© 2012 Lisa T. Bergren * Please do not copy or forward without express permission from the author. (Did you get that? PLEASE!)

What follows is an excerpt from the River of Time Series (Book 4), tentatively titled TRIBUTARY. It’s unedited, but it will give you the idea of where I’m headed with the next one…or at least where I want to go with the next one!

TRIBUTARY: Chapter One

She was gaining on him. She leaned hard, pulling on the reins, leaning around a giant oak to pick up his trail again. There! She glimpsed his brown, furry rump, the speck of hooves as the boar dived into the bramble, hoping to lose her.

But he would not lose her. She’d tracked him for hours, losing his trail and then picking it up again. Through two wood and a creek. All she could think of was bringing him back to the villa, tied over her gelding’s back. Mama cooking fat chops over the fire, Papa smoking hocks. Her little brothers, eating their fill for once.

Ever since the battle, times had been lean in their household. Trade was off. The harvest, only partially brought in, on account of Papa being pressed into service. But it was getting better. This was just the start. A new spring was upon them. Hope surged. And this boar was a symbol of that new beginning.

She ignored her thirst, nagging at her for hours, and leaned forward, urging her gelding to give his last to the effort. She knew the horse was weary, desperate for drink, but they almost had him! The boar grunted and then squealed as she closed the distance between them. He had to know that his moments were short.

She pulled the brim of her father’s hunting hat low, and lifted her spear in hand, concentrating on naught but the boar, seeing it on a roasting spit this very night, her family washed, ready, eyes bright with hope…

 

***

 

“A rider approaches, hard,” Luca said, glancing over at us.

“Only one?” Marcello asked. “Are you certain?”

Luca and Rodolfo listened, together, and then both nodded. Still, they edged over to me, Marcello and Gabi, slowly drawing their swords in a protective stance. We were in a clearing, the woods fading here for a moment, the shock of a threat startling us all. Things between Siena and Firenze had died down. A skirmish here and there, but nothing like last year.

I glanced at Gabi. We’d treasured these months of peace. But a rider coming, that hard? I wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready for it all to begin again. For battles and war and—

We tensed, bracing ourselves. I ran my hand over the curve of my bow, but could not seem to summon the strength to nock an arrow. It was only one rider. What harm could be coming our way? That three of Siena’s finest couldn’t handle?

I heard the snort of a boar, then glimpsed the hunter, a bit of a man—a boy?—but still coming at a full gallop, long spear in hand. Did he mean to—

“Gabi!” I shouted, as the men shouted too, moving to block his path, heading straight toward my sister.

But the boar emerged then, running between our horses, making Gabi’s mare rear and Luca’s shy, whipping him around in a circle.

Aspetta!” I screamed. Wait! He’s only hunting. No assassin—

But I was too late. Lord Greco swung his sword, hitting the tip of the intruder’s spear, sending it flying. The hunter’s horse was moving too fast, and collided with his. The gelding and hunter faltered and then went down.

“He’s hunting! Only hunting!” I yelled, as all three men approached the slight man, swords drawn. Confusion filled their eyes. The hunter laid frightfully still.

Gabi and I dismounted.

“Stay where you are,” Marcello growled at us, eying the forest beyond the hunter suspiciously.

“Marcello, he’s alone,” Gabi said. “A boy on the hunt. For boar, not for wolf.” She edged past him and I followed her lead. We hurried over and crouched next to the hunter.

Gabi paused and then reached out. “It’s a girl,” she said lowly. She eased the hat off and gently lowered the huntress’s head back to the ground, grimacing when her hand came away, wet with blood. My sister was right; the huntress was filthy, but clearly feminine.

“A girl?” Rodolfo said in shock, sheathing his sword, his face a mask of confusion.

It was scary, seeing her lying still. “Is she alive?”

“For now,” Gabi said. She leaned back, considering. Greco bent and ran his fingertips through bright red blood on a small boulder a foot away. Her gelding was back on his feet, nuzzling the girl, as if urging her to move. Gabi pushed him away and went to the girl’s other side. Gently, she ran her fingers along the girl’s neck and head.

“How bad?” I whispered.

“I don’t know,” she returned. “I’m no EMT. But I’d guess we need to put her on a stretcher and get her to the castello. Keep her steady, quiet, until she wakes.”

“To the castello?” Rodolfo said, picking the lone Italian word among our English. He moved to pick the girl up.

“Nay!” Gabi shouted, reaching out her hand. He pulled back, his dark eyebrows lowering over his eyes. He really was one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen, and was still trying to get over his crush on my sister. There was this low-lying tension between them you could feel anytime they were in the same room. And proximity didn’t help.

Her tone and face softened. “Moving her might hurt her further. We need a flat surface, a stretcher, to transport her back to the castello.”

“I’ll go,” Lord Greco said. “I can be back in twenty minutes.”

Gabi and Marcello nodded, and Rodolfo mounted and raced out of the clearing as if this girl was his own sister. Gabi and I shared a look. Lord Greco had been through a lot in the last year. He’d lost all his holdings in Firenze and been banished from ever entering her walls again. He’d been declared an enemy of the republic. And he’d lost Gabi to Marcello.

All because he chose us over the city of his birth.

Marcello had done what he could to mitigate the pain. He granted Castello Paratore, and most of the land we’d won in the battle, to Rodolfo. But that put him perilously close to the border. While the castle was in his name, he was forced to remain with us, a little farther south, for protection. Hanging out at Castello Greco merely invited assassins to try and bring him down. But hanging out at Castello Forelli brought its own kind of tension. Which was probably why he was so on edge when the huntress raced toward us…

And now he’d be wracked with guilt. We’d seen many die of far lesser injuries in this era. If the girl was paralyzed, even partially, she was unlikely to live long. Even I knew that the stress on her inner organs would be something we’d be ill prepared to handle. Mom had tried to save a paraplegic man last month, to no avail. It was one of the hardest parts of living here…to know that medical conditions readily handled in our own time often proved impossible in medieval Italia. Infection was our biggest enemy. As scary as this girl’s unconsciousness or potential paralysis was…it was the blood that really freaked us. An open wound.

“Lord Forelli,” Luca called.

We all looked up. He’d lifted the saddlebags across the hunter’s horse. Beneath was a blanket. Even muddy, we could see it was embroidered.

With the emblem of Firenze.

We all froze, staring. Marcello broke first, turning, hands on his face, looking up into the new green leaves of the old oaks high above us.

“The Fiorentini,” I muttered in English, toward my sister, “they won’t like this. They won’t like it at all.”

“No they won’t.” Slowly, she lifted her brown eyes to meet mine.

“I can’t do it, Gabs.” I can’t I can’t I can’t. “Not yet.”

She reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.

But she had no words of comfort for me.

 

***

 

He paced for hours, outside the Fiorentini girl’s room, chin in hand. Marcello tried to talk to him, persuade him to go to bed, but he refused, somehow believing the whole incident was his fault. Sighing, Marcello left him to continue his pacing, and pulled up a stool on the far side of our patient. Gabi reached across the girl to take his hand and squeeze it. “You did what you could,” she said in Italian. Mom nodded her agreement.

I leaned against a wall, waiting to be sent on whatever errand Gabi needed done. Luca was dozing at a table, his head on his crossed arms. I shook my head. The guy could sleep anywhere it seemed. And wake chipper and happy as if he’d had eight hours in a Marriott king-sized bed.

It was completely aggravating.

I closed my eyes and thought of fine hotel sheets, silky and smooth to the touch. I was homesick. Seriously homesick. Like none of my family seemed to be. Everyone else seemed to have settled in. Each of us had had their speedbumps, but generally, they all seemed pretty content. Meanwhile, I was a mess. Becoming more grumpy and agitated with every passing day.

A knight appeared at the door. “M’lord, there are two men at the gates, asking if we’ve seen a girl matching this one’s description.” He nodded toward our unconscious patient.

Luca was up, rubbing his face. “Want me to see to it?”

“Nay,” Marcello said. “I want you to see them in.”

Gabi looked at him in surprise, and I saw that Rodolfo had paused outside the door.

“You want us to allow the Fiorentini in?” Luca said, as if he had misheard him.

“They are two men,” Marcello said. “What harm can they do? It will create much more difficulty for us if they know she is here and they cannot see that we’re doing our best to care for her.”

“Understood, m’lord. I’ll show them the way,” Luca said.

We all glanced at one another. Rodolfo finally came in and went to the girl’s bedside, taking her hand in his. “Wake, friend, from your slumber,” he urged. We all know what he was thinking—if she could regain consciousness before her people saw her…

But she did not stir.

They arrived shortly thereafter, two men, one burly, one slight. Luca and three knights followed them in. “Alexandria!” said the smaller one, rushing to her side, kneeling and stroking her head.

“You know her, friend?” Marcello said.

The man continued staring at her, caressing her forehead. “My daughter.” His eyes hardened. “What happened to her?”

“She was hunting, and startled us,” Rodolfo said, stepping forward.

The bigger man stepped forward, his eyebrows lowering in a combination of confusion and recognition. “I know you…”

Rodolfo ignored him, focusing on the father. “She carried a spear, wearing a hat…we didn’t—”

“You are Lord Greco!” said the big man, stepping forward in a threatening manner.

“Nay!” Marcello said, stepping between them. “Be at peace!”

“I served in your contingent, before you turned traitor!”

Rodolfo finally met his eye. The muscles in his jaw tensed. “There were many things of which you are—”

“Should have figured that you would hide here,” the big man sneered, glancing down at Marcello with hatred. He said the word here as if we were living in some sort of swampy pit rather than Castello Forelli. Luca and another knight came up behind Marcello, ready to move with but a word from their lord. The two stepped behind him.

“There will be no good end to such a conversation,” Marcello said, keeping his tone calm, his voice low. “Let’s speak only of…Alexandria. She is what you are here for, correct?”

“Yes,” her father said. “What is the matter with her?”

Marcello eyed him. “She came at us with a spear. One of my knights disarmed her, and their horses collided. She went down to the ground, and hit her head on a rock.” He frowned and shook his head. “She has not awakened since.”

“We shall take her,” the father said, rising. “Back home where we might see to her ourselves.”

“Nay,” Mom said, rising with him. She reached out a hand. “Please. Let us see to her. I’ve had some experience with—”

“You propose we leave this man’s daughter here?” bellowed the bigger man, looking at her incredulously. “When we’ve spent two days trying to find her?”

“Listen,” Mom said, focusing on the father. “I have some knowledge on how to treat your daughter. She shouldn’t be moved. And you can see that we’ve treated her as one of our own, can you not?”

“She is not your own,” spat the big man, stepping forward in a threatening manner. Marcello gave up and turned away, while Luca and the other man grabbed hold of his arms. “She belongs with us!”

“Cease your threatening tone,” Marcello said, “or you shall be escorted out to wait on your companion.” He sighed. “We only want her to remain here until she is well.”

“We shall see to her,” said the big man. “Release her at once!” He tried to wrench free, but the men held on.

“She is not a prisoner,” Marcello said. “She is a guest. You are both welcome to remain here, with her, until she is—”

“We cannot stay here!” spat the man. “We’ll be considered the likes of him,” he said, jutting out his chin in Rodolfo’s direction. “Banished from Firenze!”

I had to hand it to Lord Greco. They were about the same size, but I knew he could take the man in seconds. I’d seen him in battle. But he merely glowered back at him, his dark eyes frightfully steady, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Take him out,” Marcello said.

The men did as he asked. But it took all four of them.

Alexandria’s father looked stricken. We all froze as the hall door slammed and we finally were left in silence.

“I know that this is a most confusing situation,” Marcello said, staring into the man’s eyes. “Upon my life, no further harm will come to your daughter.”

Marcello,” Gabi whispered. He couldn’t make such promises. We didn’t know if the girl would ever regain consciousness. What would happen if she died?

But Marcello only focused on the man. “She must stay here. She must. If I thought it was best for her to leave, would I not send her off with you, gladly?”

The man looked up and into his eyes for a long moment, while we all held our breath.

“Upon your life,” he said slowly.

Marcello reached out his arm, and the girl’s father took it. “Upon my life.”

 

Book 4 is not yet contracted—it’s pretty early to ask the publisher to commit to more. But I’m hoping to write more, even if they’re e-only!

Did you catch the other fun posts in the River of Time Blog Tour? If not, check ’em out!

Lisa’s Favorite Scene/Quotes from WATERFALL & CASCADE (Page Turners)
Character Interview with Marcello–and surprise announcement (YA Bliss)
Ten Useful Italian Phrases In Case You Hitch a Ride w Gabi & Lia (Gone With the Words)
How to Make Italian Pizza On Your Gas Grill (Reading Teen) *TORRENT’S Official Release Day!!!*
10 Things You Might Not Know About Lisa Bergren (Mundie Moms)
An Itinerary for the Perfect, Dreamy Week in Tuscany (The Secret Life of a Bibliophile)
Character Interview with Gabi–and semi-surprise announcement (Eve’s Fan Garden)

Comments: So first off, what do you think of this? Interested in reading more about the gang? Second, what do you think of the title, Tributary? Let me know!