Laura J. Underwood
Publisher: Eggplant Literary Productions, Inc.
Date of Publication: 10/28/2013
Word Count: 22,000
Cover Artist: Roan Carter
Ginny Ni’Cooley just wants a peaceful, quiet life. But quiet is hard to maintain when one’s mentor is a ghost who died a lush and a lech. And peace isn’t to be found when the locals expect their local mageborn to banish monsters and help infertile couples conceive.
It’s that last bit that is posing the most trouble for Ginny of late. Marman the pig-herder--once an unwelcome suitor--now wants Ginny to help him and his wife conceive, and doesn’t believe her when she says it’s beyond her powers.
When the couple try to solve their problem on their own, they manage to unleash a demon imprisoned years ago. Now, their actions have placed all of Connorscroft in danger and no matter how much peace and quiet Ginny wants, she’s got to find a way to defeat the demon before it destroys her village, the villagers and makes good on its threat to kill her.
"The Hag of the Wind
She makes such a din
While blawing aboot the lea…
She summons the gale,
And the rain and the hail,
And rattles the windows with glee…"
Auld Liam sat on the steps of Talon's Tavern, singing that song at the top of his lungs as Ginny Ni'Cooley walked briskly past on her way to the baker's shop.
"Howt awa," Manus MacGreeley wind whispered to her ears. "'Tis not even noon, and Auld Liam is already deep in his cups."
Ginny frowned and ignored the mage spirit of her former mentor. She knew better than to answer him when there were so many about. The folk who lived in Conorscroft thought that she had banished Manus' spirit long ago. And while he was wise enough to stay invisible, she just wished he would not speak. What if someone heard him? It would do her reputation as the protector of this small hamlet no end of ill.
For that matter, she wished that Auld Liam would stop his off key wailing. Thistle howled along bouncing up and down enthusiastically on the end of his tether. At least Thistle and I are alike in mind that Auld Liam has a voice like a crow, she thought.
The old man grinned, revealing his one remaining tooth, and howled back, causing a number of the folk in the market square to turn and stare.
Ginny winced and hurried on, dragging Thistle. She should have left the moor terrier locked in the cottage while she traded her eggs for bread, but the last time she did so, he found her store of dried beef and ate until he looked like he would pop. Thistle snapped fiercely at the old man who just laughed and shouted, "Yer dog has nae ear fae good music, Mistress Ni'Cooley."
Ginny wanted to say that neither did Auld Liam. Instead, she sought distance in the hopes of getting Thistle to calm down before they reached the bakery.
"Uh, oh," Manus whispered. "Better make haste, lass."
"What?" Ginny said before she thought better. She looked over her shoulder expectantly.
Two figures were practically running across the square towards her now. One was a tall, willowy young man with pale hair, dull squinty eyes and a pocked, pasty face streaked with mud. The other was a short stocky woman with a florid face who heaved so much her breath fluttered the ragged strands of salt and pepper hair.
Horns, Ginny thought. It was Marman MacSty and his wife Wycie Ni'Clachan, the last two people in Conorscroft that she wanted to deal with at the moment.
Ginny tried not to catch their eyes, but it was too late. Marman waved an arm and shouted loudly, "Ginny, Ginny! Wait!"
She grimaced, crossed her arms as she stopped, and turned to face them fully, wearing her sternest frown.
"Yes?" she asked stiffly, hoping they would remain downwind and save her the trouble of having to use magic to change it. Marman mucked pigs for the young Laird MacFarr, and the stench of the sty was always on him. And since he and Wycie had wed over a year ago, the odor clung to her as well.
"I need that potion I asked ye about," Marman said.
Ginny frowned. "Marman, I don't make potions. I have told you this before."
"But, we wants a baby," Marman said. "A little-un ta carry on me name. I know you can help us. Master MacFarr says that's what mageborn do best—help folks with things they need."
He reached for Wycie's hand as he spoke. Wycie glared at Ginny as though measuring the mage woman's worth in a fight. Ginny could not help but wonder what she had done to make Wycie despise her so.
It was on the tip of Ginny's tongue to say that some folks should not have children, but she stopped short of speaking those thoughts aloud. Without softening her expression, she looked at Marman and shook her head.
"Marman, I have also told you that I cannot make an infertile woman or man fertile. That is something that only the gods can change. Now, I really must be on my way."
"But you have to help us, mage woman!" Wycie suddenly snarled. "You have to, you have to, you have to!"
"Wycie," Marman said as though trying to sooth her. "Wheesht, woman, don't be so rude to Mistress Ginny…"
Wycie jerked free of Marman and fixed Ginny with such a fiery stare of rage that Ginny took a step back, uncertain as to what Wycie might do while angry. Thistle growled a warning. Wycie made fists of her hands, pumping them up and down like a small child having a tantrum.
"You're mageborn so it's your job," Wycie added. She stopped pumping her hands to cross her arms and glare.
"It is not a matter of obligation, of which I have none," Ginny said. "It is a matter of ability. I cannot help you, Wycie. I'm sorry, but no magic can."
"She lies!" Wycie said, and with a shout, she stooped down and scooped up a clod that resembled horse droppings. "Mageborn can do anything. She lies because she doesn't think we're worthy!" Wycie flung the clod at Ginny and shrieked.
"Adhar clach!" Ginny hissed, barely in time. The clod smacked into a shield of air just inches from Ginny's face and splattered harmlessly.
"You have to make me a baby!" Wycie screamed and flung herself at Ginny.
Thistle lunged at the woman, snapping his jaws. It was all Ginny could do to hold the moor terrier back, much less cast a spell in her own defense. Fortunately, Marman must have realized that attacking the only mageborn for several leagues around Conorscroft would not be wise. He threw his arms around Wycie's middle and stopped her flight. She continued to scream like a beansidhe and flailed the air with her fists. Ginny saw small stones at her feet jumping up and down as though reacting to Wycie's rage. She flicked mage senses at the pig man's wife and felt a faint hint of latent mage essence laced strongly with the element of stone. She can't be mageborn, Ginny thought, though in truth, many Keltorans possessed a hint of the blood in them, left over from ancient time. It just did not always manifest when they matured.
"Stupid, stupid, lying bogie woman!" Wycie shrieked. "You will make me a baby or I'll…I'll…"
Ginny turned on her heels and fled through the thickening crowd of onlookers. She had not expected so many to be in from the fields this early in the day, but there they were, gathered like carrion crows watching a carcass for signs of life.
"I'll make you pay!" Wycie wailed. "Make her pay! Liar! Bogie woman! All mageborn are liars!"
Ginny made a mental note to herself to take the long path back to Tamhasg Wood to avoid another confrontation with Wycie.
About the Author:
Laura J. Underwood has been writing and publishing as far back as she can remember. Her earliest stories were selected by Marion Zimmer Bradley for the SWORD AND SORCERESS anthologies, and her first novel ARD MAGISTER came out in 2002 from Yard Dog Press. Since then she has seen the publication of nearly 300 short stories, novels, novellas and other stuff. She currently lives in East Tennessee where she works as a librarian.
Facebook: Laura Jean Underwood