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At night, Galladar prowled the great castle under siege. His leather boots made no sound on the stone floor. He was invisible to the king and the fighting men sworn to give their lives in defense of Arandal. No serving maid or lady in waiting spied him, but he watched them and knew their desperate plight.
Outside, he strode through the enemy camp, just as invisible, his breath shallow as the odor of unwashed bodies and greasy cooking fires swirled around him.
The barbarians held the fortress in their vicious grasp. Soon they would be free to rape and pillage and revel in their victory.
But Galladar had the power to change the whole equation, if he chose.
Was that to his advantage?
He had lived longer than any man, and he had learned caution. Or so he thought until he saw the golden-haired Princess Devon, so young and fair, suffering under the edicts of her father, the king.
As Galladar watched her, his desire for her grew.
Could he bend her to his will? Not in the way her father had done with gruff order, insane expectations and harsh punishment. There was a better way. Thinking of it made the blood rush hotly through his veins.
But he must not move too fast, lest he lose the prize he sought.
The smell of fire and brimstone invaded Devon's sleep, and for a moment she thought she had died and gone to a place of punishment. Then she woke and realized the smoke was coming from the inner keep.
When she heard shouts from below, the clanking of men running in full armor, she reached for the dagger hidden under her feather mattress and wrapped her hand around the jeweled hilt. Barefoot and wearing only her night rail, she leaped from the bed and braced her shoulders against the cold stone wall of her bedchamber as she waited, breathless, in the darkness for the invaders to fling open her door.
But the heavy wooden barrier stayed closed, and from below, she heard the commanding voice of her father, King Wilfred.
"Hurry! You thereHugo, Cameron, men of the guard! Bring water buckets."
Moving to the narrow slits that served as windows, she peered down.
In the silvered light from the twin moons, she saw her father standing on a flight of stone steps, making himself a target if the barbarians breached the walls. But the calm control in his voice told her what she needed to know. The savage Lubantans from the south had not stormed the castle defenses. They had only lobbed another burning pot of pitch over the wall.
In the crowd of huddled humanity below her, Devon saw a woman she knew and went very still. It was Senna, one of her old friends from town when she'd still been allowed to mingle with the people. Senna's dark hair was matted, her gown filthy, and she was holding a screaming baby wrapped in a dirty gray blanket. When a soldier loomed over her, she cringed away.
"Shut that brat up before I smother him."
Senna had married three years ago. At eighteen, Devon was still her father's chattel.
But what was her own misery, compared to the chaos below? Families sat in groups, cowering from the soldiers as they rushed past to obey the king's orders. Devon's heart squeezed. She knew these people, and she ached for them.
It had been a wet season, so wet that the burning lands to the east had flooded, giving the Lubantans a means to reach Arandal in force.