must credit the classic movie The
Lion in Winter for firing
my muse more...
In The Lion
in Winter, King Henry II
and his exiled wife, Eleanor
of Aquitane, butt heads over
the matter of which of their
sons should inherit the throne
of England. Their
youngest son Prince John is portrayed
as a petulant, whiny youth and
wasn't a major presence in the
film, but I knew that Prince
John, passed over by his parents,
did indeed eventually become
King of England. I'd seen the
film before, but this time, I
found my interest in the period
rekindled. Quite often, it's
an instinctive feeling that fuels
my desire to write. A sense of
knowing it's time to write this
particular story--this particular
book--about this particular hero--that's
what happened with THE TRUEST
Now, I knew
Prince John wouldn't make a very
good hero. But he would make
a wonderful villain, particularly
when he's grown to manhood and
become king, a ruler much despised
I'd also been
wanting to write a story with a
character who had amnesia for quite
some time. One day it was really
just an idle thought in the back
of my mind. But after seeing The
Lion in Winter again, suddenly
Gareth, Lord of Sommerfield, stepped
forward. The next thing I knew,
Gareth was a living, breathing
The name Sommerfield
came from a housing development
I once saw while my husband and
I were driving by.
name, Gillian, came from the actress
Gillian Anderson from the television
series The X-Files. (Yes,
I was an X-Files junkie!)
only one of two books where I
got to keep my original title
exactly as it was -- yay! The
other was Scandal's Bride in
the anthology MARRIED AT MIDNIGHT.
on Harper Collins website
in an article (by Samantha)
Good Villain and other Necessary
York Times extended
weeks on the Waldenbooks
Times top pick
for Romantic Times Historical
Romance of the Year
alternate of the Rhapsody
original cover from
England, Early October, 1215
What news of Ellis of Westerbrook?"
command came from John, king
of England, the youngest of the
Devil's brood, as Henry II's
rebellious sons had come to be
known, for they had been ever
and always at odds with their
father . . . and with each other.
of Lincoln crushed his cap in
his hands and stared up into
the black-bearded face of his
king. Like so many of England's
people, he, too, was weary of
the king's greed; the grumble
of discontent was heard throughout
the land. Many of John's barons
were outraged by his ceaseless
demands to replenish his treasury--that
and the call to arms that John
might continue his fight to regain
his lands across the Channel
in Normandy and the Angevin provinces.
The Great Charter had failed.
Indeed, several were so incensed--and
so intent upon his demise--that
they had hatched a plot to kill
plot gone sorely awry.
arrow loosed upon King John,
who had been lured away from
his hunting party, had missed
its mark, when, at the last instant,
the king's mount had reared.
Instead the arrow hit one of
the king's guards who had given
chase to seek his errant king.
The perpetrator had escaped into
the woods, for the forest had
been especially dense. It was
several weeks later before he
was eventually caught and imprisoned
. . . .
Ellis, lord of Westerbrook.
was another, too . . . the wounded
guard, afore he breathed his
last, had gasped that there were
two assailants. . .
men had immediately taken John
far, far away lest there be another
attempt. And so 'twas because
of this attempted slaying of
the king--that Gilbert of Lincoln
had taken to horse and ridden
madcap through the forest and
the mud and the dark for nearly
two days to reach his king. He
was sodden to the skin by the
never-ending drizzle, drenched
to the very center of his being!
His cloak dripped puddles on
the rushes strewn beneath his
booted feet. Gilbert did not
relish the news he was about
to impart, for he very much feared
the king's mood would soon be
as foul as the weather without.
I bring news of Ellis."
forward. Ellis, the rogue, had
been caught near the Scottish
border; John had ordered him
taken to Rockwell, his castle
nearby. But he had grown impatient
with Ellis's refusal to divulge
the identity of the other man
responsible for the attempt on
his life, though Ellis had freely
admitted his own guilt.
posed a dilemma . . . but not
for long. 'Twas plain to see
that Ellis was a proud, honorable
man, a man of principle. But
every man had his weakness, John
had reasoned, and even the stoutest
back would break before the right
persuasion. He'd heard how deeply
Ellis loved his children--for
that very reason he'd dispatched
his men to Westerbrook to seize
Ellis's daughter Gillian and
his young son Clifton. The king
had surmised Ellis would sing
like the veriest nightingale
when his daughter and son were
brought before him with a blade
at their throats.
out with it then! Tell me, for
I would know, and I would know
now! Ellis has confessed the
name of the rogue with whom he
conspired to kill me, hasn't
he? Who is it then? Who is the
had gone pale. He stole a glance
at the other occupants of the
room, the king's men Geoffrey
Covington and Roger Seymour.
Also present was the lord of
Sommerfield, for it was at his
castle that John had decided
to take shelter for the night.
locked his knees to still their
quavering. If he feared for his
life, he could not help it. It
was well known indeed that John
possessed a vindictive streak.
If the king so pleased, he might
order his eyes burned out or
his nose slit . . . or worse.
Many a soul had no doubt that
John had done away with his own
nephew, Arthur of Brittany, who
had disputed John's right to
the English throne. Ah, little
wonder that Gilbert had not been
eager to be the bearer of such
news that he would give this
king's questioning left Gilbert
damp of palm and sweating at
the brow. "I-I do not know, sire," he
stammered. "Ellis . . . he confessed
nothing of the other man."
smile vanished. Thick, bejeweled
fingers drummed against the tabletop,
for the king was fond of excess
and indulged in many. He scowled
his impatience. "By God's teeth!
Have I naught but imbeciles to
serve me? Why the devil do you
come to me then? Has he escaped?"
swallowed. He knew full well
that torture had not compelled
Ellis to confess. In truth, he
shuddered to think what Ellis
had endured, for never would
he have been so steadfast and
unwavering. If all accounts were
to be believed, Ellis of Westerbrook
had not cried out, not even once
. . .
dead, sire. Ellis is dead."
awful moment John said nothing.
Then he leaped to his feet, his
How can that be?"
gave Gilbert no chance to respond. "I
gave orders that he was to be
kept alive," John roared, "alive
until his daughter and son were
brought to Rockwell and I had
returned! By God, who did this?
What fool dared disobey me? I
vow I will have his head--"
spoke up before he lost his own. "You
misunderstand, sire. Ellis was
not killed, by your men or any
other. He died by his own hand.
He hung himself in his cell."
had gone white about the mouth. "What
of his son and daughter?" he
knees had begun to shake anew,
for he was aware of John's reputation
of cruelty and ruthlessness. "Westerbrook
was deserted, sire. Ellis's daughter
and son were gone. It seems they
fled in the middle of the night
. . . along with many of his
space of a heartbeat the king
stared at Gilbert with frightening
intensity. He made not a move,
nary a sound. Yet his countenance
was such that Gilbert felt every
drop of blood drain from his
face. It spun through his mind
that the king in a rage was not
a pretty sight. Nay, there was
nothing majestic about this man
who called himself king of England.
His lips drew back over his teeth
in a snarl. His dark features
were contorted with rage. Although
John did not possess the Plantagenet
coloring, the fair handsomeness
of his brother Richard, Coeur
de lion, upon whose death Henry's
last remaining son had come the
throne of England, 'twould seem
that he did indeed possess the
famed Plantagenet temper of his
forebearers . . . .
mouth opened in a soundless scream.
He was convinced that at any
moment the king's fiery gaze
would surely bore through him,
burning him to cinders in the
very spot where he stood.
at once John whirled. He stalked
from one end of to the hearth,
back to the other. Broad, leather-shod
feet kicked about the remains
of his meal, for about his chair
bones were strewn, along with
the heads of fish and crusts
of bread. All the while black
curses spewed from his mouth.
The blaze of his anger seemed
to vibrate and leap from the
lofty rafters that spanned the
width of the great hall of Sommerfield.
who does he think he is? No,
I'll not be duped by him, by
that traitor Ellis!"
men, Lord Geoffrey Covington
and Lord Roger Seymour, exchanged
troubled glances. It was Geoffrey
Covington who slipped from his
chair and laid a hand on Gilbert's
shoulder. Nodding toward the
door, Covington spoke in a low
tone. Gilbert was wise enough
to bow to Covington's request;
quickly he took to his heels,
anxious to escape the hall .
. . and the king's fury.
Covington remained where he was,
one slim leg angled away from
the other. The broad sweep of
his brow furrowed, as if in consideration.
The elder of the king's confidantes,
Roger Seymour, brushed a hand
across his balding pate, then
placed his hands on the broad
plane of his knees, his expression
one of decided consternation.
He lowered his gaze, clearly
reluctant to interrupt the king's
fit of petulance. Covington's
gaze had turned keenly observant,
his eyes the same rich brown
as his hair. Though he was a
man of slender proportions, he
was nonetheless a man fashioned
with wiry strength and fluid,
agile movement. As he looped
his hands behind his back, the
sword strapped to his side caught
the light from the fire. He was
a man of quiet demeanor, as evidenced
by his words to Gilbert and the
way he waited patiently for his
king's wrath to expire.
he cleared his throat. "Sire," he
no heed, but continued his pacing. "By
God, that wretch, Ellis! He thought
to best me, to rob me of my satisfaction.
I should have slit his nose.
Burned out his eyes. Carved off
his ear and sent it to his daughter.
Then he would have talked!"
said more loudly.
teeth, he shall not deprive me
of my revenge! Do you hear, he
you must calm yourself."
How the devil can I?" John stormed. "I
want it burned. I want Westerbrook
burned to the ground. Seymour,
see to it."
inclined his head. "As you wish,
pay. By God, Ellis will pay.
By the robes of Christ, he thought
to cheat me, the king of England,
of his death--of discovering
the identity of the other man
who would see me dead! He will
not. I tell you, he will not.
Ellis of Westerbrook will not
cheat me! His treason must be
frowned. "But how, sire? He is
already dead. Is that not punishment
for him!" John ground to a halt. "His
children," he pronounced flatly. "They
and Seymour exchanged glances. "But,
sire," Seymour said slowly, "the
eldest is but a woman, scarcely
out of girlhood. The other is
but a boy of twelve. Surely they
can do you no further harm--"
not. Ellis's seed will be wiped
out. I will do what must be done.
She cannot be allowed to bring
forth her father's blood. Neither
can her brother. Aye, Ellis's
seed must be wiped from this
earth . . . forever. Only then
will I be avenged."
had gone pale. Even Covington
appeared discomfited. It was
Seymour who spoke. "Sire," he
ventured faintly. "You cannot
mean to murder them."
not? Did you not hear, Seymour?
I want them dead, both of them!"
placed his hands on the table.
He glanced at Covington, then
back to John. This time it was
Covington who raised a hand.
I pray you do not misunderstand
me. I . . . we . . . do not question
your judgment." Carefully he
chose his words. "There are those
who still believe you may be
responsible for the death of
your nephew Arthur, which was
deplored by the world. I know--we
know," he hastened to add, "that
you have no knowledge of Arthur's
disappearance. But to do away
with Ellis's daughter and son
would be to risk further condemnation."
John had lowered himself into
his chair. "Then none will know
but those present in this room," John
broke out in a cold sweat. "But,
sire," he ventured tentatively, "I
must ask who . . . who would
you have carry out such an onerous
longest time John said nothing.
His gaze alighted on the dark-haired
man at the far end of the table,
a man whose watchful green eyes
surveyed all but said nothing--the
man in whose castle he'd chanced
to reside for the night.
his beard, thinking on all Covington
and Seymour had said, for in
truth, John was well aware of
his faults. He was not a trusting
man--nor was he a man to be trusted.
The question of who would kill
a maid and a boy was a very good
question indeed, he mused . .
a task for one of his mercenaries.
Nor could it be given to a man
who might lie or cheat or betray
him. But it was rumored that
the man opposite him had grown
harsh and bitter by the death
of his beloved wife late in the
spring. Immersed in grief, to
John's knowledge, this man had
not been among the army of barons
at Running-Mead, those wretches
who had forced him to sign the
Great Charter. Oh, how he'd chortled
when he learned that Pope Innocent
had ruled in his favor. The Pontiff
had cast aside that foolish document
and ordered the barons to lay
down their arms or risk excommunication.
had done little to dispell the
barons' rumblings. But John was
still king, and this time he
was determined to crush them.
His spies told him how they had
gone back to their old ways and
quarreled among themselves as
bitterly as ever. No matter.
They had joined together once,
and John would not allow it to
happen again. Nay, he would not
be brought to his knees yet again.
man . . . this man had not been
held in any particular favor
by the Crown, yet neither was
he in disfavor. Better yet, he
was not a man given to failure;
his prowess and success in tournaments
was exceeded only by the likes
of William Marshall--it had gained
him many ransoms and prizes.
Besides, John reasoned quickly,
if this fellow were thus engaged
in finding Ellis's daughter and
son, he could not join the ranks
of the other barons in plotting
lands and riches would not persuade
this man to do such a foul deed
as murder to a maid and boy,
for he was already well endowed.
Yet if he were to hold this man's
young son as hostage to completion
of the deed . . . that was another
the eyes of Covington and Seymour
came to follow those of the king,
fixing on the man at the far
end of the table--the man whose
handsome visage had taken on
a cast of dark grimness.
He spoke softly--those who knew
him well knew this was a sign
that he was at his most dangerous. "Who
better than one already at hand?" he
said smoothly. "And I shall be
generous, sir, for I promise
I shall safeguard your son until
your return . . . ."
threat implicit . . . a threat
unspoken. Perchance he knew,
the king of England, that this
man even now despaired the fates
which had brought the king to
his castle for the night; that
now turned him onto a path he
had no choice but to follow.
Oh, but he'd thought himself
so clever not to ally himself
rashly with the other nobles,
to steer clear of the king. For
though he had championed many
a battle, he was not a man without
mercy or compassion. But even
he could not fight the king,
not when his son's life was at
stake . . .
"Ah, yes," John
said slyly. "Who better than
Gareth, Lord of Sommerfield .
. . "
was no sleep for Lady Gillian
of Westerbrook this night.
thundered, as loudly as the thunder
that boomed without. 'Twas said
to be the most savage coast in
all the land, here where the
fist of Cornwall thrust into
the treacherous waters of the
sea. Indeed, Gillian could well
howled through the crevices,
an eerie sound strangely like
a keening wail. The cottage was
stout and sturdily built of stone;
tucked into a fold of the hillside
that squatted above, it was shielded
from the full force of the gale
and thus kept her safe. Yet the
fear that the very walls about
her would be lifted and flung
verily into the raging tempest
without was a fear that refused
to be banished, try though she
might. 'Twas as if a mighty hand
from aloft vented his wrath upon
sea and shore. As if the gale
roared down from the heavens
to every corner of the earth
. . .
shook Gillian's form. Indeed,
the very walls seemed to shiver
and shake with the force of the
wind. Yea, but this was a harsh,
unforgiving place, this far-flung
corner of Britain. It would show
no mercy to those who had not
the strength to withstand its
was in the midst of just such
a raging storm that her father,
Ellis of Westerbrook, had come
to her chamber. Aye, the storm
reminded her piercingly of that
night--the night she'd been wrenched
from her home, from all she'd
ever known. Her brother. Her
sweet, younger brother Clifton.
Nay, but it was not the first
such storm that she had endured
in the weeks since she had come
here . . . if only it would be
of bleakness swept over her,
as endless as the dark gray seas
that stretched beyond the shore.
Her heart cried out, for each
day was an eternity. November
had drawn to a close, and she
was still here . . . How long
must she remain here? Forever,
she feared. How was she to bear
She reminded herself it was that
which Brother Baldric had sought
by bringing her here to the place
where he had been born. He'd
said that to continue to move
about was to risk discovery.
That they must hide here until
the king's fury died out. Ah,
but would there ever come a time
when she felt safe again?
thought with a sinking flutter
of dread. Not as long as King
John was alive. How could she
feel safe when she felt like
an outcast? Tainted.
not the life she'd dreamed of,
not the life she had ever thought
to find. Memories of the past
rose up to mingle with a wistful
yearning. Papa had always been
one to keep his children close
to him. Papa had chosen not to
have Clifton foster with another
family, but to begin his training
at Westerbrook. The winter that
her mother had died from a stomach
ailment had been a difficult
one for all of them. Gillian
had been sixteen, and Clifton
after her mother's death, Papa
had wanted to keep his children
close to him. Papa teased her
occasionally that he must find
a husband for her, but in truth
there had been no haste. Gillian
never doubted that someday she
would marry, but she knew Papa
would never foist a husband on
her that she did not love, a
husband who did not return her
love in the very same measure.
she trusted, that man would come
for her. A man she would love
above all others . . .
she dreamed of him, of a man
strong and valiant, and ever
so dashingly handsome! And oh,
his kiss--that very first kiss!
He'd steal her very breath and
make her tingle to the tips of
her toes, with arms both tender
and strong, and warm, compelling
lips. Her life would be one of
laughter and love and joy. She
would watch in wonder and contentment
while her babes toddled about,
for she had already decided there
would be many. A girl she could
rock and tell tales of days gone
by. A boy as sturdy and handsome
as his father, who would teach
him of honor and truth.
a shadow had been cast over all
her hopes and dreams. A shadow
that might well last a lifetime.
was this? Pulling the soft wool
coverlet more tightly about her
shoulders, she scolded herself
soundly. She was foolish to feel
sorry for herself, for what of
her brother Clifton? She was
a woman full grown, she reminded
herself. And for all that Clifton
staunchly proclaimed that he
was a man, he was but a boy of
dawn's pale light crept along
the misty hills to the east was
Gillian able to drift away in
the wildness of the gale that
night, when Gillian tugged open
the door the next morning, sunlight
poured down from the sky, as
pure and golden as any she'd
seen in the northern shires of
Westerbrook. Such was the way
of it here along the coast of
Cornwall. No sweet, fragrant
fields and rolling hillsides
here, not like Westerbrook. Tall
grasses fringed the stretch of
beach beyond the cottage. To
the north and west, white-gray
cliffs towered over the tiny
inlet. She stood for a moment,
gazing out. In truth, Gillian
could not deny there was a raw,
stark beauty to this land . .
closed painfully. She didn't
mind fending for herself. She
wouldn't have minded living in
this tiny, derelict cottage at
all, if not for the ever-present
fear . . . and the storms.
wasn't for herself that she feared.
She worried about Clifton, so
young, deprived of his family.
She worried about Brother Baldric,
whose age made the journey here
a difficult one, though he never
come to Westerbrook as a young
man; he'd once been a tenant
on Westerbrook lands, even when
her grandfather had been lord.
But it was when her father Ellis
was a youth that tragedy struck.
Early one morn, Baldric's cottage
had caught fire after he'd left
for the fields.
and four children had perished.
Baldric had decided to dedicate
his life to the Church. Perhaps
it was despair that had brought
him to the Church, but it was
surely faith that kept him there.
Of that, Gillian had no doubt.
Sometimes, though, she had wondered
it was if the memory of his wife
and children that had kept him
from taking Holy Orders.
known him since she was a child.
There was not a time that she
could not remember him.
missed Westerbrook, she thought
yearningly. Most of all, she
missed her father and Clifton.
bled through her. One she would
never see again . . . as for
the other, she could only pray
the day would come soon.
then she spied the slight figure
of a man coming toward her, weaving
down the path. Scarcely taller
than she, he was spare and thin,
his pate shaved and exposed to
the wind; the set of his shoulders
between his robe was bony and
frail. At times she marveled
that he had been able to make
the journey here to the place
where he had been born--that
he had revealed much of his character
quite a storm we had last night."
she drew was faintly unsteady,
but somehow she managed a faltering
smile. "It was," she agreed.
Baldric peered at her. "I am
sorry I did not come yesterday."
gave an admonishing shake of
her head. "You need not be sorry,
Brother Baldric." She couldn't
help but feel guilty. The walk
from the sparsely populated village
was a long one, yet Brother Baldric
made it as often as he could. "Indeed,
'tis most kind of you to help
with food and fuel. I know that
it takes away from your work
with Father Aidan." Father Aidan
was nearly blind; since returning
here, Brother Baldric had become
Father Aidan's eyes. They sometimes
walked for days to minister to
those in the area, for the villages
were few and far between.
faintly. "I am in your debt,
as you well know."
Baldric scoffed. "My first duty
is to God. My second to your
father, and he entrusted me with
your safety. Speak no more of
debt." He frowned suddenly. "You
look fatigued, Lady Gillian.
