Beneath the Forsaken City - C. E. Laureano


Conor Mac Nir leaned against the railing of the Resolute in the dark, watching the choppy seas splash along the cog’s wooden hull. Overhead, storm clouds roiled, threatening to unleash their fury on the small ship. Squalls on the Amantine Sea were hardly unusual, but this one had hovered for nearly two days, circling like a bird of prey. No natural storm behaved this way, which left only the other, more unsettling explanation.

The druid is dead. I saw him fall. No one could have survived a wound like that.

Yet, after all they had been through, the memory held little reassurance. He’d seen the extent of the druid’s powers before they fled Seare. Diarmuid commanded his warriors with sorcery and compelled the creatures of the mist to do his bidding. Conor’s uncle may have begun the bloody war that laid waste to the island, but the druid controlled it. Conor could not deny the possibility that the sorcerer had once more cheated death.

Conor cast a glance back to the passenger cabin beneath the bulkhead, where his new wife, Aine, still slept peacefully. Taking her back to her birthplace would keep her safe for only so long. Her visions implied that the druid had a far larger plan than the mere conquest of their tiny island. It was only a matter of time before war touched Aron as well.

Unless I stop it.

A sudden gust whipped his blond hair from his braid, and the first drops of rain spattered down on him. He should go inside before the storm worsened, hold his wife, and enjoy their last few days together, but Aine was far too perceptive. She would look into his eyes and know what troubled him. He rested his forehead on the cool, damp railing and let out a sigh.

“I think it’s watching us.”

He jerked his head up again. Aine stood beside him on the deck, her honey-colored hair blowing loosely around her shoulders. His breath stilled for a moment. Even in the ill-fitting dress she had scavenged in their flight, her eyes shadowed by exhaustion and anxiety, she was breathtaking.

Perhaps all men felt that way about their wives. Or perhaps it was just the knowledge of the even greater obstacles awaiting him that made him want to remember every moment of their short reunion.

“Do you sense something?” he asked, looking back out onto the choppy sea.

Aine ducked beneath his arm and lifted her face to the sky. “It feels wrong. But that could just be my own worry.”

Not likely. They both possessed gifts of Balus. While his gift allowed him to transform the language of music into magic, hers gave her, among other things, an awareness of the power that surrounded them, light or dark. Her sense of the storm’s wrongness only confirmed his suspicion about the source.

The smattering of raindrops increased to a steady rain, and Conor squinted at the sky, wondering if the storm could possibly know their thoughts.

“Come inside before we both get soaked.” Aine laced her fingers through his and tugged him back toward the cabin.

He followed her, ducking beneath the low frame, and shut the door firmly behind them. Dim lamplight illuminated the tiny berth: wood-paneled walls, a narrow bunk, a single stool affixed to the floor. He’d begun to think of the ship’s cabin as a haven, isolated from the worries outside. Here they were ordinary newlyweds, beginning their life together, not storing up memories for a separation that might become permanent.

“You’re wet.” Aine gestured for him to hold up his arms and pulled the damp tunic off over his head. Her hands lingered on his shoulders and then softly slid down his chest.

“You’re trying to distract me.”

“I’m assessing your injuries,” she said sternly, but her lips quivered against a smile. Then she sucked in her breath, and her playful manner slipped. “I don’t believe it.”

Conor looked down at himself, startled. Two days ago, his body had been mottled with blue and purple bruises left from almost constant travel and fighting. Yesterday they had already faded to the yellow and green that indicated healing.

Today they were gone, as if they had never existed.

Aine lifted her gaze in surprise and then turned him to examine the gash on his arm, the one he’d gotten when fighting their way free of his uncle’s fortress. The stitches were still in place, but where the wound had been now lay only a weal of healed skin.

“How is this possible?”

Conor shook his head. It shouldn’t be. He’d never shown any