7 June, 1572. The fourteenth year in the reign of Her Majesty, Gloriana Regina, Elizabeth Tudor. The Kirk in the Woods, near Kirkenwood Manor, the North of England.
The sun crept to the peek above the horizon, way to the north of due east. I sat on the lake verge watching the light grow and the shadows shrink. Faeries buzzed around my head, giggling as they tugged at my unruly hair. I laughed with them. The innocent laughter of the young.
’Twas the time betwixt and between, neither day nor night, here or there, real or unreal.
As I was betwixt a child and a woman.
Gently, I twined a wreath of magic around the flowers scattered at my feet. They wove into a living crown. I transported the garland to my head with a gesture of my finger.
The faeries tilted the bright halo so that it canted over my left eye.
We all giggled hilariously.
My aging wolfhound, Coffa, drowsed at my feet along with her unnamed pup. I could not remember a time before Coffa came to me as a familiar.
My three cousins and I were the only children of our generation of Kirkwoods to possess magic and familiars. We played with magic as toys with no idea of how to use it for any but our own pleasure.
The lake rippled. A disturbance at the center spread outward. I sensed a presence beneath the water. Who would inhabit the watery depths?
Could it be the legendary Lady of the Lake? I day-dreamed a few moments that she rose from her mysterious home to give me the great sword Excalibur. I would travel the world, wielding the sword for justice, righting wrongs, and defending the weak as my ancestor King Arthur had done.
Would you not rather be the Merlin? A tiny voice like the chiming of silver bells asked. The faery voice spoke with the resonance of an entire flight of creatures. The Merlin carries history and news to the common folk, listens to their woes, and befriends them.
I sighed. Of course I’d rather be the Merlin. As my father had been. In all things I wanted to be like my father, a man who was fast becoming more legend than memory.
Way off on the other side of the lake, the church bell tolled Matins. A raven launched himself from the rooftree with a noisy flap of wings. The dreams faded. I was just a little girl. The Lady would certainly never deem me worthy of the sword. I guessed she rose merely to play with the faeries on this warm summer dawn.
“Deirdre!” a voice called from the direction of the church. “Dee, where are you?”
The faeries popped out of this reality in surprise, then popped back in, giggling all the while at their own shyness.
“’Tis merely my cousin Hal,” I explained to them. “He’s very protective of me and doesn’t like it when I go off on my own.” As much as I loved my cousin, sometimes I needed to explore these woods by myself. The faeries only came when I was alone. Hal was too impatient to let me study plants and flowers and insects to learn their secrets.
“Dee!” Hal’s call echoed across the lake. He sounded urgent, worried.
I ignored him. My friends, the faeries and the Lady of the Lake, were much more important.
A cloud darkened the growing light. A chill breeze ruffled the lake water. The waves grew higher. The wind whispered with anxiety as it shifted in the tree tops.
Run, the faeries urged me. A bright green one nipped my ear.
Flee, the Lady added from beneath the lake waters.
“What?” I asked. I rose to my knees and got tangled in my skirts. Linen petticoats tore as I tugged them from beneath my feet.
A thrumming sound vibrated through the ground. I ripped the layers of fabric to free my feet. The moment I regained my balance the faeries left me for their own refuge. The Lady sank deeper into the protection of the water.
Coffa jumped up, snarling, teeth bared, ears flat. Her pup growled, too, but remained at my side.
A wolf as large as a man slunk out of the woods. Drool glistened on his yellow teeth.
His eyes glowed red with Otherworldly malice.
“Dee, we come!” Uncle Donovan, my guardian, yelled. He stood beside Hal on the church steps. His illegitimate sons, Gaspar and Peregrine, joined them, long swords still sheathed. Malcolm, the Steward of Kirkenwood, carried a crossbow and a quiver of arrows. They all ran around the lake. Hal leaped over rough ground. Gaspar slashed at low hanging branches that impeded him. Peregrine dove into the lake. He swam with long even strokes.
The wolf growled.
None of them could reach me in time.
Coffa lunged at it. The pup tugged on my skirts, urging me away.
Snap. Snarl. Yelp. Coffa and the wolf tangled, jaws clamped upon each other’s throats. Clumps of fur flew.
Magic, Dee. Try some magic, Hal called to my mind.
Magic? What kind of magic could keep the wolf at bay. My heart cringed. My magic had attracted these beasts touched by the Otherworld.