Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Aurora's Fiction and Art


Find a catalogue of Aurora Springer's Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories at:

All the stories are discounted at  

Kickstarter Campaign 

Follow my latest project to create a special illustrated edition at

Find Aurora’s Whimsical Art at her Fine Art Store:

Top-quality prints with or without frames, and selected merchandise.


Find Aurora’s Fantastic Creations at her RedBubble shop:

A wide variety of merchandise, including clothing, stickers, pillows and blankets. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

NEW BOOK - Karrik, Book 6 in Taxyon Space

The fates of six people hang in balance in this SciFi adventure and romance.

Karrik Kenton Tallis, Third of the Flaming Comets, endures a miserable existence in a hospice on his home planet. Unable to walk or speak more than a single word, he misses his older brothers and is unaware of their sacrifice to ensure his care. He cherishes a faint hope of recovering his health.

Karrik’s life improves when his brothers return to Rishalt with their human companions. Alarik, First of the Triad, is escorting Phoebe Wong with her brother and a mysterious alien object for an audience with Prime Jadel. The middle brother, Baswin, is traveling home with Holly and Rosie Moon. The Moon sisters are enrolled in an experimental program to train human psychics to navigate in hyperspace and relieve Earth’s governments of their onerous reliance on Warrish tripilots. Rosie, a psychic healer, desires to help Karrik despite the conflict with her duty to humanity.

But the water world of Rishalt holds many hazards, both above and beneath the waves. Can the alien treasure help the three brothers to conquer the challenges and unite with their chosen partners? Read the scintillating story of the Flaming Comet brothers to learn the answers.

Karrik is available from my Direct store at a discount HERE.

You can also pre-order with release on March 8th at most retailers BookStores.


I made a picture of the main couple, Karrik Kenton Tallis and Rosie Moon.


Chapter 1

A wounded man lay in a small room in Pucklerakt, the capital city on the Warrish planet of Rishalt. In the days after the battle, his mind revived slowly.

He lay alone.

People came and went.

They wore white robes and pleasant faces. They touched him with gentle hands. Their lips moved.

He heard sounds. Meaningless babble, interspersed with one or two words he recognized.

Memories stirred in his fuzzy mind. They called him Karrik. Was Karrik his name? He could not remember. His befuddled thoughts oozed as slowly as molasses in a maze. Words emerged at random. Remembering terror and pain, he whimpered.

Nobody answered.

The hammock rocked beneath his aching body. He stared at the curved lines on the white ceiling. Did the pattern hold a meaning?

People came to look at him. They spoke to him. Their voices were as clear and cheerful as if he were a baby.

He understood a few simple words. Often, the meaning floated into his mind long after the people had left the room.

Sometimes two of the people swung the hammock to the side and lowered him into a bath of frothy water. He liked the water bath. He could breathe more easily and his clumsy body felt lighter.

He remembered diving under green waves in a vast sea. Two others swam with him. His brothers. Had he been like them once?  

Now, he could not swim. He had lost an arm and a leg. Shame stabbed into his foggy brain. He was only half a man, less than half, because he could not utter the words beating at his mind. Drenched in misery, he groaned.

Nobody noticed. Nobody seemed to care.

He slept, woke, swallowed what they fed him, and slept again.

The monstrous mandibles clamped onto Karrik’s arm, crunching into his flesh. His battle booster blurred the pain. Bones cracked. He screamed.

And woke, panting with terror.

Just a nightmare.

He reached up to rub his bleary eyes. No hand. His right arm ended in a stump.

He groaned. It was not a nightmare, but his vivid memory of a real event. The Swarm attack that left him maimed and as helpless as a newborn. His brothers had defied their orders and run to rescue him. Where had they gone? Alarik and Baswin, the energetic First and loyal Second of the Flaming Comets?

A woman entered. She wore long white robes. A white headscarf covered her face, leaving only her eyes visible between the folds of the cloth. His nurse. One of the Pearl Sisters. They looked alike, each one distinguishable only by the color of their eyes and sound of their voices. This sister had blue eyes and a high-pitched voice.

He did not know their names. Had they ever told him? His memories had a big blank gap stretching between the crippling attack until the fuzziness of the present.

The Sister raised his head and held an object to his ear.  

“Karrik,” she said, “your brother is listening. Say hello to Brin Alarik.” 

He pondered the sister’s instruction. At length, he forced out the word, “Hello.”

A loud voice sounded at his ear, “Karrik?”

The voice plucked at his memories. Was that his brother? His First, Alarik?

The familiar voice grew even louder, “Karrik, how are you feeling?”

Karrik. His name blazed in his mind. Alarik was calling him. He struggled to create the sounds of new words in his mouth. Nothing came out. Only gasps and grunts. At last, he resorted to the same sound he had made before, a shaky, “Hello?” It was a good word and pronounced clearly. He felt proud of this new skill, even if it was inappropriate as a response to his brother’s question.

“Urish,” Alarik said. “How are you today?”

Why did Alarik sound disappointed? Did his First not understand his difficulty in creating a word? Flummoxed by his inability to answer the question, Karrik merely uttered a frustrated moan.

After an interval, Alarik said, “I’ll call again later.”

The sister said, “He is improving every day. You should see him.”

“Calm seas, Sister.” The speaker clicked into silence.

Alarik had gone.

Karrik felt bereft. Alone. Where was his brother? Neither Alarik or Baswin had visited him. Had they ever visited him? He could not remember. Not since his mind had awoken from a bleak blankness. Their absence left him confused and lonely.

He twisted onto his side, his intact hand flailing against the knotted edge of the swaying hammock. He wailed. A forlorn cry, bemoaning his losses.

“Hush.” The sister brushed his shoulder. “You are safe.”

Soothed by her gentle touch, he quietened.

She asked, “Would you like to go into the garden?” 

He forced the sounds through his lips, “Uh…Uh…ish.”

“Urish,” she completed the word for him. “Good.” She pulled the blanket off his body, eased him into a sitting position, and wrapped him in a white robe.

A second sister appeared, padding softly in her bare feet and guiding a hovercart. 

The two sisters worked together to lift him out of the hammock and into the cart.

Helpless to prevent this humiliation, he moaned and wriggled.

“Hush, Karrik,” a sister said. “Why are you fussing? You like the garden.”

Burning with shame, he sobbed. They didn’t understand. He wanted to walk instead of being bundled into a cart like a dead fish.

Don’t worry, Karrik’s life improves when his brothers arrive home.

Buy at a discount from my Webstore: HERE

Karrik is also available at other retailers: BookStores.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

New Short Story - Violet's Quest


Short Story with Illustrations

Prequel to Grand Master's Pawn, Epic Science Fantasy Adventure and Romance

Pre-Order for Release on Dec 15th

Click for Buy Links - Violet's Quest

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

New Release - Lured by the Lion

 Space opera and second chance romance with a grieving hero and space pirates

After the death of her ailing father, Jocelyn Navarre Yazzie is free to roam the galaxy in the Star Condor, the spacecraft she inherited from her deceased husband. She embarks on a trip to deliver her father’s bequest to her aunt on a rural planet outside the civilized sectors. A chance encounter with the crippled Leonardo Horlis changes her future. Leo Horlis suffers from a debilitating malady and expects to live for less than a year. Josie is strongly attracted to him, yet she cannot hope to compete with his beautiful dead wife, whose portrait dominates his house and his memories. Sympathizing with his grief and illness, Josie offers to transport him in Star Condor to the top medical center of the ultracivilized inner planets. Their attraction intensifies in the cramped quarters of her ship. But, Leo has a dangerous secret that threatens to terminate their voyage and their lives. Can Josie and Leo escape the perils and vanquish the ghosts of their past to find happiness together?

Book 2, Second Chances in Space

The stories in this series can be read in any order.

Lured by the Lion is available at Aurora's Store 

and at Amazon  iBooks  B&N  Kobo  GooglePlay  Other  PRINT


Excerpt from Chapter One


Jocelyn Navarre Yazzie gazed with pride at the sleek spacecraft parked outside the maintenance hangar on the spaceport of Eagles Landing. She had inherited Star Condor from her husband, Jim. The ship held many memories, happy and bitter memories of her married life. They had flown between the stars as interplanetary couriers, delivering valuable packages and sometimes people. The Condor had been their home in the years before Jim had died. Her grief had faded during the subsequent period, three years and seven months in galactic standard time. She had ceased to count the days, although nightmares still troubled her sleep. Tears blurred her visions as she recalled the horror of his death in that dreadful accident.

Shaking off the surge of emotions, she blinked away the tears and looked around. A crane lifted a crate out of a spacetug, while another tug roared skyward, presumably to meet a freighter in geostationary orbit above the city. Beyond the airfield, heat shimmered over the orange sands of the desert. In the opposite direction, a line of passengers hurried onto a shuttle headed for an outbound space cruiser. Behind the shuttle, the red adobe houses of the city of Eagles Landing rose in tiers against a backdrop of wooded hills.

A hot breeze whipped past, sending whirls of sand skittering across the concrete. Fanning her face to cool her cheeks, Josie hoped her next destination would have a cooler climate. She had spent one and a half years on the planet of Saffeen, while she tended to her father during his final illness. 

A door clanged shut as Butch Sullivan stepped out of the workshop of the hangar. He walked across to stand beside her.

Looking at the Star Condor, he said, “She looks good.” A typical understatement from the gruff old man who loved the ship. Butch served as engineer and odd-jobs man on the Condor’s small crew. His broken nose and scarred temple attested to a long and varied career. He had remained with her after Jim’s death. His dark hair was now grizzled and he had developed a slight paunch, yet she could still rely on his muscular strength and sensible advice.

“Yep.” Her mild reply covered her distracted thoughts. She teetered at a crossroads in her life, recovering from yet another family death and a long debate over what to do or where to go next. Her responsibilities for her father’s estate were almost at an end. She could remain on her home world with its many civilized comforts or she could resume her ventures in space. The sight of her ship, Star Condor, spurred a burning desire to abandon the planet for the freedom of plying the star routes.

The roar of a spacecraft descending onto the adjacent field penetrated her reverie. The once-bustling spaceport at Eagles Landing had grown quieter after the local economy had gone into a nosedive. The emperor’s space fleet had blocked the major hyperspace routes to the inner systems and throttled trade for independent planets like Saffeen. Jim had not lived long enough to experience the slowdown. Nor had her father.

After Jim’s death, she had worked the star lanes for a couple of years until she learned of her father’s illness. She felt obliged to return to the family home. Lucius Navarre was not the easiest man to live with, however, she was the only relative with the freedom to manage his medical needs and run the household during his final months. His death had come as a relief after the agonizing decline in his mental and physical health.

Her sister, Annabelle, had come to the funeral with her husband, Doctor Fengal Sharma, and their six-month-old son, Lucian. As the sole surviving children, Josie and Annabelle, inherited the major part of their father’s estate. Josie had splurged a large portion of her credits on Star Condor. She had upgraded the ship’s drive and renovated the life support and com systems. Reliable sources of power, oxygen and water were essential for interstellar space travel. Despite the quandary about her future, she had refurbished the cabins and galley. Even if she decided to forgo the star lanes and settle in her father’s mansion, the upgrades would bring a better price for the ship.

“Will we be making a long voyage, Captain Josie?” Butch asked.

His polite reference to her status made her smile. “We’ll fly to the planet of Wick’s Paradise. I promised to deliver an old vase to Aunt Gabrielle. It’s one of my dad’s weird bequests. And, my aunt’s invited me to stay for a week or two.” She shrugged. “After that, I’m not sure. Maybe Hokkaido. My sister’s always begging me to visit her.”

“Don’t matter where we go. Just want to order sufficient provisions for the trip.”

She nodded. “Why don’t you estimate supplies for three or four months. That’ll cover a stay on Wick’s Paradise and we can travel to another couple of planets.”

“Will do.” He waved a hand at the ship. “She’ll be a pleasure to run with the new systems. But, we’ll need another hand.” 

The Star Condor, a small craft with simple controls, could be run by a single person in a pinch. Only one such emergency had occurred during Josie’s time on the ship. A single person could manage for a short trip, but three people working shifts allowed everyone enough time for sleep. Operating with alert crew on the bridge was critical for safety on a long voyage. 

“No problem,” she said. “We can hire a second man. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Matter of fact, I do know of a prospect.” He cocked his head. “Remember Drin? Drin Nega. Guy worked on the Condor for a couple of seasons when Jim was alive.”

“Yep. Drin was good with coms and navigation.” She wrinkled her forehead. “Does he need a new job?”

“He’s looking for one. Had a bad stint on a cargo ship, disliked the captain. Guy’s not bad. Just happy to horsewhip sense into his crew, if you know what I mean.” 

“I sure do. Jim hated those punch-happy bosses.” She frowned at the memory. “See if Drin is willing to join us.”

“Will do.” He glanced across the tarmac at the cargo shuttle. “When do you want to liftoff?”

“No reason to hang around.” She jerked her chin in the direction of the city. “It won’t take long to make my goodbyes. I’ll leave an agent in charge in charge of Dad’s property. And, I can throw my travel gear together in a jiffy. Let’s say seven days.”

“Okay, Captain Josie. I’ll jump to it.” Butch grinned and swung his hand to his ear in a mock salute.

Josie chuckled at his eager expression. “I’ll call Spaceport Traffic Control and schedule a slot for our departure. See you later.”

They separated on their different errands.  


Continue reading Lured by the Lion at Amazon  iBooks  B&N  Kobo  GooglePlay  Other  PRINT


Monday, July 26, 2021

New Release - Baswin, Book 5 of Taxyon Space


An alien spy on the run.

Two human sisters chosen as future astronavigators.

Their paths are destined to converge.

Psychic sensitives, Holly Moon and her sister Rosie, are chosen as candidates for Warrish training as hyperspace navigators. The sisters are eager to promote humanity’s advance into space. Will they succeed? They must pass a series of rigorous tests and adapt to the alien neuro-implants.

Alien merman, Baswin Kenton Tallis, Second of his Triad, lives on Earth disguised as a human. When Earth agents discover the secret identity of his older brother, Baswin must flee to the Warrish embassy in the Pacific Ocean.

Holly and Baswin are swept together on an island in the Pacific Ocean, but their destiny lies farther away and many forces threaten to drive them apart. Can they overcome the obstacles and find a haven?

Follow the adventures of the three brothers of the Flaming Comets Triad in Baswin, Book 5 in Taxyon Space. 

  Amazon    iBooks    Kobo    B&N     GooglePlay     Other  

Chapter 1

In the quiet village of Hampton in the Wold on the western fringes of the Indo Eurasian Union, Holly Moon placed her scrying mirror on the table next to the teddy bear. Opening the hinged copper lid, she gazed into the mirror. The reflective glass blurred into swirling ripples. The iridescent ripples widened, leaving a small transparent circle in the center. 

Tensing in anticipation, Holly bent over the mirror and focused her psychic senses on the expanding circle. The vision strengthened until she distinguished her target in a tumble of rocks at base of a sheer slope. The girl’s small body was pinned in the crack between two boulders. Judging by the position of the tangled blonde hair, she lay face down and motionless. 

Thirty minutes earlier, Detective Sergeant Powell had called Holly to ask her to scry for the missing girl. He had dropped off her picture and favorite teddy bear to guide the search. Holly’s life had become much more exciting since the detective had recognized her talent for finding lost objects and missing people. The Sergeant was prone to plead for her services on difficult or urgent cases in his jurisdiction. 

This one looked nasty. 

The girl’s faded shirt almost matched the yellowed hues of the earth-encrusted boulders and her body was partially buried in the middle of the rock pile. She would be difficult to spot from a distance. Was she dead or just unconscious? Anguish gushed into Holly’s mind. 

Tamping down her emotional response, Holly examined the girl as closely as possible with her remote senses. One pale arm stretched up, the fingers curled as if she had tried to claw to safety. Her blonde hair was damp and matted. A thin ribbon of wet blood stained the rock below her head. A bad sign. 

Spurred into action, Holly rapidly assimilated the physical details of the girl’s location and broke her trance. The crumbling walls of the pit might be the remains of a quarry or one of the bomb craters left in the wooded hills. The big cities had been rebuilt in the years after the war’s destruction, but nobody had bothered to repair the damage in small rural communities.

She grabbed her com, related what she had seen and punched the message over to Sergeant Powell. Her task was done. With luck, her description would enable him to pinpoint the site and recover the girl. Dead or alive.

Renewed anger and sadness at the girl’s dire predicament seeped into her thoughts. Leaning back in the chair, she shut her eyes and performed the mental exercises designed to sweep away the unpleasant emotions before they became overwhelming. She envisioned a favorite landscape, a beach of pristine white sand washed by sparkling waves.

As she relaxed, her thoughts drifted. In some ways, she was fortunate in her psychic talent. The requests for her services were usually more benign like seeking for an item of lost jewelry or a stray pet. In contrast, her younger sister had a talent for healing. Rosie worked at the hospital in the nearby town where she was exposed to sick people every day. After tending to a difficult patient, Rosie often had to rest at home for several hours to restore her usual cheerfulness. 

A few minutes sufficed to dispel Holly’s negative emotions. She swiveled around to gaze though the window at the verdant landscape. This room at the rear of the cottage overlooked the village allotments. Beyond the garden beds of vegetables and flowers, sheep grazed on grassy slopes at the edge of the woods. The soothing influence of the peaceful scene restored her normal serenity. She and Rosie often sat in this room for that very reason. Yet, sometimes she wondered if they had become too settled in this secluded village when the world had so many beautiful places. If only they had the credits, she yearned to travel and explore different regions of the planet. 

Holly withdrew her gaze from the window. Her scrying mirror lay open on the table. She picked up the mirror, intending to restore it on the shelf.

Her senses pricked. A premonition?

She glanced at the mirror.

Colors swirled over the reflective surface and a face appeared. A strange face with chiseled features and an extraordinary sweep of vibrant orange hair curling like a wave over the top of his partly shaved head. A male face, she guessed, despite his unearthly appearance. His eyelids were closed and his expression as calm as if he were asleep. As she watched, his eyes flicked open to reveal startling irises of a golden amber hue. His pupils widened and he smiled at her.

Who was he? Could he really see her or was he looking at something else? 

“Holly. Holly.”

Her sister’s strident call broke into her focused mind. She blinked and the mysterious vision faded from the mirror. 

Rosie burst into the room, waving a beige envelope. Her face glowed with excitement as she cried, “Holly, this letter just arrived. It’s from the Ministry for International Affairs.” 

Folding the mirror into its case, Holly shook her head in disbelief. “Why on earth would the Foreign Ministry send us a letter?”

“I know. Isn’t it weird? But weird is what we do.” Rosie giggled. “Anyway, the letter’s from the Regional Minister, Mr. Braithwaite.”

“It must be important,” Holly said slowly, holding out her hand for the letter.

“Here.” Rosie thrust the envelope into her fingers. “Read it.”

She unsealed the envelope and removed a sheet of cream-colored paper. The gold crown and sunburst emblem of the Indo Eurasian Union were embossed on the top of the letter. She had never seen such a posh letterhead. The sunburst glistened and the midnight blue of the territorial name created a vivid contrast on the pale colored paper.  

“Wow. It’s fancy.” She skimmed through the words and read the letter aloud,

“Dear Misses Holly and Rosyline Moon,

You are invited to an interview at our Regional Office to undergo a critical assessment of your paranormal abilities. Your employers have been informed that you will be absent for important international business.

A driver will arrive at the eighth hour on the morning of the fifteenth day of August to escort you from Hampton in the Wold to our offices at the New London Spaceport. Please bring any device you employ in your craft. The assessment is expected to last for the entire morning. Transport will be available for you to return home after the interview. You have the option of visiting New London in the afternoon.

We look forward to your attendance at this important interview.

Yours truly, Augustus Braithwaite, Senior Minister

International Affairs Division of Indo Eurasian Union

Office for International Affairs, New London.”

Wrinkling her forehead, Holly looked at her sister. “It’s a strange letter.”

Rosie cocked her head and murmured, “What do you think?”

Holly stared at the neatly printed lines of the letter. “It’s phrased as a polite invitation for some unspecified important international business. But we haven’t been offered a choice. There’s no request for a reply. No com code given for any questions.” 

“Sure. It’s a puzzle. Should we go?” Rosie’s eyes brightened in anticipation. “We’ve never had a chance to visit New London in the last few years. We haven’t traveled far from home since Dad’s death.”

“I don’t know.” Holly frowned at the letter. “How on earth did this Braithwaite find out about our psychic abilities? Only a handful of people believe in our talents. Even our neighbors in the village are skeptical. They joke about our quaint notions.”

 “Not all of them,” Rosie said. “Dr. Greene believes my healing touch helps her patients to recover. And Sergeant Powell trusts you to find missing people.”

Checking the date on her com, Holly said, “We’ll soon find out. Tomorrow’s the fifteenth.”

Rosie scrunched up her lips in disapproval. “They didn’t give us much time to prepare.”

“No time to scarper,” Holly joked.

“Well, I’m going for the interview,” Rosie said in a decisive tone. “I’d love to have a free trip to the city.”

Holly shrugged. “Okay. We might as well go. If only to learn why the guys at the Ministry for International Affairs are so keen to assess our paranormal skills.” 

“Right.” Rosie grimaced at the clock on the wall. “I’d better hurry to the transport station. My shift at the surgery begins in twenty-five minutes.”

The sisters parted for their regular jobs. Rosie worked with patients in the regional medical center in the nearby town, while Holly had a parttime job in the village post office with the mundane task of routing packages for World Parcel Services.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

New - Epic fantasy with adventure and romance

Bridget Bramble and the Wandering Elf

In a land threatened by cruel invaders from the east, Bridget Bramble lives in a small village where she barters herbs and carved buttons. When marauders target her village and murder her family, she flees into the woods. Armed with her Granny’s advice and a bag of magic buttons, she sets out on the perilous journey to Oakenwald, the fabled land where elves and men live in harmony. As she travels farther from home, she encounters malicious creatures from the worst kind of folktale.

Lost in the foothills of the mountains, Bridget meets the elf, Windswift the Wanderer. He offers to guide her across the mountain range. But what is the elf doing in human lands? Can an ordinary, or almost ordinary, human girl trust a cold hearted elf to lead her to safety? 

Epic fantasy adventure and romance with darker overtones. This story weaves elements of folklore and a quest for a safe haven in a land where magic is real.  

Available at:  Amazon   iBooks   B&N   Kobo  GooglePlay   Other

Chapter 1 

Bridget Bramble fastened the buckle to close the satchel and placed it on the table next to her basket. She spun on her toes, gazing at her cottage and breathing in the homely scene. The spicy fragrance of the herbs hanging to dry melded with the lingering scent of the barley cakes she had baked yesterday. Jars of preserves and powders lined the shelf above her plates, bowls and cooking pots.

She had lived alone in the cottage in the two years since Granny had died, following her tradition of supplying herbs for the villagers. But she needed to replenish her stock and this foraging expedition was overdue. She had used the last of the white fungus three weeks ago. The shell-shaped fungus grew only in a special grove of birches at half a day’s walk from her cottage. The trip had been postponed by tending to a sick child and a spate of rainy days.

The girl had recovered. Yesterday, the clouds had lifted and she had prepared for the day-long expedition into the woods garnering seasonal fruits, herbs and the white fungus. She planned to fill the basket with ripe berries and nuts. Everything was ready for her trip.

She tapped her fingers on the leather satchel. It held plenty of cloth bags to carry the foraged plants and a pair of leather gloves to protect her hands from thorns or poisonous oils. She had packed two barley cakes, a chunk of cheese, an apple and a leather flask of ale for her midday meal. She always carried her small knife, the fire starter and a pouch of medicinal herbs. Her cloak and hat were on the hooks by the door. She had fed the chickens and checked that the ashes in the fireplace were cold.

She lifted the brown felt hat from its hook, and jammed it over her head, pulling the rim low over her ears and forehead. Only her ponytail swung loose on her back. She grinned, as gleeful as a truant lad, and eager for a day’s freedom from humdrum chores.

A rap on the door made her frown. It meant a delay.  

Annoyed by the interruption, she placed the satchel on a chair and went to see who was her early visitor.

Randall stood outside, an anxious expression on his face and a linen bag in his hand.

“Bridget,” he said, “I’ve come for the dried madder. We’re ready to dye a new batch of wool.”

“Come in.” She swept the basket off the table to make room for his bag. “Sit down while I fetch it.”  

As she opened the door to the larder, her brother demanded, “Why are you dressed like that?”

She glanced down at her working clothes. Randall ought to recognize her outfit from their hunting expeditions with Papa. She had worn the same clothes for those weeklong trips in the wilderness. The boy’s trousers Randall had outgrown, a faded blue woolen shirt, a man’s leather jerkin and ankle boots. Only the jerkin was a newer acquisition, freshened up with a set of her horn buttons. She preferred the freedom of a man’s clothing for lengthy trips into the woods. If she were mistaken for a boy at a distance, it might save her unwanted attentions.

She said, “I’m going foraging in the woods.”

“Man’s clothes. You’re so unfeminine,” he scolded. “How can you expect to attract a husband if you go around wearing a man’s clothes?” 

She squashed an angry retort. It was useless to argue with him. He was only voicing his wife’s opinion, likely shared by the old biddies in the village. She wrinkled her nose and sniffed. Her clothing had nothing to do with her unmarried state. He knew the real reason as well as she did. The blacksmith’s son had spread the rumor she was a witch and hated men. The lies were his revenge for the spell she cast when he caught her alone and tried to rape her.

Pressing his point, he said, “You shouldn’t be living alone.”

“I don’t want a husband,” she snapped and immediately regretted her outburst. Locating the jar with powdered madder root, she poured a quarter of it into Randall’s drawstring bag. “Here’s the madder. Do you need anything else?”

He thanked her, rubbed his short beard and stared at her for a moment. “You could come to live with us.”

Leaning her palms on the table, she dismissed his offer. “No. Hen’s teeth, Eveline and I would be at each other’s throats.”

He looked unhappy. “Bridget, I’m worried about Eveline. She’s bulging with the baby. Her ankles are swollen and she’s too tired to do her usual housework.”  

“She should rest,” Bridget said. “The baby’s not due yet. Not for three or four weeks, I’d guess.” She understood his worries. Their first child had been stillborn.

“You’ll come, won’t you, to help with the birth?”

Touched by his trust in her healing abilities, she said, “I’ll be there. Send for me once the pains begin.” Ever since she was ten years old, she had assisted Mama and Granny at births. Now, she served as the village’s only herbwife. Despite the rumors, her neighbors often called on her to help with difficult births and severe illnesses. Her trip to replenish supplies of medicinal herbs was as important as making charms for healing. Sorting through the jars, she selected a mixture of shredded raspberry and peppermint leaves. “Give Eveline a pinch of this mix in hot water at midday and make sure she rests in bed.”

Randall picked up the package. “You’re a good sister. I shouldn’t grumble about your clothes or how you choose to live.”

She gave him a goodbye hug to prove she still loved him despite their disagreements. Holding the door open, she watched him limp down the lane toward his house in the main village. Eveline might gripe about her sister-in-law’s weird habits, yet she never berated Randall about his lame leg. They were happy as a couple. Was Randall right? Would she also be happier with a husband? Maybe. If she found a man to love her and approve of her skills in herbcraft and carving magic buttons. She shook her head. Nobody in this neighborhood fit that description.

When her brother hobbled out of sight around a bend in the path, she returned to her kitchen and replaced the jars in the larder. Glancing though the window at the sky, she considered her delayed trip. She had meant to leave at first light, and the sun was already halfway to its zenith. Even walking fast, she could not reach the birch grove with the white fungus before late afternoon. Should she extend the trip and sleep overnight in the woods? The autumnal weather was mild and she had often camped in the wilds during the week-long expeditions with Papa. 

A shout erupted from the lower village.

Dogs yelped.

Bridget groaned. Not another interruption.

She peered out of the window overlooking the lower cottages.

Armed men were marching in a double line along the road into the village. She counted a column of fifty soldiers. Their helmets, sword hilts and spear points glinted in the sunlight. They wore thick doublets over leather kilts dyed dark red. A helmeted man rode a black horse in the vanguard, his blood-red cloak billowing in the breeze. Walking behind the leader, another man carried a banner, flapping in a blur of red and black. In the rear, other men led horses pulling two empty wagons.

As they advanced, her trepidation grew. Why were they entering the village? Had they come to collect tithes for King Athelric? Surely it was too early in the season. The tithe collectors always came after the harvest was gathered. And none of the king’s soldiers wore red kilts. Who were these strangers? 

Elder Grantham stomped onto the road to confront the leader of the foreign troop. Old Grantham called himself the village chief and fancied he ran the place. He raised his hand and asked a question, his words inaudible at this distance.

The cloaked leader barked an order.

A man in the front rank punched his fist into Grantham’s face.

The gray-haired old man crumpled, his body thumping onto the road.

Aghast, Bridget gulped. Grantham might be a pompous ass, but what hellish person would mistreat a defenseless old man?

A woman screeched inside the adjacent cottage.

The enemy leader gave a hand signal.

The foremost ranks split into groups. Five men rushed into the nearest cottage and dragged the occupants onto the road. A second set of men entered the house and carted out boxes of valuables. They worked methodically, moving from one cottage to the next in an organized manner.

Villagers yelled in anger, or screamed and begged for mercy. The raiders beat off the scant opposition and herded the others into a field. 

No wonder there was little resistance, Bridget thought bitterly. Two weeks ago, Jarl Keegan had commandeered eight of the strongest men in the village and the best riding horses for his troop. He had led them away to Castleton in response to a command from King Athelric. Since their departure, no messages had come from the Jarl or his men. Rumors swirled around the neighborhood about battles and marriage celebrations, although nobody knew the truth. 

Suddenly furious, Bridget resolved the horrid foreigners would not capture her or steal her best buttons. Shutting her eyes, she rubbed her fingers over the charm-inscribed buttons on her bracelet and considered what to do. Her cottage stood on the edge of the woods, up a small lane and well separated from the rest of the village. She should have a few minutes respite before the raiders arrived.

Randall and his pregnant wife lived in the main village. But she had no way to defend them against the attackers. Few of the spells in her scant knowledge of magic were designed to harm people. She had only once used her best weapon, the repulsion spell, to escape when the blacksmith’s son had grabbed her. Repulsion made an effective defense against a man at close quarters, but it would not work on an enemy at a distance. Her only option was to flee before the invaders captured her.

Luckily, her man’s clothes were good for running and she had a day’s worth of food. What else could she take for her flight?

A scream, abruptly cut short, propelled her into action.

Her thoughts buzzing in alarm, she ran to the chest by her bed and grabbed her most precious belongings, the blue bag with her best buttons, her sewing kit and carving tools. She stuffed them in a second satchel along with a spare shirt. She hesitated over her three books. The herbal treatise and book of ballads were too heavy to carry a long distance, although she decided to keep her great grandparents’ travel journal. Its pages had a wrinkled cover of oiled leather. She tucked the small book into the folds of the shirt. Returning to the fireplace, she grabbed the tin cup for heating water. Finally, she surveyed the shelves in the larder. The jars of preserves were too heavy, but she added three apples, the rest of the barley cakes, a bag of shelled walnuts and strips of smoked mutton in store for the winter.

She arranged the straps of the two satchels crosswise over her shoulders. Flinging her cloak over her back, she fumbled to fasten the button at her neck. She nudged the rear door ajar and peeped out. Just beyond the doorsill, a well-trodden track led uphill into the woods. Raspberry and currant bushes lined the path and provided a screen from the marauders in the village.

Heart thumping in fright, she lowered her hood over her head. She crouched below the tops of the bushes and scurried up the path into the shelter of the trees.