“Just think, Juliana, this time tomorrow I’ll be married.”
“And then?” whispered Juliana, “Baron Lothwaite…”
“…dare noth wait” Cicely whispered back.
Both girls giggled at the thought of the elderly baron awaiting his young bride. Several other riders turned to see the cause of the girls’ merriment. Some looked curious, others indulgent. Only Cicely’s old nurse looked disapproving.
Cicely lowered her eyes and attempted to look demure. “Sarah will tell my mother I’m being frivolous again,” she whispered to Juliana. “Then I’ll have to listen to Mother tell me again how a baron’s wife should be dignified and proper and…”
“And boring,” giggled Juliana.
“Cicely Amelia,” Cicely whispered in her mother’s voice, “MUST you continue to act like a child? WHAT will the baron and his household think of your behavior? Goodness KNOWS your father and I have raised you to be a LADY. Do us the FAVOR of acting your AGE and your STATION.”
Juliana nearly choked to avoid laughing out loud. “You’ll be a beautiful bride, Cicely. At least you know him. And he is kind.”
“I know, but he’s so old. He was my grandfather’s friend. And he’s been married three times…”
“But he still doesn’t have an heir…”
The thought of wifely duties sobered Cicely. “Oh Juliana, I’m so glad you’re coming with me. Mother almost didn’t allow it, you know…”
The girls heard a shout from up ahead. Two of the horses raced ahead of the group.
“What are they doing, Juliana? Can you see?”
“They’re racing. Giles and Michael, I think. Let’s go see.”
“I hope Michael wins. Giles has been insufferable lately.”
“You just like Michael better.”
Cicely sighed. “Well, he is handsome...”
“But not suitable…”
“Now you sound like my father…”
The girls edged their mounts ahead. Several of the men in the party shouted encouragement or ridicule to the two boys. A few placed small wagers.
“My grandmother rides faster and she’s blind,” called out one of the older men. “Fine knights they’ll be,” he joked to the well-dressed man beside him.
“They will and you know it, Stephan,” said Sir Gilbert. “You’ve trained them nearly as well as you trained me.”
“And what a job that was...”
“How much longer, Father?” asked Cicely, as she and Juliana joined the men.
“An hour, maybe two,” answered Sir Gilbert.
“Are ye so eager to be wed?” asked Stephan. “I’m surprised you’re not racing with the boys.”
Sir Gilbert smiled fondly at his eldest daughter. “And beating them like as not.” Help. Oh God, help us.
Juliana rocked in her saddle as the force of Michael’s panic hit her. Her hands gripped her pony’s mane as she struggled to remain astride.
“Child, what is the matter? Are you ill?” asked Sir Gilbert.
“Hush!” commanded Stephan. “Gilbert, take Arnald and Ranulf, protect the women. Simon, James, Philip, Hugh, come with me. Stephan’s face was hard, his posture alert. He seemed to be listening for something the others could not hear. “No, Juliana, stay with Cicely.”
Juliana had not been aware that her pony was moving forward. She opened her eyes and stared at Stephan, silently pleading with him to say that what she Saw was not true.
Sir Gilbert and his retainers followed Stephan’s orders without question.
“Go to your mother,” Sir Gilbert said, as Stephan and the younger men-at-arms spurred forward.
“Come, Cicely,” said Juliana sadly. “Your mother and others will want to know what happened.”
“But I don’t even know,” protested Cicely, “Father wouldn’t answer.”
Juliana turned her pony into the side of her friend’s palfrey. The gentle mare turned and followed the pony back toward the litter and carts. The rear guard, four of Baron Lothwaite’s knights and men-at-arms, had stopped the cavalcade. They had formed a protective diamond around the litter carrying Cicely’s mother and sister, the baggage carts, and the female attendants.
Cicely’s sister ran toward Juliana. “Brigid, come back!” her mother called.
“Go into the woods, Brigid,” said Juliana, “take Sarah and the others and go. Come on Cicely, we’ve got to hide.”
Sarah refused. “I’ll stay with Lady Lanora. Miriam, Abigail, go with Juliana. Now!”
Cicely heard her mother scream as arrows landed in the clearing. Most hit the ground or the carts but one of the horses was hit and one of the men. The injured horse reared and bolted; his startled rider nearly fell. Cicely’s horse tried to follow.
Several well-dressed young men on blooded horses surrounded the group. One dragged Cicely from her saddle; another grabbed Lady Lanora’s maid Abigail. “We don’t want to hurt anyone,” said the leader. You already have
, thought Juliana.
“Where is my father?” sobbed Cicely. “Let me go.”
The leader ignored Cicely. He inclined his head to Juliana. They’re not hurt
, he assured her, well maybe a little sore. And angry
, added the man who held Cicely. Their horses ran away
. She struggled against him then went limp. Abigail’s eyes widened in horror before she too was still. You’ve made them sleep
, accused Juliana, why? Why did you even attack us? We have no valuables
, she lied. And you don’t look like brigands.
“My lady, we most certainly are not brigands. We patrol these roads. I am—“
“I don’t care who you are,” snapped Juliana. “Where are others? Where is Sir Gilbert?”
Lady Lanora wailed at the sound of her husband’s name.
“There, there, milady,” Sarah murmured, “Sir Gilbert and young master Giles will be fine.”
Hearing her son’s name, Lady Lanora wailed again.
Juliana took advantage of the leader’s distraction to look for the other girls. Miriam was cowering near Sarah; Brigid was nowhere to be seen.
“Keep her quiet!” the leader ordered.
“Or you’ll do what?” Sarah challenged, “curse her too? I’ll not let you near her you…you…you Devil. What did you do to Lady Cecily and Lady Abigail?”
Without warning, Juliana screamed. We’ve been attacked! Save yourselves!
The man holding Abigail flung her from his saddle. She was trampled as he and two of his companions attempted to flee. They were cut down by arrows more numerous and more deadly than their own had been.
The leader surveyed Juliana calmly. I fear our acquaintance will come to naught.
Juliana stared at the arrow protruding from his throat as he toppled from his horse.
Armed men entered the clearing, cutting down attackers and attacked. Juliana slid from her pony. She had to reach Cecily. Cecily, like Abigail, was helpless. She could not let her friend be trampled. Juliana dragged Cecily to the meager shelter of an overturned cart. She whispered prayers from childhood and tried to remain calm. I have to save Cecily, I have to save Cecily.
A huge man with a brown beard and a red face dragged Cecily from beside the cart. “No!” Juliana cried, “she’s Baron Lothwaite’s bride.”
“He can have her when I’m done.”
Juliana tried to pull her friend away. “I like a wench with spirit,” said the huge man, “maybe I’ll have you first.” He looked at the still form of Cecily. “Your friend will wait,” he leered.
Juliana tried to crawl away. The huge man laughed and dragged her closer. He smells worse than the middens in July, Juliana thought. She struggled to break free as the huge man shoved her to the ground.
“Hold!” called a voice, “hold in the name of King Alroy!”
“Help!” Juliana screamed.
Four men and two boys in riding leathers entered the clearing. Juliana’s tormentor pulled her in front of him. He held a dagger to her throat. “Ye’ll not take me alive,” he shouted, “and if I die she dies.”
“No one need die,” said the leader softly. “Let her go.”
Juliana felt the point of the blade. Her tormentor laughed. “You’ll not stop me, boy. You and your friends should go play before you get hurt. I’ll break you in half then take the girl…”
Suddenly, he dropped the dagger. Juliana grabbed it and stood to face this new threat. “You’re not the king’s men. Who are you?”
Her rescuer sheathed his sword. “No, my lady, we’re not the king’s men. But we serve the king and his justice. My father is the Earl of Ebor. These lands border our holdings.
“You’re Deryni,” Juliana said dully, “so were they. Some of them. Where is Cicely? Where are the others?”
Come, my lady, come away from this.” He tried to compel her but Juliana resisted. Shields
, he sent to his companions. She has shields
Juliana felt her rescuers’ surprise. Yes I have shields. As to what happened here, I barely know. We were attacked. Twice I think. It was her wedding journey. Now it will be her funeral.
Juliana allowed herself to be led away. But she kept hold of the dagger.
Chapter 2: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=814.0