Page 30

Alys drooped against him, elated and exhausted, the salt of her tears on her lips, the sound of his heart beating against her cheek. “Do you have another superpower that you forgot to mention to me?”

His chest rumbled with a low laugh. “In this I am just a man, love.”

“Hmmm.” She lifted her head. “I’ll have to do more research.” She dropped her head. “In a year or two, when I recover.” She closed her eyes.

Chapter 13

Jayr’s memory stretched back seven hundred years, to the June when she had run away from the English convent where she had been raised, and traveled to the village of Bannockburn. In search of her parents, she had arrived only a day before King Edward II and his army. Just before the invaders arrived to battle the rebellious Scots, Jayr was promptly dragged out of her room at the inn and shoved into the street.

As the army approached, she went to hammer frantically on every other door she saw, but no one would give her sanctuary. The moment she spoke, they spat and cursed at her; one old boot maker tried to clout her with his gnarled fist. They said ugly things to her in their beautiful language, shouting through tears, glaring through eyes bright with terror. And then the doors would slam, and the heavy bolts inside would fall, and she would trudge on to the next place.

She was an English girl alone in a Scottish town, and in the fields beyond it, her people were killing theirs. There was no haven in these hearts or homes for the likes of her. She could not even buy it, for as soon as word came that the Scots had prevailed over the English, the innkeeper and his wife had taken from her the last of her coin before tossing her out into the street.

Jayr left the town and crossed the marsh, making for the trees. A path of heather sprang up from the ground to guide her steps. It was June; she could spend a night in the woods and not freeze to death. In the morning she would find a church. The priest did not have to know that she had refused to take her vows and fled her convent to search for her parents. For all the poor souls on the battlefield, and the hatred that had sent them to die there, Jayr knew there was still love in the world, and in this place, she would find it. She had only to follow the heather back to the beginning.

“You’re very brave.”

Jayr whirled around to see a young girl in a dirty frock and pinafore sitting on a tree stump. “Who are you?” Her gaze shifted to the dazzling white creature in the girl’s lap. “Where did you find that rabbit?”

“He found me.” Carefully the girl placed the snowy animal on the ground. As it bounced away, it left prints made of frost on the grass. “I’m safe, for now. But you’re not.”

“You’re American.” Jayr peered at her. “How can you be here? Your country will not exist for another five hundred years.”

The girl’s eyes shifted up to the rapidly darkening sky. “We’re not in Scotland anymore, Dorothy.”

Jayr watched as frost spread out from the rabbit’s tracks and raced across the ground. The lovely trail of heather wilted, the tiny purple flowers turning icy black. She looked into the girl’s eyes, innocent and jewellike, and recognized their lovely amethyst-gold color. “I know you.”

“Not yet.” As she spoke, the girl’s cheeks flushed. “I am never going to be able to say those words again without blushing. We’ll meet soon, my lady. I promise.”

I am in the nightlands, and none of this is real. Jayr felt one fear fade and another take its place. “You came to tell me something.”

The girl pointed past her at the town. “They thought you were their enemy. You sounded like one, and you looked like one, but you weren’t. They didn’t know you, or why you came here. Remember that, Jayr. It’s the only thing that will save you.”

Jayr started after the girl, but without warning, the earth shook beneath her feet, knocking her to the ground as a wide fissure opened. Green light poured out, forming itself into broad towers and solidifying into gray stone. Smoke filled the air as men shouted and arrows flew past Jayr’s head.

“My lady.” Harlech, his face covered in soot and his garments wet with blood and gore, pulled her up from the ground. “They have cut off the roads and set the moat on fire. They have spiked their rockets with copper—”

They both staggered as multiple explosions landed all around them, gouging huge pits in the ground and showering them with dirt and rock.

“We must flee,” he shouted over the din.

Jayr peered through the smoke and saw a line of men dressed in black and carrying automatic weapons advancing toward the castle. “Who are they? Why are they attacking us?”

Byrne came out of the smoke, his limbs and face battered, his eyes filled with blood. “Traitors,” he muttered, his voice flat as he lifted his battle-ax. “Die.”

Jayr darted in front of Harlech. “Aedan, no.”

He dropped his ax and seized her, shaking her until her teeth chattered. “Kill us all kill us all kill us all—”

Jayr drove her fist into his face as hard as she could, her knuckles crunching and her flesh splitting. The burning air stole the breath from her lungs as the smoke wrapped around her, blinding her, smothering her with its whiteness until she struck out again.

“I’m with you, lass.” Byrne’s hands, now gentle, pulled the cloth away from her face. “You’re safe.”

Jayr stopped struggling, amazed to find herself tangled in a blanket, and Aedan leaning over her. Behind him, Farlae lay pale and motionless in one of the infirmary beds.

“What in God’s name…” She stopped as she smelled his blood and saw the condition of his face. “You’re not hurt, too?”

“You’ve deadly aim, even in your sleep.” The split in his lower lip disappeared as he pulled her close. “You scared the wits from me, screaming like that.”

“I came to sit with Farlae, and I must have dozed off.” She eased back and looked around the sickroom. “I was in the nightlands. There was a mortal girl, and a rabbit, and then the Realm was under siege. And you were, ah, not yourself.”

“You mean, I went berserk. Glad I am you were but dreaming.” He helped her up out of the chair. “Come, you must feed and rest now. Harlech and the men will keep watch over Farlae.”

Jayr couldn’t shrug off the dread she felt, even when she returned to her chamber with Aedan. She said as much to him, but he didn’t seem concerned.

“’Twas but a nightmare, wife.” He sat down by the fire to drink his bloodwine. “The Realm is safe, and so are we.”

“What if we are not?” Like all Kyn, Jayr understood very little about the nightlands, but she never believed them to be merely a place of dreams. “What if the nightmare was sent to me as some manner of warning?”

“Mortals of this time do not siege castles,” he assured her. “Unless you lower the ticket prices. Then they may surround us in hordes.”

Annoyance surged inside her. “How can you make light of it?”

“How can you put faith in a fancy?” He went to the armoire they shared and took out one of her riding habits. “Forget it and come here. I will dress you, and we will take the horses for a long run, and forget this foolishness.”

He thought she was a fool, did he?

“I think not.” She brushed past him and retrieved her leathers. “I need to train.”

“You’ll burn your hair off again, and I prefer it long.” He replaced the habit and turned, scowling when he saw she had used her talent to dress herself in a few seconds. “Jayr.”

She went to her weapons case and removed her favorite sparring blade. “Since Harlech is looking after Farlae, I want you to drill the men tonight. Use the back pasture, and have them don full battle armor. Run them through all of the defense formations.” When he didn’t move, she glared at him. “Do you understand?”

“Aye, I’ve ears that still work.” He folded his arms. “Would you like me to kiss your boots first, my lady?”

“You’re my second, Aedan. Try to act like one.” She stalked out of their chamber.

None of the men yet occupied the lists, and Jayr was glad of it. She needed to work off this maddening anger, and the fear lurking beneath it, before she did rip off someone’s head. She doused herself liberally with water before she chose one of the straw-stuffed practice targets and began working through her forms. With each flash of her blade the effigy sprouted tufted gaps in its burlap, sagging lower and lower until the form toppled from the pole and collapsed at her feet.

Jayr kicked it. “Bloody useless.”

“I fear that straw does not present much of a challenge for a blade-arm of your caliber, my lady.” Leeds joined her and surveyed the ruined target. “Would you like me to summon one of your warriors?”

“No, they will be drilling tonight.” She eyed him. “I am in a mood, Devan. ’Twould be best if you return to the keep.”

“If that is your wish, of course, but I thought I might offer my services as a partner.” He smiled at her reaction. “I cannot hope to give you much sport, my lady, but I am trained to spar, and I would appreciate the practice.”

Jayr had never sparred with a mortal; she was too fast for even Beaumaris, who wielded the deadliest blade in the garrison. Byrne could never spar with anyone for fear of rousing his inner beast. On impulse she nodded, although she suspected he would need a lighter weapon. “You’ll want rapiers, then?”

“If I may choose, my lady, I prefer a bastard blade.” He shrugged out of his jacket, draped it over a workbench, and rolled up his sleeves as he went to the sword racks to choose. After going through a brief, economical series of stretches to loosen his muscles, Leeds returned and stepped up to the circle.

Jayr took the opposing position, and returned his salute. “You must tell me when you tire.”

“If you will tell me when you grow bored.” He stepped into the circle as she did, raising his blade and moving into the defensive form.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.