Virtue, p.1

Virtue, page 1

 part  #1 of  Sons of Scotland Series

 

Virtue
 


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Virtue


  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  PART ONE

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  PART TWO

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Epilogue

  Virtue

  The Sons of Scotland Book 1

  Victoria Vane

  Copyright © 2017 by Victoria Vane

  Kindle Edition

  Published by Dragonblade Publishing, an imprint of Kathryn Le Veque Novels, Inc

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

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  Love’s Fury

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  Viking Hearts

  The Sons of Scotland Series by Victoria Vane

  Virtue

  Dry Bayou Brides Series by Lynn Winchester

  The Shepherd’s Daughter

  The Seamstress

  The Widow

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Books from Dragonblade Publishing

  Acknowledgements

  About the Book

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  Part One

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Part Two

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Epilogue

  About Victoria Vane

  Acknowledgements

  I would like to thank my wonderful friend and talented author, Kathryn Le Veque, for her encouragement, generosity, and support, without which this series would never have come about.

  Virtue

  The Sons of Scotland Book 1

  A man without a past… Abandoned at a monastery as a young child, Alexander serves two masters—God and the fading memories of his past life—the one he never got to live. As he nears the day to take his vows, he’s sent on a last sojourn into the real world, but what begins as a test of faith becomes a journey to manhood.

  And a woman who doesn’t know her own heart… Born from the line of two kings, Lady Sibylla Mac William is abandoned by her sire as a child and then ruled illegitimate. Though she lives a happy life under her uncle’s protection, Sibylla craves something more, but never could she imagine losing her heart to the would-be monk who unexpectedly arrives to tutor her brother.

  Together, they will forge the future of a kingdom… When dark secrets from the past come to light, Alex and Sibylla’s fates become inextricably entwined. Will Alex choose the safe and secure path he knows, or will he reject holy orders to embrace his true destiny… and the woman he loves?

  Loyalty and truth preserve the king,

  And he upholds his throne by righteousness.

  –Proverbs 20:28

  Prologue

  Dunnottar Castle,

  Kingdom of Scotland

  1134 A.D.

  “Alexander! Mo mhac! Ye must come!” There was no mistaking the urgency in her voice or the apprehension in her eyes. His mother was afraid.

  Her gaze darted around the room as if searching for something. “Morag!” she called out to his nurse maid. “It is time. Where is the pack?”

  The maid scurried from the shadows bearing a large satchel. Satchels signified journeys. Were they going somewhere?

  “What is wrong, Máthair?” Alexander asked.

  “No time for questions. Come quickly,” she hissed, her hand closing tightly around his as she pulled him briskly toward the back stairs. It was twilight and eerily dark as they stumbled down the narrow, stone steps. He wondered why they’d used the servant’s entrance and why they didn’t carry a lantern.

  They emerged in the courtyard where a groom stood with two saddled horses beside a man he didn’t recognize clad in black robes.

  Were they finally returning home to Fettercairn? He hated Castle Dunnottar and didn’t like his stern uncle who’d brought them here. There were no other children to play with in this place. Only silent and somber servants who scurried around like frightened mice. For weeks, Alex had stared out his window at the lonely landscape and the vast, gray ocean. His uncle had insisted they were there for their protection, but Alexander felt like a prisoner confined in this isolated, clifftop fortress.

  He missed his home in the Grampian foothills. Fettercairn wasn’t a cold, stone fortress surrounded by endless angry seas. It was a village unto itself, bustling with people. His home overlooked a river filled with salmon and was surrounded by woodlands teeming with wild game. He’d already learned how to build a rabbit snare, and had a falcon of his very own. His father had promised to teach him to hunt stag and boar as soon as he was big enough, but his father had gone away.

  “Alexander, this is Faither Gregor,” his mother said. “Ye must go with him.”

  Fear gripped him, sending a pulse of pure panic through his veins. He should have relished the idea of going away, but his instincts told him something was very, very wrong.

  “I’m going alone, Máthair?”

  “Aye. Tis for yer safety,” she insisted.

  “I dinna understand. Why canna we go together? Why canna I stay w
ith ye? Please, Máthair!”

  “Ye canna stay with me!” she said.

  “But I dinna want to go!” he cried out and pulled out of her grasp. “Why do I have to leave?”

  “Please, Alexander,” she pleaded. “Yer faither has been taken away and the same men who did this deed will surely come looking for ye.”

  “Who?” he asked. “Who has taken Faither?”

  “I dinna ken.” She averted her face with a sniff.

  “W-will they kill him?” he asked, fighting the quaver in his voice. At four years old, he didn’t quite comprehend death. He only understood that they buried dead people in the cold, dark ground. He wanted his father to live and come home. He wanted them all to go home.

  “Ye ask questions I have no answer for, mo chridhe. All I ken is that ye are also in danger and I canna protect ye.”

  Alexander’s eyes burned. He tried to hold back, but scalding tears began leaking down his face. He shut his eyes but the flood still would not be dammed.

  She gripped his shoulders and gave him a firm shake that nearly made his teeth rattle. He’d never seen her look so fierce. “No more of that, my lad. Ye are from warrior stock. Ye must be brave.”

  “When will I see ye again?” he asked.

  “When it is safe, I will send for ye. Until then, no one must ken where ye are… or who ye are.” Her grip tightened painfully on his shoulders. “Do ye understand me?”

  “Aye, Máthair,” he replied in a choked whisper.

  “Good.” She reached inside her cloak and withdrew a silver mounted sgian-dubh. “Take this. It was yer grandfather’s.”

  Alexander fingered the leather sheath and then gingerly withdrew the blade and squinted at the inscription. Veritatem, Virtutem, Vindictae. He recognized that it was written in Latin but at four years old, had only just begun his lessons. “What does it mean?”

  “Truth, valor, vengeance,” she replied. “’Tis the ancient motto of the seven mormaers.” She looked to the priest. “Faither Gregor will teach ye how to use it.”

  The priest inclined his head. “Dinna fear, my lady. The lad will be safe with me.”

  “As God is our witness, I hold ye to yer word, Faither.” She then knelt and took Alex’s face in both of her cold hands. Her gaze softened as she kissed his tear-dampened cheeks.

  Unable to hold back, Alexander threw both of his arms around her neck. She pulled him into her bosom where she held him tight, her own body now racked with quiet sobs. After a long moment, she withdrew, pulled his woolen plaid tightly around him, and nodded to the priest.

  PART ONE

  A man’s heart devises his way:

  but the Lord directs his steps.

  –Proverbs 16:9

  Chapter One

  Portmahomack Monastery,

  Northern Scotland

  1151 A.D.

  Taking up a new goose feather, Alexander shaved the plumes from the shaft with his pen knife, and then carefully honed the nib to a useable point. He’d spent two years perfecting the skill of pen making. He’d made thousands of them before he was ever permitted to apply one to parchment, but that was nothing compared to the five years he’d spent scraping animal skins to earn his current apprenticeship in the scriptorium.

  He examined the nib with satisfaction before dipping his finished quill into the inkhorn. Carefully, he made his first slow, clean stroke across the virgin vellum. He had begun copying a Book of Hours. It was a painstaking process that would take him many months to complete, but once his mind filled with the words and imagery, he often lost all sense of time and place.

  Toil and worship had filled all of his waking hours for almost as long as he could remember but, in this particular labor, Alex found a peace and contentment that had otherwise eluded him. The monastery was a stark, Spartan place of hard wood and cold stone with few creature comforts. The only room even allowed a fire was the warming house. He shared a sleeping chamber with the other neophytes of Portmahomack and took all of his meals in the refectory. His days were strictly regimented from vigils that broke the silence of the morning, to compline, the last prayers of the day before the candles and rush lights were snuffed for the night. His only times of true privacy were his hours in the scriptorium. It was his escape.

  As a young boy, he’d often been chastised for long periods of daydreaming and for his chronic tardiness to vespers. Eventually, however, he’d come to accept the routine of the monastery, or perhaps better said, he’d simply given up hope of ever leaving.

  A sudden knock on the door startled him, a reaction that left an ugly blob of ink on the precious piece of parchment. Biting back a curse that sat precariously close to the end of his tongue, Alex frantically dabbed at the stain with the edge of his sleeve, but it only worsened the smear. He glanced up to rebuke the intruder, only to swallow his words.

  “Alexander!” the prior addressed him with a solemn look, “Faither Gregor calls for ye to come to his private chambers.”

  Alex immediately set down his quill and capped his inkhorn. Being summoned to the abbot wasn’t usually a good thing. Had he committed some unknown trespass? He crossed the familiar cloistered courtyard to the abbot’s quarters with a growing sense of trepidation.

  Upon arriving, Alex stood hesitantly at the threshold, taking in the familiar surroundings—the threadbare carpet and faded tapestry depicting Saint Columba, the oaken table that was even more scarred and blotted with ink. He’d spent countless hours of his boyhood here in this room studying ancient scriptures with the old priest who’d given him sanctuary in the monastery, had indeed fostered him as a son for nearly seventeen years.

  A man sat facing the priest with his back to Alex. Other than the few nearby crofters who attended Sabbath worship, the monastery rarely received visitors. Alex wondered who he was.

  “Ye sent for me, Faither?” Alex said.

  The stranger turned to face him, allowing Alex the first look at his face. He was a large man, proportioned like a bull, with a black beard and penetrating dark eyes. Alex guessed he was probably only a decade older than himself, but his authoritative air made him seem much older.

  “Come, come,” Father Gregor beckoned him impatiently inside and waved him to a chair. “There’s naught amiss.”

  Alex exhaled in relief.

  “There’s someone ye must meet,” the abbot said. “This is MacAedh, Thane of Kilmuir, who’s come seeking a tutor.”

  MacAedh then spoke. “My nephew has nigh come of age, yet he’s sadly ignorant—a situation I mean to remedy.”

  “He’s had no education?” Alexander asked.

  “He’s had a Sassenach education,” MacAedh spat. It was clear he had no love of the English. “Young Domnall can barely read or write, nor does he ken anything of our history and our ways. Faither Gregor thinks ye’d be best to teach him.”

  “Ye’re my brightest pupil,” the abbot said, “And would no doubt also be a good companion for the young laird.”

  “But I’m content here,” Alexander said.

  The thought of leaving took him completely by surprise. He was accustomed to this place and the routine. The monastery was familiar, safe, and secure. He’d lived almost his entire life here with little exposure to outsiders, but now he was being asked to leave with a man he knew virtually nothing about. The idea filled him with panic.

  “Only because ye have ne’er kent anything else,” the abbot replied.

  That much was true. Since his arrival at the monastery as a child, Alex had rarely left the secluded fishing village on Tarbat Ness. He now had only the dimmest recollection of his former life.

  “Soon ’twill be time to take yer vows,” Father Gregor continued. “I would have ye see something more of the world before ye pledge yerself to this life. Ye will go with MacAedh. When ye return, we can discuss yer future.”

  My future.

  Alex had thought much about that of late. Having been placed at such a tender age under the abbot’s care, he’d naturally assumed t
hat he would one day take holy orders, perhaps as a scribe. It wasn’t that he’d felt any particular religious calling, but what other plan could there be for his life? He’d never imagined leaving, but it appeared the choice had been made for him.

  “Go and pack yer belongings,” Father Gregor commanded.

  “Aye, Faither,” Alexander replied. He was going whether he wanted to or not.

  As he made to leave, he was stalled by a large hand pressing his shoulder.

  “Thank ye, lad,” MacAedh said, offering a reassuring nod.

  Alex met his gaze with a forced smile, though he felt nothing inside but disquiet. He felt as if he were being expelled from the only home he’d ever known.

  It took only a few minutes for Alex to pack. His personal belongings were few—two black robes, a single woolen plaid, one pair of shoes for winter, and an ancient psalter. The last wasn’t actually his, but had been loaned to him by Father Gregor. He’d spent many hours reading the sacred verses and committing them to memory.

  He’d recently begun the painstaking task of copying and illuminating the text for a Book of Hours. He was heartily disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to complete this work. He couldn’t understand why his whole world was suddenly being upset.

  Alexander reverently caressed the worn leather volume before wrapping it back in its protective cloth. He added an inkhorn and some plummets for sketching to his collection, then tied everything up in the plaid. Then, with a heavy heart, he carried the precious book back to the abbot.

  “Here is the psalter,” Alexander said, offering it to the priest. “I had hoped to finish the text with illumination.”

  “Then take it with ye,” Father Gregor urged him with a smile.

  “Thank ye, Faither,” Alexander murmured and tucked the book into his tunic next to his heart. “Have ye materials for teaching?” Alexander asked MacAedh.

  “Aye,” he replied. “Ye’ll find no shortage for teaching. We have an entire library at Kilmuir.”

 
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