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"Your majesty." Keran, seventh son of the Duke of Bristol, bowed low before his king. "You sent for me?"
King Edward IV of England looked up at the man standing next to him. It was not often he had to look up to a man. At six-foot two inches tall, most men looked up to see their king. Yet, Keran of Bristol topped him by a good three inches.
"How fare you these days?" The king grabbed an arrow from a quiver and loaded his bow. He eyed the target and let the arrow fly, hitting the bull's-eye dead center.
"Very nice shot, your majesty, and I am fine. Thank you for asking."
"Still landless?" The king smiled, and expected to see a frown on the older man's face. Instead, Keran laughed.
"Indeed. Unless someone starts killing off my brothers, I fear I might stay so, majesty. As the youngest son of a Duke, I get the leavings of the others, and by the time my father had given to the six elder sons, I am afraid there was nothing left for me."
"Hence the reason you have never married." Again, he expected the man to bristle. Instead, he just grinned. Edward let loose another arrow.
"I have looked, majesty, believe me. But so far, I have not found a suitable wife."
"It is a good thing that you have a king for a friend, then."
Edward watched Keran's shoulders stiffen for the first time, then drop back into a relaxed posture. "Indeed? Have you found a wife for me?"
"I have, and lands to go with her."
This time the interest in Keran's eyes was genuine. "I am at your service, your Majesty."
"You will leave tomorrow for a keep near the Scottish border called Mardoon. Its lord,Richard, has been dead for some seven months now."
"Seven months? Forgive me, but you are just now hearing of it? Did the man have no sons to take over his legacy?"
"No. Three daughters. One of them is the daughter of a woman who was friends with my wife's mother. The mother died in childbirth, and the girl was raised by her stepmother, who married Lord Richard soon after his wife died. It is the eldest daughter you will marry. Her name is Sidony or Sibylla, or something that begins with an .."
"If I may ask, sire, how old is she?"
"She has seen more than twenty winters," the king replied. "Some of my father's advisors tell me that the mother was a beauty, so I can only guess that the daughter will be also."
"A boon, to be sure."
"Yes, having a pretty bedmate is always a good thing," the king said with a laugh. "The keep is well off, and the people are happy, or least they were when Richard was alive. I expect it to stay that way, and for the area to stay loyal to me. I have enough problems without worrying about a keep."
"Of course, your majesty."
"Well, before you answer so quickly you should know I may be sending you into trouble. One of your first duties will be to report to me on why it took me so long to receive this." He pulled a paper from his pocket and handed it to Keran. "I received this yesterday from a member of a traveling troupe. Written in Richard's own hand. It seems he feared what his wife would do his eldest daughter harm, and he sent this as a precaution to alert me to his death. I want to know why the wife did not write me to inform me of her lord's passing. If there is treachery there, I want it dealt with. Immediately. You have full authority on my account."
Keran bowed again, his head low. "You have my gratitude, majesty, and my loyalty. No matter what."