Gentle Warrior(10)

By: Julie Garwood

When Elizabeth opened the door to the bedroom, she found her two animals had taken up vigilance on either side of the lord’s bed. They had taken to the warrior, Elizabeth surmised from their watchful attendance. She resumed her seat on the wooden stool next to the bed and once again sponged the lord’s forehead.

For two more days and nights Elizabeth continued her vigil beside the lord. She changed his dressing countless times, saying the Paternoster twelve times each and every time she sprinkled marrow and sage upon the healing wound, just as her mother had taught her.

She took her meals in the room and only left the leader’s side when absolutely necessary. On one such occasion, as she made her way down the steps, she spotted Thomas in the great hall. He looked up and gave her a glance, and in that fleeting second, Elizabeth recognized that he did not know who she was. She did not let that disturb her, for there would be time in the future to help him mend. And perhaps it was for the good that little Thomas did not remember. He too had seen his family murdered, and if God was indeed a good and compassionate God, then mayhap little Thomas would never remember any of what took place.

Elizabeth turned her attention to Joseph, standing next to her little brother. The servant looked pointedly at the boy and then nodded to Elizabeth. With a little nod of her own, Elizabeth acknowledged that he would do what was necessary, and continued on her way.

She had made up her mind that she could wait only one more day. Then she would leave. And tonight, while the soldiers slept, Thomas would be taken by Joseph. If only the Baron would cooperate! If he would just wake up and listen to her! With these thoughts Elizabeth returned to her patient.

Roger had taken control of the dogs, seeing to their food and exercise, a task he disliked immensely if his grumblings were any indication. The reason was the dogs’ strange behavior whenever Roger approached the sleeping knight. “They act as if I would harm my lord,” he muttered with disgust.

“They protect him,” Elizabeth said, smiling. She too was surprised by the animals’ obvious loyalty to the warrior and could not explain it.

Several times during the second day Roger left her alone with his lord and Elizabeth acknowledged that she had finally gained his trust.

It was the middle of the second night when Elizabeth, sitting beside the sleeping form, again took up the damp cloth and bathed his brow.

The warrior now lay in a deep, seemingly untroubled sleep, his breathing no longer shallow. Elizabeth was pleased with his progress but thought that the fever still held him prisoner.

“What manner of man are you,” she whispered, “that so many are so loyal?” She closed her eyes then, for the quiet was soothing, but when she reopened them, she was shocked to find the warrior’s deep brown eyes intently watching her. Elizabeth’s reaction was instinctive; she reached out to touch his forehead. His left hand intercepted hers and slowly, effortlessly, he pulled her toward him. When her breasts were pressed tightly against his bare chest, and their lips were but inches from each other, he spoke. “Protect me well, nymph.”

Elizabeth smiled at his words, sure that he spoke with delirium.

They continued to stare at each other for an eternity of seconds and then the lord’s other hand moved to the back of her neck. With gentle pressure he forced their lips to meet. His mouth was warm and soft and the feeling was not unpleasant, Elizabeth decided. As soon as it began, the chaste kiss ended, and again they studied each other.

Elizabeth could not seem to draw her gaze away, for his eyes, rich and velvet and as dark as his hair, seemed to hypnotize her with their intensity.

Like a child who knows he will not be caught, Elizabeth grew bold and gave in to her innocent curiosity, carefully sliding her hands behind the knight’s neck to rest entwined in his hair. The softness against the hard muscles surprised her and she slowly began to massage his neck. Still they watched each other. If Elizabeth had been more astute, she would have noticed that his eyes were no longer glazed over with fever.

She made her decision. This time it was she who pulled him to her and touched his mouth with her own in a sweet, gentle caress. She did not really know how to proceed, for she was totally unskilled in the art of making love and was much like a struggling toddler taking his first cautious steps as she experimented against his lips. A warm tingling sensation began to spread through her limbs and she enjoyed this novel feeling.

Her curiosity satisfied, she tried to pull back but the lord was no longer passive in her embrace. His hold tightened and he became the aggressor, his mouth suddenly hard and demanding as he forced his tongue deep into her parted mouth, bruising her tender lips in his assault. Elizabeth’s body reacted swiftly to his sensual attack, tentatively touching his tongue with her own in the beginning of the duel as old as time. It was an amazing moment. Feelings Elizabeth had never known she possessed fought for recognition, urging her onward in this new unsatiable quest. Alarmed more by her uninhibited response than by his assault, Elizabeth jerked back from his rapidly weakening hold. She fought to control the trembling of her body, rubbing her swollen lips with her fingers, looking everywhere but at his face, for she knew her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment.