Anything worth doing will have struggles. But anything worth the struggle is worth doing ~ Megan Finsel

The Calligrapher’s Casanova

The explosion of gunfire rattled the night, ricocheting off the ghostly bodies of aspens into the forest depths, as the wind in the branches carried on it the thunder of five galloping horses, Her Majesty’s mounted police, who were hot on the trail. His trail.
    Ducking into a turn, our hero dodged a bullet aimed at his shoulder then dove behind a tree. Attempting to still his nervous heart, he swallowed hard and tried to lay as motionless as possible.
    It was amazing; they treated the hero like a criminal and the criminal like a hero. He wasn’t the one who had kidnapped her! Yet he was the one running for his life through this condemned forest in the dead of night. ‘I’m in too deep,’ he thought and shaking his head he pounded a fist against the mossy ground. 
    Suddenly, bark exploded near his head. Leaping six feet in the air, he hit the ground running and was off like a shot through the night with the Queen’s men on his heels.
    But he was quickly running out of forest. Our hero had barely enough time to slide to a shaky halt at the edge of a vast ravine, in which ran the overflow of winter runoff. He teetered there, with both his pulse and the tide pounding in his ears. Glancing back, he could hear the pop of riding whips, slapping leather, and the dry din of hooves.   
    He stared down at the tumult of swollen rapids. He was no use to Yana dead.
    They were coming!
    He hesitated only a moment more.
    When the five riders broke from the grasp of the woods and came to the edge of the swollen canal, they found themselves alone with the moon.
    “What, did he jump?” one demanded.
    Their commander growled, “Search the river!”
    But they would find nothing, no body or human remains for downstream past the rapids of angrily churning water, in a calm spot near the shore, a hand broke the surface. Gasping and spitting, Emil grasped hold of a root and pulled himself up the bank. Turning he smiled up spitefully at the moon… 

The heavy knock on the library door, like gunfire, sent a fright through the writer, waking her from her story. Her quill paused, her heart beating wildly. “Yes?” She squeaked.
    The door creaked open. “Ma’am, I bring your noon tea.” said a soft voice from the doorway.
    “Very well,” the writer whispered without lifting her eyes from her manuscript. “Just leave it there, Cali.” Obediently Cali did as she was told; setting a silver tray on the desk then quietly leaving the room. Yet she paused in the doorway and glanced back at her employer, watching as the frail-looking woman with long black hair doubled over her work. Such a pity, Cali thought with a shake of her head. Then she quietly closed the door.
    When Cali entered the kitchen, she was greeted by a face-full of delicious aromas.
    “How is she?” the cook asked, glancing up from his stewpot.
    Cali shrugged a shoulder, “as well as can be expected for a woman in her state.” She settled herself down in a nearby chair.
    “You know, everyone thinks she’s crazy,” the chef commented and Cali heard several others in the kitchen agree.
    “Well, she never really recovered after the Master’s death.” Someone stated.
    Cali sighed knowingly. Ever since that accidental misfire on the hunting field had killed her beloved Geoffrey, their mistress never had been the same.
    “I heard her talking to herself the other day.” said a sweet-faced servant girl.
    “That’s not odd, she always does.”
    “You think she talks to him?”
    “She told me she sees things!”
    “Other people?”
    “Ghosts, probably.” Someone gasped.
    Cali was ignoring the gossip and instead took up the sheepskin cloth to polish silverware. But despite her attempts, she was helplessly sucked into the conversation by another of the cook’s assistants.
    “What do you make of it, Cali?”
    The serving woman sighed and brushed a strand of graying hair from her sea-green eyes. She had been serving Lady Iana de Hoven for nearly forty-six years, and drawing on this experience she managed to say evenly, “Our mistress is many things, but crazy is not one of them.”
    With that the conversation drifted to other subjects, yet Cali’s mind kept hold of the thought of her crazy mistress for she only half meant what she said. What else do you call a woman who talks to an empty room and goes around with those frightened doe eyes, jumping at every little sound? Mad. Cali thought and then chided herself, because Iana had been nothing but good to her these past years. Shaking her head, she reached for the tub of silver polish.
    Yet while her servants and employees’ day went on as usual below her, locked away high in her library, Lady Iana sat slumped over her writing desk. She did not know what the maids were saying about her, or what the rumors that haunted the city were speaking of, but even if she did she probably wouldn’t care much. She wasn’t that kind of woman. Stature and social status, unlike her elegantly silk-clad peers, was of little concern to Iana. In fact, aside from a little contact with her serving girls, mostly Cali, Iana kept her distance from the world, concealed; trapped inside her own little reality.
    The library echoed with the scratch of her quill against paper as she proceeded to pull Emil out of the river to lie on the bank. Then she paused to reread it, and moaned slightly as if she were wounded.   
    “Beautiful, simply beautiful.” A masculine voice spoke out around her, echoing softly in the quiet.
    “I don’t know, it feels flat,” Iana sighed, referring to her story. 
    “I was talking about you.”
    Lifting her eyes, Iana turned to see him leaning casually against a far bookcase. His coffee colored hair glinted in the afternoon sunshine streaming through the single window, and the warm gaze he fixed upon her was both endearing and tender. 
    She turned away.
    “You really ought to get out some, Yana.” He commented.
    Iana sighed and dipped her quill. “I have too much work.”
    She heard him hum in understanding, heard his heavy boots as he crossed the floor behind her, and felt his hands grip her shoulders tightly. She fought a smile as his breath tickled her ear. “Just think of how much inspiration is out there waiting for you! New experiences, new adventures…” he kissed her neck, “new ideas…”
    A timid knocking at the door sent Iana to the roof and back and swinging around she looked up to see Cali again in the doorway.
    “Lady Iana, the cook wants to know when you would like your supper.”
    Iana hugged her slender self against an internal chill. “I am not hungry, thank you.” With a courteous nod Cali left.
    Tentatively the writer faced her work again, letting her eyes slip over the many sheets of paper, the silver inkpot, her peacock quill which had once been nice looking but had been mangled, accidentally, in her frustration. She shook her head and felt pulled toward the window.
    Rays of late afternoon sunshine shone down through the colored panes, streaking the crude wood floor with red and yellow diamonds. Slowly, Iana came to stand in the light and held her breath, her hand pressed to her chest, as she stared below.
    Outside, the village square spread like a checkered tablecloth of blue and white awnings, fluttering in the late March breeze over peddlers’ carts and venders’ tables. The muffled song of hawkers’ cries and voices drifted from below. She could just make out the women in their colorful gowns, men in their tunics, and behind it all the outline of distant mountains, emerald against an azure sky.
    “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” His voice asked softly behind her. Her shoulders stiffened.
    “You should go out today, Yana, enjoy life a little.”
    She glanced over her shoulder to see him smiling a broad, inviting grin. She turned back, touching the stained glass.
    “No,” she sighed, “all the life I need is here in my books.”
    “Very well, seems a lonely life to me.” He muttered, and she heard his footsteps behind her but she didn’t look back at him. Instead she gazed below at the plaza and traced the edge of a yellow diamond. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go down there, she did, truly she did but she was afraid. Here locked up in her library she was safe, or safe enough, from them. The last time she had left this room, they had attacked her, and if it hadn’t been for Emil, well, she only shook her head.
    Never again, I won’t go out there, it’s too much a risk.  
    With that decided she returned to her desk, taking up her quill and her writing to fill the room with whispers. When he vanished she didn’t notice but he was quick to return, as he always did, as afternoon seeped into evening.  
    She was sitting at her desk, like she had been since morning. She knew when he entered the room for the air seemed to vibrate around him and the dim light of her candles seemed to flame. Yet she didn’t look up, instead she sighed heavily and replaced her quill in its stand. Cupping her forehead in her palms she stared down at the page before her and sniffled. “This is atrocious.”
