Emmeline, after some thought, decided to go to the Vale alone on a night that kept the Baron busy with court business. She told him what she wanted to do, and of course he pointed out it was too dangerous to do that alone when hags were about and likely waiting for an opportunity to grab her. However, Emmeline told him she would never touch the ground between the secure walls of the castle and the arms of the Mother Tree; she would shift into a sharp-eyed owl for this journey, spend the night, and return at dawn or when her work was done, as a raven. She could only do this alone.
Besides, she would be studying a sort of magic no one else could understand anyway.
She flew into the Vale and Zoe saw her. As she transformed back, Emmeline noticed that Zoe had taken on a younger aspect. Her eyes, like Emmelines, had changed to ice blue. A small makeshift cabin could bee seen on the far side of the Vale, built up from Silverleaf’s flet. Maedoc was no where to be seen. The Mother Tree was still enveloped in icycles, but they were melting and a pool of meltwater was gathering in the pond surrounding the Mother. It was surreally beautiful.
“Hi!” Zoe said.
Emmeline hadn’t broken stride when she descended and transformed. The white-clad witch clasped Zoe’s hand and gave her a wide smile. “Hello Zoe, it’s good to see you.”
“And you as well Mabrilith. She told me that you were coming. It has only been a couple of weeks, but we are doing what we can to help the Mother Tree. Maedoc should be back in one week. Will you be here?” Zoe asked.
Emmeline nodded. “This place does you good, Zeoe. And I’ll make it a point to be here. It will be equinox, will it not?”
“Yes,” she said. “You are joining us then? You hear the call of the Old Way?”
“May I join you as a student? Someone who wishes to learn of the old ways?” Emmeline asked. “The path I’m on I chose when Mahryswenifar offered it to me and I don’t won’t to to change that. Nor do I think that is best for Mara.”
“The Old Way derived from the teachings of the ancient elves and their fey forefathers and foremothers. Join us and understand her better as we together journey with her to understand herself and the ancient gods that brought us all into being. It is that love of being and the order of the universe that we aspire to. We all have our place and role to fulfill. The key is being open to our choices when we are lucky enough to see them for what they are.” said Zoe. “Come, Mara awaits you.”
She held out her hand.
That all seemed very vague, but Em was in too good a mood to care. She took Zoe’s hand and went to Mara.
From the tree came dozens of will-o-wisp looking blue lights that danced together. Emmeline could almost see Mara’s form. This was her, truly her or at least a semblance or a glamor of the real Mara and not a reflection of a dream.
“Our child,” the dozens of light spoke in symphonic harmony. “We are pleased you are here. Walk with us.” To Zoe the lights said, “Summon Whitedash and her children.” Zoe nodded.
Emmeline listened while quietly wondering who Whitedash was.
Slowly Emmeline could see Mara within the lights. She smiled a childlike smile and said, “it is time you knew how to glamor.”
This was it! The quintessential fey ability, power of illusion and enchantment. Emmeline smiled and stepped closer, then knelt. It seemed appropriate. “Please teach me. I want to learn!”
Nope, but it is a longer post. Will get to later tonight.
And so Mara led her around the grove and taught Emmeline about glamour…
“There is what you see yourself as, what others see of you, and the truth – and all of them are right.”
“With your glamour you can change what others see of you and you determine what they see.”
“You can be taller or shorter, fatter or thinner, elf or dwarf, male or female in the eyes of others. In the eyes only. All else is unchanged.“
“You sound like you, you smell like you, and to the touch you are you – to the eyes you are whomever you wish to be within the limits of your own size, but a little bigger, or a little smaller.”
“You can mirror someone, stealing their face and name, but know that their close friends will see through the glamour more often than not.”
“Like a mirror, a glamour, if touched, may shatter in disbelief.
“Once a glamour is in place, it remains for a third of a day unchanged, less if someone shatters it, then it is only shattered for them.”
“You may extend your glamour to the mortal world so that those no more than five body lengths away from you, give or take, make share in their own glamour.”
“Now,” Mara ordered, “shift your glamour to become your dearest mortal friend.”
Em chose to look like Rivanon and to her delight, it happened smoothly, almost instantly.
“I grant you the ability to cast it again. Now shift your glamour to become your bitterest enemy.”
Suddenly Emmeline was Ms. People Eater, the hag that had gotten the better of her and Zoe.
“Now look at the herd of deer that joins us. They are Whitedash, her mate, and her sisters and children. Become elk, not deer, together.”
With a little concentration, Emmeline soon had the deer appearing as their larger relatives. Excited and triumphant, Emmeline let the hag illusion fall away as she grinned at Mara. “This is going to be so much fun!”
