Everkin

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England, 1334

 

Battle had a way of damaging not just the body, but the mind, as well. Radnar gripped his right wrist as he flexed his hand. He’d taken a nasty hit two weeks prior, and there were times his fingers went numb.

Not a good sign for any knight, much less one who earned his keep by his sword.

He blew out a breath and leaned a shoulder against a wooden beam as he watched the blacksmith work on a new shoe for his horse. It was something Radnar could ill afford, but if his horse weren’t properly outfitted, he was as good as dead. So here he was, spending his last bag of coin.

Life was one meaningless battle after another. He’d fought alongside some of the best knights of the age, and had even trained in techniques from a foreign land.

A few of the nobles he’d fought in service for had asked him to remain at their castles, but something kept driving him onward. It was as if there weren’t a place in all of England he felt he could call home. Or even wanted to.

His travels were taking him to an earl, who was building up his army to invade…. Someone. Somewhere. Radnar didn’t know who the earl was attacking, and he didn’t care. There was coin waiting, meals, and a way to release his love of battle.

It was the sights, the sounds…the smell…of battle that sustained him. There was no family to call him home, no lover who beckoned.

His mind drifted to years earlier when he was just a squire. Though his life had been hard, he hadn’t minded. Sir Gregory was fair, if heavy-handed at times. Gregory, unlike some knights, was more than willing to help Radnar join their ranks.

It was during that time he first saw her. Edra.

He pushed away from the post he leaned against and walked to his horse, rubbing his hand down the stallion’s neck. More and more often lately, Edra had entered his thoughts.

No matter how much time passed, her face remained as clear in his mind as the day he’d first met her. There would never be another who had her bright blue eyes. No matter how hard he looked, there wasn’t a woman whose hair could match the honey blonde of Edra’s.

Her smile had the ability to melt away his cares. Her laugh had given him contentment. Her sexy voice could have him hard and yearning with just a few words.

The three months he’d spent with her had been the best of his life. He’d fallen in love with her and had promised to make her a lady just as soon as he earned his spurs. They’d made so many plans.

Their passion had run hot from the instant they met, so it was no surprise that within a month, they were lovers. The gift of her maidenhead wasn’t something he’d taken lightly. He would’ve done anything for her.

So when she’d left without a word, he was devastated.

All he’d wanted to do was drown himself in ale, but Gregory didn’t give him a moment’s peace. Though Radnar hadn’t realized it at the time, the old knight had been looking out for him. He’d given Radnar something to focus on to quell his desolation. And when his misery turned to anger, Gregory had given him the opportunity in battle to become a knight.

After he had been knighted, Radnar lay awake, staring at the stars, wishing he could celebrate one of his goals with the only person he loved: Edra.

Sometime over the years, that anger had dissipated and shifted into longing. It settled in his chest, consistently tightening. It kept him moving from place to place, but he knew why.

He was searching for her.

Radnar knew he was a fool. If Edra had really loved him, she wouldn’t have left. But his heart wouldn’t listen, no matter how many times he tried such reasoning.

He rubbed the black’s velvety nose. “Easy, boy,” he murmured when the stallion flicked his tail in agitation.

Suddenly, Radnar stilled, his heart pounding. He turned in the direction where he’d seen the flash of honey blonde hair out of the corner of his eye. He was about to rush after the woman when the blacksmith called his name as he finished shoeing Radnar’s horse.

Radnar fished out a coin and tossed it to the blacksmith before taking his stallion’s reins. He leapt atop the horse and gave him a nudge with his knees that sent his mount into a trot through the streets.

He was so intent on looking for blonde hair that he nearly missed her. The woman was light of foot and wore a cloak with the hood up, preventing him from seeing her face as she zigzagged through the streets. But the cloak moved just enough that he saw a long, honey blonde braid.

Just as Radnar started to call out to her, he noticed the woman glance hastily over her shoulder. He pulled on the reins to slow the stallion as he looked in the direction the woman had gazed. He saw two more cloaked women striding purposefully after her. One in red, the other in green.

He clicked to his horse, following the blonde as she diverted toward the forest. It was a smart move. There was more cover within the trees, but if she needed help, there would be no one to hear her.

With a sigh, Radnar dismounted and dropped the reins. His horse would remain there until he returned. His other two horses, along with his armor, were hidden a few miles from the village. He didn’t like leaving them so long, but he couldn’t, in good conscience, abandon the blonde.

He kept the other cloaked women within sight as he followed discreetly. The fact that they didn’t quicken their steps as the blonde began running worried him. Only someone who was sure his or her quarry would be caught projected such confidence.

His gaze jerked ahead, past the blonde. Years of battling and planning attacks had honed his instincts. Someone was there, waiting to capture her. He could feel it. He quietly slid his sword from the scabbard at his waist and twirled it once.

On quiet feet, he trailed the women through the forest. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and the smell of rain hung heavily in the air. The women didn’t look away from their target or falter in their pursuit.

It was their stony countenance that set his teeth on edge. He knew what killers looked like. He’d seen enough of them in battle, and that’s exactly what these females reminded him of. It was an odd thing for the fairer sex.

His grip on the hilt of his sword tightened when the blonde jerked to a halt. The hood of her cloak fell back, revealing a wealth of honey blonde hair. He quickly ducked behind the trunk of a tree.

Then she turned around.

His heart missed a beat as he found himself staring into a face he saw every night in his dreams. Edra.