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 17 & 18
Devlin watched Forestyne, her body wracked with sobs. Rising from the ledge, he walked to her and gazed down at the still figure on the pallet. He put an arm around her delicate shoulders. ‘I am so sorry – if there is anything I can do?’
She bent her head. ‘No, I have to wait for the Eternal Shadow to fade from our abode.’ She pointed to the shadows in the far corner.
He nodded; although he was now a Christian, he knew the old rites and rituals. He looked over to Ansgar, still snoring heavily. His body tensed; where were the maidens? There was no sign of them.
‘My lady, forgive me, but pray, tell me, where are the prisoners?’
Shuddering, Forestyne shook her head.’ They had need of sleep; they are in the outhouse.’
Devlin growled, rushing to the sackcloth pulling it aside and peering out. ‘God’s bones, they have disappeared. We must go after them.’
‘But sir, I still have to tend to your wounds.’
‘Nay, they are of little consequence.’
‘But they could be infested.’
‘Nay, they are clean and are healing already.’
Forestyne knew he was lying but knew it was useless to argue he was intent on recapturing the women.’
‘Then allow me to cover them with some cleansing moss and bind them firmly.’
He frowned and tutted. ‘Oh very well, but first, I must awaken Prince Drunraig.’
Rushing over, he pulled on the snoring knight’s arm. ‘Drunraig, awake, awake.’
Snorting, the gnome grunted and opened an eye. ‘What is it?’
‘The maidens they have gone – run away.’
‘They are witches or sorceresses; we must go in pursuit. They must stand trial in court for their blasphemous acts.’
Drunraig scratched his unruly red hair. ‘Watch your tongue Sir Knight; you speak in front of a grieving sorceress, one whose mother was a revered and renowned sorceress and healer. They have both shown you such gracious hospitality, and you thank them thus?’
‘We have no time to argue, we must go after them, but I am loath to leave the lady Forestyne unprotected.’
‘Leave them be, Sir Knight. They have every right to practice sorcery.’ Devlin realized his companion addressed him formally. He was angered and ready for a row.
‘Have you no sense Ansgar, even if they are witches, they are still vulnerable women, and they could fall foul of vicious marauders. The devils would waste no time in ravishing them.
Ansgar almost fell off the ledge, reaching for his sword. ‘Sense? No sense? You accuse me of having no sense? How dare you, Sir Knight. Where are your manners? You will answer for that insult.’ As he went to draw his sword from the scabbard, Devlin gripped his arm.
‘Stay, Sir Knight. I—’
‘Unhand me, Sir, before I chop off yer bloody arm.’
‘Ansgar, my friend in arms, forgive me. I have a quick tongue. I meant no insult. Tis I who am senseless for upbraiding you thus.’
‘Hmm, so be it. Yet, you still insult my ways, Devlin. Sorcery is highly respected in my father’s kingdom. Begad, the wizards and sorcerers run the Lower World.’
‘I am mortified with my reckless tongue Ansgar.’
‘Hmm, I have a mind to cut it out, so – watch it. Just because you have gone off half-cocked after your soft son of God does not give you the right to insult my gods who are seen and heard when we need them. They do not remain silent, hiding up in some cloud, or locking their golden gates against us. Nay, they are right there with us, talking through our wizards and sorcerers, and even appearing, as needs must.’
Devlin raised his eyebrows but said nothing, his friend’s temper flamed fast and fierce, but then he always felt deep remorse afterward.
Forestyne lifted her head. ‘Aye, my beloved mother was and is still a sorceress journeying to the Upper World. How can you be so cold-hearted insulting her so?’
Devlin bit his lip; he was already smitten with Forestyne’s delicate beauty, with her intelligence and feisty ways. ‘Forgive me, gentle lady, t’was the last thing on my mind to hurt your precious heart in any way. I am sworn to protect and champion you, as is the way of a chivalrous knight. Forgive me.’
Seething, Forestyne glared at him. ‘I do not need your protection, my lord, besides you are scarcely older than myself.’
I will inform you I am two and twenty years and have travelled ocean, forest, and desert fighting for Albion’s safety.
‘You have everything to be proud of, but I too fought in tribal wars to protect the people of the Whispering Trees and survived to tell the tale. So please, do not presume to think you will become my protector. Besides, as you say, you constantly travel, and I, for one, will never leave this forest and my gods. It is my home.’
He swallowed his anger. ‘Tis time you cast aside your evil gods and bowed to the Christian God, who protects us all in His gracious. Love.’
Forestyne could scarce contain her anger. ‘Have you no respect? You may despise our gods, but pray, do not insult them in my presence lest I show my fangs.’
Devlin frowned; show her fangs, now that was weird. He answered drily, ‘Pagan talk indeed, I would soon chisel them down, so guard your words maiden, if you value your teeth.’
He did indeed despise the old gods and would seek to bring Forestyne to the arms of the Christian God and the Blessed Virgin. It would take time, but he would persevere.
Ansgar cut in. ‘Stop such driveling talk. Come, we must search for the maidens, tis getting dark already. The woods are crawling with savages.’ He turned to Forestyne, ‘Our king brought the Saxons over to fight the Picts, but the Picts are taking over; I fear the Saxons are also grabbing land for themselves.’
Ansgar growled, ‘Stupid King, has he no wits?’ He grunted, pulling on his chainmail coif. The fair-haired maid was a winsome little thing, and even though she had black paint running down her cheeks, she was quite lovely, her hair shining in the colours of the rainbow. Shrugging on his chainmail haubergeon, reaching almost to his knees, he sighed, ‘I miss my bloody squire, now I have to struggle with the chausses. I must acquire another boy when we reach the court.’
‘So you are intent on saving the lady Clara?’
Ansgar nodded. ‘Indeed, she must practice high magic to have such a beautiful Runic Cross on her tender forearm; mayhap she’s a druid princess.’ He intended to keep her for his own, take her back to the Lower Kingdom, his father would be well pleased with her magic.’ His brows furrowed, he was determined she would not attend some court on trial for sorcery; instead, he would take her to be his wife.
Devlin looked up to Forestyne, ‘Come let us not argue so bitterly. Forgive me if I angered you. Let us think of the maidens. We must go now, but I fear to leave you alone and unprotected.’
Mollified, with his apology, Forestyne waved her hands. ‘Fie sir, I have my wolves. Indeed I would suggest you take three of them with you, as I have the rest of the pack guarding me, my mother’s body, and myself.’
‘Tis very generous of you milady, but I fear we could not control them.’
‘Fear not, kind sir, for I will instruct them to serve and guard you both.’
Ansgar raised his eyebrows; she was indeed a powerful sorcerer if she could command the wolves.
Stomping off across the field, he saw the maidens’ tracks, but to his consternation, they led across the fields into dense woodland.
Forestyne turned to Devlin. ‘Sir, you must allow me to tend to those wounds. You do not want to lose an arm, do you?’
‘Lose my arm?’
‘Yes, sir, there are many insects in the forest that could infect your wounds; soon, they could be squirming with maggots if you do not tend to them.
‘Now you do have me afeared, so do your darnedest.’
To his surprise, Forestyne was swift in her purpose, both deft and tender in her administrations. Soon, he felt more at ease, and the pain much lessened.
Ansgar returned, scowling. ‘Demon’s armpits, they have taken to the woods; t’will be difficult to track them through dense undergrowth and doubly difficult for our horses.’
Forestyne bit her lip and moved to where Tania and Clara sat earlier in the day. Peering into the corner, she espied Tania’s blue cloak. ‘Here, sir, the wolves will track them through the scent on this cape. Tis all they need.’
Ansgar took the cape. ‘Our gratitude, lady, but now come Devlin, we must make haste; the maidens are in grave danger.’
Devlin bowed to Forestyne before mounting his horse. He watched the wolves weave around her as she held the cape for them to sniff. On her command, they whined, pawing the ground, before running off to the field on the edge of the forest. Forestyne then handed the cape to Devlin. ‘Here, good Sir, just in case the trace runs cold, this will freshen the scent.’ As the two knights sped after the wolves now streaking across the field, she prayed to the Spider Goddess Arianrhod, the knights would find the girls before they fell prey to the Picts.
Thundering across the fields after the wolves, they spake not, their faces grim, it was nightfall; the maidens had a couple of hours start on them. Devlin grimaced as they reached the forest, ‘We shall have to dismount; these bushes are too dense for the horses. Ansgar’s horse reared as he attempted to ride through. Frustrated, he drew forth his sword, trying to hack his way through.
Devlin bit his lip, tis easier for us to lead the horses around them. There’s an opening further up.
Swearing and sweating in the heavy chain mail armour, they hacked and fought their way through thorny bushes, their horses protesting and kicking. They sighed with relief as reaching a less densely wooded area, they waded through ferns waist high, their verdant green leaves changing to winter bronze. The two knights saw the wolves sloping ahead. But for the fact Devlin knew they were in the lead, he would not have been aware of them, such was their stealth.
His thoughts sped to Forestyne, He’d only just met her, but already she haunted his thoughts, her image floating across his eyes. They were so different in many aspects, yet she was like a magnet; he was drawn to her. It did not matter that she chanted and danced to the pagan gods. Fascinated, he found her beautiful, intelligent, and wild, a true creature of the forest, and he had to admit, almost magical. She had an aura about her, an inner light that shone in her deep brown eyes and shimmered on her sun-kissed skin; skin he longed to touch, to stroke to feel beneath his. Yes, she was a true Celt, the pure Briton. He would not be surprised to learn she was a druid.
He smiled grimly; he would have to watch his step with her, for she would behead him in seconds if he crossed her. Such were the ways of ancient Celts. In fact, they considered it an honour for their victims. After beheading them, they would clean out the skull and use it for a drinking cup, thus imbibing the beheaded person’s spirit and knowledge. So maybe it was just as well he did not impress her too much either. Dangerous female, and yet he was utterly besotted with her.
His horse reared beneath him, almost throwing him to the ground. Snorting and neighing, Thunder danced away from the ferns; shocked, Devlin stopped to see five black adders nearly three feet in height rearing in front of him. ‘God’s bones, what—?
