10. Another Skin
It was a long moment before he turned to face her again.
"Do not be sad, my son," she said, still in his mother's voice, yet seemed richer now, more alive and melodious. "You have your home now, and things will get better. You will come to love this place, I promise you. We will be together for all time, and your powers will flourish and grow. Your time has come."
"Oh, of course," he said without turning about. "Just what did you do to her? Bleed her dry, and then hide the body? Or…"
He suddenly remembered those open shutters. And turned to face her.
"Or did you burn it to ash?" he spoke just above a whisper. "And leave the shutters open to let out the smell so I wouldn't suspect? Is that what you did?"
What was keeping him from killing her?
Only the possibility that his mother really was trapped inside that body.
She looked entirely different now. Her skin more fair and wholesome, more fleshy, her eyes without the tinge of red, full of diamond brilliance, her lips less unnaturally dark, and there was a faint starry glow about her, an indigo sheen on her hair. She truly did look like his mother now….
Then Hyldreth returned, bearing the Cloak.
He stared at it, as the servant woman placed it around her mistress's slender shoulders. Black as the void, hanging down in gruesomely graceful folds…and there were the claws, just as in the legend.
His mother would never have tolerated such a thing in her presence. Yet now its wearer was smiling radiantly at him.
"I must go out into the night," she said. "I do not expect you to come with me, my son. But if you should wish to…"
She looked to Hyldreth, who had laid something on a chair…something of unthinkable blackness. He had not noticed she was carrying two cloaks. She lifted it, and yes, it was such, only without the claws.
"Try it on, my son," Celirwen said still smiling, as Hyldreth approached him with the obscene garment.
He felt his mouth go dry. No, he would not touch the thing. He would tell her to take it away from him….
Except that it seemed to be calling to him.
It seemed to belong to him as another skin.
No, if he put it on, she would truly own him then. Or would she?
Would he become of her kind? A blood drinker? A creature of the Night?
Or would he discover all his true powers?
Would he be able to fly? Change his shape? Seduce, mesmerize, conquer?
Did he wish to do these things? Have his way with the world? How could he endure it, leave his old life behind, lose the sun, his very soul?
Why did he not shrink back, tell her to take that thing away?
Hyldreth, unsmiling, laid the cloak over his shoulders. Then she withdrew a few steps, just watching.
Celirwen looked at him fairly beaming, for all the world like a proud mother whose child has just done something astonishing. And he felt a warmth in the cloak itself, as though the light she emanated were filling it. It was strangely comforting, caressing, gentle, as if she were bearing him up a small child in her arms, holding him to her bosom and protecting him, brimming over with love and pride and tenderness and delight.
"Take off the belt now, my love," she whispered.
And he did so, laying the dagger aside. She smiled and held out a fair hand to him.
"Shall we go now?" she said.
"Where are we going?" he asked as he walked beside her down the dimly lit hallway, Hyldreth following behind them with the candle.
"To the garden," she replied. "We must spend some time there before anything can happen, so that the garden spirits might attach themselves to your cloak. They are what gives it its power."
"Did you have it made for me?" he asked running a hand down one of its folds. Then suddenly he thought of Sauron, with distaste and hatred. If Sauron had gifted it to him…
"Nay, it belonged to a friend, who unfortunately is no longer," she said softly, caressing his shoulder with her fingertips.
Don't you mean lover, he thought, as she opened the back door.
"Nay," she said, and he started. "She was my bosom friend, and we were as sisters. Then a former lover of hers became jealous and resentful of her powers and her activities, and soon dispatched her. I wish you to have her cloak now."
They stepped out into the night, while he was filled with wonder that those who were mired in evil could still have bosom friends, and pets, and families, just as good folk. Yet he felt no repulsion, only wonder. He was in touch with an altered side of himself now, not unlike the part of himself that came into being when engaged in that certain secret activity, a side where shame dared not approach, where any sort of depravity was possible. He did not know that such imaginings were common to all, and sometimes supposed he must surely be the worst creature on earth. When his mother said he was a good boy, he wondered what she would think if she knew half the things that went through his mind betimes. Would she still think of him as her son? Would she be sorry she had ever come out and claimed him?
He felt something of that state now, and then some. Inside the cloak, shame was a stranger, and anything was possible, and he did not think of revenge, nor duty, nor anything but the pleasures and powers that might be lurking in wait for him. Not for anything would he remove the cloak now, unless he was certain Sauron had made it just for him. He would take nothing of Sauron, now or ever, no matter what it imparted to him….
But he felt his pride receding and his excitement mounting as they entered the garden once more, for he was looking upon it with different eyes now.
And different ears. For he could hear the "music" now, but it sounded far more distinct, less muted, less eerie, more layered and rich and harmonic, in a strange and twisted fashion, but captivating and mysterious, and it seemed to be calling to him, although he could not hear his name as such, or any words at all. And he could see glimmering lights among the plants, not unlike fireflies, but not flickering, some flitting over the leaves, some beneath, some on the ground, others high above the trees. The plants themselves seemed to be glowing with a pale phosphorescence. And the fog was gone. He could see the stars and the moon, a little more than a crescent now.
"How like you my garden now?" Celirwen said looking upon it all with fond pride. They were standing inside the circle in the middle, the same place where he had landed. Strange, he had forgotten all about his hurt ankle, which did not hurt at all now. The pain had gradually abated when he was in the house, until he had simply not noticed any more.
He could not answer, for looking all about him. And some of the tiny lights were coming near, and attaching themselves to their cloaks. And an exhilaration began to fill him as they did so, so that for the time being he forgot about revenge, and hatred, and disgust, and pride, and all else that had brought him here. There was no other place he would rather have been, just then.
And suddenly he heard another sound…a giggle, it was, like a young girl's, coming from behind the trees, it seemed, and then another, and then a maiden appeared, in a skimpy pale-yellow garment that left her arms and legs bare, with pale hair floating down far past her waist. Her figure was very slender and graceful as she approached, a little shyly at first, then she began to skip and leap over the plants, rather like a young fawn, and then more maidens appeared…not from behind the trees, but from the trees themselves—some dropping from the branches, others stepping out from the very boles, all clad in the same short gowns. Giggling, they approached the circle, but did not come within; they hovered outside of it, looking in friendly curiosity at the youth in the cloak, who could see now that their ears were sharply pointed, their eyes very large, their features both sharp and dainty and very pretty, their skin glowing with an odd pale greenish hue.
When he did not show repulsion, they came closer, no longer shy, but rather bold, delicate hands brushing their long hair back from their faces with a slow and sensuous gesture, tiny tongues moving over their lips, eyelids fluttering, and they approached Gaergath, one of them caressing his shoulder with her fingertips, another running a hand down his arm, another touching his back, another stroking his hair, several exclaiming in tiny tinkling voices over his beauty. Still another touched his cheek, then ran a fingertip playfully down his nose and touched his lips. Then she closed her eyes and poked her own lips out, awaiting his kiss.
"He is lovely, is he not?" Celirwen said with a wide smile, before he could bend his head down to caress the puckered lips. "But he is not for you. Not tonight. Go back now, naughty ones. Another time, but we must be gone for a while, into the night, into the cold air, into the curtains of the flesh. Off with you now, my little beauties!"
The fairies, if such they were, made little moans of disappointment, and retreated back into the trees, with rustling noises, and occasional giggles, shaking the branches loudly. Then Gaergath heard the music once more.
"They do not sleep, I suppose," he said after a moment. He might have been disappointed, himself, but for the delight of anticipation of what lay beyond the walls.
"Nay, they do not. Are you ready?" Celirwen asked.
"Of course," he said brazenly. She laughed, a disturbingly musical sound, which caused a sympathetic echo in the garden all about.
"Then let us rise," she said.