He’d known her for years and watched her grow from a child to a young woman. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and he was irrevocably smitten. He was a fool, he chided himself. Nearly half his age, why he had shoes older than she was! But he was hopelessly, helplessly hooked.
"You’re done for, Shadow, old man." He muttered to himself. "If Augustine doesn’t kill you, Electra will do it herself. She loathes you!"
Distracted by his thoughts, he nearly ran headlong into the moat around Lord British’s castle. Stopping abruptly, he regrouped his thoughts and made his way inside to speak to the royal tailors about some fabric he wanted. A short conference later, he headed back through the moongate to Skara Brae, his new fabrics in his backpack.
He stepped onto the ferry and crossed the channel between Skara Brae island and the mainland. He could have recalled home, but he’d left his regs behind and his runebook was out of charges. It was only a short run to the forge, his sister’s home, where he had a tailor shop set up to work. In his distraction, he barely noticed when the ferry touched the bank. He disembarked and shifted his pack to the other shoulder. It was heavy and slowed his steps. He should have been more alert to his surroundings, but his mind fluctuated between thoughts of Electra and the new cloth in his pack.
The first brigand attacked him with a dagger. The blade itself would hardly scathe him, but the poison on it glittered with an evil, green ichor. He’d have to be wary of that, for he’d no cure potions with him. He dodged the next attack easily, shifting his pack of fabrics so they shielded his exposed side. Drawing his own blade, he parried the clumsy thrusts of his opponent. Annoyed with himself for forgetting his spell reagents, he relied on his fencing skill protect him. Fortunately, he was dexterous and practiced often with his blade, making him a tougher target than his attacker had anticipated. Still, the pack was heavy on his back and he was beginning to tire.
An energy bolt crackled past his left ear, singeing his goatee and setting his long hair tingling to the roots. It took a moment to realize the spell had not been directed at him - right about the time it slammed into his opponent, throwing him to the ground. A second bolt followed the first. The man’s tunic caught fire, but he was already dead.
Shadow spun in a low crouch, searching for other attackers. He saw no one except a lithe figure dressed in light blue leather armor. Her hair was pulled back in a tight braid beneath a scarf, but he caught a hint of fiery red where it spilled out the back. Wispy curls framed her heart shaped face like tongues of crimson flame. Her emerald eyes danced with amusement as she dusted her gloved hands against one another.
It was then that Shadowdancer noticed three other men lying around her, tunics smoldering gently in the late afternoon breeze. He was good, but four on one were odds he wasn’t sure he’d have beaten without his spells. He certainly had been distracted or he’d have noticed them himself. A flush rose in his swarthy cheeks as the subject of his distracted state strutted over to the nearest body, picked it clean, and moved to the next.
"Electra," he said huskily. "I owe you thanks." He bowed deeply, his pack of cloth tilting dangerously over his shoulder.
"You owe me more than that, Shadowdancer," she laughed. Her voice was like chimes in the wind. "You owe me your life, more like. What had you in such a state? Why you walked right past the lot of them the moment you got off the boat. I was a score of yards away and could see the look on your face. You must have seemed an easy mark to such as them."
Shadow’s blush deepened. He couldn’t tell her it was her fault. She’d laugh at him. He dug his toe into the dirt, ears and cheeks burning with embarrassment.
"I know that look," Electra said suddenly. "I’ve seen it on Augustine’s face more than once. There’s a girl, isn’t there? You had your mind on a lass!"
He could not bring himself to look at her. She’d hit it right the first try but how close to the mark she’d come, he could not show her. Not since his heart had been broken, so long ago, had a woman affected him the way Electra did. The other had been a redhead too, only it was a rusty red like fallen leaves. How appropriate, for her name had been Autumn. She’d broken his heart, driven him to drink, and made him the man he was - for good or ill.
"I’m right, aren’t I?" Electra spoke with confidence.
"Aye, that you are," he admitted grudgingly. "She’s beautiful, intelligent, witty and strong. In short, Electra," he chanced a look at her. "She’s magnificent in every way and more woman than would ever be interested in a bleary eyed sot like me."
Nothing moved but her hair. Caught by the breeze, it whipped around her head, escaping her scarf like snakes of flame. The setting sun made it a golden red halo around her head. Tears formed in her emerald eyes, tinged with gold from the afternoon sun.
"How do you know she’s not interested?"
Shadow’s voice caught in his throat. Could he speak? Dared he say what was in his heart? For once he had to speak up for himself. He’d spent so many years hating himself, what he’d become after Autumn had left him, he could hardly bring himself to look in her eyes. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he squared his narrow shoulders, stood up straight and looked at her - his dark gray eyes locked onto her vivid green ones.
"Why would you want a man like me, Electra? I’m old and weak. I can’t even give you a roof over your head, for I’ve none as belongs to me. I’ve nothing to offer you but the love in my heart, the skill of my hands and the clothes on my back, but those I give you freely."
His nerve left him and his head dropped again as he stared at his feet. Suddenly tired, he sighed heavily and let his pack fall to the ground. The golden fabric spilled out, catching the light of the fading sun. Electra’s breath caught sharply and she stooped to grab it before it fell into the dirt. Shadow reached for it at the same time and their hands brushed as they caught at the fabric, hands meeting in the folds of cool cloth. Shadow felt a spark jump from the tips of his fingers to hers, and back again.
The cloth forgotten, he leaned forward, his lips meeting hers. Their kiss was electrifying, lingering, warm and tender. He’d never kissed anyone the way he kissed Electra and he could tell she’d never had a kiss like his. His lips brushed hers, sending a tingle down his spine.
"Oh, Elli, I’ve loved you since we met. Each time I see you, it sets my soul on fire."
"Why have you never told me before?"
"Oh, bother Augustine anyway! What’s he to do with us?"
"Electra, he’d kill me if I ever made a move toward you. You are his little sister, sheltered and nurtured by him. I’m nearly old enough to be your father.... God help me, Elli, I love you more than my own life, but I say again, what have I to offer you?"
She took his hands gently in hers, pulling him toward her. "You said it already, the love in your heart. That’s all I ask, Shadow, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. As for my brother, I know we’d have his blessing, for there is no man he regards as highly as you. Now shut up, you fool, and kiss me."