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By Hannah Howell ZEBRA BOOKS
Copyright © 1992
All right reserved.
Chapter One Stirlingshire, Scotland, 1386
"I told ye it would be unwise to answer that wench's invitation," Sine Catriona Brodie complained, clinging to her seat as Farthing Magnus raced their cart down the road, away from a keep that held an amorous lady and a hotly jealous husband.
"So ye were in the right of it this time. How did ye ken it?"
"With every smile she sent ye ere ye crept off to her chambers, her husband's countenance grew blacker."
"I must remember to watch the husband as weel as the wife."
"Wisdom that is late in arriving is better than no wisdom at all."
Farthing laughed. "How verra wise."
"So I thought when I heard it. I dinnae believe they follow us."
Easing the furious gait of their horse, Farthing peered behind them. "Nay, it seems not, but we shall travel on. He could yet turn his fury our way. I should like to get to the fair still hale and whole."
"Doesnae it trouble ye that the lady may be beaten?" Sine Catriona straightened her cowl, hastily tucking a few stray silvery curls back beneath its folds.
"She was an adulteress." He grinned when she gave him a look of disgust.
"Did it ne'er occur to ye to save her from her sins by refusing what she offered?" she asked.
"Why should I go hungry when I ken that the meal will just be offered elsewhere?"
"Lecherous dog. Ye didnae even have time to tie all your points. Your chausses sag."
"At least I wasnae sent afleeing with my arse bared to the wind and moon."
"That day may yet arrive. Your ardor may yet send you to hell."
"As ye age, ye grow more pious," Farthing drawled.
"I hope to save your soul."
"My soul is past redemption, Catriona. I will ne'er see heaven, but I am resigned." He gave a heavy sigh.
She made a soft, derisive noise. "If ye are so resigned, why do ye still visit the priests to confess and attempt penance?"
"Drive the cart." He thrust the reins into her small, delicate hands. "I must rest," he murmured, and bent to fix his hose.
After tidying his clothes he slouched in his seat, tugged his hat over his face, and wrapped his cloak about himself. Maintaining the air of one nearly asleep, he eyed Sine Catriona from beneath his lowered hat brim. It was a neverending puzzle to him that he did not lust after her.
In the six years they had traveled together she had grown from a lovely girl to a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, ripe for love and marriage. She had a deep, low voice that brought the glint of desire into a man's eyes. Huge violet eyes dominated her small, oval face, and were encircled by raven lashes so thick and long that many suspected some artifice had been employed on them. Her figure was slender yet had all the curves any man could crave. The crowning glory to her beauty was her hair, its silver-white waves tumbling from her head to her knees. It always seemed a pity to him that she had to keep it hidden, tucked away for fear it would lead her treacherous mother to her. Everything about Sine Catriona was desirable. She exuded an innocent, subtle, and unpracticed sensuality that drew men to her like wasps to hot, sweet cider. Farthing could recognize all of that, yet felt no hint of passion for her.
The only answer to the puzzle was that she had become as close to him as his nearest kin. Despite the fact that he was just ten years her senior, at times he felt as if she was his child. He supposed some of that feeling arose because he had watched her make that almost magical change from child to woman.
Yet again he felt guilty that he had not, could not, help her regain what her murderous kin had stolen from her. He had not even been able to stop Arabel and Malise Brodie from declaring Sine Catriona and the twins dead. They had feigned an elaborate burial and taken hold of all the money, the lands, and the title. What was more, he felt troubled over how he had taught his charges to live-by theft and trickery. Yet, what choice had he? Those were the talents by which he made his own living.
What she needed was a warrior with a force of skilled, armed men at his command. She had said so while still a child and she had been right. She needed a knight who would not cower in his boots before the evil power of the Brodies, one with the coin, power, and force to battle them and win. She especially needed a knight with the wit to believe in the evil of the Brodies and avoid falling victim to their seductive ways. Farthing knew that, for all his cleverness and skill, he was not that man. Nor could he produce such a knight, though they had searched the border region for years, hoping to come upon the right man for the task. He sighed.
"I dinnae think your knight was at the keep we just fled," he said at last.
"Nay. How foolish I was all those years ago."
"Only six," he whispered.
She ignored the soft interruption. "I was foolish to think I but needed to find a strong knight, one who would help us simply because our cause is just. There appear to be few who have what I need."
"Mayhaps there are simply too many just causes and ye must wait your turn. Dinnae give up yet."
"Nay, I will continue to search. Howbeit, at times I begin to think I shall be old and bent ere I find him. Ah, but by then the twins will have become men and can fight to gain what is rightfully theirs."
"Aye, the three of us could easily carve up your enemy."
She laughed softly, then after a long silence asked, "Am I to drive all night with no one to talk to?"
"Ye talk and I shall grunt at all the appropriate moments."
"'Tis plain ye spent all your charm upon that wench we just fled, Farthing Magnus."
