About Me

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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia. You might enjoy my books - The Dagger of Dresnia, the first book of the Talismans Trilogy, is available at all good online book shops as is Book two, The Cloak of Challiver. Book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. I trained in piano and singing at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. I also trained in dance (Scully-Borovansky, WAAPA) and drama (NIDA). Since 1987 I have been writing reviews of performances in all genres for a variety of publications, including Music Maker, ArtsWest, Dance Australia, The Australian and others. Now semi-retired, I still write occasionally for the ArtsHub website, and I still teach dance at Trinity School for Seniors, an outreach program of the Uniting Church in Perth.

My books

The first two books of my trilogy, The Dagger of Dresnia, and book two, The Cloak of Challiver The Talismans, are available in e-book format from Smashwords, Amazon and other online sellers. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below as well as well as a few poems in various places. Book three of the trilogy, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. However, The Dagger of Dresnia and The Cloak of Challiver are available as ebooks on the usual book-selling websites, and book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. The easiest way to contact me is via Facebook.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia
Want a copy? Contact me at satimafn(at)gmail.com

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans
Available as an e-book on Amazon etc!

Mythic Resonance

Buy Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

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Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

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Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

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Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

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Sunday, 2 September 2018

The Cloak of Challiver, Chapter 5


I hope you're enjoying this serialisation of The Cloak of Challiver. This is the last excerpt for now - like all authors, I hope to see interest turn into sales so I can write more books!

I hope these first five chapters have whetted your appetite! And, of course, do feel free to write a comment if you like.

You can purchase the novel here on Amazon.



Chapter 5

* * *

Kitrel was back! Linvar had made a point of calling in on Nevran once a week or so, ostensibly to enquire as to the progress of the barley crop, but all the time longing for news of Kitrel. And suddenly, she was back, even prettier than Linvar remembered her. Her arms were as warm and open as ever. It took no persuading to get her to meet him in the old shed at the edge of Adifer’s holding.

‘I had to make all kinds of excuses to get Mam and Da to let me come,’ she told him, holding both his hands and gazing up into his eyes. ‘But finally they let me, and oh, Linvar, my lord, I have missed you so much.’

Linvar pulled her into his arms and down to into the hay. He slid a hand up her leg to caress her thighs and the warmth of her moist cleft. Her legs parted eagerly as she started untying the fastenings of his breeches.

He had learnt a lot about lovemaking with Kitrel. They had learnt together, in fact, and he now knew to take his time over foreplay if she was to enjoy the act to the fullest. But this time he was unable to hold back, and he came within a few breaths of entering her.

‘I’m sorry, love,’ he said as he rolled off her, panting. ‘I’ve been Kitrel-starved for weeks. Next time will be better, I promise.’

Kitrel sat up and grinned at him. ‘Kitrel-starved, eh, my lord? But not, I take it, Janny-starved or Gitta-starved or Lady-Muck-of-Dunghill-starved?’

Linvar shook his head. ‘There hasn’t been anyone else, Kitrel. I don’t want anyone else. But my father is starting to make noises about finding a wife for me, and I’m not happy about it.’ He ran a hand down one soft arm and clasped her hand. ‘I only want you, Kitrel.’

He pulled her down atop him and eagerly she straddled his hips. He was hard again already and he groaned as she guided him into her. She rolled her hips and he gasped, then she began to slide back and forth, tightening her inner muscles…

He came quickly again, but not too quickly. They climaxed together and collapsed into a soft embrace. ‘Kitrel, I cannot live without you’, he murmured, stroking her hair. ‘I will take a house in the town for you, and we can see each other as often as we like, even when I’m married.’

Kitrel pushed him away and sat up. ‘No.’

Linvar propped himself up on one elbow, reaching out to caress her thigh. ‘Kitrel, why not? I will make good provision for you. You’ll have servants and fine clothes, and every woman in town will envy you for being my mistress.’

‘I’ll not bed another woman’s husband. While you’re single it’s all well and good, but you’ll not need me once you’re wed.’

‘But Kitrel, I love you!’ It was the first time he’d said that to anyone and suddenly he felt as if he’d ripped open his chest and showed his heart to a harsh world that would just laugh at him.

But Kitrel did not laugh. She stroked his cheek and smiled sadly. ‘And I love you, too, Linvar. If there wasn’t this difference in our stations I’d willingly live with you forever, but not when you’re married to someone else. Let’s just enjoy what we have, while we have it.’

Linvar felt the open space in his heart close as tight as the chamberlain’s money chest. He got to his feet and adjusted his clothing. ‘If that’s all you have to say, better to end it now,’ he said.

And with that, he walked out of the barn, whistled to his horse, mounted and rode away, his heart lying as heavy in his chest as one of Adifer’s millstones.

* * *

Vanrel had finally gained her wish to be allowed to help with the meals. Happy as a calf on clover, she ran errands, waited on tables, carried food and drink and water for washing until her feet were burning and her back aching.

Her parents, she knew, were concerned. ‘All that study has turned her brain,’ she had heard her father say. ‘And now it’s serving on tables. Our family’s been fletchers time out of mind. That lass needs to find herself a nice fletcher’s son and settle down.’

But Vanrel had another secret. She was in love — and not with a fletcher. She had renewed her acquaintanceship with Tommavad and Spirivia. The more she saw of Tom the more attractive he seemed. He had a kind of brightness to his skin that she’d not seen in ordinary mortal boys. And his golden hair almost seemed to glow in the sunshine. Yet he could take on mortal form when it suited him, and any other shape he fancied, too. Spivvy no longer appeared as half mortal, half feline, but as a cheerful brunette with long plaits. Vanrel thought of the pair as her best friends.

But Tom was more than a friend now. One day, Vanrel had run into him on his own, and they had spent a delightful hour beside the stream where they had first practised scrying. When they got up to leave, Tom had taken her hand to draw her to her feet, and the tingling in her fingers lasted for hours afterwards. Since then, they had met — not quite accidentally — several times, and had progressed to holding hands and a little tentative kissing and cuddling. They had not done any more scrying together. They had other things on their minds.

Between canoodling and waiting on tables, Vanrel barely had time to fit in a few hours’ work for her father now and then, let alone study with Ven Istrovar. As for that silly idea of becoming a nun — why would any woman want to do that, when there was a young man with strong arms and a persuasive lilt to his voice, just waiting to introduce her to heaven knew what forbidden delights? Vanrel was a new woman. She hummed love songs as she went about her work, her mind only half on the task in hand. The other half was yearning for the next meeting with Tom, in the bushes beside the stream.

* * *


A week or two later, Vanrel and Tommavad were lying in close embrace in their hideaway by the stream. Vanrel had long since realised the problems of loving an elvishman. She could not take him home and introduce him to her parents as a likely suitor, nor could she boast to her girlfriends of his strength and his prowess in shape-changing. And what prowess he had! He would change into a bat or a bird or a bee or a terrifying monster, sometimes to amuse her, but, Vanrel thought, sometimes to taunt her and even scare her witless.

Yet physically, he delighted her. She had finally given in to his importunate pleading and given up her maidenhead, but now that was cause for as much worry as delight. What would happen to her if she got with child by an elvishman? Her parents, she was sure, would never forgive her, and no man would marry her with a half-caste bastard clinging to her kirtle. She shuddered when she thought what the future might bring, but as with the scrying stone, she felt powerless. How could she live without Tom and his lovemaking? No ordinary mortal man could compete with him in Vanrel’s eyes, and the very thought of bedding with one of the lads about the castle disgusted her.

‘Fancy a trip to Shentak?’ Tom stood up, stretched and held out his hand to pull her to her feet.

‘Shentak? How can we go to Shentak? It’s in Challiver, Tom! That’s half a day’s sail and you have to pay to go on a ship.’

Tom grinned. ‘You grumlees might have to go by ship and pay for it, but I can take you there for nothing. I’ve been working hard on my space-shifting and I know I can get us there and back, safer than any ship.’

Vanrel was doubtful. ‘Have you done it before?’

‘Yes, on my own, and with Spivvy, so I reckon I can get you there and back again. Come on, where’s your sense of adventure? You grumlees are a mob of cowards.’

‘This grumlee’s no coward,’ Vanrel retorted. ‘Come on, then, show me your amazing space-shifting trick.’

Tom took her hands and shut his eyes, mumbling some funny foreign-sounding words. All at once, Vanrel felt herself being lifted up and spun around, yet it felt completely safe, like lying on a fuzzy warm blanket in the dark. Then she lost consciousness.

She came to in a dark place. Her feet were firmly on the ground and Tom was still holding her hands. ‘Where are we?’ she whispered.

‘In the cellar of an old inn in Shentak,’ Tom said. He squeezed her hands and let them go. ‘It’s an abandoned building, so there’s no one around.’ He took one of her hands and led the way up a flight of stone steps to open the door at the top.

Vanrel blinked as daylight assaulted her eyes. The door opened onto the kitchen of an old inn. It looked as if no one had been there for years. The fireplace was cold and dirty, and the window shutters hung from rusty hinges like rags. Outside, there were sounds of shouting and laughter, of clutter-clatter and more shouting.

‘It’s market day!’ Tom exclaimed. ‘Wait a moment while I get money so we can have some fun’ He fell silent with closed eyes silently mouthing words.

He was casting a spell. It had frightened Vanrel the first time he’d done this in front of her, but now she accepted it as a matter of course. He put a hand to his belt and produced two silver coins.

‘There’s a meal and maybe a mummer’s show for both of us. Come on, let’s go and join the party!’

He bought Vanrel a green ribbon for her hair, and they shared a meat pie. Then they went to the inn for a pint of ale apiece, and then, in cheerful mood, they watched a play about a demon trying to seduce a miller’s wife, but she got the better of him and dumped him in the river in a barrel. They laughed as they left the marketplace, holding hands.

‘Let’s walk along the highway for a bit,’ Tom suggested. “You don’t have to be home early or anything, do you?’

‘No, Vanrel lied, thinking of all the tasks she was neglecting in father’s workshop. ‘I’d like to see a bit more of Challiver.’

So they strolled along the highway for a while, eventually turning off onto a side road that led to a patch of woodland. It looked like a perfect space for a spot of canoodling. But no sooner had they sat down under the sheltering trees than there was the sound of tramping feet coming down the lane. Vanrel gripped Tom’s hand. ‘Whatever is that noise?’

‘I’ll go and take a look.’ Tom let go of her hand and immediately disappeared.

Vanrel peered tentatively through the branches of a shrub. There was no sign of Tom, but there were soldiers aplenty, marching five abreast behind their mounted commander, his knights and their squires. What a fine sight they made!

Once the troop had passed, Tom reappeared at her side. ‘Those are elvish warriors,’ he announced. ‘Did you notice that they were wearing bronze mail? And the horses — did you ever see the like?’

Vanrel had to admit she had not. Although the horses were caparisoned for battle, they seemed lighter, friskier, than the heavy coursers of King Beverak’s guard.

‘A man could ride a hundred miles a day on a horse like that,’ said Tom with awe in his voice. He turned to Vanrel and hugged her. ‘I’m going to see if I can join them! I’ll bet that was Sir Jedderin himself leading them!’

Vanrel was nonplussed. ‘Who is Sir Jedderin?’

‘He commands King Auberin’s guard.’ Tom hugged Vanrel again. ‘I want to ride with a column of men like those. I want to fight for King Auberin. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, but Mother didn’t want me to. Now I’m sixteen I’m old enough to make up my own mind, and if she makes a fuss I’ll run away. Come on, we have to get back so I can tell my father.’

And with that, Tom grabbed her hands and gabbled the spell to take them back to Rannerven.

* * *

Jedderin and his men had no sooner set up camp than a man and a boy approached. Jedderin could see them asking directions as they penetrated the camp, and his heart sank as they headed towards him. He had hoped to keep apart from the local populace, both elvish and grumlee.

This pair, however, surprised him. The man was respectful without being obsequious — and who could fail to be moved by the boy’s eagerness?

‘I know I’m young, sir, but I’m nearly seventeen. I’ve always wanted to go for a soldier, sir, but I didn’t know how to set about it. Please sir, let me join you.’

Jedderin shook his head. ‘I can’t take you into battle, Tom, with no training in arms. Do you know what it’s like? Can you imagine the man next to you with his guts spilling on the ground as he dies? Can you imagine fighting for your own life, calling on all the spellcraft at your disposal as well as all your skill at arms? And you will be away from home almost all the time, sleeping rough, living off the countryside and hardly ever even able to wash yourself and your clothing.

‘I still want to go, sir. I want to serve King Auberin. It’s what I’ve always wanted.’

‘What about your mother? Can you imagine how much she’ll miss you? And I’ll wager a fine lad like you must have a sweetheart or two.’ A thought struck Jedderin. ‘You don’t just want to join the army because you’ve got some girl into trouble, do you?’

‘Oh, no, sir. I do have a sweetheart, but nothing serious. She’s a grumlee.’ Tom spoke almost dismissively. Jedderin sighed.

‘Ordinary mortal women have feelings too, Tom: probably more than you, if truth be known. All right. You can come along on this exercise, and if you bear up all right I’ll take you back to Stavershall and we’ll see what we can make of you. But don’t come whining to me the first time you have to sleep out on the moors in a thunderstorm or go without food for three days. Understand?’

Tom almost danced a little jig in his excitement. ‘Yes, sir, I understand. And I’ll work hard sir, harder than anybody. You won’t be sorry you took me, sir, I promise you.’

Jedderin shook hands with Tom’s father. ‘Come back in a week. If Tom has changed his mind, you can take him home. If not, you can sign him on.’

No sooner had his father departed than Tom sensed someone calling his name. It took him a moment or two to realise that it was not someone in the elvish encampment, but someone a long way away, mind-calling him. A woman. It was Vanrel.

How could a grumlee mind-call him? And in any case, Vanrel wasn’t nearly so important to him that he should pick up a mind-call from her. It just shouldn’t happen. Yet it was as if he was there beside her, sitting by the stream where they had so often made love. She was crying his name out loud. She missed him. She wanted him back. Why had he left her?

Tom felt uncomfortable. He was a soldier now. He couldn’t just up and leave camp without serious consequences. It wasn’t as if he was in love with her, or anything soppy like that. She was just a grumlee girl who had been silly enough to get a crush on him. He ignored Vanrel’s calls.

She didn’t give up easily. For the next few days, he heard her crying at all sorts of times, day and night. Finally, he mind-called his sister.

‘Spivvy,’ he asked her, ‘can you find out what’s wrong with Vanrel? I don’t want to come back and I wouldn’t be allowed, anyway. If there’s something wrong with her, see if you can fix it. And make her understand I’m not coming back.’

‘Very well, brother,’ came the reply. ‘I’ll go and look for her tomorrow. If it’s something I can deal with, I will.’

Tom breathed a sigh of relief. After all, he was finished with Vanrel. Besides, he was busy learning to be a soldier.

* * *

Every day, at the time they were accustomed to meet, Vanrel walked down to the stream, but Tom never appeared. She had not seen him since the day he’d said he was going to join the army, and she was starting to realise that he must have done just that. How could he leave her for a life of fighting? And now, of all times, her bleeding was late. With every passing hour she grew more anxious. What if she never saw Tom again?

The next day, she found Spirivia waiting at the streamside.

‘He’s gone to Dresnia with Sir Jedderin,’ Spivvy replied in response to Vanrel’s anxious questions. ‘He’s joined King Auberin’s army.’

‘Who’s King Auberin?’

‘Our king. The elvish king of these islands. Father was proud of Tom for going, but Mother hasn’t stopped crying since he left.’

Vanrel slumped against a tree in a wash of tears. ‘Oh, Spivvy, what am I going to do? I think I might be with child by Tom. My father will kill me. What will happen to me?

Spirivia shrugged. ‘You’ll have a baby, of course. You should have thought of that before you started to make eyes at our Tom.’

‘I did not make eyes at him! He was the one that started it.’ Vanrel’s face worked in anguish. ‘He said he wouldn’t love me if I didn’t…’

‘Love you? Elvishmen don’t love grumlees, stupid. It serves you right for being so easily deceived.’

Vanrel knew by now that ‘grumlee’ was a rude epithet applied by the elvish kind to ordinary mortals. She had always winced when Tom called her that, but had pushed the hurt feeling aside. She should have realised then that Tom had been using her. She felt alone, terribly alone, and so foolish! The word ‘betrayed’ came into her mind. That was what she was feeling. Betrayed. Betrayed by Tom, betrayed by Spirivia, and if she were honest, betrayed by herself. Cruel as Spivvy’s words were, they were right. If she had the time again, she would behave differently. She remembered something Ven Istrovar had once said, something about ‘the wisdom of hindsight…

Spivvy was avoiding her gaze, but finally she looked at Vanrel with something like pity. ‘Come again tomorrow, and I’ll have something with me that will bring on your bleeding. Mother’s given it to grumlee girls before, and I know where she keeps it.’ Then, suddenly anxious: ‘But you mustn’t tell anybody. Not anybody at all. We’ll both be in terrible trouble if anyone finds out. Understand?’

Vanrel nodded, biting her lip. ‘All right. Same time tomorrow. You won’t forget, will you?’

‘I won’t forget. But you be here on time or I’ll go straight home.’

* * *

After a sleepless night, Vanrel spent the morning trying to appear normal, but her heart pounded and her breathing felt tight. She went about her tasks automatically, dreading and longing for the planned meeting with Spivvy.

And Spivvy was waiting at the usual place holding a tiny folded paper package. ‘Take as much as will fit on a half-copper coin,’ she said. ‘And if you don’t bleed the next day, take the same amount again the next night. And if that doesn’t work then it’s just too bad, because there’s nothing else can be done.’

Vanrel muttered her thanks, headed for home and sneaked back into her room, where with shaking hands she carefully measured out the powder Spirivia had given her. She mixed it with watered wine and drank it down.

A wave of nausea overcame her. She thought she would vomit then and there, so foul was the taste, but she forced herself to lie down quietly until the sickness passed.

The next day, her bleeding came. It was dreadful. Her stomach cramped, her body swung between hot and cold, and wave after wave of nausea, worse than any she had ever experienced, assailed her all day long.

Her mother, deeply concerned, brought her hot stones for her aching back and herbal possets that Vanrel couldn’t drink. She lay on her pallet, face to the wall. How could she ever face her parents again? Finally, she cried herself to sleep.

When she awoke the next morning, the pain had gone, to be replaced by exhaustion and guilt. She had knowingly and deliberately killed her own child, hers and Tom’s. To atone for it, she knew what she had to do. She must devote herself to the service of the Lady.

‘Dear Lady,’ Vanrel prayed, ‘let me serve you by serving children. Let me be as a mother to motherless little ones.’ Weak and shaking, she got up and went to pray in the chapel, convinced that the Lady would find a way to put this terrible experience to good use.

Vanrel would, after all, become a nun.
#

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