Nectar from a Stone

( 6 )

Overview

It is 1351 in Wales, a country subjugated by England, beaten down by superstition, war, and illness. Elise, prone to strange visions and the sole survivor of a plague-ravaged family, has fled her village for distant Conwy with her servant Annora, running from a murder she was forced to commit in self-defense.
On the road, they cross paths with Gwydion, a moody Welshman seeking to avenge his murdered family and reclaim his estate, and are drawn into a bloody confrontation with ...

See more details below
Paperback (Original)
$24.08
BN.com price
(Save 16%)$28.95 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (69) from $1.99   
  • New (16) from $1.99   
  • Used (53) from $1.99   
Nectar from a Stone: A Novel

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$21.09
BN.com price

Overview

It is 1351 in Wales, a country subjugated by England, beaten down by superstition, war, and illness. Elise, prone to strange visions and the sole survivor of a plague-ravaged family, has fled her village for distant Conwy with her servant Annora, running from a murder she was forced to commit in self-defense.
On the road, they cross paths with Gwydion, a moody Welshman seeking to avenge his murdered family and reclaim his estate, and are drawn into a bloody confrontation with another traveler. In its aftermath, Elise and Gwydion find themselves shocked by their developing feelings for each other, and they part.
As the women ultimately reach Conwy, a menacing shadow from Elise's past creeps toward her, and she must face it to find the peace she longs for, and help Gwydion recapture his home, and her heart, in the process.
In a dazzling narrative where mysterious visions, powerful desire, and dark secrets from the past converge, Jane Guill spins a masterful tale of romance, revelation, and breathtaking suspense.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's Wales in 1351, and across a plague-infested, often brutal landscape, Elise-a spirited young woman prone to visions-and her servant/surrogate mother Annora flee the scene of an unplanned crime: Elise has killed her evil husband, Maelgwyn, and dumped his body in a river. On the run, she crosses paths with a mysterious rider named Gwydion who immediately intrigues her with his lordly composure and brooding manner. As Elise and Gwydion's travels further converge, it emerges that they have an enemy in common: the repellent Sir Nicholas, who murdered Gwydion's father and sister and who, with his henchman Dexter, came perilously close to raping and killing Annora and Elise in a previous encounter. Gwydion's and Elise's interest in each other grows, and their passions are stoked when Elise tends to the wounded Gwydion. Meanwhile, it's revealed that Maelgwyn is actually alive and intent on vengeance. What works in Guill's debut is the nicely developed chemistry between Elise and Gwydion and the numerous historical details that create vivid snapshots of life in medieval Wales. But the book suffers from too many plot lines, over-the-top villains, heavy-handed symbolism and pacing hobbled by well-written but tangential sections. The plot twists also prove predictable. But the main characters are loyal and good-hearted-certainly likable enough to follow on a few adventures. Agent, Nat Sobel. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A variant reading of the Dixie Chicks' "Hey Earl"-save that we're in the medieval Welsh marches, not a trailer park, and the victim is of less noble rank. Young Elise experiences visions that "came unbidden, mostly eluding interpretation" and "often featured absolute strangers," which makes her husband, nasty old Maelgwyn, sorely wroth. He expresses his displeasure by beating her, which is a very bad idea: debut novelist Guill shows us straightaway that Elise is a survivor who knows her way around weapons. Maelgwyn thus finds his way to the bottom of a Welsh river, while Elise and her servant skedaddle. As befits good Celts, the two women are tough but tender and ever so resourceful; they survive a stalker, narrowly escape visiting the bottom of a river themselves, and live through assorted other torments, only to go into the boutique business-for, as Elise says, "My servant can't speak, but she's a wonder at diminishing pains of the head, at chasing wrinkles and women's monthly complaints, and easing a hundred other ills," while Elise herself is a whiz at whipping up wart creams, perfumes, and assorted home remedies. Alas, our heroine's heart is wounded still. But it's nothing another resourceful Celt, the dispossessed nobleman Gwydion, can't cure: "I want you to need me, madwoman, as much as I need you," he murmurs, and urgent kisses and bodices go a-flying. Guill's confection is pleasant and mostly believable, even if her medieval women have unusually modern concerns and her characters are wont to break out into speech befitting Long John Silver ("But mayhap you yammer like a jaybird when you scrape jowls with fancier folk than me"); and as it progresses, the romance takes on some nicecomplications, for Maelgwyn is dead but not forgotten, and there's lots of maiming, hacking, and other pastimes of the day to keep the narrative hopping. A middling entertainment, with some nice passages to scare pacifists and arachnophobes.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743264792
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 1.03 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Guill is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council awards. She divides her time between far northwest Illinois and North Wales.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Gray Hill

North Wales, Summer 1351

Maelgwyn's "husbandly attention," as he called it, went on and on. Strange, how time could creep and crawl.

The room grew darker as the fire died.

"Have you no answer, Elise?"

Had he posed a question? Lying there, all she'd heard was the sighing of the wind, outside, and the faint rush of blood in her ears.

He stared down into her face. "Or is this unamiable silence yet another sign of your waywardness?"

This required some reply. "I have never studied to be wayward to you, sir," she said.

"Hah. You require no study, being a born mistress of the art." He reached down to pinch her thigh, his usual way of emphasizing a point. She bit back a cry but knew there would be a bruise. "Had you been attending, wife, you would have heard me say your constant lack of response is vexing. Nor am I able to fathom your ingratitude. Who are you to be ungrateful? Better souls than you suffer every hour. As we speak, worthy Welshmen bleed on French battlefields. In the course of the Great Mortality, thousands of good Christians fell. Yet you survived, Elise. Then you were so fortunate as to come here to me. Deo dilecti. But why?"

Deo dilecti. Chosen by God. When had she so offended her Maker that she had been chosen by Him, for this?

"It is as great a mystery to me as it is to you," she said, without equivocation.

"So I should imagine. But are you happy to be alive, rejoicing in my protection and devotion? No, I fear you are not. The pitiful dowry you brought with you does not compensate me for your relentless ingratitude, I assure you."

She closed her eyes for a moment, considering that dowry. It had not been pitiful, she knew. But she also knew there was never anything to be gained by contradicting Maelgwyn. So she opened her eyes and said, "Merely I am worn from the demands of the day and the household. There's only Annora to aid me." Then she lied. "But I am not ungrateful."

Would the reasonable excuse of fatigue stem a more grueling interrogation? The truth would never do. She couldn't tell this cruel man how she loathed and feared him, how the very sight of him — his long, muscled trunk and ox's neck — had become so abhorrent to her it was almost past bearing. Further, the truth could finally tip the scales of his volatile temper, a temper grown increasingly vicious in the two years since she had come to his rambling old house, Bryn-llwyd. Gray Hill.

"I confess," he was saying, "I forget from time to time that you are but a woman, the worst sort of stinking rose. The holy philosophers tell us all we need know of the sorry origin of women."

He continued, providing endless unwanted instruction even as he resumed his "husbandly attention."

She turned her head away to look down at the wooden floor, hoping to will her mind to some less hurtful place. A large black spider, speckled with yellow dots, crossed a rough plank near the hearth. It stopped and reared two of its legs, as if searching for some invisible passage. Then it lowered its legs and scurried toward a wall.

What tales had she heard of spiders? What had her servant and friend, Annora, told her? Elise pondered the question to divert herself. Soon she remembered Annora's words: to their webs spiders entice fallen souls who only appear to poor human eyes as trapped moths or mites, before herding them to Purgatory. But hadn't Annora also said the creeping things were a blessing in the house, because they could miraculously absorb the poisonous Pestilence vapor, bind it to the spots on their backs? Could these tales be true?

The evening wind grew stronger and shifted. Timbers objected. On one wall of their chamber three extravagant new glass panes, Maelgwyn's proudest acquisition and the first, he boasted, of many more to come, had been set into a triptych of branches hacked from a young oak. Still tall in its place but condemned to wither limb-stripped and then tumble down too early, that oak could no longer soften with its used-to-be leaves the view south to the empty Migneint Moor. It was Elise's fancy that the triptych, stolen from the tree's living body, would never contentedly cradle its fragile burden. And so it moaned softly with complaint.

A fierce gust brought the faint scent of the garderobe to the solar. The privy had been corbeled out over the river next to the chamber, and often stank when gales blew from the west.

"Fah, it reeks of cess in here," said Maelgwyn, for once echoing his young wife's thoughts.

But she flinched, for his harsh voice had startled her.

"You're skittish as a maiden, girl. Does my affection overwhelm you, or are you merely in the throes of yet another of your unholy visions?"

This jibe targeted a susceptibility to trance, hers since the season of the Gemini moon in 1343, eight years past, when she was eleven. Terrifying or glorious, her visions came unbidden, mostly eluding interpretation. To the past frustration of her loved ones, and now Maelgwyn, they often featured absolute strangers. Often, but not always.

In trances, sometimes only vaguely remembered by her once they'd passed, she had rightly foretold a rain of dying stars and spoken, most eerily, with the forgotten voice of the bard, Taliesin, who passed to Rapture in the days of Arthur and Myrddin. She had described strange landscapes and revealed to a lonely maiden the secret love of a neighbor. Likewise, many times she had predicted pregnancy. Or death.

That final item, predicting death, could not be thought remarkable. Death had lately stopped in many houses. It had thrown its dark cloak over every valley and knoll in Britain.

On the island of Anglesey, where Elise was born, three or four days north from Gray Hill, the gift of prophecy was regarded as God's favor. When she was a child, her parents refused coins from neighbors hoping to crouch nearby, their ears cocked for any mystic rambling that may have chanced to fall from Elise's young lips as she worked the spindle or sorted her mother's herbs.

Deep mystery was in her spells. Among a world of betters, why had God chosen her to deliver even the least vital word? Or was it God who had chosen? Elise understood there was no tisane or trick to calm her doubt on this. Was she God's herald, or only Satan's fool?

High wrought by what he called immoral superstition, Maelgwyn rebuked her for her trances without fail, and the previous winter he had lashed her with a studded whip one morning as she sat enthralled in a vision. Elise had felt no pain but had revived to the sight of three bright welts across her inner wrist. She had smiled down at the marks and said, unexpectedly to herself, "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

Her husband's face had grown chalky white before he added more wounds, blurring the crimson edges of the original three. "Blasphemy!" he cried and flung himself from the room.

His ill temper had not softened since, but she preferred it more than she could say to his monstrous ardor.

Now, in their solar, he pulled her up by her arms and dragged her from the bed without warning. She made an effort to stand upright but stumbled backward. Only a wooden chair behind her kept her from sprawling. At her seeming retreat, Maelgwyn's hands dropped to his sides. His blue eyes glinted in the light of the tallow candle flickering on the table near the chamber's closed door. Cast into ghostly relief by the candlelight, a dark vein pulsed at his temple.

He swooped down to catch her wrists with one large hand and squeezed so hard that her fingers grew quickly numb. "You choose so blithely to defy my wishes? Then kneel," he said, forcing her to her knees. "Like so. Only now do you strike the proper posture for supplication, Elise."

When she tried to pull away, he tightened his hold and seized the neck of her summer shift. She gasped as he ripped downward, rending the fine cloth. With a soft hiss, the ruined shift fell to the floor around her.

"Didn't the great thinker Boethius tell us that woman is a temple built upon a sewer?" he said, breathing a bit harder, but smiling. "Was he not a godly man?" He reached around her and ran the blunt fingernails of his unoccupied hand down her spine. "Some of your gender will call that an overly harsh edict, of course. But what is a righteous man to do? I must align myself with the Church's precepts and declare every woman an Eve."

Face hot, legs icy, Elise ceased any effort to free herself and sagged into his grip. "I am only fatigued, Maelgwyn, and addled by weariness. I will not fight you anymore," she said, staring up at him. "Let me rise so we may go on. I'm too aroused to kneel." She essayed a coy smile but knew it must be ghastly.

"No, Elise. Your wan smile and gray eyes can't dupe me further tonight. I mistrust women with gray eyes, you know, for they always, always prove to be sinful. In any case, I am a prophet now. And I foresee the most practical way for a willful wife to absorb a husband's teaching will be low and mean, so she may more easily comprehend it. That thought is balm for my distaste. I only pray my righteous seed is steered by Heaven to a smooth passage down your throat, toward your wicked soul."

He released her and inclined his head. "Move to me now, to ingest my probity."

Stronger hints of the privy assailed her as mounting winds buffeted the old manor. Some creature, mouse or bat, disturbed the thatched roof above. Drifting to the floor beyond Maelgwyn, the resulting halo of fine dust shone in the candle's glow.

Not a soul would come if she called. No one would hear her cries, except perhaps her friend Annora, Gray Hill's only other human inhabitant. Meanwhile her bare-chested husband stood between her and the door, hosen around his knees.

"For shame, woman," he finally said, as she gave no sign of obeying.

Another gale shook the manor. Hail pinged against glass. With more urgency than grace, she tried to rise but tangled her feet in her torn shift. Maelgwyn yanked her up by her hair.

"Any bleating ewe would be less trouble," he said, dragging her back toward the bed.

Twisting away at the last moment, she ran to the window. There, after two long years of cowardice, her caution deserted her. It dissolved like a tattered shadow. But in its stead it left a wild, quick-blossoming rage. Her head fairly swam with rage.

"A ewe? I recommend one, sir," she said, breath uneven. "Or an ass. A fine great ass for your mighty probity." Without conscious thought she began to laugh like a madwoman.

His thick brows drew together to form one black line. "Yet more shame, Elise."

Her laughter ceased as abruptly as it had begun. "Maelgwyn, can you not feel it? Something taints you. Some evil. In this house you are the fountainhead of everything unholy, for your pleasure can only be bought with pain. How sad and rotten your soul must be, how endless your fear. Indict me if you must" — she wrapped her arms around herself, covering her breasts — "but you know full well your own foul craving will condemn you straight to Hell."

A sickly half smile played at the corners of his mouth, and his nostrils flared.

Forcing herself to look into his face, she was shocked to catch a glimmer of fear, fear she had discerned in him only once before.

He drew back slightly, as if sensing her discovery.

"You're frightened," she said.

He took a breath; his broad chest swelled with it. And the fear disappeared from his eyes.

"Afraid?" he said. The word dripped with scorn. His teeth showed in a wider, crueler smile. "Of a godless female? You're a greater fool than I supposed."

"Likely I am. But I saw it. You had that same look another time, one other time only, just after I came here."

"Poor Elise. It's almost amusing to witness your attempts to evade my wrath, and God's."

Her eyes did not leave his face. She would will him to answer, will him to pay for his violent gratification with one small moment of truth. "You know it's true. That first time, I described a vision I'd had. It was before I knew to keep my visions secret from you when I could. I told you I saw a woman. She stood naked by a river and she wore a necklace of tiny starfish. She called your name. She — "

"Your tactics pall."

"Who was she? Your first wife? Your mother?"

Silence fell, absorbing any warmth remaining in the room. Gooseflesh climbed her limbs. Her dark hair spilled down her back to her waist. Outside, the hail stopped, and the wind grew less violent.

After a near eternity of quiet he spoke. He brought his hands to his chin, palms together as if in prayer. "What do you hope to gain by spewing your wicked tales, Elise? You and I both know your visions are only a sorry plea for my attention. We both know you never prattled of any woman."

"I did, Maelgwyn."

He went on as if she had not spoken. "But by mouthing your lies, your evil fantasies, you have damned yourself with words. Finally, Elise. Finally you cause me to kill you, as I've imagined I might since we wed, if only to do God and other men a service."

He took a step toward her, and another.

She shrank back with a cry.

He stopped and gazed past her, to his new panes and the darkness beyond, to the unseen rushing river. "Who will weep? I'll say you fell to a revisiting of the Mortality. I'll say you divined it yourself from a glimpse, in a vision, of a lake burning with brimstone. Is that not prophetic? Tomorrow morning or the next, what fool would burrow into your grave to confirm the dreaded symptoms?"

Without moving his head he shifted his focus, regarding her from the corner of his eye. "Let she who is ripe...fall."

"You're mad," she whispered.

He lunged.

Slammed back against the window, her knuckles hit a pane. Glass shattered, scoring uneven red lines down her arm. He struck her across the face with the side of his broad hand.

As blood dripped from her elbow to her foot, he struck again.

Shielding her head with her sound arm, she fell to the floor. "If I am to die," she cried, "at least let me say a prayer of contrition."

He loomed over her, breathing hard. "My dear," he said, with sudden real dismay, "I fear you are in the right. Yes, you must pray to Mary Magdalene. You must ask her to petition Heaven on your behalf — although I suspect it will be futile."

She cringed when he reached out, obscenely gentle, to stroke her hair. "Poor girl, where is my Christian compassion? Yes, yes, you must certainly pray."

She looked up at him as he bent over her. "I already have," she said — and drove a sharp glass dagger upward, hard, into his groin.

He crashed to the floor, but then staggered up at once to his knees. "Satan's bitch," he gasped. His arms shot out. His hands closed around her throat.

As a gray mist swirled up before her, she lashed out blindly with the shard and heard him curse again. His hands dropped away from her neck.

Once more the room grew still.

Copyright © 2005 by Jane Guill

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Nectar from a Stone


By Jane Guill

Touchstone Books

Copyright © 2005 Jane Guill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743264797

Chapter One: Gray Hill


North Wales, Summer 1351

Maelgwyn's "husbandly attention," as he called it, went on and on. Strange, how time could creep and crawl.

The room grew darker as the fire died.

"Have you no answer, Elise?"

Had he posed a question? Lying there, all she'd heard was the sighing of the wind, outside, and the faint rush of blood in her ears.

He stared down into her face. "Or is this unamiable silence yet another sign of your waywardness?"

This required some reply. "I have never studied to be wayward to you, sir," she said.

"Hah. You require no study, being a born mistress of the art." He reached down to pinch her thigh, his usual way of emphasizing a point. She bit back a cry but knew there would be a bruise. "Had you been attending, wife, you would have heard me say your constant lack of response is vexing. Nor am I able to fathom your ingratitude. Who are you to be ungrateful? Better souls than you suffer every hour. As we speak, worthy Welshmen bleed on French battlefields. In the course of the Great Mortality, thousands of good Christians fell. Yet you survived, Elise. Then you were so fortunate as to come here to me. Deo dilecti. But why?"

Deo dilecti. Chosen by God. When had she so offended her Maker thatshe had been chosen by Him, for this?

"It is as great a mystery to me as it is to you," she said, without equivocation.

"So I should imagine. But are you happy to be alive, rejoicing in my protection and devotion? No, I fear you are not. The pitiful dowry you brought with you does not compensate me for your relentless ingratitude, I assure you."

She closed her eyes for a moment, considering that dowry. It had not been pitiful, she knew. But she also knew there was never anything to be gained by contradicting Maelgwyn. So she opened her eyes and said, "Merely I am worn from the demands of the day and the household. There's only Annora to aid me." Then she lied. "But I am not ungrateful."

Would the reasonable excuse of fatigue stem a more grueling interrogation? The truth would never do. She couldn't tell this cruel man how she loathed and feared him, how the very sight of him -- his long, muscled trunk and ox's neck -- had become so abhorrent to her it was almost past bearing. Further, the truth could finally tip the scales of his volatile temper, a temper grown increasingly vicious in the two years since she had come to his rambling old house, Bryn-llwyd. Gray Hill.

"I confess," he was saying, "I forget from time to time that you are but a woman, the worst sort of stinking rose. The holy philosophers tell us all we need know of the sorry origin of women."

He continued, providing endless unwanted instruction even as he resumed his "husbandly attention."

She turned her head away to look down at the wooden floor, hoping to will her mind to some less hurtful place. A large black spider, speckled with yellow dots, crossed a rough plank near the hearth. It stopped and reared two of its legs, as if searching for some invisible passage. Then it lowered its legs and scurried toward a wall.

What tales had she heard of spiders? What had her servant and friend, Annora, told her? Elise pondered the question to divert herself. Soon she remembered Annora's words: to their webs spiders entice fallen souls who only appear to poor human eyes as trapped moths or mites, before herding them to Purgatory. But hadn't Annora also said the creeping things were a blessing in the house, because they could miraculously absorb the poisonous Pestilence vapor, bind it to the spots on their backs? Could these tales be true?

The evening wind grew stronger and shifted. Timbers objected. On one wall of their chamber three extravagant new glass panes, Maelgwyn's proudest acquisition and the first, he boasted, of many more to come, had been set into a triptych of branches hacked from a young oak. Still tall in its place but condemned to wither limb-stripped and then tumble down too early, that oak could no longer soften with its used-to-be leaves the view south to the empty Migneint Moor. It was Elise's fancy that the triptych, stolen from the tree's living body, would never contentedly cradle its fragile burden. And so it moaned softly with complaint.

A fierce gust brought the faint scent of the garderobe to the solar. The privy had been corbeled out over the river next to the chamber, and often stank when gales blew from the west.

"Fah, it reeks of cess in here," said Maelgwyn, for once echoing his young wife's thoughts.

But she flinched, for his harsh voice had startled her.

"You're skittish as a maiden, girl. Does my affection overwhelm you, or are you merely in the throes of yet another of your unholy visions?"

This jibe targeted a susceptibility to trance, hers since the season of the Gemini moon in 1343, eight years past, when she was eleven. Terrifying or glorious, her visions came unbidden, mostly eluding interpretation. To the past frustration of her loved ones, and now Maelgwyn, they often featured absolute strangers. Often, but not always.

In trances, sometimes only vaguely remembered by her once they'd passed, she had rightly foretold a rain of dying stars and spoken, most eerily, with the forgotten voice of the bard, Taliesin, who passed to Rapture in the days of Arthur and Myrddin. She had described strange landscapes and revealed to a lonely maiden the secret love of a neighbor. Likewise, many times she had predicted pregnancy. Or death.

That final item, predicting death, could not be thought remarkable. Death had lately stopped in many houses. It had thrown its dark cloak over every valley and knoll in Britain.

On the island of Anglesey, where Elise was born, three or four days north from Gray Hill, the gift of prophecy was regarded as God's favor. When she was a child, her parents refused coins from neighbors hoping to crouch nearby, their ears cocked for any mystic rambling that may have chanced to fall from Elise's young lips as she worked the spindle or sorted her mother's herbs.

Deep mystery was in her spells. Among a world of betters, why had God chosen her to deliver even the least vital word? Or was it God who had chosen? Elise understood there was no tisane or trick to calm her doubt on this. Was she God's herald, or only Satan's fool?

High wrought by what he called immoral superstition, Maelgwyn rebuked her for her trances without fail, and the previous winter he had lashed her with a studded whip one morning as she sat enthralled in a vision. Elise had felt no pain but had revived to the sight of three bright welts across her inner wrist. She had smiled down at the marks and said, unexpectedly to herself, "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

Her husband's face had grown chalky white before he added more wounds, blurring the crimson edges of the original three. "Blasphemy!" he cried and flung himself from the room.

His ill temper had not softened since, but she preferred it more than she could say to his monstrous ardor.

Now, in their solar, he pulled her up by her arms and dragged her from the bed without warning. She made an effort to stand upright but stumbled backward. Only a wooden chair behind her kept her from sprawling. At her seeming retreat, Maelgwyn's hands dropped to his sides. His blue eyes glinted in the light of the tallow candle flickering on the table near the chamber's closed door. Cast into ghostly relief by the candlelight, a dark vein pulsed at his temple.

He swooped down to catch her wrists with one large hand and squeezed so hard that her fingers grew quickly numb. "You choose so blithely to defy my wishes? Then kneel," he said, forcing her to her knees. "Like so. Only now do you strike the proper posture for supplication, Elise."

When she tried to pull away, he tightened his hold and seized the neck of her summer shift. She gasped as he ripped downward, rending the fine cloth. With a soft hiss, the ruined shift fell to the floor around her.

"Didn't the great thinker Boethius tell us that woman is a temple built upon a sewer?" he said, breathing a bit harder, but smiling. "Was he not a godly man?" He reached around her and ran the blunt fingernails of his unoccupied hand down her spine. "Some of your gender will call that an overly harsh edict, of course. But what is a righteous man to do? I must align myself with the Church's precepts and declare every woman an Eve."

Face hot, legs icy, Elise ceased any effort to free herself and sagged into his grip. "I am only fatigued, Maelgwyn, and addled by weariness. I will not fight you anymore," she said, staring up at him. "Let me rise so we may go on. I'm too aroused to kneel." She essayed a coy smile but knew it must be ghastly.

"No, Elise. Your wan smile and gray eyes can't dupe me further tonight. I mistrust women with gray eyes, you know, for they always, always prove to be sinful. In any case, I am a prophet now. And I foresee the most practical way for a willful wife to absorb a husband's teaching will be low and mean, so she may more easily comprehend it. That thought is balm for my distaste. I only pray my righteous seed is steered by Heaven to a smooth passage down your throat, toward your wicked soul."

He released her and inclined his head. "Move to me now, to ingest my probity."

Stronger hints of the privy assailed her as mounting winds buffeted the old manor. Some creature, mouse or bat, disturbed the thatched roof above. Drifting to the floor beyond Maelgwyn, the resulting halo of fine dust shone in the candle's glow.

Not a soul would come if she called. No one would hear her cries, except perhaps her friend Annora, Gray Hill's only other human inhabitant. Meanwhile her bare-chested husband stood between her and the door, hosen around his knees.

"For shame, woman," he finally said, as she gave no sign of obeying.

Another gale shook the manor. Hail pinged against glass. With more urgency than grace, she tried to rise but tangled her feet in her torn shift. Maelgwyn yanked her up by her hair.

"Any bleating ewe would be less trouble," he said, dragging her back toward the bed.

Twisting away at the last moment, she ran to the window. There, after two long years of cowardice, her caution deserted her. It dissolved like a tattered shadow. But in its stead it left a wild, quick-blossoming rage. Her head fairly swam with rage.

"A ewe? I recommend one, sir," she said, breath uneven. "Or an ass. A fine great ass for your mighty probity." Without conscious thought she began to laugh like a madwoman.

His thick brows drew together to form one black line. "Yet more shame, Elise."

Her laughter ceased as abruptly as it had begun. "Maelgwyn, can you not feel it? Something taints you. Some evil. In this house you are the fountainhead of everything unholy, for your pleasure can only be bought with pain. How sad and rotten your soul must be, how endless your fear. Indict me if you must" -- she wrapped her arms around herself, covering her breasts -- "but you know full well your own foul craving will condemn you straight to Hell."

A sickly half smile played at the corners of his mouth, and his nostrils flared.

Forcing herself to look into his face, she was shocked to catch a glimmer of fear, fear she had discerned in him only once before.

He drew back slightly, as if sensing her discovery.

"You're frightened," she said.

He took a breath; his broad chest swelled with it. And the fear disappeared from his eyes.

"Afraid?" he said. The word dripped with scorn. His teeth showed in a wider, crueler smile. "Of a godless female? You're a greater fool than I supposed."

"Likely I am. But I saw it. You had that same look another time, one other time only, just after I came here."

"Poor Elise. It's almost amusing to witness your attempts to evade my wrath, and God's."

Her eyes did not leave his face. She would will him to answer, will him to pay for his violent gratification with one small moment of truth. "You know it's true. That first time, I described a vision I'd had. It was before I knew to keep my visions secret from you when I could. I told you I saw a woman. She stood naked by a river and she wore a necklace of tiny starfish. She called your name. She -- "

"Your tactics pall."

"Who was she? Your first wife? Your mother?"

Silence fell, absorbing any warmth remaining in the room. Gooseflesh climbed her limbs. Her dark hair spilled down her back to her waist. Outside, the hail stopped, and the wind grew less violent.

After a near eternity of quiet he spoke. He brought his hands to his chin, palms together as if in prayer. "What do you hope to gain by spewing your wicked tales, Elise? You and I both know your visions are only a sorry plea for my attention. We both know you never prattled of any woman."

"I did, Maelgwyn."

He went on as if she had not spoken. "But by mouthing your lies, your evil fantasies, you have damned yourself with words. Finally, Elise. Finally you cause me to kill you, as I've imagined I might since we wed, if only to do God and other men a service."

He took a step toward her, and another.

She shrank back with a cry.

He stopped and gazed past her, to his new panes and the darkness beyond, to the unseen rushing river. "Who will weep? I'll say you fell to a revisiting of the Mortality. I'll say you divined it yourself from a glimpse, in a vision, of a lake burning with brimstone. Is that not prophetic? Tomorrow morning or the next, what fool would burrow into your grave to confirm the dreaded symptoms?"

Without moving his head he shifted his focus, regarding her from the corner of his eye. "Let she who is ripe...fall."

"You're mad," she whispered.

He lunged.

Slammed back against the window, her knuckles hit a pane. Glass shattered, scoring uneven red lines down her arm. He struck her across the face with the side of his broad hand.

As blood dripped from her elbow to her foot, he struck again.

Shielding her head with her sound arm, she fell to the floor. "If I am to die," she cried, "at least let me say a prayer of contrition."

He loomed over her, breathing hard. "My dear," he said, with sudden real dismay, "I fear you are in the right. Yes, you must pray to Mary Magdalene. You must ask her to petition Heaven on your behalf -- although I suspect it will be futile."

She cringed when he reached out, obscenely gentle, to stroke her hair. "Poor girl, where is my Christian compassion? Yes, yes, you must certainly pray."

She looked up at him as he bent over her. "I already have," she said -- and drove a sharp glass dagger upward, hard, into his groin.

He crashed to the floor, but then staggered up at once to his knees. "Satan's bitch," he gasped. His arms shot out. His hands closed around her throat.

As a gray mist swirled up before her, she lashed out blindly with the shard and heard him curse again. His hands dropped away from her neck.

Once more the room grew still.

Copyright © 2005 by Jane Guill

Continues...


Excerpted from Nectar from a Stone by Jane Guill Copyright © 2005 by Jane Guill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Touchstone Reading Group Guide

Nectar from a Stone

1. In Chapter 1, Elise wonders if her servant's, Annora's, stories about spiders are true: that "to their webs spiders entice fallen souls who only appear to poor human eyes as trapped moths or mites, before herding them to Purgatory." But, she recalls, Annora also said the "creeping things were a blessing in the house, because they could miraculously absorb the poisonous Pestilence vapor, bind it to the spots on their backs." What stories have you heard about spiders? What is the significance of the spiders in this book?

2. What kind of tone does the opening chapter set? How did the author maintain that feeling throughout the novel?

3. Why does Jane Guill choose Elise and Gwydion as her main characters? In what ways do these two people reflect their time period, social standing, and cultural norms? In what ways do they defy them? When they first meet, it seems Elise and Gwydion are repelled by each other. Yet they grow to love each other deeply. What do you think Elise and Gwydion have in common? What about them is very different?

4. The medieval church approved doctrine that established woman as the bearer of Original Sin. How do you think this affected the household dynamic between husbands and their wives? Do you think we are still feeling the effects today? How did the Church's stance touch the lives of the men and women in Nectar from a Stone? Compare some of the marriages and couples in the novel.

5. Elise puts up with Maelgwyn's abuse for two years. What are some of the reasons a woman might stay with such a man? Compare the situations of medieval women in abusivemarriages with abused women today. Do you think Elise had any other choice but to kill Maelgwyn? Imagine yourself in her time and place: what would you do? Why do you think it took her so long to kill him? How does her marriage to Maelgwyn affect Elise's feeling about men and love?

6. In chapter 11, Elise and Annora meet a monk and his flock of lunatics at an inn in the village of Dolwyddelan. In the fourteenth century, those branded as "insane" may actually have been suffering from a wide variety of illnesses, both mental and physical. Some may not have been ill at all. Do you think these men are really mentally ill? Why or why not? What about Maelgwyn and Sir Nicolas? How do they compare to the monk's patients and to each other?

7. The author seems to imply that Maelgwyn suffered some abuse at the hands of his mother. How much do you think this affected his adult behavior? What other factors might have contributed to Maelgwyn's evil? How much of his abuse of Elise is based on fear of her power? How much might be based on a fear of women in general? Do you think he is truly pious? Do you feel any sympathy for him?

8. In the Middle Ages, medicine was more superstition than science. When the doctor visits Gwydion on his sickbed in Llanrhychwyn, he suggests a number of incredibly painful-sounding treatments. In fact, Gwydion himself is less than interested in the doctor's cures. Why do you think medieval communities were willing to accept torturous treatment from male doctors as opposed to the traditional herbal remedies of local "wise women"? Can you name some of the political implications that caused and were caused by this shift?

9. Though Annora is her servant, Elise treats her as a friend. Elise's treatment of Annora might have been considered unusual by other members of the noble class. What do you think Elise's behavior toward her beloved servant says about Elise herself? Would she have treated Annora differently if she were happily married instead of living in a hostile environment and in need of an ally? What role does Annora play in Elise's life and in the unfolding story?

Jane Guill is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council awards. She divides her time between far northwest Illinois and North Wales.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Touchstone Reading Group Guide

Nectar from a Stone

1. In Chapter 1, Elise wonders if her servant's, Annora's, stories about spiders are true: that "to their webs spiders entice fallen souls who only appear to poor human eyes as trapped moths or mites, before herding them to Purgatory." But, she recalls, Annora also said the "creeping things were a blessing in the house, because they could miraculously absorb the poisonous Pestilence vapor, bind it to the spots on their backs." What stories have you heard about spiders? What is the significance of the spiders in this book?

2. What kind of tone does the opening chapter set? How did the author maintain that feeling throughout the novel?

3. Why does Jane Guill choose Elise and Gwydion as her main characters? In what ways do these two people reflect their time period, social standing, and cultural norms? In what ways do they defy them? When they first meet, it seems Elise and Gwydion are repelled by each other. Yet they grow to love each other deeply. What do you think Elise and Gwydion have in common? What about them is very different?

4. The medieval church approved doctrine that established woman as the bearer of Original Sin. How do you think this affected the household dynamic between husbands and their wives? Do you think we are still feeling the effects today? How did the Church's stance touch the lives of the men and women in Nectar from a Stone? Compare some of the marriages and couples in the novel.

5. Elise puts up with Maelgwyn's abuse for two years. What are some of the reasons a woman might stay with such a man? Compare the situations of medieval women in abusive marriages with abused women today. Do you think Elise had any other choice but to kill Maelgwyn? Imagine yourself in her time and place: what would you do? Why do you think it took her so long to kill him? How does her marriage to Maelgwyn affect Elise's feeling about men and love?

6. In chapter 11, Elise and Annora meet a monk and his flock of lunatics at an inn in the village of Dolwyddelan. In the fourteenth century, those branded as "insane" may actually have been suffering from a wide variety of illnesses, both mental and physical. Some may not have been ill at all. Do you think these men are really mentally ill? Why or why not? What about Maelgwyn and Sir Nicolas? How do they compare to the monk's patients and to each other?

7. The author seems to imply that Maelgwyn suffered some abuse at the hands of his mother. How much do you think this affected his adult behavior? What other factors might have contributed to Maelgwyn's evil? How much of his abuse of Elise is based on fear of her power? How much might be based on a fear of women in general? Do you think he is truly pious? Do you feel any sympathy for him?

8. In the Middle Ages, medicine was more superstition than science. When the doctor visits Gwydion on his sickbed in Llanrhychwyn, he suggests a number of incredibly painful-sounding treatments. In fact, Gwydion himself is less than interested in the doctor's cures. Why do you think medieval communities were willing to accept torturous treatment from male doctors as opposed to the traditional herbal remedies of local "wise women"? Can you name some of the political implications that caused and were caused by this shift?

9. Though Annora is her servant, Elise treats her as a friend. Elise's treatment of Annora might have been considered unusual by other members of the noble class. What do you think Elise's behavior toward her beloved servant says about Elise herself? Would she have treated Annora differently if she were happily married instead of living in a hostile environment and in need of an ally? What role does Annora play in Elise's life and in the unfolding story?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2008

    Excellent Read!

    I picked this book up off the sales rack not thinking it would be any good, and I am happy to say I was wrong. This book is excellent from beginning to end. The author does a great job keeping you engaged, and has a very intriguing writing style. I highly recommend it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2005

    A fascinating window into medieval Welsh life

    Jane Guill¿s debut novel, Nectar From a Stone, tells the intertwining stories of a young widow seeking redemption and a noblemen¿s quest for revenge. In 1351, the plague has devastated Europe, Wales is a country subjugated by English oppression, superstition runs rampant, and the medieval church blames women for just about anything it perceives as sinful. Elise, a half-Welsh, half-English woman plagued by strange visions, is forced to stab her brutal husband in self-defense. Believing him dead, she flees with her servant, Annora, for Conwy, hoping to find work and peace. Gwydion, also half-Welsh, half-English, is a brooding nobleman on his way to Conwy as well, seeking vengeance against those who murdered his family and seized his estate. He and Elise cross paths on the road north and against better judgment, are inexorably drawn to each. As each reaches their destination, a dark and cruel shadow from Elise¿s past begins to catch up, sweeping her and Gwydion into a terrifying confrontation with their enemies. Nectar From a Stone is a fascinating window into medieval Welsh life. Impeccable research and lively characters bring both the place and time alive, illustrating the depth to which war, illness, the church and superstition played in everyday life. Elise and Gwydion are endearing, and Annora is a delight with her wry humor¿a nice balance against the cruelty of Elise¿s evil husband Maelgwn and Gwydion¿s conspiratorial foes. Jane Guill¿s intelligent, rich portrayal of medieval Wales is told with charm, wit, and masterful storytelling. Highly recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    great medieval Welsh romance

    In 1351 Wales, evil Maelgwyn performs his ¿husbandly attention¿ to include yelling at his spouse Elise, who has the gift of visions. When Maelgwyn starts to abuse Elise, she, not fearing him and refusing to cower, kills her husband. With the help of her older servant Annora, she dumps the corpse into the nearby river and flees. --- On the lam, the two women meet gloomy Lord Gwydion who seeks vengeance for the murders of his father and sister. Attracted to one another, Elise and Gwydion soon realize they have a common enemy as Sir Nicholas killed his family and tried to rape Annora and Elise. As Gwydion and Elise fall in love while she heals his physical and mental wounds, Maelgwyn survived with plans to avenge his affront. --- The keys to this great medieval Welsh romance are the relationship between the lead couple and the insightful historical tidbits that bring to life the mid fourteenth century. However, there is too much nectar in the story line as well written and interesting sidebars take away from the prime tale of malevolent thugs accosting and interfering with the romance between the good guys. Still sub-genre fans will want to join Gwydion and Elise on their trek filled with detours towards love. --- Harriet Klausner

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2005

    We want more NECTAR!

    I love history, but hate text books--making Nectar the perfect read for me. Author Jane Guill has a gift for weaving historical fact with enjoyable fiction, keeping the reader both enlightened and entertained. Her grasp of the English language is incredible, her attention to detail unsurpassed. I was intrigued by the symbolism utilized as well. Don't miss this excellent read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)