As some of my posts and articles feature herbs and the lore surrounding these age-old plants, I’m sharing several herbal related excerpts from my recent release, historical fantasy romance novel The Bearwalker’s Daughter.
Set among the clannish and superstitious Scots-Irish in the Allegheny Mountains, the story is similar to others of mine with a colonial frontier flavor and also features Native American characters, with the addition of an intriguing paranormal thread.
Remember, the herbs didn’t have to originate in America for the settlers to use them. They brought seeds, cuttings, and rootstock with them from the Old World and learned about native plants from the Indians.
This first excerpt is from the old Scots-Irish woman, Neeley’s, point of view:
A brooding darkness hovered over the McNeal homestead. Of that, Neeley was certain. And she sensed from where it came. She needed all her wisdom now to prevail against it. She’d limped stiffly through the home sprinkling a sweetly aromatic decoction of angelica root into every corner, the most powerful herb for warding off spells and enchantment. Then she’d hung a bough of rowan wood above the doorway to lend protection from evil. The leafless branch dripped with clusters of orange-red berries, pleasant to behold as she sat by the hearth.~
And later in the chapter: Her needle winking in the firelight, Neeley sewed the blue fringe on the cape collar and around the long hem. The fragrance of angelica, the most sacred of herbs, rose from the linen. She’d sprinkled a decoction of the holy root over the cloth to bring protection to the wearer. Jack would need all the defense he could get.
As for Karin, her innate goodness would aid her, but Neeley wasn’t taking any chances. An herbal bath of angelica mingled with the purifying power of agrimony, redolent of ripe apricots, awaited the girl. Jack too, if Neeley managed to coax him in.~
This excerpt is from the heroine, Karin’s, point of view:
Neeley rose stiffly from her chair and shuffled forward, her stooped figure a head shorter than Karin’s. “You’ll want my help, John McNeal. Fetch the woundwort, Karin. Sarah, steep some comfrey in hot water and bring fresh linens. Joseph, the poor fellow could do with a spot of brandy,” the tiny woman rapped out like a hammer driving nails. Old, she might be, and as wizened as a dried apple, but Neeley took charge in a medical emergency whether folks liked it or not.
Sarah dashed to the cupboard to take down the brown bowl. Karin flew beside her and grabbed the crock reeking of salve. Sarah snatched a towel and they spun toward the hearth as the men made their way past the gaping crowd. The stranger lifted his head and looked dazedly at both women. Karin met vivid green eyes in a sun-bronzed face stubbled with dark whiskers. A fiery sensation shot through her—and not just because he was devastatingly handsome.~
The two following excerpts are from the hero, Jack’s, point of view.
The matriarch called Neeley bustled into the room with a steaming basin of what Jack supposed, from the herbal scent wafting in the mist, was a medicinal wash.
“Thomas, see Sarah gets to bed and brew her a cup of betony. That’ll calm her,” Neeley directed.
“Come on, Sarah. You’ll do better with a rest and some tea.” Thomas helped his stepmother to her feet and guided the unsteady woman from the room and through the assembly clustered beyond the door. Murmurs of sympathy accompanied her departure.
Then Neeley set the white porcelain bowl on the washstand and squinted down at Jack like a hen hunting for spilt grain. She gestured with bent fingers at the girl peering from behind John McNeal’s bulk. “Karin, come closer. You’re my hands, lass.”
Her eyes, too, Jack suspected.~
And later in that scene: Karin dabbed his shoulder dry, then dipped her small hand into the pungent crock. Pursing rose-tinged lips, she smeared the aromatic paste on his wound. “I’ll give the salve a while to work before I dig the ball out and stitch you up. Ever had woundwort, sir?”
“Dulls the pain right well,” Jack managed, hiding a grimace. Even her soft touch stung like the devil, but he wouldn’t push her away for anything.~
I interweave herbs and other plants through all of my stories, though some more than others.
***Striking cover by my daughter Elise Trissel~