For your reading pleasure, here are a few sample chapters of DRUID WARRIOR’S HEART, book two in the Celtic Stewards Chronicles. Enjoy!
January 2, 1513
“I merely suggest it might be a good idea to curry his favor,” Mother said. “With the war coming, what better ally than a military general?”
Ruth entered the solar to find her brother Lonan sitting before the fire. Mother pushed back the sleeve of her gown and rested her hand against his forehead. Lonan shrugged off the blanket. “Blasted thing! It’s too hot for a blanket.”
Ruth glanced at her mother. Hot was not how she would describe the day.
Lonan moaned. “Mum, don’t speak of the war. Talk like that makes people think you’re mad.”
“War is coming,” she said, crossing her arms. Her fingers inadvertently curled around her gown’s opening showing off the bodice of her white muslin underdress.
“How do you know? Five hundred years is a long time,” Lonan said. “You might be mistaken in your calculations. The mythic war you await may not be nigh.”
Staying out of the argument, Ruth poured herself a cup of cider; the sweet scent filled her nose.
“I can add as well as you can,” Mother said.
“From what?” he argued. “I say again, your calculations may be wrong.”
“Do you no longer believe in the Tuatha dé Danaan? The Bright Lord and Lady?” Mother asked.
Ruth twiddled her thumbs, gaze skimming the room for something to do. Perhaps she could hide in the corner and knit while they argued. Anything to stay out of this quarrel!
“Of course I do, Mum,” Lonan said, in a soft voice.
“Then you cannot tell me you disbelieve their harshad warriors will come.”
“No, I don’t,” he said. “But you have no proof of when they shall.”
Mother shook her head. “I think you should go back to bed, son,” she said. “You’ve too high a fever. It has affected your thinking.”
Lonan groaned and rubbed his temples. “No,” he honked through a stuffy nose. “I cannot. I’m charged to deliver General Weddel’s boots today. I need to open the shop.”
“Perfect,” Mother said. “I shall go with you to meet him. We will ask what he thinks.”
“She,” he said, then squinted in question. “Possibly.”
“She?” Mother asked. Ruth’s ears perked, as well, and she paused in her search through her knitting.
“Either that or the gentleman has a very feminine foot.” Lonan pulled the blanket back over his shoulders. “James had some work he needed done, too. I cannot afford to delay.”
Ruth piffted. “James can wait.”
The bell rang from his shop attached to the side of the house. Lonan waved a hand to the far door and pushed up from his chair with a deep groan.
“Son.” Mother pushed him down again. “I said no. Ruth?”
Ruth set her yarns and needles aside and shimmied past Mother, though loath to give up the bit of warmth from the fire. “I’ll see to it,” she said and scurried to the narrow passageway connecting her home and Lonan’s shoe shop, pausing only to unlock the door.
Sun flooded the little shop from the bank of mullioned windows across the room. Outside, a blond man stood at the door, his arms crossed under a thick black cloak. Ruth flipped through the keys as she charged round Lonan’s display counter.
“I’m coming,” she called and slid the key into the lock. A blast of cold air whooshed in as she opened the door. “Can I help you?”
At first, the man said nothing, his green eyes scanning across her face as if he sought something.
The longer he stood there staring, the more awkward she felt. Was something wrong? Did she have yarn tangled in her sleeve? She checked. No, nothing hung from her wool sleeve.
The man still said nothing, so Ruth cleared her throat. “Sir?”
Her question popped him to life. “I’ve come for General Weddel’s boots,” he said in a deep, lush voice.
“Ah!” She opened the door a little wider. “Why did you not say so? Come in. My brother’s a little under the weather today, but I’m sure the General’s boots are here somewhere.”
“I am sorry to hear he’s unwell,” the stranger said. “Should I come back?”
“No.” She turned to the line of finished projects. Shoes of various sizes and boots of finer quality leather stood along pine shelves. “Let me—” She paused a moment, scanning the handwritten name tags Lonan had fastened to each one. “Weddel,” stood out on the top shelf. Over her head. Ruth frowned at the shelves. “Blast it! One moment.”
She swished through the heavy curtain concealing Lonan’s workshop and, locating the step stool her brother kept behind a worktable, carried it into the shop. She plopped the stool down in front of the shelf and soon had the boots in hand.
As she stepped down, someone laid a hand to her hip.
Her spine straightened in alarm. Who touched her?
A glance back and down gave her the answer: The man had rounded the counter and his strong hand steadied her. She blinked down at him but somehow didn’t wish him to remove his hand from its perch.
His forest green eyes set in a heart-shaped face; his mustache curved above full lips. The one obvious flaw was a nose that had surely been broken at one time. Despite that, she found him handsome, chivalrous—and armed as if he expected a fight any second, if the scabbards at his hip and boot pointed to any truth.
The sleeve of his brown coat slipped down a little and Ruth noticed a colorful design etched into his forearm. The faded blue tattoo resembled a bird about to take flight.
Her head spun, as if she’d gone into a trance.
“I thought you might fall,” he said, bringing her out of her reverie.
She stepped down and he reached out for the boots.
A nervous laugh escaped the fellow. “Can I—”
“Oh!” she gasped. She leaned under the counter, retrieved a box, and plopped the boots inside. Placing a top over it, she laced string around the package to hold it secure. “Will there be anything else?” she asked.
“Some of that wonderful jam of your mother’s,” he said, a smile lighting his handsome face.
Her hand stopped, a finger tangling in the string. “Excuse me?”
“If you have any left in your stores.”
Ruth bade him wait a moment and ran inside the house and down to the family cellar. Plucking a jar of apple jam from the shelves, she frowned at the jars, boxes, and sacks filling their pantry.
Would they make it through until spring? She sent a silent prayer to the gods asking that they might not go wanting, and shut the cellar door behind her.
Back inside Lonan’s shop, the man waited, elbows on the counter, eyes narrowed at the windows and the lane outside. Beyond, her family’s fields with their usually lush green grasses now a faded, dead golden, held his attention.
He turned as she cleared her throat.
“I hope this will do,” she said, handing him the jar.
He looked it over and met her gaze, a glint of amusement in his eye. “It’ll tide me over awhile.”
He opened his money pouch and deposited coins in her hand.
“Thank you,” she said, taking his payment.
She followed him to the door, where he paused, shuffling from foot to foot, reluctant to leave. Finally, he tipped his hat to her and stepped outside.
Ruth shut the door and turned the sign so that it read Closed. Intrigued, she watched him for another moment. I wonder if I’ll ever see him again.
She moved into the courtyard. There, a few small flower pods dotted the trellis over her garden door. Touching a stem she’d snapped off earlier this winter, a small white rose budded and bloomed under her finger. She narrowed her eyes at the temperature globe. A balmy thirty-three. Too cold for roses. Someone was bound to ask questions, or worse, accuse her of witchcraft, one day.
She shuddered and fastened the bloom into the strap of her overdress and stepped through the gate.
Around the corner, the stranger lingered in the lane beyond their fence. When he realized she studied him, he gave a small bow, and strolled away.
Ruth watched him, wondering why he made her heart stutter. Though as she examined the feeling, she found no fear there. Only hope, and the tiniest thread of dread.
Could Mother be right? Did they count the passing centuries from the right Grandma Macken? Did the last harshad battle occur in the decades surrounding the year one thousand?
Should she expect the next battle and the mythic, mystical warriors who would fight it to arrive any day? To expect them to ask for the use of her land, their sacred battleground?
Something in her heart told her yes, and that her hope that the handsome stranger might be the Tuatha dé Dannan soldier she awaited wasn’t silly.
She sighed. “If only you were a harshad warrior.”
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