The Lily Hand and Other Stories

The Lily Hand and Other Stories by Ellis Peters Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: The Lily Hand and Other Stories by Ellis Peters Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ellis Peters
its revenges. There was magical death, and magical damnation. The loveliest, the youngest and best was always the desired prize.
    So it was up to me. You can see that. And you’ll understand why I unhasped the open window, and climbed into the room, and went and knelt beside the bed, touching her fingers, whispering into her ear, imploring her to awake before it was too late. No noise – there must be no noise. Even to touch her was dangerous. Supposing she should be startled and cry out, and they should hear?
    There was a perfume in her hair and about her skin that made my senses fail, and now that I was close beside her, her face was so beautiful that the tears came into my eyes. Are tears a waking magic? One actually fell on to her cheek, but she did not move. And then I remembered what I had to do. Of course, there is only one way, the old, the time-honoured way to awaken sleeping princesses.
    I bent my head, and kissed her on the soft, uplifted mouth. It was like a little death. Everything I had been faded and declined in me, burning out, and something new and wondering and unsure, but clear and good, slowly generated and grew in me to replace it. And before I had lifted my lips from hers I felt the long lashes sweeping my cheek, brushing through my lashes. She opened her eyes, which were as darkly blue as gentians in an Alpine meadow, and looked at me, all dewy and astonished and direct as a child, and slowly, marvellously, she began to smile.
    And I, drawing back a little from my too impious nearness to her, knocked over the table and the lamp together, and the lamp went out.
    Beneath us there was a savage, alarmed outcry of voices and a clashing of doors, and feet thudded wildly on the stairs, heavy, hasty feet, as the dwarfs came raging to retrieve their treasure.
    Groping through the darkness, crying to her to come with me, and I would save her, I caught at her hand, and for an instant I swear those soft, cool fingers folded gently upon mine. Then the door of the room burst open and they came swarming in, the powers of evil; small, heavy, loathsome, they poured over me, clinging about my legs, climbing up my body, battering at me, and screaming in harsh angry voices.
    I fought my way across the room, trying to sweep them away from her bed, but their weight dragged me down, and their heat clinging to my sweating body was awful, unbearable. I tried to shake them off, but they dragged at my feet and brought me down, and then they were all over me, and I was stifling, dying. Something exploded inside my aching head. Even the darkness went out.
    I came to life again, if it was life, lying on a stone floor. My body was ice-cold, but my head was filled with molten metal, so heavy that I could not move it even to ease the pain. At first I thought I was encircled by a ring of tiny fires, then I saw that they were eyes watching me. All the dwarfs were crouched round me, staring; and one of them, who sat beside my left shoulder, held a misshapen, veinous hand above my heart, poising a long, thin knife.
    They did not move, nor often speak. They just sat there, and watched me. I kept my eyelids lowered, peering stealthily through my lashes, so that they should think me still unconscious, asleep, dead, whatever it was they conceived my state to be. I saw that the door of the room stood ajar, and that there were stars in the sliver of sky I could see beyond. I regained a tiny, feeble flickering of hope, because there were stars again. The world had not entirely abandoned itself to the ancient evil.
    And I remembered her, the inexpressibly beautiful, the captive, the victim, charmed again to sleep in the room above, and knew that I had to get away from here alive, in order that she might live again. Whether I could or no, I had to escape and bring help for her.
    I did not know yet if I could move, and dared not try it, because the least tension of my arm would be seen at once, and surprise was the one weapon I had. But

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