Read Midnight for Morgana Online

Authors: Shirley Martin

Midnight for Morgana

BOOK: Midnight for Morgana
2.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Midnight for Morgana




Shirley Martin



ISBN: 978-1-927111-39-0





Books We Love

192 Lakeside Greens Drive

Chestermere, Alberta, T1X 1C2



Copyright 2011 by Shirley Martin


Cover art by Michelle Lee Copyright 2011


All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.




Chapter One


“And don’t forget to press our dresses so that we can visit Lady Dunreith tomorrow.”


Morgana clenched her hand on the chairback. “I won’t forget.”


After her sisters left for the fair at Dornach, Morgana sank onto a rickety kitchen chair, thinking of all she must do this evening and wishing she could attend the fair. Her head propped on her chin, she sat there for a long time, ashamed of herself for her futile brooding, too well aware that self-pity would not get her chores done. If she weren’t the youngest, would her life be any different? But after all, she and her sisters were triplets, only a few minutes separating their birth order. In the deepest despair of her soul, she felt it really was not fair. She was eighteen; she had a life to live. Morgana sighed, missing her mother, dead these many years. If only she could take her troubles to her father, but as usual, he had withdrawn to the library, his face buried in one of his books.


Her gaze drifted around the kitchen, a large room she kept spotless, like all the other rooms in this spacious but ramshackle house. But there was only so much she could do to maintain their home. A loose shutter banged in the wind, and she wished her father had the money to repair the shutters and crumbling stone walls outside. Why, one strong wind and she feared the house would fall apart.


Pots and pans hanging over the fireplace gleamed by the burning embers there, and strips of lit hickory bark cast wavy shadows across the flagstone floor. The floor was clean, the maple table shining with lemon wax, a wooden bowl of fragrant apples in the center. The cleaning and cooking kept her busy from dawn to dusk, the tasks neverending. Even though her father was a lord, the family couldn’t afford servants.


Just once, wouldn’t it be nice if she could go to the Saturday night fair at Dornach, if she could meet other young people, hear the music of the band and visit all the stalls? What if she met a young man there who fell in love with her and asked her to marry him? She smiled at her fanciful thoughts and pushed herself to her feet, chiding herself for her foolish fantasies. Useless daydreaming would not get the dishes washed, her first chore for the evening. Then she must put the beans to soak overnight, press her sisters’ dresses, and–


A knock on the door jolted her from her morose thoughts. Who could it be? No one ever came to visit at this late hour. Well, only one way to find out.


She opened the door, surprised to see an old woman with gray hair, dressed in black from head to toe, a black shawl tied across her chest. Her gray hair was twisted in a bun. “Come in,” Morgana said, her puzzlement increasing.


“My name is Gwenith, and I’d like to know, why aren’t you at the fair,” the woman asked, “instead of working in your father’s kitchen?”


Morgana made a helpless gesture. “How can I go? I have nothing to wear and no money, no way to get to the fair. Besides, I can’t take a chance on my two sisters–Alana and Nola–seeing me there. If that happened, they would beat me senseless for leaving the house.” She waved her hand around the kitchen. “Just look. I have to wash the dishes and sweep the floor, put the beans to soak. And you see those dresses slung over the chair? I have to press them for my sisters.” She plucked at her shapeless brown dress, the cotton tattered and faded with countless washings. “Most important, I have nothing to wear.”


The old woman pursed her lips. “If you could have new clothes for the fair, what would you choose?”


“Oh!” Morgana pressed her hands to her warm cheeks, overwhelmed at the thought of new clothes. Her imagination ran wild as she considered all the gowns she had always dreamed of. “A light blue satin dress and a dark blue cloak with shoes to match.”


“Good choice. Light blue will go nicely with your blonde hair and blue eyes.” Gwenith snapped her fingers. “Done!”


“Oh, my!” Morgana looked down at herself and gasped. The most beautiful dress enclosed her slender body, the lustrous material shimmering by the firelight. Its neckline fell slightly lower than what she normally wore but was still within the bounds of propriety. Its bodice revealed her nicely-rounded breasts and hugged her narrow waist, its soft folds falling from her hips, the hem skimming the floor. A dark blue satin cloak draped over her shoulders, fur-lined, for the weather was cool, and fastened with a shiny silver brooch at her throat. Dark blue satin slippers encased her small feet, the satin decorated with delicate gold embroidery.


“But how will I get there?” Morgana asked, reverting to her earlier despondency. “My sisters took the cart.”


Gwenith stepped forward and opened the kitchen door. “Just look.”


Beyond the kitchen door, a milk-white mare waited, its gold bridle and gold saddle sparkling in the moonlight.  Morgana clapped her hands, her eyes brimming with tears of happiness. “My goodness!”


Gwenith handed her a white satin purse, its jingling sound a sure sign it held a few coins. “Now you can go to the fair. But you must not speak to anyone, least of all your sisters. And no matter how much attention the young men pay you, just ignore them.”


Morgana frowned, a cold feeling deep in her stomach. “But the dishes, the dresses I must press–“


”Never mind that. When you come home, you will find all your work done for you.” She smirked. “Yes, even your sisters–the ungrateful wretches–will find their clothes pressed.” She wagged a finger at Morgana. “One more thing to remember. You must come home at midnight.”


Her spirits sank. “But I have no timepiece.  How will I know the time?”


“You will hear the bells toll the hour. As soon as the bells toll twelve times, come home straightaway. As you know, this is an all-night fair.”


“Yes, of course.” Wild elation made her heart beat fast, her skin tingle with happiness. Never had she thought to wear these lovely clothes, to attend the fair and see other young people. “Gwenith, how can I ever thank you for all you’ve done for me?”


“Tut, tut, child. Just go to the fair and have a good time. That’s all the thanks I need.” 


Outside, Gwenith held the mare’s bridle while Morgana mounted side-saddle. Waving good-bye, she turned the horse in the direction of Dornach, several miles away. She trotted the horse for a short distance, then cantered on the rutted dirt road, along gently-rolling hills, the fields rich with springtime growth. Farmhouses, large and small, dotted the countryside, and sheep and cows slept in the fields. The fragrance of strawberries drifted her way, borne on a cool breeze that fluttered her gown around her ankles. A few clouds scudded in front of a full moon, but the air held no hint of rain. Lightning bugs flitted about, jeweling the cobalt sky. Excitement rose within her as she covered each mile, and it seemed as if her heart beat in rhythm with the horse’s hoofbeats as she envisioned the fair and all the people she would see. Gwenith’s restrictions tempered her happiness, for she wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone, and certainly not flirt with any of the young men. She smiled, her face warming. She’d never flirted with a man and wouldn’t know how, even if she had the chance. As she neared the fairgrounds, she heard the music, a melody echoed in her heart and soul, a happiness almost unbearable in its intensity.


Soon, she arrived at the fair, where music from a five-piece band greeted her at the entrance, and throngs of people crowded the grounds. She couldn’t believe she was actually at the fair! Just look at all the colorful booths, as if each owner had tried to outdo the others. Here stood one with a bright red awning and gold fringes, then another awning with green stripes and matching green poles. These booths offered games and prizes, souvenirs and even a puppet show. Moving her horse among the throngs, she reached the puppet show and laughed in delight at the antics of Keelin and Leith, two storybook characters popular with the children of the kingdom. After the puppet show ended, she moved on to another booth, where one man was juggling five oranges, the spectators’ eyes wide with fascination.


Men and women, young and old, crowded around her, their admiring glances as welcome as a rainbow after a thunderstorm. She spotted her sisters in the distance and was sorely tempted to trot her horse over their way but recalled Gwenith’s admonition that she was not allowed to speak to anyone.


Noise and laughter filled her ears, the sounds a cheerful contrast to the silent loneliness of her days. Scents floated her way, of roasting meats and spiced apples, of women’s perfume.


“Say, pretty lady, why have I never seen you here before?” A young man she guessed to be in his early twenties grinned up at her, his admiring expression a balm for her weary heart, something to remember in all her solitary days that would surely follow this night. She returned his smile but said nothing as she rode on, maneuvering her horse among the multitudes, hearing the band play so many familiar melodies in the background. She tapped her fingers to the beat of the music and hummed the songs, imagining herself in a magnificent ballroom, dancing with a handsome prince. She wanted to buy something for herself but couldn’t decide what, so she just rode around the fair, taking in all the entertainment.


Morgana lost track of the time as she moved from one attraction to the next, each one more enticing than the last one. She wondered if she’d get to visit every booth here, for the fair covered over fifty acres, with more booths than she could count within the vast space. Accept that this is your last chance, your only chance to see everything at the fair. Despite her joy at being here, she fought the tears that threatened to spill. Tomorrow would come all too soon, another day of drudgery, of monotonous tasks that never ended. She struggled with her bitterness, mindful that she had no choice but to accept her fate and not wish for an unattainable goal. Things could be worse. She should always look on the bright side and never let depression drag her down. She had her health and a loving if neglectful father, a fine home even if it was in sad condition. And judging by all the admiring glances that came her way, she was apparently attractive. She didn’t own a mirror, nor would her sisters permit her to use theirs.


She sensed that the men wanted to speak to her but guessed they were hesitant to do so, possibly because they were unsure of her rank. Several people murmured “princess” as she rode past all the stalls and she smiled to herself. Princess Morgana. She could dream, couldn’t she?


Lost in enjoyment, at first she didn’t hear the bells toll, but she stopped, counting the chimes. Twelve! An icy lump settled in her stomach, a disappointment as great as her earlier bliss. She turned the horse around and left the fair, cantering home. She stifled her tears the whole way; this would be the last time she’d visit the fair, never again to meet other young people, to hear the music and mingle among the populace, to smell the tempting fragrances and visit all the stalls. Tomorrow she’d return to her world of hard work and drudgery. But she’d had this one chance, a memory to wrap and hold in her mind, a treasure to retrieve and gaze at now and then, as one would study the portrait of a loved one.


The house came into view, a sprawling stone structure with shingles missing from its roof, the front door sagging. She caught the scent of night-blooming jasmine and other flowers that blossomed in the small garden close to the house, one she tended to lovingly every day, along with the vegetable garden in back.


As she reached the front door and dismounted, the horse vanished, and she was clad in her old clothes again. She gasped and pressed her hand to her mouth as shock and disappointment washed over her. With a sigh, she lifted the latch at the back door to step into the kitchen. Well, what do you know! The dishes were done, the floor swept, the beans soaking in a pot, and most of all, her sisters’ dresses were pressed, their hangers clinging from a peg on the wall.


Too excited to go to bed, she walked along the lit hallway to the parlor, where the embers in the stone fireplace gave off enough light to see by. She reached to the mantel for the tinder box, and striking flint against iron, lit two lamps that posed close to the sofa, burning whale oil. Seating herself on the sagging sofa, she gripped the book that waited for her on an end table and began to read. Her eyes burned with sleepiness, for she wasn’t used to staying up this late, but she wanted to read a while before seeking her bed. A beautiful love story, she’d enjoyed the book for the past several nights in the few spare minutes she claimed her own, for it helped divert her from her own troubles. She handled the book with care, the pages loose and spotted with mildew. Like the rest of the house, the parlor had seen better days, the carpet threadbare, the draperies tattered and faded, their once lovely purple hue now a dull pink. The sofa was lumpy and uncomfortable, prompting her to continually change her position, interfering with her concentration on the story.


Alana and Nola burst into the parlor and slammed the door, heedless of their father sleeping and ending Morgana’s precious moments of serene solitude. She set her book down and looked up at them, aware it would be fruitless to scold them for their insensitivity.

BOOK: Midnight for Morgana
2.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Peter Benchley's Creature by Peter Benchley
Postmark Murder by Mignon G. Eberhart
Fraser's Line by Monica Carly
Lover Beware by Christine Feehan, Eileen Wilks
Lucien by Elijana Kindel
Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet
Futures and Frosting by Tara Sivec
Compromised Miss by Anne O'Brien