Blog Tour: Megge of Bury Down (Bury Down Chronicles Book 1) by Rebecca Kightlinger

About the Book: 


Megge of Bury Down:

Book One of the Bury Down Chronicles

By Rebecca Kightlinger

 

“Creating powerful female characters, combining magic and medicine, Rebecca Kightlinger tells a compelling tale of what it takes to walk the ‘path of the protector.’ In a timeless yet also timely story, Kightlinger’s heroine rallies supernatural strength and all matter of healing arts to find her path toward protecting books, the land, and most of all her fellow women. Readers will not forget the women of Bury Down.”

—Elizabeth Searle, author We Got Him and librettist for Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera

 

Confused, unsure, and trying to avoid a twist of fate—a vow that she fears will lead to murder—a young woman makes a decision that places her family in unimaginable danger.    

A story intertwining destiny with reckoning, and tradition with dreams, the debut coming-of-age novel Megge of Bury Down: Book One of the Bury Down Chronicles [Zumaya Arcane], by Rebecca Kightlinger, radiates feelings of togetherness and protectiveness as seen through the eyes of a young girl embroiled in a mystical struggle that threatens to tear her family apart.

Set in thirteenth-century Cornwall, on a sheep farm in the shadow of Bury Down – known for a thousand years as the land of the second sight – a healer has vowed to face flames rather than fail in her one task in this life: to bring her young daughter to vow to protect The Book of Seasons, an ancient grimoire whose power sustains the spirits of all their ancestors.​

On the night of her vow-taking, wanting only to become a woman of Bury Down like her mother and aunts, and drawn by an inexplicable yearning to possess her mother’s book, Megge reaches for it. But when she touches its cover, it burns her fingers and she hears it whisper, “Murderer.” Fearing that the book will make her harm those she loves, she rejects it and renounces her birthright.

To what lengths will Megge’s mother go to help the child find the courage to take that vow? And how far will Megge go to elude a terrifying destiny?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

This newly released title, Megge of Bury Down, addresses family issues prevalent in today’s world in a tender yet cryptic setting, creating a storyworld readers of all ages will want to visit again and again.

In this magical and suspenseful chronicle, Megge of Bury Down depicts

• An unimaginable bond of family. Through generations—even after family members have passed—togetherness and protectiveness are ever-present in Megge’s family.

• Powerful female characters—how their strength, wisdom, and compassion allow them to defy all odds.

• The intense conflict between the yearning to belong and the need to find your own path.

• Tolerance—understanding that the life you must lead in order to hone your skills may make you an outsider, even to those you serve.

• A real-life setting—Bury Down is an ancient hill fort whose ruins can still be seen on a hilltop just outside of Lanreath, Cornwall.

 

About the Author:


Rebecca Kightlinger is a novelist, a book critic for Historical Novels Review, a fiction- submissions reader for New England Review and Stonecoast Review, and a copy editor for Stonecoast Review.

 

Born in Erie, PA, Kightlinger practiced medicine for nineteen years. For six of those years, she served on a Remote Area Medical volunteer team diagnosing and treating cervical cancer in Amerindian women living in the rainforests and savannas of rural Guyana. In 2010, Kightlinger suffered an injury that permanently damaged her wrist, forcing her to leave medical practice and pursue a new direction in life.

 

Earning an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program and a copyediting certificate from UCSD, she turned her Masters thesis into her debut novel. Kightlinger and her husband reside in northwestern Pennsylvania.

 

Connect with Rebecca Kightlinger on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about Megge of Bury Down at http://www.burydownchronicles.com.

 

Megge of Bury Down: Book One of the Bury Down Chronicles is available for purchase in paperback and e-book via Amazon and all major booksellers.

My Review

Megge of Bury Down is a very detailed read about how Megge, a 6-year-old girl born in 13th century England, discovers her mother’s book of healing. Seven years pass, and she has 4 guardians Mother, Aunt Claris, Morwen, and Aleydis. Another thing she has is a constant conflict going on between her and her cousin Brighida. Right from the beginning, we are thrown straight into the action in the village and also see conflicts between villagers. 
Megge is our narrator throughout this book, in which we see the impact and power of the Book of Seasons within the community, not just on Megge, but everyone around her as she fights for self-confidence, self-acceptance and self worth in a family dominated by her cousin Brigida’s status as “golden child.” Her mission is to keep the Book of Seasons from evil hands, but will she achieve her goal? 
The attention to detail is fantastic and the story is so detailed and visual that it makes you focus and “get inside” the visual medieval world Rebecca Kightlinger creates. The characters are so varied, too. 
Thanks to Rebecca Kightlinger and Zumaya Arcane for my ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.

Character Q& A :


Which character was your favorite, and why?

That’s like asking which of my pets is my favorite! I love little Megge, of course. I feel tenderness and concern for her, even when I’m not working on the book. She still has a long way to go, and even I don’t know how things will turn out for her.

I would love to have known Morwen in person. She has such depth of character, such compassion for Megge, and such low tolerance for BS. She’s wry, educated, articulate, and tough.

What kinds of fictional villains do you love to hate the most?

Villains who don’t realize they are villains, or who, though they do their best not to be villains don’t seem able to be anything else. They believe that their agenda, or the quest they are on, gives them the authority to do whatever they deem necessary to accomplish it. The end always justifies the means in their mind. These are often small-scale villains who torment and ruin one innocent life.

Who is your favorite fictional villain?

Nurse Annie Wilkes in Misery is one good example; but for my money, it would be Gunnar Royal, the uncle in Kim Michele Richardson’s GodPretty in the Tobacco Field. Gunnar, a former executioner for the state of Kentucky, strives to be a good Christian man but cannot seem to grasp that he is abusing RubyLyn, the niece in his charge, even as he tries to keep her on the straight and narrow. You can almost see the man he is trying to be, but the man he can’t stop being just won’t get out of his way.

What type of hero is your favorite?

The kind that isn’t trying to be a hero and whom most people wouldn’t see as one. The kind who is trying to make the best of a tough situation, who has to muddle through and who makes mistakes along the way. Who really wants to take the easier way but knows deep down that that won’t do.

Favorite fictional heroes?

Quoyle, the protagonist of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, is one. Despite his inauspicious ancestry, his lack of looks and smarts, and his dire financial situation, he manages to make it through life without intentionally hurting anyone. He plugs along. He works. He makes do and tries to make things a little better. He makes friends. And, somehow, he makes his life work. What’s that if not some kind of hero?

Does it ever happen that your character just decides to do her own thing?

That’s all they ever do. I’m just along for the ride.

How do you create your characters?

I don’t. They create themselves. They show up full-blown, with their own voices and with likes, dislikes, abilities, quirks, and backstory that I have to learn by letting the story move along.

Are there real-life doubles for them?

None of my characters are based on people I know, but some have characteristics that remind me of people. Morwen, for instance, reminds me in some ways of my great-grandmother. Her relationship with Megge reminds me a little of our relationship.

If a movie were to be made of your book, who would you like to see play your main characters?

I’m not sure who would play most of the characters, but Vanessa Redgrave could play Aleydis. Anjelica Huston could play Agnes Gough.

How much of you is there in the main character?

Perhaps Megge and I have in common her stubbornness and the fact that she’s always hungry.

Does the author know everything there is to know about the characters?

I don’t know about other authors, but I’m always learning about mine. That’s one of the things I like best about writing: all the things that come to light about characters I thought I knew.

Which of your fictional villains did you enjoy writing most and why?

Agnes Gough has been fun to write. Aggie. She is just so nasty. I’m waiting to learn something about her that isn’t just awful, and I hope I do; but so far? Nothing. She’s just bad.

Vivienne Penneck was also fun. But then I learned who she really was and felt bad about what happened to her.

Now, Tinker Penneck is the one who most intrigues me, and I’m learning more about him as I write the sequel. Megge knows Tinker as cold, angry, and seeking retribution for a wrong done to someone else. But part of his past was lived away from the village, and he may have a secret soft spot. We’ll see.

Who are your favorite characters in your own fiction?

In my short fiction, there are a couple of unnamed characters I loved: the two patients in the flash fiction piece, “302”. Even years after writing that piece, those two still touch my heart.

I also have a soft spot for the protagonist of the short story “Mama’s Girl”  

How long did it take you to write Megge of Bury Down, and how did the story come about?
It took roughly seven years from concept to publication. Like many of my narrators, Megge just appeared in my mind’s eye one day when I was ready to write, and started showing me around her home and telling me the story of her family and her life.

 

When she described a river that ran alongside a circular castle and emptied into an estuary along a southern coast, somewhere west of Holland, I got out a globe and opened Google Earth, and realized that the river was the Fowey. Megge’s story was set in Cornwall.

 

I then had to research medieval Cornwall, medieval medicine and midwifery, and ancient grimoires and herbcraft. Then I had to turn this story into a novel. Never having written one before, I knew I would have to seriously study writing craft. That was when I learned about low-residency MFA programs.

I looked at all of them from Pennsylvania to the east coast and felt most strongly attracted to the University of Southern Maine. It was there, at Stonecoast, among the talented students and faculty, that I learned how to take Megge’s story from mostly summary narrative to a scene-driven novel.

 
Fans of which authors/books do you think would enjoy this title and why?
I think fans of novels featuring strong female characters will enjoy this book. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon comes to mind: iconic mystical and mythical fiction set in Dark-Age Cornwall. Bradley’s characters are depicted as real people in a world in which the mystical plays an integral part and the protagonist is often at odds with her family: wanting to belong but often rejecting the core tenets of her family’s beliefs. The Mists of Avalon features strong women who are outside the bounds of traditional society, and I think this resonates with readers of all ages.
What makes your book different from others in the same genre?
I think the nature of the story’s principal conflict and the irony around Megge’s decision set her story apart. Megge’s mother has sworn to face death by fire if Megge does not vow to protect the power of her ancient grimoire—her book of incantations; and Megge refuses to take the vow because she fears that doing so will make her commit murder. But by refusing to take her vow, Megge unwittingly endangers the lives of everyone she loves as well as those of the mentors whose wisdom and knowledge guide them.

Are there any significant real life locations in your book’s setting?
 

1. Bury Down is an ancient hillfort whose ruins can still be seen on a hilltop just outside Lanreath, Cornwall (England). The stone house on that site, with its 3-foot-thick walls, was the home of the clerk of the first Duke of Cornwall.

2. Restormel Castle: the home of The Earl of Cornwall. The structure still stands.

3. St. Winnow Church: the church in Megge’s village (the present-day village of Lerryn). Still in use.

4. Tintagel Castle, built by Earl Richard of Cornwall on the site presumed to have been the birthplace of King Arthur.

What do you want readers to remember about your story or characters long after they have finished reading?

 

I hope they will hold on to the feeling of togetherness and protectiveness that exists in Megge’s family through generations, even after family members have passed. In this family, there is such a strong bond that they are willing to return to the living world after death, and even die horrific deaths, rather than allow wisdom and knowledge to be lost. There is an abiding sense of love, trust, and dedication that transcends death.

 
Is the book based on events in your life or related to your background or expertise/experiences?

 

Not consciously. But since Megge’s mother and aunt were healers in a rural setting where there were no physicians handy, I might have drawn on some of my experiences in Guyana, where non-physician clinicians provide medical care very skillfully. The birth scenes did come naturally given my work as an OB/GYN, and I enjoyed writing them.

 

Please list all other books you have written.
This is my first published novel.

 
How do you choose a voice for your narrator?
As it turns out, I don’t get to choose. The narrators come into my imagination full-blown, with their own pasts and their own voices, so I listen to them and watch the scenes play out, and I try to capture their words, expressions, dialect, and cadences as closely as possible. This goes for all the characters, too.

What themes in your book do you believe are relevant to current news topics, society, the world, or life in general?

 
1. There seems to be a lot of loneliness and isolation in young people despite their engagement in social media: kids feeling like outsiders, wanting to belong but not knowing how or not being able to fit in.

 

2. There has always been pressure on young people to fulfill their parents’ expectations, and that is probably more prevalent than ever now.

 

3. The stress of a young person trying to do something for which they are not suited or interested, especially when there is something else they feel they are meant to do.

What is the most controversial aspect of your message or book?
Possibly the idea that spirit-mentors exist, or that people can commit at the time of death to return to the living world to impart the knowledge or wisdom they have accrued over lifetimes. This isn’t a message to readers, but it is the premise of this story.

 

What are some of the themes that readers might identify in their own lives, or that you have identified in yours?

 

1. The desire to belong vs the need to find your own path.

Many of us can identify with a young girl’s confusion, misunderstandings, and fears about the life they are expected to lead and may have experienced a similar conflicted desire to belong in a family or group whose strict requirements for membership keep them outside the bonds the members of that family or group share.

2. Tolerance. Understanding that the life you must lead in order to hone your skills may make you an outsider, even to those you serve.

The women of Bury Down, unbelievers living in a Christian world, respect and live in harmony in the villagers while maintaining their own identity. “Respect, girls,” Morwen says. “Though we’re not of them, we dwell amongst them, and we serve them. We shall abide by their rules, even as we live by our own.”

 

Like the women of Bury Down, almost anyone who devotes time to serious study, practice, or thought is likely to experience this feeling of being an outsider, even to those who benefit from those skills.

 
What is your favorite genre to write?
 

Historical fiction. Most of my stories are from a distinct time in the past. My first novel, which I haven’t published, was set in the 1930s and involved the struggle to organize the Steelworker’s union.

 

Megge’s story is set in the thirteenth century, but I’ve already written drafts of some of the future installments in this series, and they are set in every century from the fourth century to the present day. Researching each era and location is fascinating and a great pleasure.

 Which genre have you never tried before, but would like to try out?

 

I like detective novels, but I think I’ll stick to historical fiction.

 

What was the hardest thing about writing your book?

 

Figuring out what the real story was! There were many tangents along the way that took me off course. Finally, I realized that the story centered on what Megge was trying to understand, what everyone was keeping from her, and what she needed to learn: a frightening truth tied to a distant past. Once all these strands became clear, it felt like a weaving job, blending all those textures and colors into an image people could follow and enjoy.

 

What is your writing routine?

 

On my writing days, I turn off the computer and phone, set aside as much time as I need to think long thoughts, and go into my library. I sit down at my typewriter, clear my mind, put in a sheet of paper, and think, “What’s the story?”

 

Usually, an image comes to mind, often the opening of a scene that takes up right where I left off the day before. I start typing, describing as clearly as possible what I’m seeing and hearing. I never interpret it or try to change it because what happens is always different from—-and better than—anything I could have come up with intentionally. Even if the scene or some new detail doesn’t make sense based on what’s happened so far, I take it down exactly as it happens. Later—sometimes much later—a thread from that scene is picked up, leading to another important development I never could have seen coming. And if I had altered that scene, none of the rest of the book would have made sense.

 When the scene is over, I put those typed pages aside. Weeks later, after I’ve had a chance to forget what I’ve written, I dictate them into my computer. When it seems I’ve come to the end of the story, the serious work begins! That’s when I start to research, revise, and rewrite.

 

 

Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?

 

Silence and time. I always write at a time when I don’t have anything hanging over my head—an appointment, an errand—I have to know that I can work as long as I need to and that no one will pester me.

 

 

Can you tell us about your editing process?
The initial editing often involves what I call querying scenes: pulling up a scene in my mind and looking at it from another perspective to “see” what happened or why a character did or said what I saw them do. This can be the most interesting part of writing because it enables me to enlarge the scene or expand time and see details I hadn’t caught when I first wrote it. Often in this process, a secondary character’s experience and personality are brought out. One of my favorite scenes in Megge—in which her mother is treating the carter’s son—came about this way.

 

Once the scenes are fleshed out, I put them in an order that allows information to come to the characters and the reader when it is most helpful and in a way that is most intriguing.

 

Professional editing is essential, and Megge benefitted from the work of both a professional copy editor and the book’s publisher. As I worked with the copyeditor, I saw that I had been making errors in punctuation, so I decided to take the four-semester UCSD Copyediting Program in order to make sure I knew not only how to put together a novel but how to write it using correct grammar, punctuation, and structure. The program was a godsend that, I hope, will make the job of my future editors much easier!

Is the book part of a series? If so, how many installments do you have planned?

 

Yes, the series is called The Bury Down Chronicles. There will be many books in the series, some going back in time to the origins of Murga’s secrets, and the story line moving forward into the current day and beyond.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

 

I would advise aspiring writers to study writing craft, including the basics—grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and formatting. And before sending anything out, consider hiring a professional editor to review and suggest improvements to the piece. Other than that, my main suggestion would be to persevere. Persistence can be hard, especially when it seems like nothing is happening, but it’s the only way things ever will happen. All good things take time. Giver yourself and your work plenty of it!

 

If you could meet 3 authors, alive or dead, who would they be?

 

I would like to meet three writers who are on their way up. Three writers whose work I’ve had the good fortune to see early on and who have made me think, “This one’s the real thing.”

 

Are you working on something at the moment?

 

I’m writing Books Two and Three of The Bury Down Chronicles. The story is coming along so fast I’m afraid to stop! But there is one point that I think will make for a nice transition between them, so when I dare to take enough time to pull the stories apart, I think I’ll have the next two books.

What’s the inspiration for the cover art? Can you tell us a little about how it plays into the plot?
April Martinez is the cover artist, and the cover art is entirely her work. It replicates the cover of the Book of Seasons, the grimoire Megge is meant to accept and vow to protect. April turned three of the symbols inscribed into the cover into lovely images: the quarter moon, the constellation Aquila, and the face of the goddess Atropos as a young girl. I thank her for what I think is a masterful and inspired cover!

 

 

How do you make your characters, plots, and scenes so vivid? Do you plan everything out in advance or do you let your writing surprise you?

 

The scenes play out very clearly in my mind’s eye, and I write down what I see in as much detail as possible. One thing that really helps is having someone else read the early drafts and let me know what’s missing, what they don’t see, and where more detail is needed for clarity.

I don’t plan anything in advance; I just let the story unroll and surprise me.

 

 

What is your favorite scene?

 

I have many favorites, but I especially like the one, early in the story, when Megge and her family attend the May Day fair. Though Megge feels resentful toward Brighida for her beauty and because everyone makes such a fuss over her, she’s ready to come to Brighida’s aid every time she thinks Brighida is about to be harmed or insulted. That scene shows many sides of young Megge.

 

Questions from NinaLight.com

 

What are your reading habits?

 

I like to read novels, usually historical fiction. I review books for the Historical Novel Society, so I read closely, often reading the book twice to make sure I have a good feel for what the author is trying to do and how well he or she pulls it off.

 

My guilty pleasure, though, is listening to audiobooks while I drive or when I’m cleaning the house or walking the dogs. My favorite audiobooks are crime or mystery novels. I go through several a month, and I relish them!

 

What is the first book you remember reading?

 

A picture book of Cinderella. Actually, I only pretended to read it because I was too young to read. I wanted to impress my great-grandmother, who always read to me. But I had it memorized, so I was sure I had fooled her!

 

The first book I remember reading in order to write a book report was The Catcher in the Rye.

 

Are there any books you return to over and over again?

 

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, and The City of Bohane by Kevin Barry. All of these books feature a wonderful mastery of prose. Reading them is something of a feast for me.

 

How do you read? Pleasure, or dissection?

 

I do both. There’s nothing better than getting caught up in the pleasure of being taken into the story. When this happens when I’m reviewing a book, I let myself enjoy the story and then go back and reread it to see how the author did it so I can discuss it. When it happens when I’m reading for pleasure, I sometimes make myself refrain from dissecting it, simply so I’m left with the sheer pleasure.

 

Ebooks or print?

Definitely print. I like to know where I am in a book and be able to go back and reread whenever necessary. Plus, I like the feel of a book. I like to turn the pages.

 

Traditional, indie, or self-published?

Any of these as long as the writing is great, the basics—prose, grammar, punctuation, and formatting—are right, and the story pulls me in.

 

How old were you when you started writing?

I started publishing medical papers in my forties. I started writing fiction with an eye to doing it professionally at 53.

 

Where do you write?

First draft: at home, in my library, at the typewriter. Revising: at my desk or kitchen table, on the computer.

 

Dedicated favorite place? My home. It’s big, light, airy, and quiet, except when Ollie starts crowing. Then I put on my headphones and keep going!

 Do you keep a journal or a diary?
No. I used to, but I found I only wrote in it when I was unhappy. I no longer want to memorialize those moments. Let ‘em go!

 

Do you have a notebook that you take everywhere?

No, but I have a notepad on my phone that I occasionally use.

 

What do you put in it?

An occasional note or thought, but I don’t write down snippets of overheard conversation or bits of descriptive prose that come to mind. I pretty much rely on my narrators for that.

 

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser. Definitely a pantser for the first draft. After that, the plot has to be brought out and substantiated. But in the first draft, I’m at the mercy of imagination or whatever is telling the story.

 

How much research did you do for the book?

A ton! I’ve researched everything from the location of the story to the rainfall and temperatures during the fourth century CE. I’ve studied grimoires, herbal medicine, medieval life, the Church in medieval times, and whether people could drink from natural springs in rural Cornwall. And I have loved every minute of it.

 

The best part of the research, though, is going there and seeing—and feeling—the place where the story took place. Finding the church Megge described, the hill where she herded sheep, and site that might once have held a sacred grove? I’m telling you: I was covered in chills half the time I was in Cornwall, especially at Bury Down.

 

 

Do you write fulltime?

 

Yes. I work on my own novels almost every day, and I also review books and help select short fiction for two literary reviews.

 

Where do you see yourself as a writer in the long term?

 

I see myself as a novelist continuing to write Megge’s story for as long as it continues to come to me.
Chapter One :

Bury Down, Cornwall

November 15, 1275

 

     Mother cast a wary glance back into the cottage, hesitating at the threshold for a long moment before swinging her cape over her shoulders and stalking down the path alone, hens and chicks scattering before her ruthless step.

     “Morwen?” I tugged at the old bard’s woolen cloak.

     Morwen knelt beside me and pulled up my hood, smiling as she tied the strings beneath my chin.

     “’Tisn’t every day a daughter of Bury Down turns six. Watch close tonight, Megge. Learn from your mother now, child.”

     We followed the path Mother had taken, and when we reached the pasture, Morwen raised her arm and swept her walking stick in a great arc as if tracing a rainbow over the herder’s hill in the distance.

     “Look out there, Megge, to the east. To that high, gentle slope. Can you see the sheep grazing, heads down, their white fleece tinted pink with the setting sun?”

     That low voice, constant as the hum of bees in the hedges, fixed each step forever in my mind as we climbed the herder’s hill. I can hear it even now, though my hair is as white as Morwen’s was that day.

     “Now, cast your gaze to the summit, child, to Bury Down, once a hillfort of rock and timber, now but a low stone crown set crooked upon a great green head. Can you see the last of the setting sun, blood-red upon that granite ring?”

     She fell silent as we climbed, and when we reached the top, she took a deep breath, opened the neck of her cloak, and exhaled into it.

     “What are you doing, Morwen?”

     “I’m keeping this ember alight.” Opening her cloak, she showed me a clay cup that held a chunk of turf. “The wind would blow it out, but without a breath of air it would die.” She covered the cup with her cloak and held out her hand. “Come, Megge, we’ve fallen behind.”

Mother, having gone on ahead, was out of my sight, so I held tight to Morwen as the rising breeze became blustery and the sky and the stones went grey. Walking just outside the wide stone ring, we finally came to rocks no higher than Morwen’s knee.

     “Come, Megge.” She helped me step over the wall and, for the first time, into Bury Down circle.

     A hillfort, she had said. Rock and timber.

     But this was no fort. The hilltop was wild, one side covered with grasses laid flat by the constant wind and the other taken up with oaks.

     “This, once, was Murga’s grove,” Morwen whispered, pointing to the copse with her staff. “She was the first of us. The first seer of Bury Down.”

     I was about to ask why Mother always called it the healer’s grove when my eye was caught by a lone rowan standing just outside the grove, all its branches flung to one side as if it were trying to flee, its hands thrust out before it.

     “Morwen…” I could barely breathe. “This tree…”

     Morwen glanced at the rowan. “There’s always been a rowan here, Megge. Ever since Murga’s day, nearly a thousand years ago. One tree dies and another springs up to take its place, all its branches blown sideways by the ceaseless wind.” She squeezed my hand and led me past the sentry tree and into the oaks. “Come along now, lass, the others are waiting.”

     Deeper and deeper we trudged until the forest floor, spongy with fallen leaves, began to smell of truffles and rot. Morwen took a deep breath.

     “Can you taste the sweet night air? Can you feel the soft earth give beneath your feet?” When the sky had gone dark and the air cold and damp, she squeezed my hand. “Your aunts will have made everything ready. Tell me, Megge, are you very brave?”

 

B: 171 words

“Vermin!” I ran at her. “Vermin! Rat-faced, foul, stinking, lying wench!”

Vivienne dropped her bucket and turned to flee, but I hurled myself at her, landing on her back. We fell to the ground, and I forced her face into the mud. She reached back and took hold of my hair, but I grabbed the neck of her dress, hauled back her head, and mashed it into the slop she had spilled on the ground.

Heavy boots strode towards us, and frigid water splashed over my back. I gasped and looked up at the same time Vivienne lifted her face. It was covered with slop, and her lip was bleeding.

An empty bucket rattled over the dirt and stones, and a strong hand grabbed the neck of my dress and pulled me off. Vivienne’s brother Harold, breathing hard, held me away from his sister while another man offered her a hand and helped her up out of the mud.

“Martyn?” The mud ran off my face as I gaped at him.

“I’m going to stop the bleeding, Francis.” Mother turned her head very deliberately and gave the carter her look. “Or would you have him bleed to death here on my kitchen table?”

Francis Penneck’s chin jutted.

“The surgeon sewed him last time. A long cut on the hip it was. Needle and thread, like a tailor.” He mimed the sewing.

“And where would you have me put the stitch? This is no cut. The thing went through and through. Can you see where the blood’s coming from? No. The wound is somewhere deep inside, and you can’t reach in there with a needle and thread. It must be done with a thin, heated rod. Hot and quick. Then a good long lean on it. That will seal it and stop the blood. Now, can I get back to my work, or have you more to teach me?”

 

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