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Authors: Mercedes Lackey

The Gates of Sleep

BOOK: The Gates of Sleep
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The
Gates of Sleep

Elemental Masters Book 3

Mercedes Lackey

 

Prologue

ALANNA Roeswood entered the parlor with her baby Marina in
her arms, and reflected contentedly that she loved this room better than any
other chamber in Oakhurst Manor. Afternoon sunlight streamed in through the bay
windows, and a sultry breeze carried with it the scent of roses from the
garden. The parlor glowed with warm colors; reds and rich browns, the gold of
ripening wheat. There were six visitors, standing or sitting, talking quietly
to one another, dressed for an afternoon tea; three in the flamboyant,
medievally inspired garb that marked them as artists. These three were talking
to her husband Hugh; they looked as if they properly belonged in a fantastic
painting, not Alanna’s cozy parlor. The remaining three were outwardly
ordinary; one lady was in an up-to-the-mode tea gown that proclaimed wealth and
rank, one man (very much a countrified gentleman) wore a suit with a faintly
old-fashioned air about it, and the last was a young woman with ancient eyes
whose flowing emerald gown, trimmed in heavy Venice lace like the foam on a
wave, was of no discernible mode. They smiled at Alanna as she passed them, and
nodded greetings.

Alanna placed her infant carefully in a hand-carved cradle,
and seated herself in a chair beside it. One by one, the artists came to greet
her, bent over the cradle, whispered something to the sleepy infant, touched
her with a gentle finger, and withdrew to resume their conversations.

The artists could have been from the same family. In fact,
they were from two. Sebastian Tarrant, he of the leonine red-brown locks and
generous moustache, was the husband of dark-haired sweet-faced Margherita; the
clean-shaven, craggy fellow who looked to be her brother by his coloring was
exactly that. All three were Hugh Roeswood’s childhood playmates, and
Alanna’s as well. The rest were also bound to their hosts by ties of long
standing. It was, to all outward appearances, just a gathering of a few very
special friends, a private celebration of that happiest of events, a birth and
christening.

Alanna Roeswood wore a loose artistic tea gown of a
delicate mauve, very like the one that enveloped Margherita in amber folds. It
should have been, since Margherita’s own hands had made both. She sat
near the hearth, a Madonna-like smile on her lips, brooding over the sensuously
curved lines of newborn Marina’s hand-carved walnut cradle. The cradle
was a gift from one of her godparents, and there wasn’t another like it
in all of the world; it was, in fact, a masterpiece of decorative art. The
frothy lace of Marina’s christening gown overflowed the side, a spill of
winter white against the rich, satiny brown of the lovingly carved wood.
Glancing over at Sebastian, the eldest of the artists, Alanna suppressed a
larger smile; by the way he kept glancing at the baby, his fingers were itching
to sketch the scene. She wondered just what medieval tale he was fitting the
tableau into in his mind’s eye. The birth of Rhiannon of the Birds,
perhaps. Sebastian Tarrant had been mining the Welsh and Irish mythos for
subjects for some time now, with the usual artistic disregard for whether the
actual people who had inspired the characters of those pre-Christian tales
would have even remotely resembled his paintings. The romance and tragedy
suited the sensibilities of those who had made the work of Dante Rossetti and
the rest of the Pre-Raphaelites popular. Sebastian was not precisely one of
that brotherhood, in no small part because he rarely came to London and rarely
exhibited his work. Alanna wasn’t entirely clear just
how
he
managed to sell his work; it might have been through a gallery, or more likely,
by word of mouth. Certainly once anyone actually saw one of his paintings, it
generally sold itself. Take the rich colors of a Rossetti, add the sinuosity of
line of a Burne-Jones, and lay as a foundation beneath it all the lively spirit
of a Millais, and you had Sebastian. Adaptor of many styles, imitator of none;
that was Sebastian.

