By Heather Grothaus. The soldier knelt before Ellora, Lady of Seacrest, in respect and exhaustion. The crude metal rings of his mail were packed with damp and drying mud, and he stank of cold and filth, despair and sweat. Lord James is dead? Ellora asked in quiet disbelief. The soldier simply nodded his head as he remained in the supplicating position.
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By Heather Grothaus. The soldier knelt before Ellora, Lady of Seacrest, in respect and exhaustion. The crude metal rings of his mail were packed with damp and drying mud, and he stank of cold and filth, despair and sweat. Lord James is dead? Ellora asked in quiet disbelief. The soldier simply nodded his head as he remained in the supplicating position. How do you know this?
Look at me! The soldier raised his head, and immediately Ellora saw the reason for his avoidance of her gaze: a wound ran the left side of his face, from the leather coif at his hairline to wrap around the bottom of his ear. His left eye was missing, a sagging flap of ragged skin the only covering for the empty socket.
His gray lips twisted in agony when he spoke. I was the first at his side when he fell, he said. His body follows me to the keep. Already she could hear a rising din from the bailey beyond, the shouts and wails of the serfs left behind in the village. Without further word, Ellora stepped around the soldier and walked toward the portal as if in a trance.
Beyond the wooden palisade, villagers swarmed over the gentle slope away from the town and toward the band of fifteen or so men that approached.
Fifteen men, most limping and stumbling up the knoll, around a core of the most able-bodied, who dragged behind them a large bundle on a crude pallet.
The fastest villagers and servants soon reached the group, and Ellora watched frantic women rush from man to man—grasping arms, peering into faces, searching for their own. I am a widow, she thought over and over as she neared them. My husband is dead. Her brown eyes remained dry, her posture erect, her footsteps slow and measured to the death knell ringing in her mind: Dead.
The men who could, knelt. My lady, the largest man of the group said. He fought well, to the end of the thing. A bearlike paw swiped at his huge face, from black, shaggy mane to thick beard. He did not suffer. Ellora stood as if frozen, eyes fixed on the bundle. Swathed as the body was in rough brown cloth, only the outline of Lord James could be detected, save for one dirt-streaked hand which had slipped from the litter and lay upturned on the moist, packed earth.
The big man merely turned his eyes to a distant point on the south horizon to award the lady a modicum of privacy. It was as if he still watched for the enemy. It felt cold and heavy, clasped in her own warm flesh. The thick fingers lay stiff against her palm, and she lovingly stroked his hand from fingertip to wrist, rocking back and forth. The bailey was unnaturally quiet but for the soft sounds of groaning and sobbing.
A sudden sharp breeze swept the knoll, pressing the gray kirtle to her thin body and blowing back the veil from her blond plait. A single tear escaped from beneath her eyelids, its hot trail soon frigid in the breeze. A ribbon, Ellora thought, tentatively touching the sky blue band. She ran a finger under its edge and tugged it loose, revealing a length of mud-mottled silk embroidered with the letter C in a thread of the same hue.
Her chest felt completely empty of air, no breath could be stolen from the breeze to fill her lungs. Her stomach was liquid; her eyes, stone. A great gasp finally filled her, just as black dots began to cloud her vision. Ellora looked up into the concerned face of Barrett, and her body trembled as she spoke.
Ellora followed her dead husband as he was dragged on the litter into the darkness of the hall. The wail echoed from an upper chamber, freezing the servants and soldiers in their movements. Ellora, too, paused at the sound, but just briefly before coming to stand at the bottom of the stairs. Her hand snaked out to jerk back a servant woman who rushed to mount the steps. Let me go to her. She does not—. Ellora raised her hand and struck the woman across the face.
The servant quieted immediately, and Ellora shook her in a demand for her attention. Where are the children? The woman gestured up the stairs with the hand that she had pressed to her mouth as another round of wails rained down upon them. Hear me well, Ellora warned, drawing the servant closer to her.
Go to the children and keep them until I come for you. Minerva will want to be with her mistress. Ellora released her grip on the woman with a shove toward the stairs. Now go, and do as I say, or I will cast you from here and to the Normans who surely will descend upon us all soon. No sooner had the maid scurried up the stairs than a blur of blue and fiery red descended, colliding with Ellora and clinging to her.
Tell me they lie! Ellora held the red-haired woman away from her by her shoulders, and her hard brown eyes bore into searching, liquid blue. She swept an arm toward the hall behind her. See for yourself what your wickedness has cost you. She shoved Ellora aside and stumbled across the hall. Ellora approached from behind to stand over the prone figures of her husband and onetime friend.
Nay, your wickedness has cost not only you, but us all. Ellora threw the wadded ball of ribbon at Corinne. It hit her gently and tumbled to the floor. You bewitched him to the point that he could not fight. She spread her arms wide and seemed to address the entire hall with its few, grieving occupants. The greatest warrior in all of England! Champion of Harold and the crown! No sword of any Welsh nor ax of any Viking could injure him! Entire bands of thieves dared not approach Seacrest for fearing the wrath of its lord.
And now! What is this? A tiny splinter of wood has laid him low. What of Seacrest now, Corinne? What of our welfare or the welfare of my daughter and yours when the Normans come?
Will you cast a spell to protect us? Then louder, incredulously, "You red-headed bitch! Why do you stand there? This sorceress has killed your lord and master! Seize her and have her hanged!
The eyes of the onlookers widened in shock at her words, and some looked away at the sight of their lady, so obviously crazed with grief. Then I shall do it myself. He cast the weapon aside and enveloped Ellora in his massive arms when she would have thrown herself on Corinne.
Across the hall, the gray-haired woman whose voice had called out moments before nestled an even younger girl in her skirts. The child struggled against the kind hands that held her and broke free, running to Corinne and kneeling beside her. Mother, what is wrong with Papa? Is Papa sleeping?
Why does he sleep in the hall? Minerva dropped to the rushes. Oh, Haith. Papa is dead? Corinne was still draped across his chest, and a low stream of murmurs issued from her. The two girls entwined themselves with each other there on the rushes and stared at their shared sire. Papa is in Heaven now with the saints and the angels.
We still have our mothers and Minerva. She crumbled pinches of herbs into a small wooden bowl and spoke in low tones. Water was added from a pitcher, and a dash of salt.
Tristan D'Argent returns from battle to claim the keep bequeathed to him by King William, only to find his lands under the ruthless control of a treacherous rival--a m. Tristan D'Argent returns from battle to claim the keep bequeathed to him by King William, only to find his lands under the ruthless control of a treacherous rival--a man who has secured Tristan as his stepdaughter's betrothed. Determined to get his due without being trapped in marriage, Tristan prepares to win by any means necessary, only to be confronted by the beautiful face of the woman who haunts his dreams. She is Haith, the half-sister of his bartered bride. Haith never imagined seeing the man of her moonlit visions in the flesh, or worse, as her greatest tormentor. Caught in the bitter treachery of sworn enemies, neither Tristan's strong words nor tender promises can quell her fear that their destinies have not yet begun to play out Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
The Warrior (The Medieval Warriors)