Tora knocked on the door.
It opened on an impossibly tall, muscular man with shiny dark hair
falling straight to the shoulders. His fine features included a high
forehead, copper-tan skin, and a pair of compelling hazel eyes.
"I was hoping it would be
you." A dazzling smile revealed pure white teeth. "Please come into
the warmth of my humble home." He let her in and closed the door,
eyes sparkling with intelligence, and something else Tora could not
"Do we know each other?"
Tora had to ask, although she would never forget such a striking
"Not yet." He grinned. "Let
me help you with your coat. It's warm in here."
Tora handed him coat and
hat, noticing the pleasant temperature of the room. The small fire
burning in the hearth could not provide such even heat, but she saw
no other fire. "This must be the most comfortable cottage in the
village. I feel no draft at all."
The young man smiled as he
spread Tora's fur by the fire. She removed her mittens, sat on the
fur and accepted a bowl of hot kawa.
"Who are you?" Intrigued,
Tora tried to sound neutral.
The striking man sat facing
her. "My name is Dragomir. What might be yours?"
Unnerved by the stranger's
nearness, Tora tried to collect her thoughts. Dragomir looked about
twenty-five. His melodious voice, smooth skin, foreign look, the
unique quality of the white clothes and the refinement of his
manners screamed high nobility. This was no farmer.
"I'm Tora, White Tiger."
She felt a strange vulnerability in his presence, as if he could
read her most intimate thoughts. She had to steady her voice. "What
are you doing here? This is a dangerous place to be alone. Bands of
Zerkers have been spotted just south of here. When the lake freezes
solid, their invading army will launch itself onto the plain."
"I know." Dragomir held her
gaze. "I can see why they call you White Tiger."
"Really?" Amused at his
pretense of knowing her, Tora settled on the fur. When she changed
position, the jewel on her sword handle caught the light of the
Dragomir reached for the
Hand on the sword, ready to
draw, Tora froze. In the grip of his hand immobilizing hers, she
sensed great physical strength. For an instant, their eyes locked,
then Dragomir relaxed but didn't move. Tora now stared at the
offensive hand covering hers. It had six fingers like hers!
She'd never met anyone else
with six fingers before. Who or what was this man? What was she, for
that matter? Questions filled Tora's mind but her throat
constricted, and she couldn't talk.
Dragomir removed his hand then casually opened his silky shirt on a
well muscled, hairless chest. Tora skipped a breath. On the smooth
copper skin hung a faceted gem, a twin to that on her sword hilt.
Unhooking the scabbard, she brought the hilt to the light. Same
size, same cut, same azure brilliance, same silver heart in the
Dragomir's eyes flashed.
"Where did you get it?"
Challenged, Tora finally
found her voice. "It was my mother's. Where did you get yours?" she
asked, a little too eager. "I've never seen another one before. I
was told it was the work of the Godds." Barely containing her
excitement, Tora hoped she would learn something about her mother.
"I received mine from the
proper source." Dragomir looked grave, older despite a youthful
face. "But I can't tell you about it."
Tora had no patience for
games. "You can, but you won't. What are you hiding, Dragomir? You
are obviously no peasant, so who are you?"
"A man on a mission." He
Tora sighed. "I wouldn't
doubt it. Whose side are you on?"
"There are more than two
sides to this war, Tiger." Dragomir raised one eyebrow and took a
sip of kawa. "Do you know which side you fight for?"