Chapter One

 

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Present Day, Salmon Brook, Connecticut

Spring 2015

This is the perfect time”, she said and she smiled. Her smile was not a happy smile, only a hopeful smile. Sara Knightly stood outside in the warm breeze, looking up at the moon; it was waxing, giving the effect of imbuing her flora with the strongest potential and effect.  She stood in the middle of her garden, her midnight garden. “Here you are my beauties—you, who bloom only at night and my dark angels, you are perfect for my healing spells.”

The late spring breeze blew strands of Sara’s dark burnished hair across the soft curvature of her cheekbones, tickling her nose, and she sneezed. Her bright eyes, the color of Caribbean limes, already turning puffy from the flower’s pollen.  As the moon reached its zenith after midnight, she was ready to pluck them into her willow basket at the right moment and when thoroughly dried, she would crush them in her centuries old pestle and mortar, made of the finest marble.

Freya, her charcoal sleek and elegant Abyssinian cat, wound its way around and between Sara’s legs, meowing. Sara smiled as she looked down at Freya, “Freya, why don’t you go catch some nice mice?”  Knowing this would make Freya horrified, Sara laughed kindly, at her silly joke.

Freya stopped in her tracks and looked up at Sara as though Sara had lost her centuries old mind.

“Don’t look at me like that Freya, I was just kidding.”

Freya, lifted her tail up like a warning, she wasn’t in the mood for games.

Something is really bothering her, Sara thought, is  danger afoot?,  “What’s wrong Freya, what should I know? Okay then, my lovely familiar, I’ll guess and you wag your fluffy tail, if I am right.”

Freya sat down and licked her left paw, ignoring Sara.

“Let’s see”, began Sara, “would you like some cream and honey?”

Freya abruptly turned her back on Sara, completely irked.

“Okay, on a more serious note, is  danger lurking in the forest?”

Freya, her eyes now as bright as the moon, turned to look at Sara, with an angry hiss, a sign of danger.

Sara, taken aback, looked to the far side of her garden where the garden ended and the forest began. At first, Sara did not sense that anything was amiss, but then, she saw a pair of red glowing eyes. Her cloak blended in with her garden of apple green and it swirled around as she put down her basket slowly. From her velvet cloak, she produced a Celtic knot made of sacred woods woven tightly together. She whispered an ancient Celtic spell of protection:

“Lodhadha of Yew, Duir of Oak, Tinne of Holly, and Luis of Rowan, bring your gift of protection around us and our dwelling from midnight till the dawn. Druantia, Queen of the Druids, I beg your protection to whatever danger beckons here!”  

Sara kneeled and drew a circle around her with the sacred woods and stood up and drew four circles in the air, turning each time to east, to south, to west and to north. She  drew four circles on her right-hand palm and blew the circles into the wind. Sparks of light flew from her palm, like a bright arc, into the darkness of the forest. Suddenly, a crashing sound came from the forest as if something in fear was dashing away. Sara turned to the petulant cat, “Well, Freya, thank you for your sensitive ears, and eyes that can see forever.”

Freya, preening her chest, lifted her tail and walked nonchalantly away to sit on Windsor Manor’s stone steps leading to the veranda.

“You don’t have act so haughty about this, Freya. Honestly, I didn’t mean to offend you about the mice. You have no sense of humor!” Sara, giggled under her breath, picked up her basket and began to prune each plant, humming a Celtic melody.

When Sara picked the last flower, moonlight still glowed upon it’s petals. She then blessed the ground, the garden, and the moonlight before she gathered her cloak around her, wicker basket under her arm, and walked with an easy grace to the veranda stone steps.

“Come Freya, time for a nice warm saucer of cream for you and for me, an herbal cup of Life-Everlasting.” Sara smiled, thinking, the soft white balsam petals, the sprig of life, once dried and crushed petals, make the perfect tea to warm the blood and chases away chills, fever, and bane.

Sara ascended the rickety steps to the stone veranda and pushed open the heavy oak door with a sigh. Another expenditure for new steps was something Sara did not want to contemplate at all.  She removed her velvet cloak, draped it over the Windsor style chair and placed her willow basket on the antique Oak table. Rubbing her fingers together she took her tea kettle, filled it with water from the tap, turned to the modern stove and turned on the burner. She quickly took a bottle of cream from the refrigerator, poured a small amount into a saucer and placed it on the kitchen floor, near the door for Freya.

Freya, with her tail still up in the air, sashay over to the saucer of cream, sniffed it, and delicately lapped it up.

“Oh, Freya, please get over yourself and stop playing the victim of a little innocent fun. Now, if you had agreed to learn English, I wouldn’t have to resort to these silly game challenges, just to relieve this insufferable boredom!”

Freya, having finished lapping up the last of the saucer of cream, licked her paws, and sashayed right out of the kitchen.

“Well, I’ll be!” Sara said, “Freya, you are certainly getting persnickety in your older years. I said I was sorry and you are no fun at all—so there!” Sara put her hands on her hips and slapped down her left foot on the oak flooring. She went to her pantry and pulled out two large sheets of parchment for her garden flowers and spread the parchment on her kitchen counter top.

From her basket, she carefully laid out each flower, the stone crop ruby-red Dragon’s Blood, the beautiful white and pink Moon flower, and the greenish white Night Blooming Jasmine. This flower, she separated from the others because it was quite toxic to animal and human alike. Every petal, stem, leaf, and root from the plant could be deadly.

Sara always used gloves when working with plants, herbs, and flowers.  She laid each grouping of flowers on the parchment to dry and then she would pound them in her old stone mortar. Each one had a purpose for good or ill, but mostly for her passion, The Lily Apothecary. Sara had turned the over-sized mud room next to the Keeping Parlor into a tiny shop for her guests to buy her aromatic lotions, creams, fragrances, and illuminations, as well as a few spell concoctions for the lovelorn.

Sara fixed her herbal tea with a double scoop of honey and two dollops of heavy cream. She sat down at the antique Oak table and with one elbow resting on the table she absent-mindedly swirled her tea with her left hand. She was a bit lonely, but soon she felt sure that guests would soon be wanting to rent her rooms now that she had turned Windsor Manor into a beautiful bed and breakfast. As she sat there mulling over the bills that needed to be paid and the work that still needed to be done, one of her garden herbal flowers floated up into the air and moved toward her.      “Okay, you old ghosts”, Sara quipped, “I appreciate your concern, but if you do that when I have guests, I will call “ghost-busters anonymous” and then you’ll be sorry!”

Instantly, the flower dropped to the table and a flurry of vibrations rocked the antique Oak table. “Okay, okay, you know I wouldn’t really do that, don’t you?” Begrudgingly, Sara grumbled, “At least I should have one talking ghost, but no, my ghosts are mute, not a word between them. I don’t even know how many and if they are male or female. I don’t even know who they are and why they are still haunting Windsor Manor.”

Unable to finish her tea, young Sara stood up, pushed her chair back, walked over to the sink and rinsed the tea-cup and saucer in the newly renovated kitchen that cost of fortune.  She locked the veranda door, turned out the antique light fixture and walked down the hall. As she reached the dining room she stopped, peeked into the darkened room and said, “Goodnight my Jacobite ghosts and don’t rock my world tonight because I am not in a good mood.” Sara turned to continue to the staircase leading to her private quarters and then abruptly turned back to the dinning, “Unless, of course, one of you would care to engage in a historical discussion about the uprising of 1745 and the battle of Culloden? Anyone? I didn’t think so. Goodnight!”

Despite all the debt and the troublesome ghosts, Sara was very proud of her inheritance and the work she had done to make it beautiful again.  As she approached the heavy three-hundred-years-old Oak front door she made sure it was locked and made her way up the staircase landing to the second floor with a quick look up to the third floor. She was a little nervous about the third floor. At the end of third floor hall was a locked door leading to a short staircase to the attic.

The attic was a place she hesitated to enter and even then a great fear made her heart beat rapidly and made her hair stand up on the back of her neck. Something was up there. Sara understood that the three hundred-years-old Manor, haunted by several ghosts, seemed friendly and lonely, mostly.

However, the ghost in the attic was anything but friendly. Fortunately, that ghost never left the attic. Several months ago, Sara put a spell on the attic door and several incantations later she found all the rattling and noisy sounds halted, mostly. Sara understood that the ghost was still there but a lot quieter and she hoped it stayed that way.

She turned left and walked down the long hallway pass four bedrooms, her study, and at her private quarters at the end of the hall, she opened the door and immediately began to relax. The beautiful antique English four-poster had come from England in 1680 before the original Windsor family moved to the Salmon Brook Settlement and built Windsor Manor.

She took off her shoes and walked into her private bathroom en-suite, a luxury she could not do without. After freshening up she hopped into bed and hoped that sleep would come. I hope I will be able to sleep soundly tonight, Sara thought, without the memories of so many past lives that slept in this bed and are still held in the mahogany wood that seep like a smoky cloud and descends over the bed and into my dreams.

Sara’s dreams were always the same. A journey to a long ago past of someone else’s life. She could never figure out if she was a part of it or an observer. It was so real. “Sometimes”, Sara whispered to no one in the room, “I do feel the presence of a man next to me and  his scent on my hair!  Who is this man who keeps invading my sleep?  Does he watch me when I undress or take a bath? Perhaps, I should try to reach him? I must have a spell for that somewhere in my Grimoire!”

Sara climbed into bed, hoping for a quiet night and a dreamless sleep. Freya, sat on the windowsill, her keen eyes catching any movement in the lush emerald green grass under the White Oak. Soon enough, the flowing, smoke white gown of the ghost in the Oak tree made her appearance. Freya watched as the ghost, swaying slowly back and forth, wringing her bone white hands, keened slowly.  Freya understood the ghost’s sad plight.