Authors: Donna Grant
Tags: #Adult, #Novella, #PNR, #Supernaturals
He looked up at the sky and stared at the thousands of stars. The moon was only a sliver in the night, leaving the land cloaked in darkness. Daman ran a hand through his hair and returned to the tree where he’d been sitting. He’d wait for his friends as long as it took. Then he’d get them away.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, when the night was shattered by an anguished scream. It was filled with despair and fury dragged from the depths of Hell itself.
Daman’s blood ran cold because he knew his apprehensions were becoming fact. He looked from Stefan at the fire to Ana's wagon where Ronan was exiting. Hand on the hilt of his sword, Ronan stood shirtless and looked at an old woman who stared at something in the grass.
Daman reached the edge of the camp when Morcant exited a wagon still fastening his kilt. Something bad was coming for them.
Daman searched the ground where Ronan and the old woman were looking. The bright pink and blue skirts of Ana, Ronan’s lover, were visible from the dim light of the fire. As was the dagger sticking out of Ana’s stomach.
The odds of any of them getting out of the gypsy camp without a fight weren’t in their favor. By the looks exchanged amongst the gypsies, they were prepared to die to avenge Ana – despite the fact Ronan hadn’t killed her.
Daman looked to Morcant and Stefan and saw a slight nod of Stefan’s head. Morcant slowly began to pull his sword from his scabbard as Ronan shook his head in denial.
“Ronan,” Stefan said urgently as he palmed the hilt of his sword and waited.
There was a moment of silence, as if the world held its breath.
Then the old woman let loose a shriek and pointed her gnarled finger at Ronan. Ronan’s eyes widened in confusion and anger.
Daman heard a gypsy near him whisper a name – Ilinca – as he stared at the old woman. Ilinca’s face was contorted with grief and rage.
Words, hurried and unfamiliar, fell from Ilinca’s lips. The language was Romany, and by the way Ilinca’s dark eyes narrowed with contempt, it was a curse she was putting on Ronan.
Daman waited for Ronan to grab his sword and the battle to begin. When nothing happened, Daman looked harder and realized that Ronan was being held against his will. His pale green eyes were wide with confusion.
Daman opened his mouth to shout to the others, but Stefan drew his sword the same time Morcant rushed Ilinca. The old gypsy shifted her gaze to Morcant, and he halted awkwardly, her words seemingly freezing him in place.
Once it appeared Morcant was taken care of, her gaze returned to Ronan and she continued speaking in the strange language.
“Stefan!” Daman shouted.
But it was too late. Stefan’s fury had been let loose, the monster was free. Stefan released a battle cry and leapt over the fire toward Ilinca. He hadn’t gotten two steps before the old gypsy pinned him with a look that jerked him to a halt instantly.
Then the old woman’s gaze turned to Daman. He sighed and thought of his friends. There was one rule between the four of them – they lived or died together. Daman stepped over the boundary and a cold tremor rushed down his spine at Ilinca’s triumphant smile.
He was immediately surrounded by men. Undeterred, Daman left his sword in the scabbard and used his dirk and his hands to slice, stab, punch, and kick anyone stupid enough to get close.
Five men fell – two dead. He put another three on the ground before he found his limbs immobilized. No matter how hard he tried to move his body, he couldn’t.
The men parted, and Ilinca walked to him. Daman looked around, but Ronan, Morcant, and Stefan were gone – vanished as if they were never there.
He glared down at the old woman. He desperately wanted to tell her how he was going to kill every last gypsy he came across as punishment for what she had done to his friends, but the words wouldn’t come. Ilinca controlled every bit of him.
“Why didn’t you enter the camp with your friends?” Ilinca asked him.
His eyes narrowed as he realized she had allowed him the ability to speak. She wanted answers, but he wasn’t going to give them to her. His lip curved in a sneer.
“I shouldn’t expect you would answer. Even if I would help you, you wouldn’t ask for it, would you? Too proud, like so many others. Your friends have been cursed, but you probably already knew that.” Ilinca drew in a breath and looked him over closely. “Why did you have to come into camp? You were wise enough to keep out earlier.”
Daman saw her hands shaking. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. She was upset by Ana’s death, but he was desperate to find his friends. Even if it meant talking to her. “Where are the others?”
“Someplace they can’t hurt anyone or themselves.”
“Ronan didna kill Ana.”
Ilinca lifted her chin. “He may not have stuck the blade in her, but he’s still responsible. Just as Morcant is responsible for bedding an innocent and ruining the chance to align our people.”
Daman tried to move his arms, but she still held him in place. “And Stefan?”
“You know the answer to that better than anyone else here. That one’s rage is what got him cursed.”
“What are you going to do with me?”
The old woman stepped closer and the gypsies closed in around her. “I had a vision a week ago of this very night, though I didn’t see my granddaughter’s death. I knew the four of you would have something important to do.”
“Do? I’m no’ important.”
“I can only repeat what I know. What I saw.” Her shoulders drooped. “My magic will ensure each of you reach your destination. What you do there is up to you. You can be freed. Or you can spend eternity in your prison. The choice is yours, and your actions will determine the outcome.”
“I’m going to find my friends,” he stated.
Illinca’s lips pressed together briefly. She held up an amulet. “The next time you see this, your destiny will be before you. The path you choose will seal your fate.”
Daman got that bad feeling again as Ilinca placed her hand on his forehead. He wanted to jerk away, but she still held him frozen. His eyes grew heavy, and the more he fought to keep them open, the more tired he became.
“Don’t fight it,” Ilinca’s voice whispered in his head.
It was in his nature to fight. He fought as hard as he could against whatever she was doing to him, but it was too much. The world went black in an instant, like the snap of someone’s fingers.
Ilinca sighed as she dropped her hands and took a step back from Daman. Then she nodded, and the men carried him to her wagon and brought him inside. Grief rose up in her like a tidal wave. She would tend to Daman later. Right now, she needed to bury her granddaughter.
Once that was done, she had a destination to reach.
Ilinca held out her arms for Ana’s younger sister. When Amalia wrapped her arms around her, Ilinca held her tight. “It’s almost over, my sweet.”
“You didn’t say Ana would die.”
“I didn’t know.” Ilinca didn’t stop the tears from falling. “Ana was impetuous and kind, but she wasn’t as strong as you are.”
Amalia looked up at her. “Where did you send those men?”
“And the fourth? Why didn’t you send him, too?”
Ilinca glanced at her wagon. “Because he’s the key to all of it.”
Innes stood in the great hall of the castle staring at their dwindling clan. Every day more and more people left. Not that she blamed them. People were starving, and with most of the warriors dead, their clan was weak.
She fingered the amulet hidden beneath her gown. It had been placed around her neck when she was just seven summers. Her mother had told her to never take it off. It had been passed down through their family for over two hundred years.
“You may need it one day, Innes,” her mother said.
“Need it how? It’s just a pendant.”
“It’s not just any piece of jewelry, sweetling. It possesses magic. There is a warrior hidden on this land. He’s sleeping, waiting for the time when we need him most.”
Innes had thought her mother was making it all up until she was shown the sleeping warrior the next day. From that moment on, rarely a week passed when she didn’t go see him.
Her brother’s voice boomed through the hall as he tried to quiet everyone. Innes knew they were in trouble. There had been an attack in their forest by a lone man who had killed several of their men, as well as the defection of another clan member to their enemy, the Sinclairs.
“Enough!” Alistair shouted. He ran a hand through his dark hair, his nostrils flaring. “We will survive. We were a great clan once, and we will be again.”
“What of Donald?” someone shouted.
Innes watched her brother’s hands fist at his sides. It infuriated him that Donald was making more trouble for the clan instead of helping. Then again, their brother wanted to lead. Donald’s pride was hurt from not winning the clan’s support to become laird.
Alistair met her gaze, and she gave him a nod. She normally didn’t take sides with her brothers, but in this, she wholeheartedly agreed with Alistair.
“My brother will be brought to heel,” Alistair said, his words ringing clear and loud through the great hall. “Family or not, he is destroying this clan. I vowed to rebuild us, and I’ll no’ stop until I do.”
The talk then turned to the stores of food for winter. Innes turned and walked from the castle. She made her way down the castle steps to the bailey, which was so quiet it was eerie.
It used to be one of her favorite places. All the noise, all the people. It was a central place for the clan. Now, it was a reminder of all they had lost.
Innes walked through a hidden postern door and out of the safety of the castle. They had only one man standing watch at the gatehouse, but she didn’t want anyone to know where she was going.
A cool wind whipped around her as she walked across the land, reminding her in not so subtle a fashion that winter would soon be upon them. Their food stores were alarmingly low. The men who would be out hunting were now dead thanks to her youngest brother.
Donald had always been impetuous. He’d always been jealous of Alistair as well, but he seemed to realize that Alistair would be the one to lead. Over the past few months, however, Donald had become increasingly argumentative. He questioned Alistair’s every decision and command.
Then, to her horror, he began to sway some of the remaining younger men to his side, claiming he would set things right one way or another. Donald’s idea of
setting things right
was to attack the Sinclairs. Unfortunately, that idea turned into action.
It was a stupid, thoughtless move. The Sinclair clan wasn’t only large, they were powerful. Their laird had several castles on his land being held by commanding, formidable men.
Donald thought he could attack Ravensclyde to see how strong their new lord – Ronan Galt – was, but he and his men had been put in their place quick enough.
How she wished that had been the end of it. Donald and his remaining men returned to the castle to heal and lick their wounds, and her brother swore to both her and Alistair that he would never attempt to oust Alistair again.
Yet, three days ago, he’d done just that.
Innes continued over the rocky landscape and up a steep hill. She had to lift her heavy skirts on the way up. Thunder rumbled as dark clouds rolled in. The air was heavy with the scent of rain.
She hurried down the opposite side of the slope hoping to beat the rain. Half way down, the sky opened up and drenched her. Innes didn’t slow as she reached the valley and took a quick left into a grove of trees where the cave was hidden.
Once inside the cave, she stopped to catch her breath. Innes wiped away the wet strands of dark hair sticking to her face.
Just yesterday, she had been to see the warrior as she had every day since Donald had begun to push against Alistair’s rule. But last night, she found no rest as her thoughts jumbled into what was happening and the possible outcomes.
She didn’t need a torch to see the way. She knew where every stone was, where every hole lay. Her heart began to pound and her stomach twisted into knots when she walked down the narrow, twisting tunnel that eventually opened up to a small cavern.
A slab of stone sat in the middle of the cavern, and upon that slab slept the warrior. Magic had kept him ageless and sleeping for two hundred years, just as magic kept the torches spaced evenly along the walls lit.
She didn’t know what had happened to put him in such a situation. Her mother hadn’t known either. The truth of that part of the story was forgotten long ago– or never stated.
Innes walked around the man. He looked so peaceful, so content. Through the years, she had come to him often and spoke of her worries and her dreams. Without realizing it, he had helped her get through some of the worst times in her life.
She had always thought him handsome with his long, wavy mane of golden hair and his rippling muscles. But a few years ago, she began to...long to touch him.