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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
Iris laughed. “That would be a great help, if you could, Master Dragon. Bruce and I will decorate later but that would give us a leg up on the task. And while you are there, ask my husband and Chase to bring the young ones over. I’d like them to be here as we decorate your tree—time to start them in on family traditions, you know.”
I loved that Iris considered us her family, and while I had no desire to have children of my own, I had fun playing with Ukkonen, Maria, and Astrid. I could give them back when they started crying. “Oh yes, please do!”
“You’ll have to make certain that Maggie’s safely in her playpen.” A sad look crossed Iris’s face and I patted her arm.
Maggie was a Crypto, through and through. She had no comprehension that she could hurt the babies if she were allowed to play with them. She was rough on her dolls and stuffed animals—not out of malice, but because she had sharp claws even at her age, and she was a strong little dickens. She was in no way human—she didn’t understand enough to know how to be gentle with weaker creatures. Delilah was able to fend her off when in cat form, but we never let her loose near small animals or children.
“We can put her in the playpen over in the corner. And I can sit with her while the rest of you decorate. That should take care of matters.” Delilah wrinkled her nose, shrugging. “Will that work?”
Iris nodded. “That should be good. I just don’t want her getting too curious, so make sure she has her dollies and toys with her.”
While Delilah pulled the playpen in, Smoky and Vanzir followed Morio outside to go help unload Iris’s tree, which was considerably smaller than ours. It was only about six feet tall. But then, neither Bruce nor Iris had a lot of excess energy, considering the twins were barely a month old.
Menolly and I sorted through the ornaments as Hanna brought in a tray with hot cocoa and cookies—chocolate chip, sugar cookies, cinnamon sprinkles, homemade macaroons, and thick gingerbread men. Everything was tinged with the flavors of the season: peppermint and chocolate, cinnamon and orange and spice. She brought in Maggie next, and settled her with all her toys into the playpen.
“I’m going to make fudge. You girls call me if you need help.” She winked at us, then headed back to the kitchen.
Menolly stared at the food. “Damn, I wish I could eat. The smell’s enough to drive me nuts, and before you ask, yes, Morio’s been making me dessert-flavored blood, but you know what? I’d give just about anything for a bite of one of those gingerbread men.”
“Where’s Nerissa?” I glanced around. The blond bombshell was nowhere to be seen.
“My wife decided to brave the mall. She left me with strict orders to stay home and not follow her, which means she’s off buying my gift. Camille . . . what should I get her?” Menolly’s braids clicked—the beads threaded in the thin cornrows shimmered, a brilliant blue and silver. Nerissa had been buying her different colored beads for every season and occasion possible.
Not again. I grumbled, “I have no idea what your wife wants for Yule. Have you tried asking her?” I finished off a piece of chocolate shortbread and licked my fingers before beginning to break out the special ornaments that always went on the tree first.
Our mother had bought us each an ornament every year until she’d died, and then Aunt Rythwar kept up the tradition until we left Otherworld for Earthside. Because we aged far slower than FBHs, we had each accrued over fifty ornaments each—I had a couple more than my sisters. And every year, they went on the tree first.
“Yes, and she told me to figure it out.” Menolly set her lips in a pout, and I broke into a loud snort. “What?”
“You and pouting? Not so good a combo. You look more like you’re getting ready to put the fang into somebody. Honestly, you’re better off rethinking the puppy dog eyes and opt for something a bit less . . .”
“Bambi?” She grinned at me, the tips of her fangs gleaming.
“Yeah. Bambi’s more your dinner than your role model.” With that, I went back to hanging ornaments. Delilah sat by Maggie, playing with her. We wouldn’t allow her to help us trim the tree—we had banned her from that years ago because she couldn’t keep her paws off of the shiny ornaments—literally. She almost always turned into her tabby form during the decorating phase and had to be corralled from causing mischief. That’s one reason we bought such a tall tree to begin with—it made fixing it to the hook on the ceiling that much easier, and our tree stand was a heavy steel one that made it harder for a twelve-pound tabby cat to tip over.
Chase and Bruce came into the room, carrying the babies. Chase was carrying Astrid and Maria, Bruce was carrying Ukkonen. Morio followed with one big-ass playpen and Hanna hurried in behind him to set it up—well across the room from Maggie—and fill it with blankets. They laid the babies in the playpen and Bruce pulled a chair over beside it. He shook his head as Delilah stood.
“You go ahead and stay with Maggie. We don’t want her jealous of your attention.” The leprechaun looked tired. Bruce looked a lot like Elijah Woods from the Lord of the Rings films, only his hair was darker and he was cuter. But there, the resemblance ended. Bruce wore a tweed jacket with leather-patched elbows, and a pair of black jeans. He was a few inches taller than Iris—I’d put him around four-four. He yawned, leaning back in the chair, watching the babies as they fussed a little. But with a tuck of the blanket here and there, all three of them fell back asleep and Bruce wearily smiled.
I meandered over to peek in their cage. They were cute—as far as babies went. Astrid was bigger than the other two, of course. She wasn’t a sprite or leprechaun, but size notwithstanding, all babies looked about the same to me. They gurgled—or rather, one of them gurgled. It was Ukkonen. I knew because Iris had wrapped him in blue, while Maria was always wrapped in a violet blanket. Astrid was cloaked in green. Ukkonen blinked, his tiny arms waving around in some sort of attempt to communicate his thoughts, and then he hiccupped and closed his eyes. Within seconds he was back asleep. I stared at them for another moment, then—not knowing what else to do with them—went back to the tree.
As Menolly floated up to the ceiling—the levitation thing vampires had going on was pretty damned handy—Morio set up the ladder. Chase climbed halfway up, and I handed him ornaments and he passed them on to Menolly to hang near the top of the tree. We were about a third of the way through—we’d worked our way down to the center of the tree—when a crash startled me. The silver ball I had in my hand shattered as I whirled, sending it across the room in my surprise.
Maggie had tipped over her playpen and Delilah was nowhere in sight.
“Oh, hell! Delilah! Where are you?” Frantically, I scanned the room.
Maggie had managed to reach over the top just enough to get hold of the heavy wooden lamp pole next to her. Instead of sending the lamp to the ground, it was heavy enough that she’d used it to tip her playpen over on its side. She was walking better now, still wavering a bit, but she was on her way across the room toward Bruce and the babies. Bruce had jumped to his feet and was standing guard.
Delilah came running back in the room. She took in the situation with one glance and scooped Maggie up, righting the playpen with her other hand. She plopped our girl back inside, then dropped into the chair beside her.
“Damn, I just ran to the bathroom.”
“She’s strong.” I let out a sigh of relief. Nobody was hurt, including Maggie, but we had to be more careful. “I think we should ask the guys to build a better pen, one that’s taller and stronger. Maggie is big enough to want to go wandering around by herself, but she’s still a toddler. And she will be for a long time. We need to protect her from her curiosity.”
“She’s over her growth spurt for now, at least.” Delilah stroked Maggie’s head and ears. “I was reading the other day in the Care and Feeding of Woodland Gargoyles that Maggie’s about ready to go into a plateau phase for a while. Her next growth spurt will probably be in about five years. She’ll learn new words, and slowly get a clearer sight of what’s going on, but she won’t grow much between now and then. And then, we better be prepared for the equivalent of a five-year-old who has very sharp claws and who will be a solid fifty to sixty pounds by the time her next growth spurt is done.”
“Lovely. Well, we’ll deal with that when it comes. Can someone sweep up the ornament I broke?” I went back to hanging balls.
At that point, Nerissa swept in, bags in hand. Iris set to breast-feeding the babies—all three of them. She was acting as Astrid’s wet nurse since Sharah had had to go back to Otherworld. And damn, her br**sts had grown huge. They’d always been nice but she could put me to shame easily now.
Fueled by more cookies and hot cocoa, and a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches and side dishes of olives and pickles, cherry tomatoes, and fruit salad, we worked on into the evening. By the time it was 11 P.M., the entire bottom floor was decorated and the men had hung lights and garland on all floors, including down in Menolly’s lair.
We cleared up the boxes and then gathered in the living room, Bruce and Iris joining us. Menolly was sitting on the floor and Nerissa was sitting behind her on the sofa, her legs flanking Menolly. I curled up with Smoky on the other end of the sofa, with Morio sprawled on the floor beside me. Across the room, Shade and Delilah snuggled in the oversized chair and Bruce and Iris sat cross-legged on the floor next to their babies. Chase sat in the rocking chair, slowly rocking Astrid. Vanzir and Hanna joined us, comfortably sharing the loveseat.
By the soft glow of the lights, Menolly started to sing. I remembered the song from Otherworld, from when we lived in Y’Elestrial. Every winter, the city-state would hold an official Winter Solstice ritual. Every Yule we would all gather by the shores of Lake Y’Leveshan, where the priestesses from the Coterie of the Moon Mother—my grove—would lead the massive ritual. We would reenact the rise of the Oak King, and the fall of the Holly King, and there would be singing and dancing and feasting—the city provided a massive feast.
As Menolly sang, I softly joined in, along with Delilah. Menolly’s voice was beautiful, but Delilah and I managed to keep on key, at least.
Do you feel the north wind blow,
Does the chill run through your blood,
Can you hear the Winter calling,
Would you answer if you could,
Does the ice groan as it shifts,
Do the snow banks drift so high,
The heart of Winter beckons,
As the Solstice, it draws nigh.
The Oak King rises softly,
The Holly draws his sword,
The brothers meet in battle,
Twins set to spill their blood,
For today the Holly falls,
And the Oak will take the crown,
Until the summer’s zenith,
When the Oak will tumble down.
As our voices faded away, the flames crackled and popped from the fireplace, and once again, I realized that—even though our father and mother were dead—we were a family, we were strong together, and our lives and traditions would live on. Menolly started up singing again, and as we joined in, the evening faded into night, and we pushed aside our worries for a while as we sought a little respite from our duties and cares.
* * *
I managed to greet the crack of dawn thanks to Tanne. He texted me at five thirty, and for once, I didn’t mind waking up to the ding of my phone. I kept it on the headboard shelf above me, because with Smoky on one side, and Morio on the other, it would have been too hard to crawl over either one in order to reach it. Blurry-eyed, I pulled it down and squinted, trying to read the text:
Found portal, I think. Check out the area behind the grove of trees in Yagur Park. But how did the pixies get downtown Seattle, if it’s over on the Eastside? Something to think about.
Yagur Park? Tanne was right, that was across Lake Washington, over on the Eastside. But pixies could fly and travel in the blink of an eye. They must have found out about the commotion in Seattle and decided to check it out.
Yagur Park was a secluded park in Kirkland, leading into Woodinville. It was more rural, and definitely not on a main thoroughfare. The only reason I knew where it was, was because Trillian and I’d taken a tour of the wineries in the area during the summer. On the way home, we saw a turnoff for the park and drove in to explore. It was a tangled patch of woods and walking trails, with a spacious meadow for picnicking. A small pond served as a swimming hole.
I frowned, leaning back on the pillow. Neither Smoky nor Morio had woken up. We had to take care of this before I left this afternoon.
The smell of musky dragon and fox surrounded me like a snuggly blanket. Their smooth, taut, bodies were warm beneath the coverings. Usually Trillian slept in Morio’s place, because Morio preferred sleeping in his fox form at the bottom of the bed. But with Trillian gone, it made me feel more secure to be flanked on both sides. The days of a luxurious king-size bed to myself were long gone, but when I thought about it, I didn’t really miss them. I would never be domesticated, but I enjoyed knowing they were there for me and I was there for them.
Pushing back the instinct to go back to sleep, I forced myself to sit up, pulling the comforter up to cover my br**sts. My hair tickled my back as I poked first Smoky, then Morio, in the side.
“Wake up, sleepyheads. We’re needed.” It took me three times, but I finally managed to rouse them. While I waited for them to blink their way to consciousness, I had a quick peek under the covers. Oh yes, they were aroused all right—both firm and hard in their morning salutes. Hit by a sudden fit of giggles, I considered taking a few licks, but then decided that I wouldn’t start something I couldn’t finish. And, like it or not, Tanne’s text meant we needed to get out there and figure out what was going on.