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For the Heart of a Maiden

Clean Medieval Historical Romance

Author: Sheri Egan


© Copyright 2018 by Sheri Egan

All rights reserved.

In no way is it legal to reproduce, duplicate, or transmit any part of this document in either electronic means or in printed format. Recording of this publication is strictly prohibited and any storage of this document is not allowed unless with written permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.Respective authors own all copyrights not held by the publisher.


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person,

living or dead, is purely coincidental.


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Table of Contents


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For the Heart of a Maiden

Description

Keaton Quinlan has always known he would be a knight. His family are hereditary knights, and he will be no exception. He is sent to the Earl of Lancaster’s estate to train under the tutelage of the Earl’s Swordsman. Keaton’s fate will be decided by Lord Lancaster, as he swears to honor the needs of his Lord. He secretly longs for a love he could not have.

Rhoslyn Lancaster is strong and stubborn. She vows to care for herself, relying on her own skills to protect her. She trains alongside the pages and squires, able to fight as well or better than most. Her sparring partner becomes a fast friend; friendship turning to passion as the two grow older. But he goes to war, leaving her heart behind. Watch how Rhoslyn and Keaton turn unrequited love into devotion, something beyond their wildest dreams.


Chapter 1

He stared out into the woods as he rode, thinking about the life he was leaving and the one to come. His father had been a knight, as had his grandfather, and he would be no different. It wasn’t the thought of becoming a knight; the concept had been taught to him since he was a babe. It was rather the task of having to leave his mother and the safety of the home he loved, to move to some man’s estate that he didn’t know, then forced by vows to live there until he was either killed or acquired land of his own. Even then, he would still be a vassal, sworn to the Lord or the King’s bidding.

Keaton sighed deeply, wishing the trip to be done so he could begin training in the skills he would need as a knight. He could never hurt anything or anyone but wanted to make his father proud, so he would go do his duty and become a knight. He prayed that the Sword Master would be compassionate on a seven-year-old. He prayed that he would be able to make friends with some of the other pages there doing what he was doing.

Edwin looked over as his son sighed. His two boys were as different as night and day. Martin was stocky like his father, brown hair and brown eyes as well, but a sour disposition that caused his father to be ashamed at times. Edwin could never figure out where that temper and ill-will had come from. Keaton, on the other hand, was fair and blond, with a reedy build and sky-blue eyes that sparkled when he talked. Keaton could be exasperating just like Martin when he tried to justify someone’s actions as to who should really be punished.

“What’s wrong, boy?” he asked his middle son, a certain sadness in his voice. He did not want to send him away, but knew it would be a good life overall, and the memories Edwin had gleaned as a knight himself had carried him through the harness of life’s trials.

“Nothing, Father,” Keaton lied. “Just thinking about the pond and Marlin and Mum. I think I shall miss her badly, oh, and of course you too, Father,” he added hastily.

Edwin chuckled. “And we shall miss you as well, my son.”

Martin snorted. He was ten, a late starter in training, but Edwin had wanted the two boys to go together and waited until Keaton was seven, so that could happen. He hoped that Martin would provide Keaton with support, but in his heart, he knew Martin was not the caring person that Keaton would one day become. Edwin could hope that training as a knight would garner some sense of compassion in Martin as well, but he held no high hopes for that happening.

Edwin glared at his oldest. “Just be kind, Martin. It is hard for your brother to leave home.”

Martin laughed, a short bark that cut Keaton to the bone. “Yes, well, I am made of sterner stuff, Father, and will be a great lord someday with land and gold enough for everyone to live comfortably. Keaton? He will be lucky to survive training.”

“That’s enough, Martin,” Edwin sternly shut him down. “Let’s move on and make some time or we will never be there by nightfall.” Edwin encouraged his horse into a fast canter and the three moved on.

Edwin had been right. Deep twilight was falling when the small troupe arrived at their destination. Torches flared in the slight breeze and the castle loomed before them. Guards at the gate stopped them and asked their business. Sir Edwin spoke to them briefly, and orders to raise the portcullis were given. It creaked as it rose toward the sky, allowing the men access to the bailey ahead.

Keaton looked about as his horse followed his father’s into the bailey. Not only were the walls taller than those of his home, but there were guards along the wall, pacing back and forth in the dark. One day, I will be doing that, guarding the keep against intruders. Does it hurt to be shot with an arrow? Or will a lance end my life?

Keaton was forced back to reality as his father urged him down from his horse to stand in front of an imposing figure blocking the light from the tall doors of the castle proper.

Cedric, Lord of Lancaster, bellowed out in his strong voice. “Sir Edwin, welcome! Are these the two lads I shall take to train? Fine looking young men, I must say.” He gestured to Edwin, putting an arm around his shoulder as they strode into the Great Hall. “I have been looking forward to training your boys, Edwin. If they turn out half as talented as you, I shall count myself lucky. Come, let us have a mug or two and talk old times before we head to the bed.” Lancaster bellowed out an order for ale and the two sat down near the fire. The boys stood to one side, unsure of what to do with themselves. Edwin came to his senses and turned to the boys.

“This knight will take you to your quarters, boys. Come, give me a hug before you go. It will be your last for a while, as I cannot leave the manor to come see you. Be good and learn hard. It may save your life someday.” He hugged Martin first, and then Keaton. Edwin whispered in Keaton’s ear. “Boy, you hide that heart like I told you. You can be compassionate later, when you’re knighted. Be tough and you will do fine.” Keaton nodded his head, feeling the tears welling up in his eyes. He held them back. He did not want Martin to tease him for being silly. The boys followed the knight out the doors. As the door closed behind them, Keaton felt a chill course through his veins. I will never see Father again. I feel it in my bones. He followed the knight sadly, thinking about the coming days.


Chapter 2

Rhoslyn was unable to sit still as her handmaid brushed her long, dark brown hair. Katie tugged at a particularly ratted section and Rhoslyn cried out, her brilliant blue eyes flashing.

“Ooh, I will be so glad to have my hair up when I train and not have to get it pulled out when it’s brushed! Father says I can start training tomorrow with the new Quinlan boys. They came tonight. I wonder if either one of them is good-looking? I could use with someone to talk to besides a bunch of whining women.”

The eight-year-old chattered on as Katie brushed her hair. Katie rolled her eyes to herself while listening. She had cared for Rhoslyn since she was but a babe-in-arms and her mother had passed away. Katies had never gotten used to her constant barrage. She, too, would be glad to have Rhoslyn training a few hours a day. It would give her some silence to enjoy.

“I am sure they will be a welcome change, Rhoslyn. I still do not think it comely for a lady to be fighting with swords and lances. Why you ever would want to do such a thing is beyond me.” Katie helped Rhoslyn into her nightgown.

Rhoslyn pretended she held a sword as she crouched and waved her arm as if she were fighting. “It is good to know that I will be able to defend myself, and not have to sit in a dank hole under the castle while others fight for me. I will be able to be a true Lancaster this way and help Father take out the men who would try to steal his lands away.”

Katie shook her head as she tucked Rhoslyn into bed. “Ever the dreamer.” She kissed Rhoslyn on the forehead and turned to go.

“Katie?” Rhoslyn asked. “What do you think it feels like to have an arrow go into your gut? I heard Father say that he was shot with an arrow once.”

Katie frowned, turning back to the young girl. “I am sure I do not know that answer, young lady, and you need to get such thoughts out of your mind,” she growled. “You are too young to think of such things. Now, good night and get to sleep!” Katie marched out of the room muttering to herself about girls who grew too old, too fast.

Rhoslyn was still chattering at breakfast, but this time to her father, attacking him with questions about training even though she had watched the men spar since she was old enough to go to the ring by herself. The other children would watch for a while and get bored but Cleave would stay and watch with her. Cleave was the blacksmith’s son and had been her constant companion since they had both been much younger. He was also ten.

“Rhoslyn, enough,” the Lord groused. “I am trying to have a quiet breakfast. Your questions will be answered when you get to the sparring yard. I’m sure Sir George will be more than happy to assist you.”

“All right,” Rhoslyn sighed. “I’m just so happy that you have allowed me this, Father. I want to be able to help you when I can.”

Sir Cedric just nodded his head without a reply. Rhoslyn knew that her father would allow her free rein to do as she pleased. Catherine’s death with consumption had almost completely broken his heart, but Rhoslyn was the spitting image of his late wife with her fiery spirit as well, so he could not tell her no even if he wanted. She was his heir and would need to be strong with many skills to stay ahead in a man’s world. He hoped to find her a suitor able to keep up with her and then he could die a happy man.

Rhoslyn gulped down the rest of her porridge, kissed her father on the cheek, and rushed down the hill to the sparring yard. The men were lazing around sitting on the short fence or standing under the huge yew trees conversing until Sir George would bluster in, putting them all to work. There were two young boys she did not know standing on the outskirts of the small group of pages that Lord Lancaster had brought under his wing to train for his army. She began to head their direction when she heard sounds of Sir George coming into the area, barking orders for the knights to get busy practicing. They moved quickly to his command. Sir George watched shortly to make sure they were all working hard then made his way over to the group of pages.

Sir George nodded briskly. “Well, now if you all have introduced yourselves, we shall begin today’s practice. Grab the quarterstaffs over there and come back.” He gestured over to the racks that held all the weapons of their trade—wooden swords, lances without heads, and quarterstaffs in all lengths for practice. None were sharp so that no one was stabbed, just bruised badly while sparring.

There were six youth, not counting Rhoslyn, in the group. Each person grabbed a staff, making sure that they could at least carry it over to the area. Martin grabbed his quickly, sneering at his little brother who had found a staff, but was having a difficult time lifting it higher than his waist.

“Keep it up, brother, and they will send you home with your tail between your legs. You’ll never make it,” Martin whispered to Keaton. Keaton frowned and continued to struggle with his staff, trying to keep it from dragging on the ground as he hurried back to his place in line. Rhoslyn saw the look exchanged between the two and thought she would watch to see how big a bully Martin really was.

Once in line, Sir George paired them off, choosing Martin to spar with Rhoslyn as they were equal in height.

Martin began to protest. “I can’t spar with a girl,” he argued contemptuously. “I won’t mean to, but I will hurt her. I want someone else.”

Sir George’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Martin. “Martin, right? You’ll spar with who I tell you to spar with. Understood?” He waited for a nod from Martin. Sir George turned to the others. “Arguing with a superior can lead to your death, either by his hand or the hand of the enemy when you are found alone with your pride. All of you will obey me without question. Is that understood? “George waited for the proper response. “Well?” He looked at them with what would come to be called “The Evil Eye.” They all said yes or nodded their heads. Keaton immediately became fearful of the tall, burley man to whom he would be attached for many years. He gulped and nodded with the rest.

Keaton was matched with Jason, who was also seven and about his size. The two batted at each other with the long end of their staffs when Sir George told them to begin. The big knight shook his head as he came over to the two youths.

“That’s not a lance! Here, give me that. It’s held like this.” Sir George grabbed the staff from Keaton and held it properly. He swung it at Jason, who was pushed back onto his bottom when the strike caught him off guard. Everyone laughed as he lay on the ground. “Enough!” Sir George hollered. “Back to work!” The group complied.

Soon, everyone had gained a rudimentary skill with the staffs. Martin and Rhoslyn had both used them before and set out to knock the other off their feet. Martin swung hard but found that Rhoslyn could keep up with every move, successfully blocking him for the most part. Martin caught her on the leg with one swing and almost knocked her down, but Rhoslyn shook it off, coming back with force. The two kept it up until Sir George called them all back to their line.

He nodded at the two, “Nice work. Need a lot more practice and your swings were sloppy. Clean it up and you might make decent soldiers yet.” Sir George would always follow his infrequent praises with advice on how to improve. That was his way.

Martin brushed away his sweaty hair as he glowered at Rhoslyn who smiled sweetly as she tossed her thick, dark braid back over her shoulder. She knew he would seek revenge, but she would be ready for him. Teach you to think a woman weak. Ha!

The constant work and torrent of sore muscles and bruises became commonplace over the next few months. Each practice found Keaton improving and he found an affinity for both the quarterstaff and sword he would discover. When Sir George was asked by Lord Lancaster how the training progressed, he would respond that Keaton showed the most promise of all.

“His ability to keep his cool while fighting and watching around him for other happenings will give him great skill on the battlefield. He will make a fine leader someday.” Sir George observed. “Martin, on the other hand, gets angry too quickly, which causes him to be too reckless with his swings. If I can slow that hot temper, he will do well, but not as well as his brother.”

Sir Cedric took this all into consideration as he listened. He had felt the same when he had watched the pages without them realizing it. He was not impressed with Martin and thought that the first-born would lose his lands should Sir Edwin pass. His impulsivity and brashness would not endear him to his men.


Chapter 3

One free day after getting their early morning work done, the pages and stable boys found themselves down at the river, where boisterous falls led to a deep bluish-green pool. The swimming was excellent, and a large tree overlooked the water so that a rope tied to a high branch would allow them to swing out and jump into the depths of the pool. This would keep them occupied for most of the day. From time to time, the group would lay on the banks and let the warm sun bake them until they were hot enough to go jumping in again.

Roselyn was walking the same day along the banks when she heard their laughter and sneaked quietly up on the boys as they took turns swinging from the branch. Each splash caused her to turn green with envy at the fun they were having. She finally couldn’t bear to watch and swung around the base of the tree she was hiding behind.

“What’s going on here?” she asked loudly as if they were in trouble.

Martin spoke up for the group in his usual scornful tone. “Isn’t it obvious? We’re swimming. We’re doing nothing wrong, so just move along. You wouldn’t join us anyway. You’re too afraid to jump from the rope.” Martin laughed loudly, the others joining in as they thought that was true.

Rhoslyn crossed her arms. “Really? You think I’m scared of a little tree? I bet I can do it. I probably swim better than any of you. Ask Cleave. He’ll tell you.”

All the boys turned to Cleave for a response. Cleave looked at them, knowing she was right, but not wanting to irritate his friends, either. One of the other pages, Mark, rescued him.

“Let’s see what she’s got first,” he replied, figuring if she was as good a swimmer as she was with the quarterstaff or sword, she was going to be just fine.

In the meantime, Rhoslyn was already taking off her dress and stripping down to her undergarments. She sauntered over to the rope where Martin held it in challenge and grabbed it from him. She walked back as far as the rope allowed, then ran toward the water. She swung out over the pool with a loud whoop and let go, splashing all the boys with water. Everyone laughed as they wiped off the water. Martin muttered to himself.

Cleave heard him. “What’s that you say, Martin?”

Martin grumbled back, “I guess she can swim.”

Keaton piped in. “Yeah, she’s pretty good for a girl, huh, Martin?”

They all laughed again and jumped into the water to congratulate Rhoslyn. Martin sat on the bank glowering at them for a few minutes, then grabbed his clothes and left.

Keaton watched him go. He will never have anyone care about him the way he acts. I will, but only because I am his brother and I must love him. I sure don’t like how he acts, though, he thought.

I don’t think I have ever met someone as proud of himself as Martin is. He isn’t special; he’s just like the rest of us. He will be so lonely as he gets older. Even Father is not as gruff, and he can be a bear sometimes, but he still has a heart. I feel sorry for him. Rhoslyn shook off her thoughts and swam over to push water in Keaton’s face, and the fight began.


Chapter 4

Several years passed and the pages soon became squires. They were each given a real horse of their own, so they could learn to perfect the swinging quintain or dodge the sandbags set in an obstacle course. They worked long hours, still practicing with weapons and running, fighting with their hands as well. Sir George had erected walls where they learned siege skills, and how to launch a siege weapon.

Rhoslyn and Keaton had become great friends, working on their weapons skills after everyone else had stopped for the day and the yard was empty. At sixteen, Keaton had begun growing into a fine young man, with a tight, muscular body and a height of well over six feet. His reach was massive, and he could not be bested by the other squires. Rhoslyn was developing as well, tall and willowy just like her mother, but a core of steel underneath that feminine body. She could beat all the squires but Keaton, and that rankled her. She would practice in her room at night, having appropriated one of the practice swords to keep at her disposal. It didn’t help her defeat Keaton, but she would never stop trying. However, at the quarterstaff she had no equal, and it pleased her when Keaton would fall to the ground after she had feinted a move and he had fallen for it, allowing her to hit him instead.

Katie did her best to instill some womanly qualities in Rhoslyn, but she despaired at ever changing her into a proper lady of the Keep. Rhoslyn hated to embroider, hated to plan meals, refused to worry about decorating the place, and would sneak out whenever she could to roam and explore on horseback or work out with the squires.

Sir Cedric finally did have to put his foot down. He chose to speak to Rhoslyn one morning at breakfast. Cedric smiled as he looked at the young woman eating. She has become her mother as I remember her just before we married. So beautiful, so willful. Bent on having her way whether that was being a lady or no. What wild rides we would have through the woods! Then a swim in the cool river waters. My beautiful Cate, how I miss your arms and soft kisses, your sparkling laughter over some silly thing that amused you. Cedric cleared his throat. “Katie has brought it to my attention that you are having difficulty with your training, Rhoslyn. I require a woman of seventeen to assist me when I entertain or have visitors. It is imperative that you learn these duties, Rhoslyn, as befits a woman of your station. I can’t have you parading around, pretending to be a man nor dressing as one. Suitors will not look well upon that behavior, and I may never get rid of you.” He chuckled. “You may become an old hag, living off your father. That would not sit well with me.”

Rhoslyn laughed. “Father, I hate these things. And those women are completely useless. Their most interesting conversation centers around who will wed whom or what they will wear to the next party. Do they not understand what it takes to keep a castle safe, to feed their people? It is enough to drive me crazy. I broke another cup at Lady Winston’s tea the other day and had to leave the room before I laughed out loud. You should have seen their faces. You would have thought I had stabbed one of them in the gut,” she paused, “That actually would have felt better, now that I think upon it.”

Sir Cedric tried to keep his face composed. She’s right. Those doting women are enough to drive anyone to drink. “Yes, Rhoslyn, that maybe true, but you need to rein yourself in or I will do it for you. That sword you had in your room has been removed. You will plan our meals, entertain our guests, visit the sick and learn to care for your people. You will put all thoughts of this knighting aside. You are a grown woman and I expect you to act like one. Have I made myself clear?”

Rhoslyn had hung her head when she heard her father had taken the practice sword, but knew she could not charm him out of this decision. She looked at him and nodded her head, hoping that her eyes conveyed the frustration she felt by his announcement.

“Yes, Father, I understand. I will do my best.”

“Good. If you put half the effort there that you do in learning the quarterstaff, you will make fine headway.” Sir Cedric rose from the table. “I will be going on the hunt today. I hope to bring back a fat boar for the table. Do what is asked of you, Rhoslyn, so I don’t have to give you these despicable talks.” He kissed her on top of the head as he left, knowing full well that she would head out to the sparring yard as soon as he was on his way. He smiled to himself.

Keaton had worked up a sweat and it was only an hour past sunrise. He had taken off his shirt due to the heat and worked his sword around him as he had been taught, each move firm and sure, his muscles moving in tune to every sweep of the weapon. He lost himself in the motions, not realizing that Mark had brought his horse over to the grounds when he heard the horses’ hooves

“Get your shirt back on and stop trying to woo the serving girls with those muscles. Lord Cedric is almost ready to leave for the hunt. I brought your lance out as well. Let’s go or Sir George will have our heads and I have already run the track more this week that I wish to.”

Keaton wiped the sweat off his face with his shirt, then put it on. He mounted his piebald steed, Ranger, and the two rode over to the others who were waiting on the Lord of the keep. Once Sir Cedric had mounted, they headed toward the woods at a leisurely pace, slow enough that the two young men could talk.

“So, have you talked to Rhoslyn recently?” Mark asked.

“Yes, why?” Keaton replied. He tipped his head. “Where are you going with this?”

“Oh, just heard that she broke a cup at Lady Winston’s tea and had to leave the room. Katie was telling Bessie who told me.”

“You are worse than a woman, Mark. What a gossip. And who cares? Rhoslyn will be Rhoslyn, you can’t change that. She’s more at home in the sparring yard than the hall. Everyone knows that.”

Mark smiled. “Well, she is certainly not like my Bessie. A fine specimen, that girl.”

Keaton shook his head. “You are horrible, Mark. And I don’t want to hear about Bessie and you.”

“Why?” Mark asked. “Are you afraid of women? Thinking about taking a vow of celibacy and joining the Knights Templar? Why would you want to do that when there are all these women happy to be noticed by a knight?”

“No, I’m not going to join that noble group. I want to wait until the right woman comes along, then I can feel good about waiting.”

Mark kicked his horse to catch up with the other squires ahead of them. “I think you already found her, you’re just too thick-headed to realize it,” he threw over his shoulder as he moved up.

Keaton shook his head, knowing who Mark was referring to. He wasn’t ready to entertain those thoughts just yet. He was certainly sure that she was not ready either, or so he thought.


Chapter 5

Rhoslyn talked with Cook about what to have with the chickens that night. She tried to act enthused, but her heart wasn’t in it. Cook knew she was not happy and suggested the menu items so that Rhoslyn would get out of her kitchen and stop causing everyone around her to be sad as well. Their conversation ended and Rhoslyn smiled her thanks, then stole a fresh roll as she left. Cook shook her head and smiled at the young woman’s dilemma.

Rhoslyn knew she should be heading out to the village to check on the progress of her two womenfolk that were pregnant. The one had been having birth pains, but it was too soon. The midwife had told her to stay in bed to keep the baby in her belly for as long as possible. Rhoslyn needed to take down some food and check on her. She went to the cold cellar and pulled out a ham, some root vegetables and got two loaves of fresh bread from Cook. Cleave saddled her horse for her and she rode off to the village. She looked up Goody Smith, the midwife, and they went together to visit. Helping the villagers did show Rhoslyn how much she needed to do for her people and it gave her deep pleasure to see to their needs. Her father cared for his vassals well, seeing that there was adequate shelter for them that would withstand the winters. The Lord and now Lady Rhoslyn also knew that doing so would provide able men to protect those lands as well as work the fields for a harvest big enough to feed everyone.

Rhoslyn went about her duties. The villagers that weren’t out in the fields smiled and nodded as she passed, knowing that she truly cared about each and every one of them just as her mother before her. One of the babies had been born during the night, a girl whom her mother had named Catherine, and she wondered at the beauty of the world as she held the tiny infant in her arms. Her obligations completed, Rhoslyn headed out of the village down a path that led into the woods where the men had gone to hunt. Her horse meandered along, and she was lost in thought as she traveled the path.

Loud voices interrupted her musings and she looked around to see where the noise was coming from. Ahead on the path were the men from the keep. Two of them were supporting a make-shift stretcher, upon which an injured man lay gasping for breath. She moved off the path to allow them to pass. Rhoslyn cried out and put her hand to her mouth as she realized who it was.

“Father!” She waved the men on. “Please hurry! I will follow you to the keep.”

Keaton came up beside her as she spoke. “What happened, Keaton? He looks awful.”

“Yes, it is a deep wound. Sir Cedric left his horse to spear the boar we had trapped. It was weaving back and forth, trying to decide where to go. Your father moved the wrong way and the boar charged. I was able to get my lance in the beast and kill it, but not before your father was speared by a tusk. He will be fine, Sir George promises, but will take some time to recuperate. I am sorry. I did my best as did the other men, but he was still injured. He rushes ahead, when we would be more than happy to complete the kill. I don’t like to see anyone hurt, much less the Lord of the keep. Come, I will ride back with you.”

Keaton turned both horses back onto the trail and they followed the small caravan back to the castle, neither one speaking, each lost in their own thoughts.

Sir Cedric was able to recover, but he never fully came back to where he was before the accident. His side caused him pain from time to time. Rhoslyn could see it when he moved just right or tried to get up too quickly. Pain would flash across his face, though he brushed it off as inconsequential.

The men could see it as well when they hunted or sparred while he watched. He usually was enthusiastically engaged in both activities and loved to spar with the men as they worked out. He did none of that anymore, staying to the side as the other men completed their job. He did cast a spear or shoot an arrow at times, but his accuracy was damaged from the effects of the accident. No one commented on it, at least in public, and Sir George made sure there was compensation for his new lack of skill. Sir Cedric knew he was not the man he once was. He allowed them to carry on, but he was deeply saddened by his loss of his abilities.

Life moved on despite the changes in the castle. Rhoslyn took to her duties as was expected of her. She did become more comfortable and the staff saw that she really tried, helping pick up the slack when she forgot details. She made her rounds in the village. The common folks began to love her more as she gave of herself. She learned all their names and could call out to them as she moved down the lanes. Katie was pleased as well and provided good reports to Sir Cedric as he asked.

Rhoslyn found less time to spar with Keaton in the evenings. Her duties and his forages to the outer borders of the holdings to help put down marauders and in-fighting kept them apart more and more. When they did manage to work out, they spent time afterward talking about the land and the people and their dreams. One such night, the moon shone brightly down on them as they took huge drinks from the well after a particularly strenuous sparring match.

“Oh, that water tastes so delicious,” Rhoslyn commented as she wiped the excess from her mouth. “I am sorely parched, but you did do a fairly good job out there. You have improved with the staff. You almost got me once or twice.” She laughed loudly as he spit out his water.

“What do you mean, almost? I nailed you squarely at least half a dozen times.”

“Yes, you did. But I put you on the ground that many or more.” She batted her eyes innocently.

He thought for a minute as he drank more water. “You may be right. I have to think about it a bit more.” He would never admit defeat even when it was clear he had been bested by her.

Rhoslyn walked up to him and poked him in the chest with her finger. “You. Know. I. Am. Good.” Her finger jabbed him with each word. “Now, admit it, or I shall have to take after you again.”

Keaton was forming a comment when he stopped to really look at her. Her eyes sparkled as she teased him, her mouth curved in a small smile. The way her hair shone in the moonlight almost took his breath away. He could feel her breathing softly in his face as he looked down at her.

Despite himself, Keaton reached out to her and ran his thumb down her face from her eye to the bottom of her chin. Rhoslyn gasped softly. That small catch in her breathing took Keaton over. He lifted her chin slightly and placed a soft experimental kiss on her lips. He pulled back a tad to judge her reaction. Her head still was tipped back, her eyes closed, dark lashes laying on her cheeks, lips slightly opened. He moved his arms around her tiny waist, feeling her body lean into him. This kiss was deeper and longer, the two melting into each other’s arms. Time had no meaning until they finally separated and came back to reality.

Keaton smiled mischievously. “I wondered what that might feel like. I liked it very much.”

Rhoslyn stared into his eyes. “Yes, that was quite pleasant,” she said dreamily.

The two were jarred by the gravelly voice behind them. “And if you two don’t stop gawking at each other and get back to your own quarters, Sir Cedric will have my head, and most likely both of yours. Go on, both of you!”

His voice spurred them into action and they dashed away, not even saying good night to each other as they left. George had to laugh to himself as he saw them scamper off. He would never stop them from seeing each other, nor would he tattle on them as he had seen the look in their eyes and knew that the two were destined to be together. Even an old warrior could think of love once and a while.


Chapter 6

Time passed too quickly, and the event Keaton had been working for the last ten years was about to transpire. He would be knighted within the week.

Rhoslyn and he were sparring as usual in the yard, this time with swords. Keaton had the best of it with his long arms but was definitely at a disadvantage due to Rhoslyn’s shorter stature. She had slid underneath him to slash at his calf. He rounded and cut down at her, but she was already on her feet in a stance ready to go at it again. Keaton just dropped his sword toward the ground and held up a hand.

“Enough! I could drink a pond and we need to break anyway.” He put his hands on his knees to take a deep breath.

Rhoslyn pointed her sword down as well. She was short-of -breath as well, but would not let him know it.

“What? Are you going to do that in the midst of a battle? ‘Excuse me, I need a break. Could we stop for a minute?’” She had her hand draped theatrically over her forehead.

“That won’t do. I have already been to battle and have never been known to stop and ask for a break. You fight until it’s done, or you are done in. It’s the Knight’s way.” Keaton looked angry for a moment, his forehead wrinkled, and his mouth turned down.

“Well, aren’t we testy? I meant that only as a joke. I know how hard you work. I have ears and eyes. I know about everyone who crosses into this keep; how well they fight and how well they look out for each other. My father keeps very close attention to his men. It is the Lord’s way.” Rhoslyn looked every bit the Lady of the Keep, her chin elevated slightly and a sharpness to her voice as she finished her little speech. “Anyway, how does it feel to be so close to knighthood?” she asked as she walked toward the well for water. “There is an air of excitement about the place. Cook is frantic with the preparations for the meals and has asked me countless questions about this and that. I just told her to do her best, as she knows more that I what needs to be done. I hate being tied to the Keep. I wish I could be out with the men, fighting the robbers and the traitors that would take from our people.”

“That is why there are knights. Then, the ladies don’t have to worry about such things unless the keep itself is in danger. We protect both the people and the land against bigger threats, which allows everyone to do what they do best. It is the best way for everyone involved.”

Both stood in silence for a minute, sipping water and lost in their thoughts.

“I can’t wait for two more days for the ceremony.” Keaton set down the cup. “I will complete my fast and vigil, and then become a Knight of the Realm, Lord Lancaster’s vassal and protector. Sir George will not disclose where each of us will serve. We only hope to be one of his personal guard, but that is only one position of many. Several of us will have to go to the borders, as the Yorks are starting to rear their ugly heads again. I have no idea where I will be this time next week.”

Rhoslyn reached up to touch Keaton’s cheek. “You will be a fine knight, Sir Keaton.” Her bright eyes smiled at him. “I only wish you here as well, but no one knows Father’s mind. I will miss you terribly and our little matches in this yard if you must go. Just know that I want you to stay safe and come back to us in one piece.”

Keaton slipped his arms around her waist and draw her close. “Oh, lovely Rhoslyn, I shall miss the smell of lavender in your hair and the way your eyes shine blue like the deepest lake.” He leaned down and met her lips with his, a slow, deep kiss that caused both of their hearts to beat faster. Keaton drew away first.

“I will always remember your kiss and how you feel in my arms,” Keaton said fondly.

“And I yours, as well.” Rhoslyn’s eyes began to water so she ducked her head, digging into her pocket. Her hand brought out an embroidered square. “Keaton, I embroidered this for you to carry as a keepsake to remember me by. Keep it close and think fondly of the good times we had sparring and growing up. I hope it keeps you safe.”

Keaton took the cloth gently in his hands, fingering the flowers sewn there. “I shall treasure it and the memories. But, I have not left yet. Why give it now?”

Rhoslyn smiled. “I do not want anyone to know much of our relationship. It might give others the wrong impression and cause both of us much grief. I would wish to avoid that for both our sakes.”

“Yes, I suppose you are right. It bothers me that you and I are not of the same station and cannot let our feelings show. It pains me to be so close and not be able to be true to my heart.”

“Yes, it hurts me also. But unless you owned land, my father would never allow such a union. I will be married to someone who can give the Lancaster name prestige and power. Never mind my heart. It is my lot in life, unless Father passes first, and I become Lady of the House. That would allow me to choose whom I wished as head of the family. It is too complicated and also saddens me to think that I might lose my father to obtain my heart’s desire.”

Keaton took her hands in his. “We will deal with that after the knighting.” He looked down at their hands locked together. “In the meantime, know that my heart is yours. There will be no other. This I promise you, Rhoslyn. You are my love and I will never consider another, if there is no way that we cannot be together.” He kissed her deeply again.

They broke apart to the sound of clapping behind them. Martin stood there, clapping his hands loudly and crooning, “Oh, my dear Rhoslyn, I shall miss you terribly!” He dropped his hands to his sides. “You two make me sick with all this mooning and sighing. You, Keaton, will never be good enough and Lady Rhoslyn is only leading you on. She probably secretly hopes you die in battle. Then she won’t have to look at your sorry face and pretend to mourn your death. The royalty never puts up with us commoners. We are too simple for their high tastes, and the sooner you realize this, the better off you will be.”

Keaton began to lunge toward Martin. Rhoslyn grabbed his arm and shook her head. “Do not speak ill of Lady Rhoslyn or…”

“Or what, Keaton? You can’t best me. I am the greatest of us and as first-born more likely to marry into greater stature than you will ever find as the second child. I will have the holdings. I will expand our lands to as big or greater than Lancaster’s. You will see, little brother.” Martin walked away from the yard, whistling to himself with pleasure.

“Just ignore him, Keaton. He is all mouth and no fire. He can’t even best you in the sparring ring. You know he does this to get you upset. He would like nothing better than to get you on Sir George’s bad side. He’s not worth it.”

Keaton’s fists clenched and unclenched at his sides as he tried to gain some semblance of composure. “You are right. He has always known how to get me fired up. I still let him, even though I know that he is not worth my time. It will not be soon enough to get assignments. I would like to be further than closer to my brother.”


Chapter 7

The next twenty-four hours found Keaton preparing to be knighted. After taking a cleansing bath with herbs added to the water the next night, he dressed in his white robe and made his way to the chapel in the Keep along with the other five squires to be knighted. He spent the night in vigil on the floor of the chapel, kneeling before the altar, candles lit to light his spirit’s path to the seat of God for his blessings.

In the morning, Keaton and the others were given red robes to cover their white shifts. A church ceremony then followed with blessings from the priest to defend the weak, the oppressed, be courteous, and above all, give women his especial care.

On the way to the public ceremony, the boys saw Rhoslyn on the top of the battlements, waving a flag alongside many of the other young women to cheer the new knights on their way to be fully knighted. Her smile was dazzling and they all waved back at her.

She is the most beautiful one standing there, Keaton thought as he waved back. My heart almost bursts with the sight of her. I will be sent far from here and may not return for years. I pray that she will wait for me, but I know it is too much to ask.

The final and most important part of the ceremony was to begin as soon as the young men were escorted to the platform built next to the stairs of the Keep. Each man’s sword and scabbard had been blessed by the priest and set in a row at the edge of the platform. As each was called, they knelt in front of Lord Lancaster to be knighted officially. When it came Keaton’s turn, he found that he was not nervous at all, but strode up and knelt, swore his life and service to both the Lord and his King as Lord Lancaster picked up Keaton’s sword, tapped his shoulder, and said the words that pronounced him a Knight of the kingdom. He stood, and his sword was fastened around his waist and spurs were placed on his feet.

The knights were then presented to the crowd in a blaze of music and fanfare. Once that was done, everyone congratulated the men with cheers and much clapping of backs. The tables in the hall were heavy with food and drink flowed freely for the rest of the day as Lord Lancaster was very liberal with the wine and ale.

The party went into the night. Everyone sang songs, danced and told stories. Sir Cedric watched as his daughter and Keaton danced by the light of the fires. He was not so old that he did not see the look of love that passed between the two as they danced. He could see the way their bodies swayed as one to the music. He was not happy with what he saw.

A tournament was held the next three days for the new knights to show off their skills. There was sword fights, melees, and jousting.

As each man came forward before the games to bow to Sir Cedric, they would also look longingly at Lady Rhoslyn for a favor to take to the lists to show that she favored their expertise. She smiled and nodded at each man as he bowed, but when Keaton came down the line, she pulled a yellow scarf from her sleeve and tossed it to him, declaring him her champion. Neither her father nor the older knights were very happy with this, but the crowds roared for the lady and her knight.

Keaton proved that his rise to knighthood was warranted by winning both the sword play and the jousting. As Rhoslyn gave each man their award, she smiled sweetly and nodded her head when they bowed. Her award to Keaton was not only the small gold horse, but she reached up and gave him a kiss in front of everyone. The crowd cheered wildly at the show of affection, but Sir Cedric frowned and looked down at the ground. I will need to send the boy away from here to keep Rhoslyn from making a grave mistake. I can tell it has almost gone too far as it is.


Chapter 8

The days flew by. Keaton spent early mornings in the chapel praying as was his duty. He would see Rhoslyn there as well. Sometimes they would walk the path back to the Keep together and talk about simple things, but never about their feelings or how soon Keaton would be asked to leave the Keep for the duties he had sworn to.

Rhoslyn took two long rides in the afternoons, where she could get away from the sounds of the men sparring. She tried her hardest to keep away from Keaton, but her heart drove her to the yard to watch under the shade of a large Yew tree despite herself.

One such day, her musings were broken by the sound of someone clearing their throat. Rhoslyn pinched her eyes shut quickly before she turned around. She knew that sound anywhere. It was her father.

“Some fresh air does a mind good, eh, Daughter? I thought of some time in the air for myself. I must gather the men for a forage out to the western posts. It appears that the Yorks are rearing their ugly heads again. We must stop them at the borders, or they will take our lands. Time is of the essence here.”

Rhoslyn answered, “I would go with you, Father. I can tend to the men if they have injuries and can keep an eye on you. You overdo at times, and I worry you will do that while in the field.”

“I am a man full-grown, and can take care of myself, I’ll have you know. Besides, I need you here to see to the estate and the people. That is your place now. The men are battle-trained and can tend to themselves if need be. I will brook no argument in this, child. You will stay. Now, excuse me as I go talk to the men.” Cedric marched away toward the men in the yard. Rhoslyn watched him go, worried that the traveling and fighting might be too much for the old man. She also thought of a young man for whom her worry was just as troublesome. She stayed to listen as her father spoke.

The men stopped and bowed to their liege lord as he strode toward them. The look on his face told them what was happening before he even opened his mouth. The young men braced themselves; the older knights stood tall, ready to serve. As Sir Cedric began to explain what was happening, Rhoslyn looked over at Keaton. She saw sorrow in his eyes and had to look away before she started to cry.

After supper, Rhoslyn donned her pants and tunic, heading out to the sparring yard for some exercise in the moonlight. She needed to burn off energy, anger filling her with restlessness and foreboding. Grabbing a practice sword, she fell into the smooth rhythm of the movement. The tension left her body and she began to move more quickly.

“Would you like a sparring partner, Rhoslyn?” Keaton’s deep voice startled her out of her meditation.

Continuing her forms, she replied. “If you think you require a beating tonight, come forward,” she taunted.

His laugh boomed across the yard as he reached for a sword of his own. Swinging it loosely around several times, he approached the woman and faced her, falling into a resting stance of his own.

The two began, the clacking of wood against wood the only sound in the area. Each fought for dominance, but they were evenly matched. At one point, Keaton put Rhoslyn on the ground, but she sprang up and beat him back. This went on for several minutes until both were sweating and panting with the effort. They looked at each other, their swords locked at the hilts.

Her chest heaving, Rhoslyn gasped out, “You know that I could do this forever, right?”

Keaton shook his head, droplets of sweat swinging away from his hair. “Are you trying to tell me you want to stop?” He swept her sword away with a sharp clang, lunging at her again.

“No,” she croaked as she fought back, “but I would go for a cool drink of water when I have beaten you down.”

Keaton answered, “Well, why didn’t you say so?” He went low and swung his legs around, dropping Rhoslyn on her butt. “Hmm, looks like a good time for a break.” He smiled and reached his hand down to help her up. She took it, pulling as hard as she could and dragged him down beside her, laughing as he fell. The laughter was replaced with heavy breathing as they looked at each other. Keaton couldn’t stop his feelings when he was this close to her. Rhoslyn’s sweet perfume permeated his senses and he grabbed her around the waist, kissing her passionately in the dark night.

Rhoslyn pushed him away. “We cannot do this. You must leave, and I cannot go with you. Father forbids me to travel to the posts with the men. I will miss you worse if we become close again.”

Keaton ran his hands through his wet hair as he stood. “I don’t know what you want from me, Rhoslyn. You ask me to be your champion at the tournament, kiss me in front of everyone there, but now tell me to stay away from you. I cannot do this. Make up your mind, but don’t tease me. You knew from the beginning that I had to fight for my liege. This has not been a sudden surprise. It is unfair to us both for you to play at this game.” He turned and walked away from her, slamming his wooden sword into the stands as he crossed the yard on his way back to the barracks.

Rhoslyn sat there in the dark night, tears silently running down her cheeks.


Chapter 9

Sir Cedric began plans for the borders the next morning. Once supplies and men were gathered, the troops headed out of the Keep to go squash the York rebellion once again.

The villagers and castle servants stood on the roads as they rode past, faces grim, mothers with tears as they watched their men go off, knowing that some may never return. Rhoslyn came out of one of the cottages to watch the procession. She saw the boys she had played and sparred with, now grown and knighted. She saw Keaton, his face staring straight ahead as he passed, blank with no expression. I hoped that he would at least say good-bye. I see that I have hurt him terribly. And I may never be able to tell him how I really feel again. Godspeed, my love. I will pray for you daily until you come back to me.

Keaton saw Rhoslyn out of the corner of his eyes as he rode past her on Ranger. He sighed to himself but willed his eyes forward. I must not let her see any weakness. She will never see my true feelings for her ever again. We must go our own ways; she to her responsibilities, and I to my duties. It is the way of our people. I was a fool to think that it did not matter. Father was right. I need to remember to keep my heart hidden.

Sir Edwin and a few more men caught up with the riders the next day. Martin and Keaton were both glad to see their father, but that sense of foreboding that Keaton had had as a seven-year-old came back to him. He vowed silently that he would do all in his power to see his father came home again.


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