Read Thief Online

Authors: Linda Windsor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Historical, #Christian, #Religious, #Love Stories, #Celtic, #Man-Woman Relationships, #redemption, #Kidnapping Victims, #Saxons, #Historical Fiction, #Scotland, #Christian Fiction, #Alba, #Sorcha, #Caden, #Missing Persons, #6th century

Thief (10 page)

Just as Caden was about to protest that he wasn’t a blasted piece of stoneware, something Caden’s mother said came to mind. Adam had been made from clay. And man did grow bigger and bigger, from infancy to adulthood.

“So the spirit grows and matures,” Caden concluded.

“So it is,” Martin replied. He placed his hand on Caden’s forehead. “Peace be with you, Caden of Glenarden.”

Yes, that is what Caden wanted more than anything. A peace that would not leave him, as that garnered from nature’s surroundings did, when he was in the presence of his fellow man.

“What is it you seek from God, Caden?”

Herthfire! And just as he began to grasp the priest’s words. Was there a right or wrong answer?

“Peace—what else?”

“Everlasting life with your Father in Heaven?” Martin prompted.

Instead of nothingness? Or worse, the demons of his dreams? Caden supposed that would lead to peace.

“Yes, that will do.” To Caden’s astonishment, something deep within kindled. Something he had not known for a long time. Hope? Nay, more than that. More than even peace.

“I’ve longed for a
,” he managed past a blade of emotion thick as a plowshare.

“I know, son.”

Though the words came from Martin’s lips, Caden heard them from the voice within. More of the hard wall about his heart fell away.

“And our Heavenly Father is love,
love. No matter how much we fail Him, all He asks of us is that we try again. He even picks us up to help with a second chance.”

As his maithar had when he’d fallen as a child, Caden recalled. Not Tarlach, though. The only way to get his father’s attention was to invoke his wrath. The hurt was unbearable, even now twenty-odd years later. And there was no holding it back. It bled from his soul, racking his body, wringing his eyes until Caden wondered where the water came from.

“If, then, you wish to inherit everlasting life with the loving Father on High, keep the commandments
: ‘Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.’”

“I will.” At least Caden intended to try.

“With God’s help,” Martin added.

“Aye, I will, with God’s help.” Caden frowned. “Though calling Him God makes Him sound so far away.”

“Jesus called Him
… which is much like our da,” Martin clarified. “Something tells me God won’t mind if you do as well.”

. It felt right.

Father Martin spit on his thumb and made the sign of the cross on Caden’s forehead. “Receive then, this sign of the cross on your brow and on your heart. Trust with your whole being in the Word, and lead a life that will make you fit to be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.”

. The earlier quickening in Caden began to warm, igniting an otherworldly flame that crept slowly to the furthest reaches of his body.

“Pray with me, child of the Living God,” Martin said. “Lord, if it pleases You, hear our prayer …”

“Lord, if it pleases You, hear our prayer …”

“By Your supreme power, protect Your chosen son Caden, now marked with the sign of our Savior’s holy cross …”

“By Your supreme power, protect me, now marked by the Savior’s holy cross, Father …” Caden’s clasped hands seemed welded by the heat that flowed through them.

treasure this first sharing of Your sovereign glory …” Martin coached.

what it was? Caden wondered, echoing Martin’s words. For no longer did he feel the cold, damp sand beneath his knees or the sea breeze lifting away his cloak to penetrate his clothing. This … this
would not allow it.

“Help me to keep Your commandments that I might attain the glory of Heaven to which those born anew are destined, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

As Caden repeated the plea, he began to understand the glow he’d seen earlier on Father Martin’s face. Like that of a man standing too close to a blazing hearth fire, yet this fire came from within. Caden started to rise with it, but Martin was not finished.

Holding up a finger to stay him, the priest walked to where the water lapped upon the beach. On gathering a palmful, he returned to Caden.

“Almighty and everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look with favor on Your son Caden, whom it pleases You to call to this first step in the faith. With this water, wash him of all inward blindness.”

The tiny bit of seawater Martin poured on Caden’s head penetrated his thick hair. It was a small amount, yet it washed over his spirit like a soaking rain.

“Sever all snares of Satan that have heretofore trapped him. Open wide for him, Lord, the door to Your Fatherly love.”

