One woman’s secret could see Britain fall forever
Born in exile, Aelida will witness the rise and fall of kings and fight for her people’s very existence. For she holds a great secret… Only one man knows of it, and he will do anything to possess it–he who has brought about her family’s destruction, he who brought about the death of all Britain held dear…
We heard footsteps up the path, more than one pair, and they moved differently than the villagers, with a firm tread used for moving great distances.
I swallowed hard, but followed my mother’s example as she worked on, slow and methodical, never looking up.
The footsteps stopped at the hut, then, after a hesitation, came toward the garden.
Only then did my mother pause and slowly look up. My eyes widened. It was hard to believe that this was anyone I knew. Her eyes were blank, almost stupid looking, her mouth slack, making the rest of the face look older. She looked back over my shoulder without any change of expression, but I saw the hand away from sight clench, then relax. Recognition?
I looked up, trying to remain calm. If my mother could do it, so could I. This was my chance to be as brave as the warriors I had played with Ilene.
The man I had seen earlier stood just behind Hal with several of his men. Close up, he was even more frightening than I had realized before, and my heart skipped a beat. He looked at me with exactly the same expression as on the beach. I saw both the scar and the torque that my mother had earlier described. So this was the man they were so afraid of.
Hal seemed calm enough, though his eyes told me a different story. They were hard, ready.
“My lord, I do not quite understand why you are so interested in my family. We can be of no concern to men such as yourselves.”
“I will be the judge of that.”
I shivered in reaction to his voice. It was low, deep, with a menacing undercurrent that could bring obedience if it wanted. For now it was merely…curious.
He left Hal with his men and with slow tread, walked toward me. I looked up at him, trying not to show my fear. I was a warrior. He was silent as he studied my face intently.
I stared right back. His face was interesting, fierce, with a very different bone structure than my mother. I began to doubt that he was one of her people. His black hair was plaited into long braids, two of them at his temples so that they hung forward of his shoulders. A huge torque of solid gold encircled his neck, and great arm rings in the form of serpents clasped his arms. Several tattoos ran up those same arms, some old and faded, others bright and new, many of the raven.
His hands were covered in scars, but they were long fingered and much finer than the thick, heavy hands of the villagers. Altogether he was very different.
One of those scarred hands reached down to grasp my chin, turning my face this way and that, his hazel coloured eyes holding mine captive.
“A pretty little thing,” he commented lazily, his thumb slowly rubbing my throat. I jerked away, uneasy at his touch. “Green eyes. Very unusual. Especially when neither your father nor mother appear to have that colour.”
I was mute, confused as he looked at Hal, then understanding dawned. He thought Hal was my father. Hal let the misunderstanding go, or perhaps he had already fostered this idea before they had arrived.
“My wife has blue eyes and I have grey, my Lord, but both my brothers have green eyes. Not as green as my daughter’s true, but green all the same. It is not unusual in my family.”
“Really.” The voice was smooth, controlled. With the speed born of battles without number, he drew his sword and before anyone could move, he speared it downward, right past my face. I froze, then looked down in horror.
One of my doves lay twitching, speared through by the blade, its uncomprehending eyes looking into mine. Its blood spattered my leg.
The sword rose, its victim still firmly impaled and the man looked at the dead dove with dispassion. He reached out and removed the little body, tossing it to one of his men, “Give it to the cook; I will have it at feast tonight.”
He lowered the tip of the bloody sword in front of my eyes, then reached out to run his fingers through my hair. I was numb, frozen, my gaze fixed on the blood of my gentle pet. His grip tightened, and he raised a thick tress upward, running it along the bloody blade until it fell into his hand.
I slowly raised my eyes, in shock.
Still looking down at me, he coiled the hair up and put it into a golden purse at his hip. He then wiped the blood off his sword on the shoulder of my dress before sheathing it and turning away. He returned to stand in front of Hal, who lowered his eyes respectfully, but from my position on the ground, I could see the fury he hid under the guise of humility.
The man stood quietly, taking his time, staring at my mother for a while, before entering the hut and taking a swift look round.
Without a single explanation for his behaviour or any further speech, he walked away with his men. We were left in silence.
I knelt where I was for a long time, despite the gentle urgings of Hal.
The image of the speared dove, gentleness destroyed by violence, would remain with me for the rest of my life.