Are you ill?"
just that I did not sleep well."
"The storm?" he
things as well, I vow."
too," she admitted. "I worry
about Clifton. He is so young.
And he's been deprived of his
your concern, but it was for
your own good that your father
sent the two of you away."
shadowed, Gillian regarded the
dark-robed man who had brought
her here. "I know. But it pains
me to think of Clifton alone."
"Not alone," he
reminded her. "He is with Alwin,
your father's chief retainer,
and we both know that Alwin will
protect Clifton with his life."
Gillian knew Brother Baldric
meant only to comfort, there
was no such comfort to be found
for the endless, dragging heaviness
within her . . . for what if
it should come to that? What
would happen to Clifton then?
darkened. "If only we could have
not be. Your father was convinced
his children stood a far better
chance apart than together--and
he was right, methinks. He dared
not take the chance that King
John would find you--you or Clifton." Brother
Baldric did not speak aloud what
they both knew--at least this
way, if one were caught, the
other might live.
have stayed with him. I should
have stayed with Papa!"
not have allowed it."
right. Her father could be so
stubborn. Yet still the memory
speared her heart, her very soul.
From the moment she'd left her
father so many weeks ago, she
had prayed for the best . . .
all the while fearing the worst.
had come to pass.
of the outside world were slow
to reach this remote corner of
the land, but earlier in the
month Baldric had come with news.
There was discontent among the
barons; that they had ever come
together at Running-Mead seemed
a miracle. But there was more.
. . with obvious reluctance he'd
delivered the heartrending news
that her father had been caught
. . . and was now dead.
could not help it. A hot ache
filled her throat. She choked
back a sob.
though it is--small comfort that
it is--try to remember, it was
will that my father take his
own life? God's will that he
was buried in unconsecrated ground?" Her
tone laid bare the bitterness
etched deep in her breast.
see why your faith would be tested.
But I pray, do not do this, Lady
did not take his life because
he was weak-- because he was
afraid. He took it rather than
give up another to the king's
wrath. Nay, he was not weak--it
nay! I am proud of you, for not
many could live as you do--here,
alone with only an old man for
companionship. You are strong,
Lady Gillian. Strong enough to
face the future."
That single word unspoken seemed
to hover between them. For alas,
she did not feel strong. Though
she was a woman full grown, she
felt weak as a mewling child.
This austere existence was a
far different life than she had
lived at Westerbrook . . . Fleetingly
she wondered how King Henry's
wife Eleanor had lived in exile
for sixteen long years. Yet it
was not what Brother Baldric
thought. Nay, in truth it was
not the loneliness that Gillian
minded . . . but the storms.
with Father Aidan to accompany
him to the east, Lady Gillian.
But before I leave, walk with
me a while. It will do you good."
Baldric was right. She must not
give in to despair. Nor would
she cause him worry--indeed,
it almost seemed as if the myriad
lines in his forehead were etched
even deeper as he gazed at her
imploringly. In truth, she decided,
surely she fretted enough for
both of them!
Baldric. What would I do without
you to guide me?" She reached
out and gave his thin shoulders
a quick, fond hug. He was a humble
man; he'd grown to manhood poor
and remained poor by choice.
they set out along the trail
that cut along the edge of the
beach. As they walked, she glanced
over at him. "Is there news of
Baldric sighed. "All is unchanged,
I fear. The barons rumble, yet
King John remains unchallenged."
line of Gillian's lips tightened.
She was convinced there was naught
but vile blackness in the king's
soul--naught but darkness in
the heart of John of England
. . . or John Softsword as he
was referred to in snide snickers
by some of his subjects.
a fiend." Her tears vanished
and her eyes flashed as she voiced
her opinion of the king aloud. "He
promised his mother Eleanor when
he captured Arthur of Brittany
that no harm would befall the
prince. No doubt he thought he
was so clever, for he showed
those who had been captured with
Arthur no violence. Yet they
were given no food, and what
is that if not cruelty? Arthur
was never seen again once he
was imprisoned in Rouen. How
can there be any doubt that he
was killed and his body thrown
into the Seine? How can the people
not know that John is a monster?
He is a dangerous man. Ah, that
we, his loyal subjects, should
be subject to his whimsy. He
cares not about his people--the
people of England," she went
on fervently, "but only of his
something the world may never
know, Lady Gillian, and you must
guard your tongue--even here,
for it is said there are spies
a man commands loyalty, I know
gold can make many a man beholden
to the sway of the king's wishes.
And no doubt there are other
ways as well."
hand of fear that Baldric referred
to--they both knew it. "And no
doubt King John has employed
such ways," said Gillian, "and
of a certainty will yet again!"
Baldric glanced at her sharply. "I
pray you, Lady Gillian, let us
speak no more--"
heard no more, for just then
a fierce gust of wind ripped
away his voice and stole it high
aloft; snatching at the voluminous
folds of her mantle, it sent
her hair rippling behind her
like a streaming pennon, even
as it pushed her back a step.
The fingers of one hand clutched
at the fastenings of her mantle,
to keep it from being torn from
her shoulders. It was plain,
of woven wool, as was her gown;
there had been little time to
gather her belongings that night
at Westerbrook, and Papa had
directed that she take warm clothing.
With the other, she tugged a
sable skein of hair from across
her eyes and fought to regain
her balance and her breath.
at the icy sting of the wind,
she felt Brother Baldric stop
short as well. But it was not
the wind that brought his step
to a halt, and a stricken cry
of horror to her own lips . .
had left its legacy.
just rounded the massive boulder
that guarded the cove. Splinters
of wood littered the beach beyond.
Here and there, ragged swatches
of sail clung to the rocks, fluttering
in the breeze.
bodies of several men.
gale," Brother Baldric's tone
echoed her own shock. "It must
have carried the ship too close
she knew it she was standing
beside first one body, then another,
she stared down into faces robbed
of the vigor of life, white and
pallid and bloated, their lifeless
eyes turned to the sunbleached
sky. Her stomach churned, as
surely as the waves had churned
throughout the gale. It was only
too easy to envision the helpless
frailty of their ship against
the momentous forces of the sea--perched
dizzily atop the crest of a wave,
hurtling through the air, battered
against the rocks that rose like
jagged teeth just off the headland.
Any craft, no matter how sturdily
built, would have been as fragile
as dried tinder.
know them, Brother Baldric?"
shook his head. "Nay. They are
not from this area, I'm certain
The word played anew through
Gillian's mind. Was it refuge
these men sought as they sailed
around the point? Yet there was
no refuge for these men. Or perchance
their families even now were
patiently awaiting their return
. . .
knew not that they were dead.
Gillian felt sick at heart, sick
to the very depths of her soul.
of her feelings must have been
displayed. Brother Baldric shook
"My lady," he
said gently. "Do not look like
that. You must remember, it is--"
me, Brother Baldric, but I cannot
help but wonder at God's ways!"
she could almost hear the vengeful
pounding of the waves surging
against the rocks. A guilt like
no other shot through her. She
had cowered in her bed, fearing
for her safety, while these men
had perished so very near! Had
they been alive, any of them,
as the perilous waves carried
them to this place upon the sand?
Ah, but they were so very close!
she could have warned them of
the danger of the rocks. If only
she could have saved them. But
alas, if they had been alive,
the wind had masked their cries.
And so, she hadn't heard them.
Could she have saved them, if
rested upon the last man. Unlike
the others, his eyes were closed.
Heedless of the wet sand that
soaked her mantle and gown, she
slipped to her knees. Reaching
out, she brushed the gritty sand
from one lean cheek. The grayish
pallor of death was upon his
skin, yet it struck her that
he was not so cold as she'd thought
he would be. Was it merely the
warmth of her own hand? Or but
a wish so fervent it might have
all of them died," Baldric lamented
sadly. "I shall see to it that
they are buried in the churchyard."
heard, but only distantly. Her
attention was captured solely
by the man next to whom she knelt.
thought vaguely. It could not
be. Shock stole her breath, the
very beat of her heart. She could
have sworn there was the veriest
movement beneath her fingertips.
But she did not snatch her hand
back as every instinct compelled
that she do.
is not dead," she said faintly. "He
is alive . . . Brother Baldric,
he is alive!"
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