.CHAPTER THREE--A haunted painting

A single door at the west end of the Music room opened to a very different chamber about five feet square and crafted with old, rough stonework instead of attractive plastered walls and ceilings. A door before her was typical of the other portals: White, carved in a Baroque style, with a golden doorknob in the shape of a dragon. To her left, a stone wall sloped at a forty-five degree angle rather than standing perpendicular. Inset was a wide old door of iron with a large keyhole, and there was little question that beyond it lay a stairway leading down into the bowels of the Inn.

Doremi’s curiosity got the better of her--locked doors and objects had a habit of doing that--and she whistled softly, varying in tone and volume as the sound from her voice manipulated the tumblers in the lock as each clicked into place, and the door unlocked. Then she pulled the door open with a creak, laid it against the wall, and peered down.

Sure enough, an old set of rough stairs led to a chamber below that was lit by some sort of a light spell. Carefully, the Bard ventured down, making certain to keep her balance on the slippery steps, until she emerged into a large vault some eighty feet square. Enchanted wall sconces illumined the chamber in a bright yellow light, revealing it to be some sort of storage room. Everywhere she looked were piles of dusty books, tarps covering crates and furniture, old chests, and a conglomeration of junk and useful items.

A chair stood before a desk piled high with books and papers, and she leaned forward to see what some of them were. A gray-covered ledger immediately caught her eye, for its cover was engraved with an “AG” in the style of the symbol for the Adventurers Guild, to which she and many other treasure hunters in Islay belonged.

Raven had started the Guild years before, and there were several offshoots throughout Islay, one of which was in Avalon City. The Adventurers Guild--which had no ties to the Guild of Business & Commerce--was a very useful tool in helping treasure hunters of various sorts find people of similar interests and ethics to link up with in quest of gold or adventure, for there was plenty of both to be had in Islay, depending on where one wished to go, and how much danger he wished to face. Doremi herself had been a member for several years and made a number of close friends through the Guild. Each city with n branch had a large complex where everyone, regardless of background or ethics, were welcome to come and fellowship so long as they respected the rights of others. Within a Guild house were a large tavern and fellowship hall, allowing for a festive atmosphere to boast, make new friends, or pick up leads on potential treasure caches. Additionally, each offered tutors to help train young Adventurers in the arts of fighting, lock-picking or other skills useful in the treasure hunting trade. In all, the Adventurers Guild was one of the most useful things in Islay so far as the Bard was concerned.

Doremi flipped open the ledger and realized it was a registry of members from the Avalon office, arranged alphabetically. Next to a name was the person’s country of origin, and next to that were notations of any unique skills or facts that might be helpful for any potential comrades to know.

Out of curiosity, she turned to the front pages of the ledger searching for those whose last name started with a B, and sure enough, there was her listing:

Bender, Doremi (F/H), Country of origin: Avalon. Notes: 20-30. Highly skilled Bard. Loves children & animals. Can read hieroglyphs. Helped find Dellenthar’s Mandolin and Myfyr’s cudgel. Only adventures with people of good character.

Doremi chuckled to herself, for she remembered the day she joined up with the Guild. The man at the Registry Desk had asked her to describe any facts about her she wished noted, and that was precisely what she’d answered.

He had faithfully recorded it, and the information had made its way back to Freeport.

This was apparently how Raven ‘kept her eye on talented young women,’ noted the Bard.

Closing the ledger, she took another look around the room. Across from her, two huge iron doors sealed off another chamber. A huge glowing lock secured them, and Doremi suspected it would not open by a mere spell-song. It also, she felt, would be going way beyond the bounds of acceptable curiosity to attempt to penetrate those doors without permission.

Next to the doors was a bookshelf stuffed full of countless scrolls. This drew her like a magnet, and she pulled one out to see what it was. It was a scroll to create a teleportal, allowing the user to open an enchanted gate to travel from one place to another. She replaced it and grabbed another, discovering it was the same as the first. Likewise, most of the others were teleportal scrolls. The only difference was that a few of them were scrolls of the spell permanize, which would make some magical effects last forever. An unusual combination, she noted, since teleportals could not be made permanent.

Curious about some of the other items in the chamber, she stepped over to an old dusty canvas tarp and lifted it to see what lay beneath.

Oh, paintings, she exclaimed to herself!

Sure enough, several large portraits were stacked beneath the tarp. The first was of someone truly imposing in stature. He resembled a hairy ogre more than a man, and sported a thick black beard and long hair, both of which were braided.

She wouldn’t want to meet that fellow at night in a dark alley--that was for sure!

The next painting was a good two feet larger than the first, and far less intimidating. Fully five feet tall in a huge carved oaken frame with a carved crown atop it, the painting showed what looked very much like a Torrencian Noble leaning upon a table in a position of authority with the head of a scarlet-haired woman showing just behind him. The woman, Doremi observed, sported a beautiful necklace of gold and emeralds, while he was clothed in a coat of red velvet with thick cuffs studded with large golden buttons and brocade. A plaque of gold at the bottom of the frame caught her attention, and she stepped to the side, kneeling down to read it.

Lord Captain Andrew Lightfoot--1st Lord of the Captaincy

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “These must be portraits of the original pirates!”

She stood back up and looked the man over once again. So you were Captain Barton, she thought to herself. They were right--you did have a set of locks on you!

Indeed, the man’s long drape of thick black hair curled halfway down his back in near perfect ringlets would be the envy of almost any woman including herself, and made the perfect match to his waxed mustache. She chuckled to herself as she noticed there was a slit in the canvas in the center of the man’s head about the size that would be made by someone’s having nailed the painting with a dagger.

After Lightfoot’s painting was that of the woman who stood next to him in his own portrait. Arrayed in a flowing black cloak and green gown that contrasted with her fair skin and scarlet hair and lips, she stood upon an outcrop of rock with a sailing ship in the sea behind her, a cutlass strapped to her side. Her plaque read:

Maeve McConaghy--5th Lord of the Captaincy

Yup, Doremi thought looking at her hair, that’s definitely an Avalonian girl.

Maeve’s was the last painting beneath the tarp, and Doremi wiped her hands free from dust as she took another look around. A normal door stood to the east of the chamber, and she made her way over to it. Muffled sounds of speech and laughter came from behind the door, and the Bard paused before the oaken portal.

Apparently, there were some people in there.

She stood there for a moment or two and then decided to return upstairs. But it was then that she heard the sound of growling just on the other side of the door, and before she could even move, it was thrown open and she was face to face with several women, one of whom was holding the studded collar of a vicious-looking bull mastiff that strained to leap forward as it barked at her.

One of the four, at the rear of the group, spoke.

“Who are you? Speak up, or we’ll loose the hound on you!”

The middle-aged woman was dressed in a black hooded robe embroidered with silver filigree work that smartly contrasted with her curly golden hair and peach-like complexion. But her blue eyes burned with a fire of anger.

“I’m sorry,” Doremi exclaimed, near frozen with terror as she fixed her eyes on the snarling dog. “I was just having a look around. I work for Raven.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed even more. “Oh you do, do you?!” she exclaimed in a manner suggesting she absolutely didn’t believe it.

 “I do! I just went to work with her today--I’m going to run the Music Institute.”

“Venivica,” one of the other women spoke, “I did see her sitting with Raven during the Performance tonight.”

Doremi then realized this woman had been one of the two she’d seen in the garden keeping an eye on the crowd.

Hearing that, Venivica paused and relaxed slightly. “You’re Doremi Bender then? The one I left letters for in Avalon?”

Her tone was still hostile, albeit a shade less vitriolic than it had started out.

“I don’t know who left the letter I received, but yes--I’m that Doremi. Now would you call the dog off?!”

Venivica whistled and the dog immediately settled back on its haunches, keeping its eyes fixed on the Bard and growling softly.

“How do I know you’re not really a spy?” Venivica demanded. “The only way to get down here is from Raven’s apartments, and no stranger is allowed in there--and certainly no one is allowed in the Cellars! You have no business being down here.”

“Raven told me to stay in her apartments, and she also told me I had the run of the Inn so I was just having a look around, is all. I’m not a spy for anyone,” Doremi insisted.

But Venivica was still suspicious.

“No one stays in Raven’s apartments. Why would she let you stay there when there are over a thousand rooms here at the Inn for you?”

“Perhaps because the Music Room is next to it?!”

“I’m still not convinced. Perhaps I should kill you to be certain,” Venivica threatened.

“I don’t think Raven would like that very much,” Doremi spat back.

Venivica paused for a moment.

“Soleil--fetch Morgaine,” she finally ordered.

One of the women disappeared behind a door out of the chamber--which Doremi could see was being used as a scriptorium and laboratory. Long wooden tables had been set up, and upon them lay an assortment of parchments, ink, quills and spell components along with some alchemical equipment and spell books. Several small caldrons of iron and brass hung in a fireplace simmering with some sort of alchemical ingredients for use in creating the ink used in writing scrolls and making potions or elixirs, she surmised.

An uneasy calm settled in the chamber and nothing more was said for several minutes until Soleil and Morgaine entered the Scriptorium. Morgaine paused in the doorway and looked over to the knot of people gathered at the other end of the chamber.

“What’s up?” she said.

Venivica looked over to her. “This woman claims Raven has hired her. We found her poking around down in the storage room.”

“Yeah, Raven hired her,” Morgaine answered.

“Well, just what is she doing down here?!” Venivica questioned.

Morgaine looked up and stepped forward. “That’s a good question--what are you doing down here?” she demanded.

Doremi threw up her hands. “I was just looking around. Raven told me I had the run of the Inn, and I was curious what was down here.”

Venivica turned back to the Bard. “Curiosity can be a dangerous trait.”

She then snapped her head back to Morgaine.

“Why wasn’t I told this woman had been hired and might be running around down in the Cellars? I’m in charge of security! I should have been told--especially right now!”

Morgaine crossed her arms. “I am in charge of security for the Inn.”

“Yes,” Venivica admitted, “but you’ve delegated that duty to me. Why didn’t Raven tell me about her?”

Fixing her gaze on Venivica, Morgaine’s head twisted to the right as Raven had a habit of doing.

“She just got here today. Maybe Raven had better things to do than drop everything to run and tell you she’d hired someone to run the Music School!”

“Still, someone should have told me!” Venivica insisted.

“I’m telling you now.”

Venivica threw her hands up in frustration. “This is sloppy, Morgaine.”

Morgaine looked over to Doremi. “Go on back up,” she told her. “And stay out of the Cellars,” she added firmly.

Doremi put her hands out, palms turned toward them. “No problem. I’m sorry for intruding.”

Quickly, she turned away and hurried off.

“Sloppy,” Venivica muttered once again.

Morgaine shrugged. “Oh, don’t worry about it. Hey--anyway, before I go, you guys have to hear this joke Raven made about liking animals....”

As she mounted the steps back up to her room, Doremi could here the faint sound of laughter behind her, so apparently the tension back in the Scriptorium had subsided.

I have to keep in mind this may be just one city and the inside of an inn, she thought to herself, but it’s really its own country and this is like a Queen’s castle. I don’t know what I think of this place, but those women don’t do anything to endear it to me. But then again--I’ve met Royalty before, and I guess they’re no different from the servants who run the dungeons under a castle. I wish there weren’t such things as dungeons in the world, I really do!

Back upstairs, she swung closed the iron door and whistled to lock it once again. She’d be glad for the comfort of a good night’s sleep.

Surprisingly, Raven’s apartments were luxurious, but nowhere near as spacious as one might have thought they’d be. Cozy though, Doremi thought. One of the most interesting features was that the room had its own bathtub against the south wall! Carved and polished from a single massive slab of gold-laced quartz, two spigots in the shape of dragons heads, one silver, the other gold, were set at one end of the tub. It was apparent to that one could sit in the tub facing them and, with a toe, lift up a ring on either spigot, producing a flow of water. Cold water flowed from the silver spigot while--incredibly--hot water ran from the mouth of the gold! Just how they had wrought such a marvel Doremi couldn’t imagine--but it was wonderful! And, after finding a vial of scents, for the next hour she relaxed in a perfumed bath of water as hot as she could stand. It was absolutely the perfect end to a nearly perfect day.

A few feet away, Raven’s canopied bed stood upon a dais of wood with seven steps leading up to it. Its mattress was nice and firm, with a pillow neither too fluffy nor too flat, and Doremi expected altogether to enjoy a relaxing night’s sleep.

Three hours later, she was still tossing and turning, but then she fell asleep--and into a nightmare.

Doremi was at the stern of a large ship that yawed back and forth as it sailed through the gauntlet of a storm-tossed sea. Wind shrieked as the mast groaned under the strain of its huge triangular sail that drove the vessel before the wind, its rigging taught as harp strings. The Bard was soaked to the skin by the spray that covered the deck, almost like a fog, from the force of the waves battering the hull.

Just a few feet in front of her, a hooded figure manned the helm of the ship.

“I’m taking Islay into the Third Age, Doremi,” Raven’s voice shouted above the din of the storm. “And you’ll be here with me to see it. It will be an age of beauty...of art...of science! And I did it--no one else. I did it!”

Suddenly, Doremi was thrown back against the stern bulwark as the bow of the ship climbed up a mountainous wave, then plunged forward into a trough only to begin ascending the next wave. Yet as frightening as this was, now something even more horrible faced them: Each time they crested a wave, Doremi could momentarily glimpse the distant waters of the ocean itself spilling off the lip of a great waterfall.

“Watch, Doremi--it will be an age undreamed of,” Raven continued, apparently oblivious to what lay ahead.

“Raven!” the Bard screamed, grasping a rail. “We’re sailing off the edge of the world! Stop!”

The figure didn’t turn to face her, but Doremi could see a slight movement from beneath the hood, showing that the head had turned slightly toward her direction.

“Just where else do you think we can go, Doremi?” she heard Raven ask.

“For the love of the gods--turn around before it’s too late! Turn a--”

Doremi froze as she turned to look behind the ship, for if the lip of the abyss before them seemed threatening, far more so was the sight behind that greeted her horrified eyes: A storm of titanic proportion followed in the wake of the ship. Huge black clouds rippled with lightning above waves that soared into the sky and bore down on the vessel as it sought in vain to outrun them.

Eyes wide with fear, Doremi backed away from the stern until she bumped into Raven.

“You’ve go to do something!” she screamed over the sound of the hurricane that was nearly upon them.

Doremi turned and reached out to grab the shoulder of the hooded figure. She spun it around --and looked into the terrified eyes of her own face.

“Raven would know what to do,” the figure helplessly whimpered.

Thankfully, the sound of thunder awakened her. A storm, flashing lightning through the windows at the north side of her room, was drenching Freeport with sheets of rain--something that came as no surprise given the fact this was April.

But the storm hadn’t caused the nightmare.

It was the tomatoes--the nightmare had to have come from the tomatoes, thought the Bard.

She was almost afraid to try and go back to sleep, but for an hour she made the attempt. Sleep never came, though.

The dream had been horrible, but that wasn’t what was keeping her awake: It was the painting.

She couldn’t help thinking about it for some reason. But now her thoughts weren’t about how nice it was, but instead she wondered if there were some link between it and the nightmare she just had. Finally, she couldn’t stand it anymore, and rolled out of bed.

Donning a robe over her nightdress, Doremi lit a candle and exited the apartments into the Music Room. It was now mostly dark, the servants having extinguished all but two or three candles, which provided barely enough light to keep one from banging into a floor harp or piano.

Crossing to the waiting room, she found it completely shrouded in darkness. When she had first been here it was morning, and the room had been brightly lit by the sun streaming through the glass doors to the side of the fireplace leading out to a private garden. But now it was night, and the only light came from the feeble flame of the candle she had brought with her.

Standing before the huge portrait she held it up, illuminating Raven’s face.

Just why she was drawn to the portrait, and what secret it might hold, was a mystery.

As she stared into Raven’s face, for a moment she was glad to be inside an inn with hundreds of people, rather than alone in an old house. She almost felt like this room and this painting was haunted, and haunted by something she could feel but could not see…something she could sense--and she knew sensed her as well.

“I don’t know why I’m even here,” she whispered up to the portrait. “What is it about you?”

We’re kindred spirits, you and I, it seemed to whisper back into her mind.

“Well...I don’t know...maybe.”

She stopped herself.

Doremi, you are really losing it, she thought. You’re talking to a painting!

Join me, the painting seemed to say. I will give your life purpose.

“Huh? I have a purpose--it’s to be who I am.”

I can teach you things you can’t possibly imagine. Join me.

“I don’t want to ‘join’ anybody,” Doremi answered. “But I’ll be your friend.”

Something about the tone of the painting seemed to change, and it spoke back to her mind, I can’t let you be my friend, Doremi. Friends can hurt you, and I’m a dangerous person to hurt.

“Well, I won’t hurt you,” she found herself muttering. “I don’t hurt anybody. I only help people.”

My father lied to me, and my sister betrayed me--you’re no better, and no different. Watch--you’ll say the wrong thing, and I’ll kill you. Keep your distance from me. Better yet, run while you can.

“Who’s talking to me? Am I talking to Raven? Or am I just talking to Raven’s portrait?” she asked.

I am Raven, and Raven is I, the portrait answered.

Doremi kept staring into the eyes, so lifeless, yet so alive. For a moment, she fully expected those eyes to turn and look down at her--and if they did, she would die of fright on the spot!

But thankfully, they continued to stare off and away.

“No...that’s not it. You’re lying to me, aren’t you? I don’t know how I know it, but you’re hiding something. But how do I know that? And how come I can talk to you?”

There was no answer, and Doremi’s eyes were drawn past the right side of Raven’s face to look at her left cheek--a side almost completely hidden because it was turned away as she stared off toward the left. Doremi heard no voice, but somehow she perceived something.

“I’m in this painting, aren’t I?!” she suddenly realized.

Immediately, it seemed to answer back.

No you’re not; it’s my portrait!

“You’re lying to me--I am in this painting.”

Doremi moved the candle up and down and left to right, scanning every part of the canvas.

“But where? I don’t see myself. How is that possible? I was a child when this was painted. I’ve never met you before today. I’ve never met the artist before either. Yet I’m in the painting--I know I am!”

Get out! You have no right to be here! I sail alone!

“Alone...yes. You do look lonely.”

I look--distinguished.

Doremi ignored the voice.

“Even so, you’re not alone. I know you’re not alone. At least, you’re not supposed to be.”

I don’t need you or anyone else! I conquered this city without anyone’s help and I’ll conquer Islay as well--with or without you. You can join me, get out of my way, or you can oppose me and die. Everyone in my way dies--even you, Doremi.

Doremi jumped at the painting’s anger. But she refused to look away and pressed on.

“What is the face you don’t let me see?” she suddenly asked.

You wouldn’t like that face, Doremi!

“I don’t like the face you’re showing me now! But that’s the face that wears all the masks, isn’t it? That’s what you mean. The left side of your face--you don’t want me to see that, do you? Why, Raven? What do you hide there? What are you afraid I’ll see?”

Get away!

Doremi again dismissed the voice and forced herself to look only at Raven’s left cheek.

The voice in her head split into a cacophony of curses, threats, and warnings, but Doremi willed herself to ignore them until they became loud but indecipherable. There was another part of Raven in the portrait that could not speak, but she could sense it was there just the same.

“You need my help,” she seemed to know. “But I don’t understand.”

Get away, I said!

The voice was back.

No one opposes me, Doremi--no one! I was waiting ages before you were born for this day, and you’re interfering with me! This is my time, and I’ll not have a foolish little Bard get in my way!

Doremi ignored the threat. “I’m sorry; I don’t understand. But I’ll try to help you,” she found herself telling the side of Raven’s face she couldn’t see.

The painting exploded into rage--a rage so great that Doremi was shocked that the figure in it didn’t come to life and attack her on the spot. It was rage like she’d never seen before--rage and pain so deep it created a firestorm that only blood could quench. The candle blew out in an instant and Doremi felt a fear like she hadn’t experienced since early in her life when she’d encountered a graveyard haunted by a banshee. She dropped the candle to the ground and stumbled in the dark for the doors to the Music room. Gasping for breath, she managed to find a doorknob and open the door, slamming it behind her as she jumped out of the room.

Doremi wouldn’t look at that painting again if she could help it.

A series of knocks on the door Jolted Doremi awake, and her face peered out from underneath the covers.

“Who is it?!” she called out with a start.

“Me!” came a child’s voice from beyond the door.

Stormie, Doremi realized.

“Raven wants you to come have breakfast in the garden!”

Doremi shook her head and propped herself up on one arm. Through the windows she could see the early morning light from the sun chasing away the shadows. Apparently, the storm was over.

“Um, honey, I’m still half asleep,” she called out. “I’ll, uh, be there soon as I can.”

“That’s okay,” Stormie shouted back, “Raven said it would take you at least a hour to get ready. Bye!”

The sound of her tiny feet running off faded away, and Doremi lay back in bed.

An hour, huh? she thought. You automatically assume I’m the kind of girl who needs an hour to get up?

Groggily, she pulled the covers back over her head. Well...in this case you’re right, I guess.

A little over an hour later, Stormie returned and led Doremi out to the garden just off the waiting room. Now dressed for the day in a black skirt and a white blouse with broad cuffs and a cameo, Doremi made it a point not to look at the portrait as she passed right next to it through a set of glass doors.

Outside, Raven was just beginning to enjoy some grapes and a cantaloupe. A similar meal, along with a small loaf of bread, butter and some cheese, had been set for Doremi at their small table near a fountain at the center of the garden. The sun hadn’t risen yet over the eastern side of the central tower whose west wall formed one boundary of the garden so the area was still bathed in shadow. But a beautiful blue sky was their canopy.

It would be a gorgeous day to contrast with the horrible night.

With Doremi safely delivered, Stormie ran off to begin the start of her own day and Doremi took a seat across from Raven.

“Morning,” she muttered, her face still tight from the stress of the previous night..

Raven looked up at her. “You look terrible,” she observed. “Storm keep you awake?”

Doremi shrugged and tentatively plucked a grape to nibble on.

“I had a really bad dream,” she answered quietly.

“Oh. Sorry.”

Raven spooned out a piece of cantaloupe.

“It wasn’t the tomatoes, Doremi,” she added.

Without responding, Doremi broke the bread loaf and spread some butter on it.

 “Perhaps it was all the excitement of yesterday. I hope you won’t see it as a bad omen.” Raven added.

Doremi shrugged. “I’ve had worse dreams, I guess. It wasn’t made any better by that haunted Dreamspinner portrait of yours, though.”

Raven’s gloved hand actually froze on its way to her mouth as she looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Well...after my nightmare, for some reason I went and looked at your portrait, and it frightened me. It...seemed to speak to me.”

Raven’s hand lowered, and she gave a look of astonishment. “It spoke to you? My portrait spoke to you? What did it say?”

Doremi shook her head; she really didn’t want to talk about it. “I don’t remember...something about helping me to find purpose in my life, I think. Anyway--I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’ve had that painting for almost thirty summers, and it’s never shown the slightest indication it was enchanted,” Raven insisted. “In fact, Dreamspinner back then I don’t think could even enchant paintings; she learned that afterwards. I think it was just a part of your bad dream, Doremi.”


Raven looked down at the table, then slowly up and away.

“You know, I hadn’t thought about this in years,” she whispered, almost oblivious to the Bard’s presence. “She did say when I--when we got it--that it wasn’t done. I asked if we should come back later, but she said to take it, and the painting would finish itself. Maybe it’s time for it to do that.”

Raven shook her head. “But...even so, I still think you must have been dreaming; I can't believe it could actually hold a conversation,” she spoke, glancing to Doremi.

“Well...maybe you’re right,” Doremi said.

The Bard sat upright. “In fact, you probably are. In any event, it’s a beautiful new day and I’m not going to let a nightmare spoil it for me!”

“That’s the spirit,” Raven spoke with an approving smile.

The Mistress of Freeport began to nibble again. “Actually,” she added, “the only thing haunted about the Inn is the attic, where I had a Necromancer summon up and bind the ghost of the pirate I took the city from. I wanted him to spend eternity up there in the empty stone halls of the attic, listening to the life below and looking out the windows to see the glory I brought to ‘his’ town.”

Doremi found the pettiness of the act obnoxiously humorous, and she chuckled slightly. “That’s somewhat vengeful, isn’t it, Raven?” she asked.

Mistaking her chuckle as an indication that the Bard saw the humor of it, Raven winked back. “I can be a vengeful person, Doremi.”

The Bard didn’t immediately reply to the comment, and Raven continued.

“No, we don’t have a great many ghosts in Freeport. You’d think we might, but no...other than that old house in Berkeley Square, of course,” she added as an afterthought. “Good place to avoid.”

The Bard frowned nervously. “What’s there?” she inquired.

Raven laid her fork down and leaned forward, locking eyes with her guest.

“No one knows, because no one’s lived to tell,” she spoke in a teasing whisper.

Doremi stiffened. “Why don’t you exorcise the place?”

“Can’t find a Necromancer with guts enough to try,” came the answer. “Besides, you’d be amazed how handy a haunted house can be at times. Local mothers keep their children in line by threatening to lock them up inside the haunted house at number fifty, and they generally behave quite well under that threat.”

“Well, I’m glad the storm’s over anyway,” Doremi then spoke, changing the subject. “That was a nasty one.”

Raven nodded. “Well, it’s spring, so I have to let it rain at least at night sometimes. Actually, this is storm season anyway, but my Witches make sure it doesn’t rain during the day when the docks are busy--unless I want it to. I make sure Freeport is always bright and cheerful.”

“You mean you use magic to control the weather?!”

Raven plopped a grape into her mouth. “Uh huh. I keep it nice and bright, and pleasant and warm. The Druids up in the hills aren’t crazy about it; they think it’s unnatural. But one--they know this is my island and I can do whatever I want to, and they’re only guests here; and two--I point out that their own gods give them spells to affect the weather, and if those spells aren’t meant to be used, then why do they get them?”

She grinned. “They don’t have a good answer for that, so they don’t argue too much. What are your plans for today, anyway?”

“Uh, I guess I’d like to go look at some more of the city. Then maybe start sketching out some ideas for the School?”

Raven nodded. “Good idea. Actually,” she said, looking down to the table, “I thought I’d let you visit Sand Castle Island. It’s nice and quiet, and I think you’d enjoy its contemplative atmosphere--it’s very conducive to getting the creative juices flowing.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“And don’t worry--you won’t have to take a boat; I’ll have someone portal you over. When you get back this afternoon, pack and have Stiletta come fetch me, and then we’ll go.”

Doremi nodded and proceeded to finish breakfast. When they were done, they parted in the waiting room and Raven remained behind as Doremi passed into the lobby. After a few moments, she clasped her hands behind her back and looked back to her portrait. She stared at it for a moment, trying to determine if there were any changes in it, and then drew near, looking up into the youthful face she now envied.

“Is there anyone in there?” she asked quietly. “If you can talk to her, you certainly can talk to me.”

No answer came, and after a moment Raven was satisfied.

“Just as well,” she said. “You wouldn’t have anything to say that I’d want to hear. I’m a lot smarter now than I was when you were painted anyway. But I suppose you do have this one thing going for you: You’ll always be seventeen, won’t you?”

She glanced downward. “What a pity I didn’t tell that crazy Elf I wanted her to make a painting that would age in my place, but who knew then what she was capable of?”

The Mistress of Freeport paused in silence for several moments.

“And who knew I would ever become old? In any event, it makes no difference; I will simply deal with the problem, and overcome.”

Without another word, Raven turned away and departed the room, leaving her portrait behind.

Today’s trip into Freeport was different from that of the day before--for this time Doremi had a purpose in mind. It took an hour to find the small Institute of Art, a humble gallery displaying local art and sculpture, and featuring several painters and sculptors who offered free instruction to those wishing to learn. The staff was friendly, and directed Doremi to what she sought. In fact, it was across from Desmore’s bookshop: A charming Tudor structure of wood, stone, plaster and slate. The front door was propped open with a stone, and above the doorway was a sign depicting an artist’s easel. Quickly, Doremi hurried up and paused in the doorway, catching sight of an old mosaic upon the ground, fashioned of small white and blue tiles. It was a Krellan motto of some sort that read:


Hmm, she thought. That’s Krellan. I wonder what it means. There was no telling, so she shrugged and stepped inside, looking around. No one was there to greet her, but she could see that the bottom floor of the house functioned as a small art gallery, for paintings covered its plaster walls. The one nearest the door portrayed two vicious war dogs painted so realistically they looked ready to jump out of the painting at her. Other paintings featured everything from land and seascapes, to a portrait of a Bard playing a lute.

A wooden door lay at the opposite end of the room with a small sign attached to the doorknob. Presumably, it led to Dreamspinner’s living quarters upstairs. Doremi drew near to it and lifted the sign to see that, in an attractive calligraphic script, it read:

Do not disturb the artist!

“Drat!” she muttered, letting the sign fall back down. Frustrated, the Bard supposed she may as well look at the paintings and then try coming back later. A small painting next to the door caught her attention. It was titled Into the teeth of the maelstrom, and was a depressing, but magnificently painted, nautical theme of a ship being tossed about in a hurricane. Its sail was either torn away or else taken down, and the seas raged against the hapless vessel as, in the background behind it, the black clouds of a hurricane formed themselves into the maw of a wolf ready to gobble up ship and crew.

Staring at it, Doremi realized something.

I recognize that ship, she exclaimed to herself! That’s the Ocean Gypsy; I’m sure of it. It looks like the model ship at the Inn...and that’s the same ship I was on in my dream!

As she continued staring into the painting, an odd feeling washed over her as she began to hear the shriek of the wind and the crashing of the waves in her mind. Unconsciously, she began leaning toward the canvas as louder and louder grew the sound of the hurricane. Then she began to sway as the deck of the ship pitched beneath her feet, and Doremi could hear the desperate cries of the crew. It was almost as if she were being drawn into the painting--and suddenly she shook her head and forced herself to turn away. With that, the feeling subsided and the noise vanished, replaced by the familiar clapping of horses’ hooves on the cobblestone street outside.

Boy, she thought, those paintings of hers can be dangerous! You really have to watch yourself around them.

At least, though, she now had some clue as to what had brought on her nightmare. Dreamspinner had portrayed the same ship in two different paintings, and somehow Doremi’s interest in one of them had caused her to be affected by the magic of the other. That, at least, was a relief.

But the humble Bard still wanted to know about the conversation she had with the portrait. The painting at the Inn, she was certain, held secrets, and perhaps Dreamspinner could unlock them.

Doremi moved away and drew near to the one of the musician. This one, at least, couldn’t be too dangerous. She focused intently at it, and as she watched, Doremi could see the figure inside begin to move and pluck a melody on the strings of the lute.

The Bard smiled--she wanted this painting! A sign upon its frame revealed it was actually for sale at a price of 10,000 gold marks--an astronomical amount she didn’t have--but perhaps she could get the money from Raven and use the painting in the school. She noticed that on a table there lay an unlocked wooden chest with a note indicating that payment could be placed in it if one wished to buy a painting.

Either this woman is the most trusting soul on Jewelmso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt'>, Doremi thought, or this is the safest, most crime-free city apart from Talon.

Doremi spent about thirty minutes more admiring the rest of what the gallery offered, and she happened upon a charming little painting about eight inches square, of a group of children at play in a grassy meadow. As she closed her eyes, she could hear the happy sounds of their laughter, and it required only as long as it took to read the card upon it saying Free to good home for a hole to be left on the wall and the painting tucked under her arm.

