Heart of Stone Ch. 17bypsyche_b_mused©
Author's Note: Sorry it's taken a bit longer than usual to update. I'm a college student and I'm about halfway through the semester. In other words....BUSY. :) I will try and update as frequently as I can (as always) but chapters this long do take a bit of time to write. I hope they're worth the wait. Enjoy! psyche b
17. Intersecting Threads
Mary stood in the nursery and look around. For a room that had housed countless Beeson babies throughout the years, it was a rather grim space. It hadn't been painted in awhile, but Joanna had cleaned it from top to bottom. It should have looked at least semi-appealing. There was enough light streaming in from the two large windows. The room was spacious enough. There was plenty of storage for toys, books, clothing and incidentals. There was a bathroom attached, and even though it wasn't very large it was comfortable enough.
"Mary?" Caroline called.
"In the nursery." Mary answered. Caroline appeared in the door a few minutes later.
"Well," She looked around at the institutional white walls. "It's certainly a blank canvas."
"It's horrible." Mary said.
"I don't know if I would go that far." Caroline walked further into the room. Her footsteps echoed slightly in the nearly empty room. "It certainly doesn't look like much at the moment, but I've seen what you can do with a little paint and fabric."
"That's the thing, I'm not sure I want to." Mary sat down in the rocking chair. Her back had started to ache more frequently. Nigel assured her that was normal, it was still an adjustment though.
"The baby has to sleep somewhere." Caroline brought over a ladderback chair and sat down.
"I know that, but does it have to be so far away from everyone else? My suite is all the way at the other end of the house. I'll never hear him when he cries. Even with a baby monitor it's going to take ages for me to get to him. Whoever decided that babies should be put so far away from the rest of the family?" Mary glared at the cold, functional space.
"The same person that decided they should have nannies I suppose." Caroline said.
"That would be an interesting call to an agency." Mary laughed. "'Newborn baby, one teensy little thing though, he's half gargoyle.'" Caroline laughed too.
"True. I suppose trying to fit the common to the uncommon isn't going to work very well. That still leaves the question of where to put him though." Caroline sat back. "Time is getting relatively short."
"I know." Mary rubbed the side of her swollen stomach. It had only been a day since the failed waking, but she felt larger. "There are several guest rooms down at my end. It wouldn't take much to redecorate one of them."
"What do gargoyle females do with their babies?" Caroline asked. From the look on her friend's face, Mary could tell that the question hadn't occurred to Caroline before.
"Esme and I were talking about that the other night. I was worried that because gargoyles live so long that he would still be a baby when I was an old lady." Mary laughed softly.
"I never thought about that either." Caroline admitted. "What did she say."
"Apparently there are two ways to look at it. Physically, they grow similarly to humans. Emotional and social maturity takes longer. But as babies, their mothers hold them to while they rest for around two or three years. Apparently it all depends on the child's willingness to separate. Since he's already moving through the day and gargoyle babies are still during the day, even in the womb, I'm not sure how that's going to work out. I know that I want to keep him close though." She stroked her side.
"Then you should." Caroline smiled.
"How are things in the village?" Mary asked. She hadn't been into the village since she started showing. She knew there were all kinds of rumors flying about who the father of the child was. Mary figured they would all find out soon enough.
"The same as always. Mavis Beckley and June Philby are locked in mortal combat over the directorship of the church flower arranging committee." Caroline said.
"What happened to Alice King?" Mary asked.
"That's right! I keep meaning to tell you and then I always forget. Alice was caught in a very compromising position with the grocer and-" Caroline slid forward.
"Not the one with three fingers on each hand!"
"Yes, I was stunned too, but apparently they've been secretly seeing each other for months now. Anyway, he left the door of the shop open one evening and Jill Emmons walked in to find them in the act right there on the floor in aisle three. You know how Jill is, half the village knew before she went to bed that night. The rest of the committee said she was unfit to be performing such a sacred duty for the church so they voted her out with Mavis leading the charge. Personally, I think that was more because Mavis thought she would be a shoe-in, but then June challenged her and things got interesting."
"I'll say." Mary laughed. "Anything else interesting?"
"Kylie Simms left her husband again."
"That happens every three weeks." Mary waved dismissively.
"She says it's for good this time."
"She says that every time."
"I know, but this time she might be serious. I think she fancies Jerry Liston." Caroline nodded.
"Alex's best friend?" Mary was shocked. Kylie was known to be rather free with her affections when she and Alex were split up, but she didn't think Kylie would look so close to home for distraction.
"The very same. I didn't say it was wise, just it seemed like she fancied him." Both women laughed. "I bought some of those spice cakes you like."
"Well, why didn't you say so?" Mary got up slowly. Lately sweets made her nauseous, but the spice cakes were more savory than sweet. Mary doubted she would like them as much after her pregnancy was over. She followed Caroline downstairs and into the kitchen.
For a few minutes, they busied themselves making tea and getting a small snack ready. Mary knew she could have asked Maureen or Joanna, but there were times that she preferred to just do things for herself. Nigel was already talking about putting her on bed rest for the last few weeks of her pregnancy. He talked about it as more of a precaution, and she knew it was probably best. She wasn't looking forward to it though.
"Reena?" Collin said from the doorway. Hearing his pet name for Maureen always made Mary smile.
"She's not in here, Collin. Want some spice cake? There's plenty." Mary said.
"That's kind of you, Miss." He got a cup and a dessert plate from the cupboard and sat down. "Actually it was you I was looking for anyway."
"Oh?" Mary seemed surprised. Caroline poured him some of her tea.
"There's two men lingering outside the gate." He took a bite of the spice cake.
"You mean they're camping?" The access road was about a mile long before a visitor arrived at the gate. It was mostly wooded land, and technically it belonged to the estate. She never really considered it to be hers though. She knew there were several spots along there where people liked to picnic, but she'd never seen anyone stay longer than the afternoon.
"I don't know, I don't see a tent or anything. I suppose they must be, but there's something just peculiar about them." Collin wasn't the type to get upset easily. The way he picked at the spice cake made it clear to Mary that something had upset him.
"Are you sure they weren't vagrants?" Caroline said. "I saw them too, and they looked like they had been living outdoors for awhile."
"That may be all it is." Collin reluctantly agreed.
"How long have they been there?" Mary asked.
"I noticed them yesterday. They didn't look any too clean then." Collin said.
"Tell them that they have until noon tomorrow to leave." Mary said. "If they don't, I'll call the police." She wanted more than anything to call the police immediately, but that seemed like overreacting. They were probably a couple of students on some sort of holiday. At least, that's what she kept telling herself.
The next day, not only were the two still there, they had been joined by a third. She'd told Aiden about it to make sure that he and the others were staying away from the boundaries of the estate when they hunted. He told her to stay away from the gate as well. Still, she had to see this for herself. She spent most of the next morning wandering between windows she thought might give her a decent vantage point only to find that her view of anything but the gate itself was blocked. Finally, she found herself in the attic. From there she could see two of the three men.
She noticed a dusty old telescope and she pulled it closer to the window. It gave her a better view, but there wasn't much to look at. The two men she could see didn't seem to be doing anything at all. They weren't playing games, they weren't talking to each other, or to anyone that she could see. They weren't painting, or taking pictures, or watching birds or anything else that a person might do out in the woods. They just stood there, staring at the house. Something about that seemed very wrong to Mary. The baby's hard kick brought her back to herself. She went downstairs and phoned the police.
Mary gave Constable Winslow credit. He tried to disperse her gathering crowd several times in the ensuing days, but each time he appeared they disappeared into the trees. She was also grateful to him for not treating her like a hysterical pregnant woman. By the fifth day, there were ten people that she could see, and at least seven others that Collin had seen at the edges of other parts of the estate.
Calvus and Jerel were ready to take action immediately, pointing out that in ages past the function of the gargoyle/human alliance was protection. The humans had more than lived up to their end of that bargain, and now it was their turn to reciprocate. Aiden listened, and agreed that in times past, there would hardly have been a question of what to do. In these new times though, he decided that the wisest course of action was to watch and wait for the moment. None of the gargoyles liked the inaction they were forced into, but Aiden reminded them that acting would put them all firmly at odds with the new world they all had to be a part of.
Mary wasn't sure how she felt about that. Logically, she knew that Aiden was right and that if the situation did take a violent turn for the worse he wouldn't hesitate to act to protect her. Logic wasn't doing much to allay her fears, though. During the long days, she found herself wandering from room to room. At night, even short separations from Aiden were difficult for her. She was frustrated and frightened, and all the time feeling guilty because she knew the constant stress was bad for the baby.
On Thursday afternoon she found herself sitting in the library with the drapes closed. The room was usually warm and welcoming at that time of day, but the closed drapes settled an air of gloom over everything. The gargoyles were still resting. Caroline and Maureen were the only ones who was brave enough to venture out past the gathered group, and they were in the village to do some grocery shopping. Mary couldn't stand it any longer. She picked up the phone and called Robbie's cell.
"Robbie, it's Mary." Her voice sounded timid.
"Mary! How are you feeling?" He sounded genuinely happy to hear from her. That made Mary smile.
"Fine. Am I interrupting you?"
"Not at all, and you don't sound fine." She heard the concern in his voice. Mary sighed and explained what was going on.
"They're just standing there?" He asked.
"Yes. I don't think they sit down or eat or anything. They just stand there, staring at the house. It's like something out of a horror movie." She scratched at the side of her stomach lightly. As if the whole thing wasn't bad enough, her skin had begun to itch. "When the police show up they just disappear into the woods. Since they haven't done anything threatening, the police aren't very willing to chase them all down. I don't know how much good that would do anyway."
"Are they from the village?" He sounded as confused about the whole thing as she was.
"The constable didn't know any of them, but they would almost have to be from the village. There are no vehicles out there. Where else would they come from?"
"That's a reasonable assumption, but I'm not sure reason applies in this case" She could hear a muffled tapping. "I know you're not completely surrounded by walls or fences, but your magical protections have perimeters. Have any of them crossed that boundary?"
"I don't think so." Mary said. "To be honest, I hadn't even thought of that. Could that be the opposition?" The idea was shocking.
"Yes and no, his associates would be in the upper echelons of society, like ours are. I am certain he's the one behind it though."
"Even if he is, that doesn't seem like a very effective use of resources. He gets them to just stand there and -"
"Things are getting a bit frightening out there." Caroline said. Mary could clearly hear the upset in her friend's voice. "Oh, sorry." She lowered her voice and started out of the room again.
"Hold on a minute." Mary took the phone away from her mouth again. "It's okay, it's Robbie. What do you mean, is it getting weirder?"
"Let me get the hall extension." Caroline brought the cordless from the hall into the library and sat down. "Mary told you about the bunch outside the gate?" Caroline asked after a brief greeting.
"She did." He answered.
"At first they just stood there. When I drove out they were just standing there, but when I came back they walked toward the car like they were going to try and stop me." She shuddered.
"What?" Mary went from nervous to terrified. She noticed Caroline's hand was trembling.
"How did they do that, specifically?" Robbie was maintaining his calm, but the tapping had gotten louder and faster.
"When I drove in they started walking toward the car. They stopped at the edge of the road, but those blank looks all coming toward me was terrifying." She said.
"Mary, don't go off the grounds." Robbie said firmly.
"But I have an appointment with Nigel tomorrow-" Mary started to shiver.
"Cancel it or have him come to you. I need to make a some phone calls to the others. I'll call you back in a few hours' time." His voice was firm, but comforting.
"You do know what's going on, don't you." She said.
"I have an idea." He sighed. "Does the grocery store in the village deliver?"
"I don't know." Mary looked over at Caroline. She felt like that should be her new mantra.
"I think they do, if the order is big enough." Caroline said.
"Good." He said. "Fill your pantries and freezers."
"Do you know how much food the Hall holds?" Mary's laugh was forced. She didn't like where any of this was going.
"Yes. Do it." He said. "I'll call you back soon."
For the next three hours Mary tried to be still, but she couldn't quite manage it. She helped Maureen see to the grocery order, but beyond that she had nothing else to occupy her mind. She knew that the answers she was looking for wasn't upstairs. She walked slowly down the narrow steps to the downstairs library. The stairway had been challenging before, but since the dramatic change in her shape, they had become a bit frightening. She knew Aiden didn't like her going down there, but at that moment she didn't feel like she had a choice. She had been mired in inaction for too long.
Mary wasn't sure how long she had been down there, but it wasn't long enough for her to even figure out where to look.
"Miss? Are you down there?" Joanna called. Yelling wasn't entirely civilized, but the downstairs library was off limits to everyone but herself and Aiden. The magical protections someone put in place centuries before made sure of that.
"Yes." Mary walked back to the doorway. "Is Mr. Barnaby on the phone?"
"No, Miss. There's a Mr. And Mrs. Bennett here." Joanna looked surprised.
"Alright. Have them wait in the the library. I'll be right up." The name Bennett was familiar to her, but she couldn't quite place it. On the long trip up the stairs, she wondered what the two visitors thought of her crowd. She also wondered how she was going to explain it. By the time she got to the top of the stairs, the phone was ringing. She answered it before Joanna got there.
"It's Robbie. You sound winded, are you alright?" She could hear concern in his voice again.
"I'm fine. I was in the magic library and those stairs are pretty steep. Sometimes I think they're getting steeper." She managed a short laugh, so did he. "I hate to rush you, but I have guests-"
"A Mr. and Mrs. Bennett." He supplied.
"How did you know?" She sat down on one of chairs in the entry way. Instantly she knew why they were out there, no human being could be comfortable actually sitting on them for an extended period of time.
"I sent them. Actually, you met them both at that first gathering at Pemberley Court. They're my housekeeper and butler." Mary was starting to regain her breath, and she was noticing the background sounds. It sounded as though he was driving.
"Alright, I remember who they are now, but why are they here?"
"I hate to do this, I don't think there's any other alternative though. What's going on outside your gates is something akin to a siege. Their numbers of those gathered will increase and they'll prevent anyone from entering or leaving. I have a few loitering around my gates, so do the others. You have the most because of the gargoyles and the fact that you're the most powerful of all of us."
"They aren't being very sneaky about it. If this was meant to prevent a gathering wouldn't it be more covert?"
"Our friend is counting on our inaction. I sent the Bennetts to you because you're about to have a number of long-term guests and I know you don't maintain a staff large enough to see to all of us for more than a night. If there was some other way-"
"Wouldn't it be better if the gargoyles and I went to someone else? Someone's who more prepared?" The thought of having everyone for more than just the night or a weekend was overwhelming.
"Our protections aren't as strong as yours, but beyond that I'm certain they wouldn't let you out if you tried going by ground." She could tell that he was trying not to scare her.
"The promise of getting to you and the gargoyles would mean any of our defenses would be breeched as soon as the sun came up tomorrow. I truly believe this is the only way."
"Maybe you're right." Mary sighed.
"I'm about an hour away. The others are getting themselves together and will arrive as soon as they can. Everyone's been instructed to bring supplies, some will probably bring servants too. We'll talk more when I get there. Will you be alright until then?" He sounded genuinely worried about here. Mary was worried about herself.
"The sun should be down in a half hour or so. I think I'll feel better when Aiden's awake." She sighed.
"Get some rest. If we start arriving before you get up, I'm sure we can amuse ourselves." They said goodbye to each other, and Mary found Bennett in the library.
"Where's Mrs. Bennett?" She asked.
"With your Mrs. March." He smiled. "I simply wanted to tell you that we are here to help and to support your staff in any way you might need."
"Thank you." She looked at him uncertainly. "What did Robbie tell you about all this?" Mary knew that he and his wife knew about Aiden. She had no idea what they knew beyond that.
"Please, sit down, Miss." She sat down and he sat across from her.
"My family has been servants to Mr. Barnaby's family for as far back as we can trace, even in the lean times. An unusual arrangement today, but it used to be relatively common. My family never had a role in the magical happenings, but we certainly knew the extent of what was going on. Mr. Barnaby wouldn't have sent us here if we needed to be protected from it.." His smile was reassuring. Mary tried to smile back, but she couldn't quite manage it with any sincerity.