My new work-in-progress “Kingfisher” is now out into the world of querying and agent-seeking!!
This is my first venture into historical time-travel after having published four books in the standard historical and alternate historical field. I must say, it was a challenge and continues to be as I delve into the second and third novels in the series. Keeping timelines and ages and eras separate and linked involves a lot of note taking and organizing this brain of mine, which is not an easy feat!
But, after all is said and done, I am super proud of this book. The characters and storyline has taken me into depths I never imagined and I hope that when fans have the opportunity to read it that they will be as swept away as I was in writing it. After all, the stories are for you!
Here is a synopsis and an excerpt of “Kingfisher”:
While the chaos of WW1 overshadows Wales, Vala Penrys discovers a secret linking her family to the story of Camelot, fuelling her obsession with the legend. She craves escape. Yet, with a father gone to war and a mother going mad, she takes the lead in supporting the war effort and finds an unexpected attraction to Taliesin Wren, a mysterious young Welsh Lieutenant. Adding to the intrigue of her ancestry, a whispering voice beckons her in Merlyn’s Cave while on holiday in Cornwall.
After returning home, she investigates the same voice near a rowan tree on her estate, stumbles through the roots and falls into what she thinks is a well. Suddenly, she is transformed into Vivyane, Lady of the Lake ― the Kingfisher ― in ancient Britain clamouring for a High King. Taliesin awakens her and reveals himself as the Merlyn; then, takes her to Avalon and teaches her the magic and science of time travel. A quest for peace sparks in Vala’s heart when she discovers Morgayne le Fae is her sister, and she links with two powerful allies, one in each era ― Uther Pendragon, the High King; and H. G. Wells, the author of The Time Machine and a member of The Round Table Society of 1914. Wells reveals a hidden truth about Vala’s mother and the legend of the Kingfisher.
As the story behind her mother’s insanity emerges, each of Vala’s sisters melds into their roles as the other powerful women of the Kingdom. Vala’s twin, Isla/Igrayne, gives birth to Arthur, but who is the father? Gwynna/Gwynevere marries a German deserter, yet loves a handsome knight. Eilwyn/Elayne teeters on the edge of instability but hides a secret about Gwynna’s lover. Maegen/Morgayne le Fae weaves a spiderweb of lies, revealing her hatred for her sisters and her lust for power. Vala/Vivyane embarks on a journey to rewrite history, one spanning across the past, thru WW1, and onward to WW2.
WHO AM I?
My name is D. K. Marley (Dee) and I specialize in historical fiction, as well as alternate historicals, Shakespearean-themed, and time travel novels. After working on my first novel, Blood and Ink, for fifteen years, and taking three research trips to England, I joined the Shakespeare Fellowship and started writing blog posts for the Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, with the intent of finding an agent. I attended a 10-day intensive writing retreat founded by Gary Provost to hone my skills and make connections. Then, tragedy struck my family. I lost my daughter, son-in-law and grandbaby to a drunk driver in 2015. In an attempt to regain my lost power and self, I used writing to heal, writing three more novels and self-publishing all four. My first novel won a Bronze Medal in 2018 and a Silver Medal in 2019 for Best Historical Fiction from two top book blogger/reviewers. The experience strengthened me in ways beyond words. Now, with my current novel and the four following in this time travel series, I hope this generational time travel story will do for Wales what Diana Gabaldon did for Scotland, and what Poldark did for Cornwall. I am ready to traverse the traditional route of publishing, knowing that sometimes adversity moulds you into a better writer with a stronger voice. I have an active FB page, FB group of over 1500, a growing Twitter account, and my own blog where I review books for Netgalley and Goodreads.
In the beginning, a madwoman created Camelot; and in the fall of 1914, at the violent convulsion of the Great War, the legendary story sucked me into the past through the roots of an ordinary tree. I say ordinary, but sometimes first appearances deceive. Oft-times alluring with awkward beauty, yet hiding a vacuous secret in the depths.
People and trees, how very similar in form. At first glance, nothing special to gawk at, such as the lonely Rowan overlooking our manor home, Tyalwyn; save for the gnarled trunk twisted to one side, a cluster of white berries brightening the grey branches, and a tangle of roots spreading over the ragged rocks. At the base, oozing from the depths, a slight bubbling spring etched a path down the cliff face, connecting with the River Usk snaking though the Brecon forest. The tell-tale liquid indicated the watery heart pumping deep below the entwining roots; and yet, as with most people, the signs passed unnoticed. Except by me.
And how do I know this tale? I sometimes wonder if I am the insane orchestrator . . . or did I inherit the story from my mother . . . or even, my grandmother? Who was this madwoman obsessed with King Arthur?
Isla, my identical twin, and I celebrated our twenty-eighth birthday on the 28th of June 1914, the same day as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo, as ordinary girls hiding an echo in our rooted souls.
Our father, Ian, gifted us a new gown, each, on that day. Mine, a flowing tea gown in white voile with sheer inserts across the breast, puffed sleeves to the elbow and narrowing to the wrist, tiny mother-of-pearl buttons cascading down from the nape of the neck to the waist and French lace edging the high neckline, the prevailing fashion of the day. Isla danced round the drawing-room with her white eyelet lawn dress, and we made plans to wear them to Ascot come springtime, along with appropriate straw hats and parasols. Those innocent pastimes we devised the month hell vomited across Europe, spilling all the way to our once bright home boasting over the rolling Welsh moors. The details of a simpler, languid time; a time we expected to continue. How wrong we were and, dare I say, how naïve.
One month and a few days after our celebration, my father sat at the breakfast table on August 5th, performing his familiar ritual of reading aloud the headlines from a freshly ironed page of the London Times, while my mother scanned over the society column of the Glamorgan Gazette. My sisters and I waited, church mouse quiet, as the minute sounds of routine accented his words like tiny accompaniments—my mother’s breathy sighs, Maegan scraping a spoon along the side of her teacup, Eilwyn muffling a giggle as Gwynna hummed, Isla whispering a hush with a finger against her coral lips, and then, the rustle of the newspaper as Father silenced us with a firm cough.
I must admit, my mind drifted. Talk of battles on the European continent made me yawn, as well as the fact that my head pounded after a restless night’s sleep. Another incessant dream, the same since childhood—an aggressive raven and courageous kingfisher locked in battle; flapping wings, bloody beaks, and the ever-present suffocating sensation of crashing waves over my head, which always woke me with a start.
Two iridescent blue tit birds fluffed their wings on a holly branch outside the opened window, and my eyes followed my mother’s stare towards them. Their sweet chirping and hopping from one limb to another enlivened the dull words of impending war, yet my father’s voice sparked, almost hopeful, upon the news. The brief and strained conversation or rather, performance, followed the daily script. Father’s curt remarks. Mother’s drained replies.
“The Times announces we are at war,” he announced. “The buggers soundly rejected the ultimatum, can you believe it? This aggressive attack from Germany, first against the royalty of Austria and now against Europe, should strike a chord through the noble houses of England. Russia is supporting Serbia, so who knows what else may develop. War is upon us, and we must prepare to support in any way we can.”
“Surely, this will pass,” I said with another yawn.
“No, Vala, this is quite different,” he replied, sternly.
“What does the politics of Europe have to do with us here in Wales anyway?” My mother questioned in her faint distracted words.
Father folded the paper, tucking it underneath the lip of the gold-edged Crown Derby saucer in front of him. He crooked his finger in the handle of the teacup and held the edge to his lips, pausing to answer before he sipped.
“A significant amount, unfortunately. Countries are taking sides in this strife. Great Britain remains a loyal ally of France and Russia, and though she sustained diplomatic relations with Germany, she chooses to side against the Kaiser. We have a civic and patriotic fidelity to the Crown, and since my former service in the Boer conflict in South Africa, I must return to active duty,” he said.
Mother sighed, once more, and touched her fingertips to her forehead. “No more talk of war, Ian. Please,” she said. As she covered her face with her hands, small teardrops slid down her wrists along with her unmistakable whisper. “O, for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts . . . “
I knew the remark, so often I had heard her quote the line from Keats. She lived forever looking out windows to the horizon as if in search of some lost secret in the past. Father usually ignored her words but this time, he slapped the rolled newspaper against the table top causing all of us to jump in succession, all six pairs of eyes fixing on his reddened face.
“Isla, fix your mother some of her medicine.” He snarled.
My sister rose and stepped over to the long burled walnut sideboard, popped the cork on a squat green bottle, and poured a dram of brown liquid into a jigger, then walked round to hand her the glass. Mother threw back the “liquor” as if she slugged Scottish whiskey, although I knew better. When younger, perhaps twelve or so, I received a swift slap across my face after touching my tongue to the edge of the bottle, so I learned the bitter gall of ‘mother’s medicine,’ as well as the daily, almost hourly, odour of laudanum on her breath.
Father took a deep breath, steadying himself as he drank his tea and then, motioned for Eilwyn, Maegan, and Gwynna’s dismissal. “You may leave, girls. “
All three stood in a hurry, curtsied, and left us. Mother rose, as well, and placed her palm against her tight, corseted stomach. With her other hand, she fingered the black pleated edging round the scooped neck of her simple grey silk day dress.
“I will be in the orangery. I think the orchids are dying,” Mother said, as she meandered out of the room leaning on Isla and leaving my father and me alone in the dining room.
Father stared out the window, the sun breaking in brilliant streaks through the mullioned glass. I sensed the anxious thoughts weighing upon him, darkening the shadows beneath his eyes and thickening the air, but I remained quiet. We played out the circadian pattern in the Penrys household—silent understanding, silent knowing, but no deep discussion at or beyond the breakfast table.
Daring to tear down the impenetrable wall, I reached across and brushed my fingers on his sleeve.
“Father?” He grunted a ‘yes’ but did not greet my inquiring stare. “Are you all right?”
He answered my question with silence, to which I continued. “I had another one of those dreams last night, the one of the raven and the kingfisher. Do you suppose it is still from when you saved me from drowning in the Usk when I was eight?”
“Yes, most like,” he answered, abruptly.
“But, Father . . . this time there was more. This time I saw a wondrous island in the mist and a sword rising from the waters . . . as clear as day. More like a memory than a dream.”
He gruffed in his throat, finished off the remainder of his tea, tucked the paper under his arm, and strode towards his private study. As his hand gripped the handle, he looked over his shoulder, working his jaw as he searched for the proper answer to give me.
“Vala, I’ve told you before that you must stop this silly dreaming nonsense. Leave it alone or else you will end up like your mother.” He held up the newspaper. “Don’t we all have more important things to focus on than flights of fancy about birds and swords?”
The door slammed, leaving me alone, and the two tit birds startled into the sky. I sighed and poured another cup, drawing the edge to my lips and blowing the steam across the surface with my breath.
Father disliked me, or perhaps disliked the burden he saw looking into my face. He lived in a house full of marriageable girls still sitting at his table and supping his bread. The two of us, my twin and I, at our age teetered on the spinster life, a substantial weight to our parents with no prospects in sight for fifty miles in any direction, especially with the onslaught of this war. After spending several seasons in London from the age of seventeen, we vied for the attention of every viable young gentleman with a worthwhile income and estate, fighting an impenetrable queue of suitable and elegant young ladies backed with their strong-willed mothers.
Regrettably, we lacked the necessary sort of mother and, according to the gossip which reached our ears, Isla and I both lacked those flourishing adjectives: suitable and elegant, with disparaging comments such as:
“. . . too freckled . . . unruly mousy curls the likes of a bird’s nest . . .” and the final blow, “. . . the gloomiest blue eyes . . . so much like their sad father . . . and no wonder his sadness for happens every time a Welsh boy marries an English girl.” (It was true—while my mother was half-Welsh, half-English, she leaned more towards her London-bred father in looks and in disposition; a sort of highbrow arrogance acquired while rubbing shoulders with the swells of Grosvenor Square.)
And then, there were the words whispered behind Maegen, Gwynna, and Eilwyn, such as:
“. . . their white skin and golden hair is their only saving grace . . .“
and the clincher, “. . . pale as a ghost with soulless eyes . . . like that unhinged mother of theirs.”
In truth, we all favoured her in different aspects, Isla and me, most of all, the same face save for our dark hair and freckles. The other girls all leaned more towards the dangerous unstable personality rather than acquiring Mother’s features.
Our unhinged mother, Isobel Penrys, was a blonde will-o’-the-wisp with nary any of the will, portraying the ever ailing tragic Victorian woman on the verge of collapse at any moment.
And as we all grew older and more aware, the knowledge of our mother’s sickly ways made us realise that she leaned more towards madness than desuetude. Her turmoil led to the negligence of not only her daughters but of her husband and herself.
In truth, I detested the word, the label, vowing to safeguard her from the rumours murmuring through the nearby villages of Crickhowell, Abergavenny, and Llanginadyr, and praying not to notice any signs of the trait in myself or my sisters. Yet, even in my vowing and praying, I could not change the fierce rage coming upon Britain or our house, however much I prayed.
I looked over to the closed study door. My father’s neglect affected us differently. He abandoned all emotion when he lost his wife to the depths of her mind; and now, with the start of the war, he vacated us physically, as well.
A hand squeezed over my right shoulder and my sister, Isla, sat down in Father’s chair. In rote, I poured her a cup. She smiled and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.
“Your hair never wants to stay in place,” she whispered, sipping the Darjeeling.
I snickered. “Perhaps if I used twenty pins as you do.” We giggled and clasped our hands together.
“You seem distracted this morning, Vala,” she noted.
I lifted my right eyebrow, a habit Isla revealed to me one day as she plucked the tiny hairs into an arch. “Distracted? Well, I suppose I am with all the war talk.”
“Is that all? I know you better than anyone, Vala, and something else occupies your mind. Am I wrong?”
I squeezed her hand. “No, I mean . . . yes and no. I am discovering the nearer I approach thirty, the more I long for escape from . . . well, everything.”
Isla sighed and rested her chin on her opened palm. “Understandably, sister. By now, we should be married with children of our own. The security of a husband and motherhood keeps a woman’s mind grounded, I suppose.”
I huffed through my nose. “Not according to Mother’s actions and words. Nothing about her life here grounds her mind. Distracted is her forté, and ‘give me my medicine’ is her mantra. Perhaps I am jealous of her escaping mechanism, or maybe I am searching for a way to run away, or desperate for things to stay the same.”
She wrinkled her pert nose and I wondered if I looked the same when she spouted nonsense.
“I know how it sounds, Isla, a complete contradiction of sorts. I want escape but I want things to stay the same. Odd, is it not? I think the only way to explain it is . . . “
She tilted her head in a combination of understanding and sympathy, patting my hand. “You don’t have to explain it to me, Vala, I understand all too well. Our minds were set on simple things such as attending Ascot in the spring, or the new window displays at Harrods . . .” she took a sip of tea and giggled. “Do you remember, we were only three or four, I think, when Mother took us for a ride on the moving staircase there? Such a treat!”
“Yes,” I replied. “We made faces in the plate-glass balustrade.”
“I remember!” Her smiled disappeared, returning to the previous conversation. “Vala, I’m afraid those idyllic days will never return, especially with this war. And then, what shall we do about our situation?”
Our situation. I knew what she meant. Ascot and the Queen Charlotte’s Ball had been the best chance of finding a suitable husband since attending from the age of seventeen. Approaching thirty, our chances faded with each passing year. Now, I wondered if the ravishments of the war ripped away all the excitement of a new Selfridge gown or the awkward virginal introductions at Buckingham Palace. How might one reclaim innocence lost?
I must admit I will not miss the painful moments of standing alone and rejected at the edge of the ballroom, or fanning my flushed cheeks as my ribs ached from the ever-restricting corset. And yet, there is one thing I will miss—the sheer delight of sudden independence from the imprisoning walls of our home, Tyalwyn, . . . from Father’s disapproving glare, and Mother’s hollow stare.
I poured out the remaining tea into my cup, the droplets dripping from the spout edge and popping on the surface. Like a mirror, both Isla and I sipped at the same time. She was right. More inundated my mind than whether or not we might attend another London Season.
“Yes,” she replied, setting her cup on the table.
“Do you remember when Mother used to tell us the story of Camelot?”
“Of course, she was obsessed with the story,” she answered, her gaze drifting off towards the window captured by a long-ago memory. I followed her eyes with my own and the tit birds returned, chirping merrily.
“Sometimes,” I said, closing my eyes to recall the dream. “I wish we could hide away in some faraway land. Imagine, you and I, on our own, independent and self-reliant, without any care of wedding days, or corsets, or absent parents, or wars; watching the rustling Autumn leaves dance against the gentle breeze blowing across the Usk.”
Isla turned her head towards me. “I will say the same thing Elinor Dashwood says to her sister, Marianne—‘it is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves’.” We both snickered and Isla patted my arm.
“Please, dearest, do not let your fanciful daydreaming morph into Mother’s likeness,” she said.
Reaching across, I pinched my sister’s cheek and smiled. “Never mind, me, Isla, dear. Your sensible view keeps me in check. Queen Victoria and Father would be proud of you.” A thought seized me and I grabbed hold of her arm, lowering my voice to a whisper. “Isla, but, what if? I know you as well as I know myself, and I’ve seen your romantic performances in the attic room. Your fairy-tale notions run as deep as mine even if you try to hide it behind a conventional demeanour. What if we escaped, you and I, together?”
Isla’s eyes widened and she pressed her hand against her heart. “Escape? Whatever do you mean, Vala? Leave Tyalwyn?”
“Yes,” I said, breathlessly, half-hoping she might reply with a quick ‘let’s go’. Instead, she placed her palm across my forehead and clicked her tongue to gauge the heat rising in my cheeks.
“Well, you feel all right; no fever. And where do you propose we go, sister, dear? India? Jamaica? Or America?”
Narrowing my eyes, I answered a reply she did not expect.
The word silenced her and her eyelashes fluttered as she searched for the correct response to my outlandish whim. She cleared her throat, imitating Father, and tilted her head intimating her worry and fear. Wrapping both her hands round mine, she shook her head.
“Vala, listen to yourself. Avalon? We really must curtail our play-acting in the attic. If you don’t collect yourself, how in heaven will any of us get along with Father gone and Mother, well, essentially gone, as well? Please, Vala, you know how we all rely on your strength. Now is certainly not the time for fantasizing about mythical worlds when our own world is falling into chaos.”
I gripped her hands in return. “Now is the perfect time. How else can we brave the day ahead of us than to fall down rabbit holes?”
“Stop it, Vala.”
“No,” I pressed. She rose up from her chair to leave, but I held her fingers fast. “Wait, please, Isla . . . I promise to stop if you indulge me for a moment. Will you?”
She lowered herself back onto the chair and gnawed on her lip. “When have I ever been able to deny you anything, my dear sister. Of course, I will listen.”
I stood and offered her my arm, which she took, and I steered her out of the dining room towards the library at the end of the hall beyond the staircase.
“Where are we going,” she whispered as a conspiratorial accomplice, accompanied by a nervous giggle.
Touching my finger to my lip, I opened the door and ushered her inside, pausing for a moment to suck in the inspiring aroma of leather and ink. Isla did the same, both of us incurable bibliophiles. Father’s library, his second sanctuary, was a sight to behold, a two-storied wonder with a spiralling ornate staircase in mahogany. Shelves stretched from floor to ceiling with every yard packed with books on every subject, some more favoured than others, such as: atlases and geography, archaeology, and two cases full of books about India, Sanskrit, and Rudyard Kipling. The pads of my fingertips tingled as I ran my hands along the spines, finally resting on the certain one I wanted to find.
“We aren’t suppose to be here,” Isla whispered.
I said nothing, but she was right. Father sternly demanded his sanctuaries off-limits unless invited. Only once in my lifetime had he extended a welcomed invitation. On my sixteenth birthday, he allowed me to select a book of my own from his libraryand without hesitation, I withdrew Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. He baulked at first, asking me to choose something different, with a spark of anger in his eyes I did not understand, nor did he offer an explanation. After much pleading, he relented but made me promise to never ask him about the “damnable story”.
The second unwelcomed invitation included a reprimand before the desk in his study after he discovered one of his Kipling books missing from the collection. Still, even after the scolding and a night without supper, the spell of books and stories lured me again and again. The game of stealth and of snitching the books without discovery thrilled me.
Wrapping my fingers round Isla’s dainty wrist, I urged her towards the centre oak table and the stack of books adorning the top.
“Look,” I directed, and her eyes followed my fingers tracing across the gold embossed lettering on three large leather-bound manuals of sorts.
“What is it?” She leaned forwards and read. “Mabinogion . . . I am sure I’m suppose to know what this is, Vala, but unfortunately, I do not.”
Opening the front cover, I pointed to the cover page. “The Mabinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest. This first one is Volume One, consisting of the Arthurian romance of Geriant and Enid; and then, this one,” I fanned open the third volume, “holds the stories Four Branches of the Mabinogion and and the Book of Taliesin.”
Isla crossed her arms and crinkled her nose. “Again, what am I suppose to understand?”
“Well,” I replied, “Mother used to tell us the stories of Camelot, don’t you remember? Beneath the rowan tree? And now, here Father owns the Mabinogion, the translation of the earliest Welsh legends of King Arthur, the stories Tennyson himself based his Idylls of the King on.”
Isla waved her hands outwards, encompassing all the books in the room. “If you haven’t noticed, Father owns books of all sorts. Why do you think are these so special amongst his collection?”
I tapped my toes against the parquet floor, the irritation rising in my stomach. “Surely, you recall, Isla. You cannot be so daft . . .” I waited as she searched her mind, then continued as she shrugged. “Lady Charlotte Guest? You don’t remember her grandson, Oscar Guest, five years ago at Ascot? The one with the flourishing moustache and puppy-dog eyes who followed you round for most of the day?”
Isla gasped, touching her fingers to her chin. “Of course, I remember him. And this is his grandmother, the author?”
“The translator,” I answered. “The original works are in Welsh, which were mostly just outlines since the stories were never written down, only passed down by word of mouth by Bards who travelled from village to village, swapping tales for food and lodging. Most of the stories were embellished as they spoke them, the details flowing from their imaginations.”
“They were cyfarwyddiaid, just like us,” she added as she flipped through the pages, stopping a moment at an elaborate illustration of a man handing over a baby boy to another seated on a horse.
“Yes, exactly,” I replied.
Our mother prided herself on insisting that while her own father was a very English commander with the British Raj, her mother was as Welsh as the waters of the Wye, and a storyteller, or cyfarwyddiaid, to boot. While she never directly admitted, I suspected my grandmother, Illya, was a sort of gipsy, or traveller of some kind, dispensing fortunes and stories as the ancient Bards, until the day she caught the eye of Lord James Thackeray. In short time, they married and left for India, living near Lahore along the Ganges River. This small bit of knowledge of my grandparents was all I possessed of either of them, collecting with the other things not discussed in our family.
Isla closed the book and eyed me with curiosity. “And what, pray tell, is your interest in these particular volumes?”
“Well, curious, is it not, that Mother used to tell us the stories all of the time, that Father owns these books, and we live only a half a day’s horse-ride away from Caerleon, the supposed site of Camelot?”
Isla shrugged. “What of it, Vala? We live in Wales, dearest, we cannot help being surrounded by all things Arthurian. I think you are making more out of this than is there. Perhaps your desire for escape is luring you down this rabbit hole.”
She turned and set off towards the door but I stopped her with a small passage from The Book of Taliesin.
“Wait . . . before you go. Listen—
A coiling serpent,
Proud and merciless,
On her golden wings,
She will overrun
England and Scotland,
From Lychlyn sea-shore
To the Severn.
Then will the Brython
Be as prisoners,
By strangers swayed,
Their Lord they will praise,
Their speech they will keep,
Their land they will lose,
Except wild Walia.
Till some change shall come,
After long penance,
When equally rife
The two crimes come.
Britons then shall have
Their land and their crown,
And the strangers swarm
All the angel’s words,
As to peace and war,
Will be fulfilled
To Britain’s race.”
Isla stopped and looked over her shoulder. “That sounds like a prophecy.”
“Yes, a prophecy,” I said, arching my eyebrow. “A bard spoke these words centuries ago, and Lady Guest translated them in the mid-1800s, a long while before any hint of this war, this coiled serpent from Germany.”
I set the book down and urged her towards the cushioned seat beneath the large arched window. “Isla, you and I both know there are secrets in this house, do we not? What if some of the secrets relate to the stories of Camelot? What if we are all linked in some way? I feel it in my bones; there is something more to this story.”
Thank you for reading and keep up-to-date on the publication date at my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/therealdkmarley.author