In this extract, novice witch Meg Lytton finds a quiet place at twilight in the old ruined palace of Woodstock and prepares to cast a magickal circle using her aunt's ceremonial dagger. She knows that if she is caught, she risks being hanged as a witch under Tudor law.
The third chamber I peeked into looked perfect. It was small and unswept, but the narrow windows had no glass, which meant there was more light here than elsewhere, and there was nothing on the floor except dust.
Quickly, I drew the dagger out from beneath my skirts, and stood in the centre of the shadowy room.
Recalling my aunt’s incantation for the casting, I spoke the spell as clearly as I dared in the silence. I lay down an oak twig for an altar, along with a few fragrant leaves and flowers, then stooped to draw a rough circle about myself in the dust. I did not dare burn any herbs this time to clear away evil influences, in case any escaping smoke was seen from outside. But I spoke the words of protection under my breath, hoping they would be enough.
The air stirred darkly at the spell, raising the dust as though a door had been opened somewhere. I listened but heard nothing. It had probably been a sudden wind from the gardens below. The old palace was so draughty, most of its bare windows unshuttered beyond the royal apartments.
Seating myself in the middle of my circle, I sat straight-back and cross-legged, facing my little makeshift altar. I called on the four directions, north, south, east and west, and begged each one to look favourably on the magick I would work there.
The power began to come into me from the shadows, tingling at the tips of my fingers, a rush of blood to my head that left me momentarily dizzy.
I was just groping for the ritual that would open the dark magick of the moon for me, the women’s magick that is best worked at twilight or in the hours of darkness, when a terrible scream shattered the stillness.
I scrambled to my feet at that scream and spun in fading light to face my accuser.
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