chapter xxviMature

The Gypsies were thrilled to see Gabriel.  They embraced her with a sort of open welcoming that Graeme had only seen displayed among families - and not his, either.  It was as if they were welcoming home a child that had long ago left them.  He felt almost intrusive watching them touch her face, whisper little things into her ears, and kiss her on the cheeks and forehead.  They touched her with such awe, with such gentility over a precious thing, that his heart twisted in his chest.

In a whirlwind of hands and shawls and black hair and feathers, they were whisked into one of the cottages and hot cups of tea were shuffled into their hands.  Gabriel smiled and laughed, a light in her eyes that Graeme didn't recognize.  Though he felt a little excluded, it felt good to see her so happy. 

Gabriel said, "As much as I've missed you all, I'm afraid I'm not here to visit.  I'm here on a matter of some urgency, and I need to speak to Tasaria alone."

Graeme didn't know which of the flock of women was Tasaria, but it became clear when the others cleared out within seconds of Gabriel's request.  Clearly, she was well respected among them.  He wondered what it had been like for her to stay with them, how they had helped her, what she had done for them to earn such love.  Learning how little he really knew of her was a strange sensation; he didn't know why it hadn't occurred to him that he knew almost nothing of her past.  It occurred to him then that he didn't know how much of his past she knew.  How long had she been using Gabriel as a vessel?  Was Gabriel's proximity to him one of the reasons she'd been chosen as a vessel or had that been something Gabriel had done once she'd become the vessel?

He wondered what the vessel's name had been before Gabriel came into her life.  He thought it might make it easier to think of her as another person if he knew her name, and he made a note to himself to ask Gabriel later on, in private.

Once the cottage had cleared out to just the three of them, Gabriel said, "Tasaria, this is Graeme.  He is the one I was sent here for.  I'm afraid I'm here to ask for your help."

Tasaria was an old woman; age lined her face like creases in the faces of a mountain range, and her eyes were ancient.  She looked at him and he felt the weight of a lifetime pressing down on him, tasting his soul and weighing his sins.  He tried not to flinch beneath the heat of her scrutiny.  Her bony fingers reached for Gabriel's hand and grasped it tightly.  She had bangles going halfway up her forearm, and layers of time-worn sweaters and multi-colored scarves covering her withering torso.  Graeme did not have to study her long to realize she was dwindling beneath all of her colors and patterns.  Behind the onyx strands of hair and eternal eyes, she was an old, dying woman.

To Gabriel, she said, "My child, you may ask anything."

Gabriel smiled softly, as if she too had seen what Graeme had seen.  She said, "I need to know everything you know about keeping demons out, especially the old ones.  You know I can't tell you everything or else I'll be putting you in danger - simply having his name in your head would draw him to you, but I need to know everything you can tell me.  Graeme's already protected by a blood spell, but it's for lower level demons and we're concerned the one after Graeme will be stronger than the blood spell.  There is nothing I know of that can protect him, but I'm hoping that the Angels simply haven't been told everything there is to know.  It certainly wouldn't be the first time."

The End

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