. Maybe he was there to take her to the castle and Mother Superior stopped him? The thought made her groan out loud. She was being ridiculous. “Edward shall have to marry a princess, and soon, no doubt.”
Audrey nodded grimly. Eleanor sat perfectly still. Of course, there was no other ending to this tale of woe. Even if Edward did love her, his destiny was to rule, with a beautiful queen at his side not a peasant girl.
Eleanor’s skin prickled, and she shuddered. What a foolish and naïve thing she was. She stood and pulled Audrey up. “We cannot stay here.”
Audrey hugged her. “Finally!” “I am so sorry I hurt you.” Eleanor clasped Audrey hand. “I have been foolish.” Audrey nodded. “I have everything prepared. We can go tonight.” Eleanor stepped back. “So soon?” “We have no choice. Mother Superior plans your permanent incarceration as we speak.” Eleanor scooted sideways. She did not want Audrey to see the fear on her face. This place, bad as it was, had been her home for ten years. Her father, a strong and capable man, had left and been swallowed up by the world. What would happen to two girls?
Audrey laid a hand on her shoulder. “Are you scared?”
Eleanor nodded. Audrey would always be more brave than she. That was just how it was. Audrey gently twisted Eleanor to face her. Audrey’s big green eyes bore into hers.
“Listen to me,” Audrey said. “There will be no turning back. No crying at the hoot of an owl in the dead of night. Understand?”
Eleanor nodded solemnly.
“I have a new plan,” Audrey said. “We’ll sell that comb as soon as we can and get us some horses. You will grow food for us to barter.” She pulled her slingshot from the rope she wore as a belt. “I will protect you. We can do this.”
Eleanor released a shuddering breath. Edward had set her free even though she did not wish to be. It broke her heart, but it also allowed her to contemplate something she never would have before. “I want to search for my father. Or, at least, try and find out what happened.”
This time it was Audrey’s turn to nod. “Deal.”
“Come on, boy, before the sun sets.” The king appeared tired, and he shifted about in his chair.
Edward needed a moment to slow his pounding heart. He knew what his father’s reaction would be to his announcement but Edward was convinced he could put forth a convincing argument. “I wish to marry.”
The king squinted at him sharply, and then nodded sagely. “Good, good. I was married a year younger than you are now, but then, I had been betrothed from the age of ten. We will cast about for a suitable bride. I think Lord Grimley has a young daughter. She is but fourteen, so we will wait a year, but we can approach him now. Well done, lad. I did think I would have to force the idea upon you.”
Edward wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. He could not lose courage now. “Father, you misunderstand me.”
“How so?” “I have already found the girl I want to marry. I love her.” The king chuckled. “I haven’t seen you in the company of a female, let alone seen you talk to one long enough to fall in love. So, which lord will I be delivering the good news to?”
Edward wished the floor would swallow him up. The happiness on his father’s face nearly made him abandon this course of action, but the thought of not seeing Eleanor was unimaginable. His determination steadied him, made him brave. “Her name is Eleanor. She lives with the nuns at the abbey. She… she’s an orphan.” He held his breath.
The king’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward on his chair. “What is the meaning of this, boy?” His voice was calm, but there was a wild look in his eye. Edward spoke as quickly as he could. The story of how he had met Eleanor and the years they’d spent together as friends spilled from him. He did not pause until he came to the part where Mother Superior was to make Eleanor a novice and he was to save her.
The king sat back and regarded him calmly. “No.” His voice was matter of fact and calm.
Edward’s head reeled back as if he’s been struck. Surely, his father did not mean that. He had not explained it properly. He would try again, be logical and to the point. Instead, his words came out like an angry child. “But I love her.”
“We will not discuss this ever again. The girl has bewitched you. I forbid you to see her again. Trust me, lad. You will not give this stray another thought once you are properly married. I will inform John that you are not to ride to the abbey. We will go to see Lord Grimely tomorrow and that is that.”
Edward’s stomach churned. Why could he not speak? His words choked him, and he felt like vomiting. “Father, please. You don’t understand. She can help us.”
The king waved him away. “Leave me now. I am disappointed in you. You know better.”
Edward stood, paralyzed for a moment, a million thoughts tumbling in his head. And then they stopped tumbling and crystalized into an intractable decision. He would marry Eleanor whether his father approved or not. He bowed and quickly strode from the room. The anger he felt was like a hot poker in his side but his mind was made up. He was truly his father’s son and just as stubborn and the decision had been surprisingly easy to come to terms with.
