Chapter 1


It was still summer, when everything inside Selena said it should still be winter. There should be a cold wind coming down from the hills, a crust of snow underfoot, and if she lifted her head, she should hear the distant crash and roar of the sea churned to cold fury.

She lifted her head. The air was warm, soft and fragrant against her cheeks, as though she’d stepped into some exotic eastern market, all spices and silk.

A bird called out from the tree above her, a series of clucking and throat clearing before it sang three clear notes then fell silent, apparently satisfied. Selena took a breath, straightened her shoulders and walked, following the path through the Botanic Garden as it wended its way downhill, then back up. She passed a sloping lawn, blinked at the groups of young people lying supine in the sunlight, their laughter floating lazily on the air above them. Selena dived back into the shade again, turned right onto a narrower path, then turned right again onto a path that was barely more than a deer track.

Except of course, this was a garden, and there were no deer.

Still, this track wove its way through forest, full mostly of beech trees, their leaves small and precious, little green coins. Selena breathed deeply, tasting the thick mulch of the forest floor and ducked her head under a low branch, smiling as the twiggy finger lifted a strand of her hair. She tugged it gently away and continued, letting herself relax.

It was February, not much past Lughnasagh and Rue was back at school. Teresa had gone home in the new year, leaving behind plans for their garden and strict instructions for the planting. Selena smiled slightly. Teresa had been a whirlwind, touring all the plant nurseries, spending hours talking to gardeners, learning all about the native flora and fauna.

She’d left behind – pointedly, Selena thought – a book on the native trees.

Selena broke out of the small patch of forest and crossed the path to walk along a grassy bank towards the stand of oaks. The garden was divided into great sections, each with plants and trees from different areas of the world, and it was a marvellous place, Selena had decided. She was fortunate to live right on its doorstep, and she came walking in it whenever she could get away, learning her way around, seeing where she was drawn.

Reaching out, she touched her fingers to one of the oaks. The first acorns were dropping to cover the ground around the tree’s roots, and she stooped down to pick one up, holding it loosely in curled fingers, her other hand still pressed against the tree’s trunk. Selena closed her eyes.

Her spirit kin Hind flashed across her vision, tail flicking as she disappeared again. Selena opened her eyes.

How she missed her home.

There. She’d admitted it.

‘I miss my home,’ she murmured, unsure if she was talking to the tree or herself, and did it matter? The words had been on her tongue for the last week, now that the excitement of the move and entertaining two children over the summer had quietened, and she had time to herself again.

To be herself.

Except who, Selena wondered, was she, when she was here and not Lady of the Grove?

‘I miss the woods at Wellsford,’ she said, and now she was talking to the tree. Her fingers tightened around the acorn. ‘I miss the Fae Folk of those woods.’ She closed her eyes again and leaned against the sturdy trunk of the oak, sighing.

Something feather-light landed on her shoulder, and she stilled a moment, feeling the soft weight of it. A bird.

When Selena opened her eyes, there was no bird, and yet there was – she could still feel it there. Straightening slowly, Selena slowed her breath, not wanting to frighten the small spirit creature away.

‘Where did you come from?’ she asked.

The youngster – barely bigger than her hand – shifted its weight, then spread its spirit wings and took off.

Selena touched her shoulder where it had sat and couldn’t help the smile that bloomed on her face. She looked off into the air.

‘Thank you,’ she called. ‘I am blessed by your visit.’

She was. The bird had come to her, greeted her, acknowledging her presence in its land. Selena shook her head.

What an honour.

The oak rustled his leaves in a quick breeze, and she nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said, as though in answer. ‘Yes, you are right.’

She’d been loath to go bumbling across the spirit borders of this land that was so far from her home, so new to her. The Fae Folk of this land would have different customs to those she was used to.

One did not go barging into their world.

But now, she thought, now a bird had come and greeted her briefly, and she knew that her presence was being acknowledged.

Contact had been made.

The knowledge renewed her. Selena stood, touched the oak once more.

‘Thank you, my new friend,’ she said.

She slipped the acorn into her pocket and nodded. ‘It’s time, isn’t it?’

The tree agreed with her. It was time.

Selena patted his fine trunk, then stepped back onto the path, following it in the direction that would lead to the edge of the huge garden and out onto the road across from her new home.

Where her new friends would be waiting for her.

It was time to find the place and space to go travelling between the worlds again. She felt almost as though she would have to learn a new pathway through the worlds – a thought that might have been tiring, a weight upon her, but she touched her shoulder now, where the small bird had rested, and felt the warmth of its feathers, its large, slow-blinking eyes, its curved beak.

The task could also be a joy, if she chose it to be. 

She’d been given an invitation. Perhaps she could find a welcome in this new world after all.


Chapter 2


‘Goodness,’ Selena said. ‘That smells wonderful.’

Tara looked up from the book on the kitchen counter and smiled. There was a touch of flour on her cheek.

‘I never really did much baking,’ Tara said, glancing back down at her book. ‘But I’m trying out some biscuits for when the children get home.’

‘Well,’ Selena said, looking around the kitchen, where if there weren’t cooking utensils, Tara had stacked books, and brought in pots of flowers and plants and herbs. A smile touched Selena’s lips.

Tara was becoming quite the kitchen witch.

‘We’re all going to be very appreciative, I’d say,’ Selena continued. ‘What flavour are these?’

‘Honey and walnut.’ Tara grimaced then laughed. ‘I’m trying to make them as healthy as possible.’

‘And imbuing them with your love and caring. Which is as important as any other ingredient.’

Tara coloured slightly and glanced around at the books she’d bought over the last month. There were several of them, and she’d pored over each one, drawn to the idea of making and serving magic through something so humble as tending her house and family.

And she did, she knew, consider everyone in the household her new family. The children especially, but Selena and Dandy too. She looked down at the counter, ran a fingertip through a small spill of flour. Even Damien felt like he was family.

Sometimes, she thought, the family you found and chose along the way, could be more supportive than the one you were born into. She still had her parents, but they lived in the North Island, and she saw them too rarely now.

Selena watched the thoughts flicker across Tara’s face and smiled to herself. The young woman was finding her way, she thought. For a moment, she wanted to draw up a seat at the table and sit there with a piping hot cup of tea and just talk to Tara, ask her about how Clover was doing at the kindergarten. How Tara was finding all her books on witchcraft.

But she had to follow up the invitation of the small spirit owl who had landed on her shoulder.

There would be time for tea and chatting afterwards.


Selena had tried to find a spot in the Botanic Garden where she might sit undisturbed for an hour at a time to travel deeply into the Otherworld, but she had decided that there was really no such spot. It was a popular place, especially for the university students who were flooding back into the city in anticipation of the new semester. They ranged back and forth all around the large garden, and in flocks, like noisy geese.

There was the old cemetery, which spread along the flanks of an alarmingly steep hill, the nineteenth century graves facing feet first down the slope, as though placed that way to brace themselves, but although Selena liked the paths that wound around the quiet graves, she’d decided that using that place to do a spot of travelling might bring up more issues than she cared to deal with. The dead seemed quiet there, but she’d caught whispers, echoes. And although a cemetery really had no more cause to be haunted than any other place, still they often were.

The ghost tour operator, who trooped groups of wide-eyed people into the old cemetery at dusk, certainly spun a good story that it was so. Selena had stopped and listened to a snatch of his patter once, but it was the usual sort of thing – love stories gone wrong, early and tragic deaths. The human litany of sorrows.

And so, she climbed the stairs to the attic rooms. The larger of these she had taken for her own use, feeling like a pigeon nesting in the rafters.

But it was necessary, she knew, to make the best of what she had. And she had a room, and a spirit she’d taught to flex beyond the confines of body and room. That was plenty. She couldn’t touch her feet to the earth, and she missed the caves of Wilde Grove, but this room was becoming a sanctuary, nonetheless.

The air was still, hot, but the room was big enough that it wasn’t suffocating, and Selena switched on the fans she’d set up, the blades of which stirred the air to circulating. She went to her altar, already calming her breathing, doing it without thought, the result of fifty years of practice.

She touched the bowl of water, set carefully in the western position. Her fingertip wet, she marked her forehead with it.

‘Spirits of the west,’ she murmured. ‘Spirits of water. The great salmon who returns home against the current each year, bless me with your instinct.’

The fans turned the still air in the room to a warm breeze against her back. Selena reached for the rock, the size of her palm, that she’d picked up in the Garden on one of her walks and brought home weighing her pocket down. It was volcanic rock, emptied from a mountain in a blaze of fire and ash ten million years ago.

‘Spirits of the south,’ she whispered. ‘Spirits of earth, the rock under my feet, spirit of hare who burrows into the soil to birth her family, bless me with your earthy grounded-ness.’

Selena picked up a feather, also brought home from a recent walk and stirred it into the air, a slight smile touching her lips. ‘Spirits of the east,’ she said. ‘Spirits of air, of the wind that rises with the dawn to trace secrets across the land, I ask you to whisper now to me.’

She stood still for a moment, feeling the breeze from the fans against her and closing her eyes, letting herself fall open like a flower in bloom. The breeze whispered, and she felt, briefly, for a moment, something threading through it, a cry, a call, but it was there and gone before she could tug it into sight. Selena opened her eyes, put the feather down, made her way around to the next point on her altar.

She lit the candle with a match that sparked and fizzed. The flame took, leapt high, then sank down, fat and satisfied. Selena watched it, drew breath, spoke.

‘Spirits of fire,’ she said. ‘Spirits of the north, I conjure you and bid your blessing upon me. Great snake who basks in the heat of the sun, lend me your wisdom.’

Selena paused, wondering for a moment if she’d got the elements of the directions right. Since changing them around for the southern hemisphere, she’d had to keep checking herself, to see that she was doing it correctly. It annoyed her, that her tongue seemed to stutter over them, but it was what it was. She sighed. It wasn’t always easy to begin over.

Or begin at all, she thought.

But begin she must. Each day in this new land, this new house, with these new people. This was where she had been called to, and so the challenge would not be beyond her. One step at a time, she reminded herself, a smile on her lips again at the small, old piece of wisdom.

‘Here I am,’ she said into the warm air. ‘My Lady, here I am, letting my purpose flow.’ She took a long, slow breath, held it for a few beats of her heart, then let it softly out, following it with another, preparing herself. She picked up the string of seeds, conkers, and acorns she’d brought with her on the plane trip and slipped it over her head.

She picked up the two crystal balls, which had also come with her to this new land. They were heavy in her palms, one yellow citrine, one clear quartz. The sun and the moon.

Once, when she’d first begun her learning of the ways at Wilde Grove, she’d done her first travelling, and come to a maze, where a stone woman wept. There, in niches in the wall near her, had been a crystal sun and moon and she’d slipped them into her pocket, taking them on instinct.

Later, back in the waking world, she’d searched for their equivalent, and now they were part of her practice. She liked to hold one in each palm, the stones growing warm against her flesh. The sun in her right, the moon in her left.

Selena took the crystal balls and went to her chair. It was more comfortable than a cave floor, she thought wryly, settling herself in its padded depths and tipping it backwards so that she was almost lying down, her face towards the sunlight through the sky light, blinking in the brightness. She shook her head – that much light in her eyes would be distracting. She got up again and fetched a scarf, sat back down and adjusted it over her eyes so that the room was dim.

Here, there was no Morghan to drum or sing for her as she travelled. She let that thought waft about in her head for a moment then blew it away. She was where she was. Circumstances were what they were.

And there was the weight on her shoulder again. The small warm weight of a bird come to visit her in its spirit form. She could almost smell its feathers, see its wide round eyes.

She closed her own and the cloth over her face made the room dark. She listened to her breathing and slowed it down a fraction more. Her legs and arms became heavy, and she squeezed her muscles, then relaxed them.

With each breath, she let herself sink down further into the dimness, let herself relax so that her body became just something warm and heavy.

Then she wasn’t in the armchair at all.

She wasn’t anywhere she recognised at all, was she?

But she was, Selena realised a moment later.

She did recognise this place. It was one of the paths in the Botanic Garden.

This was not her usual way into the Otherworld.

She walked down it, her spirit body long and lean, stepping easily along the path, hands swinging.

Now, she could see the bird on her shoulder, its small claws digging into her flesh as it balanced itself there. She was an owl, Selena saw, a small, spotted owl, cream and brown, speckled, her eyes golden and warm.

‘Hello little one,’ Selena murmured. ‘I’m pleased to meet you.’

The path under Selena’s feet took her not into the Botanic Garden, but into the shadows and shades of the Wildwood, and Selena stopped walking, shaking her head in wonder. How things always surprised her, she thought. How things changed and adapted when circumstances did. Where before she’d followed the paths through Wilde Grove into the Wildwood, now she followed the path through the garden.

She hadn’t known to expect that.

The forest of the Wildwood hadn’t changed however, and a smile touched Selena’s lips at the thought of Grandfather Oak somewhere in the thick of things, his huge branches hanging wide, his slow-flowing sap that vibrated with an eons-old song.

But it wasn’t Grandfather Oak she’d come to see today. The small owl on her shoulder fluffed up her feathers and spread her wings in front of Selena’s face, so that for a moment, she was blinded.

And then she was flying, and she laughed with the delight of it, looking out over her speckled wings, feeling the hollow lightness of her bones, and looking down at the treetops with eyes that saw the tiny movements of a mouse on the forest floor between the branches.

The forest was behind her then, and she looked down the flanks of great hills, where water pooled deep and green at the bottom. It was the harbour, she realised. The harbour in her new city, her new home.

But it was not the harbour she was getting used to, standing on the edge of the sports ground at the top of the hill up which the cemetery and Botanic Garden climbed, and where there was a great view of the harbour basin and the large ships that came slowly up the length of the harbour carrying their cargo.

This harbour was placid in the breeze and there were no ships slicing the surface. There were no buildings either, crowding towards the water.

There were only trees. A great carpeting of green and brown, bustling down to the water and back again up the hill.

Trees and a golden scimitar of beach, towards which Selena and the owl flew, feet outstretching to land.