The Bard Chapter Five By Lady Faelyn Rose Shana Rose stumbled to a halt. A gust of arctic air hit her in the back, nearly knocking her down. Her body shuddered from the cold. Her teeth were chattering uncontrollably as she steadied herself against a nearby tree. The hem of Shanaâ€™s velvet gown was heavy with wet slush and her slippers offered no protection from the ice which had formed over the surface of the snow. She could barely feel her feet. In hind sight, Shana thought, she should have looked through the chests in the workshop of Jackâ€™s tower for leather leggings and a tunic. The armor would have been warmer and more importantly it would have enabled her to run. Oh what she wouldnâ€™t give for her soft leather boots right now! It seemed like a week since she had set out on her first dungeon adventure with Seamus, Patrick and Bronson. But it had been only yesterday. â€œStay focused on what lies aheadâ€ Shana repeated Patrickâ€™s words of advice â€œstay focused on returning home.â€ But she was tired, freezing cold and lost in this Felucca forest. The frigid north wind seemed to be draining her strength and numbing her mind. Fighting the sudden urge to cry, Shana started to trudge forward through the snow once more. Sooner or later she had to come across a road. Shana wondered if she were walking in circles. She could hear the shouts of men in the distance behind her. She looked up at the full moon again. Keeping the moon over her right shoulder as she walked, Shana gathered the heavy wet skirt of her velvet gown in her hand and continued the journey home. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Dominic crouched behind a tree and listened. The sound of two sets of boots crunching through the snow were approaching from the north. Dominic waited until Jackâ€™s men were just past his position before attacking them from the rear. His magic bardiche delivered a deadly blow to the closest murderer. The mortally wounded brigand fell into the snow with an agonized cry. The dead manâ€™s companion attempted to defend himself with a spear. But Dominicâ€™s magic bardiche glistened with blood in the moonlight above the brigandâ€™s head before ending his life, as well. Dominic moved silently through the Felucca forest. In the distance he could hear Lord Jack and his men searching for Shana Rose. But Dominic knew exactly where the lady could be found. He was following her footprints in the snow and covering them as he trailed her. A movement ahead caught his attention. Dominic stopped beside a gnarled oak tree, his breath misting the winter air. The full moon illuminated the woods. The snow sparkled like diamonds as he surveyed a small clearing to the south. There, standing in the light of a snow dusted moonbeam, was Shana Rose. She was dressed in an elegant blue gown. Her hair hung in a long thick braid down her back, the loose tendrils curled around her face. She was carrying a lap harp in one hand. The other hand was braced against the trunk of a tree. As if sensing his presence Shana straightened up and looked directly at him. For a moment they stood staring at each other, transfixed. To Dominic it was as if his vision of a fairy queen from some childhood tale had come to life. Her skin was as white as the snow which quietly fell around her. The flame red color of Shanaâ€™s hair seemed to glow with magic. But her soft voice broke the spell. â€œPleaseâ€ Shana said, tears welling in her eyes â€œlet me go.â€ Dominic saw that she was shivering with cold. He cautiously approached her, removing his thick woolen cape as he drew near. But the young woman backed away, her delicate fingers shook as they plucked upon the strings of her lap harp. Dominic realized that Shana was attempting to play a magic bardic spell. Peacemaking, no doubt, in the event that he meant her harm. â€œThat spell does not work on those who wish to help you.â€ he told her. Dominic stopped a few yards from Shana. â€œDo you remember me, Shana Rose?â€ he asked. Shana moved away several more steps, stumbling on the ruined hem of her gown. Dominic was sure she was going to fall, but Shana recovered her balance and whirled around to face him. â€œPlease tell your master that I must return to my family.â€ She had a look of desperation in her eyes and her body shook uncontrollably. â€œI have no master.â€ Dominic answered as he slowly advanced. He had seen men die of the harsh winter cold and knew that this woman would soon succumb to the elements. â€œI am Dominic. We met in Britain a few short hours agoâ€ he smiled and held out his cape to her â€œYou were a ghost walking in circles and talking to yourself when we met. Do you remember?â€ Dominic watched the changing emotions on Shanaâ€™s face as his words penetrated her fear. A smile of recognition spread upon her trembling lips for a moment before panic widened her eyes. â€œYou are one of Jackâ€™s men!â€ she cried out and turned to run. Dominic moved quickly, tossing his cape out like a fisherman casts his net, catching Shana in the thick folds of the garment. He hauled her towards him, wrapping her in his black cape. â€œNay, Shana, I am here to help you.â€ Dominic said as he easily pulled her to stand before him. â€œI swear to you that what I say is true.â€ Shana seemed too tired to struggle as he secured the cape around her shoulders. Dominic studied her upturned face and felt his breath catch in his chest. She was even more lovely than he remembered. The fear and confusion in her eyes flooded his heart with a fierce need to protect her. He silently vowed to kill Lord Jack the next time their paths crossed. Shana searched Dominicâ€™s face for the truth. Was he really going to help her? Or was this another of Jackâ€™s tricks? If this man was not one of Jack's henchman, how did he come to be here? Shana's ordeal had left her exhausted and dazed. Perhaps she was hallucinating from the extreme cold. Perhaps this was all a dream. A wave of dizziness washed over her. Without realizing it Shana let the harp drop from her numb fingers into the snow. The woolen cape still retained Dominic's warmth and scent. Enveloped in the rich thick wool, Shana began to feel the heat returning to her body. â€œAre you real or am I dreaming?â€ she asked. Dominic put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze â€œI am very real, my lady.â€ Shana reached towards Dominicâ€™s chest and clutched the front of his armor in a death grip. â€œPlease do not leave me here.â€ His hand moved to gently capture her chin. He tilted her face upward so that he could look directly into her eyes â€œI promise to see you safely away from this place, Shana Rose. You have my word of honor.â€ She leaned into him, laid her head against his shoulder and wrapped her arms around his waist. â€œDominic, how did you find me?â€ Shana asked, her voice was muffled in the leather of his armor. "What magic has brought you here?" Dominic suddenly felt awkward and uncertain of what to do. His life had been spent on the battle field. Killing his enemy was something he understood well. The women he knew were either seasoned female warriors, capable of fighting toe to toe with any man, or sultry barmaids, wise in the ways of world. But comforting an innocent young lady in distress was new to him. Dominic let his arms encircle the beautiful woman wrapped in his cape. Her sweet softness startled his senses. His mind felt drugged by the scent of her hair. He gathered Shana tightly in his arms as her violent trembling began to subside. â€œI returned to the healer and saw you entering the moongate accompanied by two criminalsâ€ Dominic told her as he felt the silky texture of her cheek brush against his rough unshaven jaw â€œI followed you thinking that perhaps you were in need of my assistance.â€ â€œThey tricked me into thinking that my family had sent them.â€ Shana replied, lifting her head from his shoulder. She sighed and looked up at him â€œI was a fool to go with them.â€ â€œYou are learning, ladyâ€ he smiled down at her. The color was returning to her face. â€œI did not heed your warning about entering Felucca moongatesâ€ she confessed with a shy smile. Dominic chuckled â€œYou managed well enough to escape without my aid. I am impressed by your resourcefulness. That spear jammed through the door handles was a nice touch.â€ Shana laughed softly. â€œIt was a feeble attempt to contain my kidnappers.â€ Dominic laughed â€œYou did well, Shana Rose. Indeed, you show great promise as a warrior.â€ They smiled at each other, their faces inches apart, sharing the heat that radiated between them. The snow continued to dust them in white. Their smiles faded as Dominic lowered his lips to Shanaâ€™s and pressed a slow, warm kiss upon them. Shanaâ€™s lips responded and her arms found their way around his neck of their own accord. Everything else in the world seemed to fade away, leaving nothing but the warmth of that kiss. Dominic lifted his head, a shadow of concern past over his face â€œI am sorry to have been so bold, Lady Shana, please forgive me.â€ Shana opened her eyes and whispered â€œAre you truly sorry?â€ Dominic hesitated for a second and then gave her a lopsided grinned â€œIn truth, I am not sorry at all.â€ She smiled and lay her cheek upon his shoulder again with a contented sigh. A shout in the woods nearby brought Dominicâ€™s thoughts back to reality. He swore as he realized that he had let himself be distracted by the woman in his care. Even the smallest distraction in battle could cause a warrior to be killed. Dominic had let his guard down for only a few minutes. But it was enough time for Jackâ€™s men to catch up with them. Dominic would have to act quickly to make up for such a blunder. Taking Shanaâ€™s hand in his, Dominic hastily led her further to the south. After they had traveled a short distance into the woods he stopped behind a large tree. â€œI will open a gate to my homeâ€ Dominic told her as he slung his weapon across his back and reached into his pack. He pulled forth a worn runebook and opened it. Dominic chanted the magic words to conjure a moongate. But as soon as the spell left his lips he was struck in the shoulder and chest by two crossbow bolts. An instant later a flame strike brought Dominic to his knees. Shana Rose stifled a scream as Jackâ€™s men began to emerge from the trees. She felt the weight of Dominicâ€™s leather runebook being pressed into her hands. â€œGo!â€ Dominic commanded her in a strained voice as he struggled to stand between Shana and Lord Jackâ€™s men. â€œRecall to my home. My family will protect you.â€ â€œI will not leave you...â€ Shana began, but was interrupted as Dominic took his heavy bardiche and hung it across her shoulder. â€œTake this magic weapon to my father.â€ Dominic said as he gently pushed her away towards the south â€œdo as I say, Shana.â€ he ordered firmly. Before she could respond, more deadly crossbow bolts stuck Dominic in the back. He grunted with pain and turned towards the attacking brigands. With a mighty war cry, Dominic tackled the two closest murderers. The three men crashed into the ground so hard that the earth shook beneath Shanaâ€™s feet. â€œGO NOW SHANA!!â€ Dominic shouted as he pummeled the face of one attacker with his fists. Shana flipped open the runebook, put her finger on the magic blue jewel next to the word â€œHOMEâ€ and pressed down. In the split second before she recalled away, Shana saw that Dominic had killed one of the men before being beaten into the snow by half a dozen heavily armed murderers. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Shana appeared near the steps of a stone fortress. The towering structure rose up three stories against a backdrop of tall rugged mountains. The leaves upon the surrounding trees proclaimed this to be the lands of either Trammel or Malas. The air was cold and a gentle breeze blew down from the mountains tugging at the red and black banners which adorned the fortress. In the misty half light, Shana could not tell if it were morning or evening. â€œDominicâ€™s homeâ€ Shana whispered, gazing up at the finely built keep. The customized grey stone fortress had wide stairs leading up to iron double doors. Draped in Dominicâ€™s thick black cape and carrying his bardiche and runebook, Shana hurried up the stairs. She tapped franticly upon the iron door with the metal tip of the weapon. After a few moments the door was pulled open and an older man appeared. The man had short grey hair and a trimmed beard. â€œMay I help you, my lady?â€ he asked as his dark eyes traveled over Shana from head to toe. Immediately a look of surprise crossed his face â€œHow did you come by that bardiche?â€ he thundered. Shana fell back a step at the anger she saw in his eyes. She held the magic bardiche out with a shaking hand. â€œDominic, my lordâ€¦â€ she managed to croak. â€œMy son!â€ the man exclaimed â€œWhere is my son?!