A Knight Before Christmas – Prologue



“I saw her, Mother! Eve Chandos stared up at her mother through wide eyes.

The Great Hall was crowded with visiting nobles and knights for the Yule celebration. Rich velvet skirts and polished black boots encircled Eve as she stood at her mother’s feet. At five summers, she barely reached her mother’s waist. Conversation rose and fell, echoing through the large room.

Eve put her small hands around her mother’s legs, trying desperately to get her attention.

Her mother ignored her, speaking to another lord that Eve did not know and immediately dismissed as unimportant. She tugged on her mother’s red silk skirt. When her mother patted her head of rebellious curls without even glancing at her, Eve knew she would never get her mother’s attention. She pulled her hands from around her and stepped back.

She looked up at all the people around her. They looked like giants from her five-summer perspective. How would she ever be able to get her mother’s attention? Plus, her father had warned her to be good. That these people were important.

Eve stuck out her lower lip. She met the eyes of one of the boys standing beside the adults. His boots were polished, his breeches and tightly tailored green tunic with golden embroidery. His blue gaze was locked on her sympathetically.

Eve was not used to having her attentions fall on deaf ears. She turned and scanned the room. She couldn’t see anything but long, colorful skirts and breeches. Her mother and father had thrown a great gathering in honor of the Christ Mass and Yuletide.

But they wouldn’t listen to her! She saw the angel! The angel that was the bright star over the baby Jesus’s manager. And no one would listen to her!

She moved through the room, expertly maneuvering through the Great Hall and the gathered people. She had seen the angel! And she wanted to be close to her, she wanted to see a real angel. She exploded out of the confining room and into the empty corridor to find her twin sister, Eden, waiting for her at exactly the spot she told her to wait. She took her hand. “Mother said we could go.”


Eve nodded. She grasped Eden’s hand. “Oh, Eden! She was beautiful! Her dress was white and all sparkly. And she had long hair.” She lifted her hand as high as she could. “She was way above the pond, flying!”

“Are you sure it was an angel?” Eden asked.

Eve nodded. She was sure. More than sure. “We have to hurry.” She led Eden to the large double doors of the keep. She stared up at the great wooden doors, frowning. She would never be able to pull them open. They were too big and too heavy. But the kitchen door was not!

She reentered the Great Hall, swerving and ducking through the throng of guests, pulling her sister after her. Eve’s tiny feet crunched on the rushes covering the floor as she raced through the room. When she reached the kitchens, a wave of hot air blasted her face from the large hearth where dinner was being prepared, but that didn’t stop her. She had to sidestep many of the busy servants as they carried drinks and food into the Great Hall. They didn’t even notice her.

She stopped behind the cook, hoping for a hand out of honey-sweetened tart. But the man was too busy to acknowledge her.

Stomping her foot and clenching her fist, Eve continued toward the kitchen door. She reached for the handle when one of the servants grabbed her wrist.

“Where are ya goin’ love?”

Eve looked up to see Maria, the cook’s aid, staring down at her with kind brown eyes. Her dark hair was tied back with a scarf around her head. Eve was happy someone had finally paid attention to her. She looked back at Eden, clutching her sister’s hand, then back to Maria. “We’re going to see the angel.”

“The angel, hmm?” Maria guided them a step back into the kitchen with a hand on their backs. “Can’t wait until Mass?”

Eve noticed the empty basket under Maria’s arm and realized she was going into the inner ward for supplies.

Maria turned and opened the door. She held it open for Eve and Eden. “Be quick about it. Neither of ya have a cloak. Yer father would flail you.”

Eve grabbed Eden’s hand and dashed out into the night, ducking beneath Maria’s arm.

“Don’t be out long!” Maria warned.

Eve and Eden raced through the snow of the inner ward toward the outer ward, giggling. Eve lifted her face to the sky. It was snowing!




Gabriel Bedford stood on a small balcony and stared out over the moonlit castle wall at the valley before the castle. It was cold, and the snow was falling heavy. He liked the way the big flakes looked against the night sky. Plus, he could breathe, and his breath came out in a white puff like a dragon’s breath.

It was better than being inside and having the lords and ladies say again and again, “I remember when you were this big!”

He was eleven summers! That was almost a man! Gabriel sighed. His breath escaped in a white cloud. In the distance, in the valley over the castle wall beyond the moat, he saw a line extending across the pristine snow. An animal, he thought. Maybe a fox. It had marred the pure snow with its track, dividing the castle and the forest.

A cry arose beneath him in the courtyard and he turned his head toward the noise. Below, people gathered in the inner ward just before the keep and a large group of soldiers mounted horses and rode toward the outer gatehouse.

Gabriel scowled. Must be something important. He could hear a woman sobbing and a man shouting orders. It must be something very important. Tingles of anxiety danced up his spine and he raced into the castle, through stone hallways lined with tapestries. He whirled around a corner to take a set of curved stairs two at a time. He wanted to see what was going on. What had happened.

The double doors of the keep were open, letting in cold air. A large group of ladies and older men stood near the doorway, staring out into the dark inner ward.

Gabriel made his way through them, brushing by a man in a fur lined cotehardie, skirting a woman in a green houppelande. He paused just outside the large double doors. The woman who had been sobbing was sitting on the stairs, being comforted by two other servant women.

He scanned the crowd looking for Henry Lewis, his good friend. Instead, he saw his older brother, Michael, standing just below the two steps that led from the keep into the inner ward. He hurried to him.

Michael stood a head taller than Gabriel, his hair a light blonde. He was only a year older than Gabriel. Gabriel came up beside Michael. “What happened?”

Michael continued to stare at the group of mounted men in the courtyard. He explained quickly, “Lord Chandos’s daughters are missing.”

“The little twin girls?”

Michael nodded. “Eve and Eden. They are getting groups together to search for them.”

“The girls left the castle?”

Michael shrugged. “They think so. A servant let them outside to search for an angel.” Michael looked up at the falling snow. “It doesn’t look good.”

Gabe’s gaze swept the crowd. Some of the guests and knights were already covered in a light blanket of snow. The girls wouldn’t survive. It was too cold.

“There should be footprints!” Lord Chandos was saying to the gathered men.

Footprints! That was what Gabriel had seen in the valley. “I saw foo–”

“Shhh,” Michael snapped, tilting his head to hear what the lord said.


“Quiet, Gabe!” he hissed.

Angry, Gabriel pushed forward through the gathered knights and lords toward the mounted men and Lord Chandos. Surely, her father would listen to him. He saw footprints! Before Gabe could reach Lord Chandos, he spurred his stallion and with an explosive burst led the mounted men forward toward the outer gatehouse.

Gabriel silently cursed. He let an exasperated breath escape in a puff of white. Maybe they would find the footprints on their own, after all, they were trained knights. Maybe the tracks were nothing but animal prints, after all. He had wanted to at least alert them to the markings.

Then, he remembered the little girl trying to get her mother’s attention earlier at the party in the Great Hall. They didn’t listen to her, either.

Cursing, he turned and pushed his way through the remaining peasants and nobles, past a man who was dusting snow from his impeccable cotehardie, around a rather well-endowed woman who was shivering, to dash for the stables. He entered the open doorway and quickly found the stall his steed, Thunder, was in. He didn’t bother saddling him but pulled himself up onto his bare back, straddling the animal, before spurring him toward the door. Perhaps he could catch up to the soldiers. He charged out the inner ward, through the outer ward, and beneath the portcullis of the open outer gatehouse. The air was crisp and cold against his cheeks and bare hands. He blinked against the onslaught of falling snow.

