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The Curse

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After becoming lord of his own land, all that Knight, a former mercenary and bloodthirsty warrior, wants most is to isolate himself at the top of his castle and create a legacy for the surname he gave himself. The visit of a strange old woman, who insists on rewarding him for a good deed, however, destroys all the peace that Knight so values. At first, he believes the supposed witch was just delusional when she said she cast a spell on him to recognize and fall in love with his soul mate at first sight. However, when he lays eyes on Melissa, daughter of the village butcher who belongs to Knight, the warrior realizes that he is, in fact, bewitched. Or rather, cursed. Hallucinated, Knight throws her over his shoulder and takes her to the only place where his heart felt she belonged: in his castle, beside her. Now, with magic making it impossible for him to tear himself away from Melissa, Knight finds himself having to deal with his feelings for the angry and impertinent young woman who now lives in his castle, while trying to find the sorceress and free himself from her curse. But as time passes and his desire and affection for the brave Melissa only seems to grow, Knight begins to question whether the magic in his blood is, in fact, a curse...or a gift.

Chapter 1

- You should visit the village more often.

Taking his trained eyes off the stone wall construction before him, Knight turned to regard one of his best men, Stone, suspiciously. As always, his unshakable face, so completely scarred that it might even be considered deformed by some, wore an expression of pure seriousness.

- Are any of the villagers causing trouble? Knight questioned with a snarl, unconsciously reaching for the hilt of the sword strapped to his waist, furious at the thought that some stupid villager could be disrespecting his orders to keep his territory peaceful.

- Not. - He had the distinct impression that Stone wanted to roll his eyes at his reaction, but, as always, his face remained unchanged - But keeping a close and constant watch will help even more to keep them in check. The weight of the stone is always greater when it appears closer.

- Do you think that beheading their former lord did not carry enough weight? – Knight grumbled, again shifting his attention to the men who worked incessantly on the half-built wall, unable to understand why Stone was insisting on that irrelevant conversation.

- I'm just saying… – now he was pretty sure the man was rolling his eyes, blue as ice, behind his back – that a present leader is a leader who discourages rebellions. Being feared doesn't mean much if you're not around to feed that fear. Besides, I'm not asking you to go out there and have a slaughter. – Stone sighed, looking frustrated – Just show your face and let people know that you care about the entire territory, in addition to your castle on the mountain.

- Why this now? – Suspicious, he turned his head just enough to narrow his eyes at the man behind him – What is your interest in seeing me walking aimlessly through the village?

- Keep us from losing that territory, Knight. – Stone was one of the few people he allowed to not just call him β€œsir”.

- You no longer trust my leadership? – that question, much more than a challenge, was also a sincere questioning – Or in the strength of the men we gathered? – a lot of blood had been shed for them to gain control of such a good land and, as much as he would never admit it out loud, having Stone, his right hand and arguably the most skilled warrior under his command, doubting of his leadership ability, bothered him in a way that went beyond fury.

- No, Knight. I just don't trust the passage of time. – Stone admitted, with ice-blue eyes completely static – I've been alive longer than you and I've seen many armies rise and fall. Believe me, gaining power is very easy. Keeping it is the hard part. – running his hands through his reddish hair, which became grayer every day, he shook his head, looking uncomfortable with what he would say next – And, unfortunately, I depend on you and your leadership to ensure that my wife and our child are safe.

Sighing, Knight fell silent, knowing there was no way he could disagree with that. Once they had conquered this prosperous and peaceful land, on the edge of mostly Breton and Scotland territory, with even a fairly self-sufficient village, Stone was the last of his men he had thought would find a woman and put down roots. .. But that was exactly what he had done, when he had returned from the village one day with a young woman with honey-colored hair and curious gray eyes under his cloak. A young woman whose stomach was already growing with Stone's son just a few months after he had locked her in the floor she lived on in Knight's castle.

His right hand man was almost as quiet and discreet as he was, so Knight didn't know much about Stone's history or what had driven him to become a mercenary, but piecing together snippets of the conversations they eventually had and stray comments over the years they'd known each other, he was fairly certain that Stone had once had a family, possibly in childhood. A family that had probably been taken away by famine, or war, or invasion, or any other fate all but inevitable for those born to be plunged into misery, like them.

And even though he wasn't the one on the verge of becoming a father or having a woman in his charge, Knight shared a much stronger identification with Stone: the sense of knowing what the pain of deprivation, chaos and pain was. despair of the life of a boy who no longer had anyone for him and who had found the possibility of survival in the blade of a sword. Particularly, after all he had gone through to find a place like this, where he could finally start trying to understand what the word peace truly meant, Knight couldn't find it within himself to build a family that could so easily be taken from him at any moment. Loneliness had been with him for as long as he could remember, and even now, as he became lord of his own land, he couldn't imagine it leaving him. Not when she had become almost a part of him.

But despite that, or perhaps precisely because of all that, he understood Stone's fear perfectly. Far more than the responsibility of having the security of two fragile lives resting in his hands, he loved his wife and unborn child. His heart might have been frozen in his chest ever since his mother died, but Knight was no fool: he would have been completely blind if he hadn't been able to recognize that feverish gleam in the usually grim expression of his right arm. And even though he'd never felt that sensation on his own skin before, it was understandable to him that Stone was so anxious about even the remotest possibility that his family might be put in danger. So, as upset as he was, Knight's code of honor wouldn't let him ignore the request of another honorable man trying to protect his family.

And especially not when, as much as he would never admit it out loud either, he considered the man a good friend.

- Knight! – An excited voice that he knew very well interrupted him when he was ready to tell Stone that he had nothing to worry about. Accompanying the sound of McCarthy's voice, they both turned to see the grinning, burly young man walk up the hill to where they stood, waving his hands wildly, as if he were a child enjoying himself... Which, to some extent, , McCarthy really was.

In many ways, he had never stopped being the flighty, screaming brat that Knight had encountered so many years ago, trying to make some money while showing off his daggers-juggling skills in the middle of a village square where he and the former mercenary group he belonged to had stopped to find supplies. At the time, McCarthy was nothing more than a thin, stealthy boy with a blade skill to be explored: the kind of profile that the leader they had at the time was always willing to embrace... responsible for training, but men with less status within the group, as was the case with Knight at the time McCarthy became his apprentice. However, despite being quite irritating due to his talkative tendencies, the boy had always been obedient and, it was even with a little pride within himself, that Knight could claim that he had become an excellent warrior... stopped being a chatterbox. Or acting like a brat.

The truth was, even now, after so long a mercenary and being one of the few men there who could rival Knight in matters of size and strength, McCarthy had still, inexplicably, preserved that jovial, carefree essence within him, like if all those years of killing and violence hadn't tarnished even a little bit his capacity for hope and happiness.

Something Knight envied.

– You have visitors! - McCarthy finally added, as he got closer and closer to them, waving as if that was something to celebrate.

- Visitors? – Knight repeated with a snarl as he approached him, immediately furious to learn that he had allowed someone to go up to his castle without authorization – Why the hell did I put you as a watchman, McCarthy, if you are simply letting anyone near the castle?

-Well, let's go… – the giant laughed, not at all intimidated, even showing the dimples in his cheeks because of how wide his smile was – Does she look dangerous to you?

Stepping to the side, McCarthy removed the hulking body from his line of vision, revealing a tiny lady behind her, with snow-white hair spilling out of the patched scarf that covered it and dark skin so weathered the wrinkles practically covered it. all over her face, not even making it possible to check that she still had both eyes. But it was only when the white brows lifted and the thin, parched lips broke into a toothless smile that Knight suddenly remembered where he'd known her.

Weeks ago, while bathing in the lake at the edge of the forest behind his castle, he had suddenly spotted a group of men dragging a young girl through the woods, clearly with deplorable intentions. However, what had really infuriated him when he approached to prevent them from touching the girl, was discovering how young she was. Almost a child. Just as her mother was still just a child, when she was the victim of a cruel man, who had massacred her village and despoiled her , leaving her behind with marks on her body and a child in her belly. A son that, despite everything, she had still been able to raise and protect, for as long as she could.

Having joined the first band of mercenaries she'd been a part of younger than most other rookies, Knight knew firsthand the many ways someone bigger and stronger could be used to subdue someone smaller and weaker. And he also knew that many men managed to find pleasure in it, whether it was just punching a boy in the stomach until he almost passed out just for the fun of it, as had happened to him many times in his early years within the pack, or stealing innocence. of a poor little girl, as her mother's had been stolen. He was proud, however, that he had never performed any of those acts – let alone taken any delight in witnessing them.

Not that he thought of himself as a paragon of morality or anything like that. On the contrary, part of the code of honor Knight had worked out for himself over the years was based entirely on survival, pure and simple. Perhaps that rule he had created for himself didn't make the slightest difference considering the unspeakable amount of other men's blood he had on his hands, but still, he had promised himself a long time ago that he would not use those hands, however tainted they were, to harm someone who offered no danger to him. Or he would allow others to do it, when he could do something to prevent it.

It was even silly, since most people didn't think of younger people as much more than miniature adults, Knight well knew. However, even so, it was something he knew he needed, to keep himself sane. As much as many others did, he had never managed to set his eyes on a child without feeling that he was being nothing more than a monster if he dared to lay a malevolent hand on a being that had not the slightest possibility of defending himself against him.

And it was with all that in mind that he had disemboweled every one of those men that day by the lake, leaving the girl covered in their blood but still unharmed. She had been completely paralyzed, of course, but at least he had been able to stutter out a few coherent words which allowed him to be able to lead her to her grandmother, in a hut in the middle of a meadow which, strangely enough, he had never noticed before. , even after all the hundreds of walks he had already taken across the land that now belonged to him.

Now, however, he only had to know what the girl's grandmother was doing there at that moment.

- My greetings, my lord. – the old woman greeted him, with a voice so hoarse and welcoming that it looked more like he was a child, and not a man of almost two meters tall who could easily crush her under his feet – It looks good this morning.

- I do not like strangers in my territory, ma'am. – Knight sighed, trying to sound firm, but still not too threatening, especially since the lady's smile really inspired sympathy – So, please, I ask you to withdraw.

- Well, I won't take your time. – the old woman shook her head, looking amused – You really can't remember why I'm here?

Being silent for a moment, Knight sifted through the sparse memories he had of that day: he'd handed the shivering girl to her grandmother, she'd invited him to tea he'd declined, and even grabbed his arm as he turned to leave. ... Oh, so that was it! She had offered him a reward that day. One he had also turned down. After all, what could that poor miserable woman, on the threshold between life and death, offer him?

- Madam, I already told you that I don't want any reward... - he started to mutter, annoyed, but she interrupted him, with a solemnity in her voice that, inexplicably, made him immediately shut up.

- Not desiring does not mean not deserving, my lord. And, above all, it doesn't mean you don't need it. – She shook a finger towards him, smiling enigmatically – You know, I thought a lot about your present. It is rare to find a truly honorable man in our bloody land. And I venture to say that it is still rarer to find the ideal blessing for an honorable man. However, I finally realized that I should give you and your offspring the greatest gift left by the gods to us mere mortals.

- Listen, if you're talking about gold, I don't need to. I already have enough. - Knight denied, just wanting that litany to end soon. Even though that little old lady wasn't stirring up any kind of anger in him, after a long, tiring day overseeing the building of the wall and making sure her territory was protected, any patience he could muster to endure a conversation like that one had long since run out.

- Oh, no, my lord. I speak of something much more valuable. – She laughed, seeming to enjoy her clear impatience – Something capable of starting and ending wars. Able to turn the wisest into a fool and bring the strongest to their knees... - with her wrinkled face assuming a solemn expression, she finally completed - I speak of love.

After a second of disbelief, before he could stop himself, a small, snarky chuckle slipped out of Knight's throat, accompanied by a long chuckle from McCarthy, who was as intent on the conversation as he was, while Stone just took a step back. forward, looking not only fearful but curious.

- I'm sorry, my lady, but I already have enough women in my bed. he warned her, shrugging. And indeed, she really had it, without any effort or hassle. They just showed up on a regular basis, interested in her looks, her power, her money, or simply her body. But once he let them know they were getting nothing but one night, it was but a moment of pleasure before he sent them out of her sight. Usually forever.

- It is what is expected of a man handsome and virile, it is certain, my lord. – The old woman shrugged, unimpressed – But I can tell, by the coldness in her voice, that they may have warmed her bed, but none ever warmed her heart. The woman raised her hand close to his chest, not really touching him, but making a circular gesture that, for a moment as fleeting as the blink of an eye, made him feel... warm there. Strangely hot. But the feeling was gone so quickly, he thought he'd imagined it.

β€œAnd that is what I offer you, my lord. – The old woman happily continued to tell her nonsense, as if she were really about to offer her the greatest of treasures – The opportunity to enjoy the most beautiful and most intense of all feelings. You know, when the gods created us, they made beautiful creatures with four arms, four legs, two heads and one whole soul. However, in time, even the Gods envied the completeness and joy of such creatures and, to appease the greed their own creations had awakened within them, they tore them in two, forcing them to run around the world looking for the another part of your soul forever. To this day, some never find their half and die without knowing the sublime feeling of being complete. And some, even when they find it, are so blinded by the frivolities that exist in this physical world that they are not even able to recognize it.

