Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Beyond the Black Mirror

Submitted for Project # 20 "Through the Looking Glass"

Author's note: This story is actually a sequel to my earlier work, "The Black Mirror", which can be found on my website. 

“When Dame Alice fled to England, one of her apprentices managed to escape with the Black Mirror. Its whereabouts were kept secret for over two-hundred and fifty years until it was discovered among the possessions of the Earl of Desmond.”

Pausing for effect, I took a sip from my brandy snifter, glancing in turn to each member of my audience. My hosts, Lord and Lady Wakefield, and one of their guests, a charming young girl, waited for me to continue. I held them spellbound by the tale of my most recent acquisition, the famed Black Mirror of Alice Kyteler, a sorceress who lived in the fourteenth century. I must say it pleased me to entertain them so.

“According to legend, as the earl prepared to indulge himself in the use of the mirror, his wife unexpectedly entered the room. Curious herself, she begged him to let her stay. He gave in to her wishes, cautioning her that she must remain absolutely quiet. She readily agreed, but at some point became quite frightened, lost control of herself, and screamed in horror. Just as the sound left her, a mighty earthquake shook the great castle, the ground split beneath it, and the structure disappeared, swallowed whole. Today a large lake—the Lough Gur I believe it's called—marks the spot where the castle once stood.”

I heard a voice behind me. “Come now, you don't really believe that nonsense, do you?”

I turned to see a tall man of slim build, dressed in a white shirt, knickers, and brown riding boots. A handsome man, with dark hair neatly trimmed and combed back, a sparkle in his eye and a wide grin on his face, I was about to inform him that I thought his remark quite rude when Wakefield announced, “Segrave! It's good to see you old boy! Lord Mulready, let me introduce Sir Henry Segrave, a speed king if ever there was one! The man's broken records on land and in the air. He'll capture the water record next!”

His grin turned sheepish in the midst of Wakefield's boasting, but he shook my hand and bowed to the ladies. To me he said, “You are no doubt discussing the Black Mirror of Dame Alice Kyteler of Kilkenny.”

“You know of it?”

“Know of it? Indeed, I possess it.”

“What?” Having just purchased the item myself, I was astounded that he would say such a thing.

“The earl of whom you speak was Gerald Fitzgerald, the fifteenth Earl of Desmond who did not meet his fate through some encounter with black magic or even natural disaster. A band of men loyal to King Henry VIII got him in 1583. His title and enormous estate were forfeit to the Crown, but my ancestor Shane O'Neill, an ally of the earl, saved many of Fitzgerald's possessions before their enemies moved in. One such item was this Black Mirror. My family name is O'Neal de Hane Segrave, which has undergone some spelling changes over the years but was originally O'Neill de Shane. That mirror has been passed down from generation to generation for nearly three and a half centuries.”

“My goodness, Mulready, it seems you've been had!” Wakefield said. His wife covered her mouth with her hand. The other young girl (alas, I've forgotten her name) hid her face behind her hand-held fan, no doubt more interested in admiring Segrave than worrying that I may have made a bad purchase.

I glared at the man. “Are you suggesting that I've purchased a fake?”

Segrave never wavered. “I assure you you have.”

“I demand proof!”

Wakefield said, “I propose a friendly wager.” I took another sip of brandy and returned my attention to my host, who continued, “Segrave here has asked me to fund a major undertaking of his. Remember my reference to the water record? It is his intention to wrest the British International Trophy from the Americans. Now, if his mirror proves to be authentic, you purchase it for enough money to build the speedboat he requires.”

I looked toward Segrave. “You'd sell it?”

“For a chance to bring the trophy back to England, I would indeed.”

“And if my mirror turns out to be the original?” I asked, turning back to Wakefield.

“Then I'll fund the project as promised, but all the credit for backing the endeavor will go to you. Think of the prestige if he succeeds.”

“All right then, you're on,” I said. Wakefield and I shook hands.

Segrave beamed like a schoolboy. “I'll name her Miss England II.”

~ * ~

The following week Segrave arrived at my manor with his mirror. Wakefield accompanied him and we all settled into the sitting room. I'd sent my butler, Jeremy, away for the evening but he'd taken the time to prepare the fireplace and set out the drink tray. Soon we had a crackling fire and glasses of golden brandy on the rocks; the perfect atmosphere for an October evening.

Segrave removed his mirror from a sack of purple silk. It was indeed a fine specimen, but its ebony frame shone like new. It did not seem possible that the piece could be as old as Segrave claimed. I pointed out the obvious age of my own. “See the worn out oaken frame of my piece?”

“What about this felt backing?” Wakefield asked, indicating its back side.

“Probably added at some later date,” I said. I drew forth a pocket knife, opened the blade and cut through the felt covering so we could examine the black backing. “It should prove scratch-resistant,” I said. To my chagrin, it did not. The material flaked off.

Wakefield produced a magnifying glass and inspected the backing. With raised eyebrows he said, “It appears to be some kind of paint…like that used on an automobile!”

“What!” I cried.

“Here,” Segrave said, “Try the blade on mine.”

I took his mirror and drew the knife across the backing. “This isn't scratching off,” I said. “Wakefield, may I have your glass?”

“Certainly.” He handed it to me and I examined the backing closely, but could see no flaws. Then I tracked the glass slowly around the frame. At the bottom right corner I spotted something exciting. A word. Through Wakefield's glass I could make it out: "Elenwyn".

I spoke the word aloud. The other gentlemen looked at me blankly, apparently not understanding. “Do you know what that is?” I asked. Wakefield shook his head. Segrave simply shrugged. I said, “It's the nom de plume of Maisha Foster-O'Neal.” I looked from one face to the other for signs of recognition. I saw none.

“Who's that?” Segrave finally asked.

“That,” I said, “is the woman you have to thank for your possession of this mirror. It was she who saved it from destruction in 1324. I daresay this mirror of yours is the real thing, Segrave!”

“Then yours is a fake?” Wakefield asked.

“Yes, yes, I've been had, but no matter. This is the piece I seek. Segrave, I must have this!”

“And you shall.”

“And you shall have your boat,” Wakefield said, clapping him on the back, “courtesy of Lord Mulready.”

“Yes, yes indeed,” I said, unable to tear my eyes from the mirror.

~ * ~

Late that evening I pored over Elenwyn's poem Black Mirror which I was sure contained the spell that would unlock the object's secrets.

Black Mirror
a mirror
reflecting not what is
not what will be
not what has been
nor what could be
yet reflecting all the same
a deep hope
in the shallow pools
of a wandering mind
long lost
to the truth and stark reality of life
Why do you look upon it?
Why do you recoil
at a sight you see only in your mind,
pronounce the differences
of the lie you are living?
all in a mirror that
burns in the darkness
and the reflections stare
haunting you
for eternity

I sat staring at the last couplet. This elusive spell would haunt me for eternity if I didn't find it. Then a thought struck me and I began looking at the lines rather than the individual words. One line consisted of a single word, several had two words, one had three, several had four. I rearranged them until I had something that looked promising:

for eternity
a deep hope
reflecting not what is
yet reflecting all the same
of the lie you are living
to the truth and stark reality of life
at a sight you see only in your mind

But something wasn't right. No line in her poem contained seven words. Had she intentionally skipped that number? Or perhaps left a line out? Elenwyn surely hid spells inside her compositions, but often left out a crucial detail, without which they would not work. I consulted the crumbling pages of my Latin translation of Necronomicon, that ancient book written in the eighth century by the "Mad Arab", Abdul Alhazred. According to that source, a Black Mirror used in conjunction with the Egyptian Amulet of Menat could restore life to the dead. Used along with the Amulet of Shen the wearer could see for eternity into the future. Coupled with both amulets, it could grant the power of eternal life. I noticed that life and eternity were both well represented in Elenwyn's poem.

Over the years I had collected such artifacts, and I owned the very amulets described in that book, specimens dating from the Sixth Dynasty. I fetched them and inspected them closely using the glass that I had mistakenly forgotten to give back to Wakefield. Inscribed on the Amulet of Menat were glyphs which roughly translated to: Granted unto thee the power of returning. Seven words! It could only mean one thing. With that line inserted the poem read:

Granted unto thee the power of returning
to the truth and stark reality of life

That had to be the clue!

The following evening I began preparations to make the mirror ready to use. With an athame, I sliced my finger, drawing blood which I mixed with fluid condenser. I used this to energize the mirror, after which I cleaned it with alcohol and returned it to its silk sack. With eager anticipation I awaited the next full moon, which would occur in one week's time. I made arrangements to be alone; legend or not, I entertained no desire to be disturbed during the ritual like the unfortunate Earl of Desmond. Jeremy was a good chap, but a bit nosy at times.

When the glorious night arrived I removed the Black Mirror from the sack and placed it upright upon a white cloth, admiring it in the moonlight. I donned the Amulets of Menat and of Shen. The Collar of Gold caught my eye and I wore that as well. To keep evil spirits at bay I created a circle of protection. Unfortunately, I situated the mirror inside the circle, which would prove to be a mistake. I created a lunar blend incense from a mixture of oil-soaked lotus and jasmine flowers combined with powder made from sandalwood and myrrh. Then I lit a pair of white candles and burned the incense, asking for the blessing of the Moon Mother as I did so.

Next I sat down on a wooden chair facing the mirror. A small table beside me held Necronomicon, The Complete Works of Maisha Foster-O'Neal open to Black Mirror, and my journal in which I had written what I believed to be the proper spell. I prepared to enter into a trance to see if I could indeed conjure up Dame Alice's dæmon, Robin, Son of Art, or perhaps even the ancient sorceress herself. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

When I reopened them, the pair staring back at me weren't mine. They weren't even human, but those of a large feline whose black face gradually came into focus. It peered at me intently while I, wide-eyed, stared back. I took a deep breath and said, “I am trying to reach Robin, Son of Art.”

The creature opened its mouth, revealing yellow teeth, but no sound issued forth.

“Are you Robin?” I asked.

The cat licked its paws.

“Son of Art?”

The animal returned its gaze to me.

“Are you Robin, Son of Art, the familiar of Dame Alice Kyteler?” I asked.

Before my eyes the cat underwent a transformation and the face of a man materialized. The brown eyes of a dark-skinned man with hollow cheeks and a prominent nose stared back at me. A booming voice erupted from the mirror. “Who are you?”

“I am Charles, Lord Mulready.”

“What do you want?”

I licked dry lips. “I w-w-want to know the secret of Dame Alice's mirror. Of life and eternity.”

The man's eyes narrowed to thin slits. “What are you prepared to give?”

“W-w-whatever you require.”

“Alice wanders lost here. You have a spell that will free her. She will trade the secret of the mirror for that intonation.”

I grabbed my notes from the table and with a single breath recited the words, “Granted unto thee the power of returning to the truth and stark reality of life.” After I'd spoken them the face in the mirror changed again, to that of a thin woman whose mouth spread into a wide smile and whose eyes sparkled with glee.

“Dame Alice?” I asked.

“The window,” she replied. “Help me. Take my hand.”

The surface of the mirror rippled and a delicate hand came through it and into the room. I grasped it firmly. To my horror it yanked me right out of the chair. I had no idea it could possess such strength, I am not a small man. I expected to fall and crack my skull against the mirror, shards of shattering glass slicing my head.

I fell into the Black Mirror all right, but didn't crash into it. Instead I went straight through it and wound up sprawled face-down in hot sand. I heard laughter receding behind me and turned my head in time to see a woman's foot disappear through a shimmering window. Beyond her I caught a glimpse of the interior of my chamber just before the window closed, leaving me in solitude.

I knew at once what had happened. The window had opened inside my circle of protection and Alice had taken advantage of that to escape from this place. Slowly I stood up and brushed myself off. I looked around, peering in every direction, searching for the portal through which I'd come. I could see nothing but sand and sky and the sun which bore down upon me. It seemed as if someone had picked me up and dropped me in the middle of the Sahara Desert. But London time was near midnight. It was late afternoon wherever this was. I feared that I might be in no earthly place at all.

I felt there must be a way to open the window from this side, if I could just remember the words I'd used. If only I hadn't dropped my journal before taking that woman's hand. If only I hadn't touched that awful hand at all. If only. Of course, if Witch Alice had been unable to open the thing, what chance had I?

As I pondered my predicament, the sky darkened, turning a strange orange colour. Off in the distance I watched a massive brown cloud grow noticeably larger. A wall of sand hurtled toward me and I had nowhere to hide. Frantically I began to dig, hoping to make a hole into which I might hunker down for some protection. I concentrated on this task, fighting the urge to check the progress of the dust cloud. Before long I could hear its rumbling.

I dug as quickly as I could, but didn't have much time and so only had a very shallow spot when the storm descended upon me. I curled up and covered my head while all sorts of nasty thoughts raced through my mind. If a tornado caused the storm, I could get sucked up into it. Or, if dust completely filled the air I would be smothered to death. Of course, I might simply be buried alive. I didn't enjoy a single pleasant thought the entire time the storm raged.

I have no idea how long it lasted, it felt like forever, but finally the howling wind subsided and swirling sand passed by me. It had left me partially buried but only under a few millimeters and I emerged unhurt.

Having no idea what else to do, I began walking in search of food and water, of which I found none. I found neither plant nor animal life. No sign of people or buildings, either. Nothing at all seemed to inhabit that forlorn place.

For endless days I wandered thus, surprised that my energy did not give out. I was tired but not on the verge of collapsing. I felt a bit hungry and quite thirsty, but not that I was in immediate danger of dying. I know a person can only live a few days without water, but perhaps the rules didn't apply to this strange land.

One day I saw something I initially thought a mirage, something hovering in midair. I ran toward it and realized it was a man's face. The white beard and deep blue eyes were—Jeremy's! My faithful servant had found me! I shouted to him. “Jeremy, my boy! Thank goodness you've found me! Witch Alice has escaped from this place and is somewhere in London. Help me get out of here!”

A smile of recognition came to him, but I apparently misunderstood it. Jeremy had succeeded in finding me, but his intentions were hostile rather than helpful. He attempted to cast a binding spell upon me! How lucky I'd been to have decided upon wearing the Collar of Gold. The fool probably didn't know its significance. The purpose of the collar is to allow the deceased to escape from his wrappings, a binding spell wouldn't work while I wore it.

But it did hold me long enough to allow the traitorous man to close the portal before I could get through it. I remained trapped and did not expect anyone else to come looking for me. Imagine my surprise then, when a short time later the window opened again and before me floated the face of Dame Alice.

I later learned that this sophisticated woman of the 1320's became quite confused by London of the 1920's. She decided she needed an accomplice and so returned to my mansion, where she happened upon Jeremy reveling in his victory over me. It did not take her long to discover that he had only rudimentary knowledge of the black arts and that the journal and library were indeed mine, not his. She forced him to disclose the whereabouts of the Black Mirror and proceeded to look for me.

I imagine the poor chap still wanders through that lonely place in the land beyond the Black Mirror with its endless landscape. Lady Alice has had her fill of the place and can't stand the sight of sand. We get along splendidly but she absolutely refuses to accompany me to the beach.

Black Mirror © 2003 by Maisha Foster-O'Neal. Reprinted with permission. Some of Maisha's other work can be found here.

Information about the death of speedboat legend Sir Henry O'Neal de Hane Segrave can be found here.

Information concerning scrying with a black mirror came from Katyln Breen on the awesome Crystal Forest website.

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