Rainy Morning

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Rain spattered on the rock walkway around the outside garden. Rose turned in the bed, lifting her face to the narrow window opening to inhale the scent of wet grass. Misty gray dawn. She smiled.

With the covers tucked over her shoulder, she snuggled against the pillow. In another time, Jameson would have been behind her in the bed, awakening to her stirring. His big hand would settle on her waist, warm and reassuring. He would cuddle up behind her, bringing his hot silken skin against her back, her buttocks, and inevitably, his morning wood would press between her thighs.

Jameson. The one man she had loved without limit, without reason. She could see him now, suntanned, his chest wide as he stood with his fists on his hips wearing nothing but cutoffs and a straw cowboy hat that shadowed his face and its rugged features. His blue eyes penetrating the brim’s shadow in a heated gaze that spoke of his love, his promise.

His hand would slide up her side, inexorable as it traveled toward her breast. Already her nipples would have peaked, anticipating. The grip of his rough hand spoke of ownership but also affection, belonging, shared memories and a future yet to unfold. As he pressed her nipple between his thumb and forefinger, the gentle prod of his cock spoke of its need to find its natural home.

Rose turned, resting on her back to stare at the ceiling. Rain continued its drone on the roof, on the rock walk. Just yesterday the narcissus had bloomed, pale yellow blossoms releasing intoxicating scent. Over the last week, the yard had erupted in vibrant green. Dogwood and redbud dotted the woodland with their blossoms. Another spring.

Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes as memories of prior springs flashed like a slideshow in her mind. Jameson walking naked across the yard, grinning ear to ear as she ran then let herself get caught. Jameson sitting beside her on the porch in fragile sunlight, not yet hot, not yet summer. But not winter. Not cold.

Jameson, the father of her children. Jameson, the only man who brought her repeatedly to the pinnacle of pleasure. Jameson, the man who shared her dream of life.

She’d always love Jameson.

Twenty years since she sent him away. Twenty years living alone, remembering, wondering. How could it have been different? How could she have helped him reach inside himself to gain the strength he needed? How could she have changed, somehow, to accept his anger, his disease, in a way that didn’t destroy her?

There was no going back to a time when she might have taken a different path. When the dark side of Jameson would have told her to run and never look back. By the time the realization came to her, it was nineteen years on with three children and lives so intertwined that separation inevitably tore parts off of everyone.

Rose threw back the covers and stood up, shivering in the rainy morning air. Outside, fog had crept into the woodland, strangely luminous in the reflection of green from the nascent grasses.

Another spring. Another morning. Alone.

Jameson could never again be part of her life, but she could still admit she loved him. Nostalgia could sweep her away, make her sad about what no longer existed. Nostalgia crowded out the ugly truth, that Jameson hardly ever woke to touch her or murmur words of love. He bolted out of bed already angry—at the crying child who woke him, at the rooster crowing outside, at a job he hated.

That was the real Jameson. Young, eager to make her dreams come true, she had seen what she wanted to see, what she needed to see. As long as she could cling to her fantasy, she could avoid the truth and ignore the inexorable drip of poison slowly eroding her ability to live one more day with a man who hated himself.

Rose turned on the shower and waited for the water to steam warmth into the small bathroom. This was her life now, not a fantasy. Not misty memories that mostly weren’t true. She stared in the mirror. Aging, yes, no youthful beauty there. But strong, an experienced, determined woman. Weathered by storm, by life, by Jameson. But not beaten.

She grabbed the shower door and stepped into the hot spray. Behind her, Jameson waited.

The Lowly Romance

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The female writer, pensive as she looks over her scribbles, probably a heartfelt journal entry or love letter. Note the ribbon typifying her work as romantic and ephemeral.

Plenty of women who read and/or write romance novels are fully aware of the stigma attached to the genre. Gallons of ink have been spilled in the discussion of how romance gets no respect. If you’re a new writer hopeful of making your way in the world of romance stories, you should start off knowing what you’re up against. And if you’re a jaded veteran of the romance genre, you should know that there’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Romances suffer derogatory terms such as ‘bodice rippers,’ ‘literary porn,’ and ‘trash,’ to name a few.  These fictional stories have endured a lousy reputation since they first appeared in literary history. Oh dear, these stories deal with private matters. No one goes around talking about the intimate details of their emotional relationships or their sex lives—not now, and especially not in the 18th century when the first romance hit bookshelves in the story of Pamela. Nevertheless, in 1740 no less than now, the novel and its sequels were huge hits and spawned countless clones.

Multiple reasons have been put forth for the failure of romance stories to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the publishing industry and its coterie of learned critics. One might hear that romances lack literary merit, or that the stories follow a formula, or that the cover images are hopelessly sleazy. But then, much of fiction lacks literary merit, mysteries and most other genre fiction follow formulas, and what is more visually disturbing than covers depicting murder and death?

One might even argue that the noble ‘literary fiction’ features its share of formulaic content, lack of literary merit, and sordid covers.

Yet all other genres aside from romance routinely enjoy critical review, even if some reviewers eviscerate the work in question. All other genres gain public notice and appear in lists of best-selling fiction. Romance, on the other hand, rarely captures a mainstream review and appears on lists only if those lists are specifically dedicated to romances, one assumes in order to allow readers to cleanly avoid wasting their time looking at titles that are beneath their dignity.

The Romance Writers of America define romance as stories that have a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. If that wasn’t shameful enough to earn the scorn of the publishing industry, its authors and readers are almost universally female.

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Note the serious legitimate male writer, glasses on, intent on his work in a book-lined space. Google ‘writer’ images and you’ll see that males outnumber females five to one.

One observer remarked that “Romance is seen as unserious and frivolous because women are seen as unserious and frivolous, and romance is written largely by women, for women, about concerns traditionally seen as feminine …”

Psst! Don’t tell anyone that without the massive annual revenues generated by romance books, the publishing industry would be unable to put out those fabulous literary works.

Without sounding sexist, I’m at a loss how else to say this. The universal denigration of romance writers, readers, and the genre in general is, well, sexist.

One might argue that criticism of romance is not necessarily sexist. Indeed, feminist Germaine Greer’s 1970 tome The Female Eunuch eviscerates romance novels as exploitative reinforcement of women’s submissive role in human culture. But as some of Greer’s critics have pointed out, she herself is stereotyping women by assuming that women who write/read romance are submissive little waifs clinging to their hero Alpha males.

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Here we have the whimsical female writer, flowers on her desk, few books in sight, as she toys with an out of date typewriter in a position blocking her access to serious work.

Okay, some may be. But for the very real percentage of women who enjoy and thrive in such a role, why denigrate their choice of reading material?

Increasingly, the liberation of women from cultural stereotypes has spawned writers and readers of romance novels who are strong independent women with careers in fields including law, medicine, and political office. Romance stories often include protagonist women with meaningful goals and intelligent life choices as well as relationships where the male and female see themselves as equal partners. How sexist is that?

One might even say that the two go hand in hand. Women reading about women grappling with the difficulties and rewards of careers and relationships, among other things tackled in romance novels, are the same women struggling for workplace equality and partnership marriages.

Most stories including literary fiction involve characters struggling with emotional conflict, love, loss, and sexual encounters just like they do in romance novels. With two differences: romances have happy endings and sex is more often described in specific detail.

This hints at the real issue many book snobs hold against romance novels. Life doesn’t have happy endings, not in the literary world. In literary fiction, people die in terrible ways and reading about these deaths and losses is supposed to inform and entertain readers. And sex? Well, let’s not hear the details, shall we? It’s titillating. It’s gross.

Yet each of us hope for happy endings and find great pleasure in hearing that our neighbor or beloved family member has survived cancer or some other brush with death. We hunger for the satisfaction of healthy sexual relationships and the pleasure we gain in orgasm. The fact that some people find these too disturbing to read about says more about their psychological and emotional problems than about any shortcomings of romance stories.

Does it take a psychologist to caution women that what they read in romance novels should not form the basis of decisions about their lives? A British psychologist says that romance novels can be a bad influence on women and lead them to make poor health and relationship decisions. “The novels give women unrealistic views about what to expect out of a relationship because they, well, romanticize love,” said Susan Quilliam, a relationship psychologist based in Cambridge.

Please. Talk about sexist.

Does this mean that novels about war cause readers to rush out and murder someone? After all, they romanticize the glory of war.

Fortunately, with self-publishing and the continuing elevation of women to positions of power and wealth have earned romance a bit higher standing, at least in some venues. Prominent institutions of higher learning have begun offering classes that discuss romance as a legitimate art form. In the January 13, 2016, issue of the Princeton Alumni newsletter, Jennifer Altman wrote about classes that focus on this genre:

Women always are center stage in romance novels, and those women are guaranteed to find a satisfying relationship by the book’s end, whether it’s with a Viking or a vampire or another woman. “Romance fiction is about hope, and about the possibility of finding a relationship in which you’re appreciated for who you really are,” [Laurie]Kahn says. And if critics find the stories unrealistic, well, that’s what they’re meant to be. “Romances are fantasies,” [Nancy] Herkness says. “We try and make them as authentic as we can, but it’s still a fantasy.”

It’s the uplifting final pages, say many, that draw readers to romance. “I need a happy ending,” [Anna] Muzzy says. “The world is a dark and grim-enough place. I don’t need to read dark stories.” No matter how difficult the complications of the plot are for the protagonist, the story always ends on an optimistic note. “You know it will be emotionally satisfying,” [Mindy] Klasky says. “There’s a comfort in knowing that, despite everything, there will be a happy ending.”

Similarly, the Yale Herald surveyed the world of romance writing in a thorough discussion of the pros and cons from an academic viewpoint. No less than the Smithsonian Magazine recently published an overview of criticism and opinion about romance and how there are winds of change in academia.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the Princeton ladies with their praise of fantasy and uplift. Nothing is more fundamental or relevant to human life than loving relationships and satisfying sex. These are the emotional nests from which our children spring and the context in which we go forth each day to wage our battles for security and meaning. It’s been an ongoing failure to recognize this primal need and stand up for its literary importance to all detractors.

As women’s fortunes rise in society, romance will continue to gain a stronger position in literary circles. Emotion and relationships have always been the realm where women reigned supreme just as war and conquest have been the arena where men ruled. Until recent decades, arguably until the arrival of self-publishing where women have been able to break past the publishing stranglehold, men controlled the industry and formed the predominant ranks of literary criticism; books about emotions and relationships failed to interest them.

So make it good, ladies. Put out stories that make us proud. Entertain us with inventive plot lines and unique characters. Enlist beta readers and work hard to be professional. The future is ours.

The Romance

gandyThat little spot in your heart that still believes in fairy tales, in the prince in shining armor who will swoop in and make everything right—that spot lives on in women no matter how life’s disappointments have crushed us down. That man who cheated on you, hurt you, left you with debt and children and heart-stopping pain? That man who never lived up to his promises, your expectations? Those men are out there. We know them.

But surely there’s one man, one perfect man, waiting just for you.

This is the lure of romance. This is the duty romance writers must fulfill. It’s a daunting task.

On one hand, the fictional hero must be suitably flawed—irascible, a little too proud, bullheaded. He’s impossibly unattainable, not our type, completely out of our league. Despite his supremely arrogant demeanor, deep inside he’s suffering. He needs our love even if he doesn’t yet know it.

We can’t turn our back on him even when we try.

On the other hand, our hero must be exquisitely capable of seeing through our defenses and, against his intent, is drawn to the task of making us happy. He’s ruggedly handsome, his body sculpted like a Greek god. He’s intelligent and sensitive, thoughtful and kind. Above all, his sexual prowess leaves us without recourse.

He is specially made just for us. The soul mate. The man who fits us inside and out.

Not all woman are alike. Thankfully neither are authors of romance. For every author who tends to write the strong silent type, there are others who create male leads with a talent for witty banter and intellectual pas de deux. There are heroes in hard hats and those who carry Viking swords. Rich men with tortured pasts, lost men clinging to the shambles of their lives.

For every story that follows a woman burdened by life’s tragedies and unable to continue, another story reveals a woman too hardened to give a man a chance. Stubborn women. Faltering women. Terrified women. We’re all in there.

The plot takes us through the journey, scenes of seduction that thrill us, scenes of rejection and conflict that remind us of what we’ve suffered. In these stories, we look for something to believe in, some revelation, some escape. The knight on the white horse may not be on our doorstep but maybe the heart and soul of such a man lingers inside the furnace repair man or the man staring at us across the McDonald’s parking lot.

It’s the possibility that tempts us, makes us believe enough to pick up yet another book and indulge in the fantasy. It’s a sacred task, this spinning of tales that revitalize us, inspire and comfort us. I for one am an author who cherishes the opportunity to participate in this world of magic.

Long live the dream!

Caerwin II – work in progress

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Dear Readers — I haven’t forgotten about you! Thanks for all the great reviews on Caerwin and the Roman Dog. Just to show my appreciation, here’s an excerpt from the second novel in the Caerwin series. Love, Liz

Her horse spun as she wheeled around trying to stay outside the reach of the attackers. By now Marcellus and the legionaries had dismounted to form into tight knots, fighting outwards with their backs together. As she watched, one after another of the thugs fell back clutching mortal wounds.

A man ran up to her and seized her horse’s bridle. A dense beard covered his lower face. He wore a dark cloak thrown over his shoulder. A knife glinted in his hand. She plunged her boot into his chest. He grabbed her foot, but she yanked away. She kicked the horse’s sides but the man’s grip didn’t relent.

Another man appeared on the other side of her horse. “Your gold,” he yelled in coarse Latin. “Give it.”

“Curses on you!” she shouted, trying again to pull her horse free.

The horse circled the man, rearing as she kicked its sides. Its front hooves nicked the man’s legs coming down and the man cursed as he lost his hold on the bridle. The second man grabbed her clothes as he tried to pull her from the horse.

Caerwin leaned forward to urge the horse to run, but the first man grabbed her leg and pulled her from the horse. She fell sideways, hitting the ground hard on her side. For a moment, she couldn’t breathe.

He stood over her with his knife held to her throat.

“We’ll take it then,” he said, crouching beside her.

She felt the knife blade press her skin. She watched him with a strange detachment. His breath stank. A scar marked his cheek. His hair hung around his face in oily strands. Yet there seemed to be some questioning in his stare. He hesitated.

“You’re of the tribes, are you not?” he said. As he spoke, the other man seized the familiar gold band. It yielded to his grasp, twisting off her neck. Visions of the salt man rose in her mind. This time she had no knife to defend herself.

The second man’s hands skimmed her breasts and down past her waist as he searched for more valuables.

“She’s got nothing,” he said.

“Go on then,” the first man said.

The second man ran away with her torque. Sounds of fighting continued. Dimly, she heard men shouting from the woods. Had all the legionaries died? Had Marcellus?

“Are you of the tribes?” the first man repeated.

“Cornovii,” she said hoarsely. “Of Britannia.”

His eyes flickered. She had thought he would mount her, but he stood up, holding the knife loosely as if he hadn’t decided what to do. She licked her lips.

He turned at the sound of a horse approaching at full gallop. Before she could speak, before she could even comprehend what was happening, a sword flashed through the air and the man’s head flew off his body. His torso bent slightly as he fell backwards.

The horse’s hooves skidded to a stop, throwing up dirt. In moments Marcellus knelt beside her, his eyes black as night.

“Are you harmed?” he said.

Stay tuned for more excerpts as this project rolls forward! So excited to see what happens next!

A Tale of Two Lovers

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Thunder cracked and rolled, shuddering the ground under Inka’s feet. She felt it through the stiff hide of her boots, through the thick fur lining. Peering into the downpour, she tugged her cloak tighter around her shoulders and tried to dismiss a lurking sense of apprehension. Trees bent and tossed in the cold wind, sending rain spray against her face as she stared into the gray deluge.

She saw no one. But she couldn’t make herself close the door.

Someone was out there.

Moments later, the dark figure of a man loomed, walking and leading a horse. As they neared, she could see another man slumped on the horse’s back. Inka briefly considered whether she should seize the heavy dagger she kept by her bed.

She should have felt them coming. How had her vision failed?

They approached her entry and stopped, giving her time to read their energy. It radiated in pale blue waves.

“We need your help,” the walking man said. “Will you provide succor?”

Inka locked eyes with the man, searching within him for evil intent. Sending blue energy could have been a shield. His weathered face streamed with water. Peering from under his soggy hood, his pale eyes reflected the gleam of her fire pit and spoke of his desperation. And his honesty.

“Come in, then,” she said, opening her door wider and stepping back.

He turned to his companion, pulling him off the horse and holding him up with his shoulder as they staggered into the cabin. Inka seized the horse’s reins and led it through the opening as well, walking it past the fire to a bed of straw where her own horse had once bedded. The horse shook itself, rattling the ornate breastplate. She slipped off the bridle and left the weary beast to the hay cradle.

With the door firmly fastened against the howling wind, she turned to study these strangers. The injured man had collapsed at the fireside as his companion peeled off his wet hat. With their hooded cloaks removed, she could see that both men wore a small dotted line along the right jaw, the mark of the distant Eirikr tribe.

“You’re far from your home,” she said, squatting to add more wood to the fire. Coals shifted and sent sparks into the air. Water droplets fell through the smoke hole at the top of her roof and vaporized in the flames with tiny hisses.

“Three days,” the man said. “I’m Darnoc. This is Conrad.”

The injured man lifted his head enough to make eye contact with Inka. His pale blue eyes created a shocking appearance in a face so dark with grime and blood. But it wasn’t the appearance alone that caused her breath to catch in her throat. His gaze conveyed a message so unexpected that her hand dropped to her waist belt to clutch her pouch of talismans.

“He’s a seiðmaðr,” she said in a hushed voice.

“And you a seiðkona,” Conrad said. His voice, though weak, cut through the roar of thunder and rain crashing outside, as though his lips moved only inches from her ear. His stare burned into her briefly before he shivered and his head dropped again.

“He’s suffered grievous wounds,” Darnoc said. “For myself, I ask nothing. But can you help him?”

Inka reached her hands to the fire. It wasn’t the weather that chilled her fingers but the sudden shift in her blood flow. What must she do? She had made oaths to the gods.

She stood with her fists on her hips, considering. At least she could offer brief shelter. “Remove your wet garments and warm yourselves.”

Darnoc hesitated then pulled off his outer vest and heavy tunic. A baldric with long sword clattered to the ground. His hands lingered at the waist tie of his trousers.

“I’ve seen men before,” she said, briefly glancing to his groin.

He yanked the tie and the garment fell in a soggy heap. She diverted her gaze from his cold-shriveled organ and muscled thighs and turned to her bedding where she gathered up two blankets of rabbit skins. At Conrad’s side, she helped Darnoc remove the baldric, vest, and woolen shirt. A long wound oozing blood crossed under Conrad’s arm along the bottom of his ribcage.

“Hold him,” she said, dropping the blankets at Darnoc’s feet. She knelt, tugging down Conrad’s wet trousers and lifting his feet one at a time to remove his boots. His skin felt like ice.

She grabbed a woven cloth from her basket and scrubbed his legs dry. Conrad grunted but did not flinch away. The force of her rubbing caused Darnoc to stagger slightly in his effort to hold Conrad’s weight and well he should. Conrad stood taller than Darnoc and every limb wrapped in muscle. A powerful man in more ways than one.

She swallowed in renewed apprehension.

“He’s lost too much blood,” Darnoc said. “I feared he’d die before we found you.”

“How did you know to come here?” She wrapped the rabbit skin blanket around Conrad and held it secure as Darnoc lowered him to the ground. Already she felt the force of his lovemaking against her breasts and thighs.

These two men did not arrive by accident. The gods had guided them here. Could she trust her instinct? The words of her oath haunted her.

“He told me the direction,” Darnoc said. “As if he followed scent.” He grabbed up the other blanket and tied it around his waist.

Inka briskly turned to the bronze cauldron she had earlier placed in the fire’s edge. The rabbit stew had cooked down. She lifted a nearby pitcher and poured more water into the thickened broth, then crouched at the far side of her hut to dig through her store of roots and herbs. Kneeling at the fireside, she quickly sliced a handful of parsnips into the pot as well as a measure of angelica seed. Dried chives sent up pungent scent as she stirred. With a smaller clean pot made purely of copper, she sliced angelica root and burdock root and added water before placing it into a nest of coals she mixed carefully with ash to yield the desired amount of heat.

Her shelter had long since provided ample space for her life. Built by men who came to her from the tribes of the river lands and mountains in search of her healing sorcery, the sturdy log and stone structure divided into three parts. To the right of the door, a line of hanging skins, baskets, and hay-lined pits held her food and medicines. To the left, a long bench separated the entry area from her sleeping space with its sumptuous bed of skins stuffed with straw. Beyond, a large work space held her loom, extra skins, tools, snares, cooking utensils, and weapons. At the back in her stabling area stood the horse, the first to occupy the space since her aged horse had died the previous year.

She was not yet old, but the years continued to pass. Nothing of the future held promise or threat and her days had lapsed into a monotony that she feared worse than age. She didn’t mind dying alone, only that whoever found her long-dead body would finally hold power over her. Not since the slavery of her youth had she yielded to another man’s will. The gods had been kind. If their kindness continued, if she upheld her oath, she would not rot but dry like fine herbs or meat hung to smoke. She wished her dried remains to be kept in a cairn or cave in the old way of the ancestors.

But her family had died long ago and as pledged, she’d borne no children. No one attended but for occasional tribesmen with offerings and requests. As the years passed, fewer tribes than ever knew she existed.

But now? Her future suddenly seemed irrevocably changed. Her blood ran hot. She saw herself in the hands of both men, her skin flushed, her legs spread. Why had her prophecies not shown her this?

As she stirred the stew, she studied these two men. The strong lines of their bodies bespoke their abilities as huntsmen and warriors. Whatever evil had fallen upon them, they must have fought bravely. Several gashes marred Darnoc’s chest and arms, and besides the wound on Conrad’s side, there were cuts on his arms and a bloody patch on his head that required attention. Despite the injuries and weakened condition, their powerful presence piqued her awareness in ways she had nearly forgotten.

If she broke her vow, what would be the outcome? She felt no more able to resist this fated meeting than to cut off her own hand. Her energy flowed in great looping spirals so strong she could see the purple color against the shadowed walls of her shelter. With her pulse rising, she checked the small vessel with its burdock and angelica root. The steaming concoction had turned dark.

She padded her fingers with a square of leather and lifted the medicine pot out of the fire pit, then retrieved the cloth she had used to dry Conrad’s legs. Squatting beside him, she examined the spot on his scalp where blood had dried black in a knotted mass of hair.

“He complained more of the head injury than his side, but the blood has long since stopped flowing there,” Darnoc said. “It’s his side that needs attention.”

“If the head wound is deep, it could be the source of his weakness,” Inka said. “I need to see it.”

She wet a cloth in warmed water and squeezed it partly dry, then began sponging the matted hair. Her gentle pressure on the area elicited faint groans from Conrad, who otherwise lay motionless on the skins. The wash water soon turned brown but her efforts revealed a short cut in his scalp. Probing gently with her fingertips, she examined the cut and the rest of his scalp before satisfying herself that the wound was, as Darnoc had said, the lesser of his injuries. The bone was not broken. With the healing liquid drained into another container, she mashed the softened roots and placed a poultice on the gash.

Inka pulled the rabbit skin blanket back from Conrad’s body. A trickle of blood oozed from the upper section of the wound on his side. She refreshed the bathing water and started sponging the area, careful not to tug at the wound. The swollen area around the cut had become an angry red color and felt hot to the touch.

Scenes flashed in Inka’s mind, his body healed and hovering over her, his lips sending magic through her veins. As she wiped his chest to remove the last of the blood stain, her brief glance caught his gaze, a thin glimmer of blue from slatted eyes. Her nostrils flared and she looked down.

Did he incite her wayward thoughts or did they spring from her long celibacy? She had sworn never again to mate with a man. Why did she suddenly think of such things?

“The wound requires stitches,” she said roughly, glancing at Darnoc. “You may have to hold him.”

“I can hold myself,” Conrad said. As before, his voice came clearly to her ears. Did he speak at all? “How deep is it?”

“Not into your vitals, for that we can be thankful,” she said. “The ribs are bruised but not, I think, broken.”

He grunted. She glanced up at Darnoc then returned her attention to Conrad’s wound. She took her time to examine the length and breadth of it, calculating the best method of closure and where she would need to leave a wick of cloth to drain off infection. Conrad stiffened as she rinsed the opening with root tea.

“Will you need mandrake?” she asked.

“No, woman. Do your work,” Conrad grumbled.

forestWith her bone needle, she drew thin threads of sinew through his flesh, tugging the gaping opening together. He flinched and his hands formed fists as she worked. She knew the force of those hands on her body, how he would lift her up in violent lovemaking. So great was the impact of her imagining that by the time she had fully closed the wound, her breath came in short gasps and moisture beaded between her thighs.

Again she found his eyes barely open, watching her. He sent thoughts to her, scenes of her ravishment, of the pleasure wrought by his hands and mouth. Again she turned away with the weight of desire in her chest.

She smeared root paste along the seam then placed a clean cloth over the long line of stitches before helping Darnoc move Conrad to a sitting position. She secured the dressing with a wrapping around his torso. Her fingers lingered on his skin, the muscle of his back and chest, the lines of his abdomen. A man of substance and intrigue—she wondered at the scene she suddenly viewed of him fighting, men on all sides, his sword breaking…

“Did your sword break?”

“Yes,” he said. “Why bother to ask?”

Gooseflesh spilled down her sides. Hurriedly, she fastened the binding and adjusted the rabbit skins, causing it to slide away from his loins. His prick had awakened and loomed half stiff in its thicket of hair. Her breath caught as she quickly covered him.

“Already your magic heals me,” Conrad said. The corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile.

She fled to the far side of the fire to dip out bowls of stew. What of her oath? This man’s magic equaled hers. The old taboos of men who practiced seiðr rose fresh in her thoughts. Despite the myths, this man exhibited no signs of unmanliness. How could that be?

Ancient tales exalted men with the same or greater powers than the vǫlur even though in her lifetime only women practiced the craft. It must be true that some of them remained. In Conrad’s presence, she struggled to remain earthbound. Her thoughts flew from her in streams. No doubt he heard them.

Inka delivered two steaming bowls of rabbit stew to the men and sat across the leaping flames to enjoy her dinner. Darnoc, freshly washed and his hair tied back, made quick work of the food. Conrad’s hand shook as he lifted the bowl to his lips, but he refused Darnoc’s assistance.

“Spring comes in anger,” she said, seeking to ground herself. “The river will flood.”

“As we traveled here, the lowlands stood in water,” Darnoc said agreeably.

She dipped more stew for the men and gave them dried apples. They spoke of the season, the growing numbers of small-eared men infringing from the south, the need for new seed for their grain fields, the increasing value of amber. Conrad spoke little but the force of his thoughts overshadowed Darnoc’s words.

“What happened to your people?” she said finally. It was the question he wanted her to ask.

Shadows crossed the men’s faces. Darnoc spoke.

“The invaders came first as traders, only a few. Still, despite our desire to exchange goods, Conrad knew them as enemy. They wanted our gold and our women. By night, we sent the women to the caves with the children and gold, led by some of the older men. The rest of us prepared to fight.”

“The full force came at first light two days later,” he continued. “They arrived like ghosts with the rain, slipping in silence through our outposts.”

Conrad’s eyes opened fully as he gazed on her. “They threw a hare into our midst. Owls called from the forest, and it was not night.” He seemed to strengthen as he spoke. “From that we knew their spinners wove us in their magic.”

“Even with their magic, they fought like men,” Darnoc said. “They outnumbered us, but we killed and injured many as they came against us.”

“I fended them off with the force of magic. And I paid the price,” Conrad added. “They struck my sword and shattered my staff. They must have had a prophecy.”

“Why would the Norns weave against you?” Inka said. “Have you angered the gods?”

Conrad’s eyes flashed intense blue in the fire’s light. “This was not the will of the gods,” he said. “Men of the south have disturbed the work of Odin’s loom. I flew above them and danced to the drum. The blood stopped flowing from my wound.”

“He had no strength after that,” Darnoc said.

“The most grievous wound he suffers is not of the flesh,” Inka said. The truth of this test came fully to her thoughts. She turned her gaze to Conrad. “Their magic still binds you.”

“Hence my coming,” Conrad said, as if he had waited for her realization.

For the first time, the course of her life, her hard work, the long waiting, all made sense. This was the moment she had prepared for, the man who’d been promised. It had been so long, she had nearly forgotten she’d ever expected it. Now, with him here, she trembled at the prospect of their entanglement.

The storm raged as she instructed Darnoc. With Conrad resting full length on her bed, she removed her clothing. His prick stood erect without her touching it. She placed more wood on the fire and took her wand, brushing her breasts and thighs with its distaff head as if she spun linen threads for the loom. Her voice rose in a chant.

Lǫng es nótt, lǫng es ǫnnur,

hvé mega ek þreyja þrjár?

Opt mér mánaðr minni þótti

en sjá halfa hýnótt…

Soon Conrad’s voice joined hers. His words called to her. They held hands with Darnoc and spiraled above the clouds and into the starry night sky. She knelt at his side, placing her wand first on his chest where it rose and fell with his breath. Briefly she held it across his wound then lowered her lips to the line of stitches.

With soothing caresses, her lips urged the spirits of destruction to leave his body. Her incantations rose and fell, at times matching the howl of the outside storm. She draped her body over his.

Her form took the shape of a whirlwind teeming with insects, leaves, and hail. She became a turbulent stream  and flowed over him, touching him with her lips and sweeping him with her long scented hair. Voices rose and fell, voices of spirits both fair and foul. She hovered in the air above him, reaching with her wand to touch his hands, his feet, and his forehead.

He seized her wrist. “Make me whole,” he said. “It is our fate.”

The strength of his grip told her what she needed to know.

“The spell they cast is weak magic,” she said, settling her hips astride his loins. “But they will return, and with greater force. Your people must hurry to these hills and start anew. That is your future.”

He grasped her breasts as she straddled him and his touch sent lightning through her veins. The swollen tip of his prick found her wet opening and with a thrust of his hips, he drove himself into her.

“So it shall be,” he said.

The powers of wind and rain held nothing to compare to the storm that broke between them. Inka bucked and cried as his organ fed her long hunger. Her juices flowed. His stones gathered to hard knots that teased her buttocks at each full seating. Up then down, they danced the oldest dance. Her breasts swelled in his grasp. Her hips spread and opened to bring him deeper.

His ardor bloomed, increasing his girth until he stretched her belly with his manhood. She shook in need, called on the gods, and uttered Conrad’s spirit name. She had not known it before now.

“Vili!”

She saw in his eyes the truth of her knowledge, demanding,. His eyes, now fully open, shone with his gifts. The fire leapt and curled and in its golden light, she saw them both transformed.

“And you Vé,” Conrad said. “Darnoc, fulfill us with your ecstasy,” he commanded.

Inka glanced at Darnoc and knew his hands had long since caressed both their bodies. His blue eyes glimmered as she stared at him. He was the vardyger, the spirit of Conrad present in equal time. He grasped her thighs, moving her legs forward as he too straddled Conrad’s thighs.

“Give me your mouth,” Conrad said. His eyes darkened. “Your lips like honey, your skin like the petals of flowers. I have never known a woman so fair. Even the gods desire such a woman as you, dear Inka, sacred made flesh.”

Her lips brushed his jaw, the sharp jut of his cheekbone, the line of his brow. When her mouth touched his lips, a fresh spike of need pierced her so intensely that she cried out and shuddered. Sweat covered their bodies.

Conrad’s tongue thrust and licked in her mouth. Darnoc’s teeth nipped at her shoulders. Their hands moved over her shoulders, her breasts, her buttocks until she didn’t know which man touched her in which place.

The ride rose and fell over rough land, hooves clattering as the wolf’s teeth nipped at her heels. Darnoc tugged her hair back, holding on as if a horse’s reins. Sheets of fire coursed over her skin. Her nipples stood at hard points. Waves of need lapped in her center, circling ever tighter until their breath came as one, their voices mingled.

Wanton desire had been denied to her for so long. Now this man with his broad shoulders, with his clever glance, this man whose life fit hers like a hand in a glove—he had arrived. Tears filmed her eyes. Her body trembled with his sorcery.

Hot seed burst from his prick to fill her center. For a moment, she hovered at the brink of a precipice. Then his thumb found her stiff clitoris and pressed. Her hips shook as her vagina brought him to her sacred altar.

Together they flew skyward, arms outstretched to the stars. Joined, they kindled fire and lightning. Their voices mingled in primal song, the song of songs from whence flowed the wealth of life itself. For unmeasured time, Inka knew nothing but the spell of Conrad’s arms.

“The magic is not yet complete,” Conrad whispered. His hand motioned to her. She watched as he lifted himself, turning over her. She saw that he was Darnoc then, holding the lengths of her golden hair in his fists as he spread her legs with his knees.

With her legs pushed open, Darnoc thrust his erect organ into her cleft. The force of his taking shocked her. She turned to look at Conrad lying beside her. His blue eyes watched her, his white teeth gleamed in his smile. Her gaze fell to his bandages. No blood marked the white cloth.

They slept in each other’s arms. Darnoc fed the fire during the night and she fed their appetites during the days. Each day Conrad grew stronger, driving out the threads of the Norns to block their wicked loom of fate.

Each day she rode Conrad, shielding him from the infecting spirits. Each day he grew stronger, his gaze more provocative, his words more enchanting. She sat beside him while they spoke of mysteries in their lives that they now knew they had shared. Her need to understand slipped away. She accepted the truth before her eyes.

Hours slipped past as the men changed from one to the other, one man in two forms. They dipped their lips between her legs, tasting honey. Her breasts swelled. Essence fed to her and from her, freely given. The room whirled with purple and blue light as Darnoc then Conrad quenched her long hunger, as she fulfilled her destiny.

Full of health and strength, Conrad took his cock in hand. He called her name. She rode like a Valkyrie, bringing his semen to flood inside her. The room spun with light. Their chants rose and fell. Her loom of linen thread sang. Their song wove a cloth of bright colors, red crossing blue, yellow crossing red.

“Will you have me?” Conrad sat across the fire, slowly chewing his dried apple slices. Perspiration shone on his chest. His long hair fell across the side of his face, hiding part of his blue gaze. His image shifted and she saw both men.

“Both of you,” she said, smiling. “My oath barred me taking a man. It did not ban me from taking two. But what do you take in return?”

“Long life in our joined magic,” he said, his face gleaming in the firelight. “Wood for your fire, meat for your hearth. In turn you will weave our cloth in all three colors. You will join me in serving our tribe.”

“So the gods have asked,” she replied.

She lifted her mug of mead and watched as he lifted his mug in their promise.

magic

Visit my Pinterest board “Magic” for some enchanting images.

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