His brother-in-law, mild-eyed Thomas Buford, was the carver
of Marina’s cradle and a maker of every sort of furniture, following the
Aesthetic edict that things of utility should also be beautiful. He had a
modest clientele of his own, as did his sister, Margherita (Sebastian’s
wife) who was as skilled with needle and tapestry-shuttle as her husband was
with brush and pen. The three of them lived and worked together in an apparent
harmony quite surprising to those who would have expected the usual tempestuous
goings-on of the more famous (or infamous) Pre-Raphaelites of London. They
lived in an enormous old vine-covered farmhouse—which Sebastian claimed
had once been a medieval manor house that was home to one of King Arthur’s
knights—just over the border in Cornwall.

This trio had been Alanna’s (and her husband Hugh’s)
friends for most of their lives, from their first meeting as children in Hugh’s
nursery, sharing his lessons with his tutors.

The remaining three, however disparate their ages and
social statures—well, it had only been natural for them all to become
friends as adolescents and young adults first out in adult society.

And
that
was because they were all part of
something much larger than an artistic circle or social circle.

They were all Elemental Masters; magicians by any other
name. Each of them commanded, to a greater or lesser extent, the magic of a
specific element: Earth, Air, Fire, or Water, and they practiced their Magics
together and separately for the benefit and protection of their land and the
people around them. There was a greater Circle of Masters based in London, but
Hugh and Alanna had never taken part in any of its works. They met mostly with
the double-handful of Masters who confined their workings to goals of smaller
scope, here in the heart of Devon.

Marina stirred in her nest of soft lace, but did not wake;
Alanna gazed down at her with an upswelling of passionate adoration. She was a
lovely baby, and that was not just the opinion of her doting parents.

Hugh and Alanna were Earth Masters; their affinity with
that Element was the reason why they seldom left their own land and property.
Like most Earth Masters, they felt most comfortable when they were closest to a
home deep in the countryside, far from the brick-and-stone of the great cities.
Margherita was also an Earth Master; her brother Thomas shared her affinity,
and this was why they had shared Hugh’s tutors.

For the magic, in most cases, passed easily from parent to
child in Hugh’s family, and there was a long tradition in the Roeswood
history of beginning training in the exercise of power along with more common
lessons. So tutors, and sometimes even a child’s first nurse, were also
Mages.

Hugh’s sister Arachne, already an adult, was long
gone from the household, never seen, seldom heard from, by the time he was
ready for formal schooling. Magic had skipped her, or so it appeared, and Hugh
had once ventured the opinion that this seemed to have made her bitter and
distant. She had married a tradesman, a manufacturer of pottery, and for some
reason never imparted to Hugh, this had caused a rift in the already-strained
relationship with her parents.

Be that as it may, Hugh’s parents did not want him to
spend a lonely childhood being schooled in isolation from other children his
age—and lo! there were the Tarrants, the Bufords, and Alanna’s
family, all friends of the Roeswoods, all Elemental Mages of their own circle,
all living within a day’s ride of Oakhurst, and all with children near
the same age. The addition of their friends’ children to the Roeswood
household seemed only natural, especially since it was not wise to send a child
with Elemental power to a normal public school—doubly so as a boarder.
Such children saw things—the Elemental creatures of their affinities—and
often forgot to keep a curb on their tongues. And such children attracted those
Elemental creatures, which were, if not watched by an adult mage, inclined to
play mischief in the material world. “Poltergeists” was the popular
name for these creatures, and sometimes even the poor children who had
attracted them in the first place had no idea what was going on about them.
Worst of all, the child with Elemental power
could
attract something
other than benign or mischievous Elemental creatures. Terrible things had happened
in the past, and the least of them was when the child in question had been
attacked. Worse, far worse had come when the child had been lured, seduced, and
turned to evil himself…

So five children of rather disparate backgrounds came to
live at Oakhurst Manor, to be schooled together. And they matched well
together—four of the five had the same affinity. Only Sebastian differed,
but Fire was by no means incompatible with Earth.

