Merry Gentry series
To my husband, Jonathon, partner, friend, lover, who stands by my side and behind the throne. Thank you for holding my coat. To Genevieve, who is both our beautiful maiden and able to grab her own sword and charge into battle. To Shawn, who stood at the battlements when the night was dark and the dragon was fierce. Dragon stew, at last! To Spike, who has entered the fray and proved himself stalwart and true. To Jess, who joined the team this book. To Will, who helped with research on the last book—so nice when friends have expertise that I need. To Pilar, my sister, so glad we’re both happy, at last. Welcome to the family, Fran! To Missy, who keeps reminding me of things I’ve forgotten. To Sherry, Teresa, and Mary, who never give up trying to organize a houseful of artists. And to our dogs, Keiko, Mordor, and Sasquatch, who stayed at my side through all the long nights and early mornings, faithful to me, and their treat drawer.
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad memory brings the light
Of other days around me.
I WOKE IN the desert, far from home, and knew it was a dream, and that it was also real. I was dreaming, but where I stood was real and whatever happened here tonight, that would be real, too. Stars covered the sky as if electricity had never been invented, so that starlight was enough for me to see my way down the dirt road, with its bomb craters making it almost impossible for anything to drive down it. IEDs had blown the road to hell, partly to kill the soldiers in the armored vehicles that had triggered the bombs, but also to make the road impassable by anyone who came after them. I stood shivering in the cold desert wind, wishing I were wearing something besides the thin silk nightgown that strained over my very pregnant belly. I was only days away from giving birth to twins, and my body was mostly baby now. I moved slowly down the road and found the dirt cool underneath my bare feet. There was a small hut close to the road, and whatever had called me from my bed in Los Angeles was there. How did I know that? Goddess told me, not in words, but in that quiet voice that’s almost always in our heads. Goddess and God talk to us all the time, but we are usually being too loud to hear them; in these dreams that “quiet voice” was easier to hear.
I knew my body was still asleep thousands of miles from here, and I’d never been hurt in any of the dream journeys, but I felt the rocks slide under my feet, and as pregnant as I was, my balance wasn’t good. I had a moment to wonder what would happen if I fell, but I kept walking toward the hut, because I’d learned that until I’d helped the person calling me, the dream would remain, and I would remain in it.
It was my dream, but it would be someone else’s nightmare reality. I was never called unless it was a matter of life and death. Someone who had saved my life, risking their own, and been healed by my hands was nearby and in need; that was always the way it was, who it was. They prayed and I appeared, but only if I was asleep, only in my dreams, so far. I had no idea if some night I would vanish in my real life to be called to someone’s side while I was still awake. I hoped not. The dreams were disturbing enough; if it spread to my waking life, I wasn’t sure what I’d do.
Soldiers prayed, and collected nails that had been used as shrapnel against me, and rubbed them with blood, and fit them onto leather thongs that they had made, and wore them as others wore a cross. The nails had come from my body, as had the blood, but magic had healed me. The Goddess had given me the ability to heal that night, and the soldiers who had taken the nails and worn them had started healing by touch, as well, in the far-off war. Sometimes their need was great enough to bring me to help them find a way out of an ambush, or shelter from a mountain blizzard.
I am Princess Meredith NicEssus, Princess of Flesh and Blood; I am faerie and only part human, but I am not a goddess, and I didn’t like these midnight rambles. I liked helping people, but as I’d gotten more and more pregnant I had worried about the babies, and the men I loved had worried about it, but all they could do was watch over my body until I woke.
Still, the Goddess had work for me, and that was that, so I walked carefully over the smooth dirt and the rough stones, and felt the call, my call, as if I were truly some kind of deity able to answer prayers. Really I thought I might be more like a human saint; there were tales of saints being able to translocate through time and space. I’d done some reading on them, especially the Celtic ones, and there were some really odd stories. Quite a few saints had been Celtic deities that the human Church had adopted. The early Church had preferred to make friends of the local deities, rather than make war; it was so much easier to convert people when they could keep their local saint’s day celebrations.
Some saints had appeared in people’s dreams, or to lead people to safety, or even to fight in battles, when other witnesses knew they were asleep or wounded. None of the old stories talked about a pregnant faerie princess, but then the Church usually sanitized all the old tales.
The wind spilled my hair around my face in a mass of blinding red curls, though the color must have been more brown than scarlet in the starlit night. I could see nothing but the spill of my own hair for a moment, but when the wind cleared there was a figure in the doorway of the hut.
I didn’t recognize her at first, and then the very darkness of her skin let me know that underneath the desert camouflage it was Hayes. She was the only female African American among my soldiers.
I went to her smiling, and she smiled back, as she began to slide down the edge of the doorsill. I wanted to be next to her, and I just was, without having to walk the distance. Dream rules worked sometimes in these journeys; sometimes they didn’t.
I knelt beside her, having to grip the doorway to get to my knees. I was heavy enough with child that it was debatable whether I could stand again, but I had to touch Hayes, see what was wrong.