Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 2
Ragnar nodded, reluctance evident. “I know, I know Hauk, ever since Ingun and the others died, you don’t trust healers.”
“It was the false promises of the false healers that tore Dalla’s heart apart,” Hauk said between clenched teeth. “She has yet to recover from her family’s deaths.”
Ragnar lowered his voice. “And you friend, have not recovered either.” The king shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault that they died.”
“I brought the healers into my home. I believed their words.” Drakkina saw guilt, loathing, and pain reflected in the mighty warrior’s aura.
“Hauk,” Ragnar sighed long. “It is terrible what happened, your loss, your daughter’s loss, but it is more than just losing her mother that turns your daughter wild.”
“Aye, it is losing her brother, her uncle and aunt, her grandparents, and her mother that has turned her wild. Those ormstunga healers tortured my family instead of healing them,” Hauk’s voice was granite as he crossed arms over his chest.
“Friend,” Ragnar’s voice soothed, “I do not ask this of you to torture you further. But I must try to save Ivarr. He seems to grow weaker each day, and I fear that he will follow his brother and sister into death before his second year. He shows the same signs.” Ragnar glanced around toward his wife and spoke low. “I fear Aslaug will not survive the burial of another babe. Each time Ivarr drops his arm in weakness, she goes crazed with weeping.”
Hauk’s gaze softened even though his face remained in stone. “I’m sorry for that, Ragnar, but no woman can work magick to cure.”
Drakkina spoke up. “But this one can. She has great magick to heal. You can find her in the forests of Northumbria. A witch in the woods.”
Hauk’s gaze iced over again. “And your gods say that I must go. Me?”
Drakkina bowed. “I do not pretend to understand the gods’ reasoning. I only bring the message.”
Hauk snorted. “You pretend to understand the gods’ reasoning all the time, Eldgrim.”
Ragnar stood. “Hauk, if there is any chance,” he hesitated. “Any chance to save my boy and my Aslaug from hysteria,” he breathed deeply. “I must try. Think, if it were Dalla who grew weak, wouldn’t you do anything to save her?”
“I tried running down that path, and it led to Niflheim. The pain is worse when you have hope.”
The king stood straighter, donning the cloak of authority. “Then I order you, Hauk Geirson of Spring House, as your king whom you have sworn to defend and obey, to bring me the great healer from Northumbria.”
Without missing a beat, Hauk bowed stiffly. “Then I leave at dawn.”
“Take enough men to fill your longship. If you bring the woman back to me, you can keep all the riches you gather there. If she can save my son, the healer is worth more than her weight in gold and silver.”
Hauk nodded abruptly and turned. He pointed to several warriors on the way out of the hall and they followed.
Drakkina let out a long breath. Her job to bring Merewin and Hauk together would be harder than she had anticipated. And she must bring them together to take the next step toward the ultimate goal. She must find all of Gilla’s daughters and unite them with their soul mates before the final battle to save the temporal world. Hidden in different times, the girls were safe from the demons who had murdered Gilla and Druce, but the time of the final battle would come. Drakkina had tracked Merewin to the ancient forests of Northumbria and found her mate in Denmark, but it seemed odds were against them from the start. Couldn’t the wise Earth Mother have picked a more pliable mate for Gilla’s daughter?
“He will do it?” she asked.
Ragnar sat. “Aye, he honors his responsibilities. I just hope the gods know what they are doing, sending him.”
Drakkina couldn’t agree more.
Ironically, fertility rituals were Merewin’s specialty. Ironic, because Merewin never wanted to have a child of her own. Children were nearly impossible to heal. She hated to fail.
But this couple wanted a baby so badly that they had traveled through war-stricken Mercia to find help. The wind tugged at Merewin’s long, heavy hair, and she pulled it to one side. She placed an ivory-colored moonstone in the woman’s hand and a gray, smoky quartz crystal in the man’s hand. She closed their fingers around each gem. “They will grow warm,” she forewarned.
They nodded in unison, their eyes wide with hope.
