Candle in the Windowby Christina Dodd
Lady Saura of Roget lives a lonely life of servitude—her fortune controlled by her cruel, unscrupulous stepfather. Yet it is she who has been called upon to brighten the days of Sir William of Miraval, a proud and noble knight who once swore to live or perish by the sword . . . until his world was engulfed in agonizing darkness. Summoned to Sir William's… See more details below
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Lady Saura of Roget lives a lonely life of servitude—her fortune controlled by her cruel, unscrupulous stepfather. Yet it is she who has been called upon to brighten the days of Sir William of Miraval, a proud and noble knight who once swore to live or perish by the sword . . . until his world was engulfed in agonizing darkness. Summoned to Sir William's castle, the raven-haired innocent is soon overcome by desire and love for the magnificent, golden warrior who has quickly laid siege to her heart.
But there is grave danger awaiting them both just beyond the castle walls . . . and a dear and deadly price to be paid for surrendering to a fiery, all-consuming love.
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"Do you want her?"
"What?" Lord Peter turned his gray head to his host, surprised by the question, jolted by the interruption.
"I said, do you want her? You keep staring at her." Theobald wiped his nose with the hand that held his knife.
"That girl? The one at the foot of the table?" Lord Peter tread warily, unsure of his host, unsure of the hostility he saw mirrored in the man's eyes. "She's very pretty."
"Pretty?" Theobald snorted, holding his knife clutched tight in one hand and lifting his cup with the other. "Aye, look at her. Her mouth is so wide and red and smooth, and her hair is black, long, clear down her back. It looks magnificent against that skin of hers. Plague take her, Saura's body is the kind poets sing about. She's got legs up to her rump. A very nice rump, it is, too. A tiny waist and these. . . ." Theobald used both hands to gesture, sloshing ale into his lap and cursing.
Repelled by the catalog of her charms and by the thought of the lout laying hands on the girl, Lord Peter apologized stiffly. "I'm sorry, I didn't know she was your concubine."
"Concubine!" Theobald sniggered with contempt, hating the girl with his darting eyes. "I wouldn't have her in my bed, nor give her to you for yours. She's useless, can't you see it? She's blind, blind as a treble-bandaged mole. She's the daughter of my first wife and Elwin of Roget, and I can't even marry her off. A stone hanging around my neck, worthless!"
Worthless? Lord Peter wondered. What had drawn his attentiorf was the way she seemed to manage the production of dinner from her seat. The movement in the great hall swirled around her;the serfs spoke to her respectfully, bowed, and did her bidding. She murmured to her maid and the woman hurried off in the direction of the kitchens. The servant returned and whispered in Saura's ear, and Saura climbed off her bench. Lord Peter watched with close attention to see her stumble, but she moved gracefully, lightly touching the arch that divided the great room and disappearing into a stairwell.
"I'm interested in her woman," Lord Peter told Theobald, never taking his eyes from the spot where Saura had vanished. "What's her name?"
"Saura's woman?" Theobald hooted. "You brave soul. We can do better for you than old Maud."
Lord Peter turned his head to his host once more, smiling thinly. "I prefer my meat well seasoned."
"Aye, it covers the rank smell, doesn't it?" Theobald grinned at his young wife, shrinking beside him, and Lord Peter felt sorry for the girl who would share her lord's bed tonight.
"Maud?" Lord Peter stepped out of the alcove and examined the woman his squire had brought him. Her gray braids hung down her back, her round face was wrinkled with middle age, and she stood tall. Remembering how the retainer had towered over the blind girl, he realized he had found whom he sought. He waved his man away. "You're Maud? You're the woman who serves Saura of Roger?"
Bright blue eyes combed his figure, seeking his credentials in the cut of his clothes and the condition of his body. "I am Maud. Saura's my mistress. I served her mother and I'll serve her until the last breath is left in my body, and if that ass Theobald has offered her to ye-"
"No!" Lord Peter roared, infuriated by her assumption. "No. She's young enough to be my granddaughter."
Maud peered at him quizzically, amazed at his vehemence, and Lord Peter explained with a sheepish shrug, "My lady wife would slice my gizzard on a platter."
"A good woman," Maud said. "Come, walk with me. We're too conspicuous standing in this drafty hall. Why do ye want m'lady?"
Lord Peter fell in step with the woman. "I will speak to her."
"That is between me and the lady." Under Maud's dubious gaze he continued. "Methinks I cannot harm her with you standing guard, or is she so timid she requires a shield?"
"Timid? God, no, not Lady Saura. She has the heart of a lion."
"Good, she'd be of no use to me if she weren't brave. She seems to run the household."
"Oh, aye. She seems to." Maud walked beside him, her face set straight ahead.
No further comment was forthcoming, and Lord Peter in sisted, "Well, does she?"
"As ye know, Lord Theobald has married young Lady Blanche and she's the lady of the castle."
Lord Peter examined her, amazed at the cautious answer. "I don't give a damn about Lady Blanche! I'm not a relative of Lady Blanche. I'm only interested in Saura of Roget. Now, does she run this household?"
Maud stopped and searched his honest, exasperated face. Pushing her hand against the door beside her, she suggested, "Why don't ye ask her?"
Lord Peter entered the chamber, gaining at a glance the worth of Saura to her family. The tiny room contained only the space for a straw palliasse and a bahut chest made of iron and wood. Still, a small fire burned on the hearth and no smoke blew in -- the sign of a clean flue.
Seated in the only chair, Saura was wrapped clear to her chin in a coarse wool blanket. Her feet were raised off the cold floor with a footstool. Her ears were covered by a fine linen cap, tied beneath the chin. But the headwrap was frayed and no longer white, and almost too small for her tiny head, as if it had been hers since her childhood and never replaced.
Her face! Good God, what had been an admirable portrait of the Madonna seen from a distance was, in fact, the work of some more profane artist.
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