Excerpt from Book One-Bold Women of the 17th Century Series
Goosebumps formed on the girl’s arms as she watched the will-o-the-wisp. It jumped and shimmered like lantern light in the marsh, but it was too brilliant to be a candle. It had to be fire from the fairies. Its flame was beautiful and mesmerizing, sometimes a rich gold, sometimes a cool blue but always moving and flickering. Circe remembered someone saying that the wisp would move as you approached it, drawing you closer and closer into harm’s way, but this glow remained stationary as she walked towards it. She tucked the bundle of fabric she was carrying under her arm and headed closer. It was a still night, lit by a full moon giving The Great Marsh an ethereal luminescence. The crickets were chirping and the toad were croaking as usual. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except the ball of light hovering over the water. As if in a trance, she glided down to shore, her feet barely touching the earth. Reaching to raise her skirt, Circe realized she was not in her ordinary clothes. She was instead wearing a robe of green velvet with a hood, and when she stepped forward to slog through the reeds and grasses, the lily pads supported her above the water. She gasped with astonishment. She was as light as a feather. Circe moved swiftly from one pad to another across the marsh, the will-o-the-wisp jumping and dancing before her eyes. Midway she stopped and stared at the blaze, wide-eyed. It was spellbinding watching it shimmer and glow. The apparition was so seductive she wanted to lose herself inside the light. An owl hooted, jarring her from the reverie. Tucking the bundle more closely under her arm, Circe continued. Suddenly the wisp showed itself to her. It was a woman, a beautiful creature with long, flowing hair, standing erect and tall with a golden helmet on her head. Her aura was brilliant and like the flames around her, her image flickered and flared. She was in a flowing, white robe and wore a glistening girdle just under her breasts. Her eyes were fixed on Circe, and they were a fiery red. Terrified, yet compelled to move closer, Circe approached, stepping blindly from one lily pad to the other, gazing at the woman, but the heat became too intense, and she had to stop. Circe turned her head away and squinted, trying to look at the spirit. “Show it to me,” the woman demanded in a deep voice. Circe was stunned and confused. “Show you, milady?” “I command you! Present it to me,” she repeated. The woman’s voice resonated so strongly, Circe could feel it in her bones. She knew what she wanted. With trembling hands, Circe opened the bundle and held up a large garment. It was a robe of the finest linen exquisitely woven and dyed the color of the sun. Embroidered with the intricate designs of the ancient Celts, the color was rich and luminous, the texture sublime. The quality was so exceptional that the garment seemed ethereal and otherworldly, challenging even the flawless workmanship of the gods. The apparition’s eyes widened and burned hot. She looked from the robe to Circe and back again. “You did this?” she demanded in her low, rumbling voice. Circe nodded and looked down. The deity’s nostrils flared, and her chest heaved. The earth started to shake, and the waters began to roll. The spirit took a breath and roared so loudly Circe’s hair blew back, and she dropped the robe. Circe tumbled through the air, the reeds and grasses of the marsh arching in the sudden tempest. Leaves were stripped from trees, and creatures dashed for cover. Circe hit the trunk of an oak tree with such violence she was knocked senseless. * * * When Circe awakened, all was quiet. The moon was shining over The Great Marsh, the fierce wind had died down, and the will-o-the-wisp had disappeared. She was on the branch of a huge oak dangling over the marsh and when she moved, she realized that she was tangled in something sticky. There were long white strings all around her. When she reached to free herself, her eyes widened, and she gasped. Her arm was no longer human. It was long, black and covered with a sort of fur. Screaming with horror, Circe tumbled into a dark chasm whirling round and round, tumbling and falling.
Moments later she was back again, standing on the edge of the marsh. She looked down at her arms. They were the arms of a girl again, and when she touched face, it was her own smooth flesh. Feeling nauseous and weak, Circe looked up at the spider’s web in the tree, its threads still shining in the moonlight. Throwing her head back, she breathed a sigh of relief. She was no longer that black, hideous creature, condemned to weave for all eternity. The nightmare about the jealous deity had haunted her before. It was one of many dreams that plagued her and forced her to walk in her sleep. When Circe told her mother of it, she was horrified. She said it was the vestige of an evil myth created long ago by pagans, and she must never repeat it to anyone in the village, or they would call her a witch. It was all over now and Circe brushed her nightgown off, starting back up the hill to the house. Squaring her shoulders, and taking a deep breath, she tried to shake off the residue of the nightmare. She was no longer the girl of her dreams, the girl named Circe. She was Hephzibah Craft, daughter of Josiah and Abigail Craft, Puritan millers of Ipswich.