Page Length: 368 Pages
Genre: Time Travel / Historical Romance
I should not have stayed away so long.
Unable to shake the ominous feeling of being watched, Lord Arik kept the small group moving quickly. On high alert, his eyes continually swept the underbrush bordering the rain-slicked forest trail. He and his three riders escorted the wagon with the old tinker and the woman quickly through the forest. At length, he slowed the pace, the horses winded as they neared the Stone River.
“The forest is flooded,” he said. “I suspect the Stone will be as well. Willem, ride ahead and let me know what we face at the crossing.”
Willem did his lord’s bidding and quickly returned with his report. “The river ahead runs fast, m’lord. The bridge is in ruins and cannot be crossed.”
Arik raised his hand and brought the group to a halt. “We must make repairs Doward,” he said to the old tinker, “there’s no room for the wagon at the river’s edge. You and the woman stay here and set up camp. Be ready to join us at the bridge when I send word.”
Logan, Arik’s brother, spoke up. “I’ll keep watch here and help Doward and Rebeka.”
Arik nodded and, with the others, continued the half mile to the bridge. “I am not pleased with this new delay.”
“It can’t be helped, m’lord,” Simon said. “We would make better time without the wagon.”
“We cannot leave Doward and the woman in the forest on their own, not with what we’ve heard lately. We’ll have to drive hard to make up the lost time,” Arik said as they came to the crossing.
The frame of the bridge stood solid, but the planks were scattered everywhere, clogging the banks and shallows. Arik leapt from his horse onto the frame to begin the repairs. “Hand me that planking.” Arik pointed to the nearest board.
Simon grabbed the nearest plank and examined it. “Sir, these boards have been deliberately removed.”
Arik reached for the board just as an arrow whooshed out of the trees and slammed into the plank’s edge. Willem pulled his ax from his belt. In a fluid, practiced movement, he spun and sent his ax flying. The archer fell into the river and was swept downstream, Willem’s ax lodged in his forehead.
A dozen or more attackers broke through the stand of trees. Poorly dressed fighters carrying clubs and knives moved toward them. There was only one sword among them, held by the leader—Arik’s target.
Arik tossed the board into the river and readied his sword. “They plan to pin us here at the river’s edge. Come, we’ll attack before they form up.”
Arik and his men surged forward, driving a wedge through the enemy’s ragged line, forcing what little formation they had to scatter and fight, each man for himself.
A man, club in hand, rushed at Arik. Before the attacker could bring his weapon into play, Arik pivoted around him. He raised his sword high and slammed the hilt’s steel pommel squarely on the man’s head and moved on before the man’s lifeless body collapsed to the ground.
Willem and Simon, on either side of Arik, advanced through the melee. Their swift swordplay moved smoothly from one stroke to the next, whipping through the air. They slashed on the down stroke and again on the backswing, sweeping their weapons into position to repeat the killing sequence as Arik and his soldiers steadily advanced, punishing any man who dared to come near them.
“For honor!” Logan’s war cry carried from the small camp to Arik’s ears.
Arik stiffened. Both camps were now under siege. He pulled his blade from an enemy’s chest. The body crumpled to the blood-soaked ground. Arik breathed deeply, the coppery taste of blood in the air.
“For honor!” he bellowed in answer. His men echoed his call, arms thrown wide, muscles quivering, the berserker’s rage overtaking them.
The remaining assailants fled headlong back into the forest.
Motioning to his men to follow, Arik raced toward Logan and the camp. He could hear shouts and cursed himself for not seeing the danger earlier. He crested the hill and came to an abrupt halt.
Logan’s sword ripped through the air as he protected Doward. The tinker drew his short blade and did as much damage as he could. But it was the woman Arik noticed. Her skirt hiked up, she twirled her walking stick like a weapon, with an expertise that left him slack-jawed. She dispatched the enemy, one by one, in a deadly well-practiced dance.
A man rushed toward her, knife in hand. The sneer on his face didn’t match the fear in his eyes.
She stepped out of his line of attack, extended her stick to her side and, holding it with both hands, swept the weapon forward, striking the intruder across the bridge of his nose. Blood exploded from his face in an arc of fine spray as his head snapped back. Droplets dusted her face, creating an illusion of bright red freckles. As he fell, she reversed her swing and caught him hard behind his knees. He went down on his back, spread-eagled. The woman swung her stick over her head and landed a precise blow to his forehead that knocked him unconscious.
As the woman spun to face the next threat, her glance captured Arik’s and held. In the space of an instant, time slowed to a crawl. Her hair slowly loosened from its pins and swirled out around her. His breath caught, and his heart quickened as a rapturous surge raced through his body. Something eternal and familiar, with a sense of longing, unsettled him.
In the next heartbeat, she tore her eyes away, leaving him empty. Time resumed its normal pace. Another fighter lay at her feet.