The Sorceress's Maskby Susan Lombardi / Fantasy
THE SORCERESS’S MASK
BY SUSAN LOMBARDI
Copyright 2011 Susan Lombardi
Chapter one: The Librarian
Chapter two: The Book Thief
Chapter three: The Witch
Chapter four: The Oracle
Chapter five: The Prince
Chapter six: The Pirate
Chapter seven: The Kraken
Chapter eight: The Sorceress’s Tower
Chapter nine: Awaking
Chapter ten: The Sorceress
Chapter eleven: The Venetian Masked Ball
CHAPTER ONE. THE LIBRARIAN.
Mist swirls in the air, a darker swirl becomes more distinct, it grows bigger, darker. The ground vibrates, a muffled thumping is heard. As the dark swirl becomes more distinct, legs appear, four legs, galloping, a muffled snort is heard. A black horse emerges suddenly from the mist, it tosses its head, eyes wild, steam snorting from its nostrils. There is a man on its back, enveloped in a black cloak swirling out behind him, his face is hidden behind a black cloth wrapped around his head. Only his piercing blue eyes can be seen, which are boring into hers as horse and rider thunder straight towards her.
Violet opens her eyes with a start, the image still imprinted on her retinas. She still sees mist swirling around her bedroom, as it recedes she looks around her room, in the pale golden morning light. The lavender painted wall she is facing has her green mask with the peacock feathers on. She glances across to the window, yes daylight is shining through the purple and blue sari strung across the window acting as curtains. She glances around the rest of the room, colourful clothes are flung over mis-matched junk shop chairs and drawers along with an assortment of miss-matched objects, little sparkly boxes, statues of Buddha, leaves, stones, glitter, all in amongst stacks of books. Everything as normal. Nothing has been moved or touched since she collapsed into bed late last night.
As the last vestegages of the dream leave her Violet crawls out of bed stretches as high as she can reaching to the sky with her fingertips as she faces the rising sun. She wanders into her living / dining / kitchen room, which makes her bedroom seem tidy and uncluttered. Everywhere are books, some open, drawings, pages of notes, more sparkly oddments, crystals, the walls covered with a mixture of pictures and paintings, some prints of Klimt, Monet, Da Vinci, some original paintings of obscure artists. It has the air of a magpie’s hoard. Violet goes to the kitchen area and lights the gas under the kettle. She pulls some leaves from a plant sat on the windowsill and a minty smell is released as she crushes them and puts them into a teapot. When the water has boiled she makes her cup of tea and takes it and an apple to a large cushion on the floor. She picks up one of the open books. It is an old leather bound volume of ‘Jude the Obscure’ she turns the pages quickly, her eyes scanning straight down the page, taking in every word. Her colleagues cannot believe she can read this fast and still be able to answer questions correctly about what she has just read. When she reads in public, while having tea in a café, she notices people stare, but she finds nothing unusual in what she can do, that is just how she reads and has always done.
After her breakfast she showers and pulling clothes out of the wardrobe at random she gets dressed and puts on her make up and does her hair, which whatever she does to it always goes into big blonde curls framing her face. She looks in the full-length mirror inside the wardrobe before she leaves for work. She is wearing a pink t-shirt with a vintage design on, a pleated pale blue skirt with a turquoise cardigan over the top with a pearl brooch pinned to it. She has the same colours painted on her eyes and mouth.
“I am an intelligent, strong woman,” she says to herself in a confident voice, which tails off as she finishes with “but why do I always have to look like such a flake?” She shrugs and turns away from the mirror and leaves her flat. She pauses on the doorstep and lets a breeze blow through her hair. She looks up at the blue sky, feels a slight nip in the air and notices the leaves of the trees in the park opposite her flat, just starting to get a yellow tinge to the edges. She can almost catch a whiff of wood smoke and hot chestnuts on the wind.
She sets off along the row of Victorian terrace houses, now all converted to flats to walk to work. She gets to the town’s medieval wall and proceeds to walk along it, overlooking the park and backgardens. She peers into the backgardens of the houses along the wall, this early in the morning no one is in them, just the odd cat returning from its night-time adventures and the odd swing gently swaying in the breeze. Violet likes the quietness of the early morning, this desertion of places, which within a few hours will be busy and noisy. She leaves the wall and continues through the town walking through a maze of twisting alleyways between ancient buildings of many ages, the arrangement of them left to history. She knows the paths of this town by instinct, she can walk them in the dark, knowing where to go and where she is by the feel of what is beneath her feet, whether cobbles, flagstones, paving slabs, as well as by the silhouettes of the buildings against the sky, many tall spires and towers.