Fatherly love.
The words knocked Caden from his knees, prostrating him on the damp sand. The control he’d sought was gone. In his mind’s eye a small boy escaped from his earthly body to take off across the beach, dancing joyfully out of control with upstretched arms toward Heaven where his Abba watched.

“May the seal of Your wisdom so penetrate him as to cast out all tainted and wicked inclinations, and let in the fragrance of Your lofty teaching, that he shall serve You gladly in Your church and grow daily more perfect, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

But Caden the man could not move. A floating sensation precluded the need, as if Abba was gathering him up in His arms. And from deep inside Caden’s very soul—aye, at last he’d found it beneath the refuse of pain and rejection that had buried it for so long—he shouted, “Amen!” It was no more than a whisper to his ears, but in his mind his Abba heard it. And He smiled at His adopted son.

Chapter Eight

Sorcha agreed to take Ebyn down to the beach after midday. The laying breeze and bright afternoon sun made even the cool October day seem warmer. Gemma decided to join them, bringing along her hornpipe.

“What more can we ask for?” her friend had demanded when Sorcha initially balked at the idea of leaving the haven of her home so soon. “A beautiful day
a fine man to practice your dancing with.”

Her dancing. One thing more for Sorcha to worry about. Aye, she’d been taught basic manners, but she was a singer and musician. She played
the dancers. Yet, as a thane’s betrothed, she would be expected to be one.

“You simply play the tune with your feet as fingers upon the ground, which is your instrument,” Gemma instructed from her perch on a log washed ashore long ago, judging by its salt-dried finish.

“Milady, will you dance?” Ebyn, solemn and gallant in his role, bowed as Gemma had taught him. Despite her apprehension, a smile tugged at Sorcha’s lips as she responded in kind.

“Now you, Sorcha, tap the sand with your feet. No, no,” Gemma cried out as Ebyn started one way and Sorcha the other. “I should imagine Thane Cynric would have you dance near him.
. Hold hands, perhaps … not too close. And not as if you fear catching the pox,” she added when they pulled back at arm’s length. “We are frolicking together to my music. And make eye contact with your partner. Smile.”

And so it went. Walking, skipping, turning, weaving, sometimes hand-holding, but always near. At least until Ebyn’s attention was thwarted by some youngsters his own age batting oyster shells with sticks along the water’s edge.

For a lad his age, he’d been uncommonly well behaved, given the morning they’d had. But Sorcha had seen the energy he and the other children ran off when she and Gemma had taken them to the beach to get them out of the house during their short stay.
Poor fellow must be about to burst with it,
she thought.

“I’ve an idea,” she said. “Ebyn, why don’t you run off with yon lads for a bit, while I practice? When I’m ready for a partner, I’ll call you.”

The grin he gave made her small consideration well worthwhile. “Aye, thank you, milady.”

He was off before Gemma could put in her thoughts. But from the way she followed Ebyn with affection in her gaze, she approved. “’Tis no wonder Tilda offered to keep him again tonight without pay. He’s a dear
” she added, “Tilda swears he has potential at the loom.”

“I know what you’re thinking.” Sorcha lifted her unbound hair off her neck to cool herself from the exertion. “But Tilda is old enough to be his grandmother. What would become of the lad, were she to die before he’s grown?”

“Aye,” Gemma sighed in agreement. “Let’s try something slower.” Putting the pipe to her lips, she began to play a dignified tune.

Step, two, three. Sway to the music. Step, two, three.

“Skip,” Gemma said to the side as Sorcha beat out the time on the sand with the ball of her foot.

Curtsy, two, three.
Sorcha stooped low.
Up, two, three—

And there stood the Cymri stranger, as if conjured by elf magic, offering his hand. “Well done, milady.”

Sorcha and the music stopped. Finally, shock freed her tongue. “How did you find me?”

“Well, now, you”—he fingered a lock of her hair—“and your companion don’t exactly blend into the crowd. Not that there’s much of one.”

He only touched her hair, but that and his dazzling smile caused her pulse to trip. Indeed his humor was uncommonly bright, given what had happened to him. Sorcha cut her gaze to Gemma, who seemed as taken aback as she.

“Gemma,” he prompted, “if you’ll continue, I’ll—”

“Now what would a man like you know of dancing in a king’s court?” Sorcha challenged.

The sun played on his golden hair, as wavy as the sea and tamed with a band of leather at his neck today. When he slipped his cloak over his head and tossed it near Gemma on the sand, there was a fringe of the same gold showing at his throat in the vee of his tunic.

“I have danced in the courts of most of Arthur’s kings,” he informed her.

True, Caden spoke and acted more refined than most of the men who frequented the tavern. He even looked different from when she’d last seen him, though she was hard-pressed to say what was different.

“So you’re a prince, then?” Gemma spoke up.

Wistfulness graced the gaze he turned to her. “I
, milady, but today I’m a soldier. Nothing more.”

A prince? Now
intrigued Sorcha all the more.

“Courtly dance is nothing more than moving to the music as nature bids in a closer space than the outdoors. In it, man and woman are companions, one mirroring the other,” he declared, before she could frame her curiosity into a question. “Lady Sorcha,” he said, taking Sorcha’s hand.

“I’m not a thane’s wife yet,” she reminded him, although she allowed him to position her opposite him. He certainly exuded more charm than last night.

But charm could cloak wolf as well as lamb.

“The tune you were playing is perfect, Gemma. A fling is more suited to the freedom of meadow than the confines of a hall.”

Sorcha wasn’t certain exactly how Gemma would take to his compliment. She looked at Caden as though she were reading one of their song sheets, looking past the words to what lay behind them.

“Why?” she asked bluntly. “Why are you so interested in teaching Sorcha to dance?”

Caden gave a short laugh. “Milady, it is a lovely day beside the sea, and Sorcha is a lovely woman. Is it so odd that a man should want to while away the afternoon in her company, when yon Din Guardi fortress is so thick with people a man must walk sidewise through them?”

Lighthearted. Maybe that was it. Like Ebyn kicking away at an oyster shell on the beach, laughing at this fine dose of life.

Caden’s lips twisted wryly. “And I’ve no coin to pay for drink and conversation at a friendly tavern. Seems I was robbed last night while unconscious from our

Had his eyes narrowed at Gemma, or was guilt causing Sorcha to imagine it? Though if Caden did suspect them of the theft, his beguiling act was worthy of a master gleeman.

As Gemma put her pipe to her lips, Caden turned back to Sorcha. “Your blush shames the fairest rose, milady,” he said, smiling as he bowed low.

“A sunny day adds color to every woman’s complexion,” Sorcha managed during her curtsy. Though guilt probably had its hand in the mix as well. When she straightened, Caden’s hand was outstretched to meet her own.

“Dance is much like courtship,” he told her, smoothly leading her through half skips. “The touch”—his fingers closed on hers—“is as close as the lovers dare to get, for others are watching.”

Whether it was the word
or the touch that made her trip and kick sand over his feet, Sorcha couldn’t say. He caught her waist, steadying her, guiding her into a spin that went straight to her brain. “But their hearts are already entwining, beating drum to drum in a melody of love.”

Her blood hammered through her fingertips in answer to his. Pinpricks of awareness spread from the contact like nothing she’d felt before. She couldn’t stop it, save to break away and run.

“And sway, milady,” he told her, letting go just when Sorcha thought she could bear it no more.

As Sorcha swished her skirts to the right and left, he clapped hands. And then one hand hovered at her waist—not touching, though she could feel its heat as they circled in opposite directions. And then she was his mirror again, standing side by side, connected only by their thrumming fingertips.

“Undoubtedly, your betrothed will continue to offer compliments. You are light as a fairy on your feet.…”

He hadn’t noticed the sand on his boots.

Ma chroi
, you have put the twinkle in the eye of every man here this night,” Caden continued. “Any man with red blood in his veins.”

Ma chroi …
my heart

“Now twirl,” he said, lifting one of her hands over her head as she spun like a puppet on unseen strings from his fingertips.

“And …” He backed away to face her. “Mirror, milady.”

Sorcha mimicked him, dancing one hand on hip, the other in the air. Then his lower hand slipped to her waist and hers flew to his of its own accord. Lean muscle, devoid of excess flesh, awaited it. Indeed she could feel the battle-toughened sinew working in sync with its counterparts beneath his woolen tunic. Around and around they skipped.

“Alas, this is as close as you and your betrothed will come to the joys of your bower, but your pulse will quicken just the same. And the soft pine green in your gaze will deepen as it does now to the bright gloss of the holly.”

If Sorcha’s gaze had changed color, it was not the only one. What manner of magic was this, that the cool polish of silver gray could shimmer so bright as to draw her like a moth to its flame?

“And,” he said, backing away and breaking the contact that had shaken every sense she had to full wakefulness and more, “we bow.”

Sorcha curtsyed low and slow, giving herself time to catch her breath.

Gemma put down her pipe and clapped. “Well done, well done.”

Sorcha could not believe her ears. Had Gemma been enchanted as well?

“Well done, yourself, Gemma,” Caden replied. “You should share the gallery with Sorcha at the tavern.”

“I do at times,” the little woman replied, “though more are willing to toss a coin in a cup taken to them, than in one that stays in one place. But you two—” She clasped her hands in delight. “You dance as if you were one, instead of flailing all about the place like chickens with their heads cut off. It is almost poetry to watch.”

“Caden led me well,” Sorcha said. She pulled her cloak, fastened by a brass brooch at her neck, more tightly around her, as though she’d taken a sudden chill. She had. The distance between them robbed her of her partner’s warmth. “If Elford dances as well, I shall have no worries.”

“I had hoped, milady, to speak with you once more about your betrothal and my proposal.
,” he emphasized, stopping Sorcha’s objection with a finger to her lips. Surely elfin magic forced her attention to his mouth, tempting her with more than words. “I will trouble you with it no more.”

“Then let’s hear it.” Gemma patted the log next to her for Sorcha to sit. “’Tis the least we can do for your generous help.”

Sorcha didn’t believe in magic, but she took a seat, obedient.

“Apparently,” Caden began, “your birth father did try to find you. He bribed a slave trader to ask about and discovered that a red-haired girl your age at the time had been adopted by a Din Guardi family. And then your father went straight to Din Guardi, just this time of year, and asked around, but no one would tell him anything more. He even thought he saw you once in the marketplace, but you were gone before he could catch you.”

Sorcha thought. Her family and friends were a tightly knit group and not likely to tell a stranger anything about their own.

“Then he fell afoul of the likes who robbed me last night. But
left him to die on this very beach.”

Sorcha could almost see her father, distant and faded in her mind’s eyes. But his image kept merging with Wulfram’s until she wasn’t certain which she mourned. “He died
she whispered.

“Nay,” Caden answered. “He managed to make it back home to Trebold, where the chill from being abandoned for dead on a wet beach took him.” Caden dropped to his haunches, the thick muscle causing the woolen weave of his breeches to pull taut across fine thighs. “But even through her grief and hardship over the years, your mother never gave up hope of finding you. And that is why I am here,” Caden concluded matter-of-factly. “I’m the first to agree to come look for you. I was obliged to do so for her kindness.”

“I am certain the lady did face grief and hardship, losing a child and a husband as she did,” Gemma empathized. “What was her name?”


“Myrna.” Caden echoed Sorcha’s thought aloud to Gemma. The name gently cradled Sorcha’s heart. “A fine, honest woman who makes a living running a hostel at the river crossing. She provided for Arthur and his companions on this Leaf Fall’s campaign.”

“I wouldn’t say such things too loudly, were I you,” Sorcha warned him. “The king lost some of his good thanes on the borders.”

“I will take that advice to heart, milady. And now …” He rose, a golden giant against a blue sky. “I’d best be making my way to the fortress. I’ve made good my promise to Myrna. The rest”—he offered a hand each to Gemma and Sorcha to help them to their feet—“is up to you. Good day, ladies.”

With that and a short bow, the Cymri sauntered down the beach toward Ebyn and the boys. Language never posing much of a barrier for children—the friends were now batting seashells into the sea. Her mind awash with questions tossed by her unsettled heart, Sorcha watched Caden borrow one of their sticks to try his hand at the game. Once struck, his shell soared over the surf and landed far beyond. In an instant, he was a master, showing the other lads how to hit the shells just so.

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