The International Year Of The Beast

Chapters 16, 17 & 18

Following a skiing accident in Alaska Devin is rescued by a mysterious race of people whom are like no other except one - his brother Vincent

Chapter Sixteen

When the hunters finally confronted the clan, whom amazingly they found out in the open going about their everyday life as though nothing were amiss, they were surprised not to be challenged, even when they asked after the one to whom they sought.
“He’s not here.” Merry Wolf told them as he met with the hunters within the first few minutes of their arrival.
“Where is he?” Gary Petersen asked gruffly. Having been severely reprimanded over his lost charge, the young woman of the clan, he was not well impressed with Merry Wolf’s statement.
“You’ve missed him, we sent him on a hunting trip to prove his worth among us. It is a dangerous assignment but we felt he was capable.”
Gary Petersen looked at his companions who one by one shook their heads in disbelief. “We do not believe you. Bring him to us!”
Merry Wolf smiled beguilingly. “ I tell you the truth, he is not here, but you are welcome to look among us, only you would be wasting time.”
“Wasting time, for what? You mean you want us to capture him?” Again Merry Wolf gave them that same charming smile. “Of course not, he is family, but due to his past nature this course is set for him. If he should succeed then he will find his place among us however, if Mother Nature wills and finds him guilty of the crimes that you say are so, then he will die on the mountain. What I meant was, you’d be wasting time were you to search for him here. He is not among us.”
“What does he have to do?” One of the other hunters asked as he began to see the sense of Merry Wolf’s words.
“He must bring down a mountain lion single handed. She has posed a threat to our family and tries to pick off our little ones, and The Best of Everything has been sent out after her. She is injured and she is crazed and with minimal weapons The Best of Everything will need his wits about him to conquer her.” The men looked from one to the other. “What is this, The Best of Everything?” They enquired confused.
“His name.” Merry Wolf enlightened them.
“Oh.” They said as one and Gary spoke further. “I doubt the people of New York City would think the name appropriate, nor do we find it amusing. He is responsible for the deaths of our family members. I lost a brother.”
”And I lost a father, we have all lost someone due to the one you refer to as the best of everything and to that end since he took from us a loved one we should take from you someone that is dear to him. Its only fair.”
Merry Wolf had anticipated this, and replied “There is no one dear to him here. He’s not been with us long enough and until he has proven his place among us there is no one that he belongs to. We do not take murder lightly, Mr…Mr…”
“Samson, Stephen Samson.”
“Mr Samson, we are a peaceable people, and have our own set of laws for wrongdoers. When we heard what The Best of Everything had done we banished him from among us until he can prove that he should be a part of us.”
“Huh, your ways are not our ways. Does that not prove that if he should return that he is the killer that we tell you he is? Why he rent a man in two, left others shredded, a terrifying death, their faces contorted with fear and dread, insides ripped out, guts spilled…some with their throats torn to shreds…he’s a murderer and he will likely kill your mountain cat and return home a hero? Is that what you’re telling us?”
Merry Wolf shook his head. “The she cat is vicious, she has cubs and they are hungry, she is hungry and yet she is clever, we cannot track her or we would have. The task set for The Best of Everything is a difficult one, and as said he has gone with minimal weapons, just two knives…”
“He needed no weapons when he killed my brother!” Gary Petersen cried disgusted. “And you have armed him with knives? Then you have given him the best chance. He will most certainly kill the mountain lion and return to you, and then we will be waiting!”
Stephen tapped Gary on the shoulder. “Maybe not.” He turned to Merry Wolf. “How long has he been gone?”
Merry Wolf looked up at the sun and replied, “a little over three hours.” The hunters were surprised they thought the man was talking days. “That soon, huh?” They formed a small knit group and chatted among themselves. Merry Wolf looked on expecting their suggestion at any moment, just as he’d hoped. His brothers had returned, the deed was done, the trap in place, with a little bit of luck the hunters would stumble upon it and believe what he hoped they would believe.
The group straightened and looked toward him. “Which way did he go?”” Gary asked at last.
Merry Wolf pointed west. “That way.” He then looked up at the sky once more and lifted a hand in the air. “The snows are coming.” He advised them and laughed. “I don’t have to tell you what that means.”
For a moment the hunters looked bewildered, then one of them, a new voice asked, “You mean his tracks will be covered?” The others murmured their agreement among themselves relieved at knowing the answer and Gary Petersen told them, “We’d best hurry and then we will soon catch up with him. Are those his tracks?” Gary pointed over a ridge to the left, Merry Wolf nodded. “As far as I know, yes.” The single set of prints stood out bold and blue upon the white snow.
“How do we know you won’t warn him of us?” Gary asked.
Merry Wolf smiled beguilingly. “You don’t.”
His annoyance plain, Gary asked another question. “How will we know its him when we find him?” As he suddenly thought of them shooting the wrong man.
Merry Wolf chuckled and the ten men turned to him as one. “Will you tell us?” Gary asked bluntly. Merry Wolf shook his head. “Then in all probability we will shoot the wrong man.” Gary told him.
“Not possible.” Merry Wolf explained. “None of us have gone out today, if you follow this trail you can be sure you are on the right track. However, I understood your purpose was to return him to the city to have him judged there? Also you cannot fire a gun in the mountains or you will bring the snow down on us.”
“Our purpose is to kill him for the blood of our brothers. A trial would find him guilty and imprison him, then the animal rights people would beg his pardon, it could take years before he gets what’s coming to him. This is the better way.”
“You think we are animals?” Merry Wolf asked a little too politely.
“You think you are not?” Gary Petersen challenged. Merry Wolf refrained from answering instead he turned his back on the hunters and walked back to his cave. The group watched him go, and said nothing. For a time they were undecided as to what to do, then Stephen Samson suggested, “Look, I think we should follow these tracks and then if we lose them we should split up. If it’s true as he says that none of their other members are out on the mountain at this time, then we can be sure that any we see will be from him that we seek. But we can’t shoot him, like he says,” he indicated Merry Wolf with a nod in his cave’s direction, “that would cause an avalanche. We need to hold him and torture him as he tortured our loved ones.”
“Do you really believe he’s gone after the mountain lion?” Another voice asked.
Stephen shook his head. “No, Bob I reckon he’s done a runner. You’ll see there will be no mountain lion. That was just a ploy to stop us tracking him. They know we can’t use a gun up here, and that would be the only way to bring down a wild cat, an injured one at that. He would expect that would be enough to put us off, but its not going to do. Do you seriously believe that they would send someone out single handed to kill a mountain lion barehanded so to speak? I think not! He was hoping to scare us, stop us following the bastard. Well it won’t work! So this is what we’ll do, we’ll follow his tracks see where they lead and then go from there. Personally, I’ll be surprised if they lead anywhere. They probably aren’t even his tracks. But we’ll see.” The group nodded, picked up their packs from where they lay at their feet slung them over one shoulder and trailed away following what they believed were the tracks of the one known to the clan as The Best of Everything a name that grated on the nerves of every single man in the group.
Merry Wolf watched them go with a sense of jubilation and was joined by Singing Jay. “Do you think it’ll work?” He asked. Merry Wolf nodded. “Yes, I saw their faces. They did not want to believe at first, but eventually they did. I take it everything has been done?”
“I told you it has.” Singing Jay laughed unsteadily. “Let’s hope they assume what we wish them to assume. And after this day they will never try to track The Best of Everything ever again. What we must do once they have left the mountain is try to find him ourselves. Its as well we know that his tracks made it to the valley or we would have set him up with this plan.” Merry Wolf nodded gravely.
They’d had to cover all aspects of the plan before setting it into action. They had found that The Best of Everything and Swallow Tail had gone to the valley with two sets of other footprints accompanying them. Whom they had belonged to was anyone’s guess, though Travis King had made suggestions. For the time being though they preferred to think that The Best of Everything and Swallow Tail had eloped together or perhaps there was some other innocent explanation. All they had to do was find the couple return them to their betrothed and arrange their marriages as soon as possible. However, it was unfortunate that the hunters had prevented that from happening as soon as they would have liked, although Travis King and his small group had gone back into the valley to help in whatever capacity they could at bringing the pair back to the clan where they would be reprimanded and separated for all time. Now as a group the clan had to stay on the mountainside until the hunters had been thwarted by the trap set for them and hope that they would then return to the city in the belief that the one they sought was lost to them forever.

