Heart of Stone Ch. 14bypsyche_b_mused©
Author's Note: Because of the age of the document that Mary finds, technically it should be written in Old English (the Anglo-Saxon language). I hope you will all forgive me for choosing expedience over accuracy in this instance. psyche b.
Mary unfolded the pages and realized that the large, irregular sheets had been folded several times. The packet wasn't nearly as thick as she had thought in the beginning. The writer had a large, flowing hand that was accented with flourishes. It was difficult to read at first, but once she got the rhythm of it, she found she was quickly absorbed in the words of her ancestor.
"As I sit here, considering what to write in this missive, I find that I am at a loss for words. The world as I know it is disintegrating around me. Each day, another small part of it is gone, and there is nothing my close associates and I can do to stop it. We've tried all we know to change the course of things, but if we are honest with ourselves, we know that it has all been in vain.
I know nothing about you, Descendant, other than the fact that you are female, that you have been somehow separated from the rest of the family and you have received no formal training. For all of that, I am sorry. The fact that you are reading this letter at all means that you have made great strides on your own. That is no small accomplishment, and I commend you for it. It means that you are indeed as strong as we all believe you will be. You will need every ounce of that strength before the world is put right again. I can only hope that you will not doubt yourself. Doubt -- even for a moment -- will have the most dire consequences.
The book that you are holding was written by Garrick, current leader of the K'lok'ji clan of gargoyles. They have stood shoulder to shoulder with our family since long before either Garrick or I were born. It is my dearest wish that they continue to do so long after I am dust. It will take your intervention to make that possible.
Unless I am very wrong, you will not be able to read what is written in the book. I cannot read it and I have had the benefit of years with Garrick and the others as my tutors. The gargoyle language is beautiful, but very complex. It is so closely entwined with the spoken component of the language, we simply cannot produce most of the sounds so understanding the written form well is simply beyond us. Garrick shared the substance of it with me.
First, I must begin by telling you that Garrick sees the future almost as clearly as he sees the present. He downplays this ability to his own kind, because there are factions that would treat such a gift as weakness. Their community is segmented enough with all that is happening. It would be unfair to the others in his clan to add the burden of further internal strife. He is wise enough to know that the message must be conveyed, so he has written in secret for months. While he was writing, I had the box that would hold the book constructed. It was a feat of pure genius on the part of craftsman. I have no doubt that the book and this letter will reach you intact, despite the intervening centuries.
I know that I must tell you what's in the book. That is the whole point of writing this letter -- the whole point of preserving it so carefully. The words are difficult for me to write. I don't know anything about your time, I can only assume that the idea of propriety has changed. It has changed from my father's time, so I'm certain that as centuries pass things that are undreamed of liberties will be considered commonplace. I hope you will pardon the skittishness of an old man.
Even though gargoyles and humans have lived side by side, they have never gotten any closer. It has always been against the most deeply held beliefs of both cultures that there be no intermingling of the bloodlines. There have been a few who were curious of course, we are both curious creatures. The result in those situations has always been dire, for both parties involved.
That prohibition must end with you.
I realize the thought of coupling with a non-human creature must be disgusting to you. As I sit here, the thought of sacrificing a member of my family, even one that has not been born yet raises the ire of the patriarch in me. Garrick assures me that there is no other way, and he has never misrepresented anything to me in the past. I must trust him in this matter as well.
I cannot assure you that you will survive the birth of the child. I cannot assure you that creating that child will be a simple matter. All Garrick is able to tell me is that this pairing must happen between an untrained female of my line and a male of his line.
I can only hope, Descendant, that you will not run screaming from this place. It is a terrible burden to place on young shoulders, especially young female shoulders, but it is my dearest wish that you call upon the strength of your forebearers to bring back the proper order of things once again. If you cannot, then all is lost."
The letter went on to talk about magic and the role it would play, as well as the Beeson ability to collect and direct the will of others. Those were the things she knew. She reread the first part of the letter again and then sat up. She groaned a little at the sharp twinge in her back. The sound of pain made Aiden look up at her.
"Mary?" There was concern in his face. She noticed he had gotten about halfway through the book.
"I was hunched over for too long, that's all." The words in the letter stirred an untoward nervousness in her. Aiden was the same as he always was. He got up and helped her to her feet. "Did you know?" She had to ask the question, or it would have chewed away at her sanity.
"About Garrick's prediction?" Aiden looked surprised that she would ask.
"No, child." He stroked her cheek then sat in his chair. Mary didn't resist when he guided her to straddle his lap. "In fact, from his writings I think he expected that you would find the book before you woke me. The book is clear that the mating is necessary, but he writes that I am to touch you no more than I must to create a child, so that I do not mistake that intimacy for love or affection."
"The letter assumes that I would find the idea of being with you disgusting." She smiled a bit and rested against his broad chest. His knuckles gently worked the knotted spot in her back.
"I think our ancestors were the product of their times." Mary whimpered softly when he found a tender spot. One arm held her still, the other worked at the spot until she relaxed against him. "I do not think that either of them envisioned a true mating between us because the concept was so unimaginable to them."
"Maybe. I think I'm glad I didn't find the book until after though." She sighed and shivered with pleasure when he raked his talons down her back lightly.
"Why?" His deadly talons continued to move lightly.
"Because I think it would have made it harder to get to know you. I would have been more focused on what I was supposed to do, rather than just enjoying my time with you and letting things develop." Mary closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the relaxation and his scent.
"Would you have told me?" She could feel the rumble of his voice almost as much as she heard it.
"I don't know. What would I have said? 'Gargoyle huh? Nice to meet you, we're supposed to have a baby.'?" Aiden's laughter shook Mary's body, the spasms of her own laughter were lost in it.
"Somehow I cannot imagine you saying those words to me, or to anyone else." He kissed her softly.
"Well, maybe you're right about that." She smiled and curled closer. "Still, this find might make the rest of my pregnancy a little less challenging."
"Had you ever heard of a prophecy involving a mating before?" She asked.
"Robbie has. He mentioned it that first time he and Andy came over here. Apparently, no one had been able to find the document so it became kind of a legend."
"I see, you wish to tell them tomorrow evening?" He asked. Mary shrugged.
"I certainly can't hide it forever, or even for much longer." She sighed. "Nothing fits right anymore. I think I can get away with just saying I've gained weight for a little while, but at some point it's going to become obvious. That'll probably be sooner rather than later, according to Nigel."
Aiden was silent, his hands moved in thoughtful little circles on her lower back.
"Do not tell them until I join you." He said finally.
"I wouldn't dream of it." She kissed his shoulder lightly. "So is that all that's in the book?"
"No. There is a great deal of history as well. Garrick recorded reactions in minute detail. Factions that formed within our clan, as well as those that he knew of in other clans. He also included a more detailed history of our clan. He wanted our child to know his history, in case the stories did not survive in any other form."
"Let me down for a second." Mary slid off of his lap and picked up the letter. She searched until she found the name of Aiden's clan. She sat back down and pointed it out to him. "How do you pronounce that?" Aiden thought for a moment.
"I do not know. I have never seen it written in your language. I can tell you how we pronounce it though." What followed were a series of growls with subtle intonations that were punctuated by soft clicks of his tongue. Mary looked at the page and tried to line the letters up with the sounds Aiden had just made. They didn't fit very well, but she wasn't sure how she would have spelled it any differently. Mary tried to repeat what he'd said, but failed miserably. Aiden chuckled and kissed the top of her head.
"May I read the letter?" He asked.
"Sure. I need a snack anyway." She handed it to him and got up again. "Want anything?"
"Are there any apples?"
"I'll check. If there are, how many do you want?"
"Six." He answered. His eyes were already beginning to scan the first page. Mary wondered how to keep him in apples without buying them by the bushel.
Veronica was first to arrive for the gathering. Mary wasn't really surprised by that, she had learned that Veronica always arrived first and left last. Mary found she looked forward to spending time with the older woman. Since Caroline had agreed to see to all the preparations, Mary had the free time to spend entertaining. They sat in the sun-soaked conservatory with needlework and a pot of tea.
Veronica knew everyone who was worth knowing and she always had the most scandalous gossip to share. At first, that had bothered Mary, but she quickly realized that Veronica only talked about people she didn't like. She had never met most of the people Veronica mentioned, but listening was rather like watching a soap opera; once you learned the names of the characters, it was easy to become absorbed. She found herself wondering if Alistair Nesbitt would ever find out that his wife was having an affair with another woman, or if Jarrod Ellison would manage to keep two mistresses satisfied and secret -- from his wife and from each other.
"So, have you talked about names yet?" Veronica asked casually. Mary tried not to react like someone had poured icewater down her back.
"Names?" She asked.
"You're pregnant. Is it too soon to think about names?" Veronica's gaze was direct. Mary knew denying it wouldn't do any good, but she found that she was at a loss for words.
"How did you know?" She asked when she found her voice.
"I've had four children and those children have given me fifteen grandchildren between them." She smiled a little. "You've gained a bit of weight and you have a glow."
"Is it obvious?" Mary blushed a little. She thought the casual, teal-colored empire-waist dress she had chosen for the evening hid everything quite nicely. It was entirely possible that was just wishful thinking.
"To me, but I don't think it will be to anyone else. You're planning to keep it from the others?" She seemed curious about that.
"Some of them already know. Caroline knows because she lives here. Nigel knows because he's my doctor, and Aiden knows," Mary took a deep breath. "Because it's his baby."
"I knew it!" Veronica smiled. For a moment, Mary was terrified. Veronica read her expression and continued on quickly. "The first night we all met him, I noticed how the two of you were looking at each other. One doesn't need magic to see when a couple truly cares for one another. It's a beautiful thing, no matter what they look like on the outside."
"Thanks." Mary smiled. "I worry the others won't be as accepting."
"So what if they aren't?" She looked indignant at the very thought of anyone rejecting the child. "What are they going to do, kick you out?"
Maureen and Joanna were beginning to clear the dessert dishes away, Mary knew the others were waiting for a signal from her to leave the table. She hesitated to give it. At least while they were all here, she had their attention. This gathering was just group members, which made things considerably easier. When Maureen returned to the dining room she bent down to whisper in Mary's ear.
"Mr. Aiden is back. Do you want him to wait on the patio?"
"No. Ask him to go into the conservatory with everything. He'll know what 'everything' I mean." She spoke in a quiet voice.
Quentin was looking at her curiously, but he kept his questions to himself for the moment.
"If everyone will follow me into the conservatory, there's something we need to discuss before we begin." She got up and everyone else followed obediently. She could hear them speculating about what this topic of discussion was, but she held her tongue.
"Mary," Robbie had joined her at her elbow while she had been in her own little world. "Do you intend to go ahead with waking Esme? If not, you really should have told them at dinner."
"We'll go ahead, with a short delay." She smiled. When they entered the large glassed-in room, Aiden was standing in front of one of the side tables. She hadn't considered the fact that he wouldn't have a place to put the book in there. The table looked haphazard, but it made as good a stand as any. She walked over to him, letting the others get coffee and find a place to sit. The light was dimmer than it had been earlier in the day, but the room still had a cozy glow. She hoped that would inspire calm in her guests.
"You are certain about this, child?" He murmured. She could tell it was difficult for him not to reach out and touch her. It was just as hard for her not to touch him.
"Yes." She tried to sound confident, but the concern in his eyes told her that she had failed. She turned to the assembled group, and found a chair closest to the book.
"I thought we were going to attempt to wake Esme." Alex emphasized the word attempt.
"We are going to wake Esme tonight, and there are a few things that Aiden wants to go over to maintain everyone's safety." There were a few nervous looks at that announcement. She thought there would be. "Before that though, something has happened that's of interest to everyone in this room. Robbie, do you remember the first time you and Andy came to the Hall to meet me? You told me about a document that Cyril Beeson claimed to have found."
"Must we ALL be involved in this trip down memory lane?" Stuart could manage to sound perfectly bored with any situation.
"Yes." Aiden answered sharply. He moved to stand behind Mary.
"Yes, of course I remember." Robbie was looking at her curiously. "Why?"
"I found it." She said.
"You couldn't have!" Andy said. "The thing is a myth, and has been from the beginning. Cyril only made it up to sound important."
"What is this document anyway?" Gordon asked. He was clearly curious. Robbie explained quickly.
"I'll admit, it's fascinating stuff, but even if you have found it, how does that affect tonight?" He said, after the explanation.
"She hasn't found anything!" Andy waved dismissively. "She's stalling because she can't wake Esme."
"Try something new and shut up." Ramona said.
"Agreed." David said. "At least let Mary finish."
"It affects tonight because Cyril was wrong." Mary didn't give anyone else a chance to chime in.
"What part of it was wrong, Mary?" Mary could see understanding dawning in his face, but Mary's mouth went dry at the thought of explaining it with so many people looking at her. Aiden laid his hand on her shoulder, she glanced at him and gripped his hand.
"Mary has told me that Cyril read the document to mean that my ancestor, Garrick, suggested a mating between a gargoyle and a human female before the trouble began." Aiden explained. All eyes were on their clasped hands. "Because humans have never mastered the gargoyle language, he got the timing entirely wrong. Garrick's actual prophecy was that the first untrained Beeson daughter would mate with the last of Garrick's descendants."
"You mean you two are going to-" Ron looked horrified, so did Alex. "Just because of some old paper?"
"It's not like that." Mary said. "Aiden and I were mated long before I found the book."
"Book?" Robbie asked.
"The one on the table was written by Garrick and holds the most detailed version of the prophecy. The letter was in it, although it was still sealed, so I doubt Cyril read it. That's why he got it so wrong." Mary answered.
"There is more." Aiden spoke before anyone else could. "Mary is carrying my child. We share this at all because she is not certain what will happen she tries to wake Esme this evening. She wants you all to be prepared." The collective gasp seemed to draw all the air out of the room.
"Congratulations." Quentin was the first to recover. She could tell he meant his congratulations.
"Are you INSANE?" Ron looked disgusted. He got up. "Maybe the rest of you want to sit here while a monster's whore-" Nigel and Gordon were both on their feet. Mary gripped Aiden's hand harder.
"You're going to apologize for that." Nigel said.
"And the two of you are going to compel that apology?" He crossed his arms. Aiden pulled his hand out of Mary's.
"Aiden-" Mary's voice was almost pleading. He didn't listen. The way his tail flicked from side to side as he crossed the room, his wings were raised and partially spread making him look even larger than he was. Mary knew he was angry and fighting to control it. In the space of seconds, the men had chosen sides and the women made their way to Mary. She ignored them and started to follow Aiden.
"Mary." Veronica took her arm. "They'll work it out for themselves."
"But, Aiden-" She gestured toward the shouting men.
"I don't see Aiden harming anyone." Veronica led her out onto the softly lit patio with the other women. "And even if he does, it won't be the first black eye or bloody nose that's happened at one of these things."
With the doors closed, she couldn't clearly hear what was going on, but it was clear that everyone was shouting. The others stood so that Mary had no choice but to keep her back to the doors.
"How far along are you?" Veronica asked. They sat down at one of the small, wrought iron tables.
"Nearly twelve weeks." Mary tried to manage a smile.
"Then your abilities should have made the adjustment." Ramona said.
"For me the shift took about eight weeks." Veronica said. "In the beginning I felt like I had no control at all. It was maddening."
"I couldn't find anything about pregnancy in the library here." Mary knew the others would understand she didn't mean the upstairs library.
"That doesn't surprise me. No woman has ever written a widely accepted book about magic and no man has ever been pregnant." Caroline said.
"Nigel didn't tell you what to expect?" Ramona looked shocked.
"No, but I think he was more concerned with the basics at first." Mary blushed and managed a little smile. "It's kind of an unusual situation."