Finding romance as a Pagan in 1525 England, as other peasants are tortures and killed in the name of Christianity seems next to impossible. Unless of course, one of The Shadow Thieves is interested in being your lover.
Whiskey Creek Press Torrid
Enchanting Letti Marsham is an apprentice to her majikal grandmother. A wise young womon schooled in herbal lore, Pagan tradition and midwifery, she longs to find a mature heroic lover like ‘The Green Man’ of local legend, rather than any of the immature boys she and her lovely best friend, Hannah Dunn, work with each day in The Plots. These impoverished peasants of Dorset Village are ruled by the oppressive and cruel Lord Torkington, during this inescapably dangerous time of torture and murder for English people of her faith; known as The Burning Times.
Unbeknownst to Letti, she is being watched from the woods behind her family’s cottage, by Wulfgaer, a spellbinding untamed man unlike any she could begin to imagine. He is the leader of a mysterious tribe of impressive outcasts called The Shadow Thieves. In The Shadow Of The Moon is their suspenseful and unforgettable story—one of mesmerizing passion, kidnapping, shapeshifting, lesbian seduction, treachery, torture, murder and The Old Religion of Witchcraft
Copyright © 2009, Darkstar
Published by Whiskey Creek Press LLC
Sample Chapter For IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON by Darkstar
The crisp breeze, bright sunshine and vibrant colors all seemed in harmony with this day, being the first of Spring. Letti thought, The Great Goddess of Spring, Oestera, must be smiling fondly, on this day of rebirth. Letti was smiling, too, for this would be her twenty-first birthday. Today was also the first day of the New Year. It was now 1525.
Nicknamed ‘Letti’, Lettice Edyth Marsham was born on March 25, 1504, in a small peasant village, in England. Letti’s grandmother, Edyth, also having lived most of her Life in Dorset Village, had named her. Letti’s adoring parents had looked to the older Wise Womon for guidance, on this important matter. Letti had been told many times, how her grandmother took one look at her, and immediately knew; her name should be Lettice, because it meant ‘Joy’. Supposedly, Letti had come forth from the womb, with a tiny smile, upon her pixie-face.
Letti loved having been born on The Feast of Eostre. As a little girl, she had thought that the entire festival was held, especially in her honor. Only later, did she realize the date’s full significance. Even today, like all her neighbors, she still loved and looked forward to every part of this annual fertility festival.
Today, upon waking, she had crawled out from under her warm patchwork quilt, and wandered across the wooden floor, into the dining area of her grandmother’s one-room, thatch-roofed cottage. She had been hungry, and in search of some porridge. She stopped by the fire to get warm. As usual, wrinkled and humming, her middle-aged grandmother was already busy at work.
“Good morning, my sweet. I have started the dough for the pastries for tonight. You will need to bake them after they rise. Hopefully, Alice will have birthed her babe by then, and I will be able to join you all for the celebration,” Edyth said, cupping her granddaughter’s face in her rough, gardening hands. She continued, wiping a ‘sleeper’ from Letti’s left eye, “Alice is birthing her fifth child, so this one should come easy, if it’s like the last…of course, she’s somewhat of a bleeder. Last time, I wondered if perhaps she had some royal blood running through those veins!” The old womon laughed at herself. “I best be sure to take some Shepherd’s Purse along.” Letti knew this was an herb to stop excessive bleeding. Her grandmother would mix it with other herbs in a delicious tea for the new mother to sip, while they waited for the arrival of the Blessed afterbirth. “Being born on your birthday should bring us some luck! Happy twenty-first, Lettice.” Letti could almost feel the soft kiss that was blown through the air, intended for her.
Besides her little brother, Jani, there was no one in the world that Letti treasured more than Edyth. She thought her grandmother, at fifty-six, represented the perfect crone. Edyth, with her long, wiry, silver locks, a sharply-pointed nose and large gray-nearly-black eyes, was still beautiful to anyone who knew her. Letti thought, that everything of any importance that she had ever learned, had come from this wondrous, Majikal womon.
