South Hearth Castle
Border of Scotland and England
“Allure! My lady! Ralentir!”
Chloe laughed when she turned around on her speeding horse to spy her French maid. Poor Nicola clutched the hood of her headdress with one hand, her hands scrambling to maintain the reins of her horse, and her bottom bounced up and down at a rather humorous pace.
She conceded her old nurse and slowed her horse to a trot until Nicola could catch up.
“My lady, shame on you. You know better than to ride with such… such… imprudence!”
“Oui.” Chloe chose to concede once more. There was no point in arguing with the woman. Especially when she was sure Nicola would only have the last word.
But she just couldn’t help riding hell bent for leather! They’d been waiting on the coast of France for nearly a fortnight before the ship could safely take them across. Then an entire week had been spent cramped inside a small ship’s cabin, with the swaying and rocking of the vessel. She felt like the nearly three weeks past had been consumed by sitting still, and now that they’d reached Scotland she only wanted to be free. To feel the fresh, clean, crisp air wash over her skin as she rode at break neck speed toward home.
Nicola gave her a disapproving look, but nodded anyway, silvery blonde curls falling out of her headdress. Whether or not she believed Chloe’s apology was sincere, she was accepting of it, it seemed.
They were not alone of course. A dozen of her father’s guard surrounded her, none of them willing to contradict anything Chloe said. Why? She wasn’t sure. Mayhap because she’d been on the continent for so long, they knew not what to expect of her, or perhaps it was simply that they too wanted to reach home. And yet again, it could be that her father had told them not to argue with her. Whatever the reason, she was glad they’d let her have a bit of fun for however fleeting it was.
Chloe turned to the guardsmen who appeared to be in charge. “How much further?”
He looked about himself for a moment before turning back to her. “South Hearth is not much further, mayhap another day. Shall we make camp now, my lady?”
Chloe narrowed her eyes. “South Hearth?”
“Aye, my lady.”
“We are not going to Fergusson lands?”
“That we are, my lady.”
“But you said South Hearth. My family has not held South Hearth for…” She trailed off remembering the last time she’d been at the border holding. Jon had been alive then.
“Nigh on five years now, my lady, but his lordship, your father, has once again proven we Scots shall prevail.”
So, her father had taken siege of the castle again? A lot had happened since she’d been sent to serve the French queen five years ago, at the age of thirteen. She couldn’t say she was surprised, or really upset about it. In fact, she was a little elated. South Hearth was home. She’d grown up there. Hadrian’s Wall was her playground. But the fact remained, if her father had retaken the castle—someone would want it back.
“Let us make camp then.” Chloe tried not to giggle at the look of pure relief that crossed her nursemaid’s face. The woman’s rump must be burning.
The following morning they set out at a slower pace, just after sunrise. They broke their fast with pears and cheese as they rode, all of them eager to reach South Hearth walls. As the sun rose high in the sky, the turrets of the keep were visible over the crest of a hill.
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