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 11 & 12
Enter the Panther
Ansgar stepped forward to stop Devlin from killing the white bear; it was a sacred animal to the Celts but paused as he heard a low growl. Frowning, he turned to see the cat morph into a black panther, its massive jaws open, ivory fangs glistening ready for the kill. Ansgar stopped, frozen to the spot. This was mighty magic. Who or what were these people?
Clara’s heart thudded; what the hell was that a panther? Yet even as she jumped away, bewildered, and petrified, she realized this was a deadly situation. Were these people insane – killers? Would they really murder them here? If the dwarf killed the panther, they too could die. Her legs felt like nearly set jelly. Maybe she was dreaming; was this a nightmare? Yet, it was so real. ‘Please just let us go. Better still; take us to the nearest house so we can phone….’ Her voice trailed away as she plunged her hand in her pocket. The mobile, yes, why didn’t she think of it? She’d dial 999; the police would be here in minutes.
As she drew it out of her pocket, she bit her lip; the glass was cracked covered in dirty water. She swiped it, but to no avail. Looking back at the panther and then Ansgar, she muttered. ‘You bastard, touch me, and the panther will have you.’
Perplexed, Ansgar drew back slowly, his hand now on the axe. Glaring at Devlin, he spat out the words. ‘See the magic? She has silver in her pocket. This is a goddess.’
Clara glanced over to see Tania kneeling with Lily; the girl on the horse now sat still, wide-eyed, yet unafraid.
Forestyne caught the girl’s look. She was in earnest, if only Moraig was here to see this, such powerful magic. She was keenly aware time was slipping by, and Moraig needed her and needed the herbs to live. ‘Please, Sir Knights. Treat them with great respect; I believe them to be goddesses, who choose to test us. Honour them for their familiars are lethal and will kill us if we do not yield.’
Ansgar growled. ‘Now, do you believe? We must treat these goddesses and their protectors with deference, or we will die here.’ He knelt to Clara. ‘We beseech you; pray, let us take you to safety.’
She did not understand but perceived the guy seemed quiet enough now but was still putting on a good act. ‘Tania, what do you think? This is tricky.’
Tania tightened her lips, ‘I think I’m dreaming, Clari, but we’d better go along with it. God knows what’s in these woods.’’ She looked at the panther. ‘What the hell happened to the cat?’ She realized she did not fear it, although she should be peeing in her pants, even standing near it.
Clara hunched her shoulders. ‘Just go with it, Tani.’ Pointing at the panther, she scowled at Devlin. ‘See, you bastard, he’ll eat your axe for breakfast, don’t even think of tying us up.
Tania sobbed, sinking to her knees. ‘You and your bloody Latin, I’m reporting you to the police, just you wait, you’ll pay for this, my dad will kill you.’
Astonished but unafraid at the shape-shifting of the cat, Devlin’s voice thundered over her screams. ‘As a Knight, I am loathe to harm defenseless women, but I fear my friend is right; you are demons.’
Terrified, Tania caught the gist of his words ‘Oh God Clari, he’s insane, he’s not even afraid of the panther. He’s insane.’
Ansgar, wary of the panther, held his axe aloft as he went to Devlin’s side, whispering. ‘Come, we must leave here; I fear the ground upon which we stand is an opening to hell.’
Devlin scowled yet was more than ready to heed Ansgar’s advice. ‘I should kill the panther and the bear; they are unholy, an abomination in the eyes of our God. ‘
‘Your God, not mine. Have you no sense, these girls have immense powers, beware what else they conjure up. Perchance twill be a dragon next.’
Devlin lifted his eyes, exasperated. ‘By the breath of Jesus Christ, tis true devilment. What do you…?’ His words trailed away as he saw the panther morph back into a cat.
‘Tis you that conjure up devils,’ Forestyne seethed. ‘They have no place in our religion. Let us begone before they conjure up the god of fire and death.’
Huffing, Ansgar reeled on Devlin. ‘I mean to protect these sprites or goddesses, whatever they may be.’ The girl with the hair of many colours aroused not only protective feelings but also desire. Even in wet rags and black tears, she was a beauty.
Forestyne gulped; she had to calm the furious men down. Now was not the time for dueling; they were already in much danger. ‘Let us take them with us until we decide what to do with them. Mayhap they have companions, we should be wary.
Devlin scowled, not wishing to concede but knowing she was right. ‘We will take them, prisoner, hold them hostage, tis our only leverage. If there are others, we are most certainly outnumbered. In which case, we threaten to behead them.’
Tania shrieked, not understanding his words but knowing they were in mortal danger, ‘Stop it – stop it now. This game has gone far enough. Someone could get hurt.’
Ansgar’s eyes narrowed. ‘Enough, come, let us begone.’
Tania trembled; they treated them like lowdown scum; she had to find a way to gain their respect. Seeing the soaked blue cape lying on the bank, she bit her lip; maybe King Arthur’s insignia on the back would impress them. She cried out, ‘ Rex – Cape – Arthur?’ If they were maniacs, hallucinating, living out visions of the dark ages, maybe they believed in Arthur.
Devlin strode over to the sodden blue cape thrown on the banks of the pool. Picking it up, he stroked the circle of oak leaves embroidered in gold, at the initials AC and KA. ‘I have never heard of such a king, you lie.’
Ansgar grimaced. ‘Sir Knight, I insist these ladies are of high repute; their very demeanour, the cape, and their peculiar clothes mark them as such. Yea, they may even be goddesses.’
‘Well, they have no magic – otherwise, they would free themselves, dissolve in a puff of smoke or fly off.’
‘You presume too much; we cannot ignore the runes on the rainbow-haired one; only a goddess could have such coloured tresses. Only a shaman would tattoo those runes on her arm. There is also the royal cape of the dark-haired one. I now pledge my services to these two high beings.’
Devlin realized they were lost in dense woodland; every tree could harbour an assassin. He needed the stalwart gnome prince’s support; he was a highly skilled swordsman and mean fighter. ‘I fear we are beset on all sides and could be victims of attack at any moment. Let us cease our incessant quarreling. I give the prisoners into your safekeeping.’
Mollified, Ansgar alighted from his horse and approached Clara, affably, holding out a large hand. ‘Come; allow me to assist you onto my horse.’ I will walk beside you. ‘
Tania pointed to Lily. ‘My dog, my cat.’
The gnome was now over-acting, pretending he had no idea what she said. She realized the only way to protect Lily and Spectre was to enter into these people’s fantasy world. ‘My familiars?’
The gnome frowned and shook his head. Desperately, she searched for the Latin words. ‘My canis – my cat – magic – spiritus?’ Tania sighed with relief as he nodded; thank God she’d got through to him.
Devlin scowled. ‘Surely, we’re not bringing these animals with us, Christ’s teeth; we have enough on our hands.’
Ansgar bunched his fists, ‘They are spirits, part of their magic.’
Forestyne dismounted and ran to Devlin’s side. ‘Good knight. I pray you, I must leave now. I shall find my own way through the forest. I told you my mother is in dire need of these herbs; I must hasten back before the light goes.’
Devlin stopped short. ‘Hah, we are ready to embark on our journey. Pray, I insist on taking you back to the safety of your hut. I am bound to pro—’
‘Enough, Sir, I leave, right now.’
Devlin nodded. ‘So be it.’ He turned to Ansgar. ‘Do what you wish, with the devils. Tis time to leave.’
Ansgar turned to Clara. ‘Maiden or goddess, you are safe with us; I will protect you with my life. So come, both of you mount up, your animals or spirits will follow, will they not?’
Clara whispered, ‘I think we should go with them. They seem to have sorted out the playacting, and we need to get through these woods.
Seeing she could not mount, Ansgar bodily lifted her on and then lifted Tania up behind her. Beaming now, he said. ‘From here-on, no-one will touch you or your spirit animals.’
Tied to Trees
The light was swiftly fading as they picked their way along a root strewn path to the hut deep in the woods. Seeking to lift the dire mood of the knights, Forestyne murmured. ‘Sir Devlin, you ride alone, have you no squire to attend you?’
‘Nay, we started out as a merry group escorting some ladies of the court of King Vortigern. We were protected by my master of arms, my squire, my pages, and three warrior knights. Accompanying us was Prince Drunraig, with his retinue and three guards. So we were a large party.’
‘Oh, what happened?’
‘Ambush. Under nightfall, the Picts attacked – hundreds of them. It was a bloody battle that lasted for hours. We were overcome, but not before we killed many.
‘They spared you?’
‘Nay, both Prince Drunraig and I were left for dead. It took days for us to recover from our wounds, but we determined to track down the scoundrels and save our ladies from a fate worse than death.’
‘But they are lost to you?’
‘At present, yes. We searched these woods for many days but found only a lady’s woolen underdress a ripped silk tunic and a female surcoat.’
Forestyne bit her lip. ‘So you think they are dead?’
‘Nay, there were no traces of blood, and we found no bodies. But we will not give up. We are now on our way to the court to seek help in the search. I feel the ladies are still alive, for it is the way of the Picts to leave their female prisoners tied to the trees.’
‘Tied to trees,’ Forestyne groaned, ‘Oh those poor – poor women.’ She knew the savages would tie them to trees so that men could take their pleasure in them day or night.
Feeling her shudder, Devlin said, ‘they are alive, my lady.’
‘How do you know?’
‘The Picts usually leave their prisoners heads staked on branches. So far, we have found none.’
‘Dear Goddess, I hope we are not attacked.’
‘Fear not sweet maiden, for I will kill you before they could take you. As it is if we find these poor ladies, we will end their suffering swiftly and cleanly.’
‘And how will you achieve that?’
Decapitation, they will feel nothing, for my sword is keen.’
‘Pray, why would you do such an evil deed? You are nothing but a barbarian.’
‘Dear lady, their bodies are soiled by those devils hands being laid upon them, no man will take them now, and no convent will admit them. Their lives ended the day they were taken.’
Forestyne felt icicles of fear scrape her spine. ‘I knew not of such dealings with poor prisoners. Haven’t they suffered enough? Why do they deserve such cruelty? It seems demons live in courtly life.’
‘Nay lady, living here with the tree people, you are innocent of the ways of courtly culture.’
‘So why search for them if you mean to kill them?’
‘To save their souls, so they may receive the sacraments to prepare their sweet souls for heaven.’
Forestyne felt anger rising. ‘Those wretched women. Not only will they suffer at the hands of savages, but they will also suffer torture and death by you or some other knight.’
Feeling her despair, Devlin drew her closer to him, his arm around her soft curves.
‘Forgive me, my lady, I meant not to frighten you with such savage words. However, such is the way of war now against these wretched Picts.’
Forestyne took a deep breath, trying to brush away the images rising in her mind, those poor women tied to trees, at the mercy of any vicious marauder. ‘Sir, I beg you if they are alive, spare them. I will take them in; they may dwell in the forest of the Whispering Trees. My people will care for them.’
‘Hmm, But what of their souls?’
‘Surely that is their choice?’
Devlin frowned; he’d never met such a bold maiden. Where was her decorum? None of the court ladies would dare question a knight’s decision. ‘I will reflect upon it. But, I am charged under oath, not only to protect a woman’s body, but also her soul.’
‘Hmm, so you would hound us unto death. Do women have to have a man’s permission to jump into her grave?’ Is a woman never free?’
‘What is this freedom you talk of? Women are cherished and protected; they are free to eat, sleep, choose their clothes, and—’
‘So do courtly ladies ask your permission to die?’
‘Now you take this too far, my lady.’
‘Hmm, I am not your lady; I am a woman of the forest, wild and free, I will never change.’
‘If you profess to be a lowly maiden of the forest, how come you comport yourself so, using high Latin spoken only in the monasteries or by the royal courtiers? Mayhap you are some lady fleeing her lord?’
‘Sir, you mock me. Why do you think I should be of high birth and abide in a castle to speak in different languages? The language of the Whispering Trees is just as important and as beautiful as your high Latin. Indeed, I am proud to speak the ancient language, proud to speak with the trees, proud to be born from them, and to die at their feet.’
‘Speak and talk to them? I know you inform me you speak with the plants and now the trees, you are indeed a witch. Only a witch speaks in different tongues.’
‘Not so, my stepmother is a very learned lady besides being a sorceress. She taught me to read and speak Latin as many ancient texts on medicine are in Latin or Greek.’
‘Hmm, next, you will tell me you read Greek.’
