1st look inside ( Trapped in the Valley of Tears)

The first thing he uncon­scious­ly per­ceived was the melan­choly melody of a flute accom­pa­nied by gen­tle harp sounds. As always, when he was still half asleep, he turned onto his stom­ach, let his right arm slide out of bed and touched the floor. Nor­mal­ly his Clay­more lay there, but this time his hand reached into noth­ing. Irri­tat­ed, he opened his eyes and stretched his head over the edge of the bed to look down. It was not there!

Could it be that he had been so drunk the night before that he had for­got­ten to put it there? No, he answered his ques­tion to him­self. Even in his wildest days, back before the four great bat­tles, when he had tried to test his lim­its with his best friend Gawyn, even then he had nev­er made such a mistake.

“Nev­er give your weapon out of your hand, and if you do, leave it where you can reach it faster than your ene­my. We have hard times, and it is vital for you to make my words your own! Do you under­stand me?”

He felt as if his father’s words, spo­ken so many years ago, were still echo­ing through his head, for he had giv­en them extreme­ly pow­er­ful empha­sis. And not just once. There­fore, he had inter­nal­ized the evening rit­u­al of plac­ing his sword on the floor just below his bed to such an extent that even a drunk­en stu­por would not have pre­vent­ed him from doing it.

“So you‘re final­ly awake!”

The deep, smoky voice of a woman snapped him out of his thoughts, and he winced. Jerk­ing, he threw him­self onto his back, while his hand once again instinc­tive­ly slid across the floor to reach for his sword, but again in vain. He hes­i­tat­ed briefly, but only to pre­pare him­self men­tal­ly for an attack that he would have to fend off with his bare fists if nec­es­sary. While all the sce­nar­ios of immi­nent attacks and their defense were now rewind­ing in his head, she burst out laugh­ing soft­ly. A throaty laugh­ter that slow­ly grew loud­er and final­ly echoed off the walls. Abrupt­ly, he paused.

“You will not find what you are look­ing for here,” he heard her say with the chuck­le of a sup­pressed laugh in her voice. “And you won’t need it here either!”

It was only at that moment that he real­ly woke up and real­ized that he was not in his own cham­ber at all, but …

Damn it, where was he anyway?

Irri­tat­ed, he looked around, ignor­ing the fig­ure stand­ing at the foot of his bed and burst­ing out laugh­ing again.

The bed on which he lay was almost twice as wide as his own. The bed­ding was not made of white linen either, but of a fiber com­plete­ly unknown to him, and it shim­mered red­dish like liq­uid met­al. It was also so trans­par­ent that his bare skin shone through it.

His bare skin? Why was he exposed? Damn!What had he got­ten him­self into?

Although nor­mal­ly not exact­ly shame­ful, he gath­ered the feath­er-light fab­ric over the cer­tain area, so that it was cov­ered by sev­er­al lay­ers of it. The stranger acknowl­edged this with even loud­er laugh­ter, but then she fell silent.

His gaze instinc­tive­ly wan­dered over to her. She was about a head short­er than he, which was aston­ish­ing for a woman, for he him­self tow­ered over most of his clans­men only by the same head length. But at the same time, she did not seem coarse or unfem­i­nine, as women of her size usu­al­ly did, quite the oppo­site. She was del­i­cate. Her skin was as white like fresh­ly fall­en snow, with a sil­very-bluish glow. Her angel­ic fea­tures were framed by pitch-black, silky curls that reached down to her thighs. But some­thing about her almost divine appear­ance con­fused him. Some­thing was wrong with her.

The stranger now moved grace­ful­ly towards him, fix­ing him with her eyes. Her gaze was so pen­e­trat­ing that he noticed how his heart began to beat faster. Not from excite­ment, but rather from fear.

Fear? Why was he afraid of her? She was just a woman after all!

And sud­den­ly he knew what was wrong with her. Her emer­ald eyes lacked any lus­ter. They seemed icy-cold and remind­ed him of the eyes of a dead frog.

“Who are you? Where am I? How did I get here, and most impor­tant­ly, what am I doing here?”

