The ApparitionMarch 25, 1145
Outside the City Walls
Outskirts of Rhemuth
So cold! Helena wrapped her arms more tightly around herself, wishing she'd brought a heavier cloak with her. The day had dawned bright and fair, skies blue with the promise of springtime, and the weather unseasonably warm, so she had brought little more than the lightest of wraps with her when she had set forth from the protective walls of Rhemuth earlier that day to gather medicinals along the edge of the nearby forest for Sister Therese's infirmarium. Some small sense of self-protective foresight had whispered a hint of caution, urging her to bring a warmer garment with her or at least not venture out so far from the city gates, but she had not heeded that warning. It had seemed unnecessary at the time, on such a glorious morning. She was regretting that decision now.
The blizzard had hit with little warning. Perhaps she might have noticed its incipient arrival sooner had she happened to glance up earlier in the day to see the changing color of the skies above, or noticed the scudding clouds moving in swiftly from the west, but her first hint of trouble was a brisk wind that had finally forced its way through the shelter of the treeline, alerting her to the change of weather. As she added the last of the plants Tessa had requested to her basket, the first flurries of snow began to swirl around her, the feathery flakes descending faster and thicker than she had anticipated by the time she made her way back to the main road. As she stepped out from beneath the shelter of the trees, the knife-sharp wind chilled her to the bone as she trudged through the falling snow, her steps now hampered by the sodden skirts of her light woolen gown dragging over the white ground, its trailing edge snagging on twigs and other debris hidden beneath their icy blanket that was growing steadily deeper beneath her feet. The road's edge was still visible on either side of the path before her, but only barely. She navigated the unexpected wintry whiteness more by instinct than sight, her eyes fixed on what little she could make out through the dense snowfall of the crenellated city wall in the distance, glimpsed every now and then through the gap between the trees lining the road on either side. She was fortunate that the King's highways were kept cleared of trees and underbrush for several yards beyond the highway's edge to prevent outlaws from using their cover for concealment. The wide clearing helped to assure her that she was at least travelling along the right path, for she could hardly see more than a few feet ahead of her own face anymore.
Had she ridden a horse that morning, she might have been home by now, home and safe by the warmth of the hearth in her snug chamber, or perhaps sitting by the hot fireplace in the refectory, wearing a fresh, dry gown and sipping mulled wine to revive her spirits. But weary of a long winter spent mostly indoors, she had welcomed a chance for a long walk through the countryside. The way back seemed even longer now, with each step of the way becoming more of an effort as the snow piled deeper all around her half-frozen feet.
Tessa would have told someone where she was, Helena knew, though in the gathering darkness, with the white flakes obscuring her vision like falling curtains of lace, anyone sent to search for her would have difficulty locating her. Any human searcher, at least. She tried to cast her mind out, to sense a Deryni presence in the distance upon whom she might call for rescue, but it was of no use; she could not summon up the necessary focus and energy right now, not when all her attention was needed simply to take the next right step in the gathering gloom.
She stumbled, falling hard upon the icy ground, her ankle twinging with a sharp pain. It brought a momentary mental clarity. Must . . . stand. She rose clumsily, attempted to take a step forward, but fresh pain slammed through her, taking her breath away, as her foot refused to bear her weight.
She could Heal her ankle--must do so before she could continue on--but doing so would use up precious time and energy she could hardly afford. Yet she had to do something! If only she could manage a clear thought through this fog that was beginning to permeate her mind, as the cold surrounding her had already permeated her being.
The edges of her vision began to turn black, an unnatural darkness not related to the setting of the sun, and she collapsed.
When Helena came back to herself, she was not alone. A young woman stood before her, one who appeared vaguely familiar. Oddly, the falling snow seemed to swirl straight through her.
"Come on then, get up, you can't stay here. Night is falling," the apparition said, her voice gentle as she tugged at Helena's sleeve. "I'm no Healer, I'm afraid, so you'll need to look after your own injury, but first, let's get you under some shelter."
She'd seen this woman before, Helena knew, though her mind refused to work well enough to give her a hint of who she might be or under what circumstances she had encountered her before. Whoever the apparition was, Helena was quite certain she was a good deal more solid the last time she'd seen her.
"I don't think I can walk to shelter," Helena demurred.
"No need," said the ghostly figure before her. "You're Deryni, aren't you? Create a ward around you."
Why had she not thought of that earlier? Helena shook her head, hoping the movement might serve to shake off the frozenness of her thoughts. She felt for her pouch, hope briefly surging then falling as she realized she'd left her Ward cubes at the Schola.
As if reading her thoughts, the apparition shook her head. "You don't need those. They're merely a focus, you know that, just as the words help to focus your energies on the task. But neither are truly necessary, not to a well-trained Deryni mind. Look at me." Helena complied. "You can do this," her ephemeral companion assured her. "Have faith."
Faith was something that was low in supply at the moment, but Helena did her best. Closing her eyes to shut out as much distraction as she could, she willed herself to visualize her Ward Cubes on the ground before her. Willed the visualized pieces to form the requisite matrix, heard herself whispering the ritual words of Warding as the cubes in her mind formed oblong shapes the silvery-gray color of hematite before her. She envisioned herself placing the gray shapes at the Four Corners around herself, her whisper trailing off with the final, barely-breathed "Fiat Lux!"
A pale, shimmering dome of silvery blue formed above her. The apparition smiled. It was the last thing Helena saw as, her energy completely spent, she drifted back into the darkness again.
#March 25, 1145
The Cathedral of St. George
The Lady Chapel
City of Rhemuth
Duncan McLain, Archbishop of Rhemuth since his predecessor's recent decline in health during the previous summer and his subsequent death just a month earlier, crossed himself as he rose from his prie-dieu. It was shortly after Vespers on Lady Day, and he'd finally had a moment to himself to pray for the repose of the woman whose birthday this had once been. His soul-friend and, in the last few years of her young life which had ended far too soon, also his daughter-in-law.
"Anamchara, you are needed," said a voice behind him.
Duncan whirled towards the voice in shock. It was Catriona's voice--he would know it anywhere!--and while her daughter and namesake Trina sounded uncannily similar to her late mother now that her voice was beginning to mature, Duncan knew immediately that it was not his eldest granddaughter's voice that he'd heard.
A dim figure stood at the entrance of the Lady Chapel, the bright flickering of candlelight gleaming through her. She stepped forward, extending a hand towards him.
In stunned amazement, he extended his own, their fingertips brushing. Hers passed through his, mist-like, for the briefest of moments, but during that brief interval, he Saw what she had seen.
"Your friend the magistra needs you now," Catriona told him. "As you need her. Quickly, mo chara, before it's too late!"
Before he could respond, she was gone. Duncan crossed himself before rushing out of the Cathedral, calling for a passing monk to run ahead to the stables and have horses made ready for him and a small retinue of his episcopal guards as he swiftly make his way through the cloisters towards the Archbishop's Palace so he could make ready for the cold ride ahead.
A short distance outside of Rhemuth
Despite the snow falling heavily now, nearly burying her alive except for the small, glowing window left overhead, Helena felt warmer when she returned to consciousness once again. Warmth was a relative thing, she decided, with her damp clothing still plastered against her skin, but the Wards helped to retain what remained of her body heat and kept the chill winds from sweeping over her.
"Are you still there?" she called out, her voice feeble with weakness.
There was no answer at first, then a reassuring presence touched her mind. He is coming,
it said. Do you have enough energy to Heal yourself now?
Helena closed her eyes, sensing deep within herself for that familiar wellspring of power from which her Deryni gifts drew strength. At last she felt the answering flicker, weaker than usual, yet present.
"I can try," she said aloud. She felt the injured ankle, concentrating her focus on its structure, on the sprained tissue beneath the surface of her skin, flooding the area with Healing energy until at last the pain ebbed, like tidal waters slowly receding from the shoreline. Helena flexed the foot gingerly, but there was no returning pain. She bent a knee until that foot was flat against the ground and pushed against the earthen surface beneath it. She thought perhaps now it would bear her weight, at least if she'd had room to stand beneath the dome of the Ward above her, which she did not.
"Well done!" the apparition told her. Helena looked up to see a face smiling encouragement at her from above, the night stars twinkling beyond her translucent features. "Now rest. Help is on the way."
From this near distance, the new Archbishop could sense Helena more readily through the psychic link they shared, although now that he focused his attention upon it, it felt weaker than he liked. He frowned in mingled concentration and concern as his mount moved closer to the presence he sensed ahead. "We're close," he said aloud.
One of the riders accompanying him, a grizzled veteran from his native Cassan and well accustomed to wintry weather, raised a hand to catch his attention as he called back, "Your Grace, there's a light ahead!" Pointing with a gloved hand towards what appeared to be a large snowdrift alongside the main path, he added, "It looks at first like moonlight reflecting off snow, but what you do make of that, my lord?"
As Duncan moved closer to the dune in question, he was surprised to see that the snow at the top of it glowed as though lit from within. A wide grin stretched beneath concealing wraps as he pushed the edge of his hood back from his face to see more clearly. "Sister Helena?" he called out as he reached the drift, dismounting and handing his horse's reins over to a retainer before venturing closer to the glowing mound. From here, he could readily sense the magical energies emanating from it.
The Ward dispersed, snow falling around the woman it had surrounded in a circular pattern, as if sliding off a bubble of thin glass to encircle her seated form. Duncan called for a blanket, enfolding the shivering woman within it before lifting her up onto his horse, springing into position behind her and enveloping her within his personal shields. One of his guardsmen handed him a flask, which he offered to Helena. "Drink this, it will help warm you from within." Looking back up, he motioned to another retainer. "Ride ahead and inform the Schola that Magistra Helena has been found and that she'll need the infirmarian's attention."
"I'm fine," Helena attempted to protest, but was quelled by a caring yet stern glance from her rescuer.
They rode back towards the City gates, the rocking motion nearly lulling Helena back to sleep, but she fought the temptation to slip back into slumber. "How did you know where to find me?" she asked Duncan drowsily.
"You could say I had an unexpected visit from an old friend," he replied, one arm tightening around her in a brief hug. "Thanks be to the Queen of Heaven that she sent me to find you in time!"
"Amen," murmured Helena.
The gates of the City opened to admit them, the gleam of Rhemuth's lights shining forth in the darkness appearing to Helena's grateful eyes like the glory of Heavenly light.