Sixteen – 01

[This post is from Bryant Tapping’s point of view.]

It wasn’t yet dawn, the village still quiet.  He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting outside the door of their guest cottage, his back pressed against the painted wood.  Bryant’s gaze remained unfocused as he stared blankly out into the unfamiliar darkness, unable to sleep.  Behind him, the cottage was dark, his friends long since gone to sleep—or so he hoped.  It wouldn’t have surprised him at all if Issy was laying awake, or worse, curled in a chair next to David’s bed.

He’d hoped making it to relative safety would mean that his friend slept.  He was starting to suspect that it was a vain hope.

Nice of me to hope she’d sleep, though, when I can’t even find rest myself.

He suppressed the urge to shake his head at himself there in the darkness.  He’d barely seen a hint of movement since coming out here.  It was, he guessed, maybe an hour or so before dawn.  Torches flickered out closer to the gates and the wall, though the sentries on duty were as silent as a tomb.  Even the wind had died away, leaving trees still in the night air.  Even as peaceful as it was, something had him on edge—and that something had nothing to do with the fact that they were among strangers.

They did seem to believe us, though.  That must account for something.  Bryant closed his eyes, tilting his head back.  I wonder if any of them thought this day would come eventually.  Maybe the Taleisin did.  That part wouldn’t have surprised him.  The stories that Aoife had told—the stories that Gray had remembered and repeated time and again—suggested a much deeper history and deeper meaning.  While he wasn’t sure exactly how much he believed them, he believed in the conviction behind the words.

And he believed in the prophecy embedded in those tales, just like they all did.  It was what had set them on this road into the unknown in the first place, hoping that they’d find the key to a promised better tomorrow.

He just hoped they were right about all of it.

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Fifteen – 06

[This post is from Neve’s point of view.]

The sound of Matt’s hammer against the anvil was muted, the door mostly shut.  Smoke curled into the night sky from its chimney, and Neve paused in her ascent up the hill path to the forge to watch it drift away on the night breeze.  Again, she hitched her shawl a little bit higher, a little bit tighter, the chill creeping through her having nothing to do with the weather.

Something had changed and she suspected that it wasn’t just due to the arrival of their visitors.

The muffled sound of voices reached her—voices deep in murmured conversation, though almost overshadowed by the sound of the hammer.

If there was one thing she’d learned about many of her friends, it was that it was through work that they found the time to order their thoughts.  There had been more than a few nails and blades made in the times when Matt or Thordin needed to think—and in another time, many trenches dug and walls built when Thom Ambrose had needed to think.

The door whispered on its hinges as she eased it open, finding not only Matt—who she’d expected—but both Phelan and Thordin as well.  Matt’s hammer stilled and the three fell silent as she slipped inside, closing the door behind her.

“Well, don’t stop on my account,” she said softly.  “Go on.  I couldn’t sleep, either.”

“Too much on your mind?” Thordin asked.

She smiled crookedly.  “All three of you heard what I heard.  Could you sleep after that?”

Thordin spread his hands, as if his presence was an answer.  Neve shook her head slightly.

“Exactly.”  She drifted to the bench next to Phelan, who sat with a whetstone, sharpening some newly-crafted knives destined for trade.  “So.  Do we have a plan, or are we still figuring it all out?”

“What do you think?” Matt asked, his gaze straying back to the metal laid against the anvil.  It was a sword, something he’d crafted only rarely the past few years.

Neve stared at it for a few seconds, then said, “I think it’s going to be a long night.”

He nodded and his hammer rose and fell, rose and fell.

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Hey guys, no Monday or Wednesday updates this week – I’m on overnights for a few days at work which make it hard to get anything quality accomplished!

Thanks for understanding.

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Fifteen – 05

[This post is from Neve’s point of view.]

Sleep wouldn’t come, no matter how long she lay there in the dark, staring at the ceiling—and it seemed like it was forever.  Eventually, Neve got up and put on her shoes, wrapping a shawl around her shoulders before she ventured out into the night’s quiet.

From the position of the moon, she guessed it was perhaps two or three in the morning, deep into the graveyard watch already.  They still kept those watches, even after so many years of relative quiet and peace.  It felt strange to do any differently, she reflected as she walked along the well-trodden path from her door toward the center of the village, where they still cooked communal meals—though the fireside had changed a great deal over the last decade and more.

There were two stone ovens there, now, and a cooktop.  The old ring of stones had been replaced, built up into a proper pit.  A small shed held proper cabinets for the crockery and glassware and utensils, for the cooking vessels and pans and sheet trays, washbasins and drying racks set just outside its door.  Tala still kept her smokers further away, though, and the food storage was likewise a little ways away, though not so far that it was inconvenient.  Nor had the communal meals ever started to feel inconvenient—on the contrary, it seemed to Neve that it helped keep them together.

A distant sound drew her attention and she turned on the path, squinting up through the darkness toward the forge on the hill—one of the few structures little changed over the span of years.  There was a faint glow from its doorway and she frowned, drawing her shawl a little tighter despite the night’s warmth.

Seems someone else is restless tonight.

Silently, Neve started up the hill toward the forge, suspecting she already knew at least one of the people she’d find there—though she wondered if there would be more.

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Fifteen – 04

[This post is from Neve’s point of view.]

“Do you think I should?”  Tory’s hand covered hers, his calloused fingers flexing to squeeze hers.  He was so like his father, she reflected as she stared at his hand for a moment before she met his gaze.

“I think you should follow your heart,” she said softly, reaching with her free hand to cup his cheek in her palm.  “Isn’t that what your dad and I taught you?”

“Well, that and a bunch of survival skills.”  Tory smiled wryly, squeezing her hand again.  “I don’t understand any of this, Mum.  I mean—you were important a long time ago.  Still important now.  People think Dad’s a hero because he carries messages the way he does between—well, it seems like everywhere.  That’s not me.”  His brow furrowed.  “Lin’s more important than I am.  More special.  I guess them coming looking for him makes more sense to me.  Them looking for me just doesn’t.  I don’t have any powers or anything, just your bloodline.”

“And that’s important,” she said softly, her thumb brushing against his cheek.  “I know it doesn’t make sense—not entirely.  That’s my fault and it’s—oh, Tory.  We could stay up all night and I could try to explain, but I don’t know that it would help.”

“So you’re telling me to get some sleep and I’ll get answers from the source in the morning.”

“Kind of.”

He smiled, nodding slightly.  “Okay.  Okay, Mum.”  He let go of her hand and leaned in to kiss her cheek before he stood.  “I take it I shouldn’t go out fishing tomorrow morning, huh?”

Neve laughed and shook her head.  “Not if you want answers, no.  Find your uncle in the morning.  Phelan will tell you as much as you can before you meet with our visitors.”

“Visitors,” he echoed softly as he drifted toward the door.  “You say that like they’re not going to stay.”

“They’re not,” Neve said gently.  “They’re on a quest, and they’ve found what they’re looking for—at least part of it—but that’s only the beginning.”

Tory’s brows knit.  “Mum—”

“In the morning,” she said.  “Good-night, Tory.”

“Night, Mum.”

He slipped out and she stayed seated on the edge of the bed, staring at the space where he’d been, for a long, long time.

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Fifteen – 03

[This post is from Neve’s point of view.]

Tory stared at her in silence, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, for long enough that she thought that she’d erred in telling him.  Finally, though, he cleared his throat and croaked, “Me and Lin?  Why the hell would anyone be looking for us, Mum?”

How could she put it in a way that wouldn’t result in complete and utter panic?  It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been raised on all the same stories as the others—none of them had escaped that.  He knew enough about her history and his father’s that she hoped, at least, he’d be able to accept at least some of it for what it was, able to take some of it at face value.

But is that an assumption that it’s safe for me to make?

Her eyes slid shut for a moment.  She and Cameron had tried to shelter them as best they could without denying reality—and then there was an open question of how much Marin and Thom had known and not talked about.  She suspected—had always suspected—that it was much more than they realized.

Lin has all of their journals.  I wonder how much is in there that we never knew.

“Mum?”

She sighed and scrubbed a hand over her face.  “Because there are prophecies, Tory.  There are stories and prophecies that center around certain figures and certain bloodlines.”

“Like yours.”

“Like ours,” she corrected gently.  “It’s yours, too, Tory.”

He blushed and looked down.  “I guess so.  I just—I just don’t understand.  Lin said to ask you.  Why do I get the feeling that you’d love to tell me to ask him?”

Neve laughed.  “Because you’re not wrong.  I’m starting to wonder how much he’s already come to realize.”

“Knowing Lin?  A lot.  Should I bug Uncle Phelan?”

“Your uncle’s had a long day,” Neve said, shaking her head with a faint smile.  “Let him get some sleep.  You’ll meet our visitors tomorrow, I think.”

“Oh, so I’ll be able to ask them for answers.”

She reached over and squeezed his knee.  “If that’s what you choose to do, yes.  Yes.”

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Fifteen – 02

[This post is from Neve’s point of view.]

Tory’s brow furrowed deeply.  “My cousin?  But—Mum.  I didn’t think I had any cousins.  Whose is he?  Uncle Seamus or Uncle Teague’s?”

“Neither.”

Her son frowned.  “But you—you only have two brothers, right?  There aren’t any sisters…right?”

Neve reached over and rested her hand on his knee.  “No, you’re right.  There’s just my brothers and I.  But we also have Phelan and his sister.”

His brow furrowed, nose wrinkling.  “I didn’t know that Uncle Phelan had a sister.”

“We don’t talk about her,” Neve admitted.  “Not anymore, not after what happened here.”

Tory leaned back, shaking his head.  “I don’t understand.”

“It’s all right.  You don’t have to.”

“Don’t I?  Mum, you said one of them is my cousin like that was something important.  Is it or isn’t it?”

She felt a stab of regret, a surge of momentary, old pain.  “It’s both,” she said softly, then sighed.  “The story is complicated, though.  She came here once a long time ago.  We made her leave before too long.  She was…a bit more extreme in her reactions and beliefs than we were comfortable with.”

Her son frowned, staring at the floor for a few seconds.  “Extreme?”

“She wanted to kill Hecate.”

He went rigid.  “Why?”

“That part is a longer story.”

“Oh,” he murmured, his lips thinning.  He shook his head a little.  “But one of them is—is hers?  Her child?”

Neve nodded.  “Yes.  And they’re seeking stories she told them—stories they’ve heard since they were children.”  She paused and took a slow breath.  “They’re searching for something—for someone—they know is out here somewhere.  Someone that’s here.”

“Who?”

She closed her eyes.  The words stuck in her throat and it felt as if she’d never be able to make them come.  Then, finally: “For you and Merlin.”

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Fifteen – 01

[This post is from Neve’s point of view.]

“Who are the strangers, Mum?  Why are they here?”

Neve froze for a few seconds at the sound of her son’s voice, relief warring with sudden anguish.  Of course he’d have heard there were strangers, and of course he’d want to know more.  In that, he was like both of them—like both her and Cameron—and damnably so at that.  She set down the blanket she was folding and turned to face him where he stood in the doorway to her room, his expression just shy of anguished.  Her breath caught.

Croí daor,” she said softly, beckoning him into the room she’d long shared with his father.  “Where were you two?  I was worried.”

“Fishing,” he said as he eased inside.  “Out at the lakeshore.  Didn’t hear any horns or sense anything amiss.  We wouldn’t have known anything happened if people didn’t keep asking where the hell we were.”  Artorius frowned.  “Lin said that you’d have answers.”

Not nearly so many as you’d like, I think.  Her lips thinned slightly and she nodded, waving for him to sit down on the bed with her.  Tory frowned, but sat, his gaze intent on her.

“That’s never a good sign.”

Neve choked on a laugh and shook her head.  “I suppose it’s not, is it?  I don’t have many answers and I imagine what I’m able to tell you will only spark more questions.”

“Right now all I have are questions, Mum.  Some answers would be welcome no matter what.”

That’s what you think now.  She sat down with him on the bed, drawing one leg up beneath her and watching his face, his eyes.  He looked so much like his father sometimes it made her ache, though she knew that Cameron saw more of her in his son than she did.  Perhaps each of them were just seeing what they loved in the faces of their children.

“So who are they?”

“One of them is your cousin.  The rest are his friends.”

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Fourteen – 06

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

In truth, the universe never had.

There was a lot that my parents had never talked about, other things that they’d committed to writing without speaking of them—but then there were things that they did talk about.  Sometimes it was only in hints and whispers, and those hints and whispers were the things that I clung to now.

They knew that someday, some things would come to pass—things like what I was living through right now.

I straightened from my lean against the counter, drifting slowly toward the shelves where I kept my books—where my parents’ journals sat tucked among them with little rhyme or reason to it.  It didn’t matter.  I knew exactly where they were almost by instinct, always somehow able to put my hands on the volume I needed when I needed it.

I wasn’t sure if that was part of the gifts I’d inherited from them or just a bit of reoccurring luck.

I ran a fingertip along the spines of those books, finally plucking one from the shelves and slowly retreating back to the stove.  The kettle wasn’t quite hot enough yet, only starting to steam slightly—not a hint of a hiss yet.  My fingers brushed against the cover of the journal, its surface and its edges, something crafted before I was born and salvaged from the shattered remnants of the World Before.  There was something comforting about having it in my hands even before I opened it to a random page.

My eyes began to water a little at the sight of my father’s handwriting—his had not been the one I was expecting, and this surprise, at least, was a welcome one.

Maybe it would hold answers and comfort I desperately needed.

The kettle began to sing and I set the book down so I could take it off the flame.  I poured the steaming water into my mother’s teapot, slowly brushed a hand over my father’s journal, and exhaled a sigh.

Even though they weren’t here, they were still with me.

Somehow.

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Thrice-weekly updates will resume on Monday, December 28.

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