Dragons of Challon series

Dragons of Challon series
Dragons of Challon

17 March 2018

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona

Leprechauns, caisleáin, dea-ádh agus gáire.
Labhlaí, aisling agus grá riamh i ndiaidh.
Fáiltíonn míle nuair a thagann duine ar bith ...
Sin an Ghaeilge duit!

Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter.
Lullabies, dreams and love ever after.
A thousand welcomes when anyone comes...
That's the Irish for You!

12 March 2018

Arrow to the Heart - Excerpt #2 from One Winter Knight Anthology

 The small girls were pushing at the thighs of Aithinne’s brothers, and they in turn were driving the once more blindfolded lady, this time in their direction.  Suddenly, Hugh seemed to trip on his feet and fall hard into the back of Aithinne, who in turn toppled into Damian and Fletcher.  They caught her before any harm was done.  Everyone howled and clapped with glee at the madcap amusement.  Damian righted his wife to where she was sitting upon his lap.

She pushed the tied cloth up to smile at Fletcher.  “Well, well...the machinations of Lady Fate decrees––with a wee push from a brother mine––that you are to be the King of Holly.  Very fitting, I must say.”

“Nay, look elsewhere, my lady,” Fletcher laughed uneasy.  What sort of tricks were the trins playing now?  He glanced to Damian to assess his reaction to this turn.

A toe-headed little girl danced to Aithinne and handed her a crown made of holly and red berries and branches fashioned to appear like antlers.  “You have no choice.  The battle between the Oak King and the King of Holly is an ancient one, going back to the dawn of time.  The Oak Lord battles to keep the night at bay––”

Fletcher was growing annoyed.  “Aye, I know the lore.  The Oak Lord banishes the coming night to make sure the sun returns at Springtide.  All children have heard these ancient tales.”  He be damned if he’d go through with this farce, ancient customs could go to the devil.  ‘Twas bad enough he was forced to stand aside and watch Geljon with the man she would soon wed, but to be compelled to play out that loss before all in this mock contest was too much to expect of him.  “Find someone else to mime your mummery.”

Aithinne gave him a patient smile.  “To you they are tales.  To my people they are tradition.  If we do not banish the night this eve, the long night of the Winter Solstice, then we shall face a dark winter season that will be long and harsh.  Please?” 

Lewis held out the staff to him.  “I always thought it odd, that the Holly Lord was the one to be banished.  His leaves never die; they are forevermore green, showing that life that hope never dies.  The Oak fights long, holding onto their leaves, but come time they wither and die.  Also, holly is a plant so treasured this time of year.  But the Auld Ones never asked me what I thought of this battle.  Come, Fletcher, you be one of the best at the quarterstaff.  Do the Holly King justice.  Damian mimed him last year, and his heart was not in it.  We had a bad winter because of it.  Our people would appreciate a hero to help drive the gloom and cold away.”

Fletcher wanted to push the staff aside, but everyone in the room began chanting words of encouragement.  All eyes were upon him, and for more reason that some bit of ancient lore.  David Leslie and he were to fight, even if a mock battle.  His eyes sought out Geljon once more.  She was looking at him, like she always did, though concern flickered in the grey depths.  

Leslie was already standing, an arrogant grin on his face.  “Come, Sasunnach, dunna disappoint all here.”  He spread his grip on the staff and held it out at chest level.  “Unless . . .you be affeared to fight a braw Scot?”

Fletcher wanted to wipe that condescending smile off the man’s face.  He snatched the quarterstaff from Lewis’ grip.  Rolling the long pole in his hands, he followed Aithinne to the center of the Great Hall.
Everyone gathered around the edges of the great room, children sitting on the floor, whilst their elders pulled the long benches into a better position, or stood at the back, hoping for a better view of the coming display.  Excitement gleamed upon their faces.

Aithinne began, “The Auld Ones witnessed a great rivalry since the light first kissed the earth.  The battle of two great kings.  One dark and one light.  Twice a year they would come to do battle for the lands.  They would fight heroically.  The Holly King, the dark one would rule the Wintertide and set the sun to dimming.  As the nights grew longer, so did his strength, his control of this world.  The Oak King held reign over summer and was blessed with the power of the waxing light.  Their biggest battle would come at Yule, and a mighty struggle it was.  The Oak King’s powers are at their weakest, whilst the Holly King’s strength and wield were at pinnacle.  If the Oak King fails to banish the Holly King, then he would rule the country in a swirl of snow storms, preventing Springtide’s return.  Through his valiant effort the Oak King must find the power to drive the Holly King away, so he may woo the Maid of Spring.”

          As Fletcher stood on one side of Aithinne, staring unblinkingly at David Leslie on the other, he felt a queer itch between his shoulder blades.  He was to play the Holly King––the dark lord.  And perfectly cast, Leslie was the fair lord.  And naturally, his thoughts returned to the maid he would win––Geljon.  An ancient tradition, yet it felt as if it was being played out for real in this game of mime.  Was this design by man or the whims of ancient gods?

  By the Saints, the mead’s influence was hitting him harder, causing his vision to swim.  Everything was too hot, and he was having a hard time drawing breath.  There were too many people, and all staring at the two men in their circle.  Aithinne was talking, going on about the meaning of the rite.  Her words fell upon his ears like a waterfall. 

He could only see Geljon.  She had moved to the center of one bench, and sat clutching her hands together.  Between them was a small sprig of holly.  Did that hold significance?

“What ho, Sasunnach?  Say that we seem to fit these kings of the land who must wage battle?”  Leslie rocked the long pole back and forth between his hands.

Aithinne gave a nervous laugh.  “’Tis only a mock battle, my lords.  We know the outcome.  The Oak Lord must win to bring the sun back to the lands.”

Leslie flashed a grin of innocence.  “Naturally, my lady.  ‘Tis evident to all the Scottish oak must prevail over the English holly.”

Fletcher took a breath, striving to regain control.  Lewis move past him, going to take a seat next to Geljon.  He blocked the lad’s path.  “Knave, did you put something in the mead?”  Catching him by the arm, he spoke lowly so only the two of them could hear.”

“Me?  Nay.  ‘Twas Lewis who took you the drink.  I am Deward.  ‘Tis the Picts’ heather mead.  ’Tis spake it makes a warrior stronger, invincible.  The properties are fabled.  ’Tis only given to those who are special.”

Fletcher opened his mouth to ask more, but suddenly, Leslie’s staff came slashing from out of nowhere, cracking against Fletcher’s with a noise so loud that everyone in the room jumped.  Since his grip was loose about the long rod, the vibration nearly caused him to drop the heavy wooden quarterstaff and lose his balance.  Leslie lost no time in delivering yet another blow that pushed Fletcher backward, nearly knocking Deward over as well.

“So, this is the best man with a quarterstaff?  The English must like to spend their time in bed making love, rather than on the training field,” Leslie taunted.  “It does seem the Oak King is stronger this Turn of the Wheel.  The battle mayhap shall be a short one, eh, and we can forward look to an early spring.”

Fletcher kept backing up, but he now had a better hold on the heavy pole, so the vibrations were not traveling up his arms and rattling his muscles to the point of numbness.  The fifth swing saw him blocking Leslie firmly, which brought surprise to the pale hazel eyes.  Only, the man countered and then spun in a full circle, his plaide flying about him, to catch Fletcher with a swat to the seat of his pants.

When the crowd laughed, the arrogant Scotsman actually turned and took a bow.  Smug and full of élan, Leslie hopped upon the end of the table and swung around on his hips to where he could sit just above Geljon.  His tartan rose to where his lower thigh was fleetingly exposed.  “Ah, fair Maid of Spring, shall you be the bride of the Oak King and rid this land of English holly?” 

The crowd roared with more laughter, the scores of faces taking on a distorted bent in Fletcher’s eyes.  He kept blinking, trying to hold onto his focus.  This whole affair was quickly becoming a nightmare.  He could not seem to find the concentration to attack.  He watched Leslie pick up Geljon’s hand and place a kiss to the back of it.  She snatched it away.  Fletcher’s vision filled with red.  A boiling anger reared its head as he watched the strutting peacock, stand up on the bench, and then step higher onto the table, walking its length.

“Come, Sasunnach, you are supposed to put on a show for all.”  Leslie spread his arms to encompass the room and flashed a smile at a comely wench, standing off to the side.  Giving a yell, he jumped over the heads of the seated children to land before Fletcher.

Only this time, Fletcher met the Scotsman’s swing with a full force of his own.  Clearly, the move surprised the haughty Tanist.

“What ho?”  He jested, yet the light shifted in those pale eyes, nearly the same shade as his auburn hair.  “The Sasunnach tailed-dog has teeth.”

“Aye, I do and I plan on keeping them.  The same might not be said about you at the end of this mock battle.”  Fletcher, still lightheaded, felt his warrior’s instincts taking over.  He quickly fell into the rhythm of attacks, recoil to block a counterattack, and before Leslie could reposition, attack again, harder, quicker.  Overconfidence was getting the better of the man, replaced by anger as his moves, now less assured, were done in haste and in a determination to get in harder blows. 

The spark of cocksureness faded as it became clearer that Fletcher was the stronger of the two men.  He was also faster and more agile.  He had a feeling Leslie had not come up against such a skilled fighter before.  The man was strong enough.  Perhaps as the Tanist, the heir to the chiefship of the clan, people gave him an easier path in life, and the young men did not press or challenge him.

“I admit you can handle the quarterstaff well–– especial for a bloody Sasunnach––but it shall be a good wedding gift for Geljon to see you defeated.  I am the golden king.  You are the dark one.  I shall banish you and take the Spring Maid this night.  A wedding is made in the Highlands when two people speak they are husband and wife.  Why not turn this festive night into a wedding celebration?” 

 Leslie was goading him.  Fletcher knew this, but it was damn hard not to shove the metal tipped pole down his arrogant throat.  There simply was no stopping images of Geljon beneath this naked Scotsman, and the visions were a hell.  Geljon should be taken in gentleness and love, not by this pompous swine.  She deserved awe, respect, and a passion born of the fire of devotion.  Fletcher knew he may be bastard born, but he was an honorable man.  He had family connections, though he had never called upon that bond before.  Mayhap the time was now.  Leslie might offer her many material advantages, but there was one thing he could give Geljon that the Tanist could not––he loved her.

As these vague notions rose in his mind, possibilities he had not considered before, his swings with the quarterstaff grew more assured.  Aye, mayhap Clan Leslie had a lot to offer the smaller sept of Seacrests.  But they were a branch of Clan Ogilvie, why Geljon’s father had sent her to stay with Aithinne.  Well, if the man was terrified of the English controlling the lands, why not an alliance with the mighty Dragons of Challon, already wed to Ogilvie heiresses?  What better way to see the old man assured his daughter would be protected, and see his clan lands stay secure?

If you truly love the girl, then mayhap we can figure something out.  Fletcher knew Geljon wanted him; it was the matter of convincing her father.  Not a simple trick, but one he could master.  He would do anything to win her hand.  With the invincible spirt of the heather mead coursing through him, and the renewed acceptance he might be able to stop this coming marriage, he brought the staff down with such might that it shattered Leslie’s weapon and sent him sprawling backwards, and into the group of people near the fire.  Everyone gasped and scrambled.

The Tanist was shocked, but that emotion quickly morphed into rage, a deep glowing resentment that saw from this day forward they would be mortal enemies.  So be it.  Fletcher tossed the quarterstaff down at the feet of Leslie and gave him a crooked smile.

A gasped silence lingered in the Great Hall as his words rang out.  “It seems the Oak King was not strong enough to defeat the Holly King this season.  Pity that.”

Fletcher turned, seeking to find Geljon.  He wanted to go to her and tell her of his plans.  Just as he spotted her standing with Aithinne, there were shouts behind him.  He spun around in time to see Leslie had picked up the other staff and had made a wide swing toward the back of his head.  A killing blow. . .

Kindle Box set  Paperback  Version from Amazon   also from Wal-Mart and Books A Million

01 March 2018

One Snowy Knight excerpt -- Coming Spring 2018

Turning back to the man on the ground, she once again had to wipe the gathering flakes from his face.  She attempted to tug him to a sitting position, thinking she could wrap her mantle around them both, and lend him what little body heat she still had.  When she went to lift him, she realized he still had his broadsword lashed crosswise over his back.  Finding the strap’s buckle on the center of his chest, she released it.

Then, froze as the howl came. 

It was close by.  The man groaned as she urgently rolled his dead weight, enough to drag the sword out from under him, and then dropped the leather sheath as she freed the blade.  Holding the sword in her right hand, she used her left to release the clasp of her mantle.  She would need her arms free to swing the sword.  Keeping her eyes fixed upon the trees, she dragged her woolen cape over the man’s unmoving body.

The deep growl sent a chill to her marrow as the threat of the snowstorm had failed to do.  Low tree limbs rustled and then parted as the set of glowing yellow eyes peeked through the wintry foliage.

Swallowing hard, Skena brought the sword up, preparing to swing, and praying she had strength enough to wield the mighty sword true.

Skena stood trembling, from the cold, aye, but more so from dread.  With the specter of famine looming across the land, she feared wolves would soon be a threat they would face.  Foolishly, she had hoped the menace would not come this early in the season.  Swallowing to moisten the dryness in her mouth, she watched the feral eyes narrow on her, judging how much a threat she presented holding the sword.  Plainly, she posed nary a concern to the creature.  Shoulders lowered, teeth bared, he edged forward, a low growl of intent rising deep in his throat.  The animal scented her fear.  Her weakness only emboldened him. 

Keeping her attention on the black wolf, her eyes quickly scanned to see if there were others coming up behind him or circling around.  Where you found one, usually there lurked a small pack.  Her luck holding, thus far no other pairs of bright eyes appeared; no dark forms skulked through the unmoving undergrowth around the dense pine trees. 

“Oh, please let him be a lone wolf,” she offered her wish to the Auld Ones, before whispering dark words to weave a Charm of Protection, drawing upon what little powers she possessed to sustain her through this ordeal.

 Not a small woman, her Ogilvie blood showed in her tall body and strong bones.  Even so, to hold the heavy broadsword—which took years for a man to master—was tiring.  Her arms vibrated; tremors racked her muscles.  A mix of terror and cold.  The winter storm slowly leached all the strength from her body.  She fought against the quaking, still the sword wobbled in her grip.

Baring his fangs, the wolf crept slowly forward, more daring with each step.  Skena had trouble keeping her vision clear.  Falling flakes and those kicked up by the spindrift continued to stick to her long lashes, adding moisture to the tears she valiantly labored to hold at bay.  It was vital to see the wolf when he leapt, in order to time her swing.  She sucked in a hard breath of terror.  The creature was so much bigger than she expected!

“Off with you, evil foal-chû.  You shall no’ be making a meal of this warrior or me.”  She spoke false courage, hoping the sound of her voice might frighten him into backing off.  Instead, his body coiled, preparing to spring.

So intent upon the wolf, Skena hopped slightly when long arms enclosed about her.  Startled and yet unwilling to take her eyes off the black creature, it was several heartbeats before she comprehended the stranger had awakened and was on his feet.  Suddenly, in his strong embrace she was not so scared.

“Be still, my lady.  I lend my strength to your swing.”  The warrior’s cold hands closed over hers.  He leaned against her back; his powerful muscles caused her shaking to lessen.

