The darkness was what haunted Sera the most. The darkness of the witch’s castle and the horrid hissing voices of the Wraiths she kept as her servants and pets. They whispered and taunted.
“You’ll never see the sun again.”
“No one will remember you.”
“You can never go home.”
Sera’s screams woke the House Meridian, sending the elves scrambling to her aid. Maegan was with her first, calling “Sera, Sera, it’s alright!”
Lord and Lady Meridian came next with lights in their hands, Fingal, a light in one hand and a dirk in the other came after, trailed by various staff.
Caitriona Meridian was a wise and learned elf, especially in matters of healing. The elf woman knelt and spoke some words of peace over Sera, waking her gently.
“Mom?” Sera blinked.
“No, my child, only Lady Caitriona.”
Sera looked around. Lord Uinseann was there, and Maegan, and Fingal, and many familiar faces on the staff. She looked for Goewyn, but remembered she had gone away to Otherworld’s capital. Sera shut her eyes.
“I’m sorry I got you all out of bed.”
“Nonsense, my child,” said Caitriona. “It’s not your fault. Someone go get some warm milk, please.”
One of the maids hurried off. Caitriona glanced at her son. “Fingal, put that knife away!”
Fingal sheathed the knife and tucked it into his pajamas. He met Sera’s eyes for a moment, then looked away. The maid slipped into the room with the mug of milk, handing it to Sera. She sipped at it while Uinseann cleared the room.
“Everything is alright now, everyone back to bed. Leave her rest.”
“I’ll be along shortly, Uinseann,” said Caitriona. As soon as her husband was gone, she held out her arms to Sera. She nestled into the elf woman’s arms. “It might be easier if you told us how you came here. We will not be angry.”
Sera shook her head. “Will you stay with me until I fall asleep again?”
“Of course, my dear.” Caitriona sat down on the side of the bed and held Sera, rocking her back and forth like she would if she were a young child. Soon Sera fell into an easy sleep, and Caitriona lowered her to the pillows. She looked up and saw the eyes of her children watching from the doorway.
“Children, you should be in bed!”
“We were worried about Sera.” said Maegan.
Caitriona nodded. As the days grew shorter, Sera seemed to grow weak again, she already walked the halls pale as a ghost, she ate well, but never seemed to gain weight, and she had at least one episode like this a week.
“If we only knew who it was that wounded her soul,” lamented Maegan. “She should soon be well if she could be healed of that soul wound.”
“We cannot force her to say.” said Caitriona.
“I know. She must say of her own will to be healed.”
Fingal looked toward Sera’s door. He remained silent, haunted by the eyes of his friend. Why would she not tell them? At least tell Maegan, they were nearly inseparable! If only he knew…
As autumn wrapped around Meridian, Lord Rhodon prepared the gardens for winter dormancy. He found it hard to wake as the cold settled in, headed for dormancy himself. The morning after Sera’s night terror, he hurried across the cold, dewy garden and into the kitchen. The elves in the kitchen bowed to him, then hurried on with their tasks of making breakfast for the household. Rhodon crossed the kitchen, skillfully dodging around the cooks and their assistants and made his way into the main hall. Everyone was just sitting down to breakfast.
“Good morning, Lords and Ladies.”
“Good morning, Rhodon.”
Rhodon sat in a specially constructed chair made to fit his lanky frame. He was placed just in front of Sera, who looked exhausted. Rhodon stopped himself from burying his face in his hands, he knew she must have had one of her nights. Nothing a little breakfast could not cure, he reasoned.
Breakfast was generally the quietest meal of the day. Lady Caitriona (who was technically the Head of the House) took the time to look over official paperwork and discuss it with her husband. Their children would listen carefully, but had very little input. Lord Rhodon was asked his advice on various matters, and Sera only listened, speaking only when she needed something.
“What do you make of the reports of Wraiths on the outer edges of the farmlands?” asked Caitriona.
“Oh, bah,” scoffed Uinseann. “Wraiths are cowards, a bad sign to be sure, but nothing to be overly concerned with, my dear.”
Sera froze with a spoon in her mouth at the mention of wraiths. Hearing Uinseann’s words comforted her and she went back to eating. Caitriona shuffled her papers, shaking her head. “Now, it comes to the final apple harvest, I’m told it’s very fine.”
“I went down to the cider presses yesterday, it’s like liquid sunshine! We’ll have plenty of cider for ourselves and to sell and send abroad!” crowed Uinseann, who took pride in the cider of Meridian.
“Sometimes I wonder if you married me for love, or for my cider.” teased Caitriona.
Uinseann kissed his wife’s hand. “Ah, my apple blossom, of course it was both!”
Maegan, Fingal, and Sera walked in the garden, wrapped in light cloaks against the still chilly air.
“What do you make of the wraiths, Fingal?” asked Maegan.
“As Father said, certainly not good, but not anything to be overly concerned with.”
