Thief (2 page)

Character List

O’BYRNE Clan of Glenarden

(colors are red, black, and silver/gray)

Aeda—
Tarlach’s late royal Pictish wife; mother to Ronan, Caden, and Alyn

Alyn—
Tarlach and Aeda’s third son

Brenna—
Ronan’s wife, lady of Glenarden; a gifted healer, formerly of the Gowrys subclan

Caden—
Tarlach and Aeda’s second son

Conall—
Brenna and Ronan’s four-year-old son

Daniel of Gowrys—
friend and schoolmate of Alyn’s and cousin of Brenna

Delg—
Caden’s prized sword, meaning “thorn”

Egan O’Toole—
Glenarden’s champion

Forstan—
Caden’s horse, meaning “courage”

Hretha—
Caden’s shield with an image of Saxon goddess Hretha of March on it, taken from a battle with the Saxons

Kella O’Toole—
Egan’s daughter; foster sister to Ronan, Caden, and Alyn

Rhianon—
Caden’s wife from Gwynedd of N. Wales; daughter of Idwal and Enda; mistress of Tunwulf in Din Guardi

Ronan—
Tarlach and Aeda’s eldest son, heir

Tarlach—
Caden’s late father and former clan chief/king also known as “the Glenarden”; of royal Irish descent (Davidic bloodline)

DIN GUARDI, Ancient Bamburgh, Northumbria

Aella—
Hussa’s present queen

Aelwyn—
Sorcha’s late adopted mother; tavern owner and singer/scop; former gleeman with her best friend, Gemma

Aethelfrid—
Frisian trader of textiles

Aethelfrith—
Hussa’s Saxon nephew and prince of rival Bernicia; cousin to Hering; eventually overtook the Northumbrian throne after Hussa’s death, exiling Hering

Aine—
three-year-old Cymri girl rescued by Sorcha; younger sibling of Ian

Athelstan—
moneylender; brother-in-law of Giswald, the sheriff

Blaise of Dunfeld—
lesser Lothian king of large estate on the Northumbrian border; father of Eavlyn

Burlwick—
Hering’s province/kingdom in Northumbria on Lothian’s border

Cynric of Elford—
an ealdorman and thane of Hussa; betrothed to Sorcha; former sword-friend of Wulfram

Eadric—
Sorcha’s maternal Saxon-Cymri cousin (by her adopted parents); bard

Eavlyn—
Blaise of Dunfeld’s daughter; a princess betrothed to Hering of Northumbria as a peaceweaver, sealing a peace pact between Lothian and Northumbria; astrologer tutored at the Grail Castle

Ebba—
Hussa’s late wife and mother of Hering

Ebyn—
seven-year-old boy rescued by Sorcha whom she keeps, since his parents sold him

Elfwyn—
Sorcha’s chestnut mare, golden mane

Gemma—
female dwarf, like a second mother to Sorcha; an entertainer and thief who helps Sorcha rescue captive British children from the Saxon slave market

Giswald—
sheriff of Din Guardi; brother-in-law of Athelstan, the moneylender

Hering—
son of Hussa; Saxon prince of Bernicia; lord of Burlwick on the Lothian border; betrothed to Eavlyn; cousin of Aethelfrith of rival Bernicia

Hussa—
ruled as bretwalda or king of Northumbria from 585 to 592; father of Hering; uncle of Aethelfrith

Ian—
Cymri boy rescued by Sorcha; older sibling of Aine; older than Ebyn

Mann—
tavern keeper in Din Guardi

Mildrith—
Hussa’s seneschal’s wife

Ninian—
Eavlyn’s teacher at the Grail Castle; Merlin Emrys’s protégé

Rhianon—
Tunwulf’s mistress (also previously Caden’s wife from Gwynedd of N. Wales; daughter of Idwal and Enda)

Sorcha—
abducted Cymri daughter of Fintan and Myrna of Trebold Law; adopted and raised as a Saxon by Aelwyn and Wulfram in a Din Guardi tavern; a singer/scop and thief who uses stolen money to rescue captured British children from the Saxon slave market

Talorc—
slaver

Tilda—
neighbor of Sorcha; a weaving woman

Tunwulf—
son of Cynric of Elford; renegade warband leader

Utta—
tavern maid; friend of Sorcha

Wada—
henchman of Athelstan, the moneylender

Wynnie—
Cymri girl rescued by Sorcha

Wulfram—
Sorcha’s late adopted Saxon father; former horse thane to King Hussa’s warband; sword-friend to Cynric; import business and tavern owner.

