The Silver Witch: A Novel

The Silver Witch: A Novel

by Paula Brackston

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Overview

A year after her husband's sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat's death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she's near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water.

On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew.

In her own time, Tilda's grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake's ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each other's, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren's prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more. Paula Brackston does it once again with The Silver Witch crafting an enchanting tale as timeless as it is engrossing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250086341
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 52,822
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

PAULA BRACKSTON has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in the UK. In 2006 she was shortlisted in the Creme de la Crime Search for new writers. She lives in Wales with her family.

Read an Excerpt

The Silver Witch

A Novel


By Paula Brackston

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Paula Brackston
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-02880-8


CHAPTER 1

SEREN


All is darkness. Blessed night. Freed from light and troubled vision, my thoughts are fed instead by the howling of the wind outside. The sound forms pictures in my mind, where I see the trees moving in the raging air. Willow and hazel pull at their roots as they dance. Birch and ash bow to the mighty force from the skies. But the oak will not bend the knee. He stands stubborn and steady. Would sooner break than yield. My mind is like the willow; it flexes and springs. My heart is a knot of oak. Let them try to wound me. Let them try.


TILDA

Feet find firm ground, thudding into dry mud. Nike on hard earth. Breathe in. Breathe out. In on second left footfall. Out on second right. Lengthen stride, a couple of inches, no more. Pace, rhythm, run, step, the poetry of movement, of exertion.

Tilda loves to run. Tilda needs to run. Her style is loose, fluid, easy, but with power and purpose. And with every step she lets her mind overlay the beat with plump, juicy images—images she will gather together for when she returns home, a crop harvested from the amber autumn landscape through which she now runs. All her best work has been created this way. Running charges her body and her mind. If she does not run, her thoughts become composted in her head, overheated and overcrowded, potentially fertile but unusable. Too much of a mass to be employed as separate artistic ideas. She turns off the woodland track and follows the slender path out of the trees and across the open fields.

Breathe, pace, breathe, pace. Heart strobing against ribs. Lungs efficient, trained, strong. Turf opening up, stretching out. The vista is uplifting. Lush, plush, velvet grass. Green is the color of life.

Her left foot hits a small stone and her mind is momentarily jolted out of its meditative state, her rhythm disrupted. Cold air stings the back of her throat. The day is cool but dry. The year is turning the corner away from summer, but the fertile rot of autumn has not yet taken hold of the landscape. The smell of fungi is just faintly detectable. The crunch of broken nutshells underfoot still only occasional. Another full moon will see shortening days and lengthening shadows.

Tilda's long legs stride over the meadow to the bordering hedge. She finds the narrow gap and squeezes through, her breath loud in her ears as she stoops to pass beneath the brambles. A squirrel dashes out and fluffs its way up the nearest trunk. Tilda picks a glossy blackberry and pops it in her mouth, then presses on, winding a now-familiar route between neglected hazel and blackthorn. At last she is in the open again, alongside the lake. A smile, as involuntary as a hiccup, curves her mouth. As on each occasion that she runs here she is reminded of how she is drawn to what she fears. Deep water is the nightmare of her childhood that she never grew out of. Nothing she can imagine would induce her to step off the path and break that silky surface. And yet she loves to run here, to be close, to be fascinated by the terror and the beauty of it. Laughing at her fear a little each time. Like the thrill of watching a horror movie. A reminder of what it means to be alive. And how close at hand death is. Any death. His death.

Mustn't think of it, not now. Mustn't falter. Quicker now. Up a gear. Legs and arms help each other. Calf muscles tightening, ignore that. Run, girl, run. Fleet. Fast. Foot sure. I see you, waiting water. I see you. One more mile. Turning for home.

Home. Though she forms the word in her head it is still hard to think of the cottage as anything other than the place where she lives. For, what is home? Surely more than a set of rooms, a roof, an address? Home suggests belonging. Suggests warmth, safety, companionship. Love. When Mat died, all those things died with him. So she returns to the cottage. It is the place where she lives now, has lived for a month, almost. It is the place where she must live. Where she will work. Where she will simply be. Home is too much to ask of it. For now.

She has not completely circled the lake today, but loops back, so that she passes St. Cynog's church and the Old School House a second time. The church is solid Norman, boxy and stout, built to withstand time and the damp air from the lake. Its graveyard is kempt and well-used, but even so there are some ancient tombstones which lean toward each other at angles that give away their age.

Like so many old men huddled in conversation after a few pints.

