Home > Kinsey's Defiance(9)

Kinsey's Defiance(9)
Author: Madeline Martin

The forces were small, of course. The king was no fool. Especially when it came to a fortified border. However, many of those castles often had more guards than necessary. The number of men leaving for Scotland would still help William and his army take the castle. If nothing else, it meant a second round of rested Englishmen wouldn’t be available to engage in battle once the first round grew tired.

After all, William had only fifty men and an archer. Which was why he had to be clever.

He gathered a group from his army, including Kinsey, to spy on Mabrick Castle. They arrived just before sunrise and hunkered down in the surrounding forest, the leaves on the floor still damp with morning dew.

He settled among the shadows with Reid at his right and Kinsey to his left. William was used to Reid and his steady, silent presence. The man was more stone than flesh, not making a sound even as he breathed and watched with sharp eyes, not flinching or moving.

William was far more aware of Kinsey. Not that she was loud, for she was quiet and still. Nay, it was the way her sweet scent lingered above the smells of wet earth, the whisper of heat from her body teasing along the left side of his.

She’d warmed to him at the tavern. Not initially, but when he’d followed her into the alley. Her smiles had been more genuine after, even touching her lovely eyes.

He glanced at her now and found her attention fixed on the castle wall with the focus of an archer. No doubt, she was assessing the crenellations for any sign of weakness, a place where she might be able to slip an arrow.

Which was exactly why William had wanted her with them.

For his part, he was keeping a mental tally of every soldier on the wall, noting how often they circled the perimeter and what weapons they appeared to be armed with.

As they watched the castle, Duff had been instructed to circle the large structure in an attempt to identify any other points of entry aside from the portcullis at the front. If there were none, William and his army would be forced to scale the castle walls.

He considered the fortifications in the event they were left with no other option. Somewhere in the foliage behind him, a twig snapped.

William’s pulse jumped, but before he could even spin around, the creak of a bow being drawn taut came from his left.

Fib emerged from behind a cluster of trees, his hands lifted in surrender. “Dinna shoot. ’Tis just me.”

He was speaking too loudly, standing upright and uncovered where anyone could see him.

“Get down,” William hissed.

Fib ducked, awkwardly hunching his lanky frame as he swiftly made his way toward them in a strange bent-legged duck walk and collapsed on the forest floor between William and Kinsey.

“I dinna mean to startle ye,” the lad whispered, wide-eyed.

“Ye could have been caught by the English.” Anger welled up in William, spurred by fear. The lad had been trained for a battle, aye, but he wasn’t yet adept at fighting. And he had received no instruction on spying or being stealthy.

William’s chief concern was for the inexperienced lad. The boy had spirit and would never talk to the enemy. No matter how much they tortured him.

The very idea turned William's stomach. Once more, he experienced a surge of ire at his father and his insistence that the boy’s offer to join William’s ranks be accepted.

“Ye shouldna be here.” William frowned at Fib.

The lad looked up at him with a bright, wounded expression. “But I’m always left at camp. I practice in every free moment I have, and even ye have said I’m a skilled swordsman. Have I no’ proven myself?”

It was true. The lad had worked hard to sharpen his skills. And of anyone, William was more familiar with how painful it was for one’s efforts to go unnoticed. It was when Fib’s gaze slid to Kinsey that William realized the boy was further humiliated by being chastised in front of her.

“Am I wrong?” Fib demanded in an uncharacteristically stalwart manner, repeating, “Have I no’ proven myself?”

William sighed. “Aye, lad, ye have.”

Movement showed on the perimeter of the castle, calling attention to another guard going through his watch. Irritation for the situation tightened the muscles along the back of William’s neck. He forgot how long it had been since he last noted a guard. Such information would be necessary for their attack, without room for a single error. They couldn’t afford this distraction.

Reid stirred at William's side, his aggravation evident.

Fib did not seem to notice. “Let me join ye for the attack.”

“Nay.” William turned his attention to the castle once more. “Go back to camp.”

“Fib,” Kinsey said. “’Tis not safe.”

His face went pink. “I’m no’ a bairn. I’m a man, a trained warrior. Let me join ye as I’m supposed to.”

Kinsey pressed her lips together, and William assumed even she was growing weary of Fib’s begging. The worst of it was William had no true reason to leave him behind. Being too young was not a viable excuse. Most of the army was young, some only a few years older than Fib.

Still, it was on the tip of William's tongue to decline.

“Please.” Fib clasped his hands in an earnest plea. “Please. I’ve worked verra hard for this. I want to join the men. And Kinsey.” He shot her a grin.

“Fine,” William said with resignation. But even as he spoke, an uncomfortable knot formed in his belly. The idea of the lad being in battle with the rest of William’s army did not sit well with him. It never had, and it especially did not now.

Fib’s beaming smile did not allay that trepidation.

William allowed the lad to stay with them while they scouted the castle, so long as he remained quiet. However, when Duff had finished looking over the perimeter and reported back that there were no additional doors outside of the main one, William had the older man return Fib back to camp.

This way, William knew the boy would be silent. Duff wouldn’t tolerate anyone giving away their location and was gruff enough to not care about a lad’s feelings.

William and the others stayed until afternoon, not leaving until their relief arrived to assume their positions. After relaying what they had observed, William, Reid and Kinsey headed back to camp on stiff legs. A spot low at William’s back protested with a nagging ache.

“Ye shouldn’t have told him he could fight,” Kinsey said.

Reid merely cocked an eyebrow and kept walking.

Oblivious or uncaring, Kinsey stopped and crossed her arms over her chest. William stopped as well and faced her. “I assume ye’re referring to Fib.”

“I am.” Her pale blue eyes glittered with determination, and sunlight danced off her red curls.

He wanted to thread his fingers through her tresses to see if they were as silky as they looked. No doubt, he’d get an arrow in his bollocks if he tried. “The lad has worked hard, as he said. I dinna have a reason to say nay aside from my concern at his age.”

“Ye’re in command. Ye could’ve said nay without reason.”

“Do ye think he would have accepted it?” William met the challenge of her gaze.

She gave an irritated sigh and tossed her curls over her shoulder. It was answer enough. He knew she understood even if she refused to admit it. An idea struck him.

He resumed walking toward camp once more. “I’ll have him stay back with ye.”

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