An older knight and a widowed lady in this powerful Medieval love story....
1410 A.D. – Battle-hardened warrior and favored of the king, Sir Lucien de Russe is called the Iron Knight because of his indestructibility in battle. An older knight, Lucien is entering his fortieth year and has seen a good deal in his lifetime. But having sustained fairly serious wounds in the most recent rebellions against Henry IV, Lucien retires his sword and spurs, choosing to live out the rest of his life in peace. Physically, he is damaged goods and must heal. Mentally, however, he is already dead.
Having lost his wife many years ago, Lucien has two children – a son who barely acknowledges him and a daughter who is a terror. Lucien finds no joy in life any longer, looking back upon an illustrious career, admired and loved by the fighting men of England, yet inside, he is hollow. It is this existence he has resigned himself to when the king, believing he is doing Lucien a great favor, pledges him to a very young heiress. When the girl and her father show up at Lucien’s home, he makes an escape.
Riding to clear his head, Lucien runs right into a robbery in progress. A fine carriage has been set upon by bandits and Lucien knows he cannot turn away. Begrudgingly, the Iron Knight goes into action once more and saves the occupants of the carriage, a mother and her young daughter.
Lady Sophina de Gournay is a widow, traveling to meet her intended. When the big, handsome knight with the long, dark hair saves her from the outlaws, a simple moment of gratitude turns into something that binds her to Lucien far more than either of them realize. It’s that wonderful chance meeting, a chain of events is started that could destroy them both.
Join Lucien and Sophina in a romance of a lifetime, where second chances at love are something worth fighting for.
Note: The de Russe Legacy series can be read in any order, as they are all stand-alone novels, but the chronological order (by the year the story is set in) is:
1 Lord of War: Black Angel
2 The Iron Knight
4 The White Lord of Wellesbourne
5 The Dark One: Dark Knight
6 Dark Moon
Release date: August 15, 2016
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 311
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The Iron Knight
Kathryn Le Veque
Year of Our Lord 1410, the month of July
East of the village of Tisbury, Wiltshire, England
“Will we be there soon, Mama?”
“By the setting of the sun. Continue with your sewing, sweetheart; it will make the time pass quicker.”
On a gloriously warm summer’s day, the fortified carriage rolled along the dusty road, escorted by four armed soldiers from the House of du Ponte. It was nearing noon and the day was in full bloom, with birds in the trees overhead and a cavalcade of insects hovering happily in the fields.
In fact, the season was almost too warm. Being this far south, there was the matter of the humidity along with the heat, and that combination tended to breed an unpleasant smell in both man and beast. Even now, the older woman in the carriage could smell that musty scent and she kept sniffing at her armpits and hands, discreetly of course, thinking that it might have been her. But she wasn’t the smelling sort, which led her to believe it was the carriage itself. It wasn’t her carriage.
It was the carriage of the man she was betrothed to.
It wasn’t exactly a betrothal, in truth. The man in whose carriage she was traveling was a man that her father hoped would agree to a marital contract. Having been widowed for six years, Lady Sophina Seavington de Gournay had been living in her father’s home in Andover for that length of time and her father, a practical man, was displeased with the fact that he found himself supporting his adult daughter and young granddaughter.
Sophina knew her father had been impatient with her burden. He’d never made it any secret, which was unfortunate because Sophina’s daughter, Emmaline, had grown up thinking no one wanted her or her mother.
Amory de Barenton, Lord Andover, had spent six years trying to find a husband for his widowed daughter, a widow without much of anything to induce a perspective husband other than a pretty face. A pity she is not well supplied, people would say as they clucked their tongues and shook their heads. Lady Sophina would make a fine wife were it not for her lack of fortune.
