Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Major Inhabitants of the Grand Masters’ Galaxy



The Grand Masters’ Galaxy is home to myriads of different living species, some of which claim to be intelligent and communicate in various ways.

Comments: This list is by no means a complete accounting of the species in the stories. In some cases, Violet encountered individuals of undetermined species or questionable sapience. For instance, she met several marine entities in the oceans of AguaSalva, including one that claimed to be the sole member of its species. 

Aman-ellans: Bipedal feline/humanoid entities with soft fur of various colors and patterns, and cat-like ears.

Brululians: Crustaceans resembling man-sized lobsters with triangular heads bearing eyestalks, ocher carapaces and many legs. Five genders; two compatible genders are required to produce offspring.  

Dragons: Winged reptilian species inhabiting the planet Sythos.

Elyrians: Bipedal, slender humanoids who communicate by telepathy. Each Elyrian bears a colored crystal on its forehead.

Flia: Flightless avian entities with brightly colored feathers, beaks and clawed arms. Only females travel off their native planets.  

Humans/humanoids: Inhabitants of Terra or the many planets colonized by humans over thousands of years. Occur in a variety of sizes and colors.

Ixioths: Giant insectoids with six red eyes, six legs, and a hump-backed carapace with vestigial wings.

Jangalorans: Monkey-like inhabitants of Jangalore with six eyes, six legs and a puff of a tail.

Maanaans: Giant “metal mushrooms” with a domed hood and short foot/stalk. They communicate by vibrating wires under the hood.

Thoss: Bipedal, tailless reptilian beings or lizardman. 

Umloa’s Brood: Giant amoeba-like entities that can assume protean forms and engulf food or enemies. Communicate via smelly bubbles.

Wistralians: Plantoids resembling giant flowers with three petals, a short stalk, and trailing roots. Communicate by rustling leaves, or emitting scents.

Yelliasts: Dominant lifeforms resemble serpents with three round eyes and three pairs of transparent wings.


Books in the Grand Masters' Galaxy





Grand Master’s Trilogy, Boxset of Books 1-3 – Cheapest option  Amazon  iBooks  Kobo  B&N  GooglePlay



Cosmic Lock, Book 6, Amazon  (for pre-order)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

New - Fantastic Firsts Boxset


FANTASTIC FIRSTS - Four complete volumes. Begin four dramatic adventures in different series, ranging from contemporary superheroes on Earth to far future worlds.

1. GRAND MASTER’S PAWN
2. EUROPA
3. SUPER STARRELLA
4. THE LADY IS BLUE

Grand Master’s Pawn, Book 1 of Grand Masters’ Galaxy
Science fantasy and romance with super psychics in space. One young woman challenges the secret rulers of the galaxy and finds an impossible love.
Young empath, Violet Hunter, dreams of exploring exotic planets as a Grand Master’s pawn. Breaks in the teleportal network threaten countless lives, and suspicions point to the twelve Grand Masters. Violet must penetrate their curtain of secrecy to identify the culprit. Her challenges escalate when she meets the enigmatic man behind the griffin avatar. She plunges into a world of deadly intrigues and risks a perilous love. Armed with only her erratic powers and a mishmash of allies, she must battle the most powerful beings in the galaxy.


EUROPA, Book 1 of Taxyon Space
Science fiction thriller and romance. Daredevil scientist and abused alien merman meet in the perilous oceans of Jupiter’s moon.  
Dr. Nikki Bell’s plan to discover intelligent life on Jupiter’s moon hits a rocky start when her spaceship crashes on the icy surface of Europa. Seconds before she blacks out, she spies a man’s face in the water beneath the ice. When she wakes on the submarine Station, nobody believes her story. Convinced the mysterious stranger saved her life, Nikki searches for him while she explores the ocean and its alien inhabitants. 
Kiron Arqin Ramis chose exile as a Watcher on a remote outpost to redeem his family’s honor. He never expected to find an attractive Earther woman close to death. He violates the prime policy by rescuing her. Despite suffering the penalty, he strives to warn her about his hostile leaders.
Nikki’s unexpected meeting with Kiron triggers a chain of disasters in Europa’s perilous oceans. Can the daredevil scientist and scarred Watcher forge a new alliance despite their people’s antagonism?   


Super Starrella, Book 1 of Secret Supers
Teen superhero, Starrella, and her flying horse combat vicious killers in the skies of Atalanta.
The quiet summer before her freshman year turns frighteningly weird after Estelle Wright trespasses onto an Army base. Blown into the air and knocked unconscious, she wakes with a nascent superpower. Not to mention a winged horse with a snarky attitude and a mind of her own.
Back home in Atalanta, a serial killer is targeting the students at Goldman University. Before long she must juggle college classes with sneaking out of the house after dark to battle alien monsters. Estelle’s life is in danger, but who can she trust: handsome Mark Copper from military intelligence, or hunky Toby, the tough gangster with a motorbike? Both men have secret agendas, but falling in love is not in their plans.
Young adult superheroes, quirky animal sidekicks, and a dash of romance enliven this thrilling adventure.


The Lady is Blue, Book 1 of Atrapako on Eden
Science fiction adventure and alien romance. Sassy scientist thwarts schemes of scaly aliens.         
Dr. Lucy Stannis leads a quiet life as the chief biologist in the small human colony on the isolated planet of Eden until an alien spaceship arrives. She is thrilled to meet the captain, the formidable Blue, Sa Kamizan Veedak. But, arrogant scaled Atrapako disdain the puny humans. Conflicts between the cultures threaten the whole population as well as her friendship with Sa Kamizan. Lucy must employ her skills as a covert Terran spy to discover the aliens’ secret and save the colony.



Available at 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Beginning of COSMIC LOCK, Book 6 in the Grand Masters Galaxy




Grand Masters Violet and Athanor Griffin return from beyond the Cosmic Rift with two shiploads of rescued children and escaped slaves, but their enemies have not been idle in their absence. Avalon is in flames and their little son is missing. Finding him may be the easiest problem for the powerful couple. They must unite the fractious Grand Masters, stop the bloodsucking Ixioths from enslaving sentients, and seal the Rift to prevent new incursions of the vindictive Nulls. Can they overcome the challenges and secure peace for the galaxy?

Pre-order at Amazon 


Excerpt from Chapter 1: Dramatic Beginning

   Flames.
   A rippling sheet of vivid orange flames filled her vision.
   Violet had inspected her son’s surroundings via their resonating amethysts as soon as she had advised the captain of the watch to expect two friendly ships of escapees from behind the Rift. Instead of Mother Tingu’s pristine kitchen on Avalon, a wall of fire filled her senses.
   Stunned and bewildered, her mind whirled with questions. They had left their precocious thirteen-month old son with their old tutor who could control his erratic psychic impulses. What in the voids was she seeing? Were the flames an afterimage of her violent passage across the Cosmic Rift?
   Acting by instinct, she contacted her psychic partner.
   Their link vibrated with Athanor’s cry, “Avalon’s under attack. The portal is blocked.”
   Trembling in foreboding, Violet cried, “Varan’s with Tingu.”
   “If you’ll teleport to Tingu’s cottage and secure our son, I’ll reopen the portal.”
   “Instantly.” She focused on the familiar white-walled cottage, tapped her enhancer and spun into the eerie whirlwinds of the quantum vortices.
   She popped into normal space by the white picket fence. The gate swung on its hinges, squeaking in a blustery gale. Dense gray smoke and orange flames exploded from the thatched roof of the cottage. The roses climbing over the porch had shriveled into ashes, and as she watched in horror, fragments of window glass shattered onto the flagstone path.
   “Varan,” she yelled. “Mother Tingu, where are you?”
   No reply. Only the crackle of fire and hot gusts of wind battering against her body. Had she fulfilled her promise to rescue the children of Cinerea at the expense of her son’s life?
   Despair darkened her mind. Her baby son was dead, burned by the fire. She teetered on the edge of a black precipice. The abyss beckoned.
   She fell.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Fist Chapter of ALARIK, Book 4 of Taxyon Space



Two people fleeing their planets discover a shared destiny.
When an alien spacecraft crashes on Mars, the repercussions sweep throughout the solar system and endanger the fragile new alliance with the Warrish mermen.  
Alarik Kenton Tallis, Eldest of three brothers, was forced to infiltrate human society on Earth as a spy to insure his injured brother receives proper medical care. But when his transmissions are detected, he must flee the planet.
On Mars, Phoebe Wong, a veterinary scientist with dubious family connections, is desperate to escape the underworld gangs terrorizing the domed city. She jumps at the chance to join the colonists bound for a distant exoplanet.
Their paths converge on a space ferry bound for the outer planets. Troubles arising from the mysterious spacecraft pursue them to Jupiter. Will their flight end on Europa, the hyperspace gateway to the stars protected by three diverse species?

Available at Amazon  iBooks  Kobo  B&N  GooglePlay


Excerpt from Chapter 1


“An alien craft was discovered on Mars earlier today.”
Alerted by the chirpy voice of the announcer, Alarik Kenton Tallis sat up and stared at the image on the news feed. Tracks in reddish brown sand led to a squat six-sided cylinder. Great holes in its pitted surface were outlined in lurid orange stains.
The reporter, a young woman with a bouffant of purple hair, embarked on an explanation, “Metal-eating microbes have eroded the ship’s hull and interior. The Martian microbes were originally engineered to oxygenate the atmosphere. Their mutant descendants have become a well-known hazard for colonists.”
The camera lowered through an irregular gap and the view switched to the interior. Yellow blotches of microbes obscured the details of inner surfaces. Under the lumpy coating, Alarik distinguished the edges of hexagonal control panels set in the stippled metal walls.
She continued in a more subdued tone, “The spacecraft was discovered by a rescue team from Mars 4. The notorious microbes had destroyed much of the hull, and the mangled remains of a crab-like creature were found inside.” 
The occupant, presumably the ship’s pilot, sprawled on the floor. Four eyestalks drooped on top of a purple carapace and the clawed tips of three jointed limbs poked from under its shell. A trail of orange ran from a clump on the floor to the shell. The microbes also ingested metals and other nutrients from living creatures.
“Eekrepisth,” Alarik breathed. What was the semi-aquatic sentient doing on Mars? Did it intend to land on the arid planet or had its ship crashed in a dust storm? In either case, his duty was clear. He must notify the Triarchs. The Watchers would receive the news once the radio signals reached Europa, but he and his brother were likely the first Warrish to hear the announcement from Mars. He and Baswin had infiltrated Earth society as covert agents. The rest of his people, a handful of legitimate envoys, would be asleep in their embassy and submarine base on the opposite hemisphere.
The purple-haired woman said, “After applying the antimicrobial spray, the local emergency force closed off the site for evaluation.” The screen reverted to an exterior view of a fountain of liquid streaming onto the spacecraft. In seconds, a bubbly white foam covered its surface. 
Recovering her buoyant manner, the reporter concluded the short announcement, “The Solar Security Agency is investigating the incident. We are working with their spokesmen and will deliver details as soon as they are released to the press.”
Alarik walked around the small room while he considered the problem. The treaty with Earth’s major governments had permitted limited access to Warrish technology, although it had not stipulated how to manage interactions with other aliens and their technology. Eekrepisth were a notoriously volatile species, unpredictable and easily upset. If the dead Eekrepisth and its ship were not handled correctly, the Earthers risked inciting a nasty interstellar complaint and possible prohibition.
Fortunately, he was in the right place to send a quantum transmission to Triarch Webale, the leader responsible for negotiating the alliance with Earth. In his role as Rick Kent, the wealthy owner of an asteroid comprised of rare metals, he was rarely alone and his rooms were bugged. He ignored the monitors, apart from blocking the one in his washroom. But yesterday, he had escaped his money-hungry fans for one of his periodic visits to the room leased to his low status alias, Al Davis. The grimy apartment blocks were home to poorer families and hid a variety of illicit activities. He maintained this place for the rare occasions when he wanted to meet his brother or needed to send a message to the Red Tridents. Or when he sought a little privacy.
Placing three fingers in the correct sequence on his wrist com, a standard Earther issue device with special modifications, he activated the hidden qtel. Quantum transmissions were virtually instantaneous and almost undetectable.
He whispered a short message in his native language to inform the Triarch about the crashed Eekrepisth ship. At the end, he added, “Will await your instructions.”
Lying down on the lumpy mattress, he shut his eyes and relaxed. Somebody would reply soon. There might be a delay if Webale were busy or asleep. He didn’t know where his transmissions ranked relative to the Red Tridents’ other interstellar affairs.
Less than a sixth of an Earth hour elapsed before the reply came. A short pulse from his qtel preceded a shimmer in the air at the foot of the bed. The hazy column resolved into the blurry figure of Triarch Webale, his contact in the Warrish base on Europa. The red trident under his left eye made a vivid contrast to his pale wrinkled face and white hair. His flowing white robes, the traditional garment of the Triarchs, seemed quaint and outmoded. Alarik’s unconscious mind must have adapted to modern customs on Earth.
Jumping off the bed, Alarik dropped onto one knee on the cold floor in the formal protocol. He bowed his head and intoned the correct greeting, “Noble Triarch, I am honored by your presence.”  
Webale said, “You may stand, Overagent Tallis.”
As Alarik obeyed, the Triarch continued, “Your message was the first to note this spacecraft. Do you have any further information before I contact the Earther authorities?” 
“The ship’s hull was badly holed and I doubt the Eekrepisth had lived for long.”  
“Did the ship crash close to an inhabited region of their red planet?”
“It landed in the desert within reach of the city of Mars-4. By ill luck, the oxygenating microorganisms had attacked the ship and destroyed large portions of the exterior and interior walls. They had also partially consumed the pilot.”
“If I recall correctly,” Webale said, “the original microbes were engineered to extract oxygen from the Martian sands. The concept succeeded in increasing the levels of oxygen, despite the problems when the microbes mutated to consume metals.”
“Urish. The city domes are surrounded by a band of plasticized cement as a barrier against the mutant microbes.”
“Did the ship have other occupants?”
“Only a single Eekrepisth was visible in the image. No others were mentioned in the brief news report. I suspect the authorities have suppressed other details.”
“We have no agents stationed on Mars. You are the operative with easiest access to the dry planet. Our staff at the embassy must request official permission to travel to their Martian colony. Can you concoct a plausible reason for a visit to learn what the authorities have done with the Eekrepisth and its ship?”       
After a moment’s thought, an idea crystallized in Alarik’s mind. “Triarch, I believe I can. My alias, Rick Kent, could propose to visit the source of his wealth, the fake asteroid. In truth, the Chief Engineer of Taxyon Space, Vasily Kopsaky, has been urging me to donate a supply of rare metals for the new colony on Zeta Three. I could stop in Mars to assess the current state of the colonization efforts. My inquiries about the alien vessel would be consistent with an interest in potential new customers.”
 “Your suggestion has merit. We also have a stake in this colony. The Earthers require our tripilots to navigate safely in hyperspace. You have permission to proceed with this plan. In the meantime, the Eekrepisth incident will be handled by our embassy staff on Earth.” 
Satisfied to leave such a delicate matter to the diplomats, Alarik gave the formal response, “I hear and obey.”
“May you dive into calm seas, Overagent Tallis.” With this blessing, the Triarch vanished as swiftly as he had appeared. 
Now Alarik was free to resume his normal activities. He heated water for a mug of coffee, an Earth drink he had learned to enjoy. Choosing a nutrient bar from the handful in the cabinet, he settled down to a simple meal. He had better keep up the appearance of living in this rented room. After dark, he would slip back to the inner city and organize his journey to Mars.  
After an hour of lounging in the small room and formulating an announcement of his trip, he grew bored with inaction and paced up and down the narrow space between his bed and the kitchen counter. As he passed the window, a motion behind the blinds caught his attention. He paused to peer between the slats. A small brown bird fluttered its wings and chirped. The sparrow, a frequent visitor, came for the seeds he scattered on the sill. Alarik was fascinated by the winged creature, especially since his home planet had no native flying animals. It cocked its little head, staring at him out of round black eyes. Amused by the cheeky bird’s persistence, he pulled the bag of seed from the shelf and raised the sash to sprinkle a few grains on the sill.
The sparrow hopped away from his hand. Its black eyes glinted, eager for the food, yet wary.
He shut the sash gently, and watched as the sparrow pounced on his offering. The seeds quickly vanished.
A prick of caution impelled him to look down.
A man dressed in casual clothes was loitering at the side of the building. He didn’t resemble any of the neighbors. The stir of caution intensified into suspicion. Had someone detected the energy perturbation produced by the virtual projection of Triarch Webale? 
Hidden behind the blinds, Alarik focused his scope on the face of the man at the corner of the building. Luckily, the man’s mouth was visible. The special translator converted the movements of his lips into words, “Alien signals originated in this block. Above ground level. Maybe third to fifth floors.”
From his room on the fourth floor, Alarik grimaced and swore under his breath. He had to escape and warn his triad brother. Once their covert presence was detected, Earth was no longer safe.
The man standing below paused, evidently listening to instructions. He whispered, “Yeah. Wait for reinforcements. Got it.”
Anxious to leave before the Earthers arrived to investigate, Alarik clipped his toolkit on his belt and stuffed his belongings into a small pack. He looked around the dingy room. He wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, but he couldn’t remove all traces of his presence. DNA extracted from strands of hair and flakes of skin could be analyzed to reveal his alien identity.
The front door and fire escape staircase would be watched, but they might not think of the roof. He had chosen this apartment in a dowdy suburban district precisely because of its convenient escape routes. Entering the tiny washroom, he raised the window and leaned over to check for observers. Seeing nobody, he fired a hooked line at the edge of the roof, four stories above him. On his second attempt, the clawed end caught on the projection he had aimed for. He gave a tug to test its strength. Satisfied the line would hold his weight, he clipped the line to his belt and wriggled onto the windowsill. Balanced awkwardly on the narrow ledge, he managed to shut the window. His pursuers might not notice at first, giving him enough time to escape into the city.
After another scan of the vicinity, he rappelled up and scrambled onto the flat roof. He unhooked the line, which rewound silently into its tube. Crouching to avoid being spotted from below, he ran along the length of the building and leaped across to the adjacent block of apartments. The enemy might have pinpointed his room and the fake identity he had used to rent the place was forfeit, but they did not know his real identity. His other alias of Rick Kent, the wealthy Belter, was secure for the moment. Kent’s credit was still good and he could take advantage of the upscale apartment he owned in the city. 
Five minutes later, he reached the third of the eight-story blocks of apartments. He glanced to the west. The sun had descended below the tops of the distant skyscrapers in the center of the city. He disliked many aspects of this planet, yet the sunsets were glorious. An orange band like a streak of flame stretched across the horizon. The brightness would soon dim, giving him the advantage of dusk.
A hovercar zoomed into sight, heading toward the building he had abandoned. Guessing it carried the reinforcements, Alarik slipped into the shadow of the cooler stack and leaned, motionless, against the steel surface. The drone of the hovercar grew louder, then faded as it coasted to the ground on the far side of the buildings.
He shrugged the pack into a more comfortable position on his back. Hooking his line on a steel rod, he gripped the rope, edged over the eaves, and descended seven meters onto the upper level of the fire escape. By luck, nobody was in the room opening onto the staircase. He descended swiftly. Most of the rooms he passed on the stairs were also empty. One or two had occupants, engrossed in the triD entertainment and oblivious to his quiet descent.
At the bottom of the stairs, he hurried past the dumpsters to reach the public streets. Soon he had traveled a kilometer away from his abandoned room into a commercial area. He halted outside a small cafĂ© and pulled out his com. Instead of activating the Warrish transmission, he made a regular call. His younger brother, Baswin, had a similar multifunctional com.  
“Al?” Baswin’s hesitant reply suggested wariness.
He spoke in the standard Earther lingo, “Bas, can we meet? It’s important.”
“The usual place?”
“Second street.” He gave their code name for one of their prearranged locations for meeting safely.
“How soon?”
Estimating he would need tomorrow morning at a minimum to arrange his trip to Mars, Alarik said, “In five sixth of a cycle.” In standard Warrish usage, a cycle was one planetary day.   
“Okay.” Bas ended the call.
Checking he was free of pursuers, Alarik walked to the nearest subway station. He hunched his shoulders and slowed his pace to meld with the other pedestrians on the sidewalk, while he mulled over his conversation with the Triarch. In retrospect, he ought to have advised Webale about the risk of using his virtual projection. However, any warning might have been ignored. Triarchs were often reluctant to accept suggestions from their underlings.
He rubbed the knuckles of his fingers. The absent sixth digit itched as often happened when he came under stress. Desperate to save their youngest brother, he and Baswin had submitted to voluntary amputation for this covert mission. The lenses concealing the unearthly color of his irises and the skin patch over his triad tattoo could be removed. Alas, the mutilation of his hands was irreversible.  
Descending into the gloomy subway, he kept his hand on his knife. Once he reached the inner city, he would shed these garments and don a sleek business suit to resume his alias of Rick Kent, wealthy Belter.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

New - DAME AUDREY - New Medieval Romance by Aurora Springer


 Audrey

Travel to Chaucer’s England in this gritty Medieval romance with a touch of fantasy.
In fourteenth century Britain, Dame Audrey cherishes her independence as the widow of a wealthy cloth merchant. But several of the wealthier traders covet her profitable business and she fears they will invoke the Abbot’s authority to compel her to marry a man of their choice. Her worst nightmare is suffering under a cruel husband like the hateful jeweler, Henry Goldsmith, who has threatened to curb her lively spirits.
Audrey joins a pilgrimage to Glastonbury to pray for guidance. On the homeward journey to Redding, she aids the dying victim of a brutal robbery. She wins the stranger’s blessing and a gold brooch with a green dragon. Back in her hometown, the faerie brooch attracts trouble from thieves of all ranks and the attentions of a handsome yeoman, Selwyn Drake. As her nightmare looms nearer, she grows desperate to preserve her freedom.
Can the magic brooch help Audrey evade the schemes to force her into wedlock or must she submit to a husband’s will?


Chapter One

Glastonbury Abbey, the thirteenth day of July

In the summer of my twenty-third year, I made a pilgrimage to Glastonbury in Somerset, thereby proving my piety and enlightening my mind. Our parish priest had often advised a visit to a holy shrine as penance for sinful thoughts, especially for a widow like me. Regardless of the state of my soul, a pilgrimage suited me since I delighted in traveling to new places. Both my business and private affairs benefited from the direction and timing of the trip from my house in Redding.
Our company of pilgrims mounted on good horses made the journey to Glastonbury in five days of easy riding in the clement weather of early July. Glastonbury Abbey is a popular destination as the burial site of legendary King Arthur and other notable kings and abbots. In a further claim for the pious, Joseph of Arimathea sailed from Jerusalem and founded the first church on this site. The monks are well prepared for visitors of all ranks. Elite lords and ladies are accommodated in the Abbot’s house, while the rest of us must be satisfied with the hostel.   
When we reached the hostel in the middle of the afternoon, we were instructed to leave our horses in the stable yard and walk along the path to the Abbey gates. Cousin Margaret and I dismounted from our weary mares. My yeoman, John Holt, took charge of our three horses and my wolfhound. Margaret and I linked arms in the correct manner for two women unaccompanied by a male relative and joined our fellow pilgrims. We made a mismatched pair of widows. Margaret is short, plump and as meek as a mouse, whereas I am taller than most men and unafraid to speak my mind. My kirtle is deep blue, while she wears nothing brighter than tawny brown. Although she dislikes long journeys, my cousin had been my faithful traveling companion since my husband’s decease.
As we left the stable yard, the inner stone walls of the abbey came into sight. The paved road led straight to big iron gates flanked by armed guards. We gazed up at the splendid cathedral with its towers jutting into the blue sky. Sunlight glinted on the glazed windows.
Margaret squeezed my arm and breathed, “What a wonderful tribute to the good Lord Jesu.” 
My praise was more temperate. “It is an imposing building, and I believe the interior is superb.”
We walked toward the cathedral. Beggars in grimy russet tunics crowded on both sides of the path, stretching out their hands and pleading for alms. A scant three paces ahead of us, two lads ran into the road and tugged at the sleeves of an elderly merchant. He shook them off and bawled for help. The Abbot’s men-at-arms unsheathed their swords and shoved the boys away. No other paupers dared approach us.
The guards stood aside to let our line of pilgrims enter. Inside the tall gates, we were met by a young monk in the black robes of the Benedictines, our guide to the treasures. He bowed and accepted our donations as fees to enter the sacred places.
His voice rang with fervent devotion, “Gentlemen and ladies, welcome to our great church. Please speak softly or keep silent in reverence for God’s house.” He led us across the paved yard to the arched porch of the cathedral.
We stepped into the cool interior space, and halted in the side aisle of the great nave. The hushed silence was broken only by the shuffle of footsteps and the gasps of awe. Rows of slender columns reached up to the high vaulted ceiling. Bright beams of color poured through the beautiful rose window above the high altar.
Margaret was much impressed with the magnificent nave. Her mouth gaped open as her gaze swung from the ornate altar to the arched ceiling. She was not alone in her amazement. 
After a short interval, our guide directed us away from the main altar to the west end of the cathedral. We tiptoed into the Lady Chapel to view its collection of sacred relics.
Inside the chapel, Margaret halted before the glittering display of marvels arranged in the chancel. She breathed a sigh of wonder. Making the sign of the cross, she dropped onto her knees in front of the sacred objects. I stood behind her, estimating the worth of the abundant treasures. The interior of the chapel was so full of gold you could scarce distinguish the relics. My frugal heart rebelled at such abundance of wealth when beggars lined the road to the Abbey gates. In my opinion, our abbey in Redding housed as fine a selection of holy objects amid less ostentation.
Our black-robed guide was stationed at one side of the small chapel. Noticing the line of penitents waiting outside, I did not expect he would allow us to linger by the hallowed treasures. My unvoiced prediction was correct. Before Margaret had finished her fervent prayers, the monk interrupted and requested we return to the nave. 
After we were expelled from the altar of the Lady Chapel, Margaret and I wandered toward the east end of the main church. The tomb of King Arthur held a prominent place before the high altar. Cloths embroidered in red and gold thread draped over the tomb. Red and gold also decorated the wall behind the high altar and painted banners hung from the ceiling beams. The Abbey church in Redding could also boast of a king’s tomb, although Henry the first is less renowned and less romantic than King Arthur.
We strolled along the aisle to a pew near the altar and knelt on the cushions to pray. In my usual devotions, I offered prayers first for my deceased husband and two children, and then the living members of my family, especially my dear mother and sister. I paused for a moment to inhale the tranquility of the great nave. A shaft of sunlight struck across the pews in front of me, and high in the vaulted ceiling, a thrush trilled in joy. The golden sunbeam and cheerful birdsong seemed a sign of Christ’s mercy, a promise of hope.
I bent over my clasped hands and begged for guidance on my private troubles. For two and a half years, I had enjoyed the happy independence of a widow. But recently, I had come under increased pressure to take another husband. At Sunday Mass, Father Damon had stared straight at me when he preached on woman’s inborn sin. He ranted on her obligation to submit to a man’s authority. He adjured all women to bow to a husband or else enter a nunnery as the bride of Christ. Nor did the merchants of Redding favor a widow with a cloth shop. They envied my successful trade and coveted my shop and skilled weavers. At the midsummer festivities, Mayor Kent had joked he wished to see me wed before his term of office ended. I took his words as a threat as much as a jest. Nobody had spoken to me about any particular man. Yet, I was not free. The Mayor, the Abbot or Sheriff might bid me to wed a man of their choosing. If I refused, my sole option was the nunnery. Of the two, I preferred the idea of marrying again if I could find a good, kind man and preferably one who was younger than my first husband.
My husband had been kind. He had treated me well, though I knew many men were cruel to their wives. He never beat me and liked to give me fine gowns, books and jewelry. He had rejoiced in the births of our children and sorrowed at their loss. Yet, he was thirty years older than I, and grew fat and wrinkled during the seven years of our marriage. I performed my nightly duties without enjoying his touch.  
My prayers were more akin to a meditation on my options, when in reality I might have none. Thus, I asked a blessing of St Mary, that I might have a choice in my future. Satisfied with my prayers, I glanced at Margaret. She must have been waiting for me to finish. She looked up quickly and gave a slight nod. I rose and we walked together down the central aisle to the exit.
Once we left the abbey, we had to endure the supplications of the beggars again. They pushed into the paved path, crying in hoarse voices for pennies.
Margaret gripped my arm and pressed close to my side, frightened by the crush of unwashed paupers. Desirous of a barrier against purse snatchers, I angled our steps to position us between a stout yeoman and a brown-robed friar. The yeoman gave me a sympathetic nod and patted the hilt of his sword. 
I pitied the poor creatures, men, woman and children of all ages. Many of the beggars were crippled, missing one or more limbs. Some were covered in sores, and all wore dirty clothes. They had no livelihood or master to care for their needs. Did the abbey monks not offer food and housing to the poor at their gates? In my humble opinion, the monastery ought to use a portion of its immense wealth to succor the poor. We had paid well to visit the shrine and the Abbot must also receive tithes from the local households.
I had often given alms to the poor, yet I was cautious in my donations, especially so near to the shrine of Glastonbury. Not all beggars were truly destitute. Some of the most vocal supplicants might be greedy fakers, merely scoundrels hoping to benefit from the piety of the pilgrims.
As our party approached the hostel where we lodged, I caught sight of an old woman holding the hand of a small child. They stood apart from the majority of paupers. Their kirtles were neat, although frayed at the hems. The woman’s wrinkled face had a resigned expression. Her blind eyes stared straight ahead and she leaned on a stick. The child was a fair-haired girl of perhaps five years of age, the same age as my dear Ellen when the Lord took her from me. A pang of sorrow pierced my heart and I resolved to give this woman a pair of silver coins.
Beckoning to the blind woman, I said, “Old mother, come closer.”
She did not react, but the child fixed a forlorn gaze on me and tugged at the woman’s hand. With the child’s encouragement, the woman hobbled forward, tapping the ground with her cane at each step.
I held out my hand with two silver pennies on my palm.
Releasing her grip on the child’s small hand, the old woman touched my wrist lightly and felt her way to the coins. She curled her fingers around the gift, and bent in an awkward curtsy.
Her voice cracked with sincerity, “Good and gracious lady, I give thanks for your kindness. May the sweet Lord Jesu watch over your travels, may you bear healthy children, and may gentle Lady Bridda grant your dearest wish.”
A shiver of excitement raced along my spine at this strange mix of blessings, including the invocation of the unfamiliar Lady Bridda in conjunction with Christ’s holy name. The weight of their potency washed over me like a fragrant shower of rose petals. Bowing to the old woman, I thanked her from the depths of my heart.
A new group of pilgrims passed us on their way to the Abbey gates. The other beggars began to shuffle closer, hoping their pleas would reach fresh ears and generous hearts.
Nudging my elbow, Margaret urged in a shaky whisper, “Audrey, let’s walk on. We can’t give alms to everyone.” She glanced nervously at the crowd of paupers. 
“No. Just this one destitute woman.” As we turned away, I sighed, “The girl reminded me of Ellen.”
“Her hair is the same flaxen color,” Margaret agreed.
Walking faster, we evaded the incoming beggars and caught up with the rest of our company. When I glanced backward, the blind woman and girl were hidden behind the keener supplicants.
I asked my cousin, “Did you ever hear of Lady Bridda?”
Still clutching my elbow for protection, Margaret blinked at me and shook her head. “Mayhap she is a local saint favored by the blind woman.”
Giving a mental shrug, I said, “Doubtless she’s a Welsh saint, judging by our location near the West Marches.”
With the hostel in sight, my timid cousin felt safer. She smiled at me, asking, “Do you ever wish for another child?”
Tears filled my eyes, threatening to trickle down my cheeks. Surreptitiously, I wiped my knuckles over the corners of my eyes. “Oh Margaret,” I said, “children are both joy and sorrow in my experience. If I had another child, I would dread losing them.”
“You’ll need a new husband first. Have you thought of making a second marriage?” 
Amused by her down-to-earth question, I assured her, “I’m happy with my life as a widow.” In truth, I treasured my independence and had no desire to submit to a husband’s will. My cousin did not appreciate my dilemma. She seemed as contented with her subservient role in my household as she’d been with her husband. “It isn’t easy to find a good husband,” I said. “Do you imagine a handsome knight would see me at the fair, slip a ring on my finger, and carry me away to his castle?”
“Nay. You wouldn’t be so improper. Most likely, you’d scold him for impudence and send him running.” A hint of disapproval entered her voice as she remarked, “Though, you’re certainly fond of traveling.”
“But, Margaret,” I parried, “you haven’t remarried.”
“I’m older, not as comely and prosperous as you. Who would wish to wed me?”
“You are one of my best weavers, and a valuable assistant in the shop. Why, you’re still young enough to bear children.”
Margaret smiled at my compliments. “Very well, Audrey. When you are married, I’ll consider my prospects.”
Her complaisant words made me wonder if she had any suitors. I knew of none, although she often paid visits to our trading partners and friends in town. Also, she had relatives in the village where she grew up. Did she have an old beau, a patient man, waiting for her to leave my household? 
We entered the courtyard of the hostel. John Holt stood by the stables holding the collar of my wolfhound. Rufus, a fine big dog with distinctive fox-red fur, is my companion and protector. But he is not welcomed in churches. He demonstrated the reason when I signaled for John to release him. Rufus bounded to me, almost knocking over the stable lad crossing the yard. My dog has learned not to leap at me, but sometimes he forgets his manners with other people.  
John assured me our horses were in good hands with the hostler. I trust John’s judgment. He and his wife have served in my household ever since my marriage. I gave him some coins and gave him leave to visit the cathedral and admire the relics. He would spend the night in the stable with our horses, while Margaret and I had a bed in a separate room of the hostel. As extra security against intruders, I allowed my wolfhound to sleep beside our bed.
As we entered the hostel, I wondered if my cousin had the best solution to my dilemma. In the two and a half years since I had lost my husband, I had scarcely spent any time pondering remarriage. Instead, I focused on learning the cloth trade, fighting to appease Hubert’s contacts and retain his best employees. Marriage to the right man, a kind and loving man, would give me protection from unwanted suitors. I might retain a measure of freedom, depending on his wishes. A noble match was out of my reach. My cloth shop would not tempt a knight with a good estate, only a younger son without prospects would deign to marry a merchant’s widow. I had no desire to bestow my hand and property upon a penniless man.
I cast my mind over the men of my rank in Redding, unmarried merchants and craftsmen. Some disparaged my successes and I despised them for such shabby treatment. Others were courteous or even supported me in guild affairs. Yet, none of them stirred an iota of interest in my wayward heart. If I were serious, I would have to look further afield for a husband.


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