The Woman with Stars in Her Hair

A hawk soared over the valley in wide sweeping arcs, catching the updraft off the sheer sandstone cliffs, as it followed the meandering river through the moor on its journey to the sea. The scent of wisteria hung on the air, wafted hither and yon by a gentle breeze coming out of the southern reaches. The sun was nearly at the end of its journey across the azure skies above, and near its evening rendezvous with the Tempest Mountains to the west. A coolness settled over the realm, as the creatures above and below gathered inward and readied themselves for the coming of night.

A woman with stars in her hair stood on the lip of the hill beneath the shelter of an ancient oak, its branches widespread and protective. Her eyes glistened as she looked out over the valley, a smile lighting her face with a deep sense of contentment. An errant thought flashed across her mind, and she let out a little giggle. She cupped her hand to her mouth, as though to stop the happy sound from escaping, but she knew it was too late. "Besides," she thought to herself, "laughter is the balm that heals the wounded soul." She paused, listening to the sounds of the coming of night. "That's what Father always said, and he would have liked it," she murmured half aloud, and she giggled again. "I like that," came a soft wisp of a voice behind her; "and, you're right - your Father would have loved it." The woman turned, and looked into the hazel-green eyes of her dear friend. "How long have you been standing there?" asked the woman. "Not long," came the reply, "and you?" returned the friend. "Not long, either," she said, putting her hand on her friend's shoulder. "You seem in a far distant place, dear friend," said the other. "Umhmm….I was but thinking - it is so sad," the woman with stars in her hair sighed; "the earth grows cold, and the sun no longer warms it. The people have lost heart - they shield themselves and no longer reach out to each other - to touch….well, it is very painful to observe." Her friend nodded in agreement, and smiled sadly. "And those who wield power, so often do so for ill, or for harm, and not for the benefit of those in whose trust they serve - they extract what is not their due from the disheartened, and gather around them the disenchanted through the persuasive power of their words, and sadly their influence grows." The woman glanced over at her friend, eyes of steel-grey meeting deep hazel-green. "It is well, then, that we are here," smiled the friend. "Yes."

A lone figure sat silently on his steed, watching the hawk making lazy circles above the wide valley. Here was Richard the Lion Heart, King of all England. He was wary, for there were rampant rumors of ill deeds across his realm, and those in his service were unable to discern the truth of them. For a brief moment he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and thought he saw a flash of light on the lip of the hill to the east. After scouring the hillside he decided his eyes must have played a trick on him, though caution bid him still remain wary. He returned his gaze to the hawk wheeling above - it let out a screech, piercing and hard on the windblown sky. Then, it banked and swooped down from its lofty heights, and feathering its wings, came to light on the leathern wristlet on the King's left forearm. "Eyes there are that monitor our every move," said Hawke, his voice sharp and crisp - "There, on the crest of the eastern hill." There was no visible movement, but again the King thought he spied a light shining amid the trees. "Whose eyes behold us?" queried the King, "and what is their pleasure?" Hawke told of spying two figures from on high, noting that one was that of a woman with long flowing hair, and the other a four-legged creature - a large feline, he thought. Hawke was at a loss as to who they might be, or from whence they came. "Do they pose danger to us or to the Realm?" asked the King, fingering the hilt of his sword. "I think not," said his companion, "but there is much unknown, as mystery surrounds them." "Your eyes are keen indeed, Hawke. Summon them - bid them come for an audience. We should meet," said the King, and with that, Hawke lifted into the air and with powerful strokes moved in a direct line toward the crest of the hill to the east.

Hawke's approach was observed by the two, who waited without efforts of secrecy, though for the feline with all due vigilance as he drew nigh. The large cat was singularly cautious, crouching, her ears forward and ever alert - her eyes open wide and unblinking, and fixed on the approaching feathered apparition. The hair on the back of her neck stirred slightly. The woman with stars in her hair laid her hand on the large cat's shoulder, rubbing it lightly. "There is no need for fear," she said, "he comes as an emissary of a Friend."

"Ho, my fine feathered Friend," called out the woman, her voice silky and smooth. "Who art thou, and what is thy business?" "I am by name, Sojourner Hawke, faithful servant and watchful eyes of the King," came the reply. "I am sent to learn of your mission - and, as you are in His realm, so I ask you in return - to whom am I speaking, and what is thy business?" Sojourner spoke courteously, though with a firmness in his voice well noted by his audience. "I am the Lady Diane," said the beautiful apparition softly, "one from the realm of night, the land of dreams, the place where all ideas originate." There was a slight lilt in her voice and a sparkle in her eyes, and her lips curled up in a broad smile lighting her face. "And your companion?" asked Sojourner, nodding his head toward the woman's friend. The large cat settled back on her haunches, and held Hawke with her gaze. "I am Lynnx, the Stealth Balmer," said the sleek feline, her voice but a soft purr - "A master of the ancient healing arts am I, and attendant traveler of the Lady of The Night." Hawke nodded in acknowledgment. "You do indeed hold forth from the Kingdom of Shadows," replied Sojourner to them both, "for though I spied you from on high, me thinks this was neither by chance nor through any skills of mine, so much as by your leave." "You are most kind," said the Dream Master with a smile. "We try," said Lynnx.

At the bidding of Sojourner Hawke, the Lady Diane and her companion followed the path leading from the hill down into the valley, while above he kept them company, serving as their guide and watchful eye of the King. As they approached the wide and silently moving river, Lynnx noted a figure astride a magnificent horse at the river's edge. He wore the black armor of the King's livery, the royal crest emblazoned on his breast, his right hand resting on the gilt handle of his sword. Sojourner rested easily on the left wrist of the Black Knight as the two travelers approached. From this distance, Lynnx could see the burning fires behind the Black Knight's steel-grey eyes, and she was fascinated. "The King sends you his warmest greetings," said the Black Knight, speaking courteously. Sojourner rustled his wings, and shifted his weight. This slight movement was not lost on Lynnx, who purred slightly and nuzzled against her friend's leg. The Lady Diane smiled, and petted Lynnx's shoulder - "I know, my friend." She raised her hand and smiled - "You may tell the King we are pleased to be received with such grace." The Black Knight nodded. "What brings you to this, His Kingdom?" he asked. The Lady of the Night paused - "You, yourself, summoned me through your invocation to Merlin of old," she replied softly, not wavering from his stare. The Black Knight was startled, and she smiled. "You are too swift for the likes of me and my poor efforts at slight of words," smiled the King. "You knew it was me all along?" he asked. "Yes, you are certainly known throughout your Realm, and notably across the entire western region, and of a truth in my world," replied the Lady of the Night. "Your speech is distinctive, and easily recognizable. And, your eyes betray you even in the dimness of twilight," she added. "It was foolish of me to seek to mislead you," said the King, "though I did it not in malice, but in pleasantry, for I trust that you come as a friend of the realm."

The King paused, and holding the eyes of the beautiful Diane, he spoke: "I entreated the spirit of Merlin, that should he be able to invoke the powers of the nether worlds, to do so in the name of the King. It is well you have come at his bidding, for I fear evil powers are afoot in my Kingdom." The Lady Diane remained motionless, her eyes gleaming, her smile a settling calm. The King went on: "A fortnight ago, the Dark Lord, Druin Pelyndhur, betrayed my trust and that of the people, and joined forces with the Evil Wizard Jamhell. Together they hold forth from the realms of darkness with most evil intent, and thus put the people of the Kingdom at risk. On hearing the names of the two men, Lynnx stirred, and her purring stopped. The Lady Diane's eyes brightened, and she asked, "Good King - what is the pleasure of Lord Pelyndhur and his servant? What peril does he pose for the people?" The King responded without hesitation, "Lord Pelyndhur's mind is of such darkness, and his voice silky smooth - he speaks one thing, but intends another. Of a truth, he deceives the people through misdirection, and entreats with eyes deceptively warm, appealing to the innocence of those easily swayed. His evil grasp swells with every mind so captured. The Wizard Jamhell complements the Dark Lord with his spells of wonder and intrigue that bind men's minds through loyalties falsely wrought of deceit. He is without a soul, and his heart is as the icy winds blowing out of the frozen realms far to the north - thus are the people in peril."

"Ah, the touch of two so cold of heart - it is no new thing in all the universe, my Lord," said the beautiful Diane. "But, it is a troublesome matter - always has been - and requires the warmth of a heart touched even by the sun, and with vision clear as with the light of day." Lynnx purred once again, and her keen eyes watched the King and his servant. "It is, as the Lady of the Night notes, no new thing, for it is as old as time itself, this darkness. But a curse of the darkness is but a curse, and sheds naught in the way of light, and one remains still without vision." "What would you in the face of such dark and ill deeds?" asked the King, for he was deeply puzzled, being in a realm unfamiliar to him. Sojourner Hawke, for his part, spoke with greater clarity: "You speak of light and the warmth of the sun, Fair Lady, and of a truth in this realm as in all others it is neither day nor night that threatens, for one is merely the absence of the other and of a piece of what is natural, but the power of a heart in darkness." "So it is," replied the beautiful Diane, and she giggled and again sought to stifle her delightful response. "What stirs thy mirth, Lady of the Night?" asked the King, puzzled at her response in the face of his distress. "It is merely that light is not hard come by, but is made much the more difficult through veils over the mind's eye of one's own doing." The King frowned, and his steel-grey eyes clouded momentarily, and the Lady of the Night, upon seeing this, giggled again. "There, you see? You have your faithful servant, whom you entrust with your vision - he attains views for thine eyes alone, and from such vantagepoints unattainable by mortal men. And, yet, your vision sees no farther than your mind permits. Your servant is indeed correct - it is neither the night nor the day that rules or threatens. It is the darkness in the hearts of men that poses the threat, which can only be met and embraced by the light of another's heart." "So, does the King lay down His arms in the face of such dark shadows?" asked the King, still puzzled. "That is one alternative, good King, though not one I posed," said the beautiful Diane. "No, rather spread the light of day upon the works of darkness; expose the deeds of a darkened heart to the rays of the sun at morn; meet the darkness with a candle and curse it not, and the shadows veiling the heart will retreat in the face of it," smiled the Lady of The Night. "And, perhaps of a truth the most important - the heart will regain its power over the minds of men and shall set them free, and the realm will revive its true calling - to feed the people…"

That night, the King stood on the west rampart of the Royal Castle and pondered the conflict of powers throughout His Realm - the ancient struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. The Lady of the Night, and Lynnx, her servant and healer of old, brought a balm to the Kingdom, one fully unanticipated by the King. The forces of Lord Pelyndhur, with the support of those of the Wizard Jamhell, held sway only because their efforts and deeds remained in the shadows of night. Exposed to the candle of life, the eye perceives, the mind comprehends, and the heart warms - and above in the vast stillness of the midnight sky, The Lady Diane and her companion, Lynnx, hold forth from the wondrous Realm of Night…