"I still possess charm aplenty. I merely need to rest. My charm isnae at its most glorious when I am weary."
"Farthing?" She looked his way but saw little, her dark companion well bundled up in his equally dark clothes. "Is it fun?"
"Is what fun?"
"And where did ye come by that word, my sweet Catriona?"
"From you, my lusty conjurer."
"Ah, I must be more careful in my speech."
"Weel? Is it fun?"
"Aye, 'tis fun or I wouldnae risk so much to indulge myself. I ken nothing of how it fares for women, but to a mon, even the most fleeting and the lightest can be fun. I speak now of only the idle tussle, not the mating of true lovers."
"Love makes it better, does it?"
"Glorious, child. 'Tis love and passion beautifully entwined. 'Tis ferocity yet tenderness. 'Tis all emotion thrown together in the headiest of mixtures. 'Tisnae just what lurks between the legs that is involved, but the heart, the soul, and even the mind. There is naught to compare. 'Tis glory, 'tis paradise, 'tis the Land of Cockaigne, the sweet paradise upon earth."
"That is what I shall have," she vowed as she stared down the night-shadowed road.
"Aye," he agreed in a soft voice, "I do believe ye will. One such as ye can have no less."
Gamel Logan sat eating in the great hall of Duncoille keep, trying to avoid his stepmother's eyes. But she was too keen.
"Where are ye hieing to?" she asked him.
"A fair in Dunkennley but a day or so ride from here." Gamel kissed her smooth cheek.
"A fair? To wenching, ye mean," Edina muttered, and began to break her fast. She was a tiny, voluptuous woman beloved by everyone in the Logan clan.
Gamel just smiled. As he ate and conversed with his father and half brothers, he waited for his stepmother to say what was on her mind. Since his burly father was unusually quiet, he suspected that what troubled Edina had already been thoroughly discussed with her husband. When Gamel finished his meal, he sensed Edina was ready to speak. He wondered idly if she had thought to save his digestion.
"Ye are eight and twenty now, Gamel." Edina frowned, then nervously worried her full bottom lip with her teeth. "Ye are a belted knight kenned far and wide for possessing a handsome purse. Hasnae it come time for ye to seek a bride?"
"I have been looking for years."
Before Edina could respond, the children's nurse bustled into the great hall, explaining that the youngest Logan had taken a tumble and Edina's presence was needed. Gamel grinned as Edina grumbled with exasperation and left. He looked to his father to finish what Edina had been struggling to tell him.
"Have ye sought out another possible bride then, Father?" he asked.
William Logan grimaced slightly. "Aye. No promises were made, just a meeting arranged. In a week's time young Margot Delacrosse will arrive with her kin. They will stay a while." He shrugged his massive shoulders. "What will be, will be. Dinnae ye want a wife and children? But tell us so and we will leave ye be."
"I want a wife and a brood of children. I want what ye have, Father," Gamel added in a quiet voice.
"I have been most fortunate."
Gamel ran a hand through his auburn hair. "'Tis hard to put into words all that I seek in a woman. I want one who can both enflame and comfort, one I can speak with about anything-even of my fears. I can only keep saying that I seek what ye have found."
Gamel shook his head before continuing. "Therein lies my difficulty. I suspected that what ye and Edina share is rare, but I didnae ken just how rare. Search though I do, it continues to elude me."
"Mayhaps ye look too hard, son."
"Only God can say. Mayhaps I will settle for less one day." He stood up and smiled at his father. "For now I shall content myself with the pleasures of the flesh. A fair promises many a bonny, willing lass."
"Aye, and ye were blessed with your mother's fairness of face and her fine green eyes, so lasses will flock to ye. Go on, but be sure to return in time to meet the lass who journeys to visit with us."
"I will. No search is done until all stones are turned." He winked at his father. "I but pray the lass ye invited doesnae look as if she crawled out from beneath one."
Shaking his head, William chuckled. "I think not. Who goes to the fair with ye?"
"Ah, aye-your friend Lesley."
"Do ye tire of his company?"
"Nay. I like the lad. 'Tis just that he has been here for months. Should he not spend some time at his own family's keep?"
"He will, but not for a wee while yet. Lesley and his father havenae healed the breach between them."
"It will ne'er be healed if Lesley continues to hide here."
"I ken it and so does Lesley. He but needs time to prepare himself."
"I can understand that. Who else travels with ye?"
"My squire, Blane."
"I go to a fair, not a battle."
"Be careful nonetheless."
"May I go too, Father?" asked Ligulf, William's slim, fourteen-year-old son.
Raising his gaze to the ceiling, William sighed. "Go, and quickly, ere your mother changes my mind."
Laughing, Ligulf hurried away with Gamel, who wasted no time in preparing to leave. He knew his father suspected Edina might complain, although she would never try to stop Ligulf. Even she admitted to showing a perilous leniency with her children. His haste was in vain, however, for she stepped out of the keep just as they were about to ride out of the bailey. Gamel hid his grin as she handed them a small pack of what she considered to be necessities for any journey.
Edina looked at the slender Ligulf. "So, ye have decided to travel to the fair with Gamel."
"Aye, Mama. 'Twill be my first time."
"I ken it," she drawled as she turned and started back to where William stood. "Just be verra certain that she is clean and healthy."
Gamel joined his companions in laughing heartily as they rode out of the bailey. Ligulf blushed furiously, color flooding his fair skin. The youth's blushes were only beginning to fade by the time Duncoille was out of sight.
"How did she ken it?" Ligulf asked Gamel, and combed his fingers through his dark blond hair.
"She has been through this before, this change from lad to mon. There was me, then two of our brothers."
"Aye." Ligulf finally laughed. "She is too clever by half."
When they reached the small glen where Gamel had chosen to camp for the night, there was little daylight left. The journey had been pleasant and uneventful, but the crude drover's trail they had used had left them all weary. Gamel was the first to crest the small wooded rise and see that their campsite had already been taken. He paused, his companions doing likewise, and tried to decide what step to take next. They were still fifteen miles or more from Dunkennley and he had no wish to cover the rest of the rough trail in the dark.
His gaze became fixed upon the maid below who was preparing a meal while two young boys wrestled playfully nearby. There was a sensual grace to her every movement, despite the mundane nature of her work. He had the strongest urge to hurry closer to see her face.
He was just about to give in to that urge when she and the boys were joined by a man on horseback. His mount careened into the small campsite and reared, tumbling him to the ground. Thinking only to help, Gamel started down the small rise. His companions hesitated only briefly before following him.
"Farthing!" cried Sine Catriona as she rushed to his side.
She was only faintly aware of the four armed men who galloped into camp and dismounted. Gripped by fear, she focused all of her attention on Farthing. She knelt and frantically searched for a wound or break upon his tall, lean frame. None of the uninvited company drew his sword or spoke a threat so she continued to ignore them.
"Farthing, speak to me," she demanded, her voice tense with concern. "I can find no injury. Can ye not answer me?"
Sine Catriona gaped at the prone man, then started to giggle. She was not sure whether it was from relief or a sense of the absurd. As the smirk on Farthing's flushed face grew wider, her laughter increased. She fleetingly noted that her laughter was echoed by the strangers who had so recently joined them.
"Ye wretch!" she scolded. "Ye vile fool! I thought ye were dead or broken asunder."
"Nay." Farthing struggled to sit up, hindered slightly by his tangled black cloak. "I have been celebrating."
"S'truth? 'Tis a fact I ne'er would have guessed for myself," she said with her hands on her hips.
Struggling to fix his obsidian gaze on the four men behind her, he asked, "Who be they?"
"'Tis a fine time to be asking." She picked up his black hat and handed it to one of the twins, Barre, to put away. "I dinnae ken. If they were a danger to us, 'tis quite dead we would be by now." She turned to look at the four men. "If ye meant to offer help ye can see that your kindness was wasted." She frowned briefly at Farthing. "Howbeit, he may soon be in dire need of aid, for I begin to think that doing him an injury would weel please me."
Gamel felt a constriction in his chest as he gazed into her lovely, wide blue eyes. "We meant to offer a hand," he said, struggling to speak. "We had also planned to camp here for the night."
"There is plenty of room."
"Thank ye, mistress. Allow me to present myself and my companions. I am Sir Gamel and these are my brother, Ligulf, my squire, Blane, and my good friend, Sir Lesley."
Nodding her head, she replied, "Catriona, Beldane, Barre, and Farthing Magnus. Ye are welcome to share this place with us. There is food to spare. See to your mounts while I see to this fool." She began to help Farthing to stand up.
By the time they were all settled around the fire Gamel felt more composed. He could not, however, stop watching her. She had the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen. Her voice sent his thoughts winging straight to the bedchamber. The way she moved made his loins ache. He wanted her, faster and with more ferocity than he had ever wanted a woman before. He could not cease wondering if she was the one he had searched for so long and hard.
Then his heart clenched in his chest. She was already claimed by the man, Farthing, whose name she had so calmly linked with her own. She and her man had offered the hospitality of their fire and food. To make any attempt to satisfy his want would be an insult he could not inflict even if it took every ounce of willpower he could muster not to. He sat wondering what color her hair was, wishing she would shed that all-encompassing headdress.
Only once did he look at Farthing Magnus. That man sat struggling to regain some sobriety, yet watching him closely. The look in Farthing's black eyes told Gamel the man could read his desire and saw it as a threat.
Carefully pronouncing each word, Farthing told Sine Catriona, "I was celebrating."
Excerpted from Silver Flame by Hannah Howell Copyright © 1992 by Hannah Howell. Excerpted by permission.
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