2017 covers

The Black Tide
The Black Tide
Cloud Door
Fate in the Sun
Chasing Taz
Silver Reaper
The Starman's Arrival
Ashes Reborn
Beta’s Mark
Secrets at Wongan Creek
Freeman's Choice
Blood Chance
The Years of Voyage
Just a Dinosaur
Necessary Alpha
Fighting Mac
Exclusive
Taken by the Desert Sheikh
Alien Resistance
The Stars to Guide

Monday, November 20, 2017

DarkSider News for November: Part 3



Welcome to the latest DarkSider News!

Grab the ice bucket -  our latest issue of news is sizzling hot....



NEW RELEASES


The Forbidden Heir by M.J. Scott is Book 2 in The Four Arts series. It was indie published on the 7th November 2017.


She fled to save her life, but surviving what comes next might destroy everything she believes in… 

The royal witches of Anglion have always been bound to serve their country. But Lady Sophia Mackenzie, whose unbound magic and near claim to the crown made her a target, was forced to flee Anglion, leaving behind a dead assassin and shattered loyalties. Now she finds herself in Illvya, where the magic is everything she’s been taught to fear and the only person she can trust is her new husband, Cameron.

Sophia and Cameron must navigate a strange world of illicit temptations, dangerous threats and political intrigue, where as a royal witch Sophia is both prized and reviled.

As she begins to master her powers, the factions seeking to control Sophia close in, and her magical and emotional bonds with Cameron are pushed to the limit. To survive long enough to claim the future she seeks, she may have to choose between love and loyalty, and hope the price of her choice is one she can bear.




Buy links are available from M.J. website.


Non-paranormal title
Nothing to Fear by Claire Boston is Book 1 in The Blackridge series. It was released by Bantilly Press on the 18th November 2017.


The gifts were innocent… at first.

All Hannah Novak wants to do is to live a simple life, but her traumatic past refuses to let go. Her trust in men is at an all-time low, but when she becomes the target of a dangerous stalker she’s forced into close proximity with the sexy new cop in town.

Ryan Kilpatrick has travelled across the country to get away from his manipulative ex-wife. Now, all he wants is to build a stable, loving home for his son. The last thing he needs is to be attracted to the secretive Hannah but he’s duty-bound to protect her.

As the stalker’s gifts turn nasty, and time is running out, Hannah must face her fears and learn to trust again. Because if she doesn’t, she may not get a second chance.



Buy links are available on Claire's website.




COVER REVEAL


Rogue by Anna Hackett is Book 8 in the Galactic Gladiators series. It's expected to be indie published on 28th November 2017.

Rogue has two stories in it. The first novella, Information Rogue, stars arrogant, intelligent information merchant Zhim…who’s having his world turned upside down my a certain hacker from Earth.

The second novella, Desert Rogue, stars caravan master Corsair. This man of desert is determined to help a stubborn, prickly woman from Earth…whether she wants his help or not!












Dahlia by Mel Teshco is Book 4 in the Dragons of Riddich series. It's expected to be indie published sometime in December.



More details to follow.












EXCERPTS



The Black Tide by Keri Arthur will be released in 2018 but Keri has put a teaser on her website with the first chapter. You can go directly to the download here.


Though Winter Halo–the pharmaceutical company behind the evil experimentation on both children and adults–has been destroyed, the danger is far from over. Not only do seven children remain unaccounted for, but some of the vampires are now able to walk in light.

The key to stopping the unthinkable lies in finding Ciara Dream, the last member of the trio behind the plot to give full light immunity to both the vampires and the Others. But Ciara, like Tiger herself, is a shapeshifter, able to take on any human form she desires.

To find her, Tiger will need to use every skill in her formidable arsenal, and even that might not be enough to save the city and the people she has started to care about.

Because the vampires are coming, and this time, the lights won’t stop them.






FREE READS


Apprentice Bound by Eleni Konstantine is her first fantasy short story published in Shortz: Flights of Fantasy edition, 1999!  She has just made it 
available on her website as a tribute to her early writing. 


Ddrill is scouting the country-side looking for wizard apprentices. Can he find anyone worthy in the backwards country of Marinndi?


You can have a read HERE. (It opens up a pdf file). 











The Day You Went Away by M.J. Scott is Book 0.5 in the Wilde Side series. It was indie published n 2014.

Ashley Keenan thought she'd found the one in Daniel Gibson. That they were going to be in love for a lifetime. But it only takes a moment to change forever. 


The Day You Went Away is a short story prequel to The Wolf Within, the first book in my urban fantasy series, The Wild Side. The Wolf Within. It's short (about 8k). It's the story of what happened in the first stage of the romance between the hero and heroine of The Wolf Within before that book starts. While Ash and Dan have some ups and downs in this story (that's what happens when one of a couple becomes a werewolf), I promise they'll get their happily ever after in the end! 


Buy links are available from M.J.'s website. 










PREVIOUS 2017 RELEASES


We mentioned Anna Hackett's latest release in the Hell Squad series, Ash,  in a previous DarkSider News. Anna was busy publishing more titles in the series in 2017.


Theron is Book 12 in the Hell Squad series. It was indie published on 30th April 2017.

Squad mates, best friends, and fighting to survive in the middle of an alien invasion. Can she make one stubborn alpha male soldier see her as something else?

Sienna Rossi has always been a mix of contradictions. She loves ice cream, likes cooking, and is skilled at taking down aliens with her squad. Sweet and tough, soldier and woman, most people can't seem to make sense of her...even the loving family she lost in the invasion and especially men. One man accepts her as she is, her best friend Theron. But the big, silent, muscled soldier has her firmly in the 'friends' zone...except that Sienna knows he wants her, and she's determined to claim the stubborn man as hers.

Theron Wade lives to fight aliens. They killed his parents, his foster siblings, and his fellow Rangers. Now he has a new team--the tough, mostly-female Squad Nine. But one certain female haunts his dreams and stars in his darkest fantasies. Sienna is his sunshine in the darkness. He wants to her to be happy...and he knows that would never be with a man like him. A man with darker, rougher tastes that would shock her.

As Squad Nine works to track and destroy a dangerous alien device, best friends collide. Theron introduces Sienna to a world of rough, edgy passion that she craves. But as a mission goes off track, the two of them will risk everything for love, for their lives, and to save the world.

Note to readers: This sci fi romance contains a lot of action (think climbing shattered skyscrapers and daring rescue missions), tough warriors (the kickass ladies of Squad Nine and the badasses of Hell Squad) and a steamy romance (lots of edgy sexy times between a quiet, stubborn soldier and his tenacious best friend). So if you like it fast, and gritty, and sexy, this is for you!




His Light in the Darkness is Book 12.5 in the Hell Squad series. It was indie published on the 16th May 2017.



A short story featuring a quiet moment between Marcus and Elle. This story fits into the Hell Squad timeline between the books Theron and Hemi.

Available from: Anna's website (opens pdf)








Hemi is Book 13 in the Hell Squad series. It was indie published on 29th May 2017.

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

Note to readers: This sci fi romance contains a lot of action (dangerous missions and deadly aliens), tough warriors (the kickass ladies of Squad Nine and the badass berserkers) and a steamy romance (lots of sexy times between a bearded wild man and his sexy soldier). So if you like it fast, and gritty, and sexy, this is for you!





The Sorcerer's Spell by Dani Kristoff is Book 1 in the Cursed Ones series. It was indie published on 18th May (It was previously published by HarperCollinsPublishers via their Impulse imprint).

Asleep in bed, widow Annwyn dreams about making love with her dearly departed husband and wakes up in another woman's body. The other woman is Nira, an evil sorceress, who is in bed with Dane, a sorcerer she has cursed. Nira has used Annwyn’s body to escape Dane’s binding spell. Annwyn has to fight her own attraction to the powerful sorcerer Dane and find a way to get her body back. But Dane’s curse is not what it seems. As a werewolf he is consumed by the beast, losing his humanity. If the curse is not removed he will be changed into a mindless wolf forever!


Available from: Amazon US | Amazon Aus | iBooksKobo | Google Play








Dragon Wine, Volume 1 by Donna Maree Hanson is Book 1 and 2 in the Dragon Wine series. It was indie published on 23rd June.

Shatterwing

The world of Margra is a desolate wasteland after one of its moons shattered. Factions fight over resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.
Dragon wine is a life giving drink imbued with the essence of dragons. It is what keeps people alive. But the prison vineyard where Salinda works to grow grapes is in jeopardy. Not only does the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard, make her life and the life of others a misery, he wants to rule the world by hoarding all the dragon wine. But Salinda has a secret power, an ancient gift called a’ cadre’, that may one day save the world.
When the Inspector suspects that Salinda has secrets, she may have to die to protect the cadre from falling into his hands…


Skywatcher

Salinda recovers in the subterranean city of Barrahiem and learns more about the mysterious Hiem creature, Nils of Barr, and his vast store of pre-Shatterwing technology and knowledge. Meanwhile, Garan, Laidan, Danton and Brill flee from the Inspector only to have him pursue with his rebel army. Imbued with pure dragon essence, he also wants Laidan’s power!

Salinda must gather them together to defend the observatory so Margra has a chance to survive final moon fall…


Donna has continued to publish more in this series with books 3 and 4.



Deathwings  is Book 3. It was indie published on 18th June.


Life on the ravaged world of Margra is more difficult than ever… Salinda and Garan blasted the evil Gercomo into the sky. Except … he didn’t die, he transformed into a dragon. Final moonfall looms ever closer and the world is on the brink of destruction.

Gercomo’s vile influence spreads among his dragon herd and he is reaching for power in both the human and dragon worlds.

Salinda has the means to stop him and save the world.


And Gercomo wants her dead.







Bloodstorm  is Book 4. It was indie published on 23rd July.


The planet of Margra is drawing closer to the brink as Shatterwing's debris field grows increasingly unstable.

Salinda and Garan fight Gercomo in dragon form, with unexpected consequences and end up making matters worse. Laidan’s life is saved but at great cost.

Sartell has become dangerous with conspiracies and betrayal everywhere. Brill and Danton gamble with their lives to find the location of the stolen dragon wine while Mandin gambles with her life to save her daughter.

Nils searches for the writings of his grandsire, Trell of Barr, which may contain the much needed information on how to avert moonfall.

Gercomo’s influence and power within the dragon herd peaks just as he is able to reach out to old human allies and the battle begins…







Buy links for all the Dragon Wine series can be found on Donna's website. 


Existence by Mel Teshco is Book 4 in the Dragons of Riddich series. It was published by Totally Bound Publishing on 2nd May.


Escaping the nest of their vampire master is an amazing triumph. Surviving will be their greatest challenge of all.

Alexander. I’ve been a blood slave to my vampire master for forty-six years. My rare blood makeup gives my master the perfect nutrition. My addiction to the couple of drops he feeds me in return ensures I have no compulsion to leave. I’m a willing blood donor, an immortal slave. And then my master brings yet another blood slave to his nest, and I can’t tear my eyes away from her.

Maya. I can’t believe I’ve been kidnapped. I definitely can’t believe vampires are real. But I soon learn they’re not just real, they’re cold and brutal, and will do anything for their bloodlust. Everything within me burns to escape, and if I have to use the other blood slave to do just that, I will. If I’m all too quickly seeing past his addiction and good looks to the man beneath, that’s just too bad. Survival is my focus; love and desire have no place in this nightmare I’m living. Does it?





Non-paranormal title
Exclusive by Mel Teshco is Book 3 in The VIP Desire Agency series. It was published by Tule Publishing on 6th June.


Rock star Amos Drynn isn't interested in a relationship. He’s been there, done that, and wished he’d listened to his better judgment. As the lead singer of the famous band Frankenstein’s Blood, he’s not short of female attention, but in his world, a long term relationship isn’t feasible. That is, until he purchases a night with a call girl who makes his blood run hot and has him forgetting about his fear of commitment.

Tiffany doesn’t believe in fairytales, not anymore. In her world trust is thin on the ground and promises are meaningless, especially from the mouth of a married client. A night in bed with her rock idol, Amos Drynn, will surely salve her wounded pride. But will their explosive chemistry shatter her infatuation with an ex-client or will she turn her back on Amos, the one man willing to give her everything, including his heart?



Buy links available from Tule Publishing.







WEBSITE UPDATES

Updated pages since the last DarkSider News: Dani Kristoff, Donna Maree Hanson, and M.J. Scott







AROUND THE WEB 

Juanita Kees joins Theresa Smith for the column, Behind the Pen











APPEARANCES
Keri Arthur was at Supanova Adelaide this past weekend signing books at the QBD Bookshop stand. 

Check out the author cupcakes with Keri second from right. Photo courtesy of Keri's tweet







Congratulations to all our DarkSiders!


Thanks for joining in our news. We'll see you next time...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

DarkSider News for November: Part Two!




Welcome to the DarkSider News!

Grab a cuppa, sit back and relax as we share our latest news....



NEW RELEASES


Flames of Hope by Cassandra L. Shaw is book 2 of The Katoom series. It was indie published on the 6th November.




A suicidal ex-assassin fights for justice and the chance to walk again while pushing aside the one female capable of giving him a reason to live.

500 years ago, two human subspecies, the gold-bearing Crea and the silver-bearing Eli, left their dying planet and took refuge on Earth. Capable of turning into metallic beasts eight times stronger than Earth humans, the Eli and Crea have long aroused fear and prejudice among the planet’s original inhabitants.

After decades of relative peace, a cauldron of hatred has begun to bubble, via a movement called the Pures. The Pures’ ultimate goal—Crea and Eli genocide.

But movements take money, so Pure zealots have begun kidnapping Crea and Eli to “milk” their blood for the precious metals.

Suicidal ex-assassin and paraplegic Xylvar Johansson is contracted by the leader of Katoom’s Eli clan to act as part of a newly married couple in an undercover sting. The fake couple’s task—hunt out Pure supporters and rescue as many kidnapped Eli and Crea as possible.

Only the “wife” turns out to be Jasmine Pembroke, the one woman Xylvar ever loved. But that was a decade ago, long before his soul died and he blew himself into a chair. He wants nothing to do with playing house, especially with her.

But he’ll do anything to walk again, and the fee Kaid’s offering will fund the experimental spinal treatment Xylvar covets.

Jasmine’s experienced her own dark hour, but even though both their lives have changed, one thing’s clear—she loves Xylvar, broken or whole. Can she convince him, whether the spinal treatment works or not, that with love, life is worth living?


Available from: Amazon US | Amazon Aus




Ooops, I didn't put a blurb last time, so here it is again!....

Grave Robbing Gone to Hell by Cassandra L. Shaw is the second book in the Grave Robber series. It was Indie Published in October.



Time-jumping psychic Angel Meyers makes a living by traveling to the past to hunt for clients’ lost family treasures.

But this case is personal.

Good friends Gary and the very pregnant Tess, desperately need money to save their animal rescue farm. To help, Angel must find the legendary emerald and diamond jewelry set Gary’s family lost over a century ago.

Only on her first trip to the past, Angel discovers dybbuk, Josey Richards, a body and soul stealing monster from Hell, has the jewels in her clasp.

What sucks more is Gary’s ancestor, the besotted fool, gave Josey the jewels and as he did, he unknowingly also handed her his soul.

Suck or not, Angel knows two things.

Josey will kill to keep her soul trapping gifts. And with Viggo, her guardian angel, and the panty melting Tyreal at her side, Angel will risk everything to save her friends animal rescue and a dead man’s soul—even face supernatural evil.

Again.

Available from: Amazon US | Amazon Aus




NEW DARKSIDERS



Welcome Cassie Laelyn to the DSDU!


Growing up, Cassie was fortunate enough to live in many different towns across Australia and had a childhood filled with crazy adventures. She now calls coastal Queensland home with her husband and two energetic boys.

Since she was a teen, Cassie has been borderline obsessed with the paranormal world and has a passion for writing stories involving otherworldly characters; where the heroes and heroines are equally as powerful and capable of kicking butt when they need to.

Cassie is a self-confessed book-a-holic who loves nothing more than a gripping paranormal story and is a sucker for a gut wrenching happily ever after. When she isn’t narrating the characters in her head, Cassie enjoys binging on TV shows, spending time at the beach and embarking on memorable adventures with her family.

Cassie has written several paranormal suspense short stories and is currently completing her debut paranormal romance novel.


Cassie has her first fabulous writing news to share....see the competition wins section!




Welcome Kelly Steel to the DSDU!

Kelly Steel lives in a slice of paradise. She has always read and started penning her own stories from a very young age. She lives in search of Happy Ever After for her characters.

She writes Paranormal and Contemporary romance.


You can find Kelly on her Blog, as well as  Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.














COMPETITION WINS

Cassie Laelyn, one of our newest members, won the 18+ category in the Calliope Country Carnival Writing Competition with her paranormal short story Swallow Creek Spring Fair!


Here's the blurb...

A quaint country town hiding a deadly secret.

Amelia craves an adventure. To trade her hectic, smog-filled existence for the majestic, fresh, clean countryside. If only for a day. And an invitation to the Swallow Creek Spring Fair is the perfect excuse.

Something strange is luring tourists to the town and Amelia soon discovers not all is as it seems. But when her adventure suddenly takes a frightening turn, she must race to escape the town limits before it’s too late.

But can she make it out alive?


You can read the whole short story HERE





FREE STORIES

Heat by Cathleen Ross has an erotic romance post-apocalyptic story that is available free from Amazon.



The world’s gone to hell, and Helen MacKenzie's only chance of survival is the two sexy commandos determined to keep her safe by taking her to the newly secured Base.

There's an unwritten rule at the Base where women are scarce. The soldier who finds a woman gets to keep her, only this time two commandos want Helen.

When zoologist Helen volunteers to remain at the zoo to protect the animals until help comes to rescue her from flesh-eating braindeads, she doesn't expect her work colleagues to turn too, thanks to the virus that’s changed her world—and everyone else’s—into a living hell. On the day Corporal Peter Clark and Corporal Adam Tenny rescue Helen, she doesn't know which commando she wants more, until she discovers she can have them both.

Heat is a ten thousand word story that is linked to the novel, Base


Available from: Amazon US | Amazon Aus



Kadin by Mel Teshco is book 1 of the Dragons of Riddich series, which was released on 5th January. This Alien Sci-fi tale is currently free on Amazon.


The dragons will search the universe for their one true mate... 

Grace has a special ability. She senses paranormal beings. It’s the perfect trait to have as an operative for the Paranormal Detection Agency. A pity her next target, Kadin Marres, doesn’t just trigger her paranormal senses … he triggers her lust too.

Kadin has been aware of the elusive Grace for some time now and has waited patiently for her. She’s a dragon breeder, and once he finally has her, he isn’t about to give her up. Not even if it means she goes from hunter to hunted.


Available from: Amazon US | Amazon Aus 


Details of books 2 & 3 of the series are in the next section....






PREVIOUS 2017 RELEASES
We continue showcasing releases published in 2017.


My Highlander Lover by Cathleen Ross is a Forbidden Fantasy book, and is book 4 in the Highlander Romance series. It was indie published on the 26th August.

1314 Highlands

Grieving widower, Sir Eoin Bruce is forced to marry wealthy Lady Jehanne de la Croix in order to keep her dowry in Bruce hands. Eoin hates enchantment of any kind and he soon discovers Jehanne is the witch who haunted his dreams. She brings him more titles and wealth than he ever thought possible as a second son of a laird. Can he overcome his grief and go against everything he believes in to love her?

Jehanne de la Croix wants nothing more than to be safe and loved by her husband, Sir Eoin Bruce but she was born from a line of great seers. If she can't get Eoin to accept her prophesies, she will burn at the stake and he will meet a violent end. Everything rests on Eoin and his willingness to love a witch.


Available from: Amazon US | Amazon Aus | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play | Kobo 





The Chronicles of Lady E: African Alliance by Nicola E. Sheridan was indie published on the 7th March.



The Chronicles of Lady E and the African Alliance

An ancient culture
Memories lost
A new beginning

See the book trailer for this HERE.


Available from Amazon US | Amazon Aus 







Mel Tescho has published two more books in the Dragons of Riddich series in 2017. 

Book 2,  Asher,  was released on 19 January.

Riddich king, Asher Mannett, has more to worry about than the agony of shifting into his dragon form. Tantonics, his alien enemies, will do anything to invade and destroy him and his people, and extract their vital energy. 
When the last Riddich stronghold is breached, Asher boards a craft and escapes his planet along with a handful of his people. They crash land on Earth, where a rare few human women can breed with his species, giving his people hope of continuing their genetic line. 

Thanks to her now dead fiancé, Luke, Marissa Kinkaid’s life has gone from one of decadent luxury to hardship. But then a huge, wounded dragon bursts into her life and opens her eyes to the dreary existence she’s accepted as her own. A life she no longer wants. 
Despite her fear of abandonment, leaving her drought-affected farm with Asher seems far less complicated than facing Asher’s Tantonic enemies. She can’t imagine a life without the big, sexy alien in it. But will she lose him too before they’ve even had a chance at love?


Available from Amazon US | Amazon Aus



Book 3, Baron, was released on 23rd March.

The dragons will search the universe for their one true mate... 

Piper Meadows hates her strange ability that allows her to sense supernatural beings; it’s made her an oddity and an outcast in her small town. It’s at a party she doesn’t want to attend that her ability is suddenly triggered, making her aware of someone not human. A pity that someone is also the best looking male she’s ever seen. Not that it matters, a man like Baron wouldn’t look her way twice … would he? 

As captain of a mighty dragon army, Baron Alsharma has been exposed to a whole world of violence. Then he sets eyes on the gentle and remarkable Piper, and there is no way in hell he’ll give her up. He doesn’t care that she’s not a rare breeder. If he has to forcibly make off with her to convince her they’re perfect together, he will, even while having to keep one step ahead of the Tantonics, his sworn alien enemy. Except the Paranormal Detection Agency is also on his tail and will do anything to capture a shape shifting dragon, even if it means hurting Piper to get to him. 


Available from: Amazon US | Amazon Aus




Non speculative fiction title

Take by the Desert Sheikh is a collection of contemporary romance stories about three brothers by three of our DarkSiders, Cathleen Ross, Mel Teshco, and Christina Phillips.

