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Zerelon Complete Series - Clean & Sweet Fantasy Romance

E.A. Shanniak


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The Complete Series

E.A. Shanniak

Eagle Creek Books LLC


Zerelon World Novella’s Complete Series Books 1-3: by E.A. Shanniak

Copyright © 2023 E.A. Shanniak

All rights reserved.

Aiding Azlyn

Killing Karlyn

Reviving Roslyn

Cover Design: ViknCharie

Editing: Tiffany Purdon

Proofreading: Michelle Fritz

Published by Eagle Creek Books LLC of Coldwater, Kansas

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Without limiting the rights under the copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical by photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without prior written permission of the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

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More By: E.A. Shanniak

World Novel:

Piercing Jordie

Mitering Avalee

Forging Calida

Uplifting Irie

Braving Evan

Warring Devan

Hunting Megan

Shifting Aramoren – short story

Anchoring Nola – short story

Clean & Sweet Western Romance – Whitman Series:

To Find A Whitman

To Love A Thief

To Save A Life

To Lift A Darkness

To Veil A Fondness

To Bind A Heart

To Hide A Treasure

To Want A Change

To Form A Romance

Slow Burn Paranormal Romance – Dangerous Ties:

Opening Danger

Hunting Danger

Burning Danger

Clean & Sweet Regency Romance – Bramley Hall:

Love At Last

Love That Lasts

Love Ever Lasting

Alien Prince Reverse Harem – Ubsolvyn District:

Stalking Death - prequel

Securing Freedom

Saving Home

Clean Fantasy Romance – Zerelon World Novella:

Aiding Azlyn

Killing Karlyn

Reviving Roslyn

A Bayonet Books Anthology:

Storming Area 51: Stalking Death

Slay Bells Ring: Stocking Gryla

Paullett Golden Anthology:

Hourglass Romance: Love At Rescue



Aiding Azlyn


– Spring 824

The stillness of the lake sent shivers up her spine while her heart felt like it was finally calm. She floated in the water like a mermaid, gazing at the stars above. Her dark brown hair splayed out around her in the water. The midnight moon sparkled down at her, winking greetings as it poked out from around the gathering clouds. Azlyn smiled.

She rolled over in the water, gazing around her for any person or predator sneaking up on her private moment. Azlyn treaded water, her blue eyes peering into the darkness of the forest and the tall protective trees. Branches reaching toward the heavens swayed in the gentle breeze. Several hoots of owls called into the night.

Azlyn watched the woods a moment longer. No one was there. She rolled over in the water, kicking her feet. Azlyn moved her arms over her head, hearing the chilled liquid rush over her body.

Tears rolled down her cheeks, knowing she would have to return home, to the castle soon. The lashings she’d received across her back was a reminder from her husband not to interfere in his business. But she had to. An innocent child was counting on her to protect him from the likes of her husband. And by Soren’s Sword, she would protect the little boy.

Azlyn breathed out, swimming closer to shore. She waded over to the shallows, getting out. With a sigh, she sat on a rock, watching everything all around her. She draped a towel carefully over her shoulders, wincing at the soreness of her body and the lash marks on her back that were scabbing over. The moon hung high in the midnight sky. The cool air wafted around her with a hint of blooming spring flowers tingling her pert nose.

Azlyn needed to get back soon, but she didn’t want to leave. The water made her back feel less tight. However, someone was counting on her to come back. She had no idea where the little boy came from, or his name. He hadn’t spoken more than asking to go outside to the privy. What she had ascertained from his accent was the child was from Aranore.

She moved her shoulders and winced. She’d overheard the guards talking that the lad came from MacKinnon lands. It confused her since there was a peace treaty and violating such would cause a war. No matter how it came to be, Azlyn had to protect this child from her husband, who no doubt, had him kidnapped for money. And since no one came forth and claimed the boy, there was no telling what her husband would do to the child to get what he wanted.

Slowly, Azlyn shrugged her clothes back on, mindful of her wound. Her heart roared. A shiver ran down her spine, but it wasn’t from being wet and cold. Standing, she stared across the water, and wondered what was on the other side. Not that it mattered. She would never leave because there was nowhere to go. Her parents died long ago. There was nowhere for her to run or anyone to turn to.

Azlyn ran a hand over her face, crossing her arms over herself. Carefully, she trudged back to the castle. The mighty fortress rose high as the trees surrounding it. The dark gray spires of Grella reached for the lively heavens. Black iron gates greeted her leery eyes. Azlyn moved around the side. Even though this place was her cage, it was still a beautiful spectacle to behold. Quietly, Azlyn crept through the side door of the servant’s quarters. She wanted to avoid anyone at all costs, knowing they would report her in the morning to Gunther, her dreadful husband. Her foot reached the hallway. She was almost in her room.

“Azlyn, where have you been?” Gunther seethed, grabbing her arm. “You were supposed to be outside cleaning the privy!”

The roof of her mouth thickened like wool. She darted her eyes, looking for a means to escape. Gunther held her tighter. Azlyn gasped at the force.

Gunther’s face twisted. “I demand an answer from you!”

“I was out swimming,” she mumbled.


She nodded. Azlyn cringed inwardly, anticipating the blow that was supposed to be coming. Azlyn closed her eyes tight. Her shoulders rose. The blow didn’t come. Carefully, she opened an eye then the other. Slowly, she raised her head to look her husband full in the face, watching a sneer form.

Her father picked Gunther out a year ago. He was so enamoring, so attentive in the beginning, she fell for his charm. She married Gunther on her seventeenth birthday. She remembered being so excited to walk down the aisle to him. Now she dreaded the sight of him. Such was the folly of her young, naïve mind to believe she would be loved.

“I have something important to discuss with you,” Gunther said firmly.

Gunther’s grip latched tighter as he dragged her down the stairs into his study. He slammed the door shut, and bolted it. Azlyn shrank back, swallowing as she waited for something to strike her. She turned her face to the side that was already sporting a bruise along her jaw.

Azlyn opened her eyes, watching him. She clung to the wall nearest the door, not wanting to escape the safety of what it offered; not that it was much. Gunther put his hands behind his back, pacing the room in front of her. He paused momentarily, lighting the candles on the desk. Gunther fumbled through his stack of papers. Azlyn caught a glimpse of a grin on his face as he held up a piece of parchment.

“I had our marriage annulled since you broke your marriage vows,” he finally yelled, his voice dark and menacing. “You stupid bitch… Could you really not bear me a child?!”

Azlyn let out the breath she was holding. She wanted to smile at the annulment, but held it back. He had bedded her once stating it was sufficient. Praise the Gods his seed didn’t sprout. Her body trembled with relief that her nightmare was finally over. She was free. She put a hand to her head, attempting to still herself. His constant threats, abuse, and cruelty were now done.

“There is one other thing,” he boomed. “The child who arrived at our door five days ago, he’s yours now. His father never came to claim him. I never received my money and I’m tired of feeding you maggots,” he said, twiddling his thumbs. “Killing him would cause a war, I do not wish to take part in.”

Azlyn shook her head, astounded. “Then why have him?”

Gunther rounded on her as if she were an imbecile. “Money, you stupid chit!”

“Yes, my King.”

“You and the brat need to leave. NOW!”

Azlyn jumped. “Yes, my King.”

“If you ever come back to Perolas, I will kill you.”

Azlyn squared her shoulders. This man had tortured her heart more than she ever dared to admit. Gunther took her romantic, callow soul, and twisted it, darkening it. She once believed love was for everyone. Now, she wasn’t so certain. Leofric, the most meddling God of Zerelon, brought people together, binding their hearts and souls in love. And if this God was so enamored with love, then why overlook her? Azlyn pushed the question from her mind. God of love or not, Gunther taught her life wasn’t happy nor loving. Life was cruel, and lonely.

“If I may ask one thing of you, my King?” she slightly demanded.

Gunther rolled his eyes. “I’ll permit it.”

“Why did you marry me if you loathe me so greatly?”

He came striding toward her. Azlyn backed up further against the door, wishing she could melt into it. Gunther grabbed her chin fiercely. Azlyn flinched, causing Gunther to sneer. He held her chin wrathfully, taking his free hand to grab her hair and yank her down so she was below him. Azlyn kept her gaze steady on her former husband.

His hand wrapped itself in her hair. “I wanted your money,” he said, throwing her to the floor. “And with your money, came power, more land and gold.”

Azlyn caught herself. Her muscles ached. She wobbled, getting herself to stand upright. Gunther walked to his desk, sitting in the large cushioned chair. He picked up the pipe to his left. Lighting it, he inhaled deeply as if now completely satisfied with what he’d done.

Azlyn turned to the door, her hand stilled on the knob. What was she going to do with a small child? Where were they going to go? She had no money, and Gunther was not going to give her a horse, or anything else for leaving Perolas. I’ll steal it, she thought, peering over her shoulder and glaring at the man.

Turning the knob, she exited the room hastily with her former husband inside. Azlyn crept up to the second floor, and entered her room. A soft whimper came from under the light blue ratted quilt. A sniffle sounded as the fire crackled in the corner, giving off a small glow. Turning, she closed the door, and bolted it closed.

She recalled leaving him tucked inside the secret trap door under her bed. Many times, she had hidden there to get away from Gunther. She could only imagine this poor little dear being afraid to come out regardless of what might happen. Her heart squelched at leaving him alone for nigh on an hour.

“Darling, do not be afraid. It’s me, Azlyn,” she gently said to the huddled bundle.

“I want to go home,” he cried.

“I know, sweetie. We’re leaving now.”

He popped his head out from under the covers, and looked warily at her. His hair was a mess. Mats of frizzy, red hair he refused to brush poked carelessly out of his head. His gray eyes stared at her with hope, and a bit of caution.

“Will you please tell me your name?” Azlyn asked.

“Cayden MacKinnon.”

Azlyn stilled her rapidly beating heart, replacing her emotions with a warm smile. He was a king’s son. Why this child and Aranore of all places, Gunther chose to kidnap from, she didn’t know. The people of Aranore weren’t known for being wealthy. The country with the most wealth in Zerelon was Hoklen.

“Where are you from?” she prodded.

“Northern part of Aranore Castle MacKinnon,” he softly said to her. “Where am I?”

“You’re in Perolas.”


Azlyn blinked. Why indeed? Why did Gunther want this child and MacKinnon money? Many more questions flooded her mind like an overflowing riverbank. She drummed her fingers on the doorknob. Gunther loves money and chaos. But I need to fix this.

She moved closer to the boy, sitting on the end of the bed. Cayden smiled wanly at her, fidgeting with his hands. Azlyn returned his lopsided grin. He was a handsome boy, stocky with wide shoulders, and a dimpled chin to match the dimples in his cheeks. He could not have been no more than six years of age. Cayden sat up, staring at her with his unsettling gray eyes. Azlyn reached out, taking his hand, and giving it a squeeze that offered some assurance. Cayden squeezed back, a few tears trickled down his small face.

“I will take you home,” Azlyn said, changing the subject. “I promise.”

“Are we truly leaving?”

“Yes, we are.”

“Then I can go home to my da!”

“Who is your father?”

“Theron MacKinnon, Laird of Castle MacKinnon. I dinna know how I got here… D’ye?” Cayden persisted

She caressed his small cheek and smiled. “It doesn't matter anymore how you got here. The most important thing now is to get you home.”

Azlyn sucked in her lips. She knew exactly how he got here. Now, she had to return him to his family and hopefully not incriminate herself. Wherever his father happened to be, she would return him. Hopefully, Theron MacKinnon wouldn’t mistake her as the kidnapper and kill her. However, it was a risk she would gladly take.

Azlyn smiled at the boy. “Let’s get going, shall we?”

She held out her hand, beckoning Cayden to her. The small boy gave her a beaming smile. She let out a deep sigh. She was getting them free of this dreadful place.

Relentless pounding at her chamber door, made her heart stop. “Azlyn!” Gunther yelled, rattling the door knob, “Why aren’t you out of my castle yet? Get out!” Gunther’s loud voice boomed behind it.

“I’m going!” Azlyn shouted back, beckoning Cayden to come to her quickly.

The boy scrambled out of the bed, kicking the blankets as he went. His bright gray eyes held a significant amount of fear as he hurried to pull on his shoes. Azlyn grabbed his hand. She would never allow Gunther to strike him.

“Get out!” he growled as the door bashed inward.

Gunther made straight for her, grabbing her by the hair, and forcing her to her knees. Azlyn gasped at the pain it caused. Gunther threw her forward. Azlyn caught herself. Gunther kicked the back of her knees, toppling her back to the ground. Azlyn crawled toward the door. She rose, using the bed frame as support.

“Get out you filthy, disgusting bitch! You’ve been a thorn in my side for far too long!” he roared, pivoting to kick her.

Azlyn dodged it. Gunther’s eyes darkened further, pissed she maneuvered away. Keeping both eyes focused on Gunther, Azlyn reached out, beckoning Cayden to her.

Cayden was to her in moments. He went protectively in front of her, but Azlyn pulled him behind her. She glared at her former husband, moving warily to the door with Cayden behind her. Azlyn grabbed his hand as she turned around, forcing him in front of her as they left. If Gunther were to strike again, Azlyn wanted him to strike her.

Fortunately for her, Cayden did not hesitate nor cry. Together, with him in front, they ran down the stairs leading to the kitchen. They raced outside, going quickly to the stables in the brisk night air.

Damn the man for causing strife in her life. She was no match for him physically, but she knew how to hit him where it hurt. Azlyn saddled Gunther’s favorite mount for Cayden to ride, knowing he would tire quickly if they were walking. Hurriedly, she saddled the horse and helped Cayden to mount. Finding a satchel, she stole it too, filling it with apples.

“Here,” a serving woman said as they went to leave.

Azlyn looked at the woman's hands: her fiddle. The instrument was all she had of her family. She left it behind, knowing it wasn’t as important as this child in her care. Now that she had her beloved instrument, she was forever grateful. She gave the woman a quick embrace, taking her fiddle. Azlyn tucked it into the satchel.

With her head held high, she left everything else behind her as she strode out of the barn. Every memory, every pain, every joy would die right here; old wounds did not need to accompany her on this new journey. If she were to entertain the thought of finding love, the man would have to love her for all that she was. She wasn’t about to make the same mistake as Gunther again.

Cayden was quiet as they passed under the iron gates. His stillness was fine with her. She needed to think of a plan of where to go from here. Azlyn hadn’t ever traveled; there was no need to, given her father was sentinel over a village. She couldn’t remember where the main road south was. Cayden had to get back to his father in Aranore. Wherever his father lived, Azlyn was going to find him.

Azlyn whipped the drying stands of her hair up out of her face, tying it together in a messy way. The horse whinnied beside her. She knew she was north of the Aranoren border, so she needed to head south. Azlyn peeked behind her, seeing the castle slowly fade from view in the light of the waning moon. She was tired. Her back, and shoulder killed her, but she would not tell Cayden or show any weakness. Cayden needed to see her being strong, not breaking down in a blithering mess. Although, sobbing for a while sounded good to her, but for the boy, she would put on a smile until she was alone.

“Cayden, where’s your father’s castle?” she asked after a bit.

“Castle MacKinnon,” he replied with a hint of confusion.

“Is that all you know?”

“I know it’s in Aranore at the top of our country.”

Azlyn sighed. At least they were already heading south, where they needed to go. But what she needed to know was if they needed to go more east or west. Azlyn came to the lake, and stopped to water the horse as she tried to decide whether to go southeast or southwest.

Azlyn got a stick and drew in the soft dirt, marking what she knew. On the wall behind Gunther’s desk was a map of Zerelon. A giant red circle marked Grella Castle, where she happened to be. Closing her eyes, she drew what she could recall from memory.

“Can I play in the water?” Cayden eagerly asked, pulling her from her thoughts.

“No, we need to get going. I’m sorry.”

Cayden shrugged. “It’s okay.”

She did not know of Cayden’s father other than he was a laird, the Aranoren version of a king. She could only hope he would be lenient on her and not mistake her for what Gunther had done. Maybe he would even take her with him. Surely there was something she could do that would be useful and beneficial.

“Dinna worry you none. I will take care of us, Azlyn,” he said, making a small bow from atop the horse.

Azlyn smiled. He was a charming young man. His father would be proud of him for being brave during this horrible ordeal. She led the way around the lake going east. Since Cayden did not know which direction Clan MacKinnon was in, she figured if she kept going southeast, she would come across someone at some point.

The gentle breeze blowing earlier turned bitter as the moon played games with the clouds. Cayden pulled his arms inside his sleeves. She felt guilty seeing him shivering cold, but she didn’t have anything on her person to give him.

The rolling hills seemed never ending. Azlyn spotted a wide dirt road heading south and made her way toward it. Wherever they were, a road was a welcomed sight. Glancing at the moon, Azlyn estimated they had been walking for some time as the moon had waned to the west significantly. The light of dawn had yet to make a full impact with color.

Cayden raced up the hill ahead of her, shouting. Azlyn ran as fast as she could and grabbed hold of the startled horse’s halter. Riders were heading straight for them. Protectively, she got in front of Cayden as men skidded to a stop.


making the beast come to a skidding halt. He took a long look at this woman who dared to have his boy. He had been out hunting cattle thieves when we got word about his son being missing. It felt like a knife to the gut. He stopped his search immediately to go after his son. Theron had ridden like a demon out of Hela’s Hell to find Cayden’s trail and it led him here. He dismounted trying to get around her, but this little woman fiercely blocked his every advance. She kept defensively in front of Cayden, wielding her fiddle like a club.

He took a step back and took the sight of her in. The lass’s dress was some shade of green, or perhaps at one point was green, and tattered. Her small hands had scratches over her knuckles and the left side of her jaw sported a colorful bruise. Her dark brown hair was bunched up messily on top of her head and appeared to not have been brushed in some time. Her eyes, bright blue and sparkling, stared feistily into his own. Theron drew his sword.

“I will harm you if you touch him!” she shouted without hesitation.

“Get away from him,” he seethed back, looking at his son who had his eyes covered.

“You first,” the woman challenged, pointing her fiddle-club at him then each of his men. “Be gone! Leave us alone!”

Theron scoffed. “Ye plan on killin’ me with that fiddle?”

The woman gripped the fiddle tighter. “If I must.”

Theron couldn’t help the sharp laugh that escaped. She was a feisty one. A deep scowl creased her pretty face. She held her fiddle up a little further and glared malevolently at him, holding her defensive stance and not moving a muscle. He moved but a twitch and she raised her fiddle ready to strike him down.

“DA!” his son shouted.

Cayden dismounted, running to him. Theron stabbed his sword into the fresh soil. He lifted his son to his chest, embracing the tiny lad. He ran his hands through his thick, red hair that was like his mothers, kissing his cheek. The woman lowered her fiddle. However, the look of distrust was still upon her otherwise pretty face.

“Why d’ye have my son?” he growled at her, holding his son close.

“He just showed up five days ago at Grella Castle. How do I know you did not abandon him?”

Theron raised his brows, a small chuckle escaped. She had a lot of pluck questioning him. Abandon him, he snorted, like bloody hell I ever would. He shook his head, the wench! Cayden wrapped his arms around his neck, squeezing as much as his tiny arms would allow. Theron held him tightly with one hand. With the other, he grabbed his sword free of the soil and held it up to her throat. The woman did not flinch, simply scowled and perked a brow.

“Abandon him?” he questioned.

“Aye,” she replied, bringing her fiddle back up with one hand and with the other, swatting his sword away. “If you’re going to point that at my throat, I suggest you use it.”

Theron smirked. She was a daring little woman. He liked her honesty and the fire swirling in the pools of her blue eyes. Peering at her left hand, seeing her finger ringless, gave him pause for a moment. Her tattered clothes and tired eyes gave way to a troubled life wherever she came from. Depending on her next few answers, he might consider allowing her residence in his clan.

“Why would I give my flesh, and blood, to yer laird?”

The woman shrugged. “I do not know why a father would leave his son with a man like Gunther.”

“I would ne’er do such a thing.”

“How do I know you will not harm him? How do I know you’re truly his father?”

“Because lass, I’m not chokin’ ye right now!” he roared. “Yer not dead!”

She lowered her fiddle, turning around to stuff it back in the small satchel she had. She grabbed the reins of the horse, muttering softly under her breath. She was a mystery to him. He wanted to know who she was and how she ended up with his son. But she did give him information he knew in his gut was true: Gunther did have his son.

Theron sheathed his sword, watching her intently. The lass approached him and Cayden. He scowled at her as she reached for his son. Locking eyes, the woman proceeded to softly rub Cayden’s back. His son released his death grip on him, leaning toward her with arms outstretched. Theron held onto him as his son wrapped his arms around the woman. She gave his son a kiss on the cheek before turning away.

“Azlyn, wait!” Cayden called, wriggling out of his arms.

Theron put him down, watching what his son would do. Azlyn turned around slowly, and faced the little boy. She dropped to a knee, smiling wanly at his son. Theron overlooked the scene from a distance, arms crossed over the other. He glanced at his men who watched their interactions closely. Cayden plowed into her with such force the woman almost toppled over.

“I don’t want ye to go,” he shouted.

“Cayden,” she began sorrowfully, taking both Cayden’s hands in her own while the other cupped his cheek.

Theron scowled, more questions burning in his brain of how this woman came to have his son. He could figure out the answers later. All he wanted was to get his son home.

“Come, Cayden. Leave her be,” Theron called.

“But da,” Cayden said, his gray eyes shining. “Azlyn needs a home.”

Azlyn would not meet his gaze. Pain creased her face whether from the bruise he noted earlier or his son's words, he knew not.

“Come, Cayden,” he said softly.

“Azlyn?” Cayden said, hugging her fiercely.

The woman closed her eyes, hugging his son as tears streaked her cheeks. She buried her face in his son’s neck while she squeezed him tight with one hand.

“Will ye come home with us?” Cayden softly asked.

Azlyn’s full blue eyes peered cautiously into his. Theron’s words caught in his throat. She was waiting for him to tell her she was welcome. From the way she defended his son, no enemy would do that. She was alone, with nothing upon her person. And if she had nowhere to go, how could he tell her no?

Theron shifted his stance. “D’ye no’ have a home, lass?”

Azlyn shook her head. “No,” she paused. “I do not.”

“What’s yer name?”

“Azlyn Jormeale, formerly Overwald.”

Theron nodded, rubbing his stubbled chin. “And I take it, Gunther is yer husband?”

“Aye… He was, but is no longer. Thank the Gods above for that!”

He strode over to her, checking her horse’s satchel. It held nothing but apples and her fiddle inside. He strode over to her, checking her over. Her dress was snug against her arms to hide any weapon.

“Raise yer dress,” he ordered. The appalled look on Azlyn’s face made him grin. “So, I can see if yer hiding weapons upon yer legs or in yer boots.”

She did so, exposing her lithe calves. No weapons were hidden upon her person. It made him wonder what had happened at Grella and why she was simply able to walk away with his son.

“Mount up,” he told her, turning back to his horse. “Come on, Cayden.”

His son rushed to him. Theron easily hoisted him up to sit in front of him. He turned slightly, watching Azlyn try to mount. Leaving his son, he went to her and threw her on the back of the horse. She weighed nothing at all, though she hissed when he touched her.

Theron scowled, lowering his voice. “Did Gunther harm ye? Did he beat ye?””

She nodded, tears edging along her long lashes. “Aye.”

“Never again,” he said, patting her knee and giving it a squeeze. “That I promise ye.”

He strode back to his horse, mounting behind his son. The morning sky became alit with vibrant pinks and oranges. They would arrive at Castle MacKinnon sometime toward the early evening. Clucking his tongue, he moved in the direction of home.

Theron peeked over his shoulder, seeing if she followed. Azlyn did with her head down and shoulders drooped. He motioned to his men to surround her, to keep an eye on her. Not that he didn’t trust her, but if Gunther’s reputation for harming people were true, he didn’t need her falling off a horse and getting more hurt.

Theron held his son close as they trotted over a hill. He sighed in relief at having him back in his arms. He closed his eyes, thanking the Gods for looking after his son and bringing him back. Theron leaned forward, kissing the top of his head. Cayden snuggled his head against his chest.

His son let out a contented sigh. It made him smile. Theron could only imagine the horrors he’d faced while being at Grella. He didn’t want to pry too soon, but he had to know.

“Cayden,” Theron began, “how long have you known Azlyn?”

“Since I got out of the dark,” Cayden yawned, moving to snuggle closer. “I had a bag over my head and she was the one who pulled it off and took me to her room. The mean laird was horrible to her. If he punched her one more time, I would have done somethin’ fierce!”

“He punched her?” Theron asked, trying to keep the shock from his voice.

The poor lass was naught but a twig in the wind. She was taller than most women he knew but her figure was lithe. To him, she was already a mite thin, and to just beat her, made him sick,

“Aye, all the time. She got struck in the back and all over.”

Theron breathed out harshly. No wonder she hissed when I touched her, he surmised. No man, ever, dared to lay hands on a woman in that fashion. It was against the laws of the clan, in all of Aranore. Granted, he grabbed her firmly by the arm, yet he would never harm nor kill her. He was just hoping to appear intimidating enough to obtain answers. Azlyn never flinched to any of his tactics. But now, it was no wonder she constantly straightened her back. She was sore. The woman needed protection, a place to be at home and at peace. He hoped he could give her that in his clan.

Theron was silent for a bit as Cayden rambled on about how much he liked Azlyn. Apparently, the woman did a lot to protect him, took a fair share of slaps and hits for sneaking Cayden food and guarding him during the night. Theron reasoned that Azlyn did what any woman would do for a child. He had to thank her. His son might not be here if it wasn’t for her.

“Da, I want Azlyn to be my mom.”

Theron sighed. His heart constricted tightly. The promise he made to his late wife came back full force in his mind and lingered. Theron never thought of what his son wanted. He always assumed he was happy. Cayden had his mother’s pet dog. Cayden had everything Theron could ever give him, except a mother. Now that his son admitted he wanted a mother, Theron felt guilty for not opening his heart like he promised.

By the Gods it was hard though! Kita was his heart, his soul. With her death, she took those parts with him. He had a hard time speaking to women because he constantly compared them to Kita. And here was a woman who loved his son, who was also fiercely protective over him. Azlyn was a woman his son had picked out for them both.

By the grace of Inder, what do I do? Theron made a promise, and ignored it for six long, lonely years. Women had offered to warm his bed. But no woman could compare to his Kita. And damned if he admitted it aloud, but he was charmed by Azlyn.

He peeked behind him, seeing her still within the circle of their group. He rubbed a spot above his chest. I promised, he thought.


across the grassy rolling hills of Aranore. The clear bright day shone through some errant gray clouds, warming her back and making her feel sleepy. If it weren’t for the uneven ground, Azlyn swore she would have fallen asleep. She hoped they would arrive soon. Her back and body were sore.

She poked her head around, seeing the mop of Cayden rest upon his father’s left forearm. A wan smile split her face. Cayden was finally with his father. The relief was insurmountable. And to be taken with them, away from Perolas, was a dream come true.

She watched as the laird moved with the horse. His broad back flexed, showing the defined curves of his muscles. She looked away, not wanting to be caught ogling but at the same time, was drawn back to his direction. His piercing green eyes she recalled staring into her own were mesmerizing.

Azlyn stifled a yawn, pressing the back of her hand to her mouth.

“Easy there, lass,” Bedver said, chuckling, “we’re almost there.”

A kind older man by the name of Bedver, kept her awake by filling her in all about Castle MacKinnon, and the people inside. It took a while for her ears to adjust. Old Bedver, as he was used to being called, had a thick voice, and harsh Aranoren drawl. Once she got used to his tone, listening, and responding became easier.

Azlyn smiled, glancing over at Marrock who rolled his eyes as Bedver relayed a tale about the snake that shook the castle to its core and almost swallowed it whole. In reality, it was a large grass snake that had gotten into the castle and scared everyone. Azlyn laughed, leaning forward as they climbed yet another sizable hill. The party stopped as they came to the top.

The sight of Castle MacKinnon took her breath away. The clear blue sky and bright sun shone upon the massive, imposing fortress with high gray walls, and four turrets at each corner offering her the protection she desired. Large windows were at the top of the keep, stained brightly with color. Trees evenly spaced were some ways off the castle walls but still provided shade. Cottages surrounded the western side of the castle, and the gate was directly in front of her. A large lake was to the south of the castle, going a touch east.

Azlyn shivered as tears welled in her eyes. This was her home now. This was where she would be welcomed to stay. Castle MacKinnon was something that would continue to be all hers, that no one could take away; a place to rest her head in peaceful bliss. These men were giving her a home where she would be welcomed; a place to call her own.

“It’s so beautiful,” Azlyn whispered.

“Aye, it’s home lass,” Bedver told her.

“And… you want me to live here too?” she questioned, choking on her words.

“Aye. This is yer home now.”

Azlyn wiped her eyes. Home. A place she always wished to have, and hoped to call her own someday. These people, who didn’t know two things about her, gave her what she craved most. Somewhere a cottage down there would be hers. Silent tears coursed down her cheeks. She leaned forward, her hands cupping her face as she cried. It meant more to her than anything she ever dreamed.

“Och, lass,” Bedver said, “why ye cryin’?”

“Because,” she sniffled, “I have a home.”

Bedver leaned in the saddle, setting a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Dinna cry. We’re happy to give ye a home. However,” he paused, dipping his head toward hers. Azlyn lifted her eyes in serious wonderment as Bedver softly continued, “Once the lads catch sight of a bonnie lass like ye, it might have ye running and cryin’ for cover,” he chuckled.

Azlyn offered a warm smile and a small laugh. She had no idea how to pay back the kindness bestowed upon her. She was surely grateful for everything and made a promise to herself to do all she could to help the clan.

“Let’s go home,” Theron announced.

“Aye!” one of the men yelled.

The men roared, smiles splitting their faces as their mounts plunged down the hill toward the keep. Azlyn followed, her mount taking its careful time. Theron made a loud whistle, catching everyone’s attention as they neared the castle. The men upon the top of the wall walk responded with a different sound as the gate lifted up. They passed under the iron barricades. It was even bigger inside than Azlyn could have imagined; much larger than Grella. People milled about, allowing them to ride up to the door of the keep. Theron dismounted first before helping his son down while handing off the reins to a stable lad.

Azlyn slid off her mount, and stood off to the side. Women came up to the group, throwing hugs around the necks of their men. The men slapped their women playfully on the backside, kissing them fervently on the lips. Everyone greeted their party with warm smiles, and gratefulness they were home. They had yet to realize her presence, which was fine, but was also a bit wracking on her nerves.

Theron turned to her, gesturing her forward. Azlyn swallowed, doing so weakly, and not entirely sure about the situation she found herself in. Some people gave her a welcoming smile, alleviating some of her worries. Still, she didn’t like being the center of attention.

“Clan, I would like to introduce you to Azlyn. She’s Gunther Jormeale’s former wife, Overwald’s daughter, and has come here to live amongst us.”

Cayden wrapped his arms around her waist. “Can ye play yer fiddle tonight, please?” he begged.

“Aye,” she nodded. “I can do that.”

Cayden hugged her a touch tighter, before taking off into the keep. Many faces turned to stare at her, eyes wide. Some eyes softened to her, others were mistrustful. An elderly woman parted through the throng of people, striding right up to her and embraced her. The old woman pulled back, her kind smile scrunching her eyes as she patted Azlyn’s hand. The woman touched her face, bestowing a gentle kiss upon each cheek.

“Welcome lass,” the woman said.

Azlyn grinned back. “Thank you.”

The kindness was most welcoming. These people accepted her, no questions asked. The elderly woman was still standing beside her, as others filed along to shake her hand and introduced themselves. Azlyn never felt more welcome. Tears stung her eyes at the joy in her heart.

“My name’s Edeen,” the old woman said. “I’m going to take ye to yer home. Yer going to like it on the outskirts of the village. It’s more private that way.”

Edeen grabbed her hand, and pulled her along out of the castle keep and to the west toward the village. Azlyn grabbed the horse’s reins and pulled the beast along. She had no idea what to do with a horse, but knew she shouldn’t part with it. Her father always mentioned: a horse is worth more than gold. After that long ride, she understood what he meant.

Edeen’s long, silver braided hair swayed as she moved. Her kindly, grandmotherly face crinkled as she smiled but not so much as to block out the view of her soft brown eyes. Edeen did most of the talking. Mostly trivial about the kind of weather Aranore experienced or where to get supplies. The old woman was kind not to pry about her.

They strolled along for what felt like forever to her. The cottages and buildings began to blend together. Azlyn counted the houses she passed, and the turns it took to get there. The faithful horse beside her, nudged her arm with his nose.

Finally, they arrived at a little run-down cottage. Multiple groups of weeds were growing in patches all around the little home. The horse pulled forward, promptly eating the weeds. She took off the halter style bridle and the saddle with the satchel attached, dropping it to the ground with a thud. Turning back to the house, she noted the door was hanging a bit awkwardly. She grinned, throwing her arms around Edeen. The cottage was perfect. It was hers. It was all hers, now until she died. This was home.

The old woman laughed, patting her hand. “The roof’s good, Azlyn. This is an auld cottage for whomever needs it. Now, it’s yers. I will go fetch ye a blanket as I don’t believe a good one is in there,” Edeen said, smiling at her as she began walking off.

Azlyn, with tears in her eyes, called back, “Thank you, Edeen, for everything… Thank you.”

“Wheesht now lass. It’s yer home, so go clean it up. It’s an eyesore,” she cackled.

Azlyn entered the dark house, and began accessing what needed to be done. It needed a good deep cleaning. Other than that, it was magnificent with a stone floor, a large single bedroom, an ample fireplace and cooking area. She looked out of the paned windows, smiling at the patience, and craftsmanship that went into this place. And it was all hers!

She got a fire going in the hearth, and began her cleaning. Taking a rag, she wiped down the cobwebs. Upon finding a broom, she swept. It didn’t take much for everything to look much better. Azlyn took the old bedding and clothing out back to shake out. Tomorrow, the linen will be washed, but for today, it would be useful. The horse ambled around to the back of the cottage, grazing. She needed to figure out what to do with him since there was no area around her home to keep him contained.

“I got a blanket for ye,” Edeen said, handing it to her. “I took a peek inside. Ye certainly did a lot in a short time. It looks great, lass.”

“Thank you,” she turned and smiled at the woman. “It didn’t take much. Hopefully, now not too much of an eyesore,” Azlyn finished with a wink.

Edeen laughed. “With how fast you work, it won't look like that for long. This clan needs someone who can sew clothes. Will ye do the job?”

“Absolutely. I would be happy to,” Azlyn replied brightly.

It was the least she could do since they already gave her so much. She loved it here already. Her heart felt at peace.

“Good. I will leave ye to it then. But before I go, there’s a feast at the keep tonight. Ye should come and eat.”

“Oh,” Azlyn said, surprised. “I will come. Thank you,” she smiled weakly.

Edeen nodded, and left. Azlyn went inside, setting the blanket on the bed. Going back out, she gathered the horse’s tack in her arms, bringing it inside. Taking her fiddle out of the satchel, she laid it on the bed.

Outside, she heard the horse whinny. Azlyn went out to investigate, wondering what kind of raucous the horse was causing. There was nothing. She shook her head, approaching the horse from the side. The gray speckled beast lifted his head to her, automatically approaching.

“You’re going to like it here too, I suppose,” she said softly.

The horse whickered, making Azlyn smile.

“I see you already do. Feels nice to be out of Hela's Hellish pit, doesn’t it?” she whispered, stroking his soft forehead and pushing the forelock out of his eyes. “I’m glad I took you with me, Dratto,” she cooed.

Dratto shook his head, nuzzling into her touch. She wrapped her arms around the neck of the beast, hugging and patting him. Dratto nudged her closer with his head.

“He sure does love ye,” Theron commented.

Azlyn turned toward the voice, giggling softly as Dratto continued to hold her close to him with his head. “Aye, he does.”

“I came to tell ye there’s to be a feast tonight in celebration.”

Azlyn smiled. “Thank you,” she replied, patting the horse and taking a step to the side to see Theron. She glanced down at her dress, noting her worn shoes and ratted hems. A rush of heat crept to her cheeks. She would be embarrassed to show up there, looking like this but it couldn’t be helped.

“D’ye need a place to keep yer horse?” Theron inquired.

Azlyn nodded. “I suppose I do.”

Theron crossed his arms. “Follow me. I’ll show ye where we keep the horses.”

With a hand on Dratto’s shoulder, Azlyn clucked her tongue, and Dratto stepped in sync to her strides. Theron walked on her left, ambling past a few cottages in silence as they headed south toward the southwest corner of the castle. Theron glanced at her intermittently. Azlyn felt a soft heat creep to her cheeks.

“Is this fine horse yers?” Theron asked.

Azlyn shook her head, a roguish smirk sneaking to her lips. “Nay. I stole him from Gunther.”

Theron chuckled. “Was the man unkind to animals too?”

“To anything that breathed.”

“I’m sorry for ye, lass. But here, ye’ll find men to be different.”

Azlyn blushed softly. “I’m finding that out already.”

Theron cleared his throat, pointing to the pen on the southwest side of the castle. “Toward dark, we lock up the horses in there. A guard,” he pointed upward, “oversees the livestock in case of reevers.”

“Thank you,” Azlyn said, turning toward him. “Thank you for everything.”

“‘Tis my pleasure, lass. See ye in a bit,” Theron said, placing a warm hand on her shoulder before walking away.

The sting of the cold from where his hand briefly was, sent a chill down her spine. She watched him leave, thankful he allowed her to come here. He was a handsome man, tall and broad, but not over much to where she felt like it would be comparable to embracing a tree. His kind, bold, green eyes were mesmerizing. Dratto whickered softly, pulling her from thoughts about the laird.

“I suppose you want in, aye?”

Dratto lifted his head, whinnying shrilly to the other horses in the round pen. Azlyn walked him toward the pen. A stable hand took over, allowing the eager horse in with the others.

Azlyn strode back to her home now that Dratto was taken care of. She shut the door softly behind her with a wan smile on her lips. Her mind kept casting her images of green eyes and a handsome man. Azlyn shook her head, clearing it of needless thoughts. Sleep called to her. Taking the blanket Edeen gave her, she carefully wrapped it around her shoulders and plopped on the bed. This would be the first good sleep she had in years.


waned slowly toward dusk and with it came clouds promising a storm. Goddess Zairre sat perched upon a cloud, smiling as more clouds rolled off the palm of her open hand as if she were blowing dandelion fluff in a breeze. The God Inder walked across the heavens, his bright red robes trailing behind him. The massive God took a seat beside Zairre on the cloud, comforting her as she cried. Theron gave a wan smile. The gods interfered how they saw fit.

Leaning against the stone of the wall walk, his gaze found him searching for Azlyn’s cottage. Once he spied it, he smiled. She was the first woman to intrigue him in years. Her alluring azure eyes, like deep watery pools, captivated him. The way a blush splashed color on her cheeks earlier made her even more beautiful.

Heaving a sigh, he pushed himself off the wall and strode toward one of the doors. Noting her disheveled dress, and even worse boots, he had a maid go through his wife’s old clothes he had kept in a trunk. Azlyn needed something fresh to wear, to feel like a woman again. He instructed the maid to leave what she found on his desk.

Wandering down the hall, and taking the stairs down, he made his way toward his study on the first floor. He opened the door, spying his request neatly folded on his desk. Smiling softly, he gathered the contents in his arms. She’s going to like this, he thought. The color will be bonnie with her eyes and bring out the glow of her skin.

Theron took a winding path leading out of the castle gates toward the village below. Cayden was in his room, taking a much-needed bath. Since having his son back, he had more on patrol watching and listening. Gunther wasn’t a man who took the initiative, but he also wasn’t one to pass an opportunity by. This left him thinking there might be a traitor in his midst. A gut feeling warned someone might try it again.

By all accusing fingers, it should point to Azlyn. Yet he didn’t see any malevolence in her. She was kind, protective and had a tender grace about her. And ever since he laid eyes on her, he couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful nor how gentle she was. He adjusted the package for her in his hands. The poor lass left Perolas with the clothes on her back and naught else.

He strode to her cottage door and knocked. The light snoring stopped. He smiled at the door, picturing her on the other side with drool coming off her lip and hair askew.

“Just a moment,” she called.

Theron chuckled.

“Blast, it’s night?” he heard her say as she came toward the door. The groaning of the hinges made him cringe. “Oh, hello, milaird,” Azlyn greeted with a small smile.

“Good evening, Azlyn,” he replied.

His words caught in his throat. She looked beautiful with her mussed hair and sleepy blue eyes. She wiped the edge of her lip and grinned sheepishly. Just as I imagined, he grinned. Even with the worn and tattered green dress, it looked lovely on her. It got him questioning if the dress he brought her was the right choice.

Theron cleared his throat. “I came to escort ye to the feast.”

The smile gracing her face took his breath again. “Thank you. I would love to,” she paused, looking down at herself. “Allow me to get freshened up.”

“Ye look beautiful as ye are,” he said, handing her the parcel. “For ye.”

Theron grinned at her blushing. In the faint light from the waning sun, he took the opportunity to just truly look at her; not as the woman who came from an enemy keep, or who protected his son, but as herself. Her long, wavy, dark brown hair hung loosely behind her. Azlyn’s green dress, although muddied hems and patched, hugged her body like a seductress. Her long eyelashes kissed the top of her sun kissed cheeks.

Azlyn was flawless, breathtaking more so in personality beyond the outward appearance. Her inner fire, and spirit were something his Kita never had. Kita never challenged him or anyone. His former wife was as relaxed as a summer’s day: demure, quiet, and pleasing. Azlyn’s voice, melodic and alluring, commanded his attention with her wit and charm.

Azlyn’s actions from the moment he met her only spoke for his son. Theron knew she came here for him. He knew she was going to play tonight because Cayden asked her to. Azlyn had a loving heart despite being married to an arse like Gunther.

“Allow me to change then,” she said softly, closing the door.

He waited outside, turning his back to the door. The whoosh of fabric striking the floor made him want to peek at her. Instead, his cheeks flamed at the images his mind conjured. He hopped foot to foot, trying to think of all manner of different things.

Tittering caught his attention and he whipped his head in the northerly direction. Wiry gray hair and spindly appendages made him shake his head. Leofric, the obtrusive god, was up to his antics. Leofric stood over a patch of shrubs, gawking in his direction. His spindly arm waved at him. Theron awkwardly waved back. The amusing God chuckled lightheartedly, muttering something under his breath before blowing some dust in his direction. Even from the distance separating them, Theron was forced to clear the air of the particles. After some sputtering and coughing, Theron turned his attention back to the door. He pulled at the skin on the back of his neck, wondering if this instantaneous connection was due to his meddling.

The door creaked slowly open. “Do I look all right?” she asked tentatively, smoothing out the fabric.

Theron nodded vigorously. “Stunning.”

The deep red dress brought out the color of her skin. Her bright blue eyes stared into his and he swore his knees buckled. Azlyn shut the door behind her with one hand, the other gripped her fiddle. Theron offered her his arm which she took. Her warmth melted his icy skin as he led the way back to the keep. Cayden came bounding down the pathway toward them, taking his place on the other side of her.

The people of clan MacKinnon passed them with waves and smiles. Theron greeted his people, introducing them to Azlyn. She smiled demurely, tripping over the hem of her dress as she stepped into the threshold of the keep. Theron caught her and she coughed to mask her embarrassment.

“Azlyn,” Theron began, leading her farther inside, “I have something to ask ye.”

“Yes, milaird?” she responded politely, using their term for king.

The simple words made warmth spread through his chest. “I want ye to sit next to me tonight, as my guest of honor.”

Azlyn stopped walking. She tilted her head to the side, face scrunched in confusion. “Honor? I’ve done nothing to deserve your honor.”

Theron shook his head. “Cayden, run ahead please, and sit in yer seat.” Cayden nodded, scampering to his seat. Theron, who still had his arm locked with Azlyn’s, waited until his son was out of earshot before continuing, “Ye saved my son. Ye protected him from Gunther, and for that I canna thank ye enough.”

“I did what any woman would do.”

“But ye did it. And ye were fierce in protectin’ my son. Even from me,” he chuckled softly. “It means a lot to me. Please do me the honor and sit by my side.”

“Well… Thank you, milaird,” she smiled at him.

She was so beautiful when she smiled. He stared at her for a long time, soaking in the beauty of the woman before him. There was so much to her. He found himself in quite the predicament wanting to be near her, getting to know her, yet wanting to be respectful and give her space to settle in her newfound life. He understood it would be quite the change going from where she was to here. So far, she seemed to be doing all right.

Theron brushed hair out of her face. Azlyn swallowed. “Thank ye, Azlyn for protectin’ my son.”

Azlyn nodded, tucking in her lips and crossing her arms over herself. “Cayden’s a great boy.”

Theron got the hint and took a step back. “Aye he is.”

“Same personality as his father’s,” she said with a slight grin.

Theron chuckled, putting a hand on the small of her back as he led her inside. She moved her fiddle in front of her, as if to shield her from too much boisterousness. Thunder boomed overhead. They both looked over their shoulders as rain came dumping down like a bucket from the heavens. Azlyn moved toward the door, reaching her hand out. She smiled at the water pooling in her hands.

“I love the rain,” she said. “It’s like it washes away all my troubles.”

“I understand what ye mean,” he replied, holding out his hand as well. He splashed the pooled water on his face, wiping it clear. “I love how it makes the ground smell.”

“Me too.”

Theron watched her as she gazed at the downpour. A wan smile pulled at his lips as Azlyn closed her eyes to feel the rain on her hand. Azlyn was unlike his late wife in that Kita was not one to take joy in the changing weather, but remarked a good storm needed a hearty soup. Theron ran a hand over his face, scratching at the beard on his jawline. A slow blooming ache burned in his heart. It was opening to another for the first time in six years. He could see himself getting to know Azlyn, maybe even falling in love, and it made him feel guilty yet intrigued to know her.

Azlyn turned away from the door, heading to where Cayden was sitting. Theron stopped walking, allowing people to pass him by as he watched Azlyn. He ran a hand over his face again, a habit of his when he tried to gain clarity over a thought. If he were to love again, it would have to be someone his son liked. And Cayden loved Azlyn. He strode to the table where Azlyn was waiting for him with a smile.


light of dawn came shining through the window. She had stayed late at the castle, talking and being herself for the first time in what felt like forever. She made friends, met her neighbors and lined up a few sewing jobs for the week. It was all slowly coming back to her as too much ale had passed between her lips. Her head swam as she sat forward.

Wiping her bleary eyes, she assessed the area she was in. The room was small. Embers of a fire barely glowed in the hearth. She peeked to her left, spying a bed and a small sleeping form snuggled inside the blankets. She smiled, remembering tucking Cayden into bed like the little boy asked and staying with him until he fell asleep. She must’ve fallen asleep in here with him.

Pushing herself out of the chair, she carefully tip-toed to the door. Cayden groaned, snuggling further into the bed. Azlyn smiled at the sweet boy. She quietly exited the room taking the stairs down to the main part of the castle. Pallets of blankets with bodies snuggled inside laid close to the massive fireplaces in the keep. Bodies of men were slouched across tabletops, some still holding their mug of ale.

Azlyn softly giggled. She snuck out of the keep and made her way back to her home on soggy ground. The morning sky was not quite blue yet not so dark. It was dreary, cold, but not unbearable even with the slight drizzle. The gray skies were parting slowly as the light of the day was having trouble coming through. Water rushed in through her shoes, freezing her toes.

Zairre was off to the west, walking amongst the fluffy clouds. Inder, in his long red robe, walked beside the old goddess. Inder’s red hair and sun kissed skin were almost lost in the sun. She shielded her eyes, watching them. Having seen them so much while growing up, seeing them now still amazed her. They would interfere when desired. For the most part, the Gods left everyone to their own devices.

Azlyn passed some of the other clan members on her way home. She slid a few times in the wet grass, laughing skeptically when she didn’t fall. She came upon her home, happy to see it was still standing in a solid piece. Azlyn opened the door slowly, closing her eyes as she wondered if there would be some leaking due to the rain.

With a deep breath, she opened her eyes and stepped inside. Her home was dry. She felt a pang of guilt for sneaking out of the keep, knowing she would be looked for by Cayden or his father. Her neck hurt from sleeping in the chair and she wanted to be home. She felt like she had imposed upon them enough.

Stiffly, she moved about her house looking for something to eat. She found tea and old biscuits. Azlyn sighed. For a moment, she felt desolate and stressed. There was no coin to her name. The only item she had of value was her fiddle and she hoped to never part with it. The beloved instrument was the only item she had left from her parents and the only thing Gunther allowed her to take with her when they married. And she dared not sell the horse.

With a renewed pep, Azlyn rummaged through the cottage before stumbling upon something from under the bed. A bow and quiver of arrows poked out of the folds. She smiled fondly at the weaponry. She remembered learning to shoot as a young girl with her father. Every two days, early in the morning, her father would take her out shooting, telling her that girls knowing how to bring down game was just as important as men. The memories of her father always brought a smile to her face. Even though he was a greedy man, he loved her deeply and taught her skills her mother often frowned upon.

Her fingers traced the upper limb to the grip of the bow. She could kill an animal and use it for trade. It would provide her with items she needed for her to be on her own. She needed flour, sugar and a few other necessities. She needed so much and the only way to buy it all was to trade or work on sewing; but even with sewing, she needed to purchase needles, thread and possibly bolts of cloth.

She glanced at the castle, knowing Cayden and Theron were inside. Her heart tumbled. Something shifted in her yesterday during the feast. She began seeing Theron in a different light after he thanked her for protecting Cayden. She understood their first interaction as Theron being a concerned parent, but after that, all of their interactions, something changed. Maybe it was her. She felt safe here, free. She wasn’t scared anymore and didn’t have to tip-toe around or constantly look over her shoulder.

Quickly, she changed out of her nice dress Theron got her and into the rags she came here in. The chilly difference between the dresses made her skin prickle as a shiver ran up her spine. She folded the deep red dress on the bed, excited to be done with the hunt already just to get back in the warm woolen garment. Determined to get out to hunt, she tied the quiver around her waist on the left-hand side of her, grabbed the bow, and set off.

She peeked toward the castle again and smiled. Theron was attentive and kind. Last night, he made sure she ate before he did, or that her plate and mug were always full. He was even kind enough to bring her a fresh dress. She tucked her errant hair behind her ear, and blushed.

He’s nice. He doesn’t make me feel afraid. I want to get to know him, she paused her strides, looking again at the castle. And I will. I’ll take it slow, keep an open mind. Marriage to Gunther didn’t feel much like anything. I learned what I don’t want, so I’ll be more perceptive to what I do want. Azlyn inhaled the crisp air, loving the smell of the soil and dew.

She chided herself as she walked toward the east. Her marriage with Gunther was more like a death sentence. It never felt like anything but entrapment. She had no fond memories of the man. Anything that would have been remotely considered a sweet memory was tainted by his vulgarity and abuse. Now, being away from him, she could find her own path, and like who she wanted.

She glanced at the round pen holding Dratto. She should have probably gone and retrieved him, but she didn’t want to have someone tell her she shouldn’t do something, or tell the laird what she was up to. Azlyn wanted to do this on her own, to know she still could and was capable of taking care of herself.

Azlyn turned and trudged her way south. She walked for what seemed forever but relished the tranquil solitude. Trees dotted the path she walked with a large pond below the hill to her right. Azlyn turned east toward the tree line. She crouched in the grass as she waited for animals to come out of their sleep to drink from the pond or eat the tasty wet morning grass. A large boar came out first, its tusks shimmered white in the morning light. Azlyn waited for him to come closer. Cautiously, she crept forward.

Azlyn took shallow, calming breath after breath, waiting for her opportune moment. She did not want to spoil it with twitchy fingers and a pounding heart. The boar came close to her, mere feet away. Staying in a small squatted position, Azlyn took aim and fired. The arrow struck true.

Her hands shook with it being her first kill in a long time. Azlyn flexed and wiggled her hands out at her sides and let out another hard breath. Azlyn cautiously approached her kill in case it was still breathing. She did not make it far up the hill when the boar picked itself off the ground and charged her, the arrow protruding from the left side of its back. Azlyn ran laterally along the hill, trying to make it to the pond. The boar was hot on her tail. She couldn’t outrun it.

Azlyn nocked another arrow, ready to pause and loose, but it was too late. The boar was upon her. She moved her hand up the arrow shaft to hold on to the point. The beast plowed into her legs, slicing her open as she fell to the side.

“Shit,” she yelled, her body striking the wet grass.

The grunting squeal of the pig rang in her ears as he charged the side of her leg, forcing his tusk further into her. Azlyn hissed as the tusk struck her soft flesh. The pig kept trying to plow through her. She screamed angrily, frantically trying to get away from the animal. She grabbed a hold of the boar’s tusks and quickly with one hand tried to slit its throat with the tip of her arrow. The skin was too tough. Blood barely trickled out from its neck. Time was running out for her. She was not strong enough to overpower this beast for long.

Azlyn took the arrow and jabbed at the underside of the animal, under its armpit. The boar shrieked in pain. Azlyn shoved the arrow in as hard as she could, further into the boar as she held onto the animal for dear life. Azlyn prayed to Hela to aid her, as she rolled to her knees to better keep the boar at bay.

Slowly, some of its strength left the animal. Azlyn reached around herself, patting her side as she searched for another arrow out of her quiver. Her hand wrapped around the cold wooden shaft. With as much force as she had, Azlyn stabbed the boar above his shoulder blade, going sideways through its body.

Azlyn fell to the side, losing her grip on the animal. It wriggled out from her sweaty grasp. The boar turned on her, squealing angrily. Head down, the boar aimed to charge again. Azlyn scooted away, grabbing another arrow out of the quiver on her left. She stood ready, the arrow clasped in her right hand, pointing away from her.

She stared at the boar as it staggered on its feet. She felt terrible for causing it to suffer. The first arrow she loosed sunk deep into the boar’s body. She thought it would be enough to down it completely.

A red mist circled around the boar. It hovered only a moment, before going into the body of the animal. Azlyn said a small prayer of thanks to Hela as the life force drained from the boar. As quickly as the mist came, it disappeared. The animal finally died peacefully.

She sat with a thud on the grass next to the boar, breathing heavily with relief the ordeal was over.

“Thank you,” she whispered to the dead pig. “I appreciate your sacrifice and I’m sorry to have made you suffer.”

The boar's wiry, bristle hairs felt rough under her palm. Her father always told her to thank her kills, believing the soul of the animal lingered around its body. She patted the boar's side again as she stared off at the lake and the trek she needed to make to bring it back to her new clan.

Azlyn’s sweaty hands pulled up the rags on her dress. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see how badly she was injured. With a deep breath, opening her eyes, she looked at her leg. Blood trickled from her left calf steadily. Pulling the skin apart, she winced. It wasn’t a super deep wound, but it wasn’t shallow either. Skin around the wound was hanging off her like sliced bacon. Azlyn choked back vomit rising in her throat. Quickly, she tore off strips of her dress and tied them around her leg as tight as she could get it.

The castle was not too far off. Men were visible from the wall walk. Slowly, she gimped up to the edge of the forest and made a stretcher out of fallen branches and young saplings. It took her no time at all, having done it numerous times before.

Slinging her bow over her back, her tired hands clutched the ends of the stretcher. Sweat poured down her face. Azlyn walked to the boar and loaded him by dragging and rolling the creature onto the makeshift stretcher. Azlyn wasn’t certain about gutting the animal. She had only seen it done twice. For her, it was best to wait until she could get it back to the village where someone there knew what to do.

“Soren’s Sword, this boar weighs a bloody ton,” she remarked, struggling to keep a set pace toward the castle.

Her strength was draining, but she had to keep going. She couldn’t let the meat spoil. Then her leverage for bartering would be for naught. Azlyn stopped every few paces to rest her left leg. Progress toward the castle seemed to take forever. She stopped on the outskirts of the village, plopping in the grass. Sweat poured down her face profusely. Her cottage was not too far off. More people were up and about, milling around and talking.

Azlyn thought she was being smart, up before everyone else and doing chores. Now she realized she should have asked someone to go with her, and brought Dratto with her. She wanted her alone time, got it and then some. She heaved for breath. Azlyn looked up to the sky and thanked Inder for delivering her back home.

“Help!” Azlyn shouted, waving her hand. “Help!”


nudging his arm.


That was a preview of Zerelon Complete Series - Clean & Sweet Fantasy Romance. To read the rest purchase the book.

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