Forced into a political marriage with a man she terms “a half mad half Viking,” Catherine Broussard is caught up in her father’s malice, her husband’s ambition and the Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England.
She rode up the shoreline with Hugo, past driftwood, with the water lapping at their horses’ hooves. It was the same rhythmic sound she had always heard, always on a good horse, always riding in the morning. Her heart lifted. She did enjoy a good ride. So, apparently, did her husband. They were still feeling their way around each other, but this—like their bedding—was something they could enjoy together.
At the end of the open beach, where it elevated to more rocky land, he helped her off her horse and into a little cove the sea had once carved into the rock. It was dry now, sufficiently above sea level to stay that way for the most part.
“Look inside,” he said, tethering the horses to bushes. “This is worth seeing.”
Someone had driven a torch holder into the wall of the cave. Once he lit the torch and her eyes adjusted, she could see the outline of paintings on the rocks. Paintings? How could that be? It was red and ochre and white paint of some sort, very old and faded, but recognizably of horses.
“Some ancient people made these,” he said, guiding her hand. She felt the stone beneath her hand, timeless, and the touch of his hand on hers. His arm curved around her shoulder while his chest braced her. She wasn’t entirely sorry in the uncertain footing of a cave, where sand and rocks rolled beneath the feet. She had tiny ankles that turned easily, but Hugo was a rock. “I don’t know who they were. Do you see the horses?”
“I do.” She was awed in spite of herself. “How old do you think they are?”
“I can’t even guess. But this…” He pressed her fingers on the surface. “This is very, very old. These people were here before us, perhaps they were even our ancestors. No one knows. But they lived, and we live. This is what I’ve been fighting for, not for my pride. This is what I want a child to inherit, so that it goes on. And you’re a part of it now. Do you understand?”
He was deeper than she had thought.
“Yes,” she said.
He turned her within the circle of his arms, raising her chin. He was not quite sauvage, after all. He pressed his lips to hers, and she opened to him. After long moments of exploring her, he lifted his face.
“This is what I fight for, Catherine,” he said
She understood. This was going to be the price of her marriage to him and if she wanted any sort of life, she would have to give it to him—no matter how hard it came. He would accept nothing less.