Sevenwaters ABC


They sat underneath the rowan tree which was so sacred to Sorcha and her brothers, resting their aching muscles after hours of hard riding through the forest. Close by, the dappled grey mare and black stallion they had been riding were content to stand and snag wisps of grass from the dirt.

Red unpacked their lunch, which included a loaf of bread, a couple slices of cheese and two ripe apples. Red's stomach rumbled at the sight; they had not eaten since they had broken their fast at dawn, and three hours' worth of riding did not help. But Sorcha made no move to take anything.

Worry shot through him, and he pressed one rosy red fruit into her palm. 'You should eat, Jenny.'

He didn't like the pale pallor of her skin, or the careful way she moved her body as she settled onto the cushioned ground. She looked… breakable, more so than usual. Breakable, and utterly exhausted. He feared that this trip to Glencarnagh had been too much for her.

She gazed at it, and shook her head. 'I am not hungry,' she whispered.

'You need to eat,' he told her gently. 'It has been hours since we broke our fast.'

She looked up at him then with shadowed eyes, and a chill ran down his spine. She could almost have been a ghost, pale and translucent. 'I cannot, Red,' she said. 'I am so tired, I cannot think of eating.'

No matter how much he tried, he couldn't coax her. And he tried not to think it, couldn't bear to think it, but it slipped into his mind nonetheless: that Sorcha had already begun her journey to the land of the dead, and soon she would leave him like the mermaid had left Toby.



There was only a deep and terrible darkness. It surrounded him, smothered him like a blanket. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't do anything but lie there in that cramped space and watch the memories enfold in his mind like a waking nightmare. Feminine hands, reaching, trapping him in a darkened cellar. A trembling but brave voice saying, "It's all right, Johnny. Now crouch down small and keep very quiet. It's not for long, sweetheart. I'll come back for you as soon as I can. Don't be frightened; just keep really still and quiet, no matter what you hear." And then retreating footsteps- running footsteps, away from him. And he waited and waited, just as she told him to, but she never returned for him. Instead, the face that peered down at him was the face of a monster.

In that cramped space, it all came back to him-all that he had struggled to withhold, all the nightmares, all the abuse. He gripped the roots of his hair and choked back a scream. Desperately, he searched for light, any light, but there was none. It had all been extinguished, and all that was left was darkness and memories.



With every second that passed, Gull felt the phantom pain of his lost fingers and prayed for death. There was no hope for him, or for the chief. That bastard Eamonn would destroy them both, painfully and slowly, all out of a twisted need for vengeance. Better to die quickly, than suffer in agony for hours.

A strangely feminine silhouette appeared in the doorway, and for the first time since he arrived in that damp cell he felt his hope rekindle. And when he saw her, his eyes widened. He hadn't thought he could be any more shocked, but here she was before him, ordering the men beside her to unchain him from the wall and help them find the Chief, who was trapped who knows where. Liadan. Before his dazed, pain-ridden mind could think of asking her how she got there and why and that the Chief would be furious to see her risk herself like this, they were moving to find the Chief.

Halfway down the dark hallway, Liadan stopped, and knelt, and Gull saw a trapdoor carved into the ground. She screamed at Eamonn's men to open it, and quickly. They did, with some reluctance. And then there he was, the Chief, a shrunken man curled in the cramped space, clearly unconscious. Every part of him was covered in bruises, but what was most prominent was the blow he had received to his temple, staining it an ugly purple and black. The men hauled him out into the hallway, looks of distaste on their faces. They didn't bother being careful, and by the end there were new bruises blooming on his body. Bastards. Gull wanted to hit every one of them, if he could, and cursed his weakness and his damaged fingers. Beside him, he could see Liadan tremble with rage and glare at the two men.

They carried the Chief to the edge of the Marshes, where they unceremoniously dropped him and left, but not after trying to convince Liadan to leave with them, or at least give her baby into their care. And Gull was half a mind to agree with them; Liadan and her son would be better off going with Eamonn's men and returning to Sevenwaters without delay. It was what the Chief would have wanted her to do. But Liadan said calmly, 'We walk this way together,' and Gull was amazed by her courage and fortitude, and more than a little relieved that Liadan would choose to accompany them across the Marshes, for she was their only hope. The Chief was unconscious and Gull was weak from his wounds and the fever that gripped him. She was the only one able and alert enough to help him guide them across the treacherous pathway.

And so, after Johnny was fed, Gull bent over and Liadan helped him haul the Chief onto his back and though he wanted to scream at the agony in his fingers he bit his lip and stayed silent. He would not complain. It was the least he could do, to carry his Chief during his darkest time, as the Chief had carried him and given him hope when he thought all was lost after his family was massacred. He would carry his chief to the other side, though his arms ached agonizingly at the strain of holding him up. He would carry him and not let go, and they would reach the other side and Liadan would bring the Chief back somehow. Gull knew she could; with her determination she could do anything.

And so together they began their dangerous journey: himself holding the Chief, and Liadan, brave Liadan with her son strapped to her back. And Gull prayed to all the gods they would make it, and not falter.



Red shoved at the chaotic crowds before him, the crowds who were keeping him from getting to Jenny. His heart was pounding, his head aching with the fury and fear he struggled to withhold. She was just meters away, a small figure tied to the stake, her face pale as parchment, clutching her bag of starwort shirts like a lifeline as Richard, eyes alight with triumph, lowered the flaming torch towards the kindling.


Damn those people. Didn't they understand? He had to reach Jenny. He had to reach her, before the unthinkable happened.

A voice called out from behind him—Ben, he thought—and they finally moved, casting him shocked looks. He didn't care. All that mattered was Jenny, so close to the flames and Richard's laughing face.

Red clenched his teeth. By God, he would kill him himself. He would rip him to shreds and dance around his funeral pyre.

He charged towards the platform feeling a madman with all the fury swarming inside of him. By the looks of the people getting out of his way, he probably looked like a madman as well. At any other time, it would have amused Red. Not now.

The smug triumph had drained from Richard's face, and he stared at Red and the commotion he was creating, his eyes burning with fury. Red stared back, and he hoped his uncle could see the death writ in his eyes. There would be no mercy for Richard of Northwoods.

As he stumbled towards her all he could think of was fire and Jenny and apples and mermaids and fire and blood and other things which he couldn't put into words. Heedless of the fire eating at the kindling, he leapt, cut at her bonds and drew her into his arms, feeling blessed (and very dizzy) with relief.



He couldn't stand to leave her, but the stubborn glare in her eyes showed him that he didn't have any choice about it.



They may have been ugly to her, but to him they were the most beautiful things he had ever seen.



Each day they came to his chamber, sent by Mac Dara to seduce him, and each time, he ignored them. It wasn't Clodagh. Though they looked and sounded and felt like her, from her mesmerizing auburn hair to her fierce, protective attitude, it wasn't her. It couldn't be her. He couldn't let himself think it was her. He couldn't let himself hope.

She had promised to come back for him, whatever happened. He had believed her from the start. With her fierceness and surprising determination, he pitied anyone who stood in her way or harmed her loved ones. He had no doubt she would return to the Otherworld. But... it had been seven months since that fateful day, when Mac Dara had tricked him into giving up his place in the human world. Seven months since he had held Clodagh in his arms and made her leave him behind, though it twisted his heart to do so. If she had not come in so long, would she come at all?



Niamh rose from the stream in all her nakedness, her hair darkened and sleek with water, and turned to Ciaran, smiling. 'Do you see something that you like?' she asked playfully.

Ciaran could only nod. The sight of her ripped his breath away. She was a goddess, a water goddess rising from the river to claim her own.

And she was choosing to give herself to him, a mere druid, who was probably one of the least likely men her family would choose for her to marry. He was caught between feeling unworthy of her love and basking in it.

Niamh saw the uncertainty on his face and laughed. 'You don't have to stand so far away, Ciaran. Come closer.' She patted surface of the water, splattering droplets everywhere.

Tentatively, Ciaran waded through the water towards her, until he was so close he could smell the musky scent of her hair and see the green of her eyes and the gentle curve of her lips. It was intoxicating; he thought he would drown by just looking at her. Every single part of him longed to take her into his arms and make love to her, but something held him back. What was he doing? He was only a druid. What business did he have to seduce the fiery daughter of the famous Sorcha of Sevenwaters?

'Why do you hesitate?' Niamh demanded. 'I love you. You love me. Nothing else matters.'

'But your family...'

'I don't care. I want you.' There was fierce, aching desire in her eyes, shadowed by vulnerability. 'Don't you want me?'

Desire made him shudder. 'Of course I do.' And he did. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on and the thought of not touching her, kissing her was unbearable.

The look in Niamh's eyes almost stopped his heart.

'Thank all the gods,' she sighed, staring up at him with those tempting, pouting lips. 'For a moment I thought it was all a mistake.'

And then she stood on her tip-toes and lifted her head to kiss him.



No matter where and who they were, they were kin. Aisha realised this when she stood a tad nervously with Conri at the entrance to Sevenwaters and watched as the Sevenwaters family greeted her like a long-lost relative finally come home.



Though he would never have admitted it, each time Conor came to Sevenwaters and saw young Finbar with his seer-grey eyes it was like a fist had punched his stomach.



Red watched with interest as the being came into shape underneath her hands. Seaweed for hair, and shells for eyes, complete with a graceful fish's tail traced in the sand. He glanced at his female companion, with her long, dark, unruly hair and unusual fey-green eyes, and couldn't help but think that she was just as mesmerizing as the creature coming to life under her fingertips.



'Do you mind being stranded here, on a barren island, with just me for company?' Fainne tried to make her voice casual, but of course a quiver of uncertainty had to give her away. This was a question she felt compelled to ask time and time again. She was never fully sure if Darragh was truly content to be with her on the Needle, whatever he claimed to feel. It was a lonely, isolated life for a man—or a child, for that matter—and the guilt never left her heart at how she'd bound him to this life along with herself. It wasn't the life she had wanted for him, and a part of her would always want to drag him off the island and give him a better life than this, and feel remorse that she couldn't. Yet, if he hadn't been there with her she knew she would have gone mad long ago. She waited for his reply, holding her breath.

He just smiled and pressed a kiss to her lips that thrilled her and made her heart leap in her chest. 'Never,' he said. 'Not as long as I have you, Curly.'



Ciaran shook his head, amazed, at the scar on his four-year-old daughter's shoulder, left from when Conri the raven had pecked her. The mark of the raven. The mark of the child of the prophecy.

(Why he had pecked her, Ciaran couldn't fathom. Fainne had to have annoyed him in some way; Conri was not usually violent towards children.)

'It hurts,' Fainne sobbed.

'I know,' Ciaran soothed her, drawing her into his arms, cuddling her. Goddess help him, he wasn't a mother. He wasn't Niamh. How could he calm his own child? He had no idea what to do. 'It will be alright, daughter. Do not weep.' To his relief, she quietened, her body stilling in his arms, her face buried against his chest. He patted her back awkwardly, wishing not for the first time that Niamh was still alive.

A flash of black caught his attention, and his gaze was drawn to the windowsill, where the raven was perched. It looked at him with un-animal-like intelligence, its eyes sharp with knowledge, and cawed once, before flying away again.



She stood before them, flushed and trembling with rage and hurt, and though he was alone and terrified and trapped he couldn't have been more proud of her.



There were many reasons why he did what he did. The most important one was that he loved her, and couldn't bear to see her hurting.



Each time Sorcha saw one drifting on the lake, she thought of her brothers.



'Do you trust me?' Ciaran said, squeezing her trembling fingers gently. Slowly but surely, they stilled at his touch, and he felt a pleasure that he had such power to do that, to make her feel safe.

'Always,' Niamh said. Ciaran saw the love and hope in her eyes and prayed to the gods that he was worthy of such faith, that he would never let her down.



There were times when was sure that he was unworthy of her love, but one look from her always convinced him otherwise.



When they returned to Sevenwaters, everyone celebrated, in a quiet, subdued way. After all, the feud was over, and they had won, though with heavy losses. But for Conor, victory was hollow and empty. Finbar was dead. Finbar, the brother he had loved and supported for all these years, with whom he had shared an infinitely close bond. And there were also others, young men who had given their lives in this cause, who would never be coming home. How could he celebrate, when so much had been lost?



The only thing he could do was count the waves as they swept onto the shore and wonder which one had taken his wife from him.

Niamh was dead. His beautiful Niamh, who had first enchanted him when he saw her dancing at Imbolc all those years ago with her hair glowing golden in the firelight. Niamh, who had been broken by her own family, who he had abandoned so callously once before. She was dead, drowned amid the torrent of water which surrounded the Honeycomb.

It had been so easy. She had simply stepped off the edge, not giving a thought to Ciaran and their one year old daughter, not thinking of the grief she was leaving behind. He wondered if she could see him now, standing numbly outside their house, and know that his heart was breaking into little shards and that the only reason he was being strong now was because of Fainne. He wondered if she knew how much it hurt him, to know that she had chosen death over him.

He held his daughter and stared out into the abyss, and tried not to let the agony consume him.