Home > Harvest of Sighs (Thornchapel #3)

Harvest of Sighs (Thornchapel #3)
Author: Sierra Simone

Part I

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Estamond, 1874


Obviously, Estamond Kernstow Guest’s final wish was that her husband would fuck the nursemaid.

An hour before she wished this, Estamond gave her sleeping husband a fond kiss on the cheek and an equally fond pat on his cock, which even at rest, was considerable—and on its own, testament to why her breasts were full of milk for their fifth child. But of course she loved all the parts of him, not just his wonderful organ. She loved his big, careful hands and his mighty heart, which thumped so steadily inside his chest. She loved his expression when she made him laugh, which was an expression of stunned wonderment. As if the first forty years of his life had been so friendless and lonely that he’d never learned to laugh, and doing it now was like discovering whisky for the very first time.

She loved his eyes, green and brown like the woods of the valley, and she loved how they were always soft with love for her. She loved how wild and beautiful they became when he made love.

She loved him, and she hated to leave him. She knew if he were in her shoes, he wouldn’t be able to do his duty by the land, because it would mean leaving her. And there was much Estamond hadn’t been able to learn in her thirty-three years on this Earth, but she did know one thing as well as she knew her own name: Randolph Guest loved her more than he loved anything else.

She sighed as she lit a lamp and trimmed it down so it wouldn’t wake her husband. Perhaps if he loved her less, she wouldn’t have to go to the thorn chapel tonight.

Perhaps if he loved her less, this would be easier.

Perhaps she wouldn’t mind leaving. Perhaps then she wouldn’t worry if he’d survive her having to go.

After pushing herself off the warm bed—still slightly rumpled from their earlier fuck—Estamond dressed herself. No need for a corset, no need for petticoats or jewelry or any of the other things she normally wore. She buttoned and laced herself into a simple white gown with deep pockets, braided her dark hair, and tucked a note and a small bottle into her dress. She grabbed a pair of sturdy boots, which she didn’t put on. Not yet.

Every time she bent down, she bit back a sigh of discomfort. Truth be told, it had been a bit too early to welcome Randolph back inside her body after little Samuel’s birth. The babe was only three weeks old, and though her bleeding was well over, she still felt the soreness of his entrance into the world. But she hated going without sex—had hated it ever since she learned what sex was as a girl up on the moors—and no man could be gentler and sweeter than her Randolph. And besides, she couldn’t go into the thorn chapel tonight without feeling him inside her one last time. So if there was soreness, she welcomed it. It would be like he was still with her even as she laid herself down on the altar.

The way it should be on Lammas night, she thought, a touch unhappily. Estamond didn’t usually feel unhappiness—she could no more be unhappy than a fox or a cat could be unhappy—but today was a day for exceptions.

Normally, Lammas day was a good day, a day for hot bread and sweat-slick sins in the chapel. It was her favorite feast day, if she was honest. Everyone assumed that she loved the more dangerous revels, Beltane with its carnality or Samhain with its stark, heady power, but Estamond was a Kernstow. She’d grown up in a waste of gorse high above the welcoming shelter of the valley. She’d grown up hunting mistletoe and singing to the moon.

She’d had enough wild magic for lifetimes.

And so the homey, domestic harvest of Lammas—all grain and bread and dolls for children and country charms and courting—that she loved, that she longed for.

Just as a tame person might crave the thrill of Samhain or Beltane, so a wild girl craved the ripe warmth of Lammas.

Until tonight, that was.

Tonight, Estamond craved nothing. Tonight, she mourned.

But true to form, the mournfulness did not last. Even as she murmured farewell to her husband, her sometimes wild god. Even as she went into the nursery and kissed each sleeping child gently on the forehead.

The babe, Samuel, stirred the tiniest bit in his wet nurse’s arms but did not wake.

“I’m going outside,” Estamond told the sleepy-eyed nurse, who was a girl of just twenty. Estamond had never hired a nurse before—bucking convention, she’d breastfed all her children herself. But after her mother’s message last week, Estamond had known she would go to the thorn chapel tonight, and she couldn’t leave her newborn unprovided for. And so she found Janie from the next village over, whose sweetheart had died of a cough when she’d been swollen with their child. She was unmarried and plump and pretty, and when she first came to Thornchapel and met Randolph, she’d blushed all the way from her cheeks to the tops of her milk-swollen breasts. That was enough for Estamond. Any girl who could see how handsome Randolph was under all his shy quiet was a girl worth having around, especially given Estamond’s task this Lammas. Estamond hired her on the spot and had Janie bring her own babe to Thornchapel to raise alongside the Guest children.

Janie nodded dozily at Estamond and said nothing. Everyone in the Thorne Valley knew what happened in the thorn chapel on feast days. And even though the Guests had put out that they wouldn’t attend the village festival or host their own Lammas feast due to Samuel’s birth, it still wouldn’t seem unusual for one of them to go out to the woods alone.

After all, some things were necessary.

Yes, some things were.

Estamond had one last stop before making her way to the maze, and that was her beloved library. She took what she needed, drank in the moon-bright room one last time, and then left Thornchapel as silent as a cat, unmarked by anyone, not even the nurse who’d already fallen back asleep or the husband whose bed she just left.

She was alone.

 

 

If you don’t do it at Lammastide, then it will be done at Samhain.

It will be one of us.

I’ll do it in the hills.

The light from her single lantern was weak, as Estamond well knew it would be, but the maze’s path was as familiar to her as the taste of Randolph’s lips or the whorls of her children’s hair, and she didn’t falter, she didn’t hesitate or trip. She even gave Adonis’s foot a pat as she slipped down between the doomed lovers and the fountain and into the tunnel.

And then to the woods.

After a girlhood of scrambling over bleak hills and through punishing heather, the verdant woods of Thornchapel bothered Estamond not at all. In fact, she found her step slowing as she walked, she found herself savoring the warm summer night. She listened to the charming rustle of hedgehogs and watched the occasional flap of a bat through the glow of her lantern. Owls called out their territorial cautions, and more than once, Estamond’s light caught the reddish flash of fox eyes before the creature darted back into the trees. The moors had always felt half dead to Estamond, scoured as they were by wind and rain, but the woods of Thornchapel—those were alive.

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