*** *** ***

The trail seemed never ending. Each stride was small depicting one that had taken his time over the deep snow, each print precise signifying the slow watchful journey their quarry had made. It ran around the breadth of the mountain out in the open with nothing but snow and crags looming blue and stunningly white. “He’s gone a long way.” Stephen complained. “But then three hours is a long time to walk.”
“Yes and no, he’s not hurried and the snow is too deep to move much faster, odd how he seems to be following an actual path and not finding somewhere to hide from us though. Do you think the story of the mountain cat is true?” Gary asked. Stephen shook his head. “Didn’t then and don’t now. These people are clever. They’d want us to think he was stealthily tracking a mountain lion. He’s not of course…ah!”
“What is it?” Gary asked after his friend’s exclamation.
“There, see, he’s going upwards now towards the caves. Bet he’s looking for some place to hide, somewhere where he can see us in advance and be prepared.”
“Or ‘cos he knows that’s where the mountain lion is.” Bob asked warily.
“How many more times? There is no mountain lion!” Stephen insisted.
Bob retained his own thoughts on that. Ever since they’d set off he’d been keeping one eye open for a golden hue that might suggest the cat awaiting their passing and ready to pounce at any moment. As well as the other eye open for any movement that would signify the presence of the one whom they sought. Bob was eighteen and had lost an elder brother to the menace of the city. True that older brother was just as much a beast as the one who killed him, but that didn’t make it right. When Stephen Samson had formed the group he had been ready to accept the assignment to avenge his brother’s untimely death for his mother’s sake more than his own for in his opinion his own life had been a whole lot happier since her firstborn had been taken out of it but she had begged him and he had obliged.
He’d been sixteen when his brother had died, and Bob had had a mixture of thoughts on the killer ever since. At first he believed it had been a gang with knives that had ripped his brother to shreds, but then as other reports came in of similar deaths with sightings of the strange catlike man he had begun to wonder differently. Even so, those deaths, all of them were wrapped in with cases represented by a certain woman, an attorney and only after she had been threatened. Bob considered this a lot, any man no matter his appearance for the love of a woman would go to any lengths, and especially if she came up against someone like his brother for instance a brother born with malice in his heart, an intention to hurt even younger brothers. Perhaps on every occasion the beast had been justified, for he could not seriously say that any man that had died had not warranted such a death. All had been gangsters in their own right, all a menace to society. The city was a better place without them, and he decided deep down if the other men really analysed it they would have to agree with that. Brothers, sons, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, nephews whatever they had been, grandsons even they were all worthy of misconduct to the extreme and it was just possible that the beast was protecting his own.
From what he had heard the price of death upon the woman attorney’s head had been a heavy one, she controlled too many paths that would make their activities difficult to maintain. And strangely the papers that reported on the deaths though they sympathised with the relatives of lost loved ones, there had always been an underlying faction of truth running through the reports that such deaths were inconsequential and a benefit to society though not said in so many words
Thus this person whom they sought, how could he condemn him, when he had only been protecting the one that he loved? It was there though that Bob’s ideals ended, because to imagine for one moment that any woman, would find one of those beasts attractive, beat him and especially one as beautiful as the said Catherine Chandler and the said beast of the city how could it be that they were an item, a couple? Maybe then it was a case of love being one sided, perhaps the beast was her guardian angel for reasons known only to them, or maybe the beast loved her for her beauty and protected her come what may. If that were true though why had he not stayed in the city? In fact what had become of her? It had been over a year since she had been sighted. He should know, since she had been their only lead to his whereabouts. In fact many a time she had been set upon to bring him out of hiding, and yes he had come, but he had always been too quick and the actions too severe to capture or shoot him in time. The beast was always too cunning…
Suddenly, Bob’s thoughts were snapped to a close as Stephen’s voice rang out… “Look! Over there, what’s that?”
Ahead on the snow there was a strange sight to behold. From where they stood several hundred yards away it looked as though someone had been on the ground and in some kind of scuffle. The snow had been disturbed and there were some items on the ground, a man’s boot, they discovered as they ran to the spot, a food pouch, two knives, blood drenched with golden fur sticking to it, a few patches of hide covered in short flat golden fur, like that of a mountain lion on the one side and raw flesh on the other and all around blood, lots and lots of blood.
“What do you think?” Gary asked dismayed as he looked at the sight before them.
“Looks like someone was assaulted or molested, maybe even killed.” Bob replied surprised that he had and jumping at the sound of his own voice as he spoke his thoughts out loud. His eyes looked beyond the spot to where it appeared something had been dragged across the snow. “Look!” He pointed and moved to where he’d signalled. The other men followed him and saw to their dismay that the paw prints of a large cat haphazardly followed alongside the track where it appeared something large had been dragged, something large and very bloody, where from time to time bits of clothing were discarded and further along another boot, a sock and blood soaked denim lay ripped upon the snow. And then horror of horrors a tuft of scalp covered one side in lion like mane and the other raw with flesh signified that which they’d hoped was untrue.
Hearts in their mouths, the ten men walked slowly, taking in the sight with trepidation, their eyes looking ahead trying to see what or where the victim had been taken, until their gazes rested upon a giant fissure in the mountain that ran up and down for about a hundred yards and looking down they decided that the rent may have been twenty, thirty feet deep. A huge tear that was jagged and dark inside where at its pit a deep groove was etched that suggested the depth went further, beyond what could be seen, and there from time to time down its seam blood could be seen on the snow and on the jagged rocks. What had happened there could only be left to the imagination.
The ten men looked into the crack wondering what to do next until finally Gary Petersen suggested, “We should go down there, can’t leave it like this, we need to know whether…” He’d been going to say whether the story of the mountain lion were true, and whether the blood had belonged to the one that they sought when from deep within the large gaping hole a low warning growl was heard and before their eyes movement that congealed into a whiskered and bloodied face with teeth and fangs bared before a loud ear splitting roar was heard. The men jumped back away from the edge bumping into one another in their haste with one stumbling and falling into the seam. Hastily he ground his boots against the jagged rock while his colleagues frantically helped him ever watchful of the mountain lion now jumping from crag to crag beneath them snarling as she came.
It was obvious now to them that she had killed a man and would kill another if they did not get out of the area as quickly as possible, even so as they rescued their friend and began running back the way they had come, Stephen snatched up the two knives and the boot from the place in the snow where the scuffle had taken place.
Thus the men returned to the place where they had spoken with Merry Wolf not six hours earlier and presented their find watchful of the clan elder’s reaction.
It was grave, secretly withholding the feeling of rapture held safely inside. He stared at them seemingly distraught while inside his heart was joyous! The men believed that the mountain lion had killed the one to whom they sought and as he nodded with tears in his eyes and called his clan around him to verify the findings of the knives and the boot, both Stephen Samson and Gary Petersen and his colleagues accepted the grave news that the mountain lion had beat them to it. It had killed the one whom had taken their loved ones and that the beast would create havoc in their city no more.
Watching as the men trudged down the mountain some half hour later Merry Wolf sighed his relief. “It is done.” He told Singing Jay, The Tongue of the Bear and Prowling Cat as they stood near. “They believed and should bother us no more.” And turning to Prowling Cat he addressed him, “your son will be safe from now on. How’s the head?”
Prowling Cat chuckled and gingerly touched a hand to the back of his head where some of his scalp had been sliced. “I was scalped, how do you expect me to feel?” His eyes danced with merriment.
“Yet it was worth it?” Merry Wolf asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Very. Now my son is safe and I am happy that the mountain lion has helped us. I wonder what she thought to my offering along of elk?”
Merry Wolf laughed. “Obviously not a lot since they told us it was out on the snow, should we collect it do you think? See if we can graft it back on.”
Prowling Cat shook his head. “ I think I will abstain. This will help to remind me what I did to save my son and should he ever return it will serve as a symbol to him at what lengths a father will go to ensure his son’s safety. For I’m quite certain that it was the sight of my scalp that saved the day.”
Singing Jay nodded. “Yes, I believe so too. Watching while the mountain lion dragged the offered elk back to her lair was one thing, placing knives and boots and denim at the spot was another and then wiping away our tracks but nothing acted quite so forcefully as the sight of a piece of human scalp lying in the snow signifying she had killed a man. I think you can wear your wound with pride, brother. I just hope your son appreciates the gesture.”
From what he had learned of his son, Prowling Cat did not think his son would do anything less, however as glorifying as their plan had been it did not escape the fact that his son was lost to them. Lost until Travis King or some other band of helpers could find and return him to them that was and since they did not know where exactly he had resided in the city that might not be for some time. But Prowling Cat and Indigo Sky were optimistic, one day their son would return again they were sure of that, and when he did they would be waiting and they would do their utmost to make him stay with them on the mountain, marry Radiance and never leave the clan again.

Chapter Seventeen

Nothing seemed worth it these days. To think over a year ago she had been so happy, all her dreams had come true. Vincent had decided that their relationship should move forward and they had married and then the icing on the cake she had become pregnant. Alas confirmation of it just as Vincent discovered he had a family and a whole clan of people that looked like him was bad timing. That discovery was thanks to another of Devin’s misadventures. Well try as she might to feel happy that her husband had found where he originated from at long last, Catherine could feel anything but. She missed him and she wondered why she had to stay there in the tunnels when she was so alone, knowing of course the answer, she carried his child, and up above though the world had come to accept members of the clan, to suddenly appear with a babe in their image would do little to erase the horror some of them would feel. Besides which many that knew of her would then know for sure that she knew where to locate the beast of their city. Huh, if only…
Steeped in self-pity, Catherine was thus startled when suddenly two strong arms slipped around her waist from behind and looking down she recognised them as belonging to her husband. Turning in his embrace her eyes bright with joyful excitement Catherine cried his name. “Vincent! You’re home!”
“Yes.” He nuzzled first her throat drinking in her fragrance savouring the scent he had dreamed of for the past few strenuous months. “Oh Catherine, I have missed you so!” He groaned and drew her up against him. “Can you ever forgive me for leaving you alone so long, in fact for ever leaving you at all?” His blue eyes begged his sincerity and Catherine as ever was lost in their depths, able to forgive him everything. “Of course, my love… Oh, Vincent yes kiss me!”
He lowered his mouth to hers savouring the very first moment his lips touched hers before he lost himself in the sweet beauty of her offering, drinking deeply of her love for him like a man in an oasis parched from the desert. “Oh, my angel, my own sweet love, you cannot know how I have needed this.” He mumbled against her mouth. Catherine’s arms went around him and she held him tight as she answered, “Oh, yes I can, my love. I too have needed this so badly!”
They kissed then a long sweet time, uninterrupted by movement or speech until coming up for air they smiled at one another and for the first time Vincent dropped his gaze to her softly rounded belly beneath where his child lay. A frown creased his face. “What is it?” Catherine asked with concern.
“I should never have left you when you are with child. It was unfair of me. How have you been? Well?”
Catherine nodded and chuckled. “Father has looked after us well.” He smiled knowingly. “I was more afraid that you would not be here for the birth.” With his head cocked to one side Vincent enquired and Catherine replied, “Two months, one week and three days left to be precise. You were gone a long time, Vincent. I began to think you might never return.”
“It was complicated.” Vincent sighed heavily. “Come, let me tell you about it.” He sounded weary and Catherine let him lead her to the bed where they both sat propped against the pillows where he held her in his arms as he told her of everything that had happened while he’d been away. Catherine listened gravely, saddened by the news that things had not gone as he had expected, nor for the fact that bounty hunters were after his head and as much as the clan were now public knowledge her husband was still unable to walk beneath the sunshine wherever he wanted in the world as the rest of his family were able to do.
“So it was all in vain?” She whispered. Vincent shook his head. “Not quite. I met my family. I have lots of brothers and sisters and you’d like my mother, and my father is a good man.”
“Then why did you leave? Other than for missing me of course.” Catherine asked.
Gravely, Vincent explained. “They spoke of my past as just that, gone, as though I would not be returning, and I have discovered since that it was as well I did leave…” he went on to tell her of what Will had revealed about Radiance. Then he explained Will’s plan that he and Swallow Tail should pretend to be married in order to fool any bounty hunters so that they could get across the border.
“I fail to see how that would have fooled them.” Catherine replied. “You could have been married only days.”
“True, and Will had thought of that. We had to make them believe that I had been on the mountain long enough to make my wife pregnant. With Will, Devin’s and Darren’s help they padded Swallow Tail to look as though she was indeed heavily pregnant, which suggested that I could not possibly be the one whom was sought after for I would not have been on the mountain long enough to do that…” Vincent grinned and Catherine did too. “And so we came over the border as a happily married couple with Devin and Darren as our escorts right into New York, where the four of us separated. We left Darren and Swallow Tail at your apartment, is that all right, my love? They had nowhere else to go until they can find a place of their own. Darren didn’t think they should stay in Alaska where his family are until they come to terms with the existence of the clan. He and Swallow Tail are as much in the same boat as you and I in that respect.”
“You should have brought them here.” Catherine suggested.
“Devin and I discussed this, but felt that since we did not know them all that well, it would be best not to unless we have to. I think they will be all right, after all as far as the city are aware the one that they sought was male and an unattached male at that.”
“Except he’s not and if they were to see me with you, then that would truly put two and two together. Vincent, we are no freer now than ever we were!” Catherine wailed. “So nothing’s changed.”
“It has, my love. We might not be able to walk freely around New York City but the world is literally our oyster. The clan will be made American Citizens and will be able to obtain passports and driving licenses. Can you imagine me driving a car?” Vincent laughed as did Catherine. “And you and I can fly around the world, there is nothing stopping us, it is only where sceptics see us together, where people know you that the problem could arise and maybe in time they will forget or…”
“Or I will grow old and ugly and they will not recognise me!” Catherine joked.
“You will never grow old and ugly, to me.” Vincent told her and drew her closer to him. Catherine rested her head on his chest and listened to his steady heartbeat. How long had she lain her head on a pillow this way and wished it had been Vincent’s chest? She’d lost count. “The night’s were the loneliest.” She whispered out loud and Vincent squeezed her tighter. “I know, my love, and I’m sorry. I should never have left you.” He kissed her brow.
“Here is where you should be saying, I will never leave you again.” Catherine told him hopefully, somehow knowing that was not the case. “You are going to stay with me now aren’t you, Vincent?” Tears gathered on her lashes as she anticipated his reply, and that it was a long time in coming made the tears fall slowly down her cheeks.
“I shall leave you only briefly, I promise.” He then explained more about the Clan’s law for Radiance and The Sin of Pride, finishing, “So you see, if we do not return then neither of them are free to marry another. Swallow Tail and I must go back, let them believe that we are a married couple expecting a child in order for our betrothed to move on.”
“Sounds complicated to me, why can’t Devin or Darren return and tell them this?” Catherine asked tearfully.
“Because seeing is believing.”
“Surely it would be better to return with your real partners, let the clan see with their own eyes how much in love we all are?”
“No, Swallow Tail believes it would be better if we withheld that information.”
“And how well do you know this Swallow Tail?” Catherine accused. Vincent shifted uneasily, at least Catherine thought that he did, and he spoke carefully choosing his words slowly and precisely. “Well enough, but not in the way you are implying, she is in love with Darren and it is only for the benefit of the helpers and the clan that we must present ourselves a couple expecting a child. The child makes all the difference but for a child we would be stoned to death for our unfaithfulness. Once the clan know this we can return here to New York and Radiance and Swallow Tail’s betrothed can marry another.”
“Why should you be so courteous? You do not know this person, this Radiance, so why should you care?” Catherine leaned forward to search her husband’s eyes testing to see if he withheld anything from her.
“I care, Catherine.” He sighed heavily. “So should you. She is innocent in all of this and has waited for me all her life, she is still of an age to have children in fact the clan bear children far longer than humans do. My mother is pregnant and she is almost fifty years old.” Catherine gasped.
“But if Radiance never knows what became of me she will never marry or know what it is like to have a child. Can you imagine never being able to have a baby?” Immediately he regretted his words as he saw her wince. “I can, Vincent, and what’s more I did, for years if you remember!”
“I’m sorry, my love that was thoughtless of me.”
“It was. Besides why do men always assume that women are only here to have babies?”
“Its not that, my love. Among the clan having children is a blessing. Those that have none feel ashamed, it has been known for some women to commit suicide because of this fact. Swallow Tail told me many stories…” He continued to tell her of cases where such a thing had happened, how women whose partners had been lost to them for one reason or another had never been married and so never had had a child…it seemed that being able to reproduce was very important among the clan and not doing so was shameful not only that but regretful to the point of suicide. “I wouldn’t want that on my conscience, Catherine, and I need only to go there, present myself with Swallow Tail make them believe we are parents to be and then come away, return to you and let Swallow Tail and Darren have a life together.”
“That is very noble of you, Vincent. I still fail to see why Darren and Swallow Tail and you and I cannot go there as couples, to tell them the real truth.” Catherine asked tearfully.
“Because to do so would bring shame to the clan. Not only that but such a marriage is not acceptable in the eyes of the clan nor legal, not by their laws at any rate. They would do everything in their power to prevent Swallow Tail and I returning with you and Darren. Perhaps in time things will change to such a degree that it won’t matter, but…well imagine Radiance’s unhappiness to know that her betrothed preferred a full human above her.”
“But you did not know her then…”
“I know, well all right think of The Sin of Pride then, how awful he would feel to know that Swallow Tail preferred a full human. Imagine the shame upon him. Swallow Tail believes that no other female would want him after that, more importantly it would be unlikely that the elders would find him another wife.”
“It still has nothing to do with you, Vincent. You do not know these people, do you?”
“That’s not the point, my love. I would be helping Swallow Tail who helped me come safely home, remember? And its not as though we’d be gone forever, just time enough to have them accept Swallow Tail and I as a couple and return back here. We’d be gone a few weeks, that’s all, it takes many days to get to where the clan reside on the mountain. However, this won’t happen for a long while yet, since the hunters are still there. And until it is safe for me to be seen back again, I will stay here with you.”
“Bully for me!” Catherine retorted unhappily. She’d thought her husband had returned loyal to her, but here he was talking about loyalty to people he did not know and some he had never even clapped eyes on! It was all too much and she cried heartily pushing him away when he tried to comfort her, and it was there that Father found them brought in by her sobs, wondering what on earth had happened to make her so upset.
Vincent explained everything again, but had he expected Father to understand he was disappointed. The older man took everything just the same as Catherine had.
“I thought that you’d never want to go away again, my boy!” Devin had filled him in on much of what had happened while Vincent had been with Catherine.
“I don’t want to do, but these people…” Vincent replied lamely.
“Are nothing to you! Devin said your parents’ spoke of me and your home in the past tense. Apparently you did not enlighten them to your true feelings of missing us in case you hurt them? Did you not stop to wonder if we were hurting?”
“Of course I did!”
“Sounds like it. And what, you are returning? So soon?”
“No, not soon, just as soon as I am able.”
“Then why bother to come home at all? Huh? Answer me that, why could you and this woman not have shacked up together on the mountain, then told them and then be free…huh, why not that?”
“It wasn’t that simple, had we of stayed we would have been forced to marry those betrothed to us.”
“And you could not have said no? Vincent, I’m ashamed of you!”
“It wasn’t like that. And no we could not refuse not without a good enough reason. And before you ask, had I told them of Catherine, they would have not listened, they would have believed that since I was there and Catherine was here, I had made a statement to the fact that I did not care for her fully or I would never have left her in the first place and therefore I was free in their eyes to marry Radiance!”
“So says the prophet!” Catherine wailed and leapt from the bed away from her husband’s side. Her eyes when she turned on him were deeply grieved. “Perhaps they were right?”
“Catherine…No!” Catherine shook her head and with tears blinding her she stumbled away from the chamber almost colliding with Devin entering at that moment. “I’m going above, Bro is there anything you want…” He began as Catherine breezed past. “What’s happened?” he asked instead. Briefly and angrily, Father filled him in.
”Hey, it’s not like that!” Devin tried to explain and hurried after Catherine. “Cathy wait up, you’ve got it all wrong. Vincent loves you!” He panted as he finally caught up with her.
“Does he?” Catherine challenged. “Seems like he’s forgotten what love is. Well for me at any rate, maybe he really loves Swallow Tail? After all she’s like him, so why not? He’s loyal enough to her. Something that he’s certainly not with me!”
“It’s not like that, Cathy. You’ve got to understand that these people can be very forceful when they want to be. They have certain laws that shouldn’t be broken and when they are…well did Vincent tell you about Will?”
“The one that helped you? The one that decided it would be a good idea for Swallow Tail and Vincent to be married so you could all return home?” Catherine was in no mood for listening to any kind of reason. She was too upset.
“Yes, that one.” Then Devin explained how Will had been banished and why.
“Seems to me then its simple.” Catherine stated sarcastically. “Vincent need only tell them about me and be banished and then he need never go back again. Devin, forget it whatever you are going to say, just forget it. I know what’s what, and that isn’t it. I just wish he’d never come back!”
“You don’t mean that?” Devin could not believe his ears.
Catherine hadn’t up until that moment now she wasn’t so sure. “Perhaps I do. The memory of the old Vincent was preferable to anything I’ve seen over the last few months, and if this child resembles its father at least now the world would not think I’ve given birth to a freak. I could make a life for us above.”
Sadly, Devin shook his head and let her be. He could see there was nothing else to be said that she might listen to that was. Her mind was made up. Maybe it was hormones talking, maybe not. Catherine had changed, altered these past few months, she seemed jealous, possessive unable to listen to reason and it saddened him. “If anyone asks,” he told her on leaving, “I’ve gone above.” He walked away stopping dead only when she called after him, “And while you’re up there, get those people out of my apartment!”
That was the last straw…if Devin had his way he’d never speak to Catherine again!

*** *** ***

Days went by and the atmosphere in the tunnels could be cut with a knife. Catherine, Vincent, Father, and Devin all at odds allies only with those that sympathised and Devin still had not told Darren and Swallow Tail to vacate the apartment. He couldn’t. Vincent had told them so much about his wonderful wife how could he shatter such a picture? So what Catherine did not know could not harm her. Devin just let her think he had asked his friends to leave.
Therefore it was with some trepidation that he voiced a question to his father one evening knowing how the old man felt toward these two people he had never even met but in allegiance to Catherine felt best to shun.
“Yes, what is it?” Father asked curtly without looking up from his book. He knew by that tone of Devin’s he was enquiring whether it was safe to ask something.
“There’s something I want to ask you.”
“What is it?” Again Father didn’t look up just placed a finger upon the line of text he was reading and with eyes down tried to read the next few words though he knew them off by heart.
“Can’t you at least look at me when I’m talking?” How often had Father said those very same words to his son? And how often had Devin not headed them? Father did not look up.
Devin sighed. “Have it your own way. You probably aren’t going to like what I have to say anyway.” He turned on his heel in expectation and the action never failed. He had his father’s attention now. “What is it you wish to ask?” When Devin turned back his father was looking at him. Devin felt a moment of triumph.
“The couple I returned with, Darren and Swallow Tail.” His interest vanished Father looked back down at his book mumbling, “What about them?”
Again Devin sighed. “Why do you make this so hard? You don’t even know these people.”
“I know enough, thank you!” Father snapped. “Now if there’s nothing else, please go away. I’m busy.”
“I haven’t told you anything yet.” Devin reminded him.
“Whatever it is can’t be important…to me.” He added annoying his son no end.
“What is this? You’ve always been interested in other people, and Darren and Swallow Tail have done nothing wrong! Why, if it hadn’t been for them Vincent might still be up on that God damn mountain!”
“You’d have found a way to return him to us, In fact I wish you had used that brain of yours and not brought others into it.” Father snapped.
“What is this?” Devin exclaimed. “These people are nothing to you, or Catherine…”
“Exactly! And anything about them is nothing to us either. They’re your friends, yours and Vincent’s not mine or Catherine’s, or any of us here! And I’d be grateful if you did not mention them again.”
“Tough!” Devin spat and turning on his heels he marched away.
The next Father heard was hours later when the pipes announced that Devin had entered the tunnels with two strangers, one of whom vastly resembled Vincent in the female form. Father was incensed! Fumbling for his cane, he met them at the hub his anger ready to burst. Yet as they came into view he could not help being smitten with the sweet young woman holding on for dear life to the arm of a strange young man in his early twenties he’d guess. Somehow he had assumed they’d be older, why the girl could be no more than sixteen or seventeen. Behind him a gasp had him spinning around as Catherine walked up to his side. “This is, her!” She snapped nastily.
“I assume so.” He replied then directed his questions to his wayward son. “Devin what is the meaning of this? You know our rules about bringing people down here.”
“I tried to tell you, old man, you did not want to know. Now let us pass please at least Vincent will welcome them.”
To his surprise Father stood aside. Catherine however did not. “You must be Swallow Tail?” She asked as she and the young woman came face to face. Devin was prepared to do battle. “Stay out of it, Catherine. Leave her alone!” He took Swallow Tail’s arm and tried to escort her past his brother’s catty wife.
“Wait!” Catherine called after them. “Devin please… Wait.” Her words softened and Devin’s footsteps faltered. “What is it, Catherine? If you’ve nothing constructive to say then don’t bother.”
“No, its not that…I mean...I wouldn’t…its just that…” She looked appealingly at Swallow Tail. “You’re just a child.” She told her apologetically.
“I’m seventeen!” Swallow Tail was quick to respond indignantly. Devin had now told them of the hostility they might face when he took them home and they had been surprised by the admission believing they would be readily accepted by Devin and Vincent’s family.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend, its just I had expected someone older, my age, Vincent’s age perhaps.” As if that made any sense. Swallow Tail looked reproachful. “You thought that your husband and I really were a couple, didn’t you?” Swallow Tail laughed at the absurdity of the fact. Catherine blushed and Father suddenly seeing the light realised his actions of late had been based upon a miscalculation of judgement. He’d been so sure that Catherine knew for a fact that his son and this woman were more to one another than met the eye that he had stood by her on those grounds alone. “You didn’t know?” He looked at Catherine and voiced his question. She shook her head. “Just presumed. Not that it changes anything, they still could well be…” Catherine faltered she now knew the absurdity of that. Vincent regarded teenagers as children even those that were seventeen, eighteen and nineteen, he’d never become romantically involved with anyone so young, if indeed he would at all.
“Impossible!” Father cried. “You should know Vincent better than that, my dear.”
“Yes, she should.” Behind them the sound of a voice like gravel over velvet welcomed his two friends. “Swallow Tail, Darren, welcome to my home…how wonderful it is to see you here. Devin why have you brought them?”
“Trouble, Vincent. They’ve had trouble up top, and for other reasons I didn’t want anyone seeing them using Catherine’s apartment. Though at the same time it would appear that you have been vindicated!”
“Me? How?” Devin explained what the papers were saying, that the city beast was dead. “Seems the clan played with a few little untruths, allowed the hunters to believe that you had been killed by a mountain lion. Still wouldn’t be good for you and Catherine to be seen together up top just yet at least not till the dust settles at any rate, but for now Bro, you have your freedom to wander about up there as you please.”
Vincent said nothing about it. He would have liked to have stated that he would only enjoy going above if Catherine was with him, but he was unsure of her now. Instead he asked, “You said there’d been trouble, what kind of trouble?”
“Devin makes a mountain out of a molehill,” Darren explained. “Its nothing too drastic. We just couldn’t find a minister willing to marry us.”
“I thought the master could do it, here, as he did for you and Catherine.” Devin told his brother without looking at his father.
“I don’t see why not.” Vincent replied. Then braver than his brother he consulted his parent for them. “Father?”
“I should think he’d be happy to.” Father beamed. “Now let us all forget any misunderstandings and welcome this couple into our world. Are we all agreed?” Slowly everyone smiled Catherine included. “Yes,” she decided. “Welcome to both of you. Will you be staying? Whatever you decide Father will explain the drill if Devin hasn’t already.”
“They know about the council and their acceptance and everything, don’t worry I filled them in.” Devin told her as he led his friends toward the hub. Many people waited there to welcome the newcomers several of them eager to see a female ‘Vincent’.
As they filed past, Catherine caught Vincent’s arm. “Can we talk, Vincent?” He looked down at her and then toward the backs of his friends and she explained. “Only a moment, please?” He relented but told her, “I don’t want to argue with you, Catherine not while my friends are here.”
“I understand. I just wanted to apologise. I misunderstood the situation.” She smiled hoping to pacify that firm set jaw and icy blue eyes that he regarded her with. It didn’t work.
“You should have known me better, Catherine. I love you!”
“I know and I’m sorry, only in my defence…”
“You deemed me capable of having a relationship with Swallow Tail when to me she’s just a child!”
“I didn’t know that.”
“You didn’t let me explain, as if I needed to. I’m sorry, Catherine, I wish to be with my friends. You and I can talk later.” He pulled away from her as if her touching him burned and strode after his friends.
“Well that told you.” Catherine spoke to herself, even so she could not feel bitter. She had presumed too much and should have known better, should not have acted so possessively. “Must be the hormones.” She told herself with a shrug then followed the group at a discreet pace hoping to patch things up with her husband later.

