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Authors: Meagan McKinney

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Paranormal, #Regency, #Historical Romance

The Ground She Walks Upon

BOOK: The Ground She Walks Upon
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The Ground She Walks Upon by Meagan McKinney

In the wilderness of her soul, Ravenna knew she could marry only for love. Yet the violet-eyed granddaughter of a witch was in mysterious thrall to the master of County Lir. He was Niall, Lord Trevallyan, who wore a serpent ring, twin to her own, an aristocrat who rejected her, then tried to make her his slave. She was a woman now, but unaware of their shared destiny--and the risk of drowning in the green eyes of the man she'd learned to hate.

He wanted more than her body: no less than her soul. The ravishing beauty who turned Niall Trevallyan's blood to fire was destined to be his, by a secret curse he reviled and an ancient set of rings that would unite them forever. The lord who ruled the county was pledged to win her love--but to do so, he had to set free the beauty he burned to possess....

 

"WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME THAT YOU LOOK AT ME THE WAY YOU DO?"

The whisper may have left her mouth, but it came from her aching heart.

He stared at her from his chair, so far away, more than an arm's length away, but still close. Close enough so that she could see the color of his eyes. Green stones awash in deep water.

"There's nothing wrong with you. You're beautiful. So beautiful that ..." His gaze flickered down her face and figure. She wore the old scratchy blue dress she had worn to Peter Maguire's funeral. It was not a dress to win beaux, but he seemed hardly to notice what she was clothed in. He looked too deeply to notice the superficial. ". . . so beautiful I'd like to . . ." His gaze locked with hers. The message in his eyes scared her. And the excitement she felt from it, even more so.

"Shall you be my lover, Ravenna?" He said with words what had already been spoken.

Published by Dell Publishing a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1540 Broadway New York, New York 10036

Copyright © 1994 by Ruth Goodman

ISBN: 0-440-21579-X

Reprinted by arrangement with Delacorte Press Printed in the United States of America Published simultaneously in Canada

June 1995

 

For
T. Y. R
.oberson,
my father-in-law.

Thanks for being such a fan.

And thanks for the other two Toms.

With all my love.

PART ONE: Beltaine

Love, all alike, no season knows,

nor clime,

Nor hours, days, months,

which are the rags of time.

JOHN DONNE (1572-1631)
"The Sun Rising"

Chapter 1

IRELAND 1828

T
he day
had started out like any other. Reverend Jamie Drummond, the only Church of Ireland vicar in the Catholic county of Lir, took a walk with his spaniel after breakfast. By noon, he was in his study reading the Epistles, and he had his tea in the rectory at precisely four o'clock. Afterward, he napped upon the velvet settee while the housekeeper, Mrs. Dwyer, cleaned the woodwork in the church.

Reverend Drummond slept peacefully. He might have wakened past the dinner hour if not for the scream.

"Jaysus, Mary and Joseph! Tis the divil at work in the church!" Mrs. Dwyer cried out as she ran into the rectory.

He sat up straight and fumbled for his coat, embarrassed that Mrs. Dwyer had seen him in his shirtsleeves.

"What is this all about?" he grumbled. "You're shrieking like a banshee." He slicked back his gray hair and rubbed his muttonchops as if trying to wake himself.

" 'Tis the work of the divil! I've never seen such a sight in all me days!" The plump housekeeper wrung her hands in her apron. The hem of her dress was wet with spilled washwater and her plain Irish features were pale with fright.

"Mrs. Dwyer, the devil does not reside in
my
church, I can assure you of that, " Drummond said with a patient, put- upon tone in his voice, as if he were used to dealing with pagans.

" 'Tis the work of the divil I saw, Reverend, and no one will be convincin' me otherwise. Go look yourself and you'll see what I've seen."

He straightened his clerical collar and took a sip of his cold tea, clearly seeing no need to rush. "Why don't you tell me what you saw first."

" 'Tis the cross. The cross!"

"Which cross? The cross over the altar? Or the one on the steeple?" He scowled. These Irish, they were always so excitable. It was a wonder they could get themselves up in the morning and see to their toils without working themselves into a frenzy. If something was amiss in the church, it was clearly the fault of Griffen O'Rooney. The dull Irish lout tended the graveyard and the church, and things were always going awry beneath the man's inept care.

" 'Tis the cross, Reverend." Mrs. Dwyer's voice lowered to a whisper. "The old druid piece in the case by the font. 'Tis glowin'. I swear it, and if I be lyin' may I burn in hell forever."

Reverend Drummond felt the hackles rise on his neck. Of all the things he'd expected Mrs. Dwyer to say, that surely wasn't one of them. But these Irish, they were always running on about faeries and ghosts. It took little—a flicker of shadow, an unexplained noise—to get them spooked. And Mrs. Dwyer had spooked herself now.

