The carts creaked into the stone-walled yard of a prosperous-looking manor. Grooms and house servants moved purposefully about the enclosure, tending to the needs of the new arrivals. Jesse, speaking to an older man, pointed in her direction. She looked away.
“We’re here, Brigid,” Juliana said as the cart lurched to a stop near the wide doors of the stone and timber manor. “We’re safe.” She wondered if she would ever feel safe.
Four men and a boy brought two cushioned litters. “My father says to put our guests in the west tower,” the boy said. “The men can be cared for in the lower room and the women can have more privacy in the upper.”
Sylvan touched Juliana’s shoulder. “Wait with her a moment.”
He helped settle Stephan and Michael in the litters. “Go with Lord Hilary, he directed,” as the men carefully lifted the litters. “I will be with you shortly.”
“Come”, said Sylvan, carefully lifting Brigid. “They have rooms prepared. She will share with you and the men will be below.”
The interior of the manor was brighter than she expected. Sunlight streamed in through narrow windows. Colorful banners and tapestries hung from the ceiling and walls.
“This way,” said a tall woman with a polite smile. “You must be exhausted.” She led them through the great hall, down a dim passageway, and up stone steps along the interior of a tower.
“Gwen will bring water and we will find you a fresh gown. I’m sure you want wash and rest.”
The woman stared.
Juliana blushed. “I mean…you are very kind…but Brigid needs me…”
“She needs you rested,” said Sylvan. “You cannot help her by pushing yourself too hard.”
“In here,” said the woman stiffly. She led Juliana into a room with two beds and a pallet. A brazier burned brightly on a table under a window. A second brazier stood near a huge tub of steaming water. Sylvan put Brigid on the pallet. He checked her breathing and nodded in satisfaction.
A wide-eyed page stood in the doorway with a pitcher of ale. A younger girl carried a platter with bread and cheese. “Set them there,” said the woman, “and help Gwen bring water and clean linen.”
“You tend to the men,” she said to Sylvan, “and take Edwin with you.”
“Here child, drink this.” Juliana would have refused the cup of ale but the woman insisted. Suddenly, she was thirsty and hungry and tired. She took the cup gratefully. The ale was cool and sweet. She took a bit of bread but it seemed to stick in her throat.
“Come child, there’s a bath waiting.”
The girl looked at Juliana. “You’re really dirty and your gown’s a mess—“
“Seanna!” the woman said sharply, “speak courteously!”
“But Dame Margaret,” the girl responded, “Father says I must always tell the truth.”
Dame Margaret sighed. “Speak truthfully, speak courteously, speak softly,” she said, “speak as befits a young lady.” And sometimes, Lady Seanna, do not speak at all.
Seanna scowled and Juliana giggled. Dame Margaret gasped. “Forgive me, you were not meant to have heard. I did not realize our guests were Deryni.”
“I am,” Juliana said, “she is not.”
“Does it matter? Seanna asked.
“Of course not. Now go find Rosalie. One of her gowns should fit our guest.”
“Gwen, help her undress before the water gets cold.”
“And Seanna, tell Thomas I want him outside the room. Go!”
Both girls scurried to do as they were told.
“Thank you, my lady,” said Juliana, “but I will tend to Brigid first. She is my responsibility.”
Dame Margaret met Juliana’s stare direct gaze. “Very well. You may assist.”
“Gwen, bring the basin and cloths.”
The older woman tended to Brigid with a gentleness that surprised Juliana. Before long Brigid was washed, dressed in a soft linen shift, and placed in the bed against the wall. She looked much younger than her twelve years.
“Get better, Brigid,” Juliana pleaded, “you have to get better. You have to come back.”
Juliana turned to Dame Margaret. “Sylvan said she was in shock…
“Master Sylvan will tend to her. She’s young, she’s healthy, she has no injuries. If God wills it, she will recover.”
Juliana did not see God’s will in anything that had happened that day.
“Your bath will be cold. Do you require more hot water?”
“No, my lady, thank you.”
Dame Margaret inclined her head. “Gwen will help you wash. I will sit with…her,” she said, indicating Brigid.
“Her name is Brigid,” said Juliana. “Brigid of Prior’s Ford.” Heiress to Prior’s Ford and Sir Gilbert’s other manors she suddenly realized. She hoped her father would be here soon. He would know what to do.
Juliana dipped her hand into the huge tub of water. She did not want to undress in front of strangers.
The girl called Gwen curtsied awkwardly. “Here, milady, let me help.”
Juliana quickly shed her tunic and undergown and climbed into the tub. The tepid water felt wonderful. She relaxed and let Gwen comb and wash her hair. Just for a few moments she wanted to forget the horrors of the day.
Too soon she was being urged out of the tub. Gwen helped her dress. “You look pretty now milady,” she said shyly.
Juliana blushed. “Thank you, Gwen.”
“You look presentable,” Dame Margaret allowed. “Go with Lady Seanna. You are wanted in the hall.”
“I would like to see Stephan and Michael first. Sylvan said that I could after they were made comfortable.”
Dame Margaret expected—and usually received—instant obedience.
“You are wanted in the hall. That is where you need to go.”
Juliana did not move.
“I expect they will let you see the others after.”
Seanna tugged Juliana out the door out of the room. “This way. Hurry.” At the bottom of the steps she stopped. “Are you the girl my brother saved from the bad men? Were you scared? If I were a boy I would help patrol the roads. I wouldn’t be scared.”
Juliana welcomed the child’s chatter but was not sure how to answer.
“My father is angry. He says we have to keep the roads safe from the king’s men. He says the bad Deryni are making more trouble for all of us. My mother wants to go away from here. She is scared.”
“I don’t blame her for being scared,” Juliana said, “I was…” She stopped at the sight of a brown-haired man at the end of the great hall.
“Father!” She wanted to run to him as she had done when she was a little girl.
He ran to her. “Juliana.” He hugged her, held her at arm’s length, then hugged her again. “Juliana, my child. I was so worried.”