Read an Excerpt
Dunniwerth Castle, Scotland March, 1644
Anne tied the rope to the post erected for just such a purpose, then reached into the bottom of the boat for her basket.
She and Hannah had become friends in the fifteen years since a frightened child had gathered her courage and ignored myth, legend and the dictates of a father she adored.
As Anne had feared, her original journey across the loch had been discovered. Her father had, surprisingly, not prevented her visits to the wise woman. However, he had insisted that she learn to swim the loch, and be taught in the proper manner of rowing the small skiff.
Anne took her short cut through the trees, glancing at the odd circular building in the clearing as she did so. She'd discovered it on her third visit to the island. Once a year she and Hannah tended to this place, removing the weeds, straightening the stones that lay in front of the building. It seemed the proper thing to do. The small structure with its arched doorway and elaborately carved keystone looked to have once been a chapel. And the gravestones were sad markers that turned the clearing into a place of reverence.
Anne stepped through the opening in the scraggly bushes, past the large stone in the shape of a boot. Still further up a small incline, and she was there, the path to Hannah's door more worn but just as inviting as it had been all those many years before.
"You are late," Hannah said as she entered, her smile taking the sting from her words.
"You say that every time I come," Anne said, placing her basket on the table. "Just as I refute it."
"I am older than you. You are supposed to give merespect, not arguments."
Anne smiled at her friend. This, too, was a constant complaint. "You would dislike it if I conceded every point to you, Hannah. You would then have no one with whom to debate."
Hannah laughed, the gentle sound of it cascading through the cottage.
"You know me too well, Anne."
Anne smiled, placed her basket on the table. I have the flour you wished, Hannah, and a bit of honey from the cook. She says that she will take a few of your candles in trade."
"Will she?" A raised eyebrow accompanied the remark.
"You know, of course, that she sells them," Anne said, glancing at her friend. The years had been kind to Hannah. There were few white strands among her blond hair, and her face showed its lines only in the bright sunlight. At this moment, however, there was a furrow on her forehead. A precursor to irritation. She'd been the brunt of it too many times as a child not to know the sign.
Hannah nodded. "I've heard as much."
"Why, then, do you not confront her?"
"There are some situations that are better left alone, Anne."
"Because you never come to Dunniwerth?"
Hannah glanced at her. It was a subject rarely raised between them. Anne's curiosity occasionally bubbled beneath good manners and the empathy she felt for the older woman. Even as a child she'd known that there were some topics that made Hannah uncomfortable. Today, however, the answer was important. Not solely because of a cook with trickery on her mind.
"Your loyalty to me is admirable, Anne. But it is a trifling matter." Hannah turned away, busied herself with checking the rising of her dough.
Anne said nothing, only stared down at the surface of the table. The wood was scarred, and a few marks had been caused by her own youthful exuberance.
She walked to the lone window in the cottage, looked out over the clearing. It was a peaceful place, this glade. A friendly place to spend a life. Still, she could not help but wonder if it had been enough. But that was not a question she could ask. Instead, she spoke of other things, circling the true reason for this visit for a few moments.
"I saw him again last night," she said. Her voice did not betray how deeply the vision had moved her. She stood still and waited, however, for Hannah's words.
"It has been a while since the last time. I had hoped he would be gone for good."
Anne glanced over her shoulder. Hannah was looking at her, the frown hinted at now fixed in place.
"I remember when you were a child and terrified of him. When did it change?"
"I was never terrified of Stephen, Hannah," she said with a smile. "Only of what was happening to me." She'd seen him often enough over the years, a friend who'd visited her in the moment just before sleep.
Anne stared out at the view before her. A clearing, a small knoll of land surrounded by large trees. The day was chilly, spring was on the horizon but not yet here. There had been fog upon the loch this morning. Some days it wreathed the small cottage in a cloudlike miasma. She held her hands tight at her waist.
It might have been easier to have been granted the ability to hear thoughts or predict the future. She might have turned her skills to warning people of their fate, to issuing cautions. A child birth could be predicted, a marriage foretold, a crop saved. But what she saw was of no use to anyone.
Her visions were like looking through a window just as she did now. Only this view was of Stephen., living his fife. She could not choose what scenes. she might see. Nor had she any knowledge of when the window might open. At times she yearned see him. But the visions came when they willed, not when she wished.
She'd been captivated by the small glimpses into a life so alien from her own. He lived in a castle so unlike Dunniwerth that it had enchanted her. Langlinais. Even the sound of it seemed exotic.