When Darkness Falls


Page 15









"I'm afraid that might be true."


"Maybe you'll be able to find them."


"Maybe."


She smiled. "You could always find me."


The slightest curve took his lips as well. "I was infatuated with you."


"If I'd given in, you'd have tired of me immediately. I wasn't really the one you wanted. I was a toy, a plaything for you."


"An enchantress, who suddenly found herself in need of guidance."


"Pygmalion?" she teased.


"Magdalena-"


"Get some sleep. We'll talk later."


In the deep, dark luxury of her guest room, he dared to close his eyes.


And to sleep.


And it was then that the years rushed back-eons, decades, centuries.


* * *


His hostess, watching him, tenderly smoothed hair from his forehead. She remembered hating him with a passion. He'd had his time of being all-powerful, as autocratic and demanding as any ruler versed in the divine right of kings. He'd taken what he wanted, taught, mocked, demanded....


And come to her rescue, risking his own position.


She bit her lip. Even then, he had probably risked more than he knew.


In sleep he was gorgeous. Long, lean, hard muscled, the sleek, dark hair veering over his head no matter that she swept it aside. His facial planes were striking ... his eyes.


How she remembered those eyes.


His lips moved.


"Igrainia."


He whispered the name out loud. And she knew.


Even vampires dreamed.


Dreamed of the past.


Of mortal days gone by.


Chapter Four


985 A.D.


The West Central Coast, Scotland


"Dragons! Dragons on the horizon! Deliver us, oh, God! Dragon ships sail the horizon." Lucian heard the cry while studying the delicate gold workings of an Irish metallurgist at the spring market Igrainia was at his side; she had just let out a soft cry of delight at the beauty of a jeweled cross.


Having just haggled over the price of the work with the artisan, Lucian had barely hooked the piece around her neck when he heard the alarm. He looked up sharply. From where he stood he could just see the high mast of the ship coming into view above the cliffs before the harbor.


It was the year of our Lord 985 A.D., and he was well aware of the meaning of the dragon ships on the horizon. Like that of many a Scotsman along the coast, his blood was mixed with that of earlier invaders, mainly Norman, English, and Norse. Though the attacks had somewhat lessened in the last fifty years, they still came frequently. There were great prizes to be found on this coast, for like the Celtic Irish across the sea, the people here, led by monks and their students, were undergoing a great age in the creation of jewelry, church relics, and bound and gilded manuscripts. True though it might be that the average young man eking a living from the craggy soil did not read-and that superstition and the old ways persisted side by side with the teachings of Christ-the priests and clerics learned God's word from the beautifully crafted books the monks labored so hard to produce. Necklaces, earrings, rings, and more were fashioned by a rare breed of talented artists, and so there were many such riches to be plundered.


Screams went up, rising higher and higher on the wind, which suddenly seemed to blow with a tempest-an omen of what was to come. Fire pots fell over, canopies fell, and Lucian gripped his bride by the shoulders. "Go!" he told her.


Her eyes met his. They were a blue-green color, as beautiful as the sea beneath the sun. They met his with simple understanding. She was to run to the cliffs; as wife of the chieftain she would gather other women and children as best she could, and stay until the danger was over. A daughter of ancient kings and Viking lords, she was proud, and a fighter, but she knew as well that men too often gave their lives to save their women, and that her greatest contribution to the fight would be to leave him with the assurance that she was safe.


"Husband!" she said softly, rose on her toes, and kissed his lips. The word was still precious to her.


Then she spun around, calling out that others must follow her.


"Stand stalwart, sons of MacAlpin!" Lucian cried out, reminding them of the first king to draw the great tribes of Scotland together as one nation-a nation that now only faced the dissidence of the Viking colonies settled firmly upon certain of the isles and lands they had wrested from the tribes previously established here. They were kindred; they were enemies-they all sought a livelihood, and violence was part of life.


As much a part of life as the delicately worked beauty of the gold and jeweled cross that Igrainia now wore as she raced to their lair.


"Stand!" Lucian roared again, running through the crowd to reach Malachi, his great black warhorse. He mounted while drawing his sword. The huge black horse reared, and he allowed it the freedom, drawing the attention of his people to him. "Stand!" he shouted again. "Stand-or die! And give over to the heathens all that is yours!"


