Lady of the Isle [From the Sea]
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by Temple Hogan
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: From the sea, two tormented souls are washed ashore--one a beautiful, mysterious lady, the other a man who'd once been the King's warrior and is now a lowly fisherman. As Rioghnach and Cormac learn to heal and trust in love again, they spend sun-seared days and starlit nights exploring the need that draws them together.
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, 2011 March
eBookwise Release Date: May 2011
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [134 KB]
Reading time: 86-121 min.
"The devil's afoot," cried one of the men at the oars.
"Aye, that he is, Nevan," shouted his companion.
Lying in the bottom of the narrow fishing boat, Rioghnach shivered against the icy rain falling against her face and moaned as the insidiously cold wind sought her.
"There's a shoal nearby. We'll leave her there and head back to the mainland while we still can."
They were talking about her, Rioghnach realized. Opening her eyes to mere slits, she raised her head enough to peer over the side of the boat. The wind caught in her hair, whipping it about her face and streaming it behind like black ribbons. In the void before them, she caught a glimpse of deeper shadows, a rocky shoal that rose stubborn and silent from the sea. Above her, the two men cursed their fate, the words snatched from their lips and spun into the night as they struggled to keep their small boat aright.
"She'll be swept out to sea," the younger of the two men protested.
"A better death than starvation," the other growled. "Now, pull, lad. Let's be done with this business."
Rioghnach heard their words and tried to summon the will to save herself, but a strange miasma had laid claim to her as surely as the mist rose from the sea. She lay back on the bottom, lost in pain, and she listened to the rough voices of her captors arguing about her fate. She had no idea where she was. It no longer mattered to her. Only the creak of the oars in their locks, and the slap of waves against the boat offered a clue.
The mist soothed her cheeks like a mother's touch in some long ago time when she'd been happy and unafraid. She tried to remember how she'd come to be here, how her life had changed to this--a world of darkness and accusations and betrayal.
She'd never loved her husband, Daimhin, though she'd tried hard to. He was her king and everyone had to love him. Oh, how she'd tried! But she'd seen his cruelties, had felt the sting of his barbs, herself, and in the end, had fallen victim to his insatiable appetites and ultimate betrayal.
Time and again, he'd beaten her for her failures then he'd declared her a witch! He'd stood her before the court, and in his cruel mocking way had named her the vilest creature to walk the earth. He'd set her aside, divorced her, which was shame enough, then had made his claim of witchery, while everyone knew his true intent was to rid himself of his barren wife so he might take another. She had failed him in that most important requirement of a queen.
"Here we are," one of her captors cried out with some relief.
Rioghnach opened her eyes and peered through the darkness. Sea and rock seemed almost as one. A dangerous place, she saw. A place to die.
"Mon, the tide's coming in. We can't leave her here," the other man said.
"That's what we're t'do, and I ain't about t'do nothing else." The man got out of the boat and dragged it onto the rocky spit of land. "Come on, Nevan, give me a hand."
The man named Nevan cast a quick glance at her and slowly climbed out of the boat. "This ain't a very big space for her," he said. "The tide will cover this whole place in no time."
"Aye, and ain't that what they be wanting to have happen. She's a witch, mon, and she can either save herself or the sea will take her and good riddance. Help me get her out of here before she wakes up and lays a spell on us."
Two pairs of hands grabbed hold of the rough blanket covering her and dragged her from the boat.
"Here now, d'ye know what manner of woman this is?" Nevan exclaimed. "It's the King's wife. I saw her but last year when I went to Beal an Mhuirhead. We can't leave her here. It would be murder."
His partner turned back to stare at him. "Don't ye think that's what the king had in mind? He dinny want t'kill her himself. He should a'burned her at the stake, but he's doing it this way. It'll be a kinder death for her. Come on, now, let's be away afore the tide comes in."
"How d'ye know what the king had in mind, or if he was the one who sent her here?" Nevan demanded. "Did he confer wi'ye before he made his decision?"
"That's what I was told. The king don't want her to come back, ever."
Their voices faded then came the scrape of the boat over the rocky shore.
She roused herself more. Some innate sense of self-preservation made her push aside the dark shadows that clung to her. She forced herself upright and called to them.
"Wait! Don't leave me. I'm not a witch." The scraping of the boat against the rocks covered her words. The pounding of waves against the shore hid her cries for help. She saw the dim shapes of two men climbing into the wooden boat and taking up their oars. She cried out again, but a sea wind sprang up like a siren's song, high pitched and wild, tearing the words from her lips. It was hopeless. She lay back against the stones and looked up at the dark, stormy sky, while the wind, having done its mischief, died away, and the cold mist settled over her again.
She lay inert and uncaring while the tide crept closer, sometimes muttering its warning against the rocks, sometimes sending out silent fingers of cold watery death. Only when the frigid wash of the North Atlantic reached her bare feet, did she rouse and force herself to stand, shivering, to meet her death. A terrible light came from the North Sea as if in celebration of her approaching death. But why would the elements conspire against her? She was naught but a woman, hardly out of her girlhood, who'd been sorely used and cast aside.
Were her failures so bad that she deserved to die?
The thought went through her head, rousing a remaining streak of defiance against such injustice. Had she not tried with all her might to be a good wife, a good queen? The water rushed against her, wetting the hem of her simple loose garment and rising to her knees, plucking at her like hands from the grave, too impatient for her soul to wait. She raised her hands to the black night sky and cried out in a voice that came from deep inside her heart.
"God have mercy." The winds came again to snatch the words from her and fling them across the turbulent waters, unanswered.
The waves hit her harder the next time, hammering at her knees, wetting her to her hips, sucking and pulling against her as she struggled to stand. She knew the next onslaught would take her down. Desperately, she looked around, but the shoal was empty. Not a stunted tree or bush grew on the barren rock. As barren as she was, she thought and gasped as the sea once again attacked, its frigidness numbing her limbs, its power wrapping itself around her legs and arms until she couldn't fight it any longer.
"Help me," she cried out, although she knew no one was there. No one would come to save her now, and she couldn't do it herself. The next surge washed over her head and pulled her toward the deeper water. Choking and gasping for air, she braced herself, fighting the ocean and silently praying to the saints to take her soul and forgive her sins.
Something took hold of one arm, surely a denizen of hell, itself, and tugged against the might of the ocean. She felt as if she were being pulled asunder. Perhaps it was the saints tugging at her, trying to save her soul from the devil, himself. She gave herself up to their will, and when the next swell hit her, she no longer fought it.
In a swoon, she felt herself lifted, moved, felt arms holding her, cradling her. Inside, she wept for joy because surely her dead father held her safe. She clung to him, burying her face against the strong column of his neck. He smelled of the sea like her father. Her spirits rose, and she accepted her fate. The ocean receded, and she sensed herself being placed in the bottom of a boat. Her father's fishing boat, but then he wouldn't need a boat in heaven. Her mind struggled to comprehend. Perhaps she wasn't dead after all. Perhaps her captors had come back for her. Their consciences wouldn't let them leave her here to die. The name of one of them drifted into her mind, and she groaned.
"Thank you, Nevan," she mumbled before the blackness claimed her.