Because enough of you commented on the blog and said you were interested, I will be continuing with the Friday snippets of the draft throughout September.
This section continues Chapter Four.
And as always, this is draft material and things are subject to editing (and possibly deletion), so please don’t share.
Hope you enjoy!
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Chapter Four (cont’d)
She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew for certain this was not what Annwyn believed would happen. They were supposed to travel as a group. For some reason, Robin had decided to forge ahead on his own and leave the others behind.
She didn’t want to risk letting go with one hand to pull her hood up, even though the bones in her face were beginning to ache. It might be impossible to sound calm while breathless, but she gave it a try. “Robin, I don’t like this. We weren’t supposed to leave them behind.”
The puck said, “That was not what I promised.”
There was a vicious note in his voice, and her heart sank. She had heard all too many tales of bargains made with ancient creatures that hadn’t been voiced carefully enough. “But it’s what Annwyn believes. Turn around and go back. It’s not too late to fix this.”
This, whatever this was. This kidnapping?
He ignored her. Where was he planning on taking her?
She was tempted to wait to find out, but just as it wouldn’t have been fair to explore the manor house while the others waited, it didn’t seem fair to prolong whatever this was either.
So, crouching low over the stallion’s back, she shapeshifted. As soon as her body had transformed into a falcon’s, she launched away. She thought of her packs regretfully as she flung upward, most especially her physician’s kit and the fire starter kit she’d had for so long, but sometimes you just had to let go.
As she gained in height, she looked back at the puck. The stallion plunged around in a circle, as completely at a loss just as Annwyn and the troops had been moments ago. Rearing, he screamed at her in wordless rage and frustration.
She almost laughed except he was too dangerous, and she didn’t know what he would do next. For all she knew he could shapeshift into a bird and follow her. From Sophie’s stories, he had been a small dog, and then a monkey.
Besides, flying away into the night wasn’t what she had come here to do either.
With an inward sigh, she wheeled on the wind and arrowed back to the puck. Landing some distance away, she shapeshifted back into her human form, put up her hood, and crossed her arms.
He had wheeled to face her and stood, head lowered, almost as if he were a bull and she a red flag.
“Why did you leave them behind?” she asked.
He said nothing. Every line in his body was furious and recalcitrant, as if he were a two-thousand-pound recalcitrant child. Gods, what a thought.
Cautiously she walked forward. “If you don’t talk to me, I will fly away and not come back. Is that what you want?”
“Of course not.” He gnashed huge teeth at her.
“Did you ever have any intention of taking me to Oberon?”
His pause went on a little too long for her liking. “Yes. Eventually. Annwyn might have studied you. She might have decided you were safe to have around our king. But I haven’t, and I don’t listen to what Annwyn or anyone else in the Dark Court says.”
Sophie had been right. There was a long-held resentment, and possibly even jealousy, vibrating in those words.
In the meantime, the wind had grown even colder, and now both her cheeks and toes had gone numb. “I need my cloak, and it’s in one of the packs on your back,” she said. “Do you mind?”
He glowered. “No.”
Warily, she approached, but he held still while she dug in the right pack to pull it out. Shaking it out, she draped it around her shoulders and pulled the hood over her coat hood. Heaviness settled around her, but it was without warmth.
She was going to have to use one of her body warmers. Digging into the pack again, she pulled out a packet. Once she opened that and tucked it inside her coat, it began to put out a welcome heat that sank through her layers of clothing. Wrapping her arms around her chest, she hugged it close.
After a few minutes thought, she said, “I’m not on Annwyn’s side.”
He lifted his head to stare at her. “Whose side are you on?”
Nobody’s side. Not Annwyn’s. Not yours. She rejected each possible answer as it occurred to her, as she tried to figure out what he wanted to hear.
Then she told him the truth. “I’m on Oberon’s side. That’s always true whenever I take on a patient—I’m on their side, especially the children and those who can’t speak for themselves. Not their families. Not the courts. Theirs.” She paused. “Your king is going to die, unless something is done for him.”
“Can you fix him?” Despite how he obviously wanted to keep his guard up, hope and need slipped into his voice.
“I don’t know. I can assess his condition, and I can do what is best for him—I can do everything I possibly can for him, but there’s no way I can know what that might be without examining him. And the truth is, I might not be able to do anything for him. Only one thing is certain, Robin. Your king is going to die, unless something is done for him. Why didn’t you want to bring Annwyn and the troops with us?”
