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“Witches!” he said, realizing it came out like a swear word.
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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam
Book 1 Coven at Callington eBook Cover.jpg
While on an urgent mission to rescue a child suspected of being kidnapped by a ruthless warlock, a devout church guard and a fierce coven protectress struggle to come to terms with what is good and what is evil.


Table of  Contents (Excerpts)

PROLOGUE

Part I (other world-opening)
Part II


CHAPTER 1
Part I (other world opening)
Part II
Part III
Part IV (this one has an actual inside view (drawing) of Lambeth Palace, the archbishop of Canterbury's home)
Part V


Chapter 2
Part I (other world opening)
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Chapter 3
Part I (other world opening)
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

If you enjoyed reading
Coven at Callington so far, you can continue reading the rest of the book with purchase, or if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for FREE on Amazon.
Book 2 in The Cauldron Effect series,
Warlock from Wales, is also now available for purchase or FREE on Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.
Book 3 in The Cauldron Effect series,
Love Spell in London, is currently being posted free, for the first 3 chapters, on Shereen's new blog, Magic Ahoy! This book is also available for purchase through the fantasy and science fiction boxed set Rogue Skies.

Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 3 - Part V

Laneast, Cornwall

“We should move closer,” Braden said to Garth as he watched Miss Pendraven speak quietly with an older woman seated beneath an old oak.

His footman shook his head. “Wards, milord,” as if that one word should explain everything.

Braden took it to mean that magical warning bells were scattered around the area. He’d witnessed Garth use such tools in their work.

While they waited, Garth adjusted his coat until he wore it inside out. “To render me safe from them nasty Cornish pixies, milord.”

Braden slapped the superstitious man’s hands away when he tried to do the same with Braden’s morning coat.

Garth gave up with a loud disappointed sigh.

Braden turned his attention back to the two ladies. The women did nothing more than sit and talk, albeit quite animatedly. Behind him, his black Arabian stallion, Nadeem, flicked his tail with impatience.

Braden’s sentiments were aligned with his steed. He’d rather be racing across the moors, eating his breakfast, or even sleeping in his comfortably warm Appleton bed than standing here staring at women who did nothing of note.

“Are you certain this is a coven meeting, milord?” Garth asked. “They look like they’re just talkin’ about who slept with who.”

“Why would Miss Pendraven come here at sunup simply to gossip? It makes no sense.”

“No more sense than thinking a witch would walk for miles instead of flyin’.”

“That’s merely an old wives’ tale. No one can fly.”

“Could be ‘cause she didn’t have her broom, I s’pose,” Garth muttered in an absentminded way.

Braden might as well be having this conversation with the tree he leaned against for all the attention his servant paid him.

“Why not spell herself one, though?” Garth continued with his one-sided conversation. “As she did with the lantern?”

Braden rolled his eyes at his footman’s excessive imagination. “She probably had that lantern and flint stashed away in the woods. I see no magic involvement in that.”

“You believe she’s a witch, else why follow her?”

“We followed to locate her coven. A coven consists of more than two witches, Garth. We must uncover who the rest are.”

“Then what?” Garth asked, sounding a little nervous.

“We bring them to the Church for questioning.”

“To be tortured,” Garth said. “Then hanged. Or drowned. Or dismembered.”

“Enough. The guards are not monsters.” At least, he wasn’t. Sutton’s words returned to taunt that claim. Destroy that coven. “Garth, evil must be stopped, or it will flourish. At worst, they may be incarcerated for the rest of their lives, and be well fed and cared for. The problem here is that I have two divergent tasks. Finding out the identities of the witches and tracking down the missing boy. Trystan is my immediate concern. I want you to discover who else in this town belongs to the Callington coven.”

“Me?” Garth asked, a squeak in his voice.

“Do you want to help or not?”

“Why can’t I help with finding the boy?”

“He has probably been taken by demons,” Braden explained, playing on Garth’s fear of such beings.

“I’ll keep an eye on the witches, milord. I’ll do a good job.”

“You’d better.” Braden gave the little man a warning shove. “I’ll not have you show soft heartedness with this lot.”

“You can trust me, milord!”

Braden sighed, for he, too, had softened toward one of the witches. He recalled the impromptu discussion he’d had in the carriage with Miss Pendraven and his pulse leapt in remembered eagerness at that conversation. The lady’s sparkling blue-green eyes had promised a passionate nature.

She stirred him both intellectually and physically. If Miss Pendraven hadn’t fallen victim to the darker truths of the Devil, she would have made a stimulating companion.

The two women stood, interrupting his musing. They walked up to the well, held out their hands and, in perfect unison, dropped items down into the well.

“Oh!” Garth released a soft breath as if in awe.

“What?” Braden asked.

“Nothing.”

“Garth, I know you saw something. What was it?”

“What could there be to see?” Garth asked with an innocent look, and then turned away as if he couldn’t hold his master’s steady regard.

Braden frowned. “Did something magical happen?”

“They’re leaving.”

Braden gave up on getting Garth to admit he’d seen anything supernatural and headed for his mount. “Let’s go.”

“I’ll be right behind you, milord,” Garth called out.

Braden had gone a few paces before he looked back to see Garth trotting in the other direction, toward the well. Now the witches had left, Garth probably thought it was safe to approach that area. What was he up to?

Braden followed his footman and then sat back on his horse as Garth dismounted and ran up to the well. He held out his hand and, muttering under his breath, dropped three successive prizes down into the water.

As Garth returned to his horse, Braden said, “Happy?”

“It never hurts to ask for help,” Garth said, unrepentant.

“Prayer would be more useful. What did you wish for?”

“That the witches don’t kill me for tracking them.”

Braden hid his smile and nodded. “Appropriate.”

“That the demons don’t kill you for interfering in their fun.”

“Thank you for thinking of me.”

“And that no one gets hanged, burned, or dismembered during this journey.”

“Now, Garth,” Braden said in a grim tone, not liking his footman nurturing such unrealistic hopes, “you do realize your last wish is doomed to failure where evil is involved?”

Garth’s shoulders slumped as he mounted and trotted off in silence.

Braden stared at the well with a frown. Among the Guards of the Green Cross, he had earned the nickname “Death’s Dove” for the number of corpses that appeared wherever he was sent. His reputation did not portend a happy end for the ladies of Callington.

Still, he couldn’t resist fishing out and tossing a coin into the well. As the shilling plopped, he murmured a silent prayer. He then cantered after his footman, easily passing him.


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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 3 - Part IV
Laneast, Cornwall

There was an unexpectedly militant look in her aunt’s eyes. So Merryn proceeded with caution, as if she was walking barefoot along a shale-and-stone-covered Cornish beach. “Would the move not further anger the warlocks?”

“I’m willing to risk that.”

“Why, when this could trigger a further confrontation?”

Her aunt’s gaze skimmed half-bare trees and the dull-colored brush surrounding them before returning to spear Merryn with grim purpose. “Because of Dewer,” Aunt Morwena finally replied in a seething tone. “Even if we retrieve the boy, Dewer will again try to take him - from us, from Snowden, from wherever the boy goes, unless we eliminate that which makes the boy a desirable commodity.”

“But…” Merryn sat back, confused. How did what her aunt proposed, fit the witch’s creed to do no harm?

“This theft of the boy should never have occurred. It’s a repeat of what happened to poor Jonas.”

With that admission came understanding. For the first time, Merryn saw the depth of her aunt’s fury at her nephew’s death. Her heart swelled with sympathy. She had thought she was alone in her pain. Her aunt, it seemed, merely hid her feelings better.

“Merryn, can you not see what this could mean for the future? If all warlock boys were baptized, none need ever again fear being used or abused by their elders.”

“All?”

“We begin with one. To show how beneficial this ceremony could be. It will protect a warlock boy from being exploited by his elders but not hinder the boy’s powers for his own use. When that benefit becomes clear, it is my hope baptisms will be better accepted by warlocks. There are some warlocks who would sacrifice their advancement in order to protect their child. Your father was such a man.”

“My brother was never baptized,” Merryn said. Or Dewer wouldn’t have wanted him. Ah!

“Your father had agreed to the ceremony,” her aunt said. “That decision might be what prompted Dewer to act.”

That was news. Merryn frowned as a heavy feeling inside her shifted. For years, she had blamed her warlock father for not doing enough to keep both her mother and brother safe. If he had indeed contemplated bestowing the Christian ceremony on his son, then history was repeating. For the second time, Dewer had stolen a boy before he could be protected.

Her aunt continued as if she had been tending this plan for a long while. Since Jonas’s death?

“This could give the warlock boys a chance to evolve past the emotional short-sightedness of their elders. Affect the future well-being of not only warlocks, but witches like my sister, who seem drawn to procreate with them.”

The vision her aunt painted was far reaching indeed.

“You must keep a clear head in order to deal with this problem, Merryn. Do not let your thirst for revenge against Dewer cloud your judgment or you will lose sight of what we aim for.”

Merryn felt as if they were about to take a step that would echo throughout history. It was a perilous move.

“Aunt, are you sure this is the wisest course? What if the boy’s father acts on his threat to destroy us?”

“He has.” There was worry in her aunt’s eyes.

“What? How?” Merryn wanted to jump up and hit someone. If a warlock had been nearby she would have pummeled him until he screamed. Luckily, she and her aunt were alone in the forest.

“He has made a pact with the Church of England.”

“Impossible,” Merryn shot back, slicing her hand sideways in rejection. “The Church does not interfere with us any longer.”

“They plan to now. A guard known as ‘The Dove’ is being sent to Callington to put an end to our coven.”

The moment Aunt Morwena spoke, Merryn knew whom the Church had sent. Braden. She sat back, feeling the air thicken and congeal with dread certainty. Braden had listened to Lady Hancock’s stories with such interest. She groaned aloud at all that lady had let spill during their ride.

“What is it?” Aunt Morwena asked.

“This dove has landed, Aunt. He was in the carriage with me from Exeter.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes.”

Recalling how his intelligent eyes studied her so thoroughly, she shuddered. With all that talk of faith and God’s Truth, what had she let slip? She had been as loose-tongued as Lady Hancock. Guilt and fear warred with her nerves. “What do we do now?”

“We cannot be distracted by his presence. Trystan is in danger. He is our first priority.”

“But…”

“Do not worry about the church guard.”

“He’s an earl. Powerful both on Church grounds and by society’s standards.”

“I shall deal with him. You must find the boy. Begin by speaking with the rector.”

All well and good for her aunt to say stay focused. Even the lure of bringing down Dewer paled next to her duty to protect those she was sworn to guard. “How can I ignore the danger to you or my coven sisters?”

“That is what I’m asking of you. Saving Trystan reaches beyond the confines of our little coven. You must keep the greater good in mind, Merryn.”

She remained silent, coming to terms with what was expected of her. She must trust that her coven would be safe in her absence. Her fingers clenched and unclenched as she released her fears until a deep breath finally brought with it acceptance. “This is a dangerous game we play with the warlocks.”

“It is a game we have been engaged in for centuries, ever since we disagreed on how best to deal with humans. Keep your aim high, and this time, we might win.”

* * *


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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 3 - Part III
Laneast, Cornwall

“Trystan is six, about the same age your brother was, when he and Dewer first met and became fast friends.”

“Jonas and Dewer were friends?” Merryn asked, shocked. “They would have been three years apart in age.”

“Yes. Dewer had few children who were permitted to befriend him. He was a lonely child. Your brother was likely awed by his new friend’s half fae lineage, which linked Wyhcan heritage to earth’s magic, bringing Dewer close to truly belonging on earth. During Jonas’s regular visits to Wales, your father foolishly allowed the friendship between his son and Dewer to strengthen.”

Merryn listened avidly. She only knew Jonas from the few months he stayed with her in Cornwall each year. She had grown to love him and was heartbroken whenever he left again for Wales. Truth be told, she was also a little envious of her brother’s time with their father. During his brief visits, she often peppered Jonas with questions about their warlock father.

What happened when he stayed with their father in Wales, however, remained a mystery. Warlocks never disclosed their secrets, and Jonas was no different. After her brother’s death, Aunt Morwena refused to mention Jonas’s name again. The silence had been like a second death blow to a thirteen-year-old deeply grieving her parents and her beloved brother.

“What broke Dewer and Jonas’s friendship?” Merryn gently prompted her aunt, hoping she would continue with this unusual sharing of family history.

“It was the fact that Dewer was never apprenticed.”

“I don’t understand,” Merryn said, surprised. “Warlocks partner their sons with adult males for training by age ten. Ah! Jonas was apprenticed to a friend of father’s when he turned ten.”

“Exactly. I suspect that’s what began the trouble between them. Dewer’s warlock father was dead and his dark fae mother forbade the apprenticeship.”

Wise, thought Merryn.

“I suspect Jonas secretly taught Dewer much of what he learnt,” her aunt continued, “but it wouldn’t be the same as being apprenticed himself.”

“Still, if they were friends, why did Dewer harm my brother?”

“I doubt he meant to. Everything got out of hand when he stole him.”

“Why did he do that, Aunt?”

“Without proper training, Dewer remained magically stunted. He might have hoped to apprentice with Jonas himself, and thus siphon off some of his friend’s powers. Whatever his motivation, taking Jonas was a bad move. Dewer was ill prepared for the battle your parents waged to get him back. They joined forces to rescue their son. Dewer would have died if his mother had not come to his aid.”

“Dewer has now had five years to recover, sulking in his black tower in Wales,” Merryn warned.

“True, but despite having reached his majority, the Warlock Council repeatedly denied him access to Snowdon’s crop of young warlocks to help bolster his powers.”

Merryn’s blood fairly thrummed with indignation. “As well they should, after what he did to my family!”

Her aunt nodded agreement. “I believe they hoped to keep him weak and thus controllable. Then along came Trystan. Another boy with a warlock for a father and a witch for a mother. Trystan has the potential to be as powerful as your brother once was. This custom of stronger warlocks tapping young apprentices for power must be stopped, Merryn. The practice breeds abuse.”

“I agree but how can we affect what warlocks do? You ousted Dewer from my coming-out ball two years ago. Instead of learning from that painful lesson, he appears to have grown more daring.”

“He never lacked nerve.”

Merryn’s clasped hands were white-knuckled. It was a Coven Protectress’s duty to defend her people. She had also trained to gain the skills she would need to face Dewer and win.

“You would permit me to go after him this time?” Merryn posed the question, but wasn’t requesting permission. Nothing would stop her now.

“Only to ensure Trystan’s safety,” Aunt Morwena said in a firm voice. “Find the boy and bring him back to Callington.”

“Here? Considering the time limit, would it not be prudent to take Trystan directly to Snowdon? To his father?”

“If we prove the boy is safe in his mother’s care, that may calm his father.”

“The plan seems unnecessarily risky, Aunt, with warlocks on the rampage.”

“Trystan would not be safe in Snowden.”

“He was not safe here.”

“Are you arguing with me, Merryn Pendraven?”

Her aunt’s harsh-voiced question set her back. “I apologize, Aunt. I’ve had a trying time of late and little sleep.” She smiled cajolingly to lighten the mood. “Rather than calling this an argument, would you consider I’m merely exploring the wisdom of your counsel?”

Morwena’s lips twitched with the first hint of humor. “Dewer has designs on the boy, of that I am certain. Trystan is not safe anywhere. Not until he is baptized as his mother wishes. Then, he may be returned to Snowden.”

This particular Christian ritual, reputedly used for the remission of original sin, had proven to have an unexpected side effect on Wyhcan children. It wove an intricate and extraordinary blessing against mind enchantments. The blessing lasted well into a Wyhcan child’s early adulthood. Covens across Cornwall had been trying to replicate a spell similar to that miracle for generations, without success.

The ceremony especially hampered magical mind persuasion. Many witches heartily adopted the religious practice for their daughters. Warlocks, on the other hand, called the blessing an abomination against nature. The Warlock Council dissuaded the practice among their members.

“Has Trystan’s father agreed to the ceremony?” Merryn asked.

“His father’s wishes do not count.”

The answer sent shock waves cascading over Merryn. The father’s wishes did not count? Not count? When had witches begun to act like warlocks?


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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 3 - Part II
Laneast, Cornwall

An hour before sunrise, Merryn found Aunt Morwena sitting cross-legged under a large oak that shadowed the Laneast wishing well. Eyes closed, the elderly High Sage of Britain basked beneath the early morning glow that painted her fair cheeks rosy. Merryn eyed her steadfast aunt, allowing a sense of homecoming to envelop her as it always did in this lady’s presence.

The dawn air was cool but carried the familiar smoky scent derived from the miners burning turf in the area. A distant shot reminded her it was partridge season. Nearby, a song thrush gave a thin, high-pitched “seep” before flying off.

Merryn approached and sat across from her aunt. The golden bed of fallen leaves crunched and rustled beneath her. Time to report in. Extending a hand, she offered the wild red cherry she’d plucked on the way, neatly pitted. One of her aunt’s favorites.

Morwena Dunstan took and ate the offering, and bowed her thanks. “Blessed be, Merryn,” she murmured and offered Merryn a sorrel leaf.

Merryn consumed the lemony edible, and bowed in turn. “Blessed be, Aunt.”

“What did you learn in Fishguard?”

“There was no trouble there. But you have seen your share of difficulty here?”

Aunt Morwena nodded. “Young Trystan’s been taken.”

“By his father?”

“He says not. Mattock accuses us of hiding his son. He sent a warning to the coven threatening that if we do not return the boy within a week, there would be dire consequences. Trystan was taken three days ago.”

Merryn’s back stiffened with anger. How dare the warlock threaten them. What did he intend? To invade Cornwall? With few exceptions, such as the Fishguard coven in Wales, an unstated rule had prevailed for centuries that the two factions would stay out of each other’s region.

The way to prevent an invasion was to find Trystan. If his father didn’t have him, who did? Could Lady Hancock be right and the fae were somehow involved?

“Who else could have the boy, Aunt?”

“Who do you think?”

Merryn shivered at the light of battle in her aunt’s gaze. The last time she’d seen that look had been over five years ago. The year Merryn began her training to become Coven Protectress. The day after her entire family was murdered. She said the name of her archenemy like a curse. “Dewer.”

* * *

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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 3 - Part I
Laneast, Cornwall

“Think they’ll make a request?” The wishing well posed the question to her creator.

In all the centuries that she’d listened to the prayers and hopes of those who lived nearby, her creator had never responded. Nevertheless, the well duly passed on all requests, but not once had she received an acknowledgement. There’d been no, “Thank you, I appreciate your diligent work” or “Good job.” So she didn’t expect a response now. She spoke anyway. It never hurt to begin a conversation, even if it went nowhere. “These ladies have been here a while but all they’ve done is argue. Do you think they’ll come over to me?”

Silence. The well settled with a disappointed swirl of her water. After a few moments, she murmured, “Haven’t had many visitors lately. Everyone’s busy. When someone does come, all I hear is I need better wages, stronger shaft ladders or a fresh vein in the tin mines. I hope these two wish for something exciting.”

A swell of energy enveloped her sides, warming her as if the sun had indeed risen, instead of remaining hidden below the horizon.

THEY WILL.

At this unexpected answer, the well trembled. Not only did she have visitors today, but she had been gifted with a divine response. This was indeed a special day, as she’d sensed when the sound of movement nearby awoke her.

“Do you think they’ll ask about love? I like it when they ask about love.”

LOVE COMES IN MANY FORMS.

Obscure. She churned her waters. Conversation was hard enough to secure with the Almighty, but must understanding be difficult to grasp, too? Not that it mattered. It was stimulating to talk with someone, especially THIS someone. The thrill of it shivered through her depths.

“I enjoy guessing what they’ll ask for. I’m getting quite good. For instance, since neither of these women look like miners or widows of miners, I say the younger one will ask about a lover. The one across from her will seek wisdom. What do you think?”

YOUR ROLE IS TO LISTEN AND HEAR PAST THE WORDS TO THEIR TRUE NEEDS.

“Oh,” the well said, deflated. She wasn’t good at deciphering signs and symbols and now she had to hear words that weren’t spoken? She turned her attention to less troublesome matters. “What about the other two, the ones hiding in the bushes. Will they make a wish?”

THE FATE OF THIS NATION WILL REST ON THE WISH OF ONE OF THEM.

At that profound prophecy, the well splashed her stone walls in frenzied anticipation.

* * *
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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 2 - Part VI

Laneast, Cornwall

Merryn shook Lady Hancock awake, and then whispered her need to deal with another bit of unusual trouble outside Callington and begged for assistance.

Lady Hancock gave her a startled look.

Merryn held her breath, wondering if she’d misjudged her. Then to her great relief, without argument or a word of censure, the lady signaled the carriage to stop and said aloud, “Miss Pendraven wishes to disembark to visit a friend who lives nearby.”

Excusing herself, Merryn took her small valise tucked under her seat and stepped out the door. Once she’d descended, noting Lord Braden’s upset demeanor, she gently laid a spell on the outside of the door to ensure it could not be opened until the carriage reached Callington. She couldn’t risk him following her to witness her meeting with her aunt.

She moved to the front and touched each horse’s forehead, bespelling the mares to keep trotting until the carriage reached town. With luck, Braden would arrive in town to have the door open as normal, and be none the wiser to her precautionary action.

She then stepped to the side of the road as the vehicle drove on, leaving Merryn behind. The groom’s attention was caught with handling his willful horses. Lord Braden’s servant sitting beside the driver gazed back at her with wide eyes, but he didn’t say a word of protest. The carriage then turned a corner in the road and became lost to sight.

Merryn spread her arms wide. Free at last!

Picking up her skirts, she headed in the direction of Laneast and the meeting with her aunt. She raised her hand and cast a spell for illumination. A metal handle fit into her grip and a gentle glow from a lantern outlined her pathway ahead.

As she strode through the woods, Merryn’s stiff shoulders relaxed. This was her home. These paths, the surrounding villages, Cornwall. Home to witches, as Wales was home to warlocks.

Humans were by far preferable companion to warlocks. Braden was a perfect example of that fact. She had liked the earl immensely despite their heated discussion. He had argued without making her feel dim-witted for holding opinions different from his. In fact, having only held such intellectual debates with witches, their talk had made her feel more alive and vibrant than she thought possible in a man’s presence.

She hoped she’d have an opportunity to dance with him before he returned to London. She suspected she would enjoy it. She pictured herself moving about the dance floor with Braden, their hands clasped, twirling to the musical allure of a tinkling spinet.

* * *

The fact that Miss Pendraven disembarked before they’d reached Callington deeply troubled Braden. Surely it was too dangerous for a young lady to be out alone, in the dark, in the woods. Even if her friend was quite near, anything could happen between the carriage and the safety of that home.

The carriage rolled forward and on impulse he tried to open the door, to offer to act as her escort, but couldn’t budge the handle. He’d knocked on the roof to stop the vehicle but it carried on without pause. He tried the door again but it remained unmovable.

The maid had awoken but her frightened, tight-lipped expression suggested he would not get far questioning her.

He turned to inform Lady Hancock that he wished to disembark, too, only to find her eyes closed and her head hanging limp off her shoulders, as if she’d nodded off. He tried shaking her awake, to no avail. Braden heaved a frustrated sigh and sat back. Soon, soft snuffling snores from Lady Hancock filled the quiet carriage.

As soon as the carriage stopped in Callington, Lady Hancock came awake with an, “Oh.”

He thanked her for the ride and bid a hasty goodbye, hoping he didn’t sound ungracious. This time, when he tried the door, it opened as if nothing had ever kept it shut tight.

Outside, looking worried, Garth untied the black stallion from the back of the carriage.

“Did you see where the lady who left the vehicle earlier went?” Braden whispered.

“Just stood there on the side of the road, milord, watching us drive away. Sent quivers shooting up me spine.”

“There was indeed something strange in her manner. We must find her. You’ll need a horse.”

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as they obtained Garth a mount, they trotted down the road they’d come from.

Braden didn’t like it but he was forced to ask Garth to use magic to track the lady in the dark. When they finally spotted Miss Pendraven ahead, she held a lantern aloft in one hand. He breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief and his first thought was, she’s safe.

His second – What is she doing?

Her arms raised, she twirled every few steps forward.

“Garth, is she performing some magical ritual on the pathway?

“No, milord,” Garth said. “At least, none I can perceive. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was dancing.”

Her movements did remind Braden of a closing dance often performed at balls, La Boulanger. After a while, he sat back on his horse and enjoyed the prospect, even going so far as to picture himself partnering her in the turns.

“Where do you supposed she’s heading?” Garth asked.

“If we’re lucky, she’s leading us straight to her coven.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Garth muttered.

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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 2 - Part V
Her neighbor glanced at her before responding and Merryn groaned inwardly at the woman’s conspiratorial gaze.

Whatever you’re planning, Lady Hancock, pray do not act on it.

Lady Hancock could apparently neither read minds nor correctly interpret the desperate appeal on Merryn’s face, for she regaled the earl with the most shocking stories. Worse, she made a point of including Merryn’s role in each.

Merryn helped resolve this when such and such happened.

Merryn came to the rescue when that occurred.

When this incident blew up, only Merryn’s quick thinking saved the day.

Braden looked inordinately interested. As each tale unfolded, Merryn’s ears heated to volcanic status while Braden’s left eyebrow rose, threatening to merge with his hairline.

The lady was obviously trying to foster the earl’s appreciation of Merryn, but his many glances in her direction unnerved her. He seemed to grow more thoughtful than admiring.

She hated to imagine what he took from these stories, but prayed he wasn’t intelligent enough to put all the pieces together and come up with the truth behind the accounts.

Lady Hancock’s knowledge of Merryn’s activities was a further shock. Was the woman uncannily perceptive about her neighbors’ activities or had Merryn and her coven members become too careless and cocksure over the years?

“You seem a popular lass in Callington, Miss Pendraven,” Braden said.

“She is our personal guardian angel, my lord.” Lady Hancock patted Merryn’s knee. “Well versed in local folklore, she has helped us out of many a scrape with the little gentry.”

Right then, Merryn wished she could vanish.

“Little gentry?” Had his voice spiked? “You ladies believe in such fanciful myths?”

“Oh, they’re not myths in this part of the world, my lord,” Lady Hancock said in earnest. “It may seem so in London, I don’t doubt. If we were in a drawing room in a townhouse at Mayfair, you can be assured I would never bring up this topic.” She gave a titter of laughter. “They would think me completely mad, would they not, Merryn?”

“I don’t doubt it, Lady Hancock.”

“Miss Pendraven, do you, too, believe in the existence of these ‘little gentry’?”

She looked him in the eye and found his return regard quite serious, as if he truly wanted to hear her view on this matter. “Not all things in heaven and earth are known to mankind,” she replied, picking her words with care. “I would not presume to judge what is real or not.”

“A most liberated view,” he said. “Are your views a reflection of Callington’s popular stance? If so, does your local rector reflect this communal spirit in his preaching?”

The question held a hint of condemnation.

Instead of snapping in defense, she decided to go on the offensive. He’d learnt much about her and her town, so it was time she probed a little into Lord Braden’s character. “Are you a God-fearing man, my lord?”

“I believe in God’s Truth,” he said in a quiet voice. Yet, there was much weight to the lightly spoken words.

“How are we to know what is God’s Truth?” she countered, then immediately regretted the question. This was a discussion for a coven gathering, not one to get into with someone she’d met inside a carriage. Especially a man.

“I would have assumed,” he said, “that your Church teaching tells you all you need to know on the subject of God’s Truth.”

“Who teaches the Church such things?” The words were barely out of her mouth before she cringed inwardly.

Braden frowned, as if he were unused to being questioned in such a forthright manner. “Men more holy than you or I, Miss Pendraven.”

Merryn nodded, and although a mantra of Shut up, shut up, shut up rang through her mind, she gave in to her suicidal need to continue this dangerous conversation.

“Is truth not an ever-changing commodity, my lord?” she asked, thinking, no wonder Coven Protectresses were so short lived. “Do not your holy men learn every day, from God,  another facet of what the truth is? The advances in science alone in the last centuries have taught us that what we know today may be shown as utter falsehood tomorrow, as with our past belief that the earth was flat. What we believe tomorrow may be viewed as preposterous today. So, how is one to judge what is God’s Truth when the entirety of God’s Truth is as much a mystery to us today as it was yesterday?”

“You are a philosopher, Miss Pendraven.” The keen light in Braden’s blue eyes suggested the idea did not displease. “But philosophers must be careful, else they may be charged with heresy if the truth they pursue cannot yet be proven.”

“Nothing in faith is a fact, my lord. That is why it is called faith.”

“Pish posh,” Lady Hancock cut in.

Merryn started, but a flush of relief suffused her cheeks at the lady’s timely interruption.

“Faith in God and belief in little people has nothing to do with philosophy,” Lady Hancock said. “Both are immutable facts of life.” She patted Merryn’s knee with a firm hand, practically pinching her. “And Merryn, dear, it does not become a lady to argue with a man about such matters. It is best left for men in universities and monasteries to thrash out such questions to the death. Do you not agree, my lord? It is more felicitous if discussions between men and women center on the best entertainments to be had.”

Merryn let the matter drop, though the look on the earl’s face suggested he might prefer to continue with their discussion. However, he bowed to Lady Hancock’s lead and changed the subject to forms of entertainments they could stir up in the coming weeks.

Only then did her chest collapse with utter relief and she realized how tightly she’d held herself, and not just from being crushed into the side of the carriage, either.

As darkness set, they drew closer to Callington. Since witches were forbidden from using Wyhcan mind spells on humans, which past experience warned could go dangerously awry in this world, Merryn needed another way to disembark without opposition. Trickier yet, once she was out of the carriage, she needed her companions to leave the vicinity without waiting for her to return or to try to find her.

The maid had fallen asleep and Lady Hancock’s head was nodding by the time a plausible plan occurred to Merryn. Her success relied heavily on her recent discovery that Lady Hancock was more aware of coven member activities, in particular Merryn’s protectress duties, than any of them had thus far been aware. A risky bet, assuredly, but a necessary one with Lord Braden watching her so keenly. In fact, he seemed to sense she was up to something, for he, too, had sat up and wore a suspiciously bland expression.

A glance at the moonlit covered landscape showed they approached the turnoff for Laneast. Time to act.


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Genre: a Regency fantasy romance
(c) 2018 Shereen Vedam

Chapter 2 - Part IV
Distracted by the news about Trystan, Merryn glanced at him with mild curiosity. Her mood quickly swung to candid admiration. He had a most compelling face. All angles and arches. Like an archangel sculpture. Her heart thumped in approval and a flush warmed her cheeks.

“Good morning,” he said in a polished voice that reminded Merryn of kings and knights and dances at Almack’s.

She loved to dance.

“Ladies, my pardon for the interruption. May I introduce myself?”

“Of course,” Lady Hancock gushed.

“Thomas Drake Saint-Clair, Earl of Braden, at your service.”

Merryn doubted Lady Hancock could smile any wider. She, too, was tempted to grin like an idiot. She stifled the unruly, fully feminine, impulse.

“How do you do, my lord?” her neighbor said. “I’m Lady Hancock. My companions are Miss Merryn Pendraven and my maid, Jenna. We’re on our way to Callington.”

“I, too, am headed in that direction. Unfortunately, my coach broke down a way back and I hear the stage coach is likely to be several hours yet.”

“Good heavens,” Lady Hancock said. “Why not come with us then? Jenna, move over.”

“How very kind of you, Lady Hancock. I would be delighted to join you.” He turned to gesture to a short man leading a beautiful black horse. “Garth, these lovely ladies have invited us to travel with them. Pray ensure you guide the driver to miss as many holes in the road as you are able to this time. My teeth still rattle from all the craters we’ve visited in the past few days.”

Lady Hancock adjusted her skirts to leave room for the gentleman to enter without soiling her clothing.

“Isn’t this exciting,” she whispered to Merryn. “He looks quite eligible, my dear, and you being unmarried must take particular note. Handsome gents – and he appears well-to-do and with a title – do not grow ten to a dozen in our Cornish moors.”

Merryn’s warm cheeks heated to a blaze. Had he heard that? How could he miss it?

The slight tilt of his full lips as he climbed into the carriage suggested he’d not only heard but also been amused.

She was tempted to deny she was on the lookout for a husband but prudently bit her lips. Why prolong this torture?

Once seated, he smiled and a shiver spun through Merryn like a well-cast spell. His deep blue eyes matched to perfection the azure hair ribbon woven through her braided, blond hair.

“Perhaps you ladies are acquainted with the gentleman who graciously invited me to his home in Callington,” Lord Braden said. “Squire James Robin Appleton.”

“Why, certainly,” Lady Hancock said. The door shut and the carriage rolled forward. “The Appletons are no more than a mile from my home. On the other side of the Parnells. Oh, sir, you probably haven’t heard the news.”

“We shouldn’t trouble his lordship with local gossip,” Merryn said, hoping to waylay this beleaguered topic.

“On the contrary, Miss Pendraven,” Braden said. “As I intend to stay in the area for a few weeks, I’m most interested in local happenings. What news?”

Lady Hancock leaned forward, her enthusiasm radiating about her. “A boy was kidnapped, my lord, in the most villainous manner, from Saint Agatha’s church.”

His blue gaze swung from Lady Hancock to Merryn, his interest obviously roused. “And I worried Callington would be a bore.”

She’d never met a man with such a lively face, both animated and engaging. Despite her intention to remain tight-lipped, his captivating gaze tempted her to join in. If she weren’t careful, she might blurt out that she was a witch just to see his eyes light up again.

“I had assumed the town would have no more to occupy the local constable than smuggling along the coast,” he said.

“Not at all, my lord.” Lady Hancock’s civic pride rode her tone. “We’re a thriving community with many odd happenings in the neighborhood all the time.”

Merryn’s panic rose and she quickly changed the subject. “What happened to your carriage, my lord?”

“The wheel snapped, Miss Pendraven.”

“Was anyone injured?”

“To my groom’s credit, he kept the vehicle from tipping. All has ended well, for now I’ve gained the delightful company of both of you.”

“I hope your presence in the area will encourage Mr. Appleton to hold some parties,” Lady Hancock said. “Isn’t his lordship’s visit quite exciting, Merryn?”

“Quite,” Merryn replied and meant it. Coming from London, Lord Braden was likely a polished dancer.

He took up a great deal of space inside the carriage, but unlike Lady Hancock’s horizontal expansion, his was in the vertical direction. Merryn suspected he would loom a good head over her statuesque figure. Perfect dancing height.

Even in this corner of the carriage she gained hints of his scent. Very male. With a hint of sandalwood and soap. She liked it. She would have liked to get closer to it.

“Do you enjoy parties, Miss Pendraven?” Braden asked.

Lady Hancock responded before she could. “What young lady doesn’t, my lord? You must save us both a dance.”

“Why, now, I shall look doubly forward to it.”

His gaze swung toward Merryn, and she underwent a disturbingly thorough study. One that would have made her squirm except, like a tightly wrapped grocery package, she was too squished into her seat to move.

“Do you enjoy dancing, Miss Pendraven?” he asked.

“What young lady doesn’t, my lord?” she quipped.

The quirk of his lips said he caught her parody of Lady Hancock and was amused.

Something about this man drew her. Merryn glanced at her hands. She had learnt to her peril to distrust such instantaneous, untamed attraction. A fiendish fae-warlock had once enchanted her with his tall figure and fluid movements. He, too, had seemed polished, smooth and enticing.

She shook away the disturbing memory. Braden was nothing like that rogue. Where he had been arrogant, Braden comported himself with amicable manners. Where the warlock had been brash, Braden’s words were circumspect. Where that vile villain had lied and deceived, she instinctively sensed Braden was a forthright and honest man. Still, it was prudent to be cautious.

Not that she suspected Braden of being a warlock. After her disastrous coming-out ball when she was swept off her feet by the deceptive warlock, her aunt had strenuously reinforced her lessons on how to recognize when mind power was being employed to alter her perceptions. Braden was not using such a spell. Yet, her witchly instincts insisted she keep her barriers raised and she complied.

Despite Lady Hancock’s disparagement of Merryn’s unmarried state, she had no illusions that would ever change. House parties and balls aside, courtship, marriage and children were for other young ladies and witches to while away their time. Long-term romantic prospects were dim for those in her line of work.

According to Aunt Morwena, a Coven Protectress’s average life-expectancy rarely exceeded five and twenty years - most died in battle. A fate she’d been made well aware of before she took her pledge.

In trusting any man, she would not only risk her life, but all those she was sworn to protect. When she took a lover, it could only be for a night or two, and then with someone whom she deemed worthy to risk lowering her guard.

The discussion veered back to talk of the missing boy, and Merryn returned to high alert. This time, sadly, she was unable to avert Lady Hancock’s flow of words. After spilling every scrap of information about the missing child, Lady Hancock sat back, well pleased with her telling.

Into the silence, Braden spoke. “Lady Hancock, you mentioned earlier of other odd happenings at Callington. You’ve made me curious. What makes you define the events as out of the ordinary?”

Merryn wanted to pinch Lady Hancock and scream, Don’t speak!



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