Chapter #26 – All the Sorrow Thereafter

It was nearly dawn and Lydia was trying not to think about what Jerron was off doing so she would not panic. She had, instead, forced herself to go through the grimoire from Master Hansfenil and focus on the magic it contained. It was mostly working, but only because she had stayed to keep Sefirchul company.

The manischaw was sitting up in bed, pillows piled behind her. She was still tired after the exertion of the night but was in good spirits and seemed to be recovering. They had been discussing a few of the spells in the book and their similarities with magic sorcerers used until Lydia had come across a page that had been recently inked by Master Hansfenil. Intrigued by the note about Crafting, the sorceress had asked what other messages he had left her among the spells and potions.

"I think these notes have helped me, more than anything else in the grimoire. Once I find a new Grove, I plan to actually dedicate more time to working with these things he's given me. I don't know if it's knowledge that's been lost or forgotten or just changed in the nearly two thousand years since he was a wizard, but I need to embrace that. I think it's what I need to become better with my magic."

"You aren't planning to return to Sickle Moon since the trouble there has been resolved?"

She shook her head. "As much as I love my Sisters, it's not my home anymore. All this has changed me. I need to go somewhere else. I was thinking of going north, to the mountains. But…not right now. I don't want to leave Jerron yet. He's going to need help with all that's happened in the House."

Sef nodded. "He will, and I'm glad you're staying. You two are good together." She sighed and leaned her head back. "I'm glad you two found each other."

"I am too. I'm sad he's a vampire, though, and we can't have children together."

"You think he'd be a good father?"

"Good father?" She looked up, startled, then laughed. "No, I think he would be a good sire for my children. He has powerful magic and is a handsome man, is strong and intelligent." If only Jerron was a wizard…

The sorceress laughed. "Oh, Lydia." And she continued to laugh.

Blush crept across her cheeks.

"Well, I can't say much. None of the men I had children with were good fathers, but all were as you've described Jerron – powerful and handsome, strong and intelligent – but all my children turned out fine, but I also had a good support system, like witches do. Jerron, though, I have hope he'll be a good father one day. Far better than his own, I'm sure."

Lydia nodded, as she turned a page to the next spell. "And someday I hope to be a mother, though I don't know how good I'll be."

"Oh, I'm sure you'll do fine. That's all –" Sefirchul suddenly inhaled sharply, her hand going to her chest.

"Sef?!"

The sorceress's eyes were wide and filled with pain. She exhaled shakily as she looked up at the witch at her side. Shock filled her face. A tear spilled from her eye. "Brysden's dead."

"What?" Panic gripped her. "How do you know?"

Her breathing was jagged. "Because the bastard bound my life to his." She sighed, then groaned slightly in pain as she leaned back heavily on her pile of pillows. "I could have lived for hundreds of years more – but I don't think I'd have liked getting any wrinklier." And she gave a choked laugh.

"But…that means Jerron failed." Oh, gods, was he alright?!

And Sef seemed to be dying right in front of her…

Tears started filling her eyes. She did not want this to be happening!

"We all knew that was likely to happen." Her voice was weak. "But…he's alive. I know he is." She smiled, looking entirely at peace. "Yes…the gods are telling me he's alive. That means everything will be alright."

And, still smiling, the old sorceress closed her eyes and her final breath left her.

Sobbing, Lydia put her hand to her mouth. "No… Sef, no. Jerron still needs you."

But she knew it was no use trying to bring life back into her, even if she knew such magic. Sef was old, older than she should have been. She deserved her release from her mortal life. She deserved to return to the gods to await her rebirth at some point in the future. But that did not mean it hurt any less losing this wonderful woman.

For a long time she just stared at the sorceress who had become her friend despite her fear when they first met. Tears streamed down her face as she held Sef's hand. She did not look away until the door opened and Cynthia walked in to check on them as she had done periodically all night. Her smile was strained at first, her worry over Jerron palpable…then the deljenné saw Sef, saw Lydia's tear stained face.

"No," she sobbed, her hand flying to her mouth.

Tucking the sorceress's hand on her stomach, Lydia rose and went to Cynthia. She hugged the woman, who clung to her in her sorrow and cried. Lydia cried in earnest now, too. They ended up sinking to the floor and crying in each others arms until Shawn and Uldagaen eventually came to check on them. Their faces fell when they realized what had happened.

Uldagaen crossed the room to press his forehead to Sefirchul's. He murmured something quiet to her then turned back to the others. "As if this night wasn't already horrible enough…"

Lydia wiped the tears from her face after Shawn pulled his wife into his arms. Exhaustion was suddenly weighing heavily on her. She put her head in her hands and sighed miserably.

"Lydia?"

She looked up at the sorcerer's quiet voice as he walked to her and crouched beside her.

The manischaw frowned at her, gently touching her arm. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

Ensure Jerron came back to her? Bring Sefirchul back to life? Turn back time to stop the sorcerers' plans?

She shook her head. "Nothing you can accomplish."

He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to hers. "I'm so sorry, Lydia."

Lydia leaned against him heavily, her fatigue weighing down on her even heavier now.

"Come on, you shouldn't stay here. Let's get you up to your room. You look exhausted."

"Yet I don't think I could sleep."

She felt raw and edgy. Her mind was a whirl of fear and worry and sorrow. With nothing to do now – especially if she tried to quiet her mind to go to sleep – she would continually think of all the troubling things they had discovered and that had happened that night. With nothing to distract her, she was liable to become nothing but a bundle of nerves.

"If you'd like, I have sleeping draughts."

Considering he would likely give her one that would produce deep, dreamless sleep, she was sorely tempted. She shook her head, though. "I really want to wait until some word from Jerron comes, or he comes back." She was desperate hear or see for herself that he was alright.

"That may not be for hours yet, but I have the ruby and will let you know if I get any word." He stood and drew her up to her feet, making sure she was steady before he let her go, for she swayed slightly. "I still think it would be best for you to go up to your room. So let's get anything you left here and get you upstairs."

"No." They both looked at Shawn, whose eyes were wet with his own tears while he held his wife, who had quietened down but still drew shaky breaths. "I'll take her to Lord Jerron's room. I think you'd be far more comfortable there, surrounded by his magic."

She was surprised by the offer, knowing how Jerron felt about someone invading his personal spaces. "Will that be alright with him, though?"

"I think he would not mind, all things considered."

So, less than fifteen minutes later, she was in Jerron's bedroom. Because she knew he was such a private man, she did not sate her curiosity by going to look at all his books and artifacts and other things around his room. She went straight to his bed and sat on the edge. She closed her eyes, feeling his magic lingering in room, from items and spells that protected his privacy. It was a comfort.

Eventually, she lay down, pressing her face into one of his pillows. The scent of him lingered on it and she hugged it to her.

She was not sure how long she lay there, worried and sad, but her eyes eventually grew heavy and she drifted off to sleep. Hopefully Jerron would be back by the time she woke.

-.-.-

It was well past midday before Jerron arrived back at the Vennholm Lords' House. They had taken a ship across the lake and took a hired carriage from the docks. The moment he walked in the main entrance, servants and deljenné swarmed him. They asked myriad questions about all that had happened…and they told him in tears that Sefirchul had passed. He had already known that was true, and it was still hard to hold back tears. Soon he would need to cry, but it would be in private and hopefully in Lydia's arms.

Silence suddenly descended on the hall. He looked behind him as the High Lord Master passed through the door. "Go and rest, Lord Jerron. I have the House."

Nodding, having already discussed the fact Gresvon would personally oversee the House until new Lords could be appointed, he took a deep breath and pushed his way through the crowd who stood staring at either him or the High Lord Master who was starting to explain things to them. Soon they would know the vital details of the past night but he did not care. He just needed rest and Lydia's embrace.

Slowly, Jerron made his way up the stairs. He lingered a moment at the second floor. He knew the Brysden had tied his life to Sef's, that she, too would not have survived what had ended up happening. Though he wanted to go see her, he could not bring himself to do so, though he knew she was likely still reposed on her bed. He did not think he could deal with seeing her in her final sleep right now…so he continued to the third floor.

His brow furrowed at the sight of Shawn dozing against the door to his room. His deljenné clearly heard his approach and looked up, before jumping to his feet. He opened the door without a word and Jerron knew…Lydia had been taken to his room, not hers. And he found he was completely alright with her being in his most private space. He trusted her with his secrets.

When he reached Shawn, the man bowed his head. "My lord."

He put his hand on his blood servant's shoulder. "I'll explain details later, but I knew before I ever left that place what had happened. We will discuss the future later. For now, I need sleep, blood, and food – in that order. If Cynthia is in any state to cook tonight, please have her prepare a large meal for me to be delivered at midnight, otherwise, oversee one of the others to make the meal. I may need to drink from both of you…" He would drink from Lydia, but he had taken quite a bit of her blood the night before. "High Lord Master Gresvon is tending to the dealings of the House."

"I understand, my lord."

He nodded as he squeezed Shawn's shoulder then went into his outer room. When he opened the bedroom door, he paused, gazing at Lydia curled up asleep with a pillow clutched to her chest. He sighed heavily then went to her. He smoothed a hand over her hair gently then stripped out of his battle-stained clothes, too tired to even worry about bathing. He slid onto the bed behind her, fitting himself against her back, burying his face in her hair. She murmured sleepily but did not wake.

He wanted to cry with both sorrow and joy.

Only one of the women he loved had survived this night. Laurine… Sefirchul… Their loss was a gaping hole in his heart. If Lydia had never come into his life, he would have been a shattered remnant of himself. He was not sure if he would have survived this without her, no matter the gods wanted…needed him to live. So, as he fell asleep, no matter that he hated the gods right now, he still thanked them for sending Lydia to him. He needed her support more than ever, even if she did not yet know the reason why.

-.-.-

When Lydia woke, she was uncertain for a moment where she was – then remembered she was in Jerron's bed…Jerron's room. She drew in a sharp breath when she remembered what had happened, fresh tears coming to her eyes.

"You're awake," Jerron's voice said softly – full of both joy…and sorrow.

"Jerron!"

She sat up quickly, and saw him sitting across the room at a small table, several empty plates in front of him. His elbows were on the table, his head in his hands. He did not look up at her.

She practically leapt from bed and rushed to his side, falling to her knees beside him. She tossed her arms around his waist. "Sef… She's…" But he probably already knew that. She sobbed. "She said that the Brysden is dead. What happened?"

He sighed as his arm came down and draped across her back. "You were right."

"About what?" Because she was confused.

"You asked a few weeks ago if my sister could have been kidnapped because of something to do with all that is going on now…"

She jerked back, staring up at him. "What?"

"They had her all this time, pouring power into her to use as a conduit, as the focal point of their plans. She was to be their final sacrifice. I barely stopped them from finishing it."

Hope alighted in her heart. "You saved her."

Then he shook his head, causing Lydia's hopeful heart to suddenly hurt. "No…" A tear rolled down his cheek as she watched him. "I had to deal a mercy strike."

Lydia froze, tears in her eyes. "Oh, Jerron…"

"I wanted to save her; I tried to. Nothing went like we'd hoped, like we planned." His voice broke and he inhaled deeply, exhaled shakily, obviously fighting tears. "Up until last night, my biggest fear for her was that she'd been taken across the sea to be made a brood mare for the vampires loyal to Thulawe on the sorcerer-controlled continents."

She had heard of that – vampires and witches and humans being rounded up and shipped to Eswar or Leizgrel, sometimes as slaves, sometimes as broods or even studs, sometimes as sacrifices.

"She wasn't going to survive her injuries. Krizodel, the sorcerer in charge, had already started the ritual strikes. Thulawe's power in the cavern prevented enemies from using incantation so we could not use magic to heal her…and I couldn't get my mind to process the sigils to use them. I was…" He sobbed, rubbing his face. "I kept thinking all morning how could I have prevented that. How?! But then I'd remember what Krizodel said – that when she died, so would I. If I didn't try to dispel the magic then all their plans would come to fruition because she was too weak to try to get out of there, especially with fighting still ongoing. But I still…I feel like I failed her."

She squeezed him a little tighter, letting him know she was there to support him, even if she did not know what to say right now – might never know what to say.

"Though I was able to dispel the magic they'd filled her with, there was one final piece that my sword had no power to destroy, because it was laced with a touch of divine power. That magic was aimed at ensuring the Brysden died, no matter what – even if she had died before the ritual that would activate the rest. So…they still won, even if it was only a small portion of the victory they wanted."

"Jerron…" She could not comprehend the anguish he had to be going through over this.

His hand rubbed against her back as he sighed. "I only hope that that was the sacrifice that fulfilled the sword's fate."

"What fate?"

He turned to her finally, his cheek resting on his hand still. "When Master Hansfenil presented the sword to me, he said that if I took the sword its fate would become mine. I'd asked 'what's its fate?' and he told me the sword was for the one who would save Hagole with its power but that something precious would have to be sacrificed in order to save the continent. He said it was supposed to be mine, but that it could be saved for another. I was still young and foolish at the time and did not really consider the consequence of accepting the blade. I'd reached greedily for it.

"Sanshil visited me in a dream that night…"

Lydia jerked back, staring at him. The goddess of fate had come to him?!

