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What happens when you combine a good witch, a humble fisherman in love with a princess, a lovers' journey to a land of magic, and a vampire who seeks mortality? You get some very exciting tales and great romances. The Sacrifice: The druids order their most trusted enforcer to capture Briana and bring her back for sacrifice. Weylyn has loved Briana for years. Which choice will Weylyn make--love or duty? One More Tomorrow: Destined to live in darkness, Galan must defeat the evil Moloch to regain mortality and win the love of the mortal woman, Stephanie. Midnight for Morgana: When a good witch grants Morgana her deepest desire, the young woman gets more than she bargained for. And a handsome prince gets the surprise of his life. The Princess and the Curse: Can a humble fisherman and a beautiful princess find happiness together?

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Publié par
Date de parution 30 juillet 2015
Nombre de visites sur la page 0
EAN13 9781773622668
Langue English

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Fairy Tales
The Sacrifice One More Tomorrow Midnight for Morgana The Princess and the Curse By Shirley Martin Digital ISBNs EPUB 978-1-77362-266-8 Aindle 978-1-77362-267-5 WEB 978-1-77362-268-2 Āmazon Print 978-1-77362-269-9
Copyright 2014 Shirley Martin Cover art by Michelle Lee 2014 Āll rights reserved. Without limiting the rights un der copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or in troduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electron ic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
THE SACRIFICE
PART I – THE CHALLENGE “You must leave the village tonight, Briana. You mu st not tarry.” Briana clasped her hands and studied her foster mot her across the oaken table. A tremendous swell of affection for the woman rose in side her, coupled with the sorrow that she must leave her. “Are you sure about this? Could you be mistaken?” Enid shook her head. “Scrying never lies. It’s as I told you. This morning while you worked in the garden, I stared into a bowl of water until I lost track of time. Then I saw your face. I saw —” Tears flooded her eyes, her voi ce breaking. “The knife!” She brushed her hand across her eyes. “And I don’t need to tell you.” She sighed deeply, unable to say anymore. Briana sat back and stared out the small window to the forested hills, and a myriad of thoughts churned inside her head. She knew the c ustom in her village of Lochlann, oh, yes! How well she knew, for it was the practice throughout the land. Every year at Samhain, the druids chose the most beautiful woman in the village to sacrifice—to knife to death!—to ensure that the gods would provide pro tection against the dangers that threatened the people on that holy eve. For on Samh ain, one of the holiest days of the year, the veil between the real world and the Other world disappeared, and demons stalked the land. Everyone must attend the ceremony, whether they wan ted to or not, aye, even young children. She had always hidden behind her mo ther’s long skirt, but she could never shut out the sound of the villagers’ chanting , nor the woman’s screams. After the ceremony, the villagers rushed home and locked thei r doors. Arguments taunted Briana. She inhaled, catching the scent of the vegetable stew that simmered over the large stone fireplace, the p ungent fragrance of onions. Iron pots hung from hooks on the wall, and flowered curtains brightened the cottage’s lone window. She glanced back to Enid and to this thatched house that had been her home for all of her twenty years. “But I’m certainly not the mos t beautiful woman in the village. There are surely others more beautiful than I.” Enid smiled kindly. “When is the last time you look ed into a mirror, dear daughter? You are truly lovely, with your blonde hair and tho se blue eyes. Besides, I know what I saw, and it was you the druid k-k-killed. You can’t stay here. It breaks my heart to say this, but you must leave.” “And if I leave, then what? The druids will choose another. Maybe Regan Mulhoney. “Regan, pah! She is evil, that one. Would serve her right if the druids chose her.” “And you?” Briana persisted. “When the druids find that I’ve gone, they will take their anger out on you.” “Ah, you don’t know my powers of persuasion.” A sly look captured her face. “And you have never seen me apply the glamor.” Briana raised her eyebrows. “Glamor?”
“Why, yes.” She set her face in concentration, and slowly the wrinkles disappeared, the gray hair turned black again, and she smiled in sultry confidence. Briana gasped. “Enid, you’re beautiful. But you hav e always been beautiful to me.” She reached across the table to clasp the woman’s h and, and Enid squeezed hers in return. Briana swallowed, tears clouding her vision . Gods, she didn’t want to leave this dear woman. “Enid, I can’t leave you,” she said, de termined to put her misgivings into words one more time. “I’m willing to take a chance.” “But I’m not. Daughter, before your father went to join your dear mother in the Otherworld, he entrusted you to my care. The gods a lone know why your parents were never blessed with other children, but you have alw ays been like a true daughter to me, my only family. As a faithful family servant, I hav e always done my best for you. I can’t fail you now.” She scraped her chair back and stood . “Enough talk. Supper will be our last meal together for who knows how long. After we eat, you must pack your things and head west.” Briana stood, too. “West? Wouldn’t south make more sense?” Her throat ached from unshed tears, but she must accept this challen ge, her destiny. “There are mountains —” “Wooded hills.” “Very well, wooded hills. Very steep hills on all s ides but south. Wouldn’t it make more sense to head in that direction?” “And that is the very direction the druids’ enforce rs would choose to look for you, because it is the most logical. But those wooded hi lls are no more than three-thousand feet, and once you cross them going west—about fift y miles—you come to the city of Magh Mell, a truly large city. Easy to lose yoursel f in a place that size. I fear you must seek employment there, but I can give you a few sil ver coins —” “I can’t take your money!” Enid held up a hand. “Don’t worry about me. Your fa ther left me enough to last me for years, and you need the money more than I.” Briana nodded, reluctant to make this ordeal more d ifficult for this woman who meant the world to her. It was a quiet meal they sat down to a short while later. Briana had so much she wanted to say, but she couldn’t force the words pas t her throat. She finished her vegetable stew, oat bread, and cheese. She drank he r beer sweetened with honey, aware she must eat well before her long journey, an d knowing this might be the last meal they would share, ever. After draining her mug, she stood to gather the dis hes for washing. Enid laid a hand on her arm. “I’ll wash the dishes. You go ahead and pack your things.” “Yes,” she said on a sob, accepting that she must n ot waste time. She headed for her small bedchamber, where a narrow bed shared spa ce with a three-drawer clothes chest. She knelt on the floor and pulled out a canv as satchel from under the bed. Tears streamed down her face as she packed her other two dresses, both serviceable wool, one dark blue, the other light gray, adding cotton shifts and stockings, a few toiletry
items, a comb, and a cake of lilac soap. From her t op drawer, she drew out a jet brooch Weylyn Quinn had bought her at the Beltaine festiva l several moonphases ago. She sighed as she touched the ornament. Too bad Weylyn was one of the druids’ enforcers, one of their lieutenants who ensured that the peopl e followed every dictate of the religion and that no one blasphemed the gods. She m ight have liked him otherwise. Shrugging, he tossed the piece into the satchel, ne eding to keep a memento with her. She grabbed her voluminous woolen cloak from a peg and wrapped it around her to protect her against the autumn chill. Through a mist of tears, she snapped the satchel sh ut and looked around the room that had been her home for all her life, her gaze c overing all the little knickknacks and trinkets she had collected over the years. Although small, her wooden home with its thatched roof was bigger than most, boasting two be dchambers that led off from the main room. Since so few in the village of Lochlann could read or write—except the druids—her father had earned money as a scriber, an d if the people couldn’t pay him in coin, they gave him produce. Her mother had supplem ented the family income as a seamstress. They hadn’t been wealthy, but neither h ad they been poor. Briana bit her lip as memories flooded her brain, all the precious moments with her mother and father, all the times she would never forget. “Briana?” Wrenched back to the present, she glanced up to see Enid in the doorway, the woman’s face red from crying. Twilight