Son of a Rogue by Cecelia Mecca
Brockburg Castle, Scotland, 1300
“That cocksure smirk perpetually planted on your face will get you into trouble,” Rory’s cousin whispered to him. “If there was a day for you to be serious, Rory, ’tis today. The fate of the entire Brotherhood may very well be at risk if we make the wrong decision.”
In response, Rory took care to ensure the corner of his lips lifted just the right amount, further infuriating his cousin. Haydn could be a bore at times, and today appeared to be one of those days.
Aye, the topic was a serious one. And aye, all eyes were on them as the round table with more than twenty men, and women, left little room to hide. Rory could not remember the last time all of them were together at this table. That his father and every one of his uncles were here today underscored the gravity of the topic at hand.
And yet, the moment his cousin Isla, sitting across from him, narrowed her eyes as if to warn him to be on his best behavior, Rory could not resist the urge to do the very opposite. “She is glaring at me as if she is my mother,” he whispered back. Isla’s own mother, Rory’s Aunt Emma, had given him that very same glare before. How similar they were, mother and daughter.
“If you wish to incur the wrath of . . . well, take your pick,” Haydn said, referring to the fact that both of their fathers sat at this very table, and both were known to speak their mind when displeased, “so be it. ’Tis your funeral we will attend. I will toss a flower onto your coffin and return home to make love to my wife a happy man. Despite your demise.”
“I would be glad for it, too. A day well spent, it would seem. You do have a lovely wife.”
“Do we disturb your conversation?” a deep voice barked.
It was a voice that sounded similar to his own for good reason.
Everyone turned to look at him and Haydn.
“Nay, Father,” Rory said, knowing he should leave his remarks there. But of course he wouldn’t. “I was just instructing my cousin to pay more of a mind to the topic at hand, given the seriousness of the situation.”
Isla nearly spit out the wine she’d just drunk. Fortunately for Haydn, every person present knew Rory’s remark was an undisguised lie and that the situation was, indeed, reversed. But at least it left his father with little to comment on until Rory’s uncle Geoffrey stepped in.
His uncle often commented that Rory and Haydn’s relationship was very much like his own with his younger brother. Geoffrey Waryn would not be described as serious in nature by most, unless compared to his brother Bryce.
“Perhaps,” his father said with the same mischievous glint in his eye that Rory’s mother said he had been emulating before he could even walk, “there is an alternative to openly aiding Edyington’s men and incurring the king’s wrath.”
Rory knew that look. His eyes narrowed as he waited for his father to continue. He didn’t have to wait long. Their host and chief of Clan Kerr, who Rory also called uncle despite that the connection was through marriage, stepped in.
“If we send men, it is akin to declaring open war on your king. But we will not deny aid to one with a righteous cause who seeks the Brotherhood’s help,” Toren said.
Rory remained quiet this time, the attention no longer on him.
“Our king”—Geoffrey said the words as if he wished for any other king but Edward—“will not take kindly to any interference at all. If I can guess the direction of your thoughts.”
“I agree. Our king,” Haydn added, “will tolerate no further interference from either of our families.”
His cousin knew better than most the truth of his own words. To punish the Waryns for being intermarried with a clan who harbored sympathy, if not outright support, for William Wallace, the king had forced Haydn to marry the daughter of one of his favorite vassals.
“We agreed not to send Edyington’s men away and thus forsake his daughter, aye?” his father asked.
Every person present nodded. Neither family—English nor Scottish—wished to send away the small party of survivors who had managed to escape after their lord’s death. Sir Eustace of Edyington betrayed his father, got him killed, took control of their castle in the name of the king, and now held his own sister hostage. A serious situation, indeed. However, giving aid to the late baron’s men who had escaped would further infuriate King Edward, placing an even larger target on them.
“We agree that with Edward’s men still remaining at Edyington, our choices are to either speak to the new baron, getting him to agree to relinquish his sister . . .”
“Which,” Toren said, “he will not do. Marrying his sister to a man of the king’s choosing was very likely a part of their agreement.”
Rory cursed under his breath. The idea of a son forsaking his own father, being responsible for his death in the pursuit of power . . . his stomach turned in protest at the thought.
“Agreed,” his uncle Geoffrey said. “And we also agree that combining our own forces, and potentially those of our allies, to take back Edyington would sever the very tenuous ties that hold the king back from inflicting even more damaging retribution on our families?”
Nodding and murmurs of agreement ensued. It was neither the time, nor place, for open warfare with the king.
Rory looked up. His father was watching him. They’d discussed the possibility of a lone rescue earlier that morn, and dismissed it. But now it seemed, after eliminating all other plans, it was the only feasible one remaining.
He had the skills necessary. And clearly his father thought Rory best for the mission. He could tell by the way he looked at him now. Giving it as much thought as he would which woman to bed that eve, which was to say, very little at all, he spoke up. “I will do it.”
His uncles, his aunt Juliette, and his cousins all looked at him.
Rory smiled, the thought of such a mission more exciting than it should be. Edyington was crawling with the king’s trained knights, and if the survivors were to be believed, paid mercenaries as well.
“I will kidnap Lady Freya,” he said. This time, Isla did spit out her wine. Haydn chuckled. As did his uncles Reid and Alex.
“I believe the word you are seeking is ‘rescue,’ Rory,” his father said.
“Ah yes,” he amended. “Rescue.”
And, despite himself, his father smiled. Rory had used the word apurpose, a nod to how his parents had met. He very much enjoyed teasing them both about it and never wasted an opportunity to remind his father of their very unconventional courtship.
“I can think of no better man to”—his uncle Geoffrey cleared his throat—“rescue Lady Freya.”
“And if he does it without bedding her, bravo for a job well done,” Haydn muttered under his breath but loud enough for Rory to hear. In response, Rory planted on his face the very look that had gotten him into trouble earlier.
Haydn’s laugh echoed throughout the chamber.