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Authors: Kathryn Le Veque

The Legend

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THE LEGEND

 

By Kathryn Le Veque

 

Copyright 2010 by Kathryn Le Veque
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any
manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Printed by Dragonblade Publishing in the United States of America

Text
copyright 2010 by Kathryn Le Veque
Cover copyright 2010 by Kathryn Le Veque

To my son, James

A tall, blond hero in the making

 

 

 

PROLOGUE              

                                         

1270
A.D.

The
Holy Land                                                      

                                                               

"He is dead, Alec! Let him
go!"

Two men were huddled on the sand
in a heap, one man clutching the other to him fiercely as blood coated the both
of them.

A tall, superbly muscled African
again nudged the one of the pair who happened to be alive. "Let him go! We
must leave this place!"

The man raised his face from
where it had been buried against the head of the other, his sunburned skin
coated with tears. "I did this. God help me, Ali, I did this!"

Ali crouched next to the white
man, his black hands grasping at the hard English armor. "'Twas an
accident, my friend. He came from the shadows and you had no way of knowing it
was...."

"God, no!" Alec
screamed his anguish. "Christ, Peter, wake up! Wake up and walk from this
place with me!"

Ali's onyx eyes darted about the
abandoned fortress, searching for the approaching enemy. They had been
concealed among the crumbling ruins for nearly two weeks until the Muslims had
discovered the refuge of thirty English knights. English who had been raiding
villages, killing Muslim enemies and causing heavy losses to weaken the area
for the glorious arrival of Prince Edward. It was the prelude to another siege
of Acre and the Seventh Crusade was at hand.

But their hideaway had been
discovered and even now nearly three hundred Muslims lay siege to the English
warriors. Hope for escape was dim, but there was still time if only....

"Alec," the black man
yanked him harshly, dislodging the dead man and causing him to fall in a heap.
"We must leave.
Now
!"

Alec groaned when the body fell
away from him, struggling against his friend. But the grappling ceased when
they heard the clash of weapons in the distance.

"Oh, Christ," Alec
mumbled, torn between the body on the floor and knowing that he should vacate.
His breathing was ragged, harsh. "Oh, Christ, Ali, I cannot leave Peter's
body to be destroyed. My father will never forgive me."

"Your father will
understand," Ali insisted, tugging desperately. "If we do not leave
now, Lord Brian will have lost two sons."

Rapidly, shakily, Alec knelt over
the body of his brother and kissed him on both cheeks. Tears sprang to his eyes
again, pelting warm droplets on the cooling corpse as he touched his brother's
face for the last time.

"Forgive me, Peter," he
whispered in a strangled voice. "'Twas dim and you wore no armor and I....
I thought you were an assassin."

Ali waited as long as he could
before yanking at Alec again. "Now, Alec, or we both die!"

Alec knew it to be true; he could
hear the screams of his fellow knights and the clash of weapons drawing closer.
Unsteadily he rose, taking Peter's sword with him.

Ali was already running, pulling
Alec with him. Alec's legs were moving as ordered but he continued to look back
at the prostrate body of his brother, nearly cut in half, bathed in his own
blood. Blood that Alec had spilled from him.

Agony clawed at him as he beat a
hasty retreat down the escape tunnels carved beneath the hot desert sands. His
breathing was rapid and uneven, pain filling every corner of his mind.
Dear
God, how could I have killed my own brother? How could such a thing have
happened?
It had been a senseless mistake; his sense of self-preservation
acting before his reasoning mind questioned the action, and then....

Alec knew God would forgive him,
just as his father would be gracious with his mercy. But Alec was not concerned
with the forgiving nature of those not guilty of fratricide. It was his own
quality of self-forgiveness he was concerned with.

Aye, it had been dark. The
interior of the deserted garrison was always dark. Peter and Alec and the other
Christians met the Muslim siege bravely. In command of the advance party for
Prince Edward, Alec held off the siege for as long as he could until one of the
crumbling mud walls had given way and a multitude of Muslim warriors had poured
in through the breach.

After that, there had no longer been
a chain of command. The English had panicked, and chaos ruled.

Alec had ordered a few of those
still retaining their senses to seek the interior and escape through the secret
tunnels carved out by the Saracens many years before. The Muslims had been everywhere,
killing anything with white skin, filtering into the abandoned garrison in
chase of the Christians. In the madness, somehow he and Peter had been
separated.

The enemy was, literally,
everywhere. Alec and Ali had found their way into the depths of the sublevel,
awaiting other English knights to direct them to safety. Amidst the chaos and
darkness they heard footfalls. Alec tensed; his broadsword ready to gut the
unsuspecting intruder, for no clarifying signals had yet been given. Every
knight knew to emit an identifying signal whilst traversing the tunnels to
assure allies within earshot that a friend, and not foe, approached. The
signal, given every five or six steps, was a single grunt.

Alec had waited for the rhythmic
grunting, but there had been none forthcoming. When he saw the flash of a sword
and a naked hand holding it, he hadn't given a second thought as he lashed out
and caught the intruder mid-section, severing him cleanly.

His ever-cool manner did not
faltered even as he stood over the slain body, incognizant of the fact that his
victim was his brother until a slow realization gripped him.  Then Alec found
himself living and breathing the blackest of nightmares.

He damned Peter, even as he ran
to preserve his own hide. Why hadn't he given the signal? Why wasn't he wearing
his armor? Why, in God's name, did not he simply call out his brother's name,
knowing that Alec would be hiding in the catacombs waiting for him? Alec never
went anywhere without Peter; everyone knew that.

Until now. Alec was running
alone.

      

 

 

 

CHAPTER
ONE

 

 

Baron Rothwell;

 As you are a man with little
time to spare, I shall come to the point.  As you are well aware, there has
been continuing discord between St. Cloven and Wisseyham Keep. The actions
which preceded this unrest had to do with land rights upon which Sir Albert de
Fluornoy was most inequitable. In truth, my lord, he stole lands which did not
belong to him. The dissension has been rampant now for many years, an
environment which, sadly, my son and Sir Albert's children have grown
accustomed to.

It is my understanding that since
Sir Albert's death six months ago, St. Cloven is without a lord and the
prosperous business has been left to the minimal capabilities of his young
daughters. Therefore, I am proposing that my son and the eldest de Fluornoy
daughter be joined in matrimony. It is my sincere wish that the dispute
clouding our daily existence be quelled with the marriage of our respective
heirs, bringing peace to a province that has known little harmony for nearly
thirty years.

I know that your infinite wisdom
will triumph in this most serious matter. We trust your decision will be the
correct one.

Written at Wisseyham Keep

Sir Nigel Warrington

20 June 1282

                       

 

***

 

 

"What do you think? Is it
respectful enough?"

Colin Warrington smiled at his
father, his eyes resting on the freshly sanded missive. "If it were any
more respectful, you would be licking his arse," he snorted softly.
"Summerlin is no fool, you know."

"Nay, he is not a fool, but
he is eager to maintain a peaceful barony and he will do what is necessary.
Besides, I would bed with the man himself if it meant acquiring St. Cloven, and
I have already damn near made a pact with the Devil to gain you what you
deserve. St. Cloven is famous from Edinburgh to London and more than loaded
with suitable wealth for Warrington coffers."

Colin cocked a slow eyebrow.
"'Twill be my wealth, father. Mine alone."

Nigel eyed his son and rose
stiffly; his joints were growing stiffer and more painful by the day and there
were times when it was difficult to walk.

"As you say,” he replied.
“But you will recollect who obtained for you that wealth and you will return
the proper respect due."

Colin looked away from his
father, pondering his immediate future. They were closer to St. Cloven's wealth
than they had ever come and his impatience was growing. Lord, it had been a
long, long road and he was thankful that the end was finally in sight.

To have St. Cloven for his own
was a dream he and his father had always shared, a dream that had known its
setbacks and disappointments. The dream continued to lurk in the recesses of
their minds, even as the years passed and time faded the urgency. But the dream
never died, remaining dormant for the opportunity of an open chance to act.

Nigel thought he saw a chance,
once. In spite of the land dispute, he had petitioned Sir Albert for the eldest
daughter's hand, hoping to marry the young heiress to Colin. Sir Albert had
responded strongly to the impropriety of the request, adding further insult by
promptly pledging ten-year-old Lady Peyton to fifteen-year-old James Deveraux
of King's Lynn.

It had been a setback, but not
the end of the dream. Years past and Nigel was content to bide his time until
another opportunity presented itself. And he knew, without a doubt, that
another chance would happen across his path. He would simply have to be wise
enough to interpret it.

At a tournament in Norwich, the
long-awaited opportunity came in the form of a poor knight who advanced to the
final rounds of the joust competition against Lady Peyton de Fluornoy's
arrogant fiance. A poor knight coerced into an evil action, lured by his
desperate need for money. A poor knight forced into a murderous act in exchange
for the welfare of his family, and Nigel had taken full advantage of the
warrior's destitute state and had been wise enough to interpret the chance.

Twenty gold coins had bought
Deveraux's death. Fitting, considering it had only taken thirty pieces of
silver to betray Jesus Christ. Betrayal means the same in any monetary
denomination.

"She never did suspect
anything, did she?" Colin asked after a moment, passing a glance at his
father.

"Who? The Lady Peyton?"
Nigel shook his head. "A witless bitch, like all the rest. SHe shall never
come to know how she has been manipulated."

"It wasn't difficult to
orchestrate Deveraux's death," Colin picked at his yellowed teeth.
"'Twas a perfectly believable plot, maneuvering the break of a crows-foot
joust pole only to have it replaced by the spare, which happened to be
spear-tipped. Twenty gold coins will buy just about anything, including an
honorable knight to do away with an opponent."

"I thought we were going to
have trouble with de Fortlage. He is so damned ethical that when you suggested
he eliminate Sir James, I thought he would run straight to the field marshals
and inform them of your proposal. 'Tis amazing what money can buy, including
silence."

"And it certainly did not
hurt matters that you were sitting behind his wife in the lists pointing a
dagger at her back," Colin chuckled at the memory of particularly ugly
blackmail. "No one ever suspected that Deveraux's death was planned. De
Fortlage said it was an accident and his word was believed without question."

Nigel smiled, entirely pleased
that his plans to procure St. Cloven for his son were moving along so
admirably. Now, to wed his son to the heiress and all would be complete. The
wealthiest ale empire in all of southern England would belong to Colin.

"Now, we will send this
message to Summerlin and wait for his reply which, I am sure, will be in the
affirmative. What better way to assure peace than to marry two enemies?"
his eyes grazed the sanded missive as the ink dried, re-reading his words.
"There is virtually no possibility that Brian Summerlin will refuse such a
submissive and polite request."

Colin rose on his long legs; he
was a muscular man. "And I look forward to acquiring my new wife. God only
knows, she is a beauty to behold."

"And virgin, I am
sure," Nigel snorted. "Albert kept both she and her sister secluded
from the world. Outside of James, I do not believe they had many visitors to
St. Cloven. You know what a recluse Albert was."

"Indeed I do," Colin
moved for the door, pausing a moment in thought. "Other than marrying the
Lady Peyton, We have never truly discussed what would become of her once I took
possession of St. Cloven. You do not really expect me to treat her as a wife,
do you?"

"I care not what you do with
her once you obtain the manor. Keep her abed day and night if it pleases you,
or throw her down the stairs and be done with it. 'Tis your decision."

Colin smiled, a sinister gesture
laced with the promise of pure evil. "I shall consider those options. Both
of them."

Nigel smiled darkly, a gesture
reminiscent of his son. Lady Peyton de Fluornoy was a very minor player in his
grand game, a pawn to be used and disposed of.

The main objective, of course,
was revenge; revenge for lands stolen, for wealth earned by St. Cloven from
those lands upon which fields of barley thrived, and indirectly, revenge upon
Baron Rothwell. Wealth the Warringtons claimed, considering the land which fed
St. Cloven's brewery belonged to them. Selective in memory, of course, they
conveniently neglecting to recollect that the House of Warrington never showed
much interest in the overgrown meadows until Albert de Fluornoy's father
claimed them for his own use.

After thirty years, the family
honor was still at stake and Nigel considered it just compensation that St.
Cloven was finally within his grasp. 

Baron Rothwell fit into these
plans rather nicely. As Brian Summerlin sat majestically atop the throne of the
Rothwell barony, the power of a substantial province in his palm, Nigel would
gain power beneath his nose. With Wisseyham Keep and St. Cloven joined by
marriage, the link would prove extremely powerful and their rising force would
be a power Summerlin would be compelled to reckon with.

Alone in his solar, Nigel
continued to smile as his thoughts shifted from his liege to the object of his
hatred. How considerate that Albert should die without finding another suitor
for Lady Peyton. St. Cloven was without a capable man to administer her wealth,
and Nigel silently thanked Albert for his thoughtfulness. He could not have planned
events better himself.

All that was left was for Nigel
to solicit the liege of the province for Lady Peyton's hand. With Albert dead,
there would be no one to oppose his request. And surely Baron Rothwell would do
anything to maintain peace and serenity within his barony; a wedding between
warring clans would be an acceptable solution. Moreover, Brian would do
anything Nigel asked of him.  It was a dark secret they shared.

Sighing with relief, he drew
himself a chalice of St. Cloven pale ale. Swirling the sweet liquid in his
mouth, he swallowed and erupted into sinister laughter.

All of it would soon be his.

      

 

 

 

St.
Cloven

Cambridgeshire,
England

 

Lady Peyton de Fluornoy swirled
the last drop of red ale, breathing through her nose to fully extract the
flavors as her father had taught her. She had been doing this since childhood
and had a better palate for ale than most seasoned men. A most useful talent,
considering her family had been in the ale business for four generations.

"Too much wood," she
sniffed. "This batch has taken on too much of the barrel. Give it to the
villiens. I would taste the batch of red ale that is not quite as aged. If it
is not ruined, then we will transfer the contents to beech wood barrels. This
oak is too strong. I never have been fond of oak, even though father insisted
it adds flavor."

Lady Ivy de Fluornoy relayed the
orders to a hovering servant. When the man disappeared, she turned to her elder
sister. "The taste was normal to me. How can you taste the wood so
strongly?"

"I just do. Why must you
question my palate? I am never wrong."

Ivy made a face at her sister's
arrogant declaration. "And I say it tasted fine. As long as it is good
enough to get drunk by, what do the innkeepers care?"

Peyton shot her sister an
intolerant look. "We sell to more than just innkeepers, as you well know.
Now, leave me alone. Go bother someone else."

"There
is
no one
else," Ivy said, plopping down in a leather chair that had once belonged
to their father. "We are quite alone, you and I."

Peyton gave her sister a long
glance, some of her irritation fading. "You need not remind me. I have
been well aware of the fact for six months now."

"And well aware of the fact
that St. Cloven is a gold-mine to the man who marries you," Ivy shot back
with soft intensity. She gazed at her sister, watching the emotions ripple
across her beautiful face. "Your fate is in the hands of our liege, as
much as you loathe the fact. You do not control your destiny and your daily
moods reflect your frustration."

Peyton's sapphire-blue eyes
flashed angrily for a split second before banking with equal rapidity. "As
our liege controls your fate, as well,” she reminded her. “It is the man's duty
to select husbands for both of us since...."

Peyton's voice trailed away and
Ivy knew exactly what she was going to say; since my betrothed saw fit to get
himself killed on the tournament circuit and since father died before he could
complete a contract on you.

"I do not want to marry
anyone," Ivy bemoaned quietly. "I am too young. Seventeen is far too
young."

"Mother was married at
fourteen," Peyton reminded her, inadvertently pondering the man to whom
she was betrothed. The man she should have married.

"I did not mean to bring up
James," Ivy knew what her sister was thinking. In fact, she thought of
little else.

Peyton shrugged, her luxurious
cascade of golden-red curls shimmering in the weak light. "Whether or not
you mention him, he is always on the surface of my mind. It takes very little
for me to think of him."

Ivy felt the stab of pain for her
sister, remembering too well the loss of Sir James Deveraux nine months prior.
The anguish still clouded Peyton's face. She hadn't been the same since dashing
blond James was gored by a spear-tipped joust pole in full view of his fiancée.

Ivy rose, not wanting to linger
on the private memories. "I shall see to sup. It is my turn, is it
not?"

"It is," Peyton nodded.
"I would prefer fowl this night. Or mayhap lamb. No mutton, if you
please."

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