Last Wish (Highland Magic #4)

Last Wish (Highland Magic #4)

Helen Harper

Chapter One

‘What do you get when you cross a goose with a mouse?’

I frowned. As much fun as cheesy jokes were, I was trying to concentrate. ‘This isn’t really the time, Bob.’

‘Ohhhh,’ he flounced. ‘So it’s alright for you to force your poor excuse for humour in our faces but when one of us tries to do it…’

A passing troll halted and glared at him. ‘Chieftain. If you wish the imp to be disposed of, then I would be more than happy to oblige.’

Bob gasped in outrage. ‘How dare you! You great lump! I’m a genie, not an imp.’

The troll’s gaze grew even more disparaging. ‘You all look the same to me.’

Flitting up to the troll’s face, Bob reached inside his tiny jacket pocket and drew out an even tinier glove. He reached out and slapped the troll across the nose with it. ‘I challenge you to a duel, sirrah.’

The troll swung his heavy head towards me. ‘Chieftain, shall I…?’

I rubbed my forehead. ‘No.’

He nodded once. ‘Very well.’

Bob and I watched him amble off, shuffling with a heavy gait towards the mansion. ‘Yeah! Run away like the coward you are!’ the little genie shouted.

‘Bob,’ I said tiredly, ‘give it a rest.’

‘S’not my fault,’ he mumbled.

I shook out my hair. Effectively trapped here within the Adair lands, we were all going stir crazy but it didn’t change the fact that there was still work to be done. I had to gain control over my magic; the fate of thousands of people across the Veil might depend upon it, not to mention everyone here behind the Adair borders.

I refocused on the patch of ground. I was getting there. Faint threads of power snaked through my veins and I felt rather light-headed. There was a hiss and the hard ground began to crack. Green shoots pushed their way upwards all along the largest fissure. Yahtzee.

‘You’ve still not answered me, you know,’ Bob said. ‘What do you get when you cross a goose with a mouse?’

I bit the inside of my cheek. Just a little bit more … beside my toe, a bud was already beginning to emerge.

‘A moose!’ Bob started to cackle, the sound penetrating my skull to the exclusion of anything else.

I exhaled loudly and straightened up. ‘I don’t get it.’

‘Duh!’ He spun up and twanged me between my eyebrows with his fingers. ‘Goose combined with mouse makes moose. It’s all about blending the letters.’

‘I understand that part,’ I said through gritted teeth. ‘But where’s the funny?’

His brow furrowed. ‘What do you mean?’

‘It’s not funny, Bob. Jokes have to make people laugh.’

He stared at me, still not understanding. ‘Nobody laughs at your jokes.’

‘Sorley does.’

Bob snorted. ‘Sorley is an idiot.’

I opened my mouth to reply but I was interrupted by Morna stamping over. She gazed at my growth efforts with what could only be described as disgust. ‘Integrity Adair!’ she scolded. ‘I did not permit you to take more of my Gift so you could fritter away your time. Is that all you’ve managed to accomplish?’

Suddenly I felt like a small child caught with her hand in the cookie jar instead of Chieftain of my very own Clan. Albeit a remarkably odd Clan. ‘I’ve been distracted,’ I protested. ‘It’s Bob’s fault.’

‘A good Chieftain takes responsibility for herself and for her Clan. You’re the one in charge.’

‘Ha ha!’ Bob jabbed his finger at me. ‘Stop blaming me! A bad workman always blames his tools.’

I raised my eyebrows. ‘And we all know that you’re a tool.’ Bob’s mouth dropped open in mock outrage.

‘Robert,’ Morna said, fixing her steely gaze on him, ‘aren’t you supposed to helping inside?’

‘I’m on a break.’ Morna simply looked at him. His head dropped. ‘Going back to work now,’ he muttered. He floated off. One day I’d like to exercise that kind of control but it didn’t matter what I did; I’d never achieve Morna Carnegie’s iron power.

‘Felled by a mere glance,’ I said to myself. I looked at Morna. ‘When will you let me take that Gift?’

‘Being Chieftain is more than the title, Integrity. It’s a state of mind.’

‘The job’s yours if you want it. The pay is shite and there aren’t any holidays. But you get to pretend to be dead and that really cuts down on your junk mail. Plus, I’ve not had a bill to pay for months.’

Her expression didn’t change. ‘You can’t play dead forever.’

My attempt at humour faded away. ‘I know.’

‘I have to get back to my own Clan soon. My Chieftain is starting to think I’ve been abducted. I’m running out of excuses to explain my absence.’

I swallowed. ‘I do appreciate what you’ve done for us.’

‘It’s not for you. The prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.’

‘It has been fulfilled. I saved the Foinse. In return, I saved the country.’

Morna raised her hand dismissively. ‘You and several others. Besides, that wasn’t the prophecy.’

‘You don’t know that.’

She smiled serenely. ‘Yes, I do. It’s all in the wording.’

‘One Adair will save Alba. Yeah, yeah. That’s what I was told. I saved the Foinse, therefore I saved Alba.’

Morna patted my shoulder. ‘Alba doesn’t just mean the Highlands. It means all of Scotland.’

I wrinkled my nose, my scepticism palpable. Scotland hadn’t been a whole country since the Fissure – and that was almost three centuries ago. Scotland, in the sense that Morna meant, no longer existed. ‘There are a hundred thousand Fomori demons in the Lowlands. At least. Even if I weren’t a pacifist, there’s not a single thing I could do that would change that.’

Despite my dismissive reply, the thought of all those demons and the people they’d effectively enslaved – and conditioned not to question their enslavement – continued to gnaw at me. I wasn’t about to abandon them to their fate but, even with an army of trolls at my back, I couldn’t see a way to help them. Yet. I clung onto that word every night when my churning thoughts refused to let me sleep: yet.

Morna shrugged. ‘I didn’t say I had all the answers. But with the Foinse here, I’m now more inclined to believe in the prophecy than to discard it out of hand.’ She pointed at the patch of green by our feet. ‘Now come on. Before you save anyone, I’d like to see you rescue yourself. Bring this land back to life.’

‘You’re a real pain in the arse, Morna.’

Her smile spread. ‘I know, dear.’

I returned my gaze to the signs of growth. It was slow going but, thus far, I was rather impressed with my efforts. Aifric Moncrieffe had ordered this ground salted after the massacre which took place on the day of my birth. Normally that would mean many generations’ worth of unusable land. With the help of Morna’s Gift, however, I was reversing the effects. From what had once been the sacred Adair grove to down here by the old mansion, there was now a swathe of green. Morna was a hard taskmaster though; she expected more.

I reached down inside myself and concentrated. Her Gift buzzed through my blood, my veins and my very soul. I had to admit that it was getting easier, although I could still feel the queasy light-headedness. I had little choice but to embrace it.

‘Good,’ the older woman said. ‘Search for the power in the earth and draw it out.’

I swayed. When you knew what you were looking for, it was quite remarkable. I could feel the throb of life from Mother Nature calling out to me, asking to be restored in much the same way that a desert flower will stay dormant for months and even years, waiting for the rain that finally brings it to blossom. I was the rain. Here, at least, I was life.

Lights exploded behind my eyes and I gasped. My body fizzed with the sudden surge of magic. Goosebumps rose across my skin, pricking me with their intensity.

‘Not too much,’ Morna warned.

As more blades of grass and green shoots sprang up, I yanked on the threads of power inside me before carefully dampening them down. I might have Morna’s Sidhe-given magic but, unless I ripped it all from her, it was a finite source. I had to use it sparingly. Breathing hard, I struggled for control while the ground continued to transform into a blanket of spring. I staggered.

‘You’re getting there,’ she said approvingly.

I clutched at my chest, my heart hammering against my ribcage. ‘I don’t suppose you’d like to take over,’ I enquired when I could finally speak again.

‘I could,’ she answered. ‘But then you’d never learn anything.’ She looked at me searchingly. ‘Your magic is running out. You need to take more.’

‘No, I have enough.’

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