Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
Leila's breath caught as she grasped the crusader's
chin and lifted the cup to his mouth.
His skin was very warm and pliant beneath prickly dark
whiskers which chafed her fingers, and she could sense from the hard line of
his jaw that he was most likely a very stubborn man. As she gave him the proper
dose, some of the liquid dribbled from his mouth but most he involuntarily
swallowed. She wiped the corners with her head scarf, her fingers brushing his
lips, and shivered at their unexpected softness.
"Good. That is enough for now,"
said with satisfaction. "I will give him more
medicine throughout the night which should calm his fever. He has lost a lot of
blood. That is the most serious strike against him. By dawn, we should know if
he will live or die."
Leila met her father's dark eyes, not surprised by his
blunt statement. She knew as well as he that the physician's art was imperfect
and fraught with many uncertainties. They had done all they could for their
patient. Only time would decide the final outcome, yet something told her this
man would survive. He was too strong not to.
"Shall I stay with you, Father?"
replied, shaking his head. "If he survives past this night, your
assistance will be needed in the days to come when I am called away on other
duties. I want you to go home and rest." He motioned to two of the
soldiers. "They will escort you, my daughter."
Leila handed him the cup and rose to her feet, suddenly
very tired. She turned to go, but her father's hand upon her arm stopped her.
"I am very proud of you,"
"Thank you, Father."
"Your apprenticeship will soon be over. When I see
such skill as you demonstrated tonight, I have no doubt you will be most worthy
of our profession. Jamal is blessed to have you for his betrothed, and it
pleases me that you accepted the marriage I arranged for you. Between us, the
practice of Al-Aziz will be very great indeed."
Leila smiled despite her weariness. His praise never failed
to send her spirits soaring, as her goal of becoming a full-fledged physician
moved ever closer to reality. It was her most cherished dream.
"I owe my humble worth to the greatness of my
teacher," she responded sincerely. "Good night, Father."
With a last glance at the crusader, Leila lifted her
face veil and fastened it to her headband as she walked from the cell, her legs
feeling slightly wooden. Her efforts of the past hour had taxed her more than
usual, or perhaps she was tired simply because she had been up since dawn. She
was glad the walk home was not a long one.
"This way, revered daughter of Al-Aziz," said
one of the soldiers, leading the way while the other man walked a few paces
Leila clutched her
around her shoulders and silently obliged him. She kept her eyes riveted on the
soldier's broad back as she followed him from the prison, not wanting to view
any more wretched prisoners. Truly, she had seen and heard her fill of misery
for one night.
It was enough that she could not chase the haunting
image of the crusader's eyes, a blue as deep and vivid as the Mediterranean
Sea, from her mind.
"What has happened?"
demanded, rushing toward the grim-faced captain of the prison guard with Leila
in tow. "Your message said to come in haste, nothing more. When I left my
patient only a few hours ago to seek some rest at my home, he was still
"He is unconscious no longer, my lord Al-Aziz,"
the captain interrupted smoothly, bowing in greeting with his hand pressed over
his heart. "That is why I sent the message. I thought you would want to
see him now that he is awake. He gave us a great deal of trouble at first, but
I have things well under control. Don't let his roaring trouble you. He can do
no harm now. The wild animal has been tamed."
Leila sensed her father's agitation at this last
statement when he proceeded across the large room, she and the captain rushing
to keep up with his long strides. As they approached the crusader's cell, she
could hear the enraged cries growing louder, and
prickled her skin. In a way it did sound as if a ferocious animal were caged
"What happened to Governor
flung over his shoulder. "They
were standing guard when I left earlier this morning."
"Our lord governor has since recalled them, O honored
one, granting me full charge of your patient's security," the captain
replied as they reached the cell. The two new guards snapped to attention,
their wickedly curved scimitars held rigidly in front of them.
Leila's cheeks grew bright red as more incensed ranting
penetrated from behind the closed door.
She had never heard such foul cursing! In one
the crusader consigned every last one of his captors
to writhe in hell's fire, and in the next he was naming all the vicious things
he would do if he got his hands on a guard again. She was surprised the captain
and his guards gave little notice,
with a jolt that she was the only one who could understand him since he was speaking
"Here, see for yourself, my lord," the
captain said, opening the hinged peephole. "Your patient seems remarkably
improved." He inclined his head respectfully, raising his voice to be
heard over the loud oaths emanating from the cell. "In my humble opinion,
of course. I only presume as much because the crusader savagely attacked one of
my guards before he could be subdued."
"He did not kill the man,"
breathed in consternation, peering through the
"No, esteemed one. The guard lives, though he has
been retired from duty until his arm mends." Contempt crept into the
captain's voice. "This crusader's strength is immense. He snapped the
guard's arm like a mere twig and would have easily done the same to his neck if
our swords had not swayed him. It is my hope the governor's letter of ransom is
delivered soon so we might be rid of this madman."
Listening incredulously to this news, Leila started as
her father rounded on the man, his face livid. She had rarely seen him so
"By all that is sacred, my patient is standing
shackled to the
"Yes, a necessary precaution—"
"But hardly suitable to his recovery,"
objected hotly. "The crusader may be fully
conscious, but he is not yet out of danger. His shoulder wound could open at
such rough treatment. If it putrefies the governor's ransom could well be lost."
