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By Fletcher, Donna
Avon BooksISBN: 0060538783
"You cannot do this, Reena," Brigid begged her best friend. "It is not a wise choice."
"It is the only choice I have." Reena stopped packing the cloth sack with the few food items she had managed to scrounge together. With a heavy sigh, she lowered herself to the wooden chair at the table in front of the hearth -- an empty hearth -- leaving the small cottage cold, though it was but early autumn. What would happen when winter set in with all its force and fury?
"The villagers are starving and there is not enough firewood for the winter --" Reena suddenly grew silent.
"It is not your fault," Brigid insisted. "The new earl has caused our hardships."
"True, but who in the village is strong enough to stop him from causing more harm? And who is left to protect you?"
Brigid sat and fought the torrent of threatening tears that ached to spill. "I cannot believe my John is gone."
Reena said nothing, the memory of Brigid's tragedy fresh in both their minds.
The tragic day had brought a horrible change to their prosperous village. All had been well in the small earldom of Philip Kilkern, earl of Culberry. He had been generous to the tenants who farmed his land, and the land had prospered along with the villagers. But two summers ago, the day after Reena had celebrated her twenty-year, the earl had taken ill and died within the week. With no immediate heirs of his own, his land passed to his nephew.
Peter Kilkern arrived in the village that fateful day in early afternoon. The sun was bright, the sky a brilliant blue and the crops grew fat in the fields, which meant there would be a bountiful harvest and more than sufficient food for the winter.
The villagers had gathered to share the midday meal, talk, laugh and hear Patrick Cullen tell a tale or two. They watched as Peter Kilkern rode in on a fine steed, looking as if he was prepared for battle, wearing fine body armament of leather and metal. He had dismounted his horse with ease and stood tall and straight, his six feet or more height impressive as well as the strength of him, his bulk being more muscle than fat. He had sharp features, his nose narrow and ending in a defined point, his lips thin and his dark eyes intent, as though with one swift glance he could take in all and know all.
Reena remained by her father's side, though he blocked much of her slim body with his bulk. She appreciated her father's protective stance, for she shivered at the sight of the new earl.
Peter Kilkern introduced himself and announced in a clear crisp tone what he expected from his tenants. "I care not how hard you work or what revelry you make, but my fee for farming my land will be seventy-five percent of all harvested crops."
The crowd had gasped, and he in turn had silenced them with a raised hand. "I am not finished."
The crowd's mumbles faded, and it was with heavy hearts they continued to listen.
"Tenants will not be allowed to hunt on my land --"
That was when Brigid's husband John spoke up.
"How are we to live?"
Peter Kilkern turned glaring eyes on him. "Who asks this?"
John stepped forward without fear. He was a large man in height and width, and handsome. All the women in the village had vied for his attention, but he had lost his heart to Brigid, for how could he not? Brigid was beautiful, tall, slim, long reddish-blond hair and the face of an angel.
"I am John, and we have lived well under Philip Kilkern's fair rule, and his lands thrive because of our care."
Peter Kilkern's voice turned harsh. "My lands best continue to thrive because of your care. And you will not hunt off Kilkern land; the animals are for my hunting and feeding pleasure, not yours."
John tried to reason. "Your land stretches far and wide; it will take days for us to reach land where it is permissible to hunt for food."
"That matters not to me."
"How can it not?" John asked. "Do you not care if your tenants starve?"
Peter Kilkern's dark eyes glared like an animal ready to attack. "You dare question me?"
Brigid stepped forward, her instincts to protect her husband, but Reena's father stilled her steps with his large hand and whispered, "Do not be foolish."
John kept his tone calm and reasonable. "Hungry tenants cannot work hard."
Peter Kilkern advanced on John. "Tenants work hungry or not." And to everyone's horror, and before anyone could react, Kilkern pulled his knife from its sheath and struck at John, slicing his arm open from shoulder to wrist.
"No one is to challenge my edicts," the man raged, his face red with anger.
Brigid screamed and ran to her husband as several men nearby reached out for John as he dropped to the ground in agonizing pain.
Brigid had worked frantically to stem the bleeding and to piece his savaged arm together. Fever soon set in, and within a week John died, after having suffered greatly. Everyone in the village had offered Brigid their help, but that winter proved difficult for all. There was barely enough food to feed everyone, and without game from the surrounding woods, many went hungry. Reena's father had gone hunting in an attempt to find food; he suffered a broken leg, and by the time he managed to return to the village, his leg had begun to heal, though not properly. Her father lost much weight, and now he walked with a severe limp that limited his ability to farm the land ...Continues...
Excerpted from Legendary Warrior by Fletcher, Donna Excerpted by permission.
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