Violet arrives at a small gate cut into an old thick wall, she opens it with difficulty, the hinges old and rusty. She walks through closing it behind her and proceeds towards the collection of old and stately buildings before her, which are ringed by the wall and surrounded by grass with occasional trees. She makes her way to a large building with many tall windows and walks past a large ornate door with the words “University Library” above them. She turns the corner and comes to a smaller door and taking a bunch of keys out of her bag she opens it and enters, locking it behind her.
Violet likes to get to work early before anyone else, she likes the library best when it only contains herself and its proper inhabitants. She walks into the main room of the library it is three storeys high in the centre surrounded by galleries with spiral staircases reaching up to them. Row upon row of books tower up above her. She takes a deep breath as she enters the room and releases it with a sigh, a small smile on her lips. She goes towards the centre of the room the back of her hand brushing a row of books lovingly. When she reaches the centre she looks up at all the books around her and spins around to take them all in. When it is so quiet in the library she can almost hear the books fluttering to each other. She goes to her favourite section first, the classics, many of them are also very old and beautifully bound in leather. This area of the library has more of a musty smell than the rest but it is overlaid with the tang of leather. She lovingly takes a thick book off the shelf, bound in dark red leather, with some gold overlay still visible on the cover. She strokes the cover, feeling the texture of the leather and the indentations of the decoration, she closes her eyes, raises the book to her face and inhales deeply, smelling the leather, she holds it briefly to her chest and then gently returns it to its position on the shelf, brushing the spine as she does so. The title reads “Machiavelli. The Prince.” She glances over the rest of the shelves to check all the books are in the right place. She hates it whenever anybody takes away these books, she always tries to persuade them to take a modern copy of the book if possible and if not she gives them a stern lecture about how old the book is and how it should be treated with respect. Even though she knows they have usually been so well made of such good quality materials that they take far more battering than modern books. However her stern lectures don’t really have the right impact when delivered by a blue-eyed young girl with curly blonde hair and a pleasant voice. She has tried so hard to make her voice deeper and sterner especially for scruffy students who won’t look after her books. She had to spend hours in front of the mirror practicing an authorative voice and stern facial expression. Although the effect was occasionally ruined because she did have a horrible and embarrassing habit of occasionally giggling when angry or annoyed. After some practice she felt she could now convince the more careless students to take a little bit more care of her books. She had certainly taken a few of the male students by surprise when they had attempted to chat her up the ‘cute little blonde librarian’ when checking out books. Most people presumed she was a lot younger than she was, she was twenty-five years old and she had lost count of the number of times she had been asked for ID when trying to buy alcohol or party poppers. She had had to spend more time with the mirror practicing a suitable glare.
Whenever any of her favourite books were taken away from the library she always kept an eye on when they were due back and if they hadn’t been returned by the due date whoever still had then got a stern telephone call. Then a hard stare when brought back late, no one kept a book over long twice. She had got herself a reputation at the university, it was just a pity most of the students didn’t stay longer than three years, it meant she had to start all over again each September with each new batch of students. A new batch to convince she wasn’t the sweet little thing they thought she was and then persuade to treat the library’s books with respect. She dreaded to think what happened to the books when they were away from their homes, she had nightmares about what could happen to books in the outside world in the wrong hands. She had a special look of horror for anyone returning a book with any damage however small.
Violet continued her way around the library shelves checking the books were as they should be, all in their places, none placed untidily or horizontally on the shelves, none in the wrong section. She had the eyes of a hawk when it came to spotting books where they shouldn’t be, she could spot a book out of place at ten paces and hone in on it. She had been taking especial care with this task lately due to a few books having gone mysteriously missing, it was mysterious because the missing books were then found again later in their correct place. Violet had been the one who had noticed the missing books as they were all from the classics section and quite often the beautifully crafted older volumes. None of the other librarian’s were too concerned as the books had all been found again within a week, and just assumed that they had been misfiled or hidden behind another book, no harm done. But Violet knew her library and its books, when a book had gone missing she’s hunted high and low for it, coming in well before the library was due to open so she could do it in peace, then when she went in the next day there is would be exactly where it should be, no harm done to it. When she questioned the other librarians none of them had found it and placed it there, they just looked at her a little strangely and offered to make her a cup of tea. Violet could tell they just assumed she’d overlooked it and it hadn’t even been missing in the first place, but she knew she hadn’t. One of the classics was missing at the moment it was “Jane Eyre”, one of her favourite books, and the book that had been missing previously to that one had been written by another of the Bronte sisters. Violet was suspicious. Why would someone steal books and then return them to a library, why not just check them out like everyone else. It was a puzzle she would turn over and over in her head late at night when she couldn’t sleep. She could not answer the question however she looked at it.