It was a fairly shameful way to exist. Sophina didn’t like feeling like a burden; a proud and intelligent woman, she ran her father’s house and hold, was smart with money, and was an excellent hostess to her father’s business associates and friends, but she really wasn’t needed any longer because her father had remarried himself two years ago and the new Lady Andover hated Sophina with a passion. Therefore, when a potential betrothal came up with St. Michael du Ponte, an extremely wealthy merchant with a prosperous import business, there was no question that Sophina should be sent to the man for his inspection.
It wasn’t as if she’d had a choice.
So now Sophina found herself in a well-appointed carriage that reeked of body odor and four armed soldiers who seemed to be eyeing her with some curiosity. One of them even winked at her and when she didn’t respond, he winked at her daughter. Sophina wasn’t the nervous type but she was nervous around these soldiers, men she didn’t know. She couldn’t believe her father had sent her along without so much as an escort from his house. He’d never made it plainer that he was glad to be rid of her. Like unwanted baggage, she had been happily – and hastily – shipped out.
Therefore, the journey itself, although blessed with lovely weather, wasn’t a particularly welcome one. It was wrought with anxiety. Sophina watched the countryside pass by, wondering what she was going to find at the end of the road. She’d never met the man who her father had suggested a marriage to and now she felt like she was to be a prize mare trotted out for a potential buyer.
“Oh!” Emmaline suddenly gasped. “Oswald, cease this moment! Cease!”
Diverted from her train of thought, Sophina looked at what had her daughter flustered and caught sight of a long, fluffy tail as it disappeared in the folds of her daughter’s dress. Emmaline was trying to grab the creature it was attached to and, suddenly, a long and furry body came into view as Oswald the Ferret made his presence know.
Oswald was a nibbler; that is, he liked to put his teeth on everything. Not hard enough to bite, but enough to chew. Now, he was chewing at her daughter’s fingers and the needlepoint the girl was trying to work on. He evidently wanted the bone needle she was working with and Emmaline was trying to push the beastie away.
“I thought he was sleeping?” Sophina said, a faint smile on her lips as she watched her daughter wrestle with the pesky pet. “Mayhap he is hungry now.”
Emmaline frowned as Oswald chewed on her finger. “Can you give him something to eat, Mama?” she half-asked, half-begged. “He is biting me!”
Sophina laughed softly as she dug around in the basket of food they had brought with them, pulling forth a small pork bone with meat still attached. She then pulled the ferret away from her daughter and held the bone up in the creature’s line of sight. The reaction was instantaneous; the ferret grabbed the bone and happily planted itself between the ladies as it noisily bit into it. Pieces of pork began to fly.
Sophina watched the ferret gnaw enthusiastically on the bone. “My furry child is now satisfied,” she said wryly, turning her attention back towards the basket. “Are you hungry, Em?”
Emmaline shook her head. “Nay,” she said. “Not now.”
Sophina glanced at her daughter, noting the girl’s gaze had moved to the green and summer landscape beyond the window. “You should eat something,” she said. “You have not eaten since before dawn.”
Emmaline shrugged, her needlework ending up in her lap. “Mama, are you afraid?”
“Of meeting your new husband.”
“He is not my husband yet.”
Emmaline sighed. “Not yet,” she agreed quietly. “But he will be. Grandfather will see to that, no matter what you think of him. Even if you hate him, or even if he is a terrible ogre, you will still have to marry him.”
Sophina was careful in her reply. At sixteen years of age, Emmaline was astute, brighter than most. She had fostered in her younger years, in a good house, but that ended when Sophina’s husband had died. The lord where Emmaline had been fostering tried to broker a contract between Emmaline and his son of the same age, a lad who had been born with the mind of an infant. Evidently, the lord thought Emmaline would have been a good match for the boy now that she was fatherless, and the lord believed he could play upon Sophina’s fear for her daughter’s future now that her father was dead, but Sophina would not be bullied. She had her daughter sent home immediately and far away from the unscrupulous lord.
Now, as Sophina looked at her child, she was coming to think that Emmaline had seen a good deal of strife in her young age – her father’s death, devious lords, and a grandfather who barely acknowledged her. Now the girl was facing the prospect of her mother marrying a man neither of them knew, and the good Lord only knew what kind of man St. Michael du Ponte was. This wasn’t the type of life Sophina had wished for her lovely, smart daughter. She wanted something so much better for the lass.
It was difficult not to fear the future for them both.
“I am sure Grandfather would not have sent us to the house of an ogre,” she said evenly. “I am sure he is hoping for a satisfactory marriage.”
Emmaline wasn’t so sure. Her mother had a way of glossing over things and Emmaline knew that it was because her mother was trying to protect her. But she was a young woman now and she was not afraid of the truth – the truth that women were pawns in the world. Sometimes they were welcome, sometimes they were not. They had no rights and no say in their lives. She thought that was a rather terrible existence.
“Mayhap,” Emmaline said, glancing at her mother for a moment before looking away. “I suppose anywhere we go will be better than where we were.”
She sounded depressed and defeated. Sophina hated hearing that tone in her daughter’s voice. She was too young to sound as if Life held no joy for her. But the truth was that it didn’t; it hadn’t for a while. Reaching out, Sophina patted her daughter’s hand, squeezing her fingers, giving her silent encouragement that all would be well. They would find a place where they were wanted. She was about to tell her daughter so when a loud clamoring sounded against the side of the carriage.
The entire vehicle rocked sideways and the women could hear the soldiers yelling to one another, shouting about something the ladies couldn’t quite make out. By the tone of their voices, however, they were agitated. Something had happened and as the women looked at each other in apprehension and confusion, something once again hit the side of the carriage. It sounded like pebbles being thrown until an arrowhead pierced the wooden side. Emmaline saw the sharp tip about six inches from her head and she let out a scream.
“Get down,” Sophina yanked on her daughter’s hand, pulling the girl to the floor of the carriage. “Get down and put her hands over your head!”
Gasping with fright, Emmaline clumsily threw herself on to her belly on the floor of the carriage, putting her hands up to cover her strawberry-blonde head as her mother came down on top of her. Emmaline grunted with the force of her mother’s weight, which was fairly insignificant in truth. It was simply that Sophina had come down right on top of her, trying to protect her. As more projectiles hit the side of the carriage, Sophina had the good sense to grab Oswald and shove the beast inside of the food basket to protect him. Outside of the carriage, a full-scale war took place.
Men were yelling and horses were nervously yelping. In fact, the four horses that pulled the carriage were dancing about so that the carriage was jerking around, tossing Sophina and Emmaline around carelessly. Sophina ended up being bounced off of her daughter as the carriage threw them about, slamming into the side of the carriage and hitting her elbow.
Darts of pain shot up through Sophina’s arm as she struggled to get back to her daughter, but just as she reached Emmaline and grabbed the lass by the sleeve, the entire carriage suddenly tipped over spilling them about like rag dolls. As the women screamed, the men fought around them. It was chaos and pandemonium everywhere.
The carriage was still being dragged by panicked horses tethered to harnesses that were still attached to the cab and it was now imperative that the women keep their arms, and clothing, away from the open side of the carriage that was now on the ground. If anything got caught up in that opening, the carriage would have been dragged over it, possibly breaking limps or even strangling them. Sophina pushed her daughter onto one of the benches, now side-ways, and she leapt onto the other one, trying to stay away from the dragging ground.
“Mama!” Emmaline screamed.
Sophina held out a hand to her daughter to stop her from moving. “Stay where you are,” she commanded. “Hold on to something until this carriage comes to a halt!”
But that wasn’t to be. The soldiers driving the carriage team were fighting for their lives as the terrified horses plowed down the side of the road and towards a lake that was at the bottom of it. A usually idyllic lake, one with reeds and fish and small birds who would hunt for their meals beneath the lilies, now it was looming ahead like a death trap.
And neither Sophina or Emmaline could see it coming.
Spelthorne Castle, Dorset
Seat of the Tytherington Barony
“Where are you going?”
A young knight asked the question with concern and puzzlement, but Lucien didn’t reply right away. He simply pushed past him, quickly, as if he had some place to be.
“Away,” he finally said. “Out. I am going out to clear my head.”
The young knight, Sir Colton de Royans, was nearly bowled over by his liege, no easy feat considering the size of Colton. A very big man with enormous shoulders and hands, he was a blindingly brilliant young warrior of twenty years and had been with Lucien since eleven years of age when his father, Weston, had personally delivered his eldest son to his friend and comrade to foster.
Weston de Royans, Baron Cononley and Warden of the North Yorkshire Dales, had been very emotional trusting his beloved son to The Iron Knight, but it had been necessary. Colton had been a spoilt, outspoken, gifted, and humorous youth who had been vastly overindulged by his adoring father. It had been up to Lucien to remove the spoilt edges and help mold the boy into one of the best young knights of his generation.
It had worked, but it hadn’t been without a struggle. Colton had been head-strong and stubborn, but Lucien had been patient. Patience, and a few fatherly beatings, had helped turn the unruly boy into a confident man. Colten grew to adore Lucien, which had turned their relationship into a fond one. They adored each other, to be truthful.
Colton was the son that Lucien had always wanted.
But Colton also interacted with Lucien in a way that Lucien’s other knights wouldn’t dare. He told the man what he thought and, most often, he didn’t hold back. He was quite bold and had the fighting skill to back up that boldness. Like now; he grasped Lucien by the arm before he could completely get away.
“Go where?” he asked. “You cannot leave when Lord de Saix and his daughter are due to arrive any moment. They will expect you to greet them.”
Lucien came to a halt, mostly because Colton was dragging on him. He turned to look at the blonde-haired knight, a very handsome young man and also a very tenacious one. He knew very well that Colton might hang on to him and not let him leave and then he would find himself in a fight. He sighed heavily, looking at Colton’s hand on his arm.
“Let me go,” he said quietly.
Colton refused. “Lucien, you cannot leave,” he said quietly but firmly. “I know you have no interest in this contract, but Henry himself arranged it. It was Henry who personally sent you the missive about gifting you with a very wealthy bride and because he is taking such an interest in this betrothal, if you run out now, you will not only insult the lady and her entire family, but the king as well. You know this.”
Lucien was indeed aware. He could feel that formidable de Russe anger swelling in his chest. “I do not need you to lecture me,” he said, jerking his arm and breaking Colton’s grasp. “I am well-aware of what is at stake.”
“And yet you would still leave?”
“I did not say I was going forever!”
Colton pursed his lips wryly at him. “You did not say that you were not going forever, either,” he pointed out. “Lucien, truly. You simply cannot leave because you do not want to face them. You will have to face them sooner or later.”
Wise words from the young knight that halted Lucien in his tracks. He lost some of his fight then, feeling foolish for having been reminded of the truth from a man young enough to be his son. He visibly relaxed, sulking now.
“I know,” he muttered unhappily, running his hands through his long, dark hair. “But… with God as my witness, Colton, you know that I did not want this. I never wanted it; I never asked for it nor did I ever make any mention of anything having to do with a betrothal. This is all Henry’s idea and although I know he believes he is rewarding me, the opposite is true. I do not want a wife. I am too old for one, and I am especially too old for this one. She is younger than you are and, from what I’ve heard, a spoilt little minx. I do not want that in my midst much less married to it.”
“Who told you that?”
Lucien’s eyes narrowed. “I have friends. Men who know her father have told me such things.”
Colton wasn’t sure he believed him but he didn’t say so. He knew that Lucien would do anything to remove himself from having to face this unwelcome betrothal. He had been with Lucien when, two weeks ago, the man had opened a missive from the king only to discover he was soon to be a husband. It had not been a happy moment in the life of a man who had known more than his share of unhappiness.
Colton felt a good deal of pity for Lucien; he truly did. The man wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life, alone, and die old and warm in his bed, but that was evidently not to be. The king had other ideas about one of his favorite warriors.
Ideas that this particular warrior was not receptive to.
“Well,” Colton said thoughtfully, “I can always have a horde of soldiers ambush her and her father on the road and chase them home. Would that be your pleasure, my lord?”
Lucien scowled. “It would be, but I would be in a good deal of trouble if I let you do that,” he said. Then, he lifted his dark eyebrows as if a thought had just occurred to him. “Why don’t you charm her, Colton? You are much better looking than I am. Why don’t you make her fall in love with you so that she will not want to marry me?”
Colton saw very little humor in that suggestion. “Not I.”
“Because I am too young to marry.”
“I could command it, you know.”
“Nay, you cannot. I will refuse.”
“You would refuse a direct order?”
Colton nodded firmly. “I will run straight to Henry and tell him what you have done.” He pointed a finger at Lucien. “You may be able to force me into submission, but Henry shall have the last laugh, Lord Tytherington. Mark my words.”
Lucien’s scowl grew. “Cheeky bastard,” he muttered. He watched Colton stand there with a rather triumphant expression on his face and it infuriated him. “Do what you like, then. I am going on a ride to clear my head before this… this succubus arrives with her father. She is going to bleed me dry, I know it.”
Colton bit off a grin. “She very well may be a nice girl.”
Lucien simply growled and rolled his eyes, turning to quit the chamber. Colton, now grinning, followed.
They were in the keep of Spelthorne Castle, a bastion that had been built much in the style of Sherborne Castle to the southwest. The land in the area, as a whole, was rather flat with great groves of trees and wild growth, but there were no hills to speak of, at least hills enough to constitute the high ground, so Spelthorne had been built in the middle of a flat plain, built up on a mound of earth that had been dug out from the moat which surrounded it. Twenty-foot walls surrounded the grounds, which were comprised of a three-storied keep, square and broad, a hall, stables, an enormous troop house, kitchens, and even a garden. The garden, however, was for vegetables and herbs, not flowers, and the kitchen servants tended it. It was fairly extensive.
In all, Spelthorne was the seat of the Tytherington barony, something Lucien was quite proud of. The king had gifted it to him several years ago as a reward for meritorious service for the crown and Lucien kept the peace for Henry from Shaftesbury to the west and Salisbury to the east, Warminster to the north and Fordingbridge to the south. It was quite a large territory but Lucien had over a thousand men sworn to him alone, plus he also housed another one-thousand of Henry’s troops. Combined, he had more than enough men to cover the territory and the Tytherington barony was one of the most powerful in Southern England. Where The Iron Knight reigned, men were naturally respectful.
Men were naturally wary, too, of a knight who was more apt to show action first and talk later. Lucien has that reputation; he always brought might to any disturbance or contention to secure the situation before getting to the meat of the crisis. Lucien had lived too long, and had seen too many things, to behave in any other fashion. He hadn’t time for men’s foolery or politics. His job was one of service and peace, and he did both admirably.
At the moment, however, he was in a situation where his usual forthright manner or an armed force would do no good, unless he wanted Colton to send out men to ambush his betrothed and her father, which he did not. His hands were tied and he knew it. Purging himself from the innards of Spelthorne’s powerful keep, he made his way to the stables with Colton on his heels.
“Did you hear me?” the young knight called after him. “She may very well be a nice girl and if you leave, you will be insulting her for nothing. Is this really how you want to start off your marriage?”
Lucien came to an abrupt halt and Colton nearly smashed into the back of him. “Enough,” Lucien snarled, holding up an angry finger. “Give me time to digest this situation. I do not need your ridiculous chatter. You are making me angry.”
Colton stepped back, trying very hard not to smile. Lucien wasn’t beyond throwing a punch with riled and the man had a devastating blow. “I am sorry,” Colton said contritely. “I am simply trying to help you see the entire situation, not simply your perspective alone. I do not want you to anger Henry and I do not want you insulting your future relations. They will think you a cad and a boor, and you are neither of those things.”
Lucien pursed his lips irritably; the lad was right and he knew it. He took a deep breath, struggling for calm.
“I will not insult anyone,” he said, less anger in his tone. “I simply want to clear my head and think. If the lady and her father arrive while I am gone, you will simply tell them I had business to attend to and apologize for my absence. But say no more; make them comfortable and I will return… when I feel like it.”
Colton couldn’t help but chuckle, then. He watched Lucien march off towards the stables, wisely choosing not to follow him. He’d already pressed his liege as much as he was willing. In truth, he could do no more. The rest was up to Lucien.
In spite of what he’d told Colton, Lucien wasn’t entirely sure he would return at all. As he made his way into the stables for his horse, he found that he was quite willing to forsake all of this simply to be free of an unwanted marriage. He built Spelthorne Castle into a great military might but he wasn’t beyond abandoning it. His freedom and his sanity meant more to him than a few blocks of stone did. Well… not really, perhaps. But his convictions sounded good in theory.
So he had the stable master saddle his big dappled rouncey, the one with the big arse and hairy hooves. It was a formidable beast, one he’d traveled with and taken into battle innumerable times. He had several chargers, temperamental and powerful beasts, but he preferred the company of his old friend, Storm. He and Storm thought alike, acted alike. In fact, the big horse greeted Lucien like an old friend, nuzzling him, licking his shoulder and neck until Lucien gently pushed the big horse-head away and vaulted into the saddle.
Thundering out from the big gatehouse of Spelthorne, Lucien headed south under fair skies and moderate winds. It was a warm day, breezy, and as he gently loped along the countryside, he could feel his stress easing. Surely nothing could be so terrible on a glorious day like this. The road wasn’t particularly bad, as the summer season hadn’t been terribly wet, so the ground upon which Storm trod was even and dry. The big horse lifted his hooves in a prancing way as he loped, his hairy tufts on his legs waving in the breeze along with his big silver tail. He was happy to be out and about.
So was Lucien. He felt much like the horse, happy to flee Spelthorne for the moment. The place belonged to him and as much as it was his refuge, it was also his hell. He thought on his prospective new wife and what she would mean to his way of life. He thought of his daughter who, at ten years of age, ruled the house and hold, but not in a good way. Perhaps in a sense, he was running from her, too.
She was, in a word, a terror.
Susanna Isobelle de Reyne de Russe had been born with a weak spine and legs as the result of a difficult birth, a birth that had killed her mother. Susanna was bright and beautiful, but her behavior was atrocious. But it was his own fault; Lucien had made her what she was. He’d catered to her, and spoiled her, until she was positively unmanageable. There was no one else to blame and guilt, and remorse, beat itself into him on a daily basis because of it.
He couldn’t help the shame… Laurabel’s death, Susanna’s injury. He was the man of the family, wasn’t he? Hadn’t it been his job to protect his wife and daughter? He’d failed miserably. Surely there was something more he could have done.
But there hadn’t been. Even Lucien knew that, deep down, but he still couldn’t shake the guilt. Now he found himself wondering if his new betrothed and his daughter would be able to co-exist. Would a female influence help Susanna’s behavior? Or would it make it worse? He could only imagine that his daughter wouldn’t react well to another woman at Spelthorne and, quite frankly, Lucien wouldn’t react well to it, either.
He couldn’t even control the one he had.
With thoughts revolving around his betrothed and his daughter, Lucien continued to make his way south, enjoying the day, trying to feel some joy for the life and blessings he had. He had many things, in truth, far better than most. A lucrative and powerful command and the respect of all of England. But a pain in his back reminded him of the fact that he wasn’t as strong as he liked to pretend he was; the injury from the battle at Bramham still hadn’t fully healed and rides such as this, and any extensive exertion, quickly exhausted him.
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