"It was only then, at her reiteration of the sword's fate, that I understood what I'd done, what I'd accepted. I couldn't give the sword back. I couldn't give up the destiny I'd chosen, however foolishly I'd done so. I've feared since then what my 'something precious' would be." He closed his eyes, a tear rolling down his cheek. "In the past few weeks…I'd started to fear it might be you."

She looked at him in disbelief from his confession that she had become precious to him.

"I never thought it could be Laurine. I never thought she could be integral to this." He exhaled shakily. "You did, though. As much as you saw all the other pieces of this, I should have listened to you, not dismissed it as impossible. If I'd…" He fanned his fingers over his face as he sobbed. "If I'd truly considered the possibility, I would have fully understood their plan and worked harder to find their focal point, any other responsibilities be damned. There was a chance I could have stopped all the turmoil on the continent before now. I could have done more to save her."

Then he started to cry. She buried her face in his side and cried with him.

She did not know how long they stayed here, sobbing together in their sorrow. She felt wrung out again when she finally had no more tears to shed. She wanted to go back to bed, but her stomach growled at her. She was happy to see the faint, amused smile on Jerron's face.

"Go pull the bell rope. I told Cynthia when it rang to bring you up food. She'll also likely strip the bed because neither of us was clean when we lay down." He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her gently. "I'm going to go bathe now. When you're done eating, you should probably do the same."

"And after that? What do you have to do? Is it anything I can help with?" Because her job was done now. All her hunting for answers had found fruition. Realizing that made her feel groundless.

Jerron rubbed his face again. "Sefirchul needs to be put on her pyre tonight. It should be being prepared."

His quiet voice made her heart ache. New tears pooled in her eyes and she blinked them away. "I'll be there with you."

"Thank you." He kissed her again. "I'll probably be done bathing by the time your food arrives."

After urging her to stand, he headed to his bathroom, stripping on the way. Once he disappeared inside – not shutting the door behind him – she turned to the bell rope and gave it a firm tug. She had rarely used the one in her room but she knew that one of the deljenné always came promptly once the bell rang. While she waited, she wandered to the bathroom door to watch Jerron.

She was surprised to find he had a shower stall. She had only had a tub. Not that she had ever complained since she like having long soaks. But she also liked the sight of her lover showering – quickly and methodically. He caught sight of her watching him and gave her a small smile. She returned it and continued to watch him until he was done.

Shawn arrived while Jerron was dressing in clean clothes. He put Lydia's plate down and gathered up all the empty ones. He then asked them both if there was anything further they needed.

"Is the pyre ready?"

The deljenné looked pained, bowing his head. "It is. Shall I have them prepare to bring the litter up and pallbearers for her?"

"No, I'll carry her down myself."

"My lord…"

"I will carry her down myself," he reiterated, a little more firmly.

Shawn nodded. "As you wish, my lord."

"Once Lydia has eaten and bathed, I will be down to Sef's room to get her."

The servant nodded. "I will alert those who have stated they wish to attend."

Jerron walked to his bed while his deljenné left and sat on it heavily. When Lydia tried to go to him, he shook his head. "Eat, bathe, get into clean clothes, then we will go downstairs. Cynthia brought a clean outfit for you."

"You're not mad I was sleeping in your room, are you?"

"No. In fact, I'd like you to stay here with me for now, unless you prefer your room."

"I'll stay here."

She watched him inhale deeply and nod.

"I'll stay as long as you need me to, Jerron."

"What if I don't stop needing you?"

She smiled. "Then I'll stay for always."

He looked up at her then but did not smile. He gestured to the table. "Eat, Lydia."

So she did. She was quite hungry, too, so she finished fast. She then went to take a quick shower, not wanting to take the time to fill the tub that stood near the shower. She was clean, dry, and dressed in clean clothes in short order. She brushed out her hair and put it in a braid.

Once she was done, Jerron pulled her into his arms and held her for a long while, his face buried against her neck. When he finally pulled away, he took her hand and silently led her out of his room and downstairs to Sefirchul's room.

Jerron stopped just inside and bowed his head, his eyes shut, looking like he was ready to cry again. But he took a deep breath as he rubbed his thumb over Lydia's hand. "Were you with her?"

"I was. I stayed with her after you left. She was tired but cheerful." She shook her head, still trying to wrap her head around what Sef had said at the end. "She said the Brysden had bound her life to his. Why?"

"I honestly don't know. I know she hated it but she had no idea how he had done it or how to break the connection."

"Did he do it to others?"

"That I also don't know." Inhaling deeply, he let go of her hand and walked to the bed where the sorceress still lay reposed. He leaned down and pressed his forehead to hers. "I'm sorry, Sef. I tried. I will miss you."