Yet the very fact she'd remarked on the old druid artifact left him a bit unsettled. A flicker of remembrance rallied in the corner of his thoughts.

"The old druid cross, you say? Is that what you saw that scared you?"

The housekeeper nodded, tight-lipped in fear.

Drummond stared at her, his thoughts suddenly very far away.

It simply couldn't be. He had almost forgotten the talk he'd had with his father when he had been but a lad. Now it seemed like a dream, a faded old myth that had eroded beneath the day-to-day living of sixty-three years.

"Now are you sure it was the
druid
cross that looked strange to you? It wasn't perhaps the silver chalice upended on the—"

" 'Twas the druid piece, Reverend. I know what I seen." Mrs. Dwyer crossed herself, twice for good measure.

"All right, " he said hesitantly. "I'll investigate." He waved for her to gather her courage. "Come with me and explain what you saw in detail."

"I won't be returnin' there, not with the divil still performin' his evil work!"

"Nonsense!" the reverend interrupted. "The devil is not at work in my church! Come along now."

"Oh, Reverend, please don't force me to go back there!"

She began to wail, and Reverend Drummond was supremely uncomfortable.

"Hush, woman." He took her by the arm. "We will go in there and see what this is all about. Of course it was a trick of the light. You'll soon feel quite foolish. Your superstitious Irish nature has gotten the better of you. I'll prove to you that there is nothing malevolent or otherworldly going on in my church."

He dragged the housekeeper out of the rectory. Crossing the graveyard, a stiff wind whipping at their backs, Drummond was almost relieved to enter the dark, peaceful sanctuary of the church.

From the vestibule, he found the church awash in heavenly light, an easily explained phenomenon with eight stained-glass windows shimmering between bouts of clouds and sunshine. The slate floor was aglow with flecks of sapphire, emerald, and ruby light, also created by the stained-glass windows. The altar and pews appeared in order. The only thing amiss was Mrs. Dwyer's bucket, upended near the christening font, the water forming a gray, soapy lake around the dais.

The housekeeper trembled next to him. Drummond would not admit to it, but even he needed an extra second or two to gather the courage before peering into the glass case.

He kept remembering his father's words of half a century ago:
Jamie, my good lad, remember what I've told you on this day. When I'm gone you'll be the guardian of the cross, and upon your shoulders the burden must fall. In years to come you may think you can shirk your responsibilities, but always remember,
you
are the guardian of the cross.
You
must call the council. In your heart you will know when that time has come.

"Well, I certainly don't see anything strange here." He stared at the small glass case across the room. It seemed perfectly normal, and his relief was a like a blast of fresh air. At least
he
was not a blithering fool. Anglican or not, his father had somehow been swayed by these people's superstitions, but he, Jamie Drummond, had been granted a reprieve from such follies. The moment to act, to obey his own dead father's wishes, had not yet come.

Mrs. Dwyer's voice cut into his thoughts. "If you'll be pardonin' me, Reverend, but you cannot be seein' it from here." She looked at him suspiciously as if she suspected him of being a coward.

He bristled and stepped forward. "No, there is nothing here. The cross looks much the same as it always has." He peered down into the glass case. Nestled in deep purple satin lay an ornate silver druid cross. It was very different from a Christian cross, for the arms were of equal size and set into the center of the Celtic scrollwork was a huge amethyst that glittered, but not unnaturally. It agonized him to have a pre-Christian artifact displayed in his church, but there seemed no way to avoid local tradition. The druid cross had been there at the church longer than he had.

"I tell you, the thing was glowin'! It looked all afire, even though the sun had gone behind the clouds." The housekeeper took a tentative step forward, half frightened, half frustrated that she appeared to be telling stories.

"Well, come take another look, Mrs. Dwyer. There is nothing unusual about the cross." The reverend held out his hand. The old housekeeper took it, holding on to it tightly while she peered into the case.

Puzzled, she looked up and shook her head. "I tell you true, 'twas almost blindin' me. It shot out a purple light that nearly touched the ceiling." She looked up to see if there was any evidence above of what had happened. The tracery on the vaulted stone ceiling thirty feet over their heads appeared untouched.

"The light through these windows can cause trickery, I think, " he said gently, wanting very much for this to be put behind him. Anything concerning the ancient druid cross unsettled him. It made him think of things best kept dead. "The colors in the glass shift and sparkle. It's clear now that this was all a mistake. A mixture of odd lighting and too much fiery Irish superstition."

Mrs. Dwyer sniffed. "I saw what I saw, your honor. 'Twas not a result of the Irish in me."

"Now, don't be incensed. Let's just forget this ever happened. Go about your work. I've a funeral tomorrow and the place still needs a good scrubbing."

