Chapter 1

1867 – Fort Las Vegas Springs, Nevada, USA

Apart from the scar, the child was perfect. Topping his right cheek, the crescent moon shone slick and scarlet against his pale skin. At a quick glance, it could pass for the lipstick bow stain of a devoted mother. A kiss pressed to his cheek with tearful devotion. But the mark was not made by a loving parent. I’d sliced it into him with the sharp tip of my pocketknife. Carving into the creamy white skin had been so easy, like pushing a sharp needle through satin, despite the screaming squirming mass of pudgy flesh.

Now he’d settled again, the skin already knitting together, but a trickle of blood still ran a thin trail into his right ear and onto the covers. He lay in a wooden crib at the base of his parents’ bed, cushioned by a patchwork blanket, curled up once more in blissful sleep. With one chubby thumb rammed into his mouth, he gurgled, his long black lashes separating him from the drama playing out around him.

Besides my daughter, I don’t much care for children.

She was glorious at this age. A red-haired beauty of a baby, her locks reflecting the fire in her heart even as an infant. As she was ripped from my body, sucking in air for the first time, she screamed her anger at the rude awakening into the icy night, grasping life with a passion that had never left her. When she was torn from me a second time, separated by a veil of time and enchantment, I knew that passion would flame anew. I live forever in the hope that it is still alight.

This child did not yet know about the battles raging on his behalf, and the murder committed in his name. The fight for his soul. Every child should know such ignorance. All he knew was the warmth of his soft bed, and the comfort of a fat soggy thumb shoved into his mouth.

“Sowilo, is it done?”

I glanced toward the window, squinting into the acres of Nevada smallholding that held nothing but spindles of blackened wheat stalks and wizened grapes on drooping vines.

The speaker stood in the shade cast by a large yucca in the dusk. It grew beside the window stretching an accusatory spiky arm toward me.

“Yes. He is marked,” I said. “I’ll pass him to you.”

I wiped the knife against my skirt, folded and replaced it in my pocket, then gathered up the child who squawked and swatted feet and fists at me. I smiled. Yes, he had a desire to live all right. Just like my daughter.

The baby’s face turned beet red as his expression passed from discontent to anger. The thin new skin over the cut now shone a delicate silver in the light spilling from the oil lamp on the bedside table. For him, healing would be fast.

Naked but for the quilt, he wriggled and flexed in my arms, as though preparing himself for an explosion from at least one end of his body, whether a scream or excretion I couldn’t tell. I hoped for the latter: shit I could cope with, a scream comes from the heart. It would reverberate deep inside me, setting my senses alive, overtaking me if I let it.

At the moment, he still smelled fresh, like new grass from the old country layered with the sweet perfume of alpine plants just in bloom, and even a whiff of ozone scudding in on the ocean waves. All of Galicia embodied in a single scent.

As I breathed him in, another aroma rose. A darker musty smell. That of a newly-dug den, soil turned by claws scratching a deep welt into the ground. It rose as the child’s body warmed under the blanket. It tugged at me; the baby was beginning to emit the musky odor of the man who waited for us outside.

The child squirmed violently in my arms, once again. I stepped over the dead body of his mother, and trailed footsteps of her blood to the window.