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The Redeeming: Book Three (Age of Faith), страница 1

 

The Redeeming: Book Three (Age of Faith)
 


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The Redeeming: Book Three (Age of Faith)


  Contents

  Title Page

  Tamara Leigh Novels

  Copyright Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty One

  Chapter Twenty Two

  Chapter Twenty Three

  Chapter Twenty Four

  Chapter Twenty Five

  Chapter Twenty Six

  Chapter Twenty Seven

  Chapter Twenty Eight

  Chapter Twenty Nine

  Epilogue

  Excerpt: The Kindling

  Tamara Leigh Novels

  About The Author

  THE REDEEMING

  Book Three in the Age of Faith series

  TAMARA LEIGH

  USA Today Best-Selling Author

  The Unveiling and The Yielding, the first books in the Age of Faith series, introduced readers to the formidable Wulfrith family during Duke Henry’s battle for England’s throne and his succession. Now that Henry wears the crown, he is more determined than ever to bring the Wulfriths to heel.

  IN THE EYES OF THE CHURCH AND MEN, HERS IS NO SMALL SIN

  Lady Gaenor Wulfrith is a woman scorned. And King Henry’s pawn. After three broken betrothals, she is ordered to wed her family’s enemy, a man she has never met and has good reason to fear. Faced with the prospect of an abusive marriage that will surely turn worse when her sin is revealed, she flees her family’s home with the aid of a knight—a man who could prove her ruin.

  Christian Lavonne, the only remaining heir to the barony of Abingdale, has thrown off his monk’s robes—and God—to administer his lands. Determined to end the devastation wrought by his family’s feud with the Wulfriths, he agrees to marry his enemy’s sister, a woman no man seems to want. When he learns she has fled with a knight who has broken fealty with the Wulfriths, he pursues her, knowing that when they meet his own sin will be revealed and he will be as much in need of redemption as the woman who may carry another man’s child.

  TAMARA LEIGH NOVELS

  INSPIRATIONAL TITLES

  Age of Faith: A Medieval Romance Series The Unveiling: Book One, August 2012: Amazon

  The Yielding: Book Two, December 2012: Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo

  The Redeeming: Book Three, May 2013: Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo

  The Kindling: Book Four, TBA

  Southern Discomfort Series Restless In Carolina, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2011

  Nowhere, Carolina, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2010

  Leaving Carolina, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2009

  Stand-Alone Novels Stealing Adda, 2012 (ebook edition) Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo

  Faking Grace, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2008

  Splitting Harriet, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2007

  Perfecting Kate, Multnomah, 2007

  Stealing Adda, NavPress, 2006 (print edition)

  INSPIRATIONAL/GENERAL MARKET TITLES

  Dreamspell: a medieval time travel romance, 2012 Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo

  GENERAL MARKET TITLES

  Blackheart, Dorchester Leisure, 2001

  Unforgotten, HarperCollins, 1997

  Misbegotten, HarperCollins, 1996

  Saxon Bride, Bantam Books, 1995

  Pagan Bride, Bantam Books, 1995

  Virgin Bride, Bantam Books, 1994

  Warrior Bride, Bantam Books, 1994

  *Virgin Bride is the sequel to Warrior Bride Pagan Pride and Saxon Bride are stand-alone novels

  www.tamaraleigh.com

  THE REDEEMING Copyright © 2013 by Tammy Schmanski, P.O. Box 1298, Goodlettsville, TN 37070, [email protected]

  This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents, and dialogues are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.

  ISBN-10: 0985352949

  ISBN-13: 978-0-98535294-3

  All rights reserved. This book is a copyrighted work and no part of it may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photographic, audio recording, or any information storage and retrieval system) without permission in writing from the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or by any other means without the author’s permission is illegal and punishable by law. Thank you for supporting authors’ rights by purchasing only authorized editions.

  Cover Design: Kim Van Meter, KD Designs Cover Photo: Shutterstock

  CHAPTER ONE

  Wulfen Castle, England, June 1157

  To the death.

  Perspiration running into his eyes, the blood of a half dozen wounds seeping through the weave of his tunic, Christian Lavonne reminded himself of what was required to best his opponent.

  Think death.

  Drawing back his sword, he eyed the knight’s neck that glistened with the efforts of the past half hour.

  Feel death.

  Lunging forward, he shifted his grip on the hilt.

  Breathe death.

  Smelling his opponent’s bloodlust, he arced the blade toward the exposed flesh that would assure victory.

  Embrace death.

  Putting from him all he had been taught of mercy and forgiveness, he slashed the blade down. And met steel.

  “Surely you can do better!” the knight spat.

  Christian growled, swept his blade up off the other man’s, and swung again—only to yield up the blood of his forearm.

  “Ho!” The knight grinned. “Do I unnerve you, Lavonne? Make your heart beat faster? Blood run colder?”

