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       Untamed, p.1

           Elizabeth Lowell
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Untamed


  Dear Reader:

  The more you go back in time and history, the more magical the possibilities become. Just the word “medieval” conjures up visions of knights and ladies, candles and castles, unicorns and dragons. It was a time when the shape of the world was unknown, the universe was unknowable, and man held the night at bay only by torchlight.

  Every time I read about the twelfth century in the British Isles, I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to be a Saxon woman married off to a conquering Norman lord for the English king’s convenience—especially if the woman in question had a mystical connection to her Saxon land and people. How would such a woman balance her duties to her heritage with her own yearning for a life that had more warmth than duty gave, and more fire even than the flames in the hearth?

  The men who earned the English king’s favor in the First Crusade came back to the English islands with wealth and bleak memories of war. Some of those men were satisfied with money and power alone. A few had the vision and determination to achieve more.

  What would happen if an unusual Norman lord met up with the Saxon lady of my imagination? What if each wanted something from the other…something that was believed to be impossible?

  Untamed is the answer to my questions about what an unusual Saxon lady and a determined Norman lord might make of a marriage decreed by a distant English king.

  Elizabeth Lowell

  UNTAMED

  For

  Denis Farina

  White Knight, Magician, Champion

  Contents

  Dear Reader

  1

  The sound of a war horn sliced through the day,…

  2

  Alone in her room on the fourth floor of the…

  3

  Standing just inside the doorway of the bath on the…

  4

  A crisp wind blew through the bailey, lifting skirts and…

  5

  Meg left her father’s room so quickly that her wool…

  6

  Dominic looked up as his brother strode into the high…

  7

  Incense and perfume permeated the wooden building’s sacred hush. Pews…

  8

  The feast spread in the bailey before the vassals of…

  9

  “What are you going to do?” Simon asked his brother.

  10

  Meg drew a sharp breath that made the chain of…

  11

  “What else did Sven have to say?” Dominic demanded without…

  12

  “She’s gone,” Simon said flatly.

  13

  By the time Simon came back to the keep, Dominic…

  14

  Dominic and Simon crossed through the great hall on the…

  15

  Meg carried the tightly stoppered bottle in both hands through…

  16

  With each passing day, Meg’s promise not to defy Dominic…

  17

  “What do you mean, I may not enter?” Meg demanded.

  18

  For a moment Simon didn’t understand why Meg was so…

  19

  Dominic awoke in the middle of the night with Meg’s…

  20

  Frowning and tugging at cloth, Marie worked over the last…

  21

  The cold wind and rain was followed by a cold…

  22

  Meg crouched perilously far over the right side of the…

  23

  As had become Dominic’s habit in the three days since…

  24

  Simon stood at the gatehouse door, watching the swirls and…

  25

  While Dominic and Simon oversaw the departure of the Reevers…

  26

  “Are you ready to go hawking this morning?” Dominic asked…

  27

  When Meg finally was permitted to dismount, she was sore…

  28

  “No,” Dominic said flatly to Duncan. “You would be recognized…

  Epilogue

  Wolflike, winter howled, scratching at Blackthorne Keep with claws of…

  About the Author

  Other Books by Elizabeth Lowell

  Cover

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  1

  Spring in the Reign of King Henry I

  Northern England

  THE SOUND OF A WAR HORN sliced through the day, announcing the coming of Blackthorne Keep’s new lord.

  As though summoned, a dark shape condensed out of the mist…a knight in full armor riding a huge stallion. Horse and man seemed one, indivisible, fierce with the male power singing in their blood like a storm.

  “They say he is a devil, m’lady,” the widow Eadith muttered.

  “They say that of all Norman knights,” Meg said to her handmaiden with desperate calm, “yet among them surely there must be men of kind and generous hearts.”

  Eadith made a sound that could have been a throttled laugh.

  “Nay, mistress. ’Tis fitting that your bridegroom wears chain mail and rides a savage destrier. There is whispering of war.”

  “There will be no war,” Meg said firmly. “That is why I will wed—to end the bloodletting.”

  “Do not mislead yourself. War is more likely to be waged than a wedding,” Eadith announced with savage satisfaction. “Death to the Norman invaders!”

  “Silence,” Meg said softly. “I will hear no talk of war.”

  Eadith’s mouth thinned, but she spoke no more of war.

  Standing at a high window of the keep, shielded from view by a partly closed shutter, Meg searched the land for the riding household that must have accompanied the warrior who would soon become her husband.

  Nothing moved behind the war-horse but silver mist twisting above the fields. The horn had been sounded by someone hidden within the forest that lay beyond the keep’s cultivated land.

  Horse and chain mail-clad knight loomed larger with every moment, riding openly up to the keep, fearing nothing. No retainers hurried behind the knight. No squires appeared leading war-horses or pack animals burdened with the shining metal tools of war.

  Against all custom, Dominic le Sabre approached the Saxon keep with nothing but the war horn’s deep cry attending him.

  “This one is truly the Devil wearing man’s flesh,” Eadith said, crossing herself. “I would never wed him.”

  “Quite true. ’Tis my hand to be given, not yours.”

  “May God save you,” Eadith muttered. “I tremble for you, my lady, since you have not the wit to tremble for yourself!”

  “I am the last of an ancient and proud line,” Meg said in a husky voice. “What is a nameless Norman bastard to make a daughter of Glendruid tremble?”

  Yet even as Meg spoke, fear washed coolly down her spine. The closer Dominic le Sabre rode, the more she feared her handmaiden was right.

  “God be with you, m’lady, for ’tis certain the Devil will be!”

  As Eadith spoke, she crossed herself again.

  With outward composure Meg watched the proud warrior ride closer. This was the man who would claim her as bride, and with her, the vast domain that she would inherit upon the imminent death of her father.

  That was the lure that had brought a famous Norman knight from Jerusalem to the northern marches of King Henry’s realm. Her father’s estates had always been the lure for the Scots lords whose families had asked Meg’s hand for their sons. But first William II and then Henry I had refused to condone a marriage for Lady Margaret of Blackthorne.

  Until now.

  The knight on his war stallion approached closer, telling Meg that her future husband was unusual in more than that he rode alone.

  Like an outcast knight, he
wears no lord’s colors, yet certainly he is favored by the English king. When he becomes my husband, he will control more land than any but the greatest of the king’s barons.

  Puzzled, Meg watched the Norman knight who had become a great English lord. He rode under no banner and wore no man’s emblem on his teardrop-shaped shield. His helm was fashioned of a strange, blackened metal, the same color as the war-horse that bore him. The long cloak that mantled his mail-clad body and that of his horse was dark, rich, and swirled heavily with the stallion’s powerful movements.

  Proud as Lucifer, both of them. And as strong.

  Meg watched the dark lord’s approach, willing herself to show no fear.

  “He’s uncommon large,” Eadith said.

  Meg said nothing.

  “Does he not appear fearsome to you?” the handmaiden asked.

  The dark knight did indeed look formidable, but there was no purpose to having every servant in the keep gossiping about how their mistress trembled at the approach of her future husband.

  “No, he doesn’t appear fearsome to me,” Meg said. “He looks like what he is, a man in chain mail riding a horse. A common enough sight, surely.”

  “To think,” Eadith said in a bitter voice, “one moment he was a bastard knight and the next moment he was one of the king’s favorites. Though the Sword has no land of his own, men speak of him as a great lord.”

  “Lord Dominic, called le Sabre, the Sword,” Meg murmured. “Bastard or noble, he saved a great baron’s son from the Saracen. ’Tis said without him Robert’s crusade would have ended badly. A wise king rewards such a fine warrior.”

  “With Saxon land,” Eadith retorted.

  “’Tis the king’s right.”

  “You act as though you don’t care.”

  “I care only that the killing ends.”

  Did you learn pity in the Holy Land, Dominic le Sabre? Will the hope in my heart be answered by generosity in yours?

  Or are you like the chain mail you wear, glittering with harsh possibilities rather than future hopes?

  Eadith looked sideways at the delicate features of her lady. Nothing showed of whatever Meg’s inner thoughts might be. The handmaiden looked again at the Norman knight who was approaching the gates of a keep he had taken by promise of marriage rather than by honorable battle.

  “They say he fought with the coolness of ice and the savagery of a northern barbarian,” Eadith offered into the silence.

  “It will do him no good with me. I am neither ice nor warrior.”

  “Glendruid,” Eadith whispered so softly that her lady couldn’t hear.

  But Meg did.

  “Do you think he knows?” Eadith asked after a few moments.

  “What?”

  “That he’ll never have heirs of you.”

  Meg’s clear green eyes fastened on the Saxon widow her father had insisted Meg take as handmaiden.

  “Do you often trade gossip with the cotters, villeins, and peasants?” Meg asked crisply.

  “Will he?” Eadith persisted. “Will he have sons of you?”

  “What odd questions.” Meg forced herself to smile. “Am I a seer to know the sex of my unborn children?”

  “’Tis said you are a Glendruid witch,” Eadith said bluntly.

  “Glendruids aren’t witches.”

  “That’s not what the people say.”

  “The people say many fanciful things,” Meg retorted. “After a year at Blackthorne Keep, surely you know that.”

