Read Lady of the Lake Online

Authors: Elizabeth Mayne

Lady of the Lake

BOOK: Lady of the Lake
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
“Release me at once, Viking!”
Tala commanded.

“Lady,” Edon warned her, his patience dwindling fast. “Speak to me again in that tone of voice, and I will have no choice but to teach you to respect the man you see before you.”

“Strike me and I will kill you with my bare hands, Viking.” Tala gulped, struggling for her breath.

“And how will you do that, hmm?” Edon taunted her. “With what weapon will you slay me, woman? Your viper’s tongue?”

Edon used his head as a pointer, nodding to her bared breasts—exposed in the beam of moonlight that spilled into the chamber from the open portal.

“The only success you have had thus far is in baring your breast. Continue the show. I shall enjoy seeing what other charms your struggles reveal.”

Dear Reader,

A pagan princess and a Christian warrior must form an alliance if either of their people are to survive in RITA Award nominee Elizabeth Mayne’s
Lady of the Lake.
Forced to surrender her heritage and marry Edon, the man responsible for her father’s death, Princess Tala fights her feelings for her new husband, afraid that she will let down her guard and reveal a secret that could tear their gentle truce apart. Don’t miss this intriguing tale.

Cally and the Sheriff,
by Cassandra Austin, is a lively Western about a Kansas sheriff who falls head over heels for the feisty young woman he’s sworn to protect, even though she wants nothing to do with him. And in Judith Stacy’s
The Marriage Mishap,
two people who’ve just met, wake up in bed together and discover they have gotten married.

In our fourth title for the month,
Lord Sin
by Catherine Archer, a rakish nobleman and a vicar’s daughter, whose lack of fortune and social position make her completely unsuitable, agree to a marriage of convenience, and discover love.

Whatever your tastes in reading, we hope you enjoy all of our books, available wherever Harlequin Historicals are sold.


Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to:

Harlequin Reader Service

U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269

Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

Lady of the Lake
Elizabeth Mayne
Books by Elizabeth Mayne

Harlequin Historicals

All That Matters

Heart of the Hawk

Man of the Mist

Lord of the Isle

Lady of the Lake


is a native San Antonian, who knew by the age of eleven how to spin a good yarn, according to every teacher she ever faced. She’s spent the last twenty years making up for all her transgressions on the opposite side of the teacher’s desk, and the last five working exclusively with troubled children. She particularly loves an ethnic hero and married one of her own eighteen years ago. But it wasn’t until their youngest, a daughter, was two years old, that life calmed down enough for this writer to fulfill the dream she’d always had of becoming a novelist.

With love,
Delores Maynard Cherveny

Chapter One

Summer, 889

Eleventh year of the reign of

Alfred of Wessex


ilently, the atheling of Leam, Venn ap Griffin, followed his sister up a trail to the Seven Sisters and their overlook of the Avon Valley. The standing stones thrust up from the earth at the edge of the forest. Neither Venn nor Tala could read the ogham symbols etched upon the stones, though both were well versed in the Latin of the abbeys and the court of their cousin and guardian, King Alfred.

Venn cupped his hands together and boosted Tala to the topmost ledge. She lay down on the hot, sun-heated stone and drew her mantle across her fiery hair to hide it from sight. Far below, the forest ended at the confluence of the shrinking Avon and the positively dusty Leam.

This time of year the Leam should be running deep and fast, feeding the river Avon. But no rain had fallen since Beltane, the first of May. The gods were unhappy, the earth in turmoil. Spirits old and new warred against one another
for who would dominate the world of men. The people were confused, not knowing who to beseech for relief from the bitter drought.

“Tell me, little brother, what price did you ask for Taliesin the White at Warwick’s market?” Tala broke their silence when she was settled on the flat stone.

“He is a worthy horse, full of spirit and courage. I asked a hundred gold marks, but one Dane wanted to steal him from me for twenty and six pitiful sacks of last year’s moldy grain.”

“Six sacks of grain is a lot.” Tala studied Venn’s profile as he intently scanned their parched, dry valley.

“Knowing Vikings, it could have been six sacks of stones,” Venn replied scornfully. “I did not want to be cheated and was wary of making any trade for fear of coming up the loser.”

“Ah, I see.” Tala nodded. Venn prized the white horse and really did not want to sell him.

“It won’t be a problem. I can take Taliesin farther afield to graze.”

“Strong horses like oats and grass,” Tala replied. “So do cows and sheep. They care not for oak leaves and dried-up ferns. We can’t keep them if the drought continues.”

“I know how to make the drought end,” Venn answered.

Tala cut a sharp look at his set profile. Venn was just a boy, too easily influenced by the old ones in Arden Wood. “I don’t want you listening to Tegwin’s babbling. He speaks nonsense, Venn. Do not credit his far-fetched predictions as truth.”

“That’s men’s business,” the lad argued peremptorily. “And no concern of a woman.”

“I beg your pardon.” Tala responded with a scowl that effectively squelched her little brother’s high-and-mighty attitude. “You will do as I say, Venn ap Griffin!”

“Yes, yes,” the boy said, dismissing her concern with an impatient wave of his hand.

“Look to this side of the river Avon, Tala. That is what I brought you here to see.”

Between the sluggish river and the dried-up course of the Leam, a dozen Vikings labored, guiding oxen and plow, cutting furrows in the earth. Pairs of them stripped the bark from logs gleaned from the felled trees. Others tended a huge brush fire, burning drought-dry leaves and limbs.

The smoke from the hot fire was acrid with the scent of tannin. The black plume rose straight up to the sky, then flattened like an other worldly goshawk soaring in flight.

Venn eased himself up beside Tala on the hot stone. He didn’t bother covering his head. His brown hair, tanned skin, leather jerkin and breeks all blended into the neutral colors of the rocks. Only the vivid gold and red in Tala’s hair and the glittering torque at her slender throat needed to be hidden in this landscape.

Tala gave the valley a cursory inspection, from the high stockade dominating Warkwick Hill to the distant slopes at the limits of the fertile valley. Two ancient Roman roads bisected it, Fosse Way and Watling Street. Warwick controlled the crossroads and the bridge over the Avon River. Every scrap of land not covered by Arden Wood was taken up by fields planted by Viking usurpers.

In truth, the forest shrank by the day because Vikings constantly slashed and burned trees to till new fields, and yesterday’s oaks became the grazing pens of the next herd of cattle.

Near the fields stood their longhouses, each one spawning countless other wattle-and-daub outbuildings. They multiplied like poisonous fungi on the trunks of the sacred oaks in the wet years.

Tala saw much difference between the land today and what she had seen on the first of May. Not a drop of rain
had fallen in two months, so the earth was drier, browner, the river Avon lower, its current slower. “What am I supposed to see, little brother?”

“They felled the oaks on this side of the Leam.” Venn pointed to the new cut.

“No!” she whispered. “They can’t. Watling Street, on the high ground north of the Avon, is the border. They can’t cut into our grove. It’s against two kings’ laws.”

“What heed do Danes pay to Wessex law? I see no man of King Alfred’s ordering the Vikings to keep to their side of Watling Street,” Venn sneered. “They will not stop until they reach the sea at Glamorgan.”

“Curse Embla!” Tala made a fist of her hand and slammed it against the stone. “She must be stopped! She has to be stopped.”

“Who will stop her? Not you. Nor I.”

Tala couldn’t go so far as to sit up, thereby exposing herself to the view of the Vikings working on both sides of the river. With all her heart she desired to protect this brother of hers from all the dangers that surrounded him.

“I can and I will—somehow!” she vowed.

Venn whispered. Riders galloped out of the woods on Fosse Way.

me,” Tala scolded, quieting all the same.

“Embla has taken on more airs,” Venn remarked, mindful of Tala’s long-standing hatred for her rival. “Now wherever she rides she makes a Viking boy carry her colors on a staff before her.” He slipped his bow off his shoulder and pulled an arrow from his quiver. “I’ve half a mind to pierce her silks.”

