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By Lisa Bergren
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Lisa Bergren
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWe'd shaken the dust from the gowns the guys had left the three of us and slipped on our "medieval disguises," as I called them, but there wasn't a whole lot we could do for Dad.
"Yeah, that's not gonna work out so great," Lia said, staring up at Dad's T-shirt.
I looked him over, still not quite believing he was with us, alive. We'd buried him, laid flowers on his grave, and mourned him for seven—no, eight months now—and yet here he was, hands on hips, ready to take the lead in our family again. Like we'd never been gone. Which, for him, we hadn't been.
From his perspective, we'd grown up by a couple of years while he was at an afternoon's dig.
Such was the nature of time travel.
His brown eyes flicked from me to Lia and back again, like he couldn't quite believe his eyes either. In our luxurious gowns we looked more like women than teens, which had to be freaking him out all the more. He turned toward the walls of the Etruscan tomb.
"Adri, this is amazing," he said, reaching for the flashlight in his back pocket and taking in the frescoes, inch by inch.
He'd always been that way. Preferring archeology you could slice and dice, control, over teens who were so ... unpredictable.
Mom wrapped her arms around him and leaned her cheek against his back, closing her eyes. "Yes, it is."
I held my breath and felt Lia still beside me, both of us staring at them. Mom and Dad. Together again. I swallowed hard around a lump in my throat and felt my eyes and nose begin to run.
He grinned over his shoulder at Mom. "What's gotten into you, Adri?" He caught sight of us. We probably looked like we were seeing a ghost again. Literally. "Girls?"
I couldn't bear to keep looking at him. Not if I was supposed to keep it together.
"I'll tell you. Soon, Ben," Mom said. "After we're out of here." She hadn't quite figured out a way to tell him that we'd gone back in time to rescue him, before he was killed in an accident. Way before the accident. It would be hard enough to get him to believe we were time travelers, that he wasn't living some sort of wild dream.
She leaned back and reluctantly let him go. "But first, we need to figure out what you can wear. Because Lia's right—that isn't gonna work." She looked him up and down. He was in his archeologist's uniform—a battered, old "I Left My Heart in Roma Antica" T-shirt, khaki cargo pants, and work boots. So handsome, with his broad shoulders and wavy hair—which I'd inherited, along with the big brown eyes and long lashes. My dad. Here. With us. I sniffed and swallowed hard, past the lump in my throat, trying to get my brain in gear. There were things to do, urgent things, if we were to keep him safe. And after losing him once, I wanted to do all I could not to lose him again.
"The boots might be okay," I said, assessing. "We could tell them they're Norman. As long as they don't look too closely."
"At least he isn't wearing sneakers," Lia said. She was crawling toward the entrance of the tomb, her bow hitched over her shoulder.
"You'll have to stash that flashlight, too," I said, following Lia. "That would totally freak them out." I reached down and picked up my broadsword, sliding it into the sheath on my back, then strapped onto my calf a leather dagger sheath, a seven-inch blade already in it.
"Adri," Dad said blankly, "our children are arming themselves."
"Trust me, it's a good thing," Mom said, picking up her staff.
"You're kidding, right? And what are you doing with that?"
I didn't wait for Mom's answer. I crawled after Lia to the tomb's entrance. It reminded me of an igloo, in a way, something Mom said she'd never quite seen in Etruscan tumuli architecture before. I tried to peek beyond Lia, see what season we'd landed in. How much time had passed? Did Marcello leave us our gowns three days ... or three years ago?
Lia reached the end and peered outside, first in one direction, then the other.
"Go, Lia," I growled, feeling as if I might burst from the anticipation. It was like landing at some exotic airport and being in the very back of a packed jumbo jet, unable to get out. I well remembered the last time we'd arrived in Marcello's Toscana, how we'd run across them on the road to the castello, how he'd taken me in his arms and held me like he never wanted to let go ...
"Lia, go!" I said.
She whipped backward and almost bumped her head into mine. "Hold on," she whispered, staring at me with wild eyes. "Enemy soldiers, nine o'clock."
I leaned my back against the side wall, sitting next to her, and glanced back at Mom and Dad, coming our way. I lifted a finger to my lips and then closed my eyes, listening to the men draw nearer outside. They were talking, laughing, clearly not on alert.
Lia eased her bow from her shoulder and slowly drew an arrow from the quiver at her back. There was little room for her to aim, but if we were discovered, it would at least buy us time. I slipped the dagger from my calf strap, rehearsing a likely scenario. She'd shoot the first man and come running out of the tomb, hopefully screaming, counting on surprise to work on our behalf. I'd follow behind and, with luck, cut down the second. I didn't know if there were more, but that'd at least get us outside, give us a chance at making the tree line.
Which was kinda important. Because if we didn't escape the tomb right away, and the men called for reinforcements, it might very well become our own grave. Who were they? Paratore men? Fiorentini? What had happened?
My eyes settled on the limestone wall across from me, and for the first time, I saw more frescoes. Winged figures. In a row. They caught my attention because Mom always liked finding "Etruscan angels." I patted her hand and nodded at them. I'd just noticed that interspersed among them were other figures—a Roman legionnaire, with his distinctive fringed helmet, and a Greek ruler, crowned with green laurel leaves, and what looked like a peasant—when I felt Lia tense beside me.
I could hear them more clearly now. Two of them, laughing and talking. Relaxed. Like they'd been on guard duty too long.
Enemy soldiers here in disputed territory, and in such a relaxed state, meant one of two things: either Castello Paratore or Castello Forelli was still in the wrong hands. Or both were.
I prayed that it was just Castello Paratore. That Marcello was nearby, not miles away in Siena or beyond. When we'd left, our guys had been about to retake this land again. But who knew how much time had gone by since then, what had transpired, how many battles had taken place ...
Marcello, Marcello ... please be alive.
I prayed that we wouldn't have to try and go back in time to save him as we had my dad. That he'd simply be here, waiting for me, opening his arms to me, kissing my cheeks and—
Lia sucked in her breath, and with one glance, I could see that they'd spotted her. They were moving from shock to suspicion, reaching for their swords, turning to call out—
She rolled out of the passageway—leaving me room to move at the same time—and shot the first man. I sent my dagger flying, but the second man saw it coming and ducked to the side. We both watched it sail past, as if it was moving in slow motion, handle over blade, until it stuck in the tree trunk five feet beyond him. He looked back to me and pulled his sword from his side scabbard, growling in fury.
Hurriedly I rolled outward too—easier than crawling in a gown—and pulled out my broadsword as I rose. Lia was aiming her arrow at the first of two other men now rushing in our direction. Above them I could see the crimson flag flying from the parapets of Castello Paratore and knew immediately that my nemesis again resided there. Cosmo Paratore. I swallowed bile at the thought of seeing him, remembering well the murderous rage in his green eyes.
But I had more pressing issues than Paratore. The knight approached me, studying my face as if I were a cobra, never looking away from me. He was about Marcello's size, far bigger than I, and he eased a massive sword in a figure eight at his side, as if warming up. "Could it be?" he asked. "The Ladies Betarrini have returned?"
I ignored his question, knowing he was only trying to distract me with banter. I had to be ready for his first strike, and thought through how he might lunge or turn and pull the full weight of that sword down toward my shoulder.
"Gabriella, look out!" Dad cried in English behind me.
I turned just in time and sucked in my breath. The arrow came so close to my belly that I felt the feathers brush the thick embroidered thread of my gown. Then I heard the grunt of my adversary as it plunged into his gut. His sword tipped, nearly out of his hand, and dipped into the ground between us. He stared down at the shaft of the arrow, which had pierced his chainmail.
I looked back to see another arrow flying in my direction, and I ducked and rolled, army crawling as best I could toward a boulder that would give me some sort of protection. I surveyed our battlefield, wondering just how bad our situation was. Lia had turned her attention to the sniper above us, and Mom turned to face the two men who attacked them, slowly turning her staff in her hand. Dad had picked up the dead knight's sword but looked around at us like we were in the middle of some sort of terrible dream.
"Dad!" I screamed, seeing a knight almost upon him. "At the ready!" It was the command he'd used a thousand times with me, training me to fence with a far lighter blade. Instantly he assumed the position, but I could tell he wasn't mentally prepared. I remembered the first time I'd met the strike of one of these heavy medieval swords—how the force of it had so surprised me, how it had reverberated in a teeth-crunching, breath-stealing echo down my arm to my very spine.
Dad had just braced his back leg and brought up his sword when his attacker reached him. He narrowly blocked the second strike, moving as if he were still in his dream world. I shook my head. It would be seconds before the knight got the upper hand and cut him down.
"No way," I muttered, pushing to my feet and running toward him. "I'm not losing him again." I screamed a battle cry, hoping to distract the knight, but he was focused on my dad, driving him backward, one step at a time. With each clang of the swords, I could see he was getting closer to Dad's neck.
I drove toward his attacker, holding my sword with both hands like a battering ram, ignoring two arrows that sang by me. But the Paratore knight caught sight of me coming and flung himself back from my father at the last second. He brought up his sword, nicking my arm. I cried out, feeling the warmth of blood as it flowed down my skin, beneath the wide sleeves of the gown.
My cry seemed to wake Dad from his stupor, and he lunged at the knight, driving him backward this time. Mom was there, then, clubbing the man from behind with her staff, sending him to his side and his sword skittering away. She reminded me again of some sort of freakin' Viking queen, with her staff at an angle, her blonde braid swinging, her legs askew, braced.
When the knight groaned and then rolled, reaching for a dagger at his waist, Mom clubbed him again, knocking him out cold.
Yeah, that's my mom, I thought in wonder and admiration.
Dad was looking from her to the unconscious knight, in shock again.
"Stay with us, Dad," I said, touching his arm. "These guys play for keeps."
"I see that," he muttered.
Lia sent another arrow flying through the brush above us.
"Did you get him?" I asked, searching the trees and bushes for the sniper again.
She shook her head. "I don't think so." She glanced toward me. "He might be headin' home."
My eyes moved to Castello Paratore and the hated crimson flag rolling in the cold breeze. For the moment no other guards seemed aware we were here. We'd taken down six of them. Probably the patrol assigned to keep watch over this hill. "We gotta get outta here," I said.
"Agreed," Lia said, rising.
Mom was already pulling the chainmail off of the tallest knight. I knew what she was after. His clothes for Dad.
"Whoa. Mom," Lia said, eyebrows raised.
"Hush now and help me," Mom said, clearly in no mood for teasing. Lia bent to pull off his boots. Dad stood aside, still staring at us like he couldn't believe this was all real.
"Adri?" he muttered.
"Help me lift him, Benedetto," she said. "You need his shirt and trousers as well."
"Are we truly in such a state that we need to rob a poor dead fellow of his clothes?"
It had taken us a few days of being here to understand, to comprehend that we weren't in some ongoing nightmare. Why would he be any different? Again I caught myself way too entranced in watching Dad move, speak, think things through. We were on dangerous ground. If I didn't keep it together, we might all soon be dead. More of our enemies might show up any sec.
Hunched over, I moved toward the last of the tumuli—the mounded, round roofs of the Etruscan graves—and cautiously peered around a giant old oak. I could see the guards on the walls of Castello Paratore, her gates firmly closed. They seemed relaxed, not yet alerted to our arrival or the sounds of our battle. But then my eyes went to the hill above me, and I worried that the sniper was making his way to the castle right now, about to shout out his alarm.
We had a few minutes, at least. I hurried back, for the first time recognizing that it was winter. The trees and brush were barren. The question was, what winter? The winter following the autumn I left, making it now 1344? Or another year entirely? It was late afternoon; we'd soon be swallowed by the dark. It could be cold and wet in these high hills of Toscana. Higher up, farther east, it was even known to snow on occasion.
I hurried over to my family and the unconscious, bleeding knight, now in nothing but his filthy leggings, the medieval version of long johns. "Let's go," I urged. "Dad can change when we're someplace safe."
"And where is that?" Dad muttered, grasping his bundle of stolen clothing more firmly.
"I'm hoping ahead, outside the next castle." I reached down and picked up the fallen knight's dagger. I'd already taken the pearl-handled dagger out of the tree trunk and resheathed it in my calf strap. "Here," I said, handing it to Dad. "It's good to have a backup."
He took it from me, staring into my eyes as if I were some foreigner speaking a language he didn't know. As if the medieval Italian wasn't enough ... his daughter was speaking a warrior dialect.
"Come on, Ben, trust us," Mom said, taking his hand. She held the staff on her opposite shoulder. I moved in front to take the lead. Lia dropped back to keep an eye on our rear flank.
"When did you learn to wield that, Adri?" Dad asked, after a few minutes of walking.
"The last time we were here."
"And why don't I remember that?"
"You weren't with us," Mom hedged.
"You've never been interested in sparring before. I thought you were a pacifist," Dad said to her.
"I was. Until my daughters were fighting for their lives."
He didn't respond to that; perhaps he was considering what he'd just witnessed. We entered the woods to the south, those once claimed as Forelli territory. Was it back in the hands of the Sienese? I shivered and rubbed my arms, feeling the chill of the late afternoon as we slipped beneath the shadows of the forest.
We paused near where Marcello had allowed me to change into a gown the first time I arrived. I remembered the way his eyes had crinkled up at the corner in a mass of laugh lines when I emerged wearing it backward. I remembered the feel of his hands, calm and efficient, as he helped me button it up the back. I remembered his expression, so warm and intrigued ...
Trust me when I say I'd never captured a guy's attention from the start.
And no guy had ever so captured me.
Dad emerged, wearing his new clothes, wrinkling up his nose. "Do these guys ever shower?"
"Not as often as we'd like," Mom said with a smile. She reached up and straightened his collar. "You might not smell so great, but you look hot."
"Ewww, Mom," Lia said. "We're right here."
"Cut me some slack," Mom said under her breath to us so Dad couldn't hear. "I've been without him for a while."
"I know, I know," Lia said, groaning.
I smiled and pushed forward. I'd only been away from Marcello for what—a half a day?—but I thought I knew a little of what she felt. I couldn't wait to be reunited with Marcello. To have him beside me, taking my hand in his, meeting my dad ...
Excerpted from Torrent by Lisa Bergren Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Bergren. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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