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Passions of the Ghost
By Sara Mackenzie
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Sara Mackenzie
All right reserved.
The Welsh Marches--the border lands between Wales and England
Winter, present day
Reynald stood perfectly still. Despite the darkness and the dank underground smell, the castle enclosed him, welcomed him, embraced him with familiar arms. One moment he'd been in the great cathedral with the redheaded witch, and the next he was here. In the deep tunnels beneath his own castle.
Slowly he oriented himself. The tunnels were here prior to the castle. They were the remains of some Welsh burial chamber or sacred building--no one knew. They were useful for storage of foodstuffs and weapons, and sometimes prisoners, but even he who knew every inch of his domain did not venture down here very often.
Reynald bent low, awkward in his coat of armor--the garment was thick and heavy, made of steel plates and chain mail--only just avoiding knocking his helmeted head against the jagged ceiling. At first he'd thought he was back in the between-worlds, that fearful place he had inhabited before the witch took him to the cathedral for his long sleep. But this was different, this was familiar. This was home.
He realized he was still holding his longbow and a couple of arrows clasped in his hand. In his heart he had always believed that the task of striking down his enemy was his alone, but he hadn't trusted his feelings and had allowed himself to bepersuaded otherwise. He shivered with a mixture of guilt and regret. He'd failed his people when they needed him most.
Reynald bumped his head and swore.
Moving about in the constricted space in his coat of armor, and with his sword strapped to his side, was difficult enough without the longbow. What use was it to him anyway? As he passed a niche in the wall, he paused long enough to place the longbow and arrows within it, for safekeeping, until he sent someone back for them later.
Was it still 1299, the year of his death? Were the men of his garrison still up above, in disarray and awaiting his orders? His servants would weep with joy when they saw him again. Somehow he would change history and turn defeat into victory.
There were steps, narrow and dusty. As he climbed them he saw a light ahead, but it wasn't the uncertain flare of torch or candlelight, this was brighter . . . steadier.
He paused to stare at the strange burning globe. The steps continued up, toward the armory, and he climbed on, refusing to listen to the increasingly uneasy voice in his head. Was the battle still going on outside? It was very quiet.
The armory wasn't there. No weapons cleaned and shining, no dented coats of armor or well-used chain mail. Instead, there were some boxes and chairs stacked against the wall.
More stairs, and a door that no longer had a latch or a bar, just a round knob that he gripped in his big hand, and turned.
Reynald stepped out into a world run mad.
All about him were colors, frenzied discordant colors. Yellow and red and pink. Everywhere his eyes rested they were assaulted by a rainbow of different shades and hues. How could his good stone walls have been so vandalized? A half-sized tree stood in an enormous barrel, its branches hung with many sparkling balls, while ropes of glittering gold were wound about and through them. As he stared, eyes began to wink at him from the greenery. Many-colored eyes. Shocked, he forced himself forward and peered closer. The eyes were in fact small balls with colored lights inside them that flashed on and off.
"Jesu . . ."
His voice sounded deep and rusty from disuse. A moment later all thoughts left his head as a terrible whiny noise burst forth. He spun around, and found himself confronted by a fat, bearded creature in a red gown.
"Jingle bells!" it shrieked.
Reynald lurched back as the creature began to swing its hips lasciviously at him, the reddened lips pouting as it sang. He drew his sword and brought it down on the creature's head, splitting it asunder. There was a smell of burning, a whirring groan, and it slumped into silence. Reynald could see within the bearded head. This was no flesh-and-blood being but a man-made abomination, full of cogs and thin steel wires.
He backed away, sheathing his sword, bewildered and afraid.
This was his home, and yet it wasn't. Something was very very wrong.
Striding quickly, ignoring the jarring changes--telling himself that perhaps if he ignored them they would go away--he made his way toward the thick iron-studded door. Where was his garrison? Surely they were as keen to find him as he was to find them? he told himself as he flung it open.
Outside it was nighttime, and cold. Far colder than the air behind him in the castle. There was a flurry of snow, and he could see that white flakes lightly covered the surface of the ground and sparkled on top of the castle walls. There were winking lights here, too, stretching along the battlements and hanging from the towers, flashing on and off jauntily and seeming to mock the blood that had been shed in this place.
The gatehouse rose grimly before him, and beneath it the heavy doors were open wide to the drawbridge and the moat beneath. His enemies could walk in unopposed!
Angrily, Reynald de Mortimer strode forward, calling for his men, calling for the gate to be closed and the drawbridge lifted. His voice echoed back mournfully, and the snow swirled about his feet. He might have been all alone in the world.
Perhaps I am all alone. Perhaps there is no one left but me.
The thought was so horrifying, he went to step outside the gates . . . and found he couldn't.
His body simply refused to pass over the threshold.
Excerpted from Passions of the Ghost by Sara Mackenzie Copyright © 2006 by Sara Mackenzie. Excerpted by permission.
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