The Cauldron Stirred
(Guardians of Erin, #1)
Publication date: July 21st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Ashling Donoghue never dreamed moving to Ireland would rock her perception of reality and plunge her into a mystery that brings legend to life.
At seventeen, she’s never had a boyfriend, but she feels an immediate connection to Aengus Breasal, the son of the wealthy Irishman who’s invited her family to stay at his Killarney estate. For the first time in her life, a guy she likes seems attracted to her.
But Aengus is secretive, with good reason. He and his family are the Tuatha Dé Danann, ageless, mythical guardians adept at shifting between this reality and the magical dimension known as the Otherworld. Evil forces from that world threaten the Breasals, the Donoghues, and all of Ireland. Ashling must open her heart, face her fears, and embrace a destiny greater than she could ever have imagined.
EXCERPT:The night air was deliciously cool. Moonlight and darkness held equal sway over the backyard thanks to the shifting clouds. I dashed across the lawn and halted in the exact spot where Aengus had stood. Panting, I looked around, willing some kind of clue to materialize.
The ruins in front of me darkened as large, heavy clouds swallowed the moon whole. The wind tugged at my long, loose hair and pajamas. Tiny raindrops spattered on my nose and cheeks. I turned my palms to the sky, and cold rain pelted them.
“Great.” Intending to return to the house, I swiveled around.
I gasped. My right hand flew to my chest. “Aengus?!”
The man himself stood an arm’s length in front of me. “Why are you here?”
“You scared the crap out of me!”
The strident sound came from the ruins. I whirled around and stared at the dark keep.
Aengus grabbed me from behind. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. I reveled in the feel of his taut body, of his warm flesh against mine.
Suddenly, everything changed. The rain stopped. The wind died. The entire landscape was bathed in the soft hue of twilight. Breasal Castle looked brand spanking new, just as it had during the bizarre dream in which I brought Aengus to the cottage. But this time, I knew I was awake.
Dumbfounded, I gawked at the medieval magnificence before me. I had no idea what had happened and no desire to pull away from his embrace.
His lips brushed my right ear, sending a shiver down my spine. “This way.”
His right arm released me, and his left slid down to my waist. Maintaining body contact the entire time, he steered me toward the stand of oaks on our right.
Once sheltered by the trees, he turned us around so we faced the castle.
“Are we hiding?” I whispered.
“Why? And what just happened?”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
Until that moment, I’d forgotten I wore pajamas. Now I was acutely aware of it. Satin was pleasing to the touch, but something told me my attire had nothing to do with his grip on me.
I looked up at him. “Not that I mind, but why are you holding me so close?”
His hand tightened on my waist. “It’s necessary.”
“I don’t suppose you can explain that, either.”
With his gaze locked on the castle, he shook his head. He pressed his right forefinger against his mouth in a silencing gesture. Then he pointed up at the keep.
High on the battlements, the black-haired woman from my dream—and from Branna’s painting—paced back and forth. Her hair whipped about her pale face and slender frame.
She paused beside a gap in the crenelated wall and glared down at the fairy mound. Her colorless lips curled into a sneer. Then her human form morphed into a dark shadow, which fragmented into what seemed a million black particles. They swarmed into the air and shot across the twilit sky, disappearing into the distance.
I took a deep breath. “So she’s real.”
He nodded. “She’s real, to be sure. Come.” With his arm still hooked around me, he led me out of the woods and toward the fairy mound.
An Irish Ghost Hunt
I’d like to share one of my favorite memories from the first time I visited Ireland. I was eighteen at the time. It was my first trip overseas with my parents and the perfect opportunity to meet our Irish cousins, who welcomed us with open arms. The parents were a little older than mine; their five children, about my age. They lived near Kilkenny, and while their current home was modern, their old residence still stood on the property. When I say old, I mean centuries old! My great-grandfather, Michael, had lived in the house before coming to America, and now his progeny explored the abandoned rooms.
History was alive there, in the people as well as the structure. My cousins spoke of Oliver Cromwell as though he’d invaded Ireland three weeks (instead of three centuries) before. I soaked it all up and was eager to learn more about the history of the area.
On the second day of our visit, my parents and I set out alone for some sightseeing. We’d driven only a short distance when we noticed a castellated manor house set back from the road in beautifully landscaped, walled grounds. Ever the intrepid photographer, my dad was determined to get a picture of the place. A view from the street marred by iron gates wasn’t good enough, so he found a side road and parked the car. He marched onto the grounds, and my mom and I trailed behind.
I love my dad, but there are moments when he seems to channel Clark Griswold, Chevy Chase’s character in the Vacation movies. This was one of those moments.
He made his way to the front lawn and paused. Then he lifted the camera and seemed poised to capture the perfect snapshot of the manor’s façade. All at once, two Dobermans tore around the side of the house. Snarling like the hounds of hell, they raced toward him. Dad flinched and assumed a deer-in-the-headlights look, then spun on his heel.
An abrupt command rang out and stopped the dogs in their tracks. The homeowner, who strolled around the corner, appeared to be in her early sixties. With inborn grace, she approached my dad as Mom and I reached the scene.
Apologies ensued and in the end, the woman invited us to tour her home. It was originally a medieval manor house but had been rebuilt in 1708. Decorated with antiques, the structure oozed history. We admired its elegance, but its owner struck us even more. She was amiable as could be and deft at handling the large ring of tinkling keys she housed in her pocket. Handle them she did, for all rooms had to be unlocked before we could enter, which seemed a little strange. A lot stranger was the fact that she locked the door behind us every time we crossed the threshold, both into and out of each room.
Of all the rooms, one stood out. Family portraits—paintings and photographs—covered the walls and adorned every piece of furniture with a flat top. At first, the owner favored us with stories of her ancestors. Then she indicated a black and white, circa 1950s picture of her deceased sister on the nearest table. In both hairstyle and dress, the sister reminded us of Jackie Kennedy. I made a mental note of the photo before the sound of jingling keys foretold our imminent exit.
At the end of the tour, we expressed our humble gratitude and returned to our cousins’ company. They were excited by our recent adventure and divulged that no one except the owner had been in that house for years. The property had a mysterious past shadowed by ghosts, fairies, and murder.
Was there a better place to investigate the paranormal? In our opinion, no. Were we up for the challenge? Hell yeah. Just before midnight, the lot of us set out in two cars for the manor’s extensive grounds. We had no intention of trespassing; this time, we would stick to the road.
Absent any street lights, the said road and its environs were only visible by the grace of the moon’s glow. I was just commenting on the fact when a peculiar sight stopped me in mid-sentence. Outside the car, to our left, a woman in full riding gear (high boots, tan pants, black coat and hat) urged her horse onward.
One of my cousins twisted in his seat. “Why is she out ridin’ in the middle of the night?”
No one had an answer, so we kept driving. Farther down the road, we spotted the woman again. This time, she was on foot, walking her horse in the field.
We continued on, but as we rounded another bend, my cousin made an odd, strangled sound. “There’s no sense to it. How did she get there so fast?”
I shrugged, then frowned as a new thought struck me. “Isn’t it dangerous to ride in the dark?”
Dad hit the brakes. The second car halted behind us, and everyone hopped out.
“It isn’t right,” another cousin said. “How could she be here one minute and there the next?”
Nonplussed, we peered down the road, seeking a distant outline of both horse and rider, for we’d all seen the same thing.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
We whirled around and there, not five feet away, was the woman. The horse was nowhere in sight.
Our senses reeled. Her presence seemed impossible, yet there she was.
Perhaps it was nerves, or the absurdity of the situation, but my dad blurted out the bald truth. “We’re looking for ghosts.”
She regarded him for a long moment. “They say you can spot them sometimes at night.”
I cleared my throat. “Have you seen any?”
The hint of a smile touched her lips. “No. But you never can tell.”
My parents, cousins, and I exchanged glances and awkward giggles. Then we turned back to the woman.
She had vanished. Her entrance and exit were as silent and preternatural as the grave.
Back at my cousins’ house, we gathered around the large kitchen table and nursed mugs of hot tea between our chilled hands. Only then did my parents and I recall the manor’s portrait room and the owner’s remembrance of a beloved sister…a sister she had lost.
Our agreement was instantaneous. The midnight rider looked exactly like the woman in the picture.
When it came time to write The Cauldron Stirred, the first book in my Guardians of Erin series, I knew there had to be at least one ghost hunt. There are three! I hope you’ll join the Donoghue family in Ireland and follow their adventures, in this world and the Otherworld.
Judith Sterling's love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Flight of the Raven and Soul of the Wolf are part of her medieval romance series, The Novels of Ravenwood. The Cauldron Stirred is the first book in her YA paranormal fantasy series, Guardians of Erin. Written under Judith Marshall, her nonfiction books--My Conversations with Angels and Past Lives, Present Stories--have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.
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