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"A master storyteller!"—RT Book Reviews
She Bewitches With Her Dance...
Carys's livelihood depends on her agility, beauty, and balance. She enchants crowds with her exhilarating rope dance, but one wrong move leads to disaster—a twisted ankle and no way to survive. Alone and unprotected in war–torn England, she has no one to trust but a handsome stranger—a man most unlikely ...
"A master storyteller!"—RT Book Reviews
She Bewitches With Her Dance...
Carys's livelihood depends on her agility, beauty, and balance. She enchants crowds with her exhilarating rope dance, but one wrong move leads to disaster—a twisted ankle and no way to survive. Alone and unprotected in war–torn England, she has no one to trust but a handsome stranger—a man most unlikely to give up his wandering ways.
He Enchants With His Song...
Telor is a man skilled with his hands. A gifted musician who rejects city life to travel the country on his own terms—free of any master. Taking on an injured girl will only slow him down. But Carys's bold nature and haunted past intrigue him, and he soon discovers that beneath the beautiful exterior is a woman with a passion to rival his own.
With over eight million books in print, award–winning author Roberta Gellis sets the standard for captivating medieval romance filled with passion and pageantry.
Praise for The Rope Dancer:
"An extremely entertaining and delightful tale with three of the most charming and unusual characters to come along in a great while."—Rebecca Brandewyne, bestselling author of Rose of Rapture
Roberta Gellis is the bestselling author of over 25 novels in different fields. New York Times best-seller John Jakes has called her a superb storyteller of extraordinary talent; Publishers Weekly has termed her a master of the medieval historical. Her many awards include: The Silver and Gold Medal Porgy for historical novels from West Coast Review of Books and the Golden Certificate and Golden Pen from Affaire de Coeur, several Romantic Times book awards and also their Lifetime Achievement Award.
The red-yellow flames of fire, oil lamp, and torch painted golden the rivulets of sweat and tears that streaked Carys's cheeks. Her breath came in tearing gasps, more of terror than exhaustion, but still she had danced, twirling and leaping in the rapidly diminishing area between the fire in its central hearth on the floor of the great hall and the dais where the lord of the manor sat. Her fear-dilated eyes flicked to him, but the new master of the keep was grinning mercilessly, sometimes watching her desperate dance and sometimes glancing at the walls of men closing in on her from each side. In a minute, or two, or three, he would laugh or lift his hand in a gesture that would loose the men, and they would seize her.
How many were there? Thirty? Fifty? However many, there were too many. Every man there intended to have her, and have her in ways that hurt. She knew she would be torn apart—dead—before they were finished.
Carys was used to judging the size of a crowd even while she twisted and turned, but the vicious lust that deformed every face addled her wits. Not that lust was strange to her, but this was not natural lust—it was an extension of the urge to kill that had minutes earlier taken the life of her protector. Less than a quarter of an hour ago Ulric Strongman had stood between her and those who watched her dance, and before him there had been Morgan Knifethrower. A single flare of hot rage pierced the cold terror that was making Carys's limbs shake. Men! Stupid, stupid, STUPID men! She had no doubt that Ulric's greed or pride or stupidity had precipitated the fight that led to his death, just as Morgan's sly dishonesty had got him killed three years ago. But now she would die too, and in agony.
The rage and resentment opened a crack in the encircling terror that had made her death by torture seem inevitable. Carys's hand fluttered down toward the knives strapped to her thighs. Morgan Knifethrower had left her that gift. Since she must die, she need not go alone. She could throw one knife into the throat of that grinning lordling, who plainly intended to enjoy watching her be raped until she bled to death, and she could plunge the other into her own throat before anyone could reach her. But even as she groped through the garish rags that were her dancing gown, she heard the low, bestial growl coming from the men rise to drown the thin music piped by a local boy to which she had been dancing. A twirl showed her that the men had closed in even in front of the dais. The only break in the circle was the fire.
Before the thought made sense to her, Carys's trained body had judged and acted. Four swift strides gave her a start for a leap that launched her straight over the heart of the flames. She did not clear the hearth completely; she landed in the fire, but she landed running and was out of it before she felt the heat of the flames. Her bare feet had touched the coals, but the soles were hard as horn, and the few embers that clung were ground out by her next step. She was nearly across the hall before howls of rage burst from the throats of the startled men. The inarticulate shouts were followed by a few cries to guard the door, but Carys was not headed for the door. Long before most of the men had taken a single step, she had gathered herself together and leapt through the window of the ground-floor hall, where the shutters had been broken away in the battle and not been repaired.
Yells of rage followed her. She could hear those as, curled into a tight ball, she hit the ground and rolled. The impact bruised her flesh and tore her skin, but falling was the first art a rope dancer learned, and the pain was not nearly so bad as a beating. On the second roll, Carys unfolded and rose smoothly, running before she had fully straightened her body. She could still hear the shouting, words now, and knew they were commands to catch her, to bring her back. Her mind heard the pounding of pursuing feet, although her ears could not.
"Lady, help," she prayed, for it was black dark and she was running blind, her eyes not yet adjusted.
Whether the Lady of Carys's half-pagan faith heard or Carys's own superb sense of balance protected her, she crossed the corner of the bailey between the window and the outer wall before the door of the hall was flung open and spilled a trail of light only a few yards behind her flying heels. The light spread in discrete halos as men with torches rushed out—but they all ran first to examine the ground where Carys had landed, expecting to see her lying there, broken and groaning. That would not have stopped their fun, she thought bitterly. By now she could see. A running leap brought the eaves of a shed into her reach; a lift and twist carried her up onto the low roof.
The men were still rushing here and there, unable to believe she had disappeared, but soon they would begin to search in a more organized way. Behind Carys were the supports of the palisade walkway. If she could only reach one without being seen...But the bobbing torches seemed to be coming closer, and she rose and leapt, sobbing softly in terrified expectation of hearing a triumphant shout to announce her discovery. A moment later she was perched on a strut in the deepest shadows, right against the wall, but what had seemed like a safe haven when she was on the exposed roof now closed her in like a trap.
The walkway just above her shook as the guards on the walls responded to the shouts of the men on the ground and Carys shook with fear. She had forgotten the men on the wall. Usually they looked outward for attackers, but the noise of the fight that had ended in Ulric's death must surely have attracted their attention. If one had still been watching the bailey and had seen her, she was lost. There would be no escape from this cage of cross-beams and supporting struts.
At first Carys was so terrified of being trapped that she made no sense of what the men on the ground were shouting up to the guards, but the short negatives of the guards' replies were unmistakable, and her fear receded enough for her to understand that the men were warning the guards to watch the ladders giving access to the walkway. The boards just above Carys's head quivered as a man crossed them, and she heard the sound of his footsteps diminish as he moved away. Still she clung unmoving to her perch, frozen as a rabbit when a fox is near, feeling as if she would strangle for lack of breath yet fighting the urge to pant lest the men hear her.
Then her breath stopped altogether as one searcher came right toward her. But he did not thrust a torch in under the walkway; instead he entered the shed on which she had climbed and began to push and pull at the bales and barrels stored there. Carys nearly choked repressing a whimper of fear when he came out, but his back was toward the palisade, and grumbling curses and threats, he trotted off toward the next outbuilding. As she realized that all the men were engaged in examining the interiors of the structures, Carys's sense of suffocation eased.
Stupid men, Carys thought again, a tiny flicker of contempt further reducing her fear. How could they think she would be so foolish as to hide in those places? But she knew her time of grace was very short. When they had gone through the huts, her danger would be all the greater. Still, her contempt had unlocked her muscles, and she inched forward and peered right and left to see where the ladders were. That was where the guards would be watching for her. None was visible from her perch, and that piece of good fortune cleared her head. She knew she could not stay where she was, and the drawbridge over the dry moat had been lifted and secured for the night. Perhaps she could get down and hide in one of the sheds the men had already searched—but what good would that do? She could not be sure the outbuildings would not be searched a second time, and there was no way of hiding who she was. Her clothes would mark her so that she could not pretend to be one of the serf women or maidservants and escape the next day when the drawbridge was lowered.
Tears started to run down Carys's face again, though she did not permit herself to sob. The only way out was over the palisade. If she had a rope...But there was no rope and no way to find one. She must let herself fall. Carys shivered. She knew about falling, but the rope on which she danced at village entertainments or town fairs was seldom higher than ten or fifteen feet. The palisade was much higher—perhaps the log wall was twenty feet high and the ditch below it another twenty feet. She shivered again. The men would hear her fall. They would rush out and capture her while she was still stunned. Her back and hips ached and stung from the scrapes and bruises inflicted by her dive out of the window. How much more pain would come from so great a fall?
For a moment Carys fingered one of her knives, wondering if she should save herself more fear and pain with one swift stroke. But even as she thought of killing herself, Carys's eyes watched the torches that marked the men's movements in the bailey, and her ears strained to hear whether steps approached her. No one approached; no face turned in her direction; no torch drew near. And as she stared at the flickering lights, she saw in memory a happier time, when the torches and voices calling meant that the play was about to begin.
