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By R. Garland Gray
Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2007 R. Garland Gray
All right reserved.
Chapter One Beltane Eve, May
In the dimming light of a long hard day, Boyden examined the bloody gash on his thumb. Eyes narrowing to slits of pale gray, he glared silent retribution at the sharp ridge of the moss-dappled boulder. Better suited for a passage grave, he was trying to move it out of the blind druidess's ever-expanding garden without toppling the prolific growth of stunted hawthorns. To his right, the gaping ruins of a stone wall sloped down an emerald knoll and curved into oak trees. Horses stood quietly grazing on three separate hills in the distance, their tails swishing lazily in tranquillity. Bare from the waist up, every inch of him was covered in sweat and dirt, with the day nearly ending and the boulder not budging. He looked at his bloody palm and thought, enough for today.
Hiking himself out of the rocky ditch he had spent the day digging, he flipped a tawny plait back over his shoulder. Tomorrow he would borrow a horse from one of the farmers and pitch the animal's might against the rock. No task was unconquerable for a warrior of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Sucking his throbbing thumb, he walked into the cool shadows of the nearest oak and bent at the waist to avoid several low-hanging branches. He squatted over a black root. Moving his bronze dagger aside, he grabbed the leather pouch and brought the lip to his mouth. The water tasted cool, and he finished the remainder in two mouthfuls. Tossing the empty pouch aside, he looked down at his calloused hands. They were large, the fingers blunt, and the nails dirty with work from the day. He blew air out of his lungs, his hands fisting. At twenty-five summers, he could not shake the embrace of darkness and death clinging to him since birth. He detested it, detested the way it forced him to remain apart. Shifting around, he pressed his bare back against the tree trunk and found a comfortable position. For the moment, he was too exhausted to think or care, and with a heavy sigh he closed his eyes and slipped swiftly into a deep sleep.
Little by little, the nightmare crept once more upon him ...
... gloaming gave way to night shadow and the feral winds of a rising moon, claiming him in the gaoth way, the wind way. He tried to flex his right arm, his fingers numbing from the tightness of the ropes restraining him. Behind him, the large fire circle crackled with flames and glowed against his bare back, an ominous warning of what would be endured this night. Boyden looked down upon himself in a blending of mixed curiosity and muted anger. He was on his knees in the black soil and trodden grass, dripping with sweat. Stripped of weapons, tunic, and menace, they tied his wrists with thick ropes. Those same fat ropes held his arms outstretched to the wooden stakes buried in the ground on either side of him.
He swallowed hard, the dryness within him a living thing. He shifted, trying to ease the strain of tendon and muscle in his shoulders and arms. A full mane of tawny hair plastered to the dampness of his nape and down the middle of his bare back. He felt dark and winded, his lungs taut.
He lifted his gaze to the moon goddess in supplication. Her luminosity seemed eerily bright and observant in the blue-black night of stars. He wished he were formed of feathers and wings so he could soar free of this nightmare and ancient blood binding.
"What a magnificent animal you make," his captor murmured with a silken voice of female possession.
Boyden lowered his gaze ... to her, his breathing suddenly incomplete and hot.
A tall woman stood before him, slim and straight, a lethal warrior dressed in fitted clothing he did not recognize. He waited in stillness, meeting her concentrated gaze.
"Good eve," she remarked, fingers wrapped around the hilt of a short sword.
His brother's whore.
Darkness and threat engulfed him.
"Shall I tell you why you are here?" she prompted.
He exhaled in response, sharing nothing of himself. He could hear the whimpering of a child and felt the watchfulness of another, but they seemed mere echoes and shadows compared to the presence of the woman. Her hard eyes swept coolly over him, striving to find weakness.
His right hand clenched, the tingling sensation ongoing, blood dripping from his ravaged wrist. She stood just out of his reach. A wise choice, he thought vehemently.
The firelight caught her hair, reflecting the shiny darkness in it. An intoxicating creature of deception and familiarity, she attempted to prevail over a king's heart. Having failed miserably, she turned her charms and trickery upon his easily led brother.
"You were foolish to reject me," she said with hushed violence, regarding him from beneath a spray of black lashes. It was a seductive gaze meant to entice.
The numbness in his arm muted, and he tightened his fist. They stayed that way, locked in a test of wills, unmoving, except for breath and awareness.
Neither gave in.
"Must we battle like this? Do you not understand that you belong to me?" she said, a faint curve to her lips. "All is not lost, speak the wind vow to me."
