Merry Peacock was many things in this life, teacher, baker, magic maker among them. Today she was a student and Merlin, the ineffable, was her teacher. He was being his usual enigmatic self as she stared at the calm water of the loch trying to communicate with him.
“The Prophecy speaks of a woman, a Finder, discovering the Druid’s Scroll”, Merry said. The Scroll is not one thing and it is not the Finder who will learn the lessons the Old Ones chose to reveal through the sacred words and symbols.
“Then who is it to be, Merlin? To whom am I to reveal what I know of the Scroll?”
He will present himself to you and you will decide if his honor is to be trusted. Metallurgist, Philosopher, Protector. He will be all three. Only when he and the Finder are one will justice rule the Council once more. The High King must be vanquished for a new Arm-Righ, worthy of the throne, to take his place. You, daughter of oak and earth, must ensure that he rises from Ceannard to King. It will require all of your skill and your life. Are you willing to make such a sacrifice?
Her mentor knew the answer to that question before he asked it. She was a High Druidess and was willing to do anything to bring the Society and its Council back to its original purpose: to heal, to educate the spirit, and to promote justice and peace. Yes, she’d give her life to see that happen. One life, no matter how spiritually powerful, was worth the sacrifice so long as it was hers to give.
“Who is this man who will rise to Arm-Righ, teacher?”
Merlin laughed. You will know him when you meet him. He will cause you more than a little trouble.
“How will I know him?”
He is your life-mate, Daughter of Moon and Sky. You will not mistake him. He will not be easy to give your life to, but you will receive his in return. If you succeed with the aid of your new apprentice and his Finder, the Arm-Righ will fall and your mate will rise.
“If, I succeed, Merlin?”
Merlin laughed again and then turned serious. The age of his soul was evident in his tone and his words. You, Daughter of the Sea, have been as fine an apprentice as I have had, but the future is up to those who make it. I am but a guide along the way.
Merry Peacock continued to stare into Loch Awe from the bank. As Merlin’s words faded, so did his image from the surface of the water. For a second it melded with her own and then it was gone, as if she’d imagined it. Merlin was real, and so was the quest she now found herself on.
“So who is this Finder, the woman who would vanquish a King?” Merry asked her reflection.
An image of a daisy flashed through her mind; a daisy, a sword, and a sword maker.
Merry looked from Loch to Sky, before turning to the giant oak where she often meditated. “I am ready, Merlin. Let the story begin. So Mote it Be.”
Magnus Alexander was a man better suited to antiquity than the age of Siri and instant, constant, often meaningless communication. He hated cell phones, but was forced by profession to be reachable, always. His cell phone rarely disturbed his art. When it did, it mattered.
So when Magnus heard the Gregorian Monks chanting AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” break the contemplative silence of his studio, he answered his phone, cutting off his ringtone. The monks would not have approved, but art sometimes had to give way to life and duty. That, at least, the monks would have understood.
Magnus put the tiny phone to his ear. He didn’t need to check who was calling. He had a different ringtone for everyone who had his number. That list was short and easy to remember. Lauren MacBain, the man who considered himself Magnus’ boss, was in fact hells bells calling him to duty.
“I need you in Kilmartin.”
“Hello, Lauren. I’m fine, thanks for asking. You?”
No response. Magnus rubbed his forehead and tried again. The best way to communicate with Lauren was with as few words as possible. Lauren didn’t like misunderstandings of any sort. “When?”
“Yesterday.” Lauren sighed. He paused, a rare occurrence for a man who valued his own time more than anyone else’s. Lauren sounded worried. Not a good sign.
Magnus set his drafting pencil down and picked up the small X-Acto knife he used to open boxes of supplies. He stood and as inconspicuously as possible scanned his immediate surroundings. He’d converted an old church into his art studio and silver smithy, with windows on all walls for light. Orkney’s big island, the home of his birth and the place he still called home, had few trees where he was, close to the coast. He spotted no one inside his studio or out. Just in case he was off his game, he stretched, smiled, and nodded his head, pretending to enjoy Lauren’s non-existent conversation as he moved toward the closest of the three loaded shotguns he kept hidden away. Magnus disliked firearms of all kinds, but that didn't mean he wasn't deadly accurate with them.
“Want to tell me what you need me to do, or should I make lunch while I wait?” Magnus wasn’t being a smartass. The phrase “make lunch” was code for “get armed and get bunkered in fast.”
“Skip lunch. Get on the first flight to Glasgow and drive to Kilmartin Glen from there. Right after you get Daisy in Santa Fe. I need you both here. ASAP.”
The treeless landscape in front of Magnus faded into a wash of grass, stone, and wildflowers. He could hear the roar of the North Sea in the distance echo through his ears as it crashed through him. He tried to swallow, but his heart was in his throat.
The woman he loved.
The woman who still hated him.
The one woman in the world who wouldn’t leave his soul.
“What’s she doing in Santa Fe?” Magnus asked, incredibly thankful he was able to form a coherent sentence.
Lauren knew Magnus well enough not to be fooled. He too loved Daisy, and if he was sending Magnus to bring her anywhere, whatever was going on had Lauren seriously concerned. “I finally give you an excuse to pick Daisy up and keep her by your side, an excuse she cannot ignore or countermand, and the best you can come up with is why is she in Santa Fe? If I can see right through you, Daisy certainly will. She’ll have you tied in knots before you ever leave the States.”
She’s had me tied up in knots for the last decade. I won't let that stop me now.
Magnus wrote down the particulars of where Daisy was staying on the bottom of his draft of a new broach he was designing. It was part of his “Prima Scotia” line of jewelry, the most dramatic piece so far. He’d been thinking of Daisy when he created the line. The small, daisy-like flowers native only to this harsh part of Scotland blossomed in rocky terrain ravaged by sea and wind. They were small, beautiful in their simple elegance and tough. If those little flowers could flourish in Orkney, his flower could learn to flourish in his world. She was tough enough.
Magnus tore the details from the sheet on his table and stuffed it in his pocket. He was ready to disconnect when Lauren let the other shoe drop. It may as well have been a guillotine slicing through the air on a test run.
“The Arm-Righ has been issuing poorly veiled threats against the Bennett family in general and against Daisy in particular. The King knows I support her bid for becoming an artifact Finder, and the misogynistic bastard would thwart her nomination simply because she’s missing a pair of balls.”
“So is he.”
Lauren laughed. “Never underestimate a sociopath with a god complex, no matter how he presents himself. The Arm-Righ is dangerous, Magnus. He’ll do harm to Daisy if he can, and he’ll take pleasure in the doing of it because he knows it’ll hurt not only the Bennetts but me as well.”
“He’s always had a hard-on for the Bennetts. Why is this time different?”
“This time he’s got a line on The Druid’s Scroll.”
Magnus ran a hand through his hair, holding it tightly back from his forehead a moment before letting it go. “Daisy is his best hope at finding the Scroll and he knows it. Why hurt her?”
“He won’t before it’s found. Afterward she won’t be necessary.”
“There are other artifacts to be found. Daisy’s already proven she’s as good as any Finder and better than most. Why get rid of her?”
Lauren’s voice turned cold. “He wants her under his yoke, at his beck and call. That’s his first choice. And believe me, Daisy would find that situation anything but merciful. I won’t let that happen. Find her and bring her here. Don’t leave her side until you get here.”
“She’ll fight me.”
“Yes. She will. Until I speak to her. I’m still her employer. She’ll do what I tell her to do.”
“Are you going to tell her the truth about her situation?”
“No. She’d do something reactionary and stupid if I did.” Lauren clicked off without waiting for a response.
Magnus agreed. His little flower would go after the King herself. She didn’t take kindly to threats or intimidation. Destiny had finally brought Daisy back into his life under circumstances that she couldn’t easily manipulate to her advantage. She’d avoided him, run from him, and despised him long enough. And he’d let her. Not because he wanted to, but because he feared if he pushed her he’d lose her forever. Now Magnus had a reason to insert himself into her life and stay there.
Keeping her safe from herself was going to be a full-time job. He could hardly wait to get started.
Lauren MacBain wasn’t telling Magnus everything. How could he? Magnus had his own destiny, and it didn’t lie with allegiance to the Society or the Council. He did not know it yet, but he was destined for, if not greater, other, more far-reaching things. It was those things Lauren planned on taking advantage of to the extent he could. That was one of the unspoken reasons he’d sent Magnus to get Daisy. He needed Magnus’ ties to the old ways. When the impending battle came, he’d need Magnus and others like him firmly in his camp, not the Arm-Righ’s.
Lauren sent another person to watch over Daisy as well. Since Daisy was as close to a daughter as he’d ever have, he needed to ensure her safety. He needed to ensure the safety and the integrity of the Society as well. Neither of the two men he’d assigned to Daisy could do the job alone.
When it came right down to it, Lauren knew it would be up to Daisy to save herself.
From the King.
From the Society.
From the men, himself included, who professed to guarding her safety above all else. Such declarations weren’t to be trusted or relied upon. Daisy would have to defend her own destiny. Goddess help them all.