Home > Dreams of a Dark Warrior (Immortals After Dark #11)(2)

Dreams of a Dark Warrior (Immortals After Dark #11)(2)
Author: Kresley Cole

When a breeze blew up from the valley below, carrying the scent of summer wheat and stirring the blond hair around his face, she had the urge to sigh.

The midnight sun had finally set, and as they walked, he gazed up at the stars, as if for some kind of guidance. For the last week, as she'd searched for Lucia in this strange world of mortals, she'd often done the same. "Whatever is your question, warlord, the stars will not answer you."

He peered down at her with those intense gray eyes, rekindling her ridiculous urge to sigh. "Mayhap they already have."

Before she could question his words, he stopped before the largest longhouse in the camp, opening the door for her. The interior was rich, with woven rugs on the packed dirt floor. A gleaming table with two chairs sat at one end and a thick pal et of furs covered the opposite end. A fire burned in a center pit.

He took a pair of candles from a generous supply of them and lit the wicks in the fire, then placed them in holders flanking a polished bear skul .

"Are you wealthy?" she asked. "For a mortal?"

"I've won spoils enough. But what do you know of coin? You are the daughter of gods."

"I know I have none, and I need it for food."

He strode to the doorway, ordering some servant outside to bring their dinner, then sat at the table. He waved her to the other chair.

When she removed her gloves and cloak, her boy's clothes beneath-trews and a tunic-earned another disapproving frown. She shrugged and joined him, feeling like an adult to be sharing a lord's table.

Even if he was only a warlord.

"This world is a dangerous place for a girl, Reginleit. And you are not invulnerable to harm."

She shook her head. No, she'd not reached her immortality yet. She could still be injured, grow sickened, even die. Though she wouldn't need food as an adult Valkyrie, now she required it to grow.

"Then what possessed you to leave the safety of your home, child?"

"I am no child! And I've been safe enough." Except for the bloodthirsty foes I had to face to reach this side of the conflict. "I've slain vampires." But it'd been close. I lost my sword early in that skirmish, too.

He waved away her words as if they were mere fables. "Reginleit, answer me."

Though she suspected she should be secretive and cautious with a stranger like this, she'd never learned to be either. And she needed his help. Out spil ed the truth: "I fol owed my favorite sister when she fol owed a man. He promised to wed Lucia, yet I am uneasy. She is everything to me, and I believe she is in danger." Regin couldn't explain how she knew, but she felt as if time was running out for her sister.

"You left heaven for her? Though you can never go back?"

"'Tis forbidden for a Valkyrie to return."

"Then I applaud your loyalty."

"She would do the same for me." As exasperated as Regin made her-indeed, all her sisters-she knew Lucia loved her.

"You sought me this night," he said. "What would you have me do?"

"I need assistance to find Lucia."

"Done," he said with a shrug. "I will do everything possible to reunite her with you."

Regin blinked up at him. "Because you serve Woden?"

"Nay." He rose to pace, running his hand over his mouth. "I do this because we will serve each other."

"I do not take your meaning."

"There is no easy way to say this. Reginleit, when you are grown, you will become my wife."

"Are you mad, mortal?" she cried, her skin glowing brighter. "Like my sister Nix?"

"Nix the Ever-Knowing, the soothsayer?"

"She's touched with visions. What is your explanation?"

He looked to stifle a grin. "You are direct, a good trait. But I'm not mad. I'm a berserker. Do you understand what the men of my people are?"

"I've heard tales of your kind. You're stronger than other mortals, faster. And you're all possessed by the spirit of a beast. The snarling, the fighting, the possessiveness-al the traits of a lean bear in winter."

"'Tis true. And the beast in me sensed its mate, rousing inside me from your very first words. I thought you would be older when we met, but I feel fortunate just to have found you."

He said this as if it was an understatement. She was speechless. A rarity.