The Old School House is a building out of place. A nineteenth-century idea of rural perfection, with its mullioned windows, low eaves, and rustic charm. No longer a school, but the cozy home of an evidently proficient gardener. Tilda jogs on by, taking the footpath to the lane beyond. She crosses the narrow road that will be busy with visitors to the lake at weekends and leans into the steep slope to the cottage.

Ty Gwyn is a humble farmworker's cottage, positioned high on the hill and approached via a testing climb. It sits steady and serene, and ever-so-slightly smug, as if enjoying the view, and laughing just a little at the puffing people who struggle up to its blue front door. The whitewashed stone gleams in the autumn sunshine, sharp against the fading colors of the mountain pastures, while the slate roof is an exact match for the stone walls that mark the boundary of the garden. Breathing heavily, Tilda unlatches the wooden gate at the end of the bumpy track and secures it behind her against opportunist sheep. She reminds herself that one day she will enjoy tending the modest lawn and flower beds and recovering the neglected plants. One day. A path of uneven flagstones leads around the side of the little house to the back door, which she unlocks with the chunky key she keeps beneath a pot of thyme. The temperature inside is not noticeably warmer than out, but she is too warm from her run to mind. She raises the blinds to let the young day into the low-ceilinged room and places the filled kettle on the hot plate of the Rayburn stove. The aged beast heats so slowly it will take some time to boil. Already, in the few short weeks she has been here, she has formed habits. There is comfort to be had in the repetition of simple tasks. Reassurance to be found in ritual. Routine has a way of helping to make the new familiar, of filling the mind with purpose and, in doing so, leaving less room for unwelcome doubts and fears. She takes milk from the fridge and pours herself a glass to drink where she stands, leaning against the sink. She can feel her heart begin to steady after its exertion. The milk refreshes and chills her in equal measure. She glances at the kitchen clock and notices it has stopped.

Another dud battery. So much for value brands.

Tilda levers off her trainers and heads upstairs to the tiny bathroom. The shower is old and temperamental and coughs unpromisingly when she turns it on. She leaves the water spluttering and pulls off her beanie and running clothes before deftly undoing the heavy plait that has restrained her hair. Steam begins to mist the mirror, so that her reflection is even more ghostly than usual. She wipes the glass and peers at the pale young woman who peers back at her. Swirls of vapor blur the image.

I could fade away entirely. It wouldn't require effort. Just grow a little fainter every day.

She steps into the shower and lets the hot water cascade over her. Her white-blond hair becomes slick, darkening to pewter. Her skin flushes. Now she is the most colored, the most opaque she will ever be. She should have come with instructions: To render visible, add warm water. Her mother once told her that when she had first held her baby daughter in her arms she doubted anything so fragile, so thin skinned, so seemingly insubstantial, could survive. But Tilda had shown her. Had grown tall and strong. Had proved her wrong. As in so many things.

By the time she has dressed, dried her hair so that it hangs straight and loose, a crystal curtain down her back, the day is properly awake. She takes her mug of tea and steps out onto the small patio of mossy flagstones beyond the front door. As always, the view is like a deep breath of pure oxygen.

This is why we bought this place. This.

The flat piece of garden extends only a few paces to the low stone wall that separates it from the dizzying drop to the valley below. The landscape falls away abruptly, so that Tilda is gazing down upon a thick copse of trees—still more green than gold—and beyond to the sweep of small fields that lay around the lake. The water is glassy and still this morning, undisturbed by any breeze or activity, save for the movements of the families of waterfowl that have made the place their home. Beyond the lake, the Brecon Beacons rise up, an ancient shield of mountains against the wild weather and people of the west. When she and Mat had discovered the cottage, had stood on this very spot for the first time, he had taken her hand in his and they had ginned at each other in silence. They had both known, in that instant, that this was the place they would start their married life together, would live, would work.

Except that fate had other plans for them.

Three rooks are startled by some unseen danger and fly from their perch, flapping and squawking. The sound is sharp and discordant and provokes in Tilda a fierce reaction. She is taken back to the moment of Mat's death with such brutal speed and vivid colors that she is forced to relive those heartbreaking seconds again. She is no longer in the garden beneath the September sunshine, but back in the car, Mat's car, on their way home from their honeymoon, rain lashing the windshield, watery lights of the motorway traffic flashing past. It was she who had been driving, she who had felt the pull on the steering wheel as the tire rapidly deflated, she who had slowed and halted on the hard shoulder. Mat had got out, walked around to examine the tire. She can see him now, in the cruel memory of her mind's eye, stooping to look in through the window of the driver's-side door. The rain, pouring onto Mat and the glass, has washed his features into a blur. He opens his mouth. He is speaking, trying to tell her something, but there is too much noise. She cannot hear him. He points, forward, and toward the edge of the road. She wipes the inside of the window with her hand, frowning to make him out, to make out what he is saying. And then, in a heartbeat, he is gone. Vanished. She has never been able to recall so much as the color of the truck that swept him away. She was told, later, that it had been empty, returning to the continent after a long haul, its driver not negligent, but not as vigilant as the speed and conditions required.

Tilda shakes her head, rubs her eyes, gasps against the pain of the vision, the renewed shock of the realization, the dragging weight of grief, all assailing her for the hundredth time.

Again. Again. And for how long? More than a year now and still every time as clear and as violent as the first. Will it never ease? Will it always be so unbearable?

She keeps her eyes closed for a moment longer. When she opens them the brightness of the sun makes her flinch. She tips the last of her tea into a pot of geraniums, turns on her heel, and heads back into the cottage. Once inside again she is reminded by the boxes in the narrow hallway, and in the sitting room, and indeed all over the house, that there is still unpacking to be done. She cannot imagine what she can own that fills so many boxes. She has not yet missed any of it, though soon she will be forced to search out a winter coat and some warmer bedding. The cottage is plenty big enough for her needs, but its rooms are small and cannot be used comfortably while the packing cases remain. Tilda knows it is a job she will not enjoy, but she will feel better for having done it.

Like a visit to the dentist, or filing your tax returns.

She can hear her father gently nagging her on both counts. Soon her parents will insist on visiting. To see she is all right. To make sure she has settled in. She must make sure every last book is unpacked by then, if her mother is not to shake her head and purse her lips.

Soon, but not quite yet. Today I begin work. Proper work.

The little barn attached to the cottage had been used as a garage for years before she and Mat became its owners. It had been a fairly simple matter to change the door—fitting in glass sliding ones to allow plenty of natural light—sweep it out and move in shelving, bins for clay and glazes, a Belfast sink, extra lighting, a small wood-burning stove and, of course, the kiln. Tilda regards the iron oven warily, wondering how long it will be before she is ready for a firing. In their old studio, before they had ever thought of moving out to Wales, so many times she and Mat had waited on tenterhooks for the thing to cool sufficiently to be safely opened, and to reveal the success—or otherwise—of the firing. At two thousand degrees Fahrenheit, the heat inside a potter's kiln would reduce a human hand to charred bones in a matter of seconds. Such terrifying temperatures are necessary to create the required chemical reactions within the glazes so that they are transformed from dull dust to colors of shimmering brilliance and mesmerizing intensity. Tilda is ceaselessly amazed by what transformations can occur amid that heat. The process of firing clay within such a domesticated dragon is a timeless and mysterious alchemy. Raw earth is slabbed from the ground, then worked and pounded, then teased and caressed, before being persuaded into forms to suit the craftsman's wishes. The piece is subjected to a biscuit firing, rendering it, as the name suggests, dry, brittle and ready to receive its glaze. These magical powders mixed with water in a thousand variations—a pipkin more antimony oxide, a pinch less chrome, or a spoonful of cobalt to a measure of manganese—cling somberly to their given bodies, awaiting the crucial application of fire to bring about their chrysalis-to-butterfly moment. Every opening of the kiln door is an instant pregnant with expectation and hope, an occasion that will reveal the results of weeks of work and thought and art. It is a moment of exquisite agony every bit as intense as the heat inside the crucible itself.

Well, Mat, at least you are spared any more disastrous firings. I'll just have to face those on my own, won't I?

A part of Tilda believes it might, in fact, be easier. Easier not having to suffer Mat's disappointment as well as her own. She can recall all too well the occasions where they had both despaired of the wasted months of work when a glaze had failed to behave as it should, or a volatile piece exploded and wrecked the entire firing.

And now she needs to begin again. To find the pace and rhythm of her work, as sure-footedly as the pace and rhythm of her running. She rolls up her sleeves and takes a lump of earthenware clay from the green plastic bin beneath the sink. She drops the smooth, heavy clod onto the scrubbed wood of the bench and begins to knead it, letting the repetitive action of wedging the muddy substance steady her mind. Lifting and slamming the clay down with increasing force, she can feel the texture begin to change beneath her palms, the material begin to yield. Lift and slam. Lift and slam. Pummel, turn, scoop, lift and slam. Dull thuds of weight and effort growing louder with every focused, determined movement.

CHAPTER 2

TILDA


The dawn light is soft on Tilda's eyes as she follows the path around the top of the lake. Still she wears her protective tinted lenses, as she always does. This morning a mist rises slowly from the surface of the water, deadening sounds and blurring the edges of the trees as she runs past them. In the gloom she can just make out the fuzzy silhouette of the ramshackle disused boathouse at the top of the lake. Everything appears smudged and indistinct. Tiny droplets of water settle upon her black beanie and her long, pale plait that swings as she runs. She glances at her watch, wanting to check her pace on the specialized timer. To her annoyance she finds it has stopped working. She halts, her heavy breath chasing away the mist as she exhales. The watch had been a present from Mat. A serious runner's watch for a serious runner. Tilda taps it, frowning, but the hands stay stubbornly still, the tiny dials refuse to move.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston. Copyright © 2015 Paula Brackston. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

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The Silver Witch 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
LITERALADDICTION_MLO More than 1 year ago
Our Review, by LITERAL ADDICTION'S Pack Alpha - Chelle: --Actual rating 4.5 Skulls The Silver Witch is a beautifully written Celtic fantasy with dual points of view. At first, the changing POV and tense tripped me up slightly, but as I got into the next two switching chapters I realized how fabulous that storytelling method could be.  The book, taking place in both present and far past with interweaving storylines, was - pardon the pun - bewitching and magickal. We get to travel the road of Tilda, a modern-day artist overcoming the trials of her differentness and the weight of her grief at the loss of her husband as she desperately tries to build a new life in this beautiful, remote part of Wales. As well as Seren - witch, seer, and shaman to Prince Brynach, as she loses herself to the love that they come to share despite the problems it causes, and tries to keep him safe from the dangers that abound - both within and without of those closest to them. After we're introduced and immersed in both of their exciting journeys, we get to watch as their paths cross when circumstances bring them together through time and space, providing a tale rife with history (I found out that the setting of the book is one near and dear to the author's heart), growth, rebirth, triumph, love, and intrigue.  The Silver Witch was another winner by Ms. Brackston, and I am so very happy that I was given the opportunity to read it. I am coming to absolutely love these stories, and look forward to each new one that she puts out. I highly recommend all of Ms. Brackston's work, but The Silver Witch is perfect for those looking for a fantasy romance steeped in history (though I cannot say one way or the other if the events referenced are actually factual) with two tales of finding love despite adverse circumstances, all tied together with a beautiful magickal bow. *Copy gifted in exchange for an honest review
Mirabelle8 More than 1 year ago
Beautiful Celtic fantasy! 4.5 The Silver Witch is the first book that I read written by Paula Brackston. I love fantasy novels, so this one had many elements to please me! It tells the story of Seren and Tilda. Thousands of years ago, Seren, a witch, seer, and shaman had lived in a hut on a lake where now lives Tilda, a widow and ceramic artist who has visions of the past. Seren had loved a certain Prince Brynach, but he is already married. She was respected until she saw a vision of this prince being betrayed and attacked. In her own time, Tilda discovers her own powers and meet! As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more. Will magic and spells reunite Seren and Tilda? Is Tilda loosing her mind or is she really seing visions. Is there a bond between these two women? This story is well written and sure to please lovers of fantasy novels! Thank you NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this a little slow at the beginning, but ended up really loving it. Great characters, and wasn't predictable. At the beginning, I didn't like the Seren chapters, because I didn't see the connection, and I was more interested in the character of Tilda. But it all came together and it was a very engaging read. Look forward to reading more from this author.
christalvp More than 1 year ago
The Silver Witch is the first book I have read by Brackston, but I will definitely be reading her backlist. I liked her writing style, and enjoyed the book. While I connected with the current day storyline much more than the ancient one, that is purely personal preference on my part. I liked the main characters in the book, and found the story to be very interesting. Even though I'm not a big fan of the ancient time period Brackston used, I really liked the way the two storylines came together. A year after her husband was killed in an accident on the trip home from their honeymoon, Tilda Fordwells moves to the cottage they bought together. Before long, she is seeing strange things and experiencing some unsettling episodes. She soon comes to believe that her life is tied to some events that happened in the area during ancient times involving a seer and witch named Seren. It soon seems that an ancient evil has been unleashed and that only Tilda can stop it. She has some support from Dylan, a man who catches her interest, and his uncle, a former professor.  I really liked this book and am glad that i finally gave this author a try. I'm looking forward to reading her other books. She created characters that I really enjoyed, wrote a storyline that I found interesting, and painted a vivid backdrop for the book that gave it exactly the right touch.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wish there were more books. I have read them all now
GarciaB More than 1 year ago
This was a great read. There was a cross between reality and fantasy but with a hint of "it could be real". I will read Paula Brackston again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a great read- hard to put down. Highly recommend this book
KarenfromDothan More than 1 year ago
The Silver Witch is a fantasy novel with historical references.  Tilda and Seren are the two main characters, and the book alternates between them, slowly revealing how they’re connected.  Tilda, recently widowed, moves to Ty Gwyn the cottage that was meant to be her and her late husband’s first home together.  It’s located beside a lake where the only crannog in Wales exists.  There inexplicable things begin to happen to her.  Like the lights going out, clocks stopping and strange and frightful visions.  Unsure what to make of it all she seeks out the help of a retired history professor and his nephew. Seren, an inhabitant of the same area of Wales, only a thousand years in the past, is her community’s resident prophet, witch and shaman.  She is a loner, somewhat aloof, feared and respected by her neighbors not only because of her unusual appearance, but also her because of her power. As one who enjoys both historical fiction and fantasy, this book was right up my alley.   I found the peek into ancient Celtic culture fascinating.  The plot is nicely paced, and it held my interest throughout the book.  The author’s prose is utterly beautiful in this enchanting story.  I loved it.  
Anonymous 14 days ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A perfectly-paced story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Silver Witch was hard to follow at first but it quickly resolved into a very interesting story. The plot keeps you guessing and slowly reveals key details so you begin to see where the story is going but it still keeps the actual ending a surprise. Loved the book and plan to read another soon. Stephanie Clanahan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful fantasy. Couldn't put it down. My favorite of hers so far.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SierraAnne More than 1 year ago
A year after losing her husband Mat in a freak auto accident in which she was he driver as they are returning from their honeymoon Tilda moves into their dream home in Wales. The home is located near a lake and although she has always been afraid of the water, they loved the cottage the moment they saw it and knew that it was destined to be their home. As she is running one day, she rescues a dog from two men who are beating it and brings it into her home where strange things have started to happen; electricity that refuses to stay one, watches and clock that stop when she is around. As the days grow shorter, Tilda accepts these changes and immerses herself into her work; getting up early and retiring when the light from candles are to sufficient for reading. When archeologists at a dig discover a grave, things start getting dangerous and Tilda realizes that there is a connection between the past and now and that she is a part of it and perhaps the only one that can stop an ancient evil from destroying the life she has struggled to rebuild. I’ve enjoyed Paula Brackston’s novels since I read; The Witch’s Daughter”, I love how she blends magic, legend, history into her stories set in Wales. 4.5/5 STARS **Receiving a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley did not influence my rating or review of this book; all opinions are my own.**
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tilda struggles with her husband's early death. And at the same time she discovers strange things have started to occur that she can't explain. The visions and whatever power she has has begun to grow to grow stronger. A new man in her life, Dylan, has noticed this power also. As the power and visions keep growing Dylan and Tilda are drawn towards a dramatic and surprise ending.
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
The Silver Witch In the past… Many centuries ago when the old religion was still practiced side by side with Christianity and wise women were still valued there lived, Seren, a shaman/witch caring for her prince and his peoples on a hamlet near the shores of Llyn Syfaddan (Lake Llangors). In the present…  A year after the tragic death of her husband in a car accident returning from their honeymoon, potter Tilda Fordswells finally takes possession of the cottage where they were to live. The small house is in the village of Llangors, near an ancient lake of the same name, nestled at the foothills of the Welsh Brecon Beacons mountain range. Moving on is harder that she expected and for more reasons than just her grief. Strange things are happening and she’s also experiencing troubling visions, very different then flashbacks she endured immediately following Matt’s death, no these have a prophetic feel to them. Is she seeing ghosts, is it a message from the distant past or has she simply lost her mind? She’s convinced the answers lie with the lake and it’s history and she’s determined to find out what is happening and why. Master storyteller Paula Brackston takes readers back to her mystical homeland for this haunting and fascinating witch’s tale. There’s magic not only in her story but in how she melds two timelines with fiction and fantasy, reality and imagination and myths and legends into a beautifully bewitching yarn by way of her mesmerizing visual narrative that draws readers right into her folktale. Her characters, the good, the bad and the scary are all indelibly real in their portrayals and absolutely convincing in their actions. The effect is an all encompassing, unforgettably emotional experience for her readers.  Paula you’ve taken me on some incredible journeys, this being no exception I loved Seren and Tilda and I can’t wait to meet your next spellcaster!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not very believable. Written well enough.
amybooksy More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved the Silver Witch. To be honest, I was not sure if I really was going to like it. Boy, was I surprised and was in for a treat. I cannot wait to read more by Paula Brackston. She has become one of my new must-read authors. I have already recommended this book to others. It is that good. Five stars