Wareham Castle, Cumberland, 1196 “Please come to Falcon’s Craig,” the note read. “I am in need of your unique services. I own Villa Delphino on the Italian coast. It is yours if you will aid me.” Amice de Monceaux read the Earl of Hawksdown’s boldly scrawled letter for the second time and crushed the vellum in her fist. Then she started shaking. How could Cain ask this of her? Tempt her with the one thing he knew she had always dreamt of ever since her brother told her stories of the sundrenched land. And why did he own the villa? That was her dream. Her stomach churned with memories, too many, too clear even now. After five years, she could still feel Cain’s arms around her. And could still hear his calm voice saying, “I am betrothed,” before he walked away. Continue reading
Toraig Village, The Highlands 1195 Iosobal stared down at the flames licking her heels in disbelief. She looked out over the crowd of villagers. A sea of angry, fearful faces glared back at her. “Burn her!” a grim-faced man yelled. Next to him, an apple-cheeked, young woman’s face twisted in hate. “Be gone, spawn of the devil,” she shouted. “I did nothing wrong,” Iosobal hollered over the crackling of the flames beneath her.
The villagers had tied her hands behind her around a stout branch. Her feet rested atop a mountain of kindling. A man walked toward her, his eyes burning with condemnation. “You are a witch.” “I healed the child. I helped him.” By Saint Brigid, why were they doing this to her? She had only sought to help the poor boy, his leg crushed by an uncontrollable horse. In one moment, the boy’s mother offered thanks, and in the next the villagers dragged her to this pyre. Behind her accuser, she spied the boy. His face held the same disbelief she felt. His mother tugged at him, but he dug in his heels, his horror-struck gaze fastened to hers. “Through sorcery,” the man spat.
“Evil sorcery.” “Not evil,” Iosobal insisted, though with sick dread, she realized she wasted her breath. It was just as her mother had warned her. These people of the mainland would not understand someone like her, and feared what they could not comprehend. She should never have come here, never have let her curiosity lead her from their hidden island. “She is just a child,” the boy’s mother called out. The man did not even look at her. “A child of the devil. ’Tis best to kill her now, before she grows old enough to spawn more like her.” “I did nothing wrong,” Iosobal yelled. “Your very existence is wrong. And for that, you shall burn,” he said to Iosobal. His expression was jubilant as he picked up a fiery piece of kindling and set it to the wood at the top of the pile. The villagers chanted, “Burn the witch, burn the witch!” The pyre erupted in flame. As heat washed over her body, Iosobal closed her eyes and envisioned Parraba Island. “Take me home,” she whispered. Continue reading
Wicked girl,” the Abbess of Kerwick hissed. “How dare you befoul the walls of God’s house with your unclean presence?” “I did nothing wrong,” Giselle insisted, her voice catching. She stood facing the Abbess in the courtyard of Kerwick Abbey, a gray drizzle of rain dampening her threadbare woolen bliaut, adding to her deepening misery. Th ough she knew it was likely useless, she turned to the Bishop of Ravenswood, her gaze pleading. “I had naught to do with Sister Anne choking. Please believe me.”
The Bishop’s gaze was empty of warmth, as it ever had been when he deigned to look at her. “It was inevitable that your dam’s tainted blood would reveal itself.” Giselle reared back, her hand pressed to her throat. “But—” “Silence,” the Abbess snarled, before she slapped Giselle’s cheek. “Your place is not to question.” Giselle instinctively moved her hand to cradle her burning cheek, though she scarcely felt the pain. Behind the Abbess and the Bishop, a group of nuns stood watching. As Giselle looked from one to another, each dropped her gaze. Sister Alice, who had patiently taught her about herbs and healing.
Sister Elena, from whom she’d learned so much about embroidering the beautiful tapestries that helped keep the abbey going. Her chest ached when Sister Cecilia refused to look her in the eye. Sister Cecilia, one she’d called friend, one with whom she’d sometimes lowered the guard on her thoughts and emotions the Abbess had studiously whipped into her. Disgust and shame choked her. They were like a line of brainless, timid sheep, hovering over one who’d been judged unworthy of the herd. Continue reading
Most people believe, if they still do at all, that there was only one place like Atlantis. Only one utopian paradise filled with untold wealth, peace, and wonders we can scarcely envision. Rings of sparkling, clear water surrounding a central mountain from which the benevolent ruler governed. Columns of gold flanking grand promenades paved with pure white marble. A place blessed by the gods. But they are wrong. There were, and are, other such places. Th e hidden lands of the Tuatha de Danann. The idyllic beauty of the Druid Otherworld. And realms such as Paroseea. Places where life should be perfection. However, just as in Atlantis, there are always serpents hidden in the lush beauty of paradise, ones seeking more than their due, seeking power. Paroseea was fortunate enough to stop the betrayer in its midst, and avoid devastation. For centuries, the kingdom of Paroseea has remained well hidden from human eyes, veiled where no one would ever suspect, yet closer than anyone could have imagined. Until now. Continue reading
I don’t feel well,” Celestia Montehue said the instant before the bailiff threw open the twin wooden doors to the large main room. “Visitors approach!” Celestia looked up from the long dining table on the raised dais. Th e family was just finishing their midday meal of sliced duck breast in almond sauce and wedges of eel pie. Eel pie, she thought with dismay, pushing at her trencher. Taking a sip of watered wine in an effort to calm her belly, she wondered who might be coming, as no company had been expected. A troupe of entertainers, mayhap. Preferably acrobats and jugglers instead of minstrels, who sang their silly songs of court gossip and love. A chill started at the base of her spine and raced upward, settling at the nape of her neck. Briefly touching her temples, she tried to ascertain from whence the chill came. It could be a draft that had followed the bailiff in like a wayward pup. It could be a premonition. Continue reading
Montehue Manor February 1193 “It’s beautiful,” Galiana Montehue whispered as she ran out into the winter-dead flower garden. The English countryside was blanketed in pure white; a new beginning. She stretched out her arms, twirling like a sprite, as the soft flakes of snow melted on her nose and cheeks. Air plumed from her mouth as she laughed aloud, spinning round until she was so dizzy she fell back into a drift of snow as soft as her feather mattress. “Bless Mother, Father, Gram, and Ela. God speed them on their journey,” she said, sticking her tongue out to catch the big, fluffy flakes as they fell from the gray sky. “Celestia and Nicholas, too, and the babe.” For the tiniest of seconds, she regretted not being at her sister’s side for the birth of her first child. She’d sent a basket of Tia’s favorite lotions and some cream for the baby’s skin, but Galiana hadn’t wanted to go. Nay, she’d bartered for the chance to stay home and be the lady of the manor. Laughing again at the absurdity of it, her parents had not only agreed to let her take on the chore of running the household, but they’d added her twin brothers to her list of responsibilities. Of course, they’d also left eight seasoned Montehue knights, Bailiff Morton, and the live-in manor staff. They trusted her and weren’t treating her like she was just a pretty face. And it had snowed the first snow of the year on the first morn after they were gone. She sighed happily, thinking this to be an auspicious start to the day, as if the angels had come overnight and frosted the bare tree branches with crystals. She should paint it, she thought, sketching the scene in her mind. Just last week she’d lit twenty scented candles to Saint Jude, who she’d adopted as her own since he championed hopeless causes, so that the path to a grand adventure would be made clear to her. “This has to mean something,” she told the clouds above her. Read more. . . Continue reading
Ela raised her face to the moon, accepting benediction from the Crone in the night sky before the light disappeared behind a cloud. She slashed her arms down, fingers pointed to the ground. Lightning skipped from grass to tree to her very fingertips, setting her long auburn hair spinning like ribbons around a maypole. Her scalp tingled as she bowed her head to nature’s show of might. I’m ready. The eve was dark as a witch’s cauldron. She inhaled the heavy earth scent of coming rain. The air crackled with suppressed energy, and it took all of her courage to stay when her instincts bade her bolt. I’m no coward. Ela lifted her chin and glared at the cloud-covered moon. What she attempted now was for the good of her kin, her sisters’ children, and someday, mayhap, her own. Meg said that Beltane eve was one of great natural power. Blessings and curses abounded as the veil between the worlds thinned. And who but a wisewoman trained to read the secrets of the earth could be so sure of that? Lightning zigzagged across the ebony sky, and Ela’s blood quickened. She was no sorceress to be playing with magic, yet Boadicea’s burden was a drowning force. Dark dreams came with more frequency. It chafed her entire soul to be ruled by a specter of a long-dead past. By God and all the saints, Ela thought with a determined exhale, she was a woman at the beginning of a new century. She should be shackled or nay to whomever she pleased without fear of losing her gifts. Stretching her arms to her sides, Ela tossed back her head, her unbound hair whipping at her ankles. The Moon Crone’s aura pulsed blue with despair. There was much angst since England had a new king. Like a bully, John Plantagenet took what he wanted without thought to what lay broken in his wake. But that is not my battle. Not this night. Thunder boomed with enough force to rattle her teeth, yet she wasn’t afraid. She laughed into the oncoming storm, drawing nature’s energy. Ela needed all of the earth magic she could absorb for this spell. Only Andraste would be strong enough to rescind the curse Boadicea had laid on her daughters, and theirs, and theirs. To wed without love meant forfeiting personal power—whether it was healing, seeing auras, or divining the future. Read more. . . Continue reading