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Maid of the Forest: Chapters 21 & 22

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 21 & 22

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 21 & 22

Chapter 21

To Dream

Silver birch and horse chestnuts gave shade to a sunlit glade as Devlin walked through the trees to his tryst with Forestyne.  The birds fluttered in the branches above, sweetly warbling. He felt the beat of his heart quicken as he saw her sitting on a tree trunk waiting for him. Shafts of light shimmered on the golden hair flowing over her shoulders to her thighs. He swallowed, taking in the lissom body, the curves filling out a simple white woolen tunic, the sides laced with pale blue ribbons. His fingers itched to undo them as he saw her soft bosom rise and fall. Unaware of him, she played with a bracelet on her slender arm. 

He saw her startled look as he entered through the trees, her delicate hand fluttering to her breast, her dark eyes widening in greeting.

She rose hesitantly, then with a brilliant smile, held out her arms.

 Startled, he woke to the rough jogging of his shoulder. Angered to be dragged from such a sweet tryst, he growled, glaring up at his usurper of dreams

‘What’s wrong? What’s happening?

‘Sir Knight, the prisoners have gone.’

‘Gone? Where?’

 ‘Sir, I know not; I didn’t see the going of them.’

‘But you were on guard; what happened, man?’

‘Sir, I went over to relieve Thomas, and we—’

‘You took your eyes off them. For God’s sake, man, I’ll have your hide for this.’

‘But Sir, they were sleeping, covered in their blankets. I thought all was well.’

‘God’s bones.’ Devlin threw off his cape and sprang to his feet, following the guard.

‘God’s teeth, man. I warned you they were two feisty women. Tis the second time they have escaped.’ He saw the ferns piled up to create a body shape. ‘They are cunning females.’

‘Sir, forgive me I—’

‘There’s no time for that; I shall deal with you later.’ He strode over to Ansgar, tucked up in his cape snoring peacefully. He swallowed in some trepidation. His friend would be furious to be awakened; they’d gone without sleep for some nights now. Gently he shook him awake, but Ansgar tried to ward off his hand even as Devlin persisted. ‘Wake up, man, wake up.’

‘Fiends teeth what—‘

‘They’ve bloody well escaped again. Come we—’

‘Escaped? Who?’

‘Tania, and Clara. Come rise, we must be off.’

‘Clara? Gone? But she kissed me, she – demon’s armpits/’ He sprang to his feet, pulling up his cape and grabbing his sword.

‘Come, we must plan this. Ansgar, you take a couple of the knights and their guards. ‘I fear I cannot come with you. I dare not leave Forestyne alone another night. The girl is unprotected and—’

‘She is a woman of the forest, she is well used to protecting herself, besides she has her wolves, that wild boar and—’

‘I must keep my word Ansgar.  I promised I would return on the morrow. I trow the girl is in danger; word would have spread. She is unprotected. Besides, she is nursing a very sick mother, and she needs my help. I vowed I would be there with her. I cannot gainsay my word.’

‘So what did she do before you came on the scene, heh?’

‘Argue not my friend, I pledged my word.’

 Ansgar pursed his lips. ‘Hmm, forgive me, Devlin, I was selfish; it’s just that Clara means the world to me; I am in love with her, there I have said it.’

‘Devlin frowned, ‘In love? With a heathen, a witch?’

‘Watch it – you are talking to a heathen.’

Devlin sighed. ‘O course, I apologize, old friend. But I cannot waste any more time, I must hie to the woman I love.’

Ansgar raised his eyebrows. ‘You confuse me, Devlin, one minute you’re branding her a witch, and in the next breath, you say you are in love with her.’ 

‘Aye, I know, but now is not the time to argue the matter. It is the middle of the night, but I will waste no more time; I must be on my way.’

‘But you have no guards, not even a squire?’

‘Tis no odds, I have my sword and my worthy steed. But let us go our own ways to find the witches.

Ansgar snarled, ‘I for one respect a witch. Indeed I would trust a witch with my very life.’

Seeing tempers rising, the guard stepped forward and bowed to Devlin.  ‘Sir Knight, allow me to go with you. I am ashamed at my laxity and would now offer my services.’

Ansgar grimaced. ‘I’d have your head if it were me.’

Devlin frowned. ‘Nay, I am grateful for your offer, man, but are you serf to another knight?’

‘I am a freeman, Sir, and choose to be at your side.’

Devlin frowned, ‘Nay, I must needs square this with the knight in question. Pray to lead me to him.’

They walked over to a slumbering form on the edge of the clearing. Speaking softly, the guard bent, shaking his master awake. ‘Sir Knight, forgive me—’

‘God’s bones, what is it?’

‘Sir, this knight has need of a guard, and I would offer to escort him through the forest this night.’

‘Huh?’ the man on the ground turned, screwing his eyes up. ‘Hah, Sir Devlin. You have need of him? So be it. Now go away and let me sleep.’ Grumbling, he turned on his side.

The guard bowed to Devlin. ‘Sir, I am at your command.’

Devlin nodded. ‘I am grateful for your support, man. Pray, what is your name?’

‘Thomas, Sir.’

‘Well, Thomas, go get your steed, for we ride this instant.’

Devlin saw the Ansgar approach.  ‘So you are decided to search for the lady Clara?’

‘Aye, when I find her, I will make my way to the castle.’

 ‘Very well, hopefully, we shall meet there. May your God be with you, my friend.’

Nodding, he strode off, whilst Devlin mounted his destrier and, followed by the guard, rode from the clearing. As he entered the wood, he gritted his teeth; twas just as well he rode before dawn. The forest crawled with the blue-skinned tattooed brutes. Forestyne was in danger of being attacked, raped, or her throat slit on the spot. His only assurance of her safety lay with her wolves, yet even then, against a horde of marauders, she stood no chance.  Now it was up to Ansgar and a few chivalrous knights to find the two women.


Chapter 22

Devlin’s heart rose on seeing Forestyne seated outside the cottage, her head bent over one of the wolves. Hearing his horses tamping, she looked up, a relieved smile on her lovely face.

‘Thank the Goddess Arianrhod, you are safe.’

‘I too am thankful you came to no harm.  I could not wait to see you again. Pray, tell me, how is your mother?’

She lowered her eyes. ‘She sleeps, but I fear the end is nigh. At least the goddess Carrawanna gave us another three days.  But I pray in that time my mother will change her mind and decide to stay with us. I know it is selfish of me, but I do love her so.’

‘So she has the power over her own life and death?’

‘Oh yes, my mother only accepts the wishes of the goddess, as she is needed in the upper world.  Now that I am trained in sorcery and shamanism, there is no reason to stay.’

‘But what of her love for you, have you both other family?’

‘Oh yes, the people of the Whispering Trees are our family. We live for each other, and our brethren, the animals, birds, insects, and plants.’

He nodded, remembering her singing and gathering when he first saw her. He understood her feelings. He, too, felt the wrench when he left his mother for the South.  Although he was fostered out to a neighbouring fort to train as a knight at seven years of age, his love for his mother did not dim. In fact, it grew stronger as lying on a pallet of straw miles away, he would sob himself to sleep, yearning for her tender embrace and soft words.  Neither time nor distance quelled his love for his beloved parents.

‘I understand your feelings full well. However, I fear tis time you decided to leave for a more dignified life within the castle walls.’

Her head shot up, her eyes narrowing. ‘Sir, have we not settled this? I am amazed at your stubbornness. I will never leave here. I have trained since a young child to be the sorceress for these people of the trees. I cannot break my vows or even stem the love I have for my people.  And yes, I too, am stubborn; I will fight to the bitter end to keep my mother alive.’

‘Have you no thought about your mother’s wishes? You cause her much distress on the eve of her death, think you not?’

Forestyne bit her lip, knowing the truth of his words, but she would not give in.

I cannot accept death; the only time would be if someone was in agony and begged to escape the pain. Otherwise, life is precious and not to be cast aside, even at the wishes of the greatest of goddesses. There I have said it.’ She looked around nervously, her face tensing, ‘Do not make me repeat those words as even now the ravens stir Lord Squirrel is bound to pick up the vibrations.

Her words and expression were so sincere Devlin felt a quiver in his stomach as he glanced at the surrounding bushes and into the trees. Then I respect your wishes but will warn you and your mother are in grave danger. The woods are teeming with savages, both Picts and Saxons.

Forestyne gently washed the blood from the wolf’s ear. ‘Then heed my words; I will make sure we are not harmed.’

Devlin sucked in his breath. ‘And how pray, will you achieve that?’

She looked straight up into his eyes. ‘I shall make our little place invisible. They will neither see nor smell us.’ She rose to her knees, saying softly. ‘Barnel, roll over for me.’ To Devlin’s astonishment, the great wolf whined and rolled over, showing its wounded underbelly.

Devlin winced to see the darkening blood staining the soft white fur. Dipping a clean rag in a cauldron of water from which wafted a mixture of herbs, she gently began washing the wounds.

‘I am amazed he allows you to do that. Is he wild or —‘

‘None of my family of wolves is wild, sir; they are natural to their habitat. They kill only for food for their pack and for those people of the trees who are ill and cannot hunt.’

‘You mean they hunt for humans?’

‘Yes, of course. We have lived in harmony with the wolves for eons and thus ensuring our mutual survival.’

Devlin went a few paces to tether his horse and then came back to stand over her, watching as she deftly cleaned and then placed fragrant unguents on the wounds. ‘You certainly have a gift with these animals.

 ‘Why thank you, but may I correct you? We are all animals, and I am proud to be classed amongst the wolves.’

Devlin decided to humour her. ‘So be it. But my lady, I beg you to reflect upon your safety. ‘Sir, we are safe here, and if necessary, will make the place invisible. So pray, when will you be leaving?’

 Devlin clenched his fists. Never had he met such a determined female. Was there no way of getting through to her besides flinging her across his horse?  He took a deep breath.

‘I cannot leave you. You have not witnessed the savagery of the invaders. Nor will I go into detail on how you would suffer at their hands if they captured you.  You are so beautiful, so fair of face and figure; you would be swept away in an instant, never to be seen again.’

‘So I would just chew on the henbane. I would die rather than be taken away from my forest home.’ 

He gritted his teeth, was there no way he could persuade her? Frustrated and angry, he snarled and, clutching her face, kissed her hard on the lips.


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 19 & 20

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 19 & 20

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 19 & 20

Chapter 19

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.


Chapter 20

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?’

‘Yep, 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. 


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 17 & 18

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 17 & 18

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 17 & 18

Chapter 17

Farewell

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.’

‘So?’

‘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.


Chapter 18

The Wolves

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.’

‘Nine?’

‘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.


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 15 & 16

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 15 & 16

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 15 & 16

Chapter 15

AD 449: Ambush

Having boiled and mashed the healing herbs, Forestyne began chanting softly, not disturbing the sleeping knights. As she carefully lifted the mandrake from the woollen bag, she whispered, ‘my Leif Lord, I beg you give off thy healing powers. I pray you to stay the pain and ensure my beloved is wrapped in the velvet softness of your healing powers.’

The plant stirred, waving the green leaves and jerking greasy limbs, it spoke in rasping tones. . ‘I promised, did I not? Stop your dithering and get on with it. I have waited long enough. Get on with it, you wretched girl.’

Smiling, Forestyne took no notice of his abusive language, t’was just his way. Still, despite his rancour, he did indeed heal the dying, giving them such tender care as they journeyed to the Eternal Shadow.

Placing the plant in the boiling water, she winced, hearing his screams, but knew his painful death would be swift, as he would soon enter the Upper World of the Gods.

Stirring the mandrake in the water, she hummed a soothing song. But all she heard for her efforts were his dying cries. ‘Shut up – shut up, you stupid….’

She added some lavender and honeysuckle, as the stench from the healing herbs, let alone the mandrake, was enough to make the strongest stomach lose its contents.

She glanced over to the wooden ledges to see the two knights laying content in their slumbers. Good, sleep would help heal Sir Devlin’s wounds and restore his strength.  Resuming her soft chanting, she implored Lady Henbane to give her mother beautiful visions as she passed through to the embrace of the Lord of death. Forestyne watched the last weaving struggles of the plant. Then, stirring the herbs rapidly, she poured the liquid into a wooden goblet for another few minutes.

Rising, she went over to her mother and gently roused her. ‘Dearest mother, I have the potions ready. Is it still your desire to leave this Middle World?’

Her heart almost broke as her mother nodded. ‘Thank you, my darling. But first, if I had power over my destiny, then I would stay with you. But, I must honour the goddess Arianrhod.’

Biting her lip, the tears tumbled down Forestyne’s sweet face. ‘Oh mother, tis the hardest thing I do. I must live, knowing I helped you to die.’

Moraig rose and took Forestyne in her arms. ‘Tis the greatest gift you give me dear daughter mine, for I will pass into the Upper World to take my place amongst the spirit guides and healers. Even the gods and goddesses seek sorcery, healing, and advice. And you dearest will make my journey one of peace and wondrous dreams.’

Forestyne gripped her mother’s hand. ‘Please don’t leave me. I love you so. I know I am selfish, but please don’t leave me alone.’

As she sobbed on her mother’s failing chest, Devlin lifted his head to see her hand her mother a wooden goblet. His heart went out to her; she was a brave girl and would be strong enough to let her most beloved mother fill her destiny. At that moment, he realized he had tender feelings for this strange, strong-headed maiden; for the first time in his life, Devlin felt love for a woman, the woman for whom he’d sought for in many lands. And he’d found her in a humble shack in the forest.

Devlin heard Moraig’s faint whisper. ‘You know I must go sweetheart, but you are young and understand not the way of Fate. I pray you to listen to me; I promised your beloved father on the advent of my death to tell you the truth of your birth. My dearest, you are the beloved daughter of Lady Adreva and the mighty Cadeyrn, King of Llanmadoc, this place being on the Welsh coast. They were married and deeply in love.’

‘Are they still alive? What happened to them?’

‘Dearest, let me explain, King Vortigern, cast eyes upon your beautiful mother. He was fairly sick for the love of her and vowed to make her his own, so he went to war on your father. Sadly, your gallant father lost his life fighting for his wife, and you, his beloved baby daughter. On his deathbed, he begged me to steal away with you, for Vortigern was jealous of anyone your mother loved, even you., He would surely have put you to death.  Your father made me promise to care for you until the Bear king, also known as Arthur, appeared. 

Forestyne cried, unable to stem the fierce tears stinging her eyes and cheeks. Her chest heaved with sorrow and longing for the parents she never knew. ‘My mother? My father?’

‘Yes, I promised never to reveal the truth until I lay on my deathbed. Your birth name given to you by your mother and father is Rhoslyn Muriel Ann, named after Rhosilli, one of the estates owned by your father. The bracelet of gems I gave to you is an ancient family heirloom, fashioned as I told you by the ancient gnomes, the silversmiths of the Lower World. It is blessed by an ancient wizard, an immortal. They are from your father and are proof of your heritage. You are never to take off the bracelet Forestyne, as the Wanderer of the World prophesied the Bear king will appear soon who will recognize the bracelet. Tis through him, you will reclaim your kingdom.’

‘My kingdom? Oh dearest mother, I would forsake all, just to have you with me, for you truly loved me, cared for me. I remember you cuddling me in your arms when I could barely walk. You played and laughed with me as you cooked over the fire, stitching my clothes, making my dolls by rushlight. There is no price on the love you give to me.’

Moraig stroked the silken waves of Forestyne’s hair as she held her in her arms. ‘I will always be with you, my sweetheart. Just call me, and I will hear from the Upper World. Tis, only the curtain of mortal death that separates us, for our spirits, are immortal. Now tis time – pray to give me the goblet.’

Forestyne’s hands trembled as she obeyed, watching through a veil of tears as her step-mother drank the fatal portion. She felt she could not bear it, that she would not die with her mother. She knew she had to carry on, taking on the role of sorceress and healer for the tree people. Deep in despair, she held her close.


Chapter 16

The Clearing

Even though charcoal clouds sketched the night sky, Tania ran to the bank; she could see the water sparkling as if carpeted with falling stars. Slipping off her shoes, she waded into the stream, taking care not to slip on slippery rocks. ‘Clari, it’s okay, we can drink the water, it’s clear; I can see the stones on the bed.’

Clara ran to join her, kicking off her shoes, she leapt past Lily engrossed in snuffling the reeds. Cupping her hands, Clara gulped it down, almost choking. Shaking the droplets from her face, she beamed. ‘Oh God, I needed that; I was so dry, my throat was like sandpaper.’

Tania nodded. ‘My feet feel a lot better now.  As she bent once more to cup water, something caught her eye; she squinted; yes, there they were again, flashes of light in the woods. Immediately, she touched Clara’s arm; putting her fingers to her lips, she pointed to the trees. 

Clara stiffened, her heart hammering as she peered into the dense woods.  She heard Tania gasp when a sliver of silver swished in an arc, slicing through a blanket of darkness.

Tania’s heartbeat tripled, seeing a figure emerging from the bushes, carrying a spear aloft in one hand, the other holding a small square shield. His skin shone a startling shade of blue, the moonlight swooping over his naked body.  Her heart nearly leapt to her throat as more figures emerged. ‘Don’t move – don’t move.’ Tania whispered, grabbing Lily and making her lie down on the mud.

They watched in silence with bated breath as the figures came closer.

Clara almost choked as she saw their bodies covered in a mass of tattoos, ‘Oh God, they look like savages.’

‘Who are they?’

‘Hmm, must be part of the re-enactment; I think they’re Picts. I remember studying in upper school. They warred with the southern kings in the dark ages.’

Clara made to go forward to meet them, but Tania stayed her arm. ‘Let’s hope these are sane.’

She shrieked, as in that moment, a man leapt over the bank to her. She tried to run away, only as another covered in more tattoos leapt into the stream, seizing her arm. She heard a dreadful snarl as Lily attacked the brute, only for him to kick her aside, raising his axe. In desperation, Tania grasped his arm, shouting at Lily to go. But Lily snarled viciously, sinking her teeth into her attacker’s thigh. Struggling, as he heard Clara’s screams, as the brute pushed her head underwater.

Tania gasped; they were carrying the re-enactment game too far; this was serious. Crying out, she tried kicking him, but to no avail, it was like fighting granite; all she did was stub her toes. She saw her brave friend turn her head underwater, her hair streaming like reeds as she bit the creature in the leg. Yelling, he let her go and stumbled back, as Clara shot up through the water, arms raised. Shouting in a guttural language, the beast jabbed at her forearm. Speedily another savage plunged into the stream and hoisted Clara out, screaming, choking, and struggling. As he climbed to the bank, he lifted her arm aloft, showing his fellow players the tattooed runic cross.

Realizing they were excited about her tattoos. She kept quiet, suspecting they may not be players but part of some deranged cult. They were even more insane than the knights on the horses. Best to humour them, but what the hell was that language? Maybe they were just gabbling gobbly gook to give more atmosphere. As Tania’s captor dragged her out of the water, she saw another tie a rope around Lily’s neck, shouting to the others and pointing to her white fur.  It appeared they looked upon her as some prize. Tania’s captor hauled her up the bank to join them.

Tania shuddered, petrified, seeing the most ferocious animals tattooed all over the attackers’ bodies, along with snakes, flaming suns, and spiral designs.  They must be imitating the Picts. One man walked up to her and her captor, the tattoos on his manhood apparent, as he jabbered away. Both turned and began examining her, excited over her painted nails and toenails.  Petrified and furious, she snarled. ‘Come on. this has gone far enough, this is only a re-enactment, you’re hurting people.’

The man blatantly ignored her and began stroking her hair whilst his partner examined her scalp. She saw a group of them gather around her, staring as one of the men tore her top apart. Angrily she punched him on the chest, only for another to throw her to the ground and, with the help of two others, pulled off her jeans.

Ignoring her cries, they jabbered excitedly, examining the seams, the zips, and the buttons, looking in awe of her.  Yet maybe it wasn’t awe, as one held her down, another examined her from head to foot, whilst others shook their heads frowning. 

One stepped forward with proud bearing, taller and more muscled than the rest, with every inch of his body covered in tattoos, his only apparel being a crown of feathers. Thumping his spear on the ground, he glared, shouting gibberish at her attackers, whereupon the men bowed and backed away.  She glanced over to Clara, who remained fully dressed, whilst the men held her arm aloft, as if in reverence. Clara looked over, gently shaking her head, trying to give a message.  When she put her finger to her mouth, Tania realized she wanted her to remain silent.

She watched, fascinated but shivering with cold, as Clara shouted out loud, and pointed to the top rune of the cross and screamed, beating her chest. The men immediately groveled on the ground before her, whereupon Clara, wearing a vicious scowl on her face, strode pompously over to Tania and grabbed her hair. Turning her to face the savages, she whispered,  ‘just pretend you’re a slave or something. They’ll think we’re players as well.’ Clara muttered between her teeth.’

Tania immediately hung her head and stood very still. But to no avail, as the leader shook his spear and pointed to the woods. The men jumped up, and lifting her aloft over their heads, carried her to the trees.  Screaming, she resisted, only to see Clara striding after her snarling viciously at the savages.

After some minutes of stumbling through waist-high ferns, they arrived at a cleared spot in the forest. On the edge of a circular patch stood a huge oak tree, where their leader pointed to a low branch. She could not hold her terror in anymore and sobbed, thinking they were about to hang her. One of them climbed the tree and sat astride the branch as another threw the ropes to him. Immediately, she felt her arms almost wrenched out of their sockets as they hauled her up, her toes barely touching the ground. She saw her captors bow reverently to Clara and usher her to the side of a fire pit, on which roasted some wildfowl.

Clara bit her lip; what could she do? Obviously, she’d done the wrong thing trying to communicate that Tania was her slave; instead, they treated her as an enemy. But then, it was all one big game; they were re-enactors playing with history. She was not only puzzled but frightened; it was getting out of hand; Tania was suffering, almost hanging. She would dislocate her shoulders if she was not let down soon.  She had to do something and fast.

As Tania sobbed in the background, the men brought a pile of furs, laying them on the ground, and then beckoning Clara to sit. They gathered around her, kneeling and bowing their heads to the ground before looking up and smiling hesitantly as they gazed upon the runes on her arm. Yet no one sought to touch them; neither did they attempt to touch her; thankfully, she was still in her clothes.  For some reason, Lily had pride of place, even though tied to a post; they gave her a fur rug to lie on. Yet, she whined soulfully for Tania, refusing the bones offered by the savages. Their acting was incredible; they were so well-rehearsed.  But she could not get them to understand she was not part of the re-enactment group. She heard a slight rustling in the bushes and saw the men immersed in the runes, now pointing and chattering excitedly. She dare not look around but prayed someone would save them or explain to these nutters that she and Tania were not part of the group.


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 13 & 14

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 13 & 14

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 13 & 14

Chapter 13

The Wolves

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.


Chapter 14

Escape

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.


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

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All Available Chapters!

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 11 & 12

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 11 & 12

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 11 & 12

Chapter 11

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.’


Chapter 12

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.’


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 9 & 10

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 9 & 10

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 9 & 10

Chapter 9

Travel Through Time

Clara grimaced. ‘I don’t think I want to go down there again Tani.’

‘Oh come on, we just let our imaginations run riot, it was that gloomy light. Let’s get the clothes up here.  And if we see one machined hem or seam, we’ll know they’re present day. It will be a re-enactment group.’

Clara bit her lip. ‘I think we should wait until we’ve got someone more powerful with us, an exorcist may be, someone who knows about these things.’

‘I’m surprised at you, come on. We’ll take Lily and the cat with us for protection, plus you’ve got your rune tattoos.’

‘Yes, but I said I don’t know how to use them.’

‘Just show them to any ghost that appears.’ Tani grinned.

Looking up, Clara saw Lily walk over to Spectre and lick his head; to their surprise, the cat purred and arched its back.  ‘Oh my God, I think they’re friends. Can’t believe it. I told you there’s something magical about the cat. Maybe it’s a shapeshifter or a magician in disguise.’

Tania giggled. ‘For goodness sake Clari, your imagination. Come on, they’ll sort themselves out.’

They both stopped, surprised, as the cat went to the cellar door and scraped at the wood. Giving Clara a mystified look, Tania lifted the latch whereupon the cat slunk down the rotting steps.  Nodding, Tani followed with Lily at her heels, and Clara close behind who whispered, ‘see magic.’ 

Tani whispered back, ‘curiourser and curiouser, maybe Spectre will start grinning soon.’

Clara stifled a giggle. ‘The slightest sign of ghosts, goblins or gremlins, we run – right?’

The girls made their way silently down to the cellars, torches, and weapons in hand, the cat still in front, and Lily now bringing up the rear. Shining the lamp through to the main arch, Clara led the way whispering, ‘the crates were just past the second arch, I think; we’ll have to crawl through.’ She stopped suddenly. ‘I don’t believe it, the arches have changed again. They look newly built.’

 ‘Oh come on, we just let our imaginations run riot; it’s just this murky light. Come on, let’s do it.’Tania said.

The girls made their way silently through to the cellars, torches, and weapons in hand, the cat still in front, with Lily now bringing up the rear. Shining the lamp through to the main arch, Clara led the way muttering, ‘I don’t believe it, the arches have changed again.’

 ‘Maybe we went through a different tunnel the last time,’ Tania whispered. ‘Okay. Let’s keep close together.’ She clasped Clara’s arm in terror, whispering ‘This is no Alice in Wonderland’

‘No, more like the Devil’s Den.’ Clara shone her torch. ‘There are lots of weapons against the walls. Shields, lances, helmets, bows, huge ones, and arrows all bunched together, but the only thing is—’

‘What?’

‘They’re new, Tani. Where are the old clothes we saw? This is so strange.’ She shivered. ‘Eerie. I think we ought to go right now.’

‘Someone must have stashed these here whilst we were upstairs. Maybe they have a way in and out.’ Rising to her feet, Tani shone her torch on more wooden chests.

Clara gasped, crying out, ‘These are the same chests we saw last time.  I recognize the carvings.’

‘Can’t be; they were old, battered, the wood rotting.’

Clara grimaced. ‘This is weird; I’m sure they were decrepit; you saw them too.’

‘Yes, someone’s been down here, creeping after us.’ Tania shivered.   ‘How could anyone have got down here without us knowing? Besides, they wouldn’t have time.’ 

Peering into one of the chests, Clara whispered, ‘Oh my God, look at this’ She took out a silver and violet garment. ‘It’s a dress, gosh it’s so beautiful and look, a veil, it looks like voile.’

‘It’s got to be a re-enactment group; must be.’ Tania looked deeper into the trunk, ‘Look, this must be an underdress; it’s linen, so soft.’

Clara bent down again, lifting out a cape trimmed in ermine. ‘This is gorgeous, must be fake fur, but it’s so soft.’  Holding it up for Tania to see, she exclaimed, ‘look at the embroidery.’

Tania squinted at it, ‘It’s a cup, a large golden cup. This is a cloak for a male. The ladies of the court would have spent days –weeks, embroidering it. Now, let’s see if the seams are machined,’ She turned the dress to the inside and peered down. ‘Oh my gosh, it’s all hand sewn. So neat, but it’s definitely by hand. Oh, my God.’

‘The re-enactors have taken it to the extreme. Weird.’Clara said

‘Not really, there’s that TV history programme; the team of historians live like the men and women of the century they’re researching – right down to making the clothes and wearing them.’

Tania grimaced.  ‘Hmm, strange, though.’

Clara frowned, turning the cape over in her hands to see letters exquisitely embroidered on the breast. ‘Hmm, this embroidery is by hand. Now, it seems to be a circle of oak leaves and AS and ACM – I wonder what they mean?’  Just for a moment, it seemed to glisten, to slither through her fingers. She shivered. ‘This has a life of its own – eerie. If it’s oak leaves, it’s Celtic. Oak and Yew trees are sacred to the Druid.’

‘So it could be a re-enactment group then?’ Tania murmured, ‘But

 I think there’s more to it.’

Clara frowned. ‘Well, the cup could be the holy grail – you know, King Arthur. Mallory wrote they were fervent Christians. But then Mallory fantasized about Arthur. All of his books were medieval, published in 1485. The real King Arthur, if he existed, was around AD 450.’

‘You seem to know a lot about that.’

Clara nodded. ‘Yeah, I’ve got most of Mallory’s books on my Kindle. My mother loves them, as well. I shall have to tell her; she’d be fascinated.’

Tania frowned. ‘There’s some magic going on here, or there’s a secret way in. Surely my aunt would have told me. God, Clari’ don’t move; there’s a black shape growing behind you.’

They both screamed as Lily howled and Spectre leapt, claws unleashed towards it. To their horror, the light faded, leaving them in total darkness.

Tania reached out and clutched Clara’s arm. ‘What can we do?’

‘I’ve got my torch.’ Clara’s voice trembled as she whispered, ‘Let’s go, there’s an arch over there. Now – go – go.’

Still clutching her friend’s arm, Tania gasped. ‘Look, there’s a small door here; let’s try it.’ Cautiously she caught hold of the handle and turned it.  Peering in, she cried out. ’It’s so tiny, but there’s a light up there.’

Clara shifted to her side and looked up. ‘Oh my God, it’s the well.’

‘Oh, there is a walk space around it; we can climb up the railing. But Lily can’t.’

‘Wait a minute, let me have another look … yes, there are steps on the far wall leading up to the top. I think it would be safer to climb out of the well. We don’t want to get lost in a warren of tunnels; I mean no-one knows we’re down here.’

‘Yes, and there are no near neighbours, so we wouldn’t be missed.  Yep, you’re right, let’s climb out.’ 

Standing on the ledge, Clara shrieked. ‘Someone’s put the lid on.’

Petrified, they stood, watching with horror as the water began welling up around their feet.’

‘There’s no way out, Clari, ’ Tania said.  ‘Dammit, we have to go back.’

As they turned, the small door slammed shut on them, leaving them and the two animals trapped on the walkway.

‘Dammit. What’s going on? Someone or something shut the door.  They’ve been watching us. Why would they do that?’

Tania peered at the dark space in the facing wall. ‘Look, there must be a tunnel there. We can get to it by the walk space.’Hurriedly, they stepped around the well, their faces now pale and grim. Holding firmly onto Lily’s collar, Tania gingerly stooped and peered into the hollowed round space. ‘Yes, it’s a tunnel and a door at the other end.’ We’ll have to bend right down to get through.’ She pulled on Lily’s lead to guide her through, but the dog pushed her large paws into the soggy earth and wouldn’t budge. Weighing over six stones, there was no moving her.

 ‘Come on, Lily, please. Don’t be so bloody stubborn. You little bugger.’ The dog looked at her with flat eyes. She was going nowhere.

Tania bit her lip; she couldn’t leave her behind, the water was rising, she could drown. Desperate now, her mind raced; how could she get her obstinate dog to move? She grimaced. ‘Lily – treat – treat.’ Lily pricked up her ears and lunged with joy at her mistress, knocking her flat on her face. 

Coughing out globs of dirty green moss, Tania got up, ‘Ugh, yuck, bloody hell Lily.’  

Clara followed, bent almost double. ‘Is that a door up ahead?’ ‘Yes, I think we’ve made it. Tania groped her way after Lily. Reaching the door, she hesitantly lifted the heavy iron latch. ‘Damn, it’s so rusty, it’s stuck.’ Gritting her teeth, she pulled again.  ‘Damn it.’ She pulled again without any luck. Grimacing, she put her foot up against the wall and tugged again. ‘It’s moving, I think we can….’ A whoosh of black water drowned her words. Tania had no time to scream as it flooded over her.


Chapter 10

449 AD
Devlin the Protector

Ignoring the spluttering gnome, Devlin said softly, ‘So the herbs will restore your mother to health?’

Forestyne frowned; it was not wise to let him know Moraig had only days to live. She’d seen the way he looked at her; he would know she was on her own, unprotected in the hut. ‘I pray so, Sir.’ She didn’t mention her pack of wolves who kept vigil over her and Moraig day and night.

‘Hmm, I met with many strange diseases whilst in the wars; herbs are indeed powerful to thwart the Eternal Shade.’ He frowned, touching the crucifix around his neck; once again, he’d fallen into the pagan beliefs. ‘I pray the Goddesses will answer your prayers.’ He bit his lip; the Christian God would forgive him if this time he favoured the old gods; the maiden was so delectable. ‘Now tell me your name?’

‘If it please you, Sir, I am named Forestyne.’

‘Hah, the sweetest maid of the forest.’ He leant his head over, inhaling her delicate perfume. 

Forestyne took a sharp breath. ‘Sir, let us make speed to my mother, who is in dire need of me.’ Cradled in his arms with her head against his mighty chest, Forestyne prayed Moraig was alive. She stroked the carved gold handle of the dagger secreted in a hidden pocket in her tunic. She hoped he kept his word; she did not want to kill such a handsome knight. ’ 

As Devlin made to leave the grove, they heard the thrashing of water. Looking back, he gulped as he espied two strange beings splashing desperately in the pool. Turning his horse around, he shouted, ‘in the name of the Virgin, begone foul beings. Get thee back to the abyss.’

Forestyne cried out as she saw two fearsome creatures rise from the pond. Drawing nearer, she shrieked, her heart thumping in her chest; they were so loathsome to behold. One had black tears streaming down a face which appeared half metal, carrying a black furry demon, whilst the other pulled on the neck of a white bear.  Their attire was most weird and ugly; indeed, they had female breasts but were dressed in men’s attire.

Devlin whispered, ‘show no fear, for that is what they wish; pray to the Virgin with all your might.’ Again he cried out in a dreadful voice. ‘Begone foul creatures from hell, get thee back to Satan.’

Ansgar snarled. ‘I warned you – did I not warn you?’ Reaching into a saddlebag, he drew out an iron axe. ‘Now we must despatch these foul monsters.’

Forestyne screamed for the Goddess to save them from these demonic creatures and dragged her dagger from her pocket. 

Devlin whispered, ‘Put down the dagger; tis no use against their black magic. Don’t look at them; they seek to bewitch us. See, even the frogs jump from the water. They’re evil – evil.’

Forestyne froze in terror as when one of the creatures uttered strange words as it attempted to drag the white bear from the water.

Devlin raised his sword high. ‘Silence, you obscene apparition. Speak not in a foul tongue. Silence.’

But the creature looked at him with huge black eyes, let go of the bear, and crept nearer, raising its hands in supplication.

As the denizen from hell staggered nearer, Devlin waved his sword.  ‘If you come one step nearer—’

 ‘Let us begone.’ Forestyne shuddered.

‘Nay, for then, it will give chase, bringing down a thousand devils on us.’

As she watched the creature turn and try to help the other from the water, Forestyne whispered, ‘see you the jewels on her fingers? Diamonds and rubies, precious gems. This is no witch but some strange Goddess, one that lives in the bottom of the pool. Yea, look, she has gold around her neck, and the other is snorting silver from her nostrils.’ 

Devlin peered down. ‘Hmm, I have not heard of any scullion from hell wearing precious gold and sneezing silver. Look, it even eats it, tis silver rings stuck in its lips.’

‘Let me talk to them. Mayhap, these creatures mean us no harm.’

‘Nay maiden, you have the courage of a knight, but I am your protector; l shall approach them.’

Devlin dismounted and walked slowly to the edge of the pond; the creature with black tears spoke hesitantly, her speech foreign to his ears. 

Frowning, he asked for her name. She answered in a spate of words, but the only one he recognized was Clara.

 ‘She speaks in a strange tongue.’ He murmured to Forestyne.  The only word I comprehend is Clara, tis of Latin origin.’ 

Forestyne nodded. ‘Hah, it means clear, shining, bright. Then she is no demon, Sir. I’ll question the other one.’ Hesitantly, she leant forward, and in clear Latin asked the other woman her name.

The creature answered, ‘Tania.’

Shrinking back from the people on the bank Tania felt her heart pounding. This went far beyond Arthurian re-enactment. They were fanatics.

Forestyne frowned, ‘Tania? You mean Tatianna?’ She turned to Devlin, ‘Tatianna is roman – Latin. She understands Latin, but I think she speaks a different language. Ask what it is.’

Astonished, Devlin sat back, eyebrows raised in consternation. Not only was he shocked by the grotesque figures in the pond, but he was also astounded with Forestyne’s knowledge of Latin. Who was she really? Why did she abide here amongst the Whispering Tree people? His lips thinned; he would question her later. But now he must attend to these strange creatures. Using a more gentle tone, he spoke in Latin. ‘Qua lingua loquor tibi.’

Tania bit her lip; her Latin was very poor. She stammered, ‘I sum Anglicus.’ She could only remember bits and drabs; she’d hated it at school.  Her heart hammered; that sword in his hand looked real.

‘Anglicus?  Angle?’ he frowned at Forestyne. ‘That is Saxon; it appears she is an Angle.’ I must speak German to her.

Devlin frowned; she must be hostile, she certainly looked it. He said sternly, ‘Wie heissen sie?

Tania shook her head, angering him further.  Oh, was that German, she still didn’t understand. As he roared at her, she cried out, then stumbled over her words. ‘Err – pereo … oh hell, I don’t bloody know.’

Forestyne muttered, ‘her Latin is atrocious, and her German worse, but she is so afraid of us, both of them are lost and need help.’

‘If they are Angles, then they are enemies,’ snapped Devlin.   ‘They expect me to help an Angle – an invader?’

Tania whispered to Clara,  ‘damn maniacs. They’re re-enacting the dark ages.’ Raising her voice, she said, ‘you bastards, we’ve nearly drowned in a well, been washed up in this pool and all you can do is play silly games. For God’s sake, we’ll find our own way.’

Yet as she spoke, Devlin leapt forward, grabbing her wrists, calling out to Ansgar. ‘Ropes – bring the ropes we’ll take them, prisoner.’ Enraged, Lily sprang at Devlin, only to find her teeth bouncing off his chain mail hauberk.

Ansgar frowned. ‘I suggest we treat them gently, as the forest maiden said, they could well be sprites or magical beings, a goddess even.  Methinks we should treat them with tenderness. She is the fair one with the colours of the rainbow in her hair. She is small of stature, barely taller than I, she must be a fairy or sprite; tis unwise to offend them. Look, she carries the Celtic runes tattooed on her arm – Druids.’

‘Beware Ansgar, you speak like a heretic.’

‘I am a heretic, you buffoon. Fiend’s teeth, I’m a pagan.’

Devlin drew himself up in the saddle. ‘And I am a Christian Knight, see the Blessed Virgin carved into my shield. Forget it not. ‘

‘Huh, beware, for the Druids have spies everywhere.’ The gnome knight pointed to a squirrel, seated with its hands folded over its white furry bib. ‘See how Lord Squirrel sits and listens to your words.’ He paused, looking up through the verdant branches of the trees overhead. ‘Lookup through the leaves; a raven. Offend the Druids at your peril. They will drink your blood from your skull this very night.’

Devlin paled; he could not avoid the truth of the gnome’s warning.

‘Be that as it may, tie them up.’

‘Hmm, that is all I will do until we get them to safety.’ 

Forestyne jumped back as the white bear leapt at Ansgar, his teeth long and vicious. As Ansgar tried to fight it off, the dark-haired devil ran, shouting, trying to tear the beast away from Ansgar’s throat.

‘Lily stop it, now – for once bloody well obey me, stop it.’

Tania looked up to see Devlin holding his lance high, ready to plunge it into Lily’s body. Crying out, Tania threw herself over Lily, begging the knight not to kill her.

Devlin paused, his pagan fears now taking over. Forestyne said breathlessly, ‘The bear is a sacred animal of the Celts.  You will anger the Horned God; beware, he will rip off your head in the instant.


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 7 & 8

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 7 & 8

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7

Present Day
The Cottage

Still clutching the cat, Tania sat on a wooden chair in the kitchen. ‘I must admit I really did see eyes in that suit of armour. How’s your face?’

Clara dabbed at the scratches. ‘Hmm, not too bad; they are sore, though.’ She bit her lip, her face sombre. ‘Okay, then let’s get the kettle on; I think this poor cat is starving.’

Hearing a soft growl, Tania turned to see Lily glowering at the cat, her black smiley lips drawn back, revealing vicious fangs. She’d never realized Lily had fangs, long teeth yes, but never like this. ‘Lily, stop it, stop it now.’

Ignoring her, Lily slunk forward, her back sinking, the large brown eyes narrowing to slits. ‘

‘Lily, I mean it, stop it now, stop it.’ Shocked, she realized Lily would kill the cat if she could.

Nonchalantly, the cat jumped up on the sink draining board, proceeding to a shelf higher up.  Enraged, Lily put her paws on the sink, snarling angrily. Being a huge retriever, she was very long in the body.  The cat stood still, back arched, hissing and spitting. Tania said quickly. ‘Treat Lily, treat– treat?’ Lily would stop everything for a treat. She was such a gorgeous, loving, and loyal dog; Tania was shaken to see this side of her. Lily immediately lifted her head and gave a great black smile. Tania whispered to Clara, ‘get her a Dentyx Rawhide in the bottom cupboard; she thinks they’re her treats.’

Clara nodded, swiftly found the plastic bag of white dental chews.

Lily padded over, her long silk tail swinging in anticipation; the cat ignored her.

‘Good girl.’ Clara said as Lily snatched the white rawhide.

‘Thank God for that.’ Tania blew a relieved breath.

 ‘We can’t leave them together.’ Clara grimaced.

‘It’s difficult; I’ll open a tin of Chappie food; I’m sure the cat won’t argue about that. I’ll put it up here on the worktop.’ To their delight, the cat swiftly finished the bowl, whilst Lily chewed contentedly on her rawhide.

Moving into the lounge, Tania slumped down in the chintz armchair. ‘If I sit here, I can watch them. But, changing the subject, d’you know; I’ve never believed in magic, spirits yes, but never shadows turning into black cats. It’s all so weird, the arches getting smaller, the trunks filled with ancient musty clothes. Then the eyes in the suit of armour; I was petrified. It must be the murkiness down there.’

Tania frowned. ‘Maybe we’re a bit unhinged with it all.’

‘Yes, the imagination working overtime. However, I really don’t think we can explain everything away.’  Clara replied.

They watched as the cat gulped down the last bit of Chappie.’ 

‘Poor thing was famished.’ Clara murmured, getting up and walking over to it.  The animal did not struggle as she gently picked it up and, stroking the sleek, black fur, carried it back to her chair. Placing it on her lap, she looked into its steel-grey eyes. ‘Oh look, it’s got some tiny tufts of white fur on its upper lip; they look like fangs. Hmm, he looks quite evil, you know. I think we should call him Spectre.’

‘Well, I think he’s cute.  He must have been famished.’ Tania smiled.

‘Good thing we went down there, really.’

‘Yes, but now what do I do? I mean, Lily will kill it.’

‘Or Spectre will kill Lily.’ Clara frowned.

‘How on earth are we going to deal with this? I don’t want to take him to the cat’s home?’ As she spoke, she saw a massive blur of white fur charging towards her, black lips snarling. She screamed as Lily leapt.

Clara grabbed the furious dog as she sprang at the cat on Tania’s lap. Holding her tightly, she gritted her teeth.  ‘It will take time for them to get used to each other.  The cat has taken to you, Tani.  They do say animals choose people.’

‘No, I think it was just a case of starvation, and I happened to be there.’

 ‘Okay, so let’s have that cup of tea.’ Clara said as Lily pulled away from her and made for Tania.

Immediately, Tania rose and handed Spectre to Clara. ‘Here, let’s swap; Lily will calm down soon. ‘Sit Lily – sit. There’s a good girl. Mummy loves you.’ Laughing, she said, ‘I think this calls for something stronger. I think a glass of wine or brandy.’ She went to the small cocktail cabinet. ‘Hah, just the thing, some Shiraz. Now, do you like chili crackers or sour cream and chives snack bites?’

‘Hmm, the sour cream, thanks.’

Taking a sip of the Shiraz, Tani murmured, ‘God, that’s better, I feel more human now.’

Clara nodded, only to gasp as the cat stood up on her lap, and sipped from her glass, then turned and licked the silver ring in her nose.

Tani laughed again, ‘I told you that nose cutlery would get you into trouble.’

‘Hmm, yes, but Tom loves it.’ She grinned wickedly. ‘He prefers the one in my tongue, really.’

‘Honestly, Clari,’ I don’t know how you cope with them.’

‘I know that look of yours – you don’t like the face ornaments, but I do; they give me confidence plus a few other things.’

Well, at least, you don’t have tattoos.’

Clara raised her eyebrows. ‘And why not?’ She pulled up her sleeve to reveal a tattoo.

‘Oh, that’s quite nice actually, but what is it?’

‘The Runes – powerful magic. They can take you through time and other worlds.’

‘You never said anything about it to me.’

‘Well, I only learnt about it last week; one of the nurses on my ward was talking about it. Said she was going to a meeting so I asked if I could go with her. It’s so exciting, Tani – really.’

‘So what do the Runes do?

‘Honestly, I’m so excited about them. But you have to so careful; the runes can be dangerous in the wrong hands. I’m still new to it all. But, I think I’m getting the hang of it.’

‘You know, you’ve got me interested now. I don’t really believe in it all, but I’d try anything now that Gary—’

‘Yes, I know, but we’ll have to be patient,’

‘So where did they originate from?’

Clara beamed; at least, Tani was interested in something. It was just surprising it was the runes. But she understood Tani saw them as a chance to contact her lost lover. ‘Well, they’re from the Nordic legends; it’s believed Odin, a Norse God, discovered them. He’s also known for healing, sorcery, death, poetry, among other things. The Anglo-Saxons believed he was human, the ancestor of the royal family. The runes are also revered and worshipped by the Celtic Druids, in Wales and Ireland.’

‘So they may have some power?’

‘Oh yes, but both Norsemen and the Celtic Druids believed we have to dive into our own spirit – a personal voyage of discovery and knowledge, you could say. They say our souls travel above the centuries – time travel does exist. We find the power of runes within ourselves.’

‘So there’s a chance time travel exists? This sounds so eerie. It sounds so interesting.’

‘Join the coven, Tani. Who knows what could happen?’ 

Tani sat back, staring wide-eyed at her friend.  ‘Oh no, I couldn’t do that.

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t mind talking about it with you, but I don’t particularly want to get caught up with witches and covens.’

Clara laughed. ‘You’re afraid, aren’t you? It’s not that you don’t believe; it’s just the whole thing scares you. Admit it.’

Tani nodded. ‘You’re right. I like to rely on reality; I mean no-one’s ever proven spirit exists.’

‘Look, just give it a try; if you don’t like the first visit, then you don’t have to go again.’

Tania said softly. ‘I just wish I could travel through time; maybe I could have stopped Gary—’ 

‘I would take you to him right now, Tani’ if I could.  This is a Wicca group, who are into the runes and claim to be masters of time travel, but I am just an initiate; it will take time to learn their magic.’

‘But, there’s hope?’

Clara nodded, ‘Oh yes, but not now; this could take months, years before I start time or astral traveling. You can’t mess around with them.  The ancient ones live through the runes, but then so do demons and devils.’

Tania’s skin paled.  ‘But why have them tattooed on your arm? I mean, you said don’t know how to handle them yet.’

Clara gave a rueful smile. ‘You know how impulsive I am.’

‘Hmm, so the coven did the tattoos?’

‘Oh no, it was the guy in the tattoo shop on the corner.  Donna gave me drawings of the major runes, and I took them into him. He was marvelous; he not only did an exact copy. Doug seemed to bring them to life with the colours he used. It was then he told me it was an honour for him to do them, turns out; he belonged to a wizard’s circle.’

Clara held out her arm, and Tani bent nearer, studying the tattoos, pointing to one. ‘Hmm, believe it or not, I saw this in the cellars.’

‘Really? Where?’

‘You know the cape that had the golden cup on it?’

‘Hardly golden, it was so mildewed.’

‘It had that Y on the front, remember? It had a line at the top.’

Clara frowned. ‘Hmm, come to think of it; you’re right. Why didn’t I recognize it?’

‘Well, the embroidery was dirty and wispy.’

‘Gosh, I know what it is, the sign of Algiz, the Spiritual Warrior.’Clara said.

‘It was in that circle of oak leaves.’

Clara’s eyes widened. ‘Wow, then it’s Celtic. It’s one of the sacred trees of the druids. Tani, I think there’s more to it. The runes and the cup cape symbolize the spiritual quest; maybe this cape points to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.’ 

‘So someone used the cloak to dress up as King Arthur?’

‘Or there’s some magic going on here. Those clothes were ancient, practically in shreds. Maybe it points to an older age again, perhaps the onset of the Dark Ages.’ Clara said.

Tania twisted her lips, a wary look in the green eyes. ‘Why dress up in filthy shredded clothes? Doesn’t make sense, does it? ’

‘No, maybe we disturbed something, woke something up in the suit of armour. We did look in that old mirror; mirrors are supposed to be haunted or magical.  They may even be a portal for time travel. It could be that; maybe we woke Merlin or King Arthur?’

Tani laughed, her eyes sparkling. ‘Now, that is impossible.’

 ‘I know, but you must admit it is mysterious.’

Tani grinned and rose to her feet. ‘Let’s go and get the clothes and bring them up here. We can have a good look at them in the light.’


Chapter 8

449 AD
The Warning

Entranced with the maiden’s beauty, Devlin growled at the gnome Knight. ‘Put up your sword Drunraig, you will frighten this gentle creature.’

Spluttering, Ansgar sheathed his sword whilst scowling at Forestyne. ‘Hmm, mark my words, you’ll regret this.  You are bewitched Sir Knight, bewitched.’

Ignoring him, Devlin spoke to Forestyne. ‘may I be of service to you? I would be privileged to escort you to your home.’

‘Tis nearby. My mother is a healer of the sick. I come here to gather some herbs for her. She didn’t dare say she was a great sorceress, as the Knight was most probably one of the new Christians and would kill her for her devilry.’ 

Devlin frowned, a witch more like, or a sorceress, maybe Drunraig was right. But then he took a deep breath; he was lapsing into the pagan beliefs again. He must remember his new vows to the Blessed Virgin. ‘Hmm, I see, but know you not, tis dangerous for a maid to wander through the forest alone, the Saxons will show you no mercy, as for the Picts, t’would be better you were in hell. Lief, it is my vow to protect any courtly lady or damsel in distress. I shall escort you to safety.’ 

Forestyne, aware of her nakedness, stooped lower in the water, her tresses swirling behind her like silver reeds. ‘Sir Knight, I thank you, but there is no need, tis not far.’

‘Nay, I perceive that you are frightened I may do you harm, but I cannot allow you to journey alone. As he walked towards her, she saw he limped, as if in pain. ‘Let me introduce myself; I am known as Sir Devlin, the Black Knight of the court of King Vortigern, now your protector. These woods are filled with marauding savages, pagans who would not hesitate to enslave such a wondrous creature. I would carry the shame in my heart forevermore if anything were to happen to your sweet self.’

Forestyne gasped, ‘the Black Knight? You are truly the Black Knight?’

‘Aye for my sins.’

Yet Forestyne was suspicious; what was the Black Knight doing wandering, ill and wounded, in these woods, and with only a vicious looking gnome? Surely he would have a master of arms, a squire and knights, even a train of courtiers to accompany him on his adventures.

Loathe to reveal where she lived, she said, ‘But my liege lord, I am not in need of protection. I shall go by hidden paths to my abode.’

‘Alas, I must insist, dear maiden.’

Forestyne sighed as she knew the knights were pledged to give protection to any titled lady but could take any peasant girl by force if needs be.

‘I thank you, my lord, but pray to give me privacy to dress.’

‘Of course.’ Casting his eyes about, he espied a white woolen bag and a drying cloth. Laid out on a bush was a woolen undershirt and a simple woolen tunic of a cornflower blue.  Averting his gaze, he mumbled, ‘I shall await you yonder.’ Devlin’s throat constricted as he struggled not to give in to his need to watch her dry that delicious body.  He glanced down on Drunraig, eyes bulging at the sight of her nudity. ‘Fie on you, Ansgar, cast your eyes down – move away.’ 

‘I was looking out for her, my lord.’ Grumbling, the gnome trudged away.

Trying not to smile, Devlin stroked the silken mane of his horse. ‘So Thunder, what say you to this? We are behaving ourselves.’ He was astonished by her hold over him; even the shooting pain from his wounds did not grab his attention. He would have seduced the woman in other times and other climes, but this simple maid in her pure grace overpowered him. Was it the force of the pagan Goddess shielding her from his lust? 

Her voice rang out like the chimes of silver bells. ‘Sir, I am ready now.’

His pulse quickened as he ventured forth from the screen of the trees to see her dressed but barefoot on a carpet of gold and scarlet leaves,  holding the woolen bag to her bosom. Maybe she deceived him; maybe she was indeed a nymph wielding strong magic, her fatal charms enslaving him to her slightest whim.  Devlin’s chest swelled as he advanced towards her, forgetting Drunraig running behind him. ‘Come, lead us to your home in the forest, tis the least I can do.’ Without further ado, he swept her up in strong arms, only to grunt painfully as he placed her on the saddle of his powerful destrier. Seeing the pallor paint his chiseled gaunt cheeks, she said, ‘Sir, you are suffering, pray may I be of assistance? I am a healer, as is my beloved mother. Do you carry fresh linen and unguents with you?’

‘Nay lady, we lost all in a fierce battle. But first, let us see you safely home. Then I will tend to the wounds.’ Trying not to reveal the extent of his pain, he gritted his teeth and climbed up behind her, taking the reins.  He pulled her slight body against his stomach and groin, feeling her curvaceous body push against him; maybe desire would lessen his pain.

Feeling the hardness of his armour, the strength of his magnificent body, Forestyne shivered; she’d heard of maidens ravished by wandering knights. Was this to be her fate?

Ansgar cried out from under the belly of his horse, ‘Drat if Sir, willst you not lift me onto my horse, would you desert me now?’

Devlin laughed. ‘Of course, I would not desert my friend, come.’ He leant over and grunted as he hefted the gnome onto the horse. Drunraig was short of stature but no lightweight with a hefty body and bulging muscles. Turning back to Forestyne, he held her close, enjoying feeling her rounded bottom against the chain mail covering his groin. 

Unaware of his rising lust and growing discomfort, Forestyne grasped the bag holding the herbs, making sure it did not bump on the horses back. ‘Sir, what I carry is precious, they are herbs that will help my mother’s pain, but they must be not bruised or harmed in any way; otherwise, they will refuse to help us.’

Devlin raised his eyebrows; at the moment, the only precious things of any importance to him were her buttocks. Clearing his throat, he muttered, ‘So the plants talk with you, do they?’

‘Oh yes, Sir, but only to the people of the Whispering Trees.’

Devlin smiled. ‘I have heard of plants talking, but now I listen to the wisdom of the new Christian God and his blessed son, our saviour Jesus Christ.’

‘Oh, and how do they speak to you, Sir?’

Devlin frowned. ‘They do not have to, for tis all written in the Holy Book.’

‘I see, but forgive me; tis little help to those that cannot read.’

What a sharp-witted woman and intelligent to boot. Devlin remained quiet. She was not only arousing him with her sensual body, but she was also engaging his mind.

The horse gathered speed, alarming Forestyne. Shivering in trepidation, she said, ‘Sir Devlin, I pray you will ride carefully; I do not wish to jolt or bruise the plants.’

‘Of course, my lady, your wish is my desire.’
Thinking her to be shivering from the cold, he unbuckled his black cloak and gathered it around her. ‘There, that will warm you.’ Feeling her shake at his words, he murmured softly, ‘Verily I say unto you, you are safe with me, my lady; no harm will come to you, whilst I am here.’ He didn’t add that it was his wont to ravish any unsuspecting female in his grasp, with their consent, of course. Yet so expert was he in the ways of love, they rarely refused.

‘I thank you, kind sir, for your chivalry.’

Sir Devlin frowned. ‘Forsooth, I must say your speech is that of a cultured lady of the court, yet you live with your mother in a cabin in the woods; you mystify me.’

‘Sir, my mother, tutored me in many subjects, but I am as I said a simple maiden from the people of the Whispering Trees and happy to be so.’

‘So a castle does not tempt you?’

‘Nay Sir, the living trees are my castle walls, the fresh streams my moat. I am free here, not a prisoner to rock and stone.  Yet I fear soon I shall be alone.’

‘Alone?’ Thoughts and questions raced through Devlin’s mind. A beautiful creature, both nymph, and human, alone, unprotected? ‘Pray, why?’

‘As I said, my poor mother is taken with a wasting illness, one that attracted the Eternal Shade, even now Death holds out his shroud to her. It is the Goddess Hanatac who conveyed me here by her mighty magic.’

Drunraig rode up beside him, and with raised eyebrows, whispered, ‘Now do you see? Devils – I warned you.’


Copyright.

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



Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

A Day in Lautrec, Tarn, France

A Day in Lautrec, Tarn, France

A few years ago, my husband and I spent a lovely week in the Tarn, Southern France. One of the highlights was the beautiful village of Lautrec, Here is a short video of the village.

Music: Chad Crouch – Song Sparrow Serenade

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 5 & 6

Maid of the Forest: Chapters 5 & 6

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.

Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Maid of the Forest – Forestyne: Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5

Present Day.
The Cellar.

Standing amongst the rotting furniture, Clara sniffed, ‘Phew, can you smell that?’  Above them, the dark shape melted into the wall.

‘Ugh, it’s putrid. I wonder where it’s coming from?’

 ‘Ouch.’ Clara grimaced, stopping and sucking her thumb. ‘I’ve cut myself on that damn chair. Lily sweetheart, get out of the way.’

Tani frowned. ‘That’s quite a nasty gash; you’d better clean it; everything is so mouldy down here.’

‘I will, but let’s see what’s beyond that arch. Hmm, it’s much lower than the other one.’

Bending their heads, they went through, oblivious to the dark shape, growing, and thickening, wafting behind them, long arms stretching out over their heads.

Tania stopped, the dark form now looming high, its shadow stretching over the low stone ceiling.   ‘What’s the matter?’ She stooped down as Lily whined.  ‘I think it’s the atmosphere down here; it’s getting to her.’

 ‘These arches are getting smaller and smaller.’ Clara whispered. ‘Why on earth would anyone build small arches? Either they were midgets or, it’s just some crazy builder’s joke.

 ‘I know.’ Tania panted, ‘It’s like Alice going down the rabbit hole.’

‘Hope we don’t meet the old queen.’ Clara snickered.  ‘Off with their heads. Let’s not tempt fate.’

Tania laughed; again, it lifted Clara’s heart to hear it.

 ‘Yes, let’s hope it’s the White Rabbit.’

‘Hmm, curiouser and curiouser.’ Clara squinted into a corner.  ‘Look at that mirror, Tania, its polished steel with a silver frame.’

 ‘Yes, It’s must have been quite beautiful at one time, but now it’s worthless.’

‘I wonder how old it is. See the swirls and loops? It looks Celtic.’

‘Hmm, the Celts, it’s – magic.’

Lily padded forward, stretching her long body, to look straight into the mirror and padded backward howling. 

‘Whoa.’  Tania backed away. ‘She’s terrified; she hasn’t been happy since we came down here. Neither am I.  I’ve got a bad feeling about this place; let’s get out of here.’

‘Oh, come on. It’s so exciting. There’re a couple more rooms yet.’ Clara protested. ‘Let’s just have a look.’

Backing out of the low arch, they rubbed their necks, looking around the other archways to the main room. ‘Let’s try that one over there.’ Tania shone the torch at another opening, ‘you know the light in here is playing tricks on us; that arch was definitely larger when we first came in. It seems they’re all shrinking.’

‘Maybe we’ve taken a wrong turn or something. Stone arches don’t shrink Clari.’

This time Clara led the way. ‘Well, something’s wrong, terribly wrong. Oh my God, Tani, this is incredible.’

‘What?’ Tania came up beside her and gasped. ‘How could anyone leave this? I mean, it’s priceless.’

They both looked at a tarnished suit of armour.  

Tani jumped back, clutching Clara’s arm. ‘Eyes – there were eyes in there.’

Clara whispered, ‘You’re kidding; it’s empty.’

‘No really – eyes.’ In silence, they watched the lance slowly fall from the chainmail glove.

Both now jumped back. With Clara’s heart beating a tattoo, she stuttered. ‘It’s … it’s only us disturbing everything.’

Tania whispered, ‘you know what the walrus said?’

 ‘It’s time to talk of cabbages and kings.’ Clara whispered. 

‘What – what was that?’ they both shrieked; Lily joined in, whining. Tania’s heart thudded. ‘What the hell was it?’ A dark shaped flitted against the wall, then to their horror, leapt upon a crumbling chair.

‘A rat – a cat? No, it’s too big for a rat.’

‘Come, let’s get out of here – fast.’ They both leapt for the archway with Lily now in front, struggling to get through. Almost on all fours, they made for another arch. Scrabbling out, they tried to stand up, but the ceiling was too low. Crouching, they saw wooden crates, bound with rusting iron bands.

Clara whispered, ‘What’s in them? Lifting the lid, she gazed on garments covered in mildew.’ Carefully, she picked out what looked to be a dress. ‘My goodness, it’s almost shredding in my hands; it’s medieval fashion, dark ages even. There’s a veil; it stinks of mould. Ugh.’  She dropped them back into the trunk and closed the lid. ‘Disgusting, they were ancient, who on earth would keep them.’

Tania squatted by the other trunk. ‘Might as well have a look. We’ll kick ourselves if we don’t. Look at this; it’s so faded.’ She held up an old grey cloak with patches of deep blue. ‘It’s old, but I think this is supposed to be ermine trimming. I can’t believe Aunty Teg’ just left all this down here. It not like her.’

‘Hmm, I wouldn’t know; I’ve never seen ermine.’ Clara went closer to look. ‘There some gold embroidery on the back.’

Tania came over, squinting in the murky light. ‘It looks like a dirty yellow.’

Clara came closer. ‘It’s a cup, with initials embroidered above, KA and look; there’s something on the front, a large Y or something, and a Red Dragon. You know this cup could be the Holy Grail; maybe there’s a re-enactment group somewhere re-enacting some Arthurian or medieval battles or something.’

Tania groaned, backing away. ‘It’s all so weird; they wouldn’t go about in those filthy rags, surely. Come on, let’s get out.’ Lily pulled back growling, as Tania cried out, ‘Where are the arches? Where have they gone?’

‘Oh, God, what’s happening. This is no Wonderland, bugger Alice; we’ve got to find a way out.’

Tania shrieked, ‘That’s a black shape – it’s moving. Both girls backed up against the wall, searching feverishly for an archway. They watched horrified as the black shape leapt on top of a decomposing armoire.  ‘It’s a fox,’ Tani whispered.

Clara screeched as the black shape leapt towards her. She fell, as she felt a weight on her head, claws digging into her forehead.’

Tania rushed forward. ‘It’s a cat – a cat.’ Lifting the petrified creature from Clara’s head, she cried out, ‘come on, let’s get out of here – now.

‘But’s there’s no way out.’ Clara cried, blood trickling down her face. Tania turned and swung her torch around.  ‘Look the arches, there – over there.’

‘But they’re large; they’re not the ones we came through.’

‘Damn, just go, Tani – go.’ 

Petrified, they ran through tall arches and cellar rooms, reaching the narrow corridor and the rotting stairs. ‘Oh, thank God, thank God,’ Tania cried. Her heart thumped, the blood pounding in her ears, as  still clutching the cat, she half crawled, half scrambled up the rotting steps of the cellar; Clara and Lily were close behind.,

Gasping, Clara flung down the hatch and stood up straight in the small kitchen. Her face white, voice trembling, she muttered. ‘What’s happening, Tani?’

‘God knows, but we’ve gotta leave here now. This place is haunted. You saw those arches getting smaller and then growing. We must get out.’

Clara nodded. ‘Yes, let’s go right now.’

Tani gulped, grabbing her arm. ‘D’you think it was a trick of the light? I must say, it’s so murky and dirty down there. I mean what with the cat and the darkness.’

Clara took a breath. ‘I smelt those clothes, Tani,’ and I didn’t imagine the arches getting smaller. Really, this place is creepy – dangerous. You can’t stay here. It’s a nightmare, haunted; you have to leave.’


Chapter 6

449 AD.

Forestyne climbed from the sacred pool to kneel amidst leaves bleeding scarlet on the mossy bank. Now to summon the Goddess. Lifting her hands in supplication, she raised her voice. The incantation must be repeated three times for Carrawana, the Goddess of Healing, to appear before her.

‘Beloved mother, most gracious sisters,

I now entreat you; appear before me. 

Let your beauty shimmer through the veils between the worlds.

Come, I beg you; show this worthless creature your power.

My dearest mother has need of succour,

The Eternal Shadow of Death hovers near.

Pray intervene in my mother’s destiny.

Pray show the herbs that will banish his shadow. 

Bring forth the magical plants which will share their healing spirit.

May they look upon me kindly.’

She waited for a few seconds then repeated the plea twice more.

Whilst she chanted, showers of leaves in rainbow hues fluttered down, carpeting the pool. She was indeed in an enchanted bower.

As Forestyne completed her final incantation, she raised her head to feel her heart almost rise from her chest. There, before her stood a wondrous female figure crowned with the most vibrant red roses, weaving to and fro on her head; ebony tresses curled and waved to her knees. Her body swathed in delicate crimson chiffon was sprinkled with glittering gold leaves; her swanlike neck and slender arms adorned with sparkling rubies. Scarcely daring to breathe, Forestyne looked up into eyes darker than the blackest night, glittering with the brightest stars, her body quivering in adoration and fear.

‘Blessed Goddess, help me, I entreat you.

‘I already know why you are here, dear child. You fight the Eternal Shade?’

‘Dear lady, I love my stepmother; I still have so much to learn, so much to do before—’

‘You would deny her divine destiny?’

‘Yes, oh yes, I am broken- hearted and —’

‘My dear human, you have the right to question fate,  and now because of your deep love for your step-mother, I will give you the herbs you so desire, but heed my warning, they will last only three days. Then must you release her to her fate.’

‘My lady, I beseech you, can you not spare her?’

‘You cannot go against the Lord of the World Tree. Even now, the eagle waits, perched upon the topmost branches.  From thence, he will guide her soul to the Upper Worlds.’

Biting her lip, Forestyne wept. ‘Then please at least spare her the agony of death. Let it be peaceful.’

‘That I can grant you.  Fate decrees you meet your birth mother – tis time for you too to embrace your destiny.’

Forestyne gasped. ‘You know my birth mother?’

‘Yes, she awaits you in the court of the evil King Vortigern.’

She did not seem fazed by Forestyne’s shocked gaze but carried on.  ‘Now for your purpose here this day, on the bank, you will find the magical herbs of the mandrake and henbane. First, introduce yourself to them, beg for their aid, and apprise them of your need for their services. If they are willing to help you, be sure to dig with your fingers deep into the earth and lift them from the bank whole, their roots unbruised, then place them gently in a bag of soft wool.’

‘But I have not brought a bag with me. I was distraught and sped from the cottage, thinking only of reaching here and begging for your help.’

The goddess nodded. ‘Yes, I heard the roar of my fearsome cousin, Hanatac; you were blessed; she deigned to come to your rescue. The elves and gremlins were intent on your demise but more so, that of your blessed stepmother. Evil creatures, they kill for no good reason. However, fear not, you will find a bag for the precious herbs on the bank.’

‘Thank you – I am so grateful for your compassion and kindness.’

The Goddess’s smile lit up the beautiful features of her divine face. ‘Treat these magical plants with great respect. Sir Mandrake is a major plant with a fierce temper, so vex him not. Despite his volatile nature, he will ensure your stepmother experiences the most beautiful visions that take her out of all pain. Now pay attention to the herb entitled Lady Henbane, as she is sly and can release poison through your skin in a second if you annoy her.  Yet, she will ensure your stepmother Moraig experiences the most beatific calm on her journey to the Eternal Shadow.’

As Forestyne looked up, she saw the goddess vanish in a shimmer of golden threads. For a moment, she stood still, in awe of meeting with such a divine being, and yet shivering as the daylight began to fade. Drifting towards the bank, she saw the mandrake’s bright green leaves and the henbane’s yellow flowers. Sharp needles of fear scraped her stomach.  Would the plants deign to speak to her? Would they allow her to lift them from the earth?

Taking a breath, she swam to the bank and, standing in shallow water, bowed to the herbs.  Immediately, she felt a soft breeze about her head, with an acidic scent that made her retch. Stifling her repulsion, she called out to them. ‘Sir Mandrake, suffer this poor creature to approach you. I have need of your powers to allow my mother three days’ grace before she departs our Middle World.’

She waited, her eyes lowered in respect. The acrid smell was almost overpowering as a raspy voice spat out. ‘Pray human wretch, who gave you permission to address me?’

Startled at the vehemence in the voice, she fluttered her eyelashes nervously whilst gazing at the bright green leaves. ‘T’was the Goddess Carrawana.’

He waved his leafy head from side to side. ‘Hah, then perchance I may speak with you.  If I give you leave to tear me from my abode in the earth, you do realize, tis the end of my days in this miserable kingdom?’

‘Yes, I am eternally grateful for your tender care.’

‘Don’t be, because on leaving this pitiful world, I shall be raised to enjoy the hallowed gardens of the gods.’

Forestyne waited, not daring to move.

‘Get on with it, foolish girl, get on with it.’

She bit her lip; what should she do, dig him out or address Lady Henbane first? She decided on the latter; best to get it over with as soon as possible. She just prayed her hands would stop trembling.

Bending to the small flowering plant, she murmured, ‘my Lady, forgive me for disturbing you, but I have great need of your healing powers.’

 A slimy voice seemed to slither over her skin, raising goosebumps.

‘Tis my pleasure.  Unlike my Lord Mandrake, I am pleased for you to address me. Soon, I too will earn my release from this pitiful dirt and enjoy the wild meadows of the Upper World, so please hesitate not dear child, release me from this earthly prison.’

Forestyne felt her heart lift. At least they did not seek to kill her on the spot. Now she just had to be sure to lift them out in one piece. One bruise or blemish would destroy their powers to evoke a calm painless journey for Moraig to the hallowed realms of the Upper World.

As she began carefully digging into the soft wet earth, the mandrake shouted out. ‘Be gentle, you wretch, break one of my limbs, and you will die in agony.  D’you hear me?’

‘Yes, my lord. I will be gentle.’

Her hands shook, even more when he shouted out yet more dire oaths and threats as she dug around him. She held her breath as she lifted him out, the human-like limbs of the plant’s body waving in the light. She tried not to grimace, for they felt so repulsive, so greasy. To her relief, he muttered.  ‘Hmm, that’s better, now I hope you had the intelligence to prepare a soft woven bag for me?’

‘Yes, my Lord, tis here on the bank, from the Goddess herself.’

‘Hmm just so, as befits my station.  I shall ensure your mother has a peaceful end, experiencing the most wondrous visions, as she floats up to the gods.

‘Thank you, my lord. I am so very grateful.’

‘Oh, shut up, you obsequious human.’

Carefully, Forestyne placed him, still grumbling in the bag. Turning to the henbane, she softly dug around the delicate roots. To her surprise, she heard soft sighs and whispers so different from the seething mandrake. ‘Oh yes, such ecstasy to be released from this wet earth. Soon I shall thrive on earth fed with golden gems. Yes, you are such a gentle mortal. Thank you, dear child. Now I can poison your beloved mother for you – gently, so she will float to her fate in sublime calm.’ 

Forestyne shuddered at the sibilant voice. Although the two plants would take away all pain, she knew they were also lethal and would end her mother’s mortal life.

She jumped, as Lady Henbane said, ‘But of course you do know that I am renowned for also saving life. A poisonous plant can actually poison the illness and not the person. So be aware, my child.’

‘But what of Lord Mandrake?’

‘He too is oft inclined to save a life despite his mean temper; he actually does have some affection for humans, however slight.’

‘But would you go against Eternal Death, against the goddess Arianrhod?’

‘Oh yes, we plants are the power hub of the universe; without us, the worlds would be arid, dead. Tis, we plants that feel and hear the worlds’ hearts and correct anything that may become awry in the golden threads’ subtle rhythms. The threads being the very stuff of life, tis we who empower the golden threads.

Amazed, Forestyne sat back on her heels, amazed that a tiny plant had such power.

~*~*~*~*~

Devlin pursed his lips. As usual, the gnome was off on one of his fantasies. Golden threads, spider goddesses weaving the worlds, the universe?  Lances tearing the web? He had to divert his friend’s attention. Still, he also had to be careful; the gnome Prince of Irondragarth was powerful of build, quick temper, and a master of the sword. He also held a high station in the lower spheres and essential links in this middle world. It would not do to anger him unduly. ‘So what else have you heard?’

‘Hmm, after your derisive remarks, I hesitate to impart more.’

‘Come now, Ansgar, I wait upon your words.’

Mollified, the gnome lifted his chin. ‘My spies warn me the Wanderer of the Worlds has announced a prophecy.’

‘The Wanderer of the Worlds?’ Devlin frowned, wincing from his many wounds upon his body. Although beholden to his new Christian God, he still stood in awe of the ancient Wanderer. ‘You have my attention, pray, tell me.’

Ansgar scowled. ‘I dislike your tone; I fear you mock me, Sir Knight.  T’will be your undoing to insult the gods, for surely they will bring down fearful punishment upon us. They may even turn us into toads, or even a lowly grub.’

‘Come, Ansgar, my humblest apologies, I need to hear the prophecy.’

The gnome lifted his chin, his hand now on the pommel of his sword. ‘Oh, very well then. The Wanderer said, “There will be more invasions in our southern lands.  Kings and dragons will join forces to save Middle Earth. Together they will destroy the Picts, once and for all.” So we must act quickly.’

‘Kings and dragons are sworn, enemies?’

‘Yes, but even the druids and the shamans bend to the Wanderer.’

‘Tis impossible, the Wanderer goes too far. I trust not a druid or a shaman.  They should cast aside their female devil goddesses and follow the Virgin.’

‘Hush; there are many spies around, on the ground, branch, and twig.  The druids use the raven or owl as spies.’

Devlin looked swiftly up into the trees.  ‘Hmm, I see only finches, pigeons, and magpies, not one squawk from a raven.’ Hearing a rush of wings high in branches of overhanging trees, he looked up. There was no sign of a bird, just two squirrels scurrying down a gnarled trunk, chasing one another. Obviously, there must be a flurry of messages, and they were arguing as to who would be first to serve news. ‘Come Ansgar; let us search for rest and succour. I am in sore need of food and a bed.’ Wounded and weary, just lately have returned to Albion. He’d travelled many leagues without sight of a dwelling where they could seek rest. 

Ansgar grasped his arm. ‘Did you hear that?’

‘What?’

Devlin looked up, his heart beating faster, as wings seemed to hover right over them, then a voice singing, the clear notes trembling with grief. He spurred his horse forward, peering through leaves wafting to the forest floor. Straining to hear the voice again, he passed the remains of wooden planks crumbling into the ground, possibly the remains of some forsaken Keep. Hearing water splashing, the beautiful voice seemed much nearer now. Perchance was a water sprite; they sang and danced in the sacred groves and rivers. T’was then he espied her, standing in a pool, beside a well; most probably the goddess’s sacred dwelling. He held his breath as he gazed at the curvaceous curves of the most beautiful woman. Her bosoms were barely concealed above the sparkling waters, her golden hair floating amongst reeds.  

Inflamed with her beauty, the pain from his wounds receded.  Desire swept through his veins; his only thought was to tear off the dratted chainmail and join with her.

Ansgar whispered, ‘She is too beautiful, too ethereal to be human. She may truly be the Goddess of this hidden well.’

Devlin swallowed, his throat dry. He’d heard of such magical creatures from his fellow knights and the storytellers.  Seated with his companions around the castle’s great hearth, he would listen to the storytellers’ marvelous tales. He believed in their magical tales, as he imbibed the wine, with logs blazing, casting haunting shadows over stone walls. However, in the cold morning light, he shrugged them off, along with his headache, they were only heathen enchantments. 

‘Sir Knight, she is stunning.’ Ansgar always reverted to Devlin’s formal title when perturbed.  ‘My heart is jumping up into my throat.’

Devlin grimaced. ‘Be silent, keep the horses still, we must not frighten her.’ With bated breath, he stopped behind a screen of hawthorn bushes, watching her softly singing as she drifted by a bank bedecked with fresh plants. He shivered, as early winter’s sharp teeth bit through the air; how could she cavort in such icy waters? She must be a sprite or a goddess?

All pain left him as he gazed upon her loveliness. He was surprised he felt no fear to be in the presence of such an unearthly creature. Had this Goddess favoured him? Was this his reward for the blood and tortured suffering of warring with the Picts? To his dismay, his horse gave a soft nicker, yet loud enough for the vision to raise her head, her large doe brown eyes startled, peering through the bushes. As Devlin tried to retreat, the maiden saw them in an instant, raising her hands to her mouth to cover a scream.

Devlin, undeterred by her fear, now oblivious to his wounds, alighted from his mount and crept forward. He also forgot all his new Christian beliefs, as fear gnawed at his stomach. Yet even though his brain warned him to withdraw, his heart urged him on. Not wishing to scare this rare creature, he murmured softly, ‘prithee, dear maiden, are you a water sprite, for verily I have seen none so lovely as your sweet self?’

Seeing his intense gaze, Forestyne stooped deeper into the water, covering her bosom with her small hands. She shrank back from the tall, dark knight with the face of a god, towering above her; black hair curled around his collar. As if hewn from rock, his features were indeed gentled as he swept sable eyes over her, eyes that devoured her body, reaching into her soul.

As she was either a sprite or a woman of the Whispering Trees, he spoke using the ancient Brythonic language, ‘Pray have no fear for I mean you no harm. So tell me, be you a sprite or spirit of this pool.’

‘Sir, I am no sprite, just a —’

‘Then a nymph, a soothsayer once told me I would meet such a one?’

She gave a winsome smile, ‘A nymph is just another name for a sprite, dear sir, but I must disappoint you, for I am just a poor maiden of the forest, and at your mercy.’

‘Hah, now you seek to trick me, or cast a spell on me with your beauty.’

‘Nay Sir, believe me, I am—’

‘Enough, you sing such a sweet song, yet tinged with sadness, what ails your heart?’

‘My mother is stricken by the wasting disease; I came here to the sacred Grove of the Great Goddess and her two sisters, to pray for succour.’

Ansgar jumped down from his horse and ran to Devlin, ‘Sir Knight. I beg you, pray listen not; she is casting a spell over you.’ His eyes wild with fear, he drew his sword.


Copyright.

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

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