Playing had always made Carys happy. It was a joy and wonder to her to be dressed in brilliant gowns, glittering with jewels, and to pace onto the stage with measured steps, speaking in the high, fluting voice and accent thought fitting for a great noblewoman. It did not matter that the fabric of the gown was coarse, that the jewels were only glittering shards of glass, that instead of French she spoke the English necessary if the village folk they entertained were to understand. Nor did it matter that the great lady was taunted and tumbled down, the butt of the fool's wit. What mattered was the excitement, the brilliance of the stage lit by many torches, and the joy her downfall brought. How the people laughed! It was all the revenge they could ever have on their masters, and they enjoyed it.
In those days, before Morgan Knifethrower had played one man too many for a fool, every day was full of small joys. As soon as she rolled out of her blankets, she would run to wake one of the acrobats. Sometimes she chose the wrong one and he would kick at her and curse her, but one or another would set up her rope in some secluded spot while she washed and pissed and rubbed at her teeth with a splintered twig. Or if they were in a barn with the right kind of beams, she might climb the posts and practice there. Practice first, always practice, until she was slicked with sweat and her muscles ached. The art depended on that—the practice must be harder than the act itself.
Then the morning meal. In those days when the troupe was at its best, there was always enough to eat—barring a day here and there when they were caught between towns or keeps and had to sleep out by the road—it was good food too, rich and hot, cooked by the drabs who came and went. They had no skill; all they were good for was to cook and sew and lie with the men, and Morgan drove them away if they bored him or complained.
Nine, there had been nine in the troupe that counted. Morgan first: he did his knife-throwing act with the best-looking drab as target and told fortunes, as well as planning where they were to go, keeping them together, cajoling the other players, sometimes soothing, sometimes threatening; Carys second: her rope dancing brought the most coins, the loudest gasps of pleasure from those who watched; third the four jugglers and acrobats, they changed as some ran off or Morgan found new, more skillful ones; the two dwarves, they were brothers, one more deformed than the other but both humpbacked with bulging chests and both clever—and vicious enough that she had been afraid of them; and Ulric, strong and stupid, he had drawn the two-wheeled cart whose sides and bottom had made the stage they played on. On the road, the cart had held the clothes for playing and usually the dwarves, who could not walk far or very fast.
The dwarves walked into every town, of course, banging on their small drums, dressed in crazy, overlarge garments patched and striped of every bright color and slashed so one color would show through another. The troupe followed, all in costume, all offering a tiny, tempting bit of skill. The dwarves would shout, "The players have come! The players have come!" in their deep, resonant voices and point first to one and then another of the acts, lying freely about the wonders each one would perform. Morgan spun his knives in the air; Ulric drew the cart, in which the goods were lifted on a light frame so that it looked twice as full and heavy as it really was; the jugglers threw and caught bright balls among themselves; and Carys did anything the joy of life brought to her mind—walking on her hands, doing cartwheels, leaping on and off the cart or Ulric's shoulders. They would wind in and out the streets, shouting and laughing, and the people would rush out of their houses and shops, also shouting and laughing.
Suddenly Carys shuddered. It was not all joy. There were times—especially in the smaller towns—when the shouts were of rage rather than of joy, when an ill-governed troupe had passed through too recently and the trouble they had caused, stealing too much or getting into an unusually bloody brawl, had not yet been forgotten. Or when out of a kind of crazed religiousness or plain spite or greed the bailiff or mayor of the place had refused them permission to play or demanded a bribe that Morgan could not or would not pay. Then they had run, dodging stones and filth, sometimes even clubs if the townsfolk were too much aroused.
Remembered fear made Carys's hiding place close in on her again. Almost without conscious volition her hands seized the edge of the walkway, her body silently twisted free of the beam on which she had perched. For a single, terrible instant she hung free, in clear view of anyone who looked, and then she was up and over, scuttling as lightly and gently as possible into the deeper blackness where the upper part of the palisade met the walkway. There Carys crouched, trembling and weeping anew, trying to find the courage to take the last step.
It was not courage but fear that finally forced her into action. Her own trembling made her think that the boards under her were shaking and that someone was coming. Again her body moved before her resolution formed clearly in her mind. One hand grasped a V between two sharpened logs; she swung over and hung, grabbing at the next V with her other hand while her toes scrabbled desperately for a hold on the rough wood. One foot found a crevice, but the other found nothing, and when she tried to free a hand to seek a handhold, she could not grip hard enough with her toes to support herself—but neither could she find the courage to release her hold and let herself fall.
