Home > A Shiver of Light (Merry Gentry #9)

A Shiver of Light (Merry Gentry #9)
Author: Laurell K. Hamilton

CHAPTER ONE

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.

Her hand fell away from her neck and I caught the dull glint of the nail she’d been holding on to with its leather thong necklace. It was my symbol. I took her hand in mine and it was slick with blood. They had to touch the nail with blood to call me; that had been true every time.

“Hayes,” I said.

“Meredith, I prayed and here you are. Wow, you’re huge. Must really be twins like the news said?”

“It is. Where are you hurt?” I asked.

She patted her side with her other hand. Her armored vest was there, but it was wet, and even as I searched for the wound fresh blood welled out. I knew it was fresh because it was warmer than the stuff that had cooled in the night air.

“It’s deep,” she said, voice pained, as I tried to find the wound through her clothes and gear.

“What happened?” I asked. I wasn’t sure that talking was good for her, but having something to think about while I found the wound and figured out what to do about it was better than just thinking about the fact that she seemed to be bleeding to death. Wasn’t it? I’d been answering prayers for only a few months and I still felt out of my depth. I trusted Goddess to know what She was doing, but me, I wasn’t so sure about me.

I prayed as I found the wound. It was almost as wide as my palm, and blood was welling out of it. Something that held a lot of blood had been punctured. I’d had human anatomy in college, but for the life of me, or for the life of Hayes, I couldn’t seem to think what organ was on this side of the body. I didn’t know what had been damaged, but I knew she was going to die if I couldn’t help her.

“We were just supposed to take some supplies up to a school, but they ambushed us. The cutest little boy stabbed me, because I hesitated. I couldn’t kill a child, or thought I couldn’t, but they killed Dickerson, and Breck, and Sunshine, and then he tried to kill me, and suddenly he wasn’t a child anymore, he was just another murdering bastard.” She started to cry, and that made her groan with pain.

I prayed for guidance. I was trying to hold pressure on the wound, but without a medical kit, or the Goddess granting me the ability to heal with my hands, I couldn’t save her. And then I realized that she, Hayes, had healed other wounded with her hands, because she’d told me so when she was on leave last time; had that only been two months ago?

“Heal yourself, Hayes,” I said.

She shook her head. “I killed that little boy, Meredith. I killed him. I killed him, and I can’t forgive myself. We killed the men before everyone but me died, but the boy … he couldn’t have been more than ten. My little brother’s age. Jesus, Meredith, how could I kill a kid?”

“He tried to kill you, Hayes, and if you don’t heal yourself, he will have killed you.”

“Maybe I deserve to die.”

“No, Hayes, no you don’t.” I kept pressure on the wound to try to slow the blood loss while I helped her forgive herself, because I knew now that was why I was there.

She cried harder, and that made the wound hurt more and gush hot around my hands. She slipped lower in the doorway. She was going to bleed to death in front of me.

“Goddess, please, help me to help her.”

I smelled roses and I knew the Goddess was with me, and then I felt/saw/knew that she would be standing over us. To me she was a cloaked figure, because Goddess comes to us all in different ways, or all ways.

Hayes looked up and said, “Grandma, what you doing here?”

“You let this woman heal you, Angela May Hayes. Don’t you fight her.”

“You don’t know what I did, Grandma.”

“I heard, but Angela, if a boy is old enough to pick up a weapon and kill you, then he’s not a child anymore, he’s a soldier just like you are, and you did what you had to do.”

“He was Jeffrey’s age.”

“Your brother would never hurt anyone.”

“Jeffrey was a baby when you died, how do you know?”

I felt the smile like the sun coming through clouds after a storm. You couldn’t help but smile when the Goddess smiled. “I keep watch over my babies. I saw you graduate from college. I’m so proud of my angel, and I need you to live, Angela. I need you to go back home and help your mama and Jeffrey and all the rest, do you hear me, Angela?”

“I hear you, Grandma.”

“You have to get better; you’ll be my angel for real one of these days, but not tonight. You heal and go home to our family.”

“Yes, Grandma,” she said.

The blood slowed and then stopped pouring out. I hadn’t done anything, but Angela Hayes had, and the Goddess had, and Hayes’s grandmother had.

“I think I’m better,” Hayes said, and grabbed my hand with hers. “Thank you, Meredith, thank you for bringing my grandma to talk to me.”

“The Goddess brought your grandmother,” I said.

“But you brought the Goddess.”

I held her hand tight and said, “The Goddess is always there for you; you don’t need me to find Her.”

Hayes smiled and then frowned. “I see lights.”

I glanced down the road and saw a line of armored vehicles of all kinds coming over the hill, their lights cutting the thick starlight so that the night seemed both more black and less at the same time.

“They talk about a red-haired Madonna that appears when people need her. No one seems to know it’s you but us.” I knew she meant the other soldiers.

“It’s better that way,” I said.

She gripped my hand tight. “Then you better go before the trucks get closer.”

I touched her face and realized I still had her blood on my hands, so I left the bloody imprints of my fingertips on her skin. “Be well, be safe, come home soon,” I said.

She smiled, and this time it was bright and real. “I will, Meredith, I will.”

The dream broke while I was still holding her hand. I woke in my bed in Los Angeles with the fathers of my babies on either side of me. My hands and nightgown were covered in blood, and it wasn’t mine.

CHAPTER TWO

YOU’D THINK, AFTER a goddess had sent me halfway around the world to save a life and brought me back to my own bed, that my life would be full of magic, and it was, but it was also full of normal things. That’s what no one tells you: that even when Deity takes a hand in your life, and you answer their call, your ordinary life doesn’t go away. I was still pregnant and it had not been a trouble-free pregnancy. If you are following Deity’s plan for you, it isn’t always the easy path; sometimes it’s the hard one. So why follow? Because to do any less is to betray your own abilities and gifts, and the faith that Deity has in you. Who would do that willingly?

Ultrasound pictures are grainy, black and white and gray, and really not all that clear, but it’s a way to get the earliest picture of your unborn child. We had quite a little album of the blurry images at thirty-four weeks into the pregnancy, but the latest one … it was the money shot, because it showed something the other ones hadn’t: We were having triplets.

The twins, as we’d begun to call them, were still floating in front of the picture, but it was as if they were petals of a flower finally opening up enough to show a third baby, shadowy and much less distinct, but very there. The third baby was visibly smaller than the other two, which wasn’t uncommon, Dr. Heelis, my main obstetrician, assured us.

We were all sitting in the conference room at the hospital now, because Dr. Heelis had been joined by Dr. Lee, Dr. Kelly, and Dr. Rodriguez. They each had their specialties in gynecology and delivering babies, or something else needed as a precaution. I hadn’t gained most of the extra medical specialists since they spotted the third baby; they’d been my team almost from the beginning of my pregnancy, because I was Princess Meredith NicEssus—legal name Meredith Gentry, because Princess looks so pretentious on a driver’s license. Dr. Kelly was the new face, but then what was a new doctor compared to a whole new baby?

I was the only faerie princess to be born on American soil, but not for much longer. One of the babies was a girl. My daughter would be Princess Gwenwyfar. We were still negotiating on the rest of her names, since we wouldn’t know until DNA testing who her father was; I’d narrowed it down to six.

All six of them sat on either side of the long oval conference table, strung out like strong, handsome beads on the string of my love.

Doyle, Darkness, sat on my left. He was everything his name promised: tall, handsome, and so dark he was black. Not the way people’s skin was black, but like a dog’s skin and hair could be so black that it had blue and purple highlights in the sun. In the dimmer light of the conference room his skin was just unrelieved blackness, as if the darkest night had been carved into flesh and made real. His ankle-length hair was back in its usual braid so that his pointed ears with their edging of silver earrings showed. If he’d hidden the ears no one would have known he wasn’t pure-blooded Unseelie sidhe, but he made sure the one sign that he wasn’t pure sidhe showed most of the time in public. I’d never asked him why, but it was a constant slap in the face to every other sidhe who could hide their mixed heritage. He’d stood at the side of the Queen of Air and Darkness for over a thousand years with his less than pure genetics, flaunting them, and the glittering throng had feared him, because he had been the queen’s assassin and captain of her guards. No one lived that Doyle was sent to kill. Now he was my Darkness, the Princess’s Darkness, but he wasn’t my assassin. He was my bodyguard, and he’d guarded my body well enough that I was pregnant with his child. That was some good guarding.

   
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