Walking Shadow

 

by Eildon Rhymer        

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Chapter thirteen

 

The tears of a wizard

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"Will!" she cried, and he was there, dark against the lightning. "Will! Stop!"

 

His hands had been raised. Ever so slowly, he lowered them, and turned slowly towards her like one forlorn. "Jane?" His voice was a frail wisp of a thing, like dust.

 

She scrambled towards him. Bran was not far behind her. She was suddenly sure that she had interrupted Will just as he had been about to perform some great feat of magic, something that could not be allowed to happen.

 

"What were you doing?" she demanded.

 

"Something..." Will seemed to stumble, to bring his hand up to his brow. "Can he work on me, too?" he murmured. "I think I..."

 

Bran came up beside her. Please, she willed him silently. Please don't ruin this. She had expected to hate Will when she saw him again, but she felt nothing of that now that she was here. She felt as if nothing else existed but the three of them, and that everything in the world rested on the outcome of what would pass between them.

 

"Is something wrong?" she asked gently.

 

Will gave a strange shuddering sigh. "Yes."

 

She moved a little closer to him. She was working from instinct now, or maybe from those things that she had once known, and never entirely forgotten. "Is something threatening us? Something... magical? Something that only you know about? Something that only you can do something about?"

 

He nodded. Four times he nodded. Each nod seemed to hurt him very much.

 

She laughed. Amazingly, she laughed. "Then why on earth didn't you tell us?"

 

"You couldn't know," he said. "You knew once, but you had to forget."

 

Even now, it did not fill her with fury. She glanced at Bran, but he was only standing there, staring. Different expressions were flickering over his face, frozen there by the lightning and the darkness, but he had eyes for no-one but Will.

 

"Why?" she asked.

 

Will made a sound that was almost a sob. "Merriman did it, so it must have been right. You were only children. You couldn't... You needed to grow up and become the people you would have become. You had to get your childhoods back, not live with the knowledge of things that would have been a burden even to old men. You had to learn to love the things in the world, not pine always for the power and the glory that had left it."

 

She wanted to be able to tear his arguments apart and spit on them. She wanted to be able to hate him, to blame him, to find him evil. So this was why her life had been haunted for twenty years by the ghosts of forgotten memories. This was the reason. This was the truth.

 

And it seemed entirely reasonable. It seemed almost right.

 

"Don't listen," Bran rasped. "Tricks."

 

"No, Bran." She shook her head gently at him.

 

"I didn't want it to happen," Will blurted out. "I was only twelve. I was an Old One, but I was just a boy. They'd all gone and I... You knew. Just for a few months, you knew. You understood. And then you... didn't. I didn't want it to happen, but that was selfish. I knew it was right, because Merriman did it."

 

Jane gestured to Bran to come and stand beside her, so close to Will that they could have touched, had they wanted to. From certain things Will had said or done in the past, she was fairly sure that Bran was more important to him than she was. Of course, a twelve year old boy would be closer to another boy than to a mere girl. She wondered if she and Will had ever really been friends at all.

 

"Maybe it was right," she said slowly. Thunder sounded, almost on top of them, and all three of them turned towards it. When it was past, she said, "What are you going to do now?"

 

He shook his head. "I don't know. A moment ago I was thinking..." He sucked in a gasping breath. "I was considering... No, it was nothing you need to know about. If you hadn't come, I might have done something stupid, and I'm grateful to you for it. But now... A great threat has declared itself. I need to work out how to fight it."

 

"Alone?" she asked.

 

"Of course," he said. It was not even bleak or despairing this time, just a statement of fact.

 

Bran spoke up at least. "And what about us? You're planning on making us forget all this?"

 

Will did not answer, but she could see the truth on his face. She and Bran were going to lose all of this. Will would go his way alone, and they would never know what they had come so close to finding out. They would go back to their soft, safe lives of ignorance. This time, he would be careful that they did not even feel any sense of something being missing.

 

"Don't," she begged him. "Please don't."

 

"I don't want to," he confessed, "but it's right."

 

"Of course it isn't," Bran said categorically. "No, don't tell me. Merriman did it, so it must be right. But Merriman, whoever he is, did it to children. To children. All those things you said... So we needed to grow up and become our own people. We did that. We're adults now. We've made our choices. Treat us as adults. I don't want to be protected. I don't want to hide. I face to be free to look at the things that scare us in the night, and know what I'm seeing."

 

Will looked from one to the other. He looked to be in an agony of indecision. "I can't ever bring back what you lost," he said. "Merriman did it, with all the powers of the Circle at his back. I can't break his spell."

 

Jane glanced at Bran. She saw doubt and dismay in Bran's eyes, but to her amazement, she felt nothing but acceptance. "That doesn't matter," she said. "It's enough just to know that I wasn't going mad, when I thought I'd lost something. It's enough to know the reason. But..." She raised her hand to her brow, as it to cherish the things that rested there. "I don't want to forget this. Bran's right. What was right for us as children is wrong for us as adults."

 

Will was gazing at Bran. Bran had taken a step back, and what Will was seeing in his face, Jane would never know. She saw Will react, saw him begin to make up his mind.

 

"Please, Will," she whispered. "Let us help you. You don't have to be alone."

 

Will raised his hand, just a little. "But I am," he said. "You don't understand. I'm going to live forever. I'm not really human."

 

"You look human." Bran's voice was husky. Jane knew that he hated Will, and wondered what had changed.

 

"I'm not," Will said. "And no-one else can share what I need to do. Everyone else will die, and I…" He raised his hand a little further. "That's why I had to… My family… But not…"

 

"You made them forget," Bran rasped. "That's why Rhys Evans doesn't remember you. You made your own family forget you."

 

Jane felt a cold that was far deeper than anything the storm could wrap her in. "Your own family. Oh, Will…" She reached out for him, her own hand rising as if to meet his own, but he drew back a little, so they were still apart. "I know I don't understand everything," she said, "but that can't be right."

 

"They needed to get on with their lives," Will said. "I was the… the ghost at the feast. They knew I didn't belong. It was for the best."

 

"That's the most stupid thing I've ever heard." Bran's voice was hot and angry.

 

Don't, Jane thought. Please, Bran, don't. She tried to touch Will's hand, to get through to him with quietness and comfort, but Bran would not let her. He shouldered her to one side, and stood confronting Will, his hands on his hips.

 

"Stupid!" he spat. "If you didn't belong, it's because you didn't try to. Just listen to yourself. I'm not human." He put on a sarcastic voice, a cruel imitation of Will's despair. "I'm going to live forever. I'm willing to bet that you never made any effort to belong. You just stood there and watched everyone else and let yourself drown in self-pity. You made them forget because it was easier for you, easier than having to learn how to get on with them."

 

"But…" Will seemed lost for words.

 

"And, yes," Bran sneered, "before you say anything, I am entirely aware that I've done much the same myself, but it doesn't matter when I do it. You're a wizard, the only one left. You're telling us that something dreadful is out there, and it wants to destroy us. And what are you doing? Standing here wallowing, going on and on about how you're doomed to be alone, how you're not human. It's sickening."

 

Bran turned and stamped away. Jane hardly dared to look at Will's face. "He didn't mean…"

 

"He did," Will said, his voice dull.

 

Jane looked around desperately. She realised with sudden clarity exactly what battle it was that they had been fighting, out here in the storm. She had started by fighting to keep her own memories, but her own mortal memories were nothing. The real battle was for Will's life, and if that was lost, the world would be lost, sinking steadily into hatred and despair. And yet, at the same time, her own memories were vital. As long as she remembered, she could fight the right battle. If he took the memories away from her, then all would be lost.

 

"Please don't listen to him," she urged Will. "It's just a shock, finding this all out. It makes us…"

 

"No." Will's voice was low, but perhaps there was an element of magic in it, because it stilled all thought in her mind. She could do nothing but look at him, and wait for the fate that would issue from his lips. "He meant it, and he's right." He raised his hands, and there was a light in his eyes that did not come from the storm. "He's right, but could I…?"

 

Thunder sounded, like a tear in reality. Jane flicked her eyes from side to side, struggling to see anything that could help, but Bran still had his back to them. He had said his bit, and now his part was over.

 

Please, Jane thought. Please let me say the right thing. "Will," she said. "I think people become in reality what they think of themselves as being. I mean…" She struggled for words, knowing that she needed clarity more than she had ever needed it in her life. "I've spent my life being someone who was incomplete. I couldn't forget that I'd forgotten something. It… kept me back. I haven't done a tenth of the things I could have done. And you…"

 

She took a deep breath, praying to all the gods that she had never believed in, that she would not say the wrong thing. "Bran was right. You're only alone because you've made yourself that way. People could help you, but you erase their minds so they forget what needs to be done. You push people away. You watch from the sidelines. You deny your humanity… because of course you're human. You live in our world. You have a family. You could have friends, if you let yourself. I can tell that you feel things, just like a human does. Look." And, daring all, she moved forward and raised a hand to Will's face, where water flowed, warm, and not from the rain. "Human," she whispered.

 

Will sank to his knees. Jane knelt down carefully, facing him.

 

"There's no point," Bran said harshly. "He'll just make us forget it all, like he always does. It's easier that way. It's easier to watch from the edges, than to be part of things."

 

"Bran!" Jane screamed. "Bran, don't!"

 

But Will was already pushing himself to his feet, blinking like a sleeper awakened, with the light of magic in his eyes. "Please don't," Jane whispered.

 

She heard Bran laugh, and she saw Will step towards him, one hand rising.

 

Jane closed her eyes.

 

******

 

The woman opened the door a crack, leaving it on the chain. "Yes?" Suspicion darkened her face.

 

Will raised his hand. Is this right? he thought. Since that night in the storm, everything had felt new and strange. He felt newly-awakened again, slowly learning a new way of thinking. Even breathing felt different.

 

If it went wrong, he could always change his mind. Nothing was final. Memories could always be erased, even after a lifetime. But he had never said such a thing aloud. If he was going to do this thing, he had to mean it. He had to want it, and live it, and make it work.

 

"I'm going to shut the door," she warned him.

 

Will made his mind up. This was a new start. He was like a traveller venturing out on a long journey, to a place that could well be better than any he had ever been to, but which was strange and full of dangers at the same time. He had to make that first step, and the second, and carry on until he reached the end.

 

He spread his fingers, and spoke a single word. "Remember."

 

His mother's face burst into smiles. "Will! What a lovely surprise! Come on."

 

Will glanced back at his car, at the two faces peering hopefully from the windows. "I've brought some… friends," he said.  The word still felt strange, as if such things as friends should not belong to him. "I hope that's alright."

 

"Of course," his mother said. "I'm so glad to meet friends of yours. I've never met any before."

 

He beckoned to them to come, and they did. "Mum," he said. "This is Bran, and this is Jane."

 

"It's lovely to see you," his mother said. "Come on in."

 

Bran and Jane followed her into the house. Will paused on the doorstep, and looked back at the garden and the trees, and the roofs of other houses beyond them. This was where it had all started. This was where he had awakened to his powers, and fought his first lonely battle against the Dark. Before that, though, there were other memories - playing with the dogs, kicking a ball to James, following Stephen around, teasing Max. There were a thousand thousand little memories of tears and laughter and family days in the sun.

 

And they were important, he realised now. They were just as important as the big things. Perhaps they were the most important thing of all. Loving bonds… That's what Bran had said long ago, and John Rowlands before him. They were the things that brought people together, and made them love, and want to help each other, and stand together against the darkness. But John had spoken to Will, even then, as if Will would not understand. He had called humankind 'we' and had spoken to Will as 'you', excluding him, and Will had excluded himself ever since.

 

"Are you coming, Will?" Jane called.

 

Will turned slowly. They were both waiting for him. Jane was warm and solicitous. Will knew that Jane had fancied herself to be a little in love with him for a while, but that was gone now. She was a friend now, and, if anything, a little maternal towards him, his self-appointed protector.

 

Bran was different. His anger and derision in the storm had been real, but it had also been the pivotal thing that had brought Will around. Will was deeply grateful to him, but still not entirely sure how to speak to him, because Bran would never recover his memories of their past closeness. Bran no longer hated him, and had sworn to help him, but Will knew that Bran felt as awkward to be alone with Will as Will felt to be alone with Bran. They were both more comfortable when Jane was there to bridge the gap. Still, it had only been two days since the storm, and they had a long way to go. Many things could change.

 

"A moment," he said.

 

Nothing was resolved. The dead still walked, and ghosts still haunted the hills. The thing that had inhabited Mark's body was still out there, and he still had to defeat it. He had no idea how to start it, and no idea how to finish it, but it no longer felt like something impossible. He no longer had to do it alone. He had family to support him with love and warmth, even if they remained ignorant of the true battle, and he had friends who would fight at his side.

 

"Tea's ready," his mother called, from deeper in the house.

 

"Coming," Will called. He stepped into the house and closed the door. Jane and Bran both smiled at him. They must have seen him hesitate before bringing his mother's memories back, and known that this had been a test for him, but they did not say anything. They just smiled, and let him lead them to the kitchen, where there were biscuits on the table, and tea in the pot, and his mother, looking happier than he had seen her in years.

 

END

 

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Author's note: There will be a sequel.

 

I am aware that there are a lot of unresolved issues about "the enemy." However, I hope people don't feel that this is an unacceptable place to finish a story. The character arcs, that were the main focus of the story, have reached a place of resolution. It felt final to me, even though there is still a lot of story to be told.

 

I don't like to start posting stories until I've finished writing them, so don't expect to see the sequel for a few months. Also, I have a few ideas for shorter stories, and I might well end up pausing to write those along the way.

 

Some of your comments have suggested plot ideas and themes that I could well develop in the sequel, by the way.

 

If people have specific questions, it's probably best to email me.

 

 

Thanks once again to everyone who has reviewed. It's some years since I posted fanfic (though I've been writing other things in the break) and I was very nervous about posting, so it was wonderful to get such kind comments. Every single one was deeply appreciated. Thankyou!

 

Author's notes part 2 - the self-indulgent ramble

 

I greatly enjoyed writing this. I've read the books several times over the years, and I've been aware for a while that fanfic existed about it, but I'd never felt the urge to write it, or even to read it. However, I was suddenly struck with this idea. I've always felt that the ending of Silver on the Tree left a lot of unresolved angst issues, and I suddenly realised that I wanted to explore them in a story.

 

I always start a story with a vague idea of what the ending ought to be, but the characters usually end up taking control, so all sorts of unexpected things are possible.

 

One of these things was Bran's hostility. I had never expected him to be quite so hostile and horrid. Once it happened, however, I was quite happy to go with it, and I was interested to see how far it would go. For a while, I wondered if Bran would be on "the other side" in the sequel (perhaps not consciously helping the baddy, but sworn to oppose Will in everything he did, so effectively helping it.) However, right at the end, Bran seemed to come round.

 

I was adamant right from the start, though, that Bran and Jane would not end up remembering everything. I hope this doesn't annoy anyone! The bulk of the story was about the emotions caused by the forgetting, so I wanted the resolution to naturally progress from that, and not by someone waving a magic wand and restoring everything to what it had once been. If that makes sense.

 

Well, that's probably enough rambling for now. I need to get on with the sequel!

 

Oh, by the way, I deliberately didn't read any Dark is Rising fanfic while writing this, so I wouldn't be even subconsciously influenced by other people's ideas. Since finishing it, I've read a few short stories or parts, but I've still not read much, since I've been busy editing this. I will read them one day, though. I'm looking forward to it!