    “A writer is limited only by her supply of inspiration.”
    At this she looked up to see him cradling one of her books off the shelf. For a long moment he stood with his head down, his eyes on the page, his beautiful forehead wrinkled in thought. Then he looked up at her. “Isn’t that true?”
    Reluctantly Iana nodded. He closed the book with a thump.
    “And, aren’t you the one who always says ‘life would be but only a sleepwalker’s routine if it weren’t for adventure’?” She watched as he approached. “That’s what you write for me anyways.”
    Iana turned away with a huff. “That’s a book.”
    His laughter filled the room with more warmth then the fireplace. “You are a case aren’t you, Yana?” 
    “Stop calling me that.”
    “But you are she, are you not?”
    “Yana is a beautiful, strong heroine. I am nothing like her.”
    She felt him drop to his knees beside her. Reaching out he took hold of her shoulders, turning her to face him, and she suddenly realized just how close he knelt.
    “You shouldn’t be so afraid to live your life, Yana, there’s so much adventure waiting for you out there.”
    She stared into his face, so close to her own. She was able to see the stubble on his chin, the gold flecks in his eyes, smell the sweetness of his breath. With difficulty she shrugged him off and turned away.
    “Why are you here, anyways?” Her voice was level, not too icy, not too soft. She felt him shift.
    “I wanted to see you.” He offered in an unconvincing tone.
    Iana shot him a sideways glance and watched his shoulders slump. “You have bad news, don’t you?” She muttered. His gaze dropped.    
    “Well it certainly isn't good.”
    She sighed and retired the quill to its stand then turned to face him again. “Alright, what is it?” She saw him hesitate, saw a foreboding shadow flash across his chiseled features.
    “Well, out with it!” She demanded impatiently.
    When his eyes met hers his sorrowful expression sent chills through her like an icy gale.
    “Carolo is here. He’s in the city.”
    Iana clutched the back of her chair for support as the world spun but it wasn’t enough. Without warning the room blackened around her. When she came to, she found herself slumped on the floor in a disorderly heap and he was leaning over her.
    “What happened?” She murmured.
    “You fainted.”
    “You said Carolo was here?” He nodded grimly. “Does he know where I am?” He shook his head and, relieved, she let her eyes close. Even with her lids shut she knew he was reaching for her, and as his strong arms circled her she slumped against him, more for comfort then support.
    “Yana, you have to get out of here.” He whisper, his cheek resting against her forehead. “It isn’t safe.”
    Iana pressed her face to his chest, relishing in the warmth of his safe embrace. Then she pushed away and struggled to her feet.
    “I have to finish the book!” She exclaimed and took up her quill again.
    How was she to have known when she had begun this endeavor how dangerous it would become? Carolo, a fierce warrior, one of Emil’s evilest foes, and a worthy one at that, had been her favorite character until just a while ago. But how would she have known that Carolo would hunt her? That he thought she was Yana? That every word she wrote would eventually happen? A book she had started two years ago as a pastime was now her death-sentence, and the reason she kept herself locked in her library.
    “Yana there isn’t enough time,” he was standing behind her now, “if you stay here, Carolo will find you.”
    Her quill hesitated, and a drop of black ink dripped to blotch the page. For a moment Iana stared blankly at the wall behind her desk, her heartbeat pulsating in her throat.
    How had it come to this?
    All of a sudden there came a knocking on the door, a rap so loud in the quiet it made both her and Emil jump.
    “Carolo!” Iana gasped, clutching the back of her chair and staring at the door. The room swayed and she feared she would faint again.
    Quickly Emil grasped her upper arm and hauled her to her feet.
    “The window!” He exclaimed.
    Iana glanced at the library door, hearing the sounds of shuffling footsteps and then more knocking. Carolo’s men, they’ve come for me!
    What about Cali and the others?
    “B-but…” she stuttered, stumbling behind him.
    More pounding.
    “No time, we have to go!” Glancing into his face she saw the intense fear in his eyes, and her knees began shaking.
    Reaching the window Emil released her arm to pry it open. During this time Iana’s eyes flashed wildly about the library for anything she might need and her gaze came to rest upon her desk.
    “My manuscript!”
    “Yana there isn’t time!” But she dodged his reach and made for the desk, gathering the scattered sheets and a fountain pen, clutching them both to her chest.
    Halfway back to the window, her foot caught in her skirt and she tripped, falling to her knees. Papers scattered. Her heart was beating wildly. The pounding at the door was accompanied by muffled voices. 
    “Emil!” She gasped glancing up through her lengthy black hair, her dark eyes wide with fright.
    Suddenly he was kneeling beside her, sweeping her and her manuscript up with incredible haste. “Hurry woman!” His voice filled her ears, her head, as together they stumbled toward the window. Before she could protest he was pulling her outside onto the rooftop, then across the roof to the edge.
    She peered below; the plaza lay drenched by the shadows of night.
    “Hold tightly now.” Emil’s voice was surprisingly calm as slowly he aided her down to the cobblestones below. All the while Iana gripped tightly to him, her heart aflutter. When she came to rest on her own two feet she glanced back up at the window through which hung the gauzy white curtain.  
    “Hurry my love! They’re bound to find us!” Emil hadn’t really shouted, so the quiet must have intensified his words. Gathering her skirt and hugging her manuscript, Iana stumbled along behind him, letting him take both her hand and the lead.
    Yet as Lady Iana fled through the dark streets and alleyways of the city she did not stop to contemplate what really had happened. For high above, back through that window in the deserted library, the door had creaked open revealing not a company of armed men but a single, work-weary maid. 
    Slowly Cali stepped into the library, and, adjusting her spectacles, she took in the vacant room.
    “Lady Iana?” only the echo of her voice answered her. “Lady Iana?”
    Hurrying across the library, she stopped at the window and peered down into the night. Below she could just make out the pale white of Lady Iana de Hoven’s silk nightgown as she fled through the market square. “Lady Iana!”

