Read The Bride Hunt Online

Authors: Margo Maguire

The Bride Hunt

M
ARGO
M
AGUIRE
The Bride Hunt

This book is dedicated to my son, Mike,
as he finishes his first semester at college.
A mom couldn’t be more proud.

Contents

Chapter 1

Anvrai d’Arques felt uneasy in spite of all the music…

Chapter 2

Anvrai did not waste his breath on curses.

Chapter 3

Though Anvrai’s wrists bled with the futile effort to get…

Chapter 4

Isabel hoped she did not smell as bad as Sir…

Chapter 5

’Twas nearly noon when Anvrai awakened. The rain had stopped,…

Chapter 6

Anvrai grabbed his sword and ran toward the sound of…

Chapter 7

Isabel felt warm and secure in her soft bower lined…

Chapter 8

Anvrai felt almost human again. Since he’d used the hermit’s…

Chapter 9

Isabel was certain Roger’s rudeness could only be due to…

Chapter 10

It did not take long for Anvrai to retrieve the…

Chapter 11

Anvrai’s reply did not bode well for the girl in…

Chapter 12

Roger took one bite of his biscuit and spewed it…

Chapter 13

“What do you mean?”

Chapter 14

Tillie looked up at Anvrai.

Chapter 15

The patch transformed his face, covering the worst of his…

Chapter 16

“Roger,” Anvrai said, “you’ll pull the cart until we reach…

Chapter 17

He glanced at her, clearly intending to say more, but…

Chapter 18

“Gesu!”

Chapter 19

Anvrai felt helpless. It was as bad—or even worse—than when…

Chapter 20

“You won’t hurt me, Anvrai.” She moved aside to make…

Chapter 21

Another day passed without Anvrai. Isabel dressed carefully for Queen…

Chapter 22

“Isabel, awaken.”

Chapter 23

Anvrai forced himself to stand as solid and still as…

Chapter 24

Isabel blew out a shaky breath, and her eyes filled…

Chapter 25

Anvrai encountered a very distraught Lord Henri as he left…

Castle Kettwyck, Northumberland
Late Summer, 1072

A
nvrai d’Arques felt uneasy in spite of all the music and merriment around him. The castle wall was yet unfinished, and Lord Kettwyck’s knights had recently done more to aid construction than train for defense. ’Twould be so easy for Scottish raiders to wreak havoc there, during the welcoming festivities for the lord’s two daughters, Isabel and Kathryn.

He turned from the balustrade overlooking the courtyard where Lady Isabel danced with her prospective suitors.

“Anvrai d’Arques!” called Sir Hugh Bourdet,
Lord Kettwyck’s most trusted retainer. The knight clasped Anvrai’s hand in greeting. “I’d heard you had come in Baron Osbern’s stead. ’Tis good to see you. Has it really been two years?”

“Aye, at least,” Anvrai replied tersely. He respected the older knight, but Anvrai was not one for idle conversation.

“To this day, you remain steadfast.” Hugh laughed. “You still do not command the king’s garrison at Winchester.”

Anvrai gritted his teeth. ’Twas a sore spot between him and King William. Of all the knights who might stay at court and enjoy the notoriety of being commander of all King William’s armies, Anvrai was least interested. He would have appreciated a small estate—a home—as his reward for his years of service, before
and
after Hastings.

Yet William would not reward the man who had defied him. And so Anvrai lived in Belmere’s barracks, in service to Baron Osbern d’Ivry, Lord of Belmere. ’Twas a source of ire, but there was naught to be done. Anvrai had proved to be as strong-willed as the king.

Anvrai gestured toward Kettwyck’s castle walls and spoke of his concern. “The fortifications are not yet complete, Sir Hugh. Does Lord Henri have no fear of raiding Scots?”

“None of the raids have come this far west,” Hugh replied, “though we’ve taken precautions. We have knights patrolling the perimeter of the walls…”

“You think they will deter a band of murderous Scots?” Anvrai had heard tales of vicious attacks on Norman knights. Of barbaric Scotsmen carrying away women and children to be sold and used as slaves. Better to have high walls
and
armed knights on patrol.

“Soon we will see an end to such raids. As we speak, King William’s herald makes his way across Northumberland, rallying the king’s vassals to battle.” Hugh glanced toward the celebrations below. “The king himself rides north to Scotland, gathering legions of knights as he goes.”

“’Twill be a dangerous venture, meeting King Malcolm on his own turf.”

“Perhaps, but there is no doubt William has the superior army. His herald arrived an hour ago and delivered the command for all his vassals to meet him at the mouth of the River Tees, where a host of Norman ships await him. He intends to have a formidable force at his bidding.”

“When?”

“By month’s end.”

Anvrai stepped back, his mind racing. As commander of Belmere’s knights, he would
need to return there immediately and marshal Belmere’s men.

Hugh placed a hand upon Anvrai’s arm. “Naught to be done until the morrow,” the elder knight remarked. “For now, there is dancing in the hall.”

Anvrai gave a slight shake of his head. “’Tis not for me.”

“I doubt Lord Osbern sent you here to pace the battlements, even if you must leave precipitously,” Hugh said with a rueful laugh. “You are a young man…a powerful knight…many a likely maid awaits your attentions.”

Anvrai ignored the barb, certain ’twas unintended. There wasn’t a knight in England or Normandy who had not seen, or at least heard of, Anvrai’s ugly visage, of his many scars and the empty socket where his eye once dwelled. Nary a young maid, neither comely nor plain, was wont to favor him; at least, not without generous remuneration. It had been a painful lesson, but he’d learned it well, years before.

Other men could gaze upon a fair maid, appreciating her beauty, dreaming of her touch…mayhap her kiss. When Anvrai did so, he was deemed an ogre.

No, he did not dance.

“Surely you will stay the night. ’Tis said
Lady Isabel will choose a bridegroom this eve,” Hugh said.

Anvrai relaxed his stance. Hugh was right. There was no point in leaving right away. He’d been ordered to come and represent Belmere, and he would do so. His armor was in storage while he attended the feast in honor of Kettwyck’s daughters, and he’d clothed himself in a finely embroidered linen tunic. He was as presentable as he would ever be.

“Aye. I’ll stay the night and for morning Mass, then be off. There will be much to do at Belmere to prepare for William’s campaign.”

“No doubt Lord Osbern has also received word of William’s intent and will begin to make ready.”

Anvrai agreed. Osbern would not delay preparations for battle. All would be ready when he returned to Belmere.

“Lady Isabel seems smitten,” Hugh remarked, turning Anvrai’s attention to the courtyard where the elder sister danced. “Mayhap she will choose Sir Roger for her husband. Or Etienne Taillebois. Both are worthy, well-connected young men.”

Anvrai shrugged. ’Twas said Lady Isabel would be allowed to choose her own spouse from the throng of noblemen her father had
assembled, and Anvrai counted himself lucky to have escaped Lord Kettwyck’s notice. He was no suitable husband for any woman—especially one as comely as Isabel. In any event, the actions of the great families of the realm meant naught to him. His interest was in King William’s imminent military campaign against the Scots. Though he had no intention of joining every one of the king’s battles, ’twas high time King William dealt with the barbarian Scottish raiders.

Turning his gaze toward the heavens, he assessed the sky and concluded ’twould remain clear upon the morrow for his ride toward Belmere. With luck, the weather would continue fair through the following day for his arrival home and his quick departure for the River Tees and King William’s army.

“Lady Isabel is a charming lass and will marry well,” Hugh mused. “Were you among those in the hall who heard her tale this morn?”

“Tale?” Aye, he’d seen her in the hall early in the day. She’d kept a throng of children and guests entertained with a story of a Greek hero Anvrai had never heard before. Isabel had changed the inflection of her voice for each character in her narrative, keeping all enthralled with every word she uttered.

Her dark hair had shimmered in the early-
morning light, her golden eyes flashing with merriment during the humorous parts of her tale. Even Anvrai had been spellbound by her words and her beauty, and he’d let the sweet timbre of her voice surround him until he could almost imagine she’d been speaking only to him. A burst of applause had shaken him loose of her captivating words and manner. ’Twas just as well. He was not one to waste time on such frivolity.

“Aye. The lady is a bard,” said Sir Hugh, “as inventive as any Celtic loremaster. She weaves such tales as I’ve never—”

Sudden, shrill screams overwhelmed the music and Sir Hugh’s voice. Anvrai unsheathed his sword and ran, silently lamenting his lack of hauberk and shield. “To the hall!” he called to Sir Hugh.

He descended the stone steps by twos and found himself confronted by five barbarian Scotsmen on the landing, wielding swords and axes. Without hesitation, Anvrai speared the first man while Sir Hugh did battle with the second. The three remaining warriors attacked as one, but Anvrai lifted a stout wooden bench and tossed it at them, knocking two out of his way while he quickly dispatched the third. When the other two recovered and lunged for him, Sir Hugh came to his aid. Together, they
finished off the Scotsmen and took the next staircase down toward the hall.

“How did they get in?” Anvrai asked.

“Must have been the south wall,” Hugh replied. “The only true weakness is there.”

Anvrai muttered a curse as they turned a corner and confronted two more warriors. ’Twas not only the wall that was weak. The keep and many of the outer buildings were unfinished. He and Hugh battled the two attackers, but Anvrai was acutely aware of the need to get down to the hall, where the barbarians were doing their worst damage, killing any who mounted a defense and carrying off those who would make likely slaves.

The two knights fought their way across the gallery and down to the great hall. There, they were separated by terrified women and children, and those too old to fight. Screams and confusion abounded.

“You must get to the courtyard,” Hugh shouted. “Isabel and Roger are unprotected!”

It meant Anvrai would have to fight his way through the throng in the hall, gathering as many knights as possible to swarm the courtyard. By the time he got there, the intruders might well have killed Roger and carried Isabel away.

The intruders were merciless, gaining the upper floor and shooting arrows down at the Norman knights who fought to defend the hall. Anvrai saw Sir Roger’s father fall but, as he was beleaguered from all sides, could do naught to help the man.

“The courtyard!” Hugh shouted over the din.

Anvrai gave one final, fatal thrust into the belly of his current attacker but was assailed from behind, catching the point of some barbarian’s blade in his shoulder, unprotected as it was. A sharp, searing pain pierced him, but he remained undeterred, swinging ’round to commence battle with this newest assailant as he backed his way toward the courtyard.

If he was delayed much longer, ’twould be too late. The Scots would surely capture as comely a prize as Isabel de St. Marie. He’d seen several women—mostly serving maids—carried off already. Anvrai managed to prevent the abduction of many more women, allowing them a chance to run for safety, but it was clear the Norman knights were vastly outnumbered and unprepared. Lord Kettwyck’s patrols had failed, and the guests within did not wear armor and were easily wounded. The Scots were winning the battle for Kettwyck, and withdrawing as they carried off anything of value. They set fires as
they retreated, adding to the confusion and panic in the hall.

Battered and bleeding, Anvrai tore himself from the fighting in the hall and made for the courtyard, joining battle with the remaining Scotsmen, who laughed and taunted the defeated Normans. Though their language was unintelligible, their meaning was clear as they proclaimed themselves victors and jeered at their Norman opponents.

The final insult was the firing of the stables, with many of the horses trapped within. The Scots had taken those that could be easily stolen, but the rest were left to burn.

There was no sign of Lady Isabel or Sir Roger. For one short instant, Anvrai considered the lady’s fair countenance and the damage that would be done her. ’Twas a fate no innocent woman should have to endure, whether comely or not, but Anvrai doubted he could do aught to prevent it. She was gone.

“They ride for the hills, Sir Knight!” cried one of the grooms. “The bastards set fire to the stables and ran off like the thieves and brigands they are!”

Anvrai wasted no time, but found himself a suitable steed and saddled it quickly as horses scattered away from the fire and grooms
threw water on the flames. He rallied twenty knights to join him, then led the party of men to the hills, where he would do all in his power to hunt down and rescue another man’s bride.

 

Isabel de St. Marie found herself thrown to the ground with no more decorum than a sack of grain. On hands and knees, she crawled toward Roger where he lay trussed like a game roast, on his back in a rough wain with the rest of their abductors’ ill-gotten goods. From the deepest regions of her imagination, she could not have crafted so savage a tale of killing and cruelty. The Scottish intruders had rushed her father’s courtyard from every direction, hacking and spearing all who opposed them. The sight of so much carnage took her breath away.

“Roger!” she cried, only to be jerked away by her hair.

When her assailant cuffed her with the back of his hand, Isabel felt her teeth loosen and her lip begin to swell. She swallowed and listened as the man barked some savage, foreign words at her. Shocked at her rough treatment, Isabel shrank away from her assailant and protected her head with her hands. Naught in her years at the Abbey de St. Marie had prepared her for this. These
Scots were likely to kill her if she gave them trouble. The muted sound of whimpering voices was all ’round her, but Isabel could see naught but a few frightened eyes in the darkness.

She was sure they mirrored her own.

Poor Roger had been badly abused. The plunderers had given him nary a chance to draw his sword before bashing his head and dragging him toward the castle wall. One of the raiders had thrown Isabel over his shoulder and carried her to a waiting horse, tossing her upon its back before fleeing into the hills.

She had not gone easily. Pounding her captor’s back and screaming herself hoarse, she’d fought desperately for her freedom, but to no avail. Without a care for her well-being, the brigands had ridden at breakneck speed for nearly an hour before halting in a small copse at the top of a rise north of her father’s hall. ’Twas there that they waited.

In the silence, Isabel could hear the hooves of horses pounding the paths below them. She opened her mouth to give warning, but one of the Scotsmen shoved her down to the ground and stuffed a filthy rag in her mouth. As he tied the gag in place and held her down, he spoke a few quiet words in her ear, his warm, moist breath making her shudder with revulsion. His body lay heavily upon hers, prevent
ing her from all movement, keeping her from even taking a deep breath, while the rest of his despicable companions waited in silence to ambush her rescuers.

Isabel could do naught.

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