He had walked past the place a million times and had never noticed it before. He pulled his thick wool coat tighter around himself, turning the collar up over his ears as another strong autumn wind blew past. His coat was black, and the low grey clouds made his white-blond hair seem even whiter than normal.
He guessed he had just never walked as close to the wall of the ruined Abbey before as he did today, pressing himself almost up against the wall to escape the cold air. Mounds of sodden old leaves had piled themselves up against the wall from the harsh winds at this time of year. He bent his head low and kicked the piles of leaves absentmindedly, as a distraction from his thoughts. Ever since his father had sat him down the night before and told him, over large, seemingly never ending cups of coffee that he was a direct descendant of a powerful mage – a magician and warrior – his mind had been reeling.
‘That’s just fantasy!’ Jared nearly shouted at his father, spilling some of his drink. ‘Have you had too much to drink again?’ he said pushing his chair away from the table and moving to stand in front of the fireplace, letting the warmth take the chill out of him from sitting next to the large kitchen windows that seemed to let in a draft no matter what the time of year. The pale yellow flames of the gas fireplace flickered lazily above the fake logs. ‘There’s no such thing as magic and wizards! You’ve been watching too much Harry Potter or something. I’m not a kid anymore, Dad. I’m almost twenty. Maybe when I was little I liked to read about wizards and big heroes with swords, but not now.’
His father looked at him, his large blue eyes were hard and cold and filled with some emotion that Jared couldn’t read. ‘The dreams,’ he said simply.
‘What? What are you talking about?’
‘Have you been having the dreams?’ his father repeated rising from his chair.
‘You know what I’m talking about. The girl. The woman in black. Sometimes she’s wearing a cloak. A bright red hooded cloak.’
‘What, now you’re talking about Little Red Riding Hood?’ yelled Jared moving back around the table putting more distance between the two of them. ‘What have you put in your coffee?’
‘Calm down. You’re being irrational. Think,’ said the older man. ‘You’ve dreamt about her. I know you have. I did, when I was about your age. That’s when my father first told me about our gift. That’s when we first start coming into it. Realizing who we are. Remembering who we are, who our ancestors were.’
Jared shook his head, his white blond hair falling across his eyes. ‘No,’ he said quietly, disbelieving. But as he said it the woman with long blond hair and long black dress fluttering in the breeze rose up in his mind. He closed his eyes, as if doing so would erase her from his mind, but instead she became more real, more solid and he could remember her from his dreams. He could see her, standing on the bare jagged rock jutting from the ocean, holding a sword, etched with strange symbols as it glinted in the setting sun. The woman looked straight at him. As if he were standing on the shore and she was cut off by the choppy waters on her cold stone island.
‘Who is she?’ Jared asked, slowly lowering himself back into one of the chairs at the dining room table.
‘She’s a wisp,’ his father said, taking his seat again and pouring some fresh coffee into his mug.
Jared didn’t know what to say, and could only think of one thing to say, even though it sounded ridiculous, he said it anyway. ‘What’s a wisp?’
His father sighed long and loud. ‘A will ‘o the wisp.’
‘But aren’t those those light things? Those things that people are supposed to see in swamps and stuff?’
‘Yes. That’s what she is. That’s her natural form. But she can take human form, when she needs to tell us something. To warn us. She’s a protector, of sorts. You remember the tales about the wisps? The stories I used to tell you as a child?’ his father asked, looking across the table at this son, and clutching his mug tightly.
‘Yes,’ said Jared simply.
‘So you remember that will ‘o wisps lead people away, get them lost and confused,’ his father continued taking a long slow sip of his drink.
‘Yes. The people who are foolish enough to follow a will ‘o the wisp end up disappearing and never being found again.’
‘Foolish is right. That’s another name for them, the foolish fire. That’s how they help us. They can distract our enemies. Lead them away, get them turned around so they can’t find their way back.’
‘I can’t believe I’m having this conversation,’ said Jared draining his cup and standing up. ‘This is ridiculous. I’m going to bed,’ he said pushing himself away from the table and turning to go upstairs to his room.
His father shrugged. ‘Suit yourself. But when you see her tonight, say hi to her for me. I haven’t seen her in years. They disappear when you no longer need them. When the next generation are ready to take over and protect others, continue the fight. And that’s you,’ his father said.
But Jared was already halfway up the stairs, trying to block out the nonsense his father was spouting. He closed the door to his room, threw his clothes in a jumbled heap on the chair next to his computer desk and crawled into bed, pulling the duvet up around him like a cocoon.