Chapter Two Hundred and Seventy-seven
“Why do you get to demand their presence?” Valerie asked.
“My mother is a fairy queen,” Prince Finegal said out of the side of his mouth. “My father is . . . the Manannán. They aren’t really . . . of the . . . world. Someone has to deal with the real life details of a queendom.”
Prince Finegal shrugged as if that was a sufficient answer.
“Now! Mother,” Prince Finegal yelled.
He turned to call for his father and ran into Queen Fand.
“Mother,” Prince Finegal said. He tried to hide the irritation in his voice.
“Fin,” Queen Fand said. She turned her eyes to Jill. “Who’s this?”
“Jacob’s wife,” Prince Finegal said. “The question is . . .”
“Katy’s mother?” Queen Fand looked intrigued. Prince Finegal scowled at his mother’s mild voice.
“Why?” Prince Finegal asked.
“Kill her.” Queen Fand nodded to the soldiers around her.
At the words, Jill’s armored girlfriends raised their swords to defend Jill. Fand’s army moved forward, but Jacob and Valerie stepped between the army and Jill.
“Hold!” Prince Finegal said to the army.
“Hey!” Tanesha yelled from across the battlefield.
She pointed to Jill. Sandy and Heather took off toward them. Within moments, Jill was surrounded by Tanesha, Heather, and Sandy, plus her duplicate girlfriend army.
“I am your commander. I command you to hold!” Prince Finegal yelled.
The army jostled in place. Jacob saw Rodney and James move among the Christian crusader army.
“Why are you ordering me killed this time?” Jill asked. “Because I hugged your husband or because I know that you gave your child away?”
“Who are you to dare speak to me?” Queen Fand flipped her battle skirt and tried to walk away. She ran into Manannán. Her husband gave her a long look and then looked at Jill.
“Why do you hold our child?” Manannán asked. He glanced at Prince Finegal and back at Jill. He asked Prince Finegal, “This is your brother?”
“It looks like him,” Prince Finegal said. “But he’s older than when he disappeared.”
“Yes, I recall that as well. He was . . . Fand?” Manannán asked Queen Fand. Her back was to him and she didn’t bother to turn around. “How old was Kirk when he was taken?”
“He was just walking,” Queen Fand said in a low tone.
“Why did you give him to the Christians?” Jill asked.
“Where did you hear this story?” Prince Finegal asked. “My father and I were there. We didn’t give the child away. He was taken! These two . . .” Prince Finegal shook his head. “But me? He is my brother, my flesh, I would never give him away.”
“She did it,” the boy said with his face pressed against Jill’s neck.
“What did he say?” Prince Finegal asked.
“He said Queen Fand gave him away,” Jill said.
The girlfriend army and Tanesha, Heather, and Sandy gawked at Queen Fand. The army turned to look at her.
“Mother?” Prince Finegal asked. “Did you give my brother to the Christians?”
Manannán put his hand on her shoulder. Queen Fand turned slightly. She looked at Prince Finegal and then at Jill. She shook her head. They stared at her as she walked off. When she reached Gilfand, she touched his shoulder and walked past. Gilfand walked to Prince Finegal.
“She made a deal for Guinevere,” Gilfand said. “Merlin the druid wanted the luck of a fairy. Guinevere is from our luckiest family of fairies. The king needed to win over a country, create an army, and join the tribes of England. He needed fairy luck. He needed our help. Without us, the world would have fallen into chaos and despair.”
“Who are you?” Jill asked. “Why are you trying to explain that evil woman’s action? This is a child, not a car. She threw him away for political gain.”
Gilfand shook his head. Before he could respond, Prince Finegal stepped forward.
“Political gain?” Prince Finegal pointed his sword at Jill. Jacob batted it away. “No, they stole my brother. I spent a hundred years trying to find him and bring him back.”
At his words, the child in Jill’s arms turned to look at Prince Finegal. The prince smiled at the boy.
“The prince was always fond of his brother,” Gilfand said.
“Before we get crazy,” Tanesha stepped up to Gilfand, “what are we talking about?”
Gilfand gave a sad shake of his head.
“You’re not going to tell us?” Tanesha nodded. “That only means my girl is right. This bitch threw her own child away and every male child born to any of her ancestors after him died. Sure sounds evil to me.”
“You were trying not to swear,” Heather said to Tanesha.
“I’m angry,” Tanesha said.
Gilfand turned and started walking away.
“Let’s get out of here,” Tanesha said. “This is bull . . .”
“Not thrown away . . .” A soft feminine voice came on the wind. Everyone stopped talking. They looked around to see if they could determine where the sound was coming from. “The druid tricked me. He said he wanted a woman for luck. I told him she’d never bear children. He said it mattered not. Children were easy to find. Then . . . they took my son.”
They continued to look around for the source of the voice.
“He was playing in the surf with his nanny, and then . . .”
“The men took him away,” Jill said to the voice on the wind.
“They killed the nanny,” the voice said. “Burned her alive.”
The wind shifted and the voice echoed.
“Burned her alive.”
The girlfriends felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. Heather glanced at Valerie as a tear slid down her cheek.
“Burned her alive.” The words echoed around them.
“You should have known!” Jill said.
“Yes.” Queen Fand appeared in front of Jill. “I should have known he had tricked me. I should have known he meant to take my son so that his king would have a fairy son to carry his bloodline.”
The women stood face to face. Jill could feel the queen’s breath on her face. The queen’s hands moved as if they wanted to hold the boy, but Jill did not let him go.
“You would have known,” Queen Fand said.
“Yes, I would have known.” Jill nodded.
Queen Fand held her arms out for the child. Jill said soft, encouraging things to the boy and he turned to his mother.
“No,” the boy said. “You will kill her like you have the others.”
Jacob moved like lightning. Using his jujitsu skills, he shifted the queen away from Jill. The girlfriend army as well as Tanesha, Heather, and Sandy moved closer to protect them. Jacob’s eyes met Prince Finegal’s, and then Gilfand’s. He gave a slight shake of his head.
“Mother,” Prince Finegal said.
He put his hand on her shoulder. The queen turned to look at him. When she did, the boy nudged Jill. He pointed to something on his mother. Jill looked at the boy. She shifted her chin as if to ask if he could fix it. He shook his head. Jill nodded.
“I see it,” Jill said.
“What is it?” Jacob asked.
“She has a thorn in the back of her . . .” Jill gestured to the top of her spine.
Jacob peered at the Queen. Prince Finegal scowled at Jill.
“I noticed the thorn when I was getting my head hacked off,” Jill said. “The men who took the boy all have a thorn in their neck.”
The boy pointed to his mother’s neck. Prince Fin’s hand went around his mother’s head.
“Hawthorn,” Prince Finegal said under his breath.
“The monk did it,” the boy said. “He did it to me to keep me in submission. I had one until . . .”
The boy looked up at Jill, and she smiled.
“What’s this nonsense?” Queen Fand asked.
“Let me,” Jill said.
Prince Finegal held his mother in place. Jill walked over to her. When she set the boy down, he wrapped himself around her waist. Jill’s fingers stroked the queen’s neck. With a flick of her thumb, an ancient thorn from the hawthorn tree popped out of the queen’s neck. The queen’s knees gave out. She would have fallen to the ground if Prince Finegal hadn’t held her up. Manannán caught her in his firm embrace.
A wind swirled around them. The great armies dimmed. Their bodies became wisps of fog and blew in the wind. The girlfriend army disappeared, leaving Tanesha, Heather, and Sandy standing around Jill. The protective bubble blew away. Sam ran across the field to them. Jill and the boy disappeared from the battlefield, remaining in the stream with Blane and Delphie caring for them. As if to protect Jill, Liban and Gilfand appeared nearby. Jill opened her eyes and hugged the boy. He laughed.
With the Christian army gone, Rodney and James walked to where Jacob, Sam, Tanesha, Heather, and Sandy stood.
“Mommy?” Katy asked as she woke up beside her mother.
“Yes, Katy-baby,” Jill said.
“Can we go home now?” Katy asked. “Paddie’s mommy is really worried and I . . .”
Jill held out her hand to Katy.
“I want to see my brothers now.” Katy nodded.
“Let’s go home,” Jill said. “Jake? Val? Are you coming?”
She smiled at him for a moment, and they disappeared. Blane slipped away with them.
“What the hell?” Tanesha yelled.
“Blane!” Heather yelled.
Heather and Tanesha started across the battlefield toward Jill. They’d gone about a hundred yards when they disappeared.
“What . . .?” Sandy started and disappeared.
Rodney and Honey disappeared next. Delphie reached out for Sam but slipped away before she could grab hold.
In a moment’s time, the heavy smell of blood, death, and filth that had marked the battlefield gave way to a cool ocean breeze. Sam, Jacob, Valerie, and James were standing in the middle of a bucolic meadow with Prince Finegal, Queen Fand, Manannán, and Gilfand. Liban appeared.
“What just happened?” Valerie asked.
“The druid impaled my sister with a thorn from the hawthorn tree,” Liban said.
“I thought hawthorn’s were fairy trees,” James said.
“Their thorns are poisonous to us,” Gilfand said. “The thorn kept my queen in a kind of suspension where she was unable to make her own choices. It’s how they were able to tear her human body apart.”
A tall man wearing a deep gray monk’s robe and hood walked out of the woods. His eyes were completely white, and he seemed blind, yet he moved with absolute certainty. He continued toward them until he stood near Queen Fand and Manannán. Jacob shifted uncomfortably.
“Mother,” the monk said. He bowed his head.
Queen Fand straightened to her full height. She and Manannán went to the man. Prince Finegal shook his head. He opened his mouth to speak, but Gilfand shook his head.
“They must do this,” Gilfand said under his breath.
Liban, the queen’s sister, went to her other side.
“Created in magic and great suffering . . .” Liban said.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” Valerie whispered to Jacob. He shook his head.
Queen Fand, Manannán, and Liban placed their right hands on the monk’s head.
“I release you,” they said.
The monk weaved in place. He looked up at the heavens, and with a sigh, he disappeared. The wool robe fell empty to the ground. Queen Fand let out a sob and Manannán clutched her to him. Their image vibrated, and it started to rain. In a moment, they were gone. Liban and Gilfand disappeared.
“What the hell?” James asked.
James shook his head and turned in place. He, Jacob, Sam, and Valerie stood alone in the meadow. Liban and Gilfand appeared in front of them.
“We wanted personally to thank you,” Liban said. “Without your help, we would have continued in this way for all eternity.”
“It seems like Jill did most of the work,” Jacob said.
“You have all done your part to free us,” Liban said. “There is no way for us to thank you.”
“And Jill? Valerie?” Sam asked. “Their children? Will they be able to have sons and powerful daughters and . . .?”
“Yes,” Gilfand said. “You have broken the curse. In fact, Jill will have your sons any moment now. You need to go.”
“We have one question to ask,” Liban said.
“I will never give you Katy,” Jacob said. “And I will destroy anyone who tries to take her.”
“Fair enough.” Liban smiled. “But that is not my question.”
“You don’t want her now?” Valerie asked.
“My question is . . .” Liban gave Valerie a beautiful smile. “May we join your family?”
Jacob was so surprised he could only gape at Liban. He looked at Valerie, and she was equally surprised.
“We’d like to be there when the boys are born,” Gilfand said. “Edie of the fairy corps has asked if you might consider her to be their nanny. That way she can help teach them and mitigate some of the damage they will likely inflict on everyone around them.”
“I . . .” Jacob started. He glanced at Sam.
“What about the boy?” Sam asked. “Jill left with a seven-year-old boy. What are you doing with him?”
“His fate has already been determined,” Gilfand said.
“By whom?” Sam asked. “Are you making him disappear, as well? That was a child and . . .”
“The Oracle has agreed to raise him as her own,” Gilfand said. “She will soon have custody of another child, Anna-Marie?”
“Ivy,” Valerie said.
“Yes. She will raise them together,” Gilfand said. “Does that suit you?”
“He will need a father figure,” Liban said. “The queen and her husband will be in his life, of course, as well as Prince Finegal, but the boy will need someone day in and day out . . .”
“I can’t think of a better father for my son. Manannán appeared next to Sam. “You will do me a great honor.”
“Of course.” Sam nodded. “I . . . of course.”
“We are family,” Liban said.
“More like ancestors,” Jacob said.
“May we join your present-day family?” Liban asked.
“Sure,” Valerie said.
“Of course,” Sam said.
“Jacob?” Gilfand asked. “You have no reason to trust us. You have every reason to keep us far away from your home. But we are family.”
“And Fin?” Jacob asked.
“He is with your wife right now,” Liban said.
“What?” Jacob asked.
“He’s assuring her that you will be there in time.” Gilfand grinned.
Jacob shook his head.
“What do you say?” Liban asked.
“You get to keep the sword,” Gilfand said. “It’s one of Fin’s.”
“Fine,” Jacob said. “But you start . . .”
“We understand,” Gilfand said.
“Will you take us to her?” Jacob asked.
“I’d like to go as well,” James said. “I have something I need to talk to Edie about.”
“Come along,” Valerie said.
The meadow disappeared. In the blink of an eye, they were standing in the waiting room of the Castle birthing area and wearing their normal clothing.
“Hey!” Charlie said.
Everyone jumped to greet them.
“Jake? Is that you?” Blane yelled from the birthing room. “It’s time.”
Sam squeezed his shoulder, and Jacob went in to be with Jill.
Julie Hargreaves slipped out of bed. She waited a minute to see if Colin would wake. Exhausted from his night at the earthquake site, he didn’t move. She slipped out of their room. She went down the hall to the tiny alcove tucked under the eaves that served as Paddie’s room. She closed her eyes at the door.
“You have to believe that Paddie will come home,” her mother-in-law had said. “Visualize it. See it.”
Julie knew her mother-in-law was right. She also knew that when she’d called the Castle to talk to Jill, Jill’s mother had told her that Paddie was with Katy. Or she had thought it was Jill’s mother. The phone had crackled so much she couldn’t be sure.
All she knew was that Paddie had vanished out of his bed.
Julie didn’t want to be negative and jinx anything.
She just wanted her son home.
She opened Paddie’s door and went inside. She sat in the chair next to his bed. Even though she knew she shouldn’t, she began to weep.
Paddie was her miracle, her baby. He was so strong and sweet. From the moment he was born, he’d charmed everyone who met him. Through her tears, Julie prayed for his safe return. The more she prayed, the more she cried. She’d been strong and positive too long. Her emotions came in a flood, and she began to sob.
“Julie,” Colin said in a low voice from the doorway.
She looked up at him. He pointed to the bed.
There were two lumps in Paddie’s bed. Unable to stop herself, she flew to the bed and pulled off the thick quilts. Her precious Paddie and his best friend Katy were curled up on their sides, sound asleep and facing each other. Julie grabbed Paddie from the bed and pulled him onto her lap. Paddie opened his eyes and smiled at her. Julie hugged the child. She covered his face in kisses until he protested.
“Where have you been?” Julie asked through her tears.
“I had to get Katy,” Paddie said. “Her brothers are coming tonight. We had to fix everything.”
Julie looked at Colin. He raised his eyebrows at his son’s explanation. Julie tried to hug the child again.
“Mommy, I’m sleepy.” Paddie pushed her away from him. “I’m not a baby.”
She smiled. Since Connor had arrived, Paddie did not want to be treated like a baby. She set him back in the bed, and he pulled the covers up.
“Oh,” Paddie said. “Can Katy spend the night?”
The question was so sweet and simple that Julie snorted a laugh. Paddie gave her one of his “tricked you” grins, and Colin laughed.
Julie sat on the side of the bed until Paddie was sound asleep. She tucked the quilt over his shoulders and around Katy. She got up and hugged Colin.
“Will you sleep now?” Colin asked.
Julie nodded and moved past him. Colin looked at the bed one more time before turning to go. The door was almost closed when he stopped.
“I don’t know how you did it, Katy, but thank you for bringing my son home,” Colin whispered.
He closed the door and followed Julie to bed.
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