Magic is fading... and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core.The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them... as well as great sorrow.It is up to Fianne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fianne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done. Will Fianne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love? At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
In the final book in her Sevenwaters Trilogy, Australian Marillier gathers the threads from the first two (Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows) and weaves them together into a rich tapestry of love and loss, family loyalty and personal sacrifice. The saga of the guardians of the forest at Sevenwaters takes up the story of Fainne, daughter of the former Druid Ciaran and the lost Niamh. Raised in the ways of magic, Fainne plans to become a solitary sorcerer like her father, but fate intervenes in the form of her grandmother, Oonagh, a sorceress with a penchant for cruelty and a desire to put an end to everything the Sevenwaters folks stand for. A prophecy tells of a way to preserve the old magic, and Lady Oonagh is willing to trick her granddaughter and torture her own son to break it. Though Fainne is forced to bow to her grandmother's will, the love of her family and her own strong ethics help her remember her true nature, as she learns about herself, her powers of sorcery and the part she plays in a prophecy that has tested three generations of women. Though the romance elements that dominated The Son of the Shadows occasionally appear, this book centers on personal growth and filial duty; it can be enjoyed as a read-alone book, but is better understood with the preceding titles. Marillier's strong voice and rolling, lucid prose seem appropriate for a 10th-century Irish tale, and her command of a fantasy story's elements make this an excellent conclusion to a fine trilogy.
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March 19, 2002
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Excerpt from Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier
Every summer they came. By earth and sky, by sun and stone I counted the days. I'd climb up to the circle and sit there quiet with my back to the warmth of the rock I called Sentinel, and see the rabbits come out in the fading light to nibble at what sparse pickings might be found on the barren hillside. The sun sank in the west, a ball of orange fire diving beyond the hills into the unseen depths of the ocean. Its dying light caught the shapes of the dolmens and stretched their strange shadows out across the stony ground before me. I'd been here every summer since first I saw the travelers come, and I'd learned to read the signs. Each day the setting sun threw the dark pointed shapes a little further across the hilltop to the north. When the biggest shadow came right to my toes, here where I sat in the very center of the circle, it was time. Tomorrow I could go and watch by the track, for they'd be here.
There was a pattern to it. There were patterns to everything, if you knew how to look. My father taught me that. The real skill lay in staying outside them, in not letting yourself be caught up in them. It was a mistake to think you belonged. Such as we were could never belong. That, too, I learned from him.
I'd wait there by the track, behind a juniper bush, still as a child made of stone. There'd be a sound of hooves, and the creak of wheels turning. Then I'd see one or two of the lads on ponies, riding up ahead, keeping an eye out for any trouble. By the time they came up the hill and passed by me where I hid, they'd relaxed their guard and were joking and laughing, for they were close to camp and a summer of good fishing and relative ease, a time for mending things and making things. The season they spent here at the bay was the closest they ever came to settling down.
Then there'd be a cart or two, the old men and women sitting up on top, the smaller children perched on the load or running alongside. Danny Walker would be driving one pair of horses, his wife Peg the other. The rest of the folk would walk behind, their scarves and shawls and neckerchiefs bright splashes of color in the dun and gray of the landscape, for it was barren enough up here, even in the warmth of early summer. I'd watch and wait unseen, never stirring. And last, there was the string of ponies, and the younger lads leading them or riding alongside. That was the best moment of the summer: the first glimpse I got of Darragh, sitting small and proud on his sturdy gray. He'd be pale after the winter up north, and frowning as he watched his charges, always alert lest one of them should make a bolt for freedom. They'd a mind to go their own way, these hill ponies, until they were properly broken. This string would be trained over the warmer season, and sold when the traveling folk went north again.
Not by so much as a twitch of a finger or a blink of an eyelid would I let on I was there. But Darragh would know. His brown eyes would look sideways, twinkling, and he'd flash a grin that nobody saw, nobody but me where I hid by the track. Then the travelers would pass on and be gone down to the cove and their summer encampment, and I'd be away home, scuttling across the hill and down over the neck of land to the Honeycomb, which was where we lived, my father and I.
Father didn't much like me to go out. But he did not lay down any restrictions. It was more effective, he said, for me to set my own rules. The craft was a hard taskmaster. I would discover soon enough that it left no time for friends, no time for play, no time for swimming or fishing or jumping off the rocks as the other children did. There was much to learn. And when Father was too busy to teach me, I must spend my time practicing my skills. The only rules were the unspoken ones. Besides, I couldn't wander far, not with my foot the way it was.
I understood that for our kind the craft was all that really mattered. But Darragh made his way into my life uninvited, and once he was there he became my summer companion and my best friend; my only friend, to tell the truth. I was frightened of the other children and could hardly imagine joining in their boisterous games. They in their turn avoided me. Maybe it was fear, and maybe it was something else. I knew I was cleverer than they were. I knew I could do what I liked to them, if I chose to. And yet, when I looked at my reflection in the water, and thought of the boys and girls I'd seen running along the sand shouting to one another, and fishing from the rocks, and mending nets alongside their fathers and mothers, I wished with all my heart that I was one of them, and not myself. I wished I was one of the traveler girls, with a red scarf and a shawl with a long fringe to it, so I could perch up high on the cart and ride away in autumn time to the far distant lands of the north.
