Authors: Kathryn Le Veque
By Kathryn Le
Copyright 2012 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
copyright 2012 by Kathryn Le Veque
Cover copyright 2012 by Kathryn Le Veque
Pendragon Castle, Cumbria
Year of Our Lord 1291 A.D.
“Keir, you must not!”
A big knight with bloody,
well-used armor was standing in his way, blocking him from proceeding up the
stairs. They were narrow, steep steps that Keir knew extremely well,
considering this was his castle. Right now, his closest friend stood between
him and what was at the top of the steps. Keir St. Hèver was so far gone with
anguish and panic that he lashed out a massive fist, striking the knight in the
jaw and sending him in to the wall. Keir tried to shove his way past the man
but the knight wouldn’t budge. He grabbed Keir as he attempted to push past.
“Nay,” the knight breathed, his
cornflower blue eyes intense. “Keir, please no. You must not....”
Keir roared with frustration,
shoving past, scrambling up the stairs now on his hands and knees because
Michael of Pembury would not let him go. Michael held on to Keir’s legs,
trying to keep the man from seeing what was at the top of the stairs. But Keir
would not be stopped – he kicked at Michael, his closest friend, a man who was
only trying to protect him.
God help him, Keir knew that. He
knew that Michael only trying to spare him. But he had to see for himself what
Michael had seen, what a few of his soldiers had seen, when they had finally
retaken Keir’s castle and went in search of his young family. His wife and two
small children had been in the castle when it had been breached by an envious
and vicious neighbor. The man had waited until Keir had taken more than half
his army on a mission to a neighboring fiefdom before acting on his jealousy.
Word had reached Keir of the
betrayal and he had made haste to return to Pendragon Castle, his garrison,
only to discover the castle in a state of chaos. Smoke hung in the air from
the burnt portcullis, a twisted charred wreck as a tide of enemy soldiers flooded
the bailey and the keep. Keir and his men had fought their way into the
bailey, realizing that the remaining men he had left behind were dead or dying,
having been murdered and burned by the invaders. The keep, too, was filled
with the enemy, looting it of everything Keir had worked so hard to accumulate.
But the loss of possessions
didn’t bother him. It was his family he was concerned with, his wife Madeleine
and their two small children, daughter Frances and son Merritt. He had left
them here, buttoned up in Pendragon’s solid keep, protected until his return.
But those plans had horrifically turned on him and as he ran for the keep, it
was all he could do to keep his panic in check. He knew that if his emotions
consumed him, he would be no good to his family. He had to save them.
Pembury had made it into the keep
before Keir did, racing up the narrow spiral stairs that could be so
treacherous, until he reached the top floor where the family’s chambers were.
He was horrified to see both chambers had been breached, twisted wreckage of
doors, and further horrified to see what lay inside. He had stared at the
sight, hardly believing what he was seeing, before heading back down the stairs
to head Keir off. He didn’t want the man to see what he had. No man should see
such visions of hell.
But Keir would not be stopped.
He was crawling up the stairs now because Pembury was hanging on to his legs,
refusing to let him go any further. Keir kicked at Michael, struggling to
dislodge him, losing the battle to his panic in the process. He began to sob
heavily as he clawed his way up the stairs. Hanging on to his legs, Michael
released sobs of his own. The pain was too great for them both. What Michael
had seen, Keir had already surmised. He knew what was up there.
Keir was a powerful man,
unnaturally powerful as he dug his gloved fingers into the stone, one step at a
time, struggling up the stairs even as Michael tried to stop him. He could see
the landing now and two open chamber doors, the smell of smoke and death
filling his nostrils. He could hardly see through his tears or breathe through
his sobs, but he had to see what Michael was trying so hard to prevent him from
Just one more step… and one more….
Keir was nearly to the top of his
hard-fought climb when he paused long enough to kick Michael in the face and
send the man reeling off him. Scrambling to his feet, Keir managed to stagger
to the top of the steps, thrusting himself inside the master’s chambers, his
ice-blue eyes searching for his wife and children. It was a relatively small
chamber so it wasn’t difficult to assess the situation of the entire room in an
instant. And then, he saw it, lurking through the smoke like a macabre vision
from the darkest depths of a nightmare. The sight sent him back to his knees
He just sat that on his knees,
weeping pitifully at the horror before him. The strongest man in Cumbria, a man
with a reputation for might and fairness and intelligence, was reduced to
sobbing rubble. Keir St. Hèver stared at the body of his wife as she lay
crumpled against the wall, smoldering in the corner with the body of a small
child. Keir fell forward, ending up on his hands and knees, crawling towards
the smoking ruins of the people he had loved best in the world. The heavy,
oily smell of burning flesh filled the chamber.
He fell forward onto his belly,
reaching out a hand to grasp Madeleine’s foot. He was sobbing so heavily that
he ended up vomiting, spewing the contents of his stomach out across the wooden
floor. The bed behind him had been half-burned as had a portion of the floor,
now black with soot and char. Whoever had killed his wife and child had tried
to burn down the room as well. Keir pushed himself up and went to his wife,
trying to take her in his arms but she was stiff and smoking. He remembered
her as sweet and soft. Anguish overwhelmed him.
Madeleine’s face had been
untouched by the flames but her lovely dark hair had been singed off. He tried
to hold her, to tell her how sorry he was and how much he loved her, but his
grief swamped him and he could not speak. He could only cry. It was then that
he took a closer look at the little body wrapped up in Madeleine’s lap. Little
Frances was fused to her mother’s flesh.
As Keir sat on the floor with the
corpses in his arms, Pembury reached the top of the steps and stood in the
doorway, watching the horrible scene. He was devastated at the sight, feeling
Keir’s pain down to his very bones, but as he watched the display, it began to
occur to him that one of the children was missing. If Keir’s other child was
still alive somewhere, Michael was going to find him. With renewed vigor,
Pembury fled the room in search.
He hunted well into the day and
on into the night, but there was no sign of Keir’s two year old son.
Eventually, Michael returned to the chamber in the keep, that chamber of
horrors, where Keir was still sitting with his dead wife and daughter in his
arms. He had stopped weeping and now sat against the wall like a statue with
the two of them clutched up against him. It was a pathetic and harrowing
sight. It took Michael, two other knights and three soldiers to pry Keir away
from his family. Even then, Keir went mad. Michael and another knight, Sir
Lucan de Velt, were forced to restrain Keir so he would not hurt himself. The
man was bent on suicide, lost to a world of grief that no one could fathom.
After that, something was dead in
the man, something that had died the moment his wife and daughter had. The only
thing that kept him going was the fact that his son had not yet been found.
Somehow, some way, Merritt St. Hèver was out there. He was convinced the boy
had survived, an inherent belief that fed his heart and soul and mind. He knew
his son was alive, waiting for his father to come for him.
The question remained… where was
Three years later, September 1294
The siege of Exelby Castle
“You have your orders, St.
Hèver,” an older, much muddied warrior snapped at Keir. “Get moving.”
Keir’s jaw ticked but it was
difficult to see beneath his wet and dirty hauberk. He said nothing in
response, knowing his liege knew how he felt but disregarding his feelings
completely. They had a job to do.
It had been raining heavily for
three days, turning the ground in and around Exelby Castle into a quagmire of
putrid muck. The army from Aysgarth Castle, seat of Baron Coverdale, was well
acquainted with the mud and its detriment to a successful siege. The baron’s
powerful army could not move their five big siege engines into position because
the mud was so thick, so the archers had taken to shooting heavily oiled
projectiles over the wall in the hopes that they would burn long enough in the
heavy rain to do some damage. This madness had gone on for two long days.
Keir had charge of the portcullis
and the great iron and wooden grate had been heavily bombarded by flame,
followed by the battering ram to twist the heated iron. Keir was methodical
and skilled in his approach and made sure to keep the enemy soldiers on the battlements
above the gate out of range by regular barrages from the archers. Over the
course of the two days, wild wind and driving rain, Keir and his men were able
to bend the portcullis enough so that two men at a time could squeeze through,
and that was exactly what Baron Coverdale had in mind.
By dawn of the third day, the
castle was finally breached. Now, Coverdale was shouting orders to Keir who was
extremely reluctant to do as he was told. But Baron Coverdale, Lord Byron de
Tiegh, was in no mood for disobedient knights. He was ready to be finished with
this obligatory support of Exelby and return home to a warm fire and his young
wife with her big, warm breasts.
“Take Pembury and de Velt with
you,” Coverdale barked again, scratching at his dirty, wet scalp before pulling
his hauberk back on. “Get inside and get those women or Lord de Geld will lose
his entire family. Of all people, surely you can understand what it means to
face the loss of one’s family, St. Hèver.”
It was a tactless remark, one
that had Keir’s unusually cool temper rising. He felt disgusted and sick.
Coverdale was a good commander but an insensitive man. Frustrated but driven by
his sense of duty, Keir stormed off with Pembury and de Velt following,
marching across the muck, puddles of urine and rivers of blood, until he came
within range of the gatehouse. Keir’s men were already gathered there, all one
hundred and nine of them, awaiting direction from their liege.
Keir reached his men, standing
beneath a pair of denuded oak trees, and bellowed orders to them, courtesy of
Coverdale. They were to breach the keep and find Lord de Geld’s wife and two
daughters. De Geld was the lord of Exelby, his castle having been attacked and
overrun in nearly the same situation that Pendragon had been those years ago.
A neighboring war lord, covetous of de Geld’s very rich castle and lands, had
waited until the old man was away on business before laying siege and
conquering. Coverdale, an old friend of de Geld’s, had been tasked with
regaining the fortress.
Infuriated and exhausted, St.
Hèver was the first man through the twisted wreckage of the portcullis. He was
immediately set upon by defenders but Keir had the advantage of tremendous
size, strength and height. He was moderately tall, but the sheer breadth and
circumference of his arms and chest made him a man above men. As he plowed his
way through the gatehouse, he used his sword and fists to drive away
attackers. Pembury and de Velt were right behind him, powerful and skilled men
in their own right.