She’s a no-holds-barred, kick-butt, don’t-cover-the-ugly-parts archaeologist. History wants to teach her a lesson…
By Melody Ash
Air emanated through Caitlin Benoit like life itself as she inhaled with lungs still recovering from the constriction of time travel. A full rich zephyr. She heaved another breath, the fresh rush inflating her chest. Relief electrified every nerve, and Caitlin’s pulse quickened. One more time, a bit slower now, the breath cleansed as she gazed through eyes still blurred from travel.
Sketchy lines of a horse and its rider slowly came into focus, and as the man stopped in front of her, his gentle brown eyes seemed laced with confusion. Dressed in a navy tailcoat over a white silk shirt and beige wool pants, he looked more Georgian than Victorian, and those clothes placed him—and now Caitlin—in the early eighteen-hundreds. And the location…
Her eyes strayed from the man to the grounds beyond the rider. Trees, sloping hills, a magnificent manor house. The far forests seemed to stretch for miles in a thick blanket of green. But they couldn’t be relied upon to pinpoint a location, not when similar woodlands spanned the globe within the temperate woodland biomes of the world. It was the house itself that provided the clues, one she recognized from several period movies—a Hollywood favorite.
Chatling Hall, an aristocratic home to a Duke of England. Only that made little sense. After traveling in time to the plantation in South Carolina and living among slaves for a week, she’d been instructed how to utilize the stone she’d discovered at the archeological dig in 2018 and followed those instructions to the letter. Should have earned her a one-way ticket out of 1859 back home. But if this was England, then not only had she traveled further into the past but also managed to hop the large pond between two continents.
“Madam? Can I be of some assistance?” the man asked for what Caitlin thought might be the second time. Maybe the third. Her brain was only just beginning to focus, to wrap around the context of what her eyes saw.
“I think I’m lost,” Caitlin muttered as she shook her head.
“I venture to guess so much. Pray tell, what is your name?” He slid from the horse, boots raising a cloud of dust. The man removed his hat, hung it casually from two fingertips. Manners that screamed early-century Europe.
“Caitlin Benoit.” She held out one hand, though a handshake wouldn’t fit the customs if she was standing in—what?—eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Britain. Still, surprise tickled her when the man took hold of her hand and gently kissed her fingers.
“It is my pleasure to meet you, Miss Caitlin.” After a bow of his head, the man replaced the top hat and straightened. “William, Duke of Lancaster.”
The duke himself. The stone couldn’t give me a little break and place me at the feet of a peasant or a groomsman. “Is this your home?”
“It is,” William said with a smile. “Madam, if you are indeed lost, I welcome you as a guest of Chatling Hall until your traveling companions return.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
He tilted his head, studied her once more. Her modern English against his very proper British accent likely sounded as strange to him as his did to her. And her clothes were as far removed from anything a proper English woman would wear. They wouldn’t even be invented for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Caitlin shifted her weight, glanced over his shoulder. If she was in danger, what escape could she have?
“Are you familiar with riding on the back of a horse?”
The question cut through the noise in her head. Caitlin raised a brow. Horseback riding was one of her favorite past times, but the way she rode would make nineteenth-century women blush in shades to match their pretty, fancy dresses while men would question their value as a proper lady. Notions that were both archaic and sexist—they made her skin crawl—but she needed time. Time to figure out how she left a South Carolinian Plantation in 1859 at the courtesy of a mysterious rock, endured the plastic wrap of time travel once more, but didn’t return to twenty-first-century America. At this point, it seemed time meant nothing, and yet she needed to buy some now. “No, not well, I’m afraid.”
“Then I shall walk with you.”
She nodded, fought to ignore the twinge in an ankle badly sprained days earlier, if she tried to define it in the conventional, linear sense. Seemed those conventions were out the window now, but her mind would take a little time to catch up.
Caitlin focused on the hills of the Peak District. She followed all the rules the slave woman shared with her in South Carolina—inside the circle, in the direct sunlight—yet she landed in England. Only… what year was it exactly?
“Forgive me, but I do not recall having the pleasure of your acquaintance in the past. I like to think I’m familiar with everyone in the nearby villages,” her companion said. “Are you here on holiday?”
Of course, he knew most everyone nearby. He owned the land, and the villagers were his tenants. Caitlin cleared her throat, prepared for the book of lies she would have to tell until she could leave the past where it belonged. “Yes, it’s been a long trip.”
“Then you must be tired.”
Caitlin didn’t bother to respond as he led her closer to the great manor. A path worn with the indentations left behind by carriage wheels curved around a bend where the trees gave way to a full, unobstructed view of Chatling Hall. In front of the manor house, a fountain as long as a football field shot water high into the clear afternoon sky. Set behind the fountain, Chatling Hall appeared to float on the surface of that water. The illusion was a good one, and almost took Caitlin’s breath away.
The stone manor house itself was even more impressive than it had appeared in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century movies. Classical architecture climbed three stories towards the sky. Gilded urns lined the roof, while three rows of windows—their frames also gilded—stretched right and left. As she and William neared the home, a staircase came into view. It curved upwards to a proud, rectangular landing to provide an outlook for the fountain.
Chatling Hall dwarfed Shady Oak Plantation in every possible way, even Biltmore paled in comparison. The aristocratic wealth was what Americans could only mimic but never quite attain. North America was too young, the British aristocracy too carefully built and maintained. The house defined the difference in spades.
“Are you traveling with family?”
Caitlin pulled back her gaze to face the duke. “No, no, I’m not. I’m sorry, I know this is going to sound a little funny, but… what year is it?”
The duke’s brows furrowed, and he stopped, stared at her. “1831. Did you hit your head? Are you quite all right?”
A hardness filled her stomach. She must tread carefully, or risk finding herself on the receiving end of questions she couldn’t answer.
With a mind that reeled in every direction, Caitlin didn’t pay attention to the ground beneath her feet. Too late for her to notice, she stepped on a large pebble and stumbled, causing an already weakened ankle to turn. Caitlin dropped to one knee, the fresh pain bursting through the joint. “No, I don’t think so.”
Web of Echoes: A Unique Challenge
By Melody Ash
One of the most asked questions is whether an author is a planner or a pantser for a project. For me, it’s a little bit of a complicated question because what I’m writing plays a huge role into how I plan. For my Vellas, it tends to (mostly) be a pantser platform for me. I have a general idea of how the story is going to end while I initially tried to outline my first Vella story, I discovered it’s mostly about what feels right for each episode and not pushing beyond that. For my books, a loose outline chapter-to-chapter had been my primary tool for planning which allowed me plenty of wiggle-room for creativity: where are these key moments supposed to be so that the arc plays out right and there are no plot bunnies on that last page.
Enter the Web of Echoes series. Everything, and I mean everything, got turned upside down. Right out of the gate, Echoes was, by far, the largest project I had ever chosen to write – eight planned books with alternating short stories and full-length novels to push Caitlin through her journeys. Outlining seemed to be a must, but then I quickly realized I didn’t only need a chapter-by-chapter outline but also a book-by-book summary before I even started writing. By the time I got to the end of Northern Echoes, I realized I needed a timeline to keep exact dates in line and to understand how long Caitlin stayed at each location. By the end of book three of Sunken Echoes, I realized I needed not only summaries and outlines and timelines, but also character outlines as an easy reference for where they came from, what they looked like – every important detail – so if they were referred to in later books, I didn’t have to go back and read entire manuscripts (you don’t want to know how I realized this. It wasn’t pretty.).
Now, I’m guessing you are thinking I had it all covered. I thought I did. Oh no. Nothing is ever that easy. Because in the middle of book four, I hit that good old-fashioned brick wall. Some details in the overall story had changed from the original vision (as they always do because characters are snotty enough to get a mind of their own), and I couldn’t connect the dots in my mind anymore. I found myself in a week-and-a-half-long stalemate. I was unbelievably stuck.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a 1000% Disney nerd, and I love the art of animation. Funny enough, it was what I knew of the process of animation that gave me an idea on how to get, well, unstuck. I went into my kids’ school room, pulled out three different colors of construction paper, a pen, and scissors and got to work. After three days, I was over the moon. The visual storyboard I had made separated the storyline into the traditional three acts defined by the color of the construction paper. Under each titles, I could see what was supposed to happen and when, along with how that played into the character arc and the overall arcing storyline. With it as a tool, I was no longer stuck, and I’ve pulled it out for reference with each additional book in the series. I LOVE it!
Any writer will tell you that every project is a new challenge, harder than the last and easier than the next. My friend says it’s how we grow as artists; I tend to think we have a innate desire to torture ourselves. Either way, Web of Echoes’ challenges ended up giving me another tool in the box for the next time a project writes me into a corner – and a fun new way to envision it.
I grew up loving the endless possibilities Fantasy and Sci-Fi held between their pages or played on the big screen. Star Wars, Stephen King, The Neverending Story, vampires, Disney, I loved it all (and still do!) At age ten, I picked up a pencil and began coming up with stories of my own that toyed with other worlds and the mysteries of this one.