"In the morn, I will take you to my family's holdings in the north," he continued. "My parents will complete your upbringing and keep you safe until I return for you. I will bring your sister there to join you."

An actual madman stood before her! This situation grew interesting. Regin found she might like to play with mad mortals. Feigning an earnest tone, she asked, "And how long would it be until you returned for me?"

"Mayhap in five or six years. When you are grown, and I have warred enough to earn my own immortality. Then we would wed."

Ah, she remembered now. Berserkers could earn ohalla, deathlessness, from Woden once they'd won two hundred battles in his name. They tattooed his mark-dual ravens in flight-upon their chests.

She wondered if the battles had come before the rule, or if the rule had spurred the battles. "I'm to sit there and wait for you? What if another mortal decides I'm to be his chattel instead?"

His hands clenched. "You are meant for me alone," he said in a strange tone. "Do you understand what I am saying?"

"I'm not ignorant of such things." She was almost completely ignorant of such things-of men, of coupling. She couldn't comprehend why her sister would ever voluntarily leave the paradise of Valhal a to follow a man.

One I do not trust.

"Reginleit, you will not know another male." His gaze held hers. "I consider us wed from this moment on."

What a crazed mortal; how touched in the head. Her father would turn this berserker to ash if he dared kidnap her and force her to wed him. Perhaps she oughtn't toy with Aidan anymore? "Reconsider. You're far too old for me. One foot in the grave and the other doddering at the edge."

He glowered. "I am not that old! I've only thirty winters."

She began to fear that he wouldn't be dissuaded, so she said, "I might look upon your suit, but only if you help me save Lucia first."

He shook his head firmly. "You will tell me where to find her. And I will do so only once I've conveyed you safely to my people."

"You can never locate her without me." As a sister Valkyrie, Regin could sense her if she got close enough. "And we haven't time to dal y."

"You came to me for guidance, and this is my decision-"

"Guidance! You are mad. And arrogant. I am the daughter of gods. I came to you for a horse, food, and mayhap a pair of outriders. So I could be on my way!"

"'Tis a done thing, brightling. In this realm, my word is final."

They were interrupted by the brunette from the hal , now carrying in a tray of food and drink. As she served two trenchers of some kind of savory stew, she made sure her ample bosom was displayed for Aidan.

Regin thought of her own barely budding chest. For the first time in her life, she felt lacking.

And mayhap jealous. Ah, but 'twas Regin who sat at the warlord's table like a woman grown. 'Twas Regin the stubborn, mad mortal wanted to wed. She cast the wench a smirk.

"No ale for the girl, Birgit," Aidan said to the woman. "Do we not have milk?"

Regin's face heated. And all the worse, because she would dearly love some milk.

When Birgit returned with some, Aidan dismissed her so absently that the worst of Regin's pique was soothed.

The rich scent of game stew cal ed to her hunger, and she eagerly dug in. The meat melted in her mouth. Gods, mortals did know how to cook.

"Tel me of your home," he said, breaking a piece of flatbread for her trencher.

"'Tis a beautiful land of mists," she said around bites. "Slow and peaceful." Usual y. Unless Loki descended upon them, or someone released Fenris, the giant wolf.

"What was your life like?"

Regin swal owed a mouthful of bread. "You truly wish me to ... talk?" Most of the time, her sisters bade her be quiet, serious.

"I am curious about you."

She shrugged, deciding that she might as well enjoy this short time with this stubborn, immovable warlord-because unless he could be made to change his mind, she planned to slip away in the night and continue her search.

At least now she'd have food in her bel y and likely a stolen horse.

So she regaled him with stories of Valhal a and the sil iness of the demigods. He laughed at all of the tales, seeming genuinely amused.

At one point, his expression seemed even ... proud, earning another frown from her. "You do not mind my humor?"

"Not at all . I've not laughed like this ..." His brows drew together. "I think I've never laughed like this."

"Usual y I exasperate people. And I jest at inappropriate times. Such as during executions. Freya says 'tis my gift and my bane to frustrate others."

"I like your manner, Reginleit. Life is long without humor."

She felt like preening in the face of this steely-eyed warrior's praise-until he added, "We will suit well, brightling."

She sighed. "Still you believe we will be together." Though she sensed that Aidan was an honorable male, he was misled in this. Woden would never allow Regin to wed a mortal berserker.

And the ohalla Aidan sought? She'd only ever heard of one berserker in all of history who'd earned it.

The rest died in battles long before their two hundredth one.

A fact that the cunning Woden well knew.

"I am certain we will, little wife." Finished with his meal, Aidan rose and crossed to his bed, dividing the furs into two pallets on opposite walls. He waved her to one, then took the other. Easing to his side, he propped his head in his hand. "When you are older you'll come to see that every woman needs a man, even a Valkyrie."

"Why?" She plopped down across from him.

"You'll understand when you go through the change."

"You mean when I become immortal?" When she would change from a growing, vulnerable girl to a nigh invincible woman. Her sisters spoke of this time in whispers, but Regin didn't know why. Mayhap this male would tell her.

"Those months will be sweet." He lay on his back, his hands behind his head. In a knowing tone, he said, "You'll definitely want me around then."

"Why? What happens?"

"You'll become a woman. And You'll need me as much as I will surely be needing you."

"Would you try to kiss me?" she asked slyly.

"Depend on it."

"And?"

"And now you should go to sleep. We've a long journey ahead of us."

"Warlord, tell me!" She crossed her arms over her chest and lightning struck outside.

He chuckled.

"Why should I choose you to kiss, then?"

He turned on his side again, his gaze holding hers. "Why not me?"

"All you do is war."

"True, and I'm damned skilled at my trade. Which means I'll always be able to protect you. And by the time you're grown, I'll have accumulated enough loot to spoill you."

"You're not noble or refined."

He nodded easily. "I possess no refinement. But that also means I've no guile-you will always know what I'm thinking."

"And you believe you are entitled to a Valkyrie for your bride?"

"I am the most powerful berserker ever to live," he said, not with conceit but as if he merely stated an indisputable fact. "So if not me, then who?"

She shrugged. "I remain unconvinced of your charms, Aidan." Also an indisputable fact.

"There is another reason. ..."

"Tell me."

His voice gone gruff, he added, "You should choose me because ... I will love you, Reginleit."

Her heart seemed to skip a beat. "How can you say that? You cannot know the future!"

"I know because, at twelve years of age, you've won me with your wit and bravery. Your staunch loyalty, too." He leaned back once more, grinning up at the roof of the longhouse. "When you have your wiles about you, I'll be no match. I concede defeat well in advance."

"When I'm grown, others will vie for my hand."

"Undoubtedly. But you belong only to me."

Lightning struck again from her frustration. He truly believed he had the right to take away her freedom, to keep her as his untouched prize while he continued his debauched lifestyle. Perhaps that was the way of things with mortals. But such is not good enough for the likes of me.

"Berserker, hear my words," she said. "I vow to you that I will stay as true to you as you do to me." That would shut his mouth. He couldn't go a week without a Birgit. "Every wench upon your lap means I sit upon

a warrior's. Every woman's mouth you kiss is a man's lips upon my own."

His fierce gaze met hers, his eyes ablaze once more-as if the mere thought of her with another sent his ire spiraling. Seeming to struggle for control, he grated, "Then I give you my oath that I'll not touch another. Now are you satisfied, little wife? Any more demands?"

"I have to go with you to find Lucia."

"In this I will not bend, Reginleit. You are vulnerable. You can be harmed. And that I could not abide."

Before he doused the candles, he leaned over to press a quick kiss against her hair, then chucked her under the chin. "Brightling, the time till you're grown will pass slowly for me. Every night, I will dream of the woman You'll become."

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