The power here hung so thick and dank he felt nothing beyond it. Black blood stained the ground where Cabhan had shackled and killed his mother. Freeing the demon, giving it form and movement had drawn the cave into its own kind of hell where all the damned burned cold. He smelled brimstone and blood—old blood and new. It took all his will to resist the sudden, fierce need to go to the altar, take up the cup that stood below a cross of yellowing bones, and drink.
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They came to her, neighbors, travelers, for their hopes and healings. So she and her brother, her sister, had built their lives in Clare, so far from their home in Mayo. Far from the cabin in the woods where they had lived, where their mother had died. Long years. The first few spent, as their mother had bid, with their cousin and her man—safe, tended, welcomed.
But the time had come, as time does, to leave that nest, to embrace who and what they were, and would ever be. The Dark Witches three. Their duty, their purpose above all else? To destroy Cabhan, the dark sorcerer, the murderer of their father, Daithi the brave, of their mother, Sorcha. Cabhan, who had somehow survived the spell the dying Sorcha had cast. Her son, not yet three years, sat in a patch of sun and banged on the little drum his father had made him.
He sang and hooted and beat with such joyous innocence her eyes burned from the love. Her daughter, barely a year, slept clutching her favored rag doll while guarded by Kathel, their faithful hound.
And another son stirred and kicked in her womb. From where she stood she could see the clearing, and the little cabin she, Eamon, and Teagan had built near to eight years before. Children, she thought now. They lived there still, close. Eamon the loyal, so strong and true. Teagan, so kind and fair. The cabin, the trees, the green hills with their dots of sheep, the gardens, the bright blue sky.
And it would have to end. It would have to end soon. The bright days would give way to the dark. The peace would end in blood and battle. She touched the amulet with its symbol of a hound.
The protection her mother had conjured with blood magicks. Soon, she thought, all too soon now, she would need that protection again. She pressed a hand to the small of her back as it ached a bit, and saw her man riding toward home. Eoghan, so handsome, so hers. He rode tall and straight and easy on the sturdy chestnut mare, his voice lifted—as often it was—in song. By the gods, he made her smile, he made her heart lift like a bird on the wing. She, who had been so sure there could be no love for her, no family but her blood, no life but her purpose, had fallen deeper than oceans for Eoghan of Clare.
Brin leaped up, began to run as fast as his little legs could manage, all the while calling. Her eyes stung yet again. In that moment, she would have given all of her power, every drop given her, to spare them what was to come. Some little lost gypsy. Brannaugh picked up her basket, shifted young Sorcha on her hip. Inside, she stirred the fire, settled her daughter, started the tea. Her guide, her heart, she thought, she could stretch his life a few years more. And would know when the time came to let him go.
But not yet, no, not yet. She set out honey cakes, some jam, and had the tea ready when Eoghan and Brin came in, hand in hand. Brannaugh just lifted her eyebrows at the grubby little hands.
The both of you. The job went quicker without him. Sit down, off your feet awhile. Have your tea. Oh, she knew him for the most patient of men. Or the most stubborn, for one was often the same as the other, at least wrapped inside the like of her Eoghan. So when the chores were finished, and supper done, when the children tucked up for the night, he took her hand.
Now, she simply got her shawl—a favorite Teagan had made her—wrapped it around her shoulders. She glanced at Kathel lying by the fire. Watch the babes for me, she told him, and let Eoghan draw her out into the cool, damp night. Much like his father. We could pay for a bit of help. I watched my mother work herself to bones. Carrying babies makes a woman a bit daft from time to time, as you should know. Wept as if the world was ending. Only today I stood here, looking at our children, feeling the next move in me, thinking of you, and of the life we have.
Such joy, Eoghan. How many times did I say no to you when you asked me to be yours? You wooed me with song and story, with wildflowers. She breathed in what had become home, knowing she would leave it for the home of childhood, and for destiny. And still, you wanted me—not the power, but me. But you asked again. Do you remember what you said to me? Look in my heart, for you have that power.
Look in me, and know love. And I do. He stroked, soothed, then eased her away to see her face in the pale moonlight. Go back to Mayo. Did you not hear my words? Even when you spoke them, when I felt them capture my heart, how could I know I would feel like this? I would wish with all I am to stay, just stay. To be here with you, to leave all the rest behind and away.
Eoghan, our children. I swear it. I could never do what I must do unless I know their father and their uncle guard and protect them. As you love me, Eoghan, swear it. I will swear to protect them. You would not ask me to stay? I am with you, mo chroi. Studied, added her own spells, her own words and thoughts. This, she knew, she would pass down as she passed the amulet. To her children, and to the child who came from her who would carry the purpose of the Dark Witch should she and Eamon, Teagan fail.
Their mother had sworn they—or their blood—would destroy Cabhan. She had seen, with her own eyes, one of their blood from another time, had spoken to him.
And she dreamed of another, a woman with her name, who wore the amulet she wore now, who was, as she was, one of three. So the legacy would continue, and the purpose with it, until it was done. She would not, could not, turn away from it. She would not, could not, turn away from the stirrings in her own blood as summer drew down.
But she had children to tend, a home to tend in turn, animals to feed and care for, a garden to harvest, the little goat to milk. Neighbors and travelers to heal and help. And magicks, bright, bright magicks, to preserve. So with her children napping—and oh, Brin had put up a battle heroic against closing his eyes—she stepped outside for a breath. And saw her sister, her bright hair braided down her back, walking up the path with a basket.
And I was yearning for you as well. Teagan, so pretty with her hair like sunlight, her eyes like the bluebells their mother had prized. Brannaugh gathered her close—then immediately drew her back again.
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