Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chapter Excerpt - Blessedly Bound (An Elemental Witch Trials Novel Book 1) by Lucretia Stanhope

See what you are missing... Part one

Chapter One

GWEN GLARED AT her raven Lewis, who watched her from his perch. “You can help me or mind your own business.”

“Will it be my business when you lay freezing in a snowstorm?” His words whispered in her mind.

With her last step out of the main room and into the hall she inhaled a full breath. They discussed his concerns already, more than once. Her focus remained steady as she opened the door, unshaken by the flourish of feathers when Lewis flew by her face. It didn't bother her anymore, not like it used to. Over time she came to understand it as the equivalent to a child's temper tantrum.

The wood boards of the porch creaked under her weight. With a tug she closed the door and ended the stream of warmth from inside, along with the debate. The siding rose waist high and the screen blocked much of the snow. Regardless, the temperature pierced the extra layers she wore.

Lewis watched as she struggled with the outside door.

She shoved her shoulder against it a few times. The high snowdrift caused it to need more muscle than Gwen's small stature could give.

The raven changed to his man form, shoved the door open, and shifted back before he took flight into the night.

“Thank you.” Her words filled the emptiness around her.

With her head turned so that the chill didn't slap her face, she walked down the steps into the storm. The wind swirled the fluffy new snow in a way that made it hard to see. The deeper into the chilling white she walked the more she needed to use memories, awful memories, and instinct to guide the way. Her eyes scanned for Lewis as she fought the snow in the direction of the tree line, toward where she knew they discovered her grandmother.

Dead. Burned.

Gwen tried not to think about her first few days at the manor. Awful days filled with tales of what the police found. The local sheriff told those tales with indifference. The disconnection in his voice and eyes made sense for police officers, but made her uncomfortable. Those days, and those words stayed raw and fresh in her mind.

Still in her first week, her clothes remained in suitcases, and she didn't feel anything other than confused. She tried to understand what happened, why it happened, or where she belonged. Every day felt like a blur of crime scenes, police, details she never wanted to hear, and a manor that she didn't, and may never feel at home in.

The sound of snow as it crunched under her feet became background music to those memories, while her mind drifted to the first day she walked the grounds alongside the police officers.

Her thoughts broke.

A warm spot grew from the coldness and wrapped around her. The whistle of the wind stopped. The smell of burned pine, death, and ice mingled together in the air like a macabre barbecue. She knew she stood in the right spot.

The trees appeared as dark shadows of some unknown monsters reflected against the white snow. She turned away from the imagined monsters toward the manor she couldn't see anymore. An isolated sense of dread washed over her. She drew in a deeper breath, the air dried her throat. Every exhale formed a cloud before it faded, sucked into the void she felt.

Her face shivered, teeth chattered, and fingers felt numb. The urgency to get on with her attempt at a vision pulled her from her drifting thoughts. To delay any longer meant a real risk of frost bite.

A flash of black cut through the snowy air. Lewis.

She pulled off her gloves, reached her hands out to the rough bark, and rested her bare palms on the burnt tree. The tree where her grandmother died.

Bound and burned.

Her feet slid out of her shoes and dug into the icy layers. As a reflex they recoiled. It took all of her will to force them deeper. Her toes wiggled through the snow while she ignored both the wind that cut through her clothes and the hot pin pricks of freezing flesh on her feet.

At first it was easy to dig away the new fluffy flakes, and then it took some extra effort as she worked at the older, more compressed layers. She did not register that she hit the soil under her feet until her mind took her back to the near past.

Sometimes past visions came in manageable snippets, and other times she felt transported. This time she felt the tug of a transport. She hoped for that when she decided to take her chances in the snowstorm in order to use the waning moon to aid her.

A breeze blew. The air carried on it had a dry warmth. She looked up, stars above her sparkled in the dark night sky.

It must be a summer night, she thought. No, it can't be.

She inhaled the scent of char and let her mind focus. Warmth surrounded her again. From where? The air itself was cold, a winter night, but with a warm breeze.

Her eyes opened wide.


Fire burned in front of her. As the flames grew higher, they scorched her skin. She struggled to back away from the flames but found she couldn't move. Her eyes looked down. Everywhere she looked she saw dancing shades of yellow and orange. She wrestled against the rope that held her bound, tied to a tree.

“Burned at the stake.” She heard the words echo in the night, followed by laughter.

She pushed aside the hot and pain as she tried to see who the laugh came from. Her eyes scanned the flames that licked closer to her. The wicked laugh filled her head. Sweat beaded on her forehead. The heat made it hard to concentrate. She needed a glance, a glimpse, anything she could link to.

Brown eyes flashed in front of her. She couldn't see anything else, her mind refused to piece together anything other than brown eyes. She saw no face. Even the voice sounded genderless.

“Now you will burn, witch,” the same voice said.

The flames reached higher. She heard herself screaming. Two distinct sets of screams rang out, her own and her grandmother’s. The heat swallowed her thoughts. She smelled the unmistakable smell of skin on fire and singed hair. Things started to black out as consuming pain enveloped her.

As soon as her consciousness closed to the fire, she felt cold. Her hands strained to grip the snow beneath them as she lay sprawled on the ground.

Her eyes opened again to see the ivory world replaced by crimson. She looked down, and said a prayer that the ropes would burn so she could flee from the heat and pain.

Blackness came again. Coldness woke her again.

Again, her eyes opened to heat and fire. She tried to back out of the past, but flames continued to cook her skin.

Her eyes closed. She felt clammy. The sweat on her skin froze in the arctic air.

“Lewis,” she managed to say before the flames sucked her back.

When she started to return again she felt warmth, not heat. She felt movement. Someone carried her in their arms. The wind still howled, snow swirled. Too weak to do anything more, she rested against the familiar body of Lewis.

The next time she opened her eyes, she saw the main room inside the manor. She felt the comfort of a soft blanket and heard the crackle of the fire.

Lewis perched on the chair to the right of the couch she rested on. He watched in silence.

“Thank you.” She sat up, and leaned back on the pillows.

“You could have died,” he said, still as a voice in her head.

She licked her chapped lips. “I need to know. You know I only had one night to do this before the moon phase changed.”

“Was it worth it?”

“Any little bit that can help me find out who did this to grandma is worth anything.”

“You were hurt.”

“Yes. Burned.” She held out her arms, her eyes examined the unmarred flesh. “You healed them already?”

“Of course I healed them. You knew she was burned, what have you learned?” His words started out soothing but became an annoyance as he chastised her.

Gwen rubbed her hands together. “She was burned alive. I learned why she was killed that way. She was not burned after being killed some other way. They, whoever killed her, put her to death as a witch.”

“Did you see who did it?”

“No, I saw brown eyes, and heard a crazy laugh.”

“Brown eyes, and how exactly is that useful?”

“I can't be sure. It's something.”

“It is not something worth dying for in a snowstorm.”

Gwen laid her head back and closed her eyes. They already argued about this before she went outside. She didn't have the desire to do it again. “Thank you, was what started this conversation. How about you just say you're welcome and we call it a night?”

“Welcome,” he said and proceeded to preen. She interpreted that as ravenspeak for, 'this is not worth my time.'

“Lewis?” Her eyes remained closed.

“Yes, my witch?”

“What can pull me into the past?”

“Did you feel out of control?” He changed forms and sat beside her on the couch.

“I did. Whatever it was, with the eyes, it kept pulling me back every time I tried to come back to here.” She opened her eyes when she felt him sit.

He looked at her, his thin brows creased with the same concern that was in every one of the sharp features of his face. His dark brown eyes, rimmed in black, looked back at her, also concerned. His hand reached down and stroked her hair, that glistened as deep a black as his own.

She tried to hide her own fear as he studied her with intensity. He didn't stay in the form of a man often, not since they realized they shared a deep, inappropriate desire for each other. Magical partners did not entertain such an attraction. In all his forms, he only consisted of magical energy. It could not happen. She felt a twinge of sorrow at the thought of their agreement that he would stay in the form of a raven, unless an absolute need for him to be otherwise arose.

“I don't feel any magic on you. No links or residue.” His brows uncreased.

“Was I in danger do you think? I've never felt like things noticed me before when I look in the past.”

“They shouldn't have noticed you. It should have been like watching a film. It engaged you?” he asked, in a tone riddled with concern.

“Yeah, you don't think I could have called something here somehow? Maybe I wasn't seeing the past, maybe some supernatural being was showing me something?”

“Nothing seemed extraordinary from here. You looked no different than any other time you have had visions. I didn't feel any magic in the air aside from yours.” His features wrinkled more as he thought.

“Are we safe now?” She sat up a little more.

“Yes, of course, lay down and rest. I will get you something hot to drink and add wood to the fire before I shift back.”

As she watched him walk away, she felt that he knew more than he let on. Lately, the wedge between them grew in size at a rate that alarmed her. She could tell something about the night rattled him. Not only did it show in his eyes, but he shifted forms. What had startled him enough to do that?

When he came back, he handed her a cup of hot chocolate and then tossed wood on the fire.

“What scared you?” she asked after she took a sip of her drink.

“You screaming, to start with.” He turned back to her. “I never want to hear you hurting.”

“No Lewis, what scared you enough that you are here, now, like this?”

“I wanted to touch you and make sure there was nothing on you that needed magic to remove it.” He looked away in what she read as an attempt to avoid eye contact.

“You are lying. I thought as my familiar you had to help me.”

“I do. I will always do what is best for you.”

Those words stung as she remembered the argument about him and her never being together.

“Yes, well make sure in protecting me you also keep me aware of the dangers too.”

“It sounds like a witch, voodoo maybe, or a demon,” he said. “A demon is not something either of us needs to be tangling with.”

“Why would a demon burn grandma at the stake?”

“I don't know, and I am sad you had to see that.”

“I lived it, bound and burned. It was awful and painful.”

He sat down and took her in his arms. “I'm so sorry you had to feel that. Please stay away from that spot. It is clearly still active with something.”

“For now, but I will not stop looking for answers. You must understand that. If you know something, you can save me some work.”

He didn't answer. They both let the needed conversation transition into silence as she drifted to sleep in his lap. While she slept, he considered what happened in the snowstorm. He wondered which of his buried secrets would surface, and what else might happen as a result.

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