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1This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or to events or locales is entirely coincidental. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any number whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

ISBN 978-1-61658-496-2

CHAPTER 1 Cumbria, 1092 A.D.

The odor of death filled the chamber where Fyren lay, its fragrance like the sweetly rotten smell of carrion. Beads of sweat formed on his brow and in the crust of his unshaven beard. His bulky limbs convulsed as he fought to rise, then fell limp. Yet his eyes blazed with a fury so malevolent, Melisande thought she smelled Satan's brimstone. She stood alone in the chamber, for all his allies had fled. Her hands lapped loosely together and her face was as bland as she could make it. Even now, she dared not show her fear. Caught in the stiff April wind, the wooden shutter clattered open against the stone wall, startling Melisande from her concentration and whipping pale strands of her hair into her eyes. She crossed to the open window to study the clamor in the bailey below where her unarmed knights stoically awaited their uncertain fate. The Normans had reached the gate. She had not counted on them coming so soon. They were only moments from entering the upper bailey, and moments more from the hall. And still, Fyren lingered. Quashing her fear and setting her face once more to a mask of stone, Melisande returned to the bedside. "The Norman comes, girl?" The words hissed from Fyren's lips. "Aye." "He will kill you." All her life he had feasted on her fear while she had fought to withhold it from him. She kept her face rigidly controlled. "Aye." "This is how you repay me. I gave you everything. Taught you things no one else knows." She said nothing, made no move. "I am your father. I loved you. Have you no compassion?" "Compassion? Nay." "You hate me so much, girl?" His words began to slur. His eyes, once as bright blue as her own, faded as she watched, yet his rage at her audacity had not dimmed. "You should confess your sins," she replied. "I do not fear God." Fyren fought to eke out the words. "You will not escape me, Melisande." "You are but a man, after all." "You think I die. But I will come for you. You cannot escape." Even now, he threatened her. Yet Fyren’s eyelids sagged and closed. Perhaps it would come now. But what if he did not die? He was Satan's own, and God would not favor her. That she now dispatched Fyren to Hell meant only that he would be there awaiting her own arrival. And all her suffering in this life would be as nothing compared to what he would do to her then. Fear rose in her like gorge. She gulped it back down. A whispered voice came from the doorway. "Lady?" She knew without turning that it belonged to Thomas, by its tone of urgency as much as by its gentle timbre. "I am here, Thomas." "Is he gone, then?" "Soon." "You must hurry, lady," he said, rushing to the window to peer at the commotion below. "The Normans are already within the gate." "Aye, Thomas. Soon." She bit her cheek to control her impatience, knowing his anxiety to be as intense as hers, but first she must see this finished. It was her doing. All of it.

Once again, Fyren’s fading blue eyes popped open. "A last thing, girl. The purple. As a shroud." Her lips drew bowstring-tight, like the foreboding that twanged within her. "Aye. 'Tis fitting." Melisande crossed the chamber to a small, heavily carved chest that had once been a reliquary for the bones of some long-forgotten saint. Now it held only the purple cloak, a sacrilege in itself. She lifted the cloak carefully, not wanting to touch the detested thing, and smoothed it over Fyren's body. A shame, that such a beautiful garment could be such a malicious weapon. Fyren's breath came in shallow pants. His body lay stiff and motionless. His eyes drooped closed, then his breathing ceased. The stillness of death filled the chamber. "Is he gone?" Thomas called impatiently. "The Normans approach the hall. You cannot delay longer." "Come and see." Thomas approached the bed and lifted the limp wrist, testing the pulse. "Aye, he's gone. Come now, hurry." Dashing to the chamber door, he peered down at the hall. The clangs of metal and rough male voices resonated against the stone walls. "It is too late, lady. They are below. Perhaps they will not be so harsh. Who could blame you--" "The Normans could. For all their violence, they are pious men. Never fear, Thomas. There is another way out, if you will delay them a little. You will do as I ask?" "Aye, lady. And I will see to the earl." Melisande turned toward the door, but then pivoted back to face Thomas. "Bury him deep," she said. Thomas's pale grey eyes reflected his concern and gentle fondness of her. "As deeply as shovel can dig. God keep you safe, lady." "And you, Thomas. Keep our people safe." It was as much of a smile as Melisande ever made, that small quirking of her lips at their corners, but she gave him the best she could manage. She had learned early in her life to stifle all signs of emotion, so that she now knew no other way. Her light slippers padded against the wooden floor as she ran to the door between the chambers and into her own room. Rough shouts echoed in the bailey. The demons screamed at her. Flee! The Norman comes! She set her jaw, refusing to let panic rule her. You are evil! You are no better than Fyren! Be still. I have no time for your mischief. Witch! I am no witch. But the Normans would believe it. When the Norman lord learned of the demons that tormented her, taunting her with her own fears, and of all the things she knew that she should not, he would have her burned. Even before she crossed her chamber, she jerked her silk kirtle over her head. Snatching up a simpler garment of homespun earthen grey wool, she flinched at its scratchiness. But she dared

" . Deliberately she stretched each finger out from the tight balls made by her fists. threw it into the chest. *** No one had stopped them. and turned the key. The Norman lord would take the castle in the king's name. then crawled through the hole and closed the panel." said Chrétien. And only then had she learned of the English king’s intent to wed her to the new lord. Not a sword raised. "Stables?" "Naught. and his evil cloak would be buried with him. She jerked the ring from her finger. She squared her shoulders. The nearly complete curtain wall of grey limestone seemed new. The defenses seem dismantled. An ancient hall of yellow sandstone seemed to march up the hillside. two. for at his worst. --twenty-five. then look about for the bride Rufus had promised him. But at least Fyren was dead. twenty-six-. so she must hide under the Norman's very nose. The earl was dead. William Rufus. She hesitated. had he seen a stone castle at all. "'Tis odd. Nay. All unarmed. In the far corner of her chamber. Never before had he demanded a surrender and got it without a fight. One. slammed the lid shut. for the Normans would know a common girl would not possess such a garment. And never had he seen a castle quite like this one.and the Norman had come. the knight's voice a low. The Red King. Melisande bundled her fears into a tight little knot and shoved them deep inside her. "How so?" "I see but three men upon the curtain wall. in fact. What of the hall?" Alain asked him. but the word of the Normans' approach had come only the day before. the Norman could not be as terrible a lord as Fyren had been. Perhaps. Wadding her discarded clothing into a ball. and almost closed the lid before noticing her mother's ring on her finger. eighteen--. and had a strange wing added at the back that rose into a second story.both hands skimmed against the roughly chiseled stone as she counted the steps. Beside the hall stood the partially completed shell of a new tower. Down steps hewn into bedrock. Footsteps pounded on the bailey's hard earth. All must be left behind. given more time she might have also succeeded in her own escape. too deep for her to feel. And with any luck. no defense at all in its present state. she descended in darkness toward a cavern that was as familiar to her as her own bed chamber. three-. Melisande pushed aside a painted wooden panel that mimicked the yellow plastered walls. She wished she had had more time to plan. from the time Alain de Crency and his knights had crossed the dry moat and ridden through the thick oak gate into the grassless bailey. she had little hope. their arms laid at their feet. caressing the carved warmth of the gold band. She was fortunate her hastily conceived plan had achieved as much as it had. But she had no place to go.he would not find her.not keep her light linen chemise. she flung it all into the open chest near the window. --eight. would win at last the land he had coveted so long. cautious mumble as his brown eyes narrowed. --Sixteen. --Twenty-seven. Soldiers and knights stood about. yet it surrounded an odd assortment of buildings that looked as if they had been around a very long time. The destruction of the Devil himself could not please her more." "Mmm. Nowhere in the north. Standing on the gritty cavern floor. nor lance flung. nine-. seventeen. For herself.

" "Where is the Lady Melisande?" "Gone." Alain glanced at Chrétien. The paired doors stood open. But he was not one to play his hand openly. The corpse that lay on the bed. Inside. a silver-haired Saxon knight descended open wooden stairs and presented himself before them. She asks that you be content with the castle. believing Fyren would furiously protest this ouster at Rufus' command. Seized . whose surprise equaled his own. Did the earl's daughter hide within to attack him as he entered? But no great army hid in the hall's dim light. "I know not. lord. He needed the bride as much as the demesne. with heavy draperies tied back against the posts. He strode across the bailey to the hall's paired doors. outside a church. lord. he would not be content. that a trap awaits you. "Ah. but there is none. A monastery. Yet that powerful man had so conveniently died. Surely it could not be so easy." "She is aware of the king's command. Thomas stood by the door to the chamber and waited for Alain to pass through." No. This was a monastery. "I know what you suspect. Beyond the dais at the hall's far end. The king had expected a long siege. then?" "Aye. lord. nor engines against a siege." said Chrétien." "And why does she dispute his order?" "She says that William is not her king. Perhaps Fyren's daughter was as meek as her father had been powerful. "Nay. wrapped like a swaddled babe in a purple cloth. No great stretch of archers along the curtain wall's high allure." Alain shook his head as reached the steps. as the exterior. and his daughter Lady Melisande bids me cede the castle to you. "Fyren is dead?" "Aye. Alain frowned. had a strangely innocent look to it. No man short of the king himself had the luxury of three private chambers. spacious and stark. with the suspicion of a battle-hardened veteran." the knight said. "I am Thomas. Certainly this strange castle spoke to that. A carved bed stood in the center. he saw the same ancient Celtic appearance. Massive beams supported a lead roof. She cannot marry you." Chrétien's only response was the questioning arch of his brown brows. to so command her. lord. "Then. and he decided not to press that issue for the moment. That could be dangerous. his eyes taking in all they could see. Rufus had said Fyren was no ordinary man.From the moment Alain had brought his army within sight of the massive stone walls. take me to where the lord lies. each with its own door. "Let me go first. --Unusual. Alain jumped down from his great bay charger and slapped the reins into his squire's hand. women did not always have the fire in them for a fight." Thomas led them up the narrow wooden staircase to an open wooden balcony facing three chambers. and his daughter had merely opened the gates to them? True. But nowhere did he see signs that the castle would be defended. He felt the shudder of a premonition run up his back. The Lord Fyren has died just this last hour. he had watched for trouble." "Gone? Where?" He should have thought she might abscond.

Odd though he was." "Sorcerer. Had Rufus meant sorcery. no questions asked." said Thomas. "I know naught of this. lord." "After the death of his wife. There is unfathomable evil in the man. Then Rufus dropped the parchment and watched the remainder of it dance a graceful pattern. Alain had laughed and asked if the lady had two heads." "Still. Sorcerer? Was this what Rufus had sent him to combat? Then why had he not said so? If so." Alain's suspicious eyes caught Thomas in the very breath of denial before he quickly closed his mouth. surely there was little harm in Fyren now. and easily capable of such. Her mother was of Durham. Rufus was usually predictable. He had long coveted Cumbria. Tell me the rest. the Lady Edyt." Stepping back." "You know this to be true?" "Aye. "The lady wishes peace for her people. "We had not heard he was ill. And he had explained nothing except that he had known the girl's mother when he had been a boy. it appears so. The skin was the ashen color of death." "Friends?" "None. Thomas. Alain lifted the arm of the corpse and found it slack. de Crency. but all those are dead now." "Yet. "What was the cause of death?" "He took his own life. as many in the north have been. then shriveling in the devouring flames. "Did the priest also implicate her?" "Nay." "Did the priest accuse Fyren of the lady's death?" "Aye. as a guilty one might." "Where are her relatives?" "She has only a few very distant ones north in Strathclyde. She cannot hope to escape. and wanted this conquest with uncommon ferocity. Alain could still picture Rufus watching with fascination as he held a crumpled parchment to the brazier's coals. Some say he was driven mad by the ghost of the priest he curiosity. Father Leanian laid a curse on the lord. a strange scene with much left unexplained." "Surely some of Fyren's knights must have brought their families from time to time. as if anticipating a knife between his ribs. Yet he felt his back prickle. The lady died mysteriously. There are those who believe him a sorcerer. I do not want him to live." "But she has no heart for a fight. Mayhap she did. lord. like a flower opening. The king's perpetually stuffy nose wrinkled at the acrid smell as flames jumped forth from the glowing coals to consume it. "She would not see them slaughtered. And for that. rather than stiff. she chooses to run. recalling his last meeting with Rufus." Alain tensed. But that was the way of those who displeased Lord Fyren." "Suicide? I cannot believe it." he said to Thomas. "And what of his daughter?" Alain asked. then? And you will take his daughter Melisande to wed. save those folk about the demesne. lord. But he seemed to want this marriage even more. Lord Fyren had him murdered in his sleep." "She is naught like her wicked father." . Alain folded his arms.

" An anxious energy infused him. unlike the slightly darker Normans whose blood had mixed with Franks and Bretons." "A reasonable request. I will abide by your judgement. we may prepare this one for you." "Ah. "It is a cloak." "Well. not even her mother. that the Lord Fyren had made for his wife before she died." The Saxon knight's grey eyes suddenly widened. She must at least have their loyalty. Thomas bobbed his head properly."Nay. Does it not concern you?" "Of course. So the girl was solitary. I suppose I will take this chamber. And you save me the trouble. he would keep the girl where none of us. I mean. "Nay. if he was a madman. Alain saw that not all were Saxon. "Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Chrétien." Chrétien's mouth spread into a narrow smile that seemed to crinkle both up and down. And far too good for the likes of him." "Not quite like this. yet worry himself to flummery over the future happiness of his dearest friend. Alain returned with Chrétien to the bailey." "And then he murdered her? Well. Something is truly afoot. of peculiar parentage. or the Devil's own tool. lord. saw her. A good man. For this part of the Isles. how are you called?" . Studying the people of the hall more closely. It appears you had no fondness for Fyren. Chrétien?" "And to your front. the kind that took over his body whenever he sensed a battle brewing. as well." "The bride." "Yet the knights honor her with their submission. I should not have worried. He could do no more than warn his men and keep his own eyes open. grim line of his mouth. then just as quickly calmed. See to his burial forthwith. flipping his eyebrows. It is far too beautiful to be buried in the ground. "We but ride in and take the place?" "It's happened before. but you are so good at it. "You. With a clipped turn. Tell me honestly what you thought of him. no doubt." Chrétien snapped back." The air had a need of cleansing. "I have given Rufus my word. A maid you have not seen. Alain chose one whose features and hair seemed more Norman. his Chrétien. now. mixed several races. as befitted her father's wishes. for few men have been so evil. seeming genuinely sad. But I have no wish to share it with a corpse." "Why? Did he not wish connections for his daughter?" Thomas shook his head. Some. and remove all traces of the lord's death." "If you would take Lady Edyt's chamber for this night only. it is mine." "But not quite like this. sir. "I know not. and spoke to the man in the English tongue. who would fight like a berserker in battle. lord. lord. and I shall make the most of it. as you do enough for both of us. blondes prevailed. It matters little. Ofttimes. a legacy of both the Saxons and the Danes. but remove the purple cloth. Do you doubt I can bring her around to my side. Yet it was not a battle he sensed." Thomas's eyes matched the hard. "That's it?" Chrétien asked as they crossed the hard-packed earth of the bailey. "I do not think he did. But I am committed.

I pray you will forgive her. and none seem to mourn him?" The young knight's eyes grew cold. piqued his curiosity. The severity of her long yellow braid was mocked by a frill of pale tendrils about her face. "How is it that your lord lies dead. or she would have been seen. He had thought him loyal to Rufus." "The fair Melisande has little cause to mourn her father. And as he is dead. No doubt. He almost let her go then. bright and blue as a summer's day." "Mayhap. Alain suspected he knew more than he said. You will wish to eat?" Despite her apparent composure." "She must have gone somewhere. Yet. "There are some who would pay him the courtesy. The girl squared her shoulders and folded her hands together before her. Gerard. A rush of energy surged through him. like all the others. slowly turned. "Was that not Fyren's lady's name?" "I am named for her. Yet she did not leave through the gate. they wondered what it was he wanted with the girl. but now was not the time to pose that question. You will not be punished for it. Resentment. The Saxon knights seemed almost happy that they must now pledge to a different lord. My father rode with the Conqueror." she replied hurriedly. to find him here. second son of Chauncy d'Amiens. Are there other ways out?" "I am not privy to such. as if she both feared and dared him. then grew suddenly silent. Alain had no desire to try to live with his eyes in the back of his head. They would have to be shown. It seemed a strange time to leave. lord. "Ho. His breath caught. when most hung about for a glimpse of their new lord. But if these people had suffered Fyren's evil as was said. butter-yellow braid walked away from the crowd toward the kitchen outbuilding. lord. Tell me what you know." "Only that she is gone. He was no debaucher. The murmur of the crowd swelled. But I will also find her. Suddenly he saw himself as she must see him. but they have had the good sense to leave. giving an odd softness to contradict her grim face. He had imagined his bride would look like this. Did they submit because the lady had asked it? Or because they would not follow her? Or might there be a trap still to be sprung? A movement caught his eye. Another oddity." Alain knew of the man. "I go to prepare the meal. lord. Something was missing. Something sparked in her eyes. But her intensity. He knew well enough the reputation of Normans among these northern folk." He might not be. girl?" She seemed not to have expected his question. The bride was more likely to be a mousy little thing. why do you hurry away?" She stopped. apprehension flickered in her blue eyes. Alain followed her through the gathering. girl. a dark and lusting Norman beast who carried the power of life and death in his hands. he is of no use to any who remain. and soon."Gerard. they would not believe it. nor one to use his power unjustly. and fixed on him large eyes." . and then vanished." "None? What of his daughter?" A rosy flush colored the man's cheeks. "What is your name. Heeding his impulse. Gerard. lord. each hand subtly gripping the other. lord. We are all bidden by her to surrender the castle for the sake of all within it and those upon the land without. "Edyt. "Speak the truth. A maid with a lithe figure and remarkably long. with the same hardness Alain had seen in Thomas.

but in the name of King William II to take tenancy of this holding. Melisande hastily restored to her face the expressionless mask that had served her in her war against Fyren. to helplessly present herself to be torn apart by fierce talons. Alain sensed a brittleness to the hush about them. it was a plan extremely unlikely to succeed. she looked down. she would already have taken it. lord. a last hard glance. That was not merely dangerous. Edyt. And the Norman was most likely correct. She could do little to stop it."And what do you do here?" "I have the keeping of the house. and turned to see all those in the upper bailey following his words. She was no mouse. If she'd had another option. The king has commanded. so she did what only she would dare." Her lips closed into a tight line." Alain gave the girl. But the Norman's eyes bored into her. "I know not. And I will marry her. his dark eyes gleaming like a predator that had spotted its prey. He would ferret her out and force her to marriage. Those who are loyal will be treated with trust. and all with fairness. fixing her sight on his scarred and dusty boots. He was sure she did. In the isolated confines of a remote castle. Alain released the gentle hold he had on the girl's arm and smiled. CHAPTER 2 He knows! Nay. And if Melisande had the loyalty of strong knights." "I have no quarrel with it. He was persuaded." "The housekeeper? One so young?" "I take my mother's place. But it was all she had. no doubt this girl would also protect her. Edyt was the key. Yet the very brazenness of her gaze marked her as something other than a servant. He caught that small echo of her fear and bounced it back to her. the Norman could not see it in her. hid herself in plain view as a common servant." She knew. The knight Gerard seemed especially interested. Just as she stepped backward. But know you also that the Lady Melisande will be found. before he learns! She quashed the demons' taunts. But perhaps you know where the Lady Melisande has got herself to. But she had no relative or friend who would dare shield her. knowing if she did not feel it. She crushed all hint of emotion. no matter where she may hide. and so it shall be. "Know all of you." he said loudly. "that I do not come to do you harm. lord. he reached out and took hold of her arm. all the way to her trembling heart. like a man watchful for the first stroke of battle. I pray you will not wish to replace me. and again caught a glint of fear in the stunning blue eyes. I am well taught. . for he had both the ability and the king's great auspices supporting him. he does not! Flee! Quickly. it would not be unusual for mistress and servant to develop a friendship. She was as nervous as a cat crossing a log over a rushing stream. She would be about the same age as Melisande. Hastily.

stunned her. They are dangerous men. Copious drippings sizzled as they splattered onto the fires below." "Then you should leave. although as the new lord pointed out. lady?" Nelda whispered as she wrapped a cloth around her hands to lift a steaming oval loaf from its peel. But Fyren had been right. But he knows your mother's name. thick with heat and the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread. And the most futile of wishes was that of changing what had already come to pass. that position would usually go to an older woman. grey-haired woman in a rough wool kirtle much like her own approached her. Then she would not outlive her wedding night. "How shall we call you. to take her from her nightmare. The blast of air. his black eyes watching her. submissive bow. The sigh she released was almost indiscernible. Even those who had been strong partisans of her father would find no benefit in giving her identity away. Even long before her mother's death. but kept her eyes lowered as she spoke softly. and all will be well. she turned slowly and stepped through the rough wooden door frame leading into the kitchen. She might have given herself a lower position. But the Norman came too late." He was even more dangerous to her. "You should not test the Norman's ire this way." As if she could change it now. Nelda. I merely mean to hide. "I do not test him. Black. hung with great haunches of boar and oxen." At least she had not lied to him about her duties. It is not safe. She had been close enough to watch the keen black eyes turn to seething charcoal. The Norman lord stood at the threshold.With a small. easy enough. Melisande returned to the kitchen and checked the spits. Melisande raised the hem of her skirt to mop at the perspiration that collected on her brow." "Aye. instead of a family member. she had taken over the management of the household. a certain sign that they were properly done. . His hair was black beneath the metal coif." "Let each do his part. She shoved a flat-bladed wooden peel into an oven and extracted a baking loaf. Melisande glanced toward the kitchen door." "'Tis best that none speak it unless they must. Wiping her brow again of the dripping sweat. "It will at least be easy to remember. If things had only been different. dark as the everlasting night of the caverns below the castle. But she wished she had thought faster and given him a different name. The cook's helper removed more loaves from the other ovens." No one would betray her purposefully." Melisande murmured back. even in the scullery. "But I fear some shall slip. and nodded silently to denote her satisfaction. Will he not suspect?" "I told him I am named for her. had felt the heat and power of the man as if it rippled through the chilly air and ensnared her. It would be a slip that would eventually give the Norman what he sought. A small. Once she had prayed for a husband to come forward for her. lady. Now she only presented herself as one who served. She buried her anxiety in her tasks and returned to the back-straining chores that would bring food to the table of a household suddenly tripled in size. but it would have wreaked havoc among the servants. Such a servant was not uncommon. It was best to keep things simple. "Edyt.

" Alain rather liked the concept. They walked through the upper bailey and up the stone steps to the narrow allure atop the new curtain wall. he made her nervous. "It was Lord Fyren's doing. They watched the man scurry after the page. The vision of those wondrous eyes clung to him as he and Chrétien turned away from the kitchens and followed in Thomas's steps." Alain thought the same. He made it round. it seemed intended for living quarters as well as a refuge during siege. But it was one long chamber until Lord Fyren divided it. dipping downhill to enclose both upper and lower bailey. When finished. its only opening would be far above ground on the first story. either by a reluctant bride or an enigma of a girl with startling blue eyes and the most solemn face he had ever seen." "It is not for me to say." "Say. "But they are closed to us." Chrétien mused. "And the new tower?" "Lord Fyren's doing also. "Lord Fyren sought to build both at once." Looking down. "The wooden palisade was only recently replaced with the wall." "You disapprove. for it was not the best. "They appear amiable." "It speaks of courage. But Alain de Crency was not a man to be daunted.*** So. An insurgence had been brewing. An anxious page hurried up to Thomas's side and waited with great patience to be noticed until he was permitted to announce the nearness of the supper hour." Chrétien tested the newness of the mortar with a fingernail. He saw no moss. and little enough time to accomplish it. I think he had not expected a siege. "I would have completed the wall before beginning the tower. But the site puzzled him. lord. Like the Conqueror's London Tower. He had much to do. there a cleverness of structure that enhanced its basic strength. Why compromise on such a thing? His eyes traced the line of the almost completed curtain wall that surrounded the hall and its outbuildings." "And he added the chambered wing to the hall?" "Nay. noting Thomas's unexpressed relief. He liked that. doorless entry remained at ground level for masons and hod carriers to pass. with wooden stairs that could be removed. This was a monastery." ." "They do not know what to expect of us. for corners are hard to defend. but most of its buildings were derelict. catching here a weakness of mortar. but decided not to mention that." "A lord should not seclude himself from his people." said Chrétien. down the steps into the bailey. no discoloration of the stone. For the present. anyway." "I see. I wonder why. The design made sense. Alain nodded his tacit understanding. The outer balcony and doors to it came later. Alain surveyed the beginnings of the grey limestone tower that would soon dwarf the older hall. Alain ran a practiced eye over the fortifications. "Who designed this?" he asked Thomas while his gaze skimmed over the wall and back to the kitchen outbuilding. Thomas stands as a ready sacrifice to my anger. Why build if one did not expect a siege? Rufus was probably right. Alain took the opportunity to dismiss Thomas to his other tasks. "'Tis odd." Thomas replied. a rough.

As the supper chime clanged. But I do not think the knights of this holding will betray her." "Do you think. His knights had been about the task since dawn. Mayhap to the missing lady." "Only a man with a conscience goes mad from guilt. such as they are. But they had little to gain by opposing him now that the old lord was dead. and he had his suspicions of all the Saxon contingent." Alain accepted the news with silence. To someone. in the setting sun." Chrétien folded his arms and leaned against the crenellated outer wall. Fyren is quite dead. and we know not how to spot her even if we see her." "Villages? Cottages?" "All that are about. then?" "More likely. They leaned against grey blocks of limestone and surveyed what was before them. though not the dead lord. And I am impatient to get on with things. and more so if she has the skill and loyal knights behind her to assemble a rebellion. if we are to keep our skins. It would be a tricky task to unite them all. Beyond the curtain wall and dry moat spread the village that . this missing bride poses a threat to you? She might already be on her way to Scotland." "Those loyal to Fyren might well use her as their rallying point. *** Alain already loved this spot atop the curtain wall with its expansive view of his new demesne. best viewed as now. all blushed red by the brilliant sunset. Alain." Alain wasted no more time surveying his domain. deciding to set himself immediately to the business of the hall." "Few have any love for Rufus. something is afoot. and it behooves us to learn what. and faced certain failure. so he would easily welcome her aid against Rufus. Chrétien also brought back only weariness. Mayhap he was caught too far off his guard." "And you searched all roads?" "Aye. and like the others." "Murder. he hurried down the steps. Might she be as he claims?" "Then would it not benefit her more to ally herself with the English king through her husband? But without the bride." "Aye. "What news?" he asked of Chrétien as his friend took the stone steps two at a time and joined him on the allure." "Thomas said she wants peace. As you said." Alain shook his head. Yet she puts herself to disadvantage by ceding the castle and giving me time to secure my position. this castle and its demesne cannot be secure. Malcolm would not hesitate to add both Northumbria and Cumbria to Scotland. Those things also happen. He would bring in both Thomas and Gerard to assist in establishing his authority. "His castle wall is unfinished and vulnerable. for both of them knew the knights who would now fall vassal to him." "Mayhap he really did go mad after killing the priest. then. Chrétien. at least. "Naught. But they follow him. She cannot have gone far. yet none admit seeing her. "Men do not rally to a dead man." "Do you believe it? The suicide?" "Naught in the man's character allows it. None seem to have any love for him."And loyalty. Or his knights would not back him against Rufus.

It commands the passage to England. Thomas lowered the casket into the earth. the Norseman Thorkel. why did they now follow his coffin to the grave? With a quick gesture for Chrétien to follow. When the ropes were pulled loose. "I see why Rufus wanted this fortress. the girl bent forward and scooped up a handful of the loose earth. Those few who entered the hall had eyed it warily. all studying the coffin with grim concentration as it was lowered into the grave. Mayhap it was a custom with these people." . had refused to give last rites. to the crossroads. Man or woman. Each tossed one handful of earth to the grave. Alain searched the faces." " Perhaps it will never recover. "Well. he is buried." "Perhaps not. Vassal or villein. "They fear he will haunt them. Even Alain’s own priest. past the village green. Edyt among them. Several women stood near the grave. Others did the same. then opened it quickly to drop the dirt. "Aye. the smithy. A knight without his armor. but I saw only common folk among the women. and a collection of stone cottages. "Why?" asked Chrétien. where the grave was dug. an eerily silent procession wound down the hill from the castle. Father Hardouin. "Aye. In unison with the five other knights. the tannery. watched them with narrowed eyes." "The Normans may never be forgiven for that. then departed. Alain could not recall any other burial not blessed by the Church." Below. More likely he has already been welcomed into Satan's Hell." "But the lady?" "She could have been here. The procession traveled along the narrow dirt lane beyond the church and its small yard. They bury him at the crossroads to confuse his spirit. nailed shut with more iron nails than he had ever seen put to a casket. But I will hold my demesne anyway. She turned and walked away. but none had approached it." Chrétien commented." "That land is still so bleak and scarred. I do not know what else can be said." said Chrétien. No wails. nor shed a tear. remaining at the rear of the small group. The folk say many of their fathers fled here from the Conqueror's raids. a fine buffer against the Scots and Strathclydes." "Perhaps all the more reason to see it done. Chrétien. No priest stood beside the grave. Yet I think she would not risk coming at all if she fears being caught. "Well?" asked Chrétien." "And access to Northumbria. nor did any other intone either eulogy or dirge." Soon they caught up with the procession. She held her hand over the grave. if none had a care for the lord. "Would not a daughter come to see her father buried?" "But they say she hated him. following an ancient wooden cart drawn by oxen and bearing a coffin. I suppose. hurrying along at his side. jaw set hard and rigid." Beyond lay pasture land of the lord's demesne. Alain remembered how the coffin had rested all day in the center of the hall. No death knell. he rushed down through the bailey and out beyond the gate. and stretching out to touch the green dale below. His mouth was drawn tight. hugging the slope of the craggy hill." "She could be dressed as one of them. but it will take far more than that to confuse that old demon. Yet.had grown up around Fyren's castle.

And none gave the appearance of a lady. "The hunting is good?" "Aye. watching as villeins spaded in the loose dirt." "Or mayhap she is slyer than we think. the animals blended with the ragged grey rocks and cliffs. directed the Norman knights along the track of the stream that gurgled downhill. first gently rounded. for the demesne is not in need of more pasture land." he repeated. This land that rolled out before them was the richest land of his domain. Beck meant stream. and some about the right age. But if she is still here. outlined by the curve of the river." Alain still stood beside the grave. And little of it is suitable for the plow. He had waited long for this." he reminded the man. "An extensive forest. Alain added the strange new terms to his knowledge of this strange land. Dark peaks. Twenty knights in their hauberks. The steward nodded. "Do not forget the faces you have seen here tonight. and sometimes were distinguishable only by their movement. following upstream the track of another beck from where it intersected with the river. turning the armed knights to the west. "Yet surely your lady would not be toiling with her hands. Alain rode at their lead. letting his gaze sweep across the majestic valley and up to the knobby tops of the fells. erect and proud astride their big war horses. With Chrétien d'Evreaux at his side. It was almost like learning a new language. Thomas pulled ahead. now. and narrowed as it passed between tall pines and ash trees and rambled near steep cliffs. then back again to the north. his silver hair glinting like the discs on his Saxon hauberk. Watch the women of the hall and village who were among the crowd tonight. most of them of the hall. His demesne. we will see her again. And adequate timber. None of the forest is being cleared. "Down to where the beck joins the river. when he could draw up beside Thomas. Beyond on the fallow lands. I counted twentyseven women. rode with Alain in pairs across the wooden bridge into the village. forcing the knights to follow in a single line behind the steward. black-faced sheep grazed. then back up into the fells." Alain said. Thomas. He could not get enough of their rugged beauty. Fells were mountains. The trail grew more rugged. "Mayhap. But I saw none who looked excessively fearful or secretive. He raised his hand and drew his mount to a halt. Surely that would distinguish her. billowing behind him like a Viking sail. lord. their helms shining like mirrors in the early morning sun. framed the grassy dale." CHAPTER 3 The Normans rode out from the castle. Certainly none shed tears. now sown in oats. Without comment. Farther up on the fells. We go there. The handsome purple cloak he had taken from Fyren's corpse caught the wind. barley and rye." said Thomas." "Aye. His land. then suddenly steepening into stark crags." "Then she must be already gone. . and bright with the new green of spring. His hand waved in a wide arc to indicate the vast green space before them." "I do not want to be afield too long." Chrétien's face screwed into a puzzled frown."Mayhap.

The four men stood on the ridge. breathing hard. if watched long enough. his silvery eyebrows furrowing as he bent to the task. see to this. Slowed by the steepness of the slope and rocks dislodged by the hooves of the forward animals. lord. sometimes nearly level. he saw none of those things. groped for the point." said Chrétien. His horse reared. and knelt to the ground from where he guessed the shot had come. Thomas crammed a cloth between wound and hauberk. climbed. Hugh. He jerked the arrow free. Chrétien spurred his horse and rode up to Alain's side in the narrow gap at the pass. At nothing. Alain goaded his horse against Chrétien's big grey. when turning away at the end of an encounter. Swords drawn. One could see the oddest changes in a man's face. a thunk. the knights rode on." "Very well. whuffing their great gasps of air. White streaks on the dark stone suggested the scrape of metal. aloof atmosphere. Alain flung himself down from his saddle and climbed. There is much to see. Of all those in the castle." said Hugh. bracken and pine that covered the far side of the fell. He snatched the grey's reins." Alain grasped the shaft. Alain pulled ahead of the knights to reach the narrow pass between the steep fells and gaze down at the sea of dark green. Chrétien. Alain had seen enough conspiracy at court to know even the slyest of schemers gave away their intentions in their demeanor. you go."Nay. "On the ridge! There!" shouted the Norseman. ready. springing down from his saddle. In Thomas. not at all the way a man would who intrigued against his lord. Above them. Hugh dashed up the slope after Thorkel. stopped by Chrétien's sturdy mail. We shall return before sext. flowing like waves over the hills. "Go. staring at the wild tangle of rock. motioning to Chrétien's wound. "The climb's too steep for the horses. High up. Yet he knew the man held secrets. We shall take it a piece at a time. The thin soil showed the imprint of a knee among a tangle of . on the lobbed off peak where Thorkel pointed. and whether plots still lingered in the hall's mysterious. The bleeding was light. Chrétien howled with pain. And he. Alain." Alain trained his eyes on the knob where he had seen that flash of brown. Alain glanced at his friend. A whine. clawing at rock and bracken until he reached the ridge just below the rounded knob. of all those there. then again vanished. to suddenly turn back again as if something had been forgotten. The horses." "Take three men. "Naught?" "Nay." Alain yelled. "Steady. The sparsely scattered trees became a thick mat of deepest green spread before them. now up. Alain's charger seemed to sense its master's excitement at the magnificent land and renewed its labors. See if you can catch him." The same flurry of brown skirted the knob of rock at the fell's peak. following in single file around the slope. He had learned. Thomas would be most likely to know the fate of the missing Melisande. now down. then. Not deep. climbed to it. Neither keenly narrowed eyes nor trained emptiness. "There's no trail up there!" shouted Hugh. pulled the beast up short. soil. "Thomas. lord. for the holding is large. I have it. Thorkel. but the rest must wait. Chrétien clutched at an arrow's shaft protruding from his neck. would know how Fyren died." Thomas nodded pleasantly. "Not even a grouse disturbed. lunged and steadied him. Thorkel.

The way before us returns us sooner. "Chrétien?" he asked as he reached his friend again. "I shall reserve my judgment for another time. The stony ground revealed no more prints.shallow. the Normans scanned the underbrush for movement or odd color. I can. then. Thomas?" "By the Lady Melisande's wish." Alain signaled for his knights to mount. But if you fear ambush." "True enough." said Hugh. Thomas led the twenty iron-mailed knights down the steep slope." "An archer of some talent. then. Thomas?" "I. or have we more surprises ahead of us?" "As you wish. but it would not have been hard to guess." It was." "He aimed for your face." Thomas daubed at the gash beneath the mail coif." "Mayhap. But you." Their eyes locked gaze in fierce combat. "It should heal without trouble." "Aye." "And one who would see the new lord dead. "One man only. I have given mine. do we return the way we came. lord. I think. "Chrétien merely rode between and caught the shaft in his neck. two widely spaced prints showed the direction the man had fled. "That is how you would have planned it." "And you. more to himself than to his men. and his face set hard. as you know. You must be wary of these folk. And Thomas did not quail from his lord's hard gaze. More alert now and less enthralled by the land's beauty." "How so?" "The new lord would want to see his holding immediately. pointed footprints. Nothing stirred beyond." "Ahead. do you ride?" "Aye. "Reason enough to flee after only one shot. Thomas. . lord. Thomas stood his ground. They chuckled when despite their caution a hart leapt up within feet of the lead riders. Downslope past the knob. It is but a minor hurt. "Well enough." he said. And he could not have hoped to create much harm from such a distance. reaching lower slopes where the ash trees now showed their first color of the year. There are those who have not pledged themselves." "And well they might." said Chrétien. more chances lie in the wood ahead. Alain gave a sharp sideways jerk of his head for a command and worked his way back down the slope to the pass." "And as you have led us into an ambush. startling the horses. Chrétien. He regretted that his awed gaze of his new land had distracted him from his usual caution. And it is well known the Normans are fond of their forests. They rode on. Those who fear losing their fiefs to Norman knights. lord. and continued farther down to the treeless moors of bracken and heather. lord?" "What think you of this ambush? Mayhap you can tell us who conspires against us." "Only one link of the mail was severed. lord. through the shaded canopy of evergreens and ash. shall I still give you my trust?" The man's wide mouth drew tight and thin. But he would not make the same mistake again. Alain. "It is for you to say." Certain the archer was gone." "Then. "How would this man have known our direction?" "I know not.

It was wrongly sited. His feet lit on the bailey's hardpacked ground even before the squires rushed up to help their knights. lord. and the big horses resumed their trot. and Alain urged his stallion across the wooden bridge. yet come out alive." Alain signaled to the man to continue onward. Riding up. The cross-braced wooden gate was already creaking open." Thomas replied. One dares not go in.In the valley. Why would Fyren make such a mistake? Just to make use of existing buildings? Had he meant to increase the castle's size later on. and let's have a good look at it. The hall's yellow sandstone walls gleamed like sunshine itself in the bright daylight. no one knows what the hob desires." Alain slapped the charger's reins into his squire's hand and clamped his hand onto his knight's unimpaired shoulder to signal the seriousness of his intent. although the man would never admit to weakness. silver-haired man shrugged his shoulders. Alain spurred his tired charger to a gallop for the journey's last leg. Mayhap they are the same. "It would be what the hob wants. My squire can tend it. its limestone curtain wall seeming to blend and grow from the native stone. Chrétien. for their raised pennon had been spotted. as none have ever come back out. save for the proper reason. they slowed and followed another rushing beck. they also might present more of a problem for a scavenging army. green valley that was more familiar. Some others." Alain frowned." "'Tis no more than a scratch. Beside the hall rose the jagged top of the new tower's construction." "You do not know?" "The caves are enchanted. it is so. "This is a land of many caverns. But I will see for myself. I'd see my enemy. Ahead lay the castle on its craggy grey knoll. They would be harder to defend. "What manner of stream is this?" Alain asked. the hob will cure the ills of those who enter. "Come now. It is said of one in the Deep Dale. Hobs. He could see the pallor collecting on Chrétien's face. Farther down the dale." "And what would be the proper reason?" The blocky. Inside. extending it even farther up the hill? But why not start with the most impregnable site? Alain glanced sidelong at his injured friend as they rode." "I agree. too. But I do not want to be the man who does not. Alain reined in his bay to watch in astonishment as the stream tumbled into a jagged hole of grey stone and vanished beneath the rock. "It is a common thing here. Another strange word. Alain could see the castle's weaknesses. already almost as tall as the old hall. and sometimes the becks fall into them." "Then what happens to them?" "There are becks coming out of caves. it is probably naught to speak of. for he had never seen a stream disappear. face to face. a pattern that seemed to be more common to the area than villages." "I cannot quarrel with that. "Then some also go in. is it not so?" "Aye. but those who have no ills will never come out again. The curtain wall along its back could never be built high enough to protect it from the higher slopes beyond. Yet. Scattered cottages marked small homesteads. the harsh fells gentled into the broad. . and he would have to reinforce that side with high towers and clear the ground for a ways uphill. into the hall.

large and wide in horror. Your knight is in little danger. We were fortunate. "It is of small merit. Nobody told Chrétien he must rest because of a simple hole in his neck. that she might tend it." He stepped back and watched as Edyt applied a salve with gentle strokes." He tried to picture what she meant. "What is this?" "It is but the juice of house leeks. and aim. Two squires helped Chrétien remove his mail. tossed it aside. You are of more use to your lord for healing rapidly. Edyt's bright blue eyes met his. "You must rest a few days so that it may heal properly. "Ah. and some rags. suspiciously probing. as far as wounds go. then once again coat the wound with her salve. She ignored Chrétien's grumbling and with a simple wave of her hand commanded the knight to sit on the bench placed beside it. with horsetail and mint." . he is right. Alain folded his arms and watched the girl take four deft stitches with needle and horsehair. but his horse stands taller than mine. He repressed a laugh. The girl regained her composure as if it had never been lost and stepped aside as the knights passed through the door into the hall." she said as she daubed a wet cloth to the injury. I use it commonly for all manner of wounds. Alain jerked off the purple cloak. The frown on Chrétien's face eased. who would balk at the simplest treatment. Alain picked up the small brown crock and sniffed its contents. It could fester. I see. bring the salve. "Aye." Alain nodded. They look much alike to us. Had she known the archer shot from above them? He eyed her. I shall stitch it. Fear? Danger? Astonishment? Nay. It could have severed the great vein at the throat." "How so?" "To distinguish one Norman from another at such a distance. Nay. mayhap the touch.Two women waited beside the hall." Chrétien winced." The older woman shuffled away. lord. then. "The coif will only keep it open. Fresh water." The girl sighed. "Nelda." "Indeed? Your knight does not stand taller than you. the salve. "Well. Merely one with but a passably small wound. Mayhap." "And it works?" "Many times. contradicting an otherwise passive face. Chrétien grumbled his thanks before stalking away. he had not brought her a mass of mutilated men to stain her hall with their blood. but Chrétien happened to ride up at that moment. He suspected she was familiar with the stubbornness of men about such things. and the stitches will take the strain off the wound." "The archer must have very good eyes. But there was a simpler answer. and pulled off his coif and hauberk. Alain found himself with a fleeting wish for a wound of his own." "It was fortunate. "Rest? There is no time for that. then. "Nay. working it carefully past his wound while Edyt set a torch of rushes into the bracket on the stone wall near the trestle table." "Then I will protect it with something." Chrétien looked to Alain for defense. In their hauberks. Hugh thought the arrow intended for my face." Alain smiled. do not object. but a knuckle's width closer to the throat would have been fatal.

Edyt. bumping against the trestle table. Edyt?" "It is the hauberks. I suppose." "Guess." "It is blonde. "Do we?" he asked. Edyt? Is there a difference then?" "Aye--. "I know only that she said this betrothal is not legal." The bright blue eyes flung a trapped look at him. that her hair is dark. And the coifs." she said with a shrug. reluctant sigh." "Then why? She cannot mislike me." "Do you know why she absconded?" "It was as was said." "And is the Lady Melisande such a one?" "I could not speak for her." Alain eased away. I think. Mischief suddenly seized him. "Surely she must know the king will not permit her to remain unmarried. it is sort of dark. knowing naught of me. you know the color of her hair. There is no difference. I have something else in mind. if you know the lady. "Indeed? Some say not. The girl tensed and stepped back a pace. "Rufus is king. "Tell me more of our missing lady. one to another." "What does she look like?" "Much as anyone." Again the girl stumbled back. lord." "I do not know what to say. lord. Rufus would find another. His eyebrows raised deliberately. lord. mayhap? Her hair?" He could almost feel the tension rising in her." The blue eyes flitted from side to side. "Tell me about this elusive lady. Edyt. "Do we all look so much alike. and shifted hastily from side to side. then." "Well. nor does she. Was this passive girl a conspirator? She hardly looked like one. "I have things I must attend to." Alain stroked at his chin. Wicked amusement bubbled in his veins." "Um." The girl again cast a glance over her shoulder." He laughed. the rush of excitement of the hunt. were it not I. Alain smiled. Like hot blood. -When naught can be seen but eyes. I have no say in this. "A sort of blonde. then. save for size. "Do you know her well?" "As well as any might." "Aye. Can you not be more specific? Her coloring." "Is it so? And without the hauberks." "Excuse you? I think not. then. I suppose. not blonde?" ." She said it in a pale. You must excuse me--." "Dark then. It had meaning for her. knowing his smile possessed a lethal look. the instinct of the predator rose in him." "She does not wish to marry a Norman. Whatever Rufus does is legal. "An odd reply." "You think? You do not know? Surely. there are some who do not wish to marry. In any case.She spoke as if she and the archer would both look upon the Normans in the same light. gave the girl more room.

of course. He'd seen far too much of that. as again. here. mayhap it is a matter of perception. Mayhap. but he was having too much fun to stop. she is not unusual in any way." "Red? --Well. then?" "Blue." "How tall might she be. does she not. or the lady's." "So then. looks more or less like every other woman. The first and instant reaction was the true one. caught in the hunter's eye. I cannot change that. He had come to this wild land to conquer. I see little else. it is a common thing. Mayhap they are not distinguishable." "Well." "Some say. nor of himself. is she slight of build? Heavy?" "I do not think either. "Look you." "Ah. to feel her pressed against his body. Perhaps it was pity. like Normans. rather than the girl. Yet even that was no more than a flash before the mask of the obedient and passive servant slipped again into place. Edyt?" "A-aye. Mayhap. Though you and all the folk of my demesne may shield her. nearly everyone here is blonde. An unexpected. Then could you say. a twitch squirmed in her eyes. It cannot be avoided. She does look like a woman." Only a tiny sigh escaped her lips." "I had given no thought to my height. I will hope for the day when I can command such loyalty here. mayhap--" And were Edyt's eyes brown instead of blue. that he teased her so mercilessly and she took him so seriously. he might have mistaken the girl for a frightened doe. my height." "Indeed? Do you see yourself as of a usual height for a woman? You appear to be taller than the usual. red."M-mayhap more blonde than dark. He touched fingertips to her cheek and found skin softer than he would have thought." "It occurs to me. either. . and in conquering." "Aye. she will be found." she replied. to take young girls without discrimination. I will grant there is a common look among the people here. Yet she quickly brought even that under control. take his bride. I think. He would not permit distractions. "I am confused. Can it be that half the people of the castle are blind and the other half cannot see?" She gulped. So it was he who backed away." He stroked again at his chin. He would not allow it of his knights. "Ah." He could not help the small smile that sneaked onto his face. Mayhap some see her differently. "Then we shall say." "Well. Her eyes. then?" "About the usual for a woman. they all look alike. here. nor bring another to grief for his own pleasures. lord. heady rush of passion jolted through him. you have told me naught." Although she moved no part of her body. Guilt seeped into him. But he was not a man controlled by his desires. He was beginning to learn how to read her. Edyt. "But your loyalty is commendable. with a finality her voice had lacked before. urging him to pull the girl closer to him. the rest a mask. "Um. taste the first fruit of her lips. Edyt.

lifted the torch from its bracket. Alain frowned and shook his head. beneath the ribbed vaults. and walked away. The cat was named years ago. Alain mused to himself at the smoothness of her steps and the long yellow braid that swayed at its tip. They make him sneeze." The girl turned. . The rushlight's dancing shadows played against the rhythmic undulation of her hips." "The lady has a cat named King Rufus. the way a cat's tail might flick from side to side. "Aye. and the symmetrical arcs of its vaults that supported a huge new hall above. I shall pray that the king never visits. she paused." she said. He motioned for her to continue. Inside." "You know. lord. leading the way with the torch. He set his attention to the perfectly done columns and blocks of the undercroft." In her eyes. lord." "He would not? As I recall. And mice. He disliked what he saw. It is within the new tower. And Fyren was too sly not to have a way to escape. She passed through the open door into the upper bailey. She led him farther into the darkness." "Show me. But it will be easier if you show me." "Surely not." "He surely would not take offense. He needed a distraction. That certainly augurs well for the relationship. Despite its incomplete state. the lower floor was already full of necessities for a siege. "Edyt. And he is very red. never looking behind her as she led him up the slope to the new stone tower. And mayhap you helped our elusive lady through it? I will find it myself if I must. chasing the startled prey. she skirted past uncleared rubble. She stopped and pointed at a crude wall of coursed rubble. He is the lady's cat. A huge reddish tabby dashed out from the shadows. There was something proud and wild about her that he did not want to see tamed. ducking her head and lifting her hem. Edyt. At the doorless entry. "Rufus! Scat! Begone!" The cat scrambled after the mouse and disappeared into the darkness. he has a vivid dislike for the beasts. "Aye. Edyt stepped through the small opening. will it not? It is my right to know. Behind her. the torch's bright flame trailing backward." "Surely so. lord?" "Where is the bolt hole?" "Bolt hole?" "One who has the keeping of the household would know.She lowered her eyes and turned away. Certainly with no thought to a man whose chance to become king was so remote. "Rufus? You have a cat named Rufus?" "King Rufus. Suddenly realizing the direction his thoughts had taken once again." She gave a small nod of assent. and moved on. He smothered the smirk that wanted to wiggle onto his face. he saw a small defeat." The girl stiffened. frowned as if impatient. Yet he was not ready to let her go. Where is it?" "I--I know not. "Behind the barrels. She had no inkling that he teased her.

holding the rush light high. A fine. Only a little way in.Alain grabbed the casks by their rims and rolled them away. and the darkness laced about them like a cloying garment. I would see it. Two thick wooden planks stood against the wall. and Alain raised each one with little effort. lord. "I would think so. "Easy access for an enemy. He looked back over his shoulder at the young woman and her torch. "It is but a bedchamber. Grotesque columns. Few but kings and queens have such luxury as a private chamber. "This is the way she left. Even as it was now. Did Fyren not consider this?" "It leads to a cavern. He held the torch high up to the slanting walls to examine them." He thought more on that as he followed Edyt's lead out of the understory of the stone tower. It was not proper. Have a care going in. She looked at him as if she could not understand why he even asked. She cocked her head to the side with a puzzled frown." he said next. the cavern leveled." "In itself unusual. It comes out near the river. and hers behind her. But it illuminated nothing but more darkness. the castle was immense. he supposed. Some instinct caused him to reach out to assist her before he recalled she was a servant." "Then they would quickly learn their error. The lord's chamber was more spacious even than that of Rufus' in his hunting box at Waltham Forest. as he barked his shin and stumbled at the unexpected first step. They returned to the small entry. gritty sand crunched against the stone at his feet when he walked. To this point. lord. Alain handed back the rush torch. "No one goes into the caverns. so that he might see where his feet should go. parodies of those more perfect ones of the stone tower. He again took the torch and held it while Edyt stepped through. One might be able to climb them and get out without leaving tracks. Anything to keep his thoughts from the lithe. Here. then?" It occurred to him the prospect of encountering a hob did not seem to bother her. Like Thomas. but saw no others leading down." Alain wished she had said that sooner." "Hobs?" he guessed. beyond the torch's dim light. its furnishings at least as elaborate. right into the tower of refuge. "I will see the lady's chamber. "This is the cavern?" he asked. But I vow. but why bother? Mayhap the lady had dragged something behind her to obscure her footprints? Yet the sand showed no sign of such disturbance. Her upper lip thinned minutely as she gave over their only source of light. "Mayhap Normans do not fear them as the local folk do. Like the elegant . swaying motion of the enticing hips. Satisfied. He looked back at the footprints he had made. Cascades of stone curtains dribbled down toward the cavern's rough floor." "Nay. he had no fondness for dark places. it is narrow. then reached out his hand." The coolness of the air within the hole ahead seemed to pull them inward." she replied. now." Alain didn't. where he lowered his head to pass. and yet not. I like the idea. and he stopped. rose to a ceiling high above. "Mayhap I should go first. There were many things in this castle that were very unlike things as he was accustomed to them. the bolt hole had both the remoteness and ease of access it should have." He held the torch lower. "Aye. Also the greatest danger. but it widens out.

