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 19 & 20
The Chivalry of Knights
Hearing the thud of hooves behind her, Tania raised her head to see Devlin’s horse charge past, coming to a halt by the fire. Immediately, the Picts were on their feet, raising their spears. Unperturbed, Devlin pointed to Clara and then Tania, shouting out in the old Briton tongue for them to release the women.
Tania held her breath. What was he saying? Would the blue-skinned brutes give in politely? Or would there be mock fighting? She wished the games to be over; her arms and shoulders ached unbearably, whilst her stomach rumbled with hunger. Earlier, Clara attempted to bring her some roasted fowl, but the savages prevented her, angrily speaking and gesticulating.
Watching, she saw wolves leap past her and attack the Picts. To her horror, one of them, a big grey, took a man to the ground, biting deep into his throat. Screaming and yelling, the Picts struggled to wrench their hatchets from their belts as more wolves fell on them, tearing flesh from bone. Amidst the screaming, Tania wept as she saw Ansgar charging toward her wielding his sword and, with one swipe, cut the ropes. She dropped to the ground groaning with relief. With a nod to her, he charged into the midst of the savages, instantly decapitating one. Tania shrieked, dear God, it was real, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The fighting was real, blood-red real. Running over to Lily, she untied her bringing her to safer ground. Clinging to her and Clara, she watched in horror as Devlin thundered forth his sword swinging aloft, butchering the Picts. ‘Clari, it’s real, oh God, what’s happening. Where are we? ‘
Clara sobbed, her head on Tania’s chest, trying to hide from the dreadful truth. This was no re-enactment; it was monstrous. ‘I don’t know what’s happening, maybe we almost drowned, perhaps we didn’t come straight away, maybe we’ve been in a coma, maybe there’s been a war, but what the hell are soldiers doing dressed up as knights? Oh, God, what am I saying? It’s insane.
‘Both of us could not have been in a coma, Clari, and besides, we’ve got Lily here. I just hope Spectre’s okay.’
‘He’s most probably living wild in the forest by now. We’ve got to get away, let’s go – let’s go.’ Tania tugged on Clara’s arm.
Clara hung back. ‘No, the knights are fighting for our lives. Don’t move, just stay right here. If we went into the woods, maybe one of those blue-skinned brutes would kill us.’
‘But we’ve got to escape Clari, now’s our chance.’
As Tania turned to watch the knights fighting, she saw more knights on horseback emerge from the forest, the moonlight glinting on their armour. Helmets down, they galloped into the fray, chopping down more Picts. ‘Oh God, Clari, look, two of the knights are down.’
‘The other knights are hacking their way through to them. They are slaughtering the savages.’ Seeing a Pict scream, clutching a stump of one of his legs, Clara doubled up and vomited.
Tania gasped. ‘Oh my God, they’re slaughtering the savages.’
Wiping the vomit from her mouth, horrified, Clara could not avert her gaze; it was a battle to the death. If the Picts won, it would be their death as well. They may spare her, but they would kill Tania.
They watched as one of the knights cut a path through the Picts to Devlin and Ansgar fighting back to back. Their swords swung from side to side, cutting and killing, severed arms flying through the air, heads rolling on the ground as the wolves circled picking off the Picts.’
Devlin grunted, heading off yet another two brutes. ‘I have to get back to Forestyne. Damnit it to hell, there must be other groups destroying the villages.’ Yet as he spoke, a Pict leapt on his back, holding a dagger to his throat. Devlin felt the blade cut through the chain mail coif to his skin, felt the blade go deep as blood spurted. He saw Ansgar turn to fend him off, but it was too late. Was this how he was destined to meet his death? At that moment, a great silver wolf leapt on the Pict, seizing him by the throat, tearing off his head in its massive jaws. Howling, it turned to a shocked Devlin now lying on the ground and leapt to stand over him, its great head dipping towards the spouting blood. Horrified, Devlin saw the vicious fangs reach for the gaping wounds in his throat. He was dying, but what the hell was it doing. Was the beast going to eat him alive? Petrified, he looked up into the eyes of the wolf, at red fires flaring deep in the dark brown pupils then sank into blackness.
Ansgar came charging over but stopped astonished, as he saw the wolf gently lick the edges of the wound. He watched stupefied as white vapour poured from its jaws, covering the ravaged flesh. Ansgar cried out to Cerrunos as he saw the vapour steam and sizzle on the deep wounds, saw the wolf’s head rise, saw the wounds close, and disappear, leaving pink flesh.
He almost cried with wonder and relief. He’d witnessed great magic in the woods this night. Startled, he stepped back as the wolf nuzzled Devlin’s throat once more, then looked over to Ansgar growling softly. Terrified, he looked at the fire deep within those dark eyes, at which point the beast bent its head to Devlin once more and licked his forehead and cheek before leaping away.
Ansgar ran to Devlin to see him open his eyes as if awaking from the sweetest dreams. ‘Fiend’s teeth friend, never seen anything like that before. That bloody brute saved your life and then damn well licked your wound until it disappeared. God zounds, never heard of it before. You are bewitched Devlin; bewitched.’
Coughing now, Devlin croaked, ‘What are you talking about? That bloody wolf well nigh killed me.’
‘No, it didn’t; it saved your life man, I saw your torn flesh knit together under its tongue. It saved you, dear friend – saved you.’ He stopped as the aroma of roses, lavender, and a peculiar spice wafted up from Devlin’s neck. ‘I fain would not move you, but we must get away. Forestyne and her mother are unprotected. l fear the woods are crawling with Picts.’
‘Yes, let us pray to the gods she and her blessed mother are safe.’ Hearing feet running towards him, Ansgar turned wielding his axe, slicing a vicious Pict in two. ‘Huh, one less to hang.’
Tania gasped as two knights charged towards her. She turned to run, with Clara by her side, only to be scooped up in strong arms and flung across horses; they clung for dear life to the pommels of the saddles.
Seeing the savages run for the trees, half a dozen knights rode after them showing no mercy, as blue-dyed bodies fell under the horses’ hooves
Tania felt her rescuer lift her up into a sitting position as he rode back to the centre of the clearing. To her chagrin, she could not understand his words but was assured by his gentle tone and the soothing stroke of his chain mail mitts across her shoulders. She made no sound as he lowered her to the ground, allowing her to walk away. The knights now took command of the clearing, some alighting from their steeds and dragging tattooed bodies into the forest and then returning with more wood to feed the dying fire.
Devlin, now feeling hale and hearty, mounted his horse looking around to see a knight raise his helmet and trot his horse forward, to clap him on the back in greeting. ‘Hail Black Knight. You did indeed put up a good fight against the alpha wolf; I am astounded it did not rip your throat out. But the blessed Virgin put it to flight. We must be sure to give an account of it to the reverend bishop when we return to the fort. Other knights drew near all hailing the miracle of his escape and the wolf’s incredulous behaviour. A couple glowered, murmuring he was in league with the devil, yet most claimed it to be the protection of the Blessed Virgin. Embarrassed now, Devlin nodded and made quick his escape. Such adulation did not sit easily with him. Seeing Ansgar in the distance, he urged his horse forward. To his relief, Tania appeared before him unscathed. ‘My lady, I hope you are not hurt?’
Tania looked up, her eyes showing her gratitude, stammering in Latin. ‘Gratis tibi.’ She wanted to apologize to explain, but she could only think of the words ‘to forgive.’ ‘Ignosce me,’
He smiled, patting her hand, wishing he could say more to comfort her. The blood and gore were not for a delicate lady’s eyes. He hoped that she did not take a fever after witnessing the horror of battle. He glanced over to see Ansgar help Clara down from the knight’s horse. The gnome bowed low before her, whereupon she bent forward, offering him her hand. Taking it, his chivalrous friend kissed it gently. The man was besotted. To Devlin’s surprise, the girl flung her arms around Ansgar, hugging him close to her bosom, as the knight gave a bashful smile.
Despite the gruesome horrors of the day, at the evening meal, the knights made merry. They cooked the meat left by the Picts and contributed fruits such as plums, pears, and dates. Many produced small leather bags filled with wine and mead.
Making gestures to Devlin, pointing to the meat, Tania managed to get some food for Lily. Soon the air was filled with jokes and songs. One knight even produced a small harp playing various popular tunes whilst others of fine voice sang merrily. Yet even with such levity, Tania felt her horror growing, watching the merry faces reddened by fire and wine. A couple even performed a courtly dance to the ribald remarks of the audience. One knight took the part of a mincing pouting lady. It didn’t seem possible these same knights decapitated their enemies. Either they were a load of psychopaths, or a war had started somewhere. But then no soldier would dress up in fancy dress. No, it was obvious it was two demented cults warring against each other.
Devlin turned to Ansgar, ‘The horses are too exhausted to ride back to Forestyne’s shack at this night, yet by God’s bones, we shall leave at first light.’
‘Worry not Devlin, she knows the forest and will have somewhere to hide if needs must.’
Devlin grimaced. ‘Ever the optimist Ansgar. Come, let us take our rest, though I fear I shall not sleep a wink.’
Soon, the other knights began yawning and, with drunken mutterings, wrapped themselves in their voluminous capes. Resting their heads on the leather saddles, the men snored contentedly. Watching them covertly from the bank, Tania realized they had a perfect opportunity to slip away unnoticed.
