LIONHEART Snippets 4-6

Here are 3 snippets from the upcoming LIONHEART. Please remember, as always when I post snippets of draft work it’s all subject to change (or even deletion). Anything you read will very likely have typos and grammar issues that will be addressed during the editing process. For that reason, I ask that you don’t post this in other places.

Happy reading!





(Chapter Two Cont’d)

“For what it’s worth,” Morgan added, “I had no choice—I acted on Isabeau’s command, and I deeply regret what happened. I’ll do what I can to help if you’ll allow me.”

“Do you expect that an apology can wipe out hundreds of years of armed conflict, or bring back the dead you killed?” Nikolas bit out. “Do you think I’m sorry helps their families cope with their losses?”

“No, of course not,” Morgan said quietly.

“We’ll never let you step foot on our land, much less risk you getting close to the king again. How do we know there really was a geas on you—or that it is truly broken? There’s no trust for you anywhere in Lyonesse, and no safety either.”

“Then I will have to do what I can to make amends from here.” Morgan turned to face Annwyn and Kathryn. “If you will let me.”

Kathryn held up her hands. “Hold on a minute. This conversation is moving much too fast for me.” She looked at Annwyn. “When you asked me to consult on Oberon’s condition, I told you no and the reasons for that haven’t changed. The time slippage between Earth and Lyonesse is so extreme, if I spent a few weeks in Lyonesse it would mean taking months away from my practice, and my duties here in the Wyr demesne—plus those few weeks would be no guarantee of anything. It would take that long just to get the opportunity to assess his condition for myself. Healing him could take much longer. In the end, I might not be able to do anything for him anyway.”

Annwyn’s lean jaw tightened as she listened. When she spoke, it was with a measured discipline piloted by an iron will. “That is why I wanted to talk with you in person. We understand what a substantial commitment this would take on your part, and we’re willing to discuss any terms of compensation that would help alleviate the challenges associated with this assignment.”

“Any terms of compensation,” Dragos murmured. His eyelids dropped, hiding the expression in that calculating gold gaze, while he rubbed his jaw with the back of one thumb.

Kathryn glared at him. She said telepathically, I blame you for this mess.

Sure, go ahead.

His tone was so clearly indifferent her exasperation deepened. Dragos, I can’t go. You have me on retainer. I have my rotation at the hospital. I can’t just drop those things because someone is stubborn enough to ask twice. Unfortunately, there are people all over the world who need healing, and I can’t help everybody. No doctor can.

Still rubbing his jaw, he raised sleek, black eyebrows and tilted his head first one way, then the other. Maybe it was in acknowledgment to what she said. Maybe he was weighing some internal issue in his head. She had no clue, and no time to query it, because Annwyn was speaking to her again, her tone quiet and urgent.

“Dr. Shaw, I understand you have your life here, and it is busy, complicated, and important.” Sharp green eyes speared her. “But this is a matter of truly immense meaning for an entire people. It’s not just about my cousin’s life, although that’s important too—and it isn’t just about Lyonesse. Our home is in danger. You’re talking about an entire community that may be displaced and become refugees if we don’t fix this. This is threatening to become an international crisis.”
Kathryn made the mistake of staring into Annwyn’s fierce gaze, and she found herself trapped. How could one man’s magical Power endanger an entire land and people? Thoughtfully, she glanced at Dragos, then at Morgan. Those two males—they held enough Power. They could cause that kind of damage.

Annwyn paused, giving her time to think, then murmured, “We have researched doctors. You are the best at what you do.”

Kathryn’s lips tightened. Every surgeon had her fair share of ego, but that was laying it on a bit too thick. “I am one of the best. Just one. There are others you could ask.”

“No one with your unique combination of sensitivities and skills,” the other woman insisted.

What did Annwyn mean by that? Frowning, Kathryn opened her mouth to ask, but Dragos spoke first. “How goes the war against Isabeau?”