" "Ah. Edyt walked ahead with her smooth. A ring. of a pale yellow. How enlightening." "It is locked. was smartly fitted. you fool! Flee! Melisande glided away. "Open it. Inside. A curtained bed with feather mattress stood by another wall." she replied. before she turned and left the chamber." "I would see it anyway.purple cloak he had removed from the earl's body. girdle. in an interlaced. Now I have learned the lady had a mother. the garments. and he probed among the folded garments after it. I have had enough of the dust of the road. lord. it is of little consequence. with a pair of shuttered narrow windows and yellow plastered walls. lay in neatly folded stacks. pointing to the chest. and stood away. precisely fitting the chest's dimensions. lifted the lid. with fittings of brass. It was a gift of her mother. kill you. Mayhap you could tell me something I do not already know?" "It belongs to the Lady Melisande. and all through this hideously long interrogation. of a good quality but more serviceable than fine. He wished he had not said it. A wimple of soft silk. And I think it is very old." Alain held out the ring for the girl to see. with a door that led to the middle chamber. But he would not retract it. Celtic. too. and inserted one in the lock. he wondered why she objected. linen chemise. She was hardly like Chrétien." "Aye. and pushed open the heavy door. "It is a gold ring. "Open it? But lord. but telling him nothing. lord?" "Draw me a bath. . Edyt. desperately schooling her face and forcing her hands to be still. intricately painted. Answering. A metallic flash caught his eye as it tumbled into the fabric. yet quite old. Edyt. for there was none on the lord's chamber. Mayhap she felt her mistress' privacy was being invaded. in conspicuous contrast to the remainder of the somber castle. "Tell me of this. the castle's opulence seemed incongruous with this wild and rustic country. Before supper. she had quaked inside. She reached for the keys that dangled from the hemp cord at her waist. By the windows. I see I shall have to solve the puzzle alone." She made the merest of curtsies." "I find you exasperating in what you do not say. "Edyt. lightly swaying gait back through the bailey and hall to the unusual wooden staircase and balcony at its far end. carefully forcing each step to perfection to conceal her rampant fear. She turned the key." As she had the key on her person. Gold. I like it hot. She seemed impassive except for her subtly gripped hands. "Why the lock?" he asked. From the moment he had ridden in. mayhap even a Norse design. Except for those on top. a large chest. Silk kirtle. This chamber. *** You see? He will kill you! Aye. which were wadded into a careless ball. whom he could bait endlessly." "Unlock it." He saw the fleeting look of a woman slapped and knew he had taken his teasing too far. "It has always been there. twining pattern common to the area." he said. Begone." "Aye.

without anyone knowing. she thought it might beat itself to death against her chest. She had been so sure the wretched thing was at last gone. discounting all the years of abuse. he wore it about his shoulders as if he had been gifted with it personally. Yet he still reached out to haunt her. None could be trusted. Christ's blood. kind attention of the cruel husband who had ignored her so long. but the process was passably slow. How he had bragged. But the Norman's black hawk-like eyes probed her. She would never wish such a gift on anyone. She must be. Fyren had schemed. Enthralled with its beauty and enraptured with the sudden. She did not want to die. how had he gotten the cloak? She'd sent it with Fyren to the grave! She had wrapped it about the body. she must control herself. even though it could not be seen? She could take no chance. finding it. and grown weaker by the day as the dye's poison seeped insidiously into her skin. If he even sensed her fear. then the Norman could not resist. CHAPTER 4 The devil voices pummeled her with their screams. Her heart pounded so hard. destroy it permanently this time. Arsenic absorbed through the skin. If a person handled the garment. The man seemed fond enough of it. solitary and secretive. he would jump at it. and like a fool. and she would burn for it. I will not listen. a symbol of his many evil triumphs. Fyren had known the Norman would take it as symbol of his victory. herself! There! Leave it! Let him die of it! Be still. had placed the malevolent garment precisely where it would tempt the Norman most. laughed at Melisande's gullibility. and his demons sucked her soul dry. Not even the most loyal of her people would fail to connect her with Fyren's sorcery. Still. lunging for it. then handled food. How long would it take. buried safely out of anyone's reach. seeking out her every weakness. She had to get it from him. and now it was in the possession of the man she needed most to live. Fyren was dead. again so trusting. She could not think of herself. She would not listen. as Fyren had claimed. She had been a fool. she had wrapped herself in it. fear showed in the trembling of her hands if it did not in her eyes. She had seen him die. And Fyren had used his own daughter to deliver that carrier of death. this time? She didn't know. she had thought him finally harmless and given him the purple cloak for his shroud. How long would it take to do its deed? Her mother had died within a fortnight of receiving it. This time. to curb their trembling. as she had always been.As she left the hall. as if they had never happened. could it not go more swiftly? Could the poison possibly be on a person's hands. Believed he merely sought to be buried in it. that the cloak was charmed with a compelling spell. Somehow. Only when the poison went through the mouth did it act with such frightening speed. But even dying. . she gripped her hands together so tightly her knuckles whitened. and knowing his enemy. she told the demons. She needed the Norman lord alive. And now. she would not let them goad her into hysteria. And if it was true. Poor mother.

Then how was she to save the Norman from the poison of the cloak. As she awaited the Norman lord's arrival." Nelda's shock at her lapse hung on her face. Nelda. . and quickly. one that would not fool his clever mind for long.It is not fitting. his angular brows raised. for he seemed to miss nothing. a habitual thing with him. his powerful shoulders flexing as the garment peeled off. beyond the hall." "Lady?" Melisande's voice sounded like a squealing mouse when the cat caught it. It would happen in just that way. *** The small bath house had been Fyren's pride. but her hands gripped each other. and his eyes searched over every corner. Never. "Be more careful. Built of yellow sandstone like the hall. she must find a way. Surely the task should fall to you. the Norman crossed his arms before his chest. She would not let Fyren win this time. lord?" "I have not finished yet." "Aye. forming a tight band about her chest as her heart pounded. it is not fitting--" Again he cocked his head. Melisande stood alone. "The lord wishes a bath before supper. and she could not say why. Someone would forget. Melisande found Nelda in the kitchen. like an oversized barrel. grasped his tunic and pulled it upward over his head." The sound of her mother's name startled her. His black hair bunched stiffly after the tunic's passing. So she'd best see to the lord's bath. then settled down to skim his shoulders. Melisande gripped her hands. she was sure. Before. And he likes it hot. lest he grow suspicious of her slothfulness.Even in dying. la---" Melisande hissed her to silence. And even more. lord. She could see no answers. yet save herself from him? She did not want to die. Dread rose in her. Melisande patted her friend's shoulder to show her forgiveness. "Lord. gulped. It was as if his hand reached out from the grave and snatched another victim. Yet. "Will there be anything else. call her by name or title. She wished she could flee. unhappily in the company of nothing but her own fearful thoughts. Edyt. somehow. "Have you never helped a man with his bath. and one after another were poured into the great tub until the water was at last suitable for a lord's bath. mimicking a statue of stone. Seeing her. It made a poor disguise. In fact I have not yet begun. Edyt?" "I. fidgeting. Kettles of water steeped over the fire. "Aye. She was stunned to silence. she had to keep her own skin. Does your squire not come to assist you?" "Squire? Why should he come? It is not his duty." Abruptly. she did not want him to die. More immediately. She practiced a stillness of body." "Aye. Say nothing if you cannot trust your tongue. suddenly it did. his black brows arched to a high angle over even darker eyes. He entered the stone bath house. Fyren had to win." "Not fitting? But there is no lady in the household. amidst a group of grey stone and whitewashed buildings. But now. He expected her to-Melisande caught her breath. she had thought it did not matter greatly. the little one-room structure had a hearth built to one side and a deep wooden tub.

" She laid the cloak aside and carried the soap pot back to the tub where the Norman lord soaked himself. "What do you wish to know?" "What killed him. Edyt. Aye. And she had not thought out her strategy well enough. it is common practice. She was watching again. but her gaze riveted to his lean. folded them all neatly and set them on the low wooden bench. then his low-pitched chuckle rumbled out like distant thunder. and his breathing became slow and easy. Melisande rolled her eyes upward to scan the wooden roof. Then he leaned back. He leaned back. "The priest cursed him." The Norman eyed her as if she had just done something inexplicable. and even as she folded it. Melisande picked up the discarded garments littering the stone floor. Great streams of water ran down from his black hair. This is a fine idea. "Oh." He was too clever. but she blurted out the first thought that came. His laughter drew her back to him like iron to a lodestone. . and closed his eyes. yes. And the silence was intolerable. He had no reason. tell me about Fyren. The roof has holes. she picked up the purple cloak. all the way up to his neck. "Edyt. The water splashed loudly behind her. contented sigh as he slid down into the steaming water to the wooden stool. thickset legs and hard. and in rivulets down his face. He must have dunked his head while she was not looking. round buttocks. again closed his eyes. Ah. so they say. concentrating on those slits where the light showed through. She studied the plank roof as if she had never seen it before. I see." "He was a madman." "Oh. corded muscles flexed and changed their shape with his movements. Edyt. Edyt. held it as far from her as she could." "He was an intelligent man. With the very tips of her fingers. so that none could poison him. lord." He loosened his braies." "The soap. Her mind raced for an answer." The Norman's mouth turned downward at its corners in a futile attempt to keep from laughing. The Norman let out a loud. "Is it the custom of the people in the south to bathe often?" "It is my custom." The timbre of his voice danced like a lively air from a wood flute. Melisande forced her gaze back to the planks above her. But it is said he took a poison every day. But it seemed better than the embarrassing alternative."In the south." She didn't want to talk about Fyren. I fear. This bath house. We must see to that. there is little that feels as good as a tub of hot water." "And he finally took too much?" "Mayhap." "I do not believe it. It is the duty of the lady and her daughters to assist her husband's guests in their baths. but he did not believe in God. "Ah. to a broad back with massive shoulders above solid. rested his head against the tub's rim." "He killed himself. She shouldn't have been looking. Beneath golden skin." "Aye. I cannot say it was the curse. But it is all too uncommon. hard body.

"The hair, Edyt." "Hair?" "Aye, the hair. Would you not wash my hair, or must I beg?" The little room was dark, save for the small hearth fire, and Melisande said a small prayer of thanks for that. Still, standing behind his back, she could see every blessed part of his body beneath the water, from the bobbing black curls on his chest, all the way down to his toenails, and everything in between. Everything. Some parts of a man's body must be lighter than others, she thought, as they also bobbed... She busied her hands with the lather of the oozing soap, which she worked into the stark black strands. His hair became soft, silky, between her fingers. He hummed quietly, a low rumble coming up from his chest, like that great monster cat, Rufus, when he purred. For just that one moment, she would let herself savor that pleasure-- what was it? The pleasure of pleasing? She allowed her fingers to stray downward, crossing over the black points of hair at the nape of his neck, to skim over the firm rounds of muscle that filled out broad shoulders and strong arms. His resonant hum deepened, and a contented smile spread across his freshly shaven face, inviting her touch... The soap would do it. The purpose, after all, was to get the man clean, was it not? She dipped a small cloth into the little vat and conscientiously applied the soap in ever-extending circles beyond his shoulders and over the rugged ripples of his chest. The rumbling purr smoothed to contented breathing. He leaned forward. Melisande applied the soapy rag to his back and the fascinating curve of his spine, now a ridge, now indented, as he flexed his body beneath the water. Impulsively she let a finger trace downward along that enticing valley. She flinched at his sharp breath. She was no fool. She knew what that meant. That she was asking for trouble. With a sigh, she reached for the dipper, to ladle clean water over his scalp. He leaned back his head for the water to pour through his hair, and the black hair glistened in the amber firelight. He stood abruptly, with water running downward in rivulets, capturing all the black curls on his chest into undulating waves. Melisande whirled away, her mind already brimming with what her eyes had seen. She forced her gaze to the fire. His chest again rumbled with his humor as her face flared into raging red. "The soap, Edyt." "Aye." Edyt swung her arm around behind her and felt the weight of the soap pot leave her hand. Like a cat which had misjudged its leap and pretended it hadn't, she focused a fervent interest on the flames, stirred the coals, threw on another fagot, all the while listening warily to the splashing and swishing behind her. At least he chose to wash the rest of his body himself. Yet, she might have liked that too. Aye, to run soapy hands over... A noisy surge and splash distracted her once again from her attention to the fire's embers. She turned, and instantly regretted it, for his fiery gaze transfixed her. There he stood before her, utterly naked. Holy Mother! Was this the man she was expected to marry, all lean and muscled, black hair and skin glowing pink from the steamy water? Hard muscles to sweep her into his arms, carry her away whether she willed to go or not. Strong hands to pull her close, caress places she didn't want touched. And the other... Melisande swallowed hard and broke the charm, lowered her gaze. But not far enough. Instantly she recognized her mistake and returned to the somewhat safer view of his face.

In his black eyes, she saw blatant, pure lust, as naked as the man himself. A man caught suddenly and unexpectedly in the rush of desire. She wanted to flee. Dared not. With sudden, overwhelming clarity, Melisande understood she had been terribly wrong. All Normans were not alike, after all.

CHAPTER 5 Nay. Alain forced himself to turn away. However he might want her, and he realized with a jolt like lightning that he did, he must be more responsible than that. He had pledged himself to fair treatment for all those of the hall, and what his mind and body were considering for her was anything but fair. It could ruin her. Destroy her. And he had grown to like the girl, melancholy though she was. He had not thought of her in that way before this moment. It had come to him like a blow, when he had seen something akin to it in her own eyes. That made the attraction doubly dangerous. Not to him, but to her. It would not do. Then in place of taking her into his arms, he reached for the soft linen cloth she had placed on the wooden bench, relieved that he did not have to take it directly from her. He made great work of the toweling off, even more of dressing, meaning to make the point clear to her that she could be safe with him. He had to make it equally as clear to himself. Clothed at last, and relieved that his body had chosen to take the hint, he turned again to face her. In her hands she held the folded purple mantle as she walked toward the bath house's low door. "Edyt. Where do you go with that?" "I thought to take it to the fuller, lord. It needs to be cleaned." "Does it? It does not seem dirty to me." "It is the smell. It has the smell of death about it." "I have not noticed anything. Leave it, Edyt. Such fine garments should not be cleaned, save when they must." With a thoughtful frown, the girl lifted the fabric to her nose and sniffed. Her nostrils flared. "It is still there. The fuller will get it out." "Edyt, I say it does not need it. Mayhap the smell is mine, rather than the garment's." "It is not. But two people have died in it, lord." "It is not cursed, I am sure." "I only object to the smell, lord." "Nay, I tell you. And why do you fold it, if you intend only to have it cleaned?" "I-- fold things." "Well, do not bother with it, Edyt. It is not your concern. Leave it." The girl stared with her enigmatic blue eyes as she lay the cloak down on the wooden bench before turning away. As she stepped outside the door, brilliant sunshine bounced off her pale yellow hair and made it glow like first sunlight on dewy spider webs. He caught his breath. Odd girl. And forgetful of her manners, too. But he'd speak to Thomas about correcting her, rather than do so himself. ***

Nay. Nay, nay, nay! If he told his body often enough, mayhap it would cease its provocations. He had never been a man to be controlled by his passions, and he was not willing to allow it now. Alain had caught himself staring over the top of his silver-trimmed horn cup full of dark wine, watching the girl as she moved about the hall and supervised the supper meal. He was not the only one. The hall was full of knights and soldiers who followed with covert eyes the servant girl with the yellow braid. Gerard, he thought, showed more than common interest. Mayhap there was an attachment between them. The thought raised his hackles, yet-- yet it was a thought worth pursuing. He'd be less inclined to follow his passions if he knew her to belong to another man. Then that was what he must do. He did not want entanglements that would obstruct his marriage, and it certainly would not be advisable to maintain mistress and wife in the same hall. He had never intended to have a mistress, once married. Not before now. Nor did he want to ruin the girl, who, despite her servitude seemed to be gently born. He knew little about her, save that she was freeborn, and served where her mother had served before. Mayhap a family down on their fortunes. "There is little enough to worry us, Alain," said Robert, drawing Alain's attention back to the knights who ate at the trestle table with him. "We do not need all of them, do we?" "We do not?" He had lost the train of the talk. "One disgruntled archer, Alain. It is no cause to hold so many here for defense. The castle does not need such a large force until Rufus comes. We should see what needs to be controlled down river." "Aye. But we will do as we are bidden, and defend and hold this castle. When Rufus needs more men, he will call for them. They will stay, for now." "You make too much of a scratch, Alain," said Chrétien. "Rufus knows naught of this valley, save what we report to him." "Your scratch has naught to do with it, Chrétien. What think you, Thomas? Is the threat against this castle more than one disgruntled archer?" "Aye. Much more." "Then, from where comes the threat?" "Strathclyde, largely." "And not among the knights of this demesne?" "There are those, as well. Those who have no wish to be in the service of a Norman king, nor to cede their land. You must realize, lord, much of this land has been passed down from father to son for hundreds of years. It is a hard thing to give up willingly. So they would ally with Strathclyde." "Strathclyde is Malcolm's, now." "Aye. They would change that, too." Alain caught his attention wandering, and again forced his gaze away from Edyt and her butter-yellow braid. If he must think about how her hair would flow about her body, he'd do it later. "And how does this fit with Fyren's plans?" "They merely take his place. Anwealda, especially." Thomas swirled the dregs of his wine in the maple maser he held. "I am not as knowledgeable as you believe, lord, for I was not always privy to their secrets. What I know, I know by the directive of Lady Melisande, who bade me listen at walls."

And if I do not get it. she is gone. And where might she be. sit." "And you. "The lady's fate is not in your hands. reaching for their swords before they realized they had none on them." "Nor will I. But he too had no sword. Wallis by name. Gerard. "You are a man of divided loyalties. by virtue of your fiefs. "But I spoke wrongly." surmised Chrétien. on so little knowledge. You think you can trust such a man at your back?" Hugh struggled against Alain's strong grip. and calmed. I have naught else to say." The Saxon knights glanced sideways at each other and of a mass swirled their wine in their cups. and they are not the same. Alain jumped. Wallis." All three combatants sat." "Ah. Thomas and Gerard held Wallis fast. But he would take his own counsel." Two Normans leapt up to the challenge." said another knight. sensing the volatile moment had passed. Wallis shoved back the long bench where he sat with the Saxons." reminded Gerard. you may earn my loyalty to you. "I hope she is gone forever." Alain considered Gerard more closely. then. then realized it was his lord who held him. and let time prove him right. He had the perplexing notion that he did not want to displease her." "Do you? How so?" "I hope she may never be forced to share the bed of a Norman. "I suspect his distrust recommends you. It is a time-honored exchange. glanced about the hall. nor yours. . We confuse fealty with loyalty. you will not tell me. lord. Edyt stood with the serving women and pages. Mayhap those who choose to protect the lady will come to recognize she is meant no harm. that she commands you so well?" "I have told you." "And you have no opinion?" "Nay. Alain. "Better to know a man's heart. All of you. But that is not loyalty. Alain suspected he was not entirely believed. or leave the hall. why should we?" "You should not. For how could a knight pledge to the same lord who seeks his lady to wed against her will?" "I have given my word." "But will you not defend the lady against me?" "Mayhap. owe to me your knight's service." "I will not. I mean to do that. Now. grabbed both of Hugh's arms before he could leap across the table. "Then. Your loyalty I must earn."Fyren did not trust you." "Nevertheless. you will not keep your land." Chrétien gave a small and solemn nod. You would not expect those of this hall to trust you. Was it jealousy he felt? "I support you as my Lady Melisande bids me. Alain leaned back in the lord's chair and slowly nodded. just as it has been earned by your Lady Melisande. almost as if no others sat upon it. Neither do we expect such a thing of you. you question our loyalty. In the same way. Chrétien bound Robert. sullen frowns across their faces. yet. not yours. her frightened doe-like eyes fixed upon him. "Enough! There will be no brawls in my hall!" "You heard him. But the task is mine. The man's brown eyes seemed almost to be burning. Hugh. Gerard?" asked Alain. if he was the thief of souls that we have heard. as she asked of me." "And if you know her whereabouts.

not so much that he would reward men if they turned against him. and his eyes slitted into narrow amusement.Satisfied that peace was restored. no doubt. He wore the purple cloak. To the Saxons he asked for descriptions of their holdings.your hall. He meant to do well by these people. You cannot divide the knights. but some would suffer. I beg your pardon. But where could she have gone? Alain finished the wine in his horn. But do you not think another way might be found? As the lord is not yet wed. And she hastily replied. and an odd smile quirked at one corner of his mouth." Melisande watched Gerard's reaction." "You know enough of Normans. prayed he would catch the spirit and carry it on. you will give it good care. doting on it as much as had her poor mother. Do you think he would be so easily satisfied? This hall will never be truly his without that wedding. "Good morrow. then I tell you. "It is naught. they would learn. Too much wine. *** "Lady. . that he might have overheard. you will surely be my death. that I should be so bold as to claim it for my own. Gerard. He was a generous man. Gerard. See to it that the word is known among all those who sup with us. He had heard over the years that many from Northumberland and Durham had fled into Strathclyde. In an odd sort of way. lord. Melisande could recognize the Norman lord by his shape and the way he walked as he approached. "For all that you would help me. His keen eyes surveyed them both separately and together. drew his lower lip into a tight line across his teeth. he admired that. He wore it every day. And without the lady. for the brutal memory of the Conqueror's savagery in the North still hung heavily. only that I wish Gerard to speak to his knights about bones thrown to the dogs at supper. And you cannot fight against him without destroying everything I treasure. "Nay. and all know it. mayhap it would be enough if he merely knew why. you must leave what happens to me. I also do not want bones on the floor of my hall. and my men are equally as guilty. soon. Alain sought a less volatile subject. Normans were only rarely liked in this country." said Melisande. His hand had an odd shake to it as he set the silver-trimmed horn down on the white linen cloth. That was the nature of conquest. Edyt. I will not have it in my-. Gerard. Gerard straightened his back. And why would he not? The magnificent garment on the magnificent man. Alain also sat and returned to his horn of wine. and realized that he was beginning to feel the flush. but would have to. lord." "Aye. and some might well be among the population here. but. and as innocently. Even within the darkness near the entrance. Gerard. they would. Is aught amiss?" Her mind raced backward to recapture the last words spoken. Melisande's breath sucked in sharply. Surely he looked more regal than a king. Then I agree. This is my battle. I will not have it. there was little chance of that. but--" Again the corner of his mouth twitched. I did not mean--" "Hush." A shadow fell between them. would Gerard and his men rise up against their new lord to protect the lady? Likely. As long as you think of it as yours. If it placed the lady in jeopardy. It was something he could not resolve at the moment." "But if he should find--" "If he should.

"Aye. lord?" "I would have you tell me all the places the Lady Melisande might have gone. He waited in the hall. "They found a knight dead!" "Norman or Saxon?" "Norman." "I know not. But she was quickly learning to be wary of his unpredictable behavior." Again. Did they truly think he believed that? Mayhap Gerard did fancy the girl. sped toward the hall door. *** Bones on the floor. An unusual abruptness marked his step as he turned to leave through the same pair of doors where the Norman lord had entered. up the slope and inside the tower. As she followed him. Alain walked past the dais and turned to climb the wooden stairs. Did he see something in the way she walked? Had someone accidentally told the Norman enough that he saw a connection between the servant Edyt and the missing lady? She requested a jug of the deep red wine the Nornmans had brougth with them from the botler. he would change his mind. like the faint swishing of leaves on a gusty day. too. here. In its turn. each footfall on the stone floor echoed quietly. But he gave naught away in his face. But I will have from you all those who are related. She felt his eyes boring into her as she hurried to the buttery. "And you as well. But she could not tell what was in the soul behind them. A surge of apprehension coursed through her as she returned. He could hardly concentrate on necessities as it was. Alain then turned to her. "Leave him there!" Alain ran up to the startled men. Mayhap she would survive one more encounter. lord. We will not get far. "Gerard. Melisande again matched the rhythm of her steps to calming breaths." . it shall be done. meeting Gerard running back in. Gerard turned and left." he called. or who might be friends. Melisande had seen him do this before. He spun in his tracks. the enforced pace brought her more composure." Alain had put a man there the night before."Aye." Gerard gave a slight. Ahead. lord. all of them with hard. Edyt. although with a nearly hidden spark of defiance. about to lift the body. with this trick. lord. I will write the names of all those you know. Well. He'd make a point of talking about it with her. She smoothed her face to her mask of nothingness. There was a certain intimacy in the way they talked. but once he learned her secrets. Resistance only made her more obvious. to search only within these walls. I think. He had caught her off her guard. "Is this how you found him?" "Aye. who rose and stood back from the body." But Melisande already knew him for the most determined of men. She had not expected that. curt bow to the lord. I have not seen. so that she had to force her feet to an even pace. He rushed past Gerard out into the bailey." "Mayhap you do not." "Aye. Alain snickered to himself. She counted them as she did when descending into the cavern below. Bring me some wine and come to the lord's chamber. sharp teeth. Gerard did not know. thinking of the vulnerable bolt hole." "I do not think I can help you very much. He said he meant her no ill. four men bent over. Shouts rang from the bailey like bells. lord. he had to do it. In the new tower. Within it lay many traps. His eyebrows rose sharply with the unspoken question.

as if Jean Nouel had landed on it. A man could not move his head that way." "Appoint someone. crossed his arms. but that does not explain the wound on the back of his head. I disbelieve your man died of the fall." He saw then the merest flicker of something beyond that of a woman doing duty for her Norman lord." Alain looked up at Chrétien and shook his head. Yet. "It could only be that his neck was broken. A lump hardened in his throat as he brushed his fingers over Jean Nouel's eyelids to close them. Something familiar to her. "He could have fallen. Robert's fingers grazed tenderly across the bloody hair on his friend's head. "He fell. He slowly nodded. Alain knelt beside him." "Edyt. Jean Nouel. Edyt?" "Naught. but his knight." "Aye. lord. he comes. The jaw." "Then do what must be done. as well. I will be needed to help with the arrangements. Robert. their half-answers that had little meaning. "You cannot?" "Nay." "Who?" But he saw for himself. falling over her shoulder as she came up and bent down to the broken body. he scanned the unfinished floor." "And again. Not merely something that sought to rid the place of the intruders. and to those who lived here with her. but spun around and strode from the tower. hurrying to catch up with his long stride." said Robert."Have you moved him at all?" "Robert lifted his head. I am sure." He did not wait for her response. I know he was your friend. its beams spanning the tower above the vaulted arches of the undercroft. Not the guard he had expected. Edyt. Anger surged. before the mask slipped once more into place." "But lord." she said. "You have sent for Father Hardouin?" "Aye. and the neck bones were fractured. You may have use of the hall. save that." said Hugh. You will come with me." "What do you know of this. "Do not trouble yourself. lord. "He is dead. blue spring sky. Edyt. and gently moved the dead man's head back to the way he had found it. lord. but no more. Alain felt no sympathy for her plight. The light from a small horn lantern shone on the blood that had oozed onto the stone floor and matted Jean Nouel's blond hair. I am sorry." He caught the glimpse of Edyt's yellow braid. What were they hiding? He grew impatient with their infernal silence. A good knight. then?" Alain felt for the bones in the neck. Alain. as might appear. lord. "I cannot think what you want of me. flung back and to the side. He could not define it. you will come with me. "Is this the way his head was found?" "Nay. you tell me no more than I have already learned. A friend. But to be sure. You can do naught. Alain stood. lord. for a man she had not known? Something stalked this hall." ." "How. Above that. you know more than you tell me. Fear? A sadness.

He was jealous." "I see the fear in your eyes. I know naught more." "Do you not? And what did you whisper with Gerard. Mayhap Thomas can tell you more. And I am too young to remember those terrible times. Alain stomped through the doorway into his chamber and gave the heavy door a hard shove. He had pretended even to himself to be bemused." "Bones? Nay." "Mayhap only Jean Nouel knows." "Is it so? Do you not think this sudden change of loyalty suspect? When all the North burns with hatred for the Normans? Jean Nouel died because he saw something. By Christ's Holy Blood." Aye." Alain felt himself flinch under her glare. I will find the bottom of this. Edyt. you will be better than what we family is all gone. Edyt." "I have told you. and all within it. She knew something. That was what colored his mood so black. who are you?" "Who? I do not understand. like all the others here." "Naught else? He shows uncommon interest in you. she trailed behind him as if led by a leash. or anyone else. Shame crept up on him. We are bound to your will. Edyt? Where is your family? Are you one of those who fled from the east into Cumbria?" "I-. have naught but support and love for the Norman overlord?" "Mayhap not love. You play me for a fool. for he had not yet dismissed her. he was pursuing the wrong direction. So." "Bones. lord." Alain kept up his rapid pace as Edyt struggled behind him. lord. he would." "So you."Nay. who is Gerard to you?" "A knight in my lord's service. lord. and get his mind off this girl. Edyt. "If you think me guilty. You will tell me. "Then did your family come from there?" . Edyt. And I will know what it was. and would not. and I ofttimes overreach myself. And if he had to marry Edyt off to Gerard. he would do it. was that reason? Nay. But this maid could not be his. Ha. You'd best not be there. slamming it into its jamb. What do you fear? That you will be caught in your own trap?" Now the blue eyes flashed the fire of defiance. lord. If she had private discourse with Gerard. lord. at your very worst. But I have the keeping of the household. then punish me and have done with it. "What does Gerard have to do with you?" "Naught. and I am not fond of the part. I think not. "Again." "I am not such a woman as you infer. Edyt. But he hadn't liked it. she would not have yet been born." "Then. again. Do you conspire with him?" "Conspire? Nay." "And how is this so easily come by?" "Because all know. But the castle is yours. this morning? The man shows uncommon interest in you. She had not given him reason for his mistrust." "Who. Through the hall and up the wooden stairs to the lord's chamber. I know not. He meant to keep her within his sight for the day. He must find that damnably evasive Lady Melisande who looked like everyone and no one.

Well. "Naught. He presumes too much. Edyt. it did not matter. Alain walked slowly to the slim double-arched window that overlooked the bailey. CHAPTER 6 The demons assailed her. she made no great pretense at composure. But it shall be as you wish. She would not hear them. fleeing the man. He is far too clever. Kill him! Kill him! He knows! He does not! Kill him before it is too late! Kill him or they will burn you! He lusts for you." Melisande could not even manage a bleak smile before she moved on. *** By God's Blood." "Do you not see the danger in jumping into the pot he stirs? Do not respond." "You play a dangerous game. He thinks us lovers because we spoke this morning." "Aye. the yellow braid that danced behind Edyt's lithe back switched back and forth as she hastened over the hard-packed ground. Later. They will burn you. Gerard. fleeing the voices. If they killed her. but she paused to recapture her composure. anyway. How would she know? Few but soldiers would have known where Durham lay. for she had not thought of where she ran. She ran. 'Tis naught but that I must hurry."My mother. It was distance from her that he needed. The Norman knight must have a proper burial. He was perfectly in control of himself. She stopped in front of the stables and spoke to Gerard. Needed to ride ." With a silent bob of her head. telling him first that she had no attachment to the knight Gerard. She was doomed." "I do not know if Durham is east of here. he would get his mind off that girl. Below." Of course. Let it go." she admitted. Mayhap he would find a way of being kinder to her. He did not need a yellow-haired temptress to complicate his life. "but it is naught. She crossed the bailey to assist the priest with the chapel. You may go. "Edyt. He was sorry he had frightened her. He just needed to keep himself busy. what?" She startled at the sound of Gerard's voice and the gentle grip on her arm. "Aye." he replied at last. She was from Durham. she skittered quickly toward the door. this time. lord." "Ah. It did not matter." "He has frightened you. At last the fair Edyt has almost given an answer." "Edyt--" "I beg you. I know naught of it. I think." "Then I will speak to him. mayhap he needed to speak first to Gerard. screaming in her mind as she ran. Well. He had mistaken an intelligent mind for one with knowledge. then running straight to him. You are evil. "Durham is to the east.

And we must do what can be done to clear the way north. see what we can. Mayhap he would counter Rufus at Carlisle. Anwealda and Dougal are to the north. too. lord. But he will go with Strathclyde. for you must see to Jean Nouel. His men had been clamoring for it. "He is not prudent. Mayhap. but quite another to seize it. mayhap. You weaken the defense of the castle to send men out." "Then we must not waste time. A fortnight." "And what will Malcolm do?" asked Gerard. I think so." "Then. This will fix his border from Northumberland." "If they are not found soon.out." "In this respect." "Then I should consider the one?" "I said only that I might trust him. But Rufus is prudent. do what we can. "Do you trust Saxons to do this for you. barely farther. To divide our forces at such a time--" "Anwealda's fortress is easily within a day's return trip. You." "How far does he go?" Thomas asked." "Wallis?" "I say the same. Alain. we must make a plan to contain them. you must mind the castle. you were to name the absent knights. We shall ride out." Thomas nodded his agreement. Those excess men who worried you can be put to good use keeping Anwealda and Dougal from securing their holdings. Thomas. Chrétien. he was rewarded by a chamber full of his most powerful knights. Why do you laugh." "Does he not covet Scotland?" "Every monarch covets all of the Isle. only. Scotland tomorrow. across. Robert. At the least." He had been expecting Chrétien's natural caution to resurface. But we must also protect Rufus's rear when he passes through. lord. but they cannot be found." said Thomas. "Aye. With luck. aye. Have the holdings seized." "Aye. "It is one thing to check the lay of the land. But he would more likely come south through Durham and swing west to cut off Rufus from the rear. that was it." "Send for them. Alain bolted to the chamber door and barked down at Thomas below in the hall. "Dougal's." Chrétien cleared his throat as a deep frown etched itself into his brows. Cyneric to the south and east. "To the Solway Firth." Wallis folded his long arms over his chest. The Solway makes for a natural defense." "And when does Rufus come?" "Soon. Are these men you trust. Quickly. lord. mayhap a little more. both could be had within a few days." "I have done so. Chrétien?" "I have never heard Rufus described as prudent. Beyond." . Alain. not the other two. lord?" "As you know you cannot unseat us." "Or you. Thomas?" "Nay. that is Rufus' job. In this respect or any. "He will certainly do something. "Thomas." "I do not like it. along with the Cheviot Hills. Gerard?" "One. once the bravado from his wound wore off. their fiefs will be forfeit.

Norman in skin only. Will she also learn that I am not hers?" Thomas and Gerard looked at each other. "Well. "And what of the Lady Melisande? Does she wait in ambush?" "Nay. The horses breathed great frosty plumes in the cold air as they trod along a road that was hardly worth the name." "Aye. come in behind. forward and straight-legged. "We have been Saxon too long for the Scots to change us. The sort of decision he was likely to make." said Hugh. but Norman. "Mayhap he should hold back men to close like pincers upon Malcolm. "Mayhap we'll let them pass. If he was wrong. Alain could tell little difference between Gerard and the men who had been under his command through the Normandy and Brittany campaigns. Chrétien was right. Alain. "And you. "You have no love for Strathclyde. then?" To this. Wearing his heavy helm and Norman mail. but made no reply." Alain was not satisfied. so what do we risk?" *** The way north led through the Eden River's valley that was a lush green. It is long defunct. Norman in his battle gear. only. unlike Chrétien. we ride." Gerard agreed. "We will do as much. He does naught to stop Scottish raids. Yet he gave the man authority." said Robert. with the eagerness of early spring forcing up through the still cold earth even before the mountains gave up their caps of snow. let Rufus turn on them. and naught more than a buffer for Malcolm's Scotland." said Thomas." "His skin. for it was but instinct. he would not show his loyalty for his lady so openly. Alain gave out an impatient sigh. Before the sun reached its zenith." "Aye. Gerard was Norman. Too much depends on your trust of these Saxons. "I like it not." "Nay. "We are not Strathclyde. and they have naught without us. Chrétien watched the Saxon knights closely." Chrétien held back as the Saxons and other Normans left the chamber. Thomas grinned. There was still that last concern. He could not defend his decision with reason. then."Little impedes Rufus before Carlisle." agreed Wallis. But if he chose to deceive us." "I like it. Lady Melisande is not your enemy." "Gerard is not Saxon." "Mayhap. . he pondered the limits of the man's trustworthiness. Gerard rode at the lead. We have naught without them. Norman in the way he sat a horse. Yet. Then Rufus will turn on them and catch them between us." Thomas shook his head along with his denial. Only where it crossed over hard stone was the footing sound. Mud oozed wherever it ran too low or spanned some tiny rill." "Mayhap." Alain replied. but you are not far off. but hold them here. "As do I. they rounded the curve of a steep hill that led them from one wide dale into an even wider one. 'tis a good thought. Like Chrétien. for he knew the land ahead. Gerard?" "She will not fight you. and stood aside while Alain's squire worked the hauberk over Alain's head and shoulders. who would never make such a gamble. Rufus would fail.

Nay." "Mayhap. Villages are not so common." "And a second time. for he had given this charge to Gerard. "We found no knights within the hold. By the time they reached the point where the valley floor met the steeper slope. I had noticed that. look. lord. The great stallions danced within their reins. They have fled. I do not think we could have surprised them. "It is not. the folk live scattered about on their lands. squinted. We may have caught them unprepared." As if a maw had sprung open and disgorged itself of its contents. And only the occasional hoof mark showed where a metal shoe struck rock to leave a powdery scar. ." Alain nodded and concentrated on the climb ahead as they raced to catch up to Chrétien and the other Normans. The wooden gate hung unevenly. But if any thinks to take Fyren's place. that was better. Gerard joined them again. He shook his head." "Leave some men. lord. "Go!" shouted Alain. it blurred again. focused again. The knights followed the rough trail that paralleled the river as it wound through the woods until it rose from the valley onto the dale's steep slopes." "All the better for us. His holdings are spread out. "Chrétien. Gerard?" "That we will find none but villeins. toward the gaping gate." called Alain." urged Chrétien as they approached. He should have been able to see it better. his knights close behind him. Hardly what he had expected. He signaled to Chrétien to chase the fleeing knights. Either the knights are hidden." said Gerard. against the slope. a sign of an unkempt hold."There. "Caution. but large. Gerard spurred his white horse through the gate. "I see little of what I expected. it would be Anwealda. Chrétien bolted away." Alain spurred away toward the hill. and let us join the chase." "Not an imposing one. Saxon and Norman. Ah. The forest's dark green swallowed up the knights. "What do you see?" "I?" Chrétien cocked his head at a curious angle. Gerard sped ahead." "Unless there was none to warn them we are coming. Mayhap folk will consider castles to be more to their liking if they may be better defended. Gerard. But change comes slowly here. lord. Down the hillside the knights raced. impatient for a brawl." replied Alain." "Nay. He blinked. Alain close behind. Chrétien's grey charger already hurled itself forward to vie for the lead. Caution. This country is puzzling. a mass of horses with riders leapt out from the confines of the holding." Alain strained his eyes to observe the holding below." "Aye. and dashed toward the far slope. Here. close by the beck." "Aye." "Aye. Things are changing. It is not the same here as in the south. Only an occasional flash of armor betrayed their path up the hill. We outnumber them. but the haziness would not dislodge. "There lies Anwealda's holding. no battle. "What think you. or they are gone. Or they could lead us to more of their kind. and manors tend to be small and isolated.

But we could be outnumbered." Gerard's gauntleted hands tensed around the reins and his brown eyes burned with energy. You could pretend to look for signs. "Wait." Alain studied Gerard's intense face." "It requires you to divide your men once again. ." called the knight." "But they may know you are with us. We could all circle around." said Chrétien. then over the low pass where they will wait.The momentary blurriness in his eyes had passed. If Gerard was right. pursued by his eager knights. turning to face the sullen Saxon. Alain. then perhaps give the look that you have left. "Then he would be sitting in that hanging valley with more of his knights. the refugees had put sufficient distance between them that they would not be caught. Alain's curiosity piqued." "There is no other way?" "Aye." "Go on. And then he will wait at the top of the pass and bear down on us when we are most vulnerable. There. and cannot turn around. Battle fire glowed in the young warrior's eyes as he dashed forth. does he not? Will he not know how you will act?" "To some extent. "Mayhap he will. "You must keep them confined to the path near the cliff." "Truly said. and Alain focused his attention on the higher slopes and valleys beyond. "As it is Anwealda. They will not expect you to know that." Gerard nodded. Did he dare? As quickly as the stroke of lightning. But he will not think the great Norman lord will put confidence in the plan of one of my ilk. Then a wide and shallow slope opens up. "I know this land. the trail narrows beside a steep cliff. there is. "Aye. he knows you well. if they had not gone elsewhere instead. while you wait here. And we trap even more of them. he reined in his bay stallion." said Gerard." said Chrétien. Hugh shook his head. and turn their advantage against them." "Unless he knew we were coming. Yet he could not have planned an ambush in advance. He had not the time. "It is a trap. But you must wait for us to chase them into your hands. bringing the animal to a stop beside Gerard. he might guess my thinking. we must go singly for a ways." "Wallis?" asked Alain. and there is naught we could do. They would lay in ambush there. Anwealda is clever. But that presented no risk for the moment. Yet." "There is another route that takes us around the other side of the mountain. as if you have lost them. and followed his plan. For all that he could see. weighed the risks. but then would have none to catch them as they come out." "How so?" "Beyond the next ridge. He was about to call halt to the chase when Gerard raised his hand. and his force is strong. I could take my men around. They could pick us off one at a time. His intense brown eyes challenged the Norman lord to trust him. Those who fled his compound were only a portion of his men. but it requires a risk. for the way is barely wide enough for one horse to pass through. Alain raised his arm and jabbed his hand in the direction of the rear pass. And Alain knew he had made the right decision. they would soon have Anwealda's men in their hands.

The waiting was the hard part, and the illusion of searching for the enemy's tracks. His men dismounted and searched the rocky ground, for the path they believed Anwealda's men had taken was far from the most obvious one. They backtracked to another junction, sent men ahead each way. They returned, tried another path. Anwealda must surely think them stupid. They mulled about, as if confused. After a short while, they followed a false trail, then returned to where they had been before Gerard had departed. Great, fierce battle cries rang out from over the ridge. Hooves thundered. Shouts, clashes of metal against metal, and the screams of horses and of men. Alain felt his blood rise, eager to join the fight. He held his ground, as he had promised. He hid his men off the trail where it emerged from the impossibly narrow path that ran by the cliff. The clangor of battle grew louder, horses and men raising shrill cries together. "Watch closely," he warned Chrétien and Hugh. "Be sure it is Anwealda's men we catch in our snare." "If Gerard is wrong--" Alain slanted a worried look at Chrétien. "Then we will lose him. We cannot enter the path without ruining his chances." "And if he betrays you?" "He will not, not yet. He would attempt to win my confidence first." "But he might be better rid of the Normans sooner." The thunder of hooves echoed off the high stone cliff, and Alain raised his hand, held it high, waiting. Waiting. The first bloodied rider rode around the ridge. Then another. Alain's upraised hand chopped downward through the air. His knights exploded from the dense forest toward the path. Chrétien led. The first Saxon raised his blade, but Chrétien struck the first blow. The knight went down. The second knight pushed past, his great horse leaping over the fallen warrior. Two Normans caught him, the blows knocking him from his saddle. Alain's Normans blocked the upward slope, leaving only the steep, rocky slope below for escape. The next two Saxons leapt from their horses, stumbled down the slope, tripped, fell, and rolled, screaming, downhill. Alain whirled back to the battle, where two others forced their way through, swords cutting swift arcs in the air. One, his horse reared high, brought his sword down, caught Hugh across his helm. The blow glanced off, then slammed hard on Hugh's mail-covered shoulder. Alain swung his sword and cut the Saxon through his chest. The next knight broke free and sped forth along the rain of blows, shield high. Another Norman knight struck low, brought down the horse. The knight fell to his knees, then to the earth, as blows rained on him. Beyond them, the Saxon knights halted on the cramped confines of the trail, assaulted from behind and ahead. Loud screams echoed from around the curve of the hill, then silence. Only four knights still rode, their swords and shields thrown down. Alain gave a signal to cease. The remaining Saxons rode forth, lit down from their mounts, knelt before them. All minor knights, the kind who did as their lord demanded, and knew little of great plans. Alain held a kind of pity for them, as he did for all men who lived and died at the behest and whim of others. With a silent nod he accepted their surrender.

Behind them Gerard rode, leading his men, pushing forward past the constricted trail and its sheer cliff. No smile of triumph lit his face, despite his earlier excitement in anticipation of coming battle. Not a true killer, Alain observed, relieved. Alain felt a sudden kinship to the man then, as he did with Chrétien. Both, like him, would fight because that was what the world demanded of them. Fight or die. Fight or lose to death all those one loved. But they were not eager to kill. Mayhap then the Lady Melisande, whom Gerard respected, was equally worthy. He doubted Gerard would give his regard lightly. Gerard had lost no knights, but two were injured. Both could ride. Of his own knights, only Hugh sustained serious injury. But he would heal. The helm had diverted the force of the enemy sword, which may already have been badly dulled from the fighting, and the chain mail had been sufficient to absorb the remainder. But Hugh's arm hung limply from the broken collar bone, and his mail had left its angry imprint on the skin. "We'll return to Anwealda's holding for the night," Alain decided. To the four captured Saxon knights, Alain gave back their horses, that they might ride and not slow down their captors as they hastened down the ragged trail to Anwealda's holding. These four, if they sought forgiveness, would pay a price for it. Information was what he wanted. "Anwealda was not among them," Gerard informed his lord. "Find out from them where he is, and what are his intentions." "Wallis will be the man for that, lord. One of them is Cyneric's man, whom he knows." "So Anwealda and Cyneric plot together?" "Mayhap, as they both had strong ties with Fyren." "It makes no sense. With Fyren dead, and his knights in Rufus' hands, they have no power." "Save with Malcolm, who needs more than just Strathclyde's knights to overwhelm Rufus. Northward of here, none have fortified their holdings into castles in the Norman style. They cannot hold against Rufus without Malcolm." "Nor is this holding Norman. These walls could hold none but wild dogs back. But not even Fyren's stoneworks make sense to me. Tell me, Gerard, why did Fyren build where he did?" "It was an ancient monastery, said to have been sacked by Vikings. Fyren merely added to and reinforced what he found." "He would have been better off to carry away the stones to a better location." "I am bound to believing the place has secrets neither you nor I know. Fyren was a sly man." "As in the bolt hole? It is clever enough, but at the same time, it makes the entire castle vulnerable." "You found it, then?" "Edyt showed me, after some persuasion." Gerard's brown eyes narrowed along with his suspicious frown. Alain studied the man. "I did not hurt her, Gerard. I do not hurt women. I merely persuaded her it was my right to know. You are fond of the girl." "Aye. She is well liked." "So much so that you make yourself her protector?" "As she has no one else, aye. I do the same for any woman. I do not believe men should make war on women and children." "So I might lose a good knight because of a maid?" "It could happen." "And how is it that you find yourself so far north, here in this wilderness?"

"I could not conscience the rapacity of William's knights, nor that of Rufus. I came north looking for better." "Fyren was better?" "It was my mistake to trust in the man. But once sworn--" Alain again surveyed the young knight, found no hint of dishonesty. Did he hold himself to the high honor he expressed? Or was he more clever than Alain thought him to be? "And who killed Fyren?" Gerard almost jumped at the startling question. A sly chuckle slipped out. "I did not. And beyond that, I do not care. Only that he is dead." "He was murdered." "Mayhap. Or, it was the curse." "You believe that?" "I? I believe naught." Alain let it go. Gerard would reveal no more, for now. "The sun sets soon. We must be through the walls before then." "Aye. Let us hurry. The injured will need rest." Below, the square of grey limestone that formed the walls of Anwealda's holding glowed gold with the late sun. Alain spurred his bay charger ahead, and led the string of knights out of the hills onto the green valley. *** Alain woke in Anwealda's cold and drafty hall. His stomach roiled with nausea from the reeking stench, and his head pounded as if he had drunk all the wine in the buttery. He had slept on the filthy straw of the earth floor with his men, wrapped tightly in his heavy purple mantle to ward off the cold. The place was easily as primitive and unkempt as it had appeared from his first glance. He rose to his feet and shook off the moldy straw, feeling odd in the head, as if he still suffered the results of a night's drinking. That did not fit with the facts, for he rarely indulged heavily, and had not done so the previous night. There had been naught with which to indulge, for Anwealda had removed everything of use to a conqueror before departing. There was no food in this place, either, for Anwealda had left his own people to starve. Ah. Of course he had. Anwealda and his men would be holed up somewhere in the hills with all they had taken. Likely, Dougal's as well. From there they could strike like vipers, coming from nowhere, disappearing into naught. He must find them before Rufus entered the valley. Several men stirred. Alain signaled to them to wake the remainder. He pulled on his mail and stepped outside, observing the first pink streaks of sunlight on the eastern horizon. He left the injured knights to rest in the hall, along with those he assigned to defend it, and with them the meager stores they had brought along. Then the Normans rode out, took Dougal's hold as easily as they had Anwealda's. But it, too, was stripped. Only the villeins were left behind. To starve. *** Melisande hurried out from the hall to watch the tired knights as they raised their pennon and rode up to the castle. The gate creaked open, and the weary war horses crossed the wooden bridge in pairs. They were nearly a day late. Her eyes fixed on the Norman lord's face, and he turned, catching her in the act. She felt a flush rise, and looked away, seeing he was unharmed. Save for what that damnable cloak might be doing to him.

and had to share with the villeins left behind. Want and fear vied for her attention. But it was he who first turned away. Despite their weariness. We have starved for more than a day. She cleaned them with wine and dressed them. "bring me more wine. concealed by the bed. Her eyelids drooped. Even if she died in the process. She caught herself glancing again and again at him. Did that mean the poison was already working on him? Fyren had boasted to her that it should have taken longer for her mother to die. boisterously. But the Norman lord sat quietly. CHAPTER 7 The raucous laughter of the knights floated through the hall and up the narrow wooden stairs. But she must move soon." Headaches." "You were successful?" "Aye. he'd said. examining his broken collar bone. Two men had vicious slashes that were already festering." "Do not wait to reheat it. and gave her attention to the wounded men." Chrétien backed her threat with an order. freed from their hauberks and helms. then. like dark charcoal afire. We had only what we took along. She treated the raw skin with her ointment. "I shall have it reheated. she avoided any creaks in the stairs that might have drawn attention to her after the others took to their beds. Melisande called for the kitchen staff to bring back what had already been served. consumed her. As it had before. Theft. For hours. Melisande gave the lord a somber nod and summoned the wine. and ready to roll beneath it if she must. They were far too busy to notice her as she eased onto the balcony and slipped into the familiar darkness of her bed chamber. "Edyt. lord. before she died."Supper may still be had. Both relieved and disappointed." A simple exchange. too. and fear flowed through her veins. And a big man like him. frowning. her heart began to pummel her chest from inside. But she didn't know. "It will hold and be straight if you make no attempt to use it." she said with a calm that belied her inner turmoil. would it not take more poison? How could she tell how much of the poison was getting to him? Her mother had mentioned the headaches first. Little more than news and wish-you-wells. the knights bantered loudly. Surely she had more time." he said in his deep. then strode up the bailey's slope and entered the hall. She felt charred to ashes by the incendiary gaze. Her mother had had them. She almost had to shake her head to break the spell. "They have set the bone well. But you will cripple your arm for life and be of no use to anyone if you do not heed me. Her mind wandered into a reverie of a handsome. She must have chewed on the cloth. over their successes. But his eyes. While she worked. black-eyed . gravelly voice. She had hoped to get the cloak from him without risking herself. she sat on the wooden floor. Didn't know how much it took nor how long. By going up early. My head pounds like a drum. The others did not worry her. eagerly sat to eat. the other knights. rubbing his temples. There was yet another way." she told Hugh. battled to tear her apart.

The door moved smoothly and silently because of the lard she had dribbled onto its hinges. She would not let the urgency of her mission betray her. gruff from his pounding headache and now. she was too close to the bed. and released the latch slowly. All of them. grumbling. Perhaps she was too high. the lord's chamber was as dark as her own. He groaned loudly and plopped around with great noise. even when drunk. and woke. she moved. and touched the bedpost. Ah. as he sought his bed. also too much wine. as quickly as she might manage it. She crept across the floor and hid behind her clothing chest. feeling nothing. She reached to the left. Something to remember. up. she suspected. The floor planks were too thick to groan under her rather insignificant weight. The man made the noise of ten small boys and a very large dog at play. The bed-covers swished about. but she was not as familiar with this chamber as she was her own. Just as soon as she thought him quiet.Norman. Well. She stood still. The man was a light sleeper. The thin crescent of the moon rose and passed the double-arched window until it was beyond her view. cursed in slurs as his feet found unexpected objects in their way. He had drawn the heavy draperies against the cold. had too little experience with it to do it right. Her toe jammed against something hard. She bit her lip. Again. and quickly returned to his bed. With its shutter closed. complimenting herself on her supreme patience. then. "Who's there?" Melisande had never been one to curse. At last. The bed had been built high off the floor. found the heavy draperies. she caught in her hand the scrap of leather she had wedged in the latch. Where now? Out. She froze. She touched the rough plaster. easy to get under. reached out ahead. waited even longer. down. then along the side of the bed. She must have dozed. searching for the pegs and the garments hanging there. too low. as well. groped again. she swung her hands around in circles. She dropped to her knees and slid herself beneath the bed. She waited until all sounds in the hall below ceased. Mayhap they would muffle sound. and found the pegs. All right. one side of the draperies flew open. she reached out. but just as easy to be found there. Two feet thunked hard against the floor. and fortunately. A good time to move. The ropes of his bed creaked. How was she going to get out? She certainly could not wait for morning and crawl out after he was gone. she ran her hand across the surface. he moved again. leading her safely to the next post. and carefully remeasured what she was sure was the proper distance from the bed. immovable. "Who's there?" With a yank and the sliding of rings against the wooden post. Melisande fumbled for the draperies as her guide. She was a patient person. . Frustrated. As she pulled on the door. across the chamber toward the wall where she expected the cloak to be hung. She waited. Melisande hoped it was the other side. hearing the Norman lord. how it might be to have those sensuous lips touched to hers. and crept more carefully. and turned to the-Thud. Calculating the distance to the bed. returning to reality only when the hardness of the floor reminded her of her mission. Panic surged through her. The Norman paced around the room. of course. That presented her with another problem. to the wall. Empty. Her fingers trailed lightly across the thick fabric.

For the first time in her life. mayhap had been laid on the bed itself. They would be going to matins. This would never do. but to leave through the door. . Perhaps God-But God did not hear her prayers. the Norman roared out a pathetic moan and rolled over." said Hugh. and mayhap would not see her. Well. mayhap she could stay beneath the bed for the night. with a loud guffaw. then slip away. as if she had merely been about her duties. If she did not allow herself to sleep. But then what? How could she get out without being seen? The servant she was supposed to be had no particular business in the lady's chamber if the chamber held no lady. but she did not want to go through the cavern. She could never manage to stay here all night without giving herself away. She stiffened. there was nothing for it. hard floor. cringing within. nor the scrape of a scabbard being buckled on. "Did you see him?" Chrétien asked. only to wait until he was at last quiet. She would have to do all this herself. blatantly." Melisande. and shifted minutely to straighten out the wrinkle in her kirtle that pressed into her hipbone. A great bulge in the straining ropes seemed only inches from her face. his heavy body pounding the mattress and ropes so hard. Perhaps God meant her to live. And not until she heard him on the steps did she scurry from beneath the bed to her own chamber. She hoped. She did not even know if God disdained to use her. just long enough to save this hero of hers. Or move. *** "I tell you. Chrétien laughed. She had not meant to sleep. ordered composure to her body and indifference to her countenance as she poured wine into the Norman lord's drinking horn. The demons screamed fear and destruction. she could see the value of a snore. so there was not much chance of that. But the sound of his movements on the bed. Melisande pulled herself into a tight ball and tugged the hem of her kirtle over her cold toes. But she heard no jingle of mail. Somewhere in the night. someone was in the chamber. Who knew how easily he might awaken? He snored. Above her.Panic rose in her throat and willed her to run screaming from the room. It hadn't occurred to her the night before that he might have been too drunk to find the pegs. But even the demons couldn't compete with the cold. even for His own purposes. the noise ceased. "He is not used to sleeping alone. A cold draft wended its way beneath the bed and wrapped its chill around her. she was quite alive and unharmed. dared not move for fear of touching the mattress. The dread she felt every morning hit her suddenly. To keep her awake. voluminously rattling snore. Not until the Norman opened the door and walked out did she take a normal breath again. The hem of the purple cloak floated past the bedstead. Surely he would eventually drop into a deep sleep that would allow her to escape. she thought he would break through. Two overly large feet padded across the room again and his garments fluttered in the motions of dressing. Above her. Then. and the rough. What if she had walked? What if the demons had come? Well. and helped himself to another rasher. A great. the Norman rolled and tumbled. She didn't ever want to go there again. the thud of feet against the wooden floor startled her to alertness. The Norman lord splashed water onto his face and washed his hands in the basin left the night before.

She rose and scurried around the trestle table. Edyt. Red wine spread on the stone floor like dark blood." Hugh's raucous roar at Chrétien's jibe infected the others. it was a wonder you did not drown."It was too dark. scrubbed again. she fled from the hall. I think. Then she saw the crack in the yellow-grey horn. She scrubbed at the tainted rim with a rough cloth and sand. "Hurry and find the lord another cup. It has a crack. A dull crack. That's why she left. mayhap. Relief flooded her. Rubbing at a smudge on the rim of his horn cup with the seam of his cloak. Melisande could not see what was so funny about that. All around her." "Did she find it?" came a shout from the back. But someone was there. You imagined it. Could it? Once again." Before he could stop her. "I will wash it. slapped their great fists on the trestle tables. none of the poison could be left." She said it too quickly. Impatience lingered in his frown. too quickly snatched it from his reach." "Aye." The Norman's black eyebrows cocked at an absurdly curious and high angle. to the wooden outbuilding that housed the kitchen and scullery. and bent to pick up the cup. Fyren would have killed a man for such. But then. Dare she trust it. The Norman lord feigned a glower that did not even fool her." "Ha. spread across the rim where he wiped! She froze with horror as he lifted the cup to his lips. across the table and to the floor. come to see what she has missed. "I am sorry. A bone. "Mayhap it was a maid that sought him out. "Nay. knocked the horn cup from his hand. This one is damaged. "It was his bride. Melisande lunged with a scream." "It will do. You were so deep into your cup. a maid. I will bring you another. I slipped-. gulped. I will find you another cup." Chrétien rammed an elbow in Robert's ribs. This one will not do. slowly turned. with a wicked smile on his face." The Normans and Saxons alike roared." "Nay. She raised her head slowly. "Aye. For the life of her. the Norman lord continued his ineffective scowling." she called. Stared as if her wits had suddenly gone begging. my lord. Alain. and it seemed to be his way to accept it of them. then?" "I am not sure what it was. lathered the soft soap onto it. she took the coarse cloth and scrubbed.on something. She did her best to hide her confusion and appear unconcerned about their odd banter. Now there could be no argument of replacing it. and pounded each other on the back. The men again laughed. "Hear him. Robert leaned into his cup of ale. It seemed to be the way of these Normans to behave so irreverently toward their lord. Could it kill him? She didn't know. why would she have left? She had never been able to make much sense of what other people thought was funny. "Nelda. The cloak! The poison." the Norman lord replied. But whatever would it be that she was supposed to have found? Oh. "Please." said Hugh. and if it leaks." . even then? Surely. men stared.

"God would see the fells. *** The lord's chamber centered around a table of dark oak that was nearly as large as its curtained bed. Alain. "Think of it as the way God must view the world from the heavens. flat stones of varying colors from a tiny leather pouch and tossed them onto the table." Nelda would fix it all for her." Gerard added. "But the first route is much harder. I propose only to guess. . From wherever he is. I see your meaning. he can continue his harassment. and the horses must go much slower. but where?" "It matters not if-. we can plan our moves in advance. Malcolm's black stones he placed as a group to the northeast. too." Alain nodded. Then. but that is not important." he said to his knights. and we cannot be there soon enough to stop him." Hugh objected. we may be able to guess his location. I suppose we might measure it someday." said Chrétien.aye. But we all know the fells are in between the becks." Alain removed small. representing Scotland. We want to know where we can go. "Now. And she'd best escape to some dark corner for a while. It would only confuse us. for Anwealda and those allied with him. Alain. "If you were Anwealda. "The white ones will represent Rufus and the army he brings. Surely it would do. she could at least pray for warmer weather so he wouldn't wear it as much. He would be safe a little longer. If it takes a day by horseback to go from here to here." Robert scowled. it takes less time. Except that God did not hear her prayers. "Where we think we are secure. He drew a square to indicate his castle and wiggling lines to represent the becks and rivers. it is true. and where our enemies might be." "Anwealda's own holding." said Chrétien. on which he traced out a crude drawing of the Eden Valley that led up to Carlisle and the Solway Firth. where is Anwealda?" "Up in the fells. with the look of the all-suffering servant. pull back. he can strike. and Rufus' white ones near York." He placed red stones at each holding under his control. pleased. But if we can draw him into engagement more than once. but we cannot put all that down." he said as he traced out a route with his finger." said Gerard. too. and the black ones are Malcolm's. I suppose we could mark where the peaks are. But it isn't right. Yet if you knew where he hides--" "Aye. "Aye. But that is not my purpose." And he drew another route with his fingers. On that table Alain stretched out an old parchment. Nelda. More squares went down as symbols of other manor holdings. but are not. how far it is?" "If we had the time. for all that she had made herself look the perfect simpleton. "And if he can keep himself supplied with what he captures from us. and hide. Ours are the red stones.Nelda's eyes too showed the effect of her mad move. "And God would see the colors and shapes of things. "then it should take more time to go from here to here. scraped bare. Merely by making marks on the parchment." Chrétien stopped to rub his fist over his chin. and mayhap see flaws in them before they happen. "It is a good idea. Grey. and tiny circles for the smaller holdings. "The maple maser. And if she couldn't manage to steal the cloak. where would you strike next?" "Where we have already been. How can you tell. Nelda nodded. "But it does not.

Robert. Gerard. --Aye." "Alain. "This land. Alain. it is a threat now. for Rufus cannot capture Carlisle without going through the Vale of Eden. He would rather face a thousand armed knights alone than run such a risk again." "True." said Thomas. There will be plenty of land for all. It could serve to harbor rebels. I have told you. You will harry the neighborhood for the knights. and when. you will take and hold. But Chrétien still stung from his terrible loss. But Cyneric's is out of the way. Rufus comes. No doubt they wondered why the lord's second refused that which all men sought. and so it must be Chrétien who chose who should be told what. we win again. . for his holding abuts it. he had also begun to hope for the same for his dear friend. But not now. Anwealda's. not his." It was true. "Very well."And therefore." "If I may suggest. They would be busy for the remainder of the day gathering the supplies and heading off to reinforce Anwealda's holding. to a man. Someday. and leave Hugh there with his men. it might be different. "We cannot always outguess him. "Do so. and Alain guessed he was imagining the fells between them. We must secure our conquests now." said Gerard. But he is weeks away. "But Rufus is close." "It is true. Chrétien. Thus." "You have heard news?" "Aye." Alain moved back to the map. but see that the common folk are not terrorized." "It is of my choosing. We must try to outguess him by noting where he appears. pleased they thought the same as he. But it was Chrétien's great pain. He had promised." "You cannot spend your life as a mercenary." said Robert. I am content as I am. Cyneric's lands. I want no such fief. And tomorrow. Hugh. showed puzzled frowns. Where he goes. But let us attend to today's affairs today. "You are right." Gerard leaned forward and placed a finger on the map between two becks. Then. When he had first seen the possibility of settling onto the land instead of wandering about according to the king's whim. where he comes from. you may keep your second where he is most useful to you. Dougal's for you. Wallis could hold it with little effort." "But what next?" asked Wallis. when Rufus is done with this campaign." "The holdings of Anwealda and Dougal are central to this campaign." "Tomorrow may be too late." "Chrétien--" "You gave your word. We must keep harrying Anwealda until Rufus arrives. you will ride forth with Robert and Hugh to Anwealda's holding." said Gerard. and decisions about fiefs could be made later when it is more apparent what land there is to be divided. And he would have a day to learn more about his own demesne. leave when you are ready. The Saxons. here. "If we have outguessed him. but as it guards the Aire Gap." He watched the Saxon and Norman knights file out of the small chamber and listened to their clinking noises and boisterous banter as they hurried down the wooden stairs." "I will think on it. lord. "Aye. "Let us ride today. we will surprise them by reinforcing the men and supplies we left there yesterday." said Alain. Alain smiled.

But they had merely thought it inaccurate. On one hip she carried a willow basket with a great pile of linens as she made for the beck that rushed beside the castle. "Edyt. he came up behind her. What mischief is that. But there was no bone. and tried not to laugh at the wideness of her brilliant blue eyes. He should feel guilty for his trick. lord. A bone. what is it you are about?" "I go to take linens to the hall. lord." Her arms flung into the air so suddenly that she dropped her basket. Edyt?" "None. he turned her to face him. I am sure." Her lips parted. The untenable holding to the north was of greater concern. mayhap it was merely a cramp in my foot. out of the hall. I did not mean to break your cup. Edyt. there was something. and would provide greater security for Rufus.--" For a reply." "A bone? Through your shoes?" "They are but soft leather. Edyt. as if awaiting a word that would not come. More villeins struggled with the great stone blocks being winched upward to their place on the curtain wall. lord. but merely a slip. Wooden scaffolding creaked with their movements. Smothering a smirk." "Indeed. Inside. "Aye. It galled him to see such an enormous effort put into an unacceptable site. But I would like to know your mischief. in a way. but I care naught about it. The advantage of the illiterate mind. He had hoped they would be excited about his map. and folded his arms. He would change it if he could. I--I know the cup was precious to you. but would they not have protected you from a bone?" "Well. You may punish me. I think." Alain's chuckle rumbled up from deep inside him. lord. "I vow I am unaccustomed to having young maids assault my drinking cup." "I would talk with you. he supposed. villeins hauled out carts to supply the new outpost." "Aye. an accent to her brisk pace. you know. Quietly. A simple mound and moat with wooden tower and palisade would be better than this. "Now. while masons waited to set them in their bed of fresh mortar." "Aye. Alain's interest in mottes and baileys was soon distracted by the sight ahead of him of Edyt's braid as it swung at its tip. Edyt. They all seemed to have clearer concepts in their heads than could ever be drawn on paper. It could be done in a few weeks. it was not malice. he took her arm in his hand and led her into the dark coolness of the little stone bath house. lord." "Then. He trundled down the stairs after them. was that it must commit so much more to memory. He could build his new motte and bailey there. placed it on the low bench." "I refer to that odd display this morning. lord. If you wish to punish me. he watched benignly as she retrieved linens from the grass and hastily shoved them back atop those that had not spilled. but it is cracked and I cannot fix it. I utterly mislike them on the floor. As she passed the bath house. I looked. He lifted the basket from her hands. He resolved to discuss it with Chrétien. In the lower bailey. . he supposed.He was disappointed.

round. There was a natural music that sang between them. What were you doing there. No other has a scent like you." Rushes. The rosemary-." he said. His loyalty. and frightened. he grasped her arms and stood back from her. his very being. Or was so wrong. . he drank in the aroma that was hers. in body. the soft but pungent. I use it often. What did you seek?" "Naught. and his hand touched the velvet smoothness of her hot cheek. like the depths of a pine forest. devotion. Here it permeated everything. piney scent of rosemary that always lingered after her. Edyt?" His voice was a growl calculated to frighten a guilty maid free of her sins. Her small hands touched him. indeed. A mere whiff of it could bring intense arousal to his body. Again he turned. Aye. So close to her. No. Agonized. sight unseen. the scent. his lips descended and captured hers. Edyt?" "Nay. She drew him like a lodestone. and thought his voice sounded like feet crunching in gravel. The coolness of the bathhouse held her scent. Rufus had betrothed him to a lady. "Nay!" He might at least face her. He had known it in both soul and body. and the other encompassed her at her waist. The chamber had echoed of her. "It is in your skin. the essence. Edyt. "You have not put rushes in my chamber. I tell you. burned an incendiary trail across his chest. And he had not even managed to find her. found the willing recesses of her mouth and the tentative touch of her tongue to his. Did she sleep here? Why here? Why not the hall? The rosemary. It clings to your hair. feather soft and tingling. moving outward as if she thought to encircle him with her arms. Edyt. as if this small stone building were especially hers." Before she could object again. were pledged to another. done precisely what he had been determined he would not do. pressed her pliant body firmly to him. Nothing had ever felt so right. and as he found her. it was not I. so that he tightened his embrace suddenly. "What were you doing in my chamber last night. He knew it for what it was. And he had seen her come from it at the first light of dawn that first morning. "The rosemary. yet did not. But I smelled the rosemary there last night. Alain crowded her closer to the cool stones behind her. something more perfect than either of them alone. Not merely that she caught his fancy. He stood close to her. It was a part of what had stirred him from his sleep the previous night. And he could no longer delay what must be done. lord. Her blue eyes were wide. He felt her meld into him. I--" The one hand wove itself through her hair above the loose yellow braid. "I." he said. now. an awakening of his need. he deepened the kiss. It must not be.the rosemary is in the rushes. he knew he would choose it over this one.Rosemary. He'd done it again. He turned away and clasped his empty arms over his chest. But there was not. Brought a violent ache. "It was you. With a moan. like the blow of a hammer. "I must find you a husband. She herself had told him Fyren never allowed rushes in the sleeping chambers for fear of fire. If there were a world for them together. Passion slammed unexpectedly through him. lord? I--I was not--" Now he knew it was her. He could not have this girl. the feel. Aye.

well. he stood in the darkness and watched her scurry across the bailey and down the hill to the gate. lord." "I will give you a dowry. I have naught to bring to a marriage. lord. She wished she could tell him." "This time. But I think he is more likely to bed you than do away with you. I do not want a husband. Surely. For so long. But for now. lord. I am-. he does." The girl grabbed her basket and hurried out the door." "Nay." "Happy? I have never seen a maid so grim." "You do not know whereof you speak." "Something more important than your life?" "Aye. I want him to govern here."This cannot continue. For a moment. One of my knights. lord. arms folded." The blond knight nodded. Edyt." "And I will not ask." "Why not? I did think every young maid sought the protection and security of a marriage. He does not need a mere maid to keep him safe.I am a foundling. Laughing. Or Gerard?" "Gerard is married." "Nay. It is not funny. Something must be done. Edyt?" "I-. lord." "You do not know your family? I thought you said your mother managed the household before you. I will keep my promise." "I cannot. lord." "Nay. But think on it. Once I have done this thing. and the stiffness in his body ease. and gave her a reluctant smile. *** "Do not laugh at me. nothing to stop--. She could not bear what they would think of her when at last they learned what they protected.imperfect. no one will notice. mayhap. Not yet. and has a young daughter. No one would want me. But why not let me hide you if you are so afraid? I can find someone. you must keep your promise. Hence my name. he is a knight of great prowess and renown. You could do well for yourself. There's something I must do first. Not even Thomas knew of them. Gerard. There are no constraints. I am happy as I am. Edyt. he saw Gerard." He felt the corners of his lips dance against his will. Edyt." "Aye. Far more important. And I must see that he will be safe. His children might be deformed. but she couldn't. first. she had had no one but Gerard and Thomas. or mad. lord." "I must go. Surely there would be someone. Do not trouble yourself with my concerns. . there is another." "Then he shows you too much interest. I will let you hide me. with soft sadness in his brown eyes. then? A Saxon. nor the demons that haunted her. When he again stepped out into the sunshine. "If you say naught." "But a man would be a fool to marry one whose family is unknown. But she was selfish and she needed their caring. It is not good. How are you imperfect." "Aye." "Edyt. or simple." "Not a Norman. No one could understand the evil that was within her. she took me in at Lady Edyt's behest. mayhap.

The guard at the hall door cocked his head quizzically as Alain passed. He’d slept in worse circumstances many times. the figure then darted from the concealment of the kitchen through the door of Fyren’s bath house. unexplained death? Answers only brought more questions. Alain stood beside the narrow slit of a window as he watched an indistinct figure skirt the boundary of the bailey. He supposed someone could have slipped by him in the night. then ambled to the bath house. He waited a few moments as the sky lightened. CHAPTER 8 Ah. She slept there. . But he couldn’t let the opportunity pass. When the throbbing headache came upon him. but a mockery of a monastery with a curtain wall? Fyren's sudden. He shifted his shoulders and huddled back into the corner. Alain wondered if he had noticed the girl. he was sure. Grumbling to himself. Or perhaps it was merely a lover and he overstepped his bounds. Yet why. he spotted the silvered flash of pale yellow hair in a long rope of a braid. But he could distinguish the corner where she had lain with her bedroll. When dawn’s twilight etched the rim of the world. Edyt. She surely did not bathe. which was no castle at all. He rubbed his fists against his eyes and closed them again. for the stone flags were darkened with moisture everywhere else. and skittered across the bailey to the kitchen. but he was quite sure he hadn’t slept. he needed to know. If she conspired against him. In the darkness of his chamber. he decided it must be from the awkward position in which he was forced to sleep. With quiet steps he crossed the bailey to the chapel. and tugged the cloak around him to wait out a long night. The odor of rosemary permeated the cool. he saw movement at the bath house door. in fact had done so on the march north to Cumbria. or if she had hidden herself out somewhere else beyond the hall. clinging to the shadows of buildings. looking about. damp place such as this? Did nothing about this strange place make sense? God's grace and all the bloody saints. First pausing. But nothing else. She would far rather have them all think her empty in the cockloft than to know the truth. so late at night. No one else was there. and the other with her absence? This castle. Why should a headache be bedeviling him now? Yet it pounded as fiercely as if he had been hit by a hammer. But he did not sleep. this time lying down in front of the stone threshold. he shifted again. even. what sport was Rufus making of him? The one maid to haunt him with her presence. Tucked within the cradle of her arm was a rolled bundle. He sat in the doorway and leaned against the weathered door. He thought so.The burden was hers alone. The girl stepped out. avoiding the bright light of the moon. did the girl sleep alone in a cold. In that fleeting moment. damp air. None other. But why? Did she meet someone there? Alain threw the purple cloak about his shoulders and crept down the wooden stairs. like a bedroll. when she could have the comfort of the hall.

the evening meal would be served. in his hall or his village. and. "Something is up?" "Aye." "And the villeins? The carters?" "I left them as well. I left Hugh. All the trestle tables were in place. and with the same conclusion. All that. with the wooden maser he had been given the morning before. As he entered the hall. still in stride. remembering that odd incident and Edyt's lame apology." "Did he have foot soldiers?" "Nay. Could one of these girls be his missing bride? But the creature he imagined would be unlikely to have any such skills. A good knight. The pleasure of possession rushed through him as he watched preparations for supper. "I have been thinking. He had even considered the young boys. Only knights. He needed no fortification against them. A commotion drew his attention back to the hall's door. assessing further strengths and weaknesses from their stories. set the time for supper. being one of them. He blinked away the fuzziness in his eyes and crossed the bailey as if nothing was wrong. along with most of the men and the supplies. On the dais." he said as the two of them washed their hands with the bowl brought to them. listening to their descriptions of the battle at Anwealda's fort. perhaps." Alain waited for Chrétien and the other knights to finish their supper. "We need a stronger outpost there. as if it meant to beat its way out. or we would have found a slaughter. Wondered how it would reflect on Edyt's yellow hair if it flowed free and waved in the breeze like a pennon. we caught Anwealda's men between us and the fort. He dashed down from the dais where he had been standing and met Gerard halfway from the door. so we could not question any of them. Instead. musing at the way the late sun turned all the walls to gold. and we took no prisoners who lived. He was in a pensive mood as he strolled down the stone steps and crossed the bailey to the hall. A good leader of men. Another thing that didn't make sense." "Aye. A steady parade of maids and young men filed between the kitchen and the hall's side door. From the bailey came sounds of other mounted men pulling their war horses to a halt." Alain gave a thoughtful nod. where Gerard rushed in.And none of it explained the pain that banged against his skull from the inside. not he. calling for vespers. wondering if the mousy lady might disguise herself as one of them. Trenchers were being set out. just to avoid a marriage? He had also observed girls in the village with the same skeptical eye. She. All that he had really found was that even though his senses told him she was here. A goodly number escaped. We arrived in time. but he saw no likely candidates. I was surprised. lord. with their linen cloths of sparkling white. Gerard. But we do. nor would hardly toil in the scullery. *** The bell in the village church rang out. Gerard seemed always to make the most prudent decision. to hurry back with the news. doffed his helm and handed shield and sword to his squire. Too good. Shortly. He chuckled to himself. his place at center. for his little household manager was very predictable. Anwealda was pampered by the Scots. Alain stood aside and watched the bustle of servants who set up the evening meal. after all. he was not so anxious to find his bride. still huffing from a hard ride. .

The location is good." said Chrétien." "Then reward them. He could not think of her without also thinking of the unwilling bride. Wallis." "Even then. as it is. but he had expected little. "but there is no time. but they risk even their families. . Alain. you agree that Anwealda's fort." said Wallis. "but not as long as he must strike like a snake. a motte and bailey. eventually. We risk our lives."So. they will suffer far less. "but our losses would have been heavy." "Aye. how would the demesne function?" "It is a time of sacrifice. A motte is a good idea. Then if time permits. is not of much value. too. We lost several men. Nor skills." "Aye. and all they own. and would have lost all of them." "We could dig the moat. If we can hold back Anwealda and his men and give Rufus an uneventful pass through the Vale. ring the wall with more towers. for the sake of having his own fief. "But lord. wishing instead she might be this fascinating girl. he met Rufus' need for a strong northern border. though I think it cannot go very deep before reaching bedrock. But we must do something to strengthen the position. for they move too slowly." The Saxon girl was watching him again. with their pure blue eyes. but all of Hugh's men. We will sacrifice. will not be enough. aye. lord. But a tall palisade would take little time. her thoughts beyond discerning. But one of the old kind. He had always assumed that the maid to whom Rufus had betrothed him had not much to offer. do we have that?" "I know not." said Gerard. He will need more villeins if he is to build a palisade. none know better than they how much the poor peasants suffer in times of war." "For stone work. as was the way among most ladies of class. Mayhap a day off their servitude." "Then send him some." "Reward?" "Aye. "and he will use them when he sees fit. Mayhap." "They will not want to go this time of year. we could have taken it. if he will help with his neighbor's land while he is gone. had we not come upon them when we did. "There is much with the land that needs to be done. As for the villeins. Thomas nearly stood in his anxiety. What he would give to see a smile on her face. even demolished and rebuilt. if every one gave a day less. Anwealda's knights were already within the gate. And any man who stays behind. the fort should be improved." replied Gerard. including his knights. save with the needle. The Normans drank from their cups with bemused smiles curling on their lips. It was the price he paid." The Saxon knights. could be thrown up in a matter of weeks. Neither beauty nor intelligence. and in doing so." suggested Gerard." "But even weeks. why had Rufus extracted such a strange promise from him? He had been willing enough." "Does Anwealda have no foot soldiers?" "He has them. and very nearly succeeded in closing it on us." said Thomas. but the walls weak and too easily scaled. as solemn as she ever had been. Else. Thomas. so why not also build a mound?" "And build a tower on the mound. and the dirt would have to go somewhere. stared at each other in disbelief." "Aye." "Then all agree. "Hugh has already thought of the moat.

and power with her wedding. It was Edyt who ran this hall. Any more than the fact that she spoke to everyone in passing. It proved nothing. Then why would she keep up this facade if she was the lady in hiding? Because she wanted something. Somewhat undesirable. Wary and skittish she was. He caught the tip of his smallest finger in it. wagons. that could explain Rufus' command that he take the girl as he found her. most of the others of the hall. Even Rufus had assumed that. Aye. thin. If some message lay within its design. What? His hand closed around the small Celtic ring that hung on the twisted cord about his neck. and she had bent to pick it up. he could not tell it. she loathed it. smooth gold surface. even brave knights moved out of the cat's way and let it pass. and scratched distractedly at the exposed belly. But he had felt real passion in her with that kiss. Deferred to her. wealth. King of All the Upper and Lower Bailey. Might it hold a hidden message? He held it up to the light and searched inside the band. Aye. but saw only the pure. red body against her legs. ignoring all comers. He had wondered then if the cat sought her out because its mistress was missing. he watched again from the slit window in his chamber. strode purposefully across the bailey. Yet. *** Yesterday. and seemed to have no distaste for him. Carters. Many people took well to cats. as King Rufus. with a tiny squeaky voice. For all that she professed a distaste for it. All those had rational explanations. unglorious hair. but bringing great lands. . The purple cloak. Not nearly as much as the ring he had brought to place on his bride's finger. which she also obligingly scratched. She flopped the big fellow over on its back in her arms. who surely could not defend herself. Yet at her behest her knights willingly followed him. so much like. The ring. Today. After the animal had taken several rubbing passes against her legs. The cat leaned back its head to bare its throat. That much did make sense. straight for her. he had seen her eyes almost feast on its magnificence. And it seemed to him she was more likely to be a timid little thing. and yet so different from. The girl had a covert obsession with it. or that she treated the hall as if it were her own. it was true. Mayhap there was a contender for the missing bride. Once again he eyed the enigmatic Edyt. after all. while bidding him to leave the girl alone and cease searching for her. And over-active gonads. rather than stand to fight. Then there was this vibrant maid to whom all these Saxons deferred without even thinking. she reached down for the cat.She might be passably pretty. and mayhap it was not the girl's connection to the lady that gave her such power. yet it would not pass even beyond his fingernail. Outside. Two people have died in it. to this mere slip of a foundling. But what if she were his missing Melisande? She had come to know him in these few days. And men felt obliged to protect such a meek and fragile one. the cat had come to her where she stood in the bailey. Something she must have before disappearing into Scotland beyond his reach. for he had memories of her beautiful mother from his own childhood. Could that be the reason she had invaded his chamber? To find the ring? Surely it was not worth so very much. And all he really had was a nimble imagination. Alain rubbed his hand over his chin and his scratchy beard. rubbed its great furry. the interlaced pattern continued around the surface without variation. Such a creature would run and hide easily. But none said as much. they did.

and disguised her truer feeling. Nor land. Worse. He could be sitting in the middle of a very big trap. he caught glimpses of the silver-haired man as he walked with Chrétien and Gerard down the dirt lane in the village. True.How did she know? It was said only the Lady Melisande herself had been with Fyren in the end. It was about time to get the girl off his mind. but he also knew its rarity. had the lady who neatly folds things left in a hurry. But the girl enchanted him. nor anything else that smacked of permanence. He turned the wooden maser around in his hands. But might it hide something else of even greater value? Come now. he could see men leaving their fields as wives and sons carried the news to them. Alain was not so scarred in his soul that he could not run such a risk. if Edyt was Melisande. If so. Ahead of him. Beyond. And why? It appeared that everything the girl did as Edyt was a sham. And unusually convenient. he was the biggest fool of all. A wife that Chrétien had so loved and respected that after her death he would not take another. Aye. and he had assumed that to be the result of the marvelous embroidery with gold and silver thread. one such as Chrétien's wife. and headed down the wooden stairs to join the gathering crowd. more than he had. Might she not be just the sort of wife he had always hoped to have? Might he hope. a lady who had known more than how to push a needle through cloth. had been. in order to appear to be a servant? Aye. not liking the direction his thoughts were taking. and she the cheese. the more his frustration grew. An entire chest of perfectly folded garments sat in the lady's chamber. instead? Would they follow their new lord if he did not lay lash to their backs? Or would he find that the old way was the only way? . She reminded him of Chrétien's Heloise. in haste. Ordinary gossip could account for that. she retained control over the people themselves. or was he merely fooling himself? He had always hoped for a wife of strong character. He wanted what Chrétien had once had. I– fold things. yet had position. Mayhap that was why so few people recognized its existence. Unlike Chrétien. nor fief. As he had noticed her covetous. leaving everything she valued behind. that was it. How would it go if he did not command them. studying it. save those few doffed and thrown in. but that was a different case. Mayhap he was not the hunter and she the prey. but gave incentive. He recalled the cracks in Edyt's demeanor. Such a lady might be more common in this wild north land where everyone must do his part. but exactly the opposite. Foundling? It was a plausible explanation for a girl who had no apparent family. He wondered how Thomas was doing with his recruitment. The more he thought of it. Heloise. Not simply the masquerade. but the manipulations to gain control again. But why? It had a weighty feel to it. Such love carried a high price. that occasional flash of defiance few servants would dare to show. But Chrétien's suffering had taught him also to be wary. Still not enough to go on. he would have noticed. loathing gaze on it. mayhap she wanted the cloak. summoning villein and cotter to assemble within the castle walls. So. he had also seen it in Thomas and Gerard. But Melisande had no personal servant.

then a low buzz began. he stood aside as the steward addressed the crowd. Alain moved away from the crowd. your wives and children going hungry for their lack. rather than the unfree that they were. returned to watch the steward who called for the aid of the village. Alain's gaze slanted sideways to observe Gerard standing beside Edyt." Thomas paused. He offers instead. her mouth hardly moving. yet did not become intelligible. men stepped forth to volunteer their service. First there was silence. he would not have made the connection. He would keep watching. as if he merely sought a better place to view the assembly. Alain watched the word spread through the crowd. And he told them the building of the motte and bailey at Anwealda's holding would bring them more safety by giving Rufus peaceful access through the Vale. but still none stepped forward. but others will be given relief for helping their neighbors who are gone. Mayhap. as he had originally suspected. He then stood next to the tanner. Edyt had close ties to the lady. Clever. Then he gave the knight a pleasant nod and moved off. She spoke a few words. And." "You have a thought who?" "I have a suspicion. Thomas was a pleasant-mannered man. Mayhap. Mayhap her word changed their minds. who was hidden somewhere within the village. What did they think of it? Thomas held great respect among the common folk. your crops ripped from the ground. I thought. Or-Again. The tanner nodded." "I value your concern. we have but to watch. Thomas spoke to them as men. He told them of the coming conflict. Mayhap it was a mere suggestion that she had made. or close by. Suspicious eyes fell on Thomas. As did the smith. Satisfied that Thomas would have sufficient men to build the motte. one by one. But their lord did not. reminded them that those such as they always suffered the most from war. "Think of your lands. Chrétien joined him. Our lady may be amongst them. his arms folded and a heavy frown across his face. But I worried at first. If he had not been watching at the very minute she spoke." "I thought the same.Once in the lower bailey. then their new lord. Alain decided not to question the suspicious behavior. "Who will go by his own choice?" he asked. His silvery hair raised at one side of his balding pate like a flag in the stiff wind. Without so much as a nod. Chrétien?" "There will be enough. Gerard moved away. "What think you. that gained in strength. with the press of other problems. Some must go to provide labor for the castle. and let the odd proposal sink in. who stood beside the smith. "But. But did you not notice anything else?" "It seemed odd. for it would merely put them on their guard." The mumble ebbed and flowed. a day's relief in your service to the lord." . Clearly something she had said had this effect. one for each sennight you give. Now. None stirred from the crowd. "the lord does not wish to force such service on anyone." he said. But he needs your help to do it. Neither looked at the other. as if they suddenly changed their minds. all of a piece. He also spoke no more than a few words. Your lord wishes to protect you. their guard did appear to be slipping.

The idea couldn't seem to leave his head. everyone here seems odd. he could not compare with what a man might keep on parchment. as I have only guessed. he'd best find out what it was going to cost him. as well." said Thomas. "A word with you. The lady was proud of her namesake. He closed the door behind her. as an uneducated man could not. in preparation for the spreading of fresh rushes. if each villein serves differently. she is an odd sort." Chrétien grinned back. Thomas? Nor keep accounts?" "Nay. Could he not pry from her the cause of her distress? If it was distress. He smiled. Evidently he had his own unspoken suspicions. "Have you ever seen a map. astonished. "But it is not correct." Alain stared at her. and pointed out to her the landmarks he had found significant. "She was the Lady Edyt's most apt pupil." Alain grumbled a grudging thanks and left to find the girl. she set aside the broom. "In that way. Thomas might think it beyond manageable. giving him another opportunity to probe her secrets." "Mayhap. This time. sweeping the floor of the great hall. A sharp catch in his throat brought him back to his problem." "Or we do not know what moves her." "A maid? How is that so?" Thomas would not be caught in that trap. "Is it true you do not read." Alain smiled. He never bragged about his abilities to read and figure. Perhaps he should put her at ease first. Since he had promised relief for his villeins. "I know that. He would see what Edyt had to say about that. It is to be found in the Mallerstang Common which you have not placed on the map. "In my chamber. and not instead very skillful maneuvering. He had no quarrel with her management. he would resolve it." Without a word. Edyt." Alain rolled out the crude drawing he had made. Alain. and understood. not all of which needed to continue. his brow folded in a deep fret. For all that Thomas might know in his head."Aye. just how useful it was. Edyt?" "Nay." Alain regarded the silver-haired knight who stood beside him as they surveyed the loading of carts in the bailey. *** "I suppose we shall manage. Do you not agree?" "And so you will not tell me where your suspicion falls?" "Let us see instead if yours will fall in the same place. "You can read?" . The wariness in her eyes increased. But Fyren had done some unusual things. leaving a small pile of debris from the rushes that had already been removed." she protested. "Edyt keeps the tallies. and this makes her seem odd. But in what way?" "You have placed Cyneric's holding too far to the east. and had not seen another hall kept so clean. Whoever she is. but he was secretly proud of it. or keep count on his tally sticks. "But it will be very hard to keep track of the lord days owed to the manor." She followed him up the stairs in her usual silent fashion. He found her with a broom. The man smiled triumphantly." The knight’s pale grey eyes narrowed as he turned back to watch the carters.

He held fast." she said. we must know what it means. you will fail. and jammed the golden band onto her finger. How do you come to know?" A light pink flush formed on her cheeks. Is that what you want?" Alain slid one foot onto the first step. "Then. The right hand. I am satisfied. you shall have it. jerked against his grip. They are equally ready. She screamed. and for writing letters and other things." "Nay.Her face paled. He vaulted over the railing to the floor below." "If you will let me get my tallies. "I learned from the Lady Edyt. then to at him. If we are to shortchange ourselves on the day service of almost forty villeins. save for ladies of great families. upward against the grip of his thumbs. poised to draw their swords. But pursuit would only bring more denial. Melisande. She pounced for the door. then it can be done with greater speed. sped along the balcony to the stairs as Alain closed in behind her. She found me useful for the household accounts." "Nay. Is there something wrong with that?" "It is uncommon. the left one pouring while the right steadied the maser. arms spread rail to rail. He watched the delicate lines of her slender hands. You shall not escape now. I--" "You will deny it now? I think not. Some others did. lord. directly before his eyes. From the corner of his eye. So it falls to me. Melisande? For if you do. Do you deny this finger held a ring? And is this not it? Why would you wear a ring if you are no more than a servant? Oh. "A fit. You cannot escape. I cannot help but wonder if you are more than you seem. Melisande. and sprang free. And the slender band of white skin around its middle finger. and blocked the foot of the stairs. "Is it war you want. and her face took on that carefully arranged mask that told him her thoughts were something different from her words. but most did not want to learn." She shook her head. the game is over. Edyt." Silently she reached for the jug and leaned over the table as she poured into the maser. I know not your scheme. to hide beneath my very nose. as well. he broke the cord about his neck that held the Celtic ring. "I know a little Latin." "Does not Thomas do those things?" "He does not read. "You have only a trap behind you. nay. . "Aye. Alain held out his hand. One word from you and they will draw arms." "You are an unusual woman. With a yank. Like a lightning stroke. Look at them." "Pour me some wine from the jug before you leave." Melisande thrust both arms inward. Alain saw the Saxons gather." "Come or I will force you. but if you mean to sell us out to the Scots. please." she stammered. I will have no more lies from you." "No." "No! You are mistaken. come and help me with them. Look at the Normans. His arms spread across from one bannister to the other. It is the end. Melisande glanced back to the balcony above. lady. Alain lurched and seized her hand. I have watched you too closely. For whatever reason you have chosen this deception. Come. as well. lord." "I am not. Where a ring should be. Very clever.

lady. whose heart was soft and tender. hand on the sword hilt. I can force you.Melisande closed her eyes. CHAPTER 9 As if it were something he did every day. You choose. she was also the most frightened maiden he had ever seen." she said. lord." "Say the words." Before he could shift farther toward the paired doors with his prize. we start without him. "By God. But that will make of this marriage a bloodbath." Alain fixed hard eyes on her. And beneath her carefully contrived mask of resignation. But this time she would not catch him off guard. His eyes gleamed with challenge. Chrétien. Melisande. yes. the peacemaker." "Then I say it shall be Thomas." "Good girl. not daring to let her believe she had any alternative. Melisande. "Thomas. Gerard. legs spread wide. with her head carried high. I do not harm women. Then his anguished face turned to her. Chrétien. She looked straight ahead." The Saxons sagged and stepped aside. but still cherished his only love. you gave your word. Chrétien hurried along at his lord's side. Wallis stepped before them beside Gerard. But we will wed. you will not hurt her!" Gerard's voice bellowed with apprehension. Live by it. Alain frowned." . blocking Saxons. But she was too practical a maid to pretend it would go away so easily. I beg you." Norman knights strode behind and before. for my men will fight as surely as yours." "Nay. "Who will give this bride away. as if to shut it out. tamping down the instinct to tighten the grip. "I want no fight." said the man. Robert. summon the priest. "You think I cannot? You have already forgotten the lesson learned just moments ago? Oh. he led his bride to the steps of the chapel. "Alain. who had lost. "As they are clearly yours. and her voice trembled with the words. Wallis. She did not quite flinch when he took her hand. He dared not let her escape. She is of no use to me in that way. "You cannot force me to marry you. "Forgive me. The castle could not be secure without this marriage. If he is not to the chapel immediately. find the ring I brought. you tell them. surely you do not need to bully her. She shook her head slowly. "Use your head. and now. With his hand still secure about her wrist. "Lady? You may choose. Gerard. Lady Melisande. the cautious. but it could be no other way." Her blue eyes copied the resigned set of her mouth. as she has no parents?" His eyes scanned the crowd of Saxons. and he saw for the first time how much her humble garments had hidden her noble carriage." Thomas's silver hair flopped down over his eyes as he lowered his gaze to the ground. he took the ring Chrétien held forth. The yellow-haired Saxon girl squared her shoulders. Alain clenched his teeth and took the girl by the wrist." "Nay. lady.

" "Believe what you will. Alain drew his bride into his arms. I have no friends in Strathclyde. I have little choice. her chin nearly touching her chest. Alain said his vows calmly. why did you not leave before now?" "There is no place to go. now aromatic with new herbs and rushes. Do you want their blood spilled? Then say the words. what may I expect?" "What do you expect?" "You are a Norman. She stood again at his command. But know this. And that was why she acquiesced." "You are mistaken. "Surely you do not expect me to believe your friends in Strathclyde would not shelter you. Nor could he understand what drove her to such fear. for she did it of her own accord. but found nothing of response from her. Give me your hand." What did she expect of him? He had done no more than what he had intended from the beginning. He admired her more than she could know. But he was sure they were said." "--With all my worldly goods I thee endow--. yet still stood behind her. You are my bride." The remainder was lost in an indistinguishable whisper. Lady Melisande." "I like you not at all. Again he lifted her face so she must look at him. and Thomas too would die defending her. took her hand. One word from her. "You liked me well enough before. Nothing beyond what the king had commanded of him. Satisfied. lady. He fell back then. Because she loved them." he said softly. Silence filled the bailey and its crowd of Saxons."Have done with it. Thomas. Her eyes pinched closed as he slipped the ring over the tip of each finger in succession in the ancient ritual." "And if you are wise. but nothing came forth. Her lips moved as if in a silent prayer as the priest laid his blessing on them." "Not Anwealda? Not Dougal?" "I have never trafficked with them. placed it in the hand of her antagonist." "Then I will settle for obedience. brought his lips down on hers." "As you have not persuaded me otherwise. and with a reassuring pat. dropped his arms to his side. before sliding it onto its proper place." "It appears to me you have." "And if you do not get it. after all. lord. lord. you will not forget it. Her mouth opened. Melisande. My loyalty is not something you can command. "Then." Her face looked flat. He released his hold. He did not have to tell her to kneel. "Look about you. but her jaw was tight. then with his other hand turned her face back to meet his gaze." His head bowed as if defeated. Thomas stepped forward. I will not tolerate a betrayal. Was it conspiracy? The girl lowered her head. "You have forgotten your own words. "Say the words. Melisande." They turned to walk side by side out the chapel door. I care not. I will have your loyalty. he called to Father Hardouin who led them into the small chapel. now. The fault is not yours." . He did not want her to hate him.

He had accomplished his goal." he said. and she tugged against the hold he had. and be sure none let her slip out the gate or sally port. "Aye. She had never smiled. natural arc. There will be but ordinary meal this night. then." "Why not just put a man to follow her about?" "I would rather be less obvious. if he would be truthful about it. see if someone might put together some sort of wedding supper. "So be it. begone. But put a guard at the bolt hole. grim line. and do as I ask. replaced by a puzzling. But she accepted his lead in returning to the hall. Chrétien. Chrétien stood back from his lord's side. the remainder of their lives together which could easily be turned from bliss to nightmare. Wanted her. "Am I not? All know what wives of Normans are used for. his brow furrowed in concern that brought Alain another pang of guilt. after they were alone. -and she did ask. but I have no wish to dignify this occasion with finery. to his knowledge. This is more your making than mine. to pretend it is a feast. The yellow braid bobbed about as she ran to the wooden outbuilding. "You are kind." "It is the function of all wives. With all the ire she did provoke in him. It was not so very much to ask. for the sun begins to set. Why do you question me for easing up?" "You need not be so angry. stiff with rage. after all. Alain. he had liked her. Chrétien. he would try to make peace with her. He dropped the second hand away. You were right to begin with. And might the lady be allowed to change into more suitable garments for the occasion?" Before he could answer.She held out her hand. realizing as he did so just how easily he could crush her delicate bones in his grip. I would rather not frighten her. distant poise. Now." said Melisande. Go. That is why I thought to let her return to something familiar for a while. "And I. for he meant to reassure her. And it is as vital a function as any can be. I would rather perform a useful function. Tonight then. Her face seemed carved in ice. Proceed with it. Mayhap he could be a bit gentler to the girl. Her trembling had passed. "Chrétien." said Chrétien. But if you wish to perform menial work. The girl's lips drew into a tight. seek only to carry out Rufus' commands. long fingers curling in a graceful. in her own way. But he took the hand and wrapped his own huge one around it. But her rebellion is dangerous. "Alain. for others follow her too easily. From the beginning. then so be it. she is sorely afraid. Melisande broke her silence. not merely those of Normans. And he liked her. There was." "I know. her body no more than limbs that responded with all the plodding of a donkey in a weary pack train. He placed his other hand atop hers. "Yours no more. He ordered himself to ease the grip on her small hand. Nor do I care to make mockery of an ordinary meal. he would have to exercise caution to keep from hurting her." . lady." Alain felt his jaw tighten and tension invaded his arms all the way down to his fists. I have bullied her." Irritation flared. like you. and his face lightened." She gave a mocking curtsy. and fled. but she stiffened at the second touch. but now her bleak face made her previous solemnity appear almost joyous. You are no servant in your husband's household. "Mayhap it is nearly done." "It is my duty. could you not be easier on the girl? For all her bravura.

" She supposed she should feel grateful." "Very well. Only the hall still needs attention. then looked away and pretended concentration on their tasks. they believed she merely needed to get used to the idea of marriage and all it entailed. Chrétien knew it." "Some do." "I must finish with the linens first. "It will be all right. But they were glad. rest a hand lightly on her shoulder." He had certainly grown used to her name quickly enough. but I have grown accustomed to your help. for she could not meet her eyes nor find even a hint of a smile. lady. Truth to tell. save possibly as an infant. was a special kind of tribute. in their hearts. lady. Melisande clamped her teeth tightly and hurried off to the hall to see that all was properly set. As unlike his as was that damnable headache and the occasional odd tremor in his hand. but the bread is done. you belong on the dais. Marriage was expected of her. just yet. It is merely that the higher born must serve them differently. and merely spoke of what he saw. She raised her head but did not look at him. The servants scurried about. are you all right?" Nelda ran to her as soon as she saw Melisande released from her lord's clutch. She began to jerk with each touch. I vow I cannot think for myself. But find me something to do. and the ox already roasted to a fine turn. gave her weak. but they will always debase us in that way. the task goes to others. sometimes. He had been too harsh with her. And the men give us their protection. Like Nelda. After that. A frightening ache grew inside her. lady. It was guilt that motivated his bad humor. You know that. "Melisande. Now and then." "Then the trenchers and goblets?" "Aye. He is not like your father. Or should she feel ungrateful. the loyalty they had given her. But none can be trusted to protect when it is most needed. He has not harmed me. The edge of her lower lip was beginning to feel worn and raw." "Women are servants of men. Some of the men did as well. Nelda. that he so easily turned her into servant? She confused herself with her roundabout thinking. in a way. And now I must learn to do without it again. But this time. How could they know. She would nod and study the stone floor. He merely seeks to secure his hold on this land. "Melisande. of course. she was sure that most of them had no real sympathy for her avoidance of the marriage to the Norman. lady. when she had not shared her secrets with anyone? She supposed. with no knowledge of why she asked it of them." Of course he was not." "We all must have our place. they were not. one of the maids would stop. Then the girl would go on about her tasks. Nelda.As the man walk away with a certain stiffness." "Why? I am still the same. fleeting smiles. She was the one who made . Alain regretted his sudden and infantile temper. I should far rather cook and clean. None of them had ever touched her before. She wished they were right." "I do not think the lord will allow it. nevertheless. "Aye. It was unlike him to fall prey to frustration so easily. rather than to graciously accept their offering." "Aye. And the way his vision blurred. *** "My lady. and it would bring them more security." Nelda sighed. I am trying to do my best without you.

Their subdued voices left anguished silences. without realizing it. She wanted to fight." "And to ease his path. having heard of his coming. The handsome Norman lord trimmed off slender. "Thank you. and laid them before her. If she had realized it. Yet it seemed to take half the night. Nothing else remained to do. "Alain. she kept her guarded gaze from catching his eye. or had clamped shut and would not let anything in. he would be swift about it. She prayed the meal would quickly pass. To ease your fears. perhaps? The pheasant?" "Nay. In the end. she had hoped. Her eyes blurred. She did not want to be placated. juicy slices of beef from the roast he had been given. And she. "Mayhap the wine will help your digestion. spaced by odd. But she could not eat. She sat in the high-backed chair that had once been her mother's. The others carefully studied the remaining contents of their cups. mayhap she would like to go to her chamber. "Eat. She had been past crying for years. God did not answer her prayers. she would have quashed it." he suggested. not even the little ones. out-of-place subjects." "A little bit. Yet despite herself. and poured some in the maple maser which he offered to her. and slay the one who betrayed them. She did not even sigh as she ascended to the dais to take her place beside the man who would soon take her to his bed. Aye. always did." "Thank you. Or flee. her tears long dried up from fear and pain. beside the Norman in the chair where Fyren had once sat. Before this horrible day. and this ox had been beautifully done. in the part where demons did not frolic. I am not used to sitting. Mayhap. he returned his attention to her.herself a servant. arranging their fold lines to be perfectly square with the tables' sides. she had hoped. hope had taken hold. instead. When the silences grew too long. She shook her head. . had chosen him to rescue her people. She smoothed her carefully pressed linens onto the table." said a Norman toward the end of the table. How odd it was. she had actually begun to think of him as some sort of shining angel sent from Heaven. The Norman soon left her to her misery and turned his attention to the men who sat near him. With each chore. Like prayers. Melisande." "Nay." "A turnip. though not herself. it would not be fulfilled. He merely sought to placate her. and after that. put an end to her life. or bread?" She felt as if her throat were no longer joined to her stomach. he could only do as Normans. The Norman lord glared the man down." "Something else. Melisande. "A little more. Somewhere in her distorted mind. The trenchers were laid out and goblets set about according to their owners." But she could not." "That will pass quickly. He could not. as all men. She took a sip. But more so if you begin now. yet she did not cry. She had always loved beef. Hope only led to worse disappointment. gave a small nod. I am not hungry." said Chrétien.

" "I need no help. She only wished to cheat death until she could find a better way of dealing with it. Before her. She might even hide there for a while. had believed him capable of her salvation. As she closed the door behind her. She tried to arrange a smile on her face for him. and kill him in his sleep! He will not sleep before he kills you! Flee! She hated them. They too stared at the empty chamber. But that could not be changed now. Her small candle flickered with each step downward. gusty winds. Like fierce. "There's another way out. "do not be so afraid. he is more than-. floors. Gerard." Gratefully. knowing her death was imminent.She looked at the man. Chrétien. now. And she could not kill him. She sped to the corner where the hidden panel was. Just a man. suddenly realizing she had worried at her lower lip until it bled. as they ascended the steps. He is not a bad man. But there was no place to go. and Robert. Thomas. and instead bit her lip. something no man could do. And she did not hate him. his knights gaped up at him. I could find a woman to help you. she must flee. who stared down at his trencher. who knew nothing of the cause of her distress. But you are kind. her heart began to race. even the bed. Freedom? There was none. There was nothing she could do. for the smallest clue. but found naught. I will come shortly. I only wish to be alone for a little while. still on the dais." said Chrétien. None knew them as well as she did. Alain surveyed again the walls. Flee! You must flee! Nay! Let him come. she's gone!" Below him. He was just a man. they flew about within her.kind. Would that not be enough to secure his holding? Aye. and shoved it aside. The demons returned. twisted them." "But there is a way. after all." "Aye. The lord Fyren never shared such knowledge. If only she had eaten supper. "My lady. nevertheless caught her gaze with the steadfast one of his own. He will not hurt you. But she had long since forgotten how that was done. the twenty-seven stone steps disappeared into the maw of darkness. conquered her with them. lord." said the Norman lord. *** "She's gone. By Christ's Blood. Chrétien dashed up the wooden stairs ahead of Gerard." "I care not what his conquests have to say about him. But you can flee! Save yourself! Why? So you will still have someone to torment? Nay! Save yourself while there is still time! Hurry! He comes soon! Her heart sped within her chest at the thought. It was not his fault that she had harbored secret desires for him. the bolt hole. They captured her fears. Melisande rose. "If you will see her there. She walked past Thomas. The caverns. And I have heard it said by many a lass. what is it?" "I truly do not know. "Aye. Hide in the caverns! Then you can worry about where to go! She had married him. and I thank you. Thomas. Now. of course. not even if she hated him." "Aye. then crawled through the opening." He gave her a helpless smile and returned to the dais." .

through the hall. You are my wife. To the bed. he slowed. If she reached the narrow slit above her before him. he threw aside the barrels that hid it and stooped to pass through. He latched both hands onto her arms and pressed her hard against the sloping rock wall with his body. You will only hurt yourself. Within the cavern. Alain recalled why he had not investigated the bolt hole further. and naught will change that. Once outside the tower. "Give over. Alain pitched her over his shoulder. in all directions. He held the torch high to scan about. CHAPTER 10 Little corridors. her eyes huge and round. "Now. dipped and rose all around him."Beside that. He lunged. "You struggle in vain. watch this chamber. carrying her as he would a sack of corn across the bailey. flung herself against the wall." She grappled for the rock above her. while she pushed herself sideways toward the bed's opposite side. His nose wrinkled. where every villein who knew her would shelter her. until he reached the odd little passage the girl as Edyt had shown him. Tiny particles of sand fell on his arm. He walked a little way in that direction. Chrétien. The wick of a freshly snuffed candle. There's-. following the gravelly floor until he reached the little chamber where the passage leveled." Had she gotten by his man. he dropped the torch and scrambled up the rock face after her. pits and recessions branched out. He should have asked her that day to show him the rest of the way out. Almost beyond comprehension. He raced through the tower's lowest floor with the rush torch he had grabbed on his way through the hall. Now she could be long gone. caught the foot. It was decreed by Rufus. the bolt hole. ignoring her cries. All of a motion. what is it to be? A fight? You cannot win. became too small for anyone to pass. It was impossible. The shaft that appeared to be most used wound downward. A shriek echoed through the cavern." "No. A smell half-remembered. With a defeated sigh he turned back. His large body would never go through that hole. Once there. Soon it too. His heart sank. through the hall and out to the new tower. "Please!" "Please? Just what is it you intend? Do you think I shall just step aside and allow you to make such a fool of me?" "I didn't mean--" . he shoved her through the low hole. please!" She scooted off the far side of the bed. and hauled her along behind him up the incline of the passage. lady. and cried out as he pulled her down. all was lost. lady. lady. At its top. Melisande scrambled away and drew herself up tightly against the headboard. and through the open door to her chamber. A labyrinth. narrowed. Up the wooden stairs. Above him a foot dangled below a coarse wool garment. and he lifted the torch. and he could do nothing but send out his knights about the countryside. somehow? Alain raced down the staircase. still holding her wrist tightly. His hope sank.aye." He gave her no chance to reply or resist. where he flung her down like that same sack of corn.

and her only sounds were whimpers. like a dying rabbit. came forth. but the harder he tried. . merely shook in his arms. down the stairs. Melisande. beside him. and that of the new tower. As wrong as anything he had ever done. Alain only shook his head. But he had never thought he would be in this position. now or ever. "She is not harmed. He had meant only to subdue her. She had stopped making words. "Melisande. out of these chambers. A soft drizzle had begun to fall. all considering the floor as if something compelling lay there. She no longer fought. seemed suddenly meaningless. Oh. what terrified her so? He had never meant it to be like this. By God's Sweet Breath. Alain scanned over all the things he had missed this day because of a discovery he almost wished he had not made. You may go to see her. He lowered his voice. de Crency. Now only incoherent squeals and gasps. and her words trembled as she writhed against his grip. He had done nothing but bully her. Alain caught her again. Somehow." Gerard's reply gritted through his teeth. Nelda will go. The open floor from which Jean Nouel had fallen to his death was now finished. the knights all sat around on benches not yet put away." But Thomas took Gerard's arm before the man could dash up the stairs. Only frightened. Melisande. This place. he threw her down to the bed. Were he in Gerard's place. Desperate." Her body trembled. silent. He threw the purple cloak over his shoulders and trudged out into the night. and the night seemed oddly warmer for it. But he doubted it would feel any different to her. he had to bring her back to her senses. He had to get out of there. I am bound to my vow only while she lives. if you think it will help. Gerard. "No!" she cried.Her glance flew from side to side. And Chrétien was right. and thrashed as he fought to keep his hold. Can you not hear me? I do not want to hurt you. Below. "By Christ's Blood. Chrétien came up beside him as he walked. "I will send a woman. Too frightened for-anything. Should she die. Christ's Blood. he would do the same. I will not hurt you. listen to me. frantic. what was this? Was the girl mad? No. whose blazing brown eyes threatened a fight to the death. Expelling the long breath he had held. only terrified. he knew a husband could not rape his wife. She rolled to the side and drew herself into a tight ball. He let himself out through the door between the two chambers.Melisande. but the more he tried to subdue her. All except Gerard. the more terrified she became." There was no point in the argument. stared helplessly at the shaking girl before him. She must have thought he was going to rape her. Out the door. her voice like the high squeal of a rabbit set upon by hounds. you will face me. He tightened his hold about her waist and arms. landed on top of her. the way a turtle shrank into its shell. the worse it got. do you not understand?" She did not. this time about the waist. There is not reason to-. The progress of the curtain wall. I tell you. stood. she was not mad. Alain rose away from the bed. "Be calm. seeking an opening where there was none. This was wrong. She screamed. he lifted the down quilt that had been kicked aside and tucked it in around her. all he had ever wanted. across the balcony. of course. struggling. go where he could think more clearly. That I owe myself. not under either common or king's law. calm down.

they would talk. Surely. my friend. than if they had challenged him directly. lost control of yourself." "Hurt her. His at the price of a woman barely more than a child. A woman's purpose in the scheme of things was clear. a word of regret. some tenderness. I could have done things differently. She was a most unusual woman." "Aye. He should have known that. A kind act.Alain mounted the stone steps to walk along the completed portion of the curtain wall. Cheer yourself. Any man chooses what sort of wife he will have by the way he treats her. as if they had seen and heard nothing. considering her violent father. He owed her more than just an apology." "But it can be done. to see the hawks at dawn. You always admired Heloise. as was a man's. to have demanded and gotten such a promise. I tried to calm her. but I only seemed to make matters worse. Alain. He usually liked coming here. His head was not on the block for his stupidity. Tomorrow. But do you think she would have been so amiable to a husband who treated her as if she had no more value than a sack of grain?" "I made some guesses. "You were right. A promise. I have much to undo. But I left her terrified." "I suppose you know a better way. They love her. they all love her. I would not be surprised if he knew exactly what you would meet. Chrétien could afford to be so blithe. somehow he had given her an entirely different message. I think." Chrétien smiled the kind of wicked smile Rufus would favor. mayhap wrong ones. Not unreasonable. Best to watch for a dagger in your back. it must be violence she feared. but that is certainly gone now. "On the contrary. But Chrétien had the good sense to remain silent while they walked the rest of the allure. Alain." He wished he could believe that. though by God's Breath I did learn how a man might come so close." "I've not hurt her. But while he knew he had not meant to harm her." "So I thought. You will find a way. don't they?" "Aye. myself. . *** He had braved the gauntlet of Saxons in the hall below. She would make a fine martyr." "And in so doing. I almost had her trust." "You said you did not hurt her." "I doubt Rufus has any idea what he has sent me to. the larks of an evening." "Did you truly think she would welcome you into her arms after being so manhandled most of the day?" "I only sought to bring her under control. too. It is possible. I thought she meant to betray us before she disappeared." "That is not your way. Why? And what was it she feared? Even a normally balky bride did not resist what she knew was her husband's right. It was almost as if she had set herself up as sacrifice. no. and so do you. unnerved more by the men's quiet disregard. soaring over his domain. Chrétien." "Why do you think that?" "Rufus picks his men carefully. He knew before he sent you that you were the right man. And he was distinctly aware that he was alive only by virtue of the promise Melisande had extracted from them.

" "Don't--" He knew she had not yet come around. and wove them into her tangled hair." He reached out. And I do not want us to be enemies. I promise you. too long. no. She was gone again. and kept calling her name. relit the candle from the brazier. Like those that still occasionally afflicted Chrétien when he recalled his own night of terror. he must still be terrifying to her. A night terror. you are by far the loveliest woman I have ever known. please! Don't hurt--" "Melisande.I can't-. too. lady. the quilt strewn precariously across the bed's far corner. No one will hurt you. lady. It is but a dream. A faint noise. Big as he was. "Melisande. incoherent and hurried stream. and barged through the door. like a dove's cooing. wake up. but decided he had imagined it and lay back down. Even in your ragged clothing. "You are so lovely. He knelt beside her. Night terrors were common among men who had fought too hard. but from what Thomas had told him. no one will hurt you. But the cries still came from the far side of the bed. I was wrong. "No. and words diminished to an unintelligible whisper. "I won't. And as she screamed. until she quieted. She turned on her knees and clawed at the wall. I will not let it happen again. "I had no right to treat you that way. my lady. He hoped the cause was not as hideous." he said gently." "Hurt--" "No. He had seen that before. The girl huddled in the corner. Wake up. He decided to lie back down. not the one that frightens you so. But he heard nothing more. and slowly edged himself along the wall. Puzzled. I won't!" she cried out. a rattle of things he couldn't piece together. I should be your protector. He raised his head off the pillow. I am sorry. drawing as close to her as he dared. The bed was empty.The brazier's coals still glowed brightly as he stripped off his clothes. too many terrible battles. "Melisande." He stood and reached down her. He blew at the wax candle and eased his body on top of the warm down quilt. it is but a dream. immersing himself in the dark and quiet. He kept talking." "I won't.let me go!" She looked directly at him as nonsense words flowed out.don't leave me!" It was his fault. he leaped from the bed and grabbed his tunic. He jerked on the garment. I had not meant to frighten you. A scream jolted through him. "No!" she screeched. The odd words flowed from her in a steady. He had done this to her. his hopes could be in vain. she tried to push herself farther back into the corner. stroked his fingers on her cheek. interspersed with gasps like hiccups. Plaster flaked beneath the onslaught of her nails. Her eyes stared off at nothing. Most had seen something they desperately wanted to forget. But there was no place to go. "Melisande. Alain sat on the floor. and so sat down again at the bed's edge." . seeped through the still air. But what could he do about that? Sit. He bolted upright. her face a mask of terror. Melisande. don't-. Another scream pierced his ears. "I won't-. Ah.

and her arms tightened. Yet her body begged him to stay with her. His body ran riot. The gulping sobs and screeches faded to thin whimpers. The dream is gone now. not his aggression. not quite daring to break the spell. Something special." "Nay. Her mouth opened invitingly. Ah. love. She needed his comfort. But the chamber was chilly and she wore no more than a light linen chemise. now. But he was not the important one at the moment." "Nay. across her shoulders. yielding corners of . he probed tentatively into the warm. Just one kiss. What was so different now. stroke across nipples that suddenly hardened with her touch. He would give her what she needed from him. He did not trust himself. I'll stay as long as you need me. "Don't leave me. touching like feathers. But when he straightened to reach for the quilt. beneath the open tunic. She had known well enough in the earlier evening hours when she had fought him with every ounce of her strength and being. He could not resist. Sudden need struck him as he drew her against his body. demanded its fulfillment. for he had long desired her. Yet she was a woman of the modern age. I must get the quilt for you. His body screamed at him. this woman in his arms. what is it you know? Why would you not tell me? And what had been done to this girl? Was it Fyren's doing? Suddenly he wished the man alive. her arms latched about his neck with a desperate ferocity. moist. to reassure her." For a while he held her. Her lips invited him. instead. he pulled the cover over her and tucked it around her. He would ignore it. Alain stood. felt its delicate fingers nestling in among the hairs. No questions asked. so that he might slay him. he again brought his lips to hers." she said. for a new sort of meaning had become attached to it. And she needed him. A personal one. Wife. and she made no objection. He should leave. Rufus.He would have expected her to recoil from his touch. awkwardly lifting her in his arms. "Nay. now. Not enough to keep her warm. He slipped his other arm around her and drew her into his arms. His lips kissed tenderly on her hair. Never in his life had he said that. Someone special. you are cold. a passion forgotten in the frightening struggle just past. With his tongue. for she was his wife. he would stop. An odd word it seemed. he didn't know how. never before now. With his free hand. her own small hand took his and held it at her cheek. grabbing at the quilt as he went. As you find her. "Lady. He lifted her chin with his fingers and his lips found hers. He bent and crawled over the top of her. she had to know what all society expected of her. then carried her to the bed. that she would so readily forgive him? He had done little beyond soothe her in her terror. Caught in the quandary." she pleaded. but he must." She nestled her head into his shoulder while he stroked gently over her back and through her damp hair. She surely did not know what her touch did to him. then slowly faded to nothing as his hands stroked over her tangled hair. Instead. demanding what he dared not give it. and clung tightly to him. If she did not like it. where he lowered her gently to the feather mattress. and lay down at her side. himself. "You will be all right. then cheek. I won't go. God's Breath. He felt her hand straying across his chest.

and a calmness he did not feel. he would give her anything. quiet sea in each other's arms. and he feared he was lying. faster. her blue eyes bright and startled. Ah. not caring where it lit. engulf them. and I will stop. But for himself. harder. her solemn blue eyes watched him as he pulled away as if she feared he would leave. I have wanted you in my arms from the moment I saw you." His voice sounded to him like a coarse. he caught the hem of the linen chemise. The tip of her tongue found his. his need too strong. Instead. but more than that. He fought against the wildly rampant urge to take her now. answered his with its own tender. time was running out. felt the torrent of ecstasy flood through him. and they rocked on the gentle. over her head. Her eyes closed tightly and she whimpered with his touch. Beyond calling back. In the dim glow of the guttering candle. and he. each stroke becoming more precious. "You have only to tell me stop. she even raised her arms to help him. He held her tightly against his still rigid and trembling body as they rode the last wave together. "Ah. tentative exploration. how was he to manage this? He should have left. But she said nothing. He was undone. Her whimpers became moans of passion as he stroked." "Do not leave me. carefully. Exquisite jolts shot through him as he moved to join her. aye. increasing tempo with her rising demand. he slid within her. my love. wrapped in its final warmth. But he sat and yanked the tunic off over his head and tossed it away. It was too late. he skimmed the flawless white skin of her belly with his fingertips and ignored his barbarous urge to press her fiercely to him. everything. His body tautened. before they softened to the smoky glow of pleasure. desperate for filling. wanted her to crave him in the same deliciously painful way that he needed her. hard and swift. with a rare and elegant motion. fiercely demanding satisfaction for its urgent need. in a maelstrom of his own. Nor did he care. Again. as she demanded more and more of him. slowly. while both hands cradled her round breasts. Lifting his body to let his hand pass between them. and I will stop. You will see. All gentle tenderness vanished as his lust became obsession. He wanted her. welcoming his entry into her body. Slowly. refusing to allow his wild aggression to take over. lodging him between them. he found her source of passion buried in its curly nest. lady. where he wanted most on God's earth to be. And she was ready for him. I will give you anything you want. The storm was spent at last. again. raised it past her breasts. She rode with him. you like that. for his need had quickened into voracious hunger. ragged whisper. "You have only to say the word. before she changed her mind. deeper. As you find her. soon nestled snugly within. but what if she did? He dared not think of it." With a gentleness. tugged him downward to her. again. There was no barrier." Her arms again encircled his neck. He felt her thighs separate beneath his weight." And she did like it. and he sought to fulfill it. "My lovely lady. . and lifted it as his hands ran smoothly up her thighs and hips. Aye. The first touch raised her high off the bed. He did not think she would send him away now. A heavy moan coursed through him as he slid down so that he could capture the rosy tip of one nipple in his mouth.her mouth. God's Breath. until her body burst into a tempest of undulating contractions.

She would be tired. *** The first sounds of morning woke him. and walked through the door between the chambers.His strength. was spent. Strange. Or that she was no virgin. She slept. I think we will deal very well with each other. lied to hide herself. give me this precious lady for the rest of my days. Once again he pulled the abandoned cover snugly about her body and arranged her long yellow hair outside it. Aye. he understood. my love. She would no longer need to hide from him. awaiting the day's events. Today. where he could touch and hold her. She had already forgiven much more. Now he saw reason for her strange solemnity. Just once. That they must talk. He took the wooden stairs two at a time. But he did not care. notions that were neither wholly inaccurate nor unjustified. must have drained her. Very tired. "Yesterday I saw that big red tabby with a spindly mouse tail dangling from its mouth. for they were now one. But he wished he could see her smile. She had deceived him in many ways. Nay. She still slept. He took it. "I will cherish you. and tugged it over his head. the knights stood. Below on the dais." Her solemn blue eyes closed. CHAPTER 11 "What is so amusing. and I will be happy. Mayhap. He soon was dressed and out the door. And there was no need for her to rise. Or that she would sleep in a garment. the morning bell. He could do no more than rest his head against her breasts and caress with tiny strokes over her damp hair. that she should sleep with her hair unbound. a kestrel's screech. and its flame had long since drowned in its own wax. She might well harbor notions of Normans and their vindictive treatment of unvirtuous or disobedient brides. Chrétien took one look at him and started laughing. None would expect it of her. Her wedding night. she would go back to being a lady. too. the cock at dawn. Perhaps she had feared what he would do when he discovered her lack of virginity. He had brought naught else into the room save the candle. let her rest. caress her soft cheek. beyond the cracks of the shutters. The latch clicked into its notch. fingering the indentation of his spine. all my life. Methinks he wore the same bold grin. only wanted to stay this night at her side. He picked up his discarded tunic from the floor. He sat on the bed as the early morning light sifted through the narrow double window. Chrétien?" Chrétien's audacious grin spread even wider. Her hands rested against his back at his waist. after going about all day with it plaited. But he could forgive that. too. He wanted to touch the tangled yellow hair. unexpected as it was. left behind a look of peace on her face. She had not moved from where she had been when his eyes at last had closed the night before. He raised up on one elbow and peered happily at the prize beside him. too." . Sweet Jesus. tomorrow.

But if not him. The Saxon knights merely snickered into their ale. He would call for his Norman priest. as if every muscle had been strained beyond its capacity. and that would explain Melisande's fear even better than a lover she did not want to give up. That was only one of her fears. he would seem the most obvious possibility. Just the way she says!" Hugh spit out the words between bursts of laughter. not with the usual dread and fear that morning brought. He rather enjoyed it. She never knew why. roaring with laughter. Sometimes. But he could not deny to himself there was a certain spring in his gait that had not been there yesterday. She never knew. Should he watch for that dagger in his back from another? Mayhap one of the knights who had absconded? There was another possibility. as now. Once she had clawed at the wall until her fingernails broke and bled. He ignored their banter as he drew the big chair up to the trestle table and helped himself to the generous piles of food. only that it had happened. then who? Wallis? He was a young and attractive man. mayhap would make a passable lover. But she had no memory of what she had done. New marks scraped on the walls in the corner. Her hair might be unbraided and tangled. "Aye. Alain. seen the demons take hold. watching for signs of jealousy." Alain slanted a glance at Gerard. he says!" Robert laughed. woke completely bare. 'twill be so. as it was now." "Save your coin. If the Norman lord had seen her terror. Yellow plaster clung beneath her nails. "He does swagger in his nether parts. "I overslept. That. Gerard's laughter joined the others. None. Thomas told her that. Aye. Sometimes she found herself asleep in a corner. But that was the trouble. . and his eyes watered. But Fyren's daughter? Who would have dared? He didn't mind their hilarity at his expense." "Aye. What she had done. She'll lead him a pretty chase. Alain frowned and growled at Chrétien. despite that she always wore the linen chemise to bed. Robert. it was too obvious. in fact. But he saw none.The Norman knights leaned back. "More like the vixen kept him up all night. Rape. or she might have by chance made it back to her bed. "You were not at chapel this morning. She had walked. she would not live long. I'll wager. always. If the lady had a lover within the hall. or at all odd places in her chamber. Even Gerard seemed more at ease than he had been the night before. "Overslept." said Robert. Robert slapped his broad hand on the table. No matter that she would not survive their attempts. Saxon and Norman alike slapped each other's back and wiped tears from their eyes. Like now. The man made no secret of his loyalty and showed only relief that things were turning out well. She sometimes screamed and cried. she didn't know. I'll manage my own life. And there would be an achiness to her body. but with a devastating certainty. and they would exorcize the demons from her. But his own mood for it had passed." The loud guffaws echoed through the hall. And he guessed the smile he could not keep off his face looked unusually silly. *** Melisande woke.

He had abruptly risen just when he should have-And he had left. After that. She dared not imagine what he would do to her then. without taking his due. and pulled it over her head. There was nothing else for it but to go down. And she was too cowardly to die. with grace. shifted her aching body to the bed's edge. The one time when God had given her what she asked for. If she only had the courage. She tried to be brave. and Fyren would be there. she had forgotten. There had been that mockery of a wedding. It must mean. she found herself too afraid to pay the price He demanded. She fetched it up and pulled it on. then her pale green overdress that fit closely to her bodice. moving as her mother had taught her. Then left. Mayhap. Mayhap she had one more day. until it flowed in yellow waves over her shoulders and down. Once again she had allowed herself to succumb to terror. She would die and go to Hell. God did not hear her prayers for salvation. and then the Norman's angry attack on her after he found her in the cavern. One more day to live. His jaw dropped. after all. she worked the tangles from her hair. and adjusted the side slits to reveal the kirtle's decorated sleeves and exposed embroidered hem. No point in continuing her charade now. the new ring with its brilliant blue stone cabochon. the Norman lord to save her people. With her silver comb. her favorite.Melisande sat up. she was supposed to die on her wedding night. she took the stairs slowly. Her mother's gold ring was still on her finger where the Norman had shoved it. that the Norman lord had not come back after she had fallen asleep. soothed her. She opened her chest and removed the folded blue kirtle. and on the other hand. he would not save her. Simply left. He thought his heart stopped. And not returned. He must think her ugly. He had shown her he was but a man. nothing. she didn't care what he thought. Curious. for he had given her over to the demons. Today she would not let terror consume her. then he didn't know. It would be better just to have it done with. Melisande squeezed her eyes shut. as if that somehow would help her bring back some memory that had been lost from the night before. For all her fantasies of the Norman lord. She tried to tell herself that her death would not matter. nearly to her knees. bounded by death and Hell. so jumbled she was not even clear on the order in which things had occurred. but she knew where she was bound. he turned. She added a length of amber beads around her neck. But it was like a tangle of odd threads. That was it. *** "Holy mother!" Alain glanced up from his meat at Robert. but she was the worst of cowards. and she had not expected that. He was a brutish man. Satan would give her over to him. symbol of her marriage. She stood at the head of the stairs and took a deep breath. As she reached for the door latch. then he had not seen what the demons did to her. then. Shoulders squared and chin lifted. Shame flooded her. Nelda had come and sat with her. All things around him stopped. Waiting. slid her feet to the floor and fished about with her toes for her chemise until she found it. for he was much beloved by the Devil. If he had not returned. this marriage was merely a matter of land and position. Then he had left. Well. A black and empty gap in time. Another day to torture herself. she suddenly realized she really was still alive. who gawked up the staircase. What sort of man was he? Did he not find her pleasing enough? For him. Aye. stunned by the . gently unbraided and combed her hair.

The man had never been noted for delicacy. Best to let the subject drop. could they not? All. he could see. Smiling was something everyone could do. "Well enough. The knights on the dais sniggered. "Bread. he awaited her descent as eagerly as he awaited the rest of their lives together. lady? It is very juicy and tender today. fell in waves. but Alain was not inclined to overlook the lack at the moment. But what? Something she would not wish to share in the company of lesser intimates." "With good enough reason. Angry. angry eye peered sideways from beneath her golden lashes." "Tis not the pork he speaks of. The fourth. "It will do you good to break your fast. touching only where it must. she refused. "Under the circumstances. Gerard. Aye. and chewed it slowly. Mayhap she was a bit sore this morning." . All will be well. How could she be indifferent to him after the night they had shared? "Lady?" Gerard asked. I'll wager. Melisande?" Alain asked. The blue eyes lowered. choked on his ale. all along." "I care not. her hair. yellow as sunshine. except this woeful angel. "Will you have pork this morning. She sullenly accepted it. But she had never seemed to be one who resented such things. but a cold and hard. Melisande descended the stairs. he had another dainty morsel ready. offered it. By the time she had finished that piece. She shook her head. But come and be at ease. so that Gerard nearly flinched. But I do. Something was amiss. But her solemn blue eyes said naught of the night they had passed together. "Do not trouble yourself. They had just returned to winter." She did not turn toward him. or you will grow thin. "You must eat. and green like the new green of trees in spring." And she did not believe that. her dress a blue like the sky. Standing at the base of the stairs. and returned to meet his gaze." "You were upset." she replied. but left at first light? He carved off a smaller piece. with fresh butter? It is unusually sweet and soft this morning. but a narrowed. surely." Alain shot a warning glower at Robert. It would be like the warmth of sunshine after a hard winter. He led her to her chair. You did not eat well at supper." "Mayhap. He held out his hand to her. angry challenge. Contempt met his puzzlement. not with the warmth and light he had expected. He would bring her the happiness she lacked. and she certainly had not appeared to be so last night." A brittleness tinged her words. then. raked over him head to toe. He offered the first of the pork from the point of the knife. which she also took. then. This was the way she should have been. Her hand lowered onto his." He could not fathom what that might mean. and although many had finished their meals he sat beside her in the lord's chair and carved slender slabs of pork with his knife. Because he had not stayed with her. his voice distressed. Eat. All about her. I am unharmed. assessed him. for surely she would bring much of it to him. He swore to make her smile. "You did not sleep well. Wallis snorted. She still had that characteristic grimness about her.

too. yellow butter. You risk your life to stand between these two. and his voice danced with acid amusement. "It becomes dangerous here. "Mayhap the lady is able to fight her own battles." said a Saxon voice." "Aye. "If we have something to discuss. Melisande flinched. He would not give it to her. today she was brimming for a fight. She dared throw his dagger at him? Alain yanked at the knife from the wooden post. Best to withdraw himself. Ire blazed back from her eyes. anger gripping around his eyes. only meant to have her think it. For whatever terror she had experienced the day before. let us be about the business of men. I would prefer it in private to this show of defiance. sank into the hard oak. yet she took the slice. who frowned in the direction of his lady. Her stomach won. Gerard. Methinks you'll have a rollicking good romp of a night." he said." he boomed. Chrétien rose to follow." "I do not wish to. "Aye. Alain regretted his flash of temper. then. but he would not withdraw it. as if he had not noticed Gerard's barb. still quivering. The exchange puzzled Alain. He spun again to head out the door at the far end of the hall."Aye. go home to your wife. His dagger. Something about that act seemed to aggravate her ire. Melisande. that's the thing. then. whirled fiercely at her. The girl glared. and she took the bread without a word. and has no more need of me." "And I would prefer to hear you use my name. He did not. Throw a few pots. Something swished past his hand. But what was the burr the lady had beneath her saddle? "Bread. "You forgot something." said Gerard. "How kind of you." said Gerard. She was hungry. She eyed the slice with avarice. He felt his patience wearing thin." "I should prefer the company of others. Why would Gerard be changing sides now? But that was the least of his problems. But not fast enough to miss the banter behind him. He strode angrily toward the narrow steps that led down from the dais. "Feed yourself. "Go home to your wife. and thudded into the wooden pillar beside him. Toss a few daggers. And he slathered the warm butter on a freshly trimmed slice of the fragrant bread. Her eyes widened with fear. Her seething eyes dared him. He trimmed off another slice and spread on the rich." "Aye." he said. then. but didn't want to take it from him." Gerard's hearty laugh quickly subdued to a bare snicker. Gerard could go hang himself. and Alain would not be overly affected." . And safer." Astonished. seeming to be utterly torn between the rebellion in her heart and the empty pit that was her stomach. her fists tightly wrapped in rage. lord." said another. Gerard. Whatever was the matter with the girl? It was as if she wanted to eat. "Mayhap I will go home. Lord. at least something is sweet and soft." Devil take it! Alain slammed the point of his dagger into the table as he stood. with Chrétien close at his heels. Chrétien's hand clutched Alain's shoulder. shoving back the huge chair so that it nearly toppled. "Chrétien." The dagger rotated in his hand as if he actually contemplated throwing it.

Well. Chrétien laughed. this might not be the best time to give her the advantage of hot water as her weapon. eagerly accepting any assignment they could get that would put them a distance from their lord's short temper. But he was not yet ready to let it go." "I ask God if I have sinned so greatly that I must spend the remainder of my days shackled to a lunatic." "Mayhap she was not as eager as you thought." "She welcomed me. back and forth across a diagonal slash. That would do. 'what news of Rufus?'. or 'how goes the new motte?'. His squire would just have to do. I am praying. The man's infuriating good humor always got in the way. He dared not admit it. and men rode off to find out. A demon-possessed. "Cheer yourself. Chrétien. What manner of woman takes a man to her bed so willingly that she will not let him go. Now you are philosopher and weaver. I cannot abide such good cheer. "Hah. either." "A lunatic. Alain came upon her sitting in the bright sunshine mending a white linen cloth. he watched the tiny stitches running through the cloth. "Rant? Nay. She glowered at him and returned to her task with renewed energy. Yet he could do nothing to change it. The girl is scrambled in the cockloft." But Chrétien would not be gone. as well. To display that weakness would leave him open to insurrection from the Saxons. who abandoned the allure to the angry Norman. *** . pounded behind his eyes. And the lovely lady who played servant could assist him.Alain slammed the door behind him and stomped all the way to the stone steps of the allure. then up them. A hot bath. Begone." Alain could not long stay angry with Chrétien. For all that she is a rare beauty. and he would just have to tolerate it until it did. That she is troubled. With his implacable good will." "Praying? Indeed. grinning. men hastened off to their tasks. and he could not risk that. muttering epithets he hadn't used since he was a boy. It was not just that the lady had gotten the best of him and he had allowed her to keep it that way. night-crazed lunatic. *** The Lady Melisande went about her day as if nothing had happened to her. But it will all work out. On the other hand." "Mayhap it is not all that bad. Alain. He clapped his hand on Alain's shoulder. making him feel dizzy and trembling. he stayed near his lord and friend for the remainder of the day. when Rufus was so close and depending on him. "Out! Begone!" he shouted to the masons and hod carriers. You merely must unravel the thread. all can see. yet disdains his very glance the next day?" "One who was not satisfied?" To Alain's indignant glare. nor let it show in his demeanor. It was that infernal headache again. that throbbed at his temples. Villein and knight alike scurried out of his way. and guiltily realized it was the one in the tablecloth he had stabbed earlier that day. it would go away on its own eventually. Alain?" Chrétien asked. I tell you. Chrétien merely stood amiably where he was. For a moment. with an odd lilt to his voice. never have I met a maid so grim. Around him. "What do you rant about. He had only to ask. I tell you.

"I won't do it him? By God's Blood. it hurts. And no matter that he couldn't divine the nature of her subtle trap. "Melisande. please. it is all right. She ate in the kitchen with the servants. "Please don't hurt her!" Someone else? Not just her? Or was it only a demented girl's tortured mind? "Melisande. "Come now. He ignored her. like Chrétien's dreams. he could. as if she were one of them. The girl shrieked." He wriggled his arms in about her waist to raise her from the floor. painful sobs. held her still and talked softly. The girl was demented. in awe that anything so soft and light could be so warm. now? "I won't let you! Ow! No. Just as he ignored his desire to grab her by her waist and pull her into his lap. yanked the down pillow over his head. Wake up. Gradually. no! Oh. fell to the floor with her arms laced over her belly. he undressed and lay for a while on the bed atop the cover. Pleading to someone-. Well. girl. please don't! She didn't mean it! No. it was but a dream. He could hear her begging. Alain did not stop her. Now he could not hear it. he would make her stop it! He would tell her she would not fool him again if she screamed all night. brought on by the terrible way her life had spun about her. as if that truly were her place. and . softening the pain in his head. He excused himself early. Slowly. he would ignore it. There is no one to hurt you. It will all be gone then. and those who came afterward to clean. wake up. His resolve collapsed. "You see? It is but a dream. nor for supper. and ran his hand back and forth across the light. don't! Oh. "No!" she shrieked. telling his comrades they had much to do the following morning. whirled about and shrank down to the floor. then lifted her higher. A little fainter." He brought her to her knees. girl. How could he have forgotten? Her father had died merely a week before. He sat up. that was already soaked with perspiration. and he knelt beside the tortured girl. He lay back down. her back against the wall. and it banged against the wall behind it. what was he going to do. I won't!" Her voice sounded like a child crying. except that she couldn't seem to stand on them. mayhap. no. Her wild eyes stared emptily across the chamber toward the beamed ceiling. But aye. and the haze of halfsleep crept up on him. don't--" She dissolved into plaintive moans. stroked tenderly at her back." Aye." He stroked his hand over her hair. The same odd whimper he had heard the night before brought him to his senses. to absorb her weight.Melisande did not seat herself at the lord's table for dinner. "You can't make me!" "Up. After a few more swigs of the wine straight from the jug. The faint noise escalated to frightening gasps. but he could hear it. He pressed her gently against him. he lost the cares of the day. "Oh. he would not fall for that one again. and slowly the cries subsided to an occasional gasp. no!" Demented. Nay. He flung open the door. She leaned her face into his chest. It is just a dream. the wine's effect seeped in. and took a jug of wine with him to his chamber. to her feet. She bustled about in her customary fashion. you will be all right. springy surface. He had never possessed a quilt of down before." Somehow her feet began to take her weight. and tucked it tightly about his ears. Sweet Christ. You must wake up. he would not fall into it again. Come now. directed the servers and carvers.

or know he was here. "You will never be cold again. She had only been begging her abuser to let her free. Her words were not for him. She needed better of him than she had gotten. then. he was going to be beside her every morning." she said. and becoming aware of a delicious. you will wake for me.not long before that. yet did not see him. You will see. What might happen next? Might she. for the dream still possessed her. He lit his wax candle from the brazier and brought the second quilt over her before crawling into the other side of the bed. and protested when he pried her loose. Melisande slowly opened her eyes." She went obediently. her eyes darkened with earnest. sweet Jesus. She was locked inside her dream. do you?" Of course she did not. Someday." CHAPTER 12 The dawn came softly. but for some mysterious tormenter. I did not know. It's so dark down here. What was he to do now? He could not leave her like this." she said. Alain pulled her into his arms. "Let me wrap you up. She was looking straight at him. looking at him. . but stood submissively at its edge. Please don't leave me. taken over her home and forced her into marriage. Encompassed in her down cocoon. You do not remember anything. pleading fear. Unlike her. "Come to the bed now. Oh. Chrétien always remembered every horrifying detail. He eased her down onto his bed. I will stay with you until you sleep. "Nay. and clung to his neck as he began to straighten. She appeared awake. "I'm cold. her mother. She didn't seem to know how to find it by herself." "It's so cold. lady." She still clung. I thought you wanted me. there will always be a candle burning. Her feet seemed almost not to touch the floor as he led her. and the darkness will go away forever. gulping back his own sorrowful shock. Then the Normans had come. Alain scooped her into his arms. "Ah. and couldn't get out. for her dreams were not like Chrétien's after all. and you will be safe. my lady. "I will stay with you. And dark. From here on." "I won't leave you. but she was not. grabbed her quilt of down by its corner. in pale slivers of pink and grey light through the plank shutters. But you must let go now. comforting warmth. I have wronged you again. She might as well become accustomed to it. in her dream state. He drew her body snugly against him. love. somehow hurt herself? Yet she would be furious if she found him with her in the morning. Well. what had he done? She had not invited him to her bed." "Please don't leave me down here! It's so dark and cold! Please don't! Don't leave me down here!" She didn't know he was here. and carried her into his bed chamber. And as long as you need it.

Her gaze traced from hand to arm to the Norman lord. then. Do you fare better this morning. She sighed her relief. any more than can I. that rested against her breast. and I will not come. The door slammed abruptly behind her before she could force her lungs to take another breath. It had been one of those terrible nights." . wiggling it into place. Very likely. It is no concern of yours. relieved to see that at least she still remained clothed." "And I do not wish that. As it was she who broke with custom and slept in a chemise. what had happened? Could she possibly have walked into his chamber in the middle of the night and gotten into his bed? When she walked. This one was stiff with sweat." "What are you doing here?" Melisande squeaked. but dashed off to her own bed chamber. It also felt sticky and stiff. what was she doing here. And he knew it. Her fingers trembled as she lifted the chemise over her head and sought a cleaner one. For two nights in a row. The stories about the king's court were full of men who did not find their pleasure with women. but with other men. as the thought dawned on her the more appropriate question might be. he had not taken what was rightfully his? Mayhap he wasn't normal. She sucked in a quick breath and held it. as the Norman lord entered. and he smiled. The quilt fell away from him. Or mayhap he merely thought her too ugly to be interesting. and fell back again onto his pillows to watch her. His eyes popped open beneath his black. But wait. She ran her fingers through her scalp. At least he had taken the time to don clothing." he said. baring a broad chest with a sprinkling of black hair on it." His smile was impish. She dared not ask. then unfurled what was left of her braid to make it into some semblance of neatness. a large one with silky black curls on its back. "Good morning. If anything had happened. either. Very possibly. angular brows as she flung his hand away from her. He stretched his long arms outward. Unlike yesterday. he had nothing on beneath the quilt. "It is my bed. I am your husband. That seemed more plausible. Her startled shriek split the air. then folded them behind his head. whose body nestled against her back. it is my duty to give you comfort. that wasn't all he knew. Yet she had waked feeling warm and content. easy smile. She had heard about men like that. for this was not her bed chamber." "It is my concern. she jerked her kirtle off the peg and pulled it over her head. The door creaked. "You were distressed last night. she checked her own body. And when you cry out to me in your distress." "I do not wish it." "Then you have only not to call me. She jolted awake. lady?" "Better. A lazy. but you cannot change it. Then. Could she be wrong? Wondering how soon she could contrive to take a bath. he wouldn't have been smiling." "I am often distressed.Her hand wrapped about another hand. "I did not invite you in. anything was possible." "You may not wish it. Better than what?" Not that she did not know. That stiff soreness in her body told her she had once again walked. "You do not need to. Why hadn't anything happened. then? He was a healthy man.

we will go down to chapel. "I do not need help." "Your hair is beautiful. might see she meant for some good to come of it. Anything buried could be dug up. Who was she. She could not tell him God did not want her in His chapel. and she had no more ideas how to do it. She had little enough time left to find a way to deprive him of that cloak he thought so wonderful. the poison would be carried into the air by the smoke. it must be something that would be safe forever. But water flowed through the cavern's bottom into the becks that fed into the river and would poison her own people." he replied. and lightning had not struck her." He reached for the comb. She could not throw it in the river. to judge forever? When the last tangle in her hair yielded to the silver comb. "When you have dressed. but a fierce. She had never known whether or not to believe Fyren." said Chrétien. but suspected even it would not be deep enough to be safe. From now on." She stifled the protest that rose in her throat." "You have sent to Rufus our situation?" "Aye. ever." "And what of the motte. mayhap the fish they ate. She would be close to him as often as she might without arousing his suspicion. Mayhap God had taken note of her plan. and paused a moment to stroke it. "He comes by way of Wensleydale. Already. No one would be likely to go in them. She had never seen the sea. for it would poison the water people drank. despite that she herself was damned. Thievery had failed. she had no idea what she would do with the thing once she got it. she would watch him as thoroughly as he watched her. just as her mother had? Worse. Gentle or no. would learn everything about him. in order to save his life. as you thought. Why else would he cling to it so tenaciously. *** "What news of Rufus?" Alain asked of the group of men huddled about the crude map on the oak table in his chamber. And if she burned it. Who knew but him what she had done? But she would not ask him what had happened. She turned away and attacked the tangles in her hair with her comb. Melisande straightened herself and breathed deeply.Call him? Surely she had not. She could not truly say she had not. she saw signs that the poison was gaining on him. Nay. and it might be so. Yet--. "I will help you with that. but she jerked it away. It must have a spell on it. for it must be destroyed for all time. It would not be the first time she had defied God and His order. shifting her gaze back and forth from floor back to his dark eyes. she had no time. And of the new motte at Anwealda's old holding. I manage my own hair. He did not seem to be a gentle man. where people would breathe it. she would betray him. as had persuasion and chicanery. find something that would give her the opportunity she needed. Fyren had told her the arsenic in the dye would preserve the fabric forever. "A messenger has just come and says all goes well. She had once thought of the cavern beneath the castle. The gentle smile he gave her as he departed confused her. aggressive warrior who would take what he wanted at any cost to others. She nodded. where there were several deep pits. Robert?" . And then.

"Wallis reports that not all of Cyneric's knights in the south will fight with him. once the king has reached the Mallerstang Common." "Aye. "Or he could besiege us. "They may all have gone north. wondering again the purity of their loyalty to their lady." "Where." said Thomas. "If Malcolm sends them help. for twice he has attacked near there. or know of anything." Gerard moved around the table to study the map more closely." said Chrétien. making the king's retreat impossible. then." Alain rubbed his fingers across his chin. But keep watch. mayhap? How else could he hide so many men?" "Mayhap." With that. it is true. Also he thinks Cyneric is not so far away. Rufus could be trapped. Alert Rufus to this. "But some caverns do not have hobs. and we would not know it. We must know more before we shift our men again. Is Strathclyde strong enough to resist Rufus at Carlisle?" "Mayhap." Gerard said. lord. once Rufus is past. He set aside the image for later." "And when the palisades are raised. He hides somewhere. You did well to send archers. do you think?" "I know not. and the two northern ones of Dougal and Anwealda. then even if Carlisle does fall. Gerard. and may not be with Anwealda. what think you?" "Caverns. "Yet did you not say men would not go into the caverns?" "Some. "We have found but one of Cyneric's men. What think you?" Gerard's soulful brown eyes hardened suddenly. Some throw their support to Rufus." A puzzled frown crept onto Alain's face. "Our plan will not change yet. He could be camped but another dale beyond. to defend it. Our enemy is sly. And that gives Anwealda too much advantage. But we have heard naught of Malcolm. Anwealda also lost men. he dismissed the knights to their duties. None of Dougal's."Hugh does well. "Yet we have not the men to patrol the hills." Alain focused on the map again. A flash of memory invaded him as he caught the faint scent of rosemary still clinging to his hands. Some villeins and a few archers were killed in the forest while they cut timbers." "If Wallis is right. drawing his finger over the long valley of the Mallerstang in the center of the map. yet we must find him. Did they know of her dreams? Thomas might. so that Alain wondered about the man's thoughts. Alain watched them depart. you are pensive. If Anwealda joins him against us. Cyneric could attack Rufus' rear." said Thomas." Gerard agreed. "I wonder where Anwealda is. all the way to Carlisle. tracing in his mind the triangle formed by Cyneric's southern holding." "What of Dougal and Cyneric? Do they ride with Anwealda?" "We cannot tell. I think. Rufus' path must fall through the Mallerstang and the Vale of Eden." "Has no one taken a captive?" "None that will talk." "Thomas. for his knights were at disadvantage in the wood. knights will be at disadvantage again. This strange fortress Alain now held was right in the middle. surely near his holding. And some men do not fear them. He . frowning.

"Tell me what you know of this. "We will find a way. to do more than merely endure her night terrors. She must learn to become at ease with her memories. "And does this happen often?" "More when she was younger." Aye. and show me on my map. too. that I know. She cannot control these things. And promises to keep. lord. lord. lord?" "Aye. Not so much for a while. as he found her. It is only her fears. the lady. I know. don't you?" "It is not her fault. although they might be ignorant of that matter. He had plans. He did not intend to mention it. "You think her demented then. he would keep her. by the light beneath the doors." That would explain why she clawed at the wall." He was not at all sure." As you find her. Aye. and Alain looked down over the balcony rail to see Robert run breathlessly into the hall toward the staircase. and that will be very hard. and hideous memories." "Not I." "Does she know this?" "Aye." "Word comes from Wallis in the south." "You lock her in?" "Aye. since her mother died. That. Nor her lack of virginity. himself. And it is only at night. But none know why.signaled Thomas to remain behind. You must have heard something. I have been locking her door for a long time. Thomas. and said naught until the door closed behind the last of the others." . but I am afraid she will go onto the balcony and fall. But he would ask many questions." Thomas looked like a guilty child confessing he had stolen an apple. "Aye." So they all loved and protected their demented lady." "Aye. he could understand that. lord. lord. No questions asked. "Lord!" came a shout. Not even Rufus could deny him that. We saw last night." "Come. They surely must have believed." "But she is afraid to be locked in. Rufus's words seemed to echo in his head like a taunt. Sometimes she cries out." "Aye. that the Norman lord would not tolerate a woman out of her competence. Robert. Mayhap she found it too humiliating to be seen so by her servants and friends. They could not have known of the promise Rufus had extracted from him. "Thomas. that you went to her. She must have many of them. but the rider comes." "I do not think it can be done. Cyneric's men have been seen riding toward our southern holdings. That explained why they had hidden her from him." "And none of you goes to her aid?" "She does not wish it. But she is not demented. lord. "Robert? Speak. as had she. And begged him to do the same. lord. do you hear her when she cries out at night?" "Hear her. This is not demons. Be kind to her." "Aye. But she has never allowed any of us to see her then. but again more lately.

but a dangerous one. you will ride to the north to aid Hugh. As they galloped down the valley toward the junction of rivers where Gerard's fief lay. "If you are wrong?" "Best worry if I am right. here. here. his eyes already scanning for trouble. Gerard stood in his stirrups. The horses would merely get them there sooner.The messenger. that history not repeat itself?" "I was too late to save his wife and daughter." Gerard said no more as they rode on. The rider stared at it blankly for a moment. Chrétien." Alain studied the map and frowned. rather than on the map. but move against you." said Gerard. "Wallis holds his own fief. "At home. Alain brought archers mounted on spare horses. and manages that of Cyneric. Thomas spread out the map on the lord's table on the dais. lord." Gerard's face paled. rushed up behind him. Wallis is alerted. but he cannot come to your aid. "How so?" asked Gerard. a small man who rode a lithe. Alain nodded. . But they would fight in their usual way. on foot. Cyneric comes out of the hills. But you are the weaker of the two because you have come to us." "My word. and more. This mounting of archers was a new and expensive idea. "What did Chrétien's mean. Wallis was wise to supply himself with efficient messengers. As the concept took hold in the messenger's mind. "Then ride. Do not let history repeat itself. as he is spread too thin. I will not. "Wallis would appear to be the weaker point. and the men had little training on horses. He will strike there. But we have no time to waste." Every available man rushed to assist and put the knights on their way. Chrétien. Alain and Gerard rode south. He nodded. and give him an advantage his enemies would not expect. The messenger wiped away the sweat from his brow. See to my wife while I am gone. which fief is more easily reached?" "Wallis. his face brightened and he traced his route to the north with his finger." "Where is your wife?" Chrétien asked Gerard. they hope we go to Wallis's aid. but we could not discern his direction. and mine." said Gerard in a curiously guarded tone. But we will do both. mimicking Alain's previous words. you will stay with Thomas to protect our center. until Thomas pointed out the positions which he had memorized. While the other knights rushed in. his voice low and guarded. that they might reach the destination quickly. Robert to the north. long-legged animal. scrutinizing the hilltops. here. Alain set the rapid pace. "Saddle your men. not on Wallis' mark. Alain." said Thomas. "Gerard. A well-schooled knight could easily unseat any of them. here." His finger landed forcefully. one Alain recognized. They hope to draw us away so we cannot assist Hugh. This is a ruse. on the land. and stepped up to his lord as Alain reached the bottom step. and can protect himself. leaving Gerard unprotected. "Think of it as how God would look down on us and see where we are. Robert. with most of your men. but on the drawn pennon that indicated Gerard's fief." Chrétien's eyes widened. "Be wary of ambush. He will feint toward Wallis.

The knight was close to rash choices." Gerard's relief was evident. protecting his own. And if he had trusted the wrong man. and we will pound them between us. Ahead. A shallow stream flowed through it before joining a small river. Draw us to them. It was the thing of hauberks. "We ride together!" Alain called to his force. It would work if they were not out-manned. We have but one chance to strike. Alain did not expect to survive the treachery. "We hit hard at their center-. Alain watched the knight closely. lord. Gerard's men in the bailey still resist. then?" "Watch for us. Would fail. "I do not like it. But." "But they draw us toward Wallis. at that junction. Gerard would have the supreme opportunity to betray his lord. Gerard would move without him. so they could report without having to cross our path. We will go to where the biggest threat is. If Alain did not take charge fast enough." "You think Anwealda might be with them?" "It is possible." he said. As man and knight. They may mean to draw you out to my rescue. or pinned in their own trap. despite that he kept silent. seeing only the anxiety in his deep brown eyes." "Aye.Gerard pointed to riders near the ridge to their right." "Mayhap they have already taken my hall. A dangerous choice. He had only the trust of this Norman knight who seemed Norman in skin only. then take your castle while you are gone. agitation goading him. He was right. though Anwealda wants his land back. He was not particularly impatient by nature.split them at the gate. The clamor of a fight echoed off the surrounding hills. But Gerard was afraid. Gerard led them over the low hills and down a deeply carved. "If they mean to be lookout. they should have been to our left. he wants yours more. If it happened. lead us to a trap. But now he would have the opportunity to see him on his own ground. Although the man had done nothing to earn his distrust. that they concealed many of the gestures that betrayed a man's thoughts. stood Gerard's half-timbered hall within the high wooden palisade. and that bothered him. But was he also too late? CHAPTER 13 Cyneric had broken through the gate. all Rufus's attempts for the north could fail." Gerard nodded. But they still should have been to our left. but today he had not Chrétien's presence to caution him. . round-bottomed valley. Their intervention would turn to disaster. Gerard was too good." "What do they mean to do. Terror flashed in Gerard's eyes. drive the remaining ones through it." "Mayhap they did not expect us to be where we are." "We ride there first. Alain had not yet lost his wariness of the knight. Alain spurred his bay stallion.

"The baby. you deal with me. If ever you raise arms against me again. "Your name. "Let her go. He passed the baby to safety to the knight behind him. fell. hit at the center. drove down from their last stand beside the half-timbered hall. ignoring her screams. but spare none until we are secure. and Gerard scooped her up before she could run to her mother. With a sweeping arc of his arm. "Botolf. Rage burned in Gerard's eyes as he slammed horse and sword against the invading knights to the left of the outer gate. caught the Saxon in the middle of his breast. defeat them. and pointed to his chosen position for the archers. Alain's great bay stallion screamed as a Saxon sword struck through its throat. Alain spurred forward as Cyneric's horsed knights sighted the advancing Normans. one by one." "Then Botolf. Gerard's wife wrestled against the knight's rough grip. The second knight who held the little girl looked uncertain. His shield blocked the return blow as he slashed beneath it. Gerard will press forward. The jangle of spurs rang in his ears as the war horses lunged into a full gallop and raced down the slope onto the green where the wooden castle and its village sat. With a mighty heave." "Nay!" shouted the knight who held the wriggling woman. bloodied before. he swung."Once inside. then swerved to one side." said Alain. screaming agony. Hurt either of them and I will hunt you down and kill you. At all costs. replaced by hard breaths and the anxious squeak and clank of tense men in armor. save for two knights who stood. you will hold the gate with the archers against more comers. you will die." The second rebel stood alone. Lowell. His voice growled like a raging bear. harried at their backs. Inside the outer bailey. Alain leapt down. The din below obscured their coming. and he shook his head. Lowell split away. Gerard's household knights held the inner gate at their backs. Cyneric. "We will not turn them loose until we are free of this castle. slicing against the relentless force of Cyneric's men afoot. You do not deal with Gerard. taking each of Cyneric's knights as he came. Gerard's cry of fury rang out as he leaped over bodies to dash up the steep slope. Alain forced through the outer open gate to the bailey. The household knights surged with new vigor." "You will not get that far. The fight was over." The man's eyes flooded with fear." said Alain. giving unspent knights the vanguard. I will cut a hundred pieces from your body before I let you die. knight. slashing at the right. Gerard had earned respect among the Normans who had already ridden with him. Knights fell all around him. "You will live if you hand them over unharmed. you are free to go. to each side of the main gate. Others flowed ahead like water between them. Alain rode beside him. "Give her over. The Saxon dropped to the ground. slicing through mail and tunic to blood and bone. I need prisoners. Lynet and her baby. And all knew he valued his family. he called up Lowell as they rode. . but soon they would be spotted. backs against the timber hall." said Gerard. do you go to the ends of the earth. The din behind them ceased. holding a woman and very small girl. The sounds of clashing metal waned. The insurgents. I will back him and spread out." He had not needed to say that." The knight with the little girl released her.

"I expect it of them. lady. she watched. She fits nicely in my arms. and took the squirming." Alain commented. . "They will return. to be there in time. "You always valued her too much. Mayhap he could keep it. caught Cyneric's attention as he moved. He puts himself in Gerard's teeth today." "You will quickly be a dead fool. Gerard's sword swung." said Alain. I would not trust him yet. with pots still simmering in the kitchen against the hope that the knights would yet come before dark. Still. God grant him speed." "Does the lord trust him?" "We shall see. He makes an astute move. One. and turned away to survey the damage. Norman. so I know him to be a good man. *** When the knights had ridden out in the early morning. lady." "Do you trust Gerard. But he would stand for you to his death. Hard." "I am not so stupid to believe you will give me the same pardon you did my cowardly knight. "He will not disappoint you. She had not heard Chrétien come up to her. she had immersed herself in her duties. screaming child from the knight who struggled with her. and she silently mouthed words in unison with her husband. the woman dropped limply to the ground. this one against Cyneric. too quickly for the startled Cyneric to catch her. not a scrap of fear. A cold wind blew in clouds that would soon become an evening storm." She had been preoccupied. You are a fool. Alain scanned over the lady." "How so?" Chrétien gave her his gentle smile. as if she doubted her own words. caught the Saxon at the neck. Her eyes were fixed upon Gerard. three-"Drop!" shouted Gerard. Chrétien?" "Not entirely. "Most obedient wife I've ever seen. His shield lay split on the ground." "You think he is right. She pulled her cloak more tightly and strained her eyes to the distant vale toward the south. bit through hauberk iron. As Cyneric fell. little one.So this was Cyneric. at all. Gerard. Alain circled to the man's vulnerable left. two. then?" "Aye. the sun set in dark streaks behind the fells. Were it not for his concern for you. but for a fleet moment she glimpsed the heavy heart obscured behind it." said the Saxon as he turned. "Come. cold. trying to devise some way he might save her. A shout split the air as Lynet leapt into Gerard's arms. Alain felt as honored as if he presented a great gift to the king as he placed the babe in her mother's arms. his head lobbed to one side. Alain has a knack for discerning the moves of his enemies. still suspended by the last remnants of mail. All will be well. Melisande had stood to watch. Tears fell from Gerard's eyes in a torrent. Between dinner and supper. and she stood upon the allure again. Let her go. "You shall not take my back. Like a falling rock. does she not?" Cyneric tightened his hold of both the woman and his sword." she replied. Now.

She focused her gaze on the slashed arm she was attending. Or they could have all been killed. Mayhap it was his soldier's eyes. "Be at ease. At the far end of the hall. for the men now entering the hall overflowed with the excitement of a battle well fought. But Melisande could see the fatigue in his body. The Norman lord. The linens were laid squarely over the trestle table. It will be ready by the time the lord finishes his meal."Alain goes into Gerard's abode. lady." "Do you? Why?" "Because he honors your wishes. lady. his great purple cloak billowing behind him." And not only that. and then the warmth from the Norman lord's body as he stood behind her. Everything had been seen to. and Melisande could distinguish their faces. he would be seen to by two young pages. But you will learn you have naught to fear of him. Look." "Gerard will never do that. she could.Now she also saw." The knights and their mounted archers raised their lord's pennon. tired. twice over. lady. Barely half the men who had ridden out came riding back. Was it the battle? Or did that malevolent cloak drag his strength from him? "I must see to supper. with but a small accompaniment." "Aye. she suddenly found herself loath to face him. Her hand went to her mouth. Nay. But you will see. hoping Chrétien was right. and hurried off toward the kitchen." "Then your trust in me is mislaid. dusty. Aye. this night." "They could have left them with Wallis. for she could not yet tell." But she could see by his affable smile he already knew who it was. The knights rode in. rode at their head on a white war horse instead of his familiar bay. She had also seen to that. and the great roasts she had set aside for them were already being carried in." she said. They ride in. So they have possession of his hall. she felt an odd prickling at her neck." she said. But now that he was back. Alain flung himself down from his high saddle. I am right. he will never have a better chance. Her Norman would not be served cold beef. "Have you seen to the bath?" "Aye. for I have never been on campaign. Soon. You do have a soldier's mind. as if he still held the energy of morning in him. She tightened her lips. So there had been a fight. with Nelda to assist her. That is the best of news. "Thomas. I have done naught but deceive the Norman lord." "I defer to your judgement. And it still stands." "How so?" "He stays behind with his men. she set up to care for those who had been injured. He would read the relief on her face." "I believe you. Gerard is not with them. If Gerard seeks to trap him. beyond the beck. She could see none of Gerard's men. trenchers in place. while she would keep herself busy elsewhere. and some bloody." "What if it is not them?" "Then we will not open the gates. She did not have to see to supper. She called to the botler for more ale and wine." "Ah. and the task itself kept the nervousness from her fingers as she daubed the wound with her salve . and followed him down the stone steps to the upper bailey. yet she counted roughly enough to make up the lord's contingent. She could not say why.

