The Unveiling (Age of Faith), страница 1
Tamara Leigh Novels
Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two
The Yielding Excerpt
About The Author
Book One in the Age of Faith series
12th Century England. Two men vie for the throne: King Stephen, the usurper, and young Duke Henry, the rightful heir. Amid civil and private wars, alliances are forged, loyalties are betrayed, families are divided, and marriages are made.
For four years, Lady Annyn Bretanne has trained at arms with one end in mind—to avenge her brother’s murder as God has not deemed it worthy to do. Disguised as a squire, she sets off to exact revenge on a man known only by his surname, Wulfrith. But when she holds his fate in her hands, her will wavers and her heart whispers that her enemy may not be an enemy after all.
Baron Wulfrith, renowned trainer of knights, allows no women within his walls for the distraction they breed. What he never expects is that the impetuous young man sent to train under him is a woman who seeks his death—nor that her unveiling will test his faith and distract the warrior from his purpose.
TAMARA LEIGH NOVELS
Age of Faith: A Medieval Romance Series
The Unveiling: Book One, August 2012
The Yielding: Book Two, December 2012
The Redeeming: Book Three, Spring 2013
Southern Discomfort Series
Restless In Carolina, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2011
Nowhere, Carolina, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2010
Leaving Carolina, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2009
Stealing Adda, 2012 (ebook edition)
Faking Grace, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2008
Splitting Harriet, RandomHouse/Multnomah, 2007
Perfecting Kate, Multnomah, 2007
Stealing Adda, NavPress, 2006 (print edition)
INSPIRATIONAL/GENERAL MARKET TITLES
Dreamspell: A Medieval Time Travel Romance, March 2012
GENERAL MARKET TITLES
Blackheart, Dorchester Leisure, 2001
Unforgotten, HarperCollins, 1997
Misbegotten, HarperCollins, 1996
Saxon Bride, Bantam Books, 1995
Pagan Bride, Bantam Books, 1995
Virgin Bride, Bantam Books, 1994
Warrior Bride, Bantam Books, 1994
*Virgin Bride is the sequel to Warrior Bride
Pagan Pride and Saxon Bride are stand-alone novels
THE UNVEILING Copyright © 2012 by Tammy Schmanski, P.O. Box 1298, Goodlettsville, TN 37070, [email protected]
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents, and dialogues are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
All rights reserved. This book is a copyrighted work and no part of it may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photographic, audio recording, or any information storage and retrieval system) without permission in writing from the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the author’s permission is illegal and punishable by law. Thank you for supporting authors’ rights by purchasing only authorized editions.
Editor: S. Hunt Schmanski
Cover Design: Kim Van Meter, KD Designs
To my all-time favorite heroes: David, Skyler, and Maxen.
I am so blessed.
Lincolnshire, England, October 1149
A nightmare seized him from sleep, turned around his throat, and filled his mouth so full he could not cry out. Desperate for air, he opened his eyes onto a moonless night that denied him the face of his attacker.
By all the saints! Who dares?
He struck out, but a second attacker appeared and pitched him onto his belly. Though a foul cloth had been shoved in his mouth, the loosening of hands around his throat permitted him to wheeze breath through his nose. Then he was yanked up from the blanket on which he had made his bed distant from his lord’s tent.
Too late realizing the error of allowing dishonor to incite him to isolation, he thrust backward and nearly found his release.
Hands gripped him harder and dragged him toward the wood.
Who were these miscreants who spoke not a word? What did they intend? Would they beat him for a traitor? Worse?
A noose fell past his ears. Feeling death settle on his shoulders, he knew fear that surpassed any he had known. He shouted against the cloth, struggled to shrug out from beneath the rope, splayed and hooked his useless hands.
Lord, help me!
The cruel hands fell from him, but as he reached for the rope, it tightened and snapped his chin to his chest. An instant later, he was hoisted off his feet. He flailed and clawed at his trussed neck but was denied even the smallest breath of air.
Realizing that this night he would die for what he had intended to do...for what he had not done...for Henry, he would have sobbed like the boy he ever denied being had he the breath to do so.
Unworthy! The familiar rebuke sounded through him, though it was many months since he had been called such.
Aye, unworthy, for I cannot even die like a man.
He turned his trembling hands into fists and stilled as the lessons taught him by Lord Wulfrith numbered through his mind, the greatest being that refuge was found in God.
Feeling his life flicker like a flame taking its last sip of the wick, he embraced the calm that settled over him and set his darkening gaze on one of his attackers who stood to the right. Though he could not be certain, he thought the man’s back was turned to him. Then he heard the wheezing of one who also suffered a lack of breath.
A mute cry of disbelief parted his lips. Of all those who might have done this, never would he have believed—
Darkness stole his sight, swelled his heart, and brought to mind a beloved image. He had vowed he would not leave her, but now Annyn would be alone.
Forgive me, he pleaded across the leagues that separated them. Pray, forgive me.
As death tightened its hold, he could not help but weep inside himself for the foolishness that had sent him to the noose.
His body convulsed and, with his last presence of mind, he once more turned heavenward. Do not let her be too long alone, God. Pray, do not.
Annyn Bretanne lowered her gaze from the moonless mantle of stars. “Jonas...” She pressed a hand over her heart. Whence came this foreboding? And why this feeling it had something to do with her brother?
Because you were thinking of him. Because you wish him here n
She pushed back from the battlements and swung around. It was William, though she knew it only by the man-at-arm’s gruff voice. The night fell too black for the torches at the end of the wall-walk to light his features.
He halted. “You ought to be abed, my lady.”
As always, there was a smile in the title he bestowed. Like the others, he knew she was a lady by noble birth only. That she had stolen from bed in the middle of night further confirmed what all thought of one who, at four and ten, ought to be betrothed—perhaps even wed.
Though in such circumstances Annyn was inclined to banter with William, worry continued to weight her.
“Good eve,” she said and hastened past. Continuing to hold a hand to her heart, she descended the steps and ran to the donjon. Not until she closed the door on her chamber did she drop her hand from her chest, and only then to drag off her man’s tunic.
Falling onto her bed, she called on the one her brother assured her was always near. “Dear Lord, do not let Jonas be ill. Or hurt. Or...”
She turned aside the thought that was too terrible to think. Jonas was hale and would return from Wulfen Castle. He had promised.
She clasped her hands before her face. “Almighty God, I beseech Thee, deliver my brother home from Wulfen. Soon.”
There was but one way to enter Wulfen Castle. She must make herself into a man.
Annyn looked down her figure where she stood among the leaves of the wood. And scowled. Rather, she must make herself into a boy, for it was boys in which the Baron Wulfrith dealt—pages who aspired to squires, squires who aspired to knights. As she was too slight to disguise herself as a squire, a page would be her lot, but only long enough to assure Jonas was well.
Still haunted by foreboding, though it was now four days since it had burrowed a dark place within her, she dropped her head back against the tree beneath which she had taken cover and squinted at the sunlight that found little resistance in autumn's last leaves. If only her mother were alive to offer comfort, but it was eight years since Lady Elena had passed on. Eight years since Annyn had known her touch.
A thumping sound evidencing the wily hare had come out of the thicket, Annyn gripped her bow tighter and edged slowly around the tree as her brother had taught her.
Though the scruffy little fellow had not fully emerged, he would soon. She tossed her head to clear the hair from her brow, raised her bow, and drew the nocked arrow to her cheek.
The hare lifted its twitchy nose.
Patience. Annyn heard Jonas from two summers past. Would she hear his voice again?
Aye, she would see him when she journeyed to Wulfen Castle where he completed his squire's training with the mighty Baron Wulfrith, a man said to exercise considerable sway over the earl from whom he held his lands.
Annyn frowned as she pondered the Wulfrith name that brought to mind a snarling wolf, her imagining made more vivid by the terrible anger the man was said to possess. Since before William of Normandy had conquered England, the Wulfrith family had been known England to France for training boys into men, especially those considered seriously lacking. Though Jonas's missives spoke little of that training, all knew it was merciless.
The hare crept forward.
Hold! Jonas’s voice, almost real enough to fan her cheek, made her smile, cracking the mud she had smeared on her face as her brother had also taught her to do.
She squeezed her eyes closed. Thirteen months since he had departed for Wulfen. Thirteen months in training with the feared Wulfrith who allowed no women within his walls. Thirteen months to make Jonas into a man worthy to lord the barony of Aillil that would be his as Uncle Artur's heir.
The hare thumped.
Annyn jerked, startling the creature into bounding from the thicket.
Follow, follow, follow!
She swung the arrow tip ahead of the hare and released.
With a shriek that made her wince as she did each time she felled one of God's creatures, the hare collapsed on a bed of muddy leaves.
Meat on the table, Annyn told herself as she tramped to where her prey lay. Not caring that she dirtied her hose and tunic, she knelt beside it.
“Godspeed,” she said, hoping to hurry it to heaven though Father Cornelius said no such place existed for animals. But what did a man who did not know how to smile know of God's abode? She lifted the hare and tugged her arrow free. Satisfied to find tip and feathers intact, she wiped the shaft on her tunic and thrust the arrow into her quiver.
She stood. A catch of good size. Not that Uncle Artur would approve of her fetching meat to the table. He would make a show of disapproval, as he did each time she ventured to the wood, then happily settle down to a meal of hare pie. Of course, Annyn must first convince Cook to prepare the dish. But he would, and if she hurried, it could be served at the nooning meal. She slung the bow over her shoulder and ran.
If only Jonas were here, making me strain to match his longer stride. If only he were calling taunts over his shoulder. If only he would go from sight only to pounce upon me. Lord, I do not know what I will do if—
She thrust aside her worry with the reminder that, soon enough, she would have the assurance she sought. This very eve she would cut her mess of black hair, don garments Jonas had worn as a page, and leave under cover of dark. In less than a sennight, she could steal into Wulfen Castle, seek out her brother, and return to Aillil. As for Uncle Artur...
She paused at the edge of the wood and eyed Castle Lillia across the open meadow. Her disappearance would send dread through her uncle, but if she told him what she intended, he would not allow it.
She toed the damp ground. If he would but send a missive to Wulfen to learn how Jonas fared, this venture of hers need not be undertaken. However, each time she asked it of her uncle, he teased that she worried too much.
Movement on the drawbridge captured Annyn’s regard. A visitor? A messenger from Wulfen? Mayhap Jonas once more returned for willful behavior? She squinted at the standard flown by the rider who passed beneath the raised portcullis and gasped. It belonged to the Wulfriths!
Though the men on the walls usually called to Annyn and bantered over her frightful appearance, her name did not unfurl any tongues when she approached the drawbridge.
Ignoring her misgivings, she paused to seek out the bearded Rowan who, as captain of the guard, was sure to be upon the gatehouse. He was not, but William was.
She thrust the hare high. “Next time, boar!”
He did not smile. “My lady, hasten to the donjon. The Baron Wul—”
“I know! My brother is returned?”
He averted his gaze. “Aye, Lady Annyn, your brother is returned.”
So, neither could the renowned Baron Wulfrith order Jonas's life. She might have laughed if not that it boded ill for her brother’s training to be terminated. Though of good heart, he had thrice been returned by fostering barons who could no more direct him than his uncle with whom he and Annyn had lived these past ten years. Thus, until Uncle Artur had sent Jonas to Wulfen Castle, brother and sister had been more together than apart. Soon they would be together again.
Silently thanking God for providing what she had asked, she darted beneath the portcullis and into the outer bailey, passing castle folk who stared after her with something other than disapproval. Telling herself her flesh bristled from chill, she entered the inner bailey where a half dozen horses stood before the donjon, among them Jonas's palfrey. And a wagon.
As she neared, the squire who held the reins of an enormous white destrier looked around. Surprise first recast his narrow face, then disdain. “Halt, you!”
She needed no mirror to know she looked more like a stable boy than a lady, but rather than allow him to mistake her as she was inclined to do, she said, “It is Lady Annyn you address, Squire.”
Disdain slid back into surprise, and his sleepy green eyes widened further when he saw the hare. “Lady?”
Annyn paused alongside Jonas’s horse and laid a hand to its great jaw. “I thank you for bringing him home.” She ran up the steps.
The porter was frowning when she reached the uppermost landing. “My lady, your uncle and Baron Wulfrith await. Pray, go quick 'round to the kitchen and put yourself to order.”
Baron Wulfrith at Lillia? She glanced over her shoulder at the white destrier. How could she not have realized its significance? The baron must be angry indeed to have returned Jonas himself. Unless—
William's unsmiling face. The lack of disapproval usually shown her by the castle folk. The wagon.
Not caring what her appearance might say of her, she lunged forward.
“My lady, pray—”
“I will see my brother now!”
The porter’s mouth worked as if to conjure argument, but he shook his head and opened the door. “I am sorry, Lady Annyn.”
The apology chilling her further, she stepped inside.
The hall was still, not a sound to disturb God and His angels were they near.
Blinking to adjust to the indoors, she caught sight of those on the dais. As their backs were turned to her and heads were bent, she wondered what they looked upon. More, where was Jonas?
The hare's hind legs dragging the rushes where the animal hung at her side, she pressed forward, all the while telling herself Jonas would soon lunge from an alcove and thump her to the floor.
“’Twas an honorable death, Lord Bretanne,” a deep voice struck silence from the hall.
Annyn halted and picked out the one who had spoken—a big man in height and breadth, hair cut to the shoulders.
Dear God, of whom does he speak?
He stepped aside, clearing the space before the lord's table to reveal the one she desperately sought.
The hare slipped from her fingers, the bow from her shoulder. Vaguely aware of the big man and his companions swinging around, she stared at her brother's profile that was the shade of a dreary day. And there stood Uncle Artur opposite, hands flat on the table upon which Jonas was laid, head bowed, shoulders hunched up to his ears.