Reeve stood hidden amongst the snow-laden pine trees. He didn’t move a muscle and slowed his breathing. He didn’t want to be detected as he watched the scene unfold before him with interest.
A lone woman stood circled by four men, thieves for sure, though not one of them approached her. She held no weapon, and though she was sturdy in weight and height, the men outnumbered her. They would surely have no problem capturing her.
He noticed she didn’t appear upset with her dire situation. The men actually eyed her with more fear than she did them. Her features were common enough, not that one could refer to her as a beauty, but by no means was she unsightly. Perhaps it was her large eyes that dominated her round face that made one take notice and question her features. Even where he stood, a few feet away, he could see that the color of her eyes was uncommon. He had been with his share of women and had seen many lovely-colored eyes and some not so lovely, but never had he seen her eye color. It was deep lavender, though actually more purple, a royal color for sure. Add to that her raven-colored hair, which fell in ringlets around her face and down near to her waist, and one would wonder her heritage. Born of royalty or born of magic?
The men surrounding her apparently were thinking the same, for they did not approach her. She stood stock-still, her muted red, fur-lined cape hanging open revealing a velvet gown gathered high beneath her full breasts, which looked as if any moment they would spill forth.
Odd though, she was devoid of jewelry, unless, of course, the thieves had already confiscated it. Why then, though, did they continue to surround her?
The enclosed wagon she obviously had ridden in had been torn to shreds, pillows and blankets and chests lay strewn about the ground, along with the guards who apparently had tried unsuccessfully to protect her.
“She must have the wealth on her person,” one thin man said sharply.
“Then go fetch it,” said another heavier man in need of a good washing.
“You go fetch it,” the thin fellow shouted back at him.
“Is there not a one of you brave enough to confront me?” the woman asked, defiance shining in her strange-colored eyes.
Reeve had to admire her courage, or was it foolishness, goading them the way she did.
“She is no bride to any of us, so the hex won’t work,” another said, and took a step back.
“Then you go wrench her bride price from her,” declared the heavy fellow.
Reeve furrowed his brow. Could it be so? He had believed a death bride was a mere myth.
“I’m not touching her,” spat the thin fellow.
The woman grew more defiant. “You are cowards, every one of you.”
The heavy man huffed and shook his head. “She knows she has the power to snuff the life out of us if we touch her.”
“But I thought it was only husbands she killed?” asked another
“You willing to take a chance?” queried another.
They all shook their heads vehemently.
“We have no choice,” the heavy man said. “She must die.”
Reeve grinned. He had no intentions of letting the woman die even if she was a death bride. Besides, you would need to wed her for the curse to work, and if that was the case, then he would free her to go wed whatever desperate man had been unwise enough to agree to such a foolish arrangement.
One brave soul stepped forward though it was not the thin or heavy one; they remained where they were while urging the courageous, or idiotic, man forward.
“Get her and be done with it,” one shouted.
The sole man approached the woman cautiously, sword in hand, and Reeve almost laughed aloud when he saw how the man’s hand trembled violently.
What surprised him, though, was the way the woman defiantly tilted her head and squared her shoulders as if she defied him to approach her, and with not a weapon in hand to defend herself. She was either boldly courageous or bloody stupid.
There was no thought of leaving her to her own foolish devices even though Reeve wished to be on his way home. He had partially succeeded in carrying out his mission and wanted to return to his family to see how his brothers had fared with theirs and to continue on course to make certain that the true king of Scotland took the throne.
The reminder that his mission took priority over everything else made him realize that he would need to see this done and be on his way. Time was precious, and he did not wish to waste a moment of it.
With a few cautious steps, he left his hiding spot and stopped just behind the four men.
“I think you should leave the lady alone,” Reeve said calmly though firmly.
The men jumped, swinging their raised swords as they turned in unison. They remained where they were, no doubt assuming one man presented no danger.
One spoke. “She’s a killer of men.”
Reeve looked from one to another. “None of you appear dead. Of course, I could be wrong, since you all stink like rotting corpses.”
The woman smiled though she made no comment.
“There are four of us and one of you,” the thin man pointed out.
Reeve rubbed his chin and frowned. “A shame it isn’t more evenly balanced. But if you wish, I’ll wait while you get more help.”
“Are you stupid?” the heavy one asked with a snort, stepped forward, and threw his arms out wide. “I am three maybe four times your weight. I could crush you with one blow.”
Reeve was used to men underestimating his strength. He was tall and lean with muscle, whereas most Scotsmen were thick and of averag