Journey to Honor (Knights of Honor Book 4)
1366 A.D. – Kenric Fairfax is raised as the second son of the Earl of Shadowfaire. The day of his Knighting Ceremony, a tragedy takes place—and Kenric flees the north of England, putting his past behind him as he swears he will never marry. He becomes a trusted knight in service to Lord Michael Devereux, who asks Kenric to lead an escort party from London in order to bring his wife's sister home to Sandbourne.
Avelyn Le Cler has spent a year as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa and finds the treachery at the royal court not to her liking. She looks forward to a summer visit with her sister Elysande, who will soon give birth to her first child. While journeying from London, Avelyn discovers a secret about Sir Kenric Fairfax that could change his life—if he believes her.
But Avelyn is plagued with doubts since she has no proof to present Kenric. As the couple falls in love, Avelyn knows she must reveal to Kenric the truth she has learned about his birth—even if it costs her everything.
Join Kenric and Avelyn as the truth rips them apart—but their enduring love brings them together again.
Each book in the Knights of Honor series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Word of Honor
Book #2 Marked by Honor
Book #3 Code of Honor
Book #4 Journey to Honor
Release date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 254
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Journey to Honor (Knights of Honor Book 4)
Shadowfaire Castle—May, 1342
Gussalen looked down at the woman in the bed, her hair damp with sweat from the many hours of labor she had endured. At least, this time, a child would be the end result. Poor Juliana had lost three babes in the four years of her marriage to The Brute.
“Guss?” Juliana’s voice was barely a whisper now, hoarse from the piercing screams that had gone on since early morn.
“I am here, my lady,” the nurse said. “I will not leave you. I will never leave you.”
She took the noblewoman’s hand and squeezed it encouragingly. Juliana let out a long sigh and closed her eyes, resting them until the next birthing pain struck.
The young woman would deliver soon. Gussalen had grown up accompanying her own mother to hundreds of births until she herself had wed and become a midwife. Her new husband died in an accident less than a month before she gave birth to their child. One look at the weak, mewling babe told Gussalen that the infant would soon follow her husband to the grave. Two days later, the priest buried the child next to her father. Gussalen had wanted to crawl into the hole with them—until word came from the castle.
The baroness’ water had broken.
Gussalen answered the summons and delivered a beautiful, healthy daughter, but she could not save the mother. The master kept her on as wet nurse—and Gussalen never left. She raised Juliana from birth and attended the girl every day. The old lord, who had refused to marry after the death of his beloved wife, had not even let his daughter leave to foster, reluctant to part from his only child. Gussalen had gone from that household to Shadowfaire Castle seventeen years later upon Juliana’s marriage to the Earl of Shadowfaire.
And then the nightmare began.
Within the first week, an array of bruises covered her sweet girl’s body. The earl—tall, broad, and loud—enjoyed dominating women. Juliana had always been a timid flower. Quiet. Thoughtful. Fragile. She endured whatever punishment her new husband doled out in silence.
But the tears came when Gussalen brought a small meal to her mistress’ bedchamber each morning. She couldn’t imagine the horrors the earl subjected his wife to and Juliana never described them. The two women pretended nothing was wrong. She tended to her lady’s body as best she could—all the while cursing The Brute under her breath.
She had seen him pinch the bottom of a passing servant. Watched him push unwilling women into darkened corners while everyone in the great hall ignored what happened. Gussalen had come across the nobleman fondling the breasts of a frightened girl that was no more than half a score.
That was when she put her foot down—and paid the price.
The girl had escaped. The earl had not been pleased. He backhanded Gussalen with such force that she found herself lifted off her feet. Her cheek burned in agony, sliced open by the man’s signet ring. She bore the scar and reminded herself of her hatred toward him every day when she briefly touched her fingers to her face and traced the memory.
Injuring her hadn’t been enough to please The Brute. He had dragged her by her braid to the larder and slammed the door. Tossed her face down across a table and drew her skirts up past her waist. Forced himself upon her. She thought he might rend her in two, but she never whimpered, refusing to give him any satisfaction.
He’d ignored her after that. Gussalen made sure to give him a wide berth.
In her heart, though, she plotted revenge. For herself—and for Juliana. Gussalen thought of poisoning The Brute and smiled when she imagined his twitching body jerk, foam coming from his mouth as everyone in the great hall looked on in horror. Or she would slip into his bedchamber and stab him in the heart, twisting the baselard until the hilt reached his chest. She imagined sneaking down to the stables and loosening his saddle’s straps. Just enough so that it would come apart as he galloped across the field as he led the hunt. In her mind, she pictured him falling from his steed and being trampled by all those behind him, his body broken beyond repair.
Yet she had acted upon none of these desires. The time would come when Walter Fairfax, Earl of Shadowfaire, would pay for all that he had done to her and his wife.
Tonight, the debt would be collected. She had yet to decide just how.
Juliana’s eyelids fluttered open again. She gasped. Gussalen drew back the bedclothes to the foot of the bed and saw a head beginning to crown.
“’Tis time, my lady. You must push.”
“I don’t know if I can, Guss. I think I would rather die than give birth to . . . his child.”
“No!” she said fiercely. “You will not die. You will live where your own mother did not and be a good mother to this child. It’s as much yours as his. More so, because you have nurtured it all these months. Now push!”
Juliana began straining, tiny whimpers escaping her parched lips.
Gussalen looked over her shoulder. The bedchamber still remained empty. When Juliana reached her sixth month without miscarrying, Gussalen had gone to The Brute and told him the best chance for him to see a child from his wife would be for the countess to spend the rest of her time in bed. Alone. With no distractions. At two score and having already seen one wife and three other children put into early graves, the nobleman readily agreed, desperate for an heir.
That day, Gussalen moved Juliana to a new bedchamber and isolated her. The Brute had not visited once during the last three months. She had gone downstairs and brought up all of Juliana’s meals. She bathed her mistress and cared for her. No one knew how large the countess had grown. Even now, The Brute drank himself silly in the great hall, awaiting news from Gussalen that his son had arrived. She had personally told him this morning that by nightfall, he would, once more, be a father.
So Gussalen helped the babe slip from her sweet lady’s womb—and believed another would follow. Even Juliana did not suspect since she had never come close to bringing a babe to full term.
The infant arrived in a slick rush of water and blood. As Gussalen slapped his bottom to help give him life, he gave a lusty cry. She studied the infant, frowning.
He looked exactly like The Brute.
The boy proved much larger than the usual newborn, with a head full of dark hair. His coloring was that of The Brute. She already hated him upon first sight. Still, she cared for the infant as she had for so many others over the years. Cut the umbilical cord. Cleaned and swaddled him. Placed him atop a pillow on the floor since the bed was soaked in sweat and blood.
And waited for the next one.
Juliana shrieked in pain again as the second child came out. She raised her head weakly to try and see what had happened, but exhaustion caused her to fall back into the pillows.
The Brute had a second boy. This one had the fair coloring of his mother and a sparse bit of blond hair atop his head. Gussalen had to slap him several times before he let out a soft mewl. She readied this babe, as well, smiling. It would serve the earl right if this one became his heir.
In that moment, her decision became clear. She would do it. Why not? No one would know, not even her sweet lady. Juliana had passed out from the strain of the births. Gussalen said a quick prayer to the Virgin Mary, hoping this one would survive as she wiped him clean and wrapped him tightly. What a huge joke on The Brute if this frail, little mite was destined to be the next Earl of Shadowfaire. She placed him beside his brother. He looked dwarfed alongside the other child.
She took a damp cloth and swept it across Juliana’s face. Pushed back her hair. Placed both babes next to a bare breast. Naturally, the greedy firstborn started guzzling, conquering the challenge of sucking without any trouble as he latched on to his mother’s breast. Gussalen knew this one would take everything in life—whether ‘twas offered to him or not.
Even with her guidance, the fair twin had trouble finding his mother’s nipple. Gussalen feared he might not last the night if he did not learn to suckle, but she determined to let the earl know this weakling was his heir. Finally, the babe understood what he needed to do and began nursing quietly as his brother noisily drank inches away. She cleaned Juliana up as best she could and covered her and the babes with a clean linen sheet.
Slowly, Juliana came around as Gussalen bathed her face again. The countess looked down at the two bundles cradled next to her. Hope radiated from her smile.
“There are two?” she asked, wonder evident in her voice.
“Yes, my lady. Both boys. One thrives. The other?” She shrugged. “Not so much.”
“I want to see them.”
Gussalen pulled the tiny brute away. Milk dribbled down his chin. She held him out for inspection as he howled angrily.
Immediately, Juliana cringed. “Oh, he’s so like his father.” She bit her lip. “Put him aside, Guss. Let me see the other boy.”
She placed the dark one down and lifted the fair one, who remained quiet, his large, blue eyes studying his mother.
This time, the mother smiled. “Oh, he is so sweet.” Juliana reached her arms out and claimed the babe, cradling it close to her.
“You hold the firstborn, my lady,” Gussalen shared. “I hope he has a kind nature and will be a good lord to his people.”
“I do, too, Guss.” Juliana gazed with love at the child in her arms.
Gussalen made her next decision. “I fear you are one of those women who will not produce enough milk for the two of them. You will need a wet nurse. I had one waiting just in case. May I fetch her?”
The noblewoman nodded. She cooed softly to her babe as Gussalen crossed the room and stepped out into the corridor.
A heavy woman from the estate waited in the hallway. She had already borne two other children, the last coming almost two years ago. Gussalen had spoken with her about weaning her youngest so she could care for Lady Juliana’s babe.
“I hope you are ready,” she told the woman. “There are two of them. One will have no trouble nursing. It’s the firstborn I am concerned with.”
The woman nodded. “My youngest took some time to catch on. Do not worry, Gussalen. I will care for both babes as if they were my own.”
“Focus on the older one,” she cautioned. “He will be heir to Shadowfaire. Come in now.”
She led the woman into the bedchamber and to the bed.
“This is the woman I told you about, my lady. She will be wet nurse to both boys.”
“I thank you,” Juliana said quietly as Gussalen took the child from her and gave him to the wet nurse. “The heir.”
She gave the new wet nurse a few more instructions and indicated the second boy, making sure the three were settled in a chair in the corner of the room. After some coaxing, both babes suckled at the unfamiliar breasts. Gussalen nodded her approval to the woman and returned to the bedside.
“I need to tell your lord husband that he is father to two boys, my lady. First, I want to change your sheets and put you in fresh clothes. Comb your hair. You will want to look your best for him.”
Juliana let her do as she wished. Gussalen wanted everything perfect before she ventured downstairs to see The Brute. She even stopped by her own chamber and tidied up before she descended the stairs.
The evening meal had just ended and servants cleared the dishes away. Men moved the trestle tables back against the walls. She spotted The Brute standing with a group of his soldiers and made her way toward him. As she suspected, he had a cup in his hand and, from his flushed face, she knew he’d been drinking all day.
He caught sight of her as she approached. “You’d better have good news for me.”
“The countess did her duty, my lord,” Gussalen assured him. “She has given birth to not one boy, but two.”
The Brute gave a shout of approval. “Did you hear that? I have two sons!”
He lifted his cup and had those near him toast to the health of his children. He slapped a few backs and pinched a passing maid’s bottom.
“Would you like to see the twins, my lord?” she asked. Her heart raced at the deception she would now put into motion.
The earl nodded and followed her from the great hall.
Gussalen led him up to the bedchamber. The babes had finished nursing and now lay sleeping, one on each side of Juliana. As expected, he ignored his wife and snatched up the larger one that favored him. The child did not appreciate being grabbed so roughly and loudly bellowed his displeasure.
The Brute smiled. “See? This one has a good set of lungs on him. He’ll make a fine warrior. We shall name him Kenric. ‘Tis a strong name for a strong heir.”
“But my lord,” Gussalen said, shaking her head sadly, “you do not hold the firstborn.” She indicated the other sleeping infant. “‘This is the babe who is your heir to Shadowfaire. Surely you wish to hold this son, for he will be far more important than the second born.”
The shock on the nobleman’s face gave her more pleasure than she’d imagined. The Brute looked to the smaller, pale babe that resembled his wife and back at her in disbelief.
“Nay. It cannot be. This one has a strong, lusty cry. He should be earl.”
Gussalen frowned at him. “Nay, my lord, Ask your wife.”
The Brute glared at Juliana as he possessively held the darker babe to his chest. “Tell me now. I order you. Which one is heir to Shadowfaire?”
Without hesitation, Juliana pointed to the tiny babe who had awakened at the shouting and fussed. “He was first to claw his way from my womb. He shall make a fine knight, my lord husband, as the true heir to Shadowfaire.”
The Brute looked as if someone had punched him in his gut. All the bluster fled from him. Disappointment darkened his face.
He glanced down at the babe in his arms. “At least I have a strong second born son in case the first weakling dies.” He thrust the babe into Gussalen’s arms and stormed from the bedchamber.
Juliana gasped in horror at his brash statement. She lifted the child and cradled him in her arms, kissing the babe’s forehead and smoothing down what little hair he had.
Gussalen secretly smiled to herself. The sickly runt might not hold the title of firstborn for long, but she would do everything in her power to see that this scrawny babe lived to become earl, simply to spite the present one.
“Take both babes across the hall to the chamber I have prepared for them,” she ordered the wet nurse who cowered in the corner. “I shall be with you shortly.”
The woman scooped up the fair child from his mother and took the darker one from Gussalen and exited the bedchamber.
She went to the woman who was more her girl than the babe she’d given birth to so many years ago.
“Do not weep, my lady,” she comforted, stroking the silky, blond hair. “He has two sons. He may very well leave you alone now.”
She watched as Juliana understood her words. Relief washed over the noblewoman. “Do you really think so, Guss?”
“I do, indeed, my lady, and ‘twould be a huge blessing. But we have something important to discuss. He did not name the other babe. What would you like to call him?”
Juliana thought a moment. “Roland. After my father. I only wish he’d lived to know this child.”
Gussalen put an arm around her charge. “I am sure your father looks down from Heaven above and approves. So Roland the Fair is the elder and heir, and Kenric, the younger brother, will serve him.” She stroked Juliana’s hair. “You did a fine thing today, my lady, giving birth to two boys.”
And the Earl of Shadowfaire had believed what he had been told.
Longshire Castle—June, 1363
Kenric Fairfax stood at the foot of the stairs that led up to the keep, awaiting the arrival of his family. He had mixed feelings about seeing them again. The last time they had spent time together occurred five years earlier when they put his father into the ground.
He had not returned to Shadowfaire since.
Walter Fairfax had been a difficult man, swift to anger and hard to please—yet he had been a good teacher to his son. Kenric left his home to foster with Lord Forwin at Longshire well prepared. He sat a horse and rode better than any boy his age and understood various nuances of swordplay. Since he was large for his age, he had a strength that enabled him to be skilled at archery from a young age. Kenric had met with nothing but success under Lord Forwin these last ten and four years.
His twin had not fared nearly as well.
Roland Fairfax did not favor his brother in any way. Where Kenric stood tall and sturdy, Roland proved weak in body and was more than a head shorter. He was timid around horses and couldn’t seem to understand the strategy to use in order to best an opponent with a sword. Roland sneezed constantly and fell ill often. He nearly died thrice—and that was before they left at age seven to foster together.
His brother had only spent a few years training as a page. He was so slow at completing tasks that Kenric stepped in many times and speedily polished the last pieces of armor so that his twin would not suffer the consequences. Yet Roland never once thanked him. The older Fairfax boy was arrogant and condescending—when he wasn’t lying. More times than Kenric could count, Roland had done some mischief and blamed the outcome on his brother.
As Kenric matured, he realized Roland must be jealous of him for being smarter, stronger, faster, and better at anything the two attempted. Since his twin was now the earl, he hoped that would be enough to satisfy Roland.
Kenric had his own life to lead—and his own destiny to fulfill.
The sound of hooves beating against the earth drew his attention. The Fairfax colors danced in the breeze as the expected party arrived from Shadowfaire. For once, events focused on him. Kenric would participate in the Order of Knighthood Ceremony on the day he turned one and twenty. By this time tomorrow, he would have become a full-fledged knight of the realm.
Tossing his shoulders back and standing a little taller as the riders drew near, he noticed his uncle riding next to his mother. Kenric closely resembled Uncle Doran, who physically was cut from the same cloth his brother, Walter, came from. The three Fairfax men all possessed thick, dark hair and hazel eyes. The trio also hovered above six feet, though Kenric had turned out to be the tallest of them all.
Doran Fairfax had never married. He’d returned to his childhood home to guide the new earl as Roland assumed the title at the tender age of ten and six. Kenric had never trusted his uncle. He believed the man was a second son who longed for the mantle of power to be placed upon his shoulders—and Doran had gotten his wish with his older brother’s death. Though Kenric had not visited Shadowfaire in several years, he believed Roland was a puppet and Uncle Doran the string master and true authority behind the title.
As his uncle moved to help his sister-in-law from her horse, her eyes locked with Kenric’s. The wintry blue eyes had never warmed to him. While Roland cuddled in their mother’s lap, Juliana Fairfax would push Kenric away if he tried to join them. She told Roland stories and gave him treats but never did so with her younger son. Kenric often wondered what he had done wrong to be kept at such a distance both physically and emotionally.
He stepped over to greet her and kissed her offered cheek.
“Thank you for coming, Mother. Uncle.” He shook hands with Doran.
Then he turned and noticed Gussalen, the nurse who had tended to his mother’s every whim since childhood. The old woman glared at him with hate before she spat on the ground.
“Brother,” Kenric acknowledged.
Roland climbed from his horse, looking pale and frail in the summer sun. Kenric noticed his twin had not grown in height since their father’s funeral mass. Roland barely came to his shoulder. His brother’s frame had not filled out and his fair hair, so much like the blond of their mother’s, had already begun to thin and recede.
“Who is that?” Roland asked.
He glanced over his shoulder as the baron and his daughter descended the steps to meet their guests. Lord Forwin had given Kenric time to greet his family privately but now came forward to welcome the new arrivals.
“Surely, you remember Lord Forwin,” he said. “Lady Jannet, his daughter, accompanies him.”
“She was merely a babe when I was here as a page,” noted Roland. He smiled. “She has grown into quite a beauty.”
Kenric shrugged. He had little contact with the girl, though she’d hung around the training yard in recent months, mooning over bare-chested soldiers as they partnered in various exercises. She’d proven a distraction to the men. They showed off for her, trying to impress her and win a smile. He wished the captain of the guard would ask her to leave, but even Kenric realized Jannet was an only child and notably spoiled.
“I extend a warm welcome to you all,” Lord Forwin said. “We are delighted that Kenric’s family could attend his Order of the Knighthood Ceremony.”
“My lord, may I introduce to you my mother, Lady Juliana, and my uncle, Sir Doran Fairfax? And also my brother, Roland, Earl of Shadowfaire.” Kenric left unspoken how Forwin knew exactly who Roland was and that he had abandoned his training at Longshire many years ago to run home to his mother’s skirts.
“’Tis a pleasure to meet you,” the nobleman said. “Of course, I met the previous earl on several occasions when he brought the twins to Longshire.” He paused and turned, drawing Jannet closer. “And here is my lovely flower. My daughter, Lady Jannet.”
She made her curtsey and Kenric watched Roland’s eyes gaze at her in approval. It occurred to him that Roland also turned one and twenty tomorrow. As the earl, he would need to find a wife in order to have children and pass along his title and the estate. He bit back the smile that threatened to escape.
So, Roland found Jannet interesting.
Little did his twin know that the young noblewoman had a vile temper and was used to ruling the roost since her mother had passed along a good half a score ago. Kenric observed his mother pick up on Roland’s interest. He waited for her to make a move for her favorite son.
“We are so pleased to have you visit Longshire Castle,” Jannet told them. “Please, come inside. We have bedchambers prepared and refreshments awaiting you.”
His mother linked arms with Jannet. “And we are delighted to be here, my dear.” She turned. “Come, Roland. Help Lady Jannet and me up these stairs.”
Roland sprang into action, attaching himself to Jannet’s other side, and they ascended the stone stairs. Lord Forwin and his uncle fell in behind them, with Kenric bringing up the rear.
When they arrived inside the keep, Forwin asked Kenric, “Do you know where your assigned chamber is? We cannot have your ritual of cleansing take place in the noisy barracks.”
“I have been instructed as to which bedchamber I should use. Thank you, my lord.” He looked to his uncle. “I will see you tomorrow, Uncle Doran.”
Kenric moved toward his mother and brother. “Thank you again for journeying to Longshire. I am sure you are in good hands with Lady Jannet. I must excuse myself now to prepare for the ceremony.”
He mounted the stairs and counted the number of doors along the corridor until he arrived at the appointed room. Once inside, he stopped and stared at the clothing awaiting him on the bed.
A white vesture, symbolizing purity, was spread next to a red robe, which stood for nobility. Both the hose and shoes, black in color, represented death. Once he had completed his ritual bathing, he would don this set of new clothes. His shining sword and shield rested beside the clothing. Kenric had polished the pair himself, not trusting the task to a page.
A knock at the door drew his attention. He opened it and admitted a row of servants, each carrying two buckets of steaming water which they dumped into the wooden tub at the far end of the room. Lady Jannet brought up the rear. In her hands, she carried a large bath sheet, scrubbing brush, and a cake of soap. She dismissed the servants and closed the door.
Facing him, she said, “I am here to help you in your bath.”
Kenric did not like the gleam in her eye.
“I thank you for the offer, my lady, but I believe I can manage.”
Her eyes narrowed. “But as lady of the house, I am expected to help visitors bathe.”
He laughed. “I am no visitor, Lady Jannet. I have resided at Longshire since I was seven. In fact, I remember you as a babe. You began to walk about the time I arrived.”
“I am a grown woman now, Kenric Fairfax, or have you not noticed?” She thrust her bottom lip out, a seductive look in her eye.
Kenric remembered his friend, Hudd, warning him about Jannet. “She’s trouble, that one,” Hudd had said only days ago.
He decided to focus on the religious aspect of the experience and hoped that would discourage her.
“I do appreciate your thoughtful offer, my lady. But I need to concentrate on the ritual of bathing. I must thoroughly cleanse my body as a symbol of purification, as well as prepare my mind for the long prayer vigil which follows. I can’t have distractions from my task while I ready myself for God.”
“Is that what I am—a distraction?” She licked her lips slowly.
“A pretty girl is always a distraction,” he teased, hoping to lighten the tension filling the room.
Jannet closed the gap between them. Before he realized what the girl meant to do, she locked her hands behind his neck and pulled him down to her. His lips briefly brushed against hers before he jerked away.
“No, my lady. This isn’t proper. We are not betrothed. You mustn’t—”
“I love you, Kenric,” she declared. “My love is deep and rich. You are the man for me. No other will do.”
Her declaration came from nowhere and startled him to his core.
“Father has not given me to another. He has waited for the most advantageous match.” Her eyes danced as she studied him. “But you are soon to be a knight and come from a respected noble family. You are the best of all his soldiers and I know he thinks highly of you.”
Kenric knew he must discourage her and be gentle about it. Jannet was not only physically frail but he thought, mayhap, mentally fragile, as well.
“I am flattered, my lady,” he began, pausing when words failed him.
“I do not wish for flattery,” she snapped, then took a deep breath and looked at him imploringly. “Why do you think I have come to the training yard so frequently, Kenric? It was because I wanted to watch you fight. See how quickly you dispatched your training partners.”
Jannet reached a hand out and ran it seductively along his arm. “Do you know what it does to me when I look at you? See your sleek muscles ripple as you engaged in combat?” she purred. “View the sweat glistening on your torso? Ah, Kenric, my love began for you many years ago. And now that I am a woman, ‘tis time we came together as one.”
Her fingers glided up his arm slowly, causing him to stiffen. “I want to feel you inside of me. Call out your name. Do whatever it takes to possess you. To make you mine.”
The gleam in her eyes frightened him even more than her words.
Kenric thought quickly. “But I could provide no home for you, Lady Jannet. You are a most beautiful woman who deserves the best of what life has to offer. Wealth. Jewels. A titled, handsome husband.” He let his words sink in before he continued. “My brother, Roland, is a man who could give you these things. As my elder brother, he holds the title in our family, as well as a fortune and vast estate. Roland confided in me how smitten he was with you. You might wish to consider his suit, my lady. I know him well and I saw how taken he was with you upon his arrival. Roland would treat you better than the king treats Queen Philippa. You would do well to be open to the possibility of a union with Roland.”
Kenric only hoped his words might have an impact on Jannet. Marriage to her—or any woman—was the last thing on his mind as he stood on the cusp of realizing his dream of becoming a knight. To be tied down to one woman, especially one as delicate and demanding as Jannet, would be a living nightmare.
She began to pout, reminding him of a small child who had been denied her way. He wished her to be gone from his sight before she turned even more reckless in her behavior.
“At least promise me that we may dance together at the celebration after the ceremony.”
He could see little harm in promising the girl a dance. But he hoped she would consider attaching herself to Roland. Kenric would make sure he told his brother that Jannet might be interested in him.
“I would be honored to partner in a dance with you, my lady.”
She bit her lip. “You now know what I think of you, Kenric Fairfax. I wish to know you better.”
“Know that I will serve and protect you and your household. I will make my pledge to do so tomorrow. For now, though, I must prepare myself for the upcoming ceremony.”
Jannet took the hint and bid him good evening. He saw her to the door and relief washed over him when she passed through it. Kenric closed and bolted the door and leaned against it.
Mayhap, Roland would draw her interest. Kenric had done his best to plant that seed in her mind. His brother was handsome in a soft way. Roland favored their mother while he resembled their father.
The thought brought him to a halt. Kenric remembered the coldness between his parents. He’d never witnessed a single sign of affection between them before he left for Longshire or on his brief visits home. His father had flagrantly bedded other women in the castle and on the estate. Kenric wondered if that was why his mother had never shown him any fondness or warmth. Did he remind her so much of her unfaithful husband?
Kenric also blamed Gussalen, the old woman who always lurked in the shadows. She had lied about him to his mother on many occasions and blamed him for things Roland did. He had always taken the punishment in silence, knowing he was the stronger of the two boys.
It caused him to believe he’d stumbled upon the reason for his mother’s dislike. She had transferred her feelings toward her husband upon the child who was his mirror image.
He stripped off his clothes and climbed into the hot bath, pushing the past aside. It was more important to reflect on what the new day would bring and not be caught up in things he could never change.
As he scrubbed his limbs, Kenric focused on his future. More than anything, he had dreamed of becoming a great knight and adhering to the code of chivalry. He longed to prove his prowess on the battlefield. He decided, in that moment, to commit fully to knighthood and never let love or marriage become distractions. He, Sir Kenric Fairfax, would serve king and country till his dying breath.
He rinsed the last of the soap from his skin, raw and red from the vigorous scrubbing. Reaching for the bath sheet, he stood and dried himself before dressing in the clothes on the bed.
Now it was time to head to the chapel for the Night Vigil.
Placing his sword in one hand and his shield in the other, Kenric made his way down the stairs and outside of the keep. Within minutes, he reached the empty chapel. Silence hung heavily in the air, while lit candles rested upon the steps leading up to the altar.
He made his way to the altar and placed his sword and shield upon it. Lord Forwin had told Kenric he had a choice of kneeling in submission or standing for the ten hours of prayer that now came.
Kenric decided to stand tall and proud.
He offered many prayers to the Virgin Mother. He asked that he stay humble but, over time, hoped he might become the best knight in all the realm.
More importantly, he begged for the coldness that surrounded his heart to thaw where his mother and twin brother were concerned. Kenric wanted to be free of sin—and that meant being free of anger and resentment toward his blood kin. They had made the effort to attend his knighthood ceremony, so it was up to him to forgive them for all past transgressions against him. He asked the Blessed Christ to lift away his burden of sin.
Kenric slowed his breathing as he meditated. A calm surrounded him as if the dove of peace descended upon him and he put aside all petty feelings lingering from his childhood. What mattered was that he would be his own man, a knight sworn in service to both his king and Lord Forwin, his liege lord.
Tomorrow would be the first day his life truly began.
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