2016 Reissue Cover

Witch's Journey Cover

When Jinissa uses magic to save a child from a bad fall, she reveals herself as both a Calavrian witch and a spy in the land of Lendiil. In a place where magic is regarded as evil and its practicers as hopelessly corrupt, witchcraft is a capital crime. Jinny is sentenced to torture and death.

Before the sentence can be carried out, however, a delegate from the king arrives to announce that the king wants to question the witch himself. Lord Stephan has been sent to fetch the witch. A long trip over the mountains gives Jinny and Stephan time to get to know each other better. In the face of all the things that should keep them apart, including Stephan's deep and well-founded hatred for her people, they begin to learn the truth about each other and fall in love.

Stephan is an honorable man, loyal to his king, and his feelings for Jinny will cause only conflict. And Jinny, for her part, is determined to escape during the trip, because she's sworn to keep her people's secrets, even though her background ensures that she will never be welcome back in her own country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witch's Journey

ImaJinn Books
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
ISBN: 1-893896-90-0 ; Formats: ebook, trade paperback
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

"No," Flame insisted. "Not see. Do nothing."

"But it's a child," Jinissa protested, listening to the terrified moaning and shrieking from off to her left.

The fire elemental was right, of course. She shouldn't look. She couldn't afford to do anything. One of the basic rules for someone in her position: don't give yourself away, don't let them know what you are. Public use of her power would tell everyone in the town they had a Calavrian witch in their midst. She couldn't afford any temptation to a revealing display.

She tried to pretend she hadn't heard the scream, going about her business of carrying laundry to the wash-house. But paying no attention to the fuss would also draw suspicion. She turned to see what caused the commotion. A child, a small boy, maybe six or seven years old, hung on a high branch of a pine tree, at least thirty feet above the ground. Along the trunk of the tree, knots and smaller branches provided foot- and handholds enough to let him climb that high. But he had settled on a longer limb, and it was now cracking under him. A panicked mother stood directly below him and screamed. Neighbors held up unhelpful arms. A couple began to scale the tree themselves.

Flame, still wrapped around her finger in the form of a lightning-shaped ring, quivered and hissed at her. "Not good, looking. Shouldn't look. Will think."

They wouldn't get up fast enough to grab the child. And even if the persons on the ground could catch him before he met the hard ground, another branch ten feet below him might cause considerable injury.

"Not safe," Flame insisted. "No looking. No thinking. Do nothing. Will hurt you."

Flame was right. She owed nothing to these people, would only endanger herself if she reacted. A ripping crack tore the air as the branch canted even further downward, and the child scrabbled to hold on. The people gathered beneath gasped, while the mother shrieked and begged for help. Jinny bit her lip and ran her hands into her hair. The child was doomed, to serious injury, if not death. She could do nothing about it. She dared not do anything about it.

"Do nothing," Flame agreed. She always wondered how the elemental managed to read her mind so accurately.

Even if she did rescue the child, that good deed would weigh nothing against the heinous accusation against her. Witchcraft was feared and reviled in this land, more than the grossest of other perversions and sins. The child's own life might be forfeit, having been saved only by the exercise of a power these people saw as something dangerous and demonic. In their warped thinking, he wouldn't deserve a life preserved by the use of an accursed power.

"Don't look!" Flame's words hissed and crackled. "Too soft, you."

Over the shrill cries of the adults on the ground, she heard the child's whimper and the clawing of small fingers. She could picture the upcoming scene in her head: the small body sliding off the hanging branch, tumbling down, knocking against other limbs on the way, then possibly caught or possibly not by people on the ground. She could hear the screams, almost smell the blood. Jinissa covered her ears and tried to look away.

"Good," Flame agreed. "Close eyes. Close ears."

A louder cracking sound from the branch drew even more yells and moans from everyone present. The child shrieked as the branch shook him off. The boy's blue eyes looked around wildly, and for a moment it seemed that he met her eyes with a pleading glance. Not possible, of course. He couldn't know she had any help to give him.

But she couldn't ignore the eyes, either.

"No!" It was more crackle than word.

She ignored Flame's protest. It was stupid, it was dangerous, it might well be futile. She couldn't watch the boy die right in front of her when she might do something about it.

Jinny held out a hand, focused her mind on drawing the forces of air together around the falling child, calling the breezes and herding them into the path she desired. Wind swirled around the boy. Flame moaned. Wind sang in joy, sailing at her command as it formed a cushion to slow the child's descent and protect him from knocking against other branches on the way down. She gathered more and more of the air, until she had enough of it, then held it in place while the boy floated downward, avoiding obstacles in the way, and came within reach of the many upheld arms. Sudden cries of "magic" and "witchcraft" mingled with the gasps and sobbing relief, alerting her to the danger she was in.

Flame writhed around her finger. "Go," it insisted. "Fast."

Once the boy was in his parent's grasp, she let go the wind cushion, whirled and ran. Too late, though. Before she'd gone far, footsteps sounded behind her, gaining on her, and then hands fell, hooking her clothes, wrapping around an arm and an ankle, bringing her to the ground. She hit hard. Breath whooshed out of her lungs. Flame jerked on her finger. Sudden, sharp pain flashed through her head, her vision fogged. Even the yells and shouts faded out moments later, as she sank into darkness.

 

Chapter 2

A cool, dank draft blew over her, and one hip dug uncomfortably into something hard. Her head throbbed. Even with her eyes open, darkness pressed against her. For a panicked moment she thought she was blind, until she turned her head and noted the narrow slivers of light leaking around what must be a door. Memory dribbled back slowly: the child falling, her foolish impulse to save him, the mob catching up with her.

Jinissa tried to roll over to relieve the pressure of her hip on the ungiving surface and found it unexpectedly difficult. Her hands wouldn't go where she needed them to be. A bit of struggling made her realize they were bound tightly together at the wrist. Her ankles were likewise drawn together and held there by a rough rope binding. As her eyes adjusted to the low light, she made out more of her present quarters. It was a tiny, rectangular room, with the door on one of the long sides and the rough wood cot she lay on taking up the entire wall opposite it. A narrow foot space ran alongside the cot. The walls were stone on two sides and wood on the other two, all solid, with no openings save the door and a few cracks where boards met less than perfectly. She wouldn't suffocate, but the air wasn't fresh either.

Flame could take care of the ropes in short order. She reached for fire with her mind and met emptiness. Nothing. No hint of the elemental, or any other, anywhere in the vicinity. No response at all. She crooked her body enough to get a view of her hands. No lightning squiggle ring encircled her finger. Her chin rubbed against something brittle and dry, bound snugly to her throat by an encircling leather strap. Witchbane.

That explained the absence of flame and the lethargy which made every movement an effort. She tried to twist her neck and shake it loose, with no success.

Unable to do much beyond wiggle a bit, and realizing that the witchbane would make her wear out all the quicker, Jinny lay still and waited to see who would come or what would unfold. Nothing happened. No one came to visit or to bring food, or water, or word of her fate. Eventually she dozed again. She woke and tried to move a bit in the constraints of her bonds, then tried to loosen them somewhat. The ropes refused to yield even a bit of slack. She accomplished nothing but to rub skin off her wrists and ankles.

After a long time, someone did come in and bring a bucket of water, which he set down in a corner of the cell, then left again. She tried to call to him to stay and threw questions at him as he left. "What's happening? What are you going to do with me?"

He ignored her completely, leaving and locking the door behind him with no comment. The water was welcome, though she had to squirm and hop her way over to it, then lap it up with her tongue like an animal at a stream.

Time passed. She dozed and woke, drank more of the water periodically and worked at her bonds. Rumbles from her empty stomach told her it had been a long time since her last meal. No one brought food.

The passage of a day was marked by a slight increase of light inside her cell and the subsequent darkening. Jinissa berated herself at least once an hour for her stupidity in saving the child and exposing herself. She was every bit as foolish and incompetent as the ElderCouncil had feared she was. The weakening of her body from the effects of the witch-bane and lack of food brought weakening of her spirit as well. A couple of times a few hot tears leaked from her eyes and trickled down her temples. What would happen to her now? She supposed the best she could hope for was a quick, easy death. Hanging or beheading. Not fire, Powers please, anything but fire.

Just the thought of fire kindled a burst of energy that had her struggling to free her hands. It didn't work, but did start her thinking of other opportunities she might get to try an escape or even ways to make opportunities. She ran a variety of scenes through her head. If they did try to burn her, perhaps she could bend enough to let the flames consume the witch-bane first and hope that she could recover enough strength in the few minutes she would have after that. . .

She dozed and woke several more times before anything occurred.

She was asleep again but roused quickly when the door opened once more to admit several people. As a group they came and took hold of her arms and dragged her roughly to her feet.

"Come on, witch," one man said as they pulled her toward the door, heedless of her difficulty walking with bound ankles. "There's business to attend to."

She squinted as the light assaulted her dark-adapted eyes. Several minutes passed before she could see well enough to sort out the people in the room. Four men and two women. She recognized all but one of them. She knew them reasonably well after six months of living in the same town and interacting with some on a daily basis. They'd been reserved but not unfriendly before, accepting her as a stranger, with reservations. There was nothing but hostility now. Even from the father of the child she'd saved. Given what she knew of their attitude toward her kind, she could have expected nothing else.

The stranger, a short, stout man with a red face and bad teeth, was no better. He glared at her as the others pulled her forward. "This is the witch?" he asked the others. "She doesn't look like much."

"Don't be fooled," the boy's father answered. "She put a curse on my boy, Sam. Made him think he could fly. Damn near killed him. Witch's trick if I ever heard of one."

Jinissa tried to jerk herself loose from their hold, but at least four persons held onto her and she couldn't shake off all of them.

"We'll put a stop to that nonsense," the newcomer said. "I see you've used witchbane to contain her, but I've got something better." He opened a cloth sack and withdrew a circlet of metal from within. Fixed in the center of the band was an iron disk, engraved with. . . Jinissa sucked in a sharp breath when she got a look at the design. She tried to back away when the man advanced on her, holding the band, his intent to fasten it around her neck all too clear. But the others held her, halting her retreat, and preventing her from wiggling clear of it. Despite her desperate efforts to evade it, the circlet was brought to her neck and the disk pressed against her throat. Only when it was touching her skin did they remove the other strap holding the herb in place.

The metal burned faintly where it touched her skin. The sigil of the witch-bane, cut into both sides of the disk, produced an uncomfortable tingle. She made one last desperate effort to jerk her arms and head loose from their grasp enough to use her power, but she heard the tiny click of a lock mechanism closing. It sounded like a death-knell.

At least the sigil wouldn't have the same sapping effect on her energy as the herb itself had. But it would be just as effective in preventing her from using magic and far harder to get off.

The stranger turned a mocking smile on her. "Not so feisty, now, eh, witch?"

Her own rasping breath sounded unbearably loud in her ears. The skin of her throat prickled where the disk lay against it, but she wouldn't give them the satisfaction of seeing her rub or scratch it.

"What now, magistrate?" one of the townspeople asked the newcomer.

"A trial, of course," the magistrate answered. "Summon the witnesses."

A woman and man left the building, to go round up the rest of the town, it turned out. People arrived quickly, pressing into the small area that served as the public meeting room. Jinny was dragged to a side wall and held up against it. The magistrate seated himself in the only chair in the room, behind the only other piece of furniture, a rickety table. When the crowd filled the room and flowed out the door, he pounded on the table with a heavy wood seal and yelled loudly for order.

"The charge against this woman, Jinissa Var-Ton as she was formerly known, Jinissa Calavrian as she will now be called, is that of being a witch, a traitor and a spy for the Calavrians. Who accuses?"

A number of people stepped forward to offer their accusations. The incident of her saving the child was presented, although several people agreed that they'd seen her making odd movements toward the boy before he climbed the tree. Consensus soon grew that she'd ensorcelled the child into going up the tree in the first place so that he'd be injured or killed. Then other incidents suddenly occurred to people. Animals had died soon after she passed by, objects disappeared, people took sick following visits from her.

None of it true, but the more the stories were repeated, the more they were believed. When all had finally had their say, the magistrate stood and faced her.

"You've heard the accusations made against you, Mistress Jinissa Calavrian. Have you anything to say for yourself?"

Jinny thought of all the things she'd like to say. She could remind the Thompkins family of the help she'd given them with harvesting, the Martins, of all the extra cooking she'd done for them when the mother of the family took ill, and old Halwyn, of the salve she'd offered to ease his arthritis. She could make all the logical arguments about how ridiculous it would be for her to do something so stupidly revealing as ensorceling the child. But these people were beyond logic. They thought with their prejudices and looked no further. "There is nothing to say," she answered quietly, determined to preserve the only thing remaining to her, her dignity, in the face of their furor.

"The penalty for the treachery of spying for the Calavrians is death," the magistrate proclaimed.

She sucked in her breath, but allowed nothing to show on her face. She'd known it was so.

A few folks in the crowd yelled, "Burn the witch," and others took up the cry. The magistrate allowed it to go on for a few minutes, then held up an arm.

He shook his head. "I regret to tell you," he said to the crowd, "that king's law no longer permits execution by fire. The witch must be sentenced to hang."

The crowd murmured its regret.

"But," the magistrate added, "there's no proscription on the penalties that may be imposed prior to execution. Therefore I proclaim that, as an example to the community and a warning to all, prior to execution by hanging for the charge of treachery to the people of Lendiil, the prisoner Mistress Jinissa Calavrian receive thirty lashes as penalty for the charge of spying and be branded with the sign of the witch in penalty for witchcraft. Thus it shall be done in the name of our liege, King Randell of Lendiil."

A wave of cold shock poured over her, freezing her for several moments, followed by the worst fear she'd ever felt in her life. The sentence of hanging didn't surprise her. She'd do anything in her power to avoid it, but it didn't hold any terror for her. What would come before did.

She barely heard the magistrate add that the sentences for spying and witchcraft would be carried out at midday the following day, with execution to follow a day later. The buzzing in her ears drowned out all else until the exploding lights at the borders of her vision expanded and swallowed her up again.

When she woke, she lay once again on the hard wood bench in the tiny cell. The lack of light suggested that several hours had passed and it was night. She wished she could sink back into the faint but sleep wouldn't come. Instead her thoughts churned with dread of what would happen. She tried to concentrate on concocting plans to escape, or failing that, to force them to kill her quickly. No good ideas presented themselves, but mulling those possibilities did provide the only acceptable place to let her mind roam.

Eventually she dozed again but roused when someone showed up with another bucket of water in the morning. The next few hours were the longest of her life. The metal disk at her throat created an itchy burn that continued to be uncomfortable. Worse, it drained both the power and the spirit from her.

When they came for her, she tried to be calm and dignified. She'd considered trying to beg and plead for mercy but decided it would avail nothing but to give the gathered crowd yet more satisfaction. Icy disdain would be her course. Four men showed up to escort her from the cell. They untied her ankles, letting her move more freely, before half-dragging her out of the cell. If she got any opportunity at all to wiggle free of her escort and run, she would take it.

As they led her out of the building, someone kept a hand on her at all times, giving her no opportunity to run. When she saw the whipping post waiting for her in front of the building, though, she almost collapsed involuntarily. She had to remind herself to keep her head up and not let the tears go. When both her arms were freed momentarily while they prepared to chain her wrists, she ducked quickly and tried to work her way between two of the men. It availed nothing, however. One of the men dove at her and snagged her dress. The fabric tore as she tried to rip herself away, but he held on until he got help from the others. Moments later metal cuffs circled her wrists and they were drawn up and over her head, pulling her body closer to the post.

The magistrate stood behind her and intoned a speech about the wickedness of the Calavrians, the danger of spying, the wonderful wisdom of the king, and the lesson that the young people of the town should be taking from this display.

With her face pressed to the post, she no longer worried about anyone seeing the tears running down her cheeks. A sharp, hard tug on the back of her dress tore the fabric. Breeze blew over the cringing flesh of her bared back. Jinny prayed for help, for release, for strength to bear what couldn't be avoided. The crowd cheered but she refused to look at what they were excited about. She heard the rustle of the whip being drawn back and braced herself for the first cut.

 

Chapter 3

A different commotion broke out before the lash could fall. Through the haze of terror and anticipation, she heard the clop of a horse's hooves approaching rapidly. The newcomer didn't hesitate but rode right up to the gathered spectators and forced his way through. The crowd moved aside, making way for the horse and rider.

"What's going on here?" a deep, resonant voice demanded. "Is this the witch you captured?"

Jinny strained to look up at him. From her angle she could see only the back of his head, which featured a mane of long, wildly disordered black hair. He was a big man, sitting easily and confidently on an enormous dark horse. A voluminous cloak enveloped him completely except where he'd thrown back the hood and pushed the fabric up his arms to leave his hands free.

Several people, including the magistrate and two of the town elders, hurried forward. She couldn't tell if he was actually known to them or if they just paid respect to the authority he carried so aggressively, until she heard a couple of them address him as Lord Stephan.

"It is the witch, milord," the magistrate said.

The man turned briefly to face her. Jinny got a quick glimpse of a definite and vivid face, with features cut in hard planes and sharp angles. Surprisingly young-in years, anyway. Not in experience. Black eyes showed no hint of softness or mercy.

"Flogging to death is not an approved method of execution."

"No, of course not, milord," the magistrate said. "It's merely a preliminary and the penalty for spying, rather than witchcraft. We felt it would be instructive for the youth of the town to see for themselves the price of defying the king's law."

"Indeed," the man answered. "So it might be. But I cannot permit it."

"Milord!" the magistrate protested. "Trial was held in accordance with the king's dictates. The punishment is harsh, but it is within guidelines."

"No doubt," the lord said. "But the king's direct order takes precedence. He wishes to question the witch himself. I'm sent to bring her to him, with all haste. Therefore I request your claims be suspended in favor of the king's. And since we must leave quickly to reach the pass before the snows come, I must have her in condition to travel. This punishment, well-deserved though I'm sure it is, must be held for some later time."

Jinny's befogged brain, driven almost beyond her ability to cope, registered that this was a reprieve. Had her wrists not been held so firmly, she'd have slipped to her knees as the relief made every muscle in her body go slack.

"Release her and take her back to wherever you've been holding her. Make sure she's fed, both tonight and in the morning. We leave with first light, and I want no delays. She'll need a heavy cloak and boots."

They obeyed him with only minimal murmuring, though she heard sounds of disappointment from the crowd. When her wrists were lowered, she had trouble standing. Her legs didn't seem able to support her weight. The men who'd escorted her out to the post half-dragged her back inside. Jinny clutched her torn dress around her when it started to slip off her shoulders.

"Find her another dress, too," the man directed.

Jinny looked up at him again, meeting his gaze. Hostility radiated from the most extraordinary and compelling set of features she'd ever seen. He wasn't handsome, not even close, but handsome would be far too weak a word anyway. The man had the kind of presence you simply couldn't look away from. Black brows slashed violent arcs over intense black eyes dominating a pale-skinned face. A wide mouth pressed into a solemn, straight line below a stark, jutting nose. He might have saved her from a horrible punishment, but it wasn't done from kindness or compassion. She could almost feel the intensity of his hatred when he looked at her.

He looked away to the gathered crowd and addressed them. "The king also orders that you look to the fortification of your town and prepare weapons. There are rumors of war to the east of us. The likelihood of it coming here is small, but it's best to be ready."

He abruptly turned his horse away and scanned the buildings around him. Her captors pulled Jinny into the jail building and returned her to the tiny cell. Some time later a woman was admitted to the cell. She set the tray she bore on the floor, not gently, and left without a word.

They hadn't retied her hands, for which Jinny was grateful, as it meant she could eat without having to stick her head right down into the bowl. After two or more days with little food, the bowl of stew was the most appetizing thing she'd smelled in a long time. She ate every bite and used the hunk of rough bread to sop up the last bits of juice clinging to the sides of the bowl.

The relief and food combined to make her fall asleep rapidly. She woke in darkness, with rough hands shaking her. "Get a move on," a woman's voice ordered, not kindly. "You've got to eat and change and the lord will be ready to go shortly. Won't do to keep him waiting. He hates your kind fierce enough as it is. Don't want to make him angry by being late. Food's down there." She pointed to the floor. "Put this on when you're done."

Jinny ate the breakfast of corn porridge and pork strips with just as much enthusiasm as she'd downed the previous evening's dinner. The dress they'd left her was made of rough sacking material, as unattractive and uncomfortable a garment as they could possibly have provided. But it covered her decently and was warmer than the torn one anyway.

She'd just cinched the rope belt around her waist when the door opened again to admit another party of several large men to escort her out. The lord wasn't in the outer room. Her escorts pushed her into a chair and someone rammed a pair of battered leather boots onto her feet. They only sort of fit, but she saw no use in complaining about pinched toes and heels that would slide when she walked. One of the men ordered her to stand, then swirled a large, rough cloak around her shoulders. A softer, fur lining made it surprisingly comfortable and quite warm.

The outer door opened and Lord Stephan entered with the magistrate. It was still mostly dark outside, but she could hear the howling of a strong wind. The nobleman seemed to bring some of the wildness of the weather into the room with him. He looked around, nodded when he saw her in cloak and boots, pulled a rope from somewhere below his own voluminous wrap and tossed it to one of her captors.

"Bind her wrists," he ordered.

The man nearest her caught the rope and wound it around her wrists, pulling it tight enough to make her wince, since the skin was still abraded and tender from earlier attempts to free herself. She swallowed her protest, and not just because it would be a waste of energy. Something about the way the lord looked at her brought out a fierce pride, a desire to hide all weakness and stand as straight and tall as she could. Even stretched to her full height she would barely reach his shoulder.

"Bring her outside."

Lord Stephan turned and left again, confident they would follow. Three horses pawed the ground impatiently just outside. Two bore large packs strung over each side; the third was the horse he'd ridden the previous day. A scabbard hung over the back end of the saddle. A large red jewel set into the sword's carved handle glinted when the first rays of sunlight hit it.

Wind blew Jinny's hair into her face and whipped the edges of the cloak around her body. The lack of another available horse disturbed her, especially when the man vaulted onto the first one, took another length of rope, attached one end to his saddle and tossed the other end to one of her captors, saying, "Attach that to the ropes on her wrists. Good, solid knots."

They tied the rope to the one already circling her wrists. The magistrate walked over to the nobleman's horse and exchanged a few words with him, so low she couldn't hear them. But she saw him hand something to the lord, something small enough to fit in the palm of the hand without being visible. The key to unfasten the band around her neck, she presumed. It was pushed into an inside pocket of his cloak.

"Let's go," Lord Stephan said, guiding his horse into the center of the road. The rope stretched and then jerked at her wrists, forcing her to move along with him. Jinissa's stomach clenched with the realization that he expected her to walk. How far did they have to go? He'd talked about a mountain pass being closed by snow; the mountains were many miles to the west, barely visible in the distance on the clearest of days.

She started to walk, head down to keep the hair from blowing into her eyes. The poorly fitting boots made her keep a close watch on the road to avoid stumbling on ruts or holes. People lined the streets, watching them go, but most were silent. A couple of handfuls of dirt were thrown her way and one even hit her shoulder, but a hard glance from Lord Stephan put a stop to it.

He kept the horse to a pace that didn't push her too hard. Despite her situation, Jinissa heaved a sigh of relief on leaving the town. She'd lived there for the last six months but had never gotten any friendly treatment from the natives. They hadn't known till the end that she was a Calavrian witch; just being a stranger was reason enough for their coolness. She'd probably just confirmed all their suspicions. She left the town and its inhabitants behind with no regrets but considerable fear for the future.

The walking wasn't bad at first, not too fast. A refreshing wind blew her cloak around, helping to clean from her nostrils the lingering smell of days in the dank, smelly cell. By holding onto the rope she was able to keep it from tugging and rubbing on her wrists. The road grew rougher as they moved away from the town but remained level.

Trees gathered more densely by the sides of the road, broken by a few cleared patches or plowed garden areas. The farther they traveled, the fewer signs of settlement she saw. They passed an occasional house, a few goats or cows chewing lazily in a fenced pasture, and once a woman working in a garden who stood up to stare at them as they went by, but didn't wave or shout a greeting.

Jinny couldn't help but wonder what waited at the end of the journey. The king wanted information from her. That surprised her. What could she know that might interest the king? Then she thought of a few things: the centers of power in Calavria, the condition of the armies, where they were stationed, what kind of fortifications they had. Not that she knew all those things, but she had some facts. She wouldn't give them to him, and he'd have to try to force it from her. And he couldn't know what she might have learned of his country; what she might have passed on to her own people about its weaknesses. Certainly he'd want to know that. How resilient could she be to torture? The thought of it terrified her, but she'd given an oath to her country not to reveal any of its secrets. She would no doubt be sentenced to death, anyway. The best plan might be to look for a way to anger everyone enough to earn a rapid execution.

Would it make any difference if she told the king who her mother was? Could she tell him? She been warned to tell no one in her own country, but here it would matter little. Despite her parentage, she had no hostage value or any political capital to trade. Which meant it would probably avail her little to reveal it.

She would have to search for a way to escape. Preferably early in the journey when they weren't too far from what passed for civilization in this land. Having lived in a town or a protected enclosure all her life, Jinny had no confidence in her ability to survive for long in the wilderness. She hadn't learned to hunt or recognize edible plants. If she could get rid of the sigil, she could use magic to hunt for a while and protect herself, but ignorance of the wilderness would trip her up eventually.

The journey wasn't difficult but it got lonely. Lord Stephan stayed several paces ahead of her and didn't speak, didn't even turn to look at her. She wished she had someone to talk to. She missed Flame. The elemental had been with her for the last twelve turns of seasons. It was the only real companionship she'd had in a long time. It wasn't the wittiest or most charming of company, but it was loyal and it cared for her, in its own way.

The sun rose and the day warmed up, but they kept going, moving toward the west along the rough road. The wind calmed to a gentle breeze. Near midday they reached a crossroads, where Lord Stephan stopped and dismounted from his horse. A stream lay just beyond and he led both her and his horse to its edge. He drew a cup from his saddlebag and dunked it in the water, drank, refilled it again and drained it again. Jinny waited, wondering if he would get her a drink or make her crawl to the edge and lap it up as the horse was doing.

But he went to the stream, filled the cup and brought it to her, pushing it into her bound hands. She drank it all. Without asking he refilled it and offered her more. After she drained the second cupful, he fastened the loose end of the rope around his wrist, leaving a lot of slack between them, nodded to the ground, and said, "Sit down. We'll rest here for an hour or so."

Jinissa sat, managing it as gracefully as she could under the circumstances. Lord Stephan took care of the horses, then removed a few items from packs on one of them. He tore off a couple of pieces of bread, handed one to her, did the same with a stick of dried meat, and then sat down some distance away to eat his own food. The bread was coarse but fresh and the meal in general was better than what she'd had for breakfast.

Stephan sank back against a tree trunk when he was done, gathered up the loose rope between them and set it under his arm, then closed his eyes. Moments later he began snoring gently. Jinny briefly considered the possibility of trying to get away but decided he was probably just dozing and would feel any tug on the rope. Better not to alert him that she was looking for an opportunity and wait for a likelier chance.

She pillowed her head in her arms and tried to relax. But her worries gave her no rest. How long would they be traveling this way? Could she survive it for an extended period of time? And what would happen at the end? That last question concerned her the most.




Eppie Awards 2001 Finalist
Paranormal Romance Category

Dream Realm Awards Finalist
Fantasy/Futuristic
Category

Reviews

"This is a most unusual and intriguing paranormal romance, sure to please fans." (four stars)
-- Kathy Boswell, Romantic Times

"WITCH'S JOURNEY is an enchanting paranormal romance that is fun to read because Karen McCullough makes witchcraft seem genuine. Thus, she turns her tale into a medieval historical romance between two wonderful star-crossed lovers with witchcraft being the cross they bear."
-- Harriet Klausner For Painted Rock Reviews


"Witch's Journey is pure romance, two people left alone to discover each other's virtues, overcoming prejudice and learning to trust. The tale personifies compassion, the journey is of the heart. A recommended read."
-- Leslie Tramposch, Paranorma Romance Readers


"If Witch's Journey were just a romantic fantasy with elements of adventure, it would be quite entertaining. Naturally, we want to know if our protagonists will arrive safely at the end of their journey in spite of snowstorms, rockslides, and slavering wolves, and we are anxious about Jinissa's survival if they do reach their destination. The love scenes are by turns playful, passionate, sweet, and sad, and always written with grace and delicacy. We also learn something about magic and its uses. But in creating this story, Karen McCullough gives us a deeper, richer experience. Jinissa and Stephan both have reasons to be bitterly disillusioned. She is lonely and has never known true love; he has loved and been betrayed. Besides, they have been raised to mistrust each other automatically. Desire alone might have tempted them, but understanding and appreciation of each other's fine qualities and of their own worthiness to be loved is what really draws them together. With Jinissa and Stephan, we travel not only on a physical journey but also a spiritual one, vibrant with pain, joy, anguish, and triumph.

Reading this book is like walking through alternating light and shadow. Only when the seemingly irreconcilable demands of love and loyalty are finally addressed can we be sure whether the journey ends in the sunlight or darkness. Before that can happen, we must meet King Randell, a character well worth observing.

Witch's Journey stimulates the mind, delights the spirit, and touches the heart."

-- Reviewed by Ilene Sirocca for Running River Reader