Cate Tiernan - Changeling

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Changeling
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Описание книги "Changeling"

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When Morgan receives a shocking revelation about her family, she's thrown into a moral tailspin, believing that her essential nature is evil. Is her dark heritage too powerful to overcome?





Changeling

Sweep Series, Book 8

Cate Tiernan

To my inner wolf

1. Breakthrough

Surely I did not know the meaning of the word Godforsaken until I arrived at this place. Barra Head is on the westernmost shore of the highlands of Scotland, and a wilder, more untamed countryside it would be difficult to imagine. Yet, Brother Colin, how exalted I am to be here, how eager to bring the Lord's message to these good people. Tomorrow I shall set forth among the inhabitants, taking them the joy of the Word of God.

— Brother Sinestus Tor, Cisterian monk, in a letter to his brother Colin, also a monk, September 1767


"Okay, I'm gone," said my sister, Mary K., whirling to run downstairs. We'd just heard the distinctive horn beep of her friend Jaycee's mom's minivan.

"See you", I called after her. Although Mary K. was my little sister, she was fourteen going on twenty-five, and in some ways, like for instance her chest, she looked more mature than I did.

"Honey?" My mom poked her head around my bedroom door. "Please come with us to Eileen and Paula's."

"Oh, no thanks," I said, trying not to sound rude. I loved my aunt Eileen and her girlfriend Paula, but I couldn't face having to interact with them, smile, eat, pretend everything was normal—when only day's ago my entire life had split at the seams.

"She's made seaweed salad," Mom said temptingly.

"Augh!" I crossed my two index fingers to ward of health food, and my mom made a face.

"Okay. Just thought you'd want to have a last family meal," she said in her best guilt-inducing voice.

"Mom, you'll only be gone eleven days. I'll know you for the rest of my life. Plenty of family meals in our future," I said. The next day my parents were leaving on a cruise to the Bahamas, to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

"Mary Grace?" my dad called. Translated that meant, "get a move on."

"Okay." Mom looked at me speculatively, and suddenly all the humor in the situation was gone. My parents and I had been through a lot in the last couple of months, and every once in a while the memories came back to bite us.

"Have a good time," I said, turning away. "Say hi to Eileen and Paula."

"Mary Grace?" my dad said again. "Bye Morgan. We won't be late."

Once I heard the front door close, I felt my shoulders sag in relief. Alone at last. Free to be myself, at least for a little while. Free to feel miserable, to lie curled on my bed, to wander the house aimlessly without having to talk to anyone or try to look normal. Free to be myself. That was a joke. The me that was Wicca. Not only Wiccan, but a blood witch and a Woodbane—the most infamous of Wicca's Seven Great Clans. The me whose biological father, Ciaran MacEwan, had killed my birth mother, Maeve Riordan. Ciaran was one of the most evil, dangerous, remorseless witches there was, and half of me came from him. So what did that say about me?

I looked at myself in my bedroom mirror. I still looked like me: straight brown hair, brownish hazel eyes, a tiny bit tilted at the corner, strong nose. I was five-six, seventeen years old, and had yet to develop a feminine curve anywhere on my body.

I didn't look like a Rowland's. For sixteen years I had never once thought I wasn't a Rowlands, despite looking different from the rest of my family, despite the huge differences between Mary K. and me. Now we all knew why those differences existed. Because I had been born a Riordan.

I dropped onto my bed, my chest aching. Only days ago I had narrowly escaped death—Ciaran had tried to kill me in Manhattan. Only at the last minute, when he'd realized that I was his daughter, had Ciaran changed his mind and allowed my then boyfriend, Hunter Niall, to save me. My father was a man who had killed my mother: Who had tried to kill me. Ciaran was evil beyond belief, and that evil was part of me. How could Hunter even pretend not to understand why I had broken up with him?

Oh, Goddess, Hunter, I thought, filled with longing. I loved him, I lusted after him, I admired and trusted and respected him. He was tall, blond, gorgeous and had a fabulous English accent. He was a powerful, initiated blood witch, half Woodbane, and he was a Seeker for the International Council of Witches. He was my mùirn beatha dan—my soul mate. For most people, that meant they were supposed to be together forever. But I was descended from one of the worst witches in the Wiccan history. My very blood was tainted forever. I was poison; I would destroy anything I touched. I couldn't bear to hurt Hunter, couldn't bear to even take the chance that I would. So I had told him I didn't love him anymore. I'd told him to leave me alone.

Which was why I was alone now, having spent the last few days clutching a pillow, aching with loneliness, and sick with misery.

"What can I do?" I asked myself. It was Saturday, and my coven, Kithic, would be meeting as usual for a circle. One of our eight annual Sabbats, Imbolic, was coming up soon, and I knew we would be starting to talk about it and preparing to celebrate it. Going to a circle, making the commitment to observe every week, was a part of the pattern of Wiccan life. It was part of the turning of the Wheel of the Year, part of learning. I knew I should go.

But I knew I couldn't… Couldn't bear seeing Hunter. Couldn't bear seeing the other people in my circle, having them look at me with sympathy, fear, or distrust.

"Meow?"

I looked at my kitten.

"Dagda," I said, picking him up. "You're turning into a big boy. You have a big meow." I stroked Dagda, feeling his rumbly purr.

If I went to the circle tonight, I would have to see Hunter, feel his eyes on me, hear his voice. Would I be strong enough to face that? I didn't think so.

"I can't go." I told Dagda. "I won't. I'll make a circle here." I got up, feeling that this was a way to keep my commitment to observe the Wiccan circle. Maybe drawing on the power would help my pain. Maybe it would take my mind off Hunter and off my own inherent evil, at least for a little while.

I went to the back of my closet and brought my altar out from under my bathrobe. As far as I knew, my parents hadn't discovered it yet. It was a small footlocker, covered with a violet linen cloth, and I used it in the rites I did at home. It was hidden in the back of my closet, where it wouldn't be noticed by my devoutly Catholic parents. To them, it was bad enough that I practiced Wicca at all, and they would be really, really unhappy if they knew I had all this witch stuff in their house.

I shoved the footlocker into the middle of the room, aligning its four corners with the four points of the compass. (I had figured this out weeks ago and memorized the position it should be in.) On each of the four corners of the footlocker I set the silver ceremonial bowls that had belonged to my birthmother. As always, I looked at them with love an appreciation. I had never known Maeve—I had been only seven months old when Ciaran killed her—but I had her witch's tools, and they meant everything to me.

Into one bowl I put fresh water. In one bowl half full of sand I stuck an incense stick and lit it. The thin grey stream of scented smoke symbolized air. Another bowl held a handful of stones and crystals, to symbolize earth. In the last bowl I lit a thick red candle, for fire. Fire was my element: I scried with fire; I could summon fire at will.

I quickly shed my clothes and got into my green robe. The silk was thin and embroidered with ancient Celtic signs, runes, sigils of protection and power. Maeve had worn this, leading circles for her coven, Belwicket, back in Ireland. Her mother, Mackenna, had worn it before her. And so on, for generations. I loved wearing it, knowing I was fulfilling my destiny, feeling a connection with women I had never known. Could Maeve's goodness cancel out Ciaran's evil? Which half would win in me?

As the folds flowed around me, encasing me with their magickal vibrations, I took out my mothers tools: a ceremonial dagger called an athame and a witch's wand, long, slim and decorated with lines of silver beaten into the dark, old wood. I was ready.

First I drew a circle on my floor with chalk. With fleeting pride, I noticed that my circle-drawing was getting much better. It was now nearly perfect. I stepped in, closed the circle, and knelt before my altar. "Goddess and God, I call on thee," I said softly, looking into the candle's flame. "Your daughter Morgan calls on your goodness and your power. Help me make magick. Help me learn. Show me what I am ready to know." Closing my eyes, I let out all my breath, then slowly drew it in again. Within a minute I was deeply into meditation: I had practiced so much that meditation was like using a muscle. It was there, it was almost immediate, and it was strong.

What am I ready to know? I asked.

In my mind a narrow road unspooled before me. Trees and shrubs lined each side, making the road both inviting and secluded. I moved down the road, smoothly and with no sense of pace—as if I were floating above the hard-packed earth. It felt wonderful, exciting. Eagerly I sped forward.

I flew around a curve and then recoiled in sudden horror, a wordless scream coming from my mouth. Before me, blocking my way, was a dying serpent, a black, roiling, two-headed snake. Its flesh was hacked and eaten away; acrid blood stained the roadbed, its bitter, repugnant scent making me cover my nose and mouth. The thing was dying. It curled upon itself in agony, twisting as it lost its breath and felt its blood flow. I backed up slowly, not sure how dangerous it still was, and then from the sky a beautiful, cold, crystalline cage dropped over the thing, With one last shriek of torment the two-headed black serpent lashed its barbed tail and died. The cage shimmered over it gently, seeming made of air, of music, of gold, of crystal. It was made of magick. I had made it. And my cage had helped kill the serpent.

Gasping, I clawed my way back to consciousness, opening my eyes to find my heart pounding, the scent of the serpent's blood still in my throat. I wanted to gag, the horrible images still behind my eyes. The serpent had been Cal Blaire en Selene Belltower. It didn't take a psychology major to figure that one out. My subconscious was obviously still working through that particular horror. The deaths of Cal, the first boy I had ever loved, and his mother, Selene, a powerful, dark Woodbane witch, were still ever present in my everyday awareness. I gazed at my red candle and shuddered. There was no way I could explore that path any more tonight. Maybe I needed to see it, maybe magick had needed me to see something, learn something, but I couldn't face it. I hoped that with the passage of time, the memory would sink deeper.

I swallowed and watched the scented smoke rise from the incense. Maybe if I had continued down the road of my subconscious, I would have seen myself, in New York City, about to be sacrificed by Ciaran's coven for my own power.

No thank you. No more of this. The Goddess must have thought I was ready for this, but I didn't feel ready.

Once again I gazed at my red candle. My situation was strange: I was an unusually powerful blood witch. Yet because Wicca had discovered me only about three months ago, I was relatively unschooled in magick. Even as hard as I had been trying to learn, the breadth and depth of a witch's knowledge ensured that I would be at it my whole life. Another fact was that I was uninitiated. An uninitiated witch was not in command of her full powers—in fact, not exactly in command of her powers at all. Which was what everyone kept trying to tell me.

Until now I had loved feeling my powers stretch and grow, like a plant towards sunlight. The more I made magick, the stronger my magick seemed and the easier it was to make it flow. I had believed that my magick would be good, that I would walk in sunlight even though I was Woodbane. Belwicket had been a Woodbane coven but had renounced dark magick centuries ago. But then I had found out Ciaran was my father, and all of my assumptions had snapped. I was no longer sure that I would use magick for goodness. No longer sure that I could stay out of the shadows. Now with every breath I remembered that I had been born of evil, the daughter of a murderer. And that had cost me Hunter.

I have a choice, I thought. I choose to work good magick.

I looked at my altar and concentrated, centering myself and focusing my energy. Rise, I thought, looking at the silver bowl holding the incense. "Rise, be light, be light as air. I lift you up and hold you there." The little rhyme came into my head, and simultaneously the silver bowl wobbled a bit, then shakily rose above my altar. It hovered there, weightless, while

I stared at it in shock. Oh God, I thought. Wicca had shown me many things in the last three months that I never would have thought possible, but the idea that I had the power to levitate anything amazed me.

Okay, concentrate, I told myself as the bowl tilted. I concentrated. Almost immediately it steadied.

Next I made the candle rise and kept the two objects floating before me. Could I make it three? Yes. The bowl of water rose gracefully. I was able to keep them steadier now, and the three objects bobbed before me as I turned my attention to the bowl of crystals. This was amazing, intense magick. I could tell none of this skill came from my friend Alyce Fernbrake, who had shared all of her knowledge with me in a powerful ritual called tàth meànma brach.

This power was mine; this power was me. It was beautiful and good in a way I could never be.

A slight vibration in the floor barely registered with me as I began to levitate the bowl of crystals in the air. More thin, light, striations of sound—distracting me… Crap, they where footsteps!

I leaped up, shoved the altar behind my desk, and kicked the silver bowls and candle out of the way. Hoping I hadn't burned the rug, I jumped into bed. I was pulling the covers up when the door to my room opened.

"Morgan?" my mom whispered, peering into my room.

Asleep, I'm asleep, I thought, feeling my eyelids get heavy. My mother gently closed the door, and I heard her walk down the hallway. I waited until I heard the door to her own room close, then slunk out of bed and tried to clean up soundlessly. This had been so stupid. I had been so full of myself that I hadn't remembered to put up a border spell that would alert me when my parents came home. I hadn't been casting my senses, paying attentions to my surroundings.

Gently I shoved my altar back into my closet. I took off the robe and gathered the bowls and tools and hid them with the altar. Tomorrow I would put them where I usually hid them: behind the HVAC vent in the hallway. Pretty full of yourself, aren't you? I thought with disgust as I tried to scrape up the sand with my hands. You just want to make any kind of magick you can, with no thought as to the consequences. That's a Woodbane way to behave.

I cleaned up the circle as best I could, knowing I would have to finish tomorrow. I brushed my teeth and got into my pj's. Then I climbed back into bed and pulled up the covers. All of my misery was back and more. I had missed a coven circle tonight. I was Ciaran's daughter. I didn't have Hunter. If things were this bad when I was only seventeen, what would they be like when I hit thirty?


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