Knight's Ransom (The First Argentines #1)

Knight's Ransom (The First Argentines #1)

Jeff Wheeler

Documenting the history of Ceredigion has far exceeded the ten years I’d predicted it would take. I began with the reign of King Severn Argentine and have gone backward to document his brother Eredur’s reign. Attempting to go back even further, I realized it would be nearly impossible to discover more than scant details about the reigns of the first Argentines. Due to unrelenting civil wars and conquests between neighboring kingdoms, I found very little information in the palace archives, and what I did find I thought to be inaccurate in the extreme. Because the first two Argentine kings bear the same given name, the elder was called Ursus and the younger Primus. I believed they were their names but have now been proven wrong.

This much I have been able to cobble together from the scraps of history left to us these many centuries later: After the destruction of Leoneyis due to a massive flood, Occitania began to impose itself as the dominant kingdom in our world, and a new dynasty was established that persists to this day—the house of Vertus. The first Argentine king, Devon Argentine, came onto the scene after his grandfather died without a male heir. Devon’s mother, who claimed legitimacy to the throne through her father, was preempted from taking it by her nephew, one Gervase Hastings, who seized the Hollow Crown for himself. His rule was marked by bitter contention among his nobles, fueled by King Lewis the Wise of Occitania. The two relations clashed until the kingdom of Ceredigion nearly ceased to exist. But when King Gervase began to sicken, he finally agreed that Devon Argentine would take the throne and unite the realm.

Beyond these few words very little has been passed down. But in my research, I happened to visit the kingdom of Legault, where I discovered a most interesting document in the archives. It was a copy of the journal of a young woman who lived during these turbulent times, an heiress of Legault whom King Gervase held in Kingfountain to guarantee her father’s loyalty. As I read it, I was immediately struck by how the events from the past mirror so closely our own days.

—Polidoro Urbino, Court Historian of Kingfountain

(during the reign of Andrew Argentine)

I’m only eight years old, but I swear everyone here at the palace of Kingfountain is an eejit. I listen to the servants worrying all day long, not over rising loaves of that awful-tasting pumpernickel bread. No, they’re worrying about how long King Gervase can hold on. Of course, they should be worried. He’s a fool eejit too. Gah, I wish I were back in Legault. This land is about as backward as a tail-headed cow. But alas, I cannot go back. I’m held as ransom for my father’s good faith. I miss my da, who’s a good sort, even though he’s a noble from this land. I love that he taught me to use a bow as well as a sword. None of the other girls here know the first thing about either. They simper and buff their nails with stones to make them prettier. They can’t stand me or my hair. Or my tongue. I say what I feel. That’s what a Gaultic girl does. There’s a lad here, though, another hostage like me. Poor little runt. I’ve been here months longer than he has, so I had to show him everything. He’s Lord Barton’s younger son. His name is Marshall, but I call him Ransom because I think it annoys him. He kept staring at me hair when we first met, so I nearly clogged him in the head. But he’s not an eejit. Not like the others. After I asked him why he kept bothering about me hair, he said it made him think of autumn leaves when they change color. The other girls laughed at him when he said it. I clogged them instead.

—Claire de Murrow, Princess of Connaught

(which is in Legault

. . . and living in Kingfountain, even though I don’t want to be here)


Murdering a Child

King Gervase set the goblet down but didn’t release the stem. It was already past sunset, and he had a splitting headache, which even the wine had failed to quiet. He felt his left eye begin to twitch. He hated when it did that, especially when someone was looking at him. Particularly the way Lord Gilbert was looking at him, with a little bit of sympathy and a greater portion of contempt.

“What did you say?” Gervase asked, tightening his grip on the stem of the goblet.

“My lord, he said he won’t relinquish the castle.”

The pounding in Gervase’s skull felt like a smith’s anvil. The words were incomprehensible through all that noise. “Lord Barton won’t?”

“Yes—Lord Barton. He’s strengthening its defenses as we speak.” Gilbert had a sheen of sweat on his brow, and his tunic was mud splattered. Clearly he’d just ridden all the way from the Heath and up the hill to the palace.

Gervase stared at him in disbelief. “He gave me his sworn oath that he would relinquish that castle. He had no right to build it, no royal permission, and it is close enough to pose a strategic risk to the royal castle at Beestone if he finishes it. Yet he has proceeded anyway, bold as you please, and the only reason I didn’t raze it earlier was because of that nagging whelp and his army!”

“That’s the one, for certain,” Gilbert said, rocking back on his heels. “He’s defied you again, my lord. His loyalty may shift like a weather vane, but he’s betting on Devon Argentine winning this conflict. We can’t let Argentine use that castle as a stronghold. Nor can we let open defiance from such an insignificant lord go unpunished.” The middle-aged noble stepped forward and planted his palms on the dining table in Gervase’s state room. “You can toss a coin in the fountain of Our Lady to pray Barton will come around, but I’d wager that coin he’ll be supping with Argentine before the end of the month.”

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