Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters. "The Magnificent Seven" belong to MGM and Trilogy Entertainment.
Comment: This story was written for the Global Gathering 2001 - Brisbane Zine. The theme of the Brisbane Zine was Alternate Universes. Tossing around ideas with some Brisbane friends early last year, namely Suzy, Brigitta and Vicki, I admitted my fantasy of Vin as a White Knight and how I would love to buff his armour.<g> This is how this story was born and from there grew into a life of it's own. I wrote this story before I saw the movie, A Knight's Tale, so I missed out on some of the jousting etiquette and I only gleaned a little knowledge of weapons and the era from books, so please don't expect any historical accuracies. This is a fun story
Note: Australian spelling.
SPECIAL THANKS to my beta, Monica, for all her constant encouragement and enthusiasm. You are an extraordinary friend. Thank you.
Comments to: email@example.com
Dawn was still twenty minutes away as the young girl rose and dressed quickly in the dark. Tucking the bottom of her breeches into her well worn boots, she stood and then put her tunic over her quilted linen shirt before finishing by gathering up her long wavy hair and bundling it into her soft hat. Leaving her small quarters, she closed the door behind her as she made her way silently down the small hallways of the servants floor. Candles flickered and dimly lit the narrow corridors as she came to the entrance to the cloisters. Nodding to the guard, she opened the door and moved into another hallway. The aroma of fresh baked bread stimulated her appetite as she passed the kitchens and turned right down yet another hallway that led to a large dining area.
Pushing open that door, she moved into the already full and noisy room. This was where the squires and servants ate the early morning meal before attending to their duties. She paused and searched the room looking for one particular person.
The girl turned towards the familiar voice calling her name. Finally finding the dark haired young man she smiled in greeting and moved towards him.
“You’re late,” the young man said by way of welcome. Keely raised her eyebrows at the smirk that crossed the good-looking boy’s face.
“Good Morning, JD!” she replied sweetly as she sat in the vacant place next to him.
“I saved some food for you,” he told her as he moved a plate in front of her.
“I’m just looking out for you,” he said and let his brown eyes convey the seriousness of his words.
“I can look after myself,” she replied lightly.
“I know that. But we’re friends. I like looking out for you.”
Keely raised her own brown eyes to his and smiled gratefully. “I like looking out for you.”
The young man smiled and resumed eating but it was apparent he was pleased. The two had formed a close friendship when JD arrived some seven months earlier after Sir Buckland encountered him at a tournament. The two had immediate rapport and Sir Buckland offered the squire the opportunity to complete his training with he and Sir Christopher. Keely supposed their closeness had to do with them being similar spirits. That and they were both young and playful, she being 17 and JD not long turned 18. And it was she who helped him familiarize himself with this castle and all its routines. Since then they spent time together and shared most everything with each other.
“You were late yesterday as well,” JD said his eyes twinkling impishly.
“I was not!” she retorted indignantly.
“Must be all those dreams,” JD continued as he pushed his plate aside and studied her.
“What dreams?” she asked pulling apart her bread.
“Dreams about the White Knight,” JD grinned, then broke into soft laughter as Keely blushed.
“Oww” the boy exclaimed as he received a swift kick under the table.
Frowning at the attention they received briefly, she shot him a glare and he covered his mouth trying to control any further laughter.
Once there was no further interest in them she gazed at JD disapprovingly. “I have no idea what you mean!” she said quietly.
He grinned at her again and they bantered freely until it was time to start their duties.
After she left JD, Keely headed for the Armoury. Approaching the Undermarshal, she made her way through the vast room that housed the weapons and armour for the Knights and squires.
“Morning Garland,” Keely greeted.
The second in charge of the armoury returned the girl’s smile. Still a large and strong man even given his middle aged years, Garland was a fair and pleasant man. Keely preferred receiving her duties from him than the more serious and sometimes arrogant Marshal.
“Morning Keely. Sir Ezra’s shield is ready to be restored.”
“You managed to save it?”
“Sir Ezra insisted I tried. Said it was important to him,” he replied as he lead her to across the room to the shield.
“That’s remarkable work Garland.”
“Thank you Keely. Next time perhaps he will remember not to aggravate Sir Josiah before combat practice.”
“I doubt it. It’s what he likes to do.”
“Still who would have thought that a Frenchman could defend himself so exceptionally?”.
“You yourself said he was renown within his own realm.”
“Then what is he doing here?”
“It would appear that only Sir Ezra knows that and he’s not saying.”
“I’ll let you get to work.”
Keely nodded as she donned an apron and collected her paints and brushes. Sir Ezra’s shield was white with a gold lion decorated by more gold and silver scrolls. Mixing the paints expertly she was soon repairing the shield design. As she worked her thoughts returned to Garland’s comments. The Undermarshal was correct. Sir Ezra Remy de Stand’s presence as one of Lord Beaumont’s Knights had certainly made an impression ever since his arrival. If his distinct and outspoken manner of speech had not gained him enough attention, his flamboyant dress, the often mischievous twinkle in his green eyes and obvious expertise in close combat and jousting had quickly made him a favourite to the Lord and quite a few ladies. Although she had discerned the ladies were more drawn to his dimpled smile, the soft brown hair that framed his attractive face and of course his accented voice.
Keely remembered back to the first time she spoke with him. In her boy’s workclothes, he had mistaken her for a squire and had determined they had given him the smallest one they could find. His accent and amusement caused her to giggle at his observation and the Frenchman had raised an eyebrow. What he said next she always remembered.
He had smiled and searched her face. “Then what is the manner of your service here?”
Sir Ezra blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
It was her turn to smile. “I clean the armour.”
The French Knight had chuckled and from then their conversations had often been lively and amusing.
“This cannot be the same shield?” a deep voice broke the silence.
Keely looked up into the well worn yet gentle face of Sir Josiah.
“It is. Garland repaired it and now I’m finishing the artwork,” she replied as she put her paints down and wiped her hands.
“Quite different isn’t it. You made quite a mess of it,” she smirked.
Sir Josiah looked briefly chagrined. “The man is so… so…"
“At least you can take solace from the fact that he irritates Sir Christopher more,” she laughed.
Sir Josiah grinned. The way Sir Ezra provoked Sir Christopher was almost legendary.
“So my lady when are you going to let me talk to the Lord about raising your station?”
Keely sighed. They had had this conversation before. “Please Josiah. I am content doing what I do.”
“Your father would not approve of this. With your lineage you could be educated and have a post befitting you.”
“This is what I know. I wouldn’t make a very good Lady in waiting,” she countered. Sir Josiah sighed and considered the small young woman. She had been blessed with her mother’s fine attractive features, dark hair and expressive eyes. The determination, occasional stubbornness and spirited nature she had definitely inherited from her father.
“Very well. I shall leave this discussion for another time but I shall not give up. Your father would have expected it of me,” he replied solemnly. She nodded. She would not expect anything else.
“Tell me again how you met my father?”
Josiah smiled fondly at the young girl. “Of course, my lady.”
Just before noon Keely walked down towards the exercise field searching for Sir Ezra. She found him seated next to Sir Nathan. The friendship between Sir Ezra and Sir Nathan was still considered unusual, especially given the animosity that existed between them initially. During the course of the months some kind of understanding had arisen between them and a complicated friendship emerged. Keely believed that they were drawn together because they were both from foreign lands and both understood the other’s frequent longing for their homelands.
“Sir Ezra, Garland sent me to inform you that your shield is repaired,” Keely reported as she approached the duo.
“And the result?” the Frenchman enquired.
“It has been restored satisfactorily.”
“I had no doubts,” he grinned.
“It would be wise not to mock Sir Josiah’s faith again,” Sir Nathan reproached in his low voice.
“I was merely seeking to understand the intricacies of the Druid beliefs,” Sir Ezra smirked.
The Moor shook his head but a smile played on his lips. Sir Ezra glanced at the girl who was still waiting and then looked to Sir Nathan. An understanding was exchanged and both Knights stood and Keely took a slight step back so she didn’t have to crane her neck back to look up at the tall, dark skinned Moor, who nodded to her briefly.
“I must attend to my duties,” he told them before inclining his head slightly toward Ezra.
Ezra watched the Moor walk away before turning back to the young girl.
“Is she well?”
“Yes, she is better today.”
“Then she can meet me?”
“Yes she will meet you at the ruins at three.”
“Thank you, Keely.”
“Sir Ezra?” she queried and the Knight held her gaze. Keely returned a worried look.
“Be careful. The Lady Catherine is suspicious and she can be… spiteful!”
Sir Ezra considered her words but the only change she would note in his outward appearance was a slightly pursing of the lips. “Thank you. Please tell her I will be there.”
He stood lost in thought as he watched the girl until she disappeared towards the Lord’s living quarters. He disliked using the young girl as a messenger, especially considering what could happened if they were all found out, however, the Lady Victoria would trust no other.
He did not hear someone else approach.
“Sir Ezra,” a feminine voice beckoned.
Ezra tensed as he recognized the voice but forced himself to smile and turned around.
“I came to see how you fared today?” Lady Catherine asked as she moved closer to the Knight.
Ezra looked puzzled and she continued. “After yesterday, I was so fearful for you,” she explained as she placed her hand softly on his arm.
Ezra resisted the urge to shrug off her hand. He was distinctly uncomfortable with the attention she lavished on him. Even without his feelings for another, the Lady Catherine’s fearful reputation and his own instincts would have told him to keep his distance. Usually he managed to deftly avoid her.
“I am unharmed,” he replied.
Lady Catherine ran her eyes over Sir Ezra with longing. She had all but declared her affection for the Frenchman and was vexed that her flirtatious conversations and attentions had not returned the same attention from him.
"I have arranged for you to be seated next to me tonight at Father's banquet," she told him softly while she gently added pressure to his arm.
Sir Ezra forced a small smile. "You honour me, my lady."
Lady Catherine smiled devilishly. "Would you walk with me, Sir Ezra?".
Ezra groaned inwardly and maintained the forced smile. Knowing there was not a easy way to withdraw at this time, he gestured his compliance. Both turning, Ezra was the first to notice JD moving quickly towards them. He felt and sensed Lady Catherine's annoyance.
"Sir Ezra, my lady," JD blurted and almost as an afterthought bowed slightly to Catherine. "Sir Ezra, Sir Christopher sent me. He must see you immediately!" he reported fidgeting slightly.
Ezra heard Lady Catherine's angry exhale but when he faced her she was smiling sweetly.
"Forgive me," he murmured, stepping back and bowing.
"Always," she breathed and folded her arms irritably as she watched the Knight and squire walk away.
"My thanks JD. Your timing was impeccable."
"It was?" the squire replied obviously confused.
"Yes your diversions are very much appreciated," Ezra continued, remembering how he had schooled the squire to interrupt him when he saw him with Lady Catherine. Finally JD understood.
"Sorry, Sir Ezra, but Sir Christopher really does need to see you," JD answered. He looked apologetically at the Knight. "He does not seem pleased."
Sir Ezra sighed and gestured to JD to lead him to the well-known bad tempered Black Knight.
Keely expertly negotiated the corridors to make her way to Lady Catherine's living quarters. Looking around and thankful for seeing no one, she knocked softly on the door. Within a few seconds the door opened slightly and the pretty face of Lady Susan peered out. Recognizing the young girl, Lady Susan smiled and opened the door quickly and ushered Keely in. Without speaking, Lady Susan led Keely through to the next room, where another woman stood motionless at her window. Turning at the sound of movement, Lady Victoria walked quickly towards them.
"Did he receive my message?" the dark haired woman asked eagerly.
Keely smiled. "Yes, my lady," she replied. "He was very concerned about you," she added. Lady Victoria smiled broadly lighting up her pale yet attractive face.
"At the ruins?"
"It is very risky. You must be careful," Lady Susan cautioned. Both Lady Victoria and Keely turned towards the loyal Lady in Waiting.
Lady Victoria immediately saw the worry enveloping her closest friend and confidante and rested an assuring hand on her.
"That is why you are always there, to protect me. I only trust you and Keely," the Lord's daughter replied emphatically.
"Lady Catherine has been asking questions and …" Susan continued undeterred.
"Please do not speak to me of my sister," Victoria said coldly. "I am not afraid of her!"
"Perhaps you should be. Forgive me, my lady, but she is capable of inflicting great grievance and pain upon you and she would not hesitate to do so," Susan implored.
Keely watched closely and couldn't help but admire yet again, Lady Susan's unwavering friendship and loyalty. Lady Victoria was the favoured daughter of Lord Beaumont. With her gentle and loving nature, she was in direct contrast to her shallow and manipulative sister. Often cruel and vindictive, Lady Catherine used any opportunity to cause her sister misery and as Lady Victoria's loyal friend, Lady Susan had frequently bore the brunt of Lady Catherine's malicious intent.
Lady Victoria took a deep breath and again smiled, grateful for Susan's open protectiveness. "I know that my sister would look for any reason to disgrace me in Father's eyes," she began and absently fiddled with the large pendant that hung over her bodice. "But if Father insists on honouring my betrothal to Edric my life is over. I will be happy for as long as… I can," she choked out the last words.
Keely looked sympathetically at Lady Victoria and then glanced at Lady Susan and saw the same feelings reflected in her eyes. Lady Victoria's father, Lord Beaumont, sought an alliance with his powerful and influential neighbour, Lord Montrose. Despite endless discussions with her father, Lady Victoria had been unable to persuade her father not to continue with her marriage.
"Thank you Keely," Lady Victoria said warmly, breaking the tense silence.
"My lady," Keely acknowledged and turned to leave then remembered another message to deliver.
"Lady Susan. I have a message from Sir Buckland." Keely smiled.
Lady Victoria laughed and the soft sound tinkled softly around the room. "It would seem, my dear Susan, that Sir Buckland remains undeterred in his attempts to show his affection for you."
Lady Susan grimaced under the scrutiny of the other two women. "I am certain he has been affectionate to many women," she retorted.
"Oh come now, you cannot have failed to notice his attractive looks and charms," Lady Victoria challenged and smiled smugly when Susan coloured slightly.
"Perhaps," she replied demurely.
Lady Victoria laughed again and turned to Keely. "Tell us Keely, what is Sir Buckland's message?"
"He suggests a walk together in the west garden."
"A walk," Lady Victoria echoed. "The west garden is indeed a lovely setting. There is a number of very secluded settings," she added.
Lady Susan clasped her hands in front of her and tried to look disapproving.
"There is more," Keely told them.
"Oh Keely please tell us. What else does Sir Buckland have to say?" Victoria grinned.
"He says he dwells in darkness without you," she repeated faithfully.
"Dwells in darkness?" Lady Victoria giggled. "Oh my. How can you resist, my dear Susan?"
"With ease my lady. I understand he used those words with Lady Agnes," Susan countered.
Lady Victoria enjoyed Susan's embarrassment for a few further seconds before turning to Keely. "It would appear that you must return to Sir Buckland and inform him the Lady Susan remains unconvinced."
"Yes my lady," Keely smiled. Lady Victoria leaned over to Keely and whispered something much to Susan's dismay before Keely bowed and left.
Leaving the east wing of the castle, Keely moved quickly back towards the servants' quarters and her own little room. Closing the door swiftly, she moved a number of her belongings and eventually lifted up an object wrapped in a blanket. Setting it on the bed, she opened the blanket and gazed upon the sword before her. Reverently, she ran her fingers over the ornate handle and traced the small letter engravings. With a deep sigh she bundled up the sword in its blanket again and taking it with her, left the room.
Exiting the castle, she moved into the east garden and started walking towards the stables. Looking ahead, she sucked in a deep breath and her chest tightened. There he was! Coming towards her the majestic sight of Sir Christopher and Sir Vincent walking together pushed every other thought from her mind and she sub-consciously slowed her step to allow more time to drink in the sight. As always, the dark good looks and forbidding stride of the Black Knight caused her heart to thump loudly but it was his companion that her eyes rested and stayed on. The sunlight glistened off his long soft curls as they bounced carelessly in the breeze creating an almost halo effect around his head. His beautiful face was lit with a heart stopping smile as he grinned at words spoken to him from the Black Knight. His tunic fitted snugly over his broad shoulders and narrowed at the waist where his sword belt hung precariously on lean hips. Sheathed at an angle was his sword, clasped at the hilt by a strong and firm hand. A hand, she imagined, that could be infinitely just as gentle and sensual touching the softness of her face and neck.
As Keely drew level with the Knights, Sir Vincent's tender blue eyes locked with hers and she let out a strangled whimper. He smiled as he recognized her causing a roar of noise to rush past her ears. A noise that she eventually realized was her heart beating loudly and erratically. Her knees wobbled as she stumbled slightly and she felt the heat sting her cheeks as the Black Knight glanced at her knowingly, his lips quivering in amusement. Feeling totally exposed and flustered she put her head down and moved quickly until she knew they could no longer see her. Finally allowing a groan to escape her lips, she closed her eyes briefly and did not see someone in front of her until it was too late.
"Out of my way!" an arrogant voice clearly rang out.
Keely's eyes flashed opened and she almost recoiled in dread as Lady Catherine loomed above her. Bowing quickly, she stared at the ground before her. "Forgive me, my lady," she murmured and tried to move around.
"Wait!" Lady Catherine ordered and Keely tensed.
"What is that you carry?" she demanded and Keely hugged her bundle protectively.
Raising her eyes to Lady Catherine she replied. "It is a piece of Sir Josiah's armour."
Lady Catherine's eyes narrowed as she searched the girl's face for untruths. Seeing none she raised her eyebrows haughtily, then purposefully softened her face and gave the girl a forced smile. "You were with Sir Ezra earlier. Were you not?"
"Yes my lady."
"You had a message for him?"
Keely risked a stubborn look only to have Lady Catherine's cold eyes drill into hers.
"I was to inform him his shield had been restored."
Lady Catherine stepped menacingly close and tucked an icy finger under Keely's chin forcing the girl to lock eyes with her. "Nothing else?" she hissed.
Keely couldn't prevent from swallowing nervously but managed to hold the steely gaze. "No, my lady."
Abruptly Lady Catherine stepped back and dismissed her with a wave. Keely hurried away taking a deep breath.
Entering the vast stables, she began to search for JD. Hearing a boisterous voice from one end, she headed towards the voice and began to smile as she heard JD’s voice as well. All the Knights had preferred squires but the relationship between Sir Buckland and his squire was closer than usual and both Knight and squire enjoyed it that way. Keely smiled as she heard Sir Buckland laughing loudly as JD recounted Sir Ezra’s exchange with Sir Christopher. Stopping briefly at Sir Buckland’s battle mount’s stall, she stowed the sword and nuzzled the big grey horse before exiting the stall.
“He ordered him to abstain from any more trickery or games or he would ensure he spent the day in a vat of manure” JD mimicked Sir Christopher as Buck chuckled.
“He sure knows how to upset Chris,” Buck admitted.
“And Josiah!”JD added. Buck grinned at his squire.
“Keely! What are you doing here?” JD exclaimed as he saw the young girl behind Buck.
Sir Buckland turned and flashed a welcoming smile. “JD. You should not greet a lady like that,” he admonished.
“It’s only Keely,” JD replied which earned him a look of disapproval from the Knight.
“Excuse the boy’s manners. He does not know true beauty when he sees it,” Sir Buckland continued
“Whereas you, Sir Buckland, do?” Keely smiled, familiar with Sir Buckland’s reputation and free flowing compliments. JD rolled his eyes. They had this conversation before, along with Buck’s many boasts and conquests. Sir Buckland was, without doubt, the most easygoing and gregarious of the knights.
Buck grinned smugly at the girl’s comment and his eyes reflected warmth as he looked upon her.
“Do you possess a dress?” he asked abruptly. He always saw her dressed and looking like a young boy.
“You’ve asked that before,” she sighed.
“So you’ve worn a dress before?” Buck grinned.
JD’s derisive snort earned him a glare from Keely.
“A dress, wear your hair loose, and no paint smudges on your hands and face,” Buck went on as Keely frowned and immediately started rubbing her face. She groaned at the thought that Sir Vincent had seen her with a dirty face!
“If you want to gain a knight’s attention, you need to wear a dress!” Buck continued with a knowing look. Keely flushed and looked at JD, who could not hide his guilt. Buck laughed yet again and then looked around to ensure they were alone.
“Did you give my message to Lady Susan?” he asked, changing his tone.
“I did,” Keely replied, ignoring JD's mocking grin.
“What did she say?” Buck asked eagerly.
Keely hesitated then spoke. “Lady Victoria says you should try and be more creative.”
It was JD’s turn to laugh and Buck shot him a weak disapproving look.
"No walk in the garden?" he clarified. Keely shook her head.
“It’s a mere setback, JD” Buck boasted. “I know she likes me!””
“How do you know that?” JD scoffed.
“All the ladies do!” he replied, looking astounded at the question. JD rolled his eyes again and shared a smile with Keely. Buck became pensive and stroked his well known moustache.
“Creative. I can be creative” he announced before striding away.
Once alone Keely folded her arms and narrowed her eyes. “What have you been telling him?”
“Nothing,” JD replied, suddenly busying himself with his armour for the squire’s competition, later that day.
Keely watched and sighed. She supposed it wasn’t a big secret how she felt about the White Knight, especially if Sir Christopher’s look was any indication. She turned and retrieved the sword still bundled in the blanket, and returned to JD.
The squire gave her a puzzled look. “What’s in there?”
Keely didn’t answer. She placed the bundle on the table and uncovered the blanket to reveal the sword.
She heard JD’s gasp. “Whose sword is this?” he whispered in awe as he reached out and touched it.
“Mine,” she replied proudly.
JD looked at her in confusion.
“It belonged to my father. It’s all I have left.”
JD felt the emotion in his friend’s voice and gave her a compassionate look. Keely smiled gratefully then took a deep breath.
“JD I have been around castles, knights, squires and amour all my life. I have seen countless jousts, competitions, and combats. I want you to forget who I am and listen to what I say,” she began. JD frowned slightly at the seriousness of her tone but he did not argue.
“You try to fight like a tall man and you don’t use your weight to your best advantage. You are light so you should move around more. The weapons you choose are too heavy for you. Too heavy and poorly balanced,” she paused and picked up her father’s sword and passed it to JD.
“Take it,” she encouraged. They exchanged looks again before JD carefully took the sword and cautiously swung it around. His eyes lit up in pleasure at the obvious ease and deftness in which he could hold and control it. Minutes past as JD maneuvered in the small area and tried various attacking and defensive actions. Keely allowed her joy to envelop her as she watched JD use her father’s sword. Finally, he sensed her happiness and paused to meet her broad smile with one of his own.
“Use it today in the competition,” she encouraged
“I couldn’t!” he exclaimed, shaking his head. She crossed the short space between them and took his hand.
“Yes, you can. You would honour my father and me.”
JD’s face still remained a mixture of confusion and amazement. “Why?”
Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes but she blinked them away. “Because this sword should be used by a good man with a good heart.”
JD shook his head in disbelief and impulsively Keely hugged him and smiled when he hugged her back. Clearing her throat she stepped back.
“I have to go. I want to watch you in the competition today and I have chores to complete,” she explained and he nodded.
As she walked away he called, “Keely”
She turned back towards him. “Thank you,” he said huskily and she smiled at him and left.
Sir Buckland paced up and down in the antechamber. What was taking so long? All the man did was sit around and write all day. What was the delay in receiving him? Buck tapped his sword hilt and groaned with impatience. Finally the door opened and a page exited.
"This way, please," the boy spoke.
"Its about time," the Knight grumbled impatiently as he entered the room.
"Sir Buckland," the page announced. Sir Buckland paused at the dimness of the room, before walking towards the slight figure seated at an adorned desk.
"Are you the scribe?" Buckland asked, eyeing the person curiously.
"I am the Scribe," a pleasing, feminine voice replied.
Frowning, Buck walked a few steps and drew the curtain with a flourish, illuminating the once gloomy room. Ignoring the heavy gown and the much too large hat, Sir Buckland took in the soft features and the small hands.
"You're a woman," he grinned.
"Very observant, Sir Buckland" she replied with a returned smile.
Buckland added a little swagger in his step as he moved back towards the desk. "I've never seen a lady scribe before."
"It is rare," she agreed and she gestured for him to be seated.
"You wished to see me?" she prompted, interrupting the Knight's stare.
"Yes I did. But well that was before I knew…" Buck began uneasily.
"That you were a lady!" Buck explained.
"Then can you tell me why you came to see the scribe?"
"That's a little delicate," Buck replied, wiggling his large frame in the small chair.
"You want a letter written on your behalf in a private matter?" the scribe guessed.
Buck nodded and rose. "I would normally do it myself," he told her as he began to move back and forth in front of the desk. "You see I can write very good letters"
"So I understand," the scribe smiled.
"You heard about my letters?" Buck enquired eagerly.
"Just rumours," the scribe replied, turning slightly to hide her small smile.
"However you need some help this time?" she continued, facing him again.
"Yes I need a letter that is more…."
"Sincere perhaps?" the scribe finished and Buckland grinned warmly.
"And to whom to do wish to impress sincerely?"
"The Lady Susan."
"Ahhh" the scribe noted wisely.
"Can you help?" Buck asked.
"Of course," she agreed.
"Now I've got some ideas," Buck continued.
"Would you care to enlighten me?" she replied indulgently.
"You could tell her I desire to worship her in my arms," he told the writer with a flourish of his arms.
"It is a beginning," the scribe blinked, forcing a smile.
"I dwell in darkness without her," Buck crooned, before frowning. "Wait. I've used that one!"
The scribe continued to smile and gestured to the page. This could take some time. She needed a drink or two.
After spending a long discussion with Lord Beaumont, Sir Christopher exited the main hall and began his search for Sir Vincent. What was discussed between the Lord and his Master Knight gave rise to concern. Matters would have to be watched closely. His brow furrowed and he was barely aware of the apprehension and dread that accompanied his appearance. Servants, squires and pages melted away from his path. The dark knight was well known and feared throughout the realm. Always an accomplished knight, his fearful reputation grew from grief that encompassed him over the loss of his wife and child. He had changed to black armour, embellished with three swords and fought every conflict with a blatant disregard for his survival. Eventually, no one could defeat him, until recently. The previous year a new knight arrived and Sir Christopher could still remember the astonishment he felt as he lay on the ground, looking up at the sky, after the joust.
The Master Knight grinned. The newcomer had never been able to duplicate that effort since, preferring to fight alongside him, rather than against him. To be a friend, not enemy. Sighting the knight in question, Sir Christopher walked towards him.
"Vin," Christopher said informally.
"Chris," Vin replied just as informally. "Find out what's going on?"
Chris nodded. "Kendall has threatened the Lord. He does not want the arranged marriage with Montrose to go ahead. He believes the alliance will weaken his title rights and leave him open to attack"
"How serious is he?" Vin frowned
"He's threatened to take Lady Victoria and prevent the marriage."
"That's a bold threat," Vin frowned and Chris nodded again.
"So the visit to Montrose tomorrow is postponed?"
"No. The Lord refuses to be dictated to by Lord Kendall," Chris mimicked.
"At the risk of his daughter?" Vin asked, clearly surprised. "It would be far easier to protect her here."
"I argued that. He believes he has the best knights in the realm to protect himself and his daughter. He is relying on us to ensure Kendall's threats remain just that. Threats."
Vin eyed the dark knight speculatively. "You don't seem too concerned about Kendall," Vin said as Chris walked off. He moved into step beside him. "In fact, you seem to be hopeful that Kendall will try to carry out his threat."
Chris glanced at Vin and shrugged slightly. "It's what we train for. It will be good to keep the knights occupied," he offered. Vin reached out and stopped Chris with his hand.
"It also means you're up against Sir Gavin," he said quietly.
Chris' face darkened. "He's Kendall's lead knight, it's inevitable."
"So why do I feel like you're too eager for this to happen?" Vin pushed.
"I don't know. Why don't you tell me," Chris replied irritably.
"I don't know why. I just know I feel it," Vin stated. "What did happen between you and Gavin?"
"It was a long time ago," Chris said dismissively.
"That may be true. But I saw the way the two of you looked at each other last month at the St Augustine Tournament. It was mutual hatred," Vin replied bluntly.
Chris paused walking and faced Vin with a small sigh. "We don't like each other. It happens."
"You made mistakes that day, Chris. Mistakes that trained squires wouldn't make. You allowed Gavin to affect your judgement and because of that you got hurt," Vin continued in a determined voice.
Chris inwardly groaned. Some days he regretted the forthright words and outspoken opinion he usually encouraged in the younger knight. The last tournament had been a topic of heated discussion with he and Vin before, and that was before Buck had his say.
"It won't happen again," he replied and was not surprised when Vin seemed less than satisfied with the answer. He opened his mouth to protest when he glimpsed Sir Buckland approaching them.
"He's doing that strange walk again. Some lady must have said yes to him," Vin commented dryly, as Chris turned and smiled as his oldest friend strode towards them in an excited swagger.
"Chris! Vin!" the Ladies knight greeted with a huge grin.
"Do you know what I have here?" he continued, waving a rolled parchment in front of them.
"It looks like paper wrapped up in a pretty ribbon" Vin offered. Buck gave him an exasperated look.
"This is the letter that will have the Lady Susan begging to be with me!" he boasted.
"Buck, I've seen your writing. It's not readable," Chris replied.
Buck let out a hearty chuckle. "That's why I went to see the scribe. This letter will have Susan running to be by my side."
"Or not," Vin noted.
"Trust me. The words in this letter would entice an angel into my arms," he bragged again, leaving the other two knights shaking their heads in disbelief, while Buck grinned like an excited child.
Vin and Chris traded looks, before turning and walking away.
"Hey," Buck called after them. "Don't you want me to read it to you?"
Keely ran the last short distance to the edifice where tournaments and fayres were held, and today, the squire's competition. Entering the building, she made her way through the bodies to be as close to the barricade as she could. Almost at her goal, one of the squires blocked her way.
"Squires only," the large and pock marked young man told her.
"Out of my way, Rockhead!" Keely growled, earning her sniggers from his companions.
"You should learn your place, Keely" Rockhead smirked.
"Not from you, I'm not!" she replied angrily.
Rockhead reached out and grabbed her. Keely struggled and kicked out, looking smug when she felt her foot connect with his shin. Rockhead grunted and released her, before glowering at her. Keely closed her eyes and braced herself for retaliation. When none came she opened one eye to discover the menacing squires were gone. Puzzled, she looked around to see Sir Josiah and Sir Nathan standing behind her.
"You should choose your battles more cautiously," Sir Nathan advised while Josiah just grinned.
"He does not scare me, Nathan. He has the intelligence of a gnat and moves at the speed of a slug," she retorted.
"She's right, you know," Josiah chuckled. Nathan allowed a smile to play on his lips and shook his head. Keely moved forward until she reached the barrier, while Nathan and Josiah sat behind her to the right. She watched the bouts intently, waiting for JD's turn, not hearing Sir Buckland and the other knights enter and take their seats.
"You will try and keep the heckling down today, won't you?" Buck said as he came to stand beside her. Keely looked up and grinned.
"I will, if you will," she countered and he chuckled. Then they both waited in silence until JD entered the area, followed by his combatant.
"He's drawn Rockhead," Buck groaned.
"Rockhead is slow and always exposes his left flank after an upper cut. JD knows that," Keely replied, not taking her eyes off her young friend.
Buck eyed her, frowning. "You worry me, Keely" he murmured.
JD took a deep breath and looked over to where Keely stood beside Buck. She smiled at him and he nodded confidently back. He adjusted his helmet, brought his shield up and readied himself as Rockhead approached threateningly.
Rockhead drew up his weapon and bore down on JD with his greater height and strength but the young squire moved deftly and larger boy's swing hit nothing but air. JD pivoted and landed his sword on Rockhead's shield, almost knocking it from him. A flicker of worry went through Rockhead's eyes but a grim shadow crossed his face and he came at JD again. They parried for a short time before re-engaging but Rockhead kept missing or was blocked by JD's shield. After 10 minutes, the larger boy began to tire and JD shifted from defensive to offensive.
In the seats up behind Buck and Keely, Sir Christopher and Sir Vincent watched the bout with interest.
"He's moving differently" Vin commented.
"Yes. He's out-manouvering and chooses his strikes more effectively" Chris added.
"Best I've seen him" Vin agreed.
Buck was more vocal. The tall knight roared his approval as JD struck his final blow, leaving Rockhead on the ground. JD took off his helmet and walked towards them, beaming at his win.
He stopped at the other side of the barrier and received congratulations from the other knights as they gathered around Buck. When the noise died down, Sir Christopher spoke.
"Well done, JD," and the young squire swelled at the compliment from the Master Knight. Sir Christopher smiled then his eyes narrowed on the sword in the squire's hand.
"May I?" he asked reaching out for the sword. JD handed it over and he looked over to Keely, who flashed him a worried look.
"Where did you get this?" Chris asked.
"It was loaned to me," JD replied.
"I've seen this sword before" Chris frowned as he ran his finger over the main emblem of a lion holding a sword atop a crown.
"I loaned the sword to JD," Josiah interceded.
Chris studied Josiah briefly. "I've never seen you with this sword."
"It belonged to a friend, a long time ago, I rarely use it myself," the larger knight answered.
Chris ran his eyes over the sword again, before handing it back to JD with a nod. The group dispersed with Buck draping his arm around JD's shoulder as they moved off. Chris turned to Vin, who had remained.
"What was that about?" the younger knight asked.
"I'm not sure," Chris replied. "But I know that sword from somewhere."
"Where's Ezra?" Chris asked, finally noting the Frenchman's absence with dismay.
"I don't know," Vin answered honestly.
"I told him he had to be here," Chris said gruffly.
"Well, that ought to have ensured his absence," Vin smiled and was rewarded with a scowl.
"Well at least one of us is amused."
"I like him," Vin replied easily. "Things are lively when he's around."
"He's trouble," Chris complained. "And trouble begets trouble," he predicted.
"You're starting to sound like an old man," the younger knight teased.
"Not too old to put you on your backside!" the dark knight replied, thoroughly unimpressed when his threat was met with laughter.
It was late afternoon as Keely made her way once again to Lady Victoria's chambers. The castle servants were preparing for the evening's banquet so Keely had changed into a dress to blend in more suitably.
"Delivering messages again? My, but you are busy today!"
Keely spun around and paled as Lady Catherine emerged from the shadows.
"Lady Catherine" Keely curtseyed.
"Whose message are you delivering now?" the frigid voice enquired.
Keely panicked as the cold eyes narrowed menacingly. Anxious to protect Susan and Victoria she blurted, "It is for you, my Lady."
Catherine snatched the rolled parchment, eyes now glinting with anticipation. "From Sir Ezra?"
"I… ahhemm … no, my Lady," Keely muttered, earning her a glare. Catherine pulled at the ribbon, undid the message and began to read. Keely held her breath. If Susan's name was in the letter, she and Susan were doomed and the image of the pair of them scrubbing the floors of the main hall while Catherine laughed, flashed into her mind. She swallowed nervously and kept her eyes lowered. Finally, the silence was too long and she risked glancing up. Lady Catherine was contemplative before one side of her mouth lifted in a half smile.
"Return to Sir Buckland and tell him I shall meet him after the Tournament in Lord Montrose gardens tomorrow."
"Yes, my lady."
"You will accompany me."
"My lady-in-waiting is indisposed and unable to come on the visit to Montrose Castle. I shall need an attendant. You will suffice."
"But, my Lady. I am required to assist the Under-Marshal," Keely protested, feeling the acute dread sweep over her.
"He can find someone else!" she demanded. "Or must I bring this request to the attention of my father?"
"No, my Lady!" Keely replied, valiantly trying to keep the whine out of her voice.
"I knew you would see it my way. Now run along and deliver my acceptance to Sir Buckland."
Keely lowered her head, hiding her pout, before turning to leave. "And, Keely?"
"Yes, my Lady?" she paused, looking back.
"I want you to see Katarina tonight and ensure that you are dressed more befitting to accompany me," Lady Catherine ordered as she swept away.
Keely scowled at the retreating figure.
"Ohhhh dungheap!" she swore under her breath.
"You gave the message to my sister?" Lady Victoria asked surprised.
"I'm sorry, my lady. But she had already waylaid me once today and I was trying not to get her angry again," Keely tried explaining.
"I'm sorry, Susan," she added.
"Do not worry, Keely. I am sure Sir Buckland can handle the situation delicately," Lady Susan replied generously.
"Delicately?" Lady Victoria laughed.
"I have yet to inform him," Keely said anxiously.
"Oh do not despair, Keely. Susan is right. Sir Buckland will no doubt think of something!" Victoria told her, unable to hide her amusement.
"I had better inform him," Keely told them before departing Victoria's rooms.
Victoria looked around at Susan as the door closed behind Keely.
"Do not concern yourself, Susan. Sir Buckland will be devoting all his attention to you again" she smiled.
"I am not concerned" Susan replied.
"Of course you are. I've seen the way you look at him" Victoria insisted and smiled knowingly when Susan busied herself with preparations for their journey. "It must have been quite a convincing letter to captivate my sister," she added and unable to hold back any longer, she giggled, while Susan looked on in mock disapproval.
Sir Ezra smiled broadly, revealing his distinctive dimples and his green orbs twinkled with amusement.
"Let me see if I understand you correctly. Sir Buckland went to the scribe and had a enticing letter written that he wanted you to deliver to Lady Susan?"
"However, you were intercepted by Lady Catherine, and in a bid to keep both Lady Susan and yourself from further trouble, you told her the message was for her?"
"Yes," Keely sighed.
"And the Lady Catherine has accepted Buckland's invitation and they will rendezvous tomorrow after the Tournament in the gardens of Montrose Castle?"
"Yes, that's all of it" Keely nodded. "Will you please convey to Sir Buckland how sorry I am?"
"My dear girl, rest assured I shall take care of this matter personally," Ezra told her sincerely.
"You will?" she queried, puzzled by Ezra's good cheer about this situation.
"Of course!" Sir Ezra smiled, as he urged Keely along with a gentle push into the small of her back.
Keely took the hint and began to move away but she sent a small suspicious glance backwards.
"Au revoir," he grinned, giving her a two fingered salute that was indicative of only him.
Sir Ezra found Buck in the chamber hall conversing with Sir Christopher.
"Sir Buckland. Sir Christopher," he greeted.
"Where have you been?" Christopher growled.
"I had matters that required my attention," Ezra replied, ignoring the dark look flashed at him.
"You had matters that required your attention?" Christopher repeated with sarcasm.
"Exactly," Ezra agreed.
"I requested your presence at the Squires competition!"
"And I would have been there, if the last matter had not of delayed me."
"Do you even hear what I say?" Chris asked, his voice rising slightly. "Or do you just set out to deliberately annoy me?"
"Please be assured Sir Christopher, I listen to everything you say," Ezra pacified.
"Yeah, then you ignore it," Buck interjected grinning, earning him a glare from both of the other knights.
"Sir Buckland. I have a message for you. Would you excuse us, Sir Christopher?" Ezra stated as he began to move away, gesturing for Buck to follow. Buck took one look at Chris' scowl and followed Ezra quickly.
Once they had some privacy, Ezra spoke quietly. "Keely has been trying to deliver a message to you."
"Susan loved the letter, right?" Buck spoke loudly as his face lit up. Exuberance took over and he wrapped his arm around Ezra's shoulder in a quick hug.
"Sir Buckland, please," Ezra chastised, shrugging out of the grip and stepping back, looking around to ensure that no one had witnessed the taller knight's boisterous display of friendliness.
"Sorry, Ezra," Buck chuckled.
"If you would allow me to continue?"
"By all means," Buck responded with a graceful flourish of his hand. While the Frenchman got under Chris' skin, Buck had liked the foreign knight from the beginning. He appealed to Buck's mischievous nature and they frequently had lively conversations.
"There is a small problem," Ezra was saying.
"Like what?" Buck frowned.
"The Lady Susan requires your assistance in a matter requiring some tact on your part."
"She requires you to sit with Lady Catherine at the Banquet tonight."
"Lady Catherine!" Buck grimaced. "But she doesn't like me," he complained.
"That is where the tact will be required," Ezra explained.
"If you can ensure that the Lady Catherine is entertained tonight with your infinite charm and stories of valour, it will then make it easier for Lady Susan to keep her liaison with you tomorrow in the garden of Montrose Castle," Ezra continued.
"Then she'll meet with me!" Buck asked eagerly.
"She will endeavour to do so."
"So I just have to distract Lady Catherine tonight?" Buck repeated.
"Now you understand!" Ezra agreed.
"Alright, I can do that!" Buck replied eagerly. Ezra easily hid his smug demeanour.
JD and Keely made themselves comfortable in the small balcony that overlooked the main hall of the castle. Originally designed to house musicians, it was never used as such. Lord Beaumont preferred his musicians closer, on the main floor. However, it was perfect to watch the dances, entertaining visitors or banquets, such as tonight.
"Hey, I wanted that!" JD complained as Keely bit into a sumptuous chicken leg.
"Too slow," she teased.
"The food is all on your side!" he protested.
"Who went and smiled nicely and asked the cook for the food?"
JD scowled and Keely grinned.
"I brought you some pie," she tempted.
JD glanced at her slightly appeased. "The one with cherries in it?"
"You know, I think it is," she smiled.
"Then I'll forgive you, your rude manners."
"My rude manners!" she laughed.
"Sshhh. They're all coming in," JD alerted her.
They ate in silence while they watched the room below fill up. Most of the knights, guests and friends were present before Lord and Lady Beaumont arrived with their daughters and ladies-in-waiting trailing behind them. Lord Beaumont seated his wife, serving as the signal for the others in the room to sit.
JD leant over to Keely. "Why is Buck sitting next to Lady Catherine?" he whispered.
"I don't know," she whispered back.
Lady Catherine concealed her annoyance as Sir Buckland smiled a little uncertainly before sitting beside her. She looked over to Sir Ezra who had seated himself across the table. The Frenchman threw her an apologetic look.
"Sir Buckland, I am pleased to have you seated with me tonight," Lady Catherine smiled sweetly.
"You are?" the knight blurted.
"But of course. You are always such lively company," she purred.
Buck smiled and nodded, however, he was a puzzled knight. Normally the Lady Catherine either ignored him or practiced rude comments on him. Buck puffed up a little. Sooner or later all women found him irresistible. Why should Lady Catherine be any different?
"Then lively I shall be, my lady," Buck grinned and Catherine allowed a tinkle of laughter to leave her lips. Reaching over she laid her hand briefly across his and widened her eyes suggestively. Buck glanced down at her touch. Definitely irresistible! He grinned assuredly but the look faded quickly as he glanced up and saw Lady Susan arch an eyebrow at him. However, he had better not enjoy it too much, he decided. Looking away, he fidgeted slightly before noticing that Sir Josiah and Sir Nathan were both looking at him and chuckling. He sent them a glare before returning his attention to his companion.
Lady Susan forced herself to take her eyes off Buckland and Catherine as she clasped her hands tightly in her lap. Seeing them together unsettled her more that she believed possible and she didn't want anyone to notice that fact. Drawing in a breath she turned to look at Lady Victoria beside her and sighed. Victoria was doing a terrible job of pretending not to ogle Sir Ezra. Not that the knight in question displayed any recognition of such attention. Lady Susan was always amazed at how well Sir Ezra kept any feeling or emotion undetected.
Pulling on her sleeve, Lady Susan smiled but her whispered tone was chastising. "Victoria!" Lady Victoria reluctantly dragged her eyes off Sir Ezra to lean into a side conversation with Susan. "You are too obvious!" Susan continued.
"But just look at him!" Victoria sighed as she cast another longing look at the devastatingly handsome dark-haired knight across the huge dining table, before the tugging on the sleeve commenced again.
"If you keep looking at him like that, your secret will not remain for much longer!" Susan warned.
Victoria frowned at her friend. "Maybe that is what should happen. Then perhaps Father will call an end to this ridiculous betrothal!"
"And maybe he would send Sir Ezra home!" Susan replied, not enjoying the pained express that crossed Victoria's face.
Victoria nodded. "I shall be good!" she murmured. Risking one more look at Sir Ezra, Victoria leaned to the right and engaged her mother in conversation. Barely taking in her mother's words, Victoria lost herself in remembering back to earlier that afternoon when she had talked and laughed alone with Sir Ezra, before he had taken her into his arms and kissed her ardently leaving her dizzy and breathless.
"Victoria?" her mother prompted.
"I'm sorry, Mother?" Victoria responded as she focussed on her mother, whose kind and attractive face looked concerned.
"Do not worry about tomorrow," her mother repeated.
"How can I not?" Victoria replied sadly as her mother gently squeezed her hand.
From their view in the balcony, JD looked puzzled.
"Buck's being very friendly to Lady Catherine," he noted. "She doesn't seem to mind though!" he added as he eagerly lifted the piece of pie to his mouth.
Keely nodded. She had noticed the same. She had to admit it was perplexing. Why Buck would voluntarily sit next to Catherine when she would have expected him to be seated next to, or near to, Susan as was his usual custom of late. Lady Catherine's behaviour was just as puzzling. She sat musing the possibilities when her gaze fell on Sir Ezra.
"He wouldn't," she whispered as she remembered his grin and salute from earlier, and realization struck.
"Wouldn't what?" JD asked, his mouth full. "Who do you mean?"
Keely shook her head. "I'm not sure, but I will find out!"
JD went to ask more questions but was interrupted as Lord Beaumont rose and began to speak.
"My Ladies, Sirs and welcomed guests. I am pleased you could all attend tonight's banquet. Tomorrow we journey to Montrose Castle, where in honour of Lady Victoria's betrothal to Sir Edric, Lord Montrose is putting on a tournament and feast. This alliance with strengthen both our titles and herald a new age of prosperity and protection…"
Lady Victoria purposely drowned out the rest of her father's speech. She had heard the reasons over and over when she had tried to argue her way out of this proposed marriage. With a heavy heart, she was unable to stop her eyes from seeking out those of Sir Ezra. The knight had expected her fearful gaze and tried to give her strength in a seemingly casual glance, before lowering his eyes to successfully conceal how he felt.
Keely's face was lined with a scowl and had been that way for most of the last half hour. She was dressed in one of Victoria's old gowns and she was now seated while Katarina purposefully tried to brush her long dark, wavy hair so that it was unknotted and hung loosely. Snagging another tangle, the young girl protested.
"When was the last time you brushed this?" Katarina chided. Keely eyebrows came together as a frown now accompanied her scowl.
"It's easier to keep it braided" she said petulantly. Her long hair was always swept back. It was easier to perform her duties that way.
Katarina shook her head and then happy that no more knots were to be found, secured a garland to the girl's head, from which a small coloured veil flowed off the back.
"You are finished" she declared and Keely got up quickly, before Katarina changed her mind and moved across the room to the mirror.
Her mouth gaped as she studied her reflection. Her loose hair framed her pretty face and highlighted her dark eyes. The ornate gown hugged her tiny frame and the tight fitting bodice pushed her breasts up, making them look full. She looked down feeling embarrassed. The bodice had her breasts jutting out like ripe peaches and she tried flattening them with her hands. Studying her reflection again, and seeing no significant difference, she sighed, thanked Katarina and left.
In the hallway, she met Lady Beaumont. Keely curtseyed deeply.
"My lady," she acknowledged respectfully.
"Keely," she greeted. "You look lovely, child. You should wear a dress more often," Lady Beaumont informed her and Keely went coy. Lady Beaumont was a gracious and generous lady and all the servants adored her.
"Thank you, my lady," Keely replied and met Lady Beaumont's gaze. The older lady became contemplative and Keely in turn became worried.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Lady Beaumont?"
Lady Beaumont shook herself from her reverie and smiled warmly. "No Keely, I was just remembering," she replied and when the young girl went to ask she waved her hand.
"We shall leave soon. You best ready yourself".
"Yes, my lady."
"Oh Keely?" she added as the young girl began to move. "My daughter is already in a difficult mood. Take care," she informed her before moving silently along the hallway. Keely smiled gratefully. Lady Beaumont had tried to temper her youngest daughter's moods and rancour to little avail.
Keely exited into the courtyard, where there was plenty of activity as servants and squires prepared for the journey to Montrose castle. Seeing Buck talking with JD, she made her way towards them. She thought it best to get the teasing over and done with as quickly as possible.
Approaching them warily, she saw them both see her at once and as she stopped in front of them, she waited for the comments and laughing. However, both Knight and squire just looked at her somewhat taken back. Buck recovered first.
"Keely," he smiled warmly. "You're not with the armour today?"
"No, I'm with Lady Catherine today," she replied, her displeasure showing.
Buck chuckled. "You look most becoming, Keely,” he continued, this time in an earnest tone and she looked up at him puzzled. Noting that he was being as sincere as he was capable of, she became embarrassed. “You will be noticed today!" he teased softly as he grinned at JD. But the squire wasn't looking at Buckland. He was still staring at his friend's new appearance.
"Are you just going to gape?" Keely asked, growing increasingly uncomfortable.
"You look beautiful," he replied incredulously.
"You think that's funny?" she demanded. "I expected a little more from you!" she huffed as she turned on her heel and walked away.
"What did I do?" JD asked as his tall companion chortled.
"Never question a lady's mood, JD," Buckland replied enigmatically, grinning at his squire's bafflement.
Keely rounded one of the carriages and walked straight into Sir Vincent and Sir Ezra. She gasped nervously, then turned the sound into a little cough as she tried to recover. Sir Ezra rescued her.
"Keely," he acknowledged with slight bow.
"Sir Ezra. Sir Vincent," she stammered.
The White Knight flicked his eyes over her face and he slowly smiled. Keely heard the roar in her ears and her stomach somersaulted as her eyes met his. Pleasure shone in his blue eyes and Keely's cheeks immediately flushed.
"My lady," he said in a soft drawl and her heart thumped madly. She was barely aware of anything else and she struggled to control her emotions when Sir Ezra spoke.
"Vouse semblez beau, madamoiselle" the Frenchman told her.
Keely unwillingly pulled her eyes off Sir Vincent to speak to Sir Ezra. She blinked as she tried to ascertain the meaning of his words without success.
"Thank you" she finally said. *I hope* she thought as she forced her legs to move. It was imperative that she move away from the two knights before she fell into a heap.
Sir Ezra turned to Sir Vincent who was still watching Keely walk away. Finally aware of the scrutiny, Vincent faced Sir Ezra and the latter smiled smugly while the former shot him a warning glare. The look had no affect as Ezra chuckled warmly which had the White Knight involuntarily smiling again.
"You both ready?" Sir Christopher's voice interrupted the moment.
"Everything is ready, Chris. Just have to wait for our travelers," Vin replied for them.
Chris nodded and turned to Ezra. "I want you and Nathan out front today. Be vigilant," he ordered.
"We will," he agreed quickly. "Unfortunately, there are a number of sites that would be perfect for attack if indeed Lord Kendall follows through with his threat."
"I know but I think he'll try at the Tournament. That's what I'd do," Chris mused. "But we shall still take precautions. Josiah and I will protect the carriages while Vin and Buck bring up the rear guard. I shall split up the squires into groups to accompany the knights."
"I shall inform Nathan and Josiah," Ezra said by way of departure.
Keely found Sir Josiah standing with Undermarshal Garland. Both men smiled warmly at her.
"I heard you were riding up in the carriages today," Garland said.
"Not by choice, I assure you" Keely grimaced and the Undermarshal shook his head amused and continued his supervision of the armoury wagons.
"Well, you certainly look different!" Josiah commented warily.
"I'm uncomfortable," Keely complained and Josiah laughed.
"What does voo semblee bo mean?" she asked, calling on Josiah's knowledge of French.
"It means you look lovely, and Sir Ezra speaks the truth," Josiah translated before offering his own compliment.
"Really" she replied, crinkling her nose and Josiah nodded.
"Maybe this day will be better than I envisage," Keely smiled.
Two hours later, Keely was sincerely doubting those words. Riding in a carriage with Lady Victoria, Susan and Catherine was an exercise in silence, glares and unspoken barbs. Keely was unaccustomed to wearing gowns causing her to fidgeted and squirm.
"Will you sit still!" Lady Catherine ordered.
"It doesn't bother me," Lady Victoria spoke raising an eyebrow at her sister. "Does it bother you, Lady Susan?" The pretty lady-in-waiting shook her head.
"It would appear it only bothers you. How unusual!" Victoria said derisively and Keely looked anxiously from one to the other.
A smirk appeared on Catherine's face. "A little nervous about meeting your betrothed are we, sister dear?"
Victoria's face darkened and she glared at her sister. Seeing a potentially dangerous moment, Lady Susan spoke "They will rest the horses soon. Perhaps we should all take a brief respite."
Lady Victoria nodded and shot her sister another glare before fixing her eyes out the window. Lady Susan looked over and smiled encouragingly to Keely, but the younger girl followed Victoria's example and chose to look out the window. It was going to be a long day.
Sir Christopher was relieved that they had cleared the forest without any problem. Riding up ahead to Ezra and Nathan, he called a halt in a clearing where there was no potential for any surprise attack.
Lord Beaumont, his wife and daughters immediately took advantage of the stop and soon servants were helping them from their carriages.
Christopher remained mounted as he deliberately chose an area where he could see their party and the surrounds. He nodded to Sir Vincent and Sir Nathan as they followed the Master Knight's example.
Keely stood awkwardly beside Lord and Lady Beaumont and their daughters. Lord Beaumont was in a good mood and was taking advantage of the break by explaining yet again to Victoria what a momentous day it was, while Catherine looked on smugly. Keely spotted movement near one of the carriages and her eyes fell on JD as he gestured for her to come to him. Looking back around and confirming no-one was watching her, she slipped off and walked towards JD.
"Buck wants to see you," JD told her and Keely nodded and followed JD to where Buckland and Ezra stood near their horses.
"I am sorry about unfortunate circumstances when delivering your message to Lady Susan, Sir Buckland" she told him as she approached. Behind Buckland, Ezra shook his head emphatically.
Buckland looked puzzled. "What unfortunate circumstances?" he queried. Keely looked past him just long enough to see Sir Ezra's mask of indifference slip into place.
"Sir Ezra did tell you your message ended up in Lady Catherine's hands?" Keely explained as Buck's face fell. Ezra slowly began to move away. Buckland's arm reached out and grabbed the Frenchman.
"Where are you going, Ezra?" the tall knight asked, his eyes narrowing.
"I believe I should resume my guard station with Sir Nathan," Ezra replied smoothly.
"Oh I think that can wait a few minutes," Buck insisted. Keeping his grip on the Knight he faced back to Keely.
"What's going on?" he asked her.
"Your letter ended up in Catherine's hands," Keely began, involuntarily fidgeting with her hands. "She believes you wrote it for her. I'm sorry Sir Buckland. I tried to get a message to you yesterday," Keely explained. She flicked a glance towards Sir Ezra. Buck caught the look.
Sir Ezra shrugged.
"You sneaky snake!" Buck glared. "Just what are you up to now?"
"Now Sir Buckland, I had everyone's best interests at hand in this 'delicate' matter."
"You mean yours!" Buck scowled.
"I take offense at your manner," Sir Ezra cautioned.
"I'll take something to you if you don't start talking," Buck growled.
"Lady Catherine is the one meeting you today after the Tournament," Keely interrupted.
"Noooo!" Buck protested vehemently.
"I'm so very sorry Sir Buckland."
"Do not be upset with the girl, she risks herself running messages back and forth. She was compromised and she had to make a quick decision. She chose to protect Lady Susan" Ezra reasoned.
Slightly mollified Buckland nodded and gave Keely a look which showed his understanding.
"So why didn't you tell me that last night?" he accused Sir Ezra.
"Well, you had to play your part, Buckland. You could not be seen paying attention to Lady Susan when your message had been delivered to Lady Catherine," Ezra said smoothly. Buck narrowed his eyes again and studied the now innocent looking face of Sir Ezra. Reluctantly, he removed his grip from the Frenchman.
"So what do I do now?" Buck asked him.
"You meet Lady Catherine in the gardens today," Ezra replied.
Buckland groaned. "When do I get to see Lady Susan?"
"All in good time, Sir Buckland. First you must use your charm and tact to ensure Lady Catherine is kept contented."
"Is that possible?" Buck asked doubtfully.
"You are the only knight in the realm who has any chance," Ezra assured him.
Keely blinked in sheer amazement as she watched Buckland fall under the spell of Ezra's words. It was not the first she had witnessed it and she doubted it would be last, but it was the most fascinating thing to observe.
"You know, you could be right," Buck agreed and Keely smiled as JD rolled his eyes.
"I'd better go," Keely said before she started to giggle.
"Wait" Buck said quickly "Does Lady Susan know all this?"
"So she's aware of the sacrifice I'm making for her?"
Unable to stop himself, JD snorted derisively and Keely bit her lip to prevent herself from laughing.
"She knows, Sir Buckland," Keely replied and turned and left.
Keely tried to concentrate on the conversation around her instead of wondering what was happening where the squires and knights prepared for the Tournament, where she would normally be. They had arrived safely before lunch and now Lord Montrose was playing host to Lord Beaumont, his family and guests. After a small meal and refreshments, Lord Montrose had led his guests to his stand to enjoy the Tournament. Keely was relieved that she and Lady Susan were seated far enough away from the main party so as she didn't have to keep worrying about what was required of her.
As long as she followed Lady Catherine and did as she bid, the Lady had remained almost pleasant. Now that they were all seated awaiting the Tournament to commence, Lady Catherine was not even aware she was present, which suited Keely just fine.
Across the jousting field, Sir Christopher watched everything and everyone closely. Sir Vincent rejoined his side after a short patrol of the grounds.
"Everything appears as it should," Vin reported.
"Yet Kendall himself is not here."
"But his knights are," Vin countered.
"Not all of them," Chris noted and Vin nodded in agreement.
"I heard a rumour that Declan is confident that he will take you down today," Chris said leveling his gaze at White Knight.
"Yes I heard that too," Vin smiled. Sir Declan was Lord Kendall's young and ambitious knight.
"Don't underestimate him. Gavin has taken a personal interest in his training," Chris cautioned.
"Are you concerned about me?" came a soft tease.
There was a soft snort. "No, I'm more concerned about what trouble Buck can get us into today," he replied.
"You heard about that already?" Vin smiled.
"He told me what Ezra did, yes," Chris replied.
"It was Buckland who wanted his letter delivered," Vin defended.
"But Ezra turned it to his advantage," Chris noted.
"Ezra turns everything to his advantage," Vin laughed which prompted a disapproving look from Beaumont's lead knight.
Keely had decided she was a failure at sitting still. As the tournament progressed, she found it more and more difficult to remain unmoving, especially when any of Beaumont's knights were victorious. Twice, Susan had to reach out and press her back into her seat as she involuntarily went to stand. The trumpet heralded the next joust and Keely smiled when she saw Sir Buckland take the field, followed by Sir Edric. Edric came towards the stand and lowered his lance in front of Lady Victoria, who stiffened rebelliously. Following a glare from her father, she reluctantly tied a ribbon to the end of his lance and forced a smile.
Edric and Buckland paused briefly before urging their battle mounts into a gallop. Keely tensed as the knights closed in on each other before the expected loud whack as lance hit knight. Edric teetered on his mount before overbalancing and falling to the ground.
"Yaaayy!" Keely erupted as she stood and clapped.
"No Keely," Susan sighed, giving up on restraining the excited girl. Turning back around, Keely's enthusiasm faded quickly as she saw the reproachful look of Lady Beaumont and the less kindly glare from Lady Catherine. She slunk back into her seat and flashed Susan an apologetic look.
Sir Josiah came onto the field next, drawing one of Lord Kendall's knights. Despite three passes, there was no result and the joust was declared a draw. Sir Nathan dispatched one of Lord Montrose's knights with ease in one pass and Sir Ezra brought down his opponent in the second pass.
The atmosphere changed slightly when Sir Declan took the field, followed by Sir Vincent. Whilst Declan immediately took up his position, Sir Vincent urged his battle mount towards the stand.
Keely paled significantly and froze as Sir Vincent lowered his lance before her. Her mouth dropped open and she was instantly grateful that she was seated, otherwise, she could have sworn she was about to swoon.
"Tie your ribbon to the lance," Susan urged when the girl didn't move.
"I don't have one," Keely lamented, very aware of everyone's attention focussed on her.
"The veil, use your veil," Susan said. Trembling now, Keely took the garland from her head and pulled the veil off it. Nervously, she tried to perform the supposedly simple task of tying the veil to the end of the lance, but her eyes kept being drawn to the White Knight's as she felt very aware of his attentive stare. Blushing profusely she panicked, cursing her fingers for not cooperating. Blessedly, Susan was suddenly beside her and completed the tying for her and the lance was raised. Locking eyes with him again, her heart raced uncontrollably, but a smile lit her face before he turned and took up his position at the opposite end of the field to Sir Declan.
Sir Vincent reined in his battle mount. The steed restlessly pawed the ground as he anticipated the ensuing gallop. Steadying the horse, Vin reached up and brought down his helmet visor and lowered his lance into the familiar position, before urging his horse forward. His mount reacted immediately and broke into a full gallop while he steadied himself and his lance. As he drew level with Declan he recognized the Kendall knight was going wide and he defended the hit with his own lance. Both knights remained astride and they both brought their steeds around for a second pass.
Repositioning his horse, Vin noticed that Sir Christopher was watching him closely, not even attempting to mask his concern. Vin smiled inside his helmet before readying himself for the second run. Declan urged his mount forward and Vin did the same. Drawing level again, Vin skillfully bore his lance down, both preventing Declan's lance from touching him and successfully reaching his mark. Vin felt the impact and knew Declan could not recover from the hit. Reining in his mount again, he turned and smiled in satisfaction as Declan laid sprawled face down on the ground. The crowd rewarded him generously and he slowly made his way back to the squires so that they could help him dismount.
In the stands, Keely was ecstatic and only Susan's restraining hand prevented her from standing up and making a complete fool of herself. Restricted from fully demonstrating her joy, she made the most of the alternative. Gripping Susan's hand, she wiggled in her seat.
"He won. He won!" she giggled.
"Yes I saw," Susan smiled, finding the younger girl's laughing contagious.
Sir Vincent's win ended the Tournament and soon Lord Montrose was leading his guests back to his castle.
An hour later, Keely's joy had long since disappeared as she followed Lady Catherine through the gardens. Keeping three steps behind, she was relieved when she saw Sir Buckland up ahead besides the rose bushes.
"Sir Buckland," Lady Catherine greeted and offered her hand.
"Lady Catherine," Buck responded, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. Keely dropped back a few feet and waited to be dismissed. When it didn't come, she looked down awkwardly.
"May I say how radiant you look this afternoon?" Buck said to her.
Lady Catherine chuckled but it came out more like an insincere cackle. "Sir Buckland, you don't really want to be here with me," she said icily and Buckland threw a worried glance in Keely's direction but she wasn't looking at him.
"I don't understand," he replied.
"Do not be concerned, Sir Buckland. I am not unduly upset. After all, I don't really want to be here with you either," she explained and Buck drew himself up to his full height.
"Let's dispense with any frivolous talk. You help me get what I want and I can help you get what you want. Or, more precisely, who you want," Lady Catherine continued conspiratorially.
Despite the small wound to his pride, Buck recovered quickly. "And who do you want?" he asked bluntly.
Lady Catherine looked surprised. "Why, Sir Ezra, of course"
"What makes you think I can help you with that?" Buck asked.
Lady Catherine smiled predatorily at him and stepped up to him and took his arm possessively. Turning back towards Keely she spoke.
"Keely, wait for me back at the castle" she dismissed.
"Yes, my lady," Keely replied and with one final sympathetic look towards Buckland, she turned and walked away.
Sighing heavily at Buck's plight, due in no small part to herself, she slowly made her way through the gardens and hedges towards the castle. Sensing someone but seeing nothing, she paused, listening. Hearing movement from behind, she turned around to see a man move purposefully towards her. The cruel and determined look in the man's eyes scared her immediately and she began to run away from him. However, his accomplice moved out from behind the hedges in front of her. Keely cried out as the man in front easily encircled her with his arms and lifted her up. She instinctively struggled, kicking and punching her assailant until his companion pinned her arms behind her back.
Drawing a breath she screamed. "BUCK!" She balked when a large hand covered her mouth. She was terrified now as the men carried her towards waiting horses. One mounted and then the other lifted her up and she was thrown over the saddle and kept in place with one strong hand. Yelling as loud as she could she was bounced around roughly as the man drove his horse forward.
Buck was trying to think of some way to deftly remove himself from his current situation, when he heard his name cried out. Recognizing a frightened woman's cry, Buck reacted immediately. Grabbing Catherine's hand, he pulled her towards the sound.
"You are hurting me," Catherine complained but Buck ignored her and dragged her behind him. Running as quickly as Catherine could manage, Buck's fear rose when he heard Keely yelling for him. The fear was replaced with anguish when he saw two men on horseback riding off, taking the young girl with them.
"Keely!" he called desperately but she was beyond his help.
A deep scowl permeated Sir Christopher's face completing his dark and menacing demeanour. No one, except Sir Vincent and Sir Buckland, stood anywhere near him, as everyone had gathered in the Montrose main hall to discuss the abduction and decide on their next course of action. Sir Ezra watched closely as Lord Beaumont and Lord Montrose held a deep conversation while Montrose's knights and squires were securing the castle from any further threat. Montrose was dominant in body language and manner and Ezra became uneasy. Casting his eye around the large room, he noted that everyone who was at the Tournament was present. Lady Victoria and Susan remained close to Lady Beaumont, although Catherine remained to herself, arms folded, looking every bit as indifferent and cold as her reputation.
Finally the two Lords addressed the room. Montrose nodded and Beaumont began to speak. "We cannot be certain that Lord Kendall is behind this regrettable capture of my daughter's lady-in-waiting. We feel we should wait until her captors have made their demands clear."
A shatter of discontent echoed around the room. Buck seethed with anger and shot a dark look to Sir Christopher but the Master Knight had already approached Lord Beaumont.
"Lord Kendall threatened action against you and now a member of your household has been taken. They may have mistakenly taken the wrong lady, but the result is the same. Your name has been dishonoured," Sir Christopher said firmly.
"He is right, Father," Catherine interrupted "I barely escaped with my life," she bewailed, shooting Sir Ezra a distressed look.
Sir Christopher turned and delivered a formidable glare in response. “You had the protection of Sir Buckland, my lady, Keely had none!” he growled as Catherine bristled and tried to match the glare but failed. Touching her throat nervously with her hand, she stepped closer to her father.
Lord Beaumont ignored his daughter's outburst. "If it is Kendall," he stressed again "then he should release Keely once he realises she is not one of my daughters."
"Or he could try and cover his mistake," Chris replied coldly. "I want to go to Kendall and demand her back!"
"I'll ride with you," the White Knight spoke up and took his place next to the lead knight.
"I'll be going as well," Sir Buckland said adamantly as he glanced at JD. The squire had not taken the news well and was still looking deeply disturbed.
"A low act has been committed this afternoon. I ride with my fellow knights," Sir Ezra spoke firmly and stepped up beside Sir Vincent.
"I agree," Sir Josiah rumbled as he came to a standstill beside Sir Buckland.
"You need someone to protect your backs," Sir Nathan added as he followed Josiah and stood beside him.
Lord Beaumont looked over his knights with a sense of pride.
"This is unwise," Montrose warned . "Both of your daughters are safe," Montrose continued, addressing Lord Beaumont directly. "The girl is one of your servants. She is hardly worth risking a conflict between our families."
"If we do not respond to this attack, then next time, and there will be a next time, it well may be one of your daughters," Sir Christopher refuted. Lord Beaumont held the determined look of his Master Knight and began to nod his head in agreement.
"But she is a servant," Montrose repeated raising his voice.
"She is the daughter of Sir Lachlan of Cairbré," Josiah spoke angrily and everyone looked at him in astonishment. Silence descended and was only broken when unexpectedly Lady Beaumont came and stood before Josiah.
"Josiah, do you speak the truth?" she beseeched.
"I do, my lady," the knight replied sincerely and Lady Beaumont gave out a choked cry and she turned to her husband.
“You said she was dead," she cried.
Lord Beaumont looked bewildered as he took his wife's hands. "I said I feared she was dead," he corrected and looked up confusedly at Sir Josiah. "You found her?" he asked.
Josiah nodded. "Then why?" Beaumont asked.
"She saw her father killed and her mother taken from her. By the time I found her, she didn't believe there was any reason to willingly reveal who she really was," Josiah replied sadly.
"Yet you convinced her to come to Beaumont Castle?"
"Yes, I hoped to talk her into coming forward."
"Who is this girl?" Montrose asked, clearly baffled by the new discussion.
"She is my sister's daughter," Lady Beaumont said quietly. "We lost her when she was 11."
Lady Victoria reached her mother's side and held one of her hands in a gesture of support and comfort. "Please Father, let them go and bring her back," she implored. Lord Beaumont looked from his wife to his daughter before turning to Sir Christopher.
"You heard my daughter. Bring her back."
Keely looked with despair out of the small window of her confined room. She could squeeze out the window but there was no way to overcome the 60 foot drop to the ground. The door to the room was solid and fast and very locked. Hugging herself, she sat on the floor and tried again to make sense of what had happened.
The journey here was rough and frightening. Once her captors had covered some distance from Montrose castle, she was allowed to ride the remaining miles, although her hands had been tied and threatened with injury should she attempt escape. Darkness had fallen before they arrived but Keely still recognized Kendall Castle when they approached it. Bundled into a room without any answers to her questions, she had waited anxiously for nearly an hour before Lord Kendall arrived, accompanied by two of his knights and the men who had captured her.
Lord Kendall erupted into a tirade of yelling and insults as it soon became apparent that she wasn't the captive he expected. There was silence as her captors looked fearful of the repercussions while Lord Kendall scowled and thought. Finally, his look had returned to her and the intimidation behind the look prompted a wave of nausea and she fought strongly not to show it.
He nodded to one of the knights, who ushered her captors out of the room. Kendall gave her a final glance before leaving the room with his remaining knight, locking the door firmly. That had been hours ago and as the time dragged on, Keely could not shake the fear and dread that had taken hold.
The door unlocked and opened and she stood hastily. One of the same knights as before entered the room, following by an older lady carrying food, drink and clothes. The lady put the tray on the table and the clothes on the small bed before leaving. Once alone, the girl and knight looked at each other before he moved forward. She backed up and he stopped.
"I will not hurt you," he spoke. "My name is Sir Gavin," he continued.
"I know who you are," she retorted.
"Then you have me at an disadvantage," he countered.
"My name is Keely," she said reluctantly after a long silence.
"Keely," he repeated as he walked slowly towards her. She backed up and he paused. "Pretty name. Are you part of Lord Beaumont's family?"
She shook her head.
"A friend, a guest? Where are you from?" he queried.
She remained silent and tried to adopt a defiant stance. It did not have any visible effect on the knight.
"I can help you. But you need to talk to me," he offered.
"Sir Christopher says you cannot be trusted," she replied.
His face darkened for an instant and he crossed the room. Keely forced herself to remain still but she could feel the blood leave her face.
"And what do you know of Sir Christopher," he asked, staring intently at her.
"I know he'll defeat you at the next joust!" she gloated defiantly.
His eyes narrowed and she could not hold his look so she cast her eyes down. He laughed, breaking the tense moment.
"That remains to be seen," he said. "So you are a friend of Sir Christopher's?"
She blanched at the question. She was in awe of Sir Christopher. Although he intimidated most people, she had lost some of her fear of him over time. He had never been unkind to her, treated her respectfully and occasionally they had conversed.
"You what?" he prompted.
"When can I leave?"
"I don't know if you can," he admitted and turned away from the widening eyes that filled with fear at his answer.
"Please. This is a mistake. Just let me go," she pleaded.
"I am sorry. That is not my decision. Perhaps Lord Kendall will come to some arrangement with your family."
"I don't have a family!" she cried. "I work for Lord Beaumont. That is all!"
He nodded almost sympathetically. "That is unfortunate."
Lady Susan checked the hallway left and right before walking swiftly and silently down the passage to the west wing. She walked up steps that led to another corridor before stopping in front of a door. She took a deep breath before knocking softly. She held her breath as the door opened.
"Lady Susan," Sir Buckland said, clearly surprised.
"Sir Buckland. May I talk to you?"
He nodded and allowed her access to his room. She looked around the room nervously, a little surprised that it was tidy and warm.
"Is something wrong?"
"I. That is, we…" she began before swallowing and starting again. "Keely is a good friend and it is apparent she is in danger…" Susan paused. Buck reached out and took her hand. She resisted briefly but he would not let go easily and she raised her eyes to his. He smiled, a comforting yet sensual grin as he gently rubbed his thumb into her palm. Susan's breathing became laboured at the intimate touch and she felt pleasure tingle through her body. Buck was instantly aware of the change and his eyes shone with desire, overwhelming her at once. She drew a deep breath and stood back.
"Lady Beaumont sent me," she choked out, desperately trying to regain her composure.
"Lady Beaumont?" Buck frowned.
"She knows you and Sir Christopher will do everything to secure Keely's release," Susan said.
"You can assure Lady Beaumont, we will get Keely back" Buck replied firmly.
Susan nodded and reaching into a deep pocket, brought out a small pouch and handed it to Buck. The tall knight recognized the contents by the noise.
"If all else fails, Lady Beaumont wants you to try and buy Keely's release" she said, depositing the pouch into Buck's hands. Buck opened the pouch and raised an eyebrow at the large sum of money.
"Lady Beaumont does not want to lose her niece again," Susan said worriedly.
Buck sighed and nodded. So much had happened this day, that he had not had the time to fully contemplate Josiah's admission. He now remembered Lady Beaumont's distress. Not that it would have changed the way he felt. The missing girl was his friend and had a close bond with his squire, with whom he shared a close kinship. He did not intend to disappoint JD by failing to retrieve Keely. He could still acutely feel the helplessness and anguish that encompassed him as she was taken in front of him. He would not rest until he brought her back home.
"We will bring her home," he voiced his thoughts aloud.
Lady Susan smiled faintly at his optimism and moved towards the door.
"Sir Buckland?" she paused. "Take care," she whispered.
Buck stepped close to her and, unable to resist, gently ran the back of his hand along her soft cheek. Her eyes closed involuntarily at his touch and when she opened them, she saw his unfeigned affection for her and she blushed with the knowledge that her feelings were returned.
"I will be back, my lady. That is a promise," Buck said softly.
Despite some preparations the night before, it still took until mid morning before the Beaumont Knights were ready to depart. Chris waited and observed until his knights on their battle mounts, under-marshal Garland, squires, servants, packhorses, the armoury wagon had all moved out before he nodded towards Lord Beaumont and his wife, who had come to farewell their group. He then nudged his mount into a canter and moved up to the front of the advance, drawing alongside Sir Nathan.
"Have you decided what we shall do once we reach Kendall Caste?" Nathan asked.
"Ask for her return," Christopher replied firmly.
"They could claim they do not have her," Nathan pointed out.
"True," Christopher scowled.
"And your plan for that?" Nathan pushed.
"They convince me they do not have her!"
Despite the grimness of the subject, Nathan smiled. "You intend to storm the castle?" he asked raising an eyebrow.
"If negotiations fail, you shall have to get us in," Christopher explained easily.
"I?" the Moor queried.
"Do you forget, I have seen what you can do, my friend," Christopher acknowledged.
Nathan nodded at the homage. "It will not be easy."
"It never is," Christopher sighed.
Further back, Buck glanced at JD for the sixth time since leaving Montrose.
"I'm fine," the squire said abruptly.
"I never said anything," Buck protested.
"I know but you were thinking about saying something," JD grimaced.
"We will find her, JD. I want stop until we do," Buck declared.
"I know, Buck," JD nodded gratefully. Silence descended for a few minutes before Buck spoke again.
"I know you care about her… we all do."
JD looked sideways at him acknowledging Buck's words with a look before her forcing his gaze ahead.
"She's my friend," JD said quietly. "She gave me her father's sword," he blurted, touching the sword at his side.
"It doesn't belong to Josiah?" Buck clarified.
"No," JD replied.
Buck smiled and reached out and squeezed his young friend's shoulder.
"It will be alright. Trust me."
Keely had awoken after a restless night. Refusing to change into the clothes left for her, she had slept on and off until the woman from the previous night returned. This time she was laden with water and cloths so she could freshen herself. Keely balked but the woman insisted and she allowed herself to be washed and redressed, whilst keeping a nervous eye on the door. Afterwards the woman had returned with food and then the waiting had recommenced.
As the sun rose high in the sky, the door was unlocked again. A man entered. Another Knight, judging by his attire. Keely rose uncertainly and faced the newcomer with trepidation. He smiled at her but it was predatory and she swallowed nervously. He remained silent and Keely resisted the urge to ask what he wanted. He made his way across the room slowly, pretending to be interested in the contents of the room before he stood before her. He studied her face briefly before dropping his eyes to her chest, smirking when her cheeks flushed.
"Do you know who I am?"
"No," she squeaked and cleared her throat.
"I know who you are," he said smugly and Keely felt a violent twisting in her stomach.
He was looking directly at her and she looked away and inhaled a ragged breath. The Knight reached out and touched her face and she took a step back and glared at him.
"You have spirit," he said, his eyes raking over her with desire and leered again when she leveled another glare at him.
"I will soon make you forget Sir Vincent" he boasted.
"I know naught of what you speak," she hissed and he laughed cruelly.
"He favoured you at the tournament, my lady. I know what I see," he explained.
Keely's brow furrowed and she dropped her eyes to his sword and recognized the depictions on its handle.
"Sir Declan," she announced.
"Yes!" he smirked.
"What do you want?" she asked impatiently when he continued to just look at her.
"I want what Sir Vincent wants. Only where he fails I shall succeed," he replied, and the girl's eyes widened with fear.
"I am going home," she said adamantly.
"This is your home now," he said calmly, offering up a palm in gesture.
"Never!" she snapped.
"My lady, you wound me," he replied insincerely. "I shall take very good care of you. I have already expressed my interest in you to Lord Kendall"
"No!" she replied, shaking her head vehemently.
He chuckled softly and went to move closer to her when the door opened.
"I said we were not to be disturbed!" he ordered harshly and broke off any more verbal abuse as Sir Gavin entered.
"What are you doing here, Declan?" Gavin frowned.
"I am entertaining our lovely guest," Declan replied confidently.
Declan moved quickly until he was inches from Gavin's face. "Do not order me like some squire," he hissed.
"Then behave as a knight," Gavin replied his eyes narrowing.
Declan's face darkened and the two knights glared at each other before the younger knight departed, closing the door loudly. Keely flinched at the sound and glanced appreciatively at Sir Gavin.
"He said I would not be leaving. Is that true?" she asked apprehensively.
"Lord Kendall has not made a decision," Gavin admitted.
"I will ensure you are not disturbed until then," he avowed before nodding at her and leaving.
Keely let out a choked sob once he left, her eyes filling with tears and she quickly brushed them away. Moving to the window she gazed longingly outside and prayed for her freedom.
As night fell, Chris made sure everybody and everything were secured safely before he entered the Kirkdale Inn, where they had stopped for the night. Kirkdale was not far from Kendall Castle and Chris opted to rest up in the small village, before entering Kendall's estate in the morning.
Searching the room briefly, he saw Sir Vincent and made his way toward him, sitting at the small table with him. Vincent pushed a plate of food toward him and filled his cup with wine.
Chris nodded appreciatively and began to eat. "Where are the others?"
"Looking over their lodgings," Vin replied. "But I was hungry. I wanted to eat now not later"
"You're always hungry," Chris grinned and his friend grinned back.
"Any idea what to expect tomorrow?" Vin asked, turning serious.
"No?' Vin queried. "No insight into how Sir Gavin will react?"
Chris took another sip of drink and studied his companion before answering.
"I would not have thought Gavin would condone Kendall's threats let alone the taking of a young girl, so I really cannot say what he will do tomorrow," Chris replied.
"So before you hated each other, you were friends?" Vin pushed after a brief silence.
"Will you not drop this matter?" Chris frowned.
"I cannot. As your second, it is my duty to obtain any knowledge that will limit any of our potential weaknesses or preferably discover a weakness in our foe and exploit that to our advantage. You live longer that way" Vin replied and looked directly at the dark knight before adding. "You taught me that."
Chris sighed in resignation and resumed eating and the White Knight waited patiently. Finally, Chris sat back in his chair and thoughtfully studied his friend.
"I knew Gavin when I was younger, your age" he began. "He, Buck and I were friends back in the days of Fulcrum"
"Why did you fall out?"
"He introduced us to his betrothed, Lady Sarah" Chris replied, throwing Vin a knowing look.
Vin blinked. "You stole his lady?"
"We did not mean for it to happen" Chris defended "She was beautiful, Vin" he added softly and Vin glanced away as he saw the familiar haunted look come into his friend's eyes.
"One day you may know that feeling" Chris spoke again. "Or perhaps it has already arrived?" he queried while a faint smile played on his lips.
Vin looked back towards his friend without any surprise. He had been expecting the question. He knew by asking for Keely's favour at the tournament that he had openly declared his interest in her. He had acted without thinking and the favour had surprised him almost as much as it did her.
"I am not sure yet," he replied warily and the Black Knight's smile deepened.
"So Sir Gavin agreed to stand aside?" Vin asked, wanting to know more about the history between his friend and Kendall's lead knight.
"No," Chris replied pursing his lips. "He insisted their betrothal proceed so Sarah and I married in secret."
"And then?" Vin prompted when his friend went silent again.
"When we returned, he
challenged me. I defeated him."
Vin watched as the dark knight became lost in thought. The loss of his wife and son still took his friend into phases of dark brooding and silence. He tried to distract him.
"Did you remember how you recognized Sir Lachlan's sword?" he asked. Following Sir Josiah's outcry the previous day, the older and learned Knight had revealed his connection to Keely's father and informed them that JD now carried the former knight's sword.
"Yes. I saw him joust and battle many times when I was boy. He was and is the most skillful knight I've ever seen," Chris said reverently.
"Josiah agrees with you," Vin stated.
"After one tournament, I eluded my father and snuck into Sir Lachlan's tent. His squire caught me and was about to send me away, when Sir Lachlan told him to let me stay," Chris told him pausing to drink.
"He asked what quest I was on that required such boldness and I told him I would be a knight like him," Chris smiled and looked over to Vin. The White Knight smiled back. He was enjoying the story.
"Sir Lachlan regarded me thoughtfully before declaring that he had no doubt I would become a knight feared throughout the land," Chris smiled. "He talked to me at length and showed me his sword, that's why it was familiar to me"
"Do you know why Josiah kept his close friendship with Lachlan to himself?"
"He wasn't there when it mattered and that is a harsh lesson to live with," Chris replied sadly.