Cover of Lord of Midnight
Old cover.

Second excerpt from the medieval romance,
Lord of Midnight

(The people of Summerbourne Manor had feared the worst when their gentle lord rode out to support rebels against the king. Their fears are proved when his body is brought home by the man who has been given all Lord Clarence's property. What's more, this Renald de Lisle comes under orders to marry one of Lord Clarence's womenfolk -- either his daughter Claire, or one of his younger twin sisters.)

Brother Nils, clerk to Renald de Lisle, new lord of Summerbourne, stood looking down on Summerbourne Manor, shivering in the drenching rain despite a good cloak. He felt true sympathy for the hostage ladies who were having to leave their home. He'd only been with Lord Renald for a few days, having been recommended to him by the king, but his first impression had been of a compassionate man. Cold, perhaps, but not cruel. Now this.

The people of Summerbourne had opened their gates without resistance. Why demand hostages, and gentle ladies at that? When he'd ventured a question, Lord Renald had merely said, "I'll have no more foolishness from this family. One death is enough."

Now, when the ladies' servants had to carry them through what was clearly a muddy mire, he tried again. "My lord, surely this is not necessary."

"Brother Nils," said the big man by his side, "you are neither my conscience, nor my tactical adviser. However, you can store in your memory that drainage work needs to be done here. And the ditch is so shallow it hardly needs a bridge. And the wooden walls need outward spikes at the top at least. Find the nearest source of stone for walls."

The man turned to him, though he could almost be a headless monster for all that could be seen under his hood. "You have all that?"

"Yes, my lord."

"I'm not going to harm them," he added, and a touch of humor warmed his voice. Nils had found there was humor in Lord Renald, like a gold thread running through dark granite.

"But you will leave them here with your men."

"You think my men will harm them?"

Nils didn't bother to answer, for it needed none. Lord Renald had built his troop around a core of men belonging to his friend FitzRoger of Cleeve. As he'd been the Lord of Cleeve's lieutenant for many years, these men knew him well. The rest were as new as Nils was, however. It had been... interesting to watch them being turned, in a matter of days, during a grueling storm-battered journey, into a household.

These men would do exactly as their lord wished, as he would himself, though for different reasons.

He returned to watching the servants carry the women through the small pond that had formed at the end of the bridge. Certainly, drainage was a priority, and Nils wondered at the previous lord who'd let such a matter go unattended. From what he'd heard, Lord Clarence had been a charming man with a gift for story telling and riddles. But clearly, as a landholder he had been somewhat lacking.

"Who do you think's coming?" asked Josce, Lord Renald's squire. Also new. "Or rather, who do you think's staying?"

Josce of Gillingford thought this business of marrying one of three fair damsels romantic. Nils had at first but now, as they waited to find out who would be the bride, he was imagining all the women in the world he wouldn't want to be tied to. He wondered how Lord Renald could appear so unconcerned. Marriage was for life, after all. He could have lined them up and taken his pick. It might have been wiser.

But as Lord Renald had pointed out, Nils was neither his conscience nor his adviser, except perhaps on matters to do with estate management and administration.

Since Lord Renald hadn't answered, Josce went on, "I'll bet it's the aunts. They'd want to stick together."

"The ladies Felice and Amice," supplied Nils, since it was his business to keep track of such details. "The daughter is called Claire."

"Happiness, Love, and Light." Lord Renald gave a dry laugh. "All rather unlikely brides in the circumstances. Well, let's find out."

The servants had reached the rocky ground where the tents were set, and had put their burdens on their feet. Huddled in their cloaks, raising their skirts, the two ladies picked their way toward the big tent outside which the men stood waiting.

"My ladies," said Lord Renald. "Here is my tent. I think you will find it has the essentials for comfort."

At a command, a man by the tent flap raised it and the women hurried into shelter and pushed back their hoods. Both were revealed to be fine-boned beauties, with damp, golden hair.

"Mmmm," said Josce to Nils. "Not bad."

"Don't forget, lad, these are the ones who won't be Lord Renald's bride."

They were very alike, though one looked haughty, the other terrified. Almost certainly the twins.

"I am Renald de Lisle, my ladies. And you are?"

"The Ladies Felice and Amice of Summerbourne." The haughty one glared down a long, straight nose. "It is intolerable that you drag us out here to live like pigs in a sty."

"We will make you as comfortable-"

"Comfortable! Only beasts could be comfortable here."

"It is-"

"It is evidence of lowly birth, sirrah!"

Nils winced. It was a true accusation in a way. Lord Renald came only from the petty nobility of France, and from a family dispossessed into poverty. This sudden rise in fortune was unexpected.

The woman was continuing her harangue. "What arrogance makes you think you are worthy to marry into our family?"

"Oh, Felice, take care!" The other had eyes swollen and red with weeping and she flinched as if expecting a blow. As well she might.

"Don't let him cow you, Amice. I insist that-"

Lord Renald turned and walked away, gesturing for Nils and Josce to follow. They headed for the horses, pursued by screamed complaints.

"If that was Happiness and Love," said Nil's lord, taking the reins of his horse, "Light should prove to be a suitably dark and dismal lady."

(Though Claire has lost the first round, she still hopes haughty Felice will marry the invader. In the meantime, she can't help but keep trying to hold her home together.)

When a servant hurried over to tell Claire that the dairy roof was leaking, she thanked heaven for escape from her tangled thoughts.

It wasn't an emergency, but she went outside anyway, raising her skirts and picking her way carefully over the logs laid down in the mud between the buildings. She still got her feet wet. It was another folly, and she knew it, but it was a relief to be outside and doing something.

A glance back showed her the squire following, grimacing as he tried to find footing in the slime. With a flicker of mischief, she thought that perhaps she'd go and check the waste-pits next.

However, by the time she'd arranged for the benches in the dairy to be moved out of harm's way, and for the thatcher to work on the roof the next day, any inclination to drag de Lisle's watchdog through the stinking middens had faded. The poor young man was only doing his duty.

It was only as she headed back toward the hall that she realized that taking care of Summerbourne wasn't really her job any more, hers or her mother's. She could have sent the servant to de Lisle with his problems.

Ha! A war-wolf wouldn't know thatch from farrowing.

Thinking of farrowing reminded her that a new litter had been born just before the storm. She picked and slithered her way over to the sties to find the piglets virtually swimming in mud and loving it. She even found herself smiling at their antics.

It was true. Life went on.

"Fine healthy animals.

She swiveled and found that the squire had been replaced by his dark master.

Her smile died. "Why shouldn't they be?"

He leaned against one of the fence-posts, making it look like a stick of kindling. "I don't know a great deal about husbandry, Lady Claire, but I suppose healthy stock doesn't come by accident."

It was the first time they'd been so close, and she found herself staring at his chest, estimating the amount of cloth needed to cover it. She made herself look up and meet his eyes instead. "What do you know a lot about?"

He did have true dark eyes, a deep dark brown, and large enough to be pleasing. But they looked bloodshot and weary. She realized he must have traveled long and hard, perhaps through the night, and wondered why. Even bearing her father's body, a halt for sleep, particularly in a storm, wouldn't have been unreasonable. Haste to see his property, she supposed.

And his bride.

"What do I know?" he echoed. "Weapons, defenses, armor, fighting."

"Killing matters."

"Yes. I'm very efficient at killing."


"If it comes your time, my lady, would you rather be killed clumsily?"

Claire clutched onto a rail. Was he threatening to kill her?

He straightened. "I beg pardon, I did not mean to frighten you. It is mere truth. If a person faces death by a sword, he hopes to face a tidy killer. If death by an ax, he hopes the ax bites true. If death by sickness, he hopes it strikes swiftly."

She stared, wondering if he had any human feelings at all. Then the horn blared for the meal and she seized the chance to escape. She turned too fast, however, and slipped in the mud. A strong hand caught her arm, steadying her. The next she knew, she was being carried in his arms.

"Put me down!" She felt helpless as a tiny child, and heaven knows she was not tiny. But her panic came from a startling jolt at being touched by him.

He stopped. "In the mud?"


His face was so close she could see dark stubble, and that his lashes were long and thick.

"Lady Claire," he said, "no one of sense would choose to wade through this mire. If you could carry me, I'd gladly let you."

A giggle tempted her and she hastily looked away, surprised and unbalanced to discover that he wasn't many years older than herself, and that he could make a joke.

Perhaps it hadn't been a joke.

Navigating the muddy logs wasn't easy, even for him, but it was clear her weight was as nothing. She wasn't used to feeling so helpless.



It must be Felice.

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