Chapter 5: Memories of discussions
Five days before the dinner they were currently eating was served, Pet had continued to chuckle for several minutes as Alyx had watched her worriedly after telling Pet that Mason was their hostess’ eldest son. “How can that be, Alyx?” Pet had asked as her laughter had finally wound down once again. “She isn’t really old enough to have adult children, I don’t think...” Pet had said, sounding confused. And Alyx knew that there was still more explaining to be done.
She felt like she had been talking for hours, but that was okay; it was information that she knew Pet needed, and since there was nothing she wouldn’t give her lover, simply talking all through the hours of the night was a small enough sacrifice for Pet’s emotional comfort.
“But she does, Pet. Most of the women in her family don’t look their age, and she is going to be a century old herself in a couple more days. I’m fairly certain that he was born when she was in her early to mid-twenties, though I don’t have a timeline for the rest of her children.” Alyx had said, shaking her head. “Though, I don’t think she would object if you and he shared intimacy, my love. I don’t think he has a girlfriend right now.. and you yourself said he is cute.” Alyx had suggested playfully.
And a few seconds later, Petrova had leaned toward Alyx as Alyx had been leaning toward her, and as their lips had met, the silence had filled the room once more. But at the same time, the kiss that they had shared in that instant had been long overdue, so Alyx had known that she would enjoy it for as long as it lasted.
Within a few seconds their kiss had deepened into something that was a touch beyond heavy petting, and was rapidly leading to more as Alyx’s tongue was gently exploring Petrova’s open lips. Suddenly, as she stroked Pet’s lower lip with lips and tongue, Alyx abruptly felt something in her mind that she hadn’t felt in... it seemed like forever. And she knew that Pet had been practicing touching minds again.
And because of that, it was only with the greatest of difficulty that she had even considered pulling away from the intoxicating sweetness of Petrova’s full lips, and she knew that she didn’t want to; physical contact always made the mental contact stronger, and Alyx knew it would increase the pleasure they both felt too.
◊Alyx...◊ Pet had whispered in Alyx’s thoughts. ◊See, moya lyubov’? I found my way back in here at last.◊ Pet added in Alyx’s memories of the encounter they had shared, five days before the night that Joanna’s birthday dinner had been announced. Alyx remembered smiling against Pet’s lips where hers had been touching Alyx’s, feeling a rush of heart pounding relief rocketing through her where she had sat with her hands tangled gently in Pet’s dreamseed colored curls and gently tugging.
◊Yes, you have indeed, my love.◊ Alyx had thought, then she had gently continued in Petrova’s thoughts, ◊We should find a way to celebrate your accomplishment and your recovery, but I thought you wanted to know about Reggie.◊
“That can wait, for a few minutes at least, can’t it Alyx?” Petrova had murmured, as Alyx had gently broken the liplock that had held them together for several seconds, and Alyx had gently pushed her back onto the pillows that were behind them, as well as into the rumpled bedding. She had known what Petrova had really wanted in that instant, and had been more than happy to provide the kind of reassurance her lover had come to prefer for the next hour.
But afterwards, Alyx knew that Pet still needed to rest, and she had hoped they could table the discussions until after they had both gotten some sleep. Happily, Pet had agreed, being mostly asleep in Alyx’s arms already, and Alyx allowed herself to drift into sleep herself, hoping that there would be no more nightmares for Pet that night.
The fact that it was no longer strictly ‘night’ outside didn’t matter to either of them at that minute, really, and Alyx knew that sleep was one commodity that Petrova had been very short on at the time, so she had been grateful to wake up a few hours later to find that they had hardly moved from the position they had fallen asleep in.
Stretching somewhat stiffly a few hours later, Alyx had carefully unwound herself from around Petrova and made her way to the bathroom that was attached to their suite, trying not to let the headboard-- or the floor boards-- creak too loudly and wake Petrova prematurely. She knew she wasn’t going to be gone long, but the longer Pet slept, the better she would feel when she finally did get up again, and Alyx had been hoping that they could go riding for a part of today, while the house was being prepared for the party that would take up the evening hours.
Joanna had extended the use of the stables for the duration of their stay when she and Alyx had arrived, and they hadn’t been able to make use of the offer as yet. But that didn’t stop Alyx from hoping that they could today as she had finished her morning ablutions and crossed to the windows that were hung with heavy burgundy colored curtains to block out the light. She didn’t want to have to wake Pet, but if they were going to go riding, they both needed to be awake, and that made up her mind for her.
