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A Knight's Tale

By Jade Falconer



Description

When young Lord Thomas' father is killed, the King sends a band of knights, led by handsome Sir Henry, to protect the lands over Lord Thomas' objections.

Though their love is forbidden, over time, they cannot deny how they yearn for each other.


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Excerpt

“How much farther?”

 Sir Henry turned in his saddle to answer the knight behind him. “Just over this rise. Not much longer.” He turned to face ahead as he contemplated the task ahead of him.

 It wasn’t his choice, but the king had commanded it, so he and five other knights had been dispatched halfway across the kingdom to guard a castle. Bands of marauders roamed the area and the rich landowner had been killed, leaving his son—barely out of his teens—in charge. The castle and surrounding lands were rich in resources, and the king did not wish to lose the tax revenue, though it hadn’t been said in so many words. Henry understood, though, what the king wished him to do. He was put in charge of a group of knights and shortly they would arrive at their destination.

 Finally, they rode up to the castle. It looked to be in good repair, and the surrounding grounds were lush.

 As the knights approached, a diminutive man approached with his arms crossed, and even from a distance he radiated displeasure. He had long dark hair tied back neatly, and though his clothes were not especially fancy they were obviously of good quality. He looked young, and Henry guessed this was the new lord of the castle, Lord Thomas.

 The younger man remained silent until the riders nearly reached the gates to the yard. “’Tis dangerous to be riding through these parts. You should return to whence you came.” A number of larger men, clearly servants, flanked him. Henry tried not to ogle him, but the young lord was quite appealing. His skin was luminously pale and his eyes huge and brown. He was slender of build but looked to have a wiry strength.

 Henry suppressed a smirk. He slid smoothly off his horse and stepped closer, radiating self-confidence. He held out a scroll bearing the king’s seal, and bowed slightly. “The warning is prudent but not necessary, my... Lord,” he said, the hesitation barely noticeable. “For we are knights of the realm and here to afford you the protection of the Crown.” He just hoped the young man could read the scroll he’d given him. It would make it all the easier.

 The young lord snatched the scroll out of the knight’s hand and examined the seal carefully before breaking it open. He read the contents of the missive quickly and frowned. “How kind of His Majesty. Fortunately, we are not in need of your excellent services, sir knight. Please convey my thanks to the king.” He handed the scroll back pointedly.

 “You misunderstand, my lord. I have my instructions from His Majesty, and I will carry them out.” Henry spoke not unkindly, but firmly, stepping closer and deliberately looming over the lord. This young man was mistaken if he thought this assignment was optional.

 The young lord’s eyes widened. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then snapped it shut again. “I see,” he said after a moment, scowling, “and how long is this mandate to be in effect?”

 “As long as His Majesty deems it necessary, my lord.” Henry was glad the young man had seen reason. “We shall not burden you overmuch, worry not. You will scarcely know we are here. His Majesty merely wishes his loyal subjects to feel safe.” The king wanted to be sure such a prosperous property did not fall out of his control.

 “Yes, I’m sure. Very well.” The lord turned to the servants. “Have pallets arranged in the stables. These men will surely wish to stay close to their noble steeds.”

 Henry cleared his throat. “Forgive me, my lord, but we cannot fully protect you if we are so far away as the stables.” He directed his next words to the servants as well. “We shall be staying in the castle.”

 “Good sir knight,” the lord said sharply. “If our welfare is your first concern, we are, of course, grateful. To provide for the castle’s greatest defense, perhaps we could arrange for a temporary shelter to be constructed here in the yard. I know brave knights such as yourselves are used to the elements. Perhaps you would like to wait in the kitchen, and we can feed your men some warm gruel whilst you wait.”

 Henry suppressed a smile. This man, no more than a boy, put up a good fight but to no avail. He held the scroll out to him. “My lord, perhaps you might wish to read the letter again. It clearly suggests that you afford every comfort to the loyal knights who wish only to protect you and yours.” He paused, then added, “I would be happy to read it to you if you wish.” Sometimes even landowners could not read well, but suggesting it was akin to an insult. But, so also was offering knights gruel and making them sleep in a barn. Both of which they were well accustomed to, but that was not the point.

 The young lord’s scowl deepened. “That won’t be necessary.” He turned away from the knights, then faced his servants. “Find rooms within, and see to some supper for the brave knights.” He turned to look at the leader once again. “By your leave, sir knight.” He nodded briefly and stalked off through the doors of the castle.

 Henry watched him go for a moment, then nodded to his men to stay. Then he followed after. “My lord! By your leave, I should like to discuss security arrangements with you.”

 The lord continued walking. “Of course. That would be most agreeable. I shall have a bath prepared in your room so that you may join me in the study once you are presentable.”

 Henry laughed out loud at that. “My lord,” he said as he caught up and grabbed the man’s arm. “Forgive me if my odor offends, but time is of the essence and this cannot wait.”

 The lord spun to face him, glaring down at the hand on his arm. He returned his gaze to the knight’s face. “Very well. Follow me.” He yanked his arm away, threw open a door, and went inside. Henry followed him to the study.

 The room was small, the wood-paneled walls making it look even more so. A simple table and chairs sat before the fireplace, and the lord took a seat in one of them. He sat back, propping his foot up on the opposite knee and folding his arms over his chest. “Please take your ease, sir knight,” he said, nodding toward to other chair.

 Henry nodded and sat, smiling brilliantly. “Thank you for being so very accommodating, my lord. My condolences on the loss of your father. It must be a great shock.”

 The young lord looked at him impassively. “Indeed, but to your plans for the security of my home. Please, do elaborate.”

 Henry nodded. He knew this man was not pleased with his presence here, and even less by the fact that he didn’t have a choice about it. “I will take the rooms closest to yours, my lord. Your personal safety is my primary task.”

 That wrought a reaction from the young lord. He gasped. “The only room close to mine is my father’s,” he said, sounding scandalized.

 “Splendid. I will take that one.” He was a bit surprised that the lord had not taken over the main rooms already.

 The young lord’s lips formed a tight, straight line. He took a deep breath and was silent for a long moment. “If you’ll forgive me, it seems rather inappropriate for a knight to inhabit the finest room in the castle.”

 “Absolutely. It should be you who sleeps there. Why do you not?” Henry asked bluntly.

 “My father is barely cold in the ground! How dare you come in here and presume to tell me what to do?”

 Henry leaned forward in the chair. “Surely your beloved late father taught you some practical lessons,” he hissed, all good natured politeness gone. “Do you want everything he worked so hard for to fall into the hands of bandits? After they slit your throat, slaughter your servants, and rape the women?” He paused, looking more closely at the small man. “Perhaps they’ll rape you as well.”

 The lord paled, staring daggers at the knight. “Take whichever room you wish. Clearly you mean to usurp my authority here, anyway. ’Tis fitting you should have the room.” He stood abruptly and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

 Henry watched the lord go, smirking. He’d certainly hit a nerve, and he suspected he knew which one.

 After a moment, he set himself up in the late lord’s rooms. The luxury he could take or leave, but it was the position of the rooms he needed.

 For the rest of the day he never saw their host. The staff served them well, though, and Henry and his men settled in.

 * * * *