This is unheard of for me I read this one in place of a different one that my friend had sent me, because that one was about rippling abs in kilts and the Garwood I just read featured the same theme So I went for something a little different and went for Feudal England over Scotland. Other than those differences though, there was a LOT that was similar in this book.
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Prologue Contents - Next "Gentle knights were born to fight, and war ennobles all who engage in it without fear or cowardice. He sat astride a wooden stool, stretched his long muscular legs before him, and bade his servant to pull on the steel-mailed hose.
He then stood and allowed another to fasten the heavy hauberk over the quilted cotton undershirt. Finally he raised his sun-bronzed arms so that his sword, a gift prized mightily for it came from William himself, could be attached to his waist by means of a metal loop. His thoughts were not of his dress nor of his surroundings, but of the coming battle, and he methodically reviewed the strategy he would employ to gain victory.
Thunder broke his concentration. With a frown the knight lifted the opening flap of the tent and raised his head to study the heavy cloud formation, unconsciously brushing the dark hair from his collar as he watched the sky. Behind him the two servants continued their duties. The second mounted the stool and waited, holding the open-faced conical for the knight. The servant stood thusly for several long moments before the warrior turned and noticed the helmet outstretched before him.
With a negative shake of his head, he disclaimed it, preferring to chance possible injury in return for freedom of movement. His dress complete, the knight turned and walked with quick long strides until he reached and mounted his powerful steed. Without a backward glance, he rode from the encampment. The knight sought solitude before battle and rode hard and fast into the nearby forest, oblivious to the scraping both he and his destrier suffered from low-hanging branches.
Having reached the top of a small rise, he reined his now-snorting animal to a halt and gave his full attention to the manor below. Rage filled him anew as he thought about the infidels nestled within the castle below, but he pushed the anger aside. He would have his vengeance after the manor was once again his. Only then would he allow his rage to go unchecked. Only then.
The knight turned his attention to the layout before him, again impressed by the simplicity of the design, noting the wide, uneven walls stretching almost twenty feet into the sky and completely surrounding the multiple structures within.
The river banked the walls on three sides and this pleased the knight considerably, for entry from the water would be almost impossible. The main building was constructed primarily of stone with but an occasional piece of sod, and was flanked on both sides by clusters of small huts, all facing the large grassy courtyard. When it was all once again his, he would make it impregnable, he vowed. This could not be allowed to happen again!
Dark angry clouds linked together in an attempt to block the rising sun, resulting in gray streaks arched in protest across the sky. The wind gave sound to the eerie sight. He again looked to the sky, saw that the swollen clouds were now directly overhead, and thought that it was as if night would once again descend. Was this a bad omen, he wondered, for he was not entirely without superstition, though he scoffed at those who were ruled by it, ritualistically seeking signs before each and every battle to predict the outcome.
The knight once again reviewed his bid for victory, looking for possible flaws in his battle plans, and could find none, yet still he could not feel content. In frustration, he picked up the reins and turned the charger, intent on returning to camp before total darkness was full upon him. And it was then that the sky exploded in a silver flash of light, and he saw her. She stood slightly above him on the next rise, and seemed to gaze directly down at him. But she was not looking at him, he realized; no, her gaze was directed beyond him to the castle below.
She sat erect upon a flecked mount and was flanked by two enormous creatures vaguely resembling dogs, but of what breed he knew not, since their stance suggested more wolf than dog. He drank fully of the picture before him, noting she was slight of stature with long pale hair free about her shoulders, and even from that distance he could make out well-rounded breasts cupped tightly against the white material of her gown by the force of the persistent wind.
His mind could make little order out of what he saw but that she was indeed more beautiful than any he had ever known. She seemed unafraid of the beast circling overhead and in fact raised her hand as if to salute an old friend. The knight closed his eyes but for a moment, and when he reopened them she was gone. With a start, he goaded his steed into motion and raced toward the vision.
Horse and rider rounded each tree expertly and with great speed, yet when they reached their destination she was nowhere to be found. After a time the knight gave up the search. His mind accepted that what he had seen was real, but his heart insisted she was but a vision, an omen. His mood was greatly improved when he rode full gallop into camp. He saw that his men were mounted and ready. Nodding his approval, he gestured for his lance and his shield bearing his coat of arms.
Two servants hurried toward the watting knight, holding the kite-shaped shield between them in order to share its weight, and when they reached his side, they waited in silence for the warrior to lift it.
To their confusion, the knight hesitated, a small smile lifting the corners of his mouth, and stared for long seconds at the shield below him. His next action further bewildered not only his servants but his watching followers as well, for he leaned down and with his index finger slowly traced the outline of the hawk embedded upon the shield.
He then threw back his head and relented to a deep resounding laugh before effortlessly lifting first his shield with his left hand and the lance with his right. Raising both high into the air, he gave the cry for battle. A massive hawk, gliding effortlessly in wide circles high above the trees, saw the slender figure emerge from the hut and increased his speed, descending to a large mud-splattered boulder adjacent to the girl. His screech and vigorous Sapping of brown and gray wings announced his arrival.
Could you not find sleep either? She regarded her pet with a tender smile and then slowly raised her right arm until it was stretched taut just slightly above her slender waist. The hawk tilted his head from side to side, his piercing gaze never leaving her face, and began to emit a gargled sound from deep within his throat.
His eyes were the color of marigold, and though there was a wildness about them, she was unafraid. Indeed, she met his stare with complete trust and again bid him come to her. Within a whisper of a second, the hawk had landed on her bare arm, but she did not flinch from either his weight or his touch. His jagged claws were blade sharp, yet she wore no glove.
Her blue eyes sparkled with laughter as she studied her pet. Oh, my faithful pet, if only men were as loyal as you. The sound of approaching horse and rider startled Elizabeth. Panic edged her voice as she called to her two wolfhounds and ran for the safety of the surrounding forest.
The two dogs were at her side by the time she had flattened herself against the thick bark of the nearest tree, and she gave them the hand signal to be still. Her heart was racing wildly as she waited, silently cursing herself for leaving the dagger in the hut. Marauders, entire gangs of displaced, unclaimed destitutes, roamed the countryside, and all those outside the protection of the walls were easy prey for their violence and depravity.
Elizabeth slumped forward, her head bent, while she recovered her breath. It is Joseph. Are you there? She quietly rounded the tree and slipped up behind Joseph, gently tapping his stooped shoulder with one trembling hand. With a startled yelp the old man jumped back and whirled around, very nearly knocking down his mistress in the process. He watched her as she turned and walked to the door of the hut and was mildly surprised that her beauty still had the power to startle him each time he would gaze upon her, for he had seen her raised since infancy.
Her proud bearing faltered then, confusion clouding her eyes. Or have I truly lost all sense of time? It was an impossible ambition, he realized, for she was his mistress and he her humble servant. Today I bring important news and have a plan I wish you to consider. My answer will be the same today. This I have vowed! Elizabeth folded her arms and waited. When her servant did not immediately reply, Elizabeth sighed with exasperation and continued in a softer voice. I have sent little Thomas to safety.
That must be enough. Elizabeth watched his shoulders slump even further than was their natural inclination. The servant rubbed his bald head and cleared his voice. What do you mean, gone? How can this be? Where have they gone? Joseph raised his hands and gently pulled free from her grip.
Let us go inside," he suggested, "and I will tell you all I know. She tried to compose herself as was befitting her position, but her mind rebelled at the task, concentrating on the number of unanswered questions and conflicting emotions instead.
The one-room hut was sparsely furnished. Elizabeth sat on the edge of one of the two wooden stools, her hands folded in her lap, her back straight, while she waited for Joseph to light the fire in the hearth. Though it was late spring, the hut was damp and chill.
It seemed an eternity before Joseph was seated across from her. The day of the storm," he qualified, "I had just reached the second rise above the manor when I first saw them approach as a cloud of dust on the winding road below. Though there were only two hundred or so of them, they still looked to be a deadly fighting force.
Why, the ground fairly trembled beneath me so awesome was the sight. I saw their leader, for he rode well ahead of his men and was the only one without benefit of a helmet. By the time I found a better vantage point, their leader had drawn up his force into a half-circle, and behind a wall of shields, they advanced.
Gentle Warrior (1990)