Chieftain by Command Excerpt


Prologue

Bienn á Bhuird
Scotland  Year of Our Lord 1082

Chieftan_FinalFate, in the guise of King Malcolm Canmore, had sent Gavyn to this dark place—a high hall, a longhouse built of ancient logs weathered by wind and rain to the colour of aged pewter, a building more suited to the worship of Norse gods than a home for mere mortals.

With its back nestled into the shelter of the rocky mountainside, the hall surveyed the whole valley from a broad shelf reached by worn steps carved aeons ago from the cliff face. Clan Comlyn had ruled from this hall for longer than living memory, but war and ambition had rid the world of the last males in a long line bearing the Comlyn name.

Inside the hall, pitch-tipped rushes fixed around the walls scented the dark hollows near the roof—corners where smoke from the firepit drifted. An unlikely setting, one might say, for the marriage of the daughter of one mighty chieftain and the son of another.

Kathryn Comlyn, the only glimmer of brightness in the hall, stood before her groom like a tall, slender, white wand, her hair flowing down her back in a wash of pale sunlight from the huge open doors behind them.

Gavyn’s lip curled as he thought of himself, thought of how others saw him—this mercenary whom cruel life experiences had cloaked in an aura of darkness, had sliced away any claim to being handsome. To the guests it might appear that his bride felt nervous, she kept her lashes downcast, hiding her large aquamarine eyes from her battle-scarred groom.

Kathryn, nervous? Never. Her bridegroom knew better.

And so, as Gavyn Farquhar, one-time Baron of Wolfsdale, took his young bride’s hand, he stared down at the ring he held betwixt finger and thumb—the ruby, gleaming blood-red, set in finely twisted coils—and saw it for what it was: a symbol, a contract wrought in gold and blood, for hadn’t his family been responsible for the deaths of hers?

He twisted the circlet, bringing it toward his young bride’s fingertip. Even as he watched, Kathryn’s fingers curved, curled into the warmth of her palm, trembling. Not out of any virginal fear, though she was untouched; Gavyn had been assured of that. No, his bride shook through an excess of bad humours and a wide streak of obstinacy, both of which made her determined to go her own road—a direction that didn’t coincide in any particular with her new husband’s.

Kathryn Comlyn was an unwilling bride.

And Gavyn was no more delighted by the prospect than she. Aye, but life’s hard lessons had taught him to be a particle more pragmatic; arranged marriages were hardly unusual for folk of their station. Theirs, however, was entered upon at the behest of King Malcolm Canmore—a fine sort of truth which precluded the notion that either of them had had any choice in the matter.

He heard Kathryn’s sharply indrawn breath. It preceded any firming of his grasp on her hand—a fine show of pretence that his grip hurt her. Gavyn had learned to ignore her tricks. Uncurling her fingers, he thrust the ring past her knuckle into its rightful place. “There now,” he said, voicing his satisfaction through half-clenched teeth.

From this moment, they were indeed man and wife, in name at least.

Kathryn’s immediate reaction was to tilt her chin at him, a fault in her that he had soon come to expect and ignore, as if it no longer bothered him.

Though honesty prevented his denying the same self-deception, it did annoy him when she seldom hid the shudders wrought by the sight of his battle-scarred face. Folk had warned him she was spoiled, wilful. Of a surety, she hadn’t a skerrick of diplomacy in her lush female body.

Few men in his place could simply turn a cold shoulder on the appealing curve of a hip that made one’s fingers beg to dawdle, or away from breasts that would surely fill a man’s hands to overflowing.

Aye to Gavyn’s self-disgust, he couldn’t rightly count himself one of yon rare few.

The feasting done, both bride and groom retired to the chieftain’s apartments, led to the bedchamber by their guests with all the laughter and ceremony due such an important occasion, for a dynasty depended on its success.

Soon, there was just the two of them, Kathryn and Gavyn, in the big master bedchamber. She spoke first. “I know fine it’s our wedding night, but I will not lie abed with you. I refuse,” she spat out her rejection of him accompanied by the stamp of one dainty foot.

Gavyn, listening to Kathryn’s outburst, displayed little concern. He barely managed an ironic tilt to one of the dark brows shading his eyes, carefully hiding the surge of satisfaction he felt.

How could she know her refusal suited him fine?

And to make certain she wouldn’t change her mind, he offered Kathryn just enough insult to keep her temper simmering, saying, “It makes little odds to me. Truth to tell, you’re naught but a wee lass, an inexperienced bairn, and hardly my notion of a guid ride.”

Aye, she would be fair pleased to see the back of him.

For a minute her pretty yet often sulky mouth dropped open. Of a certainty, she’d expected him to argue against her rebuff.

“Do you prefer men then?” She flung her own insult at him with a hint of bravado, not cowed by his size or the fact that they were alone in a room dominated by a huge bed.

Gavyn had wondered when she would fire his late brother’s sins in his face. He merely curled his lip, fending off her spite as he might a poorly shot arrow. “Acquit me of such vile proclivities, wife,” he ground the words out. It was time for some plain speech. “Understand this, woman, with all the preparations that I must see to on the morrow; sleep is preferable to teaching you such duties as a man might expect from his wife.”

He caught a spark of protest in her pale Nordic-blue eyes, along with a twist of bewilderment, and decided to rid her of any hint of misery her curiosity might cause.

“In two days,” he told her, “I and my mercenaries leave for France. The French king has need of extra men to help teach the damned Normans a lesson—the same lesson Malcolm Canmore has forbidden me to teach that blackguard, the one that selfsame William of Normandy has installed in my own hall of Wolfsdale.”

His new wife appeared too flabbergasted to lay voice to another protest, an occasion to be much applauded, so he continued, “Know this, when I return, I shall expect you to be as I left you—intact. I’ll tolerate no man’s bastard in my hall,” he warned her, his voice the rough growl he normally saved for his hounds. Gavyn wanted no misunderstanding between them.

Now or ever.

The blood drained from her naturally pale skin as she stepped back, her hand searching behind her for the solid wood of the bedpost. Aye, she was shocked, but not speechless. “This is my father’s hall, Clan Comlyn’s!” she protested, lips atremble.

“No longer. By the King’s command this hall is now mine.”

He let his gaze travel over the feminine curves that were his to use by right, yet steeled himself to resist temptation. “On my oath, Kathryn,” Gavyn vowed. “Any sons you bear under this roof and in that bed will be mine.”

“Inexperienced, I might be,” she taunted with a lift of her sweetly rounded chin. “Yet, I’m thinking that even for the mighty Gavyn Farquhar, it would take a miracle to get me with child from such a distance.”

As ever, there was little honey in her pronouncement of the truth as she saw it. Gavyn for his part had to cut off the bark of laughter sitting at the back of his throat. He had a presentment that life with Kathryn would always be interesting but was too wise to arm her with such information. He settled for saying, “I won’t be gone forever. Two years at most. Enough time to earn the money needed to tear down this auld longhouse and build a new stone Keep.”

Kathryn sniffed at the news, but he saw the shock in her eyes. She was a Comlyn through and through and, as was the custom, would retain her family name. She recovered herself enough to demand, “And what will I do while you’re away in foreign parts?”

Wait,” he told her. “Learn to sew a fine seam. The seneschal and constable will see to everything pertaining to the hall and clan, and the McArthur will be nearby if needed. On my return, we’ll turn our hands…”—he broke off, a smile at last lighting his once handsome features, then continued—“as well as a few other parts, to the making of a new Highland clan from all the sons we’ll make together.” At the lift of her pale gold brows he assured her, “Aye, I’m wanting lads. Gavyn Farquhar’s sons.”

Copyright © Frances Housden