The Flamebearer Chapter Forty-Six

THE BRUCE WALKED with her to the foot of the Gorsedd Arberth. “Here we be, ma lassie,” he sighed. “Ye be on your ain, the nou.”

Evaine looked up at him in the softening light. Tearful and trembling, she wondered aloud, “What if he’s not there?”

“I’ll wait for ye,” the Bruce reassured her. He pulled her cloak over her shoulders. “Ye best be on your way, girl. The sky will be getting light, soon.”

She stood on tiptoe to embrace him, grateful beyond words for his comforting presence over these last days. “Ciaran was right,” she said quietly. “You are a good man. Thank you for being my friend.” She gently pressed her lips to his bearded cheek and subtle as moonlight, withdrew from his arms to begin the long, spiral assent.

“Godspeed, lassie,” he called to her when she had nearly passed out of his sight. She turned to blow him a kiss and disappeared over the hill.

She was only halfway to the summit when she saw him. Fog swirled around him in the thin, pearly light. He stood near the top of the great Mound, his body moving to an internal rhythm, swaying in a free-and-easy dance, his own ecstatic song of celebration and homecoming. He looked like an angel. His eyes shone with an uncanny radiance and the fine, pale strands of his feather-soft hair surrounded his face like a halo. Although he appeared in earthly form his essence was pure light.

Where he stands is holy, Evaine thought, her heart racing.

“My love, I see you!” she called out. She scrambled up the grassy slope, tripping over her skirts. “I’m here; I’m coming to you!” She refused to let herself believe he might prove nothing more than a ghost, a disembodied spirit conjured from the depths of her longing.

Lost in the still center of his reverie, Ciaran didn’t see her approaching through the haze. Panic engulfed her as the sun began to rise just over the crest of the knoll; Evaine watched the sky grow brighter, illuminating the clouds from beneath with a rosy blush. If she didn’t make the pinnacle in time, she might lose him forever. She stumbled, picked herself up and quickened her pace, rushing toward him with every ounce of her strength.

Urgency propelled her forward as she closed the distance between them. Catching him off guard, she fell windblown and breathless into his arms.

“Evaine, my love!” he cried. He swept her off her feet and spun her around a full turn before restoring her to the earth.

The feel of his body molded to hers, the familiar warmth of his arms surrounding her provoked a deluge of emotion. She dissolved into tears, clinging to the density of him, clasping his arms, his wrists, his hands, just to make sure he was real. She could scarcely contain the maelstrom of love and anguish and devotion that clamored within her plundered heart.

“I was so scared,” she sobbed.

“I know,” Ciaran whispered. “So was I. But here we are. We’ve been given another chance.” He stroked her hair and pulled her head against his chest so she could feel the strong, steady beat of his heart.

“Soft, now,” he soothed. “It’s all right. Be still. Breathe into me.”

They stood, silently holding on to each other at the gateway between the worlds. The sky began to glow with an unearthly light as the sun’s rays streaked above the horizon. Ciaran lifted her chin to look into her eyes. “We’ve no time,” he said. “I can’t stay here. Will you come with me?”

“I told you before,” she said. “My place is with you. Always and ever with you.”

This time, she did not look back.

Swift as the wind, Ciaran cast open the veil that would lead them to the Summer Country. A radiant nimbus rose to surround them. Turning their faces toward the light, they linked arms and together, slipped away into the shimmering, golden mists.

* * *

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