Windsor Castle, 1535
“Bloody hell gie a move on…” Lucian Lorne Macleod mumbled. He leaned his head back against the wall behind him, and looked up at the ceiling of Richmond Palace’s Great Watching Chamber. Patience wasn’t his virtue at the moment. His mind should have been on matters at hand, but thoughts of home, his family kept distracting him. He was worried, and had a good reason to be. The clan was without leadership, without some of their best fighters. Instead, they were with him in a place none of them wanted to be.
A headache was starting to bloom right in the center of his forehead, and expand outward. Lucian crossed his arms to keep from massaging his temple and dropped his head, staring at the courtiers surrounding him. He sighed deeply, fighting the want to demonstrate his agitation. Many of them were nervous, shifting from one area of the room to another, shooting questioning glances at he and his men.
He kicked at the floor with toe of his boot. When would his life take an easy turn? He inclined his head a fraction as the distant chime of bells tolled five times. How much longer must he wait? Lucian breathed deeply, praying for patience with England's monarch, King Henry VIII. He wondered if he would ever be called to meet the King, and hand over his credentials.
Henry was known for keeping people waiting. Lucian’s eyes darted around to each courtier’s face that loitered about the chamber. He recognized several men and women from his time at the French Court, and their scrutinizing stares. He wasn’t immune to their dislike, their lips moving, and clearly talking about his presence, his purpose. No one could escape the underlying current of tension that pervaded the court. Lucian witnessed several small altercations flare to life over trivial comments in the corridors as they navigated the halls. He knew some of the reasons, but had not had the time to decipher truth from fiction. He narrowed his green eyes on the two double doors that marked the threshold to the next suite of chambers, and the King. Lucian shifted, tried to relax to prevent his frustration from rolling into an all out anger. He hated court, always had. He wanted to complete his duty as soon as possible, and escape the escalating madness.
His mission stuck at the back of his throat like a foul taste. His jaw clenched as the crowd parted, and Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, threading his way towards him. He wasn’t in the mood to talk, but court etiquette dictated otherwise. Lucian forced himself to relax, and offered the man a smile, bowing as he approached. Eustace returned the gesture. “Lucian, it is good to see you.”
“And ye Eustace.”
“Did you receive our gifts on the occasion of your elevation?”
Chapuys was speaking about two beautiful Andalusian horses gifted to him from the ambassador, and Emperor Charles V. Lucian smiled deeply, “Aye, beautiful stock and a grand addition to my own Friesians. I hae brought them with me, if ye would like to go out riding sometime…”
“I would like that.” Eustace inched closer, dropping his voice so no one overheard their conversation, “And what has King James told you about the little problem?”
The Spanish Ambassador was speaking of the recent attack on the English King, “By the time we captured Argus Macdonald of Sleat and David Campbell, the information was already a month old I am afraid. David had a difficult time talking due to his broken jaw, but we believe tis his cousin William here in England that perpetrated the attack.”
“And your plans?”
“See Lady Delwyn hame, back into Lord Mor's arms, and then go after William. Simon is searching the Borders and the disputed lands for Campbell.” He was speaking of his best friends that had been recently at court. Delwyn was hidden away in one of the chambers above, whereas Simon, her fiancé, had been discharged from his duties, and sent back to Scotland.
Eustace chuckled, “I hear that Simon was sent packing after he loudly protested the King’s advances upon his intended.”
Lucian snorted, “Delwyn is a beautiful lass, and they hae been separated for too long. He had good cause.”
Eustace stepped about, his eyes darting around making sure no one was eavesdropping, “After what she has done, King Henry will not let her go so easily. My God man, she saved his life.”
“Nae, he willna…” Lucian growled, folding his arms across his chest, his eyes fixed on those two double doors leading to the King’s presence. Princes always thought they knew best, and that was laughable, and disheartening.
“You have your work cut out for you Lucian.”
“Aye, I do.”
Eustace whispered through a smile, “If you have a need, you just have to ask. I am instructed to aid you as much as I can.”
Lucian subtly nodded, acknowledging his offer. Eustace moved off, leaving Lucian pondering just how he was going to rescue Delwyn from this place. He knew the English King's proclivity for seducing, and collecting beautiful women. He swore under his breath, “And when exactly am I going to search for Campbell?”
The grumbling of an empty stomach interrupted his thoughts. He turned towards his cousin Angus Macleod, one of his bràithrean, shaking his head. The man looked just as miserable as Lucian felt. Angus tugged at his doublet's collar. His cousin was used to a simpler wardrobe, not used to the finery of court. “For the last time Angus, ye can loosen yer collar."
Angus walked forward a bit, turned his back on the throng, and glared back at his kin, sneering, "And gie these Sasannaich more reason to talk about us. I dinna think so. Besides I like these fancy clothes."
Finn MacCrimmon, Lucian's leuchd-crois, chuckled, "Och Angus, ye are a pretty lassie."
Angus cast him a subtle wink, and bobbed a short curtsey, "Thank ye."
Lucian chuckled for the light amusement, "Enough ye two." His eyes caught a page distributing refreshments to the other courtiers. Lucian inclined his head, and Angus looked over his shoulder. Lucian cleared his throat, “See what ye can do.”
Angus nodded, and started towards the page that was weaving through the crowd with a tray of goblets. Lucian watched his kin, and sighed as the lad diverted another way upon seeing Angus approach. His kin returned, snarling, "Their idea of hospitality leaves something to be desired. From the moment we rode into the courtyard..."
Lucian held up his hand, not wanting to revisit that heated discussion, "I am all too aware of their behavior. Old misconceptions on their part. We shall just hae to rise above it."
Lucian’s Seanachaidh, Robin Macleod, stood several feet away; his eyes keen on those standing around them. He hugged his leather folders, appraising the crowd, interrupting, "We will always be second class to them, when in reality, Lucian, ye are on equal footing with most in this room, and are a much better mon."
"Please Robin." Lucian hated such compliments, especially coming from his own kin. He just wasn't too sure he was worthy of anything, least of all the leadership of his clan. The last two years had been sheer hell for him, and the problem of just standing around doing absolutely nothing allowed his mind to think about all that had happened, all the loss and the pain it brought. Lucian fought the nauseous feeling tightening his gut. Image after image surfaced in his mind, and he shuffled away, looking for a window as the walls closed in. He turned his back on the courtiers, finding a window, and reached to open it. His fingers fumbled with the latch, finally opening it with a flourish. His chest heaved, and relished the cold air on his face. He closed his eyes, fighting for control.
“Aye, could use some of that sweet air of hame, but this will do.” Angus snorted, “God, the amount of perfume these people use. At least they could offer us some refreshments if we hae to suffer their presence.”
Lucian sighed deeply, grateful for Angus’s deflection. Gaining a measure of self-control, Lucian turned back, but stayed beneath the window, relishing the cool breeze that drifted down over his shoulders. Angus broke away from their small party again, and wove through the crowd towards the back of the room to where the servants stood. Lucian watched him talking with the lads, turn and point to their group. A pouch of coin was exchanged, and a tray prepared. Triumph registered on Angus’s face as he escorted the servants back across the chamber towards their small group.
Suddenly, a movement behind them had Lucian push off the wall. His eyes fixed on pale blond hair, and creamy white skin. The lass was moving at a determined pace towards him, her eyes alight with repressed anger. Even from this distance her eyes shone like blue diamonds. His mouth suddenly parched, parched for something more than ale. He was drawn to the curve of a milky shoulder, the long nape of her neck, and the flaxen halo of hair that graced her head, and fell in thick tresses over her shoulders, down the length of her body. Her pale features drew Lucian forward a few steps, and he continued to stare at her, willing her to turn look upon him fully.
Lucian watched her come to stuttering stop, lift a hand, and caress that beautiful neck. He felt the beast in him awaken, something deeply carnal, primeval, something he had never felt before. She turned, her sapphire eyes darting around shyly looking for the source of her unsettling feelings, and settled upon his face. Lucian held her stare, probably longer than he should have, but he didn’t care. Her eyes were his undoing, an intense blue that matched the color of the water that crashed against the rocks beneath his home, Glenaire. Those eyes were fire and ice, enticing, challenging, and assuredly hid a certain intelligence. Her eyes widened, and lips parted slightly in shock. Just as quickly as she looked upon him, she turned away. Lucian saw her subtly shake her head, and continue forward. Look at me! His mind commanded. She walked no more than ten steps, and turned back, and looked at him again. Lustful thoughts surged through his subconscious, and lifted the corner of his mouth in a cocky grin, silently challenging. He had stirred her anger, and more by the peachy blush that transformed her skin.
He wondered if her lips were naturally that blood red, or had they been tinted with a bit of rouge. Lucian craved to kiss them, to know the sweetness of her mouth. His eyes dropped along her curvaceous lines, and his body tightened. Her face pinched together, clearly disgusted, threw back her shoulders and walked on. He laughed deeply, and his view suddenly blocked by the King's guard as they closed ranks as she passed.
And then cold reality slapped him in the face, woke him up. She was his enemy that hated his kind to the core of their being. Lucian was surprised at how easily she entered the King's chambers without hindrance. He broke his stare, and glanced again at the courtiers. They stared at him, and several men, and women had their heads bent whispering. Raised voices drew their attention away from him, and he saw several groups of men cloistered in the shadows beside the doors. They were arguing, demanding to be let in. The whispers grew louder, and several shoving matches broke out. Why had she passed so easily?
The tension in the room thickened. Change was in the air, thick and musty. His King had told him of the rumors circulating through diplomatic channels that Anne Boleyn’s days as England’s Queen were numbered. Who was the woman with blond hair, and was she slated to be the next Queen? Why were the men of power clearly divided? What did that mean for Scotland? But more importantly, what did that mean for his assignment here in the English Court?
Lucian caught his cousin Brock Lewis in his periphery, moving to stand just off his right shoulder at the sound of several reproachful remarks from the English. Lucian scanned the room, spied several questionable, fearful glances cast his way. He glared right back, acknowledging their stares, and casting his own. He had every right to be here, had every right to stand among them. If they wanted to draw a censorious line between his party, and theirs, so be it. He knew they were uncomfortable with Highlanders in their midst. Most of his men, including himself stood head and shoulders above the others. Their ogling was not lost on Lucian. They were afraid. He wasn't the only man that had a personal guard, but his was not for show. He had a real need for protection, given the circumstances surrounding his bràthair’s and athair’s recent deaths. His eyes fixed on those double doors to the King’s presence chamber, and willed them to open.