Nov 2008

Chapter 56Anguished

The mansion was gone. No two ways about it. Very little was left. Just sooted walls and burned down timber. There must have been a fire, not too long ago. Many of the outer walls had collapsed, making it difficult to judge how big the mansion had once been. Regardless of how many floors it had, it must have been huge. And it was all gone now. I looked at Deirdre, worried what I might see. She surprised me by holding herself together. She didn't scream, faint do anything rash. A horrible part of me wished she'd been this calm yesterday. Maybe she'd prepared for this.

"Are you alright?"

Deirdre didn't look back. "No."

"Maybe your parents are..."

Her voice cut sharply into mine. "No they're not. It's obvious there's been a fire, my parents would have had little chance if they were inside when it happened. Also, they have plenty of money elsewhere. If they were alive, they'd be busy rebuilding this."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't, help me find out what happened."

I nodded and followed Deirdre, closing in on the mansion.

The closer we got, the more horrible it seemed. There was a small building with lots of odd-shaped remains, which used to be a chicken-pen of sorts. The garden outside of the house was large enough to save the forest, apparently. The wind must have been perfect when they lit the house on fire. I tried to look at the ground, hoping to see traces of any ashes or otherwise. But there were none immediately visible. It probably had been long enough ago for the rain to clear the ground.

The ground floor of the mansion was still somewhat intact, especially near the entrance. But there wasn't much space to walk. As the higher floor had collapsed on top of it, most it was just a collection of burned wood and lots of stone. There was nowhere to tie the horse, in or around the house. Deidre got off hers and looked around. But, unfortunately, she didn't see anywhere to securely fasten the horse either. I got off mine and walked to her, reins in my hand.

"I'll take care of them."

She nodded, a look of mixed emotions on her face. Silently she handed the reins of her horse to me and went inside. It took me five minutes to find a good place for the horses. A place I could only assume had once been stables, had one of those poles with a ring still standing a little from the building. It wasn't as close to the house (or as in view) as I'd have liked. But there appeared no other option at the moment. The forest line was even further and we wanted to keep the horses as close as possible.

After I tied the horses I went back to the house, only to find Deirdre crouched just inside. She was in the middle of what was probably the hallway, rubble and pieces of wood around her. The ground was tainted with a few drops near her feet, coloring it darker. She was crying.

She didn't even look around when I got closer and allowed me to put an arm around her shoulders. I gently held her. She had tried so hard to be brave about this, but emotion had caught up with her. She leaned into me and let it go. Part of me wondered what made her snap, but it could have been anything. She grew up in this house. A stone, a piece of ash in a certain shape. Anything could have reminded her of what this place once was.

"I'm sorry." This time it was Deirdre asking for forgiveness.

"It's alright."

"No... It's my fault."

I blinked. "Why?"

She continued, speaking while still in my arms. "They threatened to kill my family if I tried anything while they held me. I thought they were just stupid threats."

I thought about this and replied as honestly as I could. "That doesn't make it your fault. And nothing points to this being done by a Master. It looks like fire."

She mumbled, only just understandable. "But they could have weakened the stone, to make it collapse."

I smiled a little. "Or make the fire stronger if it was Masters of Light. Couldn't it have been bandits or thieves?"

She shook her head. "There would have been plenty of servants and some guards here. They weren't stupid. I mean, this is fairly in the forest after all. My mother even tried to be friends with the Forest Spirits, leaving them food and drink."

That was as little surprising. Though many living out in the wild did it. 'Appeasing the spirits' was a good way to feel safe. Even if it was unsure if it had any effect as such. It was mostly practice only for those without guards. My eyes looked around to see if anything looked out of place. But there wasn't much to look at. The whole place was a ruin, inside and out.

There came a voice from behind us, one I'd heard before in the dark. "It was the Masters of Light."

When we turned to the voice, we saw a Satyr standing in the broken doorway. He had a very apologetic air around him. He didn't move further though, looking uneasy even to stand on a doorstep.

"What?" Deirdre asked softly.

"The Masters of Light."