Damhnait MacSimidh, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1987

Since her twenty-first birthday, the city limits of St. John’s had defined her world. But Damhnait had never minded, for within the borders laid down by Warder magic, she still had the sky and sea. She still had her family close at hand, ready to help her walk the Wards on the nights when it was needed, or fill a kitchen party with food and song on the nights when it was not. Most importantly, she had her workshop. It wasn’t much of a building–just a shed out in the backyard behind the house. But it gave her a haven where she could lay magic aside and pick up tools instead: angle jigs and rosette cutters, lathes and string winders, finger planes to carve the finishing touches that would mark an instrument as the product of her hands.

It gave her a place to make the bouzouki for her son.

She saw him outside in the yard as she worked. Christopher had shot up in height over the summer, and his voice had changed too; it’d be a fine, full baritone once he was a man full grown, she was sure. Damhnait heard him laughing in counterpoint to the wails of his little cousin Caitlin, who was demanding he give the ball back right now! He went scampering past the shed window, holding the rugby ball high out of Caitlin’s reach, with the child in hot pursuit.

Grinning, Damhnait watched them go past, and then turned her attention back to the instrument. It was almost finished. The Gaelic words shone where she’d filled them with silver inlay, bright against the ebony head; the mahogany of the neck and the rosewood of the body gleamed without finish or varnish. She wasn’t one for a hard finish, not when she wanted the wood to live and breathe. In her son’s hands, the bouzouki would sing. In time, perhaps, it would even augment his magic.

But I won’t live to see the day.

The thought was an unwelcome burst of conscience, and although she didn’t pause as she strung steel and bronze along the bouzouki’s frame, she frowned now as she worked. And she was still frowning as the shed door opened and her brother Robert filled the doorway, anxiety in his eyes.

He took one look at her and said, “I was after askin’ how it’s comin’ along, but you don’t look like your mind’s on the makin’.”

Damhnait almost smiled. Robert shared her Warder blood and Warder power, though he hadn’t pledged to St. John’s, not yet. “You need no power to know your sister’s heart,” she murmured.

“Not hardly, when it’s written right on your face.” Robert closed the door behind him and stepped close enough to look the instrument over; his own face was solemn, particularly when Christopher and Caitlin ran by again, Christopher flinging himself to the grass as he let the child tackle him. “You haven’t told ’em yet. Malcolm or the boy.”

“Don’t be foolish,” Damhnait said with an asperity belied by the wetness misting her vision. “Of course I’ve told Malcolm. It’s already damn near broken his heart to know there’ll not be a thing he can do when the Unseelie comes for me.” She looked up then, miserably. “Would you have me break my son’s heart along with my husband’s?”

“I’d have you let me help you Ward this city–”

She snorted. “C’mon now man, if St. John’s would take another Warder, don’t you think I’d let her?”

“–And I’d have you tell Christopher if he’s about to lose his mother,” her brother finished, adamant, as if she’d never interrupted him.

Tears beginning in earnest now, Damhnait glanced out the shed window and watched her son playing with his cousin. They’d abandoned the ball, and Christopher now seized Caitlin up by the waist, spinning her around in vigorous circles and making her shriek with delight. “He’s not ready, Rob,” she whispered. Her hands were still now, a length of steel string looped forgotten between them. “Sweet Jesus, he’s only a lad.”

“He’s a son o’ the line,” Robert said. “If he calls–if he calls with you–St. John’s will answer him.”

“No.” The word fell heavily from Damhnait’s lips, dull and resigned, out of place in a workshop that gave life to music. “He’s not meant to Ward here.” She looked back at Robert as he started, and then went on, “I’ve seen that, too, along with the fey one comin’. Christopher’s not meant to Ward here. If he tries, the Unseelie will kill him. The bastard may take what shots he likes at me, but he’ll not be takin’ my son.”

She hated saying as much to Robert; each syllable seemed to etch a new line in his face as she said it. But he nodded, her stalwart rock of a brother, and clasped her shoulders in a loving grip. “What will you tell him then?”

“I’ll tell him happy birthday,” she answered. She hugged him, and then turned back to the bouzouki to put on the final string. With all the courses in place it took Damhnait no time at all to tune the instrument, G, D, A, E, perfect fifths that rung out with only a few twists of the pegs. She didn’t even need to reach for the electronic tuner nearby on the bench. All she needed to finish her work were the wire cutters, to snip off the excess string. It was, she thought with a plaintive pride, as if it already knew its purpose and was ready to break into song. “He’s turnin’ sixteen, and he doesn’t need to hear anythin’ else. Not today.”

Damhnait paused then to dry her eyes and face, and then took up the instrument. Robert stood aside to let her pass; she smiled at him, and then made herself smile more as she stepped out into the yard and called her son’s name.