Bones of the Witch
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High in the hills of Scotland, an ancient evil has returned. One young woman struggling to master her magic is the only hope to stop it……
On the cusp of womanhood, Georjie longs to unlock the full force of her fae-given powers. So when she’s invited to Scotland, she’s eager to explore the Highlands’ famed fairy realm hoping to find a mentor. But instead of unearthing a teacher, she discovers a mummified body within the walls of a seventeenth-century ruin.
Teaming up with a handsome amateur historian, she uses her earth-elemental gift to overturn the secrets hidden deep in the soil. But never far from the trail of clues lurks a shadowy creature on the hunt for prey. And Georjie fears it may have found its first target when a local girl vanishes, only to be discovered in an open grave with her life slipping away…
Can Georjie break the curse before ancient evil claims an innocent victim?
Bones of the Witch is the first book in the explosive Earth Magic Rises YA contemporary fantasy series. If you like strong heroines, dark sorcery, and medieval Highland history, then you’ll love A.L. Knorr’s unforgettable adventure.
One-click Bones of the Witch and dig into a spellbinding tale today!
Release date: December 14, 2019
Publisher: Intellectually Promiscuous Press
Print pages: 262
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Bones of the Witch
The smell of hops, smoke, and fried food hit me as I stepped inside The Blackmouth Arms. The din of laughter and conversation filled the small pub, the low ceiling and uneven flagstone floors amplifying the chaos. A fellow with a knit cap perched so high on his head it might slide off at any moment plucked at a fiddle, tuning it, alongside a fellow musician doing the same with a guitar. Several pairs of eyes glanced up at me as the door swung shut behind me. Thankfully, they were all friendly.
“Prop the door open, would you love?” hollered a rotund woman with red cheeks as she ran a rag over the bar. “There’s a stone just outside the door.”
I nodded and backed the door open, kicking the rock into place. It was a good call, as the place was as stuffy and humid as a cellar.
Scanning the heads for Jasher’s dark hair, I spotted him deep in conversation at the far wall where the bar met the plaster. His back was to me, but I’d know that tall, broad- shouldered frame anywhere. I suppressed a surge of annoyance at him. Being frustrated with him wasn’t how I wantedto start this adventure, but he’d sent a friend to pick me up at the train station rather than coming himself. If he’d been busy with work or unavailable for some good reason, I would have been fine with it, but when his friend pulled up in front of a pub and told me with a grunt and a jerk of her thumb that Jasher was inside, I had to admit, that hurt. He couldn’t pick me up because he was out drinking?
I took a bracing breath and told myself he might have an unapparent but excellent reason and to restrain my ire so that I could give him a chance to explain. Shoving my luggage under a table where it wouldn’t be underfoot, I sidled through the crowd in the direction of his back, trying not to bump my head on the incredibly low rafters.
Jasher looked to be in lively communion with a young fellow sporting an impressive foam moustache.
“Anything to drink, love?” the lady behind the bar called, raking wild curls away from her sweaty brow.
“Um.” My mind scrambled for an answer. I didn’t want to stay, but it was rude not to order something, especially since the beer making a pool on the bar at Jasher’s elbow still had a lot left.
The lady was still waiting for my response.
I squeezed between the backs of two men bellied up at the bar. They projected enough heat to warm a small barn. No wonder this place was an oven. “Have you got apple cider?”
“Och, a tourist!” she bellowed with enthusiasm. “Where you from then, lass?”
“Canada, but I just arrived from Poland.”
A few others overheard and peered at me with curiosity.
“Had a cousin went ter yer cold climes.” The bar matron bustled to the other end and disappeared through a doorway that had to have given more than its fair share of goose-eggs in its lifetime. She reappeared with a glass and poured a fizzy brown liquid from a tap. “You picked a bad time o’ year to visit, lass. Nothing but dire weather and unwashed locals in these parts until spring.”
“You can count me among the number of the great unwashed. I’ve been on a train all day.” I cocked my head as her words sank in. “And, I thought March was spring.”
This statement was apparently naive enough to elicit laughter from the men on either side of me as well as the bartender.
“Come back in another six weeks if it’s spring you’re looking for.” She set a dripping pint glass in front of me.
“Thanks. I’m not here for the weather, though. I’m visiting a friend.” I picked up the glass and brought it to my lips when I caught the tang of alcohol. Whoops. I’d just made a tourist’s mistake. I’d assumed apple cider here was the same as it was back home.
I dug some money out of my pocket and slapped it on the bar. Tilting a finger toward my oblivious friend, I said, “I’ve found him. Thanks for the cider.”
She tipped me a wink and faced another patron who asked her for a Drambuie in a brogue so strong it sounded almost like a foreign language. The Scottish accent in the highlands was dramatically deeper than the lyrical lilt in Edinburgh.
Shuffling sideways through the crowd, I closed the distance between Jasher and me. In spite of my annoyance, some butterflies took flight in my stomach, brushing their soft wings against my insides. Jasher and I had had a rough start, but we’d become good friends. He’d been there when I’d inherited the earth magic, and that would always connect us. I was looking forward to being able to spend more time with him. At times, I still caught myself thinking about the kiss we’d shared in Ireland––the best one of my young life.
I set my glass of contraband on the bar just behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. The musicians in the corner were getting loud, so I raised my voice. “Sorry to interrupt.”
Jasher was just lifting his glass to his lips when he turned his head to see who had tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hello, Jasher,” I said. Nice of you to meet me at the station, I mentally added. This was the burden of most Canadians, a detrimental level of politeness.
The myriad of expressions which played out on his features as recognition sank in was fascinating. His eyes widened, his lips parted, and his brows hiked up to his hairline. The expression of shock that stole over his face was so genuine that further words were startled right out of my throat.
Jasher’s friend stared back and forth between us, his drink forgotten in his hand.
“Georjayna!” Jasher yelled it like a victory cry and startled both myself and his drinking buddy. Setting down his drink with a clack, he yanked me into a sweaty, almost violent hug. He smelled of beer and soap and wood. His body felt as lean and corded with muscle as I remembered. He pulled back to look at me, his face bright with excitement. “What are you doing here?”
Speechlessness afflicted me for the second time in fewer minutes. My mouth opened and closed as his question sank in. The sound of a highland jig struck up behind me and it was a surreal addition to Jasher’s bizarre reaction.
“How much have you had to drink, Jash?” I finally asked.
I looked at his friend to see if there was some agreed upon ruse between them, but his companion only blinked at me with shallow, bovine interest.
My gaze swung back to Jasher. “I told you I’d be arriving today. I thought you were going to meet me at the station. Your friend dropped me off here. My bag is over there, by the door.”
I thumbed over my shoulder, feeling strained from having to shout over the music.
This was a not so subtle hint. He’d had his fun, it was late. I was travel-weary and needed a shower and a bed.
Jasher’s smile faltered and his eyes widened again. Surprise was quickly becoming the expression of the evening.
“You did?” He spoke with genuine shock and I found myself scrambling to recall the contents of the letters we’d exchanged. Yes, I was in the right country, and the right time, and he’d been here the whole time. This had been his idea.
I decided it had to be a joke. I rolled my eyes and laughed, directing another look at his friend, looking for a sign. He wore a green t-shirt that said––Do good, die better. I noted that he was blond, mid-twenties, and layered with as much muscle as Jasher. I wondered if he was a carpenter too.
“He’s such a joker,” I told his friend.
“Aye.” Green t-shirt agreed, a twinkle flashing in his eye. “That’s the first thing I realized when we started working together.” He lifted his tumbler of ice cubes and the russet liquid sloshed. “That Jasher, he’s something of a balloon.”
Why did I get the feeling Green t-shirt was being sarcastic?
“Georjie.” Jasher put a hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know what you’re on about, but this is truly an awesome surprise. I’m so glad you’ve come! How did you even know where to find me?” Earnestness. Authentic confusion.
“Jasher… your friend dropped me off here. The lady you sent to pick me up at Blackmouth’s station.” I combed for her name in my memory but was dismayed to find I couldn’t recall it. Must be exhaustion. I normally had a pretty good memory for names.
Jasher gaped, his fine ruddy face a picture of bewilderment. I could practically see the gears turning. Frankly, it was getting old.
Finally, Jasher addressed Green t-shirt. “’Scuse me a minute, will you?” He blinked over at me and changed his mind. “No, actually…I think this’ll have to be goodnight.”
He swallowed the rest of his beer in four big gulps and pushed the empty glass to the back of the bar. Getting up, he gave Green t-shirt a parting nod. “See you in the morning.”
“You going to leave without introducing me to your pretty friend?” Green t-shirt asked, then stuck out his bottom lip.
Jasher whacked his thigh, and a puff of sawdust clouded the air near his leg. Now that I was looking, his shirt was wrinkled and stained with oil spots. He must have come directly from work to the pub.
“Sorry mate.” Jasher shook his head at himself. “She’s got me all inside out and backwards. Will, this is Georjayna.” He turned to me. “Georjie, this is Will. He works with me.”
Will poked a finger into the brim of his baseball cap, making it sit a little higher on his head. “Family, are ye?” He looked hopeful.
“Not technically,” Jasher and I replied at the same time, then laughed.
“Her mum and my adopted mum are sisters,” Jasher explained as he liberated his wallet from a rear pocket and fished out some money. He winked at me and the dimples I had grown to love appeared. “We only met for the first time this past June, but we got on like a brushfire. Didn’t we, Georjie?”
I crooked an eyebrow at him. We hadn’t, actually.
“Adopted cousins, then.” Will set his tumbler on the bar to shake my hand. “Welcome to the highlands.”
“Smarter than you look,” Jasher teased, tucking his wallet away again.
“Funny,” Will said to me, jabbing a finger in Jasher’s direction.
“He’s a little crusty, but we like him,” I replied. “Nice to meet you.”
“See you round.” Will smiled and picked up his drink. He settled his back against the wall and bobbed his head in time to the music.
As Jasher and I squeezed our way toward the door, one of the musicians yelled over the tune. “Are we that bad?”
“Aye, ye scare away the only tourist we’ve seen since October,” crowed the woman behind the bar.
My cheeks warmed as the patrons watched us. I felt like we were bad kids sneaking out of class early. At the door, I bent to retrieve my bag.
“I’ll get that.” Jasher pulled the bag through the open door and I followed him.
Jasher began to head downhill, the tires of my luggage making a racket on the cobbles. He stopped abruptly and looked around like he was lost. Sheepishly, he steered the bag around and headed uphill instead. “This way.”
“Haven’t you been here since the new year, Jasher? Black‐ mouth is even smaller than Anacullough. You expect me to believe you still don’t know your way from the pub to the castle?”
He shushed me, holding a finger in front of his lips.
“Uh huh.” I kept pace with him as we climbed the narrow, winding road, on which there was no traffic. The sky was a near starless layer of black over our heads, the clouds like a layer of wool. Tall stone walls divided a thick forest from the road. Pools of streetlight offered the only illumination leading up a hill so steep that whatever lived beyond it was invisible. “So, who was the lady you sent to pick me up? Friend of yours?”
When I’d stepped off the train, a middle-aged woman in a house-dress and a vacant smile had been waiting with my name scrawled on a piece of cardboard. She’d given me a name I couldn’t now recall and told me she was to pick me up because Jasher wasn’t able to, and bundled me into a small Fiat. Surprised because Jasher hadn’t warned me ahead of time, and unable to call him because he’d long ago vowed never to own a personal cell phone, I elected to trust her. I’d gotten in the car and enjoyed the short, quiet drive through the village of Blackmouth.
Jasher glanced at me. “Our wires got crossed somewhere along the line. I didn’t send anyone to pick you up, Georjie. Honest. I’m gobsmacked that you’re even here.”
I stopped walking at once and stared at him, well beyond laughing about it by now.
Jasher stopped walking as well. “Seriously. I’ve no idea what you’re doing here, Georjie. But I’m so happy you came. What a great surprise!”
“Jasher.” I closed my eyes briefly, asking for patience. “I’ll speak slowly so you won’t misunderstand. You wrote me a letter telling me all about your job at Blackmouth Castle and inviting me to come and stay for a while…”
The words died in my throat at his deer-in-the-headlights look.
Silence stretched out and a chill swept over me. Some‐ thing very strange was going on here. Jasher didn’t seem drunk, just a little tipsy, there was no way he’d had enough alcohol to have forgotten completely about the letter he’d written me.
“No, I didn’t,” he finally replied. “I mean… I did write you a letter, telling you about the job and where I was, but I didn’t invite you to come.” His face flushed. “Don’t get me wrong, I would have, but it never occurred to me.”
“But…you invited me.” I was certain he had. There had been a line in the letter welcoming me to Blackmouth since they were closed for the season and had plenty of spare rooms. Wasn’t there? Jasher had to have forgotten. He simply had to. Either that or I was losing my mind.
He threw an arm over my shoulder and we continued walking up the hill. My mind raced like fingers over an old- fashioned rolodex. Had I misunderstood? No, I was sure I hadn’t.
The distant clouds seemed to wheel for a moment. If Jasher didn’t ask a friend to pick me up then who was the woman…wait, had it been a woman? Why couldn’t I remember? The details of the person and the circumstance of my arrival at Blackmouth station now felt like a dream––the details of which were fading too fast to hold on to.
Doubts stalled as we crested the hill and a huge roundabout led to a parking lot overlooked by a hulking black shape. The silhouettes of numerous turrets reached toward the clouds and I strained my eyes for a better look, wondering why there weren’t more lights on.
Jasher was saying, “…important thing is that you’re here now. Whatever’s happened, it’s a happy happening, and I hope you stay for a good long shift.”
With this sweet but clumsy speech, he bumped against my hip and knocked me off course. I took him by the elbow and corrected his trajectory so we didn’t walk into a mailbox.
“So, you haven’t told Bonnie and Gavin that I’m coming.” I could already feel the heat of embarrassment burning in my cheeks. If Jasher hadn’t warned the castle’s owners I was coming, it would make me an unwanted guest.
“No, but don’t worry. They are the most hospitable folks you’ll meet,” Jasher replied with a squeeze around my shoulders. “I couldn’t have found better people to work for.”
I gave him a feeble smile as Blackmouth Castle loomed, blocking out the rest of the night sky.
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