  Eadith looked sideways at her mistress. “The people also speak the truth.”

  “Do they? No rocks burst into bloom for me, nor do trees bend to whisper in my ear. What nonsense.”

  “You have a fine hand with falcons and herbs,” Eadith pointed out.

  “I am no more a witch than you are. Don’t speak of such things to me. Some slow-witted soul might take it for the truth.”

  “’Tis true enough,” Eadith said, shrugging. “The common folk fear your mother, make no mistake of it.”

  Meg bit back a sharp remark. Eadith could be quite tiresome on the subject of Lady Anna. The tales surrounding Anna’s death fascinated the handmaiden.

  “My mother is dead,” Meg said.

  “That’s not what the shepard’s widow said. She saw the ghost of Lady Anna at moonrise out toward that pagan burial place.”

  “The good widow is overly fond of ale,” Meg retorted. “It quite turns her wits. Wasn’t it she who swore that fairies danced on her milk saucer and that ghosts drank the ale she owed in payment for a piglet?”

  Eadith started to speak.

  With a sharp gesture, Meg demanded silence. She wanted to concentrate only on the warrior who was riding alone toward Blackthorne Keep.

  Dominic le Sabre seemed so certain of his own prowess that his retinue rode well behind, just now emerging from the mists, too far to be of any aid to him if an ambush had been laid. Nor was the thought of such attack unreasonable. Her father’s fury at hearing that he must wed his only heir to a Norman bastard had been so great that Lord John had nearly burst the heart within his body, a body once renowned for its size and brawn.

  But even at the height of his youth and strength, John had been a full hand shorter than the Norman knight who rode so disdainfully into the keep’s yard.

  Proud warrior, Meg thought silently. But if legend be true, only an equal prowess in seduction might earn you female offspring from the body of your Glendruid bride.

  With clear eyes, Meg measured the man who wore chain mail over black leather, his hair hidden beneath a steel helm, his war stallion as dark and savage as Satan’s dreams.

  As for sons, my black lord…

  Never.

  That is the curse of Glendruid. In a thousand years no one has lifted that curse.

  Seeing you, I fear that it will never be lifted.

  As though sensing Meg’s intense stare, the knight suddenly pulled his stallion to a halt. The horse half reared, as though facing an attack. Balanced on his muscular hindquarters, the charger lashed out with his forelegs, sending his hooves slicing through the air. Had a foot soldier been attacking, he would have died under the war-horse’s hooves.

  Dominic le Sabre rode the rearing animal effortlessly, never taking his eyes from the window high in the keep where shutters were partly opened. Though he could see no one through the opening, he knew Lady Margaret of Blackthorne stood within the stone walls, watching her future husband ride up to the keep.

  He wondered if she was like her father, still fighting a battle that had been lost in 1066, when William the Conqueror had taken England from its Saxon nobility.

  Saxon lady, will you accept my seed without a battle? Will you give me the sons I hunger for the way a thirsty man hungers for drink?

  A knight broke from Dominic’s retinue and approached at a canter. Dominic’s horse reared again, calling out a challenge. Casually he curbed his war stallion as the knight came to a plunging halt a few feet away.

  The second knight was in armor and also rode a charger. It was a breach of custom and common sense to use a valuable war-horse for ordinary travel, but no one had been certain if John of Cumbriland, Lord of Blackthorne Keep, had planned a wedding or a war.

  “Still thyself, Crusader,” Dominic said calmly to his horse. “There is no hint of treachery.”

  “Yet,” said the other knight bluntly, coming up alongside.

  Dominic looked at his brother. Simon’s clear black eyes were watching everything, missing nothing. Simon, called the Loyal, was the most valued knight in Dominic’s retinue. Without him, Dominic doubted he would have managed the feats of battle that had won him the prize of a Saxon bride whose wealth in land was enough to make the English king envious.

  But not greedy. The Norman kings had learned to their cost that the fractious Saxons of the northern marches were too troublesome to be fought outright. Weddings rather than wars were to be employed.

  “Have you seen anything amiss?” Dominic asked.
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  “Sven came to me in the woods,” Simon said.

  “And?”

  “He did as you asked.”

  “A true knight,” Dominic said sardonically, for what he had asked was that Sven go ahead to Blackthorne Keep disguised as a returning pilgrim and seduce one of the household maids.

  “The wench was willing,” Simon said, shrugging.

  Dominic grunted.

  “Sven learned that Duncan of Maxwell is in the keep,” Simon said succinctly.

  Dominic’s stallion half reared again, responding to the surge of anger in his rider.

  “And the lady Margaret?” he asked coldly.

  “She is in the keep as well.”

  “A tryst?”

  “No one caught them together.”

 
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