We had a place, a secret place, halfway down the hill behind big boulders and looking out to the southwest. Below us the steep, rocky promontory of the Honeycomb jutted into the sea. Inside it was a complex network of caves and chambers and concealed ways, a suitable home for a man such as my father. Behind us the slope stretched up and up to the flattened top of the hill, where the stone circle stood, and then down again to the cart track. Beyond that was the land of Kerry, and farther still were places whose names I did not know. But Darragh knew, and Darragh told me as he stacked driftwood neatly for a fire, and hunted for flint and tinder while I got out a little jar of dried herbs for tea. He told me of lakes and forests, of wild crags and gentle misty valleys. He described how the Norsemen, whose raids on our coast were so feared, had settled here and there and married Irish women, and bred children who were neither one thing nor the other. With a gleam of excitement in his brown eyes, he spoke of the great horse fair up north. He got so caught up in this, his thin hands gesturing, his voice bright with enthusiasm, that he forgot he was supposed to be lighting the little fire. So I did it myself, pointing at the sticks with my first finger, summoning the flame. The driftwood burst instantly alight, and our small pan of water began to heat. Darragh fell silent.
"Go on," I said. "Did the old man buy the pony or not?"
But Darragh was frowning at me, his dark brows drawn together in disapproval. "You shouldn't do that," he said.
"Light the fire like that. Using sorcerer's tricks. Not when you don't need to. What's wrong with flint and tinder? I would have done it."
"Why bother? My way's quicker." I was casting a handful of the dry leaves into the pot to brew. The smell of the herbs arose freshly in the cool air of the hillside.
"You shouldn't do it. Not when there's no need." He was unable to explain any further, but his flood of words had dried up abruptly, and we brewed our tea and sat there drinking it together in silence as the seabirds wheeled and screamed overhead.
The summers were full of such days. When he wasn't needed to work with the horses or help around the camp, Darragh would come to find me, and we explored the rocky hillsides, the clifftop paths, the hidden bays and secret caves together. He taught me to fish with a single line and a steady hand. I taught him how to read what day it was from the way the shadows moved up on the hilltop. When it rained, as it had a way of doing even in summer, we'd sit together in the shelter of a little cave, down at the bottom of the land bridge that joined the Honeycomb to the shore, a place that was almost underground but not quite, for the daylight filtered through from above and washed the tiny patch of fine sand to a delicate shade of gray-blue. In this place I always felt safe. In this place sky and earth and sea met and touched and parted again, and the sound of the wavelets lapping the subterranean beach was like a sigh, at once greeting and farewell. Darragh never told me if he liked my secret cave or not. He'd simply come down with me, and sit by me, and when the rain was over, he'd slip away with never a word.
There was a wild grass that grew on the hillside there, a strong, supple plant with a silky sheen to its pale green stems. We called it rat-tails, though it probably had some other name. Peg and her daughters were expert basketweavers, and made use of this grass for their finer and prettier efforts, the sort that might be sold to a lady for gathering flowers maybe, rather than used for carrying vegetables or a heavy load of firewood. Darragh, too, could weave, his long fingers fast and nimble. One summer we were up by the standing stones, late in the afternoon, sitting with our backs to the Sentinel and looking out over the bay and the far promontory, and beyond to the western sea. Clouds were gathering, and the air had a touch of chill to it. Today I could not read the shadows, but I knew it was drawing close to summer's end, and another parting. I was sad, and cross with myself for being sad, and I was trying not to think about another winter of hard work and cold, lonely days. I stared at the stony ground and thought about the year, and how it turned around like a serpent biting its own tail; how it rolled on like a relentless wheel. The good times would come again, and after them the bad times.
Darragh had a fistful of rat-tails, and he was twisting them deftly and whistling under his breath. Darragh was never sad. He'd no time for it; for him, life was an adventure, with always a new door to open. Besides, he could go away if he wanted to. He didn't have lessons to learn and skills to perfect, as I did.
I glared at the pebbles on the ground. Round and round, that was my existence, endlessly repeating, a cycle from which there was no escape. Round and round. Fixed and unchangeable. I watched the pebbles as they shuddered and rolled; as they moved obediently on the ground before me.
"Fainne?" Darragh was frowning at me, and at the shifting stones on the earth in front of me.
"What?" My concentration was broken. The stones stopped moving. Now they lay in a perfect circle.
"Here," he said. "Hold out your hand."
I did as he bid me, puzzled, and he slipped a little ring of woven rat-tails on my finger, so cunningly made that it seemed without any joint or fastening.
"What's this for?" I asked him, turning the silky, springy circle of grass around and around. He was looking away over the bay again, watching the small curraghs come in from fishing.
"So you don't forget me," he said, offhand.
"Don't be silly," I said. "Why would I forget you?"
