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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
Shamas looked down and saw his body lying by his side. His face crumpled, slowly, and he hung his head. “I didn’t make it . . . did I?”
Tears choking my throat, I shook my head. “Why did you leave? Why did you go? You’re our cousin—we needed you.”
He let out a soft laugh. “No. You didn’t need me. Not really. Camille, you could never need me the way I needed you to. Not since our youth, when I was too stupid and too vain to stand up for us. And you don’t need me now. You love more than anyone I’ve ever known. You have more love in your heart than is good for a person.”
I was crying in earnest now. Shamas, our cousin, had returned to Otherworld, and now I knew the reason, even though Menolly hadn’t told me the truth. He’d still been in love with me, but it was too late. When we had a chance, he’d caved to family prejudice. He was full-blooded Fae, and I was half-blooded. And our father’s relatives hadn’t been able to accept it.
“Shamas . . .”
“It’s okay, Camille. Really, it is. I’ve made too many mistakes in my life. I caused too much pain, too much harm. I hurt you in so many ways. The truth is, I’m tired. I think I was just waiting around for something to happen. At least, here at the end, I did something worthwhile. My death means something here.”
The pull was too strong. I wanted to hug him, to kiss him, to take him home and put him in bed and tuck him in. But it was too late. It would forever be too late. I nodded as I reached out, shaking.
“I’ll tell Aunt Rythwar. I’ll tell her you died defending our lands.”
“Thanks. And Camille—remember me next Samhain? Don’t forget me. Please? Go and be happy. Defeat our enemies. Live free, in a way I never could.” He smiled, and the radiance of his love filled his face.
“Good night, sweet Shamas. When you reach the Land of the Silver Falls, tell my mother and father we miss them. On Samhain . . . forever . . . you’ll be in my heart.” Unable to say another word, I took hold of his wrist, and yanked him into the pack, and we were off again, running through the battlefields.
And there, I spent the night gathering the dead who fell in the face of our enemy. And all the while, Shamas ran by my side, never again saying another word to me. But he looked happy, and at peace.
Waking up was hard, made harder because I had to tell the others what had happened. At least, I had to tell Delilah and Morio—they were the only ones who would really care.
As we rolled up our blankets, I laid out what had happened. “I didn’t see Morgaine there, but she might have been. But . . . Shamas was there. He’s dead.”
Delilah let out a little cry.
“There were four armies,” I continued. “One from Svartalfheim. Shamas was part of their forces. Another was from Y’Elestrial. Together they fought goblin hordes, and Telazhar’s sorcerers. I have no idea how many there were. Thousands. And so many dead. We swept up the soldiers who could see us. Cousin Shamas . . . he said good-bye. He told me . . .” I couldn’t go on. I wanted to sink to my knees, wanted to cry. We’d lost our Father. We’d lost friends—Queen Asteria for one. We’d lost so many people. And now our cousin. A man I had once loved with all my heart.
Morio leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “Remember who you are.”
His words were precisely what I needed to hear, especially with where we were and who our companions were. I wiped my eyes and looked up at Delilah. Her face was a mask of loss and vague anger, but she waited and I realized she was going to take her cue from me.
“We go on. We go home. We tell them what happened. There’s nothing we can do now, except remember that he tried to do something to make the world a better place.” Pushing my grief into a dark little corner until I had time and energy to face it, I wiped my nose again and pulled Morgaine aside to help her attend to her toilette before we headed out again, hungry and aching.
It was early dawn, and so far, we’d seen no other creatures. The storm must have been keeping them at bay because the isolation continued as we numbly slogged along the path and through the woodland. And then, before I realized it, we were at the portal.
I just about kissed Tanne when he pointed it out, I was so freaking glad to get the f**k out of there. The realm of the Elder Fae was wild and windswept and incredibly dangerous. By our accounts, we’d been gone since Saturday late afternoon, and if my counting was right, it was now Tuesday, around noon.
As we approached the portal, I turned to Myrddin. “Are you ready to see just what’s happened to the world in the millennia you’ve been asleep?”
He gave a short chuckle and nodded. “If I’m not, I can always come back here, I suppose. All right, Lady Camille. Lead on, and show me the wonders of your world.”
* * *
The yard never looked so much like paradise. The guards sprang into position, but seeing me, they relaxed but waited at attention until we’d all come through. All but Mordred and Arturo, that is. If they noticed the absence, they kept it to themselves, saluting Bran as he nodded to them. As leader of the Talamh Lonrach Oll Warriors, the guards—all from the sovereign nation—owed him their allegiance.
Delilah tucked her arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. “We’re home.”
I nodded, wishing I felt more excited. I was happy, but we’d had so many shocks and the trip had been harder than we thought it would. All I wanted was a warm bath and to sleep for days.
The kitchen door opened and Smoky and Shade burst out, down the steps. Shade swung Delilah into his arms, while Smoky grabbed me around the waist and kissed me deeply. Both of them stopped suddenly as Áine appeared, walking behind the Merlin. They stared at her, and she suddenly swirled up and around in what I could swear was a happy dance.
“Who is this?” Smoky asked softly.
“Her name is Áine and she’s under a curse. She can’t shift into human shape. She’s been stuck guarding Myrddin since the Fae Lords imprisoned him. Not so much of a fun time. We think she’s a baby.”
“Baby is relative. She is young, but not like a child per se. She’s younger than I am by far, but an adult as far as her human form goes. I’ve never met a blue-green mix.” He looked intrigued, as did Shade.
“Well, she’s Myrddin’s lover. Or, was, before they were sentenced to an eternity in that gods-forsaken cavern.” I let out a long sigh and turned to see how Morgaine was doing. She was still silent, staring at the sky as the rain poured down on her face. “We have another problem. Arturo woke up, remembered he was King Arthur, Mordred found out that Morgaine is actually his mother and that Arturo is a prick.”
Shade let out a disgruntled noise. “That figures. Delilah would manage to get involved in a Jerry Springer moment. So what happened to Arturo and Mordred?”
“Mordred killed Arturo in a frenzy, then he ran off when he realized what he’d done. We had to leave Arturo’s body there and, since we couldn’t find Mordred anywhere, we had to leave him behind, too. Morgaine is in bad shape. She hasn’t spoken since it happened and we can’t seem to bring her out of the fugue into which she’s retreated. We couldn’t get her to eat, either. And none of us have eaten in over twenty-four hours.” My stomach rumbled.
“Let’s get you inside. I don’t know if Áine will fit . . .” Smoky looked hesitantly at the dragon. “She’s small as dragons go, but . . .”
“But she’d probably knock over a buttload of things and piss off Hanna.” I turned to Myrddin. “I’m sorry, but Áine needs to stay outside. We can’t fit her in the house.”
He frowned, but nodded. “Let me speak to her. She can at least stretch and get some fresh air here. She’s been down in that cavern—that tomb—for so long that she’ll probably welcome the chance to fly.”
Smoky gave the High Priest a quick smile. “Let me talk to her.” He moved toward the dragon and whispered something to her. She squirmed, wriggling like a happy puppy. A twenty-foot-long, round-as-a-barrel happy puppy. But then, she shot up in the air and flew toward the woods.
When he returned, Smoky was laughing. “I told her Shade and I would come out later and go flying with her. And we’ll do whatever research we can to see if there’s a way to reverse the curse that she’s under.”
Myrddin let out a grateful sigh. “Thank you. I . . . it’s been so long for her, but a frozen moment in time for me. I remember watching them curse her and wanting nothing more than to destroy every last one of them, but there was nothing I could do. They’d bound me in a place where I could do no magic, and then . . . then they came for me and that was all I clearly remember until Camille and Morio woke me up.” He grinned. “I woke up to see a very interesting sight on top of the casket, that’s for sure.”
Smoky frowned but before he could ask, I moved us all inside.
Delilah and I took Morgaine up to my bedroom to change. We gently removed her clothing—she neither protested nor helped, just let us move her around like a rag doll.
After she was naked, I ran a warm lavender bath. The herb soothed and healed. Delilah guided her into the bathroom and, between the two of us, we managed to get her into the tub. I gently washed her back, and lathered up her hair. Her eyes were vacant, as if she’d packed up and left home.
As we cleaned her up, Morgaine’s body relaxed, but she still wasn’t talking and I had my doubts that she even knew we were actually there. It was beginning to feel eerie, like the lights were on but nobody was home inside. But when I thought about how long she’d been in love with Arthur, how long she’d taken care of him and how long she’d hidden her true relationship with her son, the fact that she was shell-shocked shouldn’t really come as a surprise. PTSD, plain and simple.
We guided her out of the tub, dried her off, and wrapped her in a bathrobe. Then, while I pulled out my blow-dryer and dried her hair, gently brushing it smooth, Delilah went downstairs to get the parlor ready. Morgaine needed to rest. Until we could return her to Talamh Lonrach Oll, we’d keep her in there. I braided her hair and then led her down to the living room.
Nerissa was there, surprising me since it was a weekday. But Delilah said, “I called her and asked her if she could come home to keep an eye on Morgaine while we bathe and change clothes and eat.”
Grateful, I turned over care of our cousin to our sister-in-law and then headed toward the stairs again, this time to take care of my own needs. The smell of grilling meat stopped me, though, and my stomach rumbled so loud that I blushed. Smoky, who was behind me, slapped me on the butt.
“Get up there, and I’ll bring you something to tide you over, woman.” He laughed and headed toward the kitchen.
Morio had already gone ahead and by the time I got upstairs, he’d taken a shower and was sprawled on the bed, just enjoying the feel of the mattress beneath his back. I started the water again, and added vanilla bubble bath, then went back to the bedroom to undress.
“I’m taking a bath. Wake me when the apocalypse is over, would you?” I grinned at him, tossing my underwear in the clothes hamper, followed by my skirt. Smoky entered the room, stopping to stare at my na**d body. “Don’t even think it,” I cautioned him, waggling a finger his way. “Not till I’ve rested, eaten, and bathed. And not in that order.”
“You take all the fun out of ogling, woman.” But he handed me a protein bar and a glass of milk. “Eat before you bathe.”
I stared at the milk. “Who do you think I am, Delilah? I want caffeine.”
“Caffeine won’t sustain you. Now do as I say or I’ll spank you.” He meant it. Smoky had a real thing for spanking. Because he respected my safe word and would stop if I asked him to, I had no objections when he was in the mood. Besides, getting spanked by the right man could be a real turn-on.
I drank the milk in one long gulp, and carried the protein bar in with me to the bathroom, where the tub was full. Turning off the faucets, I dipped one toe in the hot water and winced. Almost too hot, but after a moment, I adapted, and then, inch by inch, I lowered myself into the tub. As I leaned back and let out a long sigh, my muscles briefly complained, and then shut the f**k up as the heat of the water began to work its way into the knots, undoing the tension.
The protein bar was chocolate and peanut butter and within three bites, I had gobbled it down. My stomach gurgled, complaining that there wasn’t more where that came from, and I willed it to be quiet as I languidly ran the washcloth over my skin. I was tired and chilled, but as I flashed back to the hours after I’d been rescued from the Northlands—from the ordeal Hyto had put me through—I stilled my complaints. This? Was uncomfortable. That had truly been hell.
Twenty minutes later, my stomach was raising hell and I finally hauled my ass out of the water and dried off. Most of the bubbles were gone, anyway. I dressed in a cozy knit skirt and top, and then dried my hair. After a five-minute makeup application, I finally felt almost back to myself.
Smoky and Morio had already headed downstairs. As I set foot on the first step, the house rumbled and began to shake. I grabbed hold of the banister, trying to prevent the quake from propelling me down the steps. As I managed to pull myself back up on the landing and crawl away from both railing and steps alike, the floor rolled again and a shriek announced Delilah, landing on her back at the foot of the steps leading down from the third floor to my suite of rooms.
“Kitten! Are you all right?” I gauged whether I could stand up, decided that the quaking was too strong, and crawled over to her.