Finding J.T. and Phelan huddled together near the forge wasn’t in and of itself that unusual, especially in the past few weeks. Phelan’s recovery had been slow and both Jay and Jacqueline had been keeping a close eye on the situation. But when Phelan spotted me coming, they both looked relieved—and that was a little unusual.
“Okay,” I said, my boots squishing in the mud left behind by a recent rain, “what gives?”
“It’s Samhain,” Phelan said without preamble.
Okay. Thank you for telling me that. I wonder why Kel didn’t mention anything—unless she lost track of the days. I stared at him. “Okay.”
“Told you that she’d forgotten,” J.T. muttered, crossing his arms across his broad chest. In the past few weeks, he’d begun eschewing his spiked jacket more and more in favor of a plainer jacket, suede that perhaps had once been dark brown but had somehow, at some point, begun to darken to black. He wore it today, protection against the bite in the air.
“What, exactly, did I forget?” I asked, peering at him.
The last couple weeks had been busy. The walls were up; the radiant heating system seemed to be working properly, but the true test for that would be during the depths of winter, when the winds howled off the lake and rattled walls and windows.
Reinforcing walls and windows was still a work in progress.
On top of that, there’d been inventorying our supplies and scrambling to make sure we had enough, had put enough away, would have enough for the long haul. Tala and I were starting to get sick of seeing each other after that process. In the evenings, I’d recruited the help of anyone I could lay my hands on to help catalogue the books we’d rescued from the library—and were still rescuing with each passing day.
All in all, there had been plenty of reason for me to forget whatever the hell it was that they were talking about.
“Think hard,” Phelan said.
I could have punched him. I glanced at J.T., who looked vaguely concerned and miserable all at once.
Has he been seeing more ghosts lately?
Ah, shit. That’s what it is. I smacked my forehead. “The ritual by the barrow you were talking about the day Thom and I got married.”
J.T. grunted, but nodded. “It just feels like something we should do,” he muttered, shifting from one foot to the other. He glanced around, as if he was concerned that someone would overhear our conversation. Thom and Matt were the only ones within earshot, but they were busy arguing about something further up the hill. “Not sure why, just do.” He looked at Phelan. “Tell her what you told me.”
I turned to Phelan, crossing my arms. He flinched slightly.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “You look too damn much like her when you give me that look.”
“Mmph.” Phelan slipped past me and started down the hill. “Come on, let’s go sit down before I tell this one again.”
“Tell which one again?” I asked as J.T. and I fell into step with each other, following him down the hill toward one of the benches we’d rescued from the wreckage of Mackinac.
“He told me about something that they used to do back in the old days,” J.T. said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “Some ritual they did during the harvest.”
“It was on Samhain,” Phelan said, glancing back over his shoulder at the two of us. “The gist of it is that my sister and Teague’s sister used to lead the maidens in the dancing and all to celebrate the lives of the dead and Teague and Seamus and I would do the rituals to send them to their rest, if that’s what they wanted.”
I snorted softly. “If you need maidens to dance, you’re going to be pretty damn short on them. I think you’ll have Angie and Jacqueline.”
“I’m not sure that they necessarily have to be maidens,” Phelan said, sounding almost thoughtful. “I daresay more than half the so-called maidens that used to dance in the old days weren’t actually maids at all.” He waved a dismissive hand as we reached the bench and he seated himself, leaning his staff against his knee. “But that’s beside the point. Not that important.”
I sat down next to him, drawing one knee up to my chest, ignoring the mud on my boots. “Then what is?”
“The words—the ritual, that is.” Phelan leaned back, staring at the clouds that drifted lazily in the bright blue sky. If you only looked at the sky, it might have been possible to forget everything that had happened since August.
One of his shoulders hitched in a slight shrug. “It invites the dead to go to their rest, tells them that the road is clear and they can go. They don’t have to, of course—it’s not some kind of crazy mass exorcism for ghosts or something. It’s just an invitation to depart if they want.”
I glanced up at J.T., then looked at Phelan. “So not all of them would go?”
“Nope. Only the ones that want to.” Phelan squinted at J.T.’s slight scowl and sighed, shaking his head. “I told you it wasn’t a solution to your problem—not completely. If some of them want to stay and watch over us, why the hell do you want to gainsay them that?”
“I don’t see why any of them would want to stay,” J.T. grumbled.
I shook my head. “I don’t see why you’re worried that a lot won’t. They’ve saved our bacon twice, Jay.”
“Exactly,” he said. “They’ve done their duty.”
I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. Phelan cleared his throat, drawing our attention.
“There is one other thing that I should probably tell you before you jump all over this idea.” He twisted slightly, looking at both of us at once. There was a strange expression on his face, fear mingling with dread.
“What is it?” I asked, tilting my head slightly.
He took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “Well…she could decide to show up.”
“She?” J.T. and I asked in the same voice.
Not Vammatar. Who else…oh. Oh.
I must have gone pale, because Phelan nodded.
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