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The Lily and the Sword
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Lily stood perfectly still, listening. She had ridden for many days, skirting isolated farms and villages, holding her breath at the edge of a wood when a group of men-at-arms rode past. There was no route north that was safe, and she had zigzagged across the country, doubling back again and again, until she was exhausted.
Grimswade was directly in her path, and Lily had felt as if it had been meant that she come here. Her father was buried in this church, her mother beside him. If Lily was to be forever exiled from England, this would be her final goodbye. Determinedly, she made her way toward the western door.
Before her loomed the familiar blunt tower of the church, while faint candlelight caressed the arched windows. Was Father Luc here, she wondered, his blue eyes bright with kindness? The Grimswade priest was sympathetic to the rebels, hating the king's wanton destruction. Father Luc would hide Lily...help her.
The smell of woodsmoke drifted from the village beyond the rise, and with it the occasional bark of a dog. Lily's anxious gaze swept over the stony fields, and the narrow road that ran between what remained of the corn. Her mare was hidden among some wind-bent trees, a few yards from the church.
The door opened to her touch.
Inside the church, tallow candles spat and smoked. Lily paused, expecting any moment to see Father Luc bustling toward her. The hem of her cloak brushed the floor, stirring a faint scent of rosemary. Lily'sclothes were stained with travel, and the inside lining of the cloak had been torn during her sojourn in the woods. A small jeweled dagger, her only weapon, was strapped high on her thigh beneath her red wool gown and linen chemise. A bundle containing a few personal things was fastened to her mare outside -- all that was left of her previous life.
Lily took another step into the nave and felt the empty silence about her. She was alone. Her slim shoulders slumped. The priest wasn't there. There would be no warm greeting, no offers of safety and gentle remembrances of times long past, when lifewas good. Before the light was snuffed out on her world.
Disappointment formed a lump in Lily's throat, but she gulped it down with the cold air. This was no time for her courage to fail her. So she was alone? She had been alone before. So she was tired? She had been tired before. When she was safe over the border in Scotland, she could rest. Lily knew now that she should have gone when Vorgen was killed. She should have realized then that all was lost, that her lands would never be hers again. But she had thought, hoped, that as long as she stayed in England, she would have a chance of righting her evil husband's wrongs. That shecould offer King William her allegiance through Radulf, and he would listen to her tale of betrayal -- how Vorgen had betrayed William, then killed her father to gain her lands. She'd hoped he would then leave her in peace to rule her lands.
Why had she thought Radulf would be different from Vorgen or Hew? Radulf would never allow her to regain what was hers! And he would never believe she could maintain peace in the north. She was a woman, to be used and treated as if of no account, while Radulf made war on her land, on her people.
Lily paused before the altar, where her parents were buried. Once she had thought to make a proper monument there, extolling their virtues, but Vorgen had refused his permission and so there was nothing to mark their passing. Yet another reason for Lily to hate him.
Forcing her chaotic thoughts to the back of her mind, Lily prepared to pray. She had just bowed her head when, from outside the church, came the thud and rattle of horses. The clatter of armored men.
Gray eyes wide, Lily ran to one of the arched windows. Stretching up onto her toes, she peered out into the darkness just as a shape galloped past. And then another. A boy ran with a flaring torch. Its flame lit up a nightmare scene of Norman foot soldiers and men on horseback, the gleam reflecting their chain mail, shields, and weapons.
She fell back, her blood pounding. Radulf! He had come for her. She had heard the stories. He was a giant with a hideous face and blood dripping from his sword. Children screamed at the sound of his name. He would be, worse than Vorgen, much worse! A barely human monster...
Lily tried to calm herself. Her hands clenched and unclenched in her wool cloak. How did she know it was Radulf? There were many Normans in Northumbria; small bands of them had systematically destroyed large areas of it. She must be brave and cunning. These men would not know she was Vorgen's wife, how should they? Lily might be any woman. A Norman Iady, perhaps, fleeing the English even as Lily was fleeing the Normans.
And she could easily play the part of a Norman lady. For two years she had been Vorgen's wife. She had sat at a Norman table and watched how they lived and ate and thought. She could speak French; these men would not guess she was the woman they hunted.
The western door banged open.
Lily scrambled sideways and pinched out the nearest of the betraying candles, then slid down behind one of the pillars. If she was lucky, they would not find her, but if they did... A fleeing Norman lady encountering a group of armed men would naturally conceal herself.
A foot soldier came runningup the nave, breath wheezing, feet shuffling. Behind him came another man, this one holding a torch, the flames rearing up to show...