Disclaimer: Well, for the sake of peace eternal, I greatly appreciate the use of the Van Helsing character(s). They are NOT mine and the others exist purely in the deep and very dark vortex of my imagination.
1. Brief Introductions
For fifteen of her twenty-eight years the woman named Liarna had stood every night and watched the Heavens revolve. So far away into the cold night, and yet, so alive in their intensity. So many years would pass and nothing about them would change. It was always the crispest of nights that had the most beautiful stars and tonight was no exception. The moon may have only been a sliver in the black sky, but the outline of the great mountains could be seen clearly over the pines and beyond. On a sigh Liarna turned her dark gaze back towards the dying Gypsy camp fires. The caravans, a tent, ribbons fluttering in the iced wind and even in the silence of sleep the character of these people was conveyed. The orange embers glowed causing contorted shadows to appear on the out skirts of the camp. She pulled her auburn hair into a careless bun and Liarna's dark gaze settled upon an elderly man.
Quitter was a leader of many years and though he often despaired of Liarna's unfashionable attitudes he refused to ever regret taking her into the Gypsy way of life. He acted as the father figure that the lonely child would ever have known, he tried his best to curb her wild ways, give her the protection he felt she needed and she refused, but even now as he worried she would become hurt wondering in the cold dark of the forest, he couldn't help be anything but proud of her. She has such spirit, he thought to himself. God had been merciful enough to bestow that at least. Now that she had seen him and begun to make her way towards him, he eased his tired old body down beside the warm embers of the fire. Liarna would not like what they were to discuss.
Liarna's first words were not at all what the old Gypsy had expected, "I am well aware of the limits of my needlework, but the blanket I made for you had warmth in mind". With that comment she lowered herself into the dust beside Quitter, the one man she truly adored. Time had wrought such very different changes on them both. Quitter had hair the colour of snow, wrinkled skin, but piercing eyes still as sharp as the day he was born. Liarna's thick, dark hair was as much a source of annoyance as it was jealousy and her famed temperance kept many a suitor at bay. The gaze that held so many secrets concentrated on her hands. The ultimate contrasts sat in their companionable silence.
Quitter began with his pronounced accent. A son of the travellers and a traveller himself his voice was a rich blend of old Europe.
"Women should wear dresses and a silk scarf…."
"I am wearing an embroidered blouse" was the immediate and heated reply. The sleepy camp did not even stir.
"Let me finish and mind your manners. I have never complained of much, but a woman of ours should not work in that kitchen, that is for the Others." Quitter's rough accent deepened, she could tell she just might have gone to far this time, but did she really care? She wanted more, but what that "more" entailed, well, Liarna doubted she knew herself.
"The Others are merely people who don't live in a camp, but a town. I suppose you are right, women should get married and support their husbands in stealing."
"It is what we are and Gypsy women have never degraded themselves by working in those kitchens…and we do not steal." Liarna subconsciously registered his unusually late reply and realised that age and was taking its toll. She would lose him soon, but this was far from the young women's mind as the pent up anger began to uncoil itself.
"But I'm not of Gypsy blood and don't wish to marry anyone", she spat in annoyance. "I wish for no life of drudgery and to be dictated to by some man! I see what happens to women and it is far from appealing."
"You were adopted to the hearth of the Gypsies."
"A child of the wilderness and raised by wolves; clearly evident in your disrespect."
The embers had gradually died and strange shadows surrounded the two solitary figures. Quitter eventually made the move for a truce.
"As a child you must have been bitten by the Quam-Quam."
A smile between that of an Angel and the Devil himself spread across her face and replied softly to her father.
"Wolf Quitter, wolf." With an unspoken truce reached, Liarna dusted her legs, kissed her aged father on the brow and made unerringly for the dark of the wood.
The Gypsy camp had been silent; the forest was dead. She should have feared the snowmelt pools, the strange creatures that roamed the hidden depths, but the icy wind that chilled her filled her with a sense of being alive. Her only disappointment was that she couldn't sense the wolves. Recently she had caught sights of the White one; just as she did as a small child. Liarna hadn't known what else to refer to him by, Wolf was simply not good enough considering how it was almost as if He was following her through the thick forest. Now that even White no longer appeared to her, the feeling of isolation grew with each passing day.
There was nothing to fear there in the forest, but fear itself.
Further from the camp and into the clearing was Liana's playground. How often she had come here. As a young child to pick plants of all descriptions and to sing with the birds that visited each short spring. Now as a young women for target practice, to hunt or escape a world she was part of and yet never felt she belonged.
It was somewhere close to midnight. The clearing was strangely illuminated down to the sparse blades of grass and the wood surrounding it were a menacing black. The only relief that could be seen was the shafts of watery light that pierced the canopy of trees every now and then. Once she adjusted the lacing of her top and tightened a buckle on her heeled boot. Liarna stood and breathed deep well aware that she was being watched.
"Come out and play girls!" Her voice was strong and lacked the rough accent of those around her. The clumsy snapping of twigs became more pronounced and out from the trees rolled Robin and Combre, the only one missing was their leader in crime, Rikash.
"Where is he?"
"Missed me?" The voice was filled with that certain pompous air that was enough to grate on a saint's nerves. Rikash, as he was called, walked calmly out the darkness towards Liarna. Her non-committal gaze swept him from head to foot. Oh yes, he was indeed what you might call attractive. The problem was that he thought he was too; infact he thought he was the one and only. Rikash had caused many a problem concerning women; they just couldn't get enough of him or pompous swines as Liarna elegantly phrased it once. Thick blonde hair, green eyes and a golden smile; those were his best and only qualities. Manners didn't even come into it…
Robin and Combre were never the quickest wit, but knew enough to try and cover Liarna's expected outburst, "Shouldn't you be in bed Liarna?"
"I could put you to bed, fatiguing though it would be for me." Rikash leaned against a tree on the threshold of the light and waited for her response. The twins, Robin and Combre, just looked at one another. Their expressions mirrored each other rather well, almost as well as their looks mirrored one another.
Aware that they were all waiting for her eager response, Liarna turned from their pensive and lustful gazes to the opposite direction.
"Grow up boys. Now come on, last time I beat you without any real competition. After your smart remarks, Rikash, I intend to better that record with that bow in your hand."
"You start on dishes. You do that no?"
"I can do dishes. Yar?" With a cocky tilt of her head Liarna had just imitated Kleisthes, the feared cook.
He left with a grunt, which she presumed was a sign of acceptance, as Liarna watched his bulky figure move further away and began the mind numbing task of sorting dish, after dish, after dish…
The castle, well more like maze, was huge and this was just the kitchens or was this simply the washing area? It was grey, it was gloomy and it was either too cold or too hot. The prices I must pay to avoid a life of drudgery.
"Move now!...Are you stupid?"
The yelling of the young blond woman before Liarna evoked exasperation rather than anger, perhaps the five-hundredth dish had really pushed her over the edge. She turned slowly and very deliberately to face a vain spirit. The blue eyes of the woman glittered in annoyance while her thin lips pursed into a white line. She does make a wonderful image of the "milk maid", I must concede thought Liarna to herself.
"That has always been my…" Liarna did not give the other women a chance to finish her irrelevant rant.
Bubble?" By now Liarna had walked towards the women and her extra height had become apparent. The atmosphere had thickened. The Others had tolerated Liarna's presence with mild curiosity. Now all activity had ceased and they watched in eager anticipation.
"Now, now. This is Liarna, Liarna this is Carania, she is new here. Do not fret so dear."
With that the women named Anette drew Liarna away from the hostile Carania. As though a spell had been broken the females dispersed their separate ways with Anette following Liarna.
"Ignore the Bitch, she is a real dog. Ha! I'm funny. So why are you here, who are you…I've never seen you in the village? I'm sorry; I did not mean to exchange one evil for another." The older woman named Anette blushed violently under Liarna's assessing gaze and waited for a reply. Unruly hair the colour of flames escaped from underneath her linen cap and her grey eyes looked towards the floor. In Liarna's view she appeared as a matronly figure with an aura that emanated good will.
