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Excerpt: Knight Triumphant by Heather Graham

First enemies, now spouses, neither Igrainia nor Eric has feelings for the other—or do they?





Knight Triumphant

By Heather Graham

“Come down.”

“I really have no interest.”

“You’re lying. You’re bored in your little cage, and dying of curiosity. Come down.”



He took her arm, and slipped it through his own in a fluid and determined motion. She could fight to get her arm back, but she wouldn’t win.

And he was already walking. She had to move swiftly to keep up with him.

“I am not dressed!” she protested, and he glanced down at the linen gown she wore with its delicate and elaborate lacework. The fabric was thin, but voluminous. In the shadows, it was a concealing and elegant gown.

“You’re too modest. That’s a lovely garment.”

“It’s a nightdress. My feet are bare.”

“Ah, well, bare feet will keep you from running far,” he replied.

“I haven’t been running.”

“Thus far. We’ve established that fact, haven’t we? You’re not the customary captive. I believe my men actually vie with one another for the pleasure of serving you.”

She ignored him, for they had reached the hall.

The music stopped. There was a silence as all eyes turned to her.

Then Jamie spoke. “Igrainia! Welcome. Jarrett, lads, surely we’ve a ballad to welcome the lady?”

They began to play again, a surprisingly beautiful tune that the pipes made haunting, about a maid in a tower, and the young man who watched her night after night.

Eric had maintained his lock on her arm. He moved her through the hall to the head of the table. Peter had vacated his place.

“Sit,” Eric said.

“It is Peter’s chair.”

“Peter no longer requires it.”

She wasn’t really given a choice. She found herself seated. “Gregory! Ale for the lady!” Eric called. He lifted his chalice. “Indeed, for myself,” he said grimly, staring at the chalice. It seemed for a moment that his tone was bitter, yet not against her, but more for himself. Gregory brought the ale, poured it.

“Let’s toast, my lady. Lift your glass.”

“I won’t toast your victories,” she told him.

“Fine. Toast life, then, my lady, and the sanctity of it! Hell, drink to old King Edward, may his body rot beneath him!”

She hesitated, her fingers curled around the chalice.

“Toast the memory of your husband then, Igrainia, but lift your cup and drink!”

She had a wild vision of him grabbing her by the jaw and forcing ale down her throat. He wouldn’t do such a thing. Or would he? She lifted the chalice. She was feeling the need for a long, long swallow of the hearty ale herself.

He drained his own, set the chalice down with a thump, and stared at her, blue eyes dark and brooding. She drank herself . . . and drank, finishing her own ale, imitating his thud upon the table. “Will that suffice?” she inquired coolly.

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He smiled, leaning back then, his eyes never leaving hers. “I don’t know. Will it? You were obviously eager to see what was happening. Or else, you were sorely in need of some ale. Or wine—I believe there is wine, if you prefer.”

“I prefer not to drink here.”

“Why not? Drink enough ale, and we will all become more bearable to you.”

“There is not enough ale in all the world,” she murmured.

“You’d be surprised what enough ale can do.”

Their attention was drawn from one another as a cheerful shout rose in the hall, drowning the murmurs of more intimate conversations.

“Jamie, sing the new song to our good King Robert!” Allan called. He was down the table from where they sat, his arm around a young woman. Igrainia couldn’t recall if she had seen the woman before or not, but she was pretty and young, and seemed to be content in Jamie’s arms. Her clothing was fine; she wore a tartan mantle with colors in blue, green, and red.

“Aye, then!” Jamie cried, and began.

He had a pleasant voice, and a way of telling a story as he plucked at his instrument. His story was about the Scottish king, of dark days and sad, of the deaths of those he loved, and of a night when he was ready to let all be lost, but then saw a spider, endlessly toiling at a web, beginning anew each time the rain destroyed what she had worked so hard to achieve. The sun rose, and the web she then spun was so beautiful that the king knew he could give no less for Scotland, because the sun would rise again.

His song was followed by wild applause, and he blushed and laughed and thanked them all. Igrainia was dismayed to find that he had caught her eye as he turned around bowing and called out to her. “Igrainia! Come, please. Eric, you’ve not heard her, have you? Neither have I. But Peter tells me she has the voice of an angel, a lark, and that she played and sang in the hall at supper while we were away. Igrainia! You must uphold the honor of Langley. Come!”

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She froze in her chair, and felt Eric’s eyes again.

He leaned forward. “So . . . you have not just dined with the enemy during our absence, but entertained as well?”

She moistened her lips. “I really don’t think you’d care to hear any ballad I have to sing.”

“Oh, but I would.”


“Yes. I command it.”

“I will sing whatever pleases me,” she threatened.

“Do go ahead.”

She rose suddenly. “As you wish, then. Who am I to deny a conquering hero?”

She swept from the table, walked the length of it, and took the lute from Jamie. He smiled warmly, handing it to her with a deep bow.

Her song was about a love lost, about a knight of infinite wisdom, aware of the power of the written word, the beauty of a field, the wonder of a child. A knight far too gentle for the sword, but born to live and die by it. She was certain that many would know that in the song, the gentle knight was Afton—though he had perished from disease rather than the sword.

Of course, that he was “slain by an enemy, savage and bold,” might have surely sent a message into some of their souls. Especially since the enemy was savage, barbaric, from the north, and with a heavy force of arms, but lacking of wisdom, knowledge, and chivalry.

Even as she sang the last of it, only willpower alone kept her from faltering. She was a fool, mocking them all. She meant only to anger Eric. To arouse him to emotion, find a certain vengeance in what power she had herself.

And still, when she had finished, returned the lute to Jamie, and stood, she was astounded by the applause that thundered and echoed about the room. She felt flushed, being near the fire, and parched, and when someone handed her a chalice, she accepted it, and drank, and then demurred when Allan and his lady and then others cried out, asking her for another tale.

“No, really—”

She meant only to anger Eric. To arouse him to emotion, find a certain vengeance in what power she had herself.

But Jamie, smiling, was at her side, and he asked her if she knew a light and lively tune with no bearing on events other than the argument between a lord and lady, and so he played, and they sang together, and again, the hall seemed warm, and she was applauded and amazed to find so many people beside her, thanking her for the song. The woman with Allan came to her as well, and thanked her for the care she had given her during the plague. Igrainia found herself strangely enjoying the evening, and dancing when Jarrett brought out his pipes again, swirling with the other wives and daughters and lovers, and even laughing when she tripped over Angus’s feet when he joined her.

She was enjoying herself. The women did not seem to resent her, and the men were admiring, and complimentary. She felt alive as she hadn’t in some time, and she even felt beautiful, their words were so kind.

She forgot she was among the enemy. She smiled and laughed with Jamie, Jarrett, Dougal, Allan and his lady. At times, she noted Eric, talking to one of his men, or perhaps speaking with one of their wives, sisters, mothers, or lovers. She watched the courtesy he showed others. She saw him touch Rowenna’s hand again, bow his head close to hear her speak against the talk, laughter, and conversation. Indeed, he could charm.

She turned away from him. For a moment she felt as if she were trying to rage against the wind, to laugh before she could cry, to prove herself a shimmering bird of crystalline colors, strong in flight, untouched by any bars.

She accepted more ale.

She discussed the best poultices for flesh wounds.

She danced again, and again, and listened to the music, smiled radiantly for Jamie, and allowed herself the luxury of accepting his compliments.

She almost made herself forget Eric . . .

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Until, in the midst of swirling revelry, she spun straight into his arms, and against his hard chest.

Then, she knew.

No, she had not forgotten him at all. She had performed with a vengeance, knowing he watched, had danced with energy, had laughed with reckless abandon, had teased, charmed and . . .

“It’s time for you to return to the cage,” he told her.

She felt the supple heat of his body as she was held hard against it. She met his eyes, her own defiant.

“Why? You insisted I come down.”

“And now I am insisting you go up.”

“Why? Because your men do not find me to be loathsome? Not such a terrible danger? Because there are people here who believe I saved their lives?”

“Because they will come to trust you, and then you will be a really terrible danger. It’s time to leave. I’ll be pleased to escort you up.”

She inclined her head slightly. “I can imagine,” she murmured with sweet sarcasm. “But I wish to stay here.”

“You are going up.”

“Force me rudely, as you are so apt to do, and I will scream.”

“And you think my men will then draw swords on me?” he mocked.

“Perhaps they will.”

“Perhaps you overestimate your position.”

