"Please, not again," Adela MacAye softly pleaded. On her knees, she leaned against the edge of the lumpy bed, her hands clasped tightly before a miniature statue of Amerissis, the Goddess of Light. "I beg of you, please give me a different vision."
She rose gingerly from the hard dirt floor, tied her brown hair into a taut braid, and flipped it over her shoulder.
"I know not why I keep praying, Amerissis. My visions never change."
She wiped her moist, slim hands on her gray kirtle and collapsed onto the cushions of a worn, red velvet chair stuffed with feathers.
Looking around her modest cottage, she sighed with resignation, her shoulders slumped. How did she find herself to be in such a remote, barren land far away from her mother's rose garden in England?
"Fear," she scoffed aloud. Fear had caused her to spend most of her life running. Once the town folk suspected the plain lass on the edge of the village to be a witch, she was forced to leave each provisional home or be burned at the stake.
Adela shivered, recalling her mother's gruesome death. She was of only twelve winters when a vicious mob dragged Mary MacAye out of their home. Accusing her mother of communicating with the devil, they burned her alive in the middle of the village.
It mattered not that Mary, sweet in nature as she was beautiful in face, helped villagers over the years with their ailments. People still feared her mother, showing revulsion toward her when passing on the road.
Foreseeing her mother's death was not a vision Adela wished for, but it had given them enough warning to be prepared when the angry villagers battered down their door. Mary had pushed Adela out the back window with supplies and coin before the villagers could capture her as well. Adela begged her mother to run with her, but she smiled and said, "You cannot escape fate." Mary kissed Adela's tear-stained face, and firmly pushed her daughter away.
Adela had hidden in the thick forest and followed from a distance as they dragged her mother away and tied her to a stake around which firewood was piled. Tears blinded Adela's vision, but she knew there was nothing she could do but watch the flames climb higher. Her mother's screams echoed in her ears while the smell of burning flesh caused her to vomit the meager contents of her stomach.
After the screams died, the villagers went back to search for the little witch, but she had vanished. Adela knew of the safe path that led her away from England, with all its ignorance and prejudice against her kind.
Perspiration beaded on Adela's upper lip. She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. Like the day when she had foreseen her mother's death, she now had visions of the tortuous events leading up to her own demise.
Perhaps after ten winters her vision would be different and her fate changed.
Slowly her breathing became centered and calm, her muscles relaxed. She went through the ritual of visualizing a white light around her body while asking Amerissis for the gift of sight.
Gently, her spirit eased from her body and traveled up through the thatched roof of her run-down cottage. Her body remained still on the chair, yet Adela could see everything from above, separate yet connected by a silver thread that joined her spirit to her body. Weightless and free, she flew through the cloudless sky.
Forest animals near the lake glanced up at her as she drifted by. In body they would be afraid of her, but in spirit form they accepted her presence as peaceful and loving. She waved at the creatures and sent from her heart a light that would give them protection from predators and mankind.
Adela looked beyond to the home of a young Scottish clan. The parents were busy washing clothes and cutting wood while their children played on the edge of the woods, happy and carefree. Adela shifted her gaze, wishing she had the love and simplicity their lives afforded.
Swiftly her spirit pulled toward the nightmare she knew was coming. Gliding over the darkened mountains and into an eerie mist, she was guided to a place of great sorrow and pain.
No! Please, not again.
The large familiar castle hunkered on the mountainside; its surrounding battlements towered over small buildings within. The castle itself stood bold and intimidating to all who looked upon its black stones.
Her vision remained the same, and so to, her fate.
Before she could scream, her spirit reappeared inside the castle's dungeons. Dark and damp, she floated above the putrid rushes on the stone floor and saw her future self being thrown into the dungeon by grim soldiers. The darkness overwhelmed her senses, yet she heard the pitter-patter of rats scattering across the filthy rushes. She saw herself sobbing, rocking back and forth, chanting, "I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid."
She heard noises outside and her focus shifted from her weeping body to the small, barred window. In the bailey below, a stake awaited her with a mounting pile of firewood. Adela moved closer to her future body and reached out to touch her shaking shoulder. The door swung open with a bang and they both looked up.
Unwilling to watch the soldiers drag her future self away to be burned; Adela's spirit retreated from the dungeons and their impenetrable walls.
Her spirit flew through the sky and she swiftly arrived back at her safe cottage, where she joined with her present body once again.
Adela's eyelashes flew open, every muscle in her body shook with fear and apprehension.
Soon she would be imprisoned and sentenced to death.
She could try to run, leave in the night. But her visions were never wrong. If she was meant to die, she would die, no matter how far or how fast she ran.
But to die a maiden, never having known a man's touch or to give birth to a child and pass on the MacAye blood, a sacred witch's blood that would end with her death ... the thought was unbearable. Resisting the urge to collapse in tears, Adela shot to her feet, her hands fisted at her sides.
"I will have a baby! And my legacy will pass on to another generation. Even if I am not around to watch my child grow, I will honor the past MacAye women. Our line will not end with me."
She lifted her chin and swallowed the knot lodged in her throat, her tone even. "I will not fail you, Mother."
Blowing a stray hair away from her face, Adela rushed to the cupboard. She banged the timber doors open and shoved the cupboard's meager contents into a coarse bag. It did not amount to much, but the bread and mead would prevent her from starving. Her wooden chest scraped along the ground as she pulled it out from beneath her bed. Opening the lid, she rummaged through the clothes and changed into an old travel gown of blue-green.
Running her fingers through the braid, she loosened the knot and flicked her hair loose down her back. Adela grabbed a cream cloak from the wooden hook by the door, threw it around her shoulders and raised the hood over her head, covering her features.
Determination settled like a rock inside her stomach. "There is not much time, but there is still a chance!" she reassured herself, rubbing her neck.
Opening the old creaky door, Adela stepped boldly into the morning light. She took a deep breath and forced a high-pitched whistle through her two front teeth.
From out of the woods a white horse materialized, its mane and tale flowing in the wind. The majestic beast galloped toward her, its hooves sliding on the dewy grass before it halted in front of her.
"Greetings, my old friend," she said. "I have need of your sight."
The mystical creature tossed his head and the comforting smell of horse-pelt filled the air.
Adela raised her voice, "I call upon my heart's desire. Show me a man who will sire. I need someone gentle, it is my first time, someone who is pleasing and will not ... will not..."
Adela struggled to find the ending to her spell.
A giggle escaped her lips and a sparkle entered her eyes. "I call upon my heart's desire. Show me a man who will sire. I need someone gentle, it is my first time, someone who is pleasing and will not whine."
A rose-pink orb gathered in her hand, and she placed the energy over the horse's forehead. "Take me to this man."
The horse nodded his head and scraped a hoof in the dirt. Adela kissed his soft velvet nose. She grabbed a handful of white mane and vaulted onto his back. "I am ready to find the father of my child."
Muted autumn sunrays scattered across the sky, gently caressing the distant rolling hills. Yet the scenic beauty was lost on Sir Phillip Roberts. The stench of death surrounded his every step on the battlefield. His jaw ticked as he surveyed the damage. The skirmish against Lady Torella's army of Campbells had been particularly brutal. Much blood was and still would be spilled for the ownership of Phillip's ancestral lands. His eyes narrowed when he walked over another wasted, lifeless body and cursed under his breath. "Only a lad, this one was," he said. Lifting his head, he called to the remaining soldiers, "Here's another one."
Three men rushed over to prepare the corpse for transport back to their hidden camp. "We must make haste before the sun sets. These woods will be crawling with Campbell scouts once they regain their strength."
"This is the last one," a young squire informed him.
"Take him with you and I will follow once I find my horse."
Phillip's anxious chestnut stallion waited near the edge of the woods. The beast snorted with fear, his brown eyes wide. He too was eager to be gone from the valley of death.
Phillip swung into his saddle and had picked up the reins when from the corner of his eye he saw a white streak run through the trees. He squinted. There it was again ... a woman in a flowing white cloak danced carefree through the trees.
Was she daft? This was no place for a lady to be frolicking in the forest. Enemy soldiers and mercenaries would penetrate these woods once they had the cover of darkness.
"Har!" Phillip spurred his horse toward the fleeting vision. She had to be warned.
But where could she have come from? There was nary a cottage or village for many leagues. Unquestionably the noises of a recent battle would discourage a hapless traveler from entering these woods. Had she not heard the din?
Once within hailing distance, Phillip stopped his horse. "My fair mistress, this is no place--"
Her cloak fell to her shoulders, allowing him a glimpse of silky brown hair that fell in gentle waves down her back. She stopped dancing and became deathly still as if she had turned into a statue. His eyes traveled down her backside to two bare ankles peeking from beneath an unadorned green dress. She glanced over her shoulder and giggled, then darted away like a deer.
Phillip chased after the woman, his mount dodging trees and fallen logs, following brief glimpses of her gown. How could she continue to out-maneuver his agile warhorse?
Halting his mount in an open meadow, he scanned the area for the mysterious lass, but she was nowhere in sight. A feminine hum floated on the breeze and he jerked his head around to follow the sound. A sweet melody came from a small pond barely hidden by tall grass.
Dismounting, he led his horse closer to the grassy wall. The humming stopped, but sounds of splashing mingled with the clop of his horse's hooves. Phillip cleared his throat loudly, alerting the lass to his presence. "I wish not to frighten you, but 'tis not safe in these woods for you to be unescorted."
The urge to peek through the green cover to see if the lass swam naked was almost too much to resist. He heard a swishing movement in the water and then a rustling of grass. Phillip stepped back, eager to finally see the face of the mysterious woman.
Her lilting voice echoed through the swaying, green wall, "But clearly ... I am not alone."
The grass parted and a woman of no more than twenty-five winters stepped into the clearing. Dripping, russet hair framed high cheekbones and an adorably upturned nose sprinkled with freckles. Her gold-flecked eyes spoke of innocence, yet also glistened with tentative seduction, as if the lass were eager to explore pleasures not yet known to her.
Phillip's gaze was drawn to the emerald gown plastered to her wet skin and the outline of her pert breasts, their erect peaks pressed tightly against the damp material.
Immediately his manhood stirred beneath his kilt, his heart rate increasing. She had the appearance of an enchanting nymph.
"Do you like what you see?" she asked, her face flushing deeply.
"I ... well..." Phillip was torn between devouring the maiden with his eyes and averting his lust-filled stare as any honorable knight should do.
Finally he turned his back on the tempting nymph and ran his hand distractedly through his wavy hair. "This is no place for you to linger, Mistress..."
"My name is Adela of the MacAye clan." She sighed with frustration. By Jupiter! Why did she have to pick a respectable male to father her child? And one so incredibly handsome that he made her feel more homely than ever.
Biting her lip, she stepped closer to his form, a study in languid power. Masculine smells of wood and horse floated from his lustrous hair, which skimmed the wide set of his shoulders. It was a stark contrast to his dirty and bloody kilt. He was obviously one of the soldiers who had battled on the field yonder.
Strange that the bloodstains did not repulse her, but merely increased her attraction to the imposing figure. Her gaze dropped to the strong hands clenched at his sides. She imagined him wielding a deadly, heavy claymore, his full lips firm with determination. A ripple of pleasure swept over her skin.
Could those same brutal hands caress my body with gentleness?
Adela touched his shoulder and he pivoted, knocking her backward. He reached out to catch her before she fell and held her in his arms. Dear Goddess, he was the most attractive man she had ever seen. Even with an angular jaw, high arched eyebrows and a wicked scar across his cheek, he was as beautiful as an angel sent from heaven, and looked as if he would be more at home in a church than with a sword in his hands.
And his eyes!
The soldier's gaze reached out to Adela, affirming his desire for her, and something else ... a vague loneliness?
Using her powers, she created a voice inside his head. "Make love to me. I am willing."
The beguiling words echoed in Phillip's mind, urging him to do as she bid. She felt so fragile, her slim hips pressed against him. He should release her. It was improper for him to keep holding her, yet he could not get his muscles to obey. She felt so right in his embrace. Bending down, he picked her up and carried her through the grass to the nearby pond.
Cradling her in his arms he lay her down on the soft grass, his lips close to hers. Her breath smelled of sweet raspberries mixed with mild spices. It made him smile, picturing this nymph picking berries while dancing through the woods.
Perchance, this is the afterlife and my body is actually lying dead on the battlefield?
If that be the case, then he would indeed make love to the nymph. If it was to be the last thing he did, why resist this divine creature in his arms?
Lowering his lips, he hesitated for only a moment before capturing her generous mouth with hungry urgency.