Shannon McNear lives in the LowCountry of South Carolina with her husband, eight children, a dog, a cat, a ferret, a goldfish, and a host of trained roaches. She’s been writing on one thing or another since third grade and is currently at work on two novels, a historical set in 1780’s South Carolina and a fantasy, the story of her heart. She has also served in worship and women’s ministry and as ACFW Southeast Zone Director and president of her local ACFW chapter. Glimpses of her life can be found at http://shenandoahdawn.blogspot.com.
Blessed Stranger, what have I done?
Daymonde shut his chamber door. The startled manservant straightened from laying out Daymonde’s wedding finery. As the man offered a hesitant bow, Daymonde could see in his thoughts the observation that the queen’s betrothed must have spent the night in solitary contemplation of what this day would hold.
Contemplation, aye, but hardly solitude.
Would that he had.
But too late, and he had a vow to keep. The elation of the past hours already faded into a cold sickness in the pit of his belly.
Could he bear to take Fiona as wife after this night?
Could he bear to face her and all her people if he did not?
The slight tingle of the presence of another’s Gift warned him just before the door flew back on its hinges.
Altnik Pearson’s amber eyes blazed, and though their minds remained veiled to each other, every line of his lean form bespoke fury. Daymonde gestured for the manservant to leave. Altnik held himself rigid, fists knotted at his side, until the door closed again. “You stupid, selfish fool!”
Bracing himself for a mental blast of rage that did not come, Daymonde retreated to his dressing table and poured a cup of mulled wine. He swished a mouthful of wine before swallowing. “You’ve seen her this fine morning, then?”
“Seen?” Altnik’s jaw worked. “She came to beg my help in spiriting you two away. My help, if you can believe it.”
If only. Daymonde lifted the carafe. “Care for some?”
“Are you completely mad?”
“Perhaps.” Though it tasted like vinegar, Daymonde downed another swallow. Its burn did nothing for the chill inside him.
Altnik strode forward, but stopped short of having to tilt his head. “How could you do this? ¬You, who built my confidence after my father’s death. Who helped navigate three kings, Rydane included, through that bloody war. Who lectured me about the Stranger. His Law. Our calling in the Gift, which ought to come first.” He dragged a forearm across his face. “You, the elder brother I never had. How could you stoop to taking another man’s wife?”
Daymonde flinched beneath the searing fire of Altnik’s Gifted gaze and contemplated instead the dark swirl inside his cup. “So, the lad now stands as my judge.”
“Not judge. Justice bringer, as you were once.” Altnik’s voice grew hard. “And tell me, how shall I reveal your treachery to Rydane?”
“Did he truly expect he could hold her for always?”
“She’s as bound by her word as we are ours.”
Precisely why he had brought Sheena back to her chamber instead of leaving the city with her. Daymonde snapped shut his eyes. For a moment, he was back in the moon-drenched garden, Sheena’s lithe form in his arms, her heart bare before him.
“She,” he bit out, “sought me. Not the other way around.”
“She is Rydane’s wife.”
“I told her I could not be what she wished.”
Altnik’s low growl startled Daymonde back to attention. “But you took her anyway? And then cast her aside? ‘Better to guard honor where none exists, than to be ready to collect on its lack.’”
Daymonde’s throat ached. Another sip didn’t help.
“And what of Fiona? How will you explain to her?”
“I do not plan to tell her.” He had to force the words out.
“I made a vow to Glenmarr—”
“A vow you broke last night!”
He shot Altnik a glare. “I gave my word. I will wed Fiona.”
“You gave your word to walk in the Stranger’s ways and uphold his laws! How will wedding Fiona accomplish that?”
“You dare ask me what I could accomplish at my queen’s side? I—”
“Your queen? Your queen?” Altnik paced across the room and back. “Blessed Stranger! This from the man who owned no one as king. And now, look at you—drunk with power, and with wine. I—” Altnik paled, fury fading into horror. “What if you sired a child?”
An icy heat blew through Daymonde’s very core. He’d not considered that.
“Need I remind you why those of the Gift must guard themselves so strictly?”
“I do not need your lectures.”
“Oh, yes, I think you do. The mighty Daymonde, who spent the night with a woman not his wife, yet intent upon marrying another. Your very Gift demands justice. At the least, your marriage to Fiona is forfeit, yet I’m not sure I can stomach watching you die—”
Once again, Altnik stopped mid-tirade, raking his hands through his dark hair.
What then, banishment? A wild hope leaped inside Daymonde—to escape with Sheena, and possess that wildfire for always. Oh, he’d relish the challenge of being the one to capture her all, when others could not.
In a moment, the heaviness of that deathbed promise settled on him again. “I cannot,” he whispered. “I must still wed Fiona.”
“You are mad.”
“I gave my word!”
The younger man shook his head. “And I must tell Rydane. Anything less, in my position, is treason.”
Daymonde laughed. “See? Even you are bound by promises you made to men—promises that do not supersede your Gift’s call. And yet you dare claim I must violate mine. You fail at both judge and justice bringer.” He drained his chalice. “Run back to your king, Altnik. Do what you must, and leave me to do the same.”
With that, he turned deliberately away.
“The Stranger himself judge you, then,” Altnik said. His retreating footfalls echoed across the chamber, and the slam of the door shook the furniture.
Daymonde released a long, ragged breath and reached for the wine. Oh, that he had never made that vow to Glenmarr.
He poured a second cup, but in his quivering hands, the wine spilled.
Blessed Stranger . . . what had he done?