Maid of Wonder

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Chapter 1

October, 1559

Windsor, England


Death always starts as a whisper.

The dark angel hovers just at the edge of the glade, cloaked in shadows. But its voice is clear enough, the undertone so grim, so depressing that the very air around me seems to wilt a little at its passage.

Back on my own plane, amidst Queen Elizabeth’s chattering court at Windsor Castle, I would not have heard its dire prediction so well. There, the angels’ voices are no more than a puff of wind, the rustle of a playful breeze. Too quiet to be understood but impossible to ignore; an endlessly taunting conversation, just out of reach.  

But here in this place that is more their world than mine, here I perceive the angels all too well. Here they shout and clamor; they demand and scoff. Here they insist and wail and rage.

Still, when they speak of death, even the angels are careful to keep their voices low. As if they understood that this is information not made for man to hear.

Man—or in this case, woman.

Death comes to Windsor, the specter murmurs again.

I turn toward it more fully, taking its measure through the gloom of this spectral hollow that serves as our meeting place. For I know this dark angel, and it knows me.

I have dreamed of it since before I could speak, terrifying nightmares that accompanied my loneliest nights and most desolate days. Throughout my childhood I feared it with the whole of my being. But since I have begun entering its realm more boldly these past few weeks, something fundamental has shifted between this grim specter and myself. I have watched it drift closer and closer to where I stand, surrounded by the other angels. As if it cannot stay away from me, despite its clear aversion to the other spirits who grace this quiet space.

For it is not like them.

It does not gown itself in blue-white light, almost too beautiful to behold. Sparkling wings do not flutter around its broad shoulders, displacing the eerie mists of this realm. It does not even style itself as a man or woman, like all the other angels do. Instead it is a creature of shadow and fire, of pain and loss and despair. Across the hollow it stands, hunched and cowled in its heavy robes, the faintest hint of yellow flame emanating from its hooded head. It bends that hood toward me now, and I feel the blackness of its stare all the way to my physical self. Dread and deep foreboding lance through me, though my physical form remains hidden away, seated on a stone bench in a quiet glade much like this, just inside the edge of Windsor Forest.

But while my body rests safely in that small wooded clearing, my spirit is here, in the angelic realm. And in this place of dreaming, my spirit is strong. Here, I need not mask my oddness, desperate to remain unnoticed. Here I need not cower or shrink.

Here I need only one thing.