I kept staring at him uncomprehendingly. “Are you saying that someone can just waltz in here and perform necromancy? Not that there’s anyone around that could or would do it.”
Phelan made a sort-of gesture with his hand. “Contrary to popular belief, most souls don’t cross over right away, especially those taken before their time, or what they felt was their time. That leaves ample time for someone who knows how to harness them for various means. If the site of someone’s burial is warded and hallowed, however, the ability for these things to take place is greatly curtailed.” He shrugged. “Most places are unconsciously warded and largely hallowed these days. But burials like the one you guys had to make—that’s not. There’s a lot of bodies there, right?”
I nodded mutely, refusing to think about how many. It was just easier not to number them, less painful. There had been a lot to bury.
Phelan nodded. “That means there’s quite a few souls that could be harnessed if not by the camazotzi, then perhaps by something attached to them. If they managed to distract you from your burials, or drive you away from them…” His voice trailed away and he stared at me.
I understood now, of course. “Then that would leave the souls attached to the bodies buried here vulnerable, because we’d never think to hallow the ground or ward it, believing in large part that what’s dead is dead and gone.”
“Precisely,” Phelan said.
I glanced again at the turned soil and shook my head slightly. “It’s going to take more than just you and I to do that. I don’t think I’ve got the energy.”
He smiled briefly. “Wait here. I’ll pull together something temporary, at least, until we can bring a larger group out here.”
I nodded slightly and sank down onto the half-broken bench, watching as he dusted himself off and walked toward the graves. He stopped perhaps five feet from the edge of the long trench graves and stood for a few long moments, head bowed as if in prayer. After a few moments of silence, he began to walk around the grave, clockwise, taking long, even strides.
He was singing. The language was one I couldn’t understand, and I could only assume it was in some variant of his native tongue, somewhere between an aria and a battle hymn. My heart pounded and my throat swelled as I listened to the words that drifted to me on the chill breeze.
I could see him as he must have looked thousands of years ago, dressed in soft leathers under tooled leather, a bow and sword across his back, a spear in one hand, boots laced to his knee and a wool mantle gathered up around his shoulders. His head was bare, leaving his fiery hair exposed, windblown. He was magnificent.
And yet, strangely, there was something about him, something about his carriage and confidence that reminded me of Thom so much it made my heart hurt without my knowing why.
Phelan circled the graves three times before he stopped where he had started. His song ended as he flung his arms out and stood, arms outstretched, head thrown back to the sky.
Arrows flew all around us. I ducked down behind a barrier, flinching despite myself. There were more than we’d ever dreamed there’d be.
“Phelan!” Thom barked from somewhere beyond me. I opened my eyes, looked to my left.
My heart slammed into my throat. Phelan was falling, arms flailing like graceless wings, two arrows in his upper chest.
I gasped in a breath, blinking back stinging tears that had come out of nowhere. Phelan was lowering his arms now, turning and walking back toward me. I must have looked terrified or stricken as he moved back, because his brow creased in concern.
“What’s wrong?” he asked as he crossed through the hedgerows. He crouched in front of me and took both of my hands in his.
“Nothing,” I whispered. “Nothing.”
There must have been something in my eyes that he could read. Phelan touched my cheek gently. “Whatever happens, leannán, whatever you see, always remember that I have lived long and fully, and death will take me when She sees fit to bring me home to undying lands. Tuiscint?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, but that didn’t stop a tear from starting to trickle down my face. Phelan smiled gently and wiped it away with his thumb.
“I’m all right,” I said softly, trying to convince myself more than I was trying to convince him.
“I know you are.” He straightened and offered me his hand. “The graves will be safe for now—a few days at least, perhaps longer.”
I took his hand and stood up, nodding. “Good. That’ll give me enough time to figure out how to explain all of this to everyone else.” I managed a rueful smile.
Phelan laughed. “I imagine that will be easier than you think. Was this all you wanted to show me?” He smiled conspiratorially at me. “Is it high time I meet Thomas?”
Now it was my turn to laugh, and I did, nodding. “Yeah. I think it is.” I took the arm he offered and began to lead him back toward camp.