Heart of Stone Ch. 02bypsyche_b_mused©
Author's Note: To those who commented on the first chapter....Thank You! I hope you continue to enjoy. :)
2. The Absence of Fear
The next morning Mary went out to find the statue in the same place it always had been, and she began to question whether the whole thing had been a dream. She wandered back in to the sitting room and saw the list of names. At least that part hadn't been a hallucination. She went back outside, feeling a little more certain that she hadn't dreamed the whole thing. Mary hesitated before touching him. When he was just a statue, she felt free to touch him anywhere. Now that that she thought of him as a living thing she was hesitant about touching him somewhere that might be offensive to him. Finally she laid her hand on one large wrist. He hadn't seemed upset when she touched him there the night before.
"Aiden, I don't know if you can hear me, and if I'm disturbing you I'm sorry, but I'm about to start looking for information. I'll let you know if I find anything tonight." She took her hand off of his arm and walked back inside. She was still not entirely sure that she hadn't made up the names on the list, but she supposed it couldn't hurt to do a few Internet searches. It wasn't like she was terribly busy anyway.
The knowledge she had of the Internet was gained mostly at the public library. Aunt Patrice didn't believe in using computers, but the library was an acceptable place for Mary to spend time. She used that to her advantage. One of the things she had requested before making the trip was that a top of the line laptop be set up with printer and Internet connection. She sat down with her list of names in her own private library and started searching.
Mary meant to be on the balcony just after sunset, to make sure she hadn't just been dreaming the night before, but she wasn't used to spending so much time in front of a computer screen. She ate an early dinner and sent Mrs. March home for the night. She did the dishes herself, then went to her room, stretching out on the sofa in front of the fire. She thought her eyes only closed for a moment, but when she opened them again there was a blanket over her, and Aiden was sitting in his chair reading the notes she had made. The yellow legal pad looked tiny in his hands. Mary pinched herself to make certain she wasn't still asleep.
"When did you get here?" She ran her fingers through her long, dark brown hair, trying to put it back in some kind of order.
"Not long ago." He smiled slightly, watching her move. "You were sleeping so peacefully I did not wish to wake you."
"Did you cover me?" She asked, fingering the blanket a bit, her mind waking slowly.
"You were shivering." He lowered his head again, but Mary could feel him watching her out of the corner of his eye. "You found all of this in so few hours? I thought you knew no one."
"I don't. That was just stuff I managed to dig up on the Internet." She pulled the ottoman over next to his chair and sat down. "The sections with stars next to them are ones that I wasn't sure of, like I found two John Pressmans in two different locations in that time period. I wasn't sure what was right, so I wrote down the information I found on both. What?" She asked after realizing that he was looking at her strangely.
"Internet?" He asked, the tip of his tail stroked her ankle. It sent pleasant shivers through her but Mary told herself that he wasn't doing it intentionally. She forced herself to be still and ignore it.
"Sorry, it's-" She paused for a moment, thinking. "Well you can get information if you-" She paused again, unsure of how to continue. "Let me show you."
He followed her downstairs and now she knew why the doorways were taller and wider than any she had ever seen and why all the floors were stone. That day she also noticed how there was at least one piece of furniture in each room that fit him, though most of it was fragile-looking and she doubted it would bear his weight. She spent the next several hours talking about what she had found, and, in a stilted way, trying to explain how she had found it. He settled on believing there was some magic behind it and Mary decided that that made it considerably easier for her. The whole time his tail stroked her bare ankle softly.
Once he understood how she had found so much information and pointed her in the right direction on those families she was unsure of he began scanning the books on the shelves. She had done the same thing herself when she first time she explored the room. Mostly old fiction and history, some erotica that was tempting but she was too afraid Mrs. March would see it was missing.
"No." He said finally, his wings rustled softly. "This is not the library Ambrose spoke of, though I doubted it would be."
"This is the only library I've found so far. Did he tell you there was another one?" She walked over to him slowly.
"He described it once as 'downstairs'. There is a cellar?"
"There is, but I haven't been down there yet." She went to the desk and got the heavy ring of keys she'd been given. "Mrs. March keeps it locked, though I think she would keep every door in the house locked if it were up to her."
She led him down a dim hallway near the kitchen to a door that was all but hidden. She tried several keys before getting the old lock to open. She flipped a light switch and the inky darkness receded to a murky gray. Mary felt her heart starting to beat faster.
"I need a flashlight." She said, worried that the lights would go out again and they would be trapped in the dark. Searching through the kitchen and finding one before following him down the stairs. They were stone, like everything else seemed to be. "Mr. Scott said there was a wine cellar to the left, but he wasn't sure what was in the rest of it." She was whispering, as if she might disturb someone or something that was hiding in the dark corners. Mary turned on the beam of the flashlight and swept it over the stone wall in front of them.
"Wait." He took her wrist and moved the beam of light back and she noticed the way it caught a strange shadow near a rotting wood cabinet. She held the light on it as he moved it aside, revealing a hallway. Mary walked forward slowly, the beam pressing back the velvety darkness and illuminating walls that were soft and gray with spider webs. She took two steps back, feeling her whole body start to tremble.
"Mary?" He asked, his eyes concerned.
"I can't go in there." Her voice was unsteady. "You don't need me anyway."
"Perhaps not, but I do not like to see you so frightened." He followed her as she took another step back.
"Spiders." She whispered, her eyes still fixed on the newly revealed hallway. "I'm terrified of them. I CAN'T go in there." She was close to tears now and nearly panicked. He wrapped his arms around her protectively, one large hand on the back of her head. Mary trembled against his chest.
"Hush, child. I do not understand such fear of a creature that is so small but I will not force you into a terrifying ordeal." He spoke softly and Mary felt comforted by the soft rumble of his voice.
"I'm sorry. I guess I already haven't lived up to my ancestors." She looked up at him and tried to force a smile.
"You are the product of your time and experience, as they were products of theirs and neither is greater or lesser. Have I your permission to explore?" He smiled slightly.
"Of course." She handed him the ring of keys and the flashlight. "If you find it, I don't know if it's locked, or if the key is even on here. They're all I was given though." He walked with her back to the stairs and started up with her.
"Aren't you going to search?" She asked, hesitating.
"Yes, but not until I have seen you to a place where you feel safe." He smiled slightly and Mary allowed him to lead her up the stairs and back into the library. She stretched out on the leather sofa with a book and waited for him, pondering how nice it felt to have her very own protector, and trying not to think about the legions of spiders that might be squeezing under the door at that very moment.
Whether it was the book, the excitement of the evening or simply being tired she must have nodded off again because she awoke in Aiden's arms. He was carrying her up the stairs. Strangely enough, she found it wasn't uncomfortable. She pressed a little closer to him.
"What time is it?" She asked softly.
"It will be dawn soon." He said softly, setting her on her feet carefully and holding her for a moment while she regained her balance.
"Did you find it?" She asked softly, forcing herself to step away from him.
"No." He looked disappointed. "But we will continue to look. I replaced the keys and light you gave me." Mary nodded.
"So what was down that other tunnel?" She asked.
"More wine." He smiled slightly. "I must take my leave. Rest well child."
"You too." She called after him.
For the next several months the routine was the same. She would search for others during the day and tell him about the results when he awakened. Mary was surprised how many doors opened to her when she mentioned she was the new owner of Beeson Hall. Unfortunately, once those doors were opened she found out that there was nothing behind them. A few related old family legends, but none had ever seen a statue. She was getting used to telling him that she had hit a dead end. Finally, she thought she located one, she wasn't prepared to hear the truth of the matter. Mary had no idea how to tell him.
"What troubles you so child?" They were sitting by the fire, as they usually did in the early evening. Mary had moved the wing chair closer to his chair and his tail usually brushed over her ankle softly as they spoke. Sometimes she wondered if he had been so physically close to her ancestors. She looked away and he brushed her hair aside. "You have told me nothing of your investigations today."
"I thought I had located another." He moved her chin to face him.
"You have believed that before, why does this time weigh so heavily on your mind?"
"Because it's my fault this one isn't there anymore." Mary tried to keep the tears out of her eyes.
"That is not possible." He said firmly. "But tell me why you believe this."
"It was with the Barnaby family, and as soon as I described it Robert Barnaby, the current generation, knew exactly what I was talking about. Apparently his father had some kind of mental breakdown and one of his delusions was that there was a treasure inside the statue. Somehow he got his hands on something explosive and blew it up. I'm so sorry." She swiped at her eyes.
"To be certain that is a sad loss, but it has nothing to do with you." Mary curled up in the chair, her head resting on the arm nearest to him. One large hand stroked her head gently.
"It happened last year." She looked up at him. "If I had gotten here-"
"There is no certainty that your arrival would have changed anything. Perhaps you would not have awakened me so quickly. Perhaps you would not have had so much success in locating the information that you did." He took her hand and guided her to sit in his lap. It was something that he was beginning to do more and more lately and Mary was becoming more comfortable with it. She adjusted her blanket so that only her blouse was between her and his bare chest. He stroked her back softly. "I blame you for none of this child. If we find no others, being restored is the greatest gift you could have given me."
"I know what it's like to be lonely, but not what it's like to be the ONLY one. You've been so kind to me, I guess I just feel like I should be doing more for you." His arms tightened around her.
"You are blessed with the kindest of spirits, Mary Beeson." He smiled down at her sadly. "Those that we are searching for now are strangers to me. All of the ones that I loved best, my brothers, my mate and our child, were lost to me centuries ago. In the beginning of my frozen time I did not wish to wake. Perhaps, it was a good thing that I had those silent centuries within myself because now I am ready to continue, with others of my own kind, or without if that is the way it must be."
Mary was relaxed against him, one arm around his body, her other hand resting lightly on his chest.
"I am so sorry for your losses." She said softly, her eyes fixed on his.
"Thank you, child." He pressed her head down against his shoulder gently, Mary closed her eyes and sighed contentedly.
"Were you always so kind to the ladies who lived in this house?" She asked after a few moments of comfortable silence.
"Well, not precisely like this." He laughed softly. "Your family sent their daughters to the Convent of St. Anne to be raised and educated when they were six or seven. When they were around sixteen a suitable marriage was arranged and if the young couple lived here, she was a wife and it would have been improper for me to be alone with her, much less touch her. My mate did not have loved me in the same way that I loved her, but she was always mindful of propriety as well. There were times I wondered if I made you uncomfortable with my desire for closeness."
"Aunt Patrice never believed in touching a child too much. She took care of me, but she wasn't really the kind to give hugs or comfort." Mary spoke rarely about Aunt Patrice. She believed she was loved as a child, she knew she loved her aunt, but she didn't believe that she had ever really gotten her needs met, nor had she been fully prepared for the world. Since everyone else seemed to be, it made her embarrassed about her upbringing. Sitting there, in that warm, safe moment she felt she could tell him anything. "Funny you should mention a convent though, if Aunt Patrice had been able to afford to send me to an all girl's boarding school she would have."