She never needed to look at the reference numbers on any of the books she knew exactly where they should be. The library had a sophisticated computer with all the books catalogued on it so anyone could find any book they wanted, searching by title or author. Violet didn’t use it...she didn’t need to. When happy that all the books where content and as they should be Violet returned to the desk near the entrance of the library and made sure all was tidy and as it should be. She glanced at her watch and pulled a face, looking towards the large double doors at the entrance to the library. Giving a sigh and checking the ‘QUIET PLEASE’ notice was straight, (Violet disapproved of the ‘please’) she turned the rest of the library’s lights on and waiting until the big hand of her watch was precisely on the twelve she unlocked the doors, sliding the open notice into place. She then returned to the desk and glared at the doors for a moment before picking up her book and starting to read. She liked the early mornings at the library, she finished work after lunch, when it was starting to get more busy and three more members of staff where there by then. Most students didn’t get out of bed until lunchtime unless they had lectures so it was peaceful, not many people disturbing the books. Even though the library opened at 9.00 it was unusual to see many people in that early and more usually lecturers. The exception to this was one of the students that Violet had actually befriended. Aliya had been studying at the university when Violet had first started work at the library at age eighteen and had continued her studies. Violet’s deep distrust of students taking away books was averted when she realised that Aliya had a great reverence for books and words. She always said, in her no-nonsense way, that words can have great power and as books contain words they must also have the potential to be powerful even if made of paper and ink. Aliya was also very well read and Violet found her very knowledgeable on many far ranging subjects, even though some of her ideas seemed rather far-fetched and down right bizarre, especially for someone who Violet considered very sombre and practical and not at all prone to joking. Their friendship had developed gradually but had become, Violet considered, a close one, based on their mutual respect for books and what they contained and neither feeling they always had to be nice to everyone, especially people with no respect for knowledge. However she sometimes felt that she didn’t really know Aliya, that there was a big part of her that was shut away.
The entrance door gently opened and shut again, a young, plain-looking woman with long dark hair and spectacles quietly walked towards the desk. “Good morning, Violet,” she said abruptly.
“Good morning, Aliya, how are you today?” Violet answered with a smile.
“Slightly annoyed,” she replied, “Clovis brought in a half dead bird to play with very early this morning and its cries woke me up. I had to go and throttle the thing and Clovis was so put out for taking his toy off him, he wasn’t even interested in eating it once it was dead and he just sulked and moped at me. He just wouldn’t let me get back to sleep and kept going on at me.” Violet gave a sympathetic smile, Clovis was Aliya’s beautiful black pet cat, he had the most intelligent eyes she’d ever seen on a cat.
“Is there anything I can help you with this morning?”
Aliya was studying classical languages and Violet helped her find the volume she was looking for, as it was a reference only book she stayed in the reading section of the library to make notes from it. During the course of the morning more students and the occasional lecturer drifted in and out or stayed to work, getting busier towards lunchtime.
Aliya having got the information she wanted from the library came to the desk to check out another book and say good-bye to Violet. As she was stamping the return date into the book Violet heard the door open and glanced upwards at who was coming in. Framed in the doorway was a tall slim figure with broad shoulders in a long coat, the sunlight behind him made a halo of golden light around him and obscured his face. As he stepped forwards and closed the door shutting out the bright sunlight, Violet could see his features, she had never seen such a beautiful face on a man before. He had an oval-shaped pale face with dark shoulder length hair flopping over some of it, but it couldn’t hide the most startling pair of green eyes she had ever seen. The long coat he was wearing was beautifully cut of a very dark green cloth, it looked like he must have found it in some antique shop. He didn’t look like one of the usual students, as he walked forwards he moved in such a stately way he must be a dancer to have so much grace thought Violet. As he walked past the desk he glanced at Violet, his green eyes making contact with hers as he nodded a greeting and gave a small smile. He continued past her and walked straight towards the classics section. Violet found she wasn’t breathing and her hand with the stamp was held frozen above the book she was stamping. She let her breathe out in a slight gasp, turned it into a cough and turning back to the book bringing the stamp down with slightly more force than she normally did. She looked back to Aliya with a business like smile, who had been staring at her the whole time with a raised eyebrow. Violet gave a little shrug of the shoulders and after checking no-one was within listening distance, leaned across the desk and whispered, “Well, that was one gorgeous man. I’ve never seen him in here before.”
Aliya gave a snort of a laugh, “I’ve seen him in here before.” Violet had noticed that Aliya didn’t really seem interested in men in general, she seemed to consider them all rude, stupid barbarians, Violet thought her a very firm feminist. She didn’t seem interested in women in that way either and Violet hadn’t wanted to ask her such a personal question.
Aliya picked up her books and turned to go, “Anyway, he’s not a man.”