Lerion grew impatient. Yes, he could survive here, but if he had to stay for too long, he would surely go mad. He must seize the first opportunity he got to remove the Second Vibration from the girl and then find the Third Vibration. He wanted to leave this hideous place for good. How could Tsera have believed that those created to live in this density would understand the gift they had been given–the true power of music and its vibrational force? Only the initiated Singers had an inkling of its true power, and so he’d needed to eradicate them first. He was glad he had ex- pressed his view on the matter to Tsera. When he won, she would be prepared for his next actions.
Yet, what she had done was unsurpassed. Even if he won, would he be capable of the caliber of work needed to honor M.E.G.? Divine sound was the cause of all creation. Those who understood the mystery of the Three Vibrations understood the mystery of the universe. That was going to be his job and his alone.
He had created a stronger set of vibrations to work with, seven tones with infinite possibilities for creation, and yet, Tsera still far out stripped him with her accomplishments. The familiar anger rose inside him, and he shivered. She had forced him to challenge her. If she had not been so wasteful, he might never have needed to challenge her. That he was here, suffering this infernal disconnection, with no access to his true power, was all her fault.
Deep down, he knew Tsera was the more talented one, a fact he admired and resented her for in the same breath. Still, no matter how talented she was, he believed that the beings she created to exist in the third density were inca- pable of full evolution and he had such wonderful plans for the vibrational sequences their demise would free up.
His plan was clear. Find where Tsera had hidden the Third Vibration and start over with a clean slate. He would create perfection. His every breath would become matter. He would use the power of the seven new tones he had developed, a power that would remain the province of the activated beings of his world.
Lerion never stopped dreaming of the moment when he would control everything. He quivered. It was all he ever wanted, and he was getting close. He could feel it. But he must remain cautious. He must be sure of the questions. Firstly, how was it that the girl held the last of the frequency? She was uninitiated. Would she continue to exist when he removed the frequencies Tsera had seeded within her?
A sudden and sobering thought caused a glitch in the flow of his frequency. Had Tsera created this child with a different configuration than the others? Had she made her appear to be like them? Lerion could feel that she was not.
What if Tsera had planned this long before he had won the honor of competing against her? What if the child held a secret, a way of defeating him? Why had he assumed the contest would be even and fair?
He brought his sudden fear quickly under control. When he captured her frequencies, he would capture and destroy her as well. If the girl were part of Tsera’s plan, the answer would be revealed soon. He might as well get to work. He needed an army. An army to mine every jewel and crystal, every stone that might contain the treasure he sought. It had been terribly hard work to create the small but useless version of creature he had named grodent. That Lalycri had used them in her teas amused him no end. However, they were merely a prototype. He needed a larger and more useful version, and he set about the grueling task. Lerion moved closer to the hard rock that surrounded him. He pressed his cheek to the rock and breathed out, letting a soft deep tone escape from his throat. The rock in front of him vibrated and crumbled to the ground. He stepped back and picked up the crumbled rock. He manipulated it in his hands, breathing on it once again. The tone that emerged from his throat was, this time, harsh and hideous and ugly. He threw the rubble into the air, and the sound emanating from him grew louder and stronger.
The creature he now sang into existence formed in front of him. The rock shaped into a skeleton, then muscle and blood vessels and finally a covering of short wiry fur. The last to form were wings. The larger grodent had no feathers, just a thin glutinous membrane that covered them.
The creature stood up on its hind legs and spread it’s wings. Lerion smiled. It was tremendous. Its teeth and claws were longer and sharper than his last effort. It drew a breath and let out a howl that reverberated through- out Lerion’s lair.
These large grodents still had no eyes, but it could hear and its sense of smell was so keen, it could smell the difference in the jewels they would now mine for him. He stepped back and surveyed his work with a critical eye. The thing before him was perfect.
The newly born monster spread its wings and hissed. “I am grodent. You are Father.”
Pride well up within him. He knew full well this emotion was a base use of energy, but he could not help himself. It was time to get to work.
“It’s time to go,” Audrey whispered.
Eleanor looked around the large room where the children slept. Most had been here only a couple of years. She wondered if they still had nightmares like she had, and she hoped they were not lonely. She’d tried to make their lives easier by making herself available to mediate their fights, kiss their skinned knees, and give them hugs before they slept. Leaving them hurt.
She could only pray that those at the castle showed them kindness and did not work them too hard, for they were still so young. She smiled ruefully to herself and gazed at their beautiful faces. She certainly would not miss the endless chores she and Audrey performed each day. Their only respite had been the garden. And the boys.
The thought of Edward made her heart lurch, but she quickly steeled her- self. She would not allow herself to think of it. He had betrayed her and that was that. She gazed at the sweet sleeping faces again. At least these children had somewhere to go now.
In the past, those who had nothing to offer the abbey, girls and boys alike, had been made to leave on their sixteenth birthday. Mother Superior felt her job was finished at that age, and they could fend for themselves. Year after year, Mother Superior sent terrified young people to face the unknown with only a new cloak and a shilling. Eleanor had always seen to it that they had food as well. She would quickly hand an overflowing basket to the unfortunate lad or lass just before one of the nuns shut the gate.
