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The Lorelei Signal


The Book of Curses

Written by Laura J Underwood / Artwork by Marge Simon

The Book of Curses.jpeg

The thunder of sword on targe filled the glen beyond Tamhasg Wood with a furious din and rattled the shutters of the cottage Ginny Ni Cooley called home. Thistle, the moor terrier leapt to his stubby legs and bayed in response. Ginny opened her eyes and glowered at the beams overhead.


Oh, Horns, they're at it again.


Grumbling about the insanity of the dead, she sat up, dragging her tartan shawl about her shoulders. A whispered spell warmed the air around her so she would not feel the chill of the floor beneath her bare feet as she crossed the room. She went to the back window of the cottage, unbolted the shutters, and pushed them outward.


Moonlight played through the bone-bare trees. Her mage eyes could see as far as the brook that divided the forest from the lea and the glen. The noise now included shouting voices and angry curses and cries. Why can't they do this at a more civil hour? she thought with a sigh. She did not have to see the glen to know what took place there just now.


"Manus?" she called. "Are ye here?"


A tag of mist flitted across the brook and wound its way in her direction. It stopped just outside the window and took on the form of a man who had been quite handsome in life. Manus MacGreeley grinned.


"Aye, lass, I'm about," he said cheerfully.


"Then go tell Black Angus and the Shadow Lord of Dunroe that they need to hold down the noise," she said. "Otherwise, I'll have everyone in Conorscroft banging on my door."


Indeed, she was rather surprised they were not already there. Any time anything unnatural occurred, the villagers thought it was the duty of their resident mageborn to quell it. Especially if it involved spirits. As it was, she had to pretend long ago to have exorcised Manus.


"Me?" Manus said, touching a hand to his chest. "And what makes you think they will listen to me. They've been fighting this battle since the Great Cataclysm and will likely keep fighting it until the world itself crumbles into the void at the end of time."


"There is no end of time," Ginny said sourly. "And I don't see why they have to keep at this. Every Autumn, it's the same. They meet in the glen, they slash each other to bits, and they disappear. The noise goes on for a sen'night while the moon waxes and wanes. Neither of them ever wins the battle either. Such a waste of eternity."


"Well, 'tis their eternity to waste, lass," Manus said with a quirky grin. "They'll not take telling from me anymore than they'll take it from you."


"We'll see about that," she said, pulling the shutters closed so they passed through Manus. He gave a startled yelp.


"I wish you wouldn't do that, lass," he growled.


She ignored him as she hurried back to the bed and quickly pulled on proper clothes. Within moments, she was dressed and warm beneath her shawl. With her staff in hand and Thistle at her heels, she left the cottage behind, crossing the brook and marching through the woods and over the lea towards the glen. Manus, she noticed, followed as well.


"They'll not listen to ye, Ginny," he said as he caught up with her.


"They won't have a choice," she said. "I'm tired of the noise, and I'm tired of the villagers calling on me at all hours to end their noise. They've had well over five hundred years to settle their differences."


Manus rolled his eyes. "'Tis not that simple, lass. This is their curse. To meet under the wolf moon and do battle for seven days."


"Curses can be broken," Ginny said and strode on.


It took her the better part of a candle mark to reach the mouth of the glen. There, the din clattered on her eardrums most painfully. The temptation to cast silence on herself was strong, but it would not let them hear her either, so she bore up under the thunder and moved on.


Foxfire filled the glen with a pale sheen. The scent of magic was thick as honeysuckle on the air. Here and there, flashes of brighter light cut the rolling mist that staggered in and out of the stunted trees and broken megaliths.


In the middle of it all, two figures heartily shouted curses at one another. One was a man with a great mane of hair and a shaggy beard. He wore his plaidie in the old manner. No trews, no shirt. Just a swirl of tartan wrapped and kilted to preserve what little modesty he cared to display. The other was black as pitch and looked rather shadowy. Still, she could see long hair fine as milkweed and white eyes that glowed in a face that would have looked more at home on a lizard. They were swinging swords at one another and blocking blows on shield and targe as they danced about among the heather. Every time their blades met, thunder roared, and lightning flashed.


