So it’s the last day of the birthday celebration! Thank you to all of you that spent the week with Aspen and I! You made it quite a fun event! You have until the clock strikes midnight to get your entries in on all the Facebook games!
Okay, I promised a sneak peek of this last book. I have been working on it but still have a ways to go. War is brewing and lives are changing! Here you go!
Frog shrieked again as loud as his lungs would scream and tried with all his might to remove his hand from the rope holding him. “I did it for my wife…and for my son! Please don’t!” he sobbed.
“What of them?” Thorne queried. “What do they have to do with you delivering that message?”
Frog’s head fell back to rest on the chair, the tears still streaming down his face. “I gave it to you so that they would live! He is always watching you!”
Thorne lowered the hammer to his side. “Dracul ransomed your family for this message to be delivered? If that is true, I can guarantee you that your wife and son are dead. Dracul never bargains…not even with his own.”
New tears washed over Frog’s face. “I cannot believe you. My master cares for those who are faithful to him. Please let me go to them! Allow me to show you that you are wrong.
“Glade, take men with you and bring the village within the gates to ensure their safety…if it isn’t too late for them already. I have a feeling that this was all a diversion. Jackal, I want Valliant and Miquel to join us as we escort Frog to his home and alert our closest allies. Choose a rider to dispatch for Foxglove Pass and River’s Bend. The time has come, my friends. Our greatest foe is making his move,” Thorne said. “Have Stewart come and tend to this man’s hand. He can take us to his wife and son and either he will prove his point or I will prove mine. Glade, I am leaving my family in your hands. Make sure they follow the plans precisely. I will hold you responsible for them.”
There was a moment when time froze. No one could breathe, no one could think. They all just needed a moment to digest what had been ordered.
Thorne dropped the mallet to the ground. “Gents, we must move now. There isn’t much time.”
And with that, the men departed leaving Frog tied and crying with the pain of one crushed hand and the relief of his good hand spared.
Thorne veered to a hallway less traveled and took a moment to catch his breath against the cold stone wall. He felt sick, like the walls were moving and his insides were boiling and he was sweating as one does just before they lose their stomach. He had intentionally wounded another soul, villain or not, and he hated himself.
“You are no better than that scoundrel St. Michael,” he whispered to himself.
“Father, are you alright?” Dalen exclaimed and scuffled to Thorne’s side.
“I’m fine, my boy. I’m fine. Listen to me closely. Take your mother and brothers and Mira to the secret place with a bite of food and stay there until I retrieve you. Do you understand?”
Dalen’s face paled and he nodded. “This is it, isn’t it?”
Thorne wiped the perspiration from his face and stood on his feet again. “It could be. I must go with a man who is with the enemy to stop all this.”
“Father, that was not the plan. You are to be with us also. We are to survive this together!” Dalen reminded him.
“Shhh…I will be fine. But you must promise me to keep your mother in hiding for she is terrible at obeying orders. I need you both to stay alive at all costs. Now obey me and get everyone to safety,” Thorne said pulling his son’s body into an embrace. “These times make men out of boys, Dalen. Don’t stray from the plan. Don’t be like me in this one instance, please.”
Thorne could feel his son shake and heard him sniff loudly. Dalen nodded in his arms and both fought the tears that threatened them.
“She told me this day would come. She has been preparing me for it since I can remember,” Dalen whispered sadly.
“I will return. Those dreams your mother has cannot possibly be full of truth. We have the power to change them so do not fret.”
Thorne pushed Dalen away from him and watched the lad hurry off to gather the family together.
“Today is not my day to die,” Thorne said aloud, his voice echoing through the hallway.
The sun was high in the sky when Frog had been produced by the Doctor Love. The villain’s hand was bound thickly and hung in a sling. A cart was brought into the bailey and Thorne signaled his men to climb in. “Make sure he can’t jump and escape,” he added before hopping up next to Jackal, who was driving the team.
Glade sat beside Frog, a dagger poised at the man’s throat, and demanded he tell them where his home was located. Frog swallowed hard against being torn between life and death. Thorne shouted above the noise of the cart bumping down the road for the location.
“Please just tell him, Frog. I was where you are now except I was barely clinging to life. His lordship is a good man but he is protecting his family as you are. He will not kill them and I believe he will spare you if you are honest,” Glade recounted.
Frog’s shoulders slumped in defeat and he gave the easterly command to Rosehill. Glade pulled back just a notch, as though he hadn’t heard correctly, and relayed the information to Thorne. His lordship whipped his head around and narrowed his eyes as he visibly contemplated the danger that could lie ahead. Sauren most likely had no idea he had been infiltrated by the enemy.
“How many of you are stationed there as spies and henchmen?” Glade asked knowing Thorne would want to know.
“Just me and my family. Marriage was not allowed in my master’s camps. I fell in love with a woman while in a place called Foxglove Pass and we ran. We felt we had disappeared from his reach. We were married and had a son before Dracul found us. He tied ropes around the neck of my wife and son, pulling them off the ground using the beams of the rafters in our home. Desperate to save them, I agreed to do anything he asked of me. I don’t want to die, but if I must so my family can live, I will gladly give it up,” Frog replied grimly.
“Was there ever a man with Dracul with light blonde hair and blue eyes? Might be his General?” Thorne asked twisting in his seat.
“Nay. I never saw him. Dracul’s general looks just as he does. It is my belief that he is a son,” Frog answered honestly.
Thorne nodded in understanding and swiveled back to face forward, his eyes scanning the sides of the road for signs of a trap.
Time felt as though it had passed so slowly, the trip to Rosehill feeling like it was taking longer than usual. But they finally rounded the bend in the road where the village could be seen. There was a large black cloud of smoke from an outer area close to the wall that surrounded the village.
Frog sat up, tears brimming in his eyes, as he beheld the site. “No, no, no, no…please God.”
Thorne knew his thoughts were correct. As soon as Frog had been dispatched, Dracul had done away with the wife and son and burned the home.
“The devil will be close, be on the offensive!” Thorne warned.
The gates of Rosehill had been closed once the fire erupted and several riders and thundered away on steeds of great size. They allowed Thorne entry and Frog pointed wordlessly in the direction of the billowing black cloud on their left.
Jackal pulled the horses to a stop and Thorne jumped from the cart dashing to the small house that was burning, his men close behind, and Glade with Frog bringing up the rear. The pungent smell of burning things made them all cough.
Jackal grabbed Thorne’s tunic and shouted for him to stay out of the croft. Thorne hesitated a moment but when he heard Frog’s cries of grief, he ran through the flames and into the structure. There, tied to chairs at the dining table, were two charred figures slightly slumped in posture. One was tall and slight, the other was obviously a small child.
“Quick! Get them out! Put them in the cart! We need to get to the keep!” Thorne shouted above the snapping of the flames.
Valiant cut the bonds of the victims and with Glade’s help, they carried them to the cart. Jackal shoved Thorne out the doorway and Miquel escorted Frog out into the clean air. All the men were coughing, their eyes stinging, but they guarded themselves against an ambush as they sped off to the castle in the heart of the village.
Frog’s cries of anguish could be heard over the rumbling of the wheels over the dirt roads. The man kept pawing at Miquel and Glade to get to the remains of his family. Thorne couldn’t help but think of what was happening at his own home. Was it all a part of the plan to lure himself out of the castle with his best men to leave the rest unproperly protected? And if every soul in his village perished, would they find Aspen and the children? Would he return home to find them charred and tied to their dining chairs? A shudder stole through him at the awful visual that filled his mind.
Pulling up to the keep where Sauren and Marissa resided with their beautiful daughter. Thorne could see Sauren exit the castle as the cart eased into the courtyard, an inquisitive expression clouding his features.
“What is going on, my lord?” Sauren called out as Thorne jumped lightly to the ground.
Thorne held out his hand for a quick shake in friendship. “We don’t have time to stand out here and explain. I need to see you within the safety of your home. These are my men and our hostage.”
Sauren motioned them to the door and no one said a word until they were safe within the confines of the modest study. All the men filtered in and took seats where they were available, leaving Thorne to sit before Sauren’s desk.
“Will you please tell me what is happening, my lord?” Sauren inquired sounding impatient.
Thorne reeled back as if he was dodging a blow. “Do you have something more important happening?”
Sauren lightened his mood sensing his lord’s foul disposition. “No, no, of course not, my lord. You have merely piqued my interest. I’m concerned about the secrecy and we’ve talked about attack plans in years past. Naturally, I’m worried.”
“Well, I have reason to believe that the time is near…if it isn’t this very day. Our-well, that man is called Frog and he lived in your village.”
“Has he done you wrong? Am I to punish him accordingly as his lord?” Sauren asked not understanding at all.
“Nay. He was sent to me to dispatch a message and we captured him. What we found out is that he tried to escape the reach of Dracul. We’ve spoken of him before. However, Frog here was betrayed by that villain. It is time to gather the men. I require all you can spare on the morrow,” Thorne explained further.
Sauren sat back in his chair. “Are you sure that is wise? What about the people here. Are they not entitled to the same protections as your people?”
