A Call Through Time
151 pages
English

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151 pages
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Description

The Lord of Castlegrove Manor, heir to a vast fortune, is a studious History buff who loves reading about the years following the Roman occupation of Britain. Dissatisfied with running his extensive estate, a distraction from Bart’s boredom is his erotic dreams. No woman but his dream lover will ever offer him the satisfaction he craves. During one of these dreams Bart wakes up miles from his comfortable existence and in the year 450AD. When he comes face to face with Haesal, he knows instantly this is the woman who has shared so many of his heated fantasies.  Most Celts have fled west to escape invaders from over the seas. Haesal and her brother have been captured by an evil barbarian and Bart comes to realise that his mission is to rescue them and return them safely to their home in Cornwall. Haesal’s belief in shapeshifters and the fairy folk helps her better understand the sudden appearance of this handsome stranger in her life who claims to have a deep knowledge of her. But can the love they find with each other survive through time and treachery

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Publié par
Date de parution 15 mars 2012
Nombre de lectures 2
EAN13 9781773622477
Langue English

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Exrait

A Call ThroughTime
By TriciaMcGill
 
Digital ISBNs
EPUB978-1-77362-247-7
Kindle978-1-77362-248-4
WEB978-1-77362-249-1
 
AmazonPrint ISBN 978-1-77362-250-7
 

 
Copyright201 2 by TriciaMcGill
 
Cover art byMichelle Lee
 
 
All rightsreserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reservedabove, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in orintroduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, orby any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise) without the prior written permission of both thecopyright owner and the publisher of this book.
 
* * *
 
Dedication
 
This oneis for all my fellowbelievers in reincarnation. Too many strange episodes have happenedin my own life for it to be a myth. Or could it just be my vividimagination up to tricks? Whatever, never let anyone dissuade youfrom your beliefs.
ChapterOne
 
Castlegrove Manor, Near Colchester, England, present day.
The well-lovedvoice echoed in Bart’s head. He fought against waking, againstlosing the woman who haunted his dreams, but she faded into themists of time, calling, “Come back Brys. I need you.”
As hecame slowly to awarenesson the tousled sheets, Bart groaned. As always, after leaving thegolden-haired temptress, the ache of loss tore himapart.
W hen he saw itwas ten past seven, he muttered, “Hell!” as he pressed a finger andthumb to his eyes.
The dreamagain! “Time you put areal woman in your bed, Bartholomew Wesley Beaumont.” But no fleshand blood woman would respond to his touch as his dream woman did.He could still see her slumberous eyes and her mouth, swollen andmoist from his kisses. Could almost feel the silkiness of herflawless skin. Could feel the mole on her shoulder that his tongueplayed over.
Bartstrode to the bathroom. Even beneath the needles of water, herimage filled every fibre of his being, until even a faint smell ofher perfume seemed to drift about him. Even now, his body throbbedto be a part of her again. Making love to his dream woman wasturning him into a total wreck.
Aftershowering, Bart staredat his reflection in the mirror. “Good God, pull yourself togetheror you’ll be climbing back into bed like some lame-brainedadolescent trying to continue where you left off.” He stomped outof the bathroom.
 
* * *
 
Like aproud, battle scarredwarrior, Castlegrove Manor stood in the middle of twenty acres ofparkland. It had rained overnight, and Bart dodged puddles as hejogged along the path skirting the flowerbeds which Harry, theestate’s head gardener, tended, along with his two sons. Harry alsoacted as chauffeur to Bart’s mother, whose Daimler shared the loftygarage with Bart’s two vehicles.
“ Wolf,come here.” At Bart’s call his wolfhound trotted to him. Bartrubbed its silky head. The dog whined softly as a small deer movedfrom the protection of the trees. Ears pricked, the deer, one of asmall herd that roamed the estate’s parkland, took refuge behind aclump of bushes.
Bartloved his house and landpassionately, but this morning it held little charm. After seeingto a few estate matters with his manager, he returned to the house,entering by the side door leading into the immense kitchen. Afterexchanging a few pleasantries with Harry’s wife Mary, his mother’sprized housekeeper, he went into the hallway and took the carpetedstairs two at a time.
Hi s motherinsisted on breakfasting in the formal dining room. Agnes dideverything in the grand style befitting the Lady of the Manor. Afire burned in the grate, softening the austerity of the darklycarpeted room, where ornately framed oil paintings of Bart’sancestors pompously adorned the walls. Bart found the sobrietypermeating the room more stifling than ever thismorning.
“ Goodmorning, Mother.” He kissed her offered waxy cheek. “You’re lookingwell.” What a lie—Agnes looked older than her sixty-one years.After her husband’s death ten years ago, she’d taken to her bed fora year. Nowadays she only got up for a few hours each morning andthen again each evening. Bart surmised her sickness wasdelusionary. If only she would go out into the fresh air more ortake up some menial task, such as visiting the local sick, herdemeanor would doubtless improve.
“ Have youthought any more about our discussion of yesterday, Bartholomew?”she demanded from her end of the enormous mahoganytable.
Bartshrugged, and then helped himself to a generous share of bacon,eggs and toast from the buffet. Sitting, he grimaced discreetly.“How could I have forgotten?” In truth he hadn’t given the argumenta thought.
“ I takeit you will be asking Gwen to marry you soon.”
Bartgritted his teeth. “No I will not. I flatly refuse to put Gwenthrough such misery.”
“ Misery?How can you say such a thing?” Her thin lips quivering, Agnestossed her pristine serviette down. “At thirty-five you should be afather. Don’t you want to see the family line carriedon?”
Bartmuttered a curse. “I have no intention of being forced into amarriage of convenience. There has to be more to life than sharingmy future with a woman I do not love.”
“ Love?”Agnes scowled. “I didn’t even know what the word meant when Imarried your father, and we had a reasonable marriage.”
Bartforced back a sharpretort. He doubted if his mother conceived of what love entailed.Agnes took scant account of the feelings of others. No doubt onceshe produced a son and heir, his father never got near her bed, letalone her body. No wonder the poor old devil died before his time,he was probably glad to get out of his lacklustreexistence.
Perhapshe was under a delusion and the woman of his dreams would nevermaterialise. Should he marry Gwen and settle on second best? Buthow could he contemplate a loveless marriage?
“ Gwenwould be an ideal wife for you, she shares your impeccablebackground.” Agnes, as usual, took no heed of his indignation.Stiff in her chair, her prim mouth set rigidly, she bemoaned, “Youcannot turn your back on Gwen.”
Bartcould be just as arrogant—and twice as defiant. “I am not about tolet you browbeat me into doing something that would be a totaldisaster.”
“ Whatabout me?” she wailed. “I don’t wish to die before I see mygrandchildren. I should have had more children—a daughter wouldhave given me a brood by now...”
Themelancholy sadness act did little to endear her to Bart. She’dflatly refused to bear another child after his birth. Bart wonderedwhat she would say if he told her his father passed this snippet onto him during one of their rare discussions. He sighed. It was asad state of affairs to dislike one’s mother.
Bart puthis glasses on and buried his face in the newspaper, and she wentquiet. It didn’t take him long to read the paper from front toback. Speed-reading and a photographic memory were skills he’dhoned at an early age. He glanced up as a tiny girl in a blackdress and white frilled apron came in.
Slippinghis glasses in their case, he stood as she began to take away his empty crockery. “Thankyou, Bridgett.” She blushed to the roots of her hair as he smiled.This only made her more flustered, and he winked to put her at herease. It didn’t do the trick, for she had to retrieve a dish beforeit crashed to the carpet.
“ I have alot to discuss with Greaves today, Mother. And the accountant iscoming at eleven; then, we’ll be out checking on the stock most ofthe afternoon. I’ll see you at dinner. Stop fretting.” He tried tokeep this advice gentle. “I’ll give you all the grandchildren youwant, if you’ll just be patient.”
Bartcould hear her petulant grumbles as he closed the door. He went tohis office, where it was easy to put her words from his mind as hespent his day running the estate. From comments gleaned from locallandowners he knew he was doing a good job, aided by his proficientmanager. His accountant brought him up to date on the income drawnfrom the varied real estate he owned in London andOxford.
 
* * *
 
Afterdinner, Bart went early to his bedroom, where, barefoot, he pacedthe plush carpet like a caged tiger. The embers of a dying firesettled in the grate. Although the house was centrally heated, he’dalways preferred an open fire; especially on evenings like thiswhen a blustery wind howled about the old house, and steady rainpelted against the windows. Adelle’s soft voice did nothing tosoothe his jangled nerves.
Anotherminute in his mother’s company would have driven him barmy.Admittedly her argument was cogent. Bart understood why she wantedhim to marry and start a family. He wanted that himself. But hehadn’t yet met the woman he wished to spend the rest of his dayswith.
Except in hisdreams.
Gwen wascertainly well credentialed to be the wife of the heir to a vastfortune, but she’d always known he had no intention of marryingher. They had drifted along companionably until it appeared thateveryone assumed marriage was the next inevitable step, prompted byhis mother’s not so discreet comments along the way to anyone whowould listen.
A lighttap on the door heralded the arrival of his valet. Bart looked upas Morton opened the door and stood just inside. “Will there beanything more you require this evening, Sir?”
“ No,thanks Morton. I don’t need another thing.”
After Mortonleft, Bart sat on the brocade chair at the fireside to unbutton hisshirt. Poor old Moreton had never come to terms with his master notbeing happy with servants fussing about. Bart’s university dayswere his happiest, when he’d been free to pleasehimself.
Aftershowering, he donned a toweling robe. Pulling back the plush velvetdrapes, he stared out through the rain-splattered windowpane. Hismother would never see that the pleasures of wealth could notcompensate for the absence of love in your life. And he was veryrich. His grandfather amassed a small fortune, and his motherbrought considerable wealth along with her into the marriage. Bartconsidered this wealth he’d inherited, by no effort of his own, wasundeserved. There were times he wished he could just walk away fromit and travel the world, anything to compensate for themind-numbing boredom. This was ungrateful of him, he knew, for mostpeople would be only too thankful for their goodfortune.
Dropping therobe on a chair, he climbed into bed and picked up a book. Hisinsatiable urge to learn all there was to know about the yearsduring and after the Roman occupation of Britain was a passion.This obsession with ancient history, especially the Dark Ages, hadfueled his desire to be an archaeologist. And that is what he wouldhave been, had not an ingrained sense of duty kept him here, boundby his obligations.
Lately,h e’d been reading aboutthe Fosse Way, one of the Roman highways. Bart read for over anhour, until he began to yawn. Placing the book on the bedsidechest, he took off his wristwatch and his glasses, switched out thelamp and settled down beneath the quilt, his hands under hishead.
Withsleep came another dream. But the woman wasn’t there this time, andhe gave a small sigh of disappointment as he sat up and lookedabout.
 
Chapter Two
 
The sandbeneath him w as cool.Rising cautiously, he almost hit his head on the roof of what herealised was a smallish cave. A prickle of goosebumps rippled overhis skin, as absently he brushed at the sand clinging to histhighs. Startled by the fact that he was as naked as he’d been inhis bed at Castlegrove, he whispered an oath. This was like nodream he’d experienced before—ever.
Intriguednow to see where this dream led him , Bart walked out into hot sunshine. The sandsifting through his toes was warm and the sun on his bare bodyadded to the surreal feeling. Not since he was a toddler could herecall being so free of inhibitions. Seagulls overhead squawkedshrilly, and waves gently lapped a beach that went for miles inboth directions. He began to stride out, in the hope his dreamwoman waited further along somewhere like some siren.
A rms stretchedwide in abandon, Bart set off at a run, only then realising thathis usually neatly trimmed hair streamed out behind him like anunruly mane. He stopped, swaying, a perspiring hand shielding hiseyes. Surely he’d stepped over a borderline between reality andfantasy, for this was certainly the most realistic dream ever—andwhy the heck was he naked?
Changingtack , he set off towardsthe trees fringing the beach. Beneath their sheltering branches,the coarse grass brushed at his thighs and whispered in the wind.Wildflowers nodded in a clearing along a path, so he headed thatway under a canopy of leaves. The sweet fragrance of the flowerswafted around him. Pausing, he breathed in the heavyscent.
But as heinhaled, another much more pungent aroma hit him. Swiveling sharplyat a small sound, he froze.
At thefar side of the clearing sat ten weather-beaten riders—their skindark and leathery—their shoulder length hair and long beards filthyand matted. Brightly patterned chest plates adorned their handsomeponies, whose manes were threaded with silvery strips. The animalswere much better looking than their motley riders, who wore anassortment of rags.
The stinkwas overpowering, and instinctively Bart reached into his pocketfor a handkerchief; only then remembering he was minus his trouserswith their usual sharp crease. Belatedly, he shielded his genitalswith his hands.
“ Welcome,Brys.” The man at the front of the group urged his mount forward tostop a few paces in front of Bart. “I am Arthgul.” Bart understoodthis odd man and was so taken aback he momentarily forgot the vileodor emanating from the group.
“ I thinkyou’re mistaken.” Bart’s voice sounded familiar, despite the senseof unreality swamping him. “I am The Earl of Castlegrove, LordBartholomew Wesley Beaumont of Essex.” This he said with all hisinbred hauteur. Pulling himself up to his considerable height, heglared down his nose.
TheArthgul fellow waved an indifferent hand. “In the world younormally inhabit, that may be the name you go by, but while you arehere you are Brys.” The gravity in his tone seemed incongruous,considering his appearance.
“ Hang on.I don’t understand.” Bart frowned as he glanced about. “Whereexactly is here?”
“ You willcome to understand soon. We are in Mercia. We…” He encompassed hiscompanions with a jerk of that same hand. “Are Celts, living in aland being overrun by Saxons, Jutes, and Angles—invaders fromacross the sea.
Bartrubbed a ha nd over hishead. “Right, so just what year is this?” Good grief, this weirddream, or whatever, seemed to have thrust him back in time tosomewhere in the vicinity of 400 to 500 AD, if this strangecreature was to be believed.
Arthguli gnored the question.“You have been brought here to undertake a task. In time all willbe clear to you.” His announcement was delivered with a dramatictouch of mystery.
“ I doubtit,” Bart muttered. If this was Mercia, then they must be somewherealong the east coast, near the Humber River. “But how did I gethere, and who brought me?”
“ You havecome through time to fulfill your destiny, Brys,” Arthgulproclaimed. Bart grunted incredulously, but the filthy guy ignoredit. If that was true then there was nothing much to do but playalong and see how things worked out. Perhaps he would wake upsuddenly and find this was simply a confusing, but realistic,dream.
“ Pleaseput these coverings on.” Arthgul tossed a bundle to Bart. When he’dunrolled it he stared at the assortment of garments that consistedof a pair of baggy woolen ankle length breeches and a long doeskinshirt. Of course there were no underclothes, but then what could beexpected from a bunch of heathens. A tunic of rough animal hidesporting a gilded breastplate of bronze scales completed theoutfit. Once dressed, Bart slipped his feet into soft hidemoccasins and, after looking to Arthgul for guidance, crisscrossedtheir leather ties around his calves.
When Bartstraightened, Arthgul nodded. “Now I will explain your mission. Invaders from over thesea are slowly pushing native Britons further to the west, and onefamily, who settled in Wessex, has been captured by a chief of theinvaders. Most of the newcomers ignore the towns the Romans leftbehind, but this evil Germanic warrior, Garth, has taken over theRoman town of Lindum.”
Bart knew theRomans departed in 410AD. What the heck was he supposed to do withfierce warriors? He really should stop reading about this period inhistory, doubtless it was affecting his mind.
“ Garthcaptured the son and daughter of Chief Targal, who was slain bythis tyrant while trying to defend his family. Chief Targal’s onlydaughter must be freed before she is forced into the clutches ofthis Garth, and her brother forced into slavery, if not killed. Itis important he be saved, for it is written that he will rule overhis people one day.”
Bartpressed a hand to his chest. “What can I possibly do? I’m not a fighter—I wouldn’t standa chance against this Garth. He sounds like a brute, so how can youpossibly assume I’d do the least bit of good? You’ve got the wrongperson, old man. I’m not up to this job you seem to have earmarkedfor me.” Bart raked his fingers through the unfamiliar hair.Obviously he’d ended up in someone else’s dream.
Smilingslyly, Arthgul turned in his saddle and beckoned to one of his silent companions. Ashriveled man resembling a monkey, dismounted and loped toArthgul’s side. Pulling a pouch from beneath his soiled jerkin hehanded it over, and hastened to remount.
Arthgulwithdrew a chain from the pouch and weighed the heavy piece ofjewelry in his palm, before crooking a finger. “Come closer,Brys.”
As Bart stepped forward on shakylegs, an odd sensation wafted over him. In that instant he knew forthe present he was Brys as his old persona seemed to fade.Bartholomew, The Earl of Castlegrove, for whatever reason, receded.It was an eerie sensation, but Bart had the oddest feeling thismeeting was pre-ordained.
As he stood beside Arthgul’sbedecked pony, Arthgul said gravely, “This talisman has great andwondrous powers.”
Brys bent hishead and the chain was placed about his neck. As he straightened,fingering the pendant of gold that lay heavily on his chest, heknew his transformation was complete. On a chain of plaited gold,the extraordinary piece of jewelry was enameled in vivid shades ofpeacock, blue and aquamarine. “Who made this?”
“ Asorcerer whose power is as great as the mighty Merlin.” Arthgulpuffed up his chest. “This rare gift will endow its wearer withmore strength than a man could ever imagine to possess.”
Brysstifled a laugh. There was no place in his life for such nonsense,or more precisely, there hadn’t been. The ancient Celts weredefinitely known as a superstitious lot, worshippers of horned godsand goddesses of battle, gods who ruled the woods and wild places.The Druids made human sacrifices, and sprinkled their altars withblood, so surely a belief in wizards and talismans wasn’t sofarfetched.
“ DoesMerlin really exist?” Although a fanatical reader of ancienthistory, he’d never uncovered any solid proof the tale of KingArthur and the wizard Merlin, purported to have brought Arthur upin secrecy, was more than a legend.
“ I havenever met the Great One, but his disciple possesses greatlyrespected knowledge that has come down through our Celtic ancestorsfrom as far back as Cernunnos our ancient god.”
Surelyanything was believable since his flight from reality brought himhere. Brys frowned. “Since the talisman possesses such powers, whydidn’t this sorcerer do the rescuing?”
“ We donot question the Wise One,” Arthgul delivered with grave dignity.“The strength of the talisman can only be used by chosenones.”
“ Andpresumably I have been chosen,” Brys muttered. Perhaps he wouldcome to terms with all this, but still felt sure any minute hewould wake up back in his bed.
“ It isso. Come, it is time we were on our way.” Arthgul turned hispony.
“ Itappears I have no say in the matter.” Might as well be practicalabout it. His home was in another time and place. These strange menwere his only link with that past. What could he do but followthem?
N o one offeredBrys a mount, so as they set off at a steady trot he loped at theirside, trying to work out where he’d woken up and how far it wouldbe to Lindum, or Lincoln as he knew it. Lincoln was inland fromjust above The Wash, so set them just north of Skegness, a fairdistance from his home in Essex.
Once theyleft the forest , theterrain became rocky and barren—totally different to the green andleafy lanes of the England he was used to. Brys moved soeffortlessly that at times he felt it wasn’t him moving, but theearth beneath his feet. He had no trouble keeping up with thelight-footed ponies, now moving at a steady canter. The sensationthat strange magic abounded here filled him.
This wassurely a stranger journey than any traveled in his life. On and onthey went, until arriving at a vast heather-carpeted meadow. Hillsin shades of purple and green shimmered in the distance. When theyneared a river winding its way through steep banks, rushing overrocks, Arthgul pulled his pony up and dismounted, saying, “We willrest the animals.”
Strangely, Brysdidn’t feel tired, considering they’d been moving at an amazingspeed. He’d lost all track of time, but guessed it to be earlyafternoon, for the sun was just moving from over their heads. Nowhis anxiety had worn off, he felt more alive than he had in years.For too long he’d just plodded along in the same rut, longing forsomething to happen to force him out of this rut. Well, boy, hadthat something happened.
Afterthey’d watered the animals at a small beach, Brys copied the men and bent todrink. Arthgul posted a lookout on a small rise further along thebank, and the group sat in a circle.
Brys tookstock of his motley companions . What magic brought him here, for it was surely magic ofsome sort. Who were these men, and why had they come for him? Wherewere they headed? Should he be feeling more scared? For all heknew, they could be leading him to his death. They talked togetherin a strange dialect. Why could he understand Arthgul, but notthem?
Pirateshad been landing in Britain for more than a century, and after theRomans left, they began to settle in this fertile and rich land,finding it far superior to their poor farmland inEurope.
Themen took pouches fromtheir saddlebags, and Arthgul offered Brys a strip of brownleathery stuff. It looked ghastly. “Eat,” he encouraged, so Brystook a tentative bite. To his surprise what looked like old boottasted like a tough piece of beefsteak.
Soon themen went to relieve themselves, so he did the same, then they allremounted and moved off at an easy canter again.
The sunwas dropping low whenArthgul pulled his pony to a stop and pointed to the horizon. “SeeLindum. The stronghold of Garth.”
Brysstared at the high walls ahead . “I’m supposed to breach that fortress?” Surely therewould prove to be a gate, but he could see no sign of one fromhere.
“ With thetalisman you can achieve anything.” Arthgul waved his doubts away.“You will have no trouble entering the city. Your biggest obstaclewill be Garth. We part here.” He turned to beckon to one of hisfollowers. “This weapon will assist you in your fight.” The longbladed knife he handed Brys was embossed with entwined snakes onits bronze handle.
Brys weighed itin his hand before thrusting it through his belt, where it satheavily against his hip. All excitement vanished—replaced by sheerpanic. He’d never carried such a weapon, and had no idea how to usea dagger. And the men were leaving him? Although weird, smelly andodd, they’d become his allies—partners in this strangeadventure.
“ How willI know where to enter the city? And where will I find this womanand the brother I have to rescue?” Brys felt really scared now herealised he was expected to complete the journey alone. More thanjust scared—terror engulfed him. He wiped his sweaty hands down hissides. Perhaps now was the time to close his eyes and try to wakeup back in his bed.
No suchluck! Arthgul pointedbehind Brys, announcing, “Your guide has arrived.”
Brysturned, astonished when a great black raven landed with a flapping of wings. It satby his feet, screeching harshly, its beady eyes peering up at him.Brys took two steps back as the bird then fluffed up its glossyfeathers, expanding until a figure shrouded in a voluminous cloakas black as its wings stood there. A claw like hand pushed back thehood to display a downright ugly face. His throat went so dry hehad to swallow hard to work up some spittle. This wasimpossible—plain ridiculous.
And thenit spoke. “I am Anstred,protector of the Lady Haesal.” The hag curved one of her sinewyfingers, indicating Brys follow her.
Turningto bid his traveling companions farewell, his heart lurched, forthey were now dots on the far side of the meadow. Brys quelled anurge to race after them. Fascinated and horrified at hertransformation, he hadn’t heard them leave. Now alone with this oldcrone, his last link with his other life gone, along with theriders, he felt bereft.
H e’d read aboutshape changers, but until now looked on such things as figments ofsomeone’s fertile imagination—much as the legend of King Arthur andhis knights of the round table. Trying to put all the events sincehe awoke in the cave into some sort of order, he was at a loss toexplain it.
“ If youare this Haesal’s protector, why couldn’t you free her?” He spoketo her back, for she was heading towards the distant city. Feelinglike a lost schoolboy following the only adult who offered a lead,he trailed her. “A being that has the ability to change shape couldsurely lead a band of people to safety.”
Shepaused . “Yes I could dothat, but it would solve nothing. Garth must be destroyed. Somethings are ordained. I do not question, and you should not. I havespecial abilities, but it was your strength that was needed. Youwere summoned and you came—it is as simple as that.”
She nodoubt thought thatexplained it all, while he felt more and more like a perplexed boy.There was little to do but follow her. He felt a compulsion to go,as if some invisible thread now bound him to her. Always incomplete command of his actions, he now had the distinct impressionsome force greater than life itself guided his every move. Surelythe pendant lying heavily on his chest must contain the magicpropelling him.
One of fiveRoman municipalities, Lincoln was responsible for governing thecountry during the Roman occupation, so Brys fully expected to seea fairly large settlement. But the sturdy twenty foot wallsurrounding the town nonetheless surprised him. At its base a wideditch filled with stagnant water gave off a vile odour. Buttresseswith watchtowers sat at intervals around it, and Brys scanned itstop rampart walks for watchers, but there were none.
Whenthey reached a woodenbridge the crone stopped and turned to him. “This is where youenter. I will wait on the other side.” Instantly she reverted toher raven form and flew off.
Brys trodcarefully over the wooden slats, avoiding the parts that lookedrotten. He had no wish to end up in the stinking water of theditch. A seemingly impregnable gate barred his way, so he bent hisweight to it as sweat trickled between his shoulder blades. To hissurprise it creaked on rusted iron hinges as it swung slowlyinwards.
Theraven, perched on atree, stared glassily at him, and then flew up, circling beforedarting off, flying back at intervals, presumably to ensure hefollowed her.
Hovelsloomed starkly against the darkening sky. Brys imagined how thistown looked in its heyday, with the grandeur the Romans loved. Theywere notorious for their straight streets, accessible to alegionnaire trying to maintain control. But these deserted streetsreeked of degradation and poverty. A screech from the ravenreminded him why he was here, and he hurried onwards.
Apartfrom a moan coming from one of the hovels, there was no sign oflife. The desolation and the pitiful wail touched his heart, evenas his flesh crawled at the imagined deprivation.
He passeda colonnaded porch of what he presumed was a temple erected to oneof the many gods the Romans loved to worship. The raven perched ona wall near the largest structure in the town—possibly thebasilica. Brys took a minute to admire the brickwork, a goodexample of concrete reinforced with the bricks the Romansperfected.
Thegateway of the basilica led into the deserted market place, or forum. It wasn’tdifficult to imagine the activities of those times, when, on marketdays the local farmers set up stalls to sell their produce. Theraven’s screech brought him from his introspection.
F ollowing thewall until he reached a door at its rear where she perched on astrip of jutting wood above it, Brys asked, “We go through here?”The raven nodded its sleek head.
The doorwas bolted, so he used all his newly acquired strength to force itopen. Bending to enter, he bumped into a colossal man, and thesuddenness of coming across another human here stunned him. Thegiant brandished a fearsome spear and grunted. Brys stifled alaugh. This joke had gone on long enough. Now he must surely wakeup.
But themammoth was real. Perspiration broke out on Brys’ forehead andpalms. He was an earl, and a farmer, for heaven’s sake, not awarrior. But instinct warned him he must kill or bekilled.
Thegigantic man growled an unintelligible word while waving the spear, so Brys dredged upa boldness from somewhere and pulled the knife from his belt. Untilthis moment he never really expected to use the weapon. It felt oddin his hand, and momentarily he considered turning to run. But thatsame compulsion forced him to stand up to this foe. He lunged,sinking the knife deep into the rocklike chest.
The manbarely had time to catch his breath, and likely was just as takenaback as Brys. Sickness engulfed Brys as his opponent toppled,blood spurting from the wound. This was becoming his worstnightmare.
The ravennodded as if in congratulation of the vile deed, then lead him downa flight of steps carved from rock. At the bottom, he peered arounddubiously. The walls sweated dampness. Following the raven into adarker tunnel, where groans and sobs reached his ears from thedungeons there, he cringed.
The ravenchanged shape again. Brys bent to a nearby grating, halfway down aheavy oak door. The gloomy cell’s only light slanted through anarrow slit high on the wall, throwing a dusty ray on a personstretched out on a pallet against a wall. Another, his head on hisbent knees, sat hunched on the floor.
AtAnstred’s call of, “Gerald,” a young man jumped up eagerly, shakingthe arm of the other figure on the pallet, a man.
“ Have youcome to rescue me?” the youth demanded peevishly.
“ As soonas I break down this door I’ll do just that.” Brys tested the doorwith a shoulder. It was immovable.
“ Good. Ican’t wait to get out of this dung-hole.” As the teenager saidthat, a deep growl came from the darkness behind Brys. As heswiveled, his hand on the dagger, he came face to face with anotherhulk, this one wielding a deadly looking two-handedsword.
Goodgrief, he’d never had a punch up in his life, apart from the usual scraps one getsinvolved in at school and university, and the one where he acquiredthe slight bend in his nose. Yet all of a sudden his life wasriddled with enemies bent on fighting him. It would be funny if itweren’t so terrifying. Perhaps, if he ever got out of this, hewould look back on it and laugh.
A fter a shortsharp combat, the guard fell at Brys’ feet—a fatal wound in histhroat. Every part of Brys shuddered.
Anstredtook a loa ded key ringfrom the dead man’s belt, found the right one and opened thecell.
As soonas he was free, the youth demanded, “Who are you? I am Gerald, future chief of theTargal clan.” Beneath the dirt and grime, Gerald was obviouslyfair-haired and light-skinned.
“ I’m Bar...um, Brys.”
“ Good.You must get my sister Haesal away from the fiend Garth at once.Then you must kill him.”
“ All ingood time.” Brys turned to the boy’s cell-mate, who stood smilingthrough his shaggy matted beard.
“ This isGodwin, the servant of Gerald,” Anstred said. Both wore rags; theirfeet covered by a wrapping of tattered animal hide.
He bowedlow before Brys. “My lord.”
Anstredtapped Brys’ arm. “Come, we must go. Our mistress is watched overby Garth’s strongest guards. But first we must free ourpeople.”
She handedGodwin the keys, and he began to unlock the first cell door asAnstred led Brys and Gerald back along the passageway. They met twoguards, but taking them by surprise Brys soon dispensed with them,although the horror at his actions remained.
Acridsmoke drifted from torches in sconces high on the slimy walls asthe three of them went up another flight of steps. As they climbedhigher, a murky light drifted in through gaps in the outerwall.
“ Themistress is in the end chamber.” Anstred halted Brys at the top ofthe stairs. “She should be eating her end of day meal at this time,with only her serving wench Rhoda in attendance. There are twoguards outside at all times. Gerald and I will wait here while youremove them.”
Brys squared hisshoulders as he approached the guards. They both rushed at him,forcing him to use all his wits to dodge one’s flying dagger as theother came on him from behind with an axe. Witchery obviouslyprotected him, and he touched the pendant with reverence. As hedragged the inert bodies to an alcove, he felt utterly incongruous.Was it only yesterday he sat in his office working out financeswith his accountant?
When Anstred andGerald joined Brys, the latter regarded him with a kind of subduedadmiration. Brys inserted the key in the lock, and the door swunginwards with a creak.
Shock hitBrys like a punch in thestomach. Taking a harsh breath, he stared, dumbstruck, at the womanwho sat on a low, fur draped pallet in the middle of thechamber.
She wasso lovely, his heart somersaulted. Hair the color of spun goldflowed to her shoulder blades in rich silky waves, and threadedstrands of ribbon contained the sides above her ears. Her simplewhite under tunic was covered by a green dress, and girdled at thewaist with a belt of hammered copper—the garment doing little toconceal perfectly rounded curves or shapely ankles.
She wasgorgeous; breathtaking, and Brys knew her as well as he knewhimself. He was face to face with his bewitching dream lover.
 
ChapterThree
 
“ This isBrys.” Anstred broke the spell that seemed to have wound itselfabout him as the woman rose gracefully. Barely hesitating, shewalked towards him, a slender hand outstretched.
Brys’gaze roamed over her high cheekbones and perfectly shaped nose andthen dropped lower. Her obviously unfettered breasts rose and fellrapidly beneath their soft covering. She must have been frightened,but concealed it well behind a shield of arrogance as her chin wenthigh. The tentative smile on her well-loved lips aroused such astrong blast of desire in him, his heartbeataccelerated.
As hetook her slender white fingers in his hand, a muscle jerked in hisjaw. Searching a mind gone blank for somet hing sensible to say, it hit him why he’d beenbrought here—Haesal called to him through time, and he’d heeded hersummons.
 
* * *
 
Haesaloffered her hand and stared at this man who had appeared as if fromno where. She made asupreme effort to conceal her fear. After her treatment at thehands of the evil Garth, she was not about to trust any man again,and this one certainly bore a strange look. It was not simply hisbeardless jaw that set him apart from other men she knew, no, therewas a totally foreign air to him.
Herfather often likened herto a young horse, for her legs were longer than most young girls,but she had to lift her head to look up to this man with hair asblack as the wings of a raven. His eyes, as they went over her weresoft as a meadow flower, yet so dark. Those eyes seemed to besearching to her secret self, as if they would see into herthoughts. His proud bearing as he faced her made her knees begin toweaken, and she could feel heat rushing to her face.
Hisnearness made her tremble, and she fought a desire to hide herhands behind her back. Those dark eyes were grave, but as hesmiled, small lines at the side of his eyes crinkled. Up close shecould see every small dent in his skin—skin which was not weatherroughened, but much darker than her own.
His firmbut kindly mouth parted to show even white teeth. Haesal shivered at the force of theanimal wildness that seemed to surround her. Or was it the unusualsmell of him making her wary?
“ Herescued your brother and now will set you free.” Anstred placed thestranger’s hands on hers and Haesal tried to hide her reaction tothe clasp of his warm fingers as they tightened around hers. Thecommanding air he possessed frightened her, but not for anythingwould she show this fear.
 
* * *
 
Brysclasped her slimfingers. Was the quiver running through them fear or did sherecognise him as he’d recognised her? The belt at her waist definedthe narrowness of her seductive young body. While they continued togaze at each other, Anstred introduced her as LadyHaesal.
“ I bidyou welcome.” There was a tremor in her voice, as, with a small tugshe freed the hand he’d been clutching.
Hergolden eyebrows metabove the bridge of her nose, and the set of her chin suggested astubborn streak. Despite her untouched air, she exuded anintriguing passion and charisma. Reaching his shoulder, she wastaller than he imagined her to be in his dreams.
“ Gerald,my beloved brother!” She spread her arms as the young man went toher. Tears made her eyes dewy as she embraced him, while stillwatching Brys over the boy’s shoulder. Gerald struggled free.“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for rescuing him,” she saidwith genuine sincerity.
Br ys felt heatrunning up his face. “This may sound hard to grasp but I think I’vecome through time to answer your call.” How foolish did that sound?Her frown said she was just as puzzled. “I’m here to help you andyours.” What the hell was he doing making such farfetched claims?Yet, she appeared to accept this explanation.
 
* * *
 
Haesalchewed on her bottomlip. Her father always taught her all things in this life werepossible, but these words from the stranger made her suspicious. Ifhe was brought here to answer a call, it certainly was not made byher. It was not difficult to believe he was summoned, however, fordid she not believe in powers far greater than any humanspirit?
Butbelieving it did nothing to stop the surge of fear sweeping throughher. This strange man wore an air of authority, while his eyesregarded her with a kind of warmth never encountered before. As hecontinued to stare at her she felt like a dove caught in the clawof a hawk, which was not like her at all.
Thesensation creeping up through her body made her heart beat faster. This man was somehowfamiliar, as if memories of him were stored deep in her mind. Couldshe have known him in a past life? That thought brought freshtremors and would be best not dwelt on.
Shemust keep her thoughtson the practical side of things. “Garth is at his table. We mustflee before he realises we are free.” She smiled at Gerald and herrelief at seeing him safe made her feel weak. The fear that Garthmight have already slain him had overtaken all worries for her ownsafety.
“ FirstBrys must slay the monster.” Anstred looked at the stranger withassurance, but Haesal glanced warily at him. The masculine auraabout him certainly inspired confidence. Indeed, he looked braveenough to fight anything, yet something about his expression, andthat humorous and kindly mouth, told her he was not up to facingone such as Garth.
 
* * *
 
The crone’sbeady eyes were going back and forth between them, and Bryssuspected she was fully aware of his feelings. “If left alive, hewill follow you to the ends of the earth, for he would never letyou go so easily,” she said. “The evil in him would not let anyonehinder his plans.”
“ You areright.” Haesal’s fingers were twisting together in agitation. “Ifear for anyone who tries to go against him. I was forced to endurehis threats on how he intends to torture Gerald if I do not obeyhim. You will need all your wits about you if you are to overthrowhim.”
Herconcern touched him . “Ihave a few tricks of my own.” Brys patted the dagger stuck down hisbelt, then offered the talisman for her examination. “And thisfellow helped me so far. It will not let us down.”
A sweethot burst of desire shotthrough him as she bent over the pendant and her natural fragranceof female, that no amount of perfume or pampering could achieve,filled his nostrils. How he itched to run his hands through hergolden crown of hair as he’d done in his dreams. Such was thelonging, he had to clench his fists.
“ I hopethat it will not let you down.” Could she sense the attractionflaring between them? Perhaps so, for she averted her gaze, sayinghuskily, “I would not want you harmed in our defense.”
Unable toresist the urge to touchher, he put a finger softly to her cheek. “And I think you need notfear. If it’s my destiny to fulfill the task I’ve been brought herefor, I doubt I’ll have any say in how it turns out. But it warms myheart to have you worrying about my safekeeping.”
A small expression of distasteflashed across her lovely eyes, and Brys grimaced down at his bloodstained hands. A deeper pink tinge settled across her cheekbones,as he smiled, saying, “Sorry.”
Lordknows what they’d gonethrough since Garth captured them. He saw a tremor race throughher, and sincerely hoped it was not brought about by fear ofhim.
“ Can Iwear this?” Gerald reached for the heavy chain about Brys’neck.
Haesalscolded gently, “Do notdo that.” She pulled on his arm, but he shook her off and twistedhis lips in a gesture of impatience.
“ Why not?I am the future Targal chief, and he is a servant.” He glared atBrys, and Haesal let out a small gasp.
Brysslanted a wry glance at the lad, who looked more like a scruffyurchin than a future chieftain. His glare said he fully expectedBrys to grovel at his feet. With just a hint of adolescent fluff onhis chin, Brys reckoned he could be fourteen or fifteen.
“ I’m noservant, lad. In fact, where I come from I would be considered ashade more important than leader of a tribe.” He grinned to softenthe scolding, but Gerald continued to scowl like an owl with itsfeathers ruffled.
“ We havewasted too much time. We must go while Garth is feasting anddrinking ale.” Anstred placed her hand on Haesal’s arm. “Come,Rhoda, keep with your mistress.”
Brysnoticed the se rvant girlfor the first time when a mousy girl of about twelve or thirteencame forward, head bowed, her hands and mouth tremblingviolently.
“ Don’t beafraid.” Why wasn’t he shaking just as much, could he be far braverthan he imagined himself to be? It was laughable, he’d never huntedfoxes because he hated the idea of killing a living thing, yet herehe was with five notches on his belt.
Justthen, Godwin led a groupup the steps. The men and women were all bedraggled, filthy, andthin as pikestaffs, with sallow skin and bloodshot eyes.
“ OhGodwin. You are all free,” Haesal cried. “Soon we will go home.”The combined smell of sweat and filth was overpowering, but shetook two of the women in her arms one at a time. “Zoe, Emily. Mygood servants, how are you?” Some of the men exchanged hurriedgreetings. Brys presumed the remainder were Lindumcitizens.
“ You willstay here.” Anstred waved a scrawny hand and they all nodded andshuffled about like a flock of lambs. “You stay here also, Gerald,and Godwin, you watch over your master.”
“ Whycannot I come too,” Gerald grumbled.
“ Becauseyou must stay safe,” Haesal said.
He still mumbled as the four ofthem walked off. The girl Rhoda, clung to her mistress’s side, andBrys was about to advise she stay behind, but thought better of it.Haesal might need her. Lord only knew what awaited them.
Anstredled, with Brys behindher and Haesal and Rhoda close on his heels. They followed thecorridor along the same floor, until they reached a filthy andtattered tapestry, which Anstred pulled aside.
The floorof the chamber in front of Brys was pattern ed with cracked and foully stainedmosaics, ingrained with the filth of years. A colossal man lolledon a high throne-like chair with gold embossed armrests.
So thiswas Garth, the largestman Brys ever set eyes on, and in the flickering light thrown bytorches around the walls, also gruesome. Food particles clung tohis gray matted beard and he swiped at them with a fist as heturned his attention their way.
With alaugh like a roar, he growled, “Yea ha, what have we here? Just where do you think you aregoing?” His friendly tone belied the fierce glint in eyes like redmottled marbles. Thumping a fist on the nearby table, hestood—placing great knobby hands on his hips. He towered over Brysby a head and shoulders. Pushing aside the young girl who knelt athis side, Garth stomped across the room to stop a few paces awayfrom them, while the wraith-like girl escaped through anotherdoor.
As Brys put his hand on the daggerat his belt, he wondered once again what he was doing. Close up,the giant was menacing. A livid scar slanted jaggedly from theright of his forehead, across his hooked nose, to disappear beneathhis beard on the left side of his jaw.
Belchingloudly, Garth wiped afist over his ugly mouth. “I was just about to come and fetch you,my sweetling.” His brows beetled as he eyed Haesal. “I see you havesaved me the trouble and come to me. And you have also provided uswith company, how amusing.” He encompassed them all with aleer.
Brysdidn’t miss Haesal’sflinch as she backed away. This giant must be terrifyingher.
“ I wouldnever come willingly to you. I would die rather than share my lifewith you!” Her lower lip trembled, and Brys put himself between herand the monster.
G reat bellows oflaughter shook Garth’s frame. “You will live to regret yourthoughtless words.” Inflating his huge chest, he grinned evillyfrom the depths of his beard. “Now that your feeble father is dead,you, and yours, belong to me.”
“ Never!”Clinging to Brys’ arm, Haesal cried, “My father was a great man andyou are a murderer! When Gerald is of age, he will fulfill hisdestiny and rule over our people. Until then I shallrule.”
“ Ha!”Garth’s face was a mask of malicious anger. “How can either of yourule when you are beneath my roof? You have no say in anything. Iam the only chief your stupid followers will obey from nowon.”
“ Soon youwill be dead, and nobody’s ruler,” Brys said coldly.
Garth swept anironical salute Brys’ way. “And who is this dolt?”
“ All youneed to know about me is that my face will be the last one you seebefore you go to meet your maker.”
This only seemedto amuse Garth more. Issuing a rough order, another colossus withsnake’s eyes and reptilian skin hanging in loose scales over hisjowls, stomped in. Garth strode to the far side of the room and,that evil grin still on his face, turned to bellow, “This infideldares to threaten me. Kill him.”
Theman adopted a fightingstance with a battle-axe aimed at Brys’ head. His grossly muscledbody covered by a rough metal suit of armor only enhanced hisreptilian appearance.
Brys pushedHaesal and the servant girl behind the hag. Without his protection,Anstred was the only one capable of caring for thewomen.
Thisgiant was the most skilled of Brys’ adversaries so far. Sending upa quick prayer, Brys met him head on, and with a skill thatastounded him, easily outmaneuvered the massive foe, killing himwith a fatal thrust to his throat.
WhileBrys caught his breath, Garth gaped at his blood-spattered warrior.Brys fully expected Garth to attack him then, but he just stared,as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. Brys could understand that—healso found it hard to take in the fact that he’d added anothernotch to his belt.
Garthbarked another quick series of orders and another combatant rushedin. It took Brys longer to deal with him before two more guards ranin. Arms akimbo, Garth screamed, “Fools and imbeciles, stand back.You fight like weak-kneed children. I will kill this one myself!”The two looked very grateful and like a flash were gone.
BeforeBrys could get to him over the bloodied bodies littering the floor, Garth took down agreat sword from a wall bracket. Leaning nonchalantly on its gildedhilt, he grinned. “So, let us now see who is the greatest fighter.”Brys swore a tinge of admiration fought the scorn in Garth’seyes.
Garthslipped on the bloody floor as he advanced. A ripple of tiredness ran through Brys.There was little doubt that the loser of this bout would be dead,and the winner would take Haesal, the greatest prize ofall.
Surelythis journey would not prove to be so useless. Brys glanced quickly to where Haesal stoodwith her faithful Anstred. There was little Anstred would be ableto do if he was killed. Surely he wasn’t brought through time forit to end like that. Touching the talisman with trembling fingers,he sent up a silent prayer for renewed strength from the powerfulforce that had watched over him thus far. A blast of fury restoredhis failing strength and vitality seemed to pour into every muscle,until each breath he took seemed to fill him withenergy.
Confidence bright in his eyes, Garth brandished his swordwith two hands. He went for Brys’ neck with his first stroke, missing his target by ahair’s breadth. As the weapon whistled by his ear, Brys knew Garthmust be slain before he managed to strike the deathblow. Using allhis newfound speed, Brys maneuvered Garth until he could catch holdof his sword arm, and with a mighty heave tossed Garth onto hisback. His opponent’s weapon sailed to a corner with a loudclang.
As Brys held his blade at the hugethroat and met eyes still glittering a challenge, Garth croaked,“What are you waiting for?” Brys couldn’t help but admire thewarrior’s courage. Would he be as valiant if the cards were sostacked against him?
As he hesitated, Garth twisted hishuge body with an astounding agility, and jumped to his feet. Witha bloodthirsty yell, he whipped a small-bladed knife from the topof his leg binding, and aimed the blade at Brys’ heart.
But Brys turnedswiftly on his toes to deliver a thrust to Garth’s neck, severingthe vital artery in his throat. As his life’s blood gushed from thewound, Garth slumped to the floor. With a look of utter disbeliefin his eyes, he took his last gasping breath.
Garth’ssurviving guards rushed over and Brys sprang back in defense, bututtering foreign phrases, they sank to their knees.
“ What arethey saying?” he called to Anstred.
Anstred’sexpression showed no surprise or horror at the deeds he’d carriedout. Brys was hit with the suspicion the crone knew what theoutcome would be all along. “They are promising their allegiance.They offer their lives to you.”
“ Tellthem to stop groveling, and send them to inform the townsfolk theyare free of Garth’s stranglehold.” Brys rocked back on his heels,still unable to believe what he’d just done.
“ Most ofthem fled to the hills or forests,” Anstred said. “Those who wereimprisoned with our people will send a message to inform them it issafe to return.”
“ Hopefully they can go back to their old way of life, nowthey are rid of Garth.”
Haesalstill stood by the doorway. Brys went to her and read theapprehension clear in her eyes. She fiddled with her belt as hergaze darted about the hall. “I cannot believe he is dead,” shewhispered.
Brysextended his hand, but when he caught sight of the blood on hisskin and clothes he drew back. “I need a bath!”
Seeming to dragherself out of her shock, Haesal turned to her servant, who stillcringed behind her, to order in a shaky voice, “Rhoda, fetch Saul.”The girl jerked her head in assent, and ran off along thecorridor.
“ Saulwill serve you well.” Haesal faced Brys. She was still shakingwildly, and as if to stop this display of nervousness, clasped herhands across her waist. “He will take you to the old bathhouse. Youwill be able to cleanse your body in the waters still runningthrough there. While you bathe, I will find clean garments foryou.” Her eyes drifted over him. “You are about the size of myfather.”
Brys frowned.“Your father…but I thought…”
As if tostifle a small sob, she dragged in a breath. “We were returningfrom the home of one of Father’s allies when Garth captured us andkilled my dear father. He brought all our possessions backhere.”
Brysfelt like an insensitivedolt for forgetting how she’d lost her father as well as beingdragged here and imprisoned. He nodded to the lifeless form ofGarth. “He’ll never bother you again.”
Anstrednodded sagely, then issued orders to Garth’s former guards, who nowstood looking lost and forlorn, to dispose of the dead in theburial grounds outside town.
AsH aesal and Brys turnedto leave the hall, Rhoda returned, accompanied by a boy of abouteleven. As Brys greeted the lad, Haesal still watched him warily.Brys hoped he was mistaken, but felt sure fear mingled with theadmiration in her eyes.
 
* * *
 
Haesalbeckoned to her maid asshe stared at Brys’ back when he walked away. “Come Rhoda, we willfind food for the stranger who saved our lives, and we must findgarments for him.” She stifled a cry at the thought of the clothesof her dear father being worn by another. Yet it seemed fittingthat so great a warrior wear them.
As Haesaland Gerald made their way along the corridor, the folk freed fromthe dungeons crowded near to hear how Garth was slain.
“ I shouldhave been there.” No one took heed of Gerald’s grumbles, so hebecame louder. “I will be giving the orders soon.”
“ Yes,yes, of course you will.” Haesal patted his arm as she beckoned toher two serving women. They were filthy, but hearty as ever nowthey were free. “Zoe and Emily, you will go to the kitchens. Taketwo of our men, let me see—take Fitz and Tam, to find what food youcan.” They went off eagerly.
“ And youothers, search for food. There must be a plentiful store. AndGerald, you keep me informed of what they find.” The men welcomedher orders. Her dear brother grew impatient to be a man, so hecould take charge of their people. The stranger did the Targal clana great service, for without his help this day Gerald would nothave lived to take his rightful place as their Chief. They owed himtheir lives.
Haesalturned to the rescuedmen of Lindum. These unfortunate folk were pulled out of theirhomes and imprisoned a little under a sennight ago, when Garthbrought her and her people here. Undoubtedly, Garth decided to stayinstead of journeying further north once he found the townspeopleeasy to overcome.
Sheshuddered anew at the remembrance of his fetid breath on her faceas he came close to inform her that this town would suit hispurposes well. She would present him with fine sons. Just thethought made her want to vomit. Pushing this awful memory aside shetook strength in the knowledge that Garth was dead and could causeher no more harm. “Have you a leader? Is he here or did he fleewith the folk who escaped at the time you were captured?” she askedthe Lindum men.
“ Aye,mistress, Trajan is hiding in the hills,” a ladanswered.
“ Then youmust send someone now to inform Trajan it is safe for everyone toreturn.” With their enemy gone, their weariness was now replaced bylightheartedness.
Haesalwaited until they descended the steps, then returned to the roomwhere she was held prisoner. After she slipped out of her tunic andshift, Rhoda placed them in the wooden trunk along with her otherpossessions, and brought her fresh garments.
Confusionfilled her . Where wasthis stranger from? Was he possessed of a magic? How else would hehave the ability and strength to kill so many foes and fell Garth?He claimed to have come to save her and Gerald, but how could thisbe true?
How shelonged to talk with herfather. He would know how to treat their savior who came fromnowhere. How stupid! If father were alive none of this would havetaken place. She would not have been dragged here, and the strangeman would not have been summoned through time as hedeclared.
Haesalcollapsed onto the pallet, her head in her hands. “Mistress?” Rhoda touchedher shoulder. Filled with her anguish, Haesal let out a shaky sigh.Rolling her shoulders, she rose, surrounding herself in the dignitybefitting her station. Father would advise her to show a proud andstrong face to their people. Of course Brys wished her no harm. Hekilled her enemy, and she owed him a great debt ofgratitude.
How he wouldexpect her to show that gratitude was beyond her ability toguess.
 
Chapter Four
 
Haesal was morecomposed since her change of clothing. Her over-tunic, with sleevesand hemline edged with fur was her favorite, as was her shift thatmatched the sky on a warm, cloudless day.
In someways, t he strangerreminded her of her father. He certainly possessed the strength ofcharacter she admired most about her parent. Still, the odd pullinside continued to bother her. Certainly the great power of Brysseemed to enable him to accomplish great feats. But the fear shefelt whenever near him was nothing to do with this strength or oddpower. He defeated her worst enemy and for that she must give himher everlasting allegiance. Did her father not teach her alliesdeserve the greatest respect?
At a tapon the door, she glancedto Rhoda. “Stay while he eats, and do not leave until I ask you togo.” Rhoda bobbed her head, and went to let the strangerin.
As heca me towards her, itsurprised Haesal once more that a man with such a powerful bodycould move so smoothly and remind her of a wild creature. When hestood by her pallet, she felt tiny with him so far above her. Shehid her shaking hands beneath a fold in the cloth in her lap,striving to keep her mouth from trembling.
Againstthe ligh t of the torchhe looked massive, and dangerous. His black hair glistened withmoisture, and as a swath of it fell over his forehead he pushed itback carelessly.
“ I trustyou had a good bath. I see you received the garments I sent.” Whyhad her voice come out so soft? She jutted her chin. What was itabout him that made her behave like a girl? She was brought up torule the household, was she not, and had given orders to men mostof her life. But then, this was no ordinary man.
 
* * *
 
“ As yousee I’m quite refreshed.” Brys spread his arms wide as he sent hera smile aimed at giving her reassurance. The icy dip in the longconcrete pool of the bathhouse was invigorating. On his way backhere, dressed in fresh clothes, he’d rubbed a hand over the stubbleon his chin. In his haste to get back to her he didn’t feelinclined to press anyone for a razor of some sort. The men herepossessed beards of varying lengths, so it was likely they didn’thave the necessary tools for shaving. Mother would have a fit if heeven considered the notion of growing a beard. The idea of throwingconvention to the winds and letting whiskers grow, appealed tohim.
Thethought of his mother caught him unawares. Was he missed in hisother life yet? What if he was trapped in this time warp forever?There was little else to do but take whatever fate held in storefor him.
The girlRhoda crouched in a corner . Haesal might be grateful he rescued her from a fate worsethan death, but it was plain he needed to prove himself beforeshe’d be willing to trust him completely.
Haesalnow wore a fur-trimmed tunic, its sleeves embroidered with goldthread. Around her waist a girdle of leather was fastened at thefront by a wide buckle that looked to be silver. A huge ambercrystal sat in its middle. An egg-shaped garnet drop nestledbetween her breasts. There was no doubt now that she was a woman ofhigh station.
Twodishes of food sat on a low table nearby. She po inted to them, saying, “This is the bestmy women could produce at such short notice. Come, sit and eat.”Glancing about, she patted the animal pelt she sat on. There was noother seating in the sparsely furnished room, for which he wasgrateful. Brys knew she would never have allowed him to sit soclose had there been a choice.
A s he loweredhimself beside her, his thigh touching hers, she flinched, andunder the pretense of handing him the platters, shifted to put aspace between them. He decided to ignore her wariness, even if hedevoutly wanted to reassure her he wasn’t about to jump onher.
One dishcontained chunks of cold meat, the other green leaves, similar tolettuce or cabbage. Brys took one wooden plate and put the other byhis feet. He was so ravenous he would have eaten anything she gavehim.
Haesalpoured wine into gobletshe was surprised to see were glass. There was a fine trembling inher fingers as she handed one to him and then sipped at hers. Itwas quite sweet, not much different to the one served with hisdinner last night. But the meal was a distinct contrast to the rackof lamb, followed by cook’s delicious lemon meringuepie.

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