Chapter 4. Spirits
Annisgwyl lies awake for a long time after her slow, silent walk back from the stream with Traianius. Her head is spinning from the many strange, foreign images that have crossed her mind recently. Her thoughts race, trying to understand what it means to glimpse the thoughts, memories and emotions of others.
She is aware of charms that enable wordless exchange of thoughts between friends or family, but it is more difficult to explain these voices of people she has never seen nor met; people not of this place or time.
It has been happening for a while. The voices began when she laid her father to rest in the Dumnonian Hills, around one moon ago. They have continued fairly consistently since, following her throughout the entire subsequent journey across the wild northwestern provinces the empire.
As far as the cause, Annisgwyl's silent deliberations have produced a possible explanation — spirits. Annisgwyl knows a fair bit of spirit lore from her parents. She recalls a key lesson from her mother's Druidic teachings — that most spirits avoided people, but that a wise witch should still be watchful, since some might seek out humans, for good or for ill.
Her mother had told her that spirits may grow lonely, and some might occasionally seek friendship with magically-endowed humans. Many such friendships prove trivial, but some may become tremendously beneficial to both parties, since spirits have powers that humans do not, and vice versa.
The Hidden Ones, as her mother often called them, are known to occasionally use humans, or perhaps even harm them. Travellers, for example, should always be wary whenever they sense magical residue within a fixed object or place (e.g., a tree; a waterfall; a large stone). The residue may indicate a charm or curse but, in the woods away from human activity, the most common cause is a trapped spirit, whose only means of escape is to latch onto unsuspecting humans. Annisgwyl's mother believed that these spirits may sense how far the human plans to journey, and will favour those who aim the furthest afield.
Lying here now, Annisgwyl can imagine how her great quest may have made her particularly susceptible to such visitors. Perhaps this is how she acquired them?
But, if so, what should she do? Should she try to expel them?
She believes she has the strength to do so (her parents, after all, taught her very well), but she has not decided if she truly wants to, since she has no reason to hate the spirits. When Annisgwyl concentrates closely, she can hear not only their distant voices, but also catch the subtle fragrance of their emotions; the edges of their will. Thus, she knows in her heart that these spirits are not evil. At times they are sad; other times they seem to evoke sensations like wistful hope or frustration, but they never truly bear her any ill.
Yes, these spirits she will tolerate. She remains uncertain if she wishes to ‘encourage’ them, but she will let them be.
However, these spirits are not the only strange magic that has puzzled Annisgwyl in recent weeks. At least twice, she has encountered bursts of strange power that her mind keeps pondering.
The first unexplained flash occurred that fateful night in Belgica where, in the course of repelling an ambush of Teutons (a half-dozen non-magical brigands; no match for her superior powers and martial skills) she had found herself suddenly beset by something much stronger — a very ominous magical presence.
As confirmation, from across the darkened glade, she had then glimpsed a wizard — tall and spindly; shrouded in mist. The Teutons obviously knew him; they gave him a wide berth, as if wary of his wrath. Their caution seemed warranted, since the wizard projected a keen aura that Annisgwyl found both strange and vaguely familiar. It was hostile, yet not completely perilous; foreboding yet almost… tentative?
She feels instinctively that the wizard may have feared her, just as she feared him. His choice of magic (some sort of disorienting dissuasion spell) implied the desire to avoid conflict. It saturated her with a compulsion to turn tail and run away. For a moment, Annisgwyl had nearly succumbed. If not for her deep magical training, she might have raced back to the coast, found the first vessel back to Britannia, and forsaken her sworn quest.
Fortunately, she held fast. She managed to shake off the false sense of despair, and break the powerful compulsion. The effort to resist was exhausting, however. As soon as the shrouded wizard disappeared, she collapsed, weary almost to the point of losing consciousness. And it was within that weakened stupour that she experienced a second, equally odd, but very different power.
Or not Traianius?
That night, sprawled among twigs and old leaves, Annisgwyl's eyes gradually assembled the swirling darkness into the visage of the Legate legionis, standing over her; his expression burdened with concern.
From her state of unfocus, gazing up at a blurry face that would resolve into Traianius, Annisgwyl recalls two distinct impressions — that she was beholding a man of prodigious non-magical power and, rather separately, that she was encountering a magical power distinct from that man.
Contradictory. And strange.
Indeed, she has since come to understand that Traianius is, like many people, a man of contradictions. He is dominant yet accommodating; kind but reserved; first steely then (tonight) surprisingly vulnerable. None of that is unusual, but this evening, by the soft glow of the river’s moon, she glimpsed a thread of insight into how he (a non-magical person) could have such a profound effect on her. The glimpse seems to verify a suspicion she began to form that very first moment she met him back in Belgica.
Traianius, too, harbours a magical spirit.
She believes that she very nearly ‘saw’ his resident spirit tonight. Furthermore, she is quite convinced that one of her own visitors sought, with great strength and dedication, to signal across the silvery light to Traianius’s ephemeral counterpart.
Annisgwyl believes that this attempt might have been at least partially successful. This does not surprise her. Many years ago, she asked her parents if the hidden ones could borrow human faculties to converse with one another and, without elaboration, her parents had both agreed quietly, emphatically, bearing expressions of almost wistful reminiscence.
The recollection calms Annisgwyl somewhat, and great progress has been made toward resolving her many questions. But, tossing restlessly beneath the faint glimmers of predawn violet, she is still left to wonder why?
What should have brought these spirits together in her and in Traianius? And why now?
It finally occurs that this is all likely the work of Amaethon, that wily god of fate. If, years ago, his spirits called her brother Ffodion away, perhaps they now also call to her? And fate have also have willed Traianius onto her own path, to fulfill some joint destiny?
Could it be that some great reckoning draws them all to magical Herculaneum — a place of great powers and perils?
Do the gods and ancient heroes call? Shall we all stand together before the high and mighty forge of Hercules?
It is an odd thought. Nothing in the stars has ever suggested to her that the fates would summon her to the powerful mountain near Herculaneum, yet it is famed among the gods, and thus seems a destiny worthy of calling a Roman general into some fated convergence with her quest.
Yes, surely this is all fate. Some foolish young maidens might strain their ears, listening for the romantic harp of Aengus to tell why a dashing young man would volunteer his honourable service, but Annisgwyl knows that a great leader such as Traianius could surely not be swayed by anything less than the cold fateful winds of Amaethon. She is certain.
In certitude there is security, thus Annisgwyl’s mind and limbs finally begin to relax. She is comforted in knowing that it bodes well to walk the paths favoured by Amaethon. It helps her to believe that the great god of fate (and god of the guiding stars and the river’s fork) has interest in her success. Perhaps she truly will find her brother.
Of course, it only seems fair to Annisgwyl that fate should lead her back to her twin, considering the anguish and discontent that fate placed before them to lead Ffodion away in the first place.
On the blurry fringe of sleep, Annisgwyl cannot suppress one final frown as she recalls Ffodion's frayed claims that their mother was abducted by the Order of Letum. To lose one's mother is pain. To see one's brother so aggrieved is worse. To know that her brother is tortured by bitter delusion is worst.
Annisgwyl knows that the Order of Letum did not abduct her mother. She knows this because her father, a wizard of great wisdom, told them so. Speaking with quiet sorrow, he spoke of the love of his life being taken away by fate, to serve as fate required. No more could he say. No more did Annisgwyl ask. Yet Ffodion did not believe.
And that, too, is part of fate's plan. Those are the cold winds of Amaethon.
Annisgwyl can still picture, sadly, that morning two years ago when Ffodion bid adieu. Clad no longer as a woodland boy, but rather as a stern soldier who would go forth under his Roman name of Ignotus, he pledged himself to a quest of truth and vengeance.
And thence, by fate or by spirits, he strode into the morning mist. And vanished.
Dear brother, to whither has fate brought you? What has he shown you?
She has asked herself that many times over the past two years but, as the twilight dew of a new morning begins to settle in Annisgwyl’s hair, she finally finds a measure of faith that someday, truly, she will once again look upon her beloved twin. With that comfort, she closes her eyes. To the fates, or the spirits, or to herself, she vows in silent solemnity,
Wherever your courage has taken you, brother Ffodion, I will find you.
If I find you upon fate's mountain, I shall bring you home.
“… so straight from the fire, and onto this barking quest, doddering half way across Europe listening to some Celtic chickadee’s whimsy warblings about spirits, fate and finding her brother on some bleeding mountain! Can you make heads or tails?”
“Errr…” Rob is staring blankly at the picture of his sister. It’s quite clear from his face that he hasn’t heard a single word of her lively, four minute monologue. He scratches his chin. “So, you’re not dead?”
Gemina raises a sharp eyebrow. She has run out of creative rephasings for, ‘Rob, I do not know’.
Normally, Gemina would be pelting Rob with frustrated epithets by now but, under the circumstances, she actually remains… thrilled… to see him. After all, he's family; he acknowledges her existence; he hasn't been dead for hundreds of years… Unfortunately, his conversational skills seem rather muddled, so the girl in the picture breathes deeply (in fact, quite patiently) and turns to wave at the pensively brooding Hettie.
“You there. Gravener, is it? Why do I feel that I know you?”
Hettie bites her lip. “Er, good question…”
The evening is a bit early yet for headlights, but Hettie feels rather like a deer caught in them. She has plenty of conjectures to offer, but… ugh! How does one tell a friend that they will first meet each other several months from now, after said friend has been dead a while?
Finally Hettie decides to work with hypotheticals. “Uh, do you believe in alternate realities?”
“Ermmm...” Gemina scratches her head. “Like in the Dhamma? Thirty one planes of existence?”
“Exactly!” Hettie grins in relief, feeling a strong (if impracticable) urge to reach into the photo album to hug the girl. “I think that on other planes of existence, we really do know each other.”
Gemina gives Hettie a long, long, look as if measuring her for kookiness. Finally, she frowns and nods in apparent acceptance. “Well, a’right then. So what’s your take on my prattle? Why am I stuck in ancient Europe mucking about with a Roman Legion? And why the hell is Rob dithering over in Kiwi-country with all the brain function of a thrice-whacked shuttlecock?”
“Uhhh, I’m not sure…” Hettie dislikes speculating about things that baffle her, but the question is earnest, and she suspects she might have something legitimate to offer. Chancing direct eye contact with the girl, she confides, “Would it help you to know that something, um, similar happened to me?”
“Similar to what?” Gemina eyes her curiously. “Numpty in Noozy-land, or gormless in Gaul?”
“Gormless in Gaul.” Hettie surrenders to the giggle she’d held back earlier. “Or, more to the point, ‘batty in Britannia’.”
Hettie would have you know that she’s aces at word games.
“You? Britannia?” Gemina is impressed. “As in ‘ancient Britain’?”
“Well, Roman Britain, yes.” Hettie opts not to dwell on scholarly debates over whether the Roman era should really be termed ‘ancient’. “I was there for a big battle in A.D. 61. So, what year is it, uh, for you?”
“Year?” Gemina chews her lip. “Oi. I haven’t the bleariest.”
"No problem." Hettie is not to be deterred. “Might you know who the emperor is, then?”
“Aha!” Gemina lights up at an answerable query. “Titus — he was just crowned a few weeks back. We heard the news yesterday; a courier rode to camp to inform Tidy Trai.”
“Oh? Then that would make it early summer of A.D. 79.” Hettie taps her (perfectly straight) teeth thoughtfully. “Eighteen years after the Battle of Watling Street. So, tell me…” Hettie pauses for a moment as she stares at the face that looks so unnervingly like someone she remembers well from her last time-dream. “Did you ever meet, or hear of, Princess Lanossëa of the Iceni?”
Gemina pauses, then shakes her head, scowling. It chagrins her just how few names her host has shared.
“That’s okay.” Hettie nods, hiding her disappointment. “How about the Publican Peuerellius?”
“Publ…?” Gemina frowns, then begins to slowly brighten. “P… Peuer… Peuerellius? Yes. No. Maybe!! ” She nearly bonks her head on the frame. “Briton chicklet said her name was Gemina Peuerellius! Barely registered at the time, me being gobsmacked over the ‘Gemina’ bit — I mean, who could figure a coincidence like that! So, 'no' on 'Publican', but definitely 'yes' for 'Peuerellius'.”
“Really??” Hettie’s eyes flash wide with delight. “So you’re there eighteen years later, which would imply… Cagey crakes! He had a daughter?”
“Uhh…?” Gemina shrugs.
“The Publican’s daughter.” Hettie nods vigourously, brooking no uncertainty. “His daughter is looking for her brother. Looking for the Publican’s son. So, the Publican did end up having a son. And wasn’t that precisely what people were trying to prev…?”
Gemina and Rob are both staring at her, dumbfounded.
“And we’re talking A.D. 79, searching for a mountain, which could mean… Crunchy cricket crisps!!”
Neurons firing fast and furious, Hettie drifts a few steps across the breezy green, framed within the spreading sunset. Gazing into the lush canopy of a coral tree, her eyes sparkle in the coppery radiance of a million spirit-lamps. Ever so slowly, she extends her hand toward the horizon, to caress the leaf-filtered blaze of evening brilliance. Standing like Athena of Villa dei Papyri, she breathes one final word.
"Oi, what'd you say?" Gemina waves anxiously. “Gravener, could you repeat that for the rest of us?”
Hettie doesn't hear. She stands in rapt silence as the last ray fickers and dies in the west. Finally, haunted with awe or epiphany, she turns to the girl in the album. “Gemina?”
Gemina nods eagerly.
“Gemina, where…?” Hettie’s hand subconsciously finds Rob’s arm, as if to steady herself. “Where, exactly, is your legion headed?”
Harry hastens toward the fringes of the Forbidden Forest. He can make out the slight glimmer of a bonfire illuminating the upper fronds of the highest trees.
The enemy awaits. Nonetheless, Harry stops.
The enemy may be waiting, but the enemy can wait a bit longer… for Harry knows that he has enough time to resolve one final, and potentially crucial, curiosity.
Pausing on the banks of a trickling brook, haze sweeps clear of the moon to bathe Harry in enough silvery light to illuminate the object he is holding. It is a golden Snitch and Harry can just barely read its fine inscription.
I Open At The Close.
He stares at the Snitch for a long moment and, within his mind, he reviews a list.
- The diary — destroyed years ago.
- Cup and locket — both dealt with last fall.
- Snake — Ginny got that bloody monster on our way out of Malfoy Manor.
- Diadem — just tonight; fell to dust in my hands.
Five. Still only five.
Harry knows that, despite many later obfuscations, Dumbledore clearly told them once that Riddle had laid deliberate plans to spall off ‘six’ fragments of his soul. This means that, by all apparent records, one fragment is still unaccounted for. However, at their last meeting, Dumbledore’s confidence seemed to hint otherwise. And, in the time Harry has had to ponder the meeting, he has conjectured that the Headmaster's odd behaviour (including the strangely frivolous sentiment of giving away this old Snitch) may have been an artfully coded message.
As a veteran Seeker, Harry knows that the sympathetic magic of a Snitch is keyed to the first human contact it experiences. This Snitch, which he caught in his mouth to win his first ever match, might therefore be attuned to his saliva.
Harry closes his eyes, wets his lips, and brings a hand to his mouth to moisten two fingers. His lips burn at the char and destruction that taint his every surface, but Harry ignores the bitter taste and lowers the two moistened fingers to touch the Snitch.
His breath catches in surprise, as the pain in his lips is immediately extinguished, replaced by… ??!
Can it truly be??
The spark of surprise is replaced by a cherished soft touch; a ray of hope in a cold world; a sensation he had recently feared to be lost forever!
He can practically feel her breath against his cheek.
He is almost paralyzed, fearing it is an illusion that a single motion might shatter.
But Harry must know if she’s truly there. He opens his eyes.
She is truly there; lips pressed to his!
Yet, her presence seems slightly surreal in the wavering moonlight.
Pulling back slightly, Ginny’s eyes flutter open. She stares at him, bewildered for a moment, then her gaze drifts down to his hand.
She blinks, then frowns. “Harry, isn’t that the… the stone that Cadmus stole?”
Harry does not immediately answer. There is no slight intended; no disrespect for her question. Rather, the last thing in his heart he wishes to do right now is take his eyes off the beautiful young woman whom he has missed so dreadfully.
Nonetheless, after a long moment his gaze follows hers, down to his hand, to the now-opened Snitch. Within the bisected orb is a gaudy ring, sporting a smoky translucent stone. Etched somewhere in its hazy depths is the mark of the Order of Letum.
Harry’s eyes widen for a moment, but somehow he is not completely astonished to learn that Dumbledore had found the Resurrection Stone. What eludes him most is why the Headmaster might have given it to him? And why go to the trouble of hiding it in a Snitch?
Harry holds it up so that they can both see it clearly. The stone has a fine rippling crack running through it and, in proximity to their faces, Harry can make out the faint scent of putrid decay that he recalls from past Horcrux disposal.
Ginny smells it too; her nose wrinkles.
Harry processes the implications.
Horcrux number six. Riddle’s sordid list is complete!
Or is it?
Harry frowns. For some reason, intuitions tells him that this stone is less than the last Horcrux, yet somehow also something more.
As one of the three Hallows, the stone clearly has some cachet. Perhaps that explains Dumbledore’s furtive and mysterious bequeathal, but it doesn't address Harry's most basic question.
A Hallow is not to be dismissed, but Harry isn't exactly thrilled to suddenly find another. He is grateful for the Cape of Invisibility, which still serves him so faithfully. And he truly wishes that Riddle had not managed to take the Elder Wand from Dumbledore during their (supposed) duel on the Astronomy Tower. However, Harry has never thought much about the Resurrection Stone, let alone wanted it. So, once again…
Why me? Why now? Why like this?
Harry shakes his head, and pushes the aggravation from his mind. He should be focusing on what is far more important — the wonderful person in his arms!
But that too raises a question; one that is just now threatening to pierce his heart.
Did I accidentally, resurrect Ginny?
He regards her face — beautiful, yet pale; slightly luminous, yet not quite vibrant in the way that Harry has always known her. He is puzzled, because he swears he truly now can feel her gentle breath on his face, but something is still incomplete.
“Ginny…?” Fearing the answer, he closes his eyes and braces himself. “Ginny, are you alive?”
There is no response.
Harry slowly opens his eyes.
Ginny is still there, chewing her lip. Her hand is upon his; her touch is neither warm nor cold.
“Harry, I…” Without conscious thought, she pulls closer; her face rests on his chest. “Harry, I’m really not sure…”