Witchfall (The Tudor Witch Trilogy) Online

PART ONE

Hampton Court

Spring 1555

ONE

Scrying

I had been here before in a dream. I was standing in a high place, buffeted by winds and wrapped in a reddish mist that stretched into cloud a few yards ahead. My loose hair whipped about my face, longer than it was now. The wide skirt of my gown billowed around my ankles, flapping like a ship’s sail. Power prickled at my fingertips, tingling with familiar heat. Yet I was not permitted to use magick. Not in this place. My senses strained for clues as to my whereabouts, catching strange sounds, a rushing noise like wings.

Sensing movement above my head, I glanced up. A hawk came soaring out of the sunset. It screamed impatiently, tilting its barred body as though hunting for a place to land.

When I looked down again, Marcus Dent was standing in front of me, clothed all in black.

‘You always knew it would come to this, Meg Lytton.’ His words echoed in my mind. ‘Didn’t you?’

I stared at him, too horrified to speak.

I had to get away from him, yet seemed unable to move. My arms hung stiffly by my side, my feet rooted as though tied to a stake.

‘You bested me with your girl’s magick last time we met. But now you will find I have the advantage.’

The witchfinder showed me what was in his hands: a broad-headed axe, shiny and cruel, its thick shaft wrapped thrice about with holly.

‘No,’ I managed hoarsely.

Marcus Dent watched as I struggled to break free from whatever supernatural hold he had asserted over me. His blue eyes gleamed with malicious amusement.

‘Why waste your last moments on this tiresome show of resistance? Accept your fate and kneel for the axe. You have tried before to escape me – and might have succeeded with a little more talent. But you are a mere girl. It is your destiny to die at my hands. You have neither the strength nor the knowledge to fight me. I will always be stronger than you, and your blood spilt in this place today will prove it.’ With the axe, he pointed to the stone between us. ‘Now, down on your knees!’

Sweat broke out on my forehead as I battled to break free of Marcus Dent’s hold over me. How had the witchfinder managed this feat, binding me so tight to this time and place that I could not escape?

‘I will not kneel to you, Dent. I refuse!’

‘Meg,’ he said deeply, leaning closer. The axe blade flashed in my eyes, dazzling me. His voice grew urgent. ‘Meg! Meg!’

Then a hand came down on my shoulder and I turned, looking up into Alejandro de Castillo’s concerned face.

The young Spanish novice was balancing a tallow stump on his palm, its flickering flame reflected in his eyes. As though I had never seen him before, I drank in the sight of my secret betrothed: strong cheekbones, dark hair swept back from his forehead, a burning intensity about him – and yet a steadiness too, like a rock set in the midst of a wild torrent.

‘Meg, it is time to go.’

I closed my eyes, dazed and confused as reality flooded back. I was no longer standing in that high place, about to have my head chopped off by the witchfinder Marcus Dent. Instead, I was kneeling on the dirt floor in a tiny disused storage room adjacent to the kitchens of Hampton Court Palace.

My heart was juddering, my palms clammy. It was hard not to let my frustration show as I stumbled over my words. ‘I must keep scrying . . . just another few minutes.’

‘The kitchen servants are assembling to carry the dishes into the Great Hall. Your absence will be noted if you are not at the princess’s side when the banquet begins.’

‘But I must finish the vision! I must see how it ends.’

Alejandro pointed to the ground. The copper scrying bowl had been tipped over, the wine almost drained away into the dirt. ‘Forgive me, I had no choice. It was the only way to wake you.’

‘You had no right to interfere, Alejandro. What I see in these visions is important.’

Alejandro helped me to my feet, brushing the dirt from my skirts. ‘Mi querida,’ he murmured, his Spanish accent pronounced, ‘your fury is quite charming. As is the flash in your eyes when you say “Alejandro” in your very English voice. Have I ever told you that?’

‘The Lady Elizabeth has ordered me to keep scrying and consulting my books of magick, looking for any threat