“Sauren, it is true that no one is safe right now. Dracul was here in your own village long enough to slay Frog’s family and burn his home.” Frog began to sob once again from a tall backed chair next to the fireplace. “I feel that Marissa and Farrin should be in Cliffehaven where all the troops will be gathered. It will be the best place for them to hide. Farrin is partially my responsibility.”
“She is not, with all due respect, my lord. She is my responsibility. I do not want her in Cliffehaven. I will send you all the men I can spare and still keep her safe here,” Sauren said firmly while shaking his head.
He jumped to his feet then and slammed his hands down on the desk top. “I said no, my lord! Forgive my outburst but I told you that you cannot have my daughter just yet!”
Thorne slowly stood and held his ground. “You listen to me. Dracul might know everything about your castle right now. If Frog could live among you for all these years, so could any of his henchmen. Any one of your servants could be his spy! If I was going to attack a village such as mine, I would need a place to strategize and a man like him is not going to inhabit an abandoned shack! He is going to want your home! I have an army! My family knows the protocol for going into hiding. I have the best trained men coming to join our ranks and will outnumber your men even if you all stay here. There is no other place to be right now!”
“And I would rather die with my family than die alone, my lord. I’m sorry.”
“But your daughter is matched with my son. My eldest son…my heir. She is very important to my line, therefore, I feel the need to protect her far better than you ever could. Send them to us, Sauren. I’m not asking your permission. It is how it needs to be,” Thorne argued.
Sauren shook his head wildly to the negative. “We cannot agree.”
Thorne’s anger and frustration took over. He leaned over the desk and fired the look of death. “I really don’t care that we don’t agree. I am now ordering you to send Farrin to Cliffehaven.”
Sauren stared Thorne straight in the eyes. “You are no longer my superior, Earl Darktower. I care not about anything you say. I have tolerated you thus far. But I will not give you my only child…yet. She is not of age to marry so you have no right to her. Get out.”
“I had thought you a smart man, Sauren. Clearly you are as brainless as your father! Start planning your funerals, choose your burial sites, because you are not immune to this foe! He will kill you and drink your blood before he enjoys your women and then give them over to his followers before he kills them and drinks their blood too! You don’t understand what he is all about! If I leave here, do not ask me for another thing as long as you live. I will not come to your aid later, mark my words!” Thorne stormed. He stalked from the room and called for his men to follow.
The sun was nearly blinding when they emerged from the castle. Thorne told Jackal to load everyone up. Sauren stood in the open doorway, most likely to be sure Thorne left. There was a light whistle in the air, the kind that made Thorne instinctively duck. There was a scream, brief but loud.
“Frog was hit!” Glade shouted. “My lord! We must leave now!”
Thorne lifted his head to spy the horror on Sauren’s face. He looked to the back of the cart to see Frog lying there with an arrow protruding from his chest. His body took shallow breaths that were doing him no good. Thorne jumped into the back of the cart and took Frog’s healthy hand.
“Easy there, Frog. We will get you to a physician.”
“My lord…” Frog whispered, “You are a good man. He hates you for that.”
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Frog. I wish I could take that moment back,” Thorne apologized.
There was a slight gurgling sound from the struck man before his hand went limp and he let out a long, tired sigh. Thorne pressed his forehead to Frog’s fingers. Tears pricked at his eyes.
“My lord! We must be off!” Glade pressed.
Thorne raised his head in Sauren’s direction. “Dracul does this to his own men! What do you think he will do to you and your family?”
Jackal slapped the reins and the team raced off. Glade kept his sword drawn and screamed at Thorne to lie down.
Sauren watched the cart ramble off in a cloud of dust and sighed. Turning around, he allowed the door to close securely behind him, leaving him once again in the shadows. He told himself that he was glad Darktower had left but there was an ugly feeling in his gut. He wasn’t sure what to do.
“You performed well, Sauren, second son of the king,” came a voice in the hallway.
It took Sauren’s eyes a moment to find the dark figure that belonged to that voice. “Thank you, your grace,” he said shakily.
Dracul emerged from the dining hall doorway. Sauren could see his teeth in the low light, gleaming like pearls in the dark yet they were actually yellow in the light. Just the sound of the man’s breath made Sauren quake with fear. He did not trust the man one bit and he worried for his wife and daughter. But what could be done?
“I’m impressed that you swayed the obstinate Darktower as quickly as you did. You do indeed know how to get under his skin. It was delightful,” Dracul breathed.
If you missed the tour, you can catch up!
Day 1: Noble Courage Spotlight