Kathryn pursed her lips. Why had the dragon chosen to ask that now, of all times? Where had his calculating, wily mind gone in his deliberations?

Morgan rubbed his face and looked disgusted. Clearly he would rather be anywhere else than in the middle of a discussion about Isabeau. Annwyn’s attention shifted, and she watched the sorcerer closely.

Nikolas was the one who chose to answer. “Isabeau has had major setbacks. From all reports, Morgan wounded her severely when he broke free of her control. He also sent a large portion of the Light Court society into disarray when he attacked and killed Modred and destroyed her summer palace. She’s disappeared, and we haven’t yet been able to locate her, but we feel it is only a matter of time, especially if we can rouse Oberon from his comatose state.”

“I see,” Dragos replied. Everyone in the hall paused, waiting for him to make a point, or say something further, but he remained silent.

He was maddening. Truly, he was.

For a moment Kathryn fantastized about putting her hands around his neck and squeezing. She knew she couldn’t really hurt him, nor did she want to. But she did oh so mightily want to elicit a look of consternation from him in retaliation for all the times he had disconcerted her.

Then, as Annwyn swung around to face Kathryn again, Dragos said, “Isabeau is reputed to have quite a library of magic books, or so I’ve heard.” He looked at Morgan. “Did you ever see it?”

“No,” Morgan said drily. “She does have an extensive library, but she would never trust me enough to let me near it.”

“Give me a moment to consult with my physician, and kindly don’t kill each other while we’re at it.” Striding over to Kathryn, Dragos held out a hand, silently urging her to walk with him.

She obliged and followed him to the other side of the hall. During the course of the small journey, realization dawned. She said telepathically, You want Isabeau’s library, don’t you?

The sidelong look he gave her gleamed. Of course I do. If and when the Dark Court does defeat Isabeau, we can’t have her library out there waiting to fall into the wrong hands, can we? It needs to fall into my hands.

She bit back a smile. Naturally.

He cocked an eyebrow. Naturally. So, I have just one question to ask you—are you interested in doing this? Because if you are, I will back that decision, continue to pay you your retainer while you are gone, and negotiate with the Dark Court for the right to send a team after the library once they have finished dealing with Isabeau. If your answer is still no, there’s no need to discuss this any further.

She paused, narrowing her eyes at him. That’s a fair question,she said slowly. Before, I didn’t allow myself to consider it very seriously.

Dragos snapped his fingers. What’s the name of that young doctor on your surgical team?

Do you mean Angus?

Yes, that’s him. Angus could take over your rotation at the hospital and fill in with your other duties while you’re gone. He could be on call for the sentinels, if need be. He’s qualified enough—he fills in for you already, when you go on vacations. This would just be an extension of that.

She retorted, Are you saying I’m not as indispensible as I’d like to think?

Dragos said, I’m saying I want to know what you want to do, and I’ll support you either way—and I’ve got a way this can work for me if you do want to go. On a side note, there are things going on here in the New York demesne that you don’t yet know, mainly stemming from personal decisions that Pia and I have recently made. You’ll find out about that later, but my point is, here in the city things are going to be in flux anyway for the next year. If you want to make this trip, it can just be part of that flux.

She hesitated, then smiled as she admitted, Okay, to be honest, I think it sounds fascinating. It’s a medical puzzle and an adventure all at once. I’m curious about the spell Morgan concocted that would put Oberon in a vegetative state, and I’m interested to know if I can reverse his condition. And I’ve been meaning to travel back to England to visit Sophie and the property she inherited when she met the terms of my father’s will. So—yes, I would like to go.

Good enough. Dragos put a hand at her back. Now, let’s go make them pay for the privilege of your time and effort.

Suddenly amused, she murmured, They’re in genuine distress. Try not to gouge them too much, will you?

The corners of his mouth indented in a subtle smile. Well, they did offer.


Chapter Three

After finalizing details of the agreement with Annwyn Kathryn took a week to get her affairs in order, since the time slippage between Lyonesse and Earth worked so strongly in her favor as long as she remained in New York.