He said nothing, breathing in the heat of the fire at his back, his nerves pulsing. The sounds of a child's anguish faded in and out.
The woman's head tilted and she lifted the sword, the tip grazing his shoulder in a threatening and fleeting caress, making his blood boil.
He answered her with mutinous silence, and fury leaped into her eyes. "Give me the wind vow!"
"You want the vow to have the power to rule my realm. Nay, I willna give it." Words formed in Boyden's mind, words not his own. "Only I control the lethal wind, a male blood vow of promise to the land."
"Your brother's blood be the same as yours." She pointed behind her to a white- faced man astride a mount shrouded in gray mist. That was the watchful presence he felt earlier.
"He be rígdamnai, of kingly material, the same as you."
Somehow, Boyden knew the younger brother possessed none of the noble qualities making the older brother a just ruler of the wind realm.
"The Elemental wishes freedom from your constant restraint. She came to us and pleaded for our help."
"The wind never pleads." He felt a snarling in his mind, rage and bitterness growing, his jaw clenching.
"Give your brother the vow, Conall. He willna be as forceful as you in his rule." She pointed her sword at a weeping girl. Swirls of mist receded in Boyden's mind and he saw the tear-stained face of a crumpled child as yellow-haired as himself.
"I promise to release you and your daughter. When I stand beside your brother, I will be Wind Queen and promise to offer pardon to you. You may live the remainder of your life far from here, but your line must end with her."
Caustic laughter echoed inside Boyden's head, hurtful and loud in rebelliousness. "Foolish female. You know little of what you speak. My brother and I have different mothers. The weakling standing behind you canna control the wind. He canna even control his own lust for a scraping whore."
"Wind bastard!" the woman screeched and lashed out with frustration.
Her sword arm rose in the blink of an eye.
Resolve settled deep within his chest and he took his last breath of free air.
The blade descended slowly, cast in the crawling pace of nightmares. Pain and fire sliced into his side, stealing his life ...
... Boyden roared awake, heart pounding. He blinked to clear his mind from the clutches of the recurring nightmare, pain and dimness gradually releasing him. His lungs expanded unhindered, dragging life-sustaining air into his tense body. He shifted sideways and vomited up his supper. Breathing heavily, he did not hear the approach of soft footfalls.
Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, Boyden turned to the sightless druidess. "Derina, what are you doing here?" Moonlight turned her waterfall of white hair into shades of gold.
"Ships come from the sea," she said low, pointing with her hazel walking stick.
"What ships?" He looked over his shoulder. Amongst the sounds of the night, he could hear only distant waves crashing against the shore, a soothing resonance.
"The ships carry kin to the traveller, Íth," she explained almost trancelike. "He be wrongly killed last season. Remember, Wind Herald?"
He remembered and turned back to her. "How do you know who walks those ships?" Empty eye sockets stared at him in a long silence. "Derina, what are you trying to tell me?"
"They come seeking vengeance, Wind Herald."
"How do you know?"
Instinct told him to trust her. Reaching behind him, Boyden grabbed his purple tunic. He climbed to his feet and shrugged into it. "Where waits our chieftain, Derina?"
"He stands with the elders by the goddess boulders."
He nodded, sheathing the dagger at his waist. "I know that stretch of land by the shore."
"He asked me to fetch you, Wind Herald."
Boyden knew why his chieftain chose the sightless village druidess to find him. As a loner, he tended to stay away from the village. Yet, Derina had a way of always finding him. She was one born of the fey realm, though most knew little about her. He glanced at her smooth face and pale, empty eye sockets.
"I see and sense," she murmured as if reading his thoughts.
Discomfited, he grunted in response. With her fey sight, she saw more than simple shapes and movement, he suspected. "Go back to the village, Derina. Have all make ready for the battle coming."
* * *
Lost in the black shimmering behind the trees, the Gaoth Shee watched the sightless druidess and the lean warrior go their separate ways. She was an ancient being and watching him created a great hunger and need within her. A creature of shade without form, she was one of the lost magical, a bringer of endings across the lands and waters. The olden ways had faded into forgotten memories. The blood threads of possession were gone, except for this one warrior.
The blood vow of the Servant King flowed deeply hidden within him.
This last one.
She glittered into vapor, leaving strings of silent whispers amongst the boughs of the ancient trees and followed him.
No longer did she wish him free.
Excerpted from White Fells by R. Garland Gray Copyright © 2007 by R. Garland Gray. Excerpted by permission.
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