*****WINNER Linda J. Congratulations and thanks to all who entered*****
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Read the excerpt from Roses Among the Heather then answer the question below.
Blair Robertson stared up at the ancient castle built on the banks of the Tyne by the eldest son of William the Conqueror, its grey walls blanketed white.
“Bastard Normans,” he snarled as he slowly dismounted from his snow-covered horse, narrowing his eyes against the blinding blizzard.
“Aye,” his twin echoed as he too slid from his mount.
Side by side they led their weary steeds across New Castle’s slippery drawbridge. Twenty Robertson clansmen followed, their footfalls eerily silent on the creaking incline. Blair was frozen to the bone though he’d made the five-day journey from Dunalastair on horseback. He and Craig halted inside the raised portcullis, confirmed their identity to the Earl of Northumbria’s guards and saluted their weary men. “Nary a complaint,” he muttered to his brother.
“Aye,” Craig agreed, “exhausted and cold as they are, they’ll make sure our mounts are taken care of before seeing to themselves.”
As he spoke, two clansmen took the reins and the entire escort tramped away to the stables.
Blair peeled off his gloves, tucked them under his arm, rubbed his hands together and blew on his fingertips. “I hate snow,” he complained. “Reminds me o’ Towton.”
Craig chuckled. “A Highlander who hates snow. I can scarce believe it.”
Blair punched his twin’s arm, instantly regretting the movement when pins and needles prickled his frozen hand.
Smirking, Craig linked arms with him and they made their way towards the Keep, heads down against the biting wind. “I’m worried about the return journey,” he shouted into Blair’s ear. “If this keeps up we’ll nay be home for Yuletide.”
Blair had the same concern. Their parents would be mightily disappointed. As the heir to the chieftaincy of Clan Robertson he was expected to take a leading role in the festivities now his father was aging. “Aye, well let’s thank the Lord God Almighty this is the last time we’ll be obliged to travel south. After the Treaty is ratified and Scotland is once and for all out of the cursed war between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists, we can get back to normal pursuits.”
“Look on the bright side,” Craig said as they approached the Keep, “at least Newcastle is closer than York.”
Before Blair had a chance to reply, the outer door banged open and a cleric appeared, bundled in a black cloak. One hand held on to the heavy door, while the other was clamped firmly on his hat. His robes flapped in the wind like a sail torn loose from the mast. “Hurry,” he shouted.
They exchanged a puzzled glance. “As if we’re not walking as fast as we can,” Blair rasped.
“I was afraid you wouldna arrive in time,” the unknown cleric declared, shoving the door closed behind them. “What delayed ye?”
Blair frowned, rankled they’d come all this way in treacherous weather and were being greeted with disrespect. “Where is everyone?” he asked, suddenly aware of the castle’s peculiar emptiness. Feeling was returning to his frozen extremities, but a chill crept over him nevertheless. Something was amiss.
“Summoned by the Earl to the Great Hall for the betrothal formalities,” the cleric replied.
Stamping the snow from his boots, Blair suddenly feared he had arrived somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. His thoughts went to his mother. She had long held the belief that her brother was what she called a time traveler. Though Braden and his two brothers had drowned, he’d appeared to tell her where to find the hiding place of one of the assassins of King James Stewart, something he could only have learned from the future. The information had saved Margaret’s life. Blair never doubted his mother believed Braden lived in another time, though he found the tale incredible. And there’d been no miraculous appearances of Callum and Donal.
He and Craig had set out on a mission to represent the clan as witnesses to the Treaty signing, not attend a betrothal. “Who’s getting wed?” he asked, dreading the answer.
The cleric, who he now saw wore the robes of a Scottish bishop, eyed him as if he’d lost his wits. “Did ye nay receive the Regent’s missive?”
“Missive?” Craig parroted, shaking the snow from his plaid.
“Aye, ’tis the final part of the agreement between the English King and Regent Kennedy. Alliances between Scots and English.”
Blair stopped in his tracks, his heart thudding in his ears. “Alliances? Ye mean marriages?”
“We never received any such missive,” Craig protested.
The bishop took off his hat and scratched his head. “Weel, ye’re here now. Mayhap if ye’d seen it ye’d have stayed home.”
He scurried off, leaving Blair and Craig to stare at each other in the draughty corridor.
“Surely the English king canna force us to wed,” Craig muttered.
A dreadful certainty filled Blair’s heart. “Aye, he can. Our cursed Regent has agreed to allow two proud Scotsmen to be betrothed to English women.”
“Nay,” Craig shouted.
The Bishop paused in mid flight and turned as Craig’s voice echoed off the stone. “Come along, lads. Ye might still grab a bite to eat before the feasting ends and the ceremony begins. ’Tis yer duty as loyal Scots to make sure the Treaty doesna fail.”
Question to answer to be entered in a draw for a paperback copy of CONQUERING PASSION. Which of the twins is heir to the chieftaincy, Blair or Craig?
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