The Defiant Bride(8)

By: Leslie Hachtel

“My lord, you should rest. I have brought food, and once you regain your strength, we must see to a safe return to your own lands.”

William was amused. He looked the girl up and down. A young servant, certainly less than a score in years. She was built for the work she did, but there was a simple prettiness there. Certainly not his angel. “Who might you be? Oh, and where am I? How long have I been asleep?”

“My name is Alyssa and I serve the countess of Westonbury. You are in the castle of the earl. You were brought here from the forest where you were discovered injured. You needed aid and it was feared that the one who attacked you might return to see his evil deed confirmed. That was two days ago and you have fought the demons of the fever ever since. Blessedly, you have won the battle. It attests to your strength and will to live.”

“Do you know what did occur in the forest?” He lay back against the soft pillows. “I only have flashes of memory.”

“My lady told me she removed an arrow from your left shoulder and dressed your wound. It appears you were attacked and left for dead.”

“And where is the angel?”

“My lord?” Alyssa appeared totally confused.

“The beautiful angel I beheld in the forest. Black hair, flashing eyes. Beauty of an otherworldly nature. Forgive me, but I fear I have been bewitched and can think of nothing else.”

“There was no one like that, my lord.”

“But you said ‘we.’ Is the angel your mistress?”

“My mistress has flaxen hair and I am certain that your wound has befuddled your thinking, if you’ll pardon me for saying it.”

William tried to sit up again, but the wound was too painful and gave him pause. “I must meet your mistress, then, to offer my thanks and to assure myself she is not the one I saw in my—delusions.”

“Of course, my lord. Please, pray you lie back. The fever might return to take you. I have brought some broth to help you regain your health. And my mistress has sent word to your home that you are here. She sent out word of your presence here and now knows of your castle. Your household must have been distressed at your absence.”

“You are too kind. But I wish to meet your lady as soon as possible. Is there another here? One with hair like blackest midnight?”

“My lord, I fear there is no other. My mistress and I are the only women who have cared for you.”

“Be kind enough to bring your lady to me. I fear I am not yet well enough to seek her out, but I would like to make her acquaintance.”

“Certainly, my lord.”

William fell again into the arms of sleep, dreaming of the magnificent woman with midnight black hair and sparkling eyes, perfect of face and form. She was reaching out to him, caressing his cheek, and he was basking in pure pleasure at her touch. He touched his lips to hers and it was more intoxicating than the finest wine. His very being was enraptured as she entangled him in her spell.

A rude noise shook him from this exotic pleasure and he was pulled away. His anger rose at this intrusion and he came alert, the beautiful face replaced by that of John, one of his knights.

“My lord? We have been so worried. Are you well?”

William was momentarily confused. “John?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“You are here?”

“Yes, my lord. Lady Tamara sent a message that you had been felled by an arrow. I came as soon as I heard. We feared you dead when you did not return from hunting.”

“It seems it was indeed someone’s dearest wish. My luck their aim was not better, for the arrow struck home above my heart.”

John was shocked. “Who would do such as that?”

“I know not. I intend to seek out the truth. But first I must thank the one who found me.”

A lovely woman with pale blonde hair stepped forward. “I am the mistress here. My name is Tamara. I am the Countess of Westonbury. My man and I discovered you in the forest and had you brought here.” The lady’s smile was warm.

“I am forever in your debt, Lady Tamara. But, there was another. I saw her. Her beauty was beyond compare and her touch gentle. After she pulled out the arrow, that is. Not that you are not also very beautiful, my lady. And I know you tended me well. But I am sure there was someone else.”

“I suppose I appeared lovelier in your injured state. I was as gentle as I could be given the circumstances.”

“Lady Tamara, you are indeed fair, but the other has taken my heart.”

She spoke to him as if his mind wasn’t altogether right. “There was no other. We found and tended you. Perhaps you had a vision. There is no reason to question it. Perhaps it was a memory of a woman you saw at court or in your travels. But there was only my maid and myself. You may accept my hospitality as long as you like, as you are most welcome here. But I can assure you, the woman of your dreams will not appear.”