Druids Sword
everyone staring at Jack, save for Grace, who had her eyes downcast.
    Jack had her wrists enclosed within each of his hands, and now he ran his thumbs very slowly along the raised scars that twisted about her wrists, and then ran up her arms, curling over and about, almost to her elbows.
    What he sensed there stunned him, and his eyes flew to Grace’s face.
    She was staring directly at him now, but he could not work out if she was frightened or just…simply didn’t realise.
    Jack opened his mouth, intending to say something, but Grace’s face closed over, shutting him out completely, and she averted her face.
    “Jack?” Noah said.
    “Nothing,” he muttered, sliding his fingers back down Grace’s arms to her forearms and wrists, trying to drag his disordered thoughts back to Catling’s hex around Grace’s wrists.
    He had to have a quiet word with Noah, and soon.
    Jack took a deep breath, and finally managed to concentrate on the hex. He ran his thumbs over the scars around her wrists and forearms, feeling them,discovering their nature. He understood that every time Catling struck, then these wounds opened anew.
    Finally Jack raised his eyes to her. “Grace?”
    She still had her face averted from his, and made no sound or movement.
    “Grace, look at me.”
    Reluctantly, she turned her face to his.
    “I am going to do something now that will cause you some discomfort. Not real pain, but it will be uncomfortable. I’m sorry.”
    She gave a jerk of her head.
    I’m sorry, Grace. Jack moved his thumbs again, this time shifting them so that they both lay beside the largest line of scarring on each wrist. His hands tightened very slightly, then he slid his thumbs under the lines of red scarring, and lifted the scars away from Grace’s flesh as if they were silken ribbons.
    Grace gasped, and tried to jerk herself back, but Jack had a firm grasp of her wrists, and she could not move.
    Behind her, Weyland put his hands on her shoulders, either to keep her in place or to comfort her.
    “Take your hands away, Weyland,” Jack said quietly, not looking up, and, very reluctantly, Weyland lifted his hands away from his daughter.
    Hello, Jack. Welcome home!
    Jack froze, and he jerked his eyes upward.
    Grace had heard that as well, but no one else had reacted.
    Isn’t she lovely, Jack? Don’t you want to save her?
    Grace started to tremble under his fingers, and he used his fingertips under her wrists and lower arm to stroke once or twice; gently, reassuringly.
    Don’t think you can work out the knots binding these sweet little ribbons, Jack. It’ll kill her, and you, if you try.
    “It’s all right, Grace,” he whispered. His thumbs had moved further up under the scarring onto her lower arms, and Grace moaned very softly.
    No. It is not “all right”, Jack. Poor Grace suffers. You haven’t seen how badly she can suffer, yet. Would you like to now?
    Abruptly Jack pulled his hands away from Grace.
    “I’m sorry, Grace,” he said. “I can’t help you.”
    Her blue eyes went almost black with emotion, and to Jack’s horror he realised it was despair. He reached forward again, and took one of her hands. “It is not because of what was just said—” not because of Catling’s threats “—but because this hex is so intricate, so powerful, it has literally bound your life to the twists of the labyrinth. I can’t help you. And I am sorry about that.”
    “Grace,” said Noah, who had risen and now leaned over her daughter, “perhaps you need to rest.”
    “I don’t need to rest,” Grace said.
    “She doesn’t need rest,” Jack said at precisely the same moment. Then, as an awkward silence descended, he said, “I wish I could help you, but I don’t know how.”
    Grace turned her head away, and Jack had the feeling that it wasn’t in dismissal, but once again, as he’d felt in the car, that she was withdrawing because she didn’t want to be a nuisance.
    Somehow they got through dinner. It was a generally

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