"You might," said Darragh, turning back toward me. He gestured toward the neat circle of tiny stones. "You might get caught up in other things."
I was hurt. "I wouldn't. I never would."
Darragh gave a sigh and shrugged his shoulders. "You're only little. You don't know. Winter's a long time, Fainne. And--and you need keeping an eye on."
"I do not!" I retorted instantly, jumping up from where I sat. Who did he think he was, talking as if he was my big brother? "I can look after myself quite well, thank you. And now I'm going home."
"I'll walk with you."
"You don't have to."
"I'll walk with you. Better still, I'll race you. Just as far as the junipers down there. Come on."
I stood stolid, scowling at him.
"I'll give you a head start," coaxed Darragh. "I'll count to ten."
I made no move.
"Twenty, then. Go on, off you go." He smiled, a broad, irresistible smile.
I ran, if you could call my awkward, limping gait a run. With my skirt caught up in one hand I made reasonable speed, though the steep pebbly surface required some caution. I was only halfway to the junipers when I heard his soft, quick footsteps right behind me. No race could have been less equal, and both of us knew it. He could have covered the ground in a quarter of the time it took me. But somehow, the way it worked out, the two of us reached the bushes at exactly the same moment.
"All right, sorcerer's daughter," said Darragh, grinning. "Now we walk and catch our breath. It'll be a better day tomorrow."
* * *
How old was I then? Six, maybe, and he a year or two older? I had the little ring on my finger the day the traveling folk packed up and moved out again; the day I had to wave goodbye and start waiting. It was all right for him. He had places to go and things to do, and he was eager to get on his pony and be off. Still, he made time to say farewell, up on the hillside above the camp, for he knew I would not come near where the folk gathered to load their carts and make ready for the journey. I was numb with shyness, quite unable to bear the stares of the boys and girls or to form an answer to Peg's shrewd, kindly questions. My father was down there, a tall, cloaked figure talking to Danny Walker, giving him messages to deliver, commissions to fulfill. Around them, the folk left a wide, empty circle.
"Well, then," said Darragh.
"Well, then," I echoed, trying for the same tone of nonchalance and failing miserably.
"Goodbye, Curly," he said, reaching out to tug gently at a lock of my long hair, which was the same deep russet as my father's. "I'll see you next summer. Keep out of trouble, now, until I come back." Every time he went away he said this; always just the same. As for me, I had no words at all.
* * *
The days grew shorter and the dark time of the year began. With Darragh gone there was no real reason to linger out of doors, and so I applied myself to my work and tried not to notice how cold it was inside the Honeycomb, colder, almost, than the chill of an autumn wind up on the hilltop. It was an aching feeling that lodged deep in your bones and lingered there like a burden. I never complained. Father had shown me how to deal with it and he expected me to do so. It was not that a sorcerer did not feel the heat of the fire or the bite of the north wind. A sorcerer was, after all, a man and not some Otherworld creature. What you had to do was teach your body to cope with it, so that discomfort did not make you slow or inefficient. It had to do with breathing, mostly. More I cannot say. My father was once a druid. He said he had put all that behind him when he left the brotherhood. But a man does not so easily discard all those years of training and discipline. I understood that much of what I learned was secret, to be shared only with others of our kind. One did not lay it bare before the ignorant, or those whose minds were closed. Even now there are some matters of which I cannot and will not tell.
There were many chambers in the Honeycomb. We lit lamps year round, and in my father's great workroom many candles burned, for there he stored his scrolls and books, grotesque and wondrous objects in jars, and little sacks of pungent-smelling powders. There was a dried basilisk, and a cup made from a twisted, curling horn, its base set with red stones. There was a tiny skull like a leprechaun's, with empty eyes. There was a thick grimoire whose leather cover was darkened with age and long handling. In this room my father spent days and nights in solitude, perfecting his craft, learning, always learning.
I knew how to read in more than one tongue and to write in more than one script. I could recite many, many tales and even more incantations. But I learned soon enough that the greatest magic is not set down in any book, nor mapped on any scroll for man to decipher. The most powerful spells are not created by tricks of the hand, or by mixing potions and philtres, or by chanting ancient words. I learned why it was that when my father was working hardest, all he seemed to be doing was standing very still in the center of an empty space, with his mulberry eyes fixed on nothing. For the deepest magic is that of the mind, and you will not find its lore recorded on parchment or vellum, or scratched on bark or stone. Not anywhere. Father owed his first learning to the wise ones: the druids of the forest. He had developed it through dedication and study. But our talent for the craft of sorcery was in our blood. Father was the son of a great enchantress, and from her he had acquired certain skills which he used sparingly, since they were both potent and perilous. One must take care, he said, not to venture too far and touch on dark matters best left sleeping. I could not remember my grandmother very well. I thought I recalled an elegant creature in a blue gown, who had peered into my eyes and given me a headache. I thought perhaps she had asked questions which I had answered angrily, not liking her intrusion into our ordered domain. But that had been long ago, when I was a little child. Father spoke of her seldom, save to say that our blood was tainted by the line she came from, a line of sorcerers who did not understand that some boundaries should never be crossed. And yet, said Father, she was powerful, subtle and clever, and she was my grandmother; part of her was in both of us, and we should not forget that. It ensured we would never live our lives as ordinary folk, with friends and family and honest work. It gave us exceptional talents, and it set our steps toward a destiny of darkness.
