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'MOON GODDESS' ~ first chapters

 Cover of 'Moon Goddess'

CHAPTER ONE

“Don’t say that, Mam.” Lamorna jumped to her feet. “I’m not a woman! And I don’t want to be. I’m not ready.” Closing her ears to her mother’s entreaties, she ran out of their home, not stopping to think of the worry she might cause. Her only thought was that becoming a woman meant becoming a wife, which meant having to leave her family, her home… to live amongst strangers.

Lamorna ran past the grunting, snuffling pigs in their pen, past the cackling chickens that scattered before her. It was only when she reached the barley field, not quite the farthest field from the village, did she slow to a walk.

Breathing hard, she began to chew on the end of her dark, braided hair. “That is all Mam cares about, being a wife. Why can she not understand? That isn’t what I want. I do not even want to be wed. I wish... I wish I was a–”

“What have we here?” said an unfamiliar voice.

Lamorna jerked to a halt; she’d been too preoccupied to pay attention to her surroundings. Hearing a horse moving towards her, she slowly turned to find the animal closer than expected. With a gasp, she stepped back and lost her balance. Scrabbling to her feet, she remained staring at the ground.

“What are you doing, out on your own?” The rider’s voice betrayed little emotion. “Look at me, girl.”

Slowly straightening up, she lifted her head to stare at the man who was obviously not a peasant.

His dark brown cloak lay open to reveal a dark coloured tunic shot through with gold thread, and well-cut trousers that fit as smoothly as if they were a second skin; his leather boots gleamed where they caught the sunlight. The light breeze ruffled his fair hair, and a slight smile curved his thin lips as he raised a brow.

“I-I was returning home, my lord.”

“Home?”

“The village.” She glanced over her shoulder, even though the village could not be seen from where they stood.

“Returning from where?”

Lamorna did not answer straight away as she mentally fumbled for a believable reply. “The fields, my lord.”

His surprise was evident. “I thought only men worked the fields.”

She nodded. “I... I always bring Papa’s meal.”

“Your papa is a lucky man.”

Unnerved by his bold scrutiny of her, Lamorna looked down. “All the men, their wives and children do the same for them.”

He shifted his position in the saddle; his horse tossed its head. “This is not a very direct route back to your village, is it?”

She fidgeted then shook her head.

“You always wander so freely? Your papa does not mind?”

Still staring at the ground, Lamorna frowned. She did not like the way he said ‘papa’ – as if he regarded her father nothing more than a joke.

“Or do you not mind him, like good girls are supposed to?”

Pursing her lips, she glared at him. But all he did was laugh.

“Come here, girl.”

Lamorna remained where she was.

“I said...” He urged his horse forward.

As it stepped towards her, Lamorna stepped back, feeling her heartbeat start to race.

“Medric!”

Startled, Lamorna turned; her eyes widened and her mouth fell open at the sight of the vision drawing near.

The woman, perched sideways on her horse, was adorned with a green cloak, embellished with gold. Her skirt, peeking out from under the cloak, was of a deep green; the material looked so sumptuous, Lamorna clasped her hands together to stop herself reaching out to run her fingers over it. The newcomer’s red hair hung loose in molten waves.

“You could have waited.” She glared at the man even though she was smiling.

“I knew you would be along soon enough.”

“What are you doing? Oh.” Only then did she look directly at Lamorna.

“Amusing myself.”

Lamorna’s breath escaped noisily through her nose as she drew her brows together.

“With this?” She perused the girl as if she were something distasteful.

Aware of her coarse, dull brown dress and plain leather shoes, Lamorna looked away, crossing her arms over her stomach.

“Really, Medric, I would have thought you above that sort of thing. It’s expected of the common soldier but a highborn lord? Do you not find the smell offensive? You men...” With a shake of her head, she urged her horse forward.

He continued to eye Lamorna before finally muttering, “I suppose she is right. Still...” Then, with a shrug, he too was galloping out of sight.

Lamorna stared after them, even when she could no longer see them. She knew where they were heading; even though she’d never been in the castle itself, she was familiar with it. For every seventh day, she, like all the villagers, toiled up the hill to the temple by the castle for worship. “I always thought they were nice.”

“Thought who were nice, Lamorna?”

Caught off-guard, the girl fell back with a cry, landing heavily on her bottom.

Standing before her was a slight young woman, with hair as white as new-fallen snow. Unlike the other women of the village, she was not clad in a long tunic and apron. Instead, she wore a grey gown with a light blue shawl draped over her shoulders. Her smoky-grey eyes sparkled with merriment as they held the young girl’s surprised gaze.

Lamorna could not stop staring for never had she been so close to the one known as Vanora... the one who, in her eyes, was shrouded in mystery, the one she was convinced could commune with otherworldly beings. “Where did you–?” She frowned. “You know my name?”

“Of course I know your name, we live in the same village, do we not? Do you intend to remain there for the rest of the day?” Her quiet voice was tinged with amusement.

Lamorna realised she was still gawping.

Vanora held out her hand. “Come, let us return home.”

Biting her lip, Lamorna studied the proffered hand; pale and smooth, unlike her mother’s.

“There is nothing to be afraid of. I am nothing to be afraid of.”

“But I’m not...”

Vanora raised her brow but remained smiling.

Blushing, Lamorna allowed herself to be helped up, conscious of how soft Vanora’s hand was, how clean, and she had to stop herself curling her fingers to hide her dirty nails. “Forgive me, mistress, I didn’t–”

“That is all right. You are not the first to think of me as... different.” She started to walk along the path that led back to their home.

Lamorna hurried to keep pace with her. “You don’t have children!”

“And that makes me something to be feared?”

“No, not feared. But you live alone, you talk to things, things that aren’t there.”

Vanora laughed softly. “Children. You are so amusing with your vivid imaginations. Yes, I live alone because it suits me. And it is not so much talking that I do but singing. Do you not sing even when you are alone?”

Lamorna ducked her head for the woman was right; it was only the children who viewed her as different. The adults treated Vanora with respect, and kept awe-struck children from pestering her needlessly. Yet she was always smiling and was never unpleasant to any child. Lamorna realised Vanora was studying her.

“You said you thought ‘they’ were nice. Do you mean the ones in the castle?”

The girl nodded, wondering how much Vanora had witnessed.

“Some are nice,” said Vanora. “I have met one or two who are kinder in their treatment of us common folk. But it seems most of them believe we are...” She paused as she stared into the distance. “That we are not worthy of their attention unless they require something of us.”

When Lamorna remained silent, Vanora laid a hand on her arm. “Did anything happen?”

“What do you mean?”

“That man, did he do anything?”

She shook her head. “But I didn’t like the way he looked at me. And the woman said I smelled. I washed my face and hands this morning.”

“Do not take it to heart. It is the smell of wood smoke, that is all.”

They continued on their way.

“It is not my place to tell you what to do, but you are growing up, Lamorna. This will be your fourteenth summer; maybe you should not wander so.”

Lamorna nodded but said nothing; she did not want to admit why she was out alone.

“Although, it is late to be returning from the fields where the men are, is it not?” When Lamorna did not respond, Vanora stopped.

The young girl, a few paces ahead, glanced back at her.

Woman and girl regarded each other before Vanora spoke. “Do you wish to speak about why you are upset?”

Lamorna frowned. “How do you–?” Presented with the unexpected opportunity to voice her fears, she found she could not stop herself. “I-I know it is foolish but... I do not want to grow up, to become a woman.” She waited for Vanora to laugh, but the young woman continued to regard her with concern.

“Becoming a woman means I have to be wed, I have to leave my home. I do not want to leave. I do not want to lose my mam.” Surprised by her tears, Lamorna covered her face with her hands.

Putting her arm around her, Vanora said, “It is a hard thing to expect a young girl to do, to leave her home. Yet that has always been the way.”

Lamorna slowly lowered her hands, wiping her tears with her sleeve. “I do not want to worry Mam.”

“Then tell me and it will be our secret.”

“They do not speak of it, Mam and Papa, but I know. Mam has been with child at least three times that I can remember. Each time she has lost it, and each time she becomes weaker. I am afraid, mistress. Afraid of losing her...”

Vanora hugged her closer. “Oh, child, that is a heavy burden you have been keeping to yourself. But no one can know what will happen. All we can do is be strong and have faith.”

Vanora rested her hand on Lamorna’s shoulder as they resumed walking. “How is your mother?”

Lamorna shrugged. “She seems contented enough.”

“She has not been to see me recently.”

“She goes to see you?”

Vanora nodded. “I expected to see more of her as the baby will be coming soon.”

“Why?”

Vanora looked up and around before replying softly, “Because I can help. I help those who are unwell, but, most especially, I help women birth their babies. That is my special purpose.”

“Really?” Lamorna’s eyes were as round as the full moon. “But when Mam lost the–”

Vanora shook her head. “There is little I can do when the baby is lost before its time.”

Lamorna sighed then gasped. “Did you, when I was born, did you...”

Vanora smiled. “You were one of the first I helped with.”

A giggle escaped her. “But no one ever says–”

“It is not a thing that is openly discussed.” Suddenly serious, Vanora looked deep into the girl’s eyes. “I trust you will not speak of it?”

A frown creased her brow but, pinned by the intensity of the woman’s stare, she did not feel she could argue. “No, I won’t.”

“Good. As I thought.”

The rooftops of their village came into view.

“So your mother is not in any discomfort?”

“I don’t think so. But she tires easily.”

“That is to be expected.”

By now, they were on the outskirts of the village, not far from Vanora’s modest dwelling with its white rose bush nestling against one of the walls.

Glancing around, noting that they were quite alone, Lamorna lowered her voice. “Will you be helping Mam again? Like you did when I came?”

Vanora nodded, smiling widely.

“I don’t know why, but it comforts me, knowing you will be there.”

“And it gladdens my heart to know you feel that way.”

CHAPTER TWO

Lamorna had said little when she’d returned, and was quietly thankful that her mother, Reena, had not told her father that she’d run off on her own. Yet as the family sat together for their evening meal, Lamorna found Logan unnaturally quiet even though she could feel his dark gaze on her each time she got up. She only now realised why some people were unnerved by his serious countenance.

With everything tidied away, Lamorna feigned tiredness and disappeared into her room. There was only space enough for a small bed with an equally small chest at the foot of it for her few belongings. The tiny window barely let any light in during the day and barely let any air in either.

Having pulled her dress off over her head, she remained in her undergarment. She snatched at her braid, grimacing, and shook her hair loose before snuffing out the candle. Perched on the edge of her bed, she tilted her head back, drumming her fingers on her knees.

Hoping that enough time had passed that her parents would believe her to be asleep, she crept forward and prised the door open. Kneeling, she peered out and was rewarded with a clear view of them for they were both sat at the table.

“Enough is enough,” she heard her father say.

Reena sat forward, clasping his hand in hers. “Please don’t say such things. If ever our lords find out–”

“I know it will never change but sometimes... sometimes I wish we could be totally free.”

Lamorna frowned, not understanding Logan’s words. As far as she knew, they were not tied to anyone. Yes, they worked the fields for the castle lords, but the villagers shared in the harvest as well, and their lives were their own.

“This never-ending expectation that hangs over us,” said Logan, “nailing us to the land, robbing us of any chance of moving elsewhere.”

“Why would we leave? We have lived here all our lives, as our parents before us. Our friends are here. Where would we go?”

“There must be somewhere better than this, some place where people like us are free to live our lives as our ancestors did. Where we’re not forced to live a lie, every day of our lives–”

“Hush, Logan, please. It frightens me when you speak like this.”

“Aherin and me,” said Logan, referring to his best friend. “We were thinking, once the harvest is in maybe, maybe we could travel, maybe find a place–”

“No!”

Lamorna flinched at the fear in her mother’s voice.

“Why not? Where is the harm?”

“You-you will anger our lords. When you aren’t here for the ploughing and the–”

Always there is something that needs to be done. Never are we allowed any time for us.”

Lamorna bit her lip, twisting a lock of hair around her finger; she’d never heard Logan talk like this before – he sounded so frustrated, so powerless.

“What of... what of the baby? You must be here when the baby comes.”

Logan turned his head slightly, away from Reena. “The baby will be here before the harvest...” His voice faded and they sat in silence.

By now, Lamorna was chewing on her hair, her hand pressed against her stomach to quell the churning inside. Carefully shutting her door, she heard her name mentioned and froze.

“What of Lamorna?” said Reena. “Her blood has not flowed yet, but this summer will be her fourteenth.”

Logan sat back, rubbed his chin. “She is changing... I am her father, and even I have begun to notice that she is no longer a child.”

Hunching over, Lamorna hugged herself, glad that the darkness hid her as she remembered the way the highborn lord’s gaze had crawled over her that afternoon.

“You are right. I must be here and do what I can.”

“What do you mean?” Reena’s voice was so soft, Lamorna was tempted to open the door wider.

Logan did not answer straight away. “Those in the castle, they eye our daughters too openly... Remember what happened to widow Lura’s girl? You know they see it as their right, to carry away anything for their benefit, be it animal, crop... our daughters. They’ll notice Lamorna soon. She isn’t always with her friends; she still spends too much time alone, out of the village. If those in the castle want her, we can’t stop them. But if they touch her I swear I will–”

“Logan...” Reena’s voice caught as a sob escaped her.

Lamorna’s heart was beating fast as she tightened her grip on the door handle; the memory of the woman’s words from earlier – about men amusing themselves with young girls – caused an unknown fear to spread icy fingers over her heart.

“There is only one way to keep her safe. Talk to Lulie. I’m sure the twins are old enough now to go with her. Ask her if she can bring my midday meal along with Aherin’s; Lamorna can stay here with you.”

“But the boys are such a handful–”

“That is not my concern.” He bowed his head slightly. “Forgive me. Do not mistake my worry for anger. They don’t commonly take married women. Maybe, I might travel after that,” he said softly, as if to himself. He raised his eyes to meet Reena’s confused look. “When her blood flow starts, after her coming-of-age ceremony, we will see her married to Daroth.”

Anger replaced Lamorna’s horror. She strode out of her room. “You promised!”

Her parents exclaimed, clearly startled by her sudden appearance.

“You said I could wait until I was ready.”

“Lamorna...” Logan reached out towards her.

Fists clenched at her side, she stopped, face crumpled in rage. “It’s not fair. I don’t want to get married. You want to send me away so you can leave–”

“Enough!” Logan stood, knocking his chair over.

Lamorna recoiled as if she’d been physically struck; she had never experienced her father’s raw anger.

“I will not be spoken to in that manner in my own house. You will start to act your age and behave in a proper manner. And you will do as you are told.”

“Mam.” She reached out, almost childlike, to Reena who looked away.

“You need not look to your mother; she will follow my decision.”

“But you can’t make me...” Her attempt at defiance failed.

“I will do whatever I have to, my girl, to ensure your safety. It’s up to you to make this pleasant or not.”

She shook with anger and frustration. “I hate you!” she cried before fleeing to her room in a storm of tears.