Black Dawn (Chapter 20)

Maggie held Sylvia gently. Or at least, she knelt by her and tried to hold herasbest she could without disturbing the piece of broken spear that wasstill lodged in Sylvia's body.

It was all over. Where Hunter Redfern and hismost trusted nobles had been, there was a large scorched crater in the earth. Maggie vaguely recalled seeing a few people running for the hillsGavin the slave trader had been among them. But Hunter hadn't been one of them. He had been at ground zero when the blue fire struck, and nowthere wasn't even a wisp of red hair to show thathe had existed.

Except for Delos, there weren't any Night Peopleleft in the courtyard atall.

The slaves were just barely peeking out againfrom their huts.

"It's all right," Jeanne was yelling. "Yeah, youheard me it's all right!Delos isn't dangerous. Notto us, anyway. Come on, you, get out of therewhat are you doing hiding behind that pig?"

"She's good at this," a grim voice murmured.

Maggie looked up and saw a tall, gaunt figure,with a very small girl clasped to her side.

"Laundress!" she said. "Oh, and PJ.-I'm so glad you're all right. But, Laundress, please… ."

The healing woman knelt. But even as she did, alook passed between her and Sylvia. Sylvia's facewas a strange, chalky color, with shadows thatlooked like bruises under her eyes. There was alittle blood at the corner of her mouth.

"It's no good," she said thickly.

"She's right," Laundress said bluntly. "There'snothing you can do to help this one, Deliverer, andnothing I can do, either."

"I'm not anybody's Deliverer," Maggie said. Tearsprickled behind her eyes.

"You could have fooled me," Laundress said, andgot up again. "I see you sitting here, and I see allthe slaves over there, free. You came and it happened-the prophecies were fulfilled. If you didn'tdo it, it's a strange coincidence."

The look in her dark eyes, although as unsentimental as ever, made Maggie's cheeks burn suddenly. She looked back down at Sylvia.

"But she's the one who saved us," she said, hardlyaware that she was speaking out loud. "She deserves some kind of dignity…."

"She's not the only one who saved us," a voicesaid quietly, and Maggie looked up gratefully atDelos.

"No, you did, too."

"That's not what I meant," he said, and kneltwhere Laundress had. One of his hands touched Maggie's shoulder lightly, but the other one wentto Sylvia's.

"There's only one thing I can do to help you," hesaid. "Do you want it?"

"To become a vampire?" Sylvia's head movedslightly in a negative. "No. And since there's woodnext to my heart right now, I don't think it would work anyway."

Maggie gulped and looked at the spear, whichhad cracked in the confusion when the guards ran. "We could take it out – !"

I wouldn't live through it. Give up for once, will you?" Sylvia's head moved slightly again in disgust. Maggie had to admire her, even dying, she still hadthe strength to be nasty. Witches were tough.

"Listen," Sylvia said, staring at her. "There'ssomething I want to tell you." She drew a painfulbreath.

"About your brother."

Maggie swallowed, braced to hear the terrible details "Yes."

"It really bugged me, you know? I would put on my nicest clothes, do my hair, we would go out …and then he'd talk about you."

Maggie blinked, utterly nonplussed. This wasn't at all what she had expected. "He would?"

"About his sister.How brave she was. How smartshe was. How stubborn she was."

Maggie kept blinking. She'd heard Miles accuse her of lots of things, but never of being smart. Shefelt her eyelids prickle again and her throat swellpainfully.

"He couldn't stand to hear a bad word about you," Sylvia was saying. Her purple-shadowed eyes narrowed suddenly, the color of bittersweet nightshade. "And I hated you for that. But him … I liked him."

Her voice was getting much weaker. Aradia knelton her other side and touched the shimmering silvery hair.

"You don't have long," she said quietly, as if giving a warning.

Sylvia's eyes blinked once, as if to say she understood. Then she turned her eyes on Maggie.

"I told Delos I killed him," she whispered."But …I lied."

Maggie felt her eyes fly open. Then all at onceher heart was beating so hard that it shook herentire body.

"You didn'tkill him? He's alive?"

"I wanted to punish him… but I wanted himnear me, too…."

A wave of dizziness broke over Maggie. She bentover Sylvia, trying not to clutch at the slender shoulders. All she could see was Sylvia's pale face.

"Please tell me what you did," she whisperedwith passionate intensity. "Please tell me."

"I had him … changed." The musical voice wasonly a distant murmur now. "Made him a shapeshifter … and added a spell. So he wouldn'tbe human again until I wanted …"

"What kind of spell?" Aradia prompted quietly.

Sylvia made a sound like the most faraway ofsighs. "Not anything that you need to deal with,Maiden…. Just take the leather band off his leg.He'll always be a shapeshifter …but he won't be lost to you…."

Suddenly her voice swelled up a little stronger,and Maggie realized that the bruised eyes werelooking at her with something like Sylvia's oldmalice.

"You're so smart … I'm sure you can figure outwhich animal …"

After that a strange sound came out of herthroat, one that Maggie had never heard before.Somehow she knew without being told that itmeant Sylvia was dying-right then.

The body in the green dress arched up once andwent still. Sylvia's head fell back. Her eyes, the color of tear-drenched violets, were open, staringup at the sky, but they seemed oddly flat.

Aradia put a slender dark hand on the paleforehead.

"Goddess of Life, receive this daughter of Hellewise," she said in her soft, ageless voice. "Guideher to the other world." She added, in a whisper,"She takes with her the blessing of all the witches."

Maggie looked up almost fearfully to see if theshining figure who had surrounded Aradia like anaura would come back. But all she saw was Aradia's beautiful face, with its smooth skin the color of coffee with cream and its compassionate blindgaze.

Then Aradia gently moved her hand down to shutSylvia's eyes.

Maggie clenched her teeth, but it was no use.She gasped once, and then somehow she was in the middle of sobbing violently, unable to stop it.But Delos's arms were around her, and she buriedher face in his neck, and that helped. When she gotcontrol of herself a few minutes later, she realizedthat in his arms she felt almost what she had inher dream, that inexpressible sense of peace and security. Of belonging, utterly.

As long as her soulmate was alive, and they weretogether, she would be all right.

Then she noticed that P.J. was pressed up againsther, too, and she let go of Delos to put one armaround the small shaking body.

"You okay, kiddo?" she whispered.

P.J. sniffed. "Yeah. I am, now. It's been prettyscary, but I'm glad it's over."

"And you know," Jeanne said, looking down atSylvia with her hands on her hips, "that's how Iwant to go. Taking my own way out … and totally pissing everybody off at the end."

Maggie glanced up, startled, and choked. Thenshe gurgled. Then she shook her head, and knewthat her crying spell was over. "I don't even know why I'm like this about her. She wasn't a nice person. I wanted to kill her myself."

"She was a person," Delos said.

Which, Maggie decided, was about the best summing-up anybody could provide.

She realized that Jeanne and Laundress andDelos were looking at her intently, and that Aradia's face was turned her way.

"Well?" Jeanne said. "Do you know? Which animal your brother is?"

"Oh,"Maggie said. "I think so."

She looked at Delos. "Do you happen to knowwhat the name Gavin means? For a shapeshifter?Does it mean falcon?"

His blacklashed golden eyes met hers. "Hawk orfalcon. Yes."

Warm pleasure filled Maggie.

"Then I know," she said simply. She stood up, and Delos came with her as if he belonged by her. "How can we find the falcon she had with her thatfirst day we met? When you were out with the hunting party?"

"It should be in the mews," Delos said.

A fascinated crowd gathered behind them as theywent. Maggie recognized Old Mender, smiling and cackling, and Soaker, not looking frightened anymore, and Chamber-pot Emptier …

"We really need to get you guys some newnames," she muttered. "Can you just pick one or something?"

The big girl with the moon face and the gentleeyes smiled at her shyly. "I heard of a noble named Hortense once… ."

"That's good," Maggie said, after just the slightestpause. "Yeah, that's great. I mean, comparatively."

They reached the mews, which was a dark littleroom near the stable, with perches all over thewalls. The falcons were upset and distracted, and the air was full of flapping wings. They all lookedalike to Maggie.

"It would be a new bird," Delos said. "I thinkmaybe that one. Is the falconer here?"

While everyone milled around looking for him, Jeanne edged close to Maggie.

"What I want to know is how you know. How didyou even know Gavin was a shapeshifter at all?"

"I didn't-but it was sort of logical. After all, Bernwas one. They both seemed to have the same kind of senses. And Aradia said that Sylvia took care of Miles down at her apartment, and Bern and Gavinwere both there. So it seemed natural that maybeshe made one of them pass the curse along toMiles."

'But why did you figure Gavin was a falcon?"

"I don't know," Maggie said slowly. "I justwell,he looked a little bit like one. Sort of thin andgolden. But it was more things that happened-he got away from Delos and over to the hunting party too fast to have gone by ground. I didn't really think about it much then, but it must have stuckat the back of my mind."

Jeanne gave her a narrow sideways glance. "Stilldoesn't sound like enough."

"No-but mostly, it was that Milesjust had to bea falcon. It had to be something small-Sylviawould hardly be carrying a pigora tiger or a beararound with her up the mountain. And I saw herwith a falcon that first day. It was something she could keep near her, something that she could control. Something that was an-accessory. It just allmade sense."

Jeanne made a sound like hmph."I still don'tthink you're a rocket scientist. I think you luckedout" Maggie turned as the crowd brought a little manwith a lean, shrewd face to her-Falconer. "Well,we don't know yet," she murmured fervently. "ButI sure hope so."

The little man held up a bird. "This is the newone. Lady Sylvia said never to take the green bandoff his leg-but I've got a knife. Would you like todo it?"

Maggie held her breath. She tried to keep herhand steady asshe carefully cut through the emerald green leather band, but her fingers trembled.

The leather tie fell free-and for a moment hexheart stood still, because nothing happened.

And then she saw it. The rippling changeasthebird's wings outstretched and thickened and thefeathers merged and swam…and then Falconerwas moving back, and a human form was takingshape… .

And then Miles was standing there, with his auburn hair shining red gold and his handsome,wicked smile He gave her the thumbs-up sign.

"Hey, I knew you would rescue me. What arelittle sisters for?" he said-and then Maggie was inhis arms.

It seemed a long time later that all the hugging and crying and explaining was done. The slavesthe ex-slaves, Maggie corrected herself-had begunto gather and organize themselves and make plans.Delos and Aradia had sent various messengers outof the valley.

There were still things to be settled-months' andyears' worth of things. And Maggie knew that lifewould never be the same for her again. She would never be a normal schoolgirl.

Her brother was a shapeshifter-well, at least itwas a form he could enjoy, she thought wryly. Hewas already talking to Jeanne about a new way ofgetting to the summits of mountains-with wings.

Her soulmate was a Wild Power. Aradia had already told her what that meant. It meant that theywould have to be protected by the witches and Circle Daybreak until the time of darkness came andDelos was needed, so that the Night World didn'tkill them. And even if they survived until the final battle…it was going to be a tough one.

Plus, she herself had changed forever. She feltshe owed something to the people of the valley,who were still calling her the Deliverer. She wouldhave to try to help them adjust to the Outside world. Her fate would be intertwined with theirsall her life.

But just now, everybody wastalking about getting some food.

"Come into the castle-all of you," Delos saidsimply.

He took Maggie's arm and started toward it. Justthen P.J. pointed to the sky, and there was an awed murmur from the crowd.

"The sun!"

It was true. Maggie looked up and was dazzled.In the smooth, pearly sky of the Dark Kingdom, in exactly the place where the blue fire had flashedfrom the earth, there was a little clearing in theclouds. The sun was shining through, chasing awaythe mist, turning the trees in the surrounding hillsemerald green.

And glinting off the sleek black walls of the castlelikeamirror.

A place of enchantment, Maggie thought, lookingaround in wonder. It really is beautiful here.

Then she looked at the boy beside her. At hisdark hairjust now extremely tousled-and hissmooth fair skin, and his elegant bones. At themouth which was still a bit proud and willful, but was mostly vulnerable.

And at those fearless, brilliant yellow eyes whichlooked back at her as if she were the most important thing in the universe.

"I suppose that all prophecies come true by accident," she said slowly and thoughtfully. "From just ordinary people trying and lucking out."

"There is nothingordinary about you," Delossaid, and kissed her.

Onefrom the land of kings long forgotten;

One from the hearth which still holds the spark; One fromthe Day World where two eyes are watching;

One fromthe twilight to be one with the dark.