*** *** ***

It was late when he entered his chamber to retire for the night and Vincent found her there waiting. She was sitting by his desk and idly he wondered if she had been reading his journal. He’d had much to fill it with, having not written in the one he’d taken with him while the hunters had been tracking him. In fact his hands were still sore from the hard labour he had endured inside the mountain rendering it a slow job writing everything down.
“You should be in bed.” Vincent told Catherine as he moved about the chamber extinguishing the candles.
“I wanted to wait up for you. We need to talk.”
“There’s nothing to say.”
“There’s everything to say.” Catherine reminded him.
“I’m tired. This can wait till the morning.”
“No, I don’t believe it can. If I have one more restless night…” She tried to smile hoping to pacify him, but her words had the opposite effect.
“If you’d had as many sleepless nights as I have, you’d be too exhausted to stay awake.” He told her climbing into bed.
“Not exhausted enough to spend the evening with your friends.” Catherine hadn’t meant to accuse, she’d done enough of that already.
“Tomorrow, Catherine, goodnight.” He blew out the candle by his bed and tucked the covers around him, and before she’d thought of a suitable reply his even breathing told her he was on the verge of sleep. She’d get nothing out of him now, she knew. Reluctantly she undressed and slipped into bed beside him, at least there they were close. Yet he had never seemed so far away.

Morning offered no chance to talk. Father had arranged lessons for him to tutor the children being eager to hear of his travels, his family and what he had thought of being out in the open on a mountain no less. Vincent moved about the chamber averting Catherine’s eyes, explaining they would talk when he had the time. He wasn’t sure what it was she wanted to say, but since she had not been able to trust him he felt disheartened deep inside and wasn’t sure he wanted her to say anything. His homecoming had a bitter taste to it, after the days and restless nights that followed. Devin had suggested it was her hormones playing havoc but Vincent did not believe it was so. That Catherine thought him capable of an affair was ludicrous! She of all people should have known how impossible that would have been for him.
Still, all of the blame shouldn’t entirely be left at Catherine’s door and deep down inside Vincent knew that. He had acted abhorrently toward her before leaving for the mountains it was a wonder she’d welcomed him home at all. And when Vincent remembered those first few moments of his homecoming, he moaned softly remembering their kisses, aroused beyond measure by the memory. So much promise…snatched away by a few misplaced words…and mistrust, yes. But could he really blame her? She was vulnerable right now, she needed him and he hadn’t been there for her, and there he was talking about going away again and for people he didn’t know. Still, she should respect his wishes and understand that he couldn’t turn his back on someone, anyone when it was in the power of his hand to help them. Catherine should have understood and backed him. She should have known that the last thing he wanted was to leave her again, but just this one more time and then they need never be parted again.
Sighing raggedly, Vincent picked up the books he would need for his lesson and brushed past Catherine on his way out of the chamber. She said nothing, letting him go, not sure whether speaking would change anything. They’d been distant and polite all morning and the gap was becoming harder to bridge. In desperation Catherine decided to go above, maybe some retail therapy would help put things into perspective.

*** *** ***

Mornings on the mountain was a sight to behold, as the sunshine glittered on the snow sending shards of rainbow colours arcing between crags and Prowling Cat standing on the precipice wondered where his son was at that very moment. Last night they’d had talks, instigated by the return of Travis King bearing bad news. The Best of Everything and Swallow Tail had eloped, and not just that but had fooled people into believing that she was heavily pregnant so as to take the heat off his son. The clan were not impressed and much was discussed about their deceitfulness.
“If they return we have to be prepared. For their own good and that of The Sin of Pride and The Radiant Life we shall prepare a feast, allow them to believe we celebrate their homecoming while all the time fooling them into marriage with their betrothed. Swallow Tail will not yet be pregnant, because it is not possible that they will find anyone to marry them out there and though Swallow Tail has flaunted our laws I am sure she will not have relations with The Best of Everything before they are wed and that will never happen.” Singing Jay decided.
“Even if she is pregnant,” The Sin of Pride surprised the elders by saying “I will take her as my wife. I love her.”
“She will not be. You have my word.” Merry Wolf told him. “At heart she is a good sensible girl and she knows that it is unlawful to have relations with a man before marriage.”
The Sin of Pride nodded. “Even so.” He added for the benefit of all. “I will marry her, come what may.”
“I thought she had gone off with the boy, Darren?” Travis King had asked bewildered. “Now you speak as though she is with your son, Prowling Cat?”
“It is what they showed. The helpers on the border reported to you that this was so.” The elders sounded confused.
“As may be, but that could have been a ploy to get The Best of Everything out of Alaska, after all he didn’t know of your plan to thwart the hunters did he? I thought Swallow Tail had left with Darren Clarke?”
“We did discuss this possibility, however, we feel she may have spent more time with The Best of Everything than we were aware of. Both of them were often missing at the same moment it would appear and if that does not suggest anything I’d like to know what does.”
“Back at that time, my son spoke to a good many women, he might not have necessarily known which one was Swallow Tail.” Prowling Cat had suggested. “Even so, why then did he leave us? No one told him of his forthcoming marriage before we could explain it to him, surely?”
Every head shook, no they had not. “Well then, unless he went with Swallow Tail in order for them to be a couple, then there would be no other reason for him to leave us.”
“There was that other chap, Devin Wells…he wanted to speak with him, maybe he had something to impart that made your son want to return to his old home?” Travis suggested.
“It could be anything, and we’ll get no where guessing. The best we can figure is that The Best of Everything and Swallow Tail left together because they fell in love, but the union would be all wrong, and then there is Radiance and The Sin of Pride to consider. What of their feelings? All of us have married partners chosen from birth, it is our way, and when the two return we shall endeavour to see that the marriages to their betrothed takes place. It is our law, and it will be carried out. They will be happy. The Sin of Pride has already said he is in love with Swallow Tail, and Radiance will make The Best of Everything a good wife. So to that end the moment they return we will know what to do?” Merry Wolf looked around his brotherhood of elders they in turn nodded their heads. “Good,” he told them. “Then let us pray for the sake of the unborn that this will be so.” No one prayed harder than The Tongue of the Bear, his daughter should have had many children by now and he’d see her married to The Best of Everything, if it was the last thing he did. His daughter’s happiness meant everything to him. Except, if only he could see past the end of his nose and the laws of the elders, he would know that being married to The Best of Everything was the last thing his daughter wanted.