Ghouls and Goblins
Seeing Tania and Clara searching the grassy bank for somewhere to sleep, Devlin and Ansgar made their way towards them, carrying two blankets and Tania’s blue cape. At first, Tania was wary and ready to fight off any advances, but she was touched to see the knights made them up a bed of moss and leaves covered with the blankets.
Clara could tell from the look in Ansgar eyes’ that he wanted to hold her. She stepped forward and into his ready arms. Bending to him, she kissed him softly on the cheek. Grinning mischievously, he touched her chin and bowed again.
To her astonishment, his mere touch sent erotic feelings surging through her body. There was something about this gentle knight that attracted her. As they walked away, he turned, giving a wave and blowing a kiss.
Tania tutted, ‘Honestly, look at him, he’s like a big kid. He looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth but just think of what he did earlier. Decapitating heads, severing legs, running men through with that wicked sword of his. You should watch out, Clari.’
‘Come on, Tani, that guy saved your life and mine. If it wasn’t for him and Devlin, they’d have hung you by now.’
Tania shuddered. ‘Honestly, Clari, you don’t mince your words. You’re right, they did save us, but that doesn’t mean we have to fall in love with them. They’re murderers, vicious murderers.’
‘Well, I think Ansgar’s cute.’ To her astonishment on saying his name, feelings rippled to her stomach.
Seeing the knights settling down, many snoring, she whispered, ‘Now’s the chance to getaway. We just have to let them all fall asleep, then we can slink off.’
Clara sighed. ‘Oh no, I feel guilty, they’ve tried to look after us, fought for us, made up our beds, and now we’re deserting them.’
‘Don’t lose sight of what’s really happening. Devlin and Ansgar kidnapped us, first, even thought of killing us. They forced us to go to that awful hut and then sleep with the pigs and the wolves. Don’t’ get into the Stockholm Syndrome.’
‘What’ d’you mean?’
‘Well, there was this group of Swedes who were held hostage during a bank robbery; they stayed in this bank vault for six days with them. The victims started feeling loyalty and sympathy for their abductors, even joined them. It’s quite common, it seems.’
Clara sniffed. ‘Well, I don’t know about that; it just seems so ungrateful; they did risk their lives to save us. And anyway I like Ansgar, he’s—
‘I can see you have a thing about him. But really Clari, we’ve got to get away; it’s all insane.’
‘Okay, okay. I do feel something for Ansgar, but I know what you mean. I want to escape as much as you; I just wish I could take him with me or say goodbye even.’
‘Clari, for goodness sake, that’s not possible.’
‘I know, Tani, it’s stupid. But I can’t help it. What about the wolves. Say we meet some in the forest. It seems there’s a lot of them in these woods, I’ve never heard of it before, but they are roaming wild, you know. Not all of them are friendly. I think those who led us were Forestyne’s. Back at the hut, I couldn’t understand what Ansgar and Devlin were talking about, but I guessed it was about magic, that she had some power over the wolves. But they disappeared, right after the battle, just slunk away; I think they’ve gone straight back to her. So if we do meet up with some wolves, we can’t count on them being very friendly.’
‘Well, they left Lily alone; the poor girl’s still tied up, though.’
‘At least the knights fed her a couple of them even took her for a short walk.’
‘Look, if we did meet up with the wolves, we could climb the nearest tree.’
‘You might, Tani, but I don’t think I could; you’re five feet eight inches, with super long legs and arms, but I’m four feet eleven. Besides, I’m terrified of heights.’
‘Oh, Clara, think about it. Something is so terribly wrong; I mean, look at these guys; they butchered the Picts and then sat around the fire singing and swigging it back. Something is terribly wrong.
‘I just don’t understand why we haven’t passed any houses or a farm even. But then I don’t know the district very well.’
‘There’s bound to be something soon, a pub even, or maybe we could be on the outskirts of a small town.’
‘We’ll knock up the first house or pub we find. We could phone the police from there.’
‘Okay then, you’re on?’
‘Yes, I suppose so.’
Tania patted her shoulder. ‘Good girl.’
‘But we’ll have to wait for them to go to sleep as well.’
‘No, it’s best we go now. I see the guy who was guarding us has gone to talk to some guy on the other side of the fire. Look, they’re chatting. This is our only chance. We can untie Lily on the way without anyone noticing.’
‘Okay, but look, we’ll have to be as quiet as possible’ Clara pushed back the blanket.
‘I know, now don’t stand up, just slide away over this bank on your belly. Don’t attempt to stand until we’re past the trees. Plump the blanket up with the moss. I’ll count to ten, and then we move, okay?’
‘One more thing, if they do see us, just keep running, okay. Don’t stop or give up. Keep running.’ Silently lifting off the blankets, they slid quietly away.
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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: