Excerpt from Memories of Magic by Cara McKinnon. Copyright 2017 Cara McKinnon.
NOTE: This is an unedited excerpt from a work in progress. The text can and will be revised and edited before publication!
In the dream, the woman’s intense dark gaze met Olivia’s. But no ephemeral figment created by Olivia’s sleeping mind could hold such intelligence, such anger, in its eyes.
This wasn’t a dream.
Until this moment, Olivia had observed the scene from a detached perspective, almost as though she were a ghost floating around and through the people around her. But the woman had pinned her in place, given her substance in this not-quite-real place. When Olivia wrenched her gaze away from those piercing eyes, she discovered the collar gripping the woman’s neck, its copper surface worked with Greek letters and a script that looked like Sanskrit. Matching cuffs surrounded her wrists, and her hands curled into tight fists.
This was a sorceress, bound for trial. From her dress and that of the two mages beside her, Liv judged the period as late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, following the hundred years when Jeshuvah, the patron god of the Magisterium, had tasked his followers to convert those who still did magic in the old ways and followed the local deities and customs. It was during this period that Martin Luther had broken from Jeshuvah and chosen to follow Wothan and Freggya, though they could be just as vicious in defending their magical philosophies and subjugating those who did not agree. Many, many magical practitioners who could not escape to the east or, by the seventeenth century, the new world, died over a period of some two hundred years.
Olivia had been digging at the site of a mass burial in southwestern France, near the Atlantic coast. And then she recognized the pattern on the collar and cuffs. She’d uncovered this woman’s remains earlier in the day, the magical suppressants now tarnished and warped by fire, fused to her skeleton after she was burned.
She’d noted the presence of the metal in a detached way, before, wondering why they’d felt it necessary to restrain the woman until the moment of death. Most of the other bodies had no such evidence of wariness on the part of the magistrates.
But now she had no doubt why they’d feared to remove her bindings. Liv looked again into the woman’s eyes, and three hundred years disappeared. The woman could see her, as though Olivia stood in the courtroom and was on the side of the accusers. The sorceress’s dark eyes smoldered with hatred, but there was confusion, too. She couldn’t speak—the collar would prevent that—but Liv understood.
I will tell your story, Olivia promised. The woman blinked, and Liv added, You will not be forgotten.
Some sort of link must have been forged between them, because a surge of magic came up from the woman. My name is Izarra Balere. The words weren’t in English, but the meaning was clear anyway.
I see you Izarra Balere. I will remember you.
Memories poured into Olivia then, of the woman’s life, her husband and children who had already been taken and put to death, her sister who had fled to the West Indies. The many people Izarra had put on boats, until she was finally captured and brought before the court.
And then there was pain. So much torture and suffering that Liv started screaming, and though she tried, she could not wake.
Agony lasted an eternity, the way time in a dream can seem like a lifetime and yet be only a moment.
Then another presence entered the not-dream. He was warm, and solid, and somehow both calming and energizing, like a cup of milk mixed with spices.
He drew her out of the morass of misery and deposited her back into her unconscious body. As she finally gained her other senses back, she thought she saw a very pleasing male form, strong and lean. She had no firsthand experience with spirit bodies, only a vague knowledge from magical studies courses, but if his was any reflection of his actual flesh, she would very much like to see him again when she was awake and aware.
Then he was gone, and she opened her eyes.
Her grandmother, the Dowager Marchioness of Hazelby, dropped her knitting needles and rushed to Olivia’s side.
“Oh, love, you’re awake!”
Liv tried to sit up, confused and disoriented. But her body wouldn’t listen to her. Not because she’d lost feeling, but because her muscles were too weak. She finally forced her hand up to rest over Nan’s. “What happened?” The words were half-whisper, half-croak.
“You went to bed and didn’t appear at the dig the next morning. None of us could wake you.”
The flesh around Nan’s eyes crinkled with worry, and fear. She stroked an age-spotted hand over Liv’s hair, and a strand fell forward, near her eyes.
The tress was silver-white.
When Olivia had gone to bed, her hair had been styled in an unusually short cut for a woman, but it had been reddish-brown, like everyone else in her family, including Nan before she went grey. But even Nan’s grey didn’t look like this. This looked like…
She gasped. From some hidden reserve of strength, she made herself sit up, lift her hands to her head, and pull what hair she could forward, into her face where she could see it.
Every lock gleamed in the gaslight, nearly sparkling with opalescence.
Olivia had seen hair this color once a day during her early childhood, when her nanny and then her governess brought her to Mother’s sitting room to be examined and recite her lessons. But Mother only had a streak of it, at her left temple.
Later, Malcolm and Viola got the streaks, too. And on the rare occasions when Olivia went with them to Scotland, her Fay cousins, aunts, and uncles had them, too. But only ever in a streak. Even Cousin Sorcha, with her white-blonde hair, only had the odd silvery-opalescent on her left temple.
Not even great-great-grandma Lilias, her hair gone naturally white after a century of life, had more than two thick patches at the time of her death, one on either temple.
Nan frowned at her through the curtain of shimmering white. “It was like that the first day.”
“The…first day?” Her voice still held a rasp, and Nan held out a glass of water. Liv managed to sip it without spilling or choking, and handed it back.
“You’ve been unconscious for five days. We’re in a hotel in Calais, awaiting a boat back to England.”
Liv shoved the hair away from her face. “We’re what?”
“I didn’t know what to do.” Nan pulled her hands back into her lap and twisted the lace edging of her skirt. “But with your hair like that, I knew I had to get you back to your mother.”
Goddess preserve her. “Did you telegram her?”
Nan nodded. “She’s to come down to London in two days. I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to come up from Labourd and book passage, so I told her a week.”
Damn, damn, damn! She didn’t want to deal with her Mother when she felt like a newborn kitten: blind and weak. And ravenous.
“I’m hungry. Is there anything to eat?”
Nan actually smiled. They had a long-running private joke that Liv’s moods could be predicted by her appetite. When she was happy or starting a new project, she could consume massive quantities of food. When the work wasn’t going well, or she’d just ended a relationship with a lover, she barely touched a plate.
At the moment, the hunger was a purely physical urge, but she’d let Nan assume the best.
“I’ll ring for tea.” Nan stood and pulled at the room’s bellpull. A few moments later, a maid in the hotel’s uniform arrived and took their orders.
Before the woman returned, Olivia had recovered enough to get out of bed and sit up in a plush armchair by the fireplace. She devoured the food that appeared twenty minutes later, and made Nan tell her everything about the situation they’d left behind at the dig.
Olivia’s business partner Henri, a lean Frenchman who was only a few inches taller than she but had a personality big enough to fill a Roman stadium, had taken over excavations and processing. He would do well, but as long as she remained offsite, anything uncovered would be considered his discovery, and that rankled.
Izarra’s face and determined black eyes filled Olivia’s memory. She would have to send Henri a telegram to pay special attention to Izarra’s bones, and to send her detailed reports of anything else notable discovered near her in the past five days. Olivia would keep her promise to tell Izarra’s story, and the story of the hundreds of other magical adepts who’d been murdered by the Magisterium.
The vision descended, pushing through her consciousness like a ram through his flock of ewes. She floated, bodiless, above a mass grave. Some of the corpses still smoldered, wisps of smoke rising into the chilled morning air. Several men wearing rough laborer’s clothes shifted the burnt bodies from a cart into the pit. One corpse wore partially-melted copper at throat and wrists. Izarra.
The lifeless form tumbled down, jostling with a horrifying crack against the piles of bones below. So much death, and all because the Magisterium wanted power and needed scapegoats to tear down their rivals.
Olivia shuddered, and the vision faded. Nan knelt in front of her chair, clutching her wrists in a painful grip. “I’m fine, Nan. I’m having visions. That one wasn’t as bad as the first.”
“You’ve been sitting there over ten minutes.”
“I don’t know what the usual length is for these things.” Olivia didn’t mention the darkness and pain of the first vision. No need to frighten Nan. And now that she’d had another one without the accompanying eternity of terror, Liv thought it was Izarra who’d somehow managed to trap her in that awful space. Not on purpose, but the consequences of a last, desperate attempt to free herself.
Still, if the visions were going to keep coming, Olivia couldn’t just turn around and go back to Labourd as she wanted to. She would have to follow Nan’s plan and return to England.
“Since we’re going back to London, I’ll be able to see my cousin Sorcha. She’s the Fay family expert on visions and she just moved down from Skye.” And Liv’s telegram to Henri would have to give him instructions for taking over the dig indefinitely. She curled her hands weakly in her lap, annoyed at the frailty of her grip.
Nan still looked worried, but she stood and moved away. “We’re booked on the next ferry. We leave in an hour.”
Olivia wouldn’t mind seeing Sorcha, or even her brother Mal who had moved back to London recently along with his new wife, Etta. She’d just gotten a letter from him a month or so ago, long after she’d heard the news from their other brother, Perceval. Percy might be stationed in Brandenburg, but he got family news much more frequently than she did in Labourd.
Which was how Olivia liked it.
No, she wouldn’t mind seeing her brother or cousin. But she had no interest whatsoever in seeing her mother. Liv contemplated ways to politely refuse a visit, and determined that there weren’t any.
Savit placed the bell-shaped handset back into the cradle and marveled at the technology that allowed him to speak with the concierge at the desk downstairs and both call for a cab and send a telegram without needing to resort to spells, bells, or a porter to physically relay the messages.
He lifted the telegram that had instigated his telephone call and read it again. Telegraphy worked on similar principles as the telephone, but the subject of the telegram wasn’t new inventions or innovations. What his friend and fellow member of the Irish Republicans asked about was the past.
Sav: have history quandary for you reply via Skye house Kensington -Ronan
What sort of quandary would prompt Ronan McCarrick to send for him? The last time Ronan had needed his help was a little over two years ago, when he’d played a small role in liberating an artifact stolen from a Scottish nature spirit and later acquired by Trinity College in Dublin. Fortunately, he’d been able to keep his part in the caper hidden, as he doubted his superiors in the history department there would take kindly to him assisting thieves, no matter the original provenance of the artifact or his current popularity in academic circles.
Savit could attempt to assuage his curiosity via magical means, but he stifled the impulse. He would learn Ronan’s purpose soon enough, and impatience was no excuse for flagrant wastes of magic. There was little enough here in London, compared to Dublin.
Instead, he leaned back in his chair and cleared his thoughts, relaxing his muscles and letting his conscious mind drift. A few minutes of meditation while he waited for the cab to arrive would leave him refreshed and open to possibilities when he reached Skye House.
Across the room, his door banged open.
“Alexander, are you sleeping at your desk again?”
Savit opened his eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. His grandfather had never accepted his choice to be called by the name his mother gave him, Savitendra. Savit would even have accepted Nasir, which was how she’d adapted Alexander. But for Brian Reilly, the loss of his son twenty years ago had driven him out of India and away from anything that reminded him of his time there—including the name his grandson had answered to until he was seven, and any hint of the magic that Savit’s mother Kashvi had possessed.
Savit did not bother to correct his grandfather on his assumption that meditation was the same as sleep. Much like his insistence in calling Savit by his father’s name, Brian ignored anything Savit did that even hinted at the Hindu culture of his youth. It was one of Savit’s greatest regrets that he’d allowed his grandfather and the chair of his academic department to convince him to publish under the name Alexander Reilly. He hated the feeling that he was hiding behind the more appropriately English-sounding name.
“I am awake, Grandfather.” He stood and came around the desk. “What brings you to visit today?”
Although Savit stayed in a hotel when in London, his grandfather had a townhouse in Chelsea. It was yet another point of contention between them that Savit did not join his grandfather during his visits from Dublin. He claimed he wanted privacy, which was true, but his grandfather’s assumption that he wanted that privacy to see a mistress was not. Rather, he didn’t want to explain his daily rituals and practices, or to have his research and writing time interrupted.
The former was achieved by staying in a hotel. The latter was not. As evidenced by his grandfather’s next words.
“I’ve set up an appointment for you to meet with my solicitors and the owner of a shipping concern out of Bristol. I’m thinking of buying in, but you’ll be running the business before long, and I’d like your input before I make the decision official.”
Savit tensed, and took a full half-minute to respond, swallowing the angry words that wanted to escape and revising them to a soft query. “I am flattered you want my input, but I do not have the necessary knowledge to make a reasoned decision on shipping investments. Why trust me with such a responsibility?”
“You don’t have the knowledge because you don’t choose to learn about it. With all of the books you read, you could be an expert on international shipping by next week if you wanted to.” The elder Reilly stalked to the corner of the room, where a decanter of port sat beside another of whiskey. As Savit might have expected, he went for the whiskey and poured himself two finger’s-worth. Savit did not drink, and this was one area where his grandfather had learned not to offer.
“I have a profession, Grandfather. As much as I appreciate your desire to pass the business on to me, it would be better for you to train up one of your managers for the job.”
“And let Reilly Trading go out of the family? Not a chance.”
“What makes you think I wouldn’t sell it after your death?”
“You wouldn’t. You’re too sentimental. Once I’m gone, you’ll learn what you need to know and keep things running. It’s your way.”
The terrible thing was, as much as his grandfather liked to deliberately misunderstand Savit in most areas of his life, in this he was correct. Their relationship was far from peaceful, but Savit loved the old man and would not allow his precious company to be sold and likely dismantled without a Reilly at the helm.
“I continue to hold out hope that you will find a similar amount of sentimentality within you, and allow me my own path.” Savit leaned back against his desk. “But in any case, I cannot accompany you as I have plans this afternoon.”
“Plans more important than assisting your grandfather?” Again, the old man knew exactly which place to press to make Savit squirm and react.
“Not more important, no, but of longer standing. You would not have me cancel an appointment of my own in favor of yours. It would be rude.”
The elder Reilly growled. “Don’t talk to me of rude! Your generation hasn’t the manners of a tomcat fighting for the right to mount a queen in heat.”
That was a picturesque description, and sometimes accurate of the boys Savit had gone to school with. But not him. He’d never fought with them over whores, dancing girls, or actresses. He’d had no interest in a woman who would take any man’s cock for money, or, even worse, one who wanted him because she thought his dark skin exotic or barbaric.
He wasn’t a savage, and he’d spent his entire adult life proving it.
“Have I ever given you the impression I am like other men of my age?”
His grandfather grumbled, but agreed that he hadn’t.
“I will keep my appointment, and then go to yours afterward. I am certain your solicitors will wait, and if the shipping concern is interested in your money, their owners will be more than happy to delay an hour or so.”
With a good bit more gruff exclamation and dithering, his grandfather finally agreed and went off to the meeting. Savit’s cab arrived and he left the hotel, headed for Kensington and Skye House.
Although the cab jostled him quite a bit over the uneven streets, he let the physical fall away and focused on his mind and soul. Before the cab ride ended, he’d brought himself back into balance. That was, until they pulled up at Skye House and he tasted peppermint.
A memory attempted to stir at the flavor and scent of magic, but he suppressed it. He would contemplate the phantom sensation later, after he’d helped Ronan with his mysterious quandary.
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