There is no such thing as a secret kept, so long as the bearers live and breathe.
Losing her mother to the witch’s noose—and her father to those who placed her there—Lady Edyth DeVries flees for her life into the wilds of Scotland. With all her hopes pinned upon reuniting with the only family left to her, Edyth is tormented as a keeper of a dangerous secret—one that she is only just beginning to unravel. As King Edward I of England dismantles loyalties and spills innocent blood, Edyth traverses the deadly landscape with little hope of success. On all sides bitter conflict looms yet help comes from an unlikely source. But can Edyth trust Ewan, the heroic, young Scots knight with her secret -or with her heart?
Release date: March 13, 2023
Publisher: J.C. Wade Originals
Print pages: 363
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The White Witch's Daughter: Book One
Following the deaths of the Scottish king Alexander III and his only heir, Margaret, Maid of Norway, a council of twelve—the Guardians of Scotland—was created to name the new ruler among the clans. The council, seeing the division among the people on whom they felt should rightfully rule, feared civil war.
In an effort to waylay conflict, the Guardians called upon their neighbor and supposed friend, King Edward I of England, to act as an arbitrator between rival petitioners. At Berwick Castle in the year of our Lord 1292, King Edward, looking to acquire a loyal vassal, named John Balliol as the new king of Scotland.
Coerced into recognizing King Edward as the Lord Paramount of Scotland, in addition to excessive demands for men and money to fund his expensive war against France, Balliol was left with little choice but to rebel. Scotland sought a mutual defense pact with King Philippe IV of France, thus inciting King Edward’s anger.
The Scots launched a failed attack against England in 1296, to which King Edward retaliated, sacking Berwick-upon-Tweed and killing over ten thousand people.
Edyth pressed herself against the wall in the darkened hallway of her childhood home, her satchel clutched tightly against her breast. She could hear the whispers of the remaining servants in the buttery as she tried to remain out of sight.
“I dinae see one reason tae call her a—”
“Shh! Diven’t say the word, Mira! Tis a sin, I tell yeh, tae blaspheme so.”
It was Agnes, a kitchen maid, and Mira, the household’s matronly chatelaine.
“Well, saying it or no don’t make it true!” Mira hissed. Edyth easily could picture her in her mind, Mira’s fists bunched up on her ample hips and her wobbly chin jutted out defiantly in reaction to Agnes’s willingness to believe the rumors.
“Still, I’d no’ like to hear the word spoken here. What if Edyth takes after her mam, eh? I caught her watchin’ me with them cat eyes o’ hers. She could be doin’ the devil’s work. Me ’ead ’as been aching—”
“Nonsense!” Mira barked. She could have smiled at the chat- elain’s defense of her. “I’ve known ’er since she was nowt but a wee bairn, Agnes. Edyth ain’t no more guilty than her ain’ sweet mam. Twas nowt but a scandal. And look what talkin’s done! First ’er mam hangit and disgraced, then her dear faither murdered in the street. Edyth needs our care, no’ fear, and certainly no’ finger pointing!”
Agnes grunted. “Well, I’ll not stay in this house, true or not, Mira. If it’s true what they say about Lady DeVries, then there’ll be evil in these walls. And even if it’s nowt but lies, there be those that believe it, and they will cause harm here. Ye mark me words, nowt but sorrow will come tae this house.”
Edyth had heard enough of this talk for the past week to last a lifetime. Fighting the panicked whispers of heresy and witchcraft was like trying to catch smoke in your hands. What had been said against her mother in treachery had spread too fast to dispel. First, a quick and unfair trial, ushered in by the hands of the malicious Father Brewer, then a pr
onouncement that her mother was to be hanged for her crimes against God and the church, then last, her father—her dear father—had been stabbed in the street as he had fought the crowd in the town square where her mother had swung.
There had been chaos in the large crowd, and no witnesses had come forth. Edyth could still hear her town’s people—people whom she had grown up around, people she had loved—chanting and screaming to “kill the witch” as her father was swallowed up in the churning crowd. His murderer was still unknown and free.
The thought of it made her belly burn with rage.
With no way to avenge for her parents’ murders, she had little choice but to flee herself, now that the townspeople’s attention had been turned to the remaining member of her family—herself.
Marcum, their steward, had already warned off a crowd of angry men who had pounded on the door. A frothing crowd had come, demanding Marcum produce “the white witch’s daughter,” as though they didn’t know her name. Indeed, they’d known her these past seventeen years, had watched her blossom into a woman grown. It was easier for them that way, she supposed. If she had no name, she would be easier to kill.
It wouldn’t be long now before a mob’s bloodlust would end in yet another person’s life in an effort to protect her. She couldn’t stay holed up, afraid; she couldn’t stand to see another drop of blood spilled.
Edyth stood erect now, clothed in her father’s too-large hose, shirt, and tunic, and stepped out into the haze of torchlight that lit the corridor. The two servants were just out of sight, around the corner, but she could still hear them whispering to each other. Edyth wished she had time to gaze about her, putting to memory her childhood home, but Thom was waiting for her in the stables.
Edyth entered the hall to her left, a once comfortable place full of cherished memories of her mother quietly embroidering and her father’s thorough tutelage on all the subjects he prized. Edyth flung open her mother’s sewing box and picked through it as quickly as she could: a bone needle, thread, and a long strip of leather. Edyth paused as she fingered a bit of blue ribbon before pocketing it. It was worthless as far as necessities went, but she loved the color; it was the same blue as her mother’s eyes.
A loud bang resounded from across the yard, making Edyth jump. She whipped her head around in time to see Mira rush in.
“My lady, Edyth!” Mira gasped, eyeing her strange manner of dress. “There are villagers outside again. They’re growing unruly. I don’t know how long Marcum can hold them off this time.”
Edyth rushed to the heavy trunk that held her parents’ treasures: books. She grasped her mother’s red leather tome full of hand-drawn pictures of herbs, roots, and flowers. It was a book made for the
sole purpose of saving lives; such a tool would have only condemned her further if it had been found. Edyth shoved it into her satchel, next to the neatly tied squares of linens holding dried herbs and blinked back tears. Her lovely, poised, and gentle mother was gone, buried next to thieves and adulterers.
Edyth wiped at her eyes and searched the room. She hesitated for only a moment when her eye fell upon her father’s handmade reader, evidence of his daring nerve to teach his daughter to read and write, among many other subjects—some of which even her mother disapproved of. Edyth decided she couldn’t part with the heavy black script of her father’s hand and tore a handful of pages from the binding before stuffing them inside her mother’s book. Edyth turned on her heel and abruptly ran into Mira, whose eyes were welling with tears.
“My lady, please don’t be foolish. Why are ye dressed so?”
Edyth strode past the woman she’d known as a second mother and opened a box on the mantle. She pulled out her mother’s money purse and pocketed it as well. “You know I can’t stay, Mira.” Even as she spoke, she heard angry shouts from outside the gate.
“Dinnae leave so, Milady. Marcum will see us safe.”
Edyth’s eyes fell upon the chess board she and her father had used so often and picked up the white queen from her father’s side of the board. It hadn’t been polished; it still held his smudged prints from their last game together. The sense of loss threatened to overcome her once more, but she swallowed it away. She took her handkerchief from her sleeve and wrapped the queen in it, careful not to wipe her father’s mark from it, and placed it in her satchel.
“Thom has drawn me a map to cousin Meg.” She was proud that her voice hadn’t wavered.
“Scotland?” Mira gasped and then crossed herself. “Edyth, nay! King Edward has taken Berwick. We’re at war!”
“Aye, but war is upon us in Carlisle, and it is our own that attack! I cannot stay here. There is no life here for me.”
“Ye shouldna have said what ye did about Father Brewer, Milady. Yer mother always warned ye about yer wicked tongue—”
“Perhaps you’re right,” Edyth interrupted, forestalling the woman. She didn’t want to hear it. What she’d said was true. The man was a liar, and worse, she was certain he would burn in hell, just as she’d said. She shook her head to rid the image of his smug, fat face as he hissed lies about her mother, lies the townspeople had swallowed whole, for who would believe her mother over a priest, a man of God? It was easier, she supposed, to believe her mother a witch and a heretic than to believe what Father Brewer had done to poor Annie.
“But Scotland!” Mira protested. “Why not…why don’t you…there’s the baron’s family. Perhaps they—”
“No,” Edyth said flatly. She didn’t have time to argue. Marcum’s voice was still raised against the men in the yard, and Thom was waiting. “My family name is forever tarnished. The baron of Wessex is dead. There will be no more petitions for my hand, and that suits me well enough. I can have a life with Meg that I cannot have here.” Edyth pressed her hand against the satchel resting on her hip; how was it that her entire life could fit into a single bag?
The shouts were louder now. Mira clutched Edyth’s arm, her eyes wide with fear. The buttery door flew open and banged into the wall. Mira let out a shriek and clung so tightly to Edyth’s arm that she was sure to leave marks. It was Thom, the young stable master. He’d only had the role for a year now, after his father had died from being thrown from a horse. Although he was but a handful of years older than Edyth, she’d always looked upon him as much older. He had an old soul, her father had once said.
“Lady, you must come. Now!”
Edyth yanked her arm from Mira, clutched her satchel to her chest, and followed Thom through the buttery and down the stairs toward the kitchen at a dead run.
“Marcum has been overrun, milady,” breathed Thom once they’d reached the back door. “There are about eight of them. He… he couldn’t hold them off.”
Fear swelled within her. That, and something lately new: hate. She’d never known the emotion before, had never experienced the burning rage that was now coursing through her. “He’s…they killed him?”
Thom nodded, his eyes dark. “They’re sure to be outside the front door by now.” Thom handed Edyth a straight, heavy dagger. “Take this. Use it if you must.”
nodded, wondering if she could.
“Let me go first, Milady. Wait here.” Thom pushed the door open a fraction, just enough to peer through, and when he saw no one, he met her eyes. He opened his mouth, an apology written there.
“Don’t,” she said; she didn’t think she could bear to hear his apology for what part he had played in this, their current hell. Emotions warred behind his eyes, but with a curt nod, he slipped out.
Edyth waited impatiently. Mira tottered in, out of breath and red faced. She clutched onto Edyth once more and sobbed. “My dear Edyth. My dear child.”
Edyth hugged the buxom woman and kissed her graying hair, her nerves jumping, her legs wobbly. There were no words. How could she tell the woman who had loved her all her life goodbye? How could she thank her for the endless smiles, the warmth she exuded, the love she shared? She was all that remained of her childhood. Edyth’s eyes stung, her heart breaking anew.
If she could open her chest and live without her heart, she would tear it out at the root and be done with the pain.
Thom opened the door and beckoned Edyth silently. Mira sobbed all the harder but let her arms drop from around Edyth’s shoulders. Thom shushed her harshly, and Mira had the good sense to silence her fretting. Her shoulders quivered with silent tears, her apron clutched to her mouth. It was time.
“Don’t forget your hat,” Thom reminded her. “The moon is bright, and your hair will give you away.”
Edyth did as he bid, cursing her ugly orange hair for the thousandth time. And then with one last look at Mira, she stepped out the door.
The air was chilly, the sky clear. The sound of wood splintering in the distance made her
“That’ll be the front door,” whispered Thom. “Run to the stables. I’ll follow you.”
He awkwardly pulled a sword from the scabbard at his waist. Edyth’s worry intensified. She doubted if Thom had actually ever used a sword—at least for its intended, deadly, purpose—and knew that if he was engaged in a fight, he would surely lose.
But she couldn’t think about that right now. She ran forward, stumbling over her own feet before righting herself. The stables were only fifty yards from the cold storage door and thankfully not in sight of the front of the house, but if someone decided to search elsewhere for her….
Her heart raced, her feet sliding in the cold mire the spring thaw had caused as she ran for the stables. A shout, a crash of steel on steel, a grunt…. Edyth dared to look over her shoulder and saw Thom grappling with Hugh, the smithy’s son. Thom had blocked a heavy blow from Hugh and was scrambling backward to reset himself for another attack.
Edyth couldn’t bear to watch. She ran the distance to the stables, entering into the inky blackness without caution. Edyth knew the way to Harris’s stall and didn’t need a light. It was better this way; she didn’t have time to say goodbye to her mare, and not seeing her would make it easier. Thom had said the distance was too far and the country too rough for the poor old girl and had insisted she take her father’s destrier, Harris. He knew her well, but neither were accus- tomed to each other.
Edyth felt her way in a rush, bumping into buckets and tripping once over a line of rope that had tangled around her ankle. She cringed at the noise she was making; she could feel the horses’ nervousness at her frantic movements. Her eyes adjusted as she neared Harris’s stall. Thom had prepared her as best he could. There was only so much Harris could carry on his back and still hold Edyth.
Edyth forced herself to calm and held her hand out for Harris to sniff. She couldn’t keep it from shaking. “Come on, boy. I need you to fly for me.”
She entered his stall; he jerked his head back, and she grabbed hold of his bridle, stroking his nose. “You’re my only chance,” she whispered. She led him out of the open stall and clambered up onto his back, riding like a man for the first time since she was just a girl. She nudged him forward, and he took up like a jackrabbit. She had to hold on to his mane to keep her seat.
Harris tore through the stable doors, past a raucous crowd surounding what was most assuredly a dead body. A sob caught in her throat at the sight of the man who had died so she could escape. Thom.
“Go, Harris,” Edyth commanded, tears clouding her vision. “Steal away!”
Edyth rode hard and fast, her head bent low over Harris’s strong neck. She didn’t stop until his flanks heaved and his mouth foamed.
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