His Captive Princess
Warren de Tracy was assured the Welsh village of Dinefwr would be an easy conquest, as would the widow of its fallen prince. Wedding her will appease the locals and win the respect of his liege, the usurper King Stephen.
Instead, Warren is ambushed, taken prisoner by a hooded Welshwoman with skin that glows like moonlight. If he must die at her hands, at least his honorable death will silence the whispers of disloyalty hanging over his name.
Princess Eleri has never seen a knight as stoic—and as eager to die—as Warren. She’d love to oblige the bastard, but something in his ocean-blue eyes stays her hand. Plus, suspicion nags at her, for the arrows that wounded him and killed his men are Norman, not Welsh.
A ghostly prophecy portends danger that thrusts the enemies closer together, where hate explodes into passion that won’t allow Eleri to surrender Warren to her vengeful clan. But returning him to his king breaks more than it mends…and for Warren, retaliation will be sweet, indeed.
Contains a Norman warrior with a thirst for justice, a Welsh rebel princess with second sight and a steady bow hand, magical prophecies, and a plot of royal proportions.
Cantref Mawr, Deheubarth, Wales, Winter 1136 A.D.
Warren de Tracy had led battles on two different continents against formidable enemies of the Church and his Norman kings, and for his efforts he’d won spurs, a barony, more than a few scars and a complete lack of fear, which had served him well. Ironically, of all his venerable foes, a lowly dog killed him.
He watched the speckled greyhound resting on its dead master’s chest, growling low at him, the stranger in its territory. The mongrel had already betrayed his Welsh owner’s hiding spot in the dense thicket by protectively snarling at one of Warren’s mounted knights.
Then his hotheaded young soldier had wheeled back for the rebel enemy without caution, earning him a fatal arrow to the heart.
Making perhaps the worst tactical error of his life, Warren had followed to check on his fallen man. The dog, far from done, howled over its master’s fate, thus calling attention to Warren’s presence, too. That was when an arrow from God-only-knew-where in the surrounding woods took him by surprise, its force unseating him. Quick and efficient, these archers were so stealthy he’d never seen their faces.
Now left to travel afoot with a useless sword arm, Warren collapsed at the base of an ancient yew a few yards away from the two bodies. He stripped off his gloves and snapped the arrow’s wooden shaft in half, leaving the barb lodged in his muscle. Ice-hot pain exploded through his chest.
“Sang Dieu!” He cradled his throbbing arm and waited, head swimming and shoulder bleeding, as the voices from the skirmish went silent.
All five of his men were dead. He felt it in his bones. Soon he would join them, but not nearly soon enough.
Ever since King Henry had died earlier that year, the Welsh princes had led revolts trying to take back lands they had lost in the Norman invasion. King Stephen, the new usurper, had ordered Warren to claim the Welsh Deheubarth camp of Dinefwr for Warren’s own. All Warren had ever wanted was to gain the respect of his liege. King Stephen had also told Warren to take one of the Welsh princesses for a bride, which, along with promises of clemency and protection, would surely appease the locals. Furthermore, his liege had suggested, the widow of one of the recently fallen princes would be “receptive” to the offer.
How wrong the king had been.
If only Warren had known there would be a rebel spy waiting upon the shore when they landed. Now the entire conroi was dead as a result.
At least none of Warren’s brothers had been with him this time. He could die without more shame hanging over his head. His half-brother would live to look after their little sister. With Warren dying honorably in battle, there would be no more questions of his loyalty, no more whispers of treason.
The dead soldier’s quick end was a blessing compared to Warren’s wound. The arrow in his shoulder wouldn’t budge, proving it was a ruthless Norman barb, probably stolen from one of Warren’s men, and the broken shaft offered no purchase with which to maneuver it. Each time he touched the splintered wood, a burst of fire spread through his chest. His heavy sword was meant for hacking bone, not useful for quickening his death, but perhaps he could knock himself unconscious while he waited for the arms of everlasting rest.
He leaned against the tree and battered the back of his skull, but the beating only made his head ache and his vision blur. The agony of his shoulder remained.
He closed his eyes before the reeling made him vomit.
Despite the absence of wind, the nearby trees rustled softly. Warren cracked an eye open. A hooded rebel stood near De Gouin’s body. As silently as the first, another darkhooded figure dropped from the branches above. Dressed in deerskin chausses and heavy tunics, they studied the soldier’s corpse. Bon sang! Welsh rebels. Or Cymreig, as they called themselves. The smaller one nudged the dead knight’s arm with a booted foot.
Bows resting casually on their backs, the pair hadn’t seemed to notice Warren.
His left hand tightened around the sword’s hilt. One good throw would fell one of the lightweight bastards, but he had no way of fending off the other.
As if sensing Warren’s intentions, the greyhound’s growl deepened, and it glanced uncertainly between Warren and the rebels. The archers were still too far away to hear, too absorbed in retrieving his soldier’s weapons, but the dog might change that. His barking would bring them around, turning their attention to Warren. He couldn’t let that happen.
He was ready to die but not to be shamefully taken alive as a hostage for the local chieftain, where he would surely find unimaginable tortures.
He adjusted his grip on the sword in his left hand. His arm shook from the loss of blood.
The beast hunkered over his master’s body, putting more of its belly on top of the man’s chest. Caesar, Warren’s own trained mastiff, would do the same. Now staring into this animal’s brown eyes, he saw unwavering loyalty and trust, so like Caesar’s.
The greyhound licked the dead Welshman’s face, and the sight put a knot in Warren’s throat. He’d never harmed an animal before, nor would he this day.
Before the wary tension in his muscles could relax, the dog woofed in his direction.
The enemies swiveled around. Assessing the situation, they drew their swords.
In Warren’s foggy vision, the two swarmed toward him like sylvan elves, multiplying as yet more rebels fell from the tree, at least a half-dozen of his enemies.
The first pair stood over him with weapons extended, while the newcomers surrounded their own fallen warrior and his canine.
“Gorthwr fud.” The one who’d kicked De Gouin spoke at him in a puzzle of confusing sounds, but the sneered tone was perfectly clear. More puzzling than the guttural language Warren had been trying to decipher since arriving on the Glamorgan shore a few days ago was the fact that the rebel’s voice was female, low and husky. The accented tones would be interesting, he reckoned, if they weren’t so full of hate.
He blinked hard to clear the cobwebs in his vision. A pale oval shape loomed before him, and soon he focused on a pair of dark golden eyes in a face with skin that seemed to glow as if lit by moonlight. She dropped her hood for a better look at him, revealing wild plaits of flaming red hair, which dangled around her perfect face.
“Aye. I called you a dumb Norman and now you’ve proven it,” she drawled.
He tried to lift his sword but the weight was more than he could wield. The red sprite above him gestured with a small pointing finger. He followed it and found her deerskin boot firmly planted on his blade.
“I’ll finish him for you, Dywysoges. He killed Iolo ap Rhys.” The second hooded archer was also a woman, with black hair worn in a single braid. She grabbed his wounded shoulder with a rough hand, pushing the broken arrow deeper with her thumb as she held her sword against his heart.
A wave of pain and nausea wrenched Warren. He thrust his chest against the blade, grimacing as the metal pierced his skin, determined not to empty his stomach in front of the dark-headed one and her fiery companion as he welcomed the swift death.
“Nay. This one wants to die, Nest.” The red maid pushed the other woman’s sword aside.
Then, crouching in front of Warren, she studied him through narrowed eyes and stroked her full lips with the tip of her finger, thinking. The scent of the forest and wildflowers drifted from her skin. Whether brave or stupid, she left the weapon in his hand carelessly unattended as she watched him.
Ah, but she was right in her courage. He posed little threat to anyone now.
Staring at her mouth, Warren felt something within him stir. It had been a long time since he’d touched a woman’s lips, but by the rood, to lust at such a time!
The men hailed to the women in their tongue and the dark maid rallied them.
Red rested her sword across her thighs. “It would be wrong to kill him this way. We’ll take him to the castell and let Lew decide what to do with him.” She shrugged, drawing his eye to her chest and further proof she was indeed female. Her curves tightened the leather tunic in the movement. “Besides, he spared the life of Iolo’s dog.”
“That’s because he is a dog.” A beastly black-headed man pushed through the newcomers and kicked Warren in the ribs. “Norman bastard!”
The blow knocked him to the ground, rattling his teeth. Warren tasted blood and his tongue smarted from where he’d bitten it. His ribcage ached from the impact, but it would take much worse to kill him quickly.
Red spoke rapidly in her language at the barrel-chested soldier and the chastised man reddened, ducking his chin. He and another warrior grabbed Warren’s arms, disarming him, and hoisted him to his feet. His head reeled with the pain of the hasty movement.
Following the lady archers, the other men carried the body of the one they called Iolo as the dog trailed behind. Warren concentrated on his feet, walking obediently between his captors. If these Welsh rebels respected Red as much as it appeared, mayhap he knew how to draw their wrath to hasten his death.
The group marched him into the woods. Watching the exposed roots of the forest glen below his boots, he stumbled once, twice, then a third time, making sure they assumed him too weak to be a threat. His captors were large men, perhaps the best warriors of their tribe, and Warren prayed they had hostile tempers to match.
Lulled into complacency, one of the brigands’ hands loosened on his arm, and Warren had his chance. Breaking free, he grabbed a handful of Red’s braids and tangled his fingers in the silky plaited coils. She cried out, flailing her arms, but he dragged her against him as he fell backward, pulling her down on top of him.
The warriors’ retaliation was prompt—a slightly less ignoble death than betrayal by dog.
First, Red jabbed an elbow into his groin, but he held tight. The men responded, kicking his head and sides.
Strike, kick, strike…
He shut his eyes and slid toward unconsciousness on the tide of agony, his senses closing with the pleasant wildflower fragrance of Red’s hair in his face and her soft, wriggling body atop his