She also took the opportunity to meet extensively with Morgan, which was a fascinating experience all on its own, as the sorcerer taught her the sophisticated details of his assassination spell and the various tactics he thought might work in reversing it.

Talking to him was mind-bending; as she told Bayne later, Morgan was friendly, brilliant, and toweringly talented—basically the Stephen Hawking of all things magical. Isabeau had been incredibly destructive, both to his spirit and to the world in general, when she had weaponized him.

At the hospital, she worked to transfer all her active patients over to Angus. She owned her Manhatten apartment outright, so she had her furniture swathed in dust covers and arranged her finances so the taxes and utilities would be automatically paid for for the duration of her absence. And she spent her evenings going out on the town with Bayne and other friends who she wouldn’t see for months of their time.

As they enjoyed their dates, Bayne was all too happy to fill her in on the other changes Dragos had alluded to that were soon to hit the Wyr demesne in New York.

The biggest and most sweeping change was that Dragos, his mate Pia, and their baby son Niall were going to relocate to his newly named Other land of Rhyacia. For years, Dragos had been experimenting there with technology and magic, but other than the fruits of his labor the land was pristine, easily protected, and as big as Greenland. The Cuelebre’s departure would leave a power vacuum in the Wyr demesne that Dragos was determined to fill, one way or another.

“Wow. Just… wow,” she said as she sat back from her dinner and worked to absorb the news.

“Yeah, it’s pretty huge,” Bayne said laconically. He didn’t stop eating when she did. They were enjoying a late meal at one of his favorite restaurants, and he’d also had a bit more time to adjust to the upcoming changes. “But I get why they made the decision.”

As she thought things over, she did too. “What’s going to happen here?”

He shrugged. “Don’t know yet. At first Dragos was certain Liam would choose to take over, but then Liam went to talk it over with his mom. Turns out, Pia had other ideas. Liam decided to take her advice and finish his year away at college. He has promised to make his decision by the end of his college stint. In the meantime, Rune has agreed to step in as regent until Liam’s year is over. Rune and Carling are moving into Cuelebre Tower by the end of the month.”

Sipping her wine, she watched Bayne’s expression with fascination. “What happens if Liam chooses not to take over? Is… that even a possibility?”

Bayne had just taken a huge bite of prime rib, so he shrugged without answering right away. “Nobody knows,” he said after swallowing. “Apparently after talking to his mom, he had a long list of very good questions that he asked his dad—like, would Liam take over as CEO for Cuelebre Enterprises as well as assume the title of Lord of the Wyr demesne when Dragos leaves?”

She rubbed her mouth to hide a smile. Pia had achieved what she could only daydream of— she managed to disconcert her mate on what was to Kathryn a satisfyingly regular basis. “And what did Dragos say to that, do you know?”

He snorted, eyes gleaming with amusement. “Dragos is about to start a very expensive community building initiative in Rhyacia. He was counting on drawing on the profits from the company to fund it over the next five or so years. Yet Cuelebre Enterprises and the Wyr demesne are inextricably linked. That wasn’t a problem when Dragos was in charge of both. He could move funds around as he wished. But as Liam pointed out, if he takes over the Wyr demesne and Dragos continues to operate as CEO of the company, albeit long-distance, Liam will always be under his father’s control to some extent. That would not only undermine his authority internationally as the new Lord of the Wyr here, but it would also hamstring his ability to take any quick action that would involve significant expenditures of resources.”

She burst out laughing. “I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.”

He grinned. “Me too. One dragon negotiating with another—truly a first in Wyr history. The talk caught Dragos by surprise, and you know how he hates to give up control and hates to lose money. Anyway, nobody is quite sure how this is going to play out, but all the sentinels are pretty certain we’re going to be entertained by the process. Will Dragos relinquish control over the company? Will Liam decide to take over, or will he choose to go his own independent way? And in the meantime, what will Rune and Carling choose to do?” In a mock TV announcer’s voice, he said, “Stay tuned for the next installment of Days of Our Wyr Demesne.”

She laughed harder. “I’m starting to think I might be glad to be gone for the transition period. I can just come back and find out what happened next.”

He nodded. “Never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure. We’re going to miss you, though.”

We, not I. It was a small thing, but important and telling, she thought without passion or hurt. She didn’t blame Bayne in the slightest—she said things like that too. But it was all symptomatic of that elusive, ephemeral condition that transpired to keep them squarely in the “friend zone.”

*          *          *

By the time she arrived in Westmarch, the English village nearest the property Sophie had inherited, Kathryn was too excited for jet leg to affect her much. While she had traveled extensively on Earth, it had been decades since she had taken a trip to an Other land.

Experiencing Lyonesse would be fascinating in its own right. Added to that, she would get to help a lot of people who were suffering while she attempted to solve a medical mystery, and already she had learned more valuable magic to add to her repertoire of skills. Life just didn’t get much better than that. She refused to dwell on the possibility that Oberon might not be salvageable. They would learn the truth of that soon enough.

Once in the village, she turned in her rental car. As she finished the transaction, Sophie pulled up driving a Range Rover. A handsome male, clearly not human, with long dark hair and the cynical good looks of a dissipated rock star rode shotgun beside her.

His gaze landed on Kathryn and sparked with interest. Even though the windows of the Range Rover were closed to the damp, chill autumn air, Kathryn’s Wyr hearing was sensitive enough to pick up Sophie’s words as she turned to fix her companion with a hard stare.

“You behave.”

The male gave Sophie a slow, sweet smile. “I always behave in direct relation to my companion’s desires.”

Sophie burst out laughing. “Bah. You’re incorrigible.”

Raising an eyebrow, Kathryn suppressed a smile. Clearly he was Trouble looking for some place to happen. It was only when they stepped out of the vehicle that she caught a glumpse of the weapons he wore underneath his autumn jacket, along with the hard, sweeping glance he gave the scene.

Comprehension clicked into place. She had spent far too much time with the sentinels in New York to miss the unmistakable signs of a guard on duty.

Sophie approached with a bright smile, and Kathryn gladly gave her a hug. “Thank you for meeting me here.”

“Of course, totally my pleasure!” Sophie replied. “It made complete sense, since you’re not going to need a car here for months. It’s good to see you. Until the conflict with Isabel is resolved, I promised Nik I wouldn’t leave the property without protection, so this is Rowan Nyghtseren—he’s playing bodyguard today. Rowan, this is Dr. Kathryn Shaw.” She added telepathically, Fair warning—he’s a scamp. He’s good at respecting boundaries, but he might tickle them a bit.

The part of Kathryn’s brain that loved etymology and word puzzles chewed on Rowan’s last name. Sophie had pronounced it as “Night – seren,” and seren in Welsh meant “star.” Rowan’s last name meant, literally, “Nightstar.”

With a name like that, he really should have been a rockstar. She grinned. I appreciate you telling me.

Rowan, she noted with approval, didn’t turn his attention to her until he was fully satisfied their surroundings were clear. Then his dissipated rock star eyes met hers as he took her hand gently between his. “A great pleasure to meet you, Dr. Shaw,” he said. “Or may I call you Kathryn?”

“Nice to meet you too.” She recovered her hand from his grasp. “And Dr. Shaw will do fine, thanks.”

His eyes narrowed in calculation, until Sophie smacked his chest with the back of her hand. “For God’s sake give it up and stow her luggage in the car.”

Genuine affection warmed his face as he tilted an eyebrow at Sophie. “Anything for you, love.”

As Rowan put her luggage in the Range Rover, Sophie turned back to her. “Annwyn wanted me to go over the type of warm clothes you brought with you,” she said. “She’s concerned you might have brought things that are more suitable to the city.”

Kathryn smiled. “I suppose she doesn’t have any clue how bitterly cold temperatures can get in New York.”

