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WolfSinger Publications

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The Hounds of Ardagh
- Laura J Underwood

Ginny Ni Cooley never desired more than the simple life she had, living in Tamhasg Wood and using her magic to occasionally assist the folk of Conorscroft while putting up with the machinations of the ghost of her former mentor Manus MacGreeley. But her peace is shattered one night with the arrival of a lad who is fleeing a pack of red-gold hounds led by a hound-shaped demon known as Nidubh.

So much for peace and solitude. By rescuing Fafne MacArdagh, Ginny becomes wrapped in the fabric of an intrigue involving a family feud, a traitorous son, and a blood mage named Edain who is determined to keep her soul. It is she who cast a spell on Fafne's family and household and transformed the MacArdaghs into hounds.

Ginny gives Fafne her word to take him to Caer Keltora so they can report the matter to the Council of Mageborn. But Edain is determined to keep her secret and her soul intact and moves to thwart Ginny at every turn.

For Ginny Ni Cooley who has faced many bogies, dealing with a demon, a bloodmage and the Dark Lord of Annwn will be no easy task. But she will do what she must to undo Edain's spells. If not, Manus' soul will become part of Arawn's Cauldron of Doom. Ginny will become a demon's feast, and poor Fafne will join the Hounds of Ardagh.


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Chapter One

The throaty growls of the moor terrier alerted Ginny Ni Cooley to the mischief on the moors that night. Admittedly, mageborn hear­ing was much sharper than that of normal folk, but Ginny had come to accept little Thistle still had a greater advantage.

“Wheesht,” she said, and she set aside her mending to cross the room and stand by the door of the small cottage she called home. With her eyes closed, she stretched her mage senses to test the magi­cal currents that ebbed and flowed through Tamhasg Wood. Here and there, she touched the vague essence of some little bogie or another. The frid that hid under the lea stone, hoping for a passing morsel spared by superstitious travelers. The shy wood wight who dwelled within the bottom oak near the stream. The mischievous hob that had made off with a half-dozen of Ginny’s eggs just last week. Minor creatures, in her opinion, and all needing little more than iron nails and warding spells—and the occasional tongue-lashing—to keep them civil and in the woods where they belonged.

Tonight, however, things felt different. Though the frid and the wood wight rarely traveled about, the hob wandered quite a lot. Only now the little thief had gone to ground in an old badger’s den, and Ginny sensed he trembled in fear. What could be wrong? Did it have anything to do with the faint cry of power wavering just out of the reach of her mage senses?

“Manus?” she said. Surely not, for it wasn’t like the spirit of her old mentor to stay so far off, even in mischief. Granted, he was probably out on the moonlit moors looking for his murderers, for it was there he had lost his life to a bandit’s blade. Mageborn flesh was as mortal as any, and Manus was no more able to cast spells than a tree when he had drowned his sorrow in heather ale, a habit that had cost him his life. That did not stop him from being a bane to her existence.

Ginny pushed aside the thoughts with a shake of her head. Whatever was out there this night was on the move and coming her way.

She sighed and drew back her senses. Thinking about Manus sometimes threw her concentration out of sort. Granted, she owed him much, for he’d given her home and hearth when she fled her own as a lass, and had taught her about the burgeoning power she carried, never so much as asking for anything in return. Yet there were times he would vex her sore to the point she wanted to scream. More so these days, for Manus’ spirit came and went as he pleased, and he had little else to occupy his time other than haunt his old cottage and the vast moor around Tamhasg Wood.

Thistle growled again, and this time he approached the door as though the threat were right outside. Ginny shook her head and threw the bolt. She felt nothing immediate enough to warrant staying inside for the moment. Quietly, she opened the door and stepped out into the yard. She heard the faint chuckle of stoats on the hunt and the lone whimper of an owl somewhere out in Tamhasg Wood. The Blood Moon was three nights past full, lighting the path and giving her an ample view of bony branches of trees and the moors beyond. A faint mist rose from the warm ground, sending tendrils dancing about the cool night air. A bogie night to be certain, though she could not sense any about, and that aroused her curiosity all the more.

“Manus?” she called again, and wondered if he could hear such a quiet call.

“Oh, I could hear it if you whispered, lass,” his voice boomed around her.

“Horns!” she hissed, nearly jumping out of her skin as she whipped about in search of his presence. “Why must you always do that?”

Mist rose into the shape of a man who wore his plaid kilted in the old style, bereft of trews. Tumbles of auburn hair and merry blue eyes became visible as the spirit of Manus MacGreeley mani­fested before her.

“Because you always squeak in such a feisty fashion, lass,” he replied, wagging his eyebrows in the comical manner that always irri­tated her. “What’s got you outside so late?”

Thistle darted about them, marking his territory in true moor terrier fashion. Normally, he was gleeful to see his old master, but the small terrier seemed more attracted to something off in the wood. The hackles of his shaggy brindle coat were spiked high as he continued his throaty growl.

“Wheesht, Thistle,” Manus said sharply. “What’s got him so…”

Ginny waved her hand to silence him. A new sound joined the normal chorus of the night. Hounds. A whole pack of them, from the noise, and they were on the trail of something.

“Odd time to be hunting,” Manus said curtly as he frowned. “I’ll go see what the curs are about.”

“Please do,” she said and watched him become part of the mist once more, whisking away towards the source of the commotion. The ruckus grew louder, and by instinct, she decided it might be time to put Thistle inside and herself for good measure, when she heard the cry of a human voice raised in terror.

“Horns!” she said. “Manus, what’s happening?”

His spirit surged into view. “There’s a lad heading this way with an unseelie pack of hounds on his heels. I don’t like the look of it, Ginny.”


“You’ll see.”

Within moments, a boy of no more than eleven came charging into the clearing. His clothes and cloak were tattered and torn, and streaks of tears tracked through the mud, dirt and scratches that covered his face. He came straight at her, crying for help, when she saw the reason for his distress. A black beast in the shape of a Keltoran staghound thundered out of Tamhasg Wood on the lad’s heels. Its eyes blazed like fire as it led a pack of red-gold hounds in its wake. And Ginny needed no more than a glance to know the staghound was not what it seemed. She raised her hand as the lad stumbled and fell onto the path that led to her cottage. The black beast leapt for the lad when Ginny called, “Gath siaghead buail!” and sent a mage bolt flying across the short distance.

The black hound yelped when the bolt struck its chest, and Ginny smelled the acrid scent of singed hair and sulfur. That moment was all the lad needed to gain his footing once more and charge towards Ginny.

“Inside!” she shouted as he passed, and he apparently needed little encouragement to obey. Ginny cast him a furtive glance before concentrating on the task at hand. She reached out with mage senses and jerked elemental essence from the fire in the cottage hearth to feed her spell, then stretched her hands towards the oncoming black monster.

At that moment little Thistle chose to assert his territorial rights and charged the staghound with a savage snarl. Ginny had no choice but to hold back her spell.

“Thistle! Wheesht!” Manus cried, for all the good it served. The moor terrier was not about to let any canine, mortal or otherworldly, enter his realm uninvited, and typical of his tenacious breed, it did not matter that his opponent was nearly twenty times his size. Ginny had seen him go after large stray dogs who wandered into the Tamhasg Wood from neighboring holdings, and was always amazed to watch them flee when Thistle expressed his displeasure for their company.

The staghound roared and snapped huge jaws at the moor ter­rier, and only by the grace of speed and agility did Thistle avoid a bite that would have taken off his head. He charged on under the beast and latched onto a hind leg. The black beast howled and turned in a circle, trying to rid itself of the small creature firmly attached to its hamstring. Thistle clung to his quarry, no longer able to touch the ground. The rest of the pack closed in, eager to tear the flying terrier from the staghound’s leg. Clearly, courageous or not, Thistle would have no chance against such odds.

“Ginny, do something!” Manus called.

“I am!” she retorted, and concentrated on gathering the essence to feed her spell again. No white fire could be cast now without doing Thistle harm as well, but there was something else she knew this dark creature with its coal bright eyes would find just as unsa­vory. “Solus geal!” she cried.

A huge ball of white light exploded in the midst of the pack. Not knowing what they faced, the red-gold hounds scattered with frightened yelps and fled for the moors beyond the forest. The black beast gave a howl that was not canine in any form. It whipped about fiercely enough to dislodge Thistle and sent the moor terrier flying across the path towards Ginny. He landed at her feet with a yelp. She wasted no time seizing Thistle up, and though he struggled and raged at his unseelie adversary, she popped him into the cottage, closed the door in his wake, then turned once more to face the black staghound.

The creature had lost some of its hound-like shape, reverting to a more demonic form as it was burned by the white mage light. Unearthly howls filled the air as it fought to escape the light’s power.

“Curse you, mageborn!” the black demon snarled in a voice that sounded like many and sent shivers down her spine. “I will return, woman! You will not keep me from him!”

Throwing Ginny one last hard glower, the creature fled into the shadows of Tamhasg Wood. She sent the light rolling after it for a distance until her control waned. The darkness fell, and quiet filled the night, save the astonished whistle of the spirit mage at her side and the faint whimpers and growls escalating within her own cottage. Apparently, Thistle had found something else to disturb him.

“What now?” Ginny snarled, displeased with the whole matter of having her night disrupted in this manner. She should have known better. Any time Manus was about, trouble was likely to invade her peaceful life and make her privately curse the day she had found his holding. She pushed open the cottage door and stormed inside, only to pause.

Thistle stood over at the hearth, crouched low and snarling in a territorial manner. The lad sat in Ginny’s chair, hunkered sideways as he stared wide-eyed at the ferocious little dog.

“Horns,” Manus murmured from the doorway as Ginny stop­ped and stared. “Will ye look at that!”

For what had their attention was the thick pelt of red-gold fur that ran down the lad’s bare back, and the long whip of a hound’s tail tucked fearfully between his legs.

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