Dusk was deepening when Derry and Lord
Michael returned from Craeburn; it had been a long day since Gregory
had roused him at the crack of dawn. Derry would gladly have eaten a
crust of bread and crawled into bed, but they met Lady Gwyneth as they
entered the hall, and she beamed at them.
"Oh, you are home for supper, my
lords. We didn't welcome Sean properly last night, as he was hurt.
We'll do better tonight, I promise, Sean."
"You do me great honor,
milady," he accepted gracefully. "I'll be down directly I
"I shall hold you to that,"
So there was no escape. He found Morris
in his room waiting for him and was soon back in the hall looking (if
not feeling) rather less fatigued, at least. Gregory gave him the
place of honor on Lord Michael's right, and at last Derry met Lady
Meagan, who was lovely, if a bit chattery. He also greeted Lucas,
Gregory's younger brother, and his wife, Lady Celia. He knew her well,
for they had engaged in a mutual flirtation of several months'
duration a few years back. Neither had been seriously interested in
the other, but the game had been fun. He was glad when Lord Michael
came in because Celia had begun to tease him about being ousted from
To his displeasure, Derry found himself
seated well away from Lady Dacia, who was on the other end of the high
table with several other ladies. These Gregory identified as his
cousins Amalie, Susannah, and Gyddian, his sister Rosemary, and Lady
Kathleen McIvers, Colin Grant's "Katie."
"I heard a good bit about Lady
Kathleen today," Derry commented drily.
Gregory laughed at his tone.
"I'd wager you did! Colin fell
like a rock when he came home from Coroth, but her father put it in
his will she's not to wed until her younger brother's knighted."
"He groaned a lot about
that," Derry grinned. "Which one is he?"
"That's him, there with Keevan,"
Gregory pointed, " the one with the rumpled blondish hair.
They're of an age–both sixteen last May."
"Any chance of your father
knighting him early?"
"Well, he might. David's fairly
mature for his age, and smart. Doesn't say a lot, but you can tell
he's thinking. Figures out strategy in a snap. He's got one of those
logical minds. Though he does have a woeful tendency to read
everything he can lay hands on."
"Well, that's not really a bad
thing, Gregory. I've learned to appreciate reading a bit more than I
"Aye, well. If David does well
this summer, I expect Father might knight him just so Katie and Colin
can get married. "
"Well, that'd make Colin
happy," Derry laughed. "Her too, I expect." He smiled
at another boy now serving him with a trencher of sliced meats and
breads. "Thank you."
"Will–will you want anything
else, Lord Derry?" the boy asked.
"Not for a while, thank you. Go
get your own supper, if you aren't the unlucky one has to stay at
table the whole time."
"Not tonight, my lord. Thank
"He looks like family,
Gregory," Derry remarked as the boy left. "Who is he?"
"Did Father not introduce you? I'd
have thought he would. That's Geoffrey, of course."
"Uncle Adam's second son."
Derry was puzzled, for though he knew
and liked Sir Adam McKelvey, Baron Munro, he had no idea why Lord
Michael would introduce him to his brother's younger son. Gregory
heard the puzzlement in his voice.
"Did Father not tell you at all,
"Tell me what?"
"He's assigned Geoffrey to squire
for you while you're here. I thought surely he'd have told you
"It didn't come up that I was to
have a squire," Derry shrugged. "He was too busy giving me a
list of what he wanted me to do."
Gregory nodded in sympathy, then asked.
"Are you truly staying a good while, then? It's not just a quick
"I can't go back to Rhemuth or
Coroth until I'm called back. The king and my lord Morgan made that
Gregory's eyes sparkled with amusement.
"In front of the whole court, I heard."
Derry winced. "Just the Privy
Council, actually. It took perhaps ten minutes for the rest of the
court to hear."
"Sean, I don't know how you manage
it," Gregory laughed. "You could always find trouble.
Geoffrey's much the same. I suppose that's why Father decided to let
you have a turn looking after him."
"Wonderful. Payback for my past
"Of course." Gregory sobered
somewhat. "But Geoffrey has had a hard time, Sean. It's not easy
having a perfect older brother, and Peter really is. Uncle Adam has a
hard time not comparing them, too."
"The older boy was knighted last
year, wasn't he? I remember seeing your uncle at the ceremony, but I
missed meeting the boy."
"Peter's a good knight. Geoffrey
will be, too, but he's not having an easy time of things, Sean. Maybe
you can help him more than we can because you don't know Peter. It's
hard not to compare the two if you know both."
He grinned at Derry.
"Lucky for Lucas and the younger
boys Father was comparing them to us, you know. We stayed in so much
trouble the whole of our youth that anyone who wasn't constantly
causing problems had to look good."
"I expect so. Well, I'll need a
squire with all your father's laid on my plate."
"Aye, he wants to keep you busy so
you won't have time to get too friendly with my sister," Gregory
chuckled. "That way he won't have to cut you into crow
"Not funny, Gregory. I get the
cold shivers just thinking of waking up with his sword at my
"Wish I'd seen it," his
"Seen what?" Lord Michael
inquired, turning from Lady Gwyneth to his guest of honor. "Sean,
I want ye to write yer letters tonight. Want Ethan to leave first
thing in the mornin'."
Derry shot a look at Gregory before he
"Of course, m'lord. But I can
hardly slight Lady Gwyneth's welcome, can I? I see the musicians are
tuning up. I really should dance with the ladies."
Lord Michael followed his gaze to the
far end of the table where Dacia and the other ladies sat.
"Ach, I suppose so. Ye can start
wi' Meagan and Celia, though. Only fittin'."
Derry wasn't sure why that should be
so, but he complied. He was glad to hand Celia back to her husband.
"Your wife is not much changed,
Lucas," he told the younger man. "She still likes to tease
me unmercifully for every slight fault."
"Slight fault? Ha! Best watch him
with your sister, Lucas," Lady Celia continued to tease.
"I won't have to," Lucas
grinned. "Father will do that."
And that seemed to be true, for Dacia
suddenly appeared at Derry's side–on Lord Michael's arm.
"Father says we may have one
dance, Sean," she informed him, "before he makes you go to
work. We'd best have it before he changes his mind."
"As you wish, milady," he
bowed, taking her by the hand and leading her to join a set of four
couples. The music was for a lively dance that left little breath or
time for talking, so they had exchanged less than half a dozen
sentences before they were ending their dance and Lord Michael was
hurrying Derry out of the hall up to his study to write his letters to
the king and Morgan.
Lord Michael did not remain while Derry
wrote. They had already discussed the content of the letters, so there
was no need. He merely directed Derry where to find pen, parchment,
ink, and sealing wax and left him there to do his writing, promising
to return before Derry sealed the letters and add his own signature as
well. Perhaps three quarters of an hour later, he did return, bringing
the boy Geoffrey with him. Derry had finished his writing and rose as
the older man entered.
"Give Lord Derry a cup o' wine,
lad," Lord Michael said as he sat down at the desk Derry had just
left and began to scan the parchments there. "He's earned that,
The boy brought the wine carefully, and
Derry took it gratefully. He grinned as the boy yawned hugely.
"I know. I'm sleepy as well,
Geoffrey. We haven't been formally introduced, but your cousin told me
who you are. I remember your father very well from my own
"Your childhood, my lord?"
"Yes, childhood. We visited here,
my parents and I, when I was very young–five, maybe. Gregory and I
got into all kinds of mischief in the first couple of days, and your
poor father was the unlucky one who got the decidedly unpleasant task
of keeping up with us for the rest of the stay. I wonder if he
remembers fishing us both out of the lake; I remember the thrashing he
"Ye were both young rascals,"
Lord Michael commented, having signed both letters. "Seal these
up, Sean. Got yer signet?"
"Aye, m'lord. Geoffrey, will you
hold the wax for me?"
"Of course, my lord."
The parchments were soon sealed with
Derry's personal signet and his Royal Councillor's seal as well; that
done, Lord Michael nodded.
"Weel, Gregory said he told ye,
Lord Derry, that I'm assignin' Geoffrey here to be yer squire while
yer here. He's ready to do the work, aren't ye, lad?"
"Y-yes, Uncle. I–I'll try to do
my best for you, Lord Derry."
"I'll be glad of your help,"
Derry told the boy sincerely. "Your uncle has given me plenty of
work to do. He seems to think keeping me busy will keep me out of
He grinned at Lord Michael, who merely
arched on eyebrow at him.
"I don't recall ye ever stayed
long out o' mischief, Lord Derry. But I can hope ye've improved with
maturity and better instruction. Ye'll join me an' Gregory an' Lucas
to see Ethan off in the mornin', won't ye?"
Derry tried not to wince.
"Of course, m'lord," he
signed. "Early, I take it?"
"Aye, first light. Go on to bed
now. Geoffrey, lad, will ye light his way up the stair?"
"Of course, Uncle. My lord?"
He picked up one of the rushlights.
Derry bowed slightly to Lord Michael, who gave him a very satisfied
smile. Then Derry followed the boy out the door and up the stair, but
when they reached his room, he did not just dismiss the lad but
instead waved him into the room for a few minutes.
"I'm really too tired to think
tonight, Geoffrey, but I suppose you need to know a bit about my
working habits and all. I generally get up early, anyway, so unless
I'm not down in the hall when Lord Michael arrives, you needn't come
wake me. I'm to start helping in the armory yard and patrol drills
tomorrow, so I'll need my arms seen to, as well as my own horse. I'll
expect you to join me for training, since that's now part of my duty
as well, to oversee your own training. I'm fairly easygoing, but I
expect your uncle may find plenty for us both to do."
"I-I'll do my best, my lord."
The boy bit his lower lip, looking not at all sure he'd do well at his
"I know you will, Geoffrey. That's
all anyone should ask of another. I'll try to do my best by you,
"I–I'm not very good at a lot of
things, Lord Derry," the boy blurted out. "I do try, but
"You manage to mess things
up?" Derry asked sympathetically. "Well, that'll give us a
bond, Geoffrey. I wonder if I still hold the record for most
punishment duties in one season? I lost count of how many extra hours
I had to spend the summer I was thirteen, redoing what I'd done wrong
the first time. Are you older or younger?"
"Just the same, my lord. I was
thirteen end of January."
"Well, then. I will try very hard
to recall that summer, though it's not something I thought I'd ever
care to remember again. Go on to bed, lad. I'll see you
"Yes, my lord. Good night."
"Good night, Geoffrey."
Derry sat down and began to take off
his shoes. He knew he would need a squire with all the duties he was
going to have; he also understood that the boy needed a mentor. But he
couldn't help remembering the satisfied smile on Lord Michael's face,
either, nor the impression that it had nothing at all to do with those
very real needs. By assigning Derry a personal squire, Lord Michael
had given him a shadow–and a chaperone. And he was sure that Lord
Michael was well aware that it was now going to be even closer to
impossible than he had already made it for Derry to have any time
alone with Dacia!