They call him Redemption.
A jest, because Redam Maignart is a man to be feared. He sits at Edward Plantagenet’s left hand, and does his king’s bidding―an assassin who kills without blinking an eye. His heart had died on that long ago night when his family had been slaughtered, and nothing has touched it since. He is sent northward on a mission―to find and dispatch William Wallace, a commoner raising holy hell in the year 1297. What he never expects to discover is a witch with the power to heal his soul.
Gillian of the Flowers, the lady of Lochstorr,
hoped her small holding on the edge of Glen Shane would go untroubled by this fearsome English king. That wish went unanswered. The aftermath of the war between Scotland and England saw a brutal knight come to claim her holding…and her. She must escape, or knows he will kill her. In her darkest hour her wounded spirit calls out for a dark champion to save her.
When Redam discovers Gillian, beaten and half-dead by a loch, he’s filled with rage at her treatment. Yet, little did this stone-hard man know this woman held the key to redeeming his tortured soul. War stalks the Highlands, and evil men take advantage of these times. Redam knows he must protect Gillian, for he knows in saving her, he is saving himself.
“My lady,” her maidservant, Cadha, had inquired through the kerchief held to her nose, “Are you unwell?”
Gillian hesitated in answering. Something was different and she was at a loss to say precisely what. She had experienced the sensation before. The kenning. When the air seemed stifling and her vision held a faint rippling of colors at the edge, those sensations presaged that something very vital was about to happen. Oft, she experienced these things when she was dosing for a well; the closer she got to locating the hidden source of water, the stronger the undulating swirl of reds, greens and yellows grew until her vision drew down to a narrow range.
Only she wasn’t dousing for water, but simply staring at the Douglas pennon, while she waited for her soldiery to fetch their mounts. Was it something about the standard that drew the focus of this extra sense, an ability which touched the women of the Ogilvie line? All through the Highlands had heard about the brash, handsome Douglas lord who had carried off his English bride. Such tales of daring, love and romance! Now, his mighty banner seemed so sad hanging there, treated with such disrespect.
“My lady, the captain brings forth your mount.” Cadha reached out and touched Gillian’s sleeve. “Put the cloth to your nose. It helps. Just take slow shallow breaths. We will soon be out of this…this…”
There were no words created to describe this hell. It sickened her. Not just the vile remnants of months old battle, but the fact people perpetrated these atrocities upon their fellow man. Death was bad enough, a waste of life that served little purpose she could see. People killed to survive. A fact of this world she had long ago accepted. But this was not for survival. It was simply the will of an English king—and for what? To have a bigger kingdom? There was no pride or honor in what was done to the Scots that had merely defended their homes, their families. Thousands of men, women and children—children—had perished here, and no amount of quicklime could wash away the crime, the sin of Berwick.
“There is no name for what this place now is, Cadha,” Gillian replied. “‘Tis an offense methinks Edward Longshanks shall yet live to regret.”
Walking to the mounting block, Gillian allowed her captain of the guard to aid her in getting upon her Bay palfrey. She could have chosen to ride in the cart with Cadha, but she preferred sitting on the back on a horse to having her insides bounced around. Hooking her leg around the horn of the sidesaddle, she nodded that she was ready to set out.
Two outriders were followed by four knights, riding before her, and then the cart with the baggage and Cadha trailed just behind. Eight paid Irish hobelars would bring up the rear. In ordinary times, they could travel safe enough with this small of a force. Only, there were bands of brigands on the roads since the spring. Many serfs refused to go home to their masters after the battle of Dunbar. Instead, they hid out in the lesser traveled areas, causing problems for the English forces, and seeing many areas riven with violence. Some brigands were not so principled and attacked Scots as well. Still, she had not dared take any more defenders away from Lochstorr. She needed a strong presence there to hold in her absence.
As they had ridden along the charred remains of the area surrounding the Red Hall, she purposely kept her eyes on the back of her sergeant. There served little purpose in filling her head with the gruesome specter arrayed on Edward’s command. Shallow breaths failed to help, so she was forced to bring the kerchief to her nose. The scent saturating the cloth was mugwort. Auld Bessa spake that the wort was a good protection for a traveler, would shield them against wild beasts, fatigue and poisons. Well, the air was poisoned, so she supposed Cadha had chosen well.
When her party neared the edge of the dead town, suddenly, someone began yelling―a rider coming toward them―followed by more chevaliers and lancers. “Make way! Make way, I say!”
Her troop moved to the side of the roadway as it was clear the force, traveling fast, was not about to slow or give way. Two bannerets with small flags flying were behind the rider calling out, then a rider holding a large pennon.
Fascinated, Gillian watched the large flag rippling as the riders drew closer, the black field rather fitting in this town of death. There were two splashes of brilliant color—scarlet and gold―but she could not tell what the crest was. Her vision darkened as the kenning had slammed into her, the vibration thrumming through her body to where she felt faintly sick. Never had the gift been this strong. She swallowed hard against the sensations buffeting her; even so, she could not tell what was causing the disturbance. The banner? She gawked as it drew closer, until it was nearly alongside of her. Then, the coat of arms became plain to her. Two dragons rampant, facing each other as if locked in a mighty battle.
She leaned toward the knight riding beside her and asked, “Whose device is on that banner?”
The man swallowed hard, grimacing from the smell, before answering. “’Tis new to me, my lady. The red dragon on black is the device of the king’s left hand, but that one with a golden dragon…well, I am not sure. Edward’s new standard he flies before towns is a dragon gold. I do not think anyone would dare to use it, so this must be someone of great import.”
Choking on the smell, she raised the scented kerchief to her nose, and breathed in the scent desperately.
Behind the banner came two columns. At the fore were two knights on black steeds. No, that was not right. One was a dark gray, so dark that it was nearly black, reminding her of mouse’s fur. Beautiful, majestic animals, riding hard. The horsemen were in black mail and plate. The one on the far side wore a surcoat of deepest green, but she could barely take note of his features since her eyes had remained locked onto the rider closest. He was dressed in a black surcoat, with a red dragon on his chest. He wore no helm, no coif, so his wavy black hair was moved by the breeze. Obviously, he was one of Edward’s Norman knights, yet his locks were not cut in the Norman style.
For an instant, his head turned, his eyes only vaguely running over the small Scottish party decamping the town. The world held its breath. Her heart pounded in her ears, beating out a tattoo, as her eyes met his. Dark eyes, yet from the distance she could not tell their shade. A breathless magic spun around them making it seem as if they were the only two people in the whole town.
The spell shattered as he put spurs to his steel gray charger and moved on.
Gillian could almost smell the scent of mugwort, as she lay trembling in Redam’s embrace. The two dragons on a field of black. The images she had seen in the bowl when she had asked Annis for answers. Could that be? That she had seen this knight on that hot August morn? The irony struck her. If it had been Redam under the pennon of the double dragons, then he would little remember her.
She had held the scented kerchief to her face as he’d ridden past.
Could life have been that strange? That cruel?
Gillian felt sick.
“Dragons of Challon” series
“Sisters of Colford Hall” series
“Knights of Hellborne” series