‘Nest of adders,’ shouted Ansgar. ‘Get away now; you have upset them.’
Devlin allowed the horse to take him to safety, as Ansgar bellowed. ‘Serve you right. You have angered the sorcerers, so they’ve put you in your place. Tis a sign, so be warned, my friend.
‘Nothing to do with it.’ Devlin scoffed but inwardly felt a current of fear ripple through his belly.
‘Hah, be mindful of your tongue in future, especially in the presence of sorcerers.’
Devlin frowned; surely, Forestyne did not put a pox on him? But, he knew if she was truly vexed, she would have told him outright, she did not have a vengeful fibre in her fair body
Following the lead, another hour sped by when Devlin saw the big grey furtively run up to him, flattening its ears, whining softly. His heart lurched as he caught up with Ansgar. ‘The grey has alerted me; we are methinks, very near.’
‘Pray God Cernunnos, our fair maidens are safe. I would hate to bury them here in this forest.’
As Devlin drew his horse to a halt, Ansgar came up to him, handing his reins to Devlin. ‘Do you hold my steed whilst I investigate?’
Devlin nodded, his heart pounding in his chest. Ansgar was by far the better spy, with his heightened senses, his hearing being as keen as a wolf’s, his sight in the night forest, that of an owl. He was also short of form and could move silently, his head not showing above the ferns and long grass.
Shocked, Devlin saw the shapes of at least half a dozen more wolves melting into the forest. Surely they’d only had three? But then he should not be surprised by the ways of the tree people. Forestyne most probably summoned other packs, such were her powers. Again he realized he’d fallen prey to her pagan beliefs and spells. He chided himself; of course, she did not have that power; these were wolves familiar to this part of the forest, it had to be.
He frowned, t’was time he prayed to his own almighty God. He gently kissed the blood-red ruby embedded in the heart of the cross and prayed silently. Feeling reassured, he replaced it in the safety of his haubergeon,
He looked to see Ansgar return silently. ‘The Picts have them.’
‘Dear God, are they alive.’
‘Aye, but the tall, dark-haired one – Tania is hanging from a tree. I fear her shoulders are dislocated, for she moans in agony. Bloody savages.’
Devlin nodded. ‘What of the other one?’
‘Clara?’ Ansgar’s tone softened. ‘They are treating her like some goddess; they’d made her a throne of furs and put a crown of soft white feathers upon her head.’
‘Hmm, I wonder.’ Devlin mused; she is indeed different from any woman I have met.
‘Tis the tattoos, together with her strangeness. I see the black marks have disappeared from her fair cheeks. However, still, she has the glorious colours of the rainbow in her hair, and she has the runic cross composed of runic letters, each ogham telling a tale.’
‘How many men?’
‘Hmm, I would guess thirty – not much more.’
Devlin fingered his sword. ‘We are two, but with nine wolves.’
‘Yes, some more appeared just after you left.’
‘Huh, tis the sorceress’s doing, nine is the most powerful magic number. Tis the number used by the Sisters of the Wyrd, the spinners of our universe.’
‘Huh, so we’re back to those three crones, are we, the witches of the Celts?’
‘Watch your tongue, for they are governed by the Great Spider Goddess Arianrhod.’
‘Well, God bless all spiders and spinners, let us go hence.’ Snarling, Devlin pulled his mighty sword from the scabbard, guiding his horse forward with Ansgar bringing up the rear.
Quietly they reached the clearing to see the wolves almost invisible, shifting silently through the trees. Ansgar muttered, ‘Yes, I count nine of them here. They will be a force to be reckoned with; the Picts fear the wolves.’
Devlin muttered, ‘but I know not how to manage them.’
Ansgar chuckled softly. ‘I think you have no fear there. Our fair sorceress is even now overlooking us.’
‘And how pray?’ Devlin scowled. ‘Now is not the time to play games, Ansgar.’
‘Nay, fear not, tis no game. She will have a scrying bowl filled with clear water, tis a mirror.’
‘So come now, Ansgar. A fair maiden cannot conduct a fight of knights.’
‘Nay? Then you do not know our sorcerers and witches.’
Devlin hissed. ‘We waste time on this fanciful nonsense.’
‘Agreed. I suspect the wolves will be in place, and we two must rush through those bushes.
Devlin snarled, ‘and how do you expect me to do that, mayhap my horse will sprout wings, and we shall fly over those bloody bushes.’
Ansgar grimaced, ‘We must fight from the horse; we will hold them off that way; they cannot surround us so easily.’
Devlin nodded, raising his sword, ‘First, we warn them. If they do not hand over the maidens, then we start killing.’
‘Struth, I cannot see them backing down. I say we snatch them and bolt.’
‘Hmm, sensible idea. So we must cut Tania down and rescue Clara, then ride for our lives.’
‘Hmm yes, in between killing Picts. May our Gods be with us.’
Devlin’s horse reared in excitement as he drew his mighty sword from the scabbard, raising it high.’
Galloping around the bushes, they came into the clearing, swords ready.
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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: