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Morvan kicked a bench over to the wall that faced the longhouse door. He sank down on it and rested his sword across his lap.
To his right, in the stable area of the house, his destrier snorted and stamped, aroused by the danger. To his left, on a bed near the hearth, the youth William moaned in pain and madness.
This end would probably be a mercy for William. Better to face a quick death than to endure the agony that burned your brain and deformed your body with black sores.
Where had they come from, this clutch of peasants who shouted curses and threats? He couldn't hear them distinctly, for the walls of the longhouse were stone and the door and one small window were closed. The only light in the chamber came from the fire he had built in the hearth when he had dragged William in.
The whole village had appeared deserted when he had led his men here seeking shelter for William. The disease had manifested itself yesterday, just in time for the gate guard at Brest to deny them entry to the port city. And so they had continued north along the coastal road.
It was only after he sent his men back toward Brest that the villagers had emerged. He had nailed a black cloth on the door in warning, and so they knew that the disease lurked within. These peasants had a right to be angry. The death had already run its course in Brittany and they knew all too well the danger lying in the longhouse.
He eyed the thatched roof above him. They could not risk entering. It would be fire. They only lacked the leader to emerge who would rouse them to it. And the night. It was always easier to do these things at night.
He could have left the squire and gone on, of course. It had crossed his mind, unworthy thought that it was. But he had held William on his horse and the disease would claim him too. The men would wait for him at the last crossroad as planned, would wait, he knew, the full day or even more. But if he went to them he would carry the death with him. Better to stay and die here. John would get the men back to Brest and across the sea to England. They didn't like John much, but they would follow him that far.
The noise outside changed. The cries fell into pauses and shouts. One voice yelled and then the crowd responded. They had found their leader.
William thrashed on the bed, his breath rasping. He called out several times to Sir Richard, the Gascon lord whom they had served until the plague had claimed Richard and his household and Morvan had taken the responsibility of getting William home.
The crowd grew more raucous. Their leader called something over and over and they picked up the chant. Morvan only understood a little of the Breton language, but it sounded like “No more!”
Maybe they wouldn't wait until night.
The chant soared, reaching new levels, the emotion of the mob thundering off the door. He gripped the hilt of his sword as the pounding of his blood matched the rhythms of the screaming peasants. Louder and higher and faster the yelling roared until it doubled in on itself and became an unending violent noise.
Then suddenly it stopped, swallowed in an instant by a hollow silence.
He waited, tensed for an attack. They hadn't left. He could still hear some movement. Compared with the previous din, however, the quiet possessed a physical presence.
The door of the longhouse opened a handspan. A slice of brilliant light fell on the floor. He rose and held his sword ready, to protect the villagers as much as himself.
The door swung wide. Two knights stood at the threshold, in the blinding glare of the afternoon sun. They appeared as silhouettes surrounded by halos, but their bearings and weapons proclaimed their status. Both had swords in hand.
One looked to be in his late twenties. Golden hair swept back from his forehead to his shoulders. He wore full armor except a helmet and was of medium height and build. His dark, deep-set eyes contrasted strangely with the fair hair.
The other was harder to see since he stood farther in the doorway. The sun picked up a glow of blond curls tumbling about his head and shoulders. He was taller than the other, but more slight of build. This one wore no armor, but instead a gray cotte and a black cloak. From his clothes and youthful frame he might have been just a squire, but the authority of his stance said otherwise.
The younger one spoke. “Put up your weapon. No harm will come to you here.”
Morvan peered past them through the open door. The villagers were gone. He sheathed his sword. The young knight strode through the shadows toward William's bed. “Go no farther,” Morvan warned. “Your people were right. It is the death.”
“I do not fear it.” The other man joined him and together they examined William. Then the older knight went back outside.
“Were you alone?” The voice was young, yet full of authority and command.
“Where are the others?”
“Waiting. About an hour hence.”
“The death spreads quickly and they may be carrying it. We must bring them back. I promise you and yours care, but they must return.”
Morvan told him about the crossroad.
“Will they obey you?”
“Then give me your cloak, so they know we come from you.”
Morvan unfastened the brooch and handed over his cloak, then followed the young knight to the doorway. Outside, in addition to the older knight, were six mounted men-at-arms and a youth no older than a squire. Two riderless horses waited nearby, one a handsome bay mare that appeared almost motionless.
The older knight came forward carrying a small box.
“Ascanio, here is his cloak,” the young knight said. “The others are at the first crossroad toward Brest. We will wait here for the boy to pass, and then meet you at the keep. Tell the servants to have all prepared.”
Ascanio took the cloak and handed it up to the youth. Then he returned to the doorway. “I must shrive him.”
“Aye. But say the sacrament quickly.”
So the older knight was a priest. It was not unheard of, but rare.
Morvan stepped outside into the sunlight. The men-at-arms eased their horses away. The young knight followed and spoke. “The squire is far along. I am sorry, but I have seen this many times. He will die soon.”
Morvan turned to respond. What stood there stopped the words in his mouth. In the clear afternoon light he saw that the young knight was not a knight at all, but a woman.
She presented a startling sight. For one thing, she was very tall. He was a big man, bigger than most, and he judged that she would reach his nose. Her blond hair fell in a tumble of unruly curls around her face and just past her shoulders. The face itself was oval-shaped, with high cheekbones and a straight nose. She was dressed all in men's clothes, the cotte too large and bagging over the belt that held her sword. Soft high boots reached almost to the hem at her hose-covered knees. The loose clothing and black cloak hid the bulge of her breasts, but here in the sun her woman's slender form was unmistakable.
Large sapphire eyes gazed back at him, compelling his attention. “What is your name, sir knight?” The voice should have told him. It was deep and throaty, but possessed a velvet softness. She and Ascanio spoke French to him, the language used by the Breton nobility.
“Morvan Fitzwaryn, my lady.”
“You are English, but Morvan is an honored name here in Brittany.”
“It is a family name. My ancestor rode with the Conqueror, but hailed from the Breton marches near Normandy.”
She smiled, and he realized that she was probably younger than her manner and authority implied. “Well, Morvan Fitzwaryn, you need not stare. Surely you know that our civil war has made some Breton women very strange.”
She was referring to Jeanne de Montfort, the last duke's wife. While her husband was imprisoned by the King of France, she had taken his place at the head of his army. Morvan had met her once in England before her husband had died and she had passed from strange to mad, leaving her son, the young duke, in King Edward's care.
The young woman before him held herself as proud and tall as any man. “I am Anna de Leon. You are on my family's lands. Since you are English, you may be glad to know that we are Montfortists and not supporters of Charles de Blois and the Penthiovre claims to the ducal crown.”
He hadn't even thought about it, and did not care overmuch. Considering the likelihood of his imminent death, the war of succession in Brittany seemed insignificant.
The priest-knight Ascanio emerged from the longhouse. “It will not be long.” He looked skeptically at Morvan, and then at Lady Anna. “You will be well here?”
“Sir Morvan has nothing to gain from harming me, and his immortal soul to lose. Go now, and find the others.” She turned to the youth. “Josce, they are our guests, not our prisoners. Follow Ascanio on this.”
They rode off, leaving the bay mare, who had not moved a hair the whole time. “Your horse has no saddle,” Morvan observed.
“She will take one, but prefers not to. I did not expect a battle today.” She walked back into the longhouse.
She hadn't meant it as a jest. Clearly some days she did expect to be in battle.
When he followed he found her at the boy's bed, laying a wet cloth on his brow. William accepted her ministrations. His delirious moaning ceased and his fitful movements calmed.
Morvan gazed at the young, anguished body. Was this what awaited him? He would choose ten deaths in battle compared with this pitiful, ignoble exit. He suddenly wished that this woman had not spared him from the villagers' fire.
He watched slender, feminine hands do their work. “You said that you do not fear the death. If so, you are the only one who does not.”
“I do not fear it because I have already suffered it. It does not claim the same body twice.”
“You were ill but survived?” Over the course of the summer, as this plague ravaged all of Christendom, he had heard tales of whole villages killed, of cities losing half their people. He had never heard of survivors. “Are there others?”
“A few in our villages and the town. Very few.”
“The priest? Ascanio?”
“Nay. He tempted fate repeatedly, but it never claimed him. There are a few others like that too.”
“Why ... How did you live?”
She looked at him with that level gaze. No feminine artifice. No coy glances or veiled expression. She looked at one as a man did. Straight, frank, and honest.
“I do not know how. As to why ... sometimes I felt that I was spared so that there would be someone to bury my people.”
She had been gently stroking William's hair and face. A peaceful sleep had claimed the youth.
“He can go at any moment, or it could take hours. We could hold a death vigil all night. I would get some rest, Sir Morvan. If the madness comes again, I may need your help.”
Morvan glanced at William's face, angelic in its newly found repose. He looked at the half-hidden face of the strange woman whose touch had brought this peace. Then he retreated to the bench across from the door.
Anna sank down on the floor and leaned her back against the bed. She had learned during those horrible months of fighting the plague to take her sleep when she could get it. She closed her eyes and calculated the calendar of her guests' confinement. If no one besides Sir Morvan got sick, it would be simple. But if it spread through his company they could be in very cold weather before it ran its course. She hoped that none of the villeins or tenants had come in contact with these men.
The boy's uneven breathing broke her thoughts. She was impressed that this knight had stayed with him. While nursing the plague-stricken she had seen mothers abandon their children, husbands their wives. This curse from God had shown the human soul for the frightened, pitiful thing that it was. She had thought that they were finally done with it, and could go back to rebuilding their illusions. She frankly wished that this knight had performed his noble Christian duty on someone else's lands.
She turned on her hip and looked down the room. Sir Morvan sat across from the door, his eyes closed and his body slouched against the wall. The door stood ajar and the light barely reached him, but it was enough for her to study his face.
It was a handsome face, and had probably been beautiful when he was a boy, before battle and time had hardened it. Now weather-bronzed skin stretched from strong cheekbones to square jaw, creating shadowed hollows between. He had a fine nose and a well-formed mouth, and no scars marked him. His black hair, unkempt from life in the field, hung beside his face in slight waves. His beard showed only a stubble, meaning that normally he was clean-shaven.
She regretted that his eyes were closed. They were remarkable eyes, dark and bright and expressive beneath their straight brows. When he smiled they sparkled like black diamonds and when he frowned a different, deeper fire burned in them. They were almost mesmerizing. Since she and Ascanio had entered the longhouse they were almost the only thing she had seen when she looked at this knight.
She had no interest in men as lovers or husbands, but she was not immune to male beauty. She could enjoy it, briefly and analytically, the way she enjoyed the colorful paintings in some of the Mother Abbess's books. This was a stunningly handsome man. She looked at him a long time before she rested her head against the side of the straw mattress.
Anna woke him with a touch to his shoulder. “He is gone. It was peaceful.”
Morvan went over and looked down on the wasted body. “It happened very fast. He appeared well yesterday.”
“Sometimes it goes like this. We sent some villagers to prepare a grave. It is consecrated ground. Put him on your horse, and we will walk there.”
Posted May 3, 2006
I liked this book. I would read it again and again. I didn't find Morvan that bad. A relationship is give and take on both sides. They both changed for each other. He did come to accept her for who she was. She was unwilling to bend at first. How is that fair and why does that make him the bad guy? I really liked this book. I liked the fact that they BOTH changed a little for each other. They were BOTH willing to do that for the love they had found. The connection they had was beautiful. Knowing when the person you love walks into a room or is around you is a beautiful thing. A truely romantic thing. I loved that about them. The gift he gives her at then end, both of them, shows how much he cares for her. From the begining he shows how he feels for her, in... his... own... way. No one is perfect and I for one liked the fact that he wasn't perfect and to me it made it a little bit more realistic.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2005
All other M.H. books are GREAT but this one is not. There's no great plot, other than sickness, and Morvan gets everything he could ever want while everything Anna worked for is taken away.
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Posted January 7, 2005
Heros in romance novels are always arrogant and I don't find it offensive, but when a hero expects his wife to forget how intelligent she is and to bow at his every command, I become offended. This guy just wasn't likeable.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2005
Morvan was so good in Lord of A Thousand Nights, and I couldn't wait to read his story. Unfortunately, he turned out to be nothing short of the devil. There was no reason for him to have degraded Anna, least of all in public, and he could have at least been grateful for all that she gave him but he was too arrogant to be humble.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2005
Anna de Leon, the lovely heroine of this novel should have chosen the warrior Ascanio to wed instead of Morvan. Ascanio was compassionate, extremely handsome, and he cared deeply for Anna. He also understood her much better than Morvan ever would, but unfortunately the author made him a PRIEST! Morvan wasn't much of anything, except bossy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2005
Anna de Leon's life was progressing nicely until Morvan Fitzwaryn arrived and ruined her happiness! She had to get married because a woman couldn't run her own estate or govern her own people competently, and so she chose Morvan. What a BIG mistake that was! Once they got married, he completely shut Anna out of everything! I just didn't care for the way he treated her, so unlike the other M.H. heros.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2005
This was just too much - this guy Morvan, whose sister is lovely in BY ARRANGEMENT, must have been raised by animals. He had no respect for women and felt women should be allowed NO rights. Case in point being when he decided Anna should marry him and hand over EVERYTHING she owned-an estate, lands, horses, people! This guy wasn't worthy of even being called arrogant!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2005
Although I love all the other books by this author, this one was so awful and condescending I couldn't believe it was the same author. Morvan is not a likeable person; he was mean to Anna, and he was, for all intents and purposes, a homeless, penniless man.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 2, 2004
I'd read Lord of A Thousand Nights first, that wonderful story with Ian and Reyna and I must say I liked Morvan and Anna better in that book than in their own story. Not so much Anna, for she was great, smart and beautiful no matter what, but I really hated Morvan's way of thinking. I don't mind an arrogant hero at all, but Morvan was very narrow-minded and unfairly stubborn. Which took some gall given his circumstances - he had no land, no money, no job, and few friends and family to speak of, and he took everything away from Anna without the least bit of remorse after SHE chose to marry HIM. I couldn't stand how he stripped the spirit right out of her, forbidding her from carrying on as she always had, in essence, preventing her from being herself. He took over every duty she'd ever had and left her on the outside looking in; just swept her life away with a wave of his hand without so much as an ounce of compassion. This was all done under the pretense of 'protection', but I didn't buy his reasons. He did it merely because in his mind he had every right to do so because he was a man. By the time he started to come to his senses, it was hard to accept him because of his callousness. And in the end, when he 'gave' Anna back her own horses, she had to thank him as if the blasted horses were HIS, when she'd been the one who'd traveled miles and miles to buy them, raise them, and train them, long before she'd ever known him! I do dislike coming across as a 'feminist', because I'm not, but men like Morvan make women feminists. Although I sincerely love this author, the only reason I gave this book 2 stars was because of the rescue scene wherein Anna finally reigned beautifully and intelligently.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 8, 2004
The one scene I did like was when Morvan met Ian (for the second time). That was it. And I really liked Ascanio, that handsome priest/knight. But...no sooner had Anna married Morvan, he told her what to do, what to wear, where she COULDN'T go, what to think, and on top of that he forced her to act submissive in front of her people. Here was a guy who had nothing and Anna was willing to share everything she owned with him but he didn't want that. Instead, he took everything away from her and made it his own! It just wasn't right. Morvan made Anna miserable trying to bend her to his will. Towards the end there he began to see the light, by gifting Anna with something she'd already owned in the first place. It would have been difficult not to carry permanent resentment for this guy. He didn't even have the decency to leave out his thoughts about his sister Christiana either, calling her unbearably stupid about men.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2002
I've never read a romance novel using the 'Black death' as plot before. I've read/heard of it in school but have never read it used in any of my historical romance readings. That is why I find this book very interesting. I'm impressed by the way Ms. Hunter did her research regarding this topic. She also implemented it very well. She mixed the facts with fiction, narrating it so vividly, you can almost feel the fear and sadness of the people. The deep insight of someone who's expecting/waiting to die was spine chilling and heart breaking at the same time. Anna and Morvan's love story is convincing and beautiful. Started out as strangers, then honor bound to help each other, formed a special friendship then it flourished to love. Of course, between all that, there's the battle of wills & small rebellions here and there. There's lots of trial and error, learning & adjusting to one another. The best part of their relationship, in my opinion, is the compromise. The bargaining, the offering and the acceptance. Utterly heart warming! I notice a slight anachronism especially in the heroines character and attitude but I manage to bypass that part and simply enjoy it as it is, mainly because the overall story was truly well written. Characters are brilliantly put together and even the action scenes, which I'm normally not fond of, surprisingly excited me. There's none of those horrendous and overly detailed battle scenes. It's simple, fast and straight to the point but not lacking at all. Just the way I like it. This is only my first book of Madeline Hunter and certainly not the last. I have already ordered all of her previous books, the BY ARRANGEMENT (story of Morvan's sister), BY POSSESSION and BY DESIGN. All three are all supposedly linked together. LORD OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS (story of Ian) is Madeline Hunter's upcoming novel, which is also connected to Morvan. I wonder if he is the same Ian, kinsman of Elizabeth in this book. Well, I certainly can't wait to read all of Madeline Hunter's work. I hope she is as good as the ravings. But if she uses the same style and keeps up this kind of manner in her writing here in THE PROTECTOR, then I shall not be disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 18, 2001
Posted August 5, 2001
This is Morvan's story, he is the older brother of Christiana in the book By Arrangement. This story is very original and ever so romantic. Morvan is stricken with the Black Plague and cared for by Anna who is a survivor of the disease. She is an unusual woman more at home in armor than in a gown. One has to wonder who the real PROTECTOR in the book is. It is a fast read and keeps you enthralled all the way through!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 3, 2001
This book was well written and easy to follow. The characters and the settings are real. The next book will be the second in this series. Everyone hates for a book to end!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 8, 2001
Set in England, during the uncertain times of the 14th century, Anna de Leon acted as the Lord of Castle La Roche de Roald. Her parents and brother were deceased. She had only her sister and a few loyal men from her father to defend the castle with. The Black Plague had killed most everyone. <BR><BR> English Knight (Sir) Morvan Fitzwaryn and his men were taken in by Anna when they fell sick. She placed them in a death house and helped nurse them while the plague ran its course among them. Once all were either dead or well, Morvan had made a vow to protect Anna. However, Anna had no interest in his protection. She was skilled with the bow, wore men's clothes, and did men's work. Her life had forced her to become self sufficient. Yet when Gurwant de Beaumanoir lay siege on the castle, Anna was grateful for the extra men. <BR><BR> The emotions between Anna and Morvan were complex too. They wanted each other, yet Moran wanted her to change and Anna could not do so. <BR><BR> ***** Madeline Hunter has an amazing talent of making readers actually feel the emotions of the characters! I am still in awe of how deeply I could sense the pride, humiliation, love, need for revenge, and urge to protect the innocent! Highly recommended reading here. Be warned, though, no sappy hero or heroine in this story!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In the middle of the fourteenth century in Breton, Morvan Fitzwaryn expects to soon die from the Black Plague if not from the angry peasants fearing his illness. However, Lady Anna de Leon, dressed in warrior garb, rescues Morvan from the irate mob and later helps nurse him back to health. <P> Morvan, attracted to Anna, joins her forces not out of gratitude, but out of a desire to keep the warrior woman safe. As his attraction turns to love, her feelings lead to denial because no man wants a woman as tall and tough as Anna. Instead she believes he is after the family estate as much as the knights besieging her castle is. Morvan knows Anna is more than just a beauty, she is the woman he loves, but to persuade her will take quite an attack on her heart on his part. <P>THE PROTECTOR is an exciting medieval romance that is worth reading and rereading by fans due to the depth of the key cast members, especially the lead couple. Morvan is a warm PROTECTOR whose beloved does not want his safekeeping yet cannot resist him. Anna shows no fear in leading her men into combat yet is fully frightened by her growing feelings for Morvan. As has become the case with Madeline Hunter in recent years, readers will rank her latest novel as one of the best sub-genre entries for 2001. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 6, 2011
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Posted October 14, 2011
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Posted November 7, 2012
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Posted October 16, 2011
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