Sunday, November 6, 2011

Excerpt 2 from Winter’s Requiem, Historical/fantasy, PG


Available in Print and Ebook

Winter’s Requiem, Book 3, Dark Goddess Trilogy, Celtic historical/fantasy


Three different women, one ancient curse…

An ancient curse is revealed, leading Domelch, Brigit and Cailleach into certain danger amid a web of deceit. Can they break the curse and put the shattered pieces of their lives back together?


Night and day melted into one. The weakening sun stirred her heart, its rays reaching lower in the sky, cleaving deep, twilight shadows. A mighty river cut a wide swath through a land of rolling hills, the heather bloom turned tender colors by autumn’s kiss, ringed by furrowed alder and pale birch. Cailleach pressed her cheek against the smooth bark of a birch, sensing the power stored within the ancient tree. The sounds of people chattering faded away, leaving her with a calming feeling.

“Do not wander too far off, my love. Enemy lands lie just across the river. It would fill me with dread if you were to be taken captive.” Aethelfrith’s strong arms enfolded her.

She rested her head against his shoulder. “I needed to be alone, away from all the constant chatter that muddles my thoughts.”

“I understand, but this gathering is very important to me,” he said, “and I am honored to have you at my side.” He pressed his cheek against her head.

“It is important to me as well.” He would be tested tomorrow night. Will I be tested as well? The warmth of his body caressed her, and the wonder of the grove awakened her senses. “This is a beautiful place. I understand why your priests chose it.” The river sparkled in the faint sunlight, capturing the beauty of the hills and woodlands reflected on its surface.

“Then come with me,” he said, gazing down at her. “The ritual will begin soon after sunset.”

“Already I smell the blood of the slaughtered beasts.” Her heart leaped in a hurried beat, excitement growing at the significance of the sacrifices—the power of the night of thinning barriers. But being in Brigit’s strange body and having her lost memories back left Cailleach with an odd feeling of reluctance.

He stepped away from her, holding out his hand. The prince had a captivating effect on her, his tender smile drawing her in. She accepted his hand and they walked together toward the grove.

The grove of oak, alder and birch shuddered with the force of hundreds of people, wrapped tight in cloaks, gathered outside the fenced off sacred area. A hush fell over the crowd as handfuls of oxen were brought forth amid a twinkling pathway of flaming torches. Without sufficient fodder to keep the beasts alive through winter, their great sacrifice would ensure the survival of the people over the harsh winter.

Cailleach had witnessed many such sacrifices. She shuddered, glancing up at Aethelfrith’s face. His gaze rested on the priests. He watched with interest as the long knives arced downward, spraying the beasts’ blood. She tried not to think of the one sacrifice she performed that ended in tragedy, wishing she could forget that horrible memory.

The priest’s voice echoed, dedicating the sacrifices to the fertility goddess, Frige. A chill touched her at the mention of the goddess. Aethelfrith gazed down at her. He squeezed her hand, a knowing smile on his lips. The strong touch of his warm male hand reassured her.

With whetted blades, the heads, being the anima of the beast, were removed from the carcasses and strung up in trees to appease the goddess. The ghastly ornaments bobbed from half-bare branches, illuminated by the rising moon. Slaves carted off the bodies to be prepared in the kitchens for a feast, the leftovers to be salted and eaten throughout the winter.

“There is one more rite to be witnessed.” Aethelfrith held her hand in a tight grip, his strong, bare jaw clenched.

Gleaming with the translucence of a moonbeam, a milk white horse pulling a chariot entered the grove. Silence fell like a veil over those gathered. Cailleach’s eyes widened with awe at the sight of such a splendid beast that she barely noticed the two occupants riding in the chariot. Both men wore flowing white robes embroidered in golden spirals, but one of them also wore a golden crown, identifying him as King Hussa.

The priest and the king observed each neigh and action of the horse before the expectant crowd. Cailleach knew this to be a divine beast, nourished in a sacred wood and employed in no earthly labor.

Ungild stepped from the shadows, her eyes brightening with surprise and approval. Cailleach sensed the presages divined from the horse’s actions had something to do with Aethelfrith.

The king addressed the gathering. His great stature and flowing blond locks gave him godlike qualities, the golden crown sparkling with an unearthly radiance on his brow. “The gods have spoken. The enemy will be routed under the force of our mighty armies. We have much to celebrate tonight.” His gaze rested in the direction where Aethelfrith stood.

Theodbald stood close to Aethelfrith, arms crossed and bearded jaw set in a grim line of intimidation, his stare aimed at King Hussa’s warriors. A handful of young, smooth-jawed warriors, mixed in with handfuls of seasoned warriors, flanked Aethelfrith in a protective arc behind their lord.

“Do you think King Hussa will allow us into his hall tonight?” Theodbald spoke low to his brother.

Cailleach sensed a change in the king, his stare warm and inviting instead of filled with malice. The white horse had divined in Aethefrith’s favor.

“I think he will do more than that, brother,” Aethelfrith grinned, squeezing Cailleach’s hand.

The crowd of warriors, craftsmen and farmers dissipated, drawn to the raging bonfire rising in the center of the clearing. Towering flames consumed the stack of wood, writhing and crackling with intensity. Servants brought forth flagons of mead and ale to the eager crowd and drinking horns glittered in the darkness. Music rang through the night on resonating strings entangled with sharp, airy flutes and chased by galloping drums, entertaining the crowd as they awaited the opening of the mead hall doors.

Aethelfrith pulled Cailleach into his arms, keeping to the shadows. “You have brought me good fortune.” He pressed a quick, tender kiss to her lips.

His kiss filled her with warmth. “I hope it is good fortune I have brought you,” she said, her thoughts mixed. The flames of the bonfire flicked out and stretched across the darkness, reminding her of ill-tempered spirits searching out the innocent to torment.

The mead hall doors swung open. Light and warmth spilled into the frigid night. A herald stepped out, pressing a horn to his lips. The harsh sound carried across the clearing, a welcome sound to the hungry guests.

Aethelfrith straightened his shoulders, his bearing one of confidence. He looked down at her, expressing regret. “I wish to have you at my side, but...”

The customs of these people irritated her. Even in Aethelfrith’s own hall, she could not sit at his side. “I understand. We will meet later.”

She fell back into the shadows, watching her golden prince with his band of warriors stop at the open doors. Two large door wardens looked them over, one of them grunting out a request. “King Hussa requests that you sit at an honored place at the table.”

“He does?” Aethelfrith flashed the door warden a smug grin. “Why, Hunwald, you seem almost disappointed that you cannot throw me out.”

Hunwald grunted and moved aside to allow Aethelfrith and his men entry into the hall. The dim, smoky hall swallowed her prince. Sighing, she debated whether to enter with the women. The thought of enduring an entire night in a packed hall with awful smells and endless noise turned her stomach.

“So, it displeases you how women are treated among the sons of Woden.”

Ungild’s voice was a welcome intrusion to her tonight. “It is not the way of my people,” Cailleach said. The words sent a prickle across the back of her neck, reminding her she did not belong here.

“To an outsider it may seem that women are mistreated. They are kept in the shadows, but the men welcome their council. Women are honored. Our way is just different,” Ungild said, glancing at the hall doors. “Sadly, I do not have the honors here that I enjoy in Aethelfrith’s hall. We can sit with the women or we can stay out in the night.”

“Staying out in the night is the more welcome choice, but I feel I must be inside.”

“Near Aethelfrith.” Ungild’s expression remained impassive, but her voice sounded discontented.

“That still displeases you.”

“I think you know you do not belong here.” Ungild proceeded into the hall.

A chill wind bit at her face and penetrated her wool tunic dress. Cailleach pulled her cloak tight and followed Ungild into the warm hall.


'Ms. Heckart draws the reader into the pages and enchants them with her words.'

Karen McGill, Coffee Time Romance


Kelley Heckart

'Timeless tales of romance, conflict & magic' Check out my long hair hotties!

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Maria D. said...

Good excerpt! I really like what I've read about Caileach so far.


Debby said...

What a captivating excerpt. I really must get these
debby236 at gmail dot com