“Perhaps not.”

“It’s a gamble you’re welcome to take.”

She stood resentfully silent, tempted, and yet afraid, and praying that she still kept the threat alive in her eyes. But then, it was likely that he really didn’t care if she screamed or not, if she walked with dignity, or if he simply threw her over his shoulder and neatly deposited her back in the room, the bird returned to her cage.

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“Come along. We have an interesting matter to discuss. It might as well be now.”

A deepening sense of alarm and dismay filled her. She didn’t want to return to the room, to be shut away. She had disturbed him tonight, she had done it on purpose. She knew it, and she was reveling in it. She was admired in this hall, she managed very well alone with his men, and she wanted him to know it.

She had stoked a fire for warmth, and was burning in its heat instead. She was painfully aware they danced no longer, that she had somehow come against a wall, and she was still within his hold. No weight was borne down against her, but she was still aware of the pressure of his chest and that she was pinned against him as he lowered his head to speak softly to her. They might have been having an intimate conversation. She remembered that afternoon, in the dungeon. How desperate she had felt when he had held her. A new, deep unease stirred, and threatened again to rise to a raging panic. And yet . . .

“My lady?” he leaned lower with the question. His words were a whisper, and his face was close to her own.

The promise of true panic rose within her mind.

She didn’t want this . . . closeness.

She didn’t want to be feeling what she was feeling, and sensing something frightening that lay in her soul. She felt slightly faint, slightly dizzy, and though she had challenged him by drinking so swiftly, and perhaps too much, it was not the ale. It was not that she longed to slam her fists against him, or that she hated him, and was afraid that he would touch her too long.

It was something worse.

She was trembling, and she was certain that he could feel it. And it seemed like forever since she had felt Afton’s fingers moving through her hair, felt a soft whisper against her cheek. Eric was horrible, surely, savage, a foe who had come and changed her life, and yet she didn’t want to think about his birth or background or his political passions. She knew, held against him as she was, what she had feared so desperately before. She was drawn to the breadth of his shoulders, the pulsing heat of his chest, the length of his fingers on her arm. She liked the rugged contours of his face, the sound of his voice, the strange adherence to principle he had shown. And most of all, though she had to fight it, she liked the fact that now, he was turned to her, touching her, with her . . .

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She liked being held. Breathing the scent of him. And she longed to feel a gentle touch. Not even a gentle touch. A hungry touch.

The realization of just exactly what she was feeling washed over her like a sweeping wave of deep and shattering heat. He was . . . compelling. He was masculine, sensual. And the restless urge within her to challenge, argue, mock, and anger was because . . .

She wouldn’t allow the words to form in her mind. And yet they did. And then the fury she felt with herself, and the horror, and the fear were suddenly overwhelming. And it was true: She had purposely set out to laugh with his men, charm them, shine within the music and dance, and all to make him see that she was not just a prize of war. And now . . .

She wanted only to escape his nearness, and come to terms with herself.

“I . . . yes!” she whispered, and now, the sound of her voice was desperate. Her words were faltering. “I mean no, I’ll go, but I need no escort, I require no assistance up the stairs. If we’ve a matter of interest to discuss, it has to be tomorrow. You mustn’t leave your celebration, not when you’ve proven yourself so perfectly heroic and you’re so pleased with the fruits of battle.” She saw in his eyes that her words were stirring anger in him. For once, she had not meant to do so. “I didn’t mean that, exactly. You should stay. You must stay. I can walk just fine. I’m going.”

She broke free from his hold, and meant to make all haste to the stairs, and hurry up them, and do as she said—and pray through the night to forget that such feelings had ever swept through her heart and touched her senses.

But as she turned, it was as if she was blinded. She ran past the table. Angus had sat, great legs stretched out before him. And once again that night, she tripped over his feet.

Dangerously so, this time, in her haste. She catapulted up, and nearly fell on her face.

Before she could fall, she was caught. She grasped desperately at the arms steadying her, lifted her face, and met Eric’s eyes once again. Before she could speak, she found herself lifted. Angus had risen, rueful, concerned, apologetic.

“The lady is tired, I believe. And then again, perhaps she’s really enjoyed our celebration, and had a bit too much ale. She isn’t hurt, Angus, and don’t worry—I have her.”

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