The other nuns did not approve of this premature emancipation but could say nothing for fear of reprisal. Eleanor sighed heavily. Thank goodness, these children would be safe at the castle instead.
“Wake the children slowly so they don’t get a fright,” Audrey said. “We need to work quickly.”
Eleanor woke them gently and shushed them when they rubbed their eyes and made sleepy protestations. Audrey stepped in and explained that it was a game and they quickly fell in line. Eleanor had smuggled Bella upstairs earlier, and when she bleated, the children covered their mouths and giggled.
Audrey grinned. “Quiet.”
She showed them how to remove the sheet from their beds and, one by one, Audrey and Eleanor tied the sheets together. Eleanor wound the first sheet around the bedpost closest to the window. This particular window had lost its glass years ago from some childish rough housing and had never been replaced. Mother Superior felt the cold was an appropriate punishment, even though the children that perpetrated the crime were long gone. She hated the coughs and colds, and especially the runny noses that were rife, yet still re- fused to have the glass replaced.
Eleanor smiled warmly at the little bodies huddled together on the bed. It nearly broke her will. Who would feed them? Did the castle have enough or would they go hungry? Eleanor’s smile dropped from her face and she wondered how they would get on without her.
Audrey studied her, lips pursed, hands on hips.
Eleanor tugged at her hair. “I’m not having second thoughts. Well, I am a bit. Look at them. They need me.”
“Everybody needs you. That is the point. If what you heard was true, the children will be well taken care of at the castle. Edward would not let them be mistreated. That I do know.”
Eleanor nodded. “Yes, of course.”
Their trusting little faces beamed at her. It brought tears to her eyes, and she quickly wiped the moisture away. She must stay the course.
“Do as I say,” she said softly. “When Bella, Audrey, and I are safely on the ground, outside the walls, you must pull the sheets up and put them back on each of your beds. The older children must help the young ones. Do you understand?”
The children nodded.
Audrey stepped in and directed her gaze at the two eldest boys. “Say nothing of this. You did not see us or hear us. We simply vanished as far as you are concerned. Make sure the little ones stay quiet. Tell them it was a dream.”
The two boys nodded solemnly. Audrey was their hero, the way she could climb a tree and shoot at crows from the highest branches.
Audrey grabbed Eleanor firmly by her shoulders. “Right. I’ll go first so I can catch you when you fall.”
This sent the children into fits of giggles, which made both girls, laugh as well. Eleanor tried to shush them, but they were having too much fun. When she finally got them settled, the enormity of what she and Audrey were about to do overwhelmed her. To hide her fear, she gave each child a hug and kiss. Audrey understood but could not hide her impatience.
Audrey wagged her finger at the boys. “Remember what I said. This was a dream.” She waved to Eleanor. “Now! We must be off.”
Eleanor pulled herself away from the wiggling little bodies and went to the window. Audrey already hung from the sheets.
“Are you sure it will hold?” Eleanor asked.
Audrey gave a little tug to the sheet she held. “Seems to be holding tight. Watch the way I do it, then wrap Bella up and lower her down. You must fol- low quickly.”
Eleanor nodded. Audrey moved effortlessly down the homemade rope. She was safe on the ground in no time at all. Bella was strangely quiet on her way down and once the little goat was safely on the ground, Audrey waved to Eleanor to commence her descent. Eleanor faced the children once more to see the assembly of serious little faces staring at her. She said nothing but gave them a small wave. Silently, they waved her goodbye.
She climbed onto the ledge and held on as tightly as she could. She copied the way Audrey had planted her feet against the wall and, hand over fist, had confidently worked her way to the ground.
Eleanor found it slow going. As she inched her way down, her arms quickly lost strength. But she knew she must continue. If she fell now, from this height, she would injure herself or worse. She must make it to the ground in one piece. She gritted her teeth and continued to inch her way down, but her arms began to throb.
She heard a yelp from below. She stopped. She couldn’t look down to as- certain its origins. If she looked down, she would get dizzy and fall.
Sweat formed on her brow and ran into her eyes. “Audrey.” Her whisper was desperate. “I cannot hold on. Are you there?”
Her arms gave way. The freezing night air rushed past her ears. Unless Audrey broke her fall, she would break her neck. However, in the space of one second, a sense of calmness overcame her. For one second, she did not care if she met her demise. The death of her mother, the years of worry about her father, and Edward’s shocking betrayal had made her tired. For one second, she knew she would miss Audrey and Bella when she was dead.
