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Authors: Kathryn le Veque

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The Fallen One

BOOK: The Fallen One
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THE FALLEN ONE

 

A
Medieval Romance

 

By Kathryn Le Veque

 

PROLOGUE

 
 

Tower
of London

January,
1331 A.D.

 

“Bear arms as a knight again and I will be
forced to kill you. These are the terms in exchange for your lives.”

The words rang in his head, hollowed by the
grief the meaning provoked. Perhaps they should kill him after all; surely the
pain would not be as great as that which he felt at this moment. Swords,
arrows, clubs; he could handle the agony of their handy work. In his eighteen
years as a knight, he had been fed more than his share of injury and prided himself
on his resilience. But dishonor was another matter altogether. This, he could
not stomach. By his side, his brother and fellow knight spoke.

“Kill us now and be done with it,” he
hissed.

The man accepting their fate shushed him.
“Enough.”

“’Tis not
nearly
enough. Do you not understand, brother? They seek to.…”


Quiet
.”
His words were low and deliberate. “The power goes to those who are victorious
in war, Sebastian. As those who have suffered defeat at their hands, we must
trust in their mercy. We do not dictate provisions.”

Sebastian the Red fell silent. Standing
beside his older, wiser brother and their father, he swallowed the remainder of
his argument because the audience chamber of kings since William the Bastard
was not the place to enter into any manner of family squabble. Most especially
when their visit to this place was not under the best of circumstances. They
were, for the moment, among the ranks of the conquered.

Yet biting his tongue did not come easy to
him. Sebastian was called ‘The Red’ for good reason; the mass of red hair upon
his head gave clue to the fire within. His temper was quick to ignite and
burned white hot. His demeanor was as red as his brother’s was cool. But it was
time to bank the fire within. He had no support to his argument. It was an old
and not unfamiliar story among the ranks of warriors throughout history.

Sebastian, his father, and his brother had
been at the head of Roger Mortimer’s forces when young King Edward had rebelled
against Mortimer’s rule. As knights, the three of them had followed orders.
Those orders had led them from the Marches to London where Mortimer had ruled
with Queen Isabella for three glorious years.

During that time, his elder brother had
been commander not only of the Earl of Marches’ troops, but of Isabella’s as
well. He had commanded nearly twenty thousand men with a fair and powerful hand,
and it wasn’t long before he had built himself a solid reputation. He had
taught the men that strength could only be truly achieved with respect, and that
honor was the most important weapon a knight would wield. Those words had
spread. There wasn’t a fighting man in the country who did not respect the name
of Mathias de Reyne, enemy or ally. Mathias had taught them all that some
things transcend loyalties.

Yet the mighty had fallen. Such were the
winds of war. Sebastian glanced at his brother as Edward the Third, King of
England, relayed the conditions upon which he was sparing Mathias’ life. The
king was so very young, still trying to grasp what his role had now become. He
had a horde of advisors behind him, some of them great men, feeding him
carefully scripted advice. But young Edward was no fool; he was already a fine
warrior and had seen much strife in his young years.
 
He was far more of a fighting man than his
father had ever been. Sebastian felt a hint of respect for the young king, but
it did not ease the ache of disgrace.

As Sebastian struggled with his misery, Mathias’
strong face was unreadable. Even in defeat he remained composed. He accepted Edward’s
sentence as easily as one might accept a favor. In truth, it
was
a favor - the de Reyne knights were
related to the House of Mortimer. There was never any question of their
loyalties and they should have, by all rights, followed Mortimer to the block.
But they hadn’t.

“You are a great knight, Mathias,” Edward
was rising from his throne now, coming down off the dais.
 
It was almost as if he was begging
forgiveness as he spoke. “I have known of you since I was old enough to
understand this great war machine that pulses through England as blood would
pulse through a living body. It seems that this country cannot survive without
some measure of violence; it keeps it alive for some feverishly odd reason. I
was advised to execute you along with the earl because to leave you alive is to
leave a threat to my rule. But… but I cannot execute you for fulfilling your
oath. You were only doing as you were ordered and you are a man of supreme
honor. And I should not like my rule to be known for its heartlessness. I should
like it to be known for its mercy.”

Mathias gazed down at the young monarch.
For such a young man, his words were old and wise. But Mathias had nothing to
say by way of reply; to thank the lad seemed foolish at this point. It seemed
trite. Edward sensed this; fighting against the disapproving stares that clawed
against his back, he knew that most of his military advisors thought that he
was making the wrong decision.
 
Only a
select few supported exile to execution; Tate de Lara, Earl of Carlisle and his
greatest mentor, was one of them.
 
Most
felt that Mathias de Reyne must be eliminated for the safety of the kingdom.
But Edward could not so easily erase so great a warrior.

“You, your father and your brother are
henceforth stripped of your nobility and knighthoods,” the young man said.
“Should you ever resume arms again, you will be captured and summarily
executed. Such is my decision, de Reyne; my mercy is given only once. Violate
my wishes and you shall feel my wrath. Is this understood?”

Mathias nodded, once. “Aye, my lord.”

“Good.” Edward’s gaze traveled from Mathias
to Justus, the broad old man with the long gray hair, then on to Sebastian. All
three men were nearly legendary in the warring community. He wished they were
sworn to him. But he could not trust those who had been so close to the man who
had stolen his throne. It was a regret he had.

He turned back for his chair. “You will be
escorted to the city gates where you shall be released. You will never set foot
in London again. You will be killed on sight.”

Mathias turned away from the King. Composed
for all outward appearances, the truth was that he couldn’t stand to be in that
place any longer, watching his knighthood vaporize into the wind. He hardly
remembered exiting the hall out into the cool January sunshine and being
escorted to the city limits by men who would have rather seen him dead. They even
took his beloved charger and the sword of his ancestors, and all of the
implements that made him who he was.
 
Now
he was no longer that which had defined him as a man.

He was no longer a knight.

 
 
 

CHAPTER ONE

 

May,
1332 A.D.

Carlisle,
England

 
 

‘Gazing
at people, some hand in hand,

Just
what I’m going through, they cannot understand.

Some
try to tell me in thoughts they cannot defend,

Just
what you want to be… you will be in the end.’

    
~ 13
th
Century Minstrel Lyrics

 

***

 

 
“Nay!”
The young woman screamed. “Let her go!”

It was the middle of a busy marketplace in
the middle of the day, with hundreds of people bustling to and fro.
 
The sun was shining, birds were singing, and
clouds darted across the sky in the brisk breeze.
 
But in the middle of the busy avenue, no one
seemed to be paying attention to the young woman in a panic.

She was pulling on the tunic of a rather burly
man with one eye who had a young girl in his arms.
 
The young girl was screaming and kicking as
the young woman fought him for all she was worth.

“Let her go!” she demanded again, hitting
him on the arm and trying to grab at the girl in his arms. “Put her down, do
you hear me?
Put her down
!”

The man tried to ignore her.
 
He was drooling, his clothing torn and
stained.
 
He had grabbed the young girl
from the back of the wagon she had been sitting in and now he was trying to
make off with her but her sister had other ideas.
  
He was moving away from the wagon with his
quarry squirming in his arms as the sister beat on him.

“Nay!” The sister screamed again, realizing
the man wasn’t about to release his prey so she grabbed hold of her sister’s
arms and dig her heels into the mud, trying to pull her sister free. “Release
her, you animal! Father,
help me!”

The young woman knew she needed
assistance.
 
The brute that was trying to
make off with her sister was big and strong. The young woman was in a panic,
struggling to keep her head.
 
Her father
and sister were down the street with the spice merchant, running errands for
their mother, and she had been left with the wagon and her younger sister. The
young woman had been admiring a dress merchant across the busy avenue when she
heard her younger sister scream.
 
A man
had grabbed her.
 
And the fight began.

Her young sister was crying hysterically,
grabbing on to the young woman’s arms by digging her nails into the flesh as
she fought against her abductor.
 
But the
young woman saw that she wasn’t making any headway against the man, determined
as he was, so she kicked him in the knees. It was a hard kick.
 
When he faltered, she grabbed his dirty,
vermin-filled hair and yanked as hard as she could.

The man roared and tried to hit her.
 
As he released one arm around the young girl,
she slipped and ended up hanging almost up-side down.
 
The older sister, down on one knee to avoid
the strike from the brute, grabbed her hanging sister with both hands and
pulled as hard as she could.
 
Her sister
slipped free and landed in the mud.

But the brute wasn’t letting go so easily;
he grabbed the young girl by the legs and pulled, drawing more screams from
both women.
 
People were noticing now,
seeing the brutal struggle and wondering what it was all about.
 

Down the avenue in the midst of the bustle stood
a smithy shop; they had heard the screaming, too, and a dark head poked out
from the enormous shop that was blazing with fires and hammering anvils.
 
Steam and heat rose through the thatched
roof.

Mathias had heard the screaming but all he
could see was people; being that it was a very busy day in spring when farmers
brought their spring harvest into town, there were more people than usual.
Horses, wagons, women, children, and a few knights who had arrived for next
week’s local tournament… they were all here. Moreover, it was a bright day with
good weather, but that would change as the sun grew warmer and the smell from
the sewers began to fill the air.
 
The
flies would be bad, too.
 
Not seeing the
source of the screams, he was about to turn back to his business when the cries
of panic caught his attention again.
 
Then, he saw it.

A big bear of a man had the legs of a girl
in his grip, but an older girl had her arms and they were tugging her apart.
 
Both girls were screaming and the older one
was calling for help.
 
No one seemed to
be coming to her aid and Mathias thought it was a family squabble until the man
let go of one of the legs he held firm and punched the young woman who had hold
of the girl’s arms. The blow to the shoulder sent the young woman reeling.

But she was tough. The woman was stunned
but she didn’t lose her grip; she continued to hold, shaking the bells out of
her head before resuming her death-grip on the young girl and screaming once
again for help.
 
Meanwhile, Justus,
pausing in shoeing a horse, noticed where Mathias’ attention was.
 
He could hear the girl screaming, too, but it
was none of his business. Besides, he’d been banned from that kind of thing.
 
There was no more chivalry left in his veins.
That had died along with his permission to bear a sword.

“Mathias,” he called quietly. “Lad, do
not….”

It was too late. Mathias was already
tossing off his leather apron and moving towards the struggle.
 
Sebastian, pounding out a chorus of sparks on
a piece of steel destined to be a sword for a local baron, saw his brother
heading towards the struggle and thought he wanted a piece of it, too.
 
Unlike his father, he missed the thrill of a
fight or the exhilaration of a kill.
 
Mathias, on the other hand, never spoke about
it one way or the other, but Sebastian knew that his brother’s sense of
chivalry certainly wasn’t dead.
 
He just
kept it buried.

As Mathias approached the fight, he could
see that the young girl in contention between the young woman and the beefy man
had been twisted around so violently that she had vomited.
 
She had it in her hair.
 
The young woman who had hold of the girl’s
arms was losing her fight; it was written all over her face.
 
The man was winning simply because he was
much stronger and the young woman was trying not to collapse because of it. She
was holding on until the bloody end.
 
It
was a puzzling and violent scuffle and as it raged, Mathias walked to within a
few feet of the fracas.

“What goes on here?” he asked evenly. “Why
do you hurt these women?”

The brawling came to a startled halt and
the woman with the weakening grip on the girl turned to Mathias with wide and
terrified eyes.

“He is trying to abduct my sister,” she
gushed, her voice trembling. “Please help me.”

Mathias cocked an eyebrow, looking at the
hairy and filthy man. “Is this true?”

The man barred his teeth at him and roared.
 
That was as much of an answer as he
could give. Then he gave one hard yank and pulled the girl free of the young
woman’s grasp. Then he turned to run away with his prize but Mathias moved
quickly.
 

Reaching out, he threw his arm across the
man’s neck and jerked him back so hard that the young girl tumbled out of his
arms.
 
As the brute fell to the ground, it
was enough of a break for the young woman to grab the child and pull her to
safety.
 
Meanwhile, the fight had now
moved from the scruffy man against two small women to the scruffy man against
an extremely formidable opponent.

Mathias was more than ready to go to battle
against the filthy man who seemed to be covered in lice and sores.
 
Upon closer inspection, it was a fairly
disgusting sight.
 
But he made no move
against the man, instead, waiting for him to throw the first punch.
 
Poised, fists balled, Mathias stared down his
opponent, waiting. As he stood there, primed and ready, a flash of red hair
moved past him and Sebastian charged the dirty man, getting his kicks by
grabbing him by the face and throwing him to the ground.

“Bastard!” Sebastian spat, kicking the man
in the ribs. “Do you go around taking your fists to women, then? You should be
taught a lesson.”

Mathias reached out and grabbed his ruffian
brother by the arm. “Wait,” he told him, pulling him back.
 
His focus was on the brute, now wallowing in
the mud. “Were you trying to abduct that girl? Answer me or I shall turn my
brother loose on you. It is better now to speak than suffer his wrath, I assure
you. Answer me.”

The brute, now covered in mud, only grunted
as he rolled to his knees and attempted to crawl away. Mathias and Sebastian
looked at each other, shrugged, and Sebastian went after the man as Mathias
turned to the two terrified women.
 
As
Mathias approached the pair, Sebastian leapt on the man’s back as he dragged
himself through the mud and began to ride him as one would a wild horse.
 
He grabbed the man by the hair and rode him
right into the muck, laughing all the way.

Mathias heard his brother but he didn’t pay
any attention. He was looking at the two panic-stricken women in front of him.

“Did he hurt you?” he asked the older
woman. “I saw him strike you.”

The older of the pair, a young woman of
exquisite beauty, gazed up at him with an amalgam of fear and gratitude. It was
difficult to decipher her expression; Mathias, in fact, didn’t try.
 
All he could see was beautiful brown hair,
rich with a hint of red to it, and enormous brown eyes.
 
Her skin was pale, like fresh cream, and her
features were petite and pixie-ish. He was momentarily taken aback by all of
that beauty, none of which he had noticed until that moment. Now, he felt as if
he’d been slapped in the face with it.

“He did not hurt me,” she replied, her
voice quaking.

“The younger girl, then. Is she well?”

The young woman looked the sobbing child in
her arms. “I… I believe she is well,” she said. “I do not think he hurt her
overly.”

Satisfied with the answer, Mathias looked
around. “Is there someone here for you?” he asked. “Surely you are not alone.”

 
The
young woman shook her head. “My father and older sister are in town,” she
replied. “They are on errands for my mother.
 
My youngest sister and I were sitting in our wagon – that is our wagon
over there – when that man suddenly grabbed my baby sister and tried to run
away. My lord, I can never thank you enough for coming to our aid.
 
No one else seemed to be willing to help but
you and… dear God, I cannot possibly thank you enough.”

Mathias was fairly swept up in her sweet
voice and doe-like eyes. He found himself clearing his throat nervously.

“I am glad I could be of assistance, my
lady,” he said.

The young woman peered around him to get a
look at the big red-haired man as he jumped up and down on the brute. “What
will you do to him?”

Mathias turned in time to see his brother roll
his burly quarry over onto his back and leap on his stomach. “I am not sure,”
he said casually. “I will leave the punishment to my brother because he seems
to enjoy it so much.”

There was a touch of humor in what could
have been a deadly serious statement. It helped alleviate some of the abject
terror the women were still feeling. In fact, the tension seemed to have lifted
a great deal now that the young girl was safe and the culprit being taken away.
There was no longer any reason for him to remain.

With a polite nod, Mathias turned away
because he was unsure what more to say to her and furthermore found himself
just the slightest bit giddy.
 
In fact,
he was fairly unbalanced but a word from her stopped him.

“My lord,” she called. “I do not even know
your name.”

Mathias came to a halt, turning to face
her.
 
He thought perhaps she was more beautiful
at second glance.

“Mathias,” he said after a moment.

The young woman smiled and Mathias heard
himself sigh with satisfaction; even her teeth were beautiful. In fact,
everything about her was beautiful and he was very quickly succumbing to her
very presence.
 
With a mere glance or
soft words, she was a siren luring him to his doom.

“Mathias,” she repeated softly. “I am the
Lady Cathlina de Lara and this is my sister, the Lady Abechail.”

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