Flein is a wanderer by instinct and need, roaming the known world as the fancy takes him. In the Highland village of Glenfinnan, women have been raped and brutally murdered. The killer is a waterhorse, a monstrous shapeshifter by all accounts. But when Flein meets Donnchadh, first in its equine form, then its man-shape, he knows the waterhorse is innocent. Flein is drawn to the shapeshifter, but he finds it difficult to acknowledge it’s more than a monster.
Donnchadh, though wary, shares the same attraction. They join forces to hunt for the real murderer, but time is short. They must find the killer before more women die. Then suspicion is turned on them and the hunters become the hunted.
“Incubus!” the hermit howled, springing to his feet and holding the crudely fashioned cross before him. The shaft was a spike of forged iron, not sharp but enough to pierce the creature’s flesh. He’d finally found the strength to deny it and since dawn he’d waited for the beast to come to him so he could banish or destroy the unnatural enticement. Now it was here, in the perfect man-shape that mocked every belief the hermit held and was everything he himself was not.
It stopped in its tracks at the edge of the small corrie in front of the hermit’s cave, its head thrown up in surprise, long black hair flowing on the breeze. Layers of firm muscle shifted under a hide that glowed amber in the noon sun as if fashioned from the light, and it was naked. Naked and profligate, flaunting its apparent youth and potency, its overwhelming vitality, like the Satanic spawn it was.
Even now, it lured him, silently called to him to reach out and stroke at last the warm silk of its skin, its unbound hair. As it had called to others before it killed and devoured them. Although he knew what the thing was and what he had to do, he could not stop his traitorous body responding to its sorcery.
“What is—incubus?” it asked, puzzled.
“You!” In his bespelled madness, he’d taught it human speech, the Gaelic, convincing himself that if it did have a soul then he could turn it from evil to Christ’s mercy. But the sinful dreams that afflicted him at night, leaving him sullied beyond cleansing when he awoke, could no longer be ignored. The memories of them welled up as clear as if they had been reality. It would kneel before him and part his robes, its eyes wide and dark as it gazed on him with awe. It would worship his body with hands and mouth and wicked tongue, and beg him to save it from evil, to purify it with his touch.
Arousal shuddered through him, heat pooled in his loins, and his penis throbbed between his legs, rising as if it had a mind of its own and he was close, so close to that dazzling peak of ecstasy. But the coarse wool of his robe chafed on his turgid flesh, dragged painfully on the gathering dampness there, bringing him back to himself—and the hermit knew that he was irrevocably damned and it was all the beast’s fault.
He’d lost count of how often he’d been awakened by the echoes of his cry of release, to find he was alone with his own seed smeared on his belly, and the terrible—wonderful—images fading away. Every time he’d scrubbed himself raw with twists of heather, but still he knew himself defiled even though he had resisted all temptation to actually touch it in reality.
He’d thought he could tame it, bring it humbled and penitent before the house of the One God. But he’d been deluded, he knew that now. The monster was a soulless fiend that preyed on humankind, and he was a presumptuous fool to think he could do anything other than combat it. He could not have it, but he could destroy it.
“You are foul! Evil!” He raised the cross like a dagger and threw himself forward.
Even as he plunged the holy weapon toward the creature’s broad chest, the hermit knew he had failed. He’d forgotten how swiftly it could move. In less than a heartbeat the man had gone and in its place was a daemon in the shape of a bay stallion with laid-back ears and bared carnivore’s fangs. It reared and the last thing the hermit knew was the crushing impact of the monster’s hooves.
* * * *
“Don’t take the road that runs by the loch,” advised the monks of St. Columb’s at Invereil. So did the Abbot when Flein came to say his farewells and receive a blessing for the next phase of his journey into the west. “There’s a beast in the water and it preys on lone travelers. Go down to the docks and find a boat that’ll take you from Invereil to the Priory at Shielfoot by the sea route.”
“But,” he protested in his accented Gaelic, “it’ll put days on my journey.” He carried important letters in his pack from Rome and Athens and Constantinople, and a new missal fresh from the scriptorium at Lindisfarne. A certain monk in St. Finnan’s Priory would be waiting for them. Flein had already traveled the lands around the Mediterranean as well as the length of the Great Glen from Inverness to Invereil and he was not inclined to be put off from his chosen path now.
“Better to arrive late than not at all,” said the Holy Father, crossing himself. “I’ve poured holy water into Loch Shiel and prayed until my throat was sore, but the evil of the thing is too great. Only last November it took Ailsa MacAskill and her poor drowned body was washed ashore half-eaten.”
Flein shook his head. “I’ll take the shorter path,” he said. He found his current role of courier for influential men both secular and ecclesiastical well-suited to his particular talents and inclinations, and he knew too much of the reality of legends to be snared by a water-beast. If there was such a creature in the loch.
“The folly of youth.” The old man sighed. “Then find a companion to journey with you. Go with God, my son.”
“Thank you, Father,” Flein said and collected his horse from the abbey’s stable.
“Don’t take the road by the loch,” said Brother Murdoch as he sent his novice to open the abbey gate for the departing traveler. “It’s not safe for a man on his own.”
“You’re going by Loch Shiel?” The novice was a child still, years away from his final vows. “My da has a croft there, this side of Glenfinnan—just before you reach the Callop Bridge. Rory MacAllister. He’ll give you a place to sleep if you tell him Aiden sent you.” Then, “You carry a sword. Can’t you kill it for us?”
Flein laughed and shook his head. “I’m no hero. You need a Finn or a Cuchullain for that. I’m just a traveler.”
I started creating stories not long after I mastered joined-up writing, somewhat to the bemusement of my parents and my English teachers – even my school essays weren’t safe from my overactive imagination. But I received plenty of encouragement. Dad gave me an already old Everest typewriter when I was ten, and it was probably the best gift I’d ever received until the inventions of the home computer and the World-Wide Web.
My reading and writing interests range from historical, mystery, and paranormal, to science-fiction and fantasy, mostly in the male/male genre. I refuse to be pigeon-holed and intend to uphold the long and honorable tradition of the Eccentric Brit to the best of my ability.
In my spare time [hah!] I read, or listen to audio books while quilting or knitting. In the past I’ve worked for my local Constabulary as a behind-the-scenes civilian for over twenty years, I’ve been a part-time and unpaid amateur archaeologist and a 15th century re-enactor.
I live in a small but ancient city in the West of England in the heart of what once was the kingdom of Wessex and I share my home with an extended family and assorted livestock. Life tends toward the chaotic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s always been an equal amount of fun and hard work, and I hope my readers get as much enjoyment from reading the stories as I do from researching and writing them.