Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #Irish, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
“Miriam Minger is a master
storyteller who illustrates the full gamut of emotions felt by her characters
so strong that you are pulled into the pages and into their lives.” – Inside
“Five stars .
. . should be at the top of your shopping list
Miriam Minger is a fifty-carat jewel.”
– Affaire de Coeur
© 1994 by Miriam Minger
All rights reserved
With the exception of quotes used in
reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any
means existing without written permission from the author.
published by Jove Books, January 1994
Copyright © 2010 by Hot Damn Designs
This is a
work of fiction
references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used
names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s
imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living
or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Books by Miriam Minger
A Hint of
Wicklow Mountains, Leinster
A BABE’S CRIES led him to the carnage.
Grim faced, Fineen O’Toole leaned his bow against the
thick trunk of an oak and sank to his haunches.
The woman was dead. That much was plain. Fatally gored
by the wild boar he had found collapsed beneath a rock outcropping only a few
yards away. Its yellowed tusks red with blood, a jeweled dagger embedded deeply
in its throat.
Fineen made note of the woman’s ravaged gown—a foreign
cut fashioned from the richest blue cloth he had ever seen—as he pushed aside a
silky sheaf of blond hair that covered her face.
God grant her peace. She must have fought like a
tigress to have felled such a beast. Her ashen cheeks were still wet with
tears; her slim white arms, marred by cuts and deep slashes, were wound
protectively around the wailing child. But Jesu,
and Joseph, what had she been doing in these woods? A fine Norman lady with the
countenance of an angel straying unguarded into the Wicklow Mountains. It was
Shaking his head, Fineen pried the howling babe from
the woman’s arms. A girl child with the strong lungs of a banshee, she was a
pretty wee thing, her chubby face framed by bright coppery gold curls. He
guessed that she was no more than six months old. And such fat tears from one
so little! Hoping to soothe her, Fineen settled her into the crook of his arm.
"Sshh, sweeting . . . sshh," he crooned, his
gruff voice lowered to a comforting whisper. To his amazement the baby abruptly
fell silent, a small frown puckering her downy brows as she gazed up at him.
Her eyes, fringed by long dark lashes, were not the typical blue of babes, but
rather a green as brilliant as the fragrant moss beneath his feet.
"Aye, you don’t know me, sweeting, but you’ve
nothing to fear from—"
A low feral growl nearby made Fineen stiffen, the hair
rising on the back of his neck. He looked up to see a lean-ribbed black wolf
skulking among the trees.
Accursed demon dogs. It never took them long to track
down the scent of fresh blood.
Fineen rose swiftly to his feet. Freeing the babe from
her blood-soaked swaddling blanket, he flung the stained cloth at the animal.
He was not surprised when
dozen wolves emerged
from the gathering mist and leapt upon the blanket, the snarling beasts ripping
it to shreds.
"A whole pack of you, I see," muttered Fineen
as he settled the naked babe inside his leather jerkin. Startled by the
commotion, she was crying again but he had no time to calm her now. He grabbed
his bow and expertly set an owl-fletched arrow to the string.
Normally he would consign any dead Norman’s soul to bum
in eternal hell’s fire, but this wretched lady had stirred his pity. After he
dealt with the wolves, he would give the woman a Christian burial,
decide what was to be done with the child.
Fineen took careful aim at the lead wolf whose gleaming
gold eyes were fixed first upon him, then upon the woman’s body.
"Aye, come on, you damned hellhound. Come on . . .
What the devil?"
Fineen spun as the wolves faded like wraiths into the
trees, the sudden pounding of hooves growing louder. He didn’t wait to discover
if the advancing riders were friend or foe. Sliding the bow and arrow into the
leather case slung over his shoulder, he lunged behind a nearby tree and thrust
a knuckle into the babe’s mouth.
"Not a peep, sweeting," he whispered,
grateful when the babe quieted and began to suckle contentedly.
"This way, my lord! The crying came from just
beyond the rise!"
Startled, Fineen paid no heed to the prickly bark
digging into his back and thighs as he pressed closer to the tree, nor to the
sweat trickling down his spine.
By God, Normans. Yet it was strange that they had
ventured so far from the safety of the plains. Usually the land-stealing,
murdering spawn of Satan knew these mountains were the domain of the O’Byrnes
and the O’Tooles. Too bad he had ordered his clansmen to track their quarry in
the woods nearer the stockade so he could enjoy the solace of hunting alone. If
they’d been hunting together, they could have bagged some fine prey indeed.
"There, my lord! Beneath that tree!"
Fineen skimmed his hand over the jeweled dagger he had
pulled from the boar’s throat to the smooth wooden hilt of his hunting knife.
But the riders galloped past him, four, maybe five in all. Scarcely daring to
breathe, he listened as the Normans drew to a sudden halt and dismounted no
more than ten feet away.
"I fear the lady is dead, Baron. And her babe is
"God’s teeth, I thought my brother’s whelp too
young to crawl! Find her!"
Fineen tensed as the baron’s minions went crashing
through the undergrowth.
"Wolves have been here, my lord! Our horses must
have frightened them away. There are tracks and look, shreds of cloth."
"The babe’s swaddling blanket. Splendid. A plump
little heiress should make the beasts a fine supper. And they’ve saved me the
trouble of dispatching the dratted chit myself."
"Bastard," Fineen breathed fiercely, hugging
his tiny charge closer to his chest. The Norman monster spoke so callously of
murdering a child. The man’s own niece from the sound of it!
"Wrap the lady in your cloak and hand her up,"
the baron’s next command, his voice harsh. "It
grows dark and this forest is cursed by rebels and thieves. We’ve already
tested our luck by riding this far."
Fineen started as the babe suddenly tugged upon his
beard, her berry red lips pursed and pulling hard at his knuckle. He smiled at
her, but he sobered when the riders once more moved past him, the baron’s voice
a low growl.
"Pity about Eva, especially after I went through
such pains to make her a widow. She could have been my bride instead of a
corpse. Foolish bitch."
Sickened, Fineen was tempted to hurl his hunting knife
and silence the man forever. That one was a Norman doubly worth slaying! But
the babe yanking upon his beard stilled him. He would only endanger her life,
and she’d already faced enough threats for one so small and helpless.
Poor wee orphan. Now she had only Fineen O’Toole,
chieftain of the Imaal O’Tooles, to protect her.
He didn’t step from behind the tree until the mailed
Norman troupe was almost out of sight, the baron at the lead with the lifeless
woman slung over his saddle. In the fading summer light, Fineen spied a coat of
arms emblazoned upon the baron’s shield.
Bloodred on black, a fearsome three-headed dragon with
wings outspread. He did not recognize the emblem but in time would learn this
"Aye, you fiendish whoreson, your evil deeds must
have won you much," Fineen spat as the Normans disappeared from view. "But
you’ll not have this little one here. I’ll see to that."
He walked back to the place where the woman had
the spongy emerald moss stained a dark reddish brown
with her blood. Solemnly, he made the sign of the cross above it.
"Rest your soul, Eva. Norman or no, you needn’t
worry about your daughter. From this day, I adopt her as my own. She’ll be safe
with me. On my life, I swear it!"
He glanced down to find the babe had fallen asleep, one
tiny pink fist tucked up beneath her chubby chin, the innocent sweetness of her
expression tugging at his heart. He’d always wanted his son, Conor, to have a
Fineen suddenly frowned, remembering the two boys he’d
left behind with his men.
If he didn’t meet up with them soon, that hotheaded
Ronan O’Byrne would convince Conor that they should set out to look for him.
And right now, that was the last thing Fineen wanted.
At twelve his impetuous godson possessed a lust for
vengeance that matched any ten Irishmen. Fineen could no longer count the times
Ronan had sworn mightily to do his part to drive the French-tongued invaders
from their green isle. Begorra, if Ronan knew that Normans had strayed into
their mountains . . .
"He’d chase them down and challenge them all,"
Fineen said aloud with a fond grunt. Aye, he loved the boy. Admired his fierce
courage, too, an amazing trait in one so young. But Fineen didn’t like his
penchant for recklessness.