I. They stay around Mrs Jenkins' house for a while, Helena getting better.
[discussion of war techniques]
i. Helena lays about the house, trying to heal, reading old gothic novels, and getting terribly bored.
ii. Helena gets out of bed and begins to look into her environment. Helena has a talk with Mrs. Jenkins.
"do you play cribbage?"
Helena was forced to remain in bed and rest for the next few days. She had, in Yuvon's terms, "slammed into the Wall," or finally reached the limits of her physical endurance.
The first morning, after her breakfast tray had been cleared away, Helena found she had just enough strength to make it to the outhouse and back on her own. While it might not have seemed like much to anyone else, it shored up her eroding sense of independence.
Helena grudgingly admitted to herself, as she struggled to crawl back into bed, that a rest wouldn't be a bad idea for her. It was, after all, what she would have prescribed for someone else in the same situation.
And, she added ironically, it wasn't as if she could do a great deal about it.
Leaning back in her pile of pillows, Helena began to take a clear stock of the room she was in. It was clean and somewhat spartan, like the rest of the house. Mrs. Jenkins' decor was in stark contrast to the baroque bedlam that made up the ambience that Helena usually inhabited.
Next to the bed stood a small table and a wooden chest. There was a tall armoire across the room from her bed, and a few feet from it a small writing desk sat. Between them, a bow window opened up into the yard. Helena could see the top of the barn across the yard.
Helena could see a small row of books on a shelf over the desk. With and enormous effort she crawled out of bed, and went over to examine the books. They were all novels. Vathek, the Castle of Ontronto, and Wuthering Heights seemed to top the list. Helena carried them back to the bed with her, and settled in for a long rest.
Yuvon did not spend much time with Helena during her time of rest, and to be honest, she preferred that. He was really making her feel uncomfortable, although she wasn't sure why. Mrs. Jenkins spent some time with her in the evening, particularly after discovering that Helena could play cribbage, but during the majority of the day, Helena was alone.
By Thursday morning, Helena was actually feeling up to getting up and moving about for extended periods. She had polished off a number of novels during her two days of solid bed rest, and she was getting seriously bored.
"Sooner or later, when you are under stress or in danger, you become aware of every mistake you've ever made. That's what they really mean by having your life 'pass before your eyes.' If it doesn't happen, then you really aren't taking whatever it is seriously enough. You will think about these things, if you have the time."
When a man and woman live with danger, life takes on new urgency.
"Good Morning, Mrs Jenkins."
"Why Helena, good morning. Do please come in, I've made some tea. Would you care for some?"
"Yes please, ma'am. Thank you." Helena came into the kitchen proper, and sat down.
"And how are you feeling this morning?"
"I'm not certain. I suspect that this rest has done me a world of good."
"But there is something else?"
"I don't know." Helena paused, thinking.
"Helena, my dear. It is obvious that you are troubled by something. I would like to help you."
Helena had a flash of memory of her Aunt Melissa wanting to help her when she was troubled. Mrs. Jenkins had much of the same maternal quality as had Aunt Melissa.
"Would you be more comfortable if you were to smoke?" Mrs Jenkins asked as she poured a cup of tea for Helena.
"I beg your pardon?" Helena was jolted from her memories.
"Helena, my dear, I may be an old woman, but my nose still works as well as it ever has. I have been smelling the smoke from your room since your arrival. I know that my husband used to smoke to help him think. I don't know if it is the same for you."
"I guess it boils down to the fact that I don't understand Yuvon."
"Helena my dear, women today are taught all the wrong things about men. We are encouraged from birth to see our men as infallible, to adore them, to serve and to defer to them, all because they are wiser than we, superior to we. We love our husbands ‑‑ even before we meet them. We are taught to see the man in our lives as a shining knight, a hero of romance, someone who borders on the divine.
"Then we discover that they are not the paragons of divinity that we had imagined them to be. These heroes have feet of clay. They are human, and we blame them for that failure to live up to the standards that we have set for them. Then we throw ourselves into the lives that the Lord has sent us; the church, our homes, our children. I have often suspected that women feel so strongly toward religion, because it may well be the first relationship in our lives wherein we are accepted for ourselves."
"It isn't their faults then?"
"What, who? Oh, Men? No of course not, not any more than we are to blame. It is simply that men are human, and being human, are totally unaware of these expectations. And this is why they fail, and shatter our illusions."
"If this is the case, why don't we teach our children the truth."
"I don't know why we don't. Perhaps it is because that in order to teach a truth, one must first recognize that truth. Or perhaps it is because we waste so much time trying to teach our children to succeed where we failed. Just as our parents did for us. And so we continue on the same terrible path."
"And men are unaware of these expectations?"
"I am not certain. I have often wondered if they might not know in some deep, dark portion of their being, and they have structured their masculine personae in an attempt to achieve what we expect from them."
"Masculine personae?" Helena thought she knew what Mrs. Jenkins meant, but she wasn't sure.
"Men are taught to be straight forward and aggressive, while conversely women are trained to be meek and deferential."
