Authors: Courtney Cole
Tags: #Fiction, #Fairy Tales; Folk Tales; Legends & Mythology
Book Two of The Moonstone Saga
By Courtney Cole
Copyright © 2011 Lakehouse Press
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this novel are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of author or publisher.
No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher.
“The moon’s an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun.”
The Life of Timon of Athens
The circle of hooded women regarded me silently as they waited for a reaction. Their breaths panted into the frigid night in quick puffs and each head turned toward me, illuminating a row of solemn profiles draped in fluttering capes.
The moon hung heavily in the sky above us, a beautiful and fitting symbol of the woman that I loved. The pale yellowed light glinted onto the polished stone that I laid upon, casting shadows that stretched far into the circular clearing.
I flexed my fingers, itching to throw off my restraints. I had learned to harness my demi-god strength so I knew I could easily break the chains that held my wrists. But just as I knew that, I knew that if I did such a thing I would seal Empusa’s fate. That mere thought refueled my determination to silently face my own.
Empusa. Her beautiful, ethereal face suddenly filled my mind. Her bright smile, her magnificent gray eyes, her pale skin. I would give anything to see her just one more time.
How did we get here? What had brought us to this?
No sooner did the question cross my mind and I knew the answer. Love itself had brought us to this. The love that was destructive and dangerous even while it was amazing and exhilarating. She was the moon and I was the sun. How could something like that ever end well? I would give my life to keep from burning her. But would my life be enough? I closed my eyes and braced myself to find out.
Reality exploded around me in various earth-toned hues as we burst into a wet, green meadow filled with fluttering grass.
The smell of honeysuckle filled my nose and I looked around before I realized that the smell wasn’t coming from around me. It was coming
me. Since I had drunk from Harmonia’s blood and it still pulsed through my veins, her scent was lingering on me. I shook my head, trying to regain my grasp on reality. Traveling through time was disorienting at times.
“Where are we?” my boyfriend asked curiously as we stood on the swell of a slippery, rolling hill. He held my hand with strong fingers and I appraised our surroundings.
Wet earthy smells filled my nose…moss, wood, rain. My thoughts were returning to me by the second and I was able to think more clearly, remembering where we had just come from and where we were now.
Rays from the sun shone weakly through the low-hanging clouds above us, but the filtered light was enough to make Brennan seem radiant. The golden light outlined his blonde hair and tanned, muscled frame. He looked enough like Apollo to be his father’s twin brother. Both of them were beautiful. I took a slow breath and exhaled.
“We’re far from home,” I stated the obvious calmly as if that fact wasn’t apparent already.
As I spoke, a group of women emerged from a clump of trees across the clearing. Moving in a quick blur, I yanked Brennan down until we were concealed from view as we knelt behind the waving wildflowers. Flopping onto our bellies, we observed the strangers in the hollow below us. They wore muted ankle-length tunics and their long hair was pulled back into neat braids which were held away from their faces by woven leather bands.
“Well, that much is apparent,” Brennan muttered as he took in their ancient dress. “Could you possibly be a little more specific?”
I smiled. One of the things I loved about Brennan Delacorte was his sense of humor. And I cherished it even more now.
Five minutes ago, he had broken up with me. But in the space of those minutes, in between running from my father who was trying to kill us both and landing here in an ancient Celtic land, Brennan had decided that as my soul mate, he couldn’t live without me regardless of the risks that our relationship posed for the world. And that left me almost giddy with relief.
“We’re in ancient Britain,” I answered by way of explanation, as though time traveling was common. And when you were the daughter of the goddess of witchcraft like I was, then it wasn’t really out of the ordinary. But when you were new to the whole world of gods and immortals like Brennan was, I had to admit that it must be a bit of a shock. As a new demi-god though, he was definitely handling it well.
He arched a golden eyebrow. “And I thought you were going to say someplace interesting. Or remote.”
I smiled again. We had been able to catch our breaths now since fleeing Death Valley a few minutes ago after Brennan had pulled me out of a burning crevice of lava and carried me away from the danger. We had left my parents dueling there in hand-to-hand combat. My mother was fighting to save my life and my father was fighting to take it. It was enough to make a girl crazy.
But I had a lot to fight for now. Brennan, for starters. And my freedom from the wretched curse that my father had inflicted upon me, the curse that caused me to suck away mortal souls in order to remain immortal and to drink mortal blood to stay young. I absently twisted the moonstone bracelet that circled my wrist.
My mother had given it to me long ago in an effort to protect me from my father. She had enchanted it to alert me whenever he was near. But in the process, my soul had become tied to it. If something happened to the moonstone, I would die. As in, dead-as-a-doornail forever—even Zeus’ sword wouldn’t be able to save me. And that was a daunting thought.
“Why are we here?” Brennan asked curiously, still watching the strange women in front of us. It appeared that they were spreading wet clothing out to dry on large rocks, an archaic but effective laundry system.
“It’s hard to say,” I answered, fingering the small bag of runes in my pocket. My mother had given them to Brennan in Death Valley, telling him that they would instruct us where to go. But she didn’t tell him why. And that was a very good question.
“Well, what do we do now that we’re here?” Brennan asked, finally turning to face me. “Do we wait for your mom? Do we need to hide from these people?”
I honestly didn’t know. The runes had told me where to go. They certainly hadn’t explained why or what we should do once we arrived. I stared helplessly at Brennan, but his question was answered by someone other than me.
The woman in front, a tall statuesque woman, turned to us as though she could see us. Her flame red hair hung to the small of her back and her eyes, as gray as mine, swung around the meadow as though searching for something. I gasped. There was no way she could have heard us, yet her eyes zeroed in on our location with laser precision.
“What the hell?” Brennan muttered. “She can’t see us, can she?”
But she could. I could sense it. The woman was mortal, but she something was very
about her. She had supernatural senses somehow.
At my thought, she smiled slightly as though she could hear my thoughts. But that was impossible. I knew that much, at least. No mortal could read the thoughts of the gods. It had never happened. With that, she threw her head back and laughed, causing the other women to look at her curiously before going about their business of doing laundry.
What the hell?
I raised my head slightly and her gaze caught mine. She took one step and then another, then she was walking confidently towards us from across the meadow. The hem of her saffron shift was wet from the dew on the grass and her feet were bare.
There was no point in hiding, so I unfolded myself from the grass as gracefully as I could. Brennan and I stood still as we waited for the woman to reach us. The other females had stopped spreading their laundry on the rocks, but they remained across the meadow. They didn’t look bothered by our appearance.
I could hear Brennan’s unspoken question since I could read his mind.
Who is she?
“I don’t know,” I answered out loud. Taking a step forward, I asked the woman that very thing.
“Who are you?” I asked. She was no more than six feet away from us. “Do you know us?”
She didn’t answer my question. Instead, she drew to a stop in front of us and knelt at my feet. “Princess, I’ve been expecting you.”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. As the daughter of the goddess of witchcraft, who also happened to be the goddess of the moon, I was deemed the princess of the moon. It was, at times, an honor I didn’t appreciate. I could feel Brennan’s eyes on me now. He wasn’t accustomed to this side of my life. He had only seen me act fairly mortal. Being goddess royalty was a new facet of my personality for him.
Gritting my teeth, I reached my hand down. “Please, get up. How do you know me?”
She looked up at me doubtfully as she remained in her submissive position. I felt certain that this strong woman was not submissive often.
“Truly?” She raised one red eyebrow. “How could I not know you? Our father has spoken of you often.”
“Our father…” The words died in my throat as realization set in. Her eyes were identical to mine, a unique gray. I stepped away from her.
“Don’t be alarmed,” she reassured me quickly. “I mean you no harm.”
“How can you say that?” I hissed, stepping further away. Brennan poised himself as if to provide protection for me. I put my hand on his arm. “This can’t be right, Bren. My mother surely didn’t intend for us to come here.”
The woman got to her feet and stared me in the eye. Like my own, the sunlight made her gray eyes seem incandescent. “I recognize the danger Mormo poses to you,” she told me quietly as she remained motionlessly in place. I could see that she wanted to seem nonthreatening. “Like you, he poses a danger to me as well. Unlike you, his threats to me could be quite permanent.”
“You’re mortal,” I said bluntly. She nodded.
“Yes. I am. But we share the same immortal father. It is true.”
“Why did my mother send me here?” I asked her brusquely.
“Because she thinks I can help,” the woman answered simply.
“Help me?” I asked.
“Of course. Who else?” She stared into my eyes again and I felt as though she was looking directly into my soul. It was disconcerting.
“Your name.” I didn’t ask, I stated. I was simply too tired for pleasantries at this point.
“Branwyn. You and the son of Apollo should rest. Allow me to show you to a safe place, princess.”
“My name is Brennan,” Brennan interjected. “It’s not ‘son of Apollo.”
“Whether it is your name or not your name, it is still who you are,” Branwyn replied. “I cannot help that and neither can you. There are worse things.”
I had to admit that I liked her matter-of-fact manner. Her attitude was simple and definitely not flowery. I had the distinct impression that I would always know where I stood with this woman. My sister. The thought almost floored me. I had no idea that I even had one.
“Come,” Branwyn urged. “We have much to discuss, but I believe you should rest first and we can speak when your minds and bodies have rested.”
Brennan looked at me, his amber gaze concerned. “You really should rest,” he said quietly. “You’ve been through a lot today. You’re strong, but even the strong have the need to rest.”
I nodded curtly, just once. I hated to admit it, but he was right. My legs were quite literally shaking from weariness. Hanging over a ledge, dangling over bubbling lava would do that to a person.
“Good,” Branwyn smiled. “You must believe me, princess. I wish you no ill. I only want to help. Your mother is very strong and very respected here. We would do anything to keep her daughter safe.”
She smiled again and I studied her for a moment. She was sincere, I could tell that much. I glanced around again. The druids sought wisdom. I quickly flipped through my memories regarding this ancient people.