- But not you, my lord. And neither will any of those who bear your blood, from now on. – She rubbed her hands together, looking deeply satisfied as she said it – You'll know right away when you see her: your other half. They will feel the thirsty need to have her company, the irrevocable hunger for her body, the desire to be the one to make her happy and the endless desire to love and be loved by her. Or him, maybe. Or even them, who knows. It's hard to know for sure until you set eyes on your soulmate.

- So... Let me understand. You're telling me that... - Speaking each word slowly, Knight finally opened a smile of pure mockery - You're begging me a curse so that I might find a wife, is that it? Like... something magical? – he sneered, disgusted – In other words, do you think you're a sorceress?

- Wife is a very empty term. – the old woman shook her head, displeased – Anyone could use it. I'm giving you the chance to live a life of unimaginable happiness with your soul mate. Therefore, it is more appropriate to say that it is a blessing. After all, it will become the legacy of her last name. – she smiled, exultant, before starting to mutter, dryly – And, as for the sorceress part, I wouldn't consider that the appropriate term either.

- Well, when someone casts a spell on another person without their permission, I would say that the most appropriate term would be curse. – Knight raised an eyebrow, irritated, even though he knew there was no reason to keep arguing with that poor old crazy woman – So, thank you for your love curse. I will be looking forward to it. - he grunted, ironic, before indicating the descent of the hill to her - Now, could you please go back to your granddaughter? I'm sure she must be worried.

- My granddaughter is perfectly fine, sir. Thank you for your consideration. Oh, which reminds me, she asked me to give you a little warning, which might help you with what lies ahead... She likes flowers, especially blue ones. – and with that sentence, the old woman lifted her eyelashes, hidden under the many wrinkles, leaving her eyes completely free for his vision.

And for a moment, Knight's stomach clenched with a nameless apprehension as he realizing that they were profoundly dark, neither black nor black, but the kind of dark, infinite immensity that, for a fleeting moment, even made him have the sudden, unbelievable impression that he could see stars twinkling around his irises. ...

But then the old woman turned in an instant, whistling carelessly as she raced down the hill with a speed even surprising for someone as centenarian as she was, while Knight remained frozen in place for a second, his blood seeming to congeal within the veins of his chest. .. Did it vibrate?

Thankfully, however, that uneasy feeling dissipated as suddenly as it came, though it left an almost pleasurable lethargy in his body, as if he had slept soundly for hours in the most comfortable of beds. Pressing his palm unconsciously against that still slightly warm spot inside his chest, Knight shook his head violently several times, until he finally managed to dispel the feeling. After all, it wasn't as if a mere totally random malaise like that was capable of convincing him that that old woman was really capable of doing something magical.

He had walked the land long enough to know that magic didn't exist. All the power that was among men was concentrated in the gleam of gold and the point of a sword. In nothing else. And if the old woman really thought she was capable of making a woman mean more to him than a night of pleasure, then he hoped her fragile, worm-eaten heart was prepared for disappointment when he remained single for years to come. Or even a lifetime.

So, when he turned to find the two men who were staring at him with false seriousness, obviously trying not to laugh at his still slightly troubled face, fury quickly took him, causing him to raise a finger in the direction of both roaring like a lion.

- And that, McCarthy, are the kind of people I want you to stop from coming near my castle! Knight spat angrily.

- Oh, come on, it wasn't that bad...! – McCarthy laughed out loud – She'll find you a lover, after all.

Straightening, Knight was ready to sink his fist into his grinning face when Stone spoke, sizing him up carefully.

- Are you going to the village? Or are you afraid you've really been cursed? – the way he asked that stupid question, in a completely serious way, irritated him like few times in his life.

- Don't make me cut your neck. - With a roll of his eyes, Knight threw back his cloak, snarling through his teeth as he headed towards his castle, deciding that a few nice glasses of wine were all he needed to completely put the events of that damned afternoon out of his mind. - And yes, I'm going to the village... - he agreed, with a grunt - As soon as this wall is finished.

Chapter 2

- I'm saying! The man is a bull! It didn't let me rest even for a second while the moon was still in the sky!

Rolling her eyes, Melissa tossed the dead pig onto the table as she tried to ignore the lewd chatter of her neighbor Chiara on the other side of the window, who apparently found sleeping with Knight, lord of the village and the surrounding lands, to be something. worthy of applause. As if anything about that man, or any other mercenary who gained power through bloodshed, was commendable. The village was lucky that it had been satisfied with the castle of the old lord, the arrogant and useless McJames, whose head had been rotting on top of a pike for days in the middle of the village square, and had left them alone ever since he conquered the territory three years ago. Or maybe not so lucky, as the village's population had been drastically reduced after most people had fled or decided to look for work in the castle, where there were more opportunities.

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