Three Sheikh brothers, three virgin brides…
The Grand Vizier has a plan to save Qutum…
To prevent a war…three royal brothers must wed

Stolen by the Sheikh by Cathleen Ross

London interior designer, Lilly Jones has the perfect job. When she lands an account to do up a mansion in Kensington and an old fort in Qutum, she can’t believe her luck. What she doesn’t know is that she is the piece of the puzzle that will prevent a war. When the commanding and sexy Sheikh Jamal El-Amin pays her bridal price, Lilly refuses to believe it means they are married, but it is legal in Qutum. Lilly must decide to escape or stay.


The Sheikh’s Rebel by Mel Teshco

As the daughter of an indulgent sheikh, Amber Al-Fayed has had everything her heart desires, including a western education. But her perfect life is shattered when insurgents try to overthrow her country, killing Amber’s mother in a mortar attack and forcing Amber and her father into battle. Now Amber will do anything she can to reclaim control…even if that means marrying Zafar El-Amin, a wealthy and formidable neighboring sheikh. Except Zafar isn’t quite as separated from the conflict as she believes.


The Sheikh’s Reluctant Princess by Christina Phillips

He claimed her body, but can he capture her heart?

The last thing Tariq El-Amin wants to do is marry, but duty is everything and his country requires an heir. A political marriage is all he expects–until he hunts down his unwilling bride and duty becomes pleasure. But he soon discovers Princess Sofia has no intention of being a meek and obedient wife, and Tariq must make a tough choice if he wants to win the heart of his reluctant princess.


Available from:  Amazon USAmazon Aus | iBooks | B&N | Kobo







WEBSITE UPDATES


Updated pages since the last DarkSider News: Kelly Steel, Cassie Laelyn, Cathleen Ross, and Nicola E. Sheridan.






AROUND THE WEB


Juanita Kees has had her book Secrets at Wongan Creek reviewed over at the Australian Romance Readers blog.







Congratulations to all our DarkSiders!


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Magic Thursday: Prologue from To Baile Do Cailleach (book one, The Sydney Witches series) by Kathrine Leannan



We have a treat for you today from Kathrine Leannan

We have the whole prologue of To Baile Do Cailleach (A Home for Witches), which is book one of The Sydney Witches series. 

Like all of Kathrine's books there is a Scottish theme. 

The prologue explains why witches need a place to practice their magicks in safety. Chapter one time travels to modern day Australia.

Before we get to the prologue, here's the blurb:
Adrianna Randall, born of ancient blood, is a witch. She isn’t exactly popular with her coven sisters, or insurance companies. Blessed with the blood of hanged witch Elizabeth Randall, Adrianna is a healer to all beasts and restorer to Mother Earth.
There is just one problem…
She has an affinity with fire and she has no idea how to control it.


Now let us enjoy the prologue!!


Prologue

Tranent, Scotland 1591 

ELIZABETH RANDALL SAT ON THE COLD, PINE NEEDLE-STREWN forest floor, humming as she gently stroked the brown breast feathers of a male white-tailed eagle. The bird’s piercing yellow eyes lay closed in pleasure. The muscles of her gauntlet-clad right arm, gripped by lethal black talons, quaked under his great weight. Smiling, she stood and lifted the bird into the air when his recently healed wing flexed with power. With a dual flap, the massive wings unfurled as the eagle launched and became airborne. The ear-splitting avian screech of gratitude clenched around Elizabeth’s heart. She continued to stare at the retreating speck on the pink horizon until finally, the giant raptor disappeared into the great beyond.

At dawn every morning, Elizabeth, with the handle of a wicker basket draped over her arm, left the warmth of the house and set out into the chilled air of the forest to collect wild garlic, tubers, and riverweed to flavour the food for the family table. Unbeknownst to anyone else, she also gathered Lady Fern to relieve stings, blackberries and yarrow to soothe inflammation, wild marjoram to disinfect wounds, and feverfew to ease pain. After a couple of hours, she stopped and put the half-filled basket on the ground and stretched her back. Tired from the morning’s foraging, she sat and leaned against the smooth trunk of a large weeping willow. The wonderful woodsy, earthy smells of the forest instantly relaxed her. She closed her eyes for just a second, when the leaves rustled on the ground beside her.

A large rabbit with two babies at her side limped toward her. Elizabeth wriggled her fingers and the rabbits, first tentative with twitching noses, came forward and climbed onto her lap. As they settled, she noticed a vivid stain of fresh blood smeared her apron.

“Oh, dear one, what has happened?" The kittens snuggled together and dozed. Gently, she began to explore the body of the large female that breathed raggedly; the animal’s pain shot like fire though Elizabeth’s fingers. When fresh blood coated her hand, she sighed and shook her head. “A snare, then.”

The rabbit’s suffering caused the babies to snuggle closer. She gently grasped the ragged and torn left hind foot. The brutal wires of man-made snares had brought the doe to within an inch of ending up over a hearth fire in a pot filled with vegetables. Elizabeth held the injured limb in her right hand, closed her eyes, and waited for the warmth to flow down her arm and into her fingers. She watched mesmerized, all the time stroking to ease the rabbit as it flinched in pain. The fine muscles and sinews knit into place as the fur regenerated. The doe collapsed onto the cloth of the soiled apron, and the kittens seized the moment and started to feed. After a few minutes, the large rabbit hopped down to the ground; the kittens hesitated for just a second, then followed. The doe rubbed her face on Elizabeth’s hand.

“Ye are welcome. Be mindful of the snares, feed close to the burn. Men rarely set snares near a stream; they think animals are afraid of water and that the sound of it running over rocks scares them away.” She laughed out loud. “Men understand naught; all creatures great and small must drink.” She caressed the beautiful long ears one last time before the rabbits disappeared into the heather.

A clap of thunder made Elizabeth jump. She scrabbled to gather her basket as the canopy of the huge willow tree bunched together and surrounded her, an enormous leafy umbrella protecting her from the torrential downfall. She placed her palms on the ancient trunk of the tree. Thick green moss appeared
and began to spread, covering the bark, protecting it from the bite of the frigid winter. “I thank ye, old one.” When the rain stopped, the tree unfurled and its drooping green tendrils once more hung toward the ground. She looked up at the sky; the sun was almost at its zenith.

“I must get back, there is still much to do before the gloaming is upon me.” On her way back to the house, her belly growled from hunger. As she walked, wild raspberries and blackcurrants, ripe and lush, appeared from plants that lay dormant. She stashed a few in her pocket; it seemed squirrels just couldn’t get enough of the delicious fruits. As she approached the house, today, just as every other day, she crossed the stream and a single apple, always delicious, hung ripe from a dead tree. The earthy scent of mushrooms made her mouth water as she picked a handful from where she knew them to be hidden within the wild daisies, their tiny white petals caressing her slim ankles as she walked past. As always, she bent her head and gave thanks to Mother Earth for her generosity.

***

One foggy morning while out foraging, Elizabeth stopped when on the wind carried a very faint noise, like that of female voices. She followed the sound that beckoned her. Her heart beat as if it meant to leave her chest; her daily routine was forgotten. No one ever came into the forest at such an early hour. She pushed through thorny bushes that snagged her hair, scratched her skin, and stained her clothes. When she climbed over a massive fallen tree, she slipped on the lush, damp moss and landed on her bottom. The voices, ever louder, Summoned her, a call that she must answer. Curiosity prickled her skin when the forest opened up into a clearing.

Under the canopy of an ancient rowan tree, a group of women sat in a circle singing words she didn’t understand, and yet the chant was somehow familiar. The lexis welcomed her, elated her, and enveloped her in a wonderful sense of  belonging. A woman with long red hair, whose seated position was higher than the rest of the women, sat with her back toward the forest.

Without turning, she spoke. ‘Welcome, Elizabeth Randall, I am Isobel Gowdie, High Priestess of the Forest Coven. We have waited a very long time for you to join us.”

Elizabeth approached the circle of women tentatively when as one they rose and took turns in embracing her. Never before had she experienced the warmth or the sense of peace that these women offered. Every day at dawn, Elizabeth hurried to the meeting place, a green-grassed area encircled with flowers and mushrooms. Carliese, a young blonde woman, told her that this was a magickal place, a Faery circle protected by the Old Ones. One morning, nervous energy flowed through the women as they spoke of spells and healing. A huge, majestic red stag appeared and walked toward them. All of the women stood and bowed. Elizabeth frowned guardedly and stepped back. When they began to chant, dizziness overcame her. She grabbed Carliese’s arm to her to steady herself.The stag approached her, then went down on one knee.

“Mother of the epoch of magicks to come, it is time for you to perform your duty, to take your place in our history as the one who will assemble a gathering abode where witches can practice magicks in peace, without persecution.”

The outline of the stag shimmered in green luminescent light as he transformed into a tall man with black hair past his shoulders and brilliant violet eyes. He was beautiful. Elizabeth couldn’t help but stare. When he smiled, his face lit up with joy.

“Well met, Elizabeth Randall, Healer of all beasts and Daughter of Mother Earth. I am the Mage, Abramelin.” He held out his hand to her. Suddenly, her sense of vertigo became the glow of something she had never before experienced. She stepped forward and took his fingers in hers. He stood tall and opened his other hand. A garland of beautiful Scottish thistles appeared. Isobel stepped forward.

Abramelin bowed. “High Priestess.” He passed the garland to her.

She nodded, then turned to Elizabeth “This circle of leaf, thorn, and flower is a symbol of beauty and of the fierceness of the Scottish Clans and of our robust ability to survive and succeed against all odds.”

She handed the garland back to Abramelin, and he placed it on Elizabeth’s head. Isobel stepped back and joined the other women who, instead of chanting, sang in beautiful, choral voices the words of the Celtic Wedding Vow: 

“I pledge my love to you, and everything that I own.
I promise you the first bite of my meat and
the first sip from my cup.
I pledge that your name will always be the name I
cry aloud in the dead of night.
I promise to honour you above all others.
Our love is never-ending, and we will remain,
forevermore, equals in our marriage.
This is my wedding vow to you.”

Tears of joy ran down Elizabeth’s face as Abramelin kissed her on the lips, then took her hand in his and led her, surrounded by the voices of angels, into the forest…

***

The townspeople of Tranent whispered about Elizabeth. She was an awkward young girl with long blonde hair. Her happy demeanour and laughter made it easier for them to pretend to ignore her eccentricities. No one would dare speak ill of the younger of the two bairns of Caimbeul Randall, Clan Laird of all the lands as far as the eye could see. Caimbeul was a hard man who, in return for rent and labour, supplied his crofters with thick slabs of peat to keep the hearth fires burning warm and bright and food to fill their bellies. The Laird demanded all boys who survived to the age of six accompany him and the men of the Clan to learn to fish, kill game, and butcher the spoils. The villagers often gossiped about how the two get of their great Laird could be so different.

Coira, a shy, sweet, green-eyed girl with mousey brown hair and pale skin, was the firstborn. Caimbeul, ever greedy for more land, resources and money, negotiated an alliance with William Buchane of Caithness, a successful sheep farmer whose lands shared a border with Caimbeul’s. He promised William Coira’s hand in marriage; she was just twelve years old.

It was a brutal union. She grew from child to woman with loneliness her constant companion. William spent most of the year absent from Caithness. Coira was left behind to attend to the sheep while, thanks to the Court of France and its demand for beaver hats, hallmarked for authenticity, William trapped pelts for the must-have wide-brimmed North American beaver hats, the latest fad and fashion accessory. French traders established shore stockpiles in Acadia, a post at Tadoussac, and trade in Quebec to exploit astronomical sums while the beaver population dwindled to extinction. On the occasions when William returned to Scotland, it was not to his wife, but to the lands of Caimbeul Randall. The best furs were always reserved for his father-in-law, the Laird, while Coira, cold and alone, sat huddled beside a peat fire at Caithness spinning wool until her fingers bled.

Caimbeul Randall was a vain, God-fearing man whose temper was legendary. His reputation terrified bairns. Women turned and walked quickly away when he appeared in the village. Stories of how he beat his crofters if they were a day late with the rents ensured timely payments. He brutally starved his hunting dogs to make them aggressive, vicious hunters. Whispers around hearth fires filled the bairns’ ears and minds with nightmares. It was indeed wise not to cross his path. Everyone feared him. He was equally hard and unforgiving to his own family. A day didn’t pass that he didn’t complain bitterly that he had not been blessed with sons instead of two useless daughters.

***

One morning, in Caimbeul’s dressing room, Seumas, the master’s seirbhíseach, jolted as he held something behind his back. Caimbeul reefed the offending object out of the servant’s hand and bellowed as he glared at his favourite stockings that now had moth holes in each sole. He thundered down the stairs, garments in hand. “Is  this what I am expected to wear? I am Laird! How dare ye keep such rags!”

Aileas Randall put down the knife she had just used to slice a fresh loaf of bread and handed the laden plate to her daughter Elizabeth.“Leave Talamh an Rí now! Get out of this Land of the King! Begone my Keep this second and journey to Tranent!”

The women scrambled to gather their shawls and hurried outside to wait beside a wooden cart. Seven of Caimbeul’s finest archers accompanied them; after all, horse-drawn wains were expensive and highly prized by highwaymen. The men rode with resentful, grim faces and rumbling bellies. Elizabeth, in the flush of young womanhood, was the very image of her mam who sat beside her. It was only the second time in her entire life that Elizabeth had been allowed to go to the village. They chatted excitedly about purchasing a new gartane leem to make garters and thick  stockings for the winter to come, the outing made all the better for being out from under the harsh presence of Caimbeul.

While Aileas was inside the loom-maker’s hut, Elizabeth stroked the noses of the two grey Highland ponies harnessed to the wain. A noise behind her startled her. She blushed and ducked her head when the shopkeeper’s son smiled at her as he carried the domestic loom to the back of the cart. An old woman standing about three feet away placed a hand to her mouth and turned her head. She whispered in a careless voice to a woman standing next to her who eagerly leaned forward.

“I’ll tell ye summat, Sinẻad. It be sap, not blood that runs through the veins of Elizabeth Randall. Poor Aileas, to have birthed such an addled bairn. I tell ye this though, I pity the poor lad who takes her on as wife.” She shook her head and clicked her tongue, her matted grey hair limp around her face. She poked her filthy index finger in the air.

“Starve to death, he will! Ye heed me, there is naught surer than my words, and all because his wife isoff scourin’ the hills looking for weeds and half-dead creatures.”

“True enough, Innes.” The other woman nodded. “I have warned my lads to keep well clear of her, else they bring madness and disgrace upon us.”

Elizabeth looked forward to the time when once per year her sister Coira, Mistress of Caithness, was permitted to journey under the watchful eyes of William Buchanan’s guards to Talamh an Rí. It was a dangerous, frigid journey across the boggy moors to deliver the tanned beaver and wolverine pelts to Caimbeul Randall.

Elizabeth walked across the courtyard with a basketful of berries as Coira and her escorts came into view. She dropped the basket and ran down the road toward them. The sight of the pelts made her blood run cold; the pain of the dead creatures filled her with fury. Her colour was as high as Coira’s was wan. Elizabeth frowned as she hugged her sister; the bone of every rib and vertebra was barely covered by flesh. Her tiny hands were bleeding, bitten deep with chilblains. She was eighteen. She could have passed for fifty.

“Oh, sister! I have so missed you! Come inside and we will break our fast.”

Coira didn’t move. She kept her head down and stared at her paper-dry, cracked hands clasped in her lap. The lead guard moved his horse forward and kicked the side of the wain. Coira jumped, then fumbled with her skirts and stepped down to the ground. Later that night Coira curled alongside Elizabeth in the tiny sleeping space.

She started to cry. “Oh, Coira, what has our da done to you by promising you to that old goat who reeks of suffering and death?”

Coira sniffed and grimaced. “Beth, my life is as it is. I ask for nothing, I expect nothing and I get nothing.” She rubbed her nose on her sleeve. “How I wish our lives could be like when we were bairns. I never knew being a wife would be so cruel.”

“Oh, Coira. Leave him and come home! I can’t bear to witness your suffering.”

Coira pulled back as if she had been struck. “Leave him? He would drag me back and beat me to within an inch of my life. Believe me, I understand the strike of his whip.”

Dressed in one of Elizabeth’s shifts, one sleeve drooped down her shoulder; white ropey scars striped her skin. “Da wouldn’t take me in; he wouldn’t give up the furs. You know how he prides himself on being the best-dressed man in the land. Besides, I would be one more mouth to feed.”

Elizabeth slept an uneasy sleep. Coira flinched constantly and called out, making weeping sounds. The next morning, already dressed, she shook Coira’s shoulder gently. She woke with a start and curled in on herself, her arms over her head.

“’Tis only me. Come, get dressed. The forest awaits us.” Coira’s eyes were as wide as that of an owl’s.

“What are we doing? There will be trouble for leaving the bed without permission.”

Elizabeth cocked her head. “Come now. I do this every day.”

Following the now-familiar path, Elizabeth led Coira to meet her coven sisters. Carliese ran to greet them.

When she picked up Coira’s hand, she gasped. “Oh sweet Goddess, you poor child.”

A red-haired woman watched from the outskirts of the circle, then walked toward them. “Welcome, sister of Elizabeth Randall. I am Isobel.” She paused for a moment, then led Coira to the centre of the circle.

‘Sisters, come to me as one. Let us relieve this young woman’s pain as she has no magicks of her own. Let us give her strength and courage.”

The women, including Elizabeth, began to chant. Coira slumped to the ground as every muscle and sinew that had been bowstring tight since her wedding night released and relaxed. As the chanting quietened to  silence, she sat up. Her thin, mousey brown hair was now a thick, lustrous, chestnut mane. Her cheeks were pink with good health. Although still thin, she was no longer gaunt. Elizabeth clapped her hands, then hugged her sister.

“Oh, Coira! Thank the Goddess, now you will find happiness.” Coira grimaced and her shoulders slumped.

“Oh Beth, happiness is what I yearn for, but protection is what I need.”

Isobel stood in the centre of the circle. A resonant hum filled the air.

Child of feminine wonder
welcomed by the forest,
Let no man again ever unleash harm.
The Guardian Protector will be with you from this time on
Your words are his Summon.

A rustling sound from the undergrowth caused the women to turn and stare. Out into the sunlight walked a magnificent male lynx with brilliant blue eyes and silent paws. Coira stood wide-eyed, completely still as the great feline approached, then bowed down before her.

“I am Lyncurius, born with the Sight and now Protector to you. Fear not, mistress, if you choose to accept me, I will be one with you. You have but to say my name.”

When Coira frowned, Isobel stepped forward. “A precious coven gift to you, sister of Elizabeth Randall. Just say his name, child. Now and forever more, when you need him, just say his name.” Elizabeth nodded to her.

“Trust my sisters, Coira.”

“Lyncurius.”

The lynx shimmered and became a thin wisp of fog before he disappeared into Coira’s mouth and embedded in her tongue. She gasped as the power of the mighty lynx suddenly coursed through her veins. For the first time in six years, she smiled and looked forward to returning to Caithness. Lyncurius would protect her from her brutal husband and she would never be alone again.

***

Superstition guaranteed failed crops were viewed as a result of the use of witchcraft rather than an outcome of harsh weather. Unexpected deaths within the Clan were blamed on the black arts while the deadly influenza virus claimed many lives. The red blistery rash of smallpox was said to be from the touch of dark magicks. Elizabeth feared for her coven sisters when gossip of such events reached her ears.

She despaired for her Clan and their false notions while she spent many hours learning the truth of the laws of nature and death. This knowledge strengthened  her healing skills and imbued her with an intimate knowledge of the true power of magicks. The fear of witches fed the ignorance of her Clan. There was talk of hunting witches and burning them before God, so the Clan would be spared
from crop destruction and death.

Several months later, when all were abed, Elizabeth awoke with a start. Her heart pounded as she was overwhelmed by the pain of terrible suffering. She slid quietly from her sleeping space, grabbed her shawl and her hidden hemp bag of herbs, and crept out into the forest. She closed her eyes and followed the red-hot tendrils of pain. She stumbled in the dark when she sensed him; the enormous, majestic, reddeer stag. He stood breathing heavily in the shadows as blood oozed freely from four deep puncture wounds. The arrows, still embedded in his hide, were incongruously pale in the moonlight.

“Abramelin?”

He looked in her direction. The whites of his eyes were terrifying as agony tipped him to the brink of madness. “’Tis Elizabeth.” He lowered his antlers, readying to charge her, then snorted when she extended her hand and blew a breath toward him. He sagged and began to make a sound like chanting.

“No! Abramelin, no! Do not assume your human form. You have lost so much blood. As a human, you will surely perish right here on this very spot. Please, my darling, think of what is at stake…”

His massive antlers nodded just as he buckled at the knees under the horrendous pain. She helped him to stand, all the while, crooning to him, then she kissed his face.

“Be brave, my love.” She rustled around on the forest floor until she found two rocks, one contoured like a rough-hewn saucer, the other, solid and blunt. She spat into the saucer-like stone. Searching in the hemp bag, she selected the dried flowers and leaves of yarrow, then with the grinding stone, pulverized them into a paste to quell inflammation and reduce the risk of infection. She spat into the mash, then crushed several tender leaves of feverfew to relieve his pain. Arms around his neck, she kissed him and breathed in and out several times to calm herself. She grasped the first arrow and in one clean wrench, pulled the shaft free. The arrowhead tore brutally through his flesh. Abramelin snorted and stamped his cloven front hooves.

Elizabeth was damp with sweat by the time she grasped the last arrow and jerked it from his body. She hurled it to the ground in disgust to join the other three ghastly, blood-soaked weapons of pain and destruction. She lathered the herbal paste onto her fingers and pushed the concoction deep into the wounds, then coated the area where the arrow points had pierced his flesh. She sat on the ground as exhaustion overtook her and began to sob. As she wiped away her tears, she looked up at the dark sky, grateful it was still many hours until dawn. She knew the smell of blood would attract every pine marten and badger for miles. She was confused; common sense warred against the certain knowledge that if she left Abramelin in the forest, he most assuredly would die. With her hand on his long, beautiful, russet neck, she led him through the trees to the cleared edge of Talamh an Rí. The sentry at the front door of the keep slept as he leant against the wall. After making certain there was no one else about, she walked Abramelin into the barn, then gathered up an armful of hay and placed it in front of him. He flared his nostrils, sniffed the air, and then lowered his head to eat. Elizabeth sat on a pile of sweet-smelling hay just inside the front door, smiling; she tightened her shawl around her, as blessed relief settled upon her. Still smiling, she fought to keep her eyes open. Just a couple more minutes…

***

The door swung wide and sunlight flooded the barn. The bang of the wooden panel against the wall startled her awake. “Elizabeth!”

The red stag reared, then charged past Caimbeul Randall, knocking him to the floor. She ran to her father and helped him to his feet. His face was white with fear, then, in an instant, blossomed with the flush of fury.

“For years, I have tried to ignore ye and yer verra odd ways. I have tolerated fledglings in my hoose, feeding them my food until ye release them back to the forest. Never again will I hear talk of plants and healing. Do ye hear me? I will hear no more of such insanity!”

He stared out at the courtyard and shook his fist. “The men and I tracked that twelve-pointer for these three days past. Did ye not consider that the meat from that beast would have eased the winter for the Clan?” He took one step closer to her, his eyes mere slits.

“Damn ye! I saw our arrows hit him with mine own eyes. We followed the blood trail for miles until the gloaming forced us to return to the village.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. Her head snapped viciously back and forth. Then he slapped her with his open hand and knocked her to the floor.

“That creature is now free of our arrows.” His nose wrinkled in disgust. “And there is a reek of healing potions.” He closed his eyes and blew out a loud breath, then dragged her to her feet by the hair. She grasped her belly and pulled a handful of shawl tighter around herself. He eyed her with suspicion, then pulled her to within two inches of his face as he screamed. Fine drops of spittle sprayed on her face.

“Only a witch could cure an animal with such mortal wounds! Answer me true or may God strike ye
down where ye stand. Did ye heal that beast?” He shook her again, then shoved her away from him.

“Answer me! Did ye apply healing arts to that animal?”

Elizabeth trembled violently as blood dripped from her split lip, but she held her head high. “Aye! I saved him! Just like the others and many more; mutilated in sport by ye and yer men only to leave them to die a hideous death.” Bitterness coated her voice. “I hope Mother Earth repays ye in kind.”

Caimbeul stormed out of the barn. Next, loud hammering confirmed he was barricading shut all the doors and windows. Elizabeth covered her ears with her hands while her mother just kept screaming and screaming…

***

She heard them coming before she saw them. The plaintive screech of a whitetailed eagle was riotous. Elizabeth sighed and spoke to herself. “Such is the way of ignorance, dear one. Don’t cry for me. The deafening roar of a red stag filled her with peace. “Abramelin, because of the wonder of our love, I ask you to seek and find my sister Coira. Mam will need her when my da’s work is done.”

The lilting sound of Gaelic female harmonies floated within the barn, encompassing her, from women unseen as his comforting presence left her. Abramelin stood in the forest, surrounded by grieving witches. “Our lady has requested I find her sister and bring her to the Land of the King.”

Fury painted his face as he spat on the ground in disgust. Isobel’s face was wet with tears. “The Keeper of the Lynx. That is why our Elizabeth has requested you bring Coira to her birth home. She fears for her mother.”

“If it is the wish of my Lady, then it shall be so.”

“Follow me.” Isobel extended her arms to either side, then raised them above her head and brought them down in front of her. A shimmer engulfed her as she morphed into a red kite. As she became airborne, a screeching, piping sound filled the air. Abramelin vanished.

The red kite circled high above the lands of Caithness. Coira was out in the field. She had a newborn lamb clutched to her breast, the ewe, a carcass torn by under the darkness of night predator. The orphan bleated forlornly. Abramelin assumed his human form in the shadows behind the tree line. Head high, he walked towards Coira. “Mistress…”

She started and clutched the lamb tighter to her breast. “Fear not.” He bowed low at the waist. “I am friend to your sister Elizabeth.”

“Beth? ’Tis summat wrong with Beth?”

Abramelin hung his head. “You must come with me, before it is…too late.”

Coira frowned. “I doona understand.”

“Your father has proclaimed her for a witch.”

Coira spun on her heel. “Guard! Take this lamb and see to the flock. I shall take my leave of Caithness. I am required at Talamh an Rí.”

The guard stepped forward. “I have no instruction from the Laird of  Caithness to escort you from these lands.”

Lyncurius roared within Coira, demanding release. She stepped toward the guard. “Am I not Mistress of Caithness? You would dare to deny me passage to my father’s lands? Be warned, he would not think twice about taking your head for such disobedience.”

The guard paused, then took the lamb into his arms, turned, and walked toward the barn.

“See to the flock,” she called to his retreating back. “I doona know how long I will be delayed.” She turned to Abramelin.

He held out his hand. “Trust me. On my love for your sister, trust me.” The call of the red kite followed them into the ether.

On the outskirts of the forest at Talamh an Rí, Abramelin and Coira materialised. She stumbled to the ground. Vertigo overwhelmed her as she vomited onto the damp, leaf-strewn ground. After she wiped her mouth on the hem of her apron, she looked all around, then took his outstretched hand. A look of wonder lit up her face. She leaned forward and put her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you.”

Coira walked from the shadows to the sunlight. Her mam sat on the frozen ground, leaning against the door of the barricaded barn. Tears ran down her face as she sobbed brokenly. Coira walked to her and gathered her in her arms. “I am here, mam, I am here.” Aileas jolted. Fear painted her face. Her voice was almost gone from screaming.

“My dearest daughter? How?” Coira kissed her and whispered, “Sometimes there are things we canna explain, all we need do is to be grateful.” They hugged each other and huddled together as the roar of the stag and the piping screech of the red kite surrounded them.

Caimbeul Randall burst outside of the house. “What? How is it that you are here?”

Disgust lined his words. Coira held her head high. “A messenger brought word to me of your evil doings. Was it not enough that you ruined my life, but you have ruined Beth’s as well?”

His usual ruddy face became even more coloured as his anger escalated. “Daughters are easy get and next to useless. Better to have no bairns than to be remembered as a Laird who couldna sire a son. Now get inside both of you and get food on my table.”

***

When a bellow of a male voice thundered from outside, Elizabeth recognized the tone immediately. The speech impediment confirmed the presence of the Mayor.

“Elizabif Wandall, ye are charged with being a vitch. Thurrender yerself now.” Standing in middle of the barn, she gathered her shawl and waited for the mob to tear down the barricaded door. She closed her eyes and in her mind saw the faces of all the women of her coven family. She knew after today she would never see them again. She willed her hands to stop shaking as the door was flung open.

She walked outside and faced the mayor. Caimbeul Randall stood beside him. He held Aileas’s left hand tight behind her back while the fingers of his other hand dug brutally into Coira’s thin right arm. Elizabeth jutted her chin.

“Of what am I charged? What is my crime?”

The Mayor looked incredulous “Evil vitch! Ye dare to act as though ye hafe no knowedge of evil magicks! Ye brathen harlot! I hafe receifed many reports. Ye healed Davies’ norse; a norse with a broken leg, no wess. Norses never surbive such injuries. Yet a bisit from ye and the norse was back galliping around the paddocth, by the time of the gwoaming. Explain how Fairmonth’s barley cropth came back to life after the lo…the licusts, when everaone else’s cropths failed. Hith was the only farm ye bisited and the only one to thurvive.”

He eyed her with contempt. “Do you deny ye resthored life to a murderoth wolf ? Ye were seen, the fact has been thworn on the Bible! Ye are an evil vitch and it is our God-given duty to rid this world of vitches. The trial hath taken place and ye have been found guilty. Yer punisthment avaiths you. Now bind her!”

Men from the crowd rushed forward and grabbed her, tying her hands behind her back. Every movement caused the rope to bite into her flesh. As she looked over her shoulder, her coven sisters stood gathered, invisible to all but her. Blood dripped from her bound wrists and blossomed like tiny, gruesome red rose petals littered on the snow. The lilt of the songs of her coven sisters strengthened her. They gave her peace. Aileas tried to hug Coira as they both sobbed and struggled against Caimbeul, screaming and pleading with him. He slapped Aileas and she dropped to the ground. Coira reefed her arm out from under his grip and sat with her arms around her mam.

Elizabeth’s resolve slipped as her mother and her sister’s terrified screams and sobbing rang in her ears. She lurched forward when a woman behind her stabbed her viciously in the back with a pitchfork.

“Die, evil witch, I hope ye suffer for yer sins.” Warm liquid soaked the back of her cloak and blood from the hemline smeared onto the snow. The cheering of the Clan was deafening when she stumbled and fell. The boot of a man in the crowd crunched against her ribs. The mayor grabbed a handful of hair and dragged her toward the noose.

“Elizabif Wandall, ye have been tried and have been found guilty of the practith of vitchcraft. For yer thins, ye will be denied entry to the Kingdom of God and as his most truthded servant, I, today, enact Histh will when I say ye are to hang by the neck until ye are dead.”

Suddenly Aileas stopped screaming. Elizabeth looked toward the place where her father stood a full head above the crowd and gasped; his boot pinned the head of her beautiful mother to the ground, her face crushed against the bare earth. He held Coira by the neck, forcing her to watch the hangman’s platform. She struggled against him, then he clouted her up the side of the head. She staggered, eyes unfocused as she stared at Elizabeth.

Aileas struggled and flailed her arms and legs, an ironic epitome of the harsh life she had led since the day her father Grant McTarn had promised her to Caimbeul in trade for access to water for his prosperous sheep herd, the meat of which was guaranteed in the barter. She started to twitch, then her entire body convulsed violently when a look of peace replaced the mask of terror on her lovely face. Her eyes were open but vacant. Caimbeul Randall didn’t even notice.

***

Elizabeth swayed. The world in front of her seemed to move as if time had slowed, when the voices of her coven sisters entered her mind. “You are our strength, sister, the power and the future is within you.”

As if waking from a dream, the reality of the moment descended upon her. Power flared and courage found her. She glared at a toothless crone who tripped over her mother’s unnoticed, prone body as she elbowed her way up onto the hangman’s platform. She pointed a crooked, swollen-jointed finger as she cackled. “Let’s hope it’s a bad break, we doona want her dead without sufferin’.”

The crowd roared and chanted, “Kill the witch! Kill the witch! Kill the witch!”

Elizabeth’s head jerked as the hag fisted her hair and deliberately reefed the beautiful mane brutally into her gnarled hands. Cold air bit into the skin of her exposed throat.

The old woman hissed with fetid breath as she bound the beautiful long mane of hair with a putrid rag. “Can’t have anything interferin’ with the rope now, can we, witch?”

Elizabeth was filled with a great sense of calm. She was no longer afraid. She was ready to join her mother, to be finally free of her father and the hardship of this mortal world. She turned her head and spoke in a deep theatrical tone to the old crone. “I am ready to die.” She became deliberately sombre as she looked heavenward, then began to chant words that ended with a piercing scream. She turned her head, laughing maniacally, and glared at the old woman.

“But are ye?” The woman jumped down from the hangman’s platform, screaming, “She has cursed me! She has cursed me!”

The mob gasped and shrank backward. Those who had tokens to ward off the devil grasped them in their hands. Those without talismans peaked their fingers in the sign of horns. “Ye unrepthentant abominathion! Ye would dare to perform magikths in front of all these vitnesses!”

The mayor grabbed the rope, dragged it over her head, and tightened the knot around her neck. She threw back her head and spat a glob of spittle in his face. “May God never forgive ye and curse ye and yers for eternity.”

His eyes bugged and he hesitated, then he threw his hands above his head and screamed to the crowd, “Kill the vitch!”

Elizabeth closed her eyes and prayed to Nicneven, the crone Goddess of Samhain. “Mother, hear my plea. Please foster the healing arts and bring Abramelin and my coven’s prophecy to pass.” The trapdoor sprang open. A sharp crack rang out as the bones in her slender neck shattered, severing her spinal cord, ending the life of Elizabeth Randall.

The roar of the frenzied crowd muffled the sound of huge flapping wings as the white-tailed eagle landed awkwardly on a branch of a rowan tree. Isobel, cloaked in magicks, materialized at the back of the mob and moved toward the low-hanging bough that sagged under the weight of the bird. The huge predator leaned forward, his beak against the witch’s ear. He drew back, unfurled his wings and released the naked body of a newborn—the girl child Elizabeth had secretly given birth to in the barn the eve past. Isobel accepted the child into her waiting arms.

She nodded her thanks and understanding to the giant raptor. Unseen, the bird returned to the skies. Coira sat on the ground rocking back and forth, her dead mother clutched in her arms, her father nowhere to be seen. The now familiar burn of hatred for violent men roiled in her belly. Through her tears, she said but one word.

“Lyncurius.”  A faint fog escaped her lips. Then she said a second word. “Hunt!”

Anguish painted her face as the tears of agonizing loss streaked her cheeks. Isobel knelt and spoke quietly. The child, cloaked in magicks, was invisible to anyone in the crowd. She opened her cloak and revealed the babe to Coria.

“This is your niece, Keeper of the Lynx. The child of Elizabeth and Abramelin. She is named Aileas, the noble one, to honour your mam. It was Elizabeth’s wish that the babe live, grow, and learn within our coven until she is Summoned by destiny.”

Coira nodded as she caressed the lovely blonde hair of the newborn, when the mantle of protection of the Lynx settled over her; the smell of blood satisfying.  Isobel stopped and lowered her head in thanks for the retribution of Lyncurius. She placed her hand on Coira’s cheek.

“Abramelin loved your sister with all his being; they were true kindred spirits.”

Coira looked up from the babe. “Abramelin…of course.”

Isobel wiped Coira’s face as fresh tears began to fall. “It is only that he now has their child that he will someday bear his grief. When the time comes, as High Mage he will enact his ability to sift time and manipulate events to ensure Aileas is safe, in a new life, far from here. He will watch over her and play a great part in bringing her to the fulfilment of their prophecy and the preservation of the healing arts. We pray that she will establish a To Baile do Cailleach—a home for witches, where at last, our caste will be able to practice our magicks and live in peace.”

~~~





Bio for Kathrine Leannan 
As a career nurse/midwife, I have celebrated life and birthing all of my adult life. Study and research has always been my playground. After being awarded a PhD, I turned my attentions to my other passion—writing. A love of the Scots and their history is a common thread in my works of fantasy.

I smell rain before clouds gather across the sky. I feel the dawn before the sun paints my world the colours of the earth. It is the flit of gossamer wings above my head as I walk through the garden that warms my soul and makes me glad that faeries exist. The universe is my mistress and my strength. Things that growl in the shadows or snap at my ankles in the night are my dark friends - the source of my creativity.