Only For You – Hannah Howell

Saxan Honey Todd was startled awake by her own cries. She shivered as she sat up, the cool air in her bedchambers rapidly drying the sweat soaking her chemise. Fear was an acrid burning in the back of her throat. The images that had tormented her into waking up still haunted her. She lay back down, huddling beneath her blankets, and struggled to convince herself that it was only a dream. It was hard to shake the feeling that she had just foreseen her twin brother Pitney’s death. The image of his murderer was so clear it was as if he stood by her bedside, his dark features twisted into a triumphant smile as her brother’s blood dripped slowly from his hands. She doubted she would ever forget that face with its dark beauty only faintly marred by a small scar near his left eye, his eyes as dark and cold as a grave. “ ’Tis but a dream,” she whispered, burying her face in her pillows as she fought to banish the image of the dark man. Sighing with resignation after a few moments, Saxan finally accepted that the dream had ended her chances for a good night’s sleep. She turned onto her back to stare up at the ceiling. The worst of her fear had passed, but a lingering unease had settled itself firmly in her heart. “I pray you are safe, Pitney,” she said aloud, slowly clenching her hands. “But if this dream proves to be a prophecy and not just some vision born of my concern for you, your spirit can seek its rest without hesitation. I swear upon all the Todds who have gone before us that, if you are murdered, your killer will not live out the year.

I myself will cut the villain’s black heart from his body.” ONE Banners fluttered noisily in the cool spring breeze. Botolf Corwine Lavington muttered a curse as he pushed aside a stray lock of raven hair, but his dark gaze never faltered from the crowd. The knights’ shields and colors were well displayed outside each tent. None of them were the ones he sought, but he was not surprised. His enemy had become increasingly secretive. The Earl of Caindale and his guests began to seek the seats from which they would view the tourney. Ladies laughed, flirted, and gifted their chosen champion with some favor to carry into the mock battle. Botolf knew he would have to join them soon. As the Baron of Merewood and the new Earl of Regenford he was expected to take his full part in the tourney.

For a moment longer he stood before his tent watching all the activity with narrowed eyes. On his orders, his vassals and close friends, Sir Roger Vane and Sir Wesley DesRoches, also kept a close vigil upon the milling, cheerful crowd. Somewhere amongst the brightly clothed revelers was a person with murder in his heart. Botolf knew the gay confusion of such an event would aid an assassin. “Be careful, Botolf.” Turning his head, Botolf smiled briefly at his petite mother, Lady Mary. “I will be. I always am. Go find your seat, Mother. Do not fear for me.

” Lady Mary sighed. “Do men never change? Thrice has an attempt been made upon your life, yet you tell me not to worry.” “And thrice the attempt has failed.” “Aye, but once, the last time, success came too near for my liking. This evil from an unknown—” “We both know who means to see me dead.” He fought down his fury when he saw how his mother paled. “I cannot believe it,” she said weakly. “Cecil is your brother.” “My half-brother.” “You share blood, a father’s blood.

” “We also share the day, the month, the year, the hour, and even the moment of our birth. It matters not. We both know ’tis Cecil who hunts me.” He lightly touched his mother’s still-smooth cheek. “Go. Enjoy the celebration. I will be safe. We will not talk upon this again. It only brings you pain.” “She does not wish to accept the truth,” Sir Roger said quietly after Lady Mary had left, his blue eyes revealing his sympathy for the woman.

“It is too painful a truth to accept. She held Cecil to her breast, treated him as her own son. To her it is much akin to Cain slaying Abel.” “Aye. He had a better life than many another, yet he wants it all.” “ ’Tis often the way of it. Now, who is this lad?” Botolf flicked a smile at the boy that another of his vassals, Sir Talbot Yves, led over to them. “Pitney Todd, m’lord,” Talbot replied. “Your squire, Farold, has injured his ankle and cannot serve you. Pitney will do so in his stead.

” “How old are you, Pitney?” Botolf asked, finding it difficult to resist the urge to stare at the boy’s hair, a silver-blond color that was nearly white. “Eighteen, m’lord,” the boy replied. “From the North?” “Aye, m‘lord. Sir Chad Brainard, your castellan at Regenford, sent me here last week. He has many boys and thought I would find more to do here, if it pleases you, m’lord. I have been well trained, m’lord.” Amused by the eagerness in the boy’s light-blue eyes, Botolf said, “It could be naught else if Sir Chad trained you. How many boys does he have?” “Seventeen at last count, m’lord.” “S’elp me God! Does the man think to breed an army up there?” “They are not all his boys, m’lord. You have two of his sons with you.

Sir Chad trains four Kipps from Ricadene, three Binks from Upwode, three Jagers—my cousins, m’lord—from Wolthill, two Kirkleys, two Rowans, two Verges, and one Torans. Sir Brainard is much favored as a trainer.” “So it would seem.” Botolf exchanged a laughing glance with Roger over the boy’s readiness to chat. “There is a need for well trained men at the borders. The Scots never know when they are beaten,” Pitney added. The men laughed and Botolf sent the boy to ready his arms for the tourney. He could not recall when he had been as eager, as filled with the joy of life, as the young squire. Although he was but seven and twenty, he often felt twice that age. Deep inside he craved peace but, as soon as Caindale’s festivities came to an end, he had to return to Regenford.

It was time to take up his duties as a marcher lord. He would find little peace there. Although Botolf knew too long a time of peace could possibly turn sour on him, he did wish for a taste of it. “Where in God’s fine earth did the lad get that hair?” Sir Roger burst out once Pitney was gone. “Ah, the Todd family is of Saxon descent,” replied Sir Talbot. “Their ancestor was one of the few to hold onto his land after the Conquest, though ’tis a small holding and none too rich. He sat secure whilst all about him were set the Conqueror’s men. If Baron Alhric were akin to that ancestor, then it was skill in battle and guile that kept him secure.” “Where is Lord Alhric now?” asked Botolf. “Dead, m’lord.

He died in your father’s last acre fight at Regenford. The tale goes that the baron was found beneath a dozen dead Scots still clutching his sword.” “The lad looks too delicate to come from such fierce stock.” “Lord Alhric was fair and slight, but I would have thought long and hard before facing him with a sword. Brainard claims the boy is like him.” A page’s approach stopped their idle talk. Botolf frowned as the boy held out a delicately embroidered cloth. It was Lady Odella Alanson’s kerchief of pleasance. Reluctantly, Botolf accepted it, giving the page the appropriate words of gratitude to take back to the woman. To have done otherwise would have been an insult.

“A fair flower,” murmured Sir Roger. “Aye. Pretty, well-mannered, and one of my mother’s favorites.” The cold flat tone of Botolf’s voice insured that his men would restrain from making any further remarks concerning the fair Odella. Lady Mary and even the king wished him to remarry. His mother dared not push him too hard, and the king had as yet declined to exert his power. That suited Botolf just fine. For now, the earldom of Regenford existed with no hope of an heir. As he entered his tent to prepare for his turn in the tournament, Botolf hoped he would be allowed to delay the need for remarriage a little while longer. It did not take Botolf long to see young Pitney’s value as a squire.

The boy seemed to anticipate each move and command Botolf made. He found himself wishing Pitney were his squire instead of the accident-prone Farold. Then he felt the pinch of guilt. Farold was his cousin’s youngest son. The boy had been performing to the best of his ability. It was not Farold’s fault that his ability left much to be desired. Sighing with regret as he donned the last of his armor and made his way to the tournament field, Botolf hoped he could accept Farold’s eventual return with good grace. Botolf took his turn upon the tourney field quickly and efficiently, retiring from the field amidst hearty congratulations on his skill. He came very close to beaming at the young Pitney when he found a hot bath readied for him. It was not until he had sunk his aching body into the soothing hot water with a pleasured sigh that he recalled that he had no such amenity as a tub amongst his baggage.

Looking around for Pitney, he discovered that the youth knew the game of least-insight very well. Laughing softly, Botolf began to scrub himself clean of the sweat and dust from the tourney field. His laughter increased as he heard one of his recent opponents, Sir Walter Trapp, bellowing, “What rogue has stolen my tub? You there, lad, where are you taking that water?” “This water, sir?” asked Pitney, his sweet voice heavily ladened with a false innocence. “Aye, that water.” “To my Lord Botolf so that he may rinse away the dust raised when he felled you earlier.” “Impudent whelp,” grumbled Sir Walter. “Let us go and see what he rinses in, eh?” “Sir,” gasped Pitney in dramatic outrage. “Do you accuse the honorable Baron of Merewood, the Earl of Regenford and brave defender of our northern borders, Lord Botolf Lavington, of being a common thief?” “Of course not,” blustered Sir Walter. Botolf could hear a great deal of laughter. Although quieter in his mirth, he was enjoying the exchange as much as those who watched it He hesitated in rinsing his soapy hair, not wanting to miss any of the confrontation being enacted before his tent.

Botolf suspected that the somewhat dull Walter was easy prey for the clever Pitney. He grinned as he heard Walter desperately try to extract himself from the insult he now believed he had delivered. Suds slowly trickled down Botolf’s face as he listened. Absently, he flicked at them, cursing viciously when they went into his eye, stinging and blinding him. He groped for the drying cloth he had watched Pitney leave within his reach. A steely arm suddenly curled around his neck. Botolf heartily cursed Providence. Naked, soap blinding him, he knew he was easy prey for the murderer who had managed to slip past his guards and into his tent. His cry for aid was stifled at its birth by a gloved hand clamped firmly over his mouth. Botolf became a creature of fierce, thrashing muscle, his sole interest throwing off his attacker.

The murderer’s soft curses reached Botolf’s ears as a knife thrust itself into the fleshy part of his shoulder instead of piercing his heart. When his sight began to clear Botolf saw the killer raise his dagger again. The man was trying to strike one more time before Botolf succeeded in throwing off his hold. Botolf was not sure he could stop that thrust either, and he felt the chill of impending death. “Murder!” Botolf heard his new squire scream, and the assassin’s choking grip abruptly lessened. Struggling to stand, his weakness and the water impeding him, Botolf saw Pitney hurl himself at the startled attacker. The boy revealed no hesitation despite the fact that the man was twice his size. Sir Walter, Sir Roger, and Sir Wesley all stumbled into the tent to gape at the unevenly matched pair thrashing on the ground. Obeying Botolf’s bellowed commands, Sir Roger helped him out of the tub. The other two knights moved to stand near the fighting pair, prepared to strike as soon as they were able to do so without hurting the boy.

Botolf rushed to dress and grab his sword in order to lend a hand. An instant later there was an opening, but Botolf loudly cursed the manner in which it arrived. Knowing he was caught, that death loomed over him, the killer thought only of insuring that he did not die alone. Before Botolf or the other men could stop him, the erstwhile murderer buried his knife in Pitney’s chest. When the man rose up to stab at the boy again, Sir Walter found the chance to strike. With one fierce swing of his sword he cleanly removed the man’s head from his shoulders. “I wish you had not done that,” Botolf said, sighing with a mixture of frustration and disappointment. “The man tried to kill you,” Walter grumbled “He did kill the boy.” “Nay!” Botolf cried in denial. “Close the tent flaps,” he ordered Roger when he caught sight of the small crowd of curious onlookers outside.

Botolf continued to curse as he listened to the people leave, murmuring the tale that someone had tried to kill Lord Lavington and his brave squire Pitney Todd had given his life to save that of his lord. There was no time to put an end to their gossip. He fleetingly prayed that none of the boy’s kin would be caused unnecessary grief as he turned his full attention to Pitney. There would be time enough later to correct what was being said. Moving quickly, he knelt by the slim youth’s side. Even as Botolf searched for a heartbeat, the boy opened his eyes. The soft depths of his eyes were clouded with pain. Botolf found himself thinking rather irrelevantly that the boy had uncommonly pretty eyes. “Not dead yet, m’lord,” the boy whispered in a hoarse voice. “And you are not going to die,” Botolf snapped as, with Roger’s help, he worked frantically to staunch the profuse flow of blood from the boy’s wound.

“ ’Tis comforting to know.” Pitney sent Botolf a weak smile. “I mean no insult, m’lord, but, perchance you prove wrong, my body must be returned to Wolfshead Hall. I must lie with my ancestors.” His smile became a grimace of pain. “A few herbs and tight wrappings and I ought not to stink too foul.” “Stop talking.” “As you wish, m’lord,” Pitney whispered, slipping into unconsciousness with barely a sound. “What has happened here?” demanded a voice from the front of the tent. Botolf spared barely a glance for Lord Sealing, the plump Earl of Caindale, as the man strode into his tent.

He ordered Walter and Wesley to explain everything to their agitated host. To Botolf’s consternation, Lady Mary rushed into the tent. He watched her sway with blatant relief when she saw that he was still alive. The sight of the decapitated attacker turned her somewhat pale, but she did not leave. She quickly moved to help Botolf tend to Pitney’s wounds and then began to tend to Botolf’s injuries as well. Botolf was grateful for her calm and skillful aid. “So this boy caught the man,” said their host, Lord Sealing. “Aye,” replied Wesley. “He screamed murder and leapt upon the assassin.” “There is to be rain tonight.

The damp that will bring will not aid the boy’s healing. I will have a room prepared near yours, Botolf. Young Pitney deserves the best for his selfless bravery.” “Thank you, Edward.” Botolf rose to finish dressing. “’Tis Sir Pitney now.” “Fitting.” Lord Sealing nodded even as he strode away. “And there is my tub,” muttered Sir Walter. “The little rogue had me believing I impugned your honor, Botolf.

” Roger chuckled. “The lad ran circles round you, Walter.” “He be clever with words, ’tis all. Just like the rest of his cursed family.” “You know the Todds?” asked Botolf as Roger helped him with the tedious chore of tying all his points. “Aye, and the Jagers and the Healdons. All the same. All look like angels but have the devil’s skill with words. There is a tale that once the Baron Alhric sat outside the gates of an enemy’s keep and convinced the man that the only reasonable course to take was to surrender the well-stocked keep and one hundred men-at-arms to him and his six pretty knights.” Walter shook his head.

“I would never doubt it, never doubt it at all.” “How I wish more men would use words ere they pull their swords on each other,” Lady Mary said tartly. “Well, there are few who could better a Todd or his kin in a fight. Even the women are to be reckoned with. Alhric’s wife held Wolfshead Hall against the Scots for two months ere he and his men could return to aid her. They are a little odd, though.” “Odd? How so?” Botolf discovered that he was suddenly interested in this particular group of his vassals. “They go to great lengths to be buried with their kin at Wolfshead Hall. Their grandfather died in the Crusades but was brought all the way home in a vat of wine. They all know Latin and French, but will often speak in English like their serfs.

Alhric always said that we speak the language of our ancestors, so he will speak the tongue of his. Says we all will someday.” “All speak English?” Roger laughed. “Did he think we would all become peasants?” “Nay. He said we would all become Englishmen. Did not really understand the man. Thought we were,” Walter muttered. “Done with my tub?” he asked Botolf abruptly. Realizing Sir Walter had no more to tell him, Botolf nodded, smiling faintly when the burly man dragged his tub away. Roger picked up Pitney, carrying the boy as they started toward Caindale.

Botolf paused only to order Wesley to stay behind to see that the tent and arms were taken care of. Lord Edward’s wife, finding herself short of rooms, put Lady Mary in a suite of three rooms with Botolf and the wounded boy. Botolf left Lady Mary to soothe the woman with assurances that they all understood that there was a shortage of space. He paused only long enough to tell her ladyship that he considered it the best of all possible arrangements. In spite of his wound and all that had happened, he had to attend the feast. Despite the hearty amount of food and the merry company, Botolf’s thoughts lingered on Pitney throughout the feast. He had seen death in all its forms, seen it take the young and innocent as well as the old and depraved. He had seen death come slow and hard and seen it come swiftly, unexpectedly. Yet, he found that he was anxious, nearly desperate, that Pitney survive. “How fares the little knight?” asked Lady Odella, interrupting the distracted mood Botolf had fallen into.

It was hard, but Botolf managed a smile for the lady seated on his left at the head table. He knew she was not in love with him but suspected she found him easy to look upon. He also sensed that most of her attraction for him was due to his suitability as a husband. He was rich, powerful, and titled. Botolf also believed she considered it an advantage that he would be forced to spend a great deal of time at Regenford in the barbarous North while she could linger at the safer, more elegant Merewood. He knew that many men would find a great deal to say in favor of a wife one need not see too often. Odella was nineteen and becoming an object of some less-than-flattering speculation. Twice a marriage had been arranged for her, and each time the groom had managed to die just before the wedding. Botolf knew he would be readily accepted if he asked for her hand in marriage, but he hesitated. “I think he will live,” he finally answered.

“It was very brave of the boy to leap upon your attacker even though he was unarmed and much smaller than the man. Howbeit, the Todds are well known for their valor.” Botolf began to wonder if all the world save him knew of the Todds. “You have met the clan?” “Only once. It was at a tourney. Lord Alhric looked a troubadour, a poet. He was so fair and slender. So, too, were his two eldest sons, Hunter and Roc. I remember them clearly not for that, however, but for how they behaved in the tourney itself. Their skill and daring, their near savage enjoyment and participation, came as a surprise to most of us.

They took nearly all the honors of the day, yet at the feast which followed that eve, they were again the angels with the pale gold hair and lovely eyes, sweet-tongued and charming. ’Tis hard to explain.” “You did very well, m’lady It is as if two people dwell in the same body. A knight cannot always shed his brutish ways with his armor nor can a poet become a demon with a sword, yet most tell me that these Todds can be both. What else do you know of them?”

.

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