The Raconteur


(Chronicles of the Dark Languages #1)


by Cynthia Garland



The wind howls. Unnatural. Tormenting. Primeval. A foretelling of dark arts, forbidden secrets, dead races reborn. An enchanting tale for Geoffrey to spin for the carnival masses. A mythical tale - until Reina. Inexplicably drawn together, the carnival tale becomes their destiny.




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Chapter One



She had arisen for no other reason than to listen to the sound of the rain. It had grown steady and rhythmic as it cleansed the night, refreshing the very air itself. She leaned her head against the open window and a brief flash of lightning revealed a lone figure wearing nothing but a blanket draped over one shoulder walking slowly to the edge of the camp and stopping.

She threw a coat over her head and ran after him. He had an unnatural air, standing stock-still, soaking wet, staring fixedly at nothing she could see. He didn’t seem to notice when she stood next to him. He didn’t blink. He barely breathed.

“Geoffrey?” She said his name so very softly. He remained transfixed. “Are you all right?” He didn’t respond. “My gods, are you asleep?”

She stood by him for a moment, letting the rain wash over them, waiting to see if he would acknowledge her presence. Shivering from the wet, she finally gave up and slipped her hand lightly under his arm. He turned with her touch and she led him back across the camp.

Once in his quarters, she pulled the rain-drenched blanket away and pressed him gently down into his bed. He murmured as she drew the covers over him. Bending, she held her ear to his lips.

“Biting. Something is biting me.”

“It’s a dream,” she breathed.

His eyes closed and he turned over. She pulled a chair next to him and stayed through the night, quietly slipping out with the first soft rays of morning light.

* * * * * *

He was desperate.

That’s why he found himself on the threshold of a place he swore he would never enter. He had paced and stewed outside for nearly half an hour before the door of the lavishly adorned carnival wagon swung open.

“Have you decided yet if you’re coming in,” she asked, leaning in the doorway, “or were you just passing by?” She took a long drag on her slim cigar, her dark glittering eyes gliding from his head to his feet and back again.

His adrenaline spiked at being caught. The urge to run away was palpable, but he held steady as he pursed his lips and met her gaze. “I think we both know I’ve been out here for a while.”

She tipped her head back and laughed. The smoke snaking from her mouth and nose made her look more ghoulish than usual.

It was mid-morning and Geoffrey had not yet dressed for his performance that night, the plain shirt and pants a far cry from his elaborate magician’s garb. His stage persona called for a red and white striped button shirt, black waist coat with long tails, shiny suspenders clasped onto crisp black trousers with red piping, a red and yellow scarf tied in a knot at his throat, and white gloves.

Anastasia Tertullian was always dressed for a show. Night and day she wore the same thing: black shoes, a floor-length black dress, and a purple fringed shawl with sequins that hung limply from her gaunt frame. Her skin was so pale it shone blue if the light was right. Her long, jet-black hair matched her mascara and her thin lips were permanently painted bright red, as were her long fingernails.

Her laughter died away as she took her first hard look at his face. “You look horrible, Geoffrey.”

He rubbed his eyes and nodded.

She straightened purposefully and flicked the cigar butt into the mud. “You do need my help. I can tell by your manner. Please, come in.”

Gingerly climbing the small steps into the dim interior, it took his eyes a moment to adjust from the bright sunlight. The air inside was cool and carried a smoky scent of cigars and jasmine incense. He sniffed and cleared his throat.

“Please be seated. Try to relax.” She indicated a wicker rocker beside a small round table. It was surprisingly comfortable and he leaned back slowly. Anastasia pulled a straight-backed wooden chair over and sat facing him from across the table.

Her voice was calm velvet. “I’ve seen this look before in others. Haggard – weary – as if a great weight was grinding down upon you. In all our years traveling, working together, this is the only time I can recall that you’ve come to me.”

He sighed and waited.

She stopped speaking and the silence grew uncomfortable. He shifted in his chair, cleared his throat.

She waited.

Silence.

“Compose your thoughts. I shall return presently.” She rose and stepped into an adjoining compartment. He heard clinking, a gentle whistle, pouring. When she returned, she carried two steaming cups.

“Chamomile tea. Very gentle on the system. Soothing.”

“Thank you.” He accepted the proffered cup.

“Your dreams are tormenting you?”

“No, not exactly.” He fell silent again.

She waited.

She touched the topic. “Bertie told me she found you sleepwalking the other night.”

He nodded.

“Were you dreaming then?”

“I don’t remember.”

He shifted in his chair and drank some of the tea.

“Geoffrey, why have you come?”

“I’m sorry…” he trailed off as he started to rise from his seat.

“No…” she laid a hand on his wrist to keep him from rising fully. Her tone was empathetic. “I will help, if you will permit me.”

He lowered slowly back into the chair.

She continued, “Oneiromancy is an ancient and most powerful divination. I have practiced it for years, as did my mother and grandmother. You can trust in my abilities. Understand that all dreams are sent to us by supernatural forces, both good and bad. Each element within the dream is symbolic. A dream can be a true foretelling of events to come, or a treacherous lie that is meant to destroy your very soul. Only a skilled practitioner like me can tell the difference and guide you safely to the correct and appropriate outcome. With your permission, shall we begin?”

He nodded curtly, ready to try anything, no matter how outlandish.

Anastasia lit a candle in the center of the table. Rising, she pulled the shades, deepening the darkness in the small room, and then drifted soundlessly behind his chair. He felt the gentle pressure of her fingertips on his temples. “Close your eyes and tell me your dreams… include every object, every color. Do not omit anything, no matter how trivial it may seem.”

He took a deep breath and let the memory flood his mind. “It is not a frightening dream. It’s actually rather… beautiful. It has been recurring for several weeks now and it is always the same. I am naked and alone in a meadow. It is daytime and the sun is shining. A being descends from the sky. I cannot make out the features because the form is unfocused, as if made of mist. It seems to be female.”

“How do you know?” Anastasia whispered.

“The shape – the figure has soft curves and breasts. She is carried on the backs of fireflies – a swarm of them beneath her feet, forming a magic carpet of sorts. As she is lowered before me, a garden of red roses springs from the earth around her. She steps into the grass, the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. All the colors are vivid, vibrant. There seems to be a golden light around us. She comes to me, into my arms, and we begin to dance.”

“Is she naked as well?”

“Yes, she becomes so. At first she is wearing a white gown, which disappears as we grow near to one another.”

“Is there more?”

“Yes, and no. What follows is very strange.”

“Go on,” she urged gently.

He cleared his throat again. “I wake up in a way I never have before. I simply open my eyes. I am at peace and fully awake. No transition, no grogginess. It’s as if I’ve simply stepped through a doorway. But the peacefulness lasts for only a heartbeat before I realize I am unable to move or speak and I am overtaken by a feeling of dread. I feel a great pressure on my chest that makes it hard to breathe. I have the sense that the life is being sucked out of me. I also feel as though there is someone in the room with me.”

“Then what happens?”

“Then it passes. Everything fades and I am left too agitated to sleep. I feel drained… spent.”

Anastasia released the gentle touch on his temples and moved to the chair across the table. “How long has this been happening?”

“For several weeks.”

“What time of night does the dream occur? Is it after midnight?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

She nodded. “Dreams before midnight are thin and of no consequence. The dreams after midnight are the most potent.”

“So, what do you make of it? Where do we start?”

She smiled slightly. “Things are not that easy. The dream is interpreted differently for each person and not the same for a king or commoner, man or woman, rich or poor. The timing of the dream is also important – the time of night, the time of year. The phase of the moons must be accounted for as well. I have a complete selection of the Dream Books of Davius to consult, but I will have to call in the astrologer Silvestri. He has the Moon Books and charts that must be cross-referenced. This is the only way to get a true sense of what is plaguing you.”

Geoffrey sat back. “I’m sure you needn’t go to all that trouble…”

Anastasia leaned forward, her eyes and tone uncharacteristically soft. “You are one of us. You have created your own distance for your own reasons, but nevertheless, you are one of us and we will care for you.”

He measured his words with great precision. “I appreciate that. I really do. But can you give me something to go on now? I was hoping that something you say will trigger something in my mind that will let me sleep tonight.”

She looked vaguely disappointed, but nodded anyway. “The colors and symbols in your dream match perfectly. You say the woman is wearing white, which signifies purity and perfection. In general, flowers mean love. Specifically, the roses denote virginity. Red indicates passion, joy, sexuality. Who do you think she is?”

“Not sure. An angel? A princess?”

“Angels signify a positive guiding force, a princess is a spiritual teacher. Flying by any means, fireflies or otherwise, suggests astral traveling. The light is a prominent feature. The fireflies emit light. You are surrounded by a golden light. Light in dreams stands for intuition, emotions. The golden color, spiritual healing. The green of the grass is sharing, balance. Your nakedness means you are exhibiting your truest nature to one another. Dancing is an expression from the heart.”