KINGDOM OF LOTHIAN

Fintan of Trebold Law—
Sorcha’s late birth father, who died trying to find her

Malachy of Trebold Law—
the aged and reluctant lord of Trebold; prefers to return to his role as a priest in the church; Sorcha’s paternal uncle

Modred—
king of Lothian; priest of the Celtic Church; Arthur’s nephew and son of Morgause and Cennalath of the Orkneys

Myrna of Trebold Law—
Sorcha’s birth mother; owner of Trebold Tavern and lady of Trebold Law’s hillfort

Owain—
eel fisherman; scholar; healer; most likely from Ireland

PRIESTS

Father Martin—
priest who assists in Caden’s healing

PLACES

Trebold Law—
Sorcha’s former home; a hillfort and land on the Lader, belonging to Lady Myrna and Sorcha

Trebold Tavern—
Myrna’s tavern

Prologue

Kingdom of Lothian

Late sixth century AD

Leaf Fall

It was a good day to die. But then this warrior had lost count of such days, hoping that each one would put an end to his miserable existence … to this exile of body and soul. Beneath him, his horse strained at the reins, eager to join the fray between the Pendragon's forces and the Saxon invaders seeking to win yet one more chunk of the ever-shrinking Bryneich. Once, the Cymri kingdom had swept to the North Sea, but the Sassenach had hacked away its coastal settlements with their axes. Now they wanted more.

Caden O'Byrne held his stallion back, waiting with the other mercenaries for the signal to sweep down the hill and relieve the first line of warriors already engaged. None of them knew him by any other name but Caden. Like everything else that mattered, he'd left his clan name behind. Only shame followed, haunting him night and day.

The clang of blades, the cries of rage and anguish rose in a dissonant chorus from the edge of the summer-blanched forest of oak and alder that had hid the enemy until the last moment. Anxiety weighed upon the faces of Caden's battle-hardened comrades—at least those with something or someone to go home to. But there were a few, like him, who grinned, teeth bared in anticipation of, if not death and escape from their personal demons, at least a chance to take out their pent-up need for vengeance on an enemy they could see and lay hands on … an enemy they could kill.

Down the line, Modred, Arthur's nephew and now regent of Lothian, sat upon his horse, clad in somber priestly robes, his arm raised. Priests and druids were untouchable in battle, at least among the tribes of Britain. That made Modred a bit of a paradox in leading the Lothian warband, though
coward
came to Caden's mind. He wondered if Modred's following his mother Morgause's calling into the high Celtic Church made the man fit for the Lothian kingship he'd assumed from his late father, Cennalath. Or loyal enough to his uncle Arthur, now engaged in the battle below. After all, it was Arthur—known as Pendragon to the Welsh, Dux Bellorum to the British, and High King to the Scottish Dalraida—who was responsible for the Saxon-loving traitor Cennalath's death.

But who was Caden to judge when he was naught but a mercenary bound to the highest bidder? In this case, the priest-king Modred.

Besides, in these times of rivaling British kingdoms, today's enemy was often tomorrow's bedfellow, especially when the Saxons entered the scene. It was the Christian High King's mission—and nightmare—to unite the squabbling Christian and pagan Britons as one against the wolfish enemy who would devour—

Modred lowered his arm, commanding the signaler to blast his horn. Caden forgot about the questionable loyalty and merit of his employer and gave Forstan a nudge with his knees. The steed, aware of the meaning of the horn's blast, shot forward, shuddering not at the sound of clanging swords and death as some of the other horses did. Like its rider, the costly stallion—worth two years of war prizes—seemed to crave it. Unflinching bravery had earned Forstan his name. Caden's courage stemmed from the will to die.

Joining the roar of the charge, Caden rode straight for the well-executed chaos. That was Arthur's genius, the reason he led Britain's kings, though he had no proper kingdom of his own. It was what the church had trained him to do: lead kings. The Britons had the best ground, the best warriors hewn from experience, and word that the Saxons were on the march along the Lader Water. Some said this good fortune was all due to the image of the Virgin that Arthur wore on his shield, but Caden leaned toward experience and skill over the painted image of a woman.

The name and image of the Saxon pagan goddess Hretha on Caden's own shield had been beaten nearly into oblivion. She certainly hadn't brought glory or victory to the shield's previous owner. Nay, it was skill and passion that won the day. And Caden sported Hretha now, not for the goddess's protection, but for the well-made wicker and leather laminate backing her image.

Caden's blood began to race at battle speed, its cadence matching that of Forstan's muscled flesh hurling downhill toward the fray. Above it flew the banner of Arthur's Red Dragon, the rallying point.

The Saxons also had reinforcements. Caden spied them in the periphery of his vision. Perhaps, just perhaps, the enemy would put up a fight worthy of a warrior's end. The drums thundering in his head drove Caden into the dust cloud enveloping the battlefield. He inhaled it and exhaled fury. A wild-haired Saxon with a deep red scar across his cheek rushed to meet Caden before he could dismount, hurling a lance with all his might. It glanced off the stallion's breastplate.

“Your gods take you if you wound my horse!” Caden slid off Forstan's back and broke into a dead run toward the unfortunate warrior now brandishing an axe. “I was going to dismount to meet you fairly.”

Horses were used like chariots before them, to deliver men fresh to the thick of battle and carry the weary off, though Caden had done his fair share of fighting from horseback. But he had no use for cowards who targeted a man's horse.

While Forstan cantered off, trained to await him a distance away, Caden unsheathed Delg, a prize from another battle and more deadly in his skilled hands than the thorn after which he'd named it. The Saxon charged, his axe a deadly blur of continuous motion—down, around, up, around again, ever forward. Caden cut its frenzy short with a hard blow. Hretha's oak and leather took the brunt of the impact and sent the weapon flying.

The Saxon made the mistake of looking after his weapon in disbelief. He still wore that expression when Caden separated the man's head from his body with Delg. Easy. Too easy. Thanks to Egan O'Toole, the O'Byrne champion from another lifetime, Caden had been trained to incorporate skill and instinct into one. Plunging deeper into the thick of dust and battle, Caden faced enemy after enemy after enemy. And with each kill the drums in his head grew louder. His breath became bursts of rage, until he no longer faced men but the demons that deprived him of peace with their ceaseless torture.

Just then one of the Saxon curs approached the back of the Pendragon, whose blue and white tunic had long since been stained with dirt and blood from those who'd fallen victim to Excalibur. Arthur had led his men into the first clash and fought not only his own demons but, it seemed, those of his nephew Modred, watching safely from the heather-dashed knot above them. Caden judged the pace of the yellow-haired warrior running, axe aimed at the Pendragon's back.

So much for the protection from the Virgin on Arthur's shield. Caden hefted Delg like a spear and gave the sword a mighty thrust, closing a distance he could not make in time afoot. True it went, straight into the heathen's abdomen. It stopped the assailant long enough for Caden to set upon him and end his writhing misery.

Arthur spun at the unholy death scream, but instead of a flash of approval or gratitude on his beleaguered face, there was warning. Before Caden could comprehend, a shaft of blinding agony entered his back. He swung about, pulling Delg out of Arthur's attacker and slashing at the other cowardly assailant who had attacked him from behind. The tip of his blade laid open the man's neck.

But Caden kept spinning. Blood splatter, white clouds, blue sky, and dust—always dust—swirled about him. Arthur, his men, the Saxons … all were consumed by it. Thick and gray it was, choking out everything except the pain. Only when it turned to blessed blackness did the pain go away.

One thought drifted up through the abyss, pulling the corners of Caden's mouth into a smile.
It's a good death.

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