Mara smiled. “It will, but remember at this stage of skill you can keep the form for a third of a day, but cannot jump from form to form. You choose your glamour, use it, and if you need another one, you must cast again. It is in many ways like polymorph, but you remain you as you see yourself and not the mind of a beast. Does that make sense?”
“Perfect sense. But it is so easy! I don’t even have to concentrate,” Emmeline said excitedly. “I could even rest and then cast it again if I needed to. I could be who I wanted to be any time…”
Emmeline cocked her head to the side curiously. “Can you show me what I looked like when you first knew me as a grown woman?”
“First is a tricky concept for us to explain to you. For instance, the future you is no longer the same so what we show you is now mere approximation. Time forward is always about possibilities, but when we first encountered you, you were like this.” Before Emmeline was an old woman dressed in common robes, but of a style not unlike Maedoc’s or Zoe’s. She was a little stooped, but proud. Her beauty had faded, but her charisma remained apparent.
Emmeline observed quietly.
“And when we first spoke to you, you were like this.” Next to the older woman was a little girl, happy and carefree looking just like Mara, except without the blue eyes or the glowing energy. “This was you when we were good friends and you would play in the fields of your father’s farm before he disappeared.”
“I don’t mean this lifetime. You told me that my first incarnation here was as Mabrilith. That’s the incarnation I’m curious about,” Emmeline said.
“This was and is you.” A third figure appeared writ glorious. A being of light and sublime beauty that was difficult for Emmeline to grasp. A tall elven or fey lady of pure majesty, but somehow hollow, as if Mara was showing but an illusion or a painting of life. Yet this Aos Si was not the focus. Cradled in her arms was a baby. “Mabrilith.” The being of light faded quickly as the babe floated into Emmeline’s arms.
Emmeline smiled as she looked upon the baby. She glanced up to Mara long enough to say, “And one day the babe in my arms will be you.”
After a lingering moment, Emmeline asked, “What did Mabrilith look like when she grew up?”
“Yes. And just like you I will not know anything about the world and you will need to teach me. Part of me will be part of the Mother Tree, one and the same, but a small part of me and you – us. Will be this child. When that is done, then our banishment will be over. There is much to do before then and many risks. You made a promise to give the child. I can release you from it if you fear it. But if you truly believe in what we hope to do then you know it must be done. Do you agree?”
“I don’t fear it,” Emmeline said. “I’ll welcome it when it happens. My only concern is your safety and future security. I guess any would-be parent has the same concern. But to me, that means keeping this vale safe and the Mother Tree healthy, making sure Uzec is safe and all that is required to keep it safe, and providing for a future for both of us. That means keeping myself safe as I can.
“But, I also know that life isn’t always safe. I can do a lot, much of it thanks to your support, but I know I could wait century and there will always be new dangers. So, I’m not intending to wait. I’d like to wait until we are well into spring because then I will know if my grandmother has married and if her new husband recognizes me as her daughter. If that happens it becomes possible for the Baron to marry me, if he so chooses. This could provide the most secure future for us both I could ever hope for and I think it’s worth waiting a month or two to discover. Especially since there is just as good a chance that my first child will be a son.”
Emmeline smiled again. “You know me, though. I won’t retire once it seems safe for us, even if I am a mother. I’ll only work harder, pursue our enemies further, and keep building the future you have been waiting for and that I’ve been dreaming of.” Her smile turned mischievous. “The reason I want to know what Mabrilith looked like is that I think I may be able to use it. I plan to visit this elven city Lothiel described to learn more about mother trees, and I want to get people thinking we are building something wonderful here. It won’t be like it was in the distant past, I know that. But it will be new and amazing and it will give the people who need it most the hope they need.”
“He is using her,” Mara said.
“Who is using her? And who is her? She,” Emmeline asked.
“When you thought of Adelaide for a moment; however brief, we saw her heart and felt her. She is not as close as you to us but she is blind to the truth. A curse was lifted, but she now creates her own folly. He is using her, the man she thinks she loves.” Mara replied.
Emmeline frowned. “That… is truly sad. It seems like she’s not out from under a curse at all if her personal life is still doomed to unhappiness.” Emmeline thought for a moment. “Are you sure she isn’t aware, that she isn’t also using him? Old habits die hard…”
Mara shrugged, “probably a little of both.”
“We will likely never know the entire picture, or what each of them hoped to get out of the relationship. Did you foresee that she will be unhappy?” Emmeline asked.
Mara shook her head, “We cannot know. Her spirit is further away from us compared to yours.”
“I had another random thought.” Em seemed full of those.”If I become pregnant and it’s a girl, will we no longer get to have these talks?”
