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Authors: Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim (37 page)

BOOK: Into the Dim
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I dropped beside him, wondering if he was right. Maybe ignorance
was
better. My mother probably thought she was protecting me. Yes, she was demanding and controlling. But she loved me. I never doubted that.

“I'm so sorry, Bran,” I whispered. “About your mother—both of them. About everything.”

I felt him shrug. “You don't remember any of it?” he said. “Not even me?”

“Not till just now. But when we first met, I . . . thought I smelled apples.”

He smiled at that. “I don't remember that much myself,” he confessed. “I was only five. I get glimpses sometimes. My house. My mum. I had a dog named Beaufort.”

I put a hand on his arm. “I'm sorry I was such a brat.”

He nudged me. “Eh, you weren't that bad.”

I shot a sideways glance at him. “I um . . . think Dr. John Dee is my grandfather.”

He turned to me, brows pinched in thought. “Yes,” he said, nodding. “Yes, I remember now. He'd been to our village before, visiting with our wise woman.”

“I think he was taking me home to my parents,” I said, realizing as I spoke the words that they were true. “I'd been visiting him in London for a few days. I think . . . I think I did that a lot.”

Bran could only shake his head in wonder.

“He must have gotten away, because he didn't die until 1608. I wonder if he came looking for us.” My chest ached a little at the thought. “You know,” I said, “when I was eight, I found his portrait in a book, and I just started crying. I didn't know why, but when my mother took the book away she kept staring at the picture and then back at me.” I kicked at the snow. “I think she knew, or at least suspected.”

We were quiet for a long moment before I reached up to touch the leather strand peeping from his collar. “This was your mother's?” I said. “Your real mother's?”

Bran tugged the medallion loose and touched it to his lips. “It was a St. Christopher, at one time. Though I remember her telling me that our family had long rubbed off the etching.” His eyes clouded. “I think she would've wanted me to have it.”

“I think so too,” I said.

“Moth—
Celia
—claims that when they found us, we were nearly dead,” Bran said, tucking the disc in place, but not before I saw him swipe at his eyes. “That we wouldn't have lasted much longer. Not even long enough for whoever stayed behind to get us to another village. She lied, you know. Told me Sarah was the one who stabbed Michael. That she stole his lodestone. She always claimed your mother took you and would've left me behind. That
she
saved me. Can't believe I was stupid enough to buy that.”

“I used to dream about them, you know. I thought they were angels.”

Bran chuckled. “Hardly. My mother certainly has never exhibited any angelish behavior.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Angelish?”

He grinned. “New word. I'm thinking of adding it to the current lexicon. Then, by the time the others reach home, it'll be in all the dictionaries, with our names beside the asterisk.”

I blew out a long breath, letting it puff my cheeks. “So . . . then . . . we're, like, four hundred years old? Or . . . minus four hundred, depending on how you look at it.”

He turned, giving me an exaggerated once-over. “I suppose. Though you look pretty good for an old gal, I must say.”

Halfway to the road, we stopped so I could sluice the blood from my hands in an icy brook. After swallowing all the bright, crisp water we could hold, we sat back on a mossy log to formulate a plan.

“We could make our living as fortunetellers.” I tried for a joke, but the words caught in my throat when I remembered the day I'd met Phoebe, and how she claimed I looked like a gypsy girl.

Bran smiled, and plucked a stray twig from my hair. “Though I would be the hottest thing on two legs in balloon knee breeches and a gold earring, I happen to be overly fond of iced macchiatos, hot showers, and films with frequent explosions.”

“Plus”—he turned to stare down at the frozen bank—“my brother Tony's not even twelve,” he said. “He's a sweet lad. Innocent, you know? I can't . . . I
won't
let my mother use him like she did me. He'd never survive all this.”

When his fists clenched in his lap, I scooted closer, until our sides pressed together. Bran's heat bled through the layers, stopping my shivers.

“We'll just have to find another way back, then,” I said. “Your mom and Flint, they ran off. Obviously you didn't come through at the glade?”

“No. We used another portal at a site clear across London. I would've had to cross through that one to get home.” He squinted up at the sun. “It came and went a while ago, I would guess. On horseback, Mother and Flint would've made it in time.”

“Then why?” I cried, shifting so I could see his profile. “Why come with us at all when we left Westminster? You could have just gone back to London. You could've gone home.”

His jaw muscles worked, but he didn't look at me. “You needed me,” Bran said simply.

Silence fell as I realized the sacrifice he'd made. “Bran—” I started, but he interrupted.

“Doesn't matter. What we have to do now is figure out another way home. However, in case you haven't noticed, neither of us is currently in possession of a lodestone. Clearly you know what can happen if you travel without them.”

At my nod, he yanked one of the curved swords from his belt and began digging distractedly in the frozen turf. I watched as the tip of his blade gouged a design in the mud. A figure eight. Three wavy lines bisecting the figure horizontally where it crossed over itself. The sign of the Dim.

I stiffened. Then, taking the sword from him, I drew a straight line vertically down through the center.

He frowned. “Why did you do that?”

“What does it mean?”

He frowned. “It's the sign of a Source. Obviously.”

I started to nip at my cuticles, but stopped when I saw my mother's blood still crusted there. “Since I'm kind of new at this whole time-travel thing, why don't you just enlighten me? What the hell is a Source?”

Bran stretched out his long legs and leaned back against a thick oak that grew just behind us.

“Sources are supposed to be the most powerful and ancient entrances to the Dim,” he explained. “That line you drew indicates an original portal, where thousands instead of hundreds of ley lines intersect. Supposedly Stonehenge is one, though there's no way to access it, since it would be deep underground. Also, Avebury, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Bermuda Triangle, Easter Island, and the ancient ground drawings in Lima. They're all rumored to contain a Source. They're believed to have been sealed or otherwise hidden long ago.”

Bran may've been speaking by rote, but my heart had started galloping at his words.

He looked over at me. As I gestured for him to go on, ideas began racing through my mind.

“Theoretically, a real Source would not require machinery, and a powerful-enough lodestone would allow one to travel wherever and whenever they wished.” He shrugged. “According to my mother, that is. It's an obscure legend, but she never stops searching for an accessible Source.”

I let my eyelids close as I remembered leaning against the damp stone wall of the tunnel beneath Westminster and feeling a design etched beneath my palm. In my panic, it had slipped away. But now I jumped to my feet, pacing as another memory popped to the surface. I'd been swaying, upside down, a hundred feet above the abbey floor. I'd just caught a glimpse. Near the altar, the curve of a design embedded in black and white marble.

“Come on.” I tugged him to his feet. “We have to go. Now.”

“Where?”

I looked up at him, willing him to trust me. “Westminster Abbey.”

Bran's mouth twisted. “Going to pray, are we? God knows it couldn't hurt.”

“Well, that's true,” I quipped, “But it's not why.”

His sigh rose white and steamy in the winter air. “You realize it's a good bet Becket might be about?”

“Doesn't matter.”

With a groan, he slid his blade into his belt. “All right, but may I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“We might want to change out of these gore-soaked rags before we enter the holiest place in London. I can't speak for myself, but you”—he grimaced, tutting as he gestured at my skirts, which were tacky and stiff with frozen blood—“are a horror.”

Chapter 44

A
S WE SUSPECTED, OUR HORSES WERE LONG GONE
, likely thanks to Celia. Fortunately, the roads were still passable, with plenty of inbound traffic, even at that hour of the morning. With a few charming words and a jingle of coin, Bran procured us a ride. Also, the young couple was absurdly grateful to trade their own, musty homespun for our fine silks and wools, no matter the condition.

When the rickety cart approached Westminster, Bran and I tucked ourselves down between sacks of weevily flour, in case someone was looking for us. As I breathed in the bland, homey scent, an image popped into my mind. Moira—steady, capable Moira—hands dusted in white as she kneaded bread in the manor kitchen. She'd know exactly what to do to save my mom, and the baby inside her.

I swallowed hard against the new ache. Ridiculous of course, to feel homesick for a place I'd known for such a short time. And yet the people there had believed in me. Trusted me. Taken me in and made me one of their own.

Spooned behind me, beneath the layer of rough weave, Bran must've heard my quiet sigh. His arms tightened around me. His breath curled past my neck. As he hugged me to him, I luxuriated in his extraordinary heat. I was beyond tired, and it felt so good to lie there, despite the fine grains that filtered down, somehow lodging into every crease and crevice. A thought occurred to me as I fidgeted inside the rough homespun.

“If I get fleas from these clothes,” I whispered as I twitched the plain brown skirt, “I'm going to kill you.”

I felt Bran's deep chuckle vibrate through me. “Too cold for fleas.”

Just as I'd relaxed, his lips brushed my ear. “If I were you, I'd be more concerned about the lice.”

As the wagon rumbled and jolted down the pitted streets, I elbowed him—hard—and started scratching.

A freezing mist encased us as we hurried toward the high stone walls of Westminster Abbey. Every muscle in my body felt used up, exhausted. Hopping over a stream of something vile and steaming, I noticed Bran favoring his left side.

“What's wrong?”

“Nothing. Let's go.”

He tugged at me, but I noticed the wince and I planted my feet.

“Raise your shirt.”

“Hmm. While I'm terribly flattered,” he said, eyebrows raised, “this may not be the time—”

“Cut it out,” I said, and when I looked up into his eyes, I saw they were shiny and glazed. A feverish spot stood out on each cheekbone. Gently, I laid my palm against his forehead, as my mother had done to me when I was a child. I jerked my hand away, gulping back a gasp of alarm. “You're burning up.” I said. “And you're limping. What's going on, Bran? Let me see.”

I tugged at the rough oat-colored tunic, which smelled of smoke and flour and its previous owner. He grunted with irritation but raised the hem. I sucked in a breath.

A long, angry scab marred his side. Starting just below his ribs, it jagged and disappeared into the tied waistband of the dark, nubby breeches. Red streaks shot across smooth, tanned skin like malevolent spider legs. The black thread someone had used to stitch it had all but disappeared beneath the swelling.

When I pressed hesitantly, he hissed. Dark yellow pus oozed from the scab.

He heaved the shirt down. “See? Like I said. Nothing.”

His words might've been dismissive, but I could see pain cinch the corners of his eyes. He'd carried my mom through the tunnels and into the forest. The pain must've been excruciating, yet he never complained.

“Wait,” I said, recalling Celia ask about some wound back at the glade. “Did your mother do that to—”

“Leave it, Hope. It doesn't matter.”

My horror was instant and nauseating. In the snowy courtyard of Mabray House, when Phoebe and I had escaped, I'd seen the moonlight on Celia's blade when Bran's mount had shoved hers out of my way. This was my fault. We had to get Bran back. To antibiotics and a sterile, modern hospital. If I was right about the Source, we'd at least know we
might
have a way out. Yes, we'd have to worry about locating—and likely stealing—two opals. But the stones meant nothing if the Source wasn't there.

I refused to think about what would happen if I was wrong.

BOOK: Into the Dim
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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