…up to our neck in winter mud…

The last clinging leaves lost their tenacious grip as winter arrived. Soggy fungi dot the grasses, which, lush and green, are inclined to be on the squelchy side.We waited for winter to make an appearance through a long, balmy autumn, yearning for rain and cooler weather. Well it’s here with a vengeance …I’m wearing fingerless gloves toKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA write!

Gale force winds have lashed the landscape with driving rain, for two weeks and there appears to be no let up. I watched a tiny robin, huddled beneath the potato planter before being blown away …righting itself with difficulty it flew sideways before managing to take refuge in our huge old Bay Laurel. The flocks of birds have all found their way there and for once there’s no squabbling as they fluff themselves up into a puff-ball to keep warm.

I must say it’s great weather for planning and writing and with Silken Web released on an unsuspecting public, other works are taking shape. Post Yule there is always so much to think about for the coming season; at present it’s more about keeping warm.

Having established the Wicking beds, at least it’s easy to harvest winter salad greens and Brassica from the fast growing crop. A quick dash outside in wellie boots and wet weather gear, results in a wonderful gathering of soup veggies. Warm curry blends with coconut milk, warm the hands (wrapped around a mug) and the innards.

We struggled this year with our Yule bonfire and few arrived to share the feast in the freezing winds.

Moon tides, fires burning …winds blow cold across the land

Inner dreams and visions glowing …bringing warmth to cold, cold hands

Winter’s darkness now approaches  …moving closer on tiptoe

Go within to seek the silence …move in the cycles …ebb and flow.

raven on poleDavid’s been building a pond …it started as a small project! Slowly but surely it’s growing to become a small lake, surrounded with wonderful rusted sculptures that create a huge sundial; well it will when the sun shines again! Raven and Kookaburra have discovered they are wonderful to sit on to watch for tasty morsels, while others cling to the slender tree tops of the silver birches close to the pond.

Most of the pieces are assembled from bits of ancient farm machinery left over from the early 19th century.

As the cold continues we can only sit tight, plug the leaks that manage to seep in under the eaves and keep warm.

It is after all perfect weather for writing …if only I could feel my fingers! Here’s a small piece from Cloak of Magick Vol 1 …this series volumes are complete in themselves with tie-ins to both current series.

This first book is set in Cornwall, a place that has many memories for me. Padarn, however is a fictitious village but certainly bares a resemblance to some of the little villages that cling to the rocky cliffs and shoreline of the wild coast.

Chapter 1

…finding home…

Stir up the storm sprites

…dance on the wind

Follow the music to where Magick begins

Always remember, ‘with harm to none’

…then follow your dreams ’til they simply, ‘become’.

Padarn, the tiny Cornish village, slumbered in the green-tinged sea mist, stealthily creeping; weaving, up hills and cliff face to whitewashed doorsteps, tendrils seeking and then contracting as if to learn that all was as it should be.

            Nyla Dane stirred; a draft lifted the curtains but only the frosty mist that crackled against the panes in silvery patterns, reflected, in the icy darkness. Stillness and peace; so much so, she had to pause to remember where she was, feeling after a couple of days the full effects of jetlag and stress.

            Suddenly, briefly, the room lit up; car headlights she assumed, before they moved on plunging her back into darkness. Why a car should be this far down her lane way in the dead of night, who knew; there was only one house further on in the woods, according to the map.

            Fumbling at the light switch beside the bed; nothing happened. She realised the storm earlier must have cut power; that or the bulb was spent. Sitting up, she rubbed eyes, gritty after too many hours at her drawing board. Her back ached, due to the poor angle of the old chair in the studio and tiredness. She swore she’d find one to replace it, better suited to the long hours of sitting in one position at desk or easel, day after day.

            She felt groggy, disoriented. Somewhere by the bed, she’d seen a candle and matches; groping for them, she lit the candle. Its light brought instant life to the room. Long shadows stirred in the flicker and an almost human groan escaped from under the bedclothes. Throwing them back, she met the dark bug-eyed gaze and grinning face of her Belgian bulldog Frog, named for the obvious. Recalling the storm earlier that night, Frog, terrified of thunder had shot upstairs and under the bed, later to sneak beneath the quilt, curling at her feet while she slept. She couldn’t scold Frog, knowing herself all about fear, albeit not of storms. Frog, fearing admonishment rolled over to  reveal her pink and black speckled belly in a coy offering; large ears fell back, making her look bat-faced – a cutely grinning gargoyle, Nyla couldn’t resist her at the best of times.

            ‘Come on then,’ she said to Frog, rubbing the proffered, silky skinned belly, ‘outside for a quick run.’ Nyla was amazed that Molly had let Frog go so easily. Given to her by one of her lovers, Molly had no real affinity with animals. Frog was not put out by the arrival of Nyla, who gushed over her cuteness. They both had the best end of the deal, although Nyla hadn’t actually known Frog was a part of it. She’d arrived to find the little dog sitting on the doorstep dejectedly, a bow around her neck with a tag that read, ‘My name’s Frog and I’m yours now.’ Goodness knows what would have happened to Frog if Nyla had delayed her arrival, particularly as she’d considered a short visit to her Grandmother who lived in Glastonbury. She’d changed her mind only at the last minute, feeling positively hung-over; a combination of jet lag, after the long flight from Australia three days ago and hours of stress that led her to make the journey. She wouldn’t think of that now.

Stretching leaden limbs, she searched around with her feet for the slippers she knew were there, unless of course ‘The Frog’ had stolen them. As she scuffed around again with bare toes, she felt several brief darts of pain in her instep. Yelping, she admonished the dog but Frog was still on the bed, feigning sleep. Frog was not a morning person.

            Nyla thought of the spiders of her homeland and rubbing her foot, laughed at her own fears. ‘I’m in the Isles now,’ she said aloud, applying the phrase her friend Molly used to describe the British Isles. ‘there’re no deadly ones here.’ Frog’s response was a small wriggle of her body, hopeful that Nyla would forget the earlier statement of ‘outside’.

            Lifting her foot to the edge of the bed, she brought the candle closer to inspect the damage; tiny red bite marks were visible on the tender skin of her instep. She brought the other foot up rapidly, less it too should be attacked and rolling, she hung over the side of the bed, peering into the gloom. An audible squeak of surprise, at the invasion of candlelight, brought Frog to her feet and under the bed in a movement, elegant for such a short stocky creature.

Nyla caught a brief glimpse of something small and scruffy-looking, scampering off through the dust bunnies; she vowed to ‘get to’ later to clean. Frog’s excited yips echoed in the stillness as the creature disappeared through a small hole in the corner of the skirting. ‘…and I’ll get to you too,’ she said, rubbing her foot.

            Seeing the slippers she’d been searching for pushed up under the night-stand, she slipped into them, wincing at the piercing stab of pain the pressure brought on the bites. Nyla limped to the light switch, no power.

Swearing loudly, she vowed to check fuses and the solar power unit as soon as daylight made its appearance. Glancing at the clock, she saw it was only four-thirty; daylight was still hours away in the UK late autumn, and groaned. Wide awake now, cold and disgruntled, she made her way downstairs; candle held in a somewhat shaky hand, the flickering light drew caricature shadow images on the wall as she limped along.

‘Come on Frog,’ she called and Frog reluctantly obeyed, stopping to sniff the air before waddling awkwardly after Nyla. The resulting shadow play on the wall brought a grin to Nyla’s tired face.

Slender and willowy; boyish her mother called her, when comparing her own Rubenesque figure to Nyla’s slender frame. She was a little underweight after the stress of the past months; years even. At 29 Nyla had lived a lifetime of someone much older and was luckily, not only a survivor but also a person who learnt from what life handed out.

This time, after a number of strange and disturbing experiences mostly due to a poor choice in men she’d decided to make a fresh start in a country she loved but only rarely visited. When her Grandmother had held her fifty-ninth birthday gathering, sending her a ticket to come to the celebrations, Nyla had fallen head over heels in love with ‘The Isles’.

She’d questioned her grandmother then, ‘Why 69 and not 70?’

‘Well,’ Rose had replied, ‘it’s the birthday before a new decade begins that we start worrying about it, so why not celebrate the year before and then there’s no stress when the new decade comes around.’

Nyla had laughed at her grandma’s quirky logic as the truth hit home; now at 29, she was already worrying about turning 30. She stopped at the foot of the stairs, realising she’d laughed out loud, almost tripping over Frog who’d stopped suddenly; her sharp bark echoed in the empty, dark hallway.

Grinning to herself, she found her way to the kitchen and the oil lamp, suspended above the table. The friendly, brightly painted kitchen sprung to life and she congratulated herself for having the foresight to bring a large basket of wood in for ‘The Beast’; she’d christened the huge fuel stove at first sight. It lurked, bright red and shiny in a hearth big enough to house it, plus an equally red, leather chair, softened by warmth and its previous owner Molly’s, curvy frame. It yelled ‘sit here’; she promised herself that evening she would.

Opening the valves and chimney damper, caused The Beast to throb and the kettle to hum to life. Nyla sighed with tiredness but also relief as the feeling of coming home flooded her senses.

It had been a long journey and she’d made a huge decision, making a bid for freedom, from a city that no longer had the Magick it once held. After her friend Molly, deciding to move to Australia, put her little cottage on the market, craving the sunshine of a more temperate climate, Nyla had taken immediate action. They’d been to school and uni together all those years ago and Nyla had been devastated when Molly chose to return to the UK to further her studies and to write her thesis on the use of psychotropic plants in ancient cultures.

After selling an inordinate amount of her artwork at her last show, Nyla accepted a commission to paint pieces for a show right here in the Cornwall countryside. With book rights to follow, she would be working with a renowned Cornish poet and lyricist Gerry Mall. This ‘coincidence’ had astounded her and she’d encouraged Molly to stay. They could catch up with the missing years between and enjoy each other’s company but Molly refused adamantly and so Nyla made her an offer for the cottage, which, she’d snapped up instantly.

‘I’m so cold,’ Molly had moaned, ‘I think the very marrow in my bones is snap frozen; it’s not natural.’

Nyla had offered Molly her little garden flat in the suburbs of Melbourne, now on the market but Molly, thanking her, had declined. ‘No still too cold in winter. I need to find warmth and humidity great enough to fry my brains.’

They’d always joked that Molly’s naturally olive complexion, when compared with Nyla’s alabaster skin, meant they’d been swapped at birth; Nyla loved a cool climate as much as Molly craved heat.

Nyla had suggested the Byron Bay area. Molly squealed with delight at the prospect of rolling breakers on sandy beaches, while ignoring warnings of sharks, jellyfish, leeches, spiders, sand flies, mosquitoes and snakes, with a dismissive wave of her hand. Molly had always been the adventurous one and the alternative, ‘green’ community around the region would suit her down to the ground.

Merely three weeks later, Molly arrived in Australia, just as Nyla touched down in Bristol. Nyla meandered her way in the classic, old VW; Molly had left at the airport as part of the deal, to the little coastal town of Padarn.

In turn, Molly had scored a one-off opportunity for such a young Graduate Professor, to teach plant anthropology at Lismore Uni, close to the area Nyla had suggested.

Sad at not being able to catch up with Molly in Australia before leaving, Nyla wondered if their planes had passed in the sky. Now she contented herself with reading a diary left for her and colourful sticky-notes throughout, instructing her on the care of the little dog Frog, foibles of the plumbing, ‘The Beast’ and richly painted word-portraits of the locals and the mysterious, ‘dark man of the woods’; a legend, Molly wrote she thought Nyla would enjoy delving into for her work.

Nyla was legendary for her depictions of landscapes that appeared simply that, until one looked deeper to find them alive with small creatures from fantasy realms. As a kid at school, she’d regaled the other children with tales of fantasy and faerie folk.

She wondered then as her thoughts wandered, why she hadn’t heard from her friend yet. With no mobile signal available, she was reliant on a landline not yet reconnected but Molly would be aware of that. Shivering, a sudden chill raised the hairs at the nape of her neck. She wondered who would let her use their phone but then, the post office would be bound to have a public one.

Bringing herself back to the moment Nyla yawned, stretching long arms she called to Frog, who was exploring behind the chair on the hearth for spidery morsels, to come for the promised run before breakfast. Frog gave an audible groan at the prospect, before following her mistress to the back door. It was like stepping into an icy wall, so cold Nyla almost regretted her decision to leave her warm homeland.

Little hairs on her arms rose as showers of goosebumps covered them. Pulling down the sleeves of the long t-shirt she wore to sleep, she reached for an old oilskin left on a hook inside the mudroom, together with a pair of ancient wellies, a hat and gloves. Grateful; she slipped into them, feeling the weight of the oilskin bring warmth to her shivering limbs.

‘I might have to buy you a coat,’ she said to Frog who was shivering in the crisp air dejectedly. ‘Come on, off you go. The sooner you do what you need to, the sooner we’ll get brekkie.’ Nyla stood quietly while Frog ran out into the wet and back in a flash, to wait at the door impatiently.

Quiet; but for the sounds of dripping trees and gutters, gushing water in the down pipes and from the brook not far away behind the house; she hurried back inside. Rubbing Frog down with an old towel, she realised how remote the cottage actually was, although the village was a mere three miles away, in that moment it seemed like a hundred. She’d looked forward to exploring the woods and fields around the cottage and Molly’s garden too; sure it would be spectacular, given her knowledge of plants. Her own love of same had led her to make a beautiful garden at the little flat in Melbourne she thought with a pang, wondering if the next owner would love it as she had. If she missed anything most, it was her garden studio, a converted shed, light and airy.

Perhaps a bike ride to the village for stores would lift her spirits; she’d noticed a rather lovely ‘girly bike’ in the shed but in this freezing wet mist, it would probably have to be the car, at least until she knew her way around. Her stocks were low, only having brought a few food essentials on the way in. Pausing a moment longer, she could smell wood smoke on the damp air and the rich aroma of leaf mulch rose from under foot, further lifting her mood from one of familiar sadness.

Moving back into the now warm, inviting kitchen, Nyla poked the embers, adding sweet-smelling, apple wood that lifted the crackle to a roaring flame. Placing a heavy skillet on to heat with a little oil, she beat eggs and chopped a few herbs for a breakfast omelette.

With familiar tasks like slicing bread for toast and putting a noisy percolator of coffee on to bubble the room soon filled with sound, warmth and homely odours. She put kibble down for the little dog, much to Frogs’ disgust as she eyed the plate of egg and toast, sniffing the air in appreciation.

‘I’m watching your figure for you,’ Nyla grinned, someone’s got too or you’d be as round as a piglet. Frog trotted to her bowl, eating delicately, her backed turned to Nyla as if snubbing her for the slight to her rounded little belly.

Nyla made herself comfortable on the lovely old, squishy leather chair by the stove, placed so that toes could be warmed on the hearth, large enough to curl up in, which she did sighing contentedly.

Then her feet hit the leather and she yelped as her instep made contact. A characteristic little frown wrinkled the skin between her eyebrows; she gingerly removed her sock to inspect what was now a red and very swollen instep.

‘Drat,’ Frog raised her head to look at her. ‘That really hurts.’ The wound was already looking evilly infected and she’d yet to unpack antiseptic creams or dressings; in fact she couldn’t remember where she’d put them.

Putting her breakfast aside, she hobbled to the bathroom to see if Molly had left anything of use in the cabinet. Nothing; using initiative she made a cold compress with a pack of frozen peas and a tea towel, wincing again at the pain. At least she’d never heard of rabies in mice, she chuckled despite the pain, deciding to keep a positive attitude. Later, she’d drive to the pharmacy for some advice; she might need some antibiotics. Although loath to use anything chemical, she knew there were times when it was appropriate.

Sitting down again, she finished her breakfast, ready to get on with the day; it would take time to acclimatise to the morning darkness. Her foot throbbed sharply and then subsided, the ice doing its work.

Standing to take her plate to the sink, her hand slid over the chair between armrest and seat, encountering something that rustled at her touch. She pulled out a piece of crumpled paper, another note from Molly, she imagined. Stuffing it in her pocket to read later, she went about her day.


Blessings from Beyond the Gate …Penny



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