07 - Chapter 7 - Terms of His Honor
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Terms Of His Honor 




Chapter  7 - Part 5




  Albion sat near the fire, drawing dancing tunes from his lute. He watched Isolde return on Connal's arm. A wave of black hatred and jealousy lanced through him as he watched them together like the old friends they were.

All day long her laughter had tortured him. Her very presence scorched him like the blazing sun over the Anvil of the Lord. Could she not see how he stared at her, how he desired her?

His fingers found a discordant chord. The sound jarred him back to his senses. What was he doing sitting here like some milksop?

As he stood, Albion knew he was drunk. He must be, if he was doing what he was thinking about. The warning in his mind did not reach his limbs.

Connal slipped away when Albion approached, leaving Isolde defenseless. Behind him Albion heard a reveler beginning a song. The words and tune matched his mood, relentless, mournful and determined.

Her scent filled his senses as he drew a breath. He banked his desire and searched for the right words. "We've missed your harp, Isolde."

"Well enough." Her eyes darted about, seeking some protection. No doubt he frightened her. "I will play with you now."

Albion advanced until he stood toe to toe with her. The double meaning of her words sent a shaft of blazing iron through his loins. He clenched his fists and fought for control. "I'd like to play with you," he whispered. "You know that."

For a short instant she closed her eyes. He felt a wave of longing burst against his mind. Then she drew herself back inside her shields. "What do you mean?"

"I think you know. You've been flirting with every man you could reach all the long day." Albion caught her shoulders in a grip that was both imprisoning and embracing.

"I do not know what you speak of." Her voice trembled. She knew full well.

"Everyone except me, Isolde. Why is that?"

Her breath caught in her throat as he leaned closer. "I think you know that, my lord."

"Pray, I am an innocent. Tell me." His lips hovered a bare inch from her throat.

She strained against his hold, not hard enough to pull away but sufficient to communicate her uncertainty. "My lord --"

"Albion. My name is Albion."

"Albion." Her voice caressed it. "You move far too fast."

He laughed softly as his lips brushed the tender hollow where her pulse fluttered at the base of her throat. "I do not dictate the pace, sweet lass. Tell me to stop."

For an instant, a horrible, heart stopping instant, he feared she would do just that. Instead her fingers threaded through his hair and she pulled him closer. A moment later their lips found each other and she was kissing him back.

He lowered his shields and extended his mind to embrace her. Her shields still resisted his probing, but this time she did not throw him off. His breath shuddered in his chest, the air scalding hot.

The devil take Festil and all his schemes! Here and now, he would claim her for his own forever.

A fear-crazed shout broke the spell before their lips could touch. "Fire! The mill's burning!"

It was horribly true. Beyond the bonfire, at the far end of the town, flames flickered through the one window in the old mill.

Isolde scrambled away from him. Her voice rose above the commotion as she shouted orders at the milling crowd. "Buckets! Some of you men, pull what you can out of there! Move!"

"Too late!" Albion cried the warning, but if any heard they did not heed him. Several of the villagers dashed inside the burning building, valiantly fighting to rescue the equipment. Others grabbed anything that could carry water and began dousing the walls of the mill, hoping to save it.

The effort was far too little and came much, much too late. Albion threw himself over Isolde and covered her with his body as the mill exploded. With a roar like a dragon come to life a ball of flame turned the night into noontime in Hell.

Albion did not look up until the flames subsided. Groans of the burned told him several of the villagers had been injured. Isolde scrambled to her feet as soon as he let her up.

He surveyed the damage while Isolde moved through her people and did what she could for the injured. Three were dead, for they had been inside when the mill exploded. Four others were burned badly enough to need bandages. She tended them near the stream, where there was ample water and the smoke was thinner.

He waited until she was examining the burns on Connal McQuillion's arms before he approached her. "How much grain did you lose?"

Isolde shook her head. Tears sparkled on her cheeks, streaked with soot. "None. We finished milling the last of the crop two days ago. It's all in the keep now for safety, thank the Saints."

"Aye, thank the Saints." Albion studied the remains of the mill. Knowing now that there was no crop inside it, he realized the damage could have been much worse. Replacing the building and the equipment would take coin, and work, but both were easier to find in the winter than extra food.

"How could this have started?" Isolde shook her head as she tied a strip of linen around Connal's arm. "I know the miller. He is usually so careful never to bring a lamp or candle inside."

"He didn't." Connal's voice was as cold as the grave. "A torch started this. I saw it while I was pulling the mill belt loose."

"Then someone did this deliberately?" Isolde shook her head. "I don't believe it."

"Believe it, Dove. It was done for spite, no more reason."

Connal laid his unburned hand on her arm. She moved past him, then brushed past Albion when he sought to comfort her and joined the rest of her people examining the damage.

Albion watched her leave, his heart aching for her. When a rustle behind him told him Connal was gathering himself to leave Albion blocked his path.

"You know more about this than you are telling." His words bordered on accusation.

Connal nodded. "Aye, Deryni. But it's not for me to tell. Ask Isolde, if you want your answers."

"She won't give me them, will she?" When Connal shook his head Albion felt frustration swell within him. "This was senseless. It hurt Festil not at all."

"It was meant to teach her a lesson in obedience." Connal brushed the soot from his tunic. "I doubt much it worked."

"Stop speaking in riddles. Who are you protecting?"

Connal paused. The lingering light from the bonfire glittered off his smile as he faced Albion eye to eye.

"I might ask you the same, Outlander." Connal's stance reminded Albion of a stag prepared to face the hounds when no escape was left him. "Isolde is not one of your court jades."

"Do you think I treat her as such?" Guilt stung Albion, but he forced it away. After all, he'd done nothing to compromise her honor. The fire had prevented that.

"I wonder." Connal's expression shifted to one of tight-lipped scrutiny. "I know I have seen you before, Outlander. Would you care to tell me where?"

"I would not. And you will know soon enough, I expect."

"Perhaps." Connal adjusted his cloak as best he could on his shoulders. Three of his men joined him from the milling crowd. "I have some things to take care of at home. When I've learned where these raiders can be found, I will contact you."



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