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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

She Is Like A Cat In The Dark And Then

"You need kneel before me no longer, little flame." The look on Rhiannon's face was simultaneously amused and imperious. "You are on the verge of joining our ranks... if you are willing to do what must be done."

Aithne couldn't say as she liked the sound of that. "What--must be done?" she repeated uneasily, looking up at the shade of the eldest Weird Sister.

"To the point. A good quality in a queen." Rhiannon smiled an uninterpretable smile. "I have been many years waiting for one such as you to arrive here, Aithne ing Ciaran... one who will free me to pursue my destiny."

Aithne licked her lips. "Forgive my impertinance, lady, but... I was given to understand that you and your sisters have been purged from our world. That it is so written in the Book of Destiny."

"Sadly, it is so," spoke the shade. "Trillarillia is destroyed, Diaidh sleeps for ever. I, too, will never set foot on Ataniel again. But my return is prophesied upon Brytannwch, and for this I need your help. You may have Ataniel, or as much of it as you care to conquer. Bear children; found an empire; do as you will. But on your fifty-second birthday, you must journey to Ansalia and return to the land of your birth. Find my tomb, and there sacrifice yourself to free me. This is the bargain. Will you take it?"

Aithne was stunned. Fifty-two! Of course being only twenty-three years old herself she could barely imagine herself nearly thirty years in the future, but still she knew it was young to die. And even if she returned home and conceived a child immediately, it would still be only twenty-eight when Aithne died, any siblings younger still--hardly old enough to hold together an empire. And what kind of empire could Aithne even build, if she had to be raising children at the same time? For that matter, could she produce children quickly enough in the first place? Aithne wasn't at all sure Jack could father them, and she wasn't high-ranking enough for a second consort yet. No child younger than eighteen could be expected to survive Aithne's death. There simply wasn't time to do all the things Aithne had wanted to do with her life in the span of less than thirty years. The young witch felt her chest constrict painfully with the pressure of it all.

And yet... how could she refuse? If she lived twice as long, she still might never attain half the power Rhiannon was offering. And there was nothing to say she wouldn't die young anyway, leaving even less of a legacy. Aithne had learned through hard lessons not to take such things for granted. Chase your dreams, her mother had always told her. Certainly this was the dream of all dreams. And she didn't have to do it alone, after all; she had allies, and her house could be merged with theirs. If she bore a son next year, perhaps she could betroth him to Khyrisse's daughter--the older sorceress would surely support his position then. And if Jack could not procreate himself, perhaps he would secure Paris lads as husbands for her daughters, propagating his adoptive family line in this way. Where there's a will, there's a way; another favorite saying of her mother's. And Aithne had nothing if not a will.

"I so pledge on my honor and the honor of my house," she said, her voice steady.

"Then arise, Aithne the Ratpack... Fourth Witch Queen of Ataniel."

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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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