Excerpt: Hag in Exile
“—some sort of casserole,” Luke was saying, “with… mushrooms? Maybe? And there’s string beans, and a couple biscuits.”
Beira reminded herself to be grateful. Humble. She wasn’t a ruler, not here; her keep with its enormous kitchen and bustling staff were all back in Scotland, perhaps never to be seen again. Here in this tiny town, she was just a shut-in Hag. Her cobalt skin, copper teeth, and single, ice-blue eye had proved impervious to glamour, trapping her in the house and leaving her dependent on others’ goodwill to keep her alive. And she was grateful. She was. The mythic community of Loving had treated her well these past two months.
It was just… mushroom casserole. Again. Most likely tater tots and cream-of-something soup would be involved. And the string beans had come from a can and the biscuits from a tube, because Luke’s mother-in-law had many talents, but cooking wasn’t one of them.
“There’s no dessert,” Luke said, not that he needed to bother. Beira was aware of Ginger’s stance on processed sugar, which seemed rich given how much sodium was in the casserole. He shrugged, the motion barely visible inside his giant coat. Weakling. The house wasn’t that cold. “But Plum said she was thinking of stopping by later with ice cream.”
Beira absolutely could not stop the way her body perked up at that news. She was glad that the midnight blue of her skin hid any blushing she might be doing, but Luke would surely notice the way her spine straightened and her shoulders lifted as though Plum were here and ready to be greeted.
Luke laughed delightedly. “I was right! You do have a crush!”
Beira looked at him as sternly as she could. “I am the Cailleach Bheur, the Winter Hag. I am over a thousand years old. I do not get ‘crushes.'”
“Sure, no,” Luke said easily, nodding. He was an affable young man, which Beira hated. “Except that you totally have a crush on my best friend.”
In the face of such teasing, Beira could think of no reaction but retreat behind gruff formality. “My thanks to you, Coqueluche, for the repast.” Luke grimaced at her use of his full name, as she intended. “And convey my thanks to your mother-in-law for preparing it. Your generosity will be rewarded in time. Now get out of my house.”
Luke laughed, the jerk, but he inclined his head and murmured, “Cailleach” before flipping up the hood of his coat, pulling on thick gloves, and letting himself out the kitchen door. “Oh, hey, Plum!” he called. Beira jerked around, peering into the darkness for a glimpse. Luke laughed harder, heedless of her murderous scowl. “Good night, Cailleach,” he called from the open doorway. “Enjoy your dinner.” He waggled his eyebrows ridiculously. “And your dessert.”
Beira shut the door in his face.
Beira went into the living room and studied the bookcase. She chose a book of Celtic mythology from the mid-1980s and pulled a red pen from the cup on the shelf. Then she went back into the kitchen and dished up dinner for herself. It might be mediocre, but it was hot, it was here, and it was a gift from the heart—a gift she wasn’t sure she deserved.
The book was a mistake. Beira ate, and she slogged through the text, her red pen furiously scribbling at things the author had gotten wrong—and he’d gotten so many things wrong. At one point, she realized how quickly she was shoveling the food into her mouth in her irritation. At another she noticed that she’d left her plate untouched for nearly five minutes as she wrote an angry margin note on one of the entries.
Beira ate, and she scratched at her book until its pages bled, and she tried not to fret. She was bad at not fretting.