Authors: Marissa Campbell
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For David, Lochlin, Aidan, and Brendan
With all my love
I was in kindergarten when I decided I wanted to be an author. My life took a few twists and turns, but I never gave up on that mystical, magical dream. As I sit here and type these words, I am struck by a sense of humility, wonder, and awe. I am so grateful to be here, but I didn't do it alone. I've met some wonderful people along the way who were instrumental in helping me achieve my dreams.
I'd like to thank my agent, the incomparable Margaret Bail, who dared to take a look at an abysmal first draft, and saw enough promise in that jumbled mass of words to sign me. You've become a wonderful friend and mentor. Words cannot begin to express my gratitude.
To Barbara Rogan, Barbara Kyle, the wonderful staff at the Editorial Department, and Sherry Hinman, my fantastic editor. Thank you for wading through the early drafts and helping to shape and hone a rough, jagged manuscript into something polished and bright with promise.
To my incredible publisher, St. Martin's Press. To my editors, Toni Kirkpatrick and Jennifer Letwack, who took a chance on a debut novelist and guided me with their expertise and unwavering support. To Jessica Preeg, Angela Craft, and everyone else behind the scenes who rallied together to make
a success. Thank you for your confidence and trust. I am thrilled to be part of such a passionate and dedicated team.
To the amazing B7: A. B. Funkhauser, Susan Croft, Connie Di Pietro, Ann Dulhanty, Yvonne Hess, and Rachael Stapleton. You pushed, questioned, probed, and prodded, exposing plot holes, character flaws, and pacing black holes. Your dedication, support, and friendship mean the world to me. Thank you.
To the wonderful teachers and peers I've met through the WCDR, proving writing doesn't have to be a solitary act. Thank you for reaching out and enveloping me in a community of camaraderie and creativity.
To each and every one of my yoga students. You have touched my life in ways I could never have imagined. Thank you for your continued support.
To Carol and Bruce. Thank you for setting me on this wonderful path. To my friends old and new. Thank you for letting me drift off in conversations to stare out the window, for being my sounding boards, for standing by me during the long road to publication, and for understanding when I went AWOL.
To David, who told me to swing for the fences. You are my greatest champion, my dearest friend, and my one true love. To Lochlin, Aidan, and Brendan. You fill my life with endless joy and light. I am so proud of you. Thank you for your patience, support, and unconditional love. I love you all so very much.
Despite the world conspiring against her, Avelynn follows her heart and refuses to give up. Don't let anyone keep you from living your most passionate life. Do what makes you happy. Never give up on your mystical, magical dreams.
Sigberht gripped the hilt of his sword, and my heart quickened.
“Cut off his hand, lord,” he said.
The boy's face waxed ashen, his hands kneading the front of his threadbare tunic. Only eleven summers old, he should have been out chasing chickens or helping his mother collect firewood for the coming winter.
Council was held once a year, and petitioners had been coming and going all day long, pleading their cases to my father, the Earl of Somerset. Sigberht, my father's reeve, was on hand to marshal out punishment. Almost everyone from the village was present, spectators and claimants alike crammed into my father's timber hall.
I had been silent, beyond the occasional grumble of dissent, and duly recorded each case and its judgment, but this last quarrel broke my tolerance. I put down my quill and rose, the hem of my dress brushing the freshly laid rushes underfoot.
I turned an appeal to my father. “The boy is merely a puppet.”
My father sat in the lord's chair high upon the raised dais, his eyes hooded beneath waves of honey-blond hair, his face unreadable.
Sigberht stormed forward. “Surely Avelynn would be better suited to the weaving shed,” he hissed. “Council is no place for a woman.”
I scowled at him. “Apparently, nor is it a place for justice or common sense.”
“Peace, you two.” My father's tone was light, but the warning loomed heavy between us.
Sigberht's grip tightened on his sword. “The law is clear. Let me cut off the boy's hand.”
“If anyone should be punished, it should be the tanner, not his son,” I said.
“Your daughter needs a tighter leash, lord,” someone yelled from the back of the hall, and was rewarded with a round of laughter.
Slaves scurried about with clay pitchers filled with mead, and the drink flowed into waiting bone horns. The central hearth, a long, narrow trough dug into the packed-dirt floor, burned bright, filling the hall with smoke and heat. A hole cut into the roof allowed some of the smoke to escape. The rest hovered over the crowd, filling the spaces between the large beams overhead. There were no windows, and shadows were deep. Pinpricks of light flickered from oil lamps suspended from the ceiling, and iron candle trees, scattered about the large open hall, sputtered in the constant drafts.
The tanner, his tunic smeared and reeking of dungâthe perfume of his tradeâaddressed my father. “I swear my innocence.”
“And who supports your claim?” Sigberht's grip on his sword never loosened.
A round, squat man stepped clear of the press, wringing a wool cap in his hands. “I stand up for my brother and his son, lord.”
“You are a farmer?” my father asked.
“Yes, my lord.”
I frowned. Judgment was made based on personal worth. The more status you held, the more influence your word carried. Though the farmer was a freeman, his oath would not carry much weight.
Eager to strike down the tanner's weak defenses, my father's master of arms approached the dais. Taller and thicker than most men, Wulfric looked like a bear. His shaggy mane and beard were blacker than pitch, and his eyes were hard and implacable. “Both my brother and I have seen your bastard lead your pigs into my keep.” He spat at the tanner's feet. “The dog has been doing this all year, my lord. His pigs have grown fat off my land.”
Wulfric and his brother, Leofric, were both warriors in my father's household guard. In a game of power and oaths, Wulfric had just won.
Sigberht withdrew his sword from its scabbard and grabbed the child's arm, hauling him toward the door.
The boy's eyes, as wide as a snared fawn's, pleaded with the cold, impassive stare of his father. He was trying to be brave, but a stray tear charted a wayward path through the grime on his cheek.
“Wait.” I rushed forward. “I offer an alternative.”
The hard set of my father's jaw warned of his abating patience.
“The boy will be twelve summers old, of age to hold a sword on his next birth day. Let Wulfric claim two swine instead, one for each of the boy's hands.”
“I've only the five swine, lord. The boy will live with one hand,” the tanner pleaded.
“What say you, Wulfric?” my father asked.
“That's fair compensation, lord.”
“Done.” My father waved them both away, ignoring the tanner's protests, and beckoned me closer.
I trudged the remaining few steps between us and stopped at his side. His head turned, but his eyes remained fixed on the crowded room. “The next word you speak, Avelynn, will see you bent over that bench, my belt your justice for all present to see. Am I understood?”
I nodded and sat back down, picking up my quill, my palms sweaty. After that small victory, I was not inclined to push my father further.
Sigberht addressed the crowd. “Demas of Wareham, nephew of the late Bishop Ealhstan, step forward and state your business.”
Bishop Ealhstan had been an arrogant, dour little man, constantly voicing bleak Christian rhetoric. I never did have much patience for him or his litanies. I studied his nephew with curious interest.
He was tall and lean, not a strand of sleek black hair out of place, and his complexion was darker than any of the men in the village. He looked almost Saracen, exotic. His tunic and trousers were made from light brown wool, simple and unadorned, but he wore a purple cloak attached at his shoulder by a magnificent gold brooch. He made his way to the dais.
“Lord Eanwulf,” he said, bowing to my father. “I've come to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage.”
My quill floated to the floor.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I stomped over to a barrel of strong fruit wine, pried the lid off the cask, grabbed a cup, and ladled myself a good measure.
My father sat on a bench nestled up to the central hearth, his gray-blue eyes regarding me. “You are seventeen and unmarried, Avelynn. It is time you were wed.” He straightened the front of his tunic. “Demas of Wareham comes from a respectable and wealthy family. He is a good match for you, and he has offered a generous bride price.”
Ten generations ago, when the Goddess ruled the land, a woman was free to choose her mate, even casting him aside if the whim overtook her. But when the Christian church grappled England to her knees, a woman's rights began to vanish. I could own land, and my oath was respected, but decisions such as marriage were at the sole discretion of my father.
I walked back to the fire. Half a dozen small cakes of bread were browning nicely in the raked coals at the far end of the long, narrow pit. The comforting scent infused the air of my small wattle-and-daub cottage. My stomach growled.
“When you married Mother, did her interests affect you? Or could you have sat idly by and seen her married off to someone else just because he was wealthy or respectable? Or because he bribed you with a fat purse?”
“Mind your tongue, child.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. “You are not too old to be brought to heel.”