Then a cry rang out followed by a chorus of shouts. On the instant Carys imagined a hand reaching to grip her wrist, saw herself being pulled up. Would they impale her on the stakes of the palisade in their fury at the trouble she had caused by her escape? The fall from the walkway held no terror compared to that. Carys let go. For one heartbeat her body was stiff with fear; then her long training took hold and all her muscles went flaccid in a learned reaction to the sense of dropping without support.
Telor Luteplayer, the minstrel, and Deri Longarms, the dwarf, had been warned by the villagers in Goatacre that there had been fighting around the neighboring keep. The lord had quartered men on them a week earlier. The troops had only been recalled the day before Telor rode into Goatacre. Telor had thanked them sincerely and given them a few songs in exchange for a meal and a place to sleep. They had listened gladly—any form of entertainment was a delight—but they had really preferred Deri's caperings and crude jests and insults to Telor's elegant performance.
Dressed in motley, Deri appeared to stumble about, tripping on his own feet and turning each misstep into a wild gyration of cartwheels and fancy tumbling. Between acrobatic feats, the dwarf twisted his face into crazy grimaces, which disguised his handsome features and made his pithy insults and ribald innuendoes seem to be the accidental mouthings of a fool. Telor heightened the effect by playing a few discordant chords and jangling notes to accompany Deri's tumbling and often uttering loud, resigned sighs or looking horrified or covering his face in "embarrassment" at his companion's remarks. Finally, Telor would flutter his hands helplessly, as if he could bear no more and was warning Deri to stop.
That gesture inevitably produced the opposite effect. Deri would pretend to rush eagerly toward Telor, shouting, "You want me, master? Dear master, I come! I come!" all with a leer so suggestive that the innocent words were given an obscene meaning too clear to be misunderstood. But Deri would never reach Telor, who would stand up with a furious expression on his face; instead Deri would fall into a series of frontovers interspersed with even more outrageous remarks. Then Telor would raise his long, iron-shod quarterstaff and shout at Deri to stop his mouth, the dwarf would collapse on the ground in apparent terror, and Telor would grasp his arm and pull him up, holding him as if to keep him still. Finally, he would apologize to the "good people" if his dwarf had offended them—and the act would be over.
They were always given a meal and offered a place to sleep, sometimes even invited to share a villager's house. In more prosperous places they might be given a bit of silver coin or, more often, Telor was able to obtain a straight length or block of fine wood or catgut or white hair from the tail of a horse. He would work on the wood in the long spring and summer evenings, shaping and embellishing, until a fine new pipe, harp, gittern, or lute came to life in his skilled hands. When he and Deri arrived in a large town, he would sell his work if they were in need of money, but usually their skills could buy them lodging and food even in the towns.
In villages, Telor always tried to separate himself from their hosts and find a loft or a shed where they could be apart. Sometimes he used Deri's bad behavior as an excuse, but often a shed was all they were offered. Even the serfs distrusted and looked down on the roving jongleurs, who sang, danced, and otherwise amused them but who had no settled place in life, no master to protect them, and were meat for any man's spite. Of course, the serfs had good reason for their distrust, since the jongleurs were often as skilled in thievery as they were in their art.
Telor would have been one step above that level had he not traveled with Deri; Telor was a minstrel, a skilled musician and singer with a large repertoire of songs, which celebrated epic deeds and heroic love stories. Moreover, Telor was marked as a person of importance by the simple villagers because he had a good horse, Deri a smaller animal, and there was a mule to carry baggage. Besides, Telor looked noble. He was taller than most of the villagers and cleaner. His features were not striking—mild blue eyes, an undistinguished nose, and a mouth that had a smiling look—but his face was long and thin, like a nobleman's; his clean, shining hair was carefully trimmed and combed, like a nobleman's; and his calm manner and seeming assurance impressed the simple souls.
Actually, Telor's proper audience was among the nobility, to whom his repertoire had meaning and relevance. In a manor or keep, Deri pretended to be Telor's servant—a sufficient excuse for his presence and sometimes a means of magnifying Telor's status so that he was lodged like an upper servant instead of being banished to an outbuilding in the bailey.
Thus, Telor was not at all surprised when, after he had seemingly silenced Deri, the people of Goatacre had been in a quandary. They recognized Telor's quality, which entitled him to the best they had, but knew that Deri belonged in the sty. The village headman would gladly have invited Telor to his house—such as it was—but did not want Deri loose among his children. Telor swiftly settled the doubt by asking for the use of a shed he had seen, swept out and free of all the odor of the goats, which were left to graze in the common in this mild season. The headman thought that Telor was being considerate, but the truth was that fewer lice would be transferred to their persons and clothing and fewer bedbugs would bite them in the shed than in the headman's hut. It was at that moment, in a flush of good feeling, that the headman warned Telor that his lord's men-at-arms had told him there had been fighting along the old road that went from Marlborough to Bath and that the keep to the northwest had been taken by assault.
Telor had thanked the headman and said they would go elsewhere, but when he and Deri were alone he cursed long and bitterly. He had an engagement to sing at the wedding of the eldest son of de Dunstanville, the lord of Castle Combe, and Combe lay north and west of the village. He did not dare fail to meet his engagement, or de Dunstanville would have the head off his shoulders as soon as he could catch him; yet there was no way to be sure that after he and Deri had dared the danger of passing through an area at war he would find de Dunstanville still the master of his keep. Having expended some of his rage in cursing all the parties in the stupid war that kept bursting out here and there all over the country, Telor fell silent and turned his head toward his companion.
With his features in repose and his body hidden by the shadows of the byre wall, Deri was singularly handsome. Bright intelligence gleamed in his large, dark eyes, and a straight nose and beautifully molded lips were enhanced by a framing of shining black curls and a well-kept, short black beard. The beard and curls, combed and springy and not matted with filth, would have spoiled Deri's image as a dim-witted fool had anyone ever noticed, but most people only saw the distorted body with its enormous breadth of shoulder and barrel chest set over legs that, had they not been thickly muscled, would have well befitted a six-year-old child. The arms, which were a match for the upper body and so hung to within a few inches of the ground, emphasized his unnatural shape.
Deri laughed softly. It was only with him that Telor dropped the guard he usually kept over his strong passions. The gentle manner, wedded to a most bland and unremarkable countenance, was an effective disguise. Telor's mild blue eyes and soft brown hair were disarming, and the fact that he was clean-shaven made him look younger than he was. His height, which was well above the average, gave him a slender, willowy appearance; most people incorrectly assumed he was a weakling, failing to notice the corded muscles on arms and neck. Deri no longer kept count of the times that innocent and frail appearance had saved them from being robbed or killed or both because the attackers were contemptuous of Telor. Deri could only suppose those who thought them easy pickings did not notice the heavy iron-bound quarterstaff—or did they believe Telor used it to support his faltering steps? It was a deadly weapon, with a longer reach than a sword and the capability of smashing even a helmeted head flat. Deri had seen it happen.
"Well?" Deri asked. "Do you think this is a local affair or is the king...Is there a king now?"
"I suppose we should have stopped at Sir Robert's keep instead of riding ahead," Telor said, dropping to the ground and resting his back against the shed wall. "Sir Robert might have been able to tell us whether it would be safe to travel past his neighbor's keep."
The minstrel had deliberately ignored Deri's bitter question. He understood it, but there was no answer he could give that would be of any help. Deri's life had been destroyed by the sporadic war, which seemed as if it would never end. He had been the son of a rich yeoman and, though he was a dwarf, had been cherished by his parents and his siblings. Their love had saved him from being embittered by his deformity, and his strength and cleverness had won him respect (at the cost of a few broken heads) among the neighboring manors and villages. Those virtues plus the beauty of his face and a sweet temper (when he was not provoked) had even won him a willing bride. And then a battle had been fought right on his father's manor, and no one was left alive but Deri—no family, no bride, no house, no land, no herds...nothing...only Deri himself, battered and broken but too strong to die.
Telor had found him, dropped by the side of the road like discarded offal when his captors had decided he would not survive to be their plaything, and Telor had taken him up and nursed him back to life. But the worst of Deri's fate was that he had no idea who had killed and burned all that had been his life. He did not even know whom to hate—except the king, who was unable to control his barons and had unleashed the unending war. There was nothing Telor could say to comfort Deri; whatever he could say had been said many times before.
In addition, Telor felt uncomfortable uttering platitudes because his case was so different. His family was safe and prosperous, talented woodcarvers in the strong city of Bristol. A chartered city with a fine harbor, Bristol had little fear of any earl or king. She welcomed them all in peace, but if threatened, she closed her great gates, her strong artisans manned her high walls, her river gave her unending sweet water, and her ships brought her people food. Thus, impervious to assault or siege, Bristol protected her burghers—but to be sheltered by her strength one must be confined by it, and Telor found that confinement suffocating.
Not that Telor objected to the walls as walls. He used them to symbolize the courtesies and rigid patterns of behavior that permitted the burghers to live in peace though they were crammed together in their close-packed houses. The bows, the smiles, the prescribed words that set neighbor at ease with neighbor woke a devil of mischief and rebellion in Telor. He was forever in trouble for rudeness, for misbehavior, and for leaving more profitable work to carve instruments that made music or, far worse, to make music himself. The rest of the family could make instruments too, but made them only on order, whereas Telor would willingly make nothing else.
With one accord Telor's family all bitterly regretted instructing Telor in the mysteries of fashioning those seductive pieces, but it was too late, and with marked relief Telor's parents relinquished him to become an apprentice to Eurion, an old customer, a minstrel who had a steady circuit of castles and manors where he was warmly welcomed. It was a great loss of status to sink from a woodworker to a traveling minstrel, but Telor's parents had begun to fear that if they did not allow him to sink to Eurion's level, the boy would soon rise—to the top of the gallows. Even so, they did not cast him out; Telor was welcome to return to the bosom of his family when he was ready to settle down, be polite to his neighbors, and carve what he was ordered to carve. Thus, Telor did not roam the roads because he had nowhere to go; he sang for his supper by his own choice, and he felt ill at ease trying to comfort Deri—he, who had never lost anything.
The best he could do when Deri made no response to his remark was to touch the dwarf's shoulder. Their horses, tethered at the other end of the shed, moved restlessly. Telor had been offered the freedom of the common to graze them, but he had refused tactfully. The villagers were honest enough, he thought, but the first lesson Master Eurion had taught him was not to put temptation in anyone's way. No doubt the headman was sincere in his offer, but there was always the chance that one or more of the men would calculate the value of the horses and begin to think that no one would miss Telor and the dwarf, no lord would come seeking revenge for their disappearance. Jongleurs were of no worth, no value to anyone; why should the village not keep the horses? Dead and buried, the minstrel and his dwarf would not complain.
The sound of the horses' movement made Deri blink away whatever visions he had been seeing on the blank wall. He was no less aware than Telor that their "wealth" might be a dangerous attraction, and his hand dropped to his belt, where a leather sling and a variety of smooth pebbles provided a simple but deadly armament. When he saw no stranger had caused the uneasiness of the animals, he turned toward Telor and frowned.
"I wonder if we should go up to the castle to see whether we can get more news," Telor repeated.
"The last time you stopped at the keep, Sir Robert kept you over a week writing stupid poems to some woman he wished to futter," Deri said. "And no doubt he would regard your being late to the lord of Combe's son's wedding as no more than a good jest. Besides, would Sir Robert know any more than we? Except for wanting that lady to think him a poet, it is more for the news you carry than for your sweet voice that he is glad of your visits."
Telor sighed, partly with relief for having distracted Deri from his sorrows and partly with resignation. It was probably true that Sir Robert knew little or nothing of events beyond the borders of his own land. "The problem remains," he said. "Do we travel the long way and chance being late at Combe, or do we go straight through and chance being caught in the fighting?"
Deri looked back at the wall. "As you like. Why should it matter to me?"
This time Telor did not sigh for fear he would hurt Deri's feelings. Talk or evidence of war always woke memories in the dwarf that he seemed able to control at other times. "Then I say we should ride straight through. The armies—if armies there are—will do us no harm, after all. It is only if they keep us in camp to amuse them, we will certainly be late." Then Telor shrugged and laughed. "Ah, well, if we cannot come to Combe in time, we will go north. I begin to feel like a merchant, traveling the same road and making the same stops again and again. Perhaps it is time we saw new country."
Shaking free of his gloom again, Deri rose to his feet. "I'd better go get our wages. The longer I wait, the less we get."
Telor nodded absently, his mind still on the unrest that might exist between him and Combe. Though what he had said to Deri was true—minstrels and jongleurs were usually regarded as neutrals indifferent to who won or lost in any conflict—they were also mistrusted, and men still half crazed by fighting might kill for no real reason. He had intended to take the old Roman road as far as Bath and then the Fosse Way north, but even if the fighting had stopped, the armies would be likely to camp along those roads. If he and Deri went at night and by the smaller ways, they might avoid being noticed at all. The only road he knew went past the keep that had been wrested from Sir Robert's neighbor, but it would be shut tight after dark and not opened even if the guards noticed two travelers on the road.
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