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Authors: Jewel Adams

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Ice Maiden (4 page)

BOOK: Ice Maiden
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Bern rested his lips on Amy’s brow, her
smothered giggle earned his reluctant smile of defeat. “Thank you,
Mistress Tilly.”

Amy couldn’t believe the self defeating humor
she saw in his eyes.

“I have made a mistake, my Lady, it seems you
have guards aplenty.”

Laird Randall had the grace to bow to both
women as he took his leave.

Mistress Tilly sighed heavily as the door
closed drawing Amy’s own attention away from where he disappeared.
“Ah now lass, he is one man I could lose my heart over.”

Amy was so stunned by the woman’s
announcement she blurted out, “Really?”

The woman turned to her. “Aye and that old
goat in the yard was a fool to think you could withstand that one’s
charms. The others, why they were babes compared to the like of
Laird Randall, now that there is a--Man!”

“Mistress, I am shocked.” Amy strived for
humor to cover her own flagging emotions.

“I doubt it girl, but old Lansing is, poor
dog. Thought he had it all schemed out till that Laird showed up.
Him and his army. Why they could have taken ye by siege that first
day, but he be too much a gentleman. Though I dare say, he was
getting mighty blustered after three weeks of courting ye, and ye
playing the stone-heart.”

Three weeks! No wonder the man acted as if he
owned the castle--and her. If Amy wanted answers it seemed Mistress
Tilly held the treasure chest. She decided to take the chance.

“He saw through it all…”

Amy pretended to busy herself with the gown’s
ties.

“Even the fake betrothed?”

Amy nodded, not daring to voice an
admission.

“Well, it figures, he is too smart to fool.
Must have seen through your act as well?”

Amy had nothing to lose, except maybe her
head.

“That too, I am afraid. Oh, I did try.”

“It is that Randall charm. They say a woman
can naught win against it. Them Randall’s all have the gift of the
pixies surrounding them.”

If Amy wasn’t so distraught she would have
enjoyed the woman’s belief over the fairies blessings. She’d love
to get her hands on just one pixie right now.

“But why did he set his cap for me?”

“Lass, I am surprised with ye, and ye with
the richest holdings in the realm.”

“Of course.” This was getting deeper than she
could believe.

“But mind ye girl, this one won’t take kindly
to learning who has made it that way over the years.”

“I don’t expect he will.” Amy was practically
holding her breath waiting for the lady to continue and tell her
what she meant.

“You had best go careful in uncovering that
lie. Why, when the Laird finds out ye have been handling the
affairs all these years, a mere girl...” The woman crossed herself.
“…the roof will likely come flying off this old pile of stones. I
told Lansing, years ago, he gone and given ye too much freedom.
That is naught to say ye have naught done well, just it wilt naught
set proper with that Laird.”

Amy sank down on the bed over the
revelations. “What am I going to do? Heavens, I cannot even think
clearly, he is everywhere I turn.”

“Ye have not had a good ride since he claimed
the forest as his.”

Could she? Dare she?

Amy rose, “I need one now.”

“Nay lass, why he would skin us all if ye
rode out of here without an army at your heels.”

“Not if he did not know, I have time before
the feast. Please?”

The woman bit her lip until her shoulders
finally sagged in defeat. It seemed Amelia usually got her way, but
Amy could see there was love in these people for the girl.

“Alright.” The lady turned and proceeded to
take a bundle out of the chest by the bed. “Best put these on, but
do na’ say I did na’ warn ye, I will go tell Toby to saddle the
Squire.”

“Thank you.” Holding the bundle to her chest
until the door closed, Amy’s fingers shook as they undid the ribbon
holding the cloak closed.

Once opened, she laughed with delight over
the hidden leggings, tunic and hat inside.

“From lady to lad, oh Amelia, you were a sly
one.”

She wasted no time in exchanging garments.
Braiding her hair she wrapped it about her head pulling on the
sack cap to fit snugly, covering the thick rope. The cloak hid what
the tunic and leggings didn’t.

Rummaging through another chest, Amy found a
pair of soft boots that laced up to her knees.

Cautiously opening her door she listened to
be sure no one stood near. She wouldn’t put it pass Randall to have
put his men guarding her. She stopped herself from heading to the
main stairs. All the castle diagrams and ruins she studied, told
her there was a back stairwell to lend cover to her get away. To
her relief the one she found led her down to the servant quarters.
Following the delicious scents she quickly located the kitchen.

It appeared Amelia’s servants were use to
their mistress’ odd behavior. Though, she did hear a few snickers
from the younger girls and more than one of the older woman clucked
at her passing. But Amy felt none of them would give her away to
Laird Randall.

Amy needed to bolster her courage to step out
into the keep. The place came alive with Randall’s men setting up
their tents and generally putting things right. She kept her head
down and moved across the open space as if she had a purpose. No
one really took notice of her, but she did see her own uniform men
take a second look at her passing. They obviously knew her costume,
thankfully they went back to their task as if nothing was
wrong.

It was only when she heard the Captain’s
billowing voice that she pushed up her pace to reach the stables.
Amy didn’t think the man would let her go off. Letting Randall see
her in this disguise was the last thing she wanted.

The stable felt like a haven when she finally
reached it and Amy took a moment to catch her breath.

“My Lady, over here.”

“Toby?”

“Aye.”

She made her way to the back stall. Amy
wasn’t prepared for what greeted her. The saddled mount was no
ordinary stable horse. The sorrel stallion pawed the straw bedding
with his massive hoof in impatience. “Squire…”

“Aye, he has missed ye bad he has.”

She swallowed hard. Amy could ride, but could
she ride him? She tried to remember everything she knew about
horses. Confidence, came through clear enough, she thought she’d
just lost all of hers.

“Here. Mistress Tilly sent these for ye, said
she knew ye could naught get them yourself.” Amy took the bundle.
“Oh and these. She asked if ye would ride over to her daughter’s
and delivery it, ye can cut through the woods, now that they are
all inside.”

“Alright.”

Amy set the basket down and concentrated on
the first bundle. Inside the sack she found a sheathed hip sword
and cross bow. Toby took the bow and tied it on the saddle. The
sword belt fit perfectly, Amy felt her admiration and respect for
Amelia raise a good ten notches.

At the bottom of the sack rested a chunk of
rock candy. She almost laughed out when she realized who would eat
the treat.

Straightening up she approached the stallion.
“So you missed me, big fellah.” The horse’s ears came forward and
every muscle stilled. A soft answering whinny purred from the great
animal. Amy held out her open palm, the velvet lips rippled over
her flesh until they gently picked up every small bit of the sugar
delicacy. The brush of his great head against her chest gave Amy
back the confidence she lost. “We will be fine, won’t we
Squire?”

Toby gave her a leg up. “Best ye go around
the back to the gate, I hope no one stops ye, Lady.”

“So do I.”

“Oh, the basket, its herbs for the baby,
Emily sent a message to her mother that little Bess has a
fever.”

Squire remained still while he secured the
basket. Amy suddenly felt filled with doubts.
A sick baby? How
would she find the place?
She needed help. “Toby are you sure
the woods are clear?”

“Aye, heard the Laird say all his men were
inside, just go straight through on the path, Emily will be
watching, Cal will probably be waiting on the other side.”

Cal? Son, husband or brother, she didn’t
care, she just hoped he would be there to take the basket.

Her first problem was leaving the keep. Going
in back of all the buildings, as Toby suggested, she quickly
reached the gate. Thankfully it was her own men that stood guard,
their quick wave through released her pent up breath. Squire wasn’t
in the mind for an easy ride and before they crossed the bridge he
moved into a full gallop, heading straight for the woods. Amy
decided the horse knew where he was going, even if she didn’t and
gave herself over to the exhilarating ride.

“You there, guard at the gate?”

“Aye, Laird?”

“Who just left?”

“Left, Laird?”

Bern wondered if the man was a dolt or if he
was playing him for one. “The rider on the stallion, man, who was
he?”

“Oh him, that would be Squire…Arn, aye it was
Arn alright. Running errands for his father, no doubt. He is always
about, in and out, out and in, like a shadow he is.”

“A shadow. I guess that is why I have not
seen him before?”

“Slips by us all, now and again.”

“Does he now?”

“Sure enough does, me Laird.”

Bern’s temper kept rising over the man’s
blubbering rot. Was this castle full of liars?

“Is something wrong, Laird Randall?”

Bern turned to face the approaching Captain
Lansing. “Wrong Captain? The only thing wrong is this place.” Bern
saw the guard flinch. Damn if he wasn’t right! The man was
lying.

“Ye seem put out, Laird Randall.”

“When I am Captain, you will naught have to
guess.”

Knowing he would get no further with the
Captain than his guard, Bern left them to themselves. Taking a
guarded glance back at the two of them, his tight lips eased into a
knowing smile at the now excited Captain. “Seems the shadow, has
upset our dear Captain as well. Now I wonder why that would
be?”

“Craig!”

“Aye, Bern.”

“Fetch me a horse, hurry man.”

The man wasted no time in returning. “Here
take mine. What is the rush, Bern?”

“I am chasing shadows, my friend. A very
sneaky one.”

The opened mouthed man stood there watching
his friend race out of the keep. “Damn, I will be glad when this is
all settled.”

Squire had no problem navigating the winding
path through the forest. As they reached the edge Amy pulled him
up. All her cautious study of the open hills render nothing helpful
towards a direction. “Well fellah, do you know the way to Emily’s?”
Why did it have to be a sick baby? “Come on Squire maybe when we
clear the hill I will see something.”

No sooner did they enter the clearing than
the horse shied to the left. Amy saw a small figure dart behind a
boulder. “Whoa boy, take it easy.” Taking a deep breath she took
the chance. “Cal? Is that you?”

“Aye, my Lady.”

“Why are you hiding?”

“I didn’t mean to spook him.”

She hadn’t the heart to scold the boy. “Come
on out.”

She waited for the boy to approach, he looked
about ten and as wiry as the spindly bushes around them. “Were you
hiding from someone?”

“Nay, there were some riders, but they went
off towards the west. I watched, they be gone.”

“Good. Shall we get this medicine to Bessie?
Come on, up with you.” Amy took her foot out of the stirrup
allowing the boy to climb up on his wide back.

“Someday I will have a steed like this.”

“I believe you will, Cal. I’ll tell you what,
why don’t you pretend he is yours right now and you tell me
everywhere I need to turn him.”

“Ah, tis’ a silly game.”

“A fun game if you let yourself pretend.”

The boy was silent for a while and Amy
thought she lost her chance to find the place without being
obvious.

“Go straight over the next hill.”

Amy kept the boy’s interest by talking to him
and telling him to feel the changes in Squire’s body as they rode.
After a few directions Cal took over the game by remaining silent
and leaning into the turns he wanted her to take.

The small cottage they finally arrived at was
a quaint, stone structure, with a neat garden off the one side and
a wild hedge of roses trailing up the front to the sod roof.

Cal slipped off and held Squire while Amy
dismounted. “Cal can you water him for me?” The boy’s eyes grew
large in prideful pleasure.

A girl about Amy’s age came out to meet her.
Amy could see she was frantic with worry. “Emily?”

“Oh Amelia, tis’ Bess, she is so sick.”

“I brought the herbs.” Passing her the
basket, Amy followed her into the cottage. It took a moment for her
eyes to adjust, when they did Amy was impressed by the neat room
she stood in. It only took a moment for them to find Bess.

The poor baby looked as done in as her
mother. Amy felt her forehead and pulled her hand back from the
heat.

“Emily, we need to get her fever down.” Amy
only thought for a second over the consequences of interfering.
“Fetch me the coldest water you can find.”

“The spring is always like winter ice.”

“Good, a full bucket, hurry.”

Amy cleared the table, discarding her hat and
cloak over the warmth in the small house. Finding a large bowl she
placed it on the table, then went to the baby. “Ah sweet Bess, you
will be fine once we get that nasty fever down.” All the while she
talked to the baby her fingers worked to unclothe her. Wrapping a
blanket around her she cradled the babe in her arms until her
mother came back in.

“Fill the bowl about half way and I need a
cloth.”

Holding Bess, Amy lowered the protesting
child into the cool water all the while cooing softly to her. With
all the gentleness in her heart Amy sponged the cooling liquid over
the baby.

BOOK: Ice Maiden
9.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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