Home > Naamah's Kiss (Moirin's Trilogy #1)

Naamah's Kiss (Moirin's Trilogy #1)
Jacqueline Carey

CHAPTER ONE

I was born to the Maghuin Dhonn. We are the folk of the Brown Bear and the oldest magic in Alba runs in our veins. Once, there were great magicians among us—men and women capable of seeing all the skeins of the future unwind in the great stone circles, capable of taking on the shape of the Maghuin Dhonn Herself.

No more.

It changed long before I was born, when a prince of Terre d'Ange wed a princess of the Cullach Gorrym, the folk of the Black Boar. The greatest magicians among us saw the seeds of our destruction in that union. They acted to avert it; and in the end, they succeeded.

But they did not act wisely, and there was a cost. The Maghuin Dhonn, already viewed with fear and suspicion, were despised in Alba for many long years thereafter. Our great magics deserted us. We turned instead to the small magic of concealment, learning to shroud ourselves and our places in twilight.

It is a simple enough trick. My mother taught it to me when I was some five years of age.

"Close your eyes and think of the time between night and day, Moirin," she said to me. "When the sun's last rays have sunk beyond the horizon, but darkness has not yet fallen. The stars are pale in the sky and the trees are dim around you."

I obeyed.

"Breathe it deep into your chest and hold it," her voice continued. "Then blow it out softly and let it settle around you like a cloak."

I exhaled softly.

"Ha!" My mother's voice was startled and pleased.

I opened my eyes. A glimpse of gentle twilight fled, replaced by bright, hearty sunlight. It made me squint. "I did it?"

"You did. I saw the air sparkle about you. You would have been concealed from any gaze not already upon you." She dropped to her knees and hugged me. "I wasn't sure."

"Why?"

My mother hesitated and stroked my hair. It was as straight and black as her own, but much finer. "You know that our bloodline is not entirely pure?"

I nodded. "We are kin to the kings and queens of Alba and Terre d'Ange, and the lord of the Dalriada, too."

"Like it or not, aye." She smiled wryly. "So. The gifts of the Maghuin Dhonn are not always given to each of us. I'm glad She has chosen you, little one."

I smiled back at her. "So am I. It would be a terrible thing if She didn't, wouldn't it?"

"So it would."

It was some nights afterward that Oengus came for the first time— or at least the first time I remembered. It was his scent that awoke me, a hard, clean scent like fresh-chipped granite and pine, with a musky undertone. Lying in my snug nest of blankets in our cozy cave, I opened my eyes to see my mother rise and go to greet the shadowy figure beyond the threshold.

"Well?" a deep voice asked.

"Moirin can summon the twilight." My mother's voice was tranquil.

"Does she show signs of other gifts?"

"No." There was a faint rustle as she shook her head.

"Have you told her?"

"No!" Her voice sharpened. "She's a child, Oengus. A child of the Maghuin Dhonn. Let her be one for as long as she may. Forever, mayhap. I would be content if nothing more came of it."

"Peace, Fainche." His tone was soothing. "It is just that there are those of us who wonder if She had not some greater purpose, calling you to a stranger." And then his tone changed, teasing. "Or so you claim. Mayhap it was his milky-white skin and green, green eyes that drew you?"

"Hush!" my mother said, but she was laughing.

"Come into the night with me." His voice dropped another octave. "I am here, and you have been too long without the company of men."

"Hush," she said again; but it was different this time. Amused, but different. Something stirred beneath her voice, a current of something dark and rich and heady. It called to something inside of me, something I didn't know how to name.

She glanced over her shoulder at me. I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. She went with him.

I was alone.

I wasn't scared. My mother had left me alone before, and I knew better than to mewl for her return. But I felt strange. There was a fluttering deep in my belly like a dove's wings beating. I called on my diadh-anam, the spirit-spark of the Great Bear Herself that dwells in all Her children.

Something else answered.

I had a sense of a lady's presence, bright and laughing. A sense of terrible beauty and piercing desire—though for what, I could not have said. A sense of lips pressed to my brow in a kiss. Words filtered through my thoughts, fond, gentle, and amused.

Not yet. Not for many years.

The fluttering feeling went away.

Comforted, I slept.

In the morning, Oengus was gone and the night's strangeness had passed. My mother was in good spirits. We ventured upstream to forage for arrowhead root, filling my mother's wicker basket to brimming. Splashing happily in the stream's marshy verges, I forgot all about the man in the night and the bright lady's presence. When we returned to our cave, there was an offering.

"Eggs!" my mother said with pleasure. She plucked one from the basket and passed it to me. "Look, Moirin. See how perfect it is."

I cradled it in my palms. It was warm from the sun, brown and faintly freckled. The shell was smooth. I touched the tip of my tongue to it. It tasted chalky and a little acrid. "From Lord Tiernan?"

"I daresay." She smiled. "He's a good man. He keeps to the old ways. We taught the Dalriada to survive in this land and they have never forgotten it. He remembers we are kin, too."

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