"He is extremely dangerous, my lord," the
captain countered, unwilling to back down. "If you had seen him earlier,
you would agree. Loose in his cell, he will be like a tiger unleashed, ready to
pounce upon and maul whoever enters, including his respected physicians.
has put me in charge, and I deem it
best that he remain shackled. Perhaps, if it would better please you, the
prisoner could be chained to the cots. Either way, he must be restrained. I do
not wish to lose any more of my men to this rabid beast."
"Perhaps we could speak with him, Father,"
Leila interrupted, her heart pounding. She was not surprised the crusader was
already conscious. She had sensed yesterday that his strength defied that of
"What are you suggesting, Leila?" came her
father's agitated reply.
She rushed on, ignoring the captain's dark, menacing
look. "I—I mean, allow me to speak with him in English. I doubt he
understands Arabic. If the crusader knows he will be released as soon as the
ransom is paid, perhaps he will restrain his fury and submit willingly to his
confinement and our continued care."
did not readily
respond. He seemed to ponder her offer, a deep furrow creasing his brow.
Finally, after a long moment, he nodded.
"Yes, I believe it is worth a try. Offer him a
choice, Leila. If he agrees not to fight us, we will remove the shackles. You
must make him understand that he will jeopardize his recovery if he refuses,
and that the only alternative is for him to remain as he is now, fettered like
an animal." He glanced at the captain, whose expression strongly showed
his disapproval. "Open the door."
"I cannot allow this, my lord Al-Aziz. I am in
"But not for long, I can assure you, captain, if
anything happens to my patient,"
countered threateningly. "Governor
forward to the crusader's ransom with great anticipation. He is already
counting the one hundred thousand dinars he expects to receive from this Lord
Edward. If you are responsible for prolonging my patient's illness or, Allah
protect you, causing his death, your head will roll. This I promise you."
He gestured impatiently. "Open the door."
His cruel, pinched face growing sickly white, the
captain hesitated for only an instant and then muttered, "Very well, very
As the captain signaled for one of the guards to draw
back the heavy iron bolt,
took Leila's arm and
drew her aside.
"My daughter, say only what is necessary to this
man. I do not like that you must speak with him at all. If he questions you,
translate everything to me and I will tell you how to answer him."
"Yes, Father," Leila said, feeling nervous
all of a sudden. Her fingers shook as she unfastened her face veil. "I
The crusader's curses exploded with fresh fury as the
heavy door creaked open. The two guards proceeded first inside the cell, their
scimitars lowered menacingly, followed by
Leila. The disgruntled captain, grumbling to
brought up the rear.
Leila peered from behind her father, her heart leaping
to her throat. If she had ever envisioned a barbarian, truly she was looking at
one now. This wild-haired, wild-eyed man pulling furiously at his bonds was
Standing upright, the crusader appeared even larger to
her than before and dangerously powerful, so much so that she felt terribly
and inconsequential just being in the same room with
him. Despite her father's concerns she was grateful for the heavy chains at his
wrists and ankles which bound his naked body to the wall. She breathed deeply
in an attempt to calm her thundering pulse, but only flustered herself further
when she inhaled the crusader's sweaty male scent.
"Go on, Leila,"
urged, pulling her from behind him. "Talk to him."
Chagrined that she had to be encouraged to carry out
and telling herself she was
reacting most foolishly, Leila took a few hesitant steps toward the crusader.
But she stopped, her knees suddenly wobbly, when he ceased his fierce struggles
and leveled his arresting blue eyes upon her.
The unswerving intensity of his gaze told her
everything. He was alert, lucid, and, most unsettling of all, he seemed to
"You . . ." the crusader rasped.
For a fleeting instant Leila could not answer, her
mouth gone completely dry. She glanced uncertainly at her father over her
shoulder, then back to the crusader. She swallowed and
her voice husky with nervousness.
"You are a prisoner of
governor of Damascus . . ." She paused, her face uncomfortably warm, and
drew another deep breath before
this time her voice would resume its natural timbre. The stilted English words
from her tongue.
"Now that you are clearly recovering, a letter of
ransom will soon be delivered to your Lord Edward in Acre. Once Governor
receives this ransom, you will be released unharmed
to your people—"
"Unharmed?" the crusader spat hoarsely, his
gaze burning into hers. "I don't consider torture to be child's play,
wench. You wield a smoking iron as well as any sword, and inflicted as much
damage upon me, I'd swear. Go to hell, and take the rest of those heathen with
Leila's eyes widened and she nearly choked at his
outburst. Her nervousness vanished, replaced by hot indignation. Torture? Was
he mad? She had saved this bastard's life!
"What does he say?"
"This . . . this ingrate accuses me of torturing
him!" she sputtered.
"Calm yourself, Leila. What did you expect? These
crusaders know little of our advanced medical skill. Their own physicians are
no better than butchers. Now tell him what we discussed."
Fighting to contain her fury, Leila turned back to the
crusader. She kept foremost in her mind the thought that she was dealing with
an ignorant barbarian. It certainly helped.
"The irons were used to close your wound,"
she explained tersely. "Not as torture. You would have bled to death
otherwise." She nodded toward her father. "This man is
Al-Aziz, the governor's personal physician, and
renowned throughout the empire. You are most fortunate that it is he who is
responsible for your care while you remain in this prison."
"I see," the crusader said slowly, his tone
still harsh. "And who are you?" His gaze hungrily swept her from head
to toe then back again, lingering on her face.
Obviously her words had sunk in, Leila thought, growing
uncomfortable again under his close scrutiny. Why was he looking at her like
that? Why did she feel so funny, so unlike herself?