Helena smiled a little bitterly. "So men are taught to be bull headed and brutal, while women are forced to become sneaky manipulators and backstabbers."
Mrs. Jenkins stared at her for a moment, then said, "Of course it isn't true for all women, just as it isn't for all men. But I won't dispute that it might seem to be the rule."
"So, then, who's to blame?"
"I don't know why anyone should be to blame, my dear." she paused. "But if I were forced to select someone to be at fault, then I might suggest the troubadours of ancient France."
"All that twaddle about romantic love. It has built up unreasonable expectations in the minds of generations of people."
"I don't know about that." Helena said softly. "I suspect that I would be more inclined to blame the men."
"Because men are absolutely unconcerned with our problems. They can neither understand no appreciate our concerns. And what men don't understand, they either denigrate or restrict."
"Thank God that women don't do these things." Mrs. Jenkins said dryly. "Women may be conniving backstabbers, but they are some much more understanding."
"Exactly so. Women are by their nature gentler, more compassionate than men. Men aren't very bright, and they are always acting, posturing, trying to prove how tough they are."
"You see," Mrs. Jenkins said smiling, "You do understand the masculine persona. And , I must admit, I do so hate it when they act so superior."
"You have a choice. You can either prescribe to the dictates of society, or you may strike out on your own. Each has its own benefits and its own drawbacks."
"And if I choose to remain with society?"
"That is perfectly fine. However, you shouldn't complain about the mold into which society then fits you."
Helena sat, frustrated. "It's unfair that we have to make these decisions."
"It's also unfair that in Cribbage, you can't peg as many points as you would like to, but those are the rules."
"Cribbage is a game. I thought we were discussing real life."
"And who says that life isn't a game? Would you like some more tea?"
"Thank you." Helena stares at her cup as Mrs Jenkins slid it across the table and filled it from the porcelain tea pot. The pot was covered in an array of fine cracks, which had darkened, colored as the pot aged, leaving a beautiful network display. She received her cup back, and looked up.
"So, what if I were to pick and choose?"
"Meaning?" Mrs. Jenkins looked momentarily confused. "Oh, you mean if you should try to live with society as well as try to do what you want to do with your life as well? Many people try to do that very thing. But few people it seems have the desire, the willingness or commitment to themselves to abandon the stability of society for something that may be greater."
"So then I should marry, have children and do what society dictates to me?"
"It is your decision. I can't tell you what you should, or shouldn't do."
"What about you? You are here living all alone, away from society. You seem to have control over your own destiny."
"Well it is true that I have done what I've wanted for the most part. But I had my husband and children first. Only after they were gone was I free to live my own life. But it's terribly lonely. And moreover, what has been right for me, mightn't be the right thing for you."
"Helena, may I ask you a question?"
"I suppose so."
"Why don't you like your fellow women?"
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"I have been listening to you. You do not seem to like your fellow women very much."
Helena shrugged. "I like you."
"Thank you, I like you as well. But therein, I suspect lies part of the key. If I may be allowed to speculate, I suspect that you dislike your own gender because you can not compete with them."
"Compete with them for the attentions of men."
"But what about you?"
"I am an old woman, and therefore no competition."
Helena raised an eyebrow at Mrs. Jenkins.
"If I may continue my speculation, your greatest problem my dear is that you don't seem to consider yourself worthy of either the love of a man, or that of God."
Helena bristled. "Pardon me, but I am not at all certain that it is appropriate for you to say these things to me."
"As you wish. I apologize if I have offered offense."
"That's all right." Helena stopped for a moment. "What do you mean I don't feel worthy of God's love?"
"I suspect that deep down in your soul you believe that any man or god who could love such a woman as yourself must have something wrong with them. In your not forgiving yourself for whatever past sins that you may have committed, you deny yourself the forgiveness that could come from a man, or would come from God."
"But isn't the Lord omnipotent? Can't he forgive men and make me feel forgiven without my doing anything about it?"
"Of course he could, my dear. But that isn't the way these things work. Remember that the point of the universe isn't that God makes us perform tricks like circus animals, and do things his way. The point is that we live the life He wants us to live because we realize that it is the best thing for us. That is the point of Free Will."
Helena frowned as she recalled her conversation with Doc Holliday on much the same subject.
Mrs. Jenkins continued. "You must remember that His ways aren't our ways. In order that you discover the ability to feel God's love, you must work toward it. And you must sacrifice your own self hatreds first."
"Because the Lord demands it?"
"No, no, my dear. Because ... well, perhaps it would be better if I were to offer an analogy. Before you can become a physician you must study, No? Before you can understand how the body works, you must first learn all the myriad parts that make up the body and understand how they interrelate."
"I know, be fore you can learn to run, you must first learn to crawl then to walk."
"Exactly so. And before you can learn to understand God's love, you must first love yourself."
"Why did God make this so hard. I assume that he wants everyone to learn this, doesn't he?"
"I believe that it is because a gift is meaningless, if one doesn't appreciate it. If there is to be free will, you must have the chance to fail."
