"A royal Challenge to Chivalry and Country!"
Reviewed by Audrey Lawrence
Posted August 12, 2010
Trained as a lady in waiting in the regal palaces of
France, the lovely Clare Carr was not impressed with her
father's rugged stronghold castle in the border area of
Scotland. Aside from falconing with "Wee One", her small
but fierce falcon, Clare derived pleasure only from
imagining how lovely and romantic life would be
when she married Alain, Comte de Garencieres. He, and his
family with whom she had stayed in France, taught her about
chivalry and knightly roles.
Alain's arrival in Scotland with a group of soldiers who
had fought in the war intensified Clare's urge to live in
France. Though Alain had paid attention to her, he had not
declared for her despite living with her family for a year.
Returning to her castle from a day of falconing, Clare's
was startled out of her mundane thoughts by a golden man on
a strong black horse rising out of the fog. She instantly
noticed the absence of a banner and knew he was a man
without allegiance - a renegade! While her much younger
step-sister, Euphemia, was beguiled by Gavin's Fitzjohn's
good looks, Clare distrusted his "unknightly" behavior and
his penchant for riddles instead of answers. His name caused
her to suspect he was a royal byblow. Despite her
misgivings, she allowed him to stay at the castle until her
When the Baron returned to the castle having heard all the
rumors and tall tales about Fitzjohn, Gavin didn't know if
he would be allowed to leave or even live. Unexpectedly,
after meeting him, Clare's father set forth for Fitzjohn a
set of challenges that perplexed him. He would meet any
challenges if they meant he could have a future
in Scotland. In the process, could he prove to Clare that
he could be more knightly than the Comte?
Using falcons as metaphors, Blythe Gifford has successfully
soared with this highland romance. With the sharpest of
claws, Gavin and Clare verbally spar with each
other until they each manage to tear apart their strong
defenses and release their true feelings. The plot moves
very quickly and weaves a realistic story within an
authentic historical framework. The secondary characters
are strong. Their stories link well with the main storyline
and help Clare reach a truer understanding of romance. Enjoy!
Gavin Fitzjohn is the bastard son of an English
prince and a Scotswoman. A rebel without a country, he has
darkness in his soul.
Clare Carr, daughter of a
Scottish border lord, can recite the laws of chivalry, and
knows Gavin has broken every one.
Clare is gripped by
desire for this royal rogue—could he be the one to unleash
everything she has tried so hard to hide? These persuasive
urges have stayed safely dormant—until now….
ExcerptHaddington, Scotland—February 1356
After ten years away, he had come home.
War had come with him.
Fog, cold and damp, darkened the fading light of a February
day and crept around the corners of the church before them.
The iron links of his chainmail chilled the back of his neck
and the English knights by his side shivered on their mounts.
Winter was no time for a war.
Gavin Fitzjohn looked over at his uncle, King Edward, proud
lion at the peak of his prowess. More than twenty years ago,
this king led the English on a similar charge into Scotland.
That time, the King's brother had left behind a bastard son
of a Scottish mother.
Today, that son, Gavin, rode beside his uncle, just as he
had done for the last year in France. There, they had
wreaked havoc on soldiers and villagers alike without a
qualm until the smell of blood and smoke permeated his
dreams. But he had done it because he was a knight in war.
Now, the King assumed Fitzjohn was fully his.
But this was not France. Now, Edward had brought the
scorched earth home. In the fortnight since they had retaken
Berwick, his army had slashed and burned what little the
retreating Scots army had left standing.
Gavin's horse shifted, restless. Through the windows of the
church, the choir where services were sung glowed like a
beckoning lamp, light and lovely as any church he had seen
across the Channel.
The villagers huddled before their spiritual home, uncertain
of what was to come. Gavin watched a man at the crowd's
edge, hands clasped, eyes closed, lips moving in prayer.
The man's eyes opened and met Gavin's.
Fear. Strong enough to taste.
His stomach rebelled. He was sick to death of killing.
A squire ran up to the King, carrying a torch. In the
darkening twilight, the shifting flames cast unearthly light
and shade across the mud-splattered surcoats and armour.
He looked at his uncle. No more, he thought, the words a wish.
But anger, not mercy, gripped Edward's face. The Scots had
talked truce only to gain time to prepare for war. So, when
Lord Douglas finally rejected the English offer of peace,
Edward vowed to give them the war they wanted.
The King motioned the squire towards Gavin.
'Take the torch,' he said. The fire flickered between them
like Satan's flames. He nodded towards the church. 'Burn it.'
The squire shoved the torch into Gavin's outstretched hand.
He took it, as he had so many times before, but his grip was
unsteady and the firebrand trembled. Or was that just a
trick of the wavering light?
The villagers' wary glances shifted from him to the church.
What would happen to them if they lost their link to God?
A baby's wail bounced off the church's stone walls.
He shoved the torch at the squire, trying to give back the
'What are you waiting for?' Edward roared, releasing all the
frustration of a failed campaign. Storms had sunk his ships.
There would be no new supplies and nothing left to do but
retreat. He meant to leave destruction behind him.
'Leave it. They never warred on us.'
'They laid waste to their own lands, so we'd have no cattle
to eat nor ale to drink.'
Edward's knights grumbled their agreement. Hungry bellies
made vicious warriors.
Gavin looked from the torch to the church. Stone walls were
no protection. He knew that. He had lit fires large and
small from Picardy to Artois. Heard the crackle of the roof
catch fire, seen the timbers crash to the floor and ignite
wooden altars, felt the heat sear his chest through his
breastplate. Cinder burns pitted the gold lions and lilies
on his surcoat.
But this was different and had been from the moment they
crossed the border. He had breathed the familiar smell of
the earth, felt the gentle slope of the hills rise below his
stallion's hooves, looked up at the perpetual grey mist of
the sky. And knew.
No matter how long he had been away, where, or with whom,
this was home.
'What's the matter, Fitzjohn?' the King yelled. 'Is your
Scottish whore's blood holding you back, boy?'
His mother was no whore. But the King had never forgiven
Gavin's father for his sin, even after death. 'There's no
reason for this,' he answered. 'These folk fight us no more.'
'Your father would have done it!'
His father had done worse.
But Gavin no longer could.
He dropped the torch and heard it sizzle as it hit the soggy
ground. Then, he pulled off the red, gold and blue surcoat
bearing his father's arms and held it over the sputtering
flame until it was ablaze.
'My father might have done it. But I will not.'
He grabbed the reins and turned his horse away to ride into
the darkness alone.
He was not the man his father had been.
Or so he prayed.
A few weeks later, in the Cheviot Hills
The falcon paced on her perch that morning, pecking at her
jesses, on edge even after Clare slipped the hood over her
head to cover her eyes. Strange. Typically, she feared
nothing when she could see nothing.
'What's the matter, Wee One?' Clare crooned, as she closed
the door and motioned the falconer away. She pretended the
birds were part of her duties as mistress of Carr's Tower,
but the falconer was rewarded, and well, to tend to their
constant needs. She simply preferred to do it herself,
particularly with this one. 'Don't you want to take a
She stroked the striped feathers of the bird's breast,
talking nonsense until Wee One recognised her voice and
stilled her wings. Clare held out a titbit and the bird
nipped it from her fingers.
'Ye're spoilin' the bird, Mistress Clare,' the old falconer
said. His grey-tinged brows nearly met as he frowned.
'She'll nae hunt if she's nae hungry.'
'It's no more than a crumb.' A bribe was more the truth,
something to fool herself into believing the bird cared
about her instead of only the food she brought.
She checked to be sure the jesses on the falcon's talons had
not come loose. 'I think it does her good to have a treat
from time to time.'
Neil shook his head. 'Ye won't think so when ye lose her. If
she ever discovers she can eat her fill without our help,
she'll nae return to your fist again.'
He had grumbled the same thing to her for years. But except
for this small infraction, Clare had studied all the rules
and followed every one when she trained Wee One.
She pulled on a thick leather glove and held out her left
hand. The bird hopped on to her wrist and Clare swept out of
the mews and into the barmkin where young Angus awaited her.
The page, on the edge of squirehood, had been left behind
when her father took most of the men to war, so he viewed
himself as protector of the ladies left in the tower.
'Get my horse and the dog, Angus.'
He hesitated. 'Ye shouldna go out alone, Mistress Clare.'
She knew that, but she had picked the boy because he would
not refuse her. 'Both the bird and I need exercise.
And my father sent word. He'll be home soon. The Inglis are
halfway to Carlisle by now.'
In truth, the Inglis might be as close as Melrose, but she
was tired of hiding, tired of winter, tired of being caged
like the birds. Besides, the wild hills surrounding their
border castle offered as much protection as an army. The
'Great Waste', some called it. No one would come here unless
he wanted to escape the civilised world.
Angus brought her hound and horse and held the falcon as she
mounted. Then, sitting proudly on top of his pony, he rode
beside her. As they left the shadow of the tower's wall, she
took her first deep breath and looked up at the blue,
cloudless sky. They had not seen the like for months.
She turned to see Euphemia, daughter of the widow Murine,
galloping after her. Clare stifled a sigh for the loss of
her private moment with the falcon and freedom.
She held her horse to let the girl catch up. Far from
looking ready to hunt, Euphemia, on the edge of womanhood,
looked as if she were ready to fall into bed with the next
man she stumbled across. Not because of her
clothes—her dress was as temperate as
Clare's—but even at sixteen, the slant of her smile
and the flutter of her eyelashes put men in mind of night
Just as her mother's did.
'I had to come,' the girl said, as she caught them. 'We may
not see another day so warm 'til June.' A flush touched her
cheek and her dark hair tumbled across her shoulders.
Clare's tight braid insured her hair would never fly loose,
even after a day on horseback. 'You may join me, but stay
close. She's not been out for days and I intend to be sure
she has a good flight.'
She gazed at the sky, looking for potential prey. Instead,
she heard the flapping wings of another falcon. Wee One,
hooded, swivelled her head, as if searching for the sound.
'What's that?' Euphemia asked.
Clare peered at the bird—male, she thought, from his
smaller size. He flew back and forth across their path,
fierce, dark, yellow-rimmed eyes glaring as if he wanted
them to stop.
'I don't know.' She frowned, suddenly afraid the strange
bird might tempt Wee One to freedom. Thinking to escape him,
she urged the horse into a gallop, not stopping until she
was halfway up the ridge and the tercel was no longer in
sight. Waiting for the others, she felt the south-west wind
nudge her back.
Maybe summer would come early.
'Look!' Angus whispered as the hound pointed.
A few yards away, a fat partridge huddled under a bush. She
would be easy to flush into flight, the perfect quarry for a
Clare glanced over her shoulder to be sure they had lost the
tercel. Then she removed Wee One's hood, struggling to hold
on to the leather jesses as the wind nearly jerked them out
of her fingers. She raised her arm and Wee One took off,
wings flapping, until she was just a speck overhead. There,
she would wait, as she had been trained to do, until the
humans sent her prey skywards.
Angus set the dog towards the bush, scaring the partridge
into flight, where the bird expected to be away from danger,
but the small dot in the sky dived for her prey, falling
faster than a horse could gallop. They stirred their horses
and gave chase.
They were halfway down the valley by mid-afternoon. The bird
had worked, tireless, through the day. She had several fine
stoops, killing three fowl. Each time, Clare rewarded her
with a taste of the flesh. Then, she whisked the prey into
the sack for Angus to carry.
Food rewarded the falcon for a successful flight, but the
bird was never allowed to eat without her master's help.
Otherwise, she would learn that she did not need the help of
humans after all.
The last partridge escaped. Clare called her falcon with a
shrieking whistle and smiled as Wee One swooped on to her
This bird would return to her. Always.
At the thought, the list of duties left undone rushed back,
sweeping away the freedom of the day.
She turned her horse around, motioning to Angus and Euphemia
to follow her. The morning's warmth had ebbed, and a chilly
mist huddled in the valley and obscured the hills, reminding
her of the dangers that lurked all around. The Inglis army
might be far away, but the Inglis border was not.
That was her last thought before he rose out of the fog, a
golden man on a black horse, like a spirit emerging from the
A man without a banner.
A man without allegiance.
The hound barked, once, then growled, as if cowed.
The man's eyes grabbed hers. Blue they were, shading as a
sky does in summer from pale to deepest azure. And behind
the blue, something hot, like the sun.
Any words she might have said stuck in her throat.
Next to her, Euphemia gasped, then giggled. 'Where are you
going, good sir?'
Clare glared at her. The girl was hopeless. They'd be lucky
to get her married before she was with child.
'Anywhere that will have me,' he answered Euphemia, but his
eyes touched Clare.
Her cheeks burned.
Beside her, young Angus drew his dagger, the only weapon he
was allowed. 'I will defend the ladies.'
'I'm sure you will.' The stranger's smile, slow, insolent,
was at odds with the intensity in his eyes. 'That's a
handsome dirk and I'm sure you could wield it well against
me, but I would ask that you not harm my horse.'
His tone was oddly gentle. Where was his own squire? 'Who's
A dangerous practice.' Did he lie? An army could hide behind
him in this mist. Her fault. She had ridden out alone and
unarmed and put them all at risk. 'Don't you know Edward's
army still rides?'
He frowned. 'Do they?'
His accent confused her. It held the burr of the land closer
to the sea, but there was something else about it, difficult
to place. Yet over the hill, in the next valley, each
family's speech was different. He might be a Robson from the
other side of the hill, scouting for one last raid before
the spring, or loyal to one of the Teviotdale men who had
thrown their lot in with Edward. 'You're not an Inglisman,
'I have blood as Scots as yours.'
'And how do you know how Scots my blood is?'
'By the way you asked the question.'
Did her speech sound so provincial to Alain? She winced. She
wanted to impress the visiting French knight, not embarrass
him. 'What's your name, Scotsman?'
'Gavin.' He paused. 'Gavin Fitzjohn.'
Some John's bastard, then. Even a bastard bore his father's
arms, but this man carried no clue to his birth. No device
on his shield, no surcoat. Just that unkempt armour that,
without a squire's care, had darkened with rust spots.
No arms, no squire. Not of birth noble enough for true
Are you a renegade?' On her wrist, Wee One bated, wings
flapping wildly. Clare touched her fingers to the bird's
soft breast feathers, seeking to calm them both.
His slow smile never wavered. 'Just a tired and hungry man
who needs a friendly bed.' His eyes travelled over her, as
if he were wondering how friendly her bed might be.
'Well, you'll not find one with us.'
'I didn't ask. Yet.'
Did he think she'd offer to be his bedmate? She should not
be talking to such a man at all. 'Well, if you do, I'll say
'I don't ask before I know whether I'm speaking to a friend
or an enemy.'
'And I don't answer before I know the same.' Her voice had a
wobble she had not intended.
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