“Well no, she doesn’t.” Sophie made a face. “But she also has a point. I’ve been over to Lyonesse, and right now the cold over there… it’s not normal, Kathryn. The weather is awful all the time, and plus the terrain is very rugged. A shop has opened up here in town that specifically caters to those who traveling back and forth across the reopened passageway. Do you want to stop and have a look at what they’ve got before we leave?”

She took a moment to consider. Despite her ability to meld comfortably into an urban landscape, she was one of the Wyr who had never moved very far from her wild roots. She loved the wilderness and being out in the elements, and she’d packed a selection of clothing she’d bought from REI. But was it suitable for “not normal weather”?

“It won’t do any harm to take a look,” she said.

“Great! It’s just a few blocks from here.” With a click of the keyfob, Sophie locked the Range Rover and the three of them headed down the sidewalk.

Once inside the shop, Kathryn inspected everything with interest. When she had packed she had tried to balance the need to be portable with basic layering techniques for cold weather: using a base layer to wick sweat away from the skin, a middle insulating layer to retain body heat, and then a shell layer to shield from the weather.

She had underwear, three sets of thermal silk shirts, and wool sweaters to wear over them, two pairs of flannel lined jeans, three pairs of wool socks, hiking boots, and an insulated down jacket with a hood, a woolen scarf and insulated gloves. She would be wearing some of her cargo, and hopefully be able to utilize a horse, but if it came down to it, she could carry the rest in a rather heavy pack on her back.

Now, she considered what Sophie had said while she browsed the wares in the store. Like Kathryn, the Daione Sidhe weren’t human. They were a hardy mix of the Elder Races, yet conditions were so bad in Lyonesse they were facing the possibility of needing to flee.

When she came upon a shelf dedicated to packets of emergency hand and body warmers, she picked one up curiously.

Time and space had buckled when the Earth had formed, and the Other lands—connected to Earth through crossover passageways—were magic heavy and many modern technologies either didn’t work or were outright dangerous to try to use.

But as she read the instructions on the package, the emergency hand and body warmers were made of biodegradable chemical compounds that were air activated, which was a passive enough, naturally-based technology that made them safe to use in an Other land. She threw several into her basket.

She was already quite comfortable with the things she had brought—her carefully curated physician’s kit, choice of toiletries, small portable hand axe, and Swiss Army knife, and her tried and true flint fire starter kit was over 150 years old.

But after a few more minutes of consideration, she also chose several bags of jerky along with several more of a high fat, high calorie trail mix. Getting enough calories was important in harsh weather, and Kathryn had an animal form with a high metabolism that ensured she burned through calories at an accelerated rate.

Then she added a Mylar emergency blanket, as it was small, extremely lightweight, and would hold ninety percent of her body heat if needed. The last thing she considered was the rack of fur lined, floor length, water resistant cloaks. They were bulky, and they would be heavy. They would be great for heat retention, and lousy for carting around. As she chewed on her lip, Sophie walked over to join her.

Kathryn told her, “I already have a down insulated hooded coat.”

Sophie pulled one of the cloaks off the rack. “This will fit over anything else you wear, and it’s better to have too much than too little. You don’t know what you’re going to run into, and honestly, I don’t know that it would be too much. If you find it’s more than you need and you get tired of lugging it around, you can abandon it if you have to, or you can always donate it to someone else.”

“Good point.” Unfortunately, with the addition of the cloak, she was sacrificing some of her valuable portability. There was no way around it. She going to need another pack. She grabbed a weather proof pack and then took all her selections to the counter, but before she could pay Rowan smoothly stepped in to hand over a credit card to the shop attendant.

“Don’t fuss,” he said as she turned to argue with him. His previous calculated charm had disappeared for the moment, and he gave her a simple, warm smile. “You’re on Dark Court business, and I have my orders.”

It was hard to argue with that, so she didn’t. “Thank you.”

With that, their small shopping excursion was over, so they walked back to the Range Rover and drove to the property.


Chapter Three, cont’d

Kathryn had heard about the changes that had occurred on the old estate, but it was still a shock to see them in person. In the summer, the manor house had sustained major structural damage during a battle with Morgan when he had still been enslaved by Isabeau and acting as her Captain of the Hounds. Sophie had been a part of that conflict.

Since that time, she had taken her inheritance and sold it to the Daoine Sidhe for a sizeable sum. Now the main house structure was shored up with visible reforcements, and the charming little gatekeeper’s cottage that had been near the road had been completely demolished, and several more buildings had been added to the five acres. Before, the property had been an overgrown, abandoned relic, but now the entire place buzzed with people and purpose.

When Sophie parked in front of a new cottage, Rowan left with a final, lingering look at Kathryn. She shook her head at him, and he lifted wide shoulders in a regretful shrug.

As he disappeared, she said laughingly, “Wow.”

“Right?! He is so much trouble.” Sophie opened the back of the Range Rover and began to pull out luggage and packages. “I live for the day when I get to see Rowan meet the woman who will knock him on his ass—in a good way, of course. I don’t want him to get hurt. I just want him to know what it’s like to really fall for someone, you know?”

Kathryn picked up luggage. “When he sets aside the bullshit, there seems to be a nice guy in there underneath.”

“I think there is. At the very least, I don’t think he means any real harm, although more than likely he probably causes it anyway. But Nik trusts him, and I trust Nik, so there you have it.” Sophie led the way into the cottage, which was unlocked. “I’m betting Annwyn is going to show up as soon as she hears you’ve arrived, so let’s make the most of what time we have. Would you like some tea? I’m becoming very Anglicized and never bother with coffee anymore. Also, I made some beef and tomato sandwiches, and there’s fresh baked scones—I didn’t bake those, so they’re actually delicious—and clotted cream.”

“That sounds lovely,” she replied. “I’m famished.”

She followed Sophie to the kitchen where they visited over the tea, sandwiches, and scones. It was good to see the witch so happy. It shone out of Sophie in the sparkle in her eyes and the healthy luster of her freckled skin.

When Kathryn had met her, Sophie had still been in recovery from a life-threatening injury. She’d been closed in, strung tight, and underweight. Now, despite the presence of armed guards everywhere, she was obviously at home and relaxed, and she laughed often.

Kathryn was glad to see it and cast around for something to say that would encourage Sophie to talk about it. “You and Nikolas are happy?”

“You know, we are,” Sophie said. She sounded surprised, and then she laughed. “He’s not anything I would have imagined for myself, and we fight all the time. He has this old-world chauvinism that drives me nuts—and I know I drive him nuts, because I don’t let him get away with it. He says I’m too contrary, and I say he’s too dictatorial, but in spite of all that, we manage to make it work. I can’t even tell you how.”

There it was, the elusive, ephemeral thing, condition, whatever you wanted to call it. Bond. Nik and Sophie had it in abundance, and they weren’t even Wyr, or at least Sophie wasn’t. Since the Daoine Sidhe were a community of mixed race Elder Races, Kathryn supposed it was possible that Nik might have some Wyr in his blood.

Humans had the capacity to bond too. To love. But if things didn’t work out it rarely killed them like it did the Wyr when they lost a mate. The Wyr might mate for life, but perhaps it was good that mating was a relatively rare experience.

Every Wyr was conditioned from an early age to avoid pining for something that most likely wouldn’t happen. It was entirely plausible to have a full, enjoyable life filled with many different kinds of loves—friendships, affairs, even marriages. Kathryn enjoyed a full life while experiencing the friendships and affairs. Still, it was fascinating to watch from the sidelines when others went through the mating process.

Children were also rare to all the Elder Races, but even children could come to unmated Wyr, just as Kathryn had come into her father’s life. Her mother had been Francis Shaw’s mistress, and when she had become pregnant he had honored the relationship by marrying her. She had died in a carriage accident when Kathryn had still been a baby. She had always been grateful to have at least one of her parents as she was growing up.