“Wait,” Tala said, putting a stilling hand on Venn’s wrist as he fitted the notch into the bowstring. Fosse Way passed close beneath them, along the valley of the Avon. Only the height of the oaks prevented the brother and sister from being spotted by Embla Silver Throat and her party
of warriors as they galloped up the rise. “Let’s see who it is she rides out to greet. Look, there are many riders coming. Where do you suppose they hail from?”

“East Anglia, by the color of the dust on their horses,” Venn whispered, cautious now, for sound could travel easily over the trees.

They listened to the clop of the iron shoes of the oncoming horses. Embla and her guard rode out to meet the newcomers. Her standard refused to spread out in the still, dusty air. The day’s ferocious heat battered down cloth the same way it hammered people into exhausted lethargy. Sweat prickled Tala’s scalp and ran between her breasts. She twisted her head, straining to hear the greetings the Vikings exchanged.

“By the gold offerings at the bottom of the sacred Leam!” Venn whistled. “Look at the size of that wagon train! More settlers for sure, Tala.”

Appalled, Tala counted the wagons following the crush or riders. Behind the vanguard came a clutch of beasts of burden, pulling sleds piled with chests and bundles. When they ran out of oxen and horses, thralls pulled the remaining sleds. Tala had never seen the like in her life! Not even King Alfred brought such a massive train on his annual progress to the frontier.

Next at the hilltop appeared a jewel-bright chaise draped in shimmering silks. It was borne on the shoulders of a dozen sweating thralls. Women peeked out from behind the cloths. Jewels on their heads and throats sparkled in the dazzling sun.

Embla’s party of six riders came to a halt before the kingly procession. The oncoming Vikings had cast off their cloaks to accommodate the day’s grilling heat, presenting an almost dazzling spectacle of sun-bronzed arms and sweaty, glistening chests.

Even Embla had shed the ermine-edged cloak that she sported day and night as a badge of her rank—niece marriage
to the king of the Danelaw. But she hadn’t sacrificed her plumed helmet to the heat.

As the two parties met on the open road, Embla drew her sword and clanged it against her polished shield. The words of her greeting were lost in the clamor of five other swords striking bronze.

Embla dismounted, as did the foremost rider from the east. The newcomer put out his hand in greeting. Embla clasped his arm in a familiar Viking greeting, then, wonder of wonders, put her knee to the ground, removed her helm and actually bowed her golden head before the man.

“Who is he?” Venn demanded, shocked to see proud Embla Silver Throat bow down before any man. “A king, do you suppose?”

Just as astonished, Tala shook her own head. “I don’t know.” Her eyes were riveted on the tall, dark-haired man towering over Embla. Bands of gold encircled his bare upper arms. Two glittering, bejeweled brooches held a cloth mantle fastened to the leather braces bisecting his powerful chest. He was as dark as Embla was fair, and his skin gleamed as though it were made of polished golden oak. “He is no one that I recall seeing at King Guthrum’s court.”

At his side walked a man darker than precious ebony, wrapped from head to toe in bleached linen that swept the dust on Fosse Way beneath his feet.

Tala lifted her hand to her brow and pressed against it, unable to fathom what her eyes beheld. She whispered to Venn, “Could they be Romans?” Her jaw sagged further, nearly touching the stone beneath her chest, and her blood quickened as she returned her attention to the uncommonly handsome man dressed in Viking trappings. “Who is he?”

“Let’s go find out.” Venn quickly put his arrow away and shouldered his bow. He slid down from the stone and put a hand up to catch Tala as she dropped beside him.

Just as curious, Tala nodded as she refitted her girdle to hold her short mantle close to her body. “Let’s! I’ll race you to King Offa’s oak.”

BOOK: Lady of the Lake
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Desire in the Dark by Naima Simone
If Tomorrow Never Comes by Lowe, Elizabeth
The War Chamber by B. Roman
Red Phoenix by Larry Bond
Trap Line by Carl Hiaasen
Ask the Oracle by JJ Black
Hellbound: The Tally Man by David McCaffrey