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by Patricia Grasso
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Lady Avril Gordon has a psychic gift that she has always kept hidden or risk being burned at the stake. When Avril travels from her Highland home to Queen Mary's court to begin her married life with Duke Magnus Campbell, she decides to use her abilities to steer her and her husband safely through the various intrigues and threats at Court. But when she sees something that would potentially lead to a tragic mistake for Queen Mary--Avril is torn between warning the Queen and exposing herself to a great danger.
eBook Publisher: Lachesis Publishing, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [56 KB]
Reading time: 29-41 min.
Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 1565
Hot as a hare, blind as a bat, dry as a bone, red as a beet, mad as a hatter.
Standing beside the boy's pallet, Avril Gordon recalled her late-mother's instructions and placed her palm against his burning forehead. His lips looked parched, his face crimson. She snapped her fingers in front of his unseeing eyes, and he mumbled nonsense as if caught in a nightmare.
"Gavin has eaten nightshade berries." Avril turned to the earl's farrier, the man's ashen-faced wife, and his oldest son.
"I dared him to eat the berries," ten-year-old Duncan admitted, his misery apparent. "I promised to do his chores for a week."
Avril slid her gaze to Duncan's. "You may be doing his chores forever."
The farrier slapped the ten-year-old. "You've killed your brother."
"Fergus, beating this son will not cure the other." Avril looked at Duncan, "Fetch me a cup of water."
Avril set her mortar and pestle on the table and removed two packets of herbs from her satchel. Placing both herbs into the mortar, she ground them into a powder and stirred the powder into the water.
"Carry Gavin outside," she ordered the farrier. "Hold him in a kneeling position."
Outside, Avril crouched beside the eight-year-old and pressed the cup to his lips. "Drink, Gavin. Small sips will cure what ails you."
I hope. Murmuring soothing words of encouragement, Avril managed to get the boy to down the water.
"What now?" Fergus asked.
Several minutes later, the eight-year-old vomited and vomited and vomited. Avril placed her palm against his forehead and gazed into eyes that seemed more focused. His babbling had ceased, his high color beginning to recede.
"Gavin will sleep." Avril said, standing, "and all will be well."
"Lady Avril, you are a credit to your mother's memory." The farrier carried his youngest inside.
"I owe you my son's life," the wife said. "Whatever will we do when you marry and leave us?"
"That day lives in the future." Avril patted the woman's shoulder and then rounded on the ten-year-old. "You will do your brother's chores for a month, and you will never dare anyone again."
"I promise, my lady."
Avril walked away, her relief making her legs weak. Once out of sight, she used her sleeve to wipe the sweat from her temples and brushed a damp wisp of red hair from her face. She owed the Goddess thanks for saving the boy. Many thanks. Profuse thanks.
Slipping out Huntly Castle's postern gate, Avril followed the path through the woodland to her favorite clearing. She felt protected there, surrounded by trees--especially the oaks--the kings and queens of the forest.
Reaching the clearing, Avril gathered nine stones at random and began making a circle. She placed the first stone in the northwest and, moving clockwise, set the rest of the stones down to represent each earthly direction. Avril entered the circle from the west and moved to close it behind her with a stone.
"Sister." The Earl of Huntly stood at the clearing's edge, his arms folded across his chest. "Step out of the circle."
With an inward groan, Avril wished her parents weren't dead. Her brother was tougher than her father.
Avril sent the Goddess a silent prayer of thanks and then collected the stones in reverse direction. She walked toward her brother.
The Earl of Huntly tugged her fiery braid and, throwing his arm around her shoulders, ushered her down the path. "The Old Ways endanger you."
Avril gave him a sidelong glance. "What do you want, George?"
"We leave for Edinburgh in the morning," he answered. "Your Campbell husband requires your presence."
That surprised Avril. "I thought he'd forgotten about me."
"Campbell was waiting until you ripened."
"Does he consider me fruit to ripen?" Avril countered, insulted. "Vows spoken between a five-year-old girl and a fifteen-year-old boy scarcely signify a marriage."
"Your husband needs his wife with him at court," her brother told her. "Darnley has bewitched Queen Mary. You can gain the queen's confidence and hear the women's gossip."
"What if the queen dislikes me?" Avril said. "Besides, I wouldn't know my own husband if I passed him on the road."
"Trust me, sister. Once you see Campbell, you will never forget him."