Chapter 13: Supernatural Connection

Cord (14) Flora was not the midwife who delivered little Isolde Roble into the world. She did not see the tender look of love and wonder on Arlwyn’s face when he held his firstborn infant. Nor did she know of the supernatural connection that now linked her to the child.

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On the eve that Flora refused a marriage proposal from Pieter the Goat Herder, she roused him to anger.

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She escaped his fury, not knowing that at that very moment, Isolde’s mother, Lady Priscilla, was unleashing her rage on the poor, defenseless tot.

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Flora did not see the child as she grew. Cord (11) She did not notice that, as she painted, the child painted.

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As Flora painted, the child painted.

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As she passed time with her horse, so Isolde did the same.

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As she swayed to the melody of her violin, little Isolde swayed to the tune that tinkled from her music box. However Flora was feeling, Isolde felt. Whatever Flora happened to be doing, Isolde, from miles away, was overwhelmed by an inexplicable urge to do the same.

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Her parents dismissed her behavior as eccentricity. They had no idea about the invisible cord which connected the two, or of how much danger their daughter was in. Until one afternoon, the child’s small body could no longer handle the powerful magic which surged through it. In the middle of town, without warning, she collapsed to the ground.

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Chapter 12: Desperation

One afternoon, Priscilla’s brother, Gregory, sent for her in order to discuss an urgent matter. “I am afraid there has been rather unsavory talk about you,” said her brother.

Priscilla laughed. “Who would possibly say anything negative about me?”

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Gregory gave her a hard look. “Do not presume that you hold such importance as your husband, dear sister.  The Robles are a very important family. There has been talk that, if you fail to produce an heir for the baron, then he may put you aside.”

The blood drained from Priscilla’s face. It was true that she had still not conceived an heir after seven years of marriage.  But Arlwyn would not dare to put her aside. Would he?

Gregory continued, “I have heard tales of a woman who lives at the farthest edge of Cantory Wood. She is young, but well-known for her healing herbs and remedies.”

Priscilla knew of the young woman. The townspeople often sought her out when their families were ill or their wives were preparing to give birth. “I will go at once to see her,” she said.

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Priscilla overhears the midwife Flora telling a boy that his mother had just given birth.

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The townspeople often sought out Flora for midwifery and healing herbs

Flora Goode lived a very quiet life of solitude, hidden far from the town, and far from the life of her beloved Arlwyn. Each day, she threw herself into her work, as it was the only way to distract her mind from thinking of him.

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Seek him out, said her heart. Tell him that you still love him. But she pushed aside these thoughts. Surely their season of love was no more to him now than a distant memory. Surely he was happy now, living contentedly with his wife. She had no right to disturb his happiness. Priscilla and Flora (4)Priscilla and Flora (3)

So convinced was she of these things, that the unexpected arrival of Arlwyn’s wife was as shocking as a sudden icy downpour. “What are you doing here?” Flora blurted out without thinking.

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Priscilla’s eyes flashed. “Mind your tongue, girl.  Have you any idea who I am?”

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Flora dropped her eyes and curtsied low. “Beg your pardon, miss. What can I do for you?” She listened, eyes growing wide as Priscilla explained her predicament. “You – are you asking me to help you to conceive a child? B-but – that’s witchcraft!” Flora whispered this last word. “I cannot help you—”

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Priscilla stepped closer until she was almost nose-to-nose with Flora. “You can, and you will. Or I will personally see to it that you are burned at the stake. For I know what you are, and that you are the reason why our family is cursed.”

“That’s not true!” Flora cried, vehemently shaking her head. “I did not curse anyone, I swear it!”

Priscilla’s voice was cold. “Help me to conceive an heir, and I will remain silent.”

Flora clasped her hands together. “Please, Lady Priscilla, I beg of you. Do not do this. There will be consequences beyond my control.”

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But her pleas fell upon deaf ears. Priscilla would not leave until Flora had placed in her hands a small flask containing a potion which would help her to conceive a child. Triumphant, Priscilla rode home and poured the potion into a drinking glass. It was thick, white, and foul-smelling. But she had no other options. She had to produce a Roble heir. And so, she tilted back her head and drained the glass.

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Chapter 11: Wagging Tongues and Drunken Nights

Townspeople Gossiping

The Roble family becomes a grand subject of gossip.

Because the Roble family was so prestigious, they were a grand source of admiration for the people of Tylweth Teg. However, they were also a grand subject of gossip.

“Have you heard that the Lady Priscilla is cursed?” the townspeople whispered to one another. “She is unable to produce an heir for the baron.”

“If you ask me, it is the baron who is cursed. I heard that Lady Priscilla is colder than corpse.”

“I heard that the baron was once madly in love with a young witch. It was probably she who cursed the Lady Priscilla, and cursed him for marrying her.”

Stories such as these were passed from household to household, until nearly everyone in the kingdom was convinced that the Roble family was, indeed, under a witch’s curse. But no one knew who the young woman was who had cast such a spell on their household.

In his heart, Arlwyn was still loyal to Flora. As months, and then years slipped past, his thoughts continued to drift toward her with powerful longing. Time after time, he had to struggle to restrain himself from mounting a horse and galloping through the woods in search of her. For a part of him knew that if he did, then he would never be able to make himself leave her side.

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Instead, he did everything he could to be a good husband to Priscilla. He made sure that her every need was provided for. When she asked for new dresses, or jewels, or even a ridiculously expensive Friesian foal, he gave her these things without question.

Screenshot-591He tried not to pester her too often to engage in marital duties, as he knew how distasteful she found them.They slept in separate chambers, and he visited her bed no more than once per month.

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But no matter what he did, Priscilla was never satisfied. He did not spend enough time with her. Yet when he did, he was dull, or he said the wrong things and managed to offend her. She constantly nagged him until he lost his patience and raised his voice, and they both stormed off in anger. Screenshot-618 Screenshot-586

He could not be with his true love. Yet life with Priscilla was often unbearable. And so, many a night, he turned to drink.

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Often, the servants discovered him passed out drunk in his chamber, and had to carry him to bed.

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Arlwyn is passed out drunk after a drinking binge

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Arlwyn drinks too much and is sick in a chamber pot.

He would awaken each morning in a hung-over fog, wishing that he could stay in bed and dream of Flora, and make the world disappear.

Chapter 10: The Baroness

Lady Priscilla Roble had everything she had ever wanted. She had been properly wed to a man who was not only wealthy, but held the title of Baron, making her a Baroness.

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Despite their fiasco of a wedding, which ended in her new husband being passed out drunk on the parlor floor, she had taken quite a liking to her new life. Their house was among the largest in town, filled with servants and beautiful artwork and expensive furnishings. She deserved no less, of course.

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Priscilla often berates the household servants.

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She did not have too many complaints about her new husband, although Arlwyn was a bit of a bore, always wanting to talk about dull novels or music, or to go exploring out-of-doors (oh, how she hated being out-of-doors!).

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And then there were the wifely duties which he expected her to fill. Well, she endured this once every other month or so, but she found it messy and distasteful, and not at all ladylike.

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Priscilla rejects her husband’s advances.

While her husband attended to business, she passed her days leisurely, attempting to paint or read novels (granted, she understood little of what she read). She often invited other ladies to the house for a visit, which was in part for the company, but in part to make them all green with envy. For indeed, she was one of the wealthiest and esteemed ladies in all of Tylweth Teg.

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Chapter 9: Gloomy Wedding Day

Screenshot-602Flora knew that their season must soon come to an end. She had always known, though a foolish part of her had held onto the impossible hope that Arlwyn would choose love over duty. He loved her – she knew this by the way he gazed at her with a mixture of amazement and wonder. She wanted to swim in his love as though in a river, and be swept away. But it was not right. For he would not love her so if she had not performed the enchantment that Hazel Thornbush had taught her five years ago. Because of the spell, he knew that she held a power over Arlwyn, and that with a single word, he would forget about duty, renounce his title, and run away with her. With all her heart, she wanted to do it – to make him leave it all behind and be with her alone. 

But she would not do that.

They savored every last moment of their time together during the days leading up to the wedding. They met nearly every day in a quiet meadow, far from people in the village. They lay beneath the sky, watching the drifting clouds, talking, and laughing together until the hour grew late and they both had to return to responsibilities. Screenshot-665 (2)

They were always slow to part, holding hands, exchanging whispers and gentle kisses until one of them at last found the strength to break away.Screenshot-659 (2)Screenshot-657 (2)

The day of the wedding arrived like an unwelcome visitor, bringing with it a gloomy, heavy mist that filled the valley. Flora trudged her way through each chore. She did not want to believe that today meant the end of her and Arlwyn. Surely he would be waiting for her in their meadow, like always. That afternoon, she raced through the muddy fields until she reached their secret spot.

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But he was not there. There was only her, and a fierce, raw wind that whipped her skirts about and bit at her skin.

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She raced across muddy fields to meet him in their secret meadow. But he was not there.

She had planned to stay away from the wedding. She was not sure that she could resist the temptation to lure him away, to keep him from marrying Lady Priscilla. But in the end, she mounted her horse and rode at full speed toward the church. By the time she arrived, breathless and red-faced from the cold, the other guests were already seated. She saw Arlwyn walking toward the wedding arch  and hurried toward him, though trying her best not to call attention to herself.

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Arlwyn’s eyes widened. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “You shouldn’t—”

"Flora! What are you doing here?"

“Flora! What are you doing here?”

Flora took a breath. She wanted to touch his arm, to say, “Come with me. Let’s go away together.” But the words stuck in her throat. What she said instead was, “I wish you every happiness, Arlwyn.” Then she turned and rushed for the door, choking back her sobs until she was on her horse, far from the church, far from the man she loved and his bride-to-be. She did not stay to watch as Arlwyn exchanged vows with a woman he did not love.

She did not see him exchange vows with a woman he did not love.

She did not see him exchange vows with a woman he did not love.

She did not see the couple after the ceremony – Priscilla gleaming and radiant, and Arlwyn, morose and defeated by her side.

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She did not see how the groom, normally a temperate man, helped himself to one drink after another, and had to be helped into the bridal carriage, as he was far too drunk to stand on his own.

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Arlwyn gets drunk and nearly passes out after marrying Priscilla.

Chapter 8: Days of Dawn

Seeing Flora again was like a surprising burst of dawn after the longest night of the year. Arlwyn’s eyes had been reopened, and Flora was all he could see. He heard her voice in the songs of birds that chirped on his windowsill each morning. When he sat down to the complex work of calculating land taxes, his mind drifted away, and he instead found himself writing poems about her dark, intoxicating eyes.

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“My apologies, but I will be unable to attend today,” he repeated time and time again, turning down countless invitations to dine or dance or call upon the homes of important  people. Instead, he slipped away to visit Flora in her tiny cottage, or took her to the neighboring town to pass the day together.  Arlwyn and Flora (15)Screenshot-255 Screenshot-265

He lavished her with expensive gifts, which she tried to decline.

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“Oh Arlwyn! These gifts are too much for me!”

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“I won’t take no for an answer.”

“I love you, Arlwyn,” she would say. “Not your money.” Still, he bought her a few cows and a sturdy horse, and would not take no for an answer.        Screenshot-293

He did not understand what was happening to him. It was as though the rest of the world was out of focus, but his moments with Flora were as clear and vibrant as spring flowers. Screenshot-650 Screenshot-249Screenshot-250

“Whatever has bewitched you brother,” remarked Douglas one afternoon when he caught Arlwyn staring off into space instead of conducting family business, “you had better snap out of it. You and Priscilla are to be married this summer. Or have you forgotten?” Arlwyn and Priscilla (7)

Arlwyn had not forgotten. He had been trying to block the inevitable event from his memory. But as much in love as he was with Flora, the wedding could not be stopped. He would have to forget about Flora, put on his mask, and pretend, though he hated himself for it. Screenshot-236 Arlwyn and Priscilla (6)

Chapter 7: Bad Puck

BewitchedArlwyn could not understand what was wrong with him. Ever since he had ended his relationship with Flora, a great, yawning emptiness had taken him over. It was as though all the color had been drained from the world, and blue and green and gold no longer mattered…everything was the same shade of dull gray. He attended the finest parties. He read the most acclaimed books. He dove into his work, managing his land as his father had taught him.

He went out to balls and plays with Priscilla, listened politely to her prattle, and treated her with cool politeness. Bewitched (8)Bewitched (6)Bewitched (7)

He pasted on a smile, and danced, and engaged in conversation, appearing on the outside just like any other young gentleman of his standing. But on the inside, he was utterly, hopelessly lost. Bewitched (5)

“Honestly brother, what has gotten into you?” Douglas asked. He was the only person who had noticed Arlwyn’s lack of spark.

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“What’s gotten into you, brother?”

Arlwyn shook his head. He did not know how to answer. As time passed, and his wedding with Priscilla approached, he slowly began to withdraw from society. He spent long, lonely hours riding his horse or fishing, trying to think his way out of the fog that enveloped his mind.

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And then, late one afternoon, Arlwyn happened to stop by Finnigan’s Pub. After a few beers, he thought it would be entertaining to show off his dragon, Puck. “Behold – a real, live dragon!” he said, pulling Puck out of his coat pocket.  Bewitched (2)

“Don’t be afraid, he’s perfectly tame!” But just then, Puck flew into the air, opened his mouth, and launched a blazing ball of fire across the pub, singeing the clothes right off of a woman. Bewitched (3)Bewitched (1)

“Monster!” the woman shrieked, trying to cover her nudity while racing for the door. The other patrons dropped their beers and followed her in a panic.

Arlwyn sighed. “Bad Puck,” he said, putting the dragon back in his coat. He took one last swallow of beer, then turned to go, but froze. There, standing only a few meters away, was Flora. Flora, whom he had not seen once during the past three years, was right here in front of him. And with a sudden dizzying rush, all the color and light and  sound returned to his world.

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