Next from award-winning Kathleen Givens . . .
A novel of murder - and love - in the 13th century.
A Scottish knight. An English rose. A queen in danger. A conspiracy to topple a king . . .
Kathleen will also have short story in the MAMMOTH BOOK OF IRISH ROMANCES called "Daughter of the Sea".
Enjoy a sneak peek into Kathleen's next novel . . .
On the banks of the River Thames
It was the sudden movement that drew his attention.
Aiden MacDonald stood with a few dozen others, waiting to cross the river until the barge had passed. The day was warm even for summer, the sun so bright overhead that he had to shield his eyes from the glare off the muddy waters of the Thames. Some around him were annoyed at the delay, but a few moments, or hours, for that matter, made no difference to him. For the first time in many years, his time was his own.
He shifted his weight, glancing at his warhorse behind him, then turning back to the river to watch the women pass by. Their gowns were colorful, their hair shining in the sun, or covered with bright wimples decorated with things that sparkled. Gems, no doubt, for these were among the most wealthy women in the land. A handful of men were placed around the barge, keeping a watchful eye on those on the bank. He paid them no mind, for there, one away from the railing, was a beautiful dark-haired lass. Looking right at him.
He smiled, thinking that if he was to be delayed, he could think of no finer way to pass the time than to watch a lovely woman. She shielded her eyes, still looking at him, then shyly smiled. He grinned. It was a fine day. She glanced away, then back. And then smiled again. For a moment the rest of the world faded from view and all he saw was her.
When her gaze shifted, Aiden turned to see what had caught her attention. And saw the archer. The man, not fifteen feet from him on the riverbank, would easily be overlooked in a crowd. Medium height. Medium weight. Medium brown hair. Dressed in the simple clothing of a peasant, his drab woven clothing forgettable. There was nothing to distinguish him.
Except for the longbow that he now raised. And aimed at the women in the barge.
Aiden did not think about what he did next. He dropped the reins of his horse, and reached for his sword, moving toward the archer. Dimly he heard women screaming, both on the barge and on the far shore, where many more watched the barge’s progress. He took one step, then two, but was not close enough. There were more screams now, shouts of alarm from all around him, and men moving, but he ignored all of it.
The archer pulled the string back, sighting with one eye. And let his arrow fly, hitting the woman at the railing, next to the dark-haired lass. The woman slumped forward, caught by the lass he’d been watching, her unbound hair catching the sun as she cradled the injured woman. None of the other women came to her aid, but screamed and fluttered like anxious birds around her.
In the center of the barge, two of the guards leaned over a crouching woman, protecting her with their shields as they ineffectively waved their swords in the air. But between the shields was a space wide enough for a well-placed arrow to find its target.
The archer raised his bow again.
Aiden leapt forward with a roar, his outstretched sword finding the archer’s arm, knocking the bow to the ground, part of the man with it. The man whirled to face Aiden, his eyes wild. Aiden struck again, wounding the man in the thigh as he moved closer.
The archer reached for his knife. Aiden tossed his sword aside and grabbed the man by his tunic, thinking he would throw the man to the ground. Instead of falling, the archer attached himself to Aiden like a leech. They struggled, wrestling now with desperate energy, the archer biting and kicking, ignoring the blood streaming from his wounds.
They fell, clasping each other, the archer’s hands like claws. Aiden hit the ground first, the archer heavy on top of him as they rolled down the river bank. Before the muddy waters closed over his head, Aiden took a gulp of air and reached for the dagger at his belt.
The archer dug his fingers into Aiden’s eyes. Aiden reared back, thrusting the archer deeper in the water. Holding the man beneath him, feeling the weight of his chain mail pulling them both down to the depths. Aiden struck with his dagger. And again. And again, determined to end this.
Which he did.
He broke the surface of the water, still holding the man by his tunic, and took huge breaths, his aching lungs finally filling again. The archer did not move, but hung limply in Aiden’s grip. Aiden felt hands pulling at him and let them take the archer from him.
He hung on the side of the barge, dizzy and exhausted. And looked into the tear-filled eyes of the dark-haired young woman, her fine clothes covered with blood from the injured woman still in her arms. Others gathered around her now, their expressions grave. The lass was murmuring gentle words to the dying woman. When, with a long sigh, the injured woman’s breathing stopped, the young woman let out a moan of despair.
Hands reached down for him, hauling him from the water and up on the barge. He did not fight them. Nor did he fight when they peeled his chain mail and then his clothing from him. They talked to him, but he heard none of it, just the sound of his own breathing, welcome after the last few moments, and the soft crying of the dark-haired young woman.
He looked up at last, to see all of the women staring at him, some with fear in their eyes, others with very different emotions, and realized he still had his dagger in his hand. He let it fall from his grip and stared down at it, seeing the inlaid silver of its handle coated with mud and blood. As was the body of the archer that the guards leaned over now. One guard straightened, holding something high, for all to see.
It was a chess piece, a pawn, intricately carved of ivory. Retrieved from the archer’s clothing, along with a leather pouch from which poured a stream of gold coins. Aiden reached for the chess piece and held it for a moment, turning it in his hand, and wondering.
He looked up then, into the eyes of the woman who had been shielded and saw there her acknowledgement that she had been the target. Eleanor of Castile met his gaze steadily.
He had just saved the life of the queen of England.
Copyright 2009 Kathleen Givens