Prologue

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Prologue

                From a very young age it had been clear, the only person who could step between herself and her mother’s discipline rod was her Father. Calming her to an extent that terrifying her was enough for her mother to leave her alone. She was ever the disappointment. Born female, not male. A problem during her birth meaning that her mother had been unable to bare another, and after hours of agony she was born the unwanted daughter of the border Baron. Her mother had wanted to refuse her. But upon seeing her, it was her father the English baron who had saved her, and loved her throughout her life.

                Wincing as the rod cracked down before her, with a force that sent a wave of air towards her, she knew that the time for her to be saved was over. Her father’s death only hours earlier of a rather suspicious fever meant her mother could do as she wished. But if her father had taught her nothing else, it was that she could never show her fear. For when she showed her terror of her mother’s punishments, they were often worse than they would have been had she took it like a warrior should.

                Pulling her shoulders back, holding back the grief which had shattered her on the inside, she looked straight ahead. There was no point at all paying attention to what her mother was saying, she would be recounting some sin a servant would have ‘spoken to her of’. And she would beat the will of God into her, as she beat the devil from her flesh. Looking at a point on the rough stone wall of the draughty Keep she lived in, all she could do was wait for the first blow. Ignoring all else and shoring her mind against the onslaught which would come.

                The first blow stung dreadfully, but she did her duty, knowing what her mother would expect nothing else. With her mother behind her, and her gaze locked on a damp stone across from her, he voice vibrated through her, as she tried to speak past the lump of grief in her throat. “I Rohesia, daughter to Baron Percival, renounce the devil, and allow God to take my soul once more.” The rod struck again, a cry held back, she would not let her mother have the satisfaction.

                Her mother was never satisfied. She had never loved Baron Percival, but rather had loved the stability and wealth he could give her. With his mother being Scottish, there was a pact of sorts with the lowlands to leave Percival’s land alone. Now, with her father dead, and her mother having given him no male heir, it may be possible his younger brother could come and claim the title. In that case, it may be possible that he would toss her mother and her out of the Keep. Or even to try and have her married off, or even married to her uncle to cement his claim. She did not care what her mother did, she just did not want that fate. She would rather be a beggar on the street than be the wife of her father’s brother. He and her mother would be a perfect match. She would not let her life be that. She had had the love of a father to see her this far.

                As she fell before her mother, who towered above her. The heated gleam of her eye must have been the light of the devil himself. And in that moment she decided, she may have been sheltered from much in her eighteen summers, may not have been married as young as others she knew, may have been kept as a bargaining chip for her mother or father. But at the end of it, she now lay before a woman who recognised no similarity between them. Her father lay barley cold in his bed above, awaiting his body to be removed and his soul to enter the eternity with God himself.

                The only person to help her now, was herself. She may not survive, may not even manage to escape the Keep. But she would be damned if she did not at least try…

                Tossing and turning upon the hard ground, as the rocks and twigs tried to dig in his back. His eyes snapped open. Artair felt as if something had been decided. What? He knew not. But something had changed, and whatever it was, it was coming in his direction. Furrowing his brow to try and understand what was going on, he eventually realised that in his exhausted state, he would not be able to understand it if he did work it out. So he tried to settle once more on the harsh ground.

                Something was coming to meet him…and whatever it was would change his life for ever. Closing his eyes once more he slowly drifted off to sleep, the pain of the lumps and bumps forgotten and dreams of an unknown woman taking over his mind.

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