" His mouth gaped. having already cut off their outriders without knowing we had done it. He had said. and it gave against his weight.and began her stitching. He shoved again. You have not heard?" "Nay. "Fair to well. The heavy door yielded. and Cyneric's as well. He'd begun to doubt himself in the last hour. She had pushed her bed against the door. nor how much she pretended otherwise." "Those with more serious injuries remain with Gerard in Lynet's care. He smiled to himself as he rose from the bed. Wishing. It was not the chest at all." Chrétien added. he decided to watch where he walked." "Then if we have not learned by tomorrow. How foolish of her." he paused while his eyes followed Melisande. The day has been hard. All is well here?" "None complain." Alain replied. But knowing her cleverness." Alain's eyes darted again in her direction. *** As soon as he alit from his charger in the bailey. And. "All went well. then?" Chrétien asked. But she should have realized that anything she could push there. he could push away. I will not call him back until Rufus comes. hoping. Ah. Mayhap she merely meant to keep him busy. She'd pushed her chest against it. Never. But she could not manage the silence. "She has also ordered a hot bath for you. He remains there. And the others?" "Wallis holds his own. . Fortunately for her. This time he would be there before they got such a grip on her. but she was already gone. Her flesh crawled at the thought. to hope. He pulled the latch and pushed on the door. though she might remember none of what transpired. It seemed stuck. all would be well for the night. she knew he would be with her in the night when the terrors hit. had he not. The lady has kept a meal ready for you in the event you came home tonight. Good thing. Cyneric died in the fight. "Thomas saw to it. No matter. who scurried away across the bailey. In some way. "Gerard's family is well. wanting." Alain continued. "Excellent. We are all hungry. He was the one fighting the winning battle. "We must hope that Robert also reached Hugh in time. It will be ready after you eat." "Mayhap it is his heir. that he would not come if she did not cry out? But the only thing she could think of was to sleep in the caverns. Now if she could only find some way to keep her hideous dreams at bay so he would not hear her cry out. Bright girl. But he should have known she would not fail him. I did not know she is with child. she allowed her eyes to follow covertly. he learned the way her mind worked. Yet when he turned away to join Chrétien. "The injuries seem too slight for the sort of conflict I had imagined." Her worst fears dissolved. as long as it moved. Alain clapped Chrétien on the back. there it was. but slowly. Nay." *** Ah. knowing drawl. and a sort of piteous hope set in. for he had not expected her to think of his needs so thoroughly. "We caught them in their attack. bit by bit. She'd left the chamber pot where he could stumble into it. it did not matter how much she avoided him. something deep inside her had already come to count on him. in a slow. we will send more men. Foolishly hoping.

column-like. Her braid had come loose in the night. First silent. for she would not be able to understand that he had not taken advantage of her weakness. urgent whispers began again as soon as she touched the bed. plated muscles over his ribs. Her arms found their way about his neck. It was her head that rested in the crook of his arm. Something-. She must be told. I have come for you. it gets easier. No matter if she remembered the promise. "Come along now. Again he carried her through the door. there she was. untangling bed covers as soon as her feet hit the floor. yet knew the ordeal was not over for the night. she gave no resistance as he lifted her off the bed. Some day. and he drew her closer. Soon even the whispers ceased. "Tell me." He didn't know if she heard him. She snatched up her silver comb and attacked a section of it. he had no question. And trusted him enough. *** She felt the warmth first." But she would be even harder to convince that she did. pulled her back into his arms. It was just a matter of discerning when she was strong enough. and would never trust him again. "You see. He would have to tell her some day. he also was dressed. smiling. down-She jerked upward. she might discover it some other way. She had already memorized their pattern. She probably had not the slightest notion what she was like when she dreamed. although she was quite aware he had worn nothing in bed. he sat at the bed's edge. He could not understand the words. my sweet. He could not tell her now. and soon. or rather. As he lay on his back. and she leaned her head on his shoulder. She pretended not to see him. as if the headboard might give way and let her escape. then pulled on the overdress. At what? She nearly fell from the bed in her haste to depart. I am here. You will find me very hard to convince. She yanked her kirtle over her head. and left it ajar. fumbled with its laces. He was awake. The candle he kept lit for her cast its amber glow from the small table where he had sat it. Felt it as something beyond the soothing snugness of the soft quilt.male. hanging in awkward snarls. there will be no more dreams. and her bed askew.She cringed high up on the bed. what had happened on their wedding night. and worked away at another section of her hair. he felt her small hand curl onto his chest. Yet she always seemed to. "that you do not want to be in my arms." he whispered. The door between their chambers remained open. he did. There he was again. her hurried. fiercely clutching. and I will always protect you. between the firm. or not." He eased her down onto the bed and raised the down quilt to cover her before sliding into the warm nest beside her. That he would tell her. suddenly sitting. Yet if he waited too long. It went down. Though she still trembled and gasped with a whispered torrent of oddly mixed words. She darted through it and slammed it behind her. You are safe now. When he came in. you have nothing to fear anymore. . The little whimper that had awakened him erupted into an ear-splitting scream. a wide band across the top of his chest. love. coming to the center and down. pushing her hands against the mattress. recalling now how she had shoved the bed against the door. to let her head rest in the crook of his arm. shoving herself back. A futile effort. just as it was her hand running over and through the silky black hairs on his chest. and her yellow hair cascaded about her shoulders. and cradled her like a child. Instead. lady.

"It is not demons. I do not understand your fear." "He cannot. "I know that you don't. She could not stand the silence. There is far more to this. many a brave knight has seen things he would rather forget. "If you remembered." "You have ordered all else away. She'd be in a dunking stool or tied to a stake before May Day. You have horrible memories. He is a brave knight. Melisande. You are not merely a frightened. wishing God would hear her." Apology? She froze where she stood. lady. You did not merely mean to spite me." Chrétien. I must say it again. and I should have seen that and taken it into account." "You are not a normal man. the man might gossip like a woman at the village well. But have no fear. You did not deserve the way I treated you on our wedding night. but I do know it is there." "You need not. And you think yourself without courage? You are not. He is our ally in this. Melisande.." "Oh?" His black eyebrows arched in steep angles over dark eyes." . whatever is said by the Church. What do they say?" . you would know that I have already apologized to you for my churlish behavior." "A man should not allow his anger to rule him." "And Chrétien?" "He was there. do you?" Her eyes flickered over him before she could stop them. She was about to put her foot in it. You will need time to learn you are safe. "You do not remember. But as long as you are dreaming and cannot wake. He has lived with this for three years. But you don't know." "The demons? Indeed.He merely stood and watched. She diverted herself instead to a snarl near the ends of her long hair. And I was not justified. as he does. I must come. balky bride who simply needs to be tamed and taught. "Why do you do this to me?" she demanded." "I did not say--. But not demons. that is a different thing. I did. Even were it not so. She turned her gaze away from him and began running the comb through the strands she had just untangled." "Ah. That I know of you. I arrived too late to save them. But I am your husband. and only now begins to find some measure of peace. already." "Who else have you told?" "Chrétien only. stop. And because you do not. I must come." Sudden moisture filled her eyes. for he suffers the same malady as you. I have not molested you. She raised fingers to her mouth and whispered a quick prayer. and subject to a child's fears. lady. "Is that what you want? You have only to say so. "Do not fear him. No one else comes. For all she knew. and helpless. to watch his wife and baby daughter tortured to their deaths. You were very frightened. "Do this? You cry out for my help." "They speak to me. But we are all children in our sleep." "You were angry.

Yet even now. midnight blue by firelight. despite that she had no right to seek it. he would let them have her. himself. they would never allow you to say what you have just said. He caught her glance. If demons held your soul. as they do all of us. but that would change quickly if the cloak had its insidious way. She must find a way to save him. For all that he wore it constantly. But she could not stop. Melisande. or he would kill her. and of the gravelly whisper of his voice that lured her inescapably to him. He will condemn you no more than he has Chrétien. and laughed. the priest is mine. she could tell the . His lips had a sensuous curve about them that seemed an inseparable part of the deep thunderous roll of mirth that poured forth from him. Although he did not mention them. after all. hold fast in the secret reaches of her heart. against that time when he must do what he must do." "Do not mock me. This perfect man must not die. But it was only the top of many layers. it poisoned him. She could not let him die. What difference. seemed always to brim with laughter behind their long. He thought her dreams were the end of her secrets. I think your fears visit you at night. let us go down to chapel. fragments of time with him she could cherish. As she stood. he would feel betrayed because she would not tell him." "Now you threaten your own soul. thick fringe of nearly straight black lashes." "I will not let the demons have you." An odd sort of resignation filled her. either. then tried to make it appear she had merely lodged the comb on a tangle." "I will not let the priests have you. And even now. love. In the end. that seemed black as an eagle's in the shadows." "I am glad you have not heeded them. and the color of charcoal in the light of day. all the same. Melisande sneaked furtive peeks at the huge Norman who walked beside her." "I do not mock you. I do not stand alone in this." "Then let it be so. She found comfort in him. He was compelling." She wished she had the courage to tell him the rest. with time he would turn on her. as he always seemed to do. but you have far more to fear than I. she allowed her hand to rest on his arm. In the end. his arm linked in hers and holding her hand gently atop his arm. he wore that damnable cloak. And remember. Some things cannot be changed." "You know naught of demons. did it make if she did? CHAPTER 14 Waking up next to him was like waking up in a lion's den with a sudden desire to be eaten. lady. he would turn from her in complete repugnance and repudiate his vow. But there might be those small moments still to come. Aye. he still seemed strong enough. Many. With time."They tell me to kill you. "Come." She jerked at the words. His charcoal eyes. many layers. And his body? Was there any part of it she did not long to touch? She was not exactly sure she hadn't. "You presume too much.

but had deciphered it on her own. And she saw the trembling that came to his hands. But she could never be sure of her translation. He might be graceful. both wanting and not wanting. more often than not over his hauberk. surely would lessen the contact with his skin. Again. would it not? Would it not require a higher dose of the poison to kill him? And the way he wore the cloak. Nor had God answered her request for hot weather. The words might have other meanings she did not know. or more gentle and kind. Fyren had taken the books away from her. There would also be times. "Lord. he was a graceful man. That is the way of fealty. as he had before. His skin had not yet yellowed and he had no difficulties eating. instead. right in the middle of it. there was a way. but that did not surprise her. And in the meantime. That would probably be too late. God. for she had not been properly taught." "Thank me?" "For your help to Gerard and his family. Melisande. There was one thing. Very greasy food. And his habit of wearing leather gauntlets must help. He was so very handsome. but he already thought her a clumsy thing.headaches were becoming more than an occasional nuisance. or. before she had found her answer. She had no idea where he had hidden them." ." "He is mine. Then. for no prince or king could be more comely. however. Mayhap she could help that along. She saw the minute squeezing of his eyes beneath his frown. She was consigned to Hell. For her mother. those things had come last. That he had lost his patience with her at all had been her fault. Utterly at a loss. Mayhap she could persuade someone who was in good standing with God to make the prayer. please. A big greasy blotch. None other would tolerate one such as she. and no great courage or will of his could change that. Were she an ordinary maiden. or fall into the mud. the priest. Wine. perhaps? Or food? Greasy food. rarely prone to accidental stumbling. I meant to thank you. Again she sighed. She had merely been hysterical. although he tried to hide it. Mayhap the priest. the men would soon question his fitness. Aye. How could she be sure her understanding of the words was correct? She was not even sure how the words were pronounced. carefully translating the Latin. She had read it repeatedly. Such an act could fell him quickly. and I am his. But now she fought against herself and betrayed herself at the same time. The old manuscript said nothing about this. before she weakened and died. That still gave her hope. Oh. her gaze flitted covertly in his direction. that must not be left unsaid. she would now have everything she had ever dreamed of. That would work in his favor. And they would be right to do so. wipe the rim of a cup with it. But what was she thinking? She was no ordinary maiden. without telling him the truth? All she could hope for was that the Norman might snag the cursed thing on a tree limb. If not stopped. only that the poison would penetrate the skin in time. But she could not wait. not his. But despite his great size. for his mind would next become confused. when he might rub the fabric across his lips. and the odd blinking to clear vision that had momentarily blurred. let it be so. yesterday. and surprised herself for doing it. She had meant to keep all sign of emotion boxed securely inside her. and unable to explain it to him. And he was a very big man. But how. and no hope of learning more from them.

do you think?" "It has the sound of urgency about it. and I must deal with mine. "Aye. "Word from Hugh. "Alain! It is Robert! He was set upon by Anwealda before he reached Hugh's motte!" "The situation?" "Robert is hurt. immediately. Why should you?" "Chrétien must deal with his own soul." "It was that. or fought harder. Hurry." "Chrétien does not blame you." She allowed the corners of her mouth a small. "Someone may be hurt. What would he do to a woman who dared meddle in men's business?" Chrétien nodded sharply. "Yet you could not have saved Chrétien's family." He burst into a rapid stride down the stairs. but mayhap I could have learned sooner. he glanced back." "And Hugh?" "I have not heard. "Good news. Knights poured in the outer door to the great aisled hall. The others remain where they are. We shall win. A furtive glance at the Norman lord at her side caught his eye. but lost that battle."But was it not also something else?" "And you refer to Chrétien's loss. "Or from Rufus. She sped along with him. I must go." . and I to ride out with you." She tried not to look at him. Only one rider has come. I could not have such a thing on my conscience again. then down to the dais." "Ah." "They mean to draw you out. as are several others. My little philosopher." "Then send for Gerard." "Then we go. Chrétien led the group that rushed toward the lord. The Norman's hand flew instinctively to his sword before relaxing the moment he was assured the men were his own. Urgency permeated the air like the acrid scent of burning flesh." "Then. lord. you and I. Alain. Gerard will come despite his losses." Still running. "I will never know that." She saw the swallowing bob in his throat. I am coming." "Aye. his heavy black brows raising in sharp arches over questioning eyes. but not I. Her slippers skimmed the steps and rounded the bend in the stairs as if flying. there is none else to go." "Well. Their peace was interrupted by noise from the bailey and the hurried clip of horses' hooves. "Wait." she explained." "Battles cannot always be won. come. too. Alain. then she stepped back. gasped at her own audacity. Without Gerard here. "I may be needed. almost bitter quirk. Thomas to remain here." He dashed over the steps two at a time. to protect the wounded who cannot be moved. lady. It seems I did all that could be done. His threat is now so small. Four men are dead. He returned a sad smile for her effort. Someone must remain. But I am glad we deduced Cyneric's deceit in time." said Melisande." he said. they succeed. There was no word to convey her despair." She needed no prodding.

father.Alain glanced about. I mean." "We must?" "Aye. Her heart flopped around. "Thomas?" he asked. then from Chrétien to Thomas. then he outnumbers you as well." "I had not thought we have had so much rain. She ran back to her chamber. She knew he wouldn't." "Aye." The old woman's eyes grew huge and round. so much. Chrétien. His dark eyes narrowed behind black lashes." She had no voice to reply. it is not. and we must have dry. The lord says I may. If Anwealda was too much for Robert. and make haste. I go with the lord to aid the wounded. again shocking herself at her must not. yet?" "Last heard. One more thing. we must." "Well. It is that we go to rescue the injured knights who left yesterday. And Hugh cannot come to your aid without seriously threatening the new motte. out of control. tied on wool stockings. lately. it rains much more. yanked her warmest cloak from its peg. This was more than just aid to the wounded. call the knights to horse. I will be needed." "Aye. "You cannot. It-. lord. Normans did not allow their women the honor of dangerous deeds. Nelda had only to see them packed on the horses. My thanks to you. so you cannot ride alone. he still comes through Wensleydale." She gripped her hands and pleaded with her eyes. where she found Father Hardouin sweeping. piercing her. and the horses will mire down. hot weather. He would not do it. But she met his gaze without faltering. I can. The priest's eyebrows raised at her untimely appearance. They are still muddy from too much rain. An excellent plan. well. lady. The best she managed was a quick bob of her head as she spun about and raced toward the kitchen. Bring a warm cloak. Send for Gerard. We must get there in time!" "Well--" ." she said. though I did promise Gerard not to disturb him. Then she raced back down the stairs to join the Norman lord and his knights. "Father. organized and ready to use. and I am needed. lady. "Gather what you need. "Aye." "So be it. It is the roads. I must have your help. my child? Is it your wedded state?" "Nay. you see. Hurry!" Melisande was always prepared to treat the injured." She gasped to catch her breath. None know how far he has progressed. If you are lucky." "And what of Rufus? Is his position known. then. not here. lady. and pulled light boots on her feet. then. you will be very cold. You must. This might be her chance to pry the accursed mantle away from the stubborn Norman. nay. "A good plan. "Fetch my things. Her preparations for the siege had left adequate supplies already at hand. If you are not. first to the lady he called wife who had been too bold. but higher in the fells. "We go to battle. "Nelda!" she shouted as she ran. and may have more." "Take me. Melisande scurried across the bailey to the chapel. you will spend tonight within Hugh's holding. You have wounded men.

" "How will you protect her. It is perfectly safe. I know the risk is great. to keep her safe within it. nay. I will pray for hot weather for you. if she should be captured. And the lady's saddle did not ride as high as those of the knights. His mind threw at him images of Heloise and her bloody body lying across that of her child. For all her fears. Fear tightened his throat at the thought. Never had she said as much. Mayhap if she talks with you as I have asked. she would be greatly risked. What right did he have to make her a mouse in a corner. she would have been the one who died. not Cyneric. Lynet." She sped away. father. but not to such depth." The furrows of Chrétien's worried frown deepened. that needs this. And he saw Gerard's lovely wife. her faith in her husband. Aye. Alain. fine of bone and high in spirit. had been anything less than perfect." "And right away. We do not get enough sun ofttimes. The time for rain is past. he would not take me at all. *** "Alain. Rufus's cause could be lost. father!" "Of course. compared to her other sins. There is something about her. But I think Dougal is gone north. "The lord takes you with him? Is that not dangerous?" "Oh. I must hurry now. yet fight if we are attacked? Beyond the walls of the castle. father. a long-legged creature. Believed her head wrongly touched. as he had last seen her. as did Melisande. Now their crops need the sun. A horse to match his exquisite lady."And the cotters and villeins. Melisande was a woman out of her time." "I cannot tell you why I believe this. and knew also her need to give it to them. father. extraordinary. and much of it." Father Hardouin folded his hands patiently. Will you sacrifice her then? I think you will not. you see. Thank you. Mayhap he had heard of her malady. as we guessed before. The lord awaits me. she would give her life as bravely as any knight. you should not do this. "Well. but he knew it." She turned to run. remembered her face intent on her husband's as she meted out that precise. Chrétien. silent count that had led to Cyneric's death and her rescue. a simpering lady embroidering linens for the altar? A splendid grey courser was brought out for her. . It was an animal neither suited to nor equipped for battle. but he said no more. He began to have doubts. but--" "Thank you. If her cooperation. But Alain knew how badly the wounded men would need the lady's help." Chrétien's brown eyes were wide beneath his worried brow. wondering what the penance was for lying to a priest. you also will see. Do not forget!" "I will not forget. and I am not sure what. There is only Anwealda for threat. Yet not sturdy enough to defend against a mightier beast. but Father Hardouin snagged her arm. child. Else. and the crops will not ripen. They did often disagree. father. vigorous enough for the ride. if that is what you wish. because of the fells. But he had given his word. faster than the knights' heavier chargers. we are all at risk. too. He wanted that sort of love. It could not be significant. "I think I must.

Her heavy green mantle flowed around her. Still. And she was no stranger to pain and tragedy. her face reflecting an oddly somber joy. Her mother had taken to her bed and only rarely risen from it for years before she actually died. lapping over the provisions stored behind her saddle in leather pouches. for its strange vertical rock. Melisande's hand pointed toward the dark fell to their left. "Thorkel's holding." "Lady. But they could not understand. that could not heal without trust. he smiled. Pride and excitement etched deeply into her solemn face. lady?" he asked her. but a little ways beyond." she said. He had learned from Thomas that Melisande had been seeing to the household matters for several years. long before her mother's death. although none knew the nature of her illness. narrow valleys with their becks that fed into the roundbottomed Eden Valley. And he must give her his trust and confidence. He watched her ride." he said. But I have my responsibilities. like stringy pillars. and his beck. "What?" "Our little track of a path takes us around the bend. she did. To that. A cliff face she called Freya's Hair. Without a word. do you know this place?" "Aye. more deeply and truly than he had ever thought possible. As they rode up through the Vale of Eden. More happiness than he had seen before." . hair flying to the side with the wind. Where the good pasture was. "Not as a common thing. He raised his arm and launched the march. Mayhap just at their corners? Or broad and open? Chrétien fell back next to his lord while the columns of knights rode on. then fell back to ride awhile beside the lady. or swampy ground. Alain gave over the forward command to Chrétien." Aye. she pointed to him small. knowing his help to be unnecessary. I went about more when I was younger." But a short way farther. Anwealda almost caught us on such a one. He wondered at how her delicately curving lips might form one. the Norman knights positioned themselves around their lady. or the result of the circumstances into which she had been forced. Like Lynet." she told him. before. it was not a smile. that flows from the fell beyond the castle. lord." "How much farther?" "Just beyond. She looked wary. willingly. "Trouble. now. noticing that her eyes roamed eagerly to search about the valley. He wondered if Melisande's strength was of her own making. "And Arkle's holding. But what if she found herself immersed in a real battle? She would not flee from danger. They did not see the deep wounds in her soul he saw. The knights rode down the sloping bailey. through the gate house and the village below. but she did not resist. she would do what she must do. as if she expected him to suddenly change his mind and order her back. She knew enough of the territory to be a reasonable guide. but she could not help but know his men thought him demented to risk his wife and future bearer of his heir in such a way. who rode with Robert's messenger. "Here you have Arkle's beck. before she could begin to give it back.He assisted her into the saddle. His paradoxical lady had more courage than many a man he had known. she pointed again. A cavern. across the valley. Surely she did not know the way his heart tripped over itself with fear for her. "Have you been about the countryside much.

punctuated here and there with a lone croft or Norse cowshed. The same horse. assurance that all would be well. or I will bind you. They rode past the curve of the hillside. watching. satisfied that she would be protected. their eyes scanning every tree or rock large enough to hide horse or man. Then the rider returned to the bend where they could see him. She would defy him if she thought she must. and they held their lances ready for action. and I am needed. he eyed her. Move on as if we suspect nothing. Nor do we know where to find them. and his horse balked at the jerked reins. the Eden River flowed on. Below. "If that place worked once. and her blue eyes flashed fire. it could be a good place. The price to me is too high. "You will be needed. But she knew his thoughts. "That is not our man!" "Aye. see to her. bright with young green crops. Chrétien. I see it." Chrétien seized her wrist and gave the lady his smile. He is secretive and sly. Chrétien." "Can we circle them. you must--" Alain turned hard eyes on to her. like theirs. Do not waste your time with me when he needs your aid!" "Nay. The knights urged their horses onward." "Nay." . Alain. same crimson cloak. She always would."What think you?" "If Anwealda chooses an ambush. lady. even after your first men come into sight. But her eyes. We have no choice. He'd best get used to it. But he might do better to wait until we reach the wounded men and are occupied with their care. and motioned. and Alain stood high in his stirrups. With silent gestures. "Nay!" Chrétien shouted. and cautiously rode around it. you cannot abandon him. Now he wished he had not let his lady come with them." The word passed through the knights quickly. You will do as he asks. Alain spurred his white mount. lady? What have you not told us?" "Naught." agreed Chrétien. save that he must not die. He is a knight. "Do not disobey me." she said. "There is no usable track that would not take us hours away from our path. who would increase our numbers. "If they have not been attacked again. why not use it again?" "Save that Robert has left men there to guard them. and he is my lord. not merely now." "Aye. They will kill him!" "What do you know." Chrétien frowned. *** "Chrétien." For a fleeting moment. Alain motioned to Chrétien to set an outrider to the road ahead." "Then we ride as if we suspect naught. and approach from their rear?" "Nay. who stopped to watch them pass. whose composure had not faltered. a meandering path across the undulating valley floor. lady. Chrétien. The road wandered alongside a deceptively peaceful valley. But not our man. rode his white stallion to the fore to lead the force around the hill. scrutinized everything about her surroundings. take my lady to our rear. lady. He disappeared. He avoided the furtive glances at the lady who rode beside him." "You have let me come this far. he signaled the men who would form her guard. but not to battle. but I will not leave you defenseless. Nothing moved but the villeins in their rocky fields. The lone outrider again reached a bend that obscured their sight. as we did before. I do see that. But let us be prepared. for he could hide safely. Ambush would be his way. I did not approve of your coming. Bind her if you must.

and surged toward the ring of Norman knights surrounding her. throwing himself up behind the saddle as the Scot galloped down the narrow dirt road. CHAPTER 15 Anwealda bolted past the startled Norman vanguard that swiped at him as he barreled toward her. "Give me your word. . and threw the Saxon forward onto the dusty road bed. The horse folded on its forelegs. Anwealda leapt and grabbed the warrior's extended arm. Even from here. She had been foolish to come. Chrétien yanked her from the courser's saddle." she said. screams of rage or pain. she could see the fierce gleam in his eyes and knew he had spotted his prize. I have a bargain with God!" She gasped. none dead.His gentle gaze hardened. The melee swirled ahead of them as the Normans pushed the offensive back on the perplexed Scots and Saxons. They were men. "But you must leave me and go to him if he needs you. She saw him. Melisande saw few wounds." "But you seek him no harm?" "Nay. lady? Over the lord's safety? Tell me of this. scattering as they rode. The Normans that swarmed about her bristled like a hedgehog with their great lances." Ahead. Anwealda. "They've broken! After them!" cried a Norman knight." "Then you may keep your secret with God. "Why. lady. One large Saxon burst forth from the melee. She was more a danger to the Norman as a captive than dead. We have other business. out of Anwealda's reach. They wheeled and fled up the steep slope. or I will not loose you." "Aye. "Nay!" she shouted. prayed he would ask no more. rolled. I cannot say. the clash began. She pulled her dagger. She must concede. suddenly realizing she had betrayed herself. Anwealda's hasty gamble had failed. Puny and feeble." "Only do not let him die. "To the fray! I am safe!" But she had been sighted. "Nay. it being all she had. Anwealda drove his charger closer. He is a brave knight. Anwealda landed hard on his great arms. Chrétien. She'd been a fool. sliced alongside the Normans instead of fighting head on. A Norman knight's lance pierced the chest of the Saxon's mount. "A bargain with God. away from the fray. ringing metal. dodged lances as a red-haired Scot drove his war horse around the pack of Normans. Four Norman knights fell back to her side. and he does not need a lady to defend him. then?" "Please. their lances and swords ready. the great blond giant in his bright hauberk of shiny discs." She chewed at her lip. Shouts. and stood. save Saxons and Scots. for she threatened them with her potential for capture. drawing his sword as the Normans closed about him. As the giant Saxon lunged for her." "I cannot." The Norman lord called back his men and assessed their state. But you must also give me your word you will stay out of the fray. and men knew of war.

Anwealda had slipped their grasp." "If Chrétien had not pulled me away." The lord lifted her into her saddle. "We are not far now from where the men await us. But Chrétien is also quick. who now pushed himself off the ground to sit. It stained the cloth with bright color. The Norman lord's gaze fixed on her." "But I caused distraction. She closed the Saxon's eyes. then fell silent. Chrétien released her and she slid to the ground. who did not smile or laugh. you were a boon to us. but clucked at his mount and spurred ahead to the lead. itself. dying. lord. Anwealda's distraction. Bring this man with us. He saw the plan and thwarted it. "You are a traitor. but did not think of its cost."I know this man. but had to seek a defensible place to protect those who could not travel. An arrogant man. his body limp. will the time come when men no longer fight over this land?" . assessing look in his formidable face. It was a mistake for Anwealda. I should not have asked to come. It is usually a mistake to divide one's forces in the midst of a battle. Aye. Nay. we might not have prevailed." "But you will not take me again. We cannot risk all for those who fall in battle." "Do you not fear that Anwealda has already attacked them?" "Aye. you are not. lady. "Nay. knelt at the slashed body. he might have succeeded. helped by one of Alain's men. you did. a sharp. I do not regret it." Melisande gave the Saxon a cloth to hold against the slash across his chest. lady. Anwealda would have caught Hugh outside his defenses. Once more. one she liked little." said Chrétien." He shook his head. He caught us off our guard with his bold move." "Then you do not expect to find them alive. I do not think I could survive the fright again." "You apologize? The decision was mine. "They should have tried to make for Hugh's motte. leaning down to one as he lay helplessly in the dirt. "Aye. She would stitch it later. The Normans were not her people." "Why did Hugh not come to their aid?" "He is not strong enough. "I am sorry." The rumble in his chest burst forth as a great chuckle. He turned and signaled to his men to remount. she often felt that way." she said. but was not deep. He is too impulsive. "Aye." "Nor I. "'Twas Anwealda who rose against you." the lord said. Put him in one of the carts. lord. Why did they not go on there?" "The messenger said they meant to try. baring beautiful white teeth that gave him a ferocity that she would expect in a hungry wolf. It is their love for Robert that makes them take such a foolish risk." said another. He made a grave mistake to try to seize you. If he had held his men together. And I now know something of him. "save to watch the death of her people." The Norman grinned wickedly. "Likely not." said the Norman lord. and acted quickly. and he reached out. the motte. Melisande hurried after him as he strode toward his charger. lady." the man said through clenched teeth. He saw an opportunity. and then. She did not know his name. Most likely. "But we are not far from the new motte. he has. Still she could not deny him a final kindness. took her hand and gave it a squeeze." "I wonder. lady." "The lady had no choice.

She had merely cooperated. Robert lives. If God had chosen this man. kicking his spurs into the flanks of his mount. and leaning low to its racing body. others would die for it. his own." said Chrétien. Alain?" guessed Chrétien. To trust him was to bring on her death."Nay. nor did the lord. She did not want to trust him. Others tore up the steep slope. "Up here. where the Norman forces are weakest." They reached the ground where the battle had been fought. carrying water and food. She had hoped to hear that her sacrifice might have some meaning." She bolted out of the courser's saddle and yanked at the thongs that tied on the pouches." "Never?" "Men have always fought. "The blow we have already struck to Anwealda may be damaging enough to keep him from striking again. "Mayhap they made it to the motte. an interpolation of the signals sent to him from the outrider. mayhap. Somehow. The Norman shook his head and watched as two men scrambled up the steep slope to the sheltered area. The Norman lord rode up beside him. The outrider disappeared around that bend in the road. waving wildly. The knights and their supplies rode on." She fell silent. The one thing of value from what she had done was that the Norman lord was a far more able and caring administrator than Fyren had been. and gesturing with their hands. Within minutes. she had a chance to wrest the cloak from him. supplies. lord. as well. then saw the covert apprehension in the Norman's eyes. But he has probably hit here first. God's choice. blankets. The three wounded Normans still rode their horses. lord. The Norman lord grabbed her pouches. and the lord. their women. and with that. and as long as she lived. tossed them over his shoulders. yet this man seemed always to break beneath the surface and divine what she concealed. Save for a few dead Scots. But she could see he had little hope of it. then came flying back. surely He would not let him die while he was so badly needed. Mayhap God had heard her plea. she had hidden her thoughts. It is their nature. and had none of the earl's extreme cruelty. But the Norman did not see it in his future. She was still alive. At the vanguard." "Mayhap. She nodded." Melisande's heart lurched. The lord motioned his troop forward. "Beyond this bend. she had hoped he would say there would be an end to the warring. If some now lived because of her choice. and dashed up the rocky slope ahead of . "Aye. lady. when the messenger pointed excitedly to the rocky ledge above." "Would Robert command a high ransom?" she asked." "Another trap. but he fared reasonably well. Melisande tried to keep her eyes from flitting in the direction of the Norman lord. All her life. He is a second son. their lands and people. They climbed over a rock shelf and disappeared behind it. "Hostages. lady. but his brother is not well. and managed well enough. The cloth she had given him was soaked with blood. he reined up. after all. they reappeared." he said. Not even a horse. It was not what she wished to hear. they're all gone. that men might stop stealing from each other. "They're gone. following Robert's messenger. hard. and studied the Saxon prisoner who rode behind her in a cart. She did not regret her choice.

still forcing a smile. whom Chrétien tended. she could do nothing. A reed torch flared. hurrying to him. She moved on. "Where is Robert?" asked Melisande." she said. I'll wager. It was too late to stitch it. He would think of the hale first." Robert replied. Was the man a weakling?" "Aye. Your ribs are broken." said Chrétien. And if it had turned putrid. Likely." Melisande bound Robert's chest. gasping breath. "You do not continue to cough up blood. and knew he thought the same as she. Anwealda has just taken another blow. and only barely escaped us. "The Saxons took the other horses. his tunic soaked in blood. And you breathe passably well. He was probably right. then another. a narrow band of grey limestone had worn away into a low cavern. shrouded in their cloaks. tenuous. yet . Anwealda was fooled. She lifted his tunic. "I have sent ahead any who could go. taking a ragged. Robert. bringing the smoldering. and pulled torn fabric away from the skin about the wound. "I cannot see to tend them. Know you anything of Dougal?" "None of him. "He must not be moved just yet. to shake off the intensity of their astonishment. he will hit at your center. But Cyneric is dead. yet weak. and packed fresh linen to the wound. then moved on to the next man." The Norman lord knelt beside Robert while she worked. Robert. now that you are away. "It is too dangerous to stay here." "But you cannot. those who protected the wounded heartily slapped the backs of their rescuing comrades. "The lung must be punctured." Robert paused. "Here. lord. frustrated.her. Alain. "It is not as deep as I first feared. She was no stranger to the jagged fells where they climbed. Melisande rummaged in her pouches for fresh bandages and her salve." "I do not think you will die. while Wallis watches the south. I meant to make it look as if all had gone. He must have pulled north to Carlisle." she said. The next two. the sweet tone she knew of his voice still lingered. Melisande knelt beside Robert. And stared open-mouthed when they saw the lady in their midst." Behind her. "Then. nor his men." He was a Norman knight. "You cannot save me. she thought had a chance. lay to one side so he could cough out the blood in his lungs." Robert protested. The blood here is old." Robert's voice. and I cannot stitch the skin. Only where she was not tall enough to grasp the next hand-hold did the Norman need to reach behind to help her up. lord. If we can just keep you still for a day or two. Beyond. I see. "Where are the others?" asked the lord." In the dim cavern. a flint scraped." Robert's weak smile twitched wickedly. She gave the knight a kind caress. and but your lung may be healing as we speak. Alain. by Gerard's hand. so I had little choice. he may do that." "Aye. let us hope you were right. Near the entrance lay five bodies. yet it already shows signs of healing. once I removed his head. Gerard comes north to aid Thomas." "Aye." she said. if Anwealda has any sense. At the outcropping. if they could reach safety and good care. to which he did not respond. "Such a wound would usually kill. Robert. charcoal scent of tinder. The man moaned at his touch. The man would not survive. only the barest outline of the wounded men could be seen. stiff from dried blood. lady. lady. as he bent over another knight. giving him scant room to breath. "Nor can we stay here. "'Tis as well. It is not the worst way to die. In spite of his pain. She looked up at Chrétien. and his men who have survived have submitted to me.

not these simple acts of bringing comfort. she could not tell." "If we remain. that might do it. Melisande gave her courser to the Saxon because of its gentle . and three more may survive better if they are carried. he would surely wrap himself in it for warmth while it continued its slow. His lord helped him drink from a horn. But I cannot leave him alone. Aye. "We will stay. Quietly. She returned to the front of the cavern where Robert lay. Ivo." The Norman lord rose from his place. and the carts with their supplies. as well. as if that somehow explained it to her. "You have been with me a long time." He would not leave his man to die alone. Melisande continued. not on horseback. lord. and seeing them warmly wrapped and given water was all she could do. Ivo." Whether Ivo willed it to happen. she realized she had dreamt of great miracles. if they could carry him on a litter. All that he had said of not sacrificing the hale for the injured was belied by his actions this day. Go. Below on the road. Not the bonejarring ride of a cart. I die now. I--" "That is why you came. But merely touching each man. Sadly." "Save the others. than if they remain here. Only come back to bury me. As his life slipped away. One. I cannot tell. I send them on to the new motte. "Your blessing. Lady. cleaning their wounds. One other will not. She knew that. insidious killing. for the broken ribs lodged dangerously against his lung. "Take me to him. lord." he said. the Norman lord committed the knight's soul to God. Both joy and sadness infected the troop as it moved toward the motte at the pace of the men who walked and carried the litters." "Aye. But she did not have such skill. and closed the man's eyelids. Yet." "We will stay. Mayhap fastening them to a board of sorts. will he live?" "I think not. her long-legged courser. he might survive. so that he did not risk further puncture of his lungs." "Robert may go if carried by litter. or it just did. lady?" "Give us a little time. knights waited with the war horses. lord." But she also had come to protect him from the viciousness Fyren had infused into the purple cloak. You must give your aid and comfort to those who might live because of it. Robert also might die if they moved him. And she would stay with him." "Nay. lord. A dilemma.would likely die if she moved him. It is but a few miles farther to Hugh's motte." He knelt beside his man. and his huge hand caressed the knight's forehead. See to those who survive. Certainly. "It is more than some receive on a battlefield. If only she had some way of lifting the ribs away from the lung. She called for the assembly of litters to bring the dead down from the cave to the carts and carry the living to the motte. already." "Go." "Nay. is it not?" "Aye. "What think you. "We will not leave you. If he stayed." The knight's voice was barely more than a rattle. you will go with Chrétien.

and even lord in the dead earl's place." The lord pointed to a knight. He held her. The future would come soon enough. not a large man. mayhap I am a little tired. but she saw no fresh blood on his windings. to dominate the valley surrounding it. lord?" "Dispense with it? Why?" "I do not like it. its new palisade circled the old manor and the new mound atop the hill." he said. though he looked ready to fall." "So you have said." "Well. caressed her. lord. the day is warm enough. the materials for the tower that would soon rise in its midst. And it is too short. Melisande's future would have been limited to marriage to that hated man. Pain etched Robert's face. Melisande looked back over her shoulder. Had the Normans not come when Fyren died. is that it? Well. The diabolic Saxon now thought of himself as inheritor of Fyren's schemes. glad they had not moved him to a jarring cart. The day had warmed. Let him laugh. for I am not one to wear my garments to drag in the mud. Only when she was persuaded his wounds would not reopen did she dare succumb to the lord's request and ride behind his saddle on the great white stallion. for Anwealda would not have allowed her to hold the castle alone." "Then it becomes me well.. "Aye. and probably had not shared them with his men." His deep-throated chuckle felt like the rumbling purring of her great red tabby. and walked beside Robert. but she guessed he meant to divine Anwealda's plans." "It does not become you. Why let fear of it destroy the pleasure she had now? "I do not understand why a lady would wish to press her cheek against chain mail. just for now.gait." "Ah." "Does it not?" "It makes you look pale as a maid. or death. *** They saw the new motte across the valley long before they reached it." "It smells. feeling his breathing beneath his mail. It was made for a woman. Ah." He unfastened the brooch and draped the cloak over his horse in front of the high cantle of his saddle. and Melisande sighed her relief. But Anwealda had always been as secretive as Fyren. "Could you not dispense with that cloak for a while. carried her to his bed. "The Saxon must rest. Grateful that she did not have to press her nose into the evil thing. "Tis but a little way. It felt good against her hands. she could pretend. she wrapped her arms around his waist. Do you not feel the chalkiness of the dye? It makes me want to sneeze. Located on a natural low hill. For a while she daydreamed of this Norman lord. Mayhap because of the priest's prayers. this man. Melisande breathed out a sigh." "You do.. and he lapped his hand over hers. . But I cannot fathom that." she said to the Norman lord. his lips descending to claim hers. who turned to see the man wavering in the saddle. Great piles of logs lay nearby. who rode up next to the Saxon and steadied him. The lord had not said for what purpose he wanted the Saxon. "I do not. The Saxon still rode the courser.

soul and all." "How so? I had thought he might die. "Lord. The lord reached around and lowered Melisande from her place behind his saddle. "What think you. Where was skill in that? Still. then. and motioned to have Robert taken into the chamber. as if a chill wind had suddenly risen and frozen her. she had not heard him come up behind her." Melisande did not think of herself that way. beyond accepting Hugh's gracious hospitality. "All will heal. and washed it clean of dried blood. "He may live. With better light. "She has assisted us in surprising ways. Mayhap many of them were actually possible. and she could only hope for proud flesh to form safely. She sighed. You have said yourself men will always war against other men." "Yet. the knights had already gone past the time when the wounds could be stitched. but it also turned the sword into a hammer. She cleaned his wound and stitched it with horsehair. If they heal that way. But I am surprised. for he must be kept still. it is good to see you. Is it not--" "Aye. or the ribs prick his lungs. It is Robert who worries me. or risk of puncture to his lungs. Save for those injured just today. she determined that his ribs indeed indented where the blow had struck. She washed her hands in a basin. But the wound will cripple him. The mail no doubt saved his life. His ribs are caved in to his lungs. Fyren would not have died." she replied at last. She has an unusual skill." "It shall be. he will never be able to breathe deeply without great pain. and seemed even to prevent festering. She left the chamber to find the other wounded knights. She clung more tightly to the Norman. She has come along to attend the injured. and his brows raised slightly as they wrinkled. If there were only some way of lifting them back into place. But she was no surgeon. Melisande shuddered. The Saxon was weak from loss of blood. The imprint of the mail dug deeply into in his skin around the great slash. "There is little of luxury here. nor improved the living. cutting in. lady?" asked the lord. broken rather neatly about a knuckle's length away from the wound on both sides. hurried forth to greet them. she said nothing. But she had not saved the dying. if they do not fester." Hugh said. lest the wound open again. then jumped down to greet Hugh with great slaps on the back." answered the lord." "My thanks. There were a lot of things she wished she could do. what else can be done?" . she studied the wound across the side of Robert's chest more thoroughly. but if he lives." "His father wants him home. then dried them on a rough towel before leading the lord away. Mayhap it is best. Her salve was comforting. By feel. "Yet the bed in the chamber is good. but I have no need of luxury. --and the lady." Hugh declared. and Hugh. then gave him a potion for his pain. why would he be crippled?" "The ribs will heal wrongly. with his arm still in its sling.But in that case. Melisande followed to see Robert settled. So absorbed had she been in her thoughts and her task. out of the hall. The heavy log gate swung open to admit the Norman and his contingent. if she only knew how." "Even at home a man must defend what is his. lady. The bed is better used for Robert. She had done nothing uncommon.

It was a fantasy." The Norman lord followed her from the chamber. and we must ask you about it. flat board? Mayhap a board with holes drilled in it at the right spots. and held in place by the board. who had been dozing fretfully. that then could be pulled upward. the Norman lord woke Robert. I am no surgeon." She gave a cautious. it would not heal again. to brace the ribs against the flat board. anything could go wrong." the Norman said. then." "Aye. But how could she get the sinews through the board without dangerously disrupting the wound? And how would she know where to place the holes? They could not be done randomly. Mayhap a carpenter could make the board and the holes where I want them." "Would you try it. then?" "I know not. If only I could go beneath his ribs and lift them back into place." "Let us talk with Robert. I think it is all too clumsy. and attempted to roll to his back. and the sinew pulled through the board? If it happened the way I imagine it. ahead of her surgery. not a real thing." "Tell him. nor what sort of tissue might lie between the two." "We must hold him still. I do not know enough to decide. You could bleed to death. but I have only a little of it left. She could envision the sinews passing through the board and tying. mayhap like the curved bone needle I use for sewing heavy cloth or hides-. and will do more harm than good. It must be precisely prepared. I will not be able to do it. "We have an idea. "I could lay a cloth onto the wound area." "I will think some more on it. Yet if he moves.something that might draw a length of sinew or thread beneath the bone. Or if I prick his lungs. Robert. I have no doubt." "Mayhap if it is re-opened. then?" ." Robert gave a sleepy grunt. But I fear accidentally puncturing your lung more. and walked beside her through the bailey of the old fort. But I do not know how to do it. Melisande explained her thoughts." "It was already punctured and is healing. There is too much I do not know. I know not if the lungs are connected to the ribs. will the air leak out?" "Do you want me to do it instead."I know not. She knew nothing of the tissue beneath the ribs. wild lettuce. the ribs would be pulled up." "Shall I find someone?" "There are other problems. And I could not stitch it closed. Once again in the bed chamber behind the dais. I pictured something in my mind. And I cannot figure out how I could fasten the sinew to the board. and mark on it where I want the holes and the ribs to be. Melisande engrossed herself in the puzzle. A man is not much if he cannot breathe well. solemn nod. what would hold it in place while it healed?" "Mayhap the sinew could be tied to a small." "I would have you do it. "The lady thinks your injury will cripple you if it is not repaired properly. but Melisande stopped him. There is an herb. "If you open the wound. This will be very painful. carefully including all the envisioned drawbacks." "You still do not see. and at the least. anyway. or whether her efforts might cause more harm. Nor can it be found this time of year. can you see what you need to do?" "I would not know until I did it. He kept his silence as they walked." "If you did. that will make him sleep.

lord?" "You do not fail me." she said. would it be you urging me to act?" Aye. he had more faith in her than she had in herself. Although she had a talent for healing. for he had no intention of changing them. Melisande. Well. Merely one who can plane a slat thin and smooth. It would get worse. With her sharp knife. let her think. she would have to become accustomed to his affectionate ways. It must be now. Melisande wiped her tools and laid them out on a clean linen cloth as she observed her sleeping patient. curved needle. "Robert has decided." "But he puts his death on my hands. I cannot choose this for you. she cut into the bruised skin beside the wound alongside the first broken rib. "You shall have it all." Alain grinned and drew her into his arms for a hurried kiss. for she knew he would struggle at first. She would. The Norman lord and three others stood aside to hold him. and . "If it were me instead of you. and she prayed for him. not for herself. He would rather be dead. If God did not favor her. or not at all. "He will put himself in your hands.Aye. She wanted it done by any but her. and drill holes exactly where I need them. But she studied his large. I know him. "You ask too much of me. walking with her. she did. Aye. Her patient stirred. We have almost exhausted what we brought. One with great skill is not needed. But it means much to me." "We must hurry. very fine. lord. thick-fingered hands and wondered if he had ever held a needle in them. *** She had all she asked for." he replied. I cannot willingly consign him to the fate of a cripple. as well." "Hugh!" he shouted. I know. he knew he asked too much of her. She looked so frightened." "And if I fail you. Melisande began by probing about the wound. The wild lettuce syrup was working well. and walked with her arms folded over her chest. Even if you decide you cannot do it." "Aye. The bones have already begun to knit." "And fine linen for bandages." Melisande fell silent. mayhap Robert had His ear. "I will need a carpenter." "I shall find you one. but more as if she feared what would happen to Robert than herself. She needed only to start." "Aye." How could she do it? How could she not? CHAPTER 16 "Robert must decide. And I must have a small. Cloths were spread out across the clean linen sheets. Hugh came running. Melisande's round blue eyes grew rounder with her astonishment. He kept his peace. but my friend. She said a hurried prayer. Robert is not merely my knight. But the greatest of talent would not insure success.

she did the same way. "Aye." said the squire. But it lay amidst a mass of mangled. "This one will not lift. inside the body. She frowned. Then the left side. Now came the test. she had worked her sinews beneath both ends of the third rib. Show me the way the sword would have hit him. Blood oozed. then threading the long strips of sinew through their corresponding holes in the pad of linen and the slat above it. She tied each pair of strings together above the board. I will have to push it down again. and deftly worked the needle beneath it and out the other side. mayhap the bone is cut at an angle. quiet voice. She found the rib. Anxiously. But I have already raised the right." he said. She found the point where she thought the bone might be easiest to lift. The boy stood by Robert's opposite side and held the slat precisely where she wanted it. it would not budge. She pulled the sinew strings through the board until the board fit flush with Robert's skin. easing the bones back where she thought they belonged. she probed for the bone and felt the break." The lord used the side of his hand to demonstrate the angle. She pressed gently. was the possibility of infection. "I cannot have it tugging against the strings until I am ready." she said." said Alain. gauging by the amount of sinew she could pull through. She pulled harder. yet extend outside the skin so that it could fasten to the rigid board. The next rib. Two more ribs to go.waited as the men calmed him. held him still. then went still. then sought another from Robert's squire who stood by. or would it close up as an ordinary wound would? How long should she leave it in place? If not long enough. She gently eased the right side up to where it ought to be. then. would the bone fail to knit properly? If too long. and worked her finger beneath the board. what? She continued to work. unidentifiable tissue. The sinew would have to remain beneath the bone. As the Norman lord spoke soothing words to Robert. "Then the left side must be raised first. Its opposite side. or fester around it? Would it leave a hole. Through the slit. What worried her most. moving it slightly when she signaled to him." "I will hold it. But it would not come. gently easing the small bone needle beneath and around each rib. She watched the lord stroke his huge hand over Robert's brow and speak gentle words in his low. pulling the sinew through and leaving it to dangle. hard breath. She sopped it up with a clean cloth. Robert stiffened and cried out. "There is no place to set this. . Her heart pounded a rapid rhythm. "But why?" "Mayhap. Would the skin grow to the sinew. This would be harder than she had imagined." The lord bit at his lip. Yet. Mayhap but a tiny bit will do the job. she caught the lord's gaze. She didn't know what would happen. Robert trembled as she slipped the needle into the wound. Melisande dragged in a long. then the third. Soon." she replied. the lullaby of his voice calmed her as well. she realized as she repeated the steps on another rib. would they be unable to remove the sinew without cutting it out? If they left it entirely. He nodded solemnly for her to continue. Then she gradually tightened the first pair. "What is wrong?" asked the lord. As it was cut by a sword. you should raise the other side first. "Do it.

but place cloths around him. conscious of her husband's gaze. "Lady. And she could not help wondering why." His arm encircled her waist and drew her to his side. lady." "Nonetheless. coming from the group of knights who had kept their supper subdued while they waited." "I but meant to tease. toothy grin. you must not breathe deeply for a while. But I feared that as the result. For a few days. It was done. Some less." A raucous cheer filled the hall. For all that she remembered none of it. "I will go to him. Blood streaked and spotted over her kirtle. I have heard that you wish to eat. She sat back. and a bit of bread. he must not be allowed to move." "I will see that someone stays with him. Robert lay on the bed in the position she had prescribed." said a young voice beside her. she felt so safe in his arms. if he was the biggest threat to her. Now. he was watching her. for it was the same voice that brought her peace at night. But it was a plain grey one that served well for such occasions. She tied the strings together on the back side of the wooden slat. and at last expelled the great gulp she had held in her lungs. all the same." said Hugh. Mayhap place pillows to his back. with a different sort of look in his eyes. anyway. a wide. "Come. Mayhap I can breathe better. lady. "You have not killed me. He is awake." Melisande blinked. He grinned." said the lord. "Finished?" "Aye. He has not worsened. once more confused by the odd thing Normans called teasing. Knew the comforting of his voice. She could never discern his thoughts. And keep him warm." She stood and walked to the little table that had been brought into the chamber. she knew it. saw the face of Robert's squire. she ate quietly. "How do you feel?" "Some things hurt more. In the chamber behind the dais." "I had no plan to kill you." Robert groaned. Sitting at the lord's table between her husband and Hugh. soon. I will bind your chest again tomorrow. he must not roll. yet grimaced as he did. Robert. And hungry. who had been sitting with him. merely weakening them to pale pink smudges. as he seemed to do hers." "No meat?" "No meat. and she daubed ineffectively at the stains. Again she breathed deeply to steady her hand and resumed the fearful tugging. and washed her hands in the basin while she continued her instructions. so it must be that I will live. as well. "Aye?" "Do not fear. Especially. . and felt the blood drain from her face. And now it gave her courage when she would have flagged." she responded. "I am told a fine supper awaits us in the hall. as smoothly as if it had all been intended that way. She leaned for a moment against him. He has not bled as badly as I expected. The lord also rose to accompany her. Mayhap broth. "Good.She knew that hand. If she looked up at any time. and the right followed. lady. The left side of the rib eased into place. that seemed to smolder with a quiet intensity. She turned.

She seemed pleased with what she saw. that it would work. Robert. Melisande left their company and went about the injured men." He gestured toward the heap of straw that would be theirs. she studied him. While Alain talked and planned with his knights. Such a mass of contradictions. It was the same way Gerard had treated her. it was hard to tell. lady. "Here?" "Of course. "I do not think this is a good time for jokes. and gave her a great hug. I have found a sheet to cover the straw. but it was. certainly never had known it in such a way as these men gave so irreverently to each other. "how a man might be stolid about such a serious wound. Puzzled. There. "It seems to me. that she had never quite understood." "But I-. Then she would have to learn. The trouble was. Latin. as you have chosen to give away the bed to Robert. *** How extraordinary she was. and supplemented her knowledge with them. you are tired. had he seen her shed a tear. she had new ideas of her own. determined to persist." she said. Other strange beliefs that came out at unexpected times." "But I did not tell a joke. What she had accomplished was truly remarkable."Odd. Your day has been long." . She had a store of secret knowledge that baffled him. Yet. "Well. watching with curiosity the strange interchange between the lord and his knight. unless you have a fondness for sleeping with the cattle. There is no other place. Aye. she was a very tired woman. for she never smiled. servants. and he hoped desperately. You will sleep with me." she said. Not within those terrible night terrors." She stepped back then. winding themselves in their cloaks for warmth in the chilly hall. and the tired knights. would it not be nice to feel this merriment. "What is funny?" She had merely spoken the truth. With her. He had never seen anything like it. she had merely dropped a handful of dirt into the grave and walked away. a bit of joy or silliness? Surely it could not make her situation any worse. and villeins dispersed themselves to their piles of straw. Right now.everyone is sleeping here. No matter that she had hated him. he could not take his eyes off her. for her sake as well as Robert's. the tables were folded away. that consisted largely of bantering and teasing. Alain chose his place closest to the hearth. She surely had not had a day quite so unnerving and exhausting for some time." The Norman lord laughed. After the supper meal. he realized abruptly. she thought herself no different from any other woman. would she not have cried a little? Might she be one of those people who could only weep when alone? Such a paradox. I do not understand." Robert groaned again. who rested in some sort of comfort on fresh straw in the great hall's aisles. She had never accomplished the art of teasing. "Come. you must rest. Mayhap she could try harder to understand it. Come. Strange herbs. He laughed harder. For her. But what I said was the truth. she needed to find out how it was done. More than that. She pretended it was not so. she had not the slightest notion of how to go about it. not even at the burial of her father. If she had not much time left to be in this world. Nor." "Aye. yet complain loudly if his stomach is not filled. men's jokes are based on lies. It hurts to laugh.

" "Well. "I'll wager it is naught."I had not thought of that. and guided her toward the hearth. She had never given him a true caress during her waking moments. love?" "It is naught." "It is not?" "You have always been protected by those of your household." "Not from what I've seen. And the others. she says. "What is it now. she snuggled herself beside him. "I have never known another person who has always slept alone. marveling at their difference. then. As her delicate hand rose to his chest in a feather-soft touch. then?" "My own will do well enough." "Fyren's reasons were his own. Even the king is accustomed to others about his bed chamber." What could that mean? "That is done and gone now. I did mean that. He pulled his purple cloak over them. Lie down. She stiffened. mayhap we could use the both. it is no news to them. And like that innocent touch of her arms about his waist when she had ridden the horse behind his saddle. Melisande. I am here." laughed another." He tucked the green cloak about her as he eased his thigh over hers." Alain retorted. the green cloak. and lie down with me. "What is it?" "Not that cloak. "Tend to your own affairs. "But what if I--" "If you dream." "Then." He smiled. I do not think I have ever slept in the same room with anyone else. kissed her lips. of course. almost in a whisper. That is how it will always be now." "What. Did you not know?" "Thomas. It makes me sneeze." At his urging. down into the resilient straw. but you say they do annoy the king that way. She sat up abruptly. like a fearsome lance thrown by an alien warrior. One finger stroked over the elegant curve of her golden brow. Come now." He gave no further opportunity for dispute. He bent to her. for he would no more give her the chance to escape him now than he ever would again." "Well." "Naught. lady? If you dream. . "Do not mind them. love." Alain touched the callused pads of his fingers to the softness of her cheek. He saw no sense in enlightening me." "Besides your husband. then his hand laced itself into the yellow flow of her tresses." "Well of course. I do not fathom how a cat could make a person sneeze." came a crude cackling from the dim aisles. only. He laughed. I cannot think why your father would have wanted such for you. All of them?" "And now you are protected by me. first gently." "I cannot fathom such. it sent every part of his body stirring to intense attention. the full force of his lust hit him. Her wary glances he answered only with a smile. the purple one on top?" "But it will still make me sneeze. They will make something out of anything. now. his words tickling her ear.

It was but a matter of time. eased himself back to his place beside her. "Go to sleep. Something disturbs you. love. She was so easy to tease. And whatever man told you that.oh.must he not. molded around the exquisite curve of her buttocks. if you want. But what has that to do with it?" "But a man must-. not here. Mayhap I will tickle you until you tell me. A great heat surged through him." "We could do that too." "You do not demand your rights. it is not true. every day. Or." "It is important to me. Whatever experience she'd had with another. "Nay. and stroked his fingers over the long. and he answered her invitation. searching." "Come now." She tensed. and brought her body snugly against his.oh. From somewhere within the hall. probing. unfathomable eyes. however." "Oh. it is naught. What is amiss?" "Oh. He smiled. silken strands of butter-colored hair. "You do not know?" "Oh. With no more than a reluctant sigh. She watched him with her solemn blue. "What are they doing?" Melisande asked. He laughed. if he is aroused?" He tried not to laugh. I suppose some men cannot tell the difference between what they must have and what they merely want. I will badger you until you tell me.Her lips parted for do not-. He would simply have to find a way to contain himself. it is not that. I will never force you." "Never?" "Never." "Oh? What is amiss with that?" "Nay. Yet. And he was not ready to quit. "Do not worry yourself so. that was beginning to look longer." "Oh. encouraging her delicate response. but she was not ready for it. lied. lady." "I do not believe it. Yet. a soft giggle of a feminine sort broke through their private cocoon." Alain repressed his chuckle." he whispered. mayhap you do not find me attractive. "It is only that I think. it is naught. clearly not wanting to be tickled. it is not important." Her eyes were like the hare cornered by the fox. begging a deeper kiss. lady. and I will know what it is. I suppose you are-. she was unaccountably naive in the ways of men and women. "It is true. but that is altogether a different thing. just how much of the torture he could endure while containing himself." . it escaped anyway. And her body might be responsive. he changed his kisses to gentle nibbles as he released her. He laughed again." "I do not? Where did you get such a notion?" "I-. I do not. She was not ready for this. The problem was." And never was a very long time. His hand roamed down the length of her back. But nay. love. "Mayhap I would attempt to persuade.

You are safe." Her heart still hammered in her chest. Nay. And she." The arms around her were gentle. Her husband." he whispered. Fire leaping. Wake for me. and gave her a last kiss. punctuated here and there with a feminine bleating sort of giggle. Alain. "You see? All is well. love. and you will never escape me. Dead! "I will come." Nay! You're dead! You're-"Come love. His lips. Melisande. cavorting like demons. swirling. screaming. Alain decided he'd best find a more private occasion to educate his lady. Wake for me. Circling. too. It is only a dream. She was alone." *** Fire. comforting.It was time for a little persuasion." "It means that I am attracted to you. Are you awake?" "Aye. She jerked back. He took her hand from where it rested at her side. Nay. she still gulped shallow breaths. she was overwhelmed with malicious beings. You cannot escape. His eyes." "Aye." You cannot. soothing and enticing. Save me. Melisande. Dancing demons leering. run. She wanted to scream." said a low. "Leave them alone. But let her think on it. love. sweet. No one will hurt you. Wake. Nay. "You must sleep now." Her love. and guided it down the length of his body to touch his erection. beckoning. cold and dark in their midst. Have you not seen a nervous bride before?" "Not for long!" A rumble of male cackles swept through the outer reaches of the hall." The lapping tongues whirled about her. I will never allow it. you are dead. Melisande. gentle. Great. The flames-tongues-demons surrounded her. I will come for you. Did you think you would escape me?" You are dead. black and deep. love. laughing. "Another time. Merle. I'd say he is. Not just yet. "You are not rid of me so easily." "Nay! You're--" "You are safe. hide. He smiled. tender." "Alain. You are dead. Voice low and gravelly. melded into a face. Have you forgotten who I am?" You lie. now. all right. You are merely a man. "Do you know what this is. Fyren. None will hurt you. "I will come for you. dancing. all was not well. lapping at her feet. But there was no place to go. Melisande. wake now. love?" "Aye. . but he would not let her go. evil tongues of it. "It is but a dream. "And know you what it means?" "Aye. "I will come for you. Alain. am aroused by your presence. "I am Satan's spawn. anonymous voice." A twinge of nervousness echoed through her voice. blocked all retreat. You are dead. love.

You can sleep now. "Nay. just fire. he would make me-." "There are deep pits in the cavern below the castle. He would not take her. love." She wanted to believe that. Destroy. lie down with me.. unless he held a lantern over it. He would have no more victims. A dream could burn. and the dream is gone. because I was afraid I would fall in even deeper. And I didn't dare move. absorbing the tender touch of the Norman's huge hands as he smoothed back her hair." "Fire? What is there in fire that reminds you of him?" “I will come for you." He did not know. His lips nibbled at her in soft caresses. ". now. He did not have to know the truth." "You are afraid. Melisande leaned into Alain's chest. She knew it. I know not. You cry out. and he massaged her back slowly." She couldn't." "Tell me. It is gone. Left only its ugly imprint." "Aye. I think sometimes you dream of a place that is cold and dark." Alain's embrace strengthened. although I do not know of what. absorbing his protective embrace as if it flowed around and into her while she still trembled. Tentatively. In the dim glow from the hearth. it was-." "You dreamed of Fyren? What?" "Fire. Fire. love.what? The edge of the dream receded. When I would not do-. Fyren would win. He would not take Alain. It was so dark I couldn't even see the top. the dream would recapture her." "Then let it go. He kissed her fingertips as they neared his lips. And cold. it did not hurt you. beyond her grasp. He would pull her down to him through the dream. "He was no more than a man. and that is when I come to you. "What happens?" she asked. love. char. now. she ran her fingers over his cheek. And you see. "Next?" "I mean. Do you know of such?" "Aye. love.what he wanted. But Hell reached out to her to claim her for her sins. his eyes sparkled with an uncertain kind of intensity." she said. "Fyren. Fyren reached up from Hell to grab her. She shook her head. slipped away. she lay still. not yet.” "He is from Hell. You have waked for me. For a moment. A dream cannot hurt you. "Do you remember it?" Remember? It was there. and he is dead." If she lay down again so soon. And who was she to stop him? "Lie down with me. Never.he would put me in the pit."Come then. and let him ease her back to the straw pallet." "Did he give you anything to eat?" . when I dream." "Nay. bristly with the day's unshaven beard.

then?" "I will think on it." When she woke with morning's first light. It reminded him of the way a blacksmith fashioned a helm. There was a flaw in every word he chose. only that it must be done. "Never think I do not desire you. for I will never do it. But he could find no perfect fit. my love. but she would not let him have her husband. She deserved to know. her Norman lord lay awake and watching. Needed to know. though it would bring about her destruction. But there was water. Beside her. The pads of his huge fingers brushed across her cheek. but she could not change that. Now he was going to have to tell her. Do you choose to challenge it?" "A challenge? How so." "None?" "None. she almost wished for it sooner. Mayhap Fyren would claim her. she would save him. oddly. lady. He whispered in her ear. He could not allow her to fear for her life at his hands any longer. Alain did not deserve to die. she also craved of him. her back curved neatly into the haven of his body. for he could not tell how she would take it. The opportunity? Was this it? "Anything. But you cannot win it." "Anything? Anything at all?" She almost felt a smile come to her lips. he did wish for a way to put it off longer. You cannot tempt me beyond my bounds. something more tugged at his heart." "Men are ever boastful. His kiss brushed across her lips. *** Alain stood in the bailey of the new motte while his squire lifted the shiny hauberk over his head and adjusted it into its proper fit. The very act of love he craved of her. And when she went to Robert and issued instructions to the squire. There was a way. his dark eyes like smoldering coals. She could not bear the thought of losing him. It would have made no difference to her." "It is not important." "If he were alive now. The tip of her nose ached with the cold. She held the hand that cupped her breast. He had to find it."Nay." She felt the rumble of his laughter in his chest. save that somehow she must wrest the cloak from him first. Somehow. lord?" "Anything you should ask of me if I violate my pledge. But how? He didn't know how. rather than later. I would kill him. "A challenge. did it come early or late. Somehow. He watched her as she made her last check of the men she had aided." The Norman drew her closer into his arms. trying again and again for fit until it was perfect. *** Melisande woke when the hearth had burned down to embers and the air was chill. . There must be an answer. she had him by his heartstrings. Yet. He began to devise in his head the words he would use. Aye. for it almost could not be heard. Aye. touching from head to toe. anymore. But no amount of desire will ever bring me to force myself on you. as if he had not slept at all. I could lick it off the rock. And he did not want to lose her trust again.

Mayhap we will have the tower complete before aught more befalls us. Robert had been with them in the household of the Conqueror when they were but boys. "Yet. But I do not doubt every man here would defend her to the death. "None has heard of Dougal's doings?" "Not even your captured Saxon. and so close. And Chrétien's. How could he expect them to understand? He watched as two squires lifted a heavy hauberk over the lady's head and eased it down over her body. Alain. Now they saw her differently. as his knights prepared to leave the motte and return to the castle. And I am pleased that you could dig the moat so deep. It will help keep you safe. "I am grateful that you came. he had a different set of problems." she protested." "And that we must return. he did not regret his choice." The knights chuckled while she looked at them in confusion." "My northern frontier is now in your hands. Hugh." "And no little thanks to your lady. She would give herself up for even one of them. but he did not reply. Alain. Although it had come from a small man who had died.For now. God willing." "What will you do if Anwealda captures her?" He studied the dirt of the bailey. I know all think me a fool. But that would only encourage Anwealda to gather all he could find to throw against you." Hugh's eyebrows raised. "Anwealda did not know you were with us before. she began to heal herself. Chrétien most of all. in healing others." "Aye. to know a friend is in need." "It did not do much for its previous owner." How could he say? It was not for sharing. Hugh. yet to be helpless to aid him. He wanted that for her. If I thought her safer here." "It went well enough. If they had not valued her before." said Hugh." He knew. Alain." "As you wish. I would leave her with you. I doubt you could hold. "I know not. though. as well. her slim proportions still left it bagging at her sides. would die to give it to her." Alain smiled. But he knew their hearts. "You did not make me wear such a thing before. for all that they speculated Dougal was in Carlisle. Yet I cannot see--" "I cannot explain. Yet." "Aye. And in that instance. and I vow he tells the truth. he will heal properly. "You have things in good order. "It is a terrible thing. having no notion that she had made a joke. nearly as long as he had been with Chrétien. you said yourself. The very thought brought him fear. "I'll leave Robert and his men with you. Yet there is still something. with the timber so close. They wanted their lady safe. now." And that increased the risk. It was as if. He had ridden with Hugh and Robert a long time." "Anwealda knows she is with you. Yet how can I waste one such as she on the minding of a castle's meals?" "I think her much changed from our first meeting." He smiled at her complaint. She has a fondness for you. I must do what I can to secure the south and prepare for Rufus." . Aye. the mail saved Robert's life. I am not sorry you brought her. they now thought of those she had saved. some of whom could now actually stand about and watch the departure. "But that is the last thing she would want. "It does not fit.

all the way through her kirtle. she drew the rough mail coif over her head again. but could not separate it from the mail. Then Alain boosted her into the saddle. while their eyes scanned restlessly about the hillsides and down the stream. one thing. having things. to discuss with his knights. She had begun to believe Anwealda had lost his taste for a fight." "Aye?" "When we stop. "Soon. my men will protect you with their lives. nothing happened. "We will stop at the stone ford." "I could also use some. Although it was little more than a track where villeins passed to reach their flocks." "Why?" "We will be vulnerable. as that knight came up beside her. He was not sure what. tangling her braid in the rings. At the ford. make the day hot. With her free hand." he said. When you are safe again within the castle." "But we are not so far from the castle now. She shoved at the heavy metal coif impatiently until she dislodged it and it fell back against her shoulders. Be assured. "Do you think we will make it. I will help you. It snagged her hair. and tell all what tyrants we are. "If we must wear the stuff. She reveled in its heat upon her face. Even as she continued her silent plea. then remounted the moment it was through. the surest. the knights dismounted by groups. The mail began to feel as if it burned her skin. She drank only a little. . Chrétien?" she asked." Her Norman had not ridden beside her for over an hour. Melisande." He nodded. and burned against her scalp. Anwealda could be down upon us quickly. Melisande dismounted and brought her grey courser to the stream in the first group. It slid easily away as he worked at it. God. and none far from it. and his eyes scanned for every movement." she said. the first began to ride out. the coif must go back on. she supposed. Reluctantly. some always in the saddle. The castle was almost too close now for him to take the chance." "I have willingly accepted it. bagged uncomfortably. We must stop for the horses anyway. Still." Chrétien added. CHAPTER 17 Please." "Aye. and like the hauberk." "I have been a burden to you. lady. He would take no chances that did not have to be taken. We should expect an attack then. You know it is not. she fumbled with it. "We will drink. you may shuck the shell. then so must you. "The horses need water. lady. the road along the river seemed the safest." she replied. Norman knights surrounded her. As the last group of knights finished refreshing their mounts. Its fit was poor. but we cannot stop to eat. But. Make it so hot that he cannot stand the cloak even over his mail. "Hold. the sun rose higher and sent down its blistering rays. and you have rewarded me greatly. But now he slowed his pace and leaned in his saddle to free her hair from its trap." She mumbled something. It is not for me I ask."Aye.

Chrétien drew the net closer around the lady. Or Anwealda could have taken the castle. or they take the place of women. But if he blocks us. trapping them. The horse jerked about as if in a stable on fire. But this is as dangerous. Her swift courser easily matched the racing war horses as they sped around the curve. we can either fight or try to ride over the hill." said Alain. These are dangerous times. she awaited the signal. the knights bunched about her. but he may also have spies in the hills. "The lady." "Why?" "We have decided against an outrider. lady. Alain. but outnumbered. I watch for them. now?" "I have heard they all are women." said another Saxon. watching the horizon as did he." She fell silent." "Does he outnumber us still?" "Likely. We must take no unnecessary chances. "Go!" shouted Alain." Chrétien took her grey courser by its bridle to steady it. His eyes were focused on the bend in the dirt road."Mayhap." she said softly. he seemed to bristle down his backbone. she caught a flickered glint beneath a clump of trees. "I see it. "What are you expecting?" "If we make it round this hill." "First hand!" . while acting as if they did nothing unusual. Greatly outnumbered." Again. "Ho. Blocked. "Aye. "Chrétien." "Aye. I expected an attack at the stream. Mayhap that is a boy who rides with him." She had seen him fight. She had not guessed Anwealda still commanded so many men. both up the hillside and below. "Dougal. and the knights jammed their spurs into their mounts. Her heart stopped. Near the top of the long hill." "Do you think he did?" "I cannot tell." she said. at last to show his face. Has he taken a liking to boys. but flicked anxiously to the hillside at their right." "Aye. "Chrétien. They were not merely trapped. Melisande slanted a glance at their rear. Like a wild tomcat. Hold the charge until we draw nearer. at all costs. prancing nervously. think you?" "Mayhap he learned it from Rufus. knew his bravery. We will charge around the hill together. Norman!" shouted Anwealda. and prayed she would not hinder them. "Have you taken to making knights of women. within the castle gates. we will make it home. Riders came around the curve of the hill behind them. Norman chargers drew to a halt. The trees near the top. and nodded in that direction. so that he will not have notice of our coming. Like them. Saxon knights spread in a double line across the road. But she also sensed the tense grip he held on the reins of his war horse. and may catch him off guard. So he would try to block that as well. This was not the placid Chrétien she had known before. Dougal.

"It is but the witch, herself," said Anwealda. We should not be surprised to see her ride to battle with men. Have you told him, witch, what he really faces? I think not, else he would flee back to Rufus, his tail between his legs." "He is no coward, Anwealda," she shouted. "Nor do you frighten me." "Quiet, lady," Chrétien hissed. "Do not stir them. I had hoped they would not recognize you so soon." "He knows me well, Chrétien. But so does Dougal. Dougal!" "Lady, I did not know you rode with the Norman." "You know, now. What say you, Dougal, that you ride against me? Have I not inherited my father's place?" "Nay, lady, for you sup with Normans. I have no quarrel with you, but my land is my own, and I will not bow down to a dissolute Norman king. And I am no man's vassal. Leave them, and join Saxons like yourself." Melisande flashed a look at Chrétien by her side. "He has no stomach for this," she said in a low voice. "Aye. He explains himself too much. When the melee begins, try to break free. If you must be captured, head for Dougal." "I do not wish to go anywhere." "You must, lady. Ride uphill. Your courser is light and swift, and likely to break free. No Saxon war horse could catch him if you push him hard enough." "Nay." Chrétien latched her wrist in an iron grip. His eyes blazed. "You must not be taken. Promise me, lady." she dared not object. In his eyes blazed the remembrance of his dead wife, and Gerard's living one. He and Alain both would die before letting Anwealda take her. "Aye," she said. "I will be behind you." It would be futile to object to that, too. But she could see no clear path, either up or down. She turned again to Dougal, assessed his men and their strength. Even without Anwealda, he was strong enough to take them. She affixed her eyes to Dougal, who jerked nervously on his charger's reins while the horse did an awkward, poorly controlled dance. The mounts of his front-riding knights balked. What unnerved them? The word began like a low rumble, an indistinct sound she could not understand, that spread through the Saxon knights at their rear. As a group, they bolted, whirled, dug in their long spurs and fled. "What?" shouted Chrétien, whose eyes flitted anxiously over the countryside. She pivoted in her saddle as a hideous scream rolled down off the fell, freezing her blood. The word she had not deciphered became a shout as the Normans took it up. "Gerard!" Down from the hill rode Gerard, with his long lance lowered, and leaning into his racing stallion. His Saxon knights thundered after him with a yell that blended in a grotesque, bloody music. "Gerard!" she screamed back. "And Thomas, too! Look!" Thomas, his silver hair flying beyond his helm, with the household knights, crested the hill and raced down the slope.

Anwealda's men faltered. The Normans seized the advantage, and Anwealda sat in the trap. His great brown stallion reared. Anwealda jerked the reins of his steed and spun away in the only direction he could go, downslope from the road, across the valley, up to the hill beyond. The look of blood steamed in Gerard's eyes as he sped past. He had a grudge to settle. Lynet lived, as did his babe, but Anwealda would have had it differently. Gerard would see Anwealda in his grave. "See to the lady!" shouted Alain at Chrétien, then he spurred his own charger to the chase. Thomas pulled his men to a halt, and surrounded her and Chrétien's knights, while Alain and Gerard raced on. "Thomas!" "Aye, lady. It is good to see you safe." "How did you know?" "We have been watching since you left. When we saw Anwealda skulking near the castle, we thought first he meant to lay siege. But then we understood his plan, for if he has you and the Norman, he has the game. I will not let you away from the castle again, lady." The pursuit across the dale slowed, for Anwealda had made his escape good. Only a few of his lagging knights had been unhorsed, and they were being forced afoot back up the hillside to the road. "Come, lady, we must not delay, lest Dougal realize we are split again." Chrétien, always the first to recognize their weaknesses, tugged her courser's bridle as if he did not trust her to obey, and they dashed along the road, surrounded by the melded group of riders. She glanced back for Alain. But she knew better than to ask to wait. At Chrétien's bidding, she kicked the courser's flanks, and it galloped off toward the castle. Once within the gates again, Melisande felt the heaviness lift from her chest, and realized that more than the mail had weighed upon her. A stable boy caught the grey courser's bridle and steadied it as Melisande dismounted. "Help me out of this thing," she told the closest page, but the boy could not do it alone. He was much too small. He ran off to find two larger boys for the task. The castle gate again swung open, and the remainder of the knights rode in, first Gerard's troop, then only a moment later, the Norman lord with the others. Gerard pitched himself down from his mighty white war horse, and stalked across the bailey where she stood. He yanked at his gauntlets as he faced her, and his brown eyes blazed fury. "Ah, my lady of the chain mail. Well, you have wreaked havoc this time." "The lord. Is he hurt?" "Nay, lady, none are injured. But that is either by God's grace or pure fortune." Gerard then dismissed himself with a curt bow and stomped away, seeking help with his own mail. "Gerard!" called a feminine voice from the hall. Melisande turned to see Lynet, who stood within the double doors. "Gerard, are you well?" "Aye, lady. But your pardon, I must tend to other things first." Melisande stared at Gerard. She had never seen him in a fit of temper. Then she saw Alain, saw that his dark, piercing eyes sought her out first and found her safe. The anxious tension in his face faded to a smile. She felt an unfamiliar quirking at the right side of her mouth. He was safe, too. The Norman, like the others, launched himself out of the saddle to the ground and steadied his mount, which was blowing hard. A squire rushed up to take the animal. Then also like the others, Alain shed the heavy mail.

"De Crency!" Alain turned at the shout, as Gerard stalked toward him. Gerard planted himself before him, glaring. Then a hard fist flew forward, and caught Alain on the chin. Alain staggered back and barely retained his footing. Gerard stood, seething, feet planted, fists balled and ready. "Chrétien!" Melisande shouted, stunned at what she saw. Chrétien, who stood beside her, merely shook his head. His jaw was set as rigidly as Gerard's. "You do not do something?" "Gerard has earned the right to settle his differences with the lord." "But to hit his lord?" "Alain can hit back, if he chooses," said Chrétien. "I think he will not. I will not interfere." Chrétien guessed correctly. When Alain made no offer to return the blow, Gerard turned and stomped away to where his lady waited at the hall's door. Melisande's jaw hung slack before she recovered to speak. "I do not understand Normans." "You do not?" Chrétien almost growled his reply. "Had it not been Gerard, I would have done the same." "But why?" "I did not approve of your going, lady. The risk was unnecessary. Had not Gerard arrived when he did, you would be in Anwealda's hands, and we would be dead. I am angry at him for exposing you to this, and angry at you for going. But even more, I am angry at myself because I did not stop it." "Then you did not care that I treated your wounded knights?" "I am grateful to you, for I do love Robert like a brother. But he is a knight. He knows the risk he takes." "As did I." "You did not. We have trained at the quintain since we were babes, and rode in to war as naught more than boys. We suffer our wounds so that women do not have to risk themselves." "You tell me naught I do not already know, Chrétien. But you have forgotten something. Women also have their place in the world. We must also take our risks." "Then take yours in bearing babes, and leave ours to us." Melisande felt her defiance surging through her. "Then if it was so dangerous, why did he let me go?" Something flashed in his eyes, and he looked like she had slapped him. "Because men in love are rash and foolish." Chrétien gave a stiff, small bow, and tromped after Gerard for the hall. In love? Could it be? Chrétien did not look as if he lied, and he knew his friend far better than she. Mayhap there was hope in that. Yet a man in love would have farther to fall when disappointed. "I see we have both been thoroughly set down for our folly." Alain now stood beside her. An angry red mark spread across his jaw, discoloring the skin beneath the bristle of black beard that had grown since they had left the castle the day before. The swelling made his grin lop-sided. "You are not hurt?" "Nay. But the point was made. I suppose they are right. It was an unwise decision. I should have left you within the safety of the castle." It felt like a slap on her face. "Why didn't you, then?"

I know very well of Fyren's evil." said Lynet. so soon. I must see to my guests. "Nay. Will you not want a bath. her arms draped quickly around her quarry in a delicate embrace." "Do you not think sometimes a risk must be taken? I would do what I must to defeat Anwealda." "Aye. Lynet? I would see her." she replied. She had never wanted that." "Not so. Thomas has given us your chamber as he says you do not use it. like Thomas. Lynet was here. But I value you. but it is so dangerous. and it was Melisande's obligation to make Gerard's wife comfortable within the hall. not because he held some undeclared love for Melisande." "So you also do not value my skills. for he is no better than Fyren. He has always seemed so placid. lord?" "Leave the water for me. They had seen each other but a few times." "Nay." "Do you know. Alain says you could have been killed." "Gerard brought Lynet." Melisande and Lynet had never been close. Lynet emitted a little squeal and ran up to Melisande." "Mayhap he should marry again. or see to your guest. she hurried toward the paired doors that opened out onto the upper bailey. I thought him the most even-tempered of men. But with Cyneric dead. Still. mayhap you will want to wash up before your supper. 'Tis a terrible thing to say. I hope I do not offend you."I cannot explain. had kept his secret watch because he feared Foreign's evil. As is his loneliness." "Aye. I know. more than my own life. "He is a very angry man. Stopping only to pass through the kitchen and see that supper preparations were properly done." he said. taking her arm to walk. The liar. A woman could not find her place in his heart. We were fools to think Dougal gone to the north merely because he had not been seen about. As you have said." "She sleeps. "Of course not. yet Lynet harbored a wariness over the lady he protected." "You do not offend me. At first sight. his pain and grief are still very deep. Lynet. "when Gerard saw the rebels and guessed their plan. 'tis so. for the south is too weak without his presence. lady." "Aye. although she called her friend. Even that small gesture engendered discomfort that perhaps Lynet sensed." he said." "I think not. Why did you go. so I heard. Not yet. when I was not?" His throaty chuckle rumbled deep in his chest. as if naught at all ruffled him. You do not mind?" Thomas knew better. But do you know they have all but made a saga of your rescue? It was such a brave thing you did. And I am gladder than any that I no longer need fear him. It is always easier to criticize after the act. "He could not very well leave her behind. But that was something Lynet did not need to know." "I have never seen Gerard so angry." If only that were true. You may have it first." "Aye. And Chrétien. But Gerard. How was she safe. Lynet. Gerard loved his wife. lord. "We were so worried. But do not worry yourself. Melisande?" "I was needed. I owe my babe's life to the Norman lord? It was he who persuaded Botolf to let her go." . They will calm down. For all that he seems at peace with the world. I did not think the risk was that great. "There is time enough. But she will wake soon. yourself. but all are glad Fyren is gone. "Where is the babe. Come now. Gerard would not allow me to come to you as long as Fyren might be here.

I know the stories. Melisande had never really thought of Gerard as Norman. Are you happy with him?" "I--" Lynet's saucy brown eyes grew narrow. Her family all died. Husband. did not seem so inclined. and for my babe. you do look ill-used. That they raped and pillaged like their bloodthirsty Viking ancestors. But the water is being prepared." "He is kind. I confess. otherwise. mindless creatures that must have a man to tell them what thoughts to have. Gerard did not look upon women as unequipped to deal with the world. Her brown eyes glinted. "But Melisande. In my mother's day. Nor are they like Saxons. "You have not answered my question." . The men are too elated with their own successes to notice our small talk. Even now. *** In the hall that night. Are you happy with him. But come. having been married off to Fyren earlier in that year. They beat their wives. the wine flowed freely. you must be the one needing to rest. Yet Alain. a bright smile as full of mischief as her sparkling brown eyes. I have heard of Norman brutality. But I think. and even a battle. Melisande sat with Lynet and the baby. Melisande?" "I know him little. too. I hope I have not offended you. But the Saxons no longer ruled England. Like Saxon men." The corners of Lynet's lips turned up. She was becoming accustomed to the word. He is not like the Norman I expected. Lynet. It was no mere rumor of the thousands slain. I am sorry. She supposed they would have their way about women." "You evade me. there are such men everywhere. Lynet. innocents and rebels alike. "Oh. My dear. Lynet. a generation later." "But allow me. I knew by his eyes he expected it of me. Mayhap there are also good men everywhere. and killed them when they were dissatisfied with them. Allow me to help you with your bath. My mother survived.when he wants them to all do something at the same time.Lynet smiled. "You needn't have whispered. The Normans had come. She took Melisande by the hand and urged her toward the bath house." "Of course not. He is a fine-looking man. it is said villages remain deserted and fields untilled. many fled to Strathclyde and became serfs where once they had been wealthy artisans or merchants. Melisande had always known Gerard was happy with her. Lynet. Your eyes do shine when you look at him. "Aye. and she laughed. in gratitude that you live. in the Harrying of the North. to go suddenly limp and drop. although she thought she might never become accustomed to their Norman ways. I ask again. Ah." "It is my place to see to your needs. "All my life." said mischievous Lynet in a low voice. It was something Gerard taught me for my own defense. Many more returned to their land and starved to death." "And the count?" "It is something he does when he trains his knights and squires-. I was not certain I believed it would work." "But well enough. I vow. her husband. after such a long journey. between the two husbands. your Norman. I would have been killed. so I counted to be sure he knew when it would happen. and changed everything else. Melisande. but you would know that." Melisande suddenly stared at the blood-spattered kirtle that she still wore." And none had lived to defend her against Fyren's evil and tyranny.

with muscles that bulged out like crags on the fells. He was so very beautiful. rugged and fascinating. You dare not refuse me. Fyren's sorcery was widely speculated among the Normans. he might now believe her. and pulled it back to braid. "But it will tangle. And once so." he said quietly as he climbed the stairs beside her. She would be branded witch. She watched as he shed his own clothes. She loved the feel of them between her fingers. as he had given her mother's to Chrétien. Strong. She could never know. Or if she was. she had." he said. Was it. With fingers that skimmed lightly over her. But. "Leave it. She had made a mistake when she had treated Robert so boldly. No point in protesting. His long arm draped across her back." "Nay. would never have another chance to wrest the cloak from him. And mayhap he would see that as the explanation of why she still held herself aloof from him. But what if she did not? Or if his disappointment in her was so great that he did not honor his promise? She had tried to think of a way to explain to him the danger of the cloak. Melisande. to reappear and surround his manhood. but he said nothing. And Thomas had given her chamber to Gerard's family. . how it worked through the skin. and believed in his own lies. If she had not already made such a fuss of disliking it. Yet even the smallest touch from him. lifted her gown over her head. *** "You will sleep with me tonight. even knowing how it would one day end in pain and death. undid her laces. men did not long deny themselves. she treasured. and found no need even for response. both to keep alive and to get the cloak from him. his skin like gold in the candlelight. he helped her undress. It was not a memory. they would find out tonight if he was right. Fyren had once said that magic was no more than knowledge beyond the ordinary man's ken. The silky black hairs spread lightly over his chest and tapered downward and disappeared at his waist. Disappointment filled his eyes. but then he had buried himself so deeply into his evil deeds that he had lost his humanity. He hid nothing from her. She stopped him when he raised her chemise. The magic became real to him. Simply knowledge. But the best she could hope for was to use it to keep him at a distance long enough to find a way to dispose of the malicious garment. Until she found herself at the Gates of Hell. his hand resting just below her shoulder. So she left it to fall about her shoulders and crawled beneath the thick down quilt. he would see it as nothing less than sorcery. But not now. or not? I am the spawn of Satan. Anwealda had openly called her witch.Was he really different? And did it matter? How could any man be satisfied with her. for his vows. She had come to expect that already. really. Well then. once he learned the truth? If only she could use the challenge he had issued her. once aroused. Had she done that? Aye. Not even the great bulge of his erect member. How odd it was to find such joy and comfort in his arms. How could they not wonder about her? If she told him of the poison dye. She would never know. She combed through her free-flowing hair. blocky. And the Normans had seen her ways of healing. leave it." He raised his hand in a gesture that both caressed her cheek and smoothed her hair away from her face.

one more chance to get the cloak. I have noticed you do not use them. Shall I draw the bed curtains?" "Nay. she prayed for one more day. it is not so. he did not know. This is persuasion. Yet are you not cold at night?" "But when the curtains are drawn. It was worse than a dangerous wound. forcing his knee between both of hers." "Aye. but he did not know how sorely he would be tried. held her hostage with the plunging depth of his kiss. "Tomorrow. Ah. love. "Because you will give yourself to me. let it be done with. love? You do not truly think I will hurt you?" What could she say? He said he would not hurt her.His hands cupped over her breasts. Yet. "You will see. She moaned and pushed against him. Must not know. for the dagger would be at hand when he learned the truth. ." She watched as he hung his dagger by its belt around the post of the bed. He stopped. She must stop him! Yet if she might just savor this moment firs. I did not mean to frighten you. Once again he drew her into his arms and touched a kiss against her forehead. He would soon control her entirely. He snuggled her closer. and fingers found hard nipples waiting for them. "Melisande. yet soft and quiet." "It is not. He nuzzled at her throat with secret whispers laced with tiny bites. she did not understand what it was he called teasing." she said. for she did not want to see him suffer. "Nay. "You said--" "I said little enough about persuasion. Melisande. She had heard men suffered. She would lose everything because she would give it away. He pressed the length of his body against her side. I will not tease you anymore. "But I will have you. you say?" His eyes glowed with wickedness. Only leave the candle burning. Sat up on the bed. That would be the way she would go." she pleaded." Teasing? Nay. "The night is cold. You accept the challenge. some said. What is it that frightens you so. and frantically pushed against him." He captured her mouth with sweet lips and tongue." she answered nervously. draping one muscular thigh over her leg. then?" "Aye. the glow of his skin dimmed from the gilt of the candlelight to silver in the shadows. then." "I know fear when I see it." "Nay. I am sorry." she said." "You will. for you desire me nearly as much as I do you. He read her thoughts. I do not like them. His luminous black eyes seemed ready to mate with hers. He laughed." "Nay. I think I cannot breathe. like a roll of thunder. and lay back down onto the feather mattress. She must not let it all be in vain." "Nay. Still." As he slid his strong body beneath the quilt. even more now. she wished she might just tell him all. "Very well. watched her as she coiled away from him. she was sure. "You did not frighten me." he said in a resigned tone. A whimpered cry escaped her as a core of fire shot through her."I do not think you can keep your word. anyway. love.

" "I do not find it hard. Wake up." "I do not need it. just stay with me. Still. then remembered he could not see him. I am your husband. love. stay with me. "Be very still. It is but a dream. Nay. He squeezed her hand. He adjusted his arm about her and lay back onto his own pillow. Alain rolled to his back. A movement. But the room smelled of another occupant. It was progress. love. The assassin would come for him." "I am awake." he said. Nearer.please. He leaned back and watched the darkness. of a sort. clasping the dagger and poised to strike. it is but a dream. The shadow within shadows grew denser. He lay upon his back. "Have you forgotten? This is my place. The darkness moved. I will relight the candle. The darkness was nearly total. And what would she tell him tomorrow? *** She bolted upright. Instantly."It will be a long night. that she now woke and recognized her dream for what it was. I mean to always be here. "It's a dream. With his other hand. he wondered if he imagined it. now. all is well." Alain urged her back down to the warmth of the feather mattress. Alain could see nothing in the room's utter darkness. reached behind him for the dagger hanging on the bedpost. He rolled to whisper in her ear. . "He's here!" she gasped. She took in a sharp breath. The darkness between him and the shuttered window deepened. he saw nothing. slowly moving it until she could feel the shape of the dagger in his right hand." He smiled. released it. But--" "No one is here but you and me." he said aloud. "Go to sleep. right hand crossed over his chest. The candle had failed. nuzzling at her affectionately. He forced his lungs to breathe like a sleeping man as he waited. "It is only a dream. love. so that you need not fear the night anymore. removing the arm that encircled Melisande's waist. poised for battle. Alain sat up and took her into his arms. CHAPTER 18 The hairs on his neck bristled. taut as a bowstring. I am sorry. I only-. It was there. Whoever was in here could not see any better than he could. and once again brought the down quilt up to her neck and tucked it in. But let me light the candle again. I know he is!" She trembled." "Nay. her hand squeezing his arm. and eased it into his hand. So slight. for he would have to be killed in order to get to her. He held still." "I know not why you are so patient with me. nor heard. Alain grasped Melisande's hand. You are right. only the wildness of her own tortured mind producing the terrors of the night." "He's here." "Aye. and it will go away. I did not mean to wake you." she whispered.

" "I sleep lightly. "You are well. "He must know of this. again caught flesh that yielded beneath the blade. You?" "He had no chance to strike. "How did he get in here?" Gerard asked. A smell. He leaned over the dying man. . shoved blindly against a heavy male body that staggered back from his fierce thrust. Melisande! Run!" He slashed out again. breathing in. Had she a special gift? It was said the Celts had second sight. With a wild shout." Alain said." Chrétien said. This war is not yet won. lady?" "Aye. "Run. she had detected the man's scent. "but it will matter little. The almost silent sound of air.The scent of a man. "Anwealda. Yet. saw a feeble word form on the man's lips. he would still live. The slight crack of a flexing arm. If Anwealda had had such a man among his own." It could have been." said Chrétien. not merely that a candle had gone out. How did you know?" "I-. "He must know this hall as well as any. Melisande reached his side. and it is too many. then bent over the sprawling. guided by instinct." said the man." "Thomas." Alain guessed." Alain smiled. Closer. then stood. He leapt up. Light. gawking into the chamber. "It is unimportant now. we have only Dougal to worry about now." he said." "Yet. something. and mayhap even be the victor. I think it was the smell of a candle just snuffed. It was not particularly subtle. The cry of victory burst from him as he wrestled the weakened opponent to the floor. A grisly scream rent the silence. I would also have heard. it would be he. Did Saxons? Or perhaps. "do not grow too cocky or careless. "Remove him. "And I think he has little heart to fight if the others are gone. tissue collapsed beneath his blade. he lunged. mayhap. Aye. "But if any could. There. once again admiring Chrétien's caution. Lady. Chrétien came through the other chamber's door. Nor was he surprised. I count those he has lost. He bent lower. then his body went limp. a torch in hand. Again Anwealda struggled to say something. Fyren would have told him." "The bolt hole. she had known someone was there." said Gerard. a big one. do you know?" She shook her head." she said." "Anwealda's knights will go to Dougal.cannot say. Something woke me. holding a rush light torch. "He could not have slipped past the gate. bleeding body. "Well. He had taken too many victories away from Anwealda not to expect retaliation." Several knights gathered on the balcony beyond the door. freshly sizzling from new fire. shoving each other aside." "Well. Bone cracked. like him. and her tone had a note of flat satisfaction to it. send to Rufus in the morning. Several came forth to carry away the body. out. "Witch. Mayhap a noise. Warily." Alain said. He had Fyren's ear. Gerard burst through the door between the chambers. Alain knelt to close the staring eyes.

It was you who saw him in the dark. with its belly exposed to the cat's ripping claws. His eyes shone in the glitter of the guttering candle as he watched her. The knights departed. love. "Nay." he called to her over her stiffened shoulder. as if it might rebel and spring free again."Aye. Her eyelids flew open. replaced by lust. caught in her great red tabby's grip. vaguely becoming aware that she lay contentedly in Alain's arms." "You have promised--." "I did. wishing more than that. had you not cried out." "I did naught but cry out. and roused slowly. And he laughed. Tonight it is I who owe the debt to you. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. His powerful leg stretched over her. She yanked her hand away abruptly. or she would understand. *** With the grey dawn came a light rain. have the bolt hole blocked. "Do you sleep now. I know your secret." He tugged at her shoulder to roll her back where she must see him. and I do not care. anyway? There was no place he could not reach or find her. I do not want you to stop. for he had been far too engrossed in the struggle to notice the lack of dress. but this is different." She jerked. Her head rested wearily against his chest. And same yearning desire that she saw in him filled her." He led her to the bed. stroking his-She stiffened with the sudden realization of just what she was stroking. save when being fondled by a beautiful woman. Aye. "'Tis wise to not count the chickens before they are hatched. who stood behind him." "But I would have seen naught. squirmed. you cannot--" "Aye. "Tonight you have saved me. and the reason for the ecstatic moans that had awakened her. pinning her beneath him. I can. She felt like a captured hare. not I. We will not count the war won until Rufus sits in Carlisle and the last enemy alive has pledged to him." She rolled away. You need not stop. lady?" "Mayhap. "I have never seen so many naked men at one time. "Melisande. aye. Where would she go. He took his bride in his arms. She had grown accustomed to the snug warmth of his body next to hers. And with Anwealda gone." . Hear me. he would tell her. but content if he must be. "I sleep. "Melisande. horrified at how she had betrayed herself. She was doomed. "come back to me. But he would not have her fear him any longer. lady. I know your secret. His eyes seemed to burn like charcoal embers. and locked it firmly in the other hand. And then either she would hate him." It was cue enough. "Melisande. love. Alain relit the candle. leaving only them." he whispered." He looked again to Melisande. listen to me. much more is resolved. lord?" she asked to disguise her true feelings. against the immovable trap. love. in a gravelly voice. plunking its music on the lead roof." "I did not--" "You did. "Do you never sleep. That familiar glint of mischief was gone." he replied." she said." "You only want--" "At the moment.

you were not. you would not let me go. I did. "Calm yourself. "I do not understand. And she still lived. Not ready. "That is what I must tell you. I meant you no harm. lady. I took you back to your bed. She staggered ragged breaths into her lungs. "You cannot-. He slid off to the side and released her." She felt him rise and sit behind her. his body pressed against her body. You are no virgin. shoved against him. love. "You cannot. She did not know what to think or do. How could you? Let me go!" She squirmed helplessly. lady. deep timbre of his voice that calmed like a lullaby.It could not be." . He caught her cheeks in his hands. I thought it some malicious trick. But she did not. Why did you not set me aside then?" "I did not want to. But then. love. You surely thought me mad. Mayhap it was but my own arrogance. He did know." He tucked a gentle kiss behind her ear. but I thought you wanted me. Confusion clouded her mind. What was he saying? What could he mean? And how could he know? None alive knew but her. in the midst of your dream. I thought you willing. When you quieted. Sense began to return to her. Shame for her fear rolled over her. so she did not have to see his eyes. And I do not care. a knee to each side of her. Truly. Hear me." She shook her head. She sat up and turned away from him. barely aware of the soft touch to her cheek. When you calm. gasps that seemed more fear than air. "It is." But he drew her back again. She was helpless in the snare of his body. "How could you know?" she asked quietly. willing or not. His big hands rested at her shoulders. His eyes impaled her with their smoky gaze. But I did not know about your dreams then. that though you appeared to be awake. That voice that had soothed her out of the terrors of the night. Her body eased. "Nay! It cannot be so. and you did not even know I was there. Melisande. now?" "Aye. "I did not understand then the powerful hold the dreams had on you. I found you in the corner of your said--" "And I will not. the melodic." His lips descended to claim hers. Not the one who had taken her into his arms night after night and chased the terrors away. tenderly. not just yet. It was the night we were wed. as if it would crush her beneath its terrible weight. She was not ready to die. I will let you go." She jerked again. She freed her arms. Alain. lightly possessing her." Hot humiliation scorched her cheeks. She had seen him hold a dying knight as gently as a babe. And. Suddenly it did not seem possible that this same man might choke her life from her. wedging her face firmly between them." "Aye. "I have already made love to you. Nor did I know you would remember none of what happened. "It is true. the grounds for annulment were gone. yet he pinned her beneath him. I thought you had forgiven me my brutishness. yet ready to let go if she insisted. I did not see until that next night that you only appeared to waken. Yet-His words returned." Her terror spiraled out of control. Will you hear me." "And so that is why you were so angry with me that morning. hovered but a breath away. pulled away.

She must do it. held her tightly against his hardness. You know I will not." "But this is too easy. She could use it. Then he shifted her around to face him. What do you want?" . "Could you not have told me?" "Nay. what is this?" "Naught but that I had my heart set upon winning the challenge. mayhap a bit too pathetically. this was her chance." He still wanted her. and deservedly so." Oh. Melisande. now. But how. I wanted you from the first time I saw you. even if she had no memory of them. You will have to force me. She had feared. Melisande. the caress of tongues meeting. Ah." "Melisande. for love of him. He whispered her name again. and he caught the tear that flowed down her cheek with the tip of his tongue. "Melisande. sighed. You have not given me a chance to win. then. a sensation so long unfelt. She could not do that. "Tell me. Not yet. she returned the kiss he gave her. pressed her against his hard flesh." His bristly cheek touched hers." he pleaded. when every fiber of her being cried out to join with him? She had never wanted anything more. finding for herself the joy of his taste. even to this hour." A moan rumbled within him. And though I was innocent by intent. If only she might resist him just long enough. His hands roamed avariciously over her body. But you would not have believed me. I cannot. "Love me. She felt a shudder roll through him and into her. love. at last." "But you have not even been tested. She did want all that he used to entice her. sorely. "I only swore I would not force you." He growled. So I cannot." "I will not do that. Eagerly. Anything but his life. this was it. "There is none better than you. I would not give you up so easily. I did take you against your will." "I have been tested. Or did she but fool herself again? How could it possibly be so? Now. You could have said you were defrauded. mistrusted him. she would do even this." She had no reply. She broke off the kiss." "Win? What?" "Your challenge. Yet even more."No man would have faulted you. For love of him. And she knew what the dreams did to her. but it was almost a sound of pain. "But then I would not win. it was almost unremembered. "I am sorry." She turned her head just enough to catch a glimpse of his huge hand resting on her shoulder." "But I did not want to. Nay. he drew her up onto her knees." she said. Frustration ruled his eyes. "Do not hold yourself back from me any longer. Tell me you give yourself to me. I had lost your trust. "You deserve better." Her effort to turn away was halted abruptly. "You cannot think of that." He used kisses to lure her back. It was true. She felt hot. kneaded her. He truly did. Aye. to save him. mating. And I will not. salty moisture sliding down her cheeks. yes. yet not enough to meet his eyes.

Her fingers searched with the same voracious appetite. renewed that aching passion. drove the chemise upward over hips. It was not. nibbled. She rested her head on the rugged planes of his chest and fingered idly those silky black hairs on his chest that fascinated her. and she wanted to cry out. You may have your prize. She felt the pressure of his knee between her legs. and urged him on in every way she could imagine. the elegant. yet. "It is all the same. as if he might vanish. Consider it won. Deep.nay. now full. and filled. She felt his own hard thrusting suddenly dissolve rapturously into the wave. Never had she felt anything like this. urgent strokes." "You will force me. then. and she thought the best must surely be done. Yet. Now. indented curve of his spine. tugging at her to roll with him. to be entirely his. that glorious. Filling. waist.I have not even begun to tempt you. still coaxing. he dragged her down to the bed. needing. tense. Now gone. harder. But I am glad you will not have to suffer. She hoped he would never move from where he rested with his head upon his chest. saturating her very being. fitting perfectly together. Lightning shot through her. growing ever deeper. Yet he seemed to hold back. each stroke a great. filled. Slowly. . he shifted to her side. You would not have won. as he licked and suckled. Anything. emptying. and tossed it. They seemed to float together on the last wave of ecstasy. and she held him to her tightly. drew it over her head. vibrating her entire being in its wake. just as he plunged within her. with the climactic bursts filling her completely. Time must pass. deeply. She gave freely. "So be it. all of herself. filling again. Once again. then the other."Naught but to win the prize. She wanted this. wrapped herself around him as he pressed urgently against her." He threw his head back and dragged in a deep. joyously. Did he torture her for tormenting him? Aye. She wanted all of him. rigid. nay! nay! do not leave me so soon! But just as quickly. But torment me no longer. as their breathing calmed. he was the great tormenter. for you are too easy to torment. opened herself to him. draining it. yet wanted the feel of him touching her flesh to flesh. He captured first one breast in his hands. she deserved this sweet agony. raptured in the restless strength of his muscles. touching all that begged to be touched. kneaded. breasts. anyway. he filled her again. then?" "Nay." With a ragged rumble from his chest. he held still. he captured her mouth. inflaming all of her in their passing. Never had felt so whole. and truly part of another being. lifting her hips as he drove ever deeper. pained breath. caressed. She was freed. tormenting-. First he seemed to pull away from her. swept over her unexpectedly. drained of all separateness. majestic moment began to fade. and the conflict warred within her. But if you give me no chance-. His hands moved along her sides. He sat back. whatever she did not have. wanting. She wanted no delay." She shrugged. abandoned yearning. All things must change. He fed the deep hunger she had. and rolled over on his back. lord. not she. raised himself to his knees. should she let go. Like a shuddering wave of light it hit her. and filled. then another in her hands. But I will give you your prize. so that she thought she would unravel from the sheer pleasure of it. teasing. until she cried out with the exquisiteness of it. testing first one.

His sarcasm went the same way of teasing. And a few moments before." He sat back on his heels. "And you are mine. For Fyren gave it to her. Where once she had feared dying. little temptress." "I did think you meant something logical."Ah. Both were more precious to him than anything he had ever owned. And of all the strange things you have done. You have promised me whatever I ask. mayhap. Finally. Aye." she replied. on the feather mattress beside her. now she was content. for whatever reason. He stared." she said. "It is yours. what great prize will you extract from me?" She raised up on one elbow and teased the tip of a finger over the sensuous curve of his lips. unnatural. it did not matter. He thought he knew her secret. "You detest the thing. But it did not matter. She had at last given him a smile. caressing her hair. He might never know how much she loved him. And she was stubborn enough that she would not. He had uncovered only the second of many layers of secrets. "The purple cloak." "The moon? But why would I ask for something impossible?" He had forgotten for a moment that she had no sense of humor. and once again drew her into his arms. that I understand. this giving of one's life." she repeated. If she wanted the cloak. Then she did not mean to tell him. each more dire than the one before. if that is what you ask. She smiled again. "now that you have won. the moon. Only that she would give him back his life." he added." "And you despise your father. "What?" "The purple cloak." "Think of it as a superstition. Well. He would more likely find out by accident than from insistent probing. and at last. CHAPTER 19 Alain bolted up from the bed. But why do you want it?" "I do mean it ill. like a babe's first steps. Wobbly. But the cloak? When she had made such a great show of dislike? "Is it because it was your mother's?" "Nay. What do you want it for?" "It does not matter. feared the fires of Hell and the menace that awaited her there. She knew now what she would do. Aye. a smile. suddenly reveling in the perfect rightness of its fit upon her face. lost his balance at its edge. she would have it. how she would do it. for she did it for love. lady. might always think her the perfidious one who had cheated his heart from him. He would truly give her anything. Over her head. She smiled. But it was enough. I do not mean it as an insult. as if it made perfect sense. He had forgiven but the merest of them. she gave her answer. a strange. he had kissed real tears from her cheek. It was a different thing. and nearly slid to the floor. . "Melisande. awkward imitation of the real thing. this is the strangest. She had little hope for more. bought with her own. but you do strange things." he said. He would indeed give anything for the way she smiled at him." he said.

" she replied. "You did not? Then there is much more for you to learn. He raced for the door to the middle chamber and threw it open." "I suppose it must be considered a sin to have such great fun. were it not for the sudden pangs of emptiness gnawing at his stomach."Aye." "Lady?" Terror clung to Chrétien's eyes. Barely a double-syllabled chuckle. She had seen it. He bounded for the steps and shoved her aside as he grabbed at Alain. "Someone come! Someone help me!" she cried. *** She screamed and screamed as she caught him. and she knotted fists of his tunic in her hands. "I knew not that a woman could feel that kind of pleasure. But she laughed." she replied. He felt as if he were king of all Christendom. "I know not what it is. his eyes wild at the sight of Alain draped limply over Gerard's shoulder. Chrétien came running. He hung limp and heavy in her arms. "my stomach feels as empty as a starving hound's. I came when I heard the lady's screams. and hold him down if he does not stay in the bed. mayhap." "Can you cure it?" "I know not. Pain struck his head like a hammer. He leaned against the wall until it went away. "I'll have you back in this bed before nightfall." . "Help me!" Gerard burst through the chamber door. "Aye. not we. this time with her fingers moving in minute caresses." But she knew. A strange sharpness to them. He hurried over to the peg where he had hung his tunic and lifted it from there. and his eyes rolled about in their sockets. warm. She laid her hand atop his arm as they walked. Mayhap we can steal a bite before mass. I think we will suit each other well. "What is it?" Gerard demanded. "But come." She nestled perfectly against him." She laughed. "What has happened?" "He collapsed. and loving fit that made his body stir all over again. and ran his fingers lovingly down her sides as a remembrance of what they had just shared. he helped her with her laces. He saw that in her face. as he escorted her out the door onto the balcony. Well." he said. and eased him onto the bed. grappled for a hold before he tumbled down the balcony's steps. He would happily stay in bed with her all day. stronger he had felt before." he warned her. and whirled around inside his skull. I think I know the malady. A passing thing. It is a dangerous one. You must make him do exactly as I say. Then he collapsed to the balcony floor. She had run out of time. A perfect. He gave her back a silly smile for her worried frown. "A wound we did not see?" "No wound. The Norman's head lolled backward. for he must rest." "The priests say it is. Gerard carried him through the door." He gave her a quick kiss to urge her to hurry. The morning's strenuous exercise. it was gone. for his stomach seemed to be getting emptier even as he spoke. When he finished with his tunic and hose. But what do they know? They are the ones who vowed to be celibate. Once again she rewarded him with an adoring smile. but his heavy body was quickly slipping from her.

He sighed. He must have as much milk as we can get into him. "Milk. Let me up. sporadic loss of balance and headaches. The water must be discarded. It is not like you. What was sorcery. She had seen the worried look on Chrétien's face. too. clung tenaciously to it until her last breath. "It is a malady I've seen but once. You must follow her instructions. looking confused." Alain gave them a disgusted frown. Would it? Or was she already too late? In this way." "I. three times each day. Save broths. The bed was stripped beneath him and clothes from him while he remained in the bed. sensed the weakness in a normally strong man. for you should have cold-cocked me by now. too. begging his help." "It is naught but an empty stomach. I will not lose you for your stubbornness. too. But she must take the chance that he would accept her word. No wine nor ale. lady."Whatever you ask. But do not waste any time. mayhap a little bread. But naught else." What else? What would draw the poison from his body? "Milk. yet at the same time she had to get rid of the cloak before he changed his mind. She had not understood before now what that weakness could have cost him in battle. "What happened?" Melisande lifted his eyelid with her thumb to study his eye. You are not one to faint like a lady in her first months. for she had not recognized the poison soon enough. And I want him bathed in warm water. The sheets. Let me up." "It is naught. grumbling . she knew. Alain." Chrétien's big hand lashed out and held the lord down at his chest. and had known he. "I know not. and his eyes opened. She would not let Fyren claim Alain. I say. too. you have not even the strength to resist my hand. and what was not? Was this? Her mother had wound herself in the cloak. "We must take all his clothes and wash them in water. either. If Fyren had not lied. it shall be done. No yellow tinge there. as hot as can be done. Alain. Kitchen women brought up buckets of hot water and the little soap pot from the bath house. she had lost her mother. when Melisande had finally pried it from her fingers. It is not a simple thing." said Gerard. If they shrink. Melisande knew she had won the first round. being unable to break the eternal bond to it that would destroy him. "Nay. I think she is right. so be it. occasional trembling of his hands. keeping watch next to Chrétien." Alain murmured a small groan at the sound of her voice. "I will knock you flat if I must. Never! She sat beside him. But you see. then he might at any time demand it back from her. She suspected she was not the only one who had noticed the odd. But at least his skin did not yet have the horrid tinge of yellow. We must work the bad humours from his body." said Chrétien." "And this will cure him?" She bit on her lip. It would look strange to him. It will pass if you will let me treat it. lord." "Milk?" Chrétien looked dubious. We can always make more. She had to treat him. else I fear for you. who refused to leave the chamber. "And I can call upon any in this hall for help." Her fearful glance swung to Chrétien.

If only she had not waited so long. if you do as I say. Several miles farther. lady. then. After that. talking to whoever stopped her to ask of their kin who had gone with Hugh to build and defend the new motte. There were few to see her. as if it were something she did every day. That they would find her." she said. Chrétien offered to funnel it down him. She merely must reach the Butter Tubs first. Still. He would add up all the lies she had told him. She made for the beck. Or anything else. you may never have one again. She found a basket to carry the detested cloak and a bundle of food for the few days it would take to get there and back. It did him no good. No one knew how deep the hole was. I want a decent meal. She closed her eyes. *** It was called the Butter Tubs. She wrapped herself in her green cloak against the chill night air. A person could stand by and listen until rocks hit the bottom. "Melisande. Everyone knew Satan did not want to be in the Hell he had made. she knew. and now. If it did go all the way down to Hell.indignantly. and stroked suggestively at the hairs on his chest. Alain would be enraged. well. it gave her pause. and everything else you want. it was not fair. and savored small portions of each. Her strength began to flag. and she stopped to rest. only that it seemed to go straight down into the earth. but to walk out the gate. "In three days. the missing cloak. She told them she had seen it. and Hell must surely be much farther down. He balked at the milk. she made her way south along the road toward Gerard's castle. for these days few strayed from the safety of the village and its castle. and they were safe within it. Common word had it that it was a hole into Hell. she pulled the cheese and bread she had cut for herself that morning. "you may have a real meal again. She hoped she did not lie. where the hidden passage was. But she dared not tarry long." she said with a sly grin. If not. His dignity was of little importance to her now. "I am hungry. He only wanted souls to join him there in misery. then hid herself among the trees that lined it. keeping the river in sight. Satan would come up it every day. There was no other way. she turned at a crossroad to the east and hiked up into the rugged fells." She allowed her hand to stray provocatively beneath the covers just far enough to be sure he got the point. By morning. But how to get out of the castle? Gerard and Lynet had her chamber. Aye. she could not change her fate. and the bolt hole was blocked. By the light of the half moon. When darkness came." he demanded. But if there were such a hole into Hell. But she had to use everything she had now. And he would send his knights to patrol every inch of his demesne until she was found. she could be giving the Devil back his own hideous prize." She flipped her eyebrows. . The bottom of the Butter Tubs was the only place she knew where she could be certain no human being would ever go. lay back against the dark rock and rested her head. She wandered down through the village. A great hole in the ground that went straight down into emptiness. From her food bundle. She sat down on the edge of the bed. but she did not believe that. her desertion. She would claim to search for herbs for the lord's malady. "Everything. she was long gone.

Leaving the broad. as she is the mistress of poison. Black. She was not a weak woman. then dismounted. CHAPTER 20 "Where did you find her?" "South. "Yet it would not explain unconsciousness. overwhelmed her. She knelt by a small rill and scooped up water in her hand to drink. Gorge rose in her throat again. you do not truly think she poisoned you?" "It was also an unusual illness. on the eastern fells. She should not have slept so long. She should not have been so tired. and urged her weary body to continue its quest. she hurried up toward the ridge. as her stomach revolted. lowered Melisande's limp body into Alain's arms. But if she meant for you to die." "It is true. swirled through her. She fell to her knees. as well. A flash of purple against the whirl of colors. as she had retched." "Alain. or the cloak would fall once again into human hands and continue to execute its deadly purpose. where she might have a better vantage. She must get to the Butter Tubs before they caught her." "An irony if so. a good horseman could ride the entire distance she had walked. Again. he's dead. packed up her belongings. "Let me carry her up. rounded-bottomed valley." Chrétien. Fyren! It is Fyren’s doing! Fyren comes! Nay. did you not say?" "Aye. Gasping. Nausea. and she battled fatigue desperately. but lost the struggle.Dawn streaked the sky when she opened them again. she scooped water into her mouth to wash it clean. now. I thought mayhap another poison. With the destruction of the cloak. Nay! She could not be ill. black and red. She had to do this. Surely it would pass. She fell to the earth. groped among the large rocks by the stream bed to regain her balance. then. They seemed anchored where she stood. still feeling the ravages of the strange illness that had sapped his strength. the fells suddenly grew steeper. and she fought to hold it back. Only a moment." said Chrétien. would she not have waited to see that you did?" "And if she had cared for me as she said. Her head swam. "She has not been conscious since we found her. She struggled to her feet. I will end his hideous reign. would she not have waited around for me to live before she hurried off?" Alain carried Melisande through the hall's doors. But she could not stop to rest. She wolfed down chunks of the cheese. It was not the sickness that came with the cloak. She tasted bile as she drank. and how could it be any other? She tried to rise again. Seeing no sign of riders. They would be on her too quickly." Alain adjusted the weight of his wife's slack body in his arms and started for the paired doors of the hall with Chrétien at his side. still in his saddle. the flash of purple. to the wooden stairs beyond the dais. She jumped. and tried to force them to move. . In a mere few hours. Mayhap it was a food poison. Black-red swirls. not so early. startled.

What a fool he was. he paused and caught his breath again before taking her into the private chamber that Lynet had hastily vacated. the fever had come upon her." "Could you not hear her story first. His throat tightened and ached."She is my responsibility. his pride. At least. he would listen. You have done enough by finding her. love. Almost as soon as her body had warmed. but none here knew. Lynet and Nelda did whatever they thought might help. "Don't. cold places? Or of fires where demons danced. And once. "Come now. several times. For he had learned at last. Mayhap he had been wrong." What awful thing did she dream of now? Was it still those macabre terrors of dark. But she showed some inclination to swallow now. he could not persuade himself that she had invented those horrors of the night to draw him in. and was returning. Mayhap she really had been possessed by demons all this time. Against his own will he reached down and stroked a finger across her cheek. there's a girl. She must be horribly thirsty." he said. Chrétien ran ahead and pulled back the down quilt. She is very cold. I think she had lain there a long time. her throat parched." "Mayhap." "I do not doubt she thinks me that gullible. gravelly. It would have hurt little to allow Chrétien the task. To wake and find her gone. If she were awake and treating another. Alain?" "How so. "Don't touch it. like the strange utterances from her dreams." Oh." "Returning would mean an intent to come back to you. I ask no more. that seemed connected to nothing. What is the difference in one more story?" "Only listen. *** She had lain three days in her strange stupor. "Go for Nelda. but they were as helpless as he. She tossed about fretfully. Or she may have already accomplished whatever hellish task she was bent on. she was as wicked as her father. she would know what to do. "Call for Nelda. Mayhap she had hurried off to join some mysterious lover. "Please! Don't let him!" He turned to look at her again. as she was three days gone." He labored up the stairs. He knew he would. the one he had so trustingly pretended did not exist. Already she began to look thin. her face flushed and feverish. not even knowing how to swallow the drops of water Nelda squeezed into her mouth without someone stroking at her throat. At the top of the stairs. and Fyren came up from Hell? Whatever perfidy might be hers. and Nelda carefully increased the water. God help him." she had said. waiting for change that it seemed would never come. he did not want her to die. And Alain had stood and watched. But this time she would not convince him. Chrétien? She has deceived me from the beginning. Alain. so that he could lay her down on the bed. to get her in some clean garments. feeding it from a spoon. without a word. Mayhap she will know what to do for her. Occasionally an odd word would come from her mouth." . Her voice sounded dry and harsh. just another spoonful. But that was what had suffered most. He watched the still figure of the woman who for such a little while had been his wife. wishing fleetingly that he had not put so much stock in his injured pride." "Aye.

And why the cloak? Did it have some mysterious power? Was it a sorcerer's tool of some sort? Her obsession and revulsion had been puzzling from the beginning." she said. and he would not believe it." "I think whatever it is. she said. so turned to continue his walk on the allure. to watch a little longer. where he stood on the allure and surveyed the construction in progress." "It is too easy for him. he would make any bargain with God for her life. "Restless. and the apple trees bloomed. "He will be bored. eyes closed. He was a good lord. But she could not save him now. "How fares the lady?" asked Chrétien. *** Melisande sat on the narrow sill of the double-shuttered window of her chamber and idly observed the movement of soldier and villein in the lower bailey. But he seemed to see nothing. "I won't. It was certainly not the same as whatever had infected him." "What will you do with her. . There seemed to be a greater bustle about than usual. Supply problems cannot be compared with a good battle or two." He leaned on the wall. "Don't let-." "Mayhap. Only the truth remained now. Chrétien walked for a while with him.Nelda cajoled another bare mouthful of moisture into Melisande's mouth. then fell back to the pillow. Alain?" "I know not.--kill him. not for Rufus. But we can do naught else but treat what we can see. Nelda has been able to get some water into her." "The fever?" "Still there. following Fyren into Hell. she is also ill from exposure. The crops prospered. He ached so deeply within himself. But never anything that made sense. "He is delayed. He left the chamber and the hall. Dougal. her head to the side. but roads in this part of the isle were too primitive to be of much use. "Don't let him touch it. The opportunities had been there. The Norman held her castle and people. the rain had muddied the roads. Now. anyway. Eventually Alain returned to the chamber. and for the time he had left would see to their welfare along with his own. He wondered briefly if she had made a pact with someone to kill him. Or nothing held his attention." "Aye. where everything carried the bright impression of a fine spring. Sweet Jesus. and administer his justice fairly. "What news of Rufus?" he asked Chrétien. Was she a witch? He remembered Anwealda's dying word. sweeting." said Alain. then went about his duties. For her. take some more. don't you worry." He did not want to continue the conversation. the war was over. or Malcolm." she said. "Don't touch--" or "Don't kill--". staring out over the countryside. He had never seen an illness like this one. and trudged up the steps to the top of the curtain wall. Nelda has some knowledge of the lady's methods. The heavy rain has bogged down his carts. he thought he might turn inside out with the pain. She deduced that Rufus would come soon." Again she gulped a spoonful. later. however. He sighed and once again left the chamber. mayhap. But he meets no resistance. and Dougal chased off. Cyneric and Anwealda both dead. True.

" Melisande startled. and her eyes began to tear." "He will not listen to you this time. You cannot let him. and there is someone to replace Fyren that is worthy. "But you must. Only Nelda or I may see you. anxious and tentative. "Aye. and the Scots will overrun us again. None has ever been vindicated from a charge of witchcraft. Well enough for what comes. She stood and walked away from the window. Do not allow Gerard to sacrifice himself needlessly. lady. there will be a division." "Lynet. I wish I had as much. She reached for the yellow wimple. I was doomed from the beginning. Lynet. The door opened to admit Lynet. but could not find one. she put on her amber necklace. I could not bear it. seeing the hopelessness of it. for he must defend your honor. that what I wanted has come about." "Please believe it. She spun about and ran to the door. or to kill my-Alain. at last." "It does not matter what you think. "I am glad to see you well. "Aye. shaking her head." "The lord will not allow it." "I will tell him what you say." "Gerard refuses to leave. lady. Lynet. or I. and helped her with the blue surcoat. I fought against Cyneric." "I cannot stop him. he must fight Alain. "Come. The accusation itself is enough." she mused. He says he will demand a trial by combat. All will be lost." Lynet dressed her in the bright yellow kirtle with a blue border. I am but a woman." "Nay." "Aye. Melisande tried to manage a smile. Lynet. Melisande returned to the window and her idling pastime. laced up the sleeves. Fyren's evil is gone. and hastened to her side. "Some think amber is made by witches." "Oh. to think that life might be fair. save for those with power. Lynet. recall?" At that." "You do not frighten me. help me with this kirtle." Lynet curled both lips inward tightly between her teeth." "Send him to me. then. and one of them will die. Instead. thank you. but I know he will not change his mind." said Lynet. lady." "'Tis much better. I do not believe that. lady. then you must find a way to persuade him. but Melisande shook her head. I am well enough now to wear more than this thin chemise. lest they think I have cursed your unborn child. But you must go now." Melisande sighed. Lynet. He is determined. Think on this. she could smile." said Lynet. She would not wear one now. and wrung her hands waiting for the guard to open it. Nor does Gerard. I know your courage. lady. He must not. . Poor Lynet.She heard the key turn in the creaking lock. She had always hated wimples. "Oh! He must not. Lynet. "Let them think I am that clever." "Oh. I do not think you a witch. But if they fight and one dies. lady." "But it is not fair!" "Naught is fair. Gerard must not waste himself on something he cannot change. I should not have sought to reach beyond it. Tell him I demand it. Do you not understand? If he defends me.

"You have not eaten. But why did it matter? She lost nothing more by saying it. but she could no longer deny the cloak had bound itself to him. She could not find the strength to care. It killed my mother. stared hopelessly out at the darkening valley. and quickly turned away. Melisande. it did not surprise her that he had taken it back." "That is untrue. and the squeak in his leather scabbard. But it was useless to say it. Without seeing the sunset." "I have said naught about an execution." "You need say naught. then unfolded them. not what you would believe. The key creaked in the lock again." "Then tell it. caught a glimpse of his eyes. What power does it have?" The power to seduce its wearer until he dies of it. You asked and I will tell you. You wanted it for something. of the clink of his mail." Yet. for she remained at the window and watched the last of twilight fade." "I want some answers. And it would have killed you. She knew by the sound of his footsteps. that I know. I want the truth." ." "Are you a witch?" A wry twist curled over her mouth. Melisande. You gave it to me." Bitter anger tinged his voice. An unimportant task.From her eastern window." "You would merely have me hale and hearty for my execution. "Who is your lover?" "I have none." She sat back to the window ledge. and jutted out her chin in defiance. Her hands gripped together so tightly her fingers hurt. The little stool on which she usually sat was still pushed beneath the table. Melisande. "Nay. You cannot expect to get well. lest he see the pain in hers. "I am not hungry. "It has no magic. She glanced up. She need not look." She folded her arms. then away before she saw who entered." "Not a lover." She turned. He wanted the truth? Nay. stood. "It is poisoned. It would only convict her. "For what purpose?" "To destroy it. she watched as the bright day faded. Whether or not you listen or believe is for you to choose. he wanted confirmation of what he had already decided was the truth. Mayhap tomorrow." "I do not believe that. She had never wanted to believe in spells. A small meal sat untouched on the little table next to her storage chest. "Tell me the truth for once. its feathery twilight clouds mirroring the last vivid colors from the western sky." "You cannot deny that you had one once. It was mine to do with as I chose." "Then why did you take the cloak?" "I asked for it." "Do you think I will believe that?" "You asked for the truth." "You have not eaten for days. she knew rain would soon fall.

When powdered. In them. repentant. She sighed and continued. it makes a dye that produces that wondrous reddish-purple color. he found a hidden chamber. And who embroidered the gold and silver thread?" "It was done before the dyeing. where Fyren built his castle. that and none other. which he could not read. now that he is dead. that it would be buried with him. Bury it. was once a monastery. of course.something Fyren was doing that struck her with horror. Most were written in Greek. So he had the cloak made for her." "The arsenic rises with the smoke. how the dyers survived. "Eventually. "I thought when Fyren lay dying and asked for the cloak as a shroud. He folded his arms over his chest. My mother learned of-. but I did not know how. save to abuse her. Even with his last breath. that was sacked long ago by the Viking army that roamed the land in those days. He told me after she was dead. "Anything buried could be dug up." "Burn it. but none dared say." "I needed to destroy it. and because it had been his." "And I suppose you can also explain why you felt you must cross the countryside with it. he schemed. and others had been partially translated into Latin. and no others would be victims of his crimes. they cannot be found. In wrapping it around his body. And arsenic is a preservative. He laughed as she died. People become so enchanted with it that they will not stop wearing it." "There are some poisons that can be taken in through the skin. and threw them into the deep pits in the cavern below the castle. "There is a stone. at last be gone forever." "Where." "I fail to see how a cloak could be poisoned." "They did not. It can even be breathed. some simply never seen again. Had you been a man. and came day after day to explore it. she now saw as wonderful. "Poor mother actually believed him. though it would not have bothered him to kill them. you could have made a fascinating bard. It made a perfect symbol of your victory."This place." "You are saying that the cloak made me ill. But I was a fool." "And how is it that all these people disappear. some ancient books. Then what the hands touch goes to the mouth. And you would have to take it because it was so beautiful. But explain. but long forgotten. Hardly a family in the village has not lost someone to his cruelty. but some were Latin." Again she looked back at him. So even from his grave. yet no one says a word?" "You have only to ask. And the cloak has a powdery residue that rubs off on its victim's hands. and poisons the air. Nay. So they might suspect. He had not moved. if the dye is so poisonous. She demanded he stop --what he was doing. he reached out to snatch another victim. he would not believe. he did not trust wooden buildings and sought to use its stone to build his own castle on its site. he found things that had been known to the ancients. Fyren was fascinated with it. He. I was sure he had poisoned her." "A wonderful story. Being afraid of fire. he had me place the cloak where you would be sure to see it. still huddled in the cloak. It could last . and loving. "Fyren never cared what my mother thought. He needed no excuse. an ore of arsenic." "Aye. even when they become very ill." She glanced at him. and in it. who had not touched her for years. also. Or mayhap he simply grew tired of her. One of them was the secret of the purple dye. called Dragon's Blood. or she would expose him to the world. and persuaded me to give it to her as a peace offering. but I suppose he could not afford the exposure. He killed them.

Now he had the cloak back again. But it would explain her mysterious disappearance from a locked chamber on their wedding night. Just as well. This place had many secrets.forever. But now you tell me such a preposterous story that I cannot. Was it a second . But she woke up knowing someone was there. Rufus comes soon. and his jaw set bitterly. He snatched a jug from a startled servant and gulped down a good portion of its sour wine. that you have a lover. She might have smelled a snuffed candle. Explained a lot of things. *** He had never heard such a farfetched story. He had seen every step." "I do not believe you now. stood by as she ransacked her brain for a way to do it. Jean Nouel's death must surely be attributed to one. what did you mean to do?" "There is a deep hole called the Butter Tubs. she might have made it there. But she had lost it all." "Then. his long spurs occasionally catching behind him and threatening to trip him. Well. An example of her brilliance. and he had never seen such a thing. for he would be too stubborn to admit to its effect until it was too late. But water flows through them. but refused to give her such satisfaction. I even thought of the caverns below. and finished it off. She shook away the tears. He had no desire to spout pleasant banter. and you sought somehow to get the cloak to him. But now you dare to tell me you did this to save me?" "I did. But that was mayhap the oddest. More likely. He had been right there. She had never been one for them. Never would he believe her again. at least the witchcraft explained her peculiar behavior. for whatever reason I cannot fathom. The key clinked and squeaked in the lock. punctuating his decision. All for naught. and left through the door. and this time the poison would win. Alain stalked down the wooden stairs." He whirled away. "I think not." She felt her nostrils flare." "You could not have just told me this cloak was poisonous?" "You would not believe it. she simply knew something he didn't. The jug clattered and wobbled on its base before finally settling down. That fleeting scent was certainly distinctive. not magic. Melisande. It is like a cavern. before. I will let him decide what to do with you. A poison cloak. I was a fool. no one spoke. In the hall. and comes out in the becks and rivers. and it goes down into the earth a very long way. There had been nothing illogical or magical about it. It made sense from beginning to end. How dare she think he would believe such rot? He had nearly slammed the door. Nay. and did not intend to start weeping now." "Of course. I think it is something else entirely. and caught her in the bolt hole. But nay. yet everyone eyed him warily. "I admit. He had been right there and watched her treat Robert's slashed ribs. Had she not become ill with whatever that strange thing was." He shook his head. Although he had quickly deciphered that one. "I did believe you cared for me. He had even made his own suggestions. It would poison the water. I meant to wrap a rock in it. and drop it in. And Anwealda's appearance in his chamber must be explained in the same way. I was ready to forgive anything. How dare she? He slammed the jug down on the trestle table. made a face." His voice grated with his bitterness.

in such a preposterous way? Even here. toward Muker Common. 'twould be there. He had been more willing to believe that than the explanation she had given." "Nay. and getting it from him. all this time? Then why not have told him? Ah. dropped the key. He could still see her face. He would not have believed her. and climb the fells to the pass. yes." said Thomas. not insidious.sight. she had believed it. might she have been going there?" Thomas puzzled but a fleet moment. To take the poison into his mouth! Dangerous or not. yet obsession with the cloak. The candle was gone. startled. And the way she had lurched at him. there were those who whispered of witchcraft. and his eyes darted toward it. then east across the vale. It would be black as pitch in there. the instant before she dashed at him. A narrow gap not more than a few feet tall closed as a panel slid into place." "Know you of the Butter Tubs?" "Butter tubs?" "A hole in the ground. A hole in the wall. All he had done was to wipe the rim-Sweet Jesus! He had wiped at a smudge on the rim of the cup. Could she really have been trying just to keep him alive. He searched frantically about. and the small hand that closed it disappeared inside. She had tried to pass it off as clumsiness. a dying man's evil revenge. he heard a small scraping noise. or had a dream awakened her at just the right time? But he too had sensed the scent of a man in the dark chamber. she surely would be gone forever." "Sweet Jesus!" He threw himself out of the chair and raced up the staircase." "Where?" Lines furrowed Thomas's brow. crossing the eastern fells. too. too. "'Tis a hole into Hell." "I know of it. through the Mallerstang. Of course. A hidden bolt hole. He had thought it amusing once. some say. "Aye. that he would try to overlook everything? But there were other things. from the far corner of the dais where he talked with Thomas. if he merely gave himself long enough at it. If she escaped this time. Empty. then raised the cup to drink. but she could not have accidentally fallen in that way. stunned by horror. knocking his prized horn cup from his hand. and managed it on the second try. . "Aye?" "Tell me again where you found her. The entire thing. intending to retrieve a candle from his chamber. many little times. beyond the wall. At the far corner." "How do you get there?" "Go south. Just as she had said. but whirled around and grabbed the reed torch in the bracket beside the guard. And he would explain away everything. Gone again. Had he loved her all that much. So that was how she did it. who fumbled at the lock." "Knowing where Chrétien found her. "East in the fells." "To the south. He dashed into the chamber. He dashed out the door. in the manor where she was so well loved. "Open it!" he shouted at the guard. That odd revulsion. "Chrétien!" Chrétien looked up.

The torch lit a series of descending steps. Turning around. he set the torch down on the step. Another swoop sent more flying smashing against the hard wall of obscenities in a chaos of color and acrid smells. It slid and lifted. that then was gone. That path came to an abrupt halt. assessing. Then her jaw set tightly. sending them tumbling. small and large. yet the path. Ahead. Stone pillars here and there. The candle's flame rose as if she climbed up steps. "You can't have him! I won't let you! You're dead. "You're dead!" she shrieked. he mounted the stone terraces as they swung around in an arc. seemed blocked in all ways. testing his footing on the tricky. If he called out to her. Frustrated. Melisande stood poised near one table. then blazed into brightness. and came upon a series of natural terraces that led up to a strange rock that looked like it had grown there. He sidled that way and spotted a small footprint in the gritty cavern floor. as if the stone were no more than cloth. where the cavern opened out. ancient tables dominated the chamber. Her eyes narrowed to angry slits. seemed grown into their places. a hard rock ceiling forced him to remain crouched until he descended several steps. transfixed by what he saw. but the walls draped and oozed like body organs torn from a corpse. Alain crouched down and crawled through the tiny portal. and trained his eyes to the dark. he saw no light ahead of him. Behind it a light flickered. saw nothing. A small writing desk with a stool seemed almost lost against the complex jumble that formed the far wall. onto the topmost step. Looking down. of odd sizes and shapes. Two great. he could see it. Torn between a need for speed and caution. Her fiery gaze raked over the tables and their contents. and were littered with jars of glass or pottery. with blackness beyond. With a fierce sweep. To his far right he caught a glint of light. and left a small hole a few feet square. He followed. as if preparing for something. hands folded neatly before her. and you can't come back!" . or half-complete and dangling. he felt his way down the steps to a sort of floor. she would flee. He shuffled his feet along the irregular path. He set down the torch to search for the light of her candle within the darkness. It meant climbing over a tall ledge. A torch glowed yellow and pink through the thinner surfaces of the rock curtain. he saw what he had missed. a narrow passage almost obscured by a huge pillar of stone. crashing. A little to his left. came to an end at the edge of the stone curtain. Above him. to the right. "You're dead! You can't hurt us anymore! You're dead! I killed you! Do you hear me? Dead!" She grabbed a glass vial and dashed it against the far wall. all the while searching for the candle's light. But there was a way around. He stood there.He found the panel easily. There it was. to the floor. dashing pots and jars. hewn out of the stone. and rising. merging with another that stretched down from the cavern's ceiling like a waterfall frozen into stone. now. She moved on ahead of him. He had not even taken the time to learn where the bolt hole came out. a room was formed within the stone. The floor was nearly flat and level. Then another. Had she escaped him? He would deserve it. He slipped around it sideways. seeming to be oblivious to his presence. where it sat between exposed timbers. Through passageway hewn from the natural opaline rock. her arm swung over one table. unpredictable cavern. She would not trust him. It was meant to resemble the remainder of the plastered wall. He looked about. Streaks of thick yellow and brown oozed down the surface into crevices and over bulges. Quietly.

He limited his stroke for fear of hurting her. her eyes riveted on the man in the hooded cloak before her. floors. her back to the wall. glowed with malice. He will die for taking you." Melisande sidled along the toppled oak table. I will not! You are dead!" "So you have said." He could not mean-. and she sprang away with a desperate gasp. "I heard you." Poised to strike. but Alain threw himself between them. I am not sure if I will forgive you. His mouth curled upward only on one side. you would. and we will take back what is ours. praying for her to come closer. but it is not so. flung in fury. Alain put his hand on the hilt of his sword. beside a fresh and ever-growing blot of ink." "You cannot be here! It is a dream!" "You have come to me. he menaced Fyren with the blade.his own daughter? Black rage flooded through Alain. crashed against walls. His left hand lunged for Melisande. His bright blue eyes. You are mine. "Behind me!" he demanded. Only I can save you. Her eyes grew huge. Leave the Norman now. Her hands reached out to the great book atop it. When I take the English throne. His dark beard was heavily streaked with silver. Fyren leaped back. tear it to shreds. But as she shifted. But you betrayed me. She swallowed a shriek. Hurry. With a roar from the bottom of his gut. yet curiously tilted up only on one side. and bolted backward against the far wall. Have you so easily forgotten who I am? Did you think you could kill the son of Satan? You belong to me. again. girl.Pottery and glass. and I will let you live. Melisande screamed. closing in like a killer. Alain slashed his blade at Fyren. and she stalked it like a wolf after a hare. I will make you my queen. She gave the table a great heave and threw it on its side. he drew his sword and hurled himself into the stone chamber. A quill pen lay atop the book. He would not let you live if he knew. girl. I told you. girl. toward the doorway where Alain stood. "Behind me. Fyren caught her arm and jerked her before him. came up beside him. not that pathetic Norman who dares usurp my place. an evil parody of a smile. Come back. Keeping her back to the stone wall. Fyren stepped out of the shadows." "Nay. pitched one after another. The evil smile broadened on Fyren's face. she shuffled sideways. his sword threatening Fyren's throat. Her wrathful gaze descended on the writing desk. "Move!" Fyren grabbed for her." "You will not kill him! I have told him all!" "You have told him naught. girl. clawed at Fyren. Startled. CHAPTER 21 Melisande shoved herself backward as if she might force herself into the stone. Satan gave you to me. She froze. ready to grasp. but Melisande was too close. You belong to me. You cannot escape. She seemed stunned in her place. so much like Melisande's. . "You cannot escape me. Melisande.

How the bloody saints could he do that? He could not even see his feet. Melisande's precious foot ahead of him. With each step. Fyren dropped his prize. Twenty-six. even beside him. feeling for each one as it came." He crawled up the steps. beneath his hands and knees. thirteen--" He let her count them. air freshened." Her voice was little more than an excited whisper. he reached out to touch her ahead of him. She collapsed like a dropped rag to her knees before the dismayed Fyren could stop her. Solid steps of stone. "We're lost. A loud bang exploded in Alain's ears and caustic smoke and rock flew in all directions. The blade barely grazed across the man's left arm. . yet dared not swing hard. squeezing through narrow spaces. while she guided him by the arm he held. "Eleven. With a garbled curse. Stop. Sweet Jesus. and his feet stumbled as he tried to find his footing. creeping on hands and knees. The acrid smoke thinned. She guided him through the nightmare of total darkness. As blood oozed from the slash. It would be less confusing. tripping. Hurry. steps. he could be upside down and not know it! She grabbed his hand. "Nay. He could see only blackness. placed it against a rock face. he groped toward where he hoped the exit was. Alain grabbed Melisande through the choking smoke. twenty-one. twenty-two--" Still there. He stumbled at the first step she had already taken. He struggled along the little terraces. needing the reassurance that she had not vanished in that cloying blackness. gasping. Without either candle or rush light. falling. and led him by his arm as he groped with feet and hands for the pathway. Alain swung." She tugged at the arm that held her. "Twenty. they were doomed in the darkness. I know the way. With a punishing grasp of her arm. his only salvation the hard gasping of the terrified woman ahead of him. Twenty-seven. They touched the column of stone. "Out of here." "Duck your head at the top. he hurled an object at the stone floor. He could not see her." Aye. "Without a torch?" "Aye. "Duck your head." she whispered. she scrambled toward him. trying to remember their shapes. urgently moving. He almost forgot to count the steps. probed with their hands and feet.She must have remembered Lynet. worked their way around it. cool and damp. he could not tell where. feeling the edges before him." he said. twelve. Despite her scream. and he followed her lead. "Twenty-seven steps. they reached the steps hewn into the stone." He halted where he was. But she counted aloud. "Aye. After an eternity of blindness. She pulled his arm. "Steps. probed the limits of the stone and waited the duration of a millennium for her to manipulate the concealing panel that would lead them back into sanity. "Watch your feet!" she screamed. fumbling through and choking in the same smoke as he. Run!" he shouted as he coughed.

He is in the cavern below us. "Don't think. He did not really believe it himself. and her voice still trembled. and her knees folded beneath her." "And I'll wager if we dug up the coffin. His gentle eyes widened as he gulped down fear. The coffin was found nailed shut the next morning. to the lids of blue eyes that closed in anticipation." "Then he is Satan's spawn. As the darkness receded. but no one thought anything about it then. He crawled behind her with all the speed he could muster. forced her into a compelling kiss. supporting her weight. His lips found hers. Violent trembling racked her body. the chamber before him became slowly visible. gasping from a hard run. Mayhap he was so nearly dead that he appeared so. I was wrong not to trust you. He shook as badly as she did." He could see she did not believe his wild conjectures. "Fyren lives. And we buried him. not wanting to release her for even the space of a breath. a gentle and tender caress on her lips. Chrétien and Gerard raced into the chamber. love. I waited until he died.Painful bright light flooded his eyes." he said simply. It left too many questions unanswered. I know not how. "Ah. Then he tightened his embrace once again. but it is so. immediately. "Close the door. Gerard's gaze flew to the corner of the chamber and the gaping hole in the wall. Thomas." The guard whirled around and sped out the door." "Mayhap it was not enough to do the job. it is impossible." he said. is the true Hole into Hell. Until the most crippling of the fear disintegrated. But there had to be another answer. It must be true!" "He is but a man. as he said. she trembled. But we did leave the corpse alone overnight. Thomas found no pulse. "I want Chrétien. "Nay. gasped as if she could not get air into her lungs. He stood up. "He said he was the Spawn of Satan." "But he was dead! I killed him!" "How?" "With poison. I found one he knew not about. Before him." . his mouth gaping. He took an antidote every day. forgive me. astonished to see him holding the lady from whom he had recently been estranged. and Gerard. to her cheek. again demanding all of her attention until at last she sighed and her body relaxed. He caught her. "He lives." "But he was dead. "What is that?" "That." he whispered. and she crawled through the hole." Thomas obeyed. "Guard!" he yelled. "don't think of anything. we would find it full of rocks. and stood there. and put it in his antidote." And again he kissed her." Thomas rushed in the door." replied Thomas. so that he could not be poisoned. deep and hard. as he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to her bed. He kissed again. if you must use every stone block in the curtain wall. The man stepped into the room. Block it off." "He cannot be alive!" she said.

" "I'm going after him." "It is magic?" "No more magic than making bread. I call it lightning powder." Melisande said. and use them to gain power."I do not believe it. yet the ancients must have known. "I had forgotten it. "But you heard. He had a small chamber. the more she." She gave a tentative nod and worried at her lower lip. "You do not know the caverns. I am also to blame. You could send a hundred men into them." CHAPTER 22 . how can you blame yourself?" "You do not understand. "But I want to know more. and it made a loud noise and much smoke." "But I do not understand how he could live. "They are dead. But he feared my learning all his tricks and becoming as powerful as he was." "If he has any sense. "It is something I can do. I read it in one of the ancient books. "Fyren dabbled in alchemy. He cannot raise an army now. He planned to rule all of the Isle. Is that why Fyren forced you into the pits?" Her head jerked as she nodded. I know you are no witch. He remembered his rage." "Aye." said Melisande. I have never seen the like. like the powder that makes the loud noise. But then he threw something at the ground. "Do not fear. looked like a witch. also. shaking his head. except that I do not know how to make it work without fire. and he bled. and the more she said. There is a way to make the heart beat so slowly it seems to stop. I have been there but a few times. he remembered. "Then." said Chrétien. now. lord. still taking deep breaths. It is because I allowed it. We can but speculate on that." said Gerard. love. almost like a room carved into the stone. "Nay!" cried Melisande. for I would not be able to do it anyway. There were many things like it people do not know. so that it did not kill him. He used you in the most evil way." "You cannot want me." She gulped. "Do not think I blame you for Fyren's evil. love. tell us what you know of it. and he realized she was afraid to speak. It is just ordinary things put together differently. and he started toward the hole in the wall. as well. Lady. He did not want me to know what he did there. knowing what she said would remind him of the rest of what Fyren had said. someday. and filled with rage." he said. What he had seen looked very much like witchcraft. "I do not see that he is any great threat to us. That I know. Aye." Now she looked at him as if expecting a blow. He must have learned it. Fyren wanted to learn them. and he would pick them off. he would not have bothered to keep the secret from me. "There is another thing he learned. for Anwealda and Cyneric are both dead. I sliced him with my sword." "I have." "What if they are also not dead?" she asked. But he is alive. He would not let me learn the remainder of the secret. but I did not believe it was so. he is long gone." Alain responded. and an assortment of substances in jars. one by one." "And his antidote might have affected the poison." "To blame. If it were truly magic." said Thomas. He would never let me learn that.

The priest came closer. and imprisoned? That cannot be called willing. then?" "If I was not willing. I am tired of secrets. "Nay."Allowed it?" He knew better. "Cannot you see. then killed them and threw them into the pits. "Forgive me. I want no more of them. You must not be vain of your beauty." "What did he do with them?" "He tortured them. the threat he used? If he had not been willing to kill those girls." "What else." said Thomas." "Willing? Yet you were tormented with darkness. Neither must you accept guilt for it. God looks upon your sacrifice as holy. trying to make out from what he heard how he was needed. The tenderness in his eyes made Alain's heart ache. Chrétien at his heels. in a sad. Alain gave Father Hardouin a summary of Melisande's confession. lady." . fatalistic tone. but I did not know what I was doing wrong." Thomas explained. "I did too much. he stole girls from the village. fetch Father Hardouin. That is coercion of the worst kind." "Lady Melisande. and have upon it some cloth or thing that belonged to a missing girl. The other two men stood as still as stone statues. I do not think she wants to share this matter. Chrétien. for they have defended me so blindly. and she was murdered for her knowledge." Father Hardouin shuddered and shook his head. "And if you were willing. You said you would not. "You knew and did naught about it?" Father Hardouin rushed into the chamber. and sped away. for I did not know many of them." "Not blindly. and what is not. but I also knew of this." Chrétien said." "He is in the hall." "There were many who disappeared. "How is it that you are at fault. This is not your doing." said Gerard. So some people believed Fyren could change people into animals." "But I was willing." said Thomas. he would not have had your cooperation." "They will burn me. "You hate him too much. he would not do this?" "Aye. "She believes she is at fault. love. lady?" "He said I enticed him. And some died for my selfishness. not yourself. not evil. though he did use that. "Thomas. lady." "So that was why they were never found. and Thomas and Gerard turned to leave. stood waiting. and lifted Melisande's chin in his hand. "Sometimes a wild animal would be found dead." "And I do not." he said." "Do not give me to them. that was not it. for it is God's doing." said the priest." Alain stared. "We have always known you to be worthy. I tried not to." Thomas answered." Alain told the priest. But such comes from God." Father Hardouin. "Nay. "I cannot disagree that you are a beautiful woman. and used them. lady." "Nay. or other places. "I told the Lady Edyt. They also deserve to know. stunned. But you must know what sin is yours. I do not know where. his brow furrowed heavily." she said. too.

lord. Else. and that can be changed. Whether Fyren's evil is of Satan or of himself." "Mayhap two heads would have been better. she hoped he would remember. though he is so despised by the Church. though I was more inclined at the time to imagine you with two heads than this." said the priest. "you may not even confess to the sin of attempted murder. But I knew in my heart she was wrong." "Aye. long ago. for in living." "I do not understand one thing. is yet a Christian man. "I wanted to kill Fyren. "Anyone may receive pardon for his sins." said the priest. seeming to believe he had not yet made his point. You are no different."He said I was consigned to Hell. no questions asked." "Did Father Leanian know of all this?" "Nay. Though the king was but a young boy then. And Rufus. And I wanted to do it. Melisande's mouth dropped open as she stared at Thomas. "I find you without fault. Come. Rufus offered her a favor if ever she should need it. for unnamed evil." Father Hardouin watched her closely. he destroys all that is good. is it not?" The priest smiled. under a very mysterious instruction." "I thought I should do it. even for a woman. he did." Thomas answered. and gave over all that was his to the Normans." "Father Hardouin. if God calls her to it. he must not live. "Lady Edyt told him. I did not believe he would. lady. you have no humor." Alain stood away with the other men as Melisande knelt before the priest. anyway. I poisoned Fyren out of my own need for vengeance." She hung her head miserably. He sent me." "Ah. He has made you His instrument." "Well. It surely was more than she could say. and you would not allow it. you see." "Child. It is our duty to fight God's causes. I knew Rufus had answered her pleas. child. allowing none to see. "I think God is getting His vengeance. lady. for all have heard of Rufus' rapacity. I agreed readily. then. for we are Satan's kin. "She believed you would kill her. lord. "I make my own pronouncement on this matter." "But vengeance is God's. She had thought him serious. As Father Leanian called for Fyren's death. lady. since my soul was damned already." "Aye. "I did not understand why until now. Once." Gerard told him quietly." Alain nodded as the puzzle began to come clear. Save. But he smiled at her sad reflection. in the name of God. let us see to this matter now. and bade him write to Rufus and beg help. to receive absolution." "It is not murder if he is not dead. I would have long since killed you. aye. Her mother made me vow to protect her. you but sought to carry out God's will. But when I saw you. And just when did you reach that conclusion?" ." "Aye. and I was to marry you and accept you as I found you. Fyren was to be killed." "You did." Gerard said to Melisande. Fyren must be destroyed. you were not damned. and is right. "He had a letter that he burned. too. But did not Father Leanian put a curse on Fyren?" "Aye. And I committed murder.

" Alain muttered to himself as he frowned." "Another way?" "Anwealda did not come either through the bolt hole or the hidden steps to my chamber. "It was much like the morning after the wedding. *** He woke to a scattered assortment of scrapes. "Mayhap this idea of private chambers is one thing of Fyren's that should survive." she said. "Ha!" she said. It was a very small smile. and his alone. If he got past Gerard. something uncountably precious. "There has to be another way. There must be naught but truth between us from now on. An odd dream. however she gave it." "Aye. But it was not open. wearing only her linen chemise and poking with her fingernails at the stone wall. Melisande. then he still would have to leave the panel open for escape.Gerard's solemn face slowly stretched into a wicked grin. I think I have found it. nor she touched him. *** "I must know something. He ignored the snickers behind him as he closed the door and let the latch fall." Chrétien suddenly broke into a quiet chuckle that echoed about the chamber. if I must. I'll vow. love. She lay upon the feather mattress facing him. He had always known that her smile. Their love grew between them. "It must have been when you came out of the bath house. scratches. swishes. but it shed the brightest of lights upon them." he said. And beg you to come back. I cannot understand why I could not see it. she looked guiltily back at the bed and saw him where he sat. lady?" he asked. "Hm?" "Why did you come after me?" "I wanted to tell you I was wrong. He had been right. You have done so much for me. Rufus did pick well for her. he would have quickly realized his error if he tried it. watching her. I was afraid. The bed beside him was empty. for he had other things on his mind as he led Melisande from her chamber into his. if it was one. stroking lazily at his hair. would destroy the last of any resistance he had to her. Squatted down near the far wall." She smiled. Did she dream again? There she was. or imitate. "What do you do. But he felt a slight smile creep onto his face. but never know. nor how he touched her. Fascinated." "How so?" "Gerard slept with his lady there." "But I lied to you. And I would have you break that habit. His wife was his. a brave knight? Why should you be afraid?" "I was afraid of losing you. many times. None of them needed to know what happened after the door closed. something that was entirely theirs." "Aye. he watched quietly as her fingers traced along the mortar. If you got away." "Afraid? You. Though Anwealda may not have known that. Let the others speculate. I might never find you again. Startling herself. Her eyes were bright with sudden insight. Not for them to know the fire that erupted within him the instant his lips touched hers." .

I think. leaving a portal a little more than three feet high. still intrigued. entirely." "Put what?" "The texts in Greek. "But I cannot find the lever." "Neither was any other hole open." "True. why would he not wait until you were finished before taking them?" "He wanted to know what they said." "What is in them?" . he would have to silence my screams. Melisande was already shuffling through the small stack of ancient manuscripts and newer books. he could not have killed both of us at the same time. could he not have gone back through the other chamber?" "Unlikely. He would have seen someone. and closed the hidden door?" "Aye. and that is the second thing. He could never tolerate that." "What?" "I do not think he came alone." The small chamber had a floor that was several feet below the one where he stood. which they held close to a hidden chamber. He took them away from me when he learned I had been translating them. apparently her confiscated translations. with the ceiling no higher than the height of the portal. "Someone else that hurried away when the plot was spoiled." Alain saw nothing. he would have left it open. This is it. So he would have to make his exit very quickly. Or simply that I might know more than he. Here it is. And he had the brazier burning because of the baby." Alain jumped up from the bed instantly and grabbed his tunic to pull over his head while he rushed to where she now stood. He can't."You have lost me. "Ha." She ran her finger along a mortar line around staggered blocks. He could not imagine how such a thing might operate." "Lever?" "The monks used levers or latches for this sort of thing. Even if he meant to kill me." "I see." "I do not think he came that way." "Melisande. Hence. but not if he risked my learning something that could defeat him. "If he could not translate them." "But it was not open." "Aye. He jerked on his hose and fastened his dagger belt as she flicked out a loose chink of mortar. it was not. Gerard must surely have been wakened by that time. Melisande lowered herself into it. What did he plan to do about me? At the least. He thought I would learn things he didn't know. yet the masonry door swung open. then ducked down and jumped through the hole. "That's where he put them. you see. if someone else was in the chamber." He watched. and he passed the candlestick to her." "Suppose he came only to assassinate you. He could count on one of us making enough noise to draw help. He grabbed the tinder box he kept inside his pouch and struck a spark for a candle.

Or it may simply be a word that has another meaning I do not know. And I came to look for the hidden entrance. But Fyren desperately craves the secret. Some cooking recipes." "Melisande. He would not allow rushes or candles in the private chambers and will not light a torch or a candle." "So Fyren has a weakness. I have puzzled over some sort of weapon." She sighed." "Actually. even out of desperation. lord. Some great secret that could change the course of a war?" "Oh. "The real one is.You see. But he would not let me see it. you know. 'the opposite'. talking almost to herself as she did. But think what power one would have with such a thing. I cannot tell." . Mayhap I translated it wrong. "All the other ingredients are perfectly common. She passed the books through the portal. "But I get ahead of myself. Greek Fire is not such a huge secret. then. when he is so afraid of fire?" "Even more curious that he should be afraid of fire. Curious. too. It is a way of saying. something to defeat Fyren. but I do not understand many of the ingredients. lord." "What does it seem to be?" "Antithesis. "Aye." "Still."Many things. but. take the book out with us. And it produces a fire beyond all imagination. and he has feared it ever since." "Mayhap." Her eyes took on a bright and wicked look that set him back." He had not her patience for such obscure things. this morning. "I do not understand why Fyren would want such a fearsome weapon if he is so afraid of fire. sulfur." he replied. "Saltpeter. Greek Fire. Mayhap you will find something when you look again. He was burned badly on the legs as a child. A very odd assortment. so that it did not threaten its users. those who did not know the secret invented their own versions. Fyren's lightning powder. It has been lost for a long time. If only I could figure out the last bit. Think also. as he handed another stack of books to her. "And as you say. It was in a sort of code. I cannot guess it. and with the translation from the Greek to Latin. I am sure that is what he would do. we might find a way to use it against Fyren." "Other than cooking. it is." she said. But the real Greek Fire could spread across water to set enemy ships afire. There is something like 'fish sauce' that is ofttimes mentioned. as well. If we could just find its trick. There's Greek Fire. how much more useful it could be for evil purposes than for good. is the problem." "He always delegates such things to his subordinates. Aye. too. It was in Latin. charcoal. tar. the problem is that I cannot read all of the formula." "Aye." "What is different about it?" "It is said to be unquenchable. but--" Melisande's blue eyes widened in the meager candle light. Mayhap this 'antithesis' is the name of something that cannot be found around here. in fact. It derives from the Byzantines. for one. Rather effective ones. not a weapon. but Melisande was already absorbed in her quest. and could be shot through pipes. I did not. In fact. is it not. The formula is useless until I can divine the last ingredient. he had no patience for any but one thing." "Opposite of what?" "That. that sort of thing. but it does not say what it is. But how?" Alain boosted her up through the hole and scrambled up behind her. that Fyren should so desire it.

Already he reaches the bridge. who had meddled in her life. she smiled. if we might defeat Fyren. still pulling her kirtle over her head as she ran. and he hastily donned the remainder of his clothing before dashing down the stairs from the balcony. he called Melisande to stand beside him. beyond the fetching and carrying. But he only just had his arms about her again. scurrying through the hall and out to the kitchen to see that breakfast awaited the king and his minions. . He forced the march through the night when he learned of Fyren." Alain grumbled. Alain felt his eyebrows raise at the size of the spectacle. It would create enormous destruction. "Say my name." It became a very urgent matter to get them both back to the bed from whence they had come. Rufus was also a man of great energy. "Melisande. I would hear you say it. My love. for his desire for her was overwhelming it. love."Aye. we must. But I cannot see how it might be used otherwise." she said. "So early?" "Aye. his household and a multitude of supply wagons with hideously squealing axles. So Rufus couldn't wait to see the results of his scheming. "Rufus comes!" he nearly shouted. Melisande soon followed him. in answer to his own silent question." "And that is why I meant never to resurrect it. A smile like sunshine. "I shall need you to listen to me. Mayhap Rufus meant to take Scotland. "That hole stinks of Fyren. Alain could see in the king's eyes a wild excitement usually found only in the fervor of battle. Rufus rode at the head of his army. I know naught of any of this. "We. summer-blue eyes in deadly seriousness. and seeing her apprehension." he said. And today. She should have had a life of smiling." She looked at him with her big. Alain would rather have had her leave such things to the servants. "But not till you close that. trailed by his knights and foot soldiers. for its warmth." "A pity kings cannot be taught good manners." he said. You might be able to point out errors I do not notice." Her bright blue eyes regarded him with something akin to suspicion as she stood silently beside him. when a scuffling sound beyond the door interrupted them. took her hand in his." For that. Today she would meet the King of England. "Rufus is not as gruff as he seems. Alain himself took Rufus's rust-colored charger by its bridle. then Chrétien burst through with no more than a fleeting glance at the lovers wrapped in each other's arms." His patience for all this wore thin. but she had become too used to her duties. He stepped toward her and reached out for her. then mayhap. She felt more at ease if she had a task to perform. I cannot think what help I shall be. and after them. Do not fear. he would at last learn from Rufus how much of it had been the king's doing. and her voice became silky with her desire. Still. The door banged twice. "Alain. and was easily brought to enthusiasm when it came to a challenge or new idea. love. His own ignited. after all. He wondered what Rufus would think of how his little scheme had turned out. round. Just before Rufus rode through the gate. to draw her snugly to his body." He laughed. and Rufus sprang down from his saddle. His agility was always a surprise for such a corpulent man.

even this quickly. you do resemble her greatly. even I must agree with the Church on the business of marriage. my dear. I do see much of your lady mother in you. though I was but a moonstruck boy when I met her. would you not?" Melisande's face was struck with horror as she instinctively jerked back her hand to her breast. and all England the better for it." "But if you had known her. "Aye. "I do certainly mean you are that beautiful. I shall not steal your lovely bride from you. Yet your hair is nonetheless as lovely. "I vow. "It was my misunderstanding. Of course you did not mean--" "Oh. you would know that there has been none to compare with her. puzzled. de Crency. Lady Melisande. you are a jewel. lady. Aye. she would have become England's queen. These past three months." "By God. Hers were somewhat green. de Crency. now there was a woman. Sire. nor does it curl in tiny rings about your face quite as much as did hers. I shall have to live with it. as he finally contained himself. I am afraid the lady does not always understand such humor. do not grow jealous. And your hair is not as pale." "Humor?" she squeaked weakly. all these years. Know you." Melisande gave the king a feeble smile. I recall." "Oh. de Crency. "My wife. save your eyes. Time to intervene. we must contrive to rid you of this husband. lady. Melisande turned deathly pale. If only I had been ten years older. "Truly. and you are stuck with him. "Now. "Lady Melisande. Rufus's bushy blond brows pulled into a heavy frown as he considered her again. "I've been too long in the company of men." she insisted. Then the king's pale blue eyes grew wide beneath highly raised brows as he stared in blatant fascination at Melisande. when I should have kept her for myself?" He took Melisande's hand and raised it to his lips. I have made a terrible mistake!" "Sire?" "I gave such a beauty to you. I do wish I had not been so foolish to send you this poor knight. Rufus cocked his blond head. Sire? I had no inkling you had ever considered a queen. when I might have made you my own queen." Rufus roared his great belly laugh again. You would surely prefer marriage to a king. Sire. But Alain." Then Rufus's jovial face suddenly sagged to deadly seriousness. as if she almost understood. nay. lady. But what's done is not to be undone. Alas." said the king. and there you are wrong. "Your pardon." Alain directed the king toward the hall. de Crency." A strange sadness crept over his face. still chuckling. "She is gone now." "You have my greatest condolences."By Christ's Sweet Blood. Lady Melisande. is she not?" "Aye. what is this business about Fyren?" . "Ah. my dear. mentally hoping the kitchen staff had a feast set. that I have never forgotten her." Rufus said. Ah. and his eyes gleamed with his own brand of wicked mischief. Then he brightened and reared back into a great roar of laughter that further darkened his beefy red face. it is good to see you. and squeezed her hand between both of his." said Rufus as he bounded up and clapped Alain on the back.

an idea will come to you. "I did not believe him before. we must not deny the danger he poses." she answered tentatively. Sire. It is commonly known that the ancients had knowledge that has been lost. "he is more charlatan than sorcerer. if we had the secrets that made the Romans great. Even now. I vow." said Alain. you might know the meaning of the missing word. they have not the awesome power of the genuine Greek Fire. Sire?" Rufus gave a studied frown. for all that he appears to have risen from his grave. for all that he appeared intent on the great piles of food on his trencher. lady." "I told you thus. but I am no scholar. that is the difficulty with the languages of the ancients. though many things are named thus. He gave over his great chair to the king. lady?" asked Rufus. So I cannot think how it can be useful. Many such Greek and Latin texts perished at the hands of our Norse ancestors. Sire." "The king reads Greek. then. . and give it a different meaning. but always there was some doubt. then I present its opposite. Alain explained the sudden reappearance of the man who called himself the Spawn of Satan. or even one letter of it. "What think you. almost as if she expected a new wave of Rufus' roaring laugh to roll over her." "But what is it?" "Antithesis. Sire. Rufus' frown became more studied." "Mayhap." "Among these here is Greek Fire. but--" Melisande drew out the odd Greek characters on the tablecloth with her finger. there is something that does not fit. His lips silently mouthed the strange symbols. Alain. that was my thinking. Alain. Yet. something I know without knowing. The scribe who copies it might mistake the word. It refers to the opposite of something. "You do know Fyren better than any here. "Ah. and her solemn eyes nevertheless danced and sparkled." she said." "They do not. if you work with the ingredients you know. so says my lady." Rufus sighed. Think on it. The lady's explanation of the ancient manuscripts tells us much. "Yet. hoping Rufus could understand her invisible tracings. "Tell me. surely. lady. Rufus nodded gravely. "I know somewhat of it. and seated his wife between himself and Rufus. If you have an idea. It is said." "Aye. do you not." "Aye. She hoped you knew a different meaning. "It cannot be an ingredient. for example." "Greek Fire. for whom it had no meaning. Aye. Sire." "I know not.CHAPTER 23 As he escorted the king up the steps to the dais. before I sent you here. Sire. "That was also her interpretation." Melisande said. and I can find none to teach me more. missed not a word." Melisande's hopeful face sank." Melisande agreed. I cannot make out the complete formula. Rufus. Mayhap." "How so?" "I cannot say." "I know not how to say them.

Alain saw it in both of them, his wife and his king, as their eyes met in a common understanding. She loved the quest, the challenge of something new or impossible, and none could understand that better than Rufus. Rufus gave no objection when she asked his leave to begin her probing in the kitchen. But Alain knew Rufus well, and knew he had an accumulation of questions beneath the facade of pleasantry. Rufus always schemed, and he needed facts to do it. "Come show me your castle, de Crency," said Rufus. Alain took him up the narrow stone stairs that led onto the allure, where they surveyed the surrounding pasture, village, and greening fields of oats and barley, all the way to the distant fells. Turning, they looked back on the castle itself as it rambled in apparent aimlessness up the hillside. "I see what you mean, Alain. This place could easily be stormed from above. Although the climb would be disheartening." "And you and I know many a foot soldier and knight willing to do it. It takes but a few men breaching the wall to make it open to all," Alain replied. "Surely Fyren knew that." "But he thought of himself as the aggressor. Mayhap he never expected he could be attacked. There were things about the old monastery that stood here before he came that I think he valued more. Melisande says he has an intense fear of fire from a childhood accident. Stone buildings already complete must have had enormous appeal to him. Even more, the caverns below, where he could conduct his crimes in secret. The caverns are much feared by the local folk. We think he did not share the secret of the hidden passages with any but his daughter or his closest minions. And she believes there are more places which she does not know. The bolt hole was known of course, but by few." The king nodded. "So he added the curtain wall and that new tower to the already existing buildings. Aye, I see it, Alain. If he had built a new place with passages into the caverns, too many people would know of them. But to take over one where they already existed-- a different matter. He could preserve his secret. Show me this bolt hole." Alain took the king down the narrow stone steps and across the upper bailey. Rufus ignored those who bowed before him, for his attention was riveted elsewhere. Alain led the king through the temporary portal in the ground floor of the tower, past hoards of grain and other staples to the hole. Rufus climbed over the mass of debris and blocks of stone to peer inside. "I agree. Far too vulnerable. I cannot imagine giving the enemy access directly into the tower. Unless, as you say, such access is not known. But Fyren knows, and he is your enemy. So block it." Rufus turned away from the bolt hole. He stopped abruptly, and his nose wrinkled up, twisted about on his face. As he brought a cloth up to his nostrils, Rufus's head reared back, then launched forward in an enormous sneeze, followed by another, then another. "I must be out of here," the king said, snatching words between sneezes. Alain hurried him back the way they came, furtively scanning for the red tabby. He did not see him. Any number of things might set Rufus to sneezing. Dusty, moldy places seemed ofttimes the worst. But the cat- Back in the bright sunshine, Rufus blew his nose and sniffed. "Now, let us go see what your lovely wife conjures up." Alain stiffened minutely at the allusion to witchcraft, but knew Rufus meant no ill by it. Rufus, who held little stock in the mysteries of the Church, was as skeptical of sorcery. Alain pointed to the kitchen.

"Ah, my Lady Melisande," said Rufus. Affection dripped from his voice in a way Alain had never heard. It was not the sort to provoke a man's jealousy, for Melisande had captured Rufus's affection long before he had ever seen her, coming from that left over from his boyhood enchantment of her mother. Melisande looked up from the crockery bowl she held, and gave Rufus that crooked little half smile she had only recently acquired. When she caught her husband's eye, she became suddenly radiant, her broad smile lit by the brilliance in her eyes. He loved her all over again. Silently, anew, and more deeply. "Welcome, Sire," she replied. "What have you here, lady?" Melisande displayed her array of cups and bowls, and the substances they contained. "I have all I need, save that one. And others that I thought might lend themselves to the formula. Amber, for example. I had the mason pound it to powder." "Why?" "As a powder, it mixes well with other things. But once lit, it should melt and cling to whatever it touches." "A diabolical touch, lady. You make a formidable enemy." She sighed. "But the missing ingredient still escapes me." "But if the word is antithesis, might it not be something that does not fit?" "Aye." Melisande nodded with a thoughtful frown. "But that could take us anywhere, and we have little time. It seemed more profitable to start with the most likely." Once again, Rufus's red nose began to flare and sniffle. He held his cloth to it until the urge to sneeze subsided. Alain never felt pity for Rufus, save when his nose took one of its spells. Nothing else had ever incapacitated the man, but when he began to sneeze, the spells sometimes went on and on for hours, not leaving even moments undisturbed for speech. To be such a warrior as Rufus, and be disabled by a sneeze. Nothing frustrated Rufus more. Calmed at last, Rufus resumed his inspection of Melisande's containers. "This is what the text says? Might I see it, lady?" With a grateful nod, Melisande handed the king the bound parchment pages, pointing out where she had found the formula. The king scanned over the pages, frowning. "But that is not what the text says, lady. It merely speaks of a formula lost forever." "Aye. But look within each letter. And note those which have an extra dot within them. A tiny blot that should not be there. Take each in the order it appears. That is where the formula lies." Rufus' perusal intensified. His lips moved silently. "I thought at first the letters had changed in some way I did not understand. But then I saw the pattern was short-lived, and I looked more closely." Rufus nodded as he read, absorbing both at the same time. "I see it. Amazing." He mumbled aloud, encapsulating the letters into odd-sounding words, excitement building on his face. Then it sagged, and he let loose a feeble sigh. "Antithesis. I too find naught else, lady. I am sorry. I had hoped to help. But it is a puzzle within a puzzle." Again the king's red nose sniffed, and suddenly let loose a great outburst of a sneeze. Before he could summon relief, the next one hit. Rufus looked down at his legs where the huge red

tabby cat braided itself around them. Amidst another round of sneezes, he stepped back, but the cat followed, purring loudly. Melisande's round blue eyes filled with horror, and she leapt at the tabby. "Scat, Rufus! Shoo! Begone!" The cat looked up at her as if she entirely misunderstood its mission, and continued rubbing at the king's legs. "Rufus?" The king sneezed again, his whole body arcing back then forward. Melisande's hand flew to her mouth. "Well, I-- well, it is a cat, Sire--" She waved hands at the offending beast, which only stood its ground and purred more loudly. Rufus's great sneezes grew louder, too, as he staggered with each blow. Melisande sprang after the cat, which scooted neatly out of her reach, then returned to its odd task of massaging the king's legs. "Ungrateful wretch," she grumbled, and lunged after it again. The animal yowled as she caught the tail. It pulled itself free and bolted out of the kitchen. "Rufus." The king glowered over the damp cloth he held to his nose as he blew. Melisande looked like she expected the king's great sword to decapitate her. "I was very young, Sire, and I thought it a grand name for a cat. My mother had told me all manner of tales, and-- oh dear." Alain commandeered an unused kitchen rag to replace the king's soaked cloth. "King Rufus, actually," Alain said casually, ignoring Melisande's horrified eyes. "King Rufus?" "I was very young, Sire. I had no idea-- he is very red, you see-" "He thinks he owns the place," Alain added. "Watch him strut, Sire. Arrogant beast, isn't he?" "God's Blood, you're right. I do not strut that way, do I, de Crency?" "Nay, Sire, none but a cat can strut that way." Rufus's low chuckle rumbled, and he brought the rag once more to his nose to blow it. "Strange creatures, cats," said Rufus. "Always take a fascination for the person least likely to welcome them. Damned if I don't collect them like a dead ox does flies." Rufus took his leave of the lady, giving her an affectionate pat to her shoulder, and the men returned to the bailey. "Ah, a rare beauty, Alain," Rufus said. "Only think, if I had been but a few years older, I might have been her father." "She would have been somewhat different then, I'd think." "Nonsense. She would have taken entirely after her mother, in any case. Oh, the eyes, mayhap. Such a stunning blue. But she is a bit, ah, how shall I say it?" "No sense of humor," he finished for the king, and laughed. "It will change with time, I vow. These people have had little enough reason to laugh, and she, the least of them. I am glad enough that she has begun to smile." "Not even smiles before, then?" "Not a one." "Well, I am glad I sent you, then, and not another." Rufus regarded him warily. "I suppose you have learned the truth?" "But every time I think I have found the bottom of this sinkhole, another opens up. I cannot comprehend how a man could do such a thing to his daughter." "A man who has given his soul to Satan can do anything evil." "You knew all of it, then, Sire?"

of course. Many would not dare fight against Satan.The king strode on. "None is known to have risen from the dead." "Fyren has lost much with Cyneric and Anwealda gone. but he does not linger here merely to watch." "They think him risen from the dead. You have an abundance of cut stone already to help you. save by God's power. a husband surely must discover the truth. he has only Dougal on his side. Now. Alain. The Lady Edyt sent a monk to me with a letter. But I say he never died. to save her daughter the humiliation." "But such fear can paralyze an army. When this conflict is done. The king's eyes took on a deadly gleam and Alain suddenly knew what he was about to say. But it means he poses a greater threat than we imagined. but I learned naught. silent for awhile. he could pinch us between them." "And you. and his bushy blonde brows knitted into furrows. that I might hear of his movements. and therefore with all the power of Satan. prayer-like. before you had opportunity to meet the lady." "I came up from Durham." "And Malcolm. I did wish it for her child." Rufus smiled broadly. I confess. "Aye. this is Satan's power." Rufus now pressed both hands together. The words came from both of them at once. Christ." "Aye. "I think you are right to want to build elsewhere. for I can no longer imagine being without her. and Rufus resumed his keen-eyed inspection of the strange fortress and its faults. He moves on Carlisle." . If any had risen by the power of Satan before. If Edyt could not be happy. the truth might poison you to her finer qualities. and mayhap a large number of Anwealda's knights. Fear of him is widespread and does us great harm. and took them to his lips. Your discovery of his presence was accidental. and begged for her daughter's rescue. So I say Satan has not the power. The coffin is full of rocks. for mankind is even quicker to pass on frightful news than good. Lazarus. but I did hope she was much like her lady mother. "Let's dig it up." "But could you not have told me?" Rufus released a sigh. Yet." "Aye. though. And if Fyren could take this castle. that if I told you first. I'll wager. my friend? What think you?" "I know he had many powerful secrets. a few saints. How much does he menace us?" "To my knowing. I have had great fears of the rightness of my decision. this puzzle of Fyren. To the minds of ignorant men. I thought. and you are right." They walked in silence." "And I cannot say now what I would have done then. "That is what I hoped to hear. for fear that he would capture their souls. too. calling upon the favor I had promised her many years ago. we would have heard. my friend. Mayhap I read too much into the fact that she was Edyt's daughter. She told of Fyren's evil deeds." Rufus stroked at his chin with his fist. But we have heard nothing of Malcolm's intentions. "She begged me tell no one.

CHAPTER 24 "Only you could be so blasphemous to think of such a thing." Alain almost laughed and ran after the king as he scurried down the stone steps. but weighted the coffin to fool those who carried it. Aye. or would it seem like more of the Devil's work? Rufus was a hard taskmaster. once he rose?" asked a nearby knight. and Fyren left his death chamber in the night. "We shall find rocks. before the coffin was buried. With renewed energy. now standing aside as the villeins and soldiers dug." "Aye. but his own eagerness overwhelmed him." Several men nodded silently. Their faces paled as Rufus explained their task.why hide it?" "I agree. With a few more scoops they uncovered the casket's top. I tell you." "Yet there are those who saw him dead. They had hoped for a moment's rest after the night's march. Alain." Rufus said. And many of us have seen those thought dead arise from the battlefield. Rufus called to his soldiers as he ran through the lower bailey. alive. as he paused to wipe away his sweat." "Could it not be the Devil's work. and Alain surmised they had already heard the story of Fyren's sudden reappearance. You have to be right. Let's do it. With several powerful strokes. "Satan and his minions are deceit incarnate. to keep them from shifting or making noise. Out of compassion. would the soldiers interpret it right. the soldiers dug away to bare the coffin's sides." said Father Hardouin. Rufus's energy seemed to grow instead of flag." ." Alain said. Though Satan is much to be feared. Alain called upon his villeins to step in as the soldiers tired. "And why. "Oak planks wrapped in cloths. and grabbed the prybar as he jumped down into the grave beside the casket. past the church and village. "You've seen the look on these men. to put stones in the dead earl's place. Rufus smiled broadly. he grabbed the shovel and dug. They pretend to powers they do not have. "Get down there and open it. if he had such power-." Rufus announced with confidence. none would care to know the casket's weight. the rumors had to be laid to rest. Sire." said Rufus. When the soldiers did not dig fast enough. himself. A shovel clanked against something hard. save to deceive." "Aye. have we not?" Rufus's blue eyes danced with excitement. the coffin contains rocks. he forced the top and bent it back. "Why? Since he was already presumed buried. Think you they believe Fyren is a mere charlatan? We must defeat him. yet our soldiers fear him more than death." Suddenly energized again. yet those who carried the coffin attest to its weight." Alain said. he cannot overcome God and the Savior. But then. He smiled with grim satisfaction. and resumed their grim task. "Boards. We'll show him for the hoax he is. and on to the pasture where the earl had been buried. Sire?" one dared to ask. Alain sent for Father Hardouin to help dispel their fears. "I will do it. quietly tucking away their skepticism. Rufus was right. I say he never died. Fyren's grave has no blessing upon it. "It is known that Fyren lives. The soldier stared at the coffin as if he faced Satan himself. but Rufus led his men down the hill after his host. Sire. Let's get about it. "Not even the Devil himself would go to such trouble. "How so. But if they found what they sought.

and understood it to be exactly what she called it. a symbol. Alain left the king and hastened down the stairs. Rufus also had a fondness for the softness of a feather bed. just as quickly. Alain rushed to her." Alain wrapped his arms around her in a comforting embrace and nuzzled at her earlobe. "I have tried rearranging the order of things. no longer infused with that burning ambition he had seen before. we could defeat. it could be what we desire. mere knowledge that ordinary men lacked. A man. but it makes no difference I can see. "Newly wedded couples care not a whit for their environs. This started out well enough. As he strode toward the kitchen where Melisande labored with her chemicals." "It was an impressive start. With a broad smile that came from thinking of the coming night. yet his elation triumphed. Tonight. She talked aloud as she worked. It could be antithesis to any number of things. Sire. But I must find it. But he objected no more and offered his campaign tent in exchange as he closed the chamber door. "So Fyren is but a man after all. you should leave out the amber." Alain smiled. and fire flashed with a roar. I shall slay him. fearing she might have been burned. With a smile born of anticipation." "And once free of him. "What think you. it seems to make no difference. for God has declared for us. thinking how she would look bending over her task. what is missing. mayhap?" . or even a pun?" How could he help her? He had no knowledge whatsoever of Greek. love. "I know not. and he trudged wearily back up the hill. I vow you'd tumble her there. A startled shout met him. and he shall have it. not truly speaking to him or to herself. I cannot think. but instead found her staring at the meager blaze that remained. "I do not have it yet. Mayhap.At last exhaustion claimed Rufus." "I intend to try it. he stepped back as the red tabby cat dashed. and the words came out as a sigh. past him. but. screeching." Alain dismissed Rufus's arguments that he should not take the chamber of newlyweds. myself." "Mayhap in a little while. As her arms also encircled him. as I have given him our chamber. it did not last. Nay. "I have another idea to try." He released her. So let us go look at it. Father Hardouin has called for Fyren's death.As you see. Mayhap if I have the time to let the slurry for the lightning powder dry. then? What sort of symbol?" She looked weary. "Then come for a walk with me. we can defeat. he gave her a promising kiss. Sire. and stood aside to watch instead." Rufus's beefy hand slapped Alain's shoulder. For though he was a tough and hardened campaigner like his father. And its purpose is to bind the fire where it lands. Alain. and skirted the kitchen with spacious boundaries. and take your mind from this for a while. he stepped inside the doorless entry. through the hall to the bailey." she replied. "I have tried several things. as if the words confirmed process. Sire. But he had seen her magic. He suspected they had liked his odd wife better when they had thought her merely possessed by demons. the folk of the bailey watched him with frightful eyes. gave meaning to the search. Serenity. But he understood her need. Mayhap 'antithesis' is a puzzle of some sort. we will take our love to the king's tent. The formula is worthless without it. "Even a Devil's son. his sigh a copy of hers. A stable of straw is no less fair. Alain. I march on Carlisle." she said. Instinctively." "It is better with it." "Ha.

taking the small jar of powder in one hand and the second of thick liquid in the other. was it?" "No matter. You did march through the night." "I have not known Rufus to cower from. Get the guards. "A prybar. lit by fire from below. if it is so unsafe. his legs and arms flailing. He fought the latch on the door between chambers until it snapped free. "Did you not destroy it?" "I thought you took it back." She turned to the astonished knight behind her." "Fyren!" they both said at once. His mind conjured up an image of Rufus struggling. and up the stairs. found the door open. I need a prybar. spiraled around and down." "This is my fight!" "It is not! Go back!" She ignored him. "They've taken Rufus. Melisande. On the floor before them lay one of Rufus's household knights. His prayer for her safety was too quick for words. Pounded again. de Crency. Alain's eyes shifted instantly to the open hatch of the small secret chamber. the hall. Alain pounded on the oak chamber door." "But the castle is not secure." "Go through the other chamber."What has serenity to do with Greek Fire?" "I see naught. which you sent to--" Alain spun around. He could not stop to force her back. It would take an army to hold her back. Alain juggled the latch." "And it is Rufus he is after. but it would not lift from its slot. "Aye?" "I cannot find the king. she ran after Alain through the bailey. It was not such a good idea. but slid down into the hole behind Alain. "Look. He has gone to the lord's chamber to rest." "You need not worry. Alain behind her. may God forgive him. Run. as Rufus's outraged cries bellowed forth from below. go back." "Not I." "Aye. caught Melisande's horrified stare. It is said the magician gathers his minions beneath our very feet. Shouts. lord. Hurry! We must warn him!" With her jars still in her hands. and ran in.what gift?" "The purple cloak. moaning his last breath. You did not?" "Nay." Melisande already ran to that room. I do not understand why you sent the gift and encouraged the king to come. great howls of rage rang out from the chamber. "He must have poisoned you to get it. shouting at the king to answer." She bent again to her task. bracing against a passage so narrow that he . "You go. It will come. "Melisande. But did not Rufus take any of his knights with him?" "I did not think he had need of them. now!" she cried. I knew there was another passage. "He has used the cloak to lure him here. He yanked it open." Narrow steps." She did not wait. where a strange knight stood. "De Crency?" Alain turned to the entry.

guttural chuckle. you have come back to me. startlingly blue like hers. You will see then where you belong. Aye." "I have found it. You also know that. "Have you. With Greek Fire.wondered how they had managed to force Rufus through it. And there stood Dougal with his knights. that was the problem. I shall kill this fat obscenity. But you will never know." "But I do. Ah. for a price." Fyren released a deep." "Betrayed you? I always told you I would kill you. You will never know. "By God's breath. Alain scrambled down the stone steps with Melisande behind him. For I have something you want more. are you?" "You lie. Mayhap I have something even better. You may have it." "If you thought so." "You will not. you can take all England. It is I who have translated the Greek manuscripts you so carelessly left in that little room. my dear daughter. then." "Here? Nay." She pointed to Alain. Fyren. You know it as well as I. that is it." "What do you want?" "You know the price." "Naught frightens me." "The real one is." "Mayhap I shall show you." "What?" "Greek Fire." "Would I not? Mayhap you are right. but Alain could see beyond it into the one where Melisande had discovered Fyren alive. was it not? Rufus's muffled shouts still rang with wild curses that bounced off the rough-hewn rock. to the bottom. while the renegade knights sought to muffle him and cursed against Rufus's unexpected strength. in there. What is it I have that you want? This ugly. Aye. And I have it. Fyren. by my husband. "He stays. It would take the very Devil to do that to Rufus. "Let him go!" Melisande's voice resounded like the crack of lightning through the small. rock-walled chamber. and fear it. I say. "Ah. and his eyes. A different chamber. You are too cowardly to risk it. Now it is time for my revenge. For a price." ." Fyren let back his head." "Do it. And Fyren. But let the king go. I want only to see you dead. I know what you want. gleamed with evil glee. You know naught more than I. round dumpling that calls itself king?" "Let him go. "Do you want it? Or shall I keep it and use it against you? You are not so fond of fire. you'll pay!" Rufus shouted." Fyren's mouth worked at one corner in an ugly sneer. And I will." Melisande smiled. "It is no secret. a thin line as malevolent as Fyren's. you would not let me have it. it is too bad. Let him go." "You lie. "And for what? You have betrayed me." "Except fire. girl? I doubt that. encoded into the very passage that proclaims it lost forever. and that coward of a husband who stands behind you. girl. Fyren looked up." "And you failed. and his laughter convulsed through him." "And it is lost. Fyren. Over there. You want it. You do not need him.

" said Fyren. Melisande sneered at the feeble gesture as a knight sidled there. And he was so terrified." No danger of his own could have ever brought Rufus to trembling." Dougal stepped back. she was right. and I know you have it. She must. She looked about her with the regal carriage of a queen surveying her domain. Few men understood that as well as Alain. you must not--" "Aye. fierce and malevolent. begging the king silently. Dougal halted. "Do it. Rufus's pale blue eyes filled with horror. Her hand shot forth before the man. I beg you. He too was desperate to save her. I shall leave. The fight must be hers." "You want Greek Fire more. Alain leaped forth and grabbed the king's arm to yank him from the fray. "Block the stairs. What else could she do? Antithesis. God was on her side." With a sideways shake of his head." "Alain!" Alain hissed at him. and a lifetime of fear. Fyren. lady. Then with his own hands held out. Sire. mid-pace. would imprison her to her grave. Alain!" "Believe in her. "Alain. He swept his gaze across the gathered knights. If I am wrong. She would not show him fear." "He will kill her. You want him too badly. tears formed in his eyes. "Nay. but Alain would not release his grip. And she would bluff them until the inspiration came. Let her have it. as he had intended earlier to do." "Then. Fyren." "You will show me. But the king's hands trembled for the lady with butter-yellow hair who dueled with the magician. We go. their eyes locked in combat. She knows what she does. Dougal signaled the knights to release Rufus. And none knew fear as Alain did at this moment. who did not flinch. Yet she could not see how she would turn this to their favor. Behind her followed Fyren. Dougal. glared at Dougal. It is yours. he restrained his men. a warrior. too. she would never be free. What was it? "I need yet one thing. "Aye. His large Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed repeatedly. choose. For what seemed forever."Then you learn naught. This fight is mine. Never. But if he did. already knowing Rufus's intent." "Dougal! Seize her!" Melisande fixed fierce eyes on Dougal. He is worth naught if he cannot defeat a woman. "Nay. his eager greed only barely disguised. *** She turned her body and soul to stone. Nay." Melisande's eyes roamed over the large oak table that had been set back on its legs. He was a knight. ." Fyren's great blue eyes. fingers spread wide. Sire. if he stepped in and slew Fyren. Fyren." "Alain. and walked into the larger chamber beyond. you cannot let--" "It is her fight. It was for him to fight. as she says. sizing her up. to protect his lady.

But do not believe his magic. Nothing happened. assessing the adversary. Dougal." "Get on with it. Are you so afraid? Odd. He lunged for the bucket before she could reach it. "Ah. Dougal." Her eyes took on the lean look of a predator closing in. I have you. One eyebrow cocked itself high. As I have said. will you? You are too frightened. I am sure it is here. I need something more. "Put it out? I have but now begun. you will not. "He has told you only that he has the power to roll back the Norman wave into the sea. Little globules of fire. girl? Do not tell me it is unquenchable." But as it had done before in the kitchen." Melisande stepped casually to the opposite side of the fire. That is what Greek Fire is about. she spilled the powdered contents of one jar onto the floor. If you take the time. Fyren. Antithesis. But did you know. Fyren. no bigger than a . Fyren. You will not have the formula until the king is safely back in the hall. and make England Saxon again. Fyren plunged the water over the growing fire. "Is this what--" The puddle whooshed to wild fire before them. girl. And you are new to this unholy alliance. Dougal. Water! That was it! But Fyren had seen her eyes. while raping them? He liked it that way. Fyren leaped back with an involuntary yelp. that he used his daughter as a whore? That he stole young girls and murdered them. then." Fyren's face became red with rage. Before her horrified eyes. didn't you?" With a swoop. fire." Melisande turned her back to the sorcerer to again scan across the remnants of the pots and jars on the table. "And this you call Greek Fire. interpreted the sudden wild notion in his own way. the blaze quickly faded to little more than a flame in a brazier." Again she turned away as if she had not noticed the way the flame slowly began to grow again. it spreads! Put it out!" "It is but a little fire. Fire. you see. You thought you could get it before I did. then slid confidently back into place. then paled as panic again overtook him. for you are a decent man. Fyren laughed. She stepped back." Her eyes flicked quickly to the pail of water Fyren always kept in the corner to reassure himself. "Melisande. Before her. Fyren. you will find their bodies deep in the pits of this cavern. leaving Fyren alone to face the flames. It is but the beginning. "Melisande! Put out this fire! It is spreading! It will kill us all!" "Put it out yourself." "Of course not."What?" "I shall not tell you. there is much I think you do not know. But then. put this out!" shouted Fyren. for a man who will spend his eternity in Hell. I have promised only to show it. splashing onto Fyren's robes. she took the second jar and let loose a quick burst of liquid onto the powder. Naught of it is any more than you see now. Judging it adequate. "Melisande. "Now. the flames leapt up with a roar. to so fear a little blaze?" She assessed Dougal's confusion. don't you think. and I can show you how all of it is done. "Yes. Water. you did not know? Aye.

Alain! I can do it! Go!" She begged God. and climbed into the lord's chamber. but could not move. She sank a cold. just this once. Sire. no longer held off by the single Saxon knight they had knocked aside." . his booming voice carrying as it did on a battlefield. let them give a woman their trust! Only the outline of Alain's body was visible past the warping heat between them. shoving Rufus ahead of him. Once out. we cannot leave!" Alain's fists became fiercely tight balls. But he had to believe. Then he began chanting his prayers. Force them to retreat bravely. "Save the hall! The fire will carry up!" "I'll not leave you!" shouted Alain. Thank you. "You must go ahead. as the upward spiral of stairs cleared ahead of them. "Aye. "Go!" "Alain. "Nor I!" screamed Rufus. but it never hurts to ask again. God! She turned slowly. Beyond the storm of fire. Go!" Chrétien grabbed the king's arm. "Trust me! Trust me. He sped away. then alit on Dougal. "Go! Trust me! I know a way out!" "Alain. Alain and Rufus screamed to her. "Go back! All of you!" shouted Rufus. "Lady!" he screamed. But they could not get past. screaming torch before her." Rufus pushed through the portal at the top. forcing the king ahead of him. Holy Mother. "Run for the hall! Get everyone out!" Jammed into the narrow space. Go!" Alain crammed down the terror that rose like gorge. Rufus kept shouting. willing to trade anything for the inferno below. "Nay. She knows the caverns. "Now. the knights turned around. like soldiers. Her gaze swept over the knights that stood. merged into a huge. "Who wants to live?" CHAPTER 25 Alain raced to the stone staircase. calling on Jesus. she'll die!" But Rufus kept running. and all the saints he knew. suddenly burst into great tongues that clung and licked and danced. Norman knights poured downward. "God protect her. Sire. slow breath. She leapt back to save herself. They passed the word upward until those at the top understood they must get out of the way. with Alain shoved at the king's rear. Mary." she said. entreating." Alain said. Rufus grabbed Alain's arm and yanked him through so quickly that Alain barely missed cracking his head on the stone above him. pitiless stare on them. Saxon knights clambered through the hole behind him.thumb. "Out! All of you! The fire spreads upward! Empty every chamber and everyone out of the hall! Hurry! Do not let the people panic. as much for his own reassurance as the king's." "She carries God's blessing. "Nay!" she screamed back. she'll not. God. took a long. Rufus flung orders like stones from a slingshot. desperate to break through the impenetrable wall of searing heat. Please. He'd promised her. protect her. frozen in their fear.

If it reaches the chambers from the storage rooms below. no more than an oppressive heat. and the narrow kitchen exit were the only ways out. Do you think I would risk myself thus?" A mother calmed the crying child as murmurs of reassurance spread. It could grow and lick upward through whatever passage it could find. it could next take the wooden floors of the chambers. All kings have successors. they're going back into the fire!" Rufus spun around to run back to the stairs. "Sweet Jesus! Alain. --Nay. Please. might do anything. friend. Sire. "The fire. for he will have the crown on his head even before Robert blinks. and the babe will go easier with the cat. and outward to the dais." "The cat? Let the cat go. "I'll get her." replied Rufus as casually as if they merely strolled along the allure. and I come last. Rufus caught the direction of Alain's eyes. searching for stragglers. The beams are thick." shouted Rufus. From there. "Forget it. no matter what I say. I'll not risk the babe for it. "You get the babe." "You should have gone first. Go. The paired doors. keep her safe. yowled as it dashed past them and up the wooden staircase behind them. So far. Praise God. The hall was emptying rapidly. Rufus passed him a knowing gleam as he took the stairs two at a time. who knows what it can do?" replied Alain. collecting and billowing. but we'll manage." whispered Rufus. belying his fear. but he wasn't sure about Rufus. but they will resist only for a while. We must take no chance. and divided vertically by a small stone column. Alain. "if it is what the lady believes it to be. I am your king. rising. "Do not forget that. "My baby! Someone stop her!" Lynet! The red tabby. Alain's eyes roamed about for signs of fire. But it keeps Robert happy to think England will be his. Yet surely it cannot consume rock. Shutters narrowed them further. "Melisande did not." Alain appraised the small windows. The crown will be secure with Henry. do not fear. The little girl screeched and scurried up the stairs on hands and knees after it." Alain tugged at Rufus' arm. All of England depends on you. They would make it out safely. but the king ran on. flung wide. Sire. Robert cannot even manage to keep his friends from stealing his hose. Can it?" "If it is truly Greek Fire. God." As they dashed down the stairs. A woman cried out." Alain said calmly. so low only Alain could hear." The agile king dashed up the stairs just as tongues of fire burst through the wall by the dais and lapped at the supports below them. Henry is clever." "Or my successor. they will see it. I'll get the cat. each a pair of narrow openings. "Never fear." Rufus stubbornly placed himself at the end of the evacuation. . I've grown too fat. A child whimpered. He could make it through if he kicked out the column and shutters. "There is time. "I did not know you had changed your heir. while the knights and soldiers grabbed whatever valuables they saw. into the hall. Sire. it could spread upward to the chambers." "We promised all out safely. We'll take the stairs in an orderly manner." Smoke."If their king has no courage. Alain swept his gaze in all directions. Just get the people out. Alain. King Rufus. with double arches at the top. and flames did not yet lick through the walls. even if it is no more than a younger brother. Smoke wriggled through the walls. "It will be Henry.

The flames surrounded them. Flames cut them off. But they had no other choice. again. Stay by the outer wall." "I will go last. Two more kicks sent the shutters flying to the rock below." It was probably not the drop that worried Rufus. choking him. then the still untouched far chamber. "I can't see!" cried the girl. It's to keep you from coughing." Alain balanced the tiny girl her on his hip as he ran. who held both child and cat while Rufus threw all his weight into a mighty kick against the stone column. jerked it free and threw it over the child's head. The cat ran screaming to the balcony's end before the little girl reached it. Rufus kicked again. it's hot!" Rufus yelled."Sweet Christ. Sire. Now go!" Hardly a time to argue." "I cannot leave you. none would. for the girl was still holding him. But that would mean giving up on the cat and child. Again. Mayhap we can make the window." "Not so far as the others. It collapsed and tumbled outward to the ground. "You first. Fire broke through the thick planks of the floor near the center of the chamber. "I hate cats!" he screamed. He spotted a garment hanging on a peg. sweeting. Rufus threw down the screaming bundle that contained the cat. he kicked. "The far chamber!" Alain screamed to Rufus. mounding curses atop his words. Go. He landed on his seat. Alain laid it aside and let the cat wriggle itself free. even with the post kicked out. . You said it was but a little drop. "Aye. Alain grabbed the girl as Rufus snatched the cat." Alain slid with his back against the outer wall. The post wobbled. I won't let anything hurt you. She picked up the squirming animal by its belly. Rufus already dangled the crying child by her arms. Too late to go back. You'll do as I say. and scrambled to his feet. Rufus eyed the spreading fire below. "Sweet Jesus. Once more. If I did not make it through. kicking away the debris to gain better footing. You jump down. Almost before he had recovered his balance. consuming the stairs and the supporting frame of the balcony. de Crency." "Aye." "Curse it. The animal suddenly turned into a screeching mass of razor claws as Rufus grappled for his grip. She coughed from the choking smoke. "Never mind. The king looked down. No claws. If you can by God give that bride of yours your faith. then catch the babe and the cat." Mayhap he could persuade Rufus to leap over the rail and out through the hall. Rufus hurled one stocky leg and all his weight against the column. Trapped. It's only a short drop to the ground. something Rufus would never do. but whether he could get through the narrow window. his feet skidding beneath him. Smoke thickened. "The chambers are also ablaze. Alain leapt into the window and threw himself through it to the rocky slope below. Not even the height of the balcony. Rufus jammed the cat at Alain. you can give it to me. Alain guessed. Rufus tore off his cloak and swaddled it around the complaining beast. while it lashed out its legs at her. and the planks behind them sagged into the fire. Sire.

"And if the Norman king chooses to forgive you. The blaze rages behind us. Rufus turned back to watch the conflagration. head ducked to work past the protruding middle of the double arch. lady. he saw Gerard came running up for the babe. Rufus grabbed the remaining protrusion of the double arch. Alain. his eyes watering and nose running as they watched the flames leap through the roof where the lead had been melted away. The upper bailey swarmed with villeins and knights who had gathered whatever they could save. One arm passed through beyond the window. keep it with you. and the one that leads out through the bolt hole. Dougal." she said. But there he was again. muscular legs beneath him to give a bit of spring to his landing. He turned back to Rufus. a leg through." "You do not know?" "I know it. saying more grateful prayers than he thought knew. Beside Alain. The heat of the rampaging fire forced them away." Rufus was stuck. If not. lady." said Rufus." But from the corner of his eye. Alain dashed alongside. Rufus scooped up the red tom cat from where it crouched behind a large gray boulder. He laid his sword on the stone floor. And even if the fire dies down. But if you will survive now. "I thought only to drive back the Normans and keep my land. His body lurched past the frame."Don't cry. But it is a dangerous way. Hanging by only one leg. lest we never see it again. Rufus sucked in a huge breath. Rufus sprang away and down. We must find our way out. The only way out is past the pits. Soon the air here will become unbreatheable. I'll never eat another pudding as long as I live. He was merely fortunate that he managed to get enough of his massive. away from the blazing hall. shoving at the same time. No one had known. blocking the passage to the hall. "Curse it. trying to take the cat. "Someone get a ladder!" Rufus disappeared back in through the hole. but the king ignored him until they reached the bailey. then suddenly exhaled all the air he had." he said. then let her drop. Don't cry. Alain caught her just before her feet reached the ground." . Hell has come to us." said Dougal. "mayhap you still will keep it. I am prepared to die with you. Running down the rocky slope." She understood that. "Nay. I will see this land suffer no more. his bulky body sideways. The cat in his arms had given up the struggle. "We have been wrong. sweeting. "A ladder!" Alain yelled. "Run down the hill. some will fall into the pit where Fyren's victims lie." "Not to the Norman. and pushed against the frame as Rufus's big belly wedged again into the small cavity. brought the free leg up while the other came away from the window. pots and cloths scurried about seeking loved ones." Dougal protested. Don't be afraid. Fyren had bought her silence well. it will leave the rock too hot to walk upon. On his rump. sweeting. Without the light. pledge your swords to Rufus. but to you. Women with children. though it was she who had paid the coin. "Find your mama. now. Soldiers leading horses and donkeys from the threatened stables bustled toward the relative safety of the lower bailey. Alain ran to his king." Rufus begged the child. There had been no question of how Rufus would land." *** "I did not know. seeming to understand at last that Rufus would by God see his namesake cat safe. Bring the torches. "We are not going to Hell.

Again. before turning again. The rock is wet and slippery. There is very little room. to his own destruction. and move to your left until you reach a place where you can stand. down. Have a care beyond. and was saved by the careful directions of the man who had preceded him. You must find the places for your feet. she pointed upward. And what if others died for her grand experiment? An innocent villein. then climbed again." said a knight. But nay. "Catch him! Help him!" shouted Dougal. sizzled out in the water below. "This rock has fallen from the ceiling. This tunnel takes us back close to where we were. Another man lunged and grasped the knight's wrist as his meager toehold slipped and crumbled into descending gravel. who had feared fire since his childhood. but I think it will hold all of us before we must move on again. and saw that all were still with her. The worst possible for him. "Aye. Just as she had called for trust from her husband and the king. their only sounds coming from their careful breathing. "Take care that it is not yours as well. held him back. The knight clung to jagged rock." "'Tis the smell of burning flesh. and to God. They would save the people of her hall. sidling with their backsides against the rock wall until the hole they faced was passed. Another leapt forward as the second man fell to his knees. but it was not steep. caught where he could not escape? A child asleep who no one noticed until it was too late? What if all above were trapped in the hall while the molten lead rained down on them and flames from the burning rock rose up from below? It was all her doing. here. She had only bluffed. the three men pulled upward until their companion rose to safety. . His torch tumbled downward. The second knight's weight shifted against him toward the chasm. his legs swinging for any purchase. and it is a long way down. Her path lay to the right. despite Father Hardouin's absolution. "I smell the smoke again. Only the last had trouble finding his footholds. Melisande had not realized she held her breath until she heard hers mesh with Dougal's in a great sigh as it was released. Never had she expected something so immense as the flames that had burst forth and engulfed Fyren." said Dougal." Not until this moment did she allow herself to think of the horrible way Fyren had died. and then another grabbed the arm that flailed helplessly. A scream echoed behind her. for it doubled back close to the fire. Two knights scrambled to save the man who slid on crumbling rock. guilt would haunt her forever. held the torch for the next. Melisande counted the knights." The knights followed. There is another cavern below. Melisande squeezed between the pillars that nearly blocked their way and climbed down the opalized terraces that gleamed eerie pastel colors from the rush lights held above their heads. the shuffling of their boots." The knights formed a single line behind her. and reached the opposite face of the enormous boulder safely. for it drops down quickly. and the clinking of mail against the rock. We must climb over it and pass through that narrow space above. "Have a care. Each took his turn. Together. so she must also give her trust to them. This upcoming section she feared.The pits that still terrorized her dreams. Though it was Fyren who had discovered the secret to Greek Fire. She had not known. All of it.

There is a ledge." she said. be sure of each move before making it. Soon he climbed over the ledge. but it does not go all the way. "What is it. The lone torch in the middle of the line gave too little light to all of them. And none for her. It is here. while another watched each move." "This place is from Hell. just a bit more. Ahead of us."We are fortunate." The four men still breathed hard." "Then how will we find our way out?" "When you find the second ledge. staring at the cavern wall where they must pass. It had been low enough when they had begun. But at this rate. She dared not hurry them. Dougal sidled along the second ledge by the cavern rim. If you do as I say." "But lady. holding it far from her body so that she could light his way yet clearly see his progress." Melisande led them upward. for the narrow ledge was not continuous. "To your left. and disappeared just after the next man began. The tunnel should be about a little higher than your chin. We cannot climb down into it and back up. and instead encouraged each to take his time. She stopped. and at the same time. And they must climb still farther. Melisande watched and directed each man along the rim. back within the layer of putrid smoke that hovered near the top of the cavern. Up. find the ledge for your left foot." said a knight behind Dougal. I know the way beyond. "Do not talk yourselves into fear you do not need. the cavern is very deep. You will cross it with your backs to the wall. around and through a curve. it will lead you to a level tunnel that will take you out. yet they now must sidle past the deepest pit. I found it. . Wait there for me." "Aye. But make no move before you have tested it. Dougal." A low chorus rumbled through the men. enough to determine his own way." "Beyond that. Pull yourself up. Test every step before you make it." Dougal led as Melisande stood at the pit's rim with the torch. "Now. It is not so hard." "Aye. Still more men waited to pass. who will hold the torch for you?" "None. "Come. Only do as I have said. where you will find a good hand hold. and make room. The torch burned low. following her directions." The next knight edged along the shelf. "You cannot see it from here. feel ahead of you. not enough light would be left for the last ones." Only the man beside her could see Dougal's path. After that. Then you must turn to your right. reach out and up with your left hand. it is not so hard. we will have no light. lady?" asked Dougal. It was growing. Dougal. up about as high as your shin." "Aye. She had not thought. and all took their turns embracing the one who had slipped. you have only darkness. You will not lose me. "Better to be cut to ribbons on a battlefield than die in here." "But if we lose you?" "I said you would live. None would make it without the light. so we must find our way around. We have only one torch now to light our way. I will lay it down. I will hold the torch so that each man can see as he goes. "Do not forget where you are. Wait for us. Dougal. Just because she knew few of them did not mean they were not dear to each other. I will go last.

" The knights eagerly complied. Below her. trembling. All the Saxons had climbed onto the ledge into blackness. she edged along the rim. or know if there was any sanity left in her at all. she had always given in to her terror and given Fyren what he had wanted. CHAPTER 26 Blackness engulfed her. "Lady?" It was Dougal's voice. I am always with you. and carefully tended the little blaze as she shepherded the last men along the ledge. and pulled herself up. If Fyren's destiny had been to die by fire. Follow your own directions. Using her hand for support. Reach out. Where she could not tell up from down. feeling nothing but the cold rock and its moisture that she had licked off with her parched tongue. and the greatest number of them would burn last. for all eternity. Then the end. Melisande. Melisande found the second ledge with her foot. Don't leave me. I cannot. I am busy. truly dead. You know the way. Melisande arranged the few remaining strips so that each would set the next on fire. And Fyren was dead. In the end. like the Son of God? Would he come forth from this hellish depth to grab her as she passed? The light was dying. now. Never moving for fear of falling. "Do not bother me. a few at a time. he had forced her down into its bowels by rope. seeing nothing. The old terror swept through her the way a raging storm tore branches from trees and ripped roofs bare of their thatch. life from death. tested. Whenever she had balked against Fyren's will. At last. shaking. Melisande's hand ran like a caress. then touching. Nothing in this world terrified her like this pit. only to be born again? The son of Satan. The flame died. Tie loose knots along them so they will burn longer. echoing. night from day. The great murky depth of penetrating cold and mind-numbing emptiness. Or would he rise again? Did he bleed and burn. finding what it sought. when she was farthest away. It is so dark and cold. her back carefully touching the wall without pressing against it. But haste was an even worse enemy than enervation. "We must extend the life of the torch. Where she would fall and be left in aching. She should have known it was Fyren's destiny to die by fire. Along the rock face. she set the strips afire. never reaching out for fear of touching the corpse of one of the murdered girls. You can." . I cannot see. lonely silence. But she could waste no time. Reach out. Nay. Take off your cloaks and tear them into strips. Melisande. the pit. She wasted time to court her fears. As the torch grew dim. where she had sat for endless hours. querulous.She turned to the remaining men behind her. then surely hers was to tumble into the eternal hell of this pit. They would not last long enough. With each step deliberate. Dougal.

the moon as it rose in the sky. As the knights crawled out from the cavern." You knew the way. She cried out as her balance quavered. "Do you know where we are. "Aye. slowly growing smaller. sir knight. and smiled as the last left the bowels of darkness. She leaned against the vertical rock. Again she moved. Can you hear me. "I knew the way. How would we fare without you?" As Dougal and another lifted her up by her arms. "You should not have gone without me. The tunnel. lay before them. It is not so far as you might think. knowing he also reached behind himself after each move. do not fall now. Took the next step. They found her a sure." The knight's voice poured forth." "Can you help us now. her foot slipped. the world of sanity. and the moon already shines. Mayhap she would dare to talk of it to Father Hardouin. felt and imagined where the right foot would go after the left one. Melisande groped ahead. The demons of darkness burned in the cavern left behind. "Dougal!" called a voice from the black corridor. yellow glow of moonlight touched her eyes as painfully as bright sun as she climbed past the last barrier and saw the outline of the man who had called to them. . lady?" "Aye." Melisande picked her way down the hillside where a tiny beck coursed like a silver ribbon. "Nay. The dim. One that gave to her instead of taking. and they walked easily across moonlit pastures. paler. Then the next. feeling her way along the cavern wall. lady?" asked Dougal. We need you. tested the rock ledge. and give us our bearing. A new voice spoke to her now. lady. full and big." she said. Night has fallen. One that did not feed on her fears. "I can see light. He is right. The real world." said Dougal. but it is very close. so we may follow your voice. brighter. slipping beneath black silhouettes of trees and sparkling over rounded boulders and beds of gravel. A strong hand latched tightly on her wrist. found its edge. Mayhap not. "Speak out again. The vale that was scooped out between the fells flattened." "I stand at the entrance." Melisande crawled. She was not yet so sure of the Norman priest. then reached behind her to touch the man who followed. The rock crumbled.But his voice gave her direction in the unforgiving darkness. "Come. Lady Melisande. Only be careful not to stray into a side tunnel. we hear you. The entrance is small." She saw it. moved. Come. I am glad I did. her breath trapped and trembling inside her chest." she said. lady?" "Aye. she counted them. red as harvest. Up and to her left lay Dougal and safety. solid place to sit as she slowly collected herself to prepare for the last leg of their journey. "I have you. The moon rises above the fells. her strength fell away from her like water from a bath. It was hard enough with the light. here is the moonlight as you have never seen it before. resounding through the cavern. Speak again. spreading its silver mantle over the dark dales and fells. lady. And safety. going toward the voice she had heard. "I cannot see how you did that.

He trembled inside. He recalled some of the small holes he had seen on the backside of the fell. to take with him all those she loved. oh. none that seemed big enough to lead into that monstrosity of caverns that lay hidden beneath the earth. "If she comes out. Alain and Rufus rode round the hill on which the burning castle rested. handed back his fiercely clinging babe to his wife. And the lack of wind. I know she can do it. We are only on the far side of the hill. none have perished in the flames. Was this Fyren's last evil act. small groups in every direction. I wish we knew where to look. dwarfed in Alain's long shadow from the still-burning building. But mayhap that was its secret. But I wish she would hurry." Then they saw it. Some to go toward the river. Thomas nodded as he watched the glowing blaze. more solemn than most. All accounted for. The horses. . were saddled by anxious stable boys and squires." All the horses had been taken to the lower bailey as a precaution. I trust her. She wanted to run. A rocky overhang. but it was not enough light to spot a cave in the darkness that had remained concealed in daylight. still carrying sundry gear haphazardly thrown over their backs. This was it. But not even the new tower had caught fire. and mounted. all who occupied the castle above him? Fear accomplished what she could not. her feet moved. please! Let him live! Let them all live! *** They had accounted for everyone." said Chrétien. but her legs seemed wooden. Alain. There was something. "She knows the caverns." He nodded. his cow house. "And beyond. gave sure footing to the horses. Save Melisande. "Its distance from other buildings helps." "Then let us ride out. "She said once that the bolt hole came out near the river. that none of them seemed what they were." said Rufus. the castle looked like a jumble of blackened logs in a hearth. It looked like the fires the demons brought to her dreams. Please God." Alain nodded. then mounted by worried men." said Chrétien." she said." "Then let us divide up. leaping tiny becks. with flaming tongues licking about it. and of their own accord. despite its extensive wooden scaffolding. you see Arkle's beck. then quickened their pace until she found herself running across the dale. The fire illuminated the landscape. Every man who had a horse rode out. surely it will not be far from here. a downward shaft. and the cooks had removed everything of value from the kitchens. but the man chewed at his lower lip. Others around the hill. and the fire has not spread from the hall. mayhap. "By some great miracle. Gerard. Alain."Yonder. Around the hill. skirting only what she must in her straight dash toward home." Rufus stood beside him. "Aye. "She said to trust her. like planted trees. "Holy Mother of God!" "The castle burns!" Silhouetted against the dark night sky. She had thought nothing in this world could bring her more terror than the black pits below.

And it cost him a pretty piece of his hide. to touch every part of her that could be touched. and knew a good leader when they saw him." "Not even your damned cat. The king saved your cat from the fire. love. while tears streamed down her cheeks. Only the hall burns. Startled. he would execute them all. Fyren's holes into Hell were worse than any hob might have been. "Oh. Dougal stood with his winded knights. Rufus beside him. throat. If Rufus had any sense. too. But now he joined them in their fears. all blowing like coursers finishing a long race. "Look.And the people of these parts feared the hobs too much to enter them. I vow. Nay. "Oh. he eased them both down to sit on the moonlit grass. She still struggled for breath. Their eyes searched him. and she is yours. "See how metal gleams in the moonlight. Alain!" He strained his eyes to see where Rufus pointed." said Rufus. It is a joke." "Aye. Alain laughed. love?" "Aye. if Rufus had the sense Alain was certain he had." "I tell you. Nobody had seen fit to inform him. 'Tis the sound of metal. still gasping. it is not. Alain leapt down from his white charger and abandoned the animal as he ran toward his beloved. There. Men running. toward the oncoming horde. Rufus stood before the motley assembly of kneeling knights. and caught her up in his arms. It had to be them." Close by the lady. Still holding her. nearly staggering. She ran at the head. love. and standing beside them. "Are you all right. He slowed as they drew close. that animal has. He paced before them. The joke is that you didn't know he teases you. Only then did Alain recall the sound of their swords clattering against stones as they had fallen to the earth. before Rufus." Rufus corrected. she threw her arms around him." said Dougal. She clung to him so tightly he thought his ribs might break. caught her mouth with his. dismounted. "We are pledged to her. Sire. I am sorry. then. "My cat?" "Your damned cat." "Mighty claws." said Rufus. "Teach the lady to laugh at my jokes before I return. "Aye." "Nay. then another." she squeezed out between gulps of air. toward them. hurried on to kiss every part of her face." It was. He didn't even know what a hob was. de Crency. "You are the lady's knights. Like the jingling sound made by trotting horses carrying armored knights. Her knees collapsed. He spurred his horse. "And you?" "All are well. hands upon his hips. assessing them with narrowed eyes. Gasping for breath. as if she had not noticed anyone else but Alain. she looked up at the king." "It is but a flowing beck." Rufus's eyes rolled back before he looked at Alain and shook his head. studying one. Dougal's knights knelt like their lady. waiting their fate." . straining his eyes to look for Melisande in their midst. Listen. he would recognize men who had found their way back from Hell. Not even a horse was lost." the king surmised.

He pointed his army northward toward the Eden Valley and Carlisle. the lovely wife of Gerard. near his packed-up train and saddled knights. "I owe you my utmost gratitude. He would always secretly think of her as his lady knight. confident he left a good man in charge. EPILOGUE The Red King stood in the bailey. Sire?" she asked. "Nay. Archers and foot soldiers stood ready to march. The sound of a hunter's horn echoed around them. and my loyalty shall ever be yours. . Gerard also knelt before the king. one fist resting on his hip. unable to recall when another woman had gazed upon him so adoringly. I have no wish to let go of her." Rufus himself boosted the lady into the tall saddle of Alain's white horse. not a funny one. But then. Great lances raked the sky. and the rest of your body parts scattered across all England." "And your damned cat. my heart is forever yours. "Then. but his defense of Lady Melisande was his saving grace. Gerard's fealty to Fyren had been a mistake." Rufus was sure it would be. and he had never forgotten her. A new burst of energy filled him as he sprang onto the back of his black war horse. lady. nestling against his chest. and its like rang back in echoes from all parts of the dale. Melisande stepped forward. he usually did not deserve such admiration. The woman kissed his hand. and Alain swung up behind. let us return. Now a different battle called him. Catching her off guard. For now. And if ever any of you rise against me again. But Lady Edyt had been kind. he took her by the arms and kissed her cheek."Then you live. He had not realized until coming here just how much the lady's mother had meant to him. Sire. though her daughter did come close. Before him knelt Lynet. not a joke. "For all you have done for me. Just a very contrary notion that has no place in this world." said Alain. Is it understood?" "Aye. "It is a joke." A chuckle rippled through the exhausted knights. Sire. Sire. She leaned back. "For the moment. An intriguing woman. knelt and kissed his hand. You have given me my life and my love. for she had fought as bravely and cleverly as any knight he had ever known. "And one for your lady mother. even gentle in her rejection. Sire. that one. and shiny mail gleamed in the morning brightness. when as a gawky eleven-year-old boy he had blurted out his love for a woman nine years his senior. to call the other searchers home. He clapped Alain on the back. or at least." said Rufus. Rufus smiled. Rufus sighed wistfully. The saving of a little child was no small thing." "Let the lady ride with me." came the chorus. None had ever equaled her in his mind." he said. I offer my horse to my lady knight. I'll have your ears on my trencher for supper. kissing her again before releasing her. and took the reins in the other hand. He wrapped one arm around her.

He doubted he'd do another one. the simple ferocity of the battlefield. but he knew its real meaning. This girl. For women did not love Rufus. He had fulfilled his promise. They saw him for what he was. But he doubted he'd ever forget this lady. they did not even like him. just as the Lady Melisande had done on first meeting him. and ill-tempered. raw energy. Like her mother. THE END .He would never marry. and seen the daughter rescued. For the most part. He had made a joke of it. truly did like him. Too complicated. red-faced. messy. Or her damned cat. when she screwed up her face in horror at the suggestion of being his wife. though. Done his deed of mercy. for more reason than the service he had done her. she was kind. That was not to question her love for her husband. fat. He resolved not to envy de Crency his good fortune. More for him the clean.

just ask. THE PRINCE OF TOADS LADY VALIANT THE MUDLARK LOKI’S DAUGHTERS . when the waltz was not danced. then. I love that kind of stuff.. things like the convention of keeping one's servants in the same room when one makes love to one's wife don't appeal to the modern sense of romance. and perhaps it’s best to ignoe them. I will be talking on my blog about the real history and the real people.A Word or Two. But sometimes. From time to time. And if you want to OTHER BOOKS by DELLE JACOBS See Website for Availability: http://dellejacobs. or when dance cards and envelopes were not used.. and as such. This is a work of historical romance fiction. there might be bits of history that have been presented more in accordance with the conventions of romance than history itself. like the REAL reason Rufus never married. IN SEARCH OF HEROES: http://dellejacobs. Poetic license is ever useful in the creations of romance. when one wishes to be writing romance. See me on my website: http://dellejacobs.blogspot. or on my LADY WICKED SINS OF THE HEART APHRODITE’S BREW HIS MAJESTY. I do know when fireplaces came into use. or when castles were made of wood instead of stone. or anything within my area of study.

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