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Northumberland, England, 1290
"You won the wager with His Majesty," said Lord Bryce Mitchell astride his Arabian. He cantered down the forest trail with Alex Stelton, the newly minted Lord of Glen Kirk Castle.
"The entire court placed odds on whether I would succeed." The two men slowed their horses to a walk. Alex glanced at Bryce. "Did you lose much?" He refocused his attention on the trail ahead. "You should have put your coin on me. I only wager when I'm certain of the results."
"After one year of holding the old stones against the Scots, he actually gifted the castle and his ward to you." Bryce shook his head.
The ring of surprise in Bryce's voice and evident disbelief on his face amused Alex. "His Majesty is a man of his word. Did you have any doubt?" asked Alex, his head cocked to the side with one eyebrow raised. His face split into a wide grin.
"About the king being a man of his word or of you holding off the Scots?" Bryce colored his smooth retort with a smirk.
The two friends looked at each other, exploded into laughter, and continued on until they reached the crossroads where they brought their horses to a halt. The tower of Glen Kirk Castle, bathed in the setting sun, peeked through the trees still some three miles to the north. Alex surveyed his new holding. His chest swelled with pride. Mine.
"Though Edward did make you pay."
Alex was peeved by Bryce's patronizing tone. He masked his emotions until they were as unreadable as stone.
"Yes, you could say that." Alex tried his best dismissive tone. Best he forget the king's retribution for now. There would be time enough to deal with it later.
"Could? Surely you knew if he lost the wager he would find some way to make you pay. He doesn't lose gracefully at anything, but to actually marry you to his ward by proxy. I can still see the apoplectic look on your face."
"Yes, Brycewhat about the look on my face?" demanded Alex. His voice sounded strident even to him.
Bryce turned all shades of purple trying to conceal his mirth but he said not one word more. Instead he diverted his attention and polished the gold clasp, embossed with the Mitchell coat of arms, on his cloak.
Alex bristled at being the center of anyone's jest. He didn't take it well from his brothers, although the six of them only teased to vex him. Even though he was the youngest, his brothers deferred to him. They knew his worth and, it appeared, so did the king.
His teeth clenched at the thought of his proxy wedding and his humiliation. He knew he had to take a wife. He had to make his own way in the world. The Stelton holdings were extensive but not enough to provide him with an income. He'd have done anything to prove himself worthy of a holding of his own. Maybe even marry. Perhaps even Lisbeth. He never thought he would marry on the whim of the king. He had tried to argue, but there was no arguing with Edward. Faith, the king all but patted him on his head and sent him off like a new page. A page. He raked his hand through his hair.
With a nod of his head, Bryce motioned toward Glen Kirk in the distance. "Marrying Lisbeth does secure your claim to Glen Kirk."
Lisbeth. He had lived at Glen Kirk for a year and hardly saw her. The only way he knew she was near was the little charms she left or the serenity that surrounded them. She kept herself in the forsaken hunting lodge and managed to elude him at almost every turn.