Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 3
As she left the house, she touched the jade stone hanging on a cord. The stone had been the one to bring her to Navlin, and it still held the ability to translate any language. If the Vikings spoke Danish she would be able to understand them, and they would understand her. Although she didn’t plan to speak to any of them.
Merewin stood at the edge of the forest watching the flames lick dark paths along the encircling fence. She shook her head wishing away the nightmarish tales of Viking warriors that invaded her mind, shredding her confidence.
Several warriors stalked around the perimeter. They looked every part the cruel giants she had heard of and had hidden from in the past. These grisly looking men, with long unkempt hair and beards, looked six feet tall. They walked with swords and battleaxes strapped to their massive forms. Their sweaty arms were slashed with ash from the burning logs. When they drank from animal horns, wet rivers coursed down their beards. They used the backs of filthy hands to wipe their lips. She could hear them belching and farting.
“Filthy murdering thieves,” she said. Bela squeaked softly in her ear and leapt from her shoulder. “Bela!” Merewin whispered. The little mink skittered toward the men. Bela danced amongst the barbarians, distracting them. They made a game out of trying to squash her, but Bela was always an inch on the safe side. “Be careful, Bela,” Merewin whispered as she crept from shadow to shadow toward the tent.
Hauk silently lowered himself to the pallet next to the unconscious Gamel. He stretched his uninjured arm overhead and rolled the tiredness from his shoulders. He leaned over his sister’s husband. “Bera will carve the skin from my body if I let you die,” Hauk said to Gamal. “You must live to see your first born.”
The babe was due in about one moon. Hauk leaned back against a stump, his long legs crossed at the ankle before him. He watched his friend’s shallow breath, the bruised lump evident above his ear where he’d been struck by a large rock.
“You mathkr,” Hauk whispered roughly. “Don’t you die, Gamal.” Hauk checked Gamal’s pulse. It was much too weak. But there was nothing he could do to help him. If his nephew or niece were deprived of a father, it would be Hauk’s fault. He sighed and leaned back, closing his eyes. Yet another death on his head.
Death, there was always death. How many men had he killed in his life of raiding? Raiding and exploring had been his escape in a world of binding responsibilities, responsibilities to country, king, and family. But he’d lost the lust to conquer. When had that happened? Hauk ran his hand down his face. He knew when it had happened. When he’d lost his family to death, when he’d lost his son. Toki couldn’t have been much younger than the boy he’d spoken to earlier. Death was a consequence of battle, and he had been unable to conquer it when his son died in his arms. His failure had weakened him as a warrior.
Hauk watched Gamal’s shallow breaths. No killing, unless necessary, he’d told his men before they had landed. No destroying by fire either, as fire was never fully controlled. They had come for the healer. His men could take property of the rich overlord, but they were to leave the locals alone. Perhaps find a willing woman to bed, but no killing. But the villagers had attacked expecting the worst.
Hauk huffed softly. The gods were angry. They had taken his family after all. Hauk inhaled the smoky air. In the smoke he could smell burning flesh from his memories of his family’s funeral boats burning at sea. Their images blurred his sight. Gamal wheezed as if he too coughed in the billowing smoke. Hauk blinked and adjusted his friend’s head. Now must he torch another boat with his sister’s husband on it while she wailed from the shore?
They should never have come to Northumbria for the healer. But Ragnar had ordered it. Hauk should be home. He was close to thirty years old. He had a holding that needed tending and a daughter who everyone said ran wild. But he was here with Gamal dying before him. The foolishness turned his weariness to suppressed fury.
“She doesn’t even exist,” he said to the unconscious Gamal. “Died of age.” They would find her cottage in the woods before they left this fool’s errand. He needed more than the words of a youth to present to Ragnar that his miracle healer was dead. Hauk needed proof to refute the godi’s prediction, proof that the old man’s power was just gossip spread through continual raids along the Northumbrian coast. Old Eldgrim was wrong. He had also said the healer was young, and yet she died of old age. Of course it wasn’t the first time the godi had been wrong.
Hauk leaned forward to peek under Gamal’s eyelids. Blood flooded the whites. He shook his head. “Fool’s errand,” he murmured. Hauk had been a fool before when Eldgrim had sent the healers to help Hauk’s wife. Bitterness crept up Hauk’s throat as he remembered the arrogant women, so sure they could keep death from stealing his daughter’s mother. Dalla had only been seven when her mother died three years ago, despite the assurances of the healers. Their false hope had broken little Dalla’s heart when death took Ingun during the night.
Hauk squeezed the bridge of his nose and leaned back as his thoughts roamed from one problem to the next. His lowered eyes detected a movement in the shadows at the back of the tent. Hauk feigned sleep, letting his chest rise and fall evenly. Perhaps it was a brave wife or son coming to rescue one of the fallen villagers. They were welcome to it. As the fallen littered the road before the stronghold, the villagers took to their homes or ran into the woods. Hauk had ordered all the injured to be tended regardless of who they were. In fact, of his men, only Gamal had been injured enough to warrant continued treatment. Hauk had a gash along his arm where a sharp rock had sliced him, but he had cleaned it, sewn it, and it would heal.
The cloaked figure moved between the men on the ground. A woman. Her hood hid her face as she bent low. Was she stooped with age? As the figure knelt and touched the first man, Hauk watched the grace of her movements, the strength of her hands. She must be young. Hauk lowered his lids again as her head turned toward him. After several silent moments he looked again and his breath hitched tight in his lungs.
The woman had lowered her hood and the firelight fell on a face of finely chiseled features, strong features, high cheekbones, perfectly arched eyebrows gathered in concentration, full pouting lips. His gaze followed her braid down into the back of the cloak. How long was it? It looked dark. Would it be black like midnight or a warm brown? So different from the yellow hair of many in Denmark. Her arms looked slender and her fingers agile, confident as she pulled objects from a bag and laid them on a man battered and sliced.
Hauk frowned. Who was the man that she tended? Her lover? For some reason that thought irritated him. She placed her hands on the man’s wound across his chest. What was she doing? After several long moments, she pulled back the dressing they had applied to the deep cut. The man moved, sat up in fact. Hauk nearly lurched in surprise.
“Merewin?” the man rasped. The woman touched a finger to his mouth and pointed to the back of the dark tent. The man wasted no time in following her order to escape. As the man rolled under the tarp, Hauk shifted his weight to stand, to stop her, but she went to a second man. Hauk’s gaze followed her from man to man as she patiently and quickly revived them. His men had reported that the injuries were serious yet these men woke under her hands.
After all of the villagers had fled the tent, the woman stood. Her cloak slipped. She was tall, very unlike the other Northumbrians. Hauk kept eyes lowered and waited. He would stop her, question her. Exactly how was she doing what she was doing? And what was the true color of her hair?
But instead of following after the last villager, the woman walked toward him. She made no noise that he could discern. Did she even breathe?
Hauk slowly lifted his lids. She knelt on the other side of Gamal. Hauk watched her run her hands above Gamal’s bruised temple. She sat back on her heels and dug deep into her pouch. Would she strike the man lying unconscious? Hauk was ready to grab her arm if she pulled a weapon. Instead she produced several pebbles. She laid one at the center of Gam
Turning, she leaned over and placed a small stone on Hauk’s head. He made certain not to move, but her attention returned to Gamal immediately.
Hauk watched in fascination as she touched the stones on Gamal with her hands and bowed her head. The faint smell of woods and flowers and spice came to him as he breathed in her scent. She took two stones away but left the one on Gamal’s head. She felt the warrior’s pulse and nodded. Had she helped Gamal? Impossible. Was she the healer?
Hauk was about to move when the woman’s warm fingers brushed against his arm where he had bound his slash. She spent a long time running her hands over his bandages before she untied the binding and slid it free. Her touch sparked through his body, waking all his senses.
She pulled some stones out and placed them along his arm. Her fingers were warm and soft against his skin. Hauk breathed in more of her scent. A piece of hair had come undone from her braid and fell across her forehead as she bent over him. It brushed his bare arm. Mine. He felt the word well up inside him. She leaned forward, touching the stones, staring at the gash, studying it. He felt a whisper of her breath on his skin.
“Why don’t ye knit together?” she spoke softly. Her accent was local making the Danish words she spoke sound odd, foreign. A chill ran through him. After several more moments of her teasing touch, Hauk let his breathing return to normal and opened his eyes. She seemed totally absorbed with her work and didn’t look up. Hauk watched her choose different stones and start over. Finally she sat back on her heels and put her hands on her hips.
“Bloody barbarian, ye must not want to heal.” She plucked the stones off his arm. Without looking up at his face, she whipped the stone off of Gamal’s forehead and dropped it into her bag. “Ye’ll wake soon,” she said to Gamal, “but yer friend with the slashed arm,” she began and turned to Hauk.
Her words froze on her lips as her almond shaped eyes locked onto his. Hauk could almost see her mind measuring the distance to the tent wall and the severity of his wound she hadn’t healed. Hauk shook his head casting the stone from his head to the dirt.
“My wound will not stop me from catching you.” The woman’s eyes grew large. “You understand Danish,” he stated, hoping for a response.
He didn’t get one. The woman watched as if he were a wolf ready to pounce. “You are a healer,” he said unable to completely keep the chill from his voice. Still she stayed mute. “Your name is Merewin.” The name felt good in his mouth. Much better than the word “healer.” “Merewin,” he said again.
Still silence. His frustration grew as they stared at one another waiting, waiting for one of them to move. Did she think she could escape him? She was his. The possessive thought coursed through him. The fire flared, illuminating her head. He reached to touch the slip of hair that fell along her cheek. She jerked her head back before he could catch it, leaving his hand in the air. “What color is your hair?”
His question startled her, but she continued to stare with no movement to her luscious lips.
Behind her Gamal groaned and pushed himself into a sitting position. “What happened?”
Hauk’s gaze moved to Gamal. How could he be sitting up and talking? He’d been near death.
Fire ruptured through the slash in Hauk’s arm. He stared down incredulously at a small dagger sticking out of the wound. The woman leapt up, dropped the cloak, and ran to the back.
Hauk’s roar filled the empty tent, and the fire in the pit flared up to the ceiling. He pulled the dagger out of the fresh wound.
“Who was she?” Gamal asked standing. The two guards rushed in and stood stunned, looking around at the once overflowing tent.
Hauk whipped the binding back around his freshly bleeding arm. “She’s the healer,” he said tying it off with his teeth. “And she’s getting away.” Hauk tucked the dagger in his belt and leapt.
Merewin rolled under the tent and shot up into a run in one fluid motion. I stabbed him, I can’t believe I stabbed him! She dashed across the bridge. The guards out front had gone into the tent, making her escape easier. Merewin stretched long legs to their full stride, plunging into the woods along the familiar trail. She was tired from all the healing, but fear pulsed through her muscles adding strength. He wouldn’t catch her, couldn’t through the woods. They were her woods, she knew them blind.
Merewin cursed softly as the clouds revealed a full moon whose light beamed down between the trees. She dodged a fallen pine, jumped behind a wide oak and threw her back against it. As she stood listening past the drumming of her heart, she tried to slow her breaths. Think! With the energy coursing, pulling blood away from the brain, she couldn’t come up with one rational plan of action.
Merewin’s chest heaved up and down. She needed to focus, but all that kept popping into her head was the barbarian’s intense gaze and the way he had rolled her name across his tongue. Merewin. She had heard her name a thousand times, yet coming from him it sounded sensual, rough against soft skin. And he had wanted to know the color of her hair. Why?
Breathe! She strained to listen. The sounds of the night were familiar as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening, as if she weren’t hiding from a furious Viking raider, who also happened to be the most gloriously dangerous man she had ever seen. His hair had been long, almost to his shoulders, and light-colored like many Danes. But unlike many barbarians, he didn’t possess a long bushy beard. His beard was short, close cropped, neat. She had been able to see the firm set of his jaw behind it, the fine structure of his cheeks. The man’s nose had been straight except for a small bump that showed it had been broken before. The scar on his forehead added more danger to his stare. Then there were his eyes. They were intense, curious. They had iced over in surprise when the dagger sliced into his wound. Yet he hadn’t yelled or flinched at the pain.
Merewin still couldn’t believe she had done it: injured someone. Her whole life revolved around healing, not hurting. “I had no other choice,” she whispered, her gaze darting around the trees. For she knew that she must escape him. His look, the way he said her name, felt possessive. She shivered and wrapped shaking hands around her arms. A man like that could eat one up, body and soul. He would enslave her. “Never,” she whispered.
Merewin glanced around the silvery woods, too much light for hiding. Where should she go? The path to her cottage was too well worn. “Nay, not home.”
Snap. Merewin held a breath and pressed herself against the tree. What was that? Please be Bela, please be Bela. Nothing more came, but instinct screamed at her to take flight. The Viking followed.
Run, just run! Her mind shrieked as she tried to fight the panic. Merewin pushed off from the tree and broke into a run through the woods. Her tight fitting clothes allowed her to dodge limbs and snarls as if she were naked. Crack! Somewhere behind, but she didn’t dare turn to look. Instead, she concentrated on stretching her stride, leaping over fallen trees and narrow streams, ducking under limbs, and changing the course in hopes of losing whatever pursued.
After long minutes, an ache stitched in Merewin’s side, and she slowed to a jog. Where exactly was she? She felt the constant tug to the west on the right, the tug that had pulled since she first landed in these woods. One day she would journey west to find the standing stones that were the source, maybe once she escaped these Vikings.
Merewin hesitated, looking left to right. She had run beyond her cottage, past the blue fertility tent. Just before the shore, there were rocky hills dotted with caves. She could hide in one of them until the Vikings departed. If they departed. Merewin angled to the left and glanced back.
Cac! The barbarian’s gaze locked with hers where he silently jogged to match her stride, not twenty paces behind. His arm was bandaged, but he didn’t seem hindered by it. In fact, the bloody barbarian didn’t even look winded.
“Halt, Merewin,” his voice washed over he
She took off like a deer flying from a wolf. Merewin wasn’t giving up without a fight. Over trees, under limbs, dodging between small places he wouldn’t fit. These were her woods, she could lose him. If that were so true, how had he followed her? She pushed the traitorous thought from her mind and focused on the narrow paths.
She couldn’t hear him, but she knew he was there, just as he had been the entire time. Had he matched her pace, waiting for her to tire? Clever, and she’d always thought the Vikings dumb brutes.
Merewin’s chest burned with each shallow breath as she pushed herself onward. Holy Mother, she heard him now. His breath came out in deep, even huffs. His legs thumped against the leaf littered ground with each stride. She heard him crash through the leaves of a low hanging branch. He was close, so close. Merewin saw a large oak and headed toward it. His hand brushed her braid. She could hear his breath. I’m almost to the tree, she thought desperately as if the tree would somehow save her.
Fingers grabbed at the end of her hair. The Viking’s large body hit full on from behind. As they flew through the night air, he turned them together, so that they smacked the ground with him on the bottom. Still, the breath flew out from Merewin as she found herself clenched to the man’s large chest. He tossed her to face him so that the tips of their noses touched. In one smooth roll, the Viking pinned her beneath him, clasping both wrists in the hand of his good arm.
“I said, halt, Merewin,” he ground out through white teeth.
Merewin wiggled and kicked until the man pinned her legs and lowered his weight until she couldn’t draw a breath. She was as helpless as a mouse in the falcon’s grasp.
“If you cease, I will let you breathe. If you continue, I will let you faint.”
Even though the thought of being insensible sounded alluring at the moment, she couldn’t fight if she fainted. Merewin stopped struggling and stared him full in the eyes. She wouldn’t retreat no matter what the man threatened.
Other author's books:
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