Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 12
Ragnar pointed at the door and the hushed crowd filed out.
Aslaug turned her attention on the men close by. “Back up. Give Merewin room.”
Merewin breathed deeply. She didn’t like to lie and hoped the Earth Mother wouldn’t mind her insinuations that Serena was she. But in case Serena’s form was visible, Merewin didn’t have time to explain who she was.
Merewin moved her senses back over Ivarr. The boy was nearly paralyzed with the clinging darkness that pushed against his heart. “Stay with me, Ivarr,” Merewin whispered near his little ear. His arm twitched and she rubbed it, waiting.
The dragonfly birthmark on her thigh warmed and Merewin looked up.
Drakkina stood against the wall, her arms outspread. No one noticed her invisible form.
Where is she? Merewin asked in her mind.
Drakkina held her finger to her lips to shush. The image warped then glowed. Another image of a thread wavered into the space next to Merewin. The thread expanded into long red hair, tussled, laying across naked shoulders.
Aslaug blinked. “Am I seeing something there?” Aslaug squinted her eyes.
The rest of Serena’s body, draped in a linen sheet, solidified. Merewin’s sister blinked several times, glancing around as a murmur rose from the remaining Danes. Some people looked in Serena’s direction, others just looked around as if trying to see an apparition.
Serena smiled. Merewin.
Merewin smiled. I’ve missed ye.
“And I you,” Serena answered. “Although I would have preferred a more appropriate time for our reunion. She looked down at her near nakedness and blushed.
Merewin remembered the kilted warrior who had fought for her sister’s life.
Serena’s gaze washed over the audience and she pulled the sheet up higher.
Ye can read in my mind why Drakkina brought ye here? Merewin asked silently and indicated Drakkina’s wavering form nearby.
Serena glanced at the Wiccan spirit. Aye, I can.
Merewin nodded, noticing Hauk’s stare.
He watched not only Serena’s image, but his eyes moved to Drakkina’s image as well. Could he see the Wiccan master even when no one else could?
Merewin looked back to Ivarr. Then read me, sister. Merewin opened her mind. Serena’s image moved to her, touching her bare arm.
“Am I seeing the Earth Mother?” Aslaug whispered.
Serena raised an eyebrow but made no movement to answer.
“It is someone who can help,” Merewin answered and concentrated on her plan to save Ivarr.
“What is going on in here?” Svala’s voice scraped along Merewin’s concentration making Serena’s gaze move in the woman’s direction. Merewin watched Bjalki move away but refocused her mind on Ivarr.
After a moment, Serena moved to Ivarr and touched the boy’s cheek. Merewin joined her and moved her hands back over the stones.
“Live, Ivarr,” Serena said softly, her words a whispered breeze in the room.
Aslaug’s small sob came muffled as if she tried to hide it behind her hand. You want to live, little boy, for all the wonderful things this world can offer you. Serena pressed her thoughts into the boy’s mind.
“His eyes,” Ragnar said gruffly from somewhere behind. They had opened.
Merewin pushed her toes into the soil, sucking the earth energy through and into the stones, channeling it into the little body. The stones warmed slightly, but only slightly. She focused her healing energy on the gunk smothering his heart, tugging it from him.
“Live child,” Serena crooned and the boy’s eyes seemed to focus on the image.
Yet the stones would not grow warmer. Merewin squeezed her eyes shut. It wasn’t enough. Just telling him to live wasn’t enough.
“He needs to see all the things he will leave if he dies,” Merewin insisted. “All the things he loves.”
Serena nodded and ran her hands along Ivarr’s forehead, through his hair. She smiled, tears gathering in her eyes.
“His mother,” Serena said looking to Aslaug. “She needs to sing to him, his favorite song about the dragonship on the sea.”
Aslaug’s eyes widened and she nodded. Words tumbled out of her mouth.
Serena interrupted her, “with joy in the words, not sadness.”
Aslaug took a deep breath, her tear filled eyes looking to Ragnar.
Ragnar nodded to her firmly, urging.
Aslaug wiped red watery eyes. “I can do that.”
“There’s more,” Serena said before Aslaug began. Serena ran her hand along Ivarr’s lips. “Honeycomb, the taste on his lips. A dog. The sunshine on his face. Another woman, a nursemaid, perhaps. The sight of his father’s shining sword.” Serena narrowed her eyes and looked to Aslaug. “A Nini?”
Aslaug’s breathless words held the edge of hope. “Aye, his doll.”
“It isn’t a doll, woman,” Ragnar said firmly as he hefted his sword. “My son doesn’t have dolls.”
“It’s a baby made of cloth,” Aslaug said ignoring her husband. “Olla, get his doll.” Her arm flew out toward a door off the back. “And bring Edwyn back out here and tell her to stop sobbing,” she yelled at the running woman. Aslaug looked to Svein, “get honeycomb.”
“I don’t care, man, find some!” she ordered as he ran toward the door passing a frowning Svala.
“This is ridiculous,” Svala said from her spot and took a few steps toward them. “Magick didn’t save the others when the sickness came three years ago. Magick doesn’t work.”
“Is the sun rising?” Merewin asked ignoring the woman.
One of the warriors guarding the door nodded. “Some time ago.”
Merewin turned back to Serena’s form. It looked dimmer, as did Drakkina. “Is there anything else?”
Serena continued to caress the boy’s arm. “The smell of flowers, sweet smell. And wind on him, clean wind without smoke. He hates smoke.”
“She is fooling us with illusions,” Svala said as she stepped up to Ragnar. “She is an illusionist. Hauk, you of all people, must see through her tricks. You would not let another fool you.”
Serena and Merewin both looked at the serpent who snaked her arm around Hauk’s.
The fear that had raged through Merewin turned to fury against this she-beast.
Serena looked between them, her face concerned.
“Beware of her, sister,” Serena said as she faded. “The more he loves you, the more she hates you.”
“Loves?” Merewin whispered, but Serena’s body dissolved into the smoky air. She glanced toward the wall. Drakkina had vanished. Merewin was alone. She swallowed down the fear that tried to pour up out of her and turned around to the mesmerized group.
“Quickly,” Merewin ordered, looking at King Ragnar. “Wrap him up and bring him outside.”
“Outside?!” Svala gasped. “Surely you will kill him.”
Merewin turned toward the woman, her eyes narrowing. “Ye heard the Earth Mother speak. She said he loves the outdoors, the sun on his face. I mean to give him everything he loves.”
“Pah! Earth Mother, who is that? The god of Northumbria is a he. You make her up and cast illusions,” Svala countered.
Merewin noticed several of the warriors shift their stances. Were the woman’s words making them doubt what they had seen?
“Freyja,” one of the women said. “Her beauty, she was Freyja.”
Svala rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to speak again, but Merewin cut her off.
“Yer sword, King Ragnar.” Merewin ticked off on her fingers. “The dog, the nursemaid, the doll, honeycomb, and if ye have any sweet smelling herbs and flowers left from the summer.”
No one moved. It was as if they all waited for a decision. Support Svala and her disbelief or Merewin and her Earth Mother.
“The smoke in here is unhealthy,” Merewin said waving her hand before her face. Still no one moved. She looked to Aslaug. “He doesn’t have much time. We can try
Aslaug stood tall, her voice commanding once again. “Move people, get everything on Merewin’s list.” Aslaug ran to Ivarr.
Merewin met her there and removed the stones while Aslaug wrapped her limp son up in furs and motioned to Ragnar to pick him up.
“Evil, she is evil,” Svala hissed. “Hauk, can’t you see that she means to torture the child, a boy just like Toki.”
The fine strings of control holding Merewin’s patience across her like a mask snapped. Her façade of polite tolerance shattered. It was one thing to attack her, but to attack Hauk after all he had been through, bringing up the name of his son. Cruel snake! Merewin rounded and strode over to stand before the creature.
The fire in her anger smoldered under each succinct words and she tried once more to shield her disdain. “I am not evil, Svala. I will not torture an innocent, sick child.”
Svala scoffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “You cast illusions to fool us.” She shook her head as Ragnar carried his son out into the sun, Aslaug following.
Hauk stood behind Merewin, she could feel his presence, but he did not defend. Did he believe Svala’s words?
“I cast no illusions. I only wish to heal the child.” Merewin took a step to follow and Svala opened her arms to bar her way. “Let me pass,” Merewin spoke low. Did the woman not hear the edge to her voice, the warning?
“Nay, if these warriors are too chivalrous to stop you from harming the king’s heir further, and Ivarr’s parents are too wrapped in grief to see through your performance, than I will stop you.”
“Merewin, come out now!” Aslaug called, the urgency in her voice fueling the flames in Merewin’s blood.
“Move, ye saklauss witch,” Merewin said, her empty hand clenched into a fist. Just how Navlin had taught her, thumb on the outside.
“Why you lowly slave,” Svala began.
Merewin didn’t let her finish as she swung her fist with all her strength. Crack! Against the side of Svala’s upturned nose. Svala screamed as blood gushed from her flaring nostrils. Svala grabbed at her face as Bjalki jumped to his sister’s aid.
Merewin pushed out into the sun. The satisfaction of stopping Svala’s rantings made up for the pain in Merewin’s knuckles.
Merewin ran toward the small group gathered around Ivarr where he lay wrapped in furs on the ground. Everyone was so still, watching. Was he dead? Merewin’s heart sank, and she felt hot tears in her eyes. Nay, don’t let me lose him. Not when I haven’t even had a chance.
“What do we do now?” Ragnar asked, watching her closely.
Merewin blinked several times and looked to Aslaug. The woman’s gaze was concerned but lucid. He wasn’t dead yet.
Merewin moved her hand to grab her bag of stones and realized that someone gripped it. Was she being bound for what she’d done to Svala? Merewin looked up. Hauk held her hand and gently wrapped a torn linen around bleeding knuckles. His gaze held something, something she couldn’t quite place.
“Aye,” he said softly as he tied off a knot. “You are a warrior, not just in heart.” A small grin broke on his face, just a trace, but enough to melt the tension in Merewin’s body. It was respect she saw in his eyes and maybe a hint of trust.
With renewed strength Merewin turned to the dumbfounded people and started issuing orders. When Svala’s scream came from the house Merewin looked to Ragnar. “Yer son will die if she comes near us while I perform my healing.”
Aslaug gasped and Ragnar motioned to three strong warriors who took off toward the lodging.
Satisfied, Merewin threw off her cloak and found a soft stretch of grass to sit in.
To pull as much strength as she could from the earth, she would lie upon it. She pulled her skirt up so that her bare calves lay on the ground. Several murmurs of disapproval came from the crowd, but she ignored them all.
“Bring him to me. Lay his body on mine, his back against my stomach.” When they did, she instructed Aslaug to pull out certain stones. “Lay the green stone, the agate, on his heart. Lay the purple stone on his head. Lay the yellow crystals just above his naval and one below.” Merewin tried to see where the woman placed the stones on the outstretched boy. Ivarr was turning bluer, the weight on his heart so heavy. “Bring the green stone closer to the center of his chest, not quite over his heart. That’s it.” She leaned her head back on the grass.
From her position, the sun shone down on them, its warmth a blessing. A gentle breeze blew fresh air to ruffle their hair. “Loose the dog and bring the doll.”
The dog ran to them and licked the boy’s hands and feet. Aslaug first tried to stop him.
“Nay, let the dog lick. If the stones move, center them again.” After a minute the dog lay down against them, his head on the boy’s hand.
Merewin’s mind ran down the list. “Honey, on his lips by his nurse.” A young woman with red, puffy eyes ran her finger along Ivarr’s lips.
“And here is Nini, little Ivarr, holding some flowers for you” the nurse said sweetly, and laid the doll in the crook of his limp arm.
Merewin sensed something in the form on top of her, an awareness. “Aye child, wake and look at all ye have here,” she said calmly then looked to Aslaug. “Sing his favorite song, sweetly with all yer love and happiness, not sadness, Aslaug.” Merewin’s look ordered her to be strong and Aslaug nodded. She turned away slightly so that she didn’t see her little boy so limp and gray.
“Listen children to the story that was written long ago,
About a warrior on the waters riding his long boat to the shoal…”
Aslaug’s sweet lilt carried on and on through many verses while Merewin spoke low above Ivarr’s head. “Ivarr, if ye want to hear yer mother’s song and play with yer dog again, ye must remain here with us. Ye canna leave this life, ye must fight to keep the things ye love, lad.” Merewin closed her eyes and focused her mind on the solid earth beneath her, the cool feel of the soil, the fresh smell of the grass as it tickled at her ankles in the breeze.
“The sun is warm here, Ivarr, the grass and flowers smell wonderful. Yer mama’s arms are here to hold ye.”
Had the boy stirred?
“Listen to yer mother’s voice. Doona leave her, Ivarr. For she canna follow ye if ye leave this world. Live, Ivarr. Want to live, child. Taste the sweetness of life on yer lips.”
The power pulsed up under Merewin and gathered in her center until its enormity was too much for her to hold. Never before had Merewin tried to summon so much power from the earth. Little by little she let it flow up into the small body on top. If she let it all go at once, it could burn him or worse, so she concentrated the flow, channeling it up to the stones.
The dog moved its head to set it on Ivarr’s stomach knocking one of the yellow stones. The nurse touched it.
“Ahh,” she yelped dropping it. “It burns!”
“Hauk, replace the stone,” Merewin murmured, her mind completely engrossed in releasing a constant stream of energy into the boy through the stones. She knew at once when Hauk had re-settled the stone for the flow grew strong once more. The stones were hot. Joy flooded Merewin’s closed eyes, the tears flowing down her temples and into the grass. If they were hot, it was working.
“Aye Ivarr, live child. Fight to hear yer mama’s song, to touch the fur of yer pup, to hold yer father’s sword.” The flood of energy burned inside Merewin as she released the stream but kept the dam strong. The boy moved.
“Ragnar, talk to yer son while Aslaug sings. Talk of yer strength, of the strength of yer sword and how it will be his.”
The king’s voice droned on and the boy stilled, listening to the deep inflections of his father’s words.
Now, to pull away the disease clinging along every bit of Ivarr’s body, every bit, inside and out. She’d never felt such an all encompassing disease before. It was as if it squeezed around and through every muscle in his body.
There were murmurs and words around them, and Hauk’s strong voice moving people back. Merewin continued, her breathing becoming labored, as she pulled at the foul sap around Ivarr’s leg muscles. The grass grew damp under her, her clothes sticking to her hot skin. She heard the dog bark and Aslaug stopped singing.
The child wiggled where she held him.
“Ivarr! My babe!” Merewin heard Aslaug’s joyful screech, but she couldn’t open her eyes.
“D...dog.” The child laughed and tried to roll towards the animal.
Merewin smiled inwardly. A dead child didn’t laugh. She heard words near her ear and had to focus on them to understand.
“May I take him?” Ragnar’s voice pulled her from her concentration.
It was time. Merewin had rid the boy of the gray stickiness within him. She loosened her grasp on the boy’s little shoulders.
“Take him,” she said weakly and felt a chill as the breeze washed over her drenched body when they picked the child off. The foulness that had lain within the boy now soaked from Merewin into the ground beneath, but its stink remained. She took an even breath to try and cleanse herself more. In the distance she heard voices.
“Dear Freyja! Is she sound?” Bera’s voice cried somewhere nearby, talking nearly without a break between questions and concerns.
Merewin smiled inwardly again.
Hauk was right. Bera liked to talk. “She’s just laying there, Hauk! Quick, check for a breath.”
Murmurs and questions from others hummed behind her closed eyes. Through the ups and downs of inflections, Hauk’s strong, even voice gave her something to hold onto. “Wake, Merewin, else Bera will talk us to death.” His words were light, but concern edged them.
Concern? Serves him right for making her fight her way past Svala, without so much as a word of support. She kept her eyes closed for a moment longer.
“She looks blue. Like Ivarr,” a man’s voice, probably Svein, murmured.
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