Thunderlord - Marion Zimmer Bradley Page 0,1

trees, only a few paces away, appeared as shadows. Try as she might, she could make out nothing more distant. The danger of her situation—how easily she could become lost—settled on her like a second blanket of ice. She’d known the storm was coming and that it would be bad, but she had not imagined the suddenness of its descent.

Her body was still warm but she could no longer feel her toes and fingers. Her muscles felt thick and sluggish, and a number of times she fell but caught her balance against the chervine. The beast plodded on, apparently unconcerned by the weather.

Soon Kyria felt as if she’d been struggling through the snow for hours, half a day certainly, far longer than it had taken her on the outward journey. Surely she should have seen some sign of the castle or its outbuildings by now. The light was fading, although that could be the darkness of the overhead clouds. She tried her best not to think of a fire blazing in the main hearth. Her younger sister, Alayna, would smother her in a down comforter and bring her hot spiced wine.

No, imagining that won’t help at all.

She lowered her head, putting all her strength into pushing her way through the snow. A change in the smell of the air, sensed as much with her mind as with her nose, made her lift her head. The snowfall lessened for a moment, and she made out the curve of hill that led to the great stone-walled house. Below, she glimpsed a warm orange light.

The sight of home infused Kyria with renewed energy. She knew this stretch between two low hills, for it was the only approach to the front gates. The path was wide enough for two horses or a cart, but smoothed over by many feet over the centuries. The next thing she knew, the stable master burst from the stables, lantern in hand.

“Damisela Kyria! Bless Aldones, you’re safe!”

He drew her into the dark shelter of the barn, where the wind no longer blew snow in her face. One of the stable boys took the chervine’s lead rope, saying he’d bring the rabbit-horns to the kitchen, and the stable master was half-carrying, half-leading her up to the house.

The door flew open before Kyria had climbed the last step. Her adolescent nephew, Gwillim, stuck his head out and exclaimed loudly, “I told you she would come!”

“Get out of the way, child!” His mother, Lady Ellimira pulled his arm. “Don’t block the door!”

Kyria found herself swept up into a very different sort of blizzard, one whirling with color and light, familiar faces, and voices exclaiming. Her sister-in-law, Lady Ellimira, took charge of the proceedings. She was a big-boned woman, too long in the jaw to be handsome, but her dowry of cattle and pastureland had made her an excellent match. Although visibly pregnant with her third child, she was energetic and robust; she dragged Kyria through the chilly entrance hall and into the more intimate, well-heated family parlor. All the while, she issued one order after another as if she were a general in King Allart’s army, keeping anyone without useful work away from interfering with those with. Within a surprisingly short time, Kyria’s sodden outer clothing had been stripped off and a thick warm shawl wrapped around her.

Ellimira seated Kyria in a chair before the fireplace and placed a goblet of spiced hot wine into her hands. “Drink!”

The men of the family kept their distance while Ellimira gave orders. Kyria’s eldest brother, Valdir, Ellimira’s husband and heir to the estate, was not present, although he would undoubtedly have a thing or two to say privately to Kyria later.

Lord Pietro Rockraven watched the proceedings from his throne-like chair of age-darkened wood, on the other side of the hearth. Living in the mountains had aged him beyond his middle years, turning his hair the gray of granite and paring his features into feral leanness. Painfully aware of his silent regard, Kyria could not bring herself to meet his gaze. Valdir would berate her because young women like herself, of good breeding and reputation, were not supposed to wander the countryside, but the worry in Lord Rockraven’s eyes was born of his love for her, and that made it far more difficult to endure. No matter how Kyria had misbehaved as a child, he had never railed and shouted at her as he had at her brothers.

At last, Ellimira decided that Kyria was not likely