Word of Honor(7)

By: Alexa Aston

The crowd dispersed. As it melted away, Geoffrey sensed someone staring at him. He turned and found Lord Berold.

“You. You killed my boy.”

Geoffrey remained firmly in place, his eyes locked on Berold’s. “Your son was a traitor, my lord. Death was the only acceptable punishment.”

The earl stood silently for a long moment.

Geoffrey knew no words could comfort this grieving father. He turned to go, but the earl latched on to his arm.

“You will suffer a punishment harsher than death, Geoffrey de Montfort. Mark my words. I will bring you to your knees. You will beg for a quick death, but you will find no mercy, no relief.”

Chapter 3

England—November, 1356

Merryn finished crushing the small plant with her mortar and pestle and wrapped the pressed leaves in a linen cloth. Lady Elia’s deep chest cough concerned her. Geoffrey’s mother had insisted it wasn’t serious, but Merryn wanted to bring the woman a remedy to vanquish the cough before it turned into something more severe. Elia would need to allow the cress to steep in hot water to extract the herb’s healing flavor and then drink it twice a day over the next sennight.

Five years ago, she’d promised Geoffrey that she would watch over his parents during his absence, never dreaming they would be separated for so long. Merryn had grown from a child of ten and three into a woman while the war against France dragged on. In constant prayer, she asked the Blessed Lord to keep her beloved safe from harm.

She missed him more with every passing day. He’d been her confidant for as long as she remembered. Their betrothal had brought happiness to them both. Merryn longed for the day they could live together as husband and wife.

Recent news from London revealed that the Black Prince had led his troops to victory at Poitiers, demolishing the French army and capturing many prisoners. Even the king of France was now in English custody.

Merryn hoped it meant a long break in the war. France would need time to raise the ransom asked for their king’s return.

As she left the room off the kitchen where she prepared and stored her herbs, Merryn headed toward the stables. She’d never understood the point of battle. Why couldn’t the king be happy with what he had instead of spilling blood for land across the sea? England was a vast, beautiful country. Edward should be thankful that he ruled such a bountiful land.

She knew to keep such thoughts to herself. Women weren’t expected to have an opinion—especially regarding politics. But her curious nature caused her to be interested in the world around her. And with both her father and mother dead and buried, she managed Wellbury as well as any man, despite her youth.

Merryn longed to see her brother, Hugh, who fought with King Edward in Scotland. She hoped Hugh would return soon and choose a bride. Her brother would make a fine father and husband.

Wellbury needed children running through its halls again. With Hugh’s return, she could leave the care of their ancestral home in his capable hands and move to Kinwick once she married.

At the stables, she asked a stable boy to saddle her horse. She mounted Destiny with his assistance and he wished her a good day.

The early November day proved overcast and damp. Merryn was glad she’d chosen to ride and not walk since rain might fall soon. Her horse galloped across the meadow, taking her favorite shortcut to Kinwick. She spent many hours in this meadow and surrounding forest, gathering herbs and flowers. Merryn had first come here with Sephare, the healer at Wellbury. Sephare had passed on her knowledge of herbs and plants to Merryn and taught her which ones could be used to cure various ailments.

Merryn took the lessons to heart. Her reputation as a knowledgeable healer grew every year.

She reined in Destiny and came to a halt as she approached Kinwick. The castle’s beauty always moved her. One day she would serve as its mistress. Pride swelled within her. Kinwick and its surrounding lands had some of the best farmland in the south of England. It would be a privilege to live there as a de Montfort.

Though many betrothed girls moved from their own family homes to live with the family they’d marry into, her father and Lord Ferand decided against that action. Merryn’s mother had died in childbirth when Merryn was three years old. The men thought it best for her to remain at Wellbury during Geoffrey’s absence abroad and use her woman’s touch to help maintain the estate as she grew older.

The skies darkened. Before Merryn could nudge her horse on, she heard hoof beats approaching in the distance. A rider topped the hill and stopped. She would know him anywhere. His profile. The way he sat on his horse.

Geoffrey had finally come home.

Her heart sang as she heeled her mare forward. Destiny took off like the wind, bringing her closer to her beloved.

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