"People find complex paths to the Lord in the scriptures because they can not seem to accept that it is so simple. They seem to feel that if the Lord designed the process, it must me complicated and somehow 'transcendental.' It really isn't so hard. Love yourself, love your fellow man, and accept that God loves you no matter how flawed you might be. Then you should try to correct those flaws within you. Not because the Lord wants you to, but because it is the correct thing to do. A wise woman once wrote 'Lord if I worship you out of love for Heaven, exclude me from Heaven; if from fear of Hell, send me to Hell."
"Are you always this preachy?"
"Not usually, no. But I feel very strongly about this. Perhaps we should talk about something else."
"Life is a gift that must be used and celebrated."
**Helena was pulled from a deep sleep by a horrible shriek, too high pitched for it to have been entirely human, tearing through the house.
She crawls out of bed, and pulls her pistol from her luggage. She prepared to load it, and discovers that his has been cleaned and reloaded since the fight in the barn. She suspects that Yuvon has been being nice to her. She slips out of the room, to investigate what made the noise.
The house is absolutely silent and still, not even the wind making any noise outside. The hallway and stairs are barely illuminated by light from outside (new moon). She carefully makes her way through the house, The spartan decor and Mrs. Jenkins almost religious fervor at putting things away in their proper place, keeps Helena from banging into things.
She finds her way into the kitchen. There she sees a glowing red light pouring out from behind the door to the cellar. It occurs to her that she hadn't noticed this door before. It also occurs to her that if, as it appears, the cellar is aflame, whipping the door open might not be the brightest thing that she could do. She tests the temperature of the door with the palm of her hand, only realizing, while feeling the cool wood, why this wasn't very smart. She could have seared the flesh off her palm had the door been hot. Deciding that the building isn't on fire, she opens the door.
The light is being caused by something going on in the cellar, just out of sight of the door. She slowly descends. She stops when she sees what is happening. She cant believe this, is it a dream or what?
The light is coming from a glowing pillar of ice in the center of the room. There are lines inscribed on the floor and in a number of places these lines are interrupted by large (in excess of five feet tall) thick candles on very short (about a foot), but richly decorated ball-and-claw cast-iron stands. On one side of the pillar sits a large stone block, covered in a richly embroidered heavy black cloth. Atop the stone are a pair of candles, of a more usual size, a chalice and plate (pyx?), and unsheathed sword. The elderly Mrs. Jenkins is standing opposite the stone before the glittering ice. She is dress in a light grey woolen robe and holds a long wooden staff. There is a thing in the ice, struggling to get out. She is chanting, and it is Helena's impression that she is trying to push it back.
In shock, Helena stumbles on the stair, but catches herself before she can fall. The noise is momentary, but sufficient to forward the plot. The noise distracts Mrs. Jenkins. She glances at Helena. The ice erupts into glowing shards of light, knocking Mrs. Jenkins down. The room is filled with the stench of things dead and left unburied.
Although the creature is huge, much larger than a man, Helena can not see it clearly. It seems to resemble a four armed gorilla, and she receives a firm impression of thousands of sharp teeth, and of claws tipped with numerous scythes-like talons.
Helena empties her pistol at the thing, a tight grouping in the center of its body. It seems to jerk a bit, but beyond this simple transference of kinetic energy, they have no effect on the thing.
The thing turns to Mrs. Jenkins, ignoring Helena. Helena rushes to the stone and grabs the sword. It is heavy, but not so heavy that she can't use it. She swings it at the monster. Sparks of living energy erupt from the impact, it feels to her like she had just struck a boulder with an axe. The thing snarls and whips around to face Helena. She bats at it with the sword, but after all, she really has little idea how to use it effectively. It is too heavy for her to use it as she's seen sabres used.
Her playing with the thing allows Mrs. Jenkins a moment to get back to her feet. It finally reaches Helena, knocking her to the ground. She is too stunned to defend herself, and feels that total helplessness. But she refuses to grovel, or whimper.
The creature is enveloped by a fist of lightning stretching back to the staff the Mrs. Jenkins is holding in her left hand. The staff is jammed into the dirt floor, as if to brace it. The old woman is chanting and making obscure gestures with her right hand.
After a tense moment, the thing screams another of those painful, inhuman screams, and bounds back toward where the pillar of light had stood. With another word from Mrs. Jenkins, the pillar reforms around the thing. Helena watches in a stunned
silence while Mrs. Jenkins returns to her chanting. After a short while, the pillar and its occupant fade away. The room is now only lit by the candles on the floor and on the stone block.
Mrs Jenkins comes over to Helena and kneels over her.
"It was a close thing. The creature almost found its way through, then it would have been impossible to contain."
"What was it?"
"Just a nightmare, my dear." Mrs. Jenkins touches Helena on the forehead, and the world disappears.
* * * * * *
Helena wakes up. It must have been a dream, but it seemed so real. She checks her pistol. It needs to be cleaned and reloaded. Of course she expected to need to reload it when she picked it up in her 'dream'. She dresses and heads downstairs for breakfast.
There is no cellar door in the kitchen.