Cumberland, England, Summer of 1399
Penelope peered through the woodland at the fortress with its thick walls, battlements and towers. What an intimidating sight in comparison to the small village from which she hailed. Even clad in breeches with a knife on her leg, a sword on her back and a bow slung over her shoulder, Penelope didn’t feel like the warrior she’d grown up to be.
At age twenty-five, she’d spent the last twelve years fighting battles and protecting those who needed protection. But being truly alone for the first time in her life and on English soil suddenly made her feel small and insignificant.
She parted the tall green stems of the Bishop’s lace with her hands and stepped from the shadows of the forest into the sunlight, never taking her eyes off her destination—Hawkwood.
As if the ground had conjured up soldiers, she was surrounded by men on horseback. Reaching for the hilt of her sword which protruded over her shoulder, the clanging of blades removed from their sheaths gave her pause. She let her hand return to her side, pulled back her shoulders to show her full height and lifted her chin as her eyes searched for the leader.
She didn’t need to search long. The man she needed to address held himself as only a knight of position would.
Ignoring the swords pointed her way, she stepped toward the leader. “Me name is Penelope Beatty and I have come to speak with Hamon Godfrey.”
He raised a brow but didn’t say a word. The way the other men suddenly shifted their gaze from her to him caused a knot to form in her gut. Certainly this couldn’t be Hamon. He was much too young…wasn’t he? She’d never asked her father the age of the man he’d saved. She’d always assumed Hamon was her father’s age and for some reason seeking a man her father’s age comforted her.
“I have come tae call in a favor that is owed.” Couldn’t these men speak?
The corner of the man’s mouth twitched in what she could only assume was amusement.
“I wish you tae take me tae Hamon Godfrey.” She thought a second and in her most authoritative voice added, “Now.”
“Hamon Godfrey owes you a favor?” The black-haired leader spoke from his mount. “I venture to say that you could not have been much more than a babe when…you last saw him. I assure you Hamon has not stepped off English soil since you were a bairn.”
The other men chuckled at his response and he grinned. That made the blood in her veins as hot as the red coals she wished to heap upon his head. “I assure you, Sir Hamon will see me, perhaps even welcome me.” She’d thrown that last bit in for good measure. She had no idea if the man would be happy to repay his debt.
“I am sure Hamon would be delighted to give you a proper welcome.”
Hope arose within her. “Then you’ll take me to him?”
He cocked his head and shrugged. “As you wish.”
Leaning down over the side of his destrier, he stretched out his arm and gave her his hand. No sooner had she clasped hold of his hand that he pulled her onto his horse in front of him. She’d thought to swing up behind but he’d been faster than her.
“You dress like a man.” His warm breath pushed past her ear.
She stiffened. “And I fight better than most.”
The rumble of hearty laughter in his chest angered her. She could only imagine he was a typical Englishman. A reason why she shouldn’t have come.
“You are a long way from home.” He urged his mount forward and the other men followed.
Everything the man said rubbed her wrong. How did he know where she was from and why did he find so much mirth out of her being there? “Am I?”
“Hmmm. I would say the highlands of Scotland. ’Tis a long way for one wee lass to come.”
“’Tis nothing wee aboot me. Ye would no’ question a man should he have come this far.”
“’Tis true. But I also would not be taking him to see Hamon. Rather I would be escorting him to see Lord Royce and questioning why he was here.”
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