1

In a place, time and dimension far removed from this one...

The air and atmosphere of Syme House were frigid. The dull, thick slabs of limestone that cocooned the inhabitants from the human intrigue that belonged to the outside world hardly dared to let something so mundane as summer heat enter the House. The Witch who had laid the wards for privacy had either had excess professional courtesy or a sense of humour, as even though Solstice was not far gone, Carilla had woken up that morning shivering.

The freeze that lingered inside the house, however, was not only based upon temperature.

Ex-servants had a ready explanation for this. In their eyes, the house was cursed, as well as warded, despite the fact that the Witch in question had been both well-paid and well-respected in her field, and so should have been able to detect any strange magicks that might cause the House trouble.

It was this that caused few of the higher-order, and fewer still of the lower-order servants to ever stay long in service to the Syme family. The attraction of good pay and provided board and food, was not enough to keep employees, and, much to the annoyance of Lord and Lady Syme, and the average length of time that any lasted was around the mark of a few months, with very few exceptions.

The eldest son of the Hone family was one of these exceptions.

Jacred Hone stood at the entrance of the echoing ice-box that was his charge's "reception room" his pike sharpened and senses ever-alert.

Carilla Syme sat in front of her easel, and painted.

Despite the boredom of long hours spent standing upright as bodyguard, Jacred's posture was straight and resolute- a typical Taurus he took his job as protector of the only child of Leukan and Romine Syme seriously, and would not relax until the end of his shift... though if it had not been for the fact that he needed to eat and sleep, he would never have stopped. He had little trust for the perrennial newcomers that filled the ranks of his fellow guards.

At least, that was his excuse.

He watched silently as Carilla continued to flick paint onto the canvas, and reflected that her style of wide brush strokes seemed random, until you actually looked at the girl's finished work. At one stage, a talented art tutor had watched her in progress when attempting one of her freestyle works, and apparently he had been entirely flummoxed at how with such seemingly haphazard strokes of colour, Carilla created pieces that were an unnerving mixture of realistic-appearing, yet completely surreal images. They looked like illustrations of a dream, and yet they seemed to be almost drawn from life.

Jacred had once, maybe three months after he had first seen her painting, asked Carilla where she got her ideas from. It had been the first time that he had ever asked her a personal question of any sort, and at first she had appeared rather taken aback. When she recovered her composure, she had admitted that even she was unsure of where they originated from, and that they came to her as she painted, rather than before.

This by itself would not have been at all significant, had it not been for the bizarre detail that, one way or another, every one of Carilla's artworks had come true.

As though echoing his thoughts, Carilla suddenly gasped, dropped her paint brush onto the cold flag stones, and knocked over her stool as she staggered back from the painting and tripped over her impractically long skirts.

Within a second, Jacred was by her side, holding her arm to stop her from falling, but otherwise not daring to touch her.

"Let me go, Jacred, I'm alright," at that phrase, she gave a nervous laugh, and added to herself, "at least for now."

Involuntarily, Jacred looked at the finished canvas on the easel. He could make neither head nor tail of it, only that it seemed to centre on the Syme family crest in a dark reddish colour, somehow reminiscent of... dried blood.

A shiver of premonition danced down his spine, as Jacred recalled the last time that particular colour had featured. He returned to his senses when he felt Carilla attempting to tug from his grip, (which he had unconsciously tightened,) whispering harshly, "Jacred you great oaf, you are bruising my arm! Let me go before someone comes in and gets you into trouble!"

Distractedly, he released her as she tugged, and so had to grab her again to prevent her from hitting the unforgiving stone floor. Setting Carilla gently back on her feet, Jacred asked quietly, "What does it mean?"

Carilla flinched, but didn't answer, her eyes wide and frightened like a startled guilty child's, her expression clearly asking how could he know?

Jacred cursed under his breath then whispered harshly, "Did you really imagine that I didn't know, even after your father had you paint that portrait of the Earl of Ubisk, when you had never met him, and you painted his bloody eyeless murdered corpse, that wasn't reported until three days later?"

She paled, her eyes wary, her body braced, an instant from flight. "You never said anything. I wasn't sure whether it meant that you hadn't seen it, or that you didn't connect the events. It doesn't help when you are so taciturn. Every one of my maids who were around for long enough to see them commented at one time or another, but you never did."

"You're changing the subject," Jacred replied steadily. "Stop. Tell me, what excitement are we in for this time, Carilla Syme?" his dry tone a mere dangerous notch away from command.

The directness of the question appeared to stabilize Carilla's spirit. Her posture straightened, and in a soft voice that seemed to resonate with the understatement of her words, she murmured softly enough that Jacred nearly leant closer to her.

"Trouble. Bad trouble."

Seemingly disconnected thoughts racing through his mind, Jacred unconsciously pulled her closer to him, his stance protective over his charge of five years as he considered the options. The thoughts crystallised, and he decided that ready or not, it was time.

Looking her in the eyes, he told her firmly,"You're leaving here. Tonight."

Seeing the unsurprise in Carilla's features was enough to make him wonder if trouble was all she had painted.

...

That night, the customary silence of Syme House was even more oppressive than usual.

Shivering slightly despite the thickness of her fur-lined cloak, Carilla stood tentatively near the door of her chambers and waited for Jacred to appear. He had said that it was his turn to do the midnight to dawn shift, and so he would come for her then.

He had been so organized. Carilla had known Jacred to be a particularly loyal, diffident, but above all next-to silent bodyguard, but he had surpassed all hopes she had held since she had painted him taking her away from this mausoleum-like prison three months ago.

She had spent many nights lying awake desperately hoping that there might be other aspects of his character which he kept hidden behind "the cliff face" as she had always privately called his professional expression. Hoping that he would be her hero, like in the tales her father used to tell her, before her mother's "disappearance". She smiled humourlessly. In the right hand upper corner of her painting, the corner that she always linked to things coming, had rested a symbolised sword emblazoned with the symbols for trust and journeying. She had hoped that that meant she could trust Jacred- trust from her was a rare thing that not even her family had from her.

The loss of trust had occurred, not coincidentally, in the wake of the first time her parents had actually requested she paint a portrait, instead of leaving her to her own devices. It had been of her younger brother Yoden, and they had asked her why she painted her brother wearing the tabard of the House of Favell? That she had never to their knowledge seen before?

Because you are sending him there, she had answered. After that, she had been punished for eavesdropping, and then told to paint another portrait of her brother. This time, she had painted him sitting next to the son of the House of Favell. The only thing was, she had never met this boy in her entire life.

Since then, she had been made to paint picture after picture, of subjects that her father chose. Her mother had been frightened of Carilla's art, and Carilla had overheard many harshly-worded arguments before her mother had abruptly left one night to live with her sister who was at least four day's travel away.

Carilla had seen it coming- unbeknownst to her father, she had kept a secret sketchbook for her own works, and she had scratched it all out in well-rendered charcoal. Charcoal was not her preferred medium- Carilla needed the bright colours of her paints if she wanted a complete spectrum for her "reading", and the smudgy nature of the charcoal tended to produce similarly smudgy results.

Which was why, today, she had broken the rule, and painted something for herself. Carilla grimaced, and then checked if her canvas was still in the small bag which contained her belongings she would take. The contents included the fresh canvas, her brush, and a skeleton selection of her paints and charcoals, a change of clothes, her jewel box, and her sketchbook.

A floorboard outside her chamber creaked, and Carilla stood still and listened with her ear to the door, but her feet to one side, so that anyone outside would be unable to detect her presence by spotting the hem of her dress through the crack beneath the door. She relaxed as she heard the sound of Jacred's voice, making a quick joke to the man he replaced. The two guards spoke for a short while, and then the sound of retreating footsteps could be heard.

Moments later, she felt the heavy door move, and she stepped back into the shadows.

Jacred poked his head in, and then whispered, "Come."

Carilla grabbed her bag and followed as Jacred took her by the wrist and led the way through the manor, taking a route that bisected few main thoroughfares. As they neared the kitchen, Carilla could hear numerous voices, some familiar, most not, but all apparently having a good time, having finished their shifts and so taking the opportunity to relax.

How she wished that she could join them in their carefree camaraderie!

Jacred must have somehow sensed her emotion, because he looked back at her as though to reassure her, then quickened his pace, so that Carilla was forced to lift her skirts with the hand carrying the bag to keep up with him. Moving swiftly in this fashion, they reached the back door to the courtyard, where Jacred listened for a few moments before cautiously checking to who was outside. Seeing no-one who would create problems, he stepped outside taking long strides that Carilla struggled to duplicate as he dragged her after him to the waiting horse and cart.

The cart belonged to a local farmer, who regularly sold his produce to Syme House at triple the price he sold the same goods at the market. Dillom, Carilla remembered, that was his name. It was well known to everyone that he followed this method of overcharging his rich clients, because he would always cheerfully admit to it himself. The fact that the Syme House continued to do business with him despite this was a measure of how impressed the head cook had been with Dillom's honesty, and the quality of his produce.

Well, that or the lack of interest Leukan showed for anything outside the realms of intrigue and the horses Syme House bred, anyway.

He greeted them silently, and then ushered Carilla to a rough straw pallet on the back of his cart. Blanching a little, she looked back at Jacred, and he motioned impatiently for her to move. Thrusting aside almost seventeen years' ingrained propriety lessons, Carilla bit her lip, and then climbed up onto the cart with the aid of Dillom and Jacred. Stowing her bag in the corner of the cart, she settled herself on the pallet, and shut her eyes as a rough blanket that smelled of horse sweat was thrown over her. She felt, rather than saw, Jacred packing straw and empty boxes around and on top of her to obscure her shape, and then heard as he settled himself beside Dillom. She hoped that the thick cloak he wore obscured his features enough that no-one would pay mind to an extra passenger, because there was certainly no room in the small cart for more that one person amongst the many boxes and heaps of straw.

A few moments later, the cart began to make bumping progress along the uneven cobbles. Carilla could hear the scrapes of the boxes shifting, and the steady clop of the trotting horses as they left the vicinity of the manor she had once pretended was home.

Her only emotion was relief.

A/N breathe in, breathe out Okay, here goes nothing.

Hello all!

This story has been sitting there on my profile, stagnant for so long that it was making me itchy... those of you who for whatever reason might have been keeping an eye on this will be delighted to know that as soon as I get the old stuff revamped...again... there WILL be new chapters, because I have FINALLY both decided where this story is going, and what I'm going to do with it.

I think.

In any case, there will be new chapters, and there will be new plot turns... soon! In case you didn't notice, this is very much a work in progress, so just in case you weren't sure, constructive criticism is enthusiastically welcomed.