Marked By Honor (Knights of Honor Series Book 2)

By: Alexa Aston

Chapter One





Southern England—1363

She couldn’t wait to ride again. She pulled free of her mother’s hand and raced across the meadow. Warm summer sun caressed her back. Blaze galloped through the green grass, carrying her father. She ran in his direction as fast as her legs would carry her.

He spotted her and smiled, turning the horse toward her. She knew what to do next. Standing as still as she could, she held her arms wide. The beating hooves came her way as she held her breath. Her father scooped her up in one swift motion, seating her in front of him. The scent of leather and horse swirled in the air as his arms encircled her. She loved being close to him. He was a bear of a man who became gentle as a lamb whenever near his daughter or wife.

“Go fast,” she demanded.

As always, the horse responded to her father’s wordless commands. Blaze took off full speed. She squealed in delight as the wind whipped her hair about. From up high, she could see the castle in the distance and all their surrounding land.

They flashed past her waving mother. The world became a blur of colors as the horse went faster and faster.

Her father’s laughter came from deep within his belly, filling the air around her. She joined in, delighted to spend this special time together. As he gazed down at her with adoration and love, she knew she was his special girl. Then Blaze stumbled.

Suddenly, she was sailing through the air like a bird. Her father gripped her tightly, but his expression scared her. He managed to twist them around before they hit the ground hard. Fear rippled through her as she hovered above her father, knowing he’d intentionally cushioned her fall. She wanted to cry but couldn’t. It was too hard to suck in a full breath. When she was finally able to breathe, her father’s strong arms fell away, releasing her. She rolled to her side and curled into a ball, trembling—frightened to look at him again.

A loud shriek sounded and her mother ran toward them. Falling to her knees, her mother ripped at her hair. Did her mother blame her for the accident? She pushed herself into a sitting position and glanced over at her father. His head rested in an unnatural position, but their eyes met momentarily and she could see the panic in them. Fear spiked inside her again. Couldn’t he get up? The light in his eyes faded.

She screamed.

*

Beatrice shot up in bed and bunched the bedcovers against her mouth. The thick material muffled the small scream that erupted from deep within her.

She fell back against the pillows. Every time she awakened from a nightmare, her body was drenched with sweat. She tried to relax, but the knot in her stomach ached. She forced herself to breathe slowly. Finally, the last remnants of horror began to fade.

She pushed away the thoughts of her father and the last time they were together. It did no good to think about him. He’d been gone ten and seven years, and her life had changed drastically.

Beatrice tossed aside the covers and swung her legs to the floor. They still shook, so she didn’t trust standing just yet. Instead, she focused on the day ahead. A day which would be like yesterday. And the one that came tomorrow.

Every day blended together, from tending to her mother’s needs to mending, washing, and cooking. If it was a good day, her mother wouldn’t be ill-tempered. She would listen quietly as Beatrice played her a few songs on the lute. Hopefully, her mother would manage to eat something without vomiting it back up and then nap for the remainder of the day. Only then would Beatrice get most of the household work done.

Once evening came, she looked forward to the time spent with her grandfather, who would share stories of the past about his own life and England’s glory. Often, they played several games of tables or read together from the Bible before their nightly prayers.

Beatrice wondered how different life might have been if her father had lived. Or if her mother had been able to have more children—especially an heir. Instead, she grew up in her grandfather’s rented manor house with no luxuries, isolated from children her own age. As the years passed, her mother lost the will to live and gradually became bedridden. Beatrice became responsible for keeping their small household running and she’d learned to make what little they had last. Life had gone on this way for many years, but now her grandfather’s health was in question.

She pushed that thought aside, not wanting to deal with it, and dressed for the day in her smock and kirtle. Beatrice unbound the straight, dark brown hair which fell to her waist and combed through it before braiding it again in a single plait. Now ready for the day, she stirred the embers of the kitchen fire and fed more wood into it before going outside to gather eggs from their two hens. After completing those tasks, she joined her grandfather for their morning devotional. The old man already knelt in prayer, his head bowed and gnarled hands wrapped around one another. She joined in the Latin that he’d taught her, the words flowing easily after so many years of practice. As she spoke, she stole a glance at him.