THE WARRIOR THRASHED about on the bed, sweat breaking out all over his body. He was trapped again in a battle that he hadn’t fought—a war that wasn’t his own. He was an observer, and though he’d had the dream before and knew what was to come, he couldn’t stop it. He couldn’t intervene and change anything. He couldn’t help the girl. And he wanted to. Oh, how he wanted to just once jump in front of her and slay her attackers for her.
She was tired; he could feel it. He knew her physical strength drained as the fight went on.
He ran along behind her as she fought her way through the corridors of the manor, frustrated as she sustained injuries he could do nothing to stop. Suddenly, she screamed as she was violently jerked into a room. The heavy wooden door slammed shut and was barred against intruders.
“Fox!” she cried out in recognition to the man in the room. “We have to leave, Fox. We have to flee now. There are too many men to fight.”
“No, you need to leave,” the man said. “You need to get as far away from here as you can. Take the stone with you. Protect it at all costs. He will not rest until it is his. Everyone needs to split up and go their separate ways. If we aren’t together, we can divide his resources. It will confuse him for a while. He will need to regroup, form a new plan, before he can come after any of us.”
“Split up?” she asked, shaking her head. “You can’t be serious. The Healer and the Scholar—”
“He doesn’t want them as badly as he wants you and the stone. You are the Guardian. You will find an inventor and scientist in the American Colonies in the year 1763 who will be sympathetic to your plight. He will be a great asset to you. You will find a Warrior ten years after that who will protect you in your quest. Do not guard your heart against him, for he is your mate. He will know things, like I do. Trust in what he says. He will be marked, and not like others.”
The girl grabbed Fox’s coat sleeve desperately. “What is a Guardian without the Healer and the Scholar? What is she without the Fox? We need each other. I do not know the stone as well as the others.”
“You don’t need to know it any better than you do,” Fox said. “You just need to protect it. We will all meet again. Gradually, you will find us—one by one. It won’t happen for centuries, but when the time is right we will be reunited for the final fight.”
“Your visions are vague, Fox.”
“This one is specific.”
“Only to you. You aren’t telling me all of it.”
“No, I am keeping some to myself. I’m only telling you what you need to know. It doesn’t all pertain to you,” he said, gently removing her hand.
A banging on the door rang out through the room. Fox moved to a bookcase and shoved it aside, revealing a small wooden door. “Go now. I’ll seal the passage behind you. Head for the forest. In the ruins of the chapel, there is money hidden in the altar for you. Take it and go straight to London, and secure passage on the first ship to France. You can head to the Colonies from there. Your inventor isn’t born yet, nor your Warrior. Make sure you are in the Colonies by the year 1763. You’ll meet the inventor in a city named Philadelphia. The Warrior will come ten years later. Now, go! Go!”
The Guardian plunged into the darkness of the corridor. She dared not light a flame to see by. She didn’t need to anyway. She knew these secret corridors better than the back of her own hand, as she had grown up running through their maze. Only her family could find her here. None of the servants or men-at-arms knew about them. So she ran through the darkness, guided by memory. She came out right near the stables, just as she had hoped. Quickly, she looked around her. Seeing the immediate area clear from soldiers, she plunged ahead to the barn and took the first horse she came upon, which happened to be her father’s prized stallion and the fastest in the herd. Pembroke—named for William Marshal, First Earl of Pembroke and Richard the Lionheart’s most treasured knight—didn’t protest. He was used to his mistress’s impromptu and ill-advised jaunts into the night. She spurred him forward, not daring to look behind her as she made her way to the chapel ruins and the unknown life that now awaited her.
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania – 1773
JACK WOKE WITH a gasp. The dream was so real that the girl’s image lingered in the air before him. She called to him, of that he was certain. But who she was, where she was, or what her real task might be remained ever a mystery. He had seen her in his dreams since he was a child. He knew her face as well as he knew his own. He knew all their faces.
Silently, Jack rose from the bed. There was a bottle of whisky still lodged in his hand from the night before, and he set it on the trunk at the foot of the bed. Moving around the small room with stealth, Jack gathered his weapons and few belongings, then left the room without waking his companion. It would be less awkward that way since he could not recall her name, or perhaps had never known it at all.
Once outside, Jack took to the shadows of the barn, borrowed a stallion with no intention of ever returning it, and tore off into the night. The horse appeared to know where to go, which was advantageous, as Jack did not have the first idea.
He rode through the early morning hours until daybreak, seeking answers for the eternal questions in his mind. The dream had come to him over and over for as long as he could remember, always featuring her, and sometimes the others she had spoken of. A battle had separated them from each other and now she looked for a warrior. But who was she? Why did she need protection? Rationally, he knew she must be a manifestation of his subconscious. He must have seen her in his travels and remembered her face, inserting it into his dreams.
But deep down in places of himself he was hesitant to explore, Jack knew that wasn’t the truth. These dreams of his had a way of becoming true in reality. When he was but a boy, he had dreamed of an Indian family, one he would consider his own. Then one day, his village had burned and left him the sole survivor. The same Indian family who had appeared to him in his dreams had taken him in and made him one of them.
“Olam-a-pies,” his Shawnee mother had named him. A story builder. She said he built these stories in his dreams. Now, he was their representative in the white world.
The sun was just rising, though he had been awake for hours. Finally spotting a deer, Jack dropped the horse’s reins and slid quietly from his saddle. Removing his bow from its case, he moved slyly through the brush, his unsuspecting prey in sight. Dinner would be venison today. If he could come across some salt for it, he would be in heaven. Sliding through the tall grass, he stalked close to his quarry and nocked an arrow, preparing to shoot.
Jack cursed as his meal suddenly spooked and bolted into the forest. The thunder of horse hooves approaching surprised him, and he crouched down to avoid detection. His horse grazed far off the trail now, but the stallion did not appear fazed by the approaching animals.
A cloaked rider astride a white mare moved at a dangerous speed through the forest. Four riders followed in close pursuit. A pistol roared and the bullet struck the mare's flank, causing the horse to stumble and bring her rider tumbling down. The cry of fear and surprise that rang out was a woman's, closely followed by a bellow of outrage. Without a thought, Jack transferred his concentration to the chasers closest to him. The bandits dismounted and viciously yanked the girl to her feet, the hood of her cloak covering her face.
Only cowards attacked a woman, and so, without needing to aim, Jack drew and released in one motion. The arrow pierced its target right through the heart. The woman screamed and the other three men scrambled to find their attacker. Nocking another arrow, he crouched low and moved quickly through the brush with stealth he had learned from his Shawnee surrogate family. The next arrow passed by the man holding the woman and found its mark through the stomach of the second attacker.
Jack was soon only a few yards away, too close for arrows or a musket, so he dropped the bow to draw his knife and tomahawk, and stepped out into the open.
“This is no business of yours, bumpkin.”
“Where I am from, striking a lady is a grave crime,” Jack seethed, circling the sneering outlaw as the fourth one held tight to the girl in question. “What is more, it is cowardice. Fight someone equal to you, if you dare.”
The man was probably no more than a common thug—all bluster, no substance. He drew his sword and made to close in with Jack. Jack’s right arm quickly swung up and then forward. The tomahawk flashed across the distance and buried its edge in the center of the brigand’s forehead, dropping him like a felled tree. Walking smoothly over to the corpse, Jack jerked the weapon free and then turned to the last pursuer.
The final scoundrel pushed the woman aside. Her hood fell away, revealing long hair the color of a chestnut. She clutched her stomach but did not look up.
“She belongs to Lord Rogan,” her would-be abductor announced, drawing his sword left-handed.
Jack and the last bandit began to circle each other. “It appears she is not of the same opinion,” he said pleasantly. He knew nothing of this Lord Rogan, only that he was about to crush the man's plans.
“She has something he wants,” the bandit hissed, revealing quite a few missing teeth.
“The property is nothing to me. Only the girl's safety is my concern.”
“She is of no consequence to you.”
Jack couldn’t have said why his current opponent was wrong. While he had not seen the girl's face, he was reasonably sure he didn’t know her. He didn't know anyone in this region.
The ruffian lunged for Jack, who parried the blade away with his knife and chopped at his opponent’s sword-wrist with the tomahawk. The enemy swung back and upward to evade the hatchet and slashed at Jack’s belly. He, in turn, blocked. Their steel clashed over and over. They were evenly matched in skill with their own weapons, but not in dealing with those of their opponent’s. As clash after clash resulted in one nearly fatal close call after another, both realized that the fight could not go on much longer.
A motion off to the side caught Jack’s eye, and he saw the girl pick up a large branch. He didn't know what she planned to do with it, but he supposed it was better than no weapon at all. Just as his attention was diverted, his opponent launched a powerful slice at his shoulder. Jack was able to divert the sword just enough to keep the strike from being fatal, but it still struck deep into his right shoulder. As the bandit pulled the sword back, Jack saw his own chance. Knocking the sword aside with his tomahawk, he lunged forward with his knife hand, driving the blade into the man’s chest. The last of the highway criminals dropped to his knees and fell forward, dead as a stone.
Panting for breath, Jack fell back against a tree, his vision wavering. He could just make out the girl, branch still in her hand.
“You can drop your club,” he slurred. “I am no threat to you.”
“You killed them all.” She sounded astonished, her voice soft and song-like. She didn’t sound like a Colonist.
“Was I correct in assuming they were no friends of yours?”
“They were not.”
“With them all dead, there will be no one to report back to your Lord Rogan.”
Jack pressed his hand to his shoulder and winced. The injury to his shoulder oozed blood down his arm and chest at an alarming rate. Alone, save for the girl, this did not bode well for him.
“He will know I was responsible,” the girl said.
“You weren’t responsible, I was.”
“It won’t make a difference to him.”
Still leaning against the tree, Jack dropped down and tried to look up at her. She was still out of focus. Not one easily soothed by a woman, he fell victim to the croon of her voice and found himself comforted.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“My lady, if you could save the inquisition for another time, I am going to lose consciousness now.”
Her image got darker and darker to him. As his head lolled to his shoulder, he felt her grab him by the ears and hold his head still for a moment before letting it go, where it cracked against the tree.