Elizabeth English - The Borderlands 02

BOOK: Elizabeth English - The Borderlands 02
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Laird of the Mist

 

 

Elizabeth English

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth Minogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Janie, who asked what happened next

PROLOGUE

Ravenspur
Manor, the Borderlands, 1374

 

"S
o ye think this is a bad idea?"

Ian Kirallen asked the question lightly as he swung
himself into the saddle. His cheeks were ruddy, his dark eyes snapping as he
took up the reins. At twenty-eight, Ian was at the very height and pride of
manhood, as restive as the blooded stallion between his knees. The beast
pranced and reared, its hooves striking sparks from the frozen cobbles, but Ian
brought him easily under control. Having completed this dazzling display of
horsemanship, he grinned down at the fair-haired man planted solidly before
him.

"Aye, I do," Alistair said, his jaw set in a
stubborn line.

The eight knights who were already mounted sat back in
their saddles.
They're at it again
, they signaled to each other with
rolling eyes and shrugs. Sir Alistair was preaching caution, but he might as
well be speaking to the wind. Lord Ian's mind was set upon this venture.

Not that any of them doubted Alistair's courage for a
moment. Their captain was without dispute the finest swordsman on the
borderlands, a matter of great pride to his knights. Whether or not it was a
source of pride to him, they could not say. Alistair never wasted words on
matters he considered trivial. Often silent and always watchful, his cool gray
eyes summed up each situation with a composure that never wavered, not even in
the hottest battle.

When it came to planning an engagement, they could
rely upon his judgment absolutely, for they knew every possible contingency had
been accounted for. If the Captain said, do this or that and thus-and-so will
happen, a man could rest assured it would fall out that way exactly.

The same could not be said of their lord. Ian's ideas
were bold and striking, always daring and often brilliant, designed to win the
maximum of honor. But once the action started, anything might happen. He was
wild and he was fearless, and he threw himself into each new adventure with a
reckless abandon that set fire to his men.

Every young squire dreamed of joining Lord Ian's
personal guard, whose exploits were recounted in awe-struck voices all along
the border. Those chosen few would have followed him to hell and back—and
counted themselves lucky to have made the journey. And though Ian's impetuous
ways might drive his foster brother to distraction, they all knew that in his
heart, their Captain felt the same.

Once committed, even to a course of action with which
he disagreed, Alistair would back his foster brother to the hilt. And if the
plan developed some unexpected turnings—as Lord Ian's plans had a tendency to
do—it was often Alistair's genius for the split-second decision that turned a
potential rout to the stuff of songs and stories.

Two sides of a coin, that's what they were, and for
all their disagreements, nothing could divide them.

As Ian grinned down at Alistair, inviting him to share
the fun, Alistair steeled himself against his foster-brother's contagious high
spirits. There was something wrong with this plan. Alistair was sure of it,
even if he could not say precisely what the trouble was. But since last night
he had felt a pricking of his thumbs, a stirring of the Sight that sometimes
visited him.

"If ye won't be stopped, then at least let's take
more men," he said.

Ian frowned and glanced back at the eight knights
ranged behind him. "'Tis too late for that. We'll go carefully."

For a moment Alistair considered digging in his heels.
Let Ian call him coward if he liked, just as he had done the night before when
Alistair tried to dissuade him from this venture. It wasn't as though there was
any need to ride out this morning. Two dozen stolen cows meant nothing to the
clan and Ian knew it well enough. But of course the cows were not the point. Ian
would not let the Kirallens be bested over what was, to him, a point of honor.

It was so like Ian. There was nothing Kirallen's heir
would not dare to score a victory over the English, particularly if the
Englishman happened to be Darnley.

Ian's face tightened into annoyed impatience and
Alistair knew that nothing he could say would change his mind. With a sigh of
resignation, he mounted and took his place at his foster brother's back.

A chill January mist clung to the hollows and hung
heavy over the moat. Just as they clattered to the other side, Alistair felt
his horse's pace falter. Dismounting, he used his dagger to pry the stone loose
from the animal's hoof, muttering a curse when the horse stumbled on its next
step.

"I'll have to fetch another," he said to Ian.

Ian sighed, his breath misting the air. "Catch up
to us."

"I'll only be a moment."

Ian laughed. "I canna waste the morning waiting
about for you! You can catch us—and hurry, man, 'tis late enough
already." 

Alistair felt his temper rise. What was wrong with Ian
this morning?  His eyes were feverishly bright, his color high—he was drawn as
tightly as a bowstring...almost fey.

The sharp answer Alistair was about to make died on
his lips when he felt the hair stir on the nape of his neck. His mouth went dry,
and though he tried to shout a warning, his words came out as hardly more than
a whisper.

"Wait—don't go—"

Ian heeled his horse into a canter and looked back
with a grin. "Try not to miss all the fun!"

"Ian, don't—
wait
!"

But Ian was gone. Alistair turned and ran back to the
stables, shouting for a groom. Ten minutes later he was galloping over the
drawbridge, the icy wind stinging his cheeks.

The day was dark and overcast, shrouded in mist,
cutting visibility to almost nothing. But Alistair had no trouble following
their tracks in the new-fallen snow. Above the dull pounding of his horse's
hooves he heard noises in the distance—a cry, cut quickly short, the ring of
blades. Then silence.

"Come on, come
on
," he muttered,
urging his horse ahead with hands and knees. "Run, ye bastard!  Now!"

Over the rise of the hills they flew, toward the
outcropping of stone standing at the edge of the moor. Alistair veered around
it to his right, following the tracks. More tracks now, leading from behind the
outcropping, joining with the others.

He pulled up and listened hard. "Ian!" he
shouted, his voice muffled by the fog. "Answer me! Where are ye,
man?"

It was then he saw the first drops of blood, like
rubies scattered in the snow. He looked up sharply at the sound of hooves and
from out of the mist appeared a riderless horse heading back to Ravenspur at a
panicked gallop, reins trailing loose behind it. Alistair kicked his mount and
raced ahead, drawn sword in his hand. As he reached the open moor he could just
make out the shadowy forms of men on horses vanishing toward the border.

But which men? The ones Alistair had watched riding
out of Ravenspur? Or the ones who had lain in wait beyond the rock? 

But he knew already. Even before he saw the bodies
crumpled on the blood-soaked moor, he knew the ambush had succeeded. Eight, he
counted swiftly. Or no, not eight. Nine. Every one of them.  There, a little
apart from the rest, was Ian, his blue cloak unmistakable.

As Alistair dropped to his knees beside his foster brother,
Ian stirred. He was alive then, Alistair thought with an uprush of relief so
strong it left him dizzy. Of course he was. Ian couldn't die, not here, not
like this. Not for a herd of cows.

When Alistair touched his arm, Ian opened his eyes and
grinned. A weak grin, to be sure, but still Ian's. He could not be wounded so
badly, then. Nothing that could not be mended.

"'Twas Darnley—I never expected him to come
himself—the bastard! I should have—waited—for you—"

Alistair pulled back Ian's cloak, searching vainly for
a wound. At first glance he did not seem to be marked at all. Yet there was
blood. So much blood, rivers of it, soaking Ian's quilted gambeson, staining
the snow beneath him.

Backstabbed, Alistair realized numbly. And even he,
who had hated Lord John Darnley all his life, was shocked that the Englishman
was capable of such a deed.

"Christ, Ian," he said, "we have to get
ye home."

But when he tried to lift him, Ian gave a terrible cry
of pain and gripped his arm. "Too late—ah, God, Alistair, I'm sorry."

Of course he was. Ian was always sorry afterward. Well,
this time he wouldn't find it so easy to get around Alistair with a shrug and a
sheepish grin. From now on things would be different. The next time Ian came up
with one of his mad schemes, Alistair would make damn sure he listened to
reason.

