“Christ.” The single word issued from between his lips in an expelled breath.
A prickling sensation crawled along her back and arms at the sight of him. If anyone deserved to be called a deity, ’twas the man before her. Shana’s report had indeed been accurate. This man must have been blessed by the Goddess. The ends of his brown hair brushed the tops of his ample shoulders, but upon further inspection, the fingers of the Goddess must have run through the sleek strands— there were thick yellow-gold streaks throughout.
Aslyn watched his confident expression melt into a young boy’s slack-jawed stare. She found it strange how his newly softened gaze conflicted with his intimidating size. He had a warrior’s bearing to be sure, but the way in which he looked at her seemed to warm the very air around her. Goddess, but he struck a fine figure. He appeared to be a man who could take care of his family—hunting, providing shelter—she certainly wouldn’t mind being the one he hunted. Her grin widened. She hoped he didn’t think she was laughing at him, but even still, her ribald humour threatened to bubble up and overflow like the spring’s rising at Imbolc.
“Ardwinna is the name of a Goddess,” she corrected gently, “as well as the name of the wooded sanctuary in which you now stand.” She sobered some, her smile not quite as explicit. “I am Aslyn of Cardamon Long.” She nodded in greeting.
His fine, well-formed lips, curled up at the corners as if he realised his error. “Forgive me, Aslyn of Cardamon Long,” he responded contritely. “I am Ryus Jorian, a disciple of Bishop Folious and his priests, dedicated to the new era of the Christian religion.”
His pronouncement out of the way, Aslyn nodded. “And what do you want of me, Ryus Jorian?”
When he hesitated, she tilted her head to await his answer.
“I—the villagers said I should speak to you, that you are the religious authority here.”
Aslyn bit back a smile. She loved the people of Cardamon Long, but they needed to stop wishing she were her mother. “They are mistaken.”
“I thought this might be the case, you being a woman. Can you tell me where I can find the man in charge of your village?”
What, exactly, did that mean? Aslyn pulled her shoulders back and raised her chin. “No man is in charge of Cardamon Long, we are a peaceful people. We have no need to be led by anyone.”
One of his eyebrows lifted as if he didn’t believe her. “What happens when you have a dispute?”
“We speak honestly with each other and any resolution sought is then accomplished.”
“Impossible,” he scoffed.
“Is it? Venus is the Goddess of love, is she not? Love and kindness should be the highest priorities in all things. Do you not practice what the Gods teach?”
“Aye. Nay. What I meant to say was—we are confusing the issue, and confusion is a tool of Lucifer.”
“Lucifer. Is he a new God?”
“Perhaps you should just tell me what it is you want of us, Ryus Jorian.”
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