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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 1

This is where we all begin.  

Right where we are.  

And what we do is what we must. 

The wind up here on the cliffs is strong and cold. I can feel my wolf press against my thigh, and I put down a hand to touch it to his thick fur, even though he is not really there.  

Or not there so as those down below getting the boat ready could see. Some might, I suppose, a glimpse or a glimmer, depending on how well their vision is. But the time of seeing is growing to a close. A veil is falling between us and those creatures and peoples of spirit.  

The worlds are separating.  

They see me, however, the men on the boat at the bottom of the cliff where I stand. One waves a hand in acknowledgement of my presence, but it stutters in mid-air and falls back to his side. Perhaps it has been some time since they have seen one of my kind, for I can see that their respect is tinged with fear. One day, I suspect, that fear will turn the respect to contempt, and with that turn will go much of our magic.  

This is not a journey I want to make. If peace were the requisite for life, I would be content to stay where I have been these many last years. But the boat awaits, and a distant shore, and thereafter I know not what – not with any great deal of certainty. I go where the Queen of the Ways directs me to go. I am in her service, and wearing her antlers is not merely for show. Carrying the staff of my rank as her priestess is not an empty gesture. My whole life has been lived at her direction. 

And this is no different. The men lead me in silence to a place on the boat they have prepared so that I may sit in as much comfort as possible for the crossing. These rough men are tongue-tied around me. Fearless against the sea in all her moods, they nonetheless cast only the meekest of glances at my tattooed face, at the bones and feathers in my hair. Perhaps they see my wolf, after all, where he presses against my side.  

A young woman meets me at our destination and takes me into the forest. It is well that I have a guide, for these woodlands are still thick and seemingly endless. It is many hours before we emerge from the woods to the protection of her community, where I will spend the night.  

The chief is courteous, bidding me sit in the circle with them around the fire. His hospitality is generous, yet he is of the newer breed and I am soon forgotten in preference for feasting and tales told boasting of daring exploits against the land and its people. Come the dawn I am glad to move on.  

My guide leads me well this day, but silently, as the sun rises higher above the canopy. Soon, we reach the agreed-upon point where she leaves me, and from here I must find my own way.  

Except that one such as myself is never alone. My Lady’s deer comes to me, to lead me. And my Queen herself waits at the entrance to a cave when we come to it.  

She beckons me into the darkness of my own destiny. 

And into a story that crosses time and lifetimes. I did what I could, and things changed despite my efforts. But my magic holds strong even yet, and I have the ability to cross the veil, cross the years, and reach out to those who must learn what I have to teach.  

And thus, I reach out across time to you.  



Chapter 2

Ambrose pulled the door open before Morghan could lift her hand to knock. 

‘Is it Teresa?’ he asked.  

Morghan shook her head. ‘No. Not yet. I’m on my way over there shortly.’  

Ambrose nodded, stepping back to let her in. ‘But something has happened?’ He closed the door, shutting out the playful tugging of the late summer wind. It blustered up against the house for a moment, then swept away to pull at the leaves still a deep green on the trees.  

Ambrose’s house was cool in the day’s early hour, tucked as it was in amongst the woods. Soon though, he would be burning fires in the grates. ‘I think so,’ Morghan said, then nodded. ‘Yes. You’d best grab a pen and one of your notebooks.’ She paused with a slight smile. ‘And I’d love a good strong cup of coffee.’  

Ambrose looked at her for a moment, trying to gauge what had happened, but Morghan’s face was smooth, the smile much as usual. The touch of sadness in it would be over Teresa, he thought. Her passing would leave a terrible hole in all their lives. ‘I’ll get a notebook,’ he said, and gestured down the hallway. ‘You know where everything is.’  

She did, and made the coffee methodically, mindfully, feeling every nerve, every sensation of her body as she measured out the grounds, switched on the electric kettle, and listened to the birds outside the window while she waited for it to boil.  

‘So,’ Ambrose said, settling at the table, notebook open. ‘Tell me.’  

Morghan shook her head and brought the cups to the table, and the steaming coffee press. She looked at the fire, stood in front of the empty grate for a moment, then sat down across from Ambrose. She poured the coffee, the dark liquid swirling in the cups.  

‘I travelled this morning,’ she said, finally, looking at him over the rim of her cup. ‘During my usual morning practice.’  

‘Don’t you often?’  

‘Yes,’ she agreed without having to think about it. ‘I do.’ She gathered the rest of her thoughts. 

Ambrose waited. Sipped at his coffee.  

‘This one was different, though,’ Morghan said.  

Ambrose looked at her, at the pucker of her frown between her clear grey eyes, a colour that matched her hair, and had for the five years since his sister Grainne had died. He supposed they were both getting older. Morghan indeed, had turned fifty the previous spring. He himself was only three years younger.  

‘Different in what way?’ he asked.  

She closed her eyes, and he noticed the spray of fine lines over her cheeks and missed his sister suddenly. But he still had Morghan, and she was a sister too; that was how he felt about her – that they were still brother and sister.  

‘This time I wasn’t sure whether I had stepped into the Otherworld, or into the past.’  

Ambrose brought his mind to bear on that, considering it for a long moment while the trees outside the window shook their leafy halos.  

‘I’ve done both before, of course – we know that.’ Morghan frowned. ‘This time, though.’ She shook her head and pressed a thumb against the rim of her cup. It grew damp with steam.  

‘This time,’ she said, trying again. ‘Well, for starters, it lasted longer than usual and was more coherent.’  

Ambrose opened his notebook.  

‘You know how it is,’ Morghan said. ‘When you shift to another lifetime, you’re there – you’re the person, wearing their flesh, their life for a moment.’ She paused again, wrapping her fingers around the cup, and letting it heat the skin almost to burning point.  

‘And it wasn’t like that?’ Ambrose unscrewed the lid of his pen. 

‘No, it was, mostly.’ Morghan lifted her head and gazed out the window. The wind played tug-o-war with the branches of the old oaks that crowded around the stone house. She looked back at Ambrose and bared her teeth.  

‘I know,’ she said. ‘I know what is bothering me about it – the difference.’ She frowned. ‘It’s that there was an intention to it – and it wasn’t mine.’ Morghan blinked, remembering. ‘I journey often during my morning practice, that’s true. Most of my practice is to step into the Otherworld, to walk constantly there and here. But this time, I was drawn into something for a purpose.’ Morghan licked her lips. ‘A purpose which was not mine.’  

Ambrose hadn’t touched his coffee. He leaned back in his chair and regarded her, contemplating what she’d said.  

‘But is not that the same experience you had with The Lady?’ he asked, still unable to say her name, thinking of the woman Morghan had once been from another lifetime, and who had been inextricably part of Morghan for many years. Until she and his sister had achieved their purpose. Ambrose closed his eyes briefly. Perhaps it was Teresa being so close to passing that kept bringing Grainne to his mind.  

Morghan dropped her head into her hands and rubbed her eyes. She shook her head. ‘No, I don’t think so. Catrin walked with me for years before her purpose became clear.’ Morghan cleared her throat. ‘Before Grainne and I met.’ She lifted her head and looked at Ambrose. ‘This…’ She groped for clarification. ‘This feels like something less…intimately personal.’  

Now, Ambrose sat up. ‘But this was another lifetime of yours?’  

‘Yes,’ Morghan replied. ‘I’m certain of that. This was me, many hundreds of years ago.’ She paused and glanced out the window again. The trees out there – some of them were hundreds of years old. The yew over in the churchyard had seen almost two thousand summers. She looked back at Ambrose, her grey eyes steady and clear.  

‘This lifetime was further back than we’ve ever experienced before,’ she said. ‘I don’t know when, exactly, but Neolithic, perhaps.’ Her shoulders sagged slightly. ‘I don’t know. History is your strong point, not mine.’  

‘And you believe you were shown this for a purpose?’ Ambrose asked, then shook his head. ‘Of course there was a reason for it.’ 

Morghan nodded. ‘I know I was shown this for a reason.’ She drew a breath. A burst of wind gusted outside, and Morghan heard the clacking of oak branches against each other. It would be autumn soon.   

‘It wasn’t like it usually is when I step into the Otherworld to walk there. Usually, there is an element of exploration; I’m following an inner impulse. But this time it was as though I was replaying something – that I knew what I was doing and there was a whole story behind it.’ She paused.  

‘I stepped into a forest,’ she said, continuing, then shook her head. ‘But not my usual forest – I didn’t recognise it at all, and yet there I was, following a faint path as though I knew where I was going.’ She smiled a little. This part of the journey was not what disturbed her.  

‘There was a white rabbit and an egg on the path. I picked up both, gave the rabbit a kiss and set it down again – it bounded off into the trees, and I put the egg in my pocket.’ Morghan shrugged. ‘I’m not surprised to see the egg, of course.’ She looked down at the small crystal egg that hung around her neck on a chain, lying against a silver oak leaf and acorn.  

Ambrose nodded, but he didn’t say anything. Morghan’s relationship to the symbol of the egg was a complex one, and the significance of it morphed as she achieved one goal and went onto the next.  

Morghan continued. ‘Eventually, though, I came to the edge of a high cliff, and looked down into a rough bay, and the water down there was deep green and cold. There was a boat anchored, and I could hear the cries and shouts of the men tending it like they were the screams of gulls on the wind. They saw me up on the cliff and recognised me.’ Morghan stopped talking for a moment to frown. ‘I was someone else, Ambrose, and I could feel her thoughts as well as my own, as though I was sharing her body with her.’ She pursed her lips at the cup of coffee then took a sip and shook her head again. ‘I could feel this woman registering that the men on the boat found her a fearsome sight, with her staff in her hand, and headdress of antlers, and wolf by her side.’ 

‘Wolf?’ Ambrose questioned.  

‘Yes, my big black wolf, just as he is with me now, he was with this other woman then.’ Morghan blew out a breath. ‘Ambrose, this wasn’t just the Otherworld, this was definitely journeying back into the past. I could feel it while I was there – and I’m even more sure of it now I’m back. I was once this woman, lifetimes ago.’  

‘But this isn’t unexpected, is it?’ Ambrose asked, picking up his cup finally and sipping at the strong coffee. ‘I mean – this is what we’ve been doing for years now, waking up our other soul-aspects, our other lives.’  

A smile curved Morghan’s lips. ‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘What’s different about this one, is that it isn’t me doing the reaching out, and the purpose isn’t mine.’ She leaned forward. ‘And I don’t mean in the way that Catrin did it – that was entirely, or almost entirely personal, to heal things with Grainne.’ Morghan took a breath.  

They were silent a moment.  

‘Perhaps this has something to do with the Grove?’ Ambrose asked.  

Morghan leaned back and gazed unseeingly at the ceiling. She was looking instead at the face of the woman she’d been all those lifetimes ago. ‘There’s a purpose, all right,’ she said. ‘There must be – but I don’t know what it is.’ She sighed. Looked across at Ambrose, her closest companion and confidant in the Grove. ‘Something new is beginning,’ she said, not liking how that sounded. Too ominous. She hadn’t meant it to sound that way. The goddess was in charge here, and she had never led them astray. Morghan considered her past life again – the goddess had led the way then too.  

 Ambrose nodded. He hadn’t written a word yet, but he would. He’d write it all down and then ponder deeply over it.  

Morghan got up from the table and went over to the back door, gazing out through the glass at the trees. Mostly oak. She touched a fingertip to the silver leaf hanging from the chain around her neck.  

‘Things are happening in this world; all manner of things,’ she said at last, turning to look at Ambrose. ‘They gave me time, I think – my goddess and my Fae Queen – to… get over things. After Grainne. To keep working without Catrin, to become better and stronger. And now, I think it’s time.’  

Ambrose looked at her. ‘Time,’ he said, ‘for what?’  

Morghan’s gaze slipped to the window. The seasons were changing, Lughnasadha passed, Mabon looming. The great wheel of the year was turning. As it always did.  

As it always had.  

Morghan closed her eyes for a moment, the face of her past self in her mind. The woman had known she was there, standing on the cliff top looking out from her eyes, sharing her body with her in the boat as the planks creaked against the heave and flex of the sea beneath them. She’d known she was there all along, and yet her mind had been as clear and steady and unperturbed as Morghan suspected it always was. 

‘This woman,’ she said, ‘crossed a sea and walked for two days through heavy forest to join a new Grove.’ Morghan opened her eyes and looked at Ambrose. ‘To lead a new Grove,’ she said.  

‘Elen of the Ways – to whom I have obviously been in service for a very long time – met her there and ushered her into the earth, into a cave.’  

‘A cave in the Otherworld or this world?’ Ambrose interrupted. ‘You know how many caves there are in the Otherworld.’  

Morghan did. A great deal of the time she spent in the Otherworld was underground. ‘I don’t know,’ she admitted. ‘But there was a circle of women waiting in the central chamber.’ She glanced again at Ambrose, but his face was at rest, simply listening. She gazed outside, remembering. 

‘It was warm in the cave, with a central fire. Everyone turned to look at this woman I was, as though they’ve been expecting me. Elen gestured to me, to them.’ Morghan paused. Sighed.  

‘She told me – teach them from the heart.’  

Morghan reached up to rub at her neck. Then looked at Ambrose.  

He looked steadily back at her, hazel eyes suddenly amused.  

She shook her head. ‘You’re not supposed to find it funny.’ 

Ambrose held up a hand. ‘I’m not laughing.’ 

‘Your eyes are twinkling.’  

Now he did laugh.  

But Morghan shook her head. ‘I’m no teacher,’ she said. ‘Elen was speaking to the woman I was then.’  

‘And the one you are now, or you wouldn’t have gone there,’ Ambrose replied. ‘And you’ve been teaching for years, as a matter of fact.’ Ambrose let himself smile slightly at her. ‘Just meeting you is an education for most people.’ He lifted his brows. ‘I’m being serious when I say that. But you’re right, I think. Things are shifting. We will have to be alert, ready for something new to appear here in the Grove, as well as perhaps in the wider world.’  

‘I was hoping to slide gracefully and quietly into retirement,’ Morghan said. ‘Become a hermit, like you.’  

‘I’ve hardly been a hermit lately,’ Ambrose said with a sigh, then looked directly across the table at Morghan. ‘It is not time for you to retire. Especially with dear Teresa’s passing. You become the senior member of the Grove.’ Ambrose tapped a finger on the table. ‘Truth be told – you always have been, and we’ve all known it.’ He smiled slightly. ‘Even you. You’re Morghan Wilde, of Wilde Grove. Perhaps the same grove that your past self came to lead. It is as likely as anything – we know we have been keeping this grove alive for centuries, between us all.’  

Morghan did not reply, because she could not refute what Ambrose had said. 

‘And of course, it may be time to think again of taking an apprentice.’  

Morghan closed her eyes. ‘Clarice does not want the job. I don’t know who else it could be. None of my nieces are suitable.’  

Ambrose nodded but said nothing, thinking. ‘I agree with you,’ he said at last. ‘That we are entering another stage of things. What it requires from us – from you in particular – will become clear, I’m certain.’  

Morghan shook her head. ‘As if there isn’t enough to cope with, what with the virus.’  

Her words made Ambrose laugh. ‘None of us come here thinking it will be easy, my dear. You of all people know that. And with the veil shredding, things are moving on a great many fronts.’ He leaned forward over his notebook. ‘It’s an important time.’  

‘Again,’ Morghan mused, thinking about her past life. Something major had been going on then too, she would stake her life on it. ‘I did something,’ she said and smiled, looking across at Ambrose. ‘I wanted to know what I looked like way back whenever it was. So I sort of popped out of her for a moment to see. She gave me an impatient look for it, but it was illuminating.’ 

Ambrose lifted his brow in interest. ‘What did you look like?’ he asked.  

Morghan touched her face. ‘My skin was whitened, very pale – making the eyes stand out.’ She blinked. ‘They were deep set, incredibly piercing. Intimidating.’ Morghan gave a little laugh. ‘The whitened skin made the tattoos on my cheeks glow. Blue swirling designs.’ She grinned, baring her teeth. ‘I looked fearsome though, Ambrose; I wish you could have seen me. Such glittering eyes. Antlers on the headdress. A long robe of some sort, cloak-like outerwear. A tall staff, rather like Elen’s.’  

‘Hmm,’ Ambrose mused. ‘Apart from the headdress and tattoos, not so different in dress than now, then,’ Ambrose said. ‘This is the way you appear when you are in ritual, with the long robe and cloak.’  

‘True,’ Morghan shrugged. ‘I guess that is true – in dress, at least.’ She shook her head. ‘But this woman was so fierce! I wouldn’t like to meet her at night in a dark alley. It was no wonder the men on the boat kept a respectful distance.’ She paused. ‘Imagine walking through your life with everything you are so plainly on view.’ Morghan pursed her lips and her gaze drifted out to look at her beloved forest. ‘It must be something to have your calling so clearly written on your face and in your bearing.’ She frowned.  

But Ambrose shook his head. ‘You do not go about dressed in your ritual gear all the time – this is the 21st century after all, and you would be neither recognised anymore nor understood.’ He paused and leaned forward. ‘But believe me, Morghan, there’s an intensity and knowing to you that shines forth.’ He sat back again and swallowed some coffee. ‘And make no mistake – when you put the glamour on, no one in their right mind would want to meet you down a dark alley either.’  

Morghan barked a laugh. ‘Perhaps,’ she conceded. ‘And perhaps there is a lesson for me in her bearing.’ She sighed and glanced at the clock on the wall.  

‘I need to go,’ she said. ‘I must go and be with Teresa.’  

Ambrose nodded and walked Morghan back down the hallway to the door.  

‘See her well on her journey back to spirit,’ he said, then held up a hand. ‘Wait a moment, I’ve something for her.’ He left Morghan on the doorstep and went into his study, plucked up the small carving from his desk and took it back to her. ‘This should help her transition,’ he said, breathing deeply. Teresa was precious to them all. A precious soul. 

Outside, the leaves rustled like green bells. Morghan stepped out into the morning and nodded, looking at the small, delicately carved animal. It was a lynx, its features fine and intelligent, its tail almost twitching in her palm. She smiled and held it gently.  

‘This will help, for certain,’ she said. ‘She will be grateful for it, as am I.’ Lifting her head, Morghan looked around at the day, drawing in a deep slow breath, reminding herself of the greatest truth, that Teresa would continue on, as they all would, as they all did, when their time came.  

‘It’s as fine a day for a passing as any,’ she said, blinking. ‘And I shall see her well on her way.’  

They looked at each other for a moment, in grief, and in joy, and then Morghan nodded and stepped away from the house and into the trees.    

Chapter 3

The door to Ash Cottage was unlocked, and Morghan let herself in, shaking off the wind like a dog. The house was warm with a good fire going in the hearth in the sitting room, and in the kitchen, the range was baking the air in the room too. She sniffed at the fragrant herbs hanging from the lines Teresa had hung across the ceiling and ducked under some rosemary.  

Rosemary for protection, love, and healing, Morghan thought, remembering Teresa’s patient lessons. Morghan hadn’t shown much talent for herb work. Rosemary leaf too, for purification and deposession. She’d learnt that one all right, though. Putting her hands on her hips, she scanned the various herbal bunches Teresa had harvested and set to dry, or rather, the harvesting she’d directed impatiently from a chair with a rug over her knees.  

‘Which are you looking for?’ A young man came bounding down the stairs, dark curls flying, an enormous Irish Wolfhound on his heels.  

‘Hello Stephan. How is she?’ Burdock, Teresa’s dog, nuzzled his long nose into her hand.  

Stephan’s face fell. ‘She’s lucid at the moment, but not for much longer. You’ve come at the right time, I think.’  

Morghan nodded. ‘Elder flowers,’ she said, answering his original question.  

Stephan, who had, six years ago, at the tender age of sixteen, apprenticed himself to Teresa, determined to learn all she knew about herb work, sucked on his lip for a moment, then went unerringly to the right bundle. He detached it carefully from where he’d set the flowers to dry and laid it on the table.  

Burdock turned around and climbed the stairs again. 

‘Would you like some tea?’ Stephan asked.  

Morghan nodded. ‘That would be lovely,’ she said. ‘And if you could steep the elder flowers in some warm water, I would be grateful.’ She paused. ‘For afterwards. Will you be staying?’ She snapped off one of the flower clusters and held it. 

‘Until the end,’ Stephan told her, face set in case she wanted to disagree.  

She didn’t. ‘That will be fine,’ she said. ‘I’ll go upstairs.’ Morghan smiled across at the young man, feeling deep sympathy for him. Stephan would miss Teresa terribly. A great part of her would live on in him, however – her knowledge. Even her garden would survive, as they’d made plans to divide and transfer a great many of Teresa’s plants from Ash Cottage to Stephan’s community garden as soon as Teresa had discovered her cancer was terminal.  

Morghan went upstairs, using each step to deepen and calm her breathing. By the time she reached Teresa’s room she could feel her spirit relaxed and flowing around her.  

‘Ah,’ Teresa said from the bed, under the plump quilt. Burdock gazed at her from beside the fire, then lay down, head on folded front paws, a soft whine in his throat. ‘The end is near for sure, if you’re here with that look on your face.’  

Morghan smiled and leaned over to set a gentle kiss upon the old woman’s forehead. Teresa’s eyes were already faraway, far-seeing, and Morghan could feel the crossover of mundane and spirit worlds here in the room.  

‘My Ma’s been here,’ Teresa said, and glanced over to the corner of the room. ‘It’s a welcome sight to see her again.’ Her gaze clouded.  

Sitting down in the chair beside the bed, Morghan took Teresa’s hand. ‘What is it?’ she asked.  

‘Rebecca,’ Teresa answered.  

Her dead daughter.  

Morghan stroked the thin hand, her touch feather-light. ‘Has she been here too?’  

‘No,’ Teresa said. ‘We’ve lost her, haven’t we?’ Her faraway gaze struggled to focus on Morghan’s face.  

‘Not necessarily,’ Morghan answered. ‘We don’t know. It’s been some time since we sought her.’ 

‘Have you heard from him yet?’  

There was no question of who Teresa meant. Morghan shook her head. ‘No,’ she said. ‘But he will find your granddaughter.’ Rebecca’s daughter. Born and given up for adoption when Rebecca had been a very young woman.   

A slow nod and Teresa closed her eyes. ‘I want to give Ash Cottage to Stephan, if the man doesn’t find her.’ There was a pause and Teresa’s lips puckered over the possibility.  

Stephan brought the tea things into the room on a tray and set them down on a dresser. He’d heard Teresa’s words and came near the bed.  

‘Don’t you worry about that, Teresa,’ he said. ‘The man Henry’s hired will find her – I’m sure of it.’ He hoped the investigator the solicitor had employed would find her. Stephan pressed his lips together. He’d been dreaming about the young woman he’d never met and wanted badly to see her in person, to dispel the images from his dreaming imagination. In his dreams, the granddaughter – they didn’t even know her name – looked a great deal like the photograph downstairs in the sitting room of a young Teresa. It was disconcerting.  

Straightening, he looked at Morghan. ‘Do you need anything else?’ he asked. ‘I thought I’d busy myself in the kitchen for a bit. Put some soup on.’ His hands kneaded at each other.  

‘Thank you, but no,’ Morghan said. ‘I’ve everything I need – but I should be very glad of some soup later in the day.’ She smiled gently at Stephan, knowing he needed to keep busy. For her now, however, the tea would be all she would take until Teresa’s passing. Already she felt light, ready to take flight, accompany Teresa on her way as far as she could go. 

They both looked down at the old woman curled under the covers. Teresa’s eyes had closed, and her face had taken on a dried, sunken cast. The small applewood fire in the grate reached out dancing tendrils of heat and light into the room. The curtains were drawn so that the light was soft, soothing. 

‘She’ll say nothing more, now, will she?’ Stephan asked. ‘Out loud?’ 

Morghan shook her head. ‘I think not. It won’t be too long. A few hours, perhaps.’  

Stephan stared at the woman he’d spent almost every day with since he was a lad still at school. He’d been determined that she would teach him all she knew, badgered her into it, kept coming around until she’d thrown up her hands into the air and given in. She’d been in her late sixties then and fit as a fiddle as they’d gone on their long treks through the forest seeking the medicinal and powerful plants. She’d been plenty strong enough too, with all the digging and tending the garden.  

Then the pandemic – Stephan had moved in then, when the country went into lockdown. And Teresa hadn’t gotten sick; neither of them had, not with all the precautions Morghan and Ambrose had insisted on them – the whole village, really – taking.   

But then had come the cancer. Swarming through her faster than they could fathom.  

He blinked back tears. Three months ago, she’d been well. Bossing him about her garden. Badgering him about the new one for the village. 

There was a touch to his arm, and he lifted his gaze to see Morghan looking at him, her eyes grey and clear and as deep as the well out back. He shivered and she removed her hand. The spot where she’d touched him tingled.  

‘You’re welcome to stay,’ she said. ‘Take part.’  

But Stephan shook his head. He didn’t have Morghan’s talents. His was with the spirits of plants. Hers – she went places he would never think to go and did so fearlessly. He shook his head again.  

‘I’ll go put that soup on,’ he said.  

Morghan backed away. ‘As you prefer,’ she said kindly, without judgment, and turned back to Teresa, to the room, which to her senses was no longer just the familiar four walls and ceiling of Teresa’s bedroom, but contained within it an extra dimension.  

She didn’t notice Stephan slip from the room, retreating quickly down the stairs to the warmth and security of Teresa’s kitchen, fragrant with the scent of drying herbs. Neither did she pay attention to Burdock, who sat and looked at her for a long moment, then settled back on the rug with a sigh. He knew what was happening and grief worried at his heart. 

Morghan could see the figures waiting in the corner of the room, but they were dim, not the important thing, yet. In the end, they would step forward to help Teresa with her last breath, to leave her body, but right now, they were only shadows, standing back, and not what Morghan gazed around at.  

Closing her eyes, she shifted, a gentle, sideways move, back again into her own body, and she reached into the deep pocket in her robe, drawing out the finely made lynx Ambrose had given her. She tucked it into Teresa’s hands.  

‘To call your Lynx spirit to you,’ she said. ‘Lynx will travel with you, bright eyes shining, sharp teeth at the ready, fur soft and gleaming under your hand.’ She smiled. 

 ‘Follow her cunning path; she knows the ways you must go.’  

Morghan breathed out, calm, sure, stepping more fully into the spirit world, sharpening her Otherworld vision, doing what she did best. Snake, her spirit guide when she did her death-work, slithered into the room, and settled himself near her feet, his thick rope of a body twining itself neatly into the space, head lifted, alert. She thanked him in her mind, for his presence, his watchful companionship. 

In the bed, Teresa’s spirit stirred and looked at her, blinked at the room.  

Morghan looked at her, fully in both worlds now. She smiled gently and sat down beside her. ‘We’ve some work to do,’ she said. ‘Before you go.’  

Teresa, whose body lay with eyes closed and shallow breaths under the blankets, looked around the room, seeing the damp on the ceiling, the dark clusters of shadows in the corners. She wrinkled her nose, unsurprised to see them in these last breaths. She knew how it worked. She was part of it now.  

‘I tried,’ she said.  

‘I know,’ Morghan told her. ‘I am honoured to have known you.’  

Teresa snorted. ‘This,’ she said, waving a hand at the black cobwebbing in the room. ‘This is because of Rebecca.’ She shook her head. ‘She was a difficult one, right from when she was a babe.’  

‘But you loved her.’  

A nod, but it was almost grudging. ‘Not that she made it easy. Determined she was, to cross me at every turn. Even as a kiddie, it was no, Ma, I don’t want to.’  

Morghan nodded. ‘And then she left.’ 

‘Ran off into the night with that no-good boyfriend of hers.’ Teresa’s eyes were haunted. ‘Not that she was any better. The pair of them, always up to no good.’ The spirit eyes closed. ‘I was so angry with her.’   

Morghan glanced up at the ceiling, where an unseen breeze made the black stuff quiver. There wasn’t a great deal of it, but enough to need clearing before the end.  

‘And the baby.’ Teresa’s spirit opened her eyes again, and now they were flints sunk deep in her face. ‘She called me on the telephone to say she was pregnant, and in the next breath she told me she was giving it up.’ 

‘Adopting the child out.’ 

Teresa nodded. ‘She told me the child was a girl. My granddaughter.’ A breath. ‘I would have taken the little one in. I begged her to let me have the baby.’  

There was a pause, and Morghan let the silence linger until Teresa was ready.  

‘I expect I wanted another chance,’ Teresa said at last. ‘Right my wrongs, so my mistakes and Rebecca’s wouldn’t be carried into another generation.’  

Teresa gazed around the room, her face flat with anger. ‘But she wouldn’t let me. Told me she’d never put a child of hers through that. I’d cared more about my work, about my plants than I’d ever cared about her.’ Lips pulled back in a grimace. ‘She gave the child up to punish me, had it put down on the documents that none of us were ever to be contacted, that our details were never to be given out when the girl was old enough to try finding us.’  

Another pause. Longer this time. Morghan sat through it, watching the strings of black stuff shiver in another breeze.  

‘Are you still angry about it? With her?’ Morghan asked at last when Teresa showed no signs of saying anything more.  

‘Yes!’ Said explosively.  

Then, softer. ‘No.’  

One of the cobwebs fell free from the ceiling, drifted down, disintegrating to nothing as it fell. 


A shake of the head. ‘Not now. Not with Rebecca. She came to this earth with her own struggles. We could have done better, but we tried.’  

The fire in the grate rose briefly, sank down again. 

‘I’m mad with myself now,’ Teresa said, her spirit voice a grinding whisper. The cobwebs snagged on the phantom breeze again.  

‘I should have made more of an effort to find the girl. Instead of leaving it until now when I’m on my way out.’  

‘Why didn’t you?’ Morghan asked.  

‘Fear.’ Teresa spat the word out. ‘What if the girl rejected me just like her mother did? What if I was truly as bad at mothering as Becca had said I was?’ She shook her head slowly. ‘Fear’s a powerfully ruinous thing.’  

Another cobweb dropped. Disintegrated.  

‘I can’t take that fear with me, can I?’ Teresa asked.  

Morghan shrugged. ‘No,’ she answered.  

Teresa gave a great, heaving sigh. ‘I’ve tried to make it better.’  


‘The girl can have everything here if she’s a wish for it. Tell her it comes with my love, and with my sorrow for being too afraid to find her, and ask her for forgiveness.’  

Morghan bowed her head. ‘I will do so.’  

The room brightened. She could see into the corners now. The black muck was dissolving.  

‘I’d best forgive myself, too,’ Teresa said. ‘Since I’m on my way, shortly.’ She nodded towards the door where her spirit kin waited for her. ‘Such things don’t need to be taken with you, do they?’ A ghost of a smile on Teresa’s spirit face. ‘That was what I learned from you, at the same time you learned little in the way of herb craft from me.’  

Lynx slipped into the room and onto the bed with Teresa, her eyes wide and watchful in the firelight.  

Morghan’s smile was wider. ‘I learned a great deal from you. I learned the turning of the seasons, the importance of growing forth, spreading towards the sun, then letting go, waiting until things are timely.’  

Teresa nodded. ‘Good lessons, those.’ She was quiet for a moment. ‘Particularly the letting go.’  

She sighed. ‘I think I’ll let go now,’ she said. ‘It’s time, isn’t it?’  

Morghan nodded. ‘Yes.’  

Another sigh, and the faraway gaze was back, the eyes soft again. ‘What I want to know, is if it’s a spreading towards the sun, or a waiting until things are timely?’ 

‘I think it’s both,’ Morghan said. ‘A return to your soul-self. A pause before the next decision. If you’re lucky.’  

‘Am I lucky?’ The question was childish, and Teresa blinked, smiled. The last of the cobwebs fell. ‘I’m lucky,’ she said, answering her own cry. ‘I’ve lived a fortunate and blessed life. My struggles have not been for nothing.’  

She sank down, back into the stillness of her body.  

Morghan sat for a few minutes, feeling the freshness of a new breeze in the room, carrying the scent of elder flowers on it. Elder for calling the spirits, she thought, looking at Lynx, who gazed down at Teresa.  

She closed her eyes again, drawing the trees of Wilde Grove into the room with her, scenting the bedroom with the smell of their sap, their leaves, nuts. Softly, she settled into the chair, Snake nudged against her feet, and she began to sing.  

It was the song of the trees, for she was the Lady of the Forest, the Lady of Death. 

Of life, of renewal, of the turning of the seasons, of the eternal wheel of the world.  

Outside the cottage the low tune of a flute wove in and out of her song, played by a faery man. 

And together, they and Morghan sang her dearest friend from one life towards the next.  


Downstairs, Stephen heard the low singing, that sounded like the sigh of the wind in a hundred branches, and he left the pot of soup simmering on the stove and went to sit on the bottom step, lowering his head to his hands. He thought of the plants outside in Teresa’s garden, all their years of bending over them, tending them, drawing strength and medicine from their spirits.  

When he joined in, he sang the songs of Teresa’s plants, a symphony of dandelion, comfrey, and foxglove, his voice low and sweet, the stirring of petal, the stretching of root.  

He sat there and sang, until spirits moved through the room, until Teresa appeared, stepping past him, long hair silver down her glowing back, a gleaming lynx at her side. He sang on as she gave him a last smile and went on out the door and away.  

And then he sang of soil and seeds and the great adventure of the Wildwood.  

Chapter 4

‘Darling. There you are – I’ve been looking all over for you.’

Erin looked up, snapping her book shut as her mother’s hands landed on her shoulders.

‘I’ve been right here all morning,’ Erin said, forcing a smile and looking out over the lawn where the frosted dew steamed in great clouds of mist under the sun’s touch. She’d been sketching it – or trying to. Trying to catch the otherworldliness of it. Imagining what little creatures, flesh and blood and fae, might be dancing in the gleams and shadows.

Her mother plucked the sketchbook out of her hands and flipped it open. Erin watched the slight downturn of lips with a matching sinking of her heart.

Veronica shook her head. ‘What are these?’ she asked. ‘They look like illustrations for children’s books. Aren’t you a little too old for fairy tales?’

Erin couldn’t help her bitter laugh. ‘You never read me fairy tales, Mother,’ she said, sitting on her hands to stop from snatching her book back.

‘And there was a reason for that – this is the modern world. Nonsense like that has no place in it.’ Veronica sifted through the pages. Her daughter had a little bit of talent, but she shook her head. A little bit of talent was worse than none. She sighed, shut the book and handed it back. ‘Maybe when you’re married and have children, my dear,’ she said, making an effort to be generous. ‘It might be a sweet thing then to illustrate a children’s book.’ She thought about it a moment longer, surprised at her own idea, and nodded. ‘You know – that could be quite the thing at the right time, don’t you think?’

She put her hands back on Erin’s shoulders. ‘But only then, darling. That’s the only time it would make sense.’ She could see the magazine spreads, the interviews. ‘It could be quite the sensation – beautiful socialite, perfect husband and children.’ Veronica smiled wider. ‘You could donate some of the book’s profits to one of your charities.’

‘I don’t have any charities,’ Erin said, hugging her sketchbook to her chest.

Veronica patted her shoulders. ‘No, but by the time your children come along, we will have that organised.’

Erin ducked her head down and pressed her lips together. There was no point arguing any of this. Her mother had her life mapped out, and that was all there was to it.

Veronica got herself back on track. ‘Now,’ she said. ‘I wanted to ask you – again, I know, but I am your mother, and I have my doubts about the wisdom of going back to the flat and university’. She paused. ‘Must you, absolutely must you go?’

Erin gripped her sketchbook tighter and felt the weight of her mother’s hands on her shoulders.

‘I do think I need to,’ she said. ‘We’ve talked about this.’

Veronica sighed and squeezed Erin’s shoulders. ‘I know. And I know independence is important to a young person, but with the university continuing its courses online – is there really any need to go back? You could quite safely and easily study from here.’ Veronica paused.

‘I shall miss you,’ she said. Then pointedly, ‘I shall worry about you.’

Erin thought that would be true, certainly the part where Veronica would worry about her. She wouldn’t want her getting sick.

‘I’ll be all right,’ Erin said, and she shrugged out from under the weight of those hands, putting a smile on her face and twisting around to look at her mother. ‘They’ll be doing the social distancing and everything. And I’ll take care, I promise. But Mother, I’m twenty-two; I can look after myself.’

Veronica nodded and heaved another, more dramatic sigh. She did worry about her daughter. Erin was the little square peg in the round hole, with her artistic dreams and her head always in the clouds. She and Vincent had had this discussion before adopting a child – that perhaps it was a bit of a genetic jackpot, but the girl’s mother had been very pretty, and smart enough, and definitely needed the money, and besides, Vincent had said that nurture would win out.

And hadn’t they wanted a child so badly? She looked briefly around at the house and grounds. The only thing missing had been children.

Veronica gazed at her daughter and reached out to push a strand of hair back from her face. Erin had gotten rather depressed over the last few months. All of them had, a little, but really, they were so fortunate, the lockdown hadn’t affected the business like it had some, and no one they knew had died.

But still, she always felt better when Erin was in sight and under thumb – she knew it wasn’t nice to think so – but the girl was delicate.

There was something to be cheerful about in the midst of this, however.

‘You’re right,’ she allowed herself to concede. ‘And I expect you’re missing Jeremy dreadfully. You’ll be so relieved to be able to see him again.’ Veronica reached up and patted at her own hair. ‘It was such a shame having to cancel your engagement party like that.’ She shook her head. They’d planned such a big event for it. ‘We’ll make up for it with the wedding.’ She blinked in the weak sunlight and nodded. ‘When you come home for Christmas, we’ll get on with the planning for it.’

Erin nodded, but there was a lump in her throat. The truth was, she hadn’t missed Jeremy nearly as much as she knew she ought to have. God knows she’d tried to. Tried to dredge up all the feelings she’d had for him when they’d started dating, did her best to muster them up when they video-chatted. Tried.

Still. It was probably the only thing that would guarantee her mother letting her go back to university. Not that Erin cared so much about university – what was the point when she hadn’t been able to choose what she wanted to study? Not really. Business studies and art history, because there was no future for her as an actual artist.

One year left at university. Graduate. Get married to Jeremy, who was family-sanctioned, the son of her father’s best friend and business associate. Then a job in another business friend’s art gallery. Until the children came along at least. Then it would be lunches and au pairs and charity events and posing for family photographs and smiling smiling smiling until somewhere at the age of maybe forty or so, she’d be allowed something of a breakdown and could start screaming instead.

Or perhaps she wouldn’t be allowed that. Maybe a mini attack of the nerves and a week on the Spanish Riviera to recover instead. Much more civilised.

Her mother was hustling her from her seat. ‘Put that terrible sketchpad down,’ Veronica said, ‘and let’s take a photo for your Instagram account. The lighting is beautiful if we’re quick.’ She looped her arm around Erin, beaming for the camera already. ‘Get your phone out.’

Erin shook her head. ‘I don’t have it on me.’

Veronica laughed. ‘Where on earth is it? Haven’t we had this conversation before? You can’t be someone without putting yourself out there. You’re young and beautiful. You could be a major influencer.’

‘But what would I be influencing?’

‘All your peers, darling. Don’t you want everyone looking up to you? Following you? Aspiring to be you?’

Erin couldn’t think of anything worse, really, but her mother was right – they’d had this conversation before. She tried again anyway.

‘But I’m not an influencer,’ she said. ‘That’s just not who I am.’

Veronica tutted and shook her head. ‘Don’t be silly, darling,’ she said. ‘In this world you are who you say you are.’

Erin stared at her mother for a moment, then blinked, forced herself to smile. ‘We’ll take one on the driveway when I’m leaving,’ she said. ‘That will be a good one.’

Veronica leapt on the suggestion. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘That will show the house, and your car is so cute.’ She nodded, looking at Erin and tamping down her anxiety over the child. ‘Yes,’ she said again. ‘And you’ll have a bit of makeup on then too. You’re looking so peaky.’

‘I’m fine, Mother,’ Erin said, before they could get back on the roundabout of whether she should stay and finish her studies online. ‘And I took some beautiful photos this morning of the frost and the rising sun – I’ll post some of those.’

Veronica looked dubious for a moment, but nodded in agreement at last and Erin breathed a silent sigh of relief. Her mother smiled a little awkwardly at her, patted her arm and went back into the house.

Erin watched her mother close the door and disappear into the room behind the glass. She bit at her lip and looked down at the sketchbook in her lap.

‘I’m an artist,’ she said, sucking in a deep breath. ‘I’m an artist.’

Opening the book, she frowned critically over her drawing. It wasn’t the best thing she’d ever done, but it wasn’t awful, either. The steaming field, a small sprite gambolling in the rising mist. Reaching into her pocket, she drew out her phone, glanced inside the house again, then arranged the book so the light played prettily over it, and took a photo.

She had two Instagram accounts, and she posted the picture to the second one, the one her mother knew nothing about. There, she thought, pocketing the phone again. She was up to day 72 of posting a sketch a day.

She’d challenged herself to a full 100 days.

She even had people wanting to buy some of them. Her mother didn’t know about her Etsy shop either.

But now, she thought with relief, opening the door to the house, it was time to pack, and head back to the city, her flat, and her studies.

And Jeremy.


Erin parked her Mini in the flat’s parking spot in the underground garage and rested her hands lightly on the steering wheel for a moment, closing her eyes in relief. The silence was glorious. Erin loved the family house in the country. She even loved her family.

But it was nice to be on her own again. No expectations, no demands. No catching her mother frowning worriedly at her.

At least for the moment.

A sigh, and she opened the door, then leaned in the back to pull out her suitcases, shaking her head. She’d taken the selfie with her mother, posing in front of the car and the house, and her mother had watched while she’d dutifully posted it to her social media account, and she’d reminded herself while doing so that Veronica only wanted the best for her.

But Erin didn’t make a good influencer in the way her mother wanted her to. It made her feel awkward to even try, a fraud. Sometimes, Erin thought she didn’t fit in completely because she was adopted. Her parents never talked about it except to say they’d chosen the best and most beautiful baby. But Erin couldn’t help but wonder if being adopted wasn’t something to do with always feeling a little on the outside of her own life and family.

After all, she didn’t look like her parents, or any of her cousins, who were all tall and willowy, fair and blue-eyed. She wasn’t tall. Her hair was dark red, her eyes mostly brown, sometimes, in the right light, green.

But it wasn’t just looks, either.

It was the drawing, the secret conviction that fairies were real.

It was the dreams. The ones that came true.

And the times she disappeared down the rabbit hole.

Willis greeted her from behind the concierge desk and she beamed at him.

‘It’s so good to see you,’ she said. ‘How did you weather the lockdowns?’

They spent several minutes chatting, carefully keeping the recommended two metres between them, before Erin turned to go up in the lift to the flat, a tidy pile of mail tucked under her arm. She let herself in with relief and stood there in the middle of the living room listening to the absolute quiet, a smile spreading across her face. Only the fridge hummed, quiet and civilised, in the kitchen. There’d be fresh milk, butter, and jam in there, Erin knew, courtesy of Willis. The heating was on as well. Everything a woman could want or need, Erin thought, crossing the room to the window and gazing out over the city where the day was drawing to an early, gloomy close. The flat was on the twelfth floor.

Everything a bird in a gilded cage could want, she corrected herself.

She left her suitcases by the door and went into the kitchen, switching on the kettle for a cup of tea. There was a fresh loaf of bread on the counter and she put down the mail and tucked two slices into the toaster. Deliberated whether to change into her pyjamas. She didn’t want to go out again. She could get dinner delivered in.

She didn’t want anything but to lie on the couch and soak up the sensation of being alone.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket, then started up the first bars of Jeremy’s favourite song.


She’d forgotten all about him.

‘I’ve made reservations for us,’ he said before even a hello.

Erin smiled weakly at the wall. ‘Hi Jeremy – that’s lovely,’ she said. Then drew a breath and continued. ‘But I really don’t know if I want to go out tonight. I’ve just got here and I’m dreaming of a hot bath, some pj’s and an early night.’

There was barely a beat before his reply. ‘I’ll come round, then,’ he said. ‘We can eat in. What would you like? I’ll pick it up on the way.’

But she didn’t want that either. She shook her head, then realised he couldn’t see her. They weren’t on video like usual. Which was probably a good thing. The kettle boiled and she turned it off, flicked idly through her mail, trying to think of a way to tell Jeremy no.

‘I don’t think so,’ she said at last, going for the plain, unvarnished truth. Then decided she’d better spruce it up a bit after all. ‘I don’t feel up to it,’ she elaborated. ‘And it would be a shame to ruin our reunion because I’m exhausted.’

This time the pause was longer. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘If you’re sure?’

‘I’m sure.’

‘Tomorrow then? My parents want to have you around tomorrow for dinner, so we can do that, then head out on our own afterwards – how does that sound?’

‘Sounds great, Jeremy. I’ll look forward to it.’ Erin pressed a fingertip to her name written in black type across a business envelope, then slid it over to the return address.

It belonged to a firm of solicitors in a place she’d never been.

‘Erin?’ Jeremy asked. ‘Are you okay?’

She nodded. ‘Yeah, of course,’ she said. ‘Just tired. You know how exhausting my mother can be with all her fussing around – I thought I was never going to get away.’

Jeremy’s voice lowered. ‘I’m glad you did,’ he said, and it was throaty, suggestive.

Erin turned the envelope over and picked at the flap. The far edge wasn’t stuck down properly.

‘I gotta go,’ she said. ‘Bath’s running and I don’t want to flood the place my first night back.’ She cleared her throat, said goodbye and clicked end, putting the phone down on the bench.

Chapter 5

Erin laid the envelope flat on the kitchen counter and poured hot water over a tea bag. She took the toast out and buttered it carefully, right to the edges, frowning at the crumbs on the knife, then added a thin layer of jam. Willis had chosen her favourite, brambleberry, which was a mix of blackberry, raspberry, and redcurrants. She was touched that he’d remembered. His wife and family were doing fine, he’d said – he had three children – and she was glad for them. Relieved they were okay. Nothing about this virus situation was easy.

She picked up the letter and took it into the bedroom with her, laid it on the bed, fingers lingering for a moment on the plain, white envelope with the black type on it, her name brisk, business-like above the address. Erin Veronica Faith. Named for her mother. She drifted back into the entranceway and grasped hold of the smaller suitcase, wheeled it back to the bedroom, picked it up and put it on the bed next to the envelope. Unzipped it, rested her hand on the neatly folded clothes for a moment, then sifted carefully through them to find her pyjamas. She’d bought them last winter. They were soft and warm. Comfort clothes. And covered in cute little foxes. Erin liked foxes. There was often one peeking from behind a tree in her drawings.

The sound of the zip was loud in the quiet room when she did it back up. Erin parked the suitcase against the door of the wardrobe. Ready, she supposed, to unpack later. She changed quickly, shrugging on the soft pyjamas, sighing as she did so, unaware of herself, gaze still on the letter.

She’d dreamed about a letter.

It teased at the edges of her memory and she strained to bring the dream back out into the light of day. It had been how long ago? A month, perhaps, maybe more.

Certainly long enough ago that there was no relating it to this letter here, this real object on the grey and silver quilt her mother had picked out for the bed.

And yet.

There was something about it that made her think of the dream. And in the dream, she remembered, she had stood in a long hallway, with closed doors on either side, and under each door was visible a long, white envelope. She’d woken up before she could pick one up to read the address on it.

Erin knew her dreams. This was the envelope. It was jarring to see it here, real. She picked it up, carried it back to the kitchen. Put it down again. Picked up a piece of toast and took a bite. Chewed, swallowed. Took a deliberate sip of her tea. She could feel every movement as though it was monumental. Time – there was no time anymore, only her jerky, nervous movements.

And the envelope.

When she put a fingertip to the flap on the back, leaning a hip against the stove, she had to blink away the memory of standing in that dream hallway, looking at the row of doors. Her mouth was dry. She almost put the letter down again to take another sip of tea.

The glue parted with a small tearing sound and she looked at the folded page of white paper inside. There were neat, formal rows of black print glimmering through the reverse side. The paper wasn’t expensive, Erin thought, running a finger over the fold. Block and Ward, Solicitors, wasn’t a wealthy or pretentious firm. They used copier paper for their correspondence. Block & Ward – Erin found herself smiling at the name.

She reached out and picked up her cup, took a sip, put it back down again. Drew out the letter in one smooth movement before she could change her mind again. Unfolded it.

At first, the words didn’t make sense. She had to read them through twice before catching their meaning, and even then, only a few words stood out.

Grandmother. Inheritance. Cottage.

The kitchen began a long slow spin, and Erin sank down to a crouch, the oven behind her cold against her back, her pyjama shirt rucked up. She tucked her head down and the foxes on her pyjamas were a blur of red faces, white tail ends. She tipped forward onto her knees and pressed the page to the floor, smoothing out the folds and reading it for the third time.

The words were still there. Grandmother.

Her birth-mother’s family. Erin’s grandmother by blood. She’d employed the firm to search for Erin.

She was also dead, and this news brought a blur of tears to Erin’s eyes. Her grandmother was dead before they’d even managed to meet.

She scanned the letter again, asking where her mother was. It made no mention.

But there was a cottage. In a village called Wellsford. Erin lifted herself from the floor long enough to scrabble for her phone, to search on Google Maps for the place.

It was only a few hours away. Five, perhaps. She could drive there, if she wanted to, if she needed to. She laid her phone squarely on the floor beside the solicitor’s letter and went back to reading the thin, dry lines of print.

The inheritance was conditional, Block & Ward, Solicitors, told her, and they would be glad to discuss the conditions in their office, as they were somewhat unusual.

Somewhat unusual.

What did that mean?

Erin reread the phrase. Said the words out loud in the stillness of the flat.

‘Glad to discuss the conditions in our office, as they are somewhat unusual.’

She blinked and checked the top of the letter. It was dated almost two weeks previously. Erin sat up on her knees and pressed her palms to her temples.

What were the unusual terms? Did they come with a time limit? Had she lost the opportunity before even knowing she had it, this thread to a past she didn’t know? This link to a history she had only ever been able to dream about?

It was too late to call the telephone number on the letter. No one would be in the office at this time on a Saturday evening.

Filled with a terrible, desperate restlessness, Erin stood up, clutching the letter and her phone. She looked around for a moment as though she didn’t know where she was, then went through to the sitting room, put her phone down on the coffee table on top of the pile of fashion magazines her mother had subscribed her to, gazed around again, then carefully folded the letter and replaced it in the envelope. She put it next to her phone and went back to the kitchen for her tea and toast. The toast was cold.

She ate it anyway, sitting on the couch, careful not to drop crumbs, staring across the room at the blank television that took up most of the wall opposite. The jam was sweet against her tongue.


She woke before it was light, and groped for her phone, found it not on the bedside table, but on the coffee table. She’d fallen asleep on the couch, a light rug pulled over her.


Erin did the calculation. She’d slept maybe four hours. Four and a half. Pulling the rug around her shoulders she got up and padded over to the flat’s big picture window, held the curtain and stared out into the darkness.

Below her, the city hummed in a swirl of artificial light and the first rumblings of traffic. She looked over to the left. Jeremy lived over there, in one of the buildings thrusting itself up at the sky.

And over that way, was the university. Erin’s mouth twitched in displeasure. Those bastions of learning she didn’t want.

There was nothing past the lights; they stretched on to the horizon, but Erin locked her gaze to the far reaches anyway, knowing that beyond them somewhere, only five hours away, a day’s drive, was a village that tucked itself up against a forest, snug in the crevasse of a valley green with grass, grey with stone, littered with the wind and leaves turned rich, autumnal colours. There, the birds would be still sleeping, heads tucked delicately under their wings, and somewhere, Erin thought, there would be a fox slinking through the shadows, winding in and out of the trees, heading back to its warm den after a night’s hunting. An unconscious smile curled the edges of her mouth.

There would be a hare too, she thought suddenly. Sitting high on its haunches, whiskers quivering, nose twitching as it caught the fox’s scent. She could see it in her mind, ears long, outlined by moonlight, and the fox would pass right by it as it stood still, eyes and nose keen, the breeze taking its scent in the opposite direction.

She could see it clearly. The hare’s burrow was between the roots of a deep-voiced and venerable oak, and while the fox passed, it would nip back down into the warmth and safety of those roots, and the fox would continue on, deeper into the forest, towards its own bed, looking up for one glance at the rising sun and giving a furry, whiskery, sharp-toothed smile at the sun before settling to her bed.

Erin blinked, made herself return to the room where her body stood. Beneath her, the city spread out its tendrilled fingers, streetlights for stars. It was beautiful.

But it wasn’t the woods.

It wasn’t the fox and the hare in the last of the moonlight. It wasn’t the old oak, twiggy fingers reaching to tickle the wind.

She blinked and turned away from the window. Went into the bathroom, relieved herself, and turned on the shower.

By the time the sun rose, Erin was out of the city, her two suitcases back in the little boot of her Mini. On the passenger’s seat next to her was the solicitor’s letter, and her sketchbook.

On one of the pages of the book, a hare stood up against the moon, its ears twitching, as a fox nosed her way past, heading home.

Heading home.

Heading home.

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