Coming Spring 2018
Prairie Rose Publications
Prairie Rose Publications
“Well? What now?” Dare turned in the saddle and flashed an aggravated glare in Redam’s direction, as if all woes were his fault. “St. George would have trouble finding a fire-breathing dragon in this gloom! This queer ring of hills seems to block all. Mine eyes can make out naught that remotely resembles the mouth of a ravine.”
Redam heard his friend’s frustration, his exhaustion. Understood it. They had ridden for so long that he had nearly fallen asleep in the saddle. In times when they feared stopping to rest, war weary soldiers often caught themselves nodding off whilst still astride their warhorses. A habit Dare and he had mastered at an early age.
As dusk cloaked the Highlands, the storm had increased, and at one point the sleet fell so heavy that his mantle, even the horses’ manes, had been coated with a thin layer of ice. Finally, when they neared the glen of Shane, the winds shifted and almost held the sweet promise of spring. While the warmth was welcome, as was the lessening in the rainstorm, the switch in weather saw the fog increase. So thick were the shifting grey mists it felt as if Darian and he were no longer earthbound, but alone, lost in some mysterious land beyond the mortal realm.
“‘Tis not far to Glenrogha…if we but find entrance to the hidden valley,” Redam assured him, while his eyes searched the rising slope of the land. He hoped some detail would fit with what he had been told to expect.
“Methinks we stand better odds of stumbling upon a fire-breathing wyvern. The fae beastie could light the way for poor wandering souls, or at least provide flames to warm our backsi––”
Dare’s jesting prattle was drowned out by a sudden, strange cacophony, as though thousands of ravens were taking wing, cawing and screeching. Terrified by the discordant screams, the horses shied and pulled against the long tether, which Dare struggled to keep a hold on. Used to battles, bombardments of Greek fire, and skies that were turned black with arrows, the battle-hardened destriers whinnied and bounced upon their hoofs, frightened by the unseen menace in the night fog. Almost wild, Wraith spun in circles, his nostrils snorting streams of vapor into the air. Despite his destrier’s training, he ignored the commands from Redam’s knees and fought hard against the bit.
Redam struggled to remain seated and not lose his hold on the woman. The jostling about caused her to stir. Frightened, confused, she started to struggle against his hold, lashing out, which in turn nearly unseated them both.
“Still, I say! Be still! By damn, woman, cease this thrashing,” he ordered.
Stiff from holding her so long, his arm had trouble keeping his grasp about her. And Dare had been right––the cold and damp caused the old wound to ache, leaving it tricky to control her body. He finally grabbed hold of her legs with his right hand to prevent her from sliding off the horse, and mayhap trampled under the dancing stallion.
“No!” With the fine edge of hysteria cutting through her mind, she protested in a half-moan, her shaking hands pushing against his chest.
Redam pulled her tighter to him, and tucked her face against his neck. “You be safe, my lady. No harm shall befall you. This I so swear.”
With a choked groan and a bone-deep shudder, all resistance seemed to go out of her. She collapsed against him, weeping softly.
Emotions flooded through his body, as he took her pain inside him and made it his own. He tried to throw up a wall against these overpowering sensations, but he had no means of shielding himself against the poignant anguish this woman evoked. Her body trembled against his, as silent sobs racked her whole being. Hot tears stung his eyes, as he held her close.
Leaning the side of his head against hers, he whispered in a litany, “You are safe. I shall protect you. You are safe.”
“Sweet Jesu! Has the mouth of Hell yawned before us?” Dare exclaimed. “What dominion of the Devil have we blundered upon?”
Pulling himself back from these dangerous feelings, Redam let out with a short whistle. Still giving Darian a hard time on the lead shank, the dapple grey horse tossed his head and nearly yanked free. Howbeit, Redam’s command calmed Hobgoblin. He finally started to settle down. As he did, the other horses followed his demeanor.
“No sphere of Hades…but Journey’s End, my friend. Damian spake of birds―a thousand score ravens―which seem to guard the passes to Glenrogha. We must be near the access. The second passages should lie just beyond. Then, ‘tis only a short distance to Glenrogha.”
“A fire-belching dragon would prove advantageous at this juncture, eh? I cannot see aught, but this bloody mist. How can there be fog and drizzle, too? ‘Tis most unnatural, Redam. Peculiar substance, ‘tis so thick I could cut it with my dirk,” Darian fussed, almost as if he found comfort in hearing his own voice. “How in Persephone’s kitchen are we to ever find our way through this mess?”
Redam gave a worn sigh. “The same as we have all along––trust the horses.” Thinking upon how Julian had determined the way into the glen, he gave Wraith a signal with pressure from his knees. Obeying, the dark grey charger walked forward.
“I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me,” Darian recited in a hushed tone, his voice barely carrying in the still night. Nudging his mount, he trailed after Redam.
“Naught unnerves me more than someone whispering fervent words to some unseen being that hovers above us on a floating cloud. Surely, even He would not venture forth on a night such as this,” Redam jested, willing himself to give over his fate to a fool horse in the hopes the beast could find the path into the ravine.
“Do you not believe in God, Redam?” Dare asked in seriousness. “Never have we held discourse on such before. Tell me to tuck tail and mind my own counsel if you wish not to answer.”
“Mind your own counsel,” Redam bit out. After the words were gone, he wished he had not spoken them, so tried to explain. “Too much ugliness hath I witnessed in my sad, sorry life to accept that any such amazing and wonderfully benevolent creature exists. My belief in the kindness of man died the night my family was slaughtered, along with my childish faith in this invisible father figure who guides our destiny. There is no God, my friend, just scared people on sore knees, groveling whispered entreaties in the hopes something will happen to save them. Help never comes. It failed to come for poor Annalise. No just god could have turned his back on her suffering.”
Darian countered, “But a man has to believe in something.”
“Does he? I believe that gentle souls suffer and evil people who should be punished rarely are,” he snapped.
“Is that why you serve at Edward’s left hand? Some perverse way of meting out justice, when no one else does––because you could kill the Baron Dunstan only once? And once was not enough? Redemption is not an assassin, but an avenger, eh? A champion for all the Annalises in this world?” Darian’s questions held barbs.
Not wanting to answer Dare’s probings––unsure if he truly knew the truth to the complex riddle himself––Redam turned his attention to moving into the rift, for just as Julian had said, the fog parted and like a ghostly door was now open and welcoming. As if passing through a wall of smoke, suddenly he was on the other side. Wraith stood in the mouth of a fissure, narrow with high granite walls, yet wide enough for five horses to ride abreast.
“Strike me thrice and call me a midden knave…who needs a fire-breathing monster when your trusty horse can lead the way!” Dare voiced his amazement, as he emerged through the bastion of grey fog. He paused, turned in the saddle and looked back. “I have lived nearly two score years on God’s green earth, but that has to be one of the strangest occurrences mine eyes hath ever beheld.”
While Redam was not a silly child to be fearful of unseen shadows and shapes created by the darkness, an eerie stillness permeated the air that bespoke of witchery. He felt it. Sensitive to these things beyond the norm, the horses hesitated. Wraith even backed up two steps. Finally obeying the pressure of Redam’s knees, the stallion ambled slowly ahead. Dare rode just paces behind with the string of horses, their hoofs echoing inside the confines of the stone passage.
At their backs, sounds of the birds lessened, then finally fell to silence. It was almost too easy to question if the whole incident had really happened, or if this was a Hell-born dream from which he would awaken.
Strange, no light penetrated the long corridor. Even so, they had little trouble following the passageway. The sheered walls of granite were heavily encrusted with chips of a lighter stone that almost shimmered with iridescence. Dust from faerie wings, he mused. Outside the sounds they made, nothing else broke the odd feeling of quietness, lending the sense that the world held its breath while they traveled from one domain to another.
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