Authors: Ann Hunter
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Ann Hunter
Cover copyright © 2014 Andrew A. Gerschler
Editor: A.J. Sterkel
Published in 2014 by Afterglow Productions/P. Gerschler. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission of the publisher.
Moonlight / By Ann Hunter
Thank you for purchasing
Within these pages are creatures, lore, and names inspired by Celtic mythology.
For your convenience and reading enjoyment, I have included a pronunciation & terminology guide.
Enjoy the story, and remember….
You are never alone.
I hope you enjoy
If you fall in love with Aowyn as I have, be sure to read the conclusion of her saga in…
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Pronunciation Provided by
Here are the authentic pronunciations.
Feel free to say the names however you like - the author does!
Author Pronunciation Guide
to see it.
An Cuan Áille
“Ahn Coo-an Ale-ya”
(It means The Safe Harbor/Haven)
(Xander’s full name is
Xander Blacksteed of Blackthorn. Barwn Blackthorn is a shortened title)
fear departs when faith endures
Naomi W. Randall
To my mother,
Who taught me true love
WHAT A QUEEN WOULD DO
They called him “Firebeard,” Son of the Sun. Aodhagáin, King of the Summer Isle. His crimson beard grew to his belly. His eyes burned like embers. But the queen beside him appeared as the night. She sat in a high-backed throne, her hand resting beneath the king’s. Sulwen, “White Sun,” was like the moon with hair the color of midnight, skin as milky as the stars, and lips the shade of the harvest moon. She had been chosen first among the lands to be queen to the high king, and all that knew her loved her.
Their seven children stood before them in the throne room, each son named after the fire god, Aodh. But the sixth-born, a princess, Sulwen had named for herself. Aowyn. Aowyn resembled her father—kissed by the sun on her face and arms, bejeweled with bright emerald eyes, and hair that flowed and curled like the flame. Her brothers mimicked their father’s features, save for Aonwys a Stór, nicknamed Stór, for he was the last precious soul Sulwen could bear her husband. Stór copied his mother in appearance, but with one amber eye and one blue one.
Aowyn’s gaze rested not on her brothers, nor the king, or the queen mother. It transfixed upon the handmaiden, Ciatlllait, standing by the queen. Ciatlllait’s mouth twisted at the corner almost imperceptibly. Her hair grew more golden than the broom; her unblemished skin akin to summer cream. Her eyes glittered like the sea. But something abided in her that got under nearly-14-year-old Aowyn’s freckled skin. Something she couldn’t put her finger on. Ciatlllait clasped her hands together and bowed her head as the king spoke.
“Children,” he said, focusing on his wife, “your mother is ill.”
Aowyn snapped to attention.
She squinted at her placid mother. She didn’t seem ill.
Apparently her brothers thought the same. Aowyn’s eldest brother, Crown Prince Áodhán an Choróin, named Choróin for short, voiced what they were all thinking. “What do you mean ill, Father? Mother is here. She is fine.”
Sulwen leaned her dark head against the throne and swallowed. Her lips parted dryly. “Alas, I am not. I am dying.”
Aowyn found little Stór’s hand suddenly in hers. Tears welled in his bi-colored eyes. “You cannot die. You are our mother.”
Sulwen raised her hand, languishing. “All seasons must end, my beloved. My winter is coming.”
Aowyn’s chest tightened and ached. Her gaze drifted to Ciatlllait as Rógaire Aohearn, twin to Lorgaire Aodan, implored, “But how? And why?”
Aowyn saw Ciatlllait’s nearly imperceptible smile grow. Aowyn’s eyes narrowed.
Sulwen lost consciousness. Aowyn’s brothers and her father rushed to the queen. Ciatlllait raised her head, and Aowyn knew the woman feigned concern. Aowyn clenched her fists and marched over to her family. She placed herself between her brothers and Ciatlllait. Choróin, Aodh Caoin Croí, Lorgaire and Rógaire bore their mother away to her chambers. Aowyn glowered at Ciatlllait as the handmaiden followed after her mistress. Aogán Eagnaí, Aowyn’s closest brother, stepped to Aowyn’s side and watched Ciatlllait leave.
Aowyn made a fist and ground her thumb against her fingers. A crease strained her brow.
Eagnaí regarded his younger sister. “I don’t trust her.”
Aowyn glanced at him. “That makes two of us.” She studied her 15-year-old brother. Eagnaí was fairer than his brothers. He had the same amber eyes, but his hair was more ginger than red.
“I am glad I am not alone,” Aowyn said.
Eagnaí clapped her on the shoulder and offered a smile. “We’re going to get through this. No matter what happens to Mother, we will always be a family.”
Aowyn reached for his hand and squeezed it.
Aowyn loved to sit in her mother’s room and gaze at the moon. It shined in so perfectly, always casting its gentle glow upon Sulwen’s bed. Instead of sitting by the window tonight, she climbed into bed with her mother. Sulwen stirred as Aowyn snuggled close to her. Aowyn cherished the way her mother smelled of orchid and meadow saffron. Her dark coils of hair were like flawless threads. It tickled Aowyn’s nose. Sulwen’s hand clasped Aowyn’s fragilely. Aowyn winced at how weak her mother felt. How had she not noticed before? How many times had they sat by the window while Sulwen brushed Aowyn’s hair, and Aowyn had not noticed? She would stare at the moon as the brush smoothed over her unruly, curly locks and tell her mother stories. Stories so wild and free that she would lose herself in them, and all the while Sulwen sang softly and smiled. But she did not sing tonight. Her hand trembled as long, spindly fingers wove with Aowyn’s. The moonlight blanketed them. Aowyn pushed thoughts from her mind of life without her mother. How could the queen grow so ill so quickly and unnoticed? Aowyn wanted to know why her mother had fallen sick. When did it start? How did it start? If Sulwen languished, why were the druids and physicians not intervening? Aowyn buried her face in Sulwen’s hair. None of it made sense. Sulwen must have sensed Aowyn’s uncertainty.
“You must wonder what has caused me to feel this way. I know not. Only that strange things have been happening. My handmaiden, Ciatlllait, has been behaving peculiarly. Something has come over her. Something I cannot put my finger on. I would send her away, but I cannot, in good conscience, without evidence of wrong-doing.” With some difficulty, Sulwen rolled over to face Aowyn. She brushed a few stray strands from the girl’s face and smiled. “You were born a queen, my Aowyn. A good queen protects the king. She does not falter. She does not wane. When I am gone…”
Aowyn shook her head. She refused to accept that she’d be motherless. Sulwen caressed her face and steadied her. “When I am gone, you must always keep your eyes to your king and your brothers. You must protect them. Above all, you must watch Ciatlllait. Nothing has been the same since she arrived to take the place of my last handmaiden. Promise me that.”
Tears stung Aowyn. “I don’t want to be alone, Mother.”
Sulwen gently pulled her close and cradled her head. “My love is like the moon—shining and eternal. And as long as it rises in the sky, you shall never be alone.”
Aowyn settled into a deep sleep. She dreamt of a summer ago when she and her brothers and mother went to their secret place: a glassy secluded pond lush with trees of fragrant pink and white blossoms, tall emerald grasses, and alive with the music of chirping crickets and buzzing dragonflies. Aowyn sat on the shore beside Sulwen, basking in the sun. They were a stark contrast. Aowyn babbled like the spring brook, spinning a story of the sun god Aodh, son of Aobh. She told how Aobh’s sister acted jealous of Aobh’s children and conspired to kill them on a journey to see Bodb Dearg, the King of the Tuatha Dé Danann. But for love of the children, the servants would not slay them, and so Aobh’s sister cursed the children to live as swans for 1,000 years. Sulwen smiled serenely as she listened. She tipped her face toward the sun and soaked in its warmth. Aowyn’s brothers swam in the crystal-clear pond, splashing and wrestling. Stór, jokingly accused among the court of not being one of the king’s own, stuck low to the ground studying bugs and rocks and the way the light dappled the surroundings as it sifted through the trees. When Aowyn grew quiet, Sulwen clasped her hand and squeezed it. “You were born to be a queen among queens, my love, always remember that. Until that time, reign over our safe haven here, our An Cuan Áille.” Aowyn smiled brightly and didn’t give it a second thought.