Read The Mercenary's Marriage Online

Authors: Rachel Rossano

Tags: #seige, #Medieval, #knight, #Romance, #rossano, #Adventure, #sword, #clean, #romance fantasy, #trust, #novella

The Mercenary's Marriage

The
Mercenary’s
Marriage

 

By Rachel Rossano

 

 

Published by Rachel Rossano at Smashwords

 

This book is also available in print at most
online retailers.

 

Copyright 2006 Rachel Rossano

All rights reserved. No part of this book may
be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written
permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal
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and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work
of this author.

 

Part I

 

“There is nothing on this one.”

Darius purposely turned his face away from
the man who spoke. He hated the necessary collecting of the spoils
after every battle. As he rose from his crouch, he scanned the
room.

Spotting the king, Darius strode toward
him.

“Have they searched every room?” King Simon
Jenran of Braulyn asked as Darius approached. The question was
directed to the two soldiers who had just arrived.

“No,” the older of the two answered wearily.
“Just the women's apartments.”

“Then keep looking; we must find her,” the
king instructed. Dismissing the pair with a wave, he turned to face
Darius.

“Nothing?” Darius asked as soon as the king's
attention was focused on him. As he watched his liege’s face,
Darius noted the lines deepening around his master's mouth. King
Jenran had aged ten years in the past eight months.

“Nothing.” The king frowned. “They have not
finished looking, but my guess is they will continue to find
nothing.” He walked to a nearby chair and sank into it. “Has
justice been served?” He nodded toward the corpse Darius had been
examining.

“Dead,” Darius informed him.
And dead too
soon,
he added silently. The outcome of this siege was
disappointing. Two months spent traveling north and then six months
of sitting on their hands. The experience would drag on any
warrior. All the time spent in attaining a goal, only to be routed
at the last moment with an archer’s arrow.

“He died instantly,” he added after a pause.
The king nodded. Darius did not have to add the rest. They both
knew who released the arrow that killed the man: a young man, green
with inexperience. It was over and nothing would bring the man back
now.

Darius waited as his master thought. The
king's bloodshot brown eyes stared off into space. Darius was
beginning to think the king had fallen asleep, when he suddenly
spoke in a low voice so only Darius could hear. “She was still here
this morning.” Straightening in his chair, the king continued.
“Gwendolyn and her women left a trail only a few hours old.” The
king met Darius' eyes.

A movement caught the edge of Darius' vision,
but he did not acknowledge it. Jenran continued, “If we can
determine which direction they took, we might be able to overtake
them.”

Casually nodding his agreement, Darius swept
his gaze across the room. Speaking so only his master could hear,
he added, “We have an observer.” The man was crouched behind one of
the tapestries along the walls. Both exits were two or three hiding
places from the hidden man’s position.

“Where is he?” The king did not move except
to look up and catch Darius's eye as if they were in
conversation.

Just then, the figure darted between
shelters. Darius felt his mouth drop; he quickly disguised it by
saying, “A girl.”

“Did you just say it was a girl?” Jenran's
weary eyes sharpened and focused more carefully on Darius.

“Yes.” Darius carefully turned so he could
watch both his master and the girl. “Small build, dark hair, she is
definitely not Gwendolyn or one of her frequent companions.” The
girl darted to the next hiding place. She was one sprint away from
freedom. Darius knew how she felt. The tempo of the heart pounding
in his chest and the taste of liberty on his tongue were both
familiar sensations. “She is mine,” he said. He glimpsed the king’s
smile.

“If you catch her,” he agreed.

The girl darted and Darius followed. She
disappeared out the door as he silently hurtled the last bench
between them.

 

Brice ran for her life. The empty halls
closed in around her and she was certain every sound echoed louder
than the last. She needed to get away before someone saw her. Since
birth, she heard stories about how mercenaries treated the women
captives after a battle. She could not be discovered. Eventually,
she found herself in the promenade opening into the inner gardens.
The moment her eyes fell on the lush underbrush bordering and
overgrowing the paths, she had an idea.

As she turned down the nearest avenue among
the trees, Brice caught sight of movement behind her. Was someone
following her?

 

Darius watched the girl run. Automatically
stepping with care in his soft leather boots, he had no trouble
following the fleeing figure silently. She was quick and a good
shadow dancer, but he was better. The training beaten into him
since his youth made him superior to almost every man he had ever
hunted or faced in battle. Keeping close enough to easily follow
her progress, but not close enough to be spotted, Darius studied
his choice.

In all the years Darius served Simon Jenran,
King of Braulyn, he only asked for two things. He had earned the
requests many times over. As a foot soldier, personal guard and
now, bodyguard and head of his majesty's personal security force,
Darius gave outstanding service and singular dedication. Three
years ago, there had been an elaborate plot to take the king's life
and then his throne. Darius discovered and foiled the plot at the
last minute. In the process, he nearly died.

After he healed from the injuries and
returned to service, Jenran promoted him and granted him two
requests. For the first, Darius asked for freedom. It was granted
immediately. Jenran freed Darius and paid him for all his years of
service, making him a very rich man. The second request Darius made
was that he would be able to claim something from the spoils of
every operation he worked. Jenran granted the request, but Darius
never exercised the privilege until today.

