Ireland, 432 AD
Every step forced the iron cuff deeper into the raw flesh of her ankle.
Eleri stumbled along the forest path, chained to the other sobbing captives. Raiders with torches and blood-stained swords had herded the women through the forest all night. When the pirates weren’t too close, she searched the green dimness under the trees. Some of the abducted women were the wives of warriors and royalty. They and the rest of the group, slaves like herself, would have been missed by now.
She wiped the sweat off her face and shuddered when the leader’s gaze focused on her. Throughout the endless night march, this pirate had patrolled the straggling line of women and kept a sharp lookout. Clean shaven, with dark hair pulled back from a face browned by the sun, his gaze was that of a man accustomed to being obeyed. Yesterday, he’d stood on a knoll at the edge of the clearing, watching his men slaughter the older members of the group and round up the young women while the screams of the dying shattered the early morning air. Everything in his bearing spoke of ruthless power and forcefulness, from the taut set of his chin to the massive bronze armlets that coiled around his upper arms. Now his dark stare transfixed her like a hunter’s arrow until she managed to look away and choke back a sob.
It didn’t seem possible that only yesterday Patrick had baptized her in the cool waters of the spring.