The Briton and the Dane: Legacy Second Edition
There is action until the final moments and I love that. It doesn't let up for a moment.Jenn L
This victory, the sages prophesied, would guarantee peace throughout the land. Or so they thought.
Two years later, Rigr the Bastard, vengeful and seeking to claim his birthright, was defeated in the wilds of East Anglia. His blood smeared berserker warriors vanquished; no quarter asked for - no quarter given.
Now, a further two years later, the Vikings return. Noble Prince Sven instigates a seaborne invasion, fuelled partly by blind rage when he discovers that his brother, Prince Erik, has sworn fealty to the Anglo-Saxon king.
His own brother: A traitor and a fool.
Erik's love, Lady Gwyneth, attempts to stop the invasion before it starts by uniting the two estranged brothers, but her scheming only succeeds in making matters worse. Indeed, her interference guarantees the death of thousands of warriors in the freezing, tumultuous North Sea.
So when the horns of Sven's monumental fleet of warships are heard off the fogbound coast of Britannia, King Alfred – outnumbered, outshipped and weary of the fray - must rouse his jaded Saxon warriors and lead them to sea, to repel his most formidable enemy yet.
For a host motivated by the spilled blood of the fallen, the spirit of black vengeance, and the delights of a warrior's reward in Valhalla, is the most fearsome opponent of all.
Alfred. Sven. Erik. Gwyneth. Amidst the ferrous reverberation of a battle royale - one or all must die, and the fate of a nation hangs in the balance, one final time.
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Release date: April 21, 2013
Publisher: Literary Underground
Print pages: 352
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The Briton and the Dane: Legacy Second Edition
Mary Ann Bernal
The capital city of Winchester was bustling with excitement as the eagerly anticipated dedication of King Alfred’s court school was rapidly approaching. Gwyneth hurried across the busy courtyard, heading towards the King’s private quarters, which also housed her chambers.
“Erik!” Gwyneth cried as she burst open the door.
“My lady, what is wrong?” The nursemaid asked anxiously as Roland ran into his mother’s outstretched arms.
“Bishop Asmund has arrived!” Gwyneth replied as she kissed her son and carried him up the stairs. “Where is my husband? The King requests our presence!”
“Your husband seeks his wife,” Erik said upon entering their quarters.
Erik smiled as he watched their faithful servant escort Roland to the children’s bedchamber where Elena peacefully slept. He waited as Gwyneth hurried towards him, and laughed while keeping his balance when the force of her embrace almost caused him to fall.
“Forgive me,” Gwyneth blushed as Erik steadied himself. “It is just that...”
“Your excitement is difficult to control,” Erik interrupted. “That your emotions still rule.”
“You mock me,” Gwyneth teased while grabbing Erik’s hand and pulling him towards the Great Hall. “Have I not been obedient since my last confinement?”
“I dare say your obedience has been somewhat…lacking!” Erik guffawed, “but then…”
“But then, I do seek your counsel, do I not?” Gwyneth asked. “Is not the King, and my father, pleased with my behavior?”
“You are most wicked,” Erik told her mischievously, “but I am pleased to call you wife.”
“As I am pleased to call you husband,” Gwyneth softly replied as they crossed the crowded courtyard, discreetly entered the Great Hall and waited to be presented to the renowned Bishop of Canterbury.
Bishop Germanus was uneasy as he awaited the King’s trusted messenger. Even though two years had passed since the Danish King Guthrum had successfully defeated his bastard son, Rigr, in battle, rumors that the usurper’s wife, Dalla, would soon avenge her husband’s death, flourished.
It was believed that the remnants of Rigr’s army had fled to Mercia where the men had sworn fealty not only to Dalla, but to Kylan of Esbjerg, Rigr’s recognized heir. It was also being said that Dalla had recently formed an alliance with a prince from the Danish homeland and that their combined forces would not only defeat the formidable King Guthrum, but would also vanquish the King of Wessex.
Bishop Germanus had accidentally learned the whereabouts of a mysterious encampment in Mercia, which he believed to be Dalla’s stronghold. He wondered if Jora’s brother, Ulfr, and Rigr’s trusted henchman, Loki, were also at the camp, since both men were not found at the villa when Lord Richard’s son, Stephen, had been rescued from his captors.
King Guthrum had assured his Godfather, King Alfred, that he would not rest until Rigr’s followers suffered a traitor’s fate. However, Dalla’s men were loyal beyond reproach, and there would be none to betray their mistress as they awaited their brothers from the homeland. Rigr might be dead, but his right to rule his father’s kingdom lived on through his wife and acknowledged heir, Kylan.
Kylan was a bastard son of a Danish prince who had no legal claim in East Anglia, but it was Rigr’s patronage that was acknowledged as the men who served in the usurper’s army chose to challenge King Guthrum’s right to wear the crown. These men would fight for plunder and glory, but they would also fight for land since the lush, fertile countryside of Britannia was a sharp contrast to the harsh and unforgiving climate of the Jutland peninsula.
Bishop Germanus discovered this new threat to Britannia’s shores when he had walked amongst the Pilgrims. He learned that an encampment had been built not far from the Welsh border years past, during the Festival of the Ancient Games. It was said the warrior community was ruled by a heathen prince, that Dragonships were moored in the river, and that soldiers trained for battle upon them. It was said these ships would join an invading fleet as the Norsemen planned to conquer King Alfred’s kingdom of Wessex. It was also being said that fealty was willingly sworn to the usurper’s chosen heir after Dalla had knelt before Kylan and acknowledged him as her rightful King.
Bishop Germanus was told that this heathen prince and his warriors rarely attended market day at any of the nearby towns, but the women occasionally left the protected campsite to sell their wares and purchase supplies. Warrior-trained slaves protected the small caravan as they ventured across forest trails. Even though the men were enslaved, they were well treated and willingly served the charismatic Dalla, and they would readily give their lives to protect her and the prince she served.
Bishop Germanus smiled inwardly when the young girl reminded him that a night spent at an alehouse loosened tongues. Two men had been arguing as to which of them was the better warrior when she walked into the crowded room. She had paid them no heed, but she soon found herself in their midst as both men bragged of their prowess and revealed secrets to gain her favor.
Bishop Germanus led the pretty lass towards the private cloistered gardens, identifying the diverse flowers and plants by species as he led her to a stone bench serenely nestled beneath carefully kept bushes. He waited for the woman to speak while noticing her discomfiture when she recalled the festive evening as she repeated the boasting of a drunken warrior.
“I was troubled when he spoke of being trained to fight aboard ships when on the water,” the woman whispered.
“Were you told how many were trained and when they might set sail?” Bishop Germanus asked.
“I am afraid not, Your Excellency. I was told he would only be with me the one night and would not return, but he drank overmuch and fell asleep on the bed. I was scared and sought sanctuary in the church, and I stayed with the Holy Sisters until I was certain he had returned to his camp.”
“There are maps in the library,” Bishop Germanus told her. “Would you be able to point out the location of this camp?”
“Hopefully...but do you believe I am in danger?”
“I pray not,” Bishop Germanus smiled, “but I think it might be best if you remain at the abbey until the moon is full...for your own protection.”
The frightened lass was grateful to be given succor, but she occasionally glanced over her shoulder for fear of being followed while walking with Bishop Germanus towards the famed library where she hoped to be of service to her King.
Lord Richard glanced upon the beautiful city of Rome while standing on the balcony outside of the Pope’s private chambers. He marveled at the ruins of the Great Amphitheater as sunbeams illuminated the carvings and archways of the colossal structure, which depicted the glory and decadence of the ancient Roman Empire.
“I have found you!” the Bishop of Rome smiled as he approached King Alfred’s emissary. “Do you still plan to leave at first light?”
“Yes, Your Holiness,” Lord Richard replied. “The mountains will soon be impassable, and the journey is treacherous enough without the winter storms.”
“That is the truth, and I pray you will reach the abbey without mishap, but I have hired warriors to travel with your escort. The more swords the better your chances of not being attacked...and I have also engaged these men to accompany you to Britannia.”
“I am in your debt, but more swords are needed here. It is your life that is in grave peril.”
“I do not fear death, my son; I grow weary of the treachery and accept the Lord’s will.”
“What of Marius and Remus? I know they have offered their swords to protect you.
“Their offer is admirable, but Marius must be given the choice to return with you or stay with Remus, just as Remus must choose to return to his father or continue his studies at the abbey.”
“Remus is still young and might be easily swayed,” Lord Richard replied.
“I do not think so, Remus is wise for his years. He serves the Lord but lives still in the world, and he has yet to prove himself in battle. He fears no one and fought well when he was attacked, and by the will of God, his wounds mended. However, he is torn between his love of life and his love of the Lord. Remus must not take the priest cowl unless he is certain.”
“I will do my best to counsel the boy,” Lord Richard replied as he and Pope John walked the length of the corridor and headed towards the chapel. “I am grateful Marius has been found, but I fear for Sidonius and the children. We have yet to learn their fate.”
“Come, we pray,” the Bishop of Rome said as they entered the dimly lit room. “Our Lord is merciful. It will not be long before we discover the truth.”
Remus had enjoyed the time spent under the tutelage of Brother Notker, but he soon realized that he truly desired to fight the evils of the world and not remain safely cloistered behind abbey walls. His heart felt out of place in the religious community even though his mind quickly absorbed everything he had been taught. Remus spent hours in prayer asking the Lord for guidance.
Remus respected Brother Notker who willingly embraced his affliction while serving Christ Jesus. He admired the monk’s instinctive patience when his words barely escaped his lips as the holy man stuttered. Even when Brother Notker stammered while teaching his beloved protégé, his eyes depicted his love of the Lord.
The famed monk was at peace in the Lord’s dwelling, Remus was not. Remus was restless as he recovered from his grave wound, but he was pleased when Brother Notker had recognized his intellectual abilities and requested his assistance in writing about the deeds of the famed Charlemagne, but he was genuinely pleased to have been taught the Frankish tongue.
Remus was not content to remain in the classroom, he wanted to experience the trappings of daily life and to serve not only his God, but also his King. He eagerly awaited messages from His Holiness, and from his father, while longing to meet his kin and giving his sword to defend King Alfred’s kingdom. He was aware of the treachery plaguing the world as evil men sought power and wealth. He had wanted to remain with the Holy Father, to protect him from his many enemies, but he realized he was but one truthful sword in a sea of deception. Remus feared the assassin would ultimately succeed and a new Bishop of Rome would be elected, yet he also realized his life would be readily forfeit once Pope John was found dead.
However, King Alfred could use Remus’ sword to fight the Norsemen whose coastal raids and inland skirmishes threatened to destroy the existing peace. Remus had been told that he was a brilliant military strategist and that his mastery of warfare would prove useful to the Saxon King should he choose to defend his homeland before committing himself to serve the Lord.
Remus was eager to return to Britannia and impatiently awaited the arrival of King Alfred’s emissary. He was unsure as to why he was chosen to meet this warrior statesman, nor why it was necessary to offer his sword when Lord Richard was adequately protected by a large retinue of mercenaries.
He smiled as Marius hurried across the courtyard and headed in his direction, but he waited until the man he loved as a brother was by his side before walking towards the kitchens.
“You seem unsettled, my friend,” Remus told him as Marius tried to catch his breath. “Has something happened?”
“There has been word from Rome,” Marius said between gasps. “It would seem Lord Richard is kin!”
“How can this be? I thought the heathen destroyed your villa?”
“My father and mother were slain, but I have been told my brother and sister were spared. It seems Arista had wed Lord Richard’s son, Stephen, but she was slain when her valley was attacked by Rigr’s men. Sidonius fled with her children, but their fate is still not known. Lord Richard would have me, us, if you so wish, search for my brother once we return home.”
“Our skills are rusty,” Remus reminded him. “We are in need of training.”
“We shall have to be careful,” Marius said. “We should find a suitable place in the forest where the sound of steel against steel cannot be heard.”
“The Sheriff’s encampment might prove useful, especially since his men train each day.”
“No one must know we are trained warriors since we do not know the enemy nor when the assassin strikes.”
David and Rollo watched from the Gate Tower as the scouting party left the fortification and galloped towards the river road. Children who played along the river bank had been frightened by a Dragonship that sailed very close to the shoreline and had returned to the village screaming in terror. Women and children ran towards the citadel while the menfolk grabbed their bows, but the Dragonship was nowhere to be seen by the time the archers had reached the river.
David was pleased Rollo had agreed to remain at Chichester with his wife, Inga, and he was delighted when their son, Harald, was born. He was also pleased Rollo had willingly accepted baptism and had agreed to train the young men needed to serve in King Alfred’s standing army. Rollo’s allegiance to King Alfred was beyond reproach as was his devotion to duty. It was because of Rollo that David’s sons lived, and it was because of Rollo’s deception that the usurper, Rigr, had been defeated in battle.
David was thankful Rollo had favored young Brantson and was delighted when the boy became Rollo’s charge. He recognized Rollo’s warrior mindset and was well aware this seasoned soldier would never willingly give up his sword, but then, David also believed peace would not last since the heathen still coveted the rich fertile land, and the Norsemen would not rest until the kingdom of Wessex fell.
King Guthrum honored the terms of the treaty, but he could not control the many petty chieftains who sought the Saxon King’s throne. The Danish King could not thwart the sporadic raids nor could he prevent the battle that had taken the life of his bastard son, but for the most part, the roads were safer to travel and trade flourished. Pilgrims visited the many abbeys and many would journey to the Holy Land, but robbers still roamed the countryside in search of easy prey.
“Do you think it was a scouting party?” David asked Rollo as the soldiers disappeared from view.
“They are from the homeland, if, indeed, it was a Dragonship that was seen. King Guthrum has been faithful to the treaty terms and is mindful of what was suffered when Rigr was defeated.”
“Yes, but King Guthrum’s warriors farm the land and will not fight their kinsmen unless King Guthrum is threatened,” David reminded him.
“If there are more ships, it would be best to attack first, before they come ashore. I would have King Alfred move his fleet and thwart this latest threat at sea. Men can be trained to fight while on ships, and I would be willing to oversee the training.”
Brigid remained in the chapel after Prime. She was tearful as she gazed upon the likeness of Christ upon the cross while praying for her son, Kylan, and feared for his safety since she had failed to learn his whereabouts.
Her husband, Lord Bayen, made her privy to the role her son had played in the usurper’s plot to seize King Guthrum’s crown. She was especially unnerved when she was told Kylan had been recognized as Rigr’s rightful heir, but she was relieved to learn he had not taken part in the battle, but had watched the fight from afar with Rigr’s wife, Dalla.
Brigid feared King Guthrum’s wrath, but the mighty Danish King had given his word he would be merciful when Kylan stood before him. She was ashamed of the part she had played in the intrigue prior to her conversion to the one true faith. She had humbly begged forgiveness before the Saxon King’s men and had put her life at risk to prove her loyalty as the treachery unfolded.
She had not expected to fall in love, but she did. She had been somewhat surprised when she discovered Lord Bayen truly fancied her and was overjoyed when he had taken her for his wife. Brigid appreciated her husband’s unconditional love and support as she tried to eradicate the evil seeds she had sown. She was also grateful for King Alfred’s benevolence when she stood before the mighty Saxon and pleaded for his forgiveness.
Brigid recalled the day when she had begged Erik and Gwyneth to forgive her offense. She remembered falling on her knees before them, with her hands outstretched in supplication. She had been overwhelmed when Gwyneth raised her to her feet and kissed her cheek while Erik graciously pardoned her behavior and gave his word to set things right with Kylan.
However, Kylan remained a threat since his obsessive hatred for the father who had denied him his birthright still burned within his soul. Brigid understood why Kylan chose to support Rigr who had called him son, but was it not her fault that the boy hated the man who sired him? Was it not Brigid who had blamed not only Erik, but also Gwyneth, and was not this hatred the very reason why Kylan had chosen to become Rigr’s heir, and was the reason why he would ultimately avenge his mother?
Brigid had heard the stories about a heathen camp that was not far from the Welsh border where a mighty prince commanded seasoned warriors, and believed in her heart, that this prince was Kylan. She also heard whispers of a Dragonship sailing the river to meet an invasion fleet and feared the identity of the man who threatened Britannia’s shores.
She wanted to seek out the camp to confront her son, to reason with him, to stop the battle before it began, to prevent her son from being slain, but Lord Bayen and King Alfred would not sanction such a perilous venture. Dalla’s reputation was well known. She was ruthless and would slay any who stood in her way as she avenged her husband’s death. Dalla would elevate the boy who her husband had favored, and the bastard son of a Danish prince would avenge the bastard son of King Guthrum. Dalla would sever the mighty Gorm’s head and place it upon a pike, to rot in the wind while ravens fed upon his flesh, pecking out his eyes.
Brigid’s only hope rested with Rhys who remained confined at Exeter Abbey. Rhys had conspired with Ulfr and Loki and had been made privy to the location of the encampment. He would willingly escort her to the hidden camp, but the Saxon King still refused to lift Rhys’ confinement.
Brigid sobbed while reflecting upon the dangerous path she had chosen to follow. She would tell her husband she wished to spend time at the abbey, in prayer with the Lord, while secretly conspiring with Rhys. Rhys could escape, and help her search for her son, but would he risk deceiving King Alfred, once again, and seal his fate? Could Brigid risk losing the trust of the man who loved her unconditionally? Why must she be forced to choose between her husband and her son?
Elizabeth stood in the doorway, glancing upon her sleeping children. Gabriel looked more like her father and Oriana was truly her mother’s daughter. She closed the door quietly and headed towards the main room where she poured herself a cup of watered wine, and slowly sipped its contents while gazing at the fire. She absently felt the likeness of the pagan goddess, Freyja, that she wore around her neck, and her thoughts turned to her brother, Sarlic. She was distraught when she learned he had been slain on the battlefield, but her heart was tormented because he had not known she lovingly called him brother. However, her brother, Cerdic, had been made privy to this truth and spoke of their kinship before the battle, and she was at peace with this knowledge.
Elizabeth was unsettled since she did not know how to comfort her husband, Stephen, after he had regained his memory. She was at a loss for words with Aurelius, the man Stephen became when his memory had failed him. She recalled the night of the heathen raid, when Aurelius’ wife, Arista, was slain, when Arista’s brother, Sidonius, had fled with their children. Emidus and Concordia would be more than three summers, if they still lived, and even though Stephen’s men still searched, the children had yet to be found. However, King Alfred had sent Lord Richard to Rome where he would, hopefully, learn the whereabouts of Arista’s older brother, Marius, who had left the family villa at Exeter to serve the Holy Father. She fervently prayed that Marius would succeed where others had failed, that Marius would reunite Stephen with his children, that her husband would finally be freed from the demons tormenting his soul.
Elizabeth was lost in thought and did not hear Stephen’s soft footsteps as he walked across the room, but she sought his hand when he stood beside her and kissed the nape of her neck.
“Your mind is elsewhere,” Stephen murmured. “What troubles you?”
“Is there word from Rome, from your father? Was Marius found with Remus?”
“I do not know. Cerdic returns soon from court. Hopefully, he brings news.”
“I know you grieve still...but remember, I also share your loss.”
“You were never betrayed...Aurelius loved Arista and no other, just as I love my Elizabeth and no other.”
“The men return,” one of the excited women cried as Odulf led the hunting party out of the woods.
The children stared at the carcass of a huge wild boar hanging upon poles that took four strong warriors to carry upon their shoulders. The huntsmen proudly displayed their hunting skills and prowess as they paraded their trophy throughout the camp.
Jora carried a sleeping Freya while running to find her husband, and beamed with pride when Odulf bowed ceremoniously before presenting the Danish King with the bounty of the hunt. King Guthrum guffawed, embracing his most favored subject while the hunters followed the women towards the kitchens. She waited to be noticed while Odulf recounted the brave deeds of the morning’s chase.
Jora rocked her daughter gently, but her thoughts wandered to the plight of her brother. She had not heard from Ulfr since Rigr’s defeat, nor could she discover his fate. It was not known whether he had fought in the battle and fled with Dalla, or if he had returned to the market town bordering Wales. She was well aware that King Guthrum still searched for the traitors, and it was well known Dalla would not rest until her husband’s death was avenged. She feared for her brother’s life as neither King would be forgiving, if he remained loyal to Rigr’s cause.
Unbeknownst to her brother, Jora had sworn her allegiance to the Danish King. It was not difficult to apprise King Guthrum of Rigr’s plans since Ulfr never questioned her loyalty, and he was also not aware of her love for Odulf. She had agonized over her inevitable decision to confess before the formidable Danish King who was cruel and ruthless, and gave no quarter while protecting his throne. She was relieved when the mighty Gorm had agreed to spare Ulfr’s life once his treachery was made known provided her brother repudiated Rigr’s unjust claim and swore fealty to the rightful King.
Jora had wanted to return to the market town after the battle, but Odulf refused to seek either King’s permission. She would have argued the point had she not discovered she was with child. She would have to wait until the child was weaned before earnestly beginning her search.
Odulf embraced Jora, kissing his daughter on her forehead while keeping his arm around his wife’s waist as they walked towards their dwelling. Jora waited until they were close to their quarters before finally speaking.
“It is time.”
“I have not changed my mind, if you are referring to Ulfr,” Odulf interrupted.
Jora silently entered their chambers, gently placed a sleeping Freya upon the bed, and held back her tears while she quietly closed the door before confronting her husband.
“Do you forget what was promised? Ulfr needs to be told his life will be spared and that he will be given succor.”
“I forbid you to search for your brother. Your life was in peril before, it will not be so again. And why would you wish to leave our daughter?”
“There are many here to care for Freya, and Helga is also willing.”
Odulf shook his head, pouring himself a cup of mead and slowly sipped his drink while staring threateningly at his defiant wife. Jora did not flinch under his stare as the quiet sound of the crackling fire resonated throughout the still room, and a cool, steady breeze drifted through an open window.
“Have you forgotten about Kylan? Brigid is afraid for her son. You know Kylan’s judgment is clouded by his hatred,” Jora whispered. “I wager Kylan and Ulfr are with Dalla, and do not forget there is more at stake than my brother’s life.”
“How do you know this? Have you gotten yourself caught up in the intrigue, without seeking my counsel?”
“I apologize,” Jora blushed as she retrieved a small chest that contained her cherished possessions.
Jora opened the lid, removing a pile of letters neatly tied with a silk ribbon. She handed Odulf the messages before sitting at the table, and quietly watched as he read the ominous words.
“Has Erik and Lord Bayen been made privy to what has been proposed?”
“I do not know,” Jora truthfully replied. “Ships from the homeland were seen, and we believe there will be another battle, and that more lives will be lost.”
“Their fate is deserved. This is not our fight.”
“My brother is my fight! I leave in two days time, whether or not you agree.”
“Do not forget my wrath is as great as my father’s!” Odulf yelled. “Do not make me have you confined.”
“Then I will I seek our King’s counsel. It is my right.”
“Have you forgotten Dalla’s need for vengeance? I fear your life will be forfeit once your treachery is made known.”
“Do you forget King Alfred’s men also search? Yet his enemies cannot be found!”
“And you believe you know where to find Ulfr...and Dalla?”
“I beg you, my husband,” Jora pleaded. “Speak to your father on my behalf. Travel with me, if you must, but permit me to find my brother.”
“If our King is willing, I will travel with you, but you will heed my counsel. Understood?”
“Yes, my love,” Jora whispered. “I am grateful I hold your heart.”
Kylan was concerned about the fate of his mother as he restlessly walked throughout the encampment. He remembered the night Dalla waited in the forest while he visited the abbey where Brigid had been given sanctuary. He had managed to control his rising temper when the Abbess mentioned his mother was no longer in her care, but he had not been pleased by the Reverend Mother’s elusiveness when speaking of Brigid’s known whereabouts and the priest who protected her.
Kylan had tried to discover the identity of the priest, but the Reverend Mother was not forthcoming, yet he had also been elusive when the Abbess asked where he could be found once his mother returned. He remembered handing the formidable woman a purse filled with silver coins while thanking her for the protection she afforded his mother before taking his leave. He had been lost in thought when he left the visitor’s rooms and followed the dimly lit corridor leading to the private courtyard. He remembered the young novice who hurried to catch him before he reached the gate, and he was surprised by her apparent boldness when she came upon him suddenly, grasped his hand and pulled him into a shadowed doorway. He smiled when recalling their brief conversation.
“Were you told where your mother was taken?” Cecelia whispered.
“No,” Kylan replied, somewhat amused. “Are you privy to her whereabouts?”
“I am not privy to her whereabouts, but she travels with Father Felix. Lord Richard’s man, Henry, protects them both. I suspect they returned to Wareham.”
“I am forever in your debt,” Kylan replied while taking hold of Cecelia’s hand and kissing the tip of her fingers.
“Your mother left willingly,” Cecelia blushed as she withdrew her hand, albeit, reluctantly. “Do not be troubled.”
He had winked at the startled young woman before taking his leave, but he did glance back at the abbey once he reached the edge of the forest, and he was pleasantly surprised when he caught sight of Cecelia watching him beneath the moonlit sky.
Kylan had shared his concerns with Dalla who was sympathetic to his plight. She had dispatched one of her personal guards to Wareham to make discreet inquiries, but when her trusted warrior failed to return, Dalla could only surmise he had been slain or had been confined somewhere within the citadel.
He did not believe Dalla would be successful in avenging Rigr’s death. However, if King Alfred was defeated, he could readily confront his father and free his mother, but that seemed highly unlikely. Kylan had sworn to protect Dalla and he would honor his oath, but he believed her life would eventually be forfeit, if not in the heat of battle, then by the assassin’s hand.
Kylan’s thoughts returned to Cecelia as he remembered her kindness and wondered if she had befriended his mother. He had noticed a sparkle in her eyes when they spoke, yet he also wondered if her thoughts ever returned to their brief meetings. He wanted to see her again because he wanted her to know she had, somehow, captured his heart, but he did not share his feelings with anyone since he believed her life would be in peril should the truth be made known. One day, after everything was settled, when the need for revenge was satisfied, when his mother was protected and safe, he would seek Cecelia. He would renounce his gods for her one true God, if she gave him her heart and soul.
Cecelia spent most of her free hours within the chapel gardens. She would sit on a bench nestled between the flowery bushes while trying to reassure herself that her decision to take the veil was, indeed, God’s will. She would soon be taking her final vows and she was frightened by the finality of her decision.
Because Cecelia believed the Lord had called her to His service, she eagerly sought the Holy Sisters and willingly agreed to follow the strict rules of the spiritual community while following the teachings of Christ Jesus.
Cecelia blushed when she recalled the young warrior who had visited the abbey so long ago. She remembered his fine features and muscular build while standing before the Reverend Mother. She had seen his anger and his resolve to control his emotions while pleading for his mother’s plight and begging that she be granted sanctuary, but she had also noticed the veiled passion his eyes depicted on the night he kissed her hand before returning to his world.
She chastised herself because of her uncertainty. Her resolve had been weakened by temptation, she was unsure and frightened, she loved God, but she doubted her sincerity since her heart now belonged to Brigid’s son. Could she honestly profess to serve the Lord when, in truth, she loved Kylan and wanted to bear him sons?
Cecelia needed to confess her sin before acknowledging her promise, before committing to a cloistered life for the remainder of her years. She wanted to see Kylan again; she wanted to know if he thought of her, she wanted to know if there was a chance to share a life, she needed to know if her thoughts were wicked.
She remembered the family who sought sanctuary the last night of Gwyneth’s confinement when she had been told of a kindly Bishop who knew well the temptations of the world. She would seek permission from the Reverend Mother to go on Pilgrimage, before professing her final vows, before being locked away forever.
Bishop Thurlac found Rhys grooming the horses in the stables. He felt compassion for the warrior who had chosen to betray his King, but he believed Rhys truly regretted his decision and was truly penitent. Rhys was fortunate King Alfred was forgiving since his life had been spared, but regaining the King’s trust was not as forthcoming.
Bishop Thurlac had sanctioned the communication between Rhys and Brigid because he was sympathetic to Brigid’s plight. The Bishop was also aware that Brigid had petitioned King Alfred to grant Rhys his freedom and that the Saxon King had yet to make his ruling, but he was somewhat dismayed when Wulfgar had mentioned that Rhys’ loyalties were still doubted and his fate uncertain. Bishop Thurlac was also well aware that Lord Bayen would never permit his wife to freely roam the countryside with, or without, Rhys as her escort.
“Good day, your Excellency,” Rhys said while walking a horse into its stall. “Have you word from our King?”
“Yes, but I fear your confinement has not yet been lifted. It seems you are yet to be trusted.”
“I confess my treachery was grave and I am grateful my life was spared, but I beg to be given the chance to prove my loyalty.”
“Be mindful Lord Bayen would never agree, even if our King gave his approval,” Bishop Thurlac reminded him, “and I do not have the power to grant what you seek.”
“I understand, but Brigid has sent word,” Rhys said as he and Bishop Thurlac left the cool darkened stables for the warmth of the midday sun. “Jora searches for her brother as Brigid searches for her son, and Jora is coming here, with Odulf, seeking my counsel.”
“Has Lord Bayen sent word to King Alfred?”
“I do not know, but Jora believes you are sympathetic to her plight. Have I your approval?”
“I must speak with Lord Bayen before granting your request, but I fear we must await our King’s command.”
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