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The Norman's Bride
By Terri Brisbin
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSilloth-on-Solway England 1198 AD
"Will she live?"
He said the words in a whisper, not knowing why it meant so much to him, but recognizing that it did.
"She may," old Wenda, the village healer, replied.
"Or she may not. 'Tis in my hands no longer."
William de Severin, now called Royce, stood by the blazing hearth in his small cottage and watched as Wenda finished sewing the unconscious woman's face. His gut gripped as though he were some untried boy rather than the tournament-and battle-tested warrior he was. He could not isolate the reason the sight of blood and some stitching bothered him so, and that disconcerted him even more. Hushing the whimpers of his hound, he moved closer to survey the extent of the woman's injuries.
No wonder the old woman could not answer him.
William had hoped that once the blood was cleared away, Wenda would declare her easily healed. 'Twas not so after all. He grimaced at the sight of the injuries this woman had sustained - a broken leg, stab wounds on arms and hands, defensive from the look of them and some very deep, and from her labored breathing, broken or badly bruised ribs. He shook his head and offered a silent prayer, for she was closer to death than he had first imagined.
"Should we move her to the keep or to your cottage?" William asked. The healer's doubts unnerved him. If Wenda did not think she would live, then how could he have hope?
"Nay, Royce. I fear she would not live through even the short journey there. Mayhap in a few days ..." Wenda did not finish the words, but William heard them clearly - if she lived.
Wenda stood, her long gray braid falling over her shoulder, and stretched her back, rubbing at its base probably to relieve the hours spent hunching over to repair the slashes, cuts, bruises and broken bones. She had accompanied him without question or hesitation when he roused her from her sleep. If she had thought that finding him, the loner, the outsider, at her door long after the moon's rising was strange, she said it not. She had simply gathered her supplies and followed him into the night.
He stood nearby, close enough to aid her but far enough to be out of her way during her work. Now she gathered the soiled cloths into a basket and stood.
"A fever will come," she said without looking at him. Passing her gaze over the woman once more, she shook her head. "Someone filled with anger did this. A terrible anger."
That someone wanted her dead was clear. The unconscious woman had cheated death this long, but William suspected it would be much longer before she could claim victory.
After giving him instructions, Wenda waved away his offer of a ride back to her cottage and left with the promise of an early return. William sat next to the pallet and leaned against the wall, settling down for the rest of the night. The only sound was the crackling of some peat on the hearth. As he dozed off, he strained to hear the shallow, rasping breaths the stranger took. Although sunrise was only a few hours away, it promised to be a long night.
The wet, rough tongue sliding across his chin startled him, for he did not believe he would sleep at all when he closed his eyes. Pushing away the hound's face, William looked over at his guest. He feared that her lack of movement or sound meant she had lost the valiant battle she'd fought over this past fortnight. From his place next to the door, he could not tell if she breathed or not.
Rolling to his feet, he made it to her side in a few steps. Touching the back of his hand to her less-bruised cheek, the coolness of her skin made him smile. The horrible life-draining fever had broken. A soft sigh confirmed that she had made it through the worst of her recovery. Watching the movement of the sheet as her chest rose and fell under it, William knew she faced many more days and weeks of pain before she could truly be declared healed. But, with the fever gone, she stood a good chance of making it through that recovery.
Worried that her thrashing movements through the night may have opened her deeper wounds, he gently checked to see if any of her wounds bled. He mumbled a quick thanks to heaven as he saw that all the stitches looked intact. Tucking the sheet higher over her shoulders, he left the cottage to handle his own morning needs and to bring back fresh water from the stream nearby. The hound nipped at his heels and followed him down the path.
After dipping his head in the icy water for a few minutes, William felt clearer minded and ready to face the day. The night had been a tough one; his mystery guest had become almost violent, thrashing and crying out for the first time since he'd found her. He did not know if this was a good sign or not, but he would share the information with Wenda when she arrived for her daily visit.
Excerpted from The Norman's Bride by Terri Brisbin Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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