Rolf’s Quest: Medieval Encounters #1
*Fire & Ice and Rebecca Finalist*
A wizard, a curse, a fated love…
When Rolf finally discovers the woman who can end the curse that has plagued his family for centuries, she is already betrothed. Time is running out for the royal wizard of King Henry II. If he cannot find true love without the use of sorcery, the magic will die for future generations.
Melissa is intrigued by the mystical, handsome man who haunts her by night and tempts her by day. His bizarre tale of Merlin, enchantments, and finding genuine love has her questioning his sanity and her heart.
From the moment Melissa stepped from his dreams and into his arms, Rolf knew she was his destiny. Now, he will battle against time, a powerful duke, and call on the gods to save her.
“Romance, destiny, family values & betrayal all played parts in this intriguing novel that had me turning each page in anticipation.” ~~ The BookTweeter
“I enjoyed the flow of the story and the sweet, charming romance. There were unexpected twists and turns that kept my pages turning until the very last page! I highly recommend taking a read through Aubrey’s tapestry of Merlin, magic, and true love.” ~~Amazon Reviewer
Caledonia Forest, Scotland Autumn, 1139
The ancient limbs of the Rowan groaned as a strong wind tunneled through the Forbidden Forest. “By the gods, Vivien, if I get out of here you will pay,” Merlin raged, his long, white beard trembling with fury. A flutter of leaves danced and spiraled, falling between the gnarled roots that pushed through the dense carpet of sticks and bark.
The raspy voice echoed and bounced off the thick trunks of the trees as if to mimic the sorcerer’s threat. Vivien was nowhere near the legendary forest, and the old man only ranted at an innocent squirrel resting on a sturdy branch. The centuries had slowly chipped away at his patience, replaced by a grim determination to overcome the curse she’d placed upon him.
The snap of a branch caught Merlin’s attention. He stilled at the sound of horses. “Where have you been? Do you no longer find it necessary to heed my summons?” His voice cracked, and the wind again picked up, blowing around bits of debris and restricting his view.
Two shadowy figures emerged from the gloomy interior of the forest. A taller man on a large stallion dwarfed the boy who sat on a smaller pony. They came to a stop before him, the horses’ nervous prance crunching the dead leaves under their hooves. The man dismounted, his mail chinking softly as his feet hit the ground. “Baron Giles Arbrec at your service, my lord.”
“Why does it take so long to answer my call?” The wizard spoke softly but the tone was deadly. “Do you no longer fear my wrath?”
“Merlin, I have come as commanded.” He knelt before the tree, head bowed, broad shoulders rippling under his hauberk as he bowed his head. “It is the boy’s tenth name day. I proudly present my first–born and only son, Rolf Arbrec.” The baron looked over his shoulder. “Dismount boy. Come pay homage to Merlin.”
The youngster’s wide, amber eyes looked to either side then back at his elder as he joined him. “Father, there is no one here. You are talking to a tree.”
A haze appeared in the center of the trunk then transformed into a face. Merlin gazed at the boy and felt a small crack in what was once his heart.
“Are you…” Rolf put his shoulders back and his chin up. He cleared his throat and asked again in a clear voice, “Are you the mighty wizard of legend?”
The snowy whiskers rippled with the rusty sound of his chuckle. “Indeed I am. And pleased to hear that my feats are still spoken of after such a long absence.”
“Kneel, Rolf, and show your respect.” The baron slapped his son on the chest with the back of his hand.
“He is a fine–looking lad.” Merlin studied the frightened boy who tried so desperately to hide his fear. “Leave him. We have much to teach him and little time to do it.”
“I cannot abandon him here in the Caledonia Forest,” exclaimed Baron Arbrec, rising to his feet and waving a fist in the air. “He is all I have left.
Calmness blanketed the sorcerer for the first time in centuries. This boy was the one. He could see it in the intensity of his gaze and the determined set of his jaw. “What else would you have me do, Arbrec? He is our last hope. This Rowan is dying and me along with it. If the curse is not broken before the last bloom of this tree, we are all doomed for eternity.”
“Curse? Upon our family or upon you?” Curiosity replaced Rolf’s fear.
Good sign. “You are my family, boy. I am saddened this responsibility must fall on such young shoulders, but you will be my champion. It will be your name the folk will one day whisper.”
“But I am to blame for this tragedy. Why must my only son suffer the consequences?”
The wizard gave a long, tired sigh. “In truth, I am at fault, and many generations have paid for my sins. You came so close to ending this, Giles. If you had only married his mother… But even a battle-hardened soldier of great valor has his fears.”
The excitement in the boy’s eyes faded as the ground shook with the old man’s disappointment. Another gust of wind sent more leaves tumbling to the ground. The boy steadied himself with both hands in the dirt but raised his head to Merlin. “I am at your command.”
“Stand, my son, and bid your father farewell.” The baron’s hands shook as he removed a chain from his neck and placed it over Rolf’s dark head. A plum-colored stone flashed with strands of brilliant violet as it landed gently on the narrow chest.
“Wear this amulet at all times. It will keep you safe.” Arbrec nodded toward the image in the tree. “He will protect you until you have completed your task. Forgive me for my failure.” He gripped the slender boy in a fierce hug.
When their eyes met, Merlin felt Arbrec’s agony like a stone in his gut. “You may visit each solstice and see how he fares. I am not a monster.”
Arbrec nodded. “I will regret my mistake for the rest of my days. Watch over him. He is my life.” Pushing his son away firmly, he turned his back and walked to his horse. The boy wiped his tear-stained cheeks with the back of his dirty hands but stood his ground and did not run after his father.
Damn you again, Vivien. Rolf will find genuine love, without the use of trickery, and she will return that tenderness. Then your day of reckoning will arrive.
Merlin watched as the boy silently waved to the retreating figure, a shadow fading into the darkness of the forest. His features softened and kindness shown in the faded eyes. “You have great courage and strength, Rolf. I will teach you things beyond your imagination. We shall help each other, you will see.”
England Early December 1154
Melissa fidgeted in the saddle as her gloved fingers wrapped and unwrapped around the reins. She swung her feet in the stirrups; a dull monotone beat between the horse’s blanket and her heavy skirts. The landscape provided little color with its yellowed fields and bare branches. She made a sign of the cross and thanked St. Agricola for the mild weather and clear sky during this trip. It never mattered how many layers of wool she wore when riding all day in a wintry drizzle. It always chilled one to the bone.
They had traveled for three days on rutted roads and crude paths, suffering uncomfortable beds, bad food, and her mother’s constant chatter about the duties of a wife. She needed an escape, a few moments alone to calm her nerves.
Her father, the Earl of Garrick, rode ahead with his small army, determined to make London before the end of the week. She smiled with pride as he rode up and down the lines of his men. He spoke to one knight, reprimanded another, and then laughed with his steward. She prayed her future husband would be as commanding and respected as her father.
The London trip served two purposes. They would attend the coronation of Henry Plantagenet, and she would meet her betrothed, Charles Whitburn the Duke of Sunderland.
“Melissa, did you hear me?” Her mother’s irritated voice interrupted her thoughts.
She nodded, but the words drifted away on the late autumn breeze. Her horse’s head drooped low and her hand absently rubbed the gelding’s neck.
Lady Agnes let out a sigh. “What is going on in that lovely mind?”
“Do you remember the day father signed my marriage contract?” As a young girl of ten, Melissa had met the former duke. She recalled his blond, wavy hair and warm brown eyes. He had seemed a giant of a man as he smiled down at her and asked her to turn in a circle. Then, looking at her father, he had simply said, “Yes, she’ll do.”
Melissa reached over the gap between their horses and clutched her mother’s arm. “Do you think Charles will look like his father?”
“We can only hope, child. It will make your nights much more pleasant.” She shook her head, a perplexed look on her face. “Such a handsome man to die in such a way. Yet it did expedite this union.”
“The letter said an arrow pierced his heart and another went through his eye. Yet they have no clue about those responsible.” Melissa shivered delicately. “Why do they not think he was set upon by thieves?”
“Neither the purse of silver nor the horse was taken. ’Twas the Scots, I tell you. The duke had influence in the court of Henry I, and his family will rise again with Henry’s grandson on the throne. Be happy that your young man is on the right side of the throne. I only wish his lands were not so close to the border and those savages.”
“I am not foolish enough to pine for a love match,” Melissa answered. “But I do want an opportunity to get to know him before we are wed. Is this too much to ask?”
“My dear, you will have a lifetime for that. If he resembles his father in more than just appearance, you may consider yourself fortunate indeed. And we will be in London for a month. You will have sufficient time to learn more about your husband before the marriage.”
“When did you first meet Father?”
“Our marriage was performed by proxy. I met him the day my family delivered me to his gate. The man that stood in his place reeked of onion and had a belly that fell over his belt.” Agnes chuckled. “I felt more relief than fear at the first actual glimpse of my husband.”
“And you have been happy?” She watched her mother’s face for any signs of regret but saw none.
“My mother trained me well how to manage a house and lands. I have assumed your father’s responsibilities on many occasions when he left to defend our lands or fight for our King.” Her chin went up. “I can settle disputes, oversee finances, and defend our castle, if needed. Your father and I hold a mutual respect for one another. I am content with my life.”
“And this is what I should I hope for?”
“Yes, my love. That is all you can hope for.” She clicked to the horse. “Let us find Lord Garrick. I need to rest for a bit and attend my needs. I would sell my soul for a garderobe in those woods ahead.”
Melissa watched her parents interact. The country buzzed with colorful tales about Henry II—a rugged redhead with an unpredictable temper—and his beautiful, sophisticated consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Travelers who had seen them together declared it to be a love–match. This surprised no one, considering the Queen’s fascination with the Camelot legend and chivalry. Her troubadours were renowned for their romantic stories and songs about the knights of old.
Could there be passion and love for nobles? Did even the peasants and serfs have that luxury? No matter. Her lot had been drawn and she found herself excited at the thought of being lady of her own castle, mistress of her home. She dismounted on her own, ignoring the look from her mother, and waited to see which direction she and her maid went. Melissa purposely turned the other way.
The woods were dim with the day nearly at an end. They would not reach the next town before dark. She picked up her heavy skirts and walked farther into the trees; the quiet and solitude wrapped around her like a balm. Her horse followed behind, snatching at a random leaf that still clung to a branch. Common sense told her to turn around, but a noise—no, a song —floated over the stillness.
Without thought, Melissa moved toward the sound. She approached the edge of the forest and stopped just behind a large oak. A man stood on a hill beckoning to someone or something. His voice captured her, bound her to the spot, and her eyes fixed on the scene.
Silhouetted against the blood–orange sun sinking into the horizon, the dark, powerfully built figure slowly raised his right arm toward the evening sky. The sides of his mantle fluttered in the autumn breeze as a hawk screeched in answer. He raised his left arm and the howl of wolves echoed through the air in obedient response.
A sudden gust of air swirled the black, heavy cloak around the legs of the man, sending leaves flying about his feet as if they were commanded to dance. Melissa watched from behind the tree and held her breath, for fear of being discovered.
His resonant voice rose in a chant that captivated, then soothed. It spoke to her, beckoned her. She clutched at the rough tree bark to resist the physical pull. Then the chant abruptly ceased.
His head snapped around and tawny golden eyes locked onto hers. His gaze seemed to pierce her very soul, and her body pulsed in excitement as he pushed back the hood exposing raven hair and the chiseled features of an extraordinarily handsome face. She gasped, her gaze transfixed on the most magnificent creature she had ever seen.
Distant voices threatened to encroach upon this moment of fate. She pushed the sound to the back of her mind and focused only on the mysterious man in front of her. The urge to move closer overwhelmed her, and she stepped away from the shelter of the tree. Her feet moved of their own will, and her arms reached out to this stranger who now filled her with an intense need.
The voices behind her grew louder. Footsteps rustled dead leaves and brush, intruding on the enchantment. Her mind, not yet ready to let him go, struggled to stay in his world. But the mystical influence receded and she knew he had released his hold over her. An inexplicable emptiness took its place.
Melissa reluctantly turned towards the commotion behind her, certain he would be gone when she looked back over her shoulder. Would she see him again? Her father had spoken of a wizard rumored to have the ear of the king. Her mind a tangle of unexplained questions, she bowed her head and attempted a look of repentance as her father approached.
“Daughter! What were you thinking to wander off alone?” She heard more worry in his tone than anger. “These are hard times. I fear too many thieves lurk near the main roads.”
“Yes, my lord.” The relief on his face caused her to regret the impulse for a moment of privacy.
She cast one last glance toward the hill but spied only a single hawk, circling low. The bird landed on a nearby branch, observing the group. As Melissa admired its beauty, her heart raced. One hand covered her chest as her eyes locked onto a pair of golden ones. It cannot be him. Unless he is a…
The bird seemed to read her thoughts. With one sharp cry, the winged creature took flight and disappeared over the trees. She reached out to stop him, but he vanished into the night.
The travelers entered a small village that had already conceded to the winter. Tiny huts looked forlorn with any openings shuttered or covered with tanned animal skins. Thin tendrils of smoke drifted from the top of thatched roofs. The earl found an alehouse with respectable accommodations. Inside, a great fire roared in the open hearth and the smell of sizzling meat put the entire party in good humor.
Lord Garrick wiped the grease from his fingers and reached for a cup of wine. “Damned good venison. I think that may be the best meal we’ve had since we left home. With the coming of Advent, it will be a long while before we get more meat.”
“Quality increases the closer we get to London. Though you don’t care for fish, I am sure the dishes served at court will taste better than these kitchens.” Lady Agnes pushed away her plate and patted her stomach. “Now if only we had a comfortable mattress.”
Melissa stared into the fire. An ember popped and hit her skirt, shaking her from her thoughts. She brushed the cinder off and examined the tiny burn mark in the heavy wool. “Are wizards and magic real?”
“What?” Her father looked at her as if she had two heads, and then smirked. “I am certain of it. Watch me conjure up an evil spirit.” He reached over and pinched his wife’s bottom. She gave a yelp then began a torrent of reprimands. “See?”
“You tease me. I suppose it was a silly question.”
“Daughter, you will see many wondrous things in the next month.” He reached out and awkwardly patted her hand. “You shall make an excellent wife. Your mother served you well.”
Both women blushed at the praise. “Watch the festivities closely,” Agnes advised. “The Duke of Sunderland entertains often.”
“Yes, my lady.” She reached in her pocket and felt the lemon balm leaves. With a little rub, the citrus scent drifted up, and she inhaled deeply.
“Are you nervous dear? That scent has calmed you since before you were born. I remember when your grandmother gave me the Melissa leaves to soothe me while I carried you. Afterward, I hoped the name would somehow impart a sense of tranquility and composure in your life.” She winked at her husband. “She is composed, I suppose, but tranquil?”
Her parents’ laughter faded when they saw Melissa’s offended look.
Agnes squeezed her daughter’s hand. “Take heart, my girl. This trip has been difficult but soon the excitement will begin.”
“You are right. But at this moment, I only look forward to a good night of sleep,” Melissa answered, returning their smile. “Mother, you must be tired too.”
The older woman stifled a yawn. “My lord, with your permission, we ladies will retire. I believe you sent our traveling bags upstairs?”
“Yes, Agnes.” He, too, let out a loud yawn and stretched his arms above his head. “I won’t be long. I need to speak with my marshal and be sure the horses are well attended.”
Melissa’s maid had unpacked, and her pallet lay in front of a small fire crackling in the hearth. It always comforted her to know Beatrice was near. “Just a sneeze away,” the older woman had told her since childhood. But neither her governess nor the lemon balm worked to relieve the tight ball in her stomach.
“Why can you not come with me?”
“You no longer need me, milady. You’re all grown and soon to be mistress of your own home. It’s only nerves, milady. Once you are settled, your duties will keep you so busy I will be an occasional thought.” The older woman gently brushed Melissa’s long blonde waves. “I love you like my own and will always be here when you need me.” She pressed her hand over heart.
She gave Beatrice a hug. “I fear my mind is too full and will not rest. Help me to bed and sing to me until I fall asleep.” The childhood melodies quieted her thoughts and her eyes closed.
Vivid dreams interrupted her slumber. She stood in small grove, shivering in the dark. A familiar voice caused her to jump.
“I have waited for you.” The mysterious man on the hill stared at her from a tree.
“Come down right now,” she commanded and rubbed the goosebumps that prickled her arms. “How can you wait for me when we have never met?”
“You are my destiny.”
“Ridiculous. You are neither man nor animal.” Yet the blood rushing to her cheeks and the warmth that spread through her body said otherwise. He was indeed a man, whether he looked at her from under a hood or the eyes of a hawk. When she peered up at the tree again, he had vanished, and she cried out for him. Her skin chilled with his absence and her heart grew heavy.
“Please don’t go. I would take back my harsh words.”
A whisper tickled her ear. “We shall meet again.”
Melissa sat bolt upright in bed, her heart pounded as if she had run from the stables to the house. She clutched the damp shift to her chest and tried to catch her breath. Using the bed sheets to wipe the sweat from her face, she lay back down on the lumpy mattress.
What kind of sorcerer are you, and why do you invade my sleep? Leave me be.
But when she closed her lids, she knew golden eyes watched her from a distance. A soft, low chant lulled her back into a fitful slumber.
What reviewers are saying about Medieval Encounters:
“The idea of Merlin’s descendants trying to save him from a curse he brought upon himself… just brilliant. The characters were amazing and the story … completely spellbinding. This one definitely earns a 10.” ~ https://bookaholicfix.wordpress.com
“Love the twist on Merlin. Aubrey Wynne did an awesome job making these characters and their lives stand out and grab a hold of me. Can’t wait to for the next book.” ~ By Bobbi’s Reviews http://bobbikinion.blogspot.com/
“I truly enjoyed this lovely fairy tale type love story. A magical tale set in the whimsical time of Merlin the magician.” ~ By Vettech’s Reviews Goodreads
Coming summer of 2017
A Medieval Encounter #1.5
Merlin scours the earth to take revenge on Vivien. Yet when he finds her, will he exact retribution or learn from past mistakes?
Book 1: The Story of Athos
The love story of Athos and Rosalind is set to the background of a turbulent France in 1643. The King is dead and a five-year-old takes the throne. Anne of Austria struggles to hold power for her son, Louis XIV, against the treachery of her in-laws and the deceit of French courtiers.
When rumors surface of treason and assassination plots, the Queen turns to the only men she can trust. Athos, Aramis, d’Artagnan and Porthos will risk their lives for king and country. But will their magnificent valor be enough to save France and a love that Athos cannot deny?