dimmed the r oom; time to leave. “Yes,” she said in sad resignation. Sobbing brokenly, she rushed ov er to Enid and hugged her, as if she would never let go. She stepped back and looked into the other woman’s eyes. “Are you sure about this, Enid? Is there no way.?” “We’ve already gone through this. No point in discu ssing it anymore. Believe me, I would give my life to have it otherwise.” She drew a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her nose. “Now be on your way, my dear one.” She placed several silver coins in Briana’s hands and closed her fingers around them. “Keep these coins with you at all times. Best to keep them in your pocket. As you cro ss the hills, you should not encounter anyone, but once you reach Magh Mell, you must remember that the world is full of dishonest people. Be very careful whom you trust. And one more thing—should you return and find I have passed on —” “No!” —should you find I’m no longer here, there is silve r in the sewing machine.” She indicated the machine, gathering dust in the corner . “When you raise the lid, you see the machine underneath. Under that is a compartment . There is a spring under that which will release the compartment, where I keep th e silver coins.” She picked up a wooden basket from the floor. “I’ve packed enough f ood to last you until you reach the city. From then on, I fear you are on your own.” Sh e wagged a finger at her. “Now don’t forget, be careful whom you trust.” “I’ll remember.” She took one last look around the house, then turned back to Enid. “Goodbye,” she whispered, hugging her foster mother one more time. “Goodbye, dear one.” She smiled briskly, her eyes f looded with tears. “Now be on
your way.” Briana tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come a s she made her way toward the front door while tears swam in her eyes. Afraid to look back for fear she couldn’t go through with her journey, she opened and closed the door behind her, bracing herself against the autumn wind. After a few steps, she ben t over and sobbed, as if her heart would break. Moments later, she brushed the tears a way and headed for the woods. Since her house lay close to the woods, it didn’t t ake her long to reach the forest path. She was on her way. * * * The following day Enid sat at the oaken table finis hing her broccoli soup, trying not to worry about Briana, this young woman she loved a s her own. Despite her efforts, memories washed over her as she recalled when she’d first come as a servant, to this house when Briana was only five. Throughout the yea rs, this child had come to mean so much to her that she wondered how she’d ever liv ed before she’d met her. And after the death of Briana’s mother, followed by her fathe r’s death two years later, Briana had truly become her own child. The door banged back, and a uniformed man burst int o the house. Enid’s heart jumped. One of the druids’ enforcers! She fought do wn her panic and struggled for serenity. “Where is she?” The enforcer strode her way, his ha nd on his sword hilt. Beefy and muscular, he had a broken nose. He reeked of garlic . Enid folded her hands and sought calmness. “I presu me you mean Briana. That ungrateful wretch! After all I’ve done for her, she left this house last night. Took all my silver —” “You lie, woman!” He drew his hand back, then let i t fall to his side. “Tell me where she is, and I’ll go easy on you. But if you don’t c ooperate, we know how to get the information from you. After we pull a few nails.” “Why, sir, would you do such a thing?” With every b it of concentration she could summon, she applied the glamor, her wrinkles disapp earing, her hair turning a glossy black. She rose from her chair and spoke in a husky voice. “Why would I lie to a big, handsome man like you?” She caressed his arm, smili ng her most beguiling smile, hating herself—hating him—for this game of bewitchm ent she must play. “But tell me, please, why you are looking for Briana.” He leered at her, twisting a lock of her silky hair between his fingers. “You know every year on the afternoon of Samhain the druids c hoose the most beautiful maiden in the village to sacrifice to the gods, to keep the e vil spirits away from our houses.” She tilted her head. “But Samhain is days away. And the druids always wait ‘til the day of Samhain to make their choice.” “ T oannounce their choice. They make their choice a few days be fore the ceremony. They could hardly wait ‘til that afternoo n to decide whom to choose. No, they already have.” “Ah. And Briana?”
“Well, she is the most beautiful maiden in the vill age.” He licked his lips, a gleam in his eyes. “But now that I’ve seen you, I wonder if they chose the right one.” She sought to divert him. If she wasn’t careful, he would dragherto the druids. off “But why did you come today for Briana? What made t he druids think she wouldn’t be here?” “Well, knowin’ you’re a witch and all that, the dru ids suspected you might foretell their decision. You might send the girl away.” She stepped back in insulted pride. “As if I would do such a thing! Do you really think I would thwart the druids’ wishes? No, sir, I tell you she left this house last night, left this woman —” She tapped her chest —”me!, who has done so much for her, treated her like my own daughter. Acted perfectly normal ye sterday evening, and when I got up this morning, she was gone.” She allowed a tear to trickle down her cheek, too well aware she wasn’t really acting. Ah, how she missed Briana. “That’s gratitude for you. No, sir, she’s gone. Just like that! I suspect she’ s headed south to stay with relatives in Greeb Point.” He stepped back. “South, you say?” She nodded. “Makes sense. She’d stay with relatives , no doubt lie, tell them I was mean to her.” Another tear ran down her cheek. “By all the gods, sir, I hope you find and punish her. Would serve her right if you did.” * * * “South,” the enforcer told the assembled druids upo n his return to the large sarsen stone temple. Several druids brooded around an oval table in a room filled with statues of gods and goddesses, and shelves crammed with rel igious volumes lining every wall. Druid Ahearn sat up straight, his eyes flashing ala rm. “We must find her, catch her before Samhain. If we don’t. “He shook his head, as though afraid to express his fears. The other druids nodded and fingered the worry bead s that dangled from their bony hands. And well he should be afraid, the enforcer thought, trembling in fear himself. He recalled the Samhain holy eve in years past, when h is mother bolted the door and the family cowered in terror, while screams and cries t ore through the night air, whether from the villagers or the demons let loose from the Otherworld, he didn’t know. He snatched his mind back to the dilemma. “Shall I go after her? We have no time to lose!” Druid Ahearn scowled. “You don’t need to tell me.” He stroked his long beard. “And I hope Enid Connor realizes the consequences if she i s lying. But no, I need you here for another task. Weylyn Quinn is the best rider we hav e, the most cunning enforcer, too. Where is he now, do you know?” “Druid Ahearn, he just returned to his room. Had to lock up a woman for cursing the gods in the marketplace.” All the enforcers had roo ms in the temple, where they slept and kept their records. The rooms led off to a comm unal dining room, and that’s where he wished he were now, for he’d had to relinquish h is noontime meal to go after that bitch, Briana Cashel.
“We are wasting time. Nothing is more important tha t catching Briana Cashel before Samhain.” The druid visibly shuddered. “The gods ha ve spoken. It is their choice.” He snapped his fingers. “Go get Weylyn Quinn.” “Yes, sir.” His booted feet sounded on the flagston e floor as he spun around and left the room. Within moments, Weylyn Quinn appeared before the le arned men and spoke to the head druid. “Druid Ahearn, how can I serve you?” The druid tapped his fingers on the table and excha nged worried looks with the others. “Briana Cashel has disappeared. You must go after her, bring her back before Samhain. Ah, no. Why must he be the one to go after Briana? “Yes, Druid Ahearn. But disappeared—why?”Briana, why did you do it?she learned that the druids had Had chosen her for the sacrifice? But of course, ‘twas said that her foster mother possessed magical powers, and no doubt Enid Connor had forese en the druids’ choice. If the gods had struck him dead, he would gladly go to the Othe rworld, anything to prevent him from pursuing Briana. Yet, he could not refuse, cou ld not obstruct the will of the gods. To do so was to suffer eternal damnation. “That witch, Enid Connor, told the other enforcer t hat she left to visit relatives in Greeb Point. Unless we learn more, we must accept h er story. She surely knows the punishment for lying to us. The witch thinks she he aded south, in the direction of Greeb Point. Hurry now, saddle your horse and be gone. We ’ve wasted enough time.” “Yes, Druid Ahearn.” Sunk in misery, Weylyn left th e druids’ chamber and headed back to his room to gather needed supplies for the journey, then stopped by the spacious kitchen to fetch food. Druids in training worked in the kitchen and were accustomed to such requests. Tempting aromas filled the air, of baking bread and beef and onions, a meal he must forego. Time was importa nt in this mission, and he couldn’t waste time to hunt game. Weylyn hoped to complete t his journey within three or four days, for riding on horseback it should take him bu t a short while to catch up with Briana. For many moonphases, he’d wished for a prom otion, wanting to oversee all the other enforcers. A successful completion of this ta sk might ensure such an advancement, but it was too high a price to pay. Go ds, he dreaded this assignment. He left the warm kitchen, opening the door onto a r aw, blustery day, striding toward the stable set back from the temple, where a copse of maples hid the wooden structure from view. The fragrance of hay and animals blew in his direction as he rushed across the hard ground and saw the stable boy grooming one of the horses. He snapped his fingers. “Saddle my horse.” “Yes, sir.” He waited outside the structure, tapping his fingers on his thigh. The sun shone in a clear blue sky, but a cold wind rustled tree branch es and scattered fallen leaves on the ground. Winter would arrive soon. He turned as the stable boy brought Epona out by th e reins, the chestnut sleek, with a white spot on her forehead. First adjusting his woolen cloak, Weylyn mounted th e horse and trotted away from
the temple grounds, passing other riders and shoppe rs who crowded the busy streets. The temple occupied a central place in the village square, with a small hospital and library on either side. Beyond those buildings, sho ps and businesses lined both sides of the cobblestone street, the only such street in Loc hlann. All the other streets were dirt roads. The scents of spices and roasting meats waft ed through the air as vendors sold refreshments, and men, women, and children gathered around the booths. Salesmen hawked their wares of jewelry and leather goods, si lken scarves and small wooden figurines of gods and goddesses. Beyond Lochlann an d bordering the forest huddled tiny thatched cottages, although a few prosperous m erchants boasted mansions farther away. In all directions except south rose wooded hi lls, with only evergreens and hemlocks showing color on this cool autumn day. Weylyn headed south, his mind working, sifting fact s. Greeb Point lay over one nineday from this village. Why would Briana go in that direction, an odyssey of over two-hundred miles? She had never spoken of relatives in that village, nor had she ever visited there in all the years he’d known her, sinc e childhood. Unless she reached an inn in time, Samhain eve would find her alone and u nprotected, when gods and demons walked the dark places, and spirits roamed the land . Besides, he knew thatshe knew the forest by heart. They had often trekked the woo ded hills together in years past. If one traveled west, it would take but a few days to reach Magh Mell, a truly populous city, where a fugitive—and indeed, she was that—cou ld lose herself. So it would make more sense— “Weylyn!” He pulled hard on the reins, silently cursing Regan Mulhoney. She stopped him on the path, her auburn hair streaming behind her. “Re gan! I might have ridden over you. You mustn’t surprise me or the horse like that.” She stood outside a thatched cottage, where she liv ed alone. T’was said she was a witch, but as long as she practiced good magic, non e would arrest her. However, he feared she practiced black magic, although none had found proof of her evil sorcery. She was beautiful, but she held no appeal for him. “Weylyn, why are you leaving the village?” “A task for the druids.” He would not say another word. None of her business. “A task? Where? Why?” The wind molded her dress to her body, accentuating every curve. She touched his arm, raising her eyebrows in question. “Can’t tell you, Regan. Must be on my way.” The hor se shuffled, both of them impatient to be gone. She held him back. “A secret, then?” Regan smiled u p at him and moved closer, pressing her body against his leg. Gods! How long s ince he’d slept with a woman? Longer than he cared to consider. He’d remedy that lack when he returned, but he must not waste time now. Gently, he dislodged her hand and flicked the reins . “Must be gone now. I bid you good day.” She squeezed his hand and stepped back. “I’ll see y ou when you return.” “Aye.” He rode on, the horse’s hooves clattering on the hard ground, reaching the