Behind the honeysuckle she saw movement, as faint as a shadow, and froze, for the shadow was not light and flitting like a faerie glow, but was dark and consuming, almost like a tempest upon the sea, like the one she imagined her father had faced that day all those years ago.
“Your whisper rides upon the wind and I am certain that you stand within my aura, as if close enough to touch, you hallowed figure.” Myrrdin’s words fluttered the petals of honeysuckle and Sophia’s curls. “Come to me, dear one.”
What tempest darkness draws me ever closer to the storm and to this looming shadow? Sophia wondered. Its presence and its lure gripped her heart and pulled upon the desires long buried there: to see her father and to find him here. Is he near to me at last?
“Over here,” a voice at once both near and distant, broke the spell of the darkness that encircled Sophia’s heart and mind and spirit. “This way,” the voice called, and Sophia felt a familiar warmth in its timbre.
“Henry?” she turned in the direction of the voice and its warmth.
Though her voice was but a whisper, Anrái called out, “Near the honeysuckle!”
A moment later, he stood before her, flanked by darting blue-green shimmering shadows, their lights like those of summer fireflies, their presence like a favorite blanket wrapped around the shoulders against a summer night’s coolness. Sophia threw herself into his arms and he felt her shiver as she heaved with sobs.
“Are you okay? Are you well?” He stroked her hair and let his words settle upon her. “I’m here. I’ve found you. I’m here.”
When at last she controlled her emotions well enough to look into his eyes, she stood and looked into his dark green eyes. “I thought it would be simple,” she told him.
“Are you well?” he asked again.
“I’m sorry,” she replied.
“Máire told us she warned you vaguely of the dangers here in the forest.”
“I felt only dread but not the danger,” she assured him.
“And, yet, it was here. He was here,” he replied. “Had we not approached in time…” Henry’s voice trailed off and Sophia noticed that the shimmering lights that surrounded them shifted quickly, as if protecting them. “They tell me he is gone. For now.”
“Who is gone? How can they know? Why can I not hear them as I heard you?”
Again the lights shifted and drew nearer to Sophia.
“All in good time, everyone,” he said. “Let us return to the village and the safety of the Guardians. Remain close, dear Sophia, within the glow of these shadows and beside me until at last we are returned to the sanctuary of Dearhbáil.”
Sophia’s fingers wove through Anrái’s and immediately she sensed a power in him she had not known in all their time together in Boston. “All in good time,” he repeated. “Come, let us go this way.”
“Do you feel that?” she whispered and closed her fingers tightly around Anrái’s.
“He has moved on, but not far,” he told her. “Come.”
Though she moved away under the protection of the Guardians, Myrrdin retreated only a few steps from where she had stood. His power flooded the forest with its darkness, but the collective power of the Guardians and the coming of the dawn weakened his allure and his hold upon her heart’s desires. Beneath the first pink hues of the sun’s arrival, Myrrdin raised his eyes to the night sky and vowed to return to Dearhbáil soon to take what he had been seeking all these years since his departure from the village and from his place among his people. The Magic was at last within his grasp and he allowed the darkness within him to rise up and mingle with the last embers of night, cloaking him beneath its powers and its safety as he returned to his lair beneath the forest.
When at last they sat before the hearth fire in what had been Anrái’s faerie home, Henry felt comfortable leaving Sophia’s side. He’d sent Máire back to Luiseach’s to watch over Uilleam and had summoned the inner circle of Guardians to join him and Sophia. A few of the shimmering shadows remained, alternately hovering beside Sophia and circling the small dwelling.
“How does it work?” Sophia asked.
Anrái steeped a pot of honeysuckle tea behind her in the kitchen. “Which part?”
“All of it, ” she replied, causing Anrái to smile at her for a long moment.
“You don’t remember coming here as a child,” he said and she shook her head. “You asked me that same question many times.”
“I don’t remember,” said Sophia.
“The answers never satisfied you,” he told her.
“But not the kind people think.”
Sophia sighed and smiled back at him. “Is it possible for me to understand your world?” she asked.
“Perhaps not,” said Anrái, “but this is no longer my world.”
“Yet you are here, tending to things.”
Anrái carried two cups of tea and sat beside Sophia on the small, worn sofa so that their bodies touched, almost melding together in the small space. She took one of the cups and breathed in its steamy aroma before sipping the hot liquid and holding it in her mouth. The sweet taste on her tongue painted pictures in her memory and she saw herself on this same sofa, feet swinging above the floor as Anrái steeped her a cup of this same tea.
“I remember this,” she told him, raising her cup.
“I thought you would.” Outside the window, the sunrise gave way to morning and the chorus of songbirds that twittered in a cacophonous harmony of sorts. Her childhood was everywhere here and Sophia sank against the back cushions, happy to be here again. “You must be tired,” said Anrái. “After your tea, you should rest.”
“While you tend to matters in the forest,” said Sophia.
“I must,” he replied. “And, then, we shall return together to our world, my love.” His fingertips moved across her face like butterfly wings as he brushed the dark curls from her face. Together, they finished their tea in silence and Anrái sat stroking her hair until Sophia drifted into the dreams of her childhood, of the forest and the dancing lights and the faerie who twirled with her in the meadow.
“My dear Anrái, we must make the most of your hours here.” Luiseach stood in the doorway of his home, watching him.
“Indeed, we must,” replied Anrái. “Is there someone who can watch over Sophia in my absence?”
“I have brought Máire to keep her company and there are four Guardians outside,” replied Luiseach.
Anrái looked upon his sister, shadowed in the sunlight behind Luiseach. “You must speak only of the outside world,” Anrái said.
“Of course,” Máire answered. “Go. She will be safe here with me. I give you my word.”
Anrái nodded and brushed his lips against Sophia’s forehead. “I will return son, my darling,” he whispered to Sophia and then turned to Luiseach. “Provide me the details as we return to your cottage. I would like some moments in Uilleam’s presence.”
“Of course, my Lord,” replied Luiseach.
Máire looked out the window at the four Guardians. Were they possibly enough to keep Myrrdin from discovering Sophia? Behind her, Sophia stirred, mumbling in her dreams and Máire found herself tempted to step inside the woman’s dreams but dared not risk such a choice just now. As Sophia slept, Máire paced the room, her thoughts alternating between what Uilleam would tell her brother and where Myrrdin was at this moment. Outside the sky greyed and turned darker still as thunder rumbled with a familiar ferocity through the village. He is near, Máire thought, and opened the door to gauge the Guardians’ preparedness to his arrival. Lightening flashed, splitting the sky open with its presence even as the sense of his presence loomed larger by the edge of the trees beside Anrái’s small cottage. Three of the Guardians closed ranks as a fourth disappeared into the darkened woods to alert the remaining Guard. Would Anrái return? Would Uilleam accompany him? Was this at last the final battle before them?
Behind her on the couch, Sophia stirred from her sleep and sat up, confusion etched upon her face. “Henry?” Sophia’s voice cracked as she spoke his name.
“Hush,” Máire told her and closed the door and returned to Sophia’s side. “It is ever important that you do not speak.”
Sophia’s face registered Máire’s words and the uncertainty she felt. Why had Henry chosen to leave her in the care of his sister? Where had he gone, she wondered. Wordlessly, Sophia rose from the couch and moved to the window.
“Please,” Máire said, “you must heed my words. You cannot be near the windows or venture out of doors.”
“I don’t understand,” said Sophia. Even as the words were on her tongue, the storm grew louder and the rain appeared as jagged pieces of glass in the flash of lightening that cut through the trees in the distance.
“Please,” Máire said again. “Please.” Sophia let Máire guide her back to the couch and once she was settled there Máire returned to the window, but despite her attempts to see through the storm, she could discern nothing. “You must wait here for Anrái. Do not move from this place, I beg you.”
Even before Sophia could nod her consent, Máire disappeared out the door and into the swirling tempest. Sophia hugged a pillow close to her chest and fixed her eyes upon the door. Was this more of the danger to which Máire had eluded to when they stood upon the portal? At that moment, the door to Anrái’s cottage flew open and Sophia could not hold back the scream that she’d been holding in her throat. As it mixed with the swell of the storm outside, Sophia became acutely aware of a foreboding force filling the space around her; it’s presence almost choked her and she gasped for breath and tears slid down her cheeks. Around her there was nothing but darkness and fear. She scrambled toward the door, following the sound of the storm, certain she could hear someone calling her name.
“I’m here,” she shouted into the wind. “I’m here!”
“At last,” a voice called from the storm. “I’ve come for you and found you at last.”
Sophia stumbled into the storm, the rain pelting her skin with a burning sensation and the thunder drowning out all other sound. “Papa!” she called. “I’m here!”
A presence of darkness loomed over her and the wind wailed and wherever she looked there was only the blackness of night. Was this what it had been like on the sea that day, she wondered. Were the village elders right? Was this a storm created by dark magic and evil? As she tried to calm her mind and slow her breathing and focus on the love in her heart for Henry and her father and her days on the Irish Isle, Sophia’s vision grew dim until at last she lost consciousness in the midst of the forest tempest held in the grip of a hand that grabbed her from the darkness.