Melusine, a deity of rivers and seas, long ago lost the Battle of the Betrayal and is imprisoned in a nexus centred on the source of the Lynn River. She can only travel in the flowing water of her river, and cannot set foot on her banks. Her cats are not so bound. Neither pets nor familiars, they move freely between the realities, her agents among the humans who live along the Lynn.
When Melusine’s enemies come to the valley in search of revenge, she needs to rebuild the war band she has lost over the centuries. Her cats are the keys to this. Each one is a guardian, and formidable in its greater avatar. A guardian, along with two chosen warriors, form a triad. All three must come into the triad willingly, and as willingly give their oaths of loyalty to her. But Melusine is both prisoner and prison-keeper, and now must gather triads to guard that other dungeon at all costs.
Hal Rayner enjoys his job at Greenlynn’s Black Dog pub. He gets on well with the locals, and has been adopted by the usually standoffish pub cat. Then the dreams start, a red-headed stranger turns up, and before he knows it, Hal is caught up in other-worldly danger and weirdness. The cat, Tawny, is right in the middle of it, and Hal can’t understand how a common or garden mog can become something out of a prehistoric nightmare.
Gryffyth, the son of Nodens Silverhand, has been released from long imprisonment, and despite the unhealed wound given to him by Melusine in that distant battle, the years haven’t blunted his hunger for revenge. He is still loyal to Gronw, and when Morgan sends for him, he willingly gives his aid. Gryff is determined to find and free his imprisoned liege lord. Then he meets Hal and Tawny, and suddenly the rules have changed.
Four men stood grouped around a fifth, and the contrast between them struck Hal as odd. The quartet looked to be city-types in their mid and late twenties, were well-dressed in Barbour jackets, smart jeans and leather shoes. The fifth man was a fair bit older, in his late forties maybe, dark-haired, and with a rugged, unshaven appearance that matched his serviceable but well-worn clothes and boots. His air of authority was palpable, and made the four seem like posturing schoolboys. A large black and tan dog that might be a cross between a German Shepherd and a shaggy bear lounged at his feet. The scene seemed off to Hal, and tension began to gather in his belly.
“Who is he, Betts?” he asked over his shoulder. “I haven’t seen him around here before.”
She joined him at the window. “No idea, sweetie. He’s a stranger to me. Is he ticking them off?”
“No, I’m pretty sure not.” Hal frowned. “It’s more like he’s telling them something. I’m going to see if I can hear what’s going on.” A few empties on some of the picnic tables gave him a valid reason to be outside, so he picked up a tray and walked casually into the beer garden. He collected the glasses and bottles from one table and edged nearer to the group.
“—and wait behind the hedges,” the dark man was saying. “Go now, they’ll be here soon.”
“Okay, and we can do what we like, right?” one of the four said with an eagerness that set Hal’s hackles up.
“You can,” the man drawled, and two hurried away, laughing and jostling each other.
“You said you’d make sure there won’t be any repercussions,” another said, “no matter what.”
“I did. But only if you are victorious. Fail and I won’t be able to protect you.”
“We won’t—” A rumbling growl from the dog cut over the words and Hal glanced down to see he was the focus of the animal’s gaze.
Hal didn’t hesitate. He approached their table, ostensibly relaxed, his expression easygoing and friendly.
“Sorry to interrupt, folks. Let me clear away your empties.” He reached in front of the dark man and began to gather up the bottles and glasses. “Can I bring you refills?”
“Fuck off, yokel!” a burly blond snarled and shoved him. Hal swayed easily with the push, and the man caught Blondie’s wrist and held him back.
“That’s enough, Harry. Thank you, no,” he continued, his smile for Hal genial and unthreatening. “We’re about to leave.”
“Have a good day,” he responded, stacked the last glasses on the tray and left. Before he reached the door of the inn, the three of them were on their way out onto the footpath, the dog at their heels.
“Thank God for that,” Betty said as he entered. “Did you hear anything?”
“I think they’re planning to ambush someone, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be a joke. If they’re already slagging off Jesse, perhaps—”
“Oh, damn! What do I do?” But she was already reaching for the mobile phone in her pocket. “I’m calling the cops. I’d sooner have Bob Henshaw tear me off a strip for wasting police time than leave our lads to get a beating from those little shites.”
“Good idea. I’m going back out there to see what they’re up to.”
Hal gave her a swift smile and hurried out to the garden. He didn’t get far. Tawny stood in his path, back arched, fur on end and ears flattened.
No. The word punched into his brain with enough force to rock him back on his heels. Stay here. This is not yet a fight for you.
Not for a second did Hal doubt where that message came from. He gaped at the cat, but before he could rally himself, Betty rushed out of the doorway and grabbed his arm.
“Bob and Ayesha are on their way—he says stay out of it and leave it up to them.”
“As if.” He snorted and started for the door.
No! Another mental blast struck him, and Hal flinched. At the same time, raised voices came from down the path. Jeers and laughter reached him, then shouts of consternation, and Betty gasped in alarm.
“Oh, heck! I heard Will just then.”
Hal swore under his breath. Jesse and Will ran together most days, and showed up at the Black Dog on a regular basis. If the strangers were here to duff Jesse up, he and Will would need all the help they could get. This time, Hal didn’t get that silent rebuke, and when he looked down, Tawny had disappeared.
Chris started creating stories not long after she mastered joined-up writing, somewhat to the bemusement of her parents and her English teachers. But she received plenty of encouragement. Her dad gave her an already old Everest typewriter when she was ten, and it was probably the best gift she’d ever received – until the inventions of the home-computer and the worldwide web.
Chris’s reading and writing interests range from historical, mystery, and paranormal, to science-fiction and fantasy, writing mostly in the male/male genre. She also writes the occasional male/female novel in the name of Chris Power. She refuses to be pigeon-holed and intends to uphold the long and honourable tradition of the Eccentric Brit to the best of her ability. In her spare time [hah!] she reads, or listens to audio books while quilting or knitting. Over the years she has been a stable lad [briefly] in a local racing stable and stud, a part-time and unpaid amateur archaeologist, a civilian clerk at her local police station and a 15th century re-enactor.
She lives in a small and ancient city not far from Stonehenge in the south-west of the United Kingdom, and shares her usually chaotic home with her extended family, three dogs, a Frilled Dragon [lizard], sundry goldfish and tropicals.
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