The Blacksmith {Order of the Broken Blade Book 1}: Sneak Peek

Chapter 1

Northumbria, England, 1214

“This is treason.”

Lance said it first and wasn’t surprised when no one responded. They all knew it, and speaking the word aloud again would serve no purpose.

“Think carefully before you respond.” Conrad moved to the flap of the tent, peered outside, and apparently satisfied, sat back down.

So this was why his friend had set up so far away from the rest of the tents. Conrad had known that his proposal would turn the four of them into traitors.

“I’ll do it,” he said.

The earl would only have proposed such a drastic action after careful consideration, and he trusted his friend implicitly.

All three of the men watched him, none more carefully than Conrad. But he had said his piece. He wouldn’t change his mind.

“We will need support.” Terric had more reason to march against the king than any of them, but he was also the most cautious. He would have the most questions, but Lance was confident he would do it. They all would.

“If the Northern lords don’t join together now,” Conrad said, “then they are lost.”

“We’ll be lost too, lest you forget.” Guy crossed his arms and sat back in the chair that had been carted here on a wagon filled with the luxuries afforded them by Conrad’s station.

Their friend cared little for such comforts, which was why it had surprised Lance when he’d insisted on attending the Tournament of the North in such a stately fashion, something his father would have done were he still alive. Conrad was reminding those who might join their cause that the Earl of Licheford was one of the most powerful Northern border lords.

“I am no great lord,” Guy continued, “but I’m as affected by John’s policies as any.”

“And taxes,” Conrad added. “His policies and taxes. Both will be our demise if we allow it.”

Guy shrugged as if their friend had asked if he wished for a meal rather than suggested they join forces against their king. “I’d not turn away an adventure such as this.”

“An adventure?” Terric shook his head. “You’re mad to call it one.” Then, turning back to Conrad, “You have a plan?”

“The beginnings of one, aye. The most crucial part being your support.”

By “your” he meant the three of them. With just one more assent, the course of each of their lives would change forever.

Terric stood and extended his arm, fist clenched. His friend had extended his arm for such a vow only once before.

Conrad clasped his wrist.

Guy was next.

Lance, last.

“Today we pledge more than a vow of silence. We form an order this day.” Conrad looked directly at Terric. “The Order of the Broken Blade.”

A perfect name. A symbol of the abuse of power that can accompany a man who believes his rule divine. Nothing but silence followed his proclamation.

It was more than a name. It was a promise. Like the first one they made to one another many, many years ago. No one else would understand the significance, yet each of them did—and each took it to heart.

“For England,” Terric said. Ironic for him to be the one to say so, as he was the only one among them not English.

Lance hated to dissent but thought it important to mention a fact Conrad seemed to have overlooked.

“An order? Of knights?”

Unclasping hands, they waited for him to finish.

“Surely you see the problem? Aye, you’re an earl, and Terric’s a baron’s son.” He nodded to Guy. “Even the mercenary is a knight.”

“And my title is well earned,” Guy winked, “unlike these two.”

Lance couldn’t help but smile at that. Guy had made the remark many times over the years. That it failed to rile Conrad now was a mark of the seriousness of their discussion.

“Take out your sword,” Conrad ordered, his gaze on Lance.

There were few men Lance took orders from these days, but this man was one of them. So he complied.

He’d intended to remind Conrad he was but a blacksmith, but there was no use telling his friends what they already knew. And though Lance had no use for a fancy title or any of its trappings, the solemnity of the moment was not lost on him. No, it was clear to them all. One look at Terric’s and Guy’s expressions told him as much.

Ignoring the others, he dropped to one knee, laying his sword across it as Conrad pulled out his own sword. Tapping him on each shoulder, he uttered the words Lance had never thought to hear in his lifetime. When he was finished, Conrad bade him rise.

“Stand up as a knight, in the name of God.”

He did, unsure what to say.

“Do you have any further opposition to our order?” Conrad asked.

“No.”

“Good. We’ve much to discuss.”

Of that, Lance had no doubt. Rebelling against a king required planning, after all.

“Including your new title.” Guy bowed to him. “Sir Lance.”

“I quite like it.” Terric bowed as well.

“A Scots clan chief bowing to an English blacksmith.” Guy looked at Conrad, raising his eyebrows dramatically. “I’ll admit ’tis a sight I’ll not soon forget.”

“When you finish jesting . . .”

“Does he ever?” Lance asked Conrad sincerely.

“We’ve the small matter of King John to discuss.”

Small matter indeed. If even a hint of what they’d just done were whispered to the wrong person, their heads would be forfeit for it.

Knight or blacksmith, earl or mercenary . . . none of their titles, or lack thereof, would matter if they were exposed as traitors to the crown.

#

The king’s men marched through the courtyard as if it were their own. Idalia’s father stood next to her on the doorstep of the great keep’s entrance. She peeked up at him, wondering when the hair of his beard had become more gray than black.

“Welcome,” he boomed as the first of the newcomers reached them. A captain, perhaps? Idalia tried not to smile at the looks they were receiving. Not outright hostility, but certainly the people of Stanton could give the representatives of the king a warmer welcome.

She was secretly glad they did not.

“My lord.” The tall, thin captain bowed to her father, the Earl of Stanton. “We travel to Norham Castle and request shelter for the evening.”

Interesting. Why were the king’s men on their way to Norham and so far north?

Idalia could hear her father’s silent answer to her silent question. Do not concern yourself with the affairs of men. She also knew what he would say next.

“My daughter will see to your comfort.” He looked at her as if expecting a retort. It was market day, her favorite, and Father knew it well.

But he knew his daughter too.

“Of course.” She smiled as the captain and his two companions joined her. They were dressed identically, in armor topped with bright red tunics bearing the crest of their king. They’d require assistance in removing that armor. Marina, her mother’s maid, would normally assist her in making the arrangements, but Marina was nowhere to be seen.

More likely than not, she was sitting at Idalia’s mother’s bedside, something the maid often chided her for doing.

I have been her maid for as many years as you are alive, she would say. Which was not fully correct—Idalia had only been alive for two and twenty years, and Marina had been her mother’s most trusted servant for four years longer. Sometimes it felt as if Idalia had two mothers.

“Follow me,” she instructed the men, catching her father’s small smile. Seeing one of his rare smiles almost made missing market day worthwhile.

Taking them past the great stairs on either side of the entranceway to the keep, Idalia nearly missed the flash of royal blue.

Her younger sister. She wished to call out to Tilly, but it was unlikely she’d get a response. Tilly disliked helping with the duties about Stanton. Sure enough, the flash of blue was there and then gone.

By the time she showed the men to their chambers and sent up a squire to assist them with their armor, Dawson, the seneschal, had already spoken to Cook about dinner and arranged baths for the three men.

His help had eased the burden of the unexpected guests, but Idalia had one more thing to do before she could check on her mother. The captain had made a special request of her—or rather, of the smith. She left the great keep and walked through the courtyard down to the castle forge. Stepping around puddles that had formed on the gravel path after that morning’s rain, she arrived, the door, as always, already open.

“Daryon,” she said, stepping into the darkened room. “Is there enough light to repair a shoe?”

The apprentice looked up, hammer in hand. His brother had already begun tidying up. It was a habit Roland had instilled in his apprentices. Idalia pushed the thought away. When she thought of how the blacksmith had suffered before he’d succumbed to an illness all had known would claim him someday, a familiar pang in her chest reminded her of the master smith’s absence.

“Aye, my lady.” He looked at her hand.

“I don’t have it with me but will send it straightaway. ’Tis for the king’s captain,” she added.

“Shall I fetch it from the stables?” the lad’s twin brother, Miles, asked. At only ten and two, the boys were carrying a responsibility that should never have been asked of them. Two apprentices smithing for a castle the size of Stanton . . . she shook her head. The situation could have been avoided had her father taken Roland’s illness more seriously. They should have started looking for a new master smith long ago.

“Aye, thank you. The new master should be arriving any day now.” A replacement smith had finally been found at this year’s Tournament of the North, a yearly event where English knights and Scottish warriors prepared for the very real battles they would later fight.

She wanted the boys to know their hard work had not gone unnoticed. “My father is grateful for your service in the interim.”

As expected, both boys beamed at the praise. And it was true. Although her father rarely seemed to notice her own service to Stanton, he did recognize the boys were much too young for their current position. They were only in their third year of seven in training.

Daryon watched his brother leave. Unlike most others in the keep, Idalia could easily tell the two boys apart, and it was that look that made it so easy. Daryon was by far the more serious of the two.

The boy’s thoughtful eyes darted from the doorway to her. “’Tis market day.”

And Idalia never missed one if she had the choice.

“Aye, but we must see to our royal visitors,” she said.

Three years earlier, her father had received a charter for Stanton to be designated a market town, courtesy of the well-maintained old Roman roads that led both north and south as well as east and west. Many castles did not enjoy such a right, especially in the “wilds” of Northern England, and Idalia was grateful for their good fortune. She visited the market as one of her duties for Stanton—her mother was much too ill to do so. Secretly, she also hoped she would one day find the herb or tonic that might help her mother. The market attracted all sorts, after all. To make such inquiries directly was impossible, however, as her father had forbidden her from speaking of her mother’s worsening condition to anyone.

“Had I known, I would have gone yesterday,” she said. The market day was actually poorly named—it had grown in popularity enough to stretch to two days. “And if the new master does not have the drift you need, I promise to secure your tool on the next market day.”

“Thank you, my lady.”

She could tell Daryon was anxious to get back to work, so she left him to it, intent on visiting with her mother before supper.

And that was when she saw him, the most handsome man she’d ever seen, striding downhill toward the forge.

Toward her.

 

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