Suddenly, it came into view. A gigantic castle which was the seat of Marbrand power jut out above the small city below. The Ashemark, as it was called, was the solid stone centerpiece of a bustling city that surrounded the keep. As the city’s radius ended, the landmarks changed from businesses and houses, and became farms and hovels. Grayne had barely reached the perimeter of farmlands and could barely make out the stronghold in the distance. A feeling of uneasiness came over him, after months of travel, he had reached his destination.
The northern warrior who had survived so much took a moment to steady himself. He took a deep breath and as his eyes surveyed familiar landmarks his mind drifted back in time to the reason he had returned, to the reason he had been able to survive the horrific ordeals of the past five years.
“By the Crone. the Maiden, the Stranger, the Smith, the Warrior. The Mother and the Father, I take you on this day and for all my days.” Grayne and Summer looked into each other’s eyes and recited the vows of marriage in the secret grove outside town, but under the blanket of stars and the watchful eyes of the new gods.
The priest performed the blessing, and quickly and quietly left the young couple alone in the forest. A warm breeze rustled the leaves of the trees. Grayne took his young bride in his arms and kissed her full lips passionately. His large hands pushed back her auburn hair and he gazed with adoration into her grass-green eyes. His strong arms encircled her and he felt like he should never let her go. He held her for many long moments and she was relaxed in his powerful protective embrace.
“Let’s run away. Let’s leave this place and never come back,” he said as he stared at her with aggressive sincerity. “We will be safe. We have nothing here.”
For a moment Summer smiled, but then that smile turned to a frown. “We can’t! I know you, Grayne. You aren’t a deserter. I don’t give a damn about this war or House Marbrand, and I know you don’t either! But, your word is important to you.”
Grayne’s steel grey eyes were like battering rams as they crashed through Summer’s resolve. She shook her head and turned away. Grayne jumped in front of her and demanded, “Let’s go! We will be a dozen leagues from here before they know we’re gone!”
Summer kissed his lips and said, “You’re not afraid of anything.”
“I’m afraid of losing you,” he said as he kissed her plump red lips again.
“You won’t. I will be here when you get back. I promise,” a tear rolled down her cheek.
“What if I don’t come back?” he said, knowing the uncertain nature of war, though he had never been in a real battle.
“You will. I know you will.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t want you to go, either. Just promise me you will come back to me.”
“I promise,” he said resolutely.
And their lips met with frantic passion. A desperate urgency to their desire overcame them as their love became a pure primal force. There in the forest beneath the stars and the old gods and new, they became husband and wife.