The sun was bright and high in the sky on a cold morning by the time he’d collapsed on a blanket near the fire, oblivious to the activity around him. Someone had taken mercy on him and covered him with a blanket sometime between the time he fell over sideways and the time someone toed him awake around midday. Phelan flailed weakly, muttering curse words in every language he knew, each more heartfelt than the last.
His hand struck the metal shaft of a crutch and his eyes snapped open. Then he blinked blearily at what he saw, not quite believing his eyes.
“You’re supposed to be horizontal,” he said, his voice a little slurred with the last vestiges of sleep. He sat up slowly, gaze sharp and never leaving his cousin’s face. “What are you doing up?”
“Jacqueline said that if I was bound and determined to get up and be about, she’d let me as long as I used the crutches and stayed off my leg.” She looked doubtfully at the ground. “Unfortunately, I haven’t quite figured out how to gracefully sit down while using these things, and falling hurts.”
Phelan made a face and stood up to help her sit. “You look like hell, cousin.”
“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” Neve winced as he helped her lower herself to the ground. Her whole leg was splinted from ankle to thigh and bound tightly. Phelan barely suppressed the urge to shake his head.
“I what’s wrong with me is nothing a few nights of sleep won’t fix. I suspect that you’re in worse shape.”
“Unfortunately, that’s what happens when a firbolg throws you into a tree,” she said with a slight wince as she shifted, trying to get comfortable on the hard ground. Phelan wrapped his blanket around her and felt her forehead. Still warm, but the fever seemed lower now. “Stop fussing, Phelan,” she muttered. “I’m going to live. Whatever was in that syringe that I got stabbed with seems like it’s doing the trick.”
“It’s a course of antibiotics and you’re lucky you’re not allergic to them,” Phelan said, brows knitting. “I’m willing to lay pretty good odds that you’ve been running that fever for weeks and lying and saying that you were absolutely fine to travel.”
“Cameron knew I was lying,” she said softly. “But he wasn’t going to gainsay me. That’s the way he is. He realizes when I’m going to be stubborn about something and lets me do it.”
But at what cost? Your life? That’s too high a price. Phelan turned away, stared at the fire for a moment. If Cameron pulled through the infection that was already raging in him, he and Phelan were going to need to have a nice, long talk about how to stop Neve from doing stupidly dangerous things. “He should know when to stop you,” Phelan muttered, half under his breath.
“That’s not your place to decide,” Neve said firmly, jaw setting. All that did was emphasize how thin and frail she looked, especially with the deep, bruise-colored shadows beneath her eyes. “That’s between him and I.”
“When it endangers both of your lives, it becomes my business,” Phelan said, standing up and clearing the sleep from his eyes. He looked around, trying to get his bearings—trying to figure out what time of day it was, which fire he’d collapsed near.
Secondary cookfire, apparently. Tala was waving from across the way. He lifted his hand in vague greeting and stretched, looking back at Neve. The younger woman was glaring daggers at him.
“Who died and made you the fucking Taliesin?”
He skewered his cousin with a baleful look. “Don’t go there, Neve. Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to.”
Never in a thousand generations would he have ever thought that his cousin could go paler than she already was. Her flesh was already the color of fine parchment but now it was positively white, the color of the snow beyond the tent’s boundaries.
“Seamus,” she breathed. “Seamus was the Taliesin?”
“Like your grandfather before him,” Phelan said bitterly, though it was a bitterness he didn’t quite feel. He checked his tone and sighed. “He passed the mantle to me a very, very long time ago.” It certainly gave me a good excuse to disobey Uncle’s edicts, though I could never tell anyone that.
“And you’ve been—”
“Chasing the prophecies ever since, yes,” Phelan said, his voice quiet and eyes distant. “And I will tell you truthfully that prophecies are damned unhelpful sometimes.”
“Sometimes?” Neve murmured.
“Most of the time,” he amended, nose wrinkling slightly. “And upsetting most of the rest of the time. They certainly don’t make life easy.”
“Phelan, are there—”
“I told you not to ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to,” he said, scrubbing both hands over his face.
Neve flinched. “That means there are.”
“Of course there are. There always are. There’s prophecies about you, there’s shit about Marin and Thom and Teague and my baby sister, too. There’s prophecies all over the damned place and it’s a bitch to keep them straight—especially when the interpretations change with each passing second when I realize I was wrong about how something was supposed to go, or that I’d read something wrong or that what I’d been told was only part of the full utterance. No wonder Seamus always looked like he was trying to pass some kind of stone.”
“Does Teague know?”
“Yes,” Phelan said, looking away. “I had to tell someone, Neve.” As Brighid said once, it’s too heavy a burden for one to shoulder alone. He’d told her and Finn, once upon a time, and her brother as well. They had carried his secret to their graves.
Possibly beyond, he realized as his thoughts turned to Matt and Marin and their uncanny—almost inexplicable—attachment to him.
“What do they—”
“Don’t ask,” he said quietly, staring at the fire. He absently reached for another log and settled it amidst the flames. “None of it matters until there’s children.”
“Phelan,” Neve said, her voice weak. “There’s going to be.”
“Not yet,” he said, not quite catching her meaning. “We still have time. Years, I hope.” Years are what we’ll need, if I can keep everyone alive that long.
“We don’t have years,” she said. “Phelan, I’m pregnant.”
He swore and didn’t stop until a very surprised Thom joined them a few minutes later.