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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
“Feddrah-Dahns is concerned. With Elqaneve devastated, and the war spreading, he wanted to make this journey himself, but he is needed in Dahnsburg. The king has put him in charge of coordinating war efforts on behalf of all the Cryptos volunteering for service.” The pixie scowled. “Telazhar . . . his name is as good a curse.”
“I’m glad to hear your master is safe. We miss him.” The unicorn might not be as stern as his father, King Uppala-Dahns, but he was noble and honest, and funny in his own way.
“Feddrah-Dahns bade me tell you this: There is reason to believe that danger heads your way. Questions have been asked around Dahnsburg about you . . . and about the Black Unicorn horn. We fear someone means to steal the horn. The prince asked me to find you and caution you to watch your back.”
I sucked in a deep breath, once again regretting that I’d ever been gifted with the horn and hide. It made me a walking target and right now I had a big red bull’s-eye painted on my back.
But if Raven Mother hadn’t been at the roots of the rumors, then who? Bran? But if Bran wanted the horn, he wouldn’t be spreading rumors around that I had it. He’d just find a way to take it, and being the son of an Elemental, I wouldn’t be able to stop him. No, there had to be something else . . .
“Thank the prince for me. I wish I had some answer to all this. Wait, maybe you know something.” I hesitated, not wanting to spread more rumors myself but maybe . . . just maybe . . .
“If I can be of service, you have only to ask.” For a pixie, Mistletoe was incredibly polite. I wondered again, just how he’d gotten his job and why he was so unlike the rest of his race. He could be an annoying little twit, but he came through when it counted.
I glanced around again, to make certain none of Morgaine’s crew was nearby. Delilah noticed and skirted the area, then returned.
“Thanks. Mistletoe, if you don’t know the answer, will you ask Feddrah-Dahns for me? But don’t tell anybody else what I’ve asked, please. There’s a lot riding on this.”
He held up his hand. “I swear by my wings. What do you want to know?”
“Bran—Raven Mother’s son. What can you tell me about him? Do you know what secrets he might be holding over Morgaine’s head as blackmail? Do they have any history together other than out at Talamh Lonrach Oll? I’m stuck in the middle of what seems to be a conflict between the two.”
Mistletoe let out a low whistle. “When you ask a question, you ask a question all right.” He shifted, crossing his right leg over his left. The movement tickled me—he was so light that it felt like a butterfly was on my knee.
“Some history you might not know and that I have a feeling Morgaine might choose to keep you from knowing. When she was young, she crossed over to Otherworld for a time. She met Bran, who was younger than he is now, but still an adult. He wanted her. She didn’t want him. She was in love with Arturo.”
“Where did Arturo come from? He’s human, isn’t he? He drank the Nectar of Life, didn’t he?”
Mistletoe stared at me. “You don’t know who he is?”
I glanced at Delilah, who shrugged. “Not really.”
“He is the Wounded King. He came out from the mists of Avalon with Morgaine after she sequestered him there to heal.” Mistletoe slapped his knee. “You really aren’t up on your history, are you?”
“History of Otherworld, yes—Earthside, not so much.” And then I realized what he was saying. “Arturo is . . . Arthur? As in King Arthur? There really was a King Arthur? You’ve got to be kidding me! Why doesn’t he remember who he is?” And then, another realization. “The Nectar of Life. She fed him the Nectar of Life and over the centuries, he’s forgotten. Like Tam Lin.”
Mistletoe nodded. “He was gravely wounded, and his son saved him. The stories and poems miss the mark. They were written long after the fact, like so much of history. Morgaine spirited him away when he was dying, but Avalon is a tricky place, and it’s easy to lose memory there if you are of human origin.”
“And Morgaine is half-Fae so she wouldn’t have that problem. Nor would she have the same problem taking the Nectar of Life. Fae side wins out there. Always has.” Just like it would win out when Delilah and I made the choice to drink. Our mother’s blood would not cause a problem because of our father’s heritage.
“Precisely.” Mistletoe shifted again, his wings fluttering in the light breeze that had cropped up. The temperature was dropping again and I shivered under my cloak, wishing I’d brought my blanket.
“So she brought Arturo to Otherworld? Mordred, too?”
Delilah interrupted, though. “Wait—Mordred. He’s Arturo’s son? Was he the one who tried to kill Arthur?”
“Yes, and no. He is Arturo’s son, but he did not try to kill him. That part of the story is wrong. In fact, Mordred saved his father’s life by killing the man who went up against him. Lancelot and Arthur fought over Gwenyfar. She was married off to Arthur without her permission. She and Lancelot were already in love. They got it on, were caught, and the result was a bloody nightmare of a battle. Mordred wanted his father’s throne, yes, but he loves Arthur, regardless of all his hunger for power.”
“So what does that have to do with Bran?”
“Mordred noticed Bran’s attraction to Morgaine while they were in Otherworld. She wasn’t interested. Bran pushed. Mordred got pissed off and he swore that if Bran didn’t back off, he’d fight him.”
“Well, that would have been suicide, fighting an Elemental.” Elementals were immortal—the only true Immortals. They couldn’t die, not permanently. Even the Black Unicorn had been reborn, but he was like the phoenix.
“Then what could Bran be holding over Morgaine?”
“That, I do not know. I’m simply telling you what I know of their history. If it can give you an insight, then I’m hoping I have helped.”
Mistletoe paused, then added, “I can tell you this: Raven Mother fears her son. I don’t know why, but after you sacrificed her consort, Lady Camille, Raven Mother threw Bran out of Darkynwyrd for a period of time. He had barely returned home when he was called over Earthside. And that is all I know—” He stopped as a noise rustled the bushes behind us.
I pressed my fingers to my lips and nodded to the nearest fern. Mistletoe immediately dove for cover. The next moment, Mordred was standing there, staring at Delilah and me.
“Are you quite all right?” Animosity oozed from every pore.
“Fine. Thank you.” I wasn’t about to offer him an explanation. What Delilah and I were talking about was none of his business. I sat there, cold but unwilling to move because he so obviously was waiting for us to stand up and follow him back to the camp.
After a moment, he let out a snort. “You should sleep. Morning will come early and my aunt says the going will be rough. We have a mountain to climb. I should think you want all your strength about you.”
I glanced at Delilah. He wasn’t going to leave without us, and he did have a point. “True that. We’ll be along in a moment.”
As Mordred turned, I slid my hand behind me and wiggled my fingers in the direction of Mistletoe’s fern. A quick poke in my backside told me he’d seen me and was saying good-bye in the only way he could without being noticed.
As we returned to the campsite, I glanced over at Arturo’s sleeping form. So we had a king in our midst. A king who had forgotten his name. The Wounded King, at that.
A sudden sadness swept over me. The great humans of history died so quickly. Or, if they managed to get hold of the Nectar of Life, it seemed to stretch them beyond their ability to retain their sense of self.
Which made me wonder . . . what would happen to Chase? He’d been given a thousand more years to live. It had been that or let him die. Now, he was wrestling with the concept of a life in which everyone he knew—among the FBH community—would be dead long before him.
Add to that, the Nectar of Life had brought to the surface some latent psychic powers and that he had recently found out he had a little sprinkling of elf in his far distant past, and he must feel like he was on a roller coaster. Would Sharah and his daughter be able to keep him from fading like Arturo or Tam Lin? Would Chase manage to cling to who he was?
All these thoughts raced through my mind as I stared at the sleeping lord who followed Morgaine like a lapdog. He was Mordred’s father, but did he even remember that? Did he remember his battle with Lancelot? Did he remember Gwenyfar? She must have been part Fae herself. Did he remember leading his people? Or was it all lost in the fog of centuries?
Delilah touched me on the shoulder and I looked up to see Mordred eyeing me. He had followed my gaze, and now was looking at me with speculation in his eyes. I stared at him, challenging him to ask.
But then a strange thing happened. A shadow crossed his face and his expression fell into sorrow. And for the first time, the cockiness and brashness seemed to fall away, and he wiped his sleeve across his eyes and turned away.
I watched him as he returned to his bed. Mistletoe had given us so much to think about. Including the fact that there might be sorcerers after me—or bounty hunters. If rumors were filtering through the streets that I was here, and if someone had leaked the fact that I had one of the horns, then they might be on our heels even now.
Morio was sitting up, on a fallen log. “I’m taking watch. Tanne will take second. I don’t trust that lot while we’re all sleeping.” He kept his voice low, but even so I saw Mordred cast a look our way before pulling his blanket tightly around his shoulders and rolling over.
I nodded, wanting to tell him what we’d learned from Mistletoe, but this wasn’t the place. However, in lieu of that conversation, I settled for saying, “Good idea. We may have someone on our trail, looking for my . . . toy.” I motioned toward my pocket. His gaze flickered and he nodded. “Will tell you more later, but it looks like someone planted a trail of breadcrumbs.”
“Understood. Go to sleep. I’ll keep watch in my demonic form. The best defense is a good offense.” And with that, he stood and shifted into his demonic form. The transformation always sent me into an awestruck silence—it was like watching someone you loved grow into a monster who could tear you limb from limb. I felt the same way when Smoky changed into his dragon form. They became so much more . . .
As Delilah and I once again curled up on the ground, wrapping ourselves in our blankets, the silence of the night descended. I closed my eyes, trying not to think about how far away from home we were, or what might wait out in the darkness to come after us. We had survived the devastation of Elqaneve. Surely we could make it through the next few days.
By the time I woke up, it was morning and I felt just as tired—if not more—than when I’d laid down. I sat up, blinking. My body ached from the cold ground, and I felt like I’d been out on the astral but couldn’t remember anything. But I knew I wasn’t used to sleeping on the hard dirt, exposed to the cold, and that, plus being in a strange realm, was enough to interfere with a good night’s sleep. As I rolled to a sitting position, I let out a groan at a stitch that caught my side.
Morio, who was just waking up, squinted and rolled over.
Delilah had been setting out food for our breakfast, and now she hurried over. “You all right?”
I winced. “Just a slight muscle spasm. I think the cold got into me.”
Tanne, who was examining a nearby bush, reached out to offer me a hand up. I gratefully accepted his help and he pulled me to my feet. Delilah glanced over at Morgaine’s side of the camp. Mordred and Bran were nowhere to be seen, but our cousin was staring at me. She turned, though, back to Arturo, as he handed her something to eat.
I gazed at the sky. Something was coming. I could feel it in my bones and whatever it was made me both melancholy and hesitant. I brushed my hand across my eyes, feeling like I wanted to cry, but I didn’t know why.
“What’s wrong? Camille, are you all right?” Morio sounded worried, which just irritated me even more. Tanne lightly kissed my hand—pure politeness—and returned to examining the shrub.
“Sorry, I just feel short-tempered, and I don’t like sleeping outside. I have a premonition, but I can’t for the life of me tell you what’s up. I have a feeling . . .” But just as an elusive image crossed my thoughts, it was gone again. I shook my head. “I think I can feel the Hunt rising.”
“That means full moon isn’t far away. Morio, when I change, you’ll need to corral me in because Camille will be off on the Hunt.” Delilah frowned. “Why the hell didn’t they wait until afterward to send us?”
“Apparently the Fae Queens have their reasons, but yes, I wish they’d f**king tell us.” I paused, letting my words sink in.
“Well, there’s not much we can do now.” Morio motioned to the pack. “We need to eat. Whatever is nagging at you will have to wait.”
Delilah followed me over to a deadfall that was near where we had slept and sat beside me, handing me a sandwich and a bottle of water. I bit into the peanut butter and jelly, scarcely able to taste it.
“Do you want to talk? Maybe we can figure out what’s bothering you.” For once, someone else was asking the hard questions. I was usually the one reaching out.
I let out a long sigh, then took another bite of sandwich. It was a little stale but it was food, and right now, hunger won out over taste. “Everything just seems so mired in layer after layer of subterfuge. I don’t know who to trust anymore. This trip, Morgaine has been oddly . . . sane? I find myself trusting her lead and that, alone, scares the hell out of me.”