#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "The Old Ways" by M. K. Martin

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.


The Old Ways

by M. K. Martin

Laced with magic and mysticism, this story will suck you in completely. Martin has a way of making the impossible real with her words as she effortlessly weaves together mood, character, tension, and more. This I know all too well, having read her debut novel, Survivors' Club. "The Old Ways" is just a sampling of what this writer can do.  -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor

 

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“Rome was the world's most powerful empire. At its height, it even reached our shores. I hope all of you take time, when we stop in Bowness-on-Solway, to see the end of the Roman Wall. Imagine how different Britain would be if the sun had never set on the Roman Empire.” The tour guide bubbled on like a runaway stream after a heavy downpour. Deitra leaned her head against the cool glass of the bus window as it finally pulled into the Twisted Tree Inn parking lot. Outside it was raining. Again. Ever since she'd arrived it had rained.

Somehow the travel agent had convinced Deitra all those rainy scenes took place during the spring. The rest of the time it's so lovely, the woman had cooed. Lovely, indeed!

Lovely, like her relationship with Jerrold. She signed. She'd come to England to get over him, not spend the whole trip pining.

Still, it was hard to just put him out of her mind. She'd thought he was The One, her Mr. Right. They'd met when he was at his family's summerhouse near Nag's Head. She'd dropped out of college, moved back home and resigned herself to a Cinderella life of waitressing at her family's restaurant when Jerrold had shown up and swept her off her feet.

Their dating had been a blur of D.C.'s finest galleries, museums, restaurants, wineries, plays and concerts. Soon Jerrold asked her to move in. Life was perfect! She had planned her response when he popped the question, planned their wedding, followed by an English honeymoon. She quietly set aside money and gathered travel brochures.

As it turned out, Deitra wasn't the only one quietly working on a project. Jerrold's project was Tiffany, a work colleague. Deitra had met her at a few parties and plays. Jerrold met her at hotels. When Deitra found the receipts, he didn't bother to lie. It was better she knew, he'd said. They were tired of hiding. She moved back home that night.

On her mother's advice, she'd taken this trip sans Jerrold.

She hadn't anticipated the constant rain or that her bus tour would be made up of nothing but happy couples. By day four, she hated England.

“...a quaint, charming little inn and pub. I have everyone's room keys.” The guide held up a large, ancient brass key. It looked like a prop in a documentary on Merry Ole England.

To an optimistic person, the inn was quaint, even charming. It was definitely old. The Romans had built the original structure over a pagan barrow to claim the land and make a statement. Over the centuries, the rest of the inn had grown around the Roman building. The end result was an architectural crazy quilt of various designs, all sagging toward the low midsection, the pub itself.

Inside smelled of pipe smoke, spilled ale, old polish, and some indefinable but distinct odor Deitra could only think of as 'long history'. A comforting fire snapped and crackled in the wide native stone hearth, located against one wall of the pub. A small stage of ancient planks, shiny from years of scrubbing, sanding and thousands of feet, nestled against the wall opposite the hearth.

After a bath and a change of clothes, Deitra rejoined the tour group in the pub. She found a lonely perch at the bar, atop a wide, old oaken stool and ordered a pork pie and a pint.

“Do you like this?”

Deitra jumped. A boyishly handsome man had slid onto the stool next to hers. His hair was a short, sandy blonde bristle. He wore a leather jacket that looked both casual and expensive. His dimpled smile was cocksure and reminded her too much of Jerrold. As if any woman was his to claim. Deitra glared at him and focused on her pie.

“Scusi, so sorry, my English...I am hoping you are not angry, bella,” the blonde man said. His Italian accent, like warm honey, caressed her ears. His face was a picture of sincerity. Deitra felt embarrassed. Poor guy. Not every man was Jerrold.

“No, it's fine. Sorry. I'm just tired,” she said.

“Vittore Romano, incantato.” He offered a warm, smooth hand.

“I'm Deitra.” She shook. “Pleased to meet you.” He smiled, his blue eyes direct and a bit too intimate. Stop that! He's Italian, they're like that. Don't be the ugly American, she admonished herself. “So,” she said, “um, are you here on vacation?” Idiot! Obviously.

“Business.” His face hardened a little, his eye scanning the room, then back to her. “But not tonight, I think.”

“Oh.” Deitra toyed with her food.

“Sorry,” Vittore said. “This rain, this food, this place it's...” He searched for words then stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his nose.

“Exactly,” Deitra smiled.

Vittore chuckled, “Why have you traveled so far for so little?” He waved at the pub. With a hot meal, a cold pint and a roaring fire, the pub seemed more homey. Overhead the old boards creaked and groaned softly, the wind sighing through the numerous eves. Outside darkness had fallen, and the rain gently drummed on the roof. All things considered, England didn't seem quite as wretched.

“It's more what I was traveling from than to,” she said. “A great big from.”

Vittore gave her the uncomprehending, hopeful smile common to travelers across every land; the one that says, 'I have no idea what you're saying, but go on'.

The door crashed open. Wind and rain blew in, sending a soggy chill through the pub. Every head turned to stare at the three dripping figures in the doorway. At first, Deitra wasn't sure who the strangers might be, but as they peeled off their outer layers, she realized they were musicians.

First in the door was a large ruddy man, a dark woolen watchcap snugged down on his head. Between the hat and his enormously fluffy dark red beard, it was hard to make out any facial features apart from the flash of a broad grin and the twinkle of dark eyes. He had a battered guitar case stuffed under his pea coat. A petite, dark haired women, dressed in a bright red blouse and swirling peasant skirts, followed the redhead in. She carried a flute case and a small flat drum wrapped in waterproof cloth. The last member of the group paused in the door.

For an instant, as the flickering light of the hearth fire hit his eyes, Deitra could have sworn they glowed, flashing gold. She gasped and Vittore followed her gaze. The stranger stepped into the room. Unlike his companions, he did not rush in out of the wet. His long dark hair was mostly pushed back, although a few wild strands hung forward, tickling his high cheekbones. The dark man's eyes swept the room, cautious, watchful.

When his eyes met Vittore's both men stiffened. A slow smile spread across Vittore's face. The dark man nodded a curt salute. He produced a fiddle seemingly out of nowhere and sauntered across to join his fellows. His movements were powerful, yet graceful. He reminded Deitra of panthers she'd seen at the zoo, prowling their enclosures, dreaming their wild, bloody dreams.

The dark haired woman pulled three chairs up on stage, the silver bangles on her arms tinkling as she moved. The trio spent a few minutes ensuring their instruments had taken no hurt from the damp and tuning up. The big redheaded man took a position with a foot on one of the chairs, balancing his guitar with its strangely fat bottom across his knee. If Deitra remembered correctly, that was called a bouzouki. The dark haired woman sat down, arranged her shirts, lifted the small drum, the bohdran, and smiled warmly at the audience.

The dark stranger strode to the edge of the stage and stood, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his worn jeans. He said nothing, his bright eyes dancing over the room. A hush fell as one by one people met his gaze. Still he said nothing. Deitra found herself holding her breath.

Suddenly the dark stranger's face broke into an impish grin.

“That's right,” he said, his voice rich and low, pitched to catch each ear personally. “We're back. I know some a yous and for the rest, get ready to dance. I'm Brayden. I lead this merry band. Salix.” The woman waved. “And Fáthach,” The large man nodded.

“We are Tuatha Dé Danann.” He bowed dramatically, sweeping up, the fiddle already in the crook of his neck.

The music burst to life with an nearly impossible wail from the fiddle, joined by the drum and held together by the melody of the bouzouki. The tune was a wild reel, each round moving faster and faster seeming on the verge of collapsing into chaotic madness, but always returning to the core melody, a deeply stirring sound. It was like a storm, a whirlwind of sound rising, building, crashing and then, with one final mighty flourish of the fiddle, it stopped.

No one moved. No one even breathed. Slowly Brayden opened his eyes. For just an instant, Deitra again saw the flash of gold as if his eyes burned with mystical inner fire.

“Sláinte!” cried the bartender, raising his mug to the musicians. The crowd burst into raucous applause. A grinning waitress hurried over with a tray of drinks. “On the house,” she said.

Brayden squatted down, so they were face to face. “Go raibh maith agat,” he murmured, his voice just on the decent side of 'in public'. Straightening he held his mug aloft. “To yous, good people the lot!” He winked at the waitress. “And to women who know how to make a man smile.” The waitress blushed and scurried for the safety of the bar. Deitra wished she were a waitress.

“Cretins,” muttered Vittore.

“You don't like the local color?” Deitra asked, eyebrow raised.

“Pale shadows.” He waved dismissively as the little band struck up a soft, lamenting ballad. Brayden's singing voice was every bit as enchanting as his speaking voice, low, deep, steady and thrilling – thrilling in ways Jerrold had never thrilled her.

“Their time is long past and see! They dance on. They should give up, admit defeat with dignity,” Vittore said.

“Umm, it's a band,” Deitra said. “Not a war.”

“Certo.” Vittore nodded reluctantly. “Of course. The lady is right. Come.” He held out a hand. “Let's get away from this...how do you say? Racket, yes?”

Deitra looked up, meeting his beautiful blue eyes, his boyish smile. So sure all he had to do was hold out his hand and she'd swoon into his arms.

She'd made her share of mistakes from dropping out of school, to moving to D.C. Probably coming to England, too.

She looked into Vittore's eyes and saw another mistake waiting.

“I'm fine here,” Deitra said.

A frown creased Vittore's brow. “Scusi. You didn't understand. Is no problem. We will have dinner in the restaurant. This,” he shot a dark look at the band, “is not a place for such a belladonna.” He took her by the arm to escort her into the small, adjacent dining area.

“No.” Deitra wrenched her arm away more forcefully than she intended. She could see the shock, the slow comprehension. It felt good, powerful.

“I'll stay. Thanks.” She turned away from him, back to the stage. Brayden's eyes were on her. He inclined his head to her gravely, but his eyes twinkled. It wasn't her imagination. His eyes were golden.

Deitra ignored the rustle of cloth, the quick, angry stomp of feet as Vittore departed. She focused on the band. Several of the tour group couples were dancing. They looked awkward and silly, their bright American clothes standing out like disoriented tropical birds in Antarctica, but they were having a marvelous time. Whenever someone seemed to flag or become self-conscious, Brayden's eyes were on them, encouraging them, urging them on, making it all right to let go, to just dance.

“Miss?” The bartender held out a hand.

Deitra gulped down the rest of her beer and took the man's rough, weathered hand. “Why the hell not?” She hopped off the stool, lost her footing and fell laughing into the bartender's arms.

“Steady on, miss,” he said. “Had a wee bit too much, then?”

“Nah,” Deitra giggled. “I'm fine. Dance me!” The bartender chuckled and spun her out onto the floor. She had no idea what she was doing. It didn't matter.

She twirled and whirled from one partner to the next and drank several pints of dark, bitter beer. Somewhere among the jigs, the stathspeys, waltzes and reels Deitra forgot that she hated Britain, forgot that she was the lone lonelyheart in a tour group full of lovey-dovey couples. She forgot the sting of Jerrold's smug face when she handed back her keys to his apartment.

It seemed only moments later when Deitra found herself outside. Rather than seeming soggy and depressing, the chill night air revived her. The wind rattled through the trees, sending spatters of rain down. Overhead the dissipating clouds scudded across the sky. The moon, a silvery blue orb, nestled low in the hills, as if it too were exhausted by a night of dancing.

Deitra lifted loose strands of sweaty hair from her neck. She shuddered at the cold wind's kiss, goosebumps sprang up along her arms. A mist was rolling in from the sea. Its ghostly white fingers reached into every hollow and nook, sliding along the low ground, filling it, enfolding the world in white.

“You know, they say on nights like this, the fey can come through the mists.”

Deitra jumped. She hadn't even heard the heavy door swing on its ancient hinges.

Brayden stood next to her, his pale skin seemed to glow in the faint moonlight; a stark contrast to his dark hair and bright gold eyes. He smiled wistful. “They say once the fey ruled all these lands. They were so full o' life then. Wise animals, ancient trees, less rain.” He winked at her.

“Fey, like fairies?” Deitra asked. Stupid question! But Brayden didn't laugh, didn't even smirk.

“A bit. Fairies, wee flying folk, they're pixies. Nah, fey are like...” He searched for words. “What you call elves, then. Taller than men and fair. All sorts a mysteries in these isles even still. They never could drive out all magic.” He stared down toward the sea. His bright eyes searched the darkness, almost as if he expected something to come out of the mists. As if he longed for it.

Up close, he was even more captivating. The wind ruffled his dark hair, tugging at loose strands to play along the curve of his neck, his strong jaw. His lips were full and inviting. Kissable lips. Kissable? Stop acting like a drunk groupie!

Deitra tore her eyes from his handsome face to follow his gaze. She half expected to see something moving in the mist, half expected to see...what? A fey. She giggled at the thought. Brayden turned back to her, a smile on his face, but lacking its earlier spark. The show smile of the consummate performer. She could see in his eyes the flash of disappointment, resignation.

“Come on then,” he said. “Some say it's bad luck to be out alone on Samhain.”

“Samhain?” Deitra echoed.

“In America, Halloween, yah?” Brayden tipped his head at the wispy clouds and thickening mist. “They dead return to settle themselves, to say farewell afore moving along. That's why we came, then. Tonight the doors between here and there are open.”

“Huh?” She couldn't make sense of his words. Maybe she was too drunk. Or maybe he's not making sense, she thought. She didn't care if he made sense or not. His voice was gentle, patient, yet strong and sure. He didn't treat her like she was stupid because she didn't understand. Encouraged, she pressed on. “Like ghosts?”

“Aye, ghosts, fetches, wraiths, haunts, geists, all of them.” Brayden grinned, the mischievous spark back in his eye. “D'you want to see 'em?”

Deitra grinned back gamely. “Sure, okay. Show me your scary ghosts.”

“Right.” Brayden stuck out a strong, calloused hand. “Brayden,” he said.

“I know,” Deitra said. “I saw you come in.”

“I know,” he said. “I saw you.” He let the thought hang between them and she hung a hundred wild implications on it.

“D'you have a name or should I just call you a store?”

“A store?”

He laughed, a completely unselfconscious sound. Deitra's heart surged. She longed to make him laugh again.

“No, not a store, silly girl. A stòr. It means 'precious'.”

“Deitra's fine.” She ducked her head, hoping he'd chalk the bloom in her cheeks to the drink.

“Deitra.” He rolled her name. God, but she loved his lilting accent.

“That's a fine, old name,” Brayden said.

He led the way around the inn. Deitra let herself be guided through a world of fog and indistinct shadows, descending a winding goat trail, her heart hammering. Below the sound of crashing surf echoed, booming against the cliffs, reverberating through sea caves. The scents of the sea, salt, fish, the cold waters of the Irish Sea, mingled with the scents of heather, damp earth, dead leaves, and wood smoke from the inn.

Deitra shivered with cold. She was ready to return to the warm safety of the inn when Brayden stopped. Deitra stumbled and he steadied her easily. He tipped his chin towards a large lumpy shape, rising out of the fog, like the prow of a ghost ship.

“A cairn,” Brayden said. His voice low and reverent, breath warm against her neck. Again, gooseflesh prickled her arms, but not from the temperature. Deitra took a deep breath and stepped forward. The stacked rocks seemed to float, an island in a sea of rolling mist. A stone wall ringed the graveyard, an empty archway provided access. Worn headstones marked the graves of the long dead. Ahead, barely outlined by the dim moonlight, the remains of a small, tumbled down church hunkered at the far edge of the graveyard.

From inside the church, a light flared. Brayden stiffened, his grip on her hand tightening.

“Finally found the courage and ventured from your hole?” said a familiar voice. Vittore stood in the doorway of the church, his face illuminated by the orange glow of his cigarette. He smiled contemptuously at Brayden.

“Why tonight, Roman?” Brayden asked. His voice sounded breezy, casual; his posture anything but. He was poised to strike, tightly coiled. Again, Deitra could see the wildness in him, the restrained power.

“Why not?” Vittore flicked the butt of the lit cigarette at Brayden. In the same instant, he lunged forward, bringing a short sword – a gladius – up from where he'd held it along his leg. Vittore darted forward, swung the sword in a tight arch, aiming for Brayden's head. The dark man skipped lightly out of reach.

“Honorable as ever,” Brayden said.

“You're a beast, an animal. You should have died with the rest of your kind,” Vittore hissed.

“You should have left with the rest of yours.”

Another swing. Brayden slid under the blow, but the tip of the sword caught the neck of his sweater. It ripped, leaving one arm bare from shoulder to elbow. A thin stain of blood welled and trickled, marring pale skin.

Deitra searched the cairn for a suitable chunk of slate to throw to distract Vittore. She heaved it at his head. It went wide, crashing into a crumbling headstone, pulverizing it.

Both men froze. Vittore's head whipped towards her. “No!” he shouted, charging her like a maddened bull.

Brayden dashed across the graveyard to her side, enfolding her in his arms. Vittore slammed into them, knocking them to the ground.

“Uff!” Deitra grunted. She landed hard with Brayden on top of her. Groaning, he rolled off. She could see an ugly smear of blood along his naked side, the sweater nearly torn away now.

“What the hell?” she screamed, but Vittore attacked again, the sword whistling through the air toward Brayden's neck. Again, the dark man avoided the blow by fractions of an inch.

Deitra staggered to her feet. Brayden was up too, blood slicking his side from ribs to thigh. He stood between her and Vittore, but the blonde man refocused his attention on Brayden. His eyes flicked to the deep wound in Brayden's side and a cocky smile curved his lips.

“Far too long, Fey,” Vittore growled. He circled Brayden, wolfish, his posture relaxed almost triumphant. “Tonight, your feast night, you join your ancestors.”

“You never even tried to understand us, Romano, didja? You come to me tonight of all nights, with the mists around us. You're a brave fool, I give ya that,” Brayden said. He waved at Deitra, motioning her back up the trail, back toward the distant twinkling lights of the inn. She ran a few steps, looked back.

Brayden stood, bare to the waist, head thrown back as if to embrace the night sky. Around him the mist surged like a living thing, roiling and wrapping him in its white tendrils. With his pale skin, he seemed to melt into it.

Vittore screamed, a wordless sound of rage and frustration. He plunged his sword into Brayden's unprotected chest, driving it in the hilt.

Deitra wanted to scream, to vomit, to faint. Instead, she stood, rooted to the spot, only a few strides away from Brayden. The hot copper tang of blood was thick in the air.

Vittore let out a bark of laughter.

“Roma victor!” he shouted, raising his bloodied sword to the sky.

Deitra found her legs. Trembling she retraced her steps down the hillside.

Brayden was gone. An inky pool of blood marked where he'd stood.

Deitra glared at Vittore. He too stared at the empty spot. For a moment the world held its breath. The wind died down, the mist settled. Frost tipped the lichen and moss, the curling ivy and thistles twinning around the grave markers. Westward, down the steep hill, the surf rolled. Above the stars shone on, indifferent.

“How could you?” Deitra's voice was harsh. She looked around, wishing for a sword of her own.

“It was an abomination. A blight. It's their fault...” Vittore began.

“Our fault what?”

Brayden stood in the archway, grinning playfully. He held a long, thin sword. It curved up slightly at the tip. Even in the faint moonlight, Deitra could see it was a beautiful piece, silvery and inscribed. It looked like something Jerrold might have displayed in his study.

Both men sprang forward. Deitra skipped back as their swords met, slid along, blades caressing like old lovers, parted, met again. Most of Deitra's knowledge of swordplay had been gleaned from Robin Hood movies. She understood little of the finer detail. Vittore attacked in short, powerful bursts. He advanced, turned, advanced again. Brayden gave ground before him, circled, danced, spun, his sword a blur. He seemed to rely on his agility to outmaneuver the Roman.

Brayden darted forward, twisted his blade past Vittore's guard. Vittore uttered a cry, his sword spinning away, clattering against the headstones. Brayden touched his sword to the other man's throat. The blade must have been fantastically sharp, as a line a blood welled instantly, falling to stain Vittore's jacket.

“Enough shite,” Brayden said. “Yield. Leave our lands once and for all, Romano.”

Vittore's face contorted in a snarl of rage and defeat. He sagged, his upraised hands falling to his lap. “I never thought it would come to this,” he said.

“Off wicha,” Brayden said. “We don't want your gods, your roads or your-”

His words were cut off as Vittore surged up, a small knife in his hand. He aimed for Brayden's neck, but the dark man dodged away, and the knife sunk into his shoulder, buried to the hilt.

Brayden swung his sword, so swift and sharp it barely paused as it sliced through Vittore's neck, severing his head from his body.

Deitra gasped and covered her mouth, watching as Vittore's body crumpled into a pile of dust and old bones.

Brayden held out a hand to her, but it wavered. His brow knit in a puzzled frown. He glanced at the wound in his chest. Dark veins spidered out from it, spreading across Brayden's pale chest.

“Iron,” he said.

Brayden reached out to steady himself, missed the wall, and sat down hard. His sword clattered away. She could hear his breathing, quick and shallow.

“No!” cried Deitra. It wasn't fair. “But you won,” she said as if she could argue with the corruption spreading from the wound. “What can I do? How can I help you?”

“Easy now, a stòr. Help is on the way,” Brayden muttered, his voice low, strained. “We travel in packs.”

Out of the mist strode Fáthach and Salix. Fáthach seemed to have grown about a foot or so, his skin a dark greyish color. It blended into the rain washed hills. Salix's hair blew around her as if caught by a wind no one else could feel. It had a strange, leafy quality and looked more deep forest green than dark brown. Her skin was a soft, nut brown.

Deitra rose, unsure what to do. Around her, the mist seemed to boil. She could see dark shapes moving through it, just beyond the graveyard.

“The Roman is gone?” Salix asked. Deitra nodded.

“The curse is broken, Prince.” Fáthach's voice was a deep rumble, mingling with the crash of the surf below. There was another sound growing, far off, drawing closer through the mist. Pounding hoofs and beating wings.

Salix knelt at Brayden's side. Deitra did the same. The knife's corruption had spread to his jaw, black tendrils crawling up his cheeks.

Salix reached for the knife hilt but drew her hand back, hissing in pain. The hilt smoked and Brayden groaned, biting his lip.

“Iron,” Salix said, her voice the soft moan of wind through willow branches.

“Cursed Roman!” the giant growled. Great chalky tears rolled down his face. He lifted Brayden's silver sword, set the tip over Brayden's heart. “I'm so sorry, my lord.”

“Wait.” Deitra grabbed the giant's wrist. It felt like the rocks of the cairn. “Before, he healed. I can take the knife out. Would he be able to heal again?”

“We can only hope,” Salix said. “Hurry, human. Don't make him suffer.”

It was hard to get a good grip on the knife. It was deeply embedded and the hilt slick with Brayden's blood. Every time she fumbled, Brayden jerked in pain. The giant held him down. Finally, Dietra managed to yank the knife free. She threw it as far as she could. Brayden sighed, his eyes fluttering closed.

“Brayden?” Deitra shook him. “Brayden. Brayden, wake up!”

“Peace,” the willowy woman murmured, stroking Deitra's cheek. “He needs a moment only, to draw strength from the mist.”

Deitra wiped tears from her eyes and looked around. The graveyard was surrounded by ghostly figures, some man-like, others animalistic or strange combinations of both. All waited silently.

The gold eyes were still closed, but the barest hint of a grin tugged at the corner of Brayden's mouth. “He's awake!” Deitra cried.

“Shh,” he whispered. He reached up and pulled her head down, brushed her lips with his. “Thank you.” She kissed him fiercely. He tasted of spice and sunlight, wind and rain and life.

“My Prince,” Salix said. “It is time to go home.”

“A moment,” Brayden said.

“It is nearly dawn,” Fáthach said, a distant avalanche of sound. The eastern rim of the sky blushed a faint blue. The stars faded. Far, far away a bell tolled, calling the faithful to All Soul's mass.

“Please,” Salix said. Around them the mist thinned, the shapes of ancient warriors and wild hunters vanishing with it. “Hurry.”

Brayden searched Deitra's face, his gold eyes seeming to touch her very core. “I have reason to stay,” he said.

“Your mother sorrows at your absence. Your promise is kept. The land is free of the Roman. You must return home.” Salix took a few steps and stopped, her whole body straining towards the waiting mist.

Brayden tore his eyes away from Deitra to glare at the woman. “Ever the dutiful one, Salix.” He stood easily, no hint of injury. The black veins had vanished, leaving his skin smooth and perfect.

“We owe you our lord's life. If you ever need true aid, call for Fáthach,” the giant said. He patted Deitra shoulder hard enough to nearly knock her over. She clutched Brayden.

“I will come back, if I can,” Brayden took her hand and pulled her close, touched his forehead to hers.

“That's not good enough,” Deitra said. “I can't just go back now. I can't...” Live without you. It sounded so desperate. She wouldn't say it. What if he didn't feel the same?

“And I can't live without you. I knew the moment I saw you. There was something between us. Twin souls long separated.” Brayden glanced around at the lightening sky, the evaporating mist. “I can't stay. I wish I could. I'll find you, a stòr.”

He stepped away, following Fáthach and Salix into the mist. Her heart went with him. She drew a ragged breath.

“Wait!” She sprinted down the hill, into the mist. “I'm going with you.”

Brayden turned. “And give up your mortal life?” He was starting to fade with the mist, only his dark hair, gold eyes and impish smile stood out plainly.

“And gain you,” Deitra said.

Brayden held out a hand and she took it. As he drew her into the shinning mist, she looked back. They rose through the air, leaving behind the cool, windswept hills, the ancient stone walls, the warm hearths, and human world.

“It's funny,” Deitra said, nestling her head against Brayden's shoulder as he spread his great dark wings. “I think I may just miss England after all.”

THE END


Molly-3.jpg

M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Her debut novel Survivors' Club will be out April 17th, 2018 from Not a Pipe Publishing, but you can pre-order it now! She writes primarily speculative fiction.