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A Shiver of Light (Merry Gentry #9)

By:Laurell K. Hamilton
I WOKE IN the desert, far from home, and knew it was a dream, and that it was also real. I was dreaming, but where I stood was real and whatever happened here tonight, that would be real, too. Stars covered the sky as if electricity had never been invented, so that starlight was enough for me to see my way down the dirt road, with its bomb craters making it almost impossible for anything to drive down it. IEDs had blown the road to hell, partly to kill the soldiers in the armored vehicles that had triggered the bombs, but also to make the road impassable by anyone who came after them. I stood shivering in the cold desert wind, wishing I were wearing something besides the thin silk nightgown that strained over my very pregnant belly. I was only days away from giving birth to twins, and my body was mostly baby now. I moved slowly down the road and found the dirt cool underneath my bare feet. There was a small hut close to the road, and whatever had called me from my bed in Los Angeles was there. How did I know that? Goddess told me, not in words, but in that quiet voice that’s almost always in our heads. Goddess and God talk to us all the time, but we are usually being too loud to hear them; in these dreams that “quiet voice” was easier to hear. 
I knew my body was still asleep thousands of miles from here, and I’d never been hurt in any of the dream journeys, but I felt the rocks slide under my feet, and as pregnant as I was, my balance wasn’t good. I had a moment to wonder what would happen if I fell, but I kept walking toward the hut, because I’d learned that until I’d helped the person calling me, the dream would remain, and I would remain in it.
It was my dream, but it would be someone else’s nightmare reality. I was never called unless it was a matter of life and death. Someone who had saved my life, risking their own, and been healed by my hands was nearby and in need; that was always the way it was, who it was. They prayed and I appeared, but only if I was asleep, only in my dreams, so far. I had no idea if some night I would vanish in my real life to be called to someone’s side while I was still awake. I hoped not. The dreams were disturbing enough; if it spread to my waking life, I wasn’t sure what I’d do.
Soldiers prayed, and collected nails that had been used as shrapnel against me, and rubbed them with blood, and fit them onto leather thongs that they had made, and wore them as others wore a cross. The nails had come from my body, as had the blood, but magic had healed me. The Goddess had given me the ability to heal that night, and the soldiers who had taken the nails and worn them had started healing by touch, as well, in the far-off war. Sometimes their need was great enough to bring me to help them find a way out of an ambush, or shelter from a mountain blizzard.
I am Princess Meredith NicEssus, Princess of Flesh and Blood; I am faerie and only part human, but I am not a goddess, and I didn’t like these midnight rambles. I liked helping people, but as I’d gotten more and more pregnant I had worried about the babies, and the men I loved had worried about it, but all they could do was watch over my body until I woke.
Still, the Goddess had work for me, and that was that, so I walked carefully over the smooth dirt and the rough stones, and felt the call, my call, as if I were truly some kind of deity able to answer prayers. Really I thought I might be more like a human saint; there were tales of saints being able to translocate through time and space. I’d done some reading on them, especially the Celtic ones, and there were some really odd stories. Quite a few saints had been Celtic deities that the human Church had adopted. The early Church had preferred to make friends of the local deities, rather than make war; it was so much easier to convert people when they could keep their local saint’s day celebrations.
Some saints had appeared in people’s dreams, or to lead people to safety, or even to fight in battles, when other witnesses knew they were asleep or wounded. None of the old stories talked about a pregnant faerie princess, but then the Church usually sanitized all the old tales.
The wind spilled my hair around my face in a mass of blinding red curls, though the color must have been more brown than scarlet in the starlit night. I could see nothing but the spill of my own hair for a moment, but when the wind cleared there was a figure in the doorway of the hut.
I didn’t recognize her at first, and then the very darkness of her skin let me know that underneath the desert camouflage it was Hayes. She was the only female African American among my soldiers.
I went to her smiling, and she smiled back, as she began to slide down the edge of the doorsill. I wanted to be next to her, and I just was, without having to walk the distance. Dream rules worked sometimes in these journeys; sometimes they didn’t.
I knelt beside her, having to grip the doorway to get to my knees. I was heavy enough with child that it was debatable whether I could stand again, but I had to touch Hayes, see what was wrong.Her hand fell away from her neck and I caught the dull glint of the nail she’d been holding on to with its leather thong necklace. It was my symbol. I took her hand in mine and it was slick with blood. They had to touch the nail with blood to call me; that had been true every time.
“Hayes,” I said.
“Meredith, I prayed and here you are. Wow, you’re huge. Must really be twins like the news said?”
“It is. Where are you hurt?” I asked.
She patted her side with her other hand. Her armored vest was there, but it was wet, and even as I searched for the wound fresh blood welled out. I knew it was fresh because it was warmer than the stuff that had cooled in the night air.
“It’s deep,” she said, voice pained, as I tried to find the wound through her clothes and gear.
“What happened?” I asked. I wasn’t sure that talking was good for her, but having something to think about while I found the wound and figured out what to do about it was better than just thinking about the fact that she seemed to be bleeding to death. Wasn’t it? I’d been answering prayers for only a few months and I still felt out of my depth. I trusted Goddess to know what She was doing, but me, I wasn’t so sure about me.
I prayed as I found the wound. It was almost as wide as my palm, and blood was welling out of it. Something that held a lot of blood had been punctured. I’d had human anatomy in college, but for the life of me, or for the life of Hayes, I couldn’t seem to think what organ was on this side of the body. I didn’t know what had been damaged, but I knew she was going to die if I couldn’t help her.
“We were just supposed to take some supplies up to a school, but they ambushed us. The cutest little boy stabbed me, because I hesitated. I couldn’t kill a child, or thought I couldn’t, but they killed Dickerson, and Breck, and Sunshine, and then he tried to kill me, and suddenly he wasn’t a child anymore, he was just another murdering bastard.” She started to cry, and that made her groan with pain.
I prayed for guidance. I was trying to hold pressure on the wound, but without a medical kit, or the Goddess granting me the ability to heal with my hands, I couldn’t save her. And then I realized that she, Hayes, had healed other wounded with her hands, because she’d told me so when she was on leave last time; had that only been two months ago?
“Heal yourself, Hayes,” I said.
She shook her head. “I killed that little boy, Meredith. I killed him. I killed him, and I can’t forgive myself. We killed the men before everyone but me died, but the boy … he couldn’t have been more than ten. My little brother’s age. Jesus, Meredith, how could I kill a kid?” 
“He tried to kill you, Hayes, and if you don’t heal yourself, he will have killed you.”
“Maybe I deserve to die.”
“No, Hayes, no you don’t.” I kept pressure on the wound to try to slow the blood loss while I helped her forgive herself, because I knew now that was why I was there.
She cried harder, and that made the wound hurt more and gush hot around my hands. She slipped lower in the doorway. She was going to bleed to death in front of me.
“Goddess, please, help me to help her.”
I smelled roses and I knew the Goddess was with me, and then I felt/saw/knew that she would be standing over us. To me she was a cloaked figure, because Goddess comes to us all in different ways, or all ways.
Hayes looked up and said, “Grandma, what you doing here?”
“You let this woman heal you, Angela May Hayes. Don’t you fight her.”
“You don’t know what I did, Grandma.”
“I heard, but Angela, if a boy is old enough to pick up a weapon and kill you, then he’s not a child anymore, he’s a soldier just like you are, and you did what you had to do.”
“He was Jeffrey’s age.”
“Your brother would never hurt anyone.”
“Jeffrey was a baby when you died, how do you know?”
I felt the smile like the sun coming through clouds after a storm. You couldn’t help but smile when the Goddess smiled. “I keep watch over my babies. I saw you graduate from college. I’m so proud of my angel, and I need you to live, Angela. I need you to go back home and help your mama and Jeffrey and all the rest, do you hear me, Angela?”
“I hear you, Grandma.”
“You have to get better; you’ll be my angel for real one of these days, but not tonight. You heal and go home to our family.”