The following is an original piece of fiction created by myself for the entertainment of others only.
"Pretty," he said absently as he picked up the blue rock he found as the source of the dull gleam of light that had teased his sight for the past few minutes. Overhead, the moon seemed to reflect off the smooth, round stone as if it were a mirror, and yet it was just a small rock.
Sir James Marcus smiled as he put the stone in his pocket. His younger sister still enjoyed collecting such pebbles and stones despite being near sixteen this year. It was to her he was headed no, for he had received word that she required his aid. As sole heir and guardian of their father's lands, and her only surviving family, he wasted no time in riding for Roseland, as their mother had named the lands when his father had first brought her to his home.
Not because roses grew there, but because the high stone walls of his fortress were carved from native rock that had a pinkish tint ingrained in them. At times, the sun made the smooth walls look almost blood-red. Many of the local peasants avoided the lord's castle as a result. The stone, and the site the castle stood upon, were both seen as powerful taboos. Spirits, they would say, had been disturbed in the building of that fortress. Spirits that should never have been wakened were now a part of Roseland, though no one could say how or why.
Yet for all the superstition, Roseland had always been a prosperous estate. No one seemed to sicken, no one suffered there. No attack on its high walls had ever been successful. Even the livestock and crops were always hale and hearty, adding yearly to their coffers, and adding also to the legends concerning the estate's guardian spirits.
In truth, his parents had died while away from home, and many said 'twas because they had left the protection of their home. Also, he knew his homeland was often so peaceful he couldn't begin to imagine what Saranda had cryptically referred to as peculiar events needing his immediate intervention. That was why he had not resisted when the king had requested his service these past years, for his peaceful holdings could be damned boring at times.
Mounting his steed once more after glancing around the forest, he ignored the expressions from his closest men-at-arms. He knew they thought him odd for stopping for something as simple as a stone that had caught his eye as he led them through the dark wood. He had no fear of rogues this close to home, knowing that superstition kept most of them out of his forests. Besides, being this close to home, he had preferred to ride on rather than camp another night in a cold, damp tent.
Trouble, or no, he was looking forward to a soft, warm bed, and a bit of hot food he had not had to scorch over an open fire for a change. Aye, and a hot wench to serve it, he mused as he remembered a certain sensual Saxon slave he had known the last time he had chanced to visit his own home. That had been months ago, for his own boredom, and the king's needs had kept him away more and more often of late. Like his father, James was a powerful, and skilled knight. This being a time a trouble, as barbarians were now constantly harassing the king's northern borders, threatening the peace, this trouble had been ill-timed. Still, he could hardly deny his own sister in her time of trouble. Which was what he had explained to the king when he finally wrested a leave from him.
"I'm so glad you came," Saranda greeted him as he rode across the drawbridge into the castle. He did not find it odd that she greeted him personally despite the lateness of the hour. He knew she had the gift, and simply knew things others could never understand. Things which could have had her burned as a witch did the wrong people know of her talents. His parents had always been wise enough to keep her gift a secret. Just as his father had kept their mother's gift a secret.
"What is the trouble," he asked her once he dismounted to allow his squire to lead his horse away to the stables.
"As blunt as ever, I see. 'Tis a wonder the king hasn't dulled your tongue," she smiled up at him with genuine affection."
"You jest. In the king's court, you need your wits to be as sharp as your sword, if not moreso."
"So I have heard," she replied before her expression turned somber as they neared the door to the main hall.
"I vow you are growing like a weed since I've been away," he remarked as he continued to smile fondly down at her as they entered the hall ahead of his men, and he sighed at the rush of heat, and pleasant odors that filled his senses. "You're nigh as tall as I," he told her as he affectionately ruffled her golden hair.
She snorted at that. "I wish I were as tall," she told him as she craned her head to look up at him as they neared the table where maids were scrambling to set places for he and his men. "Then I could at least look you in the eye without putting a crick in my neck," she complained.
He smirked by way of reply. "May you ever have your wishes granted, little one," he winked, teasing her as he had since they were children. For a moment she relaxed, whatever worries that had put lines into her young features eased, but only for a moment.
"I feared you might not make it back in time," she told him as her face scowled anew.
"What is wrong," he asked as he took his seat at the head of the table, gesturing for his men to join them at the late supper his sister was so thoughtfully providing them.
"We are going to be attacked," she whispered as she leaned over to speak, ensuring no one but he heard her. "Only I dare trust no one else with the news."
"One of your visions," he asked her just as quietly as a maid filled his cup with warm, spiced wine.
"I'll talk to you in your chambers later," he told her as he lifted his cup. "Go, and I'll see to my men first."
"How soon," she pressed before she left him.
"Within the hour. I might ask you the same," he pressed before she left his side.
"Within the week," she told him grimly. "'Twill be at dusk. With the sun low on the horizon, and under the over of….of…. I cannot see that next part. But I know who leads the attackers."
James glanced around, but his men were paying no attention. They were all devouring the seemingly impromptu meal his sister had provided them, and none were close enough to overhear their whispers.
Purposely raising his voice then, he smiled at her as he said," I'll come bid you a goodnight after I've had my fill of this potent wine, and your good stew," he told her.
"More likely the wine than the stew," she chided him, knowing him well enough as he gestured for a nearby maid to refill his cup.
As she walked away, her hips swaying provocatively, James watched every eye at the table follow after her. Even his. Since when had his tiny Sara grown so curvaceous? And damnation if she didn't also seem somewhat taller. He shook his head at his observations as he drowned his confusion in fresh wine even as a carefully cleared throat reminded his men just who's sister they were ogling.
"Now," James demanded without preamble when he entered her room later that evening. "Tell me all," he bid her after she had sent away her maid, leaving them alone in her room.
She smiled blandly as she finished brushing out the long curtain of silk her golden hair made down her back before she turned to face him. Sighing, she guilelessly stretched her slender, coltish body as her breasts made tempting mounds beneath her thin nightdress. For just a moment he saw the darker shadow of her taut nipples outlined beneath the ivory silk as she turned to sit on the side of her bed nearest him, and he swallowed hard, not liking the thoughts he conjured in his less than righteous imagination just then.
God's mercy, she was his sister, after all!
Shaking his head, he focused his gaze on her eyes, and found even her face had matured in his absence. Still girlish, aye, with a bit of baby fat just beneath, but smooth and unblemished, with none of that cursed powder those ladies at court favored so heavily of late. She was a young woman well into the bloom of her womanhood, and he wondered how it was she had not yet been courted by some likely young fellow.
"Well, Jamie" she finally spoke, calling him by her childhood name for him. "'Tis odd, this vision. I mean, 'tis stranger than usual. You recall Sir Walter Debois?"
"That odious lecher that actually had the gall to suggest I sell you to him?"
"The very same," she nodded, her gaze completely platonic as she stared up at him as he stood before her, eyeing her with concern.
Well, what had he expected? That she would suddenly be looking at him with some kind of passion? That she should be feeling the same bizarre feelings that he was unaccountably feeling for her since his return. Nay, not even then. Just since he had set down to eat. The wine. That was it. The wine was going to his head after being deprived of more likely female company for so long.
"What of the lout," he added after clearing his throat, and his head.
"He's going to attack our lands. Something is going to happen, but I cannot see what. He wants… I am not certain how best to put this, but….he wants you. Only 'tis not you, 'tis me. Yet not me."
"Ah," he murmured, scratching his chin which was sore in need of a shave. "One of your cryptic visions, is it," he remarked as he found his eyes involuntarily going to the swell of her breasts again.
"I suppose, for I sense that….this…person….is betrothed to that dog."
"What," he exclaimed, his distraction with her charms well lost as his astonishment rose to new heights.
"There is more. I also see that 'tis you that will drive him away. But….had you not come, Roseland would fall."
"Impossible," he blurted out, knowing his home's defenses well enough.
"Aye, 'tis very possible. Some…someone within these very walls….will betray us."
"Nay," he swore, unable to conceive of such a thing.
"Aye, Jamie. And while I cannot see the source of treachery, nor the reason, I know 'twill be a woman."
He shook his head. "Let me get all this straight. Debois will come in anger, claiming a betrothal we know nothing of, but seeking something within these walls. And if I am not here, Roseland will fall because of another woman."
"Aye," she nodded wearily. "It confuses me, too."
"Saranda," he began. "I only have three days leave of the king to spare here," he told her, reaching out to touch her pale cheek. He didn't understand his own action, and he didn't know why he was suddenly sitting beside her on the bed. He simply was.
"But," Saranda looked up at him, eyes round with fear and anxiety. "The deed shall not take place for at least a week. Of that, I am certain. If you are not here," she exclaimed, clutching his arm in her own as she drew him closer, resting her head against his broad shoulder. "We all die." Her action also pressed her nearly bared breasts to his chest. The heat of her seared him through his own tunic as she groaned softly, shocked by his awareness of her.
Without thinking, he looked down and noted she seemed somewhat different from the tiny, little sister he had last left behind. Sitting beside him, she seemed almost nigh to eye level with him as he instinctively pressed his lips to hers when she looked up to him.
Neither of them could explain how or why it happened at that moment, but a moment later he had her lain back on the bed, covering her with his own body as he feasted upon her bared breasts as his big hands stroked and fondled every sweet, silken inch of her. By the time he had freed his straining sex from his breeches, her night dress was gone, and he was saddled firmly betwixt her heated thighs. With a single thrust he seated himself in her tight flesh, and clasped her to him with a possessiveness he had never felt with any other wench. Mindlessly they rutted, like needy dogs, until he cried out at last, filling her womb with his seed.
His eruption sent her over her own precipice, and she cried out in bliss as her legs crossed to hold him tight to her, her body writhing helplessly beneath him in abandon as she offered that once virgin womb to him without reservation.
"Dear, blessed God," he cried, his lust fading as if it were a spell that had come upon him. "Saranda!" He started to withdraw from her in that moment, staring in horror at that dwindling, bloody flesh between his thighs that still dribbled his unnatural seed now planted within her sheath. He still couldn't understand how this had happened, but he knew they had crossed a line that should never have even been approached.
"I'm quite all right, Jamie," she murmured. "Truly, I wish you could know just how fine I feel just now. How wondrous….."
They blinked at one another, as if unable to focus, and then the willowy blonde blinked again, and screamed.
James blinked again. Frowning, he stared down at her, and tried to understand what had happened. Saranda was not the type to faint. She never succumbed to such silly gestures. Never. Yet even as he stared down at the body before him, he realized it was not truly Saranda sprawled out before him any longer. Her body had become taller, more masculine. Very masculine, he realized as he gaped at the limp, male flesh before his eyes. In the same instant, he glanced down at himself, and realized he was no longer the same either. In that instant, he realized part of Saranda's vision had already come true. She had become James, and he had become Saranda.
Yet a part of her new mind realized that not only was she no longer virgin, she wasn't truly Saranda any longer. In that instant, she also realized that she now possessed her former sister's gift of visions, and she saw much more than her sibling had first seen.
"The betrothal must be broken," she murmured as she stood up, feeling the oppression of that fateful day already foreseen fast approaching. For she now sensed that she was indeed betrothed to the vile Sir Walter, but she also sensed something else. There was something she still could not see. Something beyond the rapidly fulfilling events first foreseen by her sibling. Something powerful had come here, and it was going to destroy them all if it was not found, and stopped.
"Don't worry, brother," she murmured to her now masculine sibling, for she now could hardly call the man laying there sister, "I will be staying after all, and the king be damned."
She leaned forward, her still throbbing sex pressing against his limp shaft as she tingled with the afterglow of their lovemaking, and kissed the brother she now knew in her mind was now, in truth, her lover rather than her sibling. Yet she still had the memories of being James, while having the memory of being Saranda, and being her brother's lover for many months. Something very odd was going on here.
She smiled at the twinge of pleasure that made her shiver as she straightened up atop her brother's limp body, and thought it was a shame there was not a way to keep her….
That is, him….
Hell's fire, she fumed. She just wished they could truly be together. For she still recalled that wondrously blissful moment when they had fallen into one another's arms. It had been a truly joyous union while it had lasted, and even if she didn't know how it happened, she did so wish to relive that moment again and again despite the memories now insisting they had been lovers for much longer than she recalled.
She frowned as she stood up, cleaning herself up before she donned her night dress once more. There was something still nagging at her consciousness that she should be aware of even now. Pulling a quilt over her sleeping brother, she tried to sort out the reality she now found herself in. Even as she did, she realized James was no longer her sibling. Her memories now told her a third tale. She suddenly recalled being Sir Walter's ward, and fiancé. She shook her head as she lay down beside James, and dozed off trying to understand all that happened.
And what might yet happen.
James woke with a cry, dark thoughts clouded as he tried to fight himself free of the shadows that clung to him as he pushed the heavy quilt away from his naked body. He felt someone stir beside him, and turned to face the an oddly familiar visage that seemed to be someone close, and yet he knew she was someone only recently come into his world.
"Hello," Saranda smiled up at him, her expression a bit anxious for all the contentment he read in her expressive gaze.
"Hello, yourself," he smiled down at the woman he would defy the king to wed. He decided his own fears of losing her were likely responsible for his troubled dreams.
"Jamie," she smiled up at him, reaching out to brush his bristly cheek with one hand.
He noted she had pulled her nightgown back on sometime during the night. He smiled at that bit of modesty, even as he rose to sit up beside her. "I must say, you're a pleasant companion to wake to in the morning," he told her as he yawned, and put his feet down on the floor.
"Tell me something," she asked as she sat up beside him. "Do you remember last night?" "How could I not forget," he grinned as he pulled her close to his side. "'Tis not oft I get a wedding night ere I am even wed. I look forward to the follow-up of this even after the priest has blessed our union," he smiled as he leaned down to kiss her brow.
She smiled weakly as she asked, "That is all you recall?" She was still trying to puzzle out the sorcery that it seemed was shifting both their minds and flesh, leaving her own wits scrambled by the possession of her original mind and memories, while apparently changing all those around her.
"I recall your most earnest heat and appreciation, my love," her handsome, former self grinned. "As well as your breathless cries. Although I must confess, after that, my mind was quite lost in our blissful coupling."
"Walter will be quite furious," she broached quietly, knowing in that instant she was no longer a Marcus, but a Winters. An orphan taken in by Sir Walter, and abused by his position of power over her. She knew him to be a cruel, ruthless man who used all around him in hateful, sadistic fashion. As she had been used until she had begged Sir James to free her of the despicable Debois.
Even now, she had the memory of Walter's cruelty haunted her. She remembered the silver ring that pierced her cleft, a perverse mockery of his engagement ring for her. If she allowed herself, she could summon the memories of his terrible rod in her mouth, and bottom, as well as the feel of his lash on her back as he prepared her to be his bride. Trained whore, more likely.
Until James came, and carried her away. But she knew it would not be long until Walter came to Roseland, demanding the return of his missing ward. She glanced up at him, awaiting his reply, and wondering what he would say.
"Damn that dog to a thousand hells," he spat, much as Saranda might have once herself in his place. She knew then, that despite the changes betwixt them, and to their world, that Walter had been exposed as the beast he was to all around him. She knew that had she, the true Saranda, been given to the man in betrothal by the king, she would have suffered terribly beneath his heel.
And Walter would have died, she thought then. For neither she, nor James…..well, neither of them would have stood such treatment of her. Not for an instant. Just as she realized that she, in this form, now had Sara's gift. She simply knew things. But she still hadn't discerned just what was causing all this mischief, and causing such problems for them in the immediate future.
"You'll be safe with me, my love," James told her as he rose after giving her a tender kiss on her cheek before he grabbed his clothing to dress. "Now, 'tis best I get the day started, and be off ere we give the priest the wrong idea about your presence."
She smiled as he headed for the door of her room. Her former sibling's room. She was still trying to understand all that had happened to them. She, as Saranda, now had a gift of sight, but it still gave her no clearer understanding of the vision that had first troubled her transformed sibling into her former self, and now, into her beloved. She knew some called Roseland a place of spirits and power, so perhaps those tales were true. Perhaps they had been unleashed somehow. But why now, and in this bizarre fashion?
She wished she knew.
She blinked. And in that selfsame instant, she knew.
"James," she asked as the big knight that had once been herself put a hand on the door, about to depart. "Do you not have a gift for me this morn?" He glanced back at her with a fond gleam in his green eyes. "Aye, my greedy, little puss," he nodded as he pulled out a palm-sized blue stone. It still gleamed as it had in the moonlight, as if both reflecting and absorbing all light about it.
"How pretty," she smiled, reaching for the stone when he returned to offer it to her.
"I don't mind that special sight of yours, my love," he told her, playfully ruffling her dark hair. "But it does make it damnably hard to surprise you," he chided playfully as she held the stone up to study it closely.
"Did I ruin your surprise, then," she asked him, smiling as she let him lift one hand to his lips, letting his kiss the knuckles in courtly fashion. Even that simple act of affection sent delightful shivers through her entire body, and she recalled Saranda's last wish on the night before.
That she know just how she had felt at the very moment of her greatest passion.
She shivered again. It all made sense. She, as James, had unwittingly unleashed the power of the moonstone, just as her last seemingly casual wish had opened a gate of secret knowledge in her mind. For now she knew the very history of the powerful stone in her hand. A stone that was far more than just a pretty, glittering pebble.
The moonstone was a powerful, mystical amulet, once part of an ancient headpiece lost long ago by the Old Ones. They who were ignorantly called Druids by men who understood little of the realities of the mystic world. They were the last priest of Atlantis, a once great and magical kingdom of unimaginable power. Those last survivors of that lost land fled their dying land, and a cataclysm that was lost in history. The stone, she now knew, could be used to summon power from the very world about it, shaping reality according to the thoughts and wishes of the holder. One merely had to focus their thoughts, as in a wish, and the stone would make those desires come to pass. As James' first wish had been for Sara's every wish to come true.
Which explained her sudden height the night before.
Then, when his own foolish desires had brought her, as James, into her bed, and into her flesh, literally, her next wish had seen to it that they literally became the other. For how best to know how the other felt, than to become that person.
After she had become Saranda, she still had the gift of fulfilled wishes, and she had hoped to keep her sibling safe, and to remain with her. Or him. The stone had altered the very world around them to fulfill that idle yearning. Yet only in these personal matters. She knew that the king still sought Sir James' aid in helping clear the northern borderlands of rogues and rebels, along with his men-at-arms, whom he had brought with him to safeguard Roseland, and herself. That her lover now meant not only to defy Debois, but their king, only added to the troubles she still foresaw coming to plague Roseland.
As she glanced up at James, she realized that vision the true Saranda first foresaw was coming true. She could now see parts of it clearer herself, but it was still clouded at times. She could see the coming siege, and the treachery that would cause their downfall, but some details were still clouded in darkness. Some veil still hid what came next, and instinctively she knew that this gray haze was what had frightened her former sibling at the start.
Gauging the small stone in her hand, she glanced up at her smiling fiancé who thought himself capable of doing anything, and smiled back at him. She would have to wait, she advised herself. There was yet a traitor to find. There was Sir Debois, and his blight on their lands to deal with, and the king's demands on them both. She almost wished….
She carefully blanked her thoughts even as she clenched her fist around the smooth stone in her hand. She was now possessor of the amulet, and as the Saranda before her, had the gift of unlimited wishes, so she knew she had best be guarding her thoughts as well as any stray words. God alone knew what disasters might yet be unleashed by carelessness on her part now. After all, she thought as she glanced down at her voluptuous, feminine shape, look what only a few careless words had already wrought.
"Are you not pleased, my love," James asked guardedly as he stood before her, looking thoughtful. "I know how you love collecting stones, and such…."
"'Tis very pretty, my lord," she told him. "And I will make this the very center of my collection," she told him. "But should you not be going ere my maids catch you here?" "Bah. They will know soon enough we will wed by noon. So up, you, and be ready to celebrate. For this day I will make you my own lady to rule Roseland in my absence. And this night, I'll make you wife, and mayhap mother," he grinned as he glanced down at her trim belly.
"If last night did not already do the trick," he added with a boyish grin.
"Off, you ape," she leapt up to shove him back toward the door. "Let you forget to even fetch the priest again the way you're leering at me."
"I am considering a late day," he began with a wide grin.
"You should be considering rousing that drunken priest, is what you should be doing," a familiar, gray-haired woman appeared with a disapproving scowl as the door opened.
"Marion," she smiled at the old woman who had been a constant companion to James and Saranda.
"I heard you were here, lady," the disapproving matron sniffed, not knowing Saranda as her own charge any longer. "I was not aware you knew me," she said, studying her with a suspicious glint in her eyes.
"Ah, but, my lord James has described you so well that I just knew you had to be his favorite nurse, and nanny," she said, recovering quickly enough to heal any inadvertent damage while thrusting the moonstone amulet under a nearby pillow before the woman spotted it. She would prefer to avoid any questions of its presence just yet.
"Bah," the woman snorted, and Saranda realized only then where they had both acquired the habit.
"I leave you in capable hands, my lady," James grinned as he bowed to them both before heading for the door.
"You mean you flee the field, you scoundrel," Marion snorted. "A mite late, 'twould seem," the older woman chided him as she caught sight of the splash of color on the exposed sheets on the unmade bed.
"If I leave late, 'tis because I've already claimed my victory," he chortled as he paused in the door to chuckle. Marion slammed the door on his boasting.
"Spoiled pup," she chided him. "He should never have been allowed to run so wild. No responsibilities, that one. And too damn strong, and proud, even for himself. He'll bring ruin to us," she predicted as she turned to glare at Saranda. "Aye, for the spirits hate such pride. And likely, the earl of York will bring that ruin upon him."
"You know Sir Walter," she asked carefully as Marion circled her, eyeing her as cautiously as one would a serpent.
"I know of him," the old woman nodded grimly. "He is not a man to be thwarted. He will make those who try regret the attempt."
"I regret nothing," she told Marion, and knew it to be true even as she pulled a screen aside to expose a large, wooden tub that two maids were filling with water. They had been coming in from another door in the large chamber, and she had not even noticed.
"You might," Marion predicted.
"How can I, when I know Jamie spares me a life of misery and pain beneath Sir Walter's boot," she demanded as Marion continued to glare at her from under hooded eyes.
"Jamie, is it," the old woman murmured darkly. "We shall see."
"Aye," Saranda nodded as she was led to that steaming tub. "We shall."
Two hours later, Saranda Roselyn Winters, orphaned lady of Trylls, and former ward of Sir Walter Debois, earl of York, wed the baron of Roseland, Sir James Marcus. The ceremony was poignant to her, and damned if she didn't start crying when James turned to her, gently kissing her, before introducing her to his cheering people gathered just outside the church where they stood in accord with custom upon the step in full view of the assembled masses.
This James, she now realized, was more a playboy than not who had never thought of wedding until he had seen her. To his people, she, and the heirs she might bear him, were saviors of his line, and of their security. So who was it among them that did not view her as welcome? Who was it that would betray all of Roseland into Walter's hands? She still didn't know.
An hour later, in the midst of their celebration, four men under the earl's colors approached the front gates.
"If you let them in, men will die," she warned James when she heard his man bring him the message to the table where they feasted.
"So, your sight is still clear? I had always heard such gifts were lost when the maid lost her virginity," he murmured thoughtfully as he studied her.
"I still see things," she nodded to him as his man waited, likely wondering what his lord whispered about with his new lady when such grave matters awaited his attention.