â€ â€œFelucca, my lordâ€ her voice trembled with emotion â€œDead in Felucca. He bade me bring this weapon to you. His last wish was to save it from his murderer.â€ The man blinked at Shana in disbelief â€œWhat trickery is this?!! He would never give up his weapon!â€ He advanced towards her â€œYou lie! No single man could kill my son!â€ â€œThere were many men.â€ Shana told him as she saw, in her mind, the image of Dominic being beaten to the ground, his lifeâ€™s blood spreading red across the white snow â€œtoo many for him to fight.â€ Tears began to roll down her cheeks, wetting the dark wool of Dominicâ€™s cape. Dominicâ€™s father grabbed Shana by the shoulders and gave her a slight shake â€œWhere is he, child? Where in Felucca?â€ â€œThe forest near Lord Jackâ€™s tower.â€ Shana cried as she hung her head in sorrow. â€œIn a clearing. I know not where, my lord. I became lost in the woods. Dominic was trying to rescue me from Jack when he was overwhelmed by murderers.â€ her tears flowed freely â€œI am so sorry that I can not tell you more.â€ The old man slowly released her. All the anger seemed to drain from his body. â€œAye, that would be Dominicâ€™s way. To give his life saving you from murderers.â€ A strange half smile appeared on his lips and pride shown in his eyes â€œMy son was born to be a hero. A true hero.â€ â€œAye, a heroâ€ Shana sniffed â€œDominic thought only of my welfare when he sent me here in his steadâ€ she held up Dominicâ€™s runebook for his father to see. â€œI am sorry to bring you such unhappy news.â€ â€œDominic placed this weapon in your care?â€ the old man stared thoughtfully at the bardiche tightly gripped in her small hand â€œHe told you to save it for him?â€ â€œAye, my lord. He asked that I see it safely into your handsâ€ she wiped her eyes on Dominicâ€™s cape. â€œI am so sorry that I could do nothing to help him.â€ â€œTis I who should apologize,â€ he told Shana â€œForgive me for my harsh words. You have honored my sonâ€™s wishes.â€ He held out his hand to Shana â€œPlease come into my home and warm yourself by the fire.â€ he took Shanaâ€™s arm and escorted her through the iron doors. â€œI will gather my warriors and go to Dominicâ€™s aid. Fear not, child, for I know of the place where that Dread Lord Jack makes his lair.â€ Dominicâ€™s father led Shana Rose into a great hall with a roaring fire in the hearth. The old lord bellowed â€œROSCOE!!â€ as he guided the young woman to the dining table in the center of the hall. He held a chair out for her to sit upon. A male servant came rushing towards them. The servant stopped when he saw Shana. His mouth dropped open in shock as he noticed the magic bardiche of his masterâ€™s son in her possession. â€œRest here, young lady.â€ Dominicâ€™s father told her gently â€œMy man will see that you are fed and returned safely to your home.â€ he took the runebook and bardiche from Shana and slung the weapon across his back. â€œThank you my lordâ€ she gave him a tired smile. â€œYou may call me Augustusâ€ he smiled back, a curious twinkle in his eyes â€œMay I know your name, child?â€ â€œI am Shana Roseâ€ she answered. â€œIt is a pleasure to meet you, Shana Rose.â€ Augustus took Shanaâ€™s hand â€œA pleasure indeed.â€ Lord Augustus held Shanaâ€™s hand for a moment longer, smiling down at her with a look on his face that Shana could not comprehend. Then he turned and hurried towards an arched doorway â€œI will take my leave now, Lady Shana.â€ he called back to her as he disappeared into the hallway. â€œI must find Dominic.â€ Shana sat staring after Lord Augustus. She pulled the black cape closer around her shoulders. Her thoughts were focused on Dominicâ€™s fate. Images of Dominic flashed before her mindâ€™s eye. She recalled the moment she had seen him in the clearing, looming up out of the snow like a dark daemon from hellâ€¦ the way his eyes had smiled into hers, stealing her will to run away. Shana Rose unconsciously lifted the corner of the black cape to her lips as she relived the moment when Dominic had placed himself between her and Jackâ€™s murderous horde of men. Shana blushed as she remembered Dominicâ€™s kiss. A strange new emotion filled her heart. It was a mixture of joy and sorrow. Sweet longing and pain. What had become of the man who had given his life to save her? What had become of her hero?