Low Midnight Page 6

She took a deep breath, sighed in satisfaction, and he had to remind himself that she wasn’t exactly alive. Here, she spoke, more than just a voice. She had expression, gestures, shrugs and frowns. She was almost real.

“We’re going, you know. We have to go,” he said.

“I know.” She didn’t seem agitated or upset about it, here. She sat calmly, gazing out.

“You ready for this?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” She wouldn’t look at him. Why would she, with a view like this? The world was in winter, but the meadow here was bright, warm summer.

“Manitou is where it happened. Where that girl was murdered, where they arrested you.”

“I don’t remember discussing this with you.”

Memories bled between them in both directions. She knew why this valley was so important, she knew what had happened to his father. And he knew what had happened to her. “It was in that old newspaper story.”

Her voice went soft. “Ah yes. Of course.”

“So. Are you ready?”

She didn’t answer right away, not even in a righteous huff to disguise whatever she actually felt. Ultimately, what she felt didn’t matter—he had the body, he needed to go to Manitou Springs despite her bad memories of the place, so he’d go. But she could make things difficult if she wanted to, so he had to look her in the eyes, to ask.

“I’ll be fine,” she said finally, with determination, glancing at him over her shoulder. “It happened a hundred years ago. More than a hundred years ago. It’s done with.” She had drawn her knees up and sat hugging them to her chest, a strangely childlike gesture.

They’d find out soon enough how she really felt.

*   *   *

WHEN AMELIA was a little girl, she had wanted to see fairies so very badly. She spent hours, days, in a glen by a fishpond on the family’s estate, outside the village of Sevenoaks, setting out bread crumbs and bowls of milk, hanging colored ribbons and silver bells, anything that might entice the creatures from their leafy bowers where she imagined them hiding, shy and fearful. The perch in the pond and finches in the undergrowth got most of the bread crumbs, and the only creatures she ever saw hiding there were several generations of a family of mice, living and breeding in their dens under the tree roots. But there’d been magic in that place, she’d felt it, a spark bubbling up from the spring that fed the pond, an otherworldliness in the green of the moss covering the stones. She’d started reading about Grail lore then, wondering if her pond was the Chalice Well, or perhaps a chalice well, and that had led her to the whole Arthurian mythos, far beyond the Tennyson she got from her governess, and she learned about the spirit of the land and ley lines. She’d found out about the Uffington White Horsecarved out of a hillside in Oxfordshire and begged her parents for an outing there, which they accomplished when she was sixteen. She speculated wildly about its origins, its no-doubt magical purpose, and what great ritual or spell had been wrought on the location. Predictably, her parents and brother suggested she ought to direct her attention and energies toward more ladylike pursuits, most importantly her inevitable marriage. Her childish interest in magic and fairies and the wights living in old Celtic hill forts might have been amusing when she was a girl in braids and pinafores. But she would soon be a lady, they said. That was the beginning of all the mess that followed.

She read every moment she could, books that her tutors would never have approved, clandestine pamphlets and penny dreadfuls about the Golden Dawn and Freemasonry and alchemical lore. Most of it was bunk, but she picked out the threads that felt true. When she was eighteen, she worked her first real spell, a simple charm to make a length of thread impossible to cut. It worked. So did the spell to uncharm the thread. She felt powerful. With such magic she could bind the world.

That was when she decided she would not marry, because she could not imagine any husband in the world allowing his wife to study and work magic, and she could not imagine keeping such a thing secret from the person she was meant to spend her life with. Never mind how she would hide such a thing from children. She was not interested in children. Therefore, no marriage for her. Of course, this was the precise moment that Arthur Pembroke appeared to court her. She could still see him standing in her father’s parlor, gaping in astonishment that she had just told him no.

Objectively, she could observe that he was considered a very good catch at the time. In hindsight, especially considering what happened to her just a few years later, she could admit that her life with him most likely would not have been horrible. She’d looked for him, when Cormac got out of prison and had access to the resources. Pembroke had found a different girl to marry, had continued on in his family’s textile export business. Then he’d got a commission and commanded a regiment in World War I. He’d been killed at the Somme. She’d have been widowed at forty, undoubtedly with children to care for, in a precarious financial situation as the war had disrupted trade. Just as his wife had been. It all seemed very sad to Amelia.

She had missed so much, cloistered with no body and little awareness for that hundred years. It might have all gone differently, if she’d actually seen fairies in the long-ago glen. If she had, she might have stopped looking for magic.

She had been born a hundred years too early. Her soul should have been patient, so she could be born into a world where she could choose not to marry, not to have children, and no one would think it strange. She would not have been so outcast.

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