Edyth filled a saucer of fresh milk for the fat black cat, Maggie. She stiffly bent over to serve her loudly-meowing, expectant friend. She continued idly talking, not bothering to wait for any response, from her slow-to-awaken, granddaughter. “Please remember to bathe for tonight, and tell your grubby brother to do the same. Make him collect more wood to heat the fire. I left ribbons for your headpiece on my bed. You must collect your flowers, and think about finding a suitable husband while you do so.”
Letti began to object, “I am happy…”
Her grandmother interrupted her, “You need to think of relationships today, just as The Goddess Oestera is choosing a consort of Her own. Perhaps you also need to do a banishing ritual, to rid yourself of whatever is holding you back from finding your husband.”
“Yes, Grandmother,” Letti replied. It would do no good to finish her argument with this stubborn old womon. Edyth did not want to hear how happy Letti was to simply remain here, with the people she had always loved.
“The feast will be held in the usual place in the forest clearing, but there will only be a Circle, followed by dancing, ale and food. The Lord of the Manor has forbidden us to light the Spring Fire this year.” Letti heard her grandmother’s voice trail off into some muttering which seemed to be of another world. Letti could not understand or even fully hear what was being said, but she recognized that her grandmother was quite angry with this latest turn of events. Every other year, as far back as Letti could remember, there had been a huge bonfire, fueled by a large, fallen oak tree, at tonight’s festival
“Why is he forbidding the Fire? We’ve always had one. How will we see in the dark of The Woods?” Letti’s voice had a whining sound to it. She was tired of all the sudden changes in the usual pattern of her village life.
“Just be grateful he hasn’t done away with the whole feast!” her grandmother said, sternly. “We’ll make do with candles in lanterns. Nobody can stop The Goddess, and her Cycle of Life.” Letti thought her grandmother seemed extremely certain, about this point.
“I wish he would just go away! He seems to spoil everything, anymore!” Letti felt like she might cry.
“Sit down and eat, child. I’m sure it wasn’t his decision. He’s just following the orders of The Church.” Letti decided not to get herself worked up any further, by making negative comments about The New Order. Maggie rubbed her soft body against Letti’s shin, as if to reassure her.
Now, as Letti sat down to a steaming bowl of porridge and fresh, sweet cream, Edyth checked through her large midwifery bag, to make certain all she would need was safely inside. Letti knew the bag was filled with mostly herbal concoctions, of one sort or another. Edyth knew every local herb like the back of her hand, from where it grew, to what its healing properties were.
As Edyth sped out the door as fast as her arthritic body would move, a feeling of pride came over Letti, just to be related to such a person as her grandmother—always devoted to helping others. With admiration, she wished, as many times before, to be just like her someday.
The persistent old womon looked back over her shoulder, and said, “Perhaps, you could try tying two of my chickens on your ankle, and then setting them free. As they run away, see them carrying with them whatever keeps you from making me a great-grandmother.” Although she winked at Letti and appeared amused, Letti knew she was absolutely expected to try this banishing spell.
* * * *
As Letti finished meticulously arranging the mouth-watering buns for the Feast, Jani, her energetic fifteen-year-old brother, came running into the house. He snatched one off the platter, shoving it quickly into his mouth. Letti turned to him in anger, but immediately softened, seeing the mischievous look, on his endearing handsome face. Still, she felt the need to rebuff him. “Jani Marsham, have you no decency? These buns are for tonight, not for you to touch with filthy hands. Now, start some water boiling for our baths. You can get yours first, while I go out to gather wildflowers.”
Oblivious to her command, the youth gleefully said, “I saw Henry Booth while I was planting in The Common this morning. He was already thinking about you!” Jani, already taller than her despite their age difference, poked her in her side, nearly causing her to drop the heavy tray of pastries.
“You are as foolish as he is, Jani! Now, gather firewood and get the water going!” Letti almost yelled at him. Before she could say anything else, he had bolted back outside. Letti had no interest in the immature, forever-gawking Henry Booth.
She put on a wide-brimmed straw hat, to shield her face from the bright sun that came through the doorway, and went outside. It irritated her not to be able to share her inner-most thoughts with those she loved so much, but she knew they would not understand her desire for autonomy in a relationship. Letti refused to be subordinated like the married womyn she knew in her village. She admired the freedom her grandmother experienced in being a widow. Despite the random loneliness, Letti knew her freedom was priceless.
* * * *
So, as Letti collected the most beautiful wildflowers she could find, on her twenty-first birthday, she began to daydream about her favorite subject: The Fairie People of the Wood. She had heard about them all her life, especially from old-timers, like her grandmother. Letti had always wished to catch a glimpse of the mysterious “little folk”. She knew the legend regarding tonight would require her to place some food and ale near the forest’s edge, for The Fairies. She thought the fresh honey buns would be perfect as They were thought to have a sweet-tooth. Last year, Jani had teased her for continuing this practice telling her that obviously Grandmother was the one who ate and drank whatever was left out. Upon questioning, Edyth had denied these charges. Letti preferred to think The Fairies were real, so felt relieved by her grandmother’s unyielding denial, “People are never too old for Majik, Letti.”
Letti had been told, by more than one person, that she must be a relative of The Fairies. They were said to be short in stature, with darker complexions and hair than most other Pagans. Letti was much tinier than any of her relatives. She stood just under five feet tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds. Her body was in perfect proportion for her little stature. She definitely had dark looks, including the near-to-black eyes of her grandmother.
Since the death of her parents when she was only seven, Letti had developed a fantasy in which she had really been one of The Fairies, but cast out of their Circle following her parents’ demise. At twenty-one, no longer did she believe this, but she still loved to imagine things about The Fairies as she had in years gone by.
Upon entering adolescence, she had begun to fantasize about “The Green Man” coming to find her; to be his lover. Legends, told to her by wandering minstrels, held that he was a Majikal Priest of the Faire Coven, and Letti secretly wished to be his ideal partner. Descriptions of him reminded her of The Horned God, Pan, worshipped by her relatives, The Danes, since the ninth century. Pan ruled not only The Forest, but also all wild animals, alertness, annihilation, fertility, panic, terror, and her personal favorite—desire. All these attributes she added to her vision of The Green Man, as she easily imagined him as perfect for her in every way. Mortal boys just never compared to him. Even now, she wished him to be real, as she peered into the deep, dense oak forest, behind her cottage.
She never talked to anyone about her fantasies, except her best girlfriend, Hannah Dunn. She and Hannah had agreed, long ago, that sometimes they thought they could hear The Fairies whispering, and giggling in The Woods.
With a handful of Nature, Letti headed back inside the cottage. Jani was drying his dark-blond hair beside the fire, running his rough fingers through it, over and over. Letti thought his looks were becoming much too important to him, these days. She knew he wished to find a girlfriend tonight. Better him than me, she thought.
“I’ll see you at The Circle, Sister.” He smiled and waved, saucily exiting the home. Letti wondered what he was up to now, and figured it could not be anything good, with idle time on his hands, long before The Circle was scheduled to begin.
Some steam was coming off the big iron tub. Letti stuck an elbow in to test it. She thought the warmth was perfect. She tossed a few of the wildflowers into the water for perfume, and could not help thinking that ‘Green Man’ would appreciate the scent on her skin, much more than any of her insignificant suitors. Looking down, through long, thick lashes, at her own voluptuous curves, she thought he might like them, as well. She did not want to believe her grandmother’s version of the ‘Green Man Legend’. It ruined all her sexual fantasies of him. Edyth said he was the High Priest of a Majikal cult called ‘Druids’ and that these ‘Oak-worshipping Witches’ were “wild-natured celibates, by spiritual choice”. Supposedly their primary interest was in discovering men’s mysteries. Letti could see no place for herself in such a scenario, and it thoroughly irked her.
For quite a while, she soaked in the relaxing, fragrant water. Once out, she felt chilled and quickly dressed in her favorite black skirt, white blouse, and ankle-high, black boots. She decided against the bothersome sleeves which would need to be laced onto her blouse. Next, around her shoulders, she fastened her ceremonial, hooded, black cape. She did not wear the hood. That would be saved for Circle. Instead, like her handsome brother, she stood by the fire, and attempted to untwist some of the knots from her waist-length, rippling coal-black curls. She did not mind this time-consuming project, since she had always needed to do so after a bath. She knew she would never get all the twists out of her hair, but it would appear much smoother by the time she was finished. As a younger teen, she had envied Hannah’s long, blonde, silky hair, and wished to have that wispy type instead of her own. But now, she rather enjoyed the fact that no one else around The Common had ‘Fairie-hair’, but her.
* * * *
The Eostre Festival had not gone as Letti had expected. The Circle itself had been well attended. Even Grandmother Edyth, in full garb, had arrived just in time, to fulfill her role as High Priestess. All the usual things had occurred, with an impressive invocation to The Great Goddess, an invitation to all five Directions, chanting, drumming, and an intoxicating Spiral Dance. Letti had felt a lot of Power be cast from The Circle, and knew the crops would be good this year. She felt glad in knowing that daylight would start to grow longer now.
After The Circle, Hannah—or, Lady Day as Letti preferred to call her—had joined Letti’s side, hooking elbows with her, to get some plates of food. Letti, initially famished, had become miserably nauseated by the smell and sight of a roasted sheep, plated and laid out on the blankets, covered with food.
Letti, having been raised a vegetarian, found it extremely cruel to slaughter and eat an animal. The only meat she had ever stomached was fresh fish from the nearby sea, caught by her brother Jani, an excellent fisherman. Hannah’s family had been the ones to bring the sheep, to share with all attending. The Dunns had been forced to give up their garden plots last year, when fences were put around their section of The Common, by command of The Lord of the Manor. Now, the Dunn family raised sheep-for-profit at The Market. Both the mutton and the wool were in high demand, but brought extremely low profit to the Dunns. Most of the money they made went to The Lord and, of course, The Church and its corrupt officials. Letti knew of all these upsetting facts from her wise grandmother. She put offerings on her alter daily, in hope of winning the approval of The Goddess, Brigantia, Ruler over protection of their land. Letti could not imagine her family raising sheep, or eating them. Hannah, on the other hand, ate meat all the time, and could not understand her friend’s deep convictions against the practice. The soul-sickness that took Letti home to bed, without eating first, came from more than just the sight of meat.
* * * *
The tall, powerfully-built, hooded figure came out into the clearing, cautiously. He felt nervous, that The Full Moon might reveal him to someone, despite his camouflaged clothing and the very late hour. Satisfied that everyone was sleeping, he bent down, his muscular body dressed all in shades of brown and green, to snatch a bun off the plate that Letti had set out by The Woods. It tasted so wonderful that he felt compelled to eat the other two, quickly. He followed the sweet goodies with the large cup of ale, set vigilantly beside the plate. It was just enough to quench his thirst. He had journeyed a long way through the deep, dark forest to come to this place now.
Removing his hood, and brushing back his waist-length, dark, tangled hair, he looked up at The Full Moon who had guided him through even the darkest places to make it here. He could see the image of a bunny on Her face. He knew this to be a sign of this Season of Fertility.
He looked toward the humble cottage, where the Marsham family dreamed. He wished to make contact with the young, desirable womon inside. She was the maiden he wished to possess for his Sacred Marriage. He knew the weakness of himself as he yearned to take her from her bed right now, and make her his own. He also knew this was not the right time. Summoning all his Majikal Power, the stunningly handsome Shaman found another way to introduce himself to his Heart’s Desire.
* * * *
First thing next morning, Letti, feeling much better after a good night’s sleep, went out to milk Old Nancy. Grandmother and Jani were still asleep, having stayed out much longer than she.
She was close to The Woods, when she remembered the food and drink, left out the night before. She had taken it there herself, before retiring to bed—afraid the others might forget. She had worried that careless-forgetting might cause rampant-Fairie-mischief against her family in the coming New Year.
Upon close scrutiny, she could not find a crumb of food or drop of ale left. She smiled, and kneeled onto the ground, closing her eyes to give thanks to The Goddess for All That Remains the Same. When her eyes reopened, she found a little bunny looking up at her, with a curious expression on its adorable face. It hopped right over to her and she picked it up, gingerly, feeling for signs of its sex.
I’ll keep him for a pet. He was the most beautifully-colored bunny she had ever seen, with grey, tan, dark-brown and white, all mottled together.
She decided to call him Dandy, and took him inside to see whether or not he enjoyed carrots and turnips as much as the other rabbits that stole from The Common plots.