Bloodcurse (Book 3 of the Narrative of Riven the Heretic, Part 1 of the Arcanian Chronicles)
At last married to the woman he has desired for so long, Riven kan Ingan discovers old hatreds and long ago grudges aren’t absolved by wedding vows. In an attempt to protect his young wife from his enemies, he accepts a title from the Margrave, taking her to lead the dull life of a country noble. Married life may have made Riven kan Ingan a love-struck fool, but he refuses to be a cuckold when he returns from battle to discover his beloved Barbara pregnant with a child he couldn’t have sired. In fury at her supposed unfaithfulness, he risks the wrath of the gods and sends her to her death, only to find himself driven from his domain by a deadly curse. Haunted by Barbara’s memory, Riven begins a quest to find the one who cursed him. In the years that follow, his journey will take him to the land of his birth, where he’ll discover long-hidden family secrets and himself dependent upon a barbarian’s woman gentle mercy to help him rid himself of the remnants of the Bloodcurse.
“If the wind chills you,” he said, “There’s a cloak of marten furs in my saddlebag.”
Rising, she walked to where the bags lay next to his saddle, knelt and unbuckled one pouch, reaching inside.
“Oh, Riven…” The sadness in her voice made him look up in concern.
In her hand she held, not the expected cloak, but a short, slender sword. The firelight flickered and glanced off the blade. It was little more than an over-long knife, made from a stone fallen from the sky, star metal fashioned into a weapon purchased for a barbarian child by a young soldier, long ago.
“Where did that come from?”
“Mikil.” Barbara whispered. She touched the blade gently, as if she once more caressed the man who had been her husband. She looked as if she were about to burst into tears.
Riven remembered Mikil handing him the saddlebags. The boy must have hidden the sword inside while his back was turned.
“Keep it,” he said curtly, startled by that first faint stirring of the jealousy that would stay with him for the rest of his life. “You may need it.”
“For protection, my lord?” She swung around to look at him, brows raised. “From whom? Not you?”
He didn’t answer, but turned away, staring into the fire.
Read the flames for me, woman, as you did when we first met. Tell me if our life together will be all I want it to be.
Returning the sword to the pouch, Barbara rummaged inside the saddlebag. In a moment, her cry of delight told him she’d found the cloak. He smiled slightly as she swung it around her shoulders, rubbing her cheek against the dark, thick fur trimming its edges.
It was an expensive garment. He’d spent the last of his back-pay on it, what he hadn’t squandered on women and ale and payment for damages incurred during the drinking bouts he put himself through trying to forget her. Shortly before leaving for the southern lands, he purchased it from a furrier, cheap, because summer was setting in.
“Where did you find it?”
“In Jestey, before I left. Cost me half a month’s wages.”
And worth it, to see that look on your face.
“Before you left?” In the midst of her delight, her hand stopped stroking the fur, one golden brow arching upward. “Certain of yourself, weren’t you? What if I hadn’t come with you? What if Mikil had taken a hayfork and driven you away? What would you do with this, then?”
“I wouldn’t worry.” Riven shrugged indifferently and ate the last morsel. “There’s a black-haired wench at a tavern in Jestey who’d be very grateful for such a gift.” He swallowed and nodded. “Several of them, as a matter of fact.”
He got up and moved closer to the fire, his back to her. Though he expected it, he was still startled as small fists pounded his shoulder. Spinning around, he caught her wrists, laughing.
Then, he kissed her. His mouth sought and demanded hers. At last, he held in his arms the woman he’d hungered for these five years.
When he released her, Barbara didn’t speak. She simply stood on tiptoe, put both hands on his face, and pulled his head down, pressing her lips once more against his. Gently, her fingers caressed the scar on his cheek.
As her small body brushed his, he could feel her breasts, nipples hard as little rounded stones through the thin gauze gown, the dress he’d given her to wear to her wedding with Mikil.
Gods, how I want you.
Bending, he slipped an arm under her knees, lifting her off her feet. Just this once, he wished he had the eloquence of the men at Court, to be able to say exactly what he was feeling.
You’re my woman now, Barbara, he wanted to tell her, and the love I’ll give you will make you forget that Izhmiri farmer…but he couldn’t say it, not yet. His present love still held enough lust that he knew he couldn’t be gentle.
He’d wait. He had to.
With a sigh, he set her down.
He had to take three deep breaths before he could speak. All that time, she waited patiently, looking up at him with those disturbing storm-blue eyes.
“I’ve made many vows and I’ve broken most of them, woman, but you’ll not make me break this one.” he announced. Kissing her forehead, he took a step away from her. “I’ll not touch you until we’re wed. In Aljansur.”
“What of the black-haired wench in Jestey?” she wanted to know.
He didn’t miss the tiny dæmon-light twinkling in her eyes.
“Or the several others?”
“I think I’ll have no reason ever to see any of them, again,” he declared, knowing in his heart he wanted no other but the little woman standing before him.
“No wenching, Riven...ever,” she murmured. She held out her arms and his own went around her without his thinking about it.
“Never, sweetling. Only you…from now on.” Gods…I sound like some moonstruck stripling.
Why shouldn’t he? He loved her, had always loved her. Perhaps at his age, after a life of whoring and heart-stealing, his foolishness could be allowed, for he was experiencing true love for the first time in his life. What a sweet and painful feeling it was.
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