Promise of a Knight – Eliza Knight

The queen will soon arrive in Scotland, daughter, and ye’ve been asked to join her court as a maid of honor.” Alexandra Maxwell, tenth and youngest child of Lord and Lady Maxwell jerked her head up from the table where she’d been sitting, and not eating, the better part of the morning as her family broke their fast. Her father stared at her with his graying hair and thick, bushy brows. Deep wrinkles grooved his cheeks and forehead. The man was positively ancient. Beside him, her mother was also showing her age, though she’d taken the fashion of wearing a wig to hide how much her dark hair grayed. Thick powder covered her face, but not enough to hide her wrinkles either. Alex dropped her spoon. “Me?” A maid of honor? Impossible. Alex looked to two of her older sisters who stared at her with mixtures of relief, horror and jealousy. Miniatures of their mother. Mary and Agnes were married off already, living with their husbands, but Isobel and Katherine, they could easily have gone in her place. “Aye,” Lord Maxwell, her father, said, both of his fists planted on the table as though he prepared for a battle. Well, she supposed most of their conversations these days were battles. “Why?” Questioning their father’s edicts was against the rules, but how could she not? He was obviously mistaken.

Lord Maxwell blew out a breath that reached so far down the table, the candle flames flickered the length of it. “For the verra same reason ye were punished the other day.” Lord help her… Alex was punished all the time. At just shy of her twentieth birthday, she’d grown quite bored with the day-to-day, humdrum life that went on in the castle, and well, there was really nothing interesting to do unless it was frowned upon… She loved to sneak into her sisters rooms and switch out their face creams for cooking oils, or to tease her brothers who still lived at home into thinking their father had given a direct order for all the mattresses from every chamber to be brought to the courtyard for airing —in the rain or snow (she would have thought they’d not fall for that one so often). Most of all, she liked to escape that harridan of a maid they had following her around so she could eavesdrop on more fun goings-on. Perhaps her antics were a bit childish, but what else could she do? Embroidery and reading only went so far. She longed for adventure. And daydreaming… As she was doing just that moment. “Eavesdropping, Alex,” her mother chimed, jerking her back to the present. Nay, nay, nay! Listening in on her parents or her siblings was one thing but the king? The queen? “Ye want me to… spy?” She shook her head.

Nay, this couldn’t be happening. This was why she’d been chosen. Going to the Scottish court to serve the new bride of James IV, an English princess at that, was a grave punishment. No wonder they’d not given the job to one of her sisters. Alex gripped the edge of the table. “Father, please, dinna make me.” Her father made hand motions at her mother, as if begging her to “deal” with their wayward child. Beside her, Isobel pinched her while Katherine made a face. “Ye’re not fit to marry, Alex, not until ye’ve had a bit of refinement. Think on it that way.

” “She’ll likely be imprisoned for lack of refinement,” Katherine snipped. Alex glowered at her older sisters. “More likely that I’ll be imprisoned for treason!” Father slammed his hand on the table. “Ye’ll not be imprisoned, for ye’ll do yer best to keep our family’s name with honor attached to it. Dinna shame us.” Alex pushed away from the table. “But ye’re to make me a traitor! Ye’ve shamed me already!” Her mother hissed, also slamming her hand on the table. “Sit down, Alexandra. There’ll be no such talk of traitors and treason in this house. We are most loyal to our king and his new bride.

And ye will do as ye are bid. We will not tolerate yer insolence on the matter.” Alex slowly sank to her seat, her body trembling with hurt and anger. Gazing on her cold breakfast, she said, “Aye, Mother. What would ye have me do?” Lady Maxwell pinned her with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, but it was her father who answered. “Ye are to simply listen. With our lands bordering the English and plenty of the damned Sassenachs crossing our lands and pillaging our villages, we have a right to know if the queen is making the king more inclined to favor the English. Lord knows our country has had a time of it because of those bastards.” Her father glanced to each of his children, and Alex suddenly felt left out of this plot they’d concocted. She was to be their scapegoat.

“So listen well and report anything ye might hear,” Mother said. Alex pressed her lips together and nodded. She’d not argue with them anymore, but she wasn’t certain she’d agree either. Nodding was different than outright declaring, wasn’t it? “And there is one more thing,” her mother piped up. “Princess Margaret Tudor was given a gift at the proxy ceremony by the Earl of Bothwell who stood in for King James. A necklace of emeralds and amethysts. Colors that signify our great heaths in spring. I want ye to take it.” “Mother!” Alex exclaimed. She glanced around the table to see what her siblings thought of such talk, but each of them had found a sudden interest in their porridge that they’d not had before.

She’d find no ally among them. Eavesdropping was one thing. Thievery something entirely different. “Dinna argue with me, lass. That necklace was given to my mother by my father and I want it back.” Alex’s face flamed red as it always did when her mother brought up her parentage. Aye, Lady Maxwell’s uncle had been a king of Scotland, but her father had not been married to her mother. She was his mistress and the gift of that necklace had been returned to the crown in payment for the charter of legitimization for Lady Maxwell and her siblings. Mother’s eyes narrowed to slits. The woman looked ready to breathe fire, the slayer of any dragon who dared defy her.

“Say, aye, else we see ye sent to the lowliest of convents this country can provide.” Beneath the table, Alex clutched so hard to her chair she was sure to leave dents in the wood. At least at the lowly convent, they’d not make a traitor and thief out of her. But there would be no adventure either. At least away from this castle—for the first time —she’d have a chance at something other than this dreary life. A chance at happiness before she was married off to some rat-faced, saggy-shinned sot four times her age. Alex met her mother’s gaze, leaving her expression blank. “Aye, mother.” “Ye will listen. Ye will take the necklace,” her father reiterated.

“Aye, father.” And she’d be forever named a traitor—unless she defied them. Northern England Late July, 1503 SİR ALARİC DE GARDE sat his horse watching as the royal wagons were reloaded and liveried footman in green and white ran hither and yon like chickens with their bloody heads cut off. Fully suited in his armor, he barely noticed the rivulets of sweat that slid over his large, muscled frame. What he did gain irritation from was that he was dressed for war, a war he was not going to see. Nay, not with the Treaty of Perpetual Peace being signed between the blasted Scots and his King, Henry VII. Aye, his ancestors were of Scottish blood, but they were tamed, for they’d blended with his mighty English de Garde line. Aye, he was biased, that was for certain. But he’d been to war aplenty with the Scots and had reason enough for his prejudice. Alaric almost cringed at the thought of his pretty, young princess melding her royal blood with that of a Scot.

A child who could potentially one day inherit the throne of England. Or someone in his line. King Henry sat with a mostly permanent smile on his face despite the recent death of his son, his wife and his unborn child. His Majesty was ecstatic with the treaty and the marriage of his daughter—though apparently not as trusting as he’d like to seem, for he would not attend his own daughter’s marriage. He would leave her at the border and to the mercy of those who escorted her and accepted her—Alaric being one of the former. To think that for the entirety of Alaric’s four and thirty years, and through the long line of de Garde’s before him, they’d been invading that savage country. That was no more. His eldest brother, Crispin, at Faodail Tower just over the border of Scotland wouldn’t know what to do with himself. Bah! Rubbish! Alaric nodded as a flounce of ladies passed him, tittering in their finery as they followed Princess Margaret Tudor—soon to be Queen Consort of Scotland—to her gilded livery. A treaty such as the one signed between England and Scotland could not last.

Not with their countries having been at war for hundreds of years. And especially not with the petty arguments regarding Henry VII’s daughter’s dowry and the Scottish king’s plan for stipends for her English ladies. In fact, rumor was that there would be several Scottish ladies waiting for Queen Margaret in Edinburgh in order to cut back on the number of English present. “Garde, watch over my daughter,” King Henry VII said. From here, the king would return to Richmond Palace, allowing the Earl of Surrey and his countess to take the lead on their progress, with Alaric as head of security. “Of course, Your Grace,” Alaric said. “You have my word that no harm shall come to your daughter, or any in her party.” But that was the only pledge Alaric was willing to make. He couldn’t vouch for one damn Scot once they crossed the border. If all hell broke loose—Alaric would send the devils back to their maker.

Lamberton Kirk Scottish Borders August, 1503 HEAVEN HELP HER. Alex blew out a breath and smoothed her trembling fingers over her new emerald green satin gown, embroidered with tiny, purple, velvet thistles, commissioned by her mother for just this occasion. And also as a reminder of what she was supposed to do once in Princess Margaret’s confidence. She curled her toes in her new slippers, standing among a crowd of a thousand or more Scottish peers waiting for the arrival of their king’s new bride. Nervous energy flowed through the crowd. They pressed in on one another, the heat stifling. Sweat slicked over her skin beneath her gown and she started to feel a little faint. If only she’d thought to bring her waterskin with her. She was so parched. Alex bit her lip, the same anxiousness flowing through the crowd was also coursing through her veins, though for different reasons.

She didn’t want to be here. She wanted to go home. She hated her gown and what it stood for. She had not one friend amongst this crowd, save for the stuffy countess she’d been introduced to, but just briefly, before her mother thrust her aside. The Countess of Home, who would be her chaperone at court, married to the Lord Chamberlain of Scotland, the Earl of Home, had far more important things to do than deal with her distantly related cousin’s daughter. Why had she agreed to do it? Most likely because when Mother wanted something, she didn’t hold back until the answer was aye, even if that affirmative was false. Wasn’t Alex proof enough of that? Already, the Countess had wondered off, not giving a heap for Lord Maxwell’s daughter. So, Alex was alone, standing in a crowd of tittering ladies and grunting nobleman and several menacing lairds of the north. The clash of bodies was a sight to see, especially for a lass away from home for the first time. Some were dressed like queens and kings themselves.

Others—those from the Highlands—dressed in thick, colorful tartans, swathed over their bodies. Though Mother had assured her that the gowns she’d had commissioned would be more than acceptable for court, Alex wasn’t so certain. The gown she wore now was stiff, poofy and heavy. If the king’s bride didn’t arrive soon, she’d drop like a heap of satin to the ground. How would she ever get through her time at court? Standing for hours on end. And the talking… Those around her had not ceased wagging their tongues for at least an hour. Mother had barely prepared Alex for this moment. All the things she’d told her had been such a blur. Would the refined Princess of England, soon to be Queen of Scotland, toss Alex out as her own siblings had done? Say she had nothing of significance to offer? Alex twisted her fingers into her skirts, feeling the fine fabric crinkle. She straightened her fingers immediately, afraid of ruining the gown and gaining a scolding from Lady Home if she ever appeared again.

Closing her eyes briefly, she sent up a prayer to the heavens to help her get through the coming days without a blunder. Being the youngest child in a rather large family, much of Alex’s training had come from watching her elder siblings—who were not particularly nice to her, nor was she fond of them. They often tossed her out on her ear, too little for this and too little for that. Too loud. Too annoying. Too naïve. Too childish. Too dirty. She’d not truly fit anywhere in her family. Mother was too exhausted to pay her much attention and Father had spent much of his time in service to the king.

And now, the only person she’d hoped to gain some training from, the Countess of Home, she didn’t even remember what the lady looked like, had gone off. When Alex’s chin started to tremble, she gritted her teeth. She squared her shoulders. This simply wouldn’t do. If her parents wanted to thrust her into court, to toss her to the wolves, then she’d not simply lie down while they tore at her. She had to be strong. She had to figure this out. There were some good things to be had. No longer was she under her mother’s thumb or her father’s glower. No longer did she have to deal with Isobel and Katherine’s pinches and taunts.

This was her time to find freedom, to become her own person. To seek adventure. Her little pep talk was interrupted by the sound of trumpets blowing in with the breeze. “They come!” someone shouted. Beside her, and she dared not look to see who, someone grumbled, “Damned Sassenachs.” ’Twould appear that not everyone was pleased with the king’s choice of bride. Alex didn’t like the English, either. They’d tormented her people, and when she was young, had ruined much of her entertainment. But for now, she mostly disliked them because they would make her false to Scotland. Aye, ’twas the bloody English’s fault that she was here and about to commit treason by stealing something from the king’s bride.

If only the ninny had stayed in England where she belonged, Alex wouldn’t even be in this position. “Move over.” The mumbles and shoves started from behind as the crowd shifted, trying to get a closer look. Alex strained to see above their heads. Tugging her skirts out of the way of her feet when she tried to find her balance. English flags waved from long poles as knights walked and others rode on horseback. The trumpets and drums grew louder. A gilded litter came into view, the sounds of ladies chirping from atop palfreys. They were dressed in voluminous gowns of satin, lace and velvet. Every color of the rainbow, with jeweled hoods to match, and gloves and boots of the finest leather.

Raised on her tiptoes, Alex could barely see beyond the fabric. She desperately wanted to get a look at the woman she was going to rob in the name of retribution for her parents. Moving with the shifting crowd, she strained to remain upright as well as to see. And then her eyes locked on the most fearsome sight. A knight. He was large. Thick with muscle, and he sat his horse tall. How tall was he? Well over six feet if she had to guess. Plated armor covered his chest, arms, legs, the sun hitting the steel making it glint almost gold. Though his weapons were sheathed, there was no mistaking his deadly force.

He wore a helm that covered the entirety of his face, leaving only slits where his eyes were. They had to be black. Black as his fierce heart. The helmet turned and she could swear he was looking at her. But how could he see her through the crowd? The shifting of the horde of Scottish aristocrats jerked forward suddenly, throwing Alex off balance and through the front of the crowd. Eyes widened, she stretched out her arms, feeling herself pitching forward. “Oh!” she cried out. Someone was stepping on the back of her dress, which didn’t help her to gain her footing. And then she was, indeed, pitching forward. Cold, gauntleted hands caught her just before she fully hit the ground.

Alex stared up into the metal face of the knight who’d been on his horse not a second before. Reflexes of a Highland cat, he had. Pretty impressive for an Englishman. How could he move so swiftly in such heavy metal? She had the sudden irrational desire to see his eyes. “Thank ye,” she murmured. He lifted the front plate of his helmet, hazel eyes penetrating hers. “A lady should never have to feel the crush of a crowd or the dust of the road on her face.” Alex was at a loss for words. How could a knight as fierce as he was speak such lovely words? Furthermore, how could a man be so beautiful? High arched cheeks, a strong jaw. A mouth that curled softly into a subtle, teasing smile.

Dark tendrils of hair touched his forehead. She could get lost in the way his eyes resembled the moors. A little flutter turned her belly and, just as quickly, soured it. Disgusting! Her family would have her stoned if they could just see her now. Batting her lashes at a Sassenach! Alex tried to stand, but her dress was still caught. “Move,” the knight said, his voice deep and commanding to the lord standing behind her, crushing the precious fabric of her new gown. The Scot sneered at the English knight and then stepped aside. “Apologies,” he muttered to Alex, but it did not feel at all like an apology. How was it that her own countryman treated her so rudely? “Savages,” the knight proclaimed. Alex pushed his cold, metal hands away and rose to her feet.

She was not a savage. Even if the servants at Caerlaverock Castle had called her that often enough when she went out to dance in the rain. Then she noticed that the entire caravan had stopped the moment the knight leapt from his horse. At least a dozen metal-clad men stood at attention. “I’m no longer in need of yer assistance,” Alex said, raising her chin and hating that all eyes were on her. As a second thought, she added, “And I shouldn’t like to keep His Majesty’s bride waiting.” The Countess of Home was surely regretting her decision to help Alex now. The knight bowed, then returned to his horse, his faceplate still up, the way he watched her as he rode on did not go unnoticed by her—or anyone else. Just as she suspected, a pinch on her arm alerted her to the Countess’ presence. “Stupid, lass, have ye no decorum?” Alex looked to the ground, hoping to appear meek, but that only made her angry.

When she’d left Caerlaverock, she’d left the insults behind. Or so she’d hoped. She jerked her gaze up at the Countess, and said, “I was pushed and not one of my own countrymen came to my aid. Nay, I had to be lifted by a dreaded English knight.” So dreaded that he’d made her belly flutter and left her with thoughts of his lips and the slight curl of a smile she’d seen on them as he’d ridden away.


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