Once there were great magicians born to the Maghuin Dhonn, the folk of the Brown Bear, the oldest tribe in Alba. But generations ago, the greatest of them all broke a sacred oath sworn in the name of all his people. Now, only small gifts remain to them. Through her lineage, Moirin possesses such gifts-the ability to summon the twilight and conceal herself, and the skill to coax plants to grow.
Moirin has a secret, too. From childhood onward, she senses the presence of unfamiliar gods in her life: the bright lady and the man with a seedling cupped in his palm. Raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother, it isn't until she comes of age that Moirin learns how illustrious, if mixed, her heritage is. The great-granddaughter of Alais the Wise, child of the Maghuin Donn, and a cousin of the Cruarch of Alba, Moirin learns her father was a D'Angeline priest dedicated to serving Naamah, goddess of desire.
After Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood, she finds divine acceptance...on the condition that she fulfill an unknown destiny that lies somewhere beyond the ocean. Or perhaps oceans. Beyond Terre d'Ange where she finds her father, in the far reaches of distant Ch'in, Moirin's skills are a true gift when facing the vengeful plans of an ambitious mage, a noble warrior princess desperate to save her father's throne, and the spirit of a celestial dragon.
Release date: June 4, 2009
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 656
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
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.
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,
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.”
“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.”
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
“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
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.”
She set the arrowhead root to soak overnight and made a savory pie of eggs and greens that night. When I begged for the story
of Lord Tiernan’s coronation, she obliged me, tirelessly describing the splendid affair. It wasn’t until I was falling asleep
that I remembered last night’s visitor and my strange vision. I resolved to ask my mother about it in the morning.
But when the morning dawned bright and fair, and my mother promised to teach me to catch trout with my bare hands, I forgot
again and did not remember for a long time.
As I grew older, she taught me many things.
Most were simple skills. I grew adept at summoning the twilight—breathing it into me, blowing it softly around me. Thus concealed,
I would lie motionless beneath the tendrils of the big willow along the stream, dangling one arm in the water and waiting
for a speckled trout to swim into range. I could close my hand around it so gently it didn’t even thrash, and lift it into
the waiting creel.
I learned to gather greens like purslane, watercress, and dandelion, and roots like arrowhead, burdock, and cattail. I learned
which mushrooms were poisonous and which were good to eat. I learned to boil acorns until the bitterness was gone and grind
them into meal.
I learned to read weather signs and to track small game. My mother was skilled with a bow. When I was little, she hunted without
me, but as I grew bigger and more adept in the ways of stealth and concealment, she took me with her. The first time I saw
her kill, it was a hare.
It was a big hare, fat and lazy, crouching in a sunny glade. It began to startle as we emerged from the woods. My mother called
the twilight around her, and I did the same. The bright sunlight faded around us, the world turning soft and silvery dim.
“Hold,” she breathed.
The hare froze. I imagined I could feel its heart beating, a fast, inhuman flicker. Its round, dark eyes gleamed. It saw us,
and it saw its death in us.
My mother loosed her bow.
The twang of it startled me out of the twilight. The sunlit world came crashing back. The shot hare leaped, ran a few paces,
and fell over onto its side. I swallowed hard. It seemed a much graver thing than catching fish—and somewhat unfair, too.
“Did it… obey you?” I asked my mother.
She didn’t answer right away, beckoning me to accompany her as she went to gather the hare. She laid my hand on its warm fur.
I felt a faint movement as the last trace of life went out of it, then a loose stillness.
“In the twilight, we are closer to the world of spirit than flesh,” she said soberly. “When we speak, their spirits hear.
If their death is upon them, they obey.”
“Oh,” I whispered.
My mother’s eyes were dark and somber. “It is a grave gift and one never to be used lightly. Only to sustain life. We give
thanks to stone and sea and all that it encompasses for it, and to the Great Bear Herself. Do you ever use it for sport or
any idle cause, it will be stripped from you. Do you understand?”
The folk of the Maghuin Dhonn knew the cost of using gifts unwisely. My mother taught me things beyond woodcraft, cookery,
She told me stories.
Stories of days gone by, stories of heroes and villains, of great exploits and betrayals. There were stories from the oldest,
oldest days when the world was covered with ice and our people left a distant land, following their diadh-anam, the guiding spirit of the Great Bear, to Alba. I listened and shivered with awe.
“Have you ever seen Her?” I asked.
She nodded. “Once.”
She shook her head. “It is a mystery and I cannot speak of it until it is your time. But She is unlike any mortal bear.”
There were other stories, too. The story of how the army of Tiberium conquered Alba, bringing stone roads and foreign sicknesses,
driving us into the wilderness. How the mighty magician Donnchadh took on the shape of the Maghuin Dhonn Herself and suffered
himself to be taken into captivity and tormented for sport, until he tore loose the ties that bound him and slew the Tiberian
Governor. Afterward, the disparate folk of Alba united and drove the Tiberians from their soil.
And yet we were despised for it.
“Why?” I asked.
My mother gave me her wry smile. “The man who united the rest of Alba, Cinhil Ru of the Cullach Gorrym, lied. He said the
Maghuin Dhonn had sacrificed their diadh-anam and gone mad. That the same fate would befall them all unless they set aside their petty quarrels and stood together. And
so they did.”
“Without us,” I said.
“Without us,” she agreed. “The world is not always fair, Moirin mine. And yet Alba has never been conquered since, and we
are still here.”
And then there were the tales of our heritage.
The summer that I was ten years old, my mother took me on a pilgrimage to visit a place made sacred by our history. It was
the most exciting thing that had ever happened in my life. We were weeks travelling. She taught me to read the taisgaidh markers, the signs indicating the paths we travelled were held freely in trust for all of Alba. No one might bar another’s
passage nor offer violence on taisgaidh land.
Of course, we were prudent and concealed ourselves in twilight when others passed. Still, it gave me a thrill to see other
people. My mother identified them for me in a low whisper, willing passersby not to hear her voice. If they heard aught, they
glanced around and shrugged, concluding it was merely the wind.
The folk of the Cullach Gorrym looked most like us—slight and dark, with black hair and eyes. But there were others I’d heard
about only in stories, the Tarbh Cró and Eidlach Òr and Fhalair Bàn, tall and fair-skinned, with hair that blazed like fire
or gleamed like ripe wheat, startling blue, green, or grey eyes.
The first time I saw one, it stirred a memory.
Mayhap it was his milky-white skin and green, green eyes that drew you?
After they had passed and we had released the twilight, I looked at my mother with her warm brown skin. I stretched out my
hands and studied them. I was used to thinking of us as almost one person. But my skin was a different hue than hers, honey-colored.
I’d never thought on it.
I closed my eyes and touched my lids. I wondered what color my eyes were. I didn’t know.
It may seem strange, but what is obvious to an adult is not always obvious to a child. We led a solitary life. There was me,
and there was my mother. Other people were murmurs in the darkness, baskets appearing on the hearth. Tales out of history,
tales out of lore. Until I saw my first fair-skinned stranger, it never occurred to me that the tales stopped short.
I had no idea who my father was.
I kept the question to myself.
I was a child, but I was old enough to reason. If my mother had not spoken of it, like as not she had cause. If she did not
speak of it at Clunderry, I would wait until the moment was right.
It was the place where things had gone awry and changed forever. It was the place where all had been redeemed.
We arrived in the early evening of Midsummer’s Day. Although I know now that it was a simple country estate, the castle and
the surrounding village seemed awesome to me. I caught my breath as we emerged from taisgaidh land into civilization.
I expected my mother to summon the twilight, but she didn’t.
We passed the castle and walked onward. There were balefires burning on the outskirts of the fields. Crops were ripe. I breathed
deep, smelling rich, fertile soil. Once again, something new stirred in me.
I closed my eyes. Behind my lids, I saw the figure of a man limned in brightness, his head bowed, cupping a seedling in his
palm. He raised his head and smiled with infinite gentleness. The scent of apples filled the air.
“Moirin.” My mother said my name, calling me back to myself.
I opened my eyes and shivered.
We were approaching the burial mound. A man strode toward us, one hand on the hilt of his sword. He was a warrior of the Cullach
Gorrym in the old tradition, elaborate tattoos of blue woad whorling his cheeks and brow. More men waited behind him.
And beyond them, others. My people.
“Lady,” the man said curtly. “State your name.”
My mother lifted her head to meet his gaze. Sunlight slanted over her high, wide cheekbones. “Fainche,” she said calmly. “Daughter
of Eithne, daughter of Brianna, daughter of Alais.”
He gave a brief bow. “Come in peace and be welcome.”
I felt dizzy with the newness of it all. The burial mound loomed. It was a calm place, a tranquil place.
A place of death.
And today, the Maghuin Dhonn watched over it.
“Fainche.” A man reached out his hand. “You came.”
“I came,” she agreed, taking his hand. “Moirin, this is Oengus.”
He clapped my shoulder and smiled. The scent of musk and granite and pine surrounded me. “Well met, little one.”
Others came then, gazing at me with dark, curious eyes. All of them bore the subtle stamp of the Maghuin Dhonn—a sense of
wildness, untamed and dangerous. It should have been reassuring, but it wasn’t. They regarded me as though I were other, and for the first time, I felt strange and alien to myself.
“Has she shown signs of great promise?” a woman whispered to my mother. My mother shrugged. “Ah.” The other woman turned away,
“Moirin!” A man with laughing eyes came forward, proffering a short bow sized for a child’s draw and a quiver of neatly fletched
arrows. “Well met, little niece. I made this for you.” He kissed my mother on the cheek. “Greetings, sister. Do you prosper
in your hermitage?”
“Aye.” She smiled. “Moirin, this is your uncle, Mabon. He has a gift for working with wood.”
I had an uncle?
“Thank you,” I whispered, clutching the bow and quiver.
He tousled my hair. “Fine as silk.” He lowered his voice. “Does she—?” My mother shook her head. “Ah.” The same disappointment.
The sound of a harp arose, piercing and poignant and beautiful. I knew of harps only from my mother’s tales, but even so,
I could sense the mastery in the harpist’s touch. He stood apart from everyone else, eyes closed.
“Mother?” I touched her arm. “What is it everyone expects me to be?”
“Hush.” She rubbed my back with a soothing motion. “We will speak of it, but not now.” She nodded at the burial mound. “Now
is for honoring those who lie within and remembering that such a thing should never come to pass again.”
I gazed at the green mound.
Our history lay buried there. A princess of the Cullach Gorrym, great with child—the half-D’Angeline child who would have
grown to manhood and crushed the Maghuin Dhonn, hunting us down and destroying all our sacred places. And our last two great
magicians, Morwen and Berlik, who had slain her and the child in her womb.
They had broken binding oaths to do it.
In the tales, they bore the mark of a magician—eyes as pale as moonlight, unheard of among our kind. My skin prickled, and
I wondered again what color my own eyes were.
We stood for a long time while the harp gave voice to a wordless song of knowledge, power, and folly, and terrible sacrifice.
Morwen’s folly had been the most grave and her sacrifice the most terrible. By the terms of the oath she broke, her spirit
was condemned to wander for ten thousand years without solace.
I shivered some more.
What a dire night it must have been. No wonder we were still feared in Alba. I was filled with a reverent horror at the choices
Morwen and Berlik had made, and pity for the poor princess and the babe that bore the cost of them. Aye, and her husband,
too. The D’Angeline prince. Morwen had died here that night, but Berlik had fled, north and ever north, mayhap seeking the
land of our distant origin. The D’Angeline prince had tracked him to the snowy ends of the earth and brought back his head.
Dusk was falling.
One last note lingering in the air, then the harp fell silent. An entourage from the castle was approaching across the field.
A woman dressed in a fine gown rode at the head of it astride a chestnut horse. The armed men fell in to flank the party.
Oengus moved to meet them. He inclined his head in greeting. Her gaze swept over the assembled Maghuin Dhonn. I felt my mother’s
hands on my shoulders, pulling me close to her. The twilight deepened around us as she summoned it, cloaking me as though
I were still a babe.
“Oengus, son of Niall,” the finely dressed woman said. “All is well between our people?”
He inclined his head a second time. “By stone and sea and sky and all that they encompass, I swear it, Lady.”
This time she inclined her head in response. “Go in peace.” She glanced once more over us. “We give greeting to our wild kin.”
With that, she took her leave and her entourage went with her. My mother released the twilight and I let out a breath I hadn’t
known I was holding.
“She’s kin?” I asked.
“Aye,” my mother said. “A descendant of Alais’ and Arwyn’s line. There’s always one in residence at Clunderry.”
“Oh.” It meant we shared as kin my great-great-grandmother—Alais the Wise, daughter of the Cruarch of Alba and the Queen of
Terre d’Ange. What tenuous place the Maghuin Dhonn held in Alba was due to her. She’d wed one of us—or at least a half-breed.
Conor mac Grainne, son of the Lady of the Dalriada and a wandering Maghuin Dhonn harpist. Their eldest, their daughter Arwyn,
had gone on to be named the Cruarch Talorcan’s heir and ruled Alba in the latter days of her life.
Alais’ and Conor’s other two daughters had answered the call of their diadh-anam and gone back to the wild places we liked best. They had married and mingled with others of our kind.
“Why didn’t you want her to see us?” I asked. “Surely we’re at peace?”
“Aye.” My mother looked around. The Maghuin Dhonn were beginning to drift away in twos and threes. “There’s to be a revel,
but there’s somewhat I wish you to see first. There, we will speak.”
We slipped back into the twilight. She led me back toward the castle, then into the woods along a path. In an ancient oak
grove, she paused and breathed deeply. I did the same.
It was a sacred place. I could feel the slow pulse of the earth beneath my feet. The oak trees dreamed their slow dreams,
roots reaching deep into the earth, remembering year upon year of libations poured in tribute.
A good place.
But we didn’t linger. She moved on along the path until we reached the circle of standing stones. This, too, was a sacred
place. But it smelled of old blood, and the fine hairs at the nape of my neck stood on end.
“She died here,” I whispered. “Morwen.”
“Am I named for her?”
My mother hesitated. “Not quite, no. Come.”
I let her lead me into the center of the ring. There was a slab of a boulder there, half buried. Here was where the blood-smell
came from. My mother sat atop it with thoughtless grace. I stood before her, still clutching the bow and quiver my uncle had
“You know the old ones were able to summon visions from the standing stones?” she asked. I nodded. “Here is where she showed
the D’Angeline prince what his son would become. Only when it had come to that. Only when there were no other futures to see.
And there were others at first.” She was quiet a moment. “In one, Morwen bore the D’Angeline prince a child.”
“A daughter,” I murmured.
My mother nodded. “She would have been a great magician who brought balance to the struggle and peace to the land. But the
prince refused her, and her attempts to bind him failed in misery. That was her great folly.” Her mouth quirked. “It seems
the gods of Terre d’Ange are particular in matters of love.”
“I am named for a child that never was?”
Another silence. She let go my hand to brush fine strands of hair out of my eyes. “Your father was D’Angeline.”
I remembered the words Oengus had spoken in the night. “You were called to him?”
“Was he a prince?”
She shook her head. “A priest, I think.”
“Peace, Moirin.” Something unfamiliar flickered behind her smile. “It was a revel. Lord Tiernan’s coronation. I attended it
out of respect. There were many foreign guests in attendance. I asked no questions, only answered the call. The priest felt
it, too. I daresay it surprised him.”
“A priest of what?”
My mother shrugged and spread her hands. “I do not know. I am not versed in the ways of D’Angeline faith.”
I took a deep, shaking breath. “Yet you and everyone else expected a great magician to come of one night’s dalliance?”
“I did not know,” she said simply. “Only that there was some purpose in it. So aye, I named you for a child that might have
been. It is not so unusual a name; others have borne it. But it is a name with hope in it.”
I swallowed. “And being no great magician, I disappoint.”
“No!” Her eyes stretched wide. “Stone and sea, never!”
“Others,” I said stubbornly. “I disappoint others.”
She sighed. “They dream foolish dreams of glory, even as they remind themselves of ambition’s folly.” She gestured around
at the massive stones standing sentinel in the twilight. “I wanted to bring you here, to tell you here. That whatever you
become, that whatever destiny awaits you, no matter how great or how small, you understand in your bones the dangers of knowledge
and power, and the toll they may take if used unwisely. Do you?”
I breathed in the scent of old blood and nodded.
Ten thousand years of wandering without solace…
“Good lass,” my mother said softly. “Wise child.”
My curiosity wasn’t satisfied. “Why did you not wish the Lady of Clunderry to see us?”
“Ah.” She touched my cheek. “You bear the stamp of Terre d’Ange on your features, Moirin mine. One of royal blood might question
your presence among the Maghuin Dhonn. Our lives are our own. And I am not fond of answering questions.”
“Not even mine?” I inquired.
She smiled. “Yours, I tolerate.”
“What color are my eyes?”
My mother cupped my face and kissed my brow. “Green,” she whispered. “Green as grass, green as the rushes grow.”
Before that night, the revel that followed would have been the single greatest experience of my life. The glade in which it
was held was spellbound, wrapped in a shroud of twilight that would render it visible as nothing more than a glimmering in
the air to anyone without the gifts of the Maghuin Dhonn in their blood. There must have been almost a hundred people there—a
great gathering for our folk. There were even a dozen or more children present, some near my age. I should have enjoyed the
But I felt strange to myself.
My father was a D’Angeline priest.
I was half-D’Angeline.
And I had no idea what that meant—or why, indeed, it should mean anything. Surely there were others.
I searched the memory of my mother’s tales. No, never such a pairing. Not between an almost pure-blooded Maghuin Dhonn and
a pure-blooded D’Angeline.
So? Why should it matter?
It shouldn’t and it didn’t—except that my mother had been called to him and he to her, and she had named me for a child that
never was. Now the words whispered in the long-ago night and today’s disappointed looks made sense. For ten years, the Maghuin
Dhonn had hoped I would prove to be a great magician. It made me angry—at them, at my mother. They had no right to place such
expectations on me. She had no right to withhold such a great truth from me.
“Pouting, little one?” Oengus stooped to crouch before me.
“No,” I lied.
“Ah, she told you.” He turned his head to gaze at my mother. A trick of the moonlight through the branches laid shadows like
antlers over his tangled hair. “She’s a deep one, Fainche.”
There was a fire in the center of the glade, burning silvery beneath twilight’s cloak. Bare-chested young men were leaping
through the flames to the accompaniment of clapping hands and skirling pipes. One swaggered up to my mother and bowed to her,
holding out one hand. She shook her head, laughing. Oengus’ eyes narrowed.
“Do you love her?” I asked him.
“Aye,” he said simply. “I’d have her to wife if she’d let me. But she’s solitary and set in her ways.” He looked back at me.
“Do not judge her harshly. She bears a great love for you and in her own way seeks only to protect you.”
It made me feel ungracious. “I will try.”
“Good lass.” He rose and moved away.
The revel wore on into the small hours of the night. There was music and dancing and an abundance of food—even roasted venison,
which we seldom had. There were stone jugs of uisghe, a strong spirit begged or bartered from elsewhere, or stolen from tribute-gifts left by other folk. I found a jug with a
scant inch left in the bottom and sampled it when no one was looking. It tasted unpleasant, but it blazed a trail into my
belly where it simmered nicely, smoothing away the prickly edges of my temper.
I decided I liked it.
The children I’d been too sullen to attempt to befriend began to yawn and crumple, curling up in the grass to sleep beneath
the stars. Men and women smiled at one another and went into the darkness together. When Oengus held his hand out to my mother,
she gave me an inquiring glance from across the glade.
She took his hand and went with him.
I should have been weary, but my heart and mind were too full for sleep. I found another jug that sloshed a bit when I shook
it and wandered into the night. The charm of concealment had darkened to the deepest purple twilight. Here and there couples
were sighing. I found a place on the outskirts of the glade with long grass and sank into it. In the tree above me, an owl
I summoned my own twilight and spotted it. “Hello.”
The owl hooted again. It sounded disapproving. The glade was its nightly hunting ground and we were disturbing it.
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