Heather Graham writing as Shannon Drake
In the days when Scotland lay under siege—from the Vikings who sailed from the north and the Norman English who came from the south—King David sought to unite his people into one nation. For this, he needed loyal warriors. Waryk de Graham soon proved the greatest of these fighters, and was knighted Lord Lion. But his honored position came with a price: a wife chosen for him by the king—a reluctant Viking bride.
Daughter of a Gaelic noblewoman and a Viking warlord, Mellyora MacAdin had an imagination that blazed with dreams of ancient myths and tales of adventure. She had already pledged her heart when she received King David's decree to marry the fierce Lord Lion. As he came to claim her, Mellyora swore to resist this barbarian nobleman—only to find herself a willing partner to his seduction. Now, torn between defiance and devotion, Mellyora must decide where her future truly lies, as she discovers the savagery in her family's blood, and the secrets of her husband's heart.
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Come the Morning
Graham Clan, Book One
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Shannon Drake
All rights reserved.
His method of warfare had changed somewhat in ten years. Not completely. Waryk, Laird Lion, still preferred his sword to any other weapon; it had been his father's blade, William's claymore, and he wielded it still.
Today he sat atop a great warhorse and stared down the hill, watching the assault on the king's small fortress of Localsh. Fifty mounted men-at-arms were in his command to quash the rebellion, reputed to be far greater than what he discovered here. The garrison at the fortress, however, was no more than twenty men, plus the artisans, masons, clergy, and freemen who lived within and about the walls of the fortress. Stonework, so recently begun, was being torn down. The defenders had prepared for a siege rather than striking out at the attackers; the garrison in the castle was small, enough men to defend, not enough to attack. But now, the defenders were beginning to lack food, water, arrows for ammunition, oil to pour upon those attempting to scale the walls. The rebels could be seen preparing their weapons of assault; catapults to storm the castle with rocks and flaming debris, rams to break down the gates, ladders with which to send men over the walls.
Watching the rebels from a distance, Waryk frowned. This was not what he had expected. With neighboring England now in something of chaos with Henry I dead and his daughter, Mathilda, fighting his nephew, Stephen, for the crown, many of the Norman barons were stretching their wings and reaching out for whatever power they could seize. While even the Scottish king's personal troops were known for their wild appearance—Waryk commanded a comparatively small cavalry—and foot soldiers whose raw courage most frequently created their victories, these fighting men were sad, lacking even leather armor, breastplates or protection. Some carried the poorest shields. They appeared to be no more than disgruntled serfs, with little strategy, or knowledge of warfare. Their dress was poor, more Norman than Scottish, not unusual here in the Lowlands. Granted, the death of King Henry I of England had thrown a great deal of confusion into England and the borderlands and Anglo-Scottish relations, but this still seemed strange. A knight prepared for war with the full treasury of a king—even a Scottish king, as some would say—he himself was well mounted and armored, a coat of light, finely meshed mail over his wool undergarment and under his surcoat of deep rich blue. A single metal plate protected his chest, and his helmet was metal as well, though many of his men preferred the protection of leather to that of steel. His eyes as deep and disturbing a blue as the color on his surcoat, stared out from a helmet with a sturdy nose plate. His own blazon, that of a flying falcon, was embroidered on his surcoat and on the rich trappings worn by his horse.
He was close to where he had fought so many years ago, he thought. He had come far from there, only to return. Once, he had been a boy, ragged and undisciplined, no shield, no armor, fighting for ...
Why were the men below fighting? He thought of the way they had struggled then, so poorly armed, and yet, they fought for their homes.
These men were assaulting a fortress.
"Waryk?" Angus, his aide in all things, spoke his name, reminding him that he and his armed troops were staring down at the battle scene. He became aware of the restive movements of the horses behind him.
"They are like a peasant army," Waryk said.
"They are hurtling burning oil, as we speak," Angus pointed out dryly.
"Aye, but why ..." Waryk murmured. He couldn't ponder the question—as Angus had said, the attackers, no matter how sad, were attempting to kill the defenders of the king's fortress. Waryk lifted a hand, indicating they should charge from their vantage point atop the high cliff, and take the enemy swiftly. God knew, he didn't want to lose his own men, though it disturbed him to believe he was embarking upon a slaughter of his countrymen.
He turned in his saddle. "For God's sake, keep alive what men you can! If not for mercy's sake, for that of knowledge, my fellows! Angus, Thomas, ride with me against the siege machine. Theobald, Garth, and you three MacTavishes, take the men with the ram. The rest of you, storm the fellows at the gates, seize the ladders. Now, we ride for God, for king, and for country!"
He lowered his hand, and kneed Mercury, and they began a thunderous charge down the cliffs, and to the aid of the beleaguered fortress.
There were, perhaps, a hundred rebels, outnumbering Waryk's forces, but in no way were they capable of outfighting them. He hadn't wanted a slaughter. Killing men for different loyalties was always difficult, many a fine man died that way. He had learned that there were good men among the king's Normans, among the Scots, among the secluded tribes, and even among the Vikings. These rebels looked like Celtic barbarians of old; some were painted like the ancient Picts.
They fought like berserkers.
And in his slashing and slaying, Waryk was greatly disturbed to find that the enemy seldom sought mercy. Continually assaulted by more than one man, he was forced to kill, rather than threaten and keep a man alive. As he fought, he found it more puzzling still that he heard snatches of different languages as the men shouted back and forth to one another, seeking to make a retreat. Norman French, Gaelic, old Saxon English, Norse, all were being spoken. And men fought to the death, the enemy calling threats to one another, or they fled.
Even the Lowlands in Scotland offered tremendous opportunities for retreat and shelter, heavy forests, rolling, sweeping hills, making lightning-quick assaults and equally fast retreats not a matter of cowardice, but of strategy. Some of the rebels continued to fight as berserkers, but more and more began to flee. Hunted down toward the rich forests, they turned and fought again. Freed from fierce attack at last, Waryk turned to see Angus facing a single man. When Angus would have brought his great battle-ax down upon his opponent, Waryk rode hard upon him.
"Angus! We need him alive!"
Angus held his ax at Waryk's command, and Waryk was certain Angus's burly combatant understood every word that had been said, but the man looked toward the forest, his eyes grew huge as if he were expecting an evil spirit to spring out upon him. He then took a reckless lunge toward Angus, forcing Angus to raise his battle-ax in self-defense.
The man's bare head was struck; he fell dead. He'd meant to die, Waryk realized, rather than answer any questions.
"I'm sorry, Waryk, but he came straight at me, expecting me to cleave him!" Angus said, amazed.
"Aye," Waryk said, staring down at the dead man. He shook his head. "What man fights so hard, with so little, and is afraid to live?"
"Damn me, Waryk, if I know."
"We'll go to the fortress, see if we've any man so much as half-alive." The fortress at Localsh was small, a tower built upon an old Celtic formation, rude wooden walls to surround a courtyard for marketing by the neighboring freemen and the tenants and serfs of lesser chiefs and lairds. Sir Gabriel Darrow, keeper of the tower, was greatly relieved by the lifting of the siege and the coming of Waryk's troops, but he, too, seemed to find the attack disturbing. A gruff old soldier, survivor of many a battle, he told Waryk that the initial attack had come out of nowhere, madmen in paint streaming out of the forest, slaughtering all the men they found in the fields, and demanding that he open the gates and surrender Localsh, or all would be put to death when the fortress fell.
"I've seldom seen such brutality, and for so little reason," Sir Gabriel told them.
"There's reason aplenty," Angus commented, "what with the English king dead and his nephew a thieving bastard."
Waryk arched a brow to Angus, who supported their own king's position. David had respected Henry and supported his daughter's claim to the throne. However, Waryk knew his king well, and, though he didn't say so aloud, he was aware that David was a powerful opportunist who would seize this advantage to push Scottish borders if he could.
"A Norman lord comes," Sir Gabriel continued, "and he wants more land, more servants, more to do him homage. The Vikings attack and plunder, rape, and kill, but with the intent to enrich themselves. These men came to destroy, to slaughter men, to lay waste the land. Why, I do not know."
Even as Sir Gabriel spoke, Thomas and Garth dragged in a fallen rebel. He bled profusely from wounds to his temple and chest, and he was barely conscious, but Waryk knelt by his side on the stone floor before the hearth in the small tower room.
"For whom do you fight, man? Is this an attack against the king of Scots on behalf of Mathilda of England, or her cousin, Stephen?"
The man's eyes opened on Waryk. He offered him a half smile. "Have you a son, my great, mighty, lord?"
"Nay, man, not as yet."
"Then you do na know."
"You're dying, man. If you've a son and you give me the answers that I need, I will see to your boy, raise him to fight like his father, under my protection. I ask you again, for whom do you fight?"
The fellow coughed, spitting up a trail of blood. "Ye wouldna reach my boy, great laird. You bleed yourself. All men bleed."
Waryk hadn't realized he'd been nicked in the fighting. He bled, but hadn't felt the injury. "Aye, I bleed, I wear many scars. But I don't fall, and if I were to fall, others more powerful would come behind me. Give me your boy. I can grant him the king's protection."
The man shook his head painfully. "You would never reach him in time, before ..." he said. He gritted his teeth tightly against the pain assailing him.
"I swear to you, I will do whatever is necessary—" Waryk began.
But the man shuddered and died. No man, no laird, no king, had power over death.
"What is it that a man fears more than death itself?" Sir Gabriel demanded.
"The death of all he loves," Waryk said quietly. He rose, and looked at his men. "No other survivors?" he asked.
"They fled, or died, Waryk," Thomas told him.
"Have the men set to work strengthening the defenses," Waryk said. "We'll leave an additional fifteen men and supply the fortress before we leave, Sir Gabriel. Added strength until we know what this disturbance is all about."
"Maybe we'll never know," Sir Gabriel said.
"I think that we will. Aye, I think that we will," Waryk told him. "Eventually. All men fight because they want something. I believe these battles are like the tips of the icebergs off the northern waters—we've not begun to see what lies beneath."
Two days later, with much work accomplished to shore up the walls and defenses of Localsh, Waryk and his men, minus those he would leave behind, departed.
Before turning back toward Stirling, he and his men rode the border, a powerful presence in the name of the king of Scots. As well as seeing to the welfare, strength, and loyalty of Scottish lords, they stopped at a small English castle, where they were entertained by Lord Peter of Tyne, an English baron who had managed to keep his border region peaceful despite the many disturbances in the region. His castle was strong; he had at least sixty of his own men trained for battle and joust. In the midst of the trouble between Stephen and Mathilda, he maintained a strong neutrality, and, due to his proximity to Scottish land, kept a close allegiance with King David of Scotland.
Peter was Waryk's own age, the son of a noble who had grown up at the court of Henry I with David of Scotland. Listening to Waryk's account of what had occurred, he seemed at a loss as well. "There is a tremendous schism in England," he said. "One day, a man is killed for supporting Stephen; the next, five men are tortured for their loyalty to old Henry's daughter. Strange things are happening."
"Aye, but Scotland has enough of her own troubles without being embroiled with those of the English!"
"Hard to say, when so many Normans, and Anglo-Normans, call themselves Scotsmen. And when we all keep our eyes on David, knowing he will seize what he can to the south!"
"Aye, but if these men were involved in this fight between royal English cousins descended from the Conqueror, why go against the king of Scotland?"
"Someone is stirring up trouble, but who, I do not know. I will, of course, keep my eyes and ears open."
"Ah. You will be on the lookout for a Scottish king?" Waryk asked skeptically, grinning. Peter was a cunning fellow, often blunt, never reckless.
"Aye, well, the Scottish king sits on his throne, at the moment. While the English ... my loyalty lies where it is most expedient."
Waryk laughed, they drank together, the night wore on. As the fire in the hearth slowly died, he saw a woman in the shadows of the hallway, waiting. Eleanora. Peter had long been a friend, and if they were ever to become enemies, it would be in the open. Here, he had relaxed, weary from the perplexing battle, and he had lain half-sprawled in his chair. Now, his muscles tightened. He gave her a slow smile, finished the ale in his cup. "Peter, I'll say good night, and accept your hospitality."
"Indeed, you must be exhausted," Peter said.
"Aye, that I am."
"My sister has waited long enough?" Peter queried, a brow arched in good humor.
"Aye, brother!" Eleanora cried. "Enough of this talk of battle and men who crawl from the forests like mindless monsters to die."
Waryk walked over to Eleanora. The widow of a wealthy English laird, she was now an independent woman, but she loved him, and had been his mistress now many years, though the times he saw her were far too infrequent. She took his hand, and with a subtle smile, led him through dim corridors. Soon, they were within her rich apartments in her brother's house. The light was very low, scented candles burned. Her clothes were quickly strewn. She was a voluptuous woman, the fullness of her breasts was emphasized by the flickering light and shadow of the candles. In the privacy of her room, she was passionate, experienced. He caught her to him, hungry for the taste of her, a kiss, the feel of her breasts in his hands. She responded with a sweet urgency, glad of his touch, wanting more, wanting it quickly. Upon her knees, she unbuckled his scabbard. She took him in her hand. Battle was soon forgotten.
He had meant to stay longer at the welcoming bastion of Tyne, but while he was there, a messenger arrived from David, urging him onward to Stirling with moderate haste. Something had happened; Waryk knew the king, and he knew he was being summoned for a reason. He bid brother and sister goodbye and started swiftly toward Stirling, where the king, who frequently moved about the country, was in residence.
They rode late one night when they came across an armed guard bearing the king's colors. They were challenged in the name of King David, and Waryk quickly called out his own identity, then found that he faced an old friend, Sir Harry Wakefield, an older man, but one of the king's closest advisors. Dismounting, he greeted Sir Harry, curious to know what he was about. "Is there some new action? Has fighting broken out anew?" he asked him.
"Nay, Laird Lion! Why, 'tis nothing but escort service I am about. The death of an old laird sends his child to the king, and so I am entrusted with her safety. We have heard about the fighting. Across the country, my friend, you are known for your great victories."
Waryk inclined his head, though he was tempted to deny the praise. What had he done but slaughter madmen who had seemed to have no purpose?
"There's another copse, just yonder," Sir Harry told him. "You and your men may rest, Laird Lion, for no one will pass this road without my challenge!"
"My thanks, Sir Harry. Angus, what say we do as he suggests and make camp here. Have Thomas tell the men."
The cry went out down the ranks. Angus knew that Waryk trusted in no one man alone, and that if Waryk had told him to take his rest, then Waryk meant to stand the first hours of guard duty himself. Sir Harry, pleased to be of service, saluted Waryk. "Truly, we heard you made quick business of those raiders at Localsh," he said.
"Aye, Sir Harry, but I fear they'll rise again."
"The king has new enemies?"
Excerpted from Come the Morning by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1999 Shannon Drake. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the best books I have read so far this year! Loved reafing about the Vikings muxed in with the scots and how historically much of the beginnings came about. Oh yeah the love story was pretty good also!
I really liked the way Graham incorporates some history into the story line. It gives authenticity to the romance. I have read her other paranormal stories and enjoyed them, but her historical romances are my favorite and I hope she writes more.
Can't wait to read more! I keep it short and sweet - buy this book!!
Enjoyed most of the story. Mellyora was very stubborn through most of book. Waryk very smart and stuck with despite her foolishness.
Really good story