Letters in the Vault

Sometimes, the dance called life is graceful. Sometimes, you step on a toe or fall flat on your face.

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Letters in the Vault

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"Gran," Pearl asked, "are you sure you want to do this, now? I mean ... there's ... time." She frowned. "Isn't there?"

"We don't really know that answer. Given what you told me, I'm on borrowed time as it is." Colleen pulled some ivory writing paper from her desk. "Just make sure that things are set up for delivery."

"And," she swallowed audibly, "what if I go first?"

"I hope ya don't, Seamair, but the way things are set up, the lawyers take over and tend to business. I have a written will 'n' it gets amended all the time."

A frown flitted over Pearl's lips. "I'll make the tea." She left her grandmother's study, made her way through the library and onward to the kitchen. She never liked the talk of what would happen after her grandmother's passing. She'd been through that once before.

Collie gave Pearl a smile as she headed out then set pen to paper.

My dearest Dris,

If you are receiving this, I am no longer on this plane of existence. We all knew this would happen one day. It doesn't necessarily mean I am no longer living, there are other places with claims on me.

During my hospital stay, I told many how dearly I held them. You were among them. I remember well the days when we used to end up at functions together and assumptions were made. We used to let them think as they liked as we bantered and danced. Those were grand and carefree days. You might be the only person in Rhydin that understands why I haven't danced the Tango since Darien left. Unless things have changed since I set the pen to this paper, it's likely best it stays that way.

I hope you can forgive me for a bit of envy mixed with the joy that I feel for the happiness you share with Rhys. They say joy shared is doubled and sorrow shared is halved. Given all those that share in that happiness, it will last a very long time.

Rambling on and reminiscing could take me months and reams of paper. I often long for what once was, the familiar and comforting. I am apprehensive of what could be because a heart scarred as many times as mine eventually stops being able to heal. Even when someone has reminded such a heart how to sing, the words expressing that are often not spoken. Maybe, by the time this letter is delivered, along with a special gift, I'll have found that courage.

The accompanying gift, a harpsichord, has a maker's mark from Bartolomeo Cristofori that I'm sure you will recognize. I acquired this and a couple of other pieces during travels travel what is now Italy. Since the piano has always been your instrument, you should have this in your care. I hope that you will enjoy it and that only fond memories will rise when you play it.

With Love,

Collie


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Re: Letters in the Vault

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Pearl had brought the tea and scones. She glanced at a letter that had been started, but no name had been written on it, yet. "Gran?" She set the tray down on a cleared corner of the desk.

"Hmm?" Colleen looked up from the next letter in line.

"You didn't finish this one, yet." She gestured to the ink filled page with a slender index finger.

"Oh, that one." The corner's of the redhead's lip turned downward. "I ... uh... that's a hard one."

"Maybe I can help?"

"I doubt it, but thank ya fer askin'."

Pearl rearranged a few things to give the tray a sturdier place. "You could just tell..."

She wagged a finger from side to side. "Some things aren't that simple."

"Nor are they that complicated." She shrugged. "All I'm saying is there are some things that shouldn't be learned of after someone is gone. Then they lose out. You take a choice away and... "

"Maighread," Colleen's tone was harsh as she spoke her granddaughter's birth name in heavily accented Irish, but she got her attention. "Not everyone is blessed ta find both their best friend and their life partner at the age o' six."

"Speaking of Velen, I should get home." She leaned to kiss her grandmother's cheek.

"The letter ya asked about, no matter what happens there's a case o' Jameson's that goes wit' it. The 1800."

Pearl whistled lowly, "Damn." She suddenly grinned. "That means the Bushmill's ..."

"Ya know damned well that all but a few bottles o' Bushmill's goes ta yer Aunt Ari." Using the backs of her hands, she shooed Pearl on her way. It was Ariana MacGyldren's name that headed the next letter.

Ariana,

You have been my friend, my conspirator, and my confidante. You have mothered my brood at times when I was unable. While we don't speak of it, you were once my sister-in-law. You are and always will be one of the finest people I have ever known.

Should my passing or departure be before the youngest of my children reach their age of majority, I would be grateful if you would share our stories with them. I plan to entrust the lion's share of their upbringing to Rhiannon and Eregor. While they will do well in the parental roles, Abby and Madison will also need the wisdom that only one that has been a grandmother can give. Not to mention that the Dirty Old Broad Society will eventually need new members! Who better to teach them than a founding member?

With this letter, you will find four cases of Bushmill's whiskey. I ask that you reserve one case for a bottle to be opened on every tenth anniversary of my birth, the ninth day of November. Toast the memories we have shared and the blessings the Bramble has given to us these many years and the future generations.

Your Sister By the Heart,

Colleen
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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As she turned to look out the window, there was a blanket of white shining on the ground in the darkness. It was the first snow of the season. There was something peaceful about it. There were also flashes of memories: walking hand in hand with a man she once treasured, snowball fights with her children, and the solace of riding a horse on a clear wintery night.

Abby leaned in the doorway of her mother's study, one ankle crossed over the other. "Mama, it's ..." before she could finish, the grandfather clock in the front hall chimed for the midnight hour.

"Late," Colleen said to her daughter, "ya should be in bed."

"I was." The eight year old gestured to the German Shepherd sitting at her feet. "Someone had to go and someone else was," she gestured around the desk, "busy."

She dropped her forehead to her upturned palm. "I'm sorry, love, I should have let him out hours ago."

"Yes, you should have!" Abby nodded. "I'm not the one that should have the apology. Max was the one that was doing the potty dance."

"Come on, Max, let's see what's in the kitchen." Colleen tipped her head. "Maddie's still sleepin'?"

"Oh yeah, Muffin's still sitting on her head." Abby picked up a couple of papers that had fallen from the desk. She took note of something written on one of the sheets. "I know what this means." She set the papers on the desk.

"Abby Fenner, don't ya be readin' m' letters ..." She cut the words off as she realized Abby had done nothing wrong.

"It fell and I picked it up, I've been practicing my Irish." Abby froze in midstep. "Night, Mama."

"Sweet dreams. I'll be up after I get Max settled." She felt relieved when Abby had noted the words she'd read were in Irish, that was a simple to do list. She set a paper weight on the sheets of writing paper. The unaddressed letter had been shuffled to the bottom of the pile. As she had told someone, she didn't have the courage for that letter to be read or finished, yet. Colleen tended to the dog and retired to her own bed. The words in her own hand, I need you to know crept into her dreams.
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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The girls were off to school for the day and the farm's business was cleared away in the morning. Colleen sat at her desk again to write.

Tass,

What can I possibly say that you didn't already know? Despite all the romances and marriages, you have been the most constant male presence in my life since I arrived in Rhydin more than two decades ago. Given what I've discovered, I may have known you before this lifetime when I was a daughter of Poseidon. It is, perhaps, fitting that the currently expected child of Rhi and Eregor will be under the influence of the Tower of Water and IceDancer. I'm thinking other factors will be involved as well.

I've often been asked, why I never married you. I have wondered that myself. The timing was never right and, until recently, I doubt either of us would have shared well. You're a dragon, a being known to hoard treasured things. I've never asked if that applies to your affections as well, but I suspect it does as few things are more treasured than a heart.

I often wonder what became of KD and the eggs I helped her to deliver. You haven't spoken of them and I avoided asking. Having lost children, before and after their birth, I know the painful memories that can rise including that one question that preys on the mind, What if?. You stepped in to be the father that mine needed. Perhaps, the one thing I can tell you that you didn't know is that, sometimes, I wonder, if someplace in the multiverse there is a child that belongs to us.

Love,

Colleen


She sealed the letter to be placed it in the vault with the others. Her attention turned to the letter not yet addressed and not fully written. I said I would never lie to you ... but is it a lie to not speak of something?
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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The following day was spent with Abby and Madison, preparing for a journey to the Terran Sector. The essential can’t sleep without it plushies were carefully packed into carry-on bags.

Abby grumbled, “Why can’t they go? They’re part of the family, too!”

Her mother sighed with exasperation. “First, Max is gettin’ on in years ‘n’ travellin’ that far might be hard on ‘im. Second, we’re goin’ ta places that would keep ‘im ‘n’ Muffin in quarantine fer much longer than we plan ta be away.”

Madison lightly elbowed her sister. “We better give up that battle or we won’t go either.”

“They’re goin’ ta Nicole’s in Old Temple, they’ll be fine there. Wit’ Melly next door, they won’t lack fer company.”

The trip to the Stars End Spaceport was filled with chatter about who and what they were going to see when they got to their destination. Even after all this time, Colleen was still amazing by the wonders of space travel. The girls opted for some reading time. As the young ones enjoyed the time in their own little worlds, Collie put pen to paper once again.


You rat bastard of a cockpit jockey,

After all those years, it took losing my memory to finally see a few things. I rarely drop my guard and you were one of few that had gotten past it. At the end of things, when I needed help and protection, (a relativily rare occurrence, I know) in that vulnerable state, it wasn’t you that it came from. It wasn’t your twin, either. You stood by and were ready to let him take advantage. The shelter in the storm came from our daughter, who realized what was about to happen. Had Chelle not stepped in, the odds are I would have gone down the same road again with both you and your brother.

You once asked me why, I kept the beginnings of our affair a secret. I never asked why you did, too. I already knew the answers. Man like you has strings of enemies and those that are closest can be used as weapons. Later on, when I learned you were identical twins pretending to one person, other things fell into place.

The pair of you deceived me, but I was the one that felt like a liar and cheat. I believed myself to be in love. However, looking back, it might have been love and or obsession. Then it became a question of which one of you had stirred those feelings. While being in love with two people at the same time wasn’t something new for me, it was the broken trust that was gut wrenching. Eventually, I forgave you, but I am glad that I was able to remember it to protect myself from it happening again. Trust is difficult to repair once it’s broken. It’s because of that bit of long standing baggage in the annals of my life in Rhydin that, until recently, I had not even considered more than one partner and/or an open relationship.

Do you have any idea the damage that deception caused? Not just to me, but CeCe as well? Who knows how many others; I expect there were plenty that might also have been kept secret. Ayesha, like me, was never one to speak of the secrets of others. Whatever happened to cause her to break off that relationship and near marriage had to have been a huge eye-opener.

I was tending bar at the Stars End when you brought CeCe in and introduced her to me. I still recall the expression on her face when our shared daughter was brought up. Despite it having taken years to actually prove it, you knew Rachael had been born to us. Had you not told CeCe until then? You introduced her as your fiancée. My memory has failed me on the timing of this event as I don’t recall if Diana had been presented to me or not. I say presented because, as you are aware, I didn’t give birth to Dee and her existence had been a surprise to everyone.

Maybe I prefer to not remember the when as that stirs the heavy reminder of the death of Judas Lasher. I lost the happiness and sense of contentment that I had found with him. One of my biggest regrets is feeling like I had not treated him as well as he deserved. You were always in the shadows. That is, until you died. I even went to the funeral to make sure there was a body and it was real, not a twisted dream of some kind. I never wished death on you by any means, but there is a certain sense of peace that happens when someone dies. It tends to force closure on unfinished business. It was after that I learned about your twin because, in true Rhydinian fashion, you rose from the dead. My peace was shattered.

Then there was Kirin. Her intervention may have saved me from doing something very foolish. She explained it all. Things could have gotten worse. Many of the children I claim as mine are actually hers. Kirin left for another realm and, by all accounts, found the happiness that eludes me. Someone that doesn’t ask her to be anything but who and what she is. I suppose she is headed to the end of her lifetime. That brings me to something else…

Kirin’s son with you, Augustus. No one seems to know what happened to him. I had suspected he was Diana’s wingman, who goes by Hawk. Despite having eyes of palest blue, he is not your offspring and I doubt he’s Darien’s son either. ( I am taking into account that such things can be altered.) He did, however, divulge that either Kirin or I am his mother. Perhaps, one day, I’ll learn the rest. Maybe, he has not yet been born in this timeline. In that regard, he’s as closed lipped as many others that have taken a step back in time. He did tell me knew the story about Gabriel Wilson, who had come back with other students from New Camelot. That alone says much. Having grown to be concerned about his parents’ relationship coming apart, Gabe prevented himself from being born to them and altering the time of his birth. Hawk has been careful to not speak his father’s name, if, in fact, he knows it.

Because of you, I built stronger walls around myself. Because of you … I don’t let many past those walls. Because of you, A.J., despite the daughters and grandchildren that came from us, I am careful who I trust. If it was your goal to do so, you failed to break me. The one thing I am sure of, I am a survivor. And, you, you will never destroy me. You never had that power. Even when I am gone, you never will.

Colleen
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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She had dozed off on a sofa and was awakened by a blanket being pulled over her. Bleary eyed, Colleen peered at her youngest child. “Maddie?”

Mouth filled with part of ham sandwich, she said,“No, it’s the moffster from under the bed!” Her aquamarine eyes twinkled with mischief.

Colleen couldn’t help but smile. “Swallow first then talk.”

Madison finished off the sandwich before going on. “I was hungry, you were asleep. So, Abby and I called a steward for food.”

“Smart.” Colleen nodded. “What about the safety rules?”

“Didn’t need to worry, they sent Michael with it.”

“He prefers Hawk, ya know.”

“Yeah, but that’s the academy mascot.” The girl’s shoulders lifted. “Besides, I asked and he said it was ok to call him Michael.” Without being invited, the small redhead settled on the sofa next to her mother, who was now sitting up and gathering the papers on the nearby table. “Mama, you sure are doing a lot of writing. What’s goin’ on?”

“Mm…” She sounded distracted as she put the pages of various documents together. “Just gettin’ some things in order.”

Madison scowled. “Mama, you gotta stop with the dead stuff. Those ghost people are still in the house. The one keeps saying she just wants to go back to sleep.”

After hearing that revelation, she set papers on the table and gave Madison her full attention. “Are they botherin’ ya?”

“Not really.” She shook her head. “One fusses over us like you do and the other, well, Maggie’s trying to help her go home.”

“Fer Maggie seein’ those people is normal. She said it’s her job ta help the young ones find their way.” The old house had many echoes in its walls, but not many apparitions. The pair Madison spoke of had been wandering the place since a major shift in the Nexus. That shift had caused a multitude of doppelgangers to appear including one of Darien Fenner. The Wandering Ones, as her granddaughter called them, were evidence of alternate possibilities for Colleen herself.

“Yeah, but these two aren’t kids, so, she doesn’t know how to help them … yet.” The girl hid a yawn behind her hand. “And the tired one says she needs to do something before she goes back to sleep.”

Collie’s head tilted. “She say what it is?”

“No. I didn’t ask.”

“Mm… maybe I should.”

“Yeah.” Maddie flopped against her mother’s side.

“I’ve been thinkin’ ... about school.”

“You mean like how you let Abby go to Dragon’s Gate?” The undertone was clear, but not me.

“I needed ta know how well ya would do wit’out Abby always bein’ there wit’ ya.”

“Whatcha mean?” Maddie’s right brow lowered and her face held an expression of consternation.

“Because, sisters, especially twins, look after each other.”

“Uh huh.” Her tone was one of incredulity. “So,” let me get this straight "you sent Abby to school with Maggie as her morning teacher and left me, all day, with my other sisters to teach me?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, but why?”

“Because Abby is more interested in learnin’ about weaponry than ya are.”

“Ok.” Again, she didn’t sound convinced. “But the whole point of the academy is teaching kids those things and their basics.”

“Basics?”

“Yeah, read, math, write. That stuff. People don’t always need to know how big a angle is, but they need two plus two and how to count money.”

An angle,” Collie correctly gently.

“See,” she pointed at her mother, “people need that grammar stuff, too, and spelling.”

“Indeed, they do.” She had her arm around her daughter and held her close.

“Well, what were you thinking? About school, I mean.”

“I was thinkin’ ya might like ta try goin’ half days ta the new magic school. Since ya like lookin’ after the special creatures on our farm, ya might like ta learn more about ‘em?” She fished through some of the papers on the table and set a brochure out for Maddie to look at. “They have classes in Herbology ‘n’ ya do like growin’ things.”

Her lips pursed as she considered her mother’s words. “I do like the gardening stuff. I learned a lot in that water garden thing over at Gory and Reezy’s.” Madison’s eyes lit up as she asked, “You think they might have a beehive?”

“They might.”

Her growing excitement seemed to have hit a pause button. “But, what about my ears, have they got special hearing stuff?”

“It says here,” she tapped one finger on the brochure, “that the headmistress is named Nimue Thornheart, how about I write her and find out? And, if she says yes, we can sign you up.”

“Sweet!” Her voice was a bit shrill. “Thanks, Mama! I’m going back to my Oz book!” She hugged her mother and dashed off to tell her sister before going onward with her book.

“Dead stuff,” Collie murmured as she picked up the pen again.
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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Your name never seemed to suit you. For so long, Judas has been used to describe those that commit acts of betrayal. That was never who you were or are for that matter. It’s still strange to me, even after all these years, that we lost you to the ravages of a disease then our son brought you back. I still don’t understand why he did it. Maybe, he wanted his family restored, but by the time that happened, life had moved on. Maybe, I just find it ironic that you, a gifted necromancer, had been raised from the dead.

I loved you and, while I still do, it’s not the same kind of feeling it once was. There was a sense of peace and belonging with you that I never felt before. When you died, that was shattered. Despite having other close relationships, it was a very long time before I felt anything like it again. It’s been said that when people are drawn back into the world of the living that some part of them is left behind with the dead. Some part of their soul, perhaps, is missing and held prisoner. Whatever it was, you were different. Maybe, I was different.

You gave me two wonderful children. While Mara wasn’t born to us, she is our daughter nonetheless. I have told the Lego Machine of Doom and piano stories many times. Draven eventually finished building that contraption. I expect Mara still uses that piano to write her music; she did when last I heard from her.

I still support the children’s home and school, outside the city, that used to be New Camelot Academy and University. Both of our names go on the donations. It was fitting since it had been your brain child. I remember when we decided to give the property to the Rhydin Orphanage. While I am pleased with the staff and their efforts, I still find it disheartening how many children are left alone due to a parent’s death or have circumstances that force them into fending for themselves. As you told me many times, I can’t mother them all, but in supporting schools and medical care facilities, I hope to give as many as possible a fighting chance. In some ways, it’s atoning for the wrongs done in my past.

If you’ve wondered what became of Lasher’s Restaurant, I bought out Draven’s interests in it. The funds were put in trust for him and family; particularly for his children’s care and education. Nicole owns it now and it’s called Nicole’s Bistro and Pizzeria. Your spaghetti sauce and other recipes are safe in her hands. She has several of my brownie recipes, too.

I learned much in my time with you. While I wish that it had been longer, I have had to accept that we were only meant to be for a season and not forever.

With Love,

Colleen
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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They were about halfway to the Terran Sector. Between spending time with the girls and gazing out a viewport into the darkness of space, she pondered the letter she had yet to address.

I’m afraid of losing people. So, I hold back when, perhaps, I should speak. When one does not speak and does not act, they automatically fail in some way.

The envelope of the next letter was addressed to:

Maranya Valkonan
Chief of Staff Riverview Clinic

Dear Anya,

I’ll forgo the formalities, my friend. If you are receiving this, I have departed life and/or this plane of existence. I have set up funds to continue the operations of the Animal Therapy Program at Riverview until such time as you or your designated representative are no longer running the facility. Those funds will include disbursements for the medical care, food, structures and other supplies for the animals as well as any special equipment needed for the patients taking part. Continued support for Riverview’s pediatric wing has also been arranged.

I have also prepared all necessary documents and funding arrangements for the Dockside Emergency Services and Medical Center to continue operations under your administration. Enclosed you will find the names of the MacLeod Foundation’s representatives. They will continue to handle all the finances for DESMC and the funds for the mentioned departments at Riverview.

Should you be unable or unwilling to run the DESMC, you will be asked to suggest other potential administrators. The associated Watch and Fire Brigade services will also be under your guidance.

Until we meet again,

Colleen
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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Another letter was addressed to:
Ebon Ilnaren
Stardreamer Manor


Dear Ebon,

When Sarengrave House was started to honor Lirssa’s memory, I had taken into consideration that at some point, I might need to turn over the management to someone else. Many of my children might do well with the project. However, the young people that benefit from the home and services provided need and deserve the guidance of someone that will encourage them to reach their full potential as people and citizens of Rhydin. You and Phen have raised and loved many children that were not yours by birth. It is because of that, that I hope both of you will accept this responsibility.

No matter how many young people come through the doors and go back out into a new and, hopefully, better life, it never seems to be enough. As one of my husbands used to say, I can’t mother them all. For every teenager that sleeps soundly and with a full stomach, there are others still on the streets in need. For every newly awakened young werewolf that rides out the full moon in a monitored containment room, there are others that are lost and terrified of what they have become. A few have arrived battered and bloody. Some came from hospitals and others have been, for lack of a better phrase, dropped on the doorstep. Vampires, werecreatures, humans … the list of beings that have come in the last couple of years is varied and seemingly endless.

Enclosed is the name and contact information of the MacLeod Foundation representative and attorney that will handle all the paperwork and disbursement of the finances for you. Should you not be willing or able to accept, your recommendation will weigh heavily in the choosing of an alternate administrator for Sarengrave House and counselor for its residents.

Fondly,

Colleen
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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Salvadore Delahada
Matadero Meat Company

The contents of the letter had been written in some form of Spanish.

Estimado Sal:

Ofrezco mis disculpas. Mi dominio del idioma español se ha desvanecido con el tiempo. Me conoces lo suficientemente bien como para entender lo que quiero decir. Si has recibido esto, entonces he cruzado el velo. Entre mis colecciones, hay libros, armas, armaduras y otros elementos que pueden ser de utilidad para ti.

Algunas fueron adquiridas durante ese fatídico viaje, hace varios años. Otros eran de muchos lugares, épocas y cortes; los juzgados de muchas estaciones. Si surge la necesidad, tengo fe en que los usará sabiamente. Mira en sueños, podrías encontrarme allí.

Adjunto está el nombre de la abogada que maneja mi patrimonio. Ella le proporcionará el mapa y las llaves. Estas cosas podrían llamarse botín de guerra. Rezo para que no necesites usarlos.

Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo,

Colleen

As she drifted off to sleep, a voice she hadn’t heard in years crept into her dreams. It may have been a visitation or her imagination working overtime.

Are you sure the young one is ready for those things? Some are very powerful and not ....

He’s not a boy any longer, Cerridwyn. When my time comes, he’ll be ready then if he’s not now.

Why not one of your own line, why him?

He may need them more. Much has been set aside for my children and theirs already.

As she drifted into sleep, she envisioned Sal’s face when he finally opened a store room, eight feet by eight feet, beneath the ruin of a tower. A variety of weapons, forged by fey smiths, were stored along one wall. A heavy axe head still held traces of blood from a battle with Redcaps in a place called Orlando in the Terran sector. The blood had been suspended in time as a memorial to comrades lost. A sword, carefully cleaned and displayed was a reminder of a woman that had been born in the Iceni tribe and first tasted death among Romans. It hung there as a reminder of her final death in that same Redcap battle. She had been Colleen’s mentor from childhood; it was her voice in the dream. Armor of leather and metals were displayed on mannequins to help them hold their shape. Two chests that had been kept clean and polished held several artifacts. One of the books, written in various hands including Colleen’s, explained the various purposes of each item. The record went back to before the Book of Kells had been written. What looked like a magnifying glass hung from a ribbon inside the book. The enchantment on the piece allowed the reader to see the lettering in any language they chose.

Soon enough, she was long into sleep and lost in a different dream.

----------------------------------------------------------------------
Author's note: Translation of Colleen's letter to Sal.

Dear Sal,

I offer my apologies. My command of the Spanish language has faded over time. You know me well enough to understand what I mean. If you have received this, then I have crossed the veil. Among my collections, there are books, weapons, armor, and other items that may be of use to you.

Some were acquired during that fateful trip, several years ago. Others were from many places, times and courts; the courts of many seasons. These things could be called spoils of war. I pray you don't need to use them. If the need arises, I have faith that you will use them wisely. Look in dreams, you could find me there.

Enclosed is the name of the attorney who handles my estate. She will provide you with the map and keys.

Until we meet again,

Colleen
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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The in room communication system kicked on. “Ms. MacLeod, we’re about an hour out from Terran space borders. We’ll be docking at the hub within two.”

“Thank you,” Colleen said somewhat distractly as she started yet another letter addressed to Ali al-Amat. It was a few moments before she called back. “Bridge, have someone redirect my travel, please. Melbourne via Sydney.”

A voice answered, “Travel for three to Australian jurisdiction will be arranged and finalized by dock time.”

“Thank you.” Again the pen was set to paper.

Dear Ali,

You should be receiving this letter through my attorney. As well as something I should have left with you, years ago, that Strad. If you feel the need to sell it, offer it to someone in my family first, please.

I must admit that, from time to time, I have wondered *what if*. What if things had been different? What if a kiss had been more. What if all those years ago, it had been me? We can drive ourselves crazy with those questions. Much like Rick and Ilsa had Paris, I shall always have that long moment in the kitchen, that kiss. You are, as of this writing in the Terran year, 2020, the only person to ever cause me to burn something that I was cooking. Despite having to air out the kitchen of the Red Dragon for hours, it is still one of my fondest memories.

I wish you peace, happiness, and prosperity. When we eventually meet on the other side, you can tell me about it.

Allah ma’ak,

Colleen
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Author’s note:
Allah ma’ak is a phrase in Arabic meaning “May God be with you.” It is normally used from a person staying to a person leaving, however, Colleen is not well versed in Arabic grammatical construction.
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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After a day of shopping and other activities in Sydney, Colleen tucked the girls in with their favorite plushies. She had a glass of cabernet on a side table as she settled on the sofa with feet tucked under her. Rain pattered against the windows of the hotel suite as she penned two copies of the same letter.

My darling girls,

As I write, you are nearly nine; safely and happily tucked in with your favorite plushies. I have no idea when you will be reading this or if I would have already spoken of these things. It has not escaped my notice that you often speak to each other about your father, but have stopped asking questions of me. Perhaps the innate empathic abilities you share with me and your siblings are stronger than I expected them to be at your age. You may know the tugging I feel when someone speaks of him. The anguish faded over time; I had to let go of it or lose myself as well as having lost him. Grief can tear someone apart from the inside out. You needed your mother and I needed both of you. Rhi and Eregor did their best to look after you when I could not, but that responsibility shouldn’t have been on their shoulders while I was alive to tend to you.

Never wonder about this, you were and are wanted and have always been loved. I still remember him pointing at Maggie, she was about three and dancing at one of the many Rhydin festivals, and telling me, “I want one.” With the blessings of Beltane and fey wine, we got the pair of you.

Children often blame themselves for the ending of their parents’ relationship. In most cases, including yours, nothing any child could have done would have stopped it. I’m sure that you have asked yourself a thousand times why he left. And, of the many questions you have asked, that is one that cannot answer truthfully with anything but “I don’t know.” I remember that someone came from the past that had his face and used his name. As you have learned with all of your timeslipped siblings, carrying the same name, looking and sounding the same does not mean it is exactly the same person. I remember them facing off, gunfire echoed in my ears. As I blacked out, I saw one man standing over the other. I don’t know which one, the one I loved or his doppelganger, was dead or close to it and which one was alive. When next I saw him, he was different. If he was your Da, he might have been threatened in some way. Those that are close to us could be used as pawns to control us. It was tried on me many years ago. Those that tried to take your sister, Chrisy, learned that even trying to harm one of mine, was more trouble than they wanted to take on. I was born with a healer’s nature and a warrior’s heart. Those things are often in conflict, but on that day, the warrior won.

Darien was a very troubled soul. I have always believed he was a better man than he thought he was. By now, you should have heard of something called survivor’s guilt. It’s when someone we love or deeply care for dies and we are left wondering if and what we could have done to change it. Odd are, there was little or nothing that could have been done. He was nearly married once before. She died. I’ll spare you from what details I know. There are some things that are better not placed into one’s mind. While he tried to hide it, that pain was still inside him.

I have never spoken of it, but there is one way to know the father that gave your lives from his double. Only your Da and I know the details of what happened in a Dockside warehouse when the pair of you were still infants. I have added what you need to know. You may have sensed a protective magic on these letters, it hides the details of that event from all eyes but yours.

A blur appeared on the letter to any but Abby and Madison’s eyes. It contained the details from Colleen’s point of view of what ended up as a rescue. She had later learned from Diana it was meant to be a group effort to bring in a kidnapper. Darien had gone on ahead, had never gotten the message about the mistaken identity of the body pulled from the river in Rhydin. He hadn’t known his wife wasn’t dead when he went on his hunt. That much anyone could have gleaned, but what happened in the warehouse was as much a secret between them as her twin sister’s burial site.

The deeds for the Arcadian beach house and a house in Melbourne, are to be placed in your names. Keep them, share them, divide them, sell them, or donate them to a worthy cause. Two cottages have been set aside on the family lands in Rhydin for you. Odds are, you’ve claimed those by now. I expect you will both have your own spaces by the time this is delivered.

You’ve been asking about that, separate spaces. I have plans for that that I hope will have long been carried long before this gets to you. Separate rooms with ensuite baths are in the preparation stages. However, the room you have shared since you outgrew the nursery can remain as shared space. There are times when you will look to each other for help and comfort when my help will not do. Siblings often know what is not shared with parents. Should my time come before you are of age, I have entrusted your care to your sisters, Rhiannon, and their husbands, Dennis and Eregor. While others will likely have a hand in things, unless your actual father returns, those named will have the legal powers and obligations of parents on your behalf.

No matter where I am, you may call on me in your dreams.

With love,

Mamaí
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Re: Letters in the Vault

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Holidays passed, mother and daughters returned home. The unaddressed letter was finally finished and, unlike the others, it was delivered by hand to its recipient. And, once again, it was New Year’s Eve.

“Mama, you gonna be ok?” Maddie asked as she pulled her carry on bag out to her sister Nicole’s red pick up.

“In time, Maddie, in time.” Colleen smiled tiredly as she got Max into the backseat of the truck.

Abby, more skeptical than her twin, gave her mother one of those if you say so expressions.

She was expecting Sal to arrive at some time that day to claim his Solstice gifts. With the girls out of the house, Colleen sat at Darien’s old desk and used the time to write.
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