Wicklow Mountains, Ireland
He emerged from the earth, the acrid smell of smoke hitting his nose as he brushed the loose soil from his face. He could see the flames licking at the houses, and hear the shouts of the humans as they ran, some rushing to safety, and others attempting to drown out fire that had already turned the main house to rubble.
His daughter sat at the edge of the garden, staring into the flames, leaning toward the heat as if drawn by some ineffable force.
Carwyn stalked toward her. “Deirdre.”
She looked up, her eyes feverish in the moonlight. “I kept everyone away. As soon as I realized… I kept them all away. No one’s been hurt.”
He pulled her up by the collar of her singed shirt. “What have you done?”
“As soon as realized… She’s still alive. She must be, I think. The flames keep coming, and I feel… But I knew as soon as she woke—”
“What have you done?” he roared as the roof of the barn adjacent to the farmhouse started to burn. He glared at her, the blood tears staining her cheeks, and her auburn hair wild around her face. His grip on her throat softened.
“I couldn’t…” Deirdre’s whisper could barely be heard. “I couldn’t lose her, too. Not her.” More shouts came from the houses, and somewhere near the dairy barn, a child began to cry.
Carwyn’s face fell, and his rage fled. “My daughter,” he groaned, “what have you done?” He let go of her collar, and Deirdre’s long legs seemed to crumple under her as she sank back into the cool soil of the summer garden.
He waded through the mass of people running away from the smoking farmhouse. The old building was in ruins, the top having collapsed onto the ground floors. Through the rubble, he could see the black doorway where his son had dug into the hill so many years before. The cozy passageway now gaped like a tomb, and rough stones had fallen in front of it, partially obscuring the entrance.
Carwyn walked toward it, listening for any sounds that escaped the scorched earth. He lifted his hands to move the rocks and toed off the shoes he had been wearing, sinking his feet into the earth to feel for her. The air hung thick with smoke, but a faint waft of amnis, carrying the smell of charred hawthorne, drew him closer.
As he entered the dark passageway, he could hear her; her shallow breaths echoed off the worn walls. He followed the trail of her scent and energy, trying to keep his heart under control, knowing that any hint of danger could result in a rush of suffocating fire. He opened his mouth to speak, keeping his voice quiet, so as not to startle her.
A small hitch in her breath.
The panting picked up speed, and he scoured the past for a snippet of something that might calm her. The soft refrain of a Welsh lullaby came to him, and he blinked at the memory of a solemn young girl sitting next to his lost son in the library. The girl’s dark brown eyes rose to Ioan’s, frowning to hear the immortal singing a childish tune. Carwyn paused at the memory.
Brigid had always been too old for lullabies.
Nevertheless, he began to hum the tune, and he could feel her energy change. At first, it smoothed out, drifting in waves, but then the waves began to grow, the peaks and valleys broadening as he came closer. Her breathing stopped, and he could hear her heart pick up speed.
“Brigid?” he called again.
Carwyn turned a corner, still humming the soft tune, and brushed away the remnants of a burned oak door, blinking away bloody tears as he entered the smoky chamber.
The furniture had been pushed to the edges of the room by the initial blast. There were still flames teasing the edges of a bookcase and a dressing table, but the rest of the sturdy oak had been torched. He saw a huddled figure glowing through the smoke.
The small woman was sitting in the center of the room, curled into herself, utterly still. Her knees were drawn up to her forehead as she bent forward, and her arms wrapped around her legs. No trace of clothing remained on her delicate frame, and no hair covered her head. She was naked as the day she had been born into the world, the red-gold flames swirling along her skin having burned away any trace of the human she had been.
She did not breathe, but her heart was beginning to race. He stopped humming and glanced around the room as he felt the slow draw of air gathering around her body. Suddenly, Brigid looked up, opened her eyes, and Carwyn gasped. The golden amber gaze had burned to ash-grey around the edge of her irises, and streaks of blood and soot covered her heart-shaped face.
The flames along her arms began to lick up her neck. Carwyn held up both hands.
Her face fell in pain and confusion, and she opened her mouth to let out a feral scream as the fire burst forth.
In the space of a heartbeat, Carwyn lifted his shoulders and pulled the mountain down.