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  An Excerpt  
  The following evening, Beth was astounded at the transformation when Lily returned from changing into her ladies costume. "Blimey, yer bleedin' gorgeous, luv," she said, affecting an outrageous Cockney accent.

Lily laughed gaily, spinning around to admire the gold and rose satin Anne Boleyn replica gown. Dan had instructed her to wait at the gypsy tent; the suitor would be by precisely at seven forty-five, and they both would arrive at the center of the market by eight when the fencing exhibition was scheduled to start.She was nervous, but all thoughts of her debut flew away when Ian strode into the tent, dressed in a crimson and brocade doublet, a white cuffed shirt unlaced at the throat, tight brown breeches, a long cape and tall boots. Tonight, however, he had the added accessories of a lethal looking sword, its scabbard hanging from a doubled leather belt wrapped low around his hips. His bold eyes swept over her from head to toe, lingering for the briefest moment on the creamy expanse rising from the flattering décolletage.

"You are wondrous fair, my beauty," he murmured, pressing her fingertips to his lips. "Wouldst my lady care for a stroll around the market?"

You're my ardent suitor?" she exclaimed, dramatically placing both hands over her palpitating heart.

Ian laughed. "Of course I am - were you expecting someone else?" He glanced around the tent at the other Tarot readers and in a conspiratorial whisper said, "I'd say no, if I were you. If it got out you were surprised, it wouldn't be very good for business."

Lily smiled up at him and accepted his proffered arm. "I don't think I know quite what to expect with you," she teased. Leaving the tent, they meandered down the street towards the market. Night had fallen, bringing with it a cooling breeze that swept through the park and she couldn't help but be completely charmed by the magic and romance of it all. "Do you know how to use that thing?" she asked, indicating the sword.

"Well enough for this," Ian said. "My dear brother in law, yonder monarch, took fencing lessons as a teenager. He taught me so that I could practice with him, but when I got better at it than him he quit," he laughed then added, "The Irish aren't very big on fencing. That would be the French."

"Um... go Irish?" Lily giggled before regaining her straight face.

He gave her an enigmatic smile."I haven't the least intention of losing, milady." .

They strolled along, stopping at booths here and there, playing their parts well and looking to all who saw them like a pair of sworn lovers. The park patrons began to follow behind the couple, anticipating the event to come.

When they arrived at the market clearing, Ian whispered "Here we go" as the blond man Lily had seen Ian talking to before approached them.

The handsome man's tousled curls brushed the collar of his royal blue and white doublet embroidered with red fleur de lis. He struck a courtly pose, bowing low before her. "Pardonnez-moi, Demoiselle," Renaud's voice rang out in a distinct French accent. "I wonder if you would care to enjoy a moonlit stroll through the gardens with me. The flowers, sadly, have all forgotten how to be lovely, and surely your great beauty would inspire them to remember, ma chère." Waggling his eyebrows suggestively, he gave her a rakish grin.

Ian rolled his eyes heavenward at the outrageous flattery then directed a fierce scowl at his adversary. "The lady has an escort, Sir Renaud, and does not welcome your attentions." The Frenchman moved to reach for Lily's arm, but Ian stepped in between them, his eyes narrowing to dangerous slits. "I say again, sir, the lady does not welcome your attentions. Nor do I."

A ripple of excitement swept through the crowd when Renaud stepped back and whipped out a pair of leather gloves, throwing them with a flourish at Ian's feet. "I challenge you for the lady's honor," he sneered.

Ian scooped up the gloves and flung them back, hitting Renaud squarely in the chest. "I accept your challenge, sirrah."

Both men moved to draw their swords. Immediately, trumpets sounded and the crowd parted to let the King and his court through. The two men sank to one knee and following their lead Lily dropped down into a deep curtsey.

Dan had no trouble making himself heard over the crowd. His deep baritone voice boomed, "What's this? A duel over a woman? We cannot have our gallant nobles fighting in the streets like common ruffians. To the tournament field!"

With a loud Huzzah! everyone moved towards the center of the park to fill the waiting bleachers of the large jousting field. Ian guided Lily to the elaborate viewing stage where the thrones were displayed. "You're doing great," he whispered against her ear, his warm breath making her tingle all over. The King climbed the steps to join Queen Meghan, clad in her elaborate Catherine Parr gown. With a practiced snap of her jeweled fan, she motioned for Lily to take the seat of honor next to her. .

The field was cleared of everyone except Ian and Renaud. Ian stepped forward and gave Lily a beseeching look. "Might I have a token of your favor to carry with me, my lady?"

Lily tugged the blue silk prop scarf from her sleeve and handed it to Ian with a brilliant smile. He touched it gently to his lips, breathing in her sweet lavender scent before tucking it away in his doublet pocket.

A fanfare sounded when the King exclaimed, "We expect a fair and clean fight, my lords. May the better man win."

When the trumpets sounded again, the two men strode to opposite sides of the field where the men at arms waited to assist them with battle preparations. Capes and sword belts were removed, gambesons were donned. Ian pulled his sabre from the scabbard with a flourish and the crowd oohed its approval. Not to be outdone, Renaud unsheathed his sword just as flamboyantly, and the crowd aahed. Renaud sneered at Ian, his upper lip curling. Ian snarled back.

The noble combatants turned to face each other in the center of the arena. Lily held her breath as they saluted and went en guarde. Renaud made the first lunge which Ian easily brushed aside. He stepped away from the second lunge as well. His face reddening with anger Renaud shouted, "You toy with me, sirrah!"

Ian's laugh was scornful. "Aye, I do. Now playtime is over and for you, schooling starts."

The crowd roared its approval when the swordfight started in earnest, blades flashing as the two men dodged and parried. Lily gripped the edge of her seat and whispered, "Who's going to win?"

Meg laughed, a happy tinkling sound. "We don't know."

Lily's head jerked around in surprise. "You…you don't know the outcome?"

"We know the outcome. We just don't know who will win the match." She smiled enigmatically. "Renaud may be the more skilled of the two since he plays this part more. Ian, on the other hand, might be a bit more…motivated." With that, she turned back to watch the fight.

What a strange comment, Lily thought, but her confusion quickly gave way to fascination - although she was certain neither would get hurt, it was frightening to watch the two men locked in what appeared to be mortal combat. Their fighting styles were as contrasted as their appearances. Renaud, the courtly noble, fought in a graceful, classically trained fencing style, while Ian fought as passionately as a proud Celt chieftain.

Lily and the crowd gasped as one when Ian lost his footing and staggered back off balance. Renaud, sensing his opponent's weakness, pressed the advantage only to find that he had walked into a well laid trap. Ian's booted foot shot forward, sweeping Renaud's legs out from under him. The Frenchman hit the ground with a hard thud, his sword bouncing out of his hand. Ian stood over him, his unwavering blade pointed at the fallen noble's chest as he kicked the dropped sword out of reach. .

"Stay your hand," Dan bellowed with a hearty laugh, stopping the match."It would appear that Sir Ian has won this contest. What say you?" The crowd responded with a loud cheer of approval as Ian offered his hand to help up the grinning Renaud. They clasped arms in camaraderie then Renaud retrieved his sword, giving Ian a jaunty salute before he ran from the field to rousing applause.

Ian removed the padded armor, handing it and his sword to the man at arms, and approached the stage. He mounted the few steps to stand before the King and Queen then dropped to one knee. "What would you have as your prize, Sir Knight?" the Queen asked.

Ian didn't hesitate before answering, "A kiss from the lady, Your Majesty."

Dan's voice boomed out again, scarcely needing the stage amplification. "My loyal subjects - has he earned his prize?" When the crowd shouted its approval, the King gestured towards Lily with a magnanimous wave. "Granted," he said.

Rising to his feet Ian turned to Lily, who stood and held out her hand for the anticipated kiss. He took it and to the shock and surprise of all onstage, drew her slowly forward and encircled her narrow waist with his arm. He bent his head and against her lips whispered, "May I?"

She trembled and sighed. "Yes."

His lips moved over hers, more of a gentle caress than an actual kiss. Lily leaned into him and his response was immediate, crushing her to him and claiming her mouth fully and completely.

…I know you…
  Copyright © Shannon MacLeod 2011-16