Authors: Kathryn Le Veque
Rod knew that. He sighed heavily. “Bronllys Castle, my grandfather’s castle, is only a few miles from Erwood Castle, which is a de Velt holding,” he said. “It concerns me a great deal that this… this
army would possibly try to reclaim all of de Velt’s holdings. That would put us too close to the action and we’d suffer from the fall out.”
It was evident that Rod couldn’t bring himself to say Bretton de Llion’s name, at least not now. It was still too new and shocking, all of it. Christopher could see how shaken the man was.
“That is why I wanted to tell you all of this personally,” he said. “Not only because of the name of the commander of this army, but also because you must return to tell your grandfather what has transpired. It might be wise to vacate Bronllys and move south to Whitebrook until this matter has settled.”
Rod shook his head. “My grandfather will not leave his post,” he said what they all knew. “He is an old knight and has been there for over twenty years. He will never leave it.”
Christopher watched the man’s expression, seeing sadness and resignation there. “Then I would ask that once you inform your grandfather of what is happening, you return to me,” he said. “Losing Lawrence and Rhys last year has left me low on trained knights. True, I have de Wolfe and Max Cornwallis, and I even have Jeffrey Kessler, who was my wife’s family’s captain of the guard before I married her, and I also have a stable full of young and strong knights, but I could use a seasoned commander like you.”
Rod knew it was not a request. It was a kind way of saying de Lohr was demanding his services. “I understand, my lord,” he said, “but my grandfather may have need of me, especially if I cannot convince him to leave Bronllys.”
Christopher grew more impassioned. “That is exactly why I need you with me,” he said. “I have the largest army on the Marches and if de Velt moves,
this mercenary army moves, my army will be the first to engage them. Mayhap we can prevent them from getting to Bronllys. Do you see what we are facing, Rod? With de Velt provoked, this could be the resurgence of something more deadly and bloody than England has ever seen.”
Rod was coming to see that and the truth was that it scared him. Not much in this life scared him, but this did. Perhaps the only way to help his grandfather, or even his family, was to remain with de Lohr. After a moment, he nodded his head.
“Very well,” he said. “I will remain with you until this crisis is over. But let me return to Bronllys to tell my grandfather. He must be on his guard.”
Christopher couldn’t disagree. In fact, he was in full support of it. “When you tell your grandfather, will you speak of Bretton de Llion’s apparent return?” he asked. “I am not entirely sure how much good that will do your grandfather to know that. There is nothing he can do about it in any case.”
Rod shrugged, thinking of how his grandfather might react to such news. “I am not sure what to tell him,” he said. “Knowing my grandfather, he would ride to Cloryn Castle to see if the commander really is Bretton and more than likely get himself killed in the process. But, on the other hand, he lost a grandson last year and he has not recovered from it. Mayhap... mayhap it will do him some good to know that it is possible another grandson has returned from the dead.”
“A returned grandson who is tearing up the Marches and murdering nuns?”
Rod merely shrugged again. He didn’t have an answer. Christopher drank his wine, mulling over the situation in general, as he turned for his seat near the hearth. Somewhere outside of the solar door he could hear a baby crying, reminding him of his family safe within these old walls. Walls that could face a beating if the Marches were consumed by the flames of warfare. He didn’t like the thought.
“Let us hope we all live through this,” he muttered, lowering his bulk into the chair. There was gentle fire in the hearth and he gazed at it a moment, deep in thought. “There was something else that de Llion told the old nun, something interesting.”
Rod looked at him. “What was that?”
Christopher was still staring at the flames. “He told her to tell de Velt that the Devil was coming for him.”
Edward grunted at the arrogance of the statement. “There is a very old proverb that says it is better to be the right hand of the Devil than in his path,” he muttered, interjecting his opinion into the conversation. “In this case, however, I have no desire to side with Satan. I do not even wish to side with de Velt.”
Christopher looked up. “There is another saying, from the Bible, and it is all I can think of at the moment,” he said. “Somehow, it seems very prophetic for this situation.”
Edward glanced at him over the top of his cup. “What is it?”
Christopher’s attention returned to the flame, seeing death and destruction within the flickering embers. He simply couldn’t help the feeling of doom in his heart. “B
ehold a pale horse,” he murmured, “and his name that sat on him was Death. A
nd Hell followed with him.”
They sat in silence after that until the wine was gone and the fire died out. Even then, they continued to remain, each man lost to his own particular thoughts of disaster. No matter which side of the Marches one was sitting, the Devil seemed to be approaching from all sides.
And Hell would undoubtedly come with him.
Three long weeks.
Well, at least she thought it had been three weeks because she had scratched off every passing day on the wall with a small rock. It had been three weeks since she had been abducted from Alberbury Priory and taken to an unknown castle and put into a vault that was dank, dark, and dirty. Moss grew on the stone like green slime and there was a constant water drip against one of the walls, puddling up on the floor and giving everything a terribly moldy smell. It also made Allaston sneeze and she had been doing little else since being locked up in this dismal hole. It was a horrible, depressing place.
She had a bed of old straw to sleep on and a few rough blankets that smelled like horses, so she assumed they were for the livestock. Normally, she would have shunned such things, for she grew up in a house where she wanted for nothing. Her parents had spoiled her, just as they had spoiled all of their children, but the past year had seen her attitude for finery change dramatically. The nuns of Alberbury had pushed thoughts of material pleasures right out of her mind, which had been difficult considering how overindulged she had been. Her pride, and tastes, had been a difficult thing to contain, but now, sitting on her bed of straw and covered with horse blankets, she found she had no pride at all in material things. If she hadn’t the blankets, she would have frozen to death so she was grateful for what she had, however raw.
. Those words kept rolling around her head because she was fearful that she was going to spend the rest of her life down here in the darkness. Since the cell had no window, she really only knew the number of days from the meals she had been brought. She was given food to break her fast and then a small supper every night, usually consisting of terrible leavings from what looked to be bigger feasts. She was given the scraps. Hungry as she was, she ate them.
Allaston hadn’t seen the blue-eyed knight since the day she had been brought to this place and locked away. The only people she saw were soldiers as they brought her food, and those soldiers spoke with Irish accents. Two of them did, anyway, which confused her but she didn’t dare strike up a conversation with them to ask them where they were from. They didn’t seem to be the conversational type.
So she sat and waited, but waited for what, she didn’t know. She had no idea why she was even here and she had long since gotten over being terrified for her plight. No one had hurt her or had even tried to in spite of the face that she was a prisoner. She was cast into the vault and left alone, forgotten. She was positive she was forgotten.
Until the morning of the nineteenth day of captivity. She had slept a miserable night, cold and hungry, and the sneezing she’d suffered from since her arrival had turned into a cough. Her head was stuffy as was her chest, and her throat felt as if it was on fire. As she lay on the straw, shivering, she heard the iron grate at the top of the stairs open. The stairs led down from the gatehouse into the vault and she could hear heavy bootfalls on the stone as someone descended. She assumed it was a soldier bringing her some food but she was too weary and ill to sit up. Besides, there was no reason to eat if she was going to spend the rest of her life in a dank cell. The quicker she hastens her death, the better. She didn’t want to live like an animal for the rest of her life and from her perspective, she couldn’t see any way out. She was trapped.
So she lay there, unmoving, as someone came to her cell door. She heard the bolt being thrown and the door as it was jerked open. Because of the moisture in the vault, the oak door tended to swell and stick. Big, heavy footsteps entered the cell.
“Get up, woman.”
It was a deep, raspy voice. Allaston had heard it before. Startled, her head popped up and she struggled to sit up as her eyes fixed on a man of enormous proportions. He was clad in a leather tunic, woolen breeches, and massive boots, and she would have had no idea who the man was except that she recognized the vibrant blue eyes. They were the eyes of the knight who had burned Alberbury.
Stunned, Allaston managed to sit up enough so that she was on her arse, but the entire time her focus was riveted on the man before her. He had black hair, cropped short, and a square jaw beneath a sprouting beard. His neck was thick and muscular, just like his shoulders, and his arms were easily as big around as her torso. She’d never seen such size. True enough, he’d been covered with tunics and mail the night they had met and she had attributed that to his colossal size. She was coming to see, however, that the man was simply big in general. The mail and other protection didn’t make a significant difference in his overall bulk. He was, simply put, built for the raw brutalities of warfare.
The knight stood in the cell, filling it up with his fearsome presence. His gaze was steady upon Allaston as she stared back apprehensively.
“We must speak on a few things,” he said in that rumbling, hoarse voice. “I am assuming that three weeks in this hole has not dulled your sense of reasoning. I am assuming we may carry on an intelligent conversation or has the mold gone to your head?”
Allaston shook her head, her fear turning into disgust at his callous attitude towards her current situation. It was in his tone, in everything about him. He couldn’t have cared less for her state of being. She should have known that from the three weeks he had left her in the vault, but hearing him speak was the ultimate confirmation. In fact, the more she looked at him, the more disgusted she became. He was heartless, cold, and evil, and biting her tongue had never been one of her strong points. She spoke before she could stop herself.
“What kind of man would keep a woman locked up in this… this beastly place?” she asked. “I have committed no crime yet you treat me as a criminal. Why have you done this to me?”
The knight’s gaze remained even. Slowly, he cocked his head. “I suppose it is natural that you want to know who I am and why you are here,” he said. “That is a fair expectation.”
“Fair?” she repeated, her tone bordering on incredulous. “What would you understand about fair? Fair is not locking an innocent woman away in a horrible, moldering cell when she has done nothing to warrant it. How have I wronged you that you would abduct me from Alberbury and lock me away?”
It was a snappish tone she used, one of rebuke. Her abhorrence toward him was evident, but the knight’s expression didn’t change.
“I would suggest you not speak to me in such a fashion,” he said evenly. “You might not like my reaction.”
Frustrated, furious, Allaston sighed harshly and turned away. She couldn’t stomach looking at the man any longer. She started coughing, struggling with the illness that was sweeping her, and trying not to succumb to the depression that grasped at her like cold, knowing fingers. Those fingers knew she could be easily snared given her circumstances. As Allaston grappled with her emotions, she could hear the knight’s joints popping as he shifted on his big legs.