Fragments of Grace (Prequel to the Dragonblade Trilogy) (7 page)

BOOK: Fragments of Grace (Prequel to the Dragonblade Trilogy)
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“My lord,” she said politely.
“May… may I have a word with you?”

Keir paused and exhaled heavily;
she could see it.  He turned to look at her again, his expression cold and
guarded.

“Of course, my lady,” he said
with strained patience. “How may I be of service?”

Now she had his attention,
suddenly self-conscious and the least bit nervous.  She pulled the cloak more
tightly about her slight figure, thinking on how to phrase what she must say. 
She could only think of one way to say it - the truth.

“I am sorry that my sister and I
are here,” she said softly.  “Surely the last thing you need at a garrison is
two women and I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.  Please know it was
not my idea and given the choice, I would happily return to Exelby so as not to
be a burden on your good graces.”

Keir stared at her, feeling the
resurgence of the warm emotions he had experienced two days ago, the ones that
had scared the hell out of him. Now they were back with a vengeance as he gazed
at her porcelain skin and cold-pinked cheeks framed by that glorious deep red
hair.  It was at that moment that he noticed she cut her hair rather oddly, as
she had a fringe of bangs across her forehead, framing her face and eyes,
something that only made her more angelic in his opinion. It was strange but
wholly attractive.  He was under her spell and slipping fast.

“No need to apologize, my lady,”
he said, averting his gaze because he was afraid to look at her any longer. “I
know it was not your doing. We will do our best to ensure your comfort and
protection.”

Chloë’s heart sank as he averted
his eyes, unable to stomach the sight of her.  “You do not like me very much,
do you?”

Keir’s head snapped up, his ice
blue eyes riveted to her with surprise. “I… I do not know what you mean, my
lady.”

She smiled faintly, such a
beautiful and delicate gesture. “Aye, you do, but you are too much of a gentle
knight to say so,” she took a step towards him, her face uplifted to meet his.
“I was rude and belligerent when we first met and I realize that you must have
come to the conclusion that I am a petulant and terrible woman.  I did not mean
to offend you when you rescued my sister and I from our chamber, truly. I was
simply afraid and reacting in kind.  I thought I was defending myself. I hope
with time you can forgive me and at least tolerate the sight of me.  I should
not like to make you uncomfortable and unhappy with my presence within the
walls of your very own keep.”

Keir stared at her as her words
sank in.  It began to occur to him how his behavior must be affecting her, the
coldness and the sense of self protection that he must be projecting.  He could
see that she was very concerned for his feelings and it touched him deeply,
softening him in a way he had never before been softened.  The poor woman had
just survived a siege only to be taken from her home and traipsed across miles
of bad weather and inhospitable land by a bitter and sullen knight.  

Even though she frightened him
and he sincerely did not want her at Pendragon, it did not excuse his behavior
towards her.  Gazing into her deep brown eyes, he sighed faintly.

“Nay, lady,” he said softly,
reaching out to take her hand. “It is I who should apologize. You have not, at
any time, offended me.  Please forgive me if I have offended you with my surly
behavior. It is not directed at you.”

Chloë’s heart leapt as he held
her hand gently.  She grasped his hand and held it tightly.  “Are you sure you
are not angry with me for attempting to blind you?” she teased softly.

He broke out in a crooked smile.
“Nay,” he answered. “I could never be angry with you.”

“Not even when I am deliberately
wicked and stubborn?”

He laughed softly. “I do not
believe you have those capabilities, my lady. You look like an angel incarnate
and I choose to believe that you are as beautiful on the inside as you are on
the outside.”

She gave him a devilish
expression. “Foolish mortal,” she jested. “You shall come to regret that
statement.”

He laughed again, a liberating
experience considering he hadn’t laughed like that in three years. Not since
Madeleine passed. There had been nothing to laugh at, not until this very
moment with this exquisite creature in front of him. He realized that it made
his heart light simply to look at her. His ice blue eyes twinkled.

“I do not think so,” he told her.
“But just so you know, I am not beyond spanking she who needs to be spanked.”

Chloë put her hands on her hips
in mock outrage. “Did my father give you permission to do that?”

Keir winked at her. “I do not
need his permission. You are my ward and if you need to be punished, I will not
hesitate to do it.”

“Is that so?”

“It is.”

She gave him a very doubtful, yet
very flirtatious, expression. “We shall see, Sir Keir.”

Keir was swept off his feet by
her charm.  He should have fought it with all his might but he couldn’t seem to
manage it.  Grinning, he pointed up the stairs.

“Perhaps,” was all he would say.
“Go inside now.  It is warm in there. I will join you shortly.”

Chloë’s eyes were glittering,
like brilliant stars against the black expanse of night. “Promise?”

He shouldn’t have responded to
the flirt. He should have remained professional and steadfast, letting his fear
and resistance do the talking for him. But he simply couldn’t do it. She was
breaking him down and he was letting her.  After a moment, he simply nodded his
head.

“Promise.”

As she smiled turned up the
stairs, he would remember her warm, inviting expression as long as he lived.

 

***

 

The hall of Pendragon, like
everything else at the castle, had been built against one of the massive walls
exterior walls.  It was reached by a massive arched stone doorway, well
protected with its own iron grate and bolts that led to a flight of squat stone
stairs leading up into the hall above.  The ground floor held the kitchens and
stores and there were no less than two hidden staircases that led from the
kitchen to the hall above.   It was a big, functional hall that smelled to the
rafters of smoke and wet dogs.

After warming themselves by the
entry hall fire in the keep as the escort of men and animals disbanded in the
bailey, Chloë and Cassandra were directed to the hall by Michael and Lucan
where food and drink await them. Michael carefully carried Cassandra across the
muddy bailey to the hall entry while Lucan had taken Chloë. 

Half way across the bailey, they
ran headlong in to Keir, who gruffly ordered Lucan to hand the lady over to
him, which he did.  Safely tucked into Keir’s arms, Chloë smiled at him as they
neared the great hall entry.  He was back to ignoring her after their earlier
conversation, or so she thought until he glanced at her and caught a glimpse of
her smile.  The stone-faced expression cracked and he gave her a weak grin as
he carried her into the hall.

Once inside the darkened door, he
set her carefully to her feet and took her hand, leading her up the steps and
into the hall beyond.  It was a large room, smelly, as Keir took her over to
the massive oak feasting table and seated her next to her sister.  As he went
to sit across from her, Cassandra initiated the conversation.

“If my sister has not yet thanked
you for assuming our burden, then please allow me to,” she said. “I realize my
father all but shoved our protection down your throat and for that, we are
sorry. This cannot be an easy thing for you.”

Keir eyed the woman as he claimed
his seat. “Your sister has indeed thanked me and, as I told her, it is no
burden at all. We will do our best to protect you both.”

Cassandra smiled at him, a very
pretty girl but not nearly the beauty her sister was. “If it not too much
trouble, we are in need of a few necessities for our stay here at Pendragon,”
she said. “I mentioned the same thing to Sir Michael but I am not sure if he
has told you.”

The servants set great wooden
cups down on the table along with big clay pitchers of wine.  Keir picked up
one of the pitchers and leaned over the table, pouring a measure into Chloë’s
cup.

“He did,” he replied.  “I will do
my best to accommodate you.  What exactly do you require?”

The women looked at each other. 
Cassandra was usually the more assertive but Chloë was more tactful.  She put
her hand on her sister’s arm to let her know that she would provide Keir with
the answers.

“Since our possessions were taken
as spoils of war by Lord Ingilby, we have nothing more than what you see on our
backs,” Chloë said. “We require… necessities.”

“What necessities?”

Cassandra jumped in before Chloë
could speak.  “Clothing, my lord,” she said. “Soap, oils, hairbrushes.  We will
not live like animals here at the ends of the earth.”

She said it rather harshly but
she had a point. Chloë looked rather fearfully at Keir, hoping he would not
deny their request.  Keir’s patient gaze remained on Cassandra.

“And I would not expect you to,”
he said after a moment. “Unfortunately, there we are not local to any larger
towns that may hold a great variety of things for you to choose from but there
is a town not far to the north that has several merchants. We can go there to
see if they have what you need.”

“And what if they do not?”
Cassandra wanted to know. “What do we do?”

Keir shrugged his enormous
shoulders. “Then we will go to a town that has what you need.”

“May we go tomorrow?”

“Absolutely.”

Satisfied, Cassandra turned to
her sister with a smile of victory.  Chloë merely lifted her eyebrows at her
sister’s bold manner.

“Thanks to you, Sir Keir,” Chloë
said sincerely. “We are grateful.”

Keir’s gaze fell upon her and he
smiled, the first time since she had known the man that he hadn’t tried to
avoid looking at her. Chloë smiled in return, a genuine gesture, as Keir picked
up the nearest pitcher and poured her more wine.  She accepted it gratefully.

A servant set a heaping trencher
of boiled mutton and carrots in front of Keir and he immediately slid it across
the table to Chloë.  Then he plopped is taut buttocks on the table, took his
dagger, and began cutting pieces off for her.  Unused to such service,
especially from a man who had very nearly ignored her, Chloë timidly accepted
the meat as he handed it to her.

“I apologize that we cannot offer
more by way of comfort,” he told her. “I can supply you with a bath and soap,
but I fear it is not the soap a young lady would find pleasurable.”

Chloë chewed on the tough mutton.
“It does not matter,” she assured him. “Anything at this point is most happily
accepted.”

He began cutting up the boiled
carrots.  “The keep has four bedchambers so you may share with your sister or
you may have your own chamber.”

Chloë looked at Cassandra, who
was in conversation with Michael. She turned back to Keir.

“I think I would rather have my
own,” she whispered, pointing discreetly at her sister. “She snores.”

Keir grinned, looking at
Cassandra as she chatted and Michael smiled.  She seemed to have the tall
knight smitten.   He leaned closer to Chloë and lowered his voice.

“Then I will put you on another
floor so you cannot hear her,” he said.

Chloë giggled and accepted
another piece of meat from the end of his dagger.  “And if it would not be too much
trouble,” she was still whispering. “I should like to bathe first. She will
take all night.”

Keir shook his head as he cut off
another piece of meat. “You are divulging your sister’s shocking habits, my
lady,” he teased softly, casting her a sidelong glance. “Are you so perfect
that you do not have any bad habits at all?”

Chloë shrugged and accepted more
meat. “If I do, you will never hear them from my lips. Remember that you told
me that you choose to believe I am as beautiful inside as I am outside. I will
continue to allow you to believe that and smite all who attempt to dissuade
you.”

He laughed softly. “No one could
convince me that you are anything less than perfect, so have no fear.”

“Even though I tried to smash
your fingers?”

He sighed heavily. “I have
already forgotten about that. I wish you would as well.”

She nodded in agreement. “I
will,” her smile faded. “Still, when I close my eyes at night, I hear sounds of
battle. It wakes me up.”

His smile faded as well. “That
will diminish also, in time,” he assured her, his gaze moving over her
exquisite mane of deep red hair, thinking on perhaps changing the subject.
“When you are finished eating, I will order you a bath. I apologize that I do
not have any female servants to offer you to assist.”

She waved him off. “I bathe
alone, although I thank you.”

“Is there nothing else I can do
for you, my lady?”

Her smile returned and her deep
brown eyes glimmered warmly at him. “You have done so much already,” she said.
“I will never be able to thank you enough for risking yourself for a woman you
do not even know.”

BOOK: Fragments of Grace (Prequel to the Dragonblade Trilogy)
6.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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