Excerpt: Temptation of the Warrior
Book Two: The Warriors
Northumbria. Late winter, 1826.
Merrick Mac Lochlainn shook his head to clear it, then rose weakly to his feet to take his bearings.
England was cold and he was soaking wet from his passage through the Astar Columns deep in the waters of the Coruain Sea. The spells he’d cast to travel through time had dissipated well before he reached the shore. ‘Twas the only way to prevent Eilinora and her Odhar from finding any trace of him once he reached the correct time and place. But moving through time without the full protection of his magic was fraught with danger, not the least of which was his arrival at his destination feeling ill and weak.
Shivering and disoriented, Merrick collapsed to his knees and doubled over with pain in his belly. His muscles cramped and his head swam as he lowered himself to the cold ground. Remembering that he could not use his healing powers to restore himself, he realized he had to get some warm clothes on, before he froze to death and ended his quest before it had even begun.
With trembling hands, he reached for his satchel and struggled to pull out the suit of clothes he’d conjured before leaving Coruain. But two purple-black, long-fingered hands grabbed the satchel and tried to run with it. “Hold, sithean!”
In spite of his weakened state, Merrick tripped the big-eared, little beast, and watched him fall to the wet ground. He knew from past visits to the Tuath lands that sitheans were not visible to the plain people here. Though the wicked little sprites had been commanded to leave the Tuath lands with the Druzai eons before, a number of them had defied the elders and remained here to plague the unsuspecting Tuath who could not see them. Missing possessions, unexplained clumsiness, strange accidents . the Tuath never knew ’twas a sithean pest who caused them.
“Who ye be?” it shrieked, aghast at being caught, being seen.
“Aye, I can see you, little deamhan.” Merrick detained the leathery, black sprite with a foot across its neck. “I’m no’ some poor Tuath you can torment.”
“You canna be- Druzai?” it squealed, narrowing its bulging eyes at him. “Ye be a magical one?”
“Tathaich an bardach, sithean!” Merrick commanded. “Begone!”
The creature cried out again, shoved the satchel aside, and pried itself out from beneath Merrick’s foot. It ran away through the rain, leaving a shivering Merrick to dress himself and hope he would not need to deal with any more sithean interference while he searched for the brigha-stone.
Somehow, Merrick managed to pull on his Tuath clothes and drag his heavy woolen cloak over his shoulders. He had to move along quickly in spite of his dizziness, in spite of the knives piercing through his abdomen, and the grief that weighed so heavily on his heart. The truth of the Druzai tragedy struck him once more. His father was dead, his powerful scepter gone. Stolen.
If only Merrick had learned of Eilinora’s attack right after it happened, he might have been able to displace himself in time to protect Kieran and prevent his death. Yet Merrick’s father had been dead for many hours before he had discovered his body, making displacement useless. Nor could he make use of the Astar Columns and return in time to thwart Eilinora’s attack. No one, not even Druzai, could achieve dual existence in such a manner. ‘Twas impossible.
Merrick threw the satchel over his shoulder and trudged inland, staggering like a drunken Tuath. He needed to find a place where he could sleep a short while, to cast off the effects of moving across a thousand years’ time. An inn would be best, but even a quiet barn would do. If nothing else, a sheltered corner in the woods would have to suffice. Unfortunately, there was no grand wealrach in any of the Tuath lands to carry him to his destination.
Merrick headed eastward, toward the road, his head pounding, every muscle in his body aching. He’d trained extensively with Brogan’s men and was as capable as any Druzai warrior. But without magic, the Astar Columns took their toll. It was only a short time before his heart was pounding in his chest and his legs were wobbling as he walked. He had no choice but to find a place where he would be sheltered from the rain to lie down and recover his strength.
Coming out of the woods, he stumbled into a road and saw a pretty young woman in a black cloak being accosted by several ruffians. As weak as he was, Merrick could not ignore her plight when she screamed in terror.
* * * * * * *
Jenny had been walking more than an hour, and was far from Bresland School. She was far from everything, it seemed. The road was desolate, and when it began to rain, she despaired of ever meeting with the northbound mail coach.
She pulled up the hood of her heavy wool cloak and plodded on, only to stop abruptly when four men came out of the trees beside the road to confront her.
“Ay, what’ve we here?” drawled the tallest of them.
“A sweet bit o’skirt, Bob!”
“And carryin’ some blunt, I’ll wager,” said a stocky one with thick, red side-whiskers.
Jenny said nothing, but held her bag tightly to her body and tried to edge around the four hooligans.
They did not let her pass, but closed in on her on all sides. “Leave me be!” she said defiantly, though her knees were knocking and her heart quaking.
“What’s she got in ‘er bag, Dickie?”
She pulled her arm away from the groping scoundrel and heard her sleeve tear at the shoulder. “‘Tis none of your concern, you . you ruffian!”
Dickie laughed, showing rotten teeth, then wiped his nose against his sleeve.
The man in front shoved her, knocking her off balance. “Bet she ain’t got much but what’s under her skirts.”
“No!” Jenny dropped her bag and tried to run, but one of the men caught her and knocked her to the wet ground. She screamed, slapping and kicking him away, but it was no use. The men were undeterred, even when a stout branch of a tree cracked and fell, barely missing them.
“Be still, dolly,” said Bob, tearing her cloak from her shoulders. One of the others dumped her belongings from her traveling case, but Jenny’s panic worsened when Bob pulled a pistol from his pocket and pointed it directly at her heart. She let out an unfamiliar plaintive sound, certain she was doomed.
Another voice called out sharply from the edge of the road, shouting unfamiliar words. “Fosradh an ragair!” he said in a commanding tone. “Stop!”
Her assailants turned to the intruder and Jenny managed to scramble to her feet. She hardly noticed her dress becoming soaked as the men converged upon the newcomer, a tall, striking man with black hair long enough to brush his shoulders. He looked pale and ill, but he dropped his greatcoat and satchel and came to her defense, throwing punches and shoving one ruffian into another. He was either the bravest man alive to take on four such scoundrels as these .
Or he was a fool.