"The wagon rests in winter, the sleigh in summer, the horse never."
~Yiddish Proverb




"What the colt learns in youth he continues in old age."
- French Proverb

SHADOW RIDER

Prologue

 
Baldwin Forest, England
December, 1390M

If a man could sell his soul to the devil for an hour, Sir Guy of Warwick was prepared to strike the bargain.

Pray, let that hour be tonight.

Heedless of the icy wind that stung his eyes and cheeks, he spurred his destrier into the beckoning darkness. There he could lose the demons that raged inside him--or find them. There in the ancient woods, where the midnight air smelled of rotting leaves and death, Sir Guy of Warwick searched, as he had every night for weeks, driven by hatred and despair.

He kept his sword ready. Blue-black shadows moved through the moonlit forest, flickering through the snow-dusted trees like lost souls. He’d hunted them before to no avail, but tonight he would not give up. Instinct told him the killer would return, and Guy of Warwick would be ready when he did. Bargain with the devil or no, Guy would find the man he wanted and send him straight to hell.

From the corner of his eye he glimpsed a lurking shadow.

Wheeling his destrier around, he thundered toward the fleeing phantom. “Hold there!”

The racing figure stumbled, tripped by a fallen log. A man, skeletal and bent, but definitely human, scrambled to his feet. He cowered, cradling a rag-wrapped bundle in the crook of his arm.

Guy reined his horse to a halt. “Stay where you are.”

“Shadow Rider, hear me out!”

“Who are you?” Guy bellowed, his sword ready. No man ventured into this part of the woods alone at night. Not without a reason.

“James Cobbler, from Halvern village.”

“What’s in the bundle?”

The cobbler quaked. He held up a scrawny brown hare. “There’s no game left in any other wood. Folks won’t come here since . . .” He cast a cast a worried glance into the forest.

Guy leaned forward. “Are you not afraid, cobbler? What if the killer who murdered my sister and her babe returned?”

“I should hope the Shadow Rider finds him first, sir, and lets me be.”

A freezing wind whirled around the little man. His face turned ghostly white. He ducked and shielded his head with the hare. “Don’t let them get me!”

Guy scanned the woods. He felt their presence as he always did, his sister’s and his nephew’s ghost. They were the reason he patrolled at night, waiting for the killer, searching. He felt no fear when they were near, only restlessness and regret.

He took a deep breath. “Go home, cobbler. Keep the hare for your supper. No more poaching.”

Wasting no time, the cobbler tucked the hare beneath his arm. “The hare is not for me. I’ll trade her to the seer for the potion that will cure my sickly wife. Bless you, Shadow Rider. You’ve saved a life tonight.” Without another word, he slipped into the darkness, weaving his way through trees.

Guy sat perfectly still, his gut burning, the words spoken by the cobbler ripping through his heart. If he’d been here in the woods just a month ago, he could have saved more lives, his sister Roselynn’s and his nephew’s, a newborn babe named John.

Rage swelled inside him. Night after night he’d come here seeking, waiting for a sign, searching for their killer. He’d turned up nothing. What more could he do?

He clenched his fists. He’d seek the counsel of the seer, the Lady Morna, just like the desperate cobbler, though intuition told him ‘twas better to bargain with the devil than with her. She had a way of throwing salt on old wounds and bringing back memories he’d just as soon forget.

The icy night went deathly silent. Twigs snapped. Footsteps approached. A dark form raced into the circle of stones, darted behind one and then another, hiding.

Guy wound the reins around his fist and steadied his mount.

Every sinew in his body taut and battle ready, he raised his sword. If the poacher returned the man was a fool. If the footsteps were from one who walked this earth only in the night, so much the better. He relished the opportunity to tussle with a demon.

The single shadow, shrouded in a black cloak with a pointed hood, stooped and scratched the earth with its long pale hand.

Human. No poacher this one. This one was digging.

Guy leapt from his horse and bounded o’er the snow-encrusted earth. He growled a violent sound that ripped from his throat and echoed off the stones as he lunged, reaching for the hooded figure.

Fabric shredded, slipping through his fingers. He landed with thud on his knees at the base of a stone, his arms outstretched and reaching, his hands empty.

The figure vanished, leaving nothing behind but a ghostly imprint in the air and trail of snowy footprints quickly swept away by the wind.

Guy of Warwick sat on his heels and roared into the darkness, his heart beating hard against his chest. “Be you man or demon, I will find you. I swear it!”

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