Claimed by a Highland Knight (Preview)
The sun glinted off the well-polished metal of his armor as Uielam MacNab strutted towards the lists, his equally polished helmet casually fitted under his arm. He gave his signature grin at the passing maids, no doubt making their toes curl as they blushed and giggled, reveling in the little bit of attention he sent their way.
Uielam was reveling too as they leaned towards each other, their cheeks pink while they whispered excitedly. It was for this reason that he never put on his helmet before he got on his horse. How could he deny his admirers the opportunity to see his notable features?
His features were indeed notable, from his luscious thick blonde hair to the sharp jaw and bright blue eyes. He was the perfect definition of handsome, and he was well aware of the fact. Perhaps a little too aware as it did nothing for his humility.
He moved his helmet into his hand, staring at his reflection in the smooth surface and running his hand through his hair. He made a mental note to flip his squire a gold coin for the excellent work on polishing his armor even as he assessed his appearance.
“I assure ye that ye will find nothin’ amiss,” Osgar’s amused voice teased from the side.
Uielam turned to grin at his best friend. Osgar Abernathy was the son of the wealthiest clan nobles and an heir, just like Uielam. Although Osgar had a sister of his own, he had grown up with Uielam as a brother. It was because of Osgar that Uielam never experienced the loneliness of being an only child. His friend’s long brown hair, green eyes, and strong chin were as familiar to Uielam as the back of his hand as Osgar was always at his side.
“Aye, of course, I ken nothin’ is amiss. I simply wish to bask in the glory of me appearance,” Uielam said, angling his head back as he ran his hand through his hair one more time. “I cannae deprive meself of me handsomeness while others enjoy it.”
Osgar, who was used to such antics, raised an amused brow and shook his head. Uielam already knew that when he took over as Laird, Osgar would be his most trusted adviser. He could not count on his fingers how many times Osgar had fixed his problems or gotten him things that he wanted. Uielam did not know anyone more resourceful.
Where he was more rash and rarely put much thought in before acting, Osgar was more laid back and patient. It was because of this he always managed to bring a semblance of order to things Uielam blazed through.
“How are things going in preparation for the tournament?” Uielam asked.
For the past two weeks, the clan had been in an uproar, and there was good reason for the hubbub. His father, the Laird, was organizing what would be the biggest tournament of the past few years to honor King David II. It was a momentous enough event without the rumors that the King himself would grace the clan with his presence. Uielam himself was excited. He had been preparing fervently for the tournament.
In fact, his visit to the lists at that moment was because he was going to practice. In all of the competitions he had ever entered in the clan, he was the best, and he always came out the winner. This tournament would be a chance to test his skills against competitors other than the ones he had already won against. He was all but thrumming with excitement.
Osgar happened to be the one in charge of organizing the tournament, working in the place of his father. He was very efficient at everything he set out to do, so Uielam was sure that he could handle the job. Osgar shrugged in response to his words.
“I would say it is goin’ well. Ye would be surprised how much gold it takes to prepare these events,” he said absently, making Uielam smirk. He knew exactly how much gold it cost. As heir to the Laird, he took his position seriously and going through the books to ensure that nothing was amiss was one of his lesser-known pass times. It was indeed expensive to host a tournament of such a large scale.
“Me sister will be at the lists today, I thought ye might want to ken,” Osgar said, teasing again. Uielam’s brows shot up, and he turned to his best friend.
“Are ye serious?” he asked. Osgar nodded, smirking. This news was not significant because of the presence of Flora Abernathy, per se, but instead because of whom Uielam knew would surely be with her—Lilia. She was not a princess or a noblewoman, Lilia was just a maid in the castle, but she was also the one woman who did not immediately melt at his charm.
Lilia had lived in the castle and worked for them for many years. Uielam had first spotted her eight years ago when he had been nineteen. He had passed a group of young maids and, as usual, winked at the girls. They all fell into a fit of blushing giggles, but one only raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes. That one was Lilia.
Intrigue led him to take a closer look at her, noting the softness of her brown eyes and the soft waves of her long, long brown hair that went down to her waist. Her down-turned lips and square jawline made her appear serious, but that only made him want to see her smile even more. Every woman had her charms after all, and Lilia was no exception.
From that moment, his intrigue had led him to pursue her. Over the years, he had spent quite a bit of time teasing her and flirting with her. However, she was always unimpressed and would not fall for him. In this way, it became a game they played; he would try flirting with her each time he saw her to see if that would be the day she cracked.
He was smiling without even realizing it as he arrived at the lists, his helmet tucked under his arm again.
“Ah, this is wonderful. Why did ye nae say so sooner? I daenae think she has seen me in full glory before. Surely she would swoon like every other woman when she sees my expertise at the matches,” Uielam said.
Osgar already knew who it was that he was talking about and shook his head laughing. Both Osgar and Flora found it hilarious that there was a woman who was impervious to his charms. Even Flora used to be infatuated with him until they got closer and got older, and she realized how much of a womanizer he was. Now she considered him no more than an annoying brother.
“Flora would be disgusted were she to hear ye speak,” Osgar laughed. It was true, Flora found his way with women irritating, and it was only because Lilia continuously refused him that she had admired and befriended the maid. Now she made it her job to thwart his plans of seducing the maid as she did not want her friend to become his conquest.
“Ye ken, I still believe that Flora is in denial, and she still likes me, which is why she is tryin’ to steal away me love interest,” Uielam mused suspiciously. They had arrived at their destination, and Osgar patted his shoulder.
“Well, enjoy yer hunt me friend, and remember to go easy on the contestants; it is but a practice match despite how much ye want to show off,” Osgar said as he began to walk off. Uielam only rolled his eyes before continuing on his way.
It was a hectic day at the lists with several horses being tended to and soldiers milling about, talking while their squires worked. He couldn’t help his grin as he approached the corner where Miller, his squire, was dutifully tending to his horse.
He rested a heavy hand on the young man’s shoulder, causing him to jump in fright. Miller was a great squire, but Uielam had yet to make a man of him. He was rather easy to scare and very shy.
“Ah, Uielam Younger… ye scared me,” Miller rasped. Uielam only chuckled.
“Why are ye so easy to scare lad? I was going to compliment ye on what a good job ye did polishin’ me armor, but ye’re whimperin’ like a wee mouse,” he said, causing Miller to blush. Uielam sighed. Miller was not fun to tease; he would only continue to blush and clam up in embarrassment. He turned, glancing around at the busy lists.
Despite how serious he was about preparing for the tournament, he could not help but search for Lilia. He took his competitions as seriously as he took his womanizing, and Lilia was a competition he had long resolved to win one day. Besides, it was not like there was anyone who could beat him even if he had his eyes closed for the whole game.
He spotted them quickly, what with the flamboyant red of Flora’s dress, a gold belt draped around her waist. He shook his head. The woman knew how to make herself seen, and everyone she passed cleared the way for her. Walking behind her was the woman he was looking for, Lilia. She followed after Flora, in a muted green dress, her head bowed and her hands held in front of her.
She was a simple kind of beautiful, the paleness of her shoulders and her neck begging him to pepper kisses along their expanse. At least the one woman who resisted him was not an ogre, although her status was nothing special. He smirked and looked away. Now she would surely swoon as he showed off his prowess in practice. His eyes found Commander Carlow standing beside a few other soldiers as he turned, and he raised a hand to greet them.
“Commander Carlow!” he hollered, waving. The older soldier gave a rather stiff smile before heading for him when it was clear that he would not be moving from his spot.
“Younger, it is always a pleasure,” the man said as he came to stand beside him.
“Aye, it is indeed, Commander Carlow. Will ye be takin’ part in the practice matches today? I hope that ye will—ye ken that ye are the only competitor who even comes close to me standards in this sport, and I want to have an impressive match today, so I cannae compete against amateurs,” Uielam said.
Commander Carlow gave him a shaky smile.
“Ah, I wasnae plannin’ on it, but if the Younger wishes that I dae, then I will,” he said.
“I will like it if ye did,” Uielam said, not so subtle in his demands. Commander Carlow pressed his lips together as though trying to keep his objections in. Uielam only raised a brow, as though daring him to dissent. He was not one to take objections lightly. The older soldier nodded and bowed slightly before walking away.
