Home > Year One (Chronicles of The One #1)(2)

Year One (Chronicles of The One #1)(2)
Author: Nora Roberts

A light, thin snow blew outside the windows as they cleared and washed up, all still basking in the glow, and in anticipation of the party to come.

Candles lit, fires snapping, more food—two days in the making—set out on tables. Wine and whiskey and champagne. Traditional cordials along with scones and haggis and cheeses for the Hogmanay celebration.

Some neighbors and friends came early, before midnight struck, to eat and drink and gossip, to tap toes to the music of pipes and fiddles. So the house filled with sound and song and fellowship as the old clock on the wall struck its midnight notes.

The old year died on the last chime, and the New Year was greeted with cheers, kisses, and voices raised in “Auld Lang Syne.” All this Ross hugged sentimentally to his heart with Angie tucked against his side, and his brother’s arm linked with his.

As the song ended, as glasses were raised, the front door swung open wide.

“The first-footer!” someone exclaimed.

Ross watched the door, expecting one of the Frazier boys or maybe Delroy MacGruder to step in. All dark-haired youths of good nature, as tradition required. The first to enter the house in the New Year must be so to ensure good luck.

But all that swept in was wind and the thin snow and the deep country dark.

As he stood closest, Ross walked to the door himself, looked out, stepped out. The chill running through him he attributed to the bluster of wind, and the odd, holding silence under the wind.

Air holding its breath.

Was that a rustle of wings, a long shadow—dark over dark?

With a quick shudder, Ross MacLeod stepped back in, a man who would never enjoy another feast or welcome another New Year, and so became the first-footer.

“Must not have latched it,” he said, closing the door.

Chilled still, Ross stepped over to the fire, held his hands to the flame. An old woman sat beside the fire, her shawl wrapped tight, her cane leaning against the chair. He knew her as the young Frazier boys’ great-granny.

“Can I get you a whiskey, Mrs. Frazier?”

She reached out with a thin, age-spotted hand, gripping his hand with surprising strength when he offered it. Her dark eyes bored into his.

“’Twas written so long ago most have forgot.”

“What was?”

“The shield would be broken, the fabric torn, by the blood of the Tuatha de Danann. So now the end and the grief, the strife and the fear—the beginning and the light. I ne’er thought to live for it.”

He laid a hand over hers, gentle, indulgent. Some, he knew, said she was one of the fey. Others said she was a bit doddering in the mind. But the chill stabbed again, an ice pick in the base of his spine.

“It starts with you, child of the ancients.”

Her eyes darkened, her voice deepened, sending a fresh frisson of dread down his spine.

“So now between the birth and the death of time, power rises—both the dark and the light—from the long slumber. Now begins the blood-soaked battle between them. And with the lightning and a mother’s birth pangs comes The One who wields the sword. The graves are many, with yours the first. The war is long, with no ending writ.”

Pity moved over her face as her voice thinned again, as her eyes cleared. “But there’s no blame in it, and blessings will come as magicks long shadowed breathe again. There can be joy after the tears.”

With a sigh she gave his hand a small squeeze. “I’d have a whiskey, and thanks for it.”

“Of course.”

Ross told himself it was foolish to be shaken by her nonsensical words, by those probing eyes. But he had to settle himself before he poured the whiskey for her—and another for himself.

The room hushed with anticipation at the booming knock on the door. Hugh opened it to one of the Frazier boys—Ross couldn’t say which—who was greeted with applause and pleasure as he stepped in with a grin and a loaf of bread.

Though the time to bring luck had come and gone.

Still, by the time the last guests left at near to four a.m., Ross had forgotten his unease. Maybe he drank a little too much, but the night was for celebration, and he only had to stagger up to bed.

Angie slipped in beside him—nothing stopped her from cleansing off her makeup and slathering on her night cream—and sighed.

“Happy New Year, baby,” she murmured.

He wrapped an arm around her in the dark. “Happy New Year, baby.”

And Ross fell into sleep, into dreams about a bloody pheasant dropping to the ground inside the little stone circle, of crows with black eyes circling thick enough to block out the sun. A wolf howl of wind, of bitter cold and fierce heat. Of weeping and wailing, the bong and chime marking time rushing by.

And a sudden, terrible silence.

He woke well past midday with a banging head and queasy stomach. As he’d earned the hangover, he forced himself to get up, fumble his way into the bathroom, hunt up some aspirin in his wife’s little medicine bag.

He downed four, drank two glasses of water to try to ease his scratchy throat. He tried a hot shower and, feeling a little better, dressed and went downstairs.

He went into the kitchen where the others gathered around the table for a brunch of eggs and scones and bacon and cheese. And where the smell, much less the sight, of food had his stomach doing an ungainly pitch.

“He rises,” Angie said with a smile, then tipped her head, studying his face as she brushed back her chin-swing of blond hair. “You look rough, honey.”

“You do look a bit hingy,” Millie agreed, and pushed back from the table. “Sit yourself, and I’ll get you a nice cup.”

“Glass of ginger for what ails him,” Hugh prescribed. “It’s the thing for the morning after.”

“We all knocked back more than a few.” Rob gulped his tea. “I’m feeling a little hollow myself. The food helped.”

“I’ll pass on that for now.” He took the glass of ginger ale from Millie, murmured his thanks, and sipped it carefully. “I think I’ll get some air, clear my head. And remind myself why I’m too old to drink until damn near dawn.”

“Speak for yourself.” And though he looked a little pale himself, Rob bit into a scone.

“I’m always going to be four minutes ahead of you.”

“Three minutes and forty-three seconds.”

Ross shoved his feet into wellies, pulled on a thick jacket. Thinking of his sore throat, he wrapped a scarf around his neck, put on a cap. And taking the tea Millie offered him in a thick mug, he walked out into the cold, crisp air.

He sipped the strong, scalding tea and began to walk as Bilbo, the black Lab, fell into companionable pace with him. He walked a long way, decided he felt steadier. Hangovers might be a bitch, he thought, but they didn’t last. And he wouldn’t spend his last hours in Scotland brooding about drinking too much whiskey and wine.

A hangover couldn’t spoil a bracing walk in the country with a good dog.

He found himself crossing the same field where he’d downed the last pheasant of the hunt. And approaching the small stone circle where it had fallen.

Was that its blood on the winter-pale grass under the skin of snow? Was it black?

He didn’t want to go closer, didn’t want to see. As he turned away, he heard a rustling.

The dog growled low in his throat as Ross turned to stare into the copse of old, gnarled trees edging the field. Something there, he thought with a fresh chill. He could hear it moving. Could hear a rustling.

Just a deer, he told himself. A deer or a fox. Maybe a hiker.

But the dog bared his teeth, and the hair on Bilbo’s back stood up.

“Hello?” Ross called out, but heard only the sly rustle of movement.

“The wind,” he said firmly. “Just the wind.”

But knew, as the boy he’d been had known, it wasn’t.

He walked back several paces, his eyes scanning the trees. “Come on, Bilbo. Come on, let’s go home.”

Turning, he began to stride quickly away, feeling his chest go tight. Glancing back, he saw the dog still stood stiff-legged, his fur ruffled.

“Bilbo! Come!” Ross clapped his hands together. “Now!”

The dog turned his head, and for a moment his eyes were almost feral, wild and fierce. Then he broke into a trot toward Ross, tongue happily lolling.

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