Authors: Shayla Black,Shelley Bradley
Tags: #erotic, #Shayla Black, #Shelley Bradley, #historical
His Lady Bride
writing as Shelley Bradley
His Lady Bride
Published by Shelley Bradley LLC
Copyright © 2000 Shelley Bradley LLC
Edited by Amy Knupp
eBook ISBN 978-1-936596-23-2
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional. Any similarity to real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by an electronic or mechanical means—except for brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews—without express written permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
The princes were dead. Children, both of them, slaughtered by Richard III, their own uncle, for the power and wealth that came with England’s throne.
And only a handful of people in all of England, including Aric Neville, knew for certain.
He bid Godspeed to the spy he had paid handsomely for information about the boys’ mysterious disappearance, then rubbed numb fingers over the sockets of his dry, sleep-deprived eyes. It brought no relief. He wished the informant had a reason to lie, but the brave man had risked life and limb to come here and spill the truth.
From the keep’s arrow-slit window, Aric cast his weary gaze over the moonlit Yorkshire hills surrounding Hartwich Hall. ’Twas the home of his mentor, Guilford, Earl of Rothgate—and a second home to Aric. Yet for the first time since he had come to this castle at age seven to receive his knight’s training, the familiar place brought him no solace.
Nothing would comfort him now that he had no hope of finding the princes alive. While most of England still prayed for the best, Aric knew only guilt and grief, for he had played a role in bringing about the demise of the younger royal child. Jesu, the boy had been but ten!
With mechanical precision, Aric secured the last of his armor, the greaves about his shins and the poleyns over his knees. This day would see another battle fought. More bloodshed. More men wasted.
For this, he had trained his whole life.
He let loose an angry oath. Since coming to Hartwich, he had been blessed to make friends with two of Guilford’s other pupils, both closer to him than brothers. His mentor had certainly been more like a father than his own. But over that span of years, Aric had also earned his fierce reputation as the White Lion, ever ready to kill for the House of York.
God, he’d been an ambitious fool, so eager to win back the earldom of Warwick after his uncle had lost it supporting the Lancastrians more than a decade ago.
His ambition had abetted the murder of a child.
“The Campbells are below and ready for battle,” one of his good friends, Drake MacDougall, murmured from behind.
Aric turned. Drake stood in the arched door, dark hair swept back, battle gear in place. The Scotsman was no ordinary knight, and on another day, Aric would be proud to have Drake fighting by his side. Over the course of their training, Guilford had made them the best.
“Will the Campbells never cease these petty squabbles with the MacDougalls? They should have understood long ago that your mother’s marriage to your father was not an act of aggression.”
“Aye, ’twas naught but a mistake.” Drake sighed. “Let us fight them once more.”
His friend’s grim tones sounded rife with pain—and no wonder, given Drake’s unfortunate past. ’Twould seem they both dealt with some disquieting problems this day.
“I’ll be below shortly.”
Drake hesitated. “Did you receive word, then?”
“Aye.” Aric swallowed past a raw throat. “As I feared, they are dead. Suffocated September last in the Tower.”
Drake crossed the room, his well-oiled armor clinking, and clasped Aric’s arm. ’Tis a grievous day, indeed. I am sorry for England’s loss.”
“My thanks.” Aric nodded, unable to confess his guilt even to his closest of friends. This shame was his to bear alone. Instead, he changed the subject. “Has Kieran arrived?”
“Aye, last night after you were abed.”
“How is our Irish friend? As reckless as ever?” Aric asked, eager for a change in subject.
“Of course.” The man in question grinned from the doorway.
Drake and Aric whirled to the sound of Kieran Broderick’s voice, their expressions surely a mirror of welcome and reprimand at once.
Kieran sauntered into the room with a jaunty wink and a loose-hipped gait. Candlelight danced in his chestnut hair, which had obviously been arranged by a haphazard wind, not any intention with a brush.
“Zounds, the two of you look as happy as mutts that lost their meals.” He frowned. “Good to see you, too.”
“Aye, ’tis good,” Drake assured. “We simply would prefer to keep seeing you in one piece.”
Before Kieran could defend his wanderlust with a typical pithy reply, the battle readied on the open field just outside the window. The horses pawed the mist-hung earth restlessly, their breaths white with chill, stark against the blue-black of the predawn sky. Troops formed. Over one hundred men unsheathed weapons.
The trio of knights vaulted down the stairs and left the castle to join the impending fray. Aric knotted inside with foreboding. Drake, as always, would serve Guilford with an abiding sense of duty. And Kieran…well, the youngest of the three always followed his thirst for adventure, often at great peril, until it was momentarily quenched.
With all the enthusiasm of a condemned traitor on execution day, Aric mounted his gray steed, the creak of his saddle echoing the ache in his heart. Sighing heavily, he unsheathed his sword and waited, wishing this battle gone and the warring Campbells back to Scotland.
Aric had not long to wait. The battle began with a shout in the dark morn. The clash of swords declared the fighting underway.
Reluctantly, he urged his mount into the melee, his weapon ready.
Opponents came at him one after the other, sometimes in pairs. All seemed eager to test England’s White Lion, the symbol emblazoned on the breastplate of his armor.
Feint. Thrust. Parry. Kill.
Feint. Thrust. Parry. Kill.
The motions were automatic and unchanged, as were the results. The metallic scent of blood tinged the air, along with the smells of damp earth and dewy grass. The thud of metal upon bone mixed with the cries of anguish and the laments of death. The greedy soil drank in the liquid carnage as the battle continued all around him, unabated. Still, the sun hid slyly behind the winter-bare hills, as if concealing the utter brutalities of war.
But Aric knew them all too well. He’d known naught else since youth. His uncle Warwick had made sure of that.
And all of this waste of human life for what? Another parcel of land? Another territorial right? The squabble the Campbells had with Guilford now seemed petty and ancient. Years ago, the Scots had become Guilford’s foes once his daughter, Drake’s mother, had wed Drake’s father, an enemy MacDougall. The union, broken by betrayal and death, still angered them.
Several paces away, Aric caught sight of Drake, who was outnumbered. Three of the Campbells hovered about his friend. Drake dispatched one of his enemies with a broadsword to the side, then gave a vicious yank to extricate his blade.
A Campbell lifted his ax to Drake. Aric knew his friend would not be able to turn in time to fend off the blow. Without another thought, Aric hurled a lance across the space between them. It landed in the Campbell soldier’s back a moment before he slumped forward on his mount.
Drake nodded his thanks. Aric did not answer in kind, just urged his mount toward the dead Scot and retrieved his lance from the corpse.
A Campbell, thinking to take them by surprise, charged them from Aric’s side. Drake tensed. But Aric saw the cur studying them. With a mighty swing of his arm, he cut the Campbell soldier nearly in two.
The dying man screamed in agony before terrible silence fell. Aric ignored the sound.
“Watch yourself, friend,” he said to Drake, pushing strands of his tawny hair from his sweat-slick face.
He then made his way down the hill, farther into the grunting, bleeding crowd. Someone had set fire to the cottages of Guilford’s crofters. Rage thundered through him for that slight, King Richard’s machinations, and the ill-fated choices that had led him here. Soon, Aric’s sword was slippery and red, fresh blood mingling with the rotting, illuminated by the eerie orange flow of the fires all around him. Only his calluses saved him from losing his grip on the weapon.
His knee ached where a Campbell mace had glanced it. A cut above his eye bled. Still, Aric slashed his way through the crowd until the Campbells were outnumbered and retreating.
Behind him, Kieran hollered in triumph. Though relieved his friend was alive, Aric could not spare the energy to lecture him on caution. ’Twould fall on deaf ears, anyway. At least the battle was over.
Tiredly, he dismounted, looking for Drake and the old earl. At the top of the next rise, he spotted his friend nearly surrounded by his fellow Scotsmen as he knelt with bloody hands next to a fallen man. Aric peered out at the warrior lying upon the earth—Lochlan MacDougall, Drake’s father.
“Traitor! Murderer!” one of the Scotsmen yelled at Drake.
Think they that Drake killed his own father?
As Aric raced to his friend’s side, he heard not his clansmen’s accusations or Drake’s protestations.
“Drake is innocent.” Aric dismounted with a scowl. “His love for his sire is well known by you all.”
His words affected none of the Clan MacDougall. Hunger for blood was running high amongst the men now that the cowardly Campbells had thwarted everyone’s feast before they could finish gorging. Bile rose in Aric’s throat as a pair of men grabbed Drake and shoved him roughly to his feet.
“Pea-witted fools, he would never kill Lochlan!” Kieran dashed to Drake’s side, eyes blazing.
The Scotsmen still paid no heed.
Suddenly, the crowd parted to admit Guilford. The old earl’s shock of white hair stood out against the dismal dark gray sky. “Release him. Drake murdered no one, least of all his own father.”
Still, a Scotsman named Duff refused. “The Clan MacDougall maun judge him now…” Aric heard before the voice faded away, drowned out by the sounds of crows above the scene. He despaired. If the powerful Earl of Rothgate could not help Drake, he feared no one could.
Would he lose a friend this day, too, along with his honor?
Drake struggled, but the MacDougalls contained him. All too quickly, Drake was taken away. Kieran raised his sword, ready to fight. Guilford stayed him with a calming hand. Aric looked on with gritty, aching eyes until the Scotsmen disappeared.
He turned to Guilford with a questioning glance.
“Let the hotheads work this foolishness out of their blood,” the earl advised. “They will soon see their words as senseless and release him.”
“I would rather fight!” Kieran objected.
“Of that, I have no doubt,” Guilford answered wryly.
“They cannot imprison an innocent man so unjustly!”
“And so they shall not, Kieran. Leave this to me. You, too, Aric.” The aging man shot him a sharp, blue-eyed gaze.
“Aye,” Aric replied automatically, though he liked it not.
The crowd began to disperse as morning finally burst over the craggy Yorkshire hills. Men pilfered the fresh corpses on the battlefield, gathering valuable weapons, armor, and boots. Aric turned his back on the customary gruesome scene with a curse.
“Aric?” Kieran questioned, his deep voice laced with a concern the glib man did not often exhibit. Beside him, Guilford looked on.
Uncertain what to say, Aric remained silent. How could he reconcile the murders of two royal children by means so foul, the loss of his honor, the death of his ambition? How could he reply to the peril in which one of his oldest friends now found himself, knowing all the while he could do nothing to stop it?