"You know, I begin to see why that old brute wanted to keep you so badly. He likely felt he could exploit your gifts, and add to his wealth and power."
"And would you exploit me so," she asked him carefully, unsure of this new Jamie's character just then.
"Only in bed, wench," he grinned roguishly as he gave her a knowing wink.
"You oaf. Still, I didn't think Sir Walter knew of my gift."
"Aye, he must. Why else would he have risked so much to keep you."
"Most would have exposed me to the church's judgment," she suggested, not a little anxiously as she looked around the hall full of such men.
"Aye. And likely he would burn you for his amusement had he wished. But I daresay he meant to exploit you first, just as I said. But 'twill not happen, my sweet bride," he told her confidently as he leaned over to kiss her brow before rising.
"Come, you may join me on the walls whilst I share my good fortune with Sir Walter's men," he grinned devilishly.
Dear God, she thought, he was as brash as Marion had claimed. She just wished he had all the skill and wits she had possessed as the king's champion before their change.
James stopped for a moment even as he took a step away from the table, shaking his head before turning back to hold out a hand to her. "Coming, my love," he asked with genuine love sparkling in his eyes.
She nodded, realizing too late she had just been granted one of those careless wishes she had allowed to slip out. Although, it was for the best considering the nature of that wish, but still, she had to be more careful. Much more careful.
"So, Sir James," Walter himself shouted up at them a few moments later when they climbed the walls over the main gates to stare down at the four men. "You have returned, just as my spies claimed."
She shivered as she stared down at the older, gray-bearded man's craggy features as he glared up at them. She felt herself beneath him when those cold eyes reached her, and knew that James truly had spared her a dread fate by claiming her as he had in this newly made world of theirs.
"'Twould seem old Walter felt compelled to come himself," James told her, not noting her distress as she looked down into that evil face, and easily saw the fate he had planned for her. A life on her knees, more slave and whore, than bride.
"Do not fear him, m'lady," James reassured her, putting a strong arm around her shoulders as if sensing her sudden fear.
"Ho, Debois," he raised his voice to answer the impatient man below. "Have you come to congratulate me on my wedding day?" "You cur," Walter spat. "I'll gut you, and leave you for the wolves do you but come down. You stole my ward, who was rightly betrothed to me. Not even the king can spare you this time," he warned.
"The king," James growled quite convincingly. "You jest, my lord," he replied coldly. "'Tis not I who require the king to fight my battles."
"Then prepare yourself, wretch, for I am not afeared of your stone spirits. I will tear down these sickly walls, and use them to build your tomb," he threatened.
"My tomb, you say? Surely you must know, dogson, that no man can breach the walls of Roseland. And I know God Himself blesses these fine, thick walls, and watches over us. "In truth, have you ever heard of anyone breeching these walls," James crowed as the three men with the earl started around anxiously as men began to show themselves along the walls beside him, many with bows at the ready. "Nay. You knew my father, and I am his veriest son. Strike as you wish, old man. But while you shiver on the cold, hard ground, I'll be snug and warm in my bed with my bride this night," he laughed.
"Give her over," Walter all but screeched.
"Nay," James replied in a tone suddenly grim, and unyielding. Saranda knew that tone. Had used it herself many times in the past. 'Twas the sound of a man that didn't like being ordered. The sound of a man about to take action.
"And if you are still on my land by morn, I'll rally every knight I have, and hunt you down like dogs. So be warned," James spat at him. "And to show you I am serious," he added in the same breath, nodding at several of his archers.
The archers let fly four shafts. The men below yelped in alarm, two of them falling from their saddles. All four received identical wounds as the knights' uncanny aim lodged their feathered bolts in the men's right thighs. Walter was one of the two who had managed to keep his saddle, but foolishly jerked out the shaft, tearing out a great hunk of his own flesh as he cursed bitterly from the pain.
"You'll pay for this indignity," the old earl raged. "By God, you'll pay."
James watched him ride off, his men behind him.
"I may just have to kill him yet," he murmured in grim determination as the four men rode off, two of them still struggling with their mounts after remounting with their wounded legs hampering them.
"What of the king," she asked him, knowing that Walter was known to appeal to their king for the slightest reason when thwarted.
He looked down at the small hand she had put on his shoulder, and covered it with his own. "King Richard is our guardian, and lord. I cannot see him knowingly giving you over to such a bastard. In truth, he might just slay that oaf himself does he ever learn of your treatment at his hands. Besides, you are my lady now. Even Walter cannot undo that."
She sighed. She still felt their future uncertain, for there was a part of it she had yet to discern. Something that lay beyond the trials ahead that her strange sight could not penetrate. The future remained a gray mist she could no longer see beyond, and it troubled her. Especially with such potentially powerful forces aligning against them.
And then there was the treachery from within yet to be revealed.
"Had you not seen me that day," she suddenly blurted out, recalling now how this James had found her in one of Walter's manors, locked in a tower, and chained like a dog. She had seen him riding by from her window, and shouted to him, begging his aid. Promising him anything if he would but free her. Walter, not believing anyone would risk his wrath, had left few guards for her, and James had been just daring enough to accept the challenge of freeing a lady in distress.
"'Twas God's providence, my lady," he told her as he helped her back toward the steps that led down from the wall. "And as my lady, and lady of Roseland, you are doubly guarded. We are powerfully protected here, my love. Doubt it not."
He smiled as she looked up at him before descending the stairs. "So, you do believe in the spirits of Roseland," she asked him.
"I know not if there be spirits," he chuckled as he came after her on the narrow steps. "But I know we're protected by high stone walls, and we've enough brave and ready knights to take anything that dog has planned, and toss it back in his face.
"Aye, lads," he demanded of those nearest him as they overheard his words.
"Aye, milord," the men cheered.
Beyond the walls, she knew Walter's men would be making camp as his own forces began surrounding the meadow that was the only path in or out of Roseland. For Roseland was built right into the cliffs, and behind it was a towering mountain with sheer rock walls that dropped hundreds of feet. Ahead, the rolling green grass now blossomed with tents flying enemy colors. But she wasn't afraid, because her new husband was not afraid.
"I do wish this work was already done," a weary maid was complaining as she and several other worked to clean the chamber Saranda had been using. Behind her, other were emptying the tub left by the lady's bath, and echoed the sentiment.
The women all screeched in fear as they fled the room when one found herself holding an empty bucket over a suddenly empty tub, while the other was standing before a bed suddenly made with fresh linens that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. The dirty linens that had been covering it were no longer in sight.
Neither of the women noted the small, blue stone left half covered by one of the pillows as they fled the chamber, spreading tales of witchcraft, and other sorceries.
"Nay," others protested. "'Tis the spirits of Roseland, finally roused to anger," they told the maids. Of course no one knew what was truly at work as the tales made their rounds in the servants' quarters. But all were agreed that the spirits had been quiet until she had come. Thus, she must be at fault.
The battle that finally came to pass was strangely anticlimactic to all involved. One evening, James, feeling oddly restless, was out for a walk around the grounds when he caught one of the maids trying to open the side gate to a small group of Debois' men. Her intention was to rid Roseland of the witch that had now haunted her lord's home, and angered the spirits of the mountain. She was stopped, the men routed, and then she was turned over to the blacksmith who had great skill at fashioning slave collars. From freeman maid to true slave, she was sent away from the castle to earn her way in the local brothel after being sold there by her new master.
James, meanwhile, weary of being kept within his own walls for so long, led his knights out to harry Walter's confused forces at first light. He caught them all but unawares, and slew over half the men in bare feet before they were even aware of their danger. The survivors fled, many on foot, leaving a wealth of horses, armor, and more behind in their camp. Walter himself had disappeared in the fighting. During the looting of the abandoned encampment, no one truly noticed the stray dog that eventually followed Sir James back into his keep.
"Well, aren't you a friendly fellow," James grinned as he finally noted the animal that followed him into the stable as he tended his mount.
The animal looked up at him even as James looked down, rubbing its dark head as the animal whined at him. Even as he touched the dog, he felt himself falling. The dog seemed to stumble at the same time.
Then James rolled over and began to laugh.
"Curse me for a dog," he mocked gruffly as he rose to glare at the whimpering animal before him. "Nay, Sir Marcus," he drawled as he addressed the animal. "'Tis now you who are the dog. And I shall be going to the lovely Saranda, full of victory, and plowing her like the bitch she is. All the while," he sneered, "With her thinking I am you." The animal whined in fear, staring helplessly up at his former body.
"Be good, and I might even let you live," Walter smirked as James cringed when the man put his hand to his sword's hilt. "I might even allow you a bitch, or two. Even better," he leered. "I might even let you mount your….that is, my lady do I tire of her."
James growled at him in rising fury now, but the man just snickered, and simply ordered, "Come," in a curt tone, and James found himself obeying as if helpless to do otherwise.
"I have returned, wench," he declared a few moments later as he entered the hall, and moved to scoop her up like a common whore as he headed for his chambers with her in his arms.
"Jamie, what are you doing," she cried out, then saw the sad, green eyes of the animal behind him.
"You are not my Jamie," she cried out as he carried her easily up the stone steps to the chamber they now shared.
"I have his body, my sweet wench," he grinned as he tossed her onto their bed. "I had hoped to surprise you, but I forgot how clever you are. How….gifted you are.
"That matters not now. You may have the sight, but I have the power. And only I know where your lord's soul is now lodged. Only I can free him, if I chose to do so," he taunted her as he started to remove his armor as he approached her with the dog watching helplessly beside the bed.
"So, my pretty wench, 'tis best you cooperate," he warned her. "Else you will find your life, and his, a long, and miserable affair."
"I think not," she said coldly as she rolled off the bed, facing him without the slightest fear.
"You think I fear your visions," he laughed. "I've got the power to…."
"To what, Walter? To put your soul in other bodies?" "Obviously, I do," he smirked, still pulling off his armor, obviously intent upon reclaiming her.
"What if I told you I had even greater powers than yours," she asked him as she faced him with a cold sense of inevitability. All her premonitions coming to her now as they crashed upon her conscious mind like waves on the beach. Suddenly, all she had yet to perceive made perfect sense.
"Bah. Did you have such powers, you would not have been whimpering under my lash for so many months," he derided her as he pulled his tunic off to bare his broad, muscular chest. "As you will again," he assured her, reaching for her even as his other hand moved to loosen his breeches.
"Stop," she ordered, frowning in concentration as she mentally voiced the wish to paralyze him. Walter, in James' body, frowned as he discovered he was completely frozen. He couldn't even speak.
He stared in horror at her as the tall, voluptuous woman he recalled as being much shorter walked by just out of his reach as she avoided his paralyzed grasp. And without that slight touch, he could not exchange their souls to tap into her obvious power he had somehow overlooked.
"Do not get near him just yet, my love," she cautioned the dog who sniffed warily around his frozen body, as confused as Walter by this turn of events. "We must plan our next move carefully."
Walter swore hotly in the confines of his mind, but in vain, since no one could hear him.
"So," Saranda murmured at last after studying him for some time. "You wish to act like a beast? Well, I think I shall grant you your wish, sir," she nodded. "I wish….that you, Walter, would place yourself back in the mind and flesh of this poor animal, to stay until death takes you to your final reward."
Suddenly Walter could move, but he found his hand going to the panting beast nearby rather than the infernal woman who had brought him down twice now. And a moment later he was staring up at the tall, powerful man clad only in boots and breeches, who stared back at him with the coldest, green eyes he had ever seen in his life.
"A clever ruse, Debois," James rumbled as he strapped his blade back around his lean hips. "I wonder if the church would burn a dog at the stake for witchcraft?"
Walter whined pitifully as the two lovers faced him. It was all he could do as the lovers embraced before him, for he was still under her strange spell, and frozen unless she gave him leave to act. Which she had not.
"So, what do we do with him," James turned to ask her as he nuzzled her cheek with obvious affection.
Saranda glared down at Walter. "We need no other strays about here. Beside the fact he's a nest of fleas, and a pestilence in any form. Put him out of the gates, and bid your archers shoot him if he dares return again," she suggested.
Walter whined, and when she gave him leave to go, he ran as fast as his four legs could carry him. He continued to run, past the massive gates, and out into the forests beyond, fearing an archer might just shoot him anyway as he fled in fear of the mistress of Roseland, as much as of her lord. He did try returning to his body, but he soon found the wench's spell was more powerful than his own arcane magics. He couldn't regain his own form no matter how he tried. Miserable, and fearing what might yet befall him, he fled the baron's land, leaving his now feral-minded body behind to its fate.
"'Tis the start of the gray week? The time you could not see past," James commented the next morning as he woke to find her sitting at the window of their chamber, staring out at the countryside beyond.
"Aye, and now I think I know why," she said, turning to smile at him.
"Why," he asked, rolling over to meet her soft gaze.
"I have a kind of power, but it haunts me, my love. I have thought long on it, and I have decided I am going to….to rid myself of it. I decided that all I truly wish is to live with you, as man and wife, and raise our babes. Here. In peace."
"'Tis a grand vision, my lady," he told her as he moved to allow her back into bed at his side. "And shall we live happily ever after," he asked, kissing her nose as she settled down beside him into the circle of his arms.
"Aye," she sighed, retuning his embrace as he made short work of removing her gown to bare her firm, rounded curves to his sight. And his touch. "That is my greatest wish," she smiled as he covered her body with his own.
In that same instant, she actually felt the magic depart even as it was replaced by a greater magic that she knew was his love. She lost herself in the pleasure and passion he stoked in the fires of her heated flesh, and forgot all about amulets, and ancient sorceries as she gave herself over to him completely. Later, she would seek for the stone, intending to have it cast away, or buried safely, just in case. Only it could not be found anywhere.
She didn't fret. She suspected the strange amulet had its own destiny, and would be found only when it was needed. And if her future were no longer open to her, at least she still knew it was to be a happy one. For she had a child to look forward to, and a land at peace for the moment that no longer required her husband to ride off to fight in dangerous battles. That, in any guise, had ever been her greatest wish. It was all she had ever truly wanted out of life. And now she had it.
As for the moonstone…