Staff of Winter, Part Three - The Mists of Annywn - Sophia
Sophia was completely alone in the mist. She could not feel or hear her friends, and could hardly see her hand in front of her face. But she knew that she was still in the forest, as she occasionally stubbed her toe on the root of a tree, or bumped into a tree trunk as she walked. Surrounded by mist, she could not see anything or hear anything.
She continued on for a while, feeling her way, brushing against trees or branches. A long time passed. Sophia could not tell precisely how long, as the mist seemed to distort sound, light and perhaps time itself. Eventually, she emerged from the forest into a clearing where the mist had burned away. Stepping out into a strangely sunlit meadow, she saw a figure in the middle of the clearing, facing away from her. All around, the mist-cloaked trees surrounded them.
Sophia observed that the figure was about the same height as her, female, wearing a simple white dress. She had long golden hair, was wearing an elaborate circlet, and had the pointed ears of an elf. Sophia hesitated, immediately fearing that this might be Morgause. As she paused, the figure turned toward her, revealing a beautiful green-eyed elf maid. Sophia immediately recognised the young elf-maid that had given her the potion on the night before she faced the Baelrauch, the same elf that had led Sophia and her friends to Iona.
Facing Sophia, the elf maid smiled broadly at her and began to walk toward her. “welcome Sophia,” she said warmly. “I have been waiting for you.” She continued, holding out her hand toward the human lady. “Come. Come with me, and learn the secrets of the mind.”
Sophia drew back, deeply disturbed to be confronted by a figure she knew to be one of the guises of Morgause. She felt the Witch’s power washing over her, and tried to resist her invitation, but found herself reaching out and taking the elf-maid’s hand. Walking across the clearing, hand in hand with her new companion, she felt strangely happy and peaceful.
Walking back into the forest, Sophia was surrounded once again by mist, which seemed to be swirling past her. She could not see anything, apart from the mist, but could feel a warm hand clutching hers tightly. After a time, they emerged from the mists once more. This time, they stood before an exquisitely beautiful tower, made of white marble and with an almost impossibly graceful minaret at the apex reaching up into the sky.
Sophia’s mind continued to rebel against her enchantment, but to no avail. Morgause led Sophia into the tower, and up a spiral staircase. Dozens of mirrors lined the wall to the side of the stairs as she climbed, and she glanced into one of them. She was surprised to see herself, as a young girl, and stopped for a moment, observing the scene. Her younger self was in York castle, and she saw her father speaking with a man she recognised as King Henry II of England as he showed the King around the castle and walked with him to the Minster to pray with the Archbishop. Sophia remembered this day well, though it was more than ten years ago and she had been a little girl.
The vision in the mirror faded, and Sophia continued up the stair, passing more mirrors. After a time a vision in another mirror caught her eye. She saw the same man, King Henry, but old now and limping. He was walking with a younger man, bearded and strong with a noble bearing and wearing fine plate armour.
The two men were clearly in the midst of an argument, with the younger man speaking heatedly. “Father, I cannot tolerate your interference in the Duchy of Aquitaine, and I must implore you to do right by Young Henry and grant him the Duchy of Normandy, which is his birthright!”
The older man sighed. “Richard, this is not the time for us to talk of these things yet again. With Young Henry missing, lost in Ireland, this is not the time to reopen these old wounds.”
“Yes father, I am sure you are deeply distressed by this turn of events,” responded Richard, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“How dare you!” reacted Henry angrily. “I cannot believe the lack of gratitude, from you and from all my children. Well, perhaps other than John. You have no idea of the pressures of kingship, or the enemies that face this family on all sides, nor the lengths that I must go to in order to protect our position!”
Richard snorted and with a curt “By your leave,” to his father he stalked angrily away. The vision in the mirror faded and Sophia continued upward into the tower.
Minutes later, with her legs beginning to burn with the constant climb, Sophia glanced in another mirror, seeing the same man, Richard, this time speaking with another, younger, man.
Richard was telling the clean-shaven man of his argument with his father, and of his frustration with his father’s treatment of himself and his elder brother.
The other man responded. “Richard, I sympathise. You are a far better general, and indeed ruler, than your father. I do not know what to say.”
“I have a mind, Mordred, to take the fight to my father once again,” replied Richard, the frustration evident in his tone. “I must find my brother and support him in taking what is rightfully his.”
“I cannot speak against that, my friend,” replied Mordred. “It is a just cause, a rightful cause, and one that God must surely smile upon. I will, of course, support you in any way that I can.”
He looked around, and lowered his voice. “Let us consider how best to proceed, make alliances that will profit you, and take great care to ensure that you are in the strongest possible position before you take the action that is needed to right the terrible wrongs to which you and your brothers have been subject for so long.”
Again, the vision in the mirror faded, leaving Sophia to continue with her seemingly endless climb. Eventually, she reached a small chamber which appeared to be at the very top of the tower. Looking out from its windows, Sophia could see for miles around, an idyllic landscape with rolling fields and hills in the foreground giving way to forests and mountains beyond.
Morgause turned to Sophia, holding both her hands and looking into her eyes. “You have such promise Sophia," she smiled warmly. "I am so pleased to be able to help you develop your talents. I know you have been trying to experiment with your powers. Let me help you.”
Sophia felt the mind of Morgause trying to connect with her own. She tried to resist, and Morgause smiled again. “You are strong, resilient. I admire that. But I only wish to help you.”
Sophia stayed silent, defiant, unwilling to co-operate with one of the Witches she regarded as a nemesis. Morgause reached into her mind again, and despite Sophia’s attempts to resist she felt the enchantress subtly manipulating her thoughts, suggesting how Sophia might develop her powers and use them more effectively.
After a time, Morgause smiled sweetly. “Ah, Sophia! You are such a wonderful student and you are doing so well.” Sophia felt the enchantress enter her mind again, but began to feel a warm glow from her Solstice Amulet. Then she heard a familiar voice, speaking in her mind, one she never expected to hear again. “I’ve got ye, lassie.” She immediately recognised the gruff tones of her friend Hakan. Although tinged with sadness, somehow she was not shocked by the fact that he was speaking to her from beyond the grave.
Suddenly, Sophia felt herself surrounded by supernatural cold, as if Ice himself had engulfed her in his freezing breath. She was surrounded by bitterly cold mist, and Morgause was gone. The mist began to dissipate slowly, and the warmth of the Solstice Stone began to fade. As the mist cleared, Sophia found herself back in the deep forest of Annwyn, traces of mist drifting around her ankles.
She was still on her own, and in an unfamiliar part of the forest, her friends nowhere to be seen. She tried to discern her location, making out the position of the sun through the canopy of leaves, and walked for a while in the direction she felt was correct. She had no idea where she was, or where her friends were, and as the minutes turned into hours she began to lose hope of ever finding them.
Then she spotted a bent, stopping figure in the woods ahead of her. It seemed to be an old woman, picking mushrooms and putting them in an old wicker basket. Still scarred from her experience with Morgause, Sophia backed away as quietly as possible and lost herself once more in the woods.