Chapter 24 - Library
The priestess allowed them access to their library, which Marcus requested upon their arrival. They spent the next two days and nights hunting down references and hoping to find something to guide them in their quest. All they got for their troubles were a few vague references to long lost ancient texts.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” Rowan stated as she slammed a book down on the table in frustration.
“Do you have a better idea?” Alena snapped, and tension sparked the air.
“The impatience of youth,” Marcus rebuked with droll humor, and their attention shifted to him.
“Alena, please teach your sibling manners,” Marcus requested with the wearied patience of the ancient, and Rowan wondered about his age.
He looked like a handsome man in his early thirties. He acted like a man in his prime and yet sometimes, she caught a glimmer of someone who saw too much of life and death.
Rowan looked at Alena with sudden distrust, but something in Alena settled and calmed, even though the word sibling smarted enough for her voice attain an unintended sharpness.
“That book is older than this fortress, treat it with respect,” Alena rebuked as she closed the volume she read and set it gently on the table before asking Marcus if he would excuse her.
Rowan stared at the book she mishandled. She picked it up and considered that even if they were both human born, this situation would not be much different.
Alena was highborn, a lady, a princess among her people and despite their shared blood, Rowan was barely more than a commoner, born to none of the niceties of Alena’s world.
For that brief period, after Moira rescued Rowan from the barn, she lived in a cocoon. Moira taught her to read, and write. Her contact with these things stirred an insatiable curiosity, and her ability to retain knowledge astounded Moira.
Moira was more than just educated. Her father had been a brilliant man who taught his daughter all he knew, and it made her an outcast when he died. Moira was more gifted than her father, and even among the aristocracy, her mind intimidated those of scholarly inclination. Someone spread the rumor that she was a witch, and forced her to flee her own home in the dead of night, but she saw it coming.
She bought her house in the woods, lived on her own and indulged her interests with her father’s money, which she hid long before her people turned on her. Moira understood the mechanics of things, the nature of man, and the design of the world in a way that made popular beliefs seem like mindless superstition.
Rowan could listen to Moira speak for hours. Even she understood that they should have celebrated this vibrant woman, not hunted and ridiculed her. Moira had varied interests, but she was a skilled healer, she could find the solution to a problem that confounded others with a wisdom, kindness, generosity, and insight that opened a world to Rowan she could never have imagined.
Rowan realized that Moira was so far ahead of her time that there might never be another like her. Many sought her help, and the simple folk thought her a witch, but they grew up with superstitions. They didn’t want to kill or maim Moira for her knowledge, although they did both respect and fear her. They asked the village scribe to write their requests on scraps of paper, which they put in bottles and left inside the remains of an ancient white oak, which lightning once struck.
She would visit them in the dead of night, heal the sick, solve their problems, help them with whatever they needed, and they would give their thanks in whatever small way they could. Moira didn’t need these things, but they believed that you had to pay for magic. Moira could move in the forest like a shadow, and she taught Rowan these skills, along with so much else. Rowan sometimes followed Moira, but she never allowed the villagers to see her, and they had no idea where Moira lived. To this day she had no idea how Darwin found Moira’s home.
When the cocoon ruptured and cast her back into the cruel world, her mind filled with vengeance, and to that end, she learned everything she could about combat. She knew Moira wouldn't want her death avenged, but she couldn’t let it go. It consumed her days and nights.
She became absorbed in her thoughts, and Marcus watched her for a while before he left to find Alena. He could only conclude that her mind had wandered to some dark place.
Some time after Moira died, Rowan found a vampire willing to teach her and to assuage her hunger for knowledge. He honed her talent for death, but also taught her to harness herself.
He turned her to into more than a blunt instrument, and she loved him. He instructed her in the niceties of life, removed her rough edges, and she spent the last five years trying to forget she ever met him.
Rowan didn’t notice that Alena observed her from the doorway, or that she saw that telltale glow of love and the terrible hatred that followed it. Alena recognized that emotion and found that it made her uneasy. This halfling still had too many secrets, and too many strong sentiments governed her.
Alena must have moved. Rowan’s eyes went from human to vampire bright in the beat of a heart, and for a second as their eyes met, Rowan focussed those emotions on Alena. Alena felt herself react out of instinct, but those volatile emotions disappeared from Rowan’s expression as she recognized Alena, and infinite sadness replaced them, but also a tired acceptance.
“I’m sorry. I’m not used to these... things,” Rowan admitted sounding weary. She replaced the book on the surface of the table with care, and this time Rowan left. Alena stared at the book, so similar to the other books she grew up with, and she frowned. Marcus appeared at her side, but she didn’t stir.
“What?” He asked, and as she glanced at him, she had to admit that he sometimes read her too well.
“Are you trying picture how it would feel growing up the way Rowan did? Poor, hungry, uneducated, hated by everyone, with spots of something better just to teach you how miserable your life is?” Marcus asked, and the sudden shift of her eyes betrayed her.
Alena wondered for the first time where he came from, or what life he led, or even how he became one of them, and why the elders treated him with such unusual diffidence. He was, after all, no pureblood.
“Careful now, Alena, she is both ally and enemy,” it was his way of putting her in her place and to hide her feelings, Alena lowered her head. He grasped her jaw with a firm enough grip to hurt, but with an unusual kindness in his eyes, even though his voice sounded fierce.
“She has nothing but her hatred of those who harmed her, and they’re both dead. She will lash out, and she’s not yet strong enough to move past it to find her destiny,” Marcus murmured. He kissed her forehead and left her to her thoughts.
Alena thought she heard the rustle of cloth and the squeak of leather, but saw nothing when she swiveled on her heel.