She appeared in her living room. “Mama.” Ceinwen launched herself from the table into her mother’s arms. Ronen toddled over just behind her.
Baldric came out. “There have been some strange things going on, mother,” he said. “None of us have left, though there was some dispute about the house and whether they should cut the roses down or not.” He gave her a concerned look. “Mother, what happened?”
“We don’t have time to discuss that right now,” Adina said. She went over to a cupboard and pulled several large burlap sacks out of it. “Baldric, Isabella, Grainne, take these and fill them. Make sure you take only clothing and those small trinkets you can’t do without. I’ll buy you new things when we get to the city.”
“Mother, the city isn’t going to be safe,” Baldric said. “Not with you and father being so well known in these parts. If something dreadful has happened at the castle the villagers are going to put the blame on you. Word hasn’t gotten out of here yet but you know it will soon.”
“You worry about packing, Baldric,” Adina said. “I’ll worry about the villagers.”
“Yes, mother,” Baldric said. He disappeared back into his room. The other two girls returned to their room.
“Ceinwen, you and Ronen go to your room. I’ll come help you pack in just a moment,” Adina said. The two children scampered off.
Adina brewed a pot of tea laced with herbs that would dull the wits of her children. Once Baldric finished packing for himself, he also packed for Ceinwen and Ronen. Once the children were finished, Adina bade them eat while she packed her own things.
By the time Adina was finished gathering everything else they’d need, all five of the children were drooping in their chairs. Adina drew a circle on the floor around her and her children. Slowly, wearily, she added a series of runes. The chalk broke in her hand and she was forced to scrub it out and start over with a fresh piece. Finally, she was finished.
“Spirit of the North, daughter of ice and snow, let time be frozen,” Adina chanted. “Spirit of the East, child of the light, shed your light and show us the way. Spirit of the South, mother of all, grant to me this boon for I seek only to protect my children. Spirit of the West, from whence all life came, guide us to a place in this world where we may once again walk free.” For a moment nothing happened. And then, the world went dark.
Adina groaned. She sat up and rubbed the back of her head. She stared blankly into the shadows, wondering why things were so dim. Memory brought clarity, and clarity brought concern. Where were the children?
Adina fumbled for the pack at her side. She pulled out a candle and tried to light it with her magic. Emptiness engulfed her and not even a spark flickered in the darkness. Adina fought down panic as she rummaged in the pack, finding the flame striker. She struck the two pieces together. Sparks flashed in the darkness as the bit of tinder at the end finally caught. Adina lit the wick and pinched out the smoldering tip of the striker.
Adina held up the candle. Her hands shook as her head spun. Her chest hurt and it was hard to breathe. She took a moment to steady herself and then went looking for her children. The faint light gave her only a bare hint at the shape of the room. She took a few steps forward. Her foot caught on something. She looked down.
Baldric groaned and sat up. “That hurt,” he mumbled, still more than a little dazed. Adina left him to gather himself as she went in search of the others.
She found Ronen next. His breathing was fast and shallow, and his skin was cool to the touch. Her hand shook and a drop of wax fell onto his skin. He twitched but otherwise made no other response. Adina wiped it off before moving on.
Isabella and Grainne were lying in a heap together not far from Ronen. Both of their eyes were open but there was no sense in their faces. Adina made sure to untangle them before resuming her search.
Adina searched every corner of the room but didn’t see her youngest daughter. “Baldric?”
“I’m here, mother,” Baldric said. He staggered over to her, a candle in his hand. He lit it from hers.
“Ceinwen’s not here,” Adina said. “I’m going to look in the other rooms. Keep an eye on the others.”
“Yes mother,” Baldric said.
Adina held her candle high in the air. She searched room to room on the first floor of the strange house but she still couldn’t find Ceinwen. Dread clutched Adina’s heart in an icy grip.
A small whimper to her left drew her attention to the stairs. The light from the flickering candle fell on a bloody, mangled body lying on the steps. For a moment, Adina was reminded of a doll lying broken and discarded on the nursery floor. She let out a strangled cry and knelt at Ceinwen’s side.
“Mother?” Baldric called.
“Stay with the others,” Adina said again. She pulled her scarf off and carefully wiped the blood off Ceinwen’s face. Ceinwen whimpered again. “It’s all right, kitten. Mama’s here.”
The right side of Ceinwen’s face, neck, shoulder, and right arm were torn, like she’d been raked by the claws of a wild beast. Her eyes were open but her pupils were mere pinpricks in a sea of green. Adina reached again for her magic. It refused to come. There was nothing left.
Adina lifted her injured daughter into her arms. She carried her into the room where the other children were waiting. “What’s happened?” Baldric asked.
“The gods have abandoned me,” Adina said. “My magic is spent and Ceinwen – Ceinwen is hurt.”