Code of Honor

By: Alexa Aston

Knights Of Honor Book Three



Prologue





Sandbourne Castle—1350

As they crested the hill, Michael Devereux gazed with pride as he caught sight of his home. Sandbourne Castle stood in the distance, surrounded by rolling green hills. Cottages dotted the landscape. Animals grazed in the pastureland. A lump formed in his throat. He’d been away from home over a year and had missed his mother more than anyone. He couldn’t wait to entertain her with stories of his first year as a page fostering in Sir Lovel’s household.

He spurred on his borrowed horse, wanting to reach the keep as soon as possible after three long days on the road in blistering heat, accompanied by a knight Sir Lovel provided to see him safely to his parents’ doorstep. Michael differed from the other boys in this. They all had fathers or other close family members who escorted them home for their summer visit.

Not Michael.

The Earl of Sandbourne wrote that he was too busy to dance attendance upon his only son, much less send one of his soldiers to see that the boy reached Sandbourne without any problems. Sir Lovel graciously provided Michael with an escort, much to his embarrassment. It only gave the other pages and squires something new to tease him about. They already taunted him unmercifully because he was so plump. His mother assured him as he grew older and taller, the extra weight would come off. For now, Michael tried to ignore the wicked names the other boys called him to his face and pretend he didn’t know how they talked about him behind his back.

Thank the Christ Geoffrey and Raynor had put an end to the harshest cruelty. The two squires, both seven years older than he was, had been gone when Michael first arrived at Sir Lovel’s to foster. When they returned, they put a stop to the worst of it, boxing a few ears and bloodying a few more noses to get their point across. Now the other boys simply called him Tol—which stood for Tub of Lard. Michael found it a tolerable nickname and so he endured it. He couldn’t let Geoffrey and Raynor fight all of his battles. He was eight, after all, and needed to learn how to stand up for himself.

But it still angered him that his father hadn’t spared the days it would have taken to come and bring him home for summer. Michael envied the joyous reunion  s he’d witnessed between family members as he lurked in the shadows of the great hall. Already, he’d been the only child fostering who hadn’t returned home the previous Christmas. His father told Sir Lovel that his boy needed to toughen up, so Michael had spent the holy holidays keeping mostly to himself. Sir Lovel had graciously included Michael in his family’s festivities, but he’d slipped away at the earliest chance during the many celebrations held between Christmas and Epiphany.

Why did his father hate him so much?

From Michael’s earliest memories, the earl never showed him any sort of affection. He never once referred to Michael by name. The nobleman was brusque with his only child, paying him little attention. Only his saintly mother spent time with him. Nurtured him. Taught him to read. Rode around Sandbourne with him and introduced him to its tenants. It was his strong desire for his mother’s company that had him eager to return home now. Without her, life seemed drab. She always invented creative stories to tell him and showered him with attention and love.

Michael gave a shout to the familiar gatekeeper, who opened the gates at his command. Michael assumed he was expected since Sir Lovel had sent news of his return to Sandbourne, but no one stood to greet them as they made their way toward the inner bailey.

Turning to Sir Oderic, his escort, he said, “We should ride to the stables. We can have someone care for the horses before we go into the great hall. I know you need to quench your thirst and Cook can provide you with a small meal.”

He did not miss the look of pity in the soldier’s eyes as the man spoke up after hours of silence on the road. “I’ll see to our horses, young master. I can also find myself food and drink without your help. Why don’t you go and find your mother? I’m sure she’ll be happy to lay eyes upon you after you’ve been away for so long.”

Michael threw a leg over the saddle and jumped down from the horse Sir Lovel had allowed him to ride on this journey home. He owned no horse of his own, which suited him since he had no fondness for the huge, intimidating animals. That would have to change because part of his training would include caring for horses once he became a squire.

Gratitude toward Oderic flooded him. The knight had always treated him with a good bit of kindness. “Thank you, good sir. I’m anxious to find Mother and speak to her.” He reached up and took his small bag of clothing attached to the pommel. “Will I see you before you leave Sandbourne? We could sup together tonight in the great hall.”