Tuesday, 20 October 2020

October - the Halloween Month. Magic of Summer

October is a time of coming winter, of the fall of the leaf. In this excerpt in celebration of Halloween I touch upon magic plants of summer. 



This is taken from my novel "A Summer Bewitchment", the sequel to "The Snow Bride."

Excerpt

 Outside in the warm, still evening they walked arm in arm, both carrying panniers, and Elfrida shared what she knew of the stranger with Magnus. He in turn told her what he had learned of Rowena from the priest. It was, she thought, strangely companionable, but she wished they were speaking of less dark, mysterious matters.

“Valerian is a magic plant,” she explained, skirting carefully around a flowering elder bush. “It has many uses. One is as a lure. To seduce.”

“And the hare’s foot?” Magnus nodded to the elder bush as he stalked by, a grudging acknowledgement. “The rosemary I know from you is a guardian against evil spirits, so is that good?”

“Because he protects himself from demons and the like does not mean he is not evil himself.”

“Well spoken! The stranger’s mention of a Holy Mother?”

“The hare protects him from all danger. It is a creature of magic. The mother he reveres may be the Virgin, but he worships her in older ways.”

Magnus raised his black brows in silent inquiry.

“The wreath he leaves in thanks and sacrifice, of valerian and elder blossom, marigold, wild thyme and daisy, is made of flowers pleasing to the older gods. I have seen such posies left at ancient standing stones and statues, at rock carvings of the horned god.”

Her striding companion crossed himself. “Rowena is very pretty, so Father Jerome tells me.”

Elfrida nodded, unsurprised. “And docile, too?”

“Indeed. The priest claims they had no notion she might be in any way unhappy at being mewed up in a nunnery.” He scowled, his fingers tightening on his pannier.

“I have heard she is a kind, easy child, but I do not like it, either,” Elfrida admitted. “Would you be more sanguine if she was ill-favored?”

“Not a bit!” He glowered at her. “Do not think to test me, elfling, not this evening, at least. Even without your plan to go star-clad, I like these matters less and less. Do you know what family the Lady Astrid and Rowena are part of? The Gifford clan! Mighty and proud and wealthy.”

“So why do they ask us for help? Why wait five days to ask?”

“Indeed! The ride from Warren Bruer is less than a day, but with haste they could have raced here in hours.”

“So why not come sooner and then we can begin a search? Laggardly, then,” Elfrida observed. “Contradictory.”

“Snail slow, and I agree, contrary. And for the rest”—Magnus puffed out his cheeks—“to them I am a middling landowner and you, I am sorry to say, are utterly beneath notice, in their eyes. They should have far stronger allies than us to draw on.”

“Unless they fear those allies.”

“Do they seem frightened to you?”

Elfrida pointed to a vigorous thicket of hazel coppice and considered as they closed on the straight and slender hazel poles. “The lady is irked, certainly, but I sense no dread from her, only displeasure.”

“At the interruption onto her well-ordered life.”

Trailing a hand across the bright green leaves of the nearest hazel, Elfrida felt a raw sadness, a sense of unrequited loss. “Rowena seems an agreeable child, yet for all that unmissed. Were any of these girls missed?”


Blurb for "A Summer Bewitchment."

When a shadowy piper kidnaps seven beautiful girls, can a wounded knight and his witch save them? Will Sir Magnus and Elfrida find them in time, and at what cost to themselves?

Magnus, the battered crusader knight, and his witch-wife, Elfrida, are happily married but in secret turmoil. Elfrida dreads that her difference in rank with Magnus will undermine his love for her. Wounded and scarred, Magnus fears he will not be able to give Elfrida children.

Their fears are sharpened when high-born Lady Astrid appears at their manor and demands their help to find seven missing girls. The lady clearly regards peasant-born Elfrida as beneath her notice, but why has such a woman sought out Magnus, a country knight? Who does she really want to recover so badly?

In a scorching summer, Magnus and Elfrida search for the missing girls. Can they recover them in time? And will their own marriage be the same?

Genre: Fantasy, Historical

Length: 53,272 words

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“I am the troll king of this land and you owe me a forfeit.”

Elfrida glanced behind the shadowed figure who barred her way. He was alone, but then so was she.



Sunday, 18 October 2020

October - the Halloween Month. Medieval Romances Inspired by the Magic of Fairy Stories, with Excerpts

Beauty and the Beast

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“I am the troll king of this land and you owe me a forfeit.”

