Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
"Two days ago. The herdsmen have only arrived in
Damascus within the past hour to return the body to Governor
. As you can well imagine, the governor's anger is
great." She cast an agitated glance at the man next to her. "The
captain was ordered to give this news to my master as soon as he arrived at the
prison, but since I am here, he insisted I should tell you now rather than wait
Al-Aziz was also present."
Guy felt an icy coldness growing in the pit of his
stomach. "What about the letter of ransom—"
"It was not found on the body."
Guy absorbed this news, his mind racing. If the
messenger no longer had the letter, then it must have been stolen, or lost.
Surely it could not have been delivered to Edward. He and Guy were as close as
brothers. Edward would never . . .
A chilling realization struck him. "The governor
thinks Edward had the messenger killed, doesn't he? That it's Edward's way of
saying he refuses to pay the ransom."
Leila was amazed. The crusader's perceptive response
was hardly what she would have expected after the enraged shouting she had
heard from him just before she had entered the cell. Hardly what she expected
from looking at him, either.
He appeared even more the barbarian with his dark,
heavy beard and dirty
. His slightest movement
screamed the strength he possessed, proof of his swift recovery since she had
last seen him. She also sensed a desperation in him which made her very
thankful for the guards' wary protection. She had no idea why the crusader
would have been demanding to see her, but she certainly wasn't going to ask
"I do not presume to know the governor's mind,"
she replied, "but yes, so this unfortunate event could be interpreted. Yet
"You tell your high and mighty governor for me
that Edward wouldn't leave me to rot in this stinking prison!" Guy stated
fiercely. "For one thing, he's no cold-blooded killer like the butchering
lot who set upon us in the Lebanon
could have murdered the governor's messenger, native Christians, rival Arabs,
anyone! It matters not that the letter of ransom was missing. There is no proof
that Edward ever received it."
Guy's vehement words echoed in the small cell and
thundered into his brain. He felt he was fast losing control. He glanced at the
open door, weighing his odds.
, Lord de
," he heard Leila say. "If you would only
allow me to finish."
His gaze riveted back on her face, and he wondered
sarcastically what other good news she had to share with him. Then he chided
himself, knowing she was but a slave and doing what she had been charged by the
"I'm listening," he replied tightly.
sent another messenger to Acre within this very hour, and not alone. A full
soldiers travels with this
messenger to protect him. In his benevolence and wisdom, Governor
believes it is unlikely Lord Edward would so
wantonly throw away the life of one of his knights, just as you say. He has
granted your prince one more chance to pay the ransom."
The words "one more chance" sounded too damn
ominous to Guy. He had no intention of waiting around to see if anything
happened to the second messenger.
Leila was here. He could finally ask her for her help.
He had no doubt she would jump at the chance to leave Damascus with him, and he
could do no less as a knight bound by the sacred code of chivalry than see her
safely to Acre. Perhaps they might somehow manage to escape together tonight.
"You must ask your master Al-Aziz to thank the
governor for me," Guy said, choosing to appear grateful. Better that than
show the frustration and impatience that were eating him alive. The captain
seemed positively incensed he hadn't attacked them at this news, giving him the
opportunity to force Guy into shackles again. He sensed the bastard might still
do so at the slightest provocation, which would only thwart any attempt to
escape. "I am certain the governor's decision will be well rewarded as
soon as Edward receives the letter of ransom," he added.
Leila spoke with the captain, but so fast Guy couldn't
understand what they were saying. God's bones, he should have practiced his
Arabic more diligently! Then she turned back to him, gesturing to the cots.
"If you will sit so I may see to your wound."
As he did so, the guards moved with him, their deadly
blades a hair's breadth from his body. But they backed off a little when Leila
uttered a few sharp words, which surprised him. She was certainly spirited for
a slave. Perhaps her position within the renowned physician's household gave
her some special status.
"What did you say to them?" he queried as she
began to swiftly
his shoulder. She was
standing so close to him that her perfume enveloped his senses, heightened by
the heat of her body. He felt an overwhelming urge to draw her into his arms,
but somehow he managed to restrain himself. "Maybe I could try it on the
bastards when they get too close."
"Has the wound been causing you any pain?"
she asked, ignoring his question. She pressed gingerly around the purplish red
Guy shook his head, deciding not to waste any more
time. He had no idea how long the captain would allow her to tend to him before
she was escorted from the cell.
"Tell me, Leila. Have you been treating any others
like me in this prison?"
Her fingers ceased their gentle prodding for the
briefest moment, but she kept her head lowered, not looking at him. "No.
The rest of your party perished."
Guy felt gut-twisting grief at her terse pronouncement.
He shot a dark glance at the four guards and their morose commander. They were
all watching him closely, their knuckles white where they clutched their
swords. It was men like these who had slaughtered his friends. He swore that
somehow he would avenge their deaths.
"Your wound is healing well," Leila said,
relieved she was almost finished with her task. She was anxious to leave the
cell. This encounter with the crusader had been most unsettling and unlike
anything she had expected. Their exchange and his restrained reaction to her
unpleasant news had made him seem so much more than a mindless barbarian, and
she could not help but feel pity for him. Perhaps he did not realize how close
he was to being executed. "I don't think you'll need bandages
"Listen to me, Leila," he interrupted her,
his tone so urgent she was compelled to meet his eyes. "I need your help."
"My help?" she parroted, the intensity of his
gaze sending a jolt right through her.
"Yes. Tonight I'm going to—"
"Leila! Stand away from the crusader."
Leila whirled at the sound of her father's stern voice,
so startled that she dropped a vial of ointment. The glass shattered on the
was standing next to the captain
of the guards, his white robes still rippling from his sudden entrance.
-what is the matter?"
"I have just come from the hospital. Word was brought
to me there by one of Governor
clamped her mouth shut just in time. "I know, my master," she began
again. "I've already told our patient that a second messenger has been
sent to Acre—"
"No, he has returned,"
said gravely. "Come over here, Leila. Now. There is nothing more to be
Bewildered, she glanced over her shoulder at the
crusader. His eyes held hers for a fleeting moment,
she quickly moved to her father's side.
"The messenger and his
escort were met on the Damascus road by one of Sultan
continued. "When the
general heard where they were bound, he commanded them to return to the city."
"But why? What of the ransom?"
"There will be no ransom."
"What is this, my esteemed lord?" blurted the
captain excitedly, his hand falling to the curved dagger in his belt. "No
shook his head slowly,
a pitying expression on his face as he regarded the crusader. "The general
has brought word that Lord Edward and most of his crusaders sailed from Acre
three days ago, though the reason behind their sudden departure has not yet
been determined. It is believed, however, that they are returning to their
country across the seas. To England."
Leila gasped. If this was true, the crusader was a dead
, who could determine kismet?
"What is it, Leila?" Guy asked, rising slowly
to his feet. His expression was hard, and strain showed around his eyes. "What
Leila's hand was trembling as she touched her father's
arm. "He asks me what has happened. How shall I answer him? "
"Say nothing. In the morning his fate will become
clear to him,"
replied cryptically. He
turned to the captain, his tone commanding as he drew a rolled parchment from
his scarlet sash and handed it to him. "This was given to me by Governor
official. Read it if you do not believe me, as I
doubt you will. It is our lord governor's wish that the crusader be well
treated this night. Give him good food and drink, wine if you have it. Offer
him an opium pipe. It may help him through his final night upon the earth."
The captain hastily unrolled the parchment, his
shoulders visibly slumping as he read the document. "So it reads," he
muttered. He shot a venomous glance at Guy, who was again surrounded on all
sides by flashing swords, the guards preventing him from moving a muscle. "And
so, regrettably, I must obey."
Leila's heart thundered in her chest as her father
pushed her none-too-gently toward the door.
"But we should tell him!" she protested. "It
would be far more cruel not to. He must have time to prepare, time to pray—"
gave her another
shove, more insistent this time. "No, there is great danger here. You will
do as I tell you! "
She half turned at Guy's hoarse cry, her breath
stopping in her throat at what she knew was to be her last glimpse of him.
"God in heaven, it's the ransom, isn't it?"
he shouted, his blue eyes a tempest of fury and disbelief. Thin rivulets of
blood trailed down his heaving chest from the razor-sharp swords holding him at
bay. "It's in your face. I can see it in your face! Edward has left for
England, hasn't he?"
Leila's head snapped back around as her father seized
her arm and yanked her toward the door.
"Do not answer him!"
commanded as he propelled her from the cell.
The captain of the guards hurried after them, followed
at once by the guards, who backed out with their swords lowered dangerously.
The door was slammed shut and bolted just as the crusader hit it with the full
force of his body, pounding with his fists. Banded with wide strips of iron,
the thick wooden door hardly budged.
"Leila, answer me!" he roared. "Leila?
the sound of splintering wood
as the cots were violently hurled against the cell walls.
"Come, my daughter,"
said, noting the unshed tears swimming in Leila's eyes. "It is a harsh
thing to hear when a prisoner realizes his life has become forfeit."
Leila's hands were shaking so much she could not lift
her face veil. She was stunned by the depth of her emotion, and couldn't
understand why she felt like weeping. Guy de
unfortunate fate was certainly none of her doing.
She jumped as a loud crash came from the cell. The
crusader was beating wildly upon the door with what was left of his bed.
"By God, Leila, at least tell me what's going on!
"So I'm to treat this raving lunatic like a
prince," she heard the captain mutter sarcastically. "We'll be lucky
if we can push some food through the peephole without being spit upon by that
"He is a human being," she said almost to
herself, tears running slowly down her cheeks. "Not an animal."
insisted. "Our work here is finished."
Leila walked shakily with her father from the cavernous
room, the crusader's desperate cries ringing in her ears.
Seated on the hard slab floor, Guy shoved the tarnished
brass tray of food with his foot. He had no appetite. He took another draft
from the half-empty wine bottle, but the tangy red liquid was no balm for his
burgeoning frustration. He leaned his head against the wall and closed his
If what Al-Aziz, and since then the highly amused
guards, had said was true, then Edward and his fleet of ships were well across
the Mediterranean Sea by now, returning home to England.
In the long, mind-numbing hours since his outburst of
rage, the guards had cracked the peephole to keep a cautious eye on him and
then had left it open. Guy had never heard such animated conversation from
them, and he understood just enough Arabic to make sense of what they were
saying. The guards had talked of nothing else, repeating themselves so often he
knew exactly what was to happen to him.
Shortly after sunrise, he was to be taken from the cell
and executed before Governor
and his high
officials in the prison courtyard. If he was lucky, the invincible Sultan
, who was apparently in Damascus, might also be
present to watch him die. What a bloody spectacle it would be.