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A Knight to Remember
Wessex, Spring 1265
As Edlyn leaned over to fit the key into the lock, the door creaked on its hinges. Confused, she stared at the widening aperture. The wood around the lock hung in splinters, and only the half-light of dawn had masked the damage from her unwary gaze.
Someone had broken into the dispensary.
She took a hasty step back along the graveled path in the dispensary's garden. The recent battle had brought many men-wounded men, frightened men, desperate men-to the abbey's infirmary, and she knew better than to linger alone in their vicinity.
As Edlyn prepared to run, she heard the sound of labored breathing. Whoever had shattered the door remained inside, and judging from his anguished sounds, he was hurt. She hesitated, unwilling to let anyone suffer, yet knowing she should seek one of the monks for assistance.
Before she could make her decision, an arm snaked around her throat. Jerked hard against a sweaty male body, she kicked wildly. Something touched her cheek, and steel glinted at the comer of her eye.
"If ye scream, I'll slit yer throat from gullet t' gizzard."
He spoke the Norman French of all English noblemen, but his common diction and grammar made it almost unintelligible. Nevertheless, she understood him only too well, and in the soothing tone she'd Perfected through the days and nights of tending the ill and wounded, she answered, "I can safely guarantee my silence."
The man's grip tightened. He dragged her up until her toes dangled and she gagged from the pressure on her windpipe. "Aye, a woman'll lie always t'save herself." He shook her a little, then the pressure loosened. "But ye won't betray me if ye know what's smart."
She sucked in air, and her gaze roamed the inside of the walled herb garden and the dispensary. She needed one of the nuns. Even the prioress, Lady Blanche, would have been a welcome sight. But the sun had scarcely risen. The nuns were still at Prime. Next, they would break their fast, and only then would they disperse to their duties in the refectory, infirmary, and gardens. Edlyn's survival depended on her own quick thinking-as always. "Are you looking for food?" she asked. "Or medicines? We have many men who have come from the battle seeking-"
The arm tightened brutishly, and she clawed at her captor as red suns exploded behind her eyes. Then he dropped her like a savaged puppy. She hit the ground hard.
Putting his foot on her stomach, he leaned over her and pointed the dagger at her chest. "What makes ye think I came from th' battlefield?"
She resisted panic and pain as she tried to think
how to reply. Should she tell him he smelled of blood, filth, and brutality? She didn't think he wanted to hear that, but then she didn't understand how her hard-won peace could have been shattered so cruelly. "Men come here seeking our help," she whispered. "I thought you might have been one of them."
"Not me. I'm not wounded."
"Nay, I see my mistake now."
She saw more than that. An ugly, squat man, her attacker wore a leather jerkin and carried nearly all the weapons that had been created to destroy mankind. Blood smeared his arms and under his chin, but most of it, she thought, wasn't his. He stood too firmly and had proved his strength only too well.
Beneath his leather cap, his wide brow creased as he frowned. He was nothing but some knight's manservant, trained to fight and hurt and kill, and she would wager he did all with supreme confidence. But something confounded him now, and again she tried to sound encouraging as she asked, "How may I aid you?"
He glanced around, then back down at her. "I got someone in there. I want ye t' fix him."
Praise God. Edlyn could scarcely see for relief. This muscled monstrosity wasn't going to rape her. He wasn't going to kill her. He just wanted help for his master or his friend. She'd tasted fear before, and only now did she recognize its metallic flavor on her tongue. "Wounded?" she asked.
He hesitated, then nodded abruptly, as if even that had given too much away.
"He would be better in the infirmary. Let me take you-" She tried to raise herself on her elbows, but the point of the knife suddenly threatened again.
"Nay! I coulda done that by meself. No one must know. . . "
"That he's here?"
"Aye." The man spoke grudgingly. "If ye tell, I'll slit yer throat from-"
"Gullet to gizzard," she finished. "So you've said. But I can't help him if you won't let me off the ground."
He still hesitated, then took his foot off her belly and extended a hand to help her up-and to maintain control of her. "In there." He jerked his head toward the dispensary and stood behind her as she entered.
Outside, the rising sun had begun to illuminate the landscape. Inside, the stone walls blocked the light and the small windows spitefully admitted only the faintest rays. Edlyn opened her eyes wide, trying to locate the source of her troubles.
"He's here on th' floor." Reverence laced the servant's voice. He shut the door, then knelt on the dirt floor beside a man-sized length of metal and rags. "I've brought ye help, master," he whispered. "She'll make ye well."
No response, no movement, no sound. Edlyn feared this master must already be dead, and she balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to flee at the moment despair struck the wretched oaf.
Then her captor groaned in unconcealed anxiety. "Master. . . "
Before she could change her mind, she laid a hand on the servant's shoulder. "Move aside and let me see what I can do..." A Knight to Remember
. Copyright © by Christina Dodd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.