He stamped at the snow desultorily. Other than tangling his mane and tail, the wind and the massive cold didn’t seem to affect him at all. “I wanted to judge you for myself, while they weren’t around. If you were a threat, I would take care of you.” He looked at her sidelong to see how she took his words.
He might be old, unpredictable, and dangerous, but he had nothing on a cantankerous, bull-headed dragon. She said gently, “You were looking after your king.”
“He told me to guard his place and watch them. A long time ago, Isabeau took me and held me captive for years. I failed him once. I won’t fail him again.”
In the meantime, while you play out your guilt-ridden power-fantasies, he is going to die unless something is done for him. She bit back saying that too.
Instead, she asked, “How long will it take them to reach the city on their own?”
He gave an equine equivalent of a scornful shrug. “Perhaps a fortnight?”
“Okay. You know what? I think you should pay attention to what your Sophie thinks, not what Annwyn says or does. Your Sophie would want you to take me to Oberon. You can shadow me all you like. You can ask whatever questions you need to ask, and you watch any procedure I might need to do. And I can explain everything I need to do before I do it. How does that sound?”
“That’s a bargain I’m willing to accept.” He bared his teeth. “And I can be there to stop you if you try in any way to harm him.”
Annwyn would be beyond furious, of course, but she had told Robin the truth when she’d said she wasn’t on Annwyn’s side. She was on Oberon’s side, and this was the fastest way she could get to see her patient for the first time.
“Of course.” She shrugged. “That too.”
* * *
Sometimes you could slog away at something for months or years and you never seemed to make any headway. A long project, a difficult situation, a challenging surgery. In a way, Kathryn’s journey to get here was like that—there had been so many moving parts, it had seemed to take forever.
And then suddenly life speeds up. You make a breakthrough, end the project, complete the difficult situation, finish the surgery. For Kathryn, that came the closest as anything she did to the feeling of flying while she was on the ground.
Land flew by as the stallion raced at a breakneck pace. She caught glimpses of the ever-changing landscape— sometimes it seems like Scotland, and at other times like Spain. It was its own unique place. Now she wanted to stop and sightsee. She couldn’t imagine when she would have the time; she would probably never get the chance.
At one point they raced along a seemingly endless shore while dark thunderclouds larger than cities towered overhead and the howl of the wind sounded like a live creature full of viciousness and teeth. Robin’s speed was incredible. They were traveling faster than she could fly.
And she loved it.
Leaning forward, she shouted, “Go faster!”
There was a slightest hitch in his stride. She had surprised him. Then he tossed his head and bugled in response. He stretched his body out, his long powerful legs a blur, and raced faster. In that moment she forgave him everything—his recalcitrance, duplicity, obstructiveness, everything.
Just before dawn, as a knife-like light began to silver the restless shore, they came upon a dark, ruined city so quickly she could only snatch at details. Like the bones of an immense creature, columns, roads, archways, and buildings flashed by, leaving behind an impression of broken grace and beauty. Half of it lay underwater, and what was left was covered in gargantuan swaths of ice and frozen icicles. It was a gorgeous, tragic place.
Here, Robin had to slow down until he walked, picking his way along ruined causeways and climbing sides of aqueducts. Neither spoke, the eerie howling wind ever-present. She thought about offering to get down to walk but staying clenched in the same position throughout the long hours of the night had made her stiffen, and she decided not to mention it if he didn’t.
Soon they left the submerged part of the city behind, as the puck picked a route that led up hill, and something else began to intrude on her awareness. The crazy wind was getting to her. She shook her head, but the feeling persisted. Covering her ears with both gloved hands, she tried to concentrate.
A sense of danger slid icy fingers down her spine. There was a Power that resided here, and it felt dark, vengeful, and awake. Like a predator, it tracked their progress through the streets but chose not to attack, at least yet. It felt like it was biding its time.
Twisting, she studied the empty streets around them, and took in deep long full of the briny air. She caught no scents other than land, stone, and sea
Robin, she said telepathically. Something is tracking us. Do you sense that?
Yes. He sounded strangely peaceful. He knows we’re here.
Holy hells. For the first in what seemed like a very long time, she felt seriously shaken. That predatory, malevolent-feeling Power was Oberon?
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