Amera Roberts pulled the covers closer as the frigid air assaulted her lithe body. Her arms and head lay exposed by pitifully thin covers, but she had nothing better to use. Her caretakers had left her nine days ago on her eighteenth birthday and they had taken everything except her bed and dresser. She woke up for breakfast as usual and to her surprise, she opened the door to the empty room and scribbled note. She turned the cryptic message over in her mind with anger. Time to worry about the meaning later, but now, she must try to survive with very little wood and an ever dwindling supply of food. It was winter in the glen and the temperatures were freezing.
In the dim light of morning, her mind foggy from hunger, she procrastinated whether she should get up to check the fire. In her heart, she feared it must be out already, but she knew her life depended on getting some warmth in the frigid temperatures of early dawn. As her bare feet met the cold stone floor, she cringed at the frigid contact before she found her slippers. Her breath painfully expelled little white puffs of air as she dressed herself.
Throwing the blanket over her shoulders, she ran the few steps to the hearth and grabbed the fire poker to scrape around in the ashes to find embers. Her heart began to sink. She had only one more match and wanted to save it for an emergency. Panic filled the empty space in her stomach and just as she dreaded the worst, a tiny, glowing, ruby ember sparked warmly and she let out an audible sigh. Frantic, she quickly gathered her basket of pinecones and threw a few on the embers to keep it burning.
Moments later, she laid the oak logs carefully and was rewarded with the crackle of burning wood. If her fire had burned out she would have no way to cook her meager allotment of food. If she was really stingy with her rations she could hold out for three more days. It was difficult when she had not been full for almost a week. A few potatoes, one cup of meal and a small loaf of bread could only go so far. One day she had given into weakness and consumed an extra cup of tea to stave off her hunger. Today, she was sorry for that extravagance, because now her little tea box was empty and she would miss her morning cup.
Amera measured her small amount of meal carefully for porridge and added it to the bowl of hot water from the kettle. Sweetened with the last spoon of honey, she ate her breakfast in silence and waited for the light of dawn to warm up the room.
She finished the last bite, and then dared to look out the front door in case her beloved Jaygo had returned from a hunt with a tasty rabbit or other small game to eat. He had disappeared the next day after Fran and Gregory Winton had vanished and she wondered if he went to look for them. Fran did not have much use for the strange, little black-faced dog but Gregory adored him. He took him hunting on his trips to the glen and saved small tidbits from his meal for him. Could he really be gone? The snowstorm had prevented her from looking more for her precious dog that night and now tears stung her eyes as she wondered his fate.
It was over five minutes until she pried the door open partially, while the snow trickled in its opening. No sign of her small trusted friend. Already there must be nearly a foot of snow on the ground and the air seemed heavy with more. She would never see Jaygo’s tracks now if it snowed again. He may be dead if he didn’t find a barn or cave to go in. She would die also if she could not get out to gather wood and search for food.
Disheartened, she closed the door and went over by the fire to soak in its warmth and read the message for the tenth time. Carefully, she unfolded the scrap piece of parchment and read the few lines that made her temper boil.
“This, your eighteenth birthday, our agreement is up. You are a burden to us no more. Amara, you must face your destiny. Shortly, your husband to be will come for you. Do not run from him because he will find you and you will be sorry you tried to escape from him.”
Thoughtfully, she stared at the last sentence that was smudged and all she could make out was crimson snow. What in the world did that mean? The only way snow could be crimson was blood. The thought made shivers run up her spine.
Quickly, she folded the note in her pocket and ran to the closet… husband to be? They had pledged her hand in marriage without even telling her and that he would kill her if she ran? What did they mean by arrangement anyway? All these years she stayed here dreaming of a life outside this glen. She had rarely strayed outside the gates of Marneth. Her guardians made sure she never ventured too far.
The only person who ever came was the old bard, Nathaniel, who brought them supplies. For the past year, even he stopped coming by and Gregory had to make the trip himself until he became too sick. They had told her absolutely nothing of getting married! She had stayed here to please them only to face this calamity? I think not, she pondered angrily!
Through clenched teeth she pulled on old boots that Gregory left behind and wrapped as warmly as possible. She had no time to worry about some senile old groom who might come for her. She must go to find wood and food, or perish here, but it would not be without trying.
Bravely, she tramped through the hard crust of white snow straight up the hill to the gate. She headed for a clump of trees with some saplings and felt in her pocket for the small hatchet she always carried with her when she went out alone. These woods always seemed ominous on the other side of the hill. Gregory had often read to her of castles and dragons and other imaginary stuff when she was a wee child. Not that she was afraid now, but she never liked to be alone. She felt safe with her dog Jaygo around, who barked at anything that moved, but now she was by herself and greeted with silence.
It took an hour to cross the meadow towards the small forest of trees laden with fresh snow. She was exhausted by the time she got there and felt the cold creeping into her feet. Anxiously, she looked at the low-lying branches that were too thick for her to cut with so small a hatchet. Down through the trees she saw another clearing with several small cedars. She was sure she could make out a few broken limbs.
Painstakingly, she trudged the path and was only a few feet from the trees when she heard the crunch of something crashing through the woods behind her. Panic engulfed her as she glanced around to see the culprit of the disturbance. In the distance, she saw an ominous rider on a black horse bursting through the trees. Overhead, she saw a black winged creature slicing through the air towards her.
Amera’s raven tresses fell partially down from her wool cap as she headed for the cedars to escape the rider. The raven flew in front of her and circled back behind her as if in slow motion. It dawned on her that the horseman might be her mysterious husband to be. That panicked her even more. As she stumbled in the snow, she suddenly remembered the warning Fran had scribbled in her message. “Don’t try to run, because he will find you.”
The thought fueled her energy and she glanced behind to see he was less than a hundred yards behind. His face was hidden within the hood of his cape. She sucked in large breaths of cold air and struggled to reach a small knoll covered with snowdrifts and rocks. All the while, the fear of not knowing his identity was like a bullet in her chest. Damn them for doing this to her!
As she neared the rocky hill, she stumbled and fell to one knee. Before she could pick herself up to run, a luminous weapon flew overhead and landed in the snow ahead of her. Frozen in shock, she suddenly knew who her suitor was!
The sword was one of legend with its blue steel blade and the jewel-crusted markings. Merlin’s crest was on the hilt. Wizards had their own clan within their ranks, or at least that’s what Gregory had told her, but in reality she thought it was all just make believe.
Amera resigned herself to pushing her body upright to a standing position, despite the slick glaze that was glistening over the crust of snow. Briefly, her eyes darted overhead again to the circling raven before turning to face her captor.
Amera’s voice froze in her throat as she realized her captor was closer than she expected. The magnificent black stallion slowed and trotted the last few feet to stop before her, his hooves making sharp crunching sounds as she looked up at the dark rider.
Without looking up, skyward he lifted up a gloved hand and the raven swooped down in a flurry of wings and landed perfectly on his outstretched hand. One, single, black feather, fell spiraling towards the white ground and landed directly in front of her feet.
“I…I thought you were a legend,” Amera spoke in a startled whisper.
“Have you lost your mind, woman? You don’t need to be scouting about. There is a storm on the horizon,” he grumbled with annoyance.
His voice rattled her. She still could not see his face clearly for the hood was drawn around closely to his head.
“There is no time for petty conversation. We must leave immediately!” he spoke sternly.
Slowly, she casually reached into her pocket and felt her fingers curl around the cold steel of her hatchet.
Moments passed in silence as they both stared at the other, neither budging to move.
“Are you…Merlin?” she said taking two steps backwards.
The rider dismounted as the raven flew down and perched on the saddle of his stallion. His impending height was intimidating as he walked quickly through the snow to retain his sword. Quickly, he sheathed it in his scabbard as he turned to face Amera.
“My name is Draedon St.Anthony…lets leave it at that.”
Amera stared at him cautiously.
“That tells me nothing sir! I saw Merlin’s symbol on the sword you hurled at me. So, why do you carry something with his symbol if you are not Merlin?” Amera spoke all in a rush.
Gregory had shown her pictures of the sword when she was younger. She was positive it was one and the same as she glanced at it in the snow.
Dreydon took three steps closer until he was inches away from her. The maiden was visibly shaking, but whether from the blush of cold on her face, or the fire in her veins, he could not tell. Might as well get everything out in the open and be done with it.
Amera willed herself to not move as he approached her and began to take off his glove. Quickly, he reached for the hat she wore and removed it. The rest of her hair tumbled around her shoulders and she grabbed her hat back as her face suffused with heat.
“Well, well, Dreydon chortled with pleasure. I understand your name is… Amera.”
She gave him a piercing stare. He could tell she was startled that he knew her name. Years ago, he had seen her when she was little more than a child. Indeed her eyes were crystal blue as he remembered from long ago. In fact, he had never seen such color in his lifetime. In honesty, she took his breath away and suddenly he did not hate his years of solitude and bachelorhood so badly.
“Rest in peace mi lady, for I am not that ancient devil, but his spawn instead,” he laughed with glittering eyes.
Amera looked at him in skeptically. “Where…is he? I never heard anyone say that he had…a son.”
“He is dead, that scoundrel. I am the last of his legacy. I am left to undo his handiwork. I curse the day I was born his son,” he spoke with bitterness.
Dreydon reached out a finger and deftly stoked her cold cheek. Maybe, some of it will not be so bad. At least you do not look like the twits at Birmington,” he scowled.
“What does it matter to you what I look like,” she said pushing his hand away abruptly.
“It matters to me quite a bit. I am your husband to be. Mockingly, he bowed from his waist. Take a look at your bridegroom, mi lady.” Slowly, he stood up pushing his hood back from his face. Black hair tumbled in curls onto his shoulders. He saw her flinch as she viewed his scar that ran from brow to jaw. Dreydon was use to that look all too well.
Amera was only mildly surprised at his appearance, but there was an air about him that alarmed her. She noticed the handsome face, the generous mouth and dark stormy eyes. Eyes that bore anger, passion and hurt all at once it seemed. His scar was faded, so it must have happened a long time ago. Amera stood uncomfortably silent.
Dreydon smirked at her. “Do I repulse you? Rest assured you will be free soon after the marriage is performed. But now, we have to make haste. Once you are with child you will have done your part.”
Not waiting for her response, he quickly hoisted her on the saddle nearly knocking the breath from her.
Amera huffed indignantly. He would be the one that was surprised, she thought angrily, because she would not marry any stranger, let alone Merlin’s son! Gaining her composure, she fumed in silence as she realized he was riding also.
He mounted quickly and sat behind her, taking the reins and guiding them cautiously back towards the cottage. Amera flinched from the close contact and frantically tried to plot out a scheme in her head to save herself from this torture of being a stranger’s wife!
Trouble was, no one could escape in a storm like this. Especially, since she had no food or firewood.
She would have to bide her time until an opportunity came to escape. Her best bet, she decided, was too act like she went along with this charade of a marriage, so he would let his guard down and she could escape.
At the cottage, he dismounted and lowered her down to the ground slowly. She glanced up to see his dark brown eyes piercing her own. Uncomfortably, Amera turned away and hurried for the cottage door. Her heart was racing a hundred miles an hour and her cheeks suffused with heat.
Dreydon was right behind her, and she saw from the corner of her eye, that the raven landed on the fence post under the pines.
Behind her, Dreydon gave the signal for Bren to return home. No use for the poor bird to freeze to death. He had been a gift from Eamen, his scribe.
Oddly enough, Bren could communicate to him with signals that only he understood. Flying in circles meant the bird had found his target, and a series of calls meant possible danger. Without Bren, he would have never found this place. It was far away from the nearest town. In fact, it was almost completely isolated, except for a few cottages on the outskirts of Marneth.
As he watched her walk up the path before him, he could hear the voice of his father, Merlin, on the night he got wounded. That night had led him to this one…a day he surely dreaded now that it was upon him.
“Never use the sword for what you can accomplish with words and good sense Dreydon. There is more power in the tongue than steel. Excalibre must only be used for battles of integrity and honor. To do otherwise, you will experience consequences with a steep price.”
Regretfully, that very eve he had taken the sword from his father’s bedside to show off his skills to Lorcan, a wizard of devious means who challenged his father’s honor.
Although Dreydon’s fencing skills were adequate, he was no match for a much older wizard with his own magic on his side. A wizard, who had his hopes on taking over Merlin’s reign of power.
Dreydon reached up and touched the line of his scar that went from brow bone to jaw. It never healed properly as it should. Little did he know, the sword carried a curse to disfigure and destroy all that it touched.
His father had turned ashen when he saw him, dripping blood and holding Lorcan by the neck against the wall.
Rarely, had he seen his father enraged enough to cast a spell within his ear but he did. He destroyed Lorcan’s sword and uttered words that still chilled him.
“On the night of blue moon my seed shall destroy you! The raven and a pure dove shall wed on crimson snow.” Lorcan would have wounded him again, if not for his father’s intervention.
Amera nearly stumbled into the cottage in Gregory’s boots but thankfully she caught herself before falling into the snow again.
Inside they both went towards the fire to get warm as Dreydon eyed the sparse surroundings
“Have you been left with nothing here?” he asked gruffly. Amera stayed silent, watching him quietly.
He walked over to the almost empty cubbards. The woman had no kitchen table or chairs, no food, hardly any wood for the fire. Damn! This was not acceptable! The snow would get worse through the night and they would be trapped here for weeks.
“We must leave immediately!” he said glaring at her.
“But...I” she stammered.
“Now!” He demanded gruffly.
Amera blinked hard at him and wondered if she should trust him. Not, that she had any choice. She would go with him to save her life from this barren place. Now, her stomach growled so loud, she knew he must of heard it. Embarassed, she headed for her bedroom.
Quickly, she ran to her closet and grabbed her woolen cape which was a hand me down from Fran. It was the best she had and it would help keep her from freezing to death. Although it was too large and didn’t fit properly it was warm. She reached into her dresser and grabbed the only piece of jewelry she owned. Gregory had sneaked it to her on her birthday last week. Tears filled his eyes as he placed it in her hand.
“Don’t loose this Amera. It has always belonged to you, although Fran wore it a time or too. Don’t let her know you have it. It’s well…it belonged to your mother.”
Fran came in and he quickly turned away. He had never said anything about her parents other than when her mother died; her father was so heartbroken he dissappeared after asking Gregory and Fran to care for her. She had never asked again. His eyes held so much pain she couldn’t bring herself to ask anymore.
Clutching the necklace and then putting it in a small drawstring bag, she put it inside her bodice and started back towards the kitchen.
Dreydon turned around from the fireplace and crossed his arms defensively.
“Come here, Amera!” he said in his stern baritone voice.
Without even pausing, she walked directly towards him and placed herself four steps away from him. She drew in a sigh and said in her most menacing tone.
“You sir, will quit commanding me around like I am your servant! I am a free woman and I will do of my own choice!” she said defiantly.
Her blue eyes glittered with fire and her lips trembled slightly. Dreydon stared down at her, quite captivated at her audacity and spunk. Of all things, that was the least he expected from a woman of her nature to say to him. Her quiet lifestyle certainly hadn’t made her totally docile it seemed.
Instead of laughing, he impulsively flung his long arm around her and crushed Amera against his chest. She struggled to push herself backwards from his grasp, but he held her all the tighter. He leaned down to smell the scent of her, which proved to be an intoxicating mix of some kind of wildflowers he was unfamiliar with. Enraged, Amera looked up at him unflinching.
If looks could kill… dear God, her eyes were burning through him in pure anger. He would quell that quickly enough. Whether he repulsed her or not, he would kiss that beckoning mouth!
His hand tilted her chin as he turned her face towards him and swiftly captured her tempting lips. He felt the strength go out of her as he kissed her deeply and her resolve faded. Mere seconds later, he experienced a sharp kick to his shin that took him by surprise. He abruptly let go and she was nimble enough to steady herself from falling backwards. She glanced towards him for reprisal, but instead of anger, he was amused and started to grin. He finally burst out laughing which angered her but he laughed anyway. His life had been boring for quite some time. Undoubtedly, it was all about to change now.
Crimson Snow~ Coming soon by Debra Jayne EastXOXO Link: