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Marc finally learns the true nature behind Nathel’s betrayal. The kingdom is in turmoil, being brought to the breaking point by a ruthless enemy. With his family lost and his friends scattered beyond reach, Marc must search deep inside himself and find the strength to save those he loves and the kingdom from the onslaught of the Drenthen horde.
I lay with my face in the snow. I was not sure how long I had been there, but I had no desire to move. I felt, deep in my soul, that if I could stay there for just a little while longer all would be well. This dream I had, so real it bordered on outrageous, seemed over, and I was left to my slumber. The chill was claiming my fingers and feet. It crept in slowly. Best to have the cold take over all of my joints and limbs. Just to sleep . . . just for a short while longer would be all I required. Then I could get up.
Something laying in the snow beneath me moved. There was a moan, softly at first, and memories came rushing back. I was thankful she still lived. Rolling to the side I shook my head and looked at her.
Blood ran from a wound in her head and was lost in the tangle of her undone braid. After all these months her hair was still white except near her scalp. Now it blended in with the snow almost perfectly and was difficult to tell where one ended and one began. Other than this one injury she seemed well. She had survived the fall.
“Chay. Chay.” I whispered her name while shaking her gently by the shoulders. She moaned again and was still. She breathed softly and I let her be as I looked about.
From the edge of the hill-top where we lay the ground slopped downward. The valley below could not be seen for the number of trees. We would have to travel in that direction soon. Twilight had given in to a starlit nightfall.
Standing, I used a sapling for support. On my feet our surroundings still looked as bleak as ever. My knees trembled and I forced them still.
I shrugged off the leather strap letting the bags of gold fall where they may. If we ever found a settlement I could always get a horse and return for them. It would be too heavy a burden to take with me now. To make it through this night I knew I had to save all of my strength for the hours ahead. The wind picked up, stirring the branches of the trees.
Again I shook Chay gently by the shoulder to waken her. With relief her eyes opened and traces of a smile touched her lips.
“What has happened?” She asked feebly.
“I do not know my love. You must try to stand. We are far from anywhere and night is here. We will freeze if we do not find shelter of some type. Can you stand?”
“Give me a hand,” she said after a sigh. I clutched her hands in mine and pulled her up. She gasped suddenly and grabbed her stomach in pain.
“I ... am fine,” she said as I gave her a worried look. She winced, but said no more. Leaning on me they made our way down to the slope of the hill.
* * * * *
Paul Lehner always spent the last few moments of the winter days smoking his pipe and relaxing in his rocking chair front of the fireplace. His wife was off to bed and asleep by now and he would soon be on his way.
He enjoyed this time of night. With all the children gone with the grandchildren to their homes, and the lights turned off, it felt peaceful. He propped his feet up and watched the coals of the fire as they glowed with light. The owl that nested in his barn was answered by another owl some distance away. Creatures of habit, they would keep at it for another hour or so until they began to hunt.
He tended to the horses and the cattle had a fresh bale of hay from the loft to chew on during the night. If deer got to the corn bin then there would be a reason to go hunting tomorrow. Too many deer this year. They had eaten their share of crops and by time fall had come there was a lot of crop damage. Have to hunt those deer down.
He must have nodded off. Looking up and saw the fire had died way down. There came a shuffling noise from the porch and he realized this was the noise that had woken him up in the first place.
“Who would be out this time of night?” he grumbled to himself.
He was on his feet even before the knock came on his door.