Friday, February 8, 2013
"Bride of Belthazor" [PG-13] - 3/16
"BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR"
Davies and two other servants entered the McNeills' west drawing-room carrying silver trays filled with refreshments for the afternoon tea. They placed the trays on the large Sheraton sideboard, before Davies announced to Gweneth, "Tea is ready, Mrs. McNeill. And your relatives should be downstairs very soon."
"Thank you Davies," Gweneth replied.
Margaret McNeill Ferguson gave Gweneth a curious stare. "Has your father decided to attend the wedding, after all?" The elderly woman had arrived yesterday morning from Inverness, representing the Scottish branch of the McNeill family at the upcoming wedding.
A mixture between a derisive snort and a guffaw escaped from Jack's throat. Gweneth glared at her husband. "Not exactly," she replied. "Father couldn't make it." She paused momentarily. "Bad health." The lie settled unhappily in her mind. "But my younger brother, Brion - you remember him, don't you? Well, he's decided to join Mother, instead."
"It's a shame that your father couldn't make it to the wedding," Claude Dubois commented. "Vivian told me that he was at Bruce's wedding."
Jack commented in a snide voice, "That's because Bruce was marrying a human." Gweneth sighed. It seemed understandable that her husband would be angry on behalf of their daughter. But she also found it sad that years of effort to form a reconciliation between her husband and father had eventually gone down the drain. Gweneth wondered how her parents would react to the recent news regarding the McNeills' family line.
"Gwen, does that mean that your family knows about Jack's . . . uh, family history?" Vivian Dubois asked.
"You mean that my family is descended from three daemons?" Jack finished.
Gweneth glanced at the middle-aged man, who sat in one of the chairs near the bookcase. Michael McNeill, who bore a strong resemblance to Jack's mother, winced at his brother's words. Gweneth recalled Jack's description of Michael's reaction to Sean McNeill's surprising revelation - confusion and disbelief. "I haven't told my parents, yet," she finally said, answering Vivian's question. "Knowing Dad, I don't know how he would rea . . ."
Two people entered the drawing-room. Gweneth immediately stood up and rushed forward to greet her mother. "Mother! You made it!" she cried, hugging the older woman. "I'm sorry I couldn't meet you at the airport. Bruce and I had a bit of an emergency at one of the restaraunts."
Bronwyn Morgan kissed her daughter's cheek. "It's all right, Gwennie. I understand. Besides, it's lovely to see you, again." She glanced around the room. "But where is Bruce? And Livy? Where is she?"
"She'll be down any minute," Gweneth replied. "You remember Vivian Dubois, don't you?" She proceeded to introduce the other visitors to her mother. Once she finished, Gweneth turned to the other newcomer. "And this is one of my younger brothers, Brion Morgan," she coolly added. "I'm glad that you could join us, Brion. I'm sure that Livy would appreciate your presence."
A faint smile touched her younger brother's lips. "Well, she is my niece, after all."
Jack spoke up. "I'm glad to hear that." He stood to greet the Welshman. "Brion."
Brion's greeting was equally chilly. "Jack. It's . . . good to see you."
"I'm sure," Jack replied cynically. He turned to his mother-in-law and smiled. "Bronwyn! You look beautiful, as usual."
"Jack!" Bronwyn kissed her son-in-law's cheek. "Look at you! Still a handsome devil! You're not nervous, are you?"
The elderly woman slapped her son-in-law's arm. "About Livy's wedding, of course!"
Jack snorted with mock derision. "Nonsense! If I can survive Bruce's wedding - which nearly became a disaster - I can survive Olivia's."
"My dear boy, you'll be giving away your only daughter. Which can be nerve-wracking for any father," Bronwyn declared.
Claude grumbled, "You can say that, again. My daughter, Cecile, will be getting married, next month."
"Congratulations!" Bronwyn said.
Brion mumbled, "At least your daughter won't be marrying a notorious half-daemon." His face turned red, as both Gweneth and Bronwyn glared at him.
"What was that, Brion?" Jack asked in a hard voice.
"Nothing. I . . ." Brion paused and inhaled sharply. "By the way, when will I meet the groom?"
Gweneth's mother-in-law, Elise McNeill, entered the drawing-room. "Tonight. We're holding a small dinner party. Cole should be here . . . along with his family." She turned to Gwen's mother and smiled. "Bronwyn, you're looking quite well."
"Thank you, darling. So do you." Excitement lit up Bronwyn's dark eyes. "You said something about Cole's family? And they would be . . .?"
A familiar voice answered, "His mother Nimue and his uncle, Marbus." Olivia breezed into the drawing-room like a gust of fresh air. She rushed forward and enveloped her maternal grandmother into her arms. "Nana!"
"Livy, darling! Oh, look at you!" Bronwyn smiled happily at her granddaughter. "I've never seen you look so radiant."
Olivia smiled back. "Thanks."
"Did you say that your fiance's mother is named Nimue?" Brion asked. Everyone stared at him.
"Uncle Brion," Olivia greeted in a less than cheerful voice. She dutifully pecked his cheek. "Nice to see you."
But Brion had other matters on his mind. Namely Cole's mother. "About this Nimue, you say that she's . . .?"
"Cole's mother. Yes." Olivia frowned. "Wait a minute! You know her, don't you?" A bright smile lit up her face. "Of course! She had stolen Aeronwy's Grimoire from you. I remember Nimue telling me about it, when I mentioned you and Nana."
A deadly silence filled the room. Gweneth noticed that her brother's face had turned red . . . with anger. Olivia's eyes widened innocently. "Did I just say something wrong?"
At that moment, Cecile burst into the drawing-room, breathless. "Has the tea started? I hope that I haven't missed anything."
Gweneth heaved a sigh of relief at the young woman's outburst. Everyone relaxed, including Brion. And at her suggestion, they all helped themselves to the refreshments.
Piper entered the manor, carrying Wyatt in one arm and two plastic bags filled with groceries, in the other. As she struggled to balance both the ten month-old baby and the bags, she muttered darkly, "Why does this always happen to me?" Then she yelled, "Hello? Is anyone home? Paige?"
To her surprise, both of her sisters emerged from the Solarium. "Hey Piper," Paige greeted cheerfully. "Here, let me get that for you." She removed the grocery bags from the other woman's arm.
Piper, however, barely paid attention to her youngest sister. Her eyes widened in shock, as the middle sister gave her a quick hug. "Phoebe? What are you doing here?"
"For the wedding, of course." Phoebe's too-bright tone raised the hackles on the back of Piper's neck.
The oldest Charmed One stared at her sister in disbelief. "You're here for Cole and Olivia's wedding?" After a long pause, she added, "Why?"
"Huh?" Phoebe blinked.
Holding the grocery bags, a sardonic Paige cleared the matter for Piper. "What she's saying, Feebs, is why on earth would you want to attend your ex-husband's wedding?"
"I didn't . . ." Phoebe huffed aloud. "I mean . . ."
A small suspicion wiggled in the back of Piper's mind. "Wait a minute," she said, shifting Wyatt to her other arm. "You don't want to go to this wedding, do you?"
Phoebe sighed. "No, not really."
"Then why are you . . .?"
Another sigh left Phoebe's mouth. "Jason. He . . . Cole and Olivia had sent us wedding invitations. And since Olivia and Jason have 'buried the hatchet', so to speak, he had decided to accept for both of us."
"Buried the hatchet?" Paige frowned. "You mean, after that night Olivia had invited him to her parents' party, so that he could meet Cecile?"
Piper added dryly, "That's one night I won't forget." How could she? On the night of the McNeills' party, her son's nanny - who also happened to be a female Vodoun bokor and drug dealer - had stolen Wyatt's powers.
Phoebe continued, "Ever since that night, Jason and Olivia have been . . . well, friends."
"Hence the wedding invitation," Piper said.
"And Jason's decision to accept." Phoebe sighed. "Oh God. I can't believe that I'll actually be going to Cole's wedding. To another woman. This is so depressing."
Phoebe's lamentation over Cole's upcoming wedding revived Piper's worries that her younger sister had not recover from the divorce. And to think that recently, she had believed otherwise. Piper sighed. She should have known better.
The Anduin Marketplace was known throughout the supernatural world as the premiere flea market in the universe. Located in the Anduin Dimension, it lured merchants, antiquity collectors and dealers, cooks, animal traders and others who offered services, food, stock and other goods to magical beings and practitioners throughout the Universe. Male or female, bi-pedal or otherwise, good or evil - witches, warlocks, wizards, sorcerers and sorceresses, daemons and fairies of all kinds would converge upon the village-like community near the Arda River to enjoy these services.
Idril teleported next to a large, green-and-white striped tent that stood over an open aired restaurant. Crowds of various beings filled the wide, dirt lane that paved through the village. Idril merged into the crowd and walked. She passed a tent that housed a daemonic seer, two stands that offered liquor and a third tent, whose owner sold used books. Finally, a pale-blue tent west of the lane, appeared before her. It belonged to a sorceress from this dimension that sold knick-knacks - seemingly cheap goods that turned out to be magical objects of great power.
The demoness paused before the tent. She took a deep breath and passed through the opened flap. Once inside the tent, she paused at the sight of two figures haggling over a pair of silk scarves. Idril recognized the pale pink-skinned sorceress, whose curly gold curls were barely hidden underneath a blue head scarf. The tall, dark-haired woman was a stranger - and obviously a human.
"Six ducats?" the dark-haired woman exclaimed. "For a pair of scarves?"
A cunning look crept into Valindal's green-blue eyes. "These are more than just a pair of scarves. And you know it, Nathalie. Your friend will greatly enjoy using them. Trust me. All she has to do is use them just as I had described. I . . ." She glanced to her right and noticed Idril. "Oh! Idril. Welcome back. It's been a while."
Idril responded with a dim smile. "Valindal. I'll uh . . . I'll just wait until you finish with your customer."
Valindal hesitated. "Well, I . . ."
"Two ducats," the human said. "I'll pay two for the scarves."
The human countered, "Three."
A sigh left Valindal's mouth. "If you insist. Sold." The human smiled, as she handed over three gold coins to the sorceress. Who handed over a package wrapped in blue tissue paper.
Once the mortal woman left, Idril said to Valindal, "She ended up paying half of your original price."
Valindal shrugged. "Actually, the scarves are worth two ducats. At least I've made a profit of one ducat. So," she sat down in a nearby chair, "how may I help you? See anything that interests you?"
Idril shook her head. "I'm more interested in information." She handed a photograph of Evendril's Amulet to Valindal. "Have you ever seen this, before?"
"Of course," Valindal said with a shrug, "Evendril's Amulet. If you're looking for it, I no longer have it."
The news disappointed Idril. But she refused to give up. "But I was told otherwise."
Valindal replied, "I used to own it. Until I had sold it to a human, some time ago. A warlock." A satisfied smile curled the sorceress' lips. "And he had to pay through the nose."
"What's the name of this warlock?" Idril demanded.
Cool green-blue eyes stared at Idril. "And what can I expect in return for this information?" the sorceress demanded.
With any other being, Idril would have countered with a death threat. But the demoness knew that a threat would have been useless against Valindal. As a native of Anduin, the pink-skinned sorceress could easily repel any of Idril's attacks. Which is why the latter came prepared - just in case Valindal wanted to bargain. With great reluctance, Idril removed a silver chalice from her tote bag. "It's a chalice," she said. "It once belonged to the old Seer. Filled with water, it can enable anyone to see the future. Or the past."
"This used to belong to the old Seer? The one who used to serve your Source?" Valindal demanded. "The one killed by the Charmed Ones?"
Idril nodded. "Ever since her death, others have searched for her chalice. Especially this other seer named Kira. The old Seer . . . well, she would sometimes use her chalice for greater visions. It can be a very powerful tool, when used properly."
"Why give it to me?" Valindal asked. "Why not keep it for yourself?"
Because the chalice frightened her. Only Idril did not want to admit it. Her mother had once told her that although divination and precognition can be very useful, it could also be dangerous. Great power have been acquired through the use of precognition. However, knowledge of the future has been known to lead toward great disaster, every now and then. And some past seers have been known to be eventually driven insane by constant visions of the future. Idril's mother believed that sometimes it was wise to be ignorant of the future.
Idril kept all of these thoughts to herself and lied. "To be honest, I don't really know how to use the chalice. Summoning visions of the future have never been my forte. So, you can have it . . . in exchange for information."
Valindal eyed the chalice, hungrily. "I had sold the amulet to a warlock. His name . . . is Gary Wheeler. I don't know where he lives. Somewhere in the mortal world, one can only assume. I've only met him once. But I've heard of him and his former coven - the Gaea Coven. They no longer exist."
"What happened to them?"
With a shrug, the sorceress replied, "The coven was destroyed by assassins. Haldane assassins. Apparently, this Gary Wheeler had hired them. He wanted complete possession of the coven's Book of Shadows."
Idril nodded. "I've heard of the Gaea Coven. It was located at a place called Baltimore. Perhaps I should start there." She handed the chalice over to Valindal. "Thanks for the information."
A satisfied sigh eased out of Valindal's mouth. "By the way," she added, "if you're thinking of stealing the amulet from this Wheeler person, consider this - he's a strong magic practitioner and has killed his share of daemons. High-level ones, included. And if you plan to use the amulet, you'll have to get close to your target in order to do so."
Which meant that she would have to get close to Belthazor. And Idril could not see that happening. "Thanks for the advice," she said to the sorceress. "And good luck with the chalice."
"I think you'll need more luck than me." Valindal's words rang in Idril's ears, as she left the tent.
END OF CHAPTER THREE