Scoundrel of Dunborough

By: Margaret Moore
Chapter One

England, 1214

The November night had fallen, but inside Sir Melvin’s hall, warmth and light dispelled the cold and gloom and provided a welcome shelter for the young woman dressed in the habit of a nun. She had been traveling many days, and it had been a long time since Celeste had enjoyed such comfort.

A fire blazed in the long central hearth and several torches lined the gray stone walls. Two beeswax candles in silver holders graced the trestle table covered in linen on the dais. Behind the high table where Celeste and the plump and prosperous Sir Melvin sat, a tapestry of knights and finely dressed ladies swayed. His wife, the calm and competent Lady Viola, was seated to his left. Servants male and female moved among the other tables, where the steward, a priest, retainers, senior servants and household guards prepared to eat the evening meal.

The elderly priest, who put Celeste in mind of Methuselah, finished the grace. Serving maids brought trenchers of stale bread to hold a thick beef stew. More bread sat in baskets on the table, and wine was poured into bronze goblets that gleamed with the reflected glow of the firelight.

“It’s kind of you to offer me shelter and such a fine meal,” Celeste said to her host, her voice soft and sincere.

“We’re delighted to have you stay the night, Sister,” Sir Melvin said with hearty good cheer and a broad smile. “Delighted!”

“We’ll be happy to provide you with an escort for the rest of your journey,” Lady Viola offered.

“I thank you,” Celeste replied, “but I have not far to go. I should reach Dunborough tomorrow.”

“Dunborough?” Sir Melvin couldn’t have sounded more astonished if she’d announced she was going to the devil and happily so. “Why are you—”

He caught his wife’s eye, cleared his throat and began again. “Dunborough, eh? I know the lord there. Sir Roland. He and his bride stopped here on their way from her home to Yorkshire. Lady Mavis of DeLac, she is.”

Celeste stopped reaching for a small brown loaf from the basket of bread on the table. “Sir Roland is lord of Dunborough and he’s married?” she asked, doing her best to hide her astonishment.

“His father and older brother died a short time ago and he is recently wed,” Lady Viola supplied.

Celeste had to believe her, and yet she still found it hard to imagine.

“A fine fellow, a fine fellow!” Sir Melvin cried, picking up his eating knife to carve a piece of beef from the roasted loin a neatly dressed servant set before them.

“Quiet and a bit stern for my liking,” he continued, “but I’m not the bride. Our byre caught on fire when they were here and she lost all her dower goods. He never asked for a penny in compensation.”

“And he led the efforts to put it out,” his wife noted.

“He’s not in Dunborough now,” Sir Melvin continued, unaware of the relief he was giving his guest with that information. “He’s at DeLac. He was—”

Lady Viola touched her husband’s arm and shook her head.

“Well, that’s not a fit subject when we have a guest.”

Celeste wondered where Roland was and why, although it didn’t really matter. Her business was not with the lord of Dunborough.

“Have you been to Dunborough before?” Sir Melvin asked.

“I lived there until I went to the convent,” she admitted.

“Ah!” Sir Melvin cried. “So you’ll have seen Sir Roland. Grim fellow, isn’t he?”

“Rather,” she replied. Indeed, she remembered him very well, and his brothers, too. “He had a twin brother, too, I believe.”

“Oh, yes, Gerrard.” Sir Melvin’s pleasant face darkened with a frown. “Quite a different sort, he is, even though they’re twins.”

Gerrard had always been very different from Roland.

“It’s too bad he’s a wastrel and a lecher, like his father, or so they say,” Sir Melvin remarked. “From the stories I’ve heard, old Sir Blane was as bad as they come.”

Worse, Celeste silently supplied. She could have told him stories about Sir Blane that would have made her host’s beard fall out from shock.

She also could have told him how Sir Blane had raised his sons to hate each other and compete for any crumb of praise. He’d even kept the knowledge of which of the twins was the elder from everyone, including them, using it to goad or torment them, always dangling the hope that one of them could be the heir someday, should anything happen to their older brother, Broderick, before he married and had sons, as it had. Blane had made the twins bitter foes and rivals in a constant competition.

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