Chapter Eighteen

Later that same day the Master married Swallow Tail and Darren, with the ceremony taking place in Catherine’s absence, not that anyone really minded that fact. She’d gone above without consulting anyone but the sentries and The Master had no other time when he could be available. After that day he would be visiting with friends for the following three weeks and out of Manhattan. He had an hour to spare and no more, and Darren and Swallow Tail had jumped at the chance, thus with their only known witnesses being Vincent and Devin, they were married.
The two were the first to congratulate the couple followed by Father who had been arranging a small feast with William as a surprise. He’d also arranged for the children to put on a recital and dancing to be held in a new chamber. They set up a few tables for the food and a few chairs for those that needed to sit and with music from the children’s instruments Darren and Swallow Tail enjoyed a reception after they were wed.
“Now,” Father took them aside. “I expect you two will want to spend some time alone?” He did not wait for their reply as timidly blushing Swallow Tail averted her gaze from Darren’s and Father went on hurriedly, “Well I’m happy to announce that a chamber has been prepared for your comfort and you may remain there as long as you wish. There is no need even for you to leave the chamber, everything you will need will be brought to you on a daily basis just like room service.” He chuckled. Darren thanked him heartily and Swallow Tail smiled her thanks and with that Father had Mary escort the couple to their chamber. It was on the way there that Catherine returned.
“Hi.” She told them cheerily as they made to pass her in the tunnel. Swallow Tail’s sideward glance informed Catherine that the young girl was still distant with her.
“It’s ok, please believe me I intend you no malice. I’ve just come from above. I filled the apartment with things you may need. Food and other items, and flowers!” She smiled brightly, but when the couple looked uncomfortable Mary intervened. “There was no need, Catherine, Darren and Swallow Tail will be staying below for a while. In fact I am showing them to their chamber now.”
Knowing a thing or two about clan and tunnel laws, Catherine looked surprised. “Their chamber you say, surely you mean chambers as in plural?” She winked at the couple hoping to make them laugh they did not. In fact they looked decidedly uncomfortable.
“No,” Mary informed her. “One chamber. Darren and Swallow Tail are married now. The Master conducted the ceremony this afternoon.” She looked at her watch. “And from this moment, the newlyweds are officially on their honeymoon.”
“Oh.” Catherine sounded surprised, and then “Oh,” again and she sounded indignant this time. All manner of thoughts ran through her mind, the topmost one, ‘why hadn’t I been invited?’ Of course she knew the answer, one, she had not been there, and two likely they would not have wanted her there if she had.
“Congratulations.” She told the couple woodenly. She was genuinely happy for them, it was just that she felt peeved at missing the event. There was nothing like a good wedding.
“Thank you.” Darren eyed her with speculation. He wanted to like her, he’d heard so much from Vincent in the beginning of how wonderful she was, but he’d seen nothing so far to convince him of that fact.
“Where is everyone?” Catherine asked suddenly noticing that the tunnels were eerily quiet for that time of day.
“They’re in one of the new chambers celebrating Darren and Swallow Tail’s marriage. Why don’t you go join them? William has prepared a scrumptious feast and Vincent is there.”
Catherine almost laughed at that bit. And Vincent is there. What was Mary trying to say? In response however Catherine nodded and moved aside to let the three pass her by wishing the couple every happiness as they did. Neither said much just mumbled their thanks and Mary continued to escort them to their chamber.
Out of earshot she explained to them. “Catherine is a wonderful person, believe me. She has had a lot to cope with lately, more than perhaps she should have. She gave up a lot to be with Vincent and then shortly after their marriage he deserted her. Its no wonder she should feel bitter, but she’ll come round you’ll see, and you’ll find that she is a wonderful friend to have.”
Darren nodded in understanding. “I accept that, but hostility is something we have both had to deal with for a very long time. It doesn’t do for it to happen when we are among people that appear to be friends. It makes us uneasy, not sure who we can truly trust. Some people are openly hostile others are sneaky with it, appear to be goodness and light while deep down…” Darren shrugged. “I’m sure you know how it is?” He almost accused. Mary blushed, and replied indignantly, “You will not find people like that here. We care for one another, truly care. If we show you friendship it is genuine, please believe that. And through Vincent we have learned to accept everyone no matter what his or her appearance or background. When you come to know the history of all of us all you will see that that is so.”
“Forgive me I meant no real intent.” Darren told her. “Just stating facts as we know them.”
“I know you were.” Mary replied. “But in a place like this one must give forethought to what is said. With so many people believing different things, so many adverse backgrounds behind us, things can be taken the wrong way. However, so long as you recognise that fact and think before you speak then we all get along reasonably well, just like any other family, though this one might be larger than most.” She smiled encouragingly and Swallow Tail finally spoke. “Just like mine.” She told Mary. “It too, is unusually large.” She chuckled, then sobering added, “But I think this one will be nicer. No laws to abide to.”
“Oh, we have a few.” Mary winked. “Father likes to impart them, no doubt Devin has told you?” All three laughed, and Darren replied, “That he has.”
“Vincent told us some fun stories of his and Devin’s childhood.” Swallow Tail informed Mary with a grin. “And I suppose mine was not so unlike theirs, as far as having a father that did not see the fun in things I did, that is.” She smiled ruefully remembering a few occasions of her own.
“I doubt that any parent does. We tend to see dangers that children overlook. It’s just an extension of love that’s all, overbearing maybe, but love all the same.” Mary paused. “Swallow Tail, may I ask you something?” She asked ominously.
Gravely, Swallow Tail nodded, with eyes wide wondering what was to come, and Mary continued. “The one thing we do expect down here is truthfulness. Since there are so many children that rely on the adults for guidance, telling the truth is priority, yet already some of the children are asking me about an untruth, apparently its one that you and Vincent are discussing the possibility of for the sake of your family. I find it all a little unnerving, not only for the sake of the children down here, but also for the sake of your parents and family. Surely in this respect Catherine would be correct in expecting that the truth should be told, that when you return to the mountain it would be to present yourselves, that is the two of you as a married couple and Vincent and Catherine the same?”
Darren and Swallow Tail looked to one another, they appeared troubled and Swallow replied, “I understand what you are saying, and in effect you are right. The problem results from assuming how my people will react. We do not want to hurt those betrothed to us anymore than we have to.”
“I can understand that.” Mary sighed. “Here, we have reached your chamber. As you can see it is some way off from the main hub but anything you need just tap here with this stone onto this pipe, doesn’t matter how you tap, just that you do will signal for someone to come to see what it is you wish to ask for.” When Mary straightened she added, “If one of those calls could be to ask for counsel that would be wise. A few of us could meet in Father’s chamber and discuss your options and hopefully we might find a different way for you to present the facts to your family, in such a way that no untruth need be spoken. Will you at least think about it?” Her kindly eyes, warmed Darren and Swallow Tail and they nodded a little unsure true, but Mary was relieved. She squeezed their shoulders as she left the chamber. “You’ll find everything you need in the cabinets around the chamber and I have left a few notes about things you might not like to ask.” She winked knowingly then continued, “So all that’s left is for me to wish you a happy honeymoon.” She made to move out of the chamber, then coughed discreetly and returned. “Oh, I expect Father warned you against exploring, did he not?” The couple nodded. “Good, nothing wrong with it of course, but you will need an escort until you know your way around down here. There are some very dangerous places. The abyss is the most dangerous but there are others, subtle ones where a person could get badly injured or worse…” She left the sentence unfinished for impact. Darren and Swallow Tail understood at once. “Don’t worry, we will go nowhere without an escort from your world. Thank you, Mary for all you’ve done.” Darren squeezed her hand and Mary smiled leaving the chamber completely this time. She was however, more than a little happy when she heard Swallow Tail call, “And for your advice, Mary, thank you for that also. We will consider it carefully.”
Mary hoped that they would. The best thing that could happen now was for Vincent to return to Alaska with Catherine and with pride introduce her to his family as his wife and the mother of his child, soon to be born.

*** *** ***

That day came sooner than anyone expected, whether from stress or Catherine’s day above no one would ever be sure, but that evening as Catherine lay in her bed, she rolled over quicker than she normally would have and her waters broke. “OH!” Catherine exclaimed her hands going immediately between her legs and gasping, “OH NO!” as she felt the warm pool of water trickle through her fingers. Vincent had been sat at his desk writing and he looked toward her concern evident in every line in his face. “What is it?”
“My waters… they’ve broken…” Catherine’s wide eyed look had him leaping from his seat and undecided was hovering between the bed and the exit not knowing whether to aid Catherine or call for Father first.
As he remained rooted to the spot, Catherine’s voice sent him scurrying to the exit. “Fetch Father!” Still indecisive he hesitated, and only the alarm on Catherine’s face sent him hurrying from their chamber seeking out his parent. He found him moments later within his own chamber talking to Devin. “Father!”
“Vincent, what is it?” Father was stumbling to his feet the moment he saw his son’s worried expression. “What’s wrong?”
“Catherine…” Vincent panted. “Water’s broke.”
Father stared at his son. “Impossible…baby’s not due for another eight weeks…”Even as he said it his mind was in over drive ’you don’t really know that, with the difference in their makeup’ he told himself, ‘anything is possible.” He looked around for his medical bag, knowing exactly where it should be, grateful to see it sitting there and barked his orders as he moved. “Devin, find Mary, have her come to Vincent’s chamber. Vincent go ahead of me, tell Catherine I’m on my way, oh, and Devin?” He just caught sight of his son’s retreating back in time. “What?” Devin stopped to hear what his father wanted. “Send word to Peter, we may need another pair of hands.” Devin nodded before continuing on his way. By the time Father exited the chamber moments later neither of his two sons could be seen.
He ambled as fast as his two legs would allow him, using his cane for support and trying not to notice the weight of his medical bag. He had replenished it only that morning, the medical supplies he liked to carry had waned somewhat over the last few days with people needing attention, minor ailments and a few nasty cuts and bruises. Now he was gratified that he had replaced everything from his medical supplies in his chamber, for with a baby coming, and early at that, he would need everything at his disposal. His heart thumped mightily as he heard the pipes ring out with the news and guessed that Devin had searched for Mary and not finding her had announced he was leaving to go above to get word to Peter. Now everyone was talking at once, and the sound was almost deafening yet by the time he entered Vincent’s chamber moments later those same messages seem to have given Catherine a sense of calmness for she did not seem unduly worried at all. “News carries fast here.” She smiled as Father approached her bed. “Thank you for coming so quickly, Father, I know that couldn’t have been easy for you.” Vincent looked dismayed. “I would have carried your bag, Father and you needn’t have stumbled here alone.”
“Its okay and its done now, Vincent. Now just take my bag will you and let me see the patient.”
Catherine had been reluctant to draw back the blankets, but now that Father revealed the full story, she winced at the sight before her as water mingled with a little blood met her gaze and her heart hammered at an alarming rate. ”Should there be blood too?” She asked worriedly. Father said nothing, just busied himself with the task at hand only replying when Catherine prompted, “Father?”
“What?” He looked up briefly saw her worried expression and reassured her. “Blood? Oh, yes don’t worry, it means your contractions have begun.”
“I’ve not felt anything.” Catherine’s face was pinched with concern. Vincent’s too. He hurried now and positioned himself at the head of the bed beside her. “Father, the baby is early.” He told his parent as if he needed to remind him.
“I know, but then perhaps its not. We assumed nine months, its possible that a child of yours would develop sooner, after all see how it is when you are ill or injured you heal far quicker than the rest of us. Maybe a child of yours would develop faster also. And I can see nothing wrong here, the waters have in fact broken, but Catherine you say you have felt no contractions?” Catherine shook her head her eyes were wide with anxiety. “Don’t fret so, this is not a problem, what about back ache, have you had any of those today?”
Catherine shook her head. “I went shopping, I carried some bags but had no sign of backache or over did anything and I took the escalator and the elevator whenever possible. I was careful, honest.”
“Well, whatever the reason is, this child is on its way. Mary should be here soon and then…what?”
“I said Mary went above.” Vincent told his father.
“You know, after dinner, she went to collect some medication from Nancy and Hilary at the drug store.” Father passed a weary hand across his brow. “Oh, goodness I’d forgotten. Well then not to worry Devin has gone for Peter, he should be here soon.” Catherine grew worried. Mary might be able to up sticks and come at once had she of been there, but with Peter it was different. He might be consulting, or in surgery, he might not make it in time. Speaking of which, “How long do you suppose it will take, Father?” Catherine asked cautiously.
“Difficult to say, but generally once the water’s have broken not long, an hour maybe two, three. You should be having some contractions soon, they will help.” Father bent his head to his task, purposely averting his eyes. Still Catherine grew worried. “And if not?”
“Don’t worry, my love.” Vincent placed an arm around her shoulders and drew her to his side. “Nothing will happen to you or our child. You’ll see before the morning arrives the baby will be born safely.” Father said nothing he wished he shared his son’s optimism. They had little in the way of medical apparatus and they did not know what they faced with a child of Vincent’s coming into the world. Truly they sailed uncharted waters, anything might happen.
Time lapsed and Catherine rather than feeling any discomfort grew more and more agitated as everything went along on an even keel. There were no contractions and her waters continued to leak. She was afraid of movement in fact Father forbade it telling her that the remainder of the water would be banked up behind the baby and any movement would send it flowing through her, leaving the child without anything to cushion it against impending contractions. This worried her further and Catherine rigidly sat beside Vincent not daring to move a muscle.
“Where is he?” Father had looked up several times, hoping to see either Devin returning or Peter’s arrival in the chamber’s entrance. When he found no one there, he felt like swearing beneath his breath. As trickles of blood oozed through the water an ominous feeling passed over him, he had not had a labour like this…not since…not since…the colour drained from his face…not since Devin was born…and he’d lost Grace.
“Catherine, I want you to be very brave. I am going to administer a needle into your lower end, it will prevent you feeling any pain.” Catherine almost giggled. “I don’t feel any pain anyway.” She fortunately did not see Father’s grim expression but Vincent did, his stomach knotted tight, and he grew very afraid and hugged Catherine closer still.
“It’s called an epidural. You may have heard of them before.” Father was rambling, and Vincent didn’t like it, knowing his father of old, rambling meant that Father was gravely anxious about something.
“That’s in case I need a Caesarean, isn’t it?” Catherine’s eyes grew fearful. “You assured me everything was fine.” She accused. Father said nothing while he administered the needle and then the drug, muttering at long last, “Its precautionary that’s all. We are a few hands down.”
Catherine nodded, understanding and trying not to imagine things that might not be so.
Finally they heard footsteps outside the chamber and all stilled in expectation of Peter’s face, disappointed when Devin peeped round the entrance. “How’s it going, can I come in?”
“No. Where’s Peter?” Father straightened and looked over the rim of his spectacles, hoping his friend would be behind his son. Devin shook his head. “His secretary informed me he’s out on an emergency but she would have him here as soon as he were able. That is to have him go where he’s needed, I of course didn’t tell her where Catherine was. However…” Devin faltered. “If you need another pair of hands?”
Father snapped, “And you’d offer? What, after gaining all your medical expertise from a book! Oh, dear me I’m forgetting the Caesarean you performed too, by a book! I don’t think so, Devin!”
“Actually, no. Not me, Swallow Tail is here with me, she is experienced in midwifery and willing to assist.”
“Experienced in midwifery!” Father almost blew a gasket. “At seventeen!”
“Age is not important.” He heard Swallow Tail announce before he saw her face at the entrance. “Experience is. I have helped deliver babies for as far back as I can remember and if you would allow me to assist I am certain that I can be of help to you.”
Father looked to Catherine who waved her hand, and muttered, “Anything.” Before using that same hand to beckon Swallow Tail inside. “Apparently, my waters have broken but there are no contractions neither am I in any discomfort other than feeling very soggy underneath.” Catherine grinned as Swallow Tail approached and Devin coughed reminding everyone he was there and not knowing whether he should enter or not. Father set him straight, “the least you can do is track down Mary. Vincent says she went to Nancy and Hilary’s drug store, she should be returning shortly. Head that way and you can escort her back, she will have things to carry.” Nodding, Devin turned on his heel and left.
While he had given orders to his son, Swallow Tail had reached Catherine’s lower end and stood surveying the situation. “We should move her.” Swallow Tail advised to Father’s dismay. “I thought you said you had experience! We can’t risk moving her the rest of the waters will come away.”
“Then the contractions will begin.”
“Well yes, of course they will, but without the water to cushion the child anything could happen. Not least of all the child becoming distressed.”
“Then we can perform a Caesarean. Is that an epidural you have administered?” “Yes.”
“Even so…”
“Would you two quit talking as if I’m not here?” Catherine wailed suddenly. She seemed grieved to the point of hysteria. Everything they had said terrified her so far. “Something is wrong isn’t it?” She looked into Vincent’s eyes hoping to see the truth there, believing he was hiding whatever was wrong soon realising by his reaction that he knew no more than she. “Catherine’s right, if there’s a problem we want to know.” Defeated, Father shook his head. “The child is early, the waters have broken. Catherine is bleeding. I’m worried that’s all, there are no contractions.”
