Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sometimes interviewers ask if I listen to music while I write, or if my stories have a soundtrack. Usually I say no, since I like quiet while I write, but in this case, there is a soundtrack. Loreena McKennitt is one of my very favorite musicians. Her Christmas CD To Drive The Cold Winter Away is filled with Celtic and Old English carols, many recorded in a church. When I hear them I picture lords and ladies sitting around a fire in an old castle great hall like Collingwood, listening to visiting mummers and musicians. So that is the soundtrack for this story. Here’s the link so you can hear some of Loreena’s incredible music for yourself!

On The Third Day of Christmas my True Love Gave to Me…
Three Deer Marauding

I love the fact that our backyard has always been filled with wildlife. At our old house in Ottawa, we had squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and birds, not to mention visiting cats. They were all welcome.
Here in Calgary, we have one single neighborhood squirrel, nervous jackrabbits with bulgy eyes (not your adorable eastern bunnies by any means), and burrowing voles, as well as birds. Raccoons don’t live this far west, apparently, and skunks haven’t invaded the neighborhood to date. We get hawks at our birdfeeder, hunting the sparrows, which we didn’t see in the east.
We also didn’t get roving herds of deer behaving badly.
Our deer remind me of the gangs from West Side Story, hoodlums standing on street corners, looking for trouble. They leap the fence at night, and knock down our birdfeeders, stomp on them until they break and eat their fill. They blatantly ignore the carrots and the apples left to bribe them.
Since this is Christmas, we’re simply hanging the feeders a branch or two higher, and leaving some seed and nuts on the ground for the deer. The jackrabbits can have the carrots (if Santa’s reindeer don’t take them).
Love they neighbor, especially at Christmas, even if your neighbor is a marauding deer. 


By Lecia Cornwall
Part 4


Edward was hopelessly lost. He had wandered up and down dark, icy corridors for an hour or more, fighting the caress of cobwebs even more determined to claim him than Millicent. Every turn led to another, to whistling arrow slits, and icy drafts. The stone walls swallowed his calls for assistance.
At long last he saw a light, a fragile lantern flame ahead of him. He moved toward it, half afraid he was about to meet more of Collingwood’s odd residents, these ones long since dead. Perhaps it was Caradoc Colley himself, come to welcome his successor—or maybe it was an older, more sinister specter with a darker purpose in mind. The figure floating before him wore white, stood in the darkness staring down over a balcony. Edward prided himself on being brave and sensible, but the hairs on the back of his neck rose, and dread crawled up his spine. An icy breeze brushed past him, and his candle guttered and died.
 “Hello?” he said, the word catching in his throat.
Slowly, the shadow turned toward him, and  he almost cried out with relief. Celyn.
He saw the surprise on her face, even in the half-light of the snowy night, and watched her hand go to her throat, to the pulse point there. “My lord. You startled me. I didn’t expect to see you here. I thought you’d retired for the night.” She opened the lantern and took his candle, her fingers brushing his momentarily, warm and soft. His breath caught in his throat, though the touch had been innocent, and simple.
He stepped back and looked over the railing at the hall. “I thought I’d explore a little before I went to bed. I thought—” he saw the disbelief in her eyes, and knew there was no point in putting a brave face on it.  Actually, I’ve been looking for my rooms for some time. I was beginning to wonder if the old place was haunted.”
 She smiled. “You’re in the old part of the castle, I’m afraid. It’s full of cobwebs, and stories, and—well, it does rather encourage—imagination.”
She turned to stare into the room below, a great hall, untouched by time, it seemed. “Is that what you were doing, discussing things with Collingwood’s ghosts?” Edward asked. “If not, I’ll have to assume you are doing the duties of the night watch, on top of your roles as chatelaine, steward, butler, footman, and governess.”
“And tour guide,” she quipped.
“Or rescuer of lost souls.”
She picked up the lantern. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your rooms.”
She stepped aside to let him pass, but this time he indicated that she should go ahead of him. “I believe it would be more prudent to let you lead, Miss Beauchamp.”
She swallowed. He watched the bob of her throat in the lantern light, and his mouth watered. He followed her along the gallery and back into the current century, and the modern section of the castle.  At last she paused by a set of double doors. “These are your room, my lord.”
She made no move to open the doors, and he stared at the latches for a moment, loathe to open them himself, since it meant going inside, shutting the door, finding himself alone once again. He had never been unhappy with his own company before now.
“Where are your rooms?” he asked. 
She blushed. “Nearby. Down the hall.”
“The countess’s apartments, perhaps?” he asked. Those would be attached to his own most likely, connected by a shared dressing room perhaps. What would she do if he invited her in, or followed her to her rooms, or found his way to her bed in the dark?
He took a step toward her. She held his eyes, and didn’t step away. “Arabella is in the countess’s rooms. It was more comfortable you see, and easier to tend her and Caradoc, close together,” she whispered. “Phoebe and Louisa are next door to her.” She pointed along the hall.
“And you? Where do you sleep?” He drew his finger down her cheek. Her skin was smooth as marble, but as warm and soft as silk. She shut her eyes, drawing a sharp little breath, and leaned into the caress for a second.
He moved closer, set his other hand on her waist. Would she allow him to kiss her?
She gasped and opened her eyes, moved out of reach. She raised her own fingers to her cheek where he’d touched her, and stared at him. In the lantern light, her eyes flickered with a dozen emotions—surprise, desire, suspicion… then her lashes swept down, and she looked away. He clenched his fist at his side, resisting the urge to reach for her again, draw her close. He stepped toward her, but her eyes shot to his, and the chatelaine was back, as formal and correct as his own housekeeper.
 “Good night, my lord,” she said crisply, her posture rigid, her knuckles white where they clutched the lantern.
He put his hand on the door latch, ice cold and hard after the feel of her skin. “What if I need——something?” he said.
She met his eyes firmly now. “I could ask Davy to come, make sure you have all you need for this evening.”
 “No. Never mind. I can make do for one night.”
“Then I shall see you in the morning, at breakfast” she said.
“I prefer coffee,” he said, though she hadn’t asked.
“I’m afraid we haven’t got any,” she said. “There is tea.”
He frowned. “My things should arrive soon, if they haven’t already. No doubt my staff thought to include coffee. ”
She looked surprised. “You brought coffee?”
“My staff is aware of my requirements. They packed everything I might conceivably need.” 
She looked surprised again. “I see. We shall endeavor to ensure that you receive the same kind of excellent service here that you’re used to.”
Was that a rebuke? He wasn’t sure. Was it wrong to enjoy the pleasures and privileges one was born to? She took the lantern and set off down the hall without looking back, her spine stiff, her head high. He stood and watched her go until she turned a corner and the light disappeared. He was tempted to follow, but he stayed where he was. Christmastide lasted twelve days, and he had plenty of time. There was no need to rush. He had never failed to win a woman he wanted—or to rebuff those he did not, such as— he frowned. Try as he might, he couldn’t think of any other woman’s face but Celyn’s, lit by lantern light and snow.


Celyn climbed the steps to the tower, and opened the door to her chamber. She loved this room, had chosen it as a girl, when Caradoc had said she could have her choice of any room in the castle. On a clear day, her windows offered views of the surrounding countryside, including mountains, rivers and lakes. Caradoc had modernized it, added a dressing room and a small sitting room, too, so the tower was her own. She felt like a princess.
Soon, she supposed, she may have to leave it. She had been trying to reconcile herself to that since Caradoc died. And now, Edward might wish to bring a wife here, or a daughter, and that lady may very well want this room, and would be within her rights to insist on having it.
She touched the side of her face where he’d caressed her cheek. She could see in his eyes what he’d wanted, expected. For a moment, she’d wanted it too. She looked at the unappealingly cold sheets on her bed.
She’d made a wish, and here he was, Edward, Earl of Wintercross and Collingwood. It would be too easy to believe he had indeed come for her, too tempting to see what it would feel like to kiss him, let him kiss her.
She began to unpin her hair, tossing the pins into the dish. She didn’t believe in magic, or ghosts, or fate, and a brief affaire de Coeur wouldn’t solve anything, or make it easier for her to leave Collingwood when the time came.
If Caradoc had taught her anything, it was to avoid romantic entanglements. They only led to a lifetime of heartache. It was far better to marry for sensible, tangible reasons, such as money or land. She had no hope of any of those, and assumed that she would end as Caradoc did, unwed, with only memories to keep her warm. Memories of what? A caress on the cheek, a hand on her waist? She unbuttoned her gown, let the chill of the room drive the foolish frill of heat away.
She would find work—a genteel position as a companion to a lady like Arabella, or as a housekeeper or governess. She imagined traveling through her life with her heart locked away in a snuffbox—or a locket perhaps—with nothing more than a lock of Wintercross’s fair hair inside.
No. His arrival had nothing to do with true love. Wishing it so was insanity, and would only lead to pain. 


Edward opened his eyes the next morning to find three pairs of eyes regarding him with wide-eyed interest over the edge of the mattress. The first pair was as blue as a lake in summer, under a thatch of unruly yellow hair. The second pair was as brown as wet earth in spring, with hair to match. The third pair was green, fringed with red-gold lashes, and almost obscured by a riotous mop of russet curls. To his horror, the child—a girl of undetermined age, since he had no knowledge of children under the age of five, though surely she could not be more than three. Or perhaps four. Or two, possibly—climbed up onto the bed, crawling over the wide surface until she was snuggled against his side like a pet cat. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and shut her eyes contentedly. Edward stiffened, afraid to move in case she began to shriek. Isn’t that what children did? 
One of the other two, the lad with the blue eyes, raced to the door and threw it open. “He’s awake!” he bellowed into the hall. The dark haired boy continued to watch Edward like a hunting dog guarding an intruder until the authorities arrived.
“What the devil is going on here?” Edward asked, sitting up carefully. The little girl did not shriek. She made a small cooing noise and moved over to take the warm place on the bed.
“Good morning, Your Majesty,” the first lad said, bowing from the waist. “Celyn sent me to wait and see if there was anything you needed this morning. Do you need anything?”
Edward ran a hand through his hair. “Your name for a start,” he said crisply. How did one deal with children? His half-brother had two—or was it three? He avoided them as he had avoided his infant sisters when they arrived. Children were loud, destructive, and disobedient until they grew up. Actually, as in the case of his sisters, there were some that remained loud, disobedient and destructive even after they left the nursery.
The two lads looked him soberly, with far more intelligence in their young faces than was evident in all five of his sisters put together. “I’m Colin,” the oldest said, “And this is Bran.”
“That’s Corrie,” Bran added, pointing to the girl in the bed. She said not a word, just stared silently at him.
Edward shifted over to give her more room, and she followed, clinging to his side. “Why are you here at this hour? Where is your nurse?”
In his opinion and experience, children were presented in the drawing room, briefly, with a trained nurse holding firmly to their sticky little hands, ready to lead them out of polite company at the first whimper. Other staff usually hovered nearby, in case a tantrum occurred, and sterner action was required. Edward was quite alone and unprotected.
“Our nurse?” Colin asked.
“Your minder,” Edward said impatiently. He reached for the robe at the end of the bed, and discovered to his surprise it was his robe, not the borrowed one that had lain there when he went to bed. He pulled it on, sighing at the soft, rich warmth of silk and cashmere.
“I’m minding her,” Colin said, pointing at Corrie. “Bran just wanted to look at ye.”
“Look at me?” Edward bridled. “Why?” 
“I’ve never seen a king before,” Bran shrugged, pulling on an enormous scarf he wore bundled about his neck to free his lips to speak.
“I’m not—”  Edward glanced again at the boy. The scarf looked familiar. He turned over the trailing end of it and saw his monogram embroidered there. “That’s cashmere!” he muttered.
“Is that its name?” Colin asked. “What’s this one called?” He pointed to the paisley waistcoat he wore, also unmistakably one of Edward’s.
“Silk! I take it my things have arrived. Where is Miss Beauchamp?”
“Celyn?” Colin asked. “She’s taken a gentleman to bed.”
Edward felt a moment’s irrational jealousy. It did not fit well with his anger, making both mount. “What gentleman?” he demanded.
“Don’t know. Celyn took him to bed as soon as he arrived at the door. My mother said she didn’t like the look of him.”
The door opened before he could question the child further, and Mrs. Jones came into the room bearing a tray. Edward could smell hot coffee, and bacon, and sweet buns. His stomach growled.
The children immediately grasped her skirts. “He’s awake, Mam.” Colin said.
“I can see that,” she said, setting the tray down on the bed. “I trust you slept well, my lord?”
“Why are these urchins wearing my clothes?” Edward asked. He watched as her face broke into a wide smile.
“You’ve noticed! I just want to thank you for all the wonderful things— the coffee, the sugar, the oranges. I haven’t seen oranges for so long I’d almost forgotten what they looked like! It’s a blessing, and it couldn’t have come at a better time than Christmas! I will make the most wonderful Christmas dinner you’ve ever seen!” She grasped his hand in her own meaty fist and kissed it soundly. “And the little ones are warm at last. This old place gets so drafty in winter, not like a snug cottage! Straighten your scarf, Bran.” 
The protest died on Edward’s lips. He watched a tiny hand creep out from under the covers and steal a piece of bacon from the tray. The boys eyed the food hungrily. “Do help yourselves,” he said tightly, unsure of the etiquette in such a situation, and they fell on the food.
“Are some of my things still available for my own use?” he asked Mrs. Jones stiffly.
“There are trunks of things—all in your dressing room as we speak,” Mrs. Jones said happily.
“And my valet?”
“Mr. Cow Otters is it?”
“Carruthers,” Edward corrected.
“That’s not how he said it,” Colin said around a mouthful of sweet bread. Edward watched the lad drip honey onto the rest of the steaming roll.
Mrs. Jones chuckled. “He was dreadfully ill when he got here, sounded dreadful. We weren’t sure for a time if he was actually speaking English at all. We thought he might be a Scot, lost in the snow. Celyn insisted he be taken to bed at once. She’s dosing him with willow bark and hot soup.”
“And a mustard plaster for his chest.” Bran said, wrinkling his nose.
Edward grabbed a piece of bacon before the children had devoured the whole plate of food. “He’s my valet,” he said. Had he ever known a servant to get sick and neglect his duties? Did servants get sick? He wasn’t sure it was allowed, or that it had ever happened before. He would ask his father when he saw him again, but at the moment, he needed Carruthers.  “Please send for Carruthers at once, and order me a hot bath.”
Mrs. Jones jerked her head at Colin, and the lad set off running to do Edward’s bidding. “There’s plenty of hot water in the kitchen,” she said, and set about pouring the coffee. She slapped Bran’s hand away when he reached for it. “There’s milk in the kitchen, too.”  The lad stepped back wistfully.
Colin returned. “Celyn says he can’t come.”
“Can’t come?” Edward stared at the boy.
“Celyn says he’s too sick to get up today. She says you’ll have to make do with Aled or Davy for now.” The lad made the pronouncement as if Celyn Beauchamp’s word was final.
Edward ran a hand over his jaw. He needed shaving. “Has Miss Beauchamp got medical training?” he demanded of Mrs. Jones.
“No, but she tended Caradoc when he was ill,” the cook mused. And look how that turned out.
“Is there no doctor hereabouts?”
“There’s Old Gwen,” Mrs. Jones replied.
“Fetch her!” Edward ordered, and Colin was sent out again. “And send Miss Beauchamp to me at once!” he called after the boy.
Bran’s face fell, and Mrs. Jones stiffened, drawing herself up to full height above her pregnant belly, an inch or two taller than Edward, and tucked a protective arm around her son.  “There’s no need to take that tone, my lord. We’re not deaf. You may wish to get properly dressed before you see Celyn. Since you are not ill, it would be inappropriate to meet her here, in your bedchamber! I will direct her to the library.”
“Come along Bran,” she said, and took the boy in one hand, and the empty tray in the other. Edward realized he hadn’t had a single bite to eat, and Corrie was still snuggled up in his bed, fast asleep.  


  1. I love Loreena McKennitt's music. Some of her song's have assisted my creativity in plotting a story though I'll admit I left the project to the wayside in favor of something else.

    I feel a bit sorry for Edward. I hate being hungry more then anything. I'm also a bacon hog, so I can sympathize. Can't wait to see what happens to his
    'tude when Celyn gets in the library. :)

  2. Glad you're enjoying the story, Landra!