She had been born of the sea, and now the sea was trying to claim her. The air was salty and wet, half brine in her mouth. She would try to cough it out, but to cough she had to breathe in first, and she could never get her lungs clear. The cold wet air battered her face, while the ship's deck either slammed up against her legs or dropped out from under her.
She had been born of the sea, and all the world around her was sea. The horizon was lost in the grey confusion between churned water and rain-swept air. She could hear the ship boom as it slapped down onto the water, and sometimes she thought she could hear the Greek slaves cry out in the hold as the waves tore the long oars out of their hands. The wind made the ropes sing, a low banshee moan that never ceased. She wondered if the mast would snap.
She had been born of the sea, and in the savage dimness before night fell, she thought of letting it reclaim her.
The round black ship yawed and pitched wildly in the giant waves, and Morgan could hear the moans of a hundred men below deck. The waves were far too brutal for the men to use their oars; they cowered in the hold. A few of the captured Greeks struggled with the sail, while three of her bravest warriors held tightly onto the ropes and kept an eye on them.
She had given up green lands for this. She had been a queen; a chief had loved her, and begged her for children. She had walked away from all that, to be here now, in this world of brine and foam and fear. She had given up grace.
But the storm was what she was. She was nothing if she was not this ship full of shields and spears and the arms to wield them and the legs to propel them and the mouths to roar fear into enemies. She had never been an Irish chieftain's wife, not really. She had never really been a holy Christian woman. She had never really been a wise woman's slave in a lake village. She had been born of the sea so that she could return by sea, to reclaim who she really was.
And she was the sea too. She was this air and this salt and the wind that drove the storm. The waves were around her, but she was the waves too.
She closed her eyes and held on to the rigging, and she reached out into the heart of the storm. The storm was a tremendous unsatisfied longing. Huge volumes of air were not where they belonged. The winds would howl until they reached where they yearned to be.
She could not calm the fury of the storm. But she didn't want to. She let her name blow away in the wind, and her tears run away in the brine. She reached into its heart and welded her discontent to its longing, and lashed them both to the mainsail.
With a great heaving shudder, the ship turned into the gale. Its bow cut the water, smashing the waves apart like a wolf scattering geese. The storm no longer beat upon the ship. The ship was hers, and the storm was her, and the ship was one with the storm.
And she was herself again, Morgan, who had once been named Anna. As the storm drove the ship toward Britannia, toward her destiny, she gave thanks for this gift, the gale that was taking her home.
The Council of War
It began with a look. Anna had never seen two people look at each other like that. Uter, the war leader of the British, was looking at Anna's mother, Ygraine. He was asking for something with his eyes. Her mother was flushed and frightened. Then she whirled and pushed her way into the crowd to get away, but she kept looking back at Uter. Uter was watching her the way a wolf watches a lamb.
It was a look Anna had never seen before. One day it would be the destruction of Britain.
Uter had been nice to Anna when she'd met him in the big tent. He hadn't seemed nearly as fierce as the stories her father, Gorlois, had told about him: the battles he had won against the Saxons, or the villages of theirs he had burned. He wasn't tall, like her father, and his nose was a small pug nose, not long and Roman like her father's. But when he looked her in the eyes, he was really looking at her, as if she mattered. As if, she thought, he liked looking at her.
It was a huge tent, bigger than her father's villa back home, almost sixty yards long, and it was filled with hundreds of soldiers and warriors drinking and boasting. The governors of all the provinces of Britain had sworn to send their soldiers to drive the invading Saxons back across the sea to the Continent. Outside, there was a city of tents, thousands of them, and more soldiers and warriors from all over Britain. You could hear the murmur of their voices and the roar of all their campfires. And Uter had been picked to lead them all in the war against the Saxons.
Anna's father was talking with Uter as a few tall Picts walked past in a knot, gawking at everything. They were wild barbarians from the north, beyond Hadrian's Wall, with strange tattoos all along their arms, and long beards. They made respectful but strange gestures at Uter as they walked past. They were the enemy, as bad as the Saxons.
"What are they doing here?" Anna whispered to her father.
Uter grinned at her, as if she was very smart for asking. "I guess they're hoping to pillage the Saxons instead of us, for a change."
"And if we lose?" asked her father. "Who's going to make them go back home?"
"Who said anything about losing?" Uter said, and his grin got wider, so that it was a little scary. Anna could see why people wanted him to lead them into battle.
"Is that Marcus Cunomorus?" her father said, and got up abruptly. People were throwing their arms around a tall scarred man with grey hair who'd just come into the tent. "I'd better go talk to him."
"Have you two been fighting?" asked Uter, amused.
"I caught his men moving boundary stones," said her father. He meant the stones that marked out the lands he governed. Marcus Cunomorus had been trying to nibble away at his lands by moving them.
"If I caught men stealing my lands, I'd have them flayed alive," Uter laughed.
"It's stupid and pointless," said her father. "They're not his lands or mine. We're not kings. We govern in the name of Rome." He turned sharply and walked off. That was his way. He wouldn't argue with you. He'd tell you his point of view and then head off before you could make a fool of yourself trying to contradict him.
"Rome died," Uter called after him. "Haven't you heard?"
It was true. The last Roman soldiers had marched out of Britain a hundred years ago. Barbarians had sacked Rome a few years before Anna was born. Still, her father insisted that he was the governor of a Roman province. His departure left Uter grinning at Anna. "Looks like he forgot you," he said. He didn't seem to mind being stuck with an eleven-year-old girl. "Have you ever seen this many soldiers?" he asked.
"You must have almost a whole legion," she said, anxious to show Uter that she knew what she was talking about. Her father liked to talk to her about strategy and tactics. "How many cavalry do you have?"
But suddenly Uter wasn't paying attention to her anymore. He stood up, staring. Anna followed his gaze.
It was her mother, smiling graciously in the centre of a circle of laughing soldiers. She was wearing robes of Syrian silk that fluttered as she moved. "That's my mother," Anna said.
Uter didn't seem to have heard her. "Who in the name of Venus is that?" he said.
"That's my mother," Anna said again. "Her name is Ygraine."
"Go find your father," Uter said. Then he surged into the crowd toward her mother. What was he doing? There was something wild in his expression.
Anna scrambled after Uter. She saw her mother through the thicket of arms. Ygraine had stopped moving. Her smile had faded. Her face was flushed red. She spun away.
What did Uter want from Anna's mother? Why was Ygraine so upset?
Anna left the pavilion where all the soldiers and warriors were feasting and drinking, and walked out into the tent city that sprawled across the hill. Around the hilltop were the remains of a legionary fortress, from when the Roman legions still garrisoned Britain a hundred years ago. Now the rotting wooden walls held soldiers gathered from all over Britain: from the Cantaccii in the southwest, whose lands the Saxons had already taken, to her father's soldiers from Trigos on the Cornish peninsula in the far west, to the Brigantes in the north. There were hundreds of tents laid out in neat rows. The muddy lanes between them were bustling with men. Below the hillfort, the tents of the Picts spilled into the river valley, in no particular order; they weren't proper soldiers, only warriors.
Anna found her mother in their tent, alone. She seemed worried. "Is something wrong?" Anna asked.
"No," her mother said. "Are you scared about the war?"
Anna shook her head. She'd never seen so many soldiers and warriors in one place. Her father had said there were mobs of Saxons flowing into Britannia, but surely no mob could defeat all these tough-looking soldiers.
"I am," said Ygraine. "You never know what will happen in a war."
But Anna's mother wasn't telling her what was really wrong. There was something strange in her voice.
Anna's father stayed out for hours, maybe plotting strategy with the other governors. Anna wanted to wander through the tent city. She'd never been this far from home, and it was exciting. But her mother said she couldn't. She just wanted to comb Anna's hair, so Anna let her. Ygraine sang to her, and in the heat, Anna got sleepy lying on her blankets on the soft grass.
Her mother began to sing a lullaby. Anna wanted to wander around the camp, to hear men tell war stories — she could hear them out there, laughing and boasting. But her mother's voice was a spell that wove the soft grass and the warm blanket into an embrace. She wasn't sure if she was asleep yet. And then she was.
Something was rustling right outside the tent. It was dark; the crickets were out in force. And there was her mother's voice, and a man's. Was her father back? The murmuring was quiet, low, but it had a kind of urgency to it. Her father was like that.
But why were they talking outside the tent? They didn't want to wake her. That was it. They were thoughtful that way.
No. Something was wrong. Anna opened her eyes. From the firelight outside, she could see their soft shadows against the tent canvas. The man was shorter than her father. Stocky. And very close to her mother. They had stopped talking.
Where was her father?
Suddenly her mother turned away. She seemed to be wrestling with the man.
"Ygraine," the man said. It wasn't her father's voice, and it was urgent, and something in it scared Anna.
Then she heard a slap.
"Mama?" she called, and she got up from the blanket. "Mama!" Somehow she got tangled in the blanket and fell down again.
She ripped the blanket off her feet and ran out, slapping the tent flap aside. The man was already striding away. He was wearing Roman armour. She saw soldiers nodding their heads respectfully as he went by until he disappeared into the shadows.
"Are you all right?" Anna asked. Her mother's face was pale in the firelight. "Who was that?" Her mother didn't answer. "Did he kiss you?" Anna asked.
Ygraine only pulled Anna into the tent, and sat abruptly on the grass, trembling.
"What's wrong, Mama?" Anna asked. She ran her fingers through her mother's hair, trying to comfort her, but Ygraine didn't seem sad, just upset. "Who was that?" Anna whispered again.
After a long time, her mother finally spoke. "Please don't tell your father," she said, her voice cracking.
But Ygraine must have told him, because only a little later, Gorlois was whispering to his wife in harsh low tones.
Anna was frightened. She wanted to wedge herself under the folding table, but she wasn't a little kid anymore. The name Uter burst out more than once, and she heard her father curse, though he never cursed.
So Uter had been the man in the shadows. Anna had liked him. But he had tried to kiss her mother. Why?
Her father burst out of the tent, but there was no shouting. That was his way. He just started waking his centurions up, going into their tents or rousing them from their campfires. And, long before the dawn broke, Bretel, her father's senior centurion, was rushing everywhere whispering orders. The men were tightening saddles and shoving bags back onto carts, stepping carefully, holding the horses' bridle bits from jangling, looking every few minutes at the brightening east.
Before the sun even broke the treeline, her father's army was marching away from the old legionary fortress, its rotting battlements looming black against the pale red sky.
On the way here, Anna had ridden on her own pony. But now she had to ride in one of the supply carts. Its iron-ringed wheels made a racket on the stones of the road. Her mother was far ahead, at the head of the column. Her father was riding back and forth, barking orders to the men.
What had happened? The Saxons were not in this direction. The men hadn't eaten. Her father had them pass loaves of bread down the line, so they could tear off pieces and eat while they marched. Why were they running away? She didn't understand.
When they finally stopped, it was midday. The sun was hot. Eight hundred men had covered a score of miles. They were exhausted. Anna was ashamed. It wasn't like her father to sneak away in the middle of the night. Anna felt humiliated, and she hadn't even done anything wrong.
Three riders came up the road. Everyone tensed, but soon Anna recognized the riders on the left and right as her father's. The centurion in the middle carried a long lance pointed up, a white pennant flapping from its tip. His brass breastplate was polished and gleaming.
The horsemen guided the rider to Gorlois. The centurion dismounted and put his fist against his chest in a salute.
Her father saluted back. He gestured for the rider to follow him to the shade of some trees. Then he stopped and gestured at the centurion's sword. The centurion looked surprised, but he unstrapped his sword and handed it in its sheath to the horseman to his right.
Anna slipped off the cart and snuck into the shadows along the edge of the woods. She made her way quietly toward the men.
Her father was leaning against a tree, his face set in frustration. She knew that look.
The centurion was standing ramrod straight.
"You can't leave," he was saying. "We all swore an oath to stay with the army."
"I didn't break my oath first," her father said sharply.
"An oath is an oath," said the centurion, barely moving a muscle. "You know me, Gorlois," he said. "I don't love Uter any more than you do. But if you leave us — wearing that — " he said, gesturing at her father's legionary armour, "then what will those half-naked barbarians make of their own oaths? And there goes the whole war." Anna could hear the man's discomfort. As if he hated being the one to say it. But it was about honour. Honour was what made men better than they were. Without honour, a man was nothing. With honour, he sometimes had to do things he hated.
Her father's voice was edgy. "Don't talk to me about honour. I could have called him out. That would have been the honourable thing to do."
"Why didn't you?" asked the centurion.
"You tell me," Gorlois said. It was his habit, making you argue his side for him.
"The war against the Saxons," said the centurion.
"Uter or I would be lying on the ground dead. Maybe both of us," said Gorlois. "He has a gift. People like him. Hades and Tartarus, I used to like him. He knows how to fight a war. We've forgotten that. We need that."
"Then come back. My commander and the others will make sure he leaves your wife alone."
Anna could see that her father was thinking about it, trying to find a way to agree. "One day I would find myself and my men accidentally cut off somewhere and massacred, while Uter wins a great victory and goes to console my wife."
"He wouldn't do that."
"You wouldn't do that. But him? It's better if I just take myself — and her — out of the equation."
The centurion frowned, never losing his rigid bearing. "He'll order us to pursue you."
"Then he's violating his oath to everyone."
"I'm telling you what he'll do. And some of the tribes will come along with him. They don't care who they plunder."
Anna found herself shivering. Her father was nodding sadly, with that stubborn bull-like solidity she knew meant he would not turn aside.
Something horrible was going to happen. And neither of these men would do anything to stop it.
"What would you do? If it were your wife?" her father said.
"I'd have killed him on the spot. That's honour," said the centurion. "But you have a reputation for being wiser than the rest of us."
"Maybe that's my downfall," said Gorlois. "Go back to your commander. If he's as good a man as you, he won't come after me. Maybe no one will follow Uter except his own men, and he'll come to his senses."
The centurion frowned. He saluted again, and headed back down to his horse.
Anna's father sat down. She could see how weary he was. Anna had a tremendous urge to run to him and kiss him and make him laugh. But she was cold with dread, and she couldn't take a step in his direction.
When she could move again, she ran back to the carts. Her father got the men back on the march before the centurion had even disappeared into the distance.
That night they burned their supply carts and kept marching until they couldn't march anymore. They marched for three long days and nights before the Wall of Din Tagell appeared on the horizon.
As the sun slid into the sea, and the exhausted men marched through the gates, Anna's father took her up on the wall. "Why is this a good place to have a fortress?" It was one of those grown-up questions he liked to ask her. She had always liked those questions. But today it didn't seem like fun anymore. It was serious.
They were on a headland, its hundred-foot cliffs jutting far out into the sea, attached to the mainland by a thin rocky ridge. That was the "Neck." The Wall of Din Tagell ran across the neck. Din Tagell meant "Neck Fort" in British.
Farmers were swarming in from their pastures and fields, driving their cattle and sheep onto the Neck and into the fortress.
Beyond the green fields, somewhere in those woods, an army was closing in on them. "He won't be able to get past the Wall," Anna said. None of them used Uter's name anymore.
"Good girl." Gorlois nodded. "But what if he comes by sea?"
Anna looked toward the cliffs. The Irish barbarians lived across the sea. But they hadn't raided Din Tagell for as long as she had been alive. There was only a small beach at the foot of the cliff, and the steps cut into the side of the cliff were only wide enough for one man. "You can only come up the steps if you're friendly," she said.
Her father nodded approvingly. "But we can't hide behind our wall forever," he said. "He could lay siege. If you hide in a bottle, someone is going to put a cork in it."
Anna nodded, nervous.
"So we're going out to attack."
"What?" she said.
"You and your mother will be safe. I'll leave some men on the Wall, but I'll have to take most of the soldiers. We'll hide in the woods and hit him when he's not looking."
Anna was terrified. She'd heard stories about Uter. A Saxon had given Uter his sons as hostages to seal a truce. Uter brought up those boys like his own foster sons. But when the Saxon broke the truce, Uter burned the boys alive and sent them, half-dead, back to their father's village. They were a long time dying, those boys. Uter had burned so many villages that year that his men began calling him penn dragon, which meant "Head Dragon" in British.
"Please don't leave us," Anna begged.
Anna's father chuckled in that reassuring way he had. He gestured back at the settlement. "How are the crows doing?"
Anna looked back. The hilltop was dotted with sleek black birds. Far away, she heard them cawing.
"So," said her father.
The war goddess Bellona Morigenos had given the crows to Din Tagell. So long as they stayed, Din Tagell was under her protection.
Anna tasted blood. She realized she had bitten her lip.
"Stop that," he said, with an edge to his voice. "If my own daughter is scared, everyone else is going to be terrified."
Anna's father was solid and deep like the bones of the land. He never said anything just to make you feel better. She wanted very much to be brave for him. She forced herself to feel strong.
The next morning Gorlois marshalled his force of seven hundred soldiers. Anna thought he was going to make an oration. But all he said was, "Let's move out," and the soldiers began to march out through the gate.
Anna ran up to her father and threw her arms around him. She wanted to ask him again not to go but she forced herself not to. She wanted him to pick her up and spin her around like he used to when she was smaller. But she just held him tight for a moment.
Then her mother was standing beside her. Ever since the war camp, Ygraine had been strangely quiet — as if she was ashamed of something. But it hadn't been her fault Uter had kissed her. Had it?
Her father took her mother's hand. They didn't say anything for a long moment. With a sudden urgency, Ygraine pulled Gorlois close to her and kissed him. It was a long hard kiss.
"Let me go to him," Ygraine said. "Men shouldn't die over me. You shouldn't die because of me."
"I would rather die than give you up," said Gorlois. He kissed her back, and Ygraine melted into his arms.
Gorlois pulled away first. "I'll be back soon," he promised. Then he spun on his heel and strode off after his men, not once looking back.
As the sun began to slide down toward the sea, three women came up to Anna's mother. Anna didn't recognize them, but they must have come from the outlying villages. They knelt. It was strange for anyone from the district to kneel to one of her parents. It was the sort of formal thing that official couriers did. Anna left off feeding bread crumbs to the crows and came over to eavesdrop.
The oldest woman was tiny and white-haired. She wore a saffron yellow dress.
"My lady," she said, in British, "the old sacrifice to Morigenos..." Her voice drifted off, as if she expected Ygraine to know what she was talking about. But Anna's mother only nodded.
"Such as we did when I was a girl..." Her mother nodded again. "Well, the men are at war, and they need all the help they can get, don't they?"
"Sacrifice?" her mother said, and frowned, perplexed. "Well, the Governor has never objected to the old rituals. But if you need to borrow men from the Wall, you have to talk to Bretel."
"We don't need the men," said the second woman, chuckling. She was fat and motherly. "It has nothing to do with men."
"My lady," said the youngest woman, "you'll be the one leading the ritual."
"What? I don't know any rituals for Bellona Morigenos," said Anna's mother. "My people are from Brittany."
"You're the wife of the man who rules Din Tagell," said the white-haired woman.
"I'm not a priestess!"
"Morigenos isn't one of your oh-so-proper Roman goddesses as needs her own special priestess!" laughed the fat woman.
Ygraine frowned. "I don't know how the Governor would feel about me leading a ritual," she said. Anna's father didn't like magic. He never talked about it, and Anna had noticed that other people stopped talking about it too, if he was near.
But Anna's father wasn't here, and this was important. She ran up to the women.
"You have to," she told her mother. "Bellona protects the Wall!"
The old woman smiled at Anna and nodded. "She knows. Never has Morigenos let an enemy come across the Wall."
Her mother thought about it. Then she nodded. "If it will make people feel safer."
The crow was woven out of wicker, five feet from tip to tip of its outstretched wings, rubbed all over with black soot, then oiled with rapeseed oil to make it shine.
Dozens of the women of Din Tagell gathered in a circle near the cliff's edge. The sun was low over the water. Anna even thought she recognized some of the women she'd seen praying at the priest's cross. Wasn't that the weaver's wife? The women talked in excited whispers. They'd been full of nervous energy ever since the men had left. Now they finally had somewhere to put it.
"Remind me why no men?" Anna's mother asked the white-haired woman, in British.
"We're invoking the goddess."
Ygraine frowned, uncertain.
"The goddess comes into us. She's not going to come into a circle with a bunch of men in it, is she?"
"I guess it was like that back home," said Ygraine.
The sun touched the sea at the horizon. The white-haired woman carried a brazier into the centre of the circle. She struck sparks off a flint, and the tinder in the brazier caught, and flames began to lick upward.
A young blonde woman walked around the circle, dropping grains of salt on the ground from a bowl. Anna felt the evening breeze blow in off the sea. As the young woman walked past her, Anna shivered. The woman was murmuring softly in British, but Anna couldn't make out the words. But she felt cleaner somehow. It felt like when you sweated in the sauna and then washed yourself in the hot and cold baths.
Again the young woman walked around, and then a third time. Anna was filled with a sense of purpose, though she didn't know what was supposed to happen. She had never been to such a ritual. She had watched the Christians pray. She had gone to the harvest festivals. She had seen officials pay homage at the altar of Bellona Morigenos, though her father always found an excuse to stay away from those rituals.
This was different. The air seemed alive with intent.
As the sun vanished beneath the sea, the grey-haired woman picked up a small bell. In the pink glow of the bright clouds overhead, she walked around the circle, ringing it. The bell seemed to pull at Anna, though it was nothing, just a little brass bell like you might put on a lamb. Somehow the noises from the village dropped away, until there was only the bell and the wind and the waves crashing on the cliffs below.
When the grey-haired woman put her bell down, the light had faded from the clouds. She walked into the centre of the circle, plunged a torch into the brazier, and came away with flame. Then she walked the flame out of the circle of women and walked around the circle. As the sky darkened, the torch became the only light except for the faint glow of campfires far off in the village. Anna felt strange. She was on the familiar grass of Din Tagell, but it felt different and new.
"The circle is cast," the old woman croaked, in a voice that could have been a crow's. "We stand between the worlds."
Anna could feel it. They were standing exactly where they had been all along. But now they were also standing somewhere else, some other, uncanny place that Anna couldn't see, but could sense.
The three women began to chant. Some of the women in the circle took up the chant; the others hummed along. It was British, but strange. Anna didn't know all the words. The ones she did know didn't make sense; they hinted at and dodged around meanings. Sometimes one of the three women sang out and the other two responded. Sometimes they chanted as one. Sometimes the three of them sang at the same time, and the sounds created an alarming discord. Yet the dissonance made some kind of sense, though Anna couldn't say what it was.
The words rolled and swayed, and somehow they began to seem familiar, as if she had heard them before, and still she didn't know what they meant. But she began to feel as if each word was on the tip of her tongue before the others said it.
Then the women stopped. Anna felt something stirring, almost ready to be awakened. She looked around at the women of Din Tagell. Did they feel it too? They looked anxious, like they were worried whether the ritual would save Din Tagell or not.
The young blonde woman handed Anna's mother an unlit torch and gestured her forward. The three women took turns whispering words to Ygraine, and her mother repeated them out loud. At first she spoke awkwardly, tripping over the strange words, like someone reading a badly scrawled manuscript. But slowly the words began to come more easily. They were old and dark, that was all Anna could grasp. But there was the cawing of crows in them, and men slain on the battlefield, and crows feasting.
The words thrilled Anna. She could feel something in the air. Something? Someone. Someone she couldn't see.
The white-haired woman gestured, and the torch Ygraine carried burst into flame. Anna's mother seemed only a little surprised; she strode over to the wickerwork crow and plunged the torch into it. The crow blazed up, flames leaping into the sky.
For a moment Anna felt someone's presence. Someone old — beyond old — and enormously powerful. Someone female, and ageless, was in that other circle — the uncanny, invisible one. She was ready to cross into the circle of grass and dirt that Anna was standing in, but she needed someone ready to accept her inside herself.
Anna shivered. Was it all her imagination? But she'd never imagined anything like this.
The white-haired woman kept murmuring. And then Ygraine's voice rang out. In clear, ordinary British, she said that She accepted the sacrifice. She would bring destruction to the enemies of Din Tagell, if the people stayed faithful to her.
And then the crow suddenly collapsed, its wickerwork burned through.
The women in the circle gasped. They clasped hands and began to circle leftward,
like the sun's shadow around a sundial. They started singing in British. They broke the circle at one point, and one side began spiralling inward. The women were soon spiralling close around Anna and her mother.
But nothing had changed. Whoever was in that other circle — the one who seemed so close, as if She was just across a veil — had not crossed over.
"You didn't do it, Mama!" Anna said.
"I did exactly what they told me to!" her mother said, under her breath.
"You said the words but..." Somehow Anna knew there was supposed to be more than words. Something was supposed to have happened.
And it still could. There was still something in the air. Someone waiting to be summoned. Still waiting to be asked. "It's not too late. You can still..."
"I can't. I couldn't. I..." Her mother shook her head.
The ritual moved on. The dancers turned the spiral outward with much laughter and joy and confusion. The moment passed.
Her mother had almost done something. She had started something; Anna could feel it. She had almost stirred something old and powerful. But she had not awakened it.
"I'm sorry," Ygraine murmured, maybe to Anna, maybe to herself. "I just couldn't."
The women of Din Tagell finished dancing their spiral outward. They were happy: they had done something to help. It pushed away the fear.
Now the three wise women were reciting words that Anna was too upset to hear. They walked around the circle in the other direction, moonwise, the direction in which the moon slips backward across the sky from night to night. The old woman doused her torch and scattered the embers of the brazier onto the ground. They gave thanks, in British, to Morigenos for accepting their sacrifice, and for Her promise of destruction to their enemies.
And then the ritual was over, and the woman of Din Tagell broke up into happy clumps.
"That was different," she heard one of the woman saying as the crowd headed back to their houses. "Was that how it was done in the old days?"
"At least it was something to do," said the other, and the two of them walked away into the shadows of the houses.
Anna wanted to stay in the circle. There was still something there, something she could feel, but which she did not quite know the shape of. She ran up to the old wise woman, who was standing beside the smouldering crow. "Something almost happened. Didn't it?"
The old woman stared at her, surprised. "Did you feel it?"
"Someone very old was here," Anna said, and realized it was true. "You brought Her here. And the words. And all of us."
"But she didn't wake up."
"No," said the wise woman.
"Because my mother wouldn't let her in?" Anna's mother was striding up.
The old wise woman turned to Ygraine. "That was good," she said. "But if we could do it again, it would do more."
"We have to try again, Mama," said Anna. "This time for real."
Ygraine shook her head. She seemed upset. Shaken.
"Let me talk to your mother," said the old wise woman. She seemed troubled.
So Anna left them alone and walked along the perimeter of the circle the women had all made. Din Tagell felt slightly different. It was hard to say how exactly.
As if it were swaying slightly?
As if Din Tagell were floating ever so gently in the waves?
As if the land Din Tagell rested on, the sea bottom that supported it, were straining to rise. As if it were a great stone on the back of a great beast struggling to rise up from under the sea.
She remembered the story an old fisherman had told her. Once Din Tagell had been a great mountain towering over rolling green downs that stretched as far as the eye could see.
"Where did the land go?" she'd asked. "It sank, didn't it?"
"The giants who lived here, their king fought his son over a woman." The fisherman had squinted out at the sea, as if he could almost see them. "Maybe he sank the land with his magic. Or maybe he used up all the magic that held the land above the water." She'd giggled. "Don't you laugh! Look at the land!" he'd said. Miles and miles of undulating green downs that looked as if they could go on forever suddenly dropped off into the sea, just as if the land had broken off and sunk beneath the waves.
Anna knelt. She put her hand to the ground. She felt the steadiness of the rock beneath the turf, beneath the soil.
There was something alive in the earth here. The headland did feel like a leviathan trying to rise from the depths of the sea. It was silly —
SO: STOP THINKING, THEN.
STOP THINKING. THINKING IS NOT THE WAY TO ALL ANSWERS.
But the voice — was it even a voice? — was gone.
She watched the stars wheel over the sea. A chill breeze was kicking up off the ocean, but even in her light dress she wasn't cold. The stones of Din Tagell warmed her with a heat that came from deep beneath the earth.
Much later Anna went to bed. Her mother was already asleep, the straw under her blankets rustling as she tossed back and forth. Anna climbed into her mother's arms. Ygraine wrapped herself around Anna like a cloak, and they both slept.
Something woke Anna in the early hours of the morning. Her mother was still sleeping. She could always sleep soundly when there was nothing to do but worry. Plump Eithne, Anna's old nurse, was curled up in her alcove. Eithne, of course, slept through anything. Her father said that was because Eithne was a slave. She didn't get to make her own decisions, so she never worried.
Eithne's people were Irish sea raiders. A small band of them had tried to sneak up the steps from Din Tagell's beach. Her father had taken prisoners and forced them to tell him where they had come from. Then he raided their village across the sea, taking a dozen captives, including Eithne. If Uter killed her father, Anna realized, Eithne would still be a slave. So why not sleep?
Anna felt vaguely resentful about that. She reached out and touched the cold tiles. She felt queasy. The island felt like it was rocking. Things that were supposed to be solid were rolling and shifting.
Was it the magic of the ritual the women had done? No. It was something else. Something uncanny was snaking through the air. Something ugly. Something was wrong. If she could only figure out what.
But Anna was only eleven, and she could not understand what it was she sensed. So she fell into dreams.