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Pagan Sunset



Ricky Balona

Copyright Ricky Balona 2012

Published at Smashwords





Prologue

England A.D 996



The snow-white swan glided low over the ripe barley fields. In the pastel light of dawn it soared directly towards the dazzling golden rays of the rising sun. Drifting majestically on the warm spring air currents it soared even higher. Far below in the Saxon village of Horsa a young woman watched in admiration. Chosen as her spirit guide on the day she entered this world the village priestess felt her heart soar with each deep and slow wing beat. Lifting her arms skywards she whispered a word of gratitude to the gods for all they had bestowed upon her village. Fields of corn lay ready for the harvest, spring lambs frolicked in the pastures and rumours of raiding war parties during the winter had proved unfounded. Sinking down amongst the long stalks she lay on her back and smiled as the swan circled overhead. Sparkling droplets of dew glistened on the ears of corn. The scent of apple blossoms permeated the air. Life was good, tonight they would celebrate the eventual return of summer, a feast was being prepared, and they had spent days in preparation for this night. She felt her body tingle with excitement thinking of Knutt. There was no mistaking the deep longing looks he cast her way each time she crossed his path in the village. Perhaps tonight would be the night. She smiled to herself. Yes indeed, life was great.



Without warning the swan exploded in a shower of feathers, reeling under the impact of the high-speed dive executed with deadly precision by a dark spotted hawk. In a vain attempt to save itself the swan sped towards a thicket. Once again the hawk struck with sickening force, its steel like talons gouging deep furrows down the swan’s elegant neck. Hanging motionless for an instant the swan tumbled towards the earth landing with a sickening thud only a few feet away from the priestess. Screaming with rage she rushed to where the fallen swan lay dying. Lifting her hand to shield her eyes from the sun's rays she searched for the bird of prey. Instead she caught sight of a group of riders charging ferociously across the field, trampling the grain under iron shod hooves. A chill ran up her spine, this was a warning sent from the gods. Turning to flee the heavy beat of the war horse’s hooves muffled her cries of alarm. Knocking her off her feet by a simple command to his horse the soldier watched with a cruel smile etched on his thin lips. Tumbling headlong into a rain filled ditch the priestess lay motionless, gasping for air. Men at arms held her down while one of them tied a length of rope to her hands. Loud cheers erupted when the rider spurred his horse into a gallop. She was dragged through the blackberry hedge bordering the village and then over the rough gravel path leading to the warrior’s hall, the centrepiece of the village.

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