Two months had passed. The day of the summer solstice was approaching, with all the usual celebrations, bonfires, and fertility rites. Leryn and Rosie were going to be married in a proper ceremony under the solstice moon.
Merlin’s health had steadily improved over the spring. Two weeks prior, Janet had allowed him to use his magic, and he had promptly begun teaching Leryn what he had to know about creating the orb. Just after dawn on the day before the solstice, the two rode toward the Tower, where Bramblestein and Janet lived.
It was actually Merlin’s Tower, but he hadn’t lived in it for two hundred years. During that time, Bramblestein had divided his time between Londown and keeping an eye on the Tower. The dwarf met them, opening the door to what appeared to be a stable, set against the rear of the keep. “You two were arguing so loudly, the neighbors probably heard you.”
Merlin snapped, “Don’t be ridiculous. The nearest neighbor is five miles away.”
“Exactly.” Glancing around suspiciously, Bramblestein closed the door after them. The lamps were lit, and the place wasn’t too dark. A wagon loaded with most of his and Janet’s possessions stood inside the large stable. He gestured to the cart. “We’ll still need to return here whenever I have to work on something that can’t be done in Londown so we’re keeping the little room off the kitchen for our quarters. It’s out of the way so we won’t bother you. We’re ready to leave after the boy gets married.”
“I didn’t expect you to turf yourselves out.” Merlin glanced away. “I dumped this place on you all those years ago. It’s your home more than mine.”
“My home is in Londown and always has been. This is only a place I go to work on things I can’t do there. Let’s let Janet get the tour out of the way, so we can get downstairs to my special workshop.” He gave Merlin a stern look. “She and the other ladies worked hard trying to make this place into a home fit for someone they consider a friend. You’d damned well better be appreciative.”
“I’m thankful.” The wizard appeared wounded. “Of course I am. Why would you ever think I’m not?”
“Because you’re a self-centered old jackass who never learned any manners.”
The tour of Merlin’s living quarters had gone well, with Merlin making all the right comments. Tears had sprung to his eyes on seeing the portrait of a beautiful young woman with auburn hair. It had been hung over the mantel in his library. Leryn was curious but said nothing.
Janet whispered, “His daughter, Anneliese.”
Something clicked in Leryn’s memory. He cast his mind back to the night of the Crypt Wind. The Demon Knight had paid a visit to the Ploughman’s Inn while he had waited for William Smith to finish reforging the sword. After questioning Leryn closely about what he had seen at Tenneriff’s Keep, the Demon’s mutters implied Jason Tenneriff had raped and murdered the wizard’s daughter. Leryn’s eyes met Bramblestein’s, seeing confirmation.
Janet touched Merlin’s sleeve, consoling him. All she said was, “I’ve put together a snack, so we’ll meet you in the kitchen, once you’ve gotten your things settled.” The three left Merlin alone in the library to allow him a chance to recover.
The three men left the kitchen and wound down a spiral stair, down to a fully outfitted Dwarven workshop. “I’ll need to keep this room for some kinds of work if you don’t mind.”
Merlin nodded, still overcome. “I never used these rooms for more than storage. My workroom is at the top, where I can more closely watch the stars. They will have much to tell us after this is done, I think.”
Leryn was curious about the many strange instruments, cogs, wheels, and gears lining the shelves to the right of the door. To the left were shelves lined with glass beakers filled with different colored liquids. Still more shelves held jars filled with various powders. Several large bins filled the space under one long workbench, and yet another workbench was placed beneath a tool rack, with every tool neatly in its place. A third bench contained an instrument of some sort, one the dwarf was obviously in the process of building. Behind it, on the wall, was a drawing, plans for assembling the instrument. It was hung beneath a rack of jewelers’ tools, also neatly organized. Filled with curiosity, the bard investigated everything. Respectfully, he touched nothing.
Everything was at the perfect height for the dwarf, so the benches were too low for Leryn to use comfortably, and Merlin would have to crouch.
Bramblestein said, “If you’re done gawking, we have work to do.” He opened a heavily armored door, which led into a cavernous chamber. Entering the vast room, Leryn’s attention was drawn to a large furnace at the far side. The fire box was divided into three chambers. The first chamber held the crucible, the second was the glory hole for reheating the glass in between steps of working with it, and the third chamber was the annealer. “Making glass is a form of alchemy we dwarves have perfected for centuries.”
Bramblestein explained the annealer would slowly cool the crystal, over a period of a few hours to a few days, depending on the size of the pieces. “If I do it right, the slow cooling will prevent the glass from cracking or shattering.” He met Leryn’s gaze. “If that happens, we’ll have to do this again. Fortunately, we’ve enough to make three, but God forbid we should have to.”
Bramblestein put on a leather apron, then handed them each a soaking wet bandanna. “Plait your hair and cover it with one of these. It’ll keep you cooler.” Once they had done that he handed them leather aprons and goggles. “The fire for this is different than the usual glassmaker’s fire. These are tinted, and should protect your sight.”
Leryn noted the stress on the word should.
Merlin turned to Leryn. “You remember what I told you, right? You will face the darkness in your own soul. Just like at the Devere Crypt the darkness will try to throw you off key. Remain firm. You must prevail, or the orb will be tainted.”
“I’m familiar with that aspect of myself. I had intimate companionship with it for several months.” Leryn grimaced. “It’s too hot in here. Let’s get the bloodletting over with so we can get on with the misery.”
“It won’t be what you expect. It never is. Remember, pay attention to what you do and think. You must defeat the darkness within you. Or you will die.” Merlin seemed worried, which concerned Leryn more than he wanted to admit.
Bramblestein said, “Come, Take your places. We must make the gift.”
Clearing his mind and opening his heart as well as he could in the face of his fear, Leryn took his place on Bramblestein’s left and Merlin on his right. As one, the three knelt before the altar of Creidne, the smith-god of the Dwarves.
The ritual was slightly different from the sacraments Leryn had taken part in before. Bramblestein collected and mixed their blood in a bowl cut from white quartz, singing a spell in the Dwarven language. Bowing, he placed the gift of blood on the altar where it sat unchanged. Then he turned and led them to the crucible. The stone floor before the furnace had been inset with a gigantic compass rose, inlays done in white quartz, amber agate, and deep blue lapis lazuli.
“We must stand at the cardinal points.” He stationed Merlin in the blade on the West and Leryn on the East. He stood on the South, facing the crucible. “North is the domain of Creidne. The god of fire always stands there. Let go of fear and doubt. Think only of what you value most.”
Bramblestein began his work. At first, nothing unusual happened. Gathered around the crucible, the three sang the spell in unison, and the dwarf took the pipe and made the first dip into the crucible. Four times he dipped the glowing lump of glass into the crucible until it was the size of a large man’s fist. Quickly, Bramblestein formed the ball, rolling the pipe and shaping the blob with the block. As the lump became rounder, he used the jacks to form a neck.
From the corner of his eye, Leryn saw the offering on the altar undergo the change, signifying the god’s presence. The red column of mist rose. To his horror, it formed the shape of the last thing he had ever expected to see: his father’s face, an image of a man who’d been as evil as any demon. The mist became a vision, which became more real and solid than the stifling workshop. Leryn heard himself continue singing as his soul was transported to the place he’d been born, viewing it from above.
As if he were a bird, he watched his father, Owain ap Rhys, toss his nine-year-old son out into the snow, with bare feet and no coat. From within the cabin, he could hear his stepmother pleading for him to be allowed inside, to no avail.
Hearing her voice, he was immersed in that day, no longer viewing the scene from a safe distance. Leryn lived it, experiencing the rage and helplessness as if he were still a nine-year-old boy, powerless to stop his father.
Desperate, his feet burning from the cold, he searched for his secret way inside, through the woodshed. Once inside, Lisbeth saw him and kept Owain’s attention on her to give him a chance to hide. With Owain occupied, pacing and ranting before the hearth, the boy crept silently through the shadows to the ladder and up to his bed in the attic. Shivering and awash with terror, he pulled on his socks and hid under his scant blankets, hoping to go unnoticed until his father fell into a drunken stupor.
He was jolted out of his hiding place by the sound of Rosie’s voice, pleading with Owain.
Leryn looked down through a crack in the floorboards and saw Owain strike her.
But it couldn’t have been Rosie… he hadn’t known her then. Nevertheless, it was Rosie’s bloody form he saw crumple to the floor, her swollen body contorting, laboring to give birth to her stillborn child. Owain kicked her and kicked her again.
Scrambling down the ladder, Leryn shouted at his father to stop. Owain turned on him, rage twisting his features. Blows rained down, the vision shifted, and then he found himself lying beneath the table in his own vomit. His body ached all over, as if his ribs were broken, but it didn’t matter. His will to live was gone.
Rosie lay dead, a broken flower in a pool of red.
Owain’s words burned into his soul. “Clean her up, boy. Then get a hole dug for her.”
“Rosie….” Consumed with grief and hate, he stood behind his father, feeling the full force of his nine-year-old body’s weakness. Owain never remembered his fits, but on seeing his wife or son’s fresh bruises and contusions, he always knew something had happened. There was never an apology, only more blows to dodge.
Staring at the back of Owain’s head, Leryn’s hands had balled into fists. Leryn burned with the desire to kill his father. He smiled, realizing he had the power. He had all the magic he needed, and then some.
A voice whispered, “Do it.”
Something wasn’t quite right.
Leryn answered, “I had no magic. Not then.”
“You do now. You could avenge Rosie, and your mother, and your stepmother. You could end his vile life forever. Just stop his heart with your magic, and no one would know it was you. He deserves to die.”
Leryn pressed his hands to his eyes, and his body shook as he considered it. He knelt beside Rosie, smoothing her hair back from her bloody face, his small hand closing her eyes. When he touched her hair, he remembered what really had happened, that the dead woman had been his stepmother and not Rosie. With his recalling the truth, the dead woman’s face transformed into Lisbeth’s gentle features, and sadness overwhelmed him. “She loved me.”
What had he really done on that terrible day? He couldn’t remember, but although he’d ached with the desire to do so, he knew he hadn’t done murder.
Again the voice said, “You could do it now. The world would be a better place without him.”
“But then I would be no better than him.”
“What if it had been Rosie? What then?”
“But it wasn’t her. I was only nine years old.”
After a long moment of silence, the voice went away. Leryn dressed as well as he was able for the weather, pretending to obey his father’s command.
He left his father’s house, beginning the long trek to his grandmother’s home, never looking back.
As he left the shanty behind, there was music all around him, drowning out the memory. The music took precedence, and he focused on the rhythm of the glowing ball of glass and magic. Merlin and Leryn sang the spell and Bramblestein worked the molten sphere with various tools until it was a perfect orb, alternately heating it in the glory hole and rolling the tube back and forth with a smooth rhythm that never faltered or varied. The dwarf was in tune with the moods of the glass, and the glass absorbed the heat of the magic.
The song swelled, and the molten crystal drew the magic from the two wizards. Aware he had passed the test, Leryn sank deeper into the trance.
They had finished the orb. Leryn lay stretched out on the cool grass before the tower, nearly asleep. He was so exhausted he couldn’t climb onto his horse, and he hadn’t done anything other than sing. Beside him, Merlin lay snoring lightly.
Bramblestein sat meditating or praying. Feeling Leryn’s gaze on him, he glanced up. “I’ll know in two days if we have to do this again.”
Leryn shuddered. “I don’t know if I can go through that again.”
All the dwarf said was, “I know what you mean.” His eyes were fixed on some dark thing only he could see.
To Read the Further Episodes of “Bleakbourne on Heath”