Authors: Kella McKinnon
The Magic of Highland Dragons
To all of my good friends and great loves, past, present and future. And to the little bit of magic that touches us all…
Scottish Highlands, 1526
Bren Mac Coinnach wakened from a dream in the dark of night. Not a nightmare, but instead the sweetest dream he could ever remember. In the dream, he had held a woman in his arms, and she had run her delicate hands over his bare skin. Though he couldn’t see her face, his body came alive wherever she touched him, and he pulled her closer still, burying his face in her soft blond hair, whispering tender words near the delicate curve of her ear. In the dream his body was hard and aching for her, but there was more, much more. His heart ached for her too, so much so that he thought it might burst. This must be what love felt like, real love. What else would ever feel like this? He hadn’t wanted to wake up, but when he did, the loss of whatever he had held onto in that dream hit him hard like a blow to the chest, leaving him empty and wanting. Enough! Had he not waited long enough? Now even his dreams meant to torment him. The small hours of the night grew impossibly long as he tossed restlessly on the bed, unable to find sleep again.
With a heart-rending sigh, he rose from his bed and stalked down the stairs and out of the keep, moving through the faint moonlight with the innate grace of a tiger, alone in the night. He went to the circle of stones that was the heart of his clan’s history and strength, and in the center, he crumpled to his knees. It was said that every Mac Coinnach chief was fated to have one great love, a perfect other half, and once they had become as one, the circle of their destiny would be complete. Until then, he would never truly know peace.
Lately the empty space Bren had always felt within himself seemed to be growing larger, more insistent, needing something, someone to fill it. He was afraid that if he let his guard down, even for an instant, it might swallow him whole. But tonight, alone under the moon and the stars, he was not above begging, not even above snarling like a wounded beast.
“Come to me. Why won’t you come to me? I need you here by my side.”
But Bren Mac Coinnach was not completely alone that night. Dirc McInnes watched him from the shadows, knowing that it was already past time. A Mac Coinnach chief could command the powers of the earth, and rule his people with care and justice, but without his mate, he would never reach his full promise. He would never be content. And, Dirc knew firsthand, he would become nearly impossible to live with. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, wondering if perhaps fate needed a little help, because he himself was not above lending a hand.
Washington D.C., present day
“If you could go anywhere, at any time in all of history, where would you go?”
Faith looked up from her work and smiled. “Aren’t the possibilities just about endless? How would I ever decide? I’d probably need years to think about it.”
Brian reached for another of the artifacts they were cataloging, the monotonous work of those paying their dues in order to have a chance at a decent career. “Come on, I know you’ve thought about it. If you
to choose, where would you go?”
Faith studied a shard of broken pottery, turning it carefully in her hand before attaching the small number that would be its new identity. Never mind that it once had a purpose all its own, long ago. No one would ever know who made it or what it once held…
Brian was always asking her questions like this one, mostly to pass the time when they ran out of other conversation. The hours could be quite long, otherwise.
I haven’t ever seriously thought about it… but… Scotland, I guess. Maybe in the sixteenth century.”
She looked up with a teasing smile. “I don’t know Bri, to find a husband, I suppose. A real man. They don’t make them anymore you know, at least not like they used to.” She waited for the rude gesture she knew he would give her. They really had spent way too many hours together this summer. She turned the question back to him. “What about you? Where would you go?”
He gave her an east grin. “Ancient Egypt of course. Who in their right mind wouldn’t go to ancient Egypt?”
Faith looked up at him and raised one eyebrow. “I never said I was in my right mind, or I wouldn’t be stuck with you here in this tiny hole in the wall for hours on end!”
He laughed. They had been working together for nearly two months here in the basement of the Smithsonian. Two lowly interns relegated to long hours of work no one else had the time or inclination to do. Luckily, they got along with an easy camaraderie that she thought must be what it was like to have a brother. Or even a sister… but she was not so lucky. Faith had no family to speak of. Her mother had died years ago, and her father… he had gone his own way long ago. He had never been a part of her life. She was all alone in the world, and while she was lonely at times, it also gave her the absolute freedom to follow her dreams; there was no one to disapprove, no one she was responsible to but herself. And so here she was, a graduate student, paying her dues as an intern, working for her love of history and archaeology, and of telling the stories that had been lost long ago.
Brian flipped his cell phone open, then flipped it closed again in one practiced motion. “It’s six o’clock, I’m outta here!”
Faith gave him a dirty look. “Rub it in, Bri!” She was stuck there till eight and he knew it. Brian grabbed his backpack and gave her a cocky grin and a half-wave as he left the tiny basement cataloging room.
She couldn’t have known how things would have changed when next she saw him.
Faith rubbed her temples and sighed. Two more hours. At least tomorrow was her day off, though she didn’t have any real plans. The thing was, in the urban sprawl of Washington, it was nearly impossible to get away. Even the parks were crowded. You thought you were taking a nice quiet walk in the woods, then you’d come around a bend and there’d be two hundred people laying out picnics. It made her long for the solitude of the Colorado mountains where she grew up. Or the highlands of Scotland, she thought with bemusement, remembering Brian’s question and her strange answer. Strange because that particular time and place had popped into her head almost at once, and she felt like there could be no other answer.
Maybe I lived there in a past life
, she thought. Anything was possible.
She bent to pull out another bin of artifacts to be cataloged, reaching for a new notebook at the same time. She could really probably do this job in her sleep. She looked at the label on the bin, pen poised to copy it into the notebook. Site 127, Highlands, Scotland, it read. Her mind did a double-take, and a little tingle of shocked surprise ran down her spine.
“Now there’s a coincidence if I ever saw one,” she said to herself under her breath. The last bin had been from somewhere in Israel. Shaking off a sudden chill of premonition, she reached for the first artifact. Then the second. More broken pottery, the great survivalist of the ages. Falling back into the rhythm of her work, she began to hum a little tune, mindlessly reaching for the next piece. As her hand closed around it, the sound of her voice seemed to change. No, there was someone else in the room, humming the same song… her head whipped around to look behind. There was no one there. She got up and went to the door, looked out into the hall. Empty, no sound of retreating footsteps, no other open doors. Strange… maybe she had dozed off for a second. Definitely a possibility, given how exciting this work was. She turned back to the table, and remembering, opened her hand. It wasn’t another piece of pottery that lay in her palm; it was a ring. A beautiful ring, with a red gemstone,
ruby or garnet?
set in a wide gold band. It was intricately carved with Celtic style dragons circling it, mouths open as if to devour the stone between them. Faith drew in a reverent breath.
“How did you get here in a box of broken pottery?” Obviously the ring had been misplaced, and no one else knew it was here. It felt warm in her hand, almost as if it had just been worn by someone. It drew her in. She couldn’t stop looking at it, turning it in her fingers. Where had it come from?
She had a book at home, a reference of Celtic art. If she could look it up, study it a little… what an amazing opportunity. If no one knew the ring was here, she could bring it home, just for the weekend. She could bring it back on Monday, and nobody would ever know. No one would ever miss it for two days.
That would be wrong, Faith
. But it would also be harmless, and she was burning to know more. She somehow knew instinctively that she would think about this ring and this moment for the rest of her life, always wondering, if she didn’t satisfy her curiosity about it now
. Aren’t some rules just asking to be broken?
Taking a deep breath, she sat down and slipped it into the pocket of her bag, pulling the zipper firmly closed. That’s that.
At eight o’clock Faith closed the door behind her with a firm
, and walked down the empty corridor. She looked over her shoulder twice, feeling again as if she were not alone. Absconding with an invaluable artifact could do funny things to one’s mind, apparently. She shivered.
What am I doing?
this is so unlike me!
But she left the building anyway, giddy with excitement and adventure, and made her way to the train. Half an hour later she was unlocking the door to her tiny third floor apartment.
She flicked on the light and automatically turned and locked the door behind her, dropping her bag onto the sofa wedged between the door and the room’s one small window. She felt… different. There was a strange sort of energy, almost anticipation, in the air. The building shifted with a muffled creak and she jumped, her breath catching in her throat.
“Calm down Faith. Obviously you’d make a horrible thief. Definitely not a good career choice for you.” Unable to wait a moment longer, she crossed the room and knelt in front of the bookshelf, her hand going straight away to the thick volume that was her favorite. She carried it back to the coffee table and dropped down onto the sofa, reaching for her bag. Her fingers trembled a little as she unzipped the side pocket and took out the ring, holding it up carefully in the light, turning it in her fingers and studying the intricate design. She hadn’t noticed before that the dragons had tiny gemstones for eyes, and their tails entwined behind them almost in the shape of a heart. It was the most beautiful piece she had ever seen, and she wanted to look her fill before bringing it to the attention of the museum directors on Monday. She opened the reference book and began to flip through, looking for her answers.
After half an hour of searching, searching again, and looking through all her other books and all of the references on the internet, she was thoroughly baffled and a bit disappointed. There was nothing like this ring in the reference, or anywhere else she had looked. There were elements here and there that may have matched, but the piece as a whole was a mystery. It didn’t seem to belong anywhere. She let out a sigh. So much for her little adventure. For all she knew someone dropped it accidently into the box, and it wasn’t even old. But it
old. She could have sworn it was at least eleventh century Celtic. Faith turned the ring yet again in her hand. She couldn’t seem to put it down, couldn’t seem to stop looking at it, studying it. As if there was something she was missing… some clue. She felt… almost obsessed by it.