Face down on the cold granite boulder, Alain sought the power of
the ley line. He knew it ran through the mountain's core with a
great surging pulse, but he could not sense it. His pale hair fell
across chestnut-colored eyes as he pressed his cheek to the cold,
rough stone. He stretched his arms and legs out to their full, slender
length, and with his fingers, he held onto tiny crevices in the
Above his head,
the twisted arms of ancient oaks shook their leaves in the morning
wind off the Bretagne coast. Wadded clouds capered across the springtime
sky, chasing their shadows over the moorland and on up the mountainside.
The dappled sunlight came and went, and Alain was alternately chilled
and warmed by its inconstant attention.
He wanted to
feel the ley line, wanted to taste the power it held. More than
anything else, that was what he wanted; that, and what would come
with it. His thoughts dipped down through the granite and he plumbed
the mountain's depth for the line of magic.
The wooded mountainside
permeated his mind. He smelled the iron-tinged granite where his
breath made it moist, and he could smell the damp, virile musk of
the forest's leaf-strewn floor just a few yards away. He heard the
groans of the heavy branches as they protested the wind's attention,
and the flrr as a pair of sparrows flew by.
He opened his
mind and let these sensations flow into him. He let them merge with
his spirit, and tried to join his consciousness with the cold mountain.
His mind looked down, deep into the stone, searching, searching.
He imagined the slow thrum of power and envisioned the line's shimmering
glow with his inner eye. Would it be warm? Or as cold as the stone
beneath him? He clenched shut his eyes in concentration, feeling
for the ley line of Dead Ox Wood and the magic that always eluded
you?" Alain whispered to the line beneath the silent granite.
"Where are you?"
A stone sailed
in and bounced near his head. He opened his eyes and scrambled toward
the trunk of a nearby tree. He was not fast enough. Another stone
followed the first and caught him before he got off the granite
shelf, striking him in the forehead. His hand went to the wound
and touched hot blood.
came his attacker's grackled shout. "Go away, ye evil thing."
A thin old woman
stepped out from behind an oak tree. Her ash grey hair hung in matted
hanks past her shoulders, and her ragged clothes were coated with
weeks of dirt and grease. A string of curved boar's teeth and glass
beads hung from her neck, clattering as she moved, making her seem
more like a puppet on strings than a human being. In her hand she
held a stick thicker than her bony forearm and just as long.
she snarled, and threw the stick with more force and accuracy than
her thin physique foretold.
the stick away with his hand and sat back on his haunches, the fingertips
of one hand still in contact with the inscrutable granite. The woman
took a small step toward him, shooing him away with hissed words
and waggling fingers. Alain hung his head and stared at the ground,
waiting for his heart to stop pounding and his impatience to abate.
The woman picked up some fallen leaves and tossed them at him, muttering
under her breath, "Evil one, evil one."
he said in a firm voice, and then "Mother," as she continued
to toss twigs and leaves at him. The woman froze, hands extended
in mid-air, and she seemed to see Alain for the first time.
she said, straightening in her stance. "'Tis only you."
She spoke to him in the Old Tongue, the language of her Cornish
ancestors. Alain didn't think she knew how to speak Brezhoneg anymore.
"Well, don't just sit there. Come and move the sacks inside,
He ground his
teeth together as he stood, but did not move to do her bidding.
Still mindful of the blood that made its trail down past brow and
eye, he let it drip as a sign of his contempt.
a boy, Mother."
The woman stopped
and turned toward him. She walked back and grabbed him roughly by
the sleeve. He did not move.
she said as she looked him up and down. "Married, are ye?"
I'm not. Who would have a man who brings a mother-in-law such as
you? But I'm not a boy anymore. I haven't been for some time."
She tugged on
his sleeve. "Perhaps not. But you're still a bastard. Will
always be." She tugged harder, and he jerked his arm from her
grasp. She looked up at his face, and Alain felt the thin line of
blood course down his cheek. She stared at him a moment more before
she turned away.
Boy of mine," she said as she walked back the way she had come.
"Come. Move sacks."
his lips into a tight, exasperated line and felt an ache in the
clenched muscles of his jaw. He wiped his sleeve across his brow,
smearing the impotent gesture of his disdain, and winced at the
sting of rough fabric against his wound. Then he let out a growling
breath and followed the old woman back to her hut.
ancient hut was built on an even older foundation—stream-washed
stones piled in a waist-high circle, ten paces across the inside.
Stripling trunks were bent over the foundation to form a dome, and
thatch was laid over the lattice. Alain's mother, the Delphine of
Dead Ox Wood, walked up to the twig and bark door and pulled it
she said, pointing deep within the darkness of the hut. "Put
them back there." She produced a withered apple from the folds
of her dress and sat down at the base of a nearby oak.
"As if I
haven't been doing this for years on end," Alain muttered in
a quiet voice. He glanced over at the Delphine. She had not heard
him, and would not have heard had he spoken more loudly. She was
rocking back and forth, gaze intent on the old apple in her hand
as first she whispered secrets to it and then held it to her ear
to hear its replies.
always been a fruitless exercise, but he had never learned how to
let it go. Her barbs always hit, and his skin never grew tough enough
to thwart their sting.
His walking stick
was a few yards away, stuck deep into the forest loam. Reynald,
the draft horse he had led up the mountain, stood placidly nearby,
the thin halter rope looped around the walking stick. Reynald's
size and the sacks mounded on his back spoke of the animal's strength,
yet still he allowed himself to be ruled by the tether's thin length.
He cropped disinterestedly at the scrollwork of a lace-leafed fern
that grew near the root of one of the great trees, and raised his
massive head at Alain's approach.
a state, Reynald," Alain said in resignation. He began to untie
the ropes that bound the sacks of grain and fruit his father had
sent up for the Delphine. "She's worse in the springtime, I
Alain was tall,
but the horse was taller still—his head barely came up to Reynald's
withers—and as he reached up to pull down the first sack, he felt
the thin-fingered tug and stretch of the scars that laced his chest
and arms. Behind him, his mother barked a laugh at some jest only
she and the apple knew. A wild flash of anger shot through Alain,
anger at the madwoman by the foot of the tree, the woman who had
so mutilated his body.
a deep whicker and nosed the young man's shoulder. Alain smiled,
and forced his anger to ebb away.
right. No use quarreling with her when she's like this, is there?
No use ever, really." He patted the horse's muzzle, and turned
back to unloading. Settling a sack on each shoulder, he walked to
Inside, a clay
hearth sent an arm of sharp, tangy smoke up toward the hole in the
center of the domed roof. A pile of bedding and rude table served
as the only furnishings, but hanging from the rafters, sitting along
the ledge of the stone foundation, and lined up against the walls
was the collection with which the Delphine made her magic. It was
an amazing clutter.
fruits and tubers, leafy branches, glossy pelts, the severed feet
and extricated organs of animals, all lay in bunched piles between
pyramids of shiny stones sorted by size and ranks of beetles arranged
by color. Bundles of feathers bound by leather strips, dried flowers
tied together with woven plaits of grass, and sewn cloth packets
of seeds all hung like clappers in the bell of the hut's roof. Alain
could smell the braid of drying garlic that hung near the door and
the scent of pitch balls his mother had gathered from the far side
of the mountain. The odors brought memories, harsh memories of his
years as a boy in the Dead Ox Wood with the mad Delphine for a mother.
Memories of home.
He put down the
sacks of grain in a clear space near the split log she used as a
table. On the log lay the Delphine's only two items of iron: a small
flat-bottomed caldron and a knife worn thin by constant use and
Next to the knife
lay a piece of river-worn granite, scorched by the tiny hyssop leaves
the Delphine had burned on it. So charmed, the stone would bring
potency back to a failing husband when placed beneath the sleeping
covers. When Alain had arrived, he had seen her working on the charm,
and so he had gone up to the outcrop to try once more to feel for
the ley line. One did not disturb the Delphine when she was casting.
But ley lines
meant nothing to the Delphine, for she did not draw her power from
them. Her magic was the magic of the earth. Simple but strong. She
conjured and brewed, making amulets and warders and charms for the
villagers down in Belvanetes. She concocted potions of great efficacy,
too, and many times, exhorted by a frantic mother, Alain had carried
a sick child up the mountain to be healed by the woman that same
mother would never have deigned to visit on her own. All his life,
he had seen the Delphine work her magic, with greater or lesser
success, but it was not her sort of magic that he dreamed of wielding.
the greater magic, the magic of the ley lines. His mother had taught
him of the lines, spinning tales of their strength and their connection
to the mystical Summerland where the mysterious Fair Folk lived.
But he had never been able to sense the lines, had never found the
talent to cast such magic. To his chagrin, he had not even inherited
his mother's baser skills. He looked about the hut with its conglomeration
of scavengings and cast-offs, and suddenly envied his mad mother
her tremendous affinity with simpler, earth-bound magics.
ye doing over at the rock?" the Delphine asked when he emerged
from the hut. Alain lifted a sack of winter wheat onto his shoulder
and carried a sack of apples under his arm.
casting when I got here," he said. The sackcloth was rough
against his neck. "I didn't want to disturb you."
the old woman said around her leathery apple. "Good thinking,
Alain went inside,
dropped the sack of wheat and put down the apples on top. The light
inside the hut dimmed as the Delphine came to the doorway. "But
what were ye doing is what I asked."
Alain felt a
flush of rise to his cheeks and he paused to let his embarrassment
cool before turning. When he did she was still standing there, framed
by the doorway, a black and grey shadow-hag with bits of leaves
stuck in her wild hair.
ye doing?" she sang in teasing tones. "Were ye playing
with yerself, Boy?"
Jaw set, Alain
walked up to the tiny woman. "You know what I was doing,"
he said as he elbowed past. He walked back to Reynald and took two
brace of rabbit and string of quail from the horse's sidebags. He
carried them over to the Delphine and held them out to her. She
made no motion to take them.
feeling for the line again, weren't ye, Boy?"
She stepped closer
and grinned up at him. Alain could smell the foulness of her breath.
"Did ye feel anything?" she asked. "Was it warm?
Or was it cold?"
Alain shook his
head slowly. He lifted the strings of game toward her. "I felt
nothing," he said.
she said with a disparaging wave. "Go back t'Marrec, Boy."
She turned her back on him and went inside the hut. She squatted
before the hearth and fed a few sticks to the coals. "Go back
down the mountain, Bastard Boy. Marrec's been calling for ye, and
yer no good t'me here."
Alain felt his
hands shake with sudden rage. He tossed the quail and rabbits to
the dust of her threshold and stormed back to Reynald. Yanking his
walking stick out of the ground, he started down the mountain slope.
Reynald whinnied as the halter rope came taut, jerking him away
from his idle munching, but Alain pulled the horse along.
my fault," he said under his breath as he stomped down the
slope, winding in and out between the boles of oaks. "I can't
help it if I can't feel the lines." His voice grew louder with
each step he took away from the hut, away from his mother, and away
from her insanity. "I'm not to blame. Not for that." A
moment later and his voice was louder still. "Nor for the other
thing." A half-dozen strides later, he stopped and turned upslope.
The hut was all but lost in the darkness of Dead Ox Wood.
the one who wouldn't marry," he yelled. Reynald shied and pawed
the soft ground with a huge hoof. "Marrec offered. More than
I'd have done!" His shout died in the air, answered only by
a raven's throaty caw. He stared at the hut a bit longer, but there
was no response, no acknowledgment of his outburst.
he muttered and started off again. "So I'm no good to you,
eh? Well, I don't need you, either. So Marrec's been calling me,
eh? Good. At least I'm wanted down there."
His frown deepened
as he walked, recalling his mother's words. Above him, the heavy
limbs of the Dead Ox Wood began to thin as he and Reynald neared
the forest edge.
What was it she
The boughs parted
as Alain led Reynald out of the wood and into the gorse-brush of
the uplands. Below him lay the rolling hillsides of heather, the
meadows of wild wheat and waist-high grasses that led down to his
village. Belvanetes sat on the valley floor next to the lazy southward
bend of the river. He smelled the powdery sweetness of the pink
and white blooms around him, and the sharp bite of woodsmoke from
me?" he asked out loud. "Marrec's been calling me?"
Out at the far
reach of the vale, he saw the white walls of the old Roman villa
owned by Jessup, the owner of the land Alain worked with his father.
Outside its walls were the huts Alain and the other workers shared.
Then he saw the flames eating away at the thatch of his home, and
saw men and women running from house to house in the village. Looking
seaward, he saw the dragon boat that sat in the sheltered lee of
the river's bend.
Fillies," he swore. "She knew all along. She knew and
said nothing!" He pulled Reynald over to an old stump and leapt
up onto the horse's broad back. "Head up, Reynald," he
told the horse as he twined his fingers in the coarse black mane.
"You're not fast, but you're faster than I am.
down the hillside. Alain drove him on, urging him to speed. When
they reached the valley floor where Reynald had room, the horse
broke into a heavy gallop and pounded across the sedge toward the
he said into the horse's ear as he hunched over the beast's arched
neck. Reynald's breath came in harsh snorts as they went up the
low rise into the tiny village. Alain saw a man lying in the dirt
in front of the travelers' inn. Farther on, he saw Anton, the Christian
cleric, standing in the roadway in front of his small church. He
held to his chest two young girls, while their mother wailed over
the fallen body of her husband.
The smell of
smoke grew stronger. Ahead, Alain saw the flash of sunlight on sword
and shield, and it filled him with both fear and a terrible anger.
The Viking raiders were straggling back toward the river and their
longboat, weighed down by sacks of stolen provisions and whatever
precious items the villagers had possessed.
to fight them, wanted Reynald to trample them into the ground. He
wanted to see their skulls crushed under the Reynald's huge hooves
like summer melons, but his mother's words echoed through his brain.
been calling," Alain said to himself, and rode on toward his
Two of the raiders
walked across the pasture in front of his burning home, smiling
and laughing. One carried a straining burlap sack over his shoulder
while the other struggled with an overfull barrow-cart.
boiled up in a wordless roar and the Norsemen looked up in surprise.
The first man had enough time to drop his bundle before Reynald
plowed into him and sent him flying like a wind-blown leaf.
Reynald was not
slowed by the impact and Alain tugged on the halter to turn him
around. He slapped the horse's hindquarter with his walking stick,
urged him back into a run, and steered him toward the second raider.
The second Viking
let go the barrow and stepped to a clear space to draw his sword.
Alain took the thin end of his walking stick in hand and swung the
heavy end in a circle over his head. They closed. The Viking stood,
sword up. The blade flared with sunlight like an angry tongue of
With a jerk to
Reynald's halter, Alain veered the horse out of reach of the sword
and swung his walking stick in a low, rising curve. He caught the
raider under the chin with a blow that sent him tumbling backward.
Alain pulled Reynald to a halt, leapt to the ground, and dashed
across the distance to the burning hut.
Smoke from the
damp, flaming thatch was thick and acrid. Alain stepped into the
one-room cottage and blinked away stinging tears. The place was
a tumble, chairs and tables upturned, crockery shards on the floor.
he called through the smoke. He took a few steps forward but the
heat kept him at bay. The roofbeams flared in a fire-fall of burning
rushes, and Alain was forced back. In the hot light he spied a hand
and arm poking out from beneath an overturned bench. He pulled the
heavy bench back and found a Viking, his pale hair matted with dark
blood. The heat surged again and Alain backed out of the cottage.
The two Vikings
he had rushed in the yard were well across the pasture. They supported
one another as they limped off, their booty left behind in a cluttered
pile. Reynald stood close by, nervously eyeing the flaming hut.
Alain stared at the burning ruin of his home. There was no saving
it or anything within.
He walked over
to the edge of the turnip field. The spring plantings had been trampled
by raiders' feet, the clean furrows of dark earth broken and the
seedlings scattered. Alain looked at the two retreating raiders.
have killed you," he shouted at them.
A muffled scream
broke through from the stable. It was a woman's voice and it screamed
again, clearly, a hot and angry "No!" that tore at the
screamer's throat. Alain began to run.
Beneath the fury
of the shouted word, he recognized the voice of the landlord's daughter.
He ran into the stable and found Josselyn, bare legs flailing, one
of her arms pinned to the straw by a heavy hand. With her free hand
she pummeled the grunting, red-bearded man who was atop her. The
Viking's pale and hairy rear was exposed, buttocks tensing as he
tried to position himself.
The man's sword
lay near his feet. Alain grabbed it. It was heavy, but it was not
the first time he had held a sword. He could stab, but he might
miss and hurt Josselyn, so he dragged the point across the rapist's
bare behind, drawing a red line of blood.
The man's grunts
turned into a roar. He leapt up, only to be tangled by his leggings
bunched at mid-thigh. He fell backward and roared again as he landed
on his wound. Alain dashed in and pulled Josselyn away from her
lunged and Alain struck at him with the sword. The clumsy blow was
easily turned by the bronze plates sewn onto the Viking's thick
leather doublet, but he did not reach for Alain again.
safely out of the man's reach, and Alain stood firmly between them,
protecting his longtime friend. He held the sword in both hands
as Josselyn's father had shown him. There was a moment of quiet
as the Norseman got to his feet. Alain regarded the face of his
enemy. He saw clearly the steadiness of the marauder's eye, the
scars on his forearms, and the heavy breath of grey in his hair.
Alain grew afraid, wondering if he could fight the man off if he
The Viking snarled,
gesturing and shouting. Alain did not understand him. They faced
each other, the man raging on in his language of strange vowels,
and Alain standing quiet and firm with upraised sword. The man was
not as tall as Alain but he was heavier across the shoulders. He
pointed to the sword Alain held and put out his hand, demanding
Alain said, and shook his head. Indignation made him brave, and
to punctuate his point he slashed the sword across the space between
them. He held the sword as he'd seen the Count's soldiers do in
practice. He took a step toward the raider and slashed again. The
Viking stood his ground, watching Alain intently, looking for the
best opening. If the man rushed him, Alain would definitely fail.
He had to turn the tide.
Calmly, and with
as much menace as he could muster, Alain spoke to the man. "I
know you don't understand me, but I'll tell you this. I nearly killed
your two friends out there with a walking stick. Now I have your
sword, and unless you run right at this moment, I shall show you
what I can do with it." He motioned toward the stable door
with the point of the sword.
green-eyed gaze moved from Alain to the sword and to the smoky yard
outside. The man's brow wrinkled and he took a wincing backward
step. Then he nodded, hitched up his breeches, and ran out. Alain
watched for a moment, knees shaking, as the Norseman ran unevenly
across the field toward his boat.
him from the back of the stable. She knelt down and Alain realized
there was a man lying in the deep straw. It was Marrec.
He dropped to his knees next to the old ploughman. His father's
shirt was soaked with blood and a great deal more covered his face.
"Does he live?"
maybe not for much longer. Give me the sword."
him an open hand and a fierce look, and he handed her the weapon.
With it, she pierced the hem of her dress and tore off strips.
to get him up to the house, and quickly. Can you carry him?"
Marrec was a
large man, almost as tall as Alain himself and a good bit stouter.
Alain considered the distance from the stable to Josselyn's homestead.
he said, but remembered the raiders he'd knocked down in the yard.
"I'll be right back," he said.
he heard her say as he ran from the stable.
Out in the yard,
Alain saw the burning remnants of his home, the timbers of its windward
wall stabbing the air with smoky fingers. He gave thanks to the
White Goddess that the wind blew sparks out toward the fields and
not toward the stable or Jessup's buildings.
Then he ran to
the barrow-cart, righted it, and made haste back to the stable.
Alain and Josselyn
struggled to get Marrec into the cart. The big man moaned once.
Alain looked to Josselyn hopefully, but her terse expression gave
him little hope. He wheeled the barrow-cart out with its unconscious
burden, then headed down the path that led between the plowed fields.
walls of Josselyn's homestead—built by Gallic hands for Roman lords—gleamed
as a shower of sunlight broke through the clouds. The front doors
and the gates hung open, and Alain heard wailing as they approached.
everyone?" he asked. "Where is your father?"
is dead," she said and Alain stumbled, nearly upsetting the
barrow. He glanced sidelong at the young woman, startled by the
news and by the calmness of her voice. Her home attacked, her body
assaulted, and her father slain, why did she not weep? Alain at
her lack of emotion. He felt that he should say something, but couldn't
imagine what words to use.
again, and Alain put his mind back on the task of saving his father's
others?" he asked as they reached the gate.
"I do not
know," she said. "Father told me to run as they struck
him down. He wanted no hostages this time. Not like...not like Mother."
Her stoic fa?e cracked, and Alain heard the grief and anger that
roiled within her.
It had been springtime then, too, three years ago, when Jessup's
ransom returned his wife to her family.
Marrec inside," he said as he wheeled the barrow-cart through
the garden gate. "Calin! Get your old bones out here."
The kitchen door
opened a crack and an old, grey head poked out of the narrow opening.
here, Calin," Alain said. "Marrec's been hurt." The
old steward opened the door farther and Alain saw a gaggle of kitchenmaids
behind him, eyes red from weeping, necks craning to see what was
astir. Calin turned on them sharply.
standing there like hens in the road. Clear some room, girls. And
The two men pulled
Marrec out of the cart and carried him up to the kitchen. Inside,
long planks were set up on trestles. On them and elsewhere about
the large kitchen Alain saw the remnants of the interrupted preparations
for the evening meal: broken jugs, overturned bowls, and scattered,
half-trimmed vegetables. Bread dough sat on window sills to rise
in the springtime sun and pots simmered untended over dying coals.
The smell of stewing beans and the spirit of yeast were thick in
the air, mixed with the stench of fear and blood.
Two of the trestled
tables had been cleared, and they brought Marrec over to one of
them. On the other lay the body of Jessup, Josselyn's father. Cold
and grey, he lay unnaturally still. His torso had been bound with
linen, but from beneath the wrappings Alain could see the bloom
of blood, chest to hip. Beside him on the table lay his sword, the
one with which he had instructed Alain the previous summer. Alain
had thought it a thing of beauty then, all silver in the bright
sun. In its shiny length Alain had seen the breath of gods. Now
it looked different, an angry, earthly tool covered with clotted
blood. Alain's hand went to his belt to touch the hilt of the Viking's
sword he still carried.
and Alain turned his attention back to the other table. Calin was
examining the wounds.
the old steward said.
be all right?"
Calin wrung out
a cotton cloth and placed it to the cut on Marrec's head. "Hold
that," he told Alain, and then tore at Marrec's tunic. Calin
hissed as he saw the wound the tunic had hidden. Alain could only
stare at the blood and the deep dark gash that cut from his father's
neck across his chest and into his left arm.
live?" he asked, fearful of what the answer might be, for looking
at the long, dark laceration, he believed only one answer was possible.
a pitcher of water Marrec's chest and neck. Reddened water coursed
across the rough wood and down to the floor. "I've seen worse,
much worse, at Jengland-Bresl?hen your father and I went up against
bald King Charles." He looked up at Alain. "It's bad.
But don't give up on the old ploughman yet."
he said, and I can't, he added to himself. "What can I do?"
that cloth to his scalp, for now. The wounds are serious, and'll
take some sewing. We may need help from the Delphine."
and his eyes fluttered open. "Boy," he said as he looked
up and saw Alain's face. The voice was cracked and weak, but his
laborer's hand reached up and grabbed Alain's shoulder with a slow,
urgent strength. "Boy," Marrec said again. Alain smiled.
I'm right here."
Alain down close. "By Epona's filthy tail, Boy, what were you
doing up in the wood so long? I needed you."
died. "I..." he began, but could speak no more, caught
in the tumult of his own emotions. He looked at Calin, then back
at his father. Marrec squinted up at him, and Alain could see the
old man's jaw working beneath the thick, grey moustache.
you gone so long?" he asked. "To deliver a few sacks of
grain?" His grip tightened. Alain felt as if his collarbone
would pop. "You're a foolish bastard, Boy. While you were jawing
with that witch, our house burned and I've been killed." He
pushed Alain away then, and turned to Calin. "Worthless, that
Calin said. "And be glad he's here. I've got to send him back
up to the Wood."
as well kill me now than wait for him to do a chore."
Calin gave Alain a weak smile. "He doesn't know what he's talking,
Boy. It's the blow to his head."
what I'm saying," Marrec mumbled as his eyes rolled white and
closed. "That boy will be the death of me. Mark my words."
Alain took a
step back from the table, heart pounding and gaze gone hard. He
stared at the ploughman on the table.
the steward said. "Alain."
up at Calin, silent behind his armor of hurt.
a poultice. From the Delphine. To draw out the bad humours from
this wound. It's too close to his heart. You must go up to the Wood."
caught between his love, his desire to help, and his pain-fed anger.
Calin said, tipping the balance. "Do not prove your father
and left the kitchen, pushing the ancient door wide and walking
out through the garden gate with long strides. He headed directly
across the turnip field and was halfway to the stable by the time
Josselyn caught up with him.
she said as she ran up to him, breathless.
you want," he said harshly. He turned to find her standing
a few paces behind him, fists on her hips and a scowl in her eyes.
The sharp scent of bruised turnip greens rose from the path he'd
broken through the field. "Jos? I'm sorry," he said.
up to him, the torn hem of her dress whispering through the calf-high
greens. She said nothing, only reached out and touched his forearm
with gentle fingertips. Bronze bracelets at her wrist caught the
sun and winked.
wanted," she began. "To thank you."
Alain saw in
Josselyn the same proud features that had graced her mother's face.
With intense eyes of iron-grey, a wide mouth now turned down in
an angry frown, the strong sweep of her jaw, and a long, thick braid
of sun-gold hair across her shoulder, she was the greatest thing
of beauty he had ever seen. He did not know what to say to her now,
however. After so many years of friendship, Alain found himself
tongue-tied by concern and love.
him looking at her. She made a small shake of her head. "Don't
fret," she told him. "I will grieve. Later, when there
go," he said. "I know what herbs Calin needs. I've helped
the Delphine prepare a hundred such poultices."
up and pulled back a stray lock of hair that had fallen across her
face. "Take one of the other horses," she told him. "Reynald
Alain shook his
head. "The Wood is a strange place. Reynald knows it better."
He hesitated before leaving her. "I am sorry," he said.
"About your father, about our cottage. About...about everything."
she said. "Hurry back."
and ran for the stable.