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Holy Island

By:LJ Ross

PROLOGUE


December 20th

Winter was an unforgiving time on Holy Island. Harsh winds from the North Sea whipped through the cobbled streets and wove through the squat, stone cottages which huddled together as if for warmth. Above the village the Priory loomed, crippled but still standing after a thousand years.

Inside it, Lucy lay shivering, her skin exposed and helpless to temperatures which had fallen well below zero. Now and then her body jerked, a spasm of pain which racked her slim form as she rested beneath a sky that was littered with stars.

She thought that her eyes were open, but couldn’t be sure. It was so dark.

She tried blinking, a monumental effort which exhausted her, but gradually she began to focus. The familiar outline of the Priory took shape, its walls towering around her like black fingers against the ink-blue sky.

The stones provided little shelter and even less comfort. She was shivering badly now, her body reacting to shock and hypothermia.

Why was she here? Her mind tried to penetrate the pain and confusion.

She had been drinking, she remembered suddenly. There was a lingering taste of red wine on her tongue alongside something more metallic. She swallowed and there was an immediate burning sensation in her throat. She found herself gasping for breath, mouth wide and searching as she drew in panting gulps of cold air. She tried to lift her hands, to ease the burn, but her arms were so heavy.

Why couldn’t she move? Panic gripped her and her fingers began to fumble around for something, anything. The pads of her fingers brushed against solid rock and she tried to feel her way to the edge, the small movement making her nauseous.

“Help! Help me, please!” Her voice was no more than a breathless rasp. Tears began to leak from her eyes.

She listened for a moment to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore below, deafening against the hush of the evening. She strained to hear other sounds, hoping and praying that her pitiful call might be answered.

Miraculously, she heard the crunch of footsteps approaching.

“Here! I’m here! Please…” she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. “Please.”

The footsteps maintained their unhurried gait and followed their inevitable path.

A shadow fell above her, the face invisible against the pitch darkness. But she heard the voice.

“I’m sorry, Lucy. You have to believe that.”

Fear and disbelief stilled her restless body. She tried to move towards the sound, to seek out its source, but shook her head in frustration.

Sorry?

Her mind struggled to process the words, to believe her ears.

“You – you can’t…” she whispered. She tried to open her mouth again, but no further sound came out.

Protected by a blanket of darkness, he looked down at her for a long moment, memories swirling, mixed with regret. He raised trembling hands to her throat and felt the pulse beating wildly there. He paused, wondering if he had made a mistake in bringing her here.

Not this time. There would be no more mistakes.

Death did not come easily for Lucy but, in the lingering moments before the light was extinguished, she thought of home.





CHAPTER 1


December 21st

Hours later, hunched against the bite of the early morning December air, Liz Morgan dug in her heels and called her dog through the gate which led up to the ruins. She hurried, sensing that dawn was near. Only slightly out of breath, she wove through the stones, feeling the peace amongst the ancient walls which seemed to sag slightly in their retirement. Much like herself, she mused, thinking not for the first time that her early morning dog walks no longer shifted the weight which seemed to have settled itself comfortably on her hips.

Rounding a corner, she prepared herself for the rush of cold air from the sea and was not disappointed. With the Priory at her back, she stood and watched the dawn rise, illuminating Bamburgh Castle against a wash of blue mist. It stood on its craggy mount on the mainland to the south and its warm, rust coloured-stone was beginning to burn with colour in the early light: a fitting tribute to a castle which was once home to long-forgotten kings of England. Her eyes watered against the breeze and she pushed back the hair which fell across them, greying at the temples. Absently, she ruffled the fur of the chocolate Labrador who was familiar with the routine and settled himself beside her while she paid her silent tribute.

Minutes passed comfortably before Liz turned away and strolled around the perimeter, with the vague intention of heading home for breakfast and a warm shower. The walls seemed to whisper as the wind howled through the cracks, watching her progress, silently waiting.

They did not have to wait long.

With her breath clouding the chilly air, Liz huffed around the edge of the headland and followed the barking dog which ran ahead of her.

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