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Carolyne Cathey

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THE
WAGER

by

Carolyne Cathey

 

Wiltshire, England.  1284 AD.  Summary:

 Eleanor, a peasant, escapes
punishment by the nuns at the convent who claimed her a witch because of her
prophetic dreams.  Lord Kyle of Trystonwood rescues her and seeks to
seduce her into his bed.   To overcome her reticence, he proposes a rash wager
in a game of chess that tempts her to risk her innocence.

The wager?  If he wins, she’ll serve
him as leman.  If she wins, she’ll become his lady. 

Lord Kyle knows that the king forbids
nobles to marry peasants and expects Kyle to wed the king’s cousin, and that
the king cries treason at even minor slights.  But the wager is a surety
because a peasant would never beat a knight in a game of chess.

“Checkmate!”
Eleanor wins.

Stunned, Lord Kyle is trapped between his
king and his honor; he gave his knight’s word to Eleanor. Might the king charge
Kyle with treason?

As to Eleanor’s confessed visions, Kyle,
too, dreams of a dragon.  Is the dragon King Edward?  Or Eleanor?  Or
is Eleanor truly a witch who has cast a deadly spell on him?   

 
Awards:

·
        
S
econd place in the Northeast Oklahoma’s Romance Author’s
Crystal Heart contest.

 

Copyright

Dedication

Table of Contents

Bibliography

Other books:

Fiction, Historical Romance: Love Thine Enemy

Nonfiction: The Spiritual
Health Book

 

C
opyright © 2013 by Carolyne Cathey

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or
used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the
author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Published in the United States of
America

E-Published, 2013

www.carolynecathey.com

 

 

 

Dedication

 

All is connected
and none of us accomplishes our goals in isolation. 
The Wager
is a
prime example.  The support of family and friends, and their encouragement to “
publish
your book!
” with no accepting of further excuses and delays, inspired me to
e-publish The Wager for potential readers.  

The patience,
reassurance and support of my husband, George Cathey, is invaluable.  Our
amazing children, Kaye Alley and Carlon Cathey, and our fabulous grandchildren,
Travis and Piper Alley, inspired me to publish
The Wager
.  They are the
love and joy of my life.

Sonny Alexander
and Janie Coulson, writing partners when we were all starting out, were
critical to the result of the manuscript.  Their talent, skills, advice and
companionship were a rich part of my writing development as well as good
friends and helped me to be the writer I am today.

If you can find a
writing critique group that pushes you to improve, do so.  Mine was the
“Vicious Circle”, some of whom were already published, and some who are now
published.  Their support was invaluable and helped me gain confidence as a
writer.  Debbie, Brenda, Joyce, Jackie, Amy and all of you, thank you for your
honesty and persistence and laughter and encouragement.  You were a special
part of my life.

Enjoy!

 

LOVE YOU!  And
GOD BLESS YOU.

C
hapter
O
ne

 

Wiltshire,
England, 1284

 


A
bandoned?”  Pain throbbed in
Eleanor’s burned and bloodied feet as she scanned the fog of the mysteriously
empty village green.  To have struggled all this distance on burned and
blistered soles only to find the place deserted, filled her with alarm and confusion. 
Mist curled around the vacant pillory and stock. Too-quiet wattle and daub
cottages lining the village green faded in and out of the shifting fog like
hesitant spirits. Not even a dog barked.  Where had everyone gone?  And why? Clammy
fear shivered into her bones. How would she survive when even one more step
seemed beyond her strength?

The
ground vibrated. 

Hoof-beats! 
Plundering knights?
Was that why everyone had fled?

With
her heart beating as rapidly as the approaching hooves, Eleanor frantically searched
the fog to see from where the riders approached, for the sound reverberated as if
from more than one direction.

Phantom
figures of three men racing their mounts emerged from the murkiness, growing
larger, more distinct as they pounded toward her.  Cloaks flapped behind the
riders like wings of black vultures in search of prey.  Hooves sliced earth;
mud flew.  Dim light licked along a drawn sword.  Terror struck along with the
truth: They meant to kill her!

Run! 
She lifted a foot.  Pain seared up her leg preventing her from taking even
one more step. 
Heaven help her.
  The nuns must have sent the men to
capture her after her escape from the nunnery, but being a mere servant, she
expected only severe punishment for running away, not death.

The
mounted horses surrounded her, their hooves stamping dangerously near her
unprotected feet as the three men leapt to the ground.  Two of the men grasped
her arms.  The third seized her wrist, his fingernails cutting into her flesh
like slivers of glass.

"Who
are you, woman?"  The grandly garbed nobleman peered beneath her hood,
then bellowed a sinister laugh.  "The last scum I thought I'd find
standing out here as brazen as brass.  I expected to beat the undergrowth afore
we found your thieving frame.  Because you stole my grain…" He jerked her
arm straight and raised his sword.  "…I’ll take your hand."  The
weapon slashed downward!

Eleanor
screamed.  Metal clanged as cold steel slammed against her wrist.  She tensed
for excruciating pain--that never came!  Forcing her eyes open, she stared,
stunned.  Her captor’s blade had caught on the flat side of another sword that
pressed, frigid, against her flesh.

"What
goes on here?"  A man’s voice thundered like the impending storm, a voice
practiced in the issue of command.

Eleanor
heard an answering rumble in the distance as if the heavens responded.  The air
grew heavy, almost too thick to breathe.

With
her pulse at a frantic pace, she tore her gaze from the crossed swords and
toward the shadowy figure who had prevented the sever of her hand.

In
the rolling fog, astride a destrier black as sin, sat a knight, tall, broad of
shoulder, a masterful power that demanded homage, a power that obliterated all
else from her world.  Even though his stallion stamped, restless, the knight
handled the beast as if with no effort.  His forceful concentration burned deep
into her core, potent, hypnotic.  The knight moved his arm to steady his
destrier.

Eleanor
gasped.  The white cross of the knight's heraldry fairly glowed against his
black surcote. 

A
white cross against black.  Her prophetic dream.

A
tingle shivered along her spine. 

Mist
swirled around his vague image, dipped and curled, obscured the color of his
eyes, the details of his face.  Yet, she knew.

He
is the one foretold.

The
vision flashed into her thoughts like lightning, brief and bright

Again
she saw the midnight sky where hung the cross that glowed and pulsed,
white-hot.  A mounted knight streaked across the blackish void.  Dim stars
scattered like firesparks in his wake.  With gauntlet-covered hand, he snatched
the cross from the firmament, raised it high in victory, then faced her.  He
held out his other hand for her to grasp.  The dim stars became peasants who
wiped away tears of despair, their faces brightening with joy.
 

The
vision faded, but not the message.  Somehow, and in some way, she and Lord Kyle
were to save the villagers from an evil presence.

Her
divulgence of the prophecy to the nuns at the convent had brought her only fear
and pain. They had burned the soles of her feet to purify her soul and to
remind her of the torture for witches should she persist in her Satanic
revelations.  They had then thrown her into an underground pit without light
and food until she felt certain she would die, forgotten.  She had promised
never to speak again of the dream since the nuns claimed such messages didn't
exist except with the Devil's touch.

Yet,
there he sat.  As if he had risen on the mist from the bowels of the earth to
rescue her. 

"What
goes on here is none of your affair, knight."  Her captor’s enraged tone
roused her from her trance.  "Now, move your blade."

"Injustice
is always my affair.  As to moving my blade..." The knight flicked his
wrist and her abductor’s weapon thudded into a puddle a good five paces
distant.  At her rescuer’s nod, a ghostly figure moved from out of the vapor
and picked up the contraband.

"The
insolence!"  Her accuser whirled to confront the knight, then his eyes
narrowed and his sneer curved into the whiskered edges of his ebon goatee.

"I
should have known.  Welcome home,
Lord
Kyle."  The man’s tone oozed
contempt.  He seemed to force his knees to bend as he knelt on the sodden
ground, drawing his cloak to protect himself from the dampness, or perhaps to
hide his flamboyant jewelry and lordly raiments.  Eleanor wondered why one
nobleman would show such deference to another.  And surely the nuns wouldn’t
send a man of such rank to deal with her, a laborer.  Even more confusing, he
accused her of stealing his grain. 

"Lord
Kyle?"  Alarm in their tones, the two accomplices dropped to their knees,
heads bowed.

With
her unexpected release, pain bolted through her feet and up her legs.  She
locked her knees and ordered herself not to collapse.

"Satan’s
curse, Brigham, you’re more than my steward.  Rise and tell me what hails
here."  The knight’s demand boomed into the dankness.  The coming storm
grumbled as if echoing his irritation. 

She
trembled, suddenly fearful of this mounted knight whom even the heavens seemed
to champion.  In truth, the approaching storm sounded abnormally menacing.  The
thunder rolled deeper, longer, than she had ever heard before.  And the air
hung heavy midst the fog, another oddity, for certain. 

The
beginning of the vision?

She
shuddered along with the rumbling. Then her breath caught with remembrance from
the name Lord Kyle had called her accuser.

Brigham?
  Villagers and travelers she had
passed on the road whispered about a fiend called Brigham, one whose reputation
for cruelty stank like the tortured and rotting flesh of his victims.

Brigham
pushed to his feet much faster than he had knelt.  "I but protect your
interests during your absence, as is my duty, Lord Kyle.  Verily, you were away
for so long I began to doubt your return."  He shrugged.  "As to this
disturbance, 'tis only a small matter, of no consequence."

Eleanor
felt her mouth drop open.  "Of no consequence?  I consider the matter of a
lost hand of much consequence,
Sirrah
.   Especially when the hand in
question is mine." 

"You’re
a thief."

"I
only just arrived."

"You
lie!" 

She
flinched as Brigham lifted his fist as if to strike.

"Halt!" 
Kyle’s shout froze Brigham, mid-swing.  "Brigham, lift your arm to strike
a woman again and ‘twill be you who loses a hand."  Lord Kyle turned his
indistinct visage toward her.  "The laws of England are severe for
thievery."

"I
tell you true, my lord.  I stole naught."

"I
saw her pilfer the sack of grain from the wagon!  Cutting off a hand is
traditional for such a crime.  Do you not see, Kyle, I must set an example for
the peasants, else they’ll steal us into poverty."

"She
ain't the one!"  A shriek sounded from behind Eleanor.  A woman flung
herself to her knees in front of Lord Kyle’s steed.  All Eleanor could see from
her shaky position was the dark, wet hair, the same color as her own, streaming
over the woman's shoulders.

"Please,
milord!  She ain't the one you're after."  A sob broke her speech. 
"I be the guilty one."

"Be
ye related?"  Brigham stared as if stunned, first at Eleanor, then at the
groveling female.   "Do you pile your sins upon your own head, woman?  Do
you defy me by seeking your kin’s presence here without my permission?  As
penalty, you’ll lose more than your hand."

The
woman jerked her gaze upward. 

Eleanor’s
heart cramped as she glimpsed at what seemed like her own reflection in a
wind-rippled pond, except the woman had some broken teeth, her face lined from
what must have been a difficult life.

"Lucinda?" 
Eleanor fought for composure as she watched her sister’s eyes widen with a
mixture of shock, elation, alarm. Eleanor cursed her injured feet that
prevented her from kneeling to embrace the sister she hadn’t seen or held for a
lifetime.

"Lucinda,
’tis I, your sister Eleanor.”  The years of forced separation rushed through
her veins like bitter tears on a raw wound.  Ten and four years ago their
mother had sold the then five year-old Eleanor to the convent as a laborer. 
Then she had dragged away the crying Lucinda and sold her to the ale-master at
Trystonwood.  Eleanor never saw her again, till now.  She chilled to ice. 
Lucinda had admitted theft. To Brigham.

Panic
filled Lucinda’s expression.  She shifted her attention to Lord Kyle. 
"Please, milord!"  Lucinda reached out that tentative hand Brigham craved
for a trophy.  "I need me sister to help with me young 'uns.  I'm right
fearful of what will happen now that me husband is dead."

"Cease
your babbling!” 

With
Becket’s dictate, Lucinda ducked her head.

"Silence,
Brigham."  Saddle-leather creaked when Lord Kyle leaned toward Lucinda as
if to better hear her soft-spoken voice.  "Tell me, Lucinda.  What
happened to Robert?"

Lucinda’s
gaze flew to Brigham, her face the hue of the grayish fog eddying around them,
her brown eyes glazed with fright. 

"Life
is harsh, Becket, as well you know."  Brigham pinned Lucinda with a glare
as if in warning while he stroked his well-trimmed goatee.  "The grim
reaper calls a-many afore their time."  Then he shifted his attention to
the mounted knight.  "‘Tis not the past that is of import here, Kyle, but
our future."  He grasped Lucinda’s wrist.  "’Tis better that a wench
lose her hand than we lose control." 

Desperate
to protect her sister, Eleanor flung out the first argument that came to mind. 
"Sirrah, you aren’t allowed to sentence her without a hearing.  English
law declares she has a right to a trial in a manor court." 

"Someone
must pay, else we’ll have anarchy!"

"So
be it."  Eleanor faced the mounted knight.  "Lord Kyle, I wish to
suffer my sister's punishment in her stead." 

Lucinda
emitted a soft cry.  "Nay!  I won't permit ye!"

"Please,
Lucinda, allow me to finish."  Although Eleanor couldn't see Lord Kyle's
eyes, she felt the intensity of his stare.  She clasped her fingers to hide
their trembling.  "However, Lord Kyle, I will be of much better use to you
if I work out the penalty with
both
of my hands. I swear you my solemn
vow; I will repay the debt in whatever way you see fit and for as long as you
deem fair."

Eleanor
paused.  Should she speak of the fortuitous dream?  Nay.  Not until she stood
in a position to inform him of his role, as well as hers, in the prophecy. 
Dread scraped along her nerves.  The telling would be most dangerous, for she
knew not how he would react with her revelation.  With scorn?  With laughter? 
Or, with an order to burn her as a witch?

A
falcon screamed from on high as if to verbalize her fear.  Her stomach
tightened and became like one of the hard stones that littered the road.

She
sensed Brigham staring at her as if mentally scrambling how to crush her
proposal so that he could then punish her for her audacity – or worse. 

"Put
back your hood, wench."

The
strength of Lord Kyle’s command, although spoken low, demanded she comply.  She
trembled as she grasped the edge of the wet hood, pushing it back until the wool
crumpled onto her shoulders.  Moisture dampened her flesh, cold on cold.  Surely
he heard the pounding of her heart as she focused for an eternity on his
mist-veiled face.

He
nodded.  "A bargain.  Brigham, place her upon my horse."

Relief
rushed out of her lungs in a sigh.

"But,
Kyle, what about the theft?"

"Brigham,
we do not ravage the unfortunate, but protect them.  We do not starve the
hungry, but feed them.  Give Lucinda another bag of grain and let her be. 
Moreover, her sister has offered to satisfy the debt."

"You
would let
us
starve?"

Lord
Kyle slipped the sword-tip under Brigham’s heavy gold chain that held an even
heavier ruby atop his chest.  The blood-red stone glimmered in the dim light. 
"A weighty bauble."

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