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 13 & 14
Seeing the wolves raise their mighty heads, Lily growled and sprang forward, gnashing her teeth; huge as she was, it was two against one. Petrified, Tania jumped from her horse and grabbed her, only to hear a tinkling laugh.
‘Forsooth people, be not afeared, tis my two faithful protectors.’ Forestyne grinned. ‘They are part of a pack that has a den near to here, yet they choose to live with me.’
Devlin turned to her, ‘Then you are truly a water sprite or a witch. ‘God zounds woman, why did you not warn me?’
‘Fie on you; they will do no harm. Do you tether your horse and come inside.’
‘Christ’s tree, how think you, I could leave him to a terrible death? The wolves would rip my horse to pieces in seconds.’
‘Nay Sir, see here.’
She walked up to Thunder and stroked his trembling body all over. In seconds, the horse became still, licking her face and softly nibbling her shoulder. ‘See, he is not afraid, and the wolves will not harm him, for I have covered him with my scent.’ She stooped to Lily and Spectre, lightly stroking them. ‘See all is well.
Devlin stepped away, raising his eyebrows. ‘Hmm, not a sprite?’
‘Nay sir, at least not a water sprite.’
‘Hmm, you are truly a heathen, a witch.’
‘Nay my lord, as I told you, I am a shaman and a sorceress and proud of it.’
‘Hmm, well.’ He tethered Thunder and walked some paces away, his eyes on the wolves. Yet, they paid him no heed, tossing their heads they loped into the hut, whilst Ansgar tied Lily to a post.
‘You don’t mean to tell me I shall be bedding down with wolves?’
Despite her fear for her sick mother, Forestyne managed a smile. ‘Come meet my family.’
A cozy warmth welcomed him as he entered. Sweet-smelling rushes covered the floor, giving off a heady scent of lavender, thistle, and pungent herbs. In the middle of the room was a banked up fire of peat and logs, with pottage cooking in a blackened cauldron suspended on chains from the rafters. The most delicious aromas wafted across, causing his stomach to growl. Along the walls were ledges with straw pallets covered with woolen blankets and furs. At one end stood a carved oak table with stools tucked beneath, with others scattered around the fire.
To Devlin’s curiosity, on one wall hung two cloaks; one looked like a huge raven made entirely from black feathers with a hood comprised of more black feathers and a large yellow beak. The other hanging beside it looked like a wolf’s hide, the hood being an actual wolf’s head.
Seeing him look at them, Forestyne smiled. ‘They are very precious to us, part of our spirit. When we wear them, we become them.’ She beamed, speaking with pride. ‘I have the spirit of the wolf, and my dear mother, that of the raven.’
Devlin bowed his head, although his blood ran cold.
Ansgar, however, flung up his arms with delight. . ‘It is an honour to be with such powerful shamans.’
‘We are sorcerers first, my lord, but as I said, we also have the power of the shaman.’ Forestyne said seriously.
Despite his new faith, Devlin was curious. ‘Hmm, so do you wear these?’
‘Oh yes, my mother uses her cloak to change to the spirit of the raven and flies through the spirit worlds.’
‘Oh, and you?’ his heart thudded. Was Forestyne really a wolf in spirit?
‘I use the wolf’s skin and become the spirit of the wolf.’ She gave a deep growl showing her teeth, suddenly looking lethal. Seeing the intensity of her face and the subtle changes in her body, he felt more than uncomfortable.
She looked at him. ‘You have a bear engraved on your helmet Sir, do you not change to the spirit of the bear in battle?’
He raised his eyebrows. He was on stony ground here. ‘Err … I actually—’
‘Forestyne, sweetheart,’ her mother called from the pallet, saving him the embarrassment of answering.
She went to her mother lying on one of the pallets. ‘Mother, we have a guest,’ she turned and waved Devlin over. ‘Tis a gallant knight, Sir Devlin. He is recently returned from battle with the savages and is on his way to the court of King Vortigern. He took care of me on my way back here.
Her mother looked up; her blue eyes faded and bleak with pain. ‘Oh my child, I pray the Goddess he may continue to protect you.’
‘I can protect myself, mother, but listen, I have good news, Carrawana, the goddess of healing, appeared to me and showed me some precious herbs. She told me they are for the wasting sickness.’
‘She spoke to you?’
Devlin watched in dismay as the maiden nodded to her mother. ‘Yea, she told me you will have a peaceful journey to the upper worlds. But now, dearest, let me introduce Sir Devlin.’
Devlin walked to the sick woman’s bedside, embarrassed and yet filled with compassion for the woman’s wasted body; the shadows, deep in her gaunt cheeks and sunken mouth.
Moraig lifted her hand, ‘Kind sir, thank you for your gallantry to my daughter. I beg you to become her protector. She will soon be alone in this savage Middle Earth, as I am not long for this world; the Eternal Shadow hangs over me.’
‘Mother dearest, I pray you, Death is listening to your words; please refrain from uttering anything that will invite him nearer.’
