Stoneheart

Stoneheart

He was a creature of light and sky, a winged stoneheartbrightness.
She was his precise opposite, a spawn of earth and stone and of deep, impenetrable darkness.
He had intruded into her domain, not out of malice, but from a sincere, if driven, curiosity. He knew that he should have sought permission, but how, when there was no one to mediate between them?
He had waited outside her vault for an age and she had shown no inclination to admit him. No sign that she even knew he was there.
So he had foolishly rolled her entrance stone out of the way, folded his wings to prevent them from snagging and crept into her darkness.
Once inside he stopped and waited while his eyes adjusted to the penumbra and then proceeded deeper.
Eventually he emerged into her inner vault. He could not see her, of course, but sensed her presence immediately, and just as rapidly knew that she had sensed his.
He took a step forward, his lips parting to deliver his prepared explanation; but in less than a heartbeat, her power seized him. It spun around him like a spider’s web, binding him with threads of silk. The spell she wove crystallised his sinew and hardened his flesh. He felt his joints grow rigid.
“Please…” he managed to say, but his lip trembled and refused to shape the words he had intended to say next.
I mean you no harm.
Instead his throat produced a low rumble, like the sound of distant thunder. Unable to speak, he did the only thing left for him to do: he turned to flee.
His hand, seeking balance, came to rest momentarily upon a surface of stone and he felt the small shape of a ring press into his palm. Without intending to, his fingers closed around the token and swept it up in his urgency to leave.
But very soon every step became a strenuous effort to move forward, to escape from this tomb that he had so foolishly made for himself. Had he the time he would have countered her spell with a warding of light and air, but he was in her element, not his, and here she was far more powerful than he could ever have imagined.
So he strained against the growing weight of his limbs and slowly, with great effort, still clutching the tiny ring that he had snatched from her, he climbed up and out of her earthen temple to emerge in the woods.
The warmth of the sun was no longer enough to dispel the cold numbness that had seeped into his marrow. Even so, the mere sight of daylight, of grass and trees and cloud and sky, these all gave him a kind of warmth, a taste of hope.
At least I will not be trapped in darkness forever.
Even his thoughts were turning sluggish now, as though they too were becoming stone. He stared down at his hand, the one clutching the token, as if it had become an obscenity. The fingers, bent like claws, refused to straighten. The hardness was setting in. Soon he would be incapable of opening his hand at all, and so he defiantly clenched his fist even harder.
His eyelids were also becoming heavy now, yet he forced them open to see the light till the very last, before the entire world turned dark.
But even as he won that battle he lost another, for his legs locked beneath him. Breathing – the most fundamental and natural activity – demanded all of his reserves. His breath hissed past lips of stone.
He managed to raise his head and stare at the sky. He heaved his lungs into accepting one final breath of wood-scented air and as he did, he brought up the fist holding her ring and pressed it fast, protectively, against his breast bone.
His wings tried to unfurl, as though there was still a chance that they might lift him up and bear him away into the expansive realm of sky and cloud.
A single tear seeped from his eye as he gazed at the incredible beauty of the luminous sky as it too became grey.
Grey as the grass, grey as the trees, grey as the whole wide world.
And the tear turned to granite half way down his cheek,

-oOo-

“Sold!”
The short rotund man leaning against the podium raised a pudgy paw to his glistening forehead and dabbed without much hope at the perspiration that had gathered there.
“Article 48 goes to 119; yes you, the gentleman with the white beard. Congratulations sir, a choice prize for such a price.”
The auctioneer’s grin seemed somewhat foolish, but his eyes darted to and fro in a way that revealed a quick, calculating mind.
Magdeleine closed her eyes.
She was already regretting coming to this event. She had overridden her usual preference, which was to never stray far from home, but there had been something compelling about the invitation to this private auction.
Somehow her name had made it onto the shortlist – a wonder in itself – and, she who was never invited anywhere, read the flourished writing of the invitation as though it was a message from the gods.
Still she would have resisted and ignored the call but, when she flicked distractedly through the items catalogue, his picture froze her hand, caught her eye and made her forget to breathe for a time. After that, choice had nothing to do with it. She knew that she simply had to attend, had to see him – this work of art – with her own eyes.
She knew of course that its cost would be high, but that was of no consequence. Her legacy was robust enough to accommodate almost any extravagance – money had always been the least of her problems. And yet, now that she was here, bombarded by the sounds and odours of densely packed humanity, she was having serious second thoughts.
She closed her eyes and allowed herself to sink into a feeling that was as far removed from this place of chrome and glass as was possible.
A breeze sprang up to caress her cheek timidly as she crossed the threshold into a void rich with possibilities. This time she found herself standing on a cliff. The roar of waves being flung against the cold, wet stone reached up towards her from far below.
“…and now for article 49! Any connoisseur will recognise the magnificence of this work at a glance. Found in Umbria and dated back to the Seventh Century, this magnificent work conveys such a depth of yearning and passion…”
She shut the auctioneer’s voice out and the auction dissolved around her like a dream. Returning here, as she so often did these days, was like falling into the arms of one’s god. This was her refuge.
She was suddenly catapulted back into the auction hall by a surge of sound and movement, and then by searing pain as the man in front of her stepped back onto her unprotected toes.
She sucked in a breath and her eyes snapped open at the intensity of the pain. The man muttered a sheepish apology, but the words never really reached Magdeleine, for her attention was ensnared by the item that stood unveiled on the dais.
The angel was of naked granite and in the prime of life, power and grace. His great wings seemed to have been caught frozen in the act of unfolding, as if he was on the very verge of leaping into the air and, with a few powerful beats, making his escape from the throng of humans.
This was what she had come for. This was what had called her here and had revisited her dreams.
Yet seeing the sculpture at such a close range was even more overwhelming than she had expected; it was like tasting an exotic fruit that had previously only been described by someone utterly incompetent with words.
She could not draw her eyes away from the angel’s face.
It was upturned and carved to reveal a measure of yearning that surpassed anything that anyone in this crowd had experienced, or was ever likely to. The mouth was partly open in what appeared to be an anguished cry of despair.
As she breathed in his presence she could easily believe that, at any moment now, he might start to breathe and stagger down from the wooden dais to tell this audience such a wild and unearthly tale that it would chill them to the bone and cause them to never speak of meaningless things again.
She stared and drank in the angel’s essence as if it was nourishment for her soul. She had no idea why this sculpture called to her in such an alluring yet terrifying way, but of one thing she had no doubt: she knew him.
A murmur swept through the crowd.
“… indescribable … must be worth an absolute fortune … obscene, if you ask me…”
The auctioneer’s hammer sounded explosively into the room.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a true masterwork, wouldn’t you say? Clearly a product of remarkable skill and yet one that has never – I repeat – never been attributed to any known artist! Oh, to be sure, for centuries it was understandably believed to be a masterwork of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, until more recent dating techniques proved that it actually predates Bernini by many centuries! And the greatest wonder of all is that this mystery of surpassing beauty can become yours, here, today.”
Magdeleine moistened her lips and took a step closer to the stage.
“Bidding will commence at £45,000 with £5,000 increments,” continued the auctioneer. “£45,000 ladies and gentlemen, who will take the first bid … thank you, Sir! 50,000? 50 it is and … 60,000 to Madam in… 70! Thank you Sir…”
And so on.
Magdeleine waited restlessly until the auction reached the reserve price and the bidding fell off at £90,000. She offered 95 and her offer almost fell under the hammer but someone took it up to 100.
Magdeleine ended up getting her prize for £135,000 with mixed feelings. Some irritation, for it was considerably more than she had intended to spend, but her most dominant feeling was one of relief, for she felt as if she had regained something that actually belonged to her.
Afterwards, as her card was being swiped and the shipping arrangements were being made, the one who had competed with her to the very last accosted her.
“You’re determined to get what you want, I’ll give you that!”
Magdeleine glanced at him: trim beard, dark eyes brimming arrogance. She flashed him a brief acknowledgement and turned to busy herself with the transaction at hand.
“Oh, come now! No need for that,” he purred. “The prize is yours and I shan’t try to steal it from you! I merely wondered if I may come around to … see it sometime. Is it to become part of some private collection? I … thought it to be a tremendous work and would be quite sad to not get a chance to see it again …”
His enunciation was affected by the slightest of accents, one that she could not readily identify. His voice was cultured and elegant, as impressive as the Zegna suit he wore.
“Yes … yes, of course,” she fumbled. “Here is my card. Perhaps you can call in a month or so…”
“My name is Giuliano Gagliardi,” he said as he offered his hand.
Well, that explains both the accent and the suit, she thought.
His palm was warm and she felt hers to be cold in comparison. He held onto her hand for a fraction longer than necessary and she felt slightly taken aback by his audacity.
She murmured her own name and reclaimed her hand rather clumsily before turning back to the business at hand and dismissing him from her awareness.

-oOo-

That same evening Magdeleine caught herself wandering through the penthouse, searching for an appropriate home for her new acquisition. Another challenge made itself evident as soon as she thought about it: how was she going to get it in? The double doors were wide enough, but there was no way it could be brought up through the building. The lifts were not nearly big enough and the stairwell was completely out of the question.
She sighed. Clearly it was not going to happen at all without further and considerable expense; for the only way would have to be through the roof and that meant that the statue would have to be air-lifted in.
The thought made her smile as she visualised the beautiful stone angel flying over the city against an evening sky. The thought was appealing.
She tried to imagine him dominating the dining room, from the top landing between the double staircases – what better way to give her father indigestion when he invited himself around for his monthly dinner? Yet that was not where she would place him.
She already knew exactly where he belonged.

-oOo-

It was a heck of an operation that started early one winter morning and was not completed until near sunset. The helicopter lowered the angel onto the high-rise’s roof and a team of workmen prepared a mobile scaffold to lower him down to the east-facing window-wall of her bedroom. The entire wall then had to be carefully removed before the statue could be eased inside.
She had the workers position him in the corner of the sandstone walls, between the obsidian pillars. Here she imagined he might be able to spread his wings into full majestic span, should the desire to do so ever come over him.
When she lit the bedroom floor, the eerie glow gave him an otherworldly appearance and she marked with some satisfaction the palpable discomfort of the workmen.
Nathaniel dominated the sunken bedroom like a god.
She smiled.
Nathaniel. Even his name had emerged so effortlessly.

-oOo-

She became fond of touching Nathaniel whenever she passed him. She would brush his wings with her fingertips, and once, after a fight with her father, she leaned for a long moment against his chest. Occasionally she would stroke the tiny stone tear on his cheek.
She found herself talking to him, asking him why he looked so sad, or what it was that he held in that fist that he clenched so tightly over his heart.
Then she began to seek his counsel on various other matters, particularly those concerning her dreams which had become inexplicable since his arrival.
She would turn towards him upon waking and tell him what she remembered.
He never seemed to tire of this ritual.

-oOo-

Her father did not approve, of course, but that was no surprise at all. He had never approved of any of the few men who had befriended her since she had come of age – since he had enshrined her at the top of his high-rise fortress.
It seemed that now his over-protectiveness had extended to include men of stone.
“How much did it cost me?” was his reaction when she ushered him into the bedroom to introduce Nathaniel – as if he didn’t already know. Magdeleine replied with a figure almost triple what she had actually spent, in an attempt to evoke an honest response from him. He did not even blink at the preposterous figure.
He turned from Nathaniel dismissively and made his way back to the dining table.
Magdeleine’s father was not interested in art. He had channelled all of his own considerable creativity into building a financial empire whose magnitude was measured in the billions.
He had sacrificed everything at the altar of power. His heart, his soul and then even his wife Eloise, who had died of grief when Magdeleine was still a child.
Oh she knew full well that everything he did came from his own twisted notion of what it meant to love. Safety and security were the only paradigms he understood and he showered these onto his beloved child as if there was nought else of value in the whole world that he could give her.
As luck would have it, and as it often happened, he received a call and left in haste. She did not mind at all but sometimes wondered if he arranged for these calls to cut short their time together.
He kissed her cheek, gave her a long, searching look and left, promising to revisit her on the first Sunday of the following month.
She could hardly wait.

-oOo-

That night Magdeleine dreamt again, but this dream was markedly different from the others.
It was a beautiful and peaceful dream, set in a cavern filled with shimmering crystals and soft velvet darkness. The vault’s ceiling was encrusted with thousands of fireflies and their cool glow was reflected in the placid pools that adorned the cave’s floor.
It was such a peaceful place and she was completely at home there, unlike how she felt in her father’s tower of steel and glass.
She trod carefully amidst the pools, brushing her fingernails across rows of stalactites that chimed like bells in response to her touch.
This was her home, a place that she remembered with her entire being. She felt it deeply, a knowing that stirred far beyond the reach of her thinking mind.
How long had she been away? How did she ever lose her way?
These thoughts alighted onto her awareness as she slept, and quite suddenly she recognised what was happening.
I’m awake and asleep at the same time! How…?
She had awoken within her dream. And from this expanded awareness she perceived what she normally considered her waking reality as if it were the dream. It was almost like opening one’s eyes while they were already open.
In awe she peered around the suddenly vivid dreamscape and, almost immediately, she saw him.
Nathaniel.
In the dream-become-real Magdeleine froze.
He stood amidst the deeper shadows near the entrance and peered in. She saw him and knew that he could not see her, that he was blind to the subtle nuances of form that she was able to perceive so easily in this perfect darkness.
Yet in this dream she did not see him as a thing of beauty, nor as a gift sent for her to welcome and to explore.
She saw him instead as an intruder, a thief who had stolen into her world with ill intent: to do harm, to hurt or to destroy.

-oOo-

She awoke with a gasp, tears in her eyes.
She sat bolt upright in her bed.
She could not recall the dream’s ending. All that she bore back into wakeful consciousness was a weight of grief and sorrow, a certainty that she had erred, and the knowledge that once too often she had yielded to the fear of the nameless.
She lit the floor and looked at him.
“I am so sorry,’ she whispered, and feared herself mad for speaking these words, yet knew they had to be spoken.
“I did not know what was in your heart, Nathaniel, or else I would have welcomed you. I saw your blindness, and feared what it meant.”
She climbed from her bed and approached him. He stood frozen, petrified. So beautiful, and so very sad.
She had to do something, but what?
There was nothing she could do.
So she stood on the tips of her toes and brushed his lips of stone with her lips of flesh.

-oOo-

When next she woke it was light and the phone was ringing.
She stretched in a tangle of silken sheets and reached for the phone.
“Yes?”
She spoke with her eyes closed, reluctant to shatter the sensation of being only half awake.
“Magdeleine?”
She didn’t recognise the voice, but it was male, and had an edge to it.
“This is Giuliano Gagliardi, remember me? I’m the one who bid against you at that private auction back in June, remember?”
At his use of the word `remember’ she did remember, and was instantly awake and reliving each and every moment of her haunting dream. Her heartbeat rose into her throat and a perilous fear wrestled with her voice of reason.
“Hello? Are you still there?” Giuliano’s voice sounded concerned.
She anchored onto his voice in a mindless attempt to escape the haunting remnants of the dream; his words were tangible and reassuring.
“Yes, yes, of course … I remember you.” She didn’t know what to say to him. “Are … are you calling about the sculpture?”
“Yes…” he laughed a little self-consciously. “I am so glad you remember. I didn’t want to impose in any way, but I would very much like to call around and see it sometime, at your convenience, of course. Have you had it installed yet?”
“Yes, yes, he’s been in place for a while now,” she said, and turned to look at Nathaniel.
Her eyes widened in a mixture of surprise, alarm and dismay.
“Oh, good. Great, so when would be a good time for a visit?”
She did not answer him.
She was staring at Nathaniel.
“Hello?”
She let the phone fall away from her ear.
It was Nathaniel’s hand, the one clenched into a fist over his heart. It was no longer a fist. The fingers had eased their grip and though still closed, they now looked relaxed. The hand had flexed forward at the wrist as if he was holding something delicate at the level of his heart.
The tiny speaker in the phone continued to squawk.
Magdeleine looked at Nathaniel’s face but found no change there. The rest of him was just as he always had been.
Suddenly she was gripped by a freezing cold.
She pulled the sheets right up to her chin.
“Magdeleine? Are you still there? Hello?” the voice squawked.
“Yes, I’m right here,” she blurted out.
“Are you okay…? I was just asking when would be a…”
“How about now?” she said before he could finish his sentence.
There was a significant pause at the other end.
“Now?”
“Yes, now,” she repeated. “I’m … I’ll be going out later, so it’s either now or who knows when.”
Again he hesitated but then agreed.
“Okay, so now will be in approximately fifty minutes, is that alright?”
She told him it was and hung up quickly, before he could say anything else, before she changed her mind.
She got up, sheet draped protectively around her. She stared at Nathaniel fearfully as she made her way towards the ensuite, giving him as wide a berth as possible.
As she showered she felt that she was being stripped of reason, that it was being washed down the drain with the swirling soapy water around her feet. She turned the hot water off and withstood the gelid blast that followed, praying that it would restore her sanity.
Afterwards she dressed and crept back into the bedroom as though she expected to find an intruder waiting for her there.
Nathaniel had not moved and she sighed out the fearful breath she had been holding. As she circled him she tried to will him into being once more as he had been – with a fist pressed against his chest.
But it was not to be.
Nathaniel’s hand remained exactly as she had last seen it.

-oOo-

She did not return to the bedroom after that, but paced the length and breadth of the penthouse, hugging herself, unable to dispel the cold that had seized her, and waited for Giuliano to arrive.
She wished he would hurry up and hoped he had not changed his mind.

-oOo-

He was wearing a bone cotton jacket over a silk sweater the colour of dried blood. He was also wearing a formidable grin; the kind a diplomat about to deliver a veiled threat might choose to wear. He sat on the ottoman as if he belonged in her house.
Despite her obvious relief at having someone besides Nathaniel in her home, she was already questioning the wisdom of having agreed to this meeting. And yet she had been talking virtually without pause from the moment she had opened the door, nervously chattering about Nathaniel, about her dad, about her confused feelings regarding the statue’s presence, and yes, even about her dream last night.
The only thing she steered well clear of mentioning was the insanity of discovering that the statue had moved. Oh no, to talk about that felt too much like an invitation for men in white lab coats to come and whisk her away. Besides, she wanted to see if Giuliano would notice anything all on his own.
“It sounds like the statue has been … how to say, haunting you since you brought it here.”
His interest seemed genuine, but she doubted that it was. She laughed a brittle laugh.
“I know what it sounds like,” she explained. “It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?” She cringed. She knew exactly what she sounded like: on the very edge of hysteria. She was breathing too fast, but could not make herself slow down. Her heart was hammering inside her chest.
What on earth is happening to me?
“But you know, in some ways the dream seemed to tie things up; I had this really strange and scary feeling that the statue and I are …”
She hesitated; she was treading on thin ice and didn’t really want to frighten him away, not right now. She didn’t want to be left alone with a moving statue.
“That the statue and you are … what?” he asked, head tilted to one side.
Oh to hell with it!
“Connected,” she spat out defiantly. Then she shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe it’s a past life thing…”
Oh well done! She scolded herself. Now he knows you’re completely gone with the fairies.
Giuliano was nodding thoughtfully.
“Can I see it?” he asked after a moment.
She nodded, stood and led him to the bedroom.
The bed was still an unmade mess. She walked to the far side of the room near the windows and watched Nathaniel from there.
Giuliano glanced at her once, hard and speculative, and then proceeded to circle around Nathaniel a few times, in complete silence.
She watched them; now one, now the other, the man and the angel.
Giuliano took in the whole room.
“Very nice,” he said politely, and pensively ran his fingertips down the smooth side of one pillar. “And very dramatic,” he continued. “I can see why you wanted to place the statue here, because the effect is truly remarkable.”
He smiled ingratiatingly. Clearly he had only one smile in his repertoire.
“But might I suggest that you have it moved somewhere, ah … a little less disturbing.”
He extended his arms and raised his hands, palms up, to show that the solution to her problem was really very simple, self-evident in fact.
“I mean, no wonder you have nightmares!”
Magdeleine’s reaction was instant.
“He doesn’t disturb me,” she lied.
Giuliano looked at her with a frown, and then shook his head. He circled Nathaniel twice more, like a predator defending his territory against a larger threat. Circling but not getting any closer.
As she watched him standing there, next to Nathaniel, she suddenly knew that she had made a mistake. She should never have invited him up, should never have let him in.
And the worst thing was that he had not noticed any change in Nathaniel. She had so hoped that he would, for that would have been proof that she was not psychotic, that something else was happening here.
Suddenly she felt exhausted. She covered her face with her hands.
“Magdeleine…”
His voice sounded kind, but she could not look up at him. Tears leaked through her fingers and her chest heaved as she began to sob.
A moment later he had her in his arms. He stroked her head and attempted to pacify her.
She felt him kissing her hands and wished with her whole being that things were other than they were. Nevertheless she did not push him away, but allowed him to comfort her even when his comfort grew into something else, something she didn’t want. It occurred to her that she should really stop him right now, before things went too far, but she seemed unable to summon up the will to resist.
He pried her hands away from her face and then gently pushed her down onto the bed. His hand slid down to her breasts, and his lips were just about to claim hers when a sound filled the room.
It sounded like the growl of a grizzly bear or the roar of a dragon.
Giuliano’s hands froze. His mouth quivered. He looked at her with eyes grown suddenly huge, all seduction gone.
“Ma cosa é questo…?” he whispered, and a moment later, “what the hell was that?”
His voice was so soft that she almost could not hear him.
His face was ashen, drained of blood.
He stood up very slowly, and looked about the room like a trapped animal. Struggling for breath, he looked at Nathaniel, then back at Magdeleine.
Magdeleine smiled.
He had heard it! She could have laughed out loud. She was not going insane. She was about to thank him, but Giuliano spun on his heels and fled from the room.
She heard the front door slam shut.

-oOo-

“I’m not scared of you anymore,” she admitted to him later that evening, as she made ready for bed. She stood before him, completely naked, and touched his hand, the one still poised over his heart. “I think you have my best interest at heart.”
She laughed with delight. At heart? What a joke … she had ended up trusting herself to an angel with a heart of stone.
“Nathaniel Stoneheart,” she whispered. Never had she felt as vulnerable before any man of flesh and bone. The sadness returned.
“Ward and protect me,” she whispered, and for the second time her lips met with the granite of his.

-oOo-

In the middle of the night, the small ring fell from his hand and bounced on the floor with a tinkle like a small silver bell.
It was the first sound he had heard in a long, long time.
Much later his eyelids quivered briefly and then he saw.
He looked about him with awe and wonder.
He was in a magical place … a palace … a temple. There were pillars of black marble and the floor glowed with power and with magic. A vast window showed him that this temple was set high upon a mountain top overlooking a jewel-encrusted vale. A myriad lights dazzled his senses.
The stars have fallen, he realised. This must be Heaven.
And before him, on a bed shaped like an altar, lay a goddess, fast asleep on fine sheets of cerulean and of gold.
She was incomparably beautiful. He looked at her with great joy, and a new wonder erupted in his heart of stone.
And he remembered. For reasons he did not understand, everything had changed; he was no longer beneath the earth and she was not the same as she had been … and yet it was her. She was the same being, the one he had sought.
No matter, understanding was not important. Knowing was. The knowing that pulsed within his heart.
He descended from the dais, hesitating only to retrieve the ring from where it had fallen. He then knelt beside her, stroked her hair with fingers that trailed like feathers.
I never meant you any harm, he told her, and she stirred a little in her sleep. He slipped the ring onto her finger for it had always been hers, not his.
He then lay down on the bed, alongside her, and covered her with the protective warmth of his great white wing.

Keys of Awakening is here!

Keys of Awakening is here!

- - - - - And now available for purchase - - - - -

KEYS OF AWAKENING HAS BEEN PUBLISHED!

Posted 20 September 2015

Well, it's finally done!
The second volume in Destiny of Fire is out.

I've started to deliver and post out all the books to those of you who have so generously supported me in the Pozible crowd-funding venture.

If you haven't received your copy yet, you will soon enough.

I hope you enjoy the book and will give me some feedback - I've put a lot of love and energy into it.
May it reach and inspire every one of you.

And once again: thank you.