The room in the unused attic above an old military warehouse was dark, all roof windows carefully shuttered. He’d draped military blankets over the windows, either to ease the draft or to be sure no light escaped into the night. She noticed when she moved through the roof shingles, wood beams and bricks alike to hover in the corner farthest from him.
The light stood on the floor, a beeswax candle this time. He’d used an oil wick, torches, even a series of rushes burning one after the other when The Night had come during one of his missions. In the barracks, he’d kept the gas light on through The Night.
She sighed, the lightest of whispers, barely moving the web of a long deceased spider still clinging to the wooden beams beside her. She’d liked it better when he’d been in the barracks. At least, it meant three meals and a warm roof over his head through the winter. But that had changed five Nights ago. She’d found him on missions before, missions her murderer had given him, but five years ago, she’d met her murderer in The Night, oozing vengeance at him. But titles didn’t translate into power – not in the in between and not in the The Night. Her murderer had been dissipated long before reaching the small wood fire. And him. She’d born him. And had been killed anyway.
The first Night had been just a few weeks after her death. He’d been too young to have words, but there’d been giggles and eyes she was sure had been seeing her, at least clumsy hands had reached for her, passing through her and tears had been spilled – real and ephemeral ones.
The flame of the candle flickered. The shade of a man in rough, coal-stained worker’s garb wavered through the brick wall on the other side of the building, staring at him. Another one dead by his blades? Another one seeking vengeance? She floated into the miner’s path. “What do you want of him?” she asked. The living would hear their voices as wind sighing in the rafters.
“I’ve come to her,” was the rough reply, coughed in death’s remnant of a black lung. And indeed, following his eyes, she spotted a woman, sound asleep beside him in a sleeping bag. The dancing light of the candle barely touched her, while he kept watching the candle. “I don’t approve of her choice,” the worn voice rasped and the woman stirred, restless from her father’s voiced disapproval. “But she’d always made her own decisions.” Another cough, strong enough to have some of the old shingles rattling. “He will have to fear me when he harms her.”
Dark eyes left the candle, scanned the attic swiftly, attentively, turned – with unexpected warmth – to the sleeping woman. She sighed. So he wasn’t alone any more. He—
Another sleeper stirred on the far side of the candle. Candle light whisked over light brown hair when he sat up. So many people around him this Night! “What—“ a mortal voice began, only to be quieted by his sharp glance.
She almost gasped when she saw the translucent princess drifting closer at that single word. Their eyes met. “So they’ve finally met,” Marathi said after a moment.
“He’s keeping him safe.” She struggled to keep the accusation from her voice. “The boy’s fear of him doesn’t make that easier.”
Ghostly silk trailed across the floor without disturbing the dust still lying near the walls. “I didn’t want my son to fear him. I wanted to keep them safe from a truth that would have killed us all.”
“And you didn’t want to see a knife in your son’s hand.” This time she didn’t bother to hide her scorn.
The princess nodded in quiet admittance. “Did you want your grandson’s hands as bloodied as his?”
She sighed again, a whisper of air moving along the shingles. “I—”
He silenced Sespian’s question with a sharp glance and took two more candles from his rucksack. He offered one to his son, and quietly woke Amaranthe to give her the second. She yawned, then lit her candle by touching its wick to his.
“What’s wrong?” she asked when he sat down next to her, pulling his knees up to stare at both their candle flames. Looking at flames in the dark was not recommended. It rendered the night vision ineffective for minutes, but one night each year, it was the best thing to do. His fingertips brushed against hers.
“It’s the Night of all Souls,” Sespian said glumly. He sat his candle down beside theirs. “Are you afraid of your victims coming for revenge?”
“No.” Sicarius rested his chin on his drawn up knees, closing his hand around Amaranthe’s. “Mother is watching over me.”
An old folk belief in some parts of Northern Germany says that on the night between Allerheiligen (1. November) and Allerseelen (2. November), the ghosts of the ancestors return to see what has become of their descendants and to judge what they did with their lives. This night is a somber affair without any pranks or sweets, but people keep a candle burning, whether or not to guide the ghosts home or to ward off their wrath depends on who you are asking.
Winning story of the Halloween Contest 2012 on the Emperor's Edge fan forum.
The Emperor’s Edge series is copyright Lindsay Buroker, who kindly allowed derivative fiction of her works. This story is licensed internationally under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0: CC BY-SA by Ann-Kathrin Kniggendorf (AKK).