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My Lord Conqueror
All around was a darkness such as she had never known. Blacker than the deepest pits of hell. Shadows shifted and loomed, darting back and forth, in and out, as if to snatch at her with greedy, grasping fingers . . .
She could feel . . . something. Something evil. A sense of danger that loomed all around, as heavy and thick and depthless as the shadows.
The wind rose in fury, wailing and howling. Lightning crashed across the heavens, a blaze of rending light. Thunder roared across the land, shaking. the very ground beneath her feet. Great pools of blood splotched the earth. The air was rife with the sickening stench of gore and destruction.
Then she was running. Over the shriek of the wind, her pulse roared in her ears. Footsteps trampled the earth just behind her.
Blindly she ran, besieged by darkness. Beset by danger. By those horrible shadows that lurked all around. The specter of death loomed close at hand. Pressing in on her. Smothering her so that she could scarcely breathe . . .
But all at once there arose before her a hulking shadow. Front out of the shadows they came . . . Man and beast. Knight and destrier.
He sat atop the great black steed, armed and mailed. For one single, frozen moment, he was dark and faceless, his features hidden behind a cone-shaped helmet. Behind him, lightning ripped the sky apart; it was as if he were cast in silver.
Slowly he raised his helm. A jolt tore through her. His expression was utterly fierce, pale and glittering and cold as frost; it stabbed into her like the point of a spear. Then slowly he raised hisarm. Clasped in one gauntleted hand was a gleaming sword. He raised it high, his weapon poised for the space of a heartbeat. Then it sliced down . . .down to pierce her breast . . .
"Alana! By the Rood, girl, what ails you? If you do not cease this screeching, you Will surely wake your poor dead mother!"
The voice was scratchy as a hair shirt, dry and raspy with age, yet it was a familiar one. Alana of Brynwald reached for it almost desperately as she surfaced through filmy layers of darkness. She awoke trembling, the shrill of still another scream curdled in her breast.
For a moment she lay huddled there, her cheek pressed into her lumpy straw pallet, her fingers clutching the thin woolen blanket to her chin. Her surroundings were slow to penetrate her muddled senses. Little by little reality seeped in. Only then did her terror begin to abate.
She was here, in the tiny cottage where she had spent her childhood and grown to womanhood. Dawns tepid light slowly penetrated through the single shuttered window, allowing her to glimpse the furrowed cheeks of the white-bearded man who bent over her.
Her breath left her in a trembling rush. No sword had pricked her breast. There was no dark knight before her who sought to relieve her of her life's blood. She was alive . . . alive. But the dream, that horrible, horrible dream . . .
The dream had come yet again.
Aubrey eased back on his haunches, wincing just a little. Beneath the frayed and ragged wool of his tunic, his shoulders were hunched and thin. His hair hung to his shoulders, as white as his beard. Deep lines scored his cheeks and brow, but his eyes were keenly sharp with both concern and speculation.
"You gave these old bones a fright, child. I heard your cries inside my hut."
Alana said nothing. She pushed aside the tattered blanket and eased herself to her knees on the damp, cold earth of the cottage, tucking her slender legs beneath her.
Aubrey watched her, his shaggy brows drawn together. She willed her hand not to tremble as she smoothed her hair. Like polished silver and gold it was, a ripple of moonglow shining down the narrow lines of her back to her hips. She had learned to say nothing of these strange dreams that plagued her in the, dead of night. Far too often she had been the brunt of the villagers' scorn and laughter, taunts and ridicule.
But it was not as though Aubrey was like any of the other villagers, nor had it ever been so. Even now, though his hands were gnarled and his years so advanced,'twas said he was the finest tanner south of the Humber. And indeed, now that her mother Edwyna was gone, the old man was dearer to her than any other, even may God forgive her! her own sister.
Like her mother, Aubrey had not ridiculed the strange visions that had haunted her since her childhood years. Nearly all had come to pass. Yet something stopped her from speaking freely about them. How could she tell him? Aware that Aubrey still studied her, she lowered her gaze.
She'd had dreams before, many a time, many a night. Of strangers. Of those in the village. But she had never dreamed of herself. And now Alana knew only that never before had she been afraid for herself . . .
Never until now.
The dark knight. Who was he . . . or what was he? Alana did not know. Yet she sensed that he was her enemy, that he was a threat unlike any other. Why it was so, Alana could not say. But she feared this dark knight as nothing before . . .
Nay, she thought, drawing on all her strength. Nay! She did not want to think of that horrid dream. She did not want to think of him.
A small bundle of fur slipped onto her lap Cedric, the cat who had shadowed her mother for years and now shadowed her. Her, fingers twined through thick, yellow fur. She bowed her head low, unwilling to let Aubrey glimpse her distress. The old man would stew and worry, and she would not have that on her conscience."Please," she murmured. "'You know I would never offend you..."My Lord Conqueror
. Copyright © by Samantha James. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.