Gentle Warrior(9)

By: Julie Garwood

“I will have to leave,” Elizabeth said, more to herself than to Joseph. “I’ll not be here when Belwain arrives. If the lord awakens soon, perhaps I can speak with him before Belwain has a chance to weave his lies.” She shuddered and then said, “If not, and he dies, then you must bring Thomas to me. Somehow we will make it to my mother’s father. He will know what to do.”

“Will you return to the waterfall?” Joseph asked, fear in his voice. He would not be able to ride with her now that he was given the duty of taking Thomas, and his worry for his mistress was tremendous.

“I will not stay here,” she whispered in a harsh voice. “Belwain has violated these walls. I’ll not be here to see him return. I’ll not.”

“Aye, my lady, calm yourself. Surely the warrior will awaken before you must leave, before Belwain arrives, and he will listen to you,” he said, his voice soothing, as if he were speaking to an injured child.

He waited while his mistress calmed her breathing. The change that came over her whenever her uncle’s name was mentioned frightened the old man. He knew that she had witnessed the slaughter, understood the anguish and torment pulling at her soul, and believed, as she did, that Belwain was behind it all. Still, he wished she could speak of it, tell to let some of the pain out. . . . She was so very different from her two half sisters, Margaret and Catherine. Perhaps it was because she was half-Saxon.

When Master Thomas had arrived at Montwright with his two little daughters, he was a hard, unhappy man. But all that had changed within six months, for he had met and married a fair-haired Saxon beauty. His Saxon wife was a hellion, to be sure, but Thomas had a way with her, and soon all could see the couple were coming to terms with each other. A year later, little Elizabeth was born. Thomas decided he was not destined to have a son and poured his love into the little blue-eyed babe. Those two held a special bond between them, and when, ten years later, little Thomas was born, the bond still remained.

While Elizabeth did not copy her father’s masculine traits, she did imitate his reserved manner, his way of masking his feelings. Both Catherine and Margaret would wear their emotions on their faces, for all the world to see, but not Elizabeth. Joseph believed that Elizabeth was the thread that held the family together. She was so fiercely loyal, and family was the most important thing to her. She was the peacemaker and the rebel-rouser, her father’s pride when she rode beside him on the hunt, her mother’s frustration when she tried her hand at sewing. Aye, it had been a happy, contented family, until now. . . .

“Did I tell you that Herman has sent three men to Belwain’s holding? Mayhap they can gather the proof we need, for if they talk with Belwain’s servants . . .”

“Herman is a good man,” Elizabeth interrupted. Her voice was relaxed now, and the servant let out a little sigh of relief. “But I do not think Belwain’s servants will speak the truth. They fear him too greatly. Joseph, tell Herman I thank him for his effort,” Elizabeth whispered.

“He loved your family too, my lady. It was Thomas who freed him. You were just a babe and probably do not remember, but Herman will not forget the debt to the Montwrights.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth returned, “I have heard the tale.” She smiled and added, “I could not understand why everyone referred to Herman as the Bald, for his head was thickly covered with hair, and my father would grow quite embarrassed whenever I asked him the reason.”

Joseph assumed that she still did not know the reason, and blushed. He hoped she would not ask him to explain. It was a silly men’s joke and he certainly would not damage his mistress’s delicate ears with the truth.

The happy memory with her father helped to lift Elizabeth’s spirits. She whispered, “We will get through this, Joseph. Now I must get back to the Baron. Pray, Joseph. Pray Geoffrey heals. Pray that he will listen to me. Listen and believe.”

She patted the servant on his stooped shoulder and slowly made her way back to the bedroom. Her stomach was churning again and she fought the urge to throw up. The thought of Belwain returning to Montwright was overwhelming. Had there been no little brother to consider, then Elizabeth would have welcomed the news. She would have planned her trap, and met Belwain with an eager embrace, her dagger at the ready.

She would bide her time. Revenge would be hers. Her resolve kept her upright, her steps sure. It kept her sane, in this insane time, this insane situation. Revenge and her duty to her little brother. Only when her brother’s life was protected and his lands secure and only when Belwain paid with his life for his mortal sins could Elizabeth allow the abyss of desolation yawning before her to make its claim. Only then.