“How long is the gestation so far?” Swallow Tail asked.
“A little over seven months.” Catherine replied.
Swallow Tail surprised them all. “Seven months? Are you certain!” At everyone’s grave nod, Swallow Tail rushed on, “Then you are late, not early. The baby should have been born two weeks ago! God, this is worse than I thought!”
Immediately, Catherine froze, and she was faced with the memory of all those books she had read those telling her that her baby might become quieter as its head faced the birth position and at the same time chapters that had told her of when the unborn grew silent when its life was in peril. Her hands flew to her abdomen and she gasped. “Its days since I felt the baby move!” She exclaimed with horror, but her fears quickly subsided when Father patted her hand telling her, “That’s not a problem, Catherine, I heard the baby’s heartbeat when I came in earlier, so you can take that thought from your mind.” Catherine sighed with relief but then as another thought sprung to mind she questioned urgently, “You’re sure it was the baby’s and not mine?”
“Positive.” He smiled at her. “Don’t worry. And especially don’t worry that the gestation period for members of the clan are…” he turned to Swallow Tail, “how many weeks?”
“Twenty-eight, sometimes twenty nine, even as early as twenty seven, but never as late as thirty.”
“We generally go thirty seven, eight or nine. Earliest would be around thirty-five, anything less down here can prove risky to the child. But with the differences between the two who would know how many weeks one should go? By the way, that reminds me, how do you know about epidurals?”
“Modern technology leaks into all walks of life, Father.” Swallow Tail laughed. “And the labour of one of our members resulted in its usage once, however a helper, a doctor just happened to be visiting at the time, and knew exactly what to do. Prior to that Caesareans were pretty hit and miss affairs and exceedingly painful to the mother.” Vincent winced thinking of his own mother now heavy with child, and silently he prayed that his new sibling’s birth would be problem free.
“I can imagine!” Father cried. “The poor things. Were there any casualties?” He’d rather not know, but felt he had to ask.
“A few, the tools used were exceedingly clean. Infection is rarely the cause of death sometimes the trauma was enough for some. It’s very sad when a mother dies, her family go motherless for a very long time if not for always. The burden lies upon the father and his children’s grandparents to take care of the family in such cases, but if the grandparents are old or deceased the father has the sole responsibility and it’s not easy for him.”
“Surely the clan rally round?” Vincent asked.
“Yes, of course, but they each have their own families to care for. It’s never the same as having their own mother to care for the children. And you would have noted that clan members have very large families?” Vincent nodded he had noticed that fact. His own family was very large and his mother was still producing babies thirty-seven years after he had been born.
“Meanwhile back at the ranch.” Catherine grinned. “When you have all stopped the chit chat, I am getting a very strange feeling here.”
“Can’t be pain?” Father drew his brows together and looked at the syringe he had used to administer the drug wondering if he’d given her enough of it.
“No, not pain, just a feeling, its weird, feels like pressure.” Father examined Catherine at once, knowing from old what he looked for. He looked up and smiled. “It’s a contraction!” He exclaimed happily. “Now we shall see some results!”
With Father’s guidance and Swallow Tail’s coaxing Catherine learned when a new contraction was beginning and how she should deal with it until finally Catherine had a strange sensation to bear down and she told Father. “I want to push now, can I?”
“Not yet, my dear the baby’s head isn’t visible yet. How I wish we could have got you scanned, it would have given us an indication that the baby’s head had become engaged sooner than we expected. Come to that when was the last time I examined you? Not that long ago was it?” Panting between contractions Catherine shook her head then replied; “About eight days ago. Long enough I suppose?” Father nodded. “Yes the baby could so easily have readied itself in that time. I should have been more observant and examined you again.”
"There were other things to distract you.” Vincent reminded him. “My untimely return and all that came with it must have been an added burden for you.” He looked to Swallow Tail, who understanding at once nodded. “Yes, Father Vincent is right, you could have done well without Darren and my visit at this time.”
“Cut it out, will you!” Catherine cried. “No one knew that the baby was late or early or whatever, we all just went along with the notion that it would take nine months and that was that. Christ, I went above shopping do you think I’d have done that if I’d known the birth was imminent?”
“Catherine has a point.” Vincent spoke dryly, it was rare his wife swore even mildly, and that she did showed him the stress she was withholding for his benefit.
“Hurrah!” Father suddenly cried jubilant. “It’s crowning! I can see the head! Now Catherine when you get the need to bear down next tell me and we’ll work through this together. Swallow Tail will you warm those sheets near the brazier please and then return to hold the lamp closer so I can see?”
Swallow Tail did as Father asked and returned with the lamp in time to find Catherine’s eyes tightly closed. She was bearing down for all she was worth with Vincent’s taut body alongside knowing exactly how Catherine felt.
“Come on, come on, that’s it, steady, pant…breathe easy…” Father coaxed as Catherine’s body harmoniously moved in tune with Father’s voice. “Here it comes, one last push…ready…yes? Now!” Suddenly the chamber was filled with the cry of a baby and Catherine burst into tears. Vincent’s face was a picture, a mixture of wonder, happiness, anxiety, fear, apprehension and joy. “You have a daughter.” Father announced cradling the babe in his arms as Swallow Tail tucked the warm sheets around her. “A beautiful darling little daughter and Catherine she looks just like you!”
Everyone gasped, knowing full well what he meant, and though she was initially saddened by the fact that their child did not look like Vincent, the moment their daughter was placed in Catherine’s arms, that thought vanished like a puff of air. She was indeed beautiful, and Catherine crooned to her while Vincent stared down with disbelief that he had produced a child in his wife’s image rather than in his own.
Swallow Tail just stood by shaking her head with disbelief, much the same awed by the fact as Vincent, that the child resembled Catherine but for her stunning blue eyes, but everyone knew that these could change colour within the next few weeks. A few wisps of hair showed a faint tinge of fiery gold reminiscent of Vincent’s, but apart from those things there was not a trace of whom her father might be, she was Catherine, through and through and Vincent thought she was the most beautiful child he had ever seen.
While Father cleaned her up, Swallow Tail asked, “Have you got a name for her?” Catherine nodded. “Yes, we decided months ago.” She looked up at her husband, her green eyes checking nothing had changed and he nodded though his eyes never left his daughter’s face, and together they announced softly, “Ellie.”
Father was surprised that they had announced the name but understood and tears gathered in his eyes. “Eric will be honoured.” He told them, then briefly he explained to Swallow Tail about Eric’s sister Ellie who had died many years before and why and how much Catherine and Vincent had loved her. “One thing though, Swallow Tail, it is customary here that the baby’s name is known only by the parents until the day of the naming ceremony so we’d be grateful if you kept the name to yourself till then?” Swallow Tail nodded, feeling honoured that she should have been told the name before that day and Father did too. Doing so had broken with tradition, but he thought he knew why they had done so. They knew how hearing the name Ellie at the ceremony would affect him and he thanked them for their thoughtfulness.
“Perhaps Ellie’s spirit has returned.” Swallow Tail told him. “My people believe this.” Catherine and Vincent didn’t entirely go along with that, but the idea was comforting and they knew Eric would find it so too.
While Catherine nursed Ellie, Father announced that he deemed her clean enough to change into a fresh gown and if she could stand awhile the bed would be sorted also. The mattress was ruined, but Father knew where they could find a spare and Swallow Tail helped Vincent carry away the soiled one and bring in the spare at which time Devin and and Mary arrived to see if there was anything they could help with.
“All done, Bro.” Vincent announced and then pointed to the babe in Catherine’s arms.
“You mean it’s arrived! Why didn’t you let anyone know?” Devin strode across the chamber and peeped at the baby, his eyes growing wider with every second looking at Catherine and Vincent in turn. Both grinned knowing his thoughts. “Its…its…” Devin stuttered.
“A girl.” Father told him. “A niece for her uncle.”
“A girl…but she’s…she’s…”
“Like Catherine.” Vincent offered, and without waiting for confirmation he hugged his wife close. “Yes she is. She’s like my beautiful wife.” Catherine disagreed. “No, Vincent…she’s more beautiful than I could ever be, she has your eyes and your hair. She is the best of both of us.”
“Oh, Catherine she’s beautiful.” Mary remarked staring down at the babe. “Like you.”
Devin agreed. Mary had described the child perfectly, truly she was the best of both of these two remarkable people, and certainly the bonniest baby he had ever seen.
“Rest now, Catherine.” Father tapped Devin’s arm and Swallow Tail’s too. “Come, let the new family be. Tomorrow is another day, in fact tomorrow is here already and my bed awaits.” Mary, Devin and Swallow Tail bid them goodnight and as Father did likewise he added, “I don’t suppose I need to wish you sweet dreams?”
Absentmindedly, Vincent shook his head while his gaze was still fixed on his daughter and Catherine sighed blissfully. “Father…” she told him. “Here…I have everything I have ever wanted…from now on all my dreams will be sweet.”
With a lump in his throat and tears bedimming his eyes Father nodded and silently left the chamber.

To be continued in Chapter Nineteen.




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