Authors: Meljean Brook
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Paranormal, #Fiction
Nothing but David—and so much more than she’d dreamed.
The volcano slept, as it had since Hanna and the Englishwomen
founded their village. In the first years, the women hadn’t worn beads. The names of those who’d died had been inscribed on large stones at the base of the mountain. Annika didn’t know when or why the first woman had buried her mother’s or her sister’s runes, but the tradition had begun in the first generation.
When the time came, Annika didn’t believe that her soul would need help finding her family’s. She didn’t believe that burying the runes helped the dead at all.
She did believe that it helped those still living.
David had gone quiet when she’d started Austra Longears up the path. Here and there, patches of snow still lingered, but most of it had receded with the spring. She’d approached the volcano from the south, and they’d spent the previous day trampling through the rock arches and soaking in the steaming springs that stank of sulphur but were heaven to bathe in. Later, as she’d lain in his arms, he’d read the runes at her neck, asked her to tell him about each woman. She had, and of the women in his line, too.
He still had not been to Hannasvik, though Annika had visited twice since they’d returned to Smoke Cove to begin work with Paolo—the last time returning with Senhorita Neves and her nurse, who had decided that the small fishing town was more to their taste than the isolated Hannasvik. Perhaps emboldened by their time there, or simply tired of hiding, they lived openly together—not flaunting their relationship, but not concealing it, either. Simply living. A month later, Lisbet had joined Källa at the station house—and then moved in with Valdís twice, after two loud public rows.
So far, none of the locals had spoken out against either of the couples. Some of them, Annika was certain, enjoyed the lively fighting. Dooley had told her that several fishermen had placed bets on when Lisbet would return to the station house.
However long it took, no one wagered that Lisbet would give up and go home again. Källa refused to, unless her son could go, too.
Annika would have wagered everything she owned that would eventually happen. Sooner or later, she was certain that the women of Hannasvik would invite David and Olaf to the village. Several of the elders had already come to meet them. Naked or in skins, trolls had become a familiar sight in Smoke Cove.
Already, her small world was changing. Annika didn’t know what would come of it, or how long it would remain peaceful, but such a fine start gave her endless hope.
And for now, the rest of the world didn’t seem concerned about the goings-on in Iceland. Though word of Lorenzo’s whale and the horror at Heimaey had reached the New World, they’d not heard much about it. The newssheets that Vashon brought rarely mentioned either di Fiore, but were filled with news of the civil war brewing in Castile, where small groups of rebels had carried out devastating attacks against the queen’s police.
Annika still wished that she’d been brave enough to give over a few coins—but was so, so glad that she’d taken other risks. And she wasn’t sorry that any of it had led to this.
She stopped the troll at the edge of a small clearing marked by a natural stone arch. Taking David’s hand, she led him up the gentle slope. A breeze stirred as they approached the ring of sixty stones, each one inscribed with a name. She knew where Hanna’s stone lay, but took the long way around, pointed out Jane’s.
“This is where mine will be buried.” She paused, frowned. “I suppose our children’s, too. The line has always passed through the mother—though if they wish it, they could choose Hanna’s, since that is your line.”
“I don’t care what they choose,” he said gruffly. “If God has any pity at all, I’ll be dead before a single one of those runes is buried, and I’ll never know where they lie.”
Annika hoped that the gods would have pity on her, too—she felt exactly the same way.
She led him on, stopped in front of Hanna’s stone. The black soil at its base was soft, with tender shoots of grass poking through.
“Here,” she said.
His breath shuddered as he lifted the necklace over his head. He held the runes cupped in his palm, looking down at the ground. Moisture pooled in his eye. His throat worked, but he didn’t speak. Annika didn’t know if he could.
When he looked to her, she drew the knife sheathed at her thigh, made a small cut on his thumb. “Place a drop of blood over each name before you bury them. Then speak your prayers and good-byes.”
“What do I say?” His voice was hoarse.
“Anything you like.”
“There is too much.”
“We’re in no hurry.”
He crouched in front of the stone. Whatever he had to say, he didn’t speak it aloud. Tears dripped steadily down his cheek, soaked into the ground. After a while, he simply stared at the small
hole he’d dug in the soil without making a move to place the runes inside.
“I’ve been wearing these for so long,” he said quietly. “I feel that when I bury them, she’ll truly be gone. I’ve waited to do this for twenty years. Now that I’m here, it’s hard to let her go.”
“You aren’t letting her go. Everything that you said to her, everything you feel for her and remember about her, you’ll carry away with you.” Annika’s mother had told her the same when her grandmother had died—and it had been true.
David nodded. With a deep breath, he pushed the runes into the soil and covered them.
He stood, lifted his gaze to the sky. His eye closed, and another long breath filled his chest. Twenty years, and a promise finally fulfilled. She couldn’t imagine how much less he must weigh.
His gaze found hers, then. His hand cupped her cheek. “I had a lot to say—not least of all, thanking her for leading me to you.”
Oh. Annika’s vision blurred. She turned her head, pressed a kiss against his palm. “I’m grateful for that, too.”
His arms came around her, drew her in against him. She held him tight, loving his strength, his gentleness, his warmth. His chest rose on another shuddering breath—release, she thought. His hand smoothed up her spine.
“Is that Hannasvik?”
She glanced over her shoulder, following his gaze. From this distance, the lake was a glint in the sun, but he could likely see the rounded earthen houses, the fences, the trolls. “Yes.”
“Can they see us up here?”
“Not without a spyglass. But they knew we were coming, so they might look—and my clothes are difficult to
see.” A crimson trouser and lime-green jacket, the sleeves lined with blue bows. Annika grinned when he laughed, nodding. She reached into the small pocket at her waist. “The women have something
for you, and I want to give it before we leave this place. Lower your head.”
After giving her a quizzical look, he did. Annika raised her arms, slipped the runes over his neck. “David, son of Inga, daughter of Helga, daughter of Sigrid, daughter of Ursula, daughter of Hanna.”
Lips parting with astonishment, he felt the beads at his throat. “There are two strands.”
“I asked them to add the second. David, son of Stone. I didn’t know the other names, but we can carve them. I know he was important to you—”
She didn’t finish. He caught her up, his mouth covering hers. A hard kiss, no finesse, pure emotion. He set her down again, her face cradled in his hands, his lips against hers. “I love you, Annika Fridasdottor.” It was rough, urgent. “I love you. And I thank the gods every day that a bird didn’t shit in my eye at the port gates.”
There wasn’t enough room inside her ribs for her heart. It squeezed painfully tight as he spoke, left her without any breath.
“I didn’t even dare look up,” she whispered. “I always felt so small. About to be crushed.”
She would stand up to anything. “I feel like I’m part of something that matters. With Hannasvik. With you.”
“And without you, nothing matters at all,” he said gruffly, and his lips met hers for another long kiss. Annika clung to him, smiling against his mouth.
He always said the most wonderful things.
That night, ribbons of green shimmered across the dark
sky, backlit by brilliant stars. Annika almost missed seeing the lights, but an idle glance through the eye louvers sent her rushing out in her chemise and drawers, her boots unlaced, and she was through
the chest hatch before David managed to pull on his trousers. She looked up. A moment later, David wrapped his arms around her, and the warmth of his body kept Annika from shivering.
Pinks and blues danced through the green. With a contented sigh, she tilted her head back against his shoulder. “Does it look the same through your lenses? Or is it more beautiful?”
“Different—and I can’t see the lights at all through some of the lenses. But when I can, they are just as beautiful.”
“And they truly don’t know what causes it?”
“Truly,” he confirmed, and she heard the smile in his voice. “Now tell me: When it’s no longer a mystery, when you know exactly what causes them, will you be as enchanted? Will they still be as beautiful then?”
“Oh, yes. Even more so, I think. People are the only things that don’t always improve upon knowing what makes them up. Well, people and sausage from a manufactory.”
His laugh rumbled against her back. “
meat from a manufactory.”
“I wish someone had told me that four years ago.” She laughed with him, then settled back against his chest. “But the rest is true. Look at the sentinels guarding the New World—or a troll. Naked or covered, it’s awe-inspiring on first sight, isn’t it? But then you realize that a band of women carried salvaged equipment across an island and built the trolls with nothing more than hard work and ingenuity, and a hundred years of maintenance brought them to this point. A troll is so much more incredible, knowing that. It’s true of so many other things, too—including your volcanoes.”
He dropped a warm kiss to the side of her neck. “Yes, it is.”
“And also true of the people I love.”
His teeth scraped her skin, raising gooseflesh the length of her body. Never cold with him, but shivering anyway. “Is that so?”
“Yes. My mother, for one. As a child I loved her, despite knowing so little about her. But now, knowing everything she has done,
how stubborn she can be, how blind, how strong, how clever…knowing her as a woman, I love her so much more. And there is you.” She slid her hand the length of his forearm, laced her fingers through his. “You were a mystery to me at the port, and I wanted to know more about you then. But I didn’t lose interest as I came to know you; you are so much more fascinating to me now. And the more I learn about you, the more I love you. Yet I have barely scratched the surface. When you write in your journal, I cannot wait to know what it is that you’ve been thinking, and I can never guess. When you look at something, I always want to know how you see it. I suspect that when we are gray together, I will still not know all of you. But even if I do, even if the mystery is completely gone, I won’t be any less in love. I think that I’ll be astonished by every small thing that has come together to make you the man you are—and I’ll still feel the wonder and joy of knowing you love me, too.”
“Annika.” His voice was rough. “You spin my world upside down every single day.”
“Do you want me to stop?”
Smiling, she turned in his arms, looked up into his face—and when she was gray, Annika hoped that David would be the last sight she ever saw, his gaze burning with love. She hoped that the very last thing she ever felt was this wonderful, riveted twist in her gut, and the touch of his warm lips.
His mouth covered hers. She closed her eyes, opened up to the heat of his kiss.
And the rest of the world melted away.