Margaret Frazer

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Circle of Witches – Chapter 6

December 17th, 2012

Circle of Witches - The Midwinter Blog Tour

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Autumn dwindled into early winter, with the last ploughing done and the sheep and cattle driven down from the farthest hill pastures. The weather continued wet and chill, and Damaris came down with the fevered cold and cough she had helped treat in others with her aunt all autumn. It took deeper hold with her than it had with most. She was moved from her high room to one near her aunt’s and uncle’s. There she was nursed through the nights, turn and turn about, by Aunt Elspeth, old Agnes, and Betty, for more than week. Even when the worst was past, she remained weak, only too happy to lie abed or – when she was stronger – sit at a window for hours, first in the bedchamber, then in the parlor, watching cloud-shadows shift along the winter-grayed dale or, in worse weather, the rain falling in icy sheets.

Her body’s exhaustion as it struggled to heal had exhausted her mind, too, but when she was well enough for visitors, she was stirred a little more aware by Irene’s company a few afternoons and even several visits from Lauran. Irene brought fashion magazines and chattered on about nothing in particular, requiring only slight answers from Damaris in response. Lauran, unexpectedly more thoughtful, came his first time with a book of ballads and read aloud to her – strong, stirring ballads of danger and daring; of desperate battles won or heroically lost; of perilous loves and fatal sword fights and wild rides to safety.

“Irene says I should be reading you softer stuff,” he told Damaris as he settled into a chair. “That these aren’t for ladies. Are you become a lady, Damaris?”

“No,” she said. She might be presently too weak to do even embroidery, but she was quite sure of that. So he had read to her by the hour, and when he was done she was no stronger in body, but her mind was stirred more awake than it had been since she fell ill.

He came twice more, the last time bringing not the ballads but a novel of dire doings in Scotland’s past. This he left with her after having read from it. “To keep your mind from having nothing but Irene’s fashions to think on,” he teased before giving her a surprising kiss on the cheek and leaving while she was still too startled by that to say anything. (more…)

Circle of Witches – Chapter 5

December 16th, 2012

Circle of Witches - The Midwinter Blog Tour

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For the next few weeks, however, Damaris found that her best chance of seeing Lauran again was not by way of visiting Irene, but by being out and about with Nevin and Kellan, since her cousins and Lauran were together more days than not.

“Making up for lost time,” Kellan told Damaris.

“And avoiding his mother,” Nevin added.

“And you two having no more sense when you’re around him than you ever had,” Aunt Elspeth said the evening her sons came to supper late and damp from climbing near a waterfall farther up the dale with Lauran who was going to be even later to his supper, having farther to go to home. “Let you be glad you weren’t with them today, Damaris.”

Uncle Russell shared a grin with both boys and said, “They’re sensible enough under it all. Lauran has been talking to me, and my guess is he’ll steady to his duties at Ashbrigg by autumn’s end, once these two are off to school again and stop bringing him into ill ways. There are brains in that handsome head of his, no matter what he pretends. Which is more than I’m willing to say about these two oafs of ours,” he added with a dire look at them that no one, including them, took seriously.

The trouble for Damaris was that when Lauran grew used to her sometimes being with Nevin and Kellan, he was the same toward her as they were, and it was impossible for her to remember he was handsome and think him charming while he and Kellan were trying to put a frog down the back of her dress and she was both avoiding it and throwing stream water at them. As the summer went through July, Lauran became less the handsome youth from the next manor and more like simply another cousin.

But she could not be always with her cousins and him. Instead, she often kept company with Irene, a kind of friendship growing between them. Their talk – mostly Irene’s talk – was of clothing and of all she had seen and the admirers she had had while traveling with her mother. Damaris could not quite understand how she could have had so very many admirers, being only two years older than Damaris and not even come out yet. Irene talked much of her coming out. “Not that it can be here in Glavedale,” she said more than once. “There’s simply no society here, just friends. It will have to be in York, with my aunt and uncle. They’ve a very fine house that will suit perfectly. I might even be able to use their carriage instead our shabby old one. Surely I will. They won’t want to be embarrassed by their niece!”

She also confessed to Damaris in absolute and utter confidence that she had romantic hopes of both Nevin and Kellan. “I’m awfully used to them, of course, but they are handsome and there’s no one else nearby at all.” (more…)

Circle of Witches – Chapter 4

December 15th, 2012

Circle of Witches - The Midwinter Blog Tour

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Damaris went to breakfast the next morning embarrassed by how promptly she had fallen to sleep and expecting to be teased, but her cousins and uncle were deep in talk of the sheep-shearing and the likely price of wool this season. They gave her smiles and nods as she joined them but nothing else. Damaris supposed they might be trying to be kind, but she thought resentfully they could have done that better by letting her go to the bonfire last night.

Aunt Elspeth was not there, and Damaris asked Betty, coming in with a plate of fresh-baked muffins, where she was.

“Already gone out to the garden,” Betty said, setting the muffins closer to Damaris than to her cousins, giving her first chance before their quick hands.  “Says you’re to come out when you’re done, Miss.”

With nothing to say about sheep or wool and refusing to ask about last night – especially whether Nevin or Kellan had danced with Virna – Damaris ate in silence, left the men still talking sheep, and went out to the garden that was now in the full-leaved richness of late June, the flowers of high summer blooming in their scarlets and yellows and a few blues among the varied greens of other plants that had finished their year’s glories or were still to come to them. Aunt Elspeth, in the far corner from the gate, looked around as Damaris entered and raised a dirtied hand in greeting.

Damaris joined her, scooped her skirts around herself, and sat down on the grass. She thought maybe her aunt would say something about last night, but rather than that and as if yesterday hadn’t happened at all, Aunt Elspeth began to talk about the herbs she was weeding, just as usual. Damaris still felt wronged, but being wronged did not lessen her pleasure in learning; she leaned close and listened.

“You see how it spreads by its root along the surface,” Aunt Elspeth said, holding aside the spear-pointed leaves of a thick-grown bed of lily of the valley. “It grows abundantly, given the chance, and is useful…”  She paused and looked at Damaris.

Pleased she remembered what her aunt had told her in the spring when the plants were flowering, Damaris said, “It’s useful against inflammation of the eyes, palsy, and apoplexy. It comforts the heart and vital spirits, and in quieting disorders of the head and nerves. It need be used in only very small amounts for any of those.”

“Do you know why?”

Damaris paused, then shook her head. “Why what?”

“Do you know why it should be used in only very small amounts?”

“Oh.  Because that’s all that’s needed and enough is better than too much. Waste not, want not.”

Damaris stated that with assurance. It was something her mother had often said about almost everything, from a serving of dessert to rising early rather than late in the morning.

“Yes,” Aunt Elspeth agreed, but then added, “And also because the entire plant is deadly poison if too much is taken.” (more…)

Circle of Witches – Chapter 3

December 14th, 2012

Circle of Witches - The Midwinter Blog Tour

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An outgrown pair of Kellan’s boots solved the problem of shoes, though it was three days before Damaris’ sore and swollen feet would fit into anything at all. The wrought iron bench in Aunt Elspeth’s garden was cushioned with pillows for her the first day, but then the weather turned rainy and she and her cousins spent the time in Uncle Russell’s study, building towns and fortresses and palaces with his books and the boys’ set of wooden blocks that Nevin and Kellan resurrected from an abandoned toy chest to amuse their cousin – and themselves, if they would have admitted it.

Nevin was a little too grown to lose himself in the game, though he was the best at structuring books into improbable towers; and twice he was called away to manor work with his father, a reminder that he was growing into other duties. But Kellan willingly let loose what dignity his fourteen years might have had.  When Damaris protested – because the edge of the study carpet was the shore, the bare stone floor the gray sea – “You can’t put a secret passage there. It’ll be under the harbor. They’ll drown,” Kellan easily answered, “They won’t. The tunnel is stone, beautifully mortared and sealed with magic against the sea coming in.”

“But you can’t build under the water.”

“They drained the harbor, built the secret passage, and let the water back in.”

“You can’t drain a harbor!  There’s a whole ocean outside of it!”

Kellan brooded over his creation briefly, then answered cheerfully, “They drain acres and acres of ocean out of Holland all the time. It was like that. Only here they let the water come back in. To hide the tunnel.”

He always had an answer that made sense, if she insisted on it, and their game went on, through the rise and fall of kingdoms and natural disasters – earthquakes were particularly satisfying, bringing all the book-built towers down in tumbled chaos – but on the fourth day after her first adventuring out beyond the safety of Thornoak’s walls, both the weather and Damaris’ feet were well, freeing her to go out into the plans her cousins had for her, and under the dark edge of her parents’ deaths, the summer turned to gold for her. Never once did Aunt Elspeth protest at her coming home torn or muddied or tired after hours of roaming with her cousins on foot and even more often on horseback, because Uncle Russell gave her a horse of her own, a pretty bay mare named Fansome, and gave her her first lessons in riding. (more…)

Circle of Witches – Chapter 2

December 13th, 2012

Circle of Witches - The Midwinter Blog Tour

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For Damaris the days after that were nightmare. Dressed in endless black, she moved through them in a hurting that blurred all else around her.

Everyone was kind to her. Her aunt and her uncle. The strangers who came and went so much through the days before the funeral. Agnes who had tended Damaris’ mother as a baby and known her grandmother and now saw to Damaris without questions or too many words at all. Sometimes it was Virna who would sit and talk to her when everyone else had other things to do. Having someone, anyone, talking to her helped fill the great emptiness in Damaris, who seemed to have very few words of her own left in her. But usually and best it was Aunt Elspeth or Uncle Russell who were with her through those days, explaining what things were happening and why and, at the last, who all the people were, all the strangers, come to the funeral in St. Cuthbert’s church in Gillingthwaite down the dale.

Through those days Damaris nodded to their voices, understanding what they were saying while they said it and doing what she was told; but when they were no longer talking to her or she had finished what they asked of her, almost all of what they had said and what she had done slid out of her mind again because nothing was very real to her just then except the pain around the emptiness where her parents should have been.

Her father’s Uncle Robert came to the funeral. Afterward, in the parlor at Thornoak, Damaris was introduced to him and was told he would be taking her parents to be buried in her father’s family church in Lancashire. She nodded, accepting that because it did not matter. He was not taking her parents, only their bodies. She had seen the bodies lying in their coffins and known those empty, motionless shapes were not her parents. Her parents were gone. They had left those bodies behind, and this stranger could take them if he wanted; it did not matter. But to his face she only nodded and let him shake her hand while he looked down his broad nose at her and said in deeply doubtful tones, “A pretty little thing. If she were a boy now, I’d be able to manage maybe. But a girl…”

Behind her, hands resting lightly on Damaris’ shoulders, Aunt Elspeth answered, “There’s no worry. She’s more than welcome here.” (more…)

Circle of Witches – Chapter 1

December 12th, 2012

Circle of Witches - The Midwinter Blog Tour

As a bonus feature for the Midwinter Blog Tour, I’m going to serializing Part I of Circle of Witches. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day, with the shameless intent of getting you to try the whole thing. You’ll be able to find them here on the blog and on my Facebook page. (If you click on the RSS or Facebook buttons on the left, you’ll be able to subscribe or like and get notified each time a new chapter goes up!)


Spring had come early that year. The carriage-ride up the dale two days ago had been beautiful with greening fields and trees in young leaf and sunshine on the hills. But these were the Pennine hills, and today snow was swirling down the wind. Along the garden wall the betrayed daffodils bent under its weight, and Damaris, curled on the window seat with her nose nearly to the thick-glassed, small-paned windows, watched the far shadow-shapes of the hills come and go as the wind tore the snow apart or thickened it in gusts.

Here in her uncle’s study there was a fire on the hearth, but the warmth did not reach as far as the window. She was cold but unwilling to move, as if staying still would somehow change everything back to right. Behind her, in the house that she had never seen until the day before yesterday, she was aware of quick movements in the hall and on the stairs and of voices kept low, speaking hastily. There was an urgency where yesterday had only been her mother’s laughing pleasure at home-coming and the excitement of relatives Damaris had not known she had.

Now there was only strangeness. A strange house full of strangers and not even its sounds familiar. Damaris knew the sounds of home: Maid’s padded tread on the carpeted stairs, the third step from the bottom’s squeak, the solemn thud of the door from hall to kitchen, the iron clash of horses’ shoes on the cobbles under the front windows. Familiar sounds she had never thought about. But home was far away, beyond the hills and near the sea. Here nothing was the same or right – here where the hills rose to mountains beyond the moors and the houses were all made of stone with the walls so thick she could not even hear the wind except when it rasped the snow across the window glass or she was upstairs to hear it worry and moan along the eaves. She had come down here to be away from the wind as much as might be. And away from the other sounds upstairs.

No one had noticed she was gone and no one had come looking for her, but she was aware of everything she heard, and when she heard her father’s crisp, quick footsteps on the stone floor of the front hallway she gasped with relief and untangled her feet from her skirts, scrambled from the window seat, and ran to fling open the study door.

He was there in the hallway, grabbing his greatcoat from the rack beside the door, saying angrily to her Uncle Russell, “I’m going. She needs a doctor. I’m bringing her one.”


The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 14

September 14th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

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Thomasine sat in the far corner of the window bench in Domina Edith’s parlor, her hands folded in her lap, her gaze on the sunlit, empty yard below. Sir Walter and Master Montfort and all their men were gone. Sir Walter had taken Lady Ermentrude’s household with him. There had been a great clatter, with shouting and creaking of wheels and clanking of harness, but now there was only the mid-morning silence with, distantly, the calling of workers in the fields. Everything in the past few days might not have happened, except for Martha Hayward’s coffin waiting in the church for someone to come and take it to her people. (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 13

September 13th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

Ela clutched at Frevisse’s sleeve. “When I saw what they were doing, I went the back way round, into the church! To Domina Edith. She said I was to come get you! And him!” She gestured wildly at Chaucer. “She said to hurry!”

“Damn him,” Chaucer said without passion, and went for the door.

Jerking her sleeve free from Ela’s fingers, Frevisse followed him, overtaking him at the foot of the stairs, in the cloister walk.  “Your men?” she asked. “Can they be of use?”

Chaucer shook his head. “There’d only be blood shed to no purpose. I’ll have to stop him with words or nothing.”

Breathless with fear as much as haste, Frevisse nodded, gathered up her skirts and ran. Chaucer followed her. (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 12

September 12th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

The woman servant who had come with Lady Isobel was seated on the bench outside their chamber. She made no move to stop Frevisse, but Frevisse paused, turned from her intent to talk with Sir John and Lady Isobel because so casual a chance to talk to the woman might not come again.

“God’s greeting to you,” she said lightly, and nodded her head toward the door. “Your lord is still hurting?”

The woman, obviously bored at sitting attendance here, brightened, glad to talk about troubles. “Indeed he is. Wearying my poor lady with his needs and her so good to him she’ll not deny him anything.” She lowered her voice and said, leaning forward as if to give a great confidence, “Fancy, a big, strong man like him letting some passing peddler muck with his tooth because he’s afraid to have it drawn!”

Frevisse was not interested in Sir John’s toothache, but asked without a qualm at her own duplicity, “Do you suppose it was all the quarreling brought it on this time?”

The woman shrugged. “It comes on anytime it feels like, but I’d not be surprised. All that shouting would make anyone’s jaw ache.”

“They argued all the night, I’ve heard. And Sir John told Lady Ermentrude to leave.”

“Now that’s not quite right but close enough. Sir John was the one who tried to quiet it between them, but hardly a word in edgewise they let him have. We could hear them right through the door of the solar most of that evening. But the next morning when Lady Ermentrude came to leave, hardly a word was passed among them, except Lady Isobel sent my lord out to say, nice as you please, that he hoped, it would all come right after she’d thought on it and wouldn’t she break her fast before she left.”

“And did she?” (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 11

September 11th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

They were at the door to the church, already remiss in talking in the cloister and unwilling to be any later for Vespers. They slipped into the church, made apologizing curtseys to Domina Edith, and took their places in the choir stalls.

But once in her place, chanting the verses so familiar they did not need her thoughts, Frevisse felt the creeping impact of Dame Claire’s assertion. If she were right, someone had tried to kill Lady Ermentrude not two times but three. And it had to have been someone not of the priory, for none of the priory people went with her to the Wykehams or met her on the way back. So who, then? Someone who went to Sir John’s and Lady Isobel’s with her – or met her there or on the road on the way back to St. Frideswide’s. Whoever it was, they came with her into the priory and stayed to try again – and again.

So some of the questions Frevisse had been asking were no longer ones that needed answering, but at the very least Thomasine could no longer be considered guilty. If Dame Claire were right, even Sir Walter and Master Montfort would have to accept that.  Except this was somewhat subtle reasoning, at least by Master Montfort’s standards. He would not take Dame Claire’s word for it. He would say she was lying to protect the nunnery and refuse to hear her. Or, being male, he would say a mere woman should not dare to offer some female notion as fact. Montfort, the fool, and Sir Walter, the arrogant fool, would never waste their valuable masculine time seeking the truth when they thought they already had it.

Suddenly Frevisse found the curses in today’s chanting of Psalm 109 very applicable. “Let his days be few; and let another take his office… Let his children be vagabonds… Let the extortioner consume all that he has; and let the stranger spoil his labor.” And she did not care if that curse fell on Master Montfort or on Sir Walter or on both of them, so well they both deserved it. (more…)

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