The Witch in the Mirror – Part 42

Bea was in a good mood when she woke next morning. It was early but being a Saturday there was no need to dress and rush off to school. Outside she could hear the birds were waking. Bea yawned and rolled over to look at the ceiling. Everything in her room was familiar and comfortable. The dressing table and mirror, the clothes rack that held her dresses and her school bag was in the corner where she had tossed it last night.

She lay still with her eyes open and went through the events of the pat week. Her ankle still hurt a little but she had been able to walk on it. Josh had been so sweet coming over to see if she was okay. But what was up with Emily?

Bea sighed and slid to the edge of the bed. She walked over to the window. The sky was a pretty shade of pink this early in the morning. Over the garden Bea could see sunlight just hitting the spire of St Brigid’s Church peaking over the treetops. From a distance she could hear waves crashing on the beach. The tide must be in ― that’s when the waves sounded loudest. A ribbon of mist hung in the air above the beach. The morning’s stillness reminded her of something, but as usual it hung tantalisingly out of reach.

She picked up her dress and tiptoed across to the bathroom. She didn’t want to wake her grandmother so early. Bea dressed by the light coming softly through the window. She walked barefoot down the stairs to the front door. Bea paused for a moment to listen, but the cottage was silent. She closed the door softly behind her and filled her lungs with fresh morning air. It made her feel alive. The grass was damp and cold on her bare feet. She smiled and thought how her grandmother would scold if she knew. ‘You’ll catch your death of cold, child,’ Gramma would say. Bea walked across the garden to the gate that led down to the beach. She enjoyed being on her own. The day was starting to brighten. Bea paused at the top of the stairs and watched the waves. It was so peaceful.

She followed the path that led down from the back of the cottage. Small pebbles crunched under her feet as Bea reached the beach. The walk along the shoreline was her favourite and she headed toward the rocks at the northern end of the beach. Fishing boats were pulled up on the shore, turned upside down and strewn with drying fishing nets.

Bea knew she had been here before—some time ages ago. She just didn’t know when. The sound of the waves crashing against the pebbles reminded her of something she couldn’t quite remember. It was just another dim memory from somewhere in her past. As she made her way around the upturned fishing boats she turned and looked back toward the cottage at the top of the slope. A curl of smoke was rising from the chimney and Bea thought about her grandmother inside. She hoped she hadn’t disturbed her.

Bea moved further along the beach, reaching the tumble of rocks along the edge. She lifted her skirt and tenderly climbed amongst the rocks, carefully placing her feet away from the slippery moss.

It was then she heard the voices ― two male voices coming from a cave at the bottom of the cliff. One of the voices sounded cultured, aristocratic, while the other was a gruff seaman’s voice.

‘Don’t worry, m’lord. We can slip in under darkness and nobody will know anythin’ ‘bout it. You can trust us, m’lord.’

‘Very good, Wells. The French ship will anchor offshore next Sunday night. There will be a package to be collected from me at the manor. Do you think you can manage that?’

Bea crouched down behind a rock. She wasn’t used to coming across people on the beach. She thought of it as her beach. Her heart was racing. She was sure she recognised one of the voices, but she didn’t know anybody in Nangle, did she?

‘This package is very valuable but also delicate. You must take good care of it. The French captain will know what to do once you have her ― it, the package ― on board. Tell the captain I will follow next se’nnight and payment will be made in full once I know the package has been delivered. Do you have all that, Wells? You know what will happen if you fail me.’

‘Yes sir. Sunday night it is, to be sure. You can count on me, sir. I won’t fail you. That’s a promise.’

‘Go carefully with your promises, my friend. Just deliver the message and be ready for the package.’

The voices fell silent for a moment. Bea strained her ears to hear. Cautiously she peaked around the rocks to find the small cave was empty. There was no-one there.


The Witch in the Mirror – Part 26

Josh felt the magic as soon as his fingers stroked the maple neck of the cello. His mother had promised him a new instrument for passing his theory exams. Up until then he had to be satisfied with practicing on one of the old cellos that belonged to the school. Josh had been obsessed with the cello for years. While the other boys were out chasing footballs around the playground he had immersed himself in learning everything he could about this wonderful instrument.

Now he had his own cello and he took care of it like it was a new born baby. He ran his fingers over the instrument again and felt a thrill run up his arm. He held the bow in the other hand, waiting so he could savour this moment like he always did. He could feel the tension build in his body with the cello pressed against his legs and his fingers stroking its neck.

Josh closed his eyes and drew the bow across the strings again. Just three notes that sang with yearning and desire. He stopped and scribbled on the blank music page and then played a few more notes. He had a week to hand in a draft of this piece to his music teacher, but he wanted to make sure it was perfect. Josh always wanted it to be perfect.

The strings vibrated under his bow. When he closed his eyes Josh could hear the entire piece. Just relax and play. Getting lost in the moment was something Josh was good at. All of the tension washed out of his body and music filled the room as he worked himself to a peak.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 20

Anar was still fuming when she got home. She hated being made to look stupid.

It wasn’t the first time Emily had made her look bad. Anar’s cheeks flushed pink as she thought about the day it had started. It didn’t matter that it was way back in eighth grade. Anar had still not forgotten.

BFFs forever.

That is what Emily had written in Anar’s book. And Anar had believed her. She looked up to Emily back then. Emily was the smart one and Anar was quiet and shy and they had instantly become friends when they first met at the beginning of the new school year. Nobody else wanted to play with a girl that had brown skin and a foreign sounding name.

It had only been a month into the year. They had spent the morning cooking cupcakes and Emily and Anar had giggled together as they carefully iced each cake.

After class Anar ran to catch up with Emily when she tripped over somebody’s schoolbag. Cupcakes scattered all across the corridor as Anar landed flat on her face.

At first she was stunned to see her cupcakes rolling on the floor. Then she heard the other children laughing. She looked up to see Emily laughing with them and Anar’s eyes stung with tears.

Emily later said she was sorry and gave Anar big hug. But the following week was Emily’s birthday. She had told Anar she wasn’t having a party or anything. It was only later that Anar discovered all the other girls in the class had been invited to a party.

That was only the beginning and life just got worse from there. Anar never spoke to Emily again.

She clenched her fists on the desk at the memory and screwed up the piece of paper she had been doodling on.

I hate her, I hate her, I hate her, was circled by spirals and shapes and stars.

Anar reached for her jewellery box and peered inside before pulling out a gold chain. She always liked gold best against her skin—they complemented each other. She studied the pendant before putting it around her neck. It had been a gift from her grandmother before the family moved to England. She admired it shining in the mirror.

Anar put the necklace back into the jewellery box and snapped the lid shut. The little ballerina did a half-turn and the box played a couple of musical notes. Anar reached to the back of the box and wound if fully before watching the ballerina do her dance, lost in thought.

The last notes finally tinkled from the jewellery box and Anar smiled to herself. She had a plan now. Beatrice and Emily. They had made Anar look stupid in front of others and she was out for revenge.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 19

Princess Alyce stood at the window and watched the rain dripping slowly down the glass. It had been raining non-stop all day and she could feel the chill of the wet glass. Long dark hair tumbled down her back with only a simple blue ribbon around her head to keep it in place. Her gown was made of the finest silk and the vibrant blue matched both the ribbon and her eyes. Her hands rested gently on the windowsill but she felt far from peaceful.

Inside, her heart was an emotional turmoil, all bubbling to the surface until she wasn’t even sure which one was dominant.

The letter from the would-be king lay crumpled at her feet. She had read it twice—the first time with surprise and the second with growing anger.

She clenched her hand and the rain outside turned to ice. The so-called king demanded that she relinquish the castle and publicly acknowledge him as rightful ruler of the kingdom. But she would be damned if she did that. A loud crash of thunder echoed through the castle.

Then she thought of her older sister and rain began to fall softly again. Whatever he had done to Alexandria was so powerful that she hadn’t been able to break it. Poor Alex—she was so soft and gentle and susceptible to weaknesses in others. It was why she became queen rather than Katharine herself. Alexandria was Katharine’s equal at all the tests bar one, and that was always going to be Alex’s strength. Compassion. It was the thing that set her apart from Katharine and ensured she would continue the long line of queens that had ruled the Southern Isles.

But this prince had somehow snuck through their defenses and now he had ensnared Alexandria.

Time. Alyce needed more time to build the power to break the spell and return the Isles to its rightful leader. This was her chance to prove herself once and for all.

But time was the one thing Princess Alyce did not have. She had already heard about the army that Prince Ranulph had been secretly building and now there was nothing stopping it from marching right across the Southern Isles and causing destruction.

Another crash of thunder rang out.

Princess Alyce turned and strode downstairs towards the library. Somewhere in her book of shadows was the answer she sought. Her mother had always said she was gifted but didn’t study hard enough. Now she would prove her wrong and she—Princess Alyce—would be the one to save the day.

Book review: Switched by Amanda Hocking

Switched (Trylle Trilogy, #1)Switched by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was immediately captured by this book. What’s not to like about any story that starts with an awkward teenage girl with an unusual past? Wendy was instantly likeable and her feelings were so real it was easy being in the story with her. She was an interesting character with a range of emotions, not always doing the right thing, falling for the wrong guy, confused, angry… all of it. There was enough mystery in the story that I just had to keep reading to find out what happened next and who can resist a love triangle? If I had a little criticism it is that I kept wishing Wendy would use some of those magical powers she was meant to have. Did they only work on humans? It didn’t seem like that was the case but she was so easily overpowered and kept relying on Finn to save her that I would have like her to fight back a little more rather than just being confused and angry. My other criticism, sorry, was that the ending came to soon and left everything unresolved. Luckily I have Torn, the second book in the trilogy so I can start reading it straight away. Happy reading! 🙂

View all my reviews

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 17

The city square was filled by an excited crowd trying to catch a glimpse of the royal procession. Tension rang through the air because the square was lined with the new Black Cloaks of the royal guard. The royal family had never needed such a contingent before, but ever since the newly crowned Queen Alexandria had agreed to marry Prince Ranulph from the Northern Isle there had been rumours of increased threats to the royal family. For weeks the taverns had been abuzz with the talk that the Queen was going to abdicate her throne so that the Prince could take her place as king.

Nobody could understand what was happening. Only a week ago there had been a royal decree outlawing magic and worship of the goddess. She was to be replaced by a more formal male god-figure. Already there had been several witch burnings that had caused panic among the common folk.

For a thousand years the Southern Isles had been ruled as a matriarchy, descending. Queen Alexandria was the latest in the unbroken line. By her side should be her sisters, Princess Katharine and Princess Alyce.

But the princesses were nowhere to be seen on this unusual coronation day. Some said Princess Alyce had remained at Pemblebury and nobody knew where Princess Katharine had gone.

A loud trumpet blast announced that the royal carriage was entering the square and the crowd strained forward to get a better look.

The royal coach was painted in shining black with ornate swirls of gold. It was pulled by six black horses with plaited tails and manes. The coachman sat erect at the front with the reins held loosely in his hands. A guard sat on either side of him, both wearing black cloaks with gold embossed around the trimming. On the door of the coach was a gold figure of a wolf—not the usual three-moons symbol of the royal family.

Seated inside the open coach were the soon-to-be king and queen. He sat tall beside the much smaller feminine figure—dressed in a suit of black armour with one hand resting lazily in his lap. The other hand was signalling to the guard to go faster. He wanted to get this damned coronation business over and done with. The sooner it gets sorted the sooner he can get on with shaping this country the way he wanted it. The first task was to deal with those who dealt in witchcraft. He was determined to stamp this scourge from existence once and for all.

Despite the forbidding countenance of the king, most eyes in the crowd were turned toward the queen. She was the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen. Her slender arms were encased in white silken gloves and her small hands were folded quietly in her lap. Queen Alexandria appeared to be no more than twenty years old but she looked to be every bit regal dressed in her gown of deep purple silk that was flecked with golden thread. The gold sparkled in the morning sunshine. On her head she wore the Tiara of the Southern Isles. It was the same worn by every queen since Ethel the Red first took the throne. The small, golden tiara sat neatly in Queen Alexandria’s hair. It too sparkled in the morning sunshine. Her hair was arranged in an elaborate plait circled on top of her head with a single long plait that reached down to her waist. Her silver hair contrasted beautifully with the golden tiara. At her throat she wore a single black broach in the shape of a wolf rather than her usual adornment of the pendant of three moons.

But it wasn’t so much the queen’s clothing that attracted the attention of the crowd. It was the vacant look on her face. Most within the city were familiar with the queen. She often ventured on foot through the poorer parts of the city, handing out gold coins or taking a moment to sooth a crying child. Her beautiful face was often seen smiling down on the lowliest citizen of the city as she prayed for intercession of the goddess.

There was no sign of that person in the queen sitting stiff and erect in the carriage. Her eyes—instead of their usual bright blue flecked with white crystals—were as grey as the winter sky.

A murmur of disquiet ran through the crowd. It had been weeks since anyone had seen the queen—not since the announcement that the royal wedding would take place after the next full moon. Perhaps this also explained the non-attendance of Princess Alyce and the disappearance of Princess Katharine.

Arian was one of those urchins that had once been smiled upon by the queen. He had gone to the square early that morning, when it was still dark, to secure himself a good vantage spot to watch the royal procession. But he was sure that wasn’t his queen flying by so haughtily. He felt a shiver run down his spine. Something had happened and he knew it didn’t bode well.

From where he sat high in the bay tree at the edge of the fountain he counted the Black Cloaks that circled the square. He ran out of toes and fingers several times over. He watched in trepidation as they began moving forward. Some in the crowd jostled back and were instantly seized and thrown to the ground. A man appeared in the middle of the soldiers, his black cloak flung carelessly over one shoulder. Straggly red hair poked out from under his black hat. The captain of the guard drew his sword and suddenly the air was filled with the sound of a hundred swords being drawn. Someone in the crowd screamed and Arian slipped quietly from the tree and ran for his life. The sounds of screaming and shouting filled his ears as he ran but he didn’t stop until he was far from the city.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 16

Beatrice was lost in concentration as she looked up to think about what to write next. She wasn’t happy with the story she had been working on for homework.

Suddenly Beatrice noticed a shadow moving behind one of the bookcases. Her eyes focused on somebody standing on the other side of the bookshelf. Beatrice was sure the girl with dark hair had been watching her.

Emily had been looking for more books that mentioned witchcraft when she noticed the new girl writing in a notebook. She watched her secretly, peering through a gap in the books. Beatrice stopped writing and looked directly at where Emily was standing. Emily froze and could feel her heart thumping to think she was being watched. But Beatrice seemed to be deep in thought and soon went back to her writing. Emily let out her breath in a slow hiss and began to relax again. The red-haired girl was kind of cute with the way she moved her lips as she was writing, almost like she was casting a spell of her own.

Beatrice looked up again and the girl stopped moving. She could see the top of her black hair with the purple streak through a gap in the books. It was that girl from her English class—Emma or Emily or something. She didn’t seem like the other girls who were only interested in clothing, parties, makeup and boys—in that order. Beatrice didn’t know what Emma or Emily was interested in because they had never spoken. She kept to herself like Beatrice did. She had smiled at her once but the girl just stared back at her blankly.

Beatrice looked back down at her notebook and started writing again. Emily watched her for a moment longer. She was sure she hadn’t been seen. Maybe that cloaking spell really worked.

The bell rang for the end of lunch. Emily quickly packed her bag and hurried back to the English classroom. Mr Garcia followed her into the room and the noisy chatter quickly died down.

Maths was boring and chemistry made no sense, but Emily enjoyed English. Mr Garcia stood at the front of the room and explained irony to the class.

‘Now, class, this semester we are going to study Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.’ He leaned against a box full of books on his desk and everyone groaned. More irony, thought Emily, because it wouldn’t matter which book they were to study they would all hate it. ‘Has anybody read Jane Eyre before?’ Mr Garcia looked hopefully around the room.

Suddenly Emily put her hand up. There was a murmur as everyone turned around to stare at her.

‘Yes, Emily?’

‘I… I have read it.’ Her voice was soft.

‘Excellent, would you like to give the class a quick summary of it?’

‘Oh… ummm,’ her voice quivered. ‘It’s about a girl and she has no family and she’s sent away to boarding school where they treat her badly and eventually she becomes a governess and moves to this grand house where she falls in love with Mr Rochester but the guy is already married and then she runs away.’

Beatrice studied Emily’s face closely while she was speaking. She found herself drawn to this strange girl. She was so full of surprises. Beatrice decided she needed to find an excuse to talk to Emily.

‘Thank you, Emily. That is a good summary of the plot. What we will be exploring as we work our way through the novel is how Charlotte Bronte uses the plot as a frame to discuss the issues of concern to her.’ Mr Garcia spoke as he walked around the room handing out books. ‘As well as irony, we will be talking a lot on the theme of the truth in words. This is something that concerns Jane Eyre quite a bit. When she was young she believed if a thing was spoken then it was the truth. As she grows up she begins to see that not everybody speaks the truth. And yet the novel was written as though she was telling us the truth.’

Emily listened intently. She felt this was what she was trying to do. Write down her truth.

‘All right, ladies and gentlemen. It is time for you to present your creative writing homework pieces. Do I have any volunteers?’

Mr Garcia looked around the room but everybody was looking down at their desks. Looking anywhere else was preferable to catching Mr Garcia’s eye. Slowly Beatrice raised her hand. Mr Garcia smiled. ‘Of course, Beatrice, the floor is yours.’

He moved over to the window and leant against the windowsill. Beatrice walked to the front of the room and cleared her throat.

‘My short story,’ Beatrice began, ‘is called The Wind Witch.’ Emily sat up and began paying attention. Beatrice cleared her throat again.

A wind witch can control the wind. It seemed obvious, really. Gwenllian didn’t always know she was a wind witch. She had begun to think she wasn’t going to develop any special powers. Not all witches get a special power. Many witches perform some of the more mundane tasks for the coven—making potions, gathering herbs or making protective spells. But a witch with special powers could really be somebody. She was important. Gwenllian’s mother was a moon witch. That made her the most important witch at so many celebrations in the circle of a witch’s life. A moon witch was intune with the cycles of life. Gwenllian had hoped she would be a moon witch. She was meant to be. She should be following in her mother’s footsteps. But Gwenllian was nobody. She didn’t think there was anything special about her at all. She couldn’t even make light. That was one of the most basic witch skills. Her eyes burned whenever she remembered how the other girls had laughed when she couldn’t get the candle to light. All she ended up doing was blowing out all the candles. Their laughter still rang in her ears. And now, worst of all, she was in disgrace. A week before her 16th birthday and she had failed all of the coven’s tests. She knew she had completely let her mother down, not to mention all of the aunts. They had always said Gwenllian would be the next moon witch. But here she was, unable to even perform the most simple spells. Nobody would ever trust her again. Maybe she should just run away and join the travelling circus.

‘There’s no miracles, Gwenllian,’ her mother had said. ‘You have to work at your craft.’

But Gwenllian had worked hard. She kicked the ground. It’s just that nothing ever seemed to work.

‘Gwenllian—Gwenllian, are you out there, love?’

It was Aunt Margreet, the water witch. She had always been nice to Gwenllian.

‘There you are. They’re waiting for you. It’s time for the wind trial.’

‘I can’t do it, Aunt Margreet. I can’t face them again. I should just run away and become a jester.’

‘Oh, Gwenllian. It’s not as bad as it seems. You just need to be patient with yourself and you’ll discover your special magic.’

‘But I don’t have a special talent. I have let everyone down. I’ll just become a common herb collector.’

‘You haven’t let anyone down, honey. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a herb collector. It’s very important to keep the coven stocked with the right herbs. Besides, think of all those lovely days you would have wandering the forest.’

Gwenllian looked up at her aunt’s face.

‘Now you’re mocking me.’

‘Only a little bit. Come on, Gwenllian, everyone is waiting for you.’

Aunt Margreet stood and held out her hand.

Gwenllian reluctantly took it and let her aunt lead her back to the circle.

‘Just close your eyes and feel,’ Aunt Margreet whispered as she pushed Gwenllian gently into the centre of the circle.

The entire coven was silent as they watched Gwenllian. They all knew how important it was to find your special talent. The night was still except for the wind hushing through the pine trees. The other young witches had all successfully passed their trials. Now it was only Gwenllian.

‘Get on with it.’

‘Hush, Erica. Give the girl a chance.’

Gwenllian looked uncertainly around the circle of faces. Her eyes met Aunt Margreet’s smiling back at her.

‘Just relax,’ she mouthed.

Gwenllian closed her eyes and tried to steady her breathing. She felt the breeze touch her cheek. She remembered Aunt Margreet’s words and tried to concentrate on the breeze. She felt it tickle her hair, brushing her long tresses against her shoulders. The wind whirled Gwenllian’s skirt and she began to feel the magic tingling in her fingers. This is where it usually all went wrong. Gwenllian tried to focus on her breathing—each breath, slowly in and out. Gradually she realised the breeze was brushing her cheek in time with her breathing, pulsating. She felt the wind now. She imagined herself riding the gusts high into the air, far above the trees. She felt light, as light as a leaf. Gwenllian turned and circled around the clearing.

‘By the Goddess, she’s doing it!’

‘She’s a wind witch.’

‘I’m Gwenllian the Wind Witch,’ she said to herself. She began to feel the trees, swaying in the wind—her wind. It was exhilarating. After all the humiliation she was finally triumphant. She brought herself back to the circle and gently let herself float to the ground. The frill of her skirt lifted as she hovered three feet above the ground.

‘I am Gwenllian the Wind Witch,’ she said boldly. ‘I am ready to take the oath.’ She was no longer a child. She was a witch.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 15

Emily noticed the new girl at school early in the week. It wasn’t often that new students came to Pemblebury Grammar. Mostly it was just the children of rich parents who had attended the school themselves when they had been children.

Although she normally kept to herself there was something about this girl that drew Emily to her. She didn’t need friends, she told herself, but she couldn’t help watching this girl and the way she nervously flicked her curly red hair out of her eyes. Or the way she moved, like as if every step might draw unwanted attention. Emily noticed the girl always had a book in her hand. Maybe that was it.

Whatever it was Emily couldn’t stop watching her. The only thing she had learnt so far was that the girl caught the Nangle bus to school each day.

That’s why Emily was standing behind the bus shelter, waiting for the school bus to come in.

But then Anar and Heather walked into view, giggling and walking arm in arm. Emily grimaced as the crowd of school girls magically parted as they walked past. She drew further back into the shadows so she wouldn’t be spotted. The last thing she needed was for Anar to see her hiding behind the bus shelter. It was bad enough they had to share the same classes.

Emily’s attention was drawn back to the road as an old bus pulled up with a squeal of brakes and a cloud of diesel smoke.

A group of middle school kids got off first and then there was a gap.

Maybe she’s not coming today. Emily felt a twinge of disappointment.

But then there she was, stepping off the bus and right into the path of Anar and Heather.

‘Oh, sorry.’ Anar deliberately bumped the girl with her shoulder.

Emily fumed as the girl bent down to pick up her book. Anar and Heather had already walked away laughing.

The girl brushed some dirt from her book and then moved toward the classrooms. She held the book close to her chest with her arms folded as though she were protecting it.

Emily waited until the girl had walked past and then followed her to her locker. She seemed to be just as out of place as Emily. Maybe she did want a friend. The trouble was that Emily was too shy to make the first move toward friendship. Instead, she sat near the girl during class and hoped the other girl would make the first move—but nothing happened.

Later Emily sat in the school library at lunchtime and thought about the new girl. She didn’t know her name yet but in her mind she constructed elaborate stories about how they would meet. Each time it would finish with the girl with red hair reaching her hand out to touch Emily’s arm. Maybe if she tried a spell. Emily took the green book from her bag and opened the booklet hidden inside. She quickly checked that nobody was watching before flicking the pages until she found what looked like a friendship spell. Emily began repeating the words over and over.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 14

‘Where’s my supper, woman?’

Bryn the blacksmith burst through the door of the cottage. A cold wind followed him into the dimly lit cottage.

‘Shut that door—and keep your voice down or you’ll wake the child.’ Saba spoke calmly without turning away from the pot of broth she was stirring over the open fireplace. The room smelled heavy from herbs. ‘And remove those boots before you traipse mud all over the floor. I spent all morning sweeping it. I hope you washed before coming in this time.’

‘Yes—I did, Saba.’ The blacksmith spoke in a hoarse whisper. He gently closed the door and hooked the latch before bending to undo the laces of his boots.

‘Was there any word today?’ Saba still hadn’t turned around.

‘No, Saba. The sergeant of the guard came to check on progress of the weapons. I told him they would all be finished by tomorrow. Then perhaps they will leave the village in peace.’

Saba turned and looked at him. May the goddess protect all of us.

‘I pray they go soon. After what happened to the children at Pemblebury I am terrified for our own bairn.’

Saba looked across the room at the sleeping child. Her face was creased with lines of worry. The child was more joy than burden but with the king’s black cloaks ransacking villages in their search for the missing princess there had not been a day in the past five years that she had not feared for the child’s safety.

‘We should never have taken her in.’ Bryn’s harsh words weren’t reflected by the softer look that had crept over his face as he stood by the cot of the sleeping child.

Ailis was curled into a ball. The outline of her small body could be seen under the coarse woollen blanket. She opened her eyes and smiled when she saw Bryn looking down at her face.

‘You’re home, Da. I wanted to walk you home but Ma said it was too cold to go out.’

She sat up and stretched.

‘I was going to sneak out,’ she lowered her voice to a whisper and grinned mischievously.

‘I would have branded your hide if you had,’ Bryn whispered back.

‘There’s no point you whispering,’ Saba said loudly. ‘I can hear every word you’re both saying and I will brand both your hides if I thought you were keeping secrets from me. Now sit up at the table and eat your broth.’

Saba placed two wooden bowls on the table.

‘Only two bowls, Saba? Where is yours?’

‘I will eat later after I finish up.’

She looked away from his searching face. It wasn’t the first time he had noticed how thin she was getting.

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock at the door.

‘Bryn the blacksmith,’ a deep voice called out.

Saba had her hand up to her mouth in fright.

‘It’s only the sergeant,’ Bryn said. ‘Coming,’ he called out as he moved to the door. ‘What is it?’

‘We need your wife. She is a healer, I believe. One of our men has been wounded. Come quickly.

Saba had already wrapped the worn grey shawl around her shoulders.

She bent and kissed Ailis on the top of her head. ‘Stay safe, child. Look after her, Bryn.’

She quickly looked away so they couldn’t see the fear in her eyes. The door slammed shut and Bryn stood staring at it for a few moments. He was now alone with the child. He turned and watched her dipping a piece of bread into the broth.

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