Uttering a forbidden spell, a druid resurrects her murdered king. But can they reclaim his throne before Death reclaims him?
When high school English teacher Hugh Cavendish is summoned back across the well between worlds, he finds his killer sitting on his throne and invaders at his shore. He was a failure as a king in his last life. Why does this druid think he can fix things now? But this world holds everything he has longed for—vengeance, love, and a second chance at all of them. For he is bound to this land by blood magic and something far stronger.
He soon realizes he wasn't the only one who crossed the well. Someone has followed him here, and they are set on taking him back. But first, Cavendish vows to set things right with his land, his people, and his own soul.
For readers of Celtic legend and fantasy in the tradition of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Tad Williams.
"Terry Madden's stories are always vivid and compelling."– Tim Powers
"If you are a fan of Celtic literature or have fond memories of To Green Angel Tower in particular, pick up Three Wells of the Sea as fast as you can."– New Myths Magazine
"For fans of the dual worlds of Stephen R. Donaldson's The Land and Stephen King's The Talisman. It has a spark of wonder, indeed."– Rusty Clark
"I'm a sucker for a good portal-crossing adventure . . . I'm blown away by Madden's brilliant writing. The details of the two worlds are so convincing it's almost like reading history. Her characters are many-layered and relatable, and their challenges are truly of mythic proportions."– Mick Brady
Lyleth pulled her hood close and jostled with the crowd. Through the narrow lanes of Caer Ys, tradesmen, fishermen and farmers flowed toward the walls of the keep that crowned the island city. Lyleth was but a droplet in this river, and the multitude would carry her on, nameless as rain. It was worth the risk, for today the grieving queen would address her people, still mourning the death of Nechtan, a king they had loved well. Whatever the queen's proclamation, it would certainly be crafted as proof of her innocence in her husband's murder, or perhaps to support the charge that it was really Lyleth who had killed Nechtan. Either way, the informer Lyleth had come to meet would have to wait.
Caer Ys was unchanged by a summer of grieving for its murdered king and Lyleth's exile hadn't tempered the aroma of peat smoke, roasting chestnuts, and oyster stew. Pipers appeared on the walls of the keep, calling the crowd to the square below with a somber rendition of the Battle of Glen Ardach.
The smell from a fishmonger's basket confirmed the haddock he carried might have been fresh yesterday. Lyleth tried to slip between him and a woman bouncing a babe, but someone called out and the fishmonger and his basket swung round, sending Lyleth into a pile of grain sacks.
"Ah, forgive me, lass," he said. "Oaf, me wife calls me."
He offered two meaty hands to pluck her up, but as he did, his eyes went to her wrist. She tugged at her sleeve to cover the mark, but it was too late. The man's eyes flashed from the tattoo to her face.
She held his gaze and he held her hand fiercely while people eddied around them like snags in a river.
"If you loved your lord," she whispered to him, "you'll let me pass."
"Loved Nechtan well, I did." But he glanced at two guards leaning against a nearby wall.
"The queen offers four fifties in gold for me, aye," Lyleth said, "and I've nothing to offer you but the blessing of the green gods."
The fishmonger snuffed and pursed his lips. "I'd take two fifties and let ye be on your way."
Lyleth wrested her hand free, and taking hold of his tunic, pulled him so close she could smell last night's ale on his breath. "Look at me," she demanded through clenched teeth. "Is it a murderer you see?"
His eyes softened. Trapped as they were by Lyleth's, he had no choice but to see the truth, for she willed it to pass between them like a conjured breeze.
She released him slowly and he yielded, showed the respect of his palms, and stared at his boots. "I've seen no one here, solás."
Touching his shoulder in passing, she whispered, "Stars and stones keep you."
Her blessings were as impotent as her curses. It hardly mattered now, for as closest advisor, solás, to a murdered king, she found herself in hiding. And this fishmonger would be loyal only long enough to raise the guards.
High on the wall of the keep, the pipers finished their tune and were replaced by guards carrying baskets from which they showered fists of coppers on the crowd below.
A mad scramble followed, sending a tumble of men into a turnip stall. Blows were traded before guards could stop it and Lyleth took advantage of the distraction to vanish down a web of alleyways.
A blacksmith stepped from his shop and wiped soot from his hands, saying, "She'll name us a king today, that's what she's about."
Beside him, a 'prentice boy squinted into the sun. "Who'd that be?"
"It matters not to me, long as she leaves me in peace. I've no time for a throne." The smithy belched and laughed and slapped the 'prentice so hard the boy fought to keep his feet.
No, a smith certainly had no time. A fortnight ago, the queen had ordered every smith in Ys to work till his steel ran out, forging spearheads, axes, and blades. Did no one else see what she was about? By law, the throne of the Five Quarters would be ruled, not by a man named by the queen, but by a man named by the judges of the wildwood.
The queen, however, clearly had other plans.
On the battlements, the pipers trilled a short tune and the queen materialized. Ava spread her arms wide in a mock motherly embrace while her unbound yellow hair billowed as if she would take flight. This woman who had come to Caer Ys as Nechtan's bride, a frightened girl from the northern wastes, now held the crowd in a hushed thrall.
"She's broke her grieving," an old woman said, pointing at Ava with a palsied hand. "It's been no full turn of the sun's wheel."
Indeed, Ava had cast aside all signs of mourning. She wore a gown of deep ruby with a cloak of sheerest mousseline that fluttered with her hair.
A hush fell over the crowd as two soldiers hefted a large basket before Ava's feet.
"Your king is chosen!" Ava shouted. The wind dampened her words but could not kill them entirely.
The crowd grumbled and hushed.
Ava reached into the basket and struggled with a thick chain. She braced her feet and lifted the head of an enormous eel, a head as big as a man's. She took two steps to the edge of the wall and extended both arms. The thing at the end of the chain spun slowly, the gills splayed under feathery feelers that wagged in the breeze, the mouth agape to show a yellow throat and needle-sharp teeth the length of the queen's fingers.
"Behold a guardian!" Ava shouted. "Slain by my hand!"
The crowd erupted and passed the queen's words to those out of earshot.
"In the name of all mothers…" The smithy made the sign against evil.
The eel's head was fresh, not a preserved oddity. It splattered pink blood down the battlements, its leathery flesh bunched around a white eye.
To those with eyes to see, there was more to this creature. Lyleth hid in the shadow of a hay cart and watched the spiny feelers of the eel grow into hair, long dark tresses that streamed in the breeze. The white eye turned blue and human, but still dead and staring. A well guardian. Ava would have people think she took its life, that the green gods had made a sacrifice of one of their own, and in so doing, the gods had chosen Ava as king. How was that possible?
Lyleth glanced at the blacksmith.
"I seen nets bring in stranger beasts," he said with some diffidence. "Makes it no guardian."
"It's the biggest sodding eel I've set me eyes on," the 'prentice said.
Lyleth still saw the gray flesh of a bruised girl. The eyes, muddy with the film of death, fixed on Lyleth and the lips curled. She mocks me.
"Our mourning for Nechtan is done," Ava proclaimed.
"It's not done," Lyleth said aloud.
Behind squinty eyes the blacksmith took in Lyleth's features. "I know ye…" he said. "Nechtan's own solás."
Lyleth slipped down an alley and lost herself in the tangled crowd at the edge of the square. Even if the smith called the guards, she would reach the city gate before they could close it. She envied Nechtan his slumber in the Otherworld, and as she pushed toward the gate, she wondered if he remembered anything of the troubles he'd left behind for her to right.
The gatekeepers were busy with a cotter who'd not enough coin to pay his tariff. Lyleth passed through the gate in the shadow of a manure wagon. She had to believe that Rhys still waited for her at the tavern on the quay, and that he'd brought what she'd asked for.