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I own nothing, nothing at all and Joss is God. The backdrop to this story is a very bastardized re-imagining of Bernard Cornwell 's genre, perhaps combined with a good ol' trashy romance novel. It is meant to be an action/adventure/romance/horror type thing, but it might just end up being a mess of bad writing! The chapters' titles are quotes from Henry V and oh, I am taking ARTISTIC LICENSE with historical details.
CHAPTER 1: We Few, We Happy Few
‘Goddam archers,’ grumbled Sir Riley, shifting angrily on his nervous mount, ‘already inside the town! There will be nothing left for us.’
The fair-haired knight was in a foul mood. For days now, he had attempted to provoke some of the French knights into coming out of their town and meeting him in an honorable fight, hoping to pit his thirty men-at-arms against thirty of theirs. Unfortunately for him, the French knew better than to expose themselves to the range of English bows. Finally, after a tiring siege, some archers had managed to sneak inside the town through a breach in the wall. Rotting wooden pikes had poorly blocked the hidden entrance and the archers had been able to slip by fast enough to open the Southern gates at the break of dawn.
‘Hungry men take desperate risks’, opined his friend, who sat calmly on his formidable destrier while surveying the chaos.
Risks that Sir Riley thought devoid of honor.
‘The archers protect your arse, you idiot. I’d stay put if I were you. Besides, small town like this, not going to be much anyway.’
Sir Riley scoffed.
‘You forget what it means to me. Your father did not leave you in debt after his death, unlike mine,’
Sir William shrugged, very aware of Sir Riley’s pecuniary problems but also of the vanity that filled the young man’s head. His ambition had started to become a nuisance to the other noblemen, who didn’t lack in greed either.
‘This isn’t the bloody Round Table, boy,’ snickered the older horseman.
Chastised, Sir Riley turned his stallion around to find a house whose coinage and women would have been left intact, but the cries of havoc had already filled the sky for an hour now. There was little hope to find anything profitable.
The sun was high in the azure and the smell of peat, fire and blood clung to everyone and everything in a rust-colored cloud. William looked around him with disgust before dismounting. Most of the men were already drunk and it wasn’t even near midday yet. However, he felt he couldn’t really blame them. They had laid siege to this town for a little more than a month and appetites were running high.
He led his horse near a church, intrigued that it had been left untouched. After tying his destrier to an oak tree, he entered the sacred building only to realize that the church had also seen its share of battle. The bodies of Genoese crossbowmen were lying in front of the altar, a heap of red and green surcoats. Italian mercenaries, William thought unimpressed. Their chain mails had been stolen of course and a perforated helmet was all the armor that was left behind.
Sir William dropped himself heavily on a bench, feeling burdened by the black armor he was wearing. In truth, he would have been perfectly content being a common archer. Lack of lineage allowed you greater freedom. One might go starving every once and a while but to know freedom…
Sir William d’Aurelius sighed.
Even if he were free from his title, he could never free himself from the Aurelius bloodline that coursed through his veins. His family’s ancestry went back to the days of Rome and had comprised celebrated scholars and poets. Then, four hundred years ago, a mysterious story had surfaced about their clan.
The heir to the family’s considerable fortune at the time, Sir Guillaume d’Aurelius, was still a young lad when the Norsemen came one night to kidnap him. A few weeks had gone by and no ransom was being asked for the boy. It was generally assumed that he had been sold into slavery and his parents were left inconsolable. A few years had passed and they had other children, worried that no one would be left to carry their name. When news suddenly spread that the very same Norsemen who had pillaged their town and kidnapped their eldest son were back, the clan hid the children among monks and prepared for battle.
But the battle never came. When the men went to look for the invaders, they found none to kill. Instead, they found Sir Guillaume calmly waiting for them by the seashore. He was taller and his features had hardened into the palest marble. His eyes, which used to be a beautiful bright blue, shone with a darker glint and his hair, which used to have the sun’s golden reflections, had acquired a disturbing whiteness akin to the waxen moon. But his parents knew at once it was their son; they couldn’t deny the call of their own blood. And so on that day, Sir Guillaume resumed his place in the Aurelius clan like nothing had ever happened. Whenever he was asked about his time amongst the Barbarians, he would always reply:
‘They pledged fealty to me.’
And people would laugh, thinking the boy was being clever.
But something was different about Sir Guillaume. His appetite for all things had decupled and by the time he had grown into a strong, brutal man, it was said that no virgins were left untouched in the town where his family ruled. He was a skilled warrior and like his ancestors before him, could speak and write Latin as good as a bishop.
The first day Sir Guillaume set foot on a battlefield however, it became clear to everyone what had been wrong with the menacing Aurelius; he had been turned into a berserker. Nobody knew how it had happened, though many blamed it on his time spent with the Norsemen. Sir Guillaume killed and maimed like a savage beast but his alabaster skin could not be wounded. His eyes would turn black at the sight of blood and when he wasn’t slashing through flesh with his formidable battle-axe, he was seen biting through an enemy’s neck. They said even wolves feared him.
Strangely, Sir Guillaume’s death was never recorded and though everyone agreed the berserker had been killed, few knew how it came to pass. The tale proved to be a popular one and was incessantly retold to procure many maidens with a chill down their spine. As the direct descendent of such a fantastical figure, Sir William had certainly shown no qualms in using it to secure female idolatry.
In his mind however, he doubted the veracity of the infamous saga. Four hundred years was plenty of time to distort a pretty story. But when he was alone, as he was now in the silent church, he prayed the story was untrue. He prayed the curse was only a wet nurse’s idea of scaring little children.
Because if the story was indeed true, it meant that the pale-haired Sir William with dark blue eyes was also a berserker.
* * * * *
At first, Sir Riley had been furious. Every house has been ransacked, except for a little one, kept hidden from view by stout chestnut trees. Men who walked by simply assumed there was nothing there or that it had been plundered already, such was the shabby state of the thatch.
Dejected, Sir Riley went in anyways and was amazed to find the blonde girl who had been hiding inside. She had luminous green eyes and long, golden tresses like troubadours sang about. Her radiant skin was flawless, her lips were pink and plump as if she had been thoroughly kissed and her cheeks were tinged with a soft blush. If she was afraid, her eyes didn’t betray it.
‘Go away!’ she yelled, brandishing her father’s old sword.
Sir Riley lowered his weapon, shocked.
‘You speak English!’ ‘My father was English but do not believe that because you share my father’s language that I will spare you!’ ‘I should say the same to you.’ ‘I said go away!’ ‘And what will you do when I leave you here?’ asked Sir Riley, ‘Do you honestly think that you’ll be able to escape a town full of English warriors?’
The blade she held was shaking slightly now, with what he thought was fear. Had he paid better attention, he would have noticed the quiet determination in her limpid eyes. Grinning like a fool, he approached the girl and unceremoniously grabbed her hand.
‘I am Sir Riley of Finisterre. I offer you my protection.’
Wary, the beautiful girl pulled her hand back.
‘What does that mean?’ ‘It depends, my lady. Who is your family?’
He took a quick look at her clothing, wondering if marrying the girl would bring him some fortune. Perhaps she was the daughter of rich merchants; her dark rose cotte certainly seemed to indicate that she was a woman with some means. Sir Riley couldn’t help but notice how tightly the dress fitted her slender waist.
“I am Lady Elizabeth of Harris,’ she told him with hauteur. ‘Harris? I thought your House had been all but wiped out, my lady,’ answered Sir Riley, trying to remember what had happened to the last heirs. ‘My father was the last one, my lord,’ said Lady Elizabeth, anticipating his next question. ‘Twenty years ago, lies of treason were spread about my father’ she added, ‘and his fortune was taken away by the King. He escaped to Brittany under the name Henri Aestival and became a merchant.’ ‘Did you ever find out whose opinion the King had favored over your father’s?’ Sir Riley asked, pondering if there were any riches left to make the marriage prospect worthwhile. ‘The Aurelius, my lord.’
At this, Sir Riley smiled broadly. Here was a woman who wouldn’t be swooning in the presence of Sir William. If the girl’s fortune matched her beauty, he would do well to marry her as soon as he could. If it turned out that the girl had nothing left, he considered giving her to one of his trusted man-at-arms. The arrangement would allow Sir Riley to take his pleasure while remaining free to seek a more beneficial matrimonial alliance.
‘Your father was successful in his business then?’ ‘We own five boats. We are still awaiting their arrival’.
Lady Elizabeth knew exactly what was happening in the knight’s mind. He wasn’t too clever, she thought, and didn’t even seem to wonder why someone like her would remain alone in a small town. Right now, the only thing she was hoping for was that her brother Alexander, whom she had always playfully called Xander, had managed to escape the town safely. Despite her brother’s protests, she had convinced him to leave her behind and had quickly exchanged her padded armor for a flattering cotte. As long as Sir Riley believed there were no heirs left, no one would be looking for Xander.
Though she despised the English nobility, whom she blamed for all of her family’s misfortunes, it took her merely a second to calculate the benefits of marrying one of the English king’s trusted knights. Winning the heart of a favored vassal meant access to precious information, which she could relay to Xander who would then take it to the French king. The strategy was dangerous but the result could turn the tide of this war. Her happiness was an easy sacrifice.
The idea pleased her immensely and made her smile.
Sir Riley thought she found him charming and took it as a signal that he could possess her. He dropped his sword on the ground and took his helmet off, greatly unsettling Elizabeth. She had accepted the idea of marrying an English knight but had never imagined that one would even think of raping her. Unromantic as she was, she still believed knights were bound by their chivalric code.
‘Sir Riley,’ she said gently, backing up a few steps, ‘you must stop this… Surely your king will offer me his protection…’ ‘I intend to marry you, my lady. Does it matter if I take what is mine now?’
When she made a move to escape, Sir Riley brutally grabbed her upper arms and violently bent her backwards over a shaky table. With a loud crack, the wooden surface broke under their combined weight and sent them rolling on the floor, near the hearth. Groaning with pain but intent on saving her honor, she quickly recovered and started crawling towards the door but Sir Riley was upon her in an instant and had started hitching his coat mail. Elizabeth wanted to scream but couldn’t find the strength. He was crushing her lungs and his sweaty hands were running up her legs. She started wailing loudly when she felt them being forcefully spread apart.
‘Anything but this… anything… please’ she prayed hysterically, turning her face away from the sight of his lecherous pant.
And suddenly, the weight was gone. Elizabeth held her breath for a little while longer, trying to find the courage to open her eyes to confront the worst. When nothing happened, she lifted her lashes to behold a strange man before her, with the unmistakable gleam of mockery brightening his blue eyes. Looking wildly about the room, she realized the sarcasm was meant for Sir Riley, who was now standing up with his chausses around his ankles, hands in the air. The tip of the stranger’s ornate sword was pressed against Sir Riley’s throat and had reduced the foolish lord to a silence punctuated with resentful glares. The sight would normally seem funny to her, but Elizabeth didn’t have the heart to laugh. She quickly covered her legs by pulling down her cotte and clumsily stood up. A soft ‘thank you’ was all she could muster.
Her savior was a striking man. She had never seen hair of that color before. The paleness of his curls was such a contrast with his black armor that she could not look away.
Sir William stared back at the girl with annoyance. She was preternaturally beautiful and would quickly become an object of dispute. There was also the possibility that the Earl, who was cousin to the king and currently leading the campaign, would want to keep her by his side as his mistress. In the end, William didn’t care who got the chit, as long as they didn’t start killing each other instead of killing the French. They had wasted enough time just trying to get inside this stupid little town.
‘My lady, it seems I have interrupted your wedding,’ he said coldly. ‘No!’ she protested, ‘No! I did not wish to be his wife!’ ‘But this is war and he has the right to take you... albeit in a less fumbled and clumsy manner.’
The sardonic reproach aimed at Sir Riley’s seductive abilities made the young lord bristle. He was going to kill Aurelius, he decided. He was going to find a way to ruin that bastard’s cursed family and take the Harris girl that was rightfully his. And if she dared laugh at his appearance now, he would kill her too.
But the girl was staring at the floor, troubled. Something was churning in the pit of her stomach… a premonition she couldn’t decipher.
‘A lady such as yourself cannot stay among warriors without a man to protect her honor. I can take you to the Earl and you can become his mistress. The Earl is a good man and you will be well protected’.
It wasn’t a suggestion so much as it was an order.
‘No’, she refused firmly, surprising herself, ‘I cannot be a mistress. Men tire of mistresses and my children would be illegitimate; I seek title and marriage.’ ‘You are in no position to bargain, my lady’, he replied, amused. ‘I have beauty’, she admitted shyly, ‘and I have wealth. I wish to marry!’ ‘Sir Riley here, despite his folly, is as good as any man. As a gift for marrying my friend, I will make sure he keeps his breeches on until you become his woman’, drawled Sir William with mock magnanimity. ‘Do not rile me, sir!’
Her cheeks turned red. The man was infuriating: he had the arrogance of nobility and the impertinence of privilege.
‘If the Earl cannot marry me’, she enunciated carefully, ‘I will trust him to give me to one of his advisors’.
Elizabeth knew she was threading thin and the glimpse she caught in the stranger’s stormy eyes told her he was no dupe, unlike the hotheaded Sir Riley.
‘If the Earl is indeed a good man as you say, my lord,’ she continued slowly, her eyes cast downward with false prudishness, ‘I will trust his judgment and will therefore only accept the husband he chooses for me’.
Sir William frowned at that. The girl maintained all the appearances of fragility and yet, something about her reeked of danger. He wondered if the Earl would be capable of seeing through this clever little damsel act, but it was high unlikely. The king’s cousin was a forward, honest man more at ease on the battlefield than at court, where political scheming was a sport of its own.
‘The Earl only trusts one man, and that is me’. ‘Are you married, my lord?’ she asked with candor, dropping into a perfunctory curtsy.
Her blunt question broke a perverse grin on his face.
‘I am not.’ ‘Then I beg for your protection.’
Sir Riley made a strangled sound but Sir William’s sword poked a little harder against the throat.
‘I am rich beyond measure,’ the black knight answered apologetically, ‘and have no need for more fortune. As for beauty… Beauty can be attained through eyes full of ale. What else do you have to offer?’
The question was asked as a cruel jest, telling her exactly how little she was worth. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth cursed this God who kept submitting women to the whims of brutish men. Genuinely hurt but unwilling to give up her request, she raised her chin in defiance.
‘Ask anything of me and I will give it to you.’
Sir William cocked his brow in such a way that he made her blush again. He knew she was acting out of wounded pride. Had he been a better man, he would have waited until she was more reasonable to discuss the terms of a possible alliance, an alliance whose attraction was undeniable. But a good man he was not and he enjoyed the idea that this girl, who had fought so hard to maintain her free will despite an unjust fate, would be at his mercy.
‘I am not a man with regular appetites, my lady’.
She said nothing but did not seem to back down. ‘So be it’, they both thought.
‘Riley!’ he roared, ‘put your breeches on and get out of here!’
Elizabeth glanced nervously at the knight who was putting back his chausses and wondered if she had chosen a man worse than the one she had refused to marry. Sir Riley gave them one last humiliated look before stomping out of the house. She heard him yell at other men nearby, probably looking for the nearest outlet to vent his rage.
Sir William sheathed his sword and advanced towards her until she had to raise her head to look at him. The air around them had lost all its warmth. His irises suddenly flashed like the darkest obsidian while his mouth contorted into a wolfish rictus. Frightened out of her mind, Elizabeth painfully bit down on her lower lip until a drop of blood drew his rapt, feral attention. Was this man the Devil’s servant?
‘You understand, don’t you?’
The voice was soft but laced with menace.
‘Not a sound from you, pet’
His mouth lowered to capture the drop of blood on her bottom lip, before running studiously along the line of her jaw. He lingered in the crook of her neck where his slow, circling tongue suffused her body with heat. Although the foreign sensation made her anxious, she did not hate it in the same way she had hated Riley’s touch. She softened in William’s embrace and gently brought her hands up against the filigree of his black-plated chest. She thought if she were obedient enough, perhaps he wouldn’t hurt her.
Instead, his maneuvers grew increasingly frantic. As he cornered her against the wall, his teeth hungrily nipped at her throat, trying to carve their mark into her neck. The cuts were shallow but the sharpness of the pain caused her to whimper despite his warning. Convinced she was about to be eaten alive, her fingers clawed wildly at the perfect surface of his plate while her own dress was starting to tear from all the exertions her legs caused by kicking frantically. To maintain the girl’s silence, William harshly tightened his steel-clad hold around her waist until he was sure she could not breathe anymore. But the iciness of his armor against her flushed body only elicited more moaning. The sound was blinding him with rage, though he knew not why she made him so wrathful. He wanted to punish her for the state he was in, for the darkness he was going to become. It was all her fault.
When his teeth sank angrily into her flesh, Elizabeth thought the pain would stop her heart and her first impulse had been to push him away. But languor unnaturally succeeded to the shock and all strength was sapped from her being.
William’s control was slipping too fast. The taste of her blood was quickly driving him over the edge and if he didn’t stop soon, he would tear her to pieces. Her arms had fallen listless; her soul, preyed upon by a demonic slumber, beckoned the kill William’s monster craved. Ashamed and desperate, the knight fought himself, growling like a powerful beast before retracting his fangs and allowing the blue to pool again in his irises.
Elizabeth had lost consciousness in his arms. Her head was tilted back, her cheeks still aflame and a touch of gold upon her heavy eyelids. The ray of light from a nearby window made her skin shine a little whiter, her hair a little brighter.
The last remnants of her haziness were dissipating. He was pleased to find that she did not try to flee as she regained her spirits. Instead, the girl stayed in his embrace, observing him with a mixture of fear and bravado, a combination he knew he could not resist if she were to serve it to him every night. Damsel in distress, she was not.
‘Blood’, he finally said without emotion, coldly undressing her with his eyes, ‘That is the only thing I ask of you in exchange for my protection.’
Oddly exasperated, Elizabeth freed herself, swatting his intrusive hands away. Though the statement ought to have stricken fear into her Christian soul, she couldn’t repress a vague feeling of disappointment.
‘Shouldn’t you be trying to earn my heart?’ she demanded, instantly regretting her pride.
‘I cannot ask for something I already own.’
Furious to see the mirth dancing in his eyes despite his unsmiling lips, she wanted to curse his name aloud but ended up sputtering a groan of vexation, unable to remember if he had said anything about who he was, other than being the Earl’s closest advisor. The quality of his attire, sober and yet onerous with its fine silvery details, gave away his high rank but no visible crest indicated his lineage.
Her right hand unconsciously came up to caress the bite mark on her neck while her left hand tried holding on to the tatters of fabric that hardly dissimulated her breasts anymore.
‘Who… what are you?’
He stared at her for a very long time, resenting the question she dared ask. The obsidian glare flashed briefly.
‘You are to become lady Aurelius.'
* * * * *
Chapter End Notes:
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