Authors: Anna Windsor
Bound by Flame
Dark Cresent Sisterhood Book 2
For my family,
because they have
to go insane with me every time
Moonlight flickered across the dark bog-waters of Connemara as Cynda Flynn bounced against her father’s shoulder. Warm breezes brushed her freckled cheeks, and the Irish night smelled of grass and mud and flowers as
carried her like she was still a baby.
Cynda frowned and shifted in her father’s arms. She was almost six years old. She could have walked, but
kept her pinned tight, with a damp blanket pulled around her.
“Are you still angry about the roof and the trees?” she whispered as she squeezed his neck. “I wouldn’t have done it if—”
told her, fast and sharp, his voice flat in the summer air. Then he muttered, “
. Cynda repeated the syllables slowly to herself. A funny word, like the old people used. She had heard that word more than once, and never in a good way. It meant
a fae baby swapped for a human baby. Children who got called shee-fra weren’t very nice.
Cynda squirmed inside the wet blanket.
She knew her father was unhappy with her because she couldn’t stop playing with sparks and smoke and flames. They had walked so far, so long—what was he planning to do?
He would never hurt her. Not
. But they had no relatives who lived so far from the village. She had only come this distance a few times, with her mother, taking clothes to the nuns who lived in the big place.
tell her where they were going?
When moonlight reflected off his round face, Cynda saw that his eyes looked wide and half-wild. Wet trails wound down his cheeks, and now and then she caught a whiff of old smoke from his clothes. Smoke from the roof she had burned. Smoke from the trees she had destroyed.
’s heart beat so hard she could feel it as she lay against him, holding tighter and tighter as he picked up his pace.
Cynda sensed more than saw the mountains looming in the distance.
to be near the big nun place.
Was her father planning to leave her with the nuns to teach her a lesson? Surely not. That school was for very wealthy girls who had presidents and kings and ambassadors for fathers. Not Cynda.
tended sheep, and her mother made shirts. Her brothers and sisters helped at one task or the other, and nobody from her village went to fancy schools like the one at Kylemore Abbey.
But her father did take her to the old abbey, straight to an arched door Cynda knew from those previous trips with her mother. The door where service people came and went. Her father’s big fist hammered on that door until lights blazed and the door came open to reveal two nuns.
Cynda squinted in the sudden brightness. The nuns in the arched doorway wore black-and-white nundresses, and Cynda wondered if the women slept in those uncomfortable-looking robes and hats.
In a mix of English and Irish, her father introduced himself and said, “Our priest told me to ask for Sister Alastrine.”
The nuns gasped. They glanced from
“We haven’t heard that name in many years,” the smaller, meaner-looking nun said, speaking too clearly, as if Cynda and her father might be slow of thought. “Are you certain your priest gave you that name?”
Cynda fidgeted inside her wet blanket and thought about making fire to light the women’s behinds. She could see sparks in the air. She could always see sparks, and she loved to touch them, call to them, and turn them into bright, pretty flames.
Maybe fire would wipe away the short nun’s fierce frown. She didn’t like the short nun, and she didn’t like frowns.
“I must see Sister Alastrine.” Her father’s words sounded tight, like he might be afraid. That made Cynda afraid and she grabbed some of the sparks, just a few to hold, to make herself feel better.
The blanket around her made a sizzling, hissing sound, and a tiny jet of smoke drifted from Cynda, straight into the two nunfaces in the doorway.
Without another comment, the taller nun nodded and held open the door. Then she crossed herself and hurried away. Cynda figured she had gone to get Sister Alastrine, whoever that was.
Will Sister Alastrine cane me? Or wear out my palms with a switch?
said nuns once did that to him.
Cynda picked at her blanket as her father took her through the arched door into Kylemore Abbey. Smells changed from fresh-outside to cleanser, bleach, and something like pine. Polish, maybe. For floors or wood. The air inside felt cooler and more still. All the clean, shiny things made Cynda nervous. Too nice. Too much. Not like home at all. She would have asked
why he had brought her here, why he didn’t just punish her himself, but he was praying. So was the nun who had stayed behind in the room with them.
Instead of interrupting her father’s conversation with God, Cynda amused herself by making flames dance over the short nun’s head.
The nun never looked up, and she never stopped praying. For a long, long time. Her delicate face reminded Cynda of one of those expensive glass dolls she saw once while traveling with her mother—beautiful, but stiff and pale and fragile, white as snow with roses blooming on the cheeks. When the nun’s eyes flicked open to study Cynda, Cynda noted they were brown like her mother’s eyes, only these brown eyes seemed cold like the rest of the nun. Cynda couldn’t see the woman’s hair, but she was sure it would be so brown and stiff it didn’t look real, like that doll’s hair.
Nuns and dolls, dolls and nuns.
This was boring. And stupid.
She needed to change things before she fell asleep and woke up at home, with
all the more angry because she hadn’t paid attention to her punishment.
Before Cynda could decide what to set ablaze so the glass-doll nun would stop muttering to herself, the tall nun returned, leading a woman in green robes, with long red hair streaked silver-white. She was so little, not much taller than some of the girls Cynda played with, but her eyes…
The sight of those blazing green orbs made Cynda turn loose her fire. Embers rained into the room as the woman in the green robes let go of the nun who escorted her. Both nuns watched the bits of fire fall, but said nothing. The taller one seemed at peace, but the mean nun glared, like she wished she could slap the little woman in the green robes, just for being in the abbey.
The little woman ignored both nuns and walked straight toward Cynda, seeming stronger and younger and taller all at once.
Those are evil eyes,
Cynda told herself.
Maybe she’s blind. Maybe she can’t see me.
Yet she already knew the woman could see everything, right down to the bruise on Cynda’s left third toenail.
Cynda shivered inside the blanket. She tried to press back against her father, but he thrust her out, out, over the marble floor, almost throwing her, blanket and all, into the old woman’s arms.
Panic welled in Cynda’s belly.
The woman reached for her, but before those knobby fingers so much as touched the blanket’s worn fringe, Cynda called to her fire. She didn’t want to hurt the woman. She just wanted her to stop, to go away and leave Cynda safe with her
. He’d finish his business. They’d go home. Cynda knew she could do better and try not to burn anything ever again. Ever, never. No. She wouldn’t. Except this one more time.
The woman’s green robes burst into flames.
Cynda waited for the screaming, the cursing, the horror that always came when she used her fire—but the woman laughed instead.
She waved a gnarled hand in the air, and the flames on her robes snuffed to trails of smoke, barely leaving a singe mark.
The nuns crossed themselves. The glass-doll nun murmured, “Devil.”
The woman’s green eyes flared, and she treated both nuns to a ferocious glare.
“She is no devil, Sister Julia,” she said in a voice so powerful the words bounced off the walls and floor and Cynda’s ears all at once. “That child is a warrior of the old blood, and she’ll be bearin’ the mark of the Dark Goddess.”
The woman extended her thin arm as Sister Julia and the other nun cowered. She let her robe sleeve slide down to reveal a tattoo that seemed to pulse and glow in the low lighting. Cynda could make out drawings of a dark broom, mortar, and pestle etched in a triangle around a crescent moon.
“She is a Sibyl, as am I. If you can’t understand that, you can’t remain in this abbey. Our arrangement is older than your ancestors—almost as old as time itself.” The woman turned back to Cynda, only now she was smiling, and fire blazed like a halo around her red and silver hair. “If you remain here, Sister Julia, you’ll be givin’ us
our due respect.”
Perfect, smooth, controlled fire extended slowly down the old woman’s shoulders and arms, until yellowish orange energy played off her fingertips, too.
Cynda marveled at the sight. She wanted to reach for the fire, but she didn’t dare. She didn’t twitch or breathe, or anything else. This time, when the woman moved to take her from her father’s arms, Cynda made no attempt to fight her, even though her heart and mind screamed that she would never again see her father or mother or her sisters and brothers.
She knew better than to battle the woman now. She knew what the woman was capable of, if she could make such perfect fire, whenever and however she wanted.
I burn down houses and trees. This woman could burn down the world.
“I’m Mother Keara, child.” The woman grasped Cynda firmly, pulled her from her father, threw down the wet blanket, and set Cynda’s bare feet on the cool stone floor. “Daughter of Mara and granddaughter of Alastrine.” The whole time she spoke, fire danced around Mother Keara, but all Cynda felt was pleasant, loving heat.
When Cynda gazed up at her, Mother Keara let the flames ringing her head grow even taller and more frightening to everyone but Cynda. “I’ll be takin’ you for my own, to join the sisters of Motherhouse Ireland, and teach you the ways of fire and war. Would you like that?”
Cynda shook as she gazed at Mother Keara’s fire, but her pride and pain wouldn’t let her turn around and run to her father. The terrified nuns hovered on the edges of her awareness, and she pushed them from her mind, too.
What did they matter?
Cynda’s lips trembled.
What did her
matter, or her mother, or her brothers and sisters, if they would give her away so easily? Because that’s what they were doing, she had no question. Abandoning her—only, not to Sister Julia and the nun school.
To Mother Keara, who knew how to make fire better than Cynda.
“Where is Motherhouse Ireland?” Cynda asked without letting her voice tremble.
Mother Keara looked pleased, as very few people had ever been pleased with Cynda. “Through a secret passage and down a tunnel, in a valley not far from here. There, you’ll learn to stand in the fire and speak when no one wants to hear your words. You’ll learn to let the flames burn as you speak when cowards would choose silence.” At that, Mother Keara glared at Sister Julia, the tall nun, and Cynda’s father. When she looked back to Cynda, her expression immediately softened. She held out her lumpy, aged hand. “You’ll learn to speak until no smoke obscures the truth, that I promise. If you come with me, I’ll show you where your