Every Monday and Thursday, I will post two chapters of my enthralling fantasy romance novel, Maid of the Forest (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in a mystical Arthurian world, filled with mythical creatures, Goddesses, and magical powers, the reader is taken on a truly memorable journey.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:
Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 3 & 4
Tania bit her lip, clearing up some of the cups and plates piled up on the draining board. ‘Oh God, Gary will never read another word of what I write.’ She clutched her head. ‘I can’t do it; I just can’t, not without him. He always urged me on when I had a block. He would just say, “You can do it, Tani, just put the music on and get started.” He knew I always wrote to music.’
‘I know, but doesn’t music interrupt your concentration?’ Clara went to the sink.
‘Oh no, I couldn’t write without it; I have different composers for different moods; the music spurred me on, fired my imagination.’
Putting some washing liquid in the bowl, Clara turned on the hot water tap, watching the bubbles pile up in myriad sparkling colors. ‘You’ll write Tania again.’ just sit at the computer, let it happen.’
‘Hmm, I’d love to get lost in another world, but not yet. Besides, there’s all that unpacking to do and sorting, washing down the cupboards. I’m like that old well in the garden; dried up.’
‘A well? You didn’t say you had a well. I thought you only had the pond? ’
‘Didn’t I tell you? Gary was so excited about it all; he had such plans. Tegwen told me to leave the well and the pond alone; after all, they’d been there for hundreds of years, so why change things.’
Clara frowned. ‘Strange thing to say, after all, you have to muck out a pond now and then.’
‘Yes, and the brickwork’s crumbling in the well, but she told me about some extraordinary things that happened here.’
‘In Georgian times, a woman went missing; she’d only just moved to the cottage. It was owned by the lord of the manor then, and his servant came to collect the rent, but the cottage was empty. All her things were there, but no sign of her. No-one saw her. They searched all the surrounding villages, but she was nowhere to be found.’
‘Well, maybe she couldn’t afford the rent, maybe she did a runner.’
‘Perhaps, but many years later, a newly married couple rented it. The cottage was owned by the Parish Council then, and this couple moved in; they too went missing. The same thing, all their belongings were there, some of it still unpacked. Just plain disappeared. They were never found.’
‘How long ago was that?
‘Oh, I don’t know, late Victorian times.’
‘Old wives tales Tani.’
‘There were other stories about it, all strange and eerie; superstition, I guess, but she was quite adamant. I did ask her what kind of things, but she just smiled and changed the subject.’
‘With that creepy history, it’s a wonder she didn’t move out long ago.
‘Oh, Tegwen thought it was so cool. She loves the supernatural; that’s why she’s gone to Carnac, in Brittany; some say it’s older than Stonehenge. There are lots of standing stones there.’
‘Did you take a look at the well?’
‘Yes, we were curious. It had an iron drain cover over it; I couldn’t budge it, but Gary soon had it off. We found the well was fed from a natural spring. The pond at the back was connected somehow; it’s only a couple of meters away, by the trees; most of it’s covered in dark green moss – looked sinister.’
‘How old d’you think the cottage is?’
‘Hmm, I’m not sure; on the deeds, it dates back to the fifteen hundreds, but I believe it goes further back. It has a warren of cellars underneath here. Gary was going to explore them; that was days before he disappeared.’
Clara beamed. ‘Oh, come on, show me.’
Tania’s eyes widened. ‘There’re mice and rats down there. I’m sure of it. There’s bound to be with the well and the pond so near. Besides, it’s so dark; I haven’t been down since Gary….’ She faltered, biting her lip. ‘It’s pitch black down there. The electrics aren’t working.’
‘Have you got a torch handy?’
‘Yes, I had to get a couple.’
‘Come on, then, let’s go.’
‘Okay, you’re on,…. Wait ‘til I get my wellies, I don’t want those damn rats running over my feet.’
Clara laughed, ‘rats? You won’t put me off, you know, but … d’you have a spare pair for me?’
Pushing back the chestnut locks, Tania smiled, a smile that momentarily reached her grey-green eyes. Clara was so calm; she always managed to cheer her up. She wished she could be more like her, unlike herself; she never seemed to get irritated or frustrated. Tania wondered if she would have made it without her. ‘So you are scared? Hang on; I’ll call Lily, she’ll make them run.’
After donning the boots, the two girls walked out to the kitchen just off the narrow corridor from the sitting room with Lily close on their heels. Opening the cellar door on the side of the kitchen, Tania clicked on her torch. ‘Mind the steps; they’re rotten in places. Make sure you hold onto the rail.’
Clara nodded as she followed Tania down into the darkness, a darkness smelling of the must of centuries. She was terrified of rats, but she would brave anything for her best friend. ‘Gosh, it stinks down here.’
‘Like I said – rats.’
‘Ugh, I’ll confess, they terrify me.’ Gritting her teeth, Tania shone the torch over the walls, part lime, and wattle, part stone, ‘Look at the stones, wet and covered in moss. But, that pond is so near. Tegwen told me it floods at times – flash floods. Gary was going to see about that.’
‘Well, let’s hope it doesn’t happen while we’re down here.’
Tania pointed to the far wall. ‘Look, there’s an arch over there. It’s quite low, so watch your head.’
Bending her head, Clara followed her into a passageway. ‘Hmm, just a few barrels moldering away, they look like kegs for beer.’
Keeping close together, they entered the cellar only for Clara to gasp, ‘wow, look at the furniture, it’s antique. That cupboard looks gorgeous; see the carving? It’s beautiful.’
Moving over to her, Tani nodded, ‘Yes, beautiful but rotting, what a shame. ‘Look, there’s an old trestle; now that doesn’t look too bad; you may be able to save it.’ She felt a rush of air over her shoulders and shrugged. ‘It’s cold down here, should have brought a jacket.’ Neither was aware of the dark shape building up behind them.
The Forest, 449 AD.
A mist gathered as Forestyne fled through the forest, the trees now waving their topmost branches, the leaves fluttering to and fro amongst furious whispers. ‘Beware fair maiden, beware. Stay with us – stay with us.’ She answered softly, ‘Nay I must go on, l must save my mother.’
‘Sweet one, stay with us, be safe amongst our branches, our leaves will cover you. Sta – aa – aa –y.’
She would not listen to them; she had to reach the sacred pool. Yet, even as they warned her, they did not seek to bend or swoop down upon her. She’d heard the trees saved many a life, especially from the wild boars. They would dip slender boughs and grab unwary travelers without any warning, flinging them onto the topmost branches. Thus they saved their lives from the boars, wolves, or robbers who would murder for a few pence.
Yet, she knew the path to tread; knew the way to the sparkling pool by the sacred well.
She became aware of mist thickening, the wind whipping up acrid fumes. Fear gripped her stomach; the elves? Had the Eternal Shade brought them upon her because she sought to defy it? Would their evil arrows shred her skin? The mist thickened into a blinding fog, the path turning to a treacherous bog, sucking and grasping her feet. Her body condensing, became heavy as she moved in slow motion, mud gobbling her feet.
These were not the actions of the elves; it was something far worse. Forestyne looked down to see the malicious smiles of gremlins; their green scaly skins ridden with warts, thick yellow slobber drooling from gruesome jaws. Their fangs glinted as they leaped upon her, licking, sucking, and biting her soft skin. Soon they would flay her alive before shredding her flesh. In her terror, she remembered Moraig’s words, ‘use the power of the bracelet, call upon the god or goddess you need.’
She searched her mind, yes – yes, the goddess Hanatac, the destroyer of bestial evil. ‘Hanatac succor – help me – please help me.’
Crying out, she felt the first tear of her skin. Her heart jumped and then jiggered in her chest when agony streaked up her arm. More drooling slimy fangs crunched into her flesh. The gremlins despised Moraig, despised her healing sorcery and magic. They wanted her dead; they would even kill Forestyne to stop her from reaching the herbs. She screeched out, ‘Hanatac – succor.’ Screaming, she felt fingers, bigger than oak trees dragging her up out of the swamp, out of her terror and despair; saw darkness descending as a voice boomed, like a growl of thunder.
‘Whither go you maiden?’ Her mouth dried up, her heart fragmenting. ‘Was this indeed the Goddess, Hanatac herself?’’
‘Tell me, maiden. Where? Anger me not.’ A voice boomed down from the heavens.
Forestyne had to speak, but her mouth seemed frozen. ‘Carra … Carrawana’s pool near the sacred well.’
‘Hah, so you wish to visit that ugly cousin of mine, interfering bitch. So be it.’ Forestyne felt herself lifted into the air, flying over the trees, then darkness.
Coughing and spluttering, Forestyne struggled to the surface of a still water pool, the trees reaching up into the wisps of clouds floating overhead, so it did happen. The mighty goddess did indeed rescue her. She cried out loud, ‘Thank you, Hanatac, thank you.’ A bellowing giggle reached her from the heights.
So, she amused the goddess, twas better than being the victim of her anger. Now to search for the herbs to save Moraig’s life. She must summon Carrawana, the goddess of healing who, in her tender mercy, would save her beloved mother. She prayed fervently to the goddess, willing her to appear.
Weary from fierce battle, seeking somewhere to rest from his wounds, Sir Devlin, the Black Warrior – the most fearsome but youngest knight in King Vortigern’s royal court, entered the dense forest of the ancient Weald. He made a handsome figure in sparkling chainmail armor, with a voluminous Capernaum draping over the back of his mighty destrier. With elegant grace, Sir Devlin guided his mount around almost impenetrable bushes, their bulbous shapes burgeoning like fattened monks. Warily, he peered around, heeding the warnings of his fellow knights. Twas, a place of sacred groves, rippling streams, and still silent pools, a place where strange creatures, winged with pointed ears gathered. He grimaced; gnomes, goblins, and cruel witches raced through his mind. He shook his head; now he was foolish, t’was superstitious nonsense. Such fancies were the wanderings of a story teller’s wild imagination. He frowned; he needed to seek assistance from the new Christian God. The mighty gnome Prince Ansgar Drunraig drew alongside him, ‘My lord, tis eerie here, see the yew trees yonder? Tis, a place of worship for the druids, let us leave before they come upon us.’
‘Away with your superstitions, my lord. Tis a safer route; the Picts are not far behind, but we will lead them a merry dance through this wood. Devils, they almost slew our party; I pray God some escaped. We two cannot survive another ambush.’
The gnome, over four feet tall, with massive girth and iron-bound muscles, scowled, his huge fist reaching for the pommelled hilt of his fearsome sword. ‘Heed your words Sir Knight; forget not you speak to a Prince to the Lower World, heir to the mighty kingdom of Irondragarth – we’re never beaten – never. We two will rout the devils.’
Devlin grimaced, ‘How many times must you remind me of your lofty titles Drunraig; you and your fearful pride. We have been friends too long now, fought too many battles together for such grandiose talk.’
‘Hmm, sometimes you are too bold, Sir Knight; may I remind you it is a mere two years since we met. You are still a green colt in the world of stallions.’
‘Now, you mock me. I am three and twenty years of age; many men of my years are wedded with offspring, so choose your words carefully.’ Yet it was said in jocular tone for Devlin was very fond of the fearsome dwarf.’
‘Hmm, I am inclined to return to my homeland, at least there; I will be treated with respect. You Middle World people are prone to patronize. Forget not, without the Irondragarths; you would not exist. We are bound to each other by the web of the goddess Arianrhod.’
‘My prince, may I remind you, tis the new Christian God who created the world. The bald monks tell us He created our world with His Word in seven days and then shaped the winged angels to protect us. T’was not some huge Spider Goddess – rubbish, I say.’ Yet, even as he uttered the words, he gazed fearfully around him. The Christian God was still new to him, and Arianrhod had many spies hidden among the trees.
‘Fiend’s teeth, Sir, you know full well, her priestesses, the Sisters of the Wyrd, wove the golden threads of our worlds.’
‘Tis a pretty tale but—’
‘Careful what you say, Arianrhod is the spinner of our fate. Even now, her priestesses weave her golden threads into the ground beneath you, the trees, even your miserable body.’
Devlin sighed, ‘Ansgar; for goodness sake, you fairly make my head ache with such mystic nonsense. Believe me, now, I love and respect you as a brother. I, too, can lay claim to high birth; my father is a great and powerful chieftain of high lands and mountains that sweep down to the northern ocean. But alas, I did not know how weak our new king is. Vortigern has made grave mistakes, and now we must fight to save our fair Albion.’
‘Hmm, we were better off under the Romans. For centuries, we led decent lives, protected from marauding savages. At least, they respected our differing ways of life and just overlooked most things.’
‘Aye, King Vortigern, is indeed a vain and weak man; his foolish actions will surely destroy us.’ Devlin scowled. ‘It is because of him; we are now attacked from all sides.’
Ansgar sighed. ‘The high priests of the Upper Worlds are displeased with the warring of the tribes. Soon this Middle Earth will be aflame with their wrath. They will come down on you with a mighty blaze; you will burn in hell for eternity.
‘How came you upon such fearful knowledge?’
‘We gnomes of Irondragarth have the ear of the gnomes, the blacksmiths, of Lower Earth.’
‘So what have these noble blacksmiths told you?’
‘We face our doom, all because this stupid King invited the Saxons to help him fight against the Picts.’
Devlin rested the reins on his horse. ‘The fool, the Saxons turned up in three warships; I don’t trust them.’
‘I trow they are mercenaries; they will take all they can get; our forts, our fertile lands, our women, and our cattle. Mark me; they’re not just here to help fight the Picts, the blue-painted brutes. They’re here to invade our lands.’
‘That can never happen. We will fight to the death for our fair Albion.’ Sensing his anger, his destrier shook his mighty head, neighing and pawing the ground
‘The Spider Goddess, Arianrhod warns the wars threaten the delicate web of our world, our very being. All earths will suffer; bide the words of the Great Wanderer of Worlds, “The coming war will destroy Middle Earth.” Our fate is stretched beyond the laws of existence. The lances of the warriors pierce the web; the golden strands are tearing. We shall all perish.’
‘Hmm, you and your sorcery, tis mere scaremongering. It is rumoured a King known as The Mighty Bear will emerge from the south-west, a king who will despatch the invaders from our fair land.’
‘Well, I know not about that, but I pray he will deliver us, for now, we fight not only Picts but the Saxons as well.’
‘I haven’t encountered any.’ ‘You will fair, Knight. You will.’ Ansgar narrowed his eyes, grimacing.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © Katy Walters
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Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: