Heart of Stone Ch. 07bypsyche_b_mused©
Author's Note: I'm so glad that so many people are enjoying this story. I love hearing from all of you and hope you continue to enjoy it as the chapters go on and the mystery unravels.
7. Gains and Losses
Mary woke up on the sofa in the library and saw Maureen pacing nervously. She looked like she as considering how to approach something and not certain the best way to go about it. Maureen had gotten better at speaking her mind, and Mary was glad that her housekeeper didn't feel the need to tiptoe around as much anymore. Mary sat up and the older woman jumped.
"Sorry." Mary yawned. "Aiden and I were up talking until almost sunrise."
"So you told him then?" Maureen sat down next to Mary.
"I told him about my visit with Robbie, yes." Maybe it was just the lack of sleep but Mary was at a loss why the housekeeper would be so concerned about it. Maureen knew there was something odd about Mary's strange guest, but she had told her very little about her suspicions. For some reason, that seemed safer.
"I don't mean that." The older woman waved dismissively. "I mean, the," She searched for the right word. "The other matter." Maureen's face was absolutely serious. Mary felt like she was missing something important.
"Maureen, I didn't sleep as much as I should have last night and I just woke up now so I'm really not following what you mean."
"I shouldn't have mentioned it, it's really none of my business." Maureen got up again.
"But you did and I'm going to be worried all day about what it is if you don't tell me." Mary said. Maureen sat again and took a deep breath.
"When you said that Mr. Aiden was your mate, did you mean that you and he are physically close, like a husband and wife?" Maureen was blushing as she asked the question and after meaning registered in Mary's tired mind, she blushed too.
"Yes, that's one of the things it means."
"Then, with you being sick like you are, have you considered that you might be, well, in a family way?"
Mary leaned back and closed her eyes, fighting down the swell of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her. She had started to consider the possibility that she might be pregnant, especially when she realized how late she was. Before she could even consider doing something to find out one way or the other she got the answer.
"If I was, I'm not anymore." She said. "I started my period this morning. It doesn't seem right to tell him now and upset him."
"I'm so sorry, Miss. I should have kept my mouth shut." The older woman looked wounded by her own bad timing.
"It's alright Maureen." Mary sighed deeply, she had cried before coming downstairs, but now the loss seemed fresh all over again. "The truth is, I don't even know if I can have children with Aiden. We're so different."
"Are you sure you want to?" Maureen sounded shocked, then she turned red. "No, that didn't come out right." Mary laughed softly.
"Don't worry about it, I know what you mean. I guess it looks kind of strange to most people." Mary blushed a little too. Maureen had never said anything about Mary's relationship with Aiden. Mary knew that the older couple liked Aiden once they got to know him, but feeling comfortable with him wasn't the same as understanding Mary's feelings for him. She didn't really want to try and explain it right now, either. "Maggie's being unusually quiet today."
Normally Maggie could be heard banging around in some part of the house and, if one was close enough, the dour maid's line of mumbled complaints and curses could be clearly heard. Mary was disturbed by it at first because she'd never been around anyone that seemed so openly angry at the world. Aunt Patrice never seemed particularly happy with life in general, mostly because any kind of fun was sinful, but she was silent about it. Maggie made certain that everyone knew her life had not turned out as she had hoped and her complaints had become like the creaks and groans the house made; background noise that was only noticed if it wasn't there.
"I wouldn't know." Maureen got up. "She didn't show up today."
The fog of sleep completely receded when Mary heard that. Something uncomfortable began to press against her consciousness.
"She's never done that before, has she?" Mary got up and leafed through her phone book, looking for Maggie's number.
"No, Miss." She watched Mary dial. "If you're trying to call, the number's been disconnected. She's probably run off somewhere with that boyfriend of hers." Mary listened to the recording and then cradled the receiver.
"She has a boyfriend?" Mary said, truly surprised that anyone would be interested in spending time with such and unhappy woman.
"He's a drunk from what I hear, but yes. Her whole family is the same way though, the men drink to deal with the women complaining and the women complain about how much the men drink. You're going to be alright?" She still looked concerned.
"Yes, thanks." Mary managed a smile. "Did I hear the phone ring earlier?" She sank down into the large chair behind the desk.
"You did. I'm sorry Miss, I completely lost track. It was Mr. Barnaby, he'd like you to call him at his office as soon as possible. He left the number, if you need it."
"No, thanks Maureen. If you need any help with chores today, let me know." Mary said. The housekeeper looked at her strangely.
"You won't be able to find a girl to start so soon." She said.
"I meant that I would help. I do know how to do housework you know." Mary laughed softly.
"I doubt things are that dire, Miss." She smiled and left Mary alone.
"Barnaby." He said simply.
"Robbie, it's Mary. My housekeeper made your message sound desperate." She tried to keep her tone light, but something told her that it shouldn't be.
"That's the impression I gave her. I've had some news of our visitor."
"He's been to see you?" Mary asked, sitting forward in her chair.
"No, I think he's finished with my family for now, but I have a friend, Andrew Cranmore, who found our guest speaking with his elderly mother."
"No, apparently the old dear isn't entirely well to begin with and he has a nurse who keeps a close watch on her. Our friend came in while the nurse was on the telephone in another part of the house. When as she returned, our friend was escorted out. According to what Andy told me it was before he could do any damage."
"Well thank goodness for that." Mary leaned back in her chair again and made a note of the name. She was fairly certain that Cranmore's mother wouldn't have been visited unless they had a statue, Mary couldn't remember that name from Aiden's lists though. "I'm not sure why your call was so urgent though."
"Because we need to talk, and I don't mean a light conversation over lunch. I hate to impose but does that invitation to the Hall apply for this week end?"
"Absolutely." Mary said without hesitation. "And bring your wife if you like."
"That's a kind offer," He chuckled softly. "But I'm a confirmed bachelor. It makes certain things easier. Shall we say Saturday afternoon, around three?"
The comment about his bachelorhood sounded ominous to Mary, but everything did these last few days. She brushed it aside and finalized the visit in genial tones she hoped sounded convincing.
"Robbie is coming to a visit on Saturday." Mary told Aiden softly. They were on his island, her back against his chest, her legs straddling his lap. His hand stroked her stomach under her shirt.
"You must have made quite an impression on him." Aiden's words didn't hold the snide cruelty they had the day before, but the uncertainty was still there though.
"I think it has less to do with me and more to do with my guest." Mary related the conversation and incident with Andrew Cranmore's mother.
"Cranmore? The name is not familiar to me." He said.
"It's not familiar to me either, but if she's being visited then I can only assume they have at least one statue. After all this time though the fact that the name has changed isn't really all that surprising. Cranmore might be a descendant of one of the names on the list, or one of them might have sold the estate to him or one of his predecessors. I'll try to find out more on Saturday." Mary sighed and listened to the tapestry of sounds the night wove around them. "I feel responsible for all of this." She said finally.
"You had nothing to do with setting this in motion." Aiden sounded shocked that she would even think such a thing.
"Maybe I didn't set it in motion, but it all seems to revolve around me. If I hadn't-"
"Stop." He said next to her ear. His arms tightened around her. "You willingly take up burdens that are not your own and it pains me to see you laboring under the weight of them. This entire thing is little more than a clock. It was set in motion in the dim past and now it is about to strike midnight. That will happen no matter who is in the room."
"I'm not used to being," Mary closed her eyes and searched for the right word. "Being special. I mean I know you think of me that way, but, I've never had a larger purpose that I've known about before. Now I'm chasing all over a strange country after a phantom, and trying to put a puzzle together when I don't know if I have all the pieces and I don't know what the end product is supposed to look like."
"We are all equal to the destiny we have been given, child." His lips brushed the spot just below her ear. "I have told you my father was the leader of our clan?"
"Yes." Mary said softly.
"By the time I was born, he had been leading for a several years. It was not until much later that I learned he tried pass the role to another."
"Why would he want to do that? I thought roles in your society were more strictly defined." Mary was always fascinated when he talked about his past and the way his culture worked.
"They are strictly defined, but not always strictly pleasing." He chuckled softly. "My father was more interested in healing. He had good deal of skill too, that is how he met my mother. He was ready to let the leadership of the clan pass to his half-brother Goran."
"But he didn't?" Mary asked.
"For a time, he did. In those few months Goran nearly succeeded in dismantling the entire clan for his own personal gain. He sold several of our females into slavery because their fathers had slighted him in some small way. Alliances that had been in place for generations were crumbling because of his insults. My father kept himself distant from the conflict in the beginning, there are always wrinkles to be ironed out when leaders change. As time went on though, our clan was becoming more and more isolated and it became clear that Goran was not going to settle into a prudent style of governance."
"But your father had already passed on the opportunity." Mary said, her eyes closed, trying to picture Aiden's father.
"Yes and no." She could hear the little smile in his voice. "There is always a time of transition when a successor can be openly challenged. My father clearly saw what his place was meant to be and so he took it without further regret. He maintained his other interest and skill however."
"Goran couldn't have stepped aside easily." Mary said.
"No, though after he was dead he was remarkably silent on the matter." Aiden responded.
"Is that always the answer? To kill the one you disagree with?" She asked.
"Not always, in fact it is quite rare. Perhaps I have only told you of the most dramatic incidents and situations. The point is, my father did not believe he was meant to lead. You do not believe you are equal to your purpose. Just as he was, so are you." Mary turned to looked at him over her shoulder.
"You really believe that." She said.
"Of course I do, child. Though I see that you do not." He smiled and stroked her cheek. Mary could feel tears welling up and in spite of her resolution to remain silent her body began to shake with the force of her grief. He shifted her body carefully so that she was facing him. Mary held him tightly with her arms and legs and sobbed. In fits and starts, through gasping breaths she related the initial uncertainty of the pregnancy and the absolute certainty of the loss of it. Aiden simply held her, one large hand stroking her back, the other cradling her head.
"Such things happen sweet one." His voice was soft, but she heard the hitch of sadness in it. Even through her tears she recognized that that soothing tone was as much for his own benefit as it was for hers. "We will have a child when the time is right."
"I'm sorry." She stroked his back and slid a bit more toward his knees. Even in the low light she noticed his tears. He looked at her curiously.
"Sorry for what? This was an act of nature." Mary reached up and brushed the tears off of his cheeks.
"I know, but I still worry that-" He laid a finger over her lips.
"You have no cause to worry. You are young and healthy and males of my kind can continue to sire children well into old age. Even with all of our differences, I believe it will happen." He kissed her lightly. "Shall we go back?"
Mary nodded and tightened her arms and legs when he stood. She wasn't entirely certain that he was right, but his confidence did give her comfort. She shivered a little as the cool, night air started rushing past her.
Robbie arrived promptly at three on Saturday afternoon and to Mary's surprise, Andrew Cranmore was with him. Andy looked to be at least ten years younger than Robbie, but Mary had always been bad at judging people's ages. Mary got the same shock of recognition when she took his hand that she had with Robbie, only this time she covered it better.
They had coffee and then Mary gave them a tour of the house. She noticed the look that passed between the two men when they walked by her new statue. Mary and Colin had designed plantings and added a bench to the area to make it seem like a part of the garden. The plants had filled in nicely and the affect was quite pleasing. She didn't think they were admiring her choice of shrubbery though.
The conversation through dinner was light and so pleasant that Mary was almost able to forget the purpose of the visit. When they'd finished she asked Maureen to bring coffee and dessert into the library. Once everyone had a cup of coffee and a slice of cake the housekeeper left quietly. As soon as the door was shut Andy set his aside.
"You've woken one of them up, haven't you?" The harsh tone shocked Mary.
"Andy! We discussed this." Robbie's voice was shocked and salted heavily with anger.
"Maybe you're content to chat about houses and decorating and all kinds of silliness, but I didn't come all this way to make small talk." The shift was almost frightening in a way. Only moments before she wouldn't have guessed all that venom was seething under the surface. Robbie sighed.
"I'm sorry Mary, I had hoped to approach this more delicately," He glared at his companion. "But since that's not possible anymore, have you woken one of them?"
Both men were watching her, one angrily, one curiously. Mary's hand trembled and her fork rattled against the plate, she set aside before she dropped it.
"I don't know what you mean." Her voice sounded steadier than she felt. Andy opened his mouth but Robbie shot him a glacial look.
"You do know." He said softly.
"Mary, we're on you're side in this." Andy gave a derisive snort, Robbie ignored him and leaned forward. "Trust us."
"I'm supposed to trust him?" Mary jabbed her finger at Andy and was surprised at her sudden anger. "He comes into my house and acts all friendly until he thinks he can blindside me. And you," she turned back to Robbie. "Every time I talk to you it's a different story and now I'm suppose to just tell you whatever you want to know?"
Andy's face was bright red and he started to make a small gesture, Robbie grabbed his wrist.
"She needs a to be taught-" Andy growled.
"Do you think she's ever been taught anything?" Robbie answered.
"SHE is in the room." Mary said. "And she wasn't raised in a barn either." It was one of Aunt Patrice's favorite sayings and Mary cringed to hear it coming out of her own mouth, no matter the context.
"Of course not Mary, this isn't what I intended this meeting to be at all." He sat back and drank some of his coffee. "I couldn't tell you the whole story when we met the other day because I still wasn't certain about you. We didn't actually touch until you were leaving." He smiled slightly.
"Then it's not my imagination? That -- feeling?" She asked, looking from one man to the other. She was surprised to see Andy's face soften.
"No, it's not your imagination." Robbie said with a little smile. "My father wasn't just raving when he said our families were connected. They have been for centuries because we sheltered the last of the gargoyles. Your ancestors were certain they could reverse the spell that bound them, but the rest of us weren't sure we should get involved with magic. We came around soon enough and while succeeding generations have become more skilled, the real power has always rested with your family. That hasn't changed. We can tell that one of the gargoyles is awake, and we know that none of us has the ability to do that."
Mary's head was spinning. Denying it wouldn't do any good and she had to trust someone.
"I didn't try to, I don't even know how it happened." Mary's voice was soft. Andy sat forward.
"Were you reading something? One of Ambrose's journals maybe?" He asked eagerly.
"No." She went through the story of Aiden's waking again.
"That makes no sense." The frustration was back in Andy's voice. "It takes words to make or break a spell."
"That's not quite true." Robbie had a thoughtful look on his face. "The words focus and hold the will until it's released by an act. If there is no act, the will remains in a kind of stasis. It's possible that Ambrose or someone in his line began something but couldn't perform the act that finished it."
"Are you completely certain that I'm as skilled as you say?" Mary asked. "I didn't understand a word of that."
"I keep forgetting you're untrained" He chuckled.
"He's trained," She look at Andy. "He didn't know either."
"I'm trained to my level of natural ability, but I'm not able to go beyond that." Andy looked a little embarrassed by the admission.
"Everyone is born with some natural ability, most have very little to begin with and are easily convinced that magic is no more than a trick or imagination." Robbie explained. Mary picked up her cake and started to eat. "That ability can be nurtured, but a person is never able to surpass what they're born with. I was born with more than Andy, you were born with more than me."
"So the families, or their representatives, all have different levels of ability?" Mary asked. It was quite a bit to take in.
"Different levels of ability and different functions within the group." Andy said. He and Robbie had both started eating dessert. "This is very good, by the way."
"Thank you." Mary said. "There's a little bakery in the village that has the most amazing things."
"Ambrose didn't leave any of this in his journals?" Robbie asked.
"Not in any of the ones I've found. As far as I know I've been through the whole house." Mary set aside her empty dessert plate and picked up her coffee cup. Almost absently she thought the words and steam began to rise from it again. She took a sip of the pleasantly hot liquid.
"You didn't even think about that, did you?" Andy sounded envious, Mary wasn't sure how to respond.
"Not a whole lot I guess, no. Is that strange?" She looked curiously from Andy to Robbie.
"Not so much strange as impressive." Robbie smiled. "Andy's family has kept the history of the group itself, beginning with his ancestor Dorian Alwynn."