Authors: Candace Sams
The Gazing Globe
By Candace Sams
"I've found them, and they're dead, Shayla. Both died recently. I would have called you, but this entire situation has been very hard to take. If only I could have gotten here sooner." Hugh McTavish ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
Shayla Gallagher tightly gripped the phone as the news set in. "I'm sorry, Hugh. Sorry for all of us. I loved them as much as you did and had hoped they would return."
"The search wasn't in vain. They had a son. His name is Blain, and he's a grown man with the build of a pure warrior. I introduced myself, and he knew nothing about me. It appears my brother and Syndra hid everything well."
Shayla closed her eyes and shook her head. "Damn Freyja! Her hate is still touching us all. Syndra's and Arthur's son should be among us. This matter has gone on far too long. How did the young man react when you met him?" She heard Hugh swallow hard and clear his throat.
"He knew I was related to Arthur the moment he laid eyes on me. After so many years, we must have still looked alike. And Blain was so excited to see me, and so full of questions. It was all I could do to keep from telling him everything, Shayla. But there's something wrong here. Blain told me his parents'
deaths were coincidental, but the circumstances are too odd. They died of different illnesses that came on quickly, and nowBlaineis ill as well."
Shayla quickly stood up and pushed her desk chair away. "Tell me everything, Hugh. Don't leave out a single detail."
"According to Blain, Arthur was as healthy as any man could be. Then, he suddenly dropped dead of heart failure while working in the fields. Soon after that, Syndra became ill and died. It seems some of her organs stopped working."
"Forgive me for asking this Hugh, but is there any way Blain could have discovered some powers of his own and used them adversely? Even by mistake?"
"I've thought of that, but there isn't any way he could have harmed them, Shayla. Blain loved his parents and was crushed by their deaths. Even in the few days I've known him, his love for them is evident in everything he says and does. I can't sense any deception, and he says the doctors ruled his parents'
deaths as natural."
Hugh paused and took a deep breath before continuing. "I'm convinced that someone had a hand in Arthur's and Syndra's deaths, and now they're after Blain. I've found hexes and talisman's connected with black magic around the farm. Whoever is using this black magic obviously has enough power to finish him off, but it's like they're torturing him for a reason. Playing with him as though they're testing him and his abilities. He is a blend after all, and I'm afraid this may all lead back to the events surrounding Freyja.
I...I believe someone may know about us."
Shayla shivered at his words. "I need to know exactly where you are."
"New England. A place called Harvest,Maine."
"Shayla quickly motioned one of her waiting assistants to come forward. She put her hand over the receiver and gave the girl instructions to book an immediate flight toNew England. Then she gave Hugh her full attention again. "I'm already booking a flight, and I'll be there as quickly as I can. Now, tell me anything else you can. Nothing is too trivial."
"I've told you everything I know. Whatever is happening, I'm not about to stand idly by and let my own flesh and blood die as his father and mother may have."
"There, there, darling," she soothed as Hugh's anger and pain echoed in the tone of his voice. "If the Goddess allows, I'll not only save his life, but get him back here safely. I owe Arthur and Syndra that much, even if it turns out they never wanted to return or to have anything to do with us."
"Could youBlainethem if they didn't?" Hugh angrily asked. "What kind of world did we live in where two young people had to run and hide because they loved one another?"
I agree with you, and I'll be there, soon, darling I might not be able to get away tomorrow but go alone.
I want to get to know my nephew better, and I can protect him against is happening to him for that short period of time."
"Absolutely not! You could both end up dead."
"I beg you, Shayla. I'll begin reversing the hexes or at least slow their effects. But I think Blain needs to get to know me before we tell him who he really is or he may reject the Order and endanger himself further. If his health worsens or I begin to feel ill, I'll phone you immediately."
Shayla considered the request. "All right, dear. But I'll be there three weeks to the day. And if you don't check in regularly, I'll be bringing warriors with me."
"Thank you, my heart." He paused and lowered his voice. "I miss you."
Shayla gripped the phone with both hands. "Being without you is agonizing."
"My love is yours no matter where we are."
"Take the greatest care, Hugh."
"I will. And sleep well, my darling. I dream of you."
"And I dream of you," she whispered and slowly hung up the phone. As soon as she placed the receiver back down, Shayla turned to her staff. "Bring me everything we have on old Freyja. Start with the battle thirty years ago and work your way back."
The young assistant bowed his head and hurried from the room to do as the Sorceress of The Ancients commanded.
"Don't do this, lad. You should get some rest."
"We've had this argument before, Hugh. Don't worry about me. I'll feel better after I've been outside."
Blain stared out the back screen door knowing his uncle was right. He couldn't get over the illness plaguing him, keep up with the farm work and still go out in the woods at night. But it wasn't something he could help. He simply had to go or face being even more sick. He dragged his gaze away from the woods and glanced over his shoulder at Hugh once more.
"What about tomorrow? If you go out tonight, how will you feel then?" Hugh asked, frustration in his voice.
"I'll worry about that later. I appreciate your concern, but don't wait up. I can deal with this," Blain lied.
Once he was outside and away from the farmhouse, he stripped off his clothing and ran naked, as though his life depended upon being in contact with nature. In fact, he believed it really did. Because he was weak, he had to push himself, but the effort paid off. When he finally reached the end of a very long forest path, he stopped and rested against a tree. The illness already seemed to be leaving his body.
He dragged fresh, clean air into his lungs and sank to his knees. The doctor had been unable to tell him why he was sometimes so weak he could barely move. Was his sickness something rare? Something they couldn't diagnose and for which there was no cure? He didn't know why running naked made a difference in how he felt, but he had to do it. It was an obsession. And because that yearning was so abnormal he wondered if his mind was failing along with his health. Would he not only end up dying slowly, but insane as well? The fear that he might scared the hell out of him. There were only two people in his life that he could go to with his fear—his girlfriend, Rhiannon and his uncle, Hugh.
He'd tried telling Rhiannon about the malady plaguing him but talking wasn't one of her favorite pastimes. She preferred raw, unadulterated sex. As much as she could get. At one time it had pleased him to give it to her. Now, even sex made him feel drained and weak. Only by running in the woods at night did he find any peace. Afterward, he felt whole again. Strong and ready to face a new day.
Hugh was the only one who knew about his nightly nude dashes through the woods, and he didn't seem to consider Blain's actions as odd. And that, in itself, was bizarre. Anyone else would have called a shrink and had him committed by now.
But how long could the cycle of work, illness and running nude in the woods at night last? It was an absurd way to live. But since medical science had no answers, he relented to the call of nature and let that be his treatment.
The longer he stayed in the woods, the better he felt, so Blain lingered to gather more strength. A full moon hung overhead like an ornament, and it vaguely reminded him of something he couldn't quite pinpoint. Had the moon's surface been shiny and cast a reflection, its appearance would seem more appropriate to him. He had a faint sense that what he was thinking of or remembering might have been something out of the past. Something he'd heard one of his parents speak of. Whatever it was, the moon's surface just needed a little imaginary rearranging, and he might be able to grab onto the memory.
The more he struggled to recall that elusive memory, however, the more vague the entire concept became.
He sighed and gave up. That's when he looked toward the forest again and saw the symbol. In the moon's strong light, it was clearly visible. Someone had deeply carved a picture of a stick man into the side of an oak tree, then slashed through the image with a sharp blade.
He walked toward the image, lifted his hand to touch it, but he immediately began to feel ill. But that was not only crazy, it was impossible. Touching a vandal's graffiti couldn't make someone sick. Yet, here he was, engulfed by dizziness and nausea all over again.
He fought off the symptoms by trying to replace them with an emotional cure. Anger. This was his property. No one was supposed to be out here defacing his trees. As he stared at the carving, he acknowledged that it was an unusual way to mar the bark. Kids would scratch out their names or something they could see later and lay claim to. This was something all together different—something almost sinister. The event caused him to add anxiety to the list of the other problems afflicting him. Who the hell was in his woods and what were they doing to the trees?
"You've brought everything?"
"I have it all, just as you asked."
"Then leave it and do as you've been told."
"I will, Mistress. But there are easier ways to do this. I could simply put something into his food. We can't keep sneaking around forever. Someone will see us or he'll discover trespassers have been on his land. It's risky."
The old woman pushed the hood of her cloak back and sneered. "Have I taught you nothing? We'll have the police down on us if we do it your way. His parents died within a short time of one another.
That might seem odd to some. But killing the boy now will make those deaths seem positively suspicious.
That's why I didn't take them all out at once. My way is best. Slowly, one at a time, and using magic to our advantage. No one must ever know what really happened. Besides, it will be more painful for him this way. And his lingering pain is exactly what I want. We haven't planned all this out only to screw up by rushing. I want Shayla here first. I'll have my revenge." The old woman paused and looked up into the moonlit sky. "You'll do this my way, or you can clear out. Do you understand?"
"Fine. But he knows something is wrong. His powers of resistance are definitely stronger than his parents' or he'd be dead already. We don't know how much more we'll have to do to kill him, and we may not be able keep this up now that his uncle is with him. We'll surely get caught."
"After tonight, we may not have to go out there again. I'll do my job now. You do yours later, just as I've instructed." The old, cloaked woman waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "Now go."
The other cloaked figure bowed and quietly walked away.
Hugh walked into the hallway, picked up the phone and dialed the special number. He was only on the phone long enough to relay what was necessary when he sensed a presence behind him. He quickly ended the call and turned around. Blain stood there, leaning against a wall.
"Calling friends?" Blain asked as he brought a large glass of ice water to his lips.
"I thought you would be outside for a while longer, lad."
"I felt so much better that I cut my run a little short tonight." No sense worrying his uncle over something the doctors couldn't fix or even diagnose.
Hugh took note of the younger man's sweaty face. "Go upstairs and get cleaned up, lad. I'll bring you some fresh lemonade."
"Sounds like a plan," Blain responded. As always, Hugh was a mystery. He knew the older man wouldn't tell him about the phone call, and it wasn't as if it really made a difference. But it was just one more piece of a puzzle that, so far, resisted being solved. Hugh had shown up, literally, on his doorstep just a few short weeks earlier. The initial shock that he had a living relative was replaced by the emotional attachment he quickly formed with Hugh. Hugh helped fill the gaping hole that had been left in his life by his father's unexpected death, followed shortly by his mother's.
He walked upstairs, shed the clothing he'd put on after running, and made his way to the shower. It helped knowing Hugh was here, that he wasn't completely alone. But why hadn't his parents told him he had an uncle. From the way Hugh spoke about his parents, they had all loved each other very much. So, why all the secrecy? And were there other relatives he hadn't been told about? Even if there were other relatives, he'd probably never get to meet them. He wouldn't be able to lie about how really sick he was any longer. The pain and illness seemed to be with him almost constantly now.
A knock on the door brought him out of his somber reverie. He stepped out of the shower and pulled on his bathrobe. Then, he half-jogged to the bedroom door to open it.
Hugh walked in with a cool pitcher of fresh lemonade and a plate of shortbread cookies. "These will fix you right up." He smiled as he set the tray down near the bed.
"Thanks." Blain paused until Hugh was through laying out the snack. "I, uh, don't suppose I could finally talk you into telling me about Mom, Dad and yourself?" He had an urgent need to know about the secrecy surrounding his family.
"All right, lad. I'll answer what I can for now. You'll know everything when it's time."
Blain laughed and spread out his hands expressively. "Now, that's exactly what I'm wondering about.
Why can't I just get a straight answer?"
"Trust me, my lad. You don't want to know everything right now."
"It's that bad?" Blain asked with a glass of lemonade halfway to his lips.
"No, not at all. But there are some things you're just not ready to hear. I can tell you that your parents and me were verra' close and that they didn't want to leaveScotland. But they loved one another and had to leave."
"Why did they have to leave? What was wrong inScotland?"
Whatever Hugh's response might have been was stopped by the ringing of the upstairs phone. Blain sighed in exasperation, put his glass down and walked into the hallway. He returned a few moments later and reached into his dresser drawer for a pair of jeans.
"You're not going out?" Hugh asked in disbelief.
"Yep. That was Rhi on the phone. I don't know when I'll be back, so don't wait up." He saw Hugh shake his head in disapproval. Clearly, his relationship with Rhiannon Stone troubled his uncle. Hugh's expression turned dour whenever Rhi's name was mentioned. But Hugh pretty much kept his opinions to himself. Occasionally, however, he would make an offhand remark about how Blain should get more rest and quit gallivanting. But Blain couldn't help the urge to see Rhiannon. What harm could there be in spending time with a sexy, desirable woman? If it turned out that his intuition about his illness was correct, he might have very little time left. He tried to push his fears aside and concentrate on having a good time.
"Damn! I'll never get this right,"AftonO'Malley complained as she pushed her hair over her shoulder.
Even the presence of the powerful rowan and oak trees, especially planted for those less adept in Druid powers, didn't seem to help She knew she'd never learn to conjure if she couldn't focus. Frustrated and out of patience, she carefully looked around the clearing. Then she picked up a carryall containing crystals, herb bundles, scissors, and other paraphernalia needed to make charms. She started to walk into the cool, inviting woods.
"One moment,AftonO'Malley. Where do you think you're going?"
Afton inwardly cringed as Shayla, her mentor, stepped from the shadows. The afternoon breeze blew the older woman's white Druid robe and cape against her body. Her silver hair was braided and hung down her back.Aftonknew the woman meant to appear imposing. As she caught site of her oldest brother, however, she groaned and momentarily forgot about the Sorceress. Gawain wore one of his eternal and infuriating I'll protect you expressions.
"Shayla. Gawain. I didn't know anyone was around."Aftonunsuccessfully tried to mask her anger as she faced her teacher and brother. "I was just going to take a few moments in the woods to gather some wild herbs for a new tea I'm blending."
"You'll not leave this clearing until you've conjured wind or at least a small breeze," Shayla declared.
"May as well break wind," a small voice said from under a large fern. "It'd be a whole lot quicker More accurate, too."
Gawain turned and angrily addressed the little elf, "Keep quiet, Pluck! WhenAftonwants your opinion, she'll ask."
"Don't be impatient with Pluck simply becauseAftonhas failed to concentrate," Shayla admonished
"Who asked Pluck to spy on me anyway? He should mind his own bloody business."Aftonplaced her hands on her hips and glowered at the little brown-clad man in the foliage. She watched as he hopped upon a nearby rock which made his diminutive height nearer her own five and a half feet.
"For your information, Shayla asked me to keep an eye on you. You're not concentrating on your lessons." Pluck straightened his brown pointed cap over equally pointed ears.
"That'll be enough out of both of you." Shayla raised a graceful hand to stop the argument. "You may go, Pluck. I want to speak toAftonalone."
When the elf sat and smugly glared atAftonas if he'd had the last word, Shayla clapped her hands together sharply. Pluck jumped from the rock and ran into the woods as if some unseen horror was chasing him.
"You may go, too, Gawain." Shayla waved a hand at him in dismissal.
Gawain nodded and turned to leave. "I'll be in the next clearing, Flower. Come get me when you're through here, and I'll walk you home."
"You sent Pluck to watch me?"Aftonasked as she watched her brother leave. Then she dropped her gaze and focused on the bare toes peeking from beneath her white robe.
"I wouldn't have done so had you been more conscientious about your conjuring. But I can't be everywhere at once."
"Yes, but he'll tell everyone in the woods that no matter how hard I try, I still can't summon a minor breeze. Every elf, fairy, and gnome in the Order will know I can't do what a child apprentice should be able to do. And I'm no child."
"That's true, but you have only yourself toBlaine. That's why your parents sent you to me. And Gawain's protectiveness isn't helping matters." Shayla walked to a nearby flat rock and patted the surface next to her. "Are you trying as hard as you can, girl?"
Aftonnodded as she sat down. "I am, but don'tBlaineGawain for being overprotective. He thinks he's helping." She sighed and attempted to get the Sorceress to understand. "I try to concentrate. It's just that there's so much to do and to see. And I wonder about using powers at all."
"How so?" Shayla raised her hand, invitingAftonto finish her thoughts.
"Please don't be angry, Shayla. But what are such powers used for other than starting fires and bringing down a little rain now and then? It isn't as if they'll be used against any of our own kind. We certainly can't go into the outside world and display such capabilities. I'd rather concentrate on the Druid rituals, ceremonies and customs."