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 5 & 6
Standing amongst the rotting furniture, Clara sniffed, ‘Phew, can you smell that?’ Above them, the dark shape melted into the wall.
‘Ugh, it’s putrid. I wonder where it’s coming from?’
‘Ouch.’ Clara grimaced, stopping and sucking her thumb. ‘I’ve cut myself on that damn chair. Lily sweetheart, get out of the way.’
Tani frowned. ‘That’s quite a nasty gash; you’d better clean it; everything is so mouldy down here.’
‘I will, but let’s see what’s beyond that arch. Hmm, it’s much lower than the other one.’
Bending their heads, they went through, oblivious to the dark shape, growing, and thickening, wafting behind them, long arms stretching out over their heads.
Tania stopped, the dark form now looming high, its shadow stretching over the low stone ceiling. ‘What’s the matter?’ She stooped down as Lily whined. ‘I think it’s the atmosphere down here; it’s getting to her.’
‘These arches are getting smaller and smaller.’ Clara whispered. ‘Why on earth would anyone build small arches? Either they were midgets or, it’s just some crazy builder’s joke.
‘I know.’ Tania panted, ‘It’s like Alice going down the rabbit hole.’
‘Hope we don’t meet the old queen.’ Clara snickered. ‘Off with their heads. Let’s not tempt fate.’
Tania laughed; again, it lifted Clara’s heart to hear it.
‘Yes, let’s hope it’s the White Rabbit.’
‘Hmm, curiouser and curiouser.’ Clara squinted into a corner. ‘Look at that mirror, Tania, its polished steel with a silver frame.’
‘Yes, It’s must have been quite beautiful at one time, but now it’s worthless.’
‘I wonder how old it is. See the swirls and loops? It looks Celtic.’
‘Hmm, the Celts, it’s – magic.’
Lily padded forward, stretching her long body, to look straight into the mirror and padded backward howling.
‘Whoa.’ Tania backed away. ‘She’s terrified; she hasn’t been happy since we came down here. Neither am I. I’ve got a bad feeling about this place; let’s get out of here.’
‘Oh, come on. It’s so exciting. There’re a couple more rooms yet.’ Clara protested. ‘Let’s just have a look.’
Backing out of the low arch, they rubbed their necks, looking around the other archways to the main room. ‘Let’s try that one over there.’ Tania shone the torch at another opening, ‘you know the light in here is playing tricks on us; that arch was definitely larger when we first came in. It seems they’re all shrinking.’
‘Maybe we’ve taken a wrong turn or something. Stone arches don’t shrink Clari.’
This time Clara led the way. ‘Well, something’s wrong, terribly wrong. Oh my God, Tani, this is incredible.’
‘What?’ Tania came up beside her and gasped. ‘How could anyone leave this? I mean, it’s priceless.’
They both looked at a tarnished suit of armour.
Tani jumped back, clutching Clara’s arm. ‘Eyes – there were eyes in there.’
Clara whispered, ‘You’re kidding; it’s empty.’
‘No really – eyes.’ In silence, they watched the lance slowly fall from the chainmail glove.
Both now jumped back. With Clara’s heart beating a tattoo, she stuttered. ‘It’s … it’s only us disturbing everything.’
Tania whispered, ‘you know what the walrus said?’
‘It’s time to talk of cabbages and kings.’ Clara whispered.
‘What – what was that?’ they both shrieked; Lily joined in, whining. Tania’s heart thudded. ‘What the hell was it?’ A dark shaped flitted against the wall, then to their horror, leapt upon a crumbling chair.
‘A rat – a cat? No, it’s too big for a rat.’
‘Come, let’s get out of here – fast.’ They both leapt for the archway with Lily now in front, struggling to get through. Almost on all fours, they made for another arch. Scrabbling out, they tried to stand up, but the ceiling was too low. Crouching, they saw wooden crates, bound with rusting iron bands.
Clara whispered, ‘What’s in them? Lifting the lid, she gazed on garments covered in mildew.’ Carefully, she picked out what looked to be a dress. ‘My goodness, it’s almost shredding in my hands; it’s medieval fashion, dark ages even. There’s a veil; it stinks of mould. Ugh.’ She dropped them back into the trunk and closed the lid. ‘Disgusting, they were ancient, who on earth would keep them.’
Tania squatted by the other trunk. ‘Might as well have a look. We’ll kick ourselves if we don’t. Look at this; it’s so faded.’ She held up an old grey cloak with patches of deep blue. ‘It’s old, but I think this is supposed to be ermine trimming. I can’t believe Aunty Teg’ just left all this down here. It not like her.’
‘Hmm, I wouldn’t know; I’ve never seen ermine.’ Clara went closer to look. ‘There some gold embroidery on the back.’
Tania came over, squinting in the murky light. ‘It looks like a dirty yellow.’
Clara came closer. ‘It’s a cup, with initials embroidered above, KA and look; there’s something on the front, a large Y or something, and a Red Dragon. You know this cup could be the Holy Grail; maybe there’s a re-enactment group somewhere re-enacting some Arthurian or medieval battles or something.’
Tania groaned, backing away. ‘It’s all so weird; they wouldn’t go about in those filthy rags, surely. Come on, let’s get out.’ Lily pulled back growling, as Tania cried out, ‘Where are the arches? Where have they gone?’
‘Oh, God, what’s happening. This is no Wonderland, bugger Alice; we’ve got to find a way out.’
Tania shrieked, ‘That’s a black shape – it’s moving. Both girls backed up against the wall, searching feverishly for an archway. They watched horrified as the black shape leapt on top of a decomposing armoire. ‘It’s a fox,’ Tani whispered.
Clara screeched as the black shape leapt towards her. She fell, as she felt a weight on her head, claws digging into her forehead.’
Tania rushed forward. ‘It’s a cat – a cat.’ Lifting the petrified creature from Clara’s head, she cried out, ‘come on, let’s get out of here – now.
‘But’s there’s no way out.’ Clara cried, blood trickling down her face. Tania turned and swung her torch around. ‘Look the arches, there – over there.’
‘But they’re large; they’re not the ones we came through.’
‘Damn, just go, Tani – go.’
Petrified, they ran through tall arches and cellar rooms, reaching the narrow corridor and the rotting stairs. ‘Oh, thank God, thank God,’ Tania cried. Her heart thumped, the blood pounding in her ears, as still clutching the cat, she half crawled, half scrambled up the rotting steps of the cellar; Clara and Lily were close behind.,
Gasping, Clara flung down the hatch and stood up straight in the small kitchen. Her face white, voice trembling, she muttered. ‘What’s happening, Tani?’
‘God knows, but we’ve gotta leave here now. This place is haunted. You saw those arches getting smaller and then growing. We must get out.’
Clara nodded. ‘Yes, let’s go right now.’
Tani gulped, grabbing her arm. ‘D’you think it was a trick of the light? I must say, it’s so murky and dirty down there. I mean what with the cat and the darkness.’
Clara took a breath. ‘I smelt those clothes, Tani,’ and I didn’t imagine the arches getting smaller. Really, this place is creepy – dangerous. You can’t stay here. It’s a nightmare, haunted; you have to leave.’
Forestyne climbed from the sacred pool to kneel amidst leaves bleeding scarlet on the mossy bank. Now to summon the Goddess. Lifting her hands in supplication, she raised her voice. The incantation must be repeated three times for Carrawana, the Goddess of Healing, to appear before her.
‘Beloved mother, most gracious sisters,
I now entreat you; appear before me.
Let your beauty shimmer through the veils between the worlds.
Come, I beg you; show this worthless creature your power.
My dearest mother has need of succour,
The Eternal Shadow of Death hovers near.
Pray intervene in my mother’s destiny.
Pray show the herbs that will banish his shadow.
Bring forth the magical plants which will share their healing spirit.
May they look upon me kindly.’
She waited for a few seconds then repeated the plea twice more.
Whilst she chanted, showers of leaves in rainbow hues fluttered down, carpeting the pool. She was indeed in an enchanted bower.
As Forestyne completed her final incantation, she raised her head to feel her heart almost rise from her chest. There, before her stood a wondrous female figure crowned with the most vibrant red roses, weaving to and fro on her head; ebony tresses curled and waved to her knees. Her body swathed in delicate crimson chiffon was sprinkled with glittering gold leaves; her swanlike neck and slender arms adorned with sparkling rubies. Scarcely daring to breathe, Forestyne looked up into eyes darker than the blackest night, glittering with the brightest stars, her body quivering in adoration and fear.
‘Blessed Goddess, help me, I entreat you.
‘I already know why you are here, dear child. You fight the Eternal Shade?’
‘Dear lady, I love my stepmother; I still have so much to learn, so much to do before—’
‘You would deny her divine destiny?’
‘Yes, oh yes, I am broken- hearted and —’
‘My dear human, you have the right to question fate, and now because of your deep love for your step-mother, I will give you the herbs you so desire, but heed my warning, they will last only three days. Then must you release her to her fate.’
‘My lady, I beseech you, can you not spare her?’
‘You cannot go against the Lord of the World Tree. Even now, the eagle waits, perched upon the topmost branches. From thence, he will guide her soul to the Upper Worlds.’
Biting her lip, Forestyne wept. ‘Then please at least spare her the agony of death. Let it be peaceful.’
‘That I can grant you. Fate decrees you meet your birth mother – tis time for you too to embrace your destiny.’
Forestyne gasped. ‘You know my birth mother?’
‘Yes, she awaits you in the court of the evil King Vortigern.’
She did not seem fazed by Forestyne’s shocked gaze but carried on. ‘Now for your purpose here this day, on the bank, you will find the magical herbs of the mandrake and henbane. First, introduce yourself to them, beg for their aid, and apprise them of your need for their services. If they are willing to help you, be sure to dig with your fingers deep into the earth and lift them from the bank whole, their roots unbruised, then place them gently in a bag of soft wool.’
‘But I have not brought a bag with me. I was distraught and sped from the cottage, thinking only of reaching here and begging for your help.’
The goddess nodded. ‘Yes, I heard the roar of my fearsome cousin, Hanatac; you were blessed; she deigned to come to your rescue. The elves and gremlins were intent on your demise but more so, that of your blessed stepmother. Evil creatures, they kill for no good reason. However, fear not, you will find a bag for the precious herbs on the bank.’
‘Thank you – I am so grateful for your compassion and kindness.’
The Goddess’s smile lit up the beautiful features of her divine face. ‘Treat these magical plants with great respect. Sir Mandrake is a major plant with a fierce temper, so vex him not. Despite his volatile nature, he will ensure your stepmother experiences the most beautiful visions that take her out of all pain. Now pay attention to the herb entitled Lady Henbane, as she is sly and can release poison through your skin in a second if you annoy her. Yet, she will ensure your stepmother Moraig experiences the most beatific calm on her journey to the Eternal Shadow.’
As Forestyne looked up, she saw the goddess vanish in a shimmer of golden threads. For a moment, she stood still, in awe of meeting with such a divine being, and yet shivering as the daylight began to fade. Drifting towards the bank, she saw the mandrake’s bright green leaves and the henbane’s yellow flowers. Sharp needles of fear scraped her stomach. Would the plants deign to speak to her? Would they allow her to lift them from the earth?
Taking a breath, she swam to the bank and, standing in shallow water, bowed to the herbs. Immediately, she felt a soft breeze about her head, with an acidic scent that made her retch. Stifling her repulsion, she called out to them. ‘Sir Mandrake, suffer this poor creature to approach you. I have need of your powers to allow my mother three days’ grace before she departs our Middle World.’
She waited, her eyes lowered in respect. The acrid smell was almost overpowering as a raspy voice spat out. ‘Pray human wretch, who gave you permission to address me?’
Startled at the vehemence in the voice, she fluttered her eyelashes nervously whilst gazing at the bright green leaves. ‘T’was the Goddess Carrawana.’
He waved his leafy head from side to side. ‘Hah, then perchance I may speak with you. If I give you leave to tear me from my abode in the earth, you do realize, tis the end of my days in this miserable kingdom?’
‘Yes, I am eternally grateful for your tender care.’
‘Don’t be, because on leaving this pitiful world, I shall be raised to enjoy the hallowed gardens of the gods.’
Forestyne waited, not daring to move.
‘Get on with it, foolish girl, get on with it.’
She bit her lip; what should she do, dig him out or address Lady Henbane first? She decided on the latter; best to get it over with as soon as possible. She just prayed her hands would stop trembling.
Bending to the small flowering plant, she murmured, ‘my Lady, forgive me for disturbing you, but I have great need of your healing powers.’
A slimy voice seemed to slither over her skin, raising goosebumps.
‘Tis my pleasure. Unlike my Lord Mandrake, I am pleased for you to address me. Soon, I too will earn my release from this pitiful dirt and enjoy the wild meadows of the Upper World, so please hesitate not dear child, release me from this earthly prison.’
Forestyne felt her heart lift. At least they did not seek to kill her on the spot. Now she just had to be sure to lift them out in one piece. One bruise or blemish would destroy their powers to evoke a calm painless journey for Moraig to the hallowed realms of the Upper World.
As she began carefully digging into the soft wet earth, the mandrake shouted out. ‘Be gentle, you wretch, break one of my limbs, and you will die in agony. D’you hear me?’
‘Yes, my lord. I will be gentle.’
Her hands shook, even more when he shouted out yet more dire oaths and threats as she dug around him. She held her breath as she lifted him out, the human-like limbs of the plant’s body waving in the light. She tried not to grimace, for they felt so repulsive, so greasy. To her relief, he muttered. ‘Hmm, that’s better, now I hope you had the intelligence to prepare a soft woven bag for me?’
‘Yes, my Lord, tis here on the bank, from the Goddess herself.’
‘Hmm just so, as befits my station. I shall ensure your mother has a peaceful end, experiencing the most wondrous visions, as she floats up to the gods.
‘Thank you, my lord. I am so very grateful.’
‘Oh, shut up, you obsequious human.’
Carefully, Forestyne placed him, still grumbling in the bag. Turning to the henbane, she softly dug around the delicate roots. To her surprise, she heard soft sighs and whispers so different from the seething mandrake. ‘Oh yes, such ecstasy to be released from this wet earth. Soon I shall thrive on earth fed with golden gems. Yes, you are such a gentle mortal. Thank you, dear child. Now I can poison your beloved mother for you – gently, so she will float to her fate in sublime calm.’
Forestyne shuddered at the sibilant voice. Although the two plants would take away all pain, she knew they were also lethal and would end her mother’s mortal life.
She jumped, as Lady Henbane said, ‘But of course you do know that I am renowned for also saving life. A poisonous plant can actually poison the illness and not the person. So be aware, my child.’
‘But what of Lord Mandrake?’
‘He too is oft inclined to save a life despite his mean temper; he actually does have some affection for humans, however slight.’
‘But would you go against Eternal Death, against the goddess Arianrhod?’
‘Oh yes, we plants are the power hub of the universe; without us, the worlds would be arid, dead. Tis, we plants that feel and hear the worlds’ hearts and correct anything that may become awry in the golden threads’ subtle rhythms. The threads being the very stuff of life, tis we who empower the golden threads.
Amazed, Forestyne sat back on her heels, amazed that a tiny plant had such power.
Devlin pursed his lips. As usual, the gnome was off on one of his fantasies. Golden threads, spider goddesses weaving the worlds, the universe? Lances tearing the web? He had to divert his friend’s attention. Still, he also had to be careful; the gnome Prince of Irondragarth was powerful of build, quick temper, and a master of the sword. He also held a high station in the lower spheres and essential links in this middle world. It would not do to anger him unduly. ‘So what else have you heard?’
‘Hmm, after your derisive remarks, I hesitate to impart more.’
‘Come now, Ansgar, I wait upon your words.’
Mollified, the gnome lifted his chin. ‘My spies warn me the Wanderer of the Worlds has announced a prophecy.’
‘The Wanderer of the Worlds?’ Devlin frowned, wincing from his many wounds upon his body. Although beholden to his new Christian God, he still stood in awe of the ancient Wanderer. ‘You have my attention, pray, tell me.’
Ansgar scowled. ‘I dislike your tone; I fear you mock me, Sir Knight. T’will be your undoing to insult the gods, for surely they will bring down fearful punishment upon us. They may even turn us into toads, or even a lowly grub.’
‘Come, Ansgar, my humblest apologies, I need to hear the prophecy.’
The gnome lifted his chin, his hand now on the pommel of his sword. ‘Oh, very well then. The Wanderer said, “There will be more invasions in our southern lands. Kings and dragons will join forces to save Middle Earth. Together they will destroy the Picts, once and for all.” So we must act quickly.’
‘Kings and dragons are sworn, enemies?’
‘Yes, but even the druids and the shamans bend to the Wanderer.’
‘Tis impossible, the Wanderer goes too far. I trust not a druid or a shaman. They should cast aside their female devil goddesses and follow the Virgin.’
‘Hush; there are many spies around, on the ground, branch, and twig. The druids use the raven or owl as spies.’
Devlin looked swiftly up into the trees. ‘Hmm, I see only finches, pigeons, and magpies, not one squawk from a raven.’ Hearing a rush of wings high in branches of overhanging trees, he looked up. There was no sign of a bird, just two squirrels scurrying down a gnarled trunk, chasing one another. Obviously, there must be a flurry of messages, and they were arguing as to who would be first to serve news. ‘Come Ansgar; let us search for rest and succour. I am in sore need of food and a bed.’ Wounded and weary, just lately have returned to Albion. He’d travelled many leagues without sight of a dwelling where they could seek rest.
Ansgar grasped his arm. ‘Did you hear that?’
Devlin looked up, his heart beating faster, as wings seemed to hover right over them, then a voice singing, the clear notes trembling with grief. He spurred his horse forward, peering through leaves wafting to the forest floor. Straining to hear the voice again, he passed the remains of wooden planks crumbling into the ground, possibly the remains of some forsaken Keep. Hearing water splashing, the beautiful voice seemed much nearer now. Perchance was a water sprite; they sang and danced in the sacred groves and rivers. T’was then he espied her, standing in a pool, beside a well; most probably the goddess’s sacred dwelling. He held his breath as he gazed at the curvaceous curves of the most beautiful woman. Her bosoms were barely concealed above the sparkling waters, her golden hair floating amongst reeds.
Inflamed with her beauty, the pain from his wounds receded. Desire swept through his veins; his only thought was to tear off the dratted chainmail and join with her.
Ansgar whispered, ‘She is too beautiful, too ethereal to be human. She may truly be the Goddess of this hidden well.’
Devlin swallowed, his throat dry. He’d heard of such magical creatures from his fellow knights and the storytellers. Seated with his companions around the castle’s great hearth, he would listen to the storytellers’ marvelous tales. He believed in their magical tales, as he imbibed the wine, with logs blazing, casting haunting shadows over stone walls. However, in the cold morning light, he shrugged them off, along with his headache, they were only heathen enchantments.
‘Sir Knight, she is stunning.’ Ansgar always reverted to Devlin’s formal title when perturbed. ‘My heart is jumping up into my throat.’
Devlin grimaced. ‘Be silent, keep the horses still, we must not frighten her.’ With bated breath, he stopped behind a screen of hawthorn bushes, watching her softly singing as she drifted by a bank bedecked with fresh plants. He shivered, as early winter’s sharp teeth bit through the air; how could she cavort in such icy waters? She must be a sprite or a goddess?
All pain left him as he gazed upon her loveliness. He was surprised he felt no fear to be in the presence of such an unearthly creature. Had this Goddess favoured him? Was this his reward for the blood and tortured suffering of warring with the Picts? To his dismay, his horse gave a soft nicker, yet loud enough for the vision to raise her head, her large doe brown eyes startled, peering through the bushes. As Devlin tried to retreat, the maiden saw them in an instant, raising her hands to her mouth to cover a scream.
Devlin, undeterred by her fear, now oblivious to his wounds, alighted from his mount and crept forward. He also forgot all his new Christian beliefs, as fear gnawed at his stomach. Yet even though his brain warned him to withdraw, his heart urged him on. Not wishing to scare this rare creature, he murmured softly, ‘prithee, dear maiden, are you a water sprite, for verily I have seen none so lovely as your sweet self?’
Seeing his intense gaze, Forestyne stooped deeper into the water, covering her bosom with her small hands. She shrank back from the tall, dark knight with the face of a god, towering above her; black hair curled around his collar. As if hewn from rock, his features were indeed gentled as he swept sable eyes over her, eyes that devoured her body, reaching into her soul.
As she was either a sprite or a woman of the Whispering Trees, he spoke using the ancient Brythonic language, ‘Pray have no fear for I mean you no harm. So tell me, be you a sprite or spirit of this pool.’
‘Sir, I am no sprite, just a —’
‘Then a nymph, a soothsayer once told me I would meet such a one?’
She gave a winsome smile, ‘A nymph is just another name for a sprite, dear sir, but I must disappoint you, for I am just a poor maiden of the forest, and at your mercy.’
‘Hah, now you seek to trick me, or cast a spell on me with your beauty.’
‘Nay Sir, believe me, I am—’
‘Enough, you sing such a sweet song, yet tinged with sadness, what ails your heart?’
‘My mother is stricken by the wasting disease; I came here to the sacred Grove of the Great Goddess and her two sisters, to pray for succour.’
Ansgar jumped down from his horse and ran to Devlin, ‘Sir Knight. I beg you, pray listen not; she is casting a spell over you.’ His eyes wild with fear, he drew his sword.
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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
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: