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Fathers and daughters-Fiction. OO25 '. Cover design by Rita Frangie. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
And the one fabulous week a year when we're all together. Summer turned the air into a wet, simmering stew, one smelling of sweat and drenching green. The humming fan on her dresser stirred it, but it was like sleeping in the steam pumping off the pot. Still, she was used to that, to lying on top of summer-moist sheets, with the windows open wide to the relentless chorus of cicadas-and the faint hope even a tiny breeze would slither through the sultry.
The heat didn't wake her, nor did the soft rumble of thunder from a storm gathering in the distance. Naomi went from sleep to awake in an instant, as if someone had given her a good shake or shouted her name in her ear.
She sat straight up in bed, blinking at the dark, hearing nothing but the hum of the fan, the high pitch of the cicadas, and the lazy, repetitive hoo of an owl. All country summer sounds she knew as well as her own voice, and nothing to put that odd little click in her throat.
But now, awake, she felt that heat, like gauze soaked in hot water and wrapped around every inch of her. She wished it were morning so she could sneak out before anyone was up and cool off in the creek. Chores came first, that was the rule.
But it was so hot it felt like she'd have to part the air like a curtain just to take a step. And it was Saturday or would be in the morning and sometimes Mama let the rules slide a little on Saturdays-if Daddy was in a good mood. Then she heard that rumble of thunder. Delighted, she scrambled out of bed to rush to her window.
She loved storms, the way they whirled and swung through the trees, the way the sky went spooky, the way lightning slashed and flashed. And maybe this storm would bring rain and wind and cooler air. She knelt on the floor, her arms folded on the windowsill, her eyes on the bit of moon hazed by heat and clouds. She wished for it-a girl who'd turn twelve in just two days and still believed in wishes. A big storm, she thought, with lightning like pitchforks and thunder like cannon fire.
And lots and lots of rain. She closed her eyes, tipped her face up, tried sniffing the air. Then, in her Sabrina the Teenage Witch T-shirt, she pillowed her head on her hands and studied the shadows. Again she wished for morning, and since wishes were free, wished it were the morning of her birthday. She wanted a new bike so bad, and she'd given out plenty of hints. She knelt, wanting morning, a girl tall and gawky, who-though she checked daily-was not yet growing breasts.
The heat had her hair sticking to her neck. He nearly pushed through that fire, that smoke, but Brannaugh gripped his hand, twisting bone against bone. And while he raped her for it was nothing else Eamon felt Cabhans thoughts. Thoughts of Sorcha, and the terrible lust for her that hed never quenched.
Thoughts of Of Brannaugh, and how he would do this to her, and more. And worse. How he would 01 Shadow Spell CS6. How he would take her power before he took her life.
Brannaugh quenched the fire quickly, ended the vision on a snap. And as quickly grabbed Eamon by both arms. I said we were not ready. Do you not think I felt you gather to go? He hurt her. He took her power, her body, against her will. He nearly found you he sensed something pushing in.
I would kill him for his thoughts alone. He will never touch you as he did her. He wanted to hurt her. Teagans voice was a childs now. But he thought of our mother, not of her. Then he thought of you.
His thoughts cant hurt me. But theyd shaken her, deep inside herself. He will never do to me, or to you, what he did to that poor woman. Could we have helped her? Ah, Teagan, I dont know. We did not try. Eamons words lashed out. You held me here. For your life, for ours, for our purpose.
Do you think I dont feel what you feel? Even the secret fear drowned in an icy wave of rage.
That it stabbed a thousand times to do nothing? He has power. Not what he had, but different. Not more, but less, and still different.
I dont know how to fight him. We dont know, Eamon, and we must know. Hes coming. Not tonight, not tomorrow, but hell come.
He knows you Eamon flushed again, looked away. He knows I can bear children, Brannaugh finished. He thinks to get a son from me. He never will. But hes coming. I felt it as well. Then we must go. Teagan tipped her head to Kathels flank. We must never bring him here. We must go, Brannaugh agreed. We must be what we are. Brannaugh looked at Eamon for confirmation.
Aye, south, as he is still north. He remains in Mayo. We will find a place, and there we will learn more, find more. And one day we will go home. She rose, took both their hands again, let the power spark from one to one. I swear by our blood we will go home again.
I swear by our blood, Eamon said, we or what comes from us will destroy even the thought of him. I swear by our blood, Teagan said, we are the three, and will ever be.
Now we close the circle, but never again close off what we are, what we have, what we were given. Brannaugh released their hands.
We leave on the morrow. E y es w eepy, A ilish watched Br a nnaugh pack her sh aw l. I beg you to stay. Think of Teagan.
Shes but a child. The age I was when we came to you. As you were a child, she said. I was more. We are more, and must be what we are. I frightened you by speaking of Fial. You cannot think we would force a marriage upon you.
Oh no. Brannaugh turned then, took her cousins hands. You never would.
It is not for Fial we leave you, cousin. Turning, Brannaugh packed the last of her things. Your mother would not want this for you.
My mother would want us to be home, happy and safe with her and our father. But that was not to be. My mother gave her life for us, gave her power to us.
And now her purpose to us. We must live our lives, embrace our power, complete our purpose. To Clare, I think. For now. We will come back. And we will go home.
I feel it as true as life. He will not come here. Turning back, she looked into her cousins eyes, her own like smoke. He will not come here or harm you or any of yours.
This I swear to you on my mothers blood. How can you know? I am one of three. I am a dark witch of Mayo, first daughter of Sorcha. He shall not come here nor harm you or yours.
You are protected for all of your life. This I have done. I would not leave you unprotected. You worry. Brannaugh laid her hands over her cousins hands, which rested on the mound of her belly. Have I not told you your son is well and healthy? The birthing will go easy, and quickly as well. This I can promise as well, and I do. What is it? You must tell me.
As you love me so still you fear what I have. But you must bide me now, in this. Your son, this one to come, must be the last. He will be healthy, and the birthing will go well.
But the next will not. If there is a next, you will not survive. You cannot know. I cannot deny my husband the marriage bed. Or myself. You cannot deny your children their mother.
It is a terrible grieving, Ailish. God will decide. God will have given you seven children, but the price for another will be your life, and the babes as well. As I love you, heed me. She took a bottle from her pocket. I have made this for you. Only you. You will put it away. Once every month on the first day of your courses, you will drink one sip only.
You will not conceive, even 01 Shadow Spell CS6. You will live. Your children will have their mother. You will live to rock their children. Ailish laid her hands over the mound of her belly. I will be barren. You will sing to your children, and their children.
You will share your bed with your man in pleasure. You will rejoice in the precious lives you brought into the world. The choice is yours, Ailish. She closed her eyes a moment. When she opened them, they turned dark, dark. You will call him Lughaidh.
He will be fair of face and hair, blue of eye. A strong boy with a ready smile, and the voice of an angel. One day he will travel and ramble and use his voice to make his living. He will fall in love with a farmers daughter, and will come back to you with her to work the land.
And you will hear his voice across the fields, for he will ever be joyful. She let the vision go. I have seen what can be. You must choose. This is the name I chose for him, Ailish murmured. I never told you, nor anyone. Now she took the bottle. I will heed you. Pressing her lips together, Ailish reached into her pocket, took out a small pouch.
This she pushed into Brannaughs hand. Take this. I wont take your coin. You will. The tears fell now, spilling down her cheeks like rain. Do you think I dont know you saved me and Conall in the birthing?
And even now you think of me and mine? You have given me joy. You have brought Sorcha to me when I missed her, for I saw her in you day by day.
You will take the coin, and swear to me you will be safe, you will come back. All of you, for you are mine as I am yours. Understanding, Brannaugh slipped the purse into the pocket of her skirts, then kissed Ailish on each cheek. I swear it. Outside Eamon did his best to make his cousins laugh. They askedhim not to go, of course, asked why he must, tried to bargain with him. So he wound stories of the grand adventures he would have,smiting dragons and catching magick frogs.
He wished Brannaugh would hurry, for the leave-taking was a misery. Alastar stood ready. Eamonhe was head of the family, after all, had decided his sisters would ride, and he would walk. He would brook no argument. Bardan came out of the little stable leading S laine Old Slaine now, as the broodmare was past her prime, but a s weet-natured thing for all that.
Her breeding days are done, Bardan said in his careful way. But shes a good girl, and shell serve you well. Oh, but I cant be taking her from you. You need A man needs a horse. Bardan set his calloused hand on Eamons shoulder. Youve done a mans work for the farm, so youll take her. Its more than grateful I am to you, for Slaine and all the rest. I promise you Ill treat her like a queen. For a moment, Eamon let himself be just a boy, and threw his arms around his cousin, the man whod been a father to him for half his life.
Well come back one day. Be sure you do. When it was done, all the farewells, the safe journeys, the tears, he swung up on the mare, his grandfathers sword and sheath secured against his saddle. Brannaugh mounted behind Teagan, leaned down once to kiss Ailish a last time.
They rode away from the farm, their home for five years, from their family and south toward the unknown. He looked back, waved as they waved, found himself more torn in the leaving than hed expected. Then overhead Roibeard called, circled before spearing the way south. This was meant, Eamon decided. This was the time. So, how does our Slaine feel about all this then? Teagan looked down at the mare, cocked her head in turn.
Oh, its a grand adventure to her, to be sure, and she never thought to have another. Shes proud and shes grateful. Shell be loyal to the end of her days, and do her very best for you. And Ill do my best for her. Well ride through midday before we stop to rest the horses, and eat the first of the oatcakes Ailish packed for us. Is that what well be doing? Brannaugh said. He tossed up his chin. Youre the eldest, but I have the staff, however puny you might think it i s which it isnt at all.
Roibeard shows the way, and we follow. Brannaugh looked up, watched the flight of the hawk. Then down at Kathel who pranced along beside Alastar as if he could walk all day and through the night.
Your guide, mine, and Teagans. Aye, we follow. Ailish gave me some coin, but we wont be spending it unless we must. Well be making our own. And just how are we doing that? By being what we are. She lifted her hand, palm up, brought a small ball of flame into it.
Then vanished it. Our mother served her gift, tended us, her cabin. We can surely serve our gift, tend ourselves, and find a place to do both. Clares a wild place I hear, Teagan offered. And what better place than the wild for such as us?
The pure joy of freedom ripened with every step. We have our mothers book, and well study, well learn. Well make potions and do healings. A healer is always welcome, she told me. When he comes, it will take more than healing and potions. So it will, Brannaugh said to her brother. So we learn. We were safe five years at the farm. Time enough to learn, to plan. When we go home again, well be stronger than he can know.
They rode through midday and into the rain. Soft and steady it fell from a sky of bruises and broodings. They rested the horses, watered them, shared oatcakes, with some for Kathel. Through the rain came the wind as they continued their journey, past a little farm and cabin with smoke puffing out of the chimney, sending out the scent of burning peat.
Inside they might be welcome, be given tea and a place by the fire. Inside the warm and dry. But Kathel continued to prance, Roibeard to circle, and Alastar never slowed. And even the gloomy light began to die as the day tipped toward night. Slaine grows weary, Teagan murmured. She wont ask to stop, but she tires. Her bones ache. Cant we rest her a bit, find a dry place and There! Eamon pointed ahead. Near the muddy track stood what might have been an old place of worship.
Sacked now, burned down to the scorched stone by men who couldnt stop destroying what those they vanquished had built. Roibeard circled over it, calling, calling, and Kathel bounded ahead. Well stop there for the night. Make a fire, rest the animals and ourselves. Brannaugh nodded at her brother. The walls s tand or most of them. It should keep the wind out, and we can do the rest. Its nearly end of day. We owe Mordan and Mabon who came from her our thanks. One wall had fallen in, they discovered, but the others stood.
Even some steps, which Eamon immediately tested, circled up to what had been a second level. Whatever timber had been used had burned to 01 Shadow Spell CS6. But it was shelter of a sort and, Brannaugh felt, the right place. This would be the place of their first night, the equinox, when the light and the dark balanced. Ill tend the horses. Teagan took the reins of both. The horses are mine, after all. Ill see to them, if you make us a place, a dry spot Im hoping, and a good fire.
That Ill do. Well give our thanks, then have some tea and some of the dried venison before w e She broke off as Roibeard swooped down, perched on a narrow stone ledge.
And dropped a fat hare on the ground at Eamons feet. Well now, thats a feast in the making. Ill clean it, Teagan tends the horses, and Brannaugh the fire. A dry spot, she thought, and shoving back the hood of her cloak imagined one. Drew up and out what she was, thought of warm and dryand flashed out heat so bright and hot it nearly burned them all before she drew it down again.
Im sorry for that. I havent done any of this before. Its a cork out of a bottle, Eamon decided. And it poured out too fast. She slowed it, carefully, carefully. She didnt mind the wet for herself, but Teagan was right. The old mares bones ached, even she could feel it. She eased back the wet, slowly, just a bit, just a bit more. It trembled through her, the joy of it. Loosed now, free. Then the fire. Magickal tonight. Other nights, as their mother had taught them, a body gathered wood, put the work into it.
But tonight, it would be her fire. She brought it, banked it. A bit of the oatcake, and some wine, she told her brother, her 01 Shadow Spell CS6. An offering of thanks to the gods for the balance of the day and night, for the cycle of rebirth. And for this place of rest. Into the fire, she told them. The cake, then the wine. These small things we share with thee, we give our thanks we servants three. At this time where day meets night, we embrace both dark and light, Eamon continued, not sure where the words had come from.
We will learn to stand and fight, to use our gifts for the right and the white, Teagan added. In this place and hour, we open to our given power. From now till ever it will be free. The fire shot up, a tower, red, orange, gold, with a heart of burning blue.
A thousand voices whispered in it, and the ground shook. Then the world seemed to sigh. The fire was a fire, banked in a tidy circle on the stony ground.
This is what we are, Brannaugh said, still glowing from the shock of energy. This is what we have. The nights grow longer now. The dark conquers light. But he will not conquer us. She smiled, her heart full as it hadnt been since the morning theyd left home.
We need to make a spit for the hare.
Well have that feast tonight, our first. And well rest in the warm and dry until we journey on. And journeyed on. He felt himself lift up, lift out, and fly. Like Roibeard, he soared over the hills, the rivers, the fields where cattle lowed, where sheep cropped.
Green and green toward home with the sun sliding quiet through the clouds. His heart, so light. Going home. Not really home, he realized when he found himself on the ground again. The woods, so familiar but not. Something different. Even the air different, and yet the same. It all made him dizzy and weak. He began to walk, whistling for his hawk.
His guide. The light changed, dimmed. Was night coming so fast? But not the night, he saw. It was the fog. And with it, the wolf that was Cabhan. He heard the growl of it, reached for his grandfathers sword.
But it wasnt at his side. He was a boy, ankle deep in mists, unarmed, as the wolf with the red gem glowing around his neck walked out of the fog. And became a man. Welcome back, young Eamon.
Ive waited for you. You killed my father, my mother. Ive come to avenge them. Cabhan laughed, a rolling, merry sound that sent ice running up Eamons spine. Its spirit you have, so thats fine and well. We owe her respect in her home. But we are not in her home now, and she need not know. I need the light. I need to speak with you within our circle, where no one can hear. I will cast it. I practice, Teagan told her. When Alastar and I ride away, I practice. On a sigh, Brannaugh ran a hand down her sisters bright hair.
Its good you do. Cast the circle, deirfir bheag. A ring wide enough, Brannaugh thought, with amusement and with gratitude, to include Kathel. You did well. I should have taught you more, but I Respected Ailish. And worry as well, Eamon put in, that if we use our power too much, too strong, hell know. Hell come. Brannaugh sat on the ground, looped an arm around Kathel. She wanted us safe. She gave up everything for us. Her power, her life. She believed she would destroy him, and we would be safe.
She couldnt know whatever black power he bargained with could bring him out of the ashes. She looked at Eamon, nodded. Yes, weaker. Hell find others, take from them, grow stronger. Brannaugh drew a breath. Fial wishes to wed me. Eamons mouth fell open. But hes old. No older than Bardan. Brannaugh laughed, felt some of the tightness in her chest ease.
Men want young wives, it seems. So they can bear them many children, and still want to bed with them and cook for them. You will not wed Fial, Teagan said decisively.
He is kind, and not uncomely. He has a house and farm larger than Ailish and Bardan. He would welcome you both. You will not wed Fial, Teagan repeated. You do not love him. I dont look for love nor do I need it. You should, but even if you close your eyes, it will find you. Do you forget the love between our mother and father? I dont. I dont think to find such a thing for myself.
Perhaps one day you will. So pretty you are, and bright. Oh, I will. Teagan nodded wisely. As you will, as Eamon will. And we will pass what we are, what we have, to those who come from us.
Our mother wanted this. She wanted us to live. We would live, and well, if I wed Fial. I am the oldest, Brannaugh reminded them. It is for me to decide. She charged me to protect you. Eamon folded his arms across his chest. I forbid it. Teagan snatched their hands, gripped hard. Flame shimmered through their joined fingers. And I will not be tended to. I am not a babe, Brannaugh, but the same age as you when we left our home. You will not marry to give me a home.
You will not deny what you are, ignore your power. You are not Ailish, but Brannaugh, daughter of Sorcha and Daithi. You are a dark witch, and ever will be. One day we will destroy him, Eamon vowed. One day we will avenge our father, our mother, and we will destroy even the ash we burn him into. Our mother has told me we will, or those who come from us will, if it takes a thousand years. She told you? This morning. She came to me while I was on the river, in the mists and the quiet.
I find her there when I need her. She comes to me only in dreams. Tears Brannaugh wouldnt shed clogged her throat. You hold what you are so tight. To soothe, Teagan stroked her sisters hair. So not to upset Ailish, so to protect us. Perhaps you only allow her to come in dreams. She comes to you? Brannaugh murmured. Not only in dreams? Sometimes when I ride Alastar, when we go deep into the woods, and I hold myself quiet, so quiet, she comes.
She sings to me as she used to when I was little. And it was our mother who told me we will have love, we will have children. And we will, by our blood, defeat Cabhan. Am I to marry Fial then, bear him the child, the blood, who will finish it? Tiny flames flickered at Teagans fingertips before she remembered control. There is no love. The love comes, then the child. This is the way. It is not the only way.
It is our way. Eamon took Brannaughs hand again. It will be our way. We will be what we are meant, do what we must do. If we dont try, what they sacrificed for us is for nothing. They would have died for nothing. Do you want it so?
I want to kill him. I want his blood, his death. Struggling, Brannaugh pressed her face to Kathels neck, soothed herself with his warmth. I think part of me would die if I turned away from. But I know all of me would if a choice I make brings harm to either of you. We choose, all of us, Eamon said. One by three. We needed this time. Our mother sent us here so we could have this time.
We are not children now. I think we were no longer children when we rode from home that morning, knowing we would never see her again. We had power. Brannaugh breathed deep, straightened. Though he was younger, and a boy for all that, her brother spoke true. She gave us more. I asked you both to let it lie still.
You were right to ask it even if we woke it now and then, Eamon added with a smile. We needed the time here, but this time is coming to a close. As I do, Brannaugh murmured. So I wondered if it meant Fial. But no, youre right, both of you. I am not for the farm. Not for kitchen magicks and parlor games. We will look, here within the circle.
We will look, and see. And know. Teagans face glowed with joy as she asked, and Brannaugh knew shed held back herself, her sister and brother too long. Brannaugh cupped her hands, brought the power up, out. And dropping her hands down like water falling, she made the fire. And the making of it, that first skill learned, the purity of the magick coursed through her. It felt as if shed taken her first full breath in five years.
You have more now, Teagan stated. Its waited. Ive waited. Weve waited. We wait no more. Through the flame and the smoke, well seek him out, see where he lurks.