Saturday, 29 October 2016

Blog Tour: An Extract From The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

Today I am delighted to welcome Karen Maitland to the blog for the Halloween Blog Tour for The Plague Charmer which was released on 20th October! You should definitely also check out the Plague symptom checker which I will admit I have been having a lot of fun with! I've been a bit ill all week so wanted to see what kind of plague I had! (Pneumonic if you're wondering).

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland:

The Plague CharmerRiddle me this: I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.

1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man's wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children.
Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.

Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband - and then others - begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.

The price that I ask, from one willing to pay... A human life.
 
Prologue

The storytellers say that . . .

Once, long ago, in the land of the Celts, a boy was born who was possessed of great power and strength. From a small child, Cadeyrn could transform himself into a bear and in that form he would pass through the Gate of Mist to journey into the realms of darkness and light. The druids recognised special gifts in the boy and were determined that he should become one of them, perhaps even the greatest among them. But Cadeyrn was also skilled with the axe and the sword, and others foretold he would become a mighty warrior and leader. Cadeyrn grew in stature and his skills grew with him, but even when he had become a man, the two paths lay stretched out before him and none in his tribe could tell which he would follow.

Then one day when he was out hunting, he saw a youth set his dogs upon a she-bear that was protecting her cubs. Filled with rage, Cadeyrn pursued her attacker into a grove of oak trees. Mistletoe grew upon the branches and the law decreed that, even in the midst of battle, upon seeing the sacred herb a man must lay down his weapon and depart in peace, without shedding blood. But Cadeyrn’s wrath was so great that he did not notice the mistletoe. He raised his axe and chopped off the youth’s head with a single blow.

Blood spurted from the severed neck, splashing the branches of the tree beneath which the youth had taken refuge. Only when Cadeyrn saw the drops of scarlet staining the white berries did he realise he had strayed into a sacred grove. When the druids saw that blood had been shed in that holy place, they cursed him.

That night when Cadeyrn tried to pass through the Gate of Mist, it closed against him and he could no longer enter the other realms. He knew then that his destiny had been sealed: he would become a warrior. And when Cadeyrn went into battle, his path to glory seemed assured, for he slaughtered dozens with his axe and his enemies fled in terror before him. But just as victory seemed within his grasp, the druid priests appeared. At once, the battle turned against Cadeyrn and, with his men, he was forced to flee for his life across the sea to England. There he fought again and this time he conquered the people of those lands, vanquished their leader and was proclaimed king.

Now, the people who lived in those parts were Christians and they were afraid that this bloody warrior would slaughter them and sack their church, so they drew lots and sent to him a young boy, who offered himself as sacrifice. He said he would willingly die any death Cadeyrn chose for him, however agonising and terrible, if only the king would spare the people and their church. Cadeyrn was so moved by his courage that he asked the boy the name of the god he worshipped and vowed that he, too, would pray to this god, as well as to the gods of his own ancestors. Cadeyrn swore a solemn oath that anyone who called upon the name of Christ would be granted the king’s protection, and he would defend them even to his own death.

But though he had spared the daughter of the Christian ruler he had vanquished and had treated her with honour, she and her maids were filled with hatred against Cadeyrn and sought vengeance. She collected the poison of the viper and the venom of the toad and coated the holy chalice in the church with them, knowing that when the king came to Mass he would be offered the cup first.

As Cadeyrn raised the chalice to his lips, a raven flew down and dashed it from his hand. The wine spilled in a pool across the floor of the church and the raven dipped its beak in it to drink. The bird had taken only a sip before it dropped dead. When the king saw how the raven had saved him, he took up the carcass with his right hand, intending to give the bird an honoured burial, but as he touched it, the bird revived and flew up on to the roof of the church.

At that, the Christian princess and her maids became even more vengeful. They plotted with Cadeyrn’s enemies, revealing to them the means by which they could invade his lands while he was absent. They attacked without warning, burning his villages and carrying off his women and his cattle.

When Cadeyrn returned and discovered what his enemies had done, he marched on their stronghold that very night and camped before their gates ready to give battle at dawn. But the princess had hidden her maids among the servants who travelled with the warriors and she had given instructions that they should add dwale to the food they prepared for the king.

The herb made the king drowsy, and when dawn came, he could not fully rouse himself. He fought with the heart of a bear, but the dwale had fuddled his senses and made him clumsy. He was overpowered and taken prisoner.

Cadeyrn begged to be allowed to die in combat, but his enemies tied him to a tree in the middle of the forest. They chopped off the hand with which he’d given battle. But instead of blood, a stream of pure water flowed from the wound and became a mighty river. In fear, they shot him with arrows, but still he lived, and finally they cut off his head.

His enemies left his corpse for the ravens to peck and the beasts in the forest to devour, but the ravens covered his severed head with their wings and beasts guarded his body. That night, the priest of the church saw a wondrous sight. A great bear came out of the forest bearing the body of the king and laid the corpse gently on a stone slab on the hillside. All that night, a golden light hung over the place where Cadeyrn’s body lay, vanishing only when that greater light, the sun itself, rose.

The body of Cadeyrn was buried under a great cairn of earth and stones at the place where the bear had laid him, with much gold and many precious objects. But Cadeyrn’s hand and head were borne away by the Christian priests as holy relics.

And they say that each evening at sunset a raven brings a stone to add to the cairn that stands over the resting place of the warrior king, and when that mound is high enough to reach the sky, Cadeyrn will awaken and ride once more to battle.


Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour for some more interesting insights into The Plague Charmer!

You can also find us on Goodreads (Ann and Clare) to keep up with what we are reading

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