For there
would
be a next time. There had to be.
Ian couldn't possibly be wounded so badly as all that. There was no reason,
none at all, to think Ian would not be fine. But, oh, God, there was so much
blood.

"Alistair—"

Ian's hand slipped from Alistair's arm and fell to the
ground. The high color had faded from his cheeks and his skin was ashen, tinged
with a greenish-white that Alistair had seen before. But he refused to
acknowledge what it meant.

"Quiet," he ordered. "Save your
strength."

He swung the cloak from his own shoulders and draped
it over Ian, over the blood-soaked gambeson and scarlet snow. Think, he ordered
himself sternly. What is the best way, the quickest way to get him home? But
for some unaccountable reason, his mind, usually so obedient, refused to work
at all.

"No—no time," Ian said, stuttering a little
with cold and shock. "S-say that it's all right, say that you—"

"I forgive ye, all right?" Alistair snapped.
"Is that what ye want to hear? Now shut up and let me think."

"Malcolm." Ian's voice was strangely choked
as he said his son's name. He tried to clear his throat, then managed a hoarse
whisper. "Watch over him."

"Like my own son," Alistair promised,
blinking hard against a sudden stinging in his eyes. The wind, he thought. That
must be it. The wind was strong and very chill. "But you'll be there,
too," he added heartily. "We'll get ye home and—"

Ian coughed sharply and Alistair stared in disbelief
at the bright blood gushing from his mouth. He lifted Ian in his arms, holding
him as his foster-brother's body arched in agony, his mind refusing to accept
what was happening even as Ian fought and lost the last terrible struggle
against death.

 

L
aird G
awyn
Kirallen woke to the sound of the bell tolling in the chapel. When it paused,
he heard soft sobs coming from his bedside. Malcolm, he thought. 'Tis Malcolm. Why
is he here?  What is wrong? Then he began to remember bits and pieces of the
day.

Alistair stumbling into the hall, Ian held before him,
both of them covered in blood. Malcolm's cry as he leaped from his seat and ran
forward. His own shout of anguish as Alistair laid Ian's lifeless form on the
trestle... An ambush. That was it. And all Ian's men, those poor lads, were
lying dead upon the moor... My heart, Gawyn thought, remembering the shaft of
white-hot pain that had lanced through his chest before everything went black. He
felt no pain now, only a great weariness. But he had to wake. For Malcolm. There
was no one else. Poor boy, his father was dead and now he was an orphan...

"Whisht," a deep voice said. "Here,
now, 'tis all right, just lay your head down, lad..."

Thank God, Gawyn thought, relaxing back into his
pillow. Alistair is here. It will be all right now, everything will be well. So
long as Alistair is here...

 

W
hen Gawyn woke again there was silence in the chamber,
though far off, behind the door, he could hear women's voices raised in a
keening wail. The entire manor must be filled with mourning tonight. Filled
with death. And Darnley was responsible.

This time Darnley—sly and sleekit coward that he was—would
be forced to take a stand. It would mean open war between the families, such as
had not been seen for many years. With terrible clarity Gawyn remembered the
devastating cost of war. Through the years, as far back as memory reached,
Kirallen had fought Darnley, years of unrest that periodically flared into open
conflict. The last time they had gone to battle, Gawyn had lost his father and
his brother. Now that ancient hatred had reached out to take his son.

When would it ever end?  How many deaths would it take
until someone had the courage to cry, "Enough!" 

Ian is dead, Gawyn thought, forcing himself to face
the truth without flinching. Nothing they could do would bring him back. The
only thing Gawyn could do for his son now was to give his death some meaning. Ian's
name would not be just one more name on the long list of the slain. Ian's name
would be the last.

When Gawyn opened his eyes, he found that though
Malcolm was gone, his foster-son was still beside him. Alistair was slumped in
his seat, bright head resting on his hand, dressed in the same bloodstained
clothing in which he had brought Ian back again.

BOOK: Elizabeth English - The Borderlands 02
7.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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