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Touch of Eternity

By:Emily Bold

PROLOGUE


Scotland, 1740

The moon bathed the soft hills of the Scottish Highlands in a silvery glow. Cathal Stuart drew the bloody blade out of the lifeless body of his enemy. The fight had been won.

He peered over the edge of the turret to see how the others in the courtyard were doing. Two of his fighters circled, swords drawn. They covered each other’s backs—though they were far stronger than their opponents anyway. The rest of his men had penetrated the stone castle’s main tower.

He caught sight of the only woman in the fight, his wild sister. She was almost as good with a broadsword as he was. But on the blood-slicked stones of the courtyard, a single wrong move could mean the end. Despite that, he nearly smiled; it looked as if she were actually enjoying herself.

Nathaira had cut her skirts in preparation for the fight and there was now a giant slash in the fabric of her moss-green bodice. Her black hair had come loose. It swung, damp, around her head, but she didn’t even seem to notice it. Her opponent, more than a head taller and at least double her weight, was trying his best to avoid her sharp blade.

Although Cathal had no doubt that Nathaira could win on her own, he decided to come to her aid. She let out a gravelly laugh when she saw him, and together they mercilessly attacked the man in front of them with fast, hard hits. Metal clashed, and the fighters heaved under the strain of the heavy swords. Back and forth, Cathal hit, then Nathaira, as the siblings played a deadly game with their opponent.

They kept slashing at their victim. His once-brown shirt was hanging down in bloody rags, and soon he couldn’t use his sword arm. Another hit and the sword flew out of his hand, clanging across the stone in what they all knew was a death knell for him. Seconds later, he sank to the ground. His glazed eyes looked down to the bloody wound in his stomach, and then up to the face of the contented woman who had just driven her weapon through his body.

Cathal praised his sister, and she wiped her blade on the dead man’s cloak. The deserted courtyard had grown quiet. The night sky seemed to have swallowed up all the sound—the clashing of weapons, the screams of the dying. All that was left was silence—and a courtyard drenched with the blood of every last inhabitant of the castle.

A woman’s lifeless body lay near one of the gates. She was wearing a simple night shift, her hair tidily hidden under a white cap. Her head lolled back where someone had slit her throat.

With a whistle, Cathal called his men to gather around him. One of his men brought a squire, who begged for mercy. The boy shook under the leader’s steely gaze.

“We are not being merciful today,” Cathal growled. “Get rid of him.”

The squire lashed out as he was dragged off to a certain death.

Another of Cathal’s men, slightly younger than the other fighters, carried a boy of about seventeen in his arms. Everyone immediately realized he was dead. Cathal ran forward and laid his hand on the boy’s bloody chest. “What happened?”

The man shrugged in resignation. “An axe. From the side, into the bend between shoulder and neck. Kenzie died immediately.”

“No!” thundered Cathal. His eyes filled with hatred and hot tears. “How could that happen? Where were you when they did this to my brother?”

Cathal took Kenzie’s battered body and laid the boy gently down.

“I don’t know what you were thinking, Cathal,” said the fighter. He motioned toward the piles of dead bodies. “Are you really surprised that these people fought for their lives? You led us all here. This is your fight, not mine. Yet still, I was at Kenzie’s side. I’m sorry I could not save him.”

He cast a last glance at the raided courtyard and then turned his back on this place of death. Without another word, he mounted his horse and galloped off through the gate. He stopped just outside the castle, where another victim of the night lay motionless. He slid out of the saddle, sank to the grass, and picked up his younger brother. He had only just turned sixteen.

The fighter clutched him as he murmured, “What was it all for?”

The words went unheard. He looked up to the sky, but neither the wind nor the moon nor the passing clouds could answer. Softly, he cradled his brother in his arms and recited a prayer.



The sky began to darken. A band of clouds pushed in front of the moon and shoved the world into a black hole. Everything seemed to stop. Suddenly, a glowing flash of lightning tore across the night and connected with the highest tower. Huge rocks popped out of the walls and rained down on the attackers. Flames began to leap out of the roof.

Over the crackling of the fire, a strange, mystical song began to rise. Everyone turned, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.

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