Excerpt from The Angel Knight
Gavin felt struck to his very soul.
Lady Christian lifted her head, hair in straggling tendrils framing her gaunt face, and looked directly at him. That flash of deep green was a startling burst of life in her shadowed face. Her steady gaze showed strength and pride and asked no pity. The spark in her lustrous eyes had wrenched his heart. Somehow her fragile soul had touched his own, guarded as it was. He exhaled, glanced at his uncle.
"Fainted away," John said. "God save us, she looked at you as if you were some saint, standing there. As if you—" he stopped suddenly. "What did Queen Eleanor call you, years ago? Aye, the Angel Knight. This one looked at you as if she believed you were her savior."
Gavin cringed at the embarrassing memory of that youthful name. Thank God, he thought, age had creased and hardened the good looks he had inherited from his Scottish mother. He had changed much since Queen Eleanor had called him her Angel Knight. He had triumphed on the tourney fields through skill, and he had charmed the ladies of the court with his looks and his manners. He had enjoyed splendor and favor. But those days had been long ago, before the queen's death, before Berwick. And before he had wed—and lost—Jehanne.
He had changed, arrogant no longer, glad to be cleansed of that. But humility had come at a high price.
He had not been able to save his wife. And he could not help this girl. His soul had grown hard, lost in shadow. No one would call him angel now. Least of all this young, dying woman.
She could not be saved. He knew the signs—the rapid, shallow breaths; pale skin, bluish lips; cough and weakness. The lung illness had a fierce hold on her.
Suddenly he wanted to tear open her cage and carry her away to safety. But that was foolish, a notion fit for a roman de chevalerie.
"King Edward has little mercy where the Scots are concerned. He will not listen to me in this matter," he told John, turning away.
"We cannot leave here without freeing her."
"What should we do? Steal her away? It cannot be done."
"The sentry said Oliver Hastings brought her here last September," John said then.
Gavin frowned. "So the king's demon still rides for England?"
"Still acts as Edward's sword arm in Scotland."
"No doubt he relishes every stroke."
"I hear he visits this girl whenever he is in Carlisle. Orders food withheld, blankets removed. The guards say he questions her mercilessly."
Gavin's fingernails bit into his palm. "He has a taste for cruelty to women. What does he want from her?"
"The sentry did not know, but says the girl refuses to talk to Hastings, although he beats her."
"Jesu," Gavin growled. "Must you tell me this?"
"Aye," John said quietly.
Gavin glanced back at the girl. Though his heart seemed to twist in his chest, he turned away abruptly and began to stride along the wall walk. "She will likely die before the king even grants me an interview."
"You'll help her. Angel knight—it is still in you, lad," his uncle said as he walked with him.
"Eight years in the French court, and a man emerges either a cynic or a sinner. Never a saint. She is dying, and worse, a Scot. The king will not listen."
"You will convince him."
"You credit me too well. I spoke my mind before and earned charges of treason and exile. The king could have ordered me hanged. I am scant hope as that girl's savior. Do not forget—Edward despises the Scots with a poisonous fury." He stalked ahead, seeing a sentry nearby. "Bring a coal brazier and blankets to the prisoner," he snapped.
The guard blinked. "My lord—"
"Now!" Gavin roared. The man ran along the wall walk.
"Ah," John remarked as they walked on.
"Little enough to do for the girl."
"That, and asking permission to remove her to a convent, is little enough well done," John said.
"Perhaps," Gavin murmured.