Arianna Pendragon - Cover

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Arianna Pendragon
by Lesley Speller


Arianna stood on the battlements of the ancient fortress.  The land stretched out before her for miles around.  The rolling fields were green and sprinkled with beautiful wildflowers.  Just now she wanted nothing more than to go down there and pick some of those flowers to take with her to her drab, little cell of a chamber, but she knew that was impossible.  Auburn blazed in her hair where the torchlight fell, and the full moon made her skin almost shimmer. It would be one of those mornings that she remembered all too well from her childhood, when the dew dripped from the flower petals leaving everything smelling fresh and clean.

She saw now, with great disappointment, the beautiful pinks and oranges that meant that dawn wasn't so far away.  As Arianna descended the old stone steps, she sighed sadly remembering those long ago childhood mornings when she'd watched the sunrise out of the small windows in her father's house.  She could almost smell the musky scent of the leather flap that had held in the warmth in wintertime.  Those had been wonderful mornings, before she'd gone off to do her chores.  She'd watched the colors dance across the sky.  Arianna could even remember the smell of the rushes that would get tangled in her braids as she slept.

All that seemed so long ago now.  She'd thought that she knew everything there was to know about the world from listening to the stories of bards and travelers.  How wrong she'd been.  How very wrong.  There were things that she'd never even dreamed of in her most awful nightmares - things that stalked the night and could bring horrors worse than death. It had all started on that terrible night twenty-seven years ago.

Arianna had only been nineteen at the time.  She worked hard every day for her father and spent every night dreaming of the faraway places and things that the travelling minstrels sang about. 

She could remember every moment of that night as if it had happened yesterday.  A tired, hungry man had appeared at their door asking for food and a warm place to sleep in exchange for a tale that would amaze and astonish.  Arianna had jumped at the opportunity as always.  The tale was one of the most exciting that she'd ever heard.  It was the story of a great prince from the far north who'd come down to battle a dreadful monster.

She snuck out of the house into the fields where the wildflowers grew.  It was late spring and the night air held a chill, but that hadn't deterred her.  She had been young and adventurous.  Arianna was using a long stick to re-enact a battle scene from the story she'd just heard. Just as she was about to defeat the horrible beast, she heard a cry of terror from one of the horses in the barn.  She took off at breakneck pace holding on tight to her imaginary sword.

There was no light at all coming from the barn so she knew it couldn't be a person.  They would've brought a torch or lantern.  She threw the door open expecting to find a fox or wolf, but instead she saw something that brought a gasp from her and made her immediately drop the stick in her hand.

The man lay sprawled in the dirt against the far wall.  Even in the moonlight, Arianna could see that he was seriously injured.  He held a wound at his chest that was gushing blood down the front of his fine clothes.  She went to him and lay a hand against the gash pressing hard to try to staunch the flow of blood.

He was so very young.  Not too many years older than herself with pale blond hair and eyes rimmed with red from the pain.  "Monsieur, what happened to you?"  She put an arm around his waist trying to lift him so that she could move him into the house where she could see to tend to the wounds.

He coughed and then spoke in heavily accented French, and when he did she saw the blood on his lips and ceased her senseless struggling to get him to his feet.  "Thieves . . . they killed all my servants and took the coach."  The look in his eyes was one that she didn't understand.  He seemed to be battling to stay conscious, but that wasn't all.  He looked so absolutely frightened.

"Monsieur, you shouldn't be travelling these roads by night.  Thieves and worse have always plagued them."

"A warning received dreadfully late, my child."  Arianna nodded sadly and reached down to pull a bit of the fabric from her rough woolen dress to apply to his chest.  Suddenly she could feel warm breath on her ear, and there were strong hands gripping her shoulders in a vice-like hold.  Surely this couldn't be the young man.  There was no way he could be holding her so fiercely, but when those hands turned her around she saw his face starring back at her with a look of crazed pain.

She felt a sharp pain in her neck and then she could do nothing.  It was like she was paralyzed.  Her body grew weaker and weaker until she fell limp to the ground.  Those eyes that had been filled moments before with madness now came to rest on her with crystal clarity that quickly turned to horror.  Arianna felt as if she were floating though she could feel the weight of her limbs tugging her down to the ground.  It was the strangest sensation.

The stranger paced back and forth over her, wringing his hands.  "By God, child, what have I done?  Poor girl, you did nothing but try to help me and look what I've done to you."

Suddenly he stopped pacing and stared down at her.  He pulled something from his belt and then the world darkened.  Her eyes drifted shut, and she could no longer see what was happening.  The next thing she knew was the taste of something warm and coppery on her lips.  She drank and drank the delicious liquid until she felt she would burst from it, and then real darkness had come.  Total and complete darkness.

When she again opened her eyes the dark wasn't banished.  She tried to sit up but her head bumped into something hard above her.  It was wooden and all around her.  When she realized what it was, fear brought a scream of terror to her lips.  She gasped for air and found it in very short supply.  Just when she thought she'd descend into insanity, there was a sound above her, and she called out again.  Surely it was her father come to save her when he realized she wasn't dead.

But the face that greeted her when the wooden top was broken away was not that of her father, but of the young stranger who'd attacked her when she'd tried to help him.  He lifted her from the deep hole and what she saw when she looked back horrified her.  There at the head of the gaping pit was a wooden plank that had been carved with her name by her father's own hand.

Arianna shook the memory away.  That was so many years ago now, and she hadn't changed at all since that day.  Perhaps her hair was a bit shinier and skin paler but physically nothing else was different.

She had a new "father" now, the young stranger.  The Duke of Ashton.  Now that she thought of it things weren't so different than they'd been when she was a girl.  She still worked hard for a father and spent her private hours dreaming of places far away and unreachable.  Only now her father wasn't a retired soldier turned farmer, but a hundred year old vampire lord, and she'd seen most of the places that minstrels tell stories of.  The place that she dreamed of was a small cottage on the edge of the Alps.

Arianna shielded her eyes against the brightness of the light from the east and slowly descended the long staircase to her windowless chambers locking the door behind her.  It was best to sleep much this day, because tomorrow they began a long journey as ambassadors to the city of Sithein in the north of Ireland.  The place enchanted her thoughts.  She'd heard many stories of it.  As she fell asleep dreams of dragons and fairy folk danced into her darkening mind.

They'd been training for this trip for months.  She now knew the basic customs of the area, and she'd grown very skilled at their local language of Gaelic.

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