Setting her hand on the edge of the curtain, she parted the cloth by a crack, letting a thin ray of light slip into the room, and she knew that the day was far enough advanced for several of the other guests to be out and about on the grounds already. And Alyx smiled, seeing one of their hostesses out in the garden with several others, seemingly directing harvesting efforts. And she knew that it was likely to be Joanna with some of the people she had trained in the understanding of the ways of mushrooms and many of the locally available edible wild plants.
Reaching to brush her shadow-sister’s thoughts with her own, Alyx knew that her suspicions had been correct; Joanna was indeed out in the garden, picking mushrooms that were growing amongst the crops that were being raised there when one of the red haired figures far below stood up and waved in the direction of her window.
◊Alyx! Come on out and help us with this, sis! You haven’t been on a hunt with us in so long, and I have missed you, as well as missing you in my bed too. Oh, that’s right, your Father has said that if you and Petrova want to go riding today, there are myrasti that should be exercised today.
And you should be careful along the south section of Hunter’s Meadow, near the north edge of the pond; the spiders are getting worse out there again.◊ Joanna had said in her thoughts.
And Alyx had smiled as she replied in the same manner, thinking in the back of her thoughts that that had definitely been Joanna, ebullient as always. ◊Jo, it’s good to see you, sis. Thanks for the invite to your party. But, as for me being in your bed again, I must remind you that that will have to wait until Pet is ready for group activities, unless you can make the time for just me, by myself sometime soon. Or maybe with you and Amelia and Raven.
But as for the riding, or the mushrooms, I’ll be down as soon as I can get Pet up for the day. I’ve missed you too, lover. Hopefully we’ll get some time for us again real soon.◊ Alyx added, and she knew that Joanna was grinning about the prospect as she felt her shadow sister reaching to one of her other lovers to let them know that Alyx was awake again.
So, Alyx had drawn the curtain slightly open, allowing a little bit of light into the room, knowing that it would help Pet wake more gradually. And Pet sighed a few seconds later in a way that let Alyx know that she was awake too. And Alyx found herself in the bed once more, waking Pet the way she preferred; with gentle loveplay.
Their day had gone well, and they were on the way back to the house after their ride into the forests surrounding Lathom Manor when they had caught up with Joanna and her riding party later that afternoon as they had approached from the opposite direction. “Hey, sweetie!!” Joanna had said with a somewhat strained grimace on her face that Alyx decided was meant to be a grin as she had waved from her saddle where she was mounted on her paint stoyrai. At that instant, her stoyrai had shaken his horned head, making his harness jingle and ring, and Alyx had to smile at the expression that crossed Joanna’s face as it did.
“Did you enjoy your ride, sis?” Joanna had added with a chuckle. Then she turned to the rest of her group and said, “I think it would be safe to say that we enjoyed our ride. Of course, that wasn’t all we did, but what riding got done, we enjoyed.” Joanna added, her tone going a bit grim for an instant and Alyx suddenly noticed in that instant, that she had large clots of thick spiderwebs tangled in her hair.
And she wondered what had happened while Joanna and the others were out this afternoon. However, she knew that she was going to have to find out more of what had happened, but she knew that it wasn’t too likely that she would be able to get answers directly from Joanna. Perhaps Amelia would be a better choice, Alyx thought, though she knew that it would have to be soon.
But, Alyx had noticed something odd, a kind of hesitation before Joanna smiled at her again, and she wondered what had happened. Then she saw that there was something hanging from Joanna’s saddlebow, something that looked like one of the upper meadow cervus, and she realized that Joanna and her group had gone hunting that morning, as well as bringing in some of the mushrooms that were growing in the garden.
Amelia and Raven were with her, each mounted on myrasti; Amelia on a somewhat restive buckskin, and Raven was in the saddle of one of the darkest bays that Alyx had ever seen. When she looked them over, she noticed that they seemed more tired than usual for how a ride with Joanna should make them, but she didn’t think she saw anything out of the ordinary—other than the webbing in Joanna’s hair of course-- even though the strange sensation that there was something dreadfully wrong going on continued to grow stronger.
And she wondered what had happened; as well as if Joanna would be able to find the time to tell her about what had happened while they were out riding that day. Though Alyx suspected that something other than hunting may have gone on; and it may not have all been purely physical.
The impression she had was that they had been forced to defend themselves, but she knew that there was only one way she would find out what had happened; be there when Joanna reported to Vlad and Jerrica. And she knew that if she wanted to find out, that was what she was going to have to do. So, she followed Joanna as she headed back to the stables.
When she got to the stables, Joanna was just hanging up her saddle on the beam that had been designed to hold it while she wasn’t using it, and began to clean it of the sweat that was beginning to soak into the leather with a squirt bottle of saddle soap, a spray bottle full of water and a stiff brush.