Then, someone broke her fall. They both crumpled onto the ground, and though Eleanor was badly winded, she was unhurt. A strong pair of arms held her tightly. She was safe.
“Are you alright?” It was Edward. Her eyes snapped open and she sucked in a huge gulp of air. Joy shot through her, but the memory of his betrayal quickly followed.
She stiffened. “Let me go!” Edward simply held her more tightly. “No.” Eleanor twisted her face away and struggled for release. She refused to look at him. But she found herself confronted by the sight of Audrey and John kissing passionately, Audrey’s back pressed up against the stones of the abbey wall. She let out a grunt and wriggled harder. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and kicked out. “I am not one of your servants. I said let me go!”
Edward lifted his chin and did not loosen his grip. “I cannot.” Eleanor slumped. She didn’t have the strength to fight. “Why not?” “You might run into the night and I might never see you again.” Eleanor squirmed determinedly, but Edward was strong, a fact that secretly pleased her. “And why, pray, would that matter? You are a prince and I am a peasant. Those two things do not go together.”
Edward drew her in tighter. “And yet, this prince and this peasant belong nowhere else.”
She held her breath. His lips were much too close to hers, and her heart beat furiously within her chest. His eyes sparkled in the light of the full moon. Eleanor became still. Edward pressed his lips to hers and kissed her for the longest time. A kiss that showed her their future. A throat being cleared brought Eleanor back to the awareness of the cold night that surrounded them. They peered up to see Audrey and John grinning foolishly. Eleanor and Edward jumped to their feet. Eleanor shivered slightly. She felt shy and deliriously happy at the same time. Audrey kept touching her lips, and Eleanor couldn’t keep the grin off her face.
John slapped Edward on the back. “Sunrise is…but a few hours away.”
Edward reached for Eleanor’s hand and with his head, motioned for John and Audrey to leave them alone. “There is something I must do first.”
Audrey picked up Bella, and she and John hurried toward a carriage waiting down the road. Edward went down on one knee, and Eleanor thought her legs would give way. She held her breath. From the pocket of his soldiers’ uniform, he removed a gold ring. It was thick and perfectly smooth. Eleanor gasped.
“This ring was my mother’s,” Edward said. “She would have understood, as my father does not. I wish to marry you. I care not what my father says.”
The cold night air pressed against her face. Eleanor expelled the breath she held, and then she pulled her hand from Edward’s. Her heart beat fast. It was a fool’s dream and she had been a fool to dream it. She’d assumed he’d come with his father’s blessing, but he did not and that meant nothing had changed. She would not allow herself to entertain hope only to have it be snatched away when Edward’s father discovered what he had done. “No.”
Edward stood slowly and pressed his lips together. “I don’t understand? I’ve given up everything for you.” His voice sounded rough and angry.
Eleanor frowned. Was he accusing her of forcing his disobedience to the king? “I didn’t ask you to give up anything for me.”
Edward bowed his head. “No, I mean I wanted to.” “Your father will never allow this.” He jutted out his chin. “My father has given me no choice. I will not leave you.”
His mouth trembled ever so slightly and made him appear uncertain and vulnerable. Eleanor rang her hands together. Why did he have to make this more difficult than it needed to be? She’d accepted the truth of their situation. His drawing it out this way would only hurt them both more. “You are not listening to me. I cannot.” Edward stepped forward. “I was a coward. I know that.” His words had a desperate ring to them. “I was scared that you wouldn’t want to see me again if I told you the truth and I could not have born that. I was wrong not to reveal my true identity and I’m sorry. But I vow, from this moment on, I shall tell you everything. There will be no secrets between us, not ever.”
Eleanor could not bear to look at his tortured face and she bit down hard on the inside of her bottom lip in order to shore up her resolve. “We each have our destiny. I must go and you must stay.”
Edward scraped his hand through his hair. “Where Eleanor? Where must you go?”
Eleanor hands dropped to her side. Edward had kept his secrets, but she’d kept hers as well. She took several faltering steps before stopping and turning to face him. “It was not supposed to happen like this. Papa was meant to teach me how to fight the evils that bring this mist, the evil that stops the seasons. You saw the serpent in the garden. It wasn’t our imagination. There’s something I’m sup- posed to do, but I know not what it is. I must find my father.
Edward stepped back as if he’d been pushed. “I know where he is.” His voice had a desperate ring to it.
A chill moved through Eleanor, and her whole body stiffened. Edward looked frightened. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t make any words come out. What could Edward know about her father? Why would he have not told her before?
She started to shake. “Is he dead?”
Edward stepped forward, but she put out her hand to stop him. “Is he dead? Do you know this to be true?” she said. “Have you been sent to torment me?”
She could no longer hold in her sobs, and she sunk to the ground with her face in her hands.
“Please don’t cry. I’ll tell you everything.”