Gabriel urged Thunder on, charging over the drawbridge. He brought his steed to a halt just over the drawbridge at the road that stretched beyond the moat. He looked for the line of soldiers and men down the main road, but they were gone. He tugged on Thunder’s mane and steered him down the road before the moat at a slower pace, surveying the pure snow for the tracks he had seen. As the road curved, he saw them. He cantered his steed to the footprints. Beneath the light of the snow and glowing sky, he saw that they were not animal tracks. They were two distinct sets of small impressions with distinguishing swirls around each from long skirts. Gabriel spurred his horse forward, following the line of footprints into the forest.

Once in the darkness of the woods, he was careful not to trample the footprints. But it wasn’t long before Thunder could move no further because of the closeness of the trees and twigs. Gabriel dismounted and walked into the forest, carefully following the line of footprints around trees and leafless bushes. The snow came up to the tops of his booted feet. His hands were freezing and he continued to open and close his fingers to keep them warm.

He hoped nothing happened to them. He hoped they were okay. There were wild animals in the forest, hungry animals. And the girls were so small. Easy prey.

“Eve!” he called.

His voice echoed through the quiet night.

He wished he had at least grabbed a dagger, so he could use it against wild animals, or perchance a blanket. But he never expected to be out looking for the girls. He swatted the branch of a tree aside and it snapped, breaking in the cold. He looked back toward the castle, but could not see it. He had come a long way. The girls had come a long way. Why had they come out here? He paused, surveying the icy landscape. It was silent and deadly beautiful, a frozen picture of the forest. He breathed warm breath on his cold fingers and rubbed his cheeks. He moved forward, following the tiny footprints.

And then, the forest opened to a magical, frozen pond. The water glimmered in icy splendor, the banks and trees covered in a blanket of thick white snow. Large drops of white floated from the sky. Gabriel followed the trail to the bank of the pond. Dread washed over him. Had one or both fallen into the frozen pond? He swept the water with his eyes, but the coating of ice over its darkness was undisturbed. He saw the tracks veered off toward the distant trees.

He moved quickly, trailing them. “Eve?” he called. “Eden!”

In the distance, beneath the branches covered in white, at the base of one thick trunk, he saw a small black lump. He raced toward it, his feet kicking up the wet heavy slushy snow. “Eve!” As he neared, he saw two small piles.

Gabriel knelt before them, reaching out to one small girl. Her fingertips were bare and blue, her face pale. Gabriel turned to the other girl. Her hands were tucked beneath her arms, her dark hair frozen and stiff.

He shook her. She did not move, and he felt horror and fear fill him. He shook her harder and her hands fell from beneath her arms. “Eve!”

Her eyes fluttered and then opened to slits. A small grin slid over her lips.

She was alive! Gabriel swept her up into his arms, trying to warm her cold little body. He picked up the other girl, one over each of his shoulders and raced back into the forest, following his own tracks this time. He held them close, pulling them tight against his head for warmth, holding them around their waists. He was aware of how stiff their hair was against his neck. If their hair was that frozen, their bodies must be more so.

He mumbled words to them as he ran. “We are going home, now. Don’t worry.”

Neither girl uttered a word, neither moved.

Gabriel’s hands were numb. The snow seemed to suck at his feet, slowing him down, but he pushed forward. He stumbled once beneath their weight and went down on one knee. He pushed himself up, grimacing and continued on. He was very much aware that the young girls were in mortal danger. That even though he found them, even though one had moved, both could still die. “Don’t leave. You won’t get to see the Yule log.” They were heavy for him, but he refused to rest, refused to stop even for a moment. He was panting hard, forcing his legs to work and move through the snow. His trembling limbs clutched the girls to him. “I’ll tell you a story. A most amazing story.” He would say anything to get them not to pass.

He emerged from the forest to find the snow falling even heavier. He looked for Thunder and found him standing close to where he had left him. He had expected nothing less from the horse he had raised on his own from a colt, but still he was grateful to see him. He hurried to his steed, and paused.

