Fragments of Grace (Prequel to the Dragonblade Trilogy) (3 page)

BOOK: Fragments of Grace (Prequel to the Dragonblade Trilogy)
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It was something that had not
escaped Keir’s notice, try as he might.  He was still frustrated, angry and
exhausted, but somewhere in the mix, he realized that he had interest in the
lady’s fine looks.  Rescuing a hag would have been a duty but rescuing an angel
was something entirely different.  He should have had the same opinion for
either, but the truth was most men would prefer to associate with a lovely
young lady to an old haggard one. It was beastly but true.

 The lady in front of him was
average in height but slender in build, with large soft breasts that he had
felt against him when he had fallen on top of her. Even through the mail and
layers of tunics, he had felt them. Her skin was pale, like cream, and she had
a perfectly formed face with porcelain skin and full pink lips.  But the eyes
that gazed back at him had his attention, a shade of brown that was as deep and
brilliant as a gemstone.  They were big and beautiful.  Keir watched the woman
as she struggled to recover her composure.

“What is your name?” he finally
asked.

She looked up at him. “I am the
Lady Chloë de Geld,” she murmured in a sweet, silky voice. “My father is Anton
de Geld, Baron Kirklington. This is my mother, the Lady Blanche, and my sister,
the Lady Cassandra.”

Chloë.
It was all Keir heard. The rest
sounded like mumble after that -
I am the Lady Chloë blah, blah, blah.
 
He snapped his fingers at Pembury and de Velt, indicating that each man take a
lady in hand, and the two of them rushed to see who would be the one to escort
the Lady Cassandra, a pretty blond with her sister’s big brown eyes.  Michael
was a shade faster than Lucan, collecting the lady by the elbow and sneering at
Lucan over the top of her head. 

Truth was, Pembury was a massive
man of great power and even Lucan de Velt, a man of considering strength and
skill himself, would not voluntarily tangle with him.  So he grudgingly took
charge of the mother, an older woman who had sat in the corner doing her
needlework while a battle raged on around her.  During the entire time Chloë
and Keir had scuffled, the woman hadn’t moved. 

Quietly, Lucan helped the old
woman to stand, even helped her with her sewing, which he found a rather
ridiculous hobby in the midst of a battle, and followed Pembury from the
chamber. He even smacked the man in the back of the head when no one was
looking.

With everyone gone and the noise from
the fighting faded into nothingness, the chamber was suddenly very still. 
Chloë was still leaning against the wall, feeling weak and weary as Keir moved
to the door, adjusting the helm on his head that she had so furiously smacked.
As he fumbled with the hauberk beneath it, adjusting it, he turned to Chloë.

“Come along, my lady,” he said
quietly.

She looked up from where she had
been staring the floor. “Where are you taking us?”

“That is for Lord Coverdale and
your father to decide.”

She sighed faintly and pushed
herself up off the wall, looking around the room as if searching for something.
“My father was in Darlington when all of this started,” she murmured. “Is the
castle badly damaged?”

Keir finished fiddling with his
mail. “Badly enough,” he told her. “It is not safe as it stands.”

She looked at him and he noted
the sad brown eyes.  They were such lovely eyes, he thought, but just as
quickly jolted himself from that line of thought. He’d thought it once before
and that was forgivable, a natural reaction. But to think it twice was
unnerving. It was too shocking and painful to even consider. He hadn’t thought
on a lovely woman since….

“Who attacked us?” Chloë asked.

Keir realized he was struggling
not to feel something soft or compassionate for the woman. It was purely based
on her beauty, he knew that, but he was feeling something warm nonetheless. He
was furious at himself, sick to his stomach, realizing he was weak and foolish
to think such things. It was ridiculous. Taking a deep breath, he labored to
shake off both the foolishness and fatigue.

“They came from Sandhutton,” he
told her. “We believe Ingilby is involved.”

Chloë’s big brown eyes widened.
“Baron Ingilby from Ripon?”

“The same.”

Her pretty, shapely mouth popped
open in both outrage and surprise.  Then she closed her mouth and turned away,
returning with distraction to her search of the room.  Keir stood by the door,
watching her, as she came across what she had apparently been searching for. 

She shook out the cloak that had
been wedged in behind her mother’s sewing chair, silently moving for the door
as she swung it around her slender shoulders.  Keir didn’t touch her as he
preceded her from the room; not an elbow to take or an arm to hold. He was
afraid of what would happen to his exhaustion-fed thoughts if he touched her
again.

Just as they were passing through
the doorway, past the twisted charred wreckage of the chamber door, Chloë
suddenly came to a halt and looked at him.

“Did I hurt your fingers?” she
asked.

She seemed rather dull and
somber, not at all like the firebrand who had given him a fight moments
before.  He gazed steadily at her.

“Nay, lady, you did not.”

She simply nodded, looking rather
contrite. “I am sorry… well, if I hurt you,” she turned around and headed
towards the stairs. “You must understand that strange and violent men have been
attempting to get into the chamber for the better part of two days.”

He watched her luscious red head
as it began to descend the stairs. “I would imagine you would not have made it
easy for them if they had managed to breach the door.”

In spite of her fatigue, Chloë
smiled faintly. “A piece of wood is no match for a man with a sword.”

Keir grunted in disagreement.
“You under estimate yourself, lady,” he said as they came to the landing on the
third floor. “You are a formidable foe.  My fingers can attest to that.”

Her grin broadened and she turned
to look at him. “You still managed to capture me.”

Keir’s heart beat strangely at
the sight of her smile, as beautiful and shapely as the rest of her. He
shrugged, fighting down the confusing feelings brewing. “Perhaps,” he muttered.
“But I almost lost an eye doing it.”

That comment made her peer more
closely at him, noting his ice blue eyes, so pale they were nearly white. “One
of them is rather red,” she admitted. “I am sorry if I injured your eyes.”

Keir almost took a step back as
she leaned in to get a better look at his eyes, a natural reaction when
something perfect and awe-inspiring makes its presence known.  Already, he was
fearful of the woman, one who could stir feelings in his chest without even
trying.  He didn’t want to have anything to do with her but on the other hand,
in the few minutes he had known her, she had captured his attention no matter
how resistant he was.  It was an odd amalgamation of curiosity and fear.

“I am fine,” he reiterated.

He directed her towards the next
flight of stone spiral stairs, this one leading down to the entry level of the
dark and smoky keep.  Chloë took the lead once again, followed by Keir who was
trying very hard not to look at her or touch her in any way.

“I have not seen you before,” she
made conversation with him, perhaps out of guilt for having nearly blinded the
man. “My father and Lord Coverdale have been allies for years. Lord Coverdale
visits often and I thought I had seen all of his knights.”

Keir had to pick up the hem of
her cloak so he wouldn’t step on it. “I am a garrison commander for Coverdale,”
he told her. “Usually, I am at my post. I do not make Aysgarth Castle my home.”

“Where is your post?” she looked
at him, an innocent question.

He held up the edge of her cloak
as he took the stairs. “Coverdale’s garrison in Cumbria.”

She nodded in understanding. “I
see,” she said as they reached the entry level. “Did he recall you to help
regain my father’s castle?”

Keir let go of the cloak,
allowing himself to look her in the face.  He could feel his palms start to
sweat and his heart beat pick up again at the sight.

“I was at Aysgarth already when
one of your father’s men came with the request to bear arms,” he told her. “My
presence here is purely by chance.”

Chloë smiled. “Then we are most
fortunate for your assistance, Sir Keir,” she said. “I am sorry we had to meet
under such strenuous circumstances but it was very nice to make your
acquaintance. I hope that you do not hold the first few violent moments of our
association against me.”

Keir stared at her. She was
sweet, intelligent and well spoken, something he found deeply attractive.  She
had such a sweet little voice, like the tinkle of tiny silver bells, and he
swore he could have listened to that voice forever.  As he opened his mouth to
reply, he heard a roar off to his left and he turned to see a soldier he did
not recognize charge from a shadowed alcove, a heavy broadsword leveled. 

Keir grabbed Chloë and pulled her
away from the door, shoving her back behind him as he unsheathed his sword.  He
brought the weapon up just as the soldier brought his blade down, and sparks
flew as metal upon metal met in the darkness of the entry hall. 

He was at a disadvantage with a
lady to protect in a small space, but he made the best of it. Lashing out a
massive boot, he kicked the man in the legs, sending him backwards, and went on
the attack. Keir brought his blade down twice in heavy succession, eventually
knocking the weapon from the hands of his weaker opponent.  Then he grabbed the
man by the head, pointing the tip of his razor-sharp blade at the man’s neck.

“Mercy, milord, mercy,” the
soldier threw up his hands, begging. “Don’t kill me!”

Keir was emotionless and
professional.  Simply from the man’s rough pattern of speech, he realized that
he wasn’t an educated or particularly intelligent warrior.  He was simply a
servant, doing as he was told. A more experienced man would have given him a
better fight. Keir tossed him to the floor and put an enormous boot on the
man’s neck.

“Who do you serve?” he asked.

The man could barely breathe. “I…
I….”

The boot pressure grew stronger.
“Answer me or I will end your life now.”

The man was struggling. “In…gilby….”

Although they already knew as
much, it was confirmation.  Keir never took his eyes off his captive.

“What were your orders?”

The man was squirming, his face
turning shades of red. “I…. don’t….”

Keir put more pressure on the man’s
neck.  “Your orders or you die.”

“The…
goddess!
” the man
croaked.

Keir cocked his head. “The
goddess?” he repeated, confused. “Who is the goddess?”

Out of the shadows, they both
heard the response.

“The goddess is me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Keir looked to the sound of the
voice. Chloë was standing near the stairs where Keir had shoved her.  She
emerged from the shielding darkness, wrapped in the dusty brown cloak and
looking rather ill.  When she saw that Keir was looking at her, she met his
gaze with some reluctance.

“It is me,” she repeated softly.
“That is what he calls me.”

 “Who calls you?” Keir asked,
confused.

Chloë sighed faintly. “Baron Ingilby,”
she replied softly. “The man has been demanding my hand for two years but my
father will not agree.  Ingilby calls me the goddess. I suppose he was tired of
the constant rejection and sought to take matters in to his own hands.”

Keir glanced at the soldier once
more before returning his focus to Chloë. “Is that why he attacked Exelby?” he
asked. “To get to you?”

Chloë appeared hesitant,
remorseful. “It is as likely an answer as any.”

“Do you want to marry him?”

She shook her head. “He is vile
and arrogant. I want nothing to do with him but he cannot seem to understand
that.”

Keir held her gaze a moment longer
before turning to the soldier and yanking the man to his feet.  Keir snarled in
his face.

“I will allow you to live to
carry a message back to Ingilby,” he growled. “You tell Ingilby that he shall
never have the Lady Chloë or anything about her.  She is beyond his reach and
any further attempts to abduct or otherwise harass her will be personally
answerable to me.  Is that in any way unclear?”

The soldier was frightening,
cowering in the face of the big knight. “Who… who are you, m’lord?”

Keir dragged the man to the entry
door and tossed him out.  The soldier tumbled halfway down the wet stairs
before catching himself.  Keir stood on the landing, his ice blue eyes blazing
at the man.  The rain pounded down, dripping off his blond lashes.

“I am Keir St. Hèver,” he told
him authoritatively.  “I am a former captain to King Edward, now Guardian of
the Coverdale Barony. I am the man that all men fear. You tell Ingilby that any
more attempts against the Lady Chloë and her family, and I will come for him
personally with the king’s blessing.”

BOOK: Fragments of Grace (Prequel to the Dragonblade Trilogy)
9.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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