What will Sir Talon Quereste find at Hawksedge Keep?
Excerpt from The Herald’s Heart:
Sir Talon Quereste refused to allow a little thing like being lost in a fog prevent him from completing his task as a royal herald. After getting garbled directions from an anchoress who screeched at the sight of him, swore evil lived at Hawksedge Keep, and then warned him that no good would come of traveling there, he finally located the town of Hawking Sedge. With the mist thickening, he stopped at the alehouse and asked for better directions or a guide. The alewife refused to give more information than “follow the road.” The patrons of the house, when questioned, refused to a man to guide Talon. Even proclaiming himself King Edward’s royal herald failed to gain their cooperation.
“T’ earl’s disappeared and ’tis haunted, sir,” they claimed.
They exchanged taunts with him, and Talon left the alehouse swearing to spend the night in the keep and catch any ghost that wandered its halls. If he could ever find the cursed place.
He very much doubted the earl had vanished. More like he was hiding because he knew he’d incurred Edward I’s wrath. When the king of England summoned a man to renew vows of fealty and that man failed to comply, the king might justifiably be angry. So Longshanks had sent one of his heralds—fondly known by courtiers as the king’s hounds. The fact that the chosen hound was the last person the Earl of Hawksedge would want to see was sugar on the plum for both king and herald. Talon would ferret the man out no matter where he hid. Would his father recognize him? Not likely, despite the fact that, according to rumor, Talon’s guinea gold hair and dark purple eyes could have only come from the Earl of Hawksedge.
St. Swithun’s nose! Recognition by the earl was as likely as finding Hawksedge Keep in this fog. Talon couldn’t even see his mount’s ears in the chill gray mass that swirled around him. According to one of the village cowards, the keep “loomed on a hill near the sea, its great black stones a blot from hell upon heaven’s beautiful sky.” Ghosts! Stones from hell! Nonsense is what it was.
His mount came to an abrupt halt. What now? Try as he might, he could not make the beast move forward. Talon twisted to look behind him. The fog had swallowed all sign of human habitation. The villagers’ absurd fears kept them warm and dry within the alehouse, while his sensible disbelief that Hades somehow escaped its bounds left him cold, wet, and stranded in an impenetrable mist, unable to determine either the way forward or the road back—on a horse gone mad with stubbornness.
Of a sudden, the silence hit. ’Tis the fog. It deadens all sound. He wished for the comforting clop of iron-shod hooves on dirt. He shivered in the enveloping chill and took a deep breath of mist-laden air. The salt tang reassured him. At least he hadn’t ridden off a cliff into the sea. Talon smiled at his own foolishness. If his steed would not go forward on its own, he would dismount and lead the animal.
He had swung his leg across the horse’s rump when a hideous wail arose, bleeding through the fog to ooze fear down his spine. He hung there, suspended above the earth on the strength of a single stirrup. That the horse didn’t bolt was a miracle of good training.
The fog, so thick and impenetrable a moment ago, formed a gap in the wake of the noise. Talon looked in the direction of the sound and met the wide-eyed gaze of a disembodied head.
His breath froze, and he swayed, dizzy with surprise. She ... it ... possessed the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. A delicate nose flared in a perfect oval framed with fiery red tresses. Long, dark lashes fluttered over bright, exotically tilted blue eyes. A berry-red mouth formed an O. Ivory satin skin pinked over high cheekbones as he watched. Every feature vanished the instant the fog closed between him and the vision. Talon choked on the nauseating aroma of death and lavender mixed with the sea-scented fog. The smell dissipated as quickly as the last glimmer of light. However, that hideous, grinding wail lingered, the aural guardian of a soul doomed for eternity to search out a body no doubt long dead.
What was he thinking? The bright blue eyes had blinked. The berry lips had gasped. She’d even blushed. Whoever she was, that head belonged to a very live woman. He settled back into the saddle and hauled his mount’s head around. With as much speed as he thought safe, given the lack of visibility, Talon hurried after the dying wail, heartened when he heard it rise again, for that meant he was nearing his quarry.
He moved along, pursuing the noise and the woman until his horse once again refused to move. What was wrong with the beast? Talon growled. He could either stay with the horse and lose the maid, or follow the maid and ... And what? Stumble blind over a cliff into the sea and lose not only his horse but his life? Nay, only a madman would go wandering around unknown ground in a fog this thick, which made the dunces back in the alehouse look very wise indeed.
Cold chattered Talon’s teeth, and damp soaked his clothing. He needed shelter. No doubt that’s what his mount had been trying to tell him. He could hear his good friend and fellow herald Amis Du Grace laughing in agreement that Talon’s horse was smarter than its rider. He shook his head—once again single-minded determination had led him into trouble. Still, the trouble would be worth it, if he could serve the Earl of Hawksedge even a small amount of the anguish the man had served a six-year-old boy tossed from his home and labeled a bastard.
Talon dismounted and moved to his steed’s head. The animal needed a stern lecture on obeying its rider. The fog became darker just ahead of him. “I’ve had enough nonsense for one day,” he said, whether to the horse or the fog was hard to tell. “There are no such things as ghosts or disembodied heads that blink and blush.” He lengthened his stride, hoping to pull his mount forward, and ran smack into black stone.
He’d found Hawksedge Keep.
* * *
Blurb for The Herald’s Heart by Rue Allyn
Royal herald, Sir Talon Quereste imagined that one day he would settle on a quiet little estate, marry a gently bred damsel, and raise a flock of children. The wife of his daydreams is a woman who could enhance his standing with his peers. She is certainly not an overly adventurous, impulsive, argumentative woman of dubious background who threatens everything he values then endangers his heart.
When her family is murdered, Lady Larkin Rosham lost more than everyone she loved—she lost her name, her identity and her voice. She’s finally recovered her ability to speak, but no one believes her claim to be Lady Larkin. She is determined to regain her name and her heritage. However, but Sir Talon Quereste guards the way to the proof she needs. She must discover how to get past him without risking her heart.
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