When Tamsen wakes up in an unfamiliar place with no idea of who she is, something warns her to be cautious. So she plays a game with the man who claims to be her husband, and pays attention to what is going on around her. The physician her husband calls to tend to her after her accident makes her uncomfortable with his strange allure and odd style of speech. Nothing around her seems as it should be.
While Tamsen tries to regain her lost memory, Brial Ka'breona is tearing across the continent in an enraged hunt for his lost wife and Queen. But now the gods are forbidden to walk the mortal realm, and not even the Virgin Huntress can help them. In order for Tamsen and Brial to come together again, terrible sacrifices must be made--by mortals and immortals both. When a strange new ally presents itself, Tamsen must determine if the sacrifice she must make is ultimately worth the cost.
But sometimes, it doesn't matter what the price is. When the continued existence of the mortal realms is at stake, there may not be a price too high to pay.
* * *
I AWAKENED slowly.
My eyelids fluttered open, and I squinted against the bright light that turned my sight red for a moment. Hands that did not look familiar at all came up to shade them from the glare. Even that small movement made my head swim with a sharp, piercing pain penetrating behind my left ear, but I forced myself to sit up and look around me.
The room was completely white: the walls, floor, ceiling, and furniture were all pristine, sharply white. The one window that let long cruel rays of light fall upon the snowy bed upon which I lay was shrouded in white, filmy fabric, flowing in a scarcely-felt breeze.
What is all this?
I lifted my hands once more, staring at the long, slender fingers and slim wrists in amazement, noting the extreme pallor of the skin stretched over the delicate bones. Are these my hands? Those hands went to my face, and the fingers felt oddly rough against my cheek, the fingers and thumb callused.
Cautiously, I set my hands on either side of my body in the bed, scooting myself to the edge and swinging my feet to the floor. Then, I stopped again, fascinated and confused by the sight of my legs clad in long fitted leather trousers tucked into scarred high-topped leather boots. I looked down at my body.
The leather tunic was fitted to me over a tan-colored shirt that stretched over the bones of my wrists. An intricate sash of leather belted both garments around a slender waist. No frills or furbelows about these clothes, and their tight fit didn’t disguise the feminine shape beneath them.
I got to my feet, swaying as I rose to my full height. A sudden motion caught my eye as a very long silver-white plait swung against the top of my right thigh. Amazed, I lifted it in my hands, noting the fine silky texture of it.
Is this my hair?
I tugged on it and was rewarded with another vicious twinge of pain behind my left ear. I examined my head with cautious fingers and located a tender swelling on my temple. I moved as if I’d been asleep for a long time and stiffly made my way to the ewer standing on a white washstand nearby. I splashed water onto my face, hoping it would jar some memory loose.
Everything about me was strangely familiar, yet I didn’t recognize anything. The clothes and hair were obviously mine, but why didn’t I…
The water in the bowl stilled into a flat reflective sheet. I stared in absolute confusion at the reflection. The young woman with the puzzled frown, was that me? My mouth opened slightly, as did hers, and I realized I had no idea who I was.
Faces, images flew past my inner eye, yet I found myself unable to grasp them. Too many discrepancies. I grasped the edges of the washstand with blanching fingers.
Hands pale and slender, but callused. A young woman’s face, but the hair of an elder. Everything seemed like it should have been familiar, but wasn’t. I half-fell half-staggered back to the snowy bed and collapsed against the deep softness of the blankets and pillows.
Who am I?
I closed my eyes. Hopefully, when I woke up, I could put all of these pieces together. Hopefully, I would know who I was.
* * *
“TIME FER ye to be wakin’ up, milady.”
My eyes flew open. A corpulent woman with a broad face peered down at me.
“Are ye feelin’ all right, milady?”
`“I—I’m not sure,” I stammered, sitting up. A wave of nausea and dizziness overwhelmed me. Instantly, my companion’s strong, beefy arms came around me, lowering me back to the pillows.
“Well, now, ye don’t want to be doin’ that, milady,” she chided me good-naturedly. “’Tis quite a knock on the head ye took, and that’s a fact. Jest lay there, and I’ll mix ye sommat to make ye feel better, all right?”
“Who are you?”
She placed a cool, damp cloth across my brow. “Ye don’t remember me?”
“I don’t remember me,” I replied with a hint of dryness in my voice.
“Gods above—the master said ye’d taken a hard knock, but I never thought it was that bad. I’m Graisen, yer maid, an’ ye’re the Lady Solange de Spesialle.”
“Spesialle?” I asked blankly, disliking the name for some reason. “What is that?”
The woman clucked her tongue. “It’s yer husband’s dukedom, milady. Yer the Duchess of Spesialle and married to Lord Gabril these past ten years or more. Don’t ye remember him?”
A fleeting image of long golden hair and flashing black eyes raced across my mind and then vanished into the clouds that fogged my mind.
“Is he blond?” I asked, trying to regain the sight.
“Aye,” she replied, with a note of relief. “Lord Gabril’s as blond as they come, milady. Ye’re a right striking couple, ’im with ’is blond hair and handsome face, and ye, milady, as perty as a picture with yer silver hair and eyes and sech a tiny little figger. The Duke’s been right worried about ye, milady, and ’e won’t like it atall that yer memory’s been taken. Shall I tell ’im to come in and see ye?”
I hesitated. Obviously, this woman knew me, which meant I was probably this Solange person, but I felt that it wasn’t quite right, somehow. Another name was just beyond the borders of my consciousness, hanging tantalizingly out of reach. Finally, I nodded, and the big woman bustled across the room to the door.
“Ye kin come in, milord,” Griasen said.
I lifted the cloth from my brow as a man entered the room. He was tall and fair, but his eyes were a piercing light blue instead of black. He came immediately to my bedside and took my hand in his.
“How do you feel, my dear?” he asked.
“You aren’t the face I remember,” I murmured, screwing up my eyes in an effort to recognize him. “I don’t remember you at all.”
“It’s all right, Solange.” He brought my hand to his lips. “That was quite a fall you took. The physicians warned me that this might affect your memory but assured me your memory would return in time. Griasen and I are going to take good care of you, my sweet, until you’re all better.”
“How did I fall?”
“Your horse threw you,” Gabril replied, a worried frown creasing his brow. “You hit your head on the garden wall.”
“It hurts.” I withdrew my hand and closed my eyes. I didn’t remember this man, and I wanted to be left alone with my troubled blank thoughts.
“Of course. I’ll come back later, my love, when you’re feeling better.”
He rose with seeming reluctance and went to leave. Once at the door, he murmured in a low voice, “Clean her up, get her into something more comfortable, and then let her sleep. It’s the best thing for her.”
Did I imagine the smug satisfaction in his voice? If Griasen was right, this man was my husband. Why would he be satisfied with an injury to his wife? Before I could think about it, Griasen was back at my bedside.
“Come now, milady,” she coaxed me. “I’ve rung fer a bath, and I’ll wager that once ye’re washed up and in clean clothes ye’ll feel worlds better!”
“Griasen.” I opened my eyes to look at her. “I do not remember the Duke as my husband.”
“Don’t worry, milady,” she said, her eyes glistening. “Ye will…in time.”