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The Perception of Shadows

Part 7-9

by tirnanog


"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies that's for thoughts…there's fennel for you, and columbines:--there's rue for you; and here's some for me."

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

Part 7

Diana didn't wake until well past noon. Darius let her sleep. The past two days had taken a heavy toll on her. After all, he reminded himself, she was only mortal, and there was good reason to be concerned about her health and state of mind. When he called her down to lunch, she looked rather pale and subdued. Her first words were an apology for what had happened last night. "I know you don't need this on top of all the other things you have to worry about," she said.

"It's over, now, and no harm done," he reassured her. "And I have had some good news. Grayson has left Europe for a while. I think you should still be on your guard, because he could have left some of his people behind who might still be a threat to you. But if you travel under an assumed name, you can probably escape them."

She seemed relieved. "I already have a new identity prepared—passport, credit cards, birth certificate. It was with the stuff I got from the hotel safe yesterday. James was a firm believer in being prepared, bless him. But I'd still like to have a memorial Mass for him before I go. Do you suppose we could call some of his friends?"

In the end, they decided to contact only the Immortals James had planned to visit while in France. Some of them had probably already heard about the death—that sort of news travels fast through the Immortal grapevine. The service was to be held the following afternoon, and a dozen or so Immortals planned to attend, among them Marcus Constantine, Grace Chandel, Rebecca Horne, the Valincourts, and Ceirdwyn. Amanda Darieux was out of the country, but Sean Burns was driving in from his chateau near Le Havre, and Brother Enrique, a Franciscan monk, was coming from St. Jerome, a monastery near Paris, and would be staying at the rectory.

"What about the Immortal who came to the church this morning?" Diana asked. "The dark, lanky one with the slouch. Did he know James?"

"No, no, it was just someone coming to confession," Darius hedged.

"Well, he must have a lot to confess. I saw him yesterday, too, when I was on my way to the hotel."

"He is a rather…troubled soul. But as you know I may not speak of what goes on in the confessional. Why did you think that he was Immortal?"

"When you live with one, you get to know the subtle little signs, I suppose. I can't always tell, but there is a certain look, if you know what I mean. Sometimes it's in the eyes, sometimes in the body language. That guy, now, he looked like he was on the run from something or someone—a marked man. I've never seen anyone look so wary or disappear so fast. I figured he was one of your students, and felt worried that Grayson might be lurking around."

The priest did not reply to this observation. "What would you like for music?" he asked, hastily changing the subject. Diana took the hint, and said nothing more about Darius' elusive friend as they finished working out the details of the service.

Brother Enrique arrived that evening shortly before dusk, bearing masses of deep red roses from the monastery. "How can you possibly still have roses at this time of year?" Diana marveled, enhaling their wonderful perfume. "These are incredible."

"I grow some in large containers and move them into the greenhouse before the frost," Brother Enrique explained. "I have a passion for roses, and would find it intolerable to do without them all winter. I am originally from a climate where they grow all year round." Diana studied his Mediterranean features and curling black hair with curiosity. He had no discernable accent to give her a clue as to his origins.

"Italy?" she guessed.

"I lived in Italy for a time," he conceded, a sly little smile on his lips. His dark eyes were inscrutable. She found herself wondering if he carried a sword. She rather suspected that he did. There was an air of mystery and danger about him that she found intriguing.

"Well, thank you so much for bringing them. Several of James' friends have sent beautiful flowers today, but I think he would have liked these best of all. Roses were his favorite. Would you mind if I took one to put in a vase by his picture? Darius and I have framed a drawing of him to put on a small table in the church during the Mass."

"Of course not. Would you like some greenery also? There are plenty of ferns here."

"Actually, I had been thinking of using something from Darius' herb garden," she said. "James knew a lot about the symbolism of herbs and flowers—he made references to them in his poems, like Shakespeare did. Darius has some rosemary, for remembrance. There aren't any pansies for thoughts at this time of year, let alone violets or columbines, but there is thyme, for courage, and rue, the herb of grace, for sorrow."

"And the rose for love, immortality, and silence. I think that will be quite appropriate. Let's go and find them, shall we, before it is quite dark."

"We'll be back soon, Darius," Diana promised, as she and Brother Enrique went out the door.

