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THE KNIGHT: Handsome Sir Garrett Bernay values honor above all. He is enraged that, instead of fighting beside the king, he must escort Lady Leandra to wed his liege lord. His disposition does not improve when the lady and her archers mistakeningly fire on his ship. Nor is he pleased that the lady's eyes flash with emerald fire and her skin is as smooth as ivory. She belongs to another. But he is strong. He's certain no power on earth can make him steal even one tender kiss.
THE LOVE POTION: It was meant to inspire selfless love and seal a marriage. But the mists of fate swirl around Lady Leandra and Sir Garrett. Now the elixir, brewed to bind two hearts forever, sweeps a knight and lady toward a rendezvous with desire...and to a destiny decreed by an irresistible love.
The West Country of England
The Year of Our Lord 1346
"WHY DO YOU wish to become a knight, Garrett Bernay?" Father John intoned as he stood on the altar in the rosy, stained-glass sunlight. His clear, mellow voice carried easily over Garrett's tawny head to an impatient congregation who shuffled their leather boots and wooden clogs on the stone floor. "Is it with the hope of gaining personal treasure?"
In defiance of tradition, Garrett looked up from where he knelt, his gaze drawn to the Bernay sword. High over his head the cherished weapon—soon to be a knight's sword once more—was held fast in the hands of his sponsor, Reginald, Earl of Tremelyn.
"No, Father," he responded with honesty and swallowed with difficulty, willing away the tightness in his throat. But he could not keep his eyes from the newly blessed blade. It had once been his father's and his father's father's. Five generations of Bernays had sworn honor on the weapon since it had been carried home from the Holy Land. At last he had won back the right to do the same.
"Is it that men may show you homage?" Father John asked.
"No, Father." He bowed his head and humbly promised, "I wish to be a knight so that I may serve the Church with a pure mind and heart." All of which was true.
Garrett looked to his longtime family friend. A twinge of guilt nagged at him. His reasons were not quite as pure as that. He wanted to be a knight to wipe away the shame from his family name, to live down the disgrace of his uncle's treason against the king. He wanted his brother, Wystan, and himself to be able to hold their heads high again—as was theirbirthright—to walk proudly once more among all the nobles of the land.
In truth this knighting ceremony was only a formality. He'd been knighted a month ago on the battlefield.
The ambush was still etched vividly in his mind. They had been a small hunting party—just the earl, a few of the Tremelyn knights, some men-at-arms, and their commander, Garrett. The season's last snow flurried from a gray sky. Through the thickening snowfall they sighted a huge red buck. In the high spirit of the chase they let the quarry draw them into a narrow pass.
They realized the danger only when outlaws rushed out of the whiteness from every side. The attack was so unexpected and so brutal that they lost several good men before making a stand.
The brigands fought ruthlessly toward Lord Reginald, greed and desperation in their eyes. It was as though more was at stake than mere robbery. What were they after? Ransom? Assassination? A frown darkened Garrett's brow. That question still plagued him.
Lord Reginald himself was wounded by the time Garrett managed to fight to his lord's side and drive off the assailants. Shaken and bleeding, Reginald struggled to his feet and, with his bloody sword in hand, bestowed knighthood on Garrett before the battle-weary knights.
Now, at the altar, Father John droned on. "In the name of the most Holy Lord, Almighty Father…who has permitted on earth the use of the sword to suppress the malice of the wicked and the treacherous, and to defend justice and the innocent…"
Garrett knew there were those present who doubted him still. Some said that, like his uncle, he lacked the loyalty to be a knight. Others pointed to his need for humility. But he knew they all were wrong. He'd lived humbly for the sake of his mother, who died heartbroken, and for his father, who'd died hopeless and desolate without even trying to regain the honor lost.
He'd refused to surrender to despair. Over the years he'd grown strong and dauntless through training and service in France to one lord and another. Then Lord Reginald had taken him on as commander of the guard.
"…and who for the protection of thy people hast deemed fit to institute the order of chivalry…" Father John was in good voice today.
Suddenly Garrett felt old and young at once—his head light, his tawny hair shorn away like a green boy freshly tonsured. But the scarlet cloak he wore weighed heavily on his shoulders—even more heavily than his armor. The flowing red satin symbolized the blood he must be prepared to shed in defense of the Church and of his liege lord. He'd already spilled blood, and had little doubt that he would be called on to shed more—for the king, for the earl, and for the good of the Bernay name.
"…do you, Garrett Bernay, swear to dispose your heart to goodness and never use this sword or any other to injure anyone unjustly?" Father John asked.
With confidence and a clear conscience, Garrett vowed, "I swear."
Reginald stepped forward to speak, still holding the sword high for all to see. "Do you swear to use this sword honorably and to always defend your liege lord, Reginald of Tremelyn?"
Gratitude rushed through Garrett as he lifted his gaze to meet Reginald's. No one man had been more help in his quest for knighthood. He knew he would forever be indebted—willingly and faithfully—to his lord.
"I so swear," Garrett pledged.
The final moment had arrived. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and braced himself. A hush settled over the congregation: fellow men-at-arms, knights, squires, barons, vassals, and ladies. He heard the flat of the sword blade cut the air, whisking past his ear to jolt against his shoulder with full force. He hardly felt the impact.
A sigh of relief escaped him. It was nearly finished. The mark against his family's name was almost wiped away. From this day forward he would be Sir Garrett Bernay, knight and loyal defender of the Church and of his liege lord—no mark of treachery would mar the Bernays' Norman lineage again.
Reginald raised the finely tempered sword slowly and brought down the second blow just as forcefully on Garrett's other shoulder. Again, outwardly, he remained unmoved. Not even a smile touched his lips, but inside, elation soared. Lightness filled him. The burden of dishonor vanished.
Copyright © 2005 Linda Madl