Exile’s Bane

Exile’s Bane by Nicole Margot Spencer Page A

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Authors: Nicole Margot Spencer
a hand on Peg’s arm. She seemed about to jump up and hit him or, worse, to expound on the subject.
    “So, if it is Prince Rupert’s forces approaching Bolton . . . that makes sense, actually.” He jumped from his chair in a huff, stopped dead in the midst of his forward motion, lost in thought for a long moment, then raised a questioning finger. “So, they are coming from Tor House, yes?”
    “We have no way of knowing that, Thomas,” I said. “Do not get carried away with this idea. We need to stay here, where it is relatively safe.”
    “Devlin would be with them,” he said to Peg with a sly look. “Bolton owes him fealty.”
    I shook my head in frustration and rising concern.
    “Well . . .” He hung before me, desperation dark and ugly in his handsome face. “Captain Wallace,” he said, a strange new urgency in his voice, “is he still the house guard commander?”
    “Of course,” I answered, unsure of his reasoning. “I cannot return. The earl would kill me, and you, too, for harboring me.”
    “Oh, I am not so sure of that.” He strode back to the chair and slapped the chair arm. “He has to get his hands on us first. Tell me, is the house guard still loyal to you?”
    I squinted up at him, mystified. “Probably not. Why?”
    He leaned toward us in the candle light, his face brilliant with excitement.
    “This is our chance. We will depart in the morning for Tor House and, without a drop of blood being shed, take the house in the earl’s absence. The house guard have served you all your life. They will rally to us, Elena. I know they will.”
    “No, Thomas. We stay right here.” I shook my head in amazement at his ability to skip from an untested conclusion into outrageous action.
     
     

Chapter Eight
    The incredible sound of hundreds of clashing swords woke me in the night. A frantic gasp escaped me. I jerked my head aside to find Peg asleep in the dim shadows close beside my pallet. With a shuddering hand, I seized a handful of the cloak that covered me. The solid feel of the heavy material, Peg’s soft snore, and the frenzied thud of my heart slowly convinced me of the here and now of the dark far corner of Thomas’ house.
    But the dream still held me.
    A black cloud of gun smoke drifted over me, stinging my eyes. The ground vibrated under my feet with the pounding hooves of thousands of charging war horses.
    Holy Mother. My mind convulsed and the vision released me. Sweat ran off my face in waves, my chemise stuck to my skin under my twisted dress. I kept as still and silent as my rasping breath allowed. Slowly, my racing heart and labored breathing returned to their normal rhythms. In desperate need of a human touch, I reached across the gaping floor boards toward Peg, but did not touch or wake her.
    The night’s vision had been my most grueling dream yet. A long tapestry of horrors, a massive battle of flowing and ebbing horse and troop movements, outright death by sword, pike, and gun shot. Men crushed in the press. There had been no recognizable face, no familiar ground, nothing to connect it to me, which made it easier to shut away in my mind.
    By the time the gray light of morning entered the house, I had myself under control. I pinched my cheeks to ensure color in my face, rose and went outside into the rain-washed morning. Black storm clouds floated ominously low over the earth. The town lay quiet behind me. I inhaled the brooding, charged air. A quiver began deep within me. With the King out of reach, my uncle could do whatever he pleased—if he caught me.
    “Another dream, then?” Peg’s soft exit from the house was followed by her considered approach.
    “No,” I lied. I pointed off toward the shadowed moors in the distance. “They are there somewhere. Duncan . . . and Uncle Charles.”
    “Yea, and the prince.”
    I nodded. At mention of him, it struck me that the only reasonable approach to the absent King was through Prince Rupert. I had a chance, for he was the

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