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Authors: Jodi McIsaac

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BOOK: Into the Fire
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When they returned to the willow-lined enclosure, they found Riona sitting on a bench near the fountain. Her eyes were closed, as if she were meditating. Cedar marveled again at how young she looked. She ran a hand through her own hair absentmindedly, as though she might feel any gray strands. Then she chided herself for worrying about such things. There was nothing she could do to stop herself from aging, and there were larger issues at stake than
her own mortality. When she heard them approaching, Riona opened her eyes and stood, and Eden ran over to her to tell her about the poppy fields and the pond of fish.

“What did you think? Do you like your new home?” Riona asked.

“It’s breathtaking,” Cedar admitted. “More beautiful than I could have imagined.”

Riona beamed. “I’m so glad,” she said. “Now come with me, we’ve arranged a little welcome party for you.”

“A welcome party? But shouldn’t we—” Cedar stopped, not wanting to mention Nuala around Eden.

“We’ll deal with that, yes,” Riona said with a knowing nod. “But there are many people who would like to see you first.”

Cedar gave Finn a look, but he just shrugged and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “I think this will help us,” he said. “The more people we share our story with, the better.”

He had a point. The Council hadn’t seemed to care too much about their side of things, but if they could get enough people to support them, the Council members might be more inclined to listen.

They climbed back through the door that led to the common room. In the short time since they’d been there, it had been completely transformed from a cozy sitting room into an expansive atrium flooded with light. Bright banners hung from the ceiling, and a trio of instruments hovered in the corner. No one was playing them, but delightful music flowed from that part of the room, and the instruments quivered and swayed in time with it. Tables filled with food and drinks lined one long wall, and Cedar’s stomach growled at the tantalizing smells. “Whoa…,” Eden breathed, looking around with an open mouth.

In between the music and the tables was a crowd of people. A loud cheer went up when Cedar, Finn, and Eden entered the room. Cedar looked back at Riona, who shrugged innocently.

“It’s a welcome party,” she said. “At first we thought it might be limited to those of us you already know. But then word spread, and, well…” She gestured at the crowd, all of whom were looking at Cedar with great interest. “You saved a lot of lives, Cedar. I know your reception at the Council was less than warm, but to most people, you’re a hero.”

Cedar stared around in amazement. She hadn’t expected a hero’s welcome, but the animosity she’d experienced at the Council had given her second thoughts about even being part of this world. It felt good to know that so many of the Danann wanted her to be here in Tír na nÓg. It was exactly what she needed.

“Did you know about this?” she asked Finn. He tried to look innocent but then broke into a wide grin. “I wanted today to be special for you,” he said. “It didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but… we still have a lot to celebrate.” He tugged her into the crowd, where Riona was waiting to make introductions.

“Wait,” Cedar said. Someone had caught her eye across the room. She pulled away from Finn and made her way over to where Anya stood against the wall. “Hello, Anya,” she said.

Anya smiled at her, but her face was heavy with grief. Cedar couldn’t blame her. It had been only a few weeks since she’d lost her son Oscar in the battle against the Merrow. “Hello, Cedar,” Anya said. “I’m sorry about your loss. I know that Maeve meant a lot to you and Eden.”

“Thank you,” Cedar said. “How… how are you doing?”

“As well as can be expected, I suppose. It’s difficult to see all of these souls who were brought back to life after Lorcan’s death, knowing that my son will never be one of them. But he died for a noble cause. I see that now,” she said. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve heard about Nuala and how the Council is thinking of making her our queen. I, for one, will die before that happens. You
must
challenge her, Cedar.”

“We will, somehow,” Cedar assured her, not knowing what else to say. “We’ll figure out a way to stop her.”

Anya looked at her quizzically. “‘Figure out a way’? You mean you’re not planning to claim the throne?”

“Is
that
what people are expecting?” Cedar asked. “Rohan mentioned it, but I didn’t really think he was serious. I thought Rohan might be a better contender, actually.”

Anya laughed—a short, bitter sound. “I think we did too good of a job on you, Cedar. We didn’t even want you involved with the search for your own daughter. ‘Just a human,’ we said. Now we want you to be our queen, and you don’t think yourself worthy.”

“I’m just being realistic,” Cedar said. “I want to stop Nuala more than anything, but I don’t think this is the way to do it.”

At that moment Anya’s other son, Sam, arrived with Nevan. “Hey, Cedar,” Nevan said. “Did Eden tell you about all the exploring we did?”

“Not yet,” Cedar said with a smile. “But she’s hardly had time to catch her breath. I’m sure I’ll hear all about it later. Where is she, anyway?”

“She’s with Felix,” Nevan answered, pointing over at the long tables of food. “He’s letting her try one of everything.”

“Thanks,” Cedar said, and headed in Eden’s direction. But before she could get too far, she was stopped by a group of people she didn’t know.

“Welcome to Tír na nÓg!” one of them said, grabbing her hand and shaking it enthusiastically. “I knew your father. He was a great king. And your mother was a wonderful woman too.” The others in the circle nodded and murmured their agreement. “We’re sure that you’ll make a wonderful queen. The Council can hardly refuse you! Brogan’s blood runs in your veins.”

Once again, Cedar found herself at a loss for words. “I’m not sure—” she started, and was mercifully rescued by Riona, who
wrapped her arm through Cedar’s and led her away after making their excuses.

“I’d like you to meet my friend Seisyll,” Riona said, leading Cedar over to a robust woman whose hair was pulled back in a series of tight twists that emphasized her sharp facial features. “You met her husband, Gorman, at the Council.”

“Oh, yes! It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Cedar said.

Seisyll grabbed Cedar’s hand and clutched it tightly in her own. “You have no idea what you have done,” she said fervently. “You not only saved my husband, but you’ve given us all a second chance.”

“Oh… um, thank you,” Cedar said. She was beginning to feel like she was an actor in a play and that she was the only one who hadn’t been given the script.

“Can I get you a drink?” Seisyll asked, and before Cedar could respond, she waved her hand in the air. A crystal goblet filled with wine soared toward them, pausing just in front of Cedar, who reached out and plucked it from the air.

“Thank you,” she said, taking a sip. “How did you—”

“We all have our special gifts,” Seisyll said, floating a plate of food toward them as well. “But what was I saying? Ah, yes. I was just telling Riona that she and her friends put us to shame. We should have joined the resistance too, but we weren’t foresighted enough. By the time we realized our mistake, it was too late. And then Gorman was taken in for questioning—they knew about our friendship with Rohan and Riona, of course—and he never came back out. Until you arrived, that is,” Seisyll said, squeezing Cedar’s arm.

“Those idiots on the Council need to have their heads knocked together—look at the welcome they’ve given you! What do we want with a world like Ériu, anyway? We were only there for a few hundred years—we weren’t the first to conquer it, nor the last. We hardly have a ‘claim’ to it, as they say. And, really, while I’m sure
Ériu is lovely, it surely cannot possibly compare to Tír na nÓg, even now. What are your thoughts, dear?”

“Uh… well, they are both very beautiful, I suppose, in their own way,” Cedar answered. Finn had walked over to join them and had wrapped his arm around her waist.

“Well, I say it’s the very best thing that could have happened, you coming here,” interjected Seisyll. “Both when that monster was still in power and now. You’re the only one who can help us, Cedar. Surely you must realize that.”

“Actually, I think there are others who might be better suited for leadership,” Cedar said, starting to feel like a broken record.

“Cedar isn’t entirely convinced that she’s the right person for the job,” Finn told Seisyll.

“Not the right person?” the woman exclaimed, her voice traveling up an octave. “Whatever do you mean? Don’t you understand what’s at stake here? You have the strongest claim to the throne of any of us. Brogan and Kier were
adored
. And your daughter has the gift of opening the sidhe, which means that if it weren’t for that pesky human thing, you would surely have it too! That’s a
very
good sign. You were meant to be the queen, just like your father was the king.”

“Really, Mum?” Eden asked, and Cedar jumped, not realizing that Eden had joined them. “You’re going to be the queen?”

“No, I’m not,” Cedar protested, shooting the rest of them a warning glance. “I understand the need to deal with you-know-who, believe me, but I really don’t think this is even an option. The Council wouldn’t give me the time of day, and we’re wasting our time if we think there’s a chance they’d appoint me as queen. Yes, my father was king, but I never knew him, and I know nothing about your world or your people. That makes me the least qualified person here!”

To her surprise, Seisyll threw back her head and laughed. “When did being qualified have anything to do with it? Besides,
from what I’ve heard, you’re
very
qualified—you’re brave, intelligent, and stubborn. That’s all you need to rule this lot. But you’re also the only one among us who truly understands what it’s like to be human.” She glanced down at Eden before continuing, patting the girl on the head. “He wasn’t the only one who despised humans, you know. There are others like him—too many if you ask me—who think that humans are only ants to be crushed.

“People wonder why the land’s not healing itself now that he’s gone. But the prophecy just spoke of ‘poison’—and I think there’s still plenty of that hanging around. Your job here isn’t done. Having someone like you on the throne could do a lot to correct the damage that was caused by you-know-who, not just to our land but to our people. Having
her
on the throne will only make it worse.”

Cedar remembered the prophecy well.
The dyad that should not be will rise from the ashes and purge the land of the coming poison.
They had thought Eden was the dyad, but it was Maeve who had realized the truth, and almost too late. It was Cedar—both human and Danann—who had been able to defeat Lorcan.

“I still think there are others who are more capable,” Cedar said. She didn’t understand why Seisyll was pushing her so hard. “What about you? You’re obviously sympathetic toward humans. Or Gorman? Or Rohan? Riona, you’d make an amazing queen! You’re so wise and kind and strong.”

“Thank you, Cedar,” Riona said, smiling softly. “But none of us have the claim you do. Rohan was Brogan’s steward, and you are his daughter. That’s a big difference. I agree with Seisyll. You’re the best hope we have. And with all of us rallying behind you, I think you may indeed have a chance.”

Later that night Finn and Cedar lay exhausted in each other’s arms. The gossamer sheets, so soft she could barely feel them, were
tangled around Cedar’s legs. She closed her eyes and trailed her fingers along Finn’s chest. This was all that she wanted—peace and quiet with the man she loved. Was such a thing even possible in this world? Earlier they had tucked Eden into her new bed and sat by her side until she fell asleep. Cedar had wanted to keep Eden with them, but Finn had convinced her that their daughter would be perfectly safe in her own room. He’d had other plans, and now Cedar was happy that she’d listened to him.

She opened her eyes and looked up at the sky above them. It was a deep indigo, shot through with bright silver stars. “I don’t want it,” she said.

Finn rolled onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow. He tucked a stray strand of dark hair behind her ear. “I know,” he said. “And no one will force you. It’s a decision only you can make. But for what it’s worth, I know that you’d make a great queen. You might not see it, but you have what it takes.”

“How can you say that? I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“Cedar, I know you better than anyone. There’s much more to you than what you realize. The others see you as Brogan and Kier’s daughter, and they make a good point—you do have the strongest claim to the throne. But I see more than that. I see a passion and strength that’s all your own. You work hard, you learn quickly, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to protect the people you love. You have a strength they do not yet see.”

Cedar lay silent, considering his words. It seemed so impossible to think that she could be the queen of this magical world. She was telling the truth when she said she didn’t want it. She already had more than she’d ever dreamed possible. But if her parentage really did give her some influence, she could at least use it to support someone other than Nuala as the new king or queen. They just needed the right candidate.

BOOK: Into the Fire
3.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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