Authors: Erin S. Riley
Table of Contents
A FLAME PUT OUT
Sons of Odin Series
ERIN S. RILEY
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
A FLAME PUT OUT
ERIN S. RILEY
Cover Design by Victoria Vane
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
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For my son Riley—
You are my hero, #11.
I love you more than all the sand at the beach.
Thank you to my husband and children for supporting my need to write, including a willingness to eat peanut butter crackers for supper without complaint whenever I’m on a roll. A special thanks to Carmen Vanscyoc, Nicole Armstrong, and Kelley Franks, three wonderful friends who were my first readers and are still my biggest supporters, and to Kim Freeman, a dear friend who never tires of discussing story ideas with me. Thank you to fellow writers Susan Ward and Terry Wilson for their positive feedback and encouragement through this sometimes overwhelming journey. Thank you to Regan Walker and Carol Cork for their support. And a heartfelt thank you to Diana Deyo, a friend who refused to let me give up. Above all, thank you to my mother, Karen S. Ward, who was taken from this world too soon but taught me what unconditional love truly is. Everything I am and everything I will be, I owe to her.
I am so grateful to Debby Gilbert from Soul Mate Publishing for providing the opportunity for me to pursue my dreams. A special thanks goes to Victoria Vane, cover designer extraordinaire. And finally, thank you to my brilliant editor, Char Chaffin, who understood my vision from the beginning and who polished my story with unwavering patience.
Grainne heard the children whispering just after dawn, too early for them to be awake. She shushed them over her shoulder as she stirred the kettle of porridge, but had trouble keeping her face stern as Cassan grinned at her.
Deirdre climbed down from the bench she shared with her brother. She toddled over, with Cassan following as he always did. "'San is hungry, Mamai," she lisped.
She regarded her little daughter. "Is that so? And what is it he wants, then?"
"Cakes," Deirdre replied with a serious expression, referring to the oatcakes and honey Grainne would sometimes make as a special treat.
"Well. If Cassan wants oatcakes, we will have to send Dadai into the forest to chase down a bee and steal his honey."
Deirdre pouted, as though doubting her father would be willing to undertake such a task. But she stomped off to the barn to ask him, with Cassan following several steps behind.
Grainne shook her head as she watched them go. The twins had been born too early, and although Cassan was somewhat small at birth, Deirdre had been tiny, barely longer than her father's hand. Her cries were so weak she sounded more like a kitten than a human child, and her mouth was too small to properly suckle. No one had expected the fragile infant to live.
But live she did. Faolan had made sure of that, despite Grainne's misgivings. Shivering, she crossed herself at the memory.
Little Deirdre not only survived, but quickly exceeded her brother’s development. She uttered her first intelligible word before she could walk. Soon, she could speak in sentences, and at two summers she remembered every word spoken.
The child’s uncanny precociousness made Grainne uneasy. What if someone put the chain of events together and realized what Faolan had done? But he scoffed at her worries.
Even the village priest believed Deirdre's abilities were a gift from God. He came to their house nearly every evening after supper, reciting scriptures to the child in Latin. And she soaked it all in, her face solemn with concentration. The priest thought little Deirdre might become a nun.
Grainne and Faolan didn't speak of the irony of that plan.
Cassan barely said a word other than the unintelligible jargon he spoke with his sister. Grainne would sometimes lie awake at night, listening to them chatter to each other in the dark. And hated it.
Her son was good natured with an even temper, a direct contrast to his sister’s more stubborn nature. He allowed Deirdre to take the lead in all things, content to follow and do her bidding. Although Grainne worried about Cassan’s meekness, Faolan found great amusement in this and said it would prepare the boy for his eventual marriage.
The door opened and Deirdre entered, pulling her father by the hand. Cassan was several steps behind with his thumb in his mouth. "Dadai will find the bee," Deirdre informed her.
Faolan shrugged helplessly with a smile, and Grainne's heart nearly burst with the beauty of it. She had loved him since they were children, thinking him the most handsome boy in all of Ireland. A man such as Faolan could have had any woman who struck his fancy, but he had chosen her.
He handed her the pail of milk he had been carrying, cocking an amused eyebrow. "Am I truly to go hunting for honey, then? Or is Deirdre-"
Suddenly a woman's scream sounded outside, calling for Faolan. Both Grainne and Faolan jumped as Ionait, the widow who lived at the neighboring farm with her son, rushed in from the mist beyond, darting through the open doorway.
"Finngalls," she gasped, clutching her chest. "They are here! Aodhan is fighting them!"
Grainne heard faint shouting and the clanging of metal. Ionait sobbed and backed toward the door, but Faolan blocked her way.
," he ordered, in a voice Grainne had never heard him use before.
He flipped open the leather chest that sat near their bench, pulling out an ancient-looking sword. He was a farmer, not a warrior, and much handier with the pitchfork or scythe. But Grainne knew her husband would not leave his family unprotected while he ran to the barn. His grandfather's sword would have to do.
Time seemed to stand still as Faolan gazed down at the faces of his children, before exchanging a long look with Grainne. "Bolt the door," he said. Then he was gone, out into the early morning mist.
She heard his raised voice, followed by incomprehensible noises that reminded her of the snarling of wolves. Was that the language of the Finngalls? They were close then, so close, and she ran to bolt the door.
There was a scream from outside-a male scream-and then silence. “Faolan?” she whispered hoarsely.
If the Finngalls were still out there, the door would be no match for their weapons. Grainne waited, each second an eternity. What if Faolan had killed the Finngalls, but was now outside, wounded?
She took a deep breath, slid the latch over, and opened the door. The thick mist hid all from her sight, and she hesitated. Should she search for Faolan or stay with the children, who were crying behind her?
A noise, footsteps just a few yards in front of her, made her heart leap.
"Faolan?" she whispered again.
It wasn't Faolan. The devil himself emerged from the mist, a Finngall as large as two men, wearing a mail shirt and iron helmet. He carried a battle-axe on his shoulder, stained red with blood. When he spotted her, the smile forming on his lips seemed the most chilling expression Grainne had ever seen.
Too late she tried to shut the door, but the Finngall pushed into it with such force that she fell. The children and Ionait sobbed hysterically, and the devil growled something to them in his wolf language. Grainne turned, crawling on her hands and knees, desperate to protect her children.
The Finngall picked her up by the neck to toss her upon the table. Bowls of porridge flew from its surface and hit the wall with a clatter.
The giant laughed at her screams as he laid his axe next to her on the table. Her gaze fixed on the black hairs glued to the blood that smeared it, and she stared, numb and still.
She felt nothing as he lifted her gown. Her body was as cold as that of her dead husband.
But the children's screams intensified, and she turned hollow eyes in their direction. "Run," she choked out to Ionait. "Take the children!"
Ionait seemed frozen in fear, clutching the twins to her breast. Deirdre struggled to break free of Ionait's grip, but Cassan only stared, pale and open mouthed, wailing.
Grainne’s attacker pulled off his helmet to wipe his sweaty brow with one massive forearm. She stared at his face, memorizing every line and plane. Without the helmet, she realized he was very young. For all his size, this Finngall devil was barely more than a boy. Yet his eyes were empty and cold, devoid of any human emotion.
Deirdre suddenly broke free from Ionait and rushed toward the giant devil, biting his leg hard enough to draw blood. He bellowed as he turned his unholy gaze on the toddler. As he reached for the axe, Grainne flung her hand to the side, pushing it to the floor.
He stretched to grab Deirdre, and Grainne wrapped her arms around one of his to slow him down. "Ionait, run—now!" she screamed at the woman.
Ionait sobbed as her eyes darted to the door. She couldn't reach it without getting within an arm's length of the Finngall. As she inched across the room, clutching the children, another gigantic Finngall demon entered the house. Foreign words tumbled from them as they both cursed each other.
The devil suddenly broke from her desperate grip, catching her by the hair, to sling her across the room.
Grainne’s temple hit the hearth and the edges of her vision went dark. A burning log from the hearth rolled to the corner, then blazed bright as the willow branch wall caught fire. The flames crackled upward, hot and quick; smoke filled the room.
She stared, dazed.
A voice in her head that sounded like Faolan's urged her to get the children away from more danger, and she forced herself to her feet. The two Finngalls were still shouting at each other, and the bigger one shoved the other aside to make him stumble.
Then, in a motion so fluid and quick Grainne barely had time to react, the devil pulled his sword from its scabbard, bringing the hilt forcefully down upon the small curly head of her daughter, as though squashing a bug.
Grainne screamed as Deirdre's tiny body collapsed in the smoke. Her head bounced against the dirt floor, and her wide, sightless eyes stared into nothingness. The devil flicked the sword up and over in his hand, catching it so the blade now faced downward, then raised his arm to run the child through with it.
The second Finngall yelled and ran toward the devil with his shield before him as if to block the blow. But he used the shield as a weapon, bringing the metal edge of it down upon the hand of the devil. The room echoed with the sound of metal cracking bone.
The devil dropped the sword and stared at his mangled hand for a moment. With a roar, he overturned the table to pick up the axe that had fallen under it. The second Finngall lunged for him. They rolled on the floor, snarling at each other like wolves.
Grainne crawled to the body of her child. Deirdre was pale and still, limp, and Grainne sobbed as she clutched the tiny form to her breast.
Suddenly the second Finngall spoke to her in strangely-accented Irish. "Run," he panted, "before he kills the other one."
Grainne and Ionait turned to flee, each holding a child. The devil grabbed Grainne's ankle, pulling her to the floor, and she had to twist her torso as she fell to avoid crushing the body of her little daughter.
"Take her, Ionait!" she begged. If the devil meant to carry Grainne off into slavery, she would not leave the tiny body to be burned inside the house, or thrown to the ravens.
Ionait seemed to understand, for she grabbed Deirdre's floppy body and pulled it clear of the Finngalls. As the woman hurried into the mist, Grainne saw Cassan's terrified face peering over Ionait's shoulder.
he cried, holding out a tiny hand.