One Yuletide Knight – Deborah Macgillivray

Taking the stairs two at a time, Grantham de Verre hurried to answer the summons. He took the turn at the hallway, and then opened the chamber door without knocking. Realizing his slip, he pulled up short—the door open partway—regretting the impulse. Without doubt, his step-brother would chide him over such a presumption. And one did not court the ire of Greyson de Verre, Earl of Hellborne. Not even a brother—and especial a mere half-brother. Surprisingly, his older brother and liege lord looked up at his intrusion and said, “You have come. Good.” Good? A rare greeting. As far as Grantham could recall, Greyson would soon as punch him in the mouth than give him a greeting of well-coming. This did not bode favorably. “I am just back from Hellsgate. Your steward jumped me in the bailey, as I stepped from the stirrup, and spake you were packing to leave. He hurried me abovestairs, not even allowing time to shake the dirt from my boots or to quench my thirst. My horse, at this moment, is receiving better care than I.

By the way—Chrysagon sends his regards.” Greyson snorted a short laugh. “Translation—Chrysagon wishes me to Hell. Stop trying to play peacemaker betwixt us. There is no mending our feud. We both have come to terms with that. Mayhap, in time, so shall you.” Grantham was used to his half-brother leaving with barely a word of warning, oft gone fortnights or longer at a time. When you rode at the king’s left hand, your life was never your own. Thus, Greyson hurriedly gathering belongings was not unusual for him.

“Where does our monarch send you this time?” “North. Far north.” The incisive, pale grey eyes glanced over several parchment maps, before he spread one atop another, and rolled them into a tube. With quick, precise movements, Greyson tied them with a thin cord of leather, and then stored them in an oilskin bag. “I dare not tarry. Skies are gloomy, which means the farther north I ride, the more likely the chance of running into snow this time of season. You can almost smell it in the air.” “Not precisely what I meant––though I appreciate your direction so I can send a messenger if need.” Greyson eyed him, whilst he tossed garments onto the bed. “Lack of being precise with words oft gets a man killed.

” “I shan’t harbor a wish to die yet, so I rephrase my question: who does Edward send you to kill this time?” Greyson frowned. “Consider my sentiment well: you should find a young wife and put that wayward tongue to good use. I am sent to Scotland to hunt down some brigand named William Wallace. In truth, Edward already dispatched Redam Maignart to handle the deed. I merely ride at his back to assure it done.” “The Baron Raoullin?” Grantham dropped down in the high back chair before fireside. He was bone-weary from the long ride, cold and hungry. Food and drink would have to wait, but he could warm himself by the fire and rest his saddle-weary bones. “Silly nobles at court call him Redemption. Tell me, brother dear, do they have an ekename for you as well?” Greyson regarded him, his expression impossible to read.

Typical, since his half-brother was a master of keeping his emotions hidden away. “Gallowglass.” Propping his foot on the wooden stool, Grantham arched a brow, surprised that Greyson admitted it. “You are not Scot.” “Truth only in part. You forget––my mother was Hebridean. And I am warrior class. Our line was not born to the nobility, but we choked the titles and estates that we hold out of life with our bare hands. So, I assume these highborn, soft-palmed men see jest in the fit.” “But none speak so to your face, eh? Whatever amuses the lazy nobility at court, they are not foolish enough to dare the affront.

Having a familial concern for your neck, and no wish to view your head upon a spike on London Bridge, I do wish you wouldst ween yourself away from Edward Longshanks. He is not a man to be trusted. They call him the Leopard because he changes his spots too oft, but then you already know that, eh? In one of his black rages I fear him turning on you when he lacks another venue which to vent upon.” Greyson shrugged as he slid on the boiled-leather jack. “Oddly enough, your wish may soon be answered, though I know how it wouldst pain you. Of late, the king grows mistrustful of all men— especial the ones with Challon blood—and Redam was raised by Michael Challon after his family was slaughtered. The king dispatched Redam to redeem Wallace, and even granted by your leave to the Challon bastard––Darian—to travel with him. Mayhap he shall get a worm in his brain that the time has come he can dispense with my services whilst I am so far away. This mistrust is why he sends me to follow in the steps of Redam. He is not entirely sure the Lord Raoullin will do as commanded—particularly since he travels north, near Julian Challon.

” “Maignart has some common thread to this William Wallace that he should break his bond with the Plantagenet?” Grantham slowly removed his leather gauntlets, and held them in one hand. Greyson thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Nay, but I think once his tools are out of his sight, suspicions come to unravel the threads of our ruler’s quicksilver mind.” “How does his suspicion over Maignart cast shadow upon you? What makes you think he will cut the leash? I fear I do not follow in the trail of your thoughts.” Greyson gave him a smile, again, a rare occurrence. So odd, Grantham had a hard time recalling when last his brother smiled. “Not surprising, since you have been away and the tides have not yet reached your ears. The king has decided it is time for me to marry.” Grantham nearly jumped to his feet in surprise. “Bigod, you say? Edward commands this?” “Of course he does.

You are not mooncalf enough to think I voiced a plea for a bride? I have spake the wish never to marry on more than one occasion. I have no liking to a notion of being legshackled to some whining female.” “But if the king commands this you have no recourse.” His brother’s face took on a sly cast. “Actually…I do. When I raised a protest he said––and these are his exact words: By Yuletide the lord of Hellborne shall be wedded and bedded, or there shall be Hell to pay.” “And because of his exact words you find happiness in the deed you wish that wouldst never take place? I regret, my lord, I still find trouble if keeping up with such logics.” “Edward demands contracts signed and banns read. After long deliberation, I concur—the lord of Hellborne shall wed by Yuletide. The bride—one Lady Elspeth de Sancerre—shall make herself ready to travel to Hellborne in plenty of time for the marriage to take place.

The king jested Yule was the longest night of the year—a perfect time to marry and bed the bride.” “But why? The king has always wanted you at his elbow.” Greyson sighed. “Who can tell? Mayhap he thinks I grow old—which I do. Edward is currently happy playing maker of matches. I think he wants to put the English in places of power, replace old Scots nobility through marriage, mortaring his rule of the country. ’Tis cheaper than buying off the Scots and more assured for the long term. Seeding of Scotland, he has christened these schemes.” “The name…de Sancerre…not one I would think of as Scottish.” “Like many along the northern most Marches, they were Norman invaders—such as the Montgomeries.

After centuries, they have forgotten their roots and now think and act more Scot than English.” “But if you ride to the Highlands, there is no guarantee the weather will permit your return in time.” He gave a chuckle. “God willing.” “This weaving of riddles grows tiresome to my saddle-weary mind. How can you be in two places at once?” “Ah, you begin to come to the solution. I shan’t. I go northward, linger to my taste, and then return next spring when the thaws come,” he stated with a self-satisfied finality. Grantham was trying to rein in his temper. Greyson and he had never been close, not as brothers nor friends.

Only, he was exhausted from the long ride back from Hellsgate. “By damn, make sense, Greyson. You cannot be here at Hellborne for a wedding if you are running yourself ragged after some brigand named Wallace.” “No, I cannot.” He held his hand up to stay more questions. “Since you fatigue—I shall make it simple. You—my dear devoted half-brother—are now the lord of Hellborne, and shall be until my return. I have signed documents naming you as my heir. Seems a reasonable step since I never plan to marry.” “What about Tashian, Raine and Chrysagon? Shan’t they have some say in that since they are your full brothers?” “They have their own honours, and they neither want nor need Hellborne.

You, on the other hand, are my youngest sibling. When our dear departed father married your mother, a commoner, he asked me to settle an estate upon you when the time came. To raise you up. So I am.” “But Hellborne?” “The place is cursed. Nothing thrives here. The crops are meager, at best. The soil seems tainted, and its foulness seeps into everything here. It breeds naught. The land is barren.

The women are barren. And the lords of Hellborne slowly turn to stone. They die alone, full of hatred and bitterness. No one—least of all my brothers—want to claim Hellborne. The place is aptly named—it was borne from Hell. So, do not give pretense that I am doing you a boon. You will be the Lord Hellborne until my demise, and then you shall inherit the earldom. In my absence, you will act as the lord and governor, and rule here. And––as lord of Hellborne, you shall wed the daughter of the Baron de Sancerre.” “Are you mad? Edward will have your head! Mine, too!” Grantham scoffed.

“Nay. He said the lord of Hellborne will be wed, and wed he shall be. You will marry the bloody wench, spend the winter putting that tongue—” He glanced down to Grantham’s groin, “and other parts of your body to work. Swive the fool woman, get her large with child, and we all shall be happy. Edward wants me to make an heir—well, there—I create you the new lord of Hellborne.” Grantham shook his head. His backside was too numb from being in the saddle for a week. Mayhap the deadness extended upward and into his brain. “What makes you think I have an inclination of obeying the king’s command?” The corner of Greyson’s mouth twitched, as he suppressed a half-smile. “Not to labor the point—I am your liege, and despite being kin, you are obligated to obey my command.

” “Not if it sees my head on a pike alongside yours on London Bridge!” Grantham laughed. Greyson returned to gathering his belongings. He took out two woolen mantles and a spare pair of boots from the chest at the foot of the bed. “I have considered matters fully. Edward merely wants an heir to Hellborne, to know the line will hold and be loyal to him. He needs the baron’s daughter married off to a powerful noble. One day you shall be an earl. That should satisfy any greedy father.” “And what are you planning on wedding me to—some bovine woman three score in years of age? Or worse, a mousey child of two-and-ten? Neither prospect does more than turn my stomach. Have you even seen this woman?” “As a matter of fact, I have.

Edward had her presented to me at court last summer. With hindsight, I now understand why. He was already playing his games. Fortunate for you, she is neither of the things you fear.” Greyson rolled the mantles up and shoved them into the oiled-leather pack. “I judged her not a simpleton. She is pleasing to the eye, comely enough to stand out at court, so you shall not need to cover her head with a borel sack. I am not marrying you to a nag—or a cow. She is a bit older than a child of two-and-ten. Her father speaks she is headstrong and needs a resolute man to handle her spirit.

She refuses all offers, wanting to make her own choice of a husband.” “If that be her bent, then what makes you think she will accept a marriage with the earl of Hellborne?” Greyson gave an easy laugh. “Because the king commands it.” “Very well. Howbeit, if she was presented to you at court, then she has seen you. Do you expect this woman to not only marry on command, but to accept the wrong de Verre?” “Yes, because I was told a secret—she cannot see well up close. Just keep near to her and she will not be able to tell aught about you.” “I am so glad you have put thought to the matter, but what about your brothers? They might not like me being lord here. Even if temporary.” “’Tis not short-term.

If I should die on the morrow, you will be earl of Hellborne. I made the same offer to Tashian, Raine and Chrysagon. They are no more eager to marry than I am. To be blunt, when I brought up the situation, they offered you up as sacrifice. They have long departed this cursed place, and swear nothing could drag them back. You are now The Marcher Lord of Hellborne, and you will marry this fool harridan. For which you will be highly compensated, more than you could ever hope as a fourth born son. Remember, I did not send you to the priesthood. You owe me. As first step to mortar your compliance—you receive the holding Hellsgate to hold as yours.

Get her full with child before my return and I will see there is one thousand pound gold added to the deal. Once her father dies, which could be anytime soon, you inherit that barony, as well. And in my line of inquiry for the king, the risk of me surviving this journey northward could see me dead. In which case, you will be the earl.” “What about the king? How will he take you not obeying him?” Greyson picked up his sword. “You keep her well-loved, fill her with a child, and I will deal with the king. As a last resort, enough coin will sooth his umbrage. Kneel.” Grantham was too stunned to make sense of these tides. Marry? He had never thought to wed, especially a titled wife.

A holding of his own? Rank? As Greyson pointed out no fourth born son could ever hope to achieve these things. They were out of his reach, so he had never dreamt upon them. All that was left to one was to become a knight errant or enter the priesthood. Edward intended Greyson to marry. Still, it seemed a dangerous game. He would not be pleased with this switching of grooms. And how would the lady take finding out she had wed not the Earl de Verre? The deception would come down on their heads, likely sooner than later. Greyson shrugged. “Come, come, kneel. Let us seal this pack for a marriage made in Hell.

” “What if she should figure out she married the wrong de Verre?” “Women are easily led. Pleasure her well in bed, get her with child, and she will bond to you. By the time the fog lifts and reality is made clear, she will little care. Eh?” Still too dumbfounded to think, Grantham kneeled before his half-brother. Greyson tapped one shoulder, then the other with the flat of the blade. “Arise, Lord Grantham, master of Hellborne.”

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