Having alluded death a second time Emil now found himself stumbling though the wild, untamed forest that corralled the Queen’s realm. The night was slowly relenting into dawn around him, casting away the eerie, haunting shadows that had served well as hiding places.    
    “I’m coming Yana,” he whispered to himself as he stumbled along, “Hold on.”…

Iana sighed and swatted at a fly tickling her cheek.

Batting at insects, our hero mulled over his situation. He was the only one who knew about the plot concerning Yana; which left the life of the most important young woman in the hands of a felon…

The clatter of metal and the yowl of an animal pierced the night and Iana clutched her manuscript tightly, her large, doe-like eyes sweeping the alleyway.
    “What was that?” she whispered.
    “It was only a cat.” Emil soothed.
    Slowly she let herself relax. They had come to rest in one of the alleys on the outskirts of town, a valve branching off from the heart of the city. Trembling from exhaustion and fear, Iana could barely keep her fingers steady enough to write but she forced herself to grip the pen and scratch away by the dim moonlight.
    Water dripped somewhere, a soft plopping on stone. The air reeked of garbage and sewer and the very night seemed to shake with a chill. The breeze was little comfort; too cold, it pricked Iana’s skin and burned in her lungs.
    “How much longer?” Emil stood close, reading over her shoulder. 
    “Not long. A chapter, maybe two.”
    He sighed but said nothing more and turned away to resume guard.

The scrape of boot soles that certainly didn’t belong to him startled Emil. He swung around. The footsteps were drawing closer. He glanced wildly between the surrounding trees. There, moonlight glinted on sword blade. The shadowed outline of one of Carolo’s Night Hawks filled the white sphere where the moon was setting behind him. 
    Emil began running…  

No sooner had she written this did Iana hear the sounds of approaching boots. Her mouth dried. Oh what have I done?
    Slowly she looked up to see down the length of alley, the outline of a man rounding the corner. Her stomach clutched as she saw moonlight flash off the blade of his drawn sword, as his hunched body was silhouetted by the reflection of the setting moon in a closed window behind him.
    “Night Hawk!”
    Emil had a hold of her hand now, hauling her to her feet, and together they fell into running. She could hear the heavy thumping of the Night Hawk’s boots behind them, and then came the leathery sound of flapping wings.
    Oh why did I give them liberty to fly?
    Like the hawk he was named for, the armed man came rushing up from behind and Iana felt his hands like cold claws grip hold of her hair. He yanked. She stumbled, wrenched free and kept running, all the while clutching her manuscript.
    Through the tawny light of pre-dawn Iana found herself stumbling along through the mazy paths of downtown. Ducking between vendors and slipping between the sparse clusters of early risers, she fled as if her life depended on it. For, to her it did. She ignored the questionable looks from onlookers and wondered why they did not flee too.
    Glancing back only once, Iana looked into the little black eyes of the Night Hawk and felt herself chill. She put on the speed.
    “This way!” Emil cried.
    With both legs and lungs burning, a stabbing pain piercing her side, Iana followed Emil around a corner into another alleyway.
    “Great, a dead end!” He growled.
    Iana cast around wildly for an escape, but saw only a far wall half smothered by ivy.
    “Quick, climb the wall!” Emil exclaimed, and stood ready to boost her up.
    Iana looked up at the construction of red brick doubtfully. “No I can’t!”
    A piercing bird-cry made her turn to see the Night Hawk swooping down from above, his black wings blotting out the nearly risen sun. She turned to face the wall.
    Placing her tiny slipper-shod foot in Emil’s large hands Iana tucked her manuscript beneath one arm and reached for a handhold. She could feel the shadow of the Night Hawk bearing down upon her, cold and threatening. She pulled herself up and began climbing. The thump of wings, like an evil heartbeat, filled her ears.
    “Lady Yana!” The cry was a menacing echo from behind her and hearing it Iana startled. Her foot slipped. She lost her hold. The ground rose up to meet her and when her body struck cobblestone Iana lay gasping, surrounded by a flurry of papers. From between her closing eyelashes she looked up to watch as the dark outline of the Night Hawk descended upon her. 

Emil groaned and stretched against his binds. That second hunter had come out of nowhere, and now he sat captured and aching on the dungeon floor. “This isn’t over Carolo; I swear you will not have her!” His voice reached the corners of the low ceiling overhead. “You hear me? You will not have her!”…

The first thing Iana noticed was darkness. The second was pain. When she finally was able to pull open her heavy eyelids she found herself lying on something plush and soft, and when her eyes came into focus she realized she sprawled on the pelt of an animal quite resembling a white bear. Wincing, she touched her throbbing head.
    “Oh good, you’re awake.” The deep voice startled her and, jumping, Iana looked around. But the room was empty.
    “So this is the infamous Author? Our Yana.” Iana turned again and then saw the speaker, a tall, broad-shouldered man with slick, black hair and flashing eyes that glinted red in the firelight. “Bravo, you sure gave my hunters a good fight.”
    “Where am I?” Iana asked, fearing the answer.
    She shuddered.
    Gazing about, Iana recognized this place; the tall expanses of ice-white stone turned red by the firelight, the fireplace framed by the antlers of a giant stag, in which glowed an abnormally red fire that cast black shadows and stained everything crimson like blood. She let her sight settle upon Carolo’s outline against the fireplace and started to tremble.
    “You know why you are here, little Author?” The man demanded as he strode before the hearth. She shook her head. Turning to face her, he leaned in close so she could smell the musty stench of his breath.
    “You have what I want.”
    She was definitely shaking now, and feverish with fear Iana tried to look away but his scorching gaze held her own.
    “You know what that is?”
    She didn’t answer.
    “You have The Book.”
    It was then she realized she was no longer holding her manuscript and, panicked, Iana groped about wildly.
    “Oh you are looking for it? Certainly you are. Don’t fret. We have your manuscript, safe and sound.” She watched as Carolo took a large handful of papers from a nearby servant. “Now with this I can end the story the way I want to and you’re going to help me, Yana!” Iana cowered beneath the finger he jutted in her direction. “Finish the book using my ending…” he paused with a self-important hand upon his chest, “…and then you can go free.”
    Iana was shaking badly, almost too badly to speak, but she managed an even tone as she stared him in the face. “I will never let you rule Groveheart.” His face darkened.
    “I think you will do as I say,” Carolo’s voice trembled with fury, “if you want your lover to live.”
    Emil! Iana suddenly realized he wasn’t there beside her. After taking in the empty room anew she returned her gaze to the harrowing face of the villain before her, and shuddered.

The stone walls of the cavernous dungeon echoed back first the scrape of a pick in the lock, then his lone footsteps as, stealthily, our brave hero made for the exit. With excitement gripping him he reached for the doorknob which opened into a wide yard. Pausing there he waited for the passing of a guard then snuck across the lawn, escaping death yet again. I’m coming Yana…

“Now my dear,” Carolo purred, smooth as a serpent yet hardly as charming. “Write the ending.” He thrust the papers into her hands. Looking first at the document then at him Iana shoved them back.    
    Carolo’s scarlet eyes clouded. “Do you ever want to see your beloved Emil again?” She hesitated. “Write the ending.”
    He shoved back the papers. “Write it! Or do you want him to swing from my gallows?”
    Iana swallowed a gasp and slowly took hold of the stack of papers.
    “Very good.”
    Shying away beneath his curling grin, Iana spread her manuscript in her lap and took up the quill that was offered to her. I can’t believe I’m doing this, I can’t believe this is happening. She thought, fingers trembling as she gripped the feather, dipped the pen and prepared to put ink to paper. 

And with his army of Night Hawks Carolo invaded Groveheart, flooding the city with shadows…

    Her quill paused as she watched his smile widen, revealing yellow, fanged teeth.
    Close by, the fire burned contentedly on its hearth, the unnatural red glow making perfect writing light. Iana glanced at it thoughtfully, watching for a moment as yellow curls of heat pulsated in the heart of the fire.   
    She glanced at Carolo. I made you, she thought, slowly picking up a page, I can destroy you.
    “What are you doing?” Carolo had noticed her hesitance, her thoughtful look, and the page she held in both hands. Before he could react she yanked the page in two.
    Like a beast stretching beneath them, the stone floor shuddered, sending Carolo and his lot to their knees.
    “What are you thinking? You’ll destroy us all!” He exclaimed.
    Regaining her balance, Iana took another page and ripped it in two and again Bloodhall jolted. She picked up a third and looked at it, seeing it explained Carolo’s army of bird-men.  
    The flap of wings and pound of boots told her Night Hawks were closing in, and in a panic she flung the page into the fire. The flames swelled and spouted a brilliant white flash. Iana looked up and watched as the wings of the descending Night Hawks turned to dust in the light and their bodies shriveled, disintegrating into nothing.
    She smiled a tiny, satisfied grin.
    All of a sudden, Carolo was upon her, his strength overtaking her as he swept her up in his arms. She wiggled in his grasp. He reached for the papers, gripping her wrists until the blood was cut off from her hands leaving her fingers numb.
    “I will rule Groveheart!” He spoke low and menacing in her ear. “Don’t think destroying your work will keep me from my true destiny!”
    “Stop it!” Iana screamed, kicking and thrashing madly in vain. “Emil!”
    Carolo laughed. “Your Emil isn’t coming. Your hero can’t save you from me.”
    Limply she hung in his arms, momentarily filled with the sound of boots, crackling fire and drawing swords. She held tight to the manuscript.
    “Now,” Carolo smiled wickedly, “give me The Book!”

After disarming a guard, Emil found himself storming into the castle called Bloodhall. Up a winding stone staircase lit by dismal torchlight he ran as fast as the steep incline would allow, bearing his sword at the ready. All the while he thought: Don’t do it Yana! Be strong, refuse! Don’t rewrite your ending!

Iana did her best, but he was just too powerful. Her muscles were shaking from fatigue and strain as she struggled to keep hold of the document. But when someone knocked her on the shoulder from behind, Carolo overcame her and the pages slipped through her fingers. 
    Iana slid to the ground and looked up to see him standing over her.
    Laughing triumphantly, Carolo raised the handful of papers out of her reach and stared down at her. “I think you’re more trouble then you’re worth. You’re easy enough to replace.” Turning his nose up in disgust, he glanced at his men and smiled.
    “Kill her.”
    Breathless, Iana watched as three men bearing long, curving sabers stepped toward her, the firelight playing in ghostly masks across their faces. The sight made her feel faint.
    Meanwhile Carolo stood there examining the document in the firelight, seeing what would have to be rewritten. Just then there was a flash, then the clang of metal vibrating between stone. If she had blinked, Iana would have missed the well-aimed sword as it knocked the papers out of Carolo’s hands. Sabers paused as everyone in the room turned, and even the fire seemed to quiet in shock.
    In that fractured moment, Iana looked up to see Emil standing in the doorway and she felt her heart throb eagerly against her collarbone.
    His sweaty hair was plastered to his forehead, his chest heaving with exertion, but Emil’s voice was strong as he bellowed across the hall, “Don’t touch her!”
    Having recovered, Carolo blinked evenly at Emil and smiled mirthfully. “Well my dear,” he fixed upon her a dark gaze that reminded her of a fox, cunning, sly. “It seems your hero has come after all.”
    Iana wanted to smirk at him but couldn’t muster the courage. Instead she watched as Emil swept across the room, disarming an oncoming guard, and fending off two others in the process. Then he was at her side, standing over her, blocking the swipe of attacking swords.
    “Destroy it.” Emil commanded from over his shoulder.
    “What of you?”
    “Never mind me, destroy it.” With that he swung into battle.
    Iana glanced around for her manuscript.
    There in the wall was Emil’s sword, its tip pinning one page between two stones. Iana stared at it, watching as the rest drifted like broken wings to the ground, and knew what she had to do. On hands and knees, she gathered what she could and began tearing. When another guard came at her, sword tip aimed, she flung what she could into the fire and watched as the flames cast out beams of white light. The guard crumbled into a pile of dust.
    Thoughtfully Iana watched her papers as they burned on the hearth, curling black around the edges, and she shuddered as if her own flesh were burning. All that work, only to see it turn to ash in the mouth of Bloodhall. 
    Around her, Night Hawks were closing in on Emil. The air was filled with metallic scraping and the cries of pain and anger. But it all felt suddenly distant to Iana.
    She couldn’t rid herself of that image of her papers fastened to the wall by a Night Hawk’s sword. Sitting there she watched the rest of the world go by in a blur of actions, and felt her head pounding in tune with the clang of warfare.
    What’s happening to me? What’s going on? Iana began shuddering, feeling heavy and confused, unable to see straight. She watched as the flames gnawed on sheets of her work, their light growing brighter and brighter. Then, suddenly weak, she collapsed to the cold stone floor.
    “Emil?” She murmured, her tongue feeling too thick and swollen to speak. “Emil…?”
    “Yana! Yana!” She felt him kneel beside her, felt his hands on her forehead, cool and wet. Why were they cool? Why wet? She tried to look up at him but that dazzling light was smothering her, consuming her.
    She let her eyelids close.
    “Yana!” she could just make out the voice in the distance. “Iana?” she couldn’t tell who it was. “Lady Iana?”
    It was sunlight that finally pried open Lady Iana de Hoven’s closed lids and, blinking, she found herself laying in bed. Around her the ghastly images of Bloodhall had been replaced by the tranquil surroundings of her bedroom with mild sunlight, unlike that harsh white light, streaming through the floor-to-ceiling length windows. As her vision cleared, Iana came to realize she was not alone. But Emil’s face had been replaced by a servant’s and his cool, wet hand turned out to be a damp cloth lying across her forehead.
    “What happened?” She murmured.
    “You had a bad fall.” Cali explained.
    Iana winced and touched her brow, unsure quite what to make of it all.
    “You will be fine, your ladyship,” said a kindly looking doctor whom Iana hadn’t noticed at first.
    “How long have I slept?”
    “About a day and a half.” Cali explained.
    “You took quite a tumble, miss,” the physician commented. “But, now you should be on the road to mending.”
    Iana turned away. She heard the doctor click shut his medical bag then say to Cali, “I have done all I can do for now.”
    “Let me show you out.” Came the reply.
    Iana watched without a word as both of them rose and left the room, and then she slumped back into her pillow, staring up at the dark wooden beams overhead.
    In the hallway outside, the doctor paused.
    “You found her in an alley, you say?”
    Cali nodded, “She had climbed out the library window, ran through the streets in her nightclothes, and apparently then tried to climb the southeastern wall.”
    The physician shook his head and stroked his wispy mustache. “Sounds like emotional trauma, probably resulting from her husband’s death.”
    Cali sighed in agreement, readjusted her glasses, and then asked, “Do you think she’ll ever be sane again?”
    “Hard to say,” the doctor shrugged. “Only time will tell.” With that the two continued on down the hallway.
    Back in Lady Iana’s bedchamber, silence had befallen her. For a long while, she lay there staring up at the ceiling in wonder. What had become of Emil, of Carolo and Bloodhall? Oh no! Had the destruction of her manuscript destroyed them all? If so she had defeated Carolo but…
    “Oh Emil!”
    Turning her face into her pillow Iana wept heavily late into the afternoon, her heart breaking over the destruction of her heroic beau.
    It was three days before Iana felt well enough to climb out of bed. When she did she went straight up to her library.
    The room looked normal enough. Someone must have come in and closed the window for it was shut, sunlight tarnishing the maple floorboards with diamonds of red and yellow. Slowly Iana circled the room, looking for any sign of Carolo, Night Hawks, or Emil. Then she came to her desk.
    There lay her manuscript, neatly stacked, not a sheet out of order. Iana sighed and hugged herself, feeling both relieved and slightly disappointed at once. So, it hadn’t been real­?
    But upon closer examination, Iana noticed something odd. Several of the last pages were stained red and charred around the edges. Those on top of the burnt ones were spider-webbed with cracks, as if they had been torn and then pieced together again. But most questionable of all was the top page; it bore a slit in the very middle of the paper.
    Wearily she sank into the chair.
    So it hadn’t been a dream? It really happened, all of it? She shuddered. If the manuscript was whole, what happened to Carolo? What of Emil?
    “Hello my lover.”
    At the sound of the familiar voice, Iana’s thoughts tumbled to a halt. Could it be? Swinging around she saw, standing there in the square of red and yellow sunlight, was Emil. His coffee colored hair was shining; his warm gaze was fixed upon her in tender contemplation and she watched as a wily grin slowly pulled on his mouth.
    “Emil!” Overjoyed, Iana flew into his waiting embrace. As his arms closed around her she leaned into him, smiling against his neck, and began crying softly.   
    “I thought…. thought that…. you, the manuscript!” Her sobs choked her too badly to talk and in efforts to calm her Emil pulled her closer, stroking her hair. 
    “I always escape death, don’t I?”
    Slowly she pulled back to look up into his face, sharing his knowing smile. For a long while they stood there in each others’ arms drenched by the intense warmth of late afternoon sunlight.
    “I thought you had been destroyed.” Iana whispered in disbelief.
    “I’m here aren’t I?”
    “But, what about Carolo?”
    Emil’s eyes glistened as he pulled a piece of paper from his back pocket. “Read the last page.”
    Confused, Iana took the sheet he handed her and read the unfamiliar handwriting.
…as the papers burned, the Night Hawks dissolved into dust, destroying Carolo’s armies. Then as thunder grumbled, the earth shook with violent convulsions, rocking Bloodhall off her foundation and sending the castle to her knees in upon the villain, sealing him inside a tomb of fiery red rocks.
    Finally, through the settling dust and sunset light, our hero swept Lady Yana into his arms, where at last the felon was treated as a hero.

…The End…

Copywritten 2010