Later, Sebastian’s father, educated at Oxford, had
become Hugh’s official tutor—and the teacher of the other four,
unofficially. It was an arrangement that suited all of them except Sebastian;
perhaps that was why
he
had been so eager to throw himself into art!

Hugh and Alanna had fallen in love as children and their
love had only grown over the years. There had never been any doubt whom he
would marry, and since both sets of parents were more than satisfied with the
arrangement, everyone was happy. Hugh’s parents had not lived to see them
married, but they had not been young when he was born, so it had come as no
great surprise that he came into his inheritance before he left Oxford. The
loss of Alanna’s mother and father in a typhoid epidemic after their
marriage had been more of a shock. If Alanna had not had Hugh then—she
did not think she could have borne the loss.

At least he and Alanna had the satisfaction of knowing that
their parents blessed their union with all their hearts.

Sebastian had taken longer to recognize Margherita as his
soul mate. Fate had other ideas, Thomas claimed later; Sebastian could be as
obnoxious to his schoolmate as any other grubby boy, but overnight, it seemed,
Margherita turned from a scrawny, gangly brat to a slender nymph, and the
teasing and mock-tormenting had turned to something else entirely.

Such was the magic of the heart.

Insofar as that magic that Alanna and Hugh both carried in
their veins, there was no doubt that their firstborn daughter had inherited it.
One day little Marina would wield the forces of Elemental Magic as well, but
her
affinity, beautifully portrayed in the curves and waves of her cradle, the tiny
mermaids sporting amid the carved foam, was for Water. Not the usual affinity
in the Roeswood family, but not unknown, either.

Though they had not been part of that intimate circle of
schoolfellows, the others here to bestow magical blessings on the infant were
also Elemental Mages, and
were
part of their Working Circle. Two
wielded Air magic, and one other, like Marina, that of Water. That third had
left an infant of her own behind, in the care of a nurse; Elizabeth Hastings
was Alanna’s first friend outside of her schoolmates, and one of the
wisest people Alanna knew. She would have to be; she had kept her utterly
ordinary husband completely in the dark about her magical powers, and it was
unlikely that he would ever have the least inkling of the fact that his lovely,
fragile-looking wife could probably command the ocean to wipe a good-sized
fishing village from the face of the earth if she was minded to.

Not that gentle Elizabeth would ever so much as consider
doing such a thing.

This, the afternoon of the ceremony at the village church,
was a very different sort of christening for Marina. Each of these friends was
also a godparent; each had carefully considered the sort of arcane gift he or
she would bestow on the tiny child. In the ancient days, these would have been
gifts of defense and offense: protections for a helpless infant against
potential enemies of her parents. In these softer times, they would be gifts of
grace and beauty, meant to enrich her life rather than defend it.

There was no set ceremony for this party; a godparent
simply moved to Alanna’s side, whispered his or her gift to the sleeping
baby, and lightly touched her silken hair with a gentle finger. Already four of
the six had bestowed their blessings—from Margherita, skillful hands and
deft fingers. From Sebastian, blithe spirits and a cheerful heart. Thomas’
choice was the gift of music; whether Marina was a performer herself, or only
one who loved music, would depend on her own talents, but no matter what, she
would have the ear and mind to extract the most enjoyment from it. A fourth
friend, a contemporary of their parents, Lady Helene Overton (whose power was
Air), she of the handsome tea gown and silver-white hair, had added physical
grace to that. Now the local farmer in his outmoded suit—a yeoman farmer,
whose family had held their lands in their own right for centuries (and another
Air Master)—glided over to Alanna’s side. Like most of his
Affinity, in England at least, he was lean, his eyes blue, his hair pale. The
more powerful a Master was, the more like his Elementals he became, and
Roderick Bacon was
very
powerful. He smiled at Alanna, and bent over
the cradle.

BOOK: The Gates of Sleep
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