Page 34

“And they have no idea.” Alys chuckled. “Of course they don’t. They think it’s all a performance. God, this is brilliant.”

In the castle courtyard she saw another group of men leading horses to long, low trenches of water made from hollowed-out logs; each of the men wore a sheathed sword strapped to his shoulder or hip. A pair of ladies in long billowing gowns and wimples curtsied slightly as they passed them, while the warriors bowed. More torches and braziers flamed along the curtain walls and high up on the battlements, where Alys spotted more guards standing watch and moving in pairs on patrol.

She caught her breath as she spotted a towering frame of wood and metal supported by a rolling platform; a long sling hung from a broad beam of wood set at an angle. “Is that a trebuchet?”

“Aye.” The car came to a stop in the middle of the courtyard, and Beau helped her out. He looked at the people emerging from the castle. “My lady comes. She is the ruler over all of the Kyn who abide in this region. I must introduce you and explain what has happened.”

“Sure.” She glanced at the slender girl and the massive warrior approaching them. The man appeared mature, and savage Celtic tattoos covered his face, but the girl looked like a teenager. “Is she your queen?”

“Lady Jayr is our suzeraina. This portion of Florida is her territory, and I serve as one of her defenders.” Beau laced his fingers through hers. “Do not be afraid. No one here means you ill.”

“Beaumaris.” Jayr stopped and regarded him as he bowed. “We were not expecting you this night.” Her dark eyes shifted to Alys’s face. “’Tis not the best time for overnight visitors.”

More warriors poured out of the castle, taking up positions behind Jayr and the tattooed man.

“Forgive me, my lady. I would have sent word ahead, but circumstances forced me to move quickly.” He turned to Alys, hesitated, and then faced Jayr again. “This is Dr. Alys Stuart, who works on behalf of the high lord. She is not an overnight visitor. She is my kyara.”

The men standing behind Jayr reacted by exchanging mutters and staring at Alys as if she’d grown another head.

“You’ve revealed us to her?” the tattooed man demanded, his harsh words made melodic by his Scottish accent.

Beau nodded. “There was no avoiding it, my lord, but I will vouch for her. She can be trusted.”

“So you say, while I’ve a mortal who trifled with our trust down in the dungeons this moment.” The Scotsman came to loom over Alys. “Why should I put faith in your little wench?”

Alys decided cowering would not impress him much. “Because you look like the last man on earth I’d ever want to trifle with, period?”

He took in a deep breath, and some of the hostility eased away from his fierce features. “Stuart, is it? A good Scots name.”

“I’ve always thought so. Lady Jayr.” She went with her instincts and dropped into a somewhat awkward curtsy. “It’s an honor to meet you, and I’m sorry to have intruded at an inconvenient time. Someone stole my research, destroyed my camp, and tried to kill me tonight, and Beau—Beaumaris—thought I would be safer here.”

“As Byrne mentioned, we’ve similar troubles.” Jayr gestured toward the castle. “Come. We will see to your comfort.”

The wonders outside the castle were nothing on what Alys saw inside. As she passed through the oak-plated iron portcullis, Alys was enchanted to see the long, narrow meurtrières overhead, as well as a dozen crossbowmen standing ready to fire through them. Inside the hall more guards stood at attention, bowing their heads as Jayr passed, and eyeing Alys with visible suspicion.

Of course, I’m a stranger, and a mortal. Alys wondered whom they had thrown down in their dungeons, and why.

As she followed the suzeraina, Alys passed rooms filled with medieval antiques. While the floors on which they walked were fashioned of slate instead of the expected rush-strewn soil, enormous standing vases filled with heather, tansy, and violets lent their perfume to the chilly interior air.

Alys gulped as they entered a magnificent main hall, where a formal canopied dais occupied a rounded platform of polished granite. Along the walls stood flat, wide rectangles of white marble and carved mahogany trestles, ready to be assembled into tables. Fat tallow candles flicked atop standing, beautifully wrought iron poles; cascades of bowl-shaped oil lamps hung suspended from the vaulted stone ceiling.

No fewer than three giant fireplaces burned, the flames dancing behind brilliantly polished brass screens. Taller, cloth-covered folding screens formed a mazelike concealment at the other end of the hall, and at either side wall hung two wide balconies, the sort of galleries where Alys could imagine musicians playing.

She walked up to the whitewashed stonework and trailed her fingers over it. “This isn’t plaster. It’s the real thing.” She suppressed an excited laugh. “The wall hangings, they look so new.”

“They are new. Our ladies are as industrious now as they were in their mortal lives.” Beau nodded at the table where Jayr and Byrne stood. “I must relate what has happened at the site. I fear my lady will have questions for you as well.”

He meant they would ask about her research, and what she knew about the emeralds. “Trust can’t be one-sided.”

After they sat down with the suzeraina and her seneschal, and Beau briefed them on the project, he also related a surprising amount of information about the two competing teams that had set up camp near the property.

“The Europeans are far more well equipped than the Americans, and have already begun tunneling into the ground.” He turned to Alys. “You studied the geological surveys. Can they reach the spring somehow from underground?”

“If they tap into the aquifer, the submersible may be able to follow water back to the source,” she said, “the location of which unfortunately we’ve never determined exactly. I believe it’s under the pond, but I can’t know without searching the bottom.”

“If they knew, they would not have stolen your research,” Jayr put in. “They must have guessed you were close. Destroying your camp and the cowardly attempt to take your life seems reckless. Had you been killed, the authorities would have become involved and, given their proximity, would have definitely detained them for questioning.”

“I think not, my lady,” Beau said. “The site is too remote to attract public notice. The tresoran traitors must know Tremayne purchased the land, and would prevent any mortal involvement or investigation.”

“That sounds like Richard.” A petite, russet-haired woman came into the room. “Hello, Jayr, Byrne, Cute Guy, Redhead.” She came over and hugged the suzeraina. “Sorry to interrupt the fascinating conversation, but I’m on a house call.”

“Alex, thank heavens.” Jayr rose and glanced at Alys. “Dr. Stuart, would you excuse us? Dr. Keller is needed in the infirmary.”

“Another doctor?” Alex’s brows arched. “What am I here for, a second opinion?”

“I’m a PhD,” Alys said. “Archaeologist.”

The shorter woman grinned. “Nice to meet you, Indiana.” She turned to Jayr. “Okay, so where’s my patient?”

“We’ll take this up later, lad,” Byrne told Beau, and nodded to Alys before he followed the women out of the hall.

Alys blew out a breath. “Wow. I can’t believe I just met the fastest surgeon in the world. She’s Darkyn, too. I guess that explains her speed.”

“You know of Lady Alexandra?”

“Anyone who subscribes to Time magazine does.” She smothered a yawn. “Sorry. Lack of sleep, partially your fault.”

“You must be exhausted.” Beau drew her to her feet. “I’ll take you to my chambers.”

Chapter 15

On the way to the garrison’s quarters, Alys recalled something Beau had said when they’d arrived, and how strangely the other men had reacted. “You never mentioned to me what a kyara is. Is that another name for your mortal allies?”

“Not exactly.” He stopped and, after looking around them, took her hands in his. “Sometimes Kyn warriors and lords take a mortal into their household to be their companion. It does not happen very often, as we cannot bond with mortal females, and unhappily we always outlive them. But this does not matter to me. You are mine, and by claiming you as my kyara, you will be accorded every courtesy due my rank.”

“So I’m your companion.” She frowned. “You mean, like a girlfriend?”

He kissed her. “A kyara is more than that. You are my mortal wife.”

Alys felt her knees buckle, and grabbed his arms. “Excuse me? When did we get married?”

“It had to be said.” Beau’s expression grew shuttered. “Lady Jayr might turn out any mortal she wishes. As my wife, you have the right to sanctuary here.”

Of course, he’d done it to protect her. Alys didn’t understand why she felt so disappointed. “I understand.”

Beau started to say something and then, as another man walked past them, took her arm. “We’ll talk more in my chambers.”

When they entered the section of the castle occupied by the garrison, Alys saw a crowd of men lining both sides of the corridor. “They’re not going to throw rice at us, are they?”

“This is a Kyn tradition.” Beau swept her up in his arms. “Keep your head against my shoulder.”

Alys saw why as he started walking down the corridor, and every man drew his sword and held it up to form a canopy of razor-sharp steel. “Oh. This is nice.” She hid her face against Beau’s shoulder and peeked out now and then to make sure no one was going to start slashing at them.

A tall, stern-faced man with sandy hair stepped in front of Beau at the end of the passage. “Beaumaris.” His cool eyes shifted to Alys’s face. “So you have finally gone wenching. Was it necessary to bring back a sample of your night’s work?”

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