Silence is Golden Excerpt

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It was a silver medallion no bigger than a shilling. At one end of the coin someone had punched a hole into the metal and looped a silver chain through it. Alfred peered closer at the marking on the disc and sent a questioning stare to his friend. “St. Christopher?”

“The patron saint of travelers and a fitting gift for an adventurous young man. May it guide you and keep you safe in your journeys.”

He stared at the engraved image of the stooped figure of St. Christopher, his gnarled hand clutching a staff and a child clinging to his back. The edges had been worn to a smooth finish that rolled like polished glass between his fingers, and he knew he held a cherished memento. “Are you sure you don’t want to keep it? This seems like an odd talisman for a Protestant minister to have. Perhaps it has sentimental value for you?”

William regarded the tiny piece of silver in his outstretched hand and took it into his own, running his fingers over the smooth edges. “My mother was a Papist from the Scottish Highlands. After her family was evicted from their land, they immigrated to  England, where my mother met my father, William Blackburn, Senior, also a minister. My mother loved my father, so when they married, she converted and was a dutiful Protestant the rest of her life. But she didn’t give up all of her beliefs.”

The metal disc spun in the air before them. “Before I left for France, she gave this to me with the promise it would keep me safe. She said even though we would never see each other again in this life, the medallion would reunite us when it was time.”

“If you will never see each other again, how can you be reunited?”

The disc stopped spinning, and William looked at him, a sad smile on his face. “My father died while I was in the war. When I returned, I learned through interviews with my old neighbors that my mother left home after my father died. She was coming to find me in France but never made it. For years I have wished to find where she might be.”

Grabbing Alfred’s shoulders and turning, William pointed off into the distance at the vague shape of a building. It was difficult to see through the rain and fog, but he observed the rising profile of a humble bell tower. “A church?”

“I took a walk yesterday after the noon meal and found myself there. I rambled into the courtyard and behind the building, where I found a small graveyard. I was tired and discouraged. My quest to find my mother seemed hopeless, and in pursuit of her whereabouts I had lost my way, becoming someone I no longer recognized. With your words ringing in my ears and the evidence of my failure a heavy weight on my soul, I fell to my knees and prayed. The medallion around my neck  warmed. I grasped it from my chest, looked up, and saw it. Her grave.”

“Whose grave? Your mother’s?”

“Yes. As impossible as it seems, I found my mother’s grave among the other headstones of the tiny church.”

“You were reunited,” he whispered, awed by the strange turn of events leading his friend to this location. “What a coincidence!”

“Or an act of God. However you want to put it, I found her. My search is over, and here I will stay.”
 

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Loop

The Gypsy Curse Part 3

One week later, Amelia and her sisters were in the fields near the forest playing hide and seek, and she had been it for the last quarter of an hour. She hated being it because she could never find anyone. Five minutes of half-hearted searching later, she gave up, too bored to continue.  With an unladylike plop, she slumped to the ground and leaned  on a fallen log, grateful the sun was shining. The gentle rays helped chase away the nagging fear  plaguing her all week. Flinging an arm over her eyes, she slipped into drowsy relaxation.

The warmth disappeared, and the field darkened. A shiver stole up her spine, and she rolled over, curling  on her side to continue her rest. “Oh, bother. Go away clouds. I am trying to sleep,” she muttered. The clouds, alas, were immovable.  She cracked open an eye to investigate but a looming shadow obscured her vision. It blocked the sun and inspired a grim sort of dread which beat a steady rhythm in her head. The shadow advanced, and two gnarled, weathered talons outstretched to grab her.  She opened her mouth and screamed.

The figure moved and her eyes, now accustomed to the unnatural twilight, discerned an old woman dressed in a faded blue dress with a wide purple velvet sash tied in the middle. A colorful shawl draped over her stooped shoulders and a scarf wrapped round her head, neatly framing her wild mane of silvering hair.

“Are you one of my little liars?” she asked, her thick accent clipping each syllable until the words were nothing more than a litany of jagged consonants firing in her mind.

“You’re supposed to be gone! My papa told you to leave a week ago.”

The old woman cackled and rubbed her hands together. “You know who I am. Good.”

She shrank against the log and wrapped her arms about her knees.

“I see you are afraid. That is also good.”

“What do you want with me?” she whispered.

“Not just you, little girl. I also want your sisters, too.” A delighted smile cracked her tanned, wizened  visage, but her gap-toothed smile did nothing to ease her fear.

“They’re not here.”

“They’ll come. I saw them hiding not too far away from here.”

From the forest  came a loud cracking of branches alerting her to the truth of the old woman’s statement. Her two sisters emerged from the forest and ran to her, Beatrice yelling at the top of her lungs, “Amelia! We’re coming!”

Spying the old woman, they skidded to a halt and in wary apprehension, looked at her and the old woman. Evie whimpered and ran to huddle beside Amelia while Beatrice, ever the eldest, stood  in front of her sisters. Drawing herself up to her full height, she demanded,“Who are you and what do you want with my sister?”

Amelia admired her sister’s bravado, for she saw what it cost her. Small hands clutched her skirts in a white-knuckled death grip and the usual rosy sheen which graced her young face  had been leeched of color.

“I am just an old woman passing through the forest.”

Beatrice assessed the old woman, taking in her faded garments and weathered face. “You’re a gypsy!” With her chin held high, she waved her hand in the air in a blatant act of dismissal. “Be gone!  My father has evicted  your kind for your treachery against his hospitality!”

“Our treachery, Lady Beatrice?” The old woman whispered, venom lacing each word. She advanced on the girls, pinning them against the fallen log. Soon, her wrinkled face was looming over Beatrice’s, her eyes dark and angry. “Don’t you mean yours?”

“How do you know my name?” Beatrice stammered, her eyes darting  from the old woman to her sisters behind her. Having reached the end of her courage, she held out her hand to Amelia and grasped it in her own. She pulled Beatrice down with a plunk to sit beside her.

“I knew we wouldn’t get away with it, Bea.”

The old woman had heard, and she nodded.”I know all about you three and what you did last week.”

Amelia’s lower lip trembled and she asked, “What are you going to do to us?” Because there had to be a consequence. There was always a consequence.

“I intend to make it right.” The old woman raised her arms and the clearing stilled. The bird song quieted and the gentle wind which had been rustling the leaves and feathering the grass ceased.  A terrible light gleamed from the gypsy woman’s aged eyes.

“For your lie, an innocent man was tried and found guilty of a crime he did not commit.” The once dormant wind rose and whipped through the clearing, slashing her silvered hair against her face and howling its outrage as it tore across the grass and through the tree grove. Clouds rolled up and over each other, ripping apart the sky with its upheaval.

“It was you who were too weak to tell the truth, and have forever condemned an innocent to life far from his family!” She pointed a gnarled finger at the three sisters. “And so, I curse you.”

When the last of the three had been cursed, the old woman’s arms dropped. Revenge faded from her eyes only to be replaced with sad resignation. The winds died and the clouds sped across the sky. Light flooded the clearing, but the girls could not see. Fear clouded their vision and possessed their minds.

The old woman raised her right hand and made the sign of the cross, a sad smile on her face. “Te aves yertime mander tai te yertil tut o Del.”* With a final look at the three sisters, the old gypsy woman walked to  the woods and vanished.

 

*I forgive you and may God forgive you as I do.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

The Gypsy Curse Part 2

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A half hour later,  the girls ran  back to the house and found their father working in his study. “Papa,  Thunder got out!”

Their father set aside the papers he’d been studying. “Slow down girls. What happened?” He moved out from behind his desk to stand in front of them, his hands clasped behind his back.

“We were playing out by the barn and we say a gypsy by the doors of the barn. And then Thunder neighed really loud. And then we saw him running across the field. And we thought we saw someone riding him. Probably the gypsy we saw.”

Her father arched an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “These are very serious allegations, Beatrice.”  He placed his hands on his hips and paced. “You say that all three of you saw this?” He bent down and studied his girls.

Amelia gulped, for her father’s assessing eyes saw inside to the truth of what she and her sisters had done, but she pushed down the rising panic, swallowed and forced her gaze to her father’s. “Yes, father,” she whispered before cowardice forced her to look away.

Evie stuffed her thumb into her mouth and nodded.

“If what you say is the truth, then this is a very serious problem indeed.” Walking back to his desk, he  sat down. “Thank you, ladies, for telling the truth. I will see that this is taken care of.” He waved his hands and shooed them from his study.

The girls hurried upstairs to the nursery, grateful to have escaped unscathed.  Once inside, nurse took Evie to her cot for a nap. Amelia was tired, too, from the day’s events and crawled into her bed, pulled her covers up to her chin, and  curled up onto her side. Beatrice  plopped down on the bed next to Amelia.

“I told you papa would believe us.” Amelia, sick with guilt  scrunched her eyes shut and pretended to sleep. Beatrice yawned  and snuggled  behind her sister. She threw her arm around her  body and hugged her close. “There’s nothing to worry about, Mimi. Everything is going to be fine. You’ll see.”

Nestled against her sister safe in her bed, Amelia shuddered when icy cold fingers licked up her spine. She pulled her covers higher around her ears. Despite Beatrice’s reassuring words, somehow she knew everything wasn’t going to be fine.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

World Wide Release Wednesday

Little White Lies ebook available as of today! It’s 50% off at Wild Rose Press, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I’ll be available from 12:30-2:30 CST for live chat on my Facebook page. Stop on over at https://www.facebook.com/saraeackerman/ to chat. #TWRPLittle White Lies poster 16 ackerman

Birthday Give Away!

Because it’s my birthday (and I am very pleased to have received several copies of my debut novel, Little White Lies) I am giving away an autographed copy of my book to the 37th person to like my Facebook page today and today only! Stop on over at https://www.facebook.com/saraeackerman/ and check it out!

 

box of books

 

 

 

The Queen

The Queen

Synopsis

Round 1
Genre:Historical Fiction
Subject: Narcissism
Character: protestor

Last night’s events are a blur for Lord Peter Stone, who awakens and discovers he has alienated half of London and his wife with his elitist ideals. With an angry crowd on his doorstep, Peter uses his powers of persuasion to win back the admiration and love of his supporters, yet he learns their support has less to do with him and everything to do with his wife.

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“What happened last night?” Lord Peter Stone, the Marquis of Burlingham, cracked open heavy eyelids and groaned. London’s feeble October sunlight streamed through the windows causing the blinding pain in his head to worsen.

“James,” he croaked. “Bring me a tonic.” He waited. The deafening crescendo in his head increased to a roar, but no tonic miraculously appeared in his hand.  For minutes, he lay there debating whether to fall back to sleep or rise to find his inattentive valet. The pressing need of his bladder convinced him to arise, lest he soil himself where he lay.

Rolling over, he winced as every muscle in his body screamed in protest, but he pulled himself up and staggered, sightless, to the door.  Clutching the frame for support, he opened his eyes, only then realizing he was not in his room. The familiar wood lined walls and lingering aroma of cigar smoke did not belong in his bedroom, but his study, and his bed had been the floor. No wonder his body ached. A quick assessment of his person revealed even more astonishing news. He remained dressed in his evening clothes, which were at this point badly wrinkled and stained.

He lurched down the front hall to the water closet and relieved himself. Then staggering out of the small room, he called, “James! Where are you, man?” There was no response.

“Gerard!” he yelled, hoping the butler was nearby. “Find James and tell him to attend me at once!”

His cry echoed throughout the marble hall, a lonely, desperate reverberation swallowed by the vastness of emptied rooms. Alone and miserable, he sunk into the nearest chair and cradled his head in his hands, praying someone, anyone, would find him and bring him a tonic.

“They’ve all gone, Peter. They left sometime last night.”

His servants, gone? “Hudson, thank god, it’s you.” If anyone knew what had happened last night, it was Timothy Hudson. His oldest friend, they had met at Harrow, and before his marriage to Lady Sybil, was an eager participant in his plans for evenings spent on debauchery and drunkenness.

“Drink this.” His friend thrust a small tumbler of foul-smelling liquid under his nose, but he did as ordered and swallowed it in one gulp.

“What happened to me, Hudson? I awoke on my study floor, a pounding headache hammering away in my skull and no memory of last night’s events.”

“Do you recall the dinner party you hosted?”

Hazy remembrances of loud laughter, rich food and a tense debate resurfaced.

“Vaguely, but refresh my memory. I’m lucky to have located the water closet this morning, let alone remember the events of yesterday eve.”

“Does the National Society bill ring any bells?”

Either the hair of the dog he had downed was working, or Hudson’s question had jarred his memory, because this bit of information he knew.

“That’s my wife’s cause, the bill to educate the poor. She wanted me to support it despite my objections, and asked me to invite those key members who remained undecided to dinner.”

“They were all there, too. Braddock, Radcliffe, Abel. Even Clarke showed. If you recall, your plan was to wine and dine them and then persuade the gentlemen to support the bill.”

“Did it work?” Given his physical condition, the fact all of his servants were missing, and Hudson’s grim expression, he already knew this bit of information, too.

“It was going brilliantly. Lady Sybil outdid herself in preparation. The food was delicious, the conversation was stimulating. You’re a lucky bastard, Stone. She’s beautiful, talented and a wonderful hostess. How a conceited ass like you managed to snare such a sweet women-”

“She’s a treasure, I know, but tell me what happened?” He waved his hands, urging Hudson to continue.

”By the time the ladies had gone through, you were on your fifth glass of port.”

“Good god, no,” he said, afraid to hear what came next. Port was not his usual drink of choice, knowing the adverse effect it had on his ability to think, but as a good host, he had served it for the other gentlemen.

“It all would have been fine, too, but then you opened your mouth, and instead of persuasive diplomat you came off as elitist lord.”

“What did I say?”

“I believe the exact phrase you used was, ‘Those who are titled rule by divine right, and those of inferior birth would do well to recognize us as their betters.’”

He groaned, burying his head in his hands.

“Wait. It gets better. When I presented the argument of the French uprising, citizens whose birth deemed them inferior, and asked how well suppressing the masses worked for the French aristocracy instilled with ‘divine right,’ you told the assembled gentlemen, ‘England will not fail because we Englishmen are more civilized than the French, and would never behead a monarch when banishment accomplishes the same purpose.’”

Hope fluttered in his chest. Maybe he hadn’t ruined the evening after all. “That should have appeased Clarke and Abel, at least. They are two of the oldest families in England, and have probably hated the French since the Norman invasion.”

“You would think so, but no.”

“Let me guess. There’s more.”

Hudson nodded. “I countered by saying it was impossible to ignore the parallels between our society’s decaying social structure and France’s, and that’s when things really started to deteriorate.”

“How bad was it?”

“Here, read it for yourself.” Hudson handed him a newspaper. “You’ve insulted quite a few people last night, Peter.” He pointed to the pertinent article.

“The Lady of Light?” he asked his friend. Then he looked closer at the newspaper. “Why is there a rendering of my wife on the front page with a halo over her head?”

“Read,” Hudson ordered.

9 October 1811

The Lady of Light

Though the Glorious Revolution and the subsequent Bill of Rights of 1689 saw an end to ‘divine right of kings,’ certain members of the aristocracy retain the archaic, entitled ideals of King James’ rule from almost a century and a quarter ago. At a recent Mayfair dinner party, several guests were shocked to hear their host, the Marquis of Burlingham, declare to the assembled party that those of noble birth have been charged to maintain order among the populous by keeping them in their rightful place. As a member of Parliament and a supporter of the upcoming National Society for Education Act, one has to wonder how Lord Stone can simultaneously support a bill that would educate thousands of poor children across England and Wales while condemning them to their rightful, subservient place.

“This was taken completely out of context,” he huffed. “I’d never have said those things aloud if I hadn’t been foxed!”

“No, you would’ve only thought them.” To his angry glare, Hudson merely said, “Keep reading.”

Many guests, including Lords Abel, Braddock, Clarke and Radcliffe, said that Sir Timothy Hudson, a longtime friend to Lord Stone and a guest at last night’s party, attempted to diffuse the tense situation and help his friend avoid embarrassment by urging him to reconsider, saying he was but a man as any other. However, by this point, Lord Stone was well into his cups and too agitated to be cautious. It is said he told Sir Hudson and the gathered members of Parliament, he was born to be a god among men!  To say the guests were shocked is an understatement. Lord Braddock rose and immediately left the party saying, “The Church of England only sanctions the worship of one God, and Lord Stone is not He.” Others soon took their leave, including the lord’s esteemed wife, Lady Sybil Stone.

“I’ll be lucky if I’m not excommunicated for a remark like that. No wonder they all left.”

Hudson was right; he was in trouble. To be sure, some would hail him a hero, secretly, of course. It was perfectly acceptable to think the things he said, but it was very outré to say them. This paper painted him as a ridiculous joke, and he’d be lucky if anyone would take him seriously now. All his hopes for distinguished service vanished. He had been the shining star of Parliament, too. With his golden tongue and rousing speeches, there wasn’t a man he couldn’t persuade.

After this, his career would be over, and he and Sybil would need to retire to his country estate. That’s when he saw his wife’s name in the paper and all thoughts of failed careers, ostracization, and the humiliation his faux pas had caused fled his mind.

Across the street from her opulent, Mayfair mansion, Lady Stone stands alone, the lamplight’s glow illuminating her blonde curls and pale, angelic face. Blue eyes shimmer with unshed tears as she huddles for warmth against the chilly October morning. A lone protestor against her husband’s arrogance, Lady Stone waits. But for what? An apology or an admission of guilt? Or maybe she waits for absolution from the poor, those uneducated masses who have been ignored far too long. Though she says not a word, her brave actions are testament to her pure heart and noble ideals. No matter how long she waits, she will not be alone. Dozens of London’s citizens have joined her vigil, rallying around “The Lady of Light.”

 “My wife is outside?” he asked. “Has she been there all night?”

“Yes, but she wasn’t alone the entire time. About an hour after she left, the servants followed. They were understandably offended at some of your remarks.”

He raced to the front sitting room and pulled back the curtain where a teeming crowd swarmed the street in front of his house. “And the others? When did they come?”

“They’ve been trickling in all morning, but most arrived after the morning newspaper circulated. She has quite a following.”

“Whatever is she doing out there? I didn’t insult her, too, did I?”

Hudson shrugged. “You’d have to ask her. I stayed with you until you passed out, and only now returned after I read the paper.”

Flinging open the window’s sash, he found his wife standing underneath the lamppost as the news report had described. “Sybil! Come inside.”

The crowd booed and hissed, but he ignored them, and stared at his wife, hoping she understood and would obey. Instead, the contrary female tilted her nose in the air and ignored him!

“Her ladyship is not going anywhere. Not until you apologize.”

“Maggie? Is that you?”  He peered amongst the unfamiliar faces until he found his wife’s rotund lady’s maid, Maggie O’Brian. On a good day, Maggie disliked him, but today, fire burned from her beady eyes searing his soul with their intensity. An unsettling feeling of guilt clawed in his chest, and he wracked his brain trying to remember what he might have done, aside from ruin her dinner party.

It must have been horrible. But what could it be? He couldn’t admit he had no memory of last night, so instead he acted the fool, praying Maggie would fill in some of the missing events.  “Apologize for what?”

“Her ladyship has instructed me to say you know what you did.”

He tried another tactic to bring Sybil in, pandering to her more delicate nature. “It’s cold outside, my dear.  Come in and warm yourself. I’ll have Cook brew you a hot chocolate.”

Maggie’s arm shot around Sybil’s waist in a trice. “She ‘as ‘er fur, yer lordship. Besides, Cook’s out ‘ere by us.”

“Go back inside, you rotter!” someone in the crowd yelled. A rotten tomato struck the window, and he slammed the sash with a bang.

“They are hurling rotten fruit at me.”

Hudson shrugged. “I told you. You made a mess of things.”

“What am I going to do? These people need to leave.”

“I suggest you do what you know best. Give them something new to talk about.”

Hudson was right. If his words had put him in disgrace, then his words would help him rise above this humiliation. Reopening the sash he commanded the attention of the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention, please.” In beautiful, flowing rhetoric, he delivered the speech he had prepared for the debates on the National Society bill. Extolling the virtues of an educated citizen, he quoted Rousseau, telling the teeming masses England needed her people to be literate and trained so they would be prepared to serve the State. He engaged their patriotism and urged them to consider the plight of France, cautioning them an ignorant population is a discontent one. He even went so far as to shed a lone tear, congratulating himself when he saw several others in the crowd do the same. At the conclusion he bowed his head and said, “I apologize for my foolish words, but know I will do whatever it takes to ensure our children receive a basic education.”

Loud applause erupted, and he beamed. A low murmur arose from the press of humanity, and soon he heard his name, chanted over and over again. His people were calling for him! Shutting the sash, he raced past Hudson, through the front door and outside to the waiting crowd.  They embraced him and hailed him a hero, forgiving his poor judgment and loose tongue. His confidence soared; the Golden Boy was once again on top of the world.

He spied his wife underneath the lamppost, her position firm, never wavering. Jostling past the dispersing crowd, he approached her.

“My lady wife, can you forgive me?” He took her hand and grazed her knuckles with a kiss.

She hesitated, but smiled, and Lord Peter, a man accustomed to being beloved by all, took her smile as the absolution he sought.

“Wasn’t I superb, my dear?” he whispered into his wife’s ear, all the while waving and smiling to the crowd. “Think of it. I could be Prime Minister. After all, only I could take a disaster like this and turn it into a cause half of London is rallying behind.”

Ignoring his proffered arm, she stooped down to pick up a discarded newspaper and slapped it against his chest.  Her haloed visage stood apart from the thick jungle of words, a shining light amidst the printer’s black ink. He stared at the paper, awareness crashing down upon him with a force that buckled his knees. “It was you,” he whispered.

She did not speak, only surveyed him coolly with her blue eyes. Then she stepped outside the lamppost’s golden light, and the remaining congregation hushed and parted. He stood to bow as his wife, his queen, sashayed home.