Violet stared after her as she walked out the door. Really she did say the strangest things at times.
She looked towards the classics section that he had disappeared into, she liked to keep an eye on that section, she hoped such a beautiful man was not her book thief, but so few people did actually visit that part of the library. Some people didn’t like the smell of old books and preferred the crisp new ones; she supposed there was no accounting for taste. She saw him come out from behind the shelves with an old volume in his hands, he went and sat in a chair by a window and started to read. Violet watched him closely, the book he had carefully opened and was pouring over was ‘Wuthering Heights’ she was sure. Oh no, another Bronte, she thought, could he really be her book thief? She looked at him intensely, he had such a beautiful face, so young, such an air of innocence, could he really do something so terrible. She noticed something else as well, his Adams apple; he definitely was a man, what was Aliya thinking, that someone that attractive couldn’t possibly be a man. He suddenly looked up from his book straight into her perplexed eyes; he knew she was staring at him, her head whipped down so suddenly she felt a crick in her neck. She knew her face must be bright red and she was sure she could feel those green eyes still looking at her. She grabbed the pile of books in front of her and pretended to be extremely busy. She risked glancing up through her hair to see if he was still looking at her, he wasn’t, he had his head down reading his book again, but he had a small smile on his face, it was the most heart melting smile. She groaned inwardly, he was laughing at her, she was glad she was nearly finished at the library for the day, but he still might be her book thief and she had to watch what he did with that book. She made sure she was making little busy noises with the books. Anne, her colleague, who had just walked in to start her day looked at her very strangely as she said hello, Violet always did any tasks in the library silently.
He got up from his seat still carrying ‘Wuthering Heights’, Violet kept her eyes peeled to the book as discretely as possible, but he headed for the classics section. Violet grabbed a book from her desk and went to the end of the shelves pretending to be looking for the correct place to put it in the shelf, even though it was a science fiction book and its home was far from this section, it was so wrong, but she needed to keep track of the Bronte. Her eyes followed the book held in his hand by his side, she followed it as he brought it up to the shelf bringing it along the bookshelf until he found its correct place, she could see the title etched into the cover of the book, he slid it into place on the shelf and brought his pale long fingered hand back down to his side empty. He turned towards her, saw her looking, and smiled. She smiled back relieved, he couldn’t be her book thief, she’d seen him replace the book, his hands were both empty and his coat fitted so well, a book in any of the pockets would be obvious to see. He walked past her and out of the door, both his hands by his side, empty, she looked closely at the back of his coat in case of any hidden pockets which could contain a book, but none. She felt glad he had not been the book thief, plus he had smiled such a heart-melting smile at her. Then she felt slightly annoyed, this was the closest she’d come to finding the book thief, she’d thought she really might have found him. She walked along the shelves to just double-check that ‘Wuthering Heights’ was still there…it wasn’t. She looked along the whole shelf and the ones above and below it, it wasn’t there. But she had seen him replace the book, she had seen the title on the cover as he slid it on to the shelf, she had seen his hand come away empty, seen it remain empty, not touching anything else or going anywhere near his coat, all the way out of the door. She was as certain as she could be that no books had left the library with him. She ran out from between the shelves and burst out of the library door, Ann calling after her if everything was alright. Violet stood on the steps of the library, the breeze ruffling her hair and clothes, looking this way and that, but their was no sign of a tall figure in a dark coat, he could have gone in any direction. She returned to the library shelves and hunted again for the book, she looked behind the books, it had disappeared, but no one else was anywhere near these shelves, only the two of them. ‘Wuthering Heights’ was not here. But ‘Jane Eyre’ was. She took the book off the shelf, exactly in the place it should be, in exactly the condition it was when she had last seen it. It fell open at a page, there was a leaf pressed between the pages. She read the passage it marked.
“I was a mile from Thornfield, in a lane noted for wild roses in summer, for nuts and blackberries in autumn, and even now possessing a few coral treasures in hips and haws; but whose best winter delight lay in its utter solitude and leafless repose. If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound here; for there was not a holly, not an evergreen to rustle, and the stripped hawthorn and hazel bushes were as still as the white, worn stones which causewayed the middle of the path. Far and wide, on each side, there were only fields, where no cattle now browsed; and the little brown birds which stirred occasionally in the hedge, looked like single russet leaves that had forgotten to drop. This lane inclined up-hill all the way to Hay: having reached the middle, I sat down on a stile which led thence into a field.”
Violet looked up from the book puzzled, the passage described the stile that Jane was sitting on when she met a returning Mr Rochester. His horse having slipped on the ice of the causeway. Mr Rochester later accusing Jane of being a fairy and bewitching his horse.