Monday, June 22, 2009

Excerpt - Heartsong by Allison Knight

The year of Our Lord 1282

Rhianna ap Brynn Ffrydd swallowed her apprehension. She leaned against the cold stone wall of their cave and watched the English warriors gathering below in the valley. How she hated them.

This place offered little protection for her and her youngest brother, Arthur. Somehow, she had to get them away from here and back to their keep. She considered what few alternatives they had.

“I want them gone from here,” she muttered, thinking aloud.

“But, they will not go,” Arthur mumbled. “They wait for the rest of their army.”

Rhianna ignored him and slid to the floor of their hiding place. The English devils had torn her world asunder for a second time. On this day, the body of her sire lay on the mountain behind their keep, his life’s blood soaking into his beloved land, cut down by one of English knights below their cave. No one guarded her home and her older brothers waited in vain for an army who had somehow escaped their careful trap.

“Garrett deShay and Edward of England are responsible for this day,” she whispered her thoughts aloud, her husky tones coloring her melodious voice.

Was it only a fortnight ago she’d heard that name for the first time? Aye! The man had sent his messenger and with a harsh, ringing voice, he’d read from a coil of parchment.

“Garrett de Shay, the Lord of Knockin, as agent of Edward, King of England, demands surrender, surrender of Castle Bryn Ffrydd and all within and without.”

The Englishman had demanded nothing less than their souls.

She had to find a way to escape, get back to the keep and her charge as well as save the lad beside her. They could not be taken captive—for although Arthur was eight summers younger than she, he was still the son of a prince of Wales. Who knew what de Shay would do to him? And she had her own responsibilities.

“We must wait until darkness descends, slip from this cave and climb over the top of this mountain,” she murmured. It was their only chance.

Arthur nodded, “Aye, escape.” His pale face reflected his fear.

“Aye,” she murmured, trying to sound enthusiastic, to wipe some of the fear from his young face. He looked even younger than his fourteen summers.

Pounding hoofs announced the arrival of more horses. Chills shook her. Could Arthur have the right of it? Had more English arrived? She tried to swallow past the lump of panic in her throat. She had to see who had come to this valley, but when she stood, her brother grabbed her arm staying her.

“Wait,” he mouthed.

For a time all was quiet then a shout from below echoed through the cave.

“You in the cave, show yourself!”

The deep voice pierced Rhianna’s heart.

“I'll not show myself to an English cur.” Her words tumbled from her without a thought. “Leave now, or you will forfeit your lives in a pile of Welsh stones,” she shouted.

She gazed at Arthur her heart sinking. He shook his head, his face whiter than ever. She groaned with frustration. Would she never learn to keep her thoughts to herself? She should not have shouted at the enemy. Now they knew the cave held at least one Welshman.

Below the milling soldiers froze.

“A woman? There is a woman in the cave,” one soldier cried.

“We’re guarding a woman?” another asked.

Garrett dismounted, fighting to contain his rage. He glared at the men surrounding him.

“I don't want some woman.” He flung the words at his half brother, Colvin. “Where are the sons of Alwyn ap Brynn Ffrydd? You sent word the enemy was found.”

Colvin glared back.

Sweet Jesu, how Colvin hated him.

“Nay, my Lord.” A soldier under Colvin’s command stepped forward drawing his attention. “We did not know what we had cornered.”

“Why did you not rush the cave?” Garrett asked. “All these soldiers against one woman? Or are the brothers I seek in that cave as well?”

There was no answer, nor did he expect one. Colvin was a coward. If he had not been, Garrett knew his half brother would have found a way to kill him and take Knockin long ago. Colvin coveted everything Garrett possessed. It had always been so.

However, this was not the time for reflection. He released the ties of his chest guard.

“Here.” He turned to one of his men. “Help me with this. I will see what is in that cave.”

After he repositioned his sword, he placed a small dagger in his belt then started for the steep hill that led to the cave. Skirting rocks to stay in the shadows, he climbed toward the entrance.

Once he paused and yelled, “Woman, admit your plight. You are naught but a frightened wench. Come, I bid you show yourself. I will not harm you.”

“Nay! I tell you.” The woman yelled, “Begone, before I do you damage. I will place a curse upon your head. Leave! I want no putrid English bones to sully the soil of Wales.”

The fear in her husky voice eased some of Garrett’s concern. Was it possible she was alone? Mayhap he heard a second voice groan at her words.

He crept closer. Soon enough he would know if the cave held more than the woman.

Without making a sound, he grasped his sword, stealing toward the edge of the entrance. A quick glimpse revealed two figures pressed against the cave wall. One head of dark curls gleamed against the gray stone while lighter waves rested next to the first.

Another step in the shadows brought him closer. He studied the rear of the cave. Two horses shifted restlessly in one corner. He held back a chuckle. One looked much like an English battle horse, his brother’s horse. He paused, wondering how on Earth they had managed to steal his brother’s destrier.

He repressed a sigh of disgust. No other men hid here. The brothers he sought were not in this cave.

He watched the light-haired youth lean toward the other. He stared at their profiles and suddenly wanted to shout with victory. Colvin’s man, deVerny, had slain the man Edward wanted as hostage, but it appeared that here in this cave was one of the sons. He just might have a hostage for Edward after all.

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