About Werelord Thal:
Thal is wanted for Devil worship and shape shifting but still boldly walks the streets of 16th century Prague. Jesuits hunt him. Mercenaries fear him. Musicians sing his praise, and women are captivated by his alpha swagger.Born of a witch and a sorcerer, he is summoned when his desperate mother casts the werewolf spell before facing torture and execution. Burdened with her magical call for vengeance Thal seeks the men that killed her. His hunt is complicated when the Magistrate’s stepdaughter Altea Kardas crosses his path. She is horrified that her community is burning women to death. She can confide her doubt and fear only to Thal.
He desires her greatly but knows he will bring ruin upon her. Across Bohemia and beyond people who are different are labeled heretics in a restless world hobbled by tyrannical ignorance. The Renaissance has thrown the Holy Roman Empire into turmoil. Printed books are spreading radical ideas. Firearms are triggering a new age of warfare. And the human spirit is shaking off obedience.
Thal embodies the ancient magic of the pagan past. He challenges a world conquered by a spiritual system that denies the flesh and forgets the Earth. And he awakens within Altea recognition of these truths. She believes any risk is worth loving him until she becomes the bait in a trap set by Thal’s enemies.
Chapter 1. Water and Blood“I’ll show them the Devil’s own magic,” Gretchen snarled.
She held a sapling while she caught her breath. Her legs were shaking. The incline was defeating her old knees. Many years had passed since she had run up and down hills, and this would surely be the last time.
Her pursuers were crossing the pasture at the bottom of the hill. Her path across the thick grass was easy to see because her skirt had wiped the sparkling dew away. The sun rising behind the four men cast their shadows across her tracks. Two burly dogs pulled at their leashes.
Gretchen had been fleeing since the middle of the night when a line of torches had come up the weedy lane to her cottage. She dreaded when the dogs would bring her down. She wished they would maul her to death right here and leave her body on the fragrant Earth, but the men would pull the dogs off and take her away to even worse torments and burning death.
Gasping for breath, she watched her pursuers disappear into the coppiced woods at the bottom of the hill. She hauled herself up by the sapling and forced her creaking legs to run again. She knew where she was going. She had a secret place back in these hills.
In former days she had lived in secret places where magic was still strong and the world unsullied by the careless tread of ignorant men. She had been young then and known love and learned of powers that tapped into primal mysteries with open eyes. The nonsense magic her judges attributed to her was nothing compared to what she knew and what she had done.
Her heart thudded and her vision blurred. When she fell, her spine rattled, but she sprang back up and ran onward. She reached the top of the hill and started skidding down the other side.
The trees were old on this side of the hill. They were just far enough from the needy axes of village and town. Gretchen felt the spirits of the thick-trunked oaks swell against her flesh. She tripped again and twisted her ankle. Pain flared, but madly she limped toward the granite boulders jutting from the dark leafy humus farther downhill. Finally she flopped against the mossy stone. Even in her frantic state, she noticed a cluster of mushrooms in the shadow of a boulder. Their peculiar caps told of another cold spring.
The baying dogs slapped her mind away from its habitual cataloging of the land. She slid around the cool boulders until her feet splashed into a tiny spring. Above the pure water Gretchen brushed the leaves and dirt out of a cleft in the rock. Her dirty fingers found a silver box. Blackish corrosion crusted the metalwork. Her shaking hands cracked open the box that she had left here when she was a much younger woman.
She gasped at the lock of hair within. A rush of memories overtook her mind. The curving tuft of reddish brown hair with fine streaks of black and silver summoned vividly her son’s face. He had looked at her so trustingly when she had snipped the hair on their last day together.
“To remember you by,” she had whispered, and he had believed her.
He had thought that he was going to the forest forever, beyond the reach of all, but Gretchen had plotted a way to bring him back to her.
Despite her selfish trick, she had resisted the longings of a mother’s heart and not summoned him. She had lived her life and grown old, but now…
Voices were at the top of the hill. The dogs barked insistently. Their paws pounded down the slope and vibrated with her doom.
Tears wetted Gretchen’s cheeks. She was afraid, not of death but of the brutality that would bring it. She should leave her son free and not trouble him with the wickedness of her nasty world, but she wanted to lash out and not only for herself but for the dear friends who had died so terribly. Her name had been dragged across their lips in the butcher shop of authority.
When she bent over the pool, a tear fell into the glistening spring water. The spell would be all the stronger for it.
“Forgive me, Thal, but I would have them know my justice,” Gretchen said.
She dipped the lock of hair into the water.
“From the birth waters of our Earthly womb,” she murmured reverently.
The hair darkened in her wet fingers. She drew a knife and slashed across her wrist. Gushing blood obscured the meat and vessels beneath the skin. Blood flowed over her hand and pooled in her palm and soaked the hair.
“From the birth blood of the woman who bore thee, I call my son to me! Thal!” Gretchen cried and the dogs hit her.
Jaws gripped her upper arm. Another set of happy fangs dove for an ankle. She was thrown down. Water splashed. The animals tore at her and shook her. She cowered in the most useless shock, screaming.
Boots muddied the delicate ground along the spring. Grungy men in leather waded into the clean water. Deep-voiced cursing and grunting mixed with the dogs’ snarling. When the animals were finally hauled off, half her clothes were ripped away. The snapping servants back in the grip of their grim masters chomped triumphantly on the remnants.
Two men flung her blood smeared body against the boulder.
A dour man with a narrow face and a lanky height loomed over Gretchen. A heavy black cloak encased his shoulders and the pendant of the Prague Court hung over his chest, shining with his right to abuse her.
“Holy Christ protect us from this Devil bride,” he said.
Her brazen misery disgusted him. “You make us chase you till dawn and add to your sins with a try at suicide,” he criticized.
“More proof she seeks the Devil’s favor,” another man put in.
“That it is,” the tall man agreed and yanked out a handkerchief. He wound the pitiful bandage around her bleeding wrist and tied it tight against her scarlet defiance.
“What’s in your hand, witch?” he demanded upon noticing her clenched fingers. He pried open her hand and pulled out the redly sodden tuft of hair. Gretchen moaned.
The gathered men gasped when he lifted the odd find. “Fur pulled from the very back of your goat lover,” he said, almost in awe.
Gretchen shook her head desperately and struggled.
“Constable, look,” a man said and held up the tarnished box.
“Give that to me,” the leader said. He looked over the box but could determine no meaning from it. He put the lock of hair into it and pressed the lid back in place. He knew someone who paid coin for such rare objects.
“No!” Gretchen yelled.
He struck her across the face. “Bind her mouth before she speaks some spell upon us,” he said.