Authors: Heidi Wessman Kneale
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Romance, #fantasy, #short, #sweet, #scotland, #faery
As Good As Gold
Heidi Wessman Kneale
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
As Good As Gold
COPYRIGHT © 2007 by Heidi Kneale
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
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Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Faery Rosette Edition, 2014
Digital ISBN 978-1-62830-308-7
Previously published in The Enchanted Faery 2007
Published in the United States of America
For Their Ladyships,
Lady Sarah & Lady Amy.
Love is a beautiful thing.
Theft. That is what Daywen Athalia had come to. She closed her eyes to still the twitterings in her stomach. It had to be theft, or it would be a life of bitter loneliness.
Her sister Llannyn suffered that fate. She, who had once been bonny and full of laughter, drawing the attention of many, had descended into the darkness of her soul. She lurked about the crannies of the house, muttering to herself, snapping at Cook, snarling at any man. She spoke of unseelie tricks, of betrayals, always in generalities, never in specifics. She would be a spinster for the rest of her life.
It had frightened Daywen. It was not so much her sister she cared about, for she and Llannyn never did get along as children, but herself. The thought of spending the rest of her life in angry solitude frightened her more than any old gypsy woman with her curses and her dispensaries of fate.
That morning Goody Hubbard, who had leaned over the fence for a good chinwag with Cook, shared a tale of a man come to town. “MacEuros has gold aplenty, aye,” she gossiped. “They say it’s fey, but the few coins he tossed about yesty eve looked like God’s honest gold tae me.”
A rich man in Beltane. With gold.
Daywen saw an English half-crown once, one of the new milled ones, although from a distance. Would she know another gold coin if she saw it?
Only one way to find out--seek out the rich man. Neglecting her chores, Daywen set off that morning to find him before the juiciness of gossip dried in Cook’s ears.
And find him she did, or rather his horse. Such a fine horse saddled in front of the inn could only belong to a rich stranger. Daywen let out a sigh of relief. She had arrived just in time. As she lurked in the shadows of the buildings across the street, her common bodice and brown skirt camouflage enough, she set her mind to coming up with a plan.
What to do? Follow him out of town and waylay him like a highwayman? Follow him, wait for him to make camp and rob him then? Attempt to seduce him by womanly charms and... um...?
How did one steal gold?
Daywen was startled by the jingling of saddlebags as the hostler threw them across the back of a horse.
That sounded like coinage! Oh, surely it couldn’t be that easy.
Daywen picked her way across the muddy street. While the hostler’s back was turned, she snatched the saddlebags off the horse and ran.
“Hey!” a voice called behind her. Daywen did not spare a moment to look behind her. “Stop!” the voice called. “Thief!”
Was it the hostler who pursued her, or the stranger? If it was the stranger, she would have an advantage. She knew these streets. He did not.
She fled past white-plastered houses and older stonework buildings. She dodged down this alley and up that street, past horses, carts, people and puddles. Her arms ached, for the saddlebags were most heavy. They clinked noisily as she ran, no doubt acting as a bell to anyone who would recognize the sound.
Ducking in a doorway, she waited until the pursuit passed her, then doubled back.
When she could run no more, Daywen found a quiet spot next to a barrel behind a tavern. A dog came sniffing at her feet but she shooed it away. Her fingers fumbled at the buckle holding the bag closed, and she cursed as they slipped and she skinned a knuckle against the metal.
But her curses soon turned to a hiss of triumph as she freed the leather strap.
Inside she found several washed leather pouches, their necks knotted with leather laces. She lifted a bag and it clinked. Her heart beat faster as she worked the knots loose.
“Oh,” she breathed as her gaze fell upon twenty gold pieces. The whole world seemed to pass away, the sound of horses and wagons fading away, even the sound of a barking dog became distant as the glory of the gold sung to her.
“Pretty, pretty,” she found herself murmuring. Then shaking the daydreams away, she knotted the bag back up and lifted a few others out. Feeling the contents through the leather, she figured each bag held about twenty pieces. She began to loosen the second to check they were all gold, when a shout broke her attention.
“You!” It was the hostler. His bulk blocked the light from the larger street. His heavy finger pointed at her, and another shadow moved in behind him.
Daywen cried out. She snatched several of the bags and fled down the little road, leaving the saddlebags behind. Clutching her treasure to her chest, she ran and ran, and not even the stitch in her side slowed her down until she reached her home.
She flung open the back gate, but instead of retreating into the dubious safety of the house, she took a moment to think. Gusts of wind rustled leaves in trees and sent sheets, hung to bleach in the sun, flapping like ghosts.
She had stolen. And gold, at that. No doubt that hostler would not stop his pursuit. Had he traced her here, it would be a simple matter for him to convince her father to force her to return it.
No. She couldn’t. She would not end up like Llannyn.
As if skipping through the back yard had been a ruse to throw off her pursuers, she skirted the house and exited through the front gate into the lane. Then, her feet pounding the dust, she fled Beltane.
Into the woods and down the trails few men dared take, though plenty of women had trod these paths, she flew, her hundred tickets to freedom clutched to her chest.
The old gypsy wagon was easy to spot amid the trees. Romanies loved bright colors and gaudy designs. Daywen hastened up the three wooden steps and knocked on the door.
No answer. She knocked again.
A wave of weariness overcame her and she had to sit down. Spreading her skirts, she emptied the purses into them.
By daylight, the gold glinted brighter than in the darkness of town.
Lovely, lovely, it sang to her. She let the music lull her. It rustled through her hair and caressed her shoulders.
“So, ye have a hundred gold, do ye?”
The money’s music stopped and Daywen opened her eyes. She was not aware she had closed them.
Alishandra Orona emerged from the copse of trees at the edge of the clearing. She had the olive skin and dark glittering eyes of her Romani race, and wore the colourful skirts and scarves one would expect of a gypsy. That she loved gold was evident. Heavy hoops swung from her ears and her fingers were heavy with rings. Her neck, wrists and ankles were festooned with golden charms that tinkled as she moved.
She emerged into the sunlight, with a slow measured walk that reminded Daywen of dancing--not the stately, bouncy dances of figures and quadrilles that put villagers through their paces at festival times, but the languorous dances of tabletops in smoky taverns or out in these woods, forbidden dances, sensual dances.
Alishandra was a woman who understood desire.
Daywen rose to her feet, lifting her skirts so she would not lose a coin. As she felt the cool air about her naked ankles, her hands twitched in a desire to restore her modesty.
The gypsy woman dipped both long-fingered hands into the pooled gold and lifted it up. She inhaled deeply, then clutched it tight in her fingers. She tilted her head as if to listen, then laid her face on her closed fists.
“You can hear it too,” exclaimed Daywen.
“Aye.” Alishandra let the gold trickle back into Daywen’s skirts, but for one piece. “Gold’s song is most sweet. Now ye know why it is so desired.” She studied the piece between her thumb and forefinger. “This is not a mark I recognize.”
Alishandra weighed the piece in her hand.
Would the gypsy turn down her payment? She couldn’t!
Daywen’s words rushed out. “Gold is gold. You never said the hundred pieces had to be local currency.”
“Aye, that be true.” Alishandra bit the gold piece, leaving a faint dent. “This be real gold, and that be good enough for me.” She gave a nod at Daywen’s skirts. “Count me your hundred.”
So she did, to the last coin. When the old gypsy was satisfied, she took her payment into her own skirts and bid Daywen to wait by the wagon.
Alishandra soon emerged, her gold sequestered away. In her hands she bore a bag of fine purple cloth. “Here ye go, lass.”
Daywen accepted the bag and drew open the strings. Inside lay a figure of a faerie, seemingly of glass, but when she drew it out, it hummed a sweet music. Daywen nearly dropped it.
Alishandra explained: “This be the Enchanted Faerie, to aid ye in finding your one true love. She can only be given by my hand, and not taken by another. She will work her magic on ye. When ye have found your heart’s desire, ye must return her to me, for ill will fall upon ye ere you seek to retain her.”
Daywen hastily put the faerie back in the bag. “What would happen then?”
Alishandra picked at her teeth. “If ye be unlucky, bitterness and misery, a dark, unlovable soul.”
That sounded familiar... “And if I’m lucky?”
“Blessed death, to release you from your torment.”
Daywen’s hands began to shake. Doubt crept into her heart. Had Llannyn once possessed this Enchanted Faerie by ill means? Is that what had twisted her soul?
“Did, did my sister--”
“I don’t tell people anything but their own tales,” Alishandra interrupted with a wave of her glittering hand. “But I do tell ye what ye need to know. The man ye wish is in Beltane. Return ye to the town and ask the first man ye meet today to marry ye.”
“What?” replied Daywen, a little surprised. “Is it that simple?”
“It is only difficult if ye make it to be.”
Daywen searched her skirts for a pocket or a chatelaine loop for the faerie. Giving up, she tucked the bag into her bosom, patting it in secure.
“A word of caution,” Alishandra said before she retreated to her wagon. “Keep the faerie with ye always, and tell no one, for there are those who seek her magic, and not always for good.”
Daywen nodded, hands clasped over her heart and over the faerie.
The gypsy’s words put Daywen into a conundrum; which way to enter the town? She could go straight there, but that would pass the Tanner’s home, and she had no desire to run into Master Tanner’s awkward, buck-toothed son.
Home was on the other side of town. She could walk around the perimeter and slide in that way. While she debated her best route, she bounced the purple bag with the faerie in her hand. Only when her thoughts reached a dead end did she become conscious of its weight.
“Oh, this is ridiculous,” she snapped at herself. “If my love is meant to be, then it will happen. It can’t be any more obvious than the first man I meet today.” Her fingers pried at the mouth of the bag, drawing it open. She lifted the faerie, and at her touch, it burst forth in soothing sounds. How did its magic work? Was she to make a wish?
I want love more than anything, she thought, but a true love, a lasting love. No doubt there were plenty of men who’d give her a tumble for a night, or maybe several. But would they stand by her until the end?
For that was what Daywen wanted--a devoted husband, strong and true.
She slid the faerie back into her bag and stuffed it down her bodice. Clutching her hands together, she steeled herself with a, “What will be, will be,” and walked directly into town.
Lachlan the Blacksmith came out of his shop as she passed by. “Hey, lassie!” he called, wiping his sooty hands on his leather apron.
Daywen stopped abruptly. She turned and looked at him as a frightened deer would before it dashed away from the hunter’s arrow.
Daywen had known Lachlan her whole life. He was about ten years older, squat of form and paunchy around the middle. His hair had begun to thin, while his red beard had grown bushier. His forehead was always shiny and Daywen had never liked his hands with their short, stumpy fingers. And he was single.