Midnight Shadow

By: Laurel O Donnell

Prologue





England 1415





“... and he brandished his sword above his head, declaring, ‘Tyranny will not be tolerated! All people will be treated fairly!’ With that, the Midnight Shadow whirled away on his horse and disappeared over the horizon.”

Bria Delaney sat on her grandfather’s lap listening to the beloved tale of her favorite hero, but it couldn’t erase her heartache. She glanced down at her lap and folded her hands. “I wish Father was here,” Bria grumbled.

“Every man must fight against tyranny in his own way, child.” Harry held Bria close to him. “Your father didn’t want to leave you, but he had to fight beside the King. He is duty bound to the wishes of the crown.” His old, wrinkled hand wiped a tear from her smooth cheek. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and brushed back her curly brown locks.

“I want to go with him,” Bria said. “I want to fight against tyranny, too.”

The timbre of her grandfather’s laughter made Bria scowl fiercely. “They are armed men, Bria. What can a child do against an army? No. War is no place for you.”

Bria crossed her arms and jutted out her lower lip. “I hate the French.”

Harry chuckled, his entire body shaking. “Most of England does, my dear.” He pulled her against him, hugging her. Then Harry set her on the ground, patting her bottom lightly. “Go. Mary and Garret are waiting for you.”

“I don’t feel like playing today,” Bria said glumly.

“Ah, but who knows what grand adventure awaits you? If you brood all day in the castle, you might miss it,” Harry reminded her.

Bria glanced up at her grandfather’s warm, smiling face. Adventure. That word always seemed to stir her senses and rouse her imagination. The wet smear of tears on her cheeks was quickly forgotten.

Bria nodded and ran out of the room. She raced through the corridors of her father’s castle, practically flying down a set of spiraling stone steps. As she burst from the stairway, a woman carrying an armful of laundry stepped into her path. Bria twisted her body with the agility of an eight year old and barely missed knocking into her. “Sorry!” she called over her shoulder as she charged down a corridor to a large set of open double doors. She raced through the doors, leaping down over the last two steps to land in the dust of the inner ward.

The warm sun washed over her, forcing her to squint. She dashed through the inner ward, slowing long enough to leap over a puddle, then hurried through the outer ward, sprinting past the blacksmith’s workshop, oblivious to the loud clang of metal against metal.

“Bria!”

A man standing near the outer gatehouse waved her over. It was Jason of Victors. She recognized him by his red beard and carrot-colored hair. His chainmail coif shone in the bright sunlight as if he had just polished it. His white tunic bore a flying falcon over a red cross, the crest of the Delaneys.

She hurried over to him.

“Good morn, child,” Jason greeted warmly with a slight bow.

Bria smiled at him.

“I’m to deliver you a message,” Jason added softly, almost conspiratorially. He glanced around the area, then motioned for Bria to come closer.

Bria anxiously stepped closer. “What message?” she wondered.

“Garret and Mary have pursued the French dogs onto Knowles’ lands in the east woods. They are in desperate need of your assistance.” Jason pulled back from her, nodding with a knowing look.

A grin burst upon Bria’s face, bringing a happy sparkle to her eyes.

“Hurry now,” Jason urged. “They may already be vastly outnumbered.”

Bria wasted no time in darting beneath the outer gatehouse, remembering to turn and wave good-bye to Jason just as her slippered feet slapped against the wooden planks of the lowered drawbridge. She ran toward the meadows that surrounded Castle Delaney, her smile making her entire face radiant.

The sounds of horses’ hooves, chickens clucking, and the distant sound of swords clanging grew farther and farther away as she left the castle and the village behind to enter the relative quiet of the grassy fields surrounding Castle Delaney. As she bounded through the grass that rose almost to her neck, her mind replayed the story of the Midnight Shadow -- the way he fought against tyranny and protected the weak. His generosity and his courage were unequaled. She wanted to be just like him.

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