|Original by J. Bevans|
Can you tell I'm really excited this book is finally out?
In the meantime, here's the story that started this series. My crit group at the time was challenging each other to write shorts. It might have been for a contest. I can't remember now. While the story isn't as polish, having been written over ten years ago, it showcases Sir Villdemore and his lady wife, Siphinea. Both characters make an appearance in both The Keeper of Moon Haven and The Rose Hunter. After writing this short story, the idea for The Keeper of Moon Haven was born and with it the idea for the series revolving around Alfheim Haven and the Blue Moon.
Mendip Hill where the Wookey Hole Caves penetrate deep into the earth, 853AD
“Toad fodder! Thou shalt not peck at my head like some worrisome Alfar Faery. King Jadestone canst hate me for all eternity, but I shalt not steal a bride.”
Horatio Villdemore, former Ealdorman of Lockenworth, growled deep in his throat. Simon gave him a perplexed look before casting a heavy sigh. Horatio rolled his eyes.
“The king will no’ be happy.” Simon dogged his steps.
Horatio continued to stroll toward his damp habitat. The lantern he held illuminated a large, roomy cavern surrounded by stalagmites and stalactites. Moisture clung to his fur, a phenomena he usually paid little heed to. Today, however, he felt melancholy, and the droplets of water became an annoying reminder of what he’d become.
“The king’s disposition is of no concern to me.”
Like a flea nipping at his skin, Simon continued to pester. “He’ll banish ye topside where the sun will burn ye to a crisp or turn ye to stoone.”
“Forsooth, thou tryeth my patience. I tried once to force a woman to love me by mixing a potion. She came upon me and realized my nefarious intent at the exact moment the egg of Liestra hatched. Thou seeth before thee the result of such folly. I shalt ne’er use force again upon a woman. I canst not and wilt not obey the king. I have had three hundred years to think of the past. If I die tomorrow, so be it.” He turned his back, dismissing Simon with his actions.
Simon skittered in front of him, rounded ears standing at attention. “Did ye hear that?”
Horatio stood still and perked his own ears. He heard nothing save the trickle of water that fell from nearby stalactites.
“Listen. The pit o’ redemption. A top-sider falls.”
At Simon’s words, Horatio gritted his teeth. Without waiting to see if Simon followed, he hurried to the spot. He had no wish to see another crumpled body upon the cold stone floor.
Horatio rushed to save another poor soul, not knowing Siphinea Raven had fled into the night, her bare feet flying across the harsh terrain, not knowing his fate had caught him. The dogs yelped louder, their incessant baying enough to wake the dead. Fire exploded within Siphinea’s chest. Her breath came short and fast. Cramps attacked her legs as she forced them to move faster.
Harsh whispers sounded closer.
The Wild Hunt continued and she was the Sluagh’s prey.
She glanced over her shoulder to gauge the distance between herself and the Sluagh. Her legs caught in her flowing skirt.
“There! I think I see her!”
Tripping, she fell forward. Her arms flew out to catch herself and found nothing but air.
She screamed. Loud and hard.
The sensation of falling caught her unawares. Darkness enveloped her descent into a gaping void.
A hole. She’d stumbled into a hole.
She continued to verbalize her fear, the sound echoing off the damp, musty walls. Volumes of material billowed about her. Fresh flowers woven with care flew from her hair.
Seconds turned into minutes. Death approached. The jaws of Hell loomed before her, its mouth a gaping pit of darkness. Knowing all was lost, she closed her eyes.
Resigned to death, she floated on a cushion of air, weightless, buoyant.
Ooomph! She landed on an unexpected pillow of warmth.
Arms cradled her against a soft, downy chest. A musky odor tantalized her senses.
Dead? She had felt no pain.
Slowly, almost fearful, she opened her eyes.
She blinked. A face covered in hair the shade and texture of a lion’s mane gazed down upon her. She filled her lungs with gulps of air. Hell had claimed her for sure.
The creature growled, a low snarl that caused her scalp to tingle. Her arms pushed against leather skin. It held her tight.
Frantic, she grabbed a fist full of fur and yanked as hard as she could. “Release me, at once.”
“Ow!” The creature dropped her and rubbed the spot where a clump of hair once grew.
Her bottom connected with hard ground, bruising her tender skin. Her eyes lifted to the creature’s. Its massive physique loomed above and it peered down at her with beady, green eyes. Lantern light cast a soft, orange glow upon its apelike features.
“The top-sider does no’ appreciate yer chivalry, Sir Villdemore,” a voice from the darkness mocked.
It turned its head toward the voice. “I believe she hath ne’er seen a troll before.”
A troll? She’d landed in a den of trolls?
She scrambled backwards, her fear greater now than anything she’d experienced before the fall. Even the Sluagh, the outcasts of the Faery community with their forbidding nature, seemed preferable to the troll she now faced.
She took a deep, steadying breath. “Stay away.”
A smaller gnome with a bulbous nose and pudgy fingers stepped forward and tilted its head. “Ye think she’s the answer to yer prayer, Sir Villdemore?”
“Aye, Simon. The possibility hath not escaped my thoughts ere I frighten her with such a hideous façade.”
“She’s a pretty thing for a top-sider.” The gnome creature loped forward.
Top-sider? Did they think her human? She frowned. They couldn’t see her pointed ears for the long hair that had been loosened in the fall.
The beast crouched down in front of her. It reached out to touch her cheek. She strained away. It wouldn’t be deterred, and the soft pad of its finger grazed her skin.
Gentle. The tender caress of its feather light touch settled her nerves. What magic did this abomination have over her?
“You hath nothing to fear, lass.”
The deep, rich timbre of its voice marked it as male. And he spoke English with civilized articulation. Could he be harmless?
She adjusted to his odd looks, deciding his soothing voice and kind words marked him as tame. And – he had saved her life.
She glanced around her winsome surroundings. Walls of tiny crystal particles glimmered in the soft light. Tapered fingers of layered minerals grew from ceiling to floor. Such visual delight could not possibly decorate the walls of Hell.
“I hath ne’er laid eyes upon anything such as this. Where am I?”
“Trolls call it home. Top-siders call it Jadestone’s Cavern, a small portion of the Wookey Hole Caves,” he replied. “I am known as Sir Villdemore. And thou art?”
“Siphinea. Siphinea Raven.”
The creature’s eyes narrowed. Hot breath caressed her face. “Raven?”
She nodded. He pulled away abruptly, his manner tense, agitated.
“You hath knowledge of me?” Her curiosity transcended her fear.
He laughed. The derisive sound made her hairs stand on end. “’Tis the name of the bride King Jadestone wouldst have me wed. The fates must be laughing.”
“Bride?” Trolls were known to take human wives, but she’d never heard of them taking an Elfen bride.
“Female trolls art unable to breed children. Therefore, male trolls steal human females for their mates.” He explained as if she had no knowledge of such practices.
She gave him a gentle smile. “Then I’m not the one thou seeks, Sir Villdemore.” She pulled back her hair to expose her ears. “I’m an Elf of Celtic origin. I believe thou must think of us as Faery.”
He touched her ear. His features tightened into a perplexed frown. “King Jadestone made no mistake. He must have some reason for wanting a troll mated to an elf. He bade me kidnap thee from thou brugh.”
“Thou jests!” She backed away, horrified by his statement.
His lips curled in a crooked smile. “Thy virtue is safe, lass. I hath no intention of following the king’s orders.”
She leaned forward. “Doth thou not?”
“Nay. What need hath I for a scrawny female.”
Incensed, she walked toward him, stabbing a finger at his chest. “Scrawny I am not, sir.”
His hand reached out and touched her again. “Indeed, thou art a vision, well rounded and enticing. Art thou more pleased with this description?”
A shiver of excitement slithered up her spine.
She ignored his question. She’d escaped one beast only to find another. Where was her fear, her revulsion? She felt drawn to the gentleness in his eyes as if she could see past his fangs and pointed ears.
His lascivious grin caused her to pull away. She needed time to think, to evaluate her situation. Her mind became a tangled web of thought. She tried to recall what she knew of trolls. When very little information wiggled from her memory, she tried to think of questions she might put to the beast.
The heat of his gaze swept her from head to toe. He circled her, studying her as if she were the oddity.
“This place? How far did I fall?” She moistened dry lips with the tip of her tongue.
“The depth canst not be measured in given increments. A fall like that depends upon the amount of fear fueling your approach. Wert thou frightened, consumed with such fear your heart pushed against its confines, straining to explode within your chest?”
Her eyes bulged at the accuracy of his description. “I couldst scarcely breathe.”
“Pits of redemption.”
“The hole you fell into is known as a pit of redemption. A person doth not happen upon such unless fear drives them. Tell me, lass. What demons nipped at thy heels to cause thee to fall such a distance?”
She shivered, remembering her harried run through the forest.
“The Sluagh,” she whispered. “I was their quarry for their Wild Hunt. They wanted me with a single-minded determination that fueled my fear.”
“Mmm.” The great beast rubbed his chin. “Aye, I suspect they wert not alone in the wanting.”
His green eyes deepened, penetrating her soul. She felt his strength of character, his noble desire to help others. She shuddered as conflicting emotions converged. Trolls were supposedly hideous creatures, reeking havoc on the unsuspecting. Sir Villdemore seemed different. She took a step closer. Could this beast offer her sanctuary from her preordained future? She smiled at the irony of this thought. The troll had meant to kidnap her, hadn’t he?
“Wouldst thou have stolen me hadst I not fallen into your arms?”
He acted incensed. “Nay. I steal no brides.”
“I return you topside where thou shalt go about your business.” A sadness crept into his voice. She sensed his deep loneliness.
She’d never heard of a troll relinquishing a captive. Could she trust him? From the villagers, she’d often heard stories of young maidens being carried off into the night. Her heart softened towards him. How odd. Elves normally did not feel such strong emotions unless their hearts became touched by the goodness of another.
“Doth thou always catch creatures when they fall through the pit?”
Simon peered around Sir Villdemore’s great bulk. “Nay, he’s often too late, but it does no’ keep him from trying. And when he fails, he sulks for days.”
“Enough, Simon,” he said.
“I thought trolls harmed humans and other beings whenever they had a chance.”
“He would save ’em all.” Simon swept his arms wide. Leaning forward, he whispered, “Do no’ breathe a word, lass. ’Tis no’ in the troll’s code of honor. But then, he was no’ always a troll. He used to be a man.”
She gazed up at Sir Villdemore. “A man? How?”
Intrigued, she lifted one brow. “Canst the spell be undone?”
Sir Villdemore shrugged. “I hath yet to find a way, but given a choice I wouldst gladly re-walk the earth in human form.”
Marriage. She’d run from home tonight to escape an unwanted betrothal. Her father had offered her to Lundro, a dark Jotun giant with a soul as black as Loki’s. She suspected Lundro of setting the Sluagh on her heels.
A choice. She had a choice. Marry the monster hidden within the man or marry a man buried within the monster. She reached out a hand and centered it upon his chest. His heart accelerated from her boldness. Her eyes met his. He’d been nothing but kind in his dealings with her.
“The king hath ordered you to marry and so you shall.”
“Thou wouldst do this willingly?”
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “I wouldst rather marry a troll with a heart than a man with no soul.”
“Thou hath no idea what you say, lass.” He narrowed his eyes to slits and his nostrils flared wide. Silence stretched forward, dark and menacing. He didn’t seem happy with her offer. Had she read him wrong?
His hand reached out. Long, sharp fingernails lightly grazed the side of her cheek. She closed her eyes.
He won’t hurt me. He’s not like other trolls.
Her throat constricted. She opened her eyes. “I vow I do, sirrah.”
The sharp point of his fingernail pressed deeper. Her skin burned where he drew blood. He pulled his hand away and sniffed. His wet, rough tongue grazed the wound. “Trolls eat humans. I imagine an Alfar Faery would prove just as tasty. Didst thou know this?”
Did he purposely try to intimidate her? Her fingers explored the spot where he had licked her. The scratch had completely healed. “But thou dost not partake in the human delicacy, dost thou?”
Sighing, he pulled away. “Nay. But thou hath no idea the restraint required not to feast upon such a tasty morsel. Come, it is long past time I return thee to thy world.”
Calloused fingers took her by the arm, meaning to lead her away. She balked. Without a stolen bride, the king would kill him. His life force felt warm and vibrant upon her arm. Suddenly, she couldn’t bear the thought of his death. Whether he agreed or not, he needed her. Certain of the course she must take, she pulled her arm free.
“I wilt not go. The king orders thee to marry, hath chosen me as thy intended bride. I wilt not let thee die.”
“Stubborn woman. I shalt not marry you. The price might be higher than death, and I shan’t take the risk.”
“Thou wilt not need force. I come to this marriage willingly.”
He grabbed her to him. His naked chest pressed full against her. “Willingly? Hath thou any idea what exactly that means?”
She closed her eyes. “Aye.”
He lowered his lips upon hers, his desire hungry and bruising. Both repulsed and intrigued, she froze.
He means to frighten me away.
She absorbed the feel of his body against hers, heard the erratic beat of his heart. She tasted his passion. How could something so heady not be right? Her body melted against his, drinking in the unfamiliar emotions his kiss evoked.
“So, Sir Villdemore. Thou hath no wish to die. I am greatly relieved thou hath followed my edict.”
Sir Villdemore pushed her away to face his king. He bowed, acknowledging the sovereign entity before him. “King Jadestone.”
With trembling fingers, she touched her swollen lips. Her gaze swept over him. He remained a troll. She’d half hoped the kiss would be enough to break the spell, yet it did not matter. She hadn’t been repulsed by his lips upon hers. The hairs on his cheek tickled her neck when he leaned in close. “Tell him you desire this union.”
Confusion gripped her. Did he now agree with her plan? She started to speak, but the king cut her off.
“Pretty and young. I might change my mind and marry you myself.” The king lowered his shaggy head and sniffed. A dark red tongue snaked out over his full lips. She shuddered.
His large belly jiggled with laughter. “Alas, one more wife wouldst only add to my troubles. You seem subdued, my dear, in shock over what has transpired. Good, good. Save the fight for later. A troll’s greatest prize is the wife who fears him.”
“I want to go home now.” Her voice sounded weak even to her ears. She had no wish to remain in this particular troll’s company. Stepping into Sir Villdemore’s embrace, she nestled against his warmth. She wanted him to take her away from the king’s menacing presence.
“Nay, lass.” A worried frown marred Sir Villdemore’s furry brow. “Tell him how you truly feel. Tell him how you desire to be my wife.”
Confusion made her strain against the arms that held her. “Let me go.” She wanted to see his face.
The king laughed again. “A fighter. Mayhap, she hath Viking blood in her veins. Thou hath done well in stealing this female. Her fear seems great. Sir Villdemore, do you claim this prize for your wife?”
At that moment she understood clearly what transpired. A troll’s code of honor must only allow unwilling maidens to become wives. Sir Villdemore wanted her cooperation, so the king would shun the union, forcing Sir Villdemore to return her topside. The crafty troll sought a way out as a means of saving her from himself. He didn’t understand her alternative frightened her more.
Before he could refuse the king’s question, she leaned over and in a voice meant for only his ears asked, “Thou shalt return me topside when you refuse the king?”
“Yea, you know I shall.”
The loud words bounced off the cavern walls. The king thought he had his answer and the misunderstanding sealed their fate. “Good, Good. ’Tis done. I now pronounce you wed for all eternity. The Alfar Faery is yours, Sir Villdemore.”
For good measure, Siphinea screamed and fainted to the ground. She heard the king’s laughter echo along the corridors as he left her alone with Sir Villdemore.
Minutes stretched forward.
A stubby greenish brown toe pushed at her hip. “Thou canst stop playing dead. The King is no longer in our presence.”
Siphinea opened one eye and then the other. She scrambled to a standing position without the aid of Sir Villdemore. “Was that it?”
“What dost thou mean?”
“The marriage ceremony didst not seem like a ceremony at all. Art we truly wed?”
“Verily, it depends on your definition of wed. The king’s blessing saw it done. By the troll code of honor, thou art now mine to do with as I see fit.”
Their shadows danced upon the cavern wall, the flickering lantern light making them seem more animated. “I see.”
His gnarled hand closed around her flesh. Pain snaked up her arm. He pulled her closer to him. “Nay, thou dost not see. Hath thou any idea what takes place between two mates? Canst thou picture thyself lying naked beside this grotesque body? I have hair where hair shouldst not grow. My feet art twice the size of my head. My teeth resemble those of a wolf while my ears belong on a donkey. I am a monster, a troll.”
Her gaze dropped to his overlarge feet. She hadn’t really thought past saving herself from Lundro’s clutches and preventing Sir Villdemore’s death.
More importantly; wed to a troll. No, not a troll. Sir Villdemore had once been a man, and by all she’d seen and heard, a proud man.
The memory of their kiss teased her senses. She was capable of enjoying his embrace. She raised her head. “Tell me your name. I feel I shouldst know thee by a less formal address.”
“A proud name for a proud man.”
With a fierce growl, he reached up and broke the tip of a stalactite. “A man I am not. I canst never be the man you envision.”
“Thou art not a troll, either. A troll wouldst not have tried so hard to turn me away. A troll wouldst have allowed me to fall to my death, so it could feast upon my flesh.”
The hardened mineral clattered against the wall where he threw it. He gathered her to him, crushing her body against his. “Silver blonde hair dances around your waist. Delicate features surround deep blue eyes. And pale skin shines with a translucent quality. Thou art beautiful, a rare creature to tempt such a beast.”
She placed a trembling hand upon his heart, and the other upon his cheek. “I see only a man, a man with a burden to endure. I wouldst bear that burden with you.”And so it came to pass that Siphinea Raven married a hideous beast, overlooking his outer image and searching her heart for the true beauty within.