Read DEBTS (Vinlanders' Saga Book 3) Online
Authors: Frankie Robertson
LOVE vs. HONOR
Son of an Oathbreaker, Aren is desperate to restore his family's honor, and leaps at the chance Lord Fender offers. His task seems simple enough for a Tracker: bring in a young woman accused of a vile crime. Simple, until his duty to the Jarl conflicts with a debt he owes to the Elves.
Fey-marked and friendless, Annikke flees the wrath of a vengeful lord. When Aren intercepts her, Annikke must choose: trust a stranger with warm brown eyes who promises justice, or protect her daughter—and remain a fugitive forever.
is Book Three in the Vinlanders’ Saga. It follows
, but can be enjoyed out of order.
“A great tale of adventure and romance, beautifully imagined and deeply engaging from beginning to end!”
~Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of
, and the
Lord John Grey
“Grabs you from the start with excellent pacing, fascinating characters and culture, and a satisfying romance. I want more!”
~ Jennifer Roberson, bestselling author of the
THE CHRONICLES OF THE CHEYSULI
“Romance, peril, and magic: what more could anyone ask?”
~Dennis L. McKiernan, author of the
series, and the FAERY series.
For Caroline, and all the others who said, “Where’s the next one?”
Castle Rock Publishing
Annikke’s smile held a bitter edge as Benoia sneaked a peek into the huge iron cauldron hanging in the yard. Annikke knew the girl half expected to find human bones in the bottom, and she thought about letting Benoia’s imagination stew for a while. Maybe she should cook dinner in the big old pot tonight and let Benoia guess at the menu. But cleaning the cauldron was a major undertaking and cooking for two in it would be absurd. Besides, if she spooked the girl too much she'd be next to useless.
Annikke sighed. Time to put a stop to this.
“It's just a big old pot, girl.”
Benoia jumped like she'd been caught pilfering. Her bony hands clutched each other near her throat, causing the thin cloth of her ragged sleeves to fall back, revealing meatless forearms. The girl would need a week or three of decent meals before she could do any useful work.
Annikke looked down the narrow lane that twisted into the spring wood, but Benoia's father was no longer in sight. Annikke spat anyway. He'd traded his daughter's indenture for a posset to fight a fever in his wastrel son. The boy would recover his health now, but she rather thought that she and Benoia had got the better of the deal.
If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t sell her so cheap.
But what chance was there of that? A woman needed a man to get a child, and no man would look twice at Annikke, let alone bed her.
“Come along, girl. The coop needs cleaning.”
The oil lamp flickered and Annikke looked up from her sewing to catch Benoia staring at her from under lowered lashes. Nearly a month of hearty food and light work had put a bit of rose in Benoia’s cheeks, but no smile in her eyes. Annikke never raised a hand to the girl, but she remained timid and fearful.
“What are you looking at?” Annikke asked sharply.
Local gossip made much of the fact that Annikke had been Fey-marked some ten years ago. She'd gone missing her twelfth year at midsummer, when she was a girl in bud as Benoia now was. A month later, when her parents found her asleep in the forest, her hair had turned silver. Not grey, nor white. Silver.
Annikke had no memory of that missing time. Her parents had said nothing about it, but for the rest of their lives they'd not looked at her the same—when they could bear to look at her at all. Even so, Annikke might have found a way to pretend nothing had changed, except that her hair wouldn't let her. She'd tried covering her head with scarves and hats, but the younger children had taunted her and dared each other to snatch them away. No dye would take. She'd even tried shaving her head once, hoping that her mousey brown hair would grow back in place of the gleaming silver, but to no avail. Now she wore it long and defiantly, falling like a river of moonlight down her back. She'd taken to wearing dark gowns, too, to show it off.
Benoia flinched and dropped her eyes to the mending in her small hands. "Nothing, ma'am."
Frigga’s fat fanny. Nothing
She’d fed the girl and given her good clothing to wear. Was a small scrap of gratitude, a flicker of warmth, too much to hope for in return?
Of course it is.
Why should she expect Benoia to be any different from the other village folk? They came to her quick enough for her healing potions, but not one of them would offer her a smile of friendship. She was Fey-marked. How could she have let herself think otherwise?
“Do you want to go home?”