To his utter surprise, she nodded. ‘I do. You insult me, I repeat; one does not have to live in a fort to be learned. You are as demeaning as Aristotle, proclaiming women to be deformed males; they are inferior to men but higher than slaves. Indeed he quoted women had smaller brains than men and fewer teeth. He said they were unfit for anything but to give birth and weave. Tis how the courtly women are treated today. You and your insulting remarks are typical of such ignorance.’
‘I’ve a mind to tip you over my knee—’
‘Beware, I have sharp teeth and will bite you somewhere that would cause you great agony.’
‘You little witch. I will—’
‘Hush Sir, we are almost there. We must needs turn into the undergrowth and venture deeper into the forest; the cabin is hidden in a copse some fifty rods from the track.’
Devlin grunted; never before had a woman talked Greek biology to him or told him to hush. Bite his private parts indeed. Although angered, he was also titillated with her threats. He decided to resolve this worrisome situation later, but for now, he was on guard.
Night fell swiftly o’er the vast forest, as they rode deeper into the bushes. Devlin, now more aware of her curvaceous body against him, desired nothing more than to taste of her delights. As his horse bucked over prickly roots, his hands jerked up to her soft breasts.
He could not resist taking advantage of the opportunity, pressing both delicious mounds in his mittened hands.
Gasping, Forestyne exclaimed. ‘Sir, pray, do not take liberties with me. Stop now, or I shall be forced to walk.’
Sighing, he lingered over one plump breast. ‘Forgive me, my lady, my horse stumbled.’
‘Hmm, and so did your hands. Thank goodness we are nigh unto the hut.’
‘I shall deposit you there and bid you adieu.’
Forestyne felt the heat rush through her body. ‘Sir, I may be affronted with your unchivalrous behaviour, but you are wounded and fatigued. As a shaman and sorceress, I am honour bound to heal you, if it be in my power, so I offer you the hospitality of our humble abode. Tis just a shack, but tis sturdy and affords us good shelter.’
‘So you would trust us vagrant knights, sweet maiden?’
‘Sir, I have no desire to be ravished by you and offer you a sweet warning. Cast your mind away from such thoughts, for they could surely be the cause of an early death for you.’
‘Now you do frighten my maiden. Fear not, your virginity is safe with me. Have I not pledged my troth? I am your protector and, therefore, will fight to the death for your sweet sake.’ Swallowing a groan, Devlin spoke between gritted teeth. ‘Prince Drunraig and I would be grateful for shelter this night, for l admit to fatigue, let alone being famished and in pain from my wounds. But pray have you room for the two heathens and their animals? I know Drunraig will insist. You know now how short-tempered he is if crossed?’
‘Aye, they may sleep with the animals as do we. We have boar, a pig, a cow, and some chickens. The doves and pigeons nestle in the rafters overhead.’
‘Tis necessary for me to cleanse these wounds, lest they fester.’
‘Fear not, Sir, I have many potions and unguents that will cleanse your wounds and relieve the pain. Besides which, we have plenty of spiced fare for you and fodder for your horses. We, too, have horses, so there is plenty of feed. Also, I can only offer you and Prince Drunraig beds of fresh straw.’
At her words, Sir Devlin’s blood pulsed through his veins, to the thought of fresh straw and her tender body beside his, but then the Chivalric decrees forbade him harming a maiden in his care. Yet those rules applied only to the gentry and the ladies of the court, not to the peasants, even so, this virginal maid was so young, innocent, and in his care; there would be no bed play this night. He cleared his throat; at least he could rest before continuing on his long journey to Vortigern’s court. ‘Perhaps you would guide me through the woods, for I see no tracks.’
‘Fie, they are well hidden; pray to go now to the left.’
After weaving through trees and burgeoning bushes, they came upon the cabin. It was even smaller than Devlin supposed, a long narrow shack with sackcloth for a door. As he dismounted, he reached up for her, and lifting her slender body by the waist, placed her gently on the ground. He heard a soft growl from behind him and, spinning round, looked down into a pair of eyes, brighter than flames. God’s teeth, a wolf. As he watched the black lips curl up to reveal long yellow fangs, he heard a whine from behind him and, turning, looked down into another such pair. ‘Not one but two wolves,’ he whispered. Drawing his mighty sword from its scabbard, he whispered to Forestyne, ‘run – run now.’
No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.
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: