The Penwyth Bride (The Witch's Daughter Book 1)

BOOK: The Penwyth Bride (The Witch's Daughter Book 1)
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Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Mistress of Lyhalis

Books by Ani

About Ani

 

 

 

 

THE PENWYTH BRIDE

 

BOOK 1 of

THE WITCH’S DAUGHTER

 

By Ani Bolton

Copyright © 2015 by Ani Bolton

All Rights Reserved

ASIN: XXXXXX

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover art ©
The Killion Group, Inc.

Licensed material is being used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted in the licensed material is a model.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, and where permitted by law. Reviewers are welcomed to quote brief passages in a review.

 

Previously published as The Penwyth Bride by Mallory Jackson. I got the rights back, and I’m happy to share this story with readers once more!

CHAPTER ONE

 

The godly folk of Little Ithlington drowned my mother in the village duckpond when I was eleven years old.

The servants tell me that she spat and lay curses upon the villagers even as her death gave lie to her supernatural powers. But Goodwife Martin took to a fit soon after, so no one knows what to think.

When my father found his drowned wife late in the night after searching the combes and wyes for her, they also say, he took Ioanthe in his arms and howled in agony to the moon like a dog, and so her spell over him was broken.

When they informed me, none too gently, I did not grieve. Ioanthe had been an alarming figure in my life, and when she did bother to come to the nursery I always felt as if she were measuring something in me and finding it wanting.

Worse still, however, was capturing her interest. When I grew my first seedling in a cracked horn cup seemingly overnight, my mother began to watch me more attentively, and even I did not want to draw the attention of a witch.

My mother’s beauty was exotic and wild, and the villagers never forgave her for snaring the squire’s son in her spell and rising above her station. The servants tell me she liked to lord her good fortune over them, too, driving a smart gig drawn by a pair of matched black ponies like a virago through Little Ithlington’s one dusty lane, and flouncing into church service wearing a London-stitched gown. She always insisted upon being addressed as My Lady, not Mistress Eames, or even Lady Ioanthe, she who was the miller’s by-blow child living in great extremity by the Thicket Downs where no god-fearing person willingly traveled.

Well, the village had its revenge over her.

And I endeavored to forget her whispers on the properties of earth, air, fire and water, how to balance between them and thus draw the power from them all. The
arcana elementa
, she had called it, knowledge passed down from the affinitied since the beginning, when Reason did not hold sway over the world as it did now. She told me--somewhat disgustedly--that my affinity was for the earth and things that grow.

“They’ll call thee a witch,” she had said with a look of dark amusement in her fine eyes as she made me labor over the ordering of arcane rune sticks left to her by her grandmother, killed, she told me, in the Puritan’s Great Purge. “Ha. They’ll revile thee and let the godly kill thee while the men steal our knowledge and call themselves alchemists, or physickans. But they cannot see what we can see, or hear what we can hear, or invoke what we can invoke. Only the affinitied who have not forgotten the One can understand the arcana as it is meant to be understood--even those who wish to forget, daughter.”

I caught my breath. How was it she saw into my heart and read there my reluctance to be of the affinitied? To be a witch?

There was no sympathy in her expression as she regarded me. “Thee must remember what I tell thee,” she had said.

But I did not want to remember, because I knew that those who were unwise enough to do so were killed. And so she was.

After her death I told myself to forget the arcana. I kept many secrets folded within my heart, and I spoke of them to no one. I also tried to deafen my ears against the unceasing voices of the earth plaguing me, voices my mother taught me to decipher, because the lesson taught by the villagers was the one that mattered.

My father mended his first transgression of marrying beneath him, choosing for his second wife a woman of little beauty but firm fortune. He mourned for my mother privately but never mentioned her name again, even to me, and since he had shouldered the responsibility for restoring his inherited Great House to its former glory--much diminished by the family’s support of the Good Old Cause during the civil wars--he knew the time to be practical was nigh.

Sarah’s coming put an end to my benign neglect. My first conference with her set up a life-long anxiety in me, for she, with shrewd judgment, took one look at my thin frame and bush of foxcolored curl scraggling about my head and pronounced me “most unpromising.”

“Mr. Eames, what can you be about?” she said to my father, Fulke, who stood behind me with his hands lightly touching my shoulders, to keep me from running away, I think. “She’s dressed like a cottager urchin, her hair is a tangle, and what is that thing on her foot?”

My father cleared his throat and did not answer immediately, searching, I suppose, for a way to break it to his new wife.

“Girl, what is that thing on your foot?” Sarah demanded of me. “Pray answer me truthfully and forthrightly as befits your station, and no more of this sulking hangdog expression.”

“It is a wooden shoe,” I said, as no help came from behind me. “It covers my witch’s mark.”

My stepmother’s pin-bright eyes blinked twice. “Witch’s mark? Who told you that?”

“Why, everyone. That’s what it is. God has marked me as unfit to breed, Nurse says, and to warn men that my womb will not quicken, He has lamed me.”

She sighed. “I see that I have more work to do than I thought. Come here, child, and show me this awful mark.”

I hesitated.

“Persia, do as your stepmother bids,” my father said, voice uncharacteristically sharp.

I limped forward until I stood before her. My face must have crimsoned for it felt hot and prickly, and my palms burst into sweat. I never had to show my foot to anyone, and I myself looked at it as little as possible.

Sarah’s swift glance took this all in and pitilessly demanded that I remove the wooden offense covering my foot. “Good lord, is this what all the fuss is over?” she said as my foot was exposed. “It is nothing but a clubfoot. I saw worse everyday on the streets of Town. She will wear a regular slipper, and learn to walk as gracefully as possible.” This, to my father.

To me she said, “You will set aside superstitious nonsense. It is nothing but the cant of ignorant villagers. I am come now to take you in hand.”

I quivered at those words.

“Children of gentle birth should be reared with a healthy dose of discipline, affection, and a good education, even for the females,” she went on, as much to my father as to me. “Tomorrow we will send for a Dancing Master and a Tutor, and begin to civilize you.”

“A dancing master,” my father exclaimed. “Why, poor Persia can barely shift about the nursery let alone dance.”

“She will learn to do so. Weakness breeds contempt, and contempt invites dislike. She will have to learn how to manage herself. Remember, my dear, discipline, affection, and education. Leave her to me.”

I got the discipline, and a reasonably good education.

###

Even this meager sustenance ended when I was sixteen and my father died.

The lessons in Verse, Stitchery, and Dance were stopped on that day. My stepmother insisted that at sixteen a woman had learned all there was to know; now she had to prepare herself for marriage.

As frightening as that notion was, I accepted it, for that was the way of the world. I had been brought up to expect an arrangement to be made to a man of good birth and some means, who, I was assured, would be kind and overlook my witch’s . . . my clubfoot.

“We shall look for a prospect among the rising trades,” Sarah told my father one day, shortly before his death. “They’ve got fortunes, little land to burden them, and are not so choosy about their wives as long as they are genteel. I shall begin immediately.”

“Make sure he has something of pleasing person,” my father said, patting me kindly on the cheek. “My little Persia should have a handsome beau if he can be found. Eh? Wouldn’t you like a handsome husband?”

I did not want any husband but I could not disappoint my father, whose eyes pleaded with me to set his mind at rest on the topic. I smiled weakly.

“There!” Papa returned the smile. “Find my girl a handsome man of good fortune and respectable birth, my dear wife. Those are your instructions.”

“To be sure,” Sarah replied dryly, “though it will be a near impossibility to find an eligible man of means in this frozen backwater. Too many pinch-pursed Scots presbyters or secret Papists for my liking.”

“If anyone can do it, you can, Sarah my dear.”

“And I shall,” my stepmother returned.

Papa died shortly after that conversation, and the subject of husbands sank, thankfully, under the pressing concerns of Estate Settlements and Portion Allotments. I was surprised to learn that my father, who always struck me as a dreamy and, it pains me to say, ineffectual man, had the foresight to purchase joint-stock in the fledgling East India Company now beginning to take flight over the spice trade. These shares he left to me, not to his estate where they would be under the control of my stepmother. Sarah soared into a rage when the solicitor informed her. He also took the opportunity to tell me that I was now something of an heiress.

The news depressed me. Now a husband would be found as soon as my mourning ended. I was ‘too ripe a plum’ to be left unmarried, as the solicitor jovially put it at the reading of the will. Sarah sniffed at him, shooting me a baleful look that sent the hair rising over my arms, and said nothing. I was sure my time at the Great House at Little Ithlington was coming to an end.

But then time passed, and no match was made. I slipped from one year to the next, happily I thought, as I could be with my impediment and friendless life, and wondered. What could my stepmother be planning for me?

I found out soon after my day of birth, which was on Midsummer’s Eve. I was twenty-two.

###

Sarah Eames arrived home one week later. From the opened window of my chamber I heard the gravel of our drive scatter away from the wheels of her new-sprung chaise, horses champing and slavering, and Coachman Bobbet cursing imprecations as he drove over a corner of the scythed lawn in the dark.

I hunkered down in my bed. The commotion of unloading boxes and the murmurs of unready, apologetic servants was unwelcome music. The July night was suffocating; insects whirred sullenly about the rushlight. Despite this I threw the linen over my head to blot out the sound of my stepmother’s voice echoing up the staircase as cutting as ever, undulled by a two-day journey from Town.

Then, silence. Uneasily I sank back into sleep, wondering what urgent matter sent the practical Sarah traveling over bad roads on a moonless night.

The day dawned with vicious heat. The well water had begun to taste brackish, and everywhere were complaints of the miserable corn crop, plump heads of rye and brake shriveling under the sun’s merciless pounding.

BOOK: The Penwyth Bride (The Witch's Daughter Book 1)
5.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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