Darius was only three feet away the moment
the girl spotted the gardens. He slowly closed the gap without
allowing himself to be seen. Watching her profile as she turned to
look behind her, he knew the moment the idea came to her. She was
going to escape. Springing forward as she did, he followed her
practically on her heels as she cleared the doorsill and touched
down on the moist, moss covered path. He knew her destination, the
door on the opposite side of the garden. It was the same one he
used only hours before to infiltrate the stronghold. He was not
going to let her reach it, however. Looking beyond her bobbing
head, he searched for the clearing he knew was coming and waited
until the right moment to pounce.

 

Brice could see the door; it was even
standing open. Quickening her speed, she tried to sprint harder.
Her muscles protested, but obeyed.

Now she was positive she was being pursued;
she just did not know how closely. For one crazy second, she
believed if she could just make it through the door, she would be
free and safe. But the feeling lasted only for that moment, for in
the next, her foot landed wrong.

Something hard, heavy, and huge struck her
from behind. The ground rose up to meet her at a dangerous rate.
She tried to put out her hands and catch herself, but they were
pinned to her sides. All she could do was close her eyes and brace
herself for the impact. Something large, warm, and living wrapped
itself around her at the last moment. With a deft twist in midair
and a hard jolt, Brice came to an abrupt, but surprisingly gentle,
stop.

Fearing who might have caught her, Brice
pushed against whatever it was confining her only to find it
unrelenting.

“Don't I at least get a thank you?” A deep
voice asked from behind her left ear. “It is the least a rescuer
should receive for saving a lady's pretty neck.”

“I am not a lady.” Brice pushed again against
the stranger's arms. This time they released her, reluctantly.
Quickly scrambling for her feet, she stepped away from the man only
to find him already on his own feet and watching her warily.
Inwardly grimacing, Brice noticed the small gate behind the strange
man's right shoulder.

“It is safer in here.” The man's voice
brought her eyes and thoughts back to him. He was huge and dark.
Brice struggled not to shiver or give in to the cold tingle at the
base of her spine.

“I doubt it,” she finally managed while she
tried to judge how much of a head start she was going to need to
make it to freedom and close the gate behind her. The sturdy wooden
door with its iron hinges would hold him for a few minutes. Time
enough for her to get away.

“I would remove the hinges.” This time his
voice was tinged with a hint of an accent. Brice brought her eyes
back to his face and was annoyed to find a pair of dark gray eyes
laughing at her. This was all a game for him she realized. A game
he was confident he would win. “There are also men out there
looking for your mistress, Lady Gwendolyn. They would not be as
patient with you as I am being.”

Brice studied him for a moment. He was very
tall, over six feet. In her experience, tall men usually depended
on their size to compensate for speed and agility, but this man
obviously had both. From the way he was balancing on the front part
of his feet, he believed she was going to run. When she raised her
eyes to study his face, she found those strange gray eyes studying
her in return.

“Do you like what you see?” His accent was
gone, but his eyes were still smiling in spite of an impassive
face.

Choosing not to answer the question, Brice
asked, “What do you want with me?”

His eyes suddenly sobered. “It depends.”

After a few moments of uneasy silence, Brice
finally asked, “On what?”

“Whether or not you cooperate,” he replied.
Sounds started coming from the direction of the castle. The man did
not break his eye contact with her.

“And if I don't?” Brice asked. The noise
became the sound of many armored feet striking stone at a measured
trot.

“I will have to take you by force and
convince the men that you belong to me.” He frowned. “I do not
think you would enjoy it.”

The coming group was going to spot them
standing in the center of the garden at any moment. “And the
alternative…” Brice readied to make a dash for it. She would go
down fighting if necessary.

“You trust me to protect you now and explain
later.” He slowly offered her his hand, extending it palm up
between them. “Come silently and I promise not to hurt you.”

Brice heard the cries as one of the men
spotted them. She was running out of time, and he knew it. Still
she could not decide.
If he had wanted to hurt me, he would have
made a move before now.
Dropping her eyes to the man's hand,
Brice desperately thought.
Who do I fear more? This man is at
least giving me a choice. The men coming will not.
With the
decision made, she stepped forward and reached toward his
fingers.

 

Darius did not wait for their hands to touch.
He did not have time. Mentally wincing at the fear he saw written
across the girl's face the moment before he caught her up, he
jumped into action. In order for him to pull off not having to
demonstrate his possession of the only female plunder, they must
disappear immediately. Catching the girl around the waist, Darius
dove for the nearest cover, an ancient pine with ground sweeping
branches. By ducking beneath their curtain and putting the trunk
between the two of them and their previous position, they
disappeared from view. Positioning the girl against the opposite
side of the trunk, he effectively blocked anyone from seeing her if
they did not look closely.

Wisely, the female did not scream. Darius
looked down at her the moment they were hidden. She was grabbing
the trunk behind her as if it was the only anchor in the world. She
leaned her head back against the bark, giving Darius a full view of
tightly closed eyes framed by a mass of dark brown curls falling
free of their binding. The harsh angles of her face hinted that she
had been without adequate food for a while. As he had ascertained
before, she was smaller than most women, but she obviously had the
spirit to make up for her size.

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