How was he to mount with the girls? There were no stirrups to place his feet. He eased one girl onto Thunder’s back and held her there with a trembling hand as he put the other girl beside her.

Thunder stomped the ground.

“Easy,” Gabriel whispered, his breath forming a white puff of smoke.

Gabriel took hold of Thunder’s mane. He tried to keep his arm across the girls’ backs so they wouldn’t fall. He pulled himself up onto Thunder’s back.

Thunder whinnied and stepped backward.

One of the girls began to slip from the horse.

Gabriel released Thunder’s mane and grabbed the girl’s dress, pulling her into his arms. He held the other child on Thunder’s back by pressing his arm across her back as he took up Thunder’s mane again and urged the horse back across the valley, toward the castle.

It was awkward, holding one of the girls couched in the crook of his arm as he leaned forward to clasp Thunder’s mane, holding the other child on the horse’s back with his elbows. He just knew he had to get them into the castle.

As the steed moved, Gabriel happened to look down at the girl’s small face. So pale. So peaceful. Her long lashes rested against her red windburned cheeks.

“Don’t go,” he whispered to her. “We are almost home.” And he meant it. He didn’t want the little girl to die. He had seen death in animals, a wolf eating a rabbit, and in humans, his uncle had died from the blow of an axe. But never in such an innocent, little child.

Thunder raced across the drawbridge, his hooves pounding over the planks of wood, and through the outer ward, into the inner ward. Gabriel swung his leg around and dismounted, sliding from the steed. He reached back up for the other girl, taking her around the waist. He was breathing heavily as he ran up the two steps into the keep. He looked left and then right, but the corridor was empty.

He glanced down at the girl he was holding facing him. Her eyes were closed, her lips blue. He had to get help! Where was everyone? His arms were trembling from cold and the exertion. He looked up to find his brother standing before him. His hair was dry, his clothing untouched by the weather. “Michael,” Gabe gasped.

Michael’s gaze moved from him to the girls. A second passed.

A shiver of cold moved through Gabriel. He was grateful Michael was there, he was his older brother and could tell him what to do, what he was supposed to do.

Instead, Michael swept up the girl bent over his forearm and then took the other child from his hold. He whirled and started toward the large double doors of the Great Hall.

Stunned, Gabriel stood for a moment watching Michael enter the room. Gabriel shook himself and followed him. Before he reached the room, a cry arose from inside. He stumbled to the doors to find a large crowd around Michael. He was being patted on the shoulder, congratulated. His arms were empty.

Gabe’s gaze swept the room until he saw another group racing toward the stairway that led to the upper chambers. He caught sight of one of the servants holding one of the girls in his arms. Her dark hair was damp, but it moved from side to side, no longer frozen.

“Well done, Michael!” Their father was saying.

Shivering, Gabriel entered the room. A hound rushed up to him and began licking his icy fingers.

“You will be well rewarded for this!” his father continued.

Shocked, Gabriel skirted the outside of the crowd until he could see Michael’s face between a thin lord and an armored knight. Why wasn’t he telling them? Why wasn’t Michael telling them he had not found girls?

Michael shifted his gaze to lock eyes with Gabriel for a moment and quickly turned away.

Shock and betrayal sliced deep like the sharp tip of a sword to his gut. Disbelief filled Gabriel. Michael was taking credit for finding the girls! He had no intention of telling them the truth. He was going to let them shower him with fake praise and prizes.

Gabriel should tell them! He should tell them all it was not Michael who had found them, he had! That it was he who had saved the girls!

Gabriel stood for a moment, his fingers no longer icy, but curled into hot fisted rage. It would serve Michael right to be humiliated and disgraced. He glared at his brother for a moment longer before his shoulders sagged and his chin dropped to his chest. He couldn’t do it. Not to his older brother.

Disgusted and disappointed, Gabriel turned away and walked from the room, pausing to look toward the empty stairway where the girls had been taken. Gabe only hoped they would recover.