But the cursing was the worst of all. Words that burned Ginny's ears and brightened her cheeks, and she no longer considered herself an innocent. She had no idea such words existed.


On the other hand, some of the curses almost seemed childish.


"Black fester of Arawn!"


"Bastard barbarian!"


"Take that back! My mother and father were wed proper!"


"Before or after ye were born?"


Ginny rolled her eyes and stormed down the slope of the glen. The two gritted their teeth, charged each other once more, and the clash of steel continued.


She was almost abreast of them when they fell back and started cursing anew.


"Milkweed eater."


"Gorse kisser!"


"Rock sitter…"


"Rock sitter?" Manus said and laughed. "Oh, that's rich."


Ginny glared at him as she stepped into the middle of the fray.


"Aye, he sits on rocks!" Black Angus replied. "I've seen him!"


"Well, you sit on thistles!" the Shadow Lord of Dunroe retorted. "Considering you don't wear anything under that kilt, I can't help but wonder. It's either very fun or your family jewels are sorely lacking."


"I'll show ye lacking, ye leather-skinned son of a skink!" With that, Black Angus started to throw himself at the Shadow Lord of Dunroe.


"Enough!" Ginny threw up her hands and shouting, "Adhar clach!"


The air between them turned to stone, and she had the satisfaction of seeing them both bounce back like a pair of toads. Spirits or not, in this night of magic, she could stop them as though they were mortal men. Snarling, they turned towards her waving arms and weapons--for all the good it would do them, considering they had no more power than Manus at the moment.


"What right have ye to interfere, woman?" Black Angus said.


"Aye, this is our fight and not yours," the Shadow Lord retorted. "Did we ask you to come marching over here and disturb us?"


"No, but it's my sleep the two of you are disturbing," Ginny said. "It's a wonder the locals have not asked me to exorcise the both of you."


Silence fell. The Shadow Lord traded uneasy looks with Black Angus. Ginny thought they looked like two lads caught stealing sweets, though one of them more strongly resembled a humanoid lizard. She glanced once more at Manus and he hid his smile.


"Well, don't look at me," he said defensively. "I'm not the one out here rattling sword and targe for all eternity."


"We wouldn't be here at all had we been allowed to properly finish out our cursing," Black Angus said.


"Beg pardon?" Ginny said. "Did you say finish your cursing, or your curse."


"He said it right," the Shadow Lord retorted. "It is our curse to finish our cursing."


Ginny realized her mouth was hanging open. She closed it and crossed her arms. "And what cursing would this be?" she asked.


"The Book of Cursing, of course," the Shadow Lord replied.


"What exactly is the Book of Cursing?" Ginny asked.


"It's no short story, I can assure you," the Shadow Lord said. "But if you really want to know."


"Oh, here we go again," Black Angus snarled. He flumped down on the heather, buried his sword in the ground, lay down and pulled his targe over his head. "Excuse me while I take a nap."


"The dead don't nap," Ginny said.


"I've been telling him that for five hundred years," the Shadow Lord said. He stabbed his own weapon into the ground and barreled his chest with a deep breath. "It began in the age of the Shadow Lords, my age to be precise, when I ruled these lands from the Craddie Glen to the Ferlie Wood..."


"You did not," Black Angus snarled from the hollow of his targe.


The Shadow Lord rolled his eyes. "Those were the days," he continued. "I was master of all I surveyed under the Darkening of my mother's wings, and peace and harmony reigned."


"Disorder and chaos, more like it," Black Angus said.


"I beg to differ," the Shadow Lord retorted. "Men lived in harmony with one another, and there was no crime and…"


"That's because everyone was a slave to your whim, and anyone caught not doing what you said was butchered and fed to demons," Black Angus snarled. "Will you get on with the story? This heather is making me arse itch."


"You are so crude," the Shadow Lord said. "Try washing your arse now and again…"


"Excuse me, what does any of this have to do with the Book of Cursing?" Ginny suddenly asked, reminding them both of her presence and her desire to end this matter.


"Well, if you really want the short version," the Shadow Lord said wearily.


"I do," Ginny said before Manus could speak up and refute her.


"Towards the end of my magnificent reign, I was beset by a horde of rabble rousers, led by this gentleman here." The Shadow Lord gestured towards Black Angus as he spoke. "They wanted my head, of course, but apparently the rule was they could not kill my soul, just my body, or something like that. I, of course, had always envisioned myself having a most honorable death by sword, but instead, I was being pinpricked by this odious man."


"No one told me he was wearing demon skin armor," Black Angus said.


"We all wear demon skin armor because it is impervious to mortal steel," the Shadow Lord said. "If you had been a man of education like your advisor, you might have understood this." And from his tone, Ginny almost would have expected him to stick out his tongue.


"I had better things to do," Black Angus said, pushing his ectoplasm head through his own targe to glower at the Shadow Lord. "Like getting rid of you once and for all."


"Wait a minute," Manus said. "I think I remember this story."


"You do?" Ginny said, casting him a warning glance.


"Aye," Manus said. "The story goes that Black Angus here was not exactly a popular fellow. He had a mouth like a chamber pot, and no one was safe from his spewing. Apart from which, he was a liar and a thief…"


"Hey!" Black Angus said and leapt to his feet. "Steal one herd of Old One sheep and yer marked for life."


"And the Old One who was supposed to help Black Angus win this fight got fed up with Black Angus being quite a pain in the arse and decided to get rid of two birds with one stone," Manus said.


"Actually, he didn't just steal the sheep," the Shadow Lord said, "But we won't shatter your tender imaginations with the truth of how he actually violated them as well."


"Hey! Watch yer mouth, toad eater!"


"I don't eat toads," the Shadow Lord snarled. "They taste horrid."


"Should have called you Shadow Sissy," Black Angus said with a sneer.


"Over my dead body!"


"Ye don't have a body!"


"And neither do you!" The Shadow Lord jerked his sword out of the ground. Black Angus grabbed his as well, and the two of them shouted and threw themselves at one another.


"This is getting nowhere," Ginny said. She reached into her pocket to pull out the small sack of salt she was carrying, and as the pair of them continued to wale away on one another, she started walking a circle around them, stopping at cardinal points to toss salt into the wind. A waste of good salt, she was wont to believe, but if it worked, it was worth it.


She completed the circle and stopped at the southernmost point. Stamping the heel of her staff into the sod, she shouted, "Loisg ceangal," and watched as a ring of white fire suddenly rose.


"Hey!" Black Angus snarled, stopping. The Shadow Lord covered his eyes and cowered from the white fire."


"Can we get back to the matter of the book?" Ginny asked. "Or must I close this circle in on the pair of you and sunder your essences forever just so I can get a good night's sleep."


"Better listen to her, lads," Manus said with a grin. "She's a woman of her word."


"All right, all right," the Shadow Lord said, ducking from the brilliance. "The Book of Cursing was written by one of the Old Ones, and it contains every curse known to all mortals and immortals alike. The curse the old one placed upon us was that we were to meet here every harvest season under the full moon for seven nights in a row, and we must recite all the curses in the book until we have used every one of them."


"What manner of curses?" Ginny asked.


"You know—curses, things your mother would likely wash your mouth out with soap for saying," the Shadow Lord said. "Each night of the moon waxing and waning, we recite the curses that are in the book."


"You've had five hundred years, and you haven't even finished the book yet?" Ginny said.


"It's a very thick book," Black Angus said, gesturing with his hands and nearly clipping the Shadow Lord with his sword.


"You must be the slowest readers in all history, then," Ginny said, placing one hand on her hip and shaking her head.


Black Angus' face turned red and he looked at the ground. The Shadow Lord began laughing so hard he had to hold his sides.


"What's so funny?" Ginny asked.


"He can't read," the Shadow Lord said. "It takes us a long time because I have to spend a portion of eternity just reading him a certain number of curses and helping him memorize them before we can even begin."


"Hey, we were on the last page," Black Angus said defensively. "By all rights we would have finished this very night, but he went and lost the bloody book!"


"I did not lose it!" the Shadow Lord protested. "It was stolen!"


"By whom?" Ginny asked.


"Don't rightly know," the Shadow Lord said, crossing his arms and shrugging. "I would assume he was a blood mage, except most of the blood mages I know are perfectly aware the Book of Curses is actually rather useless unless you just want to offend someone. This one seemed a bit inept. He walked into my tomb, but he forgot which wall was an illusion. I will admit it was rather amusing watching the little fellow smack his oversized nose into a couple of stone walls before he found the right one."


Ginny looked at Manus, and he at her.


"Bothy," they said simultaneously.


"You know this fellow?" Black Angus said hopefully.


"Aye, unfortunately," Ginny said. "Bothy of Craddie Wood. The last time I saw him, he was sputtering about me accidentally tipping that demon mirror out of the boat while we were crossing Loch Craddie. Remember?"


"Aye, what a shame that was too," Manus said gleefully grinning. "A perfectly good mirror with a perfectly good demon locked inside, probably broken on the bottom of the loch now and perfectly useless to anyone."


"Then you would be able to find him and get the Book of Curses back?" the Shadow Lord said hopefully.


"It's possible," Ginny said, "assuming the little ferret hasn't gone and sold it."


"Oh, Bothy would never sell something he thought was magical," Manus assured her.


She nodded.


"So, you'll fetch it back then?" Angus asked.


"And set us free?" the Shadow Lord added.


"Free in what way?" Ginny asked suspiciously. One never underestimated the dead and their tricks.


"To go to our eternal rewards, of course," Black Angus said. "I to the Summer Land and he to the Cauldron of Arawn…"


"Actually, there is no place in the Cauldron of Arawn for me," the Shadow Lord said. "After all, he is my brother."


Ginny made a face. "Arawn is your brother? I've met him, and I must admit you don't look a thing like him."


"He takes after his father, actually," the Shadow Lord said, and something akin to a smile spread, revealing his sharp teeth. "I look more like our mother."


"She must have been one ugly…" Angus began.


"Watch your mouth!" the Shadow Lord snarled.


"All right," Ginny said. "I'll go fetch the book from Bothy, if only to put an end to this inane arguing. But there's a price."


"There is?" Manus said, looking uncertain.


"As soon as I bring you the book, you will read every curse on the last page and put an end to this eternal bickering so I can sleep," Ginny said.


"Oh, why putting an end to this curse of cursing is all I ever wanted to do," the Shadow Lord said. "I will be forever in your debt—well at least until the next Darkening, you understand."


"Right," Ginny said. "Manus, I need to go back to the cottage and fetch a few things, then we can go to Craddie Wood and see if Bothy is home."


"Your way or my way?" Manus asked.


"Well, under the circumstances, I suspect unless I want to take all night to get there, we'll have to do it your way," Ginny said. "But no tricks."


"Cross my heart," Manus said.


With that, he stepped up behind Ginny. She closed her eyes and relaxed as Manus stepped inside her, fusing his essence with hers so he could use her mage blood to cast spells and open them a spell gate to the cottage.


But not before she heard Black Angus ask, "So what are you planning to do for an eternity—or at least until the next Darkening?"


"Catch up on my reading, of course," the Shadow Lord said.


~ * ~


First stop was the cottage where Ginny traded the remains of the sack of salt for her short dagger, a chunk of bread, a small round of white cheese and two eggs.


"Why the eggs?" Manus asked.


"Trade," Ginny said.


Manus looked unsure. "Are we leaving Thistle behind this time?"


"Of course not," Ginny said. She had released the Moor Terrier only when they returned, and now she looped a bit of rope through his collar to keep him in check.


"But Bothy hates Thistle," Manus said.


"Yes, I know," Ginny said. "Another reason to take him."


"All right, I suppose," Manus said.


Ginny indicated she was ready, and Manus stepped into her again. It was rather like being in a fire sometimes, for two essences in one mageborn body could be volatile. She listened as her own mouth moved and said, "Geata foisgal…" and a hole opened in the world before her. Like a passenger on a runaway horse, she could do no more than watch as Manus made her step through the gate spell's hole, dragging Thistle along.


Then she felt herself stop, and Manus slipping free of her flesh was like warm water washing away, leaving her chilled for a moment. She clutched her shawl a bit tighter, teetering slightly from finding herself in control again.


They stood before a forest that was stunted and gnarly. Craddie Wood was even less inviting than Tamhasg Wood, but only because she could smell decay in among the trees.


"Wheesht, what has Bothy been burying in the woods?" she whispered and put a hand to her nose.


"Ah, there are advantages to being dead, and not smelling the work of the living is one of them," Manus said. "But knowing Bothy, it's not pleasant. His experiments in magic have been known to go awry."


Ginny nodded. There was a path, and she kept a tight grasp on Thistle's leash as she drew just a few inches of her short dagger. It wasn't that she thought she would have to defend herself from Bothy with a blade as much as knowing that occasionally there were bogie things in Craddie Wood that made it unpleasant enough in the daytime. Night—she didn't really want to consider what might roam those woods.


Following the path was a matter of looking at one's feet and not at the woods themselves. She had learned before that a visitor or an intruder could easily get lost by straying off the path, and that Bothy—who got lost in his own keep—kept a trail of stones to help guide him. Mortal eyes might not notice them, but mage eyes did, for the stones had been faintly kissed with tiny glyphs. Manus kept an eye on the rest of the world for her, since as a spirit he didn't have to follow any path but his own.


At length, the path widened into a somewhat ordinary yard where someone had tried to coax flowers into blooming and cobbles were little more than rubble underfoot. There was a vegetable patch as well, though from the looks of it, the plants could have used watering.


The keep itself might have been taller once. One side bore the distinctive marks of a lightning strike that had removed the top two floors and part of the next level down. A piece of the old tower once said to stand above Craddie Wood now lay off in a heap, and several trees looked as though they had tried to take root among the remains. Bothy once claimed it was that way when he came but considering his ineptitude and the fresh look of the scorch marks on some of the stones, Ginny was more than willing to bet the accident was a little more recent.


What remained of the keep proper was shored up with makeshift buttresses of wood, some of which showed signs of strain in the twisting and popping of the grain.


It's going to all come down around Bothy's ears one day, she thought with a sigh.


"Oh, well," she said aloud. "Better get this over with."


She stepped up closer to the front of the keep. A light was flickering in the upper window, indicating that Bothy was still up. As a blood mage, he claimed night was his element, but Ginny knew it was actually because he suffered from insomnia.


"Hail the Master of Craddie Wood," she called.


"Why are you being nice?" Manus whispered.


Ginny didn't answer. There was a disturbance within. The candle guttered out, plunging the world into darkness. Shaking her head, Ginny tapped her staff on the ground and drew essence from the air and hissed, "Solus!_ A ball of warm light surrounded the head of her staff. Several shadows leapt away, including one at the window that ducked back out of sight.


"Come on, Bothy, I know you’re in there," Ginny said.


There was a moment of silence in which she heard the clearing of a throat. Then a reedy rasping voice replied, "Who dares disturb the Master of Craddie Wood."


"I haven't got all night, Bothy," Ginny said. "You know right well it's me."


The shadow returned, leaning out to reveal a face with too much nose and a wispy bit of faded gold hair fluttering around a haggard face.


"Ah, Ginny," Bothy said. "Oh, I knew it was you all along. Heh."


"Right," she said. "Either open the door and let me in or come out here. The choice is yours."


He narrowed his rheumy eyes. "And why should I do either?"


Ginny reached into her pouch and drew out one of the eggs. Bothy's eyes widened with hunger, and even from where she stood, Ginny's light picked up the glint of drool that spilled from the corner of his mouth.


Just as I thought. He hasn't eaten in days. She had seen no sign of the one hen he kept, and wondered it if he had eaten it by now.


"It's not locked," he said cautiously. "But…you best leave that mongrel outside. I don't want him marking my furniture and walls."


"He comes in or the egg and bread and cheese stay with me as I walk back down that path," she said.


"You brought bread and cheese?" he said.


There was a scramble as he pulled back from the window and descended the wooden stairs he had built himself inside.


I just hope the book is not upstairs, she thought.


The door practically fell open when she reached for it, and Bothy was there, leaning towards her, sniffing. "Is the bread fresh?" he asked hopefully.


"Traded Mistress Baker a dozen eggs for two fresh loaves just this morning," Ginny said.


Bothy smiled and backed up to let her in. She stepped through, letting Thistle go first, knowing the moor terrier would warn her if danger were present. Thistle merely tugged hard, scrabbling claws across the reed-plastered floor. Bothy seated himself at a table eagerly.


"So, welcome, pull up a chair. Share," Bothy said. "And while I eat, you can tell me why you came here at such an unlikely hour."


Ginny walked over to the table and tied Thistle to one of the legs, much to Bothy's chagrin. She then opened her satchel and drew out the chunk of bread and the round of cheese and laid them in his view just out of reach.


"I'm here for the book," she said.


Bothy started to stretch across the table, but he froze. "Uh, what book?" he asked.


"The Book of Cursing that you stole from the Shadow Lord of Dunroe," she said.


Bothy stared hard at the cheese. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. He put out a hand to grab the cheese. Ginny slammed her staff on the table and leaned over so he could not touch the food without going through her, and considering what happened the last time he tried to grab her, he backed off.


"You stole the Book of Cursing," she said. "The Shadow Lord saw you. He wants it back."


"And since when did you ever care what a Shadow Lord wanted?" Bothy asked with a sneer. "After all, they’re evil and wicked, and there hasn't been one alive since the Great Cataclysm. And anyway, I never heard of a Book of Cursing. He must have lied to you."


Ginny leaned closer. "Bothy, we both know you have the book," she said. "Now if you'll just give it to me, I'll return it so the Shadow Lord and Black Angus can have their last battle and I can get some sleep."


"So that's what it comes down to then," Bothy said. "You want to sleep? Hah! Keep your fresh bread and succulent cheese and lovely egg." His voice quivered just a hint. "I will find my own meal, and I will keep the Book of Cursing, so there."


"So, you do have it," she said.


Bothy crossed his arms. "So what if I do. The Shadow Lord Dunroe is dead. What good is it to him?"


"Well, in a manner of speaking, he's not actually dead," Manus interrupted. "I mean, his body might be gone, but he's not dead. Come the next Darkening, his flesh will be restored, if you believe all that stuff…"


"Manus!" Ginny said.


Bothy had been staring at Manus with a frown. Now he shook his head and pulled himself out of the chair. "I'm sorry, but you're both starting to get on my nerves," Bothy said. "If you will kindly leave, I have work to do."


"I'm not leaving until I get that book, Bothy," Ginny said. "Now hand it over."


"Or what?"


"She'll report you to the Council of Mageborn," Manus said.


"Oh, like they would waste time to come out here looking for me," Bothy said.


"So, they already know about you, aye?" Manus asked.


Bothy thinned his lips until he looked as though he had none to speak of. "The answer is no," he said. "Go ahead and tell the Council. I'll just tell them you have known of me for years and done nothing about it."


He turned and started for the stairs.


"Bothy," Ginny said, loosening Thistle's rope. "Don't force me to do this."


"What? Set that mangy little mutt on me?" Bothy said. "I won't change my mind. You can tell the Council about me. You can tell the Shadow Lord I said no. I don't care. Now leave before I decide to use one of those nice new curses on you."


"Have you actually read the book?" she asked.


"Well, no," he said. "I just got my hands on it this morning. Haven't had time to crack it yet, but since you are insisting on annoying me, I think I will go have myself a little peek between the covers and see what horrible spells I can cast on you."


With that, Bothy turned and sprinted for the stairs. Manus turned to mist and flew up to head him off, for all the good it did. Bothy—knowing as Ginny did that Manus had no mass or power—pushed right through him.


"Horns!" Manus said. "I wish people wouldn't do that! Gives me a chill."


Ginny shook her head. Grabbing her staff and setting Thistle loose, she charged up the stairs herself. Bothy was slamming the door as she reached the landing. She heard him throw the bolt inside.


"Ha! Now you shall suffer the wrath of Bothy of Craddie Wood!" he shouted through the door.


"I think the rath is already suffering because of Bothy," Manus muttered.


Ginny ignored him and slammed her staff against the door, hissing, "Fosgail an dorus!_ The door practically threw itself inward and she hurried through.


Bothy's workroom was even more of a mess than the chamber below. Here, the paraphernalia of his craft lay scattered about. Ginny barely kept from tripping over stacks of books and old broken bones.


Across the room, Bothy stood at a podium that had seen better days. It was a bit lopsided, forcing him to hold one side of the book as he flipped it open.


"Let's see here," he said, raising a hand. "Mother of Lies...Bastard Bairn...Son of a…oh, my."


Bothy's face turned bright red. He glanced up at Ginny, his jaw dropping. And just as he did, she took out the other egg.


"What is this?" he asked.


"Exactly what it says," Ginny replied. "A Book of Cursing."


"Even my father the sailor would never have said such things," Bothy said.


He slammed the book shut and looked at the egg in her hand. His tongue darted out and licked his lips.


"Uh, is it too late to take your offer?" he asked.


"No, Bothy," Ginny said. "Just give me the book and I will be on my way."


He nodded, bringing it across the room and trading it for the egg. Ginny turned on her heels, calling Thistle to her and left the room.


Because there was something in there that smelled even worse than Craddie Wood.


~ * ~


Ginny stood on the edge of the glen, watching as the daylight rimed the horizon, trying not to yawn. Curse were flying, some of which made no sense to her, but then neither did the cosmic joke that some Old One had clearly played on Black Angus and the Shadow Lord of Dunroe.


But finally, the last of the earthiest words were spewed by the combatants. Black Angus stopped and grinned as his form became ethereal and faded away. The Shadow Lord closed the book—having been forced to fight with it in one hand—and smiled his razor-sharp grin.


"My lady," he said. "Our curse is done and we have you to thank. Should you ever need anything…?"


"Just the assurance you gents really have done your last battle," Ginny said and stifled another yawn.


The Shadow Lord bowed to her and vanished into the ground just before the sun managed to peep over the braes.


Ginny crawled to her feet, disturbing Thistle who had been sleeping. She started down the rise.


"Shall I help you get home and into bed?" Manus asked.


"It's time for you to get back to your cairn," she replied. "And it's not so far. I can walk from here."


"Then good morrow to ye, Ginny, for I canna say good night," Manus said.


He bowed, and his spirit essence whisked away towards the lea where his cairn awaited him.


Ginny shook her head and started home, eager to get into her own bed and finally get some sleep.

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LJ Underwood2.jpg

Laura J. Underwood just keeps writing stories because her mind will not shut up until she does. As a result, close to 300 stories, novella, novels, articles and book reviews bear her name. She has just sold her latest novel, SHADOW OF THE FAOLAN to Yard Dog Press. And is still working on editing her Harper Mage novel. When not writing, she is usually sewing, drawing, exercising and trying to clean out her 113 year old house in East Tennessee where she was born and raised.


You can find her discussing matters of writing and food on her Facebook page (facebook.come/keltora).

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