Ria Cantrell - Celtic Storm 03

Knight Storm

 

by

Ria Cantrell

 

 

 

Other Books by Ria Cantrell

Celtic Fury (January, 2013)

Celtic Tempest (May, 2013)

Celtic Spirit (March, 2014)

Morag’s Tears (December, 2014)

Celtic Passage – Coming Soon

 

 

Knight Storm

Copyright © 2014 by Ria Cantrell

All rights reserved.

 

Ebook Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to your favorite ebook store and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. All names and events are the creation of the author and are of a fictional nature. Any similarities are purely coincidental.

 

Dedication

So many people have supported me in this journey. I dedicate this book to my husband Paul, who believes in me and helps me live my dream.

 

 

 

 

Knight Storm

 

 

 

*Prologue*

 

The young girl bolted awake from the horrible dream. She could still feel the dark, cold water filling her lungs with brine as she had dreamed of plunging ever deeper into the frigid depths of the sea; sinking further from the surface as the splinters of light grew dimmer. She was being pulled under with the ship.

Gasping for air, she clutched at the bedding, which had become entwined about her like the deadly fingers of seaweed had done in her dream. Her limbs still felt heavy with the weight and pull of her sodden garments, that were now dry upon waking but she struggled to free herself from the tangle of the sheets that were damp with her own sweat. “Mama? Papa?”

She cried out as the night terror failed to evaporate from her mind.  She scanned the room and tried to still the frantic thudding of her heart sensing the eerie shapes which hid in the shadows cast by the sliver of moonlight that breached the bedchamber.

She gulped air into her heaving lungs, desperately trying to put the horror of the dream behind her; desperately trying to breathe. Finally pulling the confining bed linens from her petite form, she scuttled from the bed and flung the door to her room open wide. It crashed on its hinges with a loud bang. She did not think about the sound causing anyone to wake.

She hurled herself into the dimly lit corridor and thought to find her brother. He would offer her comfort, she was certain. For some reason, she could not shake the dread and fear from her dream encounter. Running blindly, the dream images assailed her again. There was a terrifying storm upon the sea and the ship had been tossed like a cork in a vat. The staves of the vessel seemed to strain as the wind groaned against the salt-worn wood. The waves pounded against the hull and there was no way to protect it. Finally breaking through the aft side of the ship, the vessel seemed to break apart like twigs snapping from a tree. Water, as cold as ice, swallowed all the passengers within the ship, plunging them into the freezing depths below. She had felt herself being pulled with the force of the sinking ship, sucking her away from the surface. All the while, she was being cast ever downward to the fathomless pits of the sea. The dream had been so real, the girl could remember the feel and taste of the briny water as it burned the back of her throat and filled her nasal cavity. It filled her lungs and pooled in her belly. She had thought she was truly going to die, even in the illusion of the dream. She saw her parents trying to hold onto each other as they stretched grasping hands toward their child, but they were never able to get a hold of her. She tried to call for them, but she watched in horror as they slipped further away from her into the black abyss below. When she opened her mouth to scream, more of the dreadful seawater seemed to fill her lungs. Yes, she had thought, she was dying just as if it was not a dream. She was certain she would succumb, as her parents had before her. And just as she was sure the end was evident, she saw
him
. He was bright like an angel. Maybe he was one, she was not sure. Or maybe he was a creature of the sea, like she had read about in one of her books. His eyes were a vivid blue and despite the darkness pulling at her, she could see the hue of them. They were like the sky just after a snowfall; crisp azure with silvery edges. Blonde hair nearly as long as her own midnight black locks, floated around his handsome face. His hand grasped around her small wrist and he kicked his strong legs away from the sucking shipwreck. She heard him say, “Come with me. I’ve got you, you are safe now.”

A merman! Yes, that must be what he was, but as she watched him pulling her to the surface, she remembered mermen did not have legs. It was said they had tails like fish. This one had legs to be certain, for even in her dream, she could see the strength of his thighs as he propelled them further toward the surface. His hand was like a vice as it had tightened around her delicate child’s wrist. She did not want to go with him. She could not leave her parents to drown. She struggled briefly in the blond creature’s grasp but he gave her a stern look, which did not mar the beauty in his face and she ceased her struggle. As they breached the surface, she gulped cleansing breaths of salty air.

She woke, then. The man who had saved her was gone, but the dread remained. And then she knew.

Sobs wracked her tiny shoulders as she flung herself into her brother’s bed. Startled by the intrusion, Randall du Montefort let a few choice curses fly from his lips. It only took a moment to realize his precious little sister was wailing beside him most pitifully. Gathering her tenderly into his lap, he crooned, “There now,
mon chere
, did you have a bad dream?”

But the girl only cried harder. He hushed her and held her until the wrenching sobs quieted. Stroking down her tousled hair, he smoothed down her sleep-messed tresses.

“Shh, shh, now. T’was only a dream.”

She shook her head and let tears splash onto her brother’s shoulder. “N-nay,” she choked. “Nay, Randall, it was not. Mama and Papa are gone.”

“Nay, Sweeting, they are only away for a short time so Mama can get well. They will be back before you have had time to miss them.”

“No,” she insisted. “They have drowned. I saw them. I felt it. It was as if I was drowning, too. I tasted the water in my throat and nose. I felt the darkness pulling me to the bottom of the sea. They are gone, Randall…they are gone,” she cried, burying her tear-stained face into her brother’s neck. For the first time, Randall du Montefort knew what it meant to be afraid. His sister was not prone to hysterics. She was so much like his mother, who had fostered the Gifts of those who had gone before. Some called it the Sight and as sure as Randall’s mother had that gift, he had known for quite some time that his sister was granted the same. Cold dread filled his heart. He knew that Rhianna had not just had a random nightmare. No. She had born witness to the tragic passing of both their parents, he was certain.

When the missive came a few short weeks later, telling Randall he was the new lord of du Montefort Keep, it was less a shock because of Rhianna’s portent of warning. Still, it was a title he would have gladly never been granted. It was a title now earned from the passing of his father
along with his beloved mother, who had been lost at sea.

 

~Chapter One~

 

Rhianna du Montefort steeled herself against the chill as the cold wind buffeted her from her perch on the castle battlements. A storm was brewing; one that was not necessarily akin with the weather. She could feel it. She could always feel it. She hated storms. All the warnings she always felt when danger was afoot sounded the alarm deep in that place she had grown to know so well.
Witch
…She heard the talk that sometimes the town folk whispered behind her back.
Nay, I am a
Healer
….

When she helped the sick or injured, she was revered for her craft as a healer. More often than not, the villagers sought her out to aid them in their sufferings. They had grown to rely on her skill with the herbs and tinctures when some maladies besot them. Rhianna tried to turn a deaf ear to those who spoke out of spite or grief. Sometimes, all her skill with the herbs could not aid in an illness. Those were the times that people were prone to cast hurtful words and names she did not take to heart. At least, she told herself she did not take it to heart. For even though she knew that grief was the cause of their barbs, the words cut her as sure as any dagger could.

Long had she learned some of the Ancient Arts, which she supposed were fostered by the Celtic people of her mother’s homeland. From an early age, Rhianna could remember her mother, Ceridwyn, teaching her the important properties of plants and herbs. As Rhianna pulled her cloak tighter against the rising wind, her mind wandered to those precious lessons which now lived only as memories in her heart. Rhianna’s parents were both killed during a squall at sea. They had journeyed to the coast of Wales one last time because Rhianna’s mother had never gotten over her homesickness of the land of her birth. Her father loved her mother devotedly and when she had come down with the wasting sickness, he vowed to bring her home so she could heal and get well. Gregory du Montefort would do anything for the woman of his heart; even if it meant taking a perilous journey by ship during Martinmas, when seafaring was the most precarious. The tempest had come out of nowhere, it was said, and the ship was lost just outside of their destination.

Rhianna remembered waking in the dead of night, that night so long ago, feeling like she had been drowning. At that moment, she knew, even long before the missive came to report the devastating loss, that both her parents had perished with all the others on the ship.

Besides healing, Rhianna had the Sight. Her mother had told her it was a gift from her ancient heritage. At times like these, when the winds of change blew, Rhianna thought of it less as a gift and more a curse. She pondered it then, while standing upon the ramparts of the castle watch. Rhianna felt that dread and foreboding again this very night.

Rhianna’s brother Randall had been missing for three months now. He had left to do the king’s bidding and he had been called to fight in some needed campaign. There was always some needed campaign of some sort with this monarch, it seemed. King Edward was voracious in his quest for power. Rhianna kept herself far from the reaches of the king in her isolated and insulated demesne. Still, his grasp extended to her protected world all too recently as Randall was pressed into service for one of the king’s many misguided causes.

Randall was not dead!
Rhianna shouted that thought within her mind, else she would have felt the loss as sure as she had felt the loss of her beloved parents some fifteen years past. She had only been a girl of eight then, and so much had happened since that fateful day. Rhianna and Randall maintained the small keep and outlying village with the help of their father’s loyal serfs and soldiers. Randall had barely been a man when he had been thrust into the position of Lord of du Montefort holdings. Rhianna’s heart swelled with pride at the way he had risen to the task.
Hell, they both had!
While they both faced many challenges daily, somehow they maintained prosperity and peace within their lands and adjoining villages.

Yes, there were those who sought to take what was rightfully theirs, but Rhianna did not give in to such worrisome things. Instead, she set to the work of being Lady of the Keep and the Healer of her people.

As her eyes now scanned the darkening horizon, Rhianna murmured, “Where are you, my dear brother. I don’t know how much longer I can weather this storm without you.”

 

~~~~~

 

Andarra watched the young woman who was lost in thought. The girl had been her charge by rote since the Lord and Lady had perished all those years ago. Andarra had come from Scotland to marry an English knight and had remained within these walls ever since. She was proud of the woman the orphaned girl had become. Though Rhianna no longer needed her guidance, Andarra still hovered like a mother hen over the girl. She had inherited the care and guidance of the child as Chatelaine of the keep. At the time, it seemed like a daunting task, but as the years passed, she had grown to love the girl like a daughter of her own. She had never been blessed with a child, so the raising of Rhianna du Montefort filled that void in her heart.

The wind was kicking up. Andarra sensed a storm was only moments away. She had to get the girl inside but she knew better than to coax her when she was in one of her pensive moods. Still, mood or no, Andarra could not risk anything else to happen to this sole heir of the keep. Master Randall was missing. Perhaps, God forbid it, even dead. She could not have Rhianna come down with some illness because of her refusal to come in from a storm. Clearing her throat so as to not startle the woman lost to her musings, Andarra said, “Come inside, child. The weather is turning foul.”

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