May 24, 2023

Dunbar Woods (excerpt)

Chapter 1


Tam’s sister Eithne fell in love with a Human on a balmy evening in August. The air was soft and warm. The light of the setting sun filled the sky with a rosy glow. Tantalizing strains of music floated through Dunbar Woods and drifted into the crannog of Glimmeridge. Eithne ran across the courtyard and grabbed Tam by the shoulders.

“There’s an outdoor concert tonight!” she exclaimed. “Come with me, please?”

Tam cast a wary glance at the end of the Western Bridge, where their parents stood in a cluster of laughing Fairlies. Their brother Lonan hurried to join the group.

“We’re supposed to attend the Boat Festival at Seagirt,” Tam said.

“Bo–ring.” Eithne rolled her eyes. “Lonan will spend the whole time flirting with Gwyneth, and I’ll have to be their chaperone.”

Seagirt was the home of the large and wealthy Madrona clan. Tam had been hoping to watch the boat races with Lark, Gwyneth’s younger sister. But he loved music as much as Eithne did. His sharp ears caught the sound of a fiddle playing beyond the woods, and his resistance melted away.

“You’d better ask Mother’s permission.”

Their mother, Queen Morna, was already walking toward them. “Quit dawdling,” she called. “It’s time to leave.”

With exaggerated concern, Eithne said, “Mother, the Humans are holding a concert in the park. Tam needs to patrol the border, and I’d better go with him. You know what happened last year.”

Last summer, a couple of rowdy teenagers had started a brush fire with contraband fireworks, putting Dunbar Woods in danger. Queen Morna frowned.

“Very well. But you must stay in the protection of the trees.” With an indulgent smile, she added, “You may listen to the music while you watch the crowd.”

“Yes, my lady.”

Eithne made a formal curtsy, but as soon as the partygoers crossed the bridge, she clapped her hands. She and Tam ran in the opposite direction, rowed across the lake, and climbed the wooded hill to the edge of Firbrook Park. They slipped through the Veil and crouched beneath the sweeping branches of a cedar tree.

Humans gathered in the baseball field, perching on the bleachers or lounging on blankets in the grass. With the ease of experience, Tam scanned the crowd. He was one of the official Watchers for the Ettrick clan; almost every night, he patrolled the human settlements, looking for signs of trouble. Eithne often joined him, just for fun, and they collected abandoned tools, books, and other interesting things. Tam had become adept at trading these artifacts in the marketplace or using them to make bargains with family members.

He nudged Eithne and pointed to a sweater someone had dropped on the grass. But her eyes were fixed on the platform at the end of the field, where a group of musicians was warming up. A piper raced up and down a few scales, the fiddler played a jaunty tune, and a young man plucked an acoustic guitar. Wavy dark hair hung to the guitar player’s shoulders. His blue eyes sparkled with humor. As he stepped up to the microphone, a few girls shrieked in excitement. The young man flashed a bright smile and addressed the audience with a Gaelic greeting.

“Cead mile failte!” A thousand welcomes.

Not bad for a Human, Tam thought.

The guitarist continued. “I am Alan Breck, and this is my band, Riversong. We’ll start with some fiddle music. Here’s ‘Toss the Feathers.’ ”

The drummer tapped the beat on his cymbals and shouted, “One-two-three-four!” The fiddler began to play, her bow flying. She was joined by the pipe and the guitar. The audience clapped in time, and Tam and Eithne joined in.

Eithne leaned toward him and whispered, “They’re really good.”

Tam grinned and nodded in agreement.

The first number was followed by more Irish and Scottish tunes. For an encore, Alan sang the “Skye Boat Song.”

Eithne clasped her hands and sighed. “I love him.”

Tam shrugged. The man’s voice had a raspy quality, and he was weak on the high notes.

That weekend, Riversong gave two more performances. Eithne insisted they go to each one. She also insisted on arriving early, so she could talk to Alan. As Tam hovered near the stage, he overheard snatches of their conversations.

“What’s your favorite folk song?” Alan asked Eithne.

“The one about the boat.” In her high, silvery voice, Eithne sang, “Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing. Onward! The sailors cry.”

“Wow,” Alan exclaimed. “You have a great set of pipes!”

“I wish I could learn more,” she said shyly.

“I can give you lessons. I have a studio in Tacoma—here’s the address.”

He handed her a card, and Eithne tucked it into the pocket of her skirt. Tam thought his sister was being overly polite, pretending that this scruffy Human was good enough to teach a Fairlie.

In September, Eithne started making regular trips to Seagirt, which stood on Point Defiance at the north end of Tacoma. Lonan had pledged to marry Gwyneth, but before their betrothal could be formalized, he had to spend several weekends with his future in-laws. Queen Morna assigned Eithne to be his chaperone. She dropped obvious hints that Eithne was old enough to get serious about finding a husband.

“Some fine young men are visiting Seagirt this season.”

While rowing Eithne around the lake one Sunday, Tam teased her about her “beaus.” She gave him a sly smile and told him the truth; on Saturday afternoons, she was sneaking into the human town to take voice lessons.

“Alan says I should follow my bliss and try for a singing career.”

Tam gave her a blank stare. “What are you talking about? You’re the Storyteller.”

Eithne’s singing voice was pretty enough, but she had a remarkable talent for telling stories. She recited all the old Celtic tales, and she could make pictures appear in the air, a magical gift few others could claim. Tam couldn’t imagine her doing anything else.

“Mother chose Rhoswen to be our Singer,” he pointed out.

“Humph.” Eithne tossed her head. “In the human world, people can do whatever they like. Why can’t we have more choices? It’s not fair.”

“But—” Tam sputtered. “You’re sneaking into a human town—in the daytime.”

She laughed and playfully slapped his shoulder. “Don’t worry so much, silly boy. I’m just having fun.”

At the end of October, during the Samhain festival, Eithne played her usual role as the Storyteller for the Ettrick clan. She recited the Welsh tale about the Selkie who married a human farmer. Tam didn’t pay much attention; he was too busy flirting with Lark Madrona, a vivacious young woman with golden hair and dark brown eyes. He was thrilled when she accepted his invitation to dance.

As they skipped through a lively gavotte, Tam noticed Alan Breck standing in the Hall. He hovered among the guests near the windows, trying to blend in. But Tam recognized his long, wavy locks, and his green tunic and feathered cap looked like a Halloween costume. Only a Human would wear something like that. Tam gave the man an abrupt nod and danced on.

Alan’s presence was not unexpected. On Samhain, the gates between the Otherworld and the human world always stood open. Although Glimmeridge was hidden deep in Dunbar Woods, people from the town of Greenfield sometimes wandered into the crannog and joined the Ettricks’ celebration. They likely assumed it was a county fair of some kind. Queen Morna would have preferred to keep her family isolated, but she could not break the ancient traditions of the Fair Folk.

In the middle of a slow pavane, Tam saw Eithne teaching Alan the steps. As the music ended, she took his hand and pulled him into the shadows beneath the stairwell. After a whispered conversation, Alan kissed her cheek and slipped out the back door.

Tam sidled up to Eithne. “Are you encouraging that man’s attentions?”

“Of course not. He’s my teacher.”

But her laughter seemed forced. For the next two nights, Tam did frequent patrols of Glimmeridge and used his Watchfire to check on his family. He wasn’t supposed to spy on them, but it was his job to ensure their safety. He wanted to make sure Alan Breck didn’t try to get back into the crannog.

The borders were secure, and Tam relaxed his vigilance. Eithne seemed content with life in the Otherworld, and she cheerfully performed her duties. In mid-November, during Tam’s sixteenth birthday feast, she recited the tale of the Kelpie. He had heard it many times before, but the adventures of Donal and the chieftains’ sons always sent thrills up his spine. To escape the clutches of the man-horse from the sea, Donal cut off his own fingers. Tam wished he could be that brave.

Lonan and Gwyneth were planning a summer wedding, and Eithne agreed to be their Storyteller. She never mentioned Alan. She knows that Human has nothing to teach her, Tam decided.

On Arthan, the night of the Winter Solstice, Eithne entertained a crowd of Ettricks and Madronas with a dramatic rendition of “The Princess of the Shining Star.” As she spoke, streams of smoke rose from the fire and swirled in the air, creating images of the handsome miller and the ugly gremlins. The beautiful princess appeared in a glittering carriage created by a cloud of sparks. Everyone applauded enthusiastically, but Tam felt uneasy. For the second time in two months, Eithne had chosen a tale about a Human who fell in love with a woman of the Fair Folk.

It doesn’t mean anything, he told himself. Maybe she has a crush on Alan and admires his music, but Storytelling is her true calling.

The twelve days of Yuletide began. In the human developments of Heatherwood and Cedar Court, the houses were decorated with sparkling lights and colorful images of Saint Nicholas. In Glimmeridge, the Great Hall was decked with boughs of holly, and the Ettricks followed the Victorian custom of putting up a Christmas tree. Tam, Mungo, and Rubin, the gardener, cut down the tallest evergreen in the wood lot. The women adorned the tree with garlands of silk flowers, velvet ribbons, silver apples, and golden pears.

Throughout the holiday season, the Ettricks exchanged visits with friends and relatives. They were able to travel quickly through the Fairlie Portals to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. They made a courtesy call to Ellan Vannen—the Isle of Man—and presented their respects to Banba, the High Queen.

Each clan provided its highest level of hospitality and entertainment. There were feasts, balls, hunting parties, and sporting competitions. Tam engaged in several middleweight wrestling matches and won most of them. He also showed off his skill with the Watchfire. Now that he was sixteen, he was old enough to start courting, and he was expected to display his talents to the eligible young ladies.

After so many loud and elaborate parties, it was a relief to finish Yuletide with a simple family celebration. On January sixth, the Ettricks gathered in the Great Hall to sing and play games. For refreshments, Morna transformed the Christmas tree ornaments into real fruit. Once the garlands and ribbons were removed, the men sawed off the boughs, split the trunk, and used the wood to start a bonfire in the courtyard. Morna watched them from the tower of the Hall, poised to send a shower of rain if the flames spread out of control.

The other clan members strolled around the courtyard, exchanging gifts and greetings for the new year. Eithne embraced Tam and presented him with a small gift wrapped in flowered cloth.

“For my favorite brother,” she murmured. “It’s a secret—don’t open it until tomorrow.”

She slipped the package into the pocket of his leather jacket. He handed her a book of Christmas music he’d salvaged from a recycle bin. The cover was missing, but the pages were clean, and the songs were illustrated with pretty drawings.

Eithne leafed through the book. “What a nice collection! Whenever I use it, I’ll think of you.”

She kissed him on both cheeks, and tears glimmered in her clear blue eyes. It wasn’t like her to be so sentimental. But the end of Yuletide always felt a little sad.

Inside the Hall, their aunts were covering the tables with leftovers from the twelve nights of feasting. Tam stuffed himself with pumpkin cakes, apple tarts, and slices of ham and smoked turkey. At midnight, full of food and happy memories, he stumbled to his cottage and fell asleep.

An hour later, he woke to the sounds of a gathering storm. Thunder growled overhead, and wind gusted through the trees. A sharp knock rattled the door, and his mother burst into the room. Her long, dark hair flew about her face, crackling with angry static.

“Where is she?” Queen Morna shrieked.

Tam sat up and rubbed his bleary eyes. “Who?”

“Eithne! I don’t see her anywhere!”

“I don’t know where she is,” he mumbled.

“Use your Watchfire! Find her!”

Tam slipped on his jacket, pushed his bare feet into his boots, and stepped out the door. He held up his right hand and flicked his fingers together as if striking a match. A blue flame sprang up near the base of his thumb. Cupping the flame with his left hand, Tam shaped it into a Watchfire, a shimmering sphere the size of a child’s ball. He moved the ball in a slow circle, facing each direction as he whispered the names of his siblings.

“Brom. Niall. Rhoswen. Elestren. Lonan. Catríona. Eithne.” For good measure, he added his father’s name. “Mungo.”

One by one, their images appeared in the center of the sphere. Brom and Niall were traveling homeward with their wives’ clans. Rhoswen sang a lullaby to her fussy baby while her husband, Gavin, rocked the cradle. Elestren and her husband, Tristan, were fast asleep in their feather bed, their three children piled around them like a litter of puppies. Lonan wandered through the fir trees near his cottage, humming a love song and sighing over Gwyneth, who had returned to Seagirt with the other Madronas.

Tam held the Watchfire higher and focused on the Great Hall and the buildings beyond. Mungo sat in his library, reading a book. Catríona supervised the servants in cleaning the kitchen. Quickly, Tam checked the area around the women’s bathhouse, but he did not see Eithne anywhere.

Peering over his shoulder, Morna demanded, “Where is she?”

“I can’t tell.” Tentatively, he suggested, “We could see better from the battlements.”

“No!” Morna snapped. “No Watchfires in the tower!”

The wind grew stronger, shaking the boughs of the fir trees. Tam knew the weather was responding to his mother’s distress, and if he did not find Eithne, it would get worse. He threw a cloak over his shoulders and hurried to the Western Bridge. His fingers stiffened with cold, and it took several tries to create a new Watchfire.

“Hurry up!” Morna cried.

Tam held the sphere high and turned to face each compass direction. He scanned the woods on the west side of the crannog; next, he studied the meadow, the gardens, the cedar forest, the barnyard, and the waterfall.

“Eithne,” he murmured. Nothing. He repeated, more urgently, “Eithne!”

“Find her,” his mother pleaded, and he felt a stab of fear. Slowly, he turned to the south and scanned the baseball field. Eithne’s face appeared in the center of the Watchfire, but it was veiled by a soft mist.

“She’s in the park,” Tam said.

Morna clicked her tongue. “What is she doing there?”

“I don’t know. I have to get closer.”

They crossed the empty courtyard and climbed the path to the Great Hall. At the far end was a stone terrace bordered by an herb garden. Tam held up the Watchfire and moved it slowly across the tree line. Finally, he spotted two shadowy figures walking along Silver Creek on the east side of Dunbar Woods.

“There they are,” he muttered.

They?” Morna demanded.

“Eithne and Alan Breck. He’s—uh—a singer she’s fond of.”

“Fond?” she snapped. “How fond?”

Tam didn’t answer. He needed all his energy to keep the Watchfire steady as he followed his sister and her sweetheart. They stopped on the plank bridge that crossed the creek between the woods and the baseball field. Alan turned to face Eithne and clasped her hands. He spoke softly, and she replied. Her voice was faint, but Tam read her lips and repeated the words out loud. “I take ye as my wedded husband.

“They are hand-fasting!” Morna cried. “No!”

Her angry scream filled the air. Howling in response, the wind swept around her and lifted the edges of her cloak, making them flap like wings. Morna transformed into her owl shape and soared over the trees. But it was too late. Staring into the Watchfire, Tam saw the laughing couple race across the field to the parking lot. They jumped into a car, sped down the road, and disappeared into the human world. The only image left in the sphere was a blur of color and dazzling light. Even in her bird form, Morna could not catch up with them.

Her anguished cries echoed through the woods. All around the courtyard, lights flickered on, doors swung open, and voices called out in alarm. Mungo strode out of the Hall and joined Tam on the terrace.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Eithne eloped,” Tam said numbly. “With a Human. The man dressed up like Robin Hood on Samhain.”

“I wondered if there was something between those two.” Mungo shook his head and moaned in dismay. “Ooh, this is not good.”

“Can’t we stop them?” Tam cried.

Mungo set a hand on his shoulder. “Nothing can stop the course of true love. But your mother is going to be furious. As soon as she comes home, I’ll try to calm her down.”

He hurried back to his library and tuned his violin. Doors slammed shut as Morna flew screeching across the courtyard. Storm clouds billowed overhead, lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, and hail pelted down in a thick, white sheet.

Tam pulled his cloak over his head and ran back to his cottage. He tossed an armful of kindling into the fireplace and lit the wood with the last flame from the Watchfire. As he knelt there, rubbing his hands, his breath caught in a harsh sob.

How could Eithne do this to me? How could she leave without saying goodbye?

His stomach rolled, and for a moment, he felt like he might throw up. No use going back to bed. I’ll rest by the fire tonight.

He hung up his cloak and peeled off his damp jacket. As he draped it over a chair, his fingers felt the bundle in the left pocket. He pulled out the gift Eithne had given him after the feast. Inside, a piece of paper was folded around a small object. On the top flap, she had written in her slanting script, Don’t forget me.

He upended the packet, and a shimmering object fell into his hand. It was Eithne’s gold necklace, the one Queen Morna had given her on her sixteenth birthday. Tam lay down by the fire and clutched the necklace in his fist, rubbing the finely woven chain as if it were a talisman.

Chapter 2

The Gathering of the Clan

During the next three days, Morna paced around her parlor and shouted angrily at anyone who dared to approach. The rest of the week, she brooded in her bedchamber near the top of the tower. After a brief consultation with his wife, Mungo posted an announcement on the front door of the Hall. Tam read the scroll with a shiver of dread. The weekly Gathering on Sunday evening would be a council meeting. A formal Council did not bode well for Eithne, and Tam realized that he, too, was in trouble. He shuddered.

I hope Mother doesn’t throw me in the Pit.

“The Pit” was Queen Morna’s punishment for the most egregious infractions. The first time she sent Tam there, he had just discovered his ability to create the magic blue flame of the Watchfire. He was only six, and his new-found power made him giddy with excitement. He ran gleefully around the crannog, startling people by snapping his fingers in their faces.

Morna seized him by the ear, marched him to her parlor, and lectured him for ten minutes about courtesy, duty, and the responsible use of magic. “The Watchfire is not a toy! It is only to be used for the protection of the clan.”

With an innocent smile, Tam proclaimed, “I was practicing!”

“Don’t be rude,” she snapped. “You need to learn some manners.”

She pointed at him and recited the words of a spell. Swirling gray clouds trapped him inside a wall of thick, gray fog. He saw nothing, but his ears picked up a few faint sounds—the lapping of waves on a distant shore, the dripping of water on damp stone.

After a few minutes, Morna released Tam from his gray prison. He promised to act more responsibly, but his curiosity always overcame his better judgment. He could not resist the temptation to hide in Dunbar Woods and experiment with the Watchfire.

One sunny August day in his thirteenth year, he finally learned his lesson. Rubbing his hands to create greater friction, he transformed the cool, blue light into a blossom of yellow flames. To his alarm, the petals of fire grew hot. He panicked and clapped his hands together, spilling a few sparks on a pile of dry leaves. As he frantically stomped on the smoking embers, Queen Morna flew into the woods and screamed at him.

“You’re going to burn down the forest!”

She flung out her arm and shouted, and Tam plunged into darkness so deep he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. He felt frightened, hopeless, and utterly alone. Worst of all, the power of the spell pressed on his mind like an invisible weight. He could not produce a Watchfire or a single flicker of light.

“I’m sorry,” he whimpered. “I’m sorry.”

But his angry mother didn’t release him until the sun set behind the trees.

Tam never played another trick—at least, not in the woods. Sometimes, when he was walking by the lake, he absently tossed a small fire blossom in his hand. One day, Eithne saw him and nudged him until he stopped. With a sympathetic smile, she said, “Maybe you can visit the Mountain Clan and practice in the ice and snow.”

Eithne had been a good friend, and the pain of her absence felt like a knife in Tam’s side. He had failed in his duty to protect her, and he deserved to be punished. He wished his mother would send him to the mountains—that would be better than the alternative. Crouching by his fireplace, he rubbed his throbbing head and sent a silent plea to the heavens. Dagda, Great Creator, save me from the Pit!

On Sunday night, Tam joined the other clan members as they marched up to the Great Hall. Morna sat on the dais in her carved wooden throne, looking stern in a robe of black velvet. The Ettrick children and grandchildren sat in the center of the room. Aunts, uncles, and cousins of various ranks positioned themselves along the outer edge. Servants stood by the sideboard near the rear door, ready to serve refreshing cups of water, tea, or cider. Everyone wore their best clothes.

Mungo perched at a tall writing desk near the fireplace. In addition to being the brenhin or king of the clan, he was the scribe, historian, and legal adviser. He could have assigned a secretary for these tasks, but Mungo preferred to do the work himself. He entered each birth and wedding date and copied every royal decree into the Ettricks’ Book of Remembrance. The bonreens might rule the clans, but the brenhins kept their households running smoothly.

Tam knew if he married Lark Madrona, he would never become a brenhin; the oldest daughter in a clan always took her mother’s place. But Tam didn’t care about rank or royal duties. He wanted to be free to travel, visit different countries, and use his magic for a greater good. He longed to prove himself a hero, like the ones in the old tales. Perhaps he could go on a noble quest or save a village from a dragon or—or something like that. Dragons were now a protected species.

Tam’s sisters whispered together, filling the room with gossip and speculation. Mungo opened the Book of Remembrance to a clean page. Queen Morna rose from her throne, and everyone in the Hall fell silent.

In a clear and dignified voice, she declared, “The Council of the Ettricks begins. Listen well, for I must speak of an urgent matter.”

She nodded at Mungo, and he began writing with a goose quill pen. Morna continued slowly, pausing between phrases so he could catch up.

“On the sixth of January, after the New Year feast, Eithne of the Ettrick, Princess of Winter, broke Fairlie law by marrying without our royal consent. Furthermore, she dishonored the clan by running away with a Human. She forfeited the rights of the Fairlies, and she will lose the gift of eternal youth. Henceforth, her name shall not be spoken in Glimmeridge, nor will she be mentioned by any member of this family. She is forgotten!”

Morna swept her arms wide, as if slicing the air with a sword. The others bowed their heads and murmured, “She is forgotten.” Dutifully, Tam moved his lips. At the same time, he recalled Eithne’s message and the necklace hidden in his cottage.

I will not forget you, he promised recklessly. I will not forget.

Morna continued, “On this night, I invoke the Changeling Law. The Humans took one of ours, so we shall take one of theirs and force her to labor in the fields.”

Mungo held up a finger. “My lady, with your permission?”

Morna gave him an irritated look. “Does my Counselor have an objection?”

He stood and bowed politely. “Your Majesty, I believe the Changeling Law applies only to infants.”

“We have the right to take a Captive after the theft of our Lost One,” Morna insisted.

“Er, the Humans would consider that a kidnapping,” Mungo said. “They might send men with guns to take the child back.”

Gavin jumped up, his hand on the hilt of his dagger. “If they dare challenge us, blood will be shed. We will fight from the river to the sea!”

“No, no, no.” Mungo waved his hands. “Sit down, you hothead. There will be no fighting.”

Reluctantly, Gavin resumed his seat. Mungo climbed the steps to the dais and smiled gently at his wife.

“Marriage is an act of love, my dear, not an act of war. Our daughter left the Otherworld of her own free will. We cannot disregard her choice. The Council of Old Ones would object.”

“But what will we do for Lonan’s wedding?” Rhoswen asked. “He wanted Eithne—I mean, the Lost One—to tell a story.”

Lonan looked stricken. The Madronas wouldn’t call off the wedding because Glimmeridge lacked a Storyteller. But Eithne’s disappearance might bring unwelcome criticism, and each member of the clan would lose face. Morna gnashed her teeth.

“Tamlin of the Ettrick,” she hissed.

Startled, Tam looked up and met the force of his mother’s blazing eyes. She jabbed an accusing finger at him. “You patrol the borders of our domain. You control the Watchfire. You should have known what the Lost One was planning.”

“No, no, of course not,” he cried.

“You were supposed to be her chaperone,” Rhoswen pointed out. “You escorted her to the summer concerts.”

“She—she admired one of the singers,” he stammered. “But I never encouraged her!”

Catríona’s hazel eyes sparkled with curiosity. “A singer? Was that the Human she was flirting with at Samhain?”

Elestren chimed in, “You should have watched her more carefully.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Tam protested. “I couldn’t watch Eithne while she was at Seagirt. She was meeting her friend in Tacoma.”

Everyone gasped, and he realized his mistake. Hastily, he added, “She was taking voice lessons.”

“What?” Morna shrieked.

Meekly, Tam lowered his head and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

But there was no forgiveness in his mother’s fiery eyes. “You knew Eithne was seeing that man, and you did not tell me?”

Tam should have kept his mouth shut. But he rushed on, struggling to defend himself. “She loved music. She—she wanted to learn more about Celtic folk songs.”

“She had no business studying with a Human!” Morna gave him a furious look and turned to face the company. She raised her arms, and her voice grew as deep and sonorous as the wind. “Tamlin of the Ettrick, Watcher of the Night, has failed in his duties. This shall be his punishment: he shall spend one day in the Pit—”

“Wait!” Tam cried. He darted to the edge of the dais and bowed to his parents. “To avoid the Pit, I propose a bargain. I will find a new Storyteller.”

Morna’s lips curled. “For your information, all the good Storytellers are taken.”

“Then I will find one in the human world!”

A ripple of laughter ran through the Hall, and even Morna cracked a smile. “A human Storyteller? Ridiculous!”

“If Humans can write books, they can tell stories,” Mungo said. “William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brothers Grimm.”

“Words on a page.” Morna gave a haughty sniff.

Mungo went on, his eyes glowing as he recalled selections from his collection of human books. “The tales of the Greeks and Romans were recited before they were written down. So was ‘Beowulf.’ And, if I recall correctly, Taliesin was a human poet of great renown.”

The company murmured in appreciation, but Morna shook her head. “It is a lost art.”

“An art that may be returning,” Lonan said. He stood to address the company. “During my patrols in the daytime, I often fly around the school. When the windows are open, I can hear the children reading their papers out loud. They call it creative writing.”

Morna raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Really.” She pondered a moment and then nodded abruptly. “Very well. I will accept a human Apprentice who can be trained as a Storyteller. She must be courteous, intelligent, and beautiful, with a clear and pleasant voice.”

Rhoswen smirked. “Mother, you will never find a human girl to compare with Eithne—I mean, with the Lost One.”

Mungo smiled in agreement. “I think we need to lower our expectations.”

“All right,” Morna said crossly. “I’ll settle for someone who is modest, teachable, and reasonably attractive.” She turned back to Tam. “I accept your bargain, Tamlin. You will not suffer a punishment if you find a human Storyteller by Lunasa.”

Relief washed over him like a wave of cool water. He gave his mother a dignified bow. “To repair my fault, I promise to find a young woman as talented as—as Hans Christian Andersen!”

“The master of fairy tales.” Mungo nodded in approval.

“If that’s the best you can do,” Morna muttered. She raised her hands and cried, “This Council is adjourned. You are all dismissed.”

Mungo picked up his violin. “Let us have some music to calm our troubled souls.”

“And dancing,” Rhoswen exclaimed, and the others cheered.

The men pushed back the tables, and family members formed a circle in the center of the Hall. Rubin strummed his guitar, Tristan beat out the rhythm on a bodhran, and Mungo launched into a lively fiddle tune. Everyone sang the words of the song. Tam’s high, sweet tenor mingled with the other voices, but his heart was heavy. Rhoswen was right—no girl, Fairlie or Human, could ever take Eithne’s place.

In spite of the cheerful music, Morna’s eyes were as hard as stone. During the first dance, she stalked from the room. Later that night, as Tam walked back to his cottage, he saw her flying across the courtyard in her owl shape. The bird hooted mournfully through the trees, and storm clouds rolled over Dunbar Woods.

A sheet of lightning flashed across the sky, and Tam felt a surge of anger at the interfering Humans who had caused his mother’s pain. Shes right, he thought with grim resolve. They took one of ours—we’ll take one of theirs.

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