A chill sliced along Merewin’s back. Her gaze roamed the cheery forest surrounding them. Soaring oaks stood rooted into the rich earth like protective sentries. A gentle stream warbled by, collecting in a deep, clear pool surrounded by sun-warmed boulders. The sun spotted down through swaying leaves onto the blue tent that waited for the couple. No eyes watched, even though at times Merewin thought she felt them. It seemed more so since Navlin had given up and died two months ago. Merewin inhaled the soft earthy smell of the forest.
’Tis nothing. Merewin turned back to the couple. She held their fisted hands in each one of hers, closed eyes, and wiggled toes into the rich Northumbrian dirt. She took a deep breath and expelled the unease with an exhale. Calm, confident, she felt the power surge up through the ground beneath bare feet, power from the earth. It warmed her legs, womb and chest, and radiated into her arms. The stones warmed as she funneled the earth’s energy into the elements.
Merewin pushed more heat into the man’s quartz. “Mother of all Earth, bless these people, bless the seed that creates life.” She funneled more heat into the woman’s moonstone. “Bless this womb that holds and nourishes life.” Merewin channeled a steady stream of power up through both of them. “Bless the union of this man and this woman, so that life may form between them.” Merewin let the healing power in the rocks and her own magick infuse both people. It was draining to do both at once, but in this case it made sense since they needed to be in harmony.
“Now”—she looked at the woman—“ye will follow me into the stream. Roland, ye will wait for Eileen under the tent. When she comes to ye,”—Merewin hesitated—“ye will enact what ye must do in the marriage bed.”
Merewin stepped into the cool stream. “Come, the water will cleanse yer womb.” She gestured to Eileen to follow. The churning water pulled heavy on the long thin drape of Merewin’s robe around her calves.
“I cannot swim,” Eileen whispered as they waded into the fast moving water.
“I can,” Merewin said confidently and grabbed the woman’s arm. Navlin had taught her to swim. She thought it foolish for people so near the ocean not to know how to stay afloat. Merewin really thought Navlin taught her in case any of the monks threw her in a pond for being a witch.
The sun slanted through the trees on its evening descent as Merewin walked back toward the cottage. She held out her long soaked skirts to dry as she meandered. The fertility ritual had proceeded as usual. If all went well under the blue tent, the couple would have a bairn in nine months. Merewin smiled to herself. The couple had looked so happy, so hopeful.
“Aye, they will have a wee bairn soon, a crying, spewing, helpless bairn.” She shook her head. “No bairns for me.”
Merewin’s smile faded as an ache pushed at unbidden tears, burning and making her blink. She pictured a soft baby face. He was the only baby she had ever tried to heal—several years ago now. Still, the anguish pressed against her chest making it hard to catch a full breath. “Nay, I will ne’re have a bairn.”
Merewin caught a tear and flicked it to the ground, shaking away the baby’s image. “Navlin, why did ye have to go?” Merewin said to the surrounding oaks. The woman had been her mother since the day she had dropped into Navlin’s plea to the Earth Mother for a child. As Navlin lay dying, Merewin had tried to heal her, but the old woman didn’t want to be healed. “Stubborn,” Merewin mumbled and continued to walk.
That was the one thing Merewin hated about the magick. It needed the cooperation of the sick, h
A chattering scampered up behind, and she smiled. Bela. In a flash, the little mink climbed her skirts and squawked.
Merewin laughed. “Ye were asleep ye lazy beast, and I know how irritable ye are when ye’re disturbed.” She scratched along its head.
Bela pushed into her palm to increase the pressure. Merewin nuzzled the softness. At least she had Bela. Fifteen years, and the animal still ran and leapt like a pup. Merewin sighed into the fur, pulling support from the little ball of fluff. Her birth mother had sent the animal. If it weren’t for Bela, she would be completely alone. Merewin sighed. Alone, very alone.
As rays of waning sun darted around the thick trunks of trees, Merewin glanced at the quietness. She knew every inch of these woods, but something seemed odd. Again the hairs on the back of her neck sent chills, and she turned in a circle, her gaze ducking in and out of the many layers of trees and bushes. Someone or something watched. Was it the evil that had killed her birth mother? Surely those demons would just attack, not stalk.
“If that’s ye, Drakkina, show yerself or begone with ye,” she said softly into the silence. Merewin’s voice cracked the quietness of the woods. She turned in a circle to catch the slight breeze in the wet skirts and stopped. “Smoke.” Merewin dropped the skirts and took off in a jog along the familiar path.
Bela gripped onto Merewin’s shoulder beneath her hair. Merewin’s cottage looked undisturbed in the first golden light of evening, but she hesitated. Something had happened. A man stepped out of the cottage.
Merewin unsheathed a thin dagger.
“Merewin of the Woods?” the man asked. She recognized the voice of one of the merchants in the nearby village and lowered the dagger.
“Kendal? What has happened?”
“’Tis my son,” the man pointed toward the cottage. “He’s hurt and…” He hesitated. “I didna ken where else to go.”
“Yer son?” She had never met the man’s family before. “How old is he?”
“He was born twelve summers past. His name is Garrett.”
Old enough to have the will to live. Merewin sheathed the dagger. She grabbed Kendal’s arm and pulled him into the cottage. Bela leapt off to sit in her nest by Merewin’s bed. Merewin lit several lamps from the glowing coals in the hearth.
“I laid him down on yer bed. He couldna sit,” the man said as he wrung his hands.
Merewin patted the flustered man’s shoulder and brought her pouch of stones to sit next to the unconscious boy. “Tell me what’s happened.”
Merewin turned a sharp gaze to Kendal. “The smoke.”
“Aye, they are burning the wooden walls around King Eanred’s holding.”
“King Eanred died months ago, and his son is off warring with the Picts in the west.”
“The Vikings doona seem to care. They mean to take what’s in it.”
“Vicious heathens,” she whispered. Merewin closed her eyes and smoothed her hands just slightly above the boy, spanning the entire body. She stopped at the head: trauma. She felt the trickle of blood flowing just inside the boy’s skull against the slippery folds of brain matter. The injury was serious; he would never wake on his own.
“How did he hurt his head, Kendal?”
Kendal paused and lowered his gaze. “Ye are so powerful, Lady Merewin, Merewin of the Woods.” The man was all but kneeling.
“Kendal, I am not yer god.” She put a hand on his and felt him flinch. “How did yer son hurt his head?”
Kendal regained some composure. “He…he jumped in front of the pack of them, the Vikings, stupid boy,” he admonished, but Merewin heard the love in his words. He reached out to stroke his son’s face. “Thought he could keep them from burning our shop.”
“And they struck him down,” Merewin snapped. She was so tired of hearing the fearful tales of the looting raiders along their coast. King Eanred had paid them to leave, but they always returned with new threats.
“Nay, actually, the one Viking, a giant. He stopped the band before my lad. The Viking talked to him, though I doona ken what they said.”
Merewin placed a purple amethyst on the boy’s head and pulled power up from the ground, through her, and into the stone.
Kendal continued. “My lad backed away and turned. It was then that the village attacked. A large rock caught him in mid run. I dragged him out from the battle that started. And brought him here.”
“Ye did the right thing,” Merewin whispered and directed her full attention on stopping the slow trickle of blood in the boy’s head. Amethyst was very powerful for head injuries. Merewin could use the gem’s own power to align and channel the magick.
The blood stopped, so she redirected the energy to the bruised tissue of the brain and its lining. Merewin removed the gem and laid one hand over the side of the boy’s head. She channeled power through the entire body, flooding it with energy, energy to wake him.
“Lad? Garrett?” She heard Kendal whisper and opened her eyes.
The boy stared.
“There now, ye’re fit again. No more jumping in front of Vikings.”
The boy tried to sit up, but his father held him in place.
“He’s well now, Kendal. He can stand,” she said.
Merewin placed her gem back in the bag and gathered supplies in another bag, linen wraps, poultices, some foul tasting concoctions she brewed. If there were injured, she’d be needed. Navlin taught her how to disguise her powers in the healing nature of herbs and common sense. She turned back to Kendal as he hugged his son. The boy stared.
“Are ye all right?” she asked him. Perhaps he was afraid. Merewin bent to look straight into his soft brown eyes. They were round and large like a doe’s eyes. He hadn’t yet grown into them. Merewin smiled. Garrett blinked several times.
“Aye,” he said. “They, the Vikings—the giant one in front.”
Merewin nodded while her mind raced to the other things she needed to gather before sneaking into town to heal.
“He spoke some of our words.”
“Oh,” she said and tried to hold on to her patience. There was so much to do.
“He…he asked about ye.”
Merewin’s breath hitched. She searched Garrett’s face. “About me?”
“What are ye talking about lad?” his father asked. “How would a Viking ken Merewin?”
The boy’s wide eyes moved between his father and Merewin. Merewin squeezed his hand, calling on the practiced patience she used with the sick. Inside, she wanted to shake him into telling her everything at once. “What did he say, exactly?” she enunciated with care.
“He asked if I knew where the healer in the woods lived.”
Merewin felt her stomach flip. All the muscles in her back tensed as a chill ran its course. “And what did ye answer?”
Garrett swallowed hard, then grinned. “I said that the Witch of the Woods was named Navlin, and that she died two moons past.”
Kendal lowered his hand to his son’s shoulder. “Clever lad.”
Merewin continued to stare at him. “Aye, clever ye are. Thank ye.” But that didn’t explain how the Viking knew about either of them, here tucked among the oaks of Northumbria. Navlin had been fairly discrete and Merewin even more so. How would word of her or Navlin’s healing reach the Danes? She looked again at Garrett as he prepared to leave with his father. “And what did he say when ye told him Navlin was dead?”
The boy frowned. “I doona ken much of their words, but I think he said,”—he paused and scrunched his face in confusion—“I think he said ‘good’, but that doesn’t make sense. Why would he come looking for something and be happy that it wasn’t here?”
“What will ye take in payment? Not that there is any payment I could give for my son’s life.” As Merewin shook her head he continued. “Nay, doona say he was not hurt much, I saw the boulder that knocked him down and the blood under his eyelids before that is not there now. I understand how very much ye did for him, Merewin.”
Merewin stopped shaking her head. “Then tell me, Kendal, where would they keep the injured from the fight today?”
“Doona go there. ’Tis too dangerous.”
“My payment is the information, Kendal.” She squeezed his hand. “And yer silence about me and just how much I did for yer son.”
He looked hard and then dropped his head. “Of course I will keep yer secrets. They were setting up a tent next to the stronghold. Most likely for the injured.”
She nodded. “Go carefully. May the Earth Mother bless yer family.”
Kendal and Garrett headed out into the deepening night. The smell of wood smoke lay heavy on the breeze.
Merewin turned back to the comfortable little cottage. Bela chattered from her nest. “It doesna make sense, Bela.” Had they come all the way from Denmark for Navlin or her? Nay, why would they? But the unease of guilt lay in her stomach. If people had been injured because they had come looking for her, she must help them.
Merewin stripped out of the damp skirts. She donned thin black trews that Navlin had sewn for her to wear when she helped the ill and injured at night. The material clung to her legs so that she could run fast and free. The black bodice fit snuggly over her form, so no material would brush against anyone or anything, giving her away. She put on a pair of soft leather boots that tied up her legs. She could run silently in these without cutting her feet.
Merewin tied the bag of stones to her belt and tucked the dagger securely in its sheath. She plaited her long hair into a thick braid.
Bela jumped onto Merewin’s leg. The little mink skittered up to lie near her ear. Merewin grabbed a cloak in case she needed to blend in with the villagers.
“Not a sound, little one,” Merewin whispered to her friend in the dark.
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