Darius watched them go, a look of amusement on his face. It never ceased to amaze him the way his friend Enkidu had with women. The 4000-year-old Akkadian seemed to project some sort of aura, or exuded a pheromone, perhaps, that worked like a magic charm on every female he came into contact with, despite the fact that he was a monk. Diana had certainly responded to him. I wonder…It might be worth a try. He resolved to speak to Enkidu privately about Diana at the first opportunity.

There are two gates of sleep.
One is of horn, easy of passage for the shades of truth;
The other, of gleaming white ivory,
Permits false dreams to ascend to the upper air.

Virgil, "The Aeneid," Book I, line 893

Part 8

After the previous two incidents in the church, Darius was determined to put an end to Diana's nocturnal wanderings. When he had spoken with Sean Burns on the phone about the memorial service, he asked his friend to call in a prescription for sleeping pills. Sean had been somewhat less than willing to oblige.

"Let me see if I have this straight. Diana Connolly is going about St. Julien at night in a delusional or a dream state carrying a three-and-a-half-foot piece of sharpened steel? And you want some sleeping pills? My dear Darius, are you out of your mind? Get her to a hospital now, whether she is willing or no. You don't have the experience to deal with this."

"It isn't as bad as you make it sound, Sean. She isn't ill, just a little disturbed. And with good reason."

"She sounds more than a little disturbed, and from what you have told me she is capable of harming herself or others. Perfect grounds for putting her in hospital for observation. You'd be doing her a favor, believe me."

"I just don't think that's warranted, and I don't want to subject her to that." Darius protested.

"All right, tell you what. I'll send you something that will knock her out for the night, and I'll drive down early in the morning, and have a look at her. If I think she needs hospital care, I'll sign the papers. You'll be off the hook."

"I don't know if she will talk to you," the priest said. "I suggested it last night, but she did not respond positively."

"Then I suggest you use your powers of persuasion, Darius. This could be quite serious, and I won't know for sure until I've seen her. Meanwhile, lock up the sword where she can't find it, all right?"

The sleeping medication had arrived at the rectory in the afternoon. Diana frowned when he told her about what he had done, but she agreed to go along with it, partly because she knew he meant well, and also because she felt she had to prove somehow that she was not a threat.

After she had taken the pills and gone to bed, he took the added precaution of locking the door to the passageway to the church, and he also locked the sword in the wardrobe in his room. Satisfied he had done all he could, Darius said goodnight to Enkidu, who was bunking in the fourposter in the study. Darius had offered him his own room upstairs, but Enkidu had insisted it was unnecessary. "Besides, if I cannot sleep, I can always find something to read," he said, gesturing towards the overflowing bookshelves that lined the walls.

Darius went to the door, but then changed his mind and turned around. "I need a favor," he said.

"If it is in my power, you know you have but to ask."

Darius told him briefly about the situation with Diana. "I want you to invite her to stay at the monastery for a few weeks, away from Paris, and St. Julien. I believe these nightmares she's been having will stop once she is in a different environment."

Enkidu looked doubtful. "Should you not listen to Sean's advice, and send her to a facility that knows how to deal with these sorts of illnesses? We are a monastery, not a mental hospital."

"She is not ill, Enkidu."

"How can you be sure of that? You are not a doctor."

Darius hesitated. Then he said in a low voice, "She is not the only one who has had this dream."

Enkidu stared at him. "You?"

"Yes," he admitted reluctantly. "It has been much on my mind of late. I believe she has inadvertently picked up on this from me. She senses things from other people quite easily, although she does not seem aware she is doing so. I think the devastating loss she has suffered may have made her more vulnerable. Once she is away from here, and from me, perhaps the dreams will stop."

" 'I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.' " Enkidu recited, with a little smile. "You have been holding out on me, old friend. So, Darius, is this something new for you, or have you always been subject to having dreams of prophecy?"

Darius looked uncomfortable. "I do not know if this is prophecy, Enkidu. In the past, I have had some dreams which might be called prophetic, although in many instances what actually happened was not exactly what I saw in the dreams. I cannot be certain that what I dream will come to pass. Often it does not. In light of recent events, I thought that my dream might have been some sort of warning about this threat from Grayson, and I had even begun to wonder if the dream might be telling me that I must go out to face him. But whatever is going on here, I do not want Diana to be a part of it. For her sake, I feel it is best to send her away, before any real harm comes to her."

"Tell me more about this dream of yours. In my youth, I was a sa'ilu, an Akkadian priest who interprets dreams. I might be able to shed some light on it for you."

Darius looked at him for a moment, considering this. "Very well," he said softly. "But what I tell you must go no further than this room."

Enkidu nodded.

"What Diana saw in her dream was merely an echo of my own, not the whole," the priest began. "Thank God for small mercies. I fear that if she knew all of it, it really would push her over the edge. But hearing parts of her dream have helped to illuminate mine, things she perceived in hers have helped clarify areas in mine that were once only shadows."

He began to pace slowly though the room, looking at the floor. "My dream begins in the church. It is morning, and I am celebrating Mass, but the church is empty and I am alone. I face the altar, and take the chalice in my hands to consecrate the wine, but as I do so, the wine becomes clear water. Then a great wind blows open the west doors, and the altar candles go out. I turn, and see a figure silhouetted against a bright light. Because of the glare I cannot see his face, but I can see that he is carrying a sword.

"He advances, raising his left hand with the palm outward, and speaks a single word—'Abomination.' From the sleeve of his coat come twin serpents of infinite length, and they leap out and wrap themselves around my body, binding me like ropes. The figure stands before me and pulls on the snake-ropes so that I fall to my knees. As I fall, the movement flings the contents of the chalice on him, and on the sword he holds. But he only laughs, and crushes the chalice beneath one foot.

"Then he raises the blade to strike. Just before the sword falls, I look up and see a blazing circle of light high above me. And I wake up, drenched in sweat, and choking back a scream."

Darius paused by the window and gripped the sill. Enkidu half-rose, thinking he needed help, but the priest shook his head, and went on. "What I did not know, until last night, when Diana told me her dream, is that the figure with the sword is a mortal. I suppose I should have guessed, since I had never felt his Immortal presence, but I think the fact that he carried a sword made me overlook that. Now that I know, it fits. Only a mortal would kill an Immortal on Holy Ground. And Diana could somehow see his face in her dream, and described him for me—a small man, with light hair and pale eyes, who looks like a banker and does not know how to fight. Now I know he is not merely a manifestation of my anxiety about Grayson, but something quite different. But I still do not know what he represents, or what the dream means, except that I die at the end of it." He looked at his friend with troubled eyes. "And the worst of it is, with only my mortal killer nearby, my Quickening will be lost. It is not so much my death, Enkidu, but the other that I fear the most."

Darius seemed somewhat shaken by the time he had finished. Enkidu found the bottle of Scotch, and poured out a double measure. After a couple of swallows, the color slowly came back to Darius' face, and his breathing returned to normal.

"So," he asked with a wan smile, "Is this a true dream from the Gate of Horn, or a false one from the Gate of Ivory?"

Enkidu's dark eyes met his unwaveringly. "I believe it is a true dream," he said. "But the interpretation of it—that may take more time. I can tell you now the symbolism of the serpents, the circle and the chalice, and I daresay some of this will be familiar to you, but to be able to say for certain what these things mean within the context of your dream is another matter. The serpent can mean evil and temptation, especially in western cultures, but it is also a symbol of divine wisdom, and of rebirth and renewal because it sheds it skin, and of watchfulness, because of its lidless eyes. It is associated with many deities, including Abraxas, the supreme deity of the Ophites, who has the body of a man, the head of a hawk or a rooster, and legs which are twin serpents that symbolize mystery and eternity. The Ouroboros, the serpent who devours his own tail, also symbolizes eternity and the repeating cycles of life, death, and rebirth. In this aspect it is related to the circle, and the wheel of being. Your dream obviously has Immortality written all over it. But why the serpents bind you for your killer I do not yet understand.

"The chalice in the Mass you are celebrating contains the wine transformed by faith into the Blood of Christ's sacrifice, mingled with water, which represents Christ's humanity. But for you, the wine becomes clear water. Like blood, water is a symbol of life, and also the source and the sustainer of life. Jung saw it as a symbol for the unconscious. Water also cleanses, and makes things pure, and holy water conveys a blessing. But in your dream, the water is spilled out, and the vessel holding it is crushed. I think here the dream may be speaking of a sacrifice, a transformation, and a loss.

