Castle Abergwynn, North Wales
As God is my witness, I'll not stop until I find my boy!" Garrick, son of Maginnis and baron of all of Abergwynn, slid from his mud-splattered mount, his boots sinking into the wet earth of the inner bailey. His clothes were grimy, his hair unruly, his beard in need of cutting - evidence of days of riding and searching and finding nothing. Nothing! Not one bloody trace of the boy or the nurse.
A scowl as dark as the thunderclouds gathering over the north tower creased his face, his harsh features ruthless and set. Tossing wet hair from his eyes, he swore a silent oath at the fates, or God, he didn't care which.
His knights, brave souls who had ridden with him on his luckless quest, dismounted, avoiding him, leading their horses to the stable. Loyal men, they knew when to leave their lord to his foul moods. This was the foulest, blackest humor ever to have darkened his soul.
Only George, an ungainly boy of barely fourteen summers, whose skin was pockmarked and reddened, dared speak, and this was only because, as Garrick's vassal, he had no choice. "I will see to your steed, my lord," he squeaked out, snatching the rain-swollen reins from Garrick's gloved hand.
Barely hearing the boy, Garrick strode forward, shoulders hunched against the wind, but head unbowed. He would not be broken. He would not fail. As long as there was some trace of breath in his body, he would search for his son. For the first time in his life he didn't care about his destrier, his castle, or his lands. All that mattered was Logan.
With a rattle of heavy chains, the portcullis clanged down, sealing off the castle, as if anything worth protecting remained inside. Garrick snorted at his own vanity. How prideful he'd been. How he'd found pleasure in the thick stone walls, the massive towers, the curtain wall wide and long enough to stand his entire army. God's teeth, what a fool he'd been, thinking this castle, this miserable fortress, was so valuable!
Glaring up at the slate-dark heavens, he muttered a curse to a God who had not only taken his wife away from him three years ago but had now stolen his boy as well.
As if in answer, lightning streaked the sky, a jagged sizzle that flashed white against the square northern tower. Thunder clapped mockingly over the land, as if God himself were laughing.
Garrick threw back his head, and rain drizzled down his neck and face, leaving cold droplets to run beneath his shirt. "I'll find him. By all that is holy and that which is not, I'll find my boy or die trying!"
Again thunder cracked.
Angrily Garrick stalked through the mud to the great hall at the far corner of the inner bailey. Castle Abergwynn was perched high on a cliff. On three sides the fortress stood atop sheer cliffs that fell a hundred feet to treacherous rocks and raging surf. Yet even the thick stone barricades hadn't been protection enough to save his son from harm.
Walking briskly through the forebuilding he didn't bother pausing at the chapel. Let Friar Francis stew in his own sanctimonious juices. Though Garrick heard the chaplain murmuring prayers, he wasn't in the mood to face a man of God, and he'd prayed enough as it was. What good had it done? Had God seen fit to lead him to his son? No! His boots rang sharply against the stone steps as he climbed toward the great hall, his pride, his home, and now not much more than an empty, dark chamber with no laughter, no warmth, no quick little footsteps.
He strode to the hearth and warmed his hands, though the coldness would never leave his heart. Servants, accustomed to his black moods, made themselves scarce, finding work elsewhere. Smoke from the hearth curled lazily upward and out through the few recessed windows, leaving a layer of soot on the stone walls.
The dogs that had been with Garrick, as if sensing their master's mood, slunk into the shadows, growling over a bone or scrap of meat that had fallen into the rushes. Garrick shouted at the hounds until they lay quietly in the corner, their ever-vigilant eyes turned toward him.
It had been ten days since he'd last seen Logan, his son, and although Garrick was lord of the manor, baron of Abergwynn, he was frightened that he would never lay eyes upon his boy again. Curse and rot the souls of those who would steal his child! Blood would surely be spilled if any harm came to Logan.
Scurrying footsteps stirred the rushes covering the floor. Garrick didn't bother looking up.
"You're back, m'lord!" the plump woman servant, Cailin, exclaimed. "Did you find..." But her voice trailed off when she noticed his grim expression. Quickly she crossed her ample bosom before disappearing in the direction of the kitchen.
"Garrick!" Ware's voice echoed off the heavy timbers supporting the high ceiling. Garrick's head snapped up, and he narrowed his eyes against the smoke from the fire as his younger brother, his shoulders square, his blue eyes bright, his chin thrust forward defiantly, climbed down the curved staircase toward the great hall. A good-looking lad, Ware would soon be a man. His chest was thick, his pride great, though he had not yet seen his first battle.
"There's been no word?" Garrick growled, knowing the answer before the question passed his lips.
"No." Ware stood before him, his arrogance visible in the angle of his head.
"No ransom demands?"
Garrick's jaw hardened, and his eyes turned flinty gray. "The knights who guarded Logan. Have they told you nothing else?"
"Nothing, Garrick." Ware's eyes slid away from the power of his older brother's gaze, and his skin seemed to lose some of its dark color.
Garrick's mouth twisted downward. The boy had no stomach for lashings, and in truth, neither did Garrick. Yet sometimes he had no choice but to beat the truth from those whose loyalty was in doubt. "Did Strahan use every means of making them remember?"
Ware grimaced, as if he were holding on to the contents of his stomach at the memory. "Aye," he whispered, his teeth clenched. "When it was over, they pledged their fealty yet again. They are loyal men, Garrick. You did them an injustice. 'Tis not their fault that Logan wandered off, perhaps over the cliffs - "
A massive hand clenched over the front of Ware's tunic, and Garrick yanked hard, lifting his brother off his feet and forcing Ware to meet his gaze. "I blame no one but myself," he muttered, "but I must know that my men were not a part of this treasonous plot to capture my son."
Ware, true to his Maginnis spirit, lifted his chin and met Garrick's gray eyes rebelliously. "Perhaps it was not treason. Mayhap the child ambled off, his nursemaid after him, and they both lost themselves in the forest. They could have drowned in the river or fallen from the cliffs into the sea - "
"Nay!" Garrick snarled, shaking his brother yet again. "No bodies have been found. I will not believe Logan to be dead. The boy did not wander off." He dropped Ware to his feet and turned back to the fire, hoping the red-gold flames would stave off the cold that had seeped into his soul. "There is still much unrest here. Though Edward is king, there are those who would see him dead and spit on his grave. Since they cannot reach him, they test the very spirit of all those who are loyal to Longshanks. 'Tis not many winters since Llywelyn was killed, less time since the rebellion failed." Garrick rubbed his chin. "Make no mistake, the rebellion is not yet over. It still simmers in the hearts of Welshmen." His nostrils flared in anger. "Aye," he muttered, "and those who were loyal to Llywelyn will stop at nothing to rid themselves of Edward. They would take the life of a child for their cause."
"So you think the culprits be Welshmen?"
Wearily Garrick shook his head and clenched his fists as if closing his hands around the throat of one of Logan's abductors. "If only I knew."
Ware glanced at the fire. "What of the guards who were to watch Logan?"
"But - "
"Banish them, I say!" Garrick ordered savagely. "Let them know they are lucky to leave with their lives!"
"You're making a mistake."
The insolent pup. Garrick glowered at his younger brother. "I am baron of this castle. I shall do as I please."
"Yes, m'lord," Ware replied, mockery filling his voice as the door to the castle creaked open and footsteps rang on the stairs to the great hall. Garrick was in no mood for idle conversation. Strahan of Hazelwood, Garrick's cousin and most trusted knight, entered.
Tall and broad-shouldered, with a nose that hooked and eyes as brown as the robes of an almsman, Strahan bore little resemblance to his cousins. One look at Garrick and he frowned. "You did not find Logan."
Beneath his wet tunic, Garrick's shoulders bunched. "No."
"Perhaps now you will consider my suggestion."
Garrick scowled darkly and ground his back teeth together. "You are speaking of the witch."
"She is not a witch but a sorceress - one who talks to the wind," Strahan explained.
"Then she is daft."
"She has found others who were lost," Strahan argued. "Logan's trail is no longer fresh. Even the dogs know not where to look."
Garrick couldn't argue the point. His jaw grew tight, and he threw an angry glare at the dogs lying restlessly in the shadows. Strahan spoke the truth. Logan and his nursemaid, Jocelyn, had been missing too long already. Each day that passed increased the chances that Garrick would never see his son again.
"Have you any other plan?" Strahan pressed.
Garrick shoved his wet hair from his face, leaving a streak of mud on his forehead. "I have sent spies to Castle Pennick and Castle Hawarth, whose barons once allied themselves with the rebellion. My men will mingle with the peasants and servants and learn what they can." His nostrils flared. "If the barons have done my son harm," he pledged, his deep voice ringing to the crossbeams overhead, "they will pay with their lives."
"What if your men find nothing?" Strahan asked.
Garrick felt cornered, but he had no choice. As Strahan had pointed out, he would be soon out of options. "If Calvert and Trent return with naught, I shall seek out the witch." The thought of a sorceress - a woman with a talent for magic and the black arts - bothered him. Though he was not deeply religious, he did not like going against God. Noticing Cailin sweeping the rushes, he growled at her to bring him a cup of ale. When her eyebrows sprang upward in surprise, he barked still louder, and soon she returned with a silver cup for each of the men near the fire. Garrick drained his in a single swallow.
He considered what the chaplain might say if he did indeed go forth in quest of a witch, then decided he didn't really give a bloody damn what the good man thought. Leave Friar Francis to his useless prayers. It was time for swords.
Calvert returned at nightfall. His face was white, and his shoulders slumped as he approached Lord Garrick, who was seated at the trestle table in the great hall. Kneeling before his baron, Calvert said, "I have failed, my lord."
Garrick motioned for him to stand.
"I found no trace of Master Logan at Castle Pennick." Calvert, a short man with a bulbous nose and red eyebrows, struggled to his feet.
"You questioned all the servants?" Garrick asked, his spirits sinking ever deeper.
"Aye, and some of the soldiers whose tongues were loosened with ale."
"Know they nothing?"
Calvert shook his head. "If the boy is at Pennick, he is hidden deep and the secret is kept only by the baron and his most trusted knights."
Garrick turned this over in his mind. He had often met the lord of Pennick Keep, Nelson Rowley. "I think not. Rowley is known to brag. Had he my son, his entire castle would know it," he surmised. "Aye, and Rowley would have made the fact known to me as well." Garrick's eyes focused again on his knight. "You have done well, Calvert. You may take your leave."
Ignoring the pheasant and shoulder of venison on his trencher, Garrick glanced from Strahan to Ware. "We will wait for Trent and see what says he about Castle Hawarth."
Strahan nodded, his dark eyes glinting a bit. "A wise decision."
Ware didn't agree, and his gaze challenged that of his older brother, but he held his tongue and bit off a healthy chunk of meat.
The next morning as Garrick was walking to the stables, the sentinel's voice rang through the yard. "Sir Trent approaches!" Garrick braced himself. With dread thundering through his brain, he ran to the outer bailey.
Trent's lathered stallion galloped into the yard, the man astride huddled far over the neck of his steed.
Garrick reached the war-horse as the mighty beast slid to a stop and Trent, reins and bits of mane clutched in his fingers, toppled onto the ground.
"See to the horse," Garrick commanded the stableboy as he knelt down and gathered Sir Trent into his arms. Blood stained the knight's shirt and encrusted the corners of his mouth.
George gulped. "He - he is not - "
"Quiet!" Garrick said. He glanced up at Roger, a young page who had run from the great hall. "Summon the priest!" he ordered the boy, fearing that Trent's end was near and he should receive last rites. Garrick lifted the young knight and carried him toward the castle as George, wide-eyed, led Trent's horse toward the stables.
Trent groaned in Garrick's arms, his body convulsing in pain.
"Hold steady," Garrick said gently, though he felt the life draining out of his young charge. He'd been foolish to send one man on so dangerous a mission.
"Master Logan is not at Castle Hawarth - nor is the maid Jocelyn." Trent swallowed with difficulty. His breath rasped and rattled in his lungs.
"Get him some water and have a bed made ready," Garrick ordered Cailin as he carried Trent through the hallway. "Shh, man, hold on to your strength."
"I'll tend to him, my lord," Cailin whispered gravely. "Until Lady Clare returns..."
Desperate, Trent grasped Garrick's shirt and whispered in a breath-starved voice, "I was caught by Lord McBrayne."
"Hush, Trent. 'Tis time to save your strength - "
"Nay, my lord, listen," Trent cried, his face twisted in agony, his bloodless lips sucking in air. "I was with a wench in the House of McBrayne. She knew naught of a captured boy."
"Osric McBrayne found you - lying with a wench?" Garrick asked as a white-faced page scurried forward, offering a cup of water.
"Aye," Trent admitted, his eyes glazing.
Garrick scowled as the page forced the cup to Trent's lips. Water drizzled down the knight's dirty, beard-darkened chin. "We will talk more when you are stronger."
"Nay! Now!" Trent insisted, slapping the cup anxiously away as his fingers grappled over Garrick's tunic. "I spoke with others, too - soldiers with loose tongues, craftsmen...freemen, and peasants." He struggled, words coming hard to his cracked lips. "None knew of the boy...none."
"And still McBrayne did this to you?" Garrick whispered, rage tearing through his soul.
"Aye...He said he would have no spies from the House of Maginnis in...