I am busy working on the final book in the Rune Witch Mysteries, and thought it might be nice to share a snippet.
This is the first chapter. It’s unedited so subject to change but the bare bones are there. I hope you like it 🙂
Unbroken: Chapter One
There are times when life sucks.
It’s amazing to meet someone, fall in love and plan to spend the rest of your life with them, but what happens when they are ripped away from you and it feels as though your soul has been shredded. Too many times, I had seen Thomas fight for me, risk his life… for me. But he was the one constant I never thought I’d ever truly lose. Dad was never around — of course, I know now that was because of the curse that sees him trapped in the land of the Tylwyth Teg — Nanna died when I was so very young, and Mam all but left me at the same time. And now, just as she’s becoming whole again, I’m broken. Thomas was my forever.
Is my forever, I reminded myself.
Then there was Gwen. The only person in my life who had been with me forever. As Nana’s best friend, she’d been there from the moment I was born. A constant visitor to the cottage, a voice on the end of the phone. I’d taken her presence for granted.
As I sat on the edge of the bed and held her impossibly fragile hand, I wondered at her courage. Not many people would take on the burden of a death curse to save others. But Gwen was family. She wasn’t just Nana’s best friend, she wasn’t the little old lady who owned the magic shop, she was a part of us. There wasn’t a memory I had that didn’t have Gwen on the fringes of it.
Mam had given her a week at best, but as I looked at her head resting on a pillow that matched the whiteness of her hair and heightened the paleness of her skin, I wondered how true that was. I’d sat next to her for at least twenty minutes and if it wasn’t for the laboured rise of her chest, I wouldn’t be hard pressed to imagine her already gone.
I sighed. What do we know, Mam had asked. Not a lot, was the honest answer. But one thing was certain, we needed to move fast.
A surge of anger flared within me and I resisted the need to pace for fear of disturbing Gwen.
Dureth. God damn, Dureth! How could I have been so stupid, so wrong? I clenched my hands as I pictured his face and how much I wanted to punch it. I’d been too focused on what the curse could do to me, I hadn’t stopped to think what it would do to everyone else.
I’d been such a fool.
Dureth had sent Thomas and Dad to the ‘the land of my people,’ wherever the hell that was. I could only hope to find a way to break the curse once and for all, before he also sent Gwen to heaven.
I sucked in a breath as realisation struck.
Heaven. Annwfn. The Otherworld.
“You are a superstar,” I said to Gwen. “I will break the curse, but you have to keep fighting. The one thing I still need you to give me is time.”
I lay a gentle kiss on her forehead and ran down stairs to see Mam and Trystan.
“The way I see it,” I said as I burst through the kitchen door. “It’s no longer about what we know, but rather what we must do, and that’s find Thomas and Dad, save Gwen, and destroy Dureth. To do all of that, I need to go to Annwfn.”
Myth and legend placed the fair folk as living by rivers, in woodland, and caves, but times had changed. Dureth had lived in a manor house bespelled to cast it outside of human reality, but the true land of the Tylwyth Teg was the province of their king: Annwfn.
Trystan smiled and walked over to the window. He stared out at the surrounding forest. “We need to go,” he said without turning to look at me.
“This isn’t your fight.” A surge of blame churned my stomach and brought a bad taste to my mouth. Too many people had been hurt on my behalf. I wouldn’t risk another.
“Yes it is.” Trystan walked back to the table and sat in one of the surrounding chairs.
“No buts, this is not open for discussion.”
I stared into his eyes and saw his resolve, then turned to Mam for back-up, but she just shrugged her shoulders. We both knew he wouldn’t be swayed. Despite having met him a short time ago, and despite our initial meeting being somewhat strained, he’d become part of our close knit group. He’d been steadfast in desire to help Rhys, and given how close Thomas had gotten to him in such a short period of time, I’d be fighting a losing battle to try and stop him from coming with me to rescue him.
“Fine, but I’m in charge.” I almost growled.
The dragon-man had to be one of the most bull-headed men I’d ever met, and trust me, I’d met quite a few who could fit into that category. I suppressed the lump forming in my throat along with the thought of Thomas interjecting that I might be a little bull-headed myself, and stomped over to the kitchen table, where I plonked myself in the chair next to Mam’s. The delicious scent of beef stew hung in the air and I held my stomach tightly lest it undermine my overdramatic gesture with a rumble.
“And we need to stop wasting time,” I added.
“Agreed. Before Thomas was taken, I contacted him to say that I had found someone who may be able to help,” Trystan said.
The well of hope slowly building inside me along with my resolve hit a new spring. With everything that had happened, I’d forgotten that while Thomas and I worked to rescue Rhys, Trystan had been seeking the aid of creatures who could help us break the curse.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he continued.
“It never is.” I stood and started pacing.
“No, it’s not, and it will be even harder if you don’t sit down. I can’t think with your constant movement.”
I bristled, but stilled.
‘Much better,” Trystan said on a sigh.
Mam chortled. “She was always the same, even as a child she couldn’t sit still for more than two minutes.”
I took a deep breath and held my tongue. The quicker Trystan told me how to get to Thomas, the quicker I’d be on my way. We’d be on our way, I corrected.
“Well?” I prompted him to continue.
“My visit to Sdwd yr Eira,” he said referring to the waterfall on the Hepste river in the Brecon Beacons, “was not productive in the way I’d hoped, but the Ceffyl Dŵr were able to provide me with information that can help.”
My heart sank. The Ceffyl Dŵr were notorious tricksters. The winged steeds with translucent wings that shimmered and sparkled like the water they inhabited held no malice at their core, but they loved nothing more than to see the fun in things, even if there was no fun to be had by others. Tales of them offering rides to weary travellers, only to fly them way beyond their intended destination before evaporating into mist and dropping them to the ground had spread throughout Wales for centuries.
Sensing my despair, Mam reached over and grabbed my hand. “What makes you think you can trust them?” she asked Trystan. “They’re not exactly known to be helpful.”
“Nonsense,” Trystan said. “You just have to know how to handle them. Anyway, they confirmed that the only way to break the curse was to travel to the Annwfn.”
“Can they take us?” I asked.
“The gates to the Otherworld are open wide in winter time. If we needed to go then, they could take us. But as our journey has a more pressing timeframe, they taught me an invocation we can use to appeal for safe passage to the Otherworld.”
“Do you really think it will work?” I asked.
“I think it’s worth trying.”
“It’ll work,” Mam said. “I know it.”
Despite myself, I smiled at her optimism. “It’ll work,” I echoed, and decided to leave that it had to unsaid.
Trystan ran through the invocation while we all enjoyed a bowl of steaming stew. It involved appealing to Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of the Tylwyth Teg. When we reached the Otherworld, we could travel to the castles of the fair folk. None of us doubted that we would find Thomas and Dylan there.
The main problem was whether Gwyn would grant us entry. When I’d visited the devilish coraniaid at Raglan Castle, I’d told them that breaking the curse would see the power of Gwyn ap Nudd diminished. Of course, I’d been exaggerating and gambling slightly on their desire for revenge to tip their judgment in my favour, but even so, I couldn’t see the king of the fair folk helping me in any way.
Whether he would aid me or not was yet to be seen. The only way to find out for certain would be to try.
As soon as we finished our food, I showered, dressed for our trip, and gathered a small backpack, stuffed with a change of clothes and some emergency food and water. Trystan, ever prepared, had returned home during the night while I slept, and gathered supplies of his own.
I gave a final check in on Gwen and asked Mam to call Joe at the Council. Maybe he could help keep her alive longer and buy us more time.
Mam hugged Trystan and me goodbye and gave us strict instructions to be careful. With her reclaimed magic she also blessed us with the power of the holly for luck, the elder to help us connect with the otherside of life, and the blackthorn to grant us insight into challenging situations. None of us knew if our plan would work, but we had to try. As Dad had come into the human world via the reservoir, and it was well known that water can be gateways to the Annwfn, we decided it was the best place to try our invocation.
An afternoon chorus, along with the energy I was absorbing from the trees, lifted my spirit as we walked through the forest towards the water. The clear, melodious sound added to the rich greens of the trees and the bright petals of the wild-flowers to create a sense that everything was coming alive. The ground was still wet from a morning shower, and the smell of ozone permeated the air, but the sun was shining and I had no doubt the moisture would soon be burned away.
Our progress was slow, but determined. I’d walked this path many times before, but this time, each crunch of my boot on a twig, each rustle of leaves, echoed in my mind and made me wonder if I would ever walk it again, made me wonder if Thomas would ever walk it again. Yet, even these dark thoughts did little to quell the hope building in my chest. Action is always better than inaction.
We reached the car park overlooking the reservoir and came to a stop.
“You ready?” Trystan asked.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
I took a deep breath and followed the shale path towards the rocky shore. A large flock of coots swam on the surface of the water. We decide to avoid disturbing them and walked around to a quiet side of the reservoir. I scanned the surrounding area. A few houses and cabins backed onto the shoreline, but thankfully most were weekend places. I glanced in the direction of the Benedict’s fishing cabin and wondered if they still owned the place, and if Daniel was keeping out of trouble after his break with Rachel Platt.
I sighed. Nothing I could do for him if he wasn’t. Some people get all the chances in the world, and still choose to throw themselves under a bus.
The water’s edge lapped gently at the shore in hypnotic movement. The surface was calm, a perfect mirror of the trees that surrounded it. Occasionally, a fish would break through and send a ring of concentric circles rippling outwards. I relished the momentary peace, along with cold breeze in the air, and picked up a handful of stones. It was now or never.
I flicked a pebble into the water before I dropped the others and centered my focus. Then, calling on the power of the rowan to guard my spirit, I called to Gwyn ap Nudd.
“Ad regem Eumenidium et reginam eius: Gwynn ap Nwdd qui es ultra in silvis pro amore concubine tue permitte nos venire domum,” I said, reciting the latin as Trystan had taught it to me.
I sent forth the power of my Coll tattoo, probed the energy around me, and said the words again. I called to Gwyn, the King of Spirits, and to his Queen. He who was yonder in the forest, for love of his concubine, I requested permit to enter his dwelling.
“You feel that?” Trystan asked after my third invocation.
I hesitated. At the edge of my senses, deep beneath the water, the faint pulse of the supernatural greeted me.
I nodded. “Something’s coming.”
A mist gathered over the water. It began to swirl, and a sudden lightheadedness threatened my stability. Instinctively, I reached to Trystan for support, but froze when I remembered he wasn’t Thomas.
“You okay?” he asked.
My stomach churned like a tumbling wave. I smiled, took a deep breath, and nodded. “Just nerves,” I said.
Gwyn ap Nudd was heeding my call, but would he heed my request for passage to the Otherworld.
The mist swirled faster and faster. Soon we were surrounded, as though caught inside our own mini tornado. Just me, Trystan, and a small patch of water, cut off from the outside world.
Bubbles rose from the depths. Then came a sound, a soft susurrus at first. Then a voice, gentle and distant, accompanied by the faint sound of bells. But then the voice became clear. It was a woman, which meant, it wasn’t Gwyn. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
A pale figure broke the water’s surface. Her delicate beauty belied her status as one of the Tylwyth Teg. As with all of the fair folk, no sign of age rested upon her smiling face. And, just as Mam had described Dad’s emergence, she sprung from the water looking dry. Long yellow-blonde hair fell well past her waist, and a gold circlet rested on the top of her head, above her slightly pointed ears. Her green dress matched her eyes, and floated like chiffon around her, adding to the sense we were being visited by an ethereal spirit.
My muscles tightened and I flooded my body with the power of the trees, ready to fight if need be.
“For a long time, I have awaited your call,” she said as she left the water, her voice rich and soothing.
“I didn’t call for you,” I said.
“But you did call to Creiddylad, my Lord’s Queen.”
She raised a hand when I moved to speak. “I am not she.”
“You are one of the Gwragedd Annwn?” Trystan asked.
“I am indeed, child of Dewi.” The lake maiden curtsied, before reaching towards me with her hand. “You are Summer Daniels, Rune Witch of the Ogham faith, daughter of the Tylwyth Teg, and my dear niece.”
My first instinct was to protest, I had no aunties, but then I realised I had no way of knowing what family I had on my father’s side. “Your niece?” I asked.
“I am Alwen. Your father, Dylan, is my cousin. I can take you to Annwfn.”
Alwen reached out to both Trystan and I. The stoic dragon-man gave me a commanding look and firmly took her hand. The idea that I could be related to a lake maiden seemed ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than being related to Dureth. I pushed my doubts aside and gripped her other hand. No matter the truth, Alwen was a way for us to reach the Otherworld. If her words proved false, I’d deal with that issue when I came to it.
“Do not let go,” she instructed as she led us into the water.
Crystal clear liquid lapped at our feet, a far cry from the murky depths of the reservoir. I wanted to panic as we moved deeper and deeper and the water closed over my head. For a second, I tried to pull away, and break free from Alwen’s grasp, but I soon realised there was no danger. I could breathe.
The underwater world opened me up to a whole new range of emotions. A large rainbow trout swam past, an eel scuttled amongst some vegetation. I was experiencing something, I’d never thought possible. My only regret was that Thomas wasn’t here to experience it with me.
We swam hand in hand to the floor of the reservoir. Once there, Alwen began to glow with an emerald light. She pulled us close with her guiding hands, and the light enveloped us. It brightened, and grew so blinding I had to close my eyes against the onslaught.
The touch of Alwen’s hand disappeared from mine and so too did the sensation of weightlessness I’d experienced under the water. I stumbled, falling onto a stone floor. For a second I felt like I’d been turned inside out. I took a deep breath to still my stomach and calm my racing heart. Something was wrong. I could feel it in the air around me.
My eyes opened to total and complete darkness. The tang of wet and cold stone hung in the air along with the scent of decaying meat. The only sounds were the regular plop, plop, plop of drips hitting a pool of water and my own breathing.
I readied my magic, calling to the power of the trees and felt a surge of relief when they answered.
Light flooded the cavern and I realised not only was I underground, but my suspicions had been confirmed. I was alone.
As I mentioned, some editing to be done, but I hope you like it nonetheless. If you haven’t started the series yet, you can pick up Taken for 99c on Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and other’s here, or, you could pick it up with 14 other stories in the same stores for only 99c here!