Moraig rose on frail elbows to gaze earnestly into Devlin’s face. ‘You were led here, Sir; I cast a spell imploring the Goddess Carrawana to procure a champion for my beloved Forestyne; a Knight who would take her to the safety of Vortigern’s court.
Devlin frowned, ‘I will obey your wishes, madam, but King Vortigern is weak and greedy.’
Seeing the pallor deepen in the lady’s face, he paused. ‘Forgive me, my lady, I do not wish to upset you. Suffice to say Forestyne is now under my protection.’
Forestyne gasped. ‘Mother, do not do this. I will not travel to any court. My home is here with our tree people; I have no wish to be confined in some fortified castle. I will be trapped, subjected to other people’s wishes. Do not separate me from the whispers of the trees. This is not our way, mother. Please.’
‘My child, fear not, Stay for a few weeks and then return. You will have your duties as a sorceress to attend to.
Weeks? Tis far too long. Tears streamed down Forestyne’s face at the very thought of losing her freedom. Devlin looked at her, seeing the horror on her face. Was this indeed a child of the forest? Did she really prefer the woods to the rich life of the castle? Did she really wish to dress in rough woolen tunics and go barefoot when she could be clothed in the finest silks and satins?
Bemused, he turned back to the mother. ‘As much as I am able, I will care for your girl.’ But seeing Forestyne look at him with daggers in those amber-brown eyes, he knew it would be a challenging task.
Forestyne leant forward, taking her mother’s hand. ‘Come now, be still and rest, the sacred plants. Lord Mandrake and Lady Henbane await us. They have agreed to ease your pain, so I must now see to preparing the tisanes and unguents.’
Devlin looked at her aghast; Lord Mandrake? Lady Henbane? The girl lived a world of fantasy. Indeed he felt trapped in a world of witches, sorceresses, sprites, and wolves. T’was time, he repaired to the sanity of the court. He looked down at the two wolves, sitting with the bear-like dog and black cat, at the two witches or goddesses, and lastly, the sorceress lying before him. This was an insane world. Gathering his courage, he turned to Forestyne. ‘Go, you prepare the concoctions, whilst I stay with your mother.’
‘But what of your wounds, Sir?’
‘They can wait; they are not inflamed.’
‘Very well, but first, you must be hungering for food. I added more vegetables and spices to the pottage pot before I left, so there will just be enough food for us all; tis wholesome, with barley, leeks, roots, nettles, and spices. I also have some apple wine.’
Hunger pains gnawed his innards. ‘It would be much appreciated. Thank you.’
Forestyne looked over to Tania and Clara. Knowing they did not understand her language, she went to a wooden chest and brought out some clothing. Pointing to their sodden garments, she offered them two simple woolen tunics. Tania smiled and nodded.
Forestyne then turned to Devlin. ‘After you eat, you should try to rest.’ She pointed to the pallets on the wooden ledges. ‘Take some furs and blankets from the corner behind the curtain in the far corner. I will tend to your wounds after I tend to my mother. You will forgive me if I do not eat with you.’
Within minutes she served the food in wooden bowls, spoons, and trenchers of bread.
The pottage was tasty, to Tania’s surprise, but the bread trencher proved gritty and almost inedible. She tried to eat as much as possible, knowing that they must escape soon. They could well be lost and be forced to spend the night in the forest. They retreated to the end of the hut and watched Forestyne prepare plants and herbs, which she steeped in the steaming water of two small cauldrons suspended over the fire. They remained quiet as Devlin and Ansgar settled down on the fresh straw piled on the sleeping ledges and pulled heavy furs over their weary bodies. Within minutes the men were fast asleep, their snores resounding throughout the hut.
Tania nudged Clara. ‘Now we can make a break for it. They’ll sleep for hours.’ To their astonishment, Forestyne rose to her feet and began chanting softly whilst dancing lightly around the fire. Soon an acrid smell akin to stinking socks mixed with rotten eggs pervaded the air, causing Tania and Clara to retch. Hurriedly standing, they held their stomachs. Seeing the peasant girl hunch down to mix the herbs, Tania whispered to Clara, ‘let’s go outside – there’s a chance we can get away.’ Clara nodded and rose to her feet; biting her lip, she stepped by the two wolves slumbering by the fire.
Tip-toeing over to Forestyne, Tania patted her stomach to indicate she felt sick. Looking concerned, the girl rose to her feet. Tania shook her head, pointing to the plants immersed in the bubbling water. Understanding her, Florestyne smiled, then tiptoed over to the furs and handed two to Tania. Gently she took Clara by the hand and led the two girls outside to a small lean-to. She pointed to bales of straw within the hut and then rested her head on her raised hands, signaling sleep. Understanding the message, Tania nodded eagerly to show she understood. Giving Tania a light kiss on the cheek, Forestyne left them to return to her plants, bubbling away in the main hut.
‘Quick, we’ve got to go now.’ Tania grabbed their clothes drying over a wooden railing, whilst Clara untied Lily and looked around for Spectre.
‘Come on, Clari, we haven’t got time. He’ll find us.’
‘Okay, but let’s go a different way; we will confound them.
Tania ploughed into the bushes with Clara and Lily close behind. Neither spoke as they grimly thrust through thorny bushes scratching their arms whilst tripping over roots. Light was falling as they came to a halt. ‘The village must be up ahead. I thought we would have reached it by now, or at least one of the farms. That’s if we’re going in the right direction. We should have at least seen some cottages or houses.’
Clara stopped and caught her breath. ‘Maybe if we strike off to the left, it could get us onto the main road; or at least a track.’
Tania looked around, her brow creased worriedly. ‘I thought we were in between the town and the village. We haven’t come across one road or track; I think we’re completely lost.’
Clara slumped to her knees, ‘Dammit; I have no sense of direction; honestly, I had no idea of north or south, let alone east or west.’
‘Me neither.’ Tania sat down beside her friend. ‘We’ll just have a rest and then strike off to our left and keep on going.’
Clara stroked a bloody scratch on her calf. ‘Tell you what; we haven’t seen any more people from the re-enactment group.’
‘Maybe it was just those three nutters.’
‘I don’t know, there was that woman in the hut, and she looked as if she was dying, she was almost skeletal, and her skin was like wrinkled parchment. The girl seemed nice, but she’s rather peculiar, isn’t she?’
‘Yes, talking in some, guttural language and then Latin.’ Tania pursed her lips. ‘They seemed very educated, though.’
‘Or insane. I just wonder if they’re part of the re-enactment group or maybe want to lead a hippy life. ‘
‘What about those bloody wolves?’
‘Hmm, yes, but if they reared them from pups, they would be tame.’ Clara muttered.
‘I suppose so, but I wouldn’t trust them. Just wish I remembered more of my Latin; never liked the subject anyway. They put me in the German class, but I did just as badly there. But why the hell should we have to speak in Latin or German? We’re in England, for God’s sake. ’
‘Oh, I rather liked French and German.’ Clara said
Tania plucked a twig from her ebony hair. ‘Hmm, German or not, we’ve got to get going. Don’t want them catching us again.’
‘No, I honestly thought they were going to kill us, at one point. Those swords were real, you know, not silver-painted cardboard.’
‘Huh, men like their toys.’
Tania patted Lily, who lay with her head on her paws, quite content just to be with them. ‘There’s no sign of Spectre. I do feel awful leaving him behind.’
‘He’ll appear soon. He’ll pop up unexpectedly.’
‘I hope so, but anyway, we’d better get going again; it’s getting dark quickly.’
Struggling through a bush, Clara panted, ‘I just wish we had some knives or axes; it would make it a lot easier.’
‘Leather gloves would do.’ Tania gasped, breaking off some vicious looking thorny branches. ‘I thought we’d come to some heathland, but it’s all thick forest. I honestly don’t remember it being like this.’
‘Maybe you took one of the more popular areas. The gamekeepers do thin out certain areas of the forests for people to walk.’
Struggling through a copse of birch trees, Tania grunted. ‘I hope we find someone soon. We don’t want to be out all night.’
Picking up the pace with Lily running ahead, they branched off to the left, running through ferns almost waist high in a forest of oak, ash, and silver birch.’ Clara gasped, ‘I hope we don’t tread on any snakes; with these ferns and plants, you can’t see where you’re stepping.’
‘Oh, don’t Clari, I hate snakes. I know I’m a cock-eyed animal lover, but I’m petrified of snakes; I bet three are loads of adders in the woods.’
‘Then don’t look for them, just keep going.’
‘Well, that’s not easy, seeing as you’ve just alerted me to them. Oh, bugger it. Keep going.’
As they tore through more dense bushes, Tania stopped short. ‘We’re coming to higher ground. I can hear running water.’
Clara stopped to listen. ‘Yes, come on, we can get a drink; I’m parched. But we might catch something awful drinking from a stream.’
‘No, it’s fresh spring water; these hills feed the villages and towns. ‘
‘Yes, but it’s purified before it reaches our kitchen taps. Here you’ve got all sorts of disgusting things in the streams, sludge, moss, fish, eels, dead rats.’
‘Honestly, Clari, stop it. We’ve got to survive; just think of clear running water. Come on, I’m parched.’
Running swiftly now, they stopped short. ‘Shit, Tani, we’re in a quarry.’
Dismayed, Tania looked over to see small overhanging granite and chalk cliffs. ‘We’ll have to be careful now; we could be standing on the edge of a cliff for all we know; they just drop away in the quarries. One minute you’re standing on grass, the next there’s a twenty-foot drop or more.’
‘And it’s dark.’
‘Listen, I think the stream is over there.’ Tania pointed over to a raised bank underneath some sturdy oak trees. ‘Yes, over there.’
‘If it’s a stream, there could be a cottage or a house nearby.’
Seeing Lily dashing towards the bank, Tania cried out, ‘Oh God, it could be a cliff edge. ‘Lily stop – stop – dammit.’
But as usual, her beautiful, headstrong dog took no notice and, leaping over the rocks, disappeared.
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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: