"I'm so relieved to hear that"
"Jade is still with him, right?" Canady asked.
Shanna nodded. He was so intense. And so good-looking.
All the married ones were, she thought with an inward sigh.
Except for the guy at the coffee shop. And he had been a noshow. Maybe he was as sick as Rick. She hoped not.
"I'm really sorry we left you stranded there," she told Sean. "We just forgot. Completely."
"It's okay. I understand." He hesitated. "But I need to talk to Jade. I think she's in serious danger."
"I thought I'd just wait here until she comes down. I won't let her be alone. We won't try to walk home alone or anything. We'll take a cab."
He nodded. "I'll just wait with you-if you don't mind."
She shook her head. "I don't mind at all."
"Do you play gin?"
"Sure. Do you have cards?"
"Well, not on me, but there's a gift shop."
They played gin.
Shanna relieved him of the twenty dollars he had on him. Then she felt bad about beating a cop out of his money.
"It's okay," he told her, grinning. "My wife is rich."
"She won't mind my fleecing you?"
"Nope. But I can win it back at chess."
He was good at chess. He won the first game, and the second.
But she was good, too.
The games demanded their attention.
Time wore on.
* * *
There was a strength and peace in the darkness and silence of the grave.
He'd sought this peace, aware of how he needed the perfect quiet of the darkness, the cool, sweeping comfort of the earth, the marble around him, the prayers of the living and the dead.
He needed to concentrate completely.
Centuries had given him the power to see well, to feel- a ripple in the order of things, a deadly maliciousness, aimed not even at the natural world, but at himself.
Aye, his senses were attuned. His eyes were those of a wolf in the night, his hearing phenomenally acute.
He needed only to let it come to him. . . .
It hadn't always been that way.
His lessons had been bitter.
His retaliation even more swift.
But now . ..
They walked the earth again. In anger.
And in wrath.
Her turn. She wanted revenge. She thought that her time had come.
She didn't realize the depths of his hatred.
But then . ..
He had underestimated her power.
Days passed upon the Isle of the Dead.
It seemed there was no beginning, and no end. Lucian didn't care. Life was strange, but he expected no less, realizing that he was among the undead, the shadow-walkers of the earth. Wulfgar remained with him, having fallen in love with the abused wife of the now-deceased farmer. The two had settled happily and worked the fields. And, as time passed, more men joined their company, casting their fate with the strange chieftain of the undead. Some were Scots; some were Irish. The Cornish came, Welsh, Norman, Flemish, Norwegian, Dane, and Swede. They settled.
And they sailed their great ships, when the occasion or need arose. They left those decisions to their leader, the man growing legendary across the seas as the strange king of the Isle of the Dead.
Igrainia came when the dawn broke.
In those days he would see her, feel her enter the darkness of his room and lie down beside him. He slept, knowing she was with him.
At dusk he would awake, and they would have their time together, and then, when he chanced to close his eyes, she would disappear.
"Why do you have to leave?" he would ask her.
"Why do you have to sleep by the light of day?" she would return.
"Because I am now a monster," he would tell her. "And you will never be anything other than an angel."
"There are many things between monsters and angels, so many shades of gray between black and white," she would tell him. "We are in no position to question too much," she would say, and he would be afraid to say more.
Sometimes a ship would arrive on the isle. Men would come to him. Vicious slayers would attack to the north, on the coast of Eire, down to Normandy, even in Scandinavia. Sometimes he would hear a petition, and Igrainia would listen with him, and she would tell him that he must go with the warriors, and fight their battles.
And so he would sail. And when he would fight such an enemy, he would meet his own new standard of savagery, and though others fought as ferociously, he wondered at what he had become. Wulfgar told him he was ridding the world of creatures far worse than himself.
He pondered his right to judge which men should live and which should die. Wulfgar reminded him that all men took a chance when they went to battle.
And still the plaintiffs would come to him, those who knew of the chieftain on the isle. He would sit in a carved wooden chair with Igrainia at his side, and they were like royalty, receiving those petitions, and the homage that came because of them.
And still, soon after dusk, Igrainia would be gone each night.
"She fell to the sea," Wulfgar told him one night. "And the sea brought her back to the surface. The Irish call her a selkie. What does it matter what name you give life, when you have the hours to share together? If you are a monster and she is an angel, what difference does it matter where you meet? I daresay your hours together are dearer than those shared by most men and their wives
." Their time was indeed precious, but lacking. Their home was the fishing cottage, darkened by day, and always smelling of the earth, for he had learned that he must sleep with native soil somewhere beneath him, in some form, even just a handful. When he did not, he grew weak-too weak to move, to rise ... to ever approach daylight.
And he would not give up daylight. His wife, his angel, his sole reason for existence, came with the daylight.
And departed soon after dusk.
Still, far into the future, into forever, he would remember those days when, for whatever brief respites of magic it might be, he sat with his wife in the carved chairs, and they listened, judged, and ruled in their world of the damned. He could see it always, in his mind's eye. The chairs before the central open fire, the smoke rising to the roof flume high above, the furs they wore against the damp and cold, the swords laid before them, the warriors who came in rustic mail and armor, conical helms, horned helms, brooches of Celtic gold and silver . ..
He would remember her voice always, the way she greeted newcomers and old friends, the welcome she gave.
He would remember her eyes. The color of the sea. In fact, the sea seemed to churn in them-the waves rose and rushed, blue and green, sunrise and sunset, that which they both had gained, and that which they both had lost.
Aidan, a coastal king of Eire, came to him. Aidan was wary, afraid. Afraid of the legends he had heard that were false about the island, afraid that much of what he had heard was true. Lucian liked him when he appeared before him; he had the kind of courage that overrode his fear.
The Ard-Ri, or high king, the king of all the Irish who sat at Tara, had sent word that he was being besieged by invaders from the very far north-a place so deep into the ice and snow that even the Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians knew little about them. They were wild men, men with their own language, more depraved in battle than the worst of the berserkers. Their total disregard for human life had left the Ard-Ri at their mercy; the lesser kings sent back their regrets and made excuses. They could not come.
Would not come. They were afraid. Such things were not said aloud. That such an enemy seemed to have otherworldly powers was not mentioned either; Ireland embraced Christianity. It was just that old myths died hard.
It was Igrainia who listened to stories of how the children were killed, how women and children found no mercy at the hands of the invaders. When they were alone, he reminded her that creatures of his own kind were known to prey with the greatest relish upon the most tender, the most vulnerable, and the most innocent of humankind. He was angry that dusk, that twilight, that strange red afternoon and evening would prove the end of their time together each day. In listening to the tales of the attackers invading deep into the capital of all Eire, he was listening to the stories of the monster he was himself.
She denied that he could ever be such a creature.
He remembered when he had first learned that he must feast on blood.
But she wanted him to go, and so he would.
She left with the coming of total darkness that night, when the red orb of the sun disappeared from the sky, and the shadowland of deep night swept around the isle to give him his deepest power. He saw her as she walked to the sea, shed the garment of silk and fur she had worn, and dived into the ocean.
He had never watched her go before. Far out on the horizon he saw the flip of a dolphin's tail, and then another, and another. Sailors talked of sirens at sea, from the Greeks to the men he now knew. The bravest men talked of dragons that attacked boats. He had thought himself a sane man, a warrior chieftain, then a sailor as fine as the Vikings who had taught him the craft. He had never believed in such things. He had seen too many beached whales, dolphins, and even huge octopuses and squids. He had once loved the sea so much, loved the lash of the waves against his legs, even as frigidly cold as it had been in his Highland homeland. Now the salt was deadly to him, but he still walked the beach, and he loved the horizon, and he loved even to set sail, knowing that he dared not stand as tall against the waves as he might once have done.
And still he didn't believe in dragons....
He turned from the coast. They sailed with the dawn.
The fierce enemies of the Ard-Ri were human-barely. They were a pagan tribe, dressed only in furs, armed with poisons as well as weapons of wood and steel. Their total disregard for life made their courage limitless; they feared nothing. They besieged the wooden walls of Tara; they butchered any they captured.
For Lucian, they were a feast. He had no qualms tearing into them, thirsting, drinking, glutting-his savagery was as great as their own.