"It is of no consequence; my name is Liarna and I don't visit town. I am here because I have a habit of rebellion." Liarna's look brooked for no continuation. Anette was more vexed than ever, bursting with questions, but wisely knew better.
"My name is Anette and I'm here because, well, my family has done little elsewhere that did not involve the Dragulia name."
The older woman named Anette chatted merrily throughout the tiring day…non-stop. But for all that Liarna would have normally found irritating beyond belief, she and the woman became firm friends during those few moments. With Liarna's reluctant agreement they had agreed to attend the celebration to be held that evening out towards the frozen water.
Nicole had been born eight summers ago. Her parents disappeared; presumably dead from the cold on a hunting trip years ago. Not that it honestly mattered, the death of a beloved was a hard blow to all the Gypsies, but children were never at a loss for love.
The little girl whined as she followed the elder.
"Whining doesn't help Nicole." Children were not Liarna's favourite pastime, but she made an effort with the small golden haloed child that begged to come with her.
"What would Quitter say if he knew you were out in the cold, with strangers no less!"
"I am with you. The bonfire will keep me warm and you promised to spend time with me. I want to meet these new people!"
Pulling her dark cloak tighter around her shoulders she turned in the twilight to look down upon Nicole.
"Did you know stubbornness is not a good thing?"
"Yes. Magda said that pride is the same thing."
Liarna turned down the path towards the gathering of the Others and called over her shoulder, "The velvet coat is thicker and warmer for you to wear."
The spot that had been chosen was neither near the village, castle or camp. It was a strange setting that combined the castle outlined in the distance, the woods and the frozen water. It may have been getting darker by the minute without a cloud in the sky and yet she could feel the cocooning effect of the great snow capped mountains.
That was the only word for it, it was what best described it. The feeling of being protected. Liarna chided herself for such idle fantasies…what was safe when you belonged neither here nor there?
"Liarna! Liarna look!"
Nicole's squeals brought her back to the huge bonfire and the sparks that flew high into the black night.
"Yes. I see them."
She did and marvelled once again at the sheer simplicity in the beauty of nature. The weather had become worse and virgin snow had begun to sugar dust the landscape. The bonfire itself emitted huge amounts of heat and light that created a sense of security for the Others. The flakes of snow tried their best to penetrate the invisible dome, but failed.
The Others themselves seemed oblivious to the spectacle and were completely immersed in one another or a mug of ale. She found she enjoyed their festive company greatly and found them slightly amusing. They were so alike and yet so different to the Gypsies. The Others so often seemed so controlled and yet here they were joined together for this one night acting like Gypsies at a Gathering.
"From tomorrow you're working through the evening." Kleithes's voice boomed from behind Anette, Liarna and Nicole. The different reactions were evident.
Anette, because she had someone to put Carania back in her place.
Nicole, because her playmate was being removed.
Liarna, because she disliked the evening chores.
"Hmm, well, I'll be richer than you by the end of it Kleithes! Come on Nicole and teach me to dance."
With laughter and a puzzled look from both Kleithes and Anette, the girl and women disappeared in the crowd of people, laughter and music.
Voice 1: So Rikash likes her and she feels no inclination for relations with the opposite sex I take it? He sounds like a dish though…is she a lesbian?
Voice 2: Don't be stupid. On the note of Rikash…he didn't sound that bad…"green eyes" can be rather attractive…
Ardina: You ARE such masochists. Remind me never to ask your advice in matters of the heart…
Voice 1: It's not our fault you didn't open with a passionate encounter for us to dwell upon, what's with you and creating "strong" character identities anyway? Thank Artemis that the English exams were on Tuesday…no more of you nattering on about Robert Frost and that damn allegorical romance…The Scarlet Letter. Don't worry readers; wait till Liarna meets SEXY….
(waves voices away in a desperate manner)
Ardina: Vanish BEFORE you subsequently destroy the suspense of the plot!
Exams are such a pain...arghhhh! I need your love to continue and preferably a bit more encouragement than the "voices" ever supply…that means "nice" reviews and you can be as monosyllabalic as you wish…'eck go all Spartan Laconic on me…