Lord Quickthorn’s Bargain, Barbara’s novella in the anthology Passionate Promises (released last week), centers around a holy or fairy well. Today she shares what she learned about them
I’m pretty sure the idea first came to me while reading a folklore book, An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, & Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs, who was a folklore expert in the 20th century. It’s a tremendous resource, full of fascinating ancient lore. As well as non-fiction, she wrote the children’s story, Hobberdy Dick. (I mention that book whenever I get the chance—it’s such a delightful story.)
Anyway, the notion of a fairy well took hold of me, and I just had to write about one. Such wells, also known as cloutie or clootie wells or sacred springs, were usually associated with pagan beliefs at first. When Christianity took over, the wells became associated with saints instead. Or both; often the old and new ways became merged and included both old legends and miracles of healing. The wells were places of prayer and supplication, particularly on special days of the year such as the Celtic festivals or Christian saints’ days. Pilgrims would leave cloths (aka clouts) tied to the trees around the well as part of a prayer ritual—and still do so to this day.
In Lord Quickthorn’s Bargain, the well is a holy well by day—dedicated to one of the Saint Catherines—and at night, it’s a fairy well. Any pilgrim who is brave enough to approach the well at night is desperate indeed, for the fairies are tricky, and the path to the well is treacherous in the dark, unless you have fairy friends to guide you. Fortunately, the heroine of my story is one of those lucky people who can see the fairies and associate with them. Even so, she knows better than to ask a boon—until the day when she must do something—anything—well, almost anything—to save her sister.
Sensible Gwen Appleby is aghast when her foolish sister vows to pursue the notorious rake, Lord Quickthorn. To save her sister from certain ruin, she turns to her friend, the custodian of the fairy well. A simple spell, making Lord Quickthorn indifferent to her sister’s beauty, is all that’s required.
But Gwen’s friend is no longer at the well, and the new, mischievous, very male custodian agrees on one condition: Lord Quickthorn will turn his seductive wiles on Gwen instead. To save her sister’s virtue, must Gwen sacrifice her own? Worse, will the promise of passion make her long to do so?
In this excerpt, Gwen has gone to the holy well to crave a boon. Her friend, the usual custodian, is not there; instead Rex, Lord Quickthorn, who is part fairy, has taken the custodian’s place. Gwen doesn’t recognize him in the dark.
“I want you to put a spell on Lord Quickthorn,” Gwen said.
That was a surprise. “On his lordship?” Rex asked. “Why?”
“To prevent him from admiring my sister. To make him indifferent to her charms.”
Rex muffled an urge to laugh.
“Can you do that? It needn’t be a long-lasting spell. They say he’s only here for a week or so.”
“Perhaps,” Rex said, “but it might not be as simple as you think. What if you are correct, and Lord Quickthorn is as unprincipled as you believe him? What if he cannot control his urges and, under the influence of the spell, turns his attention to some other hapless female?”
“Oh, dear,” she said. “I hadn’t thought of that. I wouldn’t want to bring ruin upon any other woman.”
“There is also the question of tit for tat,” he said. “You are surely aware that in return for my assistance, you will have to make a sacrifice of some sort.”
Oh, drat. In her worry for her sister, Gwen had forgotten about this aspect of asking a boon. She’d never asked a true boon before, merely small favors.
It was worth a try. “Yes, of course. I’m in the habit of repaying Polly with embroidered slippers, a pillowslip, a knitted scarf—that sort of thing. I’m a notable needlewoman. Many of the cloths brought to the well at Lammas are embroidered by me for villagers and visitors alike.” Her exceptional skill at needlework was due to her smidgen of fairy blood; therefore she generally repaid the Fair Folk with the fruits of her talent. “Would you like a warm, quilted waistcoat for the winter, perhaps?”
He chuckled, a low, enticing sound. “Come, come, Miss Appleby. You will have to do much better than that.”
Her heartbeat sped up. Whatever did he intend to ask?
“How much will you sacrifice for your sister?” he asked.
“Anything that is required,” she said.
He gave that same deep chuckle. “Very well, I shall grant your boon. Lord Quickthorn will scarcely glance at your sister.”
“Thank you,” she said, gratitude and trepidation warring within her. “And…?”
“Instead, he will turn the full force of his carnal desires upon you.”
About the Author
Winner of the Holt Medallion, Maggie, Daphne du Maurier, Reviewer’s Choice and Epic awards, Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young, then moved on to paranormal mysteries and Regency romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa).
Barbara loves to cook, especially soups. There are only two items on her bucket list: to make asparagus pudding (because it’s too weird to resist) and succeed at knitting socks. She’ll manage the first but doubts she’ll ever accomplish the second. This is not a bid for immortality but merely the dismal truth. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.