Home > Dreams of a Dark Warrior (Immortals After Dark #11)

Dreams of a Dark Warrior (Immortals After Dark #11)
Author: Kresley Cole

Prologue

Hark! Hear this tale, the legend of Aidan the Fierce and Reginleit the Radiant One, a pair of lovers both bound and cursed by fate.

It begins, as many legends do, with a destined meeting-this one between an immortal girl who would never know death and a jaded mortal man who lived only to kill.

Theirs is a story of woe and warning. Take heed and listen well. ...

-i-

The Northlands

In ages long past

"So this is debauchery," Reginleit murmured as two guards led her into the mead hall of the notorious warlord Aidan the Fierce.

At twelve years of age, and newly quit of the paradise of Valhalla, Regin was certainly getting an eyeful.

As she and the guards wound through the crowd of hundreds of berserkers, she gaped at drunken warriors sparring in naught but loincloths while half-clad whores served ale, trenchers of meat, and ... other needs.

Luckily Regin's disguise would conceal her expression-and her glow. She rechecked her cloak with gloved hands. The hood was deep, falling far over her face.

By the light of the fire pits smoking up to the thatched roof, she glimpsed kissing, fondling, and some acts her young mind couldn't yet attach names to.

Yet none within this battlefront encampment laughed; no jaunty music could be heard.

Though they'd seized a bloody victory today-from the cliffs above the field, she'd observed their clash against an army of vampires-all the many warriors here seemed to be simmering, snarling even. Much like the bears these mortals revered.

Mounted bear heads with ominous fangs lined the walls. Viking glyphs of ravening bears decorated the rafters and doors.

Everything she'd ever heard about the uncivilized berserkers was apparently true. Her favorite half sister, Lucia, had once told her, "Berserkers are grim, covetous, and possessive, savage when faced with the loss of something that belongs to them. They are obsessed with war and intercourse-they think of nothing else. Even our older sisters avoid them."

Regin had known the risk in coming here, but she wasn't fearful. As Lucia had also told her, "Sometimes I don't think you have the sense to be afraid when you should." Regin had interpreted that to mean, "You have no sense of fear, oh, great Reginleit."

Besides, she had no choice. She needed the aid of these mortals. She was horseless and had barely escaped a vampire ambush just days ago. Her belly was empty-the trenchers of stew and haunches of venison atop laden tables made her mouth water.

And Lucia was in danger.

Reminded of her purpose, she straightened her shoulders. Since the berserkers were her father's guard, surely they'd be duty-bound to serve her as well. But if she met with trouble here, she wouldn't hesitate to use the long sword holstered across her back or even her claws. They extended through slits in the fingers of her gloves, concealed by her draping sleeves-

Two nearly na**d warriors locked in combat lurched past her. Fights continued all around, brawls over women, wine, and weapons. These men fell into their berserkrage, with their eyes glowing and muscles burgeoning, at the smallest slight.

Fitting that this encampment had been built at the edge of a war zone. For decades, these berserkers had defended this strategic pass against an immortal menace, protecting the villages in the valley below; she began to see that anything keeping these men here on the battlefront-and out of civilization-was a boon.

As she and the guards wended deeper within, Regin stopped abruptly. A short distance away, seated atop a throne on the hall's dais, was a male she'd seen in frenzied combat earlier. One she'd watched raptly.

Considering his unmatched speed and power as he'd wielded his war ax, she'd suspected he was their leader Aidan.

A buxom brunette sat on the arm of his throne, serving him a tankard of drink and murmuring in his ear The wench's eyes were excited, her breath shallow. She thinks the warlord handsome? Regin's gaze flicked over him. Then the wench and I are in accord.

He had broad shoulders and muscular arms, his build as massive as a bear's. His blond hair was thick, some hanks plaited in ravels to keep them from his field of vision. He possessed all his teeth, and they were even and white. His sun-darkened skin made his wintry gray eyes stand out.

Today, when he'd been in his berserkrage, those eyes had glowed like storm clouds ablaze with lightning.

Now he pulled the woman onto his lap, no doubt to join in the debauchery. And lo, there he goes. ... He began to unlace her straining bodice.

"My liege, a moment," one of the guards hastened to say. To catch the warlord before 'twas too late?

"What is it?" Aidan didn't look up from his task of freeing the female's ponderous br**sts. Once he'd loosened her bodice, his big hand dipped down to grasp one.

"This boy demanded to see you."

Boy. Males always assumed she was of their sex, simply because she wore trews and carried a sword.

Aidan turned, his gaze falling on Regin. "Who are you?" he asked, his deep voice booming. Throughout the hall, the enthusiastic skirmishes and fornicating slowed.

She answered honestly, "I am a weary traveler in need of assistance."

At her words, his brows drew together. "You sound ... familiar." He removed his hand from the woman's bodice and sat up straighter, his demeanor now tense. As if her very voice had set him on edge. "Though your accent is strange."

"Yours is not my first tongue." She spoke the ancient language of the immortals first, his Norse mortal language second.

"Come forward."

Though it nettled to take orders from a mere human, Regin stepped forth.

His gaze grew alert, assessing. She knew he was scrutinizing everything about her-her walk, the uncommonly fine material of her cloak, the gold brooch that clasped the hood in place.

The wench tried to reclaim his attention by cupping his face, but Aidan brushed her hand away. When she wriggled suggestively in his lap, he scowled at her and said something in her ear that sent her flouncing away with a huff.

But the woman couldn't prevent a longing glance over her shoulder.

For some reason, his dismissal of the buxom brunette gladdened Regin. She supposed she was merely relieved to have his full attention. "I saw you on the battlefield today, warlord. You fought well." As ever, her thoughts left her lips without any mediation. Lucia's words repeated in her mind: You have to learn to hold your tongue. You could try even a glacier's patience.

He leaned forward. "Boy, we are berserkers-we all fight well."

'Twas not true. She jerked her thumb at a young black-haired man to Aidan's right. "Not him. His guard's too low." Hold your tongue, Regin!

After a stunned silence, a few awkward chuckles sounded. Even Aidan grinned, then seemed startled by his reaction.

The man she'd insulted shot to his feet and stalked closer, his green eyes narrowed. "I'll show you a low guard."

At once, Regin dragged her long sword from its sheath, raising it between them.

He gave her a look of disgust. "That sword's bigger than you are, cur."

"The better to teach you to raise your guard, mongrel."

As more chuckles sounded, the man's fists clenched, his muscles tensing, growing. ... Already on the verge of berserkrage.

"Stay your hand, Brandr," Aidan ordered.

Perhaps coming here was a mistake. These men were too violent and quick-tempered to aid her. And that was something for a Valkyrie to suppose!

Even Aidan, who had appeared to possess more control of himself than the others, now seemed to seethe with ... something.

And though the berserkers were Woden's guards, perhaps they would hurt her if they found out she was female. What would Lucia do? She'd leave this place anon without revealing herself as a woman.

"Boy, you are either very brave or very stupid to goad one of my strongest warriors," Aidan remarked.

"Now, tell me why you've come to my hall." He tilted his head at her. "And why you've covered your skin like an aged druid."

Brandr grated, "The whelp probably had the pox."

Pox? She'd just stifled a hiss at him when Aidan said, "Enough." He rubbed the blond stubble on his chin. "Were you ill, then? Mayhap you haven't the strength needed to wield that long blade-or to taunt men bigger than you."

Regin's eyes went wide. "Haven't the strength?" She might only be twelve, and still vulnerable to harm, and 'twas true her blasted sword was far too big for her, but she could massacre all these mortals with tooth and claw if need be-

Brandr struck without warning, lunging for her. Before she could defend herself, he'd delivered two punishing blows to her wrist, knocking the sword from her grip.

When he straightened with a smirk, she gladly dismissed the weapon as her instincts took over. She leapt atop a table to her right, then bounded back to the left in front of him, raking her claws across his chest.

Gods, the feel of rending flesh ... what need have I for a sword?

Landing softly, she hunched low, ready to spring again as the towering warrior bellowed, "He carries hidden daggers?" He gaped at the deep furrows in his skin, slashes that had severed even his leather scabbard. "Aidan, his death is mine! Any taller, and he'd have slit my throat."

Regin said, "I chose not to slit your throat. Thank me with ale."

Suddenly a huge palm closed over her nape. Another hand captured her wrists behind her. Hissing with fury, she twisted around and sank her smallfangs into a brawny forearm.

'Twas the warlord! Aidan had her. How had he moved so quickly?

Lightning struck outside, thunderclaps rattling the hall. If only the bolt would hit me!

"Cease this!" He roughly jostled her until she had to release her bite. Before she could blink, he had her cloak clutched in his fist.

"Nay! Do not!"

He ripped it back. Sucked in a breath. Promptly dropped her.

All around her, wide-eyed men closed in. She hissed again, pivoting to keep the threats in sight, baring her claws and her fangs.

One of them asked, "What is she?"

Aidan frowned down at her. "She is merely a little ... girl."

Brandr said, "By Woden's beard, she glows!"

Regin spat, "He does not wear a beard!"

At her words, recognition flashed in Aidan's expression. His gaze lit on her pointed ears, then her eyes. By the way he stared, she knew they were wavering from amber to silver. "You are a Valkyrie. The one whose skin lights up the night. We've heard tales of you."

"You know nothing of me!"

Raising his brows in challenge, he quoted a recent edda: "'Eyes like amber cast in sun, skin and hair of firelit gold. Formed to war, courage as none, beauty to behold.' You are Reginleit the Radiant."

Now several of the men murmured, "Reginleit," in awed tones.

But not Aidan. He shook his head. "Brightling, you are a very long way from home."

Of course that ass Brandr said, "She is one of Woden's treasured daughters?"

Shoulders back, Regin said, "Most treasured. Above all my sisters." Except for Lucia. And Nix. Likely Kaderin. No need for these mortals to know that perhaps she was not a favorite of his. At present.

"Then why are you in the middle of a war, instead of the safety of Valhalla?" Aidan seemed angry about this. "You're so small." He'd begun to look at her with a peculiar intensity, different from the other men's, more ... protective.

"What concern is it of yours where I might be?" She shoved her braids from her forehead, lifting her chin. "And I'm not that small."

"You are"-he ran a hand over his face-"young."

Beside him, Brandr asked, "What is it, friend? Your eyes grow fierce."

Aidan opened his mouth, closed it. Then he gazed around the scene as if seeing it anew. "Gods." He reached for her with a hand raised, as if to shield her vision. "Come with me, little one. 'Tis no place for you."

She backed up a step.

He cast her a disapproving frown. "I have pledged my life to serve your father; you were born of his lightning. I could no more harm you than I could myself." When she relaxed not one whit, he said, "Come. You must be hungry. You can dine in my quarters." He gathered her sword, offering it to her hilt first.

"There will be plenty to eat."

They would have plenty of food. His army had scavenged this countryside like locusts. All the game that she could have hunted had been slain.

She peered up, regarding his face. The mortal did seem to have an honest visage. And mayhap he'd do as she bade, or at least give her a horse and enough food for her journey.

Regin accepted her sword, sheathing it. But when he wrapped his arm around her shoulders protectively, she stiffened. "I can walk on my own, berserker."

Under his breath, he said, "'Tis a display of favor I offer you before all."

"A display of favor," she said in a dry tone. "From a mortal. Then how can I possibly continue without it?" She all owed him to usher her through the crowds of staring warriors and wenches.

A few berserkers sought to touch her "fair locks" or "alight skin," but Aidan's hand tightened over her shoulder, his eyes blazing even brighter. He cast the men a baleful look and they all retreated without another word, their faces paling.

Once she and Aidan had navigated the hall's gauntlet and exited into the summer night, he visibly relaxed, though he still seemed preoccupied. She took the opportunity to study him up close.

His towering frame was even more imposing, his height at least six and a half feet. His white tunic was of a fine weave, fitted over those wide shoulders. Black trews of soft leather outlined his powerful legs.

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