Authors: Eagle Lady
Titles by Rose Victory
First published in eBook format January 2012
eBook is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © January 2012 by Rose Victory
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All my Love
Lord Roydon de Mountroi, fourth earl of Eagle Rock, rose abruptly to his feet. He could hardly breathe in this small windowless room. The musty smell of parchments and ledgers, wrapped in rancid candle smoke, seemed to be physically choking him. The walls appeared to be closing in around him; he needed to draw clean air into his lungs. He needed space to move without displacing parchments and documents almost with each breath.
old man sitting across the table from him, the sudden movement caused him to shrink back in his chair. His master towered above him; in the confines of this small cluttered room he seemed massive. The strength and power emanating from his huge frame seemed in serious danger of bursting forth and destroying all around him.
“I have had enough of this!” The
earl leaned his heavily muscled arms on the table and glared at the seated older man. “If there is anything else I need to see, approve or sign, bring it to me later in the Hall,” he growled in a low voice, his patience clearly at an end.
The older man rose slowly to his feet, the grimace of pain that crossed his wrinkled visage a testimony to his old and aching bones. He had nothing to fear from this man, he reminded himself. He had a temper, yes
, and little patience for letters and numbers, but he had always been fair and just. At least he had been before he had gone to fight for the king. Only time would tell if the boy whom he had watched grow up had changed.
“As you wish, my
lord,” the steward bowed his head. “There is very little left to go through.” He paused unsure of how to inform his lord of the matter that he had been postponing all day. The earl’s unblinking, dark stare did nothing to persuade him to share the information; enough bad news had been imparted for the moment. He would tell him later, the steward decided, when the harsh, impatient expression on the face looking intently down at him had disappeared.
A curt nod and the earl mov
ed quickly round the table towards the door, his movements graceful in spite of his heavy muscled bulk. At the door he paused and glanced back at the old retainer who had served his family and Eagle Rock faithfully all his life. “I thank you for your patience, Brecov,” he said, a grim smile curving his firm lips. “I am never at my best when surrounded by ledgers and accounts.”
“It needed to be done, my
Another curt nod
signalled the earl’s almost unwilling acceptance of the situation. The nod and the dark shadow that crossed his face, making his deep black eyes gleam in the reflected light of the candles.
Brecov bit his tongue; the earl had not needed to be reminded of why he
had come to this chamber. The reason was still too painful, the mental wound still too raw and recent. More than that, the anger and disappointment at the unexplainable could threaten to demolish the tenuous hold that the new earl had on his temper.
“Why, Brecov, why would my father do this?” The earl had turned back to face the door, his voice low
. The white knuckled grip he had on the door’s metal handle revealed the real effort he made to control his feelings.
The steward shook his head, his faded blue eyes for a moment showing to the earl’s back, the
sympathy that he would never dare to show him to his face.
In truth the earl had not expected an answer. He had asked the steward
and himself the same question a dozen times in the six hours since he had come to this room. He could find no answer, none that could be explained; none that made any sense.
For a moment the earl’s massive shoulder
s sagged, his head almost bowed in defeat. Then he heard the servant’s voices on the other side of the door, in the Great Hall. They were his people, his responsibility now. He would not fail them. He would find a way. Straightening to his full height, his head almost on a level with the six feet seven inch lintel, he ordered, “Come to me after supper with the rest of all this.” Waving a hand towards the ledgers, the nobleman pulled the heavy door open and strode quickly from the room.
Brecov shook his head in self disgust as he painstakingly returned the scattered documents and ledgers to their shelves. He
had felt like a coward when faced by his master’s anger and disappointment. True, the old lord had told him nothing. Uncharacteristically, the old earl had kept him in the dark as to his transactions and motives but the two documents still left on the table could explain a lot. They might be both, the reason for and the solution to the dilemma that the new lord of Eagle Rock faced.
The old man shook his head again, he had been remiss in not telling Lord Roydon about the document
s but the earl had been too angry, too upset. He would have been further enraged when he realised that those documents were probably the reason why there were scarcely two coins left in the estate coffers. Too enraged to realise that it was also, probably, the only way out of the untenable situation his father had left him in; undoubtedly just as the old earl had planned.
Roydon stepped out of the castle’s main door and stood for a moment at the top of the steps leading down to the small inner bailey. The castle had been built on the side of the mountain, a haphazard extension of towers, walls and buttresses, which clung to the mountain almost defying gravity. The new earl looked down proudly, but with a sense of impending doom, at his domain. Due to the limited level area available, three not the usual two baileys or courtyards formed semicircles below the main buildings, one above the other, down the side of the mountain. Thick walls and strong gates separated the courtyards, three lines of defence protecting the fortress that dominated the surrounding lands.
His lands now, thought the earl, as
he breathed in the clean mountain air. The view never ceased to amaze him. Above and behind him the mountains marched away into the distance, but before him lay his domain; the land that was as much a part of him as his sword arm. Fertile lands that constituted the true wealth of his Holding. Lands that were his to protect and nurture; stretching as far as the eye could see and then further, their limits protected by garrisoned towers held by his vassals. The seemingly unending forest that spread away towards the east; the river that meandered across the land moving majestically down from the mountains; the village nestled at the foot of his mountain like a child finding protection and security in the shadow of its father.
He had seen this panorama a thousand times and yet the view never left him unmoved. It
felt like part of his soul, part of who he was.
A curious bark like cry from above had Roydon looking up, searching the pale blue sky for its source. A golden eagle glided in the air above the castle.
The bird’s brown and golden feathers glinted in the afternoon sun, its wing span easily seven feet across.
The bird seemed to dive straight for the earl at an incredible speed but Roydon
held his position. This mountain belonged to him. He would not retreat or give way for anyone or anything. The eagle gave another cry as it hurtled out of the sky as if warning him or testing his determination. Roydon stood his ground. He knew it to be foolish and senseless, but after the pain and disillusion of the last three days he needed to prove to himself that he had the courage and determination to take up the gauntlet that his father had thrown at him.
came straight at him. This big, the animal had to be a female, her curved beak, so like his own hooked nose, open and screeching her own challenge. The earl never looked away from the fierce, golden eyes of the bird; his own dark gaze remained just as bold, just as indomitable, from beneath his heavy brows.
At the last possible moment the eagle veered away. Roydon actually felt the wind of the bird’s passing on his face; saw the cruelly hooked claws just a couple of feet from his head. The eagle swooped down across the bailey and then gracefully
flew up over the castle and took up a continuous, circling glide over the courtyards.
When the earl looked down at the
inner bailey, he saw that all activity had frozen to a standstill. All eyes were on him. Men, women and children, be they soldiers, serfs or freemen, stared at him, admiration in their gazes. Awe and wonder on their faces at the scene they had just witnessed.
In any other situation Roydon would have been proud and honoured
to receive their adulation, to be their lord, to see the pride in their eyes, but as things stood he could offer them very little. The freemen and the soldiers would be the first to go and then he would be unable to even protect his own serfs. Tied to the land, they would starve with him, because no coin meant no seed for the autumn harvest that would carry the estate through the winter. No coin to repair the village cottages against the relentless weather.
He had arrived
only three days ago to find his father dead and the coffers, that should have been overflowing, empty. He had returned, at last released after twelve years from the king’s service, expecting his sire’s welcome to the home he had left at seventeen and instead he had found pain and disaster.
He could not see a way
out of the predicament he found himself in. No matter that the situation in which he found the Holding had not been his fault; the responsibility fell on him now. He had only returned home two or three times a year to visit, when the king gave him leave. Nevertheless it would still be he that would fail his people and this land that he loved so desperately if he could not find a solution. Roydon felt the anger well up again, fierce and unstoppable. He needed an outlet, something to drain it away so that he could think clearly.
angry gaze moved across the yard and suddenly the people all looked away, continuing with their tasks, unwilling to draw their lord’s anger on their heads. Even from up here his people could feel his rage, he could feel it pulsing from him in waves. But it would not be fair to release it on those who could not answer back; on those who could not retaliate. Those whose respect he did not deserve if he could not find a way to undo what his father had wrought.
he sound of clashing swords penetrated Roydon’s thoughts and almost unconsciously his feet drew him toward the noise of battle. Down the steps and across the bailey, through the gate and down into the second courtyard.
second bailey was larger than the top one. A part of it had been dug out of the mountain and then levelled. Here the larger stables, the
barns and storehouses, the craftsmen’s huts, many hewn into the mountain itself, shared space with the soldiers’ quarters in a full circle alongside the walls. Nearly the whole yard seethed with soldiers engaged in mock battle against each other. Men-at-arms trained with sword and lance; archers perfected their aim and knights and squires trained with swords, both on horseback and afoot. It seemed his friend and recently appointed commander of his troops had already started to organise and train the castle garrison.
Roydon spotted his friend in the middle of a group of young soldiers demonstrating a series of moves with his sword. Stefan was always one to lead by example. Not that it would do any good. The soldiers would have to go;
he had nothing to pay them with. At the thought, the earl’s hand tightened in impotent anger on the hilt of his sword. Striding across the bailey, he made his way towards the commander; his rank as much as the angry scowl on his face opening up a way for him among the training men.
Stefan saw the earl approaching and paused in his instruction, allowing his sword tip to settle on the ground between his feet. If the earl’s expression was anything to go by, something was very wrong. He had known Roydon for the last ten years, served in the king’s army with him and he had never seen him loose his calm; coldly angry yes, but in control. Never
this barely leashed burning rage.
lord.” Stefan greeted the earl. Always formal in the presence of his men, this time he also attempted to remind his friend by his form of address that they were not alone. In the mood he was in he was like to forget.
The earl had
no patience left for formality. His dark gaze slashed across the soldiers around them. “Leave us!” he growled. In a heartbeat the two men were left isolated in the middle of the crowded yard.
“I warned you, Roydon, did I not? Shutting yourself up all day with ledgers was not a good idea. A black thundercloud has nothing on you.” Stefan spoke softly, teasing his friend in an attempt to calm him.
“Shut up, Stefan. I am not in the mood for your banter. Right now I need a good rousing workout and you are the only one that can provide it. Put up your sword.” The earl drew his long double edged sword from the scabbard at his side, the steel glinting in the sun.
Stefan kept his sword firmly pointed at the ground. “No way am I going to cross swords with you in this
mood, Roy,” his voice was now deadly serious.
“Are you afraid, Sir Stefan?” The earl