Yes, for those who ask, I am still working on Awaiting the Magic, the fourth and final Awaiting novel giving readers Christoph’s story. It’s a long haul, in a way, for the story is rich and detailed, textured with witch history, Belgium during the French army advances, and all the backstory of Christoph, Morwenna, Lyulph, Tamara and Romolo, among others.
When we last left our intrepid hero, Christoph von Wolfram, he had just received word that Tamara, (the gypsy girl who had been instrumental in helping Charlotte escape the clutches of Lyulph Randell, the evil werewolf and Morwenna Maxwell, the witch of Bodmin Moor), has been kidnapped and Christoph must follow to save her. He races upstairs in his London townhome to speak with his sister, Charlotte, and finds her in the arms of her lover, the Earl of Wesmorlyn; they have made up and will be marrying as soon as possible.
Christoph leaves Charlotte and Wesmorlyn to marry. He departs from England, accompanied by Romolo (Tamara’s brother) and Diggory, Lyulph’s henchman. We pick the action up in Belgium, where Tamara is apparently being held captive, though Diggory will not say where until they approach.
Here is an Excerpt:
Weeks had passed, and the lush brightness of late summer had become the melancholy ruin of early autumn, when life ended for so much of nature, and the rest went into a deep slumber. The journey from England to the continent had been difficult for the odd group, for even since Christoph had arrived in England, events in Europe had turned uglier. War, or the threat of war, encroached. “Why did Lyulph Randell lure us all the way to this embattled place?” Christoph muttered, ducking behind a stand of bushes with his two companions, Romolo and Diggory. He had heard what sounded like many feet marching, and that meant troops.
It was dusk; mist rolled over the Flemish countryside, settling into the hollows and clinging to the edges of the wooded glade that was now, late in September of 1795, beginning to tint with color, leaves tinged with gold and russet and burnt sienna mingled among the verdant green. They were in the beleaguered area that had been Southern Netherlands, controlled by the Austrians, but which was now overrun by the French. And yet there had been, briefly, a united Belgium. It lasted only as long as the other powerful states took to tug and pull the power one way or the other.
The poor little country was like a favored doll, torn apart by pugnacious siblings. The common folk went about their daily occupations, but there was among them a kind of simmering resentment that their lives were bartered among the nations like so many gambling markers, claimed by the one who was the banker at the faro table. Some day, perhaps, the various states and bishoprics would come together to form a united country, free of interference, but Christoph doubted it would be any time soon.
He huddled down in the bushes and wearily rubbed his eyes while Diggory anxiously bobbed up to look down the road. “Get down, you idiot,” Christoph muttered. The fellow, his nemesis’s servant, obeyed; he was ostensibly leading them to where his master held Romolo’s sister, Tamara, captive, but Christoph had begun to doubt the man’s ability to do so. He was nervous and erratic, incapable of stringing together a sensible statement at times, and yet at others quite rational. It was as if he was under some kind of spell, at times, so vague and muddled was he.
Given the company he kept, it was possible, Christoph supposed, that Diggory was bewitched. No matter; his only task was to lead them on, then Christoph would take care of matters in his own way. He was happy, at least, that he had been able to convince Charlotte and Wesmorlyn to stay in London to be married, with Frau Liebner, their elderly friend, as witness, because he didn’t want his sister anywhere near this trouble.
And there was trouble ahead, he could feel it, his wolf hackles rising even as he kept his human form, at the sense of impending doom. They had crossed the Meuse River at Huy, but the deeper they got into the Belgian countryside, the more Christoph was sensing a nervousness afoot, a kind of tension in the air in every small town, and even the villages. The French were everywhere, as could be expected, with the revolutionary government expanding outward beyond its nation’s borders, but Christoph sensed that something was about to happen. Belgium had been an Austrian possession, but the tide was turning, with the French army having a strong presence.
They had advanced into the German province west of the Rhine some time before. The new French Republic espoused a philosophy of ‘natural borders’, and seemed to feel—for now at least—that all land west of the Rhine was theirs, despite the area having been a German province for many years. No one knew where they would next feel their ‘natural border’ was.
The journey into Belgium had only been undertaken by Christoph under extreme necessity, and was filled with peril for a German count from Saxony. He shifted awkwardly, the squatting position he was forced to take to stay hidden in the brush undignified but necessary to avoid the notice of the approaching regiment; the sound of marching feet became louder, muffled by the fog rolling in. Autumnal smells drifted to him, dying leaves, damp and decay, the chill in the air a foreshadow of things to come. “Look,” he murmured to Diggory, “we have to bed down for the night. We can’t possibly make it to Durbuy until morning.”
Diggory, pale and nervous, fingered the charm around his neck. “I don’t wish to stop here,” he said, with a petulant whine in his voice. “I promised the master I’d get you to him quickly.”
Christoph bit back an angry retort. He was about to say that it was not his concern what Diggory’s promises were, but this was not the time to start a fractious argument when the French army was a mere hundred feet distant and getting closer.
“What is that, sir?” Romolo asked, sweat beading on his coppery skin under the dark curls that frothed over his forehead. “What is that sound?”
“That is the sound of an army,” Christoph murmured, tightly, “and we had best be still and silent until they pass. I have no wish to be hauled in by the French, and I have seen far too many French troops the last few days for my comfort.”
“But we cannot avoid them completely, count.”
“I know, but soldiers become more restive at dusk and will round up miscreants they suspect of meaning them harm. With our road dust and light packs we appear to be beggars.”
“Or gypsies,” Romolo said, his voice taut with tension.
Christoph put one hand on his friend’s arm and squeezed, in sympathy. Over the last weeks he had come to respect Tamara’s brother; he was smart, courageous, determined and, above all, committed to rescuing his sister at all costs. They had much in common. But their passage had not been without incident, as some villagers suspected Romolo, with his curly dark hair and swarthy complexion, of being exactly what he was, a young gypsy man, and had reacted unfavorably. They had been run out of a village just days before and had had to spend the night out of doors, under the stars. Diggory had whined and complained ceaselessly, and yet as unfortunate as the exit from the village had been, Christoph had slept better than he had for many a night with the canopy of celestial radiance above him.
The moon was waxing almost full at night, now, and he felt the call powerfully, the tension of transformation making him edgy and impatient. But there was no time nor place to become his true self. He must sublimate his urgent need. It left him tense, though, apt to snap at Diggory’s idiotic mumbling. As much as he valued his presence, even Romolo irritated Christoph; the younger fellow was constantly looking back over his shoulder, and he was secretive, disappearing, sometimes for hours at a time whenever they stopped in some village or inn. Christoph didn’t know what he was hiding, but there was something. As much, then, as he wished to trust him completely, he couldn’t.
On the gravel road just beyond their hiding place, the regiment finally passed, on the way toward the tiny village nestled in the valley. Their marching feet raised clouds of dust. Christoph watched, his vision obscured by the brush and the gathering gloom. The uniforms were definitely French, though tattered and dusty. The pit of his stomach churned, but a glance at young Romolo’s face made Christoph steel his resolve. The poor fellow’s sister, Tamara, was in the hands of Lyulph Randell; they were now just a few miles from where she was being held by that fiend and his leman, the witch Morwenna. This was all a ruse to trap him, Christoph knew, and though his first concern was Tamara, he wouldn’t blindly walk into a snare, for that would doom the gypsy girl. Lyulph might think he had a score to settle after their last battle, but this time he would be vanquished, and Tamara released and returned to her brother’s care.
Silvery light danced across the sky as Tamara was lifted up in two strong arms, then held to the hard wall of a male chest; a soothing, thrilling voice proclaimed that she was safe, and always would be. “Christoph,” she sighed, and wrapped her arms around his neck, caressing the golden locks that crisply curled at his neck. Safe. She was safe in Christoph’s arms, and he was carrying her home. She put her lips to his neck and inhaled the scent of wood smoke and fresh wind, and felt the pulse of his heartbeat in the thick corded vein that roped over tendons and muscles. Always she had watched it, the vein pulsing as the color mounted his pale cheeks when he was agitated. She had longed to put one finger there, to feel how strongly the world moved in his blood.
He was a beautiful man: golden hair streaked with copper and chestnut, pale skin, blue eyes like a winter sky. And he was strong, swift, determined, smart, courageous, and deeply loyal. Perfect in every way. Awareness of the flat, hardened muscles of his chest and stomach against her hip and side made her own heartbeat quicken, and when he carried her into the brilliant, silver, blinding light and abruptly, wildly, claimed her lips in a thrilling kiss, she answered with growing passion and luxuriant rapture.
“Wake up!” a woman’s voice said, and the harsh command was accompanied by a sharp slap across her cheek.
“You don’t have to hit the girl, Morwenna.”
“She was moaning again, Lyulph. I find it irritating. Besides, we must make her ready for the evening service.”
Tamara opened her eyes to the blinding light of a lantern in front of her face, and awareness flooded back to her. She covered her eyes and groaned, the beautiful dream of rescue and warmth and affection deserting her to the reality of a cold cave floor and dripping, dank ceiling overhead. Her captors, Morwenna Maxwell and Lyulph Randell stood over her, the beautiful woman’s expression one of cold annoyance, but the man’s more resigned than anything.
She had lost track of time, but that fateful moment she had been tricked into leaving her father and brother and had been snatched by this despicable pair was now many weeks past. They had traveled, then, from the English countryside through cities and across the stormy channel and thence to a country occasionally called Belgium. Some of that time she had been alert and frightened, but much of it had been spent in a haze brought on by herbs or hexes, she did not know which; with Morwenna, it could be either, for she was powerful in all kinds of witchcraft, Tamara feared.
“Get up,” the woman said, nudging her with her slippered toe. “Put this on.” She tossed a long white robe to her.
Tamara hesitated, blinking in the lantern light, looking from Lyulph Randell’s wolfish, handsome face to Morwenna’s blue eyes.
“Over your clothes, idiot girl!” Morwenna shrieked, and her hand flashed out.
Lyulph Randell caught it. “Enough!” he barked. “There is no need to beat the girl.” The next second his face went white and he released his mistress’s hand, doubling over and crumbling to his knees. A long groan, and he yelped, “I’m sorry, Morwenna, I’m sorry! Stop, I beg of you!”
The witch gazed at him for a long minute, and then nodded. He stopped groaning and writhing, collapsing in a heap. “Don’t cross me too many times, Lyulph.” She went and stood over him, gazing down at him. “Trust me, Lyulph; I have only our best interests at heart. You must know this. Let’s just get through this, vanquish your enemies, and return to England. Then we can go on with our simple plans: make courageous children, and take over Cornwall, defeating the Earl of Wesmorlyn and his simpering sister.” She stopped and held the lantern up; the light flickered and danced over the cavern walls. “Christoph von Wolfram is on his way even now.”
Tamara felt a leap of hope and wonder. Christoph was coming to rescue her! The next minute she tamped down the flame of adoration within her breast. And so he would do for anyone in trouble, for he was a brave and noble man, a protector of innocence, and good and pure of heart. He would have rescued even a dog, so she must not let hope flourish where there could be none. And yet she would at least see him again. After he had left her behind in the gypsy camp that was once her home, she had never thought that would happen.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Morwenna coldly said, her voice echoing up into the vast reaches of the damp and drafty cavern. “Put the cloak on over your clothes, simpleton, or we will be late for the meeting.”
She had donned the robe, as Morwenna commanded, and was on her feet, walking. The flickering flame of the candle threw long shadows dancing over the damp stone walls of the narrow passage. Where were they going? Tamara shivered with fear. Echoing through the caves were the whispers of hundreds of years of ceremony and rituals. Tamara, eyes wide open and body trembling, walked slowly down the sloping path, every footstep echoing in the stone passage.
“Faster!” Morwenna said. “Don’t dawdle, girl! The coven waits for no one. And keep your eyes down, or you will see what you should not!”
Tamara, desperately afraid, swept more quickly down the passage. Dressed in the virginal white of the acolyte, she kept her eyes down, her imagination supplying terrifying suppositions of what was about to occur. Her people had a long history of witchcraft, or at least of practicing some forms of potion magic and mindreading, but this was utterly different. This was what she had heard tell of in lectures of holy men, that witchcraft damned one’s soul to hell for eternity. Witches were filthy hags in league with the devil and their coven meetings were orgies of lust and bloodletting; that was what she had been told. She was a sacrifice, she supposed, but would her life be forfeit, or merely her virginity? She had as yet seen no evidence of the horned one, but he would arrive, probably in a cloud of smoke and whiff of sulphur. She shivered.
Lyulph was nowhere to be seen, and as afraid of him as she was, with the memory in scars on her throat of how vicious he could be in wolf form, he was kinder to her than Morwenna. Tamara tripped on the hem of the gown and staggered sideways; she bumped into something in the dark and felt something brush her cheek. She cried out, and Morwenna whirled, holding the candle high.
“Idiot,” the woman muttered. “All right, if you must see…” She held her candle up to a wall bracket and lit a torch, which leapt into flame, and the wildly wavering light danced and threw shadows down the long passageway.
At first she was blinded, but as her vision cleared, Tamara shrieked aloud at the sight before her in the light of the flickering flambeaux; the cave passage was lined with bodies, hundreds of bodies, gowned in white robes like her own! She whirled and began back the way she had come, but of a sudden, her limbs jolted and she fell to her knees. Morwenna, behind her, began to laugh, and her jeering mirth filled the passage, echoing as she held up her candle.
“Fool! I told you to keep your eyes down.”
The room whirled and Tamara’s sight was filled with the rows of white gowned skeletal remains, horrid in their various attitudes of death. Some were contorted as if they were in agony, bony hands stretched out in supplication to the passerby, eye sockets hollow and dark, dreadful in their eternal horror. She closed her eyes against the awful sight, and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Who… who are they?” she finally asked. She knelt still, and it seemed to her a suitable attitude in the face of such a spectacle.
Morwenna strolled over to her and put her hand on Tamara’s head, stroking her curls as she held up the candle and looked over the skeletons. “They are my sisters. A thousand years have we inhabited this remote place, and from here have crept out into the world to seek followers and acolytes and mates.”
Morwenna looked down at her. “Well yes,” she said, stroking Tamara’s hair, petting her as one would a dog, “Mates. Men with particular talents and abilities to blend with our own. We are powerful, but bound in some fashion by the earth’s laws. We must have men with whom to mate to make more daughters.”
Morwenna gazed down at her. “Sons? Oh yes, sometimes we have sons.” She tangled her long fingers in Tamara’s hair and jerked her to her feet and pulled her to the wall. “But this is what we do with them.”
Glass cases lined the base of the wall, and when Tamara, her head forced down by Morwenna’s powerful grasp, gazed down into one, she saw an infant’s body, lifelike, but still and waxen. “Is it a wax figure?” she cried, her voice cracking and husky. “Or… or a doll?”
“No, oh no. That is the body of our Mother Crone’s only male child.”
“The b-body. He died?”
“Was killed,” Morwenna whispered, the sibilant sound echoing down the passage. She bent down and put her mouth to Tamara’s ear. “Murdered. We do not suffer a male witch to live, you see.”
Tamara was speechless with horror. When Morwenna jerked her to her feet again by her hair and then released her, she voluntarily moved on, sick inside from fear. What was her fate? Lyulph Randell and Morwenna had taken her to be a lure, that she knew, but why would they think that Christoph von Wolfram, the supposed target of this trap, would follow and try to free her? She was nothing to him, despite one moment, one kiss, one lingering sweet caress that stayed with her still as the single most precious memory she had. “I don’t understand,” she whispered, as she continued down the gloomy passage. Tears streamed down her face, their flow unchecked, dripping down her neck.
“Of course not. You never will. Your people are simple and guided only by your need to survive, without one single thought of the future or wish to advance beyond day to day life. You and your inglorious people have no past, and no future.”
Tamara clamped her mouth shut against the angry retort that came to her lips. They did have a past, a rich and varied history passed down from generation to generation. But now she would shut her mouth and try to figure out how to escape from Morwenna and Lyulph Randell. As frightened as she was, she would not willingly go to her doom like a lamb to slaughter.
The passage stopped descending finally, and widened, an opening ahead, sending a chill breeze down the eerie stone corridor. Her voluminous gown fluttering around her legs, Tamara moved stiffly, wondering what lay ahead of her that night. But the sight that greeted her was one for which she could not have prepared.
The shaft opened to a cavern of awesome proportions, and other passages ended there too. The cave was domelike, with spiky rock outcroppings hanging from the ceiling; the whole cavern was damp and dripping, with a pool below a ledge along one side. Gathered in the center, in a circle, were ten hooded, faceless figures. Morwenna moved forward until she stood in the center.
A passage on the far side from where they had entered was actually carved steps that curved upward out of sight. Just as that feature caught Tamara’s attention, she saw a flickering light dance within it, and then two figures emerged. Both were gowned in white, but the older woman who took the lead was gowned in far richer fabric, and silver lace edged the garment. Her hair, under the cowl, was silver too, and braided into a coronet. It gave the appearance of queenly splendor, and Tamara watched the woman in awe.
Was this the Mother Crone of whom Morwenna had spoken? And if so, who, then, was the woman with her?
The others in the circle curtseyed.
“Do any of our sisters wish a binding spell?” said the woman.
Morwenna stepped forward, and, her melancholy voice, softened by respect or necessity, echoed in the vast upper reaches of the blue-green cavern, as she said, “I do, Mother.”
“You desire a consort?”
“Yes, I desire a man-wolf who goes by the name of Lyulph Randell. I ask a binding spell from my mother and sisters.”