Maegan noted how her twin’s hand wandered to the long dirk in his belt. He was worried, and trying to spare them anxiety. She met Sera’s eyes for a split second; she understood. Sera so far had been silent. Despite it all, she felt sure that the elves had never seen the wraiths as she had. She shivered compulsively.
She smiled. “I’m alright.”
As the three crossed into the main courtyard, the trumpeter sounded. Instead of an elvish guest, a huge black bird soared over the courtyard. He was about half the size of an eagle, with talons that looked like they could snap Sera’s arm, but he was a trusted friend of the Meridian elves. His name was Friend Raven, the wisest and oldest raven in the area, indeed the bird had forgotten how long he’d lived. He was also possessor of a mighty magic, though what he could do was not known; Raven didn’t like to boast.
Though Raven was present at the twins’ christening and loved them as his own, he was especially fond of Fingal, who held out his arm for the bird to hop onto.
“What news, Friend Raven?”
“Dire, my chick, I must see your Lady Mother.”
Fingal let Raven climb to his shoulder then swept with long legged strides toward the keep.
Raven was not a bird to mince his words, when he appeared before Caitriona and Uinseann he proclaimed his news.
“The word has come to me that the Witch Sycorax is marching this direction. She will be here by tomorrow noon at the latest.”
A gasp rippled through the room. Rhodon, standing to the left of Caitriona turned quite grey. Maegan looked at her brother, who set his jaw and squared his shoulders, setting his hand again on his knife. She paid no mind to Sera until she fell into her. Maegan caught the falling girl crying out. “Brother, help me!”
Maegan lowered Sera to the floor. “She’s fainted! Rhodon, bring me that footstool.”
Raven jumped off Fingal’s arm and hopped along the floor. “Poor chick! What happened?”
Rhodon retrieved the stool and elevated Sera’s feet. She was already semi-conscious and apologizing.
“I’m fine, I’m sorry-”
“Hush, it’s alright,” assured Maegan, taking off Sera’s cloak. “Brother-”
Fingal was already down on his knees and lifting Sera in his arms. “Do you trust me?” he asked.
“Yes,” there was no hesitation in Sera’s voice.
Fingal picked her up in one easy movement and made for the stairs, his sister and mother on his heels. Rhodon and Raven exchanged a knowing look, then went about preparing the Keep with Lord Uinseann.
Fingal settled Sera in her bed, Maegan and his mother surrounded her swiftly, shushing her when she protested.
“Sera, you must tell us all,” began Caitriona. “You fainted at the name of Sycorax. Was it she who hurt you?”
Sera nodded. “I’m seventh of seven, the daughter of a seventh. My Granny O’Malley used to tell me there have always been seven girls, once a generation, in the O’Malleys.”
Fingal knelt by the bed beside his mother and sister.
“I’ve always had the Sight, and despite the danger, I wanted to see the faeries.” Sera covered her face. “Stupid thing that I am, I wandered right into Otherworld, and when I couldn’t get home… she found me. I was a slave in her castle, I think she wanted to use me for something, I don't know what. I escaped and Goewyn rescued me.”
“Poor child.” muttered Caitriona.
Fingal reached for Sera’s hand. “We will protect you, Sera Seventh Daughter.”
“Rosera.” she said. “My true name is Rosera.”
The elves’ faces lit up, she trusted them enough to give her real name!
“I know, it’s weird, my dad wanted to name me Sarah and my mom wanted to name me Rose-”
“No, it’s the most wonderful name on earth.” said Maegan.
The sky grew dark sooner than it should have. In the gloaming, Sera came to her usual seat on the granite slab under Akasma’s Rose. She looked up into the leaves, now turning brown and waving fitfully and falling like tears. She felt a presence beside her and turned to find Fingal.
“She looks so sad without her flowers.”
“Her lord will soon sleep, only to wake when the sun shines warm on Meridian again. She remembers the south where her mistress was born, so she weeps for the sun.” Fingal smiled. “I’ve seen her sister, you know. At the castle in Shangri-La, she’s nearly as beautiful as ours.”
Sera began to cry a little. Fingal hesitated for a moment, then pulled her into his arms and wrapped his cape around her.
“Do not weep, Sera,” soothed Fingal. “I will protect you.”
She slumped in his arms like a broken doll. “I can smell her wraiths. I can hear them in the wind.”
“I know. I hear them as well.” He smoothed down her hair. “All elves can.” The wind gusted into them, the clouds growing darker. Fingal knew Sycorax would soon be here, and he would be needed to defend the keep. It would be best to rest while he could.
“Come, Sera. It’s too cold.”
Sera spent the rest of the night with Maegan and Fingal in Maegan’s sitting room. Fingal played his harp while the girls tried to distract each other from the storm and darkness outside. Eventually, Sera fell asleep on one of the sofas.
Maegan smoothed down Sera’s ebony hair. Fingal put away his harp and covered Sera with a blanket.
“We should let her sleep.” he said.
Maegan nodded. The wind drove hard into the windows, making the candles flicker. “If she has not arrived, she will by morning.” Maegan shivered.
“I do not want to think about it.”
Sera whined in her sleep. The twins looked at her, then at each other. Whatever happened they and their friend would be caught in the crossfire.
Around noon (though the day was sunless around Meridian), just as Raven predicted, the word came that Sycorax wanted to parley. Rhodon, the Ravens, Lord and Lady Meridian, and Fingal went down to the gates to hear the witch out, while Maegan and Sera were placed in a defensible chamber of the castle.
The witch Sycorax was beautiful, but vain, with fair skin and fair hair, but she was cold, like an icicle, the black staff she carried even looked like one. There was no love or care for anyone but herself and what would help her keep her power and beauty. In this case it was the possession of a seventh of seven. The Meridians formed a phalanx at the gate. Each, including Caitriona, wore a sword.
Sycorax eyed the elf, who would not bow to her.
“Sycorax, you have come as in war in a time of peace, to Keep Meridian. What is your will in this place?” asked Caitriona.
“It is simple, my lady,” began Sycorax. “You are harboring a human, a human that I have claimed.”
Fingal’s hand went to his sword hilt, but he did not draw.
“You speak of a slave. I would remind you that slavery is unlawful in the realm of Otherworld and the second she escaped and set foot in my domain, she became a free woman.” said Caitriona
“I know her true name, by the laws of magic, I lay claim to her.”
“We know her name and lineage as well!” proclaimed Caitriona. “And if it comes to a contest of magic, you know the power of the House of the Sun is greater than yours.”
“We shall see about that!” Sycorax threw down the white flag. As she did the guard and warriors formed up for attack.
Fingal drew his sword, murmuring. “I gave my promise. She will be safe.”
The battle raged for several minutes as wave after wave of wraiths washed over the elves. The choking dust the wraiths shed debilitated several, enough of the small force to allow Sycorax to gain the keep steps. A few more guards stood in her way, she knocked them away like they were nothing. Uinseann shouted to his son,
Fingal looked up, turning white. He furiously cut his way toward the door, praying that he would be in time. His people’s magic was strong, but Sycorax’s magic was astonishingly powerful. A black cloud followed her, snuffing out the light that the elves depended on to keep her magic at bay. She was using all her power at once it seemed! Fingal chased after her, nearly falling himself in the dust. He forced his way through, weaker by the minute.
He heard Maegan and Sera scream, Maegan shouting words of power at the witch, then being thrown to the floor.
“Mae! No! Let me go! No!” Sera cried as Sycorax dragged her from the room. Fingal launched himself at the witch, knocking her legs out from under her. Her staff went flying, Sera rolled away from Sycorax’s grasp. The wraiths lifted the witch from the floor, the elf managed to get to his knees.
“You,” she drew a knife and grabbed a handful of his hair. “You think you can stop me, child of light?”
She raised the knife to Fingal’s throat.
CRACK! Sycorax gasped, dropped the knife and turned. Sera stood there, one half of the staff in her hands, the other on the floor. Sycorax physically aged before their eyes, becoming decrepit within seconds.
“You cursed brat!” she screeched, charging Sera. The girl dodged from her path, running to Fingal. The weakened wraiths shrieked, dissolving and letting the sunshine in the windows.
Sera squeezed Fingal tight. The elf buried a hand in her hair and pressed her face to his shoulder. “Shut your eyes, do not look,” he urged her, watching in horror as Sycorax fell to the floor, screaming in agony, and turned to dust and ashes.
Maegan came out of the room, holding a clean rag to her head where Sycorax hit her. The three stared at each other for a moment, then Maegan gave a sob of relief.
Fingal reached for his sister. “It’s over.”
“She didn’t hurt you, did she?” Sera felt around Fingal’s neck for wounds.
“No, she did not. It’s alright. We’re all safe.” He leaned his head against Sera’s temple. “I owe you my life." He hugged both women a little tighter. "How did you know to break her staff?"
"When I was with her, I heard things. A lot of things, including her life being tied to her staff."
A clamor of voices came to them as Caitriona, Uinseann, and the rest ran to their aid. A dozen questions, cheers, and songs greeted them as they rose from the floor.
“My children! My babes!” Caitriona hugged and kissed her children, crying out at the blood on Maegan’s head.
“It’s alright, it’s a small cut, really. Just stunned me a little.”
Caitriona looked up at the mess of dust on the floor. “What is that?”
“All that is left of Sycorax.” answered Rhodon. “That is what happens when someone gives their body and soul to the darkness. I will purify the room with rose oil that will end any lingering influence.”
Caitriona helped them all up. “Come dear ones, let’s go where there’s sunshine and I can look after Maegan.”
They all came to rest in the great hall, where the windows and door were open to the sun and air. The warmth of the sun burned away the evil that had been there only an hour before. Fingal led Sera to sit in a bright sunbeam. Once seated, he slid one hand over Sera’s; she looked at it, then at him. She blushed, and slid her hand away, only to take Fingal’s to hold properly. Fingal studied her. Her lips and cheeks were growing rosy, life was returning to her eyes. The soul wound was beginning to mend.