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Books by Kathleen Cunningham Guler
Macsen's Treasure series


Kathleen Guler's award for her Celtic books! Here we review two books in this series and the author has kindly given us the first chapter of each book to read here. Kathleen's picture is shown here with her recent award for "In the Shadow of the Dragons".

Into the Path of Gods

Into the Path of Gods...They placed themselves into the path of gods, the gods of the ancient Celtic people:  a man of incorruptible courage, a woman with the ethereal gift of visions, and the mysterious druid who became known in legend as Merlin the Enchanter...

In the war-torn, chaotic fifth century, after the end of Roman rule and before King Arthur's rise to power, Celtic Briton Marcus ap Iorwerth diligently works to place the rightful high king in control of Britain. One of his duties, discrediting brokers of dreaded foreign mercenaries, leads him to Claerwen, an ethereal woman whose gift of visions draws him into the path gods, a destiny as unshakable as the love they come to share.

In time, they realized Claerwen has inadvertently become ensnared in a lethal conspiracy involving the priceless sacred symbols of Britain's high kings, known collectively as Macsen's Treasure. Marcus makes every effort to protect her against a mazelike network of unknown enemies, but he is betrayed and disappears. Alone and homeless, Claerwen must decide whether to believe what everyone tells her, that Marcus is dead, or to follow her heart and the path of gods on a daunting quest to find him and the truth of Macsen's Treasure.

Reviews:

From Midwest Book Review:
"Into the Path of Gods is superb..."

From Keltic Fringe;
"...vivid...captivating...fascinating...Into the Path of Gods not only enchants us, it also transports us back into our ancestral past. I for one am eagerly anticipating the second book in [the] Macsen's Treasure series." 

From British Heritage magazine:
"...a page-turning, all-absorbing, can't-put-it-down thrill...engaging." 

From Ninnau (Welsh newspaper):
"...a vivid novel of suspense and once begun is very hard to put down..." 

From Waycross Journal-Herald:
"...a fresh view of the tapestry from which western romance is derived: the legend of Arthur...May this bard visit us again..." 

Into the Path of Gods

Chapter 1

Territory of the Welsh Cynnwyd,
Summer, 459 A.D.

The dream was ending.

The words of the old song scattered away, sorrowful upon the wind, ancient as the story they had just told. The manís voice had carried them sure and strong, his young daughterís harmony intertwining with his, ethereal as water gliding over pebbles. The music had carried their imaginations away with the skill of the storyteller who had composed it, soothing endless hours of working with their hands and backs and strong wills. Now their minds reluctantly eased once more into the present.

The dream was just ending. Like a lifetime that had run its course, a soul passing through its next turning point and the only thing left behind was the sadness hanging thickly in the air...

The girl reacted instinctively, coming abruptly alert, jerking aside as the arrow spit past her ear. She whirled to see it thump into the earth a short distance behind her. Frozen in astonishment, she heard her father scream the alarm and scrape his sword from its scabbard.

Attackers rushed out of the trees lining the river, the Afon Dyfrdwy, full-lunged yells in their throats, weapons in their hands. They crashed out of their hiding places, racing up from the riverbank, screaming in a strange language. Unprepared, the clansmen of Cynnwyd rallied, but they were already too late to reach the weapons that would have saved them. The invaders gored and hacked them down without mercy or conscience.

The girl was stunned, never having seen warriors so close. "Get back, get down, down! Hide yourself!" her father yelled. He swept his arm back, knocking her hard. Not expecting his sudden roughness, she lost her balance and fell, rolling down a marshy embankment to land in a small streambed. But she quickly regained her senses; and, lifting her head, she peered through the reeds and marsh grass at enormous warriors strewing carnage across the turf of her home. Though only twelve summers of age, she felt her blood begin to surge with the same rage of her clansmen, a rage and fear every generation of her people, for time out of mind, had felt as they watched their own die.

The girl scrambled out of the streambed, her fists balled, ready to pummel the nearest of the strangers. Tawny-brown hair streaming behind her, she sailed across the grass, heading straight for her father as he slashed desperately at a huge man with a heavier sword and thick, metal-studded leather armor.

Before she reached him, the eyes of another invader followed her and grinned, amused by the delicate wraith with the face full of wrath. The soldier sheathed his sword and raced into the girlís path. He halted, expecting her to pull up in terror, but she rammed into him instead, the full force of her stride knocking him two paces backward. Regaining his balance, he scooped her up in his arms, laughing at her attempts to claw and kick him. What a prize, he thought, chuckling, and carried her towards the woods.

"No, lass! No!"

The shout came from the girlís uncle. Big and burly, he had just freed the soul from a fourth invader, and now he saw his young niece in the arms of one of the barbarians.

"Youíre not going to have her, you filthy Saeson!" He charged up the incline, a dagger in his hand. With sheer brute force, the girlís uncle drove the dagger into the soldierís back, thudding to its hilt between the manís shoulder blades. The man dropped the girl, bellowing with rage.

Turning, the man suddenly had his own dagger. Blood was already dribbling out of the corner of his mouth, but the sneer on his face showed his revenge would not be deterred by his failing life. His free hand drew aside, then whipped out, striking the girl, pounding her back against a tree. She slid down, stunned, but remained alert enough to witness how his dagger struck home in her uncleís belly, twisting, the sound of tearing flesh sickening her.

Too horrified to scream, she watched them fall, at first into each otherís arms, almost like lovers, then slip past one another into a heap. Mercifully, she fainted.

When she opened her eyes again, voices muttered somewhere in the dark distance. Other than the strange tongue of the invaders, only an owlís occasional hooting broke the nightís silence. Remaining absolutely still, the girl waited, watching, listening. Gradually, the voices drew closer. She deduced that orders were being given, reports made, the leaders directing the search for survivors, the ransacking of the buildings.

Two men spoke in Welsh. One voice was heavily accented, a cold, irritating voice that crept like slug slime across a stone. It became clear that he was the foremost leader and the other man a betrayer. They discussed their purpose for several minutes, their words often in vehement anger. Then when every house and barn, rock and reed had been examined, the ugly voice gave the order to burn everything. Absolutely everything.

As the fires grew and consumed the buildings of her home, the girl crawled further into the woods. She watched with widening eyes as the depth of the loss became visible. In clumps and by individual, her people had fallen. As the men had died, their women had fought on, then fell alongside their men. She saw her father, uncle, an older brother, a younger sister, every member of the clan. They had all fought valiantly, with makeshift weapons and their bare hands, trying to deter the brutality. Now the soldiers heaved their mutilated bodies into the flames. In a few hours, only their charred bones and ashes would remain to show for the lives they had sacrificed, all to blow away with the wind.

After the last body had been given to the fire, the soldiers gathered and milled for several more minutes. As suddenly as they came, now they departed.

The owl flew across the river, seeking prey elsewhere, his wings beating softly, steadily in the cold night air. Silence descended on the land again, the fires slowly subsiding, the acrid smell of burnt wood and flesh stifling the air. A slow chill seeped into the girlís bones, crawling relentlessly into her soul, giving fear that utterly claimed her mind.

More voices came with the morning. A grey-haired woman called the names of the dead. A girl of nine summersí age wept.

The girl in the woods lifted her eyes, but she did not see her motherís face. Instead, she expected the voice to belong to a soul of one of the dead, the figure of a ghost moving among the smoldering ashes. So many would be passing to the Otherworld. At least they could all go together.

Then the younger girl saw her. Weeping turned to a sudden shriek of joy.

"Cousin! Youíre alive! Youíre alive! Aunt Linor! Come!"

Linor rushed to find her daughter stumbling out of the woods. Halting, Linor watched her walk past towards the ruins, her expression blank with shock and the words of one of the ancient songs on her lips.

"Claerwen?" Linor called softly, unsure what to do. She reached out and clamped a hand on the girlís shoulder. Claerwen stopped but did not otherwise react. She continued to mouth the words of the song.

