Chapters 19 – 20  In the Garden at Briarfeldy Manor; Honeymoon on the Volga

Previously in Hold Gently the Shadows: Preface, Chapters 1 – 3, Chapters 4 – 6Chapters 7 – 9, Chapters 10 – 12, Chapters 13 – 14, Chapters 15-16 Chapters 17-18

Chapter Nineteen

It was a perfect autumn day, fair weather clouds in a blue sky and a faint refreshing nip in the morning air. Plants remaining in garden beds were bravely vibrant, the ornamental grasses presenting elegant contrast to showier snapdragons, chrysanthemums, asters and verbena. Trees reluctantly shed the faded remains of their recent glory, brittle leaves fluttering to the ground.

Pleased to be needing the support of his cane less and less, Alistair took a third determined lap around Briarfeldy’s backyard. Colin’s black schnauzer, Polly, trotted contentedly at his side. Crawford had offered to let the dog out once or twice a day while Owen was at work. Welcoming the company, Alistair gladly took over the task when his health improved.

As Alistair passed the gate, a woman called out to him. He paused, thinking she looked vaguely familiar. The schnauzer pressed against his leg, growling threateningly at the intrusion. When Alistair ordered her to be quiet, she reduced her growling to a persistent rumble.

“I’d like to talk to you if you can spare a few minutes,” said the woman at the gate.

“Do I know you?” asked Alistair.

“You might remember me from the library. I was there the day of Paola Crispo’s presentation, but then you were pretty absorbed with the writing group.”

Wearily, Alistair leaned on his cane.

“You’re tired,” said the woman. “If you let me in, you can sit while we talk. I won’t stay long, and you do have a bodyguard to protect you.”

“What do you want to talk about?” asked Alistair.

“I was out walking the night you and the young woman were attacked. I saw what happened.”

“Come in,” said Alistair, firmly holding Polly’s collar while he opened the gate to admit the woman.

As the gate automatically closed behind her, the visitor spoke soothingly to the dog. “It’s okay, pretty girl. Yes, you saw me there, but you know I didn’t hurt anyone.”

Since Polly was now wagging her stubby tail, Alistair released his grip on her collar. The visitor followed him to a sheltered alcove where two marble benches face each other. When they were seated, he waited for her to speak. She introduced herself as Robin, and explained that she was in town as a tourist.

“Do you think someone was trying to prevent you from talking to Janine?” she asked.

“Why would you think that?” asked Alistair.”

“I’ve been walking every night and I see the usual people exercising their dogs or just taking in the night air. On that particular night, I saw you waiting for someone. When Janine and her dog appeared, you joined them,” said Robin. “Then the attackers rushed in.”

“I was actually waiting for someone else,” said Alistair. He didn’t specify that the someone else was Paola, and that the two of them did plan to meet with Janine.

“Oh,” said Robin. She bent to pet the dog and, when her hairpiece slipped slightly to the side, she hastily straightened it into place.

Alistair pretended he hadn’t noticed the hair adjustment. “You said you witnessed the attack,” he reminded her.

“Yes, and that’s why I thought they didn’t want you and Janine talking,” said Robin.

“They?” asked Alistair.

“There were two of them, a man and a woman, and they’d been keeping a steady pace behind Janine for some time. As soon as you met with her, they quickly caught up, running on grass so you wouldn’t hear their steps.”

Robin described how Janine turned toward the attacker at the same time as the man raised a baseball bat to hit Alistair on the head. As a result, Janine received the first blow before he struck again, this time hitting Alistair.

“I remember nothing about that night,” said Alistair. “Can you describe the attackers?”

“One was a tall, thin man whose face I couldn’t see. The other was Janine’s mother.”

“Genevieve? Why would she want to hurt her daughter?” asked a shocked Alistair.

“Perhaps hitting Janine was accidental. Maybe it was just you they wanted to silence,” said Robin. “Maybe they didn’t want you to tell her something. Or ask her something.”

Alistair groaned and put his face in his hands. That was it, he thought. They didn’t want him enlightening Janine with his suspicions. And now Janine was dead because of him.

“You need to go to the police,” he told Robin.

“I’m not prepared to talk to police at this time,” she said. “I’m on a tight schedule, and I’m investigating Maggie Crosby for personal reasons. I don’t have time to get involved with a murder investigation.”

“How do you know Maggie Crosby?” asked Alistair.

“It was all long ago, but I can tell you her name was once Marlena Lansing,” said Robin. “Okay, your turn. What do you know about her?”

“I think I was in her care at one time, and I was hoping to verify some of my memories with her granddaughter,” said Alistair.

“And did you?” asked Robin.

“I didn’t get the chance,” said Alistair.

Before they could continue trading guarded snippets of information, Crawford came out to the garden to check on his son. “I see you have company,” he said.

Robin stretched out her hand, introduced herself, and told Crawford she’d seen him at the library.

“Alistair is looking very pale and exhausted,” said Crawford, granting her a nod in greeting. “It’s time for him to eat and then rest. I’ll lock the gate behind you.”

Realizing she was being dismissed, Robin rose to leave. She’d learned little new about Maggie-Marlena, and nothing about a possible baby living with Carmen-Sasha. Disguise and deceit everywhere, she thought cynically. The theaghlach would not be pleased.

Alistair and his father watched the strange woman until she was out of view.

“Did she say who she was or where she’s from?” asked Crawford.

“Not really,” said Alistair.

“What’s her last name?”

“She didn’t say.”

 

Chapter Twenty

Since Carmen was coming to the end of what she remembered about Ravensglen, Mavis suggested it was a good time to prepare for a deeper stage of the memory journey. Suitably, the memory session took place in Paola’s apartment with Mavis, Alistair, Carmen and Paola present. Noah was across the hall in the capable care of Eula who drove from the abbey to spend time with him.

Carmen reclined comfortably in a leisure chair with her feet elevated. In her hands, she held a pale green bonnet from a crocheted infant set given her by the abbey sisters after Noah’s birth. It was reassuringly symbolic of the frightening place she must mentally visit for her son’s sake and for hers.

“I’m ready,” said Carmen, digging her fingers into the soft fibers of her son’s baby bonnet. Listening to Mavis’s gentle voice, she closed her eyes and breathed slowly and deeply while relaxing all her muscles from her toes to her scalp. She slowly counted backwards from ten to zero, finding herself in a light trance as she reached the final number.

“Dorrian, Paisley and I arrived at the appointed time for the Welcome Ceremony to find the great hall empty,” began Carmen. “We followed the enticing aroma of simmering food to the dining room. Daphne emerged from the kitchen and led us to the back of the great hall where, behind the staircase, three heavy oak doors were set into the wall.

“She told us the first door led to Emily’s new living quarters where she once lived with her grandparents. Next to it was the door to the business office. Daphne knocked on the third door and, without waiting for a response, showed us into a room where, seated at a round table, the professor, Emily, and the cottagers, minus Daphne and Janice, awaited us. The table was draped in dusty rose and elegantly set with sparkling stemware and china bearing the Wolfe family crest.

“We were barely seated when Daphne and Janice returned pushing carts laden with covered dishes, desserts and beverages. After serving an entrée, the details of which I’ve now forgotten, they joined us at the table. Liz and Marla cleared away the dishes and went around the table, pouring coffee and distributing cherry chocolate mousse dessert. When I complimented them on the dinner, Emily pointed out it had been accomplished without Chef Rafe.

“I asked where Rafe was, and Emily said she’d given him the night off so our parting dinner would be private and intimate. Canon Darling then rose and announced that the welcoming ceremony would begin. He bid us all stand and drink a toast to our honorees and to the future of Ravensglen. Dorrian and Paisley looked at me for permission to participate in the toast, and I whispered to them that a sip would be fine this once.

“No sooner did my lips touch the liquid than a feeling of dread crept into the pit of my stomach. When I tried to communicate with my niece and nephew, I realized that the three of us seemed unable to speak intelligibly or to move unaided. Too late, I thought despairingly as we were escorted to the front of the room where a number of unlit tapers lay on a draped table near a tall lighted candle and a floral arch.

“Everyone donned long robes, the theaghlach’s being grey, and the canon’s, burgundy. Thol, Emily, Dorrian, Paisley and I were assisted into robes matching the dusty rose of the table drapery. Janice and Liz entwined floral garlands into Paisley’s and my hair. Dorrian managed to mumble that he wanted to go home to which Emily said, ‘You are home, dear.’

“Thol took my arm and led me to stand beside him under the floral arch. Emily then ushered Paisley and Dorrian over to stand beside us. The canon gestured for everyone else to be seated before he turned to Thol and me. ‘Beloved,’ he said, ‘you have come together so that in the presence of the Ravensglen family, the theaghlach, your intent to be united may be strengthened. And so, in their presence, I ask you to state your intentions.’

“‘Bartholomew,’ asked Canon Darling, ‘have you come to this covenant without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?’ Thol said he had, and the canon turned to me. ‘Sasha, have you come to this covenant without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?’ I moved my lips to question what was happening but could utter no words. Emily stepped forward to speak on my behalf. ‘I have,’ she said, placing her hand on my shoulder.

“‘Since it is your intention to enter our covenant,’ said the canon, ‘join your right hands, and declare your fidelity.’ Thol took my hand and promised to be forever faithful. He continued to gaze solemnly into my eyes as Emily repeated the words of promise for me. Canon Darling prayed that our declarations before the Ravensglen family be ever strengthened and nurtured. He turned to those present and raised his arms invitingly.

“The theaghlach began to chant as the canon retrieved silver rings from the velvet cushion. In my drugged state, I wondered what Mother would make of all this. She should be here, I thought inanely. Canon Darling’s voice brought me back to the moment. ‘Let these rings, a sign of their faithfulness, remind our beloved couple of their ties to one another.’ He sprinkled the rings with scented water and handed the smaller one to Thol who placed it on my finger.

“Then it was my turn. In a daze, I pushed a ring onto Thol’s finger before being overcome with faintness and clasping his arm for support. Assessing the situation, Emily announced calmly that the newly united Lord and Lady of Ravensglen would be seated during the second part of the welcoming ceremony. Two chairs were quickly placed under the arch where, now seated, I leaned against Thol who held me upright with an encircling arm.

“Canon Darling instructed Emily to stand between Dorrian and Paisley. Facing the small assembly, they stood there holding hands. ‘Dear young people,’ said the canon to my niece and nephew, ‘you are here in the presence of the Ravensglen family, the theaghlach, to be adopted into the Wolfe clan.’ I looked at Dorrian’s anguished face and Paisley’s innocent smiling one, and my heart broke. I attempted to rise from my arbor seat and was pulled back by Thol.

“‘Cormac Wolfe, you bear the name of a king. Embrace the maternal love and guidance of your mother, Emily Wolfe-Molson,’ said the canon to my nephew. Dorrian was too unfocused to protest as Emily hugged him and kissed his cheek. Next the canon spoke to Paisley. ‘Kaida Wolfe, your Celtic name means little dragon. Embrace the maternal love and guidance of your mother, Emily Wolfe-Molson,’ he said. Through my tears, I saw Paisley’s face cloud over with bewilderment before she was swept into Emily’s arms.

“The welcoming ceremony concluded with what they called the circle of light. Holding tapers lit from the large candle, we processed out into the night and circled the lodge. At the front entrance, Paisley and Dorrian were led back inside while I, supported on both sides, was swept away in the procession winding its way toward the cottages on Lost Lake.

“I woke dazed and light-headed, believing I was in Thol’s cottage until, through a glassed wall, I noticed trees floating by. While I was vaguely wondering what type of moving vehicle I was in, Thol entered the room. ‘I see you’re awake,’ he said. Pushing myself to a sitting position, I asked him where I was. He told me we were on our honeymoon aboard a small cruise ship on the Volga River with nothing to do but enjoy each other’s company. The only other passengers were a small party of Greek tourists on the busy pool level above us.

“In disbelief, I asked if he meant the Volga River in Russia, which he confirmed. Apparently, we had boarded our ship yesterday in Moscow where she was making a three-day stopover. I sarcastically asked him if I had been carried aboard rolled in a carpet, and he laughingly said it would not have been dramatic enough. As a matter of fact, he said, I had fairly danced aboard, smiling and flirting with the captain and crew. Instead of having the indignation of a kidnapped bride, I felt contented acceptance. Was I drugged during this time or was my euphoria a result of an exotic environment combined with Thol’s attentive presence? Certainly my blood ran hot whenever I was in his arms.

“During the Moscow stop, the Greek tourists attended a ballet performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, toured historic Novodevichy Cemetery which holds the tombs of Russian notables, and visited several ornate cathedrals. At the Kremlin’s Armory Museum, they viewed tsarist thrones, ceremonial crowns, coaches and gifts of state. I learned these details from our personal butler who served our meals course by course, and from the massage therapist while she kneaded my body into further tranquility.

“After departing from the Russian capitol, we began sailing along the Russian waterways, leisurely cruising through largely forested countryside. Along the way, our boat docked at ancient trading towns and charming villages where the Greek passengers debarked to stroll the streets, purchase local wares and tour fortress-like monasteries. Thol and I stayed on board, lying abed in blissful embrace, dining on our suite’s expansive balcony, or doing laps in the pool in the other passengers’ absence. Only in hindsight did I see the calculating deliberation behind our insulated honeymoon.

“During this time, I received a telegram from Dorrian and Paisley telling me they were having a blast at Ravensglen and wishing me a great holiday. I felt no reason to question the telegram’s authenticity. When the ship docked at St. Petersburg for the final three days of the cruise, I begged Thol for a walk through the famed city of islands, canals, bridges and palaces. He obliged by hiring a guide to privately escort us through Catherine the Great’s Palace with its amazing Amber Room, and the Fabergé museum where Carl Fabergé’s Easter eggs commissioned by the Russian royal family were on display.

“By the time we returned to the ship, our fellow passengers had transferred to the airport for their flight home. Thol and I left early the following morning. On our arrival at Ravensglen, wolves met us at the entrance gate. When I stretched out my arm in greeting, they rushed over to the car window to nuzzle and lick my hand. I laughingly told Thol the wolves loved me, and he solemnly replied they were honouring the arrival of new life.

“The honeymoon ended abruptly upon Bartholomew’s return to Toronto where he lived on campus while teaching university classes. Whenever Thol was absent, I was left in the care of Janice and Daphne who controlled my every move. My persistent requests to see Dorrian and Paisley were met with reassurances that they would visit me soon. Then, to my enormous relief, Dorrian found me.

“I was writing on the patio of our cottage when he seemed to appear from nowhere. I jumped to my feet and hugged him tightly. Breathlessly, he told me Sensos from Creekside were coming to get us after dark. We were to wait for them in the woods. We started running at full speed until I stepped into a ground hog hole and fell, twisting my ankle. I told Dorrian to get away before they saw him. Promising to come back for me, my nephew fled. He barely made the cover of the woods when Emily, Thol and Janice ran up to me and helped me to my feet.

“As they escorted me, limping, back to the cottage, I glanced back and saw Paisley waving at me from the edge of the hardwood forest. She was in the company of Dorrian and an older teenage boy whom I would later learn was Nate, an Ojibway of the Saugeen First Nations. Nate’s mother had received a text message from her friend, Azur, requesting help. With Nate as their guide, Dorrian and Paisley remained hidden in the forest until night closed around them and the rescuers arrived.

“By then, all the members of the theaghlach were assembled in Thol’s cottage keeping me under guard. We listened intently for the crunch of tires over gravel signaling the arrival of the Sensos. Instead, we were alerted by crows setting off a raucous din from surrounding trees and wolves howling in the distance. Canon Darling peered through the cottage doorway to find Garth Mayfield and Owen standing there in police uniform. The canon inquired if there was a problem, and Garth announced they had come for Dr. Deleaney.

“The canon calmly replied that Lady Wolfe belonged on the Ravensglen Estate. When the two police officers tried to push their way into the cottage, they were thrust back by the cottagers. From outside, the sound of chanting grew steadily louder as the Sensos moved closer. Soon I could make out the words, The darkness is never darkness to the One, repeated over and over. And then, encased in a rainbow-coloured bubble, they were pushing through the front door, parting the confused cottagers as if they were rows of corn. Inside the cottage, I sat on a sofa, Thol and Emily on either side.

“Thol rose angrily and told them his wife was not going anywhere. Wordlessly, Azur reached out and pulled me into the rainbow bubble. Thol and Emily made a futile attempt to retrieve me, but found the bubble impenetrable. Still chanting, the Sensos left the cottage and marched toward the van. Thol, Emily and the cottagers followed at a distance, shouting angrily. ‘Be warned that if you leave with something of the theaghlach, we will come for it,’ screamed Daphne.

“Once Dorrian, Paisley and I were safely distanced from Ravensglen, I thanked the rescuers. Garth, who was driving the abbey van, smiled at me through his rearview mirror. Owen, the front seat passenger, turned to solemnly welcome me back. Our fellow passengers in the back seats were Azur and her husband, XT, and her sister, Hilma. Also present were Dillian and Graeme Kilgour and their teenage children, Meri and Gideon.

“On the drive back to Creekside, Paisley asked me when I was going to get my motorhome back from Ravensglen. I replied with an involuntary shudder that Ravensglen was welcome to it. My niece agreed it was good to leave it there since Daphne said the theaghlach would come for anything we took from them. ‘That woman wasn’t talking about a motorhome was she, Sasha,’ said Azur. It was a statement, not a question. When I remained quiet, Azur told me to put any worries about the theaghlach behind me. She explained that as soon as Emily had the bed and breakfast up for sale, Hilma arranged to move my car and belongings from the carriage house to my new apartment in Briarfeldy Manor.

“The abbey van dropped off Owen, Dorrian, Paisley and me in Creekside before driving the remaining passengers to Black Springs. Next morning, Paola invited the kids and me to her apartment for breakfast. Andrew came a couple of hours later to take his children home to London.

“In late afternoon, all the Briarfeldy tenants put together a barbeque and potluck to welcome me. It was wonderful meeting everyone. The following morning, I drove downtown for groceries, intending to shop in the afternoon for a replacement laptop and other office supplies. The last thing I remember is the shock of being approached by Emily and Janice as I was loading groceries into my car, and the sting of a needle in my arm.”

Carmen closed her eyes, holding back deeper memories that hovered terrifyingly near.

“Well done,” said Mavis softly, bringing the memory session to a close.

“Owen and I found your car when we went looking for you a couple of hours later,” said Paola. “The groceries were still in it.”

“You called me that evening to say you realized you loved Bartholomew and planned to remain at Ravensglen,” said Mavis. “Do you remember?”

“No,” said Carmen.

“I was skeptical and wondered if we should proceed with another rescue,” said Mavis. “But then Agnes called to tell me she’d received the same message from you, along with an invitation to spend Christmas at Ravensglen. That was when she set up the arrangements to cover your apartment costs indefinitely.”

“So mother was suspicious too,” said Carmen.

“Yes, she’d talked to Dorrian and Paisley, and they were very worried about you.”

“Bless them,” said Carmen, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.