THE CRYSTAL WARRIOR
By Maree Anderson
She’s a dancer, and the most important thing in her life right now is insuring the success of her new dance studio. He’s an alien Crystal Warrior with one big-ass curse hanging over him. In a moment of weakness she lets him seduce her. Now they’re magically bonded and his life is in her hands. (Winner of the Romance Writers of New Zealand Clendon Award for full-length romantic manuscript.)
Copyright 2011 by Maree Anderson
This novel is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places and events portrayed in this novel are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. All rights reserved; the right to reproduce this book or any portion thereof in any form whatsoever in any country whatsoever without the express permission of the author is forbidden.
Pieter observed the copper-skinned warriors in the fist-sized hunk of polished beryl that served as his scrying ball. The raiders called themselves Styrians, Storm Riders. Pieter’s countrymen had named them the Stone Warriors—men hard and cold and unforgiving as the crystals for which each was named. They ranged far and wide, raiding village after village with swift and deadly precision. Comely women of childbearing age, they enslaved. Children and those females too young or too elderly for their purposes, they abandoned to fend for themselves. Not a hint of mercy shadowed their piercing, sapphire-hued eyes. Truly, they were men of stone.
The inhabitants of the defenseless small villages scattered around the countryside quailed before these fearsome warriors. None had dared make more than a token stand. Until now. Magic had brought them here, just as Pieter had foreseen, and ’twas magic would vanquish them. He had read the portents and spent years preparing himself for this day, searching far and wide for the necessary crystals, be-spelling them to the best of his ability. He was ready…. He hoped. And prayed in his heart of hearts that he would prove himself worthy of the gifts his goddess had bestowed upon him.
He shuffled to the hearth. Using a wadded cloth, he took his battered old kettle from the fire and poured the pain-killing tea into the silver cup that was his most prized possession. As he sipped the tea, Pieter ran gnarled fingers over the patterns engraved on the cup and muttered the incantation beneath his breath. He must remain strong and focused. His intent must not falter, not even for an instant.
He drained the cup and set it carefully aside before snatching up the precious bundle of crystals. He cradled it to his chest as he hurried from his hut. ’Twas time to meet his destiny.
The thundering of hooves heralded their arrival. Pieter had to shield his eyes against the glare of the noon-day sun before he spied them, silhouetted against the hillside. They rode with no accompanying hue or cry. Each man was silent as the grave.
The same could not be said of the villagers. Shrieks of terror split the air. Most ran to their huts and cowered within. Bah. As if mere wood and thatch would save them.
A few brave men arrayed themselves at the muddy path that was the village entrance, clutching whatever weapons they could find. Amidst those waving pitchforks and shovels, one man brandished a pitted, rust-splotched sword. Fools. Pieter shook his head at their folly as he hobbled past.
“Go back inside, Pieter,” one of the men called, his voice thick with fear. “Ye be getting yerself killed!”
“Have ye taken leave of yer senses, old man?” another cried. “What d’ye think ye be doing?”
“Saving you all.” Thanks to the tea he’d brewed, Pieter’s joints did not bite and protest when he knelt. Goddess grant this spell would be just as potent. He untied the linen and spread it out on the ground. He placed the eleven large gemstones in a circle, with himself at the center point. He was the focus, a man named after a crystal, a man who’d dedicated his life to learning how to harness the power of such stones. He struggled to his feet to await his fate.
The warrior called Wulf spotted Pieter barring his way. He reined in his battle mount and raised a hand to halt his men. He quirked one brow at Pieter, then barked a scornful laugh. “A greybeard who should be a-bed, nursing his aching joints. This is the best defense you offer.”