Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 23
“Blessed be.” Bera began to cry. “A sweet boy.”
“Gamal, hold her.” Merewin instructed. “A clean linen, the knife!”
Hauk handed them over.
A prickle ran up Merewin’s back. The bairn made no noise. Merewin worked at the cord, tying it and cutting it.
“By Thor,” Gamal whispered between his teeth as he watched Merewin unwind the cord from the fragile neck of the blue-tinged baby.
“What?” Bera called, panic edging her voice. “Why does he not cry? Where is he, my son? I want to see him.”
Merewin wiped the birth fluid from the baby boy’s face and mouth. Despair gnawed its way up through her stomach. The baby didn’t move. No breath came from him. Merewin funneled her healing powers into him, hitting his still body hard, forcing him to take the energy, forcing him to want to live. Nothing.
In a split second, her fear crushed inward. The memory of sorrow when she couldn’t heal the other baby racked her body, sucking the breath from Merewin. She staggered backward. She wrapped the baby quickly in the blanket and laid him on the bed. She had to get away, she couldn’t breathe.
Merewin heard Bera scream as she turned her back and ran for the door. But before Merewin could run out into the night, out and away from the suffocating pain, a hand closed around her wrist. Warm and solid, Hauk’s hand.
“Merewin, she needs you. The babe needs you.” Merewin turned back and saw Bera lean over her son and moan. Merewin’s eyes flooded with tears. She shook her head at Hauk.
“I canna help the bairn. I tried. My magick doesn’t work on bairns.” Merewin sobbed once and looked down at the floor where their feet nearly touched.
Hauk’s warm fingers caught her chin, gently forcing her to look into his hard eyes. “Merewin.” She focused on the blue gray flecks of his irises. He shook his head. “I don’t believe in magick.” He paused, his stare becoming more intense. “I don’t believe in magick...I believe in you.”
Was it the words or the tone or the intensity of his eyes? Merewin wasn’t sure, but she knew that she had to try something. It had been less than a minute since the bairn had come into the world. There was still time to try something.
Merewin raced back across the room and grabbed the bairn from Bera’s chest.
“Nay!” Gamal roared, grief evident in the dangerous strain across his face.
Merewin ignored him and laid the bairn on the bed, unwrapping the little limp body.
“My stones!” she yelled then shook her head. “Useless.” She ran her hands over his body, massaging, pushing at his chest. Breath, he needed breath. She would give him hers.
Merewin put her mouth over the little nose and mouth and gently blew her breath into him. His chest rose. She drew back and watched it go down as the air escaped. Again she breathed into him. And again. Each time she prayed he would start to breathe on his own. She rubbed his head, his little body as she continued to blow all her hope into him. Let him live, oh please let him live! Her thoughts screamed through her head as she breathed. The quiet sobbing beside her fell away as she concentrated on his little form. She lost track of how long she worked, it felt like forever, but she knew it could only have been a few minutes.
The movement was faint at first, really nothing more than a flutter, a slight warmth that her keen powers recognized as a life force. The tiny sound of trapped fluid.
“That’s it wee bairn, cough!” Merewin cried, and tipped the baby on his side, wiping fluid desperately from his mouth. “Cough!” She thumped him on his back. With her words came the smallest cry, a whimper. She thumped harder. “Live,” she gritted out.
The little chest filled with breath on its own, and with the exhale came a loud cry that flooded the room with miraculous joy.
“He’s alive!” Merewin yelled. “He’s alive, Bera!” Merewin quickly wrapped the baby again and handed him to his sobbing mother.
Gamal bent to peer into his son’s face.
With each cry the little face grew pinker. Bera and Merewin cried with abandon. Gamal’s tears caught in his beard. A cacophony of joy erupted through the room.
Merewin backed away, her legs suddenly numb. She rubbed her face and jaw that ached. She must have clenched her teeth through the entire ordeal. The room began to turn, but she didn’t care. All she cared about was saving that bairn, and she had. Without her magick.
Merewin felt herself fall, but she didn’t even try to stop. She waited for the impact of the hard floor against her body. Instead she fell into warmth that smelled of pine. She smiled as the world slipped away into darkness.
Hauk cradled Merewin against his chest as he rode through the predawn light. He guided his horse with his knees while he stroked Merewin’s hair back from her face. The large war horse picked his way gently through the grove as if he too sought to give Merewin an easy ride while she slept.
Hauk watched the fading shadows tilt across her soft features. He’d never before seen anyone more beautiful than Merewin, his Merewin. In her sleep she looked fragile like a woodland flower, yet he knew there was a fire that burned behind her deep green-gold eyes. A grin relaxed his jaw as he remembered that fire they had shared among the furs of his bed.
There was so much more to his woman. She cared for Dalla yet didn’t let his daughter trample her. She stood against Svala and made Ragnar and Gamal hop to her bidding. Hauk ran a finger along the soft skin from her ear, around her jaw to chin. Strength and courage lay behind the softness. Merewin had a warrior’s heart. Terror had weakened her when the babe came out unmoving, yet she had overcome it, breathing life into him without the use of powers.
Powers. He frowned again. Stubborn, he was stubborn. Could he not admit that Merewin controlled magick? Hauk watched her sleep against him. Had she used those powers to ensnare his heart even though she said he was immune? Perhaps she lied. He pulled her closer. Her hair smelled fresh from the wind, with a hint of flowers. He buried his face into its dark softness and inhaled. Perhaps he didn’t care if she’d used magick on him. Perhaps all he cared about was keeping Merewin close to him, loving her, and making her a permanent part of his home.
Home. He hadn’t thought of Spring House as home for a long time, but somehow this quick tempered, infuriating, chaos-churning woman had brought it back to life. Aye, Merewin had brought life back to his home, back to Dalla, and even back to his stony heart. The woman must possess amazing magick.
Merewin’s breathing changed as she stirred. “Hauk?”
Hauk smoothed her hair. “Aye, I’m here.” His voice sounding stark against the quiet of the spreading dawn.
Merewin blinked and tried to sit upright. Hauk helped her lean into the breadth of his chest. Merewin turned her head to look up at him. “The bairn?”
Hauk smiled and nodded. “He is well.”
Merewin relaxed with a sigh. “And Bera?”
“As talkative and loud as usual.”
Hauk felt Merewin tense in his arms. “I should check on her.”
“Later after you’ve rested.”
She relaxed into him again.
“The healing...your magick,” Hauk said slowly. “It drains you, makes you faint?”
Merewin stared straight ahead in silence for a long moment. When she turned to him glittery tears were in her eyes. “Ye said ‘yer magick’.”
“Aye,” he frowned. “It weakens you.”
Merewin’s smile transformed her face. The tiredness that marred the smooth skin seemed to vanish. Light shown in her eyes and color pinkened her cheeks. He would do anything to keep that happiness in place.
She nodded. “None of my magick worked on the bairn.” She glanced down at his chest. “More likely my terror exhausted me.”
Hauk pulled her in his arms, hands on either side of her face. “You overcame your terror, Merewin.” He bent his head to capture her gaze. He ran his palms down both cheeks to her delicate jaw. Her skin felt cool and smooth like marble overlaid with the softest doe
“By the gods, you are beautiful.” His words seemed thick in his throat. “So beautiful and strong.” Overcome, Hauk tucked her head beneath his chin and breathed in her scent. “When I breathe you in,” he said, on an inhale. “I breathe in your courage, your magick.” He kissed the top of her hair. “You fill me with strength and clarity.”
Hauk felt a tremor run through him. He forced himself to breathe in slowly. Hauk’s father had been a mighty warrior. The most important fact that he taught Hauk was risk. Nothing is gained without risk. Calculated, wise risk of course, but risk none the less.
When Merewin looked at him, there were unshed tears in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but Hauk started again. He’d never talked so much in his life. “So I’m releasing you.” He pushed it out before he could stop it. Nothing is gained without risk.
Merewin’s mouth clamped shut.
“On my honor before Thor, I release you.” There. It was done. He’d never rescind an oath on his honor. He’d released the bird. Now would she fly?
Hauk’s horse had stopped on the ridge overlooking Spring House. He looked down on the sprawling homestead. Smoke wisped up through the central opening. A few chickens pecked around in the yard. Vivien walked with an armload of chopped wood toward the house. The wide spring rippled in the dimness of the early morning. It was as if his mouth moved on its own.
“I will return you to your Northumbrian woods if you wish.” The thought of leaving her there unprotected tore through his stomach. He tried to soften his clenched jaw. “Back to your massive oaks, your acorns.” Nothing is gained without risk.
They sat in silence. Hauk’s heart beat hard in his chest, painful beating. A bird swooped low before them and then soared into the growing dawn. “Or I will set you up here as a free woman. You can heal the people of Port Ribe.” The thought of men coming to her door, perhaps in the middle of the night, made Hauk clench his fist. There was risk and there was foolishness. “Mayhaps you can live with Bera and Gamal.”
She didn’t respond except to somehow grow stiffer in his arms. She may have moved apart from him by the width of a hair, yet it felt like a huge gap. But it was done. Now he must wait. Hauk drew her back into his chest and kneed his horse down the steep path to Spring House.
Merewin slept into the early afternoon. She woke alone on the very edge of Hauk’s enormous bed. The last numbness of sleep left and memories of the day before reminded Merewin why she felt queasy.
“It’s just the thought of riding those horrific waves again,” she mumbled as she clung to the edge of the bed, unwilling to move yet. But she knew it was more than that. Hauk’s words haunted her. I’m releasing you. Like she was a hawk set free by its master. Merewin had heard tales of tamed hawks who would sit by a dead master on the battlefield until they too died.
“Hmmph.” She pushed herself upright to look around the room she already knew was empty. “Like I’m some tamed bird.” But he was master here, and he had released her. Merewin’s shoulders slumped. She could go back to the familiar oak woods, back to the small cottage amongst the ferns. She could go back to the suffocating loneliness.
“I could stay.” She tugged a fur around her shoulders while she stood. “Have a cottage near the sea.” It sounded better, but still lonely. The third option Hauk hadn’t mentioned—to stay at Spring House. The option had hung there between them as they’d sat upon the ridge, but he hadn’t given it. She could go to Northumbria or to Port Ribe. Merewin’s spine stiffened. She frowned and pulled on a gown, clipping it at the shoulders.
“Has she risen?” Gamal’s deep voice seeped through the door. Vivien’s softer tones barely made it through the heavy wood.
“I have.” Merewin stepped out into the great room.
Gamal’s huge smile hit her a brief moment before his chest did. Gamal picked Merewin up into a vice-like hug. Her feet dangling, Gamal squeezed, laughing, and then set her back on the ground.
“Merewin of Northumbria, you gave me my son last night. A healthy, feisty, hungry, little man with the lungs of Thor.” He held her shoulders and smiled into Merewin’s face. “You saved my life in Northumbria and now you’ve saved my son’s life.” He bowed low, nearly scraping the ground. “I repay you with my service.”
Vivien let out a little squeak behind Merewin. “But she’s a thrall, a slave.”
Gamal’s eyes twinkled as he stood straight again. “Nay, Vivien, Hauk released her.”
Vivien’s hand flew to her mouth, a smile spreading behind it. It looked sincere.
“He told me this noon as he stopped in before heading toward the docks. Said he was leaving it up to Merewin as to where she wanted to go.”
“He released you?” Vivien questioned again, this time hugging Merewin.
“I’m sorry, Vivien.” The woman was still a thrall to Hauk.
Vivien waved away Merewin’s concern. “I’m more family than thrall to Spring House, but you’ve had such a terrible time here. Your spirit is too strong to be tied here against your will. He saw that.” She nodded to emphasize her point. “He was right to release you. Now you can go home.”
“She is home,” Dalla’s voice choked. “Merewin is home at Spring House.” Tears in her eyes, she stood in the doorway holding a bouquet of winter berries. “She wouldn’t leave.” Her pale face turned to Merewin. “You won’t leave me.”
No one said anything for a long moment. Merewin took a deep breath. “Your father released me, Dalla. He’s given me the option to go back to my land or to have a home in Port Ribe.”
“Or stay here,” Dalla insisted. The winter berries scattered across the floor. “Or stay here with me!” she yelled.
“He didn’t mention Spring House to me, Dalla.” Merewin took a step toward the child, but Dalla shook her head, tears now running freely. Merewin took another step, but Dalla raced through the main room to the back hallway leading to her rooms. Merewin turned to go after, but Gamal’s hand shot out.
“Let her calm down,” he said. “I was hoping to bring you to check on Bera.”
Merewin shook herself mentally and forced her own tears back into place. “Aye, of course. Let us check on the new mother,” Merewin said with feigned cheerfulness.
Hauk stood at the prow of his longship, feet braced apart, hand on the butt of his battle axe as he stared out over the water. He watched the horizon where the sun sank, he watched the west where Northumbria sat. He’d spent the afternoon with his ship, stroking, mending, polishing. He’d spent many days after his family had died on the deck of this vessel, pouring his misery into its solid planks. Once again he found himself here, miserable.
What had possessed him to release her? There was risk and there was foolishness. Had he played the fool this morning? A sea bird dipped down suddenly, skimmed the water, and ascended with a good-sized herring. Hauk watched the bird soar until it was only a small dot vanishing above the trees. Free, the bird had disappeared, leaving nothing visible. No one would ever know it had been here gliding just above the water line, no one, but the fish.
Hauk cursed under his breath. “And so I’m reduced to the status of dead herring.”
“Hauk.” Gamal strode across the wooden planks.
Hauk turned. “Is all well?”
Gamal smiled. “Aye, except for my lack of sleep. Little Alrik likes to keep us all awake.”
Hauk’s frown broke. “Babes like to make sure you know they are in charge.” Gamal chuckled and quickly hid a yawn. Hauk jumped down from the boat, his weight thumping along the floating dock. “And how is my sister?”
“Merewin has given some herbs to help her heal inside.”
Hauk nodded, his frown returning at the mention of Merewin. “Did she lay her stones on Bera?”
“Did she faint?”
“Bera or Merewin?” Gamal smile
Hauk frowned harder. “Merewin.”
“Nay, but she seemed tired. I took her back to Spring House.”
Hauk nodded. “Bera will be fine. Merewin’s stones are powerful.” Gamal nodded in agreement. Amazing, Hauk thought, how easy it was to accept Merewin’s magick.
Gamal walked closer to where Hauk coiled a ring of thick rope. “Hauk, Dalla heard about you sending Merewin away and you should be warned, she’s not taking it well. I haven’t mentioned it to Bera yet because honestly, I’m not certain why…”
“Sending Merewin away?” Hauk’s hands stopped in mid motion. He looked at Gamal. “I don’t recall sending her away.”
“Releasing her so she can leave.”
“That’s different.” Hauk’s face darkened. He dropped the heavy rope. “Merewin is free, she has the option to stay.”
“At Spring House.”
“Or Port Ribe, or even at your place if we build on. She could take care of Alrik as he grows.”
Hauk began to walk off the dock. Gamal followed him, taking wide steps to keep up. “Aye, we would be happy to have her. Uh, Hauk, did you mention Spring House? As a place she could stay? Because I don’t think Merewin knows that’s an option. At least that’s what she told Dalla.”
Hauk stopped abruptly, and turned. “Merewin thinks I don’t want her at Spring House?”
“I was surprised that you would throw her out. But we’d be happy to take her in.”
Hauk turned on his heel. He took long strides toward his horse tied in Gamal’s side yard. “Blessings to you and Bera.” He stepped up onto the warhorse. “I will visit my nephew tomorrow.”
Gamal nodded. “Of course, tomorrow.” He grinned. “Blessings to you too, Hauk. I think you will be needing them,” he called, as Hauk plunged down the path leading out of town.
“Release me,” Merewin sneered the words like they were some condemnation. She’d been stewing all day on Hauk’s words. “Throw me away is more like it, like I am some slave to be kept or sent away.” Umm, actually you are, the thought ran through, adding to her fury. She huffed out loud at it and stomped through the main hall to her original small room. She barely noticed Vivien moving about.
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