The Spear Alight
The Guardians of Erin Book Four
by Judith Sterling
Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal
Ashling Donoghue has almost lost hope of finding her missing parents. As her faith wanes, her love for two men waxes, rending her heart and causing friction in the Breasal household. The time has come to make a choice, to create a future untarnished by doubt. But how can she embrace the light when lured by the soft seduction of shadow?
At last, her brother Conall channels the Spear of Illumination. He's a natural shapeshifter, and he sees through illusions in both the material world and the Otherworld…not a moment too soon. An ancient evil has surfaced, and it threatens all worlds.
Only the Donoghues can save Ireland. They must face their greatest fears and act as one to fulfill their destinies as guardians of Erin.
All aspiration toward sleep left me. I needed company. Now.
Bad idea. Far worse than waking up my sister. But he wouldn’t judge. In fact, he’d probably be glad to see me. Me, Ashling Donoghue, pariah and maven of mistakes. I’d made a million of them. What was one more?
I imagined the interior of Lorcan’s tent at Dun Aengus on Inishmore. Then I flexed my will and was there, surrounded by rich colors, sumptuous fabrics, and perforated hanging lanterns. The intricately patterned Persian carpet felt soft and soothing to my bare feet.
Was he in bed? There was one safe way to find out. “Lorcan? Are you here?”
“Ashling?” His silken voice, warm and rousing, flowed from the bedroom and washed over me.
“Yes. It’s me.”
A heartbeat later, he appeared between the drawn, red curtains that separated his bed from the main section of the tent. He wore a black velvet dressing gown and an expression of mingled surprise and pleasure. With relaxed strides, he closed the gap between us. “You’re the last person I expected to see tonight.” His heated gaze roamed over me.
Too late, I realized I was wearing a thin, white night shirt that refused to cover anything below my upper thighs. I grabbed the hem on both sides and pulled downward…in vain. “I never planned to come.”
“Why did you?” His shoulder-length black hair looked as luxurious as his robe. I stifled the urge to touch both.
“I needed a friend.”
“Haven’t we traveled beyond the bounds of friendship?”
My stomach trembled at the memory of our passionate kiss. Stop it! I huffed. “That never should’ve happened.”
“But it did, because it had to.” His ice blue eyes held my gaze. “You belong to me. We belong to each other.”
“Aengus would disagree.”
“If he were here, but he isn’t.” He reached for my left hand and turned it over. Gently, he caressed my palm with the pad of his thumb.
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you?” My palm tingled.
“You are the answer. Nothing and no one else.”
The Sword Unsheathed
Guardians of Erin, Book Three
Ashling Donoghue is no closer to finding her parents than she was the night they disappeared. But hope returns as her brother Kian channels the Sword of Light, revealing past-life secrets and truths long suppressed.
The more she learns, the greater she fears the darkness that drowns the Netherworld also drives her. Is Aengus her true love, or is it Lorcan? Does her future wait in shadow or the light?
One point is clear: the threads of her past-self are woven inextricably into the tapestry of her soul. An impossible choice looms before her, and all the while, evil is poised to strike.
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“Close your eyes, and don’t open them until I tell you.”
Nerves atwitter, I did as Aengus asked. A brief, subtle tingling sensation swept through my body as we slipped into the Otherworld.
A moment later, he released one of my hands but held fast to the other. “All right. You can look now.”
I opened my eyes. We stood before an immense, grass-topped mound surrounded by a multitude of tightly-packed, white stones.
It looked familiar. “Wait a minute. This is a famous prehistoric tomb. What’s it called? Newgrange?”
Aengus nodded. “I call it Sí in Bhrú, and it’s part of Brú na Bóinne, or the ‘Palace of the Boyne’ in County Meath. We’re in the valley of the River Boyne.”
I gave him a sideways glance. “Did you say ‘palace’?”
“In the physical world, this is an ancient temple and passage tomb, more than five thousand years old. Here in the Otherworld…well, it’s best to show you.”
The next instant, we stood inside a grand, circular hall, far larger than the mound we’d viewed outside, with a high, domed ceiling. Tri-spiral designs covered the walls, but the space was empty except for a five-tiered fountain at its center.
My gaze locked onto the trickling, golden liquid. A feeling of déjà vu overwhelmed me, and I shivered. “Is that…mead?”
I turned to him. “Remember what exactly?”
“This fountain flows eternally with mead. My parents gave it to us as a wedding gift.”
“To you and Caer, you mean.”
He squeezed my hand. “Does anything else spark your memory?”
“The spirals seem familiar.”
His blue eyes shone. “They should. We lived here for centuries.”
“Caer lived here, not me.”
“But you were Caer.”
My insecurities ganged up on me and knotted my stomach. Is that the only reason why you want me? Because of who I once was?
Could I ask that out loud? What if he said yes?
Yes or no, I had to know. A lasting relationship required honesty and communication. My parents’ love had taught me that, and I wanted nothing less.
I pulled my hand from his grasp and took a step back. “Maybe you wish I still was Caer.”
His blissful expression devolved into a frown. After a heart-stopping moment, he found his voice. “What?”
“Sometimes I wonder whether you like me or just who I used to be.”
“You can’t fight your soul’s history.”
“Especially when everyone keeps shoving it down my throat.” My gut tightened further.
I huffed. “Kian. Robin. Deirdre. Lorcan. And now—”
“Lorcan?” There was an edge to his voice.
“Yes, Lorcan. I’ve seen him a couple of times, but not because I went looking…” I couldn’t finish that sentence. My soul had obviously sought Lorcan the night I traveled to Dun Aengus.
“Ashling, you know how I feel about him.”
“Yeah, well, you weren’t around to stop me, were you?”
His frown deepened. “What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who’s never around.”
“And Lorcan is around. Is that what you’re saying?”
“He’s always there, waiting in the wings, ready to take your place.”
Aengus slammed a fist into his other hand. “It’s time I showed him—”
“No! It’s time you showed me whether you want me or Caer, because I’ve had it with ghosts from the past messing up my—”
He grasped my arms and pulled me close. His mouth came down on mine in a searing kiss. Releasing my arms, he stole his own around me, and I responded in kind. Bodies and tongues entwined, we rode the wave of the kiss for a blissful moment that seemed as eternal as the bubbling fountain beside us. Nothing else mattered.
When at last he pulled back, he gave me a tender smile. “Does that answer your question?”
“Um…” My head still spun from the kiss.
“I kissed you, not Caer. I brought you here tonight because I wanted to share a piece of myself with you. It’s only natural I wondered if you’d remember it. After all, a part of your soul lived here for ages.”
I scanned the vacant, cavernous space. “If we lived here so long, where’s all the furniture?”
The light in his eyes dimmed. “Once upon a time, this place brimmed with beauty…with rare treasures, music, poetry, and the laughter of friends and courtiers. But when you left…when Caer left…nothing was the same. I couldn’t stay.” He squeezed his eyes shut, as if to block out painful memories.
Thick tentacles of worry and guilt wrapped around my heart as though a legendary kraken sought to drown me in a sea of regret. I placed a hand on Aengus’s cheek. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes opened, and he covered my hand with his. “Don’t be.”
The Stone Awakened
Guardians of Erin, Book Two
moving to Ireland, Ashling Donoghue has tackled one challenge after
another. Now the mystery of her parents' disappearance seems
unsolvable. Are they dead or only missing? No one—not even the
godlike Breasals—has a clue. Hope and fear war inside her, but
she's determined to find answers and stay strong for her siblings.
Even as she hones newfound powers, her banshee-in-training sister
Deirdre needs her support.
Ashling could use a little help herself. She's struggling to navigate her first romance, and while Aengus Breasal stirs her body, mind, and soul, his nemesis Lorcan does too. Both men harbor secrets about her past life as Caer. One has ties to Aoife, the scheming wind demon whose influence is on the rise.
As the Stone of Destiny awakens, so does the conflict within.
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High atop the farmhouse, we had a good view of the surrounding area. A throng of undulating shadows encircled the house at a distance of maybe 100 yards. As they slithered closer, distinguishing features emerged.
Dark clothing. Pale skin. Stringy hair the color of pitch. Piercing eyes and glossy, feather wings.
Deirdre gasped. “Holy hell! Who are they?”
Brow furrowed, Hugh crossed his arms. “The dark sidhe.”
There were hundreds of them! Slowly, they encroached on the farmhouse like a black ring of dread.
“Sidhe,” Deirdre repeated. “Like fairies?”
“Fallen ones.” I grabbed Aengus’s hand. “I wish I didn’t know about the poison darts.”
Her head whipped in my direction. “Poison darts?!”
“Never fear.” Robin put a hand on her back. “I’ll protect you.”
Brigit exchanged a meaningful look with Hugh. “Rather, my father will.”
Unblinking, The Dagda gave a nod and eyed the prowlers. “Almost here. Just a bit closer.”
With a frown, she threw her red hair over her shoulder. “Do you think Aoife sent them?”
“I’d bet my life on it.” Slowly, he unfolded his arms.
“But why? To infect the whole house? To distract us?”
He stood preternaturally still; only his lips moved. “Perhaps as a test.”
“What indeed? I’ve never seen so many amassed in the Middleworld…except during the Wild Hunt.”
Aengus regarded his father. “She must know you’ll stop them. Sure, they know it too. So why did they come?”
The dark horde had almost gained the house. The smell of sulfur crept into my nostrils, and panic seized my throat. I trusted Hugh, but how could he deal with so many entities at once?
“Oh hell no!” Deirdre declared.
I swallowed hard. “Um…guys, they’re getting pretty close.”
“Good.” Hugh sounded downright calm.
Brigit’s gaze swept over us all. “Let’s give him space. Leap high into the air and stay there.”
Deirdre raised her eyebrows. “Hover in the air? We can do that?”
Aengus nodded. “We can, and you’d want to do it now.”
His grip on my hand tightened, and we jumped into the air, together with Brigit, Deirdre, and Robin. Roughly 30 feet below us, Hugh stood his ground on the rooftop.
I turned to Aengus. “What’s he gonna do?”
“Send them back to the Netherworld.”
Up ʼtil then, I’d seen only one creature at a time sent packing. “All of them?”
Robin glanced my way. “Well, he is the Dagda.”
He was and no mistaking it. The embodiment of poise and power. As his hands formed the úath symbol, music filled the air. Not a melody, but the sound of a thousand violin strings playing in unison—their pitch sliding from high to low—as if the vast energy of the Otherworld condensed to a single purpose, to be used by one sentient being.
“Úath!” Light emanated from Hugh’s entire frame. It grew whiter, brighter, then exploded, rippling out from his body as a seismic wave that shocked the air, the land, and everything in its path. The force reverberated inside me and with a sonic boom, it blasted the dark sidhe back where they belonged.
The Cauldron Stirred
Guardians of Erin, Book One
Donoghue never dreamed moving to Ireland would rock her perception of
reality and plunge her into a mystery that brings legend to life.
At seventeen, she’s never had a boyfriend, but she feels an immediate connection to Aengus Breasal, the son of the wealthy Irishman who’s invited her family to stay at his Killarney estate. For the first time in her life, a guy she likes seems attracted to her.
But Aengus is secretive, with good reason. He and his family are the Tuatha Dé Danann, ageless, mythical guardians adept at shifting between this reality and the magical dimension known as the Otherworld. Evil forces from that world threaten the Breasals, the Donoghues, and all of Ireland. Ashling must open her heart, face her fears, and embrace a destiny greater than she could ever have imagined.
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With a sigh, I moved to the nearest window and gazed at the full moon. The glowing orb stared back at me and lit the grounds below in soft, seductive light. Lulled into motion by the changeful breeze, the dark trees of the surrounding forest swayed back and forth. The wind whistled and sighed along the centuries-old window panes and urged a throng of clouds across the midnight sky.
There was movement on the lawn. Aengus stood midway between the fairy mound and the castle. He faced the ruins, but with a sudden jerk of his head, he looked right and watched the forest.
He disappeared. Literally. He vanished into thin air.
I blinked and stared hard at the empty lawn. “That’s it!”
Heedless that I wore only satin pajamas, I shoved my feet into pre-tied tennis shoes and slipped out the door. I tiptoed the length of the hall, then raced down the stairs and out of the house.
The night air was deliciously cool. Moonlight and darkness held equal sway over the backyard thanks to the shifting clouds. I dashed across the lawn and halted in the exact spot where Aengus had stood. Panting, I looked around, willing some kind of clue to materialize.
The ruins in front of me darkened as large, heavy clouds swallowed the moon whole. The wind tugged at my long, loose hair and pajamas. Tiny raindrops spattered on my nose and cheeks. I turned my palms to the sky, and cold rain pelted them.
“Great.” Intending to return to the house, I swiveled around.
I gasped. My right hand flew to my chest. “Aengus?!”
The man himself stood an arm’s length in front of me. “Why are you here?”
“You scared the crap out of me!”
The strident sound came from the ruins. I whirled around and stared at the dark keep.
Aengus grabbed me from behind. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. I reveled in the feel of his taut body, of his warm flesh against mine.
Suddenly, everything changed. The rain stopped. The wind died. The entire landscape was bathed in the soft hue of twilight. Breasal Castle looked brand spanking new, just as it had during the bizarre dream in which I brought Aengus to the cottage. But this time, I knew I was awake.
Dumbfounded, I gawked at the medieval magnificence before me. I had no idea what had happened and no desire to pull away from his embrace.
His lips brushed my right ear, sending a shiver down my spine. “This way.”
His right arm released me, and his left slid down to my waist. Maintaining body contact the entire time, he steered me toward the stand of oaks on our right.
Once sheltered by the trees, he turned us around so we faced the castle.
“Are we hiding?” I whispered.
“Why? And what just happened?”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
Until that moment, I’d forgotten I wore pajamas. Now I was acutely aware of it. Satin was pleasing to the touch, but something told me my attire had nothing to do with his grip on me.
I looked up at him. “Not that I mind, but why are you holding me so close?”
His hand tightened on my waist. “It’s necessary.”
“I don’t suppose you can explain that, either.”
With his gaze locked on the castle, he shook his head. He pressed his right forefinger against his mouth in a silencing gesture. Then he pointed up at the keep.
High on the battlements, the black-haired woman from my dream—and from Branna’s painting—paced back and forth. Her hair whipped about her pale face and slender frame.
She paused beside a gap in the crenelated wall and glared down at the fairy mound. Her colorless lips curled into a sneer. Then her human form morphed into a dark shadow, which fragmented into what seemed a million black particles. They swarmed into the air and shot across the twilit sky, disappearing into the distance.
I took a deep breath. “So she’s real.”
He nodded. “She’s real, to be sure. Come.” With his arm still hooked around me, he led me out of the woods and toward the fairy mound.
Judith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Whether penning medieval romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) or young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), her favorite themes include true love, destiny, time travel, healing, redemption, and finding the hidden magic which exists all around us. She loves to share that magic with readers and whisk them far away from their troubles, particularly to locations in the British Isles.
Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.