“We do not know. In some ways your daughter will be like a dryad to a tree writ large. Together they are the individual, but yet with two concurrent points-of-view on one consciousness. We are afraid this is the only real way to preserve my essence as you see it now. In time, my essence and that of the Mother Tree who is both me and not will merge as to be inseparable. We accept this, but through our daughter, for both of us shall influence her birth, we can fully leave the cold of the astral banishment we exist in.” She paused. “There may be another way, but we do not see how it can be done. We could fully manifest if somehow we could be found, physically, in the Astral, and brought through. We doubt those who have that power would risk it. In either case, we would need a corporeal vessel as ours was bodily destroyed by the ravages of time long, long, ago.”
“Being born would be a whole new life for you,” Emmeline mused. “You’ll be free to become whatever you want to be. But you have a really unique opportunity right now to shape that just a little bit. If you were born into this world, what would you want to be called?”
“Your mother was not given a real chance to live in this world. Her time was sadly very brief. Perhaps we should honor her?” replied Mara.
“That is a beautiful gesture,” Emmeline said somberly. “I like that idea very much. On the day you are born, I’ll name you Lara.”
Mara looked pleased, “Thank you. To make this work, we must lend you some of our essence. You will not be harmed, but more of my being will be part of you. You and to a lesser extent Zoe already carry this essence, but this will be much more. Once we do this, it is highly likely the next time you make love to your Baron that nature will take its course. It is not certain, but the odds are higher. You must let me know when you wish this to be. Also, as you said you wish to adventure and protect the Vale. Once we are born someone must take care of us until we understand again what it is to be us. When you are gone, who will that be? These are things you must consider.”
Emmeline raised an eyebrow. “Gosh Mara, you make it sound like I could keel over and die at any moment. Plan A is just to live for a very, very long time.” She smiled. “Seriously, these are the same questions that all prospective parents think about. But don’t worry. I have family yet and so do you.”
“We know. We wish we could simply come here as we are.” she said. “There are yourself, Adelaide, Astrid, Bella, Roux, Pris, and Adelaide the younger. None are as strong as you due to the admixture of both Emmeric’s and your father’s bloodlines, which while weaker, added enough to in-time awaken you to us. If you do die, maybe Priscilla, Roux or young Adelaide will join us so there are three witches. We would hope you could convince one of them.” Mara said.
“Perhaps. Maybe for now I’ll speak with Mirel and find out what she wants from life. She could surprise us. Maybe she wants more. She’s come this far from home, so maybe she would be willing to open wide her eyes,” Emmeline mused.
“Mirel is very distant from us, like Zoé,” Mara said. “But there may be a way to bring Mirel into the circle and provide for an heir to your power. Once Mirel is among us, we must use the three of you to summon us to manifest, albeit briefly. We will teach you how.”
Emmeline nodded. “Then I will speak to her.”
“Good. Then when I have manifested, you will need to make a small sacrifice of blood. This is not blood magic, but a focus for those two to use to find the most potent of your relatives and closest to us in power should your life fail. Of course, we do not wish this, but without you here, much of our anchor and ability to communicate will be curtailed. Will you do this?”
“Yes, I will do this. Last year, I left a lock of my hair with the Baron before I left on the long journey east. So if I die and cannot be recovered, it may be possible to bring me back, although it may be difficult and expensive,” Emmeline said. “It was some measure of security I did put in place and that will be there as long as the Baron lives.”
After a brief pause to think, Emmeline added, “And we could have another backup as well. I know that at least some druids know how to coax a soul to return in a new incarnation. Zoé will know if her circle can do such a thing or not, and they could be asked directly at the spring gathering next week.
“I’ll ask personally if I’m here, but I expect I may be off hunting down those hags. Unfortunately, defense of this vale and us is a higher priority to me than attending even an important gathering of our new allies. I hope they will understand.”
Mara shook her head, “you do not understand. This is not for bringing you back to life. It is for finding your successor should it be necessary. Unlike you, one of the others will need to be brought here and then and only then will we will be able to communicate with them and hopefully they make the same decisions you did.”
“Well, I think I got it. If I die you want someone to take my place, right?” Emmeline asked. “I have no problem with that. I was just trying to assure you there were ways to bring me back… wait. You don’t think I would ever quit on you, do you?”
“There may be a time where you need to decide on what we are doing here and some other aspect of your life. We understand that. Remy Silverleaf for instance. We doubt it would happen, but now that it has happened once, it is possible to imagine such a thing.” replied Mara.
“My urge is to argue that this is my life, but I understand, Mara,” Emmeline said. “This is an impermanent world. You see things changing all around and you just want a little assurance. Of course I will do this for you. Even should I miraculously live forever and am always here for you, it can’t hurt to have someone else ready to stand by you.”
“We are so close. It has been so long and you will excuse us for being wary.” she said.
Em could really feel Mara’s anxiety. “Yes. I know. If I could, I’d give you a hug.”
“Some day,” she said. “some…day. We’ve waited this long, we can wait a bit longer.”