Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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The Sorceror from Sand Creek

by McCamy Taylor


Conell O'Dubhan had made sure that Katie and Devnet, the two maids would be busy in the kitchen when Miss Kiley arrived. It would not do to have those two gossips spreading stories about how their employers, the Begleys had brought a witch into their house, even one who worked for the federal government. The branch of the military which employed her was secret. Only a few people knew that the North had used magical arts in its battles against the South in the recent war.

Conell, the butler knew about the 4S or Secret Service Sorcery Society, because he was an illegitimate son of the family, the half brother of Aidan Begley, the current head of the Begley clan. Old Mr. Begley, their grandfather had founded the organization, which was staffed almost entirely with Irishmen and women from a certain region of the old country where fairies were said to have mated with mortal women. The part about the fairies was nonsense, but it was true that there were an unusual number of extremely talented mages to be found coming off the boats from Ireland.

The Begley family's own talents were not to be sneezed at. Conell had been recruited, though he had found his particular task within the 4S so demeaning that he had begged his father to get him out of the organization. Since the Begleys were important munitions suppliers for the Union, it had taken only a word in the right ear to get Conell relieved of his commission.

Now, he worked for his half brother, filling the role of butler, since male servants were almost impossible to come by with the war only recently over and so many young men killed or wounded in the conflict. He did not plan to do the job forever, but until something better came along, he could tolerate it. It was better than the work the 4S required of him. At least a butler was allowed a shred of dignity. And he got to keep his pants on.

Through the open window of the drawing room, he heard a carriage draw up in front of the house. That would be Miss Kiley. The doorbell rang. Conell smoothed his black hair, straightened his jacket and opened the door.

The woman who stood on the front steps was tiny, barely as tall as the Begley's twelve-year-old son, Doyle. Her bright red hair was pulled back in a braid which fell to her waist. Her fair skin was marred by freckles. A pair of spectacles was perched on the end of her nose. Her eyes were emerald green. Instead of a dress, she wore a long buckskin coat buttoned up to the throat over baggy trousers. In one hand, she held a carpetbag. A trunk sat beside her on the steps.

Aghast, Conell looked around to see if any of the neighbors were watching. The street was mercifully deserted. He leaned forward, grabbed the mage by the wrist and dragged her inside, slamming the door after her.

"What about my trunk?" she demanded.

"Stay here." He opened the door only as much as was necessary to pull the trunk inside. "Are there any proper clothes in there?"

The little woman's eyes crinkled. "I think I have a dress or two."

It was all coming back to Conell. The men and women at the 4S had been touched in the head, wild like gypsies. They dressed oddly, and spoke of things that were better left unsaid and used opium and hashish as if these were the most ordinary things in the world. Fornication was nothing for them. Indeed, it was a standard part of their magic practice, as Conell knew all too well.

Other things were coming back to him, too, like the way the women in the 4S smelled. There was something about an Irish witch that intoxicated. Though she was dressed like a buffalo hunter, Conell could not stop staring at Miss Kiley. He wanted to unfasten her braid and run his fingers through her hair. He wanted to unbutton her coat and see what was underneath. In his fantasies, he imagined that there was nothing except the trousers held up by a pair of suspenders, black against her milk white breasts--

"I've had a long journey," Miss Kiley prompted gently. "Do you think you could show me to my room?"

Conell flushed, causing twin spots of color to rise on his pale cheeks. His blue eyes were unnaturally bright. "Your room," he echoed dully.

"Yes, my room. You know, the place I'll be sleeping?"

He shook his head, trying to clear the disturbing image. "Your room, yes. I'll show you to your room." He picked up the trunk. "Follow me."

The room he had chosen for her was on the third floor, away from the servants' quarters and the family's living area. The roof sloped and there was no fireplace, but there was a window and a small chest of drawers and a table and chair beside the bed. Miss Kiley pronounced it adequate. "I'll need to see the library, too. That's where I'll be spending most of my time while I'm here. But first I'd like to rest and freshen up. I assume I'll be taking my meals in the kitchen?"

The work of carrying a loaded trunk up two flights of stairs had eased Conell's sudden attack of lust. "Mr. Begley has requested that you join the family in the dining room this evening."

"Oh dear," she said with a small frown. "I guess that means I have to dig out a dress. Where can I get water to bathe?"

Conell told her where the fixtures were and what time dinner would be served. "Oh, and one more thing. The family knows about the 4S, but the servants don't. As far as the staff is concerned, you're a librarian who has come to catalogue the master's book collection."

She nodded her understanding, adding "How do you know about the 4S, Mister---?"

"O'Dubhan, Conell O'Dubhan. I'm the butler. "

She offered her hand. "Miranda Kiley. Forgive me if I'm overstepping my bounds, but you have a fey air about you. Have you ever been in the Service?"

Stiffly, Conell turned on his heels. "Good day, Miss Kiley."

####

Supper was at six. Miranda Kiley was downstairs at five fifty-five, dressed in a nondescript black garment that would have looked appropriate at a funeral or a séance. Her red braid was coiled on top of her head and covered with black lace, increasing her resemblance to a widow. She wore no jewelry.

"Miss Kiley!" Aiden Begley emerged from his study carrying a glass of sherry. He bore a striking resemblance to his half brother, though he was twenty pounds heavier and ten years older. The two men had the same coal black hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. Both were big across the shoulders as well as in height.

"Mr. Begley." She bowed.

"This is my wife, Brigid."

A short, plump auburn haired woman wearing too much lace made a deep curtsy. "How do you, Miss Kiley. I've been looking forward to meeting you." She unfurled her fan. Leaning forward, she whispered "I have the gift myself. I so wanted to join the Service during the War, but Aidan wouldn't hear of it."

"These are the twins," her husband said, gesturing to two older girls who were just coming down the stairs. "Fiona and Ciara."

The sisters were about eighteen or so. Identical twins, they were tall, with sleek black hair and milky white complexions. They were dressed in identical white frocks with black trim and looked as if they had just stepped out of a fashion plate.

"And Doyle, my son."

The boy was tall for his age. His height he got from his father, but he got his ruddy coloring and auburn hair from his mother. He was practically bouncing with excitement. "Let's eat! Let's eat!"

Once everyone was seated around the dinner table, it became clear why the boy was so anxious to eat and why Miranda had been invited to join the family for the evening meal. As soon as Conell brought in the main course and closed the door, the conversation turned to the 4S.

"I understand you saw battle in the War," Aidan said from his position at the head of the table.

Miranda pretended to be too busy chewing her pot roast to answer.

"It's alright," Brigid assured her. "You can talk openly in front of the family. Even Doyle has been tested. We're all supporters of the Service, isn't that right, ducks?"

Doyle, who been squirming in his seat every since the meal began suddenly exclaimed "When is she going to do magic? You promised me she would do magic!"

His mother turned bright pink. "Darling! Not in the middle of the meal!" She looked at Miranda imploringly. "I'm sure we can persuade our guest to offer us a little demonstration of her art after supper. If we ask nicely."

If a hole had opened up at Miranda's feet, she would have jumped into it. She laid her knife and fork down beside her plate. After steeling herself with three slow, deep breaths, she looked up and addressed the table. "Sorry. I can't put on a magic show for you. It's true that I saw battle on a number of occasions during the recent conflict, but all my powers were lost in combat. I'm strictly an academic now. I'm here to catalogue your library of magic texts, not to perform sorcery for your amusement."

"No magic!" Doyle cried. "But what use is she without---?"

"Hush!" Brigid exclaimed.

"Doyle!" Aidan shouted.

The twins exchanged identical smirks.

Beneath the table, Miranda's hands gripped her napkin so tightly that she felt the fabric give way beneath her nails. The urge to flee from the room evaporated, replaced by a slow burning fury. Gazing at the table, with its sparkling crystal and china, its gleaming silverware and the overabundance of food, she could not help contrasting the luxury around her with the horrors of war. This family's fortune was tied to the bloody conflict which had torn the nation apart. The patriarch of the family, the first Aidan Begley had risen to a position of prominence within the military in Washington by founding the 4S. The Begleys had increased their wealth selling ammunition and arms to the Union. They spoke with pride of their military accomplishments, however, she doubted that any of then, even young Mister Aidan had ever stepped foot on a battlefield or glimpsed the carnage caused by the weapons, ordinary and supernatural which they had created.

The awkward silence was broken by the guest of honor. Her voice was mild, in contrast to her eyes which blazed like two balls of green fire. "I can't show the boy any magic, but I can tell him what it was like to be a Secret Service Sorcerer. In the early days of the war, we were mainly used for morale and healing. By necessity, we women went into battle disguised as nurses, since nurses were the only women allowed on the battlefield. The men pretended to be physicians or chaplains. As long as we confined ourselves to casting healing magic, it wasn't so bad. No worse than war must always be. Seeing young men lay down their lives is never pretty. We dispelled their fear. We relieved them of their guilt. We helped the natural healing process. In a way, we were no different than the nurses and doctors and chaplains, we were just more effective.

"All that changed at Shiloh. When General Grant's troops came close to being overrun, our commanders conceived a new strategy. Rather than saving lives, our goal was to keep the men on the field of battle, no matter what the cost. We used our art to convince them that gaping wounds in their bellies were not festering or that missing arms did not pain them. Some of the Union soldiers who fought on that field of battle were dead men, their eyes sightless, their ears deaf. As long as they could hold a sword and run in the direction of the enemy, they were useful as fodder." She paused and took a drink from her water glass to clear her throat, which had become tight.

There was dead silence in the dining room. No one noticed when Conell entered with dessert.

"Later, our directors in Washington devised new battle techniques. We learned to penetrate the minds of the enemy soldiers. We could control the will of the younger, weaker Confederate fighters, force them to lay down their arms or even cause them to turn on their fellow soldiers in battle. Once, I forced a rebel who was about to attack our position to fire point blank into the face of his commanding officer, blowing his superior's head off. The shock of what he had just done drive him to kill himself in a fit of remorse. Others we drove mad with nightmare visions too gruesome to describe. The Confederates, who had no clue about the 4S, attributed it to the stress of battle."

Doyle listened wide eyed, his expression rapt. However, his big sisters had pulled out handkerchiefs and were sobbing quietly. Brigid was fanning herself furiously. "Aidan," she implored her husband.

The master cleared his throat. "Miss Kiley, I think the women of the house find your war stories a bit much. Perhaps you would care to join me in my study after supper, and we could---"

Abruptly the lights in the room went dim. "Dessert is served!" Conell announced in a booming voice. He slid a platter bearing a rum soaked cake onto the center of the table and dropped a match on it. Flames shot up. Doyle, at least, was distracted. He clapped his hands.

Miranda did not stay for dessert. Mumbling an excuse about a headache, she left the table and hurried to her room.

####

For the next few days, Miranda stayed out of the way of the family. It was easy enough to do, since none of the Begleys was interested in books. She spent everyday from sunrise until late at night in old Mister Aidan's library, cataloguing his impressive collection of magic texts. During his lifetime, he had gathered books, tablets and scrolls from around the world. Many were written in languages which she did not even recognize much less know how to read, so she could only copy the first few pages laboriously by hand and hope that some one back in Washington would recognized the alphabet and the text and know whether or not this was some volume of monumental importance.

Those which she could read covered a variety of topics, from histories of witchcraft and magic to practical treatises on herb craft, divination, spell casting, runes and numerology. Much of it was superstitious bunk, but here and there she encountered solid fact.

Around noon each day, either Katie or Devnet would bring her a lunch basket. Katie was a shy girl, who seemed to be frightened of the strange books with their pagan symbols. She would hurry away as quickly as possible once she had laid out Miranda's midday meal. However, Devnet liked to stay and chat.

One day she surprised Miranda by asking "What's it like being one of them Sorcerer Spies?"

Miranda choked on her soup. "Who told you about---?" She bit her lower lip.

Devnet's nose crinkled. She laughed good naturedly. "Bless you, miss. How do you expect a boy like Master Doyle to keep something like that a secret? He told me almost first thing the day I started working here. Katie, too."

The implications of Devnet's revelation were almost too frightening to contemplate. Who else had the boy confided in?

Miranda sought out the butler, Conell O'Dubhan, to tell him what Devnet had said. He promised to inform the master.

Later that afternoon, Aidan Begley visited the library. Miranda was copying a cuneiform tablet. Since she could not read cuneiform, it was a painstaking process that had left her hands and chin ink stained and gave her a headache from eyestrain. Her glasses were smudged and her hair had fallen from its braid and was tangled in a knot. The smock which she wore while working bristled with pencils, notebooks, bits of twine, scissors, several reference volumes and a half eaten sandwich from lunch.

"Miss Kiley," Aidan said as he peered around the door. "If I could borrow a moment of your time."

"Come right in." She set her pen down and stretched her arms over head, cracking her knuckles. "Is it about the boy?"

Aidan stepped inside the library. There were stacks of books on all the chairs as well as on the floor, and he had to move carefully to avoid upsetting them. "I spoke to him, and he assured me that the only people he has told about the 4S are Devnet and Katie and only because he wanted to impress upon them the need to keep absolutely quiet about any secrets they learned while working in this house. Devnet swears that she has told no one. Katie has confided only in her priest, who should be bound by the confidentiality of the confessional. In any case, a number of 4S officers are practicing Catholics, so we can assume that the Church in Rome already knows of the group's existence." As he spoke, he moved closer to the table where Miranda was working. His color was high. His breathing was fast. "You mentioned that you had lost your powers in combat, Miss Kiley. How unfortunate for you. I've heard of a number of agents who lost the will to fight, but very few actually lost the ability. Do you care to tell me how it happened?"

He was so close now that he was practically breathing down her neck. He smelled of whiskey. Miranda leaned back in her chair to avoid his touch. "No, Mr. Begley. I prefer not to talk about it. It wasn't a pleasant experience."

"I quite understand." He attempted to take one of her hands, but she snatched her arms away and held them behind her back. "I don't know if they told you. My family has an unusual gift. I don't know the Irish word for it, but in the 4S we're called nurturers. It's what attracted me to my dear Brigid. The first time I met her, I sensed a spark of magic power within her. Undeveloped, like a rosebud still tightly furled but full of promise. That spark came to life when we---had congress." He leaned over her chair and attempted to nuzzle her neck. She twisted away. "I could do the same for you," he murmured. "You might get your powers back."

"Mr. Begley!" Conell O'Dubhan said coldly from the doorway, "Missus Begley requires your presence in the drawing room."

Aidan jerked as if he had been shot. "Damn it man! Can't you see that I'm busy?"

His half brother regarded him haughtily. "Shall I tell madam that you are too busy with Miss Kiley to attend her?"

"Hell no!" Aidan swore. "I don't know what possessed me to make you my butler. It's like living under the same roof with a damned puritan minister." He wagged his finger at Conell. "You can stop looking daggers at me. You know you used to do the same thing when you were with the 4S. Bloody stud for hire, that's what you were." With that, he stormed out of the room.

"Thank you," Miranda said in a tiny voice, once her heart stopped pounding, and she got her voice back.

"I apologize for my brother's behavior," Conell said stiffly.

"It isn't your fault. It isn't his fault, either, not really. Nurturers can't help being attracted to witches."

"They don't have to act like animals in rut."

"I gather you left the 4S, because you didn't like doing stud service?"

Conell turned bright pink. "Can you honestly say that you were happy being told to—to--- " He searched for a word appropriate for mixed company.

Her eyes met his without embarrassment. "Couple with a man because his aura was attuned to mine? The first few times, I thought I would die of embarrassment. Later, I got used to it. Once we started going to war, the coupling was the best part."

"The war was an awful thing," he agreed. "And it's terrible that so many good people like you had to suffer so because of it."

She shook her head. "My suffering is nothing. All I've lost is a little bit of magic power. Others lost their sons, their husbands, their fathers. Some lost wives, mothers, daughters, babies. The most wretched lost their souls."

He stepped forward, his hand outstretched. "If you ever need someone to talk to, Miss Kiley, I'm here."

Her eyes crinkled in a smile. "Thank you, Mr. O'Dubhan. I might take you up on that sometime."

####

The next member of the Begley family to seek out Miranda Kiley in the library was Doyle. It happened three days after the incident with Aiden. She had discovered a hidden shelf behind a row of three volume romance novels and was trying to figure out the trick to unlocking it, when the boy crept up behind her.

"I know how you do it."

She literally jumped. Since the last battle, her nerves were always frayed, and having someone sneak up behind her made her heart almost leap out of her chest. Had her powers been intact, she would have noticed him as soon as he entered the room, even if he muffled his footfalls. However, she could no longer detect things like other people's thoughts, dreams or emotions.

He appeared oblivious to the effect his sudden appearance had on her. "Great grandfather put those all over the house. You can't force them open. You have to think them open." He closed his eyes and pressed his lips together, concentrating. "There. Like that."

Behind Miranda, the panel covering the secret shelf slid back with a click, revealing a row of books.

"It's too bad you lost your powers," Doyle said, his expression solemn. "If you find any more secret cabinets like that one, let me know, and I'll open them for you."

Once Miranda was alone and her heart stopped fluttering, she examined the secret cache of books. To her delight, she realized that this was what she had been sent to locate. Here was Old Mister Aiden Begley's real library, the volumes from which he had acquired the knowledge that had allowed him to create the 4S.

The books and scrolls were all written in Irish, one of the languages in which she was fluent. A few of them were ancient. All of them concerned the practice of sorcery. Though logic had insisted that such a collection must exist, it still came as a shock to find it here at hand. Miranda had always been lead to believe that the Church, which had caused Ireland to flower in a golden age while the rest of Europe floundered in a dark age had suppressed all writing about the magical arts. Apparently, the Church had not penetrated to all parts of Eire. Or else some places that professed their loyalty to the Catholic Church continued to practice old pagan rites.

Here were illuminated manuscripts written in Irish rather than Latin that told the history of the fey races. Here were first person accounts of psychic journeys to other planes of existence. In these writings, she found the methods that Old Mister Begley had employed when he trained the first squad of Secret Service Sorcerers. It was all here, the technique for focusing and amplifying the psychic energies, how to create illusions that seemed more real than reality, how to identify those targets most vulnerable to mental attack. There were recipes for using herbs and other botanicals to augment the natural powers. Animal familiars were discussed. The importance of the phases of the moon took up a whole volume. There was even a treatise about the use of the tantric practices to nurture magic powers in witches.

As she gazed down at the collection, Miranda was seized with mixed feelings. It was good that Old Mister Aiden Begley had kept these treasures safe. Had the British authorities found them, they would have destroyed them. Had the Church of Rome found them, they would have locked them up in the Vatican. But the knowledge contained within these writings belonged to Ireland. Surely, the magical arts they taught could help the people of her homeland, who suffered under the yoke of British oppression. Why should the United States government---as much an oppressor as the vile British---have this power?

A memory which she had tried to repress intruded upon her thoughts. Women, children and old men huddled upon a plain beneath the moonlight, their pleas for mercy falling upon deaf ears. Their pleas for justice never to be answered, for when has the victor ever acknowledged that his victory was stolen through the grossest, vilest, most inhumane means imaginable?

The Yankees could not be allowed to have the secrets contained within the texts, she resolved. However, she could not simply destroy them. She had to take them back to Ireland, where they belonged, to give the people there a fighting chance against their enemies.

There was just one problem with her plan. She owed the 4S five more years of service, and she did not have the money to buy out her commission. So, it would have to be someone else. Some other patriot would have to take the magic texts back to the old country and give them to the people who could best make use of them. That meant enlisting the aid of someone who could identify and train witches. But who could she entrust with the task?

####

Conell O'Dubhan was polishing the silver when Miranda Kiley cornered him. After checking to make sure that the dining room was empty except for the two of them, she closed the door and pulled up a chair.

"You said that you would listen if I wanted to talk," she reminded him.

He nodded. Her expression was so solemn that he almost regretted his promise. Almost. If this woman could go to war and live through the things that she had experienced, then he was man enough to share her memories, no matter how traumatic.

"You have heard of Sand Creek?"

The name jogged a memory. It took him a moment to place it. "The Chivington Massacre."

She nodded. "In the Colorado Territory. I was there. They sent me west, with the Union Army. It was supposed to be a rest. After the incident I described at supper when the rebel boy blew his commander's head off and then killed himself, I wasn't fit to work, so they gave me light duty. The Indian Wars were the good wars, right? Not like the War Between the States where brothers killed brothers. The Indians were bad. They killed settlers. The Union soldiers' job was to protect settlers.

"At least, that was how it was supposed to be. The truth was altogether different---" Her voice broke.

Conell set down his silver polishing cloth. He moved his chair closer to hers. As always, he was aware of her scent, however he suppressed the carnal urge. "Tell me what happened at Sand Creek, Miss Kiley," he urged gently.

"Call me Miranda."

He offered her his hand. "Miranda, what happened at Sand Creek?"

She placed her hand in his. His palm was reassuringly broad and warm. "The Cheyenne had come to sign a peace treaty. They were camped under the U.S. flag. They had been promised the protection of the U.S. army. Most of their braves were away hunting, leaving only the women, children and a few feeble old men in their camp.

"The night of massacre, Colonel Chivington ordered his soldiers to encircle the camp. Liquor was distributed. He told his men to spare no one, not even the babies. It was a massacre. They chopped the unborn from their mother's bellies and wore them along with scalps as trophies. They cut the genitals from old men and left them to die from blood loss. The screams of fear and the moans of the dying and the sounds of gunshots filled the night.

"Some of the union soldiers were wounded—by their fellow soldiers, who were so drunk that they would fire randomly, not caring who or what they were shooting at. I was there as a nurse, and they wanted me to treat the wounded soldiers. As if I would give aid to those murderers! Instead, I turned my attention to the wounded Indians, trying to help those whose injuries were life threatening. Several times, I thought that I would be struck down by Union fighters as a traitor, however my magic saved me. Drunks are especially vulnerable to sorcery."

The hand he was holding clenched into a fist. Some particularly painful memory caused her to grimace and lean forward, clutching her belly with her free arm. Though not a sorcerer, his psychic intuition was strong enough that he could read strong emotion, and he detected guilt. Was Miranda responsible for some of the Union's friendly fire casualties? Conell did not ask. It was not his place to judge. He was not there that night. Had he been in her position, he might have done the same thing.

Miranda regained control of herself and continued her story. "As dawn neared, the fighting began to abate, however there was no end to the number of dying Cheyenne. Everywhere I looked, I saw mother's clutching their dead children or children clinging to their dead mothers or---perhaps most merciful of all, mothers and children joined together in death. It was worse even than Shiloh. There, the two sides in the conflict had treated each other as human beings. Here, the Union soldiers treated the Indians as animals. No, less than animals. The soldiers would have been ashamed to slaughter cattle as brutally as they slaughtered those Cheyenne.

"As I stood on the plain, surrounded by the dead and dying, I spotted a girl, freshly dead. Her mother was sobbing quietly. Something compelled me to approach her. When the Cheyenne woman saw me, she uttered a curse. Her words ignited something within me. Without thinking of the consequences, I laid my hands upon the girl, so recently deceased that her heart was still quivering and her skin was still flushed and warm, and I drew her soul back into her body."

Conell raised his free hand to his lips.

"Yes, I know. It's forbidden magic," Miranda said quietly. "They taught us that during our training. If I works, it's likely to kill the one who practices it, and if it doesn't kill you, it can rob you of your powers. I wasn't thinking about what I was doing, but looking back, I believe that I wanted to die, and giving my life to bring the child back seemed as good a use for my soul as any.

"You know the rest. I didn't die. Colonel Chivington wanted me court martialed, for nursing Indians and not soldiers, but he's the one who ended up being investigated." Her expression hardened. "In the end the military swept it all under the rug. What are a few dead Indians?" Her voice was bitter.

Conell could think of nothing to say, so he put his arm around her shoulders. She let her head rest against his broad chest. Her voice was muffled by the fabric of his coat.

"With my powers gone, I didn't have to worry about being sent back out to battle. I spent the rest of the war back at headquarters in Washington.."

He squeezed her shoulders. "Why don't you quit?"

"You were a member of the 4S. You know that you don't just ‘quit'. The military invested money and time in my training. They own the next five years of my life. Unless I come into a small fortune to pay off my commission, I'm stuck."

"Pardon me for being blunt, but you have no powers anymore. What use are you to them?"

Her laughter was bitter. "Oh, they can find things for me to do. Like catalogue libraries. And they haven't given up hoping that I'll agree to make use of the services of one of the nurturers and maybe get my powers back."

For some reason, the thought annoyed Conell. He tightened his hold on Miranda. She felt very small and frail in his arms, like a bird. If he lowered his head, he could smell her hair and a more pungent, intoxicating scent. His pulse quickened.

"Conell," she murmured. "I have a request."

"Yes," he breathed. "I'll do it."

She looked up, confused. "You don't know what I'm going to ask yet."

"I'll nurture you." His arm slid down her shoulders and encircled her waist. He pulled her closer. His heart was thumping madly. With his free hand, he plucked off her glasses and tossed them aside.

They ended up doing it on the Begley's dining room table. Devnet, who was bringing in the linen from the wash, found them locked in a torrid embrace. Quietly, she shut the door and made sure that no one entered the room, until the butler and the witch came out an hour later.

####

For the next few weeks, Miranda continued to catalogue the Begley library. Every night, Conell visited her in her room, which was so isolated from the rest of the household that they could carry on without fear of being overhead. He started bringing her lunches, so that they would have an excuse to see each other during the day. Katie and Devnet were in on their secret.

Miranda gave up the idea of asking Conell to take the magic books back to Ireland. If she proposed the task to him now, he would think that she had seduced him to win his cooperation, she reasoned. The real reason she gave up the idea was she did not want him to leave the country.

Gradually, her powers began to return, though she told no one, not even Conell. At first, it was little things. She found that she could attract the attention of the cats that lived behind the kitchen, cats being extremely sensitive to even minute amounts of magic. Her dreams began to contain references to things which happened the next day. When the twins got on her nerves, she could silence them with a look.

These were all baby steps, hardly worth celebrating. However, one morning she woke up nauseated. There was nothing in her stomach, but she had dry heaves that left her feeling sore and dizzy. As she dabbed a wet cloth over her brow, she looked at her hand in front of her face and saw how bright her aura had become. She was practically on fire!

Only one thing would make her body glow that brightly. Her psychic powers had returned full force. And there was only thing that could cure a witch who had lost her powers this quickly. She was pregnant with a child that was also a powerful sorcerer.

Conell's reaction was predictable. "We're getting married."

"If you wish."

"And you're quitting the 4S."

"I told you already, I owe them five more years."

"But you're going to be a mother!"

"Lots of the witches have children. They give them a couple of months off to have the baby, then it's back to work."

"It's barbaric!"

"It's the 4S. If I had not qualified for a job with them, I might have ended up working in a textile mill somewhere. Do you know how long people survive working in a textile mill? Do you know how many days you get to take off to have a baby when you work in a mill?"

Conell hugged her so hard that she protested. "You're a brave lass, Miranda, but you don't have to be brave by yourself any longer."

"What are you going on about, Conell?"

"You'll see."

####

Conell O'Dubhan cornered his half-brother Aiden Begley in his study at a quarter to twelve. Begley was looking over invoices for cannon balls that were to be shipped to the army's frontier forts. Now that the War Between the States was over, the Indian Wars were heating up.

"We have to talk," Conell said.

Aiden took off his reading glasses. "You have that serious look. What is it? Do you want a raise?"

"Miranda and I are getting married."

"And you want my blessing as head of family?" Aiden shrugged one big shoulder. "I hope you're very happy together."

"I want you to pay off her commission."

"Now see here---"

"If you don't, I'm prepared to tell the inspector general how much you illegally marked up gunpowder that you sold the Union Army during the war. I believe there are special rules that apply to that kind of fraud. Triple damages, with the monies to be paid to the whistleblower. That would be me." His blue eyes had a steely gleam. "One way or another, Miranda is going to be free from the 4S."

"You bastard!"

"At least I come by it naturally."

####

Two weeks later, Conell and Miranda were married. The ceremony was a small, private affair with a dinner held afterwards in the Begley family home. At Brigid's insistence, Aiden paid for the service, the reception that followed and the couple's honeymoon, which the bride requested take place in Ireland.

As a wedding gift, Aiden Begley also paid off Miranda's commission with the 4S. She completed her last mission, the catalogue of old Mister Aiden Begley's magic library and sent her report to Washington by special courier. It contained a detailed list of books and other documents along with this note.

Unfortunately, I was unable to locate the texts whose existence has been hypothesized. There are several possible reasons for this. One, Mr. Begley may have hidden them in a secret location somewhere about the house. According to the grandson, the mansion is riddled with secret cubby-holes. Two, there may never have been any texts. The tradition Mr. Begley drew upon may have been an oral one, and he may have learned the techniques which he taught the members of the 4S from interviewing magic practitioners in Ireland. Three, Mr. Begley, being jealous of his power, may have destroyed the texts in question, in order to prevent anyone else from gaining their knowledge.

Without the founder of the 4S to keep the group alive with his knowledge of arcane Irish magic practice, the organization quickly fell into disarray and was abandoned. The records of its existence were sealed and lost to history.

On the other side of the Atlantic, an old, almost forgotten magic tradition began to reappear in Ireland where Conell and Miranda's honeymoon turned into an extended visit…

THE END


© 2007 McCamy Taylor

Bio: McCamy Taylor was Assistant Short Story Editor for Aphelion and a frequent contributor of short stories until health problems sidelined her. But she's ba-a-ack, as the new Serials/Novellas Editor and author of (among many other things) Magic and the Heart, a four-part serial that appeared in the August through November 2007 Aphelion.

E-mail: McCamy Taylor

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