Instead of answer­ing him imme­di­ate­ly, she lithe­ly set­tled down next to him on the bed, a sin­is­ter grin play­ing around her fea­tures. He felt like a mouse being lurked by a cat, and just as he prob­a­bly would with one, his heart­beat stopped for a moment before ham­mer­ing so hard he could feel it all the way to his tem­ples. Even in the bat­tles of Kil­liecrankie and Dunkeld, back in the great upris­ing, when they had suf­fered first a vic­to­ry and then a dev­as­tat­ing defeat and so many good men found a quick death, he had­n’t felt that way. Per­haps it was because he had known fight­ing as an inti­mate part from child­hood and had learned to live with the con­se­quences that came from it. But this was some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. Some­thing his mind just couldn’t comprehend.

Even though she smiled at him and every move she made gave him a lit­tle more of an idea of what she real­ly want­ed from him, he would have pre­ferred to run away from her. But he did­n’t want to give him­self that naked­ness, because he was no longer a fright­ened child and cer­tain­ly not her will-less prey.

“You want to know who I am?” she breathed into his ear when she had got­ten close enough to him, while he invol­un­tar­i­ly pressed him­self into the pil­lows to increase the dis­tance between them. “They call me Morgane.”

“Mor­gane”? The Mor­gane, you mean?”

“This very one.

“If you are Mor­gane, then I am Merlin.”

She burst into her throaty laugh­ter again.

“Not just big, strong and beau­ti­ful …! No, you amuse me, too! I made a real­ly good choice!” she remarked more to her­self than direct­ed at him.

“What do you mean? You made a good choice?”

“Do you think I brought you to me on a whim?”

He did­n’t answer, but just stared at her.

“I’m def­i­nite­ly a lit­tle moody some­times, my dear” she con­tin­ued. “But your sal­va­tion had noth­ing to do with my mood. I’ve been watch­ing you for quite a while. I’ve seen you fight in Kil­liecrankie and Dunkeld. Your feroc­i­ty and unbri­dled pow­er! It made me won­der if you use it in oth­er sit­u­a­tions as well.”

Her gaze slid from him to the bed sheet and then back to his eyes. “Not always, I found!”

“You’ve been watch­ing me do this?”

Instead of answer­ing him, she now leaned com­plete­ly over him, her long hair brush­ing his bare chest as she sighed softly.

“Aren’t you going to show me some of your power?”

“You want me to what?”, he replied indig­nant­ly, but at the same moment she pressed her lips onto his. Dusten was caught com­plete­ly off guard. It took a while before he was even capa­ble of a reac­tion, but then he grabbed her by the shoul­ders and forcibly pushed her away from him.

“Stop that!”

“Don’t be so coy! We’re going to spend a lot of time togeth­er, and the soon­er you com­ply, the eas­i­er it will be for you.”

“I will not com­ply! Nev­er! You can send me back again.”

“Send you back? Why should I? And besides, what are you doing up there? You’d bet­ter enjoy my hos­pi­tal­i­ty, be grate­ful that you’re alive thanks to my fore­sight, and show your appreciation!”

Again she moved clos­er, but this time Dusten was pre­pared for it. He jerk­i­ly turned to the side, yank­ing the bed­spread with him. Mor­gane lost her foot­ing and land­ed with her face on the pil­low instead of on him.

“What do you mean?”

“If I had­n’t saved you, you’d be just as dead as all the oth­ers now!”

“Dead? What are you talk­ing about? What others?”

“Your father, your moth­er, the Laird …” she replied, as if it was com­plete­ly irrelevant.

“What about my moth­er, my father, and the Laird?”

Mor­gane rolled ele­gant­ly onto her side, sup­port­ing her head with one hand while look­ing him in the eye again.

“I already told you that! All dead!”

“You’re lying! It can’t be!”

“I nev­er lie!” Anger min­gled in her lust­ful gaze. “See for yourself!”

With her free hand, she made a cir­cu­lar motion right in front of his eyes. At first, noth­ing hap­pened, but then the air inside the cir­cle began to shim­mer. Every­thing he saw dis­tort­ed, became dark­er and final­ly an image formed of the val­ley where he had spent half his life: Gleann Comhann!