(c) Danielle Ackley-McPhail

(Please note, this is unedited copy for a project still under development.)


There were screams in the night and they were not Kara’s. She came instantly alert and rose from her bunk. Scrambling from her cubby she nearly collided with Tony.

“That wasn’t you.”

Kara shook her head, but Tony had already flung himself out the wagon door, skipping the steps altogether as he hit the ground at a run. The door slammed behind her as Kara followed. On impulse, she grabbed Quicksilver on her way out, slinging the violin over her shoulder by the case’s strap.

In the dark, shadowy figures hurried toward a wagon on the fringe of the camp. The screams had ended but the night was filled with shouts and calls of what Kara could only assume were instructions.

She really needed to learn Romani.

She slowed and hung back as she neared where everyone had clustered. These were not her people, after all, they might not welcome her intrusion. One of the young women that was friendly toward her stopped by her side. Even in the dark Kara could tell the girl was pale and trembling.

“What is it, LaLa? What happened?”

“So much…so much…”

LaLa’s eyes were unfocused, shocky. Kara reached out and drew her friend close. She looked around hoping to find someone to explain. Across the way she spied Tony heading for them. When he drew close Kara noticed his face was also ghostly white and his breath choppy.

His expression, however, was as dark as she had ever seen it, his body poised for violence. Kara’s reactions conflicted, part of her wanted to flinch back, the other readied to defend herself and LaLa.

Tony barely seemed to notice.

“Go, you and the Lady, see if there’s anything you can do…”

Kara stared at him, her brow furrowed, not sure LaLa would be much help to herself at the moment, let alone anyone else, but then Kara realized Tony’s gaze went to the violin slung across her back. Danu. He meant Danu.

Kara drew a sharp breath and held LaLa a little tighter. Whatever had happened must have been bad to need that kind of help. With a gentle squeeze she passed her friend to Tony’s care and hurried for the crowd surrounding the wagon. It was not difficult to work her way to the scene of the problem. Many hung back, their expressions a moving tapestry of horror, sorrow, and confusion. Slowly, respectfully, Kara stepped close.

“Tony asked that I come to see if we can help,” she said, keeping her tone low and even, though her mind went a little frantic at the sight of the man on the ground at her feet. Robert…Robert Wyatt. His clothing gaped in long furrows, as did the flesh beneath. Blood glistened in the lamplight and Kara caught a sharp, fetid odor that she suspected meant a bowel had been sliced. She swallowed against the bile gathering at the back of her throat. Robert and his sister, Megan, had shared a log with her this evening, when all were gathered around the fire for the nightly singing.

“Even those faerie-touched cannot help the dead.”

Kara jerked her attention back to those gathered as one of the women spoke. “But inside…maybe.”

Kara looked toward the wagon where several brawny men stood guard. From beyond them harsh curses and soulful cries mingled in the night, both sounding of one voice.

She nodded to the woman and headed for the wagon, only to have a hand reach out and halt her, all whipcord and leather, with knobby joints that had to ache.

“Best you help from here if you can,” the auld woman said.

With relief, Kara did not argue. A mere wagon wall would make no difference. Either she could help, or she could not. She removed Quicksilver from her case and prepared to play. Before she even lay finger to tuning peg her spirit felt Danu stir. The goddess roiled, her essence uneasy. Bold, jarring colors shot across the surface of Kara’s mind like every color of paint dumped together and madly swirled. Kara’s gut clenched in response, the tension radiating out to her limbs. She closed her eyes and focused on the frenetic point of bright shining white that was Danu.

*Cut it out,* she thought hard at her soul sister. *We can’t help if I can’t focus.*

The swirling slowed, then stopped, the colors settling into streams of deep blood red, angry purple, and the pale grey blue of a corpse’s lips. Kara shuddered and forced the colors from her mind, not sure what the agitated goddess was trying to tell her, but certain now was not the time to try to figure it out. Pain and anguish radiated from the wagon and Kara felt both as if they burrowed into her heart.

Her eyes snapped open once more. That focusing technique would not serve her today. Too much of the horror crept into her mindscape and wrestled for control. Instead Kara lifted her gaze to the wagon before her, another traditional vardo, intricately carved and painted with runes and symbols of protection. Even to her normal vision the symbols held a faint shimmer. Mage energy. Powerful mage energy.

“They weren’t inside, then,” she murmured.

“No,” the auld woman confirmed, though it had not been a question and Kara had not particularly been talking to her. “They had been to tend to a sick pony and were just coming back.”

Kara turned to look at the woman. “Has anyone checked to see if the animals are unharmed? Or if anyone else has been attacked?”

The woman’s lips tightened and her chin lifted. “Of course. No other has been harmed—man or beast.”

Before Kara could respond solid oak groaned and creaked. The vardo shuddered and rocked as something slammed against the door from the inside.

Kara’s gaze jerked back to the wagon and beside her the elder gripped her arm again and shook. “Play!”

Before the imperious command faded Kara ran bow across string, her fingers already working up and down Quicksilver’s neck. Her instructors at Juilliard would have stood in awe at the melody, goddess-guided and filled with the power of ancient magic, yet gentle and soothing as a mother’s lullaby. Even the night creatures hushed. It took several minutes more of Kara’s playing for the vardo to stop its shaking. The screams from inside gradually lost their shrill force, fading to sobs, then whimpers, and finally silence. Kara continued to play, the tune drifting into a healing air.


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