* * *
I was eight years old. It was Me�n Geimhridh, and the north wind beat the stunted trees prostrate. It threw the waves crashing against the cliff face, forcing icy spray deep inside the tunnelled passages of the Honeycomb. The pebbly shore was strewn with tangles of weed and fractured shells. The fishermen hauled their curraghs up out of harm's way, and folk went hungry.
"Concentrate, Fainne," said my father, as my frozen fingers fumbled and slipped. "Use your mind, not your hands."
I set my jaw, screwed up my eyes and started again. A trick, that was all this was. It should be easy. Stretch out your arms, look at the shining ball of glass where it stood on the shelf by the far wall, with the candles' glow reflected in its deceptive surface. Bridge the gap with your mind; think the distance, think the leap. Keep still. Let the ball do the work. Will the ball into your hands. Will the ball to you. Come. Come here. Come to me, fragile and delicate, round and lovely, come to my hands. It was cold, my fingers ached, it was so cold. I could hear the waves smashing outside. I could hear the glass ball smashing on the stone floor. My arms fell to my sides.
"Very well," said Father calmly. "Fetch a broom, sweep it up. Then tell me why you failed." There was no judgment in his voice. As always, he wished me to judge myself. That way I would learn more quickly.
"I--I let myself think about something else," I said, stooping to gather up the knife-edged shards. "I let the link be broken. I'm sorry, Father. I can do this. I will do it next time."
"I know," he said, turning back to his own work. "Practice this twice fifty times with something unbreakable. Then come back and show me."
"Yes, Father." It was too cold to sleep anyway. I might as well spend the night doing something useful.
* * *
I was ten years old. I stood very still, right in the center of my father's workroom, with my eyes focused on nothing. Above my head the fragile ball hovered, held in its place by invisible forces. I breathed. Slow, very slow. With each outward breath, a tiny adjustment. Up, down, left, right. Spin, I told the ball, and it whirled, glowing in the candlelight. Stop. Now circle around my head. My eyes did not follow the steady movement. I need not see it to know its obedience to my will. Stop. Now drop. The infinitesimal pause; then the dive, a sweep before me of glittering brightness, descent to destruction. Stop. The diver halted a handspan above the stone floor. The ball hung in air, waiting. I blinked, and bent to scoop it up in my hand.
Father nodded gravely. "Your control is improving. These tricks are relatively easy, of course; but to perform them well requires discipline. I'm pleased with your progress, Fainne."
"Thank you." Such praise was rare indeed. It was more usual for him simply to acknowledge that I had mastered something, and go straight on to the next task.
"Don't become complacent, now."
"It's time to venture into a more challenging branch of the art. For this, you'll need to find new reserves within yourself. It can be exhausting. Take a few days to rest. We'll begin at Imbolc. What apter time could there be, indeed?" His tone was bitter.
"Yes, Father." I did not ask him what he meant, though it troubled me deeply that he seemed so sad. I knew it was at Brighid's feast that he first met my mother; not that he ever spoke of her, not deliberately. That tale was well hidden within him, and he was a masterly keeper of secrets. The little I knew I had gleaned here and there, a morsel at a time over the years. There was a remark of Peg's, overheard while I waited for Darragh under the trees behind the encampment, unseen by his mother.
"She was very beautiful," Peg had said to her friend Molly. The two of them were sitting in the morning sunlight, fingers flying as they fashioned their intricate baskets. "Tall, slender, with that bright copper hair down her back. Like a faery woman. But she was always--she was always a little touched, you know what I mean? He'd watch over her like a wolf guarding its young, but he couldn't stop what happened. You could see it in her eyes, right from the first."
"Mm," Molly had replied. "Girl takes after her father, then. Strange little thing."
"She can't help what she is," said Peg.
And I remembered another time, one summer when the weather was especially warm, and Darragh finally grew impatient with my persistent refusal to go anywhere near the water.
"Why won't you let me teach you how to swim?" he'd asked me. "Is it because of her? Because of what happened to her?"
"What?" I said. "What do you mean?"
"You know. Your mother. Because she--well, because of what she did. That's what they say. That you're frightened of the water, because she jumped off the Honeycomb and drowned herself."
"Of course not," I replied, swallowing hard. "I just don't want to, that's all." How could he know that until that moment, nobody had told me how she died?
I tried to dredge up some memory of my mother, tried to picture the lovely figure Peg had described, but there was nothing. All I could remember was Father and the Honeycomb. Something had happened long since and far away, something that had damaged my mother and wounded my father, and set the path forward for all of us in a way there was no denying. Father had never told me the tale. Still, it was an unspoken lesson built into everything he taught me.
* * *
"Time to begin," said Father, regarding me rather severely. "This will be serious work, Fainne. It may be necessary to curtail your freedom this summer."
"Good." He gave a nod. "Stand here by me. Look into the mirror. Watch my face."
The surface was bronze, polished to a bright reflective sheen. Our images showed side by side; the same face with subtle alterations. The dark red curls; the fierce eyes, dark as ripe berries; the pale unfreckled skin. My father's countenance was handsome enough, I thought, if somewhat forbidding in expression. Mine was a child's, unformed, plain, a little pudding of a face. I scowled at my reflection, and glanced back at my father in the mirror. I sucked in my breath.
My father's face was changing. The nose grew hooked, the deep red hair frosted with white, the skin wrinkled and blotched like an ancient apple left too long in store. I stared, aghast. He raised a hand, and it was an old man's hand, gnarled and knotted, with nails like the claws of some feral creature. I could not tear my eyes away from the mirrored image.
"Now look at me," he said quietly, and the voice was his own. I forced my eyes to flicker sideways, though my heart shrank at the thought that the man standing by me might be this wizened husk of my fine, upright father. And there he was, the same as ever, dark eyes fixed on mine, hair still curling glossily auburn about his temples. I turned back to the mirror.
The face was changing again. It wavered for a moment, and stilled. This time the difference was more subtle. The hair a shade lighter, a touch straighter. The eyes a deep blue, not the unusual shade of dark purple my father and I shared. The shoulders somewhat broader, the height a handspan greater, the nose and chin with a touch of coarseness not seen there before. It was my father still; and yet, it was a different man.
"This time," he said, "when you take your eyes from the mirror, you will see what I want you to see. Don't be frightened, Fainne. I am still myself. This is the Glamour, which we use to clothe ourselves for a special purpose. It is a powerful tool if employed adeptly. It is not so much an alteration of one's appearance, as a shift in others' perception. The technique must be exercised with extreme caution."
When I looked, this time, the man at my side was the man in the mirror; my father, and not my father. I blinked, but he remained not himself. My heart was thumping in my chest, and my hands felt clammy.
"Good," said my father quietly. "Breathe slowly as I showed you. Deal with your fear and put it aside. This skill is not learned in a day, or a season, or a year. You'll have to work extremely hard."
"Then why didn't you start teaching me before?" I managed, still deeply unsettled to see him so changed. It would almost have been easier if he had transformed himself into a dog, or a horse, or a small dragon even; not this--this not quite right version of himself.
"You were too young before. This is the right age. Now come." And suddenly he was himself again, as quick as a snap of the fingers. "Step by step. Use the mirror. We'll start with the eyes. Concentrate, Fainne. Breathe from the belly. Look into the mirror. Look at the point just between the brows. Good. Will your body to utter stillness...put aside the awareness of time passing...I will give you some words to use, at first. In time you must learn to work without the mirror, and without the incantation."
By dusk I was exhausted, my head hollow as a dry gourd, my body cold and damp with sweat. We rested, seated opposite one another on the stone floor.
"How can I know," I asked him, "how can I know what is real, and what an image? How can I know that the way I see you is the true way? You could be an ugly, wrinkled old man clothed in the Glamour of a sorcerer."
Father nodded, his pale features somber. "You cannot know."
"It would be possible for one skilled in the art to sustain this guise for years, if it were necessary. It would be possible for such a one to deceive all. Or almost all. As I said, it is a powerful tool."
He was silent a moment, then gave a nod. "You will not blind another practitioner of our art with this magic. There are three, I think, who will always know your true self: a sorcerer, a seer and an innocent. You look weary, Fainne. Perhaps you should rest, and begin this anew in the morning."
"I'm well, Father," I said, anxious not to disappoint him. "I can go on, truly. I'm stronger than I look."
Father smiled; a rare sight. That seemed to me a change deeper than any the Glamour could effect; as if it were truly another man I saw, the man he might have been, if fate had treated him more kindly. "I forget sometimes how young you are, daughter," he said gently. "I am a hard taskmaster, am I not?"
"No, Father," I said. My eyes were curiously stinging, as if with tears. "I'm strong enough."
"Oh, yes," he said, his mouth once more severe. "I don't doubt that for a moment. Come then, let's begin again."
* * *
I was twelve years old, and for a short time I was taller than Darragh. That summer my father didn't let me out much. When he did give me a brief time for rest, I crept away from the Honeycomb and up the hill, no longer sure if this was allowed, but not prepared to ask permission in case it was refused. Darragh would be waiting for me, practicing the pipes as often as not, for Dan had taught him well, and the exercise of his skill was pleasure more than duty. We didn't explore the caves anymore, or walk along the shore looking for shells, or make little fires with twigs. Most of the time we sat in the shadow of the standing stones, or in a hollow near the cliff's edge, and we talked, and then I went home again with the sweet sound of the pipes arching through the air behind me. I say we talked, but it was usually the way of it that Darragh talked and I listened, content to sit quiet in his company. Besides, what had I to talk about? The things I did were secret, not to be spoken. And increasingly, Darragh's world was unknown to me, foreign, like some sort of thrilling dream that could never come true.
"Why doesn't he take you back to Sevenwaters?" he asked one day, somewhat incautiously. "We've been there once or twice, you know. There's an old auntie of my dad's still lives there. You've got a whole family in those parts: uncles, aunts, cousins by the cartload. They'd make you welcome, I've no doubt of it."
"Why should he?" I glared at him, finding any criticism of my father difficult, however indirectly expressed.
"Because--" Darragh seemed to struggle for words. "Because--well, because that's the way of it, with families. You grow up together, you do things together, you learn from each other and look after each other and--and--"
"I have my father. He has me. We don't need anyone else."
"It's no life," Darragh muttered. "It's not a life for a girl."
"I'm not a girl, I'm a sorcerer's daughter," I retorted, raising my brows at him. "There's no need for me to go to Sevenwaters. My home is here."
"You're doing it again," said Darragh after a moment.
"That thing you do when you're angry. Your eyes start glowing, and little flashes of light go through your hair, like flames. Don't tell me you didn't know."
"Well, then," I said, thinking I had better exercise more control over my feelings.
"Well, that just goes to show. That I'm not just a girl. So you can stop planning my future for me. I can plan it myself."
"Uh-huh." He did not ask me for details. We sat silent for a while, watching the gulls wheel above the returning curraghs. The sea was dark as slate; there would be a storm before dusk. After a while he started to tell me about the white pony he'd brought down from the hills, and how his dad would be wanting him to sell her for a good price at the horse fair, but Darragh wasn't sure he could part with her, for there was a rare understanding growing between the two of them. By the time he'd finished telling me I was rapt with attention, and had quite forgotten I was cross with him.
* * *
I was fourteen years old, and summer was nearly over. Father was pleased with me, I could see it in his eyes. The Glamour was tricky. It was possible to achieve some spectacular results. My father could turn himself into a different being entirely: a bright-eyed red fox, or a strange wraith-like creature most resembling an attenuated wisp of smoke. He gave me the words for this, but he would not allow me to attempt it. There was a danger in it, if used incautiously. The risk was that one might lack the necessary controls to reverse the spell. There was always the chance that one might never come back to oneself. Besides, Father told me, such a transformation caused a major drain on a sorcerer's power. The further from one's true self the semblance was, the more severe the resultant depletion. Say one became a ferocious sea monster, or an eagle with razor-sharp talons, and then managed the return to oneself. For a while, after that, no exercise of the craft would be possible. It could be as long as a day and a night. During that time the sorcerer would be at his, or her, most vulnerable.
So I was forbidden to try the major variants of the spell, which dealt with non-human forms. But the other, the more subtle changing, that I discovered a talent for. At first it was hard work, leaving me exhausted and shaken. But I applied myself, and in time I could slip the Glamour on and off in the twinkle of an eye. I learned to conceal my weariness.
"You understand," said Father gravely, "that what you create is simply a deception of others' eyes. If your disguise is subtle, just a convenient alteration of yourself, folk will be unaware that things have changed. They will simply wonder why they did not notice, before, how utterly charming you were, or how trustworthy your expression. They will not know that they have been manipulated. And when you change back to yourself, they will not know they ever saw you differently. A complete disguise is another matter. That must be used most carefully. It can create difficulties. It is always best to keep your guise as close as possible to your own form. That way you can slip back easily and regain your strength quickly. Excuse me a moment." He turned away from me, suppressing a deep cough.
"Are you unwell?" I asked. It was unusual for him to have so much as a sniffle, even in the depths of winter.
"I'm well, Fainne," he said. "Don't fuss. Now remember what I said about the Glamour. If you use the major forms you take a great personal risk."
"But I could do it," I protested. "Change myself into a bird or a serpent. I'm sure I could. Can't I try, just once?"
Father looked at me. "Be glad," he said, "that you have no need of it. Believe that it is perilous. A spell of last resort."
It was no longer possible to take time off from my studies. I had scarcely seen the sun all summer, for Father had arranged to have our small supply of bread and fish and vegetables brought up to the Honeycomb by one of the local girls. There was a spring in one of the deep gullies, and it was Father himself who went with a bucket for water now. I stayed inside, working. I was training myself not to care. At first it hurt a lot, knowing Darragh would be out there somewhere looking for me, waiting for me. Later, when he gave up waiting, it hurt even more. I'd escape briefly to a high ledge above the water, a secret place accessible only from inside the vaulted passages of the Honeycomb. From this vantage point you could see the full sweep of the bay, from our end with its sheer cliffs and pounding breakers to the western end, where the far promontory sheltered the scattering of cottages and the bright, untidy camp of the traveling folk. You could see the boys and girls running on the shore, and hear their laughter borne on the breath of the west wind, mingled with the wild voices of seabirds. Darragh was there among them, taller now, for he had shot up this last winter away. His dark hair was thrown back from his face by the wind, and his grin was as crooked as ever. There was always a girl hanging around him now, sometimes two or three. One in particular I noticed, a little slip of a thing with skin brown from the sun, and a long plait down her back. Wherever Darragh went she wasn't far away, white teeth flashing in a smile, hand on her hip, looking. With no good reason at all, I hated her.
The lads used to dive off the rocks down below the Honeycomb, unaware of my presence on the ledge above. They were of an age when a boy believes himself invincible, when every lad is a hero who can slay whatever monsters cross his path. The ledge they chose was narrow and slippery; the sea below dark, chill and treacherous. The dive must be calculated to the instant to avoid catching the force of an incoming wave that would crush you against the jagged rocks at the Honeycomb's base. Again and again they did it, three or four of them, waiting for the moment, bare feet gripping the rock, bodies nut-brown in the sun, while the girls and the smaller children stood watching from the shore, silent in anticipation. Then, sudden and shocking no matter how often repeated, the plunge to the forbidding waters below.
Twice or three times that summer I saw them. The last time I went there, I saw Darragh leave the ledge and climb higher, nimble as a crab on the crevices of the stark cliffside, scrambling up to perch on the tiniest foothold far above the diving point. I caught my breath in shock. He could not intend--surely he did not intend--? I bit my lip and tasted salt blood; I screwed my hands into fists so tight my nails cut my palms. The fool. Why would he try such a thing? How could he possibly--?
He stood poised there a moment as his audience hushed and froze, feeling no doubt some of the same fascinated terror that gripped me. Far, far below the waves crashed and sucked, and far above the gulls screamed a warning. Darragh did not raise his arms for a dive. He simply leaned forward and plummeted down headfirst, straight as an arrow, hands by his sides, down and down until his body entered the water as neatly as a gannet diving for fish; and I watched one great wave wash over the spot where he had vanished, and another, and a third, while my heart hammered with fear, and then, much farther in toward the shore, a sleek dark head emerged from the water and he began to swim, and a cheer went up from the boys on the ledge and the girls on the sand, and when he came out of the water, dripping, laughing, she was there to greet him and to offer him the shawl from her own shoulders to dry himself off with.
I did not concentrate very well that day, and Father gave me a sharp look, but said nothing. It was my own choice not to go back and watch them after that. What Father had taught me was right. A sorcerer, or a sorcerer's daughter, could not perform the tasks required, could not practice the art to the full, if other things were allowed to get in the way.
It was close to Lugnasad and that summer's end when my father told me his own story at last. We sat before the fire after a long day's work, drinking our ale. At such times we were mostly silent, absorbed with our own thoughts. I was watching Father as he stared into the flames, and I was thinking how he was losing weight, the bones of his face showing stark beneath the skin. He was even paler than usual. Teaching me must be a trial to him sometimes. No wonder he looked weary. I would have to try harder.
"You know we are descended from a line of sorcerers, Fainne," he said suddenly, as if simply following a train of thought.
"And you understand what that means?"
I was puzzled that he should ask me this. "That we are not the same as ordinary folk, and never can be. We are set apart, neither one thing nor the other. We can exercise the craft, for what purpose we may choose. But some elements of magic are beyond us. We may touch the Otherworld, but are not truly of it. We live in this world, but we never really belong to it."
"Good, Fainne. You understand, in theory, very well. But it is not the same to go out into the world and discover what this means. You cannot know what pain this half-existence can bring. Tell me, do you remember your grandmother? It is a long time since she came here; ten years and more. Perhaps you have forgotten her."
I frowned in concentration. "I think I can remember. She had eyes like ours, and she stared at me until my head hurt. She asked me what I'd learned, and when I told her, she laughed. I wanted her to go away."
Father nodded grimly. "My mother does not choose to go abroad in the world. Not now. She keeps to the darker places; but we cannot dismiss her, nor her arts. We bear her legacy within us, you and I, whether we will or no, and it is through her that we are both less and more than ordinary folk. I had no wish to tell you more of this, but the time has come when I must. Will you listen to my story?"
"Yes, Father," I whispered, shocked.
"Very well. Know, then, that for eighteen years of my existence I grew up in the nemetons, under the protection and nurture of the wise ones. What came before that I cannot remember, for I dwelt deep in the great forest of Sevenwaters from little more than an infant. Oak and ash were my companions; I slept on wattles of rowan, the better to hear the voice of the spirit, and I wore the plain robe of the initiate. It was a childhood of discipline and order; frugal in the provision for bodily needs, but full of rich food for the mind and spirit, devoid of the baser elements of man's existence, surrounded by the beauty of tree and stream, lake and mossy stone. I grew to love learning, Fainne. This love I have tried to impart to you, over the years of your own childhood.
"The greater part of my training in the druid way I owed to a man called Conor, who became leader of the wise ones during my time there. He took a particular interest in my education. Conor was a hard taskmaster. He would never give a straight response to a question. Always, he would set me in the right direction, but leave me to work out the answers for myself. I learned quickly, and was eager for more. I progressed; I grew older, and was a young man. Conor did not give praise easily. But he was pleased with me, and just before I had completed my training, and might at last call myself a druid, he allowed me to accompany him to the great house of Sevenwaters to assist in the ritual of Imbolc.
