Chapter One

Medieval England, the tumultuous period of King Stephen. When anarchy reigned and sorcery ruled...

Hidden by a scruffy hawthorn bush, Melle stared across the River Noir at the formidable warlord of Castle Weild. No need to question his standing in life, not when the royal heraldry emblazoned on his shield gave his noble identity away.

Regardless of his impressive ceremonial grandeur, his fucking important lineage, she needed no family crest to know him. Sad to say, she had been peeping at him for nigh onto a year now. She recognized him by the way he sat his destrier, his bearing all prideful and confident. Studying the overlord had become a favorite pastime of hers, mayhap even an obsession.

There was one fly in the ointment. How could she continue to spin romantic tales about him in her head unless she saw his head?

Bugger the vexing royal sod, anyway! Every time she peeped at him, the fucking visor on his helm was always shut tight. This irritating habit thwarted her from getting a look at his face.

Melle sniffed, then drew a grimy finger under her runny nose to catch the remaining drips. The situation might have been worse, of course. Rather than a simple suit of chain mail covering his padded leather tunic, he might have elected to wear all-encompassing metal plate armor. Now that would have been one fucking bitch of a hindrance altogether. As 'twas, chainmail was far less intrusive, the entwined links allowing her a half-decent view of his physique, which was brawny and strong and powerful and ever-so masculine. The warlord was everything she thought she would like in a man when she had it all figured out, a year or two down the road, perchance, when she became a full-fledged woman, not just a maiden with a heaping helping of carnal curiosity.

Melle sighed. The magical transformation could not happen soon enough for her. More than ready, she was fucking eager to begin!

What? That was the question. Begin what? What was this magical transformation all about? Would she suddenly sprout a bird's wings, grow a duck's web feet, develop a pig's snout?

A horrifying fate, that last. Her drippy nose was already quite large enough, thank you very much.

Her dear alchemist father, the only parent she had ever known, had left her in the dark about all of it. Hints of tremendous upheaval were all he offered. And badgering him about the whole event did her no fucking good whatsoever.

Transformation, transformation, what the bloody hell was this transformation?

Melle flicked her messy hair back from her face. She wore a neat, although not strictly clean wimple. In her agitation, however, the knotted hank had loosened from the veil and plopped atop her nose, a huge target that caught just about everything.

Oh well, she mused, stuffing the stray strand of hair back where it belonged, the transformation, whatever the hell that meant, would happen when it happened. In the meantime, she had the warlord to dream about whilst she waited.

If only she could see his features! How could she dream about the warrior from across the river if his appearance remained a mystery?

Virgin Mary! The man was so obstinate, always wearing a helm and such. Where was the need for the precaution? 'Twas just dawn here in the woodlands, barely first light, too early in the day for General Raghlin to attack the brawny nobleman. Plus, this region by the river was thick with trees and nettles and thorns. The general’s men-at-arms never patrolled here. By all that was holy, no one ever came here.

Save him.

And her, peeping at him.

My, my, my. How adroitly he straddled his great black destrier, high-bred lord and lowly animal, as if one being. Some said both were fearsome beasts, most especially the man. Even she, who lived reclusively in these very same woodlands, had heard of his reputation. On this side of the River Noir, 'twas off repeated how the warlord made for a bold and tenacious adversary in battle, how he had been bloodied more than once in defense of his keep, how he was of stout heart, quick mind, and sinewy limb, and how only inferior weaponry prevented him from taking back the holdings that rightly belonged to him, namely that which General Raghlin had seized – a ruin of a monastery and the starving populace who lived discontentedly within.

Melle puckered her brow. Hmm. Mayhap the poor quality of the warrior's weaponry explained why, in this dense green forest where no one was about but hare and deer…and her peeping at him…he still wore protective head armor.

Fuck it, anyway. Let him keep his fucking helm. Visor too. The bloody nuisances could stay put. Better he wear them, than an arrow through the head. She loved him, she truly did. Heart and soul, she did! But dreaming about rotting corpses was not for her.

And, then, almost as if he knew of her secret longing, the warlord removed his gauntlets.

At long last! Now that he had removed the metal gloves, she could actually see a part of him in the naked flesh. Verily, 'twas only his hands she could see, but they were interesting hands, as hands went. Manly hands. A swordman’s quick and agile hands with all four fingers and thumb still attached. Miraculous…for a warlord.

Even at this distance, even hidden behind a bush as she was, she could tell his extra big swordman’s hands would suit her. Suit her how, she could not exactly say, but suit her all the same.

Melle gasped. Wait. What was this?

The overlord was rummaging beneath the chainmail he wore over his padded leather tunic, his ungloved hand plucking at the lacings on his tight hide breeches. In the vicinity of his loins, to be specific.

'Twould seem she was about to get more naked flesh than she had asked for.

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