Lydia put her hand to her mouth as she began to cry again, unable to hold it together any longer. The pain in Jerron's voice was intense. She knew they had been close and this had happened on top of him losing his sister. She could not fathom his emotional turmoil right now.

Using magic to loosen the stiffness of death, he was able to lift her easily from the bed. He started toward the door and she opened it for him, standing aside, trying to stop her renewed cascade of tears. Then, silently, they headed downstairs.

There were many servants and aides who had gathered in the foyer, heads bowed in respect as Sefirchul's body was walked past them and out into the garden. Lydia had noted the grand stone that was carved with images of the gods that he walked to, but she had not realized it was the pyre platform. Jerron laid the sorceress on top of the stone and stepped back.

As was the nature of Galynel funeral, the event was succinct. Those who knew her best gave short eulogies. Once they were all done, Jerron surprisingly asked Lydia to give the witches' prayer for the dead. Sobbing, she did just that. Once Lydia was done, he stepped back forward and lit the pyre.

These pyres required no wood or charcoal to fuel a fire. Incantation called up Peurgin's fire. Ruby flames, brighter than Lydia had ever seen before on a pyre, seemed to embrace the sorceress's body and reduced it to ashes in short order. With tears still silently running down his face, Jerron swept the ashes together and put them in a wooden box, which he then bowed his head over, forehead touching it.

Lydia put her arms around him and hugged him, not knowing what to say. And he stayed like that for a long time, sobbing silently. A part of her wondered where Laurine's ashes were, for she was sure Jerron would have wanted to do the cremation himself, as he had done Sefirchul's.

Finally, he looked up at her and brushed his lips over hers. "I'm done here…and I need more rest."

As her arms were still around him, she squeezed him. She did not doubt, with everything that had occurred since the previous sunset, that he was beyond exhausted, physically and mentally.

When he pulled away gently, her eyes dropped to the box he held. Her hand went to it and she, too, bowed her head over it. She had not had nearly enough time with the old sorceress. She would miss her quiet companionship and knowledge the rest of her life.

"What's to be done with her ashes? We scatter our deads' ashes in the woods." Though, sometimes, Sisters would ask that their bodies be interred whole in the earth, as was the way among most regular humans. Either way, though, the body and blood returned to the goddesses who had given those things to mortals at creation.

"They go to her son. He will put them in the palace's garden in what had been her favorite place there, or so is the plan."

Sef did not speak much about her two living children so she had not thought they were close enough that her remains would be sent to one of them. "Do you know him?"

He nodded. "Quite well."

"She said all her children turned out to be good people, despite they didn't have very good fathers."

A smile turned up the corner of his mouth.

"We never talked much about her children…though she did like discussing her grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

Sefirchul had had seven grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren, some of whom had preceded her in death. She also had many, many great-great-grandchildren and a few with three greats attached, which Sef had always laughed about. They were all manischaw. The majority of the adult ones work with constabularies or in Houses in the larger cities. Some of them corresponded with her regularly and Lydia had seen the letters from them relating anecdotes to the old sorceress. Lydia was sure they would all mourn her.

"Come." He took her hand and started to turn back toward the door that would lead them inside. "I want to go hide from the world for a while and just hold you."

She nodded and went with him gladly. The mourners who had gathered with them expressed their sorrow but Jerron did little more than acknowledging them, at least until they reached the doors and Jerron stopped before a vampire with long, ornately braided hair. She did not recognize him, but she sensed he was considerably old and quite powerful.

"Lord Jerron."

"Gresvon?"

Lydia jerked slightly in surprise. This was the High Lord Master?

"While I know it is not the best of times to mention this, whenever you are ready, I have news to impart to you."

Jerron inhaled deeply, his eyes closed. "I do need to know the state of things. Come by after dawn meal. Until then, I need solitude."

"Entirely understandable, my lord." He bowed his head respectfully. "As I said before, I am immensely sorry for you losses. I hope you'll have time to properly grieve before you must truly start dealing with matters."

"I do as well. Thank you, Gresvon."

Jerron then tugged on Lydia's hand, leading her inside and then up the stairs to the top floor and back to his room. Once they were there, he nudged her toward the bed and they both laid down, fully clothed, and held one another.

While she wanted to ask him about more details concerning what had happened the night before, as Gresvon had said regarding the news he had, now was not the best of times to mention it. She would ask him another time, or he would tell her on his own when he was ready. Hearing of all that had happened could wait. Right now he clearly needed to just hold her, so she would let him do that, because she needed to hold him too.