Prologue FOR LOVE OF GWYNNETH

Prologue

Breen, England 1103

“’Tis not the mist that kills men, Cinnia.” Her Da’s voice was soft, his speech unhurried.  “Nor is it the mist that protects men.” His words chosen with care, he eyed the velvet-like wall of white that slowly descended, and the people scrambling madly for protection behind the misty veil.

“‘Tis the Da TamPanni and his beasts that dwell within,” Cinnia replied promptly.

With a slight smile at his daughter’s inflection, he hastened to caution her. “Remember that his blood mingles with yours. As well as Pelldari and Dennene. Possibly a touch of Shenti,” he added in a lower tone of voice, “but we never admit to it and even if ‘tis true, and I can’t see how, ‘twould be civilized Shenti blood, not the Wild Shenti. Continue.”

Cinnia shifted slightly on her horse and called up her memorized lessons.  “Our sacred duty is to protect this land. Whilst obeying the laws of man, we keep out any who would defile or desecrate Breen and slaughter whate’er dwells within.”

“And?”

“We keep inside what can’t be allowed outside the veil. The creatures and beings that might harm the world of man, but who also need our protection, must be guarded.”

He nodded.  “When do we call up the veil?”

Cinnia knew an unease welling from deep inside her.  Of late her lessons had been increased, and she detected an urgent quality in her father’s voice when he requested her to recite their history.  He spoke of how she would be guarding Breen…how she should rule Breen…as though he and her brothers wouldn’t be there to keep the peace. “When we feel that it should come down.”

“You needs must understand that completely, Cinnia. You needs must feel deep inside you when it should be called, girl.”

At the sound of soldiers, Cinnia looked toward the valley, and then turned to her Da.  “Did you not call up the veil soon enough? Is that why the wall is all the way up here?”

“The Da TamPanni has put the veil where it is to go.”

She didn’t understand why the Da TamPanni would do such a thing. “Doesn’t he know it should be lower?”

She thought she heard her Da say that the bastard knew right well where it should go. But she must have misheard. “Da?”

He snorted. “When a man breaks a law, then a man needs must expect punishment. When my Uncle Spoe sought to use the door to past and future for his own gain, TamPanni banished Spoe and his family from Breen. My father was declared Spoe’s successor, unless he, too, failed. He didn’t, he proved to be a good and capable lord of Breen.” Her Da nodded to the veil, near a mile higher than normal.

“Your lackwit brother, Comyn, spoke about what should not be heard by men. Like a fool, showed them what should not be seen.”

Cinnia shivered at the thought of displeasing the Da TamPanni by such doings. “What did he show men of the world?”

“Meg.”

Cinnia gasped at the enormity of Comyn’s brash stupidity. Even she knew that Meg was to be protected, especially as she was yet but a small dragon.

“And a Pearline,” he continued, “which he allowed to be taken away. Fortunately, it hopped back.  The Shenti had enough sense to hide ere they were seen, but once Perseus saw new men, he issued his usual challenge—and won. Unfortunate for us, ‘twas some baron’s son whose neck he broke. The lad’s father and his men are upon us even now seeking revenge.” His lips thinned. “You needs must remember this day, Cinnia, so you can profit by that blunder-head’s stupidity.”

Comyn’s stupidity…  Comyn had gone against The Rules. This, then, was why the warning bell had tolled, why the mist had been called. This why her Da had been so insistent upon her daily lessons. He knew. Just as she now knew he would be slain that day.

“Call upon the Forest Dreads, Da! Surely the Dreads would cause the men to run wild in fear? Or the Shenti, nay the Wild Shenti! They love to run amuck amongst men! Or the—”

“Good tactics, daughter, but TamPanni will have his way.”

“We could just hide behind the veil?” She didn’t want the Da TamPanni to have his way. She wanted her Da and brothers safe behind the misty veil. “The soldiers would go away in time, wouldn’t they?  What if Comyn apologizes? Or you could let loose—” She stopped when she saw her his expression, and bowed her head.  “’Tis a harsh punishment.”

“Harsh or no, ‘tis what we’ve earned. And time grows short. TamPanni has said that you will begin the next dynasty. Says he might have better luck with a female. Believes they’re more inclined to listen to reason.”

“I don’t—”

“You’re but ten years old, yet in no time the task of choosing a husband will be yours.” He stopped and raised a brow at her when he saw her eyes begin to tear. “Dorcas will always see to you, will always look to your best interests, child.”

Cinnia nodded.  She knew that.

“Remember to call on the Da TamPanni. He’s assured me he’ll watch over you…as long as you abide by the rules.”

The Rules.  Cinnia would prefer having her Da and brothers live.

“They’ll be plenty who’ll want to wed you, Cinnia,” he assured her darkly. “Just remember though, they’ll only be after one thing. Breen!”

Cinnia listened with just half an ear. Instead, she purposefully studied her Da’s face, wanting to burn his image into her memory.

“Young Eric,” he said slowly as he faced her. “From the second valley. I’ve seen how he looks after you.  He’s one with fair markings…our blood…a good lad.  He’s one to keep in mind, Cinnia. The Da TamPanni favors him as well.”

With a scowl on her face, she remained silent. She liked Eric well enough, but didn’t want to think of such things. Didn’t want to be the one who had to think of such things.

He smiled sadly at her and his tone softened. “I tell you true child, this time on earth is but a blink of an eye. Do well by your people, your duty, and your reward will be great.”

She pressed her lips together and nodded. “As you say, Da.”

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