Black Pool Magic
Rune Witch, book 3
Note: This first chapter preview contains spoilers for previous books in the series. Read at your own risk!
Sally followed her flatmate, Clare, up the stone steps of the Henry Doyle Hotel and past the double glass doors into the lobby.
Clare was in a hurry to get to Dublin’s weekly Magickal Marketplace.
“. . . So then really it’s just a matter of holding that intention in your mind while you touch the flame to the candle wick and to the stick of incense, all in the same breath.”
Sally had always thought of Southerners as speaking slowly, drawing out each syllable in a languid drawl, but Clare’s Texas twang came in a rapid-fire stream.
“I just feel so stupid that I didn’t think of that on my own,” Clare sighed. “You know?”
“Mmm,” Sally replied without conviction. She glanced around the entryway of the Henry Doyle.
The building had seen better days but was still functional. Stained marble floors had been covered with thin Oriental carpets, and a brightly lit crystal chandelier tinkled overhead as pedestrian traffic flowed through the lobby.
“It’s this way.” Clare grabbed Sally by the elbow and pulled her deeper into the hotel. They dodged rolling suitcases and the wandering toddlers of international tourists and weekend travelers who were just arriving and waiting to check in.
They descended a half-flight of stairs at the back of the long lobby and then crossed the worn carpet of a narrow hallway into a low-ceilinged ballroom thronging with buyers and vendors. Brightly colored booths festooned with banners and broomsticks were organized into long rows along the walls and down the center of the room. Sally wrinkled her nose at the mind-numbing mingling of different incenses and essential oils by the dozens, and she grimaced at the discordant sound of so many New Age musical tracks playing at once. Stepping down into the close space, she looked around for vents and wondered if the air circulation had shut down.
Clare pushed past several booths offering jewel-toned silks decorated with gold and silver stars, ankhs, and cats, and a table where a vendor displayed soapstone incense burners carved to resemble various Greek, Egyptian, and Hindu deities.
Sally had no interest in rubbing elbows with more of Dublin’s Pagan population, many of whom—like Clare—seemed more interested in the outward appearance of witchy-wittedness than actual practice, but Freya had been on Sally’s case about picking up a piece of Connemara marble to appease the local Tuatha de Danann.
“It will help ingratiate you to the Gentle Folk,” Freya had written in her last email. Before Sally left Portland, Freya whispered to her in hushed tones a blurry history of the Tuatha de Danann—the Irish faeries, pixies, and other classes of supernaturals driven underground long ago by invaders and their gods.
Sally meant to ask Freya for more information, but she kept putting it off. She wondered if the bit about the marble was just an ancient superstition; after all she’d been in the country six weeks already, and nothing truly terrible had happened.
“What exactly are you looking for?” Sally asked as Clare stopped to examine a ceramic burning bowl with a deep red glaze and then moved on to peruse boxes of scented tea lights.
“You’ll see,” Clare replied with a mischievous smile.
Sally was unimpressed. She fervently hoped Clare wasn’t planning to bring any more fragrances, magickal or otherwise, into their shared apartment. Sally had already spent enough time in the library to escape the heady combinations of Clare’s herbal and incense experiments, though there hadn’t been a single complaint from the neighbors.
Probably because they’ll all getting high off the stuff, Sally thought as she watched Clare sniff at a box of Nag Champa.
“Do you have anything more authentic?” Clare asked the woman in the overdone gypsy costume behind the table. The vendor adjusted her beaded headscarf and frowned in response.
“You know. Something more Celtic? More Irish?” Clare added.
“Would you be after something that smells like Guinness, perhaps?” The woman flashed a gold-toothed smile.
Clare shook her head. “No, not really that so much. I want something that smells more like, well, more like it comes from the land, you know?”
The woman thought for a moment, then nodded. “Ah, you’d be wanting a bit of turf, then.” The ersatz gypsy bent down behind her table of candles and incense sticks and rummaged through several plastic bins.
Clare frowned at Sally. “Turf?”
Sally shrugged. “I’m just along for the ride, remember?”
The woman stood up and handed Clare a cardboard box shaped like an old Irish cottage. “Peat turf incense,” she said. “For a more, how did you put it, authentic aromatic experience?” The woman’s face broke into a blinding smile as she laughed.
Sally squinted at the light glinting off the woman’s teeth. She couldn’t tell if the costumed vendor was sharing a joke with Clare or mocking her.
Clare turned the box over in her hands and read the text on the back. Finally, she nodded and reached into her purse. “Yeah, I think this should work. How much is it?”
Sally put a hand on Clare’s wrist. “Are you sure you want to burn peat in the apartment?” Sally glanced at the vendor. The woman winked at her.
“I told you, Sally, I need to really connect with Ireland’s roots,” Clare replied. “This will help.”
While Clare made her purchase, Sally wandered down the lane of sales tables, gazing with passing interest at the displays of crystal skulls, ravens, and bears, framed sketches of wispy faeries in gauzy pastel pinafores, shamrock-studded charm bracelets, and Guinness-scented or Guinness-flavored everything.
She rounded a corner bounded by vendors selling quartz wands, hand-knitted witch hats, and statuary from every pantheon Sally could imagine. She thought about approaching the used book vendor to see what older volumes of Irish lore and legend he might have available. The older man behind the table started shuffling through his collection when he caught Sally’s eye, as if to suggest he might have just the book she was looking for. But then she remembered the fiasco of the missing pages in her rare, special-order rune book two years earlier, and she moved on.
In the far corner of the ballroom, Sally found a display that looked more promising. A petite, older woman sat quietly behind a small table draped in a handmade bedspread and covered with bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and figurines all made of Connemara marble in varying shades of green, brown, gray, and white. The woman didn’t look up from her knitting as Sally approached.
“Everything is authentic.” The woman concentrated on the yellow Aran sweater taking shape on her needles. “None of that imitation garbage you’ll find in the tourist shops.”
Sally clasped her hands behind her back and peered down at the jewelry. “A friend said I should carry a piece of marble while I’m in Ireland.”
The woman looked up sharply. “For protection?”
Sally was startled by the intensity of the woman’s gray eyes. She looked back down at the wares on display. “Not exactly. But to, well, I guess to ensure no one messes with me while I’m here.”
“Ah,” the woman replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “To curry favor with the faeries.”
Sally’s laugh escaped her throat before she could stop it. “I’m sorry.” Sally offered an embarrassed smile. “It’s just that I, I mean I’m not really—“
“You’re not sure if you believe in the Gentle Folk,” the woman completed Sally’s thought. “Don’t worry, miss. It’s common enough.” She rested her knitting in her lap and leaned toward Sally with a conspiratorial glint in her eye. “You know what they say around here? I don’t believe in the faeries, not at all. Aye, but they’re there anyway.”
She lifted her thin, white eyebrows in a mirthful grin, then rested back in her chair and giggled. “Any of these should aid you, miss.” She waved a hand toward her collection of marble jewelry. “I’d recommend something you can wear. Indulge in a bit of decoration, rather than just a rounded stone in your pocket or a carved dolphin on your bookshelf. A nice souvenir to take home to America with you.”
Sally spotted a fist-sized, carved skull at the back of the table. Made of the same moss-green marble, it faced away at an angle. “What’s this?” Sally reached for it.
Her knitting slipped to the floor as the old woman snatched up the skull before Sally could touch it. “No, you don’t want that one, miss.” Her hand brushed Sally’s in passing, and Sally felt a ripple of static across her skin. The woman’s pale eyes widened.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, then reached down to stash her yarn and needles beneath the table. “I only have that piece out in deference to . . . Well, it’s not for sale, and it’s certainly not something a lovely young lady would want to concern herself with.”
You might be surprised, Sally thought before concluding that the woman was probably right. There was so much she didn’t know about the magick of this place, and she intended to keep it that way. She needed to keep a closer watch on her own compulsions and curiosity or she’d get herself into trouble again.
“You have some power in you, yes.” The woman eyed Sally. It wasn’t a question.
Sally met her gaze. “Something like that.”
“Not from any tradition I recognize.” The woman studied her for a long moment. Instead of fidgeting under her hard gaze, Sally looked away and started perusing the jewelry again.
“I think I’ll take your advice. If I can find something pretty to wear, then maybe I can satisfy my friend while treating myself to something nice, too,” Sally said, more to fill the silence than to make actual conversation.
She picked up a silver and marble ring for closer inspection. The imperfect circle of tawny green marble was as big as her knuckle, and it reflected green and black light back to her as she rotated the silver band of woven Celtic knots.
“Ah, now that’s a particularly special ring, that one is.” The woman rose from her chair. “That stone has been cut to represent the sacred pool, the holy cauldron to which all souls return when they die, and from which they are then reborn anew.”
Sally studied the ring. “I don’t see how this particular piece of marble is any different from the rest.”
“The Black Pool is no myth, dearie. It’s said that the witch who wears such a ring will soon find herself in the good graces of Ireland’s indigenous spirits.”
Sally moved to put the ring back on the table.
“Or, maybe I’m just telling faerie stories to sell you that ring!” The woman chuckled as she settled down into her chair.
The exchange was beginning to crawl beneath Sally’s skin, and it made her itch. She wasn’t sure she wanted to reward the woman’s strange behavior by making a purchase, but she was more interested in putting her Connemara marble errand to rest.
The vendor wanted thirty Euros. Sally thought this pricey for something she imagined she might find in nearly any tourist shop on Fleet Street, but she handed over the cash without attempting to haggle. Careful not to reveal the brand of the rune Uruz on her right thumb—because she didn’t want her conversation with this old woman to get any stranger—she slipped the ring onto her left index finger.
Sally took another look at the carved skull sitting at the back corner.
“You just forget that now, dear,” the woman said. “You don’t want to be messing with that.”
Sally couldn’t help from pressing. “You said you had that out in deference to someone?” She watched the woman’s eyes. Though the vendor was silent, Sally caught the woman’s quick glance to a table on the next row over. Sally turned and saw Clare engaged in animated conversation with a short, dark-haired young man dressed all in black save for a red scarf draped around his neck.
Sally turned back to the woman. “Him? You’re worried about that guy?”
The woman closed her eyes and crossed herself quickly, then took a deep breath. “If you know that young lady, you’d best go and fetch her now. Don’t let her linger or make any transaction with that one.”
Sally didn’t need any further excuse to walk away from the old woman and her wares. She turned the heavy ring on her finger, trying to get used to the feel of it against her skin. She reached the next row of tables just as Clare stepped away from the young man in black.
“You ready to go?” Clare slipped a small, colorfully-wrapped package into her purse. She looked at Sally’s hand. “I see you found something for yourself, too. I told you you’d like it here.”
“Yeah,” Sally replied curtly. “What about you?”
Clare gave her an impish smile—at least, Sally guessed that was the effect Clare was going for. “It’s a secret. It’s for my special project.”
“Listen, Clare, about all these spells and things you’ve been trying to do—”
“I told you I’d be happy to show you how, just not right now, okay? Maybe after Halloween.”
“That’s not really what I meant.” Sally looked over her shoulder at the table in the back corner. The old woman was back at her knitting behind her display of green marble.
Sally then glanced at the young man in black, who flashed her a strangely excited grin before he began talking to a trio of students dressed in matching plaid trousers.
She turned back to Clare. “Have you thought about what you might be getting yourself into?”
Clare patted Sally on the arm in such a condescending manner that it was all Sally could do not to stomp on her roommate’s brown-booted foot.
“You don’t have to be scared of magick, Sally,” Clare said. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
Sally bit her tongue. She’d heard that before. She’d said that before.
“Come on.” Clare hooked her arm through Sally’s and guided her out of the ballroom and back up the stairs into the hotel lobby.
“Fisherman’s chowder is on me tonight. Or at least a plate of scones.”
Clare launched into a one-sided conversation about candle colors and their significance to the upcoming Halloween holiday. Sally was about to open her mouth to change the topic to more mundane matters—namely, whose turn it was to do the vacuuming in the apartment—when she noticed her friend Niall from her Global Currents class hanging about in the lobby. Her stomach sank like a stone. Niall was friendly enough, but seeing him reminded Sally about the paper she was supposed to be researching and outlining for their class, and she was still looking for a reasonable approach to the topic of “personal ethics and individual responsibility as it relates to membership in the larger community” that Professor Ball had assigned.
Niall seemed to be loitering without purpose, pacing slowly back and forth across the lobby’s marble tile floor and occasionally glancing toward the staircase leading down to the ballroom where the marketplace was bustling.
Sally tuned out Clare’s prattling about her plans for Halloween, and she disengaged herself from her roommate’s grasp to approach her friend.
“Niall? What are you doing here?” Sally glanced around at the wide, ornate foyer and the grand sitting parlors on either side. “This can’t be for research for your paper?”
Niall chuckled. “No, I’m a far cry from being ready to set pen to paper on that one. I’m here to look after my gran. She’s down at the marketplace.”
“Shopping?” Sally glanced back at the ballroom.
“Selling,” he answered in a low voice.
Beaming an excited smile, Clare stepped up beside Sally and extended her hand to Niall. “I’m Clare! I’m Sally’s roommate. So your family’s in the Craft, then? Real Irish magick?”
Sally sighed heavily. “Clare . . .”
Niall accepted Clare’s outstretched hand. “Not at all. I’m not really caught up in all of that myself, but I suppose you could say it’s kind of the family business. I’m Niall.”
“Ooh!” Clare cooed in her Texan drawl as she tried to hang onto his hand. “I love your accent! Your lilt is simply to die for.”
“Well, we are in Dublin. The city’s lousy with Irish, you know.” Sally pulled Clare’s arm back, forcing her to break off from Niall.
Clare’s dark, shoulder-length hair bobbed in her excitement as she turned to Sally. “It must be fate! Here I am, having come all this way to learn Irish magick, and just like that! I cross paths with the heir to an honest-to-goddess bloodline of Celtic witches.”
Sally gritted her teeth. There was so much about what Clare had said that was wrong and uncalled for.
“I’m afraid I’m not heir to so much as a potato patch, miss,” Niall offered in a deadpan tone.
Sally placed her hands on Clare’s shoulders and turned her toward the door. “Well, we really should be going.”
Clare reached back toward Niall but didn’t quite make contact. “You should stop by our flat! We’re on the third floor of House XXV in Rubrics. Room number five. We can put on some tea and talk about witchy things!” Clare called out as Sally pushed her toward the exit. “You know I’m part Irish myself, and a real practitioner, too! We’ll break out the biscuits and the Tarot cards!”
“Sorry,” Sally offered over her shoulder to Niall. “She’s kind of enthusiastic.”
“That I can see,” Niall nodded. “But I just might take you up on that offer,” he added with a wink.
“Ooh!” Clare’s eyes sparkled as she clapped her hands together. “Real Irish magick, in our apartment!” Clare glanced sideways at Sally as they exited the hotel. “I mean, more real magick, of course.”
Sally didn’t comment. She felt the weight of the marble ring on her finger and walked down the damp steps to the street.