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  Prologue  
  In the year of our Lord 1403

Edinburgh, Scotland



Ah, damn me…this is going to hurt.

Faolán MacIntyre lifted his head and closed his eyes, relishing the tang of the early spring North Sea on his face. The wind whipped at his long, coal black hair, tearing it free from the leather thong binding it. His fingers itched to braid it away from his eyes and he would have, had his hands not been tied securely behind his back.

The dour magistrate droned on and on, proclaiming Faolán's multitude of sins and transgressions while the priest and hangman waited behind him on the wooden scaffold. "Sedition, heresy, the practicing of witchcraft and consorting with demons, horse thievery…"

"Borrowed," Faolán muttered. The hangman gave him a heavy cuff on the back of the head in warning. Faolán turned and took a threatening step towards the man, who shrank away from the tall, powerfully built Celt even though, bound as he was, he was in no position to return the favor.

"…impersonating a priest, fornication…"

Faolán yawned. "Could ye speed it up a bit? It's a might drafty up here."

The gathered crowd erupted in laughter and the official's face reddened. "Silence!" he bellowed. Relocating his place in the leather bound ledger with a bony finger, he continued his litany. "Public drunkenness, adultery, slanderous language…"

"Sweet bleedin' Jesus!" Faolán roared. "Could ye just get on with it? I'm going to freeze to death afore ye get around to hanging me."

The portly priest nearly swooned with fear at the outburst. "Blasphemer!" he gasped, clutching his rosary to his chest.

Deciding that enough damning evidence had been presented to justify the punishment, the official slammed the book closed and nodded to the hangman. With a grim smile, the executioner placed the noose around the condemned's neck and tightened it. Faolán took a small amount of pleasure that the shorter man had to hop to get the heavy rope over his bowed head. He shook his head at the proffered leather hood.

… I wish for the man of my dreams… Faolán felt the pull of the faint feminine whisper at the edge of his consciousness, sounding as if it were coming from a great distance. A slow grin spread across his handsome face.

Witnessing the unseemly smile, the priest came to the immediate conclusion that the condemned had been driven mad during his imprisonment. He made the sign of the cross and clutching his pudgy hands together pleaded, "Admit your sins and repent now, my son. Show regret for your actions before these good people and mayhap your death will be a swift one."

Faolán managed a contrite nod. With a heavy sigh, he gazed at the magistrate with deep blue eyes that sparkled a little too much to be remorseful and said, "Your Honor, 'tis truly sorry I am that that I dinna bed your wife when she begged it of me, but to be honest, there wasn't whisky enough in all of Scotia to make that wench appealing."

The crowd roared with laughter once again. The magistrate sputtered with outrage, turning a rather apoplectic shade of purple. "Do your duty," he demanded with an imperious wave. The hangman leaned forward to pull the lever releasing the trap door beneath Faolán's booted feet. The priest's voice grew louder, beginning the recitation of the final prayer. "Pater Noster, qui es in coelis…"

The prisoner gave a roguish wink to a tearful maid standing near the scaffold steps and blew kisses to two more just before the weathered boarding beneath him creaked loudly and gave way. There was silence followed by a loud collective gasp, then the crowd burst into spontaneous applause as the empty rope swung back and forth.

Faolán had vanished into thin air.
 
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