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.
“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!