Guest Author Spotlight

January 2019

In the Spotlight:  Karin Weiss

Karin E Weiss has been a therapist, teacher, and group leader in the field of Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Program in Human Sexuality, from 1970 through 2005. She retired to her home on a lake near Annandale Minnesota where she lives with her menagerie of cats and writes, creates art-quilts, paints and enjoys the peace and quiet of her simple life.  The Raven Watched is her first full length novel.

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The Raven Watched

The Raven Watched is an occult fantasy about a family of witches who belong to the Strega spiritual tradition of Italy. Their heritage reaches back to the earliest civilizations, following women through history who have been either revered as Goddesses or persecuted as Witches for their healing and mysterious spiritual traditions. Women of the Rimini clan in Italy, have been the leading lights in the Strega tradition for many generations. But now, Sophia, the current High Priestess, is dying and the next Priestess is yet to be found and trained. Sophia is distraught, for she has no daughters of her own and the tradition holds that the line must pass into the same family or it dies out. At last three grand-nieces arrive from America with their parents at the family’s ancient villa in Italy. Each one is drawn into discovering mysteries of this magical place. Fourteen year-old Kara struggles with her doubts and suspicions against magic and witchcraft in order to face some very dangerous challenges. Nine year-old Mimi meets and makes friends with a number of magical creatures immediately. Seventeen year-old Joanna is introduced to the mysteries through a romantic connection with members of an underground spiritual theatrical movement. All three girls as well as their mother and aunt experience dreams and visions in which they learn stories of revered women from their ancestry. Their father, however, is adamantly opposed to the spiritual witch traditions and creates a constant obstacle to their progress. At last, the Festival of Beltane brings everyone face to face with the Malandanti and the evil Wizard.

PROLOGUE:  CIRCA 1600 AD

Set among sun-bleached cliffs and wind-shorn pines, the tiny stone and wood cottage seemed hewn from the craggy slopes on which it clung. A well-trodden foot path wound from its single sturdy door, through a sparsely wooded meadow, to a rock-strewn stream winding into a denser forest forty yards down-slope. Behind and above, rose the purple-shadowed summits of the Apennines, still snow-capped in June.

The flame-haired woman hummed to herself while holding up her skirt and stepping barefoot along the bank of the stream. Obviously accustomed to the rugged terrain of the mountain, her feet, though shapely, were hard with calluses and she sprang among the rocks like one of her goats who grazed farther up the mountainside. Her work-toughened hands quickly plucked shoots from the icy water and placed them in a basket on her arm. She stopped to tuck an errant curl into her braid, and inhaled deeply of the bracing mountain air.

A large carp surfaced and dived. She knelt to watch the old fish skim downstream, and in the ripples of its wake saw a bird’s reflection peering down on her. Shading her eyes from the blue brilliance of a mid-morning sky, she turned to address a large raven sitting on the withered tip of a storm-bent cedar. “Good day to you, Melanthus,” she said with a laugh. “Were you intent upon snatching some fish-guts, should I have been fishing? Sorry to disappoint you, but it is not fish we’re having today. It will be sour bread and cheese.”

The raven cackled and hopped to a lower branch to preen itself. Suddenly it opened its sharp beak and gave a long hacking cry before flying off to settle in a copse of aspen lower on the mountain. The woman followed its flight with her eyes, peering deeply into the rift between hills. Nothing could be seen yet, but there was the faint sound of horses neighing and snorting as they scrabbled up the steep trail.

“Who will this be now, Esmeralda? Friend or foe?” she whispered to an amber-eyed brown tabby who had been prowling the stream at her side.  Collecting her basket of herbs, the woman tucked a small crescent-shaped knife into the waistband of her apron and turned back to the cabin.

A tidy garden plot and rock-fence corral for milking goats, plus a small latrine behind a trained grape arbor, made up the surrounding yard. The cabin itself backed against a steep slope, overgrown with patches of lava-nourished grasses and wildflowers.

As she hurried up the path, she was joined by two huge mastiffs with the look and manner of stealthy wolves. They silently dogged her through the door. The cat followed, springing quickly over the threshold to find a secure perch away from her lupine co-habitants.

Inside the tiny shack, appearances shifted subtly to camouflage articles and evidence of a healer’s Craft. Only the simple accouterments of pastoral living could be perceived: a sturdy stone hearth and fire pit, with a smoke hole through the thatch roof; crude wooden benches flanking a trestle table; cooking utensils and drying herbs hung from rafters; a neat pallet against the hearth_ all gave evidence of a peasant woman’s quiet existence.

The animals assumed a casual air posing lazily about the hearth, while the woman busied herself with a broom at imagined dust on the spotless wood plank floor. A raven’s belligerent call sounded from a clump of tall pines outside the window. Soon there came boot-stampings up the path and a pounding at the door. The woman stood before the hearth, facing the door. In a voice of calm command, she said, “The door is not locked, you need not break it down. Enter at your will.”

The door opened to reveal two armed soldiers, flanking a skinny old man wearing a cleric’s collar. “Cecelia, we are here at the command of the Bishop, to arrest you for heresy. If you come peaceably, you will not be harmed.”  The three men stepped into the cabin, stuffing the room with their ominous presence.

Cecelia’s raised eyebrow and scornful smile barely suppressed a laugh. Her eyes flashed, as if daring them to lay hands on her.  Her dogs stood at attention with hackles raised and teeth barred.  She signaled the wolf-dogs to stay back. Their rumbling growls echoed through the room. The cleric pulled nervously at his collar. His guards backed up several paces.

“I will come with you to see the Bishop,” said Cecelia softly. “But you must first allow me to get my cloak and put away the food I’ve just begun to prepare.”

“I suppose that should be all right,” answered the cleric in a tremulous voice. “But call off those wild hounds of yours, or we will be forced to shoot them.”

Cecelia nodded and motioned to the dogs to follow her to the back of the room, where she made to attach chains to their iron-studded collars. They bowed their heads submissively. The men breathed an audible sigh in unison.

Carrying a mixing bowl and a pot of vegetables, Cecelia went to a small door in the corner. “I will lock the dogs in here too,” she said over her shoulder, “so they can’t follow us when we leave.” She led the animals into the pantry with her, and closed the door. She gathered up a hooded cloak, a tall walking stick, and a pair of heavily lined leather boots. She quickly packed a knapsack with a few provisions. Then she unchained the dogs and gave them each a hug.

A bank of shelves in the pantry’s back wall slid aside noiselessly at her touch, disclosing a room-size cavern carved into the sandstone bluff that backed the house. Cecelia slipped quietly into the sanctum of the mountain and disappeared as the shelving slid silently back into place.

After some minutes of waiting, the men glanced warily toward the quiet pantry.  “Cecelia, come with us now. No more time for housekeeping today.” joked the cleric nervously. When there was no reply, he beckoned the guards to go open the pantry door.  They did.

Instantly each guard was laid flat, a snarling, snapping mastiff at his throat. Just as fast, the cleric found himself trying to fight off a clawing, slashing cat. Her hisses and shrieks blended in a gruesome duet with his screams as the cleric stumbled down the path, blood streaming down his robes from gashes in his face and eyes. Blinded and terrified, he ran until he fell unconscious into a deep ravine at the edge of the wood.

Searchers found him dead there about a week later and deduced that he had been chased by a boar or cougar. The husky wolf-dogs dragged the corpses of the armed guards down the mountainside and deposited them near a road where those who found them assumed they had been attacked by ravenous wild wolves.

Some nights later, Cecelia’s followers brought tales to her cabin of further denunciations made against her by local authorities. The cries of witchcraft and devil worship had begun to grow shriller, but to these had been added another:  Werewolf!

Meanwhile, the cat and two hounds lounged on the porch.  Self-satisfied grins flashing on their muzzles, ears twitching humorously, they exchanged accounts of that most gratifying escapade. The raven, on his favorite tree branch, laughed with them. He had witnessed it all and knew when they exaggerated their tales; but he rejoiced with them at their successes and cheered them on for future battles to be engaged.

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Previous Authors in the Spotlight:

December 2018

Terry Chase: http://www.drterrychase.com.

Blessed Mother Blue Sky

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November, 2018

Izzy Richards:  http://izzyrichardsblog.wordpress.com

Heidi

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October, 2018

Stephanie Colbert:   https://www.stephaniecolbert.co/

Darkness in the Amazon

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