Skena had little chance for the details of his nearness to filter through her thoughts, for with a feral snarl the wolf leapt at them.  Frozen in terror, she was unable to move, yet she felt the warrior wielding the sword.  Bared teeth snapped close to her throat.  She cried out and then flinched when the great blade caught the beast in the neck.  Blood splattered across her clothing and her face.  Its heat shocked her.  Numb with the horror, she stared at the animal writhing on the ground.  In the gathering darkness, the pooling blood oddly appeared black upon the pristine snow.  The coppery smell set her stomach to roiling; revolted, she choked back rising nausea.  Her grip slackened about the hilt.  

            The knight’s fingers closed tighter around hers.  “Nay, my lady, never leave a wounded animal alive...sometimes, not even a man.  ’Tis when they are most dangerous.  They risk all for they have naught to lose.” 


One Snowy Knight, Dragons of Challon, Book 3

Coming Spring 2018

Prairie Rose Publications

#DragonsofChallon #ScottishRomance #MedievalRomance  #Historical Romance

Thank you to John Paul Ferrara

Cover artist -- Jon Paul Ferrara - Jon Paul Studios.
Cover model - John de Salvo

People close to me know I am cover mad.  I have been very fortunate that my first covers were so good from Kensington and Dorchester.  However, when Prairie Rose Publications relaunched the Dragons of Challon series I wanted the series to have covers that really fit.  I have been so thrilled how the series is turning out, with the expanded original stories and new series branding covers.

Before my first contract I had high hopes -- I wanted a couple models and one specific cover artist.  Nathan Kamp and John de Salvo were the models.  I was lucky to have Kamp on the first cover of One Snowy Knight, and had him again for the Brazilian translation cover. 

The cover artist I always hoped for was Jon Paul.   Last year when I was contemplating the new direction for the series, I saw Jon Paul posting several of his covers on Facebook.  I have always admired how he truly captures Romance.  One day I saw a cover with a knight in the snow, and though, "Oh, how perfect for One Snowy Knight!"  We have been friends on Facebook for years, and I have followed his artistry for 17 years on the internet, and before.  So, I took the chance and emailed him and asked the status of the cover.  I figured I would get a thanks, but sorry.  Imagine my joy when he said the cover was mine.  All the necessary permissions from John de Salve were just completed -- on my birthday.  So I am over the moon to have my wish come true on my birthday!

Behold by new cover for One Snowy Knight -- cover artist Jon Paul Ferrara with John de Salvo as model.  Sometimes, it just doesn't get any better than this!!

So thank you to John and Jon Paul for making my dream come true!!

21 February 2018

To Be or Not To Be (Accurate)

To Be or Not To Be (Accurate)

That Is The Question
 Facing Authors of Historical Romance

In writing Historical Romance Fiction the author does a balancing act on up on a high wire.  He loves history so we strive to make it as accurate as possible.  Yet, it is fiction, which means an author may to take liberties.  The question is where to draw the line.  While this article was written to address historical do and don't questions, it could apply with any form of fictional world-building.

Historical authors really love history!  We can easily obsess over details that are endlessly fascinating―at least to us.  However, do readers really want that deep of an understanding of the past?  The answer: some do, some don’t.  After all, you are not writing a non-fiction work, historical book, not even a historical fiction novel.  It’s Historical Romance.  As when you pronounce a word, certain syllables are spoken softly while one is accented; when you say Historical Romance always put the stress on ROMANCE.  Never lose sight of that.  My editor on my first historicals, Hilary Sares (formerly with Kensington Books) says readers are tired of “clanking swords, that history is stale, cold, while romance is timeless.”  In this, she touches on the heart of what Historical Romance is:  history is the lesser of the ingredients in the mix.  Love carries the story.  Historical Romance is the cousin of Historical Fiction (which often has romance in them), but they are not the same.

Once a romance author accepts these boundaries then they are left with just how much history do you add?  History is a background for the tapestry you weave.  It should give the reader a sense of period, but never intrude upon the romance, never stall the story out, pausing to explain historical details or to give a history lesson.  After the author reaches that level of what will be good threads and elements to craft into the story, they next face a final hurdle―to weigh the importance of details, the minutiae that draws the historical authors to share their love of the past.

Only here is where it can get tricky.  Sometimes, what readers believe is accurate often is not.  “Bad” history, incorrect word usage, or even how time has changed the meaning of words can stymie the author.  Take the word acquaintance.  Noun: “a person known to one, but usually not a close friend.”  That is how it is accepted in today’s usage.  However, years and years ago the word meant something very different.  Surprisingly, when a man was “acquainted” with a woman, he was saying he had been physically intimate with her.  See the problem?  If you are going for historical accuracy and you say “Mr. Overton was acquainted with Miss Marple.”  In the historical sense you would be saying Mr. Overton had indulged in sex with Miss Marple!  Will today’s readers understand without you having to stop the story and tell them that?  Will a reader, lacking this crumb of knowledge, understand what you said, or will they just believe you are saying Mr. Overton has met Miss Marple, but they are not close friends?  If the author puts that sentence out there and wants the reader to comprehend what they are saying, then they must stop the flow of the plot and the scene and say, “Of course, we know acquainted means he has had sex with her.”  Even then, the reader might scratch their heads and go, hum, it does?  In that instant, you have taken them out of the story simply by using a word correctly, but not right in today’s eyes.  Right is wrong.  Rule of thumb: Rarely is one single word ever that important to risk using, when it can pull their reader away from the imagery to ponder if you are correct or not.

If a Historical Romance came along and used Irish Gaelic spellings instead of Scots Gaelic—which has been known to happen (lol), and this book using becomes a bestseller, then readers can often assume that book to be correct.  Then other authors come along using the correct form and people automatically presume they are incorrect.  So when readers come to the difference they often believe the right spellings to be wrong!  Okay, what then?  Do you knowingly use the wrong spellings of words to conform to what the readers have accepted as correct, or do you go ahead and be accurate and have readers think you are wrong?

Another complexity in to be or not be historically accurate―authors who set their novels in real places, such as the castles of Scotland.  Often, instead of world-building and creating their own castles, some writers pick out a very famous castle for the setting of their stories--even put the wrong clan living there, totally disregarding most castles have a very detailed historical record.  For someone not familiar with Scotland’s past that might not be a problem.  However, the author runs into the sticky wicket of having readers who do, and once more, are taken out of the story because they know the true history of the place.  We must remember it is fiction.  Authors are allowed to bend history a wee bit if it serves to make the story stronger.  I won’t go as far as Randall Wallace did when speaking of the many historical inaccuracies of his screenplay for the movie Braveheart and say history should never get in the way of a good story.  Still, authors should be able to present a romping tale without worrying about being one hundred percent accurate on every single detail.

Another is nationality.  It can come into play in perceptions of what is wrong and right.  Take the simple way you name the floors of a building.  In Britain and Europe, even today, the first floor of a building is the ground floor.  In America, you work on the first floor in New York, while in London you are working on the ground floor.  The first floor in Europe is actually the second level.  When Regency and Victorian periods were in flourish and they had their Seasons in London, they lived in fancy townhouses.  The first floor (second floor to Yanks!) was where they did most of their entertaining.  So, if a woman entered the front door, and went upstairs to the first floor many Americans would assume the author is making a boo-boo, despite they were being entirely correct!

These are just a few of the bumps facing historical authors when trying to keep the faith with history, yet also do a balancing act with the today’s readers and just how accurate do readers truly want their historical romances to be?

Just remember to keep rooted, and that romance and flow are vital to telling a whopping good yarn.

 Deborah Macgillivray
Internationally Published Author of the Dragons of Callon™  series

#PrairieRosePublications #HistoricalRomance #MedievalHistory #ScottishHistory #AuthorsTool  #WritingHistoricalNovels 

18 February 2018

Cultural and Heritage Art Show

Drafted my little self out to go help at the Cultural and Heritage Art Show.  Not that I had anything entered...lol, but I am always up for giving a helping hand to Christine Duncan, the County Agent.
So off we went to John Black Center in the pouring rain.  Rain is better than a foot of snow, so I won't complaint too much.

Candy, my best pal, had three entries - Little Raggedy Andy, which took a first place.
Snoopy on the Great Pumpkin hat (took second place) and my Scottish Sheep ( first place)

So big congrats to Candy Thompson for coming away with two blue ribbons and one red ribbon.
The Blue Ribbon Winners will move on to Kentucky half-state competition this coming Friday.

Redemption, Dragons of Challon, Book Four (excerpt #2)

They call him Redemption.

A jest, because Redam Maignart is a man to be feared. He sits at Edward Plantagenet’s left hand, and does his king’s bidding―an assassin who kills without blinking an eye. His heart had died on that long ago night when his family had been slaughtered, and nothing has touched it since. He is sent northward on a mission―to find and dispatch William Wallace, a commoner raising holy hell in the year 1297. What he never expects to discover is a witch with the power to heal his soul.

Gillian of the Flowers, the lady of Lochstorr

She hoped her small holding on the edge of Glen Shane would go untroubled by this fearsome English king. That wish went unanswered. The aftermath of the war between Scotland and England saw a brutal knight come to claim her holding…and her. She must escape, or knows he will kill her. In her darkest hour her wounded spirit calls out for a dark champion to save her.

When Redam discovers Gillian, beaten and half-dead by a loch, he’s filled with rage at her treatment. Yet, little did this stone-hard man know this woman held the key to redeeming his tortured soul. War stalks the Highlands, and evil men take advantage of these times. Redam knows he must protect Gillian, for he knows in saving her, he is saving himself.

As their passion grows, so does the terror that wishes to destroy them both.

Scotland, 1297

“My lady,” her maidservant, Cadha, had inquired through the kerchief held to her nose, “Are you unwell?”

Gillian hesitated in answering. Something was different and she was at a loss to say precisely what. She had experienced the sensation before. The kenning. When the air seemed stifling and her vision held a faint rippling of colors at the edge, those sensations presaged that something very vital was about to happen. Oft, she experienced these things when she was dosing for a well; the closer she got to locating the hidden source of water, the stronger the undulating swirl of reds, greens and yellows grew until her vision drew down to a narrow range.

Only she wasn't dousing for water, but simply staring at the Douglas pennon, while she waited for her soldiery to fetch their mounts. Was it something about the standard that drew the focus of this extra sense, an ability which touched the women of the Ogilvie line? All through the Highlands had heard about the brash, handsome Douglas lord who had carried off his English bride. Such tales of daring, love and romance! Now, his mighty banner seemed so sad hanging there, treated with such disrespect.

“My lady, the captain brings forth your mount.” Cadha reached out and touched Gillian’s sleeve. “Put the cloth to your nose. It helps. Just take slow shallow breaths. We will soon be out of this…this…”

There were no words created to describe this hell. It sickened her. Not just the vile remnants of months old battle, but the fact people perpetrated these atrocities upon their fellow man. Death was bad enough, a waste of life that served little purpose she could see. People killed to survive. A fact of this world she had long ago accepted. But this was not for survival. It was simply the will of an English king—and for what? To have a bigger kingdom? There was no pride or honor in what was done to the Scots that had merely defended their homes, their families. Thousands of men, women and children—children—had perished here, and no amount of quicklime could wash away the crime, the sin of Berwick.

“There is no name for what this place now is, Cadha,” Gillian replied. “‘Tis an offense methinks Edward Longshanks shall yet live to regret.”

Walking to the mounting block, Gillian allowed her captain of the guard to aid her in getting upon her Bay palfrey. She could have chosen to ride in the cart with Cadha, but she preferred sitting on the back on a horse to having her insides bounced around. Hooking her leg around the horn of the sidesaddle, she nodded that she was ready to set out.

Two outriders were followed by four knights, riding before her, and then the cart with the baggage and Cadha trailed just behind. Eight paid Irish hobelars would bring up the rear. In ordinary times, they could travel safe enough with this small of a force. Only, there were bands of brigands on the roads since the spring. Many serfs refused to go home to their masters after the battle of Dunbar. Instead, they hid out in the lesser traveled areas, causing problems for the English forces, and seeing many areas riven with violence. Some brigands were not so principled and attacked Scots as well. Still, she had not dared take any more defenders away from Lochstorr. She needed a strong presence there to hold in her absence.

As they had ridden along the charred remains of the area surrounding the Red Hall, she purposely kept her eyes on the back of her sergeant. There served little purpose in filling her head with the gruesome specter arrayed on Edward’s command. Shallow breaths failed to help, so she was forced to bring the kerchief to her nose. The scent saturating the cloth was mugwort. Auld Bessa spake that the wort was a good protection for a traveler, would shield them against wild beasts, fatigue and poisons. Well, the air was poisoned, so she supposed Cadha had chosen well.

When her party neared the edge of the dead town, suddenly, someone began yelling―a rider coming toward them―followed by more chevaliers and lancers. “Make way! Make way, I say!”

Her troop moved to the side of the roadway as it was clear the force, traveling fast, was not about to slow or give way. Two bannerets with small flags flying were behind the rider calling out, then a rider holding a large pennon.

Fascinated, Gillian watched the large flag rippling as the riders drew closer, the black field rather fitting in this town of death. There were two splashes of brilliant color—scarlet and gold―but she could not tell what the crest was. Her vision darkened as the kenning had slammed into her, the vibration thrumming through her body to where she felt faintly sick. Never had the gift been this strong. She swallowed hard against the sensations buffeting her; even so, she could not tell what was causing the disturbance. The banner? She gawked as it drew closer, until it was nearly alongside of her. Then, the coat of arms became plain to her. Two dragons rampant, facing each other as if locked in a mighty battle.

She leaned toward the knight riding beside her and asked, “Whose device is on that banner?”

The man swallowed hard, grimacing from the smell, before answering. “’Tis new to me, my lady. The red dragon on black is the device of the king’s left hand, but that one with a golden dragon…well, I am not sure. Edward’s new standard he flies before towns is a dragon gold. I do not think anyone would dare to use it, so this must be someone of great import.”

Choking on the smell, she raised the scented kerchief to her nose, and breathed in the scent desperately.

Behind the banner came two columns. At the fore were two knights on black steeds. No, that was not right. One was a dark gray, so dark that it was nearly black, reminding her of mouse’s fur. Beautiful, majestic animals, riding hard. The horsemen were in black mail and plate. The one on the far side wore a surcoat of deepest green, but she could barely take note of his features since her eyes had remained locked onto the rider closest. He was dressed in a black surcoat, with a red dragon on his chest. He wore no helm, no coif, so his wavy black hair was moved by the breeze. Obviously, he was one of Edward’s Norman knights, yet his locks were not cut in the Norman style.

For an instant, his head turned, his eyes only vaguely running over the small Scottish party decamping the town. The world held its breath. Her heart pounded in her ears, beating out a tattoo, as her eyes met his. Dark eyes, yet from the distance she could not tell their shade. A breathless magic spun around them making it seem as if they were the only two people in the whole town.

The spell shattered as he put spurs to his steel gray charger and moved on.


Gillian could almost smell the scent of mugwort, as she lay trembling in Redam’s embrace. The two dragons on a field of black. The images she had seen in the bowl when she had asked Annis for answers. Could that be? That she had seen this knight on that hot August morn? The irony struck her. If it had been Redam under the pennon of the double dragons, then he would little remember her.

She had held the scented kerchief to her face as he’d ridden past.

Could life have been that strange? That cruel?

Gillian felt sick...

Coming Spring 2018
Prairie Rose Publications

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