CHAPTER 3

The buzz of conversation coming from the grand hallway wasn’t usually heard in the library, but, thanks to his highly developed senses, Roone caught it. The man smiled, recognizing his brother Rory, who was talking with Flemming, the Starks’ loyal butler, who had been in the family’s service for almost five decades.

The tactful, thoughtful, reserved, extremely polite, and refined man was more of a father for little Roone than Regan Stark had been. Always away on business trips, he was always cold and distant, directing all his affection to the child’s mother. If not for Flemming, who’d taught him so many valuable lessons, he couldn’t have taken care of Rory after their mother died in childbirth, and Regan denied him his paternal affection.

Thinking about the discussion he and his brother were going to have, Roone let out a heavy sigh. Although he was an independent man, with a solid reputation in the business world, Rory never left Torridon Hall for more than a week at a time. The centuries-old chalet, with elegant, richly and tastefully decorated rooms, and reliable, fortress-like walls was the only home he knew.

The man loved that place almost as desperately as he loved his children, and Roone was going to ask him to leave it, despite knowing that. He felt like a traitor, but doing it any other way would have meant disobeying the deities, and, after doing it once, the man knew better than to repeat the mistake.

”Hello, big brother, did you want to see me?” Rory’s warm, respectful voice brought the druid back from his not-so-happy thoughts. “Flemming sent me here, and he said you instructed him to do so. Is something wrong?”

”Sit down, please,” Roone gently spoke, hoping his brother wouldn’t sense his distress hidden behind a tender smile. “Sorry, I’ve been so caught up in my studies and rituals lately that I haven’t had time to talk to you like we used to. How’s your life lately?”

”Don’t worry. I totally understand it’s that time of the year again, and you are busy making sure everything is ready for the spirits to be content. If it weren’t for you, our family wouldn’t have gotten the deities’ favors and blessings. And besides, I’m also partially responsible for you doing everything by yourself. If only Angus…”

”You and your son are not to blame for anything,” Roone cut his brother short, in a soft, but firm voice. ”I’m the one who brought this upon myself, so I have to deal with the consequences now. Speaking of my nephew, I haven’t seen a lot of him lately, but it seemed to me he was not quite well,” he continued, concern dripping from his voice.

”Since you brought it up, Angus worries me more than usual,” Rory’s eyes clouded with sadness. “Indeed, he’s pale, doesn’t eat almost at all, has dark bags under his eyes and, sometimes, his hands become shaky. However, whenever I ask him, the answer is the same, he claims that nothing’s wrong.”

”We need Morgana’s help with this. Angus doesn’t keep anything hidden from her, and she’ll convince him to say what’s wrong,” Roone let out a heavy sigh. “Besides, she can help him heal, with that special gift of hers.”

The man fell silent because he just found the perfect way to convince his brother of the necessity of traveling to the United States. He would manipulate the other man into it, like the first time only that the deities would approve his plan. Unless, like back then, when they foolishly ignored the warnings.

Rory loved both his children profoundly and immensely, but the fragile, sensible, studious, and ethereal, beautiful Angus held a particular spot in his heart. There was nothing in the world Roone’s younger brother wouldn’t do. No sacrifice too great if that would improve his son’s health or make him happier.

”I think a change of scenery would do wonders for your son’s state of mind, especially if his illness is not physical,” he looked straight into Rory’s eyes, waiting for his reaction.

”What do you mean by change of scenery? Torridon Hall is Angus’s home, and I doubt it that he would feel better anywhere else. Here are his family and friends, the place where he grew up…You know how much I respect your opinion and wisdom, but this time I have to disagree with you,” Rory shook his head, pressing his lips tightly.

”And I respect your opinion, especially on matters concerning your children,” Roone sighed, defeated. ”Being a druid, I had to take a chastity vow, so I’ve never experienced fatherhood’s joy, but I recognize a good father when I see one, and you are the best I ever met. Would you listen to Angus’s opinion on this matter? If he wants to travel abroad, would you approve and accompany him?”

”From all my heart! I’ll make the arrangements for the trip the second after my son tells me he’s not feeling comfortable here anymore. And I would stay in the place he chooses for as long as it was necessary,” Rory answered, hope shining in his eyes.

”I didn’t expect anything less from you,” Roone brightly smiled, leaving his seat to give his brother a tight hug. “Let’s go to the boy and ask him.

In his room, Angus was lying on the bed, curled into a fetal position, and the stomach cramps torturing him for days were worse than ever. His sister Morgana prepared different potions using recipes from their uncle’s ancient medicine books, hoping they would alleviate the pain, but none of them were adequate.

Anyway, the cramps represented only the tip of the iceberg, as Angus’s soul was also troubled. Nightmares, he couldn’t interpret had plagued his sleep for the past six weeks. It all started when, after school, his best friend Flint MacNicol had offered him a soda, and he got dizzy minutes after. The other boy drove him to Torridon, or so he claimed because Rory’s son couldn’t remember anything.

Angus woke up late in the evening, scared, shivering, with bruises that he couldn’t explain littering his fragile body. Persistent, sharp pain in his lower back. Although the boy couldn’t remember anything from that moment, he started to feel dizzy; he suspected something very wrong had happened.

The next day at school, when Angus approached Flint, the teen gave elusive answers to his questions and systematically avoided him. That added to the pain the young Stark already felt, because the other boy was his only friend. He became even more reserved than usual until the unbearable cramps started to wreck his frail body.

It was only then when Angus turned to the only person he was sure wouldn’t betray him, no matter what: Morgana, his twin sister. The scared boy swore the girl into secrecy, steadfastly refusing to ask for qualified help, asking her to make use of the extensive traditional, ancient medical knowledge she possessed.

That had occurred about two weeks earlier, but the pain still hadn’t subsided, despite Morgana’s efforts. Angus recalled all those moments as he lay on the bed, curled into a ball, eyes tightly shut. He had a lot of homework to do, but couldn’t find the strength to get out of bed, and the thick fog surrounding his brain prevented him from focusing on tasks.

The sound of steps heading to his room made Angus raise his head and listen intently, recognizing with exceptional precision the persons who were going to step inside in a short while. They were his father and Uncle Roone, who were coming there to ask him a critical question. The boy knew what it was and why each of the men wanted to ask him and decided to give them an emphatic answer.

”Hello, son, do you have a few minutes for us,” Rory asked in a soft voice, that threatened to break every second. “I promise we won’t take long.”

”Come on in, it’s open,” Angus made great efforts to sound natural, “and don’t worry, you are not interrupting anything.”

”Thank you, dear boy,” Roone also spoke in his low, affectionate voice he used with everyone in the family. “We came to check on you, and also to talk a little. Your father told me you hadn’t been well for quite some time, so tomorrow we’ll take you to Edinburgh to Doctor Ferguson’s clinic.”

”Don’t bother, please, it’s only a minor indisposition, it’ll pass,” Angus said, hoping he was convincing enough. “Most likely, something I ate doesn’t agree with me.”

”Even so, you have to undergo a complete clinical evaluation, I don’t want to take any risks,” Rory sat on the edge of the bed, caressing his son’s soft, long, rusty-red curls and pale cheeks.

”Please, dad, I’m tired of doctors shaking their heads and telling me how sick I am as if I didn’t know it already.” The boy’s voice was broken and shaky, and his eyes were brimming with tears. “Uncle Roone is a druid; he could tell if something was wrong with me, right, uncle?”

”Right,” the man answered, casting a significant look in his brother’s direction. “I have something to ask you, dear boy, and I want an honest answer. Do you think staying away from Scotland and Torridon Hall would help you feel better, both physically and mentally? Or would you prefer to stay here?”

”Traveling sounds cool, but what about school? I don’t want to fall behind and make Morgana fail classes, too. Because I’m not going anywhere without her,” Angus looked straight into his uncle’s eyes.

”That can be managed,” Rory answered, taking his son’s hand between his own. “We can either talk to the principal of your school, allowing you to take long-distance classes or enroll you in a high school in the city where we’ll settle for a while. By the way, do you have any preference?”

”Yes,” Angus weakly smiled, looking between his father and uncle, ”I would like very much to live in New York. For some time now, I’ve always wanted to go there.”

”New York it is, then,” Rory hugged the kid to his chest, kissing the top of his head. “I’ll leave you, for now, I’m going to start making the arrangements. Meanwhile, you should rest and eat properly,” the man smiled.

Angus nodded, closing his eyes, relieved that he’d hung on to the very end, not giving his father and uncle real reasons to worry. On the other side of the door, Roone was shaken to the core by the things he saw while being in his nephew’s presence, especially by the sight of his aura. It was dark red, almost purple, indicating that the boy was in great pain, both physical and spiritual.

Roone hadn’t seen anything similar during the almost forty years he’d served as a druid. That kid, so fragile, was dealing with a pain so great, that it would have killed men tenfold stronger, but he didn’t let it show. Most surprisingly, his nephew knew about New York, Roone shook his head, wondering what else he was missing.