"If you're forcin' me, I'll go get me mop and clean the place up, but I tell you, 'twas no trick of the light, and I'll not be cleanin' this chapel alone today." The housekeeper stared at him.

He sighed. When would these people behave in a logical, unemotional manner? "Fine. I'll sit right here in the first pew and scratch out some words for next Sunday's sermon. I hope you'll attend it, Mrs. Dwyer. I plan to speak on the ill effects of faerie tales."

He watched her disapprovingly. She gave the glass case one last nervous look, then scurried for the rectory.

Without her, the church seemed to grow unnaturally quiet. He normally preferred the church this way. No unruly children to distract him from his sermon, no blasting organ to shake the windows. No Mrs. Dwyer with her apparitions...

But now the silence seemed ominous.

The woman's foolishness was rubbing off on him, he told himself as he settled in the first pew and pulled out a pencil stub and a piece of paper from the pocket of his coat. He tried and tried to think of an opening to his sermon, one that would make the parishioners sit up and take notice, but his gaze kept wandering to the case.

The episode had been nothing but an Irishwoman's imagination gone awry, and he could not let himself be dissuaded from that fact. Still, as he sat in the strange silence of the church, he felt drawn to the glass case.

He stood and walked toward it. Nothing had been disturbed. There was a fine layer of dust across the glass top, unmarred by fingerprints. Mrs. Dwyer cleaned the glass once a week, and otherwise it remained untouched. There was no reason for anyone to open the case and fiddle with its contents. Indeed it was impossible. His father had long ago sealed the valuable silver cross within the airtight glass so that it would not tarnish. Even now, more than fifty years later, the silver glowed as if newly polished.

Drummond stared down at the cross. There was indeed something strange about it today, but he could not quite place what it was. It wasn't glowing, of that he was sure. He studied it a moment, then spied what was bothering him. Twice in the same day, the hair seemed to stand on the back of his neck.

The cross had been moved. The satin had faded in fifty years of sunlight except where the cross had lain and now he could see an impression of where it used to be, exactly the opposite pattern of where it lay now.

His breathing became quick and shallow. There was no way to turn the cross without breaking the glass.

He stared at the ancient pagan cross, mesmerized. It could not be. There had to be a crack somewhere in the glass. A piece had to have been removed and replaced.

He checked, but there were no cracks, no loose sheets of glass, no sign of a glazier at work. Jamie Drummond was stunned. The case had never been opened, but the cross now rested in a new position.

He closed his eyes and slowly reopened them convinced the vision would be gone, but the cross was still in the airtight case, turned as if by the hand of God. Someone could have bumped the case. Yes, he told himself, surely someone could have fallen against the sturdy piece and somehow jarred the cross from its resting place. But he didn't believe it. The cross was too precisely turned. It seemed to be evidence of something he could not let himself dare think.

That it was a sign.

His father's words echoed through his mind.

... in your heart, you'll know when the time has come... when the time has come...

"Mrs. Dwyer!
Mrs. Dwyer!"
he shouted, his commanding voice booming through the empty church.

"Oh Jaysus! And what is it now?" her meek voice asked from the doorway.

"Go and fetch young Timothy Sheehan. Tell him I've got a message I need him to deliver at once."

"What've you been seein'! Is the thing a-glowin' once more?" Mrs. Dwyer peeped, not moving from the vestibule.

" 'Tis nothing, " he growled. "Just get me that boy and have him meet me in the rectory. I have business to attend."

"Then shall I be cleanin' the church? Alone?"

"No! Get along home with you. Leave the church be for the night."

"Yes, sir." She wrung her hands in her apron once again and departed for the Sheehans'.

Reverend Drummond stared down at the cross one last time. Was it a shadow making him think the thing had been moved? Was he allowing himself to be duped just as he'd come to believe his father had been? He placed both hands on the clear top and peered straight down into the case. No, he would swear the thing had been turned. And the very impossibility of it caused an otherworldly tingle to finger down his spine.

"This cannot be. This cannot be, " he whispered as he walked to the altar for the silver chalice. He was still chanting the words when he stepped to the cross's case and swung the heavy chalice into the glass.

The noise was so loud, he would not have been surprised if the sound of glass shattering could be heard in the next county. The shards crunched beneath his feet as he stepped to retrieve the ancient druid cross his father had entrusted to him so many years ago.

You are the guardian of the cross, and upon your shoulders the burden must fall.

He stared at the sublime Celtic treasure. The cross didn't feel unnatural. It was heavy, and like silver, it warmed in the embrace of his palms as it had warmed within other hands centuries past. He knew a lot about it, except how his family had acquired it. That was cloaked in a mystery he knew could never be solved, for any who might know the answer were now long dead.

BOOK: The Ground She Walks Upon
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