Gentle Warrior(8)

By: Julie Garwood

The companion was surprised by her vehement out-burst. “A month? You have only to wait until the fever leaves and he awakens to ask him,” he argued. “And you are mistaken, lass. There is no such thing as a holding too insignificant for Geoffrey’s inspection. He protects all who pledge fealty, from the highest to the lowest.”

“Are you telling me that the Hawk can give me permission? He can act in the Baron’s stead?” Elizabeth asked, her voice hopeful. “Then of course he shall,” she rushed to answer herself, “for I have taken care of him. He can do no less.” She smiled with relief and clasped her hands together.

“Do you not know who you have just tended?” Roger asked, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Elizabeth frowned at him and waited.

“The Hawk is Lord Geoffrey, overlord of Mont-wright.” Roger sat down in one of the chairs and propped his feet up on the other, waiting her reaction.

“He is Baron Geoffrey?” Astonishment sounded in her tone.

“Aye,” Roger acknowledged. He crossed his ankles and smiled. “Why are you so surprised? All know of the Hawk,” he said with arrogance. “His reputation is well known.”

“Yes, but I thought him to be old . . . older than . . .” She motioned to the sleeping warrior and studied him a long minute, her mind racing with this turn of events. Her father had never mentioned that his overlord was so young. Elizabeth had just assumed that he was an old man, like the lesser barons she had met. She leaned back against the cold stone and looked back at Roger. He seemed amused by her ignorance.

“He is the youngest and the most powerful under William,” Roger answered. Pride underlined his words.

“If the lord mends, then he will be under my obligation, will he not?” Elizabeth asked. She said a quick prayer that it would be true, that Geoffrey was an honorable man, for then perhaps he would listen to her. She could convince him of her uncle’s evilness. She must convince him! If he mended . . .

A loud rap on the door interrupted Elizabeth’s thoughts. Roger motioned her to stay and went to open the door. He spoke in whispered words to the sentries and then turned back to Elizabeth. “Your servant wishes to speak with you.”

Elizabeth nodded and followed one sentry to the end of the corridor where Joseph stood waiting. She could tell by his expression that he was upset. “Joseph, it is the Baron himself who I am caring for.”

“Aye,” Joseph said. He waited until the sentry was well out of earshot and back at his post before continuing, “Will he heal?”

“There is a chance,” Elizabeth said. “We must pray now. It is Thomas’s only hope,” she added.

Joseph was frowning more ferociously and Elizabeth shook her head. “This is good news, Joseph. Can you not see that the lord will be under my obligation whether I be a woman or not. He will have to listen to me. . . .”

“But the one in charge,” he said, motioning toward her bedroom, “the vassal. . .”

“His name is Roger,” Elizabeth informed her servant.

“He has sent for Belwain.”

“What is this?” Elizabeth demanded. She lowered her voice and said, “Why? How do you know this?”

“Herman the Bald overheard his orders. The messengers left an hour ago. It is true,” he said when Elizabeth began to shake her head, “Belwain will be here in a week or more.”

“Dear God,” Elizabeth whispered. “He must not arrive before I talk with Geoffrey.” She clutched at the servant’s sleeve, panic in her voice, and rushed on, “We must hide Thomas. We have to get him away from here until I can be sure of Geoffrey. Belwain must not know we still live.”

“It isn’t possible, my lady. Belwain will know as soon as he is within the walls. Too many have seen you return. He will know. And it is only a matter of time before this Roger learns the truth.”

“I must think,” Elizabeth whispered. She realized she was pulling on the servant’s tunic and dropped her hand. “Talk with Herman. He is faithful and will keep his silence. And he is a freeman, Joseph. The two of you, you must take Thomas, hide him. There are many places. Can you do this?”

“Aye,” Joseph answered, straightening his shoulders, “I’ll not fail you. I will find a place.”

Elizabeth nodded, placing her trust in the humble servant. He would not fail her. “It will only be for a short time, until Geoffrey awakens,” she said.

“But what of you? If the lord does not awake, if the sleeping spirits continue to hold him and Belwain gets here . . . and if the lord dies . . .”