A Knight for Kallen
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A young woman with a mystical power she keeps hidden from the world.
A stoic knight who has locked away his emotions in order to survive.
Together, this pair finds a potent love, even as they are torn apart by a powerful enemy . . .
Kallen de Mangeron grew up in a convent, her noble family never knowing of her birth. When a new Mother Superior informs them of her existence, they send trusted knight Griffith Sommersby to escort her home.
Griffith’s heart broke when he lost his wife and infant son during childbirth, and he’s kept his feelings locked away from the world—until he meets Kallen. He soon learns her dark secret—that she sees auras around people—which allows her insight into their actions and personalities.
Now Quentin, bastard brother to the king, decides to harness Kallen’s gift in a plot to win the throne. Will Quentin successfully use a kidnapped Kallen as his political pawn, or will Griffith be able to stop him before Kallen changes the course of England’s history?
*This is a revised addition, which was originally released under the title A Knight for Kallen and the pen name Lauren Linwood.
Release date: February 22, 2022
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Print pages: 300
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
A Knight for Kallen
South of England—1293
Quentin’s brow furrowed. His hair grew damp with sweat. He studied the cards in his hand and glanced casually at Renton. Damn, the ill-tempered nobleman seemed smug as he ran a hand through his dark, unruly hair. His host for this game sat across the table from Quentin as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
He watched Renton gaze to his left. Quentin in turn viewed the old fool seated next to Renton. Soon the baron would quit the game. Only Quentin would be left to challenge his host.
God, but he wanted to win. Deserved to win. Why shouldn’t he? At a score-and-one, he was the Earl of Nowland and bastard son of the king. His life should be richly blessed.
If only he could win this one hand.
The balding baron placed his cards face down. “Enough.” He spat upon the rushes gathered on the floor and pushed away from the table.
Blond and buxom Lady Alita, always the perfect hostess and wife, moved from her husband Renton’s elbow to the yielding nobleman. “My lord, would you care for some wine? I know a man’s card play can work up a powerful thirst.”
They stepped away, Alita’s chattering striking a raw nerve with Quentin. She reminded him of his sister—the last person he wished to think of at this crucial moment.
His final opponent pushed the cards around in his hand. Quentin watched him, his heart pounding. Renton was notorious for displaying a casual but confident air. His cards could be worth less than a pile of dung, and no one would be the wiser. Quentin determined that his neighbor would not get the best of him.
Not this time.
Yet a quarter hour later the stakes were next to impossible. Quentin now found himself sweating profusely.
Tiny rivulets formed along his nape and coasted down his back. He had to win. He must.
“My final wager to add to this,” Quentin heard himself say. His voice sounded tinny, coming from a long way off. Colors began to swim around the table, confusing him.
“What say you then, Nowland?” Renton growled. “You’ve no more coin at hand.” He belched loudly and took another swig of his ale.
The man’s vulgarity seemed the final straw. His heart full of hate, Quentin locked his jaw and narrowed his eyes, staring at his enemy. “The copse,” he growled.
Renton’s eyes gleamed. “The entire forest? Even the stream running through it?”
“Yes,” Quentin said, his voice low and menacing. “The whole of it.”
His host smiled. “You do realize that would include the hunting rights, Nowland? That it would become my land, an extension of Mangeron? That you could only set foot on it at my invitation?”
Quentin’s gut tightened, but he smiled in return. “I understand perfectly, my lord.” He paused a moment. “However, I don’t intend to lose.”
Renton laughed. “Then the copse, it is. I shall match you. My pair of steeds you’ve so admired, and your pick of brood mare to go with them.”
He couldn’t wait to possess those magnificent horses and all the foals that the mare would produce. “Agreed.”
“Then show your cards, Nowland.” Renton spread his across the tabletop slowly and then raised his eyes to meet Quentin’s.
No! Quentin’s blood screamed out. He wanted to take back the wager, scratch the entire night from his memory. He couldn’t lose to Renton de Mangeron.
Yet he had.
He slowly laid down his own cards as if he were in a nightmare. Renton chuckled. The two men’s eyes met.
Renton said softly, “My copse now.” He reached out his arms and swept the stacks of gold coin on the table toward him. “And my gold.”
Quentin smiled pleasantly, despite the fact his heart hammered unmercifully in his chest. He waved a hand nonchalantly. “It happens.”
He looked around. Life went on in the great hall of Mangeron. Guests ate and drank as they listened to a minstrel. He returned his gaze to Renton.
“A fine match,” he said, nodding his head. “I suppose I’m off for the garderobe and a willing wench, eh?” He laughed heartily, doing his best to disguise the pain that tightened about him, as real as any vise.
Renton’s robust laugh caused Quentin to see red. “Mayhap I’ll invite you to go hunting soon, Nowland. On my new land.” He laughed again at his own wit as Quentin stepped away and crossed the room.
He was unbearably hot and needed fresh air. Quentin left the great hall, a headache already pounding mightily at his temples. They came infrequently but were painful when they occurred. He moved rapidly down the corridor, blind to everything except the fact that he’d lost. Again.
When would he get his gambling under control?
His blood and tastes ran royal, but his circumstances were not. Why must he always push himself beyond his means? He dreaded what would occur next. His tenants must be milked dry yet again. He could already hear their grumblings.
“By God’s hooks,” he swore, grinding his teeth. He’d suffered enough. It was time to make someone else pay.
Quentin had no idea where he went as he stormed down the stone-flagged corridor. He only wanted retribution.
And then he saw her. Renton’s daughter. The raven-haired girl with her father’s dark blue eyes was but ten-and-three, but she had the body of a woman. A very ripe woman.
Quentin decided it would be her. Here. Now.
He slowed his pace as he approached her. What was the chit’s name? Bevia. Yes, that was it. Bevia.
She took notice of him and stopped in her tracks. “Oh, my lord. You startled me.” She leaned down to pick up the doll she’d dropped.
Quentin bent and reached it first, handing it to her. He gave her his most engaging grin. “I am most sorry for that, my dear.”
He saw the effect his smile had on her. If he knew one thing, it was the way to a woman’s heart. He had the height of Edward Longshanks, far beyond what most of the king’s brood had been given, coupled with his mother’s gray eyes and distinct, silvery blond hair. He used all this to his advantage whenever he could.
Bevia shyly returned his smile. “May I help you, my lord? Are you lost? I could—”
Quentin placed a hand gently on her shoulder. “As a matter of fact, I was on my way to your father’s study, my sweet. He promised me the loan of a book. I first went to the garderobe and,” he shrugged, “I seem to be turned around.”
“I can take you there,” she said eagerly.
Quentin gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Oh, would you? That would be most delightful, dear Bevia.” He drew her hand through the crook of his arm. “I am quite looking forward to what I find there.”
The girl led him down several halls, chattering much like her mother as they walked. Quentin murmured politely every now and then, and she didn’t notice he wasn’t listening to her.
But he was taking her in. Her breasts were full, her waist tiny. His heart quickened as he thought of punishing Renton through his daughter. ‘Twould be most enjoyable.
Bevia stopped. “This is my father’s solar. You must enter it to cross to his study. There’s no other access, I’m afraid.”
Oh, this was rich. Quentin would have Renton’s daughter in the lord’s own bed.
“Would you mind showing me, Bevia? I wouldn’t want to disturb anything. You know how particular your father is.”
He saw her mouth purse with distaste. Renton was said to have a heavy hand. Quentin didn’t know if it extended to his own family, but he felt sure it must by the expression on the chit’s face.
“All right,” she agreed reluctantly. She pushed open the door. A fire burned low in the grate, the only light of the room. They entered, and Quentin silently closed and locked the door behind them.
Flushed with drink and success, Renton pinched Alita’s ample rump as they walked up the stairs. Most of the evening was now a blur after so many cups of wine and ale, but he remembered the most important event. He’d bested that pompous ass, Quentin of Nowland. The beautiful wooded area adjacent to his own property now belonged to his estate. Not his neighbor anymore. Renton would never foolishly gamble it away as the king’s bastard had.
Renton threw an arm about his wife’s shoulders. A quick romp with her and then sweet sleep awaited him. He paused as they reached the solar. The door was ajar. His guard went up. He never left it so. Neither did the servants nor Alita. It had taken training, but he was a particular man and liked things done his way.
Someone had been here. But who?
He motioned Alita aside and opened the door cautiously. The fire burned as mere embers now, the room mostly in shadow. Renton stepped in and examined his surroundings. No one was there. Still, he felt a presence and moved toward the bedchamber. In the doorway, he noticed the bed curtains, always opened upon his arising, had been closed.
Someone was in his bed.
And then he heard the singing. It was soft and haunting. A child’s voice and a child’s song. Relief filled him, followed by anger. What child stumbled into his bed? Now he’d want fresh sheets. He wouldn’t lie where another had.
Renton moved toward the bed and lit a candle next to it before he drew the curtain aside. Chills ran through him.
His daughter sat propped upon the pillows, cradling her doll in her arms. Bevia rocked the toy and sang to it, her eyes glassy, her face pale. She was naked. Renton saw the blood between her legs and spilled on his sheets.
“Bevia?” he asked, touching her arm gently so as not to frighten her. “Bevia, who did this to you?”
His daughter gazed blankly at the wall and continued to sing eerily off-key.
Savina’s back hurt from all the tiresome tasks assigned to her. She hated milking cows and loathed washing the undergarments of all the other nuns. Thank Sweetest Jesu her work was now complete. Though meticulous and conscientious as always, she’d finished quickly, and now she must avoid the abbess at all costs. That woman ruled with an iron fist. If God’s love had ever been in that woman’s heart, she’d killed it years ago. All Mother Superior now preached was work and more work. It may have made their convent rich in earthly stores, but Savina thought spiritual ones more important.
She brought her pail of milk into the kitchen and winked at the novices scrubbing pots. Their red, raw hands gave her heart a moment’s ache. Savina said a quick prayer for them. All too often she had been in their shoes, as cleaning pots was a favorite punishment the abbess doled out.
Savina walked soundlessly on the stones, having perfected the art of keeping her presence unknown at an early age. The habit, still with her after all these years, came in useful upon occasion.
She heard voices in the main hallway and decided to see what news she might pick up. Mother Superior rarely let the nuns know what happened in the outside world. Savina may have chosen to live a sheltered life with God, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t curious as to what went on beyond the walls of the convent.
A man’s voice!
She hurried her step when she realized it did not belong to any of the visiting priests. Savina moved close until she stood around the corner from the commotion.
“I tell you, I must see Julesa now. Your abbess, that is. Make haste, but summon her at once. Or better yet, simply take us to her. That will save precious time.”
Savina heard the impatience in the man’s voice. He also had a familiar tone. If she didn’t know better, she would guess he was related to Mother.
The nuns conversing with him seemed hesitant to act. Savina peeked around the corner and decided she would take matters into her own hands. She marched out bold as a peacock.
“I am going to our abbess, my lord,” she exclaimed. “I will take you to her.”
The two nuns shot her a wild look of disapproval, but Savina ignored them. Instead, she was most interested in the woman that stood next to the man. Actually, she realized it was a young girl as she drew near, and a beautiful one at that. One upon the cusp of childhood and becoming a maid, the girl possessed flawless skin and large, blue eyes. The eyes, though, were blank. Savina wondered for a moment if the girl were blind.
“Finally, someone who sees reason.” The man waved the two nuns away and turned to stare at her. “Take me to your abbess now. The circumstances are none of your business, but time is of the essence.”
“Of course, my lord,” Savina said demurely, thinking the man a boor. She didn’t need to know the exact nature of his visit, but he didn’t have to sound so condescending. “Follow me.”
Savina moved through the entry way and up a wide staircase. She tamped down the impulse to peek over her shoulder and assumed the nobleman would follow. She kept a brisk pace, as was her way, and hoped he and his charge could keep up.
As they approached the door to the abbess’s study, Savina paused. Before she could speak, the man brushed her aside.
“I will handle matters from here,” he said abruptly. Without knocking, he pushed open the door and swept into the room, dragging the girl behind him.
Savina knew Mother rarely spent time in the outer chamber. She felt it safe to enter and close the door. As she turned from doing so, she saw the man and the girl she assumed was his daughter vanish beyond the second door. Savina scampered to it. The door remained open a foot.
Plenty of room to hear... and not be seen.
“Renton! What on God’s earth are you doing here? How did you get in? And who is—”
“I’ve no time for cordial conversation, Julesa. I have a problem. You will solve it.”
Savina could almost feel Mother’s appraising eyes as the room filled with the sound of silence. The abbess’s intelligence was second to none. Savina knew she studied the situation, wondering how to turn it to her advantage.
“I assume you want to leave the girl here, Brother. She is your daughter?”
Savina grimaced at Mother’s sharp tone. At least she learned the nobleman was kin to the abbess. He’d held the same air she did. It pleased her that she had guessed their connection.
“She is. Useless baggage to me now. Spoiled by that bastard Earl of Nowland. He did it for spite since I would never let him have her. I won’t see my family ruined because of him.”
“She appears... distant.”
Savina heard a heavy sigh. “Bevia’s always been a bit simple. By the Christ, she still plays with dolls at three-and-ten! I’d thought to make a good match of her, though. She’s got Alita’s looks. Men aren’t interested in their wives having a brain.”
Mother snorted. “Make this match. Why should anyone need know she was deflowered by a royal bastard?”
“Because she’s with child.”
A hush filled the air. Savina shivered, her heart going out to the blank beauty.
The nobleman let out a sigh. “The moment Alita realized it, I tried to arrange for a marriage to take place immediately instead of next year as planned. Unfortunately, the man I had chosen as Bevia’s husband-to-be had a gravely ill mother. He refused to leave the woman’s side and marry without her present at the ceremony. By the time the old fool passed on, Bevia’s condition could not have been hidden from a randy groom on his wedding night.”
“And so you bring her to me.”
“What else can I do, Julesa? I refuse to let Quentin have Bevia or know of the child she will bear. Bevia is dead to me as of this moment. I have a coffer full of gold for your greedy hands, Sister. You’re to keep her here permanently. No one’s to know she’s of my blood. Hopefully, the chit will regain some of her sanity after the child’s birth.”
“What does your wife say about this decision?”
“She will only be told Bevia is dead. Leaving her here is the best I can do.”
Shock ran through Savina. She may not have seen her family for years, as all novices left their earthly relations behind when they committed their lives to God, but she knew her parents loved her to this day. And here this poor girl was, through no fault of her own, being written off as dead by her selfish, twisted father.
Savina vowed in that moment that she would care for this young girl, less than a dozen years younger than she herself.
“No one is to know of her existence, Julesa. The last word I will ask of this is to let me know if Bevia is delivered of a girl or a boy. I pray it will be a girl. The earl would have no use of a girl child if he ever discovered her existence. After that, no reminders. Ever.”
Mother laughed harshly. “I understand everything you ask, Brother. And don’t think I won’t hesitate to call in a favor of my own when the time warrants. We both wield power in our own way. You may prove useful to me someday.”
Savina realized this one conversation led her to understand Mother finally. She and this cruel brother seemed to be cut from the same cloth, one without heart, without soul. Savina didn’t know how she would accomplish it, but she would become Bevia’s protector.
Without thought to the consequences, Savina marched determinedly into Mother’s study.
“Sister.” Mother’s low tones held little surprise. It was as if she knew all along Savina eavesdropped upon the private conversation.
Savina mustered as much innocence as she could project. “Yes, Mother?”
The abbess indicated Bevia. “You always seem to accomplish your tasks so quickly, Sister. I have a new one for you.” Her eyes gleamed as she appraised Savina.
“I am most willing to do whatever you wish, Mother.”
“This is Bevia. She will need your attention—night and day. You will be excused from all other chores with the exception of your prayers. You are to keep her with you at all times. You are not to make mention of anything you might have heard about her.”
Savina winced at the hard look Mother gave her. “As you wish, Mother.”
“Escort Lord Renton downstairs. Come back immediately to take care of your charge. Do you understand everything I’ve said?”
“Yes, Mother. I am to care for Bevia. I will not let her from my sight. I will protect her always, even with my life.”
Mother nodded. “Good.” She studied Savina a moment then said, “I’ve changed my mind. I will accompany Lord Renton to the gate. You may start caring for your charge from this moment forth.”
The abbess rose. “Come,” she motioned to her brother. “I know you are anxious to be off—and I must collect that coffer of gold which you mentioned. My best to Alita. And there’s a boy now?”
“Yes,” Lord Renton replied as he led his sister from the room. “My son Crispin. Much younger than Bevia. He will be heir to Mangeron one day.”
They left the room, and Savina turned to Bevia. She slowly approached the girl and took her hand.
“We are going to spend lots of time together, Bevia.” She stroked Bevia’s hand, hoping it would soothe her. The glassy eyes remained unfocused.
Savina silently sent a prayer to the Virgin, asking for Her divine guidance. God worked in mysterious ways. He had finally used Savina’s eavesdropping to give her a mission in life.
And Savina would guard Bevia from all evil.
Especially Mother Superior.
North of England—1311
Savina paced nervously, anticipating the arrival of her invited guest. Had she done the right thing? Would he accept Kallen as part of his own family?
More importantly, would Kallen accept him?
She sat behind the massive desk that had belonged to Mother. Once a large woman who’d dominated a room, the abbess had dwindled away, little by little, consumed by an illness that ate away at her body over two long years.
Savina ran a trembling hand along the smooth wood. This would never do. She must remain calm. She must be in control of the situation. Reaching for a carafe, she poured herself a cup of wine. As she leaned back into the chair and sipped at it, her mind wandered.
Where had the years gone?
It seemed only yesterday she charged into this very room, ready to take Bevia under her wing. She’d made Bevia and the child she birthed her own, growing to love them both with a fierceness that only grew stronger over time.
Now Bevia lay dead of fever, years in the ground, joined recently by the convent’s abbess.
And as the new abbess, elected by her fellow nuns to lead the convent, Savina now chose to take it upon herself to play God, hoping in the next few minutes to change Kallen’s future. Hoping to save her from an empty life in this sterile convent, a place that had never suited Kallen, even as a young child.
The knock startled her from her reverie. Savina composed herself, placing a placid look on her face and dropping her hands to her lap.
A red-cheeked novice with eyes of sky blue opened the door and smiled shyly. “Mother? Your visitor has arrived.”
Savina returned the smile, grateful she could show her love for her fellow sisters with such a simple gesture. “Show him in, please.”
The door swung open, and her heart almost stopped in her chest when the raven-haired stranger stepped through it. Oh, he was so like Bevia. His dark blue eyes held kindness. Savina knew instantly she had done the right thing. This man’s posture and demeanor spoke nothing of the arrogant lord she remembered as Bevia’s father.
“Thank you, Sister. You may return to your duties.”
“Yes, Mother.” The novice closed the door behind her.
Savina indicated the chair in front of her desk. “Please, Lord de Mangeron, have a seat. I know your journey has been long and may have tired you. Would you care for a cup of wine?”
The nobleman cocked an eyebrow at her. “You roused more than my curiosity with your cryptic note, Abbess.” He seated himself. “Yes, wine would be appreciated. And to be told why you summoned me would be even more appreciated.”
She laughed and poured out the wine. As she handed it to him, she said, “I was sorry to hear of your father’s passing.”
A shadow crossed the man’s face. “I thank you. Not many have offered such kind words. How did you know of him, Abbess?”
Savina shook her head. “My lord, I have a tale to share with you that is most troubling. I hope when I’ve concluded, you will be the man I have prayed you would be.”
She rubbed her temples, preparing herself. “I met your father once many years ago. You would have been a young boy then. He brought your sister—”
“Bevia?” The lord sat up, wine sloshing from his cup. “You knew Bevia?” he asked eagerly, his face now boyish.
Savina nodded. “I knew Bevia from the time she was three-and-ten until she died of a fever eight years ago. She was my friend.”
“Impossible!” the man proclaimed. “Bevia died in a riding accident nigh on a score ago. She’d gone to court with my father. Her loss devastated my family.”
She gazed steadily at the man before her. “No, my lord. Your father revealed he would tell you and your mother that Bevia died, but she did not. She lived here at the nunnery until her death. With her child.”
“Her... child?” He stood, waving his hand wildly in front of him. “What reason would you have to lure me here with such lies?”
“Lord de Mangeron.” Savina’s tone rang firm yet soft. She’d discovered long ago shouts and anger did little good. As she expected, he quieted, confusion marking his features.
“Please sit, my lord,” she commanded gently.
He did so, bewilderment spreading across his countenance.
“Lord Renton brought Bevia here many years ago. His sister Julesa was then our abbess. He gave her a coffer of gold and demanded she keep Bevia and her unborn child here forever.”
“My sister was... with child?”
“Yes.” Savina sighed, uncomfortable sharing with him this part of the tale. “The Earl of Nowland had violated her. Your father did not want this man to have her or the child, and Bevia’s betrothed would not have wanted her when he learned of her condition. This is why your father pretended to the world that his daughter died. He said he did not want ruin brought upon the family.”
“God’s wounds!” Lord de Mangeron’s face crumpled. Tears slid down his cheeks. “I was but eight when Bevia died. She played with me, sang to me. I thought she was an earthly angel gone to live with the heavenly ones.”
He brushed the tears aside. “I so loved her, Abbess. There were no other children after me. Bevia was all I had.” Crispin slammed his fist upon the desk. “Yet I can barely remember her face after all these years have passed.”
Savina grinned. “Oh, but you will. You’ll see her in Kallen. Her daughter.”
“My niece?” Crispin sat back down, dumbfounded.
“Yes. She has her mother’s fair skin and luminous smile. Only her hair is different. A silvery blond instead of Bevia’s raven locks.”
Crispin’s mouth grew hard. “The earl’s is such an unusual color. By the Christ, I will kill the bastard!”
Savina came around from behind the desk and placed a hand on his shoulder. “No, my lord. I see that you are a good man. You will put your hatred aside and instead lavish love on your niece, who’s had no family for many years.”
He studied her a moment. “Kallen, you said?”
“Yes.” Savina smiled. “Bright, willful Kallen. She is intelligent, my lord. A great beauty, as Bevia was. Sometimes I wonder how one so sheltered in a nunnery can seem so worldly.”
“I must see her at once.” The nobleman stood. “We must return to Mangeron. She must meet her grandmother and my wife, Deva. She is with child. The babe will be Kallen’s cousin.”
Crispin began to pace rapidly in the confined space. “My mother’s spirits have been flagging as of late, Abbess. Losing my father was a hard blow since she loved him dearly. Bringing Bevia’s child home to Mangeron will make all the difference.”
He came to stand in front of the window. “My men are just beyond your walls. I shall send word to them that we are to return at once.”
Crispin turned to face her. “My gratitude at this news cannot be expressed adequately, I’m afraid. I do thank you for caring for Bevia and Kallen. I promise I will do everything in my power to see that Kallen is restored to our family in every way. Now let us go to her.”
“I fear not, my lord.”
The nobleman appeared stunned. “But why? I am sure she is eager as I to make our acquaintance.”
“Kallen has no knowledge of your existence,” she said bluntly.
“You never told her of us? Why?”
Savina raised her hands to her temples and massaged them again. “I have only been abbess for two weeks, my lord. Your Aunt Julesa, the former abbess, forbade any mention to Kallen of her family. She was to remain here always, never to be known by you.”
“What cruelty was this?”
“’Twas your father’s express wish that it remain so, and his sister abided by his words. He said Bevia and her child were dead to him and his. When Julesa died, I made an instant decision to send word to you. I knew your father had recently passed on. As the new abbess, I thought it best to inform you of Kallen’s existence.
“But you see,” she continued, “I could not risk telling Kallen of you. What if you had not come today? What if you did not wish to acknowledge this bastard child of your sister’s? Having knowledge of you, and then learning of your rejection, would have been more than Kallen could bear.”
“I see,” Crispin said. “Then I place myself in your hands, Abbess. Kallen has been in them for years. My trust is in you. I will handle the situation as you see fit.”
Savina nodded, relieved that Kallen would not be ripped away from her. “It will take me a bit of time to pray for the wisdom will take to tell Kallen the truth. Once she has adjusted to the idea, I will send for you. You can then escort her to her new home.”
Crispin frowned. “How long will this take?”
“I would give her a few weeks to become accustomed to the idea, my lord. She has known nothing but this convent for eight-and-ten years.”
“But my wife’s babe will come in five or six weeks’ time. I cannot leave again so close to the birth. No, Abbess, Kallen must come with me now.”
Savina fought the panic rising within her. “Then mayhap you could give me a week with her. Even two. Enough time to prepare her adequately.”
Crispin pondered her words for a moment. “I shall leave immediately for Mangeron. will take me a week to reach it. I will then send my emissary to return and bring Kallen home to her true family.”
His face displayed a deep agony. “Deva has already miscarried one child. I dare not be away from her. The man I send, though, is my wife’s brother. Sir Griffith is like my own kin. He will guard Kallen well. Is this satisfactory?”
“Yes,” Savina agreed. “‘Tis best you stay with your wife at such a time. I will break this news to Kallen. I promise she will be ready when Sir Griffith comes to return her safely to her new home.”
Crispin stood and took her hands in his. He kissed them with tenderness. “Abbess, you have made me so happy this day. I am now an uncle, and soon to be a father. God’s blessings are rich indeed.”
She squeezed his hands in return. “I shall pray that your wife delivers a child in good health, my lord. God’s grace be with you.”
“And also with you.” The nobleman turned and left the room, his step light.
Savina wrapped her arms tightly about her. The easy part was over. She had faced a strange nobleman with a sordid tale of the evils his father and an earl had taken part in many years ago.
Now came the hard part. Telling Kallen.
Griffith awoke with a start. He sat up quickly, cold sweat laced through his hair. He ran his hands through the wet mass, tugging on the ends, trying to force himself to leave behind the dreams.
They came infrequently now, never more than once or twice a month, but with a fury that always took him by surprise.
“She’s dead,” he whispered. His words hung in the still of the room, but his heart and mind raced far beyond those four walls. He closed his eyes tightly, willing the visions to flee.
Yet the dream lingered in the early morn. The familiar sick feeling washed over him. He swallowed hard, pushing back the bile that rose each time.
Carina could not come back to him except in these nightmares. The soft, pliant woman who’d worshipped him with her warm brown eyes and given her body to him night after night lay rotting in a grave, their stillborn son clasped to her bosom. Griffith hadn’t wanted them parted. His father thought it foolish and wanted a separate casket carved for his grandson, but his mother understood and overruled her husband. Griffith got his wish, and now his son lay with his mother for all eternity.
He pushed aside the blanket and swung his legs to the floor. His head fell into his hands.
When would the ache end?
Two years had passed, yet after one of these nightmares, Griffith still experienced the hurt afresh. He saw Carina’s long, dark hair, matted with sweat, the faraway look in her eyes. And the blood. Christ’s wounds, there had been so much blood.
Griffith’s mother forced him to hold the dead babe. The child was the last thing on his mind as his wife lay dying, her very essence draining from her. He didn’t regret the time spent with the babe, though. He needed to see the boy, innocent that he was. If he hadn’t held him, he might still blame the child for Carina’s death.
Now, he only blamed himself.
Carina was a petite thing, shy, never questioning him. He loved to spend hours simply gazing at her beauty. His father warned him that one with hips so narrow would never make a good breeder, but Griffith wouldn’t listen. He wanted a son, and Carina wanted whatever her husband did. Having the child cost her life.
It cost Griffith the only happiness he’d ever known.
He stood and moved to the bowl of water, splashing it over his face. The nightmare began to fade. But the consequences of his actions never would. Griffith vowed never to love again, never to get a woman with child. The Sommersby line would die out with him.
He dressed and went down for morning mass. The ritual meant nothing to him. He never set foot inside a chapel while at home. Deva, though, would question him if he did not make an appearance, so whenever he visited at Mangeron, Griffith went to mass as she expected.
He slid into the pew next to her, crossing himself and kneeling to pray, or at least go through the motions of prayer. He didn’t believe in prayer anymore. A God that would let Carina die was no God to him. His impassioned prayers to spare his wife’s life had been ignored. If a woman of pureness and light such as Carina could be sacrificed, Griffith wanted no part of that God’s world.
His mind wandered throughout the mass, flitting aimlessly from one topic to the next, never staying in one place for long. He found it better that way.
“Are you hungry, Brother?”
Griffith’s wanderings fled, to find Deva’s hand resting lightly on his arm. He rewarded her with a smile.
“Of course. When am I not ravenous?” he said lightly.
“Then come. Let us break our fast.”
Deva led the way out from the chapel, her steps slow as her hands rested atop her huge belly. They crossed the bailey in the early morn’s gray light.
“’Tis rain later today, I think,” he noted. “Is not Crispin due home soon?”
She frowned. “I hope so. Tomorrow will be two weeks he has been gone.”
“What business took him to this convent so far away? You have remained vague on that point, Sister.”
Deva shrugged. She lifted her skirts as they climbed the stairs to the castle’s entrance. “I am not hiding anything from you, Griffith.”
He heard the odd note in her voice. “Then ‘tis something Crispin keeps hidden from you?” He brought an arm about her shoulders in comfort.
“Nay, my husband is not one to conceal anything from me. We are closer each day we are together.” She frowned. “I fear even he knew not what business awaited him there.”
Griffith gave her a squeeze. “I am sure your lord husband will soon return and share all with you.”
They entered the great hall. Griffith seated Deva and positioned himself next to her on the dais. Servants quickly brought bread and cheese.
“A little of the weak ale this morn, my lady?”
Deva nodded, and the servant poured her a full cup. She raised it to her lips and sipped it slowly.
“Ah, ever so much better,” she proclaimed when she’d drained the cup’s contents. “I think I may be able to partake of a few bites of bread now.”
“Still queasy?” Griffith asked. He knew Deva’s stomach had been fickle throughout the entire time she had been with child.
“A little. Only in the early hours before I eat something. This time.” A shadow crossed her face.
He took her hand in his. “All will be well this time, Sister. You will give birth to a strapping lad.”
She smiled. “I hope so, though Crispin cares not whether ‘tis a boy or girl. He only wants the child to be healthy.”
Griffith’s own stomach twisted. He’d lost his beloved wife. He refused to lose his only sister as well.
A servant approached. “Your husband approaches, my lady.”
Deva rose. “Thank the heavens he has returned,” she exclaimed. Before they could exit the great hall, Crispin burst through its doors, his arms held wide.
“Saints be praised, but you are the picture of health, Wife.” He embraced Deva and then spied Griffith. “And the Devil Himself here with you.” Crispin shook Griffith’s hand. “Thank you for coming.”
“Your message sounded urgent, Crispin. I came as quickly as I could.”
Crispin placed a protective arm about his wife. “I needed you here to look after Deva. I trust no one but you, my friend.” He grinned. “Foolish, I know, but then again, you do have a few redeeming qualities.”
Griffith smiled. “Such as? Quick, flattery for a guest should be required, Crispin, especially one who dropped everything to attend your wife while you were gone.”
His friend laughed. “You need no flattery from me. You’ve heard it your whole life, Griff. Were you not always the best bowman? The best hunter? The most skilled at dancing and the lute? Were you not always the smartest and fastest among those who fostered with Quentin? The one who could but crook his finger and have half the village girls in a swoon? Nay, Griff, you will gain no accolades from me. I lavish all compliments upon my sweet Deva alone.”
Crispin nuzzled his wife’s neck, and soft giggles erupted.
A pang of jealousy tore at Griffith’s heart. Crispin and Deva’s very closeness, their love, blanketed the room. He took a deep breath.
“As you two seem to have much to catch up on, I shall go make myself useful elsewhere.”
His brother-in-law raised his head and turned his attention to Griffith. “Actually, you could be very useful to me, Griff. I have need of your knightly services.”
Griffith cocked his head. “Can you afford me, Crispin? Or ‘tis a favor you seek, with no compensation?”
Deva laughed. “Come, let us go to the solar. We can speak in comfort.” Her eyes gleamed at her husband. “I am most curious about your trip, my lord, but even more so about this favor you require. I would have you tell all and tell it well.”
Crispin bowed to her. “My lady wife, I can refuse you nothing.” He glanced to Griffith. “Come, then. Let us adjourn to more private quarters. But instead of the solar, we shall go to my mother’s room.”
Deva shook her head. “She is no doubt still abed, Crispin. She rarely ventures forth this early. I would not have her disturbed.”
Crispin raised his brows. “I think, my lady, for this news, she will jump from her bed and lead us all in a merry dance.”
Griffith followed the couple up the stairs, intrigued by Crispin’s words. What news would have the withdrawn noblewoman spring from her bed? He knew her health to be moderately good although she did pass a great part of the day in her bedchamber. Griffith had not spent any noticeable amount of time with the older woman since his sister had married into the de Mangeron family. He wondered what news Crispin would share that might make his mother come alive again.
They arrived at her door, and Crispin knocked gently. He entered before he received a response. Lady de Mangeron sat with a mountain of pillows stacked behind her. A tray across her lap held a small pewter cup and a slice of bread smeared with butter. Her skin, while still fairly smooth, was a pale, ashen color, barely distinguishable from her graying hair.
She turned stormy eyes upon them. “I don’t recall inviting any of you in, Crispin.”
Her icy tone rolled off her affable son. “Mother, you will thank me for this intrusion in but a moment’s time, I assure you.”
Haughty brows arched in protest, but Lady de Mangeron kept silent.
“I have news, Mother. News that will first take you aback, but I’m sure you will embrace it, much as I did.”
The old woman perked up, Griffith thought. She shifted on the bed. “Go on. ‘Tis not as if I can do anything else but listen. Certainly not ready myself for the day with an audience present.”
Crispin laughed. “You old charmer. All right.” He knelt next to the bed and took his mother’s hand in his. “I have news about Bevia.”
Lady de Mangeron’s eyes widened. Her mouth twisted. “Nay, Crispin, I cannot talk about—”
“No, Mother, you will not talk. You will listen.”
Griffith hid his smile. Crispin, normally the most placid of men, and certainly nothing like his ogre of a father, silenced his mother with but a few words. Griffith’s surprise at his friend’s confidence made him take a step closer. Whatever Crispin was about to reveal would be more than interesting.
And why would it concern Bevia, now dead longer than Griffith could even remember. They had been but young boys, fostering with the Earl of Nowland when news of Bevia’s death reached them. What could Crispin have discovered after so long a time, especially at a convent?
A chill ran through him, a premonition. His gut told him that his friend’s words would change his life.
“Bevia did not die at three-and-ten, Mother. She suffered no riding accident in London.”
“No accident?” his mother echoed. “No accident? I do not understand.”
“No accident,” Crispin confirmed. “When Father took her away, you knew she was with child, did you not?”
Lady de Mangeron’s face flushed with color. Her head dropped. Griffith saw the tears begin to fall, staining the lace coverlet on her lap. Silence fell heavily upon the room.
Finally, she raised her head, her eyes watery and bright. “Yes, Crispin, I knew. The Earl of Nowland took advantage of your sister, and we discovered she was with child. Your father took her to London to try to make a quick match.” She shuddered. “‘Twas there she died.”
Crispin clutched her hands. “No, Mother. He took her to a convent where Aunt Julesa was abbess. She remained there and gave birth to a child. A daughter.”
“I have... a granddaughter?” Lady de Mangeron’s words were but a whisper.
Crispin nodded. “Yes, you do. Bevia died eight years ago. Her daughter has been alone there ever since.”
Deva gasped. “She’s there now, Crispin? Did you see her? Did you not bring her home with you?”
“Nay, Deva, she remains there with the good sisters. But I would like her to come and live with us, here at Mangeron.”
“Of course she must live here,” Deva insisted. “She is your niece, Crispin. And she’s been without family for so many years. How lonely she must be.”
“Mother?” Crispin looked at Lady de Mangeron, her mouth trembling. “Shall we bring Kallen home?”
“Kallen. My granddaughter’s name is Kallen.” The old noblewoman began to sob. “Yes, my son. Bring her to us. We shall correct the terrible mistake your father made so long ago. Oh, Bevia. My poor, sweet Bevia.”
Deva turned to Crispin. “I shall stay with your lady mother. I know now what you require of Griffith.” She sat upon the bed to comfort her mother-in-law.
Crispin motioned Griffith. They stepped into the hallway, and Crispin led them into the solar.
“I cannot leave Deva again, my friend,” Crispin told him. “’Twas enough to travel away from her these past two weeks. I worried constantly about her and the coming babe. I must stay with her.”
He looked hopefully at Griffith. “Kallen knew not of her family for all these years. My father paid to have Bevia and Kallen remain there forever, hidden from the world. When Aunt Julesa died recently, the new abbess summoned me. ‘Tis why I went to the nunnery.”
“Why did you not bring your niece home with you? Why the need for a second trip, Crispin?”
“I wanted to, but the new abbess is strong-willed. I gather she has been Bevia’s and Kallen’s protector all these years. She wanted time to break the news to Kallen gently. In case I refused to have her, the girl would never have known of her family.”
Griffith nodded. “You wish me to go and fetch this found relative back to Mangeron?”
“Yes, my friend. I have never asked anything from you before.”
“Even though you could have?”
Crispin nodded. “Even so. Will you do this for me, Griff? Bring this niece of mine back into our fold?”
“Will that cancel my debt to you?”
Crispin smiled. “I will then be in your debt, Griff. As I have been ever since you introduced the heavenly Deva to me.”
Griffith nodded. “I shall do as you ask. When do you wish me to leave?”
“On the morrow. ‘Tis sure I am Kallen will be eager to return to her family and Mangeron.”
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