Immortal champion, p.1

Immortal Champion, page 1

 

Immortal Champion
 



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Immortal Champion


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 15

  CHAPTER 16

  CHAPTER 17

  CHAPTER 18

  CHAPTER 19

  CHAPTER 20

  CHAPTER 21

  CHAPTER 22

  Epilogue

  HISTORICAL NOTES

  Acknowledgements

  Teaser chapter

  With Immortal Champion, Lisa Hendrix continues her riveting new series about a crew of Viking warriors condemned to live out eternity as werecreatures …

  PRAISE FOR

  Immortal Outlaw

  “Lisa Hendrix has a great talent and Immortal Outlaw is one book that will have readers riveted.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “The hero of Immortal Outlaw is very yummy and the heroine is one that any reader can easily come to love and really root for … Lisa Hendrix knows how to give you what you want … I just loved how this whole love story played out.”

  —Night Owl Romance

  “Filled with action … The audience will relish Lisa Hendrix’s enjoyable entry.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “Some terrific entertainment is packed between the covers of Hendrix’s Immortal Outlaw … highly recommended to any fans of historical romances or paranormal romances.”

  —The Good, the Bad and the Unread

  “Imaginative, fascinating, adventurous; a fantastic read. Hendrix knows how to blend myth and magic in a way that enchants readers … The second installment, based on the Robin Hood legend, has passion, adventure, history, and characters you’ll treasure.”

  —Romantic Times

  “A great installment in the Immortal Brotherhood series.”

  —Book Binge

  Immortal Warrior

  “Blending paranormal with historical and a touch of the comedy that she is known for, Lisa Hendrix gives us the first in a stunning new series bound to rocket straight to the bestseller list. Her heroine was smart and sassy, her hero was strong and patient, the subplot was awesome, and the twist at the end was completely unexpected.”

  —Manic Readers

  “Gripping … I expect both this book and its sequels to find their way onto the must-buy lists of book lovers everywhere!”

  —Wild on Books

  “Immortal Warrior will sweep you off your feet … A fast-paced paranormal delight that will have you adding Lisa Hendrix to your must-buy list. Shifters, witches, Norse gods, and more make this series unforgettable.”

  —Night Owl Romance

  “A bold and beautiful fairy tale for grown-ups: an enchanted story of a stalwart warrior and a feisty lady … Not to be missed!”

  —Romantic Times

  “A sizzling and engrossing romance from the pen of Lisa Hendrix, Immortal Warrior should not be missed.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “Five stars. Hendrix weaves this fascinating tale as seamlessly as the most skilled storytellers of old, with a lyrical quality to her writing that draws the reader in … Immortal Warrior is going straight to my keeper shelf. I highly recommend that you buy a copy for yours.”

  —Romance Novel TV

  “Absolutely stunning … Starts off a new paranormal series with a bang! Immortal Warrior is an excellent paranormal romance—but to the medieval lover, it is all the more exquisite … Bringing together Norse sagas, English history, and medieval fairy tales, Lisa Hendrix adds her own unique vision to this popular classic tale of magic.”

  —Medieval Book Reviews

  “Lisa Hendrix has struck immortal pay dirt with this novel and I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting the next installment of this saga … Five martinis for a story I could not bear to put down.”

  —The Girls on Books

  “Lisa Hendrix has penned a winner … A fast-moving, thrilling tale that kept me up at night.”

  —Romance Reader at Heart

  Immortal Brotherhood Novels by Lisa Hendrix

  IMMORTAL WARRIOR

  IMMORTAL OUTLAW

  IMMORTAL CHAMPION

  THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

  (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,

  South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  IMMORTAL CHAMPION

  A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author

  PRINTING HISTORY

  Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / January 2011

  Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Hendrix.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-47675-8

  BERKLEY® SENSATION

  Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  BERKLEY® SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  To Kristan Higgins, Two-time RITA®Award winner and chocolate codependent, who sorted through her Dove Miniatures to find all the peanut butter ones when I needed a fix to finish this book.

  The Legend

  WINTERS IN ENGLAND have ever been foul—fraught with bone-chilling cold, yet too warm for the snow to thicken on the roof and keep a dwelling snug and far too wet to let a man’s clothing keep him truly warm. Through the ages, the men and women of this misbegotten land suffered through the cold months as best they could, huddling in their cottages as much as possible and often seeking work in castle or hall in order to enjoy the warmth of their lord’s hearth.

&n
bsp; There were those, however, who could find no such refuge, those who were not fully men, nor entirely beast. Cursed by dark magic wielded by the sorceress Cwen, whose son they had killed in a raid for treasure, these Norse warriors spent half of each day in the form of their fylgjur, their spirit companions, each man a different beast. Unable to settle amongst men for any length of time, they kept mostly to the wilds. And because Cwen had also made them immortal, they suffered in the raw damp for winter after soggy winter, century after bleak century.

  Yet even in the depths of England’s dismal winters, they clung to some hope, for Cwen’s magic had a flaw, a weakness. Her spell had been wrought upon the fylgja amulet each man had worn, and it could be broken on the same token through the power of true love. Knowing this, Cwen had sent her men to scatter the amulets across the land, thinking they would never be found. Yet two warriors had managed it, finding both their amulets and women who could love them even knowing what they were, and their victories left Cwen sore wounded and her powers weakened.

  Furious at their triumph, Cwen set out to regather her magic, determined to keep the seven remaining warriors from breaking free of her curse, for it was her intention to make them suffer for eternity, to torture them, to strip away their hope for happiness in the same way they had stripped away hers, leaving her heart barren and empty. By late in the Christian year 1407, she had regained enough power to call a true winter down upon England, the kind of winter the Northmen had known at home.

  But without the stout halls of Vass to comfort them, the warriors were not prepared for such a winter—and even less prepared were the folk of England. The cold settled over the land like death, week after bitter week. Snow blanketed the hills. Rivers and wells turned to ice. Birds died by the thousands, frozen where they perched.

  And then came the wind, sweeping the roofs clean, blasting the branches off frozen trees, knocking over crofts and barns, and piling the snow into head-high drifts that blocked the roads and made it impossible to travel. In the villages, beleaguered peasants built their fires as high as they could afford and brought their most precious animals—the cows in calf, the best breeding sows and ewes, the hens, and the herding dogs—inside, where they could share the warmth. In the forests and on the moors, the wild things had no such protectors. Those creatures that could burrowed into their dens to sleep away the worst of the weather. Those that could not struggled and often died.

  The beast warriors could neither sleep away the winter nor, because of Cwen’s curse, find peace in death. They built rough shelters or took refuge in abandoned huts, but the cold went on and on, week after frozen week, and eventually even those dwellings proved too meager.

  One who found himself freezing as the winter spun down harder and harder was Gunnar, son of Hrólfr, called Gunnar the Red, who spent his days as a great bull, suffering in the cold, and his nights as a man, trying to get warm …

  —from the Dyrrekkr Saga of Ari Sturlusson (E. L. Branson, trans.)

  CHAPTER 1

  Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire, January 1408

  “YOU SIT VERY close to the fire, monsire.”

  The soft voice lifted Gunnar’s thoughts out of the flames. He glanced up to find a slip of a maid standing at his shield-side elbow, regarding him with wide, gray eyes that sparkled with curiosity. He’d noticed her before, here and there about the hall, but they’d never spoken.

  He’d prefer it stayed that way. He picked up the flagon of ale that sat by his foot and took a healthy draught before answering curtly, “I like to be warm.”

  “Her Grace says sitting too close to the hearth leads to illness. It dries the lungs, she says.” Hands folded at her waist, she stood there rocking up and down on her toes, waiting for him to comment on the duchess’s notions of health.

  Instead, Gunnar turned back to the fire and stretched his legs out, putting his feet even closer to the flames. Then to make it clearer that he had no intention of answering, he took another draught of ale and noisily swished it around in his mouth.

  It wasn’t that he wanted to be rude. He just wanted to be left alone.

  He’d managed to pass five good, warm nights here at Richmond Castle without anyone noticing him, and he hoped to pass many more before he had to move on. But the ability to stay here before the fire each night depended on no one taking notice of him—or of Jafri during the daylight hours. It was difficult enough to disguise their odd comings and goings when no one paid them any attention. If someone grew too curious, they’d have to head back out into the woods.

  And back into that devil’s wind.

  It was the wind that had forced them in toward Richmond to begin with. Roaring down out of the north like a snowslide down a mountain, it had blown in the roof of the old forester’s hut they’d been sharing, burying Gunnar and the fire under a ton of frozen thatch and leaving him to spend the remainder of that already miserable night freezing his balls off in the dark as he dug out the gear and tried to get the fire restarted. The next morning, thank the gods, Jafri had looped a rope around the neck of the bull and led him toward the castle.

  It was a risk, coming in so close. Someone might spot the wolf, the form Jafri took each night, lurking at the edge of the forest, and with so few wolves left in this part of England, the sight of one so close to the village would draw hunters, even in a winter like this one. But Jafri needed shelter as much as Gunnar, for the days were as frigid as the nights, and so he had apparently judged the risk to be worth taking. When Gunnar had shifted from bull back to man at sunset that night, he’d found himself within sight of Richmond and its welcoming hall. They’d been trading places each dawn and dusk ever since, waiting for the weather to ease. Until that happened, it was vital that their odd comings and goings remaining unnoticed.

  “I would fear for the toes of my slippers, with my feet so close to the coals,” she said. “Have you never burned your feet?”

  It was one thing to ignore a statement, another to refuse to answer a direct question—people would notice that, of a certs, even if the question came from an annoying maid. Gunnar gave the ale one last swish and swallowed. “No.” And then, because out of the corner of his eye he saw her frown at his abruptness, “My boots are sturdier than your slippers.”

  She stopped rocking long enough to lift the front edge of her emerald gown and held out one foot, showing off the toe of a plain slipper about half the size of his boot. “I suppose they are. Still, I should worry.”

  “And yet you stand here beside me, every bit as close as I,” Gunnar pointed out.

  “Not as close as your feet, monsire.” She gestured toward his boots with her toe. “Not by a yard. You are quite tall, though I think the varlet who lights the candles is taller.”

  He turned toward the dais as though he’d heard something. “I think they call for the women to retire.”

  She cocked her head and listened. “No, not yet.” She waited again until he gave in.

  “So. Did you come only to talk about my height and whether I will burn my boots?”

  “No, monsire. I was curious about you. I have seen you these past nights, but not before. Where do you hail from?”

  “The north.” He would leave it at that, but she arched an eyebrow expectantly and he added, “Near Alnwick.”

  “I have never yet been to Alnwick, but I have met Henry Percy. The younger one, I mean, not the old earl. He is a traitor.”

  “He is that,” said Gunnar. “And he is no longer earl.”

  “True. You are not loyal to him, then?”

  “If I were, I would be in Scotland.”

  “I suppose you would.” The corners of her eyes crinkled in mischief. “Unless, of course, you are a rebel and a spy.”

  Three knights nearby looked up, frowning suspiciously, and Gunnar glared at her. “I am neither. You should be careful what you say, maid. That tongue could get a man killed.”

  She saw the knights staring and flushed. “Your pardon, monsire.” She raised her voice so
it would carry well. “I meant it only as a jest, but I grant ’twas a poor one. Please forgive me.”

  The men stared a moment longer, then relaxed back into their conversation, and Gunnar nodded a grudging acceptance of her apology, as little good as it would do him. Curse it. Now not only the girl had noted him, but those three had, and they would be keeping a close eye on him from now on. He either needed to find another place to sleep or give them some reason to stop worrying about him.

  As he was considering how he might accomplish that, a clatter rose at the front of the hall, and the maid sighed. “Now that is the call to retire. Your pardon, monsire, I must go.” She did him courtesy. “Do be careful of the fire. God keep you.”

  “And you.” He didn’t bother to watch her go, instead eyeing the suspicious knights. One of them had pulled out cup and dice and laid out a house of fortune on a bench, and the other two started scraping aside the floor rushes to make a space to roll. Gunnar grinned, seeing a possible solution to his problem in two small cubes of bone. He pulled a farthing out of his purse and tossed it on the seven-square to join the game, and by the time they all settled in for the night, he’d become just another traveler stranded by the weather, his place by the fire secure for as many nights as he could afford to continue to lose.

  FIRE.

  Even in his sleep, the word possessed Gunnar, drew at him. Fire. Heat. He stirred and, still mostly asleep, cracked one eye open just enough to see dim glow of the banked fire. By the gods, he loved the fine, big hearths the English built. His gaze shifted higher to take in the hour candle on the mantle.

  Not yet half gone. Good. That meant more time to wallow in Richmond Castle’s warmth. He stretched his feet toward the hearth, drew his cloak more tightly around his shoulders, closed his eyes, and drifted back down toward sleep.

 
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