"I am quite troubled by the word 'Abomination.' A strong word, and an extremely judgemental one. For anyone to use that term in reference to you, Darius, speaks of fanaticism, and a grave lack of understanding. My experiences during the Inquisition brought me into contact with many fanatics. They twist anything and everything to fit their narrow vision, and they are ruthless. If this mortal in your dream is real and not a symbol, I believe we may be dealing with a madman here, one who hates Immortals. That is really all I can say about your dream at the moment. Let me ponder this further, and consult some other references, and we will speak again."

Darius nodded. "Even if you cannot interpret its full meaning, just being able to tell this to someone who is willing to listen with an open mind has helped immensely. The burden is not lifted completely, but it feels a little lighter."

Enkidu put his arms around Darius in a warm embrace. "Cheer up!" he said. "Not all dreams of death portend a death. Sometimes they only mean a change is coming. Go now, and sleep well, my friend. The dream will not trouble you for this night."

"What about Diana?" the priest asked. "When she leaves here, she must not be alone, at least not for awhile."

"I will invite her, as you requested. But the rest is up to her. I cannot make her come with me. It may be that a monastery is not her idea of a 'dream vacation', so to speak."

"Oh, I think if you ask, she will go. You always did have a way with women, Enkidu."

"Implying that you do not? I think you underestimate yourself, old friend," Enkidu chuckled.

"What kind of thing is that for one old monk to say to another!" Darius chided, but with a little smile. "Shame on you! Now you will have something to confess before Mass tomorrow."

"Ah, but who will confess the confessor?" Enkidu asked drolly. "Off with you, now, and good night!"

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of Memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end…

T. S. Eliot, "Ash-Wednesday", II

Part 9

Sean Burns stood by the study window the following morning, looking out over the rectory garden. He had arrived from Le Havre a couple of hours ago. On this gray day, with the sun hidden by an overcast of clouds, the view was melancholy at best, chilly and uninviting. The Seine flowed by like a river of lead and a thin curtain of mist rose from it to blur the outline of the cathedral on the island. But the subject of his interest was closer at hand, sitting on a stone bench under a tree, engaged in drawing, and conversing with Enkidu.

"She doesn't appear to be ill, I must admit," he said. "Physically, she checks out all right. The bruises are healing, and although she looks a bit tired and pale, her vital signs and reflexes are normal. When we talked, her responses seemed quite normal, too. Of course, many people with severe mental disorders do a very good job of concealing them." He left the window and joined his friend at the small table where they were engaged in a chess match.

"I suppose I should know by now to trust your insight," Sean conceded. "You were probably right all along. This is to do with James. I believe she feels guilty about not being able to prevent or avenge his death, although reason tells her she could not have done either. I think she now sees you as this assassin's target because, having lost James, she is afraid of another loss, and you are the person closest to her just now. It is basically a case of self-directed anger and remorse. And it may resolve itself without intervention, over time, although counseling would achieve this faster. I also think a change of scene might help, but I doubt she would agree to come with me to Le Havre."

"No, I'm afraid not,"Darius agreed. "But I have already talked to Enkidu about inviting her to the monastery. He seemed to establish a rapport with her immediately. And St. Jerome would be a safe and quiet haven."

Sean nodded. He picked up his knight and made a bold assault, taking one of Darius' pieces. "That might work. I know Enkidu. We had some interaction once when one of the brothers at the monastery was suffering from depression. He's an intelligent man, and I trust his judgement. If he runs into trouble, he can always call on me for help. And I can give him some more sleeping pills for her, just in case she starts wandering around the monastery at night frightening the monks."

"Thanks, Sean," Darius said, looking a bit more cheerful as he completed his own move and neatly put his friend's queen in check.

The red-haired Immortal stared at the chessboard in dismay. "Thank God you gave up being a conqueror, Darius. Otherwise we'd all be in trouble."

That afternoon, everyone gathered in the church for the memorial service. Darius sang the Mass in Latin. Having been a monk during a time when Latin was the universal language of the Church, James had never really liked the vernacular Mass, believing that it destroyed the mystery of the sacraments to celebrate them in common English. Diana, sitting alone in the first row of chairs before the altar, listened to the priest's melodious baritone chanting the words, and wondered if James' spirit was present, listening. If so, she could not feel him. All she could feel was his absence. Grief had worn an aching hollow place in the core of her being, but now it lay still, like a fist-sized stone, smooth, heavy, and hard. It had only been three days since his death, but it felt longer, and James himself seemed like a distant memory, someone she had known in another lifetime. She looked at his picture, the framed drawing she had given to Darius, sitting on a small table just to one side, with Brother Enrique's rose in attendance, and a bank of floral tributes surrounding it. The eyes in the portrait looked back at her, but now they appeared reproachful. She felt guilty, as if she had somehow betrayed him by letting go, and not keeping him alive in her heart.

Behind her, she could sense the collective presence of the group of Immortals. Logically, she knew this was impossible, since she was a mortal, but en masse, it felt as if they generated a low hum, like a power station. They had all been very kind, especially Darius and Brother Enrique. Even Sean, whom she had dreaded meeting, had been the gentlest of souls. Individually they were not intimidating, but at this moment, she felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer power and weight of years they represented as a group, and she was glad to be alone up front and not among them.

Diana followed the service in a little missal Darius had lent her, one that gave both the Latin and the English translation. She had attended Mass with James on a few occasions, but hadn't paid much attention to the actual words. Now, reading them closely for the first time, she was struck by the brutal imagery contained within the communion sacrament—the broken Body and spilled Blood of Christ, the usage of the terms victim and sacrifice. With a little shock, she read a note at the bottom of one page which compared the priest's words consecrating the bread and wine to "…a sword, mystically separating the Body from the Blood." This struck a bit too close to home. She watched Rebecca, Grace, Brother Enrique, and the other practicing Catholics receive Communion, but instead of feeling left out as usual, she was relieved not to have to participate.

Finally, it was almost over. She reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a tinwhistle that had belonged to James. After Darius pronounced the final blessing, there was a moment of silence, and he glanced at her. That was her cue. She took a deep breath and began to play. The high, plaintive notes of an Irish lament echoed through the church. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, and all the Immortals stood transfixed by the haunting melody, until the last trill faded away high in the vaulting of the nave. Returning the whistle to her pocket, she rose and quietly slipped out the side door into the rectory garden. No one followed.

Darius found her there a little later, sitting beneath the ancient acacia tree, now minus all its leaves. "I think you should come in now," he suggested kindly. "The others are at the rectory. They'd like to speak with you, I'm sure."

"I was just coming," she said, but did not move.

"That was a beautiful piece you played at the end. Everyone found it very moving," he commented.

"It was James' favorite," she told him. "I don't think he ever thought anyone would play it at his funeral, but it seemed fitting, somehow. It's called 'Tir Nan Og', after the Land of the Young in Irish legend. It's supposed to be an island in the West, a Celtic Otherworld where no one ever grows old or dies. He liked to say that's where all Immortals came from in the beginning, and they would all go back there eventually. There used to be some words to it, but I can only remember a few:

'Under the golden evening light,
The Immortals moved among the fountains
By rivers and the woods' old night:
Some danced like shadows on the mountains,
Some wandered ever hand in hand;
Or sat in dreams on the pale strand,
Each forehead like an obscure star…' "

"Maybe he is there now," Darius said, trying to comfort her.

She sighed. "Perhaps. I hope so." She stood up, and let Darius escort her back to the rectory.

Diana made the rounds of the sitting room, greeting all the guests and thanking them for coming, accepting their words of condolence, hugs, handshakes, and kisses. Darius stood by the drinks table in the corner, pouring out glasses of his home-brewed mead, and watched. In a long, plum-colored silk dress, unruly hair combed, and minus a few of the more barbaric-looking earrings, she looked quite different from the boyish, jeans-and-sweater-clad creature he was used to seeing. Perhaps it was just that he was seeing her clearly for the first time. Holding the thought, he picked up the tray.

"I would like to propose a toast," he announced, moving among the guests and handing out the glasses of mead. When everyone had a glass in hand, Darius lifted his own and said, "To James Connolly. May his memory live forever." And the company, as one, raised a heartfelt assent.

This story is Copyright ©1998 by tirnanog and may not be reproduced without permission.

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