Autumn – Chapter 3 – Marin – 03

            We lit lanterns—flame and battery operated both—and gathered up bundles of herbs, incense from our combined stashes, matches, and other items that Phelan insisted we might need.  Jacqueline added a few things to our list, blushing a little as she said that she’d be coming along with us.
            The lower edge of the sun was touching the horizon when we set out from camp toward the ravine bridge, a cluster of us using kinetic flashlights and the lanterns to light our way.  J.T. carried a set of tiki torches over his shoulder, another attempt to illuminate the burials a little more if we could.  The lanterns would only shed so much light when we set them on the ground, and this was going to be eerie enough as it was.  I walked with Thom, a few steps behind Phelan and ahead of J.T. and Carolyn, neither of whom were saying much on the way over.
            We crossed the bridge in pairs, and by the time we were all across the sun had slipped more than a third of the way down the horizon, casting long, golden shafts of light across the pavement in front of us.
            “Phelan,” I said as we gathered again on the plaza, “what exactly are we doing?”
            “I told you that,” he said with a wry smile.  He leaned against a gnarled staff of wood, one he’d been working on almost since his arrival here.  He’d claimed he wasn’t done with it yet, but it’d serve well enough for what we needed to do tonight.  “Bless the ground, the stronger the better.”  He nodded toward Jacqueline.  “She had some good ideas about that.”
            Jacqueline snorted softly.  “All I did was try to bless some bread.  I’m a laywoman, it might not have even taken.”
            I smothered a smile.  The light I saw in your hands when you saved Kel makes me think you’re touched a little more by the hand of some greater power than the average laywoman.
            “Still,” Phelan said as we started walking again, “it wasn’t a bad idea.  Breaking and burying the bread could have some beneficial effects.  And thank you for finding that wine.”
            She shrugged, carefully shifting the basket she was carrying.  “I still don’t know what you wanted it for.”
            “To drink, of course,” Phelan said, winking over his shoulder.
            Thom snorted a laugh.  “Do you really expect us to believe that?”
            He shrugged.  “No.  But it was a good joke.”  After a moment, he shook his head.  “We can’t spare the milk that we’ve got.  The wine will do instead for an offering to the earth and to the powers beyond.”
            “This sounds incredibly pagan.”
            Kellin’s voice drifted quietly from the rear of our party.  “Probably because it largely is.  It’ll be all right.”
            We passed into the library’s dark shadow, forging onward toward the ruined Shakespeare Garden and the burial grounds beyond.  Glimmers of light drifted above the remnant hedgerows of the garden and the burial site beyond.  I took a short, slight breath.  There was something haunting and beautiful about the lights.
            “Will’o’wisps,” Rory said, voice low.  “Are they really fragments of dead souls?”
            Looking sidelong as J.T., I saw a muscle in his jaw twitch slightly.  Phelan glanced back over his shoulder again as we started down the hill toward the turned earth that sheltered our dead.
            “Some say they are.  Not always, though, in my experience.” Phelan stared at J.T. for a moment.
            The bigger man pushed past him and headed down the hill.  “Let’s get on with this before we lose daylight completely.”
            Carolyn gave me a long, worried look and I shook my head slightly.  That was just another set of issues they’d work through at their own pace—forcing it wasn’t going to help, not yet.”
            Thom leaned close and murmured, “Was it something he said?”
            “Yeah,” I said quietly, watching J.T. start to savagely set the tiki torches around the perimeter of the burial mound.  “Or more to the point, something he didn’t say.”
            Thom frowned, following my gaze to J.T.  He shook his head slightly.  “And I thought I had problems.”
            I choked back a laugh and shook my head. “You don’t know the half of it.”
            “Maybe I should.”
            I looked at Thom for a long moment, then nodded.  “Maybe.”  I just hope you’ll be able to handle what he has to say.

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