THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND
A s the last emerald sparkles flickered away into the night, Leah Noble huddled close to the floor, her eyes clenched shut. Stomach churning in fear, she prayed to any and all gods who might hear her to grant that the magic would pass her by.
“Are you unharmed, lass?”
Leah jumped, startled as much by the unexpected sound of Margery MacQuarrie’s voice as by the woman’s gentle touch to her shoulder. She tried to nod her answer, but the terror wracked her entire body with violent tremors. Even her voice refused to cooperate when she opened her mouth, a series of pathetic whimpers all that she could manage.
“Oh, my poor lassie,” Margery whispered, gathering Leah into her arms, stroking her hair and down her back as if she tended a small child in need of consoling.
It was this overwhelming kindness, following so closely on the heels of a day that had drained her both emotionally and physically, that prompted her complete undoing. Long beyond her control now, her whimpers turned to great heaving sobs as she gave herself over to the older woman’s gentle ministrations.
“Och, sweetling, no,” Margery cooed. “It breaks my heart to see you weep so for yer loss. Truly, lass, Robbie’s leaving is no yer final connection to yer own time and yer own people. He left instructions on how yer to find the MacKiernans of Dun Ard should you ever be in need or want to try to get home again.”
A crazed desire to laugh bubbled just below the surface of Leah’s panic. Margery had it all so very wrong.
“No!” Leah managed to sputter out at last, fighting to gain control over her bizarre emotions. “I don’t want anything to do with whatever Robbie left.” She gasped for air in an attempt to stop the sobs that still jerked the breath from her. “I’m not crying because he went back to the future without me.”
Margery pulled away from her, lifting one hand to brush damp strands of hair from Leah’s cheeks. The older woman’s face wrinkled in obvious distress. “Why, then?”
How could she possibly explain her hideous terror and the guilt that gnawed at her heart even now?
After the horrors she’d endured over the last few months, Leah had felt all hope for a normal life was lost to her. Kidnapped by the evil Nuadian Fae, abused, her blood taken daily to build their powers, she’d been demoralized by all she’d suffered. Their plans to use her to breed other half-blood Fae descendants who would in turn be abused as she had been terrified her. But when those same Fae had vowed to track her to the ends of the earth, had sworn she would never escape their control, well, that had been the last straw for her. Added to the unbearable pain she endured every time she tapped into her own Faerie powers of healing, she’d felt as if her sanity were hanging by a frayed thread.
At her darkest moment, when she’d thought her future was lost, her sister’s new family had offered her a glimmer of hope. Robert had brought her here, seven hundred years into the past, depositing her in the care of his parents. Without even a hint of a Faerie in sight, Leah had felt safe and secure for the first time in what seemed like forever. It was as if, at long last, she’d found a place to call home.
And then, just as she’d thought herself free to relax, Faerie magic had reared its ugly head once more.
When that emerald sphere of magic had engulfed Robert and the woman he loved, Leah had felt as if her heart were about to burst out of her body. She’d felt the magic’s pull, as if it sought to drag her along with the other two. The hair on her arms had risen and her clothing had stood out from her body as if she were being sucked into the magic to return to her own time along with them. The dragging, pulling suction had ceased only when the child, Jamie, had jumped into the circle and the three of them poofed into the future in a shower of magnificent colored sparkles.
How did she admit all that to the woman who had taken her in and even now worried over her?
She owed Margery MacQuarrie honesty even if it was the honesty of a coward. With a quivering breath, Leah wiped her eyes and tried to own up to her failings.
“Not because they left me behind, Grandma Mac, but because I was terrified the magic would take me along with them. Right back to . . . to all the things I’d thought I’d escaped. And when that poor little boy—” Her voice cracked with another sob as she acknowledged the monster her cowardice had made of her. “When the magic took Jamie instead, I was grateful, as awful as that makes me, grateful it was him and not me.”
Leah allowed Margery to enfold her in her comforting embrace, once more giving herself over to the tears that had taken so long to find their release.
“My poor, gentle-hearted lassie,” Margery murmured as she rocked back and forth. “You’ve no a need to take the lad’s going onto yerself. While it may be that Jamie took yer place, you must see that he belonged with Robbie and Isabella. Just as you belong here with us.”
“Do you really think so?” Leah pulled back from the older woman, searching her face for any sign that Margery simply patronized her with platitudes.
Nothing but sincerity shone in the older woman’s eyes. “I do, lass. The magic of the Fae works in its own mysterious way. And though I ken you believe you’ve no use for that part of yerself,” she held up a hand to quiet the protest Leah was about to make, “it is there, nonetheless. Just know, until the day comes you want to embrace it, we’ll no ever speak to it again, if that’s what you want.”
Leah nodded slowly, overcome with gratitude for this caring woman who’d taken her in and treated her as if she really were her own flesh and blood. “It is. I only want to be normal.”
“Well then.” Margery smiled and rose to her feet, patting down her skirt as she did. “You’ve naught to worry over. After all, yer Leah MacQuarrie, daughter of Robert, granddaughter to Hugh and Margery. You can hardly be more normal than that, now can you?”
Leah rose hesitantly to stand, mindful of the raw burns covering half her body, the result of her having used her Faerie powers one last time to heal Jamie. The same boy who’d then gone to the future to take her place. The pain would be gone in a few days and her body would return to the way it had been. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad trade for either of them.
Jamie, with his freshly healed body, would have all the advantages the twenty-first century had to offer, plus the love Robert and Isabella obviously felt for him.
She, after a few days to recuperate, would have the rest of her life to live out as a normal person, in the safety of this time and place, without ever having to touch the Faerie magic again.
© 2011 Melissa Mayhue