Sneak Peeks



“The castle is falling! Go!” The commander’s intense glare instantly found and locked onto a youthful figure in the depths of the room as he and the knights that were able retreated into the Great Hall.

The youth met the barked order with a defiant headshake. The diminutive figure calmly loaded and hefted a crossbow before crouching behind an upturned table.

The commander’s eyes, the color of smelted iron, bore into the youth as the men rushed to close the massive oak doors. The hollow echo of the two doors slamming together contrasted with the screech of the huge beam as it fell into the iron brackets, resonating with an ominous finality. The silence that followed seemed to enhance the commander’s unwavering stare, and the youth developed a keen interest in the dried rushes and straw strewn upon the flagstone floor. A sudden argument among the men over what the best course of action should be finally drew the commander’s attention away. After making a shrewd assessment, he issued curt orders that resonated within the hall.

“You”—he fixed two of his men with a steely glare—“place more bracing against the door. And you others”—he pointed at the group of knights nearby—“starting on either side of the doorway, position two parallel rows of upended tables outward into the room. Move—we haven’t got much time! Once the devils break through, they’ll be hemmed in for a bit longer, and we’ll have ’em in our crossfire.” As the knights hurried to do his bidding and position themselves for the final stand, the commander strode toward the one who had chosen to defy him.

The youth stood to meet the confrontation head-on. Reaching out, the commander latched onto the collar and gave the small figure a teeth-rattling shake. “You have too much of your lord father’s stubbornness in you.”

“I will not leave!”

The commander drew a ragged breath while unclenching a fist that had formed of its own accord. “You’re the last of the bloodline. We have our duty, and you have yours!” He watched a flicker of fear wash over the youthful countenance. “Time is short—you will go!” A forceful shove reinforced his final words.

The slight youth, just managing to stay upright, met the commander’s fierce glare with a solemn nod. Turning in a swirl of billowing cloak, the youth ran toward a maid who was wringing her hands in the far reaches of the room. With a satisfied grunt, the commander turned to issue his final orders.


The reverberation of the oak door slamming against the stone wall masked their haste as the pair ran into the chapel. The maid paused to genuflect—a ritual now deemed unnecessary by the other.  The youth skidded to a halt behind the priest, praying before an altar lit by many candles. The impatient tapping of the youth’s boot echoing off the stone walls drew no response from the priest, but hastened the maid toward the altar.

“Patience is a virtue, child,” the priest murmured before resuming his prayers. The youth’s tapping ceased, and the hint of a smile briefly lifted the ancient lines of the priest’s face.

The youth’s impertinent tapping soon resumed, only to be quickly replaced by aggressive pacing accompanied by a rustle of cloth as a current of air was stirred by the cloak. “Father, your prayers cannot help us now!”

The priest sighed. “Prayers help everyone,” he stated, inwardly vexed by the impetuousness of youth.

“They have breached the wall! The castle has fallen!”

“I expected you long before now. Do you wish to claim sanctuary?”

“No, I seek escape! I must hurry to join my lord father and his escort before they enter Scotland. Then together, we will gather our forces and return to rout these swine that dare to invade our castle.”

With a heavy sigh, the priest crossed himself. “This plan, it is reckless,” he whispered before turning.

“I know.”

Seeing in the youth the determined set of the jaw that marked Lord Duncan and his offspring, he started to stand, but his legs failed him. “Help me to rise; the stone has sapped all the warmth from my knees.”

Rushing forward, the youth and maid helped the old priest to his feet. He tottered for a moment, and the pair reached out to steady him.

“It takes a moment to get these old bones moving.”

“We will help you. Where is the key?”

“It’s hidden in a place even you would not dare to look,” he said. With shuffling steps, he went to the darkened corner behind the confessional and pulled back a tapestry to reveal the hidden door.

Noticing an unlit torch, the youth reached up and jiggled the sconce.

“What are you about, child?” the priest asked, pulling a key from the folds of his cowl.

The youth shrugged noncommittally and rapidly removed the torch from the sconce. “Going to need light,” was the muttered reply.

The priest shrugged before inserting the key into the lock.

“Hurry, Father,” came the urgent words. The youth rushed back to the altar to light the torch. “We haven’t much time.”

The lock opened with a soft click, and when the youth turned, the priest had an unobscured view of what had been concealed beneath the cloak. “You brought weapons into the house of God?”

“I would not think of entering the woods without them,” was the heated reply. The youth moved forward to push open the door and held the torch aloft, and the threesome stared down into the dark abyss. A cool current of stale, dank air rose and caught the flame, causing it to swirl upward. “How far is it?”

“Not far.”

“And rats?”

“You know they are everywhere.”

For the first time, a shudder of fear pulsed through the youth.

“I’ll come with you,” the maid said firmly.

“No, it’s too dangerous.”


“We are wasting time we do not possess!” With marked determination, the youth adjusted the cloak before pulling the hood up and stepping into the dark passageway.

As the youth pushed the door shut, the priest’s words echoed into the darkness: “Go with God, child.”

Chapter  I


Northern Yorkshire
Late Fall, 1173

“Brin’ me th’ girl!” he roared as he slammed his helmet onto the table.

James paused when he heard the rolling brogue, a sure measure of the depth of his lord’s anger. His hesitation was met with a severe drop of the man’s brow. The squire wisely decided it would be best not to provoke him further, and he backed away before hurrying from the Great Hall to mount the stairs. He knew the reasons behind his lord’s wrath. And the girl—well, she would have to accept whatever judgment was handed down.

James was a wiry man of average height. His sinewy body and quick reflexes allowed him to contort his frame in ways that were impossible for the muscle-bound knights. A thatch of dark hair generously sprinkled with silver framed his soft, dove-gray eyes that often betrayed his every thought. With a sigh, he entered the corridor that led to the chambers where the girl was being detained. His attention was immediately drawn to the bent posture of the two knights guarding the door. Hurrying forward, he saw the older knight tying a final knot in a crude bandage around the other’s hand. The squire’s eyes widened when he saw scratches on the side of the older knight’s face.

“Matthew? What has happened?”

A quick exchange of glances passed between the two knights. Matthew’s fingertips gently touched the gashes before he responded. “We were beset by a wild beast in the woods.”

Anxiety showed in the squire’s eyes as he searched the men’s faces. “And the girl? Was she injured?”

Matthew, a few years older than James, was a large man and a warrior of many campaigns. Though he was gray and balding, he had retained a rugged handsomeness and possessed a lively wit. Contrary to the popular clean-shaven style of the day, he sported a closely trimmed beard and mustache. When a rueful grin lifted one side of his face, he winced from the scratches. “Never fear, James, the lass is safe enough. She was the only one to escape injury.”

James glanced at Charles for confirmation. Charles, being only ten and eight, blushed before nodding. He was an amiable knight with light brown hair and blue eyes whose boyish features drew wistful looks from many a maid. To his comrades’ dismay, his shyness seemed to intrigue the girls all the more.

“Good. My lord wants a word with her downstairs,” James said, before taking a step closer to the door.

Mathew extended his arm, barring the squire’s progress. “Are you going in there?”

“Of course.”


James raised a brow. “Yes . . . why?”

“Well, I wouldn’t go in there without donning armor, if I were you. Don’t you agree, Charles?”

Charles nodded emphatically. “Take a shield at least. Here, take mine!” he said, trying to push it into the squire’s hands.

“Armor! A shield! Why in the Lord’s name do I need armor?” James said, taking a step backwards. He eyed them critically. “Have the two of you taken leave of your senses? ’Tis but a slip of a girl!”

Charles gave Matthew an uneasy look. “Actually, it has been a while since she stopped screaming and cursing us.”

“What? You haven’t checked on her? She . . . she may have escaped again!”

They heard the thud of something hitting the inside of the door before dropping with a metallic clang to bounce along the stone floor.

“I’d say she’s still in there,” Matthew said with a smug grin. “If we fling open the door and storm in together, that may take her unaware.”

“Your prank, it goes too far!” James said with righteous indignation.

“Very well, go on then, if you’re daft enough not to heed our advice.”

Annoyed at being a part of their jest, James glared at the two knights. He squared his shoulders, placed a hand firmly on the door, and shoved it open. Striding into the chambers, he was met by an airborne goblet.