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Excerpt for ENCHANTRESS


December 2011
Genre: Medieval
(Part of the Medieval Trilogy series - Book 1)

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PROLOGUE

Llanwynn, Wales

Spring 1286

Help me, Lord." Morgana of Wenlock held her chin high, facing the tempestuous wind that shrieked over Wales from the north. Cold and bitter, the sea's breath battered her small body as she stood proudly, like a tiny soldier braced for battle in the tide pools. On other days laughter danced in her sea green eyes and a devilish smile played upon her lips, but not today, not when she sensed that the fates in all their fury had turned against her family and Tower Wenlock.

Today she reluctantly accepted her fate and prayed for a vision - a vision that would put her uneasy mind to rest.

There were those who doubted her, of course. Those who laughed. Aye, and she herself had denied the visions that had crept into her mind since she was a small girl. Why me? she'd asked, dutifully praying until her legs ached from kneeling on the cold stone floor of the chapel. O Lord, why me? God hadn't answered, turning a deaf ear on her prayers. Finally, when she could pray no longer, she'd unwillingly accepted her grandmother's declaration that her gift was God's will. In Morgana's opinion even God could make mistakes occasionally, and she would just have to accept her destiny. Still, she'd begged for God's guidance and forgiveness for her blasphemy in questioning him - just in case her gift wasn't an error on his part.

As she faced the fierce wind, bitter gusts whipped strands of her black hair in front of her eyes. Rain lashed at her cheeks and peppered the sea that swirled and eddied around her shivering legs.

Closing her eyes, Morgana drank in the smell of salt and brine, and touched the necklace of shells at her throat, closing her mind to the frigid water that threatened to congeal her blood and turn her toes to ice.

She waited, forcing back the cold, hoping that the voice would come, and quickly, praying it would speak to her as it had in the past. Last night she had been restless, unable to sleep, and always after such a night she was able to talk to the wind, to see through a window into the future.

"I am ready." Her words were drowned by the thunder of the powerful ocean. "Tell me. What is to come?"

The voice was soft, rolling on the surf. There will be death. It comes to the House of Wenlock from the north.

Her heart began to pound, and she shivered violently. "When?" she asked bravely, not wanting to know.

Soon.

"Who brings it?"

You bring it upon yourselves.

Oh, God. "Tell me more - so that I can prepare," she beseeched the voice, her fingers clenching anxiously in the folds of her tunic. "Please - who will cause this death?" she cried, her throat tight with fear as she strained to listen. But the voice of the wind disappeared, and the vision that was left was blurred - the image of a tall man, a warrior, on horseback. His crest was hidden, and his sword was raised high over his head as if he were about to slay an enemy.

That enemy was her family! She saw the unsuspecting faces of those she loved - her father, mother, sister, and brother - all naively trusting this foe who seemed a friend, who hailed from the north.

"Please, God, no." Morgana trembled, her hand closing on the dagger at her waist. She would not accept death so easily, nor would she allow this horrid warrior on his giant black steed to take the lives of those she loved. She had God on her side, didn't she? Were not her visions proof that he wanted to warn her? To prepare her so that she could defend her family?

In her mind's eye she saw the warrior swing his sword downward, cleaving the air that surrounded the faces of her brother and sister. "No!" she cried. "You will not win!" She drew her dagger, holding it aloft. The terrible visage of the death warrior swam for a minute in her mind, then slowly rippled away. "Leave us be," she ordered, hoping the formidable knight could hear her.

Knees as weak as Cook's blood pudding, Morgana opened her eyes. The day had grown as dark as night. The storm from the north raged savagely, as if the devil warrior had truly heard her. Thunder rumbled across the high cliffs, and lightning scorched the sky, sending Tower Wenlock, mounted high on the ridge, into stark relief.

Wolf growled. He paced along the shoreline, his paws wet, his gold eyes like liquid fire as he stared at her. The thick gray and black hair on the back of his neck was raised, as if he, too, had seen the vision.

Morgana ran through the shallow water, splashing sand and foam upon the hem of her white tunic, and Wolf followed. She paused only to draw a three-fingered rune in the wet sand with a stick. As the sea lapped over her symbol of protection, she tossed the stick aside, knelt, and quickly whispered a prayer for safety.

Her horse, a dappled mare, snorted and pranced, neighing in terror.

"Shhh, Phantom. 'Tis but the wind…all is well," Morgana lied, running to the skittish animal. She patted the horse's sleek neck and fumbled with the sodden leather reins.

Finally the cursed knots unraveled. Morgana climbed onto a log and hopped lithely astride the mare's wet back. "Ha!" she cried, bare heels digging into Phantom 's smooth sides.

Her game little mare whirled on her back legs, then broke into a gallop, hurtling along the water's edge toward the path leading to Tower Wenlock. Wolf raced close behind, as he had from the day Morgana had found him abandoned in the forest near the castle.

Skirts bunched up, Morgana wound her fingers in the mare's coarse mane as the little horse's hooves pounded the wet sand and the wind, streaming past, stung her eyes.

There will be death. It comes to the House of Wenlock from the north.

Morgana shivered, but not from the cold. Never before had she heard such an ominous message, but never before had Castle Wenlock been so weak. "It will not happen," she vowed, thinking of her family. "There will be no death in the tower." The danger from the north would be defeated.

Gray ears flattened against her head, hooves striking stones, the mare turned onto the path that wound up the cliff face.

Morgana leaned forward. "Do not fear, Phantom," she urged the game little horse. "We will warn them. And this time you and I and Wolf, we will thwart the fates!"