Ice Forged Online - Gail Z. Martin Page 0,1

in Blaine’s hand. Dropping his pipe, the man grabbed a rake that leaned against the stone fence edging the carriageway. He held its thick oak handle across his body like a staff. Lord McFadden might be well into his fifth decade, but in his youth he had been an officer in the king’s army, where he had earned King Merrill’s notice and his gratitude. “Go back inside, boy. Don’t make me hurt you.”

Blaine did not slow down or lower his sword. “Why? Why Mari? There’s no shortage of court whores. Why Mari?”

Lord McFadden’s face reddened. “Because I can. Now drop that sword if you know what’s good for you.”

Blaine’s blood thundered in his ears. In the distance, he could hear Judith screaming his name.

“I guess this cur needs to be taught a lesson.” Lord McFadden swung at Blaine with enough force to have shattered his skull if Blaine had not ducked the heavy rake. McFadden gave a roar and swung again, but Blaine lurched forward, taking the blow on his shoulder to get inside McFadden’s guard. The broadsword sank hilt-deep into the man’s chest, slicing through his waistcoat.

Lord McFadden’s body shuddered, and he dropped the rake. He met Blaine’s gaze, his eyes wide with surprise. “Didn’t think you had it in you,” he gasped.

Behind him, Blaine could hear footsteps pounding on the cobblestones; he heard panicked shouts and Judith’s scream. Nothing mattered to him, nothing at all except for the ashen face of his father. Blood soaked Lord McFadden’s clothing, and gobbets of it splashed Blaine’s hand and shirt. He gasped for breath, his mouth working like a hooked fish out of water. Blaine let him slide from the sword, watched numbly as his father fell backward onto the carriageway in a spreading pool of blood.

“Master Blaine, what have you done?” Selden, the groundskeeper, was the first to reach the scene. He gazed in horror at Lord McFadden, who lay twitching on the ground, breathing in labored, slow gasps.

Blaine’s grip tightened on the sword in his hand. “Something someone should have done years ago.”

A crowd of servants was gathering; Blaine could hear their whispers and the sound of their steps on the cobblestones. “Blaine! Blaine!” He barely recognized Judith’s voice. Raw from screaming, choked with tears, his aunt must have gathered her skirts like a milkmaid to run from the house this quickly. “Let me through!”

Heaving for breath, Judith pushed past Selden and grabbed Blaine’s left arm to steady herself. “Oh, by the gods, Blaine, what will become of us now?”

Lord McFadden wheezed painfully and went still.

Shock replaced numbness as the rage drained from Blaine’s body. It’s actually over. He’s finally dead.

“Blaine, can you hear me?” Judith was shaking his left arm. Her tone had regained control, alarmed but no longer panicked.

“He swung first,” Blaine replied distantly. “I don’t think he realized, until the end, that I actually meant to do it.”

“When the king hears—”

Blaine snapped back to himself and turned toward Judith. “Say nothing about Mari to anyone,” he growled in a voice low enough that only she could hear. “I’ll pay the consequences. But it’s for naught if she’s shamed. I’ve thrown my life away for nothing if she’s dishonored.” He dropped the bloody sword, gripping Judith by the forearm. “Swear to it.”

Judith’s eyes were wide, but Blaine could see she was calm. “I swear.”

Selden and several of the other servants moved around them, giving Blaine a wary glance as they bent to carry Lord McFadden’s body back to the manor.

“The king will find out. He’ll take your title… Oh, Blaine, you’ll hang for this.”

Blaine swallowed hard. A knot of fear tightened in his stomach as he stared at the blood on his hand and the darkening stain on the cobblestones. Better to die avenged than crouch like a beaten dog. He met Judith’s eyes and a wave of cold resignation washed over him.

“He won’t hurt Mari or Carr again. Ever. Carr will inherit when he’s old enough. Odds are the king will name you guardian until then. Nothing will change—”

“Except that you’ll hang for murder,” Judith said miserably.

“Yes,” Blaine replied, folding his aunt against his chest as she sobbed. “Except for that.”

“You have been charged with murder. Murder of a lord, and murder of your own father.” King Merrill’s voice thundered through the judgment hall. “How do you plead?” A muted buzz of whispered conversation hummed from the packed audience in the galleries. Blaine McFadden knelt where the guards had forced him down, shackled at the wrists