Prologue

Nottingham, England
December, 1190 AD

A baby's wail pierced the darkness, sending the owls in the trees scattering. Two figures hurried through the trees, nimbly dodging the roots and forest debris below in the dim light of their lantern. A light layer of snow covered the ground where it had fallen through the tight canopy cover above it.

It would not stay; it would be gone by morning.

The woman who held the baby held her close to her chest, trying to calm the child. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, trying to block out the thought of tomorrow. She was not looking forward to it. For if all went according to plan...the snow would not be the only thing gone when the sun rose.

"There," her husband whispered, the first word either of them had spoken in nearly an hour, startling her from her thoughts. He pointed with the lantern, the light reflecting off the snow. It seemed unearthly, and foreign, casting the clearing in an eerie golden glow.

In the clearing ahead, a small fire was burning. A figure hunched over the fire in dark clothes, stoking the fire. As they stared, they heard a hiss and the smoke of the fire snaked upward in tendrils of purple. It stopped them both in their tracks. They both knew of this strange woman, but neither had ever seen her-or the wonders she was rumored to create-in person.

They just knew that she was their only hope.

The woman looked up from under a large scarlet hood. Her eyes were a striking violet, but her face and hands were wrinkled, betraying her age as much older than her eyes would suggest. Frazzled white hair poked out from under the hood. It seemed strange that such opulent eyes belonged to such an old woman, and it unnerved the new arrivals.

She noticed them standing in the trees. "Welcome," she intoned. Her voice held the mystical accent of her homeland in the east. "Approach."

Cautiously, the couple stepped into the clearing. It was quiet, save for the crackling of the fire, which every now and then pulsed in green or purple instead of red or orange. They stopped on the opposite side of the fire, unsure of what to do. The old woman had returned to tending the fire, and had not looked up again. When she did, her gaze was intent upon the man standing there, her violet eyes staring into his emerald green ones.

The man and old woman looked at each other, two forest myths meeting in person, sizing each other up. "Are you the...witch the rumors speak of?" the man asked finally, in a rich baritone. His voice was a commanding presence among his men, his followers. Tonight...his voice held a waver, and uncertainty. He had seen many things in his thirty years, and this was the first time he'd felt uncomfortable...perhaps even a bit scared.

"That would depend on which rumors you have heard," the woman said. "Outlaw."

He stepped into the light of the fire, illuminating a tall, imposing figure wearing a tunic in dark green over brown pants and handcrafted brown boots. A knife hung at his belt. Emerald eyes framed in a weathered but handsome face, surrounded by a dark beard and goatee.

His eyes flashed. "I do not have time for games, gypsy woman," he said, a bit of his usual confidence returning. "I have an urgent request that requires your…expertise."

The woman gestured to the rocks opposite her. "A request that is not asked lightly," she said knowingly, as the two strangers sat down gingerly across from her. She got her first good look at the man's wife-for that was all she could be, the way she sat close to him and deferred the talking to him. She was beautiful, long braided brown hair, blue eyes poking out from a scarf wrapped around her hair and shoulders. Two emerald earrings decorated her earlobes, and a large green pendant hung from her neck, betraying her true heritage. At the old woman's words, the blue eyes filled with tears, and she held the infant closer to her chest. The baby was sleeping, oblivious to all that was taking place.

The gypsy woman gestured to the fire. "Tell me of your…request."

"The prince's men have been sighted in the woods this evening. As you appear to be aware of my…status," the man gestured to himself, "you must also know what they seek." He looked down at his wife before continuing. "Our daughter is in danger." His hand unconsciously reached for their daughter, and his wife handed her to him. She seemed to disappear in his large arms as he held her, strong fingers drifting over the small, peaceful face. "I have been told that you have….supernatural gifts. The ability to help people in ways that modern men cannot. For a price."

"Name your request," the woman told him. Her eyes drifted to a point above and behind his shoulder. "Your time grows short."

"We must hide our daughter from the prince," the woman burst out. "We were told you are able to make people…disappear. Hide," she corrected, as if the word 'disappear' had a more negative connotation somehow.

The gypsy woman considered the two of them. "Your daughter will not be safe in England," she said after a moment. "Nor on the continent. It is not safe, with the current events. And if she stays in England, the prince will never cease in his search for her. She is leverage, in his battle against you and your…crusade."

"We are aware!" he exploded. "Just tell us…." His voice softened, his words a plea, begging. "Tell me, how can we save our daughter?"

"I require payment," the woman said, holding out her hand.

The two exchanged looks. "What-what payment do you seek?" the woman asked.

A long spindly finger lifted from the folds of her scarlet robe, coming to point at the woman's face. "The jewels."

The woman's hands reached up to clutch the emerald earrings in her fingers. "These were my mother's," she stammered. "They-they're all I have of her."

The gypsy woman raised an eyebrow. "Are they more valuable than your daughter's life?" she asked her pointedly.

The woman looked at her husband, who nodded. She tugged them from her earlobes and tossed them over to the gypsy, who caught them expertly and made them disappear into the folds of her scarlet robe. "The child," she said, reaching two pale hands toward the man.

"How will we know where to find her again?" the man asked, leaning back a bit from her, desperate to hold his daughter for just a bit longer.

"You will not," the gypsy responded. She held up one finger as he opened his mouth to protest. "You must have no knowledge of her whereabouts, or what is to stop the prince from finding her?"

"We would never-" the woman began to argue.

"You would," the gypsy woman countered simply, matter-of-factly. "I have heard of the prince's ways. You must not know her location. She will be safe, I promise you."

The man let out a strangled sob. "I-I wish there were another way," he choked out. His heart was breaking as he looked at the peaceful face of his little girl. His only child. His wife placed a hand on the baby's stomach, sobbing freely.

The three heard a yell from in the forest. "Quickly," the gypsy woman said. She did feel sympathy for the couple. But time was short and she did not want to meet the prince's men any more than they did.

"I love you," the man whispered to the baby, then passed her to the gypsy. She held the baby in her arms. The baby opened two sleepy eyes, bright green like her father's.

"Wait!" The woman reached up to her neck and in one hard tug, snapped the cord around her neck. She knelt in front of the gypsy woman and tucked the green necklace into her daughter's blanket. "So she has something of ours," she said, looking back at her husband with tear-filled eyes.

The gypsy nodded. The younger woman returned to her place next to her husband and buried her face in his tunic. "Hurry," he whispered to the gypsy woman.

She began to chant, in a language that made no sense to either of the people in front of her, but something was happening. The fire began to grow, the flames licking higher. The smoke turned an unearthly shade of blue-gray. A light of the same color filled the clearing as the woman chanted.

The yelling grew louder, closer. "They're almost here," the woman whispered fearfully.

The gypsy looked up from the baby, and both of her guests leapt up in fear. Her violet eyes glowed in the firelight, with a light of their own. "Go!"

The man recovered his senses long enough to ask, "But what about-"

"Go!" she ordered them, then continued chanting, louder. Quicker.

The man reached for his wife's hand, and with a final glance at his daughter, he took her hand and pulled her into the trees.

They didn't look back again. It was the last time they saw their daughter, or the gypsy witch.

They didn't see the fire explode in blue flame and smoke. Didn't see the looks on the men's faces as they burst into the clearing, swords drawn, only to find a smoldering fire pit and no sign of anyone having been there in hours.


West Rock Ridge State Park
New Haven, Connecticut
2000

Tom Hiltner answered nature's call around 1AM, crawling out of the tent into the darkness, fumbling for his flashlight as he made his way toward the main trail, heading for the vault toilets. The air was chilly, but when he looked up, he saw stars glinting above the trees, heard an owl somewhere above him.

And saw a bright blue light in the trees.

He stopped short. A bright blue light? His errand forgotten, Tom changed direction and headed back into the trees, hoping he didn't run over another campsite as he walked, or run into any nocturnal wildlife off the trail. The blue light was fading away, and he walked a little faster, trying to find it before it disappeared. What in the hell...

An earsplitting wail broke the nighttime quietness, and Tom jogged the last few steps to nearly stumble on a small figure lying near a small patch of shrubs.

The baby's fists were curled as it cried...curled around a bright green pendant on a brown string.