"By the gods, Grania, she is the only one left," Linor mumbled to her niece, her skin crawling as she smelled the fear in her daughterís soul. To Claerwen she said, "We came as soon as we heard, daughter, we cameó"

Claerwen remained unresponsive, still watching the smoldering ashes as she mumbled. Grania tugged at her auntís sleeve. "What do we do now?" she asked.

Linor was silent several minutes, her brows knotted together in frustration and grief. She had no understanding of how to help Claerwen. Finally, she coaxed, "Come, daughter, there is nothing we can do for them now. We must go, in case the soldiers should come back."

Instinctively, Grania came forward. She saw words would not help Claerwen. She gently folded her arms around her cousin and drew her into a hug.

Gradually, Claerwen lifted her face. Her eyes shone with iridescence, tears soaking her long lashes. Her expression frightened Linor, her face utterly drained of color, pale with shock and horror, her mouth and eyes moving too slowly.

"Where will we go?" Grania asked, sniffling, starting to cry again as she clung to Claerwen.

Linor choked back her own tears and stared at the ruins of her home. Swallowing hard, she answered, "We must go north, to the people of Cynnwyd in Strathclyde who migrated from here many generations ago. We will go to Dun Breatann and my kinsman, Lord Ceredig."

"The king of Strathclyde?"

"Aye, he will help us." Linor explained, "Though his people and ours are now only distantly related, we are still of the same tribe."

She gazed again into the terror-dazed face of her daughter and repeated her hope, "By the gods, he must help us."

You can purchase "Into the Path of Gods" at Amazon.com

In the Shadow of Dragons

In the Shadow of DragonsIt is said that long before the Dark Age king of the Britons called Arthur was ever heard of, his golden reign was prophesied, and after decades of invasion and civil violence had wracked post-Roman Britain, his presaged leadership offered a rare promise of future peace. Events leading to that time ó some of them full of hope, more often full of sacrifice ó inevitably began to fall into placeÖ

When the mysterious druid Myrddin Emrys ó known in legend as Merlin the Enchanter ó is certain the high king is in imminent danger of yet another assassination attempt, he summons iron-willed spy and master of disguise Marcus ap Iorwerth to unearth the conspirators and destroy their plots. Marcus reluctantly agrees to help after his wife Claerwen, driven by her otherworldly gift of visions, insists that she must accompany him on the quest.

It is soon discovered that Pascentius, the youngest son of an earlier and well-hated king, is allied with dreaded Saxon mercenaries and readily poised to reclaim his fatherís throne. But before Marcus and Claerwen can spoil his plans, a second conspiracy of personal revenge closes in on them. Falsely declared fugitives by the very ones they had sought to help, they become trapped in a labyrinthine intrigue between their accusers and the traitors. In a desperate race against time, they must endure hardship and profound personal loss, while pushing Britain towards freedom, peace and the future called Arthur.

In the Shadow of Dragons continues the spectacular four-part Macsenís Treasure series, blending Dark Age Celtic history, Arthurian legend and extraordinary original characters into an unstoppable, heart-thumping adventure.

Acclaim for In the Shadow of Dragons:

From Library Journal:
 "...a richly detailed Arthurian adventure..."

From Midwest Book Review:
"Kathleen Guler continues her superb blend of Dark Age
Celtic myth and Arthurian legend . . .
 . . .
compelling, entrancing and highly recommended -- the kind of book so easy to pick up and so hard to put down!"

From The Write Lifestyle:
"This is a superb novel! Guler excels at portraying the virtues and vices of protagonists and antagonists. Rather than discovering a hero and heroine who are pristinely perfect, the reader is captivated by the gifts and weaknesses that propel these bold characters and block those who live from their dark side . . . Wonderful, simply wonderful . . ."

From Geoffrey Ashe, 
author of the acclaimed The Discover of King Arthur:
"This is a very original story, carefully researched and skillfully written."

From Annette Gisby, author of Silent Screams:
" . . . a tapestry of words that enchant even as you read. The characters come alive, dancing off the page and into life. Highly recommended."

From The Best Reviews.com:
" . . . fast-paced and filled with non-stop action . . ."

From Waycross Journal-Herald:
" . . . a rich vein of literary gold . . .
Guler offers complex portraits of her characters, skillfully blending light and dark textures to their personalities. She infuses both protagonists and villains with very real, human motivations, often conflicting, yet ultimately leading each person to take their side . . .
This is adult adventure in the best sense."

From A Romance Review:
" This is a cracklingly good story that has been extraordinarily well researched. Ms. Guler possesses the gift of using words as a paintbrush ó her settings come alive . . . "


From BookReview.com:
"Kathleen Cunningham Guler is quite a bard with
a refreshing look at the Arthurian legend."

From Love Romances:
" . . . very well written and highly detailed . . . heroic and realistic."

From Steamboat Magazine:
" . . . compelling drama . . ."

In the Shadow of Dragons

Chapter 1

The lands of Dinas Beris, in the mountains of Eryri,
Kingdom of Gwynedd
Autumn, 470 A.D.

The goddess of the pond waited, prepared to listen to all those who came.

Well hidden within the thick, cloud-shrouded woodlands of Dinas Berisí mountain pass, her unreadable waters rippled in the rain. On the muddy brink, nearly invisible within tangled and dripping bracken, stood a wooden carving, some long ago humanís idealistic vision of how the goddess should have looked. She often laughed to herself, not in ridicule of the carverís ignorance, for no human understood she was the ensoulment of the waters. In truth, she was proud someone had cared enough to remember her, and because of that she had given herself as a place of comfort and contemplation.

The goddess waited. Patient for those who needed to unburden themselves, she accepted their tears of anguish, joyous memories and endless beseechings without question. And just as easily as she received those confessions, her waters adamantly refused to give them up. Never had a secret been betrayed.

So many flaws had been revealed in those secrets. One upon the next. So many that they blended together, hiding each other, layer upon layer until they created a perfect camouflage. In time, the goddess thought, the suffering and sacrifices would be forgotten. Only the illusion of an idyllic life would be left behind. And of this idyllic life, the court bards would sing, praising grand heroes and their courageous deeds, calling for cups held high in cheer.

The rain passed. The waters calmed, lying utterly still, deep, eternal, waiting patiently for the next mortal to approach. Would there be a happy prayer this time, she wondered, or another shattered soul come to reveal its flaws?

The goddess waitedÖ

The face that stared back must have belonged to another woman. Floating on the waterís still surface, it was pale, ragged and smudged, the clear green-blue eyes iridescent with tears that had been swiped aside and replaced with more. Nearly knee-length, tawny brown hair clung uncomfortably, soaked from a cold rain shower that had passed earlier. Thin and worn clothing only added to the aching in the womanís eyes. She blinked at the face, disbelieving.

The tiny pool had often been a place of peace and privacy, and she hoped to once more find comfort in its gracious ambience. Fingering a smooth and greenish speckled pebble, chosen on her way there, the woman began to sense the presence of the pondís spirit. She looked up at its wooden icon presiding from the surrounding underbrush. It gazed at her with wistful eyes. Then she reverently placed the pebble among many others that had been left as offerings to the carving by passing travelers and thirsty local people.

The woman dipped her fingers into the pool, dispelling the reflection. Too warm in spite of the chilling dampness, she pulled out a handful of water, poured a few drops in reverence to the goddess then drank the rest. Closing her eyes, she savored the fresh, cool feeling as it flooded her dry mouth and slid down inside her throat.

Images of her husbandís face crept into her mind, becoming so substantial that she traced every detail of his treasured features from memory, as if she could just reach them with her fingertips. "How can I tell youÖ" she breathed, and the hope of finding solace disintegrated. Bowing her head, she spread her hands over her belly. Then her thoughts scattered like leaves, refusing to assemble coherently, and the tears began to spill again.

The surface of the water rippled languidly. It was the color of burnished steel, dark from its depths and the murky light of dusk. Suddenly distracted, the woman shivered and was irresistibly drawn to lean forward and watch again. But instead of her reflection, she found a drifting, fluid image of the mountain pass road that crossed below the pond.

In the water she saw two horsemen stopped on the road, facing each other, a stoneís throw apart, not far below the passí summit. The first was heavily cloaked against the foul weather and she was unable to see his face. The second horseman, a husky, rough-looking stranger the woman did not recognize, confronted the first man with a drawn broadsword. No voices sounded, but she understood they shouted at each other by their angry gestures and the stamping of their horsesí hooves in the deeply churned mud of the road.

The first rider drew his own sword, but his grip on the hilt was unsure, even unfamiliar, belying his fear and lack of ability with weapons. He intently concentrated on the challenger, then, as if realizing it was in the way, threw back his hood, revealing a pale, thin face framed by wavy brown hair.

"Myrddin Emrys!" the woman cried out his name. Leaping to her feet, she abandoned the vision and started running down through the forest towards the road, dragging along her sodden skirts. Halfway there, she caught a glimpse through the trees of the two horsemen set to charge one another.

"No!" she screamed and raced onward.

Myrddinís head whipped around at the cry, and he saw her descend the path.

"Go back!" he yelled, recognizing her. "Donít come this way! Go back, Claerwen!"

The stranger saw his advantage in Myrddinís distraction and spurred his horse savagely. Lurching forward, he narrowed the distance between them in seconds, his sword raised high. But before he reached his quarry, Claerwen skidded into the road, halting before Myrddin, her bare feet nearly sliding out from under her in ankle-deep mud. Too late to haul on the reins, the attacker was too determined and too close to his objective to give it up. He kicked the horse again.

Myrddin froze in horror as Claerwen struggled to keep her balance. His skin crept coldly as he realized she was utterly doomed in the path of the charging horse. A cry rose from deep within his lungs, but his throat constricted, choking it off. He held his breath, waiting for the horrible impact.

But Claerwen whipped around and flung her hands up in the air, her feet now planted solidly in the ground. She shrieked an eerie, haunting cry that seemed to stir from the earth itself. The horse shied, disobeying its master, and reared, its eyes rolling with fear. It stood on its hind legs and backed, turning, neighing loudly in discomfort. Crashing down again, it wheeled violently and bucked twice, throwing the man into the roadside bracken, then bolted down the road.

Claerwen turned, eager to speak to Myrddin, but stopped, astonishment on her face. Behind him, a husky grey stallion suddenly crested the summit, pounding hard at a full-tilt run. Relief flooded Claerwen. Her husband Marcus sat astride the grey, crouched forward, his shoulder-length black hair and long, drooping moustache both flying out wildly from his intense face. She moved back onto the grassy edge of the road, but as she watched him approach, his eyes lifted and locked above. Following his line of sight, her panic jolted alive again when she realized another man straddled the tree limbs above Myrddin, leaning to pounce.

"Move away!" Marcus roared, pulling a dagger from the back of his belt.

"Ride!" Claerwen screamed.

Confused, Myrddin could not react in time.

Reaching him, Marcus kicked him off his horse. Myrddin dropped like a rock, his sword bouncing out of his grip. The assailant plunged from the tree, grappling Marcus instead, wrenching him off the grey. They fell and rolled together, grunting, hurtling into the brush. Moments later, his dagger bloodied, Marcus emerged alone.

Claerwen rushed towards him, calling his name, but he held up a hand, signaling for her to halt. Silence drew in, and he scanned the roadside for the first assailant. Nothing moved, but the hair on his neck prickled and he hefted the knife, assuring his grip. He held out his other hand to Claerwen, now wanting her to come forward. His eyes continued moving, shifting, watching intently. Cautiously, she started for him.

Behind her, the first attacker reappeared, springing from the side of the road, his own dagger ready.

"Run, Claerwen!" Marcus shouted abruptly, but it was too late.

The man broadsided her, locking a thick arm around her waist. Pressing his blade to her neck, he commanded, "Lose the knife, or she dies right now!"

Stopping short, Marcus let the weapon slip out of his fingers. He flipped his hands up to show they were empty.

The next order came: "Now the sword."

Marcus slowly unbuckled the baldric that held a huge two-handed sword at an angle across his back. He eased it onto the ground next to the dagger.

"And you, come forward."

Myrddin pulled himself up, rubbing his side where he had been kicked, and moved next to Marcus.

"Now isnít this fine indeed?" the stranger drawled scathingly. "The High King Ambrosiusí son Prince Myrddin Emrys, and Marcus ap Iorwerth, Prince of Dinas Beris, along with his wife, all at the same time." He half-dragged Claerwen, forcing her to lean awkwardly and hindering her attempts to find solid footing in the slick mud. Pushing her up against a birch tree, he pinned her there with one cold hand around her neck, the knife flat under her chin. He paused, savoring his moment of power, then pressed the blade in slightly, scratching her.

She winced. Glancing aside, she saw Marcus flinch.

The stranger saw him flinch as well. He sneered, "If you move again, I will slit her throat like a pigís." Then he whispered to Claerwen, "Of course, you know Iím going to do that anyway, sooner or later, whether or not he moves. But before I do, luscious lady, you and I are going to have a bit of fun, quite a bit of fun. And, of course, I will need to be certain that your husband and Prince Myrddin donít interfere."

His lips pulled back into an ugly smile, showing stained and rotting teeth as his eyes roamed down, anticipating what lay beneath her well-worn and threadbare dress. He liked how it clung to her, showing the fullness of her breasts, rising and falling with the distress of her breathing. "Not what a princess is reputed to wear, but it can be useful for tying you up," he muttered and slipped the dagger under her belt. He sliced through it.

Outraged, Claerwen sprang like a coiled cat.

The man had not expected her to react. Dumbfounded, shocked and in sudden pain when her knee rammed into his groin, he staggered back, involuntarily releasing her throat. She grabbed for the dagger, pulling it from his grip.

"Stay here!" Marcus ordered Myrddin, sprinting forward.

Claerwenís kick had been off-center. The assailant quickly recovered and he dove for the weapon, his hands raking over her. She tried to escape his reach, backing, twisting, ultimately stumbling, and she fell into a patch of ferns. Jarred loose, the dagger soared out of her fingers and disappeared. The man fell on her, his weight forcing the air from her lungs. But as she gasped, the weight suddenly lifted again. Through dazed eyes, she saw Marcus above, taking hold of the manís tunic and yanking him off her.

"Twll dy dÓn!" Marcus cursed furiously. He heaved the attacker away, flinging him like a sack of dead rats. Charging, he intended to catch the man off-balance, stun him, and take him captive, but the stranger kept his footing and countered Marcusí advance, blocking with a solid shoulder to the chest. Marcus hit the ground facedown with a heavy grunt.

Claerwen crawled through the ferns. Reaching the road again, she watched the assailant clamber to the sword Myrddin had lost and turn back towards Marcus, still lying stunned on the ground. Horrified, she screamed.

His attention jarred clear by the shriek, Marcus rolled over. He pulled his feet under himself and sprang as the man lunged. The sword missed, slicing deeply into the mud. Advancing, Marcus closed in before the assailant could pull back for another swing, caught his foot, lifted, and tumbled him across the road. The attacker came up again, slashing, but missed once more as Marcus rolled away, reaching his own sword and freeing it from its scabbard. In one ringing blow, Marcus blocked the next assault and sent the man down hard on his backside, ripping the weapon out of his hands.

"On your feet!" Marcus ordered. The bladeís tip hovered over his adversaryís chest, and he watched the manís eyes move slowly upward to the hilt. Fear suddenly filled the strangerís face as if an unearthly chill had claimed his bones. Bolting, he scrambled desperately in Myrddinís direction.

The dagger Marcus had given up lay between them. The assailant grabbed it, racing straight for Myrddin. Marcus bellowed another curse and tossed aside the sword, dashing after him. He leapt, crashing into the man, somersaulting over. The dagger flew free and dropped into a deep puddle. Marcus came up again onto his feet, whipping his hair back from his face, and he caught the assailantís tunic in his left hand, pulled him upright, then smashed his right fist into his face. He felt the nose break with the impact. The attacker stumbled back several feet, turned and fell.

"Get up!" Marcus ordered, gasping for air. The man did not move. Marcus ordered him again, booted him, and still received no response. When he rolled him over, the lost dagger was imbedded squarely in the bodyís chest.

"By the gods," Myrddin mumbled, coming forward. "That weapon must have been stuck by its hilt, straight up in the mud."

"Marcus?" Claerwen called, interrupting.

He turned, his cold expression fading as she ran towards him. He caught her in his arms.

She hugged him tightly. "Are you hurt?" she whispered, not caring if mud from his clothes came off all over her or if Myrddin watched.

Marcus clutched her, needing to touch her as well. "Fine enough, fine enough," he answered. Then releasing her, he lightly traced her throat with his fingers where the dagger had pressed. They came away smudged with blood.

She assured him, "íTis, nothing, Iím only shaken."

He frowned, his heavy brows shadowing his deep-set black eyes.

"íTis nothing," she repeated, trying to smile away his concern.

It began to rain again, heavily this time. Myrddin removed his cloak and slipped it around Claerwenís shoulders. "I owe you both my life," he said.

Marcus grunted an acknowledgment as he collected the weapons and cleaned them, then asked, "Who were they?"

"They followed me from Caernarfon."

"Caernarfon?" Marcus reacted, handing Myrddinís sword to him. "Why would assassins ambush you here? There are far more secluded places in between."

"I donít know."

Marcusí eyes narrowed slightly, studying Myrddinís thin face. It was haggard, accentuated by the bedraggled appearance of his travel-weary clothing and wet hair. His brown eyes were glassy and unreadable, as if to avoid telling the true answer. Raising one eyebrow, Marcus offered, "I didnít mean to hit you so hard."

Myrddin cast a wry grimace and replied, "If you hadnít come when you did, and if Claerwen hadnít spooked that horse, Iíd be dead for certain. How did you know to come?"

"I was looking for her. Then I heard this strange..." Marcus swung around and met his wifeís solemn eyes. "That was you, wasnít it?"

She slipped a hand to his arm. "There was a vision in the pond above the road. I saw Myrddin in trouble, so I did the only thing I could think of. Had you been looking long?"

"The house guards said you went out this morning with no food or anything else; they thought you would return shortly. I became worried when you didnít come home." Studying her eyes intently, he was disturbed by the fact that she had not informed the house guards of her intended whereabouts, a rule strictly adhered to by all within their clan, a rule she never broke herself.

Claerwen held his gaze without wavering, her fingers squeezing his arm. She rationalized, "The gods must have kept me away for the reason of drawing you out. It was to help Myrddin, more than to look for me."

Myrddin stepped forward, a grim but knowing regard in his eyes. "ĎFire in the head.í The power of visions grows in you, Claerwen, very much since the last time we met. Strong and powerful."

They looked from one to the other. Marcus sensed Claerwenís calm face hid more than visions and misinformed guards, but he decided to leave his questions for the privacy of their house. Unsatisfied and uncomfortable in the silence that followed Myrddinís comment, he broke away. Moving to the second assailantís body, he declared, "I wanted to take this one alive, to question him."

Myrddin winced at the shattered face then glanced at Marcusí large hands, scarred and callused from hard work, including blacksmithing and laying stone. "No matter now," he muttered.

Marcus gripped the dead manís ankles and dragged him into the heavy brush near the other body. Scavengers would take the remains. "Aye, no matter," he echoed, returning to the road and whistling for the grey horse to come.

For several moments, he leaned his head back, letting the rain rinse the mud from his face and hair. When he straightened again, he found Myrddin regarding him with somber curiosity, as if struck by some compelling thought.

Claerwen moved forward, touching Myrddinís wrist lightly. "You will come to the fort with us and stay the night." It was more a command than an invitation.

His thoughts interrupted, Myrddin nodded in agreement. Too tired to protest, he climbed onto his mount.

Marcus lifted Claerwen onto the grey, then dragged himself up behind her. Riding in silence, Myrddin behind them, they followed the road to the summit and turned into the path leading to the fort of Dinas Beris.

You can purchase "In the Shadow of Dragons" at amazon.com


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