Satisfied that he would get what he wanted, The Younger turned back to look at Lilia again. She was looking up now, her brown eyes going over the lists and everyone attending to their business.
Uielam was standing in a corner, so he knew she would not see him unless he stepped out. It was the perfect vantage point from which to spy on her. Her hair was smoothed back and tied in a tight ponytail. He scoffed; she looked as disciplined as ever
One other thing that was intriguing about her was how she looked dignified despite her simple status. It was in the way she held her head. It showed that she was not trying to be dignified, she simply was. She held herself as though she were a princess, and Uielam did not understand why.
She did not try to stand out, seeing as how she wore muted colors and made herself very scarce, but her behavior made her stand out regardless. It made him curious, why would a maid such as her be so…proud. It took a good bit of pride to continually reject him as she did. For now, she had a bit of his attention, so her pride had gotten her somewhere, at least.
It would be time for the jousters to get on their horses and ride soon. He glanced back at Miller, who had just finished grooming his horse.
“Are ye nearly done?” he asked, causing Miller’s head to shoot up, his eyes wide.
“Aye, I will just take the horse to the stream first. It hasnae had a drink yet,” he replied.
The stream was just behind the stables, and to go there, he would pass right in front of Lilia. He took the reins from Miller, who had just begun to wrap them around his hand.
“I will dae it myself,” he said. Miller seemed mildly surprised as Uielam began to lead the horse, but he said nothing
He soothed the horse as he walked with it, allowing Lilia to see his gentleness before purposely looking her way and winking. She narrowed her eyes even as Flora glared at him. He was grinning to himself with satisfaction as he turned the corner but stopped suddenly when he heard his name.
“I cannae believe that ye will have to partake in the practice despite yer decision to stop after ye fell from yer horse the last time. This is all because of that spoiled brat Uielam, is it nae?” a young soldier was saying, obviously irate.
“Aye, it is what The Younger wants, and I must obey. This is because I am the only opponent worthy of his match,” Commander Carlow responded.
Uielam frowned, deeply disturbed. He was not aware that Commander Carlow had fallen from his horse, although he had not really asked. Had he known, however, he would not have asked him to ride. What made him furious was the lackey who had the guts to call him a spoiled brat.
He got even more annoyed as the group burst into laughter.
“Did he say that?! Ye are the only one worthy of his match? Oi, someone ought to shove him off that high horse, and literally too. He really thinks that he is special just because we let him win to save the Laird’s face.” Another soldier cackled, making them laugh even louder and make more mockery of him.
He clenched his fist and gritted his teeth. They thought they were letting him win? One thing he prided himself in was his jousting ability. He had been tutored by some of the best in the sport, even a former English soldier. Were they saying that all those who tutored him had taught him nothing?
Furious, he stalked out to the river, coming into view of the soldiers. They almost fell over each other in their shock at his sudden appearance. He calmly led his horse to the stream, without even a glance their way.
He unwrapped the reins from his hand and allowed the horse to drink.
“Uielam Younger…,” one of the soldiers greeted him, his voice shaky, causing the rest to snap out of their shock and welcome him as well. He gave them a glacial look.
“Uielam Younger? Are ye sure that is the title ye refer to me by? Ye are sure that it is nae Uielam the spoiled, or Uielam the brat?” he asked sarcastically. The soldiers looked as though their eyes would fall from their sockets.
“Younger, please forgive this disrespect…,”Commander Carlow began to say, but Uielam only raised his hand to silence him.
“Ye will nae have to partake in the practice today. In fact, ye will never have to partake in any other jousting activity. I also think ye will dae well at infantry from now on,” he said with finality in his words. Commander Carlow could only blink as though he had been slapped.
“I am certain that I will find plenty of opponents among yer companions here.” Uielam continued, looking over all the men who seemed to wish the ground would open up to swallow them.
“Which one of ye was it that meant to shove me off me high horse?” he asked casually, rubbing his horse’s neck as it raised its head, done with drinking.
A soldier stepped forward, saluting him awkwardly.
“’Twas me, Uielam Younger,” he said. Uielam looked him over with a bored expression. He looked to be roughly his age and build, although slightly shorter and slightly broader. Uielam nodded, satisfied.
“Alright, ye will get yer chance today. Ye believe that ye have been letting me win dae ye nae? Then today, I want ye to face me seriously. If ye daenae win against me, ye shall be stripped of yer soldiership,” he said.
All of the soldiers were still in shock as he turned, leading his horse away. When he was angry, he became a frightening person. His mind was calm, and his sight was clear. His moves and decisions were precise, and they were not forgiving.
This was the way it was as he faced his opponent, lance in hand, calm like still water atop his horse. The signal was given, and he kicked his horse into an instant gallop. He could see his opponent clearly as though he were the only thing that existed.
They reached each other, and Uielam did not move to strike. Instead, he leaned back, lying flat against his horse and allowing his opponent’s lance to sail over his prone body. It only took a second, and he raised himself just as swiftly, turning his horse for the next ride.
The first time had only been to see how his opponent moved. The soldier was swift, but nowhere near enough to consider himself his opponent. This time, he went in with the full intention to win.
He kicked his horse again, and they were off, moving swiftly towards each other. Once again, as they approached each other, the soldier was aiming for his head. A cold smile settled on Uielam’s features, and he grabbed the soldier’s lance, pulling him forward with it and using this momentum to jab his own lance in the space between his opponent’s helmet and chest piece. In the same move, he released his opponent’s lance just as his own broke.
As expected, the soldier went down quickly. Landing in the dust of his horse’s wake with a heavy thud. He would not be able to continue, Uielam knew from the desperate coughs he let out as he removed his helmet and raced for the stream.
Uielam followed him with his eyes; he had won, but he was not satisfied. He was furious. It was just one man he had proven himself to, and that man could still tell others that he had just been letting him win despite the order not to. The others had seen him defeat his opponent, but unless he bested them as well, they would never acknowledge him.
He got off his horse and headed over to Miller. He had lost interest in practice for the day. Fuming he handed over the reins to Miller and removed his helmet, wiping sweat off his brow.
“I am finished for today,” he said, shoving the helmet into Miller’s hands and making the young man whimper. He frowned, his squire’s cowardliness annoying in the wake of his anger.
“What are ye whimpering for? Ye are so easily frightened,” he began but stopped himself. He knew better than to take his anger out on Miller. The boy did not deserve it, and he did not have the heart to do it, especially since he knew how soft Miller was. He was trying to make him more confident, not make him withdraw entirely into his shell. He sighed heavily and patted the young man’s shoulder.
“Come to the castle later today, and I will gift ye a few gold coins. Ye have been workin’ really hard these days, and ye deserve some credit.”
With that, he trudged off, heading back to the castle, all plans of impressing Lilia gone from his mind and replaced with thoughts of how to prove himself to all those that doubted him.
The hallways were empty as Lilia McGrath made her way back to her room in the castle after visiting the wash house. Her hair was still damp and was wetting her dress as she walked, but it did not bother her much. She was not of noble birth, but she took extra care to wash like the nobles did. Never would she be caught with greasy hair or dirt-covered skin.
Her mother had been a wet-nurse for an English noblewoman when she was a little girl and had taught her the ways of the noble. The noble do not slouch, and the noble do not stain themselves when they eat. The nobles do not talk too loudly, and the nobles wash thoroughly. If one did not do all of these things, they would be looked at like animals.
The last thing her mother wanted was for Lilia to ever be looked at like an animal. The woman who had hired her mother had not treated her with dignity at all. It was another noblewoman who had even cared to ask what their story was and had given them enough gold to make it back to the Highlands and get a house.
Her mother had not lived very long, but she had made sure that she taught Lilia everything about how to behave like the noble so that she would not be treated as less than them. By the time Lilia was fifteen, she had lost her mother and came to work as a maid for the Laird. She was picked despite being so young because she was the cleanest and the most reserved.
By the time she joined the castle, she found that all the maids her age were children of those who already worked there. She was the only one who was alone. Despite them all being servants in the castle, she was the only one who took the time every week to bathe and wash. The others rarely used the wash house despite it being there for the servants of the castle.
Lilia quite enjoyed bathing. At first, it had only been because she missed her mother, and bathing made her remember her mother’s voice. However, over the years, it had faded to becoming an activity that she simply enjoyed because it allowed her to think clearly.
She certainly had been doing a lot of thinking in the bath this time. She would never admit it to anyone, but her mind was filled with thoughts of Uielam MacNab, the son of the Laird. His was a popular name, especially among young women, and even more so among the maids in the castle.
It was not unique for a young woman to be thinking of him, and this was one reason why Lilia would never admit it. Uielam was so handsome that it was ridiculous. No one could deny that fact.
He was also a notorious flirt. He flirted with every woman; it seemed in his nature to turn on the charm when a woman was near. It was one of the reasons why most young men disliked him. He stole the interest of every woman once he was around.
Lilia had been infatuated with him from the moment she had seen him. It had been instant, and it had terrified her. She had been irritated with herself for reacting to a simple smile and annoyed with him for smiling like that in the first place.
Her reaction that day had inadvertently led to him noticing her. He was a very persistent man—she came to understand that quite quickly. Every time he saw her, he addressed her directly, taking the time to flirt with her and tease her, hoping to make her crumble.
Once, when they were younger, he even attempted to sing. As perfect as he might have been in everything else, it turned out that he was the worst singer in the world. It had somehow been even more charming than if he had been good at it, since, despite how horrible his voice was, he continued to sing and did so even more flamboyantly.
It was the one time he had made her crack as she had laughed to her heart’s content. To dissuade him from thinking he had won, however, she had composed herself when he began to flirt with her and had given him a deadpan response of, “If ye think that ye will woo a woman with a voice like that, then ye are much mistaken. That was more comedy than romance, and although I dae thank ye for the laugh, I would ask that ye never dae it again. It is nae becomin’ for The Younger to disgrace himself so.”
He had been satisfied enough that she had laughed even a little bit and did not care in the slightest that he had sounded stupid. He also was never deterred, no matter how uninterested she seemed. Instead, he continued, even more determined. As they grew older, she avoided him even more as her body began to betray her along with her heart.
Luckily, being older also meant that Uielam had more women to choose from, so the attention he gave her was more fleeting although it never entirely ceased. She knew that what drew him to her was her constant rejection of him. If she let her true feelings show, he would be bored with her immediately.
She could not bear that feeling of being discarded, so she would never give him the pleasure of knowing how she felt. Flora Abernathy had met her only three years ago, happening to be present when she turned away Uielam’s flirting. The young noblewoman had befriended her by force.
Flora was surprisingly interested; she hugged her and dramatically declared her a goddess for making Uielam put in that much effort for a woman. She had blushed, not knowing how to handle Flora, and the noblewoman had laughed mischievously before pulling her to walk arm in arm to her carriage, declaring that they were going for lunch at her house.
She decided that she liked Flora. For a noblewoman, the girl was very humble and full of fun. She did not treat Lilia like a maid at all, but like a friend. The young woman was a very mischievous Lilia had learned this early as the entire ride to her house that day had been filled with inappropriate jokes and innuendos that made Lilia’s jaw drop.
She had found herself laughing at some point, and Flora had been pleased. She had asked that Lilia come to visit her of her own accord someday, despite the difference in their status. Lilia had known that she would not be doing any visiting, but still, it was nice that she was offered. Since then, they had become friends, and every time Flora visited the castle, she took Lilia with her wherever she went.
The Younger had purposely walked past them in the lists earlier that day. It seemed he was looking for an excuse to show her his prowess at jousting. What he did not know was that she had seen most of his matches. Whenever he had a match against someone he had not dueled before, Lilia did her best to attend.
Uielam was very skilled at the sport. It did not miss her ears that most believed he was only allowed to win because he was the Laird’s only son and heir. However, she had eyes, and she could see how good he was, despite what people said.
Lilia had been fully expecting it when Uielam made a show of taking his horse to the stream, just to wink at her. She had expected that he would show off as much as possible once the games began, but immediately when he began, she knew she was wrong.
Lilia had seen Uielam joust several times. He usually had his helmet off till the last minute, winking and waving at his admirers in the crowd. She had expected he would direct this behavior at her this time. Instead, Uielam came out with his helmet already on.
He was cold and focused. She could feel the shift in his behavior all the way from where she stood. Even Flora noticed the tension in the air, although she simply took it to be Uielam taking things too far. Something had to have happened beforehand because both men seemed way too serious for a simple practice joust.