"It was the first time I had been outside the nemetons and the depths of the forest. It was the first time I had seen folk other than my brethren of the wise ones. Conor performed the ritual and lit the sacred fire, and I bore the torch for him. It was the culmination of the long years of training. After supper he allowed me to tell a tale to the assembled company. And he was proud of me: I could see it on his face, clever as he was at concealing his thoughts. There was a gladness in my heart that night, as if the hand of the goddess herself had touched my spirit and set my feet on a path I might follow joyfully for the rest of my days. From then on, I thought, I would be dedicated to the way of light.
"Sevenwaters is a great house and a great t�ath. A man called Liam was the master there, Conor's brother. And there was a sister, Sorcha, of whom wondrous things were said. She was herself a powerful storyteller and a famous healer, and her own tale was the strangest of all. Her brothers had been turned into swans by an evil enchantress, and Sorcha had won them back their human form through a deed of immense courage and sacrifice. Looking at her, it was hard to believe that it might be true, for she was such a little, fragile thing. But I knew it was true. Conor had told me; Conor who himself had taken the form of a wild creature for three long years. They are a family of considerable power and influence, and they possess skills beyond the ordinary.
"That night everything was new to me. A great house; a feast with more food than I had ever seen before, platters of delicacies and ale flowing in abundance, lights and music and dancing. I found it--difficult. Alien. But I stood and watched. Watched a wonderful, beautiful girl dancing, whirling and laughing with her long copper-bright hair down her back, and her skin glowing gold in the flare of the torches. Later, in the great hall, it was for her I told my story. That night it was not of the goddess nor my fine ideals that I dreamed, but of Niamh, daughter of Sevenwaters, spinning and turning in her blue gown, and smiling at me as she glanced my way. This was not at all what Conor had intended in bringing me with him to the feast. But once it had begun there was no going back. I loved her; she loved me. We met in the forest, in secret. There was no doubt difficulties would be raised if we were to make our intentions known. A druid can marry if he wishes, but it is very unusual to make that choice. Besides, Conor had plans for me, and I knew he would not take the idea well. Niamh was not promised, but she said her family might take time to accept the idea of her wedded to a young man whose parentage was entirely unknown. She was, after all, the niece of Lord Liam himself. But for us there was no alternative. We could not envisage a future in which we were apart. So we met under the oaks, away from prying eyes, and while we were together the difficulties melted away. We were young. Then, it seemed as if we had all the time in the world."
He paused to cough, and took a sip of his ale. I sensed that telling this tale was very difficult for him, and kept my silence.
"In time we were discovered. How, it does not matter. Conor's nephew came galloping into the nemetons and fetched his uncle away, and I heard enough to know Niamh was in trouble. When I reached Sevenwaters I was ushered into a small room and there was Conor himself, and his brother who was ruler of the t�ath, and Niamh's father, the Briton. I expected to encounter some opposition. I hoped to be able to make a case for Niamh to become my wife; at least to present what credentials I had and be afforded a hearing. But this was not to be. There would be no marriage. They had no interest at all in what I had to say. That in itself seemed a fatal blow. But there was more. The reason this match was not allowed was not the one I had expected. It was not my lack of suitable breeding and resources. It was a matter of blood ties. For I was not, as I had believed, some lad of unknown parentage, adopted and nurtured by the wise ones. There had been a long lie told; a vital truth withheld. I was the offspring of a sorceress, an enemy of Sevenwaters. At the same time I was the seventh son of Lord Colum, once ruler of the t�ath."
I stared at him. A chieftain's son, of noble blood, and they had not told him; that was unfair. Lord Colum's son; but...but that meant...
"Yes," said my father, eyes grave as he studied my face, "I was half-brother to Conor, and to Lord Liam who now ruled there, and to Sorcha. I bore evil blood. And I was too close to Niamh. I was her mother's half-brother. Our union was forbidden by law. So, at one blow, I lost both my beloved and my future. How could the son of a sorceress aspire to the ways of light? How could the offspring of such a one ever become a druid? It was bright vision blinded, pure hope sullied. As for Niamh, they had her future all worked out. She would marry another, some chieftain of influence who would take her conveniently far away, so they would not have to think about how close she had come to besmirching the family honor."
There was a dark bitterness in his tone. He put his ale cup down on the hearth and twisted his hands together.
"That's terrible," I whispered. "Terrible and sad. Is that what happened? Did they send her away?"
"She married, and traveled far north to Tirconnell. Her husband treated her cruelly. I knew nothing for a time, for I was gone far away in search of my past. That is another story. At last Niamh escaped. Her sister saw the truth of the situation and aided her. I was sent a message and came for her. But the damage was done, Fainne. She never really recovered from it."
"What is it, Fainne?" He sounded terribly tired; his voice faint and rapsing.
"Wasn't my mother happy here in Kerry?"
For a while I thought he was not going to answer. It seemed to me he had to reach deep within himself for the words.