Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
Leila lowered her head, overwhelmed. Her dream had
suddenly moved that much closer to becoming reality. If she was to marry so
soon, that meant her apprenticeship was almost over.
"I take it you are pleased."
The sadness in her mother's voice cut through her own
happiness. Leila met her eyes, a stunning likeness to her own, and was
astonished to see tears trailing down Eve's alabaster cheeks. "Are you not
happy for me, Mother?" she asked, perplexed.
Eve did not answer for so long that Leila grew fearful,
not knowing what her mother would say.
"Jamal is a good man, the son of my beloved
husband," Eve finally replied, wiping away her tears with a gossamer silk
handkerchief. "If God wills it to be so . . ."
Her voice trailed off and she rose to her feet, a
tremulous smile on her lips. "We will talk more tomorrow, my daughter. Enjoy
your supper and rest well this night. May your dreams be sweet and full of
As Eve walked away, her silk garments rustling softly
in the breeze,
jumped up from the divan to
follow, but Leila caught her hand.
, please. What is
troubling my mother?" Leila whispered fervently, raising her voice when
Eve disappeared down the stairs. "You have served her since she came to my
father's house. You know her soul. Tell me. I cannot bear to see her so
face became strangely
impassive, and Leila sensed at once that the odalisque was loath to answer. She
allegiance was first and foremost to
"Please, you must tell me," Leila insisted,
almost pleading. "Have I hurt her in some way?"
"No, young mistress,"
said solemnly, shaking her head. "You bring your mother great joy"—a
faint smile stirred her lips— "ah, in truth, a bit of trouble now and
then, but nothing that would so distress her heart."
"Is there unhappiness between my parents?"
Leila desperately hoped this was not the case. She had seen broken hearts
aplenty in the opulent harems she visited, neglected wives and forgotten
concubines. Another reason to be thankful for her profession. A physician was
always needed. Not so a wife.
reached out and gently
stroked her cheek, as if sensing her unease. "Never fear, beloved one. My
master's love for my mistress is as eternal as the spring, her devotion to him
like the jade oasis in the desert with its deep, life-giving pools."
"What is it, then?"
drew a deep breath,
and Leila could sense she was choosing her words carefully. The odalisque
seemed about to speak when a small, pale-breasted pigeon alighted on a nearby
trellis, distracting her. When she met Leila's gaze once more, Leila could tell
from the slave woman's guarded expression that she had changed her mind.
"I must go, my young mistress,"
said, bowing so low that the fringed ends of her
veil touched the tiles. She turned and hurried away, her bare feet making no
Leila had it on the tip of her tongue to call
back and demand an explanation for her mother's
tears, but within an instant, she was alone again.
What right did
keep her mother's troubles from her?
if it was something serious the odalisque would put aside her iron-clad loyalty
and let Leila know what was in Eve's heart. She was her daughter, after all.
Frowning, Leila poured herself a goblet of cool white
wine and took a long sip, enjoying the liquid's tart flavor. She was glad her
father did not so strictly adhere to his faith's dietary regulations that he
forbade wine in his home, although he himself did not drink it. She nibbled on
a meat pastry, ripe olives, and sliced pomegranate, easing her hunger pains at
last. Soon she felt much better, her stomach full, the wine soothing her
Perhaps whatever plagued her mother was really not so
serious, Leila reasoned, lying back on the divan.
Maybe it was nothing more than the normal feelings of
losing one's daughter to the man she would marry. Leila would be moving to
another house, another harem. She and her mother would still see each other,
but not as often. That could certainly cause Eve pain, since they had always
been so close.
It also seemed her mother became distressed whenever
they talked about crusaders, and Leila determined then and there that she would
not mention the barbarian again. It puzzled her that Eve was praying for him.
She should really be praying for the guards who had to watch him instead.
Leila started as the pigeon suddenly left its
vine-covered perch and flew off toward the citadel.
"Don't roost in any prison windows, little one,"
she murmured under her breath. If the crusader could so easily threaten to snap
a guard's neck, she could only imagine what he would do to a hapless bird
strayed too close. Probably bite off its head with his
Guy stared stonily out the cell window, counting the
large, square bricks in the wall next door. There were thirty-three from the
flat roof to the bare ground and sixty-eight from the comer to as far as he
could see toward the front of the building if he craned his neck and pressed
his face against the cold iron bars. Then again, the ivy was so thick in some
places that he could have miscounted—
"God's blood, has it come to this?" he
shouted furiously, slamming his large fists down so hard on the Window ledge
that pain shot through his right shoulder. He grimaced, ignoring it.
He was surely going mad! Counting bricks to pass the
time, pacing his cell, watching beetles drag bits of straw across the floor and
red ants crawl up the stone walls. What next?
A familiar panic welled up inside him, cold sweat
breaking out on his forehead. Desperately he grasped the bars, inhaling deep
of air to calm himself. It smelled sweet, like
flowers, reminding him there was another world outside this cell, a world he
hungered to be a part of once again.
to hell, where was
Leila? Why hadn't she come back?
It had been almost two weeks since he had last seen
her. His only visitors had been the Arab physician
Al-Aziz, and that obnoxious captain of the guards who seemed to enjoy reviling
him and every Christian who had ever walked the face of the earth. What he
would do to that sour-faced bastard if he ever got him alone in this cell . . .
A songbird trilled somewhere above him, and Guy looked
up, blinded by the late morning sunlight. He squinted, searching the opposite
roof ledge for the bird before he spied it—a white-throated nightingale.
Resting his forehead on the bars, he closed his eyes
and listened to the melodic warbling, becoming more relaxed than he had been
all morning. The nightingale's song swelled and surged, rich and full, almost
masking the sound of rustling vines and excited whispers
Guy's eyes shot open, and he stared incredulously at a
ragged young boy who was expertly scaling the wall with a billowing net in his
hand, his small brown feet catching splayed toeholds on the brick outcroppings.
Another boy stood below, only a few feet from Guy's prison window, whispering
brusque commands and gesturing at the unsuspecting nightingale.
Indignation seized him. "Leave that bird alone,
you little heathen!" he roared, startling both boys, who looked from his
barred window to the nightingale as it fluttered its wings and flew away.
Guy knew cursing when he heard it. He smiled wryly as
the net-wielding boy colorfully vented his youthful fury upon him while
clambering down the wall. He ducked just in time to avoid a handful of thrown
rocks. Several stones struck the cell door, and the next thing he knew a guard
had flung open the peephole.
Guy sobered at the harsh command, his anger rising
again like scalding bile. "You forget who
is the infidel
!" he spat bitterly as the peephole was slammed shut. He turned
his back to the door and leaned against the wall, rubbing his aching shoulder
through the bandage.
At least he could be thankful the pain had lessened to
only a fraction of what it had once been. He had no complaints as far as his
injury was concerned. He was alive, which was more than he could say for the
men who had accompanied him on Edward's embassy to Anatolia.
Guy squeezed his eyes shut, hearing again in his mind
the dying screams of his companions. The surprise attack had come so swiftly.
Most of the men were wrenched from their horses and their throats slit from ear
to ear before they could utter a sound. A few others, longtime friends, died
even more hideously.
He could still hear Reginald Weller calling out to him
as the older knight fought off a half dozen attackers, ordering him to escape
with his life, the battle lost. Guy had tried to reach him, but he was too
late. He watched in horror as Reginald was split in two by a single blow from a
scimitar, the severed corpse hitting the earth in a spray of blood and chain
After that, Guy could remember fighting and killing his
way out of the narrow ravine and then running, running . . . until he found a
shallow but well-concealed cave where he could hide.
Several times in the scorching hot days that followed
he heard soldiers shouting nearby, and he knew they were looking for him.
Finally, famished and thirsty and unable to bear the cave's close confines any
longer, he ventured out, determined to find his way on foot back to Acre. He
didn't get far.
Cursing, Guy pushed away from the wall and began to
pace the cell, his
and frustration boiling
hotter with each step.
It plagued him like an open, festering sore not to know
if any of his companions had survived the surprise attack and were being held
for ransom in this lousy prison, but there was no one he could ask. None of the
guards understood English and neither did the Arab physician, who had been
communicating with him in a curt sign language.
He had decided to conceal the fact that he understood
some Arabic and could even speak a little, in the hope that he might glean
information from any conversations he overheard. But so far, no luck.
The guards outside his cell were a taciturn lot, and
when they did converse, they spoke so rapidly he was unable to grasp what they
were saying. The same thing had happened between Leila and her Arab master when
he was chained to the wall. God help him, if he could only speak with her
again! Where the hell was she?
Guy winced as the bolt on the cell door was drawn back,
the screeching sound grating on his nerves. Four guards rushed inside, their
bright blades pointed at him menacingly. He knew this meant that the great
physician was on his way to pay his morning call.
He was so sick of looking at that Arab's face! He
always thought of Leila and what she must be suffering at his lecherous hands.
Truly, if there ever was a maiden in distress, it was she.
"Where's Leila? I want to see her!" he
shouted even though he knew the guards didn't understand him. He continued to
pace despite their presence, feeling like a wild, restless animal stalking its
cage. "I said where's Leila, damn you! Are you idiots? Leila, the
Christian slave of Al-Aziz! "
Guy could scarcely believe it when she suddenly walked
into the cell, followed by the captain, who had a decidedly gloating expression
on his narrow face.
"Leila!" Without thinking he took a step
toward her, but he immediately stopped when the guards surrounded him with
their swords. He held up his hands. "Calm yourselves. I meant no harm."
He listened to the lilting timbre of Leila's voice as
she quickly translated what he had said, but the guards did not relax their
threatening stance. It seemed they trusted him just about as much as he trusted
them, which was not at all.
"My master was called away on other duties this
morning," Leila said, glancing nervously at the captain who stood beside
her. "I have come in his stead to administer your treatment."
"I am glad," Guy replied, still shocked by
her unexpected appearance. His eyes swept over her. "I was beginning to
wonder if you were ever coming back."
God, she was beautiful!
thought, noting her look of surprise. Her dark blue linen head veil framed her
oval face, emphasizing features as delicate and ethereally lovely as an angel's.
Only the long, looped braid hanging well below her waist made her appear
earthbound, for her hair was not blond but a glossy black, and so silky he
longed to reach out and touch it.
He restrained himself, knowing he might well get his
hand lopped off if he did. Instead he had to content himself with looking at
her and inhaling her rose perfume. Yet why was her expression so somber?
Something was wrong. He could see anxiety in her huge, violet eyes.
"The captain has just given me some grim news
which I must impart to you," she said, as if reading his thoughts. "The
governor's messenger who was sent to Acre over a week ago with your letter of
ransom is dead."
Guy tensed. "Dead?"
Leila nodded. "Some Bedouin herdsmen found his
horse wandering in the hills northeast of Acre. The messenger's body was lashed
to the saddle, his throat cut. The Bedouins guessed he'd been dead for several
days, judging from the stench and the look of him, exposed to the hot sun, the flies
. . ." She was unable to finish, her lips pressed together. She looked
"When did they find him?" Guy watched as she
lifted her chin resolutely, swallowing hard before she answered.