“So, putting it all together…”

“I must study it further, but initially I feel it is prophetic in nature. The message is, I believe, from a benevolent source, so do not fear it. At a point in the future, you will encounter a strong, passionate force that will guide you to a spiritual and sensual place of perfect balance. The red and white together represent joy and hope, especially if worn or brought by a healing agent. I believe the being is a healing agent. Your spirit will grow stronger and you will be healed of past emotional injury. But it will not come easily…”

“Somehow, that comes as no surprise.” Geoffrey found it hard to keep the edge from his voice.

“When you awaken, you suffer Pavor Nocturnes, a night terror.”

He rolled his head to the side, stretching his aching muscles. “What is causing it? How can I make it stop?”

“We are, in part, spiritual beings. But we are also, in part, of the earth to which we are bound. This means we are stirred by passion and impulse and can be corrupted. Between the sun and moons are benevolent spirits called genii whose chief function is to warn and guide man. But there are also disorderly and malignant spirits of the lower regions. They are called angelos desertores…”

“Fallen angels?”

“You know of them?”

“No, but I can translate the dark languages.”

“Of course you can. I’d forgotten. In any event, these entities are commissioned to torment man and will prey upon him when he is at his most defenseless. They will visit during sleep and attempt to crush, strangle, or smother their intended victim. At least that is how it feels. What they are really doing is sucking at your soul. The presence you feel in the room with you at night is one such as this. Most likely a succubus, a demon impersonating a woman.” Her brow furrowed. “Some powerful forces are working on you, Geoffrey.”

He laughed humorlessly. “Why me? Of all people! I don’t even believe in them.”

“I know not. That is why I must consult Silvestri and study this further.”

He was on the brink of exhaustion. “What I really need is a vacation. I am so tired!” He yawned mightily.

Anastasia opened a small drawer in the table and removed a round flat stone with a hole cut in the middle. A piece of black cord was drawn through the hole and tied. She rose and dropped it deftly over his head and around his neck.

“Hmmm… what’s this?” He slurred, fingering it clumsily.

She smiled down at him. “Hagstone. Wear it around your neck, or at least hang it on the bedpost at night. It will protect you from the night terrors.”

He yawned again. “Ana, I’m finding it hard to keep my eyes open. My lips feel numb.”

She removed her shawl and draped it over him. “Sleep, Geoffrey. I promise, it will be sound and dreamless. I added some kava kava to your tea. It is a gentle herb that relaxes naturally. It is quite safe. Sebastian gave it to me from his apothecary.”

Anastasia was uncertain if he heard her. His eyes had closed and his head lolled slightly to one side. She lingered for a moment, fingering his soft hair. He was breathing easily and gently. Once satisfied he was settled, she stepped outside to the small group she knew had gathered.

The leader, broad-shouldered and bold, stepped forward. “What is going on with him?”

Anastasia folded her arms. “It is complicated. But I feel he will come to you soon and ask for time to travel on a journey. You must grant this, Zachariah. He must be allowed to go.” She turned to Dr. Sebastian Peek. “Your herb worked well. Prepare another bottle to send with him.”

Sebastian nodded, “Certainly.”

Next she turned to Silvestri. “I will need to consult with you. He is asleep in my wagon, so I will come to yours in half an hour.”

Then to Madame Bertina, “He will stir in about two hours. You should be there when he does, Bertie. A friendly face would do him good.”

A low growl rumbled from the back of the group, “We are wasting too much time. Let me get rid of him. He is an arrogant ass who is putting us in danger!” Rondo, the strong man, stood with his arms folded tightly against his chest. His imposing form towered over all the others.

“We don’t know that…” Anastasia was silenced mid-sentence by Zachariah’s upraised hand.

He turned a withering gaze on Rondo. His voice was all ice. “I forbid you to go near him.”

Rondo averted his eyes and stepped away.

Zachariah turned to the others. “Let’s return to our work.” The group began to disband. He then steered Anastasia away and spoke in low tones. “Is there danger for us?”

“I’m afraid there could be.”

He nodded. “Let me know as soon as you reach a final assessment. And only me. No one else.”

“I will, as long as you promise to let him leave.”

“I will,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away.

Anastasia sighed under her breath, “Perhaps, if we are lucky, he will choose to stay away.”




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