“What are the barons fighting about?” Brodick asked.
“We need not concern ourselves with their petty squabbles,” Colm said. “Remember the reason we are here.” He addressed the abbot once again. “You have a priest here named Gelroy. I wish to speak to him as soon as possible.”
“May I inquire as to your reason for speaking to him?”
“You may not.”
The abbot was taken aback by the blunt denial. Then he nodded, thinking he understood why the laird had refused to explain. “Oh, I see. You wish to say your confession. I apologize. I shouldn’t have asked. Why don’t you go on upstairs, and I’ll send Father Gelroy to you. I believe I know just where he is. He’ll show you the way to the chapel so that you may rid yourself of your sins.”
Yet again the abbot had jumped to the wrong conclusion, but neither laird set him straight.
“It shouldn’t take any time at all,” he remarked, turning to lead them to the steps.
Brodick nodded his head toward Colm. “With his number of sins, I wouldn’t count on it.”
Colm was not amused. He shoved Brodick out of his way. “I’m not here for confession. I’m here for some answers about my brother. I just want to get this over and done with and get out of here. Perhaps I can convince Father Gelroy to come with us. I can’t think or breathe with this many English surrounding me.”
“I doubt Gelroy will want to leave with us. But you can ask,” Brodick said.
“Ask? Why would I ask?”
Brodick shrugged. Colm would do what he wanted regardless of how Brodick felt. Besides, Brodick may well have done the same had it been his own brother. Still, dragging a priest out of his sanctuary for the sole purpose of browbeating him into telling what he knew about Liam’s captors…and saviors…was probably going to blacken their battered souls a little more.
The abbot was so intent on overhearing their conversation he didn’t realize he’d reached the top of the wall surrounding the commons. Out of breath, he pointed. “Here we are.”
The abbot turned to go back downstairs and fetch Gelroy, but Brodick stopped him with a question.
“I’m curious, Abbot. Are Baron Geoffrey and his daughter still here, or have they started back to England?”
“Baron Geoffrey? You know these English?”
Brodick sighed. “It is an embarrassment to admit they are related…on my wife’s side,” he hastily added.
“It is still an embarrassment,” Colm remarked.
Brodick silently reminded himself that Colm was his ally. “I’ve never met the daughter,” he told the abbot.
The abbot replied, “The baron has left on a journey to meet with his king, and his daughter has been preparing to leave for England, but I believe she will be detained.”
“Why will she be detained?” Brodick asked.
“You don’t understand,” the abbot said. “All this chaos concerns the lady and whom she is to marry.”
“Is her father aware of this?” Brodick wondered.
“No. He left before the two barons came together.”
“And when is Baron Geoffrey expected to return?” Though the future of Lady Gabrielle was of no concern to Brodick, he felt a gnawing obligation.
“I doubt anyone has had time to send a messenger to her father. It’s as though the barons deliberately waited until he was away from the abbey before springing this marriage on his daughter. They’re both acting as though this is a most urgent matter. From what I’ve heard of their argument, they want her married before her father finds out and causes an upset.” Darting a glance to the left and then to the right he said, “Trickery. Aye, it’s trickery if you ask me. But the lady is protected by her guards and she is safe in our monastery. No harm will come to her while she is here.”
The naïve belief irritated Colm. The abbey was overrun with strangers, and most were English. How could he believe the likes of them would honor sanctuary? Even the priest Gelroy had had his doubts, for he had asked soldiers to guard Liam while he slept. Colm wondered what this jumpy abbot would think if he found out that Liam had been a guest here.
“Is Lady Gabrielle agreeable to a new match?” Brodick asked.
“She doesn’t know yet. They’ll call for her soon.” Shaking his head, the abbot sighed. “She’ll find out about this mischief when she answers their summons.”
B ARON COSWOLD HAD STORMED INTO THE ABBEY THAT AFTERNOON with his coterie of drones. He had quite an assemblage of sycophants trailing behind him, twenty-three in all. The large number was deliberate, for Coswold hoped to intimidate and overwhelm Percy.
Coswold felt incredibly powerful. He carried a writ proclaiming that he and he alone spoke on the king’s behalf.
But Percy was neither intimidated nor overwhelmed. Like Coswold, he, too, had his spies, and although he didn’t yet know about the new writ, Percy had learned that his enemy was going to try to take charge of Finney’s Flat and Lady Gabrielle’s future. He believed that Coswold planned to use force to get what he wanted.
Percy was ready for him. His own horde of mindless miscreants followed him as he rushed into the hall to confront Coswold. Percy wasn’t about to back down or be pushed aside, and he wasn’t the least concerned that he might not get what he wanted. He had a writ signed by the king that he and he alone could act on John’s behalf. The king had sent him to the abbey to witness the wedding between Monroe and Gabrielle, but now that the groom was out of the way, Percy was confident that he could decide Gabrielle’s future.
Each power-hungry man had a trick or two up his sleeve.
The two barons met in the center of the visitors’ hall. The doors to the courtyard had been thrown open. This was not to be a private fight. Each wanted witnesses to hear.
Percy attacked first. Stabbing the air between them with a long bony finger, he said, “Don’t you dare try to interfere in my decisions here or I’ll have you thrown out. I speak on King John’s behalf, and I am going to decide Lady Gabrielle’s future.”
“Her future with you?” Coswold scoffed. “And Finney’s Flat becomes yours as well? Is that what you think will happen, you fool? You most certainly will not have her. I will see to that.”
“You have no power, Coswold. I am going to escort the lady back to England. Aye, she goes with me.” Percy didn’t bother to add the important fact that he planned to force her to marry him first.
Coswold took a step closer. “You no longer speak on the king’s behalf, for I have a writ signed by John giving me full power here. I will speak and act in his stead.”
Percy was outraged. The veins on his forehead bulged when he responded. “Nay, I have the writ, and it was truly signed by King John. You cannot dupe me. I know what you want, and you will not get her.”
The verbal sparring increased until both barons were ceaselessly shouting at each other. The fight moved outdoors as more and more of the curious joined the crowd.
The dividing line between the two camps was marked by a stone cross in the middle of the open lawn: Percy and his followers on one side, and Coswold and his supporters on the other.
“Would you like to see the writ?” Coswold asked. “The king’s seal is there, and so is the date, Percy. If you do not step aside, I will have you thrown out.”
Percy snorted. “When was this writ signed?” he demanded, and before Coswold could answer, he added, “I know where you’ve been, and I know all about the dark bargain you’ve struck with the laird.”
Coswold ignored this comment. He snapped his fingers toward one of his supporters, and the scroll was promptly produced. He snatched it from his hands and waved it in Percy’s face. “Here it is. King John has assigned power to me.”
Colm and Brodick rested their arms on top of a parapet, watching and listening to the debacle taking place beneath them. Colm was simply biding his time until Father Gelroy arrived. The abbot had indicated to them that it wouldn’t take long to locate him, but obviously he’d been mistaken.
Impatient to grab the priest and get away from these foul English barons, Colm muttered, “Where is that blasted priest Gelroy?”
“Surely he’s on his way,” Brodick replied.
Colm scanned the crowd below. He noticed the number of ordained men in robes and said, “There are so many of them. If I knew what Gelroy looked like, I’d drag him out of here.”
Brodick grinned. “You know how I mentioned you can’t start a war against a priest? Well, you also cannot drag one of them out of here, unless the priest is willing to go, and I doubt Gelroy would be. You and I…”
“You and I what?”
“According to my wife, we tend to frighten people.”
Another shout drew their attention. “The English, they’re loud, aren’t they?” Brodick commented. “It’s a pity we don’t have our bows and arrows. We could rid the world of a few of them.”
Colm smiled. “Aye, we could.”
At that moment Coswold clapped his hands for attention and bellowed, “Bring Lady Gabrielle to me. We will settle this here and now.” He turned to the group behind him, gave a quick nod, and then turned back to face Percy. “I have made my decision. By this day’s end, she will be married.”
T HE ABBOT FOUND GABRIELLE STROLLING WITH FATHER Gelroy in the garden. She had already expressed her gratitude to Father Franklin and was about to give her thanks to Gelroy for keeping her confidence when the abbot rushed into the garden calling to her.
“Lady Gabrielle, there’s a furor.” Panting for breath from the exertion of running, he could barely breathe and speak at the same time.
Gabrielle led him to a stone bench and suggested that he sit for a moment.
Nodding, he plopped himself down and wheezed, “Ah, that’s better.”
Gelroy clasped his hands behind his back. “You mentioned a furor?”
“Oh, yes. You have been summoned to the courtyard. Father Gelroy, perhaps you should accompany her. Such fighting. Terrible, just terrible the way they’re carrying on. And inside this holy monastery of all places. Shame upon their souls.”
“Who is fighting?” Gabrielle asked.
“Two barons from England. One is named Coswold I believe, and the other—”
“Yes, that’s right, milady. Baron Percy.”
“And these two barons have called for Gabrielle?” Gelroy asked.
“Baron Coswold made the demand.”
Gabrielle was indignant. “I answer to neither of them, and I have no wish to see or speak to them. I’m ready to leave for home now, and I see no reason to delay my departure.”
Gelroy agreed with a quick nod. “Her guards are even now bringing the horses to the front gate, for Gabrielle is planning to leave the abbey momentarily. Her possessions have already been packed.”
The abbot shook his head. “I don’t think the barons will allow her to leave.”
“There’s more to this than meets the eye, isn’t there?” Gelroy asked.
He sighed. “There is. Each baron carries a writ proclaiming to be speaking and acting on the king’s behalf. Coswold’s writ is more current if you believe the date written down. The king’s seal is on both writs, or so I’ve been told.” All of a sudden the abbot bounded to his feet. “Oh, Lord, I forgot. With all the commotion and the shouting, my errand completely slipped my mind. And how could it? With the worry about those two—Father Gelroy, I was on my way to search for you when Baron Coswold called out to me.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked.
“I promised to send you to the top of the wall. You see, there are two…” He paused.
“Two? Two what?” Gelroy asked.
“Lairds,” he answered reluctantly. “Buchanan and MacHugh. They didn’t say why they need to speak to you, but Laird MacHugh mentioned something about his brother. Do you know anything about this?”
Panic and dread flashed across Gelroy’s face. “I’ve a fair idea.”
“I will hear your explanation later as the lairds have been kept waiting long enough. They don’t look the patient sort.” He smiled as he added, “I also heard one of them—I believe it was MacHugh, but I can’t be certain—mention something about taking you away with him.”
Gelroy swallowed loudly. “You did?”
“Perhaps one of them will offer you the chance to join his clan as a spiritual leader. I know you want to have your own church one day, is that not so? And you also wish to save as many souls as possible. Is that not also so?”
Gelroy frantically nodded agreement. He did want his own church and his own flock—what priest wouldn’t?—but not among these brutal lairds and their unruly clans. He didn’t want to live the rest of his life in the state of perpetual terror.
“I am content to pray for lost souls here, Abbot,” he said in a whisper. “Do you want me to escort Lady Gabrielle to face the barons, or do you want me to speak to the lairds?”
“I will go with her, and you hurry to the lairds. More and more of their clansmen have come inside. The sooner you talk to them, the better.”
There was no getting out of it, Gelroy knew. “Best get it done,” he said.
He said his good-bye to Gabrielle one last time and left on his dreaded mission.
Gabrielle was going to continue to refuse to meet with the barons, but she abruptly changed her mind. She didn’t want to put the abbot in the awkward position of having to explain why she ignored the summons.
“I’ll see what the barons want, and then I’ll leave the abbey with all possible haste. Abbot, I would like to thank you once again for your hospitality and your kindness to my father and me. We are most appreciative.”
She began to walk around the abbot to go to the commons, but he blocked her.
“I’m going to escort you, milady, but shouldn’t we wait for your guards? They would certainly want to stand by your side when you speak to these barons.”
She shook her head. “My guards are too busy to be bothered with this nonsense, and I’m certain the meeting won’t take any time at all.”
He couldn’t dissuade her. Gabrielle had another reason for keeping her guards away from the barons. Her father didn’t trust these men, and neither would she. She was concerned that Coswold and Percy might have their underlings provoke a fight, and though her guards were well-trained, they could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of men attacking.