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 25 & 26
A Heart in Anguish
Clara looked to see a group of knights emerging from the trees to form a semi-circle around the bear. One of them threw a spear, landing just by the bear’s feet. It was apparent they did not intend to harm the animal, as they encouraged him to leave speedily. Giving a thunderous bellow, the bear looked at the knights raising their spears and their horses tamping the ground and neighing. Falling to all fours, she shook her great head, snorting defiantly, and ran.
Ansgar, a huge smile on his broad face, lifted a hand to Clara. At least he didn’t look furious as he guided his destrier towards the tree, and in one sweep of his muscled arms, lifted Clara onto it. One of the knights pushed past him looking up at Tania. Holding up his arms, he spoke in Latin, ‘tis safe now, pray descend my lady.’
Not understanding his speech, Tania allowed him to grasp her limbs and lifted her to safety. She kissed her rescuer on the cheek and ran over to Lily, who jumped up at her in delight. ‘Thank God, thank God you are safe.’ As she spoke, she looked up to see a couple of the knights looking on. She had to make them understand the game was over. She needed to go home, needed to leave all this madness behind her. She called up to Clara, now safely ensconced in Ansgar’s lap. ‘They’ve got to start speaking English to us, Clari. This has gone beyond.
One of the knights bowed to Tania offering his hand to help her up on the horse, but she shook her head. ‘Look, this has gone far enough; I don’t know what is happening, but we want out; we’re not part of any games.’
‘Yes, we’ve got nothing to do with re-enactments. Just cut out the Latin and listen to us.’ Clara said, presuming they were pretending not to understand her. ‘Please just take us to the nearest village or town, and we can find our own way back then.’
Swiftly, Tania’s rescuer rode up and caught her up in his arms, carrying her to his destrier. Kicking, she beat on his chainmail chest, crying to Lily to follow. It was no use fighting; these men had iron muscles clad in chainmail. She realized there was no point in trying to talk; they were determined to keep the play going. As they turned on to a larger well-worn track through dense woods, they were hailed by another group of knights. Tania frowned; there were so many armoured knights with what she presumed to be squires and guards. It took a definitely large organization to stage such a vast re-enactment. Ahead, one of the knights shouted, galloping forward, waving his arm aloft. As he approached, he lifted his helmet, yelling, ‘Tania – Tani.’
She knew that voice, but it couldn’t be; what on earth was going on? As the knight drew nearer, her heart almost leapt from her chest. No, no, it wasn’t possible. Was it some cruel trick?
He leapt from his horse and ran towards her. ‘Tania. Thank God – thank God.’
Stricken, Tania’s voice trembled, ‘Gary? Gary?’
‘Yes, it’s me.’ She saw the huge smile, tears falling from those dear grey eyes. Coming alongside, he reached over and held out his arms. The knight holding her grinned and lifted her over to him. Safe within Gary’s arms, she tried to talk but found her mouth dry, her lips numb.
‘But where – where have you been?’ Fury raced through her body, causing her to shake. ‘Don’t grin, you left me, you just left, you bastard.’
‘No – no, sweetheart, I—’
‘All these months, I thought you’d deserted me. I thought you were dead.’
‘Let me explain—’
‘You don’t have to explain anything, you piece of shit – you bastard.’
A couple of the knights chortled, others clapping their gloved hands as they caught the gist of her words, her rage.
‘I nearly died,’ she cried, thumping his chest. ‘I had a car accident, fought for my life in hospital, and mourned you.’ She glared at him, hitting him again. ‘All the time you’ve been playing silly games. I’ll never forgive you – never. Let me down. I’d rather walk. I hate you – hate you.’
‘No, you don’t. Listen, Tania, you’re mixed up; I don’t blame you—’
‘Blame me? You should be shot; just let me down now.’
She tried to swing her legs over, struggling against his muscled body, the chain mail scraping her skin.’
‘Don’t – don’t sweetheart. Look calm down, let me ex—‘
‘Calm down? You miserable bugger. Just let me go.’ Yet beneath her rage, her heart was breaking. She’d trusted him; how could she have misjudged him? How could he desert her to play games? She swung around, trying to land a punch on his jaw but missed.
Seeing his horse become anxious, he reined it in. ‘Steady – steady Rameses – steady.’
‘Rameses? What’s this all about? I didn’t know you rode. You never told me?’
