By Arnette Lamb. It dulled her honey brown eyes and turned her skin waxy white. Even her flowing golden hair had lost the luster of life. Usually tall and stately, she now seemed frail and childlike, swallowed up by the narrow bed. Are you in pain?

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By Arnette Lamb. It dulled her honey brown eyes and turned her skin waxy white. Even her flowing golden hair had lost the luster of life.

Usually tall and stately, she now seemed frail and childlike, swallowed up by the narrow bed. Are you in pain? Nay, child. The half truth came easily, even to an abbess, for in two years, fate had dealt this injured girl enough misery to last a lifetime.

You patched up enough of those. Every time Johanna and I climbed the harvest oak. Where is she? Strong, capable Johanna. What would she do when she saw her sister, Clare? The horse had trampled her spine.

Once the inevitable infection set in, sweet Clare would die. Praise God it would be a painless passing. At ten and five, Clare was still more child than woman. Neither marriage nor motherhood had settled her restless spirit.

Meridene loves children. Her husband should fetch her. Questions plagued Sister Margaret. What of your husband? Edward I. The mere thought of him brought fresh pain to a wound fifteen years in the healing. Sister Margaret clenched her teeth to stave off the ache. Oh, Alexander, she lamented, your merciful soul abides in these girls. His complexity of character had been passed on to his fair daughters: Clare, with her penchant for game and glee, and Johanna, inspired by her dedication to love and law.

Through a haze of seasoned misery, Sister Margaret stared down at one of her two children, who both favored a Scottish king long dead. Again and always Edward. The Hammer of the Scots, they called him. Sister Margaret cringed when she recalled the cruelty of which Edward the Plantagenet was capable. Only by taking the veil and swearing secrecy had Margaret been allowed to accompany her daughters to this remote abbey in North Yorkshire.

Johanna and Clare knew nothing of their birthright, not even their family name. A pity, for their blood was as blue and their lineage as royal as any crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Will the king come for your boy? Clare swallowed, fighting back tears. Like everyone else, he thinks Prince Ned rather than Drummond Macqueen sired my child.

Transfixed by the tapestry on the far wall, Clare spoke softly and with great regret. In exchange for my favors, the prince promised me he would go to his father. He said the king would spare Drummond. Her mouth pursed in disdain. The pervert lied to me. My sin went for naught. The king gave me a writ granting us a demesne in Dumfries. Lifting a weak hand, she pointed to her traveling bag. Will you get it please? Drummond denounced me publicly. I was ashamed, lonely, and afraid.

I thought only of coming to you. Sister Margaret expelled a breath and began to pray for the soul of her daughter. Sometime later, she heard voices in the next room.

Making a fist, Johanna punched the air. She had no business riding that trail at night. She knows better. What kind of a beast is her damned husband to have so little care of her? Sorry, Sister Margaret. Johanna folded her arms at her waist, jostling the ring of keys that dangled from a leather thong. Lord Drummond should have traveled with her. Johanna possessed a maturity beyond her years and a logic to rival any Oxford scholar. Although younger than Meridene and only five minutes older than Clare, Johanna had always been the leader.

Sister Margaret waved the parchment. Lord Drummond is taken by the king. He could not have seen to her welfare. Her jaw taut with anger, Johanna held out her hand. May I see what our generous sovereign has left her?

Sister Margaret handed over the document and reached for the babe. Her grandson was a handsome child with a grin as big as the Highlands. What would the future hold for him? Two years ago, when the king himself had taken Clare to the Highlands to wed the dashing Scottish chieftain, she had convinced the Stapledons to come with her to her new home. Bertie Stapledon scratched his beard.

Meridene would help Sister Margaret raise the wee Alasdair. By the next evening the deathbed vigil had begun. Practical, dependable Johanna paced the room, swearing under her breath. Meridene held the child, plying him with a wooden rattle and humming a lullaby. Sister Margaret prayed. In a voice drained of feeling, she called for her twin. Johanna hurried to the bed and leaned close. Sister Margaret fought back tears at the sight of her daughters, both fair haired and as lovely as a summer day.

Their whispers and occasional laughter brought back memories of their youth. Mark my grave with her name. You must agree, Sister Margaret. Let her take my son. Go to that land in the Borders. She could raise Alasdair. Help him seek his destiny. Anyone who has ever spent five minutes with the two of you, hissed Meridene. Oh, please, Sister Margaret, Johanna pleaded.

She never told anyone in Scotland that she had a sister. Do not deny me the chance to have a life outside the abbey.

Johanna was as capable as any man at running an estate. She was fair in her judgments and honest in her ways. No one knew her in Dumfries; the land lay in the Borders between England and Scotland, far from Scarborough Abbey and farther still from Castle Macqueen. And she deserved a life of her own. One thing held Sister Margaret back. Years before Edward had branded both Clare and Johanna with a hot iron and declared them wards of the crown.

The symbol, a blunted sword no bigger than a thumb, signified the conquests of Edward I. True, said Sister Margaret. But it could be dangerous. The Stapledons will go with me.

They know all of the Macqueens.


Arnette Lamb

Arnette Lamb. He swore to seek revenge on the faithless bride who had betrayed him. Yet the wife he encountered seemed like a stranger -- defiant, lovely, and inexplicably changed. Now, the unexpected arrival of Drummond, the domineering Chieftain she'd believed executed long ago, threatened her precious independence. But soon her fear gave way to a soul-deep longing for the lover who stormed her castle and claimed her heart. Obeisance to his royal command could engender only disaster, setting a shattering price on a woman's honor and the future of their love



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