A young mother, living in the In the shadow of King Arthur's Britain, will require all her courage to save the Queen's castle from the hands of a traitor. This is a stand-alone novel of Trystan and Isolde featuring a secondary character from the universe of Twilight of Avalon.
KNOWING THAT YOU'D GOTTEN your own self into a mess wasn't all that much consolation when you were about to die.
Stop that. Dera made herself take a breath to quiet the drumming of her own heart in her ears. It was pitch-dark here in the forest. So dark it felt like dirt pressing against her face, and it didn't matter whether her eyes were open or closed, Dera couldn't see a thing either way. The spring thaw had come--but just now, you couldn't prove it by her. Her fingers felt cold enough that she'd not have been surprised to hear them tinkle together like icicles when she moved. And the night air felt like knives stabbing her in the chest.
But she made herself draw another breath, then another after that. She wasn't going to die. Jory needed his mam. And she needed to see her boy grow up.
The pounding of her heart kept on getting mixed up with her thoughts, turning them into a tangled, soggy mess like wet knitting yarn. But all right, she wasn't going to die. It might seem about as likely as having a chat with one of the dragons that were supposed to live under the ground here--but she was going to keep Britain's army from falling to Lord Marche and his traitor warriors tonight. Then she was going to get back to Jory and find a way to have a real, proper home for him. Somewhere with real beds--or at least pallets out of the rain--where she wouldn't have to sell herself to soldiers so they could eat. Someplace where she could plant seeds for a garden, and Jory could have a dog. A boy should have a dog of his own.
Maybe she'd even learn how to cook. Miracles happened--wasn't that what the Christ-God's followers were always saying?
Somewhere in the trees above her head, an owl called.
Lady Isolde would look after Jory if Dera didn't make it back to Dinas Emrys alive. Lady Isolde would love him, keep him safe--let him play with that big dog of hers as much as he liked. Assuming Dinas Emrys wasn't burned to the ground, and Lady Isolde and Jory both lived through the--
Stop it. Dark or no, Dera squeezed her eyes tight shut and dug her nails hard into the palms for good measure. The only sounds were the rustles and creak of the winter-chilled branches in the night breeze.
Think of a joke. That was what her own mam had always said, when they'd been thrown out of another tavern or there wasn't enough food to eat. You can't laugh and worry at the same time.
The only joke she could remember now, though, was Cade grinning up at her from his pallet on Lady Isolde's infirmary floor and saying, when she asked him how his head felt, "Pretty well. There's supposed to be two of you, sort of shimmering round the edges, isn't that right?"
Which made her smile, but it also hurt her chest even more than breathing in breath after breath of freezing air.
She'd hours since this made herself stop picturing Jory--imagining him asleep now in Lady Isolde's workroom, flopped over on his belly like usual, with his eyes screwed up tight shut. Picturing how, if she were there with him--the way she'd been every night since he'd been born--she could bury her face against the soft crease at the back of his neck and feel his body rise and fall as he breathed.
But now, however hard she tried, she couldn't make herself stop seeing Cade: his dark hair and eyes, his firm chin and square brow, and the mouth that always wanted to quirk up into a smile even when he was in pain.
Not that she'd any idea whether he would--or could--bring her any closer to giving Jory a proper home. Likely not; he was a fighting man, following High King Madoc's army all the year round.
All the same, if she did somehow come through tonight alive, she had a feeling she might see something about Cade that would make this all worthwhile.
Worthwhile even apart from saving Britain's armies, that was.
Dera opened her eyes, breathing the chill air, trying not to let leaves rustle under her feet. She couldn't stop thinking, though. Not about Cade--or at least, not just about him--but about how it was she'd gotten herself here. From bedding soldiers for pay to spying on behalf of the High King, in less than a month's time.
Dera shifted position--slowly, slowly, so she wouldn't make any noise--to lean against a prickly-barked fir tree trunk and let herself remember. Until Lord Marche and the rest of his traitor warriors arrived, it wasn't like she'd anything better to do.