Alyx glanced around, wondering where the cervus had gotten to, and saw the buck hanging from hanging tackle in the open doorway of the garage section, as far from the myrasti, and Joanna’s stoyrai as it could be and still be in the same building.
And Joanna had said, “Alyx, sweetie, if you wanna help, you can get started brushing Flash over there down for the day. He’s earned his saliano grains for the day; after all, he didn’t buck off the cervus when the trouble got started, and for that alone, he should get an extra scoop of grain.” She sounded grim and tired, but Alyx knew that she wanted to get the stoyrai squared away as soon as she could, and before she had to go in and deal with reporting what had happened while she had been out.
But, as Alyx grabbed the brush Joanna had indicated, she couldn’t help but notice that her shadow sister was trembling violently, though she covered it well with scrubbing stubbornly at a particularly deep sweat stain in the bow of her saddle. And Alex knew that whatever it had been it had frightened her badly.
“Joanna...” Alyx began a few minutes later as she worked on brushing Flash, verbally treading carefully until she was sure of her footing, “Sweetie, you know you can talk to me about anything, right?”
“Of course I know that, Alyx.” Joanna had said softly, sounding mildly confused as she worked on cleaning the saddle and brushing burrs out of the saddle blanket while she was there. “What do you wanna know?” Joanna had added a few seconds later, her tone almost conversational finally.
“So, what’s wrong, lover? You’re shaking so hard that I’m amazed you can hold the brush steady enough to clean the sweat out of the leather. And you never run the myrasti hard enough to break a sweat, so why are your leathers sweat stained today, come to that?” Alyx asked, concerned.
Joanna shook her head, and gave a shaky little laugh before she had whispered, “You should have been there, Alyx. You would have gotten a good laugh about it, I’m sure.” And the story seemed to come pouring out of her like water from a broken clay pot.
“We had been out hunting and foraging, like usual, when I thought I spotted something out of the normal for the northernmost corner of the property; a short patrol of the Brotherhood, and we took good care to be sure that they didn’t find us, you can be sure! And I have every intention of discussing the development with Vlad, too, I assure you!! I thought he had been more successful than that at eliminating them.” Joanna murmured, as though to herself.
Alyx studied her, thinking that Joanna looked tired and confused about something, though what it could be wasn’t clear to Alyx at the minute; she knew that her Father had been working to eliminate the members of the Brotherhood of Light, but they always seemed to be able to find many more members than he was able to destroy.
Then Joanna shook off some of the seeming confusion and continued with what she had been saying. “But, then we somehow took a wrong turn... wound up in a giant nest of Redspines along the shore of the pond that is up that way... and we had to fight our way out... oh, bright blessed lady...” Joanna had said with a vague gesture toward the direction of the pond, shivering more and more violently as she recounted some of their adventures that morning.
And Alyx had whispered, “Oh no, oh gods, baby! Are you okay?!” She shared Joanna’s horror of the ‘creepy-crawlies’, and she had shuddered at the mention of the spiders Joanna had been forced to deal with that day. But she knew that Joanna had needed to be comforted, and she stepped out of the stall and took the three steps to her sister’s side, wrapping an arm around Joanna’s shoulders as Joanna fought to get the shuddering under control again before she went in the house to tell Vlad and Jerrica about what had happened, though Alyx knew that she had probably already told them about it in their thoughts.
And she knew too that when Joanna turned to her and stood shivering in the circle of her arms, that she was the only one keeping Joanna from fainting again. Then Joanna sighed, and sort of... twitched all over, then she crumpled into Alyx’s arms. And nothing Alyx did made any difference in her being unconscious this time; not even kissing her brought her out of it, much to Alyx’s chagrin.
And she was just beginning to reach for her Father’s thoughts when Amelia staggered around the corner, still sporting silvery strands of spider webbing in her hair as well, and dropped wearily to her knees beside Joanna where she lay crumpled and thrashing violently on the ground; Amelia was breathing like she had been running as she reached to break the seizure Joanna was having.
Alyx realized in that instant that she hadn’t known that Joanna was subject to seizures until that minute, though she recognized the situation for what it was instantly; Vlad hadn’t mentioned it, and Joanna hadn’t had one in her presence. But at the same time, Amelia was having no luck in breaking the seizure, and Alyx wondered what she could do to help her sister and their lover.
Then, Alyx noticed a swelling on the side of one shoulder, and asked Amelia, “What happened to your shoulder, lover?” And Amelia glanced at it, as though to refresh her memory, and shrugged, saying exhaustedly, “Dunno. Maybe I got bit or somethin’ while I was trying to get her out of the spider nest.” Then she shook her head, as though to clear her thoughts, and she said firmly, “I’ll fix it later. Right now, she is my priority. You understand, don’t you, Alyx?”
“Of course, lover.” Alyx said soothingly. “But let me get your bite looked at, sweetheart. After all, it could be something serious, and you don’t want to have let it get out of control, do you?” Alyx added, as she was peeling away the ruins of Amelia’s riding jacket to try to get to the injury to see how bad it actually was.
When the final layer of cloth fell away from the wound, Alyx had to turn away for a few seconds to master the urge to slide her tongue over the wound to close it. Then she decided that it didn’t matter; the spider venom that coated the cloth that had been around the wound wasn’t the issue that they had to worry about; it was more likely to be the chunk of the silver crossbow bolt that was sticking out of Amelia’s shoulder that was going to cause trouble for her.
Damn...! she thought, knowing that this development was not going to be taken well by her Father or her shadow sister Jerrica at all. And that was beside the point to what Joanna’s response would be to damage to one of her first fledglings when she found out how bad it actually was.
“Amelia, my love...” Alyx said softly, knowing they had to get the metal out of her shoulder muscles before the wound could be closed, but Amelia was in the midst of trying to revive Joanna, and having less luck at it than she had ever had before this point. And Alyx sighed as she reached for her Father’s thoughts to alert him to the need for his presence at the stables.
And Alyx knew there was nothing she could do until Amelia was willing to allow the healing to happen, so she did what she could to stem the bloodloss from the injury site. A few seconds later, Alyx noticed something else that alarmed her even more than finding a broken crossbow bolt in her lover’s arm had; there seemed to be something on the blade, and now Amelia was swaying where she knelt, and soon she too had toppled into a heap on the floor of the stables, draped over Joanna’s unconscious body as Joanna lay in the straw spasming violently.
No more than thirty seconds had passed since Amelia’s arrival, and now, another staggering set of footsteps was becoming audible, as Raven came pelting around the corner, accompanied this time by Vlad at a somewhat more sedate pace.
They both sighed, almost in unison, and bent to pick up Joanna and Amelia, clearly intending to bring the girls into the house, so that Jayne could look them both over at the same time. And Raven seemed to be a bit unsteady himself, so Alyx knew that she needed to find out what was wrong, to be sure that it wouldn’t adversely affect Petrova.
But at the same time, Alyx knew that she needed to finish brushing Flash before she would find out anything further. After all, that was something that Joanna had asked her to do for her, so it was something that needed to be taken care of before almost anything else got done.
So, without further ado, she applied the brush to taking care of brushing out the sweat marks and currying Flash so that he was more comfortable. And when she had gotten his scoops of grain, she made sure that he had plenty of fresh water in the wide mouthed bucket in his stall.
And she carefully closed the door behind herself, then she headed into the next stall and curried both of the other myrasti before heading to the house from the stables. As she hurried back to the house, knowing that her father would likely want to speak to her about what Joanna had told her about their adventures, to make sure it didn’t differ from what she had told him.
But at the same time, she knew too that the cervus that Joanna had brought in was likely to be needed as food for the part of the party that was to be taking place tonight, so she headed to where she thought she recalled seeing the carcass hanging, only to find it missing, without a trace. And Alyx knew that something odd was going on, though she didn’t quite know what it was yet. In that instant, she made up her mind to try to find out.
Though, she discovered when she looked more closely, there was a spot on the ground beneath where it had been hanging that suggested something had happened there, and she wondered if maybe the servants had taken care of it while she had been busy with currying the myrasti.
But what Joanna didn’t realize was that she had been projecting when she had mentioned having seen the patrol; what had actually happened was that they had seen, been seen by, and eliminated the patrol that had injured Amelia and Raven, and somehow driven them off course, and into the spider nest. Alyx hadn’t seen how they had ended up in the spiders, but she knew that Joanna had picked up a nasty knock on the head, even though she had been able to ride out without seeming like she was injured at all.
And Alyx knew that neither Vlad nor Jerrica would stand for this at all. But, at the same time, she didn’t know what he was going to be able to do about it; Joanna seemed to have taken care of the problem, for now. But Alyx knew that she was going to have to find out what he had planned, in case there was anything she could do to help.
She found out when she got back into the house that there was indeed something she could do, she could tell him everything she had most recently heard about the movements of the being they had called the Deformed since the first day he had targeted their family.
And to her surprise, it was quite a bit that her Father hadn’t heard. In fact, it was enough to make him not only augment the security on the mansion and the grounds, but in some places, it made him completely change his plans for the defenses.
But at the same time, she knew that the real test of her information would be when the attack came at last. And that wasn’t going to be for several weeks yet.