Chapter 2. Eyes and Rainbow
The late spring storms have broken, a brilliant sunset has come and gone, and the legion is enjoying some well-earned mead and merriment, courtesy of the friendly folk of Corobilium.
Traianius, however, leaves the feast early.
Rather than carouse, the Legatus legionis chooses to walk the moonlit fens toward a nearby stream that the Gaullish natives call ‘Puits’. He seeks to fill his flagon from waters that are held to be pure and restorative. He also seeks fresh air and solitude to clear his thoughts which, of late, have grown clouded.
The young man is accustomed to clarity. As life-arrows go, the flight of Traianius has been clean and straight. For the last seven of his young 22 years, he (like his father before him) has been a leader of men. Many of the soldiers who follow Traianius are older and more war-hardened, but they admire his level head, his instinctive fairness, and a temper that never flares in battle or bicker. They obey him without qualms or quavering.
Traianius understands the loyalty with which he is accorded, so it matters little to him if, behind his back, the troops have begun to snigger and speculate about his behaviour in the presence of a certain young maiden from Britannia.
The word used by some is 'larvatus'.
If his men jest, Traianius does not fault them for it. Lust has never been his priority, and he has shown little patience for Cupid's darts, so there is no surprise if his current conduct has become ‘noteworthy’ to them.
Yet, in truth, even he is somewhat bewildered by his actions.
At times, Traianius can nearly convince himself that he is merely swayed by the girl’s exquisite blend of Gaelic beauty and perfectly cultured Latin etiquette. Perhaps he is beguiled by her innate grasp of both the velvet intricacies of the Roman elite and the leathered ways of the wilderness?
That is all possible, yet Traianius knows in his heart that there is more. She occupies his thoughts so often that he now secretly wonders if she may be what his soldiers whisper.
In the few weeks that he has known Annisgwyl Gemina Peuerellius, he has seen unusual things. He has witnessed her curing ailments and wounds among his men, using skills and methods that baffle the Legion’s old Syrian Medicus — a veteran who has learned many surgical marvels during his long service. Furthermore, Traianius has observed a physical strength and endurance rare for such a small person. Did she not, somehow, push that fallen tree off Galenus before tending his wounds? Traianius himself inspected the trunk — it was thicker than a man’s chest!
And beyond such feats, what seems most puzzling is her effect upon Traianius himself. At times his eyes lock upon her and can barely be pried away. Her aura draws him in ways that raw lust would never. Yet there is something slightly unnerving about the attraction; it calls to mind the Papaver somniferum — beautiful flowers whose heady vapours can cure great pain, and whose absence may induce it.
Yet, he wishes to cast no aspersion. He decides that, perhaps, she comforts him of pains whose existence he had simply never before noticed? That seems plausible. After all, the girl acts in so many ways that are innocent and of pure intent. If she does indeed practise witchcraft, perhaps it is good witchcraft.
This thought relieves Traianius, yet it does not allay his other, greater, concern.
Traianius is not a dreamer. He has always lived long, arduous days; ever grateful to slide, undisturbed into deep rejuvenating sleep. Until recently.
Now his nights are laced with fretful quests; dreams cursed to never resolve. The origin is a mystery to him; he does not attribute Annisgwyl's strange powers, since the images do not involve her. Rather, he finds himself longing, in vain, for some other lovely young maiden whose hair is like the deep red fringe at the glimmering crest of a rainbow. And just like the rainbow, this maiden is ever elusive. He pursues her through the wild dreamscapes, ever glimpsing, never reaching.
In the worst dreams, of which there have now been several, Traianius has closed to within barely arms-length of the maiden — reaching out as she beckons to him — only to watch helplessly, tragicaly, as she is struck down by a cold, grizzled hand.
The hand of ‘Letum’.
Of Mors. Death.
Despite the sultry evening; despite alertness that shelters him from fickle dreams, Traianius finds himself shivering. Streamside, he caps his flagon, and turns hurriedly to ascend from the moonlit glade, when-
“Forgive me, my lord.” Annisgwyl reaches out her hand to steady the startled Traianius. “I wished not to alarm you; I only desired to fill my flagon and to watch the waters. As my mother once did.”
Traianius watches her moonlit gaze drift across the shimmering stream, enchanted, listening as Annisgwyl complete her reverence. “Mother would seek the calm of the waters to gather thoughts. Every living day, from the gentle ripples she would find wisdom. When her living days came to an end, perhaps therein she also found rest.”
Traianius finds himself staring at the girl — her face; her eyes; the fringes of her soul…
For the briefest moment, Traianius tries to imagine the girl’s mother, streamside in placid meditation, but immediately freezes. Something deep inside Traianius’s heart is wrenched by the pungent vapours of a dozen anxious nights. A flood of immeasurable sadness washes over him, for something cold in the sultry air seems to be whispering to him…
The quests are over. The Rainbow is no more.
A pair of small female hands has reached across the moon shadow to grasp Traianius’s arm.
The hands freeze in surprise.
Huh?! Gemina Wilsey stares. Did I do that?
The hands, of course, belong to Annisgwyl, but Gemina is pretty certain that her instincts alone prompted the comforting gesture. Intrigued, Gemina concentrates. By way of experiment, she dwells on the tone of Annisgwyl's empathy for the grieving bloke, infuses a measure of her own sentiment, then projects the blend down toward Annisgwyl's hands, willing one of them upward.
The result is halting… but successful. One hand edges up from Traianius’s arm to curve warmly about his shoulder. The man’s tension diffuses, responding to a gesture that is caring, and genuine.
Gentle compassion may seem out of place in a tough nut like Gemina but, in truth, it is an essential part of who she is. She has little use for (and generally denies) her own vulnerabilities, but senses grief in others and understands the need for treating it. In battle, she knows that untreated sorrow is more debilitating than most physical wounds. She has also learned that warfare is more about pain than fear. To win any battle is not merely to overcome those who cause pain, but also to rescue those who suffer it.
Thus, there is no contradiction for a war-hardened Gemina to expend such effort to guide her host's hand, arduously coaxing it in slow soothing circles over the Roman general's taut shoulder.
Nonetheless, she is still amazed (after weeks of futility) that her disembodied will is able to accomplish anything. Still keen on exploring her influence, Gemina wills Annisgwyl to study the man before her, passing thoughtfully over his face (stern but sad), before taking in the thick shock of dark hair catching the sheen of moonlight, and those deep eyes.
Those still very bereaved eyes.
Neither the ephemeral spirit of Gemina Wilsey, nor the corporeal mind of Annisgwyl, understand why Traianius should be overcome by such sorrow. Deep, visceral melancholy seemed to have sprung from mention of Annisgwyl’s prematurely deceased mother, but it is difficult to grasp why a Roman general from lands far to the south should have such feelings for a former Icenian princess whose reclusive life and disappearance was barely marked even by the locals in remote Britannia.
Yet whatever the cause, Gemina can tell that the man’s sorrow is very real. The raw pain of a moment ago is lessened, but feelings remain — deep, pure and selfless. Perhaps this is some sort of cathartic release of long-suppressed strain?
Gemina ceases the motions of Annisgwyl's hand. Resolving that this will be tonight's last attempt to manipulate her host (the mental effort is exhausting), she applies pressure through her palm to gently encourage Traianius to turn back for one long, final gaze across at the moonlit stream.
Somehow, deep within her subconscious, Gemina begins to sense that what she is observing here is more than the odd emoting of a Roman era general and a girl from Britannia. There is surely a deeper meaning; other forces at work; other matters of love and loss; of life and death. Perhaps this strikes to the heart of why she (Gemina) is stuck in this bizarre vision.
Indeed, for the first time in dream-weeks, Gemina truly believes she may be honing in on something, but she doesn't know what. Nor does she have a good sense for how (or where) to look for whatever it is that she thinks she's starting to glimpse.
Frustrating, but whatever.
When faced with an annoying conundrum like this, Gemina generally just shelves it. If it's important, and if she has a remote chance of figuring it out, hopefully her subconscious will turn the trick. But for now, she's surely got a ton of more pressing things to concern her. Right?
Well, oddly no.
At the moment, Gemina hasn't a single task that she'd better dive into before it's too late — not a single mission to plan; not one joint to case; not even a brother she can go badger. Instead of urgency, she has leisure. She has time.
Having time to wait and think and dream seems very strange to a ‘warrior’ who has lived every day of her teen years never fully expecting to see the next sunrise. Being trapped for weeks, passively watching her host navigate a bewilderingly foreign culture and epoch, has given Gemina lots of time to be alternately intrigued and bored; time to be hopeful and encouraged; time to wonder what the hell she’s supposed to be doing with all this bloody time.
She has spent quite a bit of time wondering how she actually ended up in this situation, but to no avail. She still has no clue why she was spirited away from the Allesley fire in the final instant before imminent death. Unless her odd existence actually is death?
A form of reincarnation, perhaps?
Gemina understands a bit of the Eastern tradition of life’s eternal circle. One dark and cheerless winter (years ago, when her not-yet-dead parents were still valiantly trying to shelter her from the war), Gemina spent several ghastly months stuck in the old safe house in Islington. She had attempted to pass the horrendous incarceration with endless magical defence training but most days her body and magic would collapse by late afternoon, and she’d find herself sprawled face-down on a filthy floor with a still-hyperactive mind wondering what the hell to do now.
Often, she would crawl up the dusty old library and read; just pulling random books off the shelf and learning… whatever. In that way, she became acquainted with Buddhism, Hinduism, Confusianism… A bit about Sadism and Masochism too (the old Black family was rather a sordid lot), although perhaps that is beside the point.
Indeed the point is that, despite a spotty education, Gemina understands the concepts of death and reincarnation. And, in assessing her self-directed learnings, it seems pretty unlikely that death and reincarnation would involve bouncing about first century France, going moon-eyed over some Roman general.
A rather dishy fellow, granted, and one that stirred in her… feelings of a sort… but that too is beside the point.
The point after the point is that Gemina is pretty sure that she's still alive. But this fact is of little use to anyone if she dies of bleeding boredom!
Got to do something!!
Gemina is ready for action. She's ready for something BIG. Something exciting, glamourous, courageous and victorious. Gemina has had weeks to grind a few proverbial axes, and now she wants to get back to real ones. She wants to start crushing those grotty, boneheaded, corpse-chewing Voldy-rats. NOW!
But she hasn’t figured out how.
How how how how how how HOW?!
How can she escape this gnat-infested ancient forest? How can she get out of this tatty, louse-ridden tunic and into some sleek, form-fitting, thug-bashing, mean-girl outfit, ready to smack some heads!
The more Gemina thinks about her current state, the more irritated she gets. And her host (this Celtic chick) is not helping. As far as Gemina can tell, Annisgwyl either has no clue that she (Gemina) is stuck here and wants out. Or else the bitchy Briton doesn’t care.
However, despite all that frustration, tonight Gemina finally some sustained hope. Never before has she succeeded in influencing her host, yet now she’s gotten real results! For the first time in her blunt, hard-nosed life, she has discovered the magical force of ‘subtlety’. Rather than seeking (and failing) to browbeat her ignorant (or defiant) host, Gemina has learned to sense Annisgwyl’s mood, to echo it and, ever-so-slightly, bend it to action.
Gemina also now understands something that ought to have been obvious — that her influence is strongest at night.
While Annisgwyl is a child of the sunlight and wary of the night, Gemina’s many years on the run has led her to love the moon — the keeper of secrets. Within its low silvery light, Gemina often sees many things that others do not.
As she does right now.
Something in Gemina's subconscious has prompted her to remember that she has a man at her side. Suddenly she finds herself once again perusing a face framed beneath the dark wavy hair of the young Roman general holding her host’s hand. Something makes Gemina look past that, to instead re-assess the man’s eyes.
In the moonlight, she finds it easy to believe… that they are green.
Harry may have urgently wished to rush to the Forbidden Forest to scout his enemy, but he's not gotten very far, seeing as how he is still dreaming.
In his mind, it seems like ages have passed since he blanked out while tending the injured student on the castle grounds. At the very least, there has been plenty of time to dissipate his original tsunami of adrenaline (Ai! Less than an hour left. Must stop Voldemort!) and allow him to settle into the dream experience.
Harry has had comparable episodes in the past and, in general, such dreams prove at least benign, and are frequently beneficial. He is fairly confident that his entranced body is still out on the dark Hogwarts grounds; still crouched over a wounded student; still poised to rise up and complete his urgent waking mission. And when it does, he is at least modestly hopeful that he will still have adequate time for his efforts. With any luck, the dream may even arm him with additional insight, skill or strength to help him on his way.
But in the meantime, he assumes that there is some dream-mission to be fulfilled. These details of life trapped in an imperial Roman Legatus legionis marching across an ancient vernal European countryside could hardly be random neuronal firings.
Unfortunately, the episode has kind of dragged.
Unlike those wonderfully fulfilling (if at times utterly terrifying) series of time-bending visions he experienced several years earlier, his new dream is often dull and frustrating. Vicarious adventures in the life of the Publican Paternas Peuerellius (an ancestor; a kindred spirit; aware and sympathetic of Harry’s plight) were reliably exciting and fulfilling, but now the host is a complete stranger (Traianius) whose eyes and ears provide only narrow windows to a very foreign world, and whose mind carefully shrouds most thoughts, emotions and insight.
To adapt, Harry has learned to scan like an eagle, and listen like a hawk. In this way, he is at least learning about his environment, for leaders such as the Legatus legionis communicate extensively (with troops, subordinate officers, imperial envoys and couriers) and the dialogues are frequently very substantial.
So, in terms of information gathering, Harry cannot be too aggrieved.
But information gathering is not the same as information processing. And herein lies frustration, for not only does Harry lack the contextual insight of a Roman mind such as the Publican’s, he also sorely misses the one real-world person whose intelligence, intuition, wit and empathy could always guide and inspire him in ways that nobody else can.
Harry misses his perfect collaborator.
A loner no more, Harry has spent the past thirty one months nearly inseparable from Ginny. Together they became infamous; a force of nature. They turned confounding debacles into entertaining challenges; frightful perils into mere adventure.
But now, without her at his side, the world is cold, colourless and… bewildering. Every clammy, grey confusion reminds him how much he lacks.
And the worst clammy grey confusion he feels is in wondering how he could possibly have lost her?!
She may be lost, but she's not dead.
Harry has denied (and denied, and denied) the possibility that Ginny truly perished in the Fiend Fyre. After all, he never saw her fall. She had been right beside him. He had turned for the barest instant… and she was gone.
Or is she…?
He has clung to one critically sustaining conviction for every moment of this endless dream, but how much longer can he hold on?
In this dream night by the moonlit stream, the starkest possibility has been laid bare. Struck, brutally, by the mournful note in Annisgwyl’s moonlit eyes, Harry finds himself beginning to admit that Ginny might truly be lost forever.
In Annisgwyl’s words and her expression, Harry is confronted with the understanding that the one person in all of history who was so very nearly identical to ‘Ginny’ in almost every perfect quality — the Princess LanossŽa of the Iceni — is presumed dead. Harry knows, logically, that one death need not imply another. LanossŽa lived to bear Harry's and Ginny's ancestors to an age of self-sufficiency, so her demise is unlikely to disrupt history. In fact, it may even be history — a normal (if sadly brief) cycle of life and death that was the norm through so many generations of human history.
However, the image of LanossŽa meditating streamside, juxtaposed with the thought of never seeing her again and the fear of losing Ginny forever, composed a symbol too powerful for Harry's fragile psyche. Thus, while Traianius’s body still has the strength to walk hand-in-hand through the dark woods with the now-orphaned daughter of LanossŽa, Harry sustains no will for anything other than to collapse to his knees and drop slowing down onto the earthy forest floor, and lie there, until-
Harry pushes back the despair.
The clammy grey subsides.
What ray of hope did he feel just now? What shone down to break the chain of torment? What hidden aura has renewed his strength to stand; to gaze curiously through his host’s window on the world?
After a moment of grappling, scanning for some vague ephemera, Harry realises that his search is not alone. Another (or others) also seek him.
In particular, he feels eyes upon him. For this first time in the endless dream sequence, it is not an incidental sense of the various people who speak with Traianius, but rather the power of eyes that seek past the Roman and reach across every inch or light year, all the way to Harry's heart. And he rushes to reciprocate.
The eyes emanate from Annisgwyl, but Harry knows that they are not hers. The Brythonic girl's concern is for Traianius alone; she does not yet see Harry, nor would Harry wish her to.
As Harry begins to entwine with the distant gaze, he is buoyed by the sense of tender connection that he has only ever known from one person. Harry knows not how this person has found him, nor from where, but he is certain that her gaze is every bit as real as anything that is magic.
The eyes are as real as a rainbow.
The rainbow is real; it is waiting for him. And someday, again, he will reach it.