Sisters of Castle Leod

Welcome to Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard with an excerpt from Sisters of Castle Leod: A Novel. Published January 19th 2023, 293 pages

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Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era. 

Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father’s vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell’s daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate. 

Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.

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Here’s an excerpt from the book


“We have but a moment.” A deep voice filled the cave like the fluttering of a thousand wings.

“Why am I here?”

“You are here because I could wait no longer to lay eyes on you.” In the dimness, I saw a flash of purple, and then felt something soft as silk brush against my skin. “You are very different this time. Your head is wrapped in a cloud.”

“Am I going to stay with you?”

“No, you cannot stay.”

“Why not?”

“No one can.”

“But when will I see you again?”

“Not until you are ready.”


Whatever took place in Dr. Belfry’s office that afternoon—weeks later, I still wasn’t sure—a seed had been planted. I’d often entertained the notion of someday visiting the ancient Mediterranean port of Tyre. Now I could think of nothing else. Whether for Janet’s sake or mine, my urge to go there had become a yearning from which I could not escape, even in sleep. My dreams kept returning to the rock cave. The place to which, many years earlier, I’d found myself mysteriously transported during the séance at Lady Caithness’s Paris mansion. The meaning of what I’d experienced was still obscure, but, more than ever, I had a strong intuition that I was being guided by a wisdom greater than my own. Urged to dig deeper for answers, for a truth I could believe in.

Edward’s permission for the trip was unnecessary. I had established a pattern of doing as I pleased, which usually meant nothing more than indulging my preference for solitude. Still, I thought it best to broach the subject by pointing out what he already knew. I had authored quite a few stories, but my overriding ambition was to write a novel set in Tyre. I could not attempt to write convincingly about a place I’d never been. The argument, if one could call it that, was perfectly logical, and Edward raised no serious objection. Neither did he offer to go with me, for which I was grateful. This had to be a private journey.

It began in Paris, where I boarded the grand Orient Express, called the Train of Kings, at the Gare de l’Est. In an elegant, wood-paneled coach, I settled into the leather armchair from which, over the next few days, I would observe the ever-changing scenery. My route took me through Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest before arriving, after some eighty hours, at the Sirkeci Terminal in Constantinople.

I was not a great traveler, and embarking on such a long trip with no one tending to my wardrobe and hair was rather a challenge. Gibson had protested, “A countess doesn’t travel without her lady’s maid.” But if Constance could manage alone, so could I. Hadn’t I read, over and over, the newspaper stories describing how she’d traipsed across India on horseback, wearing a soldier’s gray flannel shirt with rolled-up sleeves and open at the throat, loose khaki trousers, and a cowboy hat. She’d shot a tiger on that trip. I cried when I learned of it, but I wasn’t surprised. Constance loved to challenge nature. I preferred to cherish it. Yet, accustomed as I was to thinking we were opposites, I wondered whether perhaps we really weren’t. Each of us, in our way, was an explorer. She in the wild places of the earth, and I in whatever lies beyond.

I arrived at my hotel in Constantinople desperate for a bath before dinner and my first meeting with Mr. Rashid El Hajj, the guide who’d been recommended by one of Mama’s well-traveled friends. He would accompany me on the ship to Beirut, where we would meet up with the hired entourage he’d arranged for our trek by land to the ancient city of Tyre.

The Pera Palace Hotel was a favorite among wealthy Europeans. Its beautiful white façade was in the neo-classical style but, inside, colorful hand-woven carpets and silk tapestries in rich hues of red and gold boldly announced one’s arrival in the Orient. The height of the tourist season had passed, and the lobby was only lightly trafficked. I was promptly provided with the key to my suite on the fourth floor, accessible by the iron-and-glass lift.

“Can you tell me whether Mr. Rashid El Hajj has checked in?” I inquired of the desk manager.

He took a moment to study his guest log before shaking his head. “No, Lady Cromartie. Mr. El Hajj has not yet registered. Oh—I almost forgot. This was delivered just a minute ago.”

He handed me a sealed envelope. Nervously, I tore it open. Edward knew I was scheduled to arrive today. Might there be some kind of emergency at home?

But the telegram was not from Edward. It was from Mr. El Hajj. An unavoidable situation, he said, meant he would be delayed. In the meantime, he’d made arrangements for me to see the sights of Constantinople, starting first thing in the morning. My guide would meet me for breakfast at ten.

By nine the next morning, I was up and dressed and savoring the expansive view of the city from my private balcony. White minarets dotted the landscape like plump marshmallows. In the distance, vessels of all descriptions sailed in and out of the sheltered harbor, called the Golden Horn, that once had protected the ships of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman traders. I was finally to experience the mystical East, and on my own terms. For now, the precise reason seemed less important than the mere fact of being here. Whatever I needed to learn, I would. Still, I hoped my path might somehow bring me closer to Janet.

At quarter to ten, I descended to the lobby.

“Lady Cromartie!”

Hurrying towards me was a strikingly handsome man wearing an Arab headdress paired with an expensive-looking European-style suit. His dark eyes were lively, his skin burnished copper, his beard full and black. Before I could recover from the shock, he was standing before me, smiling. “You are pleased to see me?”

“Good morning, Mr. Khoury,” I said, ignoring his question. He would not have liked my answer. “What are you doing in Constantinople?”

Author Bio:

A former touring musician/songwriter and public relations professional, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, “a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller” (Readers’ Favorite, 5 stars), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a “resonant novel … about the birth and demise of ragtime … luxuriously crafted” (Publishers Weekly). Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, National Indie Excellence Awards, and Arizona Literary Contest; they have received 5-star ratings from Readers” Favorite, Book Readers Appreciation Group, and historical fiction Discovered Diamonds. Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.

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Thank you, Elizabeth

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