Excerpt: The Maiden Warrior

The Maiden Warrior - originally released in 2002 and re-released in 2012Prologue

A forest in Northern Wales, 1162

 

He was coming.

Gwendolyn heard the baying of Owain’s hounds; they were close now, and their frenzied howls helped her to complete the distance to the clearing. Finally stumbling to a halt, she leaned against a tree, her legs numb and her breath rasping as she opened the fold of her tunic to check the babe nestled against her breast. Despite the jostling pace they had been forced to take, her child still slept peacefully, one tiny thumb tucked into its rosebud mouth.

A rush of love so great that it threatened to stop what little breath was left to her swept through Gwendolyn; she blinked away her tears and leaned down to kiss the babe’s ebony curls. But as she moved, a tangled lock of her own golden hair fell forward, and with a mewling sound the child stirred, as if it would begin to cry.

“Hush, now, angel,” Gwendolyn murmured, stroking the silken cheek, even as her gaze frantically searched the wood around them. This was the spot; it had to be. A gnarled tree, bent almost to the ground with age, loomed ahead of her just as they had described. A small circle of oddly shaped stones jutted from the mossy earth nearby. It was the Druid place of worship, and it was here she had been told to bring her babe.

The clamoring of the dogs filled Gwendolyn’s ears again, their howls closer than before. They had picked up her scent. Panic rose in her throat as she took a few more running steps, clinging to the soft, warm weight of her child; her gaze swung from one end of the tiny clearing to the other. Sweet Jesu, what if the Druid had not come?

At that moment a rustling noise drew her attention; as if fashioned from the forest itself, a woman stepped into the stone circle. She was dressed in a coarse bliaud of brown and green, and strange tattoos – Druid honor marks – rimmed her fingernails and continued up her hands to her arms.

With a kind nod, the woman reached out, saying softly, “Give me the babe now, my lady. There is not much time.”

Gwendolyn paused, but the hounds’ chorus rose again, vicious in its intensity. With a choked cry, she reached into her tunic and took her child from its haven against her skin. Murmuring wordless sounds of love, she cradled its head and pressed her lips once more to its downy curls. Tears blinded her as she kept up the sing-song humming, nuzzling her babe and breathing in its sweet, milky fragrance.

Knowing that she would never have the chance again.

Too soon it was time. Her arms trembled violently as the Druid woman took the child from her with a gentle touch; silent sobs rose up in her, gaining in intensity while she watched the woman back away. As if from the end of a long tunnel, she heard the quiet assurance that this was for the best. That they would keep the babe safe and secure. And then the Druid was gone, melted back into the woodland as if she were part of the trees and leaves that whispered their melancholy song to the sky.

Gwendolyn sank to the ground, emptiness engulfing her – a huge, black hole that had once been filled with the tender miracle of her child. All that kept her from curling up in the dirt and letting Owain’s dogs have her was the knowledge that she was not done yet. A realization that stabbed through her endless ocean of pain, telling her that she could still do more to protect her babe, still draw attention away from the Druid woman’s path of hiding.

Dragging herself to her feet, Gwendolyn forced herself to run back toward the brutal howling of the dogs, the crashing sounds of the army Owain led in quest of her. She veered suddenly to the left, her feet flying over roots and stones, her heart thumping as she sought to divert her pursuers’ attention.

Before long the burning in her lungs forced her to stop again. She could go no farther, but she hoped against hope that it would be enough.

An eerie stillness settled over the woodland as she bent over, gasping for air. Dimly, she realized that it was odd to hear no chattering of animals or birds high in the trees. Even the baying of the dogs had fallen silent.

In the next instant, she knew why.

With a violent snapping of branches, Prince Owain strode into view before her. Slowly, she straightened and pushed aside her tangled hair to look up at him – the massive, stunning warrior that was her lord husband.

For a while he gazed at her without speaking, his face grim under the blue war designs painted on his cheeks and brow. Far off through the trees, she could see the sun winking on the weapons and shields of his army, kept at a distance so that he could confront his errant wife in private. A shaft of light slanted down on him as well, turning his ebony hair to a blue-black halo above him, making him look like some kind of dark angel come to gain vengeance on her for her sins.

“What have you done with our child?” he finally asked, his voice low with suppressed emotion.

“Our babe is not the Legend, Owain,” she whispered, searching him with her gaze, trying to make him understand. “Why can you not see? The mark, the signs…they mean nothing. Our child is innocent, and I could not let you—”

Where is she?” he growled, taking a threatening step toward her, his obsidian eyes glittering. “Do not toy with me, Gwendolyn. Give her to me now. I vow that you will not relish the consequences of disobeying me further.”

A kind of calm filled her as she faced this powerful man who had once professed to love her above all else. This Welsh prince who had bargained away nearly half of his fortunes only a year ago in order to gain the privilege of wedding her.

She raised one shaky, dirt-smeared hand to her face, brushing her fingers over her eyes. But her mind was clear, her heartbeat steady at last. He would not get her child. Nay, little Gwynne was safe from his plots and his obsessions. His dreams of war and glory. Nothing else mattered.

“She is gone, Owain. Gone for good, to a place that is safe from the bloodshed you planned for her. You will never see her again.” She paused, glancing away and blinking back her tears before adding huskily, “And neither will I.”

A metallic, scraping sound pulled her gaze to her husband again. Light glinted off the deadly length of his blade, reflecting the dangerous shadows shifting in his eyes.

“You are wrong Gwendolyn,” he murmured, his voice all the more menacing for its softness. “I will see her again. Our child is the Legend reborn, and once I have finished what must be done here, I will scour every mountain, search beneath every rock and tree in all of Wales. I will move heaven and earth if need be – and I promise you, I will find her.”

He strode forward, then, coming at her with the confident gait of a predator who has finally cornered his prey.

Gwendolyn froze for an instant before gasping and leaping into action, spurred on by an impulse as old as time. Spinning away from him, she began to run again, though the branches whipped back to scratch her and sharp stones cut into her feet. She took final, hopeless flight, because she knew exactly what was happening here. She had seen it in Owain’s eyes…

Aye, she knew, and it appeared that whether she willed it or nay, the next few moments were likely going to be the last of her mortal life.

 

Chapter One

The wood beyond Dunston Castle, the border of England and Wales.
Fifteen Years Later

 

She had not come.

Frowning, Aidan ducked around one of the towering stones that ringed the clearing. The ancient circle stood as a remnant of times long ago – days of myth, sorcery and legend. And it was magic, their special meeting place. Here he and Gwynne had spent countless hours, free from the weight of prying eyes or the restraints others might wish to impose upon a gentle Welsh lass and her young English suitor.

“Gwynne, are you here?” he called out, appalled to hear the quaver in his voice. He quelled his weakness with a grimace, saying more firmly, “Gwynne, answer me!”

That was better. It would not do for him to sound uncertain. Not today of all days. Today he must be confident and strong, as befit the sixteen-year-old son of Dunston’s lord. He must be sure of himself if he hoped to convince Gwynne that what he planned for them was right.

“Gwynne!” He stalked forward so quickly that the edge of his tunic caught on a felled branch, snapping the wood with a resounding crack.

“For goodness sake, Aidan, I am over here. You need not bellow,” Gwynne scolded, making him jump as he spun to face her.

She sat cross-legged on top of one of the ancient stones only a few paces away, looking down at him with mischief in her silver gaze. The sun caressed her face and glinted on the fall of raven hair that hung past her waist like a wavy cloak, concealing what she held cupped in her palms. He saw with a flush of pleasure that she wore the circlet of wildflowers he had woven and left for her here this morning. Perching atop the stone, she looked like some kind of fey lass come to him through the mists of time.

Just beyond the stone, a crow with a splinted wing – one of the many creatures he knew she relished taking in and healing – hopped a little ways off as if nonplussed by his thunderous entrance. She glanced at it, crooning softly before directing her sparkling gaze at Aidan once more.

He could not help but smile at her daring. She was a fearless thing, he thought, biting the inside of his cheek. Especially for a girl.

“What are you doing up there?” he demanded with mock ire.

She did not respond, instead grinning as she shrugged her shoulders and arched her brow in that maddening way of hers.

“You must come down at once. You may be almost as tall as me, but your bones could break as badly as a little child’s if you fall from there.”

“Nay, I will not come down.” She shook her head, her hair rippling about her. “It is far too good an angle.”

“For what?”

By the time his bemused mind caught up with his instincts, it was too late. With a shriek of glee, Gwynne sat up straight and began pelting him with the handfuls of acorns she had been hoarding. He shouted as the nuts found their mark with stinging accuracy; then yelling a playful war cry, he launched himself at her and pulled her from the stone. She fell on him, scattering the flowers from her circlet all around, and they laughed and rolled together on the soft grass, coming to rest, finally, with him lying half atop her.

Breathless, he smiled and gazed into her eyes as he brushed a tendril from her brow. He could wait no longer. Leaning down, he tasted her lips as he had been aching to do. His mouth slid smoothly against hers, and he was gratified when she lifted herself into him. She threaded her cool fingers through his hair, making tingles of pleasure tighten his groin and jolting every inch of his skin to full awareness.

No matter how many times he kissed her, he knew he would never get enough. He knew it with the burning certainty of youth; he would never stop feeling this rush of sensation, or the tantalizing thoughts that followed next of what he wished to do with her, ways he wanted to touch her.

But that must needs come later, he reminded himself. Later, after he had made her his own in truth and by law.

With a groan, he rolled away, settling for lying at her side. Wordlessly, she slipped her hand into his, and their fingers intertwined as naturally as the breeze wafting through the trees near their magic circle. Together they gazed up at the smooth blue canopy of the sky above them.

In a moment two sparrows darted through the clear expanse, chirping and chasing each other with antic abandon. Gwynne chuckled low in her throat, the soft sound rippling over Aidan, filling him with warmth. When she tilted her head to glance at him askance, his stomach flopped anew.

The splinted crow disturbed their peace for a moment when he hopped over to peck at one of Gwynne’s tiny, expended missiles, but they ignored him, continuing to gaze at each other. The late summer sun blanketed them with warmth; insects hummed, the grass felt soft beneath them, and the wind swished through the trees, adding music to the scented air around them.

It was time, Aidan decided.

“Gwynne, I have something to ask of you.”

“Aye?” she said softly.

He held his breath, focusing on her gaze; then he just let the words tumble out. “Marry me, Gwynne. Marry me here and now, in the circle. If we betroth ourselves in the age-old way, no one will ever be able to part us. Ever.”

Marry you?” Gwynne sat up slowly. The smile faded from her face, replaced by an expression of wonder.

“Aye. Marry me today!” Aidan pushed himself up next to her. “I love you, Gwynne. I have loved you for so long that I cannot remember what my life was like before you. I want to pledge myself to you, if you will have me.”

“You wish to wed me?” Gwynne asked, her voice laced with tears and such heartbreaking uncertainty that he reached up to cup her face and gaze into her eyes again.

“Aye, truly. If you feel as I do, then this day we can become one.”

“Oh, Aidan, I wish it more than anything!”

Relief flooded him, and he leaned in to kiss her again. But she pulled back suddenly, taking his hands and frowning.

“What of your father? Will he not oppose this?”

Aidan stiffened.

Mam will be furious when she learns that we have wed,” she continued, “and she has naught to lose. But Lord Sutcliffe—”

“My father need not know anything of our betrothal,” he broke in harshly. “Not yet anyway.”

She looked like she was going to cry again, and Aidan cursed himself. Softening his tone, he added, “I know my duty to my father and my family well, Gwynne. It has been bred into me from the cradle. Whether I wish it or nay, I must become a knight without peer for King Henry, a warrior to carry on the de Brice name and reputation in England.” He looked down. “In truth, I learned only this morn that I must leave Dunston Castle within the week to foster as a squire with my father’s cousin, Rexford de Vere, the Earl of Warrick, so that I may begin to fulfill my service and my destiny.”

Leave?”

Now it was Gwynne’s turn to press her gentle palms to his face, pulling him to her, forcing him to meet her gaze. Her eyes welled with tears; one crystalline drop escaped, its liquid path marring the silk of her cheek. “You will leave Dunston in a week, Aidan? You will leave me?”

“I must leave, Gwynne, aye,” he answered, his chest tightening as he said it. “But never you. Not in my heart. It is why I wish to wed you here and now, in our magic circle, so that no matter how far I must go, or for how long, you will know that I am yours. Then, when the time comes and I am a man in my own right, we will make our union known. And then none, including my father, will dare deny it.”

Aidan clenched his fists as he spoke, as if by willing it so, it could be. By God, he would make it so. Only a few years more…

A few years more and his father would no longer be able to bargain with him as a political tool, valuing him for his promise of manhood and offering it to the highest bidder amongst the fathers of England’s many young heiresses. Nay. Then his father would have to accept that he was wed, bound body and soul to the gentle Welsh girl who had captured his heart in the peace of this magic wood.

“I will make a good life for us, Gwynne, I swear it. But I must first make my way and free myself of the plans my father has laid for me.”

She swallowed hard, her face vulnerable with uncertainty and the hope that struggled against it. “If only it could be so, Aidan,” she whispered. She flung her arms around his neck and pulled him tight to her, breathing against his ear, “Yet only say it is, and I will believe you.”

“Aye, Gwynne,” he answered huskily, cupping her head and threading his hands through her exquisite, silken hair. He breathed in her scent, fresh as the new leaves of May, kissing her cheek and the tender spot at the top of her jaw.

“I vow that I will make it so.”

Pulling back, he gazed at her solemnly. Then he reached into his tunic and drew out a length of rich, emerald-hued cloth, embroidered with colorful flowers woven through the openwork pattern of a snow-white cross. Gwynne gasped at the beauty of it, and Aidan took her hand and helped her to her feet before draping the fabric over her fingers.

“It is a length of de Brice sacramental cloth, taken from our chapel,” he said, placing his fingers beneath hers and wrapping the material round, encircling their joined hands. “It will serve as a sign of God’s presence in our union.”

Wide-eyed, Gwynne nodded. He reveled in the warmth of her palm against the back of his hand, held together by the sacred band. Her lips trembled, and she caught the tender, ruby fullness of the lower curve with her teeth. The sight of it made Aidan’s chest tighten anew. He longed to kiss her again, to soothe her cares away with the loving caress of his mouth.

Instead he dragged his gaze from her lips and up to her eyes, their distinctive silvery color muted now with the depth of her emotions. She blinked, and he smiled, coaxing a smile from her as well. Then he took a deep breath and began their vows.

“I, Aidan de Brice, son of Gavin de Brice, second Earl of Sutcliffe, do take thee, Gwynne verch Moran, to be my wife. I love thee with all my heart and soul, and will bind myself to thee forever, with this my eternal vow. I do so swear it.”

She smiled tremulously. “And I, Gwynne verch Moran, take thee, Aidan de Brice, to be my husband. I love thee with all that I am, and will keep only unto thee until the end of time. This I so swear and will abide, heart and soul, until I die.”

They stood for a moment, just gazing at each other. Finally, Aidan said quietly, “Then it is done, Gwynne. By the laws of England and Wales, we are husband and wife.” He swallowed. “All that remains now is the final consummation of our vows.”

Her cheeks flushed enchanting pink, and she gave him a shy look before glancing away. Aidan grinned, his heart thudding madly in his chest as he considered their boldness and the joy he felt in what they had just done – in what they had yet to do.

He unloosed the embroidered fabric from their hands and pressed it into her palm. “Take this cloth as my pledge, Gwynne. I wish it was more, but it must needs suffice until I can earn a proper gift for you.”

“Nay, Aidan, it is far too costly.”

“It is yours, Gwynne,” he insisted gently. “Take it and know of my love for you each time you look upon it.”

“I do not know what to say,” she murmured at last, bringing the folded fabric to her breast. She gazed at him, emotion full in her gaze, and another burst of tenderness shot through him.

“I – I want to give you something too,” she said softly. Tucking the cloth into her over-tunic, she reached down and slid his dagger from the sheath at his waist before he could speak against it, then brought it up to cut off a hand’s-length lock of her hair. With deft fingers, she braided the top to a close, so that when she handed it to him, the end curled around his palm like dark silk.

“It is not as fine a gift as yours,” she said, “but I hope it will serve to comfort you as your gift will comfort me during the time we must be parted.”

Aidan was speechless for a moment. He thought his breath might never flow freely again for the lump that seemed to have settled in his throat. “Gwynne…” he murmured hoarsely. He swallowed a few times. “I will treasure it always, Gwynne,” he finished, finally, reaching up to stroke the even more silken smoothness of her cheek. Then, tipping her chin up, he lowered his mouth to hers, melding their lips in a sacred kiss. A kiss that spoke more eloquently than his clumsy words ever could.

She pressed close to him, and he felt her sigh of longing shudder through every inch of his sensitized flesh. She reached her arms around him, sliding her palms up his back; the gentle swell of her breasts seemed to brand his chest, her thighs warm against his. He deepened their kiss, readying to lower her to the tender grasses within the circle, aching to complete the now consecrated promised of their love at long last…

Until a piercing scream rent the air.

A slight rumbling sound began to fill the woodland around them, increasing in power and then swelling into a cacophony of noises. Suddenly the clearing erupted, branches breaking and men shouting. Men with wildly painted blue faces.

Aidan stood stunned for a moment. Everything seemed to slow to a maddening, surreal pace as he swung his gaze to Gwynne; she was staring at him, wide-eyed, her mouth open in horror as she twisted her fingers into the front of his tunic.

Oh, God, he had to get her out of here.

Swallowing his panic, he tried to shout, but it was clear that she could not hear him. He settled on jerking his head in the direction of her mother’s cottage, praying that she understood. Grasping her hands, he led her, stumbling at first, toward the edge of the stone circle…

And then they began to run.

 

Chapter Two

Near Craeloch Castle, Western England
June – Twelve Years later

 

The dream had come again last night, choking him with how real it had seemed and how painful it had been to relive all over again…the blue-faced devils attacking, Gwynne clinging to him in fear, her screams going on and on as the savages had swarmed into the clearing, their weapons held aloft…

Aidan rubbed the back of his neck, inhaling sharply of the early morning mist in an effort to shake the memories. It was fitting, he supposed, that the dream had come to him again last night; today of all days he needed to remember exactly why he was here. Of why he had vowed to spend the rest of his life stopping the Welsh rebels from doing to anyone else what they had done to him.

To him and Gwynne…

He leaned over his steed’s neck, the vapor of his breath mingling with the cool air as he awaited his prey. Any moment now the warrior the Welsh called the Dark Legend would emerge from the forest with his band of rebels to claim the rich prize he expected to find outside of Craeloch’s walls – payment in gold, offered in return for leaving the people in peace, their property and lands undisturbed.

The bastard would find naught but a trap.

Aidan shifted in his saddle, his muscles tense, his thoughts racing. It had been a long year hunting these Welsh outlaws and their powerful, elusive leader. A year during which the rebellious inhabitants of Wales had gathered in ever-increasing numbers, rallying behind the Dark Legend in raid after raid against English barons and Marcher lords. Against King Henry himself.

They had to be stopped.

But the Dark Legend was no ordinary enemy. Nay, he was an opponent of the most deadly kind. A man who had risen to mythic proportions in the minds and hearts of the people who followed him during this past year, for according to the bards who sang of him, he was no ordinary man. They claimed him to be none other than King Arthur, come back from his rest in Avalon. The Dark Legend of prophecy, returned to lead them to freedom from English rule.

Such dangerous fancy could not be allowed to continue. The man could be the devil himself, as far as Aidan was concerned; if all went as planned, this day would be his last.

“There,” Kevyn murmured next to him, nodding toward the glint of metal that shone through the trees across the clearing. “They approach.”

Aidan swung his gaze to the spot, honing in on his quarry. “Ready the men for attack,” he answered quietly, never taking his stare from the edge of the forest. As he heard the soft call of warning pass down the ranks, his hands tightened, anticipation humming through his blood with every beat of his heart. It was almost time for the battle to begin – the culmination of all he had worked so hard to accomplish.

Almost time for another chance at redemption.

Suddenly, the chain mail of one of the rebel warriors caught the morning sun, throwing flashes of light as more than two dozen Welshmen rode from the wood and into the clearing, some of them wearing blue war paint, others helms. Their leader sat proudly atop his steed in front of them, clasping a magnificent golden shield with the emblem of the legendary King Arthur, a red dragon, rampant, emblazoned on its front, going forth as if no one would dare to oppose his will. As if none possessed the right or the power to stop him. Aidan watched him, his gaze narrowing as he watched his progress across the field.

Strange. He was not the massive warrior Aidan had imagined he would be. Then again, the bard’s tales told not of a brawny man, but of an ebony-haired youth, tall, lean, and strong. The Dark Legend was reputed to possess sword skills that dazzled the mind and strange, otherworldly combat moves that froze his disbelieving opponents into dangerous immobility that got them killed.

Tamping down that ridiculous notion, Aidan caressed the hilt of his sword; he needed to be patient. A few moments more and he would face the celebrated enemy himself. Move in for the kill. And then he would find out just how much was legend and how much was mere flesh and blood.

A feral smile edged Aidan’s lips. Aye, he relished the thought of crossing blades with this opponent. The Dark Legend was about to meet the Scourge of Wales, and he wagered the results would not be pretty.

Only a few more seconds. Just a little longer and the rebels would be far enough into the clearing that they would not be able to flee back to the forest when he attacked.

Just a little longer…

“Now!”

Aidan’s command ripped through the silence, sending the full three score of his men hurtling onto the field. He led the solid wall of horseflesh and shouting warriors toward the Welsh, who reined their mounts in sharply at the explosive sound and movement of the attack.

Keeping his gaze trained on their leader, Aidan closed the gap, feeling a pang of disappointment when he realized that the man’s helm with its concealing face-guard would undoubtedly mask his expression of fear and surprise. It was a look Aidan had long relished in his imagination.

But in the next instant the clash of battle overcame any idle thoughts. Instinct roared to life, sending with it a thrumming song of kill or be killed singing through Aidan’s veins; he slashed out at any Welsh warrior unfortunate enough to get between him and his prey, exulting in the warmth that spilled over his hand as his charge met with success. Bleeding from a fatal wound, one of the Welshmen fell away off of his mount, allowing Aidan to see a path through the writhing, battling forms of the warriors around him.

A path that led directly to the Dark Legend.

Kicking his destrier forward, Aidan charged at him, lifting his bloodied sword to begin the combat that would remove his enemy forever from the light of day. But as he approached, the Legend swung his steed around, and Aidan’s mount rammed into him, the force of impact knocking both men to the ground.

Black spots blinded Aidan’s vision; his chest felt afire, but he knew he had little time to recover. Looking up, he saw the Dark Legend spring to his feet with uncanny ease, his growl of rage audible even through the din of fighting around them.

Ignoring the answering flash of apprehension that shot down his spine, Aidan rolled to stand just in time to meet a savage thrust, his blade glancing off of his enemy’s sword with bone-jarring force. It deflected up to the man’s head, catching his helmet and sending it flying off at the same time that it knocked him sideways and onto one knee.

He was down.

As if in the slower motion of a dream, Aidan pulled back, preparing to deal the killing strike his king had commanded of him. But before he could commence the blow, the Dark Legend swung his head to glare at him, a snarl twisting his features as he locked gazes with Aidan for the first time.

And at that moment, Aidan felt like he had been impaled right through the heart; he froze, unable to move a limb. If not for his own men flanking either side of him as they fought, he would surely have been killed by one of the Welsh. All of the energy seemed to drain from his arms. They dropped to his sides, the tip of his blade gouging uselessly into the dirt of the field. There was no mistaking what he saw. Even knowing it was impossible, there was no mistaking it.

A smooth, beardless face stared back at him, topped by raven curls chopped short like a boy’s. But that did not mask the fact that this was no youthful King Arthur looking at him, grimacing in anger. Nay, Aidan would recognize those silver eyes anywhere. They belonged to a woman – one he had loved long ago.

A woman named Gwynne verch Moran.

But before he could bring himself to voice her name, she leaped from her crouched position, moving so fast that she was almost a blur as she tucked and spun in a complete revolution before landing on her feet in front of him. Her unusual height brought her nearly at an eye-level with him, but her gaze pierced him, her expression flat. Unknowing.

“You will regret this day, Englishman,” she uttered in a husky growl at the same time that she lashed out at him with her weapon.

He managed to pull back and twist enough so that the blade missed his vitals, instead catching his upper arm. The flare of pain from the cut banished the last of the strange weakness that had dominated him since he first saw her face; angrily, he lunged back at her, but she had already disappeared behind one of the riderless Welsh steeds. Swinging atop it, she wheeled around, flashing another hate-filled glare at him before looking away to shout a war cry of retreat to her men.

Then turning, she thundered from the field, leading her remaining warriors back into the forest and leaving Aidan to stand there bleeding, more shaken than he had been since that day twelve years ago when he had thought he had seen her die…

Vaguely, he heard his men gather around him, heard Kevyn’s anxious voice questioning him as if from afar as he examined the wound on his arm. But it blended into the background of his mind, twisting and turning with all manner of haunting images and agonizing scenes. With bloody, horrific memories.

He swallowed the bitter lump in his throat, only one thought managing to shine clear in the muddled mess of his brain; for he could not help but acknowledge that the stories wafting down from the Welsh mountains had been right on one point, at least…

The dead, it seemed, had indeed risen to new life.

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