When the last of members of a secretive Druid cult are forced to abandon their hidden sanctuary, they send the youngest of their remaining priests in search of Annwr, their chief priestess’s sister, who was abducted by a Saxon war band fifteen years ago. With only a rudimentary grasp of English and the ambiguous guidance of an oracle’s prophecy, Caelym manages to find Annwr living in a hut on the grounds of a Christian convent.
Annwr has spent her years of captivity caring for the timid Aleswina, an orphaned Saxon princess who was consigned to the cloistered convent by her cousin, King Gilberth, after he assumed her father’s throne. Just as Caelym and Annwr are about leave together, Aleswina learns that Gilberth, a tyrant known for his cruelty and vicious temper, means to take her out of the convent and marry her. Terrified, she flees with the two Druids—beginning a heart-pounding adventure that unfolds in ways none of them could have anticipated.
“Linden's well-researched tale eloquently brings to life a lesser-known period of transition in Britain. . . . The author has created a strong foundation for her series with well-developed characters whom readers can embrace. . . . [a] layered, gripping historical fiction.”
“The story rolls along at a lively pace, rich with details of the times and a wide cast of characters. [The] plotting, shifting points of view of the three engaging protagonists, and evocative writing style make The Oath a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.”
—Historical Novel Review
“Linden uses a fairy tale-like style almost as though this story has been passed down orally over the centuries.”
From Chapter 1: The Clearing
A torch touched the dry tinder and the fire sprang to life, flaring up in a ring around the condemned man. At first the bound figure was just a silhouette against the night sky, but as the fire spread around the stake he was illuminated in its glow, his dark hair shining as golden red as the flames. Even bruised and bloodied, he was handsome, tall, lean, and fit—his features so fine and noble that it was hard to believe the crowd surrounding him was screaming for his death instead of pleading for his life.
Looking through the flames, he could see the shifting shapes of the mob, men with spears, women with cudgels, and children waving sticks. They were cursing him, calling him a sorcerer. If he could have made himself heard, he would have told them that he was not a sorcerer, he was a physician who could have given them the gift of healing, a singer whose songs could have soothed their rage, a bard who could have told them a thousand stories about splendid heroes from days when the world was fresh and new. If they would just stop shouting and listen, he would tell them that he’d been the last of the disciples to sit at the feet of the three greatest Druid masters of their time. He would tell them that by killing him before he could pass on what he had learned they were destroying an ancient heritage of wisdom that could never be recovered, condemning themselves to suffering and ignorance.
Their taunts and jeers seemed to fade away, lost in his longing for a swallow of water to sooth his parched throat, a bite of food to ease his aching hunger, and, above all, to die unbound. It was the fire that granted his last wish—burning through the leather cords so that, for a moment, he was free.
Instead of leaving the fire to be torn apart by the frenzied mob, he raised his arms up towards the moon like a child reaching up to his mother. A sudden breeze fanned the fire and the flames soared, engulfing him and forcing his attackers to fall back as his body turned to a soft, feathery ash that was gathered up and carried off by the wind, swirling up and away into the star-filled sky.
The crowd’s angry curses quieted to grumbling complaints, and those changed to the hooting of owls and the croaking of frogs as Caelym woke up to find himself whole again, lying beside a decaying, moss-covered log at the edge of a clearing.
He’d fallen asleep in a thicket of alders, worn out from his desperate race to escape a real mob of raging Saxons. Choosing death by drowning over burning at the stake, he’d dived headlong into a river that carried him out of their reach and far out of his way. It had taken most of a day to make his way back along the river’s edge to the turn in the road where he’d been discovered. From there he’d limped on, continuing the quest he’d begun the day after learning that the long-lamented Priestess Annwr, sister to their chief priestess, was alive, that Ossiam, Grand Oracle and Master of Divination had seen her in a dream . . . imprisoned in a high tower, her golden hair blowing in the wind and tears streaming down her cheeks, crying out for someone to save her . . .
Copyright 2021 A.M. Linden
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx