It began several hundred years from now. Life conspires to take us where we are meant to be, even when we do not ourselves know the direction in which we are traveling. Thus it was that my uneventful existence began, and ended, with a single drop of blood, spilled unsuspectingly on a honed and gleaming pirate blade. In the now distant year of nineteen hundred ninety-nine, in the town of Avalon Inlet, somewhere in the hidden coastal regions of Northern Maine, I encountered the capricious Lady of Destiny. It is, even now, an incredible tale of adventure and, yes, of romance that is the stuff of dreams. My name is Verity, Veranna, or even Verianya--and if you will let me, I will tell you of my assignation with a magical and thrilling life forever altered by the whims of Fate...
“The entire place is a work of art,” Verity Mathison said with genuine reverence. She’d been stranded in the picturesque town since the previous evening, when her car had quite inexplicably decided it didn’t want to go any further. Being a journalist/novelist did have its advantages; in this case, as a freelancer, she tended to not keep ‘office hours’. Finding the small town with the fanciful name of Avalon Inlet was a writer’s dream come true. Not only was the place not on any map, it was something out of a time long passed into history.
The young shop girl smiled, the expression pretty with pleasure at the compliment.
“We’re a small community,” she said, voice soft with a slight lilt. “Things don’t change much from year to year.”
“Is everyone here of generations past, or does the town have any new blood?”
“Once in a while strangers find us and decide to stay,” she answered, still smiling, though with less sincerity than before.
“Why aren’t you on the map?” Verity wondered, looking around the crowded antique shop. There were vast riches in this place, the writer mused, examining a display of weaponry that had to be at least a couple of centuries old. Since she had entered the shop, a tiny thrill of excitement had been growing stronger within her as the minutes passed. In spite of the lack of sense in it, Verity felt as though she’d found some lost part of her soul reflecting back at her as she examined the array of artifacts that filled the quaint shop.
“How much is that one?” she asked, pointing to the shiniest and least ornate of the swords that were arranged on a wall behind the counter.
“It’s not for sale,” the clerk told her, eyes now sharp, thoughtful, and unmistakably wary.
So that’s your game, Verity thought with cynicism. The price had just jumped considerably, she knew. But, like everything else, it would have a price.
In spite of her decree, the girl reached up and lifted the shimmering blade from its place amid the other swords. Motion fluid and graceful, she spun the cutlass and offered it to the curious stranger, hilt first.
With a combination of near-fear and undeniable excitement, Verity stared at it. The lurch of her stomach was eloquent testimony of her surprisingly intense nervous state. With a will of its own, her hand rose and she watched in detached fascination as her fingers closed around the well-worn grip of the archaic weapon. As soon as her hold was solid, she was forced to drop the sword; heat seared her flesh and she cried out, cursing furiously as the pain pulsed upward along the length of her arm.
The shaken clerk stared at her as though she’d gone mad.
It wasn’t the pitying look one gave a lunatic, however. There was sincere terror in her eyes as she watched the other woman, and Verity knew she didn’t help the situation by glaring at her in unjustified accusation. That didn’t lessen her anger, of course, because somewhere inside her, she did blame the hapless girl for not warning her of the potential threat in accepting the sword from her hands.
Not waiting for comments, or assistance, if the girl was indeed planning to offer any, Verity turned on her heel and left the shop. As she glanced back, she caught the name of the place, The Mahjrah Treasure Chest. She was now quite unimpressed with the pirate’s plunder.
The following day, fool that she sometimes was, Verity returned to the Treasure Chest and again was drawn like a magnet to the rack of weapons on the back wall. The sword hung in its place, seeming to stare back at her in subtle challenge.
“Have you come back for old Ehtionne’s sword, miss?”
The girl from the previous day was gone; in her place was an ancient man, stooped and weathered by time. But, his eyes were sparkling with vitality and shrewd intelligence. As Verity gazed into those keen dark eyes, the sensation of edgy excitement began churning deep within her.
“Ehtionne?” She repeated, at a loss to form more than the single word query.
He nodded, then hobbled around the counter and gestured for her to follow him. They stopped in a small alcove that was separated from the main area of the shop by a curtained doorway. Once inside, Verity discovered a tiny gallery of aging paintings. The old man pointed to the largest of the collection and her heart felt like it wanted to grow wings and leave her body as she stared at the face of a stranger who’d haunted her dreams from childhood.
“My God!” she breathed in unequivocal shock. “He’s real.”
The old man looked inordinately pleased, and she tried not to resent him; there was no reason for such emotion.
“You recognize him.”
It was more a statement of presumed fact than any form of real question.
Verity shook her head.
“No,” she denied. “I must have seen his face in books. I’ve researched this area’s folklore and pirate legends.” Even as she made the assertion, and tried desperately to believe it, she knew it to be a lie. The old man knew, too, she could read it in his steady brown eyes.
“There are no photos of Mahjrah in any of your books, miss,” he assured her in a soft, almost regretful tone.
As she had the day before, Verity ran. This time she didn’t escape the confines of the shop. When she flung aside the curtain and would have bolted for the doors, she ran straight into the young girl who’d been there the previous day.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, her voice and eyes glaring with anger.
“Leaving,” Verity snapped, her responding irritation more reflex than anything genuine.
“That part of the shop is not open to the public,” she informed the visitor. “It’s our storage room.”
“Storage room?” Verity repeated stupidly. Anger flared in the next instant, and she glowered at her. “The old man took me in there,” she told the annoying girl. “And it sure as hell doesn’t look like a storage room!”
The clerk was giving her that disturbing look of pity and fear again.
Verity was furious.
“If you don’t believe me,” she snarled at the shop girl, “he’s still back there.” She turned, yanked aside the curtain, and was met with the solid presence of a heavy door, the sign in the center of it proclaiming that it was to be used by ‘Employees Only’.
“If you’ll wait, ma’am,” the girl said, ice in her tone now. “I’ll allow you to speak to the manager.”
Gawking at her, Verity numbly trailed her back into the main room, then watched her disappear behind another door. Silence engulfed the shop and she continued to look at the partially revealed doorway that had led to the small gallery.
“Are you still interested in the cutlass, miss?”
The voice went through her, and she was enraged anew. She whirled around and the old man smiled benevolently.
“What the hell is going on here?” she demanded, taking a step toward him.
He calmly walked to the other side of the counter and took the sword from its mounting. He twirled it with remarkable skill and Verity took an involuntary step backward when he held it out for her to take.
“No, thanks,” she assured, sarcasm in the tone. “I’ve already had that experience once, and it’s quite enough.”
He appeared amused all over again and wrath rose in her throat as a bitter bile. He was laughing at her!
“All right,” Verity snapped viciously. “Give me the damn thing.”
Her fingers closer over the hilt and she braced for pain.
It never came.
Enthralled by the feel of the weapon in her hand, she stared at it. Her other hand rose to stroke the smooth, cool metal of the saber and a whisper of something powerful trembled along the length of her arm. Oblivious to anything else, she touched the edge of the silvered blade with the side of her thumb. A prick of pain warned her that she’d tested well-honed metal rather foolishly. Blood welled and spilled onto the blade, a single crimson teardrop of life.
The reaction was immediate, and terrifying.
The polished metal clouded, became translucent, tinged with the scarlet of blood; then the images began to coalesce before her spell-bound gaze. The small shop in Avalon Inlet no longer existed. Her head felt like it was spinning, and reality growing ever more distant, yet closer, as well. Someone screamed as Verity fell into the chaos that she’d glimpsed in the gleaming blade of the sword...
To continue reading, close this window, click the ADD TO CART button, and checkout.