It would snow for the first time that night, but none of them quite suspected that it was coming despite the bite that crept into the air as they celebrated the marriage. Matt and Rory found a solid, dry spot amidst the marshy turf of the arboretum to build a bonfire as the afternoon light began to fade; Jacqueline and Greg lit tiki torches, bathing the space in flickering light.
Thom reveled in the feel of Marin pressed against his side, his arm locked around her waist. She didn’t seem to mind at all, apparently unable to keep her smile from fading.
“My face is going to hurt so much in the morning,” she whispered to him as they drifted across the turf toward the fire.
“Yours and mine both,” he whispered back, kissing her ear.
She laughed, rotating to face him. Her arms settled around him and for the first time in forever, he didn’t feel a twinge of pain in his ribs.
Maybe a lot of things are finally starting to heal. Maybe things will be easier for a little while.
He rested his forehead against hers. “All’s clear on the western front?” he whispered.
Her smile grew slightly and she nodded. “All’s quiet.” She cupped his face between her palms, fingers chilly against his flesh. He turned his face and kissed her palm lightly.
Matt elbowed him gently in the spine as he walked past. “Careful,” he murmured to them. ”Someone else sees you two like that and you’ll get told to start kissing again.”
Thom grinned, twisting slightly to look at him. “Tired of watching already?”
“The only person who’s been watching you suck face as long as I have is J.T.,” Matt said dryly. “And I don’t think he cares right now.”
Marin leaned into Thom’s chest, her arms snaking around his waist. “You didn’t answer his question.”
Her brother exhaled. “All right, I’m fine.” He smiled at Marin, reaching out to squeeze her arm. “I’m just glad that you’re happy.”
“I am happy,” she said with a bright smile. Thom squeezed her and grinned stupidly himself. Matt shook his head, choking back a chuckle as he walked away.
The smell of wedding soup and bread filled the air; Tala was hard at work near the bonfire keeping an eye on both. It wasn’t much of a wedding feast, but somehow the simple fare seemed like it fit—the circumstances, the ceremony, everything.
“Thank you for letting me do this for the two of you,” Phelan said from behind them. Thom let go of Marin, twisting slightly to look at him. He’d doffed his mask, but it had left little red lines across his cheekbones and around his eyes, reminders of where its edges had lain.
“I don’t know why you ever thought we wouldn’t,” Marin said softly, taking his hand and squeezing it tightly. Thom smiled wryly.
Maybe because you were as nervous about all of this as I was. “We should be thanking you, Phelan. You gave us the push we needed, and now it’s a done deal.”
He nodded slightly. “Aye, well. I was just thinking that you were stronger together than you were apart, and something like this…that would drive that fact home. Not just to you, but to everyone. All of you are stronger as a whole than you are as single pieces.” His fingers tightened around Marin’s and he touched Thom’s shoulder, squeezing it firmly. “Beannachtaí a bheith ar tú anois, amárach, agus go deo.”
The hairs on the back of Thom’s neck began to stir as Marin leaned in to kiss Phelan on the cheek, murmuring, “Thank you, Phelan.”
“Yes,” a voice like gravel said from behind them, boots crunching heavily on the arboretum’s path. “Blessings be upon you because you will need them in these months to come.”
Phelan jerked both of them back, trying to shove them behind him. He only succeeded in throwing himself off-balance and stumbling sideways. Marin caught him before he could hit the ground as Thom spun too quickly, almost unbalancing himself as he put too much weight on his weakened ankle. Cold washed over him, every hair on his body standing on end.
The figure who’d spoken was tall—more than six feet, for certain—with black hair cut to chin length, framing a face that could have been carved from marble by some Roman sculptor. Gold eyes glittered beneath dark brows and his razor-sharp smile was cruel in a way that it made his skin crawl.
Thom swallowed bile that suddenly started to rise in his throat. The eyes. Splash some red in there, and I know them.
“Cariocecus,” Phelan growled, straightening slowly. “You violate the sanctity of these grounds.”
“I remain outside your circle, Wanderer,” the figure said, sounding vaguely amused. “And are not all welcome who mean to do no harm this day?”
A crowd had begun to gather around them, voices falling silent. J.T. and Rory appeared, stepping up to flank Phelan and Marin as Thom took a slow step forward.
“What do you want, Shadow Man?”
The richness of the figure’s laughter shocked him. It rolled out in velvet waves, deep and booming, but was at the same time more Darth Vader than Mufasa.
“Very good, Seer,” the figure rumbled. “Very good. Not many can see me as easily in this guise as who I am in my war guise.”
Shivers shot down Thom’s spine. I could barely see you then. Everyone can see you now. “What do you want?” he repeated, willing his voice not to shake.
Marin’s fingers slid into his as she stepped up to his side. Thom squeezed her hand as they faced the Shadow Man together—for the first time, though not the last.
“I have come to present two of the last Seers in the world with a gift,” the Shadow Man said, his voice like a silk-swathed stiletto. “A boon, really, but in this world we know now, I suppose they are much the same thing.”
“What is it?” Marin asked, her voice as firm as Thom’s had been.
That’s my wife. The thought warmed him even as goosebumps stirred again. What sort of game was the Shadow Man playing?
“Time, dear lady. I give you time.” The Shadow Man smiled. “You will not see me again until the Feast of Midwinter’s Eve.” He sketched a bow, throwing his black, crimson-lined cloak wide. “Blessings and congratulations on your union, my lord, my lady. Until we meet again.”
Then, ignoring the silence that reigned for a few long moments behind him, the Shadow Man, Cariocecus, turned and walked away.
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