Benoia looked up at her. Was that hope in her wide blue eyes? It made Annikke want to spit. The stupid little chit would rather return to a father who beat and starved her than do easy service with her.
Annikke knew the stories that fed Benoia's fears.
The Elves and their minions still visit her when the moon sails high, and lie with her in the forest glades.
So the farm wives whispered.
It’s the Elves,
who teach her about the herbs she uses to heal, and tutor her in their Fey Magic
. Annikke shook her head. If she knew Elven Magic, she'd hardly need to take in an ungrateful child to help with the chores.
“Good. Home you shall go.” Annikke paused, then wiped the girl's shocked expression away with her next words. “In a year's time, just as your father pledged.”
Midsummer night promised a new moon and a dark night for the Elves to walk abroad and dance in the starlight. Annikke shivered despite the summer’s warmth. She’d make sure that she and Benoia were buttoned up tight inside the house before full dark.
Annikke leaned against the porch railing, watching Benoia as the sun slipped below the tops of the trees. Insects buzzed and the swallows skimmed low over the meadow as Benoia pulled clothes off the line and carefully folded them before putting them in the basket. She always did her tasks well. She never tarried or slopped her way through. After three months the girl still feared her too much to relax.
“Hurry up. It will be dark soon.”
Benoia jumped and nodded.
The girl had been especially skittish today. She probably thought Annikke would offer her as a sacrifice to the Elves tonight if she didn’t do her chores right. Annikke turned to stir the pot where the stew simmered, considering. Was Benoia stupid enough to run off? Or was she more afraid to be abroad on Midsummer's night than she was of Annikke? She hoped so. Even if the girl was a foolish little thing, Annikke didn't want Benoia coming to harm.
Movement in the shadows of the forest lane caught Annikke’s eye. Fear slithered down her spine and her breath stuck in her throat, yet she managed to force an urgent command past her lips.
“Benoia, to me.”
The girl looked up sharply, and then scurried to obey.
A well-favored man emerged from the wood, coming into view around the bend in the trail. His shirt sleeves were rolled up and the tunic laces across his chest were loose, but the cloth and leather were of fine workmanship. A sword with a silver pommel hung at his side and he led a lame horse.
Annikke waited silently, heart speeding, one hand clutching a large wooden spoon like a weapon.
“Greetings, mistress. Is there a farrier in the village yonder?”
The young man stopped close enough to talk, yet far enough away to not offer threat.
. Or maybe it was her silver hair that caused him to keep his distance. But his eyes held no guarded wariness.
“Aye,” she answered, “but you’ll not get there before dark and he'll not welcome a stranger tonight.”
“Has he so much business, then?”
Annikke smiled grimly despite a little rill of fear. “Who are you, that you're so unconcerned to be out on Midsummer’s night?”
“My apologies, mistress. I am Lord Fendrikanin Kendersson, sworn to Lord Dahleven of Quartzholm.”
A Lord, then, and some distance from home—or so he says.
She dared not turn him away though that was precisely what she wanted to do. “You might as well share our supper and spend the night here.”
She wouldn’t normally ask him into the house. Not with her and a young girl alone. She'd heard about some of those young lords—if lord he truly was. He had not appeared until the sun was behind the hills. He could be an Elf venturing out early this night, disguised by Fey glamour.
“Thank you mistress.” Lord Fendrikanin grinned despite her ungracious invitation. “Where shall I make my bed?” His eyes were teasing and boyish, for all that he was a handsome, broad-shouldered man. Or seemed to be.
Annikke clenched her jaw. He was laughing at her.
She answered him through gritted teeth. "In the house, of course… my lord. Benoia will give up her cot to you.”
But before she let him cross her threshold, she would know what it was she hosted. She gestured to the huge iron cauldron with her wooden spoon. “We’ll sit to dinner in a moment, my lord. But will you first help me pour out this wash water?” If he were Fey, he wouldn’t touch the iron pot.
touch it without it burning him.
Lord Fendrikanin showed no affront at being asked to help with the chores. He tied his big bay to the porch railing and strode without hesitation to the large pot where it hung on its tripod. “Where do you want the water, mistress? Yonder in your garden?” He nodded his head toward the lush herb patch as he lifted the heavy cauldron by himself.