It had ended quickly with Uielam the victor as expected, but she could see he had derived no joy from it. What surprised her the most was the way he left. Flora had not seemed to notice that there was anything wrong and, in fact, she was glad that she did not have to watch him prance around like a peacock.
They left after the practice matches were over, but Lilia had been unable to focus as she could not help but worry about Uielam. Flora was fuming at how flirtatious and pompous he was when he winked, and how his match was way too intense for practice. Lilia was upset as well, but it was mostly at herself for being disappointed that he did not direct any antics her way.
It was true that he was sometimes arrogant and behaved like an overtly pampered brat, but he was not a bad person and put fun before almost all else. To see him so serious was worrisome for her.
She was still thinking this when she turned the corner and came face to face with Uielam. His brows were furrowed, and he seemed deep in thought. They both froze in their tracks when their gazes met, and Uielam’s eyes lit up like he just remembered something long forgotten.
“Lilia!” he exclaimed, pausing in his tracks. She frowned; he had indeed forgotten all about her. She lowered herself into a curtsey.
“Uielam The Younger,” She said, staring at his feet. She was irrationally upset that he had not remembered her. Of course, she was not important enough for him to remember her, even though she eluded him, she was still just a maid.
“Lilia, ye are lovely as ever…” he said, immediately slipping into a charming mode. She narrowed her eyes, resisting the urge to smack him upside the head. She did not want his flirting, what she wanted was an apology. She knew she had no right to demand an apology, however, as he had nothing wrong. It was her own fault that she was interested in his antics.
“Thank ye Uielam Younger,” she said deadpan. He gave her a huge grin, unfazed. He looked her over, noting her wet hair.
“Did ye bathe?” he asked. She narrowed her eyes at him, not sure she wanted to answer that. What was he thinking? She knew him better than to think he would do anything uncouth if he knew that she liked to bathe, but the fact that he sounded so surprised annoyed her. She nodded.
“Aye, I did. Is that a problem?” She asked. He reached out and touched a strand of her hair suddenly, making her shiver and step back.
“Ye truly are a strange one,” he mused, allowing her hair to slip from his fingers as she stepped back.
“I saw ye at me joustin’ practice today. I was pleased to see that Flora brought ye,” he began. “I dae apologize that I couldnae entertain ye while ye were there. Unfortunately, something came up.”
She knew that something had come up. She was also slightly appeased by the fact that he did apologize, although it was his arrogance that led him to do so. Of course, he believed that she wanted to see him, not that he was wrong, but he could never know that. She gave a polite bow.
“There is nae need to apologize, Younger,” she said. He smiled.
“What did ye think of me match?” he asked, leaning against the wall.
“It was interesting, Younger. I can see why nobles enjoy such sport,” she said politely.
Her eyes had a faraway look in them, and he seemed hesitant to ask his next question.
“Dae ye think that I am good at it? Or dae ye think I won because the soldier let me,” he asked. He tried to seem nonchalant, but Lilia could see that he was earnest.
Was that what had happened?
Her heart softened. It made a lot of sense now. If he had heard people say that, of course, he would be upset and lost in thought. She wanted to comfort and assure him, but she could not let him see her true feelings. He was probably asking her because he trusted that she would be honest and not care about his feelings if she told the truth.
“In me opinion Uielam Younger, ye are very skilled at joustin’. I believe everyone who saw ye today would attest to yer athleticism and strength,” She assured him. When he smiled and looked at his feet, she allowed herself a small smile before feigning a scowl and continuing.
“Ye must ken this for a fact, dae ye think it is charmin’ to make me admit yer prowess? What next? Will ye ask me if ye are handsome?” She asked as though she did not catch on to how much he needed assurance and was simply scolding him.
Uielam did not disappoint as he stepped closer to her, wiggling his eyebrows and making her stomach clench.
“Am I handsome, Lilia, or dae people just tell me that I am?” he asked teasingly.
Despite her heart pounding at his grin, Lilia rolled her eyes and stepped to the side, avoiding him.
“That would be enough Younger, ye already ken that ye are,” she said.
With that, she scurried off, fighting her smile as she heard him laugh.
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