The first snow has sprinkled the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio mountains here in southern California. In the valley, wreaths made from succulents hang from doors and gates. Wind gusts knock bark and fronds from the palm trees, and the afternoon temperatures typically reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 6 degrees Celsius. Welcome to winter in the desert!
My family owned a Christmas tree farm in northern California, and I miss the forest smells. Cypress. Fir. Pine. I drew upon these woodsy scents and wintry memories while writing The Beltane Escape. The novel takes place in Arthurian England, Fairy and medieval Scotland during the waning days of April. Spring in the Scottish highlands averages temperature close to a northern California winter (high 49 degrees Fahrenheit, 9 degrees Celsius).
What is December like where you live? Warm? Snowy? Whether your holiday feels like summer or winter, I invite you to take a break from the seasonal rush, and treat yourself to a page-turning magical adventure, The Beltane Escape, Book One, The Two Realms Trilogy.
Excerpt from The Beltane Escape by Ariella Moon
Trapped within the doeskin pouch, Merlin’s spell book pulsed like an angry heart. Viviane, the young Lady of the Lake, pushed her qualms aside and knotted the stolen treasure to her waist. An eerie quiet settled over the woods. Either the tree spirits sleep, or they watch me in silence, Viviane surmised as she carefully surveyed the canopy. Knees quaking, she deftly concealed the pouch beneath her cloak, then ran. Shallow breaths caught in her throat, and a sharp pain needled her side as she quickened her pace. She pressed her hand against the twinge and kept running. With each pounding stride, the prize slapped vehemently against her hip.
Viviane chanced a glance over her shoulder. Hah! No sign of Merlin. In her arrogance, she stumbled, her heel catching on her long indigo cape. Her heart cartwheeled. With an oath, she righted herself. Ahead, the Enchanted Forest’s dark mantle ended, and gloaming’s early light shone. She bolted towards the dawn.
Dry pine needles crunched beneath her deerskin sandals. The spell book’s muffled rage beat louder, waking a nearby tree spirit whose angry screech roused others. As one, they grabbed at Viviane with their prickly branches. A wizen-faced pine scratched Viviane’s cheek, stirring the creature marked into the skin above her cheekbone. Agitated, the blue sea serpent threaded itself around the crescent moon inked near her eye. Its nostrils flared, assessing the danger. Viviane shoved the impudent branch away. Catching scent of the lake, she broke through the trees. Her lungs heaved as an ache bloomed between her shoulders where the tree spirits’ angry glares thrust against her.
Viviane ran to the coracle moored at the water’s edge. The woven willow boat creaked when she scrambled into its hull and drew in the rope. Her long gown and flowing cape pooled around her as she crouched. Clutching the boat’s wooden sides, she commanded, “Hasten to the isle!”
The water surrounding the boat surged, forming a current that propelled the craft forward. A flock of startled grebes took flight, their wings thrumming.
“Mist, cloak me from Merlin’s sight.” Viviane arced her arm above her head. Her prisoner pummeled against her hip. But the spell book’s blows were futile and inconsequential.
The air thickened and grew damp. A dove-gray cloud engulfed the lake, swallowing the creaking vessel and its sole occupant.
Viviane knelt, closed her eyes, and raised her chin. Cool mist beaded her face. Merlin will rue the day he dared me to prove my cleverness, to prove I can outwit him. No doubt, he had expected me to stay within my watery realm, not venture into his forest. Does Merlin think because I am ten and eight, and he two years older, I lack cunning and daring? Hah! How dare he insult me?
The book writhed.