  Christian knew it was anger the other man sought. And he would have it. Heart pounding as if upon the stoutest door, he swung again. Missed. Again! Missed. Again! And finally set his blade to the knight’s lower thigh. However, he was allowed but a moment’s satisfaction before his opponent leapt at him.

  Christian jumped back from the thirsty blade and came up against the fence. If not that the thrust of his weight cracked the wood, the knight would have had what he sought—blood for blood.

  With a shout, Christian plummeted backward and landed hard on the splintered rails.

  “You are had, Lavonne.” His opponent settled the crimson tip of his blade to the great vein in Christian’s neck. “Beg for mercy.”

  Throat raw with exertion, Christian flexed his hand on his sword hilt. “Never!”

  Fire leapt in the man’s grey-green gaze and the stench of death rose to Christian’s nostrils, only to retreat on the knight’s great sigh.

  “Well, then”—he turned his blade down, set its tip to the ground, and leaned on the hilt—“at least humor me with a recitation of the lesson that applies to the dire situation in which you find yourself.”

  Grinding his teeth, Christian rolled to the side and gained his feet. “That would be lesson one.”

  “One?” With a sweep of his forearm, the knight brushed back the damp brown hair that clung to his brow. “Pray, enlighten me as to how that applies to your sound defeat.”

  Christian glared. “I do not refer to your lesson, Sir A
bel, but mine—one in which I fear you are in need of instruction.”

  A suspicious light entered the knight’s eyes. “Aye?”

  “Address one’s better as befits their station.”

  Sir Abel’s gaze narrowed, but just when it seemed the tension might once more see them at swords, he bowed low. “Most esteemed Baron Lavonne, pray honor this lowly knight by reciting the appropriate lesson.” He straightened. “I humbly await your good grace.”

  Insufferable! And only a sharp reminder of the reason he was at Wulfen Castle made it possible for Christian to give the knight what he asked. “Lesson three, neglect not one’s back.”

  “Correct. Of course, considering you were already dead, ‘tis hardly relevant.”

  “I was dead? You were dead first.”

  Sir Abel snorted. “You flatter yourself, Lavonne—er, Baron Lavonne.”

  Christian looked from the bloodied and rent fabric behind which the knight’s heart beat to the torn fabric centered on his bowels. “Were we not merely practicing at swords, Sir Abel, twice I would have done more than score your flesh. Indeed, your very life would be forfeit.”

  “Had you a sword arm.” The knight raised his blade and pointed at the bloodied tear in Christian’s sleeve.

  “Which would have been entirely possible with a leg cut out from beneath you.” Christian jutted his chin at where the fabric was split above the knight’s knee.

  And so they might continue until every crimson tear was accounted for, as they had done each day these past three.

  Though when they had first faced one another on the training field a month ago and Sir Abel’s sword skill had made Christian’s appear woefully inadequate, Christian had improved greatly. Despite the knight’s disdain for his student, he was an excellent instructor and, given more time, it was possible Christian would attain a level of mastery similar to that enjoyed by his warrior-bred opponent who would soon be his unwilling brother-in-law. And that possibility had to be as surprising to Sir Abel as it was to Christian who had not only been born to the Church but had attained tonsure and monk’s robes before gaining an inheritance of which he had only ever dreamed. Unfortunately, the cost of the coveted inheritance had been the death of his older brother, something for which he had yet to forgive himself.

  “The lesson is done.” Sir Abel thrust his sword into its scabbard and pivoted.

  Christian glanced at the sun that had yet to touch the treetops of the distant wood. “Done?”

  As if he did not hear the dissension in his student’s voice, Sir Abel continued toward the walls of Wulfen Castle.

  “Methinks ‘tis I who unnerves you, Sir Abel!”

  The knight swung around.

  Christian almost smiled. “I who makes your heart beat faster, your blood run colder.”

  “Flatter yourself if it so pleases you, Lavonne,” Sir Abel once more dropped Christian’s title. “As for me, I shall be content in knowing that, as long as mastery of the sword eludes you, I am in no danger of forfeiting my life.”

  “Your blood tells otherwise.”

  “Ha! Mere scratches.”

  Why he felt impelled to argue with the insufferable man, Christian did not understand, especially as their mutual animosity had lessened considerably since his arrival at Wulfen. But before he could advance the argument, Sir Abel said, “Do you wish to know the reason you have yet to truly master the sword, Baron?” With half a dozen strides, he retraced his path across the parched grass and halted before Christian. “Regardless of how angered you become when we meet at swords, regardless of how many times I mark your flesh, you cannot wholly commit to the taking of life.”

  A retort sprang to Christian’s lips, but he did not loose it, for what Sir Abel said was true. Though the knight took every opportunity to remind his student of what was required to defeat an opponent—to think, feel, breathe, and embrace death—and several times Christian had nearly succeeded in reaching such a place within himself, he could not fully accept that death should be the end result of all clashes between men. As for attaining that place while at practice, that was the most bewildering of all, for how could one truly seek another’s death without actually committing the act?

  Sir Abel took another step toward him. “Thus, unless you wish me dead, you will never defeat me, Lavonne.”

  Suppressing the urge to repay aggression with aggression, Christian said, “Need I remind you that we are not truly at battle?”

  The knight shrugged. “Whether that is so or not, a warrior must believe that the only thing that stands between him and death is the taking of his opponent’s life. Even when merely at practice.”

  Christian stared at the man who stood nearly as tall as he. “If what you say is so, it follows that few squires would attain the rank of knight, for all would lie dead.”

  “Those who train at Wulfen—”

  “—learn to control the moment between life and death. Aye, this you have told me many times.”

  The knight’s face, flushed with the exertion of their contest, darkened further. “When you and I are at swords, all I think of is your death.”

  “And when we are not at swords?”

  When Sir Abel finally answered, the anger that had spat words from him was nearly wiped clean. “It is true I am opposed to my sister wedding you, and that your death would resolve the matter, but do I truly wish it? Nay, Baron Lavonne”—titled again—“outside of practice, I do not wish you dead.”

  Not for the first time amazed at how quickly the knight cooled his emotions, Christian drew a deep breath in an attempt to calm his own roiling. “I shall take comfort in that.”

  Sir Abel started to turn away, but halted. “Heed me well. Though you have much improved since your arrival, when next you face a true enemy—and you shall—you must wish his death. Can you do that?”

  Though Christian had taken lives in battle following the attainment of his title, he had never done so with a desire to see an opponent dead. It was not bloodlust that drove him, but the mere—and potent—need to survive. And survive he had barely done.

  “If you cannot, you will make a widow of my sister. Now tell me, can you or can you not do it?”

  It was not the first time the knight had issued the challenge, and would not be the first time Christian was unable to offer reassurance.

  Sir Abel broke the silence. “Born to the Church you may have been, but it is no longer who you are. Indeed, as evidenced by your refusal to bow your head at prayer or enter the chapel, it is obvious you have given God your back.”

  His words jolted, not only because they were so near the truth, but that Christian’s absence from mass and his inability to show proper respect at the blessing of meals had not gone unnoticed—and by this seemingly ungodly man who told that a knight must seek death to prevail.

  “Do not make God your reason for not doing what is required of you, Baron Lavonne. If you cannot protect my sister, your people, and your lands, that title for which you demand respect will be lost.” Sir Abel swung away.

  Feeling every beaten ridge and furrow of his sword hilt, Christian watched him disappear around the castle’s northern wall.

  As much as he would have liked to deny it, it was good he had peeled back his pride and accepted the invitation to train at Wulfen Castle. If it was necessary to seek another’s death to prevail, he might eventually fail, but with the skills acquired beneath Sir Abel’s grudging instruction, there was less chance than before. He would protect his people and lands, as well as the woman with whom King Henry had commanded him to speak vows—Gaenor Wulfrith who had fled with her sister nearly five months past to escape marriage to a Lavonne.

  Easing his grip on the sword, Christian scanned the walls of Wulfen Castle that had been the Wulfrith sisters’ destination all those months ago. Though it was believed that Lady Gaenor had made it here to her family’s stronghold, a castle exclusive to men and dedicated to the training of boys into knights, her younger sister had not. While being pu
rsued by the king’s and Christian’s men, Beatrix Wulfrith had met with ill. Thus, if not for Christian’s physician, a man with a powerful reason to hate her, she would be dead. Instead, a fortnight hence she would wed Michael D’Arci, the man who had saved her life. And at that wedding, Christian would finally meet Lady Gaenor who was told to bear little resemblance to her petite and comely sister.

  Christian grimaced. Not that he cared what the woman looked like. Rather, he resented being made to wait so long to meet her. Though he had thought he might encounter her during his training here, it seemed she had been removed to one of the family’s lesser castles. As for talk of her having been present here, a woman among so many men, there was none—as if she had never come. And perhaps she had not, though it seemed the surest place to secrete her.

  He eyed the men-at-arms visible between the battlements of the stronghold, then the immense donjon that rose at the center of the enclosure. Ominous. No surprise that King Henry had not brought an army against his vassal to sooner bring about the alliance required of the warring Wulfriths and Lavonnes. Indeed, if not for the bargain Christian had struck with the oldest brother, the Wulfriths might yet defy the king’s edict. But Christian had delivered what he had promised and, providing the Wulfriths delivered what they had promised, soon he would wed.

  Resolved to meeting his betrothed at her sister’s wedding in July, Christian wiped his blade on the hem of his tunic and returned his sword to its scabbard.

  Only a fortnight longer, he reminded himself, and the darkness of these past years would begin to recede. Except for that cast by his father, of course—the aged and ailing Aldous Lavonne who vowed he would not seek his grave until the death of his beloved son, Geoffrey, was avenged. Geoffrey, whose passing had made Christian heir to all of Abingdale.

  Once more stabbed with guilt, Christian set off toward the castle with a heavy tread intended to grind all thoughts of his brother underfoot. It worked. For a while.

 
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