‘I didn’t; it was a necessity. Look, Tania, I’m going to stop here; I’ll pick a spot in the trees where we can sit. We can talk.’
‘I don’t want to talk to you. There’s nothing to say. You left me – left me alone. Who is she – eh? Tell me, who is she?’
‘Don’t be clever with me. Where did you meet her? How long has it been going on?’
‘There’s no-one else, never will be, you’re the only one for me; for life.’
‘Oh, I see, for life? That’s why you left me? Don’t be so bloody stupid. Who is she?’This other woman?
‘Just be quiet for a minute. I need to speak to the Commander.’
‘Commander, stop it, stop this stupid game. If you have any decency left in you, you’ll let me go, or take me to the nearest bus stop.’
Taking no notice of her angry words, Gary rode to the group’s head and, reining in his horse, saluted a grand figure dressed in chainmail with a velvet Capernaum. He spoke in Latin or some version of it. From his voice and gestures, Tania understood that Gary was remonstrating with this so-called leader. The Commander raised his arm, stopping the cavalcade of horses and knights with their retinues. He listened patiently as Gary explained his dilemma.
Nodding and answering, he raised his arm, waving the train of knights on, leaving Gary to stand to one side.
Seeing she would be separated from her friend, Clara cried out, ‘Tani, don’t leave me please. Refuse – whatever he says, refuse. Don’t leave me.’
Tani shouted back. ‘I will catch you up, Clari, I promise. We just need to sort things out.’ She paused, muttering under her breath. ‘Before I kill him.’
Watching the troupe disappearing down the winding track, Gary turned to Tania, and catching her chin, kissed her firmly, his lips hard on hers. ‘Don’t say another word until I have told you all.’ He took her hands, gazing into her eyes.
‘You expect me to be silent, shut up, whilst you talk? Well, you’ve got another thing coming.’ Raising her fist, she punched him on the chest only to cringe as the chain mail scraped her skin. ‘Ouch – that hurt.’ She exclaimed, sucking her knuckles’.
Gary watched her, his eyes full of remorse. ‘Darling, if you won’t let me speak, then I will have to gag you.’
‘You wouldn’t – you wouldn’t dare.’
‘I would; I know you are heartbroken, but let me explain.’ Searching her face, he murmured, ‘So which is it? You listen, or I’ll gag you?’
She grimaced, realizing he meant it, and he was strong enough to do it. ‘Alright – I’ll listen to you – you bastard.’
Devlin felt his skin grow cold. Had Forestyne been at the battle, was she the wolf that saved his life, the wolf that tore off the heads of the Picts? No, it wasn’t possible. She was no sorceress; she was too young, too sweet. If anything, she was a sprite, a sweet water fairy. Her stepmother was a sorceress, but this young girl was an innocent. He must insist she leave with him. ‘Pray Lady, tis a sorrowful time for you, and if I can be of any assistance, please—’
‘There is naught you can do fair Knight, but I thank you for your charity. Old Drustan, the man I care for, helped me prepare my mother’s resting place. Twas easy enough anyway, for we have a natural burial.’
‘Really?’ Pray, what is that?’
‘We came from the trees and to the trees we return. We will ensure one of my mother’s souls will enrich the tree. So we will place her within the belly of the trunk or at its roots.’
Devlin shivered. He’d heard of the ways of the tree people with four souls but never paid it much attention. It was a myth, known in ancient times when monsters and giant dragons roamed the earth.
Noting his consternation, Forestyne continued. ‘With the grace of the Spider Goddess Arianrhod, her spirit soul will journey to the Upper World.’
‘The Spider Goddess?’ Devlin’s skin grew cold. Trying to hide his shudder, he said, ‘You still worship her?’
‘Yes. But when it is time, I hope you will help Old Drustan in bearing my mother’s body to the Yew Tree. The Spider Goddess may deign to make an appearance, as Moraig is a renowned sorceress throughout the three worlds.’
Hiding his horror at the thought of meeting the fearsome spider, Devlin bowed. ‘Certainly my lady, I am honoured’ He wondered why there were no humans present to celebrate the sorceress’s journey to the Upper World.
Forestyne murmured. ‘The rites will be carried out as soon as my mother breathes her last breath. The tree people will stand guard until the new dawn.’
‘So you have informed them already?’
‘Oh no, the squirrels and the ravens will do that; they are the messengers and psychopomps who will guide her to the Upper World.’
Devlin nodded uneasily, hoping one of God’s angels was not nearby, to hear his traitorous agreement to such heresy.
‘Have you broken your fast this day, Sir?’
Devlin shook his head. ‘Nay, we have ridden hard to be with you.’
‘Then follow me; I have cooked barley, oats, and special herbs to revive you and your henchman.’
Calling to the guard, Devlin followed her to the side of the hut, where a cauldron hung over a small fire banked with stones.
As they ate, Devlin found the breakfast food as tasty as the meal of the previous day. ‘I must say this is quite delicious.’
‘Tis plain, but wholesome food, my good sir.’ Forestyne’s smile dimpled, lifting the sadness in her beautiful eyes. Yet she did not share the food, just sipping some fresh water from a wooden goblet.
As he finished the meal, an aged man with wild grey hair emerged from the forest, his gnarled face as solemn as the occasion. He held an old carved stick as he hobbled forward on bony bent legs; his dark brown tunic tattered around the hem. His elderly son followed, stronger in stature, with a barrelled chest, limping from malformed bones in his legs. His whole body leant perilously to one side with each step.
‘Welcome, Drustan and Bricius; come eat; there is plenty left.’
Bricius beamed, taking one of the bowls. ‘Eee … thankee girl, me belly fair growls with hunger.
‘Now pray excuse me, I must tend to Moraig.’
As Forestyne approached the simple hut, she heard two ravens’ caws as they flew over her head. Alighting at the door, they talked to her in rasping voices. ‘Tis time, the Eternal Shadow awaits our beloved Moraig, the Great Sorceress of the three worlds.’
Forestyne bowed reverently, feeling her heart flip as the squirrel appeared, peeking around the sackcloth. Chittering, it said, ‘fear not, for I gave the message to the Great Eagle at the top of the World Tree. Tis time for me to lead her to the Upper World.
Nodding, Forestyne wiped the tears from her cheek, feeling Devlin’s strong hand take hers and lead her into the hut. Looking up into his eyes, she managed a slight nod before walking to the still form of Moraig. Bending, she listened for her breath, but there was nothing, not even the softest sigh. Going to the cupboard, she took out a brush, clearing a path for her dead mother’s spirit form, to walk through the rushes. The two ravens flew up to Moraig to stand either side of her, whilst the squirrel leapt upon her still bosom.
Bowing, Forestyne took Devlin’s hand and led him from the hut. Walking nine paces away, she stood before the doorway; she began chanting, urging her mother on her great journey. Drustan and Bricius joined in, their deep tones blending with her mellow notes.
Fairest mother, to you I sing,
I bring you news of those who will guide you through the muse of death.
Who will fly with you through the Eternal Shadow
Open the doors of time, leaving it behind you.
For now, you enter Eternity.
Listen closely to lord Squirrel.
Follow him through the mists of The World Tree,
Fly with the ravens to the great Eagle,
Discover the glory of the Upper World
Your soul is free,
To meet your Destiny.
She turned to look at Devlin, then Drustan and Bricius, ‘Tis time to serve her.’
Drustan and Bricius nodded, but Devlin frowned. ‘What did she mean?’
Seeing his confusion, she said, ‘I must collect fresh rosemary to surround our humble home. It refreshes the soul on its final journey.’
As she stepped to the edge of the trees, she turned, her nose twitching. ‘I smell humans – evil – danger.’
Catching a glimpse of a naked painted body gliding stealthily through the trees, Devlin grabbed his sword from its scabbard and leapt forward, pushing her towards Drustan and Bricius. ‘‘Picts – Picts – take her, Run – run for your lives.’
Howling at the top of her voice, Forestyne thrust him away, then, moving in a blur, disappeared into the hut. Once inside, she mouthed an incantation, immediately feeling her body on fire, her skin bristling.
Hearing gasps and soft growls, Devlin stepped towards the sackcloth and pulled it aside. He bellowed in horror as he saw a naked Forestyne morphing before him, her skin stretching, melting, patches of silver-grey fur sprouting. He saw fire flaring in her eyes as her mouth stretched, cracking open to reveal crimson jaws, her teeth growing into vicious incisors. His heart almost burst from his chest as he lifted his sword, ready to slay this vision from hell when a pack of wolves appeared. One leapt, its jaws clamping on his arm, as the others encircled him, their black lips lifting in snarls, the vicious fangs jutting from slavering jaws. He swallowed hard; how many could he kill before those fangs ripped him apart?
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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: