CAUGHT IN CRIMSON, the long awaited sequel to the Amazon Bestseller BOUND IN BLUE
Using the waves to propel myself, I swam to shore and collapsed on the sand. I could feel the cold now. Shivering so hard I could barely push myself up into a standing position, I was just about to scream at the Mari Lwyd for almost drowning me when it collapsed, ribcage heaving with imaginary breath. Steam rose from the bones as the ribbons of fire dripping from its mouth went out.
Anger forgotten, I knelt by the creature’s side. “What’s wrong? What can I do?”
When the skull lifted off the ground and twisted to look at me, flakes of dry bone broke off and fluttered to the ground. “I was created many generations ago for this one purpose—for you to see.”
“Who made you? Was it Guinevere?”
It dropped its head on the sand in a posture that even in bone spoke of great weariness. “I know nothing of the witch save that she charged me to find you. I was called into being by the first Rhiannon to serve her and play with her children. After her death, I somehow remained in this world, but only through the season of the winter solstice, until Guinevere placed the geas on me to find you. Once I did, my quest would be ended and also my existence. She had the power to command me and I could not deny it, but I am happy to finally seek my rest.”
The Mari Lwyd was silent and still for so long that I feared it was gone. My pity was pale lavender streaked with silver, but there was no answering color of magic in this cold, grey place. When I rested my
hand on the creature’s skull, a section of it crumbled to dust beneath my fingers. Stomach heaving, I stood as the bones disintegrated before my eyes, but the Mari Lwyd wasn’t at peace. Thin and distant, its voice was carried across the beach on the wind. “Command me! Ask me for my message and let me sleep.”
“Say what you were given to say!”
In answer, the wind lifted me up onto the cliff and left me balanced on its edge. In front of me was the frothing, churning ocean. Behind me was a pit of magma and fire.
“See! The world is out of balance. Look beneath your feet.”
I looked down. I was standing at the center of a symbol etched into the rock—lines knotted into a trillium-like shape, bound by a circle.
As the wind swirled around me, the Mari Lwyd’s voice gained strength. “Water, fire, air—all bound together in the earth which gives them home. These are the elements which exist in all who are also bound by the earth of blood, flesh, and bone. This is the very essence of earth magic, but a serpent appeared in the garden of the world, swallowing power whole until the Great Balance was threatened.”
“Do you mean Merlin?”
“Many ages, many names.”
“What did he do?”
“I cannot say. I was only made to know and tell.”
“I command you to tell me what you know!” I was afraid the spirit of the Mari Lwyd would disappear before it could give me its message.
“LOOK DOWN!” The voice boomed suddenly.
The stone beneath my feet shifted and I threw my arms out wildly to keep my balance. With horror, I realized the ground had broken and the symbol was now split in two. Chunks of rock broke away from the cliff, dropping into an ocean raging with storm on one side and a maelstrom of fire on the other. I gasped for oxygen as the fumes from the magma sucked all the air out of the world.
The voice of the Mari Lwyd was now almost indistinguishable from the howling of the wind. “Where you stand, all Greylanders, earth magicians, and humankind stand with you!” More stone broke away and I was forced to balance on the balls of my feet to keep from falling to my death. “Where you fall, all Greylanders, earth magicians, and humankind fall with you!”
“What do you want me to do?” I screamed, helpless with white terror.
“Save us all.”
“Look down.” When the Mari Lwyd’s voice faded away, I knew the creature was finally gone. Then the cliff exploded into fragments under my feet.
I was back at the Bellagio, balanced on the cement edge of the fountain pool, looking down into the shadowed water. Something glittered at the bottom, catching the light of the strobes which still danced with the sprays of water to the tune of The Most Wonderful Time of The Year. I thought at first it was only a handful of coins some tourist must have tossed in for luck, but then a crescendo of light at the climax of the song illuminated a deep bowl made of gold with pearls inlaid around the edge. Though it was submerged in water, fire boiled inside it.
Heather grew up in a family where books of myth and legend were used to teach the ABCs and Irish uncles still believed in fairies. Raised with tall tales, she has always told stories too- first as an actor and singer, then as a photographer, and now as a writer.
Heather lives in rural Ontario, Canada happily raising three children ranging in age from 6 to 18 with her biggest fan, her husband Steve.