Elfrida glanced behind the shadowed figure who barred her way. He was alone, but then so was she.


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“I am to marry again,” she whispered, through frozen lips.


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Tuesday, 13 October 2020

October - the Halloween Month. A magical place in Ancient Roman Bath

 The ancient world believed in magic. In my novel "Flavia's Secret", set in ancient Roman Bath, the heroine Flavia takes the hero Marcus to a place that was rumoured to have belonged to a sorcerer. Here is an excerpt of what they found.



Leaving the carter in one of the side alleys close to the Great Bath, Flavia darted ahead through the ever-increasing crowds and took Marcus off in the direction of the small hot spring sacred to the healing god Aesculapius, a part of the city he had rarely been in. She sped past the tall, oval, roofless walls of the small healing spring, her bright hair visible to Marcus even among the throngs of visitors and worshippers who gathered to make offerings and offer prayers to Aesculapius. Coming to a cross-roads, she glanced back to check that he was still following and walked quickly down a narrow, unpaved side street.

‘Not far,’ she said as he caught up. She slowed as they reached the high boundary wall of a private house. The back boundary wall, Marcus registered, as Flavia looked up and down the street.

She stepped close to him and muttered, ‘When no one is close we climb over the wall. The house is deserted,’ she added.

Marcus stifled amazement and questions and waited for Flavia’s tense, ‘Go!’ before launching himself at the high wall.

There were jutting stones and easy hand-holds in the weathered stone and Flavia climbed as swiftly as he did, nimbly reaching the flat top of the wall and rolling over the other side. He did the same, dropping afterwards into the garden of the deserted house.

Flavia came beside him. ‘Will you wait here? Just for a moment. I don’t think there will be any of my people here at this time, not so early in the morning when there are many tasks to be done, but even so I need to make sure we are alone.’ She gave him a considering look. ‘You would alarm them.’

‘I will wait.’ Folding his arms, Marcus leaned back against the boundary wall.

It was hard for him to watch her leave, darting between the bushes and trees of the overgrown garden, but he knew that he must. She had to know that she could trust him.

Her footsteps were soon lost in the clamour of the unseen streets around them and in the fallen leaves and bare earth paths of this strange, deserted place.

The garden was wildly overgrown, full of straggling rose bushes with wizened red hips and unclipped rosemary and lavender bushes. The little of the house he could see through the bushes and the spreading branches of an oak tree growing in the centre of the garden looked very old. He could just make out some sagging timber walls with peeling paint and a broken-tiled roof.

‘What is this place?’ he asked when Flavia returned, skirting round a rosemary almost as tall as she was.

‘It is supposed to be haunted by the last owner, who was rumoured to be a sorcerer,’ she answered calmly. ‘I think that is why it is still deserted. That, or the man’s family cannot agree what to do with it. A slave showed me how to come here many years ago, soon after I had lost my parents and before Lady Valeria bought me. I think he was sorry for me. He said it was a place of safety and peace for slaves, that if the owner did haunt the house and grounds, he gave no trouble to slaves. The slave told me that we could be ourselves here and no one would see.’

She tilted up her chin, the rising sun lighting her red lips and rose complexion, making her look prettier than ever. Marcus forced himself to attend to what she was saying.

‘The slave made me promise never to tell anyone else about this place—except for one person, who must also swear the same.’

‘And that’s me?’ Marcus asked, astonished and amazed afresh, honored and touched by her confidence.

She smiled at him: an old smile, a secretive smile that he had sometimes seen on his mother’s face. ‘It is safe to go on: no one else is here,’ she said. ‘I will show you round.’

 

* * * *

 

Walking quickly, to show that she did not regret her decision to share this place with him, Flavia returned along the twisting beaten-earth path between the rampant rosemary and lavender bushes. One more twist of the path and they reached the heart of the garden and its startling secret—a private outdoor pool, its shimmering waters steaming in the sun.

‘By Mithras, what a place.’ Looking around, Marcus halted beside her, dropping onto his knees to test the waters of the deep, lead-lined pool. ‘It’s hot!’ he exclaimed, shaking moisture from his hand.

Flavia pointed to a large lead pipe leading away from the pool in the direction of the deserted house before it was lost in the luxuriant undergrowth.

‘We think the owner fixed a conduit somewhere off the spring waters of the Aesculapius spring and directed some of the thermal water here,’ she explained. ‘The pool drains somewhere, too, but we do not know where.’

Marcus sat back on his heels. ‘We?’

‘Those of us who come here, when we can.’

‘Your own private bathing place.’ Marcus jumped to his feet again and walked around the marbled perimeter of the pool. ‘I am surprised nobody has tried to make money with it.’

‘We are careful who we tell,’ Flavia said, squashing disappointment at Marcus’ mercenary approach, but he was staring across the sun-gilded water at the leaf-strewn timber portico leading to the deserted house.

‘I am not surprised at that,’ he said quietly. ‘It is beautiful.’

He watched a small breeze tumble a bronze oak leaf along a small marble walkway leading from the semi-derelict portico to the edge of the pool. ‘Mysterious, quite eerie, but also...comforting. As if you are in an entirely different world.’ He turned about, pointing to the sparkling spiders’ webs on the lavender bushes, rimed with heavy dew. ‘Somewhere forgotten by the rest of the city. A place where magical things become possible.’

‘You understand,’ Flavia whispered, breathing out in relief.

He smiled. ‘It is more than likely that the old owner saw an easy chance to grab some free hot water, but what he has made here, what time has made...I am not surprised he was thought to be a sorcerer.’

Marcus held out both hands to her. ‘Thank you for sharing this, and be assured—your secret with be safe in my keeping.’

Flavia walked to the edge of the secret pool and joined him in studying the waters.

‘It has hardly changed,’ she murmured. As if from far off, she caught a faint whiff of incense wafting from the altars close to the spring shrine to Aesculapius. Listening, she could hear nothing of the city outside the high boundary walls, only her own breathing and the creak of the bare-branched oak tree. A raven was perched in its branches, preening itself. She and Marcus were standing away from the shade of the empty house, in a clear patch of warm flagstones where the bushes had not yet encroached. The sun was warm on her skin and Marcus’ hand around hers warmer still.



Flavia's Secret 

Dare Celtic Flavia trust her new Roman Master Marcus? 

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Friday, 9 October 2020

October - the Halloween Month. Encounter with a medieval demon

In this excerpt, Yolande, my medieval exorcist, and her companion Geraint the juggler both strive against a dangerous, seductive demon.


  


Yolande recalled the impossible charisma the incubus had cast over Geraint. He had been perfect. Not daring to close her eyes in case she fell asleep and dreamed what the incubus wanted her to dream, she concentrated on the rank, real scent of the winter cabbages and the hard, dry soil beneath her bottom and legs. The earth God made for us, real and imperfect because we are real and imperfect. Our free choices make us so.

“He escaped you,” she said through tight lips.

“Surprised me, yes, but he was not so much of a challenge, not in his appearance, at least.”

Surface and appearance mattered to demons. Yolande’s left leg twitched as her booted foot went numb. She clung to the discomfort to keep her fixed, to remember she did not float on a great, cushion-strewn bed, surrounded by sweet wax candles and caressed by a loving Geraint. She was sitting in Halme village in a garden plot, beside frost-withered cabbage.

“Human females are earthier than their menfolk, much easier to seduce in the ways of the flesh, but harder to win in the realms of ideas.”

“You like flesh too,” Yolande pointed out.

“Very much, sweet one. Those fresh, pretty things and their randy dreams, and ripe, well-used wives fancying other carnal delights…quite delicious. I want to lose myself in them every night until  the day of judgment.”

Pig. Geraint’s face drifted before her as her mind annoyingly dredged up the mud of their last quarrel. She chewed her lip, fighting the urge to argue with both Geraint and the demon. The demon incubus for sure, since he has admitted how much he enjoys women’s flesh and dreams.

“William liked ideas,” the incubus droned on. “Our dear Father William loved the idea of secret knowledge and for a time he loved the idea of sex. He wanted to know what it was like. I helped him find out. He liked it very much for a time and then he got bored with the same female.”

Hilda had been seduced and discarded by her own priest to satisfy his fleeting curiosity. The pain of such casual cruelty twisted in Yolande’s chest and a raging anger launched her to her feet. She leapt out of the garden patch, screaming at the heavens, “He murdered her! By what he did, he murdered her!”

“And the babe within her, sweet one. Two for one, just for good measure.”

This time, grief almost knocked her off her feet but anger kept her up and moving.

“Remember where you left your bow?” the incubus tongued in her ear, sticky as rancid honey. “Why not pick it up and seek out the priest?”

“I will,” she vowed, running. “I will.”

* * * * *

Geraint followed Father William to the priest’s cottage. The man entered and crashed about inside, smashing pots and overturning the trestle, spoiling all that he and Yolande had done.

Time passed, he grew colder waiting and watching, and still Father William lumbered about indoors. How many places has the fellow left to search? What is he seeking?

“Bertha!” the priest yelled suddenly and the rooks in the stand of rowans took flight in a burst of flapping wings. “Bertha, you slattern, where are you hiding?”

“Anywhere away from you, I should think.” Yolande strode to the cottage and hammered on the door.

“Just ignore me.” Geraint wondered if she had even noticed him, but then she turned and he saw the bow in her clenched fist.

“Come out, you!” she shouted, jerking round again to kick the door with her boot. “Destroyer!” One kick and the door shook. “Rapist!” And again, a hefty kick. “Murderer!”

A piece of wood flew out from the groaning timbers, but Yolande merely swatted it aside. More than that, she had not seen him. In her fury she could see nothing but the closed door, and with that knowledge a worm of fear slithered along Geraint’s spine. In all their time together he had never seen her in such a steaming rage.

“Come out, coward. I am a woman like Hilda, a woman like the blessed Virgin. Open the door!”

“And get an arrow in your groin.” Stealing closer, Geraint picked his way carefully through the stand of rowans. He did not want to be shot by mistake.

“Yolande,” he called, before she kicked and hammered afresh. “Yolande, is he worth this?”

She spun about, her mouth agape, her eyes glittering. Rage and more was in her.

“Geraint, he killed her just as if he had dashed her brains out with a stone.”

“I know, cariad, but if he dies by your arrow now, cui bono?” His question, the Latin, was a tug to her learning and training, a reminder of who and what she was and one, he prayed, that would give her pause. “What will it do to your soul?” he went on softly.

She snorted. “Who benefits? The folk here would get a better priest, at least.”

“But would they?” Geraint stepped out completely from the final, closest rowan, and stood utterly still for a moment, letting Yolande see him. “So many priests have died in the pestilence. Father William in there, with his single error—”

Her bow arm tightened. “One mistake? One?”

He did not flinch as Yolande brought her arm up and her bow quivered at him, its string humming as if alive. He knew she was not quite herself. Somehow that incubus has sneaked through her defenses.

His throat was as dry as a desert, but the performer in him was excited, his mind quick and clear. One wrong step, one poor answer and we all go down, but I have not fallen yet.

“An error of fatal curiosity, leading to sin,” he replied quietly. “But can we judge him? Are we the Almighty, to judge?”

“Always so glib.” Yolande frowned and he crossed his fingers tightly behind his back, sweating a little in case she guessed his lie. The priest could go to the devil for him, but if she killed Father William now, the act would haunt her forever.

One false step… The back of his neck prickled, but he was sure, very sure—almost sure—of what he was doing. Here goes.

“I challenge you to show otherwise,” he answered.

 

Yolande, high and blood-buzzing in her anger, answered without thinking, “Yes, yes, I take your challenge.”

“Good lass.”. Swaying his hips like a streetwalker, he strolled up to her.



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Ghosts, revenants, incubi, vampires and demons haunt medieval England, as Yolande and Geraint must use their love to survive.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

October - the Halloween Month. Being a witch does not mean one is invulnerable

 Elfrida, the heroine in my "Snow Bride" is a powerful witch, skilled in healing, finding and more.

She is not invulnerable however, including illness. (Chicken pox, which I had in my 20s and remember vividly.)

Here are two excerpts showing her fretful, irritable and anxious, with Magnus, the warrior who has found her in the woodlands. The first excerpt is from Magnus' point of view.


The Snow Bride

She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?

Book One of The Knight and the Witch

England, winter, 1131

Elfrida, spirited, caring and beautiful, is also alone. She is the witch of the woods and no man dares to ask for her hand in marriage until a beast comes stalking brides and steals away her sister. Desperate, the lovely Elfrida offers herself as a sacrifice, as bridal bait, and she is seized by a man with fearful scars. Is he the beast?

In the depths of a frozen midwinter, in the heart of the woodland, Sir Magnus, battle-hardened knight of the Crusades, searches ceaselessly for three missing brides, pitting his wits and weapons against a nameless stalker of the snowy forest. Disfigured and hideously scarred, Magnus has finished with love, he thinks, until he rescues a fourth 'bride', the beautiful, red-haired Elfrida, whose innocent touch ignites in him a fierce passion that satisfies his deepest yearnings and darkest desires.

 Excerpt

Magnus was worried. The fire he had made should have brought his people. It was an old signal, well-known between them. His men should have reached the village by now—that had been the arrangement. They were bringing traps and provisions in covered wagons, and hunting dogs and horses. He had been impatient to start his pursuit of the Forest Grendel and so rode ahead, returning with the messenger until that final stretch when the man turned off to his home. He had ridden on alone, finding the wayside shrine.

But from then, all had gone awry. Instead of the monster, he had found an ailing witch, and the snowstorm had lost him more tracks and time.

Magnus shook his head, turning indulgent eyes to the small, still figure on the rough pallet. At least the little witch had slept through the night and day, snug and safe, and he had been able to make her a litter from woven branches. He would give his fire signal a little longer and then return Elfrida to her village. There he might find someone who could translate between them.

Perhaps she did have power, for even as he looked at her, she sat up, the hood of her cloak falling away, and stared at him in return. She said something, then repeated it, and he drew in a great gulp of cold air in sheer astonishment, then laughed.

“I know what you said!” He wanted to kiss her, spots and all.

He burst into a clumsy canter, dragging his peg leg a little and almost tumbling onto her bed. She caught him by the shoulders and tried to steady him but collapsed under his weight.

They finished in an untidy heap on the pallet, with Elfrida hissing by his ear, “Why have you done such a foolish thing as to burn all our fuel?”

He rolled off her, knocked snow off his front and beard, and said in return, “How did you know I would know the old speech, the old English?”

“I dream true, and I dreamed this.” She was blushing, though not, he realized quickly, from shyness.

“Why burn so wildly?” she burst out, clearly furious. “You have wasted it! All that good wood gone to ash!”

“My men know my sign and will come now the storm has gone.” He had not expected thanks or soft words, but he was not about to be scolded by this red-haired nag.

“That is your plan, Sir Magnus? To burn half the forest to alert your troops?”

“A wiser plan than yours, madam, setting yourself as bait. Or had your village left you hanging there, perhaps to nag the beast to death?”

Her face turned as scarlet as the fire. “So says any witless fool! ’Tis too easy a charge men make against women, any woman who thinks and acts for herself. And no man orders me!”

Magnus swallowed the snort of laughter filling up his throat. He doubted she saw any amusement in their finally being able to speak to each other only to quarrel. Had she been a man or a lad, he would have knocked her into the snow, then offered a drink of mead, but such rough fellowship was beyond him here.

“And how would you have fought off any knave, or worse, that found you?” he asked patiently. “You did not succeed with me.”

“There are better ways to vanquish a male than brute force. I knew what I was about!”

“Truly? You were biding your time? And the pox makes you alluring?”

“Says master gargoyle! My spots will pass!”

“Or did you plan to scatter a few herbs, perhaps?”

He thought he heard her clash her teeth together. “I did not plan my sickness, and I do not share my secrets! Had you not snatched me away, had you not interfered, I would know where the monster lives. I would have found my sister! I would be with her!” Her voice hitched, and a look of pain and dread crossed her face. “We would be together. Whatever happens, I would be with her.”

“This was Christina?”

“Is Christina, not was, never was! I know she lives!”

Magnus merely nodded, his temper cooling rapidly as he marked how her color had changed and her body shook. A desperate trap to recover a much-loved sister excused everything, to his way of thinking.

She called you a gargoyle! This piqued his vanity and pride.

But she does not think you the monster, Magnus reminded himself in a dazzled, shocked wonder, embracing that knowledge like a lover.

 

Published August 15th by Prairie Rose Publications

FREE to read with Kindle Umlinted.

To buy on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VSHHX4N

 


Here's a second excerpt, from Elfrida's viewpoint.

EXCERPT:

 “How are the spots? Itching yet?”

Elfrida gave a faint shudder. “Do not remind me.” Since stirring, she had been aware of her whole body tickling and burning. Mark’s idea of rolling in the snow might not be so bad.

“Walter told me that the village of Great Yarr has a bathhouse. Bathing in oatmeal will help you.”

She did not say that the village could afford to spare no foodstuffs and would not be distracted. She had tried to rush off in pursuit of the monster before and gained nothing, so now she would gather her strength and learn before she moved. “What did you call the beast? Forest Grendel? Is it known he lives in the forest?”

Magnus shook his head. “It is not known, but I do not think so now, or at least not outdoors. I have hunted wolf’s heads who have been outlawed and fled into woodland, and they always have camps and dens and food caches within the forest. I have found none of those hereabouts.”

“My dowsing caught no sign of any lair of his,” Elfrida agreed.

Magnus leaned forward, bracing himself with his injured arm. Elfrida forced herself not to stare at his stump, but to listen to him.

“Do you sense anything?” he asked softly.

“The night you came, I felt something approach.” She frowned, trying to put into words feelings and impressions that were as elusive as smoke. “A great purpose,” she said. “A need and urgent desire.”

Now Magnus was frowning. “Have you a charm or magic that will help?”

“Do you think I have not tried magic, charms, and incantations? My craft is not like a sword fight, where the blades are always true. If God does not will it—”

“I have been in enough fights where swords break.”

“Are your men good trackers?”

“They would not be with me, else.” If Magnus was startled by her determination to talk only of the beast, he gave no sign. “Tell me of your sister and her habits. Did she keep to the same paths and same tasks each day?”

“Yes and yes, but what else did Walter say? The old men have told me nothing!”

“No, they do not want the womenfolk to know anything, even you, I fear.” His kind eyes gleamed, as if he enjoyed her discomfiture. He had a small golden cross in his right eye, she noticed, shining amidst the warm brown.

A sparkle for the lasses, eh, Magnus?

To her further discomfiture, she realized he had asked her something. “Say again, please?”

“Would you like some food to go with your mead? There are the remains of mutton, dates and ginger, wine and mead and honey.” His brown eyes gleamed. “My men found it in the clearing where I found you. The mutton has been a bit chewed, but the rest is palatable, I think.”

“It is drugged!” Elfrida burst out. “I put”—she could not think of the old word and used her own language instead—“I put a sleeping draft in the wedding cakes and all.” She seized his arm, not caring that it was the one with the missing hand. “Do not eat it!”

“Sleeping draft?” He used her own words.

She yawned and feigned sleep, startled when he started to laugh.

“A wedding feast to send the groom to sleep! I like it!” He chuckled again and opened his left hand, where, to Elfrida’s horror, there was one of her own small wedding cakes.

 

Published August 15th by Prairie Rose Publications

FREE to read with Kindle Umlinted.

To buy on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VSHHX4N

 

 



Tuesday, 6 October 2020

October - The Halloween Month. Revenants and more

In my "Dark Maiden" we learn what revenants are, plus the dangers of being a black, female exorcist in a time of suspicion and plague.



Excerpt.

“Revenants are spirits who will not rest,” Geraint said before the reeve’s wife had another objection. “They are departed souls who will not leave, because they wish to have revenge, or justice.”

“Or they cling to a place they loved in life, or to their beloved,” added Yolande quietly.

In an echo of the large-breasted goodwife, the reeve’s wife folded her arms across her middle. “Is this not a matter for our priest?”

“But Godith, Father William is so old, and consider what he says concerning the rest,” Michael pleaded.

“That all trouble is the girls’ own sins.” Godith crossed herself, while Yolande sighed and stared into the fire.

“One of those priests,” she remarked softly in Welsh.

“Now we know why he did not summon you, or come out of his house or church to welcome you,” Geraint answered in the same tongue. “A black female exorcist will be a great evil to him.”

“And Father William has often taken to his bed this past ten days.” Michael shrugged his drooping shoulders in a gesture of hopelessness.

“No priest here, and at the darkest time of the year, when spirits and the dead gather,” Yolande said in Welsh. Geraint wished he could tip the priest out of this village and drag in another. The Archbishop of York should be able to help her and would do very well.

“What are you saying? Are you talking about me?” demanded Godith’s youngest daughter.

“No, my lovely.” Geraint snapped his fingers. The girl drew a new blue ribbon from her hair and exclaimed with delight.

Yolande cast him a look. “Still up to your old tricks?”

“You will not wear the ribbons I bought for you, so why should I not give them to these girls?” The three lasses, chattering like magpies, tugged more new ribbons from their hair.

“How do you do it?” Yolande inquired as the tension in the hut vanished like a burst soap bubble.

“You have the secrets of your trade and I have mine.” He wanted to give her more, of course—bright ribbons, bright tunics to suit her sultry looks—but so far she had smiled at him very prettily for his ribbons but not worn them. And as for tunics…she had told him, quietly, that an envious spirit or demon would be tempted to tear such clothes off her and he could not argue with that. She was the exorcist.

Their eyes met, she still in drab sage-and-mud-colored  clothes, he in his tattered motley. What would it be like to kiss her again, really kiss her? He need only lean forward to find out…

His fragile dream was shattered by the reeve, who pushed himself up from the family’s low sleeping platform and said to Yolande, “I have something to show you in the lean-to.”

Geraint gave the rest of his bowl of porry to the twins and leapt to his feet. “I will come too.”

If Michael Steward was about to confess anything, he wanted to hear it. And he was not about to let Yolande out of his protection, whatever her skills.

She may be the exorcist but by the pricking at the base of my neck I would say there is danger here, a practical, knife blade kind of risk. My kind of danger.

* * * * *

She knew she and Geraint had been betrayed, even before Michael Steward broke into a ragtag run outside the lean-to, galloping and gasping into the night. She knew even before the torches bloomed into fire and a stink of anxious, stale bodies crowded into her nostrils. She knew by instinct as Geraint knew. She could feel the tension in his body as he stepped straight behind her, shielding her as so often in these past few months.

Yolande had her bow, her sacred bow of Saint Sebastian, but no room to draw it. And she could do better by far than make these fearful people her unrelenting enemies.

The instant before the torches were lit in the dying garden plot of the reeve’s house, she had made her plan and acted on it.

She raised her fist and called out, “I have a mandrake here and the seven herbs of Christ. If you do me or mine harm, the herbs will change into spears. The mandrake will turn into a man and you will die.”

She paused, allowing her pity for the villagers’ fear to drain away. “You will die badly, believe me.”

“Believe her,” hissed Geraint out of the gloom, keeping out of range of the flickering torchlight. “I have seen the mandrake-man and it is terrible.”

“That proves you are a witch!” shouted a woman, and one of the torches swayed as she lost her footing on the damp ground.

“No witch may touch the seven herbs of Christ and live,” said Yolande calmly. Glimpsing a flash of white as another villager moved an arm, she stooped, plucked a pebble from the earth and threw it all in a single movement. The woman howled and dropped her dagger, where it lay gleaming.

“You are black as Satan!” called another woman, and others in the circle echoed her cry.

“Or  Saint Maurice or the Magi,” Yolande replied.

Godith came to the door. “How do we know you came in answer to the reeve’s call?”

“I came, Godith, because that is my Christian duty. You need my help here.”

“But you are black,” mumbled Godith. Encouraged by shouts of agreement, she joined the crowd.

Mother of God, I grow weary of this complaint. For so many, I am either a luck-charm or an evil. And Geraint is blacker-hued than me, at least in the summer. “I have touched relics of the saints that are darker.” She grinned, knowing her teeth and eyes would show very white and bright against the torches. “Come, shall we say the creed together?”

“But Godith  is right. How do we know you are not sent by them?” protested a third voice, high as a shrilling bat.

“By Christ, they are all women here,” muttered Geraint, and Yolande caught the strain in his voice. He would fight any man but females he revered.

“Fear not, honeyman,” she whispered. “Not one is possessed, and I can deal with the rest.”

To Godith and her cohorts she made the sign of the cross and recited the first line of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. In English she said, “No demon can do that, believe me.”

“And believe me, my heart, when I say you should convert these women quickly,” said Geraint beside her. “Before we are burned to a cinder or torn limb from limb would be best.” He switched to Welsh. “You have never used mandrake in your life.”

“You are not the only one who can make a feint,” she replied in the same tongue.

“Take care you do not do so with me, cariad, is all I ask.”

She chuckled, keeping her laugh fat and easy while she scanned the big eyes and fluttering fingers that hovered round the crackling torches. 



#DiverseRomance #Romance DARK MAIDEN http://amzn.to/2qEuKcL

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ChapterOne http://bit.ly/2sEydfW

Ghosts, revenants, incubi , vampires and demons haunt medieval England, as Yolande and Geraint must use their love to survive.