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Authors: Jodi McIsaac

Into the Fire (6 page)

BOOK: Into the Fire
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Her mind returned to Rohan’s suggestion: that she become the queen instead of Nuala. She knew that would never work, but what if someone else mounted a serious challenge to Nuala’s claim? Rohan, maybe; he had been close to Brogan. Or someone who had been Lorcan’s enemy here in Tír na nÓg. It could be anyone, as long as he or she was willing to put a stop to Nuala’s blood-crazed plan.

After a while they came upon a small steep hill that was covered in scraggly grass. Cedar was surprised to discover that an ornately carved door was set in its side, like the one at the Fox and Fey pub back in Halifax.

Without warning, the door burst open and Finn’s brother, Dermot, appeared. Cedar jumped and then quickly recovered herself. “You live in a hobbit hole,” she said without thinking. Dermot laughed.

“Nice to see you again too, Cedar!” he said, giving her a hug. “Welcome home! We’ve cleaned the place up as best as we could, even though the front rooms were a disaster. I even found our old chess set, and it’s your move.” Dermot punched Finn in the arm. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find my ladyfriend Dáiríne. We’re building a little hobbit hole of our own,” he said with a wink, heading off in the opposite direction.

“I’ll leave you two to get settled in,” Rohan said. “But Cedar… think about it. We don’t have much time.” He caught up with Dermot in a few long strides. Cedar turned back to Finn, ready to launch into all the reasons why Rohan’s plan was a bad one. But Finn was standing with the door open, gesturing for her to go in. She stepped through the doorway into darkness, but it grew light as soon as Finn closed the door behind them, even though there was no obvious source for the illumination. They were in a small, empty room about the size of an elevator. Before Cedar could ask about it, the ground beneath them began to drop, and she gasped in surprise. Finn put his arm around her to steady her. “Don’t worry,” he said. “This just takes us down to the house.” His face was bright with excitement, and Cedar remembered that this was his first trip home in twenty years.

They continued to descend until they came to a gentle stop. When Cedar looked up, she couldn’t see the door they had used to enter. They were in a small, dimly lit archway in front of a carved door. It opened easily at Finn’s touch, and they stepped through it.

Cedar looked around in amazement. It was a large sitting room, and it reminded her of the living room at Rohan and Riona’s house in Halifax. The furniture was all constructed of gleaming
wood that twisted and turned seamlessly. Woven tapestries of vibrant colors hung from the walls on golden rods alongside several instruments, some of which were familiar, some unrecognizable. She looked up at the arched ceiling, which was the color of ivory. It gave the room an expansive, airy feeling, even though Cedar knew they must be several feet underground.

“The door in the hill and the one that leads to this room are enchanted to only let family and friends inside,” Finn said. “Lorcan’s minions tortured my uncle to get in this far, to the common areas. When my parents came back, this part of the house was in ruins. But even my uncle could not open the door to the rest of the chambers. Come, we’ll see if it’s as I remember.”

They passed through several other rooms, which showed signs of having recently been put back together, and then they came to another richly decorated door, which glowed golden.

“It’s not—?” Cedar began.

“A sidh? No. But only members of the immediate family, or those who have been freely invited by them can get past this door.”

He pressed both palms to the door and then stood back. It swung open with a series of small chimes, and Finn and Cedar stepped inside. To Cedar’s astonishment, they were standing in the middle of a sunny, circular courtyard. Smooth, flat stones shone beneath their feet, reflecting light from above. Cedar looked up and squinted against a bright yellow sun in a clear blue sky. Willow trees lined the courtyard, their branches swaying in a non-existent breeze, and a waterfall cascaded out of thin air into a small pool in the center of the room. Cedar felt a rush of incredible warmth through her veins and her muscles relax.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “It’s so… alive. This is how Tír na nÓg used to be, isn’t it? Why is it so different in here from what’s outside?”

“It’s an illusion of sorts,” Finn said. “Or a reflection, you might say. Like a recording, or a hologram. Only here, it’s tangible. You
can touch the trees, drink the water. Still, it’s just a memory of what was. I’m glad it’s here, though. It gives us something to remember, and something to strive for. Come, let’s find Eden. Riona was going to show her her new room.”

He ducked under the branches of one of the willows, and Cedar followed. She realized now that the courtyard was in the center of a large, round room with four doors evenly spaced around its edges. “Each of these doors leads to a private chamber. My parents share a room, and there’s one for each of my siblings. But since Dermot has moved in with Dáiríne, my family has redesigned his chambers for you and me. And Eden will have my old room, which is through here.” He led her through one of the golden doors, which looked heavy but swung open effortlessly at the barest touch of his fingertips.

Cedar gasped and looked down. They were standing on a thick branch, high up in a huge tree that had to be at least fifty feet off the ground. “Don’t worry. I would have broken my neck a hundred times if it were possible to fall from this tree,” Finn said with a grin.

“Eden!” he called. “Are you in here?”

“Daddy!” Eden called back, and Cedar had to crane her neck to see where their daughter’s voice was coming from. Eden’s head was peeking out from behind a branch several yards above them. Further up were more branches and then a dark sky dotted with bright stars. A full moon gave the scene a soft, ethereal glow.

“Be careful, Eden!” Cedar cried instinctively.

“I am! Come on up.… It’s amazing!” Eden called back.

They walked along the branch until they reached the trunk, which was so thick that the three of them wouldn’t be able to wrap their arms around it. A narrow staircase was carved into the trunk, spiraling upward. As they climbed it, Finn pointed out his favorite branches, one with a wicker cage where his pet gnome had lived and another that was strung with child-sized musical instruments.
Dresses and robes in various shades of pinks and purples and yellows now hung from a few of the other branches.

“Riona’s been busy,” Finn said. “She still thinks this room is too boyish for Eden, but I think she’ll like it okay, don’t you?”

Cedar smiled at the uncertainty in his voice. “Are you kidding? This is like a dream come true for her. She loves climbing trees. There’s not a child alive who wouldn’t think this is the best room ever.”

At last they reached the top, where Eden and Riona were waiting for them, sitting on a sky blue cushion that was cradled in the tree’s uppermost branches. Cedar laughed when she saw that Riona was reading Eden’s copy of
The Hobbit
to her.

Eden had changed her clothes; she was wearing a moss-colored dress decorated with fine gold thread. It set off the olive tones in her skin and the gold flecks in her eyes. Her wavy brown hair was loose around her shoulders instead of in its usual ponytail. She looked older than usual, and though she had only arrived in Tír na nÓg a few hours ago, she already looked as though she belonged in this place.

“This is my bed, Daddy!” Eden said with a giggle.

“I know,” Finn said, grinning. “You look beautiful, baby.” Cedar could feel the pride and joy emanating from him. She knew how much it meant to him to have them both here in his ancestral home.

Riona was beaming too. “I showed her where her clothes are, and the books and toys, and where she can wash. You quite like it, don’t you, Eden?”

“Yes! I love it!” Eden said.

Riona stood up. “I didn’t show her the bell yet,” she said to Finn. “How about you bring Eden and Cedar to
your
new room, and then we’ll talk once you’re done looking around.” She gave Cedar’s arm a quick squeeze before heading down the spiral staircase.

“What bell?” Eden asked, her eyes wide.

“Well, this is where you’ll sleep,” Finn said. He reached over and picked up a small silver bell that was resting on a large green leaf beside Eden’s bed. “But if you need us for any reason, all you have to do is ring this little bell, and it will automatically transport you into our room. You could make a sidh, of course, but the bell is enchanted so that its sound will echo throughout our room as well, and it will give us a little, uh, warning that you’re coming. Want to try it?” He passed it to her, placing one hand on her shoulder and holding Cedar’s hand with the other. “Just give it a ring.”

Eden rang the bell softly, and Cedar felt herself grow warm all over, like she was being wrapped in a soft, heated blanket. The tree and the room around them grew dim and faded out of focus. Seconds later their surroundings came back into focus, but they were no longer in Eden’s room. They were in a field of poppies, huge flowers that came up to Cedar’s waist, waving in the gentle breeze as if in greeting. A cacophony of color spread out before them—reds and purples and oranges and yellows, with their bright, fuzzy green stems. On a sudden impulse Cedar bent down and took off her shoes. The grass was as soft as the plushest carpet, and the sky above was bright blue and dotted with puffy clouds. She could hear birds singing and a waterfall in the distance. The field of poppies ended at the edge of a wood, out of which flowed a stream of clear water that danced and glittered in the sun.

Cedar felt tears springing to her eyes. “I love poppies,” she whispered, barely able to speak.

“I know,” Finn said. “I remembered all the poppies you painted on the bedroom wall at your old apartment, so I thought you might like this.”

“I do,” she said, lost for more words. They walked through the field, past a long table surrounded by woven chairs with bright blue cushions.

“The dining room,” Finn noted with a grin.

Eden was running pell-mell through the field of poppies, spinning in circles and falling on the soft grass. She squealed with laughter every time she fell, then jumped up and spun again.

They entered the wood, a welcoming collection of oaks, beeches, alders, and birches. The light dimmed as they followed a gently curving path through the trees.

“This reminds me of Narnia,” Eden said, catching up to them.

Finn smiled. “Many humans believe that there must be worlds beyond their own and have tried to imagine what these otherworlds might look like. A few humans have even been to Tír na nÓg over the years.”

“Maybe the man who wrote Narnia visited here, and he copied it!” Eden said.

“I don’t think so. It has been a long, long time since a human stepped foot in Tír na nÓg. But sometimes the veil between the worlds grows thin, and humans are able to catch a glimpse of Tír na nÓg in a dream, or in a particularly magical place. Speaking of magical places…” Finn gave Cedar a tender look as they reached a clearing. There was a wide, smooth pond with lily pads floating on the surface and a large willow tree dipping its branches into the water’s edge. She could see the glittering shapes of fish swimming languidly through the water. Eden immediately ran to the pond and knelt down, admiring the fish and giving them all names.

Next to the pond was the most beautiful bed that Cedar had ever seen. It was made of some gleaming white material she didn’t recognize. It was as polished as marble, but she knew at a glance that it would be soft to the touch, not hard and cold. The frame curved and twisted into intricate, never-ending knots. The linens were white too, and almost incandescent. They looked so delicate that she was sure they would tear at the lightest touch. She walked over to the bed and ran her hand along the covers. It was like touching a cloud. She felt her cheeks grow warm at the thought of the nights she and Finn would spend in this bed.

“What do you think, Honey Lime?” Finn asked.

“It’s perfect.
You’re
perfect.”

“No one’s perfect,” he replied. “But maybe, just maybe… I’m perfect for you.”

Cedar reached up and kissed him. “You are,” she whispered.

At times she wondered how she could have managed so many long years without him. But she knew how. She had shut her heart away behind walls of bravado and stubborn independence. She’d gone through the motions, building her career, spending time with friends, and raising Eden as a single mother. But life had been all about the business of daily survival, a dull, mechanical forward march through time. Eden had been the only spot of color in her life, and she’d experienced no deep, lasting joy. In her quest to shield herself from pain, loneliness, and rejection, she’d also walled herself off from delight, gratitude, and meaning.

Eden’s disappearance and Finn’s return had woken her from her self-induced emotional coma, and she was determined never to go back. She wanted to experience everything life had to offer, and she wanted to embrace love, even while knowing loss could be lurking around the next corner. She wasn’t going to run anymore, not from anyone or anything. And that included Nuala.

“Let’s go find your mother,” Cedar said suddenly. “I want to know what she thinks about Nuala’s plan and how we can stop her.”

BOOK: Into the Fire
3.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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