The blackthorn bloomed bright, tempting the flowers to follow.
She saw the hope in her child’s eyes, as she’d seen it at the bonfire in other eyes, heard it in the voices. And Sorcha searched inside herself for that spark of hope.
But found only dread.
He would come again tonight—she could already sense him. Lurking, waiting, plotting. Inside, she thought, inside the cabin behind the bolted door, with her charms laid out to protect her babies. To protect herself.
She clucked to the pony to quicken his pace, whistled for the dog. “Come along now, Brannaugh, your sister’s all but asleep already.”
“Da comes home in the spring.”
Though her heart stayed heavy, Sorcha smiled and took Brannaugh’s hand. “He does that, home by Bealtaine, and we’ll have a great feast.”
“Can I see him tonight, with you? In the fire?”
“There’s much to do. The animals need tending before bed.”
“For a moment?” Brannaugh tipped her face back, her eyes, gray as smoke, pleading. “Just to see him for a moment, then I can dream he’s home again.”
As she would herself, Sorcha thought, and now her smile came from her heart. “For a moment, m’inion, when the work’s done.”
“And you take your medicine.”
Sorcha lifted her brows. “Will I then? Do I look to you as if I’m in need of it?”
“You’re still pale, Ma.” Brannaugh kept her voice beneath the wind.
“Just a wee bit tired, and you’re not to worry. Here now, hold on to your sister, Eamon! Alastar smells home, and she’s likely to fall off.”
“She rides better than Eamon, and me as well.”
“Aye, well, the horse is her talisman, but she’s near sleeping on his back.”
The path turned; the pony’s hooves rang on the frozen ground as he trotted toward the shed beside the cabin.
“Eamon, see to Alastar, an extra scoop of grain tonight. You had your fill, didn’t you?” she said as her boy began to mutter.
He grinned at her, handsome as a summer morning, and though he could hop down as quick as a rabbit, he held out his arms.
He’d always been one for a cuddle, Sorcha thought, hugging him as she lifted him down.
She didn’t have to tell Brannaugh to start her chores. The girl ran the house nearly as well as her mother. Sorcha took Teagan in her arms, murmuring, soothing, as she carried her into the cabin.
“It’s dreaming time, my darling.”
“I’m a pony, and I gallop all day.”
“Oh aye, the prettiest of ponies, and the fastest of all.”
The fire, down to embers after the hours away, barely held back the cold. As she carried the baby to bed, Sorcha held out a hand to the hearth. The flames leapt up, simmered over the ashes.
She tucked Teagan into the bunk, smoothed her hair—bright as sunlight like her father’s—and waited until her eyes—deep and dark like her mother’s—closed.
“Sweet dreams only,” she murmured, touching the charm she’d hung over the beds of her babies. “Safe and sound through all the night. All you are and all you see hold you through dark into light.”
She kissed the soft cheek, and as she straightened, winced at the pull in her belly. The ache came and went, but came more strongly as the winter held. So she would take her daughter’s advice and make a potion.
“Brighid, on this your day, help me heal. I have three children who need me. I cannot leave them alone.”