Pulling out of her reverie, she sipped her tea. “I suppose it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how it works, as long as it does. The most important thing is that you’re both in it together.”

“Yes.” Sophie’s smile was bright and broad. “We’re all in.”

A quick tap sounded on the back door. Giving Kathryn a meaningful nod, Sophie rose to answer it, and a moment later Annwyn stalked into the kitchen. She was one of those people who could make a room shrink just by the strength of her presence.

Her fierce green gaze landed on Kathryn. “You’re here.”

Kathryn had lived with people like Annwyn for many, many years, and she could recognize Annwyn’s type from a mile away. The other woman was so purpose-driven she would steamroll right over you, if you let her. Kathryn wasn’t going to let her.

“Yes. I arrived this morning, met with my solicitor to take care of a few things, and hopped in a rental car right after that.” She bit into a scone with pleasure. “It’s good to take a break and eat. This is my first meal of the day.”

“Please, join us,” Sophie said to Annwyn. “Would you like a cup of tea? Perhaps a sandwich and a scone?”

Just as Kathryn had seen her do in the meeting hall a week ago, Annwyn paused then drew herself in, as if reaching for patience. “Yes, thank you.”

Annwyn seated herself as Sophie got her a cup, a plate, and silverware. After a moment, she said in a measured tone, “While I know just how significant the time slippage is between Earth and Lyonesse, it’s hard to internalize it emotionally. For so long I lived with a sense of urgency, and it’s difficult to relax when I know so many of the Daoine Sidhe are suffering.”

Kathryn met Sophie’s gaze for a moment. Then as the younger woman turned to get the tea kettle from the stove, she smiled at Annwyn. Gently, she said, “I am going to do everything I can for him, you know.”

Annwyn studied her closely, then sat back in her chair. “I believe you will. When will you be ready to cross over?”

Framing that as a question, she could see, took a major effort. Like Annwyn said, it was hard for her not to push. She considered how she wanted to answer.

Finally, she said, “I slept on the flight, I took care of the last of my business affairs this morning, and I’m not here to sightsee. Visiting with Sophie was the one thing I wanted to do, and we’ve been doing that. I want to finish my meal, take a shower and put on an appropriate outfit. After that, I’m all yours.”

Annwyn straightened in her chair and the fierceness roared back. “Excellent.”

As they resumed their meal, Kathryn asked, “So, what comes next?”

“Once we cross over, we lose the luxury of the extra time we have had here on Earth,” Annwyn said. “So I have struck a bargain with one of our people. He’s… unusual. He’s a nature sprite, and he has agreed to help. He’s waiting for us now on the other side of the passageway. With his aid we can reach the city much more quickly than we could if we had to travel on our own. Half of it is under water from flooding, and the other half is frozen. We had to evacuate the general population from there some time ago. I want to set up a base camp in a safe place in the city, and we’ll work from there.”

Her plan sounded sensible enough. Kathryn nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

When she finished eating, Sophie showed her the bathroom and brought towels and a washcloth. Thanking her, Kathryn said, “May I store my luggage here until I get back?”

“Of course!” Sophie gestured to her clothes. “I’ll wash your outfit and store that in your suitcase, too, so it’s ready for you when you get back.”

“Thank you.”

She took the towels, and when she would have stepped into the bathroom Sophie laid a hand on her arm. Telepathically, she said, I know the nature sprite Annwyn was talking about.

Kathryn looked at her curiously. Yes?

His name is Robin, Sophie told her. We bonded over the summer, and I love him, but he’s quite unpredictable. Isabeau held him captive and tortured him for a very long time, and I don’t think he’s healed yet.

            That’s unfortunate. Why did Sophie consider this important enough to tell Kathryn privately? She wasn’t sure she liked the implications in that. What does that mean, exactly?

            It means… The other woman bit her lip, clearly struggling for the right words. It means he doesn’t always make the right decisions, or at least he makes decisions based on criteria that you and I might not have.

            Kathryn knew all about very old, damaged creatures. Several had been patients of hers at one time or another. She pursed her lips. I see.

I want you to understand. Sophie looked at her intently. Robin’s not BAD. At least—I don’t think he’s bad, but he’s dangerous. And I’m not clear why he would make a bargain with Annwyn when he has unresolved resentment for the rest of the Dark Court. I might be overthinking this. He probably did it because his first loyalty is to Oberon, but I just wanted you to know. You’re walking into a situation that has a lot of history and nuances. Lots and lots of nuances.

            I appreciate that. Kathryn squeezed her hand. It’s so much better to be armed with knowledge than not. Thank you.

You’re welcome. Now I feel better. Sophie stepped back. Enjoy your shower.

Sophie had given her food for thought. Kathryn mulled everything over as she brushed her teeth then luxuriated in a long, hot shower and soaped through her hair twice. She even took the time to shave her legs, because she had no idea when she might get another hot shower or the luxury to do so again. She was extrapolating, but easy, copious amounts of hot water didn’t sound very plausible.

The near future felt uncertain and exciting. She liked that. Often her job made her feel that way, but for all its challenges it fell prey to routine. I needed more adventure in my life, she mouthed as she stood with her head under the shower, relishing the sensual way the warm water poured around her moving lips.

The Dark Court sounded like it had a lot of heavy baggage. That meant it sounded like virtually every other Elder Races demesne in the world. Old creatures meant tangled grudges, ancient resentments, divided loyalties, and hidden motives. Just like home.

Chuckling, she stepped out of the shower, toweled off and dried her hair thoroughly. Stepping into extremely cold weather with a damp head of hair didn’t sound sensible. Once she was dressed, she went into the living room to rearrange the items she would take with her into her two packs.

Her original pack would be the one she would grab in case of emergency, and she wanted to tuck some of the food packs in it. The second was the one she would ditch if she had to, because she couldn’t hike long distances carrying both of them. But they both contained items that would be useful to have. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to ditch one.

Annwyn had left while Kathryn got ready. When she returned she was dressed in heavy winter clothing too, and she had a sword strapped to her back. She eyed Kathryn’s new outfit with approval. “I like jeans.”

“You would really like these. They’re made for cold weather.” Lifting up her sweater, she turned down the hem at the waist so Annwyn could see the flannel lining inside.

The other woman’s expression lit with interest. “When we return to Earth I must seek out a pair of those. Are you ready?”

She nodded. Giving Sophie a quick hug, she hefted up her two packs and settled one on each shoulder by a strap. She followed Annwyn to the manor house. They met Rowan and Gawain at the huge front doors.

Both men were dressed in hardy winter clothing as well. Nodding to her in greeting, they lifted her packs away. She didn’t protest. Both men had much more body mass than she did, along with wider shoulders. Decades of running a challenging medical practice had taught her to conserve her energy until she had to expend it.

When the group followed Annwyn inside, Kathryn stared around in fascination. For hundreds of years the peculiar magic of the house had kept it locked against all who would enter. Sophie was the first person to unlock this house’s mysteries and step inside. From the drunken euphoria in her voice when she called to tell Kathryn the news, Kathryn could imagine how she had felt.

If Kathryn had merely been visiting, she might have wanted to poke around the house at her leisure, but it was clear from Annwyn’s own emotional struggle that too many people were depending on Kathryn to do her job. It wouldn’t be fair to abrade already strained nerves by lingering.

She needed to get to Oberon as quickly as possible to examine him. Then she needed to heal him, if she could.

Failing that, she would need to break the bad news to the Daoine Sidhe as quickly as possible, so they knew in what direction they needed to move in order to heal as a people. A lot was riding on Kathryn getting this right.

So, she would get it right.

Copyright: 2018 Teddy Harrison LLC