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About the author:
Veronica Bale has written several novellas, short stories, and news articles as a freelance writer. With her Highland Loyalties trilogy she made her debut into the world of historical romance novels. Veronica lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, young son and three spoiled cats. When she’s not writing she’s running, reading, spending time with her family, or hopelessly lost in the cobbles of Coronation Street.
What inspired you to write your book?
Legend of the Mist is a story that explores the idea of destiny, and of past lives lived. I’ve always been fascinated with that subject, with the idea of a love that transcends time. I wanted to write my version of it, and to share that version with anyone that might be as fascinated by the idea as I am.
Here is a short sample from the book:
There is a legend familiar to those who call the island of Fara their home. It is one that is passed down through the generations. From mothers who whisper the tale to their bairns as they float into dreams each night. From starry-eyed lasses who pray to find for themselves the undying love of which it speaks. From elders who know the magic of the thick and inexplicable mist surrounding this, and no other, of Orkney’s islands which rise from the sea off Scotland’s northern coast.
According to the tale, many centuries ago (just how many no one knows with any certainty), there was a lovely young maid who lived on Fara. Her beauty, it is said, was unparalleled. Her lips were as red and full as an English rose; her skin as smooth and fresh as cream. And her eyes were the colour of the sea before a storm.
It was the most handsome of warriors ever to land on Fara that fell in love with this beautiful maid of the isles, and he was fortunate enough to earn her love in return. For a short while their love blossomed, undisturbed in a time of peace and prosperity brought about by the wise reign of the island’s chief.
But their bliss was not to last, for there was a great battle which took place on the island, and the warrior, defending his lady and her land, was killed. Heartbroken, the maid cast herself into the sea, unable to bear the thought of a life without her love.
Here, tale turns to legend. It is said among the islanders that, to this day, the lady drifts in the mists of Fara, her spirit hovering over its rocky shores and gentle hills. In this ethereal form she shrouds her island, waiting for her lost love to return to her.
And he will return. In time. When that time comes, the lady of the mist will be reborn, and the two lovers will be reunited.
Or so it is said …
* * *
“How did the warrior die, my Lady?” said Cinead, interrupting the story to which the children were listening with rapt attention. Overcome by his excitement, the boy of only seven summers had risen to his knees where he sat in the middle of the group.
“Cinead, sit down. I canna see,” whined Aibhlin, tugging on Cinead’s sleeve. The unfortunate five year old, the youngest child of one of the island’s crofters, had found herself seated directly behind the older, larger boy.
“Aye, Cinead, on yer bum, eh? That’s a good lad,” encouraged Lady Iseabal gently. Ensconced at the head of the group on a battered wooden stool, she smiled as Cinead reluctantly lowered himself. “Now, what d’ye mean, how did he die? Were ye no’ listening? There were a battle, and he were killed—”
“I heard that, my Lady. Nay, I mean how did he die? Were he cut through wi’ a sword, or were his head lopped off? Like that.”
From where she sat, beside Cook on a bench behind the children, Norah caught her mother’s eye. Iseabal responded with a knowing glance, her exasperation tempered by understanding. Cinead, as everyone on the island well knew, was a rambunctious boy. His wild games of make-believe typically featured monstrous beasts and daring warriors; more often than not they ended in minor damage to property, often with a dose of bumps and bruises to his playmates for good measure.
But neither Iseabal nor Norah could bear to reprimand him. Not today, not when the loss of Cinead’s father was so fresh a wound upon his poor little heart. It had only been two days since the raid on Fara by the Norse invaders, and Cinead was not the only child to be left fatherless and the end of it.
The Norsemen were notorious for their ruthlessness. There was no mercy in their hearts, and they spared no one, not even women and children—if the reports that reached the island were to be believed. They honoured not the sanctity of holy structures, and tales flitted from island to island about helpless monks, nuns and other holy persons being cut down, slaughtered in the places to where they fled for refuge.
The Viking beasts. They had no conscience, no soul.
Norah supposed that her people should consider themselves lucky, for no women or children had died in this, Fara’s first raid. Only men. It was little consolation, though, especially to the children gathered there in the kitchens that night. Most of them had lost someone: a father, a brother, an uncle or grandfather. In fact, they were gathered together that evening, enticed by the promise of a story from the lady of the castle, to spare them having to watch their dead as they were prepared for burial.
“I reckon ‘tis not the best time to be speaking of such things, d’ye?” Iseabal answered Cinead, giving him a reproving but gentle look.
“Was the maid beautiful, my Lady,” queried Greine, the seneschal’s daughter.
“Of course she were,” admonished her younger sister beside her. “Wi’ hair as fine as silk and eyes the colour of the sea before a storm, isna that so, my Lady?”
“I wanted Lady Iseabal to tell it,” Greine protested, shooting her sister an angry glare.
“Aye, that’s right,” Iseabal agreed, smiling. Instinctively she ran her hand over her belly, which was large with child. “She were a beautiful lass, the maid, and her eyes were as the sea before a storm. A deep green, changeful as the rolling waves. Not unlike our Norah’s there.”
At this point in the story, even though Iseabal said the same thing each time she told it, the children gasped and turned to see for themselves the colour of the maid’s eyes reflected in Norah. With a wicked grin, Norah covered her eyes with her hands, and when the children sent up a general cry of protest, she lowered them again, opening her lids wide that an ordinary pair of green eyes may be seen.
“And how does the maid wait in the mist?” Cinead continued. “She canna. Someone will see her sooner or later.”
“She is the mist ye daft fool,” sassed Aibhlin from behind him.
Cinead turned and regarded Aibhlin over his shoulder through narrowed eyes. Then he gave her a malicious shove in the shoulder. Aibhlin toppled sideways into the boy next to her, and immediately began to bawl.
“Cinead, why dinna ye come sit wi’ me?” Norah called to the boy.
Glowering at the whimpering Aibhlin, Cinead huffed in frustration. “Go on, then. I dinna want to be in amongst all these children anyway.”
Pushing himself off the stone floor, he sauntered around the group and to the back of the kitchens. Beside Norah, Cook leaned into her slightly with his small, beefy shoulder; an acknowledgement. Norah did not need to see his face to imagine the grin he must be stifling, nor the glint in his pale eyes. Despite his unruly behaviour, Cinead was one of Cook’s favourites.
Norah did not find it difficult to be patient; she knew Cinead was a good boy … at heart, at least. It was never with ill intentions that his play was so wild and destructive. He was only enthusiastic. Cinead’s mother had died when he was only four, having taken her stillborn daughter to the grave with her. The lack of a tempering female presence in his life gave Cinead a small measure of immunity in the eyes of many of the islanders.
Now his father was gone, too. Everyone handled their grief differently. Aibhlin would get over it.
“Stupid brats,” Cinead muttered as he plunked himself next to Norah, crossing his arms tightly over his breast.
“Be that as it may, ye’ve a duty to be an example to the younger ones, d’ye no’?”
Cinead pouted briefly, unwilling at first to acknowledge that she might be right. Begrudgingly, he shrugged. “Aye, perhaps. And I suppose I am a man now that my da’s … now that he’s gone.”
A battle of emotion warred in the set of the boy’s features: grief; pride; fear. It made Norah want to pull him close, to cradle him protectively and shelter him from the world and its cruelties. But he would not thank her for embarrassing him in front of the others like that.
“Our island needs ye,” she answered solemnly. “We willna let ye bear yer responsibilities alone.”
Cinead declined to answer, not wanting her to see how her promise had affected him. Just the same, the slight inward turn of his shoulders as he pretended to listen to the Lady Iseabal’s story betrayed him.
“Alright, wee ones,” the lady said, clapping her hands together when the tale had run its course, “it smells to me like Cook’s cakes are about ready.”
“Indeed they are, my Lady,” Cook answered. Hobbling from the bench at the back to the ovens on the other side of the low, smoky building, he removed several pans from the fire and scraped his batch of honey-sweetened oatcakes onto the table beside. “But mind, they’re hot,” he added, calling above the din of the children’s scampering feet.
In happier times Norah might have smiled fondly after them. But today she could not. The loss of her kinsmen was too fresh, the survivors’ collective grief too acute to take joy in anything, no matter how simple. She wondered, as she watched small, dirty hands clutch at the cakes, if she’d ever be happy again; she couldn’t imagine it.
“We’d best head back to the fortress,” Iseabal said, approaching Norah and Cinead.
“Aye,” Norah agreed. “Cinead, d’ye no’ want any cakes?”
“Nay, Norah,” the boy answered meekly. “I dinna much feel like treats just now.”
Norah shot her mother a worried look which the lady returned.
“Dinna stay up too late,” Iseabal said, laying a hand atop his straw coloured hair. Then, reaching for her daughter’s hand, she inclined her head towards the door.
“When does father leave?” Norah asked once they were crossing the short distance outside from the kitchens to the keep. She held her mother’s arm firmly, mindful of the uneven ground which might send the lady sprawling if the both of them were not careful. The dim light of early evening was made even dimmer from the mist; it painted the air around them with a greyish-white haze.
“Tonight,” Iseabal answered flatly.
“Would it no’ be better for them all to go in the daylight?”
“Einarr sent his invitation for yer father to go tonight. I doubt he has little choice in the matter.”
Norah shivered at the mention of the Norseman’s name: Einarr. The Viking leader whose forces had attacked her father’s island, killing his people and stealing the clan’s most prized possessions. Einarr, a savage heathen with golden hair and eyes as cold and pale as ice. The image of the harsh, enormous man was one she’d not be likely to forget, for they’d met, eye to eye, in the midst of that raid.
They’d crossed each other’s path as she had been herding a number of children to safety. The poor, terrified mites had screamed as he’d raised his arms, heavily muscled and wrapped in bands of gold, above his head, wielding his double-edged sword. He’d grinned at her across the short distance between them, menacing and cruel.
In that instance she felt she must be looking at the angel of death about to deliver his fatal blow. Their eyes had locked—a brief but inescapable connection beneath which Norah was rendered powerless.
Then the invisible connection had broken, snapped like a fishing line. She turned and ran, shoving and dragging and shouting at the children to move, to save themselves, to hide.
Why he had let them go, she couldn’t fathom. Had they run into any other of his warriors that night she was not at all convinced they would have been as lucky. But he had let them run; she was not so naive as to think otherwise.
“Does Garrett go wi’ them?”
“He does,” Iseabal nodded warily. “Yer father thinks him man enough now to learn the demands that leading his people will bring. ‘Tis no better opportunity for him to see there is danger in the responsibilities of a clan’s Chief as well as leisure.”