Finding Peace - First Sample ChapterHere is the first sample chapter for Finding Peace - A Medieval Romance.
“Anger is short-lived madness.”
“God’s Teeth, next the badgers and wolves will march by two-by-two,” scowled Elizabeth with vehemence as she lugged the soaked saddle off her roan and dropped it in a sodden heap on the cracked bench. The fierce November storm crashed down all around her, hammering off the thin roof, reverberating through the small stable’s walls. The lantern hanging in the corner guttered out dense smoke, barely holding off the deep gloom of the late hour.
She worked quickly in the flickering dark to bed down her horse, the familiar routine doing little to soothe her foul mood. She was drenched to the bone – her heavy cloak and hood had done little to shield her after the first ten minutes in the torrent. Her stomach was twisting into knots with hunger. Exhaustion and cold caused her fingers to fumble as she finished with the bridle. She hung it on the wooden peg, then turned to walk the few short steps toward the stable entrance.
The small inn’s door was only ten steps away, but it seemed like ten miles through the deluge. Elizabeth took in a deep breath, pulled her hood up over her head, tucked in her glossy auburn curls, then sprinted across the dark cobblestones. It felt as if she were diving into a frigid stream, struggling against its strong current, and she reached out a hand for the thick, wooden door. In another second she had pulled open the latch, spun through the door, and slammed it heavily behind her.
The inn looked like every other hell hole she had stayed in during this long, tiring trip. Six or seven food-strewn oak tables filled the small space, about half occupied by aging farmers and rheumatic merchants. A doddering, wispy-haired barkeep poured ale behind a wood plank counter. The only two women in the room were a pair of buxom barmaids, one blonde, one redhead, laughing at a round table in the back with a trio of men. Two of the men appeared to be in their early twenties and were alike enough to be twins. Their dusty brown hair was the exact same color, the same periwinkle blue eyes gazed out from square faces. Like every other pair in the room, they swept up to stare at her the moment she came to rest, dripping from every seam, against the interior side of the door. After a moment of halfhearted interest, the farmers, merchants, and twins turned back to their pints of ale and their conversations on turnips and wool prices.
All except one. The third man, sitting somewhat apart from the preening twins and the flirtatious waitresses, held her gaze with steady interest. Her world slowed down, her skin tingled as a drip of water slid its way down her neck, tracing along every inch of her spine.
He was in his late twenties, a dark brown mane of hair curling just at his shoulders. He was well built, with the toned shoulders of a man who led an active life. It was his eyes that caught her and held her pinned against the wall. They were a rich moss green, a verdant color she remembered so strongly that her breath caught, her left hand almost swung down toward her hilt of its own accord.
She shook herself, turning to the row of wooden pegs running in an uneven line next to the door. That man was in the past, and by God, he would stay there. Why did she have to keep seeing that foul bastard’s eyes everywhere, in every tavern, in every stranger she passed on the road? She pushed the hood of her cloak back, then shook its damp embrace off her body, revealing the simple, burnt-orange dress she wore beneath and the well-used sword hanging on her right hip.
Now, to get some stew, or gruel, or whatever mystery meat this cook had to offer, and get some sleep.
“You, woman!” came the growled order, plunging the room into immediate silence.
Elizabeth blew out her breath in an exasperated huff. Just for once she would like to have her food and rest without going through this ordeal. Sometimes it was just a snide comment, a mention of the dangers of a young woman traveling alone, or a sly joke about the “oldest profession”. Sometimes the greeting cut with its chill edge. One solemn innkeeper had served her meal brusquely, informing her that she would have to find somewhere else to sleep.
All she wanted was food and a bed. She took in a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. If she could just rein in her temper she could get through this and snatch a few hours’ reprieve from the torrential deluge.
She turned around slowly, holding her features in what she hoped was a neutral gaze. The twins were on their feet, their eyes sharp on her, their faces twisted in anger. They wore matching outfits of fine leather jerkins. Behind them the green-eyed man stood more slowly, his eyes scanning her with careful attention.
Twin number one shouted in rage. “You! Woman! I cannot believe you simply strolled in here and expect to be fed and cared for!” His eyes nearly bulged from their sockets. “What, did you expect a pint of ale?”
Elizabeth blinked in surprise. She had certainly encountered people in rural towns who thought little of her traveling alone – but she had reached new lows in hospitality with this outpost from Hades. Still, the hammering of the torrential downpour just outside the door encouraged her to press her case.
“Please,” she bit out, her rising anger sharpening the edges of her attempted civility, “all I want is something hot to eat and a place to sleep. In the morning I will be out of your town and on my way.”
Twin number two took a step forward. “Maybe you did not hear my brother, John,” he snarled, his voice perhaps even a few notes higher than his double. “I think we should step outside.”
His brother’s voice was almost like hearing an echo. “Absolutely, Ron,” agreed the clone with heat.
Elizabeth couldn’t help herself. John and Ron. Twins. The rhyming duo. Her laughter bubbled up within her, emerging from her exhaustion, her frustration, her hunger and weariness with the world. It was the final straw in the long carnival which had made up these past few weeks.
The brothers glanced at each other, fury boiled their faces crimson, and her left hand dropped to her hip, doing the twist – latch – release to free her sword hilt from its clasp in one smooth movement. She had her weapon sliding smoothly from its sheath in the same moment that the pair launched themselves across the spellbound tavern toward her. Her steel rose in an arcing block as John brought a haymaker drive down toward her skull. She deflected his blow easily, sliding it off to her left, turning and whipping the sword – flat first – against his kidney with the full force of her momentum. He screamed in pain and sprawled back on the rough wooden floor, his face contorted in agony.
She continued her spin, remaining low, the whistle of Ron’s blade skimming over her head. She kicked her boot hard against his kneecap. He buckled backwards, screaming in fury, and she rose, whirling her sword in a circular motion, preparing to give him a welt to remember her by.
There was a dark figure before her. Her moving blade slammed into a block, was held, and she looked up into moss green eyes. Her breath caught, and she leant her sword against the tension. Her blade pressed in an X against his, their hands nearly touching, his body presenting a barrier now between her and the two young men.
“My name is Richard.” His voice rumbled out deep, steady, serious. He gazed at her face for a long minute. “I would call your eyes a deep brown, would you agree?”
Elizabeth shook her head in confusion. “What? I suppose,” she ground out, continuing her press against his sword. The man had excellent balance; his arm did not move one breath.
Richard turned his head slightly, calling down to the two at his feet. “Certainly not ice blue,” he informed them calmly.
His focus came back to her. “I apologize for these two impetuous ones, and would ask that you choose to stay at the Traveler’s Inn, a scant mile east. To be truthful, they are much cleaner than this location.”
A hot flare of fury burst through her. She was attacked, and now she was the one who had to leave? It was the second coming of the Flood out there! She snapped her sword free of his and sidestepped to the right, determined to finish what she had started.
Richard moved easily with her, brought his sword hilt back against his hip, and pointed the tip between her eyes. His body remained evenly between hers and the sprawled men. “I will defend them,” he added in a cool, steady voice. Elizabeth could see the steel settle into his gaze. She remembered being sheltered by that same style of fierce protectiveness, remembered being sprawled, herself, on a cold floor, her guardian angel standing resolutely between her and danger.
God’s teeth, she missed her brother.
The burning flame of fury ebbed within her, and she sighed. It was not worth it, not for a flea-bitten mat in this God forsaken hole in the ground.
She took a step back, slid her sword smoothly back into its sheath, then turned on her heel. She pulled the soaking wet cloak over her shoulders, shivering as its damp caress sucked the warmth out of her body. She half kicked the door open. Outside the rain pummeled the ground as if to beat it into submission, and she nearly turned back, nearly took on all three.
“Here,” came a call behind her. She turned, and Richard tossed her two golden coins. She caught them easily as they came near her, and the corner of his mouth twitched up in appreciation.
Now she was being paid to leave. She turned back toward the rain, took a deep breath, and walked steadfastly into the torrent, leaving the door wide open behind her.
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