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** Re-titled The Case of the Family Curse
Forgotten (Rune Witch Mysteries Book Three) – Chapter One:
An air of mystique hung around the medieval ruins as thick as the shrouding fog.
“You sure about this?” Thomas asked when I reached out to take his hand.
I nodded, although I was anything but and Thomas knew it.
Set amongst rolling meadows, Raglan Castle may not have stood as proud as it once did — the ravages of war and time having taken their toll — but its presence and majesty could never be called into question. As we walked over the stone bridge leading to the castle, I became transfixed by the massive Yellow Tower of Gwent. Even with the sandstone pitted and scarred, the walls missing and the battlements destroyed, it cut a striking image.
Hand in hand, we entered the main castle through the double-towered gatehouse. Moonlight speckled the craggy, tumble down walls in a silver sheen and added to the sense that we were stepping back in time… entering another world.
As we stood in the pitched stone court, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Beside me, Thomas stiffened, ready to fight if the need arose. The castle may be a tourist attraction by day, but by night, the coraniaid roamed the battlements. Once described as a demon plague, the remnants of their society now lurked in the shadows, forgotten by the world.
“Where are they?” Thomas asked.
I took a deep breath and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach. In the courtyard, we were surrounded… vulnerable. We had to be to entice the creatures out.
A strange scampering sound accompanied the howl of the wind — to the right; another behind. My scalp prickled and my skin crawled.
“Damn it. I’ve had enough of playing games.” I called my magic, igniting the power in each of my twenty tattoos, and allowed them to turn me into a human light bulb. The glow from my body bathed the castle in an indigo light.
A chorus of hoots and shrieks echoed around the courtyard, but the coraniaid stayed hidden.
“There!” Thomas pointed to a bardic figure in the corner.
The apparition beckoned us before fading from sight. “The guardian spirit of the castle library.” I’d read about the famous librarian ghost during my research. “He watches over his cache of precious scrolls and tomes. He won’t bother us.”
Thomas shook his head at another everyday spectral visitation. “You sure we want to deal with these guys?” he asked for the umpteenth time. “There are plenty of other ways we can get what we need.”
Before I had the chance to respond, a creature leapt from its unknown hiding place and landed silently on the floor in front of us. A coraniaid: small, pointed creatures, no bigger than a bwchachod or five-year-old child.
“Whatss do you needs, little witchess?” the creature hissed as it stared at me with eyes that looked as though they might pop out of its head.
I glanced around the ruins. None of the other coraniaid showed themselves, but they were there, watching and listening.
“I’m Summer Daniels. Rune Witch of the Ogham faith, and I have need of your magic.”
Mocking laughter sounded from every direction. The coraniaid before us bobbed and shook his head.
“We knowss who you are, little witchess. Knowss what you are.” He tilted his head to the side and squinted his eyes, as though assessing me. “I am Moryss,” he said after a moment. “Whyss do you needs our magicss?”
“You can hear any word the wind touches. I need to use your power to hear words spoken long ago. Will you give it to me?”
“Whyss should we?” Morys asked.
My whole plan hinged on the hatred the coraniaid held for the Tylwyth Teg. They may be evil, malevolent beings, who were far more dangerous to deal with than any of the fair folk, but I wasn’t here to make a deal. I was here to offer them something they craved.
I took a deep breath. “Revenge,” I said. “In a time long past, Llefelys and Lludd conspired to destroy your race.”
The castle became a cacophony of caws at the names of their enemies.
Although I knew it to be unnecessary, I raised my voice above the din. “Only a handful of your people remain. To this day, the threat of poisoning hangs over your head.”
“What’ss thiss to you, little witchess?” Morys asked as the sound began to die down.
“I can’t offer to help. I’m not here to bargain, as I can’t promise you anything, but I can tell you this: the words I need to hear are those of a curse cast by a member of the Tylwyth Teg. My goal is to break the spell and thwart its magic. If I’m successful, and I aim to be, then the Tylwyth Teg will stand in disgrace. Fear of their magic will diminish, and the power of Gwyn ap Nudd, the son of Lludd and the King of the fair folk himself, may be called into question.”
A susurrus spread around the courtyard as the creatures discussed my proposition amongst themselves. Morys’ ears swivelled, moving towards the sounds like a cat’s. Yet, even with the power of my Ailm tattoo heightening the clarity of the sounds around me, I was unable to discern their words.
Their discussion continued for a few moments before gradually fading. A silence fell over the night. One by one, the coraniaid jumped from their hiding places and gathered behind Morys. Some appeared, shimmering into view as if they’d been standing next to him the whole time. Sixty sets of eyes stared at me and Thomas, unblinking.
For a second, my resolve shook. I wanted to turn and run. My magic was strong, but these creatures were evil. I could sense it in every fibre of my being. Not for the first time, I wondered if I’d made the right decision in coming here. Thomas and I had debated for hours. Mam had outright forbidden it, but she’d lost the right to tell me what to do a long time ago. We needed what they had. How could I hope to break a curse if I didn’t know exactly what the curse was?
Thomas squeezed my hand and I noticed the indigo glow of my magic, reflecting like ghostly orbs in the coraniaid’s eyes. I muted the power still soaring through my veins, but kept it ready should we need to fight.
“Have you made a decision?” Thomas asked.
“We do not believess you, little witches,” Morys said.
He jumped and landed on the shoulders of a second of the creatures. Together, they moved towards Thomas before Morys shook his head.
“Humans have no place in the world of magics.”
Morys turned his attention to me. He moved so close, I could smell the decaying scent of flesh on his breath. “And you, little witchess. Whyss would you hurt your own peoples?”
“The Tylwyth Teg are not my people.”
I stood indignant at the suggestion, but it wasn’t unexpected. I’d had three months to come to terms with the fact that my father was one of the Tylwyth Teg. When Mam arrived unannounced at Christmas and told me of the curse, of how my father, a member of the fair folk, had destroyed my family, I’d thought of little else.
“We smells their blood in you. Their magics on you,” Morys said.
The coraniaid hissed and stamped their feet. The air became full of menace, but still, they held back. They had powerful magic of a nature I’d never felt before. It cut the air like lightning. Given their numbers, they could easily defeat me and Thomas, but they held back. They were tempted to help.
“My father is one of the Tylwyth Teg, but he did not raise me, and has no claim on my heart.” I’d said the words in my head over and over, yet it pained me to say them out loud. “His are the words I wish to hear, the curse I wish to break.”
I turned my face and met Morys eye to eye. “You can smell their blood in me, their magic on me. Then you can also smell their curse, and the truth in my words. I will break the curse and with it the magic of the Tylwyth Teg.”
Without a word, Morys flipped off the shoulders of the coraniaid he was standing on, and once again the courtyard filled with the raucous debate of the creatures.
“How do you think it’s going?” I asked Thomas.
“Well, we’re not dead,” he said.
I smiled. The creatures could hear every word we said, but neither of us cared. They would make their own mind up on what to do, and as Thomas said, we weren’t dead. That had to be a good sign.
The noise stopped along with the coraniaid’s discussion. Morys turned to us once more.
“We do not believess you believess, little witches.” Morys laughed. “But we believess.”
The creatures jumped up and down, hollering and stamping their feet excitedly.
Morys picked a small stone from the ground and blew on it. A green mist enveloped the pebble and seeped into its core. When the stone had completely absorbed the magic, and all that remained was a faint glow, Morys stretched his hand towards me. “It is yourss, little witches,” he said.
Before I could take it, Thomas stepped between us. “You understand that no bargain has been offered in return? You give this freely. We don’t owe you anything, and we can’t guarantee that breaking the curse will cause any trouble for the Tylwyth Teg.”
Morys, without saying a word, once again jumped on the shoulders of another coraniad and walked up to me.
He was a leader, a warrior, a spokesman for his people, and his desire to see the Tylwyth Teg knocked down a peg or two overrode every natural instinct he possessed. Every instinct that screamed at him to rip my throat out. I saw it as he looked into my eyes.
I released all the guards I had against my own soul and allowed him to look at my true nature. I can’t tell you what he saw: resolve, determination, vulnerability. Who knows? But he smiled, wide and full of the sharp, pointed teeth of a piranha.
“The magics is freely given, humans,” he said. “We believess you will makes more troubles than you think.”