Raven would like this one, she thought to herself.

Another fascinating painting depicted a Gypsy fortune-teller hunched over a crystal ball. Dressed in the typical garish garb Gypsies were renowned for, her stringy gray hair sprung from a red headscarf and wound its way down the old Gypsy’s wrinkled face as she looked up, a bony finger attached to an arthritic hand pointing toward the viewer in possible warning.

Something in the back of Doremi’s mind warned her not to, but she couldn’t resist looking into the crystal ball.

As had happened with the painting of the Ocean Gypsy, she could feel herself being pulled into the painting, But this time prepared for that, she maintained her concentration and prevented the painting from overcoming her own will and forcing her to become more a part of the canvas than she wished to.

Doremi didn’t see anything, but she began to hear something. It was a horrible sound--a ghastly wail of shrieks and screams suddenly broken by someone’s voice crying out above the din: “If anyone’s holding back a wish--use it now!”

The Bard pulled back from the painting--whatever that was, it sure didn’t sound comforting!

Throughout this time, Dreamspinner never showed, and finally Doremi reluctantly left the studio, intending to return.

And return she did--two more times during the day, yet Dreamspinner was never downstairs. She wound up exploring a bit more of the city and spending time visiting with Desmore then, a couple of hours before dusk, she returned for the last time to the art gallery. The door was now shut and curtains drawn over the windows, but the interior, she could see, was lit by lamps on both the bottom and top stories. She drew near and discovered that a note hung from the doorknob that read: The artist does not accept commissions--don’t ask!

Although she worried it would be rude to disturb her, Doremi absolutely had to speak with Dreamspinner, and she summoned up her courage to ring the door knocker, a bronze piece made in the shape of a brush that clapped against an artist's palette. She held her breath waiting, and after a few moments the door opened slightly with a creak.

The face of an Elf peered out at her.

Doremi spoke. “Hello. My name is Doremi Bender.”

The Bard had met very few Elves in her life, and this one seemed different from most of them. She was tall for an Elf, as tall as Doremi herself. The Elf possessed a soft, yet angular face that was framed by her flowing hair of autumn gold, and she was attired in a white chiffon gown trimmed with golden brocade that had a near etheric quality to it.

The Elfwoman said nothing, but a single purple eye peered out through a crack of the door as if waiting for Doremi to state her business.

“You would be Dreamspinner?” Doremi asked.

“Yes,” came the curt, but liquid, answer.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you; I’ve heard a lot about your talents as an artist.”


“I was wondering if, um, I could ask you a question....”


“Um, there’s a portrait of Raven TenTolliver up at the inn they say you painted....”

More silence. This was becoming intimidating.

“Well, this may sound queer, but--I think I’m in the painting. That is, you can’t see me, but I know I’m there. Does that make any sense?”


Finally, a response!

“Well, what I don’t understand is, how can I be in a painting that doesn’t show me in it--and that was painted when I was a child?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you painted it.”

The door opened slightly more.

“I only paint what is,” Dreamspinner answered, looking puzzled over the comment.

“Why can’t I see myself in it?”

“Perhaps because the painting is not done.”

“Raven said you told her that. So when will it be done?”

“When it’s ready to be done.”

“Okay, when it’s--ready--to be done...will I see myself in it?”

“I don’t know.”

Doremi let out a breath and shook her head. She should have listened to Morgaine and never wasted her time coming here.

“Why don’t you know?!” she exclaimed. “You painted it, and apparently I’m in it! Why?!”

The Elf showed no emotion, and her voice remained subdued. “Why what? Why don’t I know if you will see yourself in it? Or why are you in it?”

“Both!” Doremi exclaimed.

“I don’t know if you will see yourself in it because the painting is not finished. And I have no idea why you are in it.”

“But you painted me in it! Why am I in a painting made twenty years before you met me?!”

“Because you’re supposed to be,” Dreamspinner replied softly, her voice like a spring breeze. “I have no other answers for you, Doremi Bender. I did not paint you in by design. If you are in the painting, it is because you are meant to be. I only paint what is.”

Doremi sighed, shut her eyes, and dropped her head in frustration. “I don’t understand any of this, and it frightens me.”

The Elf cocked her head to the right and squinted at her. “If everything you do not understand frightens you, you must lead a very nervous life.”

Opening her eyes, Doremi ignored the comment. “I know you painted it long ago, and maybe you’ve forgotten some things about it--”

“I remember everything about it.”

“All right then. The theme of the painting…I have to know--were you trying to say the message, This is the face that I let you see? It’s critical that I know.”

The Elf looked sincerely puzzled. “I put no messages in my paintings, Doremi Bender. I only paint what is.”

Doremi let out another long, frustrated breath. “If I could ask one last thing. Now,” she began, sounding almost patronizing, “I know that you’re an Elf and I’m a Human, and Elves and Humans think differently. But I know that Elves are very smart, so I’m hoping you can understand what I’m about to ask, and that you’ll try to perceive the question from the perspective of what you think a Human would mean by it, rather than an Elf; and that you can help me with an answer.”

Having done the best she could to prepare the Elf to give a rational answer to an important question, Doremi finally asked:  “Okay--what can you tell me about Raven? About what sort of person she is.”

Dreamspinner looked down and away, and was silent for several moments, obviously trying to come up with an answer that would address Doremi’s question.

That was promising.

At last, the Elf looked back up at Doremi.

“She does not like her friends to throw fish at her,” Dreamspinner replied, “and she tries to look distinguished when posing.”

This was like being on a torture rack, and Doremi gave up.

“Thank you,” she whispered, forcing a grimacy smile. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

For a moment, Dreamspinner fixed her gaze on Doremi.

“You were there that day, you know--the day she posed. How curious.”

“What?! That's impossible!”

“I remember your face,” insisted the Elf. “You were on the docks, near the ship.”

“Wha...I don't understand what you're saying! I was a little girl then. I just met Raven for the first time yesterday!”

“It was you,” Dreamspinner insisted. “In any event, I would like to paint you with the Mandolin some time--but not today.”

Just as quickly, she shut and barred the door, and Doremi was left alone.

“Come back!”

Doremi rang the clapper, but the door remained closed. She waited a moment and rang it again. Then she backed away from the gallery and peered up toward the second story, where several windows opened to the street.

“Dreamspinner!” she shouted.

Dreamspinner never returned, and eventually--frustrated and confused--Doremi began walking back toward the Inn.

Once there, she went ahead and packed up for her third move in as many days. Raven, told of her return, awaited her in the Music room, and it was there that Doremi found her holding a conversation with another woman whom she didn’t know.

She looked older than either of them, but there was still a graceful beauty about her that most women her age lacked. That she was a Witch--and probably a powerful one--seemed obvious simply from the aura that surrounded her.

Espidreen's curly dark hair, nearly as long as Doremi's, lay wrapped in a hair basket of silver that reached down her back to just above her waist. She was clothed in a silk blouse of scarlet with gold brocade that laced up her front like a bodice, its sleeves flowing down her arms until they ended in a willowy drape nearly two feet long from which hung a golden tassel. Her attire was finished with a double skirt of two colors, the overskirt being yellow and the underskirt gray.

In all, a very smart outfit, Doremi thought.

As for her face, it was comely enough, but the Witch had a slight widow's peak that could not do other than convey a hint of malevolence, and her complexion was rather ashen, as is typical for someone who spends too much time indoors. Her pouty lips were pale, like the rest of her skin, because she didn't bother to color them with berry juice, though perhaps it would be unfair not to point out she might actually have had a pleasant smile had anyone ever taught her how.

Her hips were a tad too wide, and her ears were very round. Last of all, she was left-handed, and everyone knows what that means!

But some men would still have found her outwardly attractive.

“Doremi, this is Espidreen, one of my most important people,” Raven introduced her. “Espy, this is Lady Doremi Bender, a Master Bard from Avalon. She’ll be running the Music Institute when it’s built.”

“Good day,” Espidreen said with a polite, but unemotional nod, looking Doremi over.

Doremi smiled. “A pleasure to meet you, Espidreen.”

“I have never met a Master Bard before,” Espidreen added. “No doubt you’re a skilled story-teller and musician.”

The comment seemed innocent, but Doremi noticed Espidreen avoided making eye contact with her as she spoke it, and the Bard thought she detected a subtle sarcasm behind the statement. It was unfortunate, but her tone came as no great surprise, for one trait the Witches of Islay were famous for was a disdain, if not outright contempt, for every other Wizardly profession.

And Bards, no doubt, would be near the very bottom of the list to a true Witch.

Doremi shrugged. “So I’ve been told,” she answered.

“Doremi was a Librarian for Nostradamus,” Raven added, as if coming to her defense.

Espidreen’s demeanor instantly changed to one of amazement as she now looked up and down at the Bard. “You were a Librarian at the First School?!” she asked in surprise, now gazing directly into Doremi’s eyes.

“For a few months. I translated their Karnaki papyri for them. Then I left.”

Espidreen looked surprised, then her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Nostradamus let you leave? He didn’t try to stop you?”

“I didn’t make a point of letting them know I had finished the work before I left. I simply wrote them out a note, left it on the desk, and walked out of the School one afternoon after completing the last translation.”

Espidreen quickly looked to Raven, and to Doremi it seemed she wished to say something. But she held her peace.

“That was very wise of you,” she finally spoke, turning back to the humble Bard.

“The docks, please, Espy,” Raven commanded.

Espidreen took her eyes off Doremi and removed a diamond from her purse.

“Raven, I’m sorry that you have to use a spell to get me there instead of a boat,” Doremi suddenly said, realizing she’d forgotten just how expensive a teleportal spell was to cast: it required a diamond of three or four carats’ weight worth at least a thousand ounces of gold.

Raven looked over to her. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“The expense, and all.”

Raven waved her hand and shook her head. Apparently, she had no concern over that.

“‘Tween there and here, or far and near,” Espidreen began to intone, “‘tween south and north, or west and east, become a path to the place I seek!

She crushed the diamond into powder, and before her a glowing portal of swirling white light appeared and began to take form. The spell completed, Espidreen stepped back and looked over to them without further comment.

My goodness, Doremi exclaimed to herself! She didn’t cast that spell on a wall--she cast it into the air! That means it’s a greater teleportal! That’s a seventh rank spell...which means she must be at least thirteenth-circle! That is one powerful woman.

“Thank you, Espy,” Raven spoke. Then she gestured toward the portal. “Doremi?” she called.

Quickly, Raven stepped in and vanished. Baggage in hand, Doremi nodded to Espidreen and then followed her through.