Medieval 02 - Forbidden
H E will come to you in shades of darkness .
The words of the dire prophecy rang in Amber’s mind as she looked at the naked, powerful man whom Sir Erik had dumped senseless at her feet.
Candle flames bent and whipped as though alive, called by the cold autumn wind pouring through the cottage’s open door. Light and darkness licked over the stranger’s body, underlining the strength of his back and shoulders. Sleet shone in the near-black of his hair. Icy rain gleamed on his skin.
Amber felt the man’s chill as though it were her own. Silently she looked up at Erik. Her wide golden eyes asked questions for which she had no words.
It was just as well, for Erik had no answers. All he had was the slack body of a stranger found in a sacred place.
“Do you know him?” Erik asked curtly.
“I think you are wrong. He wears your sign.”
With that, Erik turned the man over. Candlelight and water streamed across the muscular torso, but it wasn’t the stranger’s naked male strength that drew a gasp from Amber.
A piece of amber shone against the intense darkness of the hair on his chest.
Careful not to touch the stranger, Amber knew at his side and held the candle so that she could study the talisman. Elegant runes had been incised on the gem. The runes commended the wearer to the protection of Druids.
“Turn the pendant over,” she said in a low voice.
Deftly, Erik flipped the amber talisman. On the other side, Latin words in the shape of a cross proclaimed the glory of God and asked His protection for the wearer. It was a common Christian prayer carried by knights who had gone off to battle the Saracen for possession of the Holy Land.
Amber let out a long sigh, relieved that the stranger was not some black sorcerer dropped into the Disputed Lands for the sake of mischief. For the first time she looked at the stranger as a man rather than as an object brought to her so that she might discover truth or treachery.
Wherever Amber looked, the overwhelming reality of the stranger’s strength looked back at her. The only hints of delicacy in the man were his dense, faintly curling eyelashes and the clean, curving line of his lips.
The stranger was handsome in the way a warrior is handsome, the beauty of a storm rather than the beauty of a flower. Recent bruises, cuts, and scrapes mingled with the scars of other, older battles. The marks served to enhance rather than to diminish his aura of male power.
Though he had no possessions beyond the talisman, not even clothes, Amber had no doubt that the stranger was someone to be reckoned with.
“Where did you find him?” she asked.
“The Stone Ring.”
Amber’s head snapped up.
“What?” she demanded, hardly able to believe.
“You heard me.”
Amber waited expectantly.
Erik simply watched her with unflinching wolf’s eyes.
“Don’t make me pluck words from you like feathers from a chicken,” Amber said in exasperation. “Speak!”
The hard lines of Erik’s face flowed into an amused smile. He stepped over the senseless stranger and shut the cottage door, putting an end to the frisking of the cold autumn wind through the room.
“Do you have some mulled wine for an old friend?” Erik asked mildly. “And a blanket for whomever this might be. ’Tis too cold to be lolling there uncovered, friend or foe.”
“Aye, lord . Your slightest wish is my greatest command.”
The dryness of Amber’s voice was as unmistakable as the affection that lay beneath. Sir Erik was the son and heir of a great Scots thane, but Amber had always felt a curious ease with him despite her own lack of high birth and the fact that she had no more kin than the wild autumn wind.
Erik shrugged out of his costly mantle. He covered the stranger with a swirl of thick, warm wool that was the indigo of twilight. There was very little of the mantle left over.
“He is a big one,” Erik said absently.
“Even bigger than you,” Amber said from the other side of the cottage. “The knight who felled this man must have been a mighty warrior.”
Erik watched through narrowed eyes as Amber hurried toward him, her arms overflowing with the thick fur cover that normally warmed her bed.
“If the evidence of the tracks is to be believed, he was felled by a bolt from the sky,” Erik said distinctly.
The swirling length of Amber’s nightclothes wrapped about her ankles, tripping her. She stumbled and would have fallen on the stranger if Erikhadn’t caught
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