is our theme for this round of Medieval Monday!
Join us as we travel near and far in our medieval worlds!
Last week the spirits of Halloween scrambled my brains and I forgot to post Rue Allyn’s excerpt, so this week is a double treat:
The Bruised Thistle by Ashley York
The Herald’s Heart by Rue Allyn
The Bruised Thistle by Ashley York
Seumas kept a fast pace through the night, traveling as if the devil himself were after him. His thoughts were morose, tortured by the screams of people murdered in the dark of night, a young man threatened at sword point to reveal the location of his hidden gold, Giles bending over the young girl. Atrocities no one should ever have witnessed. Atrocities he could not overcome.
By day, he rested. The memories made sleep impossible. He ate nothing and drove himself with only one thought in mind—revenge. Iseabail’s murder would be avenged.
It was near midnight when he finally saw her home. She was a woman of great wealth, and Seumas understood now why her uncle would have been so relentless in trying to acquire his brother’s estate. The castle walls were well-maintained. He would never be able to gain access. Retreating into the darkness of the woods, he pulled his tartan around him and slid down against a tree, keeping watch. His memories pressed down on him, drowning him with heavy thoughts of his revenge. The man would die slowly, in as much agony as Seumas could inflict upon him. Time became just another element, like the wind and the rain. He had lost all sense of it. Daylight came and went. And he waited.
The whinny of his horse woke him instantly. With eyes already adjusted to the dark, he scanned the road. A lone rider traveled toward him from the castle. A hiss escaped Seumas as he saw the way the man was dressed. His opulence was unmistakable.
What type of fool travels the roads at night so ripe for robbery?
Without a doubt, this pompous arse was Iseabail’s uncle.
He stayed hidden beneath the trees as the rider approached. He had worried as he planned out his revenge that he would not recognize their uncle. He almost laughed at the audacity of this man. The whoreson believed he could kill his niece, steal his brother’s lands, and go about his life as if he were a king? Tonight he would find out he was wrong. Seumas stepped out onto the path and waited to be seen.
“Hold.” Seumas held up his hand, demanding compliance.
“What is the meaning of this?” the man blustered as his horse shifted and turned at Seumas’s sudden appearance. “How dare you travel my roads in the middle of the night?”
Seumas bowed in mock respect. “M’lord, I beg yer pardon. Whose lands have I unknowingly trespassed on?”
The man tilted his head and squinted. “These are my lands. I am the MacNaughton.”
Seumas felt the air leave his lungs, to be replaced by rage. “John MacNaughton?”
“No, I am his brother, Henry.” Seumas slowly stepped toward the man, taking the horse’s reins. Henry was clearly not expecting that. “What are you up to?”
“I wish to speak to ye, sir, if ye would please dismount. I would have us speak as men.”
“What business have I with you, sir?” Henry tried to pull the horse back, away from Seumas, who held tightly and moved closer. “Why would you travel these roads at this time of night?”
“I would ask ye the same.” Seumas’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Will ye dismount?”
“I will not. Unhand my horse this instant.”
Seumas gave a sharp yank and the horse reared away, effectively unseating Henry, who fell to a heap on the ground.
Seumas stepped in closer until he towered over him, using his size to intimidate. “Ye will.”
He merely observed the man as he worked to right himself. The buffoon struggled with his cloak, mumbling and grunting as he tried to unwrap his large limbs. The horse skidded away from the bumbling oaf. The knife was a surprise. Henry pointed it at Seumas, the blade glistening even in the dark, all pretense of ineptness discarded.
He sneered. “What do you want from me? Tell me quick and I may allow you to live.”
“Are ye not the brave man?”
His sneer slipped, revealing his confusion. “What are you talking about? Get off my land.”
Seumas rounded on him, his brows arched high at the absurdity of the answer. “Yer land?”
Henry tipped his head as if assessing the true meaning of his obtuse question. Seumas sensed his bravado crumbling.
“I heard ye stole it from yer brother,” Seumas continued, standing with his arms akimbo. The man blanched. “Yea, I know quite a lot about ye.”
“What do you want with me?” Henry’s voice broke with his fear and his blade shivered in the moonlight. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Ah, Henry…” Seumas spoke as if to a child. “Ye were already in a bad way and now ye have made it even worse.”
“How so?” he said, his voice now quivering.
“Tell me.” Seumas moved in closer. The man’s dagger still trembled in his hand. “Is that the dagger ye used to run yer niece through?”
Iseabail MacNaughton, the orphaned daughter of a Scottish laird, is forced to flee her home and seek assistance against her lecherous uncle, who has usurped her family’s land. When she meets Seumas, a strong and valiant mercenary, she cannot help wondering if he could be the one to stand with her against her uncle. But with a price on her head and enemies on all sides, her trust is not something she can afford to give lightly…
Seumas MacDonell is a man wounded in body and soul, driven by guilt. When he rescues Iseabail from one of his men, he cannot deny the attraction he feels for her, despite the wound that left him unable to act on it. In the hope of finding redemption for his sins, he agrees to help Iseabail…but will his feelings for her prove to be the ultimate obstacle to his salvation?
The Herald’s Heart by Rue Allyn
Sir Talon Quereste refused to allow a little thing like being lost in a fog prevent him from completing his task as a royal herald. After getting garbled directions from an anchoress who screeched at the sight of him, swore evil lived at Hawksedge Keep, and then warned him that no good would come of traveling there, he finally located the town of Hawking Sedge. With the mist thickening, he stopped at the alehouse and asked for better directions or a guide. The alewife refused to give more information than “follow the road.” The patrons of the house, when questioned, refused to a man to guide Talon. Even proclaiming himself King Edward’s royal herald failed to gain their cooperation.
“T’ earl’s disappeared and ’tis haunted, sir,” they claimed.
They exchanged taunts with him, and Talon left the alehouse swearing to spend the night in the keep and catch any ghost that wandered its halls. If he could ever find the cursed place.
He very much doubted the earl had vanished. More like he was hiding because he knew he’d incurred Edward I’s wrath. When the king of England summoned a man to renew vows of fealty and that man failed to comply, the king might justifiably be angry. So Longshanks had sent one of his heralds—fondly known by courtiers as the king’s hounds. The fact that the chosen hound was the last person the Earl of Hawksedge would want to see was sugar on the plum for both king and herald. Talon would ferret the man out no matter where he hid. Would his father recognize him? Not likely, despite the fact that, according to rumor, Talon’s guinea gold hair and dark purple eyes could have only come from the Earl of Hawksedge.
St. Swithun’s nose! Recognition by the earl was as likely as finding Hawksedge Keep in this fog. Talon couldn’t even see his mount’s ears in the chill gray mass that swirled around him. According to one of the village cowards, the keep “loomed on a hill near the sea, its great black stones a blot from hell upon heaven’s beautiful sky.” Ghosts! Stones from hell! Nonsense is what it was.
His mount came to an abrupt halt. What now? Try as he might, he could not make the beast move forward. Talon twisted to look behind him. The fog had swallowed all sign of human habitation. The villagers’ absurd fears kept them warm and dry within the alehouse, while his sensible disbelief that Hades somehow escaped its bounds left him cold, wet, and stranded in an impenetrable mist, unable to determine either the way forward or the road back—on a horse gone mad with stubbornness.
Of a sudden, the silence hit. ’Tis the fog. It deadens all sound. He wished for the comforting clop of iron-shod hooves on dirt. He shivered in the enveloping chill and took a deep breath of mist-laden air. The salt tang reassured him. At least he hadn’t ridden off a cliff into the sea. Talon smiled at his own foolishness. If his steed would not go forward on its own, he would dismount and lead the animal.
He had swung his leg across the horse’s rump when a hideous wail arose, bleeding through the fog to ooze fear down his spine. He hung there, suspended above the earth on the strength of a single stirrup. That the horse didn’t bolt was a miracle of good training.
The fog, so thick and impenetrable a moment ago, formed a gap in the wake of the noise. Talon looked in the direction of the sound and met the wide-eyed gaze of a disembodied head.
His breath froze, and he swayed, dizzy with surprise. She … it … possessed the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. A delicate nose flared in a perfect oval framed with fiery red tresses. Long, dark lashes fluttered over bright, exotically tilted blue eyes. A berry-red mouth formed an O. Ivory satin skin pinked over high cheekbones as he watched. Every feature vanished the instant the fog closed between him and the vision. Talon choked on the nauseating aroma of death and lavender mixed with the sea-scented fog. The smell dissipated as quickly as the last glimmer of light. However, that hideous, grinding wail lingered, the aural guardian of a soul doomed for eternity to search out a body no doubt long dead.
What was he thinking? The bright blue eyes had blinked. The berry lips had gasped. She’d even blushed. Whoever she was, that head belonged to a very live woman. He settled back into the saddle and hauled his mount’s head around. With as much speed as he thought safe, given the lack of visibility, Talon hurried after the dying wail, heartened when he heard it rise again, for that meant he was nearing his quarry.
He moved along, pursuing the noise and the woman until his horse once again refused to move. What was wrong with the beast? Talon growled. He could either stay with the horse and lose the maid, or follow the maid and … And what? Stumble blind over a cliff into the sea and lose not only his horse but his life? Nay, only a madman would go wandering around unknown ground in a fog this thick, which made the dunces back in the alehouse look very wise indeed.
Cold chattered Talon’s teeth, and damp soaked his clothing. He needed shelter. No doubt that’s what his mount had been trying to tell him. He could hear his good friend and fellow herald Amis Du Grace laughing in agreement that Talon’s horse was smarter than its rider. He shook his head—once again single-minded determination had led him into trouble. Still, the trouble would be worth it, if he could serve the Earl of Hawksedge even a small amount of the anguish the man had served a six-year-old boy tossed from his home and labeled a bastard.
Talon dismounted and moved to his steed’s head. The animal needed a stern lecture on obeying its rider. The fog became darker just ahead of him. “I’ve had enough nonsense for one day,” he said, whether to the horse or the fog was hard to tell. “There are no such things as ghosts or disembodied heads that blink and blush.” He lengthened his stride, hoping to pull his mount forward, and ran smack into black stone.
He’d found Hawksedge Keep.
Royal herald, Sir Talon Quereste imagined that one day he would settle on a quiet little estate, marry a gently bred damsel, and raise a flock of children. The wife of his daydreams is a woman who could enhance his standing with his peers. She is certainly not an overly adventurous, impulsive, argumentative woman of dubious background who threatens everything he values then endangers his heart.
When her family is murdered, Lady Larkin Rosham lost more than everyone she loved—she lost her name, her identity and her voice. She’s finally recovered her ability to speak, but no one believes her claim to be Lady Larkin. She is determined to regain her name and her heritage. However, but Sir Talon Quereste guards the way to the proof she needs. She must discover how to get past him without risking her heart.
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Find Rue Allyn at RueAllyn.com