Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
"Leila." Her father's voice eased her
discomfiture, but only slightly. She quickly translated the crusader's
"Tell him only that you are my helper,"
quietly instructed her, "and a slave." At
her shocked expression, he whispered, "I will explain later. Go on, tell
She did so, almost stumbling on the words. She watched
hard expression grew pitying, his
gaze falling to the striped
wrapped around her
"A Christian slave," he stated bluntly.
Disconcerted even more by the strange look in the
crusader's eyes, Leila was suddenly eager to be done with her increasingly
Al-Aziz, offers you a choice. If you agree to peacefully accept your temporary
imprisonment and not fight against him or your guards, he will see that you are
freed from those chains. If not, you must remain where you are, at the risk of
your life. My
—" She stopped, realizing what
she had almost revealed. "My master believes your wound could yet cause
your death, shackled as you are now. It is his wish that you live, of course,
might receive his ransom."
"How bloody charitable of him," the crusader
muttered, leaning his head back against the wall. He grimaced, sweat trickling
down the side of his face, and Leila had the impression he had temporarily
forgotten them in his wretched misery. Clearly his wound was causing him
"You must choose," she insisted, drawing him
back into their discussion.
"So it seems I must," he replied thickly. It
was obvious from his increasingly labored breathing that his earlier struggles
had done him little good. He met her questioning gaze, his eyes becoming glazed
and feverish. "The ransom. How do I know you are telling me the truth?"
Leila could sense he was anxious for her answer. "
plain to see," she said simply. "If you were
not of value to Governor
, you would already be
Falling silent at her frank response, he stared out the
barred window for a long moment. When he faced her again, he drew himself up
despite his heavy chains, and she stepped back, startled and amazed by how
small he made her feel. His huge size was only heightened by his commanding
"Very well. I accept your master's offer. Better
that than hang here on this blasted wall."
Relieved, Leila turned to her father. "He has
agreed. He will not resist."
"He lies!" the captain exclaimed. "Son
of a cur. Infidel! How can you believe him?"
"Ask the crusader his name,"
requested, ignoring the man behind him, "so the
governor may have it inscribed in the letter of ransom. Also, ask him for some
small personal fact that his Lord Edward might recognize. The letter must be
As Leila relayed her father's words, a hint of a
roguish smile touched the crusader's mouth, eliciting a strange flutter in her
crusader knight of the realm and lord of the Welsh Marches. And the comely
wench who keeps me company in Acre is named
She's got a tempting crescent-shaped birthmark, the palest pink, on the inside
of her upper thigh, right below her—"
At Leila's small gasp he stopped abruptly, staring at
her flushed cheeks.
"Forgive me. I almost forgot there
a lady present, and a very beautiful one at that."
The crusader's gaze jumped to her father. "Tell your master"—he spat
the word derisively— "that Edward will know it's I when he confirms what I've
asked. A touch of amusement lit his eyes as she repeated the crusader's words,
pointedly omitting his unexpected compliment. "Good. It is enough."
He turned on the captain of the guards. "You have heard. Release my
patient at once."
The man looked as if he might protest, but he kept
silent, glaring at both Leila and her father. He wrestled a jangling ring of
keys from the sash at his waist and threw them at the feet of the nearest
"Do as my lord Al-Aziz says. Unlock the chains,"
the captain ordered grimly. As the guard retrieved the keys and hastened to
obey, he addressed the other man. "Keep your swords at the ready while the
patient receives his treatment. I will summon two more guards to assist you.
When the revered Al-Aziz and his helper"—he shot a glance at Leila— "leave,
bolt the door securely."
With a brusque bow of his head to
and scarcely a nod at Leila, the captain stormed from the cell.
"Clearly a man who does not recognize his place in
said dryly. "Most unwise."
He hurried forward as the freed crusader gripped his shoulder and slumped
against the wall. "Help me lift my patient to the cots!"
called out sharply to the two guards just entering.
Leila readied the bedding, plumping pillows and drawing
back the blanket as the crusader was half dragged across the floor. He
collapsed upon the cots, heaving a ragged sigh. His eyes met hers as she
brought the blanket up to his chest.
?" she asked
His dry laugh was a painful rattle in his chest. "Trousers.
I'm not used to appearing unclothed before a lady—unless, of course, she is
too. I'd wager you've seen more of me than many a wench I've bedded."
"I—I'll see what can be done," Leila said,
shocked by his candor.
Within the harem sensuality was openly discussed, but
she had never heard such a statement from a man. She wondered curiously just
how many women this crusader had taken to his bed. Judging by his overwhelming
masculinity and those stunning blue eyes, she guessed five score or better. No
doubt his sexual prowess rivaled that of any sultan with a harem at his beck
"Do not converse with him, Leila,"
admonished her, frowning as he concocted a syrupy
medication. "Tell him that this medicine will help to ease his pain and
then say nothing more unless I give you leave to do so."
"He was asking for
'tis all," she replied, affronted by the coldness in her father's voice.
She knelt and rummaged in one of the leather bags so he might not see that she
was blushing from her carnal imaginings.
She found fresh linen and ointment and busied herself
with changing the crusader's bandage. All the while he watched her, even when
her father administered a large dose of the syrup, but she refused to meet his
eyes, concentrating very hard on her task instead.
She noted that the swelling around the wound was
beginning to recede, despite the rough handling he had received and his own
futile struggles. She wondered if he would remember his stay in Governor
prison whenever he looked at the scar, and perhaps
even remember her
Whatever was she thinking?
chided herself, throwing the unused bandages into the opened bag. What did she
care if this barbarian remembered her or not? She would certainly forget him!
"I'm finished," Leila said, glancing at her
father as she rose to her feet.
"As am I,"
responded. "Tell him he must rest and eat as much of his meals as he
possibly can stomach. We will return tomorrow morning, and each morning after,
to check on his recovery."
She spoke as her father bade her, the words practically
running together in her haste to be gone from the cell and this man's
unsettling scrutiny. Remarkably, her English was coming much easier to her now.
"Then I shall look forward to the morrow . . .
Stunned to hear her name upon the crusader's lips, uttered
with a deep huskiness that she found wholly disconcerting, she could not leave
the cell fast enough. She leaned against the cool wall outside, and was
relieved when her father shortly followed.
Leila attached her face veil with shaking fingers and
remained silent until she and her father had left the prison. A single question
plagued her. She blinked in the bright midday sunshine when they first stepped
outside, then proceeded along the sloping street only a short distance before
she blurted, "Why a slave, Father? Why?"
stopped and stared
into her eyes, his expression deadly serious. "A necessary ploy, my
daughter. If the crusader deems you are unimportant to me, he will not attempt
to use you to gain his freedom. You saw how furious he was when we first
entered the cell. Men such as he chafe at captivity and consider desperate acts
when confinement becomes unbearable."
Leila felt a chill. "Desperate acts?"
"An improbability now—at least I hope it is so,"
replied. "If the crusader believes you
are only a slave, then he must also believe we would cut him down long before
we came to your rescue, should he try to bargain his way to freedom by
threatening your life. Such a rash move would get him nowhere." He clasped
her arms so suddenly that she gasped. "But I tell you this, Leila.
ransom is lost if the crusader so
much as touches you."
She was stunned by the raw vehemence in her father's
voice. It was at times such as this that she realized how much he loved her, no
matter that she was his adopted daughter and a Christian.
"If Jamal were home from Cairo, I would have him
assist me in the days to come rather than expose you to possible harm,"
"But that cannot be helped, Father. The caliph
needs Jamal until the smallpox has fled from his family."
"True." He pressed his lips together,
regarded her sharply. "I have
decided. From now on you will attend to the crusader only when I cannot, which
I hope will be rare. And when you do, I will make it clear to the captain that
you must be very well guarded." He released her, the tightness in his
expression easing as if his decision gave him some peace of mind. "Come,
my daughter. Patients await us at the hospital."
As they walked together down the street, her father
acknowledging greetings from passersby, Leila hoped that indeed her visits to
the prison would be few. After hearing the crusader's wild threats and curses,
she had no wish to bear the brunt of his desperate, barbarous acts.
"So they're holding you for a bloody ransom, de
," Guy muttered tightly to himself, wincing at
the searing fire in his shoulder as he shifted upon the rigid cots. "The
He rubbed his thick wrists, chafed raw from the
shackles, his eyes moving from one wall to the next, then to the door, and back
to the barred window. Again and again his gaze circled the small cramped cell
until desperation clutched at his throat, threatening to choke him.
By the breath of God, it wasn't good enough! Whatever the
amount of the ransom, he had no doubt that Edward would pay it. Yet it might be
days, weeks, maybe a month or more before he was released. He would go mad long
before that. He felt half mad already!
Even now he could feel the rough stone walls closing in
around him, suffocating him, like the walls in that tiny prison cell eight
years ago . . .
Panicking, Guy gasped for breath, feeling suddenly as
if a crushing load were pressing upon his chest. He threw an arm over his eyes
in an attempt to block out the dark, terrible memories, but they kept coming.
Memories of betrayal and death and utter hopelessness,
of hunger so severe that he had eaten rats to stay alive, hit him with full
force, so vivid, so real that he could have sworn he was once again in that same
black hellhole. God help him, he had to think of something else fast before the
memories completely overwhelmed him. He had to think—"Leila! "
Guy cried out her name before he even realized it,
whispered it again and again like a powerful chant to
ward off the horrible darkness. As he frantically conjured her face and lithe
form in his mind, his nightmare visions gradually loosened their icy grip upon
him and began to recede.
He thought of her stunning violet eyes, her seductive
breasts straining against her
clothing like lush ripe fruit. The crushing load grew lighter, and he sucked in
of air until he was able to breathe
Leila. His mysterious angel of mercy.
He could feel the tension ebbing from his body,
thoughts of life and beauty replacing images of horror. He recalled her touch
when she bandaged his shoulder, gentle yet assured; the soft, melodic sound of
her voice; and the heady scent of her perfume.
It reminded him of the flowers his mother had lovingly
nurtured in a walled garden in Wales. Damask roses. The bright pink blooms had
burst forth every summer, scenting the castle bailey with sweet and
Just like Leila's. He could smell it even
a faint whiff of her perfume emanating from the linen
bandage as if her touch had left it there.
Calmer, Guy lowered his arm and wiped the sweat from
his face, rational thought returning.
What cruel fate had brought her to Damascus? She must
be French or English, more likely the latter, judging from her excellent
command of his language.
An English rose far away from her homeland, now a
Christian slave among the infidels.