She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?
Book One of
The Knight and the Witch
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?
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.
stirred sluggishly, unable to remember where she was. Her back ached, and the
rest of her body burned. She opened her eyes and sat up with a jerk, thinking
felt to be bobbing like an acorn cup in a stream, and her vision swam. As she
tried to swing her legs, her sense of dizzy falling increased, becoming worse
as she closed her eyes. She lashed out in the darkness, her flailing hands and
feet connecting with straw, dusty hay, and ancient pelts.
she hissed, listening intently and praying now that the monster had brought her
to the same place it had taken her sister.
nothing but her own breath, and when she held that, nothing at all.
Fearing to reach out in this blackness that was more than night and dreading
what she might find, Elfrida forced herself to stretch her arms. She trailed
her fingers out into the ghastly void, tracing the unseen world with trembling
shook more than her hands, but she ignored the shuddering of her limbs, closed
her eyes like a blind man, and searched.
She lay on
a pallet, she realized, full of crackling, dry grass. When she scented and
tasted the air, there was no blood. She did not share the space with grisly
I am alone and unfettered. Now her heart had stopped thudding
in her ears, she listened again, hearing no one else. Chanting a charm to see
in the dark, she tried again to shift her feet.
spilled into her eyes like scalding milk as a door opened and a massive figure
lurched across the threshold. Elfrida launched herself at freedom, hurling a
fistful of straw at the looming beast and ducking out for the light.
instead, her legs buckling, her last sight that of softly falling snow.
* * * *
gathered the woman before she pitched facedown into the snow, returning her
swiftly to the rough bed within the hut. Her tiny, bird-boned form terrified
him. Clutching her was like ripping a fragile wood anemone up from its roots.
And she had
fought him, wind-flower or not. She had charged at him.
lass, that you would listen to me. I am not the Forest Grendel, nor have wish
to be, nor ever have been.”
earlier, in the clearing where he had first come upon her, a brilliant shock of
life and color in a white, dead world, the woman gave no sign of hearing. She
was cold again, freezing, while in his arms she had steamed with fever. He
tugged off his cloak and bundled her into it, then piled his firewood and
kindling onto the bare hearth.
strikes of his flints and he had a fire. He set snow to melt in the helmet he
was using as a cauldron. He swept more dusty hay up from the floor and,
sneezing, packed it round the still little figure.
No beast on
two or four legs would hunt tonight, so that was one worry less. Finding this
lean-to hut in the forest had been a godsend, but it would be cold.
back out into the snow and led his horse into the hut, spreading what feed he
had brought with him. He kept the door shut with his saddle, rubbed the palfrey
down with the bay’s own horse blanket, and looked about for a lantern.
none, just as there were no buckets, nor wooden bowls hanging from the eaves.
But, abandoned as it surely had been, the place was well roofed, and no snow
swirled in through the wood and wattle walls. Whistling, Magnus dug through his
pack and found a flask of ale, some hard cheese, two wizened apples, and a
chunk of dark rye bread. He spoke softly to his horse, then looked again at the
breathing steadily now, and her lips and cheeks had more color. By the
glittering, rising fire he saw her as he had first in the forest clearing, an
elf-child of beauty and grace, a willing sacrifice to the monster. Kneeling
beside her, he longed to stroke her vivid red hair and kiss the small dimple in
her chin. In sleep she had the calm, flawless face of a Madonna of Outremer and
the bright locks of a Magdalene.
guessed who she was—the witch of the three villages, the good witch driven to
desperation. Coming upon her in that snowfield, tied between two trees like a
crucified child of fairy, his temper had been a black storm against the
villagers for sparing their skins by flaying hers. Then he had seen her face,
recognized that wild, stark, sunken-cheeked grief, seen the loose bonds and the
terrible “feast,” and had understood.
Another young woman has been taken by the
beast, someone you love.
that was her name, he remembered it now—Elfrida was either very foolish or very
powerful, to offer herself as bait.
August 15th by Prairie Rose Publications
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another excerpt from THE SNOW BRIDE, showing Elfrida, a medieval witch and
Magnus, a warrior. I deliberately wrote it so Elfrida was powerful in magic but
not invulnerable. Hence her catching chicken-pox and being feverish as a
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.
August 15th by Prairie Rose Publications
read with Kindle Umlinted.
To buy on
A FINAL EXCERPT:
“How are the
spots? Itching yet?”
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.
me that the
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?
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.”
caught no sign of any lair of his,” Elfrida agreed.
leaned forward, bracing himself with his injured arm. Elfrida forced herself
not to stare at his stump, but to listen to him.
sense anything?” he asked softly.
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.”
was frowning. “Have you a charm or magic that will help?”
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.”
men good trackers?”
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, 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.
for the lasses, eh, Magnus?
further discomfiture, she realized he had asked her something. “Say again,
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.”
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!”
draft?” He used her own words.
and feigned sleep, startled when he started to laugh.
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
August 15th by Prairie Rose Publications
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Townsend lives in Yorkshire, where she was born, and started writing stories at
an early age. Always a voracious reader, she took a degree in medieval history
and worked in a library for a while, then began to write full-time after
fascinated by the medieval and ancient world, especially medieval Britain,
where she set her full length medieval romance novels A Knight's Vow, A
Knight's Captive, A Knight's Enchantment and A Knight’s Prize, (first published
by Kensington Zebra, now re-issued) and also
The Snow Bride, A Summer Bewitchment, and several novellas. Lindsay is also intrigued by ancient Rome,
Egypt, and Britain. Flavia’s Secret, a historical romance set in Roman Britain,
was followed by two more ancient world historical romances, Blue Gold, set in
ancient Egypt, and Bronze Lightning, set in Bronze Age Greece and the Ancient Britain
of Stonehenge. All these ancient world historicals are just 99cents or 99p.
writing or researching her books, she enjoys walking, reading, cooking, music,
going out with friends and long languid baths with scented candles (and perhaps
on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Lindsay-Townsend/e/B000API55C/