Betrothed, p.10
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       Betrothed, p.10
 

         Part #6 of The Vampire Journals series by Morgan Rice
CHAPTER TEN

  Caitlin felt as if she were in a dream as she walked, with the others, through the sprawling courtyard of Windsor Castle. She was so happy to see Lily again, and amazed to see that a human, too, could live multiple lives. It was uncanny to see her here, and as a royal, once again.

  On the one hand, everything was so different here - the time, the people, the architecture of this castle - but in other ways, nothing had changed at all. Here was Lily, still royal, still beautiful, still regal - still her old self, just living in a different place and time. It made Caitlin wonder if all of us were destined to live a similar life, over and over again, just changing our place and time, our fashions and names. Was everything in every place and time connected? Was the distance between places, the time gap between centuries, really just an illusion?

  It made Caitlin feel connected to everyone and everything. And, of course, to Lily. Along with Polly, she had felt as if Lily were her closest friend, and seeing her again, here, felt like having a sister back.

  Lily hadn't changed at all. She was still tall and proud and regal, with dark skin, flowing black hair, and glowing green eyes. Except now, she was dressed in a whole new fashion, and a whole new set of fineries. She still wore an incredible amount of fabric, flowing down to her feet, and she was still draped in the most lavish jewelry, from her dangling earrings, to her diamond necklace, to her emerald rings. Yet she had a different aura about her. More British this time than French.

  As they walked, Caitlin could not help noticing that the grounds of Windsor were spectacular.

  Caitlin marveled at the size and breadth of all the buildings, spread out in a long rectangle, with the courtyard in the middle. Up in the distance, high up on a hill, was a round tower, looking down over everything.

  "Windsor Castle has been home to English royalty for centuries," Lily said. They followed on her heels, rapt with attention. "That very spot was where King Arthur and his Knights met, before this castle was even built. This location was chosen for that reason. It is believed to be a very sacred place. In fact, high up on the hill, where you see that round tower, is the very place where the round table was placed. "

  Scarlet suddenly walked up and tugged on Lily's sleeve.

  "Are you a real princess?" she asked.

  Lily looked down and smiled, as she stroked Scarlet's hair. "No, my love," she said. "But I bet you are. "

  Scarlet's eyes opened wide, and she giggled, as she looked embarrassed.

  "No I'm not," she said.

  Caitlin looked down at Scarlet with all the seriousness she could muster, and said, "Yes you are, Scarlet. Don't ever forget that. "

  Scarlet stared back at her, wide-eyed, and slowly, Caitlin saw her fill with pride. Caitlin took her hand, and held it as they walked.

  "My mission has led us here," Caitlin said to Lily, as they walked, continuing across the courtyard. "I am still searching for my father. " Caitlin turned and looked at Sam. " We are still searching for our father," she corrected, wanting to include him. "And for the mythical shield. "

  "I know," Lily responded. "I've been expecting you for some time now. Vampires are usually the keepers of the relics. But in this case, I was chosen. " Lily stopped, and looked at Caitlin with all seriousness. "I know exactly what it is you're looking for. " Caitlin stared back, and felt her heart beating faster. She suddenly wondered if her father could be in this place? It certainly looked grand enough to hold him.

  "This way," Lily said, and suddenly turned, entering a magnificent building.

  They followed her as she marched down corridor after corridor. She led them up a winding, stone staircase, down a grand hallway, up a twisting, medieval stairwell, and down another corridor.

  Caitlin marveled at their surroundings. They walked on the finest of rugs, and everywhere were massive crystal chandeliers.

  They finally arrived at the grandest staircase Caitlin had ever seen. Unusual banisters framed either side, and as they walked down the steps, they faced an enormous marble statue, with suits of armor around it. The statue soared above them, dozens of feet high, and as they descended the red-carpeted, marble steps, Caitlin felt as if she were royalty herself.

  "Queen Elizabeth lives here now," Lily said, "with her court and her servants. Hundreds of people live here at any given time - the royal staff, and all the royal advisers. This castle is like a city in and of itself. "

  They walked through another chamber, all stone, with high arched ceilings, stained glass in every direction, passing dozens of guards as they went. Finally, Lily led them to a grand, oak door, opened it, and stepped aside, a smile on her face.

  "Saint George's Chapel," she announced formally, with a wave of her hand.

  Caitlin walked in, with the others, and the sight took her breath away.

  It was immediately apparent that this room was the crown jewel of the castle. It looked like it had taken hundreds of years to build. The floor was bedecked with a glorious white and black diamond-shaped marble tile, so brightly polished that the sun reflected off of it. The ceiling was hundreds of feet high, arched and coming to a point, and made of limestone. The room was long and narrow, and all along the walls were huge, arched, stained-glass windows. Before them were long wooden benches, on which sat, Caitlin assumed, the royals or politicians when they had grand meetings. It looked like an ancient parliament, from medieval times. She wondered if King Arthur and his knights had met here, too.

  Up above hung rows of flags, of all shapes and sizes and colors.

  "The Knights of the Garter," Lily explained. "This was once a meeting room. The Knights of the Garter were the highest chivalric order in England, the most elite and most honorable association to belong to. This was their meeting place.

  "More importantly," Lily continued, "this room has also been used as a burial place for British Kings and Queens for hundreds of years. Which is why it is significant for our purposes. " Caitlin looked at her, puzzled, but Lily turned and continued walking, her heels clicking on the marble. They followed.

  "Is this where the Princess lives?" asked Scarlet, as she tugged on Caitlin's pants.

  Caitlin smiled down at her, and stroked her head. "I'm not sure," she answered. "I guess we're about to find out. "

  As they continued, the room became divided by a huge, elaborately carved mahogany divider.

  They walked through the doorway, and appeared on the other side of the room.

  This side of the room was even more breathtaking. There, off to the side, sat dozens of sarcophagi - huge, marble, elaborately carved. Caitlin could tell right away that they were the final resting places of Kings and Queens.

  And as soon as they entered this part of the chamber, Caitlin felt an electric thrill. She felt the ring on her hand heat up, and knew that they were very close to whatever it was they needed to find.

  Caitlin stepped forward, allowing the ring to lead her, and found herself standing before a single, huge sarcophagus, in the corner of the room. She surveyed it closely, and saw the effigy on its lid: it was that of an ancient king, with a long, flowing beard, wearing a crown, and holding a staff. He was dressed in royal garments, and chainmail, his hands folded across his chest.

  Oddly, one of his fingers was raised slightly higher than the others. Caitlin knew, she just knew, why.

  She reached down, slipped the ring off her finger, and let her senses guide her to slip it onto the finger of the effigy.

  Everyone crowded around her and watched.

  The ring fit perfectly.

  There was the slightest click, and in the effigy's other hand, Caitlin saw a small, marble scroll.

  She looked at it closely, and saw that its tip was now slightly ajar.

  She reached over and pulled at it gently, and discovered that it was hollow. Inside, lying there, sat a real scroll - a real piece of parchment.

  Caitlin's heart beat faster as she reached in, and slowly, gingerly, sli
d out the frail piece of parchment.

  Everyone crowded in even closer, as she rolled open the small scroll. On it was a delicate, antique handwriting, which she immediately recognized as her father's. She felt overwhelmed with emotion, looking at it.

  She cleared her throat, and read aloud:

  My Dearest Caitlin and Samuel,

  If the two of you have made it this far, then you're standing here together, joined on your search for me and the Shield. This scroll you are holding has been especially well hidden, so if you are here, it is only because you are meant to be. I commend you both.

  You are two fruits of the same vine, the Rose and the Thorn, and you have different destinies.

  You are both on the same search, but you must both take different routes. And you might not be searching for the same thing.

  Samuel, your road leads to Warwick, where you will begin to find the answers you seek.

  Caitlin, find me on the mount of judgment.

  With all my love,

  Your father.

  Caitlin slowly lowered the scroll, and looked over at Sam. He stood there, staring at her, wide-eyed. She could tell that he was taken aback by it all. After all, this was the first clue that was also addressed directly to him. Caitlin remembered the feeling of enormity of having a letter from the past addressed directly to her for the first time.

  "Samuel," he said. "No one's called me that in forever. " Caitlin stood there, reading it again, trying to decode it. It warmed her heart that her father had left this for her, and she felt closer to him than ever. But at the same time, the idea of splitting from Sam hurt her. Why couldn't they be on the same journey together? What were their different destinies?

  The mount of judgment.

  She had no idea what that meant.

  She looked slowly at Caleb, wondering if he knew, but he just shook his head, as did Polly, Sam and Lily.

  "Warwick?" Sam asked. "What's that?"

  Lily cleared her throat.

  "That part's easy. It can only mean one thing. It has to be a reference to Warwick Castle. It's the oldest in that region, and it's been a stronghold for your kind for thousands of years. "

  "And what about the mount of judgment?" Caitlin asked.

  Lily slowly shook her head. "Your guess is as good as mine. "

  *

  Caitlin's mind reeled as she sat at the huge dining table with the others. That letter from her father, which she had since read again and again, had been like a bomb dropped into her consciousness. It held so many implications, both for her future, and for Sam's. She kept going over every word in her mind, trying to figure out what it all meant.

  But she didn't have time to think about it all right now. Lily had led them all to this enormous banquet, laid out so generously, under her supervision. It was indeed a lavish feast. She sat at a huge, oak table, Scarlet beside her, Caleb on her other side, and Sam, Polly and Lily across from them. Just the six of them, sitting at a table meant to hold a hundred, reclining in gilded, gold, stuffed armchairs.

  Caitlin examined the silver, the delicate china plates, the fresh flowers, the huge candles, the chandeliers above, and the enormous windows on all sides of them, letting the sunset in. Before them were spread out heaps of every type of food. There were slices of the finest steak, overstuffed turkeys, breads, fruits, jams, desserts. . . there was no end to the food in sight. And behind them stood several waiters, ready to jump at their slightest need.

  Caitlin looked over and saw Scarlet's expression, how amazed she was at the feast before her.

  Clearly, she had never seen anything remotely like it in her young life. Caitlin smiled wider, realizing she must think she was dreaming.

  "Is this all for us?" Scarlet asked Caitlin, blinking in disbelief.

  "Yes, sweetheart," Caitlin responded, "it's all for us. Dig in. " Scarlet reached over, like a kid in a candy shop, and grabbed a large piece of cheesecake to start.

  Caitlin smiled. Scarlet had probably not eaten this well in her entire life. She grabbed the food quickly, as if worried someone might take it away from her.

  Caitlin reached out and laid a reassuring hand on top of hers.

  "It's okay," Caitlin said. "You can take all the time in the world. All this food is just for you. " Scarlet looked at her with a look of complete disbelief, as if she had landed in heaven.

  More relaxed, Scarlet heaped several large strips of steak on her plate, along with the cheesecake.

  Caitlin smiled, as the tower of food soon reached higher than her head.

  Scarlet then took the top slice, reached over, and handed it to Ruth, who had been sitting patiently by her side, watching wide-eyed, smacking her lips. Ruth snatched it from her fingers, and Scarlet laughed in delight. Scarlet did it again and again, giving her an entire plate of steak.

  Caitlin was amazed. Here Scarlet was, probably having never having such food in her life, and the first thing she did was give all her food to Ruth. Caitlin admired her more than ever. If she ever had a daughter, she wished she'd be like her.

  Caitlin reached out and put a huge serving of steak on Scarlet's plate. "This portion is just for you, Scarlet," she said.

  Scarlet looked at it wide-eyed, picked up a knife and fork, and put a big piece in her mouth. She chewed, and Caitlin could see the satisfaction in her face.

  Suddenly, servants appeared, and large, bejeweled goblets were placed before Caitlin, Caleb, Sam and Polly, overflowing with a white liquid. Caitlin could already sense what it was, with every pore in her body: the finest of white blood. Every ounce of her body craved it.

  They all lifted their goblets, reached forward and clicked them together. Caitlin leaned back and, finally, drank.

  It was the best blood she'd ever had. She drank the entire goblet without stopping, and with every sip, she felt every ounce of her being restored. By the time she set it down, she felt like a new person.

  Caitlin watched as the servants placed delicately cut strips of meat before Lily, and she remembered that, of course, Lily was human. It felt so natural having her around, Caitlin had momentarily forgotten that she was not one of hers. Lily, sitting with a perfectly straight back, ever poised, reached out and gently took her knife and fork, cut it into small pieces, and chewed. It was like watching royalty. Caitlin was amazed at how refined Lily was.

  Scarlet's laughter filled the table, giving it a festive feel, as she snuck Ruth piece after piece of food off the table. Caitlin felt her heart warm at the sight, so happy to see Scarlet so well cared for here, and that Ruth was equally happy. Caitlin sat there, looking at Caleb, Sam, Polly and Lily, everyone smiling and chatting and happy, and felt so grateful. Finally, they were all together. She was with Caleb, she was with Sam, she was with Poly and Lily. They were all in this beautiful place, having this amazing meal. Finally, she felt as if there were peace and serenity in her life. It felt so good, and she wished she could freeze this moment forever.

  But the letter gnawed away at her. Once her dad's voice got in her head, she found it impossible to get it out. The phrases turned in her mind, over and over again. The mount of judgment? Where could that be? Why were she and Sam being given two different paths? Would they both lead to the same place? Or would their separate journeys tear them apart forever?

  And what would happen if she actually found this mount of judgment? Would her father be there? Or would she have to go back in time, yet again?

  She found it hard to rest until she knew the answers to all these questions.

  Caitlin needed clarity. Seeing how happy and content Scarlet and everyone else was, she slowly stood.

  Everyone looked at her. "Please excuse me for a few moments," Caitlin said.

  A servant hurried over and pulled back her chair.

  "Of course," Lily said, "it's been a long day. The servants will show you to your room. " Caitlin leaned over and kissed Scarlet on the head, and leaned in and kiss
ed Caleb on the lips.

  Then she walked out of the room, following a servant. She felt a bit bad leaving everyone there, but they all seemed content and happy, and she needed just a few minutes to herself, to get her mind clear. She found it hard to think with everyone there.

  Caitlin was shown to a magnificent room, enormous, at least fifty feet in every direction, and shaped in a semi-circle, with an entire wall of glass, looking out over the grounds of Windsor Castle.

  It was an exquisite room, an architectural masterpiece, with moldings all over the walls and ceilings, huge rugs laid out in every direction, antique couches and chairs and bureaus and dressers, and a huge four-poster bed in the corner. It lifted Caitlin's spirits to be here, although at the same time, she sensed that she wouldn't be here long, that her journey would lead her elsewhere.

  She walked over to the window and looked out, at the last fading light of the day. Where was it that her father meant for her to go? Would there ever be an end to this mission, to these clues?

  Would she see Sam again, after their journeys took them in different directions? She knew that Caleb would accompany her. But what about Polly? Would she go with her, or with Sam?

  And what about Scarlet? Already, Caitlin felt as if she were part of her family. She could not see herself ever abandoning her. But what would that mean for the future? Would she bring Scarlet on this mission everywhere? Would that be too dangerous for her?

  Caitlin spotted a small writing desk in the corner, and sat before it. She reached back, deep into one of her pant pockets, and extracted her journal. She had been carrying it all along, and it felt good to take it out and hold it.

  She turned back page after page, and saw the journal was getting thicker, more used up, weather-worn. It was truly becoming an old, trusted friend.

  Finally, she found an empty page, grabbed the quill off the tabletop, blotted it, and settled in to write.

  What is my destiny? When am I meant to find my father? Who is he? Does he really love me? Why was I chosen for this mission? Why is it that I'm so special? And how is my mission different from Sam's?

  And what will happen when I find the shield? Will all of this be over? What does that mean? Will I ever return to a normal life? When and where? Will Caleb be in it?

  Caitlin stared at her entry. It surprised her. It was not her typical journal entry. She wasn't summarizing, like she usually did. She didn't feel the need to anymore. Now she felt the need to question. To question the very deepest essence of who she was. She lifted the quill again: Should I forget the mission? Should I just stay here, forget the clues, live here happy, safe, and secure? Or should I go out there again, back on the trail and part from Sam? Is there more security in staying here? Or more security in fulfilling my mission?

  "Look!" came an excited voice.

  Caitlin spun around, snapped out of her reverie.

  There stood Scarlet, dressed in a beautiful, small silk white gown, wearing a diamond laden tiara and small diamond necklaces and diamond bracelets. She was positively beaming.

  Caitlin couldn't believe the sight. She looked like a real, small princess.

  "Lily gave these to me. She said I could have them. Can I? Please?" Caitlin smiled wide. She didn't quite know what to say. "Um. . . if she said so, then, um. . . of course. "

  Scarlet smiled wider than Caitlin ever thought possible, and came running over and hugged her.

  Caitlin hugged her back. It felt good to have her in her arms.

  "I love it here," Scarlet said. "Can we stay forever?" Caitlin stared back, thinking how uncanny it was that Scarlet should ask the very thing that was on her mind. She could see that Scarlet was a very evolved child, and wondered just how deep her powers went.

  "I would love to," Caitlin said. "But if we have to leave, we will always be able to find another place that is nice. "

  Scarlet hugged Caitlin again. "I love you, mommy," she said.

  Mommy.

  The word rang through Caitlin like an electric shock. It was so unexpected, and yet it felt so good to hear it, and it brought up so many feelings, that Caitlin found herself bursting into tears, crying as she held Scarlet, feeling the hot tears pouring down her cheeks. She felt that she really did love Scarlet like her own child. And she couldn't help it, but it made her think, once again, of being pregnant, and of the child she might have had with Caleb.

  Scarlet pulled back and looked at her. "What's wrong mommy?"

  Caitlin quickly wiped away her tears. "Nothing, sweetheart. Everything is perfect. "

  Ruth came running into the room, and Scarlet wheeled, bursting into laughter as she turned and played with her. The two of them ran throughout the huge room, chasing each other.

  Caitlin wiped away the last of her tears, and looked out the window, at the setting sun. She knew that she had a major decision to make. And that she had to make it soon. Would she stay here forever? Or would she pursue her destiny?

 
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