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Kinton Lacey Castle, Herefordshire
July 25, 1643
Startled out of an uneasy doze by the crackle of musket fire, Deliverance sent books and papers flying as she rummaged through the detritus on the table in her search for the flint. As the candle sputtered into life, the door opened and her steward, Melchior Blakelocke, stood outlined in the doorway, holding a covered lantern.
“Are we being attacked?” Deliverance asked.
“I don't think so,” Melchior replied. “In fact, I think it is our besiegers who are being attacked.”
Hope sprang in Deliverance’s heart. “Is it Father? Has he come to relieve us?”
She reached for the elegant French Wheelock musket her father used for hunting, running her hand over the well-polished wood of the stock. It had a kick that threatened to dislocate her shoulder every time she used it, but she took pride in her mastery of the weapon.
Outside, the entire garrison of Kinton Lacey Castle had deployed along the walls, but to her relief, the firing and shouts came from beyond the crumbling walls of the old castle. She took her now accustomed vantage point on the northern tower of the bastion gate and squinted into the darkness and confusion.
Smoke and flame from burning outbuildings lent a surreal light to the melee of men that whirled and danced in the shadows as if re-enacting some ancient pagan ceremony. Only the clash of steel instead of cymbals brought home the grim purpose of the bizarre pageant.
Two men on horseback appeared out of the smoke and cantered towards the castle. Backlit by the fires, they could have been a pair of vengeful spirits.
Her heart pounding, Deliverance raised her musket and fired, cursing in a most unladylike manner as the musket ball skimmed past the two men, taking the taller man's hat. His horse, startled by its rider's jerk of alarm, reared up depositing the soldier on the ground. For a moment he lay still, before rising to his hands and knees. Shaking his head, he rose slowly to his feet, casting an upwards glance in the direction of the castle, as he dusted off his hat and remounted his horse.
Melchior cleared his throat. “While that is excellent shooting, I think you will find they are friends not foes.”
Deliverance’s stomach lurched. “How can you tell?”
“They wear the orange sash of the parliamentary forces, my lady.”
Deliverance leaned the musket against the wall, clenching and unclenching her hand in an effort to disguise her shaking fingers. Nausea rose in her throat. It was the first time she had fired the weapon intending to kill and she had nearly killed one of their own relieving force.
She took a deep breath, struggling to regain her composure as the two men came to a halt at the bridge over the castle’s defensive ditch. Facing them were the stout oaken gates to the castle that Deliverance had shut on her foe two weeks earlier.
“Hold your fire.” The man she had shot at called up to the defenders. “We are sent by Sir John Felton to relieve this castle.”
Deliverance picked up her musket and drew back to a vantage point where she could see without being seen. “You answer, Melchior.”
Melchior cast her a sidelong glance and stepped forward to the battlements. “Your name, sir?”
“Captain Luke Collyer.”
“How do we know they've come from Father?” Deliverance prompted her steward.
“How do I know you are sent by his lordship?” Melchior demanded.
The man who had identified himself as Captain Luke Collyer produced a paper from his jacket and waved it at the wall.
“These are my orders. While I don't wish to appear churlish, sir, we have no great desire to remain outside these walls when those knaves could be back at any moment.”
“What do you mean?” Melchior asked, leaning further over the ramparts.
“We appear to have seen off your besiegers for the moment.” The man’s voice rose to make himself heard by all on the castle wall.
Deliverance drew a sharp intake of breath as relief flooded through her. The siege was over but she still had to be careful. She put no trust in Farrington not to try and gull her in this fashion.
“Very well, Melchior, let them in, but I want every man with a weapon to have it trained on them.” She tapped a fingernail on the stock of her musket. “I will meet them in the Great Hall.”
“May I suggest a change of dress, madam?”
She looked down at her breeches. “Demure and ladylike?”
Melchior nodded. “Demure and ladylike.”