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Authors: Kim Iverson Headlee

Tags: #Fiction, #Knights and knighthood, #Celtic, #Roman Britain, #Guinevere, #Fantasy Romance, #Scotland, #woman warrior, #Lancelot, #Arthurian romances, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Celts, #Pictish, #Historical, #Arthurian Legends, #King Arthur, #Picts, #female warrior, #warrior queen

Dawnflight

BOOK: Dawnflight
3.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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A Lucky Bat Book

 

 

Dawnflight

by Kim Iverson Headlee

Second Edition

Copyright © 2012 by Kim Headlee

All rights reserved

 

Interior art copyright © 2012 by Kim Headlee

Cover design copyright © 2014 by Natasha Brown

 

Published by Lucky Bat Books

ISBN 1-939-05119-3

 

Publication History:

Sonnet Books, Simon & Schuster, 1999

ISBN 0-671-02041-2

Copyright © 1999 by System Support Services, Inc.

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form, with the exception of brief excerpts for the purpose of review. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

License Notes

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be resold. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Prologue

 

I
T WAS A wild night, the eve of Samhainn. A biting gale roared down from the north, spitting snow. It tore through the trees like some mad thing, stripping away the last of the dead birch leaves and tangling in the pine boughs to make the trunks sway and groan. The snow and leaves whirled together in a frantic dance to the howls of the raging wind.

But the ghostly music was not loud enough to compete with the screams of the woman in labor.

Ogryvan mac Glynnis, Chieftain of Clan Argyll of Caledon, paced the circular stone room next to the family’s living quarters. The midwives had refused to let him be at his wife’s side during her ordeal. As her cries sundered the night, his anger and frustration grew. He quickened his pace in a futile attempt to dispel the mounting tension.

The room’s only door creaked open. In raced a small child. Ogryvan scooped his three-year-old stepson into his arms. The boy’s eyes were wide with fear, and tear tracks stained his pale cheeks. He buried his head against Ogryvan’s burly chest.

“Papa, where’s Mama? Wind noisy!”

Despite his concern for his wife, her son made him smile. Peredur hadn’t reached two summers when Ogryvan had defeated the boy’s father in the dubh-lann for the right to become Hymar’s consort. Too young to remember his real father, Peredur had readily accepted Ogryvan, and in response, the chieftain had been pleased to treat the boy as a son of his flesh.

He brushed away the tears on the lad’s cheeks. “The bairn is coming, Peredur.”

“Bairn! Can I go see?”

Ogryvan shook his head. “It’s women’s work, son. We men must wait until it’s done.”

“When, Papa?”

“Soon. I hope.”

Another scream ripped the night, longer and more shrill than the rest. Peredur squirmed. “Lemme go!” He pummeled Ogryvan’s chest with impotent little fists. “They hurting her!”

He squatted to set the child down but did not release his hold. “Your Mama will be all right.” He hoped.

“My lord?” came a tentative half whisper from before him.

Ogryvan glared at the door. A young servant stood just inside the room, eyes downcast, wringing her hands. He knew her: Cynda, who had lost her bairn and her husband three days earlier to the fever.

He rose to his full height, holding Peredur. “Well?”

“A girl, my lord. But there was too much blood. Chieftainess Hymar is—” The woman sucked in a breath. “My lord, she is dying.”

Ogryvan thrust the boy into Cynda’s arms and strode down the hall.

The birthing chamber was swarming with women, their frantic activity reminding him of slaughter day at the chicken pens. He riveted his gaze to the still figure on the bed. No one dared stop him as he waded through them to kneel at Hymar’s side.

She was lying on her back, knees drawn up and apart, naked from her swollen waist down. Her breath came in ragged gasps. Agony etched its grim story across her lovely face. More than anything, Ogryvan wished he could wipe that pain away, and he despised his wretched powerlessness.

Gently, he gathered her into his arms while one of the women replaced the crimson-stained bedclothes with fresh ones. He laid her down and pulled up the sleeping fur.

Hymar’s lids fluttered open. “Ogryvan…” Her smile was as pale as her voice. “My dearest love…a girl-child.” Grimacing, she drew another gasping breath. “To carry on. After me. Now.”

He picked up her hand and lightly ran his fingers along her forearm, over the pair of blue doves that was the mark of Clan Argyll. “Nonsense, Hymar,” he protested quietly. “You will get well.”

“I see her, Ogryvan. The Hag. There…by the fire.”

He saw only Cynda, cradling at her breast the wee pink creature that was his infant daughter. The baby fed greedily, obviously unaware of anything save her primal need. Peredur stood at Cynda’s feet, gazing up at his half sister in wide-eyed wonder.

Ogryvan beckoned to Cynda. Slowly, to avoid disturbing the bairn, she approached the bed. Little Peredur marched straight to his mother’s side. As Ogryvan drew the boy into the shelter of his arms, Peredur wriggled an arm free to reach for Hymar’s hand. Turning pain-hazed eyes upon him, Hymar summoned a sad smile for her firstborn.

“Here is your Hag, Hymar,” Ogryvan replied as Cynda bent down with the baby. “What shall we name her?”

Hymar’s face melted into joy as she beheld her daughter. “She is…my rarest song…Gyanhumara.”

She raised her hand to touch the child. Gyanhumara’s tiny fist closed around her finger. Hymar sighed, smiling, eyes transfixed upon the infant. Her chest did not rise again.

All movement in the birthing chamber ceased. Silence descended. With a grief too heavy for words, Ogryvan bowed his head, pressing the limp hand of his beloved to his cheek. Peredur’s soft whimpers drowned in the sleeping fur that covered his mother’s chest.

The storm battered the building’s stone walls, screeching its rage at being denied entry. Terrified by the noise, the new Chieftainess of Clan Argyll uttered a piercing wail.

Chapter 1

 

T
HE COMBATANTS CIRCLED warily in the churned mud of the practice field, blind to the swelling audience and the chilling autumn rain. One, a giant of a figure, was the teacher. The student was neither as tall nor as well muscled but moved with the speed and agility of youth. The mud splattered on both bodies was mute evidence of the length of the session.

“Keep up your intensity!” Ogryvan swiped at his opponent’s midsection. “Always! Lose your battle frenzy, and you’re dead!”

Neither was fighting in true battle frenzy, but the younger warrior understood. Smiling grimly through the rivulets of sweat, the student danced out of reach, whirled, and made a cut at Ogryvan’s thigh. The blunted practice sword could not penetrate the leather leggings but was sure to leave a bruise precisely over the wound he had taken at Abar-Gleann two months before.

Although the swordmaster gritted his teeth against the pain, his opponent sensed satisfaction in the accompanying nod. The reason for the sign of approval was clear: the student had made an excellent choice of moves. Exploitation of the enemy’s weaknesses was a basic tenet of the warrior’s art. Mastery of this principle would serve Ogryvan’s pupil well in the years to come.

“Strive to outthink your foe. Stay one move ahead,” he advised between feints. The clatter adopted a dancelike rhythm as the opposing blade deftly met each thrust. The onlookers shouted their approval.

The youth answered with a powerful counterattack, silent but for the creak of leather and the hollow
thunks
as sword met shield. The swordmaster staggered backward. His disciple quickened the attack.

And grew careless. The shield sagged. Ogryvan landed a blow to the unguarded left shoulder. Startled, the youth lost footing in the treacherous mud and fell.

The laughter sparked by the mishap, from teacher and audience alike, was not unkind, yet it did not comfort the mud-painted student.

The Chieftainess of Clan Argyll hated to lose.

The reason rankled like that awful brew Cynda called spring tonic: she’d not done her best. She didn’t need her father to tell her that carelessness had caused the loss.

In battle, such a mistake was fatal.

She began to pick herself up, seething, only to be unceremoniously shoved face-first into the mud. Before she could twitch, her father’s foot pinned her down. His sword at the base of her neck chilled her to the core of her being. It was too easy to imagine what might happen next.

Ogryvan whispered, “Pay attention, Gyan. This is my favorite part.” His rumbling voice poised on the brink of a chuckle. “All hear and beware! The Ogre takes no prisoners!”

Had this been actual combat, her head would have become the newest addition to Ogryvan’s private collection. Such was the Caledonach way. Not only was the foe defeated in death, but to the victor went possession of the soul. Well honored was the warrior who boasted the largest array.

Long years of training had hardened Gyan to this aspect of warfare, yet the prospect of someday ending up on display in an enemy’s feast hall was grisly at best.

By the shifting of his foot on her back, she knew her father was posturing for the crowd. They rewarded his performance with gleeful claps and shouts. The official practice session was over, of course. But she wasn’t quite finished.

Her sword hilt nestled in the palm of her outflung hand. She carefully tightened her grip. In a burst of movement, she writhed and scissored with her legs, twisted free, rolled to her feet, and brought the sword up in both hands. Ogryvan toppled into the mud. The resounding wet thud of his landing was chorused by the guffaws of the audience.

She grinned, holding the point of her sword to his throat. “Neither does the Ogre’s daughter!”

No nectar was as sweet as the joy of winning, and winning before an audience of her clansmen tasted even sweeter. One day, she would lead them into battle; events like today’s added another brick onto the foundation of trust. Their heartfelt adoration warmed her like the summer sun.

She sheathed the sword and offered a hand to her father. “Even?” Her voice was huskier than usual from the exertion of the morning.

Ogryvan took the proffered hand to regain his footing. “Even.”

The crowd drifted back to their various duties around the settlement, but one man remained at the edge of the field. She strode toward him, swatting mud from her thighs and chest.

“Well, Per, how did I look?”

“Like the fen-spirits Cynda used to try to frighten us with.” Her half brother reached for a glob of mud lodged in her braid.

“Ha!” She playfully slapped his hand away. “You know what I mean.”

Per beamed at her. “You did well. I don’t think I could have fooled Father like that. Or held him off for so long.”

She didn’t believe him for an instant. They had sparred with each other often enough to know who was the better swordsman, but she rewarded his flattery with a brilliant smile and a challenge: “Race you to the house!”

BOOK: Dawnflight
3.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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