Late February 1540
I crouched beside the fire, my knees nearly to my shoulders, balancing my scrawny body between them. I stirred the pot of pease porridge warming over the coals and tried to keep my eyes from the cup on a shelf built into the wattle wall opposite. The flames between us could not prevent my feeling the pulse of the thing’s power.
The cup had been in this house before. I had touched it as little as possible then—only what was needed to prepare the medicinal drafts to treat the boy when he fell into my ravine at the winter solstice.
I turned my head and spat into the corner. That boy! Or young man as I supposed he was. Colin Hay, owner of Cewi Glen, the estate in the valley at the bottom of the ravine, now that his father was dead.
I closed my eyes and tried not to think of my daughter—my beautiful daughter, child of my body if not of my soul. She too had died that night, less than a fortnight ago, bringing to an end our plans for vengeance.
Or perhaps not.
I opened my eyes and stared over the flames at the cup. Its sleek wooden surface glistened in the firelight. I had pulled it from the ruins of Cewi Glen, where I knew Belle had taken it.
Hunger gnawed at my belly. Teg o’ the Hills they named me. Gwrach—witch in their cursed English tongue. I could wander for days, seeking my herbs and roots, gathering them at the right time under the right moon with the right words for the greatest power, and feel little need for food. But this was not a hunger that could be satisfied with the porridge warming on my fire.
I rose and reached a long thin arm to grasp the cup. My fingers tingled, but I gripped the harder. I would not let it go. I would have it. I would master it. I would possess this thing of power I had pulled from the ruins of an English manor house—a loathsome heap of stones that defiled the lands my Welsh ancestors had once ruled. I would use it for my own ends.
Slowly the tingling up and down my arms subsided. I folded my body again and turned the thing slowly in my hands, examining it from every angle. No scorch mark marred its polished surface for all I had pulled it from the heart of the fire. The golden grain was strange—like no wood I knew in Wales.
“From foreign parts,” I murmured. “Somewhere far and very long ago.”
I raised it tentatively to my nose. No smell of smoke. There was a scent of polish. Something the boy must have rubbed on it. Or someone else at that foul abbey where he had been in England. I swallowed the bile that came to my mouth when I thought of my enemies.
I bent my nose close to the rim and sniffed again. There was another smell. Something I couldn’t define, a hint of spice such as pilgrims might bring back from the Holy Land. A feeling of unaccustomed peace drifted over me. The warmth of summer sun. The whisper of far off voices, soft as a lullaby. What was that they were saying?
I dropped the cup. It thudded on the straw mat at my feet. Cold fingers wrapped around my heart. I clutched the amulet that hung round my neck, forcing my lungs to move in and out.
The Grandmother. I had not taken the cup to the Grandmother. She would be angry. Yet the cup seemed no more of her world than of this.
Slowly I wrapped my hand in my apron and picked up the cup without letting it touch my skin. My jaw ached with the clenching. I held the thing of power at arm’s length and carried it to the shelf, dropping it there as if it burned my fingers although there was no pain. At least, not physical pain.
Enough for tonight. There was always tomorrow. Or another day. No hurry. For all those at Cewi Glen knew, the cup had been lost in the fire. Colin Hay would not come looking for it.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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