His cry roused the courage of his men. They ceased to run like scattered ashes, and those who had fought as warriors before came to their arms and their horses, and those who were farmers and herders went for their pikes and their scythes . "Archers, to the cliffs!" he ordered, and though the wind continued to blow, and a clap of thunder raged across the sky, there was order as men rushed to do as he had bidden. He dug his leather-clad heels into Malachi's haunches and rode for the cliffs, ordering the men to positions, watching as the Viking ships neared. There were three of them, each dragon-prowed and filled with men of the Scandinavian nations, warriors, berserkers, adventurers who believed that death in battle would do nothing but bring them to the halls of Valhalla, their heaven, to sit at the side of Wodin, their great god.


"Now!" he cried to his clansmen who had scrambled up the craggy rock to attack the foe while still at sea.


Arrows flew.


Vikings, startled by such a land attack, screamed. And many died.


"Again!" he shouted.


And so again arrows flew, and again invaders died.


But not enough.


The ships had reached the harbor. The enemy plunged off their ships into the shallow waters; they defied the cold and the wet and the wind and the rain of death.


Lucian rode out to meet the coming horde.


It was then that he first saw her.


She stood at the bow of one of the great ships, as straight, defiant, and stalwart as the fierce dragon-headed prow of the vessel. She was startling there, for though there were a few darker-headed men among the warriors, her long hair was raven black, and contrasted sharply with that of most of the men who plunged to the shore.


Beneath a rich cloak of fur, she wore a gown as black as the raven's wing of her hair. A vee in the cut of the dark linen revealed the long, graceful line of her throat and the swell of her breasts. Between them, even at this distance, he could see the fine gold work of the pendant that dangled between her breasts.


But his eyes were drawn to her face.


Her chin was high; her eyes were wide, sparked with the fire of battle-and amusement.


She ignored the rain of arrows that whistled through the air, arcing and falling like a great thunderstorm.


Equally, she ignored the screams of men and horses, the agony of the dying.


She stood clad in her cloak of ermine, and watched the carnage without blinking, never once shrinking from the threat of any danger.


A great berserker with fire red hair charged Lucian. He brought down his war sword-a Viking weapon itself, inherited from an antecedent-and felled the man with a powerful blow to his back. His father had taught him the advantage of staying mounted when men on foot attacked-the power of a blow delivered from on high.


And so he kept his seat upon Malachi, hacking and slicing those who would unhorse him. The redhead was followed by an ice blond, an old warrior-ready to fly to Valhalla, he determined. A young man then-followed by a maddened berserker whose mouth was flecked with foam as he fought. They died.


The shallows before him had become a pool of men, blood, and churning sea.


The attackers lay before him. He tensed for the next assault. He looked again at the ship, and saw that she was watching him, her lips curled with amusement. The fight was great entertainment for her.


He hadn't realized that he had not been able to draw his eyes from hers until men assaulted him from the rear.


Malachi kicked and reared, downing a screaming man, thrashing him in the water. But there were half a score of men upon Lucian now, and despite his experience in the saddle and his fury with the sword, he was dragged from Malachi. He struggled, slashed out, and when he lost his sword, he fought with his fists. His attackers dragged him down in the water, and his lungs began to burst, and he fought free.


Fumbling in the frigid water at the shoreline, he found his sword. He stumbled up. The cold water chilled the small coat of mail he wore, and made his leather coat and boots heavy. But bursting to the surface, he saw that he was surrounded.


And worse. With his back to his ships, his eyes on the shoreline, he saw that the Vikings had broken the farmers. He and his men had fought well, but there had been too many of the enemy, and not enough time for help to come from up or down the coast, or inland.


And they had caught up with the fleeing women and children.


"Give over, Chieftain, and we will let them live."


He heard her voice. She spoke Scots Gaelic with a melodic rhythm to her voice.


Oddly, she was no longer on the ship, but stood before him. Or seemed to stand. The hem of her black gown appeared to ride above the surface. He thought he must have received a tremendous blow to his head, because she seemed to be standing on water.


"What guarantee?" he demanded.


She arched a brow, still very amused. She turned back to the shore with a shrug. "Free the children ...


let those flat-footed farmers there run with them. Let go the silly peasant lasses there, and the women . . .


except for that one."


She had pointed to Igrainia.


Could she recognize the wife of the chieftain?


"That one!" she commanded to one of her warriors. "Take that one and behead her, so that he will know we have no mercy."







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