“What about this one?”
“That one does not look like yer necklace, Scarlet,” Algernon said, flipping frantically through ancient scrolls, much to no avail.
Both Algernon and Scarlet sat at the far end of Locer’s library. It had been nearly two years since the death of the Sorceress of Scotland; Scarlet had become the Lady of Locera, and Algernon’s wife. For two years, her quest for the answers to her puzzle had come up empty, and finally led her here, to the old library of Locera.
“I cannot believe we have not found anything!” Scarlet threw her hands up in disgust.
“All in due time, Scarlet, all in due time,” her husband tried to console her.
Even though he loved his wife, he had not wished for this to exceed into the quest it had become. He felt it was naught but nonsense and knew he had other, more important obligations as Laird of Locera to attend to. But, upon Scarlet’s insistence, he was forced to neglect his honorable duties and join her on her quest for the secrets of the gemstones.
“Me dear, whyever can we not quit this nonsense? We have not found any of the information we seek!”
“Nay, you are wrong, me husband. The answers are here, I can feel it!” Scarlet said, pulling yet another book from the shelf, its binding broken and pages extremely worn. Algernon sighed but continued to look through the volumes that lay in front of Scarlet.
He had ne’er known anyone like Scarlet. Aye, she was extremely headstrong and determined- two characteristics that drew him to her like a moth drawn to a firelight. Unfortunately, there be one thing that lay heavily upon his heart. They had been husband and wife for a near two years and yet he could ne’er remember ever professing his love for her. For some reason, he found it quite difficult to do. He ne’er questioned her love for him, he had no need. But being that her mind was averted to this quest for so long, he now seemed to somehow question her devotion and perhaps even her love for him.
“Scarlet, may I ask ye a question?” Algernon asked as if he was a young, shy lad.
“Wait, Algernon, I may have found something!” she cried out, leaping from the floor.
“Whatever is it? ‘Tis cannot be!” he stammered.
“But it is! ‘Tis me amulet! ‘Twas here, among all these volumes after all!” Scarlet cried with great joy.
Algernon peered at the pages of the book to which Scarlet had opened. There, upon an ancient piece of parchment paper, was Scarlet’s amulet. The answer was clearly in front of his face and yet somehow he felt disappointed that Scarlet’s “quest” would end. She always seemed at her happiest when a new lead took her somewhere else. Before he could speak, Algernon’s eyes grew wide with fear. The volume he was holding dropped to the floor, his mouth went dry and he gulped several times before he attempted to speak.
“Algernon, whatever is wrong?” Scarlet asked, puzzled.
“The pages... they be blank!” Algernon stammered.
“But ‘tis cannot be! The picture was right here a moment ago!” Scarlet cried, grabbing the book and rummaging through the pages. Every one was completely blank.
Algernon began to console his wife who had begun to weep. The book slowly fell from her hands as she wrapped her arms around him. As soon as the volume hit the floor, it disintegrated into naught but a pile of ashes. Both were taken aback and jumped away just in time to see the ashes catch fire, an obvious act of magic. As quickly as they were aflame, they were snuffed out, leaving naught behind but a darkened spot upon the floor.
“’Tis someone’s idea of a joke?!” Scarlet cried out.
“I believe ‘tis someone’s idea of black magic!” answered Algernon.
“No! ‘Tis cannot be! The Sorceress of Scotland be dead, I killed her meself!”
“Apparently her magic be still hidden within these walls,” Algernon concluded.
Scarlet became more and more frustrated as the day progressed into afternoon. She was being mocked, ridiculed, but her foolish acts. Something or someone did not wish for her to find the information she sought.
“Scarlet, ye’ve done so much searching this day. Why do we not go inside and have some tea?” Algernon tried to comfort her once again.
“Nay! I will stay here as long as it will take! If ye will permit it, I will have me tea her, in the library,” she answered defiantly.
“As ye wish, me lass.”
Scarlet could not believe her ears. For the first time in over four years, Algernon called her by a maiden’s name, a peasant girl. Even when he had kidnapped her and held her captive, she still retained her nobility when he called her a lady, one of higher stature than a poor tavern wench. Before she could question him on his use of Scottish brogue, he had retreated from the library. She was alone and saddened once again. Instead of continuing her search, she quietly stepped out the back door of the grand library and tiptoed across the meadow, so as not to be seen by any servants.
In the two years she had adopted Locera as her home, her favorite pastime had been to visit the ocean. Located in the highlands of Scotland, the closest thing to the ocean was a cliff overlooking a cove that led out to the North Sea to the east. She would race through the meadows, trying not to be heard, and sit at the edge of the cliffs, sometimes reading a book she had stolen from the library, sometimes just staring at the jutted rocks below.
This day was no different from the others. She sat, where she had always sat before, perched on a rock overlooking the steep cliff. For a winter’s day, the weather was incredibly mild, and the sun shown brightly overhead. The wind quietly billowed her fiery locks and skin-toned chemise as she sat, motionless, upon the rock.
She closed her eyes and let her senses and her mind’s eye guide her. The smell of salty air emanated up into her nostrils, tickling her throat; the waves crashed against the rocks, splashing up, and causing a light mist to fall upon her cheeks. The winter birds had begun to sing for their midday meal, causing a slight smile to appear on Scarlet’s face. She opened her eyes and peered over the cliff once more- the white-crested waves crashed down on the rocks. It truly was a paradise in itself.
“Well, well, what have we here? I see a trespasser to me cove!” a voice growled behind her.
Scarlet looked up, surprise and fear on her face. The face that stared her down belonged to her brother, Eric. His face had grown older with age, yet his pale blue eyes seemed to retain their youth. The eyes were what caught Scarlet’s attention, for they were always said to be as bright as her mother’s.
“Eric! How can this be? How can ye be before me and yet have died many years ago?!” Scarlet jumped up and embraced her brother endearingly.
“I did not die that day, Scarlet! I was left for dead on the battlefield and nursed meself back to health! Ye did not help me and neither did Papa!”
“We tried Eric, I swear to you! We tried to get to you but there be too many men on the field!” she tried to protest.
“Ye left me to die, Scarlet! Ye left me to rot in hell!” he shouted, pulling himself away from her.
“Nay, Eric! Please, let me explain!”
“Nay, there be naught to explain! Ye killed me, Scarlet, as ye did the rest of our family!”
“What?!” she exclaimed, puzzled.
“I watched you, Scarlet! I watched ye from the shadows as ye buried Papa and Lily. And I watched ye ride off into the sunset that day with the man who destroyed our family!”
“He did not destroy our family! And neither did I!”
“If it ‘twere not for you, Papa, Lily, even Mama would still be alive! Yer foolishness and poor judgment has caused the death of three of our family members! And not just any deaths, unrequited, unlawful slaughters! Now, ye will cause one more death- yer own!” Eric finished, pushing her body off the cliff, sending her plummeting to the rocks below.
As she felt herself falling, she saw her life flash before her eyes. She saw her mother and her brother lying dead on the battlefield; she saw her sister lying in a pool of blood; she saw her father gurgling on his own blood; she saw her husband taking his vows at the alter. Suddenly, a hand grabbed a hold of her wrist, pulling her mind back into reality and saving her from death. She closed her eyes tight as her body was being pulled up to the safety of the ground of the cliff.
“Honestly, Scarlet, ye need to be more careful around this cliff! Ye could get yerself killed and then where would I be- without a wife is where I’d be!” a man’s voice said.
Scarlet opened her eyes as her feet were planted on firm ground and she gazed into Algernon’s stern face. She knew she had done wrong and had been caught, but she also knew ‘twas not her fault. She had been pushed by her- her head shot past Algernon as she searched for the culprit of her fall. Her brother was no where to be found.
“Scarlet, whatever is the matter?” Algernon asked, quite concerned.
“Me brother, he was just here, pushed me off the cliff,” she stuttered.
“Come now, Scarlet. ‘Twould appear to me that ye be the only one here. ‘Twas yer carelessness that caused ye to fall from the cliff! Lucky for you, I went back to the library and saw ye run out towards the meadow!” he scolded.
“But ‘tis true, Algernon! He was here, talking to me! Then he shoved me off the edge of the cliff!”
“Honestly, Scarlet, do ye think I am going to believe that someone pushed you? Because of yer carelessness, I have been frantically looking for you, and I now have neglected me duties!”
Scarlet knew he was cross with her. His scolding tone told her she could no longer argue her point. He did not believe her words and her brother had somehow disappeared like- like magic! The realization came upon her too quickly and she almost stopped in her tracks.
“And furthermore,” she heard him continue his scorn, “You are ne’er allowed to come here to this point again! Do I make meself clear?!”
His words shot through her like a knife through her heart. ‘Twas her special place to go- a place where she had gone when she wished to be alone. Her most prized possession, her time alone, had now been taken away from her. Algernon walked away from her without turning around. He regarded her like a child, scolding her for her foolish actions.
“Algernon?” she finally broke the silence by grabbing a hold of his arm.
Without a word, he stopped walking and turned to face her. His face was stern and his eyes were naught but cold, hard orbs. He had lost the love he had felt for her, lost any feeling of hope for her quest, and he could no longer let these feelings be hid.
“Aye?” his voice shot through her entire body.
Scarlet did not have to say anything to make Algernon’s eyes turn soft. He had a right to be angry yet he did not have the right to treat her like a common peasant. As the hurtful tears began to form in her eyes, he felt he had been wrong in scolding her the way he did, like a child. Yet, he remembered, she had disobeyed his order not to wander past the meadows and had almost gotten herself killed.
“No!” he said, sternly. “Ye disobeyed me order! Now come inside, ‘tis going to rain!”
He quickly turned away and walked towards the library, disappearing among the shadows. Scarlet was hurt by his words, more than she’d even been before. She wished she had fallen from the cliff, ‘twould have definitely made her life easier. Without argument, she followed in close pursuit of her husband towards the fortress, as the rains began to fall from the sky.
Scarlet followed Algernon into the fortress of Locera without speaking a word to anyone. She felt that Algernon was a changed man- changed in a way Scarlet did not seem to understand. Without speaking directly to her, her went straight to her maidservant and gave her orders.
“Take yer mistress up to her bedchamber. Give her some tea and make sure she gets some rest. I will have supper sent up with you when it be served.”
“Aye, me Laird,” was all her maidservant replied and curtsied as she guided a bewildered Scarlet away.
Once stowed away in her bedchamber, Scarlet was stripped down to her bedgown and hurried into be. She did not wish to sleep and was puzzled by Algernon’s actions and harsh words.
“Come now, me Lady. What be the problem in yer mind? Ye look troubled by somethin’. Why don’t ye talk to Sera, me Lady?” she tried to comfort.
“Sera, ye’ve been too kind to me already. I cannot trouble ye with me problems.”
“Scarlet, I look on ye as a daughter, like one of me own. Now, tell Sera what troubles ya.”
“’Tis Algernon,” Scarlet reluctantly replied. “He has changed, Sera!”
“What, how, me Lady? He seems like the Laird we’ve always known.”
“To you and the people of Locera he has not changed. To me he be not the same man I once knew!” she began to cry at her own words.
“Do ye love him, me Lady?”
“Do ye love him?”
“Of course I love him!”
“Then does he love you in return?” Sera questioned.
“Scarlet could not answer that question truthfully. She was puzzled by Sera’s inquisition and could do naught but curl up in her bed, with the covers up to her chin. As soon as Scarlet’s head hit the pillow, she was asleep. Sera kissed her forehead before walking away.
Just before she closed the door she whispered into the room, “Get some rest, me Lady. All will be well soon.”
* * * *
Scarlet’s dream was more a nightmare than a dream. She was again there, racing through the meadow; she was again sitting on the edge of the cliff, watching the rocks below. Again, her brother appeared to her, speaking to her as he had before, yet this time his words were different.
“Scarlet, what have ye done?”
“Whatever do ye mean?”
“Ye have killed the Sorceress! Ye have killed her in cold blood!”
“Aye, what of it?”
“Ye have killed her but not her power! Her power lives within someone close to yer heart!”
“Nay, you are wrong, me brother! Her power is gone! It left when the blade pierced her heart!”
“You are wrong, me sister! Her power lives, and only I and one other knows where and how! Ye may search all of Scotland for the answers ye seek yet the answers ye will not find!”
“How can ye be so sure?! I will find me answers!”
“Nay, Scarlet, because there be two of us who hold the secrets well hidden and the only way ye will get to them is if we be dead!”
“But ‘tis impossible! You are already dead! I saw ye meself on the battlefield!”
“As I told you, Scarlet, ye left me for dead, but, nay, I was not! I be alive, well, and rejuvenated!”
“I do not understand you!”
“Melinda, the Sorceress of Scotland, still lives!”
“Ye do not make sense, me brother! The Sorceress of Scotland be dead! I killed her meself!”
“Her power lives within me! I hold the secret of the gemstones, which, if ye look carefully, have stolen from under yer feet!”
“’Tis true, me sister! Britney, yer lady-in-waiting, has stolen yer precious gemstones and has fled the fortress undetected!”
“But ‘tis impossible!” Scarlet shouted, becoming more frustrated.
“Oh but nothing is impossible when magic and sorcery is involved!” her brother laughed, a sound that echoed through her mind for the remainder of the time she slept.