Dear Lord, the passing of four seasons! And no word sent nor warning given even this day.
Firming knees threatening to buckle, Marguerite stared at the weathered wood into which her own name was crudely carved and naught else—as if the woman beneath weed-infested earth had been no one’s daughter, sister, wife, and mother.
She told herself it was wrong to hate the three standing with her, and yet it felt right, just as it had a year past when last she was here and the woman who had birthed her looked ten years older than she should.
A sudden chill making her wish for the plaid cloak she had not needed this warm day, silently she lamented, I should have come sooner.
“Dropped the firewood, clutched her chest, and landed on the hearth,” her grandfather said. “Nothing for it but to dig a hole.”
Marguerite gasped, and again when her uncle grunted agreement. “May you die without warning,” he spoke the words cast at those one wished given no time to prepare for death, it believed in the absence of confession and absolution, ever the fallen were separated from God.
“Without warning,” her cousin, Pepin, concurred.
As she struggled against screaming and setting herself at them, something in her head popped. Real or imagined, she did not know. What she knew was she had to leave. Hopefully, when Edgar the Aetheling, who had been granted sanctuary at the Scottish king’s court, returned to England to battle the Normans, he would come through here and—
“Nay, even to think it is evil,” she whispered.
“Do not speak that foul tongue,” Uncle Gerald snapped.
She longed to continue in the language with which she was more familiar than her mother’s, but it would delay her departure and might provoke a clash between her escort and kin.
Marguerite looked to the man who was her grandfather only for having sired her mother. In Norman-French with which he would find fault for an accent tempered by that of the Scots, she said, “We are leaving.”
As she swung away, she sent heavenward, Papa, I have no one now mama is with you and my brothers. I am alone.
Or nearly so. The plump figure center of her escort hastened forward, skirts raised to sooner traverse the last of grass sucked dry of its green.
Cannie could not see the lone grave to which her mistress had been led, but likely she understood the elder Marguerite rested here beyond the fortress raised by her Norman family twenty-five years ago after crossing the channel by invitation of England’s king—the childless Edward whose recent death had thrown wide the door to conquest of his kingdom by Duke William of Normandy.
Though this morn Marguerite had looked forward to sitting with her mother and filling an emptiness far different from this one, now hungry only for the comfort of Cannie’s arms, she ran. Into a nightmare.
Beyond her escort, streaks of dark rain traveled horizontally, then the ten warriors handpicked by the King of Scots lurched forward.
“Nay!” she screamed.
They fell, and as Cannie looked around, she dropped, an arrow protruding from her back the same as her countrymen—eleven straight, feathered saplings refusing to bend in the breeze.
Marguerite landed on her knees beside the shuddering woman and reached to her, but grasped only air when she was yanked upright by the back of her gown.
“Those who fouled your blood are not your people,” her uncle snarled.
She whipped around and, seeing her grandfather and cousin halt as if to observe something of interest, raked nails down Gerald’s face. “Devils, all of you!”
Her uncle knocked her hand aside, gripped her neck, and thrust her distant.
Marguerite pried at the fingers denying her breath and kicked, but to no avail. Did something else inside her head pop?
Certes, the dimming of her sight was not imagined. Nor her grandfather’s words. “Only enough to silence her, Gerald. I have plans for the half-breed.”
What plans? she silently screamed, then all went black on this day of sunshine, sorrow, and horror.
Awakening on the floor of the gathering hall, Marguerite commanded herself to resume the breath of sleep. And attend to what was spoken beyond her.
“King Malcolm will retaliate,” her uncle said. “You slew ten of his men, and he is fond of my niece.”
Her grandfather gave a grunt of laughter. “Let him come. He will find no bodies to prove they arrived. And that half-breed…”
She shuddered. She had known she was not liked for her Scottish blood and the manner in which her sire