A Healing in Wales

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Today is my parents’ 51st wedding anniversary.  In their honor, I’d like to tell you about a curious experience we shared in Wales when I was twenty-eight.  Six months before, I developed pleural bruising of the chest wall, which turned breathing into an exercise in torture.  Even after I recovered, I wasn’t up to par.  Trifling colds became bronchitis overnight.

During the flight overseas, I caught another cold.  Two days later, my voice dropped nearly an octave, and my chest burned with the slightest cough.  Not to be outdone, my dad hurt his right knee just before the trip, and after two days of climbing castle stairs, it wasn’t happy.  Clearly, our vacation had begun on a poor note.

The night we settled into our Pembrokeshire bed-and-breakfast, he and I fell into deep sleeps.  My mom, however, did not.  She fretted about my health and feared my lungs would never recover from the effects of pleural bruising.  All night, she lay awake praying for my healing, and ultimately, my life.

Unaware of her long vigil, I woke the following morning to an image—a mere flash—of her as a nun in another life, kneeling on a cold stone floor with hands folded in prayer.  Perplexed, I brushed the vision aside and hacked my way to the bathroom.

Even as we set out for St. David’s Cathedral, Dad and I remained ignorant of Mom’s fervent prayers.  But I was quite aware we approached a sacred site of pilgrimage and miraculous healings—in pagan times and in Christian—and a purported intersection of ley lines.

Once inside the cathedral, Dad went off to explore on his own.  Mom and I remained in the nave, but I veered a few yards away from her and gazed up at what seemed a massive time machine to the High Middle Ages.  The Transitional Norman architecture was a masterwork of carving with its great, rounded arches and intricate, wooden ceiling.

All at once, heat poured through me.  My flesh tingled.  The next instant, I felt as if something pulled me downward and rooted me to the spot where I stood.  I remained upright, but the bizarre suction held me fast.

Mom hastened toward me.  “Jude, are you all right?  You look faint.”

Suddenly, I could move again.  I found the nearest pew and dropped onto it.  Little by little, normality returned, but I couldn’t shake the feeling something powerful had occurred.

When we met up with my dad, he mentioned an odd sensation of heat in his right knee.  By that evening, both of us felt remarkably better.  The next morning, I was completely well, and my lungs have functioned beautifully ever since.

At one time or another, all of us need healing.  Often, it goes deeper than the physical.  My characters in The Novels of Ravenwood need it too, whether they’re a tortured warrior (Lord Ravenwood), a haunted magician (Lord Nihtscua), or the would-be nun with a secret, Lady Constance, in the upcoming Book 3, Shadow of the Swan.

If I could have one superpower, it would be the ability to heal anyone, anywhere of whatever ails him/her.  I hope in some small way my books do that.  I can’t lessen readers’ pain, but maybe I can lighten their load, show them they’re not alone, and give them an alternate reality into which they can escape…if only for a while.

Of Luck and Lore

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Last time, I brought you along for the ghost hunt on my first trip to Ireland.   There are more stories where that came from!  My Irish cousins shared a wealth of information about my great-grandfather, Michael Patrick—who emigrated from Ireland in 1914—and his siblings.  Through fortune and loss, the family became fast friends with Irish luck.  One example concerned Michael’s brother, who missed his boat to America (the Titanic) but arrived unscathed on the Lusitania.

Luck was one thing.  What really intrigued me was the revelation that our family had encountered the supernatural on both sides of the Atlantic.  I’d had experiences my whole life, but they didn’t start with me.  Here are three which occurred long before I was born.

(1) Michael’s sister, Brigit, was promised to a young man who immigrated to America.  As soon as he saved enough money to set up house, she was to join him.  But once he left, she moved to Dublin, “took up with” a bricklayer, and became pregnant.  Nine months later, she was back home and in the throes of childbirth.  The doctor delivered a healthy baby, then headed off into the night.  A short while later, pain seized Brigit, and contractions began anew.  A second baby was born without the doctor’s aid.  Brigit died soon afterward.

In America that same night, her betrothed awoke and bolted upright.  Brigit stood at the foot of his bed, staring down at him.  She held his gaze for maybe a minute, then disappeared.

The next day, he sent a transatlantic cable to her family, relating the event and asking if she was all right.  They were as shocked by his account as he was by her death.

(2) One night, Michael and his mates were enjoying a round of drinks at the pub.  The door swung open, and another friend burst into the room.  He was wild-eyed, drawn, and out of breath.  Michael ushered him to their table.

The friend dropped onto a chair and raked a hand through his hair.  He glanced over his shoulder, then blurted out his tale.  He hadn’t slept for days.  He’d stolen the golden comb from a banshee, and now she chased him to reclaim it.

The group exchanged dubious looks and scratched their heads…until the man opened his coat.  Popping up from the inside pocket was a sparkling, gold comb.

He jumped up from his chair.  “Did ye hear that?”

The others shook their heads.

“She’s here!  She’s found me.”  He darted out of the pub.

The next morning, he was found dead, spread out on his back, fully dressed, atop his perfectly made bed.  His coat lay open, and his attire was the same as the previous evening in all ways but one.  The golden comb was gone.

Tradition holds that banshees attract humans with gold or silver combs.  Then the banshee spirits the person away to another dimension…which is a pretty accurate description of death.

(3) One soft night, while still in Ireland, Michael plodded home.  The street was deserted until a “little man” appeared atop the stone wall and padded toward him.  A chill ran down Michael’s spine; something wasn’t right.  He averted his gaze.  A moment later, he felt compelled to look up.  The man was gone.  Then a flicker of movement across the road caught his eye.

There, on the opposite stone wall, stood the little man.  He’d traversed the distance in the blink of an eye.  He stared at Michael, who avoided his gaze again.  Seconds later, Michael glanced his way, but the man had vanished for good.

My great-grandfather had no doubt he’d seen a leprechaun.  According to legend, if you keep your eye on one, he can’t escape, but the minute you look away, he disappears.  That encounter stayed with Michael the rest of his life, and his eyes sparkled as he shared it with his grandson, my dad, who later shared it with me.

Is it any wonder a leprechaun pops up in my Guardians of Erin series?  It’s a way to honor Michael’s memory, and it’s just plain fun!  I recently turned in the edits of The Cauldron Stirred (Book One of the series) to my editor.  I’ll keep you in the loop as the book heads toward publication.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

An Irish Ghost Hunt

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moon-on-fire-1537514With St. Patrick’s Day on the way, I thought I’d 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 father 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 mother 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.  My father 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 father as my mother 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?”

My father 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 father 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, jerpoint-abbey-1-1624034we 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.

Speaking of Ireland, I’m close to finishing the edits of The Cauldron Stirred, the first book in my Guardians of Erin YA series.  I’ll keep you posted during the production process!

 

Ice, ice, baby!

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rykevik-rooftops-1230557-640x480In the summer of 1993, after living in Sweden for six months, I flew back to the States.  My flight had a three-hour layover in Iceland’s Keflavík International Airport, just outside of Reykjavík.  I remained in the airport for the duration, but I couldn’t shake the curious murmur of destiny that tickled my ears.

This place is important.  Not Keflavík or Reykjavík, but farther out.  One day, you must return.

Six years later in Virginia, after I moved in with my husband (then fiancé) Dan, I had a vivid dream.  I drifted with the wind over fjord and field to what seemed a farewell scene.  A woman with long, dark blonde hair stood beside a horse and rider.  The man astride the horse had shoulder-length red hair and a full beard, and I sensed he held a position of importance.

I floated toward the woman’s back and suddenly became her.  The mergence held long enough for me to exchange good-byes with the man.  Then I shifted back out of her and hovered in the air, regaining my modern identity.

Without warning, as though whacked over the head with Thor’s hammer, I became infused with knowledge.  It was the 10th century, and we’d spoken Old Norse.  There’d been a meeting of chieftains, and the red-haired man was setting out on a long journey.  I (as the woman) had used precognitive skills to verify his safety and success.  I knew he cared for me and hoped we’d be reunited soon.  Less clear was our exact location.  I received a strong impression of Iceland, but murmurs beyond it hinted at the Isle of Man, the Hebrides, and a land of promise far to the west.

Then it dawned on me:  the character on horseback was Dan.  The one looked nothing like the other, but their essence was the same.  It didn’t feel like a dream; it resonated as a moment in history, from Dan’s past and mine.

One week later, we snuggled on the couch and watched the film Smilla’s Sense of Snow, part of which takes place in Greenland.

As the movie ended, I sighed.  “I have to go to there someday.”

“Yeah.”  His voice was wistful.  “That’d be cool.  You know where else we should go?  Iceland.  Do you want to?”

Did I?!  By week’s end, we’d booked a five-day excursion departing in mid-February.  His willingness to make the trip in the dead of winter confirmed what I’d come to believe as truth:  I had met my match.

Here was a fellow fan of wind and snow.  Here, too, was the bearded man I’d known and loved in a distant but distinct dreamtime.

26488_1376520863710_7367662_nWe spent a couple of days in Reykjavík and its environs.  Two of the more impressive sights were the Strokkur geyser and the majestic, half-frozen Gullfoss (Golden Falls).  Honorable mention goes to a “Viking restaurant” in Hafnafjöđur.  During our meal, traditionally clad men serenaded us with old Icelandic tunes whose meter and mode conjured visions of longships on the prowl.  The food was delicious…until we tried an Icelandic delicacy called hákarl.  That’s putrefied shark to you and me!  Thanks to a chaser of brennivín, an Icelandic schnapps, we stomached it and lived to tell the tale.

Next, we flew up to the “capital of the north,” Akureyri.  For three days, we braved the elements to cover as much ground as possible.  The snow was deep, and the wind was fierce, which translated to lonely stretches of road where our rental car was the only vehicle around.

There seemed a definite shortage of fellow tourists, but we did come across a group of Icelandic horses.  They squinted and blinked at the icy blasts, and they acknowledged us with quizzical expressions.

 

I could almost hear their thoughts.  Are you two crazy?  Even we would rather be indoors!

 

Still, we carried on, from the old whaling town of Húsavík to the towering lava formations called Dimmuborgir (“Dark Castles”) of Lake Mývatn.  One afternoon as we drove along yet another windswept, deserted road, the clouds parted, allowing a shaft of light to illuminate a giant shape in the distance.

It was a volcanic hill, but it had the aura and majesty of a mountain.  Its relatively flat top was rounded at the edges, which softened its otherwise looming presence high above the snow-covered plateau.  We nicknamed it “Valhalla” because (1) it attracted the only ray of light for miles around, and (2) its brilliance seemed blinding to eyes now accustomed to leaden skies.

Those skies remained our constant companion as we explored numerous craters and other volcanic creations around Mývatn, but whenever “Valhalla” came into view, it shone like a beacon.  We had to laugh.  It seemed preposterous that the sun should ignore every feature of the landscape but one.

That night, in our Akureyri hotel room, a strange sound woke me.  I rolled over in bed and stared at Dan.

He was talking in his sleep, but not in English.  It was a Scandinavian tongue, similar to Icelandic, and I almost understood it.  I felt right on the verge, like when a word or thought is on the tip of your tongue.  Given a slight, indefinable shift, I would’ve comprehended it.

All at once, I knew.  He was speaking Old Norse.

I didn’t wake him, and after a couple of minutes, he stopped.  But his easy pronunciation, fluency, and the authority of his speech echoed in my mind.

I thought of my mom.  Twice before, she heard me speak another language in my sleep:  Irish in Ireland and years later, Welsh in Wales.  For the record, I’ve never learned those languages, just as Dan has never learned a Scandinavian one.

iceland-glacier-lakes-5-1511771-639x960That was 17 years ago this month.  The experience lent the trip a touch of magic.  But all travel has the potential to be magical.  Distant places and different cultures expand our horizons and wake us up in profound ways.  I can’t help thinking of a quote from the movie Dune.  “The sleeper must awaken.”

In The Novels of Ravenwood series, the heroes of Books 1 and 3 are knights who’ve recently returned from the Holy Land.  They experienced the horrors of battle, but also learned to appreciate aspects of the cultural mix they encountered.  I’m still writing the third book, Shadow of the Swan.  But you can check out the first book, Flight of the Raven, to learn how the hero’s time overseas influenced him.  Happy reading!

And the winner is…

aba-valentines-blog-hopA big thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog for the ABA “A Time for Love” Valentine Blog Hop.  I did the drawing for the free digital copy of Flight of the Raven, and the winner is kitsyclare.  Congratulations!  Please email me at judithsterlingmarshall@gmail.com and give me your contact info, so I can send your prize on its way.  Thanks again!

Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

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In perf5.000x8.000.inddkeeping with the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Soul of the Wolf (The Novels of Ravenwood, Book Two) is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  The worldwide release date is April 12, 2017.

A Norman lady shows a Saxon sorcerer there’s no greater magic than love.

Pre-order now!

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!

 

Souls Forever Bound ~ ABA’s A Time for Love Valentine Hop

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Thanks so much for visiting this stop on the Valentine Blog Hop!  We’re talking about love, and I’ll be delving into my family history.  Comment below, and you could win a free e-copy of my medieval romance, Flight of the Raven, the first of The Novels of Ravenwood.  So without further ado…

This October, my husband and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary.  Last April, my parents celebrated their 50th.  But as Valentine’s Day approaches, I want to focus on the marriage of my maternal grandparents, better known as Nanny and Poppy.  Their bond was true and as strong as they come.

When Poppy’s naval ship sank during World War II, Nanny received word he’d been killed in action.  She ignored the telegram and remained calm, but not out of denial.  Her keen intuition—passed down to my mom, me, and my twins—insisted he was alive.  Months later, her belief was vindicated, and they spent the rest of their lives together in Virginia, Peru, and finally, Florida.

After 68 years of marriage, Nanny passed away.  Shortly thereafter, Alzheimer’s seized Poppy, and he moved into a nursing home.  His health plummeted, and my parents rushed to his side.  The nurse told them he was comatose and hadn’t spoken for four days.

My mom took his hand.  “Poppy, I love you.”

 “I love you too,” he replied.

It was a miracle of sorts.  Not only did he speak, but he recognized my mom.  She stayed in his room from that point on.

Two days later, throughout the day, his gaze darted around the room and up to the ceiling.  He repeatedly raised his arms toward what he saw.

The next day, my mom, her best friend, and the nurse witnessed an incredible reunion.  Something unseen lifted Poppy and held him so he sat up in bed.  Though his muscles were dormant, the movement was quick.  He could never have accomplished the feat on his own.

An expression of intense love transformed his features.  My mom sensed another presence in the room and was certain he gazed upon the person he loved most in the world, Nanny.

The next morning and afternoon, seven hawks circled outside his window.  His time had come; still, he hung on.  Toward the end of the day, my mom grabbed the phone.  Her gut told her Poppy needed to hear from his other daughter, so she called her sister and held the phone to his ear.

 “It’s okay to go,” my aunt said.

He murmured his last words, the only ones he’d spoken—besides “I love you too”—for nine days.  “Bye-bye.”

Two hours later, he died.  It was November 23, five months to the day after his wife’s death.  The next night, my three-year-old sons woke me and my husband from a sound sleep to report that Nanny and Poppy had appeared in their bedroom.  My grandparents came together to check on the boys while they slept.

Their love lasted a lifetime and then transcended it.  That’s the kind of love I write about in The Novels of Ravenwood series.  Physical attraction is great, and it abounds in Flight of the Raven, Soul of the Wolf, and the three books to follow.  But you’ll also find something deeper:  the meeting of minds, the interplay of souls.  These are the things which pave the way for true and lasting love.  And on that note, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here’s the scoop on Flight of the Raven!

FlightoftheRaven_w10928_750How eager would the bridegroom be if he knew he could never bed the bride?

Lady Emma of Ravenwood Keep is prepared to give Sir William l’Orage land, wealth, and her hand in marriage.  But her virginity?  Not unless he loves her.  The curse that claimed her mother is clear:  unless a Ravenwood heir is conceived in love, the mother will die in childbirth.  Emma is determined to dodge the curse.  Then William arrives, brandishing raw sensuality which dares her to explore her own.

William the Storm isn’t a man to be gainsaid.  He’ll give her protection, loyalty, and as much tenderness as he can muster.  But malignant memories quell the mere thought of love.  To him, the curse is codswallop.  He plans a seduction to breach Emma’s fears and raze her objections.  What follows is a test of wills and an affirmation of the power of love.

for the next stop on the valentine hop, click below:

1. A Time For Love ~ Casi McLean 2. Spunk & Hunks ~ Anna Durand
3. Love in the Month of February ~ Mary Morgan 4. Love Potions and Charms ~ Sorchia Dubois
5. He said he wasn’t the romantic kind of guy, but… ~ Peggy Jaeger 6. Love and War ~ Gini Rifkin
7. Sexy Chocolate Cakes ~ Kayden Claremont 8. 50 Great Date Ideas ~ Devon Mckay
9. Hearts Abound ~ Tena Stetler 10. Love Every Day ~ Darlene Fredette
11. Importance of Valentines Day ~ Maureen Bonatch 12. Souls Forever Bound ~ Judith Sterling
13. Mysterious Origins of Valentine’s Day ~ Barbara Bettis 14. A Romantic Valentine Dinner ~ Jana Richards
15. Steamy Romance Meets Spooky Suspense ~ Kathryn Knight 16. Book Bling ~ Elizabeth Alsobrooks
17. Sweet Romances ~ Katherine McDermott 18. Historical Heartbeats ~ Brenda B. Taylor
19. An Awesome Bewitching Author Valentines Day ~ Lisa Voisin 20. Idea City ~ Kitsy Clare/Catherine Stine
21. Welcome to the ABA Valentine Hop ~ Linda Nightingale 22. Bridie Hall YA Author ~ Bridie Hall
23. A Time For Love Valentine Blog Hop ~ Amber Daulton 24. ‘Out Of This World’ Romance ~ Hywela Lyn
25. Time Travel For Love ~ Karen Michelle Nutt 26. Valentine’s Day – A Family Tradition ~ Holland Rae
27. Historical Heartbeats

 

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

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Hi, everyone!  Here’s the scoop on Soul of the Wolf, the second of The Novels of Ravenwood:

A Norman loyalist, Lady Jocelyn bristles when ordered to marry Wulfstan, a Saxon sorcerer. She nurses a painful secret and would rather bathe in a cesspit than be pawed by such a man…until her lifelong dream of motherhood rears its head.

A man of magic and mystery, Wulfstan has no time for wedded bliss. He fears that consummating their marriage will bind their souls and wrench his focus from the ancient riddle his dying mother begged him to solve. He’s a lone wolf, salving old wounds with endless work. But Jocelyn stirs him as no woman ever has.

Their attraction is undeniable. Their fates are intertwined. Together, they must face their demons and bring light to a troubled land.

I just got the release date:  April 12, 2017.  It’ll be here before you know